Some Random Thoughts On Video-games

Recently the President showed a highlight reel of the sorts of intense violence in today’s video-games.   It’s pretty bad.  You can take a look at the reel for yourself.

I think the highlights speak for themselves.  Considering that’s what we consider entertainment, and others are arguing that it’s “art”, what does that say about all of us?  It’s not very good.  I find it embarrassing.

I’m more of a casual video game player these days, so maybe I’m not the one best suited to comment on all of this, but from my own experience, I will say that the level of violence in the highlight reel is pretty typical of what you’ll see in something like a first person shooter, or other games like it.

In those types of games in particular, gameplay mainly consists of violently killing things you have no emotional attachment to, over and over, often in bloody gore.  The objectives are normally very simple, asking you to do simple things like get from point A to point B in some virtual map, interact with a few simple objects in the virtual world (such as pulling a lever, pushing a button, etc), and kill everything you come across with guns, swords, rocket launchers, knives, magical spells, and other implements.

I’d blame all of this on our evolutionary past.  Our species lived as hunters and gathers, so is it any wonder why games are filled with hunting and gathering, whether it be killing animals and beasts in magical lands, or other players, or fetching items from the wilderness?  Just read our history.  That’s what humans do.  That’s what all animals in nature do, if you’ve ever watched a wildlife documentary.  It’s not all that shocking, but it’s not a pretty sight.

I personally don’t play those sorts of games.  Well, not anymore. I had a brief stint with them in my early teens, playing games like Doom and Quake, but those games haven’t really grabbed me since.  It’s strange, but when I reflect on playing those games as a teenager and young adult, it’s like I was “asleep”.  None of the violence registered in my mind.  The game was just something to do.  When I’d play Doom, the video game offered some sort of resistance, some challenge or obstacle to overcome, and I would practice the games I liked, and get good at them.  I enjoyed memorizing the maps and clearing the levels as quickly as possible.  But as the years have gone on, I sort of look at it all and am like, why?  It’s not something I want to be a part of anymore.

I think it’s because I started to get into meditation (I guess you could call it that).  I’ve been working at silencing my mind, and in doing so, I felt like I became aware of this inner witness I wasn’t aware of before.  This “something” would ask me to step outside myself, take a look at what I was doing as a dispassionate observer, and I’d find myself reflecting on what I was doing and how I was spending my time.  There was this inner voice in me, and it didn’t judge me, but it said, “Look carefully at what you’re doing.  Watch and interpret the events you’re seeing on the television screen as you’re playing this game.”  I was the judge of myself, but looking at myself with a clear mind, if that makes sense.  It’s been a kind, thoughtful, teacher.

One day it just sort of hits you like, wow.  This is how I’m spending my life?  My time?  Violently killing zombies, monsters, and other things?  It makes you step back and do some serious reflection.

While I don’t play first person shooters, or the other extremely violent video games, I’ve spent a lot of hours playing a different genre called japanese role-playing games.  They’re very fantasy’ish, but they too have their share of violence.  Like you may be some sort of magical warrior, running through beautiful, magical landscapes, killing the different animals that live there.  You burn them with magical fire spells, cut them with swords, and beat them with clubs.  Then after killing them, some numeric indicator pops on the screen and it says, “You’ve gained 200 experience points.  Your strength levels have increased 1 point”, etc.  As you fight these indigenous life-forms, over and over, and get stronger and stronger, you can go on to kill even bigger, stronger life-forms, and progress in the story, which often consists of resolving conflicts with other game characters through fighting them in magical settings.

As I got older, it all started to bother me.  It’s like I step outside myself, my mind is silent for a bit, time stops, and a presence asks me to reflect on the game I’m immersing myself in.  I step outside myself, like an alien, and I’m hovering over my computer chair, looking at myself and what I’m doing.  I learned a great deal about myself in the process.  I realized that what I actually enjoyed about the games had little to do with the games themselves, at least what the game was asking me to do.  I’ll explain.

This might sound bizarre, but what really grabs me in most video games I play are the magical landscapes, the music, and the architecture, which is often so different than anything I experience in normal life.  Running around slaying monsters is generally uninteresting to me.  I’m drawn to these video games as a source of creativity.

