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Monthly Archives: June 2007

The Original

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An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.
– Charles Edwards

Two months ago I started my first job.

Two months collecting cheques.

Two months watching my bank balance climb.

Two whole months.

Two months to learn that I don’t care about money.

Two months to realize I don’t care for a luxurious life.

Two months to understand that I prefer a simple life; happiness without glitter; contentment without unnecessary burden. I don’t desire to possess things. Things are a burden. You protect them, you care for them, you  pay attention to them. They give you back nothing, nothing but the transient thrill of dominion. Of having chattel to call your own.

Things leave me unmoved. These things they offer in shop windows; not worth having. Fancy watches, ridiculously priced designer goods, a varied assortment of luxury items. None of it strikes a chord. To value this chicanery, the false allure of possession, to pretend they represent real value, is nonsense..

This was a revelation to me. I’ve always thought I had a penchant for things. I’ve always seen myself at least partially as a material person. Fancy things, I didn’t have because I didn’t have the money. That was the barrier – finances.

Now the barrier is desire. There isn’t any desire to have these false idols, these false totems clutter my life.

You may say, as others have, that I benefit from my fathers shadow, that he takes care of the major expenses leaving me with an income disposable. And this is true.

But my point is that I don’t care to spend it even if I can. I don’t see the need to spend  on things. There are no things worth it. At least precious few that I have identified. Perhaps you can explain to me what an item you have to have is. I’ve never seen one in all my wondering.

I confine my contempt to things. People, experiences, events, knowledge are far more worth spending on. They are eternal, they last in enduring and subtle ways. Good conversation over a good meal, cheap and invaluable. A relaxed moment, a friendly chat. Far more enduring then the transient sensation of spending recklessly. A pearl of knowledge, a gem of advice, an eight piece of wisdom. Wealth beyond comparison to any lucre of this material world.

It is this treasury that I choose to build, this wealth that grabs me, this cause towards which I will spend. I see this, and say that it is good.

Lister: Sometimes, I think it´s cruel giving machines a personality. My mate Petersen once bought a pair of shoes with Artificial Intelligence. ´Smart Shoes´ they were called. It was a neat idea. No matter how blind drunk you were, they could always get you home. But he got rattled one night in Oslo and woke up the next morning in Burma. You see, his shoes got bored going from his local to his flat. They wanted to see the world, you know. He had a hell of a job getting rid of them. No matter who he sold them to, they´d show up again the next day. He tried to shut them out, but they just kicked the door down.
Rimmer: Is this true?
Lister: Yeah. The last thing I heard, they sort of… robbed a car and
drove it into a canal. They couldn´t steer, you see.
Rimmer: Really?
Lister: Yeah. Petersen was really, really blown away about it. He went to see a priest. The priest told him… he said it was alright and all that, when shoes are happy that they´d get into heaven. You see, it turns out shoes have ´soles´.
Rimmer: Ah, what a sad story. Wait a minute.
[Thinks for a minute]
Rimmer: How did they open the car door?

________________________________________________________________________________________

[about art college]
Lister: They had lectures like first thing in the afternoon. We´re
talking half past twelve every day. Who´s together by then? You
can still taste the toothpaste

________________________________________________________________________________________

 

[On the two fighters tracking Red Dwarf]
Holly 1: They´re from Earth.
Lister: That´s 3 million years away.
Holly 1: They´re from the Norweb Federation.
Lister: What´s that?
Holly 1: The North Western Electricity Board. They want you, Dave.
Lister: Me? Why? What for?
Holly 1: For your crimes against humanity.
Lister: You what?
Holly 1: It seems when you left Earth, 3 million years ago, you left 2 half-eaten German sausages on a plate in your kitchen. Do you know what happens to sausages left unattended for 3 million years?
Lister: Yeah, they go mouldy.
Holly 1: Your sausages, Dave, now cover seven-eights of the Earth´s surface. Also, you left £17.50 in your bank account. Thanks to compound interest, you now own 98% of all the world´s wealth. And because you´ve hoarded it for 3 million years, nobody´s got any money except for you and Norweb.
Lister: Why Norweb?
Holly 1: You left a light on in the bathroom. I´ve got a final demand
here for £180 billion.
Lister: £180 billion? You´re kidding?
Holly 1: (Wearing a silly face mask) April fool.

