Oh crap. The world is changing – again.

There is something new on WordPress. If you are seeing this, it worked. If not, I’m using bad words to describe my confusion.

The yellow vest movement is interesting for two reasons. One is that it amounts to a general protest against sacrificing one’s general well being, along with the well being of one’s family to the ideals of globalism. In that sense, the verdict is in. One’s own interests trump some pie in the sky attempt to make everyone equal and to make the elite richer and more powerful. Is this a surprise?

Two, the video game industry is serving as a grand example of how not to treat your customers, and is actually suffering as result. Let that lesson be learned. No video game is more important than the free market. Surprise!

Three, numerous platforms are yanking the rug out from under independent voices, notably Patreon, who has seen fit to enforce their standards, and arguably ignore their standards, against those with whom they disagree. As a result, prominent internet personalities are abandoning Patreon, and dragging their supporters along with them. In this is the definition of a platform, which should have nothing to say about what their members create, versus a publisher, which has everything to say about what their creators say. Patreon should decide right now whether they are a publisher or a platform. If a publisher, they can censor – and owe money to – everyone who has funneled money through their site. If a platform, they need to stop – STOP! – hamstringing those who use their system to make money for creating content. You can’t have it both ways, enlightened internet platforms. You are either a publisher and therefore responsible for your content and you – from your own accounts – pay each content creator for content, or you are a platform, in which case all content is okay by you and you make your money on the transactions and delay from collection to payout. Take your pick, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Which leads me to the simple fact that we cannot conduct business in a world in which literally everything is a cause. It’s a religion. Just like religion, a given stance is entirely subject to belief. Politics is now a religion. Racism is a religion. Sexism is a religion. Left versus right is a religion. How do I know? There is no proof. If we were simply talking about Christianity, there is no proof in which I would not need to jump into faith to finish the argument. Accept my faith and I win. Reject my faith and I lose the argument.

None of this is an endorsement of religion or condemnation of the same. I buy into the value of faith, whether our faith is the same or not. My point is simply this: If your logical argument relies on faith or a pile of people who happen to agree with your position, you lose. If your argument relies on objectively provable evidence, you win. Speculation is not a win. Belief is not a win. That being said, you can be entirely right based on belief, faith, or people supporting you. Failure to win an objective argument does not mean you are wrong. Odds are, you’ve lived in this world long enough to know the difference between sincere assertion and a pile of self serving BS. Just keep that in mind. In the grand scheme, I am no more informed about universal objective truth than anyone else, which means quite simply that I should give your beliefs the respect they deserve.

Since it would be entirely self serving to ask the question, “What do ‘we’ believe?” It’s far better to ask what “I” believe. The answer, depending on the particular question, is lengthy. The most general version is, “We know nothing.” Perhaps that ignorance is purposeful or perhaps we have just failed a test long ago and the answers are right in front of us. It’s also far better to ask what “you” believe, but if you are smart in this time and place, you will not answer.

This is a belief, which means that in a perfect world you could reject my beliefs without censure. In today’s world you are not allowed to answer without planting a flag somewhere. Someone, in some group, will find your answer offensive enough to internet assassinate you.

In the past year, I’ve been ideologically assassinated, and it’s not fun. It’s even worse when the ideals upon which I was beheaded are not ideals at all, but merely the expedient ingredients of a batch of power cookies. Like the Cookie Monster, a cookie can drive some people well past the bounds of agreeable terms into the realm of madness. Fine. We may believe that those people who can throw out common rules of moral decency can get away with it. We may believe that they will eventually come face to face with a higher and undeniable authority who will judge them lacking, or we may simply rely on amorphous Karma to put a highly convenient and immovable bridge abutment in their careening path. It doesn’t matter.

What matters for each of us in this holiday season, whether it’s a celebration of any particular ideal or not, is that we are winding down to the end of a ledger for 2018. Will we read that book later and feel good about who we are, or will we read it and understand that we could have been far better. If you’re like me, far better is always the answer, for one reason or another. And if there is a freshly sharpened point, the sheer judgment of others is probably that point. Yet, here we are, swimming in a sea of moral and every other kind of relativism, and it’s become pretty clear that it’s not working. Some immutable standards must apply, for the harshest of reasons. Every time we dip our toe into relativism, it’s starkly illustrated that we are all in it for ourselves and any sense of community or cooperation leap out the window. What are the standards?

