Happiness

My friends, we have been unilaterally and radically deceived.  We have been told in many subtle outlets for many years, in many forms, languages, media, aphorisms, and narratives that happiness is the point of life.  We have been seduced into agreeing that the most important thing is to be ‘happy’.  “I just want him to be happy”, “I deserve to be happy”, “whatever makes you happy.”  It is a truism shown throughout time that the most invective and damaging lies seem benign.  That’s how they get under the surface, injecting their poison into our supple veins.  We let it in.

Happiness is dependent on circumstances.  Circumstances are constantly changing.  Happiness is dependent on feelings.  Feelings are constantly changing.

This would not be a terrible thing if the world in which circumstances arise was good.  This would be no egregious offense if our feelings were always good and right.

But it is not, and they are not.

Our deception is layered and deep, but some of its layers can be ascertained.  Accept for the sake of argument, my given, and follow me where logic leads.

Men are wicked creatures.  There is some good to be found, but the heart of man is selfish.  Yet, being in the presence of some good, and being selfish, thus, prideful, men want to appear good.  Yet so many desires of man are clearly and evidently wicked.  So many of the things that make him happy are base, foul, damaging, and evil.  He is not conflicted in his heart, for he desires evil, but he is conflicted on the surface, because he wishes to appear good.  What is his solution?  Collude with other men who have different passions and desires, but still wicked, and agree to not look down on their foulness if they will not look down on his. Much of this is tacit and understated, in fact, most of it is.  Yet after time goes by, this sometimes silent, sometimes voiced agreement becomes pervasive, and what was once repudiated, then tolerated, now becomes celebrated.

This is where we are today.  In the name of happiness.

California wrote and approved a law recently, which allows anyone who claims gender confusion to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex.  This applies to K-12 public schools.  The rationale is that we would be continuing to restrict the happiness of those involved if we did not pass such a measure.

This concept is not novel.  When I was in high school, several years ago, this same policy was being debated, and it looked like it might pass for a time.  The hopefully obvious concern of my friends and I was that under such a provision, any pervert with half a brain would realize that all he had to do to gain entrance to the girls bathroom and locker room was to say that he was born in the wrong body, that he’s happier around other feminine presences.  The concern of my friends and I was that our female friends were going to be trapped in the bathroom when a rapist saunters in and steals away their innocence.  Our concern very quickly became indignation.  We would not allow such a thing to happen to our friends- or to anyone, if we could help it.  We began organizing a guard to take shifts at the bathrooms during breaks to make sure that no males got past us- for surely no one with a Y chromosome who has the will to assault a woman deserves the appellation “man”.  This became moot, however, when the law did not go forward, and years passed.  We never needed to stand our guard, which was good, because we were the kids, and the adults who were supposed to protect us would have been putting us in harm’s way.

And now, with much sadness, I find that this same law has been approved.  I am no longer in high school where I can look out for those at risk.  I’ve been out of college for some time now, and the only thing I can do is speak.

Follow me closely now, for the issue comes to a head.  The leaders of our day in this once-great state of California have believed the lie that happiness is all that matters.  They have shaken on the tacit promise of celebrating each others’ defects in exchange for the same towards themselves.  And they have placed the lives, health, and well-being of countless children and youths at risk.  They think that happiness is the most important thing, and excusing their own wickedness and that of others, they no longer believe in the concept of evil.  They don’t think that this law will be abused, or if they do, they don’t care.  “Whatever makes you happy.”

Well, your actions, legislature of California, do not make me happy.  In fact, they make me sick.  I pray that you see the error of the lies that you have believed before too many people get hurt.

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Dorner, Django, and the Tremendous Responsibility of the Artist

A theme fairly common to modern-day cinema is that of revenge.  Our hero was happy and everything was perfect.  Everything is taken away from him.  Battered and bleeding, he embarks on a righteous crusade for payback.

We love this sort of thing in our culture.  It makes us pump our fists and feel vindicated.  We might jump a little bit as our hero kills the antagonist in cold blood, but then we cheer.  “Justice” has been done and we get to watch it all happen in a two hour, nicely produced package.  We love this type of fantasy in film and books and we leave the living room or the theater feeling charged up and we hold our heads up high.