________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Okay Enough from me. Read many more here.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise

My Mum

Finding myself in the fecund field of employment, I’ve struggled with the busyness of business. Days fly by, perilously skating from “if you could” to deadline, to fixed immutable deadline, to final warning, and then the crashing crescendo of “do it now now now” with an inevitability that makes me laugh.

The pattern is so Dilbert, I scarcely believed it.

I adapted.

One of the side effects is that time slips from your grasp. You lose the creamy centers that make life worthwhile. You lose the ability to do what you want, to take leisure time.

For me this is a morning rite.

By nature I am a morning person and need to cruise smoothly into the day. I need time for my pre-dawn rituals. To check my email, scan my blog,  scroll through the  information that Google Reader faithfully fetches and spend a few minutes chatting to those in GMT+1.

Getting up at seven and being out of the door at twenty past eight was not accommodating these desires.

My mind recollected a piece I’d read, a piece of lasting interest. A piece written by that doyen of the self improvement genre: Steven Pavlina, a rich spring of information on all things personal development.

The post, titled How to Become an Early Riser (there’s also a sequel) set out a simple discovery on mastering the art of early rising. Your body is the best judge of what time to go to sleep. What it needs is some gentle direction by which it can make this decision. This gentle nudge is your waking up time. You have to pick one. If you commit to waking up every day at a fixed time, and get up at that time, you will automatically feel tired when its time for you to sleep. This time changes, paralleling the activity you’ve done in the day.

I’ve taken it upon myself to commit. For the last month, I’ve woken up every day at 5:30 am. Each day of every week, I’ve been awake to watch Hong Kong’s three suns rise, reflected back of the glass walled office towers and bounce straight down my window.

The results have been phenomenal.

I’ve clicked straight back into my school day habits of not needing an alarm clock. By body and mind are so habituated that I click instantly on when 5:30 comes. My alarm clock ,as a precaution, is set to 5:40 but I’ve not needed its services.

Mornings are incomparably vast. Today I wrote three blog posts, checked my feeds, watched the F1 qualifying from Montreal and read a hundred pages of Roy Jenkin’s excellent Churchill before anyone else in my house (excluding mum, who’s been doing this for far longer) stirred.

There is an incredible vitality that you tap into so early in the mornings. Tinged with the slightest spray of fatigue, you find the mind calm and focused. You see what needs to be done, assign some priorities and dispatch tasks with a cool clockwork precision.

That tinge of fatigue does stay. I’m no Maggie Thatcher, running around at odd hours. I do feel like I’m running on the bare minimum that I need. But this fatigue is soothing. It gives a feeling of calm. It’s not really fatigue. It’s something close, akin to it,. but without any of the weariness I associate with fatigue.

A further benefit, I sleep about 45 minutes to an hour less every night on average. Sleeping roughly 10 – 5:30 instead of the old 12:00 – 8:30. That adds up to 7 hours a week. Which is about half a productive day. Which means 15 full days of useful time a year. Imagine what you could do with that time. A bonus half month in your year in which you were entirely awake and at the peak of your potential.

Imagine what you could do with that. Imagine those things that seemed impossible that you could suddenly do.

Cause you have the time.

That’s what I feel like now. I feel the possibilities that are open to me are so vast, that I can do unbelievable things with these mornings. I just have to pick what direction to go in and charge into that expanse.

And I will conquer.

An awesome power, the power to rise early.

I’m enjoying it.

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

Mark Twain

I spent a few days last week reading my blog. From beginning to end. Every post, some in depth, some more briskly. Every post is a good 156 spanning 26 months. A lot of words.

I’ve seized it as an opportunity to review how I write, and in the last few posts I’ve seen a distinctly different style take hold.

Yusuf’s point about information entropy is being taken to heart.

