Anatomy of a Party

travel & adventure

It has been said that the mark of a good party is that you wake up the next morning wanting to change your name and start life in a different city. This is undeniably true. No good party has truly ended until you groggily arise the next day and lurch uncomfortably back into some foggy reality, aware of the very real possibility that the last vestiges of your dignity and reputation were drowned in a sea of booze the night before; the relief is palpable when you find this to only be partially true.

What, then, of the essence of a good party? It is perhaps comprised of a cacophony of spontaneous conversations and laughter, hoots and hollers. As it kicks into gear it creates a surreal vibrancy that at once encompasses and yet feels greater than the sum of its individuals.

A good party has only one single requirement, and that of course is free-flowing libations aplenty – no memorable party or revolution has ever been started by a group of teetotallers.

Loud blaring music is no substitute for drunken dialogue; the former is in fact antithetical to the latter, and should be avoided at the outset. Background music is acceptable but by no means necessary. If you cannot hear yourself think, let alone the words of the raconteur opposite you, something has gone terribly wrong. Spirited conversation transforms into a raucous dance party, not the other way around.

Nor is good food, or any food required at the outset. Snacks will more often than not distract you from your cocktail, and such distraction is unforgivable. You should eat a hearty meal before any party at which you plan to feign a reserved veneer. In other words, hearty meals should be avoided at all costs until after the party.

What of the duties of the host of a good party? Just as the singular requirement of the party is its alcohol, so too is the primary duty of the host to ensure that alcohol is flowing. The good host watches for empty cups with an eagle eye and does not allow them to persist. A good host is not averse to the concept of ‘bring your own beverage,’ but would never leave something as crucial as the alcohol supply to chance. Beyond that, the good host needs only to proffer warm greetings and make introductions between those guests unfamiliar with each other.

But what then promotes a good party and not a bunch of well- and vaguely-acquainted people drinking in uneven awkwardness? While consumption of spirits will eliminate most potential awkwardness, it is in many cases a wise idea for the festivities to have a theme. This need neither be elaborate nor trite; it can be as simple as a celebration of any milestone or event, a reunion of longtime friends and gathering of new ones, or even a series of gregarious drinking games. The point is merely to have a raison d’être for the event in mind, a purpose that has your guests raring to go. This is not to reject parties of a desultory nature – as these are usually the best sorts – but as a means to kick off the revelry. In fact the party should not maintain any semblance of structure for even one second longer than is necessary, for once it achieves that ineffable surreal vibrancy the party is best left to its own devices.

the worst thing about censorship is [redacted].

revolution

There is a disturbing trend taking hold in the Western world these days. Not that of radical Islam, or of constant distractedness. It is the scourge of what many refer to as ‘political correctness.’

To be clear, I am not advocating a society in which everyone says anything they want all the time, homosexuals and welfare recipients be damned. There are indeed limits to free speech; where the line is drawn is a source of never-ending debate, but it is generally agreed that direct incitement to hatred and violence, or the proverbial shout of “fire” in a crowded building are not protected speech. I am inclined to leave the line here and align myself with the free-speech absolutists.

We are indeed the minority. The societal pendulum has swung too far, from allowing wanton discrimination to policing thought; many in Western society have gone from negating speech that is almost universally recognized as illegitimate to shouting down speech that may be offensive to some to denying speech to those whose views they just do not like. The practice of ‘no-platforming’ speakers – a practice previously reserved for fascists and others who could be counted on to incite a riot – is routinely used on many university campuses to silence potential speakers. This is promoted by groups who are far too easily whipped into hysterics, and it is done to speakers who merely promise to share words and ideas that do not line up with the worldview of said group. This is just the most egregious example, because it turns a place – the university – where innumerable ideas should be exchanged and debated in search of knowledge and truth into a place where a minority of people control that debate and exchange; worse, they limit it to fit with their parochial outlook. They insist that no one should be challenged or offended at their university, an institution where such a proposition would have been antithetical to its very existence not so long ago. (As an aside, I have come into direct contact with this poisonous strategy and deplorable administrative acquiesce; in my second year, one of my professors was forced into early retirement because he had been using epithets such as “Japs” in their historical context during a course on the Third World and some students were displeased that he was not whitewashing history for them.)

