Be More Materialistic

This is the essay version of a recent Toastmasters speech. Hat tip to David at Rapitude whose piece We are not Materialistic Enough Inspired this speech/essay.

 

To be ‘Materialistic’ means ‘excessively concerned with material possessions, money-oriented’ and I’m not advocating that you, or anyone should be ‘excessively concerned’ with anything. But, in common usage, we mainly say ‘materialistic’ to describe people who aren’t sufficiently concerned with material possessions but who instead are interested in status and image and the appearance of wealth (and who are often quite unconsciously so). To illustrate, let me tell you a story about my daughter.

At two and half years of age, my daughter is innocently materialistic. This last Christmas was her third Christmas; her first Christmas was just another swirling cascade of sights and sounds without much context, her second Christmas was dominated by the crinkle joy of pulling wrapping paper apart, but this was perhaps the first Christmas wherein she understood that she was being given things that would be hers.

She would be given a present, a book say, and after opening it she would immediately want Continue reading

Writing is a Sacred Act

As counterpoint to tomorrow’s post about the absurdity of writing, I wanted to post today about how writing is a sacred, vitally important act for me.

When you compare human beings to our closest living relatives -the other great ape species- you notice several interesting and base physical characteristics: we have smaller jaws, we maintain our juvenile features longer, we are able to live and coordinate as part of larger groups, and so on. All of these are hallmarks of domesticated species. And so, one way to understand what a human being is is to consider them as a domesticated great ape.

If you accept this framework, you immediately ask well what domesticated us? We did, or dogs, or wheat are all compelling answers. But I think the most accurate way to consider us is that we were domesticated by story. And just as dogs have been selectively bred to better manipulate us (and we have been bred to better function as part of dog-human teams), so too have we co-developed with stories, our abilities to tell and shape them growing in tandem with their ability to guide and shape us.

To be a writer is to commune, argue, shape, fight, love, remake, and be remade by story. You don’t have to invent any fictional entities to understand that writers & storytellers of all stripes have always been doing the same sort of work; communing with stories to guide their communities and (if they are skillful and good) reshape their social world for the better or (if they are unskilled or bad) lead their people to ruin.

The use of word, the use of story is the prerequisite for everything not determined by biology and it is a fundamental tribute to the success of past writers that the most successful stories have been rendered invisible, are -for most everyone- indistinguishable from our biological imperatives. Long term, the stories we tell about ourselves lead us to heaven or hell, thriving or extinction.

Words are our escape from atemporality, like the ‘words’ of our DNA they allow communion over vast gulfs of time; the chance to preserve something worthy, transcend the limitation of our present moment. As writing/story weaving can be used to help or harm, reveal truth by inducing a sideways glance at it or lie; there is no greater sacred trust: Writing is a sacred act.

In My Friend’s Story, I’m the NPC to Their High Level Bard

Note: ‘NPC’ means ‘non-player character’ in a video or tabletop game which is contrasted with PC or ‘Player Character’ the avatar of a real person in a game world.

 

I have a friend, let’s call them the bard. The bard is kind, enthusiastic, and playful. They talk a lot about how much our friendship means to them, have given some wonderful gifts, and we’ve had some great times together. And yet, there’s a something there that frustrates me… a way in which this friendship feels unsatisfying that is difficult to wrap in word and explain.

And I think I’ve finally realized what it is: to my friend the bard, I’m an NPC. An NPC they’re fond of certainly, but like all NPCs there is a way in which I’m not truly real. Oh, certainly, the bard will act like I’m real; when they’re interested we’ll go on adventures together or fight monsters. But the moment the bard isn’t interested, they’re fully not interested. We only hang when I’m relevant to the adventure or crisis de jour for the bard; they’re fundamentally bored by the details of my life (as a Player Character in an RPG would be uninterested in the mundanity of an NPC’s farming unless therein lay adventure to be had there).

The bard’s problems are always the bigger issues, the ones that are more pressing and need to get worked on first. There is also the assumption on the part of the bard that I will be interested in whatever the bard is working on/that I’ll be along for the ride; but this never works both ways.

