Thoughts on a Down Day: Impotence

Buddhists everywhere will tell you, “Life is suffering.” If you can’t deal with suffering, you can’t deal with life. Some people believe they can’t deal with suffering, so they avoid things like: being alone with their thoughts; challenging activities; artistic expression; exercise; thinking about death; airing grievances; admitting weakness or mistakes; reconciling with someone after a disagreement…. There are myriad ways to squirm around suffering, but all of them are destructive. I guarantee that doing any of the things I just mentioned will, yes, cause suffering, but will make you happier in the long run. Refraining from them will result in growing tension, and harsher suffering in the long run.

I was just introduced to the idea of Fast Thinking vs. Slow Thinking. I have done remarkably little research on it but I’m going to talk about it anyway. How many times have you said to yourself, “Okay, no more sugar,” or something, but then when you were in front of that Chocolatine, you were like, “Well, it’s a pretty high-quality pastry, and there’s a whole plate of them, and it would be rude for me to refuse…” all in the space of a half-second, during which time the thing found its way to your mouth? Yeah, me too. That’s “Fast Thinking.” If you had been asked the day before, “Oh, I’m going to have Chocolatines after the brunch tomorrow, will you want one?” you would have said, “Oh, no thanks, I’m off sugar.” That’s your “Slow Thinking” at work.

Fast thinking is necessary for a lot of things. “Think fast!” people will tell you as they toss you a glass bottle while you weren’t even looking. Train your fast thinking, and you’ll catch that bottle. But, heeding too often your fast thinking could get you into a lot of trouble.

Here’s a common Slow thought for me: “Okay, today, when I see [insert person] I am going to bring up [insert topic] so that it can stop being an issue in my over-analysing brain.” Then when I see the person, the thing is always on my mind, but I never want to bring it up. My brain’s pain-aversion software kicks in, and I just go “Naah we’ll deal with it next time.” And the delay continues….

In the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about feminine mythological images. Specifically, I’ve found myself researching the influence of male-dominant religious images on female-dominant ones. The long and short of it is that for a couple hundred thousand years, we had predominantly Goddess-worship societies. Mostly, these people were agriculturalists, but even the hunting societies recognised the immense magic power of the life-bringing woman. She was like the Earth, taking seed and transforming it into Life. She also had the power of Death, for any Life carries with it its own mortality. Then, Rebirth is the idea that we came from the Earth and will find new life when our particles are repurposed. This is the crux of the Mother Goddess idea.

Then, a group of herding conquerors (the Semites, mostly), came in and, well, conquered. These people were male-dominant societies. They did not appreciate the Earth in the way the Agricultural societies did (I mean, they lived in a desert; could you blame them?). The idea of conquer was so appealing to these emasculated men that it became our whole culture. It became a great many cultures, in fact: every culture taken over by these dick tribes became a different nation of megalomaniacs. We have lived in a rape culture since Yahweh was born. But we don’t just rape women: we rape culture.

So what I’ve come to ask myself is this: why is it we feel the need to conquer? What drives this impulse? Why must I slam my dick in the face of mine enemies?

The answer is sadly simple. Insecurity, and Fast Thinking.

Men in our present-day Western world are taught not to cry. We’re told to be the breadwinners. We’re told always to be brave. We’re told to follow our dreams. We’re told not to let anything stop us. We’re told our families are counting on us. We’re given all these roles and no one ever asks us how we’re feeling. Because it’s socially unacceptable to show your emotion in public. We’re not allowed to show the world how fucking terrified we are that all our efforts are meaningless; that we don’t want all the inherited responsibility; that we have no control over our own lives, let alone that of others.

Meanwhile, women are so fucking magical. For God’s sake, they make humans. In their tummies*! Not only that, but after the birth (requiring a tolerance for pain I can hardly even imagine), she produces her own food for the kid. The baby is entirely made up of the mother’s blood and milk (early cultures observed) until it starts to eat puréed peas. Then we see how much the baby cares about Mommy, that Daddy is secondary until the kid is smart enough to know what he’s there for.