I used to write incredibly long posts. Tremendous detail, on obscure topics that interested me. Long paragraphs with complex sentences. Lots of redundant language and cumbersome phrasing. Almost compulsive use of weak hedged words; language designed to qualify speculation and present a plethora of perspectives rather then any position I hold.

In one respects things won’t change.

I’m still going to talk about the wide range of topics that interest me. I’ll still wantonly bounce of topics and clatter into ideas. That’s the reason d’etre of this blog. To see what falls when I hit hard the walls of my mind.

The rest had to go.

The long paragraphs have been axed. There’s an intimidation factor in seeing a wall of text. More importantly, it means I’ve not thought the point out with sufficient clarity. When I have, paragraphs get shorter.

Now, any paragraph longer then five lines is asked to justify itself. There has to be a strong reason for the whole paragraph to cling together. If there isn’t, I find a semi-natural break for paragraph mitosis.

I’ve tidied up my language to curb redundancy in word order and sentence structure. I’m prone to write phrases like “…and perhaps this is happening because..”, which can be trimmed to “this is because” or even “because”. This verbal circumcision makes the sentence punchier by removing the prevarication and hedged language.

Now, qualified language can be used, it can be necessary, but like long paragraphs it has to be justified.

I’ve created a black list of words. From now on, no post is allowed to contain the following words:

often
perhaps
maybe
actually
very
usually

In addition, the following words require strong justification. Namely that I can’t rewrite the sentence and preserve the intended meaning without them. Dark grey listed if you will. These are:

so many
must
all
be

They’re crutch words, designed to bridge bad writing. They take punchiness out of a sentence and replace it with a bland over-engineered smoothness. When included they make for unexceptional writing.

I remove these words by running a Control+F search in Windows Live Writer before posting. If found they can be deleted of the bat without affecting the sentence. If they can’t easily be removed, rewriting to minimize their use or eliminate them is the next port of call.

A further change has been the elimination of adjectives. Adjectives are effective if used judiciously, but overuse cheapens them. They should be deployed only when critical. When the need is overwhelming to ensure that a noun is seen in a certain light. It is better to trust the reading mind to interpret then to dictate for no reason.

The final change I’ve made is the switch from simile to metaphor. Similes present weak images, without the impact needed in smaller sentences and shorter paragraphs. This has ‘like’ perilously close to inclusion on the grey list, a promotion I haven’t decided upon yet.

This change, unlike its companions, was driven by reading a biography of Winston Churchill, one of the most effective writers and speakers in the English language. One marked thing about Churchill is his thundering use of metaphor. A simile by contrast is rare.

On the whole these have been changes easy to make. They’ve required minor tweaks to my style, but they’ve had a profound impact on the final result. I find the new posts are more readable, crisp and to the point. They’re more enjoyable for me to read, reread and read again.

Which is a true mark of mature writing.

He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.
Oscar Wilde

If timing is everything, punctuality ought to be the freshest breath of the sublime.

Twelve months ago you couldn’t have found a more ardent exponent of this thought. Timeliness was a mark of respect for the other person, a sign of an ordered mind and the grip of a disciplined person. It displayed the ability to plan and manage contingency, to deal with the vagaries of time and not be defeated.

I prized punctuality as the mark of an exceptional person.

I strove to epitomize punctuality personally. The thought of being even five minutes late for something, or for that matter five minutes early would evince protracted self inflicted reproaches.

If something was to start at 1:00 I would be there at 12:59, punctual. The manifestation of the starting time in living flesh. A chastisement to all those who dared to come late. A rebuke, living and breathing.

I dare say people felt it.

I knew this wasn’t common. Most people are some species of tardy. They’re content to fudge starting by a few minutes and accommodate the late comer. Even indulge the late comer at the expense of the punctual. Chronometric precision was a trait idolized only in Rolex commercials.

I have converted to their view.

I’ve had enough of waiting around MTR Stations and shopping malls. Tapping at my watch, restlessly pacing, leering into shop windows at things I’d never buy and perusing people I’ll never see again.

