Maybe A Pause

Written a week ago, but here in case it’s a lasting pause…

Hello. This post is just me.

It’s 4 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It’s almost exactly 11 hours and 30 minutes before our appointment to have our dog, Po, euthanized. He’s 16 and has obviously been a huge part of our lives.

It’s time, but such a hard decision. You always second-guess when you have to decide when a friend dies, I imagine. This friend can’t do the things he enjoyed any longer, is in pain every day, and his life is just diminished to the point where…well. We made the decision.

I’m devastated, and am going to be devastated for a while. I don’t know how long. Every time I think I’m about to be able to sleep I’m crying again.

I only mention this because currently there is only one blog post scheduled on Friday, and then I have to build up a back-log once again. But I don’t know how grief will go, and it might be a while before I write anything again.

So, probably not an end here (I do want to reach a thousand posts if nothing else) but very likely a pause, because a part of our lives is ending and it hurts.

Po rtrait

A young Po, 2005-ish

Capitalist Exploitation Reflex

Brothers Who Hoarded 17,000+ Hand Sanitizers Forced To ...

I wonder if this guy wanted to be famous? Maybe he just wanted to exploit thousands of people for profit. Well, now he’s famous.

The problem isn’t billionaires – billionaires are a symptom. The problem is capitalism. The common lie is that capitalism is the functioning of free markets, but this has never been the case on any large scale. Actually, capitalism has always demanded slavery in some form, because capitalism has always been exploitation.

We can see what I’m calling the “capitalist exploitation reflex” at work right now, as we adapt to the coronavirus and watch opportunists do things like drive across three states to buy up all of the hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes so they could price-gouge people on Amazon and Ebay, or buying up toilet paper rolls so they can sell them for $5 each out of the back of their car. Under capitalism, this is perfectly rational behavior. If you aren’t hoarding and price-gouging your neighbors in the midst of our shared fear and uncertainty, you’re the sucker.

In order to address this exploitation, Amazon and Ebay had to temporarily suspend capitalism. They had to actively prevent the so-called “free market” (which is never, ever actually free) from setting prices the way economists relentlessly teach us markets are supposed to. They had to set price maximums and cancel the accounts of price-gougers. And of course they did – we always punish the small-time gougers, while we let the big-time gougers run everything. We are, after all, capitalists.

The cruelty isn’t a glitch, it is demanded by the system. It is poisonous, diseased billionaire-ism, and it infects many of us whether we know it or not. It shows up when we are anxious, and some of us immediately begin to frantically hoard and exploit. Hoarding and exploiting are the two basic instincts of the capitalist.

This isn’t vapid “all are sinners” kind of reasoning, this is a specific system playing out in predictable, horrifying ways again and again across time and throughout the world. It isn’t that markets exist – they always have. People get together and trade things with each other without any outside encouragement. Capitalism is not markets – that’s just capitalism’s marketing. Capitalism is hoarding and exploitation, deep down to the core. It exploits everyone it touches, relentlessly, blindly, like a blasphemous idiot-god from a Lovecraft story. (From a Christian perspective, I would say that it is literally a blasphemous idiot-god, and we its idolatrous servants)

It is a dragon that breeds dragons, and we need to slay it.

Our True Addictions

It is common to talk about how people are addicted to technology. But I don’t think we are addicted to technology at all. I think we are addicted to what technology offers is easy access to: each other, games, and stories. I think that a large number of companies have found that these human needs can be leveraged and made highly profitable, especially if they are allowed to exploit them without limits, as they currently do. But even calling these ‘addictions’ is a misnomer. They are just fundamental human needs which many of us are trying to fulfill through digital technology.

Addicted to Each Other

It helps me when I remember that most of the folks I encounter on social media are starving. Not physically, but emotionally. We just aren’t built for this nonsense. We are not made (whether by God, evolution, both, aliens who seeded Earth with life, etc) to stare into a flickering screen alone seeking social connections. We only do it this way because our society doesn’t work.

Every few years, we find that people have fewer friends. The average white man in the United States right now has zero close friends. Zero. First our society uprooted all of us, so that we do not have a sense of place or lasting in-person relationships, and then to address this we developed Web 1.0 and then Web 2.0 and social media. These are the things that would connect us as never before, and they have. What they cannot replicate, however, are the in-person relationships that every single human being craves. Without those relationships, we’ll starve, and like starving people, we’ll end up willing to try to eat almost anything.

Addicted to Games

Every soldier’s kit historically included gaming pieces. I’m not an expert who is certain this was always true, but this does seem to be broadly true. So when you have to decide every ounce you are carrying, whether you want to carry that marching hundreds of miles through all weather, whether you want to wear that into battle, one of the most important things soldiers have with them are gaming pieces of some kind.