This is a sad state of affairs, and it is not limited to the university. Every day we are seeing a public personality, and in some cases even an average individual “step out of line” either in the material or the internet world – and swiftly drawing the wrath of an online and very public shaming for doing so. This is no way to run a society. Arbitrarily deciding who gets to say what by way of mob rule is a regression to pre-Enlightenment times, even pre-Renaissance. If you find the views of someone deplorable, you do not seek to shut them up; this is authoritarianism writ large. Rather, you must engage them and debate them and convince an audience, and maybe even the person you have engaged, that your ideas are superior. It is to practice the ancient art of rhetoric, a skill largely lost today in a sea of tweets and nonsense articles.

To me this is a doubly sad state of affairs, because these authoritarian tactics are being employed by people who consider themselves to be left of centre, progressives even – those who should be “my” people – in the name of making society a better place. Armed with some of the most powerful ideas of the last two centuries they have proven that instead of progressing, they are unable to move beyond the mentality that led to the purges and the gulags. This mentality is a preemptory one that insists thoughts and words can and should be limited to ones deemed ‘right’ or ‘acceptable,’ and that those who refuse should be punished. This mindset is a direct threat to a free society and must be opposed wherever it is encountered.

As a closing rumination – and I will admit this is an odd jumping-off point for me to take – consider the Meghan Trainor song. This is not a particularly great, or even good piece of music. But in a monomaniacal music industry devoted to pumping out a slew of pop songs indistinguishable from one to the next, this stands out as something a bit refreshing. I sought to find out what it was and who had made it after hearing it on the radio for the seventy-sixth time. What struck me was that she had received criticism for demeaning skinny people. Now, I will agree that making one’s self feel better by putting down someone else is not an ideal manifestation of boosted self-esteem. But as a girl only a few years removed from high school, there is no doubt Meghan has long dealt with withering glares and acerbic comments from “skinny bitches.” That she has positively channeled her animosity into music is understandable and need not be criticized.

True, her speech has not yet been limited. This only serves to illustrate what the scourge of political correctness looks like in its infant or more benign form; it shows how people with an authoritarian view towards speech comb through content in search of a perceived slight or offense. Note that (to my knowledge) the people who are said to have been slighted have raised no protest; rather outside observers have decided that because some group may be offended the content in question is worthy of condemnation.

Trainor’s case also led me to think how some of the major musical figures of the 20th century, specifically some of my favourite artists would be received if they were up-and-coming performers in this day and age. Some of my answers: Dylan would be labeled a racebaiter; The Rolling Stones would be perpetuators of racist stereotypes;  Led Zeppelin would be held up as proof of a unrepentantly misogynist society; and Jimi Hendrix would be promoting violence against women. I could go on.

I digress somewhat, though it melds nicely to my main argument: any society that limits speech and promotes self-censorship is not a free society; it is one that can only deprive its members of countless transformative ideas, works of art, and means of real progress. Offensive speech should not be drowned out but rather brought into the open and soundly defeated through more speech, not less. Anyone who truly values a free and open society must fight authoritarian limits on speech in all their forms.

Further reference:

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/copenhagen-speech-violence

http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9376232/free-speech-is-so-last-century-todays-students-want-the-right-to-be-comfortable/

http://www.newstatesman.com/sarah-ditum/2014/03/when-did-no-platform-become-about-attacking-individuals-deemed-disagreeable

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-progressive-ideas-behind-the-lack-of-free-speech-on-campus/2015/02/20/93086efe-b0e7-11e4-886b-c22184f27c35_story.html

as for me…

revolution

At my age and current level of employment – which is non-existent – I seem an unlikely candidate for igniting or contributing to a seismic global shift. But it is both of these which instead confer on me a sort of advantage over the old guard, the established doers and thinkers.The surfeit of time on my hands allows for more than copious sleep and sex. It allows me an ample opportunity to pack into my as-of-yet-functioning grey matter all the information, in print and on screen, that I can get my hands on.