I can only imagine a buildup of tension and resentment  in one or a few societies caused the inception of Male Dominance. It has as its lynchpin the denial of the insecurity of a meaningless existence. The perpetual grabbing of some illusory idea of “power” is a short-sighted and self-destructive band-aid for our own impotence. Self-destructive is a big point here: it’s self-destructive not only individually, but globally: the society that suffers from this is, now, on a crash course with the cliff of overpopulation.

Unfortunately for us, this meme is virulent, highly contagious, and engenders the use of deadly force against non-believers. So it spread like a plague, sword-borne, horse-borne, blood-borne. I don’t need to recite any of the atrocities done to women – and the Earth, and the Goddess, which are one and the same – over the ages. There is enough feminist literature out there. This is, um, fuck I don’t know, a masculist essay. It’s an impotent attempt to discover to my fellow man the truth about male power.

We don’t have any. The illusion of power that we have clung onto like a hungry baby to a lactating tit has soured our relationships to the Earth, our Mothers, and crucially, ourselves.

You want to be manly? Weep. You want to be courageous? Admit you’re scared, feel alone, powerless. You want sex? Appeal to a woman. You want love? Ask a woman: they are unbelievable fountains of love for those of us who are humble and gentle. It doesn’t have to be an all-consuming love, capital-letter-Romantic Love. Mutual respect and real communication is enough. Tell her what is ailing you, what is eating at your soul, and watch it get better. It will hurt, like setting a bone.

It’s the fear of being powerless that has driven us to drown the female form, voice, symbol. I don’t know about you, but I feel powerless. I feel alone, and tense, and scared, and doubtful, and full of ennui.

But that’s okay.

That’s what life is all about.

Just dig it, and tomorrow will be brighter. Promise.

I love you. Stay real.

-T

*Of course, not all women can bear children. These women are no less magical! One may personify any or all facets of the Triple Goddess – a Maiden, a Mother or a Crone – without a uterus. This is third wave feminism, baby.

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How Not To Teach

I am willing to bet you’d have something to say if I asked you, “What is wrong with our education system?” You might say something about class size, the lecture system, teacher wages, the curriculum…. I want to go right down to the roots of the problem and say, our terminology is wrong. The very vocabulary we use to describe “education”, “teachers” and “students” discourages independent thinking and the evolution of knowledge.

Most of what I’ll be talking about is from Paulo Freire, a radical educational thinker from Brazil. His book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a hopeful walk through the bleak system of oppression ubiquitous throughout the modern world. His experience is rooted in South America, but on reading the power dynamics between “Opressor” and “Oppressed”, it is easy to see the parallels in our own (Canadian, North American, Western) society. It is not as easy to see the lines between the two groups: who is on top? Who is doing the oppressing? What does it mean to be oppressed in middle-class America?

I won’t go into details about how we are oppressed in our every day lives (not yet…), but I will say this: what Freire highlights again and again is that while the Oppressed are dehumanised, the Oppressors, those who remove that humanity, remove their own humanity. No one who robs another of their humanity is fully human, but is functioning on ideas of greed and/or prejudice.

So what’s wrong with our education system? Things become quite flagrant when we look at what we expect our children to get out of school versus what they actually do. I would think any average person would expect their children to:

  1. become knowledgeable;
  2. become more social;
  3. and become better thinkers.

Even your five year old should get these things. He ought to learn to think about stuff, right? That’s what education is all about, training the brain, right?

Now, let’s look at the average day of a child. I’ll draw on my own experience, mostly. Perhaps there have been radical changes to the system since then, but I doubt it. I would arrive at school, sit down, be told how to conjugate a French verb, be told that if I multiply 5 by 2 I get 10, get beat up during recess, learn tidbits about Algonquin and Iroquois social structure and practices, go home, maybe look at the information I got during that day, and at some point, put the information back on a paper which goes back to the teacher.

