(Part 1 of 3 ) We spent our first 200,000 years as homo sapiens living in small groups. Usually 150 people or smaller. We looked like our fellow tribe members. Our skin was mostly the same. Our language the same. Our culture regimented and clear through the unimpeachable authority of oral tradition, elders, and superstition. The tribe that lived on the other side of the mountain was alien and probably dangerous. Perhaps we traded sea shells with them. Perhaps we warred with them. We certainly didn’t understand them. If you ate your neighbor’s fruit, you hurt your neighbor. You watched him starve. If you put poison in the creek, you killed your cousin downstream. Cause and effect were not intellectual feats, they were felt realities. You had to take care of your soil or you would die. It was the only soil you had. This is how we evolved to be. We’ve operated like that for 95% of our time on this planet. Then, just 12,000 years ago, we discovered agriculture, and therefore, dependable food. With a secure food source, we quit migrating and built bigger tribes. We built walls and defended our grain. We organized into groups much larger than our families. We no longer knew everyone’s name. How did we get along? With using our power of belief to extend our family. We systematized it. If we didn’t trust our neighbor because of blood, we trusted her because we worshipped the same god, the same King, the same spirits. We expanded our families with the labels we put on ourselves. You’re the same religion as me, so you are with me. With this dependable food and myth-driven trust, our villages became towns, our towns cities, and our cities nations. We systematized it. We broke our giant tribes into classes. We created ruling elites. We deified them to give them authority. Structural inequality was born. We could no longer feel the impact of some of our sins on the larger group, on strangers, so we systematized feelings again: we codified morality into religion. If your neighbor didn’t see you steal, the all-seeing God did. 📷: @samanthamarq
(Part 2 of 3 ) At our core, we are feeling animals first, thinking apes second. We make decisions based on how we feel much more than what logic and data tell our brains. We can feel the sadness on the face of a starving family member. Our logic and data will help us stop the pain we feel for our child. But it’s hard to go the other way. To start with data and find a feeling. We weren’t built to worry about what was happening to the family on the other side of the mountain. Giant tribes, now called societies, create new problems. The chain of cause-and-effect is too long to feel, and therefore very hard to perfect. These new challenges have a name: ‘hyperobjects.’ These are things too complex to be grasped with our present ape-brain wiring. The global economy is a hyperobject. When I buy a cheap t-shirt, I can be warned that its price reflects an enormous scaffolding of oppression, land abuse, worker abuse, and toxic chemicals. But our brains want cheap things that look nice. This shirt will make me look good in front of my community. I can feel that. I can’t feel a supply chain that stretches across the globe to places I’ve never even heard of. Even if I logically know it. Our impact on the natural world is a hyperobject. The most pressing one to ever face our species. We know this intellectually. All the experts agree. But we have a lot of trouble feeling it. And therefore, change is happening as a trickle. Those wired to feel hyperobjects a bit more, react more. Those wired to ignore them (most of us ), do less. If we do not learn to address massive hyperobject problems, we will greatly suffer. Perhaps collapse. We know this intellectually. But we simply cannot feel it, because so many of us are loving our comfortable lives these days. We’ve been warned about ‘borrowed time,’ we’ve been begged to ‘think of our grandchildren,’ but all these things put the pain beyond the visceral reach of our wiring. Ok lemme quit trying to make sense of our species for myself for a minute and speak very clearly, still to myself, but listen in: I think we only have two ways out of this. Two ways to tackle hyperobjects: expanding our myths, and legislation.
