0599 + 0600 – learn to be violent

Violence is a fundamental part of nature, red in tooth and claw. Earlier today I saw a cute little housecat that was probably lost, and I saw it chasing, attacking and toying with a cockroach. It obviously had no concern for the cockroach’s well being (why would it?). It didn’t want to eat it. It just wanted to play with it, and in the process mutilate it.

I wonder how the decisively non-violent sorts reconcile that. Have they witnessed nature? Most of what we see on TV – on national geographic and so on – are the palatable bits that TV executives and editors thought was okay to show families at the dinner table.

The reality of it is often much more grotesque and macabre – predators isolate and murder babies. Even a video of a praying mantis eating a fly can be pretty disturbing. Or any of the creepy parasite type creatures that infest one another’s bodies and brains and then manipulate them as zombies to do their bidding. Creatures don’t bother to kill one another to ‘end the suffering’ – sometimes they just start eating one another in the open. I think I saw a video of some hyena or some other species just literally eating a live zebra that was still standing, until it collapsed from the blood loss. Nature is fucking brutal. If anything, human civilization has taken that sort of sudden brutality and spread it out over entire lifetimes – instead of something short and brutish, we have something long and bureaucratic. I think Nassim Taleb does a pretty good job of pointing out why this isn’t always a good thing.

The history of humanity is in many ways the history of violence and warfare. The application of force. I think it was Nietzsche who said that every living thing wants to discharge its strength. I’m not sure if I was ever taught to do that. Discharge my strength. I think that’s what most men [1] want to do, but never really get to. That’s why men get form gangs, start bands, do all sorts of things like that. It’s true that there’s a socialization aspect, but how is it that it’s so common in so many different contexts all around the world? It seems very likely to me that the socialization aspects are built on top of pre-existing patterns of behavior, pre-existing inclinations.

School isn’t very good for that. In fact, the school life that I experienced was kinda directly contrary to that impulse. You’re in a class with other people, and maybe you have some after-school activities like band or sports or whatever – and if you’re really lucky, you have a good coach or mentor, you might make something of yourself there. I’m really envious of people who did, because I never really got into anything like that. I got into a group of geeks in an IT club and tinkered around with some stuff. If I could do things over, I would’ve picked something with more of a strength-discharge function. A team sport, probably. Or even concert band – I was envious of how my friends who were a part of that all developed themselves, practiced, got good, and eventually performed at Carnegie Hall. What an amazing formative experience for a young man to have. [2]

The tragedy of school, to me, is that those things tend to happen on the side, by chance, when it should probably be the main deal. We should all learn from a young age what it’s like to work hard as part of a team towards a stretch goal that we’re inspired by. Why do we have to do this after school hours? Why not have it be the main thing? Instead, you’re expected to be compliant. Sit in your chair, listen, obey. Get put through standardized tests and so on. How do you learn to express yourself that way?

Every act of creation is simultaneously an act of violence, if only on prior beleifs and expectations, or some way of seeing or thinking. Jazz was violent. In this sense, Gandhi’s non-violent protests were violent – they were non-violent in a physical sense, but highly violent in an ideological sense. (Ideas are bulletproof, etc).

A man has to learn to carve out a space for himself in the world, even if it’s only in his own mind. He has to formulate his own beliefs, decide on his own values and principles. He has to decide what is acceptable and what is not. He has to set goals for himself. He has to have ideals that he strives towards. He has to have a discipline that he works on. Without these things, life become cold, dark and bleak. If we’re not growing, we’re dying – maybe not in a literal physical sense, but in a metaphorical sort of sense. (Somebody pointed out recently to me that “death” as part of cycles doesn’t necessarily need to be physical death; it can be a sort of ego death, a reimagining, a reinvigoration of the spirit, a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing yourself, defining yourself. Die and be reborn over and over! We really ought to have better rituals for these things, and i think ‘primitive’tribesfolk almost definitely understood it better than we do. There’s a lot of stuff we’ve shoved under the carpet, and the result is people living in all sorts of chronic-twisted ways.)

We live in strange times, in a reality often defined by abundance and surplus (in the internet-connected first-world). This is especially true in Singapore, where even things like homelessness or school shootings are non-issues. I don’t need to hunt for my own food. I could hypothetically work a minumum wage job, join the military… now I’m curious about what happens to orphans with no family, no grandparents, no parents, uncles, aunts. They’re completely reliant on the State. In some countries, they might get adopted by gangs, kidnapped by human traffickers, sold into slavery, then what? What is the path or trajectory of actual black slaves in America, their children, how did they feed themselves? How did the native tribes do it?