For example, you can take me to an art museum and I don’t get anything out of that.  There is some piece of fabric hanging from the wall with a cigarette burn in it, then you move to another display and there’s some sketch of some woman, and then another display with a random photograph of a woman standing beside a mountain.  I feel nothing from it.  It’s lifeless.  I’m certainly not impressed.

However, let’s look a clip from one of my favorite games — Xenoblade Chronicles.  You’re in this magical village, filled with these cute, strange-looking creatures, and they live in the interior of a giant tree; they’ve built this beautiful city that winds up along the trunk, filled with dangling bridges leading to the tree’s outward branches, which in turn leads to other trees, and so on.  It’s just really neat.

And listen to the music.  Do you ever hear anything like that?  How about on TV?  At school?  At the university?  At work?  Before I got into role-playing games, I had never heard musical scores like this.  I heard a lot of bluegrass and blues music growing up, along with gospel hymns, and 90’s pop music that played in the gym when I’d play basketball, but the music in these games was like an entirely new world to me.

Video games create an outlet for these artists to produce that sort of music which has no other way to exist otherwise, as far as I can tell.  There are these super talented people, and these melodies are flowing in their heads, but they have no way to make money producing it without something like video games.

Like take this track.  When I first heard it, I was floored.  I was playing Final Fantasy VIII on my Playstation, just walking through this little virtual village, and this amazing music starts playing in the background.  I’d never heard anything like it.

Games also are outlets for the imagination, in a world where we’re more and more constrained.  Like in Xenogears Chronicles, the entire story takes place on gigantic robot which has broken down, long ago.  Nobody remembers when.  The adventure is you are traveling all across the exterior of this robot’s body, which is covered in forests and magical realms, along with its strange mechanical interiors.  Eventually you journey into yet another giant robot which is connected to it via a giant bridge, which is actually an extended sword.  It’s really something.

Just to show you one particular area of that game, you’re wandering through this marsh, where these aurora like lights are shimmering everything, the trees glow, and there’s these glowing insects buzzing around everywhere.  Though the game is older now, if you let your imagination flow a little bit, it’s really quite beautiful, as is the background music.

Video games are full of really fantastic things, whether it be waterfalls, magical creatures, or stunning environments.  They can be very artistic and beautiful.  Artists are given free reign, and even encouraged to make things as magical and wonderful as they can imagine.  Where else does that exist?

Do you find that in the office where you stamp papers, aren’t allowed to even cut jokes because somebody may be offended, and everyone adheres to some dress code where we all dress alike; it’s boring.  This is why kids escape into video games, just as people in the past did in stories they’d write.

Like take where I work.  Our physics building is beyond drab.  The walls are just cinderblocks, painted some light bluish color.  We have these tiled floors and florescent lights.  My friend Greg and I call it “communist decorating.”  No carpet, no color, no artwork, no designs or paintings on the walls, no music playing.  You go into the offices and there are these green’ish steel bookshelves, along with these old World-World II era steel desks.  My job itself consists of calculating numbers, particularly transmission of waves through biological materials.  Just crunching numbers and producing charts.  No emotion, nothing.  It’s just lifeless and dead compared to these video game worlds.  Like take Macalenia Temple in Final Fantasy X, another one of my favorite games.

Take a look at the floors.  Look at those blues, greens, and the gold.  Look at the beautiful designs.  Look at how the light shines into the room, illuminating the art on the central floor.   Look at how there are statues, there are these urns with plumes of pink flower-like fire coming up, and the banners hanging down, colorful with designs.  Look at how the building is shaped.  It’s not boring and Euclidean.  Instead of being a big rectangular box, it has has a strange shape, with curved walls, all covered with art.  Then there’s this beautiful stair-case, with ornamented rails, and carpet.  See what I mean?

Or take the latest Final Fantasy XV.  You come sailing in on your yacht to this magical city, entering through this elevated waterway, surrounded by waterfalls, looking off in the distance to see this stunning city filled with palaces and grand architecture.  If I died and woke up on that yacht sailing through that waterway, I’d think I’d went to heaven.