In America, we believe in what? It doesn’t matter what I say if I were brave enough to lay it out; I can assure you it will not be progressive enough to avoid being targeted for some form of attack. There are plenty of courageous people who dive knowingly into the ideological fray, who also accept knowingly that they will be attacked for their effort. There was a time when we could accept different beliefs than our own without trying to literally destroy those with whom we disagree, and this was considered part of the responsibility of living in a free society. Now, at least from the extremes on both sides, disagreement is considered an excuse to get someone fired, to get someone de-platformed in the “making money from the internet” sense, to take away their livelihood, to show up at their favorite restaurant, office, or even their home, to attack their children with fear, to do literally anything to get them to shut up. What kind of psycho can justify this kind of behavior, especially when the same nut-job is usually spouting some one-sided nonsense about free speech?

My suggestion for 2019 is simple. Accept the very real premise that we each – ultimately – know nothing. No one knows everything, and we have no way of knowing whether the next person (myself included) offers some tiny piece of the objective truth or is speaking entirely to fulfill an agenda with which we would disagree. In other words, your beliefs matter. You get to decide what your truths and priorities mean. I’d humbly suggest that you keep a firm grip on yourself and your definitions of higher truth, because if 2018 has taught us anything, it’s that if you do not think for yourself, there is always someone out there who is more than happy to co-opt your reality for their own purposes.

That pile of lofty language comes down to earth in the form of those you love and what you think is important. Loved ones are easy and difficult. What you think is important ranges from difficult to darn near impossible.

For example, I love my family on the basis that family – back for generations – is important, which is a belief. Yet, no one from my immediate family has carved out enough time to call and say “Merry Christmas.” I typically approach the holidays with the notion that I make those calls. This year, largely due to a pattern of behavior from my closest family member, I decided to find out if anyone else would take the lead. The answer is no. What does that mean? Did I fail the entire family by refusing to fulfill my usual role, or did they fail me by refusing to pick up the slack? In your immediate family, would it be considered adequate that of the three remaining members, you received one Christmas card?

Ideologically, it gets remarkably hard to track. Let’s say that for you, Christmas is a very Christ-centered holiday. There have been open push-backs against the loss of a Christian based idea of Christmas for 50 years. Check out the hard push from a Charlie Brown Christmas to see it. There has been resistance to the loss of being able to wish someone “Merry Christmas” as a form of non-inclusion of other celebrations of the holiday season for years now. From a Christian point of view, it has been a deliberate effort to squelch that point of view in favor of a more open and inclusive idea of the holiday. I laugh at the entire concept of “open and inclusive” as a mask for pushing out the original concept for the season, and I do it with full knowledge of the historical development of Christmas as co-opting of earlier concepts of the celebration of winter solstice. This stuff goes back a long way. While a Christian concept, or Hanuka, or Kwanzaa, or any other label we want to slap on top of it, Winter Solstice is hard to get around. It happens whether we like it or not. Unless you are a flat-Earther, the math is undeniable. Around here, it translates to a lot of darkness. The fact is that we could have just as easily said that Christ was born on tax day, or Memorial Day, or the 4th of July, and no one would have been able to prove otherwise. It doesn’t matter. Christmas is still a celebration of the birth of Christ. If that is important to you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The New Year, on the other hand, is remarkably free from debate, which is odd. Among all the calendars conceived in the history of humanity, the Gregorian calendar is far from the most mathematically clean. We throw in an extra day every four years for goodness’ sake! Why wouldn’t we just accept the definition of a second to account for the discrepancy for each day? As I write this post over the course of a week, we are running up against the new year, which will occur 7 hours and 28 minutes from now in Pacific time. I for one am happy to say goodbye to 2018. It was far too much hard lesson and not nearly enough celebration for me. I have a plan for 2019 that I hope will involve the culmination of a lot of work and planning, but there are no guarantees. We’ll see…

For all of you, especially those of you have have stuck with me for a remarkably long dry spell in publishing terms, I wish for you the best New Year. May your moral dilemmas be simple and your plans be fruitful. My thanks for reading to the end. Happy New Year!

Impact of a Life

A very good friend, one who has come up recently, has succumbed to cancer. I’ve hemmed and hawed over how to write about this friend for over a week. From within, it’s a wrestling match, but from any objective perspective, it should be a simple, perhaps even perfunctory chance to mimic the vast majority of polite responses to death.

“I’m so sorry. My prayers to you and and your family.”

Nope. That doesn’t cover it. From another perspective, it could be a value equation. My friend Shirley died at 87 years of age, a good run by any standard, especially when you consider the sheer number of cigarettes she smoked with a pointed rebellious pride. If I manage to squeeze out 87 years, I’m definitely calling that a win.

Putting the third leg of the stool on the struggle with her demise involves how little I actually knew of her, and the relatively short time I knew her. We call her Aunt Shirley, at her request, but she is actually the sister of the woman, Joanne, who once lived across the street from my wife, and who died before I ever showed up in Sharon’s life. Joanne’s husband, Bill, was still alive when I came along, and we played a substantial role in caring for him once his health started to fail. Joanne and Bill were surrogate parents to Sharon when she was alone out here, thousands of miles from her own family. I got to know Shirley in the course of knowing and helping Bill. No relation to me, no independent friendship, at least initially – just the haphazard connections in life.

Shirley lived out here in Washington for years, after a lifetime of adventures, presumably to be close to her sister, and then to keep an eye on her sister’s husband. She collected her own health problems along the way, as tends to happen, and finally moved back to Ohio to be near her own family, presumably to get the help she needed as those health problems mounted. I’m sure she knew we would have happily taken the role, but I can completely understand the need to close the loops with her own children towards the end.

Shirley had three sons, I’m guessing about my age. Her sister had three daughters, all of whom I’ve met, and I appreciate the symmetry of it all. As the end drew near, her son Scott took the difficult burden of keeping me in the loop. As a son who once lost a mother, I know exactly how hard that was, and I will be forever grateful.

Shirley called me the Saturday before she passed, and I’m grateful for that as well. The cancer was in her throat, among other places, and I could barely understand her, but I knew she was saying goodbye. Given what I know of her, I pretended that she would fight on. That was how she wanted to be seen and heard. I respect that.

The following Wednesday, she sent me a text and photo to say thank you for the pink bed jacket that Sharon had sent her. I had nothing to do with it, would have never thought to do it, but it meant a great deal, and it was literally the last gesture of love we were able to give her, so I also have to convey my gratitude to Sharon for being a much better person than I am.

Also on Wednesday, we heard that she was moving to hospice care, which was the point when the fight was over. Intuitively, I knew it was coming, but it was still a shock.

By Saturday, Scott let me know that she was taking some powerful, far-beyond-morphine painkillers, and that Shirley’s niece was on the way. He predicted that she would hang on until Jaci arrived.

Very early Monday morning, December 3rd, 2018, Shirley Shanahan passed away.

It wasn’t a punch to the gut kind of shock. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a slow burn of loss that hasn’t died out yet. The reaction is a hard thing to compare, and it makes me think about the impact that people can have.

I’ve already made the case for how I could minimize the loss, yet I can’t. Why?

What makes one person matter and another person a matter of course in the grand scheme of life?

Shirley was an unstoppable reader, like myself, and unrestrained thinker, like myself, and someone capable of stepping outside of every confirmation bias we live within, also like myself. Needless to say, we had plenty to discuss. She had been stung by life, and carried the cynicism that experience suggests. She had also chosen to carry the joy of life, which is a difficult trick in the balance. She could take the good with the bad in people in a very true sense. The teetering scale of judgment and live-and-let-live is difficult, and she wore it with style.

But these are just opinionated arguments. It really came down to a strong spirit, and that is something that cannot be conveyed second hand. It’s a thing that we sense upon encountering, but perhaps never consciously recognize. There is seemingly a freedom of opinion in old age, and I believe it is well earned, but not everyone uses it well. One can take the hard knocks of life and grow it like a green sourdough starter into a bitter brew that clouds everyone and everything. I can point to my own grandmother in this regard. Shirley never fell for it. She could always see both sides. She had no regard for ridiculousness, but in the same breath could find sympathy for the conditions that gave rise to a ridiculous chain of thought.

What is the word for it? Perhaps a philosopher of the high order that steps away from the written page and into the life that we should all live. Objectively, Shirley did not live a successful life on paper, but within herself, she was a person of high integrity and purpose. She could, on any given day, tell a doctor that there was no way she would stop smoking, yet tell someone that smoking was a bad habit. Her life – her rules. “Don’t make my mistakes.”

In a morally relativistic world where people can rationalize almost anything, her ability to own up to her own failings was miraculous. Honest. True.

We could all use more of that kind of honesty.

In a week when we celebrated the life of an ex-president, I’d suggest that we celebrate the lives of a great many people we lost – you know who they were – who changed the world in ways that will never make the news, but matter to those affected far more than we tend to recognize. For me, Shirley is at the top of the list.

With enduring love and respect, I salute the life of Shirley, a woman who most of you will never have the pleasure of knowing. May she rest in peace and her ashes be scattered upon the broad face of the Pacific.