Why, yes, it has been a long time, hasn't it?
First off, the news you probably already know: I did move to a new apartment after all. A week before we had to decide whether to stay or go, Sam decided to leave after all. Our roommate search was going nowhere (hadn't even started really), so it was not a particularly difficult decision.
The day after he decided to leave, I called up my friend Tracy, who I knew was moving out, to see if they found anyone. After a couple of days of phone tag, I ended up moving into her old apartment in Allston. It's also the room my friend Jon Littlefield lived in, so there's a lot of history here. The roommates are cool, and the rent is cheap.
This is the actual address (spelled out just to keep it from the web's greedy clutches):
Four Athol* Street, Apartment Number Three
Allston, Massachusetts, Zero Two One Three Four
* rhymes with "asshole," and is therefore appropriate
Phone number: (old, deleted)
What's remarkable about it is how rapidly I've adjusted to the new digs. I lived at my old place in Harvard Square for about seven years, which makes it the longest I've lived anyplace, even counting when I was a kid. Traditionally, when I used to move around, I would feel a profound sadness at having to leave one place and the memories contained therein. Not this time. I've already set up the place as much as it's going to be, and I'm feeling fine.
There is, however, one drawback. After the last blog entry, I entered a sort of "who gives a shit" period, and pretty much gave up on everything health-conscious. I didn't exercise as much, gradually started smoking again, and drank quite a bit (the 4th of July was pretty brutal).
When I did eventually move into the new apartment, I got used to smoking in it, and as of last week I was back up to almost the same level as I was at last year. (The fact that one of my new roommates smokes doesn't really help much.) So, now I have to seclude myself once again, quit drinking for a while (at least a couple weeks), and generally bore myself to death. I'm on my second completely smoke-free day right now.
Hopefully I'll use this time to get some work done. I pay less in rent now, so I can actually afford a practice space. I just got one in the basement of the Berwick, which I've been trying to get into for years now. Ironically, I got it through an add on Craigslist. The band I'm sharing the space with is named Chaos Junkies, and seem like nice lads. I only officially moved in on the first, and haven't started practicing yet, what with Labor Day and all.
Some other big news, though not from me: As many of you know, my brother Kris and his wife Jocelyn just had a nine-pound baby girl named Lorelei. Obviously this doesn't exactly jibe with my moral worldview (childbirth = worse than murder), but Kris is happy, and I'm happy for him. If anyone reading this sees him, please give him a big smooch on the lips for me.
Speaking of reading: He told me he reads this blog now. Hi, Kris.
Kris has also written a manuscript for a rather large book, which I am still in the middle of reading, and slowly at that. The reason it's going slowly is very simple: it's very autobiographical, and since we hung out with the same people while growing up, that means it's also somewhat of a biography of my own life. At least the life I lived in Indiana, especially the latter years of high school and my two years at Purdue University.
My brother remembers things quite a bit differently than I do. Insofar as this is a work of fiction, he doesn't get any of the facts wrong, nor lie about events or slander people. It's a matter of outlook, of viewpoint. He sees through a lens that magnifies everything, so that the commonplace and mundane become Very Big Events, and personalities are blown up to examine every blemish and shine for the traces of tiny angels and demons. It's the humanism of details, the kind that sees Beauty and Significance in every human foible, every half-forgotten late-night conversation.
This is a very good outlook for an author to have, I suppose. But it's also a worldview that I rejected a long while ago. Partly because it takes a great deal of self-deception to see beauty in humanity; but mostly because it was making me utterly and completely miserable. I am much more cynical now, and as a consequence, much happier. As such, it's more than a little awkward to read about my own experiences through that lens, like I was looking in the mirror through someone else's glasses.
Almost as awkward, I guess, as reading about it in your brother's weblog.
I'll have to read the whole thing before I have a final opinion, though. Naturally, that's going to take some time.
...And, finally, speaking of moral lenses:
I have been discussing (and also arguing sometimes) with other folks on the Neubauten supporter forums. It started as a post from Blixa about a guy named Scotty from Clang Quartet; Scotty is a born-again Christian, which naturally lead to some interesting topics and a lot of religion-bashing. Since it was getting very far afield of Scotty, I started up a new thread, starting with whether humans are by nature "good" or "evil." You can probably guess my opinion:
Human nature exists, it is rooted in biology, and it is what we now call "evil." I cited the fact that hunter-gatherer societies are FAR more violent than technological societies with rigid hierarchies.
