Archive for April, 2018|Monthly archive page

Deep Philosophy in a Fist Fight Among Comic Book Heroes

So I read this article the other day. It’s a fluff piece by an otherwise fairly serious, business-oriented online publication. The premise is that two authors are opining on which of Captain America or Iron Man is right in their conflict over the Sokovia Accords in the Captain America: Civil War movie. Bottom line is that the Accords require the super-powered Avengers to register with the government and become government employees, or face arrest. Naturally, some of them (Cap’s team) object, where some (Iron Man’s group) capitulate. The movie is essentially a huge fight among the factions. (There’s also quite an extensive body of work in the comic books on this topic, but the article focuses only on the movie.) The contributing writers to this article are glib and humor-focused and it’s a quick, fun read. 

But after reading it, I spent a lot more time thinking about the subject and some of the proffered arguments than I expected to from such a topic. The writers assume a lot about their readers, expecting them to know a lot of the details that the article glosses over or leaves out altogether. And they reduce the topic, essentially, to a question of logic vs. emotion, heart vs. ego. 

I think it deserves a bit more than that, though. 

Travis Clark takes up the argument for Iron Man’s point of view. Basically, Iron Man/Tony Stark is pro Accords, saying regulation is inevitable and the Avengers’ activities need government oversight and sanction. Clark’s apologistic premise is that the Accords are essentially gun control: the Avengers’ powers are weapons that require government regulation, especially given that the Avengers are as much a menace to public safety as they are a help to the victims of the super villains they oppose. 

In my opinion, this view oversimplifies the Avengers’ abilities to “weapons” while at the same time overemphasizing non-powered individuals’ safety interests, sacrificing the Avengers’ individual agency to a romanticized vision of public safety. 

Imagine: what would happen if the super-powered heroes didn’t exist or weren’t there when a super villain attacked? All the public safety concerns (deaths, injuries, destruction) feared from super-powered fights would come to pass, only more devastating because of the added tyranny and evil that goes unopposed. 

In other words, it is unfair and illogical to equate the hero with the villain, and specious to claim that damage done in the course of fighting evil is solely the fault of the heroes. Had the evil-doer not attacked, acting out of evil intent, none of that damage would have been wrought. Blaming those who bear a burden to oppose evil for the damage evil causes is repugnant and wrong. 

That’s not to say recklessly endangering lives and property in order to “save” them isn’t equally wrong. But what is reckless or not in the situations the Avengers face can’t be measured on the same scale a parent uses to adjudge the recklessness of a new teenaged driver’s first fender-bender. Blindly submitting the use (or not) of their super human powers to the will of a government body on which they have no effective representation, and which is peopled entirely by non-powered bureaucrats, would be reckless. Engaging in a fight of evil only when a partisan interest is threatened would be reckless disregard of duty. But fighting evil when it threatens in equal measure and with equal prejudice (violence) is not, of itself, reckless. 

Carrie Wittmer, the other author in this article, advances Captain America’s argument. Cap’s take is that human governments have proven to be too vulnerable and unreliable and those who bear the burden of wielding these powers must also bear the burden of deciding how and when to wield them. He thinks the Avengers can’t afford to ignore threats the way partisan governments do. Wittmer agrees, arguing that as people (super-human, alien, Demi-god, what have you) the Avengers are individuals with will and agency. They can’t be fairly compared to guns, access to which needs to be controlled. 

And she argues that Cap’s distrust in government is well placed. Both the situation in Cap’s own origin story movie and in the events in Age of Ultron that lead to the Sokovia Accords being proffered are proof enough of that. Had Cap not acted of his own accord and saved both Buckey and the soldiers being held prisoner, Hydra and the Red Skull would have had free run and destroyed all the world cities identified on the bomb ships carrying the Tesseract Weapons. Had the Avengers not acted to blow up the Sokovia city before it could fall back to Earth, the resultant blast would have wiped out exponentially more of the world than that doomed city (which they evacuated before destroying it). 

My view is aligned with Captain America and Wittmer: personal agency, the right to choose, individual liberty and the right to be free from servitude, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of innate characteristics, these are much more meaningful, substantive and supportable reasons than the comparatively weak public safety argument made by the Iron Man camp. For me, the argument is that slavery in the guise of employment regulation is no means to the ostensible end of public safety. Rather, it’s creating property out of the in-born, accidentally produced, or purchased (Iron Man) abilities of individual persons. People aren’t property. And imprisonment as the only alternative is no choice at all. 