Neuroscience has long intrigued me, but my understanding is still limited. However, what I have been able to gather is that the subconscious holds an awesome power; it plugs away with words, facts, ideas, and the like whether or not the conscious is also participating. It is said (by Eagleman) that the conscious is often the last part of the brain to be informed of a thought, a decision, or a breakthrough.

Thus, at least to me, it stands to reason that if I read and write continuously on the subjects I have deemed to be most important – which begin with the human condition, traverse through inequality and Marxism, and arrive at the need for free education – eventually something resembling a solution to a problem or even the impetus for an intellectual revolution will emerge. Not only that, but such an idea will manifest at a time when I am financially and socially in a position to move it from the realm of thought and into the realm of action.

Not exactly concrete, but far superior to insouciance.

what fixes?

revolution

This is more a matter of mental housekeeping than anything else, but may well prove useful otherwise.

As I understand the world at present, there will be four pillars, often intertwined, that our generation will have to work towards strengthening. In only some particular order they are educational reform; the curtailment and rolling back of the powers of the surveillance state; democratic and/or electoral reform; and environmental and/or energy reform.

Education is not as self-explanatory as it perhaps should be. The issue isn’t solely that an unforgivable amount of the global population is insufficiently educated or not educated at all – that is a major problem that needs to be remedied. But to provide those less-than-educated individuals with our current brand of (non-technical) education would be as much a disservice to them as providing no education at all. While technical skills are necessary for the functioning of any community, my focus remains on education of the intellect. If we are to survive, the education of the 21st century needs to take on a dialectical and dialogical form rather than one that attempts to cram any number of irrelevant facts into the heads of the masses; we need to focus on the development of critical thinking, of ideas, of solutions to the problems of our new century.

Perhaps the greatest task we face is forcing people to think for themselves rather than abdicating this crucial responsibility to the demagogue, religion, or ideology of their choosing. This approach simply will not do. Nor will pedantry – the more learned individuals lambasting and mocking their less-educated brothers and sisters, trying to claim some sort of authority on a topic rather than sharing their knowledge in a manner beneficial to both parties. Try as some might to deny it, teachers will not always come armed with a degree or title, and we can learn much from those who occupy a lower socioeconomic or educational tier.

I lead with education because critical thinking and collaboration fostered by a dialectical and dialogical education will yield solutions to the other three pillars.

Turning to the surveillance state, the matter is much more simple. As Snowden has put it, the development of such an all-encompassing spy system “fundamentally changes the balance of power between the citizen and the state.” Indeed, it erodes the democracy or republicanism much of our world has long claimed to stand for. Make no mistake: this system has nothing to do with rooting out terrorism and everything to do with monitoring and stifling dissent. It is a power-grab of the most egregious magnitude. At a minimum we need significant civilian and judicial oversight of these programs if they are to exist at all; what we are being offered currently by way of oversight is mere window-dressing, the illusion of responsibility meant to assuage our rightful trepidations.

Democratic and/or electoral reform is perhaps a more nuanced topic and will vary from nation to nation. However, my view is founded on one straightforward truth: government must be beholden to the people that vest it with the authority to govern them. In both Canada and the United States, a candidate for federal office must almost as a matter of course be a wealthy individual or belong to a network with substantial fundraising potential. If he or she falls into the former category they are more likely, though not necessarily going to be out-of-touch with those they seek to represent; the latter is more serious, as a campaign run on the funds of others leaves that candidate beholden to them rather than those he or she claims to represent. This situation disqualifies, out-of-hand, individuals with the skill set to govern but without the financial means to campaign as well as vaults individuals preoccupied with private interests into public office. Campaigns must be publicly funded to be regarded as legitimate; proof of a potential support in the form a petition need be all that is required for access to these funds. The above points as well as the larger idea of what systematic and institutional corruption – rather than conventional quid pro quo corruption – and the importance of a remedy (though while specific to the United States) is argued for persuasively, if a tad repetitively by Lawrence Lessig in Republic Lost.

