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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mental Work


I conversed with my grandmother a while back, on the occasion of her 90th birthday (way to go Grandma!). With beginnings I believe in the mid-west*, she moved to California where she met my grandfather, who had already sired my pop and his brother with his first wife. I had two grandmothers on my dad’s side of the family and one on my mom’s side, but no grandfather there, so I suppose a level of equilibrium was achieved. One grandfather and three grandmothers – it seems almost biblical.

June (name changed to not further annoy her) and my grandfather moved to Florida when I was young and got into real estate. Did fairly well at it by every indication and has had a very comfortable life as a result and good for her. She is a very nice lady and I love her dearly and wish her nothing but joy for the remainder of her turn. She has always been very good to me.

I recall a couple several Christmas’s past I posited the interesting conundrum of how we as a family are more inclined to remember each other on the birthday of someone who probably didn’t even exist on the pagan holiday of solstice than we are on our own real life birthdays. We give each other cards and gifts and phone calls and all kinds of love on a made up person’s made up birthday, yet rarely even call each other on our own. I suggested that if we promoted our own birthdays as much as our culture promotes Christmas, people would more likely remember them.

They just wouldn’t talk to us anymore.

During our verbal visit the notion of mental work was offered as a response to my query regarding the differentials in say, getting paid to sweep a floor or making money making phone calls and such. Note the difference in how these jobs are represented, not only by me here, but by our culture as a whole: getting paid/making money.

We tend to think of people working in janitorial or field labor or mining or heavy industry (as metal workers and such, not management) as getting paid. You get paid a wage to do back breaking work. You make money doing mental work. You get paid for making something; you make money by the use of your mind.

I believe they call that thinking.

As one who has been paid to do physical work and even made money doing mental work, I find the distinction is compelling. As a writer/composer, I do all kinds of mental work, even manifesting such abstracts in the form of the real. For this expressive and creative mental work I get nothing beyond joy of composition and the occasional appreciation of those close to me. The one closest to me interestingly enough is the one most appreciative of my mental work realized.

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Samuel Johnson

I clearly differ from the esteemed Mr. Johnson on that point, but one would expect such things of a blockhead, so it comes as no surprise. Not that I exist in opposition to making money for my work, my art – to the contrary such income would allow me the freedom to do even more and better art, mental work. I have considered that perhaps one reason I have never been paid for it – ignored over a long enough timeline, it is naturally presumed that one will accept their failings and have the dignity to sit down and shut up. Any level of attention to me or my work will reveal a natural capacity on my part to defy presumptions.

I don’t sit down or shut up.

Nor, given the vast empty drivel polluting the input holes of humanity, do I feel I should. People motivating us to dance, watch, consume, obey and murder, make millions of dollars, while those suggesting that we question, reason, and demand accountability from those who demand our obeisance get paid to do physical work when they’re lucky, while their mental work is marginalized and dismissed.

We who don’t get paid to create, yet do it because we must are artists. Entertainers make millions of dollars, artists make art. What is art? Picasso said this and I gladly quote it because it resonates so with me:

“Art isn’t truth. Art is the lie which makes us see the truth.”

Not bad from a Spaniard, huh? And one who got his work recognized by popular culture and became rich owing to his entertainment value and the cachet such recognition brings. Dali as well, a fully realized artist that got rich off his brilliant promotion. The artist as the gallery.

Popular culture isn’t about truth; it is about commerce, about distraction. Dancing is fun and all but most guys do it by way of getting laid while most gals do it to see how much work a guy is willing to do to get laid. Originally a tribal mating ritual, now it becomes the consolation prize for those who just don’t have the energy for a relationship. Dance all night, go home alone and masturbate. The internet will provide all the stimulation we need.

According to the Nielsen Company, Americans watch on average 5 hours of television a day, 151 hours a month. I wonder if we listened to one source, a politician, preacher or even rap star for 150 hours a month, if over time we would be influenced by them? I wonder how many husbands listen to their wives 150 hours a month, or wives their husbands; how many parents listen to their children 150 hours a month, how many children, their parents?