Another thing I noticed I liked about games was adventuring with friends.  There was some meaningful thing to do for the world, and we took part in it together, working together.  That probably appeals to me because in my job, I work alone.  I only meet occasionally with my advisor for an hour or two, to basically show him my results.  Whether my work is meaningful or not, I really have no idea.  I’m told it is.  Mostly it’s just a really complicated mathematical exercise to me.  And I certainly don’t get to see any sort of tangible results, even if it is being used by some engineering team somewhere, someplace.  To me, it’s just a lot of tedious calculations, and then submitting the results in a scientific paper located in some journal (which I don’t really read) and on various websites.  Other than that, I get no feedback.  Then I go back to my desk and get back to cranking numbers.   Personally, my mind screams for something more.

In video games, after you adventure with your friends, bonding, saving the world, there’s often a giant, elaborate parade and everyone celebrates.  Maybe it’s because I live in a smaller town, but there’s nothing like that here.  Sure we have parades, but it’s mostly just some guy in his truck, with the name of his business plastered on the side, and his family’s in the back throwing candy.  It’s not very impressive or exciting.

In my reality, I work and work, find some solution to some really complicated problem, and then I produce some colorful charts and hand them over to someone else.  Then I go home.  No celebration, nothing.  I have no idea if anything I do means anything to anybody or not.  Such is life.

A lot of this post is just rambling, but I hope I at least pointed out that there is a lot more taking place in video games than just mindless violence, though I do think the violence is a problem.  If you actually play them, there’s a lot to appreciate, and some amazing creative expression, at least in some games.

Posted in Personal, Psychology | Leave a comment

The Religion Of Inevitable Progress

I’ve spent this weekend reading Aldous Huxley’s book The Perennial Philosophy.

I would describe it as Huxley’s attempt to glean some sort of universal truth which all the world’s religions and spiritual traditions point to, while filtering out the rest of the nonsense.  It’s a great book, but it’s not really what I planned to discuss.  While reading it, I came across something that really stuck out to me.

He pointed out that the Greeks believed that Nature was conscious and divine, and that those who tried to conquer her would incur the wrath of a god named Nemesis.  This deity attacks those who attempt to be too rich, too powerful, too violent, or even too ambitious.  Any attempt at excessive control of nature, or your fellow men, will only invite punishment.

Huxley points out that this was a universal truth expressed in many of the world’s ancient traditions and faiths, but our modern world has abandoned it in hubris.  He goes on to make a compelling case that Nemesis is just as alive and well in today’s world as in the distant past.

Huxley asks us if we’re happier in the modern world than we were in the past, and as I read his arguments, I don’t think we are.  Some things are surely easier, but we have a whole new slew of problems that people of the past couldn’t have anticipated. He goes through many of man’s attempts to reform this world into something better, and for every “win” there is always a price we have to pay, and this price is oftentimes just as nasty, if not worse, than what was won in the end.

One particular example was that of the printing press.  Intellectuals of the time were heralding a coming paradise on Earth.  With this marvelous invention, we would soon be entering an age of reason, intelligence, and democracy unheard of in the past.  It’s easy to argue the benefits, but Nemesis was also right there.  It didn’t take long before all of the major means of printing and information distribution were controlled by elites and this new technology came to serve advertisers, big business interests, and governments vying for control and power.  While it did help to educate the masses, it also became a tool of control, propaganda, and manipulation.  Nemesis largely cancelled the benefits.

Another example was the airplane.  We are finally able to build machines which allow us to overcome large distances in space, quickly and easily, but once again, Nemesis was right behind.  Militaries around the world quickly turned these machines into death contraptions dropping payloads of white phosphorous and burning napalm down from above, creating a new source of fear and misery.  In terms of suffering, is the ability to get from New York to Los Angeles in a few hours outweighed by all those killed and maimed by war bombers?  It’s hard to determine, but I’d guess that the pros are cancelled out by the cons.

So when we try to dominate nature, what is the major crime we’re committing?  What are we guilty of?  In short, this very idea of “progress” or “bettering your life” is the apocalyptic religion of Inevitable Progress.  Their erroneous creed is that the Kingdom of Heaven is outside of you, in the future, instead of deep within you in the present.  It’s one of the biggest sources of modern day misery, not to mention the destruction of our planet.

The overall message of the Perennial Philosophy is that there is a Divine Ground, the ultimate unmanifested principle behind all manifestation.  Deep within us is a connection to this transcendent power, and it is possible for us to become aware of this connection, know it, and love it.  It is actually the true end of human existence to fully identify with this transcendent power, which is conscious and alive, having its own way of being.  Past cultures have called this way the Tao, while in the modern day we tend to call it the divine “law”, but if one is to achieve their find end, they must adhere to this principle, which is pure, unconditional love to yourself, others, and all of nature.