So what’s the solution? I don’t know, given certain outcomes shown in the Avengers: Infinity War movie that opened last weekend. (It’s awesome, by the way, go see it!) But here’s one, admittedly flimsy and un-detailed, idea:  why can’t Dr. Strange (the Watcher and wielded of the arcane arts) be a broker between the UN and the Avengers? He’s smart and has the power to control time, so he could test the possible outcomes of proposed deals. He could help them find an arrangement that balances public safety with the supers’ freedom and agency, so that they don’t have to choose between becoming property or prisoners, and the world gets a say in how it is defended or protected by those who have these powers. Each camp is represented and no one is enslaved. That’s a win-win. 

And that’s some pretty deep philosophy in all that comic book nonsense. 

That was fun. I hope you have a great week and find something fun and challenging to keep your mind working. 

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Never destroyed 

Had a tough day today. Work was hard. Lots of demands, little advancement in areas I’d hoped to be resolved soon, and disappointing outcome on a big presentation I’ve been busting my buns over for a long time. Add some personal disappointments and you have a recipe for a rough day. 

But I’m keeping my commitment to positivity, despite it all, with these three good things:

  1. It’s sunny, with song birds and crabapple blossom buds in the trees. There’s even a little warmth from the sunshine!
  2. I got a haircut after work. The place I get it cut washes after the cut (so it’s not itchy after) and gives a massage with the wash. They use a really good tea tree shampoo and pomade that smells really nice. I always feel better after a good haircut. 
  3. This quote helped me put the day in perspective: “Disappointment to the noble soul is is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” ~ Eliza Tabor 

Have a great evening, friends. I hope you are not disappointed, but if you are, I wish you well in your tempering and hope you find balm for the sting. 

This Post Instead

I have, completely unintentionally, been ‘teasing’ a gender identity-based post for a couple of weeks. Starting with some righteous (maybe self-righteous, I don’t know) indignation over some comments in a friend’s blog, I’ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. There’s a lot of emotion and complication wrapped up in that concept. Gender, in particular, is fraught for me because I’ve been outside the accepted framework of what gender is for all of my life. But as I’ve spent time inside my head stirring the concepts and thoughts around and around, something occurred to me: I am more than the individual parts of my identity and it does everyone a disservice by focusing on one aspect to the exclusion of the others.

Now, don’t misunderstand: looking closely at one topic is an important investigative technique and allows a writer to explore detail that would otherwise get lost when examined among other topics of equal weight. And I do intend to write that other piece. But this is the one that’s fighting to get out of my head, so I’m writing this post instead.

What is it? What am I writing about if not a piece focused on gender? I’m having a hard time articulating that. As I said, gender is but one of many facets that comprise the whole of a person’s identity. But “who am I” is an existential conundrum that can’t be captured in a blog post. And it doesn’t lend itself to a tidy, memorable essay subject line.

I think that what I want to convey is really a simple, timeless concept that every person has to come to terms with in their lifetime: we each define ourselves.

The cacophony of “it’s not a choice!” being screamed at me through the internet is deafening. Hold on. That’s not what I said and that’s not my message.

I am fully aware that certain aspects of our identities are innate and not the subject of personal choice. There are some things that are in-born. Sometimes those innate characteristics have to be discovered, much as a sculpture within the marble needs to be discovered by the artist. Socialization is a powerful tool to enforce specific mores and values, some of which are at odds with certain specific identity characteristics. So, those of us born with those characteristics that are targeted by those mores often have a hard time discovering our full or true identities, When we do discover them, living them is no more ‘choosing’ an identity than being born is a choice to exist.

However, the ultimate identity comprised of those various individual characteristics (whether they are innate, or the product of life experience or direct choice), is our own definition. We get to define ourselves. Those pieces of who we are that we’re born with are the baseline. They don’t have to define who we become. Just because there are innate factors that were chosen for us by nature or genetics or environment does not mean that that’s all we are, or that we can’t rise above or add to them to become who we wish to be.

That’s a long way around to say that we can choose the best version of ourselves.

