Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The music of our lives

I may be repeating myself a bit, but this has been a reoccurring theme in my mental meanderings over the last couple weeks, seemingly being re-awakened by the oddest and most unconnected group of experiences.

I was watching the introduction credits to a DVD lesson for one of my anthropology courses and it hit me just how much our opinion on something can be swayed by putting images or information about something to a soundtrack. Here were mixed images of children, families, war, faces from all over the planet, starvation, battle, and parties all mixed in, pictures that if seen normally were more than likely not of such photographic quality to elicit an emotional response from their audience. However, with music supporting them, the response was there the instant the picture became visible, maybe even before I could consciously put a name to what it was I was seeing (I hear that our brains can process much more information and at a tremendously faster rate than our conscious attention can).

How is it that we have become so culturally, or maybe as a species as a whole, trained to react to music so quickly and so strongly? My textbook tells me that there is no known culture in the world that does not have music as part of its culture in one way or another. It surrounds us to the point that many of us can discern music even from the natural cacophony of sounds of nature, we hear music where there is only natural or even man-made sounds not meant as such.

I’m not complaining, I gladly claim to have a soundtrack to my life, and will rarely be seen without music on my free-time. I sometimes even deliberately use music with the intention of getting myself into a particular mood, or out of one as the situation might warrant.

The STRENGTH of the human emotional response to music will never cease to amaze me. Many times, such as watching TV or walking into a pub, we don’t even consciously realize that music is there, around us. I have learned to accept that I will get jabbed in the side occasionally, especially during tests, because I am unaware that I am humming something.

As one of my friends mentioned haphazardly, what WOULD happen to people if there were no music? Would we all go through some kind of withdrawal? I doubt it, should the knowledge of music all of a sudden be wiped from our collective knowledge and memory banks, I suspect it would very quickly make its way back into our lives, even if only by way of some bored individual banging on something nearby and rediscovering rhythm as it were. I cannot even claim to comprehend what might happen should the knowledge of music be blocked from our cultural memories.

Sounds like a good science fiction short story idea, I wonder if anyone has done that one yet.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Human Propensity for Violence

I am asked, for a homework assignment in my Introduction to Anthropology course, "Which theory do you think best explains the existence of warfare and violence in human societies? Explain your choice." Now, the theories mentioned come from the reading, a wonderfully written text that I have few specific complaints about called Culture, People, Nature: An Introduction to General Anthropology, by Marvin Harris. The options for me to choose from consist of the following briefs:
1. "War as instinct: This explanation proposes that we humans have innate aggressive tendencies that make us hate other people and want to kill them. Warfare is just one of the ways by which this tendency expresses itself (Lizot 1979:151)."
2. "War as sport and entertainment: War is a big game. People enjoy the thrill of using martial arts and risking their lives in combat. (It's better than the movies.)"
3. "War as revenge: This is the most common explanation for going to war given by nonstate combatants. It is frequently accompanied by the belief that the spirits of the ancestors who have been killed in previous battles will not rest unless a relative of the culprit is killed in turn. The desire for revenge keeps wars going generation after generation whether the combatants win or lose."
4. "War as a struggle for reproductive success: Sociobiologists explain nonstate warfare as a means of obtaining higher rates of reproductive success: The fiercer the warrior, the more wives he will have, and the greater the number of surviving children. Thus natural selection favors the practice of warfare."
5. "War in general is a struggle for material benefits: It is fought only to the extent that it provides material advantages for some of the combatants."

As I read through the options left to me, I couldn't help but notice that none of the above truly represented my own ideas on why we, as humans, seem to universally be a violent species. while I know people who would be labeled as pacifists or 100% peaceful, I also know people who would label me as such and can't help but wonder at how wrong their view inherently is. The human, especially my own, penchant for violence or physical reaction to events is something that I occasionally sit back and deliberately contemplate and it is an interesting train of thought, one with no real answer so far as I can see.

