For no one

Hello there, universe.

I’m a 32-year-old male who has spent his life barely getting by.

It’s not that I lack the skills. I have plenty of those. I just don’t care. I used to care, because I believed… I believed that my ambitions would lead me somewhere, that I would drop my bad habits and develop good ones, that I would find love, that I would find a comfortable place in life. This did not materialize.

Instead, things just stayed the same. My peers continue to be more successful and well-adjusted than me. They are staying reasonably fit, starting families and having children. They are traveling, having nice careers and buying houses. They are ticking all the boxes of a good middle-class existence.

Me? I didn’t fit in at school. My classmates bullied me. I had bad grades, and was already becoming obese in elementary school. I shut myself in my bedroom and started learning about computers, convinced that if I developed my computer abilities, I could somehow evade the need to develop social skills and become popular and successful based on talent alone. How wrong can a person be?

The obesity didn’t go away, and I did not suddenly develop the circle of friends that I had so badly wanted in high school. I just continued to be alone, and pretended that this wasn’t a problem by escaping into the computer, and hedging my bets on having success that way.

My bad habits didn’t go away either. I continued my very minimal level of self-care, and did not magically develop, as I had imagined I would, an inclination for housework, paying bills and keeping focused on my job. In fact, I hated every moment of it. It felt like an inescapable prison of dullness.

Yet, I also hated the rather risky prospect of trying to escape this prison. Because what is actually to be found outside of the bubble of western civilization? What is the alternative? Living in a wooden cabin in the forest with no electricity or running water? That seems like a rather harsh existence. And I’d still be alone, and I’d still feel bored with life.

Everything becomes routine at some point. Routine is safety, but routine is also a prison of the mind. I like safety but I hate routine, yet it seems I can’t have one without the other. In any success story is an element of mindless repetition, and I can’t stand mindless repetition. I do not want to experience repeated rejection to find a mate. I do not want to experience repeated work to earn money. I do not want to eat the same food every day. I do not want to wake up in the same old apartment every week.

Neuroscience tells me I must be some kind of a dopamine addict, unable to feel alive unless constantly having new experiences. The impossibility of this is obvious, because having these constant new experiences requires a measure of risk. An adrenaline junkie I am not, however, because I am a neurotic.

Perhaps neuroticism is at the root of my problem. I’m afraid of rejection, afraid of tediousness, afraid of being alone, afraid of taking risk. Taking risk makes me feel alive, this is true, but it also gives me horrible nerves. Some people would probably laugh at the things I consider risky, though, because none of them involve being in physical danger.

If my twenties screamed «optimism», my thirties are screaming «blasé».

I like music, but as the years go on, I have increasingly run out of music to listen to. I have browsed collections of the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s enough times to know that I have found most of the music I will ever like from those decades. Then I try listening to new music, and it’s either bores me, because it reminds me of the old, or gives me a headache, because it sounds like a vacuum cleaner or transformers having sex. What music is there left to discover, then?

You know you’re old and cynical inside of you when only George Carlin (in his later years) and Louis C.K. really make you laugh.

Sometimes I watch a movie. A movie is supposed to be an escape, but in a sense, I just feel more trapped, because I end up comparing the idealized world of the movie to my own existence, and this makes me melancholic. Other movies are just profound pieces of art, and they make me wistful, because I know that such a level of beauty can’t be attained in real life.

At one point in my life, I was married and had a job. For a period of about a year (it was a short marriage), the stars seemingly aligned and let me have a glimpse of something resembling a normal existence. And in the middle of it, I broke down, because I hated my job and my wife didn’t understand me.

There’s a thing that really annoys me. This notion that being depressed is a disease, and that you should get help for it. Yes, I realize that there is something called clinical depression, and that, to the extent that we understand the workings of the brain, it has chemical causes…

…but nobody ever talks about deeper, perhaps legitimate reasons to feel dissatisfied with your life. Simply concluding that your life is inadequate, and that the chances of it ever becoming adequate are slim? Somehow that’s not a permissible option. Society desperately tries to hammer it into your skull that being miserable is always wrong.

How can we so categorically deny that there is even the smallest sliver of possibility that maybe, just maybe, life isn’t going to be so good for some people? Why aren’t you allowed to draw that conclusion about yourself at some point without getting your head examined? I mean, think in terms of the bell curve: Some people at the bottom end of the curve are inevitably going to feel that they have gotten the short end of the stick. Can we not simply acknowledge that, and offer our support, instead of telling people that their thinking is wrong?

Some people will tell you to lower your expectations, but what kind of horrible attitude is that? If people heeded that advice at all times, they wouldn’t even try to succeed. They’d be constantly aiming for mediocrity. And who wants to live a mediocre life? Not me, that’s who.

