…where a tentative philosopher writes

Red Hand

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight… the truly wise person is colorblind.

In any major city in America, there are two signs everyone needs to heed: red hands and white walkers.

Of course, I’m talking about traffic signals for pedestrians. If you’re a tourist in a city, even if you are a wealthy tourist, you will inevitably walk SOMEWHERE during your journey. If you are a car commuter, well, it’s extremely difficult to park close enough to your work to not encounter at least one white walker (or red hand). If you are a public transit kind of citizen, then you are at the mercy of white walkers and red hands, probably throughout your journey, especially on the bus, where the bus is bound to watch the pedestrians following these symbols as well.

My postulate is that these symbols are a metaphor for our lives, controlled by algorithms working in concert with stoplights and turn lanes, even working with bike path signals.

A white walker is easily analogized to the privilege of most white people in society. An easy walk across the street (into the job, house, car), a white walker creates no sense of urgency.

 A red hand could be analogized into either prejudice (you may try to cross the street when flashing) or as an absolute denial of access (hand flashed and counted down, now no crossing).

A white walker could also symbolize how restrictions grow up around us during our lives. White walker only appears for a short amount of time (the beginning of our lives); as we wait longer, red hand appears and starts counting down (our approach to middle age and the restrictions placed upon our lives). Once the countdown is completed, red hand tells us to stop. Proceed, and you are putting yourself into extreme peril.

Red hand forgets, though, that we are individual actors on our lives; sighted persons have the power to look down the street to assess if there are any cars or bicycles coming. Sighted persons can calculate the approximate arrival time of a vehicle, estimate how quickly they can move across the way, and make a conscious decision to cross the street AGAINST RED HAND’S SOUND ADVICE.

Red hand has a rational basis for telling a person not to cross. It is created out of mathematical formulas related to what it is “aware” of: traffic signals and the relation of the space an average pedestrian can cross in x amount of time.

I put “aware” in quotes because red hand is preprogrammed and has no way of being anthropomorphically “aware” of anything except circuits (normal/not normal function) and programs (running/not running).

But the programs red hand uses are basic. They do not account for any variations: weather creating hazardous conditions, sighted versus unsighted persons, stroller/grocery roller burdens, etc.

I know an adjunct philosophy professor who started his masters/PhD program after he retired from a different career at age 55. I know that he was obeying the red hand before that, fulfilling the prophecy that there is only a certain amount of time to cross the academic street. But he was three years into his thesis when I met him and hopeful of finishing within the year.

The earlier paragraph talking about tourists and commuters applies here, too. Wealthy people will probably encounter one or two white walker/red hand scenarios; car commuters, next on the food chain, find it difficult to avoid at least one white walker/red hand (I encounter nine each way each day); lastly, public transit people encounter many red hands/white walkers during the day – they are at the mercy of these symbols. Socioeconomically, this also correlates pretty well, except maybe for American cities where public transit is a way of life and not so much of a choice.

Interestingly enough, Europe is apparently much different in terms of pedestrians, symbols, and city walk-ability. Something to explore in another blog, I think.

Red hand cannot dictate your life. We shouldn’t let these rational basis objections scare us into not pursuing our dreams and thinking about how we can achieve where we want to go. The variations in each person’s life create new opportunities and ways of believing in ourselves. I want to be a sighted person in charting the course of my life. I want to be able to see and calculate the odds of making it across the street before the car (mortgage) or the bicycle (health insurance) hits me. So instead of being colorblind, I’m going to concentrate on the path to success, instead of the preprogrammed signs telling me to give up. I refuse to respond to these subtle symbols of what I’m supposed to be able to accomplish at each stage of my life.

Chapter One

“They” say that when you write a book, you have to start somewhere. Put words down on the page, a certain number every day, even if you don’t feel inspired. Do the same number of words every day, do it at the same time, do it as much as you can. Skimp on sleep if you have to; put the laundry off until tomorrow. Dirty house? Not your problem; you have words to write.

It sounds like the “hundred monkeys” technique. A hundred monkeys type for a thousand hours and eventually turn out Shakespeare or something equally fatuous. Except I’m not a monkey and I’m a fan of modern English.

This blog is part of that process for me. I have to type something every other day, even if I don’t have any clever ideas or exciting thoughts from the day. Maybe one day something good will come of it. Maybe one day I’ll come up with a new theory of consciousness or theory of mind. Until then, I guess I could write about the most recent TED talk I listened to, the one about how to choose things and how random that it was posted mere days after my crisis with the control trigger issue and how if I was psychic why couldn’t I use it to pick winning lottery numbers and and and…

Just words on a page. End quote:

Writing anything as an expert is really poisonous to the writing process, because you lose the quality of discovery.

Guess I’m safe from that pitfall for now…silver lining!

Control Alt

Laws control the lesser man… Right conduct controls the greater one.

Mark Twain

Thinking about the Fireside Chat from yesterday, I stumbled upon an idea of control. Therapists tell patients over and over that a patient can only control their own actions. But Mark Twain thinks that there is an idea of “right conduct” that can control a person’s actions. I quit smoking; is this a “right conduct” issue, or me exercising control over my actions?

Twain theory: Smoking is harmful to myself and people around me. The “right conduct” is not to harm myself or others. 

Therapy theory: Smoking is an action that I can control; no one else can control it for me. If today I choose not to smoke, I am exercising control over my own actions.

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two theories. Of course, there are laws controlling where I could smoke, but those didn’t make me quit. Right conduct is a pretty amorphous idea, so it’s difficult to pin actions on the vagueness of the shape. The idea that I could control actions that were harmful to myself and others was a radical idea, especially in the face of nicotine addiction. But that reality always existed; I could always control my own actions. What is the linchpin holding these two theories together? What is the trigger to the control? 

I want to know what the control trigger is because I am feeling very in control lately. I am feeling like I can make any change I want to in my life. We have decided to make a plan to be debt free within a fairly short amount of time. This would have overwhelmed and terrified me not two months ago; I would have been convinced that there was no way that we could make this happen. Now, with a plan in place for a new kind of life, I feel energized and happy, Motivated.

What is the trigger?

Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 Does risking your own life have to be literal? So many people speak about their experiences with death-defying activities like it’s something that must be done in order to have a full human life: skydiving, piloting a plane, bungee jumping, roller coaster riding (that last one may be a personal fear of mine), etc. It seems to me like the biggest windows we have to throw ourselves out of are ones determining career, love, housing, long-term commitments (children, pets, home equity loans). These windows don’t seem to lead to soft falls, either. A broken ankle compared to a 20 year “career” manipulating spreadsheet numbers seems like a decent trade-off in the fire analogy above.

A broken ankle could hobble you for months, inhibit your activities for years if it doesn’t heal properly, and may even have to be rebroken if it didn’t set correctly, yet how many people would choose the “dead in a fire” part over these consequences?

So why do we choose the “dead in a fire” for our creative sides? Why do we dismiss the liberal art career for the more “practical” pursuits? Is money really that important? If you’re good at what you do, you know that there are more important things than money. It behooves the liberal artists to decide how much money is enough also. If a creative person doesn’t know how much is enough, they may lead themselves down the practical path with their creative side kicking and screaming all the way. Or maybe that’s just my creative side…