The Curse of Grown Babies, and the Good Things that Need Our Support

Too many of our people are grown babies. They look like adults but they behave like children. Their only concern is a pragmatic self-interest. Others cost precious time not thinking of themselves. Such folks don’t engage in empathy. They look for excuses around responsibility. They maintain and live in bubbles of limited exposure to world events and culture. Like rabbits they only poke their noses out enough to whiff at the air and presume dangerous forces are at work, and rush back to the comforts of their cocoons.
Babies explore the world like this. Mom and Dad are kept in view, baby ventures away, tries kicking some sand, or balancing on the teeter-totter. When things go unexpectedly, a bug, another kid, a need to pee, baby runs back to parents for comfort.
Many people are some variation of a similar behavior. Mommy and Daddy may or may not be gone, but that’s OK because their presence is preserved in familiar comforts. Many of those comforts are in the form of baby foods, baby entertainments, and baby rituals. At the post hospital care facility my paralyzed friend was housed at the cable station was the one with endless sixties comedies running. There was always a hoard of broken people arrayed in front of the Andy Griffith, or Leave it to Beaver.
A baby can only see the world from his or her own perspective. A child covers up his or her face and you’re invisible, it is also presumed that you can’t see them. Soon enough a boy will be annoyed that the strange rule is that we hold doors for ladies. He might stubbornly cry out, “Why don’t they hold doors for me!” The answer isn’t clear, but it is culture, and culture is something that has to be taught. And it is hard to learn. It is hard to have your preferences and desires curbed. Why shouldn’t we sleep whenever we want? Why shouldn’t we eat whatever we want? Why can’t we watch as much TV as we want? Why don’t you clean up after me? It is an effort to curb, and many people never do get curbed much. Mothers may come in extreme varieties, those that dote and care-take too much, and those that barely do at all (or might be entirely missing). Both can create problems.
So grown babies want the world to kow-tow to them. They imagine that they’re at least on the right team and no one can take that away from them. But then immigrants come and liberals give them services. Those services belong to babies. Giving away those services means that there may be less services. If the service is say, petting. Well that petting should be done on baby’s head, not some Johnny come lately’s head. Someone might hold the door for Mrs. Immigrant and she’s got some weird accent and smells of spices baby has never tasted, also she dresses funny. Well, that door should be held for baby! Not for Mrs. Immigrant. And so on.
Baby’s rituals are wrapped up in religion and the famous Bible. The deadly ponderous church singing, and the looking pretty for the neighbors. Baby doesn’t really read the Bible. Baby listens to what others have to say and follow along. That’s the best. It’s easy and comfortable to fit in. If Pastor John says Rush Limbaugh is right, well that for sure is the right thing. And if Pastor John says gays are bad, well sure as bears poop in the woods, gays are bad. See? Easy! If the congregation is going to be out there protesting a movie, or a clinic, or a funeral then baby will be there because that’s baby’s familiarity.
By the way, life is difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to get a job. People in the bubble know you and treat you like a valuable player. They even listen when you talk and sometimes they pat your back and say “You’re right!” and “You’re smart!” While people outside the bubble are much less impressed. They might totally ignore or even laugh when baby speaks. Sometimes people outside the bubble disagree and even make you feel like you don’t know much. This infuriates baby and baby screams about oppression and bias. No one rushes to comfort baby at work, and work sucks.
Why isn’t baby an adult? Because no one required it.
Incidentally much of tribalism is about maintaining these bubbles of identity and comfort. Not many people are ready to let go of identity and aren’t really willing to be uncomfortable. Hell you’ll be lucky if you can get them to try Indian food.
Here is a small list of reasons why I think our place in the world is a great place. I’m not sure it needs to be called patriotism or thought of as necessary. As Americans we have terrific access to metropolitan areas that are loaded with food and culture from the world over. We can travel freely from state to state and visit friends and sample foods and arts from every corner. Speaking of arts, we have tremendous access to accomplished musicians of many kinds of old and new music from old blues and jazz to the most experimental of rock and electronica. We have writers from Faulkner to Vonnegut to Dorn and beyond to challenge and inspire us. We have indigenous people with amazing languages and religions and a long history with the land. We also have Spanish, French, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Italians, and many more all calling themselves Americans and proving us powerful for diversity. We also respect a certain individuality of spirit. We are not terribly interested in a conformity of tribalism, but instead directly encourage our students and people to adopt far reaching ideas and ideals, and be progressive, and create new inventions and argue for better ways to do things. We can live in the trees, or the cities. We can shop at the supermarket and forage for mushrooms. And we can read whatever we want. We can celebrate Henry Miller. We can ascribe to Adbusters. We can protest war and we can thank our soldiers. And we have sciences and researchers of all makes and styles. We have research universities second to none.
We have problems too. For example, we have too many grown babies. We’re trying to solve these difficulties. It’s not easy as we’ve never quite been here before. We’ll do our best, but if the world of nations comes to an end, NONE of the great things I’ve stipulated need come to an end, because these things are made by people. And people make and support nations. But, only if those institutions created by the people are also for the people, and take care of the people as well.

