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April 2012

Post image for You can’t really know what you want until you know you don’t know what you want

I hope your biggest revelation this year is that you don’t really know what you want.

We grow up thinking we know what we want, but we’re wrong. We all start with the wrong idea about it. Your whole life, society has told you what you want. Others know what they want you to want. Your family, your religious institutions, your politicians and your retailers know exactly what they want you to want. You’ll get everyone’s idea but your own, but these foreign ideas will accumulate, and in the absence of your own they get you chasing things.

And you’re not born knowing what you want, either. People assume they ought to know automatically what they want, which tends to be whatever the convention it is in your culture. For some that means marrying off to “a good provider”, for others it means achieving a senior managment position, for others it means a Personal Relationship With Jesus.

Then we become adults and, if we’re lucky, slowly learn that nobody can teach you what you want. You stumble upon it. But only if you do a lot of stumbling. Your parents didn’t know what you want, they figured it’s the same as what they wanted. The only ideas they can give you of what you ought to want are the wants they can identify with. Advertisers don’t know what you want, they fish for it. The only idea they can give you is what they hope you want, which is to buy something from them.

Your own idea appears only when you have the actual experience of what you want. You can’t know until you taste it. We all start with a false idea of what we want in life, inherited from others during childhood, before we gain any perspective about life. The false idea has to be given up and the real desires have to be discovered. They may make others uncomfortable. They may make you uncomfortable at first, because in inherited your comfort zone from others.

You will either recognize this and overcome it, or you will always pursue what other people want you to want, convinced it’s what you want.  Read More

Post image for We need every little catastrophe

Last week sometime I was walking down a lively street in Queens with one of my favorite people, but I was barely there.

I had been stressing about a handful of looming problems, when an aggressive pigeon startled me from my funk. It jarred me lucid for just long enough to allow me to remember a peculiar, relevant fact about life:

Every problem I’ve ever had — every heart-twisting crisis, every fearsome responsibility, every breakdown of confidence or hope, everything I ever thought I couldn’t handle — was over. Except two or three things.

It’s always been like that. In my 31 years I’ve found myself periodically becoming consumed with some personal crisis surrounding my current job, relationship, financial situation or prospects. There have been a lot of those, and I was in the middle of one when the pigeon frightened me.

You know the kind. They take over the mind. Things seem to be flying off the rails, you feel sick with worry about how things will turn out, and you start to wish you were your cat, who only ever has to worry about whether he’d rather lay in the sun right now, or eat right now and sun himself later.

Some of these catastrophes dominated my mind for weeks of my life, some just made for an awful afternoon, a couple spoiled most of a few months.

I don’t know how many of these derailings there were exactly. Maybe a few hundred pretty bad ones, and a maybe thousand that only consumed me for a day or so. It’s a robust collection of awfulness, a lifetime’s-worth of catastrophes. If I’d documented them all with my Nikon the collection would make a dramatic photo album of personal tragedy. Award-winning. We all have one.  Read More

Post image for Giving up the V-card

It’s been a year since my most successful experiment. I had given up animal-derived foods to find out what it did for my health. After 30 years of indiscriminate eating, I finally gave the ethical issue surrounding animal food some honest thought, and ended up going vegan completely.

It’s been the best year of my life, and I’m convinced veganism is a large part of that. I won’t gush about the details but I’ll say that I felt altogether better physically and emotionally and I’m never going back to the way I used to live.

However, I don’t want to call myself a vegan any more. I’m giving up my V-card.

I’m still off meat and dairy and eggs, I still won’t buy wool or leather, I still won’t use animals for my entertainment, and I wish others would do the same. But my philosophy on it is quite different than it was a year ago and I don’t want to call myself the V-word. I’ll tell you why.

The first thing you notice when you go vegan is that everyone is mad, and they tell you you’re mad. You voluntarily enter the moral Twilight Zone. You discover a grotesque inconsistency between the beliefs people express and their behavior. You realize that we’re all highly irrational, and that it’s emotion that rules culture, and culture rules the behavior of individuals. No matter how much harm it causes, nothing we do needs to be justified as long as it’s popular enough.

Ask ten people on the street if they think it’s wrong to injure or kill animals for one’s amusement or pleasure, and nine or ten will say yes, of course. Chances are all ten of those people freely consume animal products, simply because they like to and they’re used to doing it.

A new vegan also encounters a bizarre compulsion in many otherwise friendly people to talk as loudly to you as possible about how delicious and juicy steak is. A certain contempt for you emerges seemingly from nowhere, and the most polite person can be overtaken by an urge to reiterate to you that they could never give up meat, because they just “love a good steak!”, presumably the way Michael Vick once loved a good dogfight.

For the recently converted, this inexplicable pseudo-hostility from everyday people can be alarming and it often triggers the kind of inadvertently sarcastic tone you saw in the last few paragraphs [Sorry! -D]. The effect is draining and alienating, and it’s hard not to feel a vague resentment for (or at least disappointment in) the ninety-nine percent of people who have no hesitation about exploiting animals if there is something enjoyable to be found in it.  Read More

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