Television isn’t art, it is not a repository of truth – it is pop culture, a diversion, a distraction. It is a sales pitch most odious. It is mental rest. And the average American gives it 5 hours every day.

There are many Americans like me who give it zero hours a day which means that it exists in an operational state for 8, 10, 12 hours a day in other homes. When I flew back to Florida to visit my grandmother, I noted that it was on virtually 24 hours a day. I spent a week listening to Fox News during all of my waking hours in her house. One station, one corporate perspective, one mindset being perpetually introduced into the minds of those who give it such primacy in their lives – no other influence superseding the ones we electively allow access to our thinking.

Our mental work.

If art is the lie that makes us see the truth, pop culture is the lie that makes us buy.

When I was teenaged and still stupid enough to think I had something going, my dad laid it out for me: physical labor is for chumps. Losers. Brown people. Used to be black people, but since slavery ended they don’t work anymore so the browns and yellows have to do double duty. That’s why our major multi-national corporations put their factories in places like Mexico, or Puerto Rico, or the Philippines. Or China where they have very few black people, likely not working either.

Of course, wrong thinking people might suggest that shifting the manufacturing base away from the nation denied millions of blacks employment while the agricultural labor they were once compelled to do has been placed upon the backs of migrant laborers from Mexico. Or imported from China. I live in California, an amazing agricultural state. We grow among other things, garlic here. Yet at the markets in Southern California, garlic comes from China. Weird.

The popular mythology is that blacks, for the most part, are stupid and lazy. That’s why the people who thought that way forced them to harvest their crops and care for their children. Cook their food. Who better to raise up a bunch of stupid and lazy white folk than their stupid and lazy slaves? Now, even the good slave jobs are gone and Mexicans harvest our food while Hondurans nanny our children. So the blacks for the most part are left with only welfare or crime to sustain them. And we, white folks, are for the most part good with that. Makes the work of the law enforcement community easier: “Suspect is black. Any questions?”

As if to punish them for their impudence for demanding to be treated like white people, we treated them like white people: white trash. They became the coveted criminal set and our society did all we could to confirm that bias. They became not even good enough for nigger work. So we put them and the poverty stricken white folks ruined in any of our alternating depressions on the dole and they became beholden to the state. In food is fealty.

To counter this liberal rubbish it will be pointed out that the system works for all with initiative and successful black entrepreneurs exist in abundance, rich beyond their station through the diligent application of mental work and good old American ‘stick-to-itiveness’.

Is it not interesting then that the blacks we know so well through our sundry media are less noted for their success than their scandal. I could likely name three blacks noted for their success off the top of my head as opposed to easily ten who turned that success into scandal and tragedy. This is not to suggest that there are not as many successful blacks as embarrassing ones; just that our media prefers to focus on the embarrassing ones, often to the exclusion of the others.

Which means we tend to focus there as well. In many cases Michael Jackson was either perceived as the king of pop or a vile pederast dependent on little more than if the question was put to a white person or a black one. Even one of our most beloved black men, Martin Luther King is portrayed in the media as a philandering communist. But he did help the blacker people among us achieve more social parity with white people. Sadly not so much by elevating blacks as diminishing whites, as our economic masters widened the gulf in wealth between them and us to teach us not to be so uppity. We learnin’ real good, massa!

It is estimated, based upon government figures that upward of 80 million Americans are unemployed. I’m not talking about people like my grandmother, old people, (who is still employed – mental work tends to more physical longevity than physical work) or babies; I’m describing people who are able and should be working. Who need to be working. The reason this figure isn’t trotted out is obvious, our economic recovery would be seen for the depression it is and has been for about 7 years. Instead they talk of figures based on unemployment insurance.

Doing mental work as a location manager, I created a company, Locators. Did that about a decade ago. Haven’t done locations for a couple three years, as of now. Because I own a company I am not eligible for unemployment compensation. Which means when I’m not working – or earning, because I’m always working – I am not counted among the unemployed. Independent contractors, business owners, people whose unemployment has run out are not counted. The pathetic reality is one of the world’s major work forces is sitting idle.