It looks different in real life than in fantasy.  Or perhaps not, for all of the same elements are there, only with real consequences.  For revenge is not justice, but rather a perversion of it.

In real life, the Hollywood revenge story looks uglier.  It looks like Christopher Dorner, a cop-killer and a 4-time murderer who was recently all over the news.  Citing vague notions of racism and corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department, he decided that it was his moral obligation to blow the brains out of innocent men and women as they sat unsuspecting in their homes.

What is perhaps even more disturbing than his actions was the support that he garnered.  “Dorner Supporters” held protests near police stations, news outlets discussed the merits of his agenda, and many people brushed aside the bloodshed and justified the deranged and evil actions of this serial killer.  That is what he was.  Not a vigilante, not a crusader, but a serial killer.

If you type “modern day Django” into google, the first page is filled with results referring to Dorner. He’s been called a hero on the news.  ABC wrote an article entitled “Did Dorner Have Legitimate Complaints against the LAPD?”  All over the news, journalists were saying that he had a point, and the implication was that it’s an ugly business what he did, but it might have been necessary.

Oh, and forget about the families of the four innocent people who lie dead (only two of which were police officers and none of which worked for the LAPD).

And we continue to watch revenge cinema.  I intend in no way to excuse this man’s actions, for his choices were his own, but do you suppose that Dorner hadn’t seen films like “The Punisher” and “Django Unchained” and many, many others?  Those movies didn’t make him a killer, but they may have given him ideas, given him justification in his own mind.

Culture is ruled by narrative.  We remember stories we’ve been told, films we’ve seen, books we’ve read, songs we’ve listened to, and we accept their premises after repeated, conscious exposure.  Our brains like to build heuristics to handle life.  We like to treat each situation as the variables that complete our pre-printed, fill-in-the-blank worksheet.  Insert “LAPD” for evil racists who will get what’s coming to them, insert “Dorner” for wronged black man on a quest for vengeance, and we’re done.  No problems here.  (Never mind the fact that Emada Tingirides, a black, female sergeant in the LAPD, came out to passionately deny the presence of racism in the department.)  We fit situations into the fantasies that we’ve accepted.

I’m not condemning stories.  I’m not condemning film.  I’m not even condemning man’s practice of filling in the blank.  What I am saying is that this is the reality of how things work.  If movies, books, music, video games, etc. can shape our cultural narrative, shouldn’t we write them with fear and trembling?  Should not we be extremely purposeful in the messages that we purvey?

Artists have a tremendous responsibility on their shoulders.  It is often ignored, but it exists none the less.  What sorts of stories are we telling?  What is the moral?  For there is always a moral- intended or not.

The sad truth is that even if Dorner’s claims were true, it would still be horrifically wrong for him to do the things that he has done.  Yet that is not the way most people see it at first glance.  Our cultural narrative endorses revenge, which is one of the ugliest vices of man.  What if our stories, our narratives, endorsed forgiveness?  What if they endorsed patiently pursuing justice the right way?  What if our stories weren’t so self-focused?  I think the world would be a different place today.

Writers, musicians, editors, filmmakers, painters, actors, directors, and the rest of you, we have a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.  If not a responsibility, then at least an influence, and we should take tremendous care in what we do with it.  People want their lives to fit into a story, so let’s give them a good one.

Violence

It’s a sad irony that I was beginning to write a post about violence and shootings the other week, before I had heard about the tragedies in Connecticut and in China as well.  Clearly this issue is a real one and in such a time as this it is near to all of our hearts, though most especially to those involved in the sad and evil day that claimed the lives of so many.  I wish to discuss it not out of any sort of political agenda, but simply because occasions of this nature leave us asking the inevitable “why?”  We have seen senseless and evil things, and we want to know why.  From the outset let me say that we all need to pray for the families and faculty and friends involved in the recent violence, and for those close to them, they need support and shoulders to cry on.

