How I created a novel meme

Last night, under the influence of the free blended spirits in the backpackers hostel I stay, I told a young traveler named Joey the outline of my satire novel. Joey was interested so with but few leaps and bounds I told him the entire story. He told me he liked it, but what really touched me was when he told the story in his own words over dinner, to even younger travelers.

I never considered that story as part of the ontology that supports my everyday life. It was more like a unicorn or an elf than like money or Murphy’s law. But as I heard the story told by Joey, all of a sudden that changed. My story now exists beyond the mind of its introvert author: It has become a meme in the sense of Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmore. It will assert, or not, its own place in the memosphere as others will tell and retell the story. Mutations of the meme will be of course beyond my control, but here is what I imagine the meme will be like after a dozen meme generations:

A man who wanted to kill himself accidentally kills a woman with his suicide pill which she mistakes for a party pill. He panicks and flees in the forest but is discovered by the police. They think he is a refugee and he makes up a name, Kalim or something, and even the name of a country.

Then a billionaire buys land and creates that country. Kalim is the only official citizen because that is what it said on his papers. (It’s a bit Kafkaesque). Then the billionaire takes in all these refugees because it gives him the power to send them in small vessels to the European coast. [End of reconstructed fragment, I don’t want to give away too much]

How I created a novel meme was originally published on Meandering home


Meditation on humor

Breathe in. Think of the ridiculousness of life, the absurdity of existence, mortal or otherwise, the laughable preoccupations of breathing animals, the inane schemes devised by homo sapiens to cope with all that, and finally the splendid endeavour to derive from it the source of mere funnyness. We are asking if humor is our best chance of making sense of the world.

Is humor indispensible? Let us first observe humor depends on context. A mere pun or an isolated witty remark is not yet humor. It gets funny against the background of the context, which is alwags a power relation involving an implicit or explicit prohibition of the joke. Humor is a way to free oneself for a moment from a stronger power, because our laughing is beyond its control – and the more they try to impose their control, the funnier it gets.

Famous jokes about communism (coffee without cream rather than without milk because we ran out of milk) expose the system by demonstrating it is susceptible to jokes. It is no longer impenetrable and the ironic jomes about the system are ‘more ultimate’ than the system itself. No Red Book can compete with a good round of jokes.

Smile. I wanted to write a metaphysical account of humor and how the ironic distance allows us to share something universal because it makes visible the inadequacy of the internal rules of what we observe. I decided against it, because I haven’t thought it true. And perhaps is humor the very thing we don’t need a theory of.

Meditation on humor was originally published on Meandering home

Meditation on purpose

We sit still with our eyes closed. In the distance, across the fields, are green hills. Alright, this is my concrete situation perhaps not yours. Never mind. The why-question or more precisely the what are we here for question is personally daunting. So much so, that we assume we can hardly help each other finding an answer.

Of course, there are no answers, only provisionary directions. Ideas we can adhere to. I leave religion out of this meditation for I am no priest. In humanism these guiding ideas might be something like contributing to society as good as you can, or searching for scientific truth.

I like to categorize these ambitions as love. Love for truth, love for other people, art, music, words, food. May our purpose come from love, not from fear. What do you fear? Death, shame, loss, the elements, financial insecurity, disease, dementia? Close your eyes. Next to you there is a poisonous snake. It doesn’t move. Are you afraid? Now on the other side there is a snake as well. You were in the right place to survive all along. Oftentimes, fear can misinform us.

So we should ask: How does this fear relate to our love? Can if make our love grow or is it an obstacle? Maybe we should realize that in the light of our mortality, the life-affirming sentiment of love is our most sensible wager. What we create out of love can be remembered independently of the morals of the day, to paraphrase Nietzsche.

Breathe deeply. Ask yourself what is making you tick, and what is it you want to make you tick? It the first based on fear and the second based on love?

Meditation on purpose was originally published on Meandering home

The be-who-thy-be new age bullshit

I watched a well-intended speech today for fifteen year old level A students. The gist was that life happens according to your own internal clock, not according to the timetable imposed on us by society. It’s okay not to be married at 30 or graduating after 25 or getting your first job at 27. Did you know that JK Rowling first got published at the ripe old age of 32 and that Morgan Freeman got his big break at 52? Applause. Just be who you are, follow your dreams and eventually you will succeed.

That is the message. Eventually. No pressure, believe me more than you can believe yourself: you too will eventually make it big. Your story will be a success story. It has to be that way because if you believe hard enough, the universe will conspire to make it happen.

It is precisely this message that puts more pressure on people. Concrete goals such as graduating college at 22 or having 2 kids by age 33 are replaced by you-know-best-yourself goals. This absence of a yardstick to measure your own achievements against can backfire terribly. Insecure people will get more insecure and now they don’t have a way to prove themselves wrong. In the decadent be-who-thy-be philosophy, they cannot be wrong.

Guidance is replaced by slogans that smack of wisdom and the tragedy is that they are irrefutable from the perspective of the be-who-we-tell-you-to-be. The 15 year olds can not be expected to be critical, but from the educators who purvey this type of happy-go-lucky doublespeak peptalk we can demand that they study Kafka and Orwell and make their Good News less intimidating.

We want to educate critical minds not neurotic narcissists. Young people should not be seduced to manufacture only their unique success story in the face of a society that won’t reward them, I think. But do I have a solution? No. The best advice I can offer is to skip this soft of commencement talks whenever possible.

The be-who-thy-be new age bullshit was originally published on Meandering home

Meditation on friendship

Close your eyes. Breathe calmly. You sit here alone, master of your own thoughts. Imagine I am talking to you. I want to know what friendship means. Quickly, construct a differentiation. Which opposite op ‘friend’ have you found? Mere acquaintance? Or: enemy? But what can we say about a thing of which we cannot determine the opposite? Try, then, to think of the similarities between your friends, the once that don’t seem to have anything else in common than being your friend. They are committed, I guess you said that? There is some mutual interest in each other’s life, some emotional investment.

Take a deeper breath. Investment, interest. We are using financial terminology. We describe friendship in terms of personal gain. Could it be otherwise? What if friendship is more fundamental and came logically ‘before’ our identity? The thought that the socialness of our being constitutes our identity is a common one. We are friends before we are persons. As toddlers, we refer to each other, we anticipate each other’s behavior, develop an emotional attitude to each other, all before we develop a sense of self. And children who grow up deprived of social connections make do with imaginary friends, because social behavior is hard-wired. Or at least, I say it’s worth thinking of it that way.

True friendship should escape a reduction to a mutually beneficial relation. That is another common thought. There is that special something that we can’t classify, a magical ingredient in our friendships. Smile. We could explain that irreducible quality from the horrors of its opposite, that can’t be understood in terms in interaction between discreet objects either. I mean the mental agony of loneliness. The deep eternity in which we become gradually aware of the absence of any other mind, while we exhaust our imagination until we can’t make the voice that talks back at us seem like anything else but ourselves. The point at which we ‘go crazy’.

Friendship is something we must celebrate. It is the essence of celebration itself. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out. Does friendship come before the friend? Are we imposing our preconceptions of what ‘friendship’ is supposed to be on our friends? Or can we learn about friendship from a friend? Don’t we need the first aspect in order to recognize someone as a friend, and the second one in order to treat someone as a friend?

Friendship is a role. But the rules and expections of that role can always be challenged between friends. Friends can break up, or grow closer because of this. Breathe some more. Let us understand the fragility of friendship and the vulnerability of our modest meditation on it.

Meditation on friendship was originally published on Meandering home