For quite some time now I’ve been a skeptic.  I’ve found it hard to believe in much of anything.  Most things I investigate turn out to a bunch of garbage.  Anything that’s “real” should withstand scrutiny, and most of all, hold up in your own direct experience.  It shouldn’t make a bunch of promises and then not deliver.  I’ve never found anything more powerful than that core principle stated in the Perennial Philosophy.  I know, from my firsthand experience, that if your gaze is always directed outward, thinking you’ll find peace and happiness in material things, whether it be a career, a love life, some fancy car, or whatever, you’re sorely mistaken.

However, as I’ve been talking about on my blog incessantly, if you search deep within, connect to this “something”, it will directly manifest itself to you.  It comes to those whose minds are quiet and still.  This connection is easily drown out by a noisy, chaotic mind.  But when you’re in a brilliant silence, it’s there.  The keyword is ‘brilliant’.  It’s not a dead silence.  It’s a background hum of power that at times even communicates thoughts to you.  Some people meditate and try to tap into this energy, saying ‘Aum’, over and over.  If you listen to this Youtube video for a while, it has the same energy, but what the Divine Ground is isn’t a sound, or a vibration, or anything really.  It’s a connection between the real you, at your deepest levels, and the divine source of all being, beyond all manifestation.  It’s not physical.  In Hinduism, they say the sound represents the connection between Atman (your soul, your true essence), and Brahman (the ultimate reality, the Divine Ground).

You can make that sound with your mouth and feel the vibration in your chest, and between the sound and that feeling, that is its core frequency.  It has no judgement, either of you, of others, or nature.  It speaks quietly and subtly, just like your conscience (and it is probably the source of this conscience), and everything it says and does is loving and beautiful.

If you’re unaware of this presence deep within, it’s likely due to why I never would hear it either — you’re lost in thought, particularly all kinds of (mostly negative) judgments about everything.  I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that our brains create a sort of illusory conscious experience of “self”.  Some people call this “ego”.  There’s that background chatter in your mind, always making judgments about reality.  Why did this person do that?  Why did they do this?  Why isn’t this better?  Why is isn’t that better?

So how do you combat this, and find that quiet connection?  Gratefulness and appreciation.  Actively seek out the good in whatever situation, wherever you are, and just thank the universe for the good things.  When you’re around people, don’t focus on their faults.  See the good in them, appreciate them, and thank them for everything they do.  It’s infinitely more powerful than fault finding and nagging.  The same goes for all of life.  I once saw Terry Crews on the Tonight Show, and I could tell that he’s found it as well.

I’ve heard over and over that Terry Crews is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  That’s exactly what students write in my teaching evaluations — that I’m very approachable and easy to work with.  Strangely, I don’t really take credit for that.  It’s more so the natural consequence of silencing your mind.  Once you do, your thoughts start coming from this divine ground, and everything coming out of your mouth is encouraging, kind, patient, loving, and just overall good.  “You” don’t really have to do anything but just be a vehicle for the experience.  I mean, have you ever thought where thoughts come from to begin with?  I haven’t a clue.  From my experience, it’s like the brain is a radio, and you’ve tuned it to “goodness FM”.  You just tap into it, and then it starts coming out on its own.  A silent peace and divine energy comes along with it.

Maybe all of this could be explained with normal human psychology and our brains, but a part of me wonders if there is some deeper mystery and power behind all of this.  I personally have consciously communicated with this entity, and it doesn’t seem to be “me”.  For example, one time I was really discouraged and lacking energy.  I tried to fight it with will power, but my mind kept racing with thoughts of, “I’m so sick of everything”, and other thoughts like that.  It was this whirlwind of negativity and depression.  Then I closed my eyes and asked this being, “I don’t want these thoughts.  I don’t know where they come from, but take them away.  Please give me peace and help me rid myself of this.”  Then I felt it, as if something from the great beyond heard me, and some divine plug entered my consciousness; this ‘Aum’ like energy started pouring in, the racing thoughts quit, I was at peace, and I was left in this “brilliant silence”.