Environmental and/or energy reform may very well be the most important pillar; our health as a species relies on that of our planet. But I will not spend a proportional amount of time here, as I am largely ignorant as regards the scientific data, arguments, disputes, disagreements, and proposals in this arena. All I know for sure is that for decades now we have been raping our planet and plundering its resources all in the name of industrial capitalism and economic growth. The overwhelming consensus that I am able to comprehend coming out of the scientific community is that this approach is unsustainable. In my view there is also plenty to be said about the ethical and moral depravity of said approach, but for now I will withhold that discussion.

It is these four pillars that must be our focus in the coming months, years, and decades. Nobody can know everything and as such no one person can be expected to tackle all of these problems – to say nothing of the problem of inequality and poverty, though I believe addressing these four pillars has a good chance of alleviating that problem as a matter of course. What each individual must do is focus on the one that best aligns with his or her interests and expertise while fully supporting and even gaining some knowledge from individuals working on the other pillars.

vacation II

travel & adventure

Now that the resort has been established as the justification for Marxist revolution writ large, a brief examination of the clientele is in order.

There is a smattering of Canadians and South Americans, with the odd European tossed into the mix. But the majority hail from that one true bastion of the freedom to consume, the United States of McDonald’s – or whatever it’s called these days. Rather than the caricatures of used car dealers from Dallas found in the stale 4 a.m. casinos of Fear and Loathing, the characters here look as if some confused deity literally, physically anthropomorphized Middle America a few dozen times and dropped the results at a very specific location on a very specific rock.

There are, to my knowledge, no used car dealers from Dallas present. But because of some kind of Home Depot cult-like gathering that just happens to be taking place, James from Dallas is here. So too is Mike from Pittsburgh. Not to forget Diane from Columbus, or Dick from Minneapolis. And most of them were getting in my way as I sauntered to the bar, all dancing, dressing, and drinking poorly. It quickly became clear to me by this scene – as well as by the general lack of Dominican music and cultural elements I had observed since I arrived – that this resort catered almost exclusively to those would-be international citizens who had never before set foot outside of Iowa.

One such fellow – Bill from Des Moines, no doubt – summed everything up for me so nicely that I probably should have stopped to shake his hand and express my gratitude. But I was simply too enamoured by his performance. In a delightful display of lack of tact, this fellow clumsily made his way to the bar just as I arrived; his ID badge from the conference still dangled comically from an orange lanyard around his neck, long after it served any useful purpose for that day; clutched in his sweaty left palm was a wad of one-dollar bills, the top one of which he peeled off and thrust into the face of the bartender, boldly declaring: “I need one apple martini.” A matter of pure survival, you see.

Smirking and snickering a bit – I prefer to think he was withholding a bout of laughter – the bartender casually replied, “I no have apple martini.”

Bill, you fat oaf, flaunting your currency because surely, you thought, those greenbacks shimmer like gold in the eyes of these poor savages and could buy you the whole island if you desired it. Serves you right.

Satisfied, I moved on.

vacation

revolution

The resort strikes me as a kind of Versailles of the Dominican. The opulence found here does nothing to rival the sort one may find in the Turks & Caicos, but it seems excessive all the same. The prevalence of marble everything is outweighed only by that of boisterous gringo tourists and the techno music they respond to as if it were a dog whistle. Given recent events, I can’t help but think this augers the fate of Cuba, and this thought layers the entire place with a detached melancholy.The resort even provides a stark reminder about the vanity this class exudes. Areas nestled in between swim-up bars and beach chairs subtlety yet noticeably are labelled “Royal Service Only” – areas meant to give that notorious one-tenth of the one percent physical separation, a much-needed respite from the other nine tenths. Luckily the barriers are only visual and mental, not substantive, so I figure I’ll jump in one of their pools tomorrow. I just wish I had my copy of Capital to set on a nearby table while I do so. Alas, some other time.