An Ode to Sincerity

Sincerity Mc Sincerityface how we grieve for the loss of you. Reagan became the great communicator and we all laughed, and then Trump started hunting the Nobel Prize and we started to give up in resignation. A young fan of a middle-aged rock band lobbied to get them to play one of the world’s shittiest rock songs and they did on national TV. Of course there’s no accounting for taste unless that taste is purely a function of a marketing industry that produced not only the marketing but the product in such demand. Then taste is nothing more than manufactured. And everything we care about is really just products of corporations, including our ideals of love and accomplishment.
Watch enough blockbuster films, and absorb enough advertising at the gas pump, and soon enough you won’t know the difference between your life and whatever cliché of the day we have on hand to describe the brainless metropolis, hive-mind, or cult we all ascribe to.
Wouldn’t it be something if instead of being exactly the same idiots we’ve been since history has been recorded that we actually outgrew some of our more ludicrous activities and moronic beliefs? If you read the books of the Old Testament and read Herodotus and Homer you find yourself immersed in an ignorant and fractioned world. Little of it is about understanding or grand achievements attained through cooperation. It is largely about war and deception, and it seems that our lives are universally plagued by these same problems even two or three millennia after the description of events in this ancient literature. And then even modern people who should know better flow downhill like those before them and learn very little about how to think or be critical. They imagine they know what an argument is because they’re superbly stubborn and behave as if they’re playing some kind of team sport that they’ll get a trophy for if they just continue to claim to be unconvinced. And why should anyone be convinced, most of our most popular stories are about a kind of righteous stubbornness that leads to terrifying violence and we mostly want to reward the courageous murderers and dead for their desire to kill and die for something they imagine is worth killing and dying over (though they are mostly children who are sent into these battles, without the wits to really think for themselves). For many folks this righteous violence might be inspired by almost anything—breakfast cereals, neighborhood superiority, sexual inclinations, random places of birth, differences in skin tone . . . the list of things people will kill and die over is amazing. And it is as if there are no other human activities that we can be proud of. No works of art, infrastructure, or preservation, no reversal of destruction, no act of teaching, no achievement of freedom unattached to violence seems to create in folks a point of pride. If in fact love isn’t something we can be proud of how are we so obsessed with it?
It occurs to me that many people salve the fact that they accomplished little and have nothing to crow about by pushing their children into doing things. Somehow through family, friends, or sports affiliation people are able to imagine other people’s skills or achievements reflect positively on themselves. Some people rub elbows with wealthy people in hopes of that connection proving lucrative.
At some point people with children retire from life. Their lives with you have come to an end, they aren’t interested in doing art or going camping or playing in a band or some sports thing with you anymore. What they are interested in is creating that world for their children. Instead of the videos of your friend catching a big fish at some favorite fishing hole you experienced together, you get the video of a toddler fishing there and you’re supposed to absorb that as a kind of replacement of your own life. I’m not interested in people’s kids. I am interested in my friends and my life, not the process of retiring my life so that I can watch kids grow up. I know this sounds dastardly. But the reality is none of us should retire our lives so that we can watch kids grow. It is my extreme position that life and skills and experience should be shared, but should not stop happening because there are children involved. And what are you raising those kids for anyway? So they can turn around and raise kids? Is that perpetuation of a reproduction cycle that satisfying?
Some years ago Harvard smartypants, neurologist, and cultural critic Sam Harris was suggesting we shouldn’t lie. His essay came across as extremely naive. Like, Dr. Harris haven’t you ever worked for anyone? Lying is essential to survival. What he should have written was: it would be very nice if we didn’t have to lie. I could be on board with that. But most of us lie because lying keeps operations rolling smoothly and keeps people you don’t want in your house out of it. There are times I wish we didn’t have to lie so much. For example, why do we continually play games with relationships and reproduction? We seem overly fascinated with other people’s sex lives. Some young fellow at work with four or five kids already just fathered a pair of premature twins. They were not prepared for twins nor premature births. The situation is dire. He was poor to begin with, and now is bankrupt. Most of the folks interacting with him seemed incapable of grasping his concerns. But this isn’t a new thing, we’re all pretty terrible at grasping, or even caring to grasp, other people’s despair and conundrum. We tend to want to just paste over it with happiness and unconcern. We mentally glue a smiley face on our friends and move on. It’s a kind of triage. Imagine being a cardiologist, all day every day, dealing with dying people, their faulty tickers. You are providing a real and sincere service, that is granted, but there’s no chance you could possibly process every patient’s needs, horrors, and fears in any meaningful way. What you do is rapidly move from one to the next accomplishing some necessary duty for each.
And so, sincerity in this context comes to me from great distances. We now live in a humorless age, because we’re watching our government brutally treat immigrants. We’re watching our people transform into a great hate machine of the sort Nazi Germany manipulated into being. The “how does it happen” is no longer a difficult question, all you need is a little trumped up fear and an obsession with extremism and you can produce a cadre of idiots willing to kill and die for preposterous platitudes that they can barely pronounce. Our extremism allows for no subtle ground—drop bombs or shut up.
The legions of “don’t give a fucks” are on the march, and while they aren’t worth listening to, they manage to look compelling. They build their richass church and block traffic on Sundays, getting their luxury cars into the massive parking lot, and go pray for Trump while the itinerant workers sweat on their lawn underpaid in cash by the scumbag landscapers who will rail about their small business concerns. Ever tried slavery?
Yes I want some sincerity, but it’s been tricky in this age of fake news and cult of personality. I’m not interested in hipster irony anymore. I’ve been begging for one actual honest hippy for years. Possibly it’s Pollan and his survey of the psychedlics. That might be the best I get for a while. Or maybe it’s the Japrock I’ve been able to set my teeth into of late, Minami Deutsch have been rocking my rental house well for a few months now. At least there are a few still trying, still fighting back the tide of the “don’t give a fucks”.