There was a shooting near my home about a month ago.  Four people were shot, one badly.  I think the badly injured person lived, but I’m not certain.  I live in Los Angeles where this sort of thing is sadly not that uncommon.  I can tell you plenty of similar stories and I’ve only lived here just over three years.  This concerns me.  I love my community and I don’t want it to be unsafe.  I don’t want people to live in fear, and I certainly don’t want people getting mixed up in this tragic business.  Where I live it is almost always gang-related.  It’s a terrible shame and a tragedy that this nonsense goes on so frequently.

There are many people who say that guns are the problem.  That if a gun is available then crime is sure to be committed and violence is just around the corner.  I never really sympathized with this viewpoint.  If you were to place a gun in my hand I wouldn’t shoot anybody.  In fact, I’ve handled guns on many occasions and fired them in appropriate contexts (the shooting range) and I’ve never shot anyone.  Clearly the problem is not so simple.

I want to see my community change, as do many who maintain that guns are to blame for violence, yet as we always seem to do, we forget history.  Violence has existed before guns.  Violence exists today without guns.  I want to see the at-risk members of my community break the cycle and lead healthy, happy, fulfilled lives, but I think that to blame the instrument that they use is simplistic- after all, even if we go around banning guns and every other sort of weapon we can think of, will we not still have knives for cooking?  Those are weapons: people have been killing each other with them for years.  Will we not still have heavy objects?  Those are weapons.  Will we not still have hands?  For those are most certainly weapons as well.

My intention in this post is not to become overly political; my intention is to explore how often we as humans blame the instrument and not what is more fundamentally problematic.  I want to look at how we might bring about lasting change here, for the status quo is not acceptable.

I could go into a lot of different areas at this point in my musings.  I could talk about American Prohibition or existing gun laws or the laws we have that already ban the horrible acts that weigh heavily on our minds today.  I’m not going to.  They are important areas of discussion, but there is something greater to be discussed, for as I said earlier: man has a penchant for blaming the instrument of his actions instead of himself.

People who are loved, who are well-adjusted, who have a sense of purpose and are working towards good goals do not do things like the mad man in Connecticut.  Surely ensuring that everyone is loved and on a good path would be much more effective than gun control in ridding our society of these unspeakable acts of violence.  But there is a problem.  Gun control is easy.  Loving your neighbor is hard.

It is a very simple thing to put the blame on guns and to ban them, because we know that something must be done and we would like to believe that we are responsible, good people.  Banning guns isn’t too much of an inconvenience for most of us and in doing so we would lazily be able to believe that we did something to make the world a better place.

What if we made an effort to love difficult people instead?

What if kids in high school took the loners under their wing?  What if the juvenile delinquents were visited in prison?  What if we each took the time to actually learn about our neighbors and make them feel welcome and valued?  In my neighborhood, as I mentioned, most violent crimes seem to be gang-related.  So why do we not learn to play basketball and spend time on the public courts and try to influence the atmosphere for the better?  I think it would help.

There’s an old Dane cook bit where the comedian talks about office shootings and how whenever he (Dane Cook) starts at a new job he finds the loner and gives him a snickers bar every day and compliments him so that the day he snaps the guy spares him and says “thanks for the candy”.  This joke seems somewhat crass in light of recent events, but there is some, perhaps unintended, grain of truth in it.  What if we paid attention to the weird people?  What if we complimented the insecure?  What if we invited the socially awkward to our parties?

I don’t intend to say that what that violent man in Connecticut did was not his fault.  On the contrary- it was definitely his fault and he is to blame for his horrific actions.  All I intend to say is that I think there would be less of this sort of thing happening if we took a few extra steps to love people who we don’t particularly want to love.  There will always be tragedies in a fallen world such as ours, but there would be less of them if we took the desperate under our wings before they reached the point where they’re willing to kill.

High school kids, I’m looking at you especially and all of you in college as well.  This applies to all of us, however.  If you’ve been devastated by these recent tragedies, as we all have, and you find yourself wanting to change things, start with your community.  Start with your office, with your neighborhood, with your school.  Find the losers.  Love on them and don’t be condescending about it.  I don’t write from any position of superiority- this is something that I need to do as well.  It will be hard and it will be uncomfortable, but if we seek a solution this is it.  Let’s do it together.  Maybe we’ll save some lives.

Continue to pray for those poor people in Connecticut.  I cannot imagine what they must be going through.