Why, I wonder is that?

Could it be perhaps because as the structure of industry changes, there are more and more people doing mental work (management) with all the perks and bennies of such lofty status, which puts a strain upon the bottom line when you also figure in the cost of the people who actually make things and their sundry necessities? Health care, pension, safe working conditions cost more which then reduces the amount the people getting paid to think have available to them.

So they move the jobs to places where that nonsense doesn’t affect the bottom line.

The notion of mental work likely originated in the priestly class where men of lofty aspiration who suffered physical limitation decided to think their way to power. Thus came the river gods and the rain gods and the Sun god and the Moon god and the solitary person in the tribe or community or kingdom who could talk to them. Persuasive personalities with direct access to the afterlife are not the ones you send out into battle or compel to till – they are more akin to shepherds. Even kings initially attained their acclaim by actually going into the battles they encouraged, perhaps until they got smart enough by watching the priests to stay more toward the back of the battlefield. Strategizing. Mental warfare.

As the families of the landed gentry became bigger, likely owing to all the free time they had to lay around and fuck all the time, the smart among them realized they would need things to occupy them as they grew into their inherent wealth. They also realized that physical labor is for chumps. So they invented bureaucracy so their type of people would have mental work to keep them occupied and also allow them to feel they didn’t just get born into a big pile of rich; that they actually earned it. Thinking and all. Think hard enough, hell, you might get a raise.

Fast forward to American lassie faire capitalism and before you know it, you got millions upon millions of people, mostly white, who need something to occupy them that doesn’t require a bunch of sweating and physical strain. Enter the bankers, insurance companies, investment firms, real estate, all sales brokers and law firms, hell, the entire legal system– paper pusheries all.

Work for millions, which keeps us busy making calls, fielding calls, reading forms, legal docs and material so horrid and dull that after a day of wading through it you never want to read again. Instead to bask in the smarmy narcosis of television, distracted and divided.

“Capital must protect itself in every way…Debts must be collected and loans and mortgages foreclosed as soon as possible. When, through a process of law, the common people have lost their homes, they will be more tractable and more easily governed by the strong arm of the law applied by the central power of leading financiers. People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders. This is well known among our principle men now engaged in forming an imperialism of capitalism to govern the world. By dividing the people we can get them to expend their energies in fighting over questions of no importance to us except as teachers of the common herd.” JP Morgan

Sadly, as teachers, they have succeeded beyond all of their dreams and their students (commonly herd) have learned everything they’ve been taught so well that we now engage in perpetual war so they have things to gamble on. Things of interest. Men and women with no principle still know interest.

I can state with no equivocation that if all physical work ended today, civilization would end tomorrow. With no food, power or medical (for doctors do physical work, although hamstringed by mental work via bureaucracy) what we know as civilization would become a ravening chaos.

On the other, were all mental work to end today, civilization would continue, albeit a very different civilization – one where all contribute physically to our welfare, not just the least among us. Where survival is based upon actual real life considerations and not merely abstract notions of money and property and divinity. Were those who do mental work compelled to do physical work to survive, I suspect such labor would be held in high esteem and even higher tax brackets.

I fear we have created a growing percentile of our society that not only looks disdainfully upon physical work, but also upon mental work as well. I suspect there are millions upon millions of Americans who think all work is for chumps. That life should be like on TV, interesting and leisurely – at the same time, all the time.

But life isn’t those things always, unless one looks through the right eyes, or more correctly, through their eyes right – it is often tedious and demanding. But through tedium and expectation do we learn to appreciate the interest and leisure we seek to a finer degree. It provides context.

Humans need something to do, not just look at or listen to. Our bodies tell us what we need and often that need is accomplished through physical effort. All of the good things we enjoy come from the physical effort of others and even from our own, if we’re inclined to it. People who give their bodies for our social benefit should be paid as well as those who think about it. Time is life consuming, for all of us. At the end of the day, the day is gone for everyone.