I touched on that thought or one near it in a prior post about some things I’d newly learned or learned in a new way. Essentially, I said we have agency to choose how we react, whether to momentary stimuli or to ingrained socialization. Guess I’m reminding myself of that lesson.

Although there are a number of ways I describe myself to others, even to myself, those shorthand labels don’t define me. I’m more than a list of characteristics. I’m more than the labels that I wear. That’s obvious. But the fact remains that labels and descriptions are useful tools to identify ourselves, to guide personal development and enhance discourse. It’s helpful to know that a person identifies in a certain way. It makes conversation easier, makes interacting with others easier, makes it easier to be respectful and makes it easier to avoid offending and being offended.

Bottom line, I guess, is that the parts are not the whole, but knowing what the pieces are helps you to know when the puzzle is finally together.

For now, I think it’s enough for me to know that all of the pieces of me that I know and recognize today, all the pieces I’ve discovered, those I always knew, and those I’m still working on, are a present and valid picture of me. They are as much “me” as the me I’ll be when I’ve added new pieces, whether through intentional work or life experience. And, that I can contemplate the possibility of a “me” different from the one I know today is win enough for now.

Thar’s a lot of philosophy and introspection for a Sunday evening. Thanks for bearing with me. I hope you have a great week, full of certainty and free from existential uncertainty. Be well, my friends.

Accountability Quickie

Earlier this week I challenged myself to find at least two positive/good/happy thoughts or things whenever I found myself grumbling or thinking negatively. Well, it’s April 18th and still freezing and snowing. Snowing! So, yes, I’m definitely grumbling. 

But I’m committed to positivity and follow-through, so here are three positive, mildly happy things to balance it out:

  1. I’m late to the party, but I’ve recently discovered the joys of almond butter. What a great snack! Quick, easy for on the go, good protein and gives me an energy boost, deliciously tasty, and guilt-free! 
  2. Professional respect from your counterparts in negotiations is so validating. It goes a long way to resolving disputes and costs nothing. I’m always glad to give respect where it’s due, and very glad to receive it in return. Had the pleasure of having a mediator in a dispute I’m managing compliment my professionalism and acknowledge my patience, giving me a lot of hope that we’re going to be able to resolve this soon. Satisfying. 
  3. It’s been a few weeks since I started my bullet journal and I’ve been successful at keeping it up. I’m still not sure that I’m using it to it’s full potential, but I’m doing it. That’s a win for now. 

Ok, there’s my attempt at re-framing from negative to positive. I’m still not liking the snow swirling against my office window, but I do feel better about consciously choosing positivity. 

I hope your day is full of good things to keep your spirits hopeful. 

Enough Already!!

Writing meaningful, substantive things about topics that are close to my heart and mind takes a lot of energy. I have been doing some thinking and some reading and some more thinking. And the post that I want to write, that the topic deserves, is still working through my mental process that is sometimes opaque even to me. But I have confidence that it will come together. 

So, what to post this week? 

Well, the answer is disappointing. I’ve been wracking my brain for two days on that question. And every time I start to think, my mind is filled with a persistent, nearly impenetrable, buzz of white noise. All thought is drowned in it, leaving me feeling dumb.

Looking around me, trying to find something to comment on, the only thought that occurs to me is: enough already! 

I’m frustrated at the writers block. I’m frustrated with slow progress on some projects at work. Im frustrated with a creative dry spell that has me puzzled and unable to finish a new art endeavor that I’m working on. And I’m frustrated with the weather. 

That last one is absurd, I know. No one controls weather, so it’s futile to be frustrated. Still, it’s the middle of April and there’s snow on the ground again. All last week it was beautiful, starting to get warm, starting to get green, birds returning, flowers coming up…it was all a tease! As soon as the weekend rolled around, the temperature plummeted and it rained then snowed. Again. I’m so over winter it’s not even funny. Enough! 

Here’s a picture of my backyard yesterday afternoon:


But I’m not going to let the frustration ruin my outlook on life, nor my happiness. 

Time for a new goal. This week I’m challenging myself to focus on the good things, the things I can do something about, and the things that have meaning. For every grumbling, frustrated, negative thought, I’m going to actively look for at least two good, positive, or happy things to refocus my energy and reframe my mind. 