So here I am, stuck upon an island with the bourgeois blues again.

The surfeit of food, of marble, of brutishness, of indifference singes a simple fact upon my mind: those not privy to this palatial style of existence will revolt, and when they do they deserve to steamroll the ones  they find within these walls and all of those like them. For mere miles away, America elevates its poor, its tired, its huddled masses to Public Enemy #1 status; it expands a surveillance state that has the freedom to dissent squarely in its crosshairs. Canada, Britain, et. al. seem eager to adopt this perversely flawed model. Whatever social and moral fabric these countries ever had is disintegrating before our very eyes. An alarming amount of so-called citizens seem to be nonchalant, even supportive towards these developments. No doubt many of them sit around me at this very resort, a gaggle of Neros fiddling while their Rome burns; if Marx is to be believe, that gaggle will gets its chance to burn shortly thereafter.

Other than all of of that, it really is quite beautiful here.

Indeed much of this is strong language, but it is just language. The simple fact is that the aforementioned type of excess is unnecessary, wanting of even a little credible justification, which it will never be able to find. I for one would be infinitely happier renting a small room on Hydra and starting my day with a plate of grilled fish pulled from the surrounding seas moments before. Or roaming the streets of Old Havana at midnight with a rum and a cigar in my hand. No overpriced Moët and elitist “Royal Service” could ever rival such bliss as that.

I presuppose a vast majority would prefer such comfort to extravagance. If the little boorish slice of humanity that insists upon on the latter would cease and desist then many more the world over could easily have the former.

dystopic descent

revolution

The last seven days have been deplorable, despicable, and predictable. First, some mentally unstable people committed some foolishness at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Then they committed some more foolishness in and around Paris. The civilized among us cried, cursed, and groped blindly for any semblance of sense to be found as the dust settled. Following that, mob rule declared either you were with Charlie or against Charlie.

The pen is mightier than the sword; the keyboard is impotent. The aftermath of the Paris Noisemaking has been defined by a universal affirmation of free speech in the lands clinging to it (as well as by leaders who treat any speech as a minor nuisance.)  But such affirmations have been buttressed by nothing. Two summers ago I missed a flight and in a time-killing effort wandered around Paris for a few hours. A few days ago 1.6 million did the same, but they carried giant pencils and shouted slogans while they wandered.

Two things, intertwined, are abundantly clear. The first is that those who fancy themselves as pouring their hearts out for freedom of expression, speech, the press, and what have you could not give less of a good goddamn. They sit around day after day not giving a thought to any action or injustice in the world until it overloads their newsfeed to the point where it cannot be ignored – at which point they are for whatever the mob has decided they are for.

The second is that from the moment the first cartoonist hit the floor in Paris the outcome of the entire situation was clear: the majority would be shocked – only because they have not paid attention in the slightest to the world around them up until now – and the rulers would capitalize. The Tsar of Canada wants spying measures that would trump all privacy laws on the books; Josef Camerin wants to eradicate all forms of communication his government cannot intercept and decipher.

So the end result of the foolishness in Paris is that social justice warriors across the Western world type out “Je Suis Charlie” and, in their minds, claim the moral high ground. They lambaste the New York Times, Globe & Mail, and any other publication that dares show cowardice by not publishing the most offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons – nevermind that the newfound raison d’être of the critics is to advocate freedom of the press, which concerns only the right of the press to publish or not publish any material at its own discretion. And the rabble does so while its own governments seize on these attacks as an opportunity to further curtail that same freedom of the press – not to mention freedom of speech, of expression, of assembly, of association, of dissent.

The masses shout about freedom while assenting to less of it.

Revolution is difficult; getting people to think outside of a vacuum is much harder; getting both will be a task for me in the next lifetime of two, certainly not this one.