The Immortal Emily Dickinson

Rocking your World since 1884

How many of us want to live?  How many not only pursue longevity through exercise, diet, but also surgery and cosmetics?

Our society is obsessed with youth.  Extreme adventures, public approval, and ever-increasing risk-taking is the obvious trend.  The equally obvious conclusion can not be far distant.

Given that the richest among us also strive for immortality, it seems strange that their ability to observe the obvious has failed them in their greatest desire.  Who among them has not seen the richest of all humans, Rameses II, and his quest for immortality through a monument that we call Pyramid?  No tomb, no edifice, no building will ever equate to his tomb, yet many of today’s rich try and immortalize themselves in structure.  They will fail, even as Rameses II failed.  We know the Pyramid, but do we know him?

The richest also try to create a legacy of “good works.”  Even as they try to cure the world of hunger or disease, their complete efforts amount to a small fraction of what the world’s original richest man has done for the world.  Rockefeller helped the South rise above the hookworm, even curing the world.  He created an institute that has done more for the biological sciences than several major universities combined.  He also helped popularize the modern version of the medical school.  Yet, for all of this, who remembers his name?  Who truly equates the good that he has done to the man?  Do YOU know him?

And there is Emily.  Quiet, small, taking care of her sick mother, crying over the many friends she has buried, and doing her best to hide from the world.  Yet she wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote, breathing life into words.

In those words she expressed raw emotions of such power and purity than it’s likely her words, her feelings, her insights and her name will outlast any of the rich men the world has ever known… including Pharaoh, Rameses II.

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Thank you, Emily.  I love you.

 

Space isn’t big enough for: 20%

There’s an ancient saying among managers: 80% of your problems will come from only 20% of the population.  It doesn’t matter if the population is springs that go boing, or people writing programs in your application department.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.The latest FBI statistics I saw indicated that about 80% of the crimes were being committed by a regular 20% of the population.

In the movie Casablanca, the Chief of Police tells his captain to round up the usual suspects.  In truth, that’s not a bad strategy.  Those people might at least know something, even if not being guilty outright.

Here’s the deal.  Once you get enough people together, anywhere, there’s going to be a small number of “bad apples” who create a bunch of mischief for the “good apples.”

The key word here is — anywhere.

No matter what kind of great people we send to the moon, there will be a few who turn out to be troublemakers.  Why?  Because it’s human nature.

The problem is that the first moon colony isn’t going to have the resources to keep that person in line all the time.  There certainly won’t be someone free to watch them all the time, and if they do something naughty and have to be put away, where will that be?  There won’t be any room for a jail.

So what happens?

In short, there won’t be room for these people.  The early settlers are going to have to make some very tough choices.  Down here where the air is almost free and there’s room to spread out, the cost of taking care of a miscreant is relatively small.

But up there, where there is no air and you can hear every sound your neighbor makes in their sleep, the cost of keeping a nasty person in stir will be very high.

The solution?  Swift vigilante justice.  A community tribunal, and equally swift sentence.  The judge can say cuffs come off, rejoin your friends.  Or the judge can tell them to take a short walk outside the dome, without a suit.

Of course, after that short walk, someone will have to bring him back inside.  After all, in outer space, there isn’t going to be room for cemeteries either.  We’re going to need everybody for fertilizer.

After all, each body is about 80% water, and 20% fertilizer.

 

 

Dancing?

I think I’ve finally figured this one out. Why do humans dance?

I’m pretty sure that it’s only humans. At least, after all the hours I’ve seen of wild animals doing their thing, none of them have ever gotten up and boogied. Of course, who knows what happens late on Saturday nights when all the cameras are gone, right? Maybe there are rabbit raves? After all, where do all those rabbits come from?

I’ve never been a good dancer, and I’ve never understood why people dance. As a nerd I can blame my computerish tendencies. I can also blame my lack of skill, balance, and coordination. As you can tell, I’m pretty good at rationalization. I can also blame the fact that I learned to dance in the 80s, when disco was big. That alone may have traumatized me.

But why do others like to dance? I could never figure this one out. Every now and then I’d ask someone, usually a dancing partner. At which point they would promptly dump me. I never did get a good answer.

Anyway, after all these years, I think I got it.

People dance as a way to show that they are in touch with nature, deep nature. That’s it.

What is deep nature? It’s the rhythms permeating our lives; rhythms that are so old and so deeply entwined in our being that words are inadequate. Deep nature is life itself, and death; deep nature is breath itself, and the beating heart. Deep nature is hunger, sleep, love, and fear.

