Archive for the Culture Category

Clarifying Guilt

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Relationships with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2010 by 99ppp

I’ll describe guilt as that uncomfortable feeling that one has gone against one’s conscience, at least that’s what ideally it should be. Yet that feeling can expand into situations where that unease  can erode our principles and undermine our values.

We begin to form our moral foundation from the discipline of our parents . We defer to their ethical experience, and believe that they have a greater hold on what’s right and wrong, what’s fair, and so on.  Parents become the primary agents of culture, teaching us how to acclimate to societal norms..As we age, though, we could see that they are only human, they make errors, and perhaps their moral compass was calibrated to their environment and times. “Because I said so” becomes an increasingly weaker argument, and solely a declaration of power. In fairness to parents, often they are simply attempting to keep us from repeating the mistakes they made. Often ethical transmission may be simply an attempt to validate their principles. That does not stop the questioning, though as the universality of teen rebellion can attest. We begin to challenge our parents assertion of what’s ethical and fair. We may look within, to our peers and the wider popular culture to get our new cues on how to behave.

Breaking customs appears to be one of the greatest difficulties within families since they are often the rites that are considered unifying. My mother used to get fixated on dates, on one particular occasion there was a silly family altercation simply because someone else forgot Mother’s Day and didn’t call. Now I didn’t believe in  recognizing these “greeting card” holidays (and still don’t) , but did it to appease her. When I found out about this conflict and my mother’s righteous indignation, I immediately declared I would no longer recognize those holidays, since they were now becoming a potential source of conflict. My mother suggested I cared less about her if I didn’t, I responded I didn’t like my feelings to be dictated by the calendar.

Enter religion. I was taught on the importance of God at home and in school, and was told that without that religious guidance I would go astray. I was skeptical, and felt that I could infer some of the rules of the Bible intellectually (I was raised Roman Catholic), and didn’t feel that was needed for it to be sent down by God. I get the sense that guilt drives much of religion, as we must carry the burden of Adam’s original sin, making us responsible for decisions we didn’t make. I confessed to a priest only once, and never again. I can see the use many people can get some peace of mind  from it, but couldn’t see how this man could give me absolution.

Guilt cues us in to violations to our values, ethics, principles, and agreements. However, I began to feel that it is unfair to hold us accountable to principles we didn’t pick. Often guilt can simply be a response to seeing a loved one get hurt after some act or expression. We often believe we’ve hurt the person, but it can be just as likely that the person hurt themselves by projecting expectations onto us, and holding us responsible for surprising them in an unpleasant way. Nonetheless, we feel bad, call it guilt when perhaps it’s simply a fear of alienation. To fulfill expectations we didn’t agree to condemns us to reaffirm existing culture instead of engaging and participating with it by questioning, examining and challenging it when it fails to resonate with us. We become agents of conformity. We can erode the confidence to form our individual principles and become spectators to the ever-shifting tides of ideas that make the amorphous blob of mores and customs we call culture.

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The Way of the Dodo: “Political In/correctness”

Posted in Culture, politics with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by 99ppp

Browsing amazon.com, I came across a description to a series of books called “The Politically Incorrect Guide to..”. Now, I’ve been exposed to the phrase through Bill Maher’s excellent show in the 90s and even used it myself, yet I noticed I haven’t used it or heard it recently and wondered why. I thought the books were a humourous attempt at satire, but looking deeper they seemed to be a serious attempt to argue outdated ideas.

I’ve always been opposed to political correctness, and always felt that we’ve lost sincerity due to the fear of offending someone. Some were trying to redefine terms towards people who didn’t even refer to themselves as such. “Hearing impaired” for deaf, or “African-American” for black, so on and so forth. It became a sort of joke of hypersensitivity back in the 90s. The joke now seems to be those attempting to resurrect the terms “PC/P-inC” as a futile attempt to brand antiquated, racist and sexist ideas as rebellious and subversive. It stinks of desperation by people feeling left behind by trends towards inclusion, diversity and egalitarianism. It is not a bold exploration towards new ideas, but entrenching oneself into outdated ones.

There is a sad irony of those who currently tend to use that term. They are offended by others’ offense! Just like people have the freedom to express their views, people have the freedom to react and respond to those views. Our disgust disgust them, and the hypocrisy seems lost on them.

In the age of the internet, where one can delight and be disgusted by a variety of sights, sounds and texts, the terms “politically correct/incorrect” have become anachronisms, very much like those who tend to spout it. So I bid you good-bye “PC”, you were a useful term for a while, but now you sound pretty hollow. Now you only help me identify those who aren’t really censored, but whose ideas are ignored into irrelevancy, and often rightfully so. I guess we can call it linguistic natural selection.

I crave equanimity.. sometimes.

Posted in Culture, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2010 by 99ppp

I recall as a teen seeing those infomercials on Transcendental meditation. They were usually quoting studies on how they calmed the mind and lower stressed and I was fascinated by it. I knew little or nothing on eastern religions, yet it seemed that they were peaceful, and even as a youngster, I tended to analyze situations from a myriad of angles before making a decision. The line between thinking and worrying is very fine, so I was fascinated by it. My mother got a bit panicked, thinking it was some cult (some might argue that it might be). Yet this started my exploration into equanimity, meditation in particular, and pined for the ability to remain cool under pressure, and even handed in stressful situations. The journey has been sporadic and elusive, as I am both attracted to equanimity and skeptical simultaneously. Spock-like stoicism seemed attractive at one point to one curious of the world around him and gravitating towards science.

Dispassion, objectivity, perhaps this was the way to stop craving, wanting, pining. Buddhism is described as the middle way, evenhanded, as any leanings could could make one suffer. While the Four Noble truths resonated with some part of me, the eightfold path didn’t as it sounded pretty moralistic despite I may agree with many of the principles. Then there is the apparent paradox of wishing suffering to end. I’ve read enough commentary, and several books on Buddhism attempting to reconcile them, making exceptions adding more and more words to what should become simpler, without being simplistic. Detachment or attachment, indifference or commitment. Both seemed right and wrong.

Paradoxes fascinate me, I eventually ventured into Taoism through a wonderful book called The Tao of Physics. Connecting both my interests, I found Taoism somewhat more flexible, allowed for mystery, allowing for harmony and flow rather than stoic discipline. There seems to be a sense of humour in the Tao Te Ching, telling the reader the Tao cannot be defined, and yet the book attempts to describe it. Sometimes the passages read like fortune cookies or a conversation with your drunk uncle.Buddhism still held many important ideas, many shared with Taoism, yet seemed a little rigid, and more structured. However, I could not dismiss it.

Meditation practices are pivotal to both traditions so I began to investigate how to do so. I lost interest in Transcendental Meditation, and began to dabble in ways to experience thought-less, ego-less mindspace which seemed to promise some respite from my constant overthinking and fretting. I even used “Theta wave” cassettes which did hold some promise, experienced some lucid dreams, but didn’t like the idea to use technology to get there. I believe these states of mind are accessible to all and not reliant on some gadgetry or decades sitting in a cave. Eventually, I decided on Dr. Herbert Benson’s “Relaxation Response”, a simple secular form of meditation. Then came Zen.

The Zen tradition intrigued me since it was a mix of Buddhist practice and Taoist philosophy. I’ve read several books on the subject over the last two decades, but have yet to sit zazen, a form of meditation with eyes open. What boggles my mind is that the most powerful transcendent experiences came to me while doing the most mundane tasks. The first one came while washing the dishes. The second, while cropping my hair with an electric clipper. I lost my complete sense of self, everything was effortless. Then I just discovered there was no dishes to wash, no hair to cut. I didn’t do anything. A verb with no noun. Cutting, washing. I am now persuaded that the key to awareness is attention. To WHAT one pays attention to matters little, whether it’s sweeping, a mantra, a prayer, counting the breath, or a yoga pose. Conversely, it appears that these states are so elusive because we are continously distracted. I still struggle reconciling the irony that becoming so focused on one thing can make one dissipate from everything else, yet seem connected to everything else. Maybe there is no else, just everything.

Praying for Goals: A Visit to Hockey’s Cathedral

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , on February 17, 2010 by 99ppp

I’ve been anticipating this game for months. My favourite team, the Montreal Canadiens were playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburg Penguins. We were lucky enough to have a generous friend give us two hockey tickets in the Desjardins section, a place where hotdogs pizza, ice cream and many other goodies are all free, so we prepared to get our yearly supply of nitrates by having a very light breakfast before this afternoon game. Gotta love my honey though, she has recently been more interested in the sport, and she can analyze the team as well as I can.

Despite the low likelihood they would win, as the Habs had suffered a scoring drought and been decimated by injuries to their top players, there is nothing like entering the Cathedral of Hockey, the Bell Centre where the banners of twenty four Stanley Cups hang proudly .I was getting a double header of spectacle that afternoon seeing Avatar (great eye-candy, could have used a better script) after the game. After getting the tickets to the movie, we walked the short distance to the Molson Centre, which appeared extremely long due to the nippy weather. We were looking for the shortest route to the game, and we were lucky to follow a couple of guys wearing Habs jerseys to enter the holy shrine. On the way, we noticed some kids asking money for charity in this frigid weather. Shame on the charity for making them beg under these conditions. I ranted to my honey on the way to arena, but decided to shake that off and enjoy the afternoon.

There is something to be said to being there live, we see the line-changes on the fly, something one can’t appreciate on tv as well as the thuds on the boards somehow seem more resonant. and then there is the crowd, which is think is the greatest reason to go to the game. It is the collective experience, the jubilation after the goal, the shared disgust of a missed penalty call, encouraging our gladiators, and giving them hell when they are mailing it in. Montreal has been called the best place when you win, and the worst place when you lose in the NHL.

