Normally Acceptable

The other night, I kept thinking and thinking about what I read before going to sleep and that prompted this post. I’m still thinking about it; wondering if there is a way to answer the questions I left at the end. I want to try to answer those questions and investigate this idea of normal, because, well, we all try so hard to individualize ourselves and separate from the herd. In small ways, we are successful. We differentiate ourselves and we give ourselves labels that provide some division, some distance, from others’ identities. However, most of us still remain within the realm of normal.

Why is that?

Why do we seek to be different, even in the most innocuous ways, but, at the same time, we voluntarily stay within the bounds of unwritten rules?

Is it a comfort thing? Is it an issue of stability and security? How do we set the boundaries on what is normal and acceptable when it comes to living out our individuality within a social group? How do we balance the scales between the consistency of normal and the variability of individuality? How do we measure and compare being different with being too different? Where do these unseen boundaries, unwritten rules, and unspoken measures come from?

Those are a lot questions, so maybe you can see why I am so jumbled up. Most of these are issues I think about, and have thought about, for a long time. Even for a group of professed nonconformists to normal rules of greater society, that group has rules that are unwritten and unseen boundaries that are not to be crossed if one wishes to remain a nonconformist. So, even in their nonconformity, there is conformity; there is a standard.

There are some that say screw the rules, let’s all live our own lives, but I believe that to be too simplistic. I do, however, believe that if one tries hard enough, one can find a niche within which to socialize and find a level of comfort, really, in essence, to feel, dare I say, normal, or would it be better to replace normal with accepted?

I am sure there will be more to come concerning this strand of thought. If you have all the answers, or even just one or two, feel free to share them with me and with the few readers that grace these posts with their presence.

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The Panopticon, Santa Claus, and Stanley Kubrick

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading quite a bit and have begun to delve into the world and theories of Foucault. Currently, I am reading Discipline & Punish and just finished the chapter on the panopticon. There is quite a lot to wrap one’s head around within this chapter, but it is the final question asked that sticks with me, which demonstrates the point being made.

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” -Foucault, Discipline & Punish, translated by Alan Sheridan.

I suppose a little background is necessary to understand. Through the book, Foucault illustrates how the physical punishment of the Middle Ages up through the monarchies of the 18th century began to transform, with the thinking of the Enlightenment, into a more subtle form of discipline that focuses less on the body and more on the mind and behavior of the subject being disciplined. That is the gist that I get from it, anyway.

The panopticon is an architectural design that facilitates this relatively new disciplinary form, involving a circular building, hollow in its center with a tower in the middle allowing those being disciplined to be observed at any time and/or all times. The individual cells within the building that holds those being disciplined are able to be viewed at any time by the observer in the tower. However, those in the cells cannot see those who are surveilling them. The “major effect” being “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent disability that assures the automatic functioning of power.” The tower, not necessarily being occupied at all times (though the observed do not know that), serves to portray an unending process of surveillance and observation.

http://www.christianhubert.com/writings/diagram___abstract1.jpeg

The Panopticon Source

Foucault expands on the idea of the theoretical “mechanism” of the panopticon, “it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use,” showing how the separation of those to be observed into individual units and the constant observation performed on, not only convicts in prisons, but also, workers in factories, military service members, students in schools, patients in hospitals, etc. The observing parties, be they prison guards, teachers/professors, military leaders/commanders, job foremen/supervisors, religious leaders, etc… represent the rules and protocols that the observed are expected to follow and work to engrain those rules and protocols into those being observed.

As I ruminated on this, the quote referenced at the top, and this idea as well, “…in order to be exercised, this power has to be given the instrument of permanent, exhaustive, omnipresent surveillance, capable of making all visible, as long as it could itself remain invisible,” I had a thought. Santa Claus. Yep, that was my thought. Santa Claus is the panopticon. Think about it. “He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

So, the idea of the panopticon, or the mechanism, has become a naturally conditioned phenomenon in our society. There is a lot said for the perceived, unending surveillance perpetrated by the government. We wax endlessly concerning the infinite presence of Big Brother. We exclaim from the mountaintops the right to privacy. Yet, for any number of reasons, we allow ourselves to be observed or surveilled in the most intimate of settings in order to feel safe and to know that our society is secure and stable.