What’s Your Five Year Plan

Blogging I think, for me, is just a kind of diary that a few friends can read along with you. Perhaps suggest new ideas or thoughts to excite your mind and send you off on more pondering. There is something of an exercise in it. A writing, and introspection exercise that I believe is good for us. But, if you’re expecting readership and kudos, you really shouldn’t do it. It’s a diary task, it’s mainly only going to be yourself.

Recently I was thinking about how my career plans and life derailed some years ago. And now looking back on it I wonder if I was just foolish and my expectations were too high, or if I really did somehow derail my career plans.
A popular interview question is “What is your five year plan.” I can say I definitely had these sorts of plans years ago, back when I thought I’d be in academia working on exciting species questions (though, my focus had shifted from my aquatic insect fervor when I got about midway through my PhD (which was about systematics—classification–of species)). I wanted to know about hybridization and I wanted to know how robust these phylogenetics studies were that we were revising all sorts of species groups over—changing names faster than the rest of the world could learn them. Modern systematics is dizzying, and we’ve rapidly reached the point where the scientific names (the Latin binomials) are less stable than common names. No one working in modern systematics, that I met, seemed at all uncomfortable about the ever-changing mess. After all it’s not like names weren’t changed before. Of course they were. But it’s never been done on on the scale we’ve got it on now. Based on tiny snippets of DNA (or mRNA) evidence of which we have little knowledge about we’ve swapped names around to different genera or other groups with an almost sportive panache. For a while researchers did a lot to tie some morphology to the changes, but the latest pragmatic grad students aren’t concerned. The computer gives a result and they are ready to publish as “truth”. They want their publications and their kudos and they aren’t worried about introspection or concerned about creating problems for anyone. What happens when we have more molecular evidence? What happens when our tools (computers and software) work better? Change is a good thing, after all, science isn’t a dogma . . . this is true, but is it also true that the way science operates drives a needless cohort of young researchers into the fray to use the existing, and working, binomial naming system (a unique name for each organism is the plan) to fuel their research goals and pad their academic resumes with endless papers. Shoving the deck chairs of the Titanic around while the entire enterprise sinks in value and usefulness. I suppose the metaphor of the Titanic is pretty clear there if a bit heavy-handed. Unique names need not also reflect an ever-changing understanding of the evolutionary relationships of organisms, is all I’m saying. We can understand the relationships without the psychotic mess of renaming everything we once knew the names of.

And so if you got through that, you understand my life ten years ago. I rejected some computational results I got on my leafhopper project as unworkable. I leaned on making the classification as easy and useful as possible and the truth was the old timers who had already worked on my group did a good job. The new evidence, the molecules (DNA mRNA) didn’t give me slick answers that I thought would help our situation. And once I said that, the game was over. At least one of my advisers no longer knew how to talk to me. I could not understand what his “spin” was. He wanted me to tell a “story”. He wanted me to somehow work the fact that the morphology and the molecules did not correspond in any way shape or form and that I was rejecting the molecules as being too naive (not enough evidence) to base a reclassification on. I didn’t know it then, but that was pretty much my end point in that field.
I didn’t think it would matter that much, my life had been about doing various projects. Learning new things is what gets me excited. I’d gone from an IPM weed control project to the systematics project via an aquatic insect inventory project I’d done for the Nature Conservancy. What I gave them was a nice survey of the common aquatic insects of the area. It wasn’t exactly what they wanted, but it was good stuff, and cost them only 2000 dollars. Yeah we undergrads work cheap.
My hopes once I got my PhD were to move on to a cool project about species concepts and maybe hybridization studies. In the meantime I ended up working in a medvet lab with a terrific professor who encouraged me at every turn and tried hard to get me hired. Instead I ran him out of money, though we produced a couple of interesting papers. Then I moved onto another lab that rekindled my Integrated Pest Control background and I ended up doing a very neat survey of carabid beetles (ground beetles: Carabidae, and Ciccindellidae (which are the tiger beetles)) on local farming grounds. Then, we tried to get me an actual postdoc position and failed.