Killing Time.

Now, I can’t be arsed to be punctual. Five, ten, fifteen minutes late is just an inconvenience. Nothing hinges on the arbitrary times we set for things. If lateness is inevitable, I’d rather it inconvenience them.

The phone call I always get that they’re running late meets with a shrug of the shoulder. I’ve already anticipated not being there on time. Instead they wait, and they’ll keep on waiting, and never apprehend the silent judgement passed.

My time is too valuable to me. I have too little of it. What little I have flies by every day, every month at a blinding pace. I will not waste it on the ingrates who show it no respect. Who spend currency of mine for their ill conceived needs.

I don’t go out of the way to be late, I’m not glamour model aiming to make a fashionably late entrance.

But I’m no longer fussed either. 

I changed the name back to A Disorganised Mind. I’ve never been really content with A Fire to be Kindled. It seems that in this instance, second thoughts were a distinct step back from first.

 

Link

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?  For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.  That is where the writer scores over his fellows:  he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.

-Vita Sackville-West

I’ve managed to do it again, though there was no advertence on my part this time. Managed a link from a much more popular blog and gotten a flurry of traffic.

The first time was with the link to Ali Eteraz’s personal blog, that was contained in the Fundie Muslim Style post. The trackback carried a flurry of readers on its slender wings. The second, combined with the most comments on a post ever, was with the Just Brown post courtesy of the editors of blogbharti.com who linked to that from their front page.

What that has meant is that those two posts have taken gold and silver for the title of my most successful posts ever by reader numbers.

And revealed that I’m uncomfortable with having readers.

What makes this paradox a squared circle is that I read personal sites written by strangers and find them compelling  because of their perspectives or the dramatic quality of the lives. Some of the most interesting ones are From The Archives and Violent Acres as well as the mentioned Ali Eteraz.

I wonder now how they feel about strangers reading their writing. Thousands of people being instantly alerted the moment they feel confident enough to publish. They don’t have the traditional print safeguards of an editor, a proof reader, checking and feedback. They commit, often in the heat of the moment to meet their publishing schedules and chancing that something reads wrong or implies something they do not wish to be associated with. But they’re big; with tens of thousands of hits a month they must have habituated themselves.

I don’t think I could. I don’t want a ‘successful’ blog.

It’s an odd dialectic. Why blog if you don’t want people to read. It’s public, its visible, and the reward for doing it right is to have readers. Thoughts, ideas, concepts benefit from being shared and being discussed. The more we debate and examine an idea, the more we all get out of it. Like compound interest, the meeting of minds is a powerful force.

There’s the obsessive checking of my feed stats and hit count, showing where your visitors are coming from and what they stopped to look at. I’ve checked that multiple times in a day, often to find no change. But that doesn’t stop me checking. One source of hits, the search engine results I’ve already turned off and on a half dozen times, conflicted over whether they should be finding a personal blog only tangentially related to what they’re searching for.

At the same time, I savor knowing my audience. I could probably individually name everyone subscribed to my RSS feed or who reads my blog. That’s how small the list is almost entirely composed of friends. A position that I’m comfortable with. There may be the odd exception [points at Jeff K, vaguely gestures at the people akin to him] but on the whole I know the people who read my blog in the real world.

In the end, I write for myself not for anyone else’s edification. That’s why I don’t have a topic, don’t have a direction, don’t have an angle or a niche. I’ve thought about these things as ways to make a ‘successful’ blog, but the through or writing about one topic or one idea for so long doesn’t do anything for me at all. I’d much prefer to flirt with a range of topics.

It’s why I write. Not Blog.Write. And when you write for yourself, the reader fades away.

History was over. The Great Ideological Battle was finished. The Victor was triumphant for Eternity.

A simplification as old as Ahura Mazda, the great Persian creator god.

Liberalism and Capitalism had triumphed. The priority of the right over the good had been assured. Now we would live peacefully in the Joy this would bring. The forces arrayed by chaos/evil against those of order/good had been decisively won by the forces of good. 