Brilliant silence means that I didn’t go anywhere and nothing was happening, but everything changed.  I just became “aware” of life around me, the room, the walls, my desk, the computer screen, everything, and my attention was lifted from the negative, racing thoughts.  I was just there at peace.  Explain that to me?  Where did that energy come from?  I tried and tried to rid myself of the thoughts, but then I asked this something for help, and it came.  This has happened on to me on multiple occasions now.  If it was some being I could point to, or it resided in some location, I’d give a map and directions, but it isn’t anywhere, yet it’s everywhere.  Whenever you’re in calm, mental silence, it’s there.

I would like to write more about what connection to this ‘divine ground’ is, and how it manifests, but for now I want to conclude this post by saying that the idea of “progress” is something you should really think about.  Most of us think this “progress”, mostly in the form of technology, is necessary to make a better world.  However, I don’t think so.  It’s hard to say whether things are any better than they were in the past.  We make some things better, and in the process make other things worse.  But in the end, everything we will ever need is already within us, and nothing “out there” is necessary to find peace in our souls.  Become more aware of that divine ground dwelling in you and quell the noise through appreciation and gratefulness, and see where that leads you.

Posted in Personal, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Unplugging From A Sick Culture

The other night some of the guys in the gym invited me to hang out with them for a “bro night”.  Since we’re always lifting weights together, I think the world of those guys and was like, “Sure, I’ll tag along.”  It was good spending time with them, but I can’t help but share my thoughts on the night.

It all began with us meeting up at Applebees.  As we sat at our table, laughing and eating, I watched them order plate after plate of food, each with enormous portion sizes, all while they downed multiple giant glasses of soda and beer.  I on the other hand, ordered a small piece of grilled chicken on a small portion of brown rice and drank ice water.

As I looked around the restaurant, watching all these fat people waddling in, eating enormous portions of fried, greasy, salty food, and downing it all with sugary drinks, I thought to myself, “Yep, this is why obesity is so prevalent in our society.”  As of 2007, almost 75% of people in the United States were obese, a number which is growing everyday.  It’s not much better elsewhere around the world.

We have people working sedentary jobs, spending all day sitting in some desk, barely moving, and then they’re shoveling the worst possible foods into their mouths each night.

Some of you reading this may think I’m humble bragging or something.  I’m not.  To tell you guys the truth, I’m very anti-social and spend most everyday, in its entirety, alone to myself.  Since I’m largely disconnected from culture, and have basically zero peer pressure, I fell into routines that are natural to me.  For one, everything I eat is home cooked.  I never eat packaged, processed garbage.  I mostly eat lean protein, like boiled eggs, baked chicken, or baked fish.  Then for my carbs I tend to eat brown rice, or noodles.  And my portion sizes are small.  I oftentimes track my calories in an app as well called My Fitness Pal.  When I’m bulking and lifting heavy in the gym, working out for maybe two hours that day, my total calorie count for the day may be 2500 calories.  On days I can’t make it to the gym, I’ll only eat like 1800 calories.  I get 1 to 1.5 grams of protein for every pound I weigh, maybe (1/2) g of fat for every pound of my body weight (about 90 g per day), and for carbs I may get like 1 to 1.5 grams of carbs for every pound I weight.

But anyways, I state all of this to point out that I’m very aware of what I put into my body and how it responds to what I eat and drink.  For example, if I eat more than 2500 calories a day, even if I’m working out for hours each day in the gym, I’m still going to get fat.  I’ve had it happen to me on multiple occasions.  And on days when I don’t hit the gym (normally the weekends), I have to be even more careful about what I eat.  If I start getting above 1800 calories, I can literally watch the pounds start accumulating on my body.  My stomach starts pooching, then if I keep at it, fat starts appearing everywhere.  In the past I’ve allowed it when I’ve tried out “bulking”, but I’ve learned I’m better off not sloppily bulking at all.  Maybe it’s my age, but I have to eat clean, pretty much every meal.