At this point, I’m trying very hard to figure out what I was put on this earth to do, and I’m not having much luck with it. I seem to have rather unfortunate combinations of traits: A desire for an extraordinary life, paired with a lacking ability to execute. Genes for obesity and diabetes, paired with a horrible weakness for calorie-rich food. A need for love and belonging, paired with a tendency for seclusion. A knack for engineering, music and art, paired with zero patience. If God exists, he has a very cruel sense of humor.

Where am I going with all of this? I frankly don’t know, but it needed to be said.

Why I Don’t Like Games

Before I begin, I should state that I don’t hold a grudge against games or people who play them. They are a fine form of entertainment. Rather, in this article, I will aim to explain, in depth, why I personally don’t enjoy games.

So, what kind of games am I talking about, exactly? For this article, I’m going to limit my scope to video games, but many of the things I say will also be true of board games, card games and sports.

Let’s start simple: Games fail to hold my attention.

I have tried first-person shooters, role-play games, open world games, puzzle games, racing games, fighting games, a number of different genres. I have had plenty of exposure to video games, because I used to believe people when they told me that a particular game would be fun to play, and would give it a try.

Let me start with an analogy: Books and movies have to pull off something called suspension of disbelief, or immersion if you will, which is when you forget about your surroundings and start to believe in the story and the characters. In order to do this, it all needs to be believable. The setting, even a fantastic one, must feel like a real world. The characters, even if they are exotic, must be relatable.

Video games? If there are cut scenes, they always get my hopes up, but once the game play starts, the floor falls out. The rich, warm and detailed world in the cut scenes abruptly goes cold and mechanical. Your character is a soulless puppet. The supporting characters turn into predictable NPC’s with canned responses. Any hope of story immersion evaporates right there. The plot was just an excuse for the game mechanics, and I’m not buying it.

Obviously, video games are often not meant to tell a story, even when they pretend to. And I think that’s where they lose me, really.

I like reading, hearing or seeing stories or facts, whether it be through a book, a movie, or listening to a person talk. What I don’t understand so much is the urge to interact with a machine in order to accomplish imaginary goals, with nothing to show for it after it’s over.

Unlike the real world, games are often very predictable. They’re designed around a pattern of action, and you repeat that action pattern until you accomplish a goal, and to me, a given game feels more and more pointless as you learn that pattern, and you realize that you’re just going to be performing the same pattern, or minor variations on it, for hours and hours and hours, until you’ve mastered it.

Now where have I encountered that before? Oh! That’s right:

Homework.

Games are like homework. Math homework. The kind you get in elementary school in order to cram the rules for arithmetic. The kind where you have a whole page of assignments, but they’re actually the same assignment repeated over and over, and only the numbers are different.

Somehow, enthusiastic gamers are either blind to this, or they like math homework way more than I do. Once the pattern becomes obvious, something dies inside of me. No matter how elaborate you make the plot, it’s still a plot that must be resolved by doing math homework.

«What about open world games?» I hear you scream.

Oh great! A game with no clear purpose at all? That’ll definitely get my blood pumping. At this point, I should add that I didn’t play with Lego bricks as a child. I was never very fond of toys. Instead, I read books, watched documentaries and learned about the world.

Games are a form of toy, so at this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t like toys. I think it’s because they are pretend objects. And why would you bother to obsess over pretend objects when the real world is so full of interesting things? Why escape reality in favor of a game when you can simply take your eyes off the part of reality that you dislike, and direct them towards a part that you do like? For example, if you are tired of people, why not learn about big cats in the wild, or the day-to-day life of an astronaut aboard the ISS, or why The Beatles began to experiment with classical instruments on their later albums? I can think of thousands of things that are more fascinating than the comparatively narrow world of video games.

And that’s why I don’t like video games.

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s 12:45 AM and I have just seen the new Star Wars movie.

So, what’s it like?

First off, The Force Awakens will not bore you. The dialog sequences are short, but not too short. There are many funny lines, but not too many. The characters get serious, but not too serious. It’s exciting, and you will eat a lot of popcorn.

The prequels didn’t feel like Star Wars. This movie feels like Star Wars. It’s a convincing continuation of the Star Wars saga. J. J. Abrams is a better George Lucas imitator than George Lucas was.

A few characters feel out of place, mostly the new ones, in the sense that they could be characters in a contemporary Science Fiction or Fantasy movie and are somewhat deficient in the charisma department. It doesn’t detract too much from this particular movie, because the old cast is there to support them. But I don’t know if I would’ve liked this movie as much without Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in it, and there’s a chance they won’t be there in the rest of the trilogy.