Any number of reasons. The primary reason is for stability. Word has it that in order for a society to function, there must be stability. In order to create stability, norms have to be established. In order for norms to be established, there has to be a specific consensus on what is to be considered normal. Once the norms are established, they have to be codified and the norms enforced. Once this happens, norms become rules. In order for the dynamics of power within a group of people to remain stable and unchanging, the rules governing said group must be developed, observed, practiced, and enforced.

What better way is there to enforce societal norms and rules than to teach young children about a man that “knows if you’ve been bad or good,” and if the young children are not good, their behavior will be rewarded negatively; in other words, they will be disciplined. If the children adhere to the rules, they will be rewarded positively with gifts and such. Even though Santa is not there, he is there, and he is always watching, ever vigilant to ensure stability within the group.

We are conditioned for this never-ending observation and surveillance. We accept it, most of the time, without question, because to question is to challenge the authority performing the observation, and challenging authority is to promote instability. Instability provides for the upsetting of the established dynamics of power within a group of people; it is, therefore, frowned upon. So to borrow a title from Stanley Kubrick of a movie that I have never seen, we operate in our society with our “eyes wide shut.” This is something to consider the next time Big Brother is brought up in terms of government surveillance. The government is a visible mechanism of power, and can, therefore, be directly protested. There are powers unseen and unheard that can, and probably should, be scrutinized and protested as well, though it is difficult to protest intangible power. These powers are submitted to voluntarily by most of us with our eyes wide shut, yet, they permeate much deeper than any surveillance the government can perform. Our very souls, our very character is affected by them, and, most of the time, is done so without question because of our conditioning to social stability and the normal that is enforced through them.

That leaves me begging a question or two that I will not answer here. If something is to be considered normal and stable, why does it need rules enforced in order to continue its stability? Doesn’t the necessity for rules negate the very meaning of what is to be normal and what is to be stable?

Getting Over It…

Blah. That’s really all I can say. Have you ever been to the point when a head cold that has completely leveled you has finally started to subside but you still feel like you’ve been hit by a small automobile? That is where I am.

A couple of weeks ago, the sniffles hit me. Last week (pre-Valentine’s Day), it was a full-on head cold that put me completely out of commission. I’ll leave out the gross details such as an ungodly and unending production of mucus, other than to say that I went through every box of tissues in the house and still need more. My senses of taste and smell were nonexistent. I cleaned out a box of generic Advil Cold & Sinus and drained through a bottle of NyQuil singlehandedly. I’ve nearly exhausted the generic vaporub, religiously applying it to nearly any skin surface that will accept it and marinating in the mentholly cloud that enveloped me.

Now, taste has returned, somewhat, and smell has partially made its way back. Food is enjoyable, almost. Just the other day, my better half asked me, as I was applying the sweet smelling vaporub, “when are you going to get better?” I informed her that I AM getting better.  At least now I can SMELL the goodness. I have made it consecutive nights without having to get up to either take more NyQuil or reapply vaporub. Life, it seems, is returning to normal. However…

Unless you have been living under a rock, or in California or Florida or somewhere tropical, you know that it has been as cold as a well-digger’s ass for the past few days. I mean. Cold. I rarely complain about the cold. I actually prefer cooler and colder weather to the sweltering heat of the dog days of Summer. This cold on the other hand, has been, let’s say, ridiculous, and it just so happens that this Arctic cold, this Siberian cold, this whateverthehell cold has coincided with my head cold.

When you have to put on a hooded sweatshirt, a fleece jacket, a wool overcoat and a stocking cap under the hoodie hood just to take the dogs outside to potty, it’s a ridiculous kind of cold. When the poor pups scurry to potty, only to return limping onto the porch and inside because the cold stings their little puppy feet, you know it’s a ridiculous kind of cold. When Buffalonians, Minnesotans and Wisconsinites (Wisconsonians?) point out how cold it is, you know it’s a ridiculous kind of cold.