Gamification is a term that’s come to common use over the last decade or so, driven by people like Jane McGonigal and others who are learning how to use games as leverage in shaping human behavior, whether our own behavior or that of others. Gamification would never succeed if people weren’t already strongly inclined to love and play games.

I would personally go farther to say that we are, as animals, strongly inclined to play. You can observe stingrays playing; whales breaching; dolphins passing around narcotic puffer-fish like a ball. The more I learn about animal intelligence and animal behavior, the more I learn that animals play. One of the forms that basic living need to play takes is the human obsession with games.

Addicted to Stories

Humans love stories so much, we impose stories on seemingly random events. That, at least, is how people without supernatural beliefs account for those who have supernatural beliefs, but it’s also why we impart meaning to noises in the dark or see faces in objects. Confronted with a world with no table of contents or user’s guide, we create stories out of what we experience, and those stories in turn help us navigate more of the world.

People will live and die for stories. Right now, tens of millions of Americans are committing collective suicide for the sake of the story: Make America Great Again. They are eagerly voting against their own best interests, exacerbating problems that will destroy the lives of generations to come, for the sake of that story. Stories drive our triumphs and our failures, as individuals and as communities.

So What?

In order to flourish, I think that we as human beings need to find better ways to be connected to each other, better ways to play and play games, and better ways to tell one another stories. Right now we are locked into multiple exploitative, extractive, destructive, suicidal systems that provide a version of those things only to use them as leverage to commodify us. Fortunately there is a very long human history of knowing one another, playing games, and telling stories. We have a lot of practice in doing these things; we just have to understand what it is that we need, underneath all of the noise and consumerism that is currently strangling us all to death.

An Early Decline? Or A Fetish For Novelty

The above article from The Atlantic made the rounds on my social media recently, and I found it to be worth the read. It is about how professional decline comes earlier than one might expect, and the author reflects on what he sees as his own professional decline.

Here, “decline” is how he describes the transition, observed in many cultures, from being someone who solves problems in novel ways (having what the author calls ‘fluid intelligence’) to someone who is primarily a teacher or mentor for others, who has more ‘crystallized intelligence’, or intelligence that is based on what one has already learned. In other cultures, they would call intelligence that comes from accumulated knowledge and experience, which is used to teach and to mentor – wisdom.

After some reflection, it occurred to me how absurd it is to view this process as decline. Absurd, and a little bit horrific (as my culture often is when I think about it carefully). It highlights how maladaptive our culture is, and one of the many ways we value the wrong things.

Fetishizing Novelty

In many areas of life, even in the United States, we acknowledge that something has greater value because it is old. We feel this way about furniture, and architecture, and documents. This is why we have museums and special collections and archives. There is some survivor bias here – the things that have lasted seem like they must be of greater value. They have, in a way, proven themselves over the test of time.

As a materialistic, consumer culture, however, we crave novelty. For human beings, especially women, we view one’s youth as what gives them value, and see that value as diminishing over time. We are driven, by the fruits of billions of dollars of psychological marketing research each year, to crave more things and new things. Our whole society conspires to make us unwell, dissatisfied, and unhappy, because we would otherwise stop consuming. We are taught to fetishize novelty – the new product is valuable because it is new. The new idea is valuable because it is new. New art is valuable because it is new. This is strange because we are one of the only cultures in the history of humankind that thinks this way.

Oh Yeah We Hate Teachers Too

Many Americans treat teachers with contempt. Maybe not face to face, but the way we treat them, pay them, the way we fund schools, the thankless demands we place on them, all reek of contempt. Even lower than teachers are caregivers – people who care for children and the elderly are almost universally treated poorly and poorly paid. Don’t believe me? Go get a job at a nursing home right now, I dare you. It’ll be the hardest, most thankless job you’ve ever had, and you will not be able to live on what you are paid. We assume that people who would lower themselves to care for other human beings must be doing it out of a sense of martyrdom.

You can see it in the above article, and the mindset that it reflects (which is common and widespread) that one has to lower one’s self, to enter into decline, in order to teach and to mentor others. That is a demotion – we experience it as such, trained and acculturated as we are. A humane, rational society would see teaching and caring for other human beings as one of the most noble and important things one could possibly do. American society is neither humane nor rational.

Ubiquity of Elders

Every single culture on planet Earth developed such that elders were honored. Until very recently (the last few seconds on an evolutionary time-scale) that is a generalization that could be made about any culture, sight unseen. Even in the modern world, many cultures continue to value and honor elders. They are seen as wise, worthwhile, and as key contributors to a community. There is no surviving traditional society we know of that does not honor elders, and there are plenty of societies that have survived into the modern world that continue to do the same.