Of course now we know this was a fantasy, wishful thinking not unforgivable in the afterglow of the fall of the Berlin War. In that moment perhaps the panorama of history was truly open to such a radical interpretation of victory. If an axis disappeared in a bipolar world, then there could only be one person left, who must be default take as his own the prize.

Instead we formulated another vision of reality. We saw the world as it was again, free of distorting ideological lenses forced on us by competing superpowers. Free of a compression that reduced all world views to left and right. Communist and capitalist. Free and unfree. Good and Evil.

This was a localized view, a world where cultures and religions mattered. Where regionality and geography mattered. A world of eternal conflict based on the clash of civilizations. Ahura Mazda indeed; the unending battle against Evil.

Redefining Evil so that we could find it to fight again. How would we know who was good if there was no Evil to contrast it with?

Returning back where we started, fighting amongst differing conceptions of the good, seeking to impose our own views on others and to remake the world in our own image.

Amidst all of this I never questioned the central role of liberalism as a political philosophy. I saw the rise of civilizations, of empires, based on culture or religious beliefs but never considered that western liberalism might be a civilization, based on religious and cultural roots. 

Yet now it seems so obvious.

Of course it is.

It’s just a subtly different one.

Shared political roots are what ties this civilization together. Share. Interlocked with certain perspectives about religion, intertwined with a religion that stressed thinking rather than doing and when attached to a polity necessarily more free then feudal.

This was our most vibrant and powerful Civilization. So powerful that it claimed to be universal. As Xerxes before had claimed that the Creed of Ahura Mazda was, for the necessary and incidental glory of the Persian Empire. So powerful in fact that in its age of empire it stretched from sunrise to sunrise. So dominant that it maintained this great reach for nearly 300 years.

Even today, arguing the non-universal nature of liberalism is something that hasn’t found its way into the heart of the political debate. The Communitarian critics may have made their arguments, but they have not pervaded the popular conscious in the way that the arguments of icons such as Bentham, Mill, Rousseau and Rawls have. We have embedded ourselves firmly into the State, made legitimate by the contract it forms with its inhabitants. We have clothed ourselves in the assumptions of the liberal impulse.

Its becoming clear to me that the assumptions of Liberalism are stark and . Reading Sandel makes the Rawlsian ones shine out. But at a intuitive level for me, I find myself unable to accept the priority of right over good, preferring to invert the mechanism personally or at least to balance them out. I’m also not a keen fan of the social contract, the hypotheticals it requires to exist (which Sandel is quick to point out) and that leaves no from of liberalism as viable. On the other hand the radical libertarian twist of Nozick is equally unappealing.

Some via media would perhaps command respect but a liberal theory not found in some original position, either a state of nature or social contract, seems to be non – existent.

What we talk about instead is the legitimacy of democracy – of participation not the end result.  We sanctify the process. But the process is just a means, it cannot assure us of an ends, and what we must sanctify are the ends. The plurality and tolerance that we seek to enshrine as values do not occur naturally to people. Which is why the western world is so often disappointed when it comes to the outcome of foreign elections such as that of Hamas in Palestine.

What we need are the assumptions of Liberalism to be universally accepted to even begin spreading democracy to other countries. If we can’t get them to accept the tolerance then spreading democracy is a futile exercise. We end up with the donkey democracy. The Democratic Republic of Congo – a ruthless dictatorship the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – the ultimate in loony dictatorships. The staged elections that happen in Egypt, the parody of the process that was the Nigerian Presidential Election.

Yet amongst all the cultural exports of the West, the most tenuous has been the small “L” liberal. Because what they’re exporting is the whole. A whole set of assumptions, values, behaviors, perspectives and beliefs. And nothing so wholesale can ever be exported. People do not adopt the culture fully of foreign people in their own lands. They modify it. They take selectively what they wish. They adapt it. They pick the attributes that maybe grant them the fastest results. Or the most easily identifiable ones.

There can be no uptake of Liberalism, because Liberalism is a culture that is complete internally and entirely extrinsic externally. And people don’t adopt foreign customs in their native land.