That kind of cold and the cold that presently lives within my head do not mix. At all. Now the weather is evening out a little. It is a balmy 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside, pretty much heatwave, but I feel just about worthless. Oh, and with the ridiculous cold and my head cold, one of the books that was put on my reading list is an 800 page narrative on the fall of Richard Nixon and the rise of Ronald Reagan and his presidential campaign of 1976. As I have stated before, I am a big fan of politics and political history, but this book, oh my god, this book. This book exhausted every ounce of patience I have when it comes to reading. If you read the news, be it the newspaper or an online source, imagine a news article that rambles on for 800 pages. Don’t get me wrong, the book is chock FULL of information and has extensive notes on source material, but it probably should have been two books, maybe even three. It took all of the reading time i could muster to finish it in just shy of two weeks, and took all of my attention away from other books I am wanting to read. So, take that plus the ridiculous cold plus the cold that stubbornly sticks to my head and you get my current condition.

I am on the mend and looking forward to finishing another book in the next couple of days and cracking into two or three more within the next week. The weather looks to be on the mend, as well, warming into the 30s with some rain tomorrow, then snow flurries/showers in the coming week. It will be a welcome return to normal weather, and I am hoping that the rain tomorrow will moisten things up a little bit. With this cold, any water anywhere in the air is solid, thus leaving everything dry. No amount of chapstick or carmex  or anything can provide relief to my arid lips, and the house feels like a desert, temperature controlled at 65 degrees.

That’s what’s on my mind as I look out the window at the neighbor’s snow covered house, the snow covered hills, and the snow covered yard, and I can smell the homemade tomato sauce on the stove! Here is to the possibility of slightly more positive posts in the near future!

A Change in the System

As I sit here waiting for the snow to start falling again, I’m thinking about this article I just read concerning a certain presidential hopeful. I’m not going to post the article here or talk about the particular hopeful candidate. I think we are all a little tired of campaigning and electoral politics, especially in my home state of North Carolina. We just finished with a very bitter and what seemed like a never-ending campaign season.

Now, I love politics. I do. I especially enjoy studying political history. What I am not a fan of is current electoral politics. Emotions get involved and warp the debate that should be based on reason. Then the shouting and finger pointing start, along with snide and pithy remarks that go on and on and on and on and on. It gets old and boring and accomplishes nothing beyond expanding the commenters’ own ego and hubris. We’re all guilty of it. I know I am, at least, and I admit it. Why is it so damn hard for others to do the same?

Imagine how much more civil the process can be if we set our egos and emotions aside and simply talked to one another concerning our opinions. If we stopped allowing politicians and their ilk to bring our emotions into the varied debates, they would stop. If we turned off our televisions and radios when their emotion provoking advertisements came on, they would stop spending money to have them broadcast. The web ads are more difficult, but are easily ignored, and sometimes can be blocked.

The fact of the matter is that politicians themselves, as well as their biggest supporters, have more than enough ego to push their side of the debate. It is our job, no, our responsibility to take their ego out of the equation and attempt to work the problem out rationally, without the influence of emotion or ego.

Another fact is that a particular political platform is not going to please or benefit everyone. Let’s get real about it. According to the United States Census Bureau, the total population for the United States plus Armed Forces overseas through January 2015 was 320,366,579 people. 320. Million. People. That’s a lot of people to please. A lot. Of people. To please. A lot of personalities to influence. No one person, no one party, no one policy, no one law is going to please or influence them all.

Oh? We are a representative democracy? or a Federal Republic? or a Constitutional Republic? Whatever label you want to put on it? So, it takes a majority to set policy and such, a majority being 50% plus 1. Half of 320,366,579 is 160,183, 289.5. That’s still 160 million people to influence or persuade.

But not all of those 320 million people are eligible to vote. Okay. According to the United States Election Project, the voting age population was at 245,712,915 people for the general election of 2014. Half of that is 122,856,475.5. That’s still a lot of egos to influence. But, only 81,687,059 ballots were cast for the highest office on the ballot. Only two-thirds of those even eligible to vote cared enough to do so.

Though not a presidential election year when more voters go to the polls, these numbers illustrate a couple of possibilities, one of which being apathy. People just do not care. Another is that a lot of folks assume that their congressional representatives will win their seats with little to no contest. The incumbency rate averages safely over 80% for representatives and over 75% for senators, so voters tend to stay home for midterm elections thinking their vote will not sway too much one way or the other.

The last possibility that I will mention here goes along with the first possibility that people just don’t care, and that is voter fatigue. A lot of us are just tired of elections. The election cycle never, ever ends. Campaigning never goes away. It is an endless and vicious cycle, and we are tired of it. l say “we,” because I do not think I am alone in this. I no longer watch the news, and very rarely listen to, or read, it much anymore. Well, I probably read or listen more than the average person, but not anything like I used to do. It’s not news anymore. There is little “new” in the news. It is the same story with different characters and different wording, but the plot never changes. Who wants to keep track of that? And with most news outlets, especially those driven by profit motives, mixing news with opinion and commentary, the news is not news anymore. It is simply an orchestrated pandering for like-minded viewers, readers, and listeners. This pandering is nothing more than free campaign contributions given by a given media outlet to the candidate or political cause of its choice, thus continuing the already endless campaign cycle. What it almost seems like is that there is little governance occurring within our system, giving way to the tiresome cycle of unending campaign pandering and electioneering.

And that brings us back to the emotional and ego driven side of electoral politics and the necessity to go beyond the emotional and reach for the rational, to put aside egos and that intoxicating feeling of being right. We can force a better and more constructive conversation. The office seekers are not going to change the conversation for us. We have to demand it. We have to make it known that we are tired of it. The absolute best way to do so is to stop. Stop contributing to a system that does nothing but indulge your ego. Turn the channel if you watch the 24-hour news cycle. Force media outlets to report news, real news, not opinion or commentary. Use your own thoughts to construct an opinion or frame of mind rather than ruminating on something that someone else has already said. Take your own thoughts and use them when having a constructive dialogue concerning a political issue or official instead of bloviating the same tired talking points that someone else has put together. Doing so can reinvigorate our citizenry and bring about an enjoyment of participating in our primary civic responsibility of self-governance.

We” are the government, not the media or elected officials. Elected officials are supposed to represent our wants and needs. We supplement the ideas and we give the political will. It is not the other way around. The media is not there to shape opinion with commentary, but to report factual information. Hold the media to its responsibility. If you see a program giving commentary, turn the channel and do not go back to it. If you read a news article that provides commentary or opinion presented as fact, go to another website or throw the periodical in the trash.

It can be done. I am as big a political junkie as anyone I have ever met. I watched the 24-hour news cycle like it was a religion. I read the news like I could not get enough of it. I have not watched the news on television in going on three years, maybe longer. I have not consistently read news on a major media website in about the same amount of time. I may click on a link here and there if there is an article that is really newsworthy, but as far as taking one, or even two outlets as the political and civic gospel? No, I do not do it anymore.

Ask your own questions and find your own answers. With such an amazing tool as the internet, it does not take much time to do, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Scrutinize and criticize on your own terms. Stop letting others do it for you. Information feeds knowledge and knowledge is power, real power. Stop letting others dictate what information is important and take it upon yourself to do so.

Do you know what scares those in power most? It is not an armed citizenry, but an educated citizenry that has the ability to process information and use that information for its benefit. Information and knowledge can do more to challenge authority than any other weapon. And that is how you bring about change to a system that desperately needs changing.

Kleenex, Snow, and Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day…

I cannot begin to tell you how excited my other half and I were that we were finally going to have a Valentine’s Day where neither of us had to work. We had no engagements of any kind. The first Valentine’s Day that has happened, not since we got married, but since we started dating.

With that, we decided that it was going to be a quiet day and evening.  We were going to cook dinner together. That was the plan. That was the only plan. Dinner. Cooking dinner together, because, apparently, the couple that cooks together stays together, right?

Right.

Then…

Nature happened. The sniffles hit me about Tuesday. Four days later, my nose is raw. I’m pretty sure that I have a permanent cloud of Vick’s following me around the house, along with a trail of tissues and empty blister packs where the cold medicine used to be. She even accused me of getting sick “on purpose,” playfully, but an accusation nonetheless.