Now, why would every human culture in known history come to the conclusion that elders were to be valued? Let’s say fetishizing novelty was a good idea – if it was, then cultures that fetishized novelty would have flourished, displacing the ones that did not. Those cultures that honored stodgy elders who have faded away and lost out.

What we see is the exact opposite – cultures that fetishize novelty are committing collective suicide at a rate unseen in Earth’s geological history. We are dying in a conflagration of our own making. The cultures that honor the people that the above article sees as experiencing “decline” persisted for hundreds of thousands of years, and the cultures that ceased to do this are killing themselves and spreading poison and misery to a degree never before seen.

What If Age Is Not Decline?

It is very difficult to change a culture, and much of what changes a culture is surprising and out of anyone’s conscious control. The couple dozen people who read this blog post are not going to be able to get together and change our society so that age is not seen as necessary decline, but rather as a time where there is the potential for wisdom and for being able to share that wisdom.

We don’t value wisdom, as a society. We don’t know how to recognize it or seek it out. We don’t reward it or encourage it or honor it. We value novel solutions to ‘problems’ like “How do we produce more crap more cheaply?” and “How can we get more people to want to buy our crap?” We don’t realize that our solutions merely create more problems until it is basically too late, if ever. The billionaires are shipping consumer goods to our doors and building asinine hyper-loops while the people who are trying to teach and mentor have to take second and third jobs to pay their student loans.

Fetishizing novelty, among other things, is killing us. Predictably so, since every society to come before decided not to do that. But here we are. If we valued wisdom, we probably would be wise enough to see this happening and change.

A Place For Church

Yes, church. That place where we brainwash our kids (OK some of us do) and conspire to strip away basic rights (yes some of us do that too and it’s shitty). Church is also one of the only places in American society, in our novelty-fetishizing society, where old people are valued. Not in every church, but in most churches, and the idea of honoring elders is built into Christianity, and is something we might do well to highlight and feature.

Churches are full of old folks – why? Maybe because churches are a place, in contrast to families and professions and hobbies, where elders are honored. In my own tradition, to be an “elder” is to be an elected leader of the church who runs things and makes decisions. An “elder” does not have to be literally old, but almost all of them are over 55, and it is a position of leadership and worth and work that someone could easily maintain into their 80s.

In every other area of life I can think of, we partition off our elderly and place them in social ghettoes. Elders literally die from feeling useless, and commit suicide because they feel like they are a burden on their loved ones. When we talk about them, it is as a burden on society – how will we pay for all of these Baby Boomers collecting Social Security and living longer? Where will we warehouse them? How can we get them to stop watching Fox News?

Churches obviously have huge problems, but I do think that one way churches can and should be counter-cultural and adaptive is to be places where elders are not only valued, but also integrated with people of other ages and generations. It’s rare to have a group of people who meet every week in the same room, doing the same things, ranging in age from 6 months to 96 years – for my own context, we call that Sunday morning at church.

Hold the Darkness Down While I Kick It

Sometimes the great beast rises up, sinks in its claws, and tries to drag you down into oblivion. Oh, not you? Just me? Damn. Anyway. I think about what helps, and share what I come up with, in case any of these things might help you.

Spite is Underrated

I often tell people this – more and more often as time goes on. Spite is an underrated reason to stay alive and persist. Spite against whom, you ask? Anyone. Take your pick. Stay alive to spite Trump and all of his horrific ilk. Stay alive to spite everyone who’s ever told you you can’t do something. Stay alive to spite your exes. A lot of great art has been created out of spite.

Actual Nature

Pseudo-nature is cool – parks and aboretums and gardens and driving through rolling hills and so on. But real nature is what hits me – nature that doesn’t care about me or you, nature that is just there as itself, for itself. Nature from the last few chapters of Job. I’m edified every time by encountering nature on its own terms. I realize that it would murder me if we had to meet for any length of time, but the glimpses are always good.


Make things. Even though, in my case, this really just means making groups of words and putting them together. So pseudo-things. But at the end of the day, if I’ve strung some words together, I feel more like being alive a bit longer. Even if they’re mostly shitty words – that is the nature of words, after all.


Not just D&D, but right now I’m playing in a great D&D game. But tabletop RPGs are the thing that keep me sane. I mean this literally. I start to lose my shit if I can’t game for a while.


Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe ‘resistance’ is a better word for this. For the past two years I’ve been working on the Phoenixville Area Refugee Initiative as a way to channel my rage at our inhumane political climate. This work advocating for refugees and asylum-seekers has connected me with some great people, and reminds me of what I value and what’s important, and lays the groundwork to support vulnerable people in my community and beyond.

It’s a small thing, ultimately, but…I have to fight.

Stuff Yeah

This is what we called it in college sometimes. But trips to Bone Town are almost always helpful. Nothing revolutionary here. If you have someone in your life, or someones, who would enthusiastically consent to getting down, then get down.

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight