What Makes Humans Human?

Little, today, is as it was.

Anatomically modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years, but only since the end of the eighteenth century has artificial lighting been widely used. Gas lamps were introduced in European cities about that time, and electric lights came into use only in the twentieth century.

In other words, for most of human history, when night fell, it fell hard. Things got really, really dark,

and people gathered under the stars, which they could actually see, in those days before nighttime light pollution,

and under those stars, they told stories.

In EVERY culture around the globe, storytelling, in the form of narrative poetry, existed LONG before the invention of writing. We know this because the earliest manuscripts that we have from every culture record stories that were already ancient when they were finally written down. One of the earliest texts in English is that of the poem Beowulf. It reworks and retells, in a much distorted manner, much, much older stories—ones that predate the emergence of English as a distinct language. Stith Thompson, the great folklorist, did the literary world an enormous favor by compiling a massive index, today known as the Arne-Thompson Index, of motifs of ancient folktales worldwide. Name a story motif—three wishes, talking animals, the grateful dead, cruel stepsisters, golden apples, dragons, the fairy or demon lover, the instrument that plays itself –and you will find that the motif has an ancient pedigree and was already spread about the world long before historical times.

English is a Germanic language. All ancient Germanic societies had official storytellers whose job it was to entertain people in those days before modern entertainments like television and movies and the Internet and drones with laser-guided Hellfire missiles. In ancient Denmark, the storyteller was called a skaald. In Anglo-Saxon England, the storyteller was a scop (pronounced like MnE “shop”). The scop accompanied his stories on the Anglo-Saxon harp, a kind of lyre.

Of course, the telling of stories wasn’t the only entertainment around campfires. In most cultures, people danced and chanted and sang as well, and sometimes stories were told by the dancers or singers or chanters. All this was part of acting out the stories. (Want to know where the Christian devil, with his red body and horns, comes from? Well, in ancient Europe, people worshiped an Earth Mother and her consort, a Lord of the Forest, and they told stories of the hunt. When they acted these out around campfires, they held up to their heads animal horns, or branches in the shape of horns, and that’s how they pictured their Lord of the Forest, as a therianthrope, red from the campfire, with horns. When the Christians spread North across Europe, they made the god of the Old Religion into The Adversary. Grendel’s mother, the monster from the bog in Beowulf, is a demonized version, in a Christian story, of the ancient Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Nerthus, to whom sacrifices were made by binding people, cutting their throats, and throwing them into a bog. You can see an ancient bas relief of the Lord of the Forest, btw, on the Gundestrup cauldron dating from 150 to 1 BCE. See the accompanying illustration.)

But where does this storytelling urge among humans come from, and why is it universal? Storytelling takes energy. And it doesn’t produce tangible results. It doesn’t mend bones or build houses or plant crops. So, why would it survive and be found among every people on Earth from the earliest times onward?

Contemporary cognitive scientists have learned that storytelling is an essential, built-in part of the human psyche, involved in every aspect of our lives, including our dreams, memories, and beliefs about ourselves and the world. Storytelling turns out to be one of the fundamental ways in which our brains are organized to make sense of our experience. Only in very recent years have we come to understand this. We are ESSENTIALLY storytelling creatures, in the Aristotelian sense of essentially. That is, it’s our storytelling that defines us. If that sounds like an overstatement, attend to what I am about to tell you. It’s amazing, and it may make you rethink a LOT of what you think you know.

At the back of each of your eyes are retinas containing rods and cones. These take in visual information from your environment. In each retina, there is a place where the optic nerve breaks through it. This is the nerve that carries visual signals to your brain. Because of this interruption of the retinas, there is a blind spot in each where NO INFORMATION AT ALL IS AVAILABLE. If what you saw was based on what signals actually hit your retina at a given moment, you would have two big black spots in your field of vision. Instead, you see a continuous visual field. Why? Because your brain automatically fills in the missing information for you, based on what was there when your eye saccaded over it a bit earlier. In other words, your brain makes up a story about what’s there. Spend some time studying optical illusions, and you will learn that this is only one example of many ways in which you don’t see the world as it is but, rather, as the story concocted by your brain says it is.

This sort of filling in of missing pieces also happens with our memories. Scientists have discovered that at any given moment, people attend to at most about seven bits of information from their immediate environment. There’s a well-known limitation of short-term memory to about seven items, give or take two, and that’s why telephone numbers are seven digits long. So, at any given moment, you are attending to only about seven items from, potentially, billions in your environment. When you remember an event, your brain FILLS IN WHAT YOU WERE NOT ATTENDING TO AT THE TIME based on general information you’ve gathered, on its predispositions, and on general beliefs that you have about the world. In short, based on very partial information, your brain makes up and tells you a STORY about that past time, and that is what you “see” in memory in your “mind’s eye.”

So, people tend to have a LOT of false memories because the brain CONFABULATES—it makes up a complete, whole story about what was PROBABLY the case and presents that whole memory to you, with the gaps filled in, for your conscious inspection. In short, memory is very, very, very faulty and is based upon the storytelling functions of the brain!!!! (And what are we except our memories? I am that boy in the Dr. Dentons, in my memory, sitting before the TV with the rabbit ears; I am that teenager in the car at the Drive-in with the girl whom I never thought in a million years would actually go out with me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

You can also see this storytelling function of the brain at work in dreaming. Years ago, I had a dream that I was flying into the island of Cuba on a little prop plane. Through the window, I could see the island below the plane. It looked like a big, white sheet cake, floating in an emerald sea. Next to me on the airplane sat a big, red orangutan smoking a cigar.

Weird, huh? So why did I have that dream? Well, in the days preceding the dream I had read a newspaper story about the Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba, being ill; I had flown on a small prop plane; I had attended a wedding where there was a big, white sheet cake; I had been to the zoo with my grandson, where we saw an orangutan; and I had played golf with some friends, and we had smoked cigars.

The neural circuits in my brain that had recorded these bits and pieces were firing randomly in my sleeping brain, and the part of the brain that does storytelling was working hard, trying to piece these random fragments together into a coherent, unified story. That’s the most plausible current explanation of why most dreams occur. The storytelling parts of the brain are responding to random inputs and tying them together—making sense of this random input by making a plausible story of them. This is akin to the process, pareidolia, that leads people see angels in cloud formations and pictures of Jesus on their toast.

So, those are three important reasons why the brain is set up as a storytelling device. Storytelling allows us to see a complete visual field; creates for us, from incomplete data, coherent memories; and ties together random neural firings in our brains to into the wholes that we call dreams.
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But that’s not all that storytelling does for us. Storytelling about the future allows us to look ahead—for example, to determine what another creature is going to do. We often play scenarios in our minds that involve possible futures. What will she say if I ask her to the prom? What will the boss say if I ask for a raise? How will that go down? In other words, storytelling provides us with a THEORY OF MIND for predicting others’ behavior.

Stories also help people to connect to one another. When we tell others a story, we literally attune to them. We actually get “on the same wavelengths.” Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist at Princeton, recorded the brainwaves of people during rest and while listening to a story. During rest, their waves were all over the place. While listening to the same story, even at different times and places, those people had brainwaves that were in synch.

Storytelling also provides a mechanism for exploring and attempting to understand others generally. Our basic situation in life is that your mind is over there and mine is over here. We’re different, and we have to try to figure each other out—to have a theory of other people’s minds. By telling myself a story about you, I can attempt to bridge that ontological gap. Unfortunately, the stories we tell ourselves about others tend to be fairly unidimensional. You are simply this or that. I, on the other hand, am an international man of mystery. This is a tendency we need to guard against.

We also tell stories in order to influence others’ behavior–to get them to adopt the story we’re telling as their own. This is how advertising works, for example. The advertiser gets you to believe a story about how you will be sexier or smarter or prettier or more successful or of higher status if you just buy the product with the new, fresh lemony scent. And it’s not just advertisers who do this. Donald Trump sold working class Americans a fiction about how he could strike deals that would make America great again because he was such a great businessman, one who started with nothing and made billions. The coach tells a story in which her team envisions itself as the winners of the Big Game. The woo-er tells the woo-ee the story of the great life they will have together (“Come live with me and be my love/And we shall all the pleasures prove”). And so on. Successful cult leaders, coaches, lovers, entrepreneurs, attorneys, politicians, religious leaders, marketers, etc., all share this is common: they know that persuasion is storytelling. The best of them also understand that the most successful stories, in the long run, are ones that are true, even if they are fictional.

When we tell stories, we spin possible futures—we try things on, hypothetically. And that helps us to develop ideas about who we want to be and what we want to do. Gee, if I travel down that road, I may end up in this better place.

And that observation leads to one final, supremely important function of storytelling: Who you are—your very SELF—is a story that you tell yourself about yourself and your history and your relations to others—a story with you as the main character. The stories you tell yourself about yourself become the person you are. The word person, by the way, comes from the Latin persona, for a mask worn by an actor in the Roman theatre.

So, our very idea of ourselves, of our own personal identity, is dependent upon this storytelling capacity of the human brain, which takes place, for the most part, automatically. There is even a new form of psychotherapy called cognitive narrative therapy that is all about teaching people to tell themselves more life-enhancing, affirmative stories about themselves, about who they are.

Telling yourself the right kinds of stories about yourself and others can unlock your creative potential, improve your relationships, and help you to self create—to be the person you want to be.

So, to recapitulate, storytelling . . .

helps us to fill in the gaps so that we have coherent memories,

ties together random firings in the brain into coherent dreams,

enables us to sort and make sense of past experience,

gives us theories of what others think and how they will behave,

enables us to influence others’ behavior,

enables us to try on various futures, and

helps us to form a personal identity, a sense of who were are.

Kinda important, all that!

Storytelling, in fact, is key to being human. It’s our defining characteristic. It’s deeply embedded in our brains. It runs through every aspect of our lives. It makes us who we are.

It’s no wonder then, that people throughout history have told stories. People are made to construct stories—plausible and engaging accounts of things—the way a stapler is made to staple and a hammer is made to hammer. We are Homo relator, man the storyteller.

(BTW, the root *man, meaning “human being” in general, without a specific gender reference, is ancient. It goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, but there’s still good reason, today, to seek out gender-neutral alternatives, when possible, of course.)

Copyright 2015. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Art: Detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron. Nationalmuseet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

 

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd on the topic of Education “Reform,” go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/ed-reform/

For more pieces on the teaching of literature and writing, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/teaching-literature-and-writing/

Posted in Short Stories, Teaching Literature and Writing, Uncategorized | 17 Comments

It’s about Time (a Catena)

creation-web-version

  

A brief tour of fascinating (and lunatic) notions that philosophers (and a few poets) have had about time. 

The Mystery of Time

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain it to one who asks, I know not.”

–St. Augustine (345–430 CE), Confessions

PART 1: What Is Time? Types of Time

Albert_Einstein_at_the_age_of_three_(1882)Absolute or Scientific Newtonian Time

“Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration.”

–Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)

The Specious (Nonexistent) Present

“The relation of experience to time has not been profoundly studied. Its objects are given as being of the present, but the part of time referred to by the datum is a very different thing from the conterminous of the past and future which philosophy denotes by the name Present. The present to which the datum refers is really a part of the past — a recent past — delusively given as being a time that intervenes between the past and the future. Let it be named the specious present, and let the past, that is given as being the past, be known as the obvious past. [Each of] all the notes of a bar of a song seem to the listener to be contained in the [specious] present. [Each of] all the changes of place of a meteor seem to the beholder to be contained in the [specious] present. At the instant of the termination of [each element in] such series, no part of the time measured by them seems to be [an obvious] past. Time, then, considered relatively to human apprehension, consists of four parts, viz., the obvious past, the specious present, the real present, and the future. Omitting the specious present, it consists of three . . . nonentities — the [obvious] past, which does not [really] exist, the future, which does not [yet] exist, and their conterminous, the [specious] present; the faculty from which it proceeds lies to us in the fiction of the specious present.”

–E. Robert Kelley, from The Alternative, a Study in Psychology (1882). Kelley’s concept of the specious present has been extremely influential in both Continental and Anglo-American philosophy despite the fact that Kelley was not a professional philosopher.

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childSubjective Time

“Oh, yeah. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. I never finished it, though I did spent about a year with it one evening.”

Experienced Time: The “Wide” Present

“In short, the practically cognized present is no knife-edge, but a saddle-back, with a certain breadth of its own on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time. The unit of composition of our perception of time is a duration, with a bow and a stern, as it were—a rearward- and a forward-looking end. It is only as parts of this duration-block that the relation or succession of one end to the other is perceived. We do not first feel one end and then feel the other after it, and forming the perception of the succession infer an interval of time between, but we seem to feel the interval of time as a whole, with its two ends embedded in it.”

–William James, “The Perception of Time,” from The Principles of Psychology, Book I

459px-Einstein_patentofficeA, B, and C Series Time (Three Ways of Looking at Time)

  • The A Series: Time as Past, Present, and Future
  • The B Series: Time as Earlier, Simultaneous, and Later
  • The C Series: Time as an Ordered Relation of Events (with the direction being irrelevant)

Influential distinctions made by John Ellis McTaggart in “The Unreality of Time.” Mind 17 (1908): 456-476. The three types are much discussed by philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition.

See also The Unreality of Time 2: Block Time, below

PART 2: Does Time Exist?

No, It Doesn’t: Change Is a Self-Contradictory Idea

“For this view can never predominate, that that which IS NOT exists. You must debar your thought from this way of search. . . .There is only one other description of the way remaining, namely, that what IS, is. To this way there are very many signposts: that Being has no coming-into-being . . . . Nor shall I allow you to speak or think of it as springing from not-being; for it is neither expressive nor thinkable that what-is-not is. . . . How could Being perish? How could it come into being? If it came into being, it is not; and so too if it is about-to-be at some future time. . . .For nothing else either is or shall be except Being, since Fate has tied it down to be a whole and motionless; therefore all things that mortals have established, believing in their truth, are just a name: Becoming and Perishing, Being and Not-Being, and Change of position, and alteration of bright color.”

–Parmenides of Elea (c. 475 BCE), fragment from The Way of Truth, in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)“Does the arrow move when the archer shoots it at the target? If there is a reality of space, the arrow must at all times occupy a particular position in space on its way to the target. But for an arrow to occupy a position in space that is equal to its length is precisely what is meant when one says that the arrow is at rest. Since the arrow must always occupy such a position on its trajectory which is equal to its length, the arrow must be always at rest. Therefore, motion is an illusion.”

–Zeno of Elea (c. 450 BCE), fragment from Epicheriemata (Attacks), in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

“One part of time has been [the past] and is not, while the other is going to be and is not yet [the future]. Yet time, both infinite time and any time you care to take, is made up of these. One would naturally suppose that what is made up of things which do not exist could have no share in reality.”

–Aristotle (384–322 BCE), Physics, IV, 10–14. 217b-244a.

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35Yes, It Does: Change Is the Fundamental Reality of Our Lives

“It is not possible to step twice into the same river.”

–Heraclitus, (c. 475 BCE), fragment from unnamed book, in Ancilla to the PreSocratic Philosophers, ed. Kathleen Freeman

[Heraclitus seems to have held this fact to be one of many indications of the essential unworthiness/irredeemability of this life; the other fragments of his writings that have survived suggest that Heraclitus was a kind of 5th century fundamentalist preacher, upset about the moral decay around him, who viewed the world as synonymous with decay, and who wanted to point his readers, instead, toward the eternal Logos. Plato inherited this view; the Christian church inherited Plato’s. Such contemptu mundi (contempt for the world) is often, in that tradition, expressed as contempt for that which exists “in time” and is not eternal.]

“Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.”

–Woody Allen (1935–      )

Albert_Einstein_Head

No, It Doesn’t: Time is an Illusion Due to Vantage Point in an Eternal Space Time (the “Block Time” Hypothesis):

“Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing, for we physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

–Albert Einstein (1879­–1955), in a letter written to the family of Michele Besso, on Besso’s death

“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35–Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922–2007), who is in heaven now, Slaughterhouse Five

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

–T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), “Burt Norton,” from Four Quartets

No, It Doesn’t: The Now as Consequence of the Blindness of the Brain to Its Own Processing of Temporal Data (the “Blind Brain” Hypothesis)

“Nothing, I think, illustrates this forced magic quite like the experiential present, the Now. Recall what we discussed earlier regarding the visual field. Although it’s true that you can never explicitly ‘see the limits of seeing’–no matter how fast you move your head–those limits are nonetheless a central structural feature of seeing. The way your visual field simply ‘runs out’ without edge or demarcation is implicit in all seeing–and, I suspect, without the benefit of any ‘visual run off’ circuits. Your field of vision simply hangs in a kind of blindness you cannot see.

“This, the Blind Brain Hypothesis suggests, is what the now is: a temporal analogue to the edgelessness of vision, an implicit structural artifact of the way our ‘temporal field’–what James called the ‘specious present’–hangs in a kind temporal hyper-blindness. Time passes in experience, sure, but thanks to the information horizon of the thalamocortical system, experience itself stands still, and with nary a neural circuit to send a Christmas card to. There is time in experience, but no time of experience. The same way seeing relies on secondary systems to stitch our keyhole glimpses into a visual world, timing relies on things like narrative and long term memory to situate our present within a greater temporal context.

“Given the Blind Brain Hypothesis, you would expect the thalamocortical system to track time against a background of temporal oblivion. You would expect something like the Now. Perhaps this is why, no matter where we find ourselves on the line of history, we always stand at the beginning. Thus the paradoxical structure of sayings like, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” We’re not simply running on hamster wheels, we are hamster wheels, traveling lifetimes without moving at all.

“Which is to say that the Blind Brain Hypothesis offers possible theoretical purchase on the apparent absurdity of conscious existence, the way a life of differences can be crammed into a singular moment.”

–Scott Bakker, “The End of the World As We Knew It: Neuroscience and the Semantic Apocalypse”

PART 3: What Contemplation of Time Teaches Us about Living

Carpe Diem

“Such,” he said, “O King, seems to me the present life of men on Earth, in comparison with that time which to us is uncertain, as if when on a winter’s night, you sit feasting . . . and a simple sparrow should fly into the hall, and coming in at one door, instantly fly out through another. In that time in which it is indoors it is indeed not touched by the fury of winter; but yet, this smallest space of calmness being passed almost in a flash, from winter going into winter again, it is lost to our eyes.

“Something like this appears the life of man, but of what follows or what went before, we are utterly ignorant.”

–The Venerable Bede (c. 672–735), Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book II

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)

“Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.”

–Horace (65–8 BCE), Odes 1.11

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), “Rubiyat,” trans. Edward FitzGerald

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

–Robert Herrick (1591–1674), “To the Virgins, to Make Use of Time”

459px-Einstein_patentofficeBut at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
That long preserv’d Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to durst;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning glew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

–Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), “To His Coy Mistress”

“Get it while you can.
Don’t you turn your back on love.”

–The American philosopher Janis Joplin (1943–1970)

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childGive Up/It’s All Futile Anyway

“A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing, after thousands of years of nonexistence: he lives for a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more. The heart rebels against this, and feels that it cannot be true.

“Of every event in our life we can say only for one moment that it is; for ever after, that it was. Every evening we are poorer by a day. It might, perhaps, make us mad to see how rapidly our short span of time ebbs away; if it were not that in the furthest depths of our being we are secretly conscious of our share in the exhaustible spring of eternity, so that we can always hope to find life in it again.

“Consideration of the kind, touched on above, might, indeed, lead us to embrace the belief that the greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life; because that is the only reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand, such a course might just as well be called the greatest folly: for that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.”

–The ever-cheerful Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), “The Vanity of Existence,” from Studies in Pessimism

Three Phenomenologist/Existentialist Views of Time

NB: the following are NOT quotations. I’ve summarized material that appears in much longer works. You’re welcome. I have included Husserl in this section, even though his work is just an attempted explanation of time, because the other two philosophers treated here are reacting to Husserl’s ideas.

Albert_Einstein_at_the_age_of_three_(1882)Husserl (very bright dude, this one): All our ideas about time spring from our conscious experience of the present. That experience is characterized by being intentional, by being toward something. We typically recognize three kinds of time: 1. scientific, objective, Newtonian time, which we think of as being independent of ourselves and as independently verifiable; 2. subjective time, in which events seem to move slower or faster; and 3. phenomenological or intentional time, which is the fundamental experience on which the other concepts of time are based, from which the other concepts derive because the phenomenological present includes not only awareness of present phenomena (the present), but retention (awareness of that which is not present because it no longer is—the past), and protention (awareness of that which is not present because it is about to be). The present is intentionality toward phenomena before us here, now. The past is present intentionality toward phenomena that are not present but are with us and so must be past (that’s where the definition of past comes from). The future is present intentionality toward phenomena that also are present but are not with us (as the past is) and so must be the future, which will be (that’s where the definition of future comes from). Therefore, in their origins in our phenomenological experiences, the future and the past are parts of the present, conceptual phenomena held in the present, alongside actual phenomena, as phenomena no longer present and not yet present.

Albert_Einstein_as_a_childHeidegger: Husserl had it all wrong. It’s the future, not the present, that is fundamental. We are future-oriented temporalities by nature, essentially so. Our particular type of being, Dasein, or being-there, is characterized by having care (about its projects, its current conditions, about other beings)—about matters as they relate to those projects. Our being is characterized by understanding, thrownness, and fallenness. Understanding, is the most fundamental of the three. It is projection toward the future, comportment toward the possibilities that present themselves, potentiality for being. Our understanding seizes upon projects, projecting itself on various possibilities. In its thrownness, Dasein always finds itself in a certain spiritual and material, historically conditioned environment that limits the space of those possibilities. As fallenness, Dasein finds itself among other beings, some of which are also Dasein and some of which (e.g., rocks) are not Dasein, and it has, generally respectively, “being-with” them or “being alongside” them, and these help to define what possibilities there are.  “Our sort of being (Dasein) is being for which being is an issue.” Why is it an issue? Well, we are finite. We know that we are going to die. This is the undercurrent that informs our essential being, which is care, concern. We are projections toward the future because undertaking these projects is an attempt, however quixotic, to distract ourselves from or even to cheat death. We care about our projects because, at some level, we care about not dying, having this projection toward the future for which we are living.

459px-Einstein_patentofficeSartre: The world is divided into two kinds of being: being-for-itself (the kind of being that you and I have) and being-in-itself (the kind of being that a rock or a refrigerator has). Let’s think a bit about our kind of being. Take away your perceptions, your body, your thoughts. Strip everything away, and you still have pure being, the being of the being-for-itself, but it is a being that is also nothing. (The Buddha thought this, too). Being-for-itself has intentional objects, but itself is no object (there’s no there there) and so is nothing, a nothingness. Time is like being in that respect. It consists entirely of the past (which doesn’t exist) and the future (which doesn’t exist) and the present (which is infinitesimally small and so doesn’t exist). So time, like being, is a nothingness. This being-for-itself is not just nothingness, however; it has some other bizarre, contradictory characteristics: Its being, though nothing, allows a world to be manifest (how this is so is unclear), a world that includes all this stuff, including others, for example, who want to objectify the being-for-itself, to make it into a something, a thing, a being-in-itself, like a rock. (“Oh, I know you. I’m wise to you. You’re . . . .” whatever.) The being-for-itself also has a present past (in Husserl’s sense) and is subject to certain conditions of material construction (the body) and material conditions (in an environment of things), and all these givens—the body, the environment, one’s own past, and other people seen from the outside in their thinginess—make up the being-for-itself’s facticity. The being-for-itself wants to be SOMETHING, and so lies to itself. It acts in bad faith, playing various roles (playing at being a waiter, for example) and creating for itself an ego (via self-deceptive, magical thinking). But in fact, being in reality nothing, being-for-itself (each of us) knows that that’s all a lie. We transcend our facticity and can be anything whatsoever, act in any way whatsoever. In other words, we are absolutely free and therefore absolutely responsible. This responsibility is absurd, because there is no reason for being/doing any particular thing. “Man is a meaningless passion.” But the absolute freedom that derives from our essential nothingness also allows for action to be truly authentic (as opposed to the play-acting) in addition to being responsible. Only in death does the being-for-itself succeed in becoming a being-in-itself, a completed thing, and then only if and in the manner in which he or she is remembered by others. A person who is not remembered never existed. Death is a time stamp or, if we are not remembered, an expiration date.

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)The Eternal Return and the Weight of Being

“341. The Greatest Weight. What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’

“Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

–Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), The Gay Science

462px-Einstein-formal_portrait-35The Fleeting One-Offness of Everything and the Resulting Unbearable Lightness of Being

“But Nietzsche’s demon is, of course, wrong. There is no eternal return. Where does that leave us? Isn’t life ALWAYS a matter of I should have’s and I would have’s and if I had only knowns? “[W]hat happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all. . . .

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

–Milan Kundera (1929­–     ), contra Nietzsche, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Albert_Einstein_HeadCopyright 2010, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Posted in Existentialism, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind, Time | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Film, Propaganda, and the Human Condition

Almost everyone hated high school. Why? Well, at that age, kids are busy trying, with the limited resources they have, given their youth and inexperience, to separate from their parents and to figure out or to create who they are, as independent creatures. Doing this is really difficult. High-schoolers are, after all, still kids, though in almost-adult bodies, which is confusing enough in itself. The sociologist Erik Erikson called this period in people’s lives the Identity Stage, and what kids go through at that age the Identity Crisis. According to Erikson, this life stage begins at about 12 years (middle school) and continues through about the age of 18 (the end of high school).

So, in middle school and high school, kids are still amorphous, though they want to be greatness chiseled in stone, and they are often mean to one another because this makes them feel better in comparison. The Germans have a name for this. They call it Schadenfreude. The folksinger Arlo Guthrie makes fun of this tendency among people in his Alice’s Restaurant, in which he invites his audience to think about someone who is worse off and then to think of the person who is worse off than that guy and then to think about The Last Guy, the one who has no one for whom he or she might feel schadenfreude, whom he or she might feel better than. Here’s what playwright Oscar Wilde said about Schadenfreude: after the successful opening of one of his plays, there was an after party. When Wilde entered the room, everyone turned and clapped. Wilde told them that he was moved to tears because “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.” In other words, the professional cynic (scratch a cynic and you find a Romantic) Mr. Wilde believed that people would rather see you fail because they can then feel better about themselves in comparison. Humor typically works because it touches on and treats lightly something difficult or disturbing. In our time, an academic industry has sprung up in happiness studies. One thing that these researchers have discovered is that people’s happiness about their own success has very little relation to their absolute success but, rather, their success relative to those whom they know and associate with. Yeah, but my car is nicer than his is.

So, the middle- and high-school kids engage in Schadenfreude. I may not be the prettiest or the smartest or the most talented or the sexist or the most athletic, but that person is worse off. The Stephen King film Carrie, in which the title character takes revenge on her cruel classmates (there is an entire genre of such films) is basically what people would now recognize as being indistinguishable from a film about a high-school shooter, except that the main character is, shockingly, the one the audience is rooting for and approves of. Everyone else, just about, gets slaughtered, but from the audience POV, they had it coming.

Films are excellent propaganda vehicles because the POV and emotions of the audience are so easily manipulable by filmmakers. This is why both Lenin and Hitler, among their first official acts, established film studios. Lenin had Sergei Eisenstein to make propaganda films like The Battleship Potemkin and October. Hitler had Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl to make films like Triumph of the Will, with Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels (recently reincarnated as Stephen Miller, Propaganda Minister of the Don the Con misadministration) to write the script and architect Albert Speer to stage it. An excellent book could be written about why, exactly, audiences are so easily manipulatable by films, but this essay is not that book.

The Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci brilliantly exploited this propagandistic power of film in his movie 1900, which opens with an elderly man and woman being chased by a mob wielding pitchforks and scythes. The audience is aghast at the mob and rooting for the old people to escape. At the end of the film, the exact same scene is repeated, but the audience has seen the old couple being horrible—being collaborators with the Nazis—and this time the audience roots not for the elderly couple but for the mob.

Control of POV is the most powerful tool in the filmmaker’s toolkit. One of the beauties of film (and of first-person or limited third-person narratives generally) is that it can extend human sympathies by enabling us to see through the eyes of a character different from the viewer. That’s why a film like El Norte can powerfully move an audience to care about asylum-seeking refuges and why something like the television program Will and Grace probably did more to advance the cause of LGBTQX rights in the United States than did all the Act Up pride events, as awesome as those were, ever staged. However, this power that the film auteur has to manipulate audiences by controlling their POV has its dark side. The POV presented can be that of a truly horrible person—a Hitler, for example, or a Trump. Consider, for example, the jingoistic nationalistic “patriotism” of the Marvel Comic Universe films, ideal for molding children into the next generation of cannon fodder, or the satire of the same in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. The United States today, under Trump, and yesterday, under Bush, Jr., is so inclined toward fascist ways of thinking that many U.S. viewers of Verhoeven’s film don’t even get that it is a satire.

All of which raises an interesting issue. Our basic ontological situation in this life is that my mind is over here and your mind is over there, and we do not see the world from the Other’s POV. However, all the most beautiful things that people do—teaching, mentoring, nurturing children, conversing, negotiating agreements, making love, creating art (such as writing essays)—is about bridging that ontological gap.

Years ago, I wrote a short story about an alien race, from a water world, called the Oosmoolie. In the story, the Oosmoolie stumble upon another water world that used to be called Earth and slowly piece together the fact that the planet was once inhabited by intelligent land creatures who destroyed their world via climate change. In the story, the Oosmoolie are tentacled, octopus-like creatures who can attach tentacles and thereby join their nervous systems with one another and directly experience the Other’s subjective states or, rather, a melding of those states. I was surprised when I saw the director James Cameron had borrowed this idea for his blue alien creatures in the film Avatar and wondered whether he had read my short story in a textbook when he was younger.

I suspect that we would all be better off if we had the capability of the Oosmoolie, though at first, experiencing what people are ACTUALLY feeling and thinking and experiencing might be pretty frightening. This would be like the ultimate Panopticon.

Years ago, I started dating a woman who told me that she hated actors because they were so phony, which was a problem because, well, I had spent years as an actor. But I thought she had it all wrong. As Stanislavski and Uta Hagen and others of the Method Acting school taught, acting well is all about taking on the person of another, about Being someone else rather than about playing at or pretending to be someone else. So, acting well should extend the range of one’s human sympathies.

Copyright 2020. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd about film, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/film/

For more pieces on Don the Con, aka Vlad’s Agent Orange, aka the Moronavirus trumpinski orangii, aka the Don, Cheeto “Little Fingers” Trumpbalone, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

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American Kakistocracy: Rule by the Most Ignorant

Can we survive the likes of Trump?

How well I remember Sarah Palin giving a speech, very shortly after she was chosen as McCain’s running mate, in which she laughed and sneered, outraged, that the government had spent some x amount of dollars studying fruit flies. “Fruit flies!” she exclaimed, as though this were the most insane thing one could imagine.

Of course, this profoundly ignorant person had no idea that much of our understanding of genetics and of genetic disease comes from studies using Drosophila melanogaster. I laughed and laughed that she didn’t know the science she might have learned from a third grader’s Scholastic Weekly Reader. Such profound ignorance. But then, horrified, I saw John McCain pick up the same talking point the week following, and I thought: well, here we are. We are on the cusp of the most significant change in the history of life on Earth, when we eliminate genetic disease and then people start taking evolution into their own hands and it becomes, for the first time, TELEOLOGICAL (purposefully engineered/directed by us). The consequences of the latter will be profound beyond any current reckoning. It changes the basic rules that have always held.

And this is happening at a time when our politicians, at the highest levels, don’t know even the most basic science.

All this was prelude to Donald Trump, the stable genius who thinks that we should nuke hurricanes, that climate change is just weather, that we could send astronauts to the sun, that Alabama is in danger from hurricanes skirting the East Coast, that windmills and low-energy light bulbs cause cancer, that stealth planes are actually invisible, that a dementia diagnostic is a test of general intelligence, that we need to return to using asbestos in our buildings, that HIV and HPV are the same thing, that the primary cause of California wildfires is bad forest management, that coal and natural gas are “clean energy,” that “the ice caps” are “at a record level,” that global warming is a hoax invented to reduce U.S. competitiveness with China, that we are better off without federal regulation of pollutants of air and water, that exercise needs to be avoided because it uses up energy, and that injecting disinfectant might be a great way to treat Covid19. But remember that Trump has told us that “nobody knows technology like Donald Trump,” and that he is on top of “the cyber.”

So, this raises a question: Why do Americans elect to high office such ignorant people? the Sarah Palins and Matt Gaetzes and Donald Trumps among us? In dramatic contrast, I read a speech, last year, by Putin in which he talked intelligently, at length, about genetic engineering.

And that raises another question: can we survive this tendency to elect the profoundly ignorant?
Posted in Technology, Trump (Don the Con) | Leave a comment

The 2020 Repugnican National Convention

 

Good evening, and welcome to the 2020 Repugnican Convention. But first, a word from our sponsors, Vladimir Putin and Goya Beans.

We are brought together this evening to show that it can happen here in America. This is not about politics. This is about a man. Donald “J. for Jabba” the Trump, Dear Leader Who Shines More Orange than the Sun. Because as all real Americans agree, what matters, what really matters, the only thing that matters, is Trump.

An inspiration to us all, Donald Trump has shown, by the life he has led, that in America, one can rise above adversity. If you just pay someone to take your SAT and go to work for Daddy keeping black people out of your slum landlord apartments, if you just inherit three quarters of a billion dollars from Daddy and blow it all on parties at Jeffrey’s and on casinos designed to rip off ordinary people, and if you go bankrupt through sheer incompetence, you can dig deep and launder money for Russian kleptocrats and start a fake university and pretend to be a businessman on TV, you can appeal to the worst instincts of the most racist Americans, and emerge a winner. You can put your semi-conscious spawn in high office, you can surround yourself with people dedicated to destroying the agencies and departments they lead, you can alienate and abandon every ally, you can pander and genuflect to dictators, you can betray our troops and those who fought alongside them, you can wreck the environment, you can take lunches away from poor school children, you can pretend to be a Christian, you can praise Nazis, you can pay off porn stars, you can take from the poor and give to the rich, you can do nothing about a pandemic that kills 180,000 Americans except suggest fake cures like injecting disinfectants—you do all this and so much, much more, and not lose a single vote.

We’ve got quite a lineup for you over the next few days. Bill Barr will play taps on the bagpipes over the remaining shreds of the U.S. Constitution. Don Jr. and Eric will take us inside the tackiest club in the universe, Mar-a-lago, to show us their collection of tails they’ve cut off endangered animals they’ve serially slaughtered. We’ll have an inspiring torchlight parade of Aryan Skinheads for Trump. We’ll honor the Confederate leaders who massacred African-American soldiers while fighting for the right of people to own others. We’ll make fun of disabled people and talk about ourselves and how great we are to grieving widows of fallen soldiers. We’ll hear President Trump speak in his inimitable Toddler English about the importance of family and his many wives and those he’s groped and what great legs and other body parts his daughter has. We’ll have a roundtable on law and order featuring the convicted and indicted felons from the Trump administration. We’ll gas some Moms in yellow shirts who still think that they have the freedom to assemble and to exercise free speech in America. But first, a word from the My Pillow Guy about the magic cure for Covid, oleander, and important information from the Demon Seed Doc about protecting yourself from succubi.