Working as a temp in university life means you get fired every so many months for a month and a half and then you have to reapply for your job. I’d already done this a number of times and it was getting harder to get the job back as the professors were being given less leeway with being able to ask for particular students / workers back. Around 2011 I just decided not to come back and instead focus on building a business with my martial arts experience.
Trying to build a business without celebrity in anything is rough. Marketing requires money. And I just presumed I’d get some other job eventually. But after loads of applications and a fair number of interviews I’ve never landed anything really supportive. I’ve been lucky to have good friends who’ve helped me out. Even with part time positions at their own companies. But, in the end, I can’t afford tires for the (2002 that replaced last year’s 1998) Jeep (bought by my jiu-jitsu students) or even sneakers (I just tossed out the pair I bought several years ago to replace the older pair I’ve been forced to switch back to!).

I did have plans. The plans fell apart. It’s been a painful decade since graduating with my PhD. Maddening sleepless nights staring into an abyss of wondering how to solve the problem. I now have a bunch of young friends who scoff at education. How can I recommend it to them. I still say it’s a good thing, it just didn’t pay off for me. Young men roll their eyes, they haven’t got time for that shit. In the end, I don’t know what my plan is. The question of what your five or ten year plan is reveals a definite disconnect from the economics of real world job hunting and suffering without means. It’s a kind of insult to the struggle people like myself have undertaken. At this point, my plan is to land any job that will give me a middle class living with which I can begin to pay back what I owe in student debt and actually get health care (North Carolina did not expand the medicaid with obama care- not that the GOP plans to take care of that with Trumps “amazing and awesome health care plans”).

In the meantime there have also been health issues. I won’t stipulate here, but there have been a couple of hospital stays, and I got very lucky in meeting a dentist who pulled the three rotten teeth out and treated me for the massive infection I had in my mouth three years ago all pro bono. He likes jiu-jitsu.

Interviews are strange things. On the one hand there’s really only three things you want to know and the interview isn’t going to tell you them. The first is are you able to do the job. This can possibly be gleaned from recommendations and resume. But just the same most jobs have to be learned on the job. And so, it’s your willingness to do the job that matters, and that is number two. Do you want the job? The last bit is the trickiest. Do you fit in? Are you going to be easy or at least reasonable to work with? It’s a social evaluation that is always going to be tricky with hulking men with graying hair. I was once told I needed to slouch more so that I’m less imposing.

I’ve also been told that I should dye my gray. Ladies do it all the time and they don’t think much of it but it irked me. I couldn’t do it. If I’m not getting hired because I’ve got gray hair—and I suppose it’s possible—I’m just not going to get a job. If I’m not getting a job because of some quirky discomfort with my size or shape or vocal style—and again, it’s possible—I’m just not going to have a job. But if in fact I’m not hired because of these things I can feel nothing but severely disappointed about the trifling senselessness of it. I’ve been on hiring committees. I’ve watched people interview. They don’t do anything special to get hired. I’ve done as well or even better. My knowledge base is generally strong, but I don’t pretend to know the job before I’ve done it, and I honestly say so. I’m not a bullshit artist and I don’t think anyone serious is looking for that. Also, I hate canned answers. You can go on youtube and learn lots of canned answers to the most popular interview questions, including the five or ten year plan question.

The truth is not a sell. My plan is to land an income so that I can survive. Whatever job I get, that’s where I will dedicate myself for as long as they’ll have me. At this stage of my life there will be no retirement, nor any social security money. Forgive me if I sound grim and practical about this. None of this is my plan. And I get it, sure, retool, think outside the box, reapply your skill set–Churchill and Roosevelt, and economic national disaster, this isn’t that bad, right?

I read Carl Sagan, Stephen J. Gould, E. O. Wilson, they all told me to do this. They all worried about the lack of technically trained people the world was definitely going to need (right about now). And I got my PhD money from a grant called P.E.E.T. (Partnership for Enhancing Expertise in Taxonomy) that argued that there weren’t going to be enough taxonomists in a few years, and that a disaster was on the horizon where we wouldn’t have people who know what organisms were because we weren’t training them. In the end, it’s me and I’m standing on the roadside with my thumb out. There isn’t a person in America who needs my enhanced expertise.

How can you begin to understand what my plan was?