Anyway the point is – you have to do something. Basic human needs – air water food shelter – well, there are millions of homeless people in the world, and there are lots of people without access to clean water – what happens to them? They suffer and die, that’s what. How does one escape homelessness? How do the children of refugees survive and thrive? My grandfather came to Singapore from India without much money. Then what did he do? He rented a flat and worked as a gardener. I knew someone who rented a room for under $500 while working… but the jobs she worked relied on her education. What about the orphans? Or people with mental disabilities, or other serious handicaps? There are all these movements and attempts to hire such folks. We should be proud of these things. That said, what happens if say, war hits? If there’s an alien invasion? Bombings? It’s good to know that Singapore can probably defend itself, but it is worrying when you think about the worst case scenario. Most people seem blissfully unaffected… which I suppose is entirely ratioanl.

Anyway the point is – we live in very safe, orderly times, especially in Singapore where everything is efficient and runs like clockwork. That’s actually not how most of the world works, and it’s easy to forget that until we go overseas.

And it’s true that Singaporeans mostly don’t appreciate that (just as Americans probably don’t appreciate the freedom they have to mock and insult their presidential candidates, or how grotesque it is to the rest of the world that they regularly have school shootings and and police routinely seem to murder black citizens).

Violence. Nature is violent. Men are violent. We are drawn to power even when we try to pretend that it isn’t the case. We are fascinated by serial killers & mass murderers and drug traffickers. There’s a part of us that roots for chaos to shake up bureaucracy, which is why The Joker is such a popular villain.

When does a boy become a man in the modern world?

A real initiation is necessarily dangerous. So a highly sanitized holiday camp doesn’t quite make a difference. We have a nation of mummy’s boys who have never tasted real hardship or difficulty. I believe LKY said something once along the lines of – “If Singapore is a nanny-state, I am proud to have fostered one”. I wonder if he would’ve said the same thing about the prevalence of emasculated Singaporean men. That said, it seems to be that men around the world in cities are just emasculated in general.

I have a friend who often jokes that he wishes for war, calamity or disaster to visit Singapore. It’s a terrible thing to wish on anyone, but I do see where he’s coming from. After 9/11, New Yorkers came together and healed more than just that which they lost. They were bonded together as a community, grieved together, were gracious and thoughtful towards one another. Suicide rates went DOWN. People had far less trauma than expected, because everyone was everyone’s therapist. It may be that real leadership only emerges when there’s conflict and danger. The American Civil War for Lincoln, WW2 for Churchill and FDR, Cuban Missile Crisis for JFK, the Japanese Occupation for LKY, so on and so forth. Tough times inspire tough people. We’re not good at dealing with prolonged peace and prosperity. We get fat and find superficial trivial crap to get angry or upset about.

I do not wish for war or suffering for my peers. It’s invariably the weak and poor and innocent who suffer the most. But I do wish for strength, for fortitude, for grace, for wisdom, for kindness. How do I acquire those things in this messy, noisy culture of ours? In peacetime, excess, unhappy indulgence, always online, always disconnected. Aurelius had his own version of the answer, I think. It involved reflection, meditation, review, all things I don’t do enough of. Why? I’ve been alive long enough to realize constant improvisation is not the answer.

And that’s a funny thought – it brings me back to the way I used to play video games. I used to never be able to go anywhere, because I would simply improvise and click around and shoot things (I’m thinking of GTA) or simply build like crazy (SimCity) and in both cases I would end up doing something that broke things, something unsustainable. And in order to move forward I had to ‘lower the temperature’ and operate at a more stable, ‘slow-cooking’ ‘vibration’.

So what does this tell me about what I should do to move forward in my current situation? I’m improvising too much. It’s too many soft sketchy lines, which makes me run out of raw material. I need to operate in a much more ‘lean’ fashion. That means less multi-tasking, less experimentation, more “one thing and ONLY ONE THING at a time”. I need to get the extra energy that each successful task provides, because without it I quickly run out of energy and die. This is really useful to me.

[1] I don’t know if it’s the same for women, but I think there’s definitely a gendered aspect to this that’s accurate most of the time for most people. Men are more risk-taking – apparently young men die in accidents at 6x the rate that young women do, in their attempts to do crazy things at crazy heights, at crazy speeds and so on.

[2] As for me, I didn’t really do anything at all. Just bumbled around, I guess observing all of this. In a way all of this writing is a way of me developing myself, discharging my strength, working towards my own personal 400m gold medal, my own Carnegie Hall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *