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Time Traveling Catholics and Confederate Ideals

 

I went to visit my grandmother in St. Joseph, Missouri, last weekend.

If you’ve never heard of St. Joseph, I can’t say that I blame you. It’s a city of just under 80,000 people that was once a thriving trade gateway to the American West (and the home of the Pony Express). Nothing terribly notable has happened since, though, except that apparently Eminem was born there in the 70’s. Go figure.

But St. Joe is notable to me because it’s where my mother is from, and where my grandmother still lives, in the same house I’ve been visiting since I was very young. It’s where I saw snow for the first time after flying into Missouri from San Francisco for Christmas one year, and where I busted up my mouth slamming face-first into my grandmother’s driveway trying to sled for the first time that same Christmas.

Memories.

On this most recent visit I hopped over to the Trails West festival that’s held downtown every year with my parents, and we watched some Civil War re-enactors go through their drills and fire some faux-rifles. It was stiflingly hot and humid outside, but it’s always fun to see how locals celebrate holidays in different cities, even when the historical apex they might be celebrating is one in which they fought for the winning and losing sides.

During a conversation I had with my grandmother after the fair, she asked me about my lifestyle and how I was able to keep in touch with friends and family. I replied that because of the technology we have available today, I’m able to keep in touch with the people who mean the most to me; the ones that really add value to my life, and to whose life I can add value in return. I surround myself with people who inspire me, I told her, and I’ve never been happier.

“Well that’s a bit selfish,” she replied, folding her arms and looking at me sternly.

I have to admit, these days I’m not shocked easily, but that reply made me miss a beat. What exactly could anyone find wrong with the idea of living the happiest life possible and surrounding yourself with people you care about and having access to technology that allows you to do it even while traveling?

Where was the discord?

But in a few moments it all clicked. My grandmother comes from a traditional Catholic background, and baked-in guilt is a big part of that tradition. If you’re having too good a time and not sacrificing enough, you’re probably doing something wrong, or not doing enough.

It’s not that she wishes me unhappiness – she and I have a good relationship – but according to her world-view, it would have been better for me to express less happiness and more stern dedication for a cause, and perhaps a bit more indication of sacrifice and desire to sacrifice more. These are the values she was likely brought up with, they’re the values that she raised her kids with, and they’re the values she wishes to instill in anyone else who will listen.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s easy to forget that there are strong, lifestyle-defining opinions like that outside of the ones you come across on a daily basis. The traditional Catholic views on society and the world are no more a part of my everyday reality than are those of the civil war soldiers that the men were portraying at the fair. Generationally, you just don’t see much old-school Catholic guilt or old-school Confederate training these days, and encountering either one is more likely to make me want to snap a photo than change my direction in life.

So where’s the value in all this? How do outmoded ideas survive in the high-octane meme-ecosystem that we live in today? What purpose do they serve?

I would imagine they serve the same purpose as any organic material that dies: they provide the building blocks for the next generation or two, and in doing so, influence them.

Old-school Catholicism has changed the philosophical and interpersonal landscape forever, and its influence will be felt for a long time, even after all of its practitioners are gone. Catholic guilt will live on, and perhaps evolve into something else down the line, divided from the original intent and lesson, but hopefully serving some new purpose. Maybe even a positive one, if we’re lucky.

Similarly, the ideals of the Confederacy yet live on, even if in small ways, and influence the workings of politics on a large scale, and the intricacies of everyday life for some, though they’re removed from the original intent of those who developed and taught those ideals.

Hell, even no-name cities like St. Joseph, well beyond their prime, continue to influence the modern world. Through Eminem. Through young people who visit their aging relatives year after year and bust up their mouths trying (and failing) to sled on concrete.

Think of it like wine: the soil is what adds intricacies to grapes, and those grapes go on to become something potentially magnificent. The soil contains components of everything else that has ever been grown in it for generations, and that fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a speck of whatever can still be tasted by young lips (and intoxicate young minds) today.

Your ideas and actions will potentially have the same long-lasting influence, and though you can’t predict how they will be refined and used years from now, you can make sure that there are as few ‘contaminants’ as possible, to allow for the best possible chance of them aging well.