Could be worth thinking about.

*It has been brought to my attention, (thanks June!)(see? this stuff does bring people together) that my grandmother was in fact born in California.

© 2012 simmbiosis

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Silent Treatment

When I was a young boyish thing and behaved in a manner displeasing to my parents, something I did often and with a disturbing regularity, they would yell at me and beat me with a belt. When upset, my parents would berate me then belt me. It was pretty scary. And painful. Usually, this expression would be the result of my mom being really mad at my dad or my dad being really mad at pretty much everything. Which he was. Pretty much.

Mom would be mad at dad for all manner of disgraceful behavior and my acting out would inspire her lashing out. Dad would come home and mom would unleash her ire on him and he would share his response ire on my brother and me. We got a lot of attention this way.

As I got older and bigger, it became too weird for grown-up parents to spank nearly grown-up kids, so my mom would just yell and threaten to kick me out and my dad would yell and we’d put on the boxing gloves and he’d beat me up that way. Until I got old enough to hit back. Then he made it clear that should the time come that I could beat him up, he’d kick me out. Beatings in, kicking out. A stable environment to be sure.

So to keep a roof, I took my beatings and verbal debasement, but I did something else which changed the dynamic considerably – I became edumacated. I got too smart for simple angry drunken berating and I learned to fend off physical blows. I learned to defend myself.

Thus in my early teens my dad went from way too much personal attention to the silent treatment. I would do something or say something that would upset him or worse, my mom – I did that a lot. Where before he could work out his difficulties by pummeling me and telling me what a stupid piece of shit I was, now I had become too big a threat: I could hit back while thwarting his blows and I could reason. His position of bully was challenged.

So he would just not talk to me. Weeks at a time. I went from being way too obvious to being invisible. I became a non-entity unworthy of even the courtesy of a ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ or the honest respect of a ‘fuck you!’ Often, I wouldn’t even know why he was upset with me and my mom would dismiss it, “You know how your father gets….

It was maddening. It seemed puerile and contrary to communication. While I could talk to him about political and social issues, personal stuff was just not broached. I didn’t find out where my dad was born until after he died. His brother told me.

On occasion, as a childish adult, I will slip into it. I’ll just not talk or respond with clipped and dismissive retorts when pressed, perhaps my dad telling me to shut up so I don’t make it worse. After a period of self-loathing, I’ll remember from where that germinated and open up and own my puerile and counter-productive behavior. I’ll be as adult and discuss rather than as child, “I’m not talking to you!

And while I do this thing less and less, preferring communication to silent self-pity, I find that it exists abundantly around me. I find that my contemporaries, my friends, family, even my own kids give me the silent treatment. I see others get it from their fellows as well and wonder what we think we accomplish by ignoring each other. The last decade of my father’s life we very rarely spoke and I know I am not better for it.

The last words I spoke to him were to his dying gray face, his eyes staring into a catatonic space with no hope of recovery or communication. I opened up to this wreck of a man only to receive that silence I had grown accustomed to, his final silent treatment. Then he was gone.

Forever silent.

We do ourselves and our loves a horrible disservice by ignoring each other. If we feel upset and hold it in and let it fester and grow, it isn’t the thing that upsets us which drives us apart, it is our perception of it. Our manifestation of it. By talking or otherwise communicating with each other, we expand our perception and our capacity to understand and forgive. We manifest empathy.

We all say and do things which others find distressing or even hurtful – if not, we’re not saying or doing anything much. The safe road is short and sweet and virtually impossible to learn anything upon. Communication entails risk because in it we risk being wrong. We risk having to defend an untenable position. We risk being embarrassed.

To communicate is to make mistakes, but to communicate is also to rectify them. That which silence communicates is dismissive, almost punitive, “You are unworthy of my attention”. Communication is give and take, not just give and give or take and take. More and more we find ourselves in story telling competitions, responding to one story with another. As Marla Singer opined in Fight Club we don’t really listen so much as “Wait for our turn to talk”.