Why do I say all of this?  I just want to offer some perspective.  Each big glass of soda I watched these guys down (and I’d say they drank 2-3 big glasses of soda, each), they were about 1.5-2 cans of Pepsi each, I’d say.  So each glass was probably anywhere from 225 to 300 calories, and drinking 3 glasses, we’ll just guestimate that to be maybe 800 calories.  ALONE.  Most of that is in pure sugar.  The amount of sugar in cola is insane; it’s best to just see it in a picture. And are you guys aware of what happens when you eat quick carbs, such as sugar?  First your blood sugar spikes through the roof and your body is like, whoa, we can’t have this!  So then it kicks into fat storage mode.  It takes all that extra sugar (now in the form of glucose) and converts it to fat and starts storing it, all over your body.  Wonderful, the exact opposite of what anyone would want.  Plus, this is super hard on your body.  This requires a huge spikes of insulin production.  You’re just begging for Type-2 diabetes.

But we’re not done with this.  Now let’s move onto what they ate.  They began by eating appetizers, which alone were more food than I would’ve ate for an entire meal.  They began with a platter of Won Ton Tacos.  So they ate another 600 calories just to warm up.  This was followed up with humongous Cowboy burgers which were 1200 calories, with 2200 mg of salt!  2200 mg of salt!  That’s the entire recommended daily intake of salt in one burger.  Gee, is it any wonder why people all have heart problems and high blood pressure?  But that’s just the burger.  We still have to deal with the enormous plate of greasy, salty, garlic fries which were 610 calories and another 840 mg of salt.

These guys had consumed well over 3000 calories in one setting, not to mention all the alcohol they were drinking.  That was taking it’s toll on their bodies as well.  I was awestruck.

Next we all rode together to the movie theater.  I was in the backseat and then heard the stereo turn on.  It was that booty in the club rap music stuff.  We all know about it.  That music that objectifies women, glories in their drug dealing, talks about their violent retaliation to other dealers and rappers, brags about their wealth and how everybody else is a nobody, etc.  Though a lot of the tunes and beats are catchy, the lyrics and mental messages are toxic and complete garbage.

So we make it to the movie theater.  I had to use the bathroom real quick (due to all the water I drank as I watched them eat and eat and eat).  I come out and I see them buying MORE soda, giant big gulps of soda, and big packs of candies.  All kinds of chocolates, and they’re each carrying a giant container of popcorn.  They then go to this station and dump loads of butter and salt on top and fill up their big gulps with Pepsi and Dr. Pepper.  I was thinking to myself, “Didn’t we just eat?”

I looked up how much soda was in the big gulps they bought.  You know those giant 2-liter soda bottles they sell at the store?  Those things are family sized and last a normal family, under normal consumption like a week?  I dunno, I don’t drink the stuff.  But these guys are about to down half a 2-Liter (0.9 L to be precise) at one go during the movie, an absolutely insane amount of soda to drink.  Also throughout the movie, I saw them eat all of the candies and most of the popcorn.  I can’t remember what candies they were eating.  It’s inconceivable to me to even eat an entire box of candies at one setting, much less several while downing a big gulp of soda and munching on popcorn (just after eating out at a restaurant!).

So finally the movie begins to play.  It was called Death Wish and starred Bruce Willis.  The basic plot is Bruce Willis plays this wealthy doctor and some guys come and rob their home.  Some things go wrong and Willis’ wife is killed and his daughter is critically injured.  Willis asks the police to take care of it but they’re inept and nothing is happening.  Willis gets mad and takes the law into his own hands.  He buys a gun, starts investigating on his own, and brutally hunts these guys down, one by one.

The movie is pure violence and gore.  I remember one scene where he tracks down this guy named Fish.  The guy is underneath a car, working in an automotive garbage.  Willis asks the guy, “Are you Fish?”  The guy’s like, “Yeah, what of it?”  Willis grabs a giant mechanic wrench, winds it up like a baseball bat and crushes the guys knees as he’s underneath the car.  The guy’s screaming, then Willis (being a doctor) takes out some syringe and drugs the guy. Fish passes out.  Upon waking up, Fish finds himself tied up, and the car he was working on is jacked up several feet over his head.  Willis then begins probing him, “Who else was with you!”  The guy won’t talk.  Willis then pulls out a scapel, cuts into the guy’s leg and tells him, “Do you know that such and such a nerve is located at this location in your leg, not to mention an important artery.  In medical school we learned that striking this nerve is the most painful experience one can inflict on a patient.”  A few grueling cuts later, Willis digs the scalpel into the guy’s leg, strikes that nerve, and cuts into the artery.  Blood gushes everywhere.  Fish starts panicking, tells Willis about some other goon that was with them, and then Willis ties a rope to the car jack.  As he walks away, he yanks on that rope, the jack gives way, and the car falls straight onto Fish’s head in a giant splat.  Blood flies everywhere, onto the walls, oozing down the floor, literally everywhere.  Willis then makes a little quip, and the entire movie theater starts laughing hysterically.