If you love Star Wars, this film is probably what you’ve been waiting for. I rate it a 4 out of 5. It’s not deep, and it won’t blow your mind, or challenge you in any way, which is what I reserve my top score for, but it does exactly what a Star Wars film is supposed to do. If you liked the original trilogy, I recommend that you watch this movie.

Update: Some people are calling it a remake of A New Hope. While there are several plot similarities, it’s definitely not a remake. Other people are saying good things about the new characters. To me, they just seem a bit bland.

Politically Correct

The phrase «politically correct» betrays a refusal to accept that some people are genuinely progressive.

I was reading an article about how extremists on both sides of the fence in the War on Terror, with neo-nazis on one side and terrorists on the other, hate the gray areas, or the colorful middle, if you will. They both want to eradicate societies of mixed backgrounds.

If you’re an extremist, or, let’s be accurate, a fascist, you want purity in a society, and you can’t wrap your head around pluralists. You hear their words, and they fail to convince you, so you develop a theory that, deep inside, they feel the same way you do, and are just faking it to score popularity points.

I saw a video talk between two electrical engineers, and one of them said “Don’t you think everyone should have a bit of knowledge about engineering and science? Isn’t all this ignorance bad?” and the other guy said “I used to believe that, but I have a daughter, and even though she got straight A’s in math, she tells me she just can’t get her head around it, because she’s not wired that way. She had just memorized every possible answer for the tests.”

There are a lot of people who don’t believe that humans are “wired” for certain things. This lends power to the idea that “You can do anything / become anyone you want.” In a cruel twist of irony, those who want to control people take that notion and turn it into “We can change them into anything we want!”

I happen to think that one of the fundamental ways in which people come prewired is in their predilection for fascism versus pluralism. In any society, there are going to be people who insist on one or the other. The fascists will tend toward conservatism, while the pluralists will tend towards progressiveness.

Now, I’ve talked to people of all political convictions, and the the thing they all have in common is a refusal to accept that some people are bound to differ. There is a refusal to accept that fundamental differences in how our brains are wired lay at the core of the human condition. They believe that the way we’re wired doesn’t touch on political conviction, and that any person can, in principle, be convinced of anything.

I happen to think that this is wrong.

Humans like to think that they’re rational beings, especially when it comes to something so lofty as politics. But ask yourself: What prompts you to think and act in the first place? More specifically, what motivates you? If you take an objective look at yourself, you’ll find that, more often than not, your thoughts and actions are prompted by some emotion or feeling. Maybe not directly, but if you start asking yourself «Why?» repeatedly about everything you do and think, the arrows always point back to some urge, desire, fear or resentment.

Feelings are the fuel of humanity.

And how often have you not carried out some action, or had a thought, only to find yourself in a mild panic if you’re later prompted to come up with a justification for said action or thought? This process is called rationalization, and we are all experts at it. Rationalization, the process of finding explanations for how we feel, think and act, is a finely tuned skill for most of us, to such a degree that we don’t even notice that we’re doing it.

Politics is a glorified game of rationalization. We all «just feel that way», and when prompted to explain why, we refer to our political convictions. It follows then, that, deep down, we vote with our emotions. We may be able to moderate and suppress our emotions, but we can’t stop them from occurring in the first place.

From this, you might infer that I’m not a big believer in free will, and you’d be correct. I think our thoughts and actions stem from our circumstances, whether they be genetic (nature) or environmental (nurture), to a far greater degree than most of us are willing to admit. We like to think that our minds are mysterious. Have you ever had someone see right through you, only to deny the truth because you’re so embarrassed about being found out? Me too.

Music Gear Wishlist

Behringer DEQ2496

deq2496

I will probably never have the optimal listening room I keep dreaming about, and prerecorded audio will always have problems. This processor does room correction and can fix a number of other audio problems. It will replace my dusty old Radio Shack GEQ. If I can’t buy new studio monitors for a while, this should help my old ones sound better.

Dynaudio Professional BM5 mkIII

My old Tascam VL-X5 monitors are due for an upgrade. They don’t sound very transparent, they have developed issues with mains hum, and the rear inputs are worn out. Other contenders for new monitors were Adam A7X and Yamaha HS7. In tests from Sonic Sense, the HS7 had too much mid-tone and the A7X had too much bass. Of them, I preferred the A7X, which otherwise sounded balanced, however, the BM5 sounded more balanced than both of them.

M-Audio Keystation 88 II

My old E-mu Xboard 49 is showing severe signs of wear, lacks weighted keys, and isn’t wide enough for full-range piano playing.

Telecaster

The plastic on my old Stratocaster is disintegrating. The middle pickup has fallen off and the nut is coming apart. I got it as a gift some 10-15 years ago, and I want variety. I currently own an Epiphone SG that works great for jazz, but I need something crisp and punchy for funk.