(Part 3 of 3 ) Just as we all somehow agreed that colorful paper would become money and therefore powerful. Just as we got millions and billions of people to believe in a book of Jewish words and laws. Just as we have millions of strangers calling themselves ‘Americans’ and feeling some level of fictional kinship… we must expand the myth of our role in the ecosystem of this planet. We are not separate from it. There is no ‘nature’ and ‘civilization.’ There is only nature. Secondly, if the myth doesn’t work, we must be forced to change through legislation. We must elect leaders who will aggressively tackle fossil fuels, single use plastic, soil erosion, deforestation for cattle farms, all of it. Our monkey brains love meat and comfort. We fought for hundreds of thousands of years for the rare taste of sugar, meat, and soft fur on our skin. We weren’t meant to have it all the time. I believe we need to elect leaders who will make us uncomfortable now (carbon taxes, huge investment in renewable energy, etc ), a comfort we never deserved and only achieved through theft and poison, for downstream success. I don’t know if I’ve ever ranted like this before. But I’m convinced that the biggest challenge of our age is how we tackle or do not tackle the hyperobjects that have long loomed, waiting for us to grow beyond our wisdom, and always promised to kill us. . (If you cant tell, I read and loved the books Sapiens and Homo Deus and recommend them to everyone )
I'm an Enneagram type 7, wing 8. Do you know your numbers? Personality tests are fun. I don't worship them like a prophesy or feel trapped by them like a curse. I see them as giving us a common language to unpack our differences. The "illusion of sameness" often leads me to think others would respond just as I would to a certain situation. "I would never have said that, I can't believe she did!" "I can't imagine going back to him, but he did!" But most people don't think exactly like me. They make different assumptions and want different things. The Enneagram has been a helpful (if mostly playful ) tool to understand how other people think, and how they can think so differently than me. As a 7, I am an Enthusiast. I am fun and excited and always exploring. What's great about the Enneagram is that it builds each of the 9 personality types on root causes. On our basic fears and desires. These building blocks of identity then populate upwards into so many manifested traits. As a 7, my root fear is pain. Is feeling trapped in deprivation. And so, how do I protect myself? I explore, I laugh, I plan the next adventure in the middle of the current one. I consume. I am always on the search for the Lost City of Gold. My 8 wing, a touch of ‘challenger,’ is why I’ve always cussed in church and loved to hop fences and trespass. I am convinced that understanding my basic fears, understanding the what, how, and why of who I am, is crucial work in living a fulfilling life. If I do not know the strings that pull my marionette, I am nothing but a wooden slave, entertaining strangers. And I remain a stranger to myself. There is freedom in the hard work of excavation. 📷: @samanthamarq 👑 #enneagram
“Truth, like love and sleep, resents approaches that are too intense.” - W. H. Auden I would add friendship to that quote. You can’t want it too bad or you’ll poison it. That’s certainly true of love. This is judgmental, or perhaps just ignorant, but I’ve always been suspect of the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ ...it seems by its very title to promise the wrong kind of both friendships and influence. I haven’t read it so maybe you can tell me I’m an idiot for thinking that. Friendship is not one thing and there is not one type... but it seems to me that desperately wanting it for its own sake kills it. You have to want to be you, to like what you like, to dive into your interests and direction, join clubs, go to Comicon or a film festival, and then suddenly, you’ll look right and left, and see others at your shoulder, moving in the same direction, with so much to talk to you about.
I’ve been thinking about the hundreds of traits that make up who we are and how we move through the world. Beauty. Race. Charisma. Family. Economic privilege. Zip code. Physical abilities. You know those huge mixing-boards they have in recording studios, with tons of sliders and knobs to turn this up, that down, all the way, or just ever so slightly, to find the perfect mix… that’s how I see all of us. I think of my own mix: A white Christian boy from Tennessee. Gay. A kid with a soft body and acne. Teenage hotness? - turned down. But a nice smile? - tick the hotness up just a little. Throw in a quick mind that adjusted to rejection with humor. A natural disposition for optimism, which colored my humor playful instead of cold and cutting. Funny and charming - turned up. A feminine voice? I had it, but got mocked for it, so I turned that knob down myself. I grew up with divorced parents and a family constantly in flux. Stability - middle position. Adaptability - turned up. But both my parents loved me unconditionally and supported me in absolutely every way. Self worth - turned up. The traits play with each other and become greater than their sum. Beauty is nice, but if you don’t have social skills, or have depression or abuse, life can be very difficult. Or you could have a lot of circumstantial dials against you (female, poor, black in the deep south, abuse… *see Oprah ) but have your discernment, intuition, charisma, ambition, and mastery of language turned all the way up. Those factors are practically religious virtues in an individualistic society like the United States. And so, she is a god. What am I talking about.. I guess I’m trying to challenge the essentialism of the human mind. A gay man like me, who was able to hide by changing my voice and body language pretty early on, is very different from another who couldn’t. We are both gay, and therefore share internal scripts that others don’t… but there is not a perfect overlap. This is true for any group, any slider on the mixing board. It is informed by every other dial. Every human is part of a thousand groupings and stereotypes, and in their uniqueness, the destruction of any one of them. 📷: @tshivs
It used to be that courtroom judges had to believe in God and an afterlife. It was required because the people worried that judges would abuse their power if they didn’t have fear of judgment from on high. They may cheat the world, but they can’t cheat God. . This belief is gone. Rightly so. But I wonder what integrity looks like without belief in a ‘watcher on high.’ And we certainly know that worrying about God’s watchful eye has hardly curbed sinister behavior in the past. The potent evil perpetrated by priests and church leaders is almost a feature of organized religion as opposed to a defect. . But I do believe that integrity in the smallest things has some kind of cosmic dividend. The measure of good character is how you treat the people that can do nothing for you. . Here’s a dumb but relevant story: More than once, I’ve sneezed in my hands and wiped them on the seat of an Uber car. What’s horrible is that only now, in thinking about this, have I ever felt bad for doing it. Something subconscious directed me to wipe my fucking snot on a stranger’s car, that they personally own, simply because they’ll never know it was me that did it. My lizard brain took the opportunity for granted. It said ‘no one is watching and therefore there is no consequence.’ . I don’t believe in a tally-keeping moralized God like I did before. But I do believe that God is watching, whatever that means. And when I am selfish, to the secret detriment of another, the Universe is listening and sending rotten ripples into the whatever. I am not innocent of those actions. Even if it simply means that they accrue in my heart, to make me feel like a coward and a phony... and that has terrible consequences. When we ultimately decide that we are cowardly, or beyond repair, we acquiesce to slothful hedonism. We hurt others and throw up our hands and say ‘what can you expect, I’m trash.’ . Who we believe ourselves to be is who we become. I don’t mean to say who we pretend to be, or hope to be. But who we sincerely believe ourselves to be is a curse or a calling. . 📷: @tshivs the king.