You probably already knew this, most people do. Some of us don’t, and we stand at the wall wondering what all the undulating is about.

Dancing occurs in all cultures, to many different beats, in many different forms. It changes slowly between generations, because the beat of nature for your generation is slightly different than it was for mine. Your dancing reflects that.

More women dance than men in our culture; not surprising because women are more closely tied to nature. Do we need music? No, but it certainly helps, as music reminds us of the beating of natural rhythms, like our heart, the tides, seasons, or the sun and moon. Do we need a partner? Again, not really, but if dancing is about communicating our ability to feel nature, then a partner is required, for who else are we talking to? The more people the more the need to dance. The greater the celebration, such as a wedding or even funeral, the more need to dance.

So the next time I see the group get up and sway, I’ll do my best to join in. I may not feel the forces that they do, but at least I can try undulating a bit. I just wish my relatives wouldn’t laugh so much!

Suicide as Behavior

We don’t want to think about it, exercising free will upon ourselves in such a way as to end our lives must be discussed.  It happens all too frequently today, and usually distresses everyone around the ‘victim.’

One of the reasons it’s difficult to discuss is that we don’t want to admit that everyone considers suicide as an option.  The good news is that very few people consider it as a viable option.  It’s considered, and then it’s gone.  Because it’s a deep dark thought, we never have to admit it.  Yet evidence of its familiarity are all around us.  Shakespeare perhaps said it best (of course) as Hamlet considers whether he should be or not.  However, consider this.  How many children have considered running away from home, away from the repressive regime represented by their parent?  How many parents have heard the tearful teenage admonition, “you’ll miss me when I’m gone!”?

The thoughts are there, always to some degree.  In some minds the dark forces are stronger than in yours, and for that we are thankful.  It’s our job as students to try and tease out the forces that push the decision one way or the other, no matter how ugly they may be.

And in this fashion, the simple lessons of primal biology give us the greatest insight.  For it may be that the choice of suicide is one of avoiding pain.  In fact, it could be argued that most of the decisions we make everyday are to avoid pain.

Yes, suicide is painful.  No matter how we would choose to do so, there will be some fear factor in its execution, and fear equals pain.  Furthermore, we are human, and we have relationships with others.  We know that our choice will bring pain to those we care about.  Add up all this pain, and we have a sum representing the force of life.

Life.  For most of us, life is mostly joy.  But for some, life is mostly pain.  In truth, life is a mix of both.  Sources of pain are pressures from our peers, parents, and teachers.  We have homework, social obligations, possibly a job, a family, and a huge project.  Perhaps we don’t have a job, and we want one.  There is the great divide between where we want to be and where we are, even after years of toil.  Add to this our knowledge that all these sources of pain may increase over time.  The sum of all these sources of pain, added up across time, becomes the force of death.

Then we choose.  The easier the tools are to find, the more accepted the choice is within society, then the more likely we are to choose death over life.

As students of behavior, it’s difficult to truly say we study this phenomenon with impartiality.  But we must try.  And as we study, we realize that suicide does not only come in one size, or in one form.  For that we must step back, and consider the balance of forces on yet another scale.

The scale of a generation.

 

Dark Side of Free Will

Every power and right carries threat and responsibility.

As students of behavior, and with a rudimentary knowledge of philosophy, we can identify a power that only people seem to possess; something called free will.

As a great power, we revel in it throughout our childhood.  Our first car, our first experience away from home, our first great financial decision are all empowering actions that declare “I have free will!”

There is a terrible downside to free will, one that is touched upon all too seldom because of its terror.  And for those of you who tremble easily, you’ll be forgiven for closing this page and visiting again next week.

This terror exists in every being that possesses free will.  It lives in you, and for that reason you will be afraid.

This terror is what we call suicide.  It is the decision of an individual with free will, exercising that free will in such a way as to end their life.

As students of behavior we must commit ourselves to an impartial, unbiased, and evenly balanced study of all things that behave.  Suicide is one of those things, and we must study it.  This next series will touch upon suicide in many forms, not only the form in which you know it best, and fear it most.

Through these articles I have come to meet many of you, and know some of you have been touched by these dark forces.  I extend my condolences.  Many years ago a cousin decided to take her life, at such a young age, and it still pains me to this day.  I have some understanding of the forces that were acting upon her, but can never know exactly what went through her mind in those final days.

To her I have not ceased thinking about what she did, and what it may reveal about myself, society, and life in general.  Here are those thoughts in a few short essays.

For KM.