MAGA! Moscow’s Agent Governing America, Vlad’s Agent Orange. Make America Grate Again!

Trump/Dense 2020. 20 for sexual assault. 20 for bank and insurance fraud.

For more pieces about the Trump maladministration, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

For more humor by Bob Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/humor/

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con) | 5 Comments

Betsy DeVos Assures the Nation that Standardized Testing Will Go Forward in the 2020-21 School Year Despite the Pandemic

Since January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump took the oath to serve his handlers in Moscow by sowing discord in the United States and undermining all U.S. federal government functions, we’ve been able to count on him. Sure, we’ve had disastrous presidents in the past, but none, arguably, has delivered as Donald has (as he endlessly reminds us). Every day, it’s another outrage. I know that I am joined by millions of Americans who get up each morning thinking, what sickness will he perpetrate today? Who or what will be its targets? Gays? Poor kids? Dreamers? Farmers and small business people? Endangered species? Which ally will he completely alienate next, what murderous dictator fete in his Offal Office? So exciting!
Think of his recent hits: secret police in American cities, insisting that we reopen schools fully in the middle of a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, completely gutting federal environmental regulations. Wow. And recently he’s signaled that he plans to use an Executive Order to ensure that we’ll never again have poor immigrants with little education come to these shores to fulfill their dreams, thus undermining a key promise of the American Experiment. Who knows. Maybe the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty could read, “Give us your ravenous, rich white people yearning to exploit.” The hits just keep coming, which is pretty amazing given that he’s usually on Executive Time, playing golf or in his den eating cheeseburgers, watching Hannity, and tweeting hate in his inimitable Toddler English.
Take a moment and think of how perfectly Vlad’s Agent Orange, Moscow’s Asset Governing America (MAGA) embodies each of the seven deadly sins—pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Gosh, Mr. President. You really are the best! Person, man, woman, camera, TV! Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing!
Of course, it’s too much to expect that lesser villains serving in his maladministration would be able to equal the Master of Mayhem. There can be only one Don the Con, only one Donald “J for the Joker in the Orange Clown Makeup” the Trump. But Ditzy DeVoid, bless her tiny, walnut heart, is doing her best. She’s made things safe for predatory colleges and for rapists on campus, and here we have her imprimatur on invalid, abusive, breathtakingly expensive, curriculum-devolving, pedagogically useless standardized testing numerology! Heckuvajob, Ditzy!
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Forget Me Not

for Diane Ravitch

If a fairy tale begins with a prohibition, you know it’s going to be broken .

The Word was charged anew with the grandeur of Gerald
Hopkins’s bold bald conjugal rhythms that sprang so
springingly sprung across the page and marveling mind
like one of those flowers–noli me tangere—that blows then bursts
raining, dappled, down such confettilike windfall seedpod
images that one might drown in their festive falling,
so scattering round about in lambent Monet-made lily-light
as to make one wonder, bebrindled, seduced, fallen again,
whether to win such a world were worth the fell first fall
after all. Our first father’s, mother’s Eden lost to gain
another. If this be sin, go and sin some more, beautiful brother.

Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. For more poetry by Bob  Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/poetry/

Posted in Poetry, Teaching Literature and Writing | Leave a comment

The President Defends Himself against Accusations of Being a Dog

On Vlad’s Agent Orange (Moscow’s Asset Governing America, MAGA)

A suggestion for Family Guy episode in which the dog, Brian, assumes the name Donald, then runs for and is elected to the office of President of the United States.

PRESIDENT: The Democrats, they have been after me over the Doggie Don hoax since before the election. The whole investigation, a hoax. Disgraceful.

REPORTER: But Mr. President, during the campaign, didn’t you say, “Petsmart, if you’re listening, send me a pallet of nice chewy Milkbone biscuits?”

PRESIDENT: I was obviously joking, OK?

REPORTER: And didn’t you sniff all the butts at the G7 meeting in Biarritz? If you are, in fact, a dog, you clearly cannot continue to be President of the United States.

PRESIDENT: What can I say? I’m friendly. In fact, I’m the friendliest. The friendliest President ever. But, you see, I’m also very, very smart. My uncle was a supergenius at MIT. The things I could tell you about those people. Not like Obama, who was clueless.

REPORTER: And you bury what’s left over from your meals in holes you dig on the White House lawn?

PRESIDENT: Economy. The waste before I came into office! Best economy ever.

REPORTER: Uh, Mr. President, you walk around the White House on all fours. You howl out the windows. You scratch at the door to be let out to pee. You lift your leg to do so. You stick your tongue out and pant. You are covered with fur. You have a wet nose. Your ears hang to your shoulders. You have paws and a tail. All this seems distinctively doglike.

PRESIDENT: You people. All you do is pick and pick and pick. Trying to turn up something against me. Fake news. Once, just once, I would like to hear one of you people say, would you like me to scratch your tummy?

REPORTER: OK. Let’s get one thing settled. Did you chew up the sofas in the Lincoln bedroom?

PRESIDENT: Fake news.

REPORTER: But there was fur like yours all over the floor.

PRESIDENT: OK. Go ahead, make personal attacks. Yes, I’m a bit more hirsute that most. Satisfied? But who says this was mine? Ask Kayleigh, she’ll tell you. Or Fido, my new Director of National Intelligence. Absolutely no evidence this was my fur. They made it all up.

REPORTER: But Mr. President, people don’t have fur. Never mind. OK. Would you be willing to submit a sample of your fur for DNA analysis?

PRESIDENT: Sorry, I’m under contract for grooming, uh, hair cutting. Toss the stick.

REPORTER: The stick?

PRESIDENT: That stick, over there. You throw it. I run and grab it and bring it back to you.

REPORTER: Uh, OK. Hey, this is fun.

PRESIDENT: You know, I’m looking for a new Press Secretary.