I do believe that violence, especially to the stage of being formally called warfare, is a choice. The choice to follow though from a thought into an action against oneself or another that is harmfully physical or mental in nature is one that is consciously made. To those who claim that certain decisions were not in their control and resulted in violence, I merely respond that perhaps there may have not been the time allotted to allow one to thoroughly and deliberately think through one's reaction, but the decision was there, even if the result of past decisions made. Mayhaps the decision isn't one made directly before the action occurs, but at some point in one's past, a decision was made that determined the outcome of one's own (re)actions.

Why the propensity for violence is there, however, shall probably forever stump me, but it makes for intriguing contemplation. My explanation at the current moment is that there is a combination of factors paving the way for even the gentlest of peoples to react to some situations in their life with violence and/or physically manifested rage; factors both buried in our biology, our genetics if you may, and buried in the historical context of our species. To both of these extents, I believe that violence itself is instinct, its has been bred into our culture and our very fibers of our being through generations of actions which very well may have begun their journey through time and inheritance as methods of survival.

I do not believe that we, as humans, have the "innate aggressive tendencies that make us hate other people and want to kill them". I do believe that we have innate aggressive tendencies, but not towards an ultimate goal of hating nor killing other People. This would not account for violence that is perpetrated upon oneself or those that we love, intentionally or unintentionally. While I have heard and have read/heard about/witnessed actions by people because of the belief that spirits of others against whom evils/crimes had been performed could not rest until they were avenged (hell, there are entire shows dedicated to the idea - ex: Ghost Hunters) or understood, their grievances set to rest one way or another, often via violence towards the perceived perpetrator, if not the actual one). I look deeper into the understanding I have of humans and human-nature (I feel that though my beliefs and understandings are no doubt culture-bound in nature, are yet valid due to my own existence as a member of the human society as a whole) and I can't believe that this is the true underlying cause. As I search my own memories of anger, betrayal, and my own outbursts of violence as well as those times when I deny myself such a relief, I find that it is less a settling of the true spirits of those ancestors or others wronged, and more of a settling of one's own spirits for the wrongs held either against one's actual own self or vicariously against oneself through others held dear.

Humans, we are strange in our sense of what justice is. We can not agree, all of us, on a single idea of what happens once we are gone from this world, yet, we , as individuals, will forcefully push others into such a future, and then as a whole, punish those individuals into this future as well. How are we to know that there is anything there, that we are not sentencing both our 'innocent' and our 'guilty' to what we might view as a heaven or a hell, or perhaps a nothing. How can we know that we are not doing them, instead of a dis-service, a favor? How can we in our limited understanding of the origins and futures of all things in existence, in the meanings of anything, presume to wage violence and warfare at all when we so little understand the true consequences of our actions? And yet we do, constantly, and the list of justifications given, oh! It reads as dictionary of definitions of insanity, greed, selfishness, and naivety.

It confuses me, and intrigues me all in one. I know, from examining my own reactions, to feel hurt, anger, desire for retribution, is biological, it is built into us as a species; the difference however, between those who give in to it, and harm others, intentionally on any level, or those who turn it inward, inflicting pain on oneself, and those of us who choose to step back, away from what elicits the urge....where does that difference come from. But I suppose, that leads upon a greater path that delves even deeper into a shared yet separate psyche....into the question that surrounds and has birthed my current path of study....who are we?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Second Best Invention Ever: Music!

I have to admit, yes, that music has been around at least a millennia, or few, longer than coffee, and thusly I can not claim it was the First best invention ever. *sigh*

Whom-so-ever it was who realized that beating on different objects with something, whether a part of oneself or an external object, could create a variety of intriguing and amusing noises,  ranks well among geniuses in my mind. Granted, anthropologically speaking music probably arrived in several geographical locations in several different cultures or emerging cultures at once, but still, whomever(s) it were, deserves several thousand years worth of royalties.

Whoever the famous "They" are, they are right; music captures the human soul. It is the one thing I know of that can capture emotions to such purity and to such an incredibly accurate range; even more than the actual expression of our emotions themselves.This ability, comes second only to one other facet where I am concerned, music's ability to bring forth and change our current moods. Even when in the most terrible, horrible, god-awful mood, put on the right song or track, and by the time the track ends, one's mood can be at the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum than it was only a few minutes prior.

Okay, granted, the thought that brought, for the umpteenth time this semester, was accompanied by another variable, my beloved coffee, but that is in addition to the fact. My life has a soundtrack, while I am still much too fuzzy in the morning to turn on music first thing and jump-start myself then and there, by the time I am out the door on my way to the bus-stop, in nearly pitch-black at this time of year up here, I am becoming human again, capable of dealing with whatever awaits me outside my personal domain. The catalyst? My treasured iPod. By the time I exit Kaladi's to head up the street to work, the music has worked its charm and it is as if I am opening my real eyes for the first time that day. Even before I have taken my first sip of my 'liquid morning' (as the Raven's Brew cups at school call it-took me Forever, sadly, to get that) the spell is woven; one, that hopefully will outlast the day to come.

I have never met anyone who has claimed not to like any music at all. Many people may not like my music preferences (I say that in the plural because I think I could find a piece from any  genre that I would like), but they like some kind of music. It truly seems to be a facet that ties all cultures together. Music, many dialects, one world-wide language of symbolism.

At Times I Think I Can Almost Understand It

An old eclectic rant I dug up: 
There wasn't enough time. It was always this nagging feeling that wrapped around itself in the pit of my stomach, the feeling that even though I had more than enough time to do what I needed, somehow there just wasn't. I couldn't help but feel that I must have been forgetting something, something terribly important. Why else would I feel this sense of impending dread. The problem was, when I would stop and try to figure out what it was, it only got worse. So I kept busy, pushing myself into whatever caught my attention, burying myself into my work and school, trying to burrow so deeply that all I could think about was the assignments I had piling up around me.  
That is how I have lived my life, minute by minute, day by day, measuring each moment by what obligation was next most pressing. I had made myself so many goals that people I use to know simply shook their heads at me and hurried on by. I barely even noticed anymore. My arms were always filled with books and papers, earphones glued to my head in a vain attempt to balance out the stress with soothing music, constantly muttering formulas or items off my To-Do list under my breath.
Occasionally there would be times that my attention would be caught by something outside the hectic little world that I had created for myself. The first sunrise of the season over the tops of my dorm building, or a particular song I happened to come upon; My sister calling from her college could sometimes do it, although those calls were mainly dominated by schoolwork as well, and occasionally I would simply stop, in mid-rush between here and there, for no reason at all and simply have to marvel at the world around me, nothing in particular, just all of it.
His face was the closest I ever came to figuring out what it was that felt so empty in me, where it was that urgency about time was coming from.
I don't think that I will ever believe all the hype and stories about him, and I will never be able to simply sit back and allow anyone to tell me about him as if they had known him themselves. I'll never know where he really came from, or why he was really there, or even who he really was, but something about him, the only thing about him, that has ever, or will ever seem to have been true about him, that is portrayed correctly after all this time, is something about the picture of him up there. I don't believe what they say about why he is up there, I don't believe how they say he got up there, but I do believe that he cared. He may never have truly been there, it might just be another mis-told story, but I believe that he cared, and that is all that mattered. Not what he did, not how he did it, just that he was able to feel, and he was able to love, even if just one person. I can believe that he was a person, that this image, this story, it is based on someone who lived, someone who was the right person at the right time to give hope and healing to a people when they needed it most.
So many people look up at him in awe, seeing him as if some ethereal being; would he want this, as the normal person he was, if a bit advanced for his time, would he want to be put up on a godly pedestal with the expectations of thousands to live up to? I know I wouldn't, even if just because it is too easy for worshipers to turn on the ideals and  they 'believe' in. I prefer to think that he would like, instead, simply to be remembered as a person, if remembered at all, who strove to be the best he could, and to make a difference. And so I look at him and think, "this man cared, and did all he could to help all the people he could. This man, was a good man, a normal man whose acts of kindness will be remembered, if incorrectly, throughout the course of human history." And I realize, that through all my fears of dying and that being THE end, completely and totally...acts of kindness, acts of true self, no matter how small, will be everyone's legacy.
All of a sudden, while I still can't prescribe to their faith, I feel a little less lost, and a little more confident in myself and the future.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Moving On

It always amazes me how much stress in so many people's lives either comes from or is compounded by those outside of themselves. Oh what a quiet, peaceful world it would be if we could all just hideaway in an opaque bubble that excluded the rest of the world at a whim. In this day and age, the things that we are culturally bound to think that we need, should have or do, or that we require take up so much time and constant effort, I am surprised we aren't all small craters in the surface of ol'Terra here. So many times I end up going home carrying so much stress with me that I cannot manage to unwind to do things that I usually consider to be simple, relaxing, or even fun. There are those days when everything just seems to be going wrong, never huge things really-when I look back on it- but all those little things that are what normally make things run so smoothly.

I often think, during the few calm minutes that sneak in and out of my consciousness so swiftly, that just 5 minutes, here and there, of nothingness, what a different that would make. Push a button, and freeze the world for a moment, take a deep Deep breath, close my eyes, and imagine...nothing. A short time of no thoughts, of no words, sounds (although music never hinders hehe) or movement. Perhaps it is just me, but when I hear of other countries which designate certain times of the day for a nap or a required break....I feel a bit left out. I suppose all the self-help books and people and websites tell us all that we should take the time on our own to make time for re-orienting ourselves, but it is not as easy as just up and doing it. I am the kind of personality that if I take time that I have not been told to take, I feel that things just will not get done, or that I will get in trouble for it.

Everyone procrastinates, I kick myself frequently, sometimes even physically, for it often, but I've gotten better, but does it have to be that with increased productivity and efficiency, there must also occur increased anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, and a feeling of less and less actually getting done? A paradox my world of productivity seems to be.

I will say this though: for all the negatives that seem to come from the stresses of dealing with work, school, co-workers, etc...etc...there is a great and wondrous positive. Were I not so stressed, and under such pressure (which I admit I probably do bring all of it unto myself willingly) I would not get nearly as much as I currently do done with/in my life.

As it turns out, all this frustration, anger, terror, and self-deprecation that comes from it, I seem to gleam a kind of strength. I am never as productive or creative as I am when I have nearly no time in which to be so. Despite the lack of sleep, I feed upon this stress, and even the anger at the world that is born of it--it is my drive to become better, the best, to see what others leave lying in the gutter and the potentials they miss or seem to deliberately ignore, and I use it to push myself to prove to me, and to the rest of the world (mwahahahaha) that I am better than they am. When my world crumbles, I change; I face it and pummel it, give it a few black eyes, and shove it out of my way, tear it to pieces and build a whole new one.

I have been told that when I am in full ‘work’ mode, meaning that I am concentrating to the exclusion of the world as I am apt to do when my brain is in full-on mode, I am quite scary. I suppose I can see it and I know that while it seems like a deficit in my character by others, I consider it my greatest strength. I have the ability to block myself off from the normal world, to become ice cold towards events, people, and external pressures. It is a wonderful ability, to take all that external energy and focus it into my mind and through me into a project.

And every so once and a while, it makes me take a good hard look at myself even if I do not like what I see, and the pressures that I let grow on me as a result of external happenings and I realize, in my selfish, self-serving, and self-improving moments--The things people say shouldn't matter; the things they ask and they think are important, should not affect us or our goals at all. Goals take so much work, so much energy to achieve, and when you are not all that sure even exactly what yours are...then what? The drama people invite into their own lives and then roll over into ours, it is not worth the time or effort. The here, and now, the doing something that makes you feel good, whole, content, yourself; oh, such a better use. Others, they are not worth it if they subtract from that. Your time here is limited, use it, live it, feel breathe, be in it, keep it for yourself. Relish in this life; and, maybe, you will feel ready for the next, what- or where-ever it may be.

