taming the wolf

I’ve been revisiting some of the foundational philosophies of Western culture and seeing how necessary to our current climate these thoughts are. I can’t help but think our current American culture is what Nietzche meant by “God is dead.” We have set up a surrogate god by praising patriotism and personal rights as a virtue over treating all humans as made in God’s image. Freedom to preserve one’s personal interests is the new morality.

A cult of conservativism (or any half-blind party loyalty) cannot bring salvation to a country divided, a society whose people cannot see beyond “us and them.” Your right to keep your firearms doesn’t preserve freedom if we are raising children who become lone wolves keen to lash out on those who carry different beliefs.

Every time a mass shooting happens (which is woefully frequent these days), what’s the first thing we want to know? What is the shooter’s profile? In other words, we want the suspect to be one of them, not one of us.

If he’s not one of us we can attribute the atrocity, the anger, the violence to something clearly outside of our own beliefs. We can rationalize it as a threat outside of us. When it’s someone who doesn’t “fit the profile” in our minds, we struggle to find reasons that he isn’t one of us. We rush to find the differences between him and “normal Americans” instead of acknowledging the common denominator.

We find the ways in which he was troubled that we should have noticed sooner, the way that he didn’t quite belong. (Oh, see? He was never really one of us.) We can shift the issue to something that isn’t so threatening to our core beliefs–such as guns or skin color or abnormal psychology–instead of the deep-rooted problems within our society that we’ve cultivated for so many generations.

And yet we always insist on morality. Every time this happens the suspect is “clearly an evil man.” It is an act of evil. Of terrorism. Of Islamic extremism. Until it’s domestic. This is an act of mental illness if it’s a white man, in which case he’s the victim of something beyond his control. We insist that we should have seen that he was crying out for help.

Well, what creates the kind of person who will fly under the radar with so much hatred in his heart and an Anarchist’s Cookbook under his bed? An arsenal in his closet? What creates a person so out of touch with others that no one would notice? Why so devoid of humanity and love?

Who bred this lone wolf?

Where was that moral fortitude in his upbringing and education? Where was the failure to instill empathy? Who or what ought we to hold responsible for instilling a sense of entitlement, selfishness, and hatred in place of kindness and equality?

Hate and all of the various “isms” that stem from it is a symptom of fear, insecurity, ignorance, and selfishness. Superiority is a delusion of those who, for whatever reason, don’t know what love is and can’t see beyond their own interests. Love and inclusion require humility. Hubris divides. Hubris rationalizes gunning down dozens of innocent people.

It takes the kind of strength that only comes from humility to recognize that you are not better than anyone, that others have intrinsic value. In normal human psychology this is something we all should have learned in early to mid-childhood.

No matter what ethos you have cultivated, we must insist that human beings are more important than ideologies. If your head knowledge leaves no room for the sanctity of human life, your education has failed you. We must cultivate the life of the heart along with the life of the mind.

Otherwise, what’s the point of living?

Perhaps this goes through the minds of those who, after taking lives, decide to take their own. They may have a keen sense that something is missing, but don’t have people around them to help figure out just what that might be. They’re missing an empathy network; their heart longs for it, but its absence creates confusion. Confusion without humility results in anger. Unchecked anger without empathy creates a person capable of seeing others as disposable.

Perhaps we simply need to cultivate the ability to recognize when someone is becoming a lone wolf. That requires being actively tuned in to other people.

Secondly, we need to cultivate the courage to call it out when we recognize the lone wolf tendencies creeping up within the ranks. This applies to any kind of social injustice, from sexual harassment to gun violence. It’s easy to overlook flaws in people of your own tribe. We don’t want to see ugliness in our own. But we have to. We have to recognize and correct the bad in order to foster the good.

publicly recommitting to the muse

It’s that time again–when the dog days of summer have finally ended and you want to put on some socks and sit at your computer with a nice cup of hot tea. I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month! In November, many writers spur each other on to complete a novel in thirty days with local and virtual write-ins and events. I have participated two other times, but have yet to come out the other side with an honest-to-goodness complete novel, or even one I cared to keep working on beyond November 30th. This year I have a much more solid plan for the first in a series of young adult novels that I’m very excited to write.