I think we need to broadly implement regular digital detoxing. It should be as socially encouraged as exercise, eating right, quitting smoking, etc. . I just did eight days with no internet. No texting. No push notifications. No lazy distraction. No scrolling or news addiction or explore pages or twitter rage. I realized how rarely I’ve done this. Maybe since 2007, I haven’t been phone free for more than a week, ever. Even on my bike trip... I think my longest stretch of zero WiFi was a week. . I have developed pain in my thumb joints from scrolling for ten years. . I spent Friday with several wonderful mom’s of fifth graders. 10-11 year old kids. I asked what their policy was for screens and social media. I heard, ‘I absolutely don’t want my kid to have a phone. But my son is currently the only fifth grader without a phone... it’s hard because it’s hard to be left out’ and we talked about adolescent desires, and at that age, ‘belonging’ is life. Anything that makes you ‘other’ is terrifying. The zero sum game of protecting your child from screen addiction on one hand, and causing them to be left behind on the other. The memes and jokes and references and compounded understanding between the kids with phones and texting and social presences... and those without. . A hero of mine, the social-psychologist Jonathan Haidt (check out his books ), believes that no child should have social media before high school. Our brains develop foundational social skills from age 8-13, and our hardware evolved for face-to-face computation. Saying something mean and feeling the kid’s face distort in hurt or anger. Wrestling in the grass. Pushing or sulking or crying. Volumes of information flowing from the real world. Integrated existence: body and mind. . Social media short circuits this. An eleven year old might not understand how to compute gossip on Instagram. Or cruelty. Or mockery. Or posturing. Or worse: concern over personal branding. . I’m so curious how parents are navigating these waters. . Whatever the age or generation... integrated life is key. I think a week of total disconnection should be prioritized at least one a year. Twice?
(Part 1 of 3 ) I've watched Leaving Neverland. I watched the Oprah special after. I watched Living With Michael Jackson on Youtube. And I watched the other Oprah special with Michael from 1993. When something confuses me, or hurts me, I switch into research mode. My heart coils up and hides while my mind busts through walls promising to protect it with understanding. As long as I can remember, I've heard the rumors that Michael Jackson abused children. But also the defenses. He was acquitted by a jury. He never had a childhood. He is so famous, so 'other,' so different, that we shouldn't expect him to behave normally. And why should a documentary bring justice? Why not the law? And as with anything we like, willful ignorance is often a cozy chair. How many times have I pulled into McDonalds late at night, knowing that industrialized farms torture cows and pigs, and ordered a double cheeseburger. I love cheeseburgers. And so long as I can't hear the cow's cry, I can pretend that they're not. I can fill my belly and smile. . But watching this documentary was stepping into the slaughterhouse. I am an adult now. I watched Leaving Neverland, and I believe those men. I believe they were abused. And once I put down my defensive love of Michael Jackson's music and what my memories with that music held, I saw those traumatized men. I saw the amusement park. I saw the most powerful celebrity in the world using his power on young children. . I do not believe genius and virtue are related. I do not believe genius and character are linked. I do not need Isaac Newton to be a good person. I do not need Einstein to be a loving dad. If the architect of the Golden Gate bridge was a horrible anti-semite or murderer... the bridge would be no less useful. It would still be beautiful. Though complicated, we wouldn't tear it down. Its utility is so great that most of us don't even know who designed it. (Cont’d )