How many of our expectations have we fulfilled?

First, I ought to have gained some knowledge. After all, I learned some facts. 2×5=10. Algonquin tribes were nomadic while Iroquois were sedentary. Je sais une verbe. But is any of this actually knowledge?

To have real knowledge, a person must be able to articulate that knowledge in their own way. They must have engaged with information entering their brain, processed it, and incorporated it with their broader worldview. If I learn all about Feudal England – all the titles from King to Peasant, the structures, the exchange of goods for protection – but I can’t tell you anything about how that structure permeates, how there is still echoes of it in modern England, and even in Canada – if it exists outside my reality, how can I call it knowledge? Consider this: someone asks you to memorise a ten-digit number. Turns out, it’s that person’s mother’s phone number. You now “know” this person’s mother’s phone number, but if someone asked you for this person’s mother’s phone number, you would say, “I don’t know it.” You have information with no context. It’s useless, except to the person who asked you to memorise it, so that later, when they found a pay phone, they could get you to say the ten digits so they could call their mother. In this case, you’re not a person in possession of knowledge, you’re a tool for another person.

What about becoming more social? It is necessary for people to develop social skills. But is school the best place to do that?

An environment in which I have no control frustrates me. It builds up the need to have agency. Our humanity, as defined by Freire, is equivalent to the amount of control we have over our own lives and situations. When I am sitting in a classroom I didn’t choose, with a teacher I didn’t choose, “teaching me things” I didn’t ask to learn, in a manner that doesn’t suit me, to do tests that seem to have no point, I feel a strong lack of control. I therefore look for another outlet to assert control. This, combined with the fact that everyone in the school is given a grade, making the whole experience an unofficial competition, gives way to all sorts of social nastiness. If I’m a larger kid than most, and I’m in this situation, and I don’t have any control at home, chances are pretty high I’ll become a bully. Or, maybe I got bullied, so now my sense of control is even more reduced, causing me to stay in the shadows, not wanting to talk to anyone.

If you go for a job interview, what do they want? Nine times out of ten, they want a team player. Someone who is able to recognise the needs and abilities of others and communicate their own. Did we learn this at school? Maybe you did. In elementary school, I learned how to do things on my own. In high school, I learned to be liked by people. I am now good at both of those things. But am I good at recognising the needs and abilities of others, and communicating my own? No. I’m bad at those things.

Okay, so it looks like 1) and 2) are a bust, so we must rely on 3). Surely with all those Maths and Englishes we will become the thinkers we always aspired to be. Except… what really happens in these classes? Book reports, where we are asked to read a book, then are given a passing grade for writing a summary. Math equations tell us how to find the angle of a right-angle triangle, but never once does the teacher give you actual practical applications to trigonometry (there are a lot!). In this way, we are never asked to think, but just to retrieve information*.

Freire describes what he calls the “Banking” system of education. The teachers, who know everything, deposit information in the minds of the students, who know nothing. The students are asked to file away those informations in their brain, to be withdrawn at test time. There are basic methods of memorisation being trained here. But the system also doesn’t give a shit if you forget all that you learned right after the test, so often that’s exactly what happens. This is the predominant system. Why, O God, why?

I said I had issue with our vocabulary. When we can start to think of Students as people with ideas and experience, rather than as names on a sheet, we will be able to create an actual learning experience with them. When Teachers are stripped of their authority as “person-who-knows-everything”, they will be forced to look at the Students as people, and encourage them to offer their own outlook on what’s being taught. When Education does not consist of a long monologue, but of a dialogue, we will begin shaping the future we need to shape.

In order for any of this to come to pass, we cannot amend the systems we have. We must destroy it, and build from the ground up a system that treats everyone present as Humans, hopeful and powerful. Teachers must constantly propose problems to their students, so they might exercise their reasoning and logic every day. Students must constantly challenge their teachers, so that they must reconsider their positions based on the valid new experience that student is bringing. To use Freire’s terms, we need a dynamic of teacher-students and student-teachers, actively crafting knowledge together.