We hear a young fan screaming encouragement to his idols: “Away Plekanek! Away Markov” which was endearing for a bit, until he was listing the entire roster for about half a period. Then it became tiresome, and I thought “Away little kid… far away!”. The Molson Ex section, which look like the worst seats in the arena seems the loudest, animated by cheerleaders, yet their exuberance was disproportional to their animators and it made me begin speculating whether they were getting free beer, as we were getting free food. A guy dancing spastically  in a Captain America costume behind the goalie’s net  robs a couple of kids of the spotlight on the “crowd cam”. T-shirts getting launched into the crowd from the ice during the intermission with these “bazookas”, we both watched in awe at the distance they reached. None of this can be appreciated on television.

The Habs with a roster full of minor leaguers managed to surprise the champs by the score of 5-3, and the crowd was jubilant. I often wondered why people go to church, since I often analogize the Canadiens as Montreal’s “religion”. At the end of it all, it is about the gathering, a way of getting a collective experience, and a pretext to solidify our connection to the “tribe”. So we cheer the battles on the ice, the thunderous body check, the powerful slapshot, but are concerned when anyones’ hurt. There was a gasp as the best defenseman Alexei Markov took some time to get up after colliding against the boards. Hockey can be a violent sport, yet there is grace, power and speed that is undeniable.

The Canadiens are likely to miss the playoffs, which is sacrilege  in this hockey mad city. There are arguments to “tank the season” which involves trading talented but high priced veterans for younger players and draft picks. But the luxury of rebuilding is not one that would be easily tolerated in Montreal. the very idea verbalized is blasphemy, but now as the Habs’ last Stanley cup is seventeen years away, and with the era of dynasties over. A few fans and commentators are denounced as heretics for suggesting rebuilding. The GM Bob Gainey has resigned after failing to deliver on his 5 year plan to a Cup, and many talented free agents, especially francophones don’t want to play here, due to the intense pressure and media scrutiny. I don’t see The Big Trophy coming anytime soon.

Hockey here is intimately connected to politics and language, as the president of the team suddenly declared that he needed a bilingual GM to helm the team, shrinking the pool of talent to replace Gainey. The team, the NHL’s oldest is steeped in tradition, but are likely to remain a middling team, without a major rebuild and youth movement, which involves losing. A lot. While the Molson Centre continues to be sold out, it is unlikely management will change direction. The butts are in the seats, the profits being made.

President Pierre Boivin hired Pierre Gauthier, a man who has experience, but has been a part of the organization for almost seven years as head of scouting and assistant GM, thus it could be argued he’s also responsible for failure to ice a contending team. The coach Jacques Martin is also signed for a 3 additional years, so it is likely more of the same. Perhaps fans will see that the expectation on this team are too great, and perhaps will have to settle to see good young talent which will lose a good share of games while the learn the ropes. But that wont happen, as most fans, media, and the Habs management are filled with entitlement, spoiled by the decades of plenty. Tradition doesn’t lace up skates, give a body check and score goals. Yet tradition is why many fans continue to fill the Molson Centre. They are hoping for heroes. No Lafleurs, Richards, Beliveaus and Cournoyers so far. The famed “ghosts” are gone, and an increasing amount of fans are beginning to realize it.

Another reason to watch the Habs? I guess it is also a soap opera, even when they are losing there is drama, something to raise our temperatures in frigid weather. My honey enjoys ranting, yet I often remind her, this is supposed to be fun, to enjoy the game, and it’s nothing to get too frustrated about. Some people take it pretty seriously, some even are considering boycotting Molson beer (owners of the team) in internet fan forums to improve the product on the ice. The hundred anniversary celebration has left the city nostalgic for old glory that is unlikely to occur again in a thirty team league.

As for me, I enjoy the athleticism, and exchanging speculation with my fellow analyst over the team and players, cheering goals so loud we disturb the neighbours, ranting over lost calls, and calling bullshit on the often heard promises of a competitive team. My honey is not a sports widow, and often clues me on on Hab news, so I am very fortunate. At least until she gets sick of the lousy play we’ve seen recently. Until then “Go Habs, Go!”

Review: Flow: For Love of Water

Posted in business, Culture, Environment, Media, Movies, Philosophy, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2009 by 99ppp

While channel surfing, we had the good fortune to stumble upon a terrific documentary on The Movie Network : Flow: For Love of Water (TMN, DVD) which highlights the importance of our potable water and challenges our preconceptions about its treatment, abundance and accessibility. This documentary also provides a robust critique of privatization and how these huge conglomerates make exorbitant profits while limiting access to the impoverished local populations. When profit reigns supreme, it is unsurprising that control by a few of this precious resource, necessary to sustain human life, jeopardizes and marginilzes the most vulnerable whose welfare depends on it. Corporate control of potable water is not solely a concern for those in the developing world as a legal battle between Michigan citizens and a Nestle bottling plant emerges. The safety of bottled water is also challenged and the perception that is somehow better than tap water.