The Uncaringness of Humans

When we die, people will tramp through our home, strangers, family, friends, loved ones. They will tear up and mourn in our rooms, whisper as if a single voice would deafen the memories.
They will paw through our belongings, the large they will divide amongst themselves, the small, give away, sell, or merely trash. It is those items which were merely staples, a chair is merely a chair no matter how comfortable, that they will argue over, fight for. It is the fragments of our minds, our very souls, however, which will be thrown away with even greater abandon. Each scrap of paper, those old napkins, corners of newsprint or margins of useless documents, those smidgens of blank parchment upon which were penned our thoughts, those that came in the rare moments when we are truly ourselves. No one will take care to read the ramblings of some old coot-be-gone, not if not already bound tightly in an admirable-looking book. And the last remnants, the true bits which should have been past on, will be lost to the winds as ashes and pieces of garbage.
We will be lost, and gone; Forever.

The Strangeness of Everyday Words

It's happened to me many a time, normal, everyday words, the very same words and spellings we've used in conversations and writings for years and years, suddenly just don't seem right anymore. No matter how you look at it, write it, or how many times you retype it, there is just this new, inherent wrongness associated with it. Now, granted this might not last for long, sometimes not even past the act of asking someone else (or even the nearest SpellCheck bot) to verify that, yes indeed, it is correct; however, it never fails to throw one for a momentary loop.
I experienced a new facet of this phenomenon recently that I had, as of yet, never encountered. Traveling through an airport on my way back from a week in Montana, I over heard someone mention Seattle. Now, Seattle is a town I have visited more times than I can count and cherish dearly, hearing its name this time, though, made me pause with a strange thought at the forefront of my mind. It is a very strange thing we do, very odd, to refer to a locale or a place that extends for who knows exactly how many units of any one measurement, by a name, a word, and expect it to cover it as simple as that.
Taken from the anthropological point of view, this cultural practice is indeed an unsound one. As the population of the world, or even one geographical location (although in this context the phrase "geographical location" also makes no sense, perhaps I should mean physical land mass) grows, borders of 'villages', 'towns', 'cities', 'states', 'nations' merge, blend, shift, move, and change. Even within a population that changes very little, if at all, it is nearly impossible to interpret or know where the Exact borders of their land are.
I have never known of a culture or society who, outside of perhaps their own personal property (aka: such as siblings who share a bedroom) to deliberately and (semi-)permanently mark the official or even unofficial boundaries of their land(s). Granted, maps do this in a symbolic way, but even then, news of borders being in dispute and moving, being changed is continuous if one knows where to look for it.
The fact that we presume to know the Exact location of borders between official geographical areas or cultural ones must say an awful lot about us as a culture.Our need to control our surroundings perhaps? For one must, logically admit, that even outside of the cultural changes abound, no human can presume to control geological changes to the physical world around us so much as to be able to predefine and forever set such borders in stone, as it were. Realizing such, how is it possible that we can think to assign a set of single words or terms to areas which so obviously combine, merge, and shift with little warning and, quite possibly, no methods of prediction.

The Bestest Invention Ever: COFFEE

You can't help it, opinions all have some basis in emotion, whether positive or negative.
'They', the powers that be, say its bad for you; bad in the quantities I drink, up to 5 cups a day, bad the way I drink it, with steamed milk and flavoring - oh! My beloved latte - and yet, I doubt any person or thing can ever change my mind.
It is an acquired taste, an addiction, liquid consciousness, energy replenishment in a cup, an emotion.
Why did I start drinking it? Peer pressure, a friend introduced us via a mocha - which fortunately for my college-stressed taste buds, tastes nothing like drip - and because it fit my mental image of how a serious college student should be viewed, glasses, books, and trusted coffee in hand.
The caffeine, addictive, as is the taste of one's favorite edition. It's what turns me back into a human each morning, dancing me out of my naturally introverted shell. It replenishes my spark, allowing me to do what I need to and to concentrate, to create. It is the best thing, with its warmth embracing me in and out, with which to greet the day with positiveness and see all the things i know i cherish. it is my positive spin, my calm in any storm, my coming home - no matter where i am.
So i full-heartedly and enthusiastically admit that i am emotionally biased to my coffee. jokingly, i will tell people that its the greatest invention because without it, no one would have been awake enough to invent anything else. Honestly, I believe it is the greatest invention because of its miraculous ability to be a cover-all-situations comfort-drink.