I also brought up the fact that humans banded together into hunting parties to hunt big game, even to the point of the animals' extinction. They did for no material reason, i.e. not for food or clothing; they did so mainly for cultural/religious reasons. I got this from Barbara Ehrenreich's "Blood Rites," a fascinating book in which she claims that these hunting parties are a reaction against predation on humans - that humans were simply imitating their predators.
I believe (and I'm not alone) that these hunting parties are the foundation of warfare (and also, therefore, that warfare is natural). But I also believe, a la Ehrenreich, that they are the basis of human community - she talks about religion specifically, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's the basis of ALL human in-group/out-group divisions. Those within your group are members of your "hunting party," those outside it are your "prey."
I also believe that in-group/out-group divisions are the basis of all human morality. You adopt moral codes in order to become a member of the in-group, and therefore gain all the benefits of being in a community of like-minded individuals. On the other hand, people who don't share your morality are in the out-group (and if there's not a "group" of them, you'll invent one). You can therefore consider them to be prey, and you're therefore allowed to do anything you want to them, no matter how immoral those acts would be if done to another member of the in-group.
This means that humans adopt codes of good and evil, so that they are able to commit evil acts themselves. As I put it in the other thread:
"Humans are never happier than when they can do evil without guilt. This is how a religion based on unconditional love, universal tolerance, absolute nonviolence, and salvation for all... became the cause of more death and terror than any other worldview in human history."
As it turns out, I (and also Ehrenriech) may have been wrong about early human hunters causing mass extinctions. It's called the "overkill hypothesis," proposed by Paul Martin; for years it was the mainstream view, and is still touted by Jared Diamond. But it looks like it's probably false for ancient North Americans:
Evidence Acquits Clovis People Of Ancient Killings, Archaeologists Say (from Science Daily)
Blame North America megafauna extinction on climate change, not human ancestors (from University of Washington news)
But even without the overkill hypothesis, I think my outlook holds water. Whether as a reaction to predation or not, humans have formed hunting parties since we climbed down from the trees and onto the Savannah.
And one leg of my worldview is that on a fundamental level, morality is merely a social expression of the war party.
The thing is, you have to look at the values that the warriors hold within the war party - what their behavior towards each other is. And these values and behaviors are pretty much the definition of altruistic morality.
One of the purposes of basic training is to rob the recruit of any sort of ego or individual identity. You're drilled into believing that you are not important - only your troop is. Collective identity is placed at the fore, and there is no room whatsoever for selfish action.
There are a huge number of accounts of people literally throwing away their lives to protect their comrades - throwing themselves on grenades, putting themselves in danger to save a wounded troop member, etc. When asked what motivated them to fight, most soldiers tell you it's not for their country, or "preserving freedom," or any of the rationalizations governments use to get people to fight; they say they keep fighting for their buddies, while thinking of their families at home. And the bonds forged in battle often last a lifetime, long after the fighting has stopped, and even if the soldiers didn't want to fight in the first place.
There's more about this in Ehrenreich's book; and a book I'm reading now ("Demonic Males") explicitly calls the emotion of belonging to a war party, as one of "deindividuation." It is the same feeling that people experience as part of a lynch mob.
That particular word has opened up a huge number of doorways, as "Deindividuation Theory" has been studied by psychologists for decades. There are a lot of competing theories of how individuals lose their identities in crowds (Gustave Le Bon, Max Weber, etc) but the one that seems the most compelling to me is Emil Durkheim's notion of Collective Effervescence.
I haven't read much Durkheim, but it seems like I'd like him a lot, particularly because of his views on deviance and crime:
We must not say that an action shocks the common conscience because it is criminal, but rather that it is criminal because it shocks the common conscience.
Rouncefield (the professor whose page I linked above) summarizes Durkheim's views thusly:
The purpose of punishment is not deterrence, rehabilitation nor retribution. Punishment strengthens social solidarity through the reaffirmation of moral commitment among the conforming population who witness the suffering of the offender.
So, is morality just the feeling of deindividuation experienced during warfare, elevated to the level of a spiritual law?
It seems so.