But, let’s get back to this thing about how the couple that cooks together stays together. Before we do that, a little background on me and the kitchen…

The short version is that I do not like for people to get in my way while I’m in the kitchen.

The long version is that I have my ways of doing things, especially, maybe only, in the kitchen. There is a system in my head while I’m getting things together and ready to cook, a mise en place, so to speak. It was the same way when I worked in kitchens, especially the last kitchen I worked where there was some latitude in how my station was set up and how I could run it. I rarely, if ever, ask for help, because if I have to ask for help, I have to explain where the help is needed, and if I have to explain where the help is needed, I may as well take that time I used explaining and just do what I needed help with anyway. Impatience abounds, I become a raging asshole, and nothing good comes out of the situation.

Back to “the couple that cooks together stays together.”

We were going to cook dinner together. I had a menu all worked out. Two different entrées, because, well, I wanted a steak and she, strangely enough, does not eat steak (I know. I know. I’m wondering the same thing.), bacon wrapped scallops, some delicious cheesy mashed taters, and some kind of vegetable, because every meal needs a vegetable, so they say.

I had the plan set in my mind in how everything was going to be prepared so it all timed out well.

Then, the sniffles happened, and my love said this morning, after going and getting us breakfast, that we did not have to cook a nice meal tonight because I can’t taste anything.  She loves me, but I think it was after she asked me if I enjoyed the breakfast bagel she got for me. I told her, I guess it’s pretty good. I can’t taste it, though. So, she gave me a rain check on cooking the meal. She’s pretty swell.

However, I cannot help but feel like we avoided disaster tonight. We had take-out, and that works. We avoided the storm that would have been me being jumpy in the kitchen, her wanting to help, and having my system interrupted and thus (in my mind), the meal ruined.

All-in-all, it has been a quiet day and evening, which is what we both wanted. Snow is falling and it looks nice out the window. So, sniffles and kleenexes aside, it has been a pretty swell Valentine’s Day.

Getting Interested…

I’ve been busy.  I met with a professor within the department to which I am applying for graduate school last week.  I’ve also been speaking a little with a friend that is wrapping up her graduate studies.  Between the two, I have a pretty good reading list worked out and have buried myself in books, pen, and paper.

A consensus between the two, the point driven especially hard by my friend, is to develop a background on the theories set forth by Foucault and other postmodernist thinkers (I disagreed with this kind of labelling before I began to read Foucault, but now that I have read a little of him, I disagree with it even more).  So, I’ve begun reading, beginning with Discipline & Punish.  At first I was intimidated by the thought of reading modern philosophy, because, well, I have had a difficult time reading philosophy in the past, but (and maybe I am not reading quite deeply enough into it) I think I have at least a layman’s understanding of what is being said.

See, I have this fascination with motives.  I enjoy exploring unspoken motives, especially those motives that drive people who occupy positions of power.  As I wrote in a post a couple of weeks ago before even thinking of reading Foucault:

“As much as we respect what we believe to be pure motivations behind political decisions such as whether or not to propose and promote a bill like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we must accept that there is usually more than one story, more than one motive, when it comes to the people in the story. If we don’t, we fail to see the whole story, and we fail to fully grasp the humanity within it.”

Maybe that’s why some of what Foucault has to say, especially concerning power, institutions, and knowledge, makes at least some sense to me, and drives me to want to know more and come to a better understanding. As I said in the referred to post,”the self-serving motive is probably the purest motive there can be,”  and what can be more motivating, or self-serving, than coming into a position of power or sustaining the favorable power dynamics within a relationship that one may already have?

In order to see the basic humanity within a story, which is really all history is, this cannot be ignored.  Even those historical, or even contemporary, figures which we admire have to be scrutinized to some degree, for they were, or are, human, and like all humans they did, or do, have flaws.  On a more positive note, such scrutinization may uncover more positive and wholesome motivations.  To be fair that cannot be ruled out.

Anyway, this interests me a lot.  There will be more to come.