I feel like a killjoy, but was I the only one bothered by that extreme display of violence?  Do we really need all of that to tell a story?  At the very least, any sane person has to conclude that we’ve become desensitized to violence and other things that should otherwise bother us.

That’s when I realized, I’ve been disconnected from our culture for so long, living in my own world studying physics, reading, going to the gym, etc., that I’ve lost touch with what everyday people do with themselves.  My diet is nothing like most people’s.  I don’t watch the sort of television or movies that most people do.  I don’t do the sorts of activities most people do.  But what really concerns me is that I don’t think people realize the toxicity of the culture around them or how it’s affecting them.

It’s sort of like they’ve been living in the murky, disgusting waters for so long, they don’t remember life outside of it.  Or maybe they never have been outside of it.  I’m sure people will say, Jason, it’s just a movie, it’s not real!  But it is affecting you, in subtle ways over time.  I can’t even begin to guess in what ways, but I don’t believe any of it is good.  And just some other advice — stop eating fast food.  Stop eating at the restaurants.  Stop eating what most people eat, period.  Start buying good quality ingredients at the grocery store and cooking healthy meals for yourself.  A few years from now, when you’re slim and trim, feeling good, and full of energy, you’ll thank me.  Everyone around you may be obese and have health problems, but you don’t have to.  Take care of yourself.

I have a few more things to say.  These guys were planning to do more bro-nights and invited me to come.  They want to hang out and play video games.  And what video games are they playing?  Violent shooters, where you’re all thrown into a some small environment, killing each other, over and over, in bloody, violent competition.

Do you guys see the pattern yet?  Destroy your bodies.  Destroy nature.  Destroy the bad guys.  Consume your mind with death and destruction.  Death, death, and more death.  And then listen to violent, degrading music.  Flip on the radio and listen to this!  (This played in our car ride)

Consume, consume, consume!  Eat, eat, and eat!  Bigger, better, more shiny!  Compete, we gotta win! Turn on the news, and fear, fear, fear!  More death, more death, more death!  Rape, violence, murder!  Fear, fear, fear!

The song says “Something’s got to give”.  Yeah, you have to unplug.

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The South Korean Education System Is A Nightmare

Can you imagine going to school for eight hours a day, finally getting out at 4 pm, only to head to a cram school where you continue studying until 11 pm that night?  Then you go straight home, go to bed, and do the same thing the next day?   That’s becoming the norm in South Korea.

What a miserable existence.  No going out on dates, no school dances, no reading books, no video games, no movies, just school lectures, lots and lots of working practice exercises, drilling, drilling, and more drilling, practice exams, mock exams, and more exams, all day long, all day, everyday.  And there’s no room for mistakes!  All of the students are pitted against each other to get good grades, and those who fail to live up to these insane standards (basically study all day and have no life), they end up with very little opportunity in their lives.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something to be admired about working hard and studying hard.  In the modern world, to some extent that’s required.  We all have to work hard so that we can do the complicated things we all need to be doing in the modern world.  For example, the human body is a complex thing, and doctors have to spend a lot of time learning all about it.  The same applies to scientists, engineers, lawyers, and many other professions.  But there has to be a balance.  In South Korea, and I would argue in many aspects of our own education system, we take things too far and demand too much of young students.

South Koreans are now suffering from a massive suicide rate.  Many of us look on our childhood as some of the best moments of our lives, back to a time where life was more carefree and innocent.  Not them.  They study/work 18 hours a day, starting as early as ten year old kids, basically every waking moment; eat, sleep, study, and work.  That’s all there is to their lives.

I think Gabor Mate really nails these sorts of issues in this next video.

Why do systems like this make people miserable?  It’s because we human beings are wired for contact, for interaction, for love, for generosity, for connection with the larger whole, for universality, and many other things.