If you’re having the same problem, I hope you’ll find a way to reframe your outlook. Happiness is too valuable to squander in frustration. 

Thinking…

So the stars didn’t align and that blog collaboration I’d hoped for won’t happen. But I’m still working on the more substantive post. It’s just going to take a bit longer. 

I’ve had a weird week. It was quiet at work, with sporadic bursts of crisis and tension. And on a personal level, I’ve been in a strange, contemplative space. I’ve been thinking…

Thinking about gender. Thinking about what “living life” really means. Thinking about past hurts and past joys. Thinking about how adults make friends and how loneliness takes hold unexpectedly. Thinking about how being happy is sometimes hard work. Thinking about how inner voices can be both builders and destroyers. Thinking about how ambush emotions suck hugely. Thinking about visibility and representation in media can mean so much and yet disappoint so much when it’s done poorly. Thinking how hard it is to be positive some days. 
Thinking about so many things can be heavy work. 
And if I’ve decided anything about anything I’ve been thinking, it’s that I made the right choice to stay off of social media. I did a little lurking in my FB and Twitter accounts and am sick at how awful it was. The tiny pinpricks of light that a few friends’ posts bring to my feed are not able to bleach the dark stains of hate and anger and awfulness that otherwise flood the feeds. And I believe that negativity is a huge contributor to the flat, inky, downer thoughts I’ve been stuck in for the last few days. 

So, to get back on the positivity path and be the happy, positive, hopeful person I have been forging myself into these last few years, I am reimplementing the social media moratorium. And for good measure, I’ll skip the regular media as much as possible, too. 

Until I’m back to my old self, I’ll hang my hat on these few rays of positivity and hopefulness:

  1. My boss gave me a great compliment on Friday in the midst of delegating authority to me for the week he’ll be out of the office. He has confidence in my skill, intelligence and integrity. That means a lot to me. 
  2. I got a new game for my Switch, Kirby Star Allies, and spent a couple hours today in total escapism. 
  3. I’ve developed a liking for Mediterranean food and have found a couple great places in my town that serve it. Bonus: the place with the best falafel also has a really nice wait staff that I enjoy speaking with when I’m there. 

Have a great week, my friends. I hope there are bright sparks of joy in your lives that make staying positive less a chore and more a relief. 

Some things 

I’m working on a substantive post (possibly with contributions from another blogger, too!), but it’s not ready yet. Yet I don’t want to break my posting streak, so here’s a quick list of some things that should tide us all over until I can get the other one written. 

  1. I’m very glad to have the first quarter behind me. After weeks of 12+ hour days and everything being an emergency (sales guys seem to think any moment that their deal isn’t my sole purpose in life is a moment of deep crisis), I was very glad to close the books on Q1 on Friday. It was supposed to be on Thursday, but of course there always has to be at least one that drags on and on. I’m hoping to have a quiet week to catch up on everything that got pushed aside in the last few weeks, but I don’t count it as likely. 
  2. Went to see Ready Player One over the weekend. I had really enjoyed the book and was hopeful that the movie wouldn’t ruin it. Glad to say that I enjoyed the movie just as much. While the movie changes a lot from the book, my personal opinion is that the story’s core is in tact and the action was fun. Definitely recommend!
  3. I started a bullet journal. It’s a new endeavor for me and I’m not entirely sure I’m doing it “right”. However, I have it set up and a week’s worth of jottings down. Time will tell if I can keep it and the blog going at the same time and whether the radically different writing style will contribute or detract from my skill and productivity as a writer. (Clearly, it hasn’t done anything so far to deter from rambling run-on sentences. 😉)
  4. Although it’s much colder today than I’d hoped, there are definite signs of spring all over the place and I couldn’t be happier. I’m so ready for new growth and a little warmth. My SIL’s tulips are beginning to emerge, my grass is beginning to green, and the songbirds are back in my trees. I love this time of year. Actually, I love the turn of all seasons. Change keeps us on our toes and reminds us that life is always moving ahead. Springtime in particular brings this message, with the renewal of leaves and grass, rebirth of flowers and wild things. I find it hard not to be hopeful in the spring. 

Happy Spring to all of you. I hope you find good things in your every day to make you feel positive and hopeful. 

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