In this way, we can learn to think critically from an early age. In this way, we will learn to work with our classmates during our formative years. In this way, we can learn about the world and see it with the wisdom of the great men and women of our history, instead of seeing that wisdom as separate from our reality. In this way, we can nourish a generation of people we can count on to save humanity from our self-imposed extinction.

Stay critical. I love you!

 

-Travis

 

*Our Math education does teach us to use reason and logic. But, since it’s the only class we are asked to use that reason and logic, reason and logic become synonymous with Math, and people who hate Math are going to hate reason and logic. People who love reason and logic will follow Math without finding the reason and logic in other things.

Yes, it flexes that all-important brain-muscle, but no one tells you what you’re flexing it for. Imagine someone told you to do Kegel exercises every day, without ever telling you that it would make your sex life that much better. What the hell? No thanks. Put yourself in the shoes of a kid who is forced to go through the pain of doing algebra, when his whole life his teachers have told him he’s bad at Math. Just close your eyes and imagine it. That’s all.

A Free Radical

This seed of an idea just got watered, reading the works of Paulo Freire,
Who teaches radicalism.
At the core of this teaching is that outward change has to come from deep within ourselves
That we must awaken the thirst for knowledge and justice within the soil of our minds
And feed on the community around us
Entwine, and grow,
Cross-pollenating, growing with our neighbours.
A garden can’t be a garden without every flower
And every flower started off as a seed
Which grew roots.
But that word – radicalism. Where does it come from?
I remembered seeing the word in other contexts: chemistry. Linguistics. Politics.
How can a word apply to so many different fields with such different results?
So I dug around and found its etymology
Radix is latin for Root.
Of course! everything has roots.
We trace our lineage back to the first primates, the first mammals, the first fish, the first cells
Spreading out like a network
Looking like any old family tree
And with this new information, the seed grew into thoughts, and now in this writing, into action, as I spread the pollen of this analysis.

In Chemistry, a radical is an incomplete molecule
It’s out of balance
It’s charged
Full of electricity, ready to pounce, ready to steal an electron that another element is hogging
They are among the most volatile substances we know of.
For example, Hydroxyl, a single hydrogen and a single oxygen
Missing that tenth proton to make the water that we all need to live.
Released into the pollution in our rivers and upper atmosphere
It latches on to the toxins that we put there
Every single molecule effecting one single chemical reaction
Leaving the stuff of life in its wake
In other words
It is on these tiny particles that we rely
To clean up the mess left by industrial progress.

In Linguistics, a radical is a word with suffix and prefix removed
It’s the origin,
Naked,
Ready to turn coat by reversing its meaning with an “un-” becoming “un-lawful”
Or sell out, adding “mega-” or “extra-” so it can get a little more.
We can say more with a radical than with a prefix,
And by increasing our knowledge of radicals
Not only do we understand where we come from
But what has changed us.
Rather than react to injustice, and be bemused by racists,
I will act.
I will be just.
I will be a muse,
And I will break the braces by embracing our singular race.
In other words,
By looking to the core of our vocabulary,
We can speak with care and precision.

For Freire, a radical is someone devoted to changing the system at its very base
Someone who rejects all form of domination used by the Oppressors who will henceforth be referred to as “The Man” that you all know and fear.
Someone dedicated to inspecting the system
Shaking it at its roots until its strange fruit drops
Pruning dead stalks
Pulling out weeds
And encouraging the growth of new systems which will bring us joy as a people
Instead of strife as individuals.
Radicals, when grouped together,
Released into these polluted systems,
Will cleanse
Every single person doing everything possible for one single life
Removing excess, filling gaps, simplifying solutions
Creating a new, diverse vocabulary
And in doing so, growing to the full potential of the human imagination
It’s not too late to be a radical
Every flower has to start somewhere
And we can’t make this garden without a lot of flowers.
In other words
By being radical,
We can plant ourselves in this Earth once more.