 

Copyright 2020. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For more pieces about the Trump maladministration, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

For more humor by Bob Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/humor/

For short stories by Bob Shepherd (and some pieces about fictions and fiction writing), go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/short-stories/

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con), Uncategorized | 3 Comments

America Is Burning, by Diane Ravitch

I haven’t seen it said better:

America Is Burning

Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | 13 Comments

The Promise of Ed Tech

Ed tech companies are, of course, trying to take advantage of the pandemic to sell politicians and administrators on replacing teachers with educational technology. So, thought I would try my hand at writing some ad copy for these companies:
Help your students go the distance with distance technology!!!!! With our Remote Learning Software, there’s a remote chance that they will be learning!
These are difficult times for educators, and that’s why we at Bob’s Ultimate Lesson Learning Software [with] Hyper Individualized Technology (B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T.) are stepping up and offering our product to schools ABSOLUTELY FREE.* Our proprietary Deep Do Diagnostic Engine uses HIGHLY COMPLEX, CUTTING EDGE QUANTUM-MECHANICAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ALGORITHMS to PERSONALIZE INSTRUCTION and tell you exactly where your students stand compared to kids in other schools and countries, what lessons are right for them given their level of mastery, what they should eat for breakfast, their level of socio-emotional development, how many children and parking tickets they will have as adults, how many jobs they will have over their lifetimes, what they will earn in the year 2046, whether their energy fields and chakras are properly aligned, what psychological disorders they will develop in the future, what tax preparer they will prefer at age 50, the meaning of life, what existed before the Big Bang, who the next big TicTok star will be, when the oil in the students’ parents’ cars needs changing. You name it. Math skills? Reading skills? Innate intelligence? Gritfulness? Propensity for psychopathy and a career with an equity or consulting firm? THERE IS NOTHING THAT OUR DIAGNOSTIC ISN’T ABLE TO DETERMINE with complete RIGOR, providing you with actionable—wait for it!!!!–yes!!!–DATA. Data. Oh, data. Oh. Yes, yes, yes. Which is, of course, what school is all about!!! How are we able to do this is a bit complicated to explain (it’s very mathematical and you wouldn’t be able to understand) but suffice it to say that with our Educator Proof ™ software, teachers are ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY!
And, check out our add-in packages that cook dinner, walk the dog, solve international crises, and navigate long, dark nights of the soul! Too good to be true? Well, step into the HYPE VORTEX and see for yourself!
B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T. Now with personalizable student avatars! So much fun, your students will prefer this to having their flesh removed from their bodies with curry combs! Speaking of which, we’re the Common Core-iest! No one cores students as we do!!!
*after billed monthly server time hours and fees for onboarding, roster maintenance, reporting, professional development, documentation fees, administrative fees, student data updating fees. Promotion good only for basic INTRODUCTORY package consisting of an abacus and clay tablet.
Posted in Ed Reform, Humor, Teaching Literature and Writing, Technology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Your Guide to Surviving Lockdown

Lockdown at home is hard for anyone. That’s why I’ve prepared these tips to make it gas.
  1. Paint a face on a basketball and have dinner with it.
  2. Join a deranged online community like QAnon. It’s full of people who have been living alone in the basement for years.
  3. Teach yourself a new skill like computer hacking.
  4. Just remember that though you can’t get out and mingle anymore, there are still plenty of people out there who never particularly cared to have you around anyway.
  5. During this pandemic, many people are discovering the joys of baking. If you can find flour (good luck!) try making cookies in the shapes of the Beatles or, if you are really ambitious, Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles.
  6. OK. Yes. Sex is an issue. Now that you are stuck inside, you can only have it with the partner stuck inside with you. Cosplay is a great answer to this. For example, one of you can dress up as Stormy Daniels and the other as Donald Trump. Then, you can try to find Donald Trump’s weenie. If you don’t have a partner, what kind of loser are you?
  7. When families are confined indoors together, disagreements sometimes arise over responsibilities for online chores, so establish a schedule for these. For example, if you have two children, Karen and Tad, you can have Karen take on all parental responsibilities on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and Tad take on all these responsibilities on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. That way, you can stay in bed until this is all over.
  8. If working remotely gets to be a drag on your psychic space, free up some time by simply cutting and pasting old email responses instead of writing new ones from scratch. Example:

    • Query: Will you have the report ready for the Zoom meeting Monday at 9:00 AM?
    • Answer: That would be product skew ZX-193A.
Hope this helps! You’re welcome!
Posted in Humor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What I Hope We Will Learn from the Pandemic

  1. Distance learning is a crock, and teachers are really, really important.
  2. Close confinement of animals meant for food (not only in wet markets like the one in Wuhan but in factory farms, from which most meat comes now) breeds viruses and bacteria that cause disease, and in the latter case, giving over 50 percent of the total amount of antibiotics we produce to those farmed animals creates antibiotic resistance in humans who eat that meat and forces the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria).
  3. We must have in place rapid-response systems for pandemics, including stockpiles of PPE and ventilators; mobile field hospitals that can be set up at a moment’s notice; a national, online portal for pandemic related information and for disease reporting and contact tracing; and emergency plans for commandeering of industrial capacity, expanding paraprofessional medical personnel; quarantining affected areas; and dealing with economic impacts on quarantined sub-populations.
  4. The science matters. About pandemics. About climate change. About the ongoing Sixth Great Extinction, this one caused by humans.
  5. We can’t afford to have leaders who are profoundly stupid and profoundly ignorant of almost everything–ones who think that stealth planes are actually invisible to the eye, that climate change is “just weather,” that coal becomes clean and healthy if it is “washed,” that windmills cause cancer, that a few poor refugees are an existential threat to America, that the tariffs we place on a country’s goods imported into the U.S. are paid by that country, that there were airports during the Revolutionary War, that Belgium is a city, that Denmark might be interested in selling Greenland to us, that we ought to nuke hurricanes, that antibiotics can be used to treat viral disease, and that injecting disinfectant might be a great idea for a new medical treatment.
  6. The enormous and ever-increasing economic inequities in the U.S. have to be corrected, including lack of a national, single-payer, universal healthcare system, which has made the pandemic devastating for lower-middle-class and poor people in this country. We desperately need to transition to a Social Democratic system that serves the interests of all the people, not of a wealthy few.
Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | 14 Comments