It isn’t all bad news as the film also presents those communities who’ve applied creative solutions in a local, decentralized, and affordable manner, showing that innovation can come elsewhere than a corporate boardroom and at high infrastructure costs. I highly recommend this enlightening film, and check out this review from the New York Times on this award winning documentary.

Expressing Doubts

Posted in Culture, Media, Philosophy, Relationships with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2009 by 99ppp

I looked at the name of the blog and I still feel it’s sincere: 99% Pure Propaganda. That is what all media is, including this blog, even if an expression is authentic and sincere, since there is always an intent when sharing it. I sense we are all influenced by others to various degrees, whether we like to or not. Sometimes we express ourselves in direct opposition to some perceived media triggering rebellion, yet the influence there exists, even when disagreeing since we care enough to dissent. Others wish to perpetuate ideas (memes) just to see how effective they are. Should we stop? Has language become meaningless? Why don’t I just close down the blog, and by doing so reduce the noise of the internet?

My long hiatus from writing has been a painful one, and it was getting tougher to write since my reevaluation post, since I am not exempt from reevaluating, and it seemed premature to share any impressions in a state of doubt. I sense I am not alone and many of us are in doubt, and we are afraid to express it, fearing we’ll be wrong and hoping to be certain.  This has dogged me for a few months, not knowing what to write about, what is important, and at the end of it all, who cares anyways? People are just bombarded with information nowadays, with the web, cable tv, texts, cellphones and so on. The perceived insignificance of my voice was dwarfed by the chasm of misunderstanding that can be plainly seen, both in real life and on the web. I don’t mean this post to be a whining lamentation in my writing drought, but an attempt at an authentic exploration on my difficulties.

We seek certainty, we seek meaning. Who wants to hear other’s doubts? It might ignite my doubts, erode the firmament of my convictions and beliefs. It is rather unpleasant, yet perhaps it seems necessary to share it, both doubts and convictions. We’ve followed leaders, great philosophers, heroes, parents and role models, hanged on to their every word, followed their example.. but to what? We’ve looked for certainty from those who’ve “succeeded” yet what is success? When have “we arrived”? I don’t like neat answers, since often it can create a rut of dogma in ones’s mind.

So is the only choice to stand on quick sand, to have no certainty? Our words themselves have showed to be unstable, untrustworthy. but we have no choice but to uses them, since they allow us in a limited way to share our human experience. In that chaotic cacophony we may stumble upon a pearl, a relationship however fleeting, in what we sense without question to be inately human. While we each might be a small part of some greater whole, it is no justification to consciously disengage. We are engaged whether we like it or not, but the nature of that engagement relies much on how we consciousy relate, instead of allowing the momentum of social conditioning to pull us towards normalization.

I believe there can be an optimal balance between listening and expressing. Often, in a world where many people are shouting over one another, thinking their point of view is the sole “correct” one, can disuade some to put their voices out there. They have a humility many of the former can use, yet their silence can also be alienating. Their art, their music, their expressions and opinions of beauty, ugliness, fairness, injustice, love, anger and humanity are hungering to be heard. There is no freedom of expression unless it is exercised.

Some convictions remain though. We need to create media instead of solely absorbing it. Express both our doubts and convictions. To remain silent is resignation. To abdicate responsability in the formation of culture. to not discuss, express debate.. and for most LISTEN. LOOK at the media we consume mindlessly. We may believe it is merely escape, but often it can be subtly influencing us. That’s why it becomes more and more important to look at all media critically, including the persistant beliefs we use within ourselves to endoctronate us.

The truth may be volatile , yet we feel its there: The Tao that can be defined is not the eternal Tao. Perhaps we can’t encapsulate it neatly, perhaps it simply flows through us.. and sometimes it can flow through our endoctronations, biases, bigotries that shackle us and filter “the truth” from our senses and escape to the other side, to another mind, creating relationship, however fleeting it may be.

Re-culturing: High Five! and Gender Scramble

Posted in Culture, Love, Media, Vids with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2009 by 99ppp

The troupe of Improv Everywhere decide to shine a little sunshine on a morning commute and revive the high five to lighten some spirits. It is interesting to note some of the people on the other side of the escalator wishing to participate (more details and photos on the scene here) . Very similar to the “Free Hugs Campaign”, it goes to show how a little human connection can go a long way. Enjoy!

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An excellent poster by those romantic rebels at Crimethinc, who also inspired one of my favourite vids , that challenges us to rethink our ideas about gender roles often propagated by mass culture.

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