While at the gym this morning I started observing, unobtrusively, the macho men working out around me. This was the late morning crew so these are guys who, I presume, have the time to train regularly as opposed to 9-5-lifers who do their best to fit the gym around work and fail. One incontestable fact about the guys with me in the gym was their muscled torsos were in stark contrast to their reed legs. And when these he-men looked at themselves in the mirror (as we all do but never seeing what’s really there) their legs obviously didn’t exist. That got me thinking about how what gets measured gets done. Or to put it backwards what gets done gets measured. Just what do you measure in the legs? But it’s easy to measure chest size and biceps bulge and how many packs are visible in the abdomen area.
We tend to measure, not what is important and needs to be done, but what is easily measured. A trifling example: many and possibly most societies rank more highly the money a person makes than the person making the money. We count how many cars or homes they have, how much gold they wear, the cost of sending their kids to “that school” etc. We look at all that and say “Wow!” Since we can’t measure a person’s dignity or integrity or goodness we don’t, and like the proverbial blue bolt out of nowhere, we express mock surprise at epic ethical failures in politics or business or amongst our friends. We see this a lot in the hip-hop world where rappers mouth of on how much money they have, how many millions they can print just by spouting ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’. These rag-tag boasters (Kanye, Jay-Z, Puffy-Piffy-whatever, 2Chainz, Rick “the slob” Ross et al) serve as prominent role models for black youth (at least in America). Epic fail. We must do better.
Would to starry heaven that smiling at strangers had a purpose. And before last January there was no good reason to suffer such indignities; who wanted to look at my teeth, planted like Easter Island statues, solitude standing, each on its own plinth, proclaiming: “Ok, here’s my personal space. Y’all stay over there and we’ll get along fine”. Tragedy.
Nine brace-capped months later and once disjointed teeth are now chumming along like conjoined siblings. From this beaming vista I can finally appreciate why snakeoil sales men, with winning smiles, can sell oil to snakes but I fear that my orthodontist, well-meaning and stupendously recompensed I might add, has in fixing my teeth also unmasked me and stripped off the excuse that was my garb; and so here I laugh, frightfully naked. It’s not that I hate strangers (I’m not yet a misanthrope) but I just think strangers haven’t done anything to deserve my sunny breezy smile.
By god, it takes a lot of nerve and fakery to produce an “I’m-so-pleased-to-meet-you” smile. All of that energy and you’re repaid back with a smile that has the familiar U-shape at the bottom third of the face but has been manufactured in a North Korean death camp. Worse, you get back a grin or its cousin, the smirk. Both are what you give to someone you think is a jackass but polite society forbids you speaking without thinking. But there’s something even worse than a grin: being ignored.
It’s no accident then that new people are like boils: uninvited but demanding of careful and worrisome attention and frankly after a day outdoors being nice and smily to strangers I am so relieved to be back home. Home, where the only strangers I meet are the ones I create purposefully in daydreams or that my mind manufactures from the books I read. The strangers that I meet there couldn’t give a fuck if I smiled or farted.
So, yes it is true and the case that guilt and, alas, shame pay me their customary nuisance visits when someone accosts me on the train or on the street and, in a quavering voice, maunders on about how he needs (for he is usually male) a little spare change “just 50p” so he can make it into a hostel “tonight” (it’s always for just tonight) and get a shower and a bed because ‘”it’s cold sleeping out on the street” in London. I can just about hold my breath for it, very quickly, becomes beyond doubt that he does need the refreshing graces of a shower. What kind of society or god (Fortuna? Where the hell is she nowadays?) rewards some people with flash Ferraris and others with nights on cement underneath bleak wintry stars.
Then I start to think: wait a minute, isn’t this guy white? Isn’t he English? Wasn’t he born and raised in one of the most affluent places in the world? Hell even, he’s no older than forty at a stretch and sometimes definitely in his early twenties. Why is he out for alms in one of the richest cities in the world in his own country; a place where hundreds of thousands of foreigners (Aussies, South Americans, Africans, Polish, French, you name it they have come to seek the golden fleece) and perhaps millions have succeeded in building a working life having, in many cases, been born with a rustier spoon in the mouth? The real question is: what sort of person would rather get a dog than a job and does he deserve sympathy and my money? I sound cold and heartless, traits less becoming of a humane being, but I have come to the realisation that some people simply need to make an effort and get a job. For yelping out loud, this is not Spain (unemployment 27%). Makes me wanna bark: “If you need money, get a job! If you need company, get a girlfriend!”. Then get a dog.
The video below in which Chris Rock excoriates niggas is painful to watch and what he says uncomfortable to hear (I really don’t know why his audience was laughing like it’s a joke) but, if we must call spades spades, there’s a lot of truth in what he said. The meta-problems of “black people” as I see them: poor education, short term thinking/planning, low expectations, bling over investment, over-religiosity, dicks that won’t stop fucking; however stretch well beyond the Americas and the Caribbean to here in Europe (Britain and France particularly) and, of course, Africa. We just can’t seem to get our shit together.
Blaming the white man for our ills is tiresome and passé. Yes, he screwed us over during slavery but there was a time when white people were slaves of each other (read any good literature on Ancient Greece or Rome) and they fought to the death over it. Our ancestors didn’t do that but that’s another story. Yes, he won’t employ us or pay us what we are worth but Jews had this problem way before us and look at what they have accomplished. Yes, we have achieved much in sports and entertainment but we desperately need: doctors and scientists celebrated for discovering things, engineers and innovators celebrated for inventing things, entrepreneurs celebrated for creating serious businesses (not just hair products and partnerships with Niké), educators and writers celebrated for serious research and classic literature, artists celebrated for pushing the boundaries (rap once did but has lost its way in filth).
Education, hard work plus the usual dose of good luck are prerequisites for success and the well-being of any society. We as black people are as capable and as good as any other colored folks; white, brown or asian. God forbid we can only be drug dealers and booty shakers and street cleaners (as the world sees us, speaking generally) with diets built around KFC and McDonalds. I am generalising here as there are many black people of high professional standing. We too are capable of sitting in smart coffee shops poring over Macs and collaborating on the next big thing. Education and hard work and the usual dose of good luck will ride our tailwind.
Fiction is telling the truth
of an alternate universe
An alternate universe is where the stuff
you wished had happened to you
happened to a fictional you
Isn’t that just like daydreaming?
QED Daydreams are portals to alternate universes
Duh! But those are black holes surely
OK. A daydream is a black hole to revisionist reality
… futility, erm … eternity
Isn’t that imagination?
What does it mean – the unexamined life? Socrates said it wasn’t worth living. This evening sitting in a cafe trying my utmost to digest Epictetus, it kind of hit me that I have never truly examined my life. Oh yes, I’ve thought about the big questions – is there God, what is outside the boundaries of the universe, what is good and evil, what is in my future? I’ve also asked some silly small questions – am I pretty enough, how can i get a six-pack, how to make witty remarks on Facebook, what to wear to make a good impression? But what about the important questions?
What are the important questions?
Sleep deeply. Wake bright-eyed. Coffee. Shower. Breakfast. Work. Accomplish something!. Light meals. Happy laughs. Avoid chocolate. Or muffins. Or pistachio biscuits. Or the news. Gym sweat. Books! Brain food. Gorge. Blog. Share. Skype with baby. Me happy! Sofa. Bed early. Perhaps today?