Do school systems inculcate these human attributes?  Is there real love when missing a single test question means losing your spot in a good university, and basically being relegated to the a life without opportunity?  Does that sound very generous?  Actually, you know what, let’s just stop for a moment and remind ourselves what the word generous means.  Look in the dictionary.  You’ll find three definitions:  1) that you’re “more than adequate” as you are, right here, right now, 2) that those around you are “willing to give and share unstintingly”, and 3) it means that those around you are “not petty in character and mind.”  Is that the sort of world these systems are creating?  It’s the complete opposite.

Or let’s go back to love.  Love’s a complicated word to define, but if we look it up we find all kinds of good attempts.  Using the dictionary we find things like, hmm, a loving environment would 1) treat people with a “strong positive emotion of regard and affection”, 2) treat the student with “a warm affection or devotion”, and 3) the people around them would “get pleasure” from them being there.  From my experience teaching, there is some love in places of learning, but there’s not enough.

Do you think there’s going to be real connection to those around you when you’re pitted against every other student for grades, trying to beat them out for the opportunities that do exist?  As Gabor Mate mentions, we’re tribal beings.  We want to be around people who are loyal and look after us.  Did any of you guys see the new trailer for the Mr. Rogers movie that’s coming out?  He always stressed this concept of building a “neighborhood”.  He’d say, “Won’t you be my neighbor”.  I love that saying, but what did that mean?  A neighborhood is a place where where you feel worried, scared, unsafe, or alone, the people there will take care of you.  It’s the opposite of isolation and selfishness.  It’s about being good to one another and looking out for each other.

Where’s the neighborhood?  The second these students screw up on an exam, they’re booted to the curb.  The system breeds worry and fear, and isolates them in that desk; it even steals the time they have to connect with others.  How are you supposed to have contact and build real connection when the only chance you get to interact with others is when you’re eating lunch in a big noisy cafeteria?   And connection to the larger whole?  What time is there to think about God, the nature of the universe, or your place in this cosmos?  Those who do try to have any sort of happy, meaningful life are punished.  They score lower on standardized exams than other hungrier students, and get left out of society.

So I guess the assumption is that life will happen later, after they finish their schooling and get into the workforce.  But will it?  Well, not really; the same sort of environment awaits them in corporate world.  It’s sad watching this next video.  A woman talks about loving her husband, and how their relationship was great in the past, but now the bank where he works demands he work more and more hours, and they never see each other.

This all reminds me of one of my favorite videos featuring Alan Watts.  He points out that our society lures us on, “Here kitty kitty”, holding out some promise, “this great thing is coming, it’s coming”, always in the future, “it’s coming”, so keep working hard.  Work hard in school, study hard, memorize it all, even if you don’t care about any of it, regurgitate, regurgitate, so that you can move onto graduate school, do the same thing some more, then get out into the work force, work 12 hour days, and work work work, hoping to move up the corporate ladder, and then by jove, when you’re 40 or 50 years old you realize, “I’ve made it”, and you don’t feel any different than you did way back when and it finally dawns on you, “My gosh, it’s all a big hoax.”

No wonder so many students are miserable.  Our lives should not be measured in terms of what we produce, and especially not how well we regurgitate information onto an exam page.  Exams are not an evaluation of worth, they are a tool for the student’s personal benefit, to help them notice what they need to work on, or may not understand fully.  And as to the things the student needs help on, that’s what the neighborhood is all about — people should be there to help inspire, guide, and educate those who are lost, lonely, or just need guidance.

These sorts of institutions may produce a lot of economic output, but they are unnatural to anything that produces human happiness, and isn’t that what we’re wanting?  This is all warped.  It tramples on what it means to be a human being.

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Do Our Opinions Matter?

Princeton recently did a research study, looking at public support for a particular government policy and whether or not it becomes a law.

What did they find?  Pretty much what you’d expect.  There is absolutely no correlation between what we Americans want, and what the U.S. government actually does.  They don’t care what we want, at all.  But if you look at elite business interests, they get exactly what they want.  You can read it here.

Why is this?  The richest corporations and billionaires give politicians campaign contributions and job offers when their terms of public “service” are over, and that’s enough to get whatever legislation they want.

Why is healthcare so expensive?  Why are college tuition costs insane?  Why are we in constant wars that never end?  Why does Wall Street get away with bailout after bailout? Why are all our good factory jobs sent off to become sweatshops around the world?  The list goes on.

The answer is simple; follow the money.  We the people don’t benefit from any of this, but the elite do.

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