Take the time to think about what you believe and how you live your life as a result. Future generations probably won’t thank you for the effort, but they’ll be better off for it.

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There Was a Time

 

There was a time when it made sense to spit on wounds.

We didn’t have a very good understanding of disease or germs of any of the medical science that we understand today, and enough stories were told about the healing properties of human saliva that it seemed like a smart choice to expectorate on any flesh wound within range.

There was a time when it made sense to kill anyone who claimed that the world wasn’t flat.

To say such a thing went against the church’s edict, and to do so meant that everything that society was built upon — the very fabric of what kept civilization ticking away — was wrong, and in the minds of those making the decisions, a few lives were worth sacrificing for the sake of maintaining power and stability.

There was a time when it made sense to keep marriages traditional and races from intermingling.

As far as we knew, allowing a man to marry a man or a black person to marry a white person would lead to death, destruction, and the sentencing of various peoples’ souls to hell, not to mention the social instability that was bound to happen should something along those lines occur.

There was a time for these things, but today is not that time. Not anymore.

Back then, we had all kinds of beliefs that later proved to be untrue, and we’ve left a goodly number of them behind.

Yet for some reason, we’ve decided — out of laziness or, stubbornness, or sheer ignorance — to hang on to others, not because they’re true, but because we’re uncomfortable with change.

Clinging to old, factually-inaccurate ideas, simply because your family or church or politicians refuse to update their mandates based on new information, is the easy way out of having to make decisions for yourself. What’s ‘true’ will change based on the time, because as a species we continue to learn and spread the knowledge that we come up with. But to have access to the most up-to-date knowledge and not using it is tantamount to not having it at all.

There’s an excellent quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes like this: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

The same thing applies to knowledge in general, regardless of how the information is taken in.

If you have access to knowledge but choose to ignore it, or to deny its validity because some other entity tells you to ‘look away! look away!’ due to incongruence with its traditions or tenets, you have no advantage over the poor, ignorant souls of the Bronze Age who didn’t have access to the fruits of so many centuries of trial-and-error, study, and scientific experimentation.

There was a time when there was an excuse for ignorance; we simply hadn’t built a proper infrastructure for learning and retaining knowledge, and those who wanted to learn would likely never gain access to the resources they needed to do so.

Today we have the opposite problem: an abundance of knowledge, and too-few people willing to take advantage of it, either ignoring facts to back up their own opinions, or simply lacking the ambition to reach out and take it.

What field of study are you incredibly ignorant about? European history? Algebra? Fundamental coding languages? Cooking? Parcheesi?

Try choosing a topic per week to study: you’ll be amazed at how the times have changed.

There’s no time like the present to fill the cracks in your knowledge, and these days the plaster is free (though you’ll still have to apply it yourself).

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Other People’s Stupid Opinions

 

We can’t all agree all the time.

In fact, most of us don’t agree most of the time.

We argue constantly, each certain of the superiority of our opinions; the totemic high-ground of our viewpoints.

Remember, though, that however ridiculous you think other opinions are, the people who hold them feel the same about yours. To them, you look just as silly, have just as questionable a level of education, are just as bewilderingly ignorant as you think they are.

This doesn’t mean they’re right, just as it doesn’t mean you’re right.

All it means is that if you want to convince anyone of anything, disrespect for them is the least effective way to get there. Not only will you not have brought them around to your way of thinking, you may also have made an enemy out of someone who could be a valuable friend (and debate partner).

Other people’s stupid opinions have just as much merit as your own, in that they are opinions backed by individual experience and a closed body of knowledge. Perhaps they – or you – simply haven’t lived long enough yet to see their error of their – or your – ways.

There’s no need to get heated; if your opinions have real merit, they will stand on their own two feet, and won’t need you to defend them tooth and claw.

Keep your mind malleable, your arguments rational, and your words civil. You might show someone else another perspective, or you might see one yourself.

To do otherwise doesn’t just show disrespect for the ideas of others, but for your own, as well.