I’ve begun to suspect that, moreso than my other friends, the bard doesn’t quite see me; they see (and interact with) a simplified version of me.

Is this bad? No. Am I being mistreated? No. But it takes work to remind myself that when I’m shiny, when I actually have their attention it can feel amazing; it can feel like we have this amazing depth of connection but that it will always shift off of me when they find something more compelling to focus on. We’ll still go on adventures together now and again, but ultimately I’m increasingly interested in all the work I do tending my shop, practicing my craft, and thus I end up spending my time with people who want to share in all my life; whether we’re adventuring or not.

On Ethical Responsibilities and Eating Meat

Note: I’m actually looking for your advice & input on this so please share your thoughts if you’re so inclined.
I’ve been turning the phrase, ‘You have a responsibility to become more ethical than the society that raised you’ over in my head recently, considering the implications and the ways I’m meeting (or failing to meet) this challenge. There are some ways I could live a touch more vulnerably, openly and honestly (which would provide just a stitch extra space/security for others to do likewise). There are definite opportunities for me to more fully engage in a practice of charity work with causes that are meaningful to me. There are ways I need to change my consumption habits. And, moving forward I can definitely do a better job of practicing my values publically and politically; even at the risk of disappointment when trying to engage with our janky-ass, democracy-curious, frustrating, brilliant, promising, and combative republigarchy. I have the chance to more fully reject my own immature desire for quick ‘simple’ fixes and learn to appreciate compromise, and developing working relationships, learn to treasure communication with people I can be so quick to dismiss and get better at loving the process, loving the work as opposed to being driven by ego and fixation on the results.
Those things though, I feel like I have a plan (if only a vague one)… clear next actions I need to take next when I carve out the time and energy. However, the ethics around the meat industry (and my complicity in it) are –for me- a little more ambivalent and I’m not entirely sure where to go from here.
At this point, I should point out that I am an enthusiastic consumer of animal flesh. I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with killing a living creature and eating it. Ultimately, everything on this planet was born to die and be consumed-converted into something else (even me).
That said, the way in which meat is produced for me as a 21st century middle class American is an environmental and ethical catastrophe. The mass utilization of antibiotics on livestock threatens to undermine one of the fundamental medical pillars that supports out modern world (effective treatment of bacterial infection). Feedlot runoff is horrendous for any ecosystem it touches (which is to say, just about every ecosystem on the planet). The amount of land required for the raising and feeding of livestock hobbles biodiverse ecologies where it doesn’t destroy them outright. Also, and perhaps most importantly, factory farming represents mass torture of animals at an industrial scale. And this is just a few of my most immediate and pressing concerns… I could easily go on.
And yet, for all that I am unwilling to go vegan, vegetarian, or even pescatarian. Even so, this tension/problem is something I should do a better job engaging with. Here are some options:
  • Hunt More If I’m going to eat animal flesh, acquiring it by hunting (whether hunting of prey populations whose predators we’ve eliminated/suppressed or hunting of invasive species) is probably the most ethical way to go about it. Unfortunately, this requires space to safely store firearms and a deep freezer so isn’t something in the cards for me at the moment.
  • Eat Less This is probably the best options, and one I could create benchmarks around. More to the point, this would take looking into meatless cuisines that I find ‘satisfying’ in the way that I currently associate with meat heavy meals.
  • Make ‘Better’ Buying Choices In this season of my life, money is less of a concern than it’s ever been. There are certain farming practices that ameliorate some of my ethical concerns (usually at an uptick in price). Here though, I’m concerned about being misled by branding/buzzwords that make it *seem* like that harm has been reduced when it hasn’t or (more generally) I suspicious of ‘feel good’ buying since so often it feels like the pointless purchase of indulgences.
For my vegan/vegetarian friends do you have any tips and tricks on how to shift my meals so I miss meat less? For my omnivorous friends who are trying to make more ethical choices about meat, what do you look for when you buy?

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