My long-term plan, in a nutshell, is to create books and book-related products for children and parents who want more from their children’s education so they can:

  • foster a love of reading,
  • learn not to be afraid of big ideas,
  • think critically, and
  • dive deeper into important primary texts.

This introductory novel is the first of many things to come within that mission. In each subsequent book in this series, our heroine will resurrect a great thinker from history who will help her piece together truths about how to overcome tyranny, what makes a just society, how to be an ideal citizen of the world, and how to start rebuilding the world she lives in.

Here’s a brief synopsis of what I’ll be working on for NaNoWriMo:

A young girl lives in a police state in which books no longer exist. Her parents were the last of a generation of people who knew how to farm the traditional way, with soil and seeds. And they were the last of the literates. They secretly passed down to their daughter the knowledge of every book they could remember by telling stories connected to animal characters that they had crocheted.

Her mom was killed in the resistance, and her dad tries to teach the girl everything he knows before the year’s end, before they’re caught, and before his daughter starts to remember that he was killed in the resistance, too.

You see, the little girl has the power to resurrect one person from the dead for one year. She had wished for them to come back, but didn’t know her own gift. Now she must make the most of her power. Now that her parents are truly gone, who can she bring back? Who can guide her? Who can help bring about the change her world desperately needs?

It sounds cheezy to condense it down like that, but there’s a whole world left to unpack. I’m excited to see what unfolds when I commit to writing an average of 1,660 words per day over the next thirty days. In the words of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, “This is it. Don’t get scared now.”

educational coloring, continued

F is for Freud

“Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock.”

Austrian neurologist (1856–1939). Father of psychoanalysis, a method of uncovering internal conflicts based on the patient’s dreams and free associations. Considered himself as primarily a scientist more than a doctor, pursuing an understanding of human knowledge and experience. Worked with Josef Breuer, which led him to believe that neuroses stem from childhood traumas that could be cured by unburying them from the unconscious mind and dealing with them intellectually and emotionally.

G is for Goethe

“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.”

German playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theater director, critic, & amateur artist (1749-1842). A central representative of the Romantic movement in Europe. Best known for his long poem/play Faust about a half-legendary figure who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for knowledge and power. Prominent member of the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) movement, which sought to overthrow the Enlightenment “cult of Rationalism” in favor of individualism, feeling, and nature.

deep roots make strong trees

We live in a world of instant information. Now more than ever we can access data that confirms our own beliefs; it has never been easier to live in an echo chamber. We compound our confirmation bias by simultaneously broadening our social circle to global and limiting our intake to only that with which we agree. We can have a thousand “friends” and choose to listen to only a fraction of them. Even though there’s more information than there has ever been before, we can still choose to insulate ourselves.

The instant nature of this information also means that much of it will be unfounded. It’s harder to verify. There’s little at stake when data can be made global at the click of a button the moment a thought has been had.

Anonymity also lowers the stakes of sending thoughts into the world. A twitter war with a faceless entity can make us feel entitled to express our opinions without consequence. And each side will be “right,” justified in their opinions. Divisive language happens when there is anonymous emoting (because what more can we call it when no common ground or intellectual growth is sought?)

We have to do better. We have to dig deeper. We have to be open to learning that we are wrong.

An education worth having must begin with humility. It’s important to recognize bad rhetoric; there’s a lot of it out there. A voracious reader will begin to make himself less easily duped by false or manipulative talk. Exposing oneself to a broad range of thought will make for a better thinker, a more discerning human being, and therefore a better citizen of the world.

We can’t expect to be good judges of our present if we are unwilling to zoom out and consider the wider context.

Reading great works from those who came before us gives us roots. The ideas of past geniuses broaden our own network of ideas. When a strong wind of someone disagreeing with us comes along, we can take that view into consideration without fear that it will uproot our entire system of beliefs. The roots are deep enough and broad enough to take on new ideas and weigh them against existing ones. We needn’t be threatened by new ideas because we are equipped to look at them critically and with an open mind. More importantly, we have trained ourselves to learn from everything with humility.

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