Thursday, August 11, 2005

Us vs. Not-Us

Important but unrelated note: Barry Eisler has 3 guest posts at Buzz, Balls, and Hype on self-marketing for writers: Advances - the New Marketing Budget, Recruiting Your Publisher, and The Writer as Entrepreneur. They are full of great advice and things to think about. If you haven't already, stop by and read them. They're definitely worth the time.

Now for today's topic: Us vs. Not-Us

Most people say Us vs. Them, but I think Not-Us is more accurate. Since the very first predatory amoeba evolved, the primary defensive instinct has been fear of Not-Us. At first, it was just individuals avoiding or fighting anything that was not Me. As the ages rolled by, animals evolved more social lives and the distinction became Us and Not-Us. That instinct still drives us today. It may be one of the most fundamental instincts we have.

Individuals, families, clans, tribes, neighborhoods, towns, regions, nations, religions, ethnic groups, at every level you can see suspicion and distrust based on nothing more than membership in the group. Assumptions about those that are Not-Us can often drive us to acts that we would never consider if they involved members of Us. This is what terrorists use as justification for their acts. "They are Not-Us, therefore they are evil and must be destroyed." By the same token, this is what led to unfortunate violence and suspicion of people of Middle-Eastern descent after 9/11. Even people who had been friends and neighbors for decades suddenly became, if not active enemies, suspicious and paranoid about each other.

Us vs. Not-Us is also the basis for any war you care to name. The only way a soldier can kill another human and remain sane is to distance themselves from the enemy, the Not-Us. Since they are Not-Us, they can be considered as something other than a loving father, mother, or child, something less than ouselves or our family members, an object rather than a person.

I fear that there is no cure for this behavior. Humans are, and have always been, possibly the most vulnerable of all animals on this Earth. We have no natural defenses. We are soft-skinned, small-toothed, weak, and non-venomous. The only defenses we have are the ability to identify threats at a distance and react to them by fight or flight. This is how we have survived for millions of years. I believe this is so ingrained into us that we will never be able to fully overcome it.

The next time you wonder why people act the way they do, why they lash out against innocent people, why they react with unreasoning hatred, even violence, think about Us vs. Not-Us. You will be surprised at how often their seemingly bewildering actions are an instinctive reflex, a defense against the unknown, a pre-emptive first strike launched to prevent whatever evil Not-Us might be plotting.

I find this very sad and disheartening. Recognizing that we are not as rational and thoughtful as we like to believe is scary. We may wear fancy clothes and fly spaceships, but the jungle is never far beneath our skins. There is only a very thin veneer between civilization and savagery, and we puncture it far too often.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

My Mind is Not My Friend

If you don't like whining and self-pity, you shouldn't read this post. Check back later for more interesting stuff. I hope.


"You're a worthless piece of shit, you know it? Not even a real turd, just a dingleberry."

"Yeah, I know. Shut up."

"Hey, you remember back when you worked for ____________? You know, that time _________ asked you about that problem?"

"Yeah, I remember. Shut up."

"Man, you really fucked that up. What you should have said was..."

"Hey, I'm trying not to think about that any more. It's done. It's gone. Let it go."

"Yeah, but hink how much better you could have handled that. Man, they all think you're a real sorry-ass now. Especially since you went crazy and left them in the lurch like that. You really aren't worth a shit."

"I know. I know. I'm trying to deal with that. It'd be a lot easier if you'ld just shut the fuck up."

"And this writing thing. Who are you trying to kid? You know you can't do it. You've never done anything worth a shit in your entire life. Do you really believe you're ever going to write anything anybody else cares about? You never had an original thought ion your life, and besides, you can't write for shit."

"I write very well, thank you, and I will be successful one day."

"Oh yeah? If you write so good, how come you ain't rich, huh? If you could write, somebody'd want to publish your stories. Give it up, already! Try to something worth a damn with your life, like earn a living."

"It'll come. I just need some time."

"You don't have any time. You're old, tired, and sick. You're going to die before you ever accomplish anything. The only thing you'll be remembered for is for fucking up everything you ever touched. You should have killed yourself when you had the chance. You fucked that up, too. Damn, you're useless! If you had any sense, you'd go ahead and kill yourself now. At least then you'd at least get a little sympathy."

"Uh-uh. You ain't pulling that shit on me again. I'm onto that."

"What have you got lose? You're so tired you can hardly get out of bed in the morning. You hate to exercise. Give it up. Just sit and eat potato chips and watch TV. It's all you have the strength for."

"No, I have to keep going. Yeah, I am tired, but I have to keep exercising. I have to get that habit fixed."

"What for? You can't win. If the heart attack doesn't kill you, the stroke will. All you're doing is putting it off a few days. Hell, you might just drop dead today. Don't you feel that pain and tightness in your chest?"

"That's just anxiety. You did that. It's not a heart attack. We've been through this a lot of times already. You can't fool me anymore."

"Bullshit. This time it's real. You've farted around and wasted your whole life, and now you're going to drop dead in the living room floor, and everybody's going to come to your funeral and laugh at what a failure and bad joke you were. Nobody even likes you. What the hell good are you?"

"Shut up. I mean it. You're lying. The doctor and I have all this worked out. None of that is true, and you know it. I'm changing. I'm changing the way I think and the way I live. I'm not going to be self-destructive any more. You can't make me."

"Bullshit! You know it's all bullshit. You can't change. You're just deluding yourself again. Just like all the other times when you thought you were going to do something like make money or do something well. You've never been anything but a fuck-up. Remember that time when..."


And on and on and on. I can't wait until that rat-bastard wears himself out and goes back to sleep.

Monday, August 08, 2005

What She Said

Mir, at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, has a great post about what she calls "Ghost Days". I know exactly what she means.

That's the kinda of day I'm having today. I'm completely disconnected from the world, like I'm watching a movie. It's not a very exciting one, I'm afraid. My life is definitely not in the action/adventure genre. There's a psychological term for this, I know, but I can't think of what it is, and I really just don't care right now. :-b

I hate depression. I hate being so out of control. It's also a major pain in the ass to lose days out of my life being so damn worthless. Days like this, it's all I can do just to go through the motions. I'll be glad when I get back on the upswing again. Hope it's soon.

An unexpected side effect fo all this internal strife is that I got some good progress on a short story named "Sea Change" that I started a couple of years ago and never quite figured out where it was going. Bad news is that I ripped out about 2/3 of what I had. Good news is that I got all that back and more. I now can see a couple ways to get to the end, and one of them looks really promising. That helps. Being on the verge of tears all the time helps me cut loose and just let the shit flow out. It usually winds up being some pretty decent writing.

Now I just have to live through 4 more hours of work, then try to get to the gym and sit on the bike for a half an hour. No way I'm going to be able to do the weights tonight. I already wasted 2 hours messing around with HaloScan so I can do Trackbacks. Hope that works. This is the first post I've tried with that, so we'll see. If Mir's site crashes, it's probably my fault. Hell, the way things are going right now, I'll probably crash Blogger and HaloScan, too. Fuck it, we'll pick up the pieces tomorrow.