One of the hardest challenges we present ourselves in the West is the challenge of admitting error. Embarrassment is one of the worst afflictions known to man: We kill or die to avoid it. What were duels fought over? “You’ve offended my honor…” You’ve embarrassed me. What is internet bullying? Some kids embarrassing some other kids to death, embarrassing them so badly they kill themselves or others.

With all the horrors we as a species have created and perpetrated, the thing that makes all the others pale by comparison is personal embarrassment. That’s all.
We ignore somebody then must continue to because we’re too embarrassed to explain why we ignored them in the first place. Soon we avoid each other and we don’t even remember why. Or we do, which drives us only further apart. We hold on to that which separates us while casting off all that holds us together.

The justifications are well known: I’m too busy; We’ve grown apart; I’ve put them behind me; I’ve grown, but they’ve stayed the same; I’m too deeply offended to risk expressing why; I don’t like you anymore.

This is not to suggest that any or all of these sentiments are not valid or appropriate. In time we find things in some people we felt close to that we can no longer ignore: things which diminish ardor. Often people will present themselves as close to us to gain advantage; they will feign friendship or even love to get something they seek. This is the very foundation of capitalism – work everything and everyone to your advantage – and we are well versed in it. Often instead of talking, we negotiate. Our relationships become transactions instead of interactions.

Some people are not very nice yet conceal it by shows of affection or appreciation which make us drop our guard – who doesn’t love being loved or appreciated? When people say nice things about us to us or others we find immediate accord – it is natural being receptive to that receptive to us. Sometimes it takes years to see through a clever mask, especially when seeing through it will diminish those false perceptions we’ve embraced. To reject the liar is to lose the lie.

Admitting we’re in a bad relationship or being used by our 'friends' and supposed well-wishers is embarrassing. We appear stupid and naïve. We hate feeling that way. So relations which should end will go on way too long and then crumble when advantage dissipates. And we end up feeling stupid and naïve.

So instead, we embrace the notion that we have infinite friends or worse, no need for them and dismiss those who annoy or challenge us because it is easier than doing the work to maintain relations. Our opinions become more important than our relationships. Our ideas become greater than our loves.

Can amity or love or friendship be so easily derailed by words, albeit stupid, thoughtless or just poorly considered, or by an action which offends? Are a thousand decent actions trumped by a single callous one? Are a hundred decencies trumped by ten indecencies?

You bet.

In our culture people are elevated in many cases for the simple pleasure of knocking them down. Instead of doing the work of raising ourselves, we feel better by diminishing others. It’s easier.

Our media is all about shame: the shame of a politician or religious leader or sports figure or our favorite, the shame of a celebrity. We all figure we’re better than celebrities, hell, they’re just a bunch of show offs. When they get found out to be gay or addicted or queer or brutal or homosexual or stupid, we love that. Take them down a peg, a whole peg!

Tabloids are embarrassment sheets. Newspapers become more tabloidian each passing year: big provocative pictures on the front above the fold, shock headlines and punny subheads. Rumor portrayed as fact, unnamed sources providing dubious reports, scandalizing private indiscretions while ignoring breaches in the public trust. Online, everyone is fair game. Embarrass and conquer!

In silence nothing is communicated but dismissiveness and to dismiss each other is to find ourselves alone, afraid of being embarrassed to the point of never speaking, hearing, never responding. Casting off more and more people we actually care about because we can’t face the risk of embarrassment which comes in explaining why we don’t talk to each other. Most I suspect would rather just talk. The reasons we like each other shouldn’t be diminished by disagreement between us. If it is, perhaps we really don’t like each other.

Affection seeks accord, disaffection, discord.

To love each other is to let each other know, through word and deed. To love each other is forgive and understand. We for the most part can’t know how long we have here, above ground and those things which should have been said and can’t be because we waited too long resound in our minds until our time comes and they are spoken but to the ether.

Speak with those you love before the opportunity passes. Death is the silent treatment, eternal.

7/1/12 simmbiosis