It’s Black Turkey Day!!!!!!

Jesus, it’s Thanksgiving! I should post something on Facebook about what I’m grateful for. Really I should. This is the extent of the original intent and essence of this dying holiday expressed by many people.

What happened? Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Even considering the fabricated nature and false origin story of the holiday the “author’s message” is a noble and visionary one. Although mythological, it’s message of American cooperation and diversity is to be admired. But that message has effectively disappeared from the celebratory landscape of this uniquely American philosophic contribution to the world politic.

A festive gathering of “others”, supping together in a testament to the unity of all peoples, a symbol of our embrace of diversity as strength and love as a primary character trait, has been reduced to gluttony and argument immediately followed by greed.

As Target is the geographically closest alleged discount store to me I use it as a thermometer to measure our nation’s commercial temperature. The retail monster that is Christmas continue’s to usurp more and more of the shopping year. It has devoured Thanksgiving and were it not for the occult appeal and “only this one day of the year” deference to childhood excess it would engulf Halloween as well. This year, Christmas tree lights, the first harbinger of the commercial onslaught, were out on the shelves BeFoRe Halloween. This phenomenon has been creeping toward this inevitability for years, a few more days every year.

Candy displays, which mark the official changeover of holiday, er merchandising, seasons now switch immediately from Halloween’s pumpkin-shaped Reese’s and black cats and witches hats on the packages to Christmas jingle bells, snowflakes and Santa-shaped chocolates of infinite variety. Not that Thanksgiving has a unique candy footprint. But come on man, can’t we have three weeks of normal colored M&Ms. Please.

If there is a token acknowledgment of Thanksgiving in modern American consciousness it is wrapped up in the form of the Turkey. Not the fierce and proud Wild Turkey (I’ll have a double) but the domesticated, cage-raised, breast augmented turkey. Each year the current President pardons this year’s Barabbas from certain slaughter, signaling the start of the barbaric genocide of this year’s “crop” of fattened calves, err birds, for the sacrificial pleasure of the unapologetic masses.

The Thanksgiving meal, once a legendary, semiotic standard of our generous and egalitarian natures has now become a no man’s land battleground for any and all partisan issues. Nothing is out of bounds; every nicety graciously observed the rest of the year flies out the window. The gloves come off. Every indignation, resentment and outright hateful feeling that blackens our hearts are bared right there amid the cranberry sauce and cornbread stuffing. With jabbing forks jabbing we challenge each other to prove our worldview is righteous and good and yours is perverse and damning.

Then the Tryptophan kicks in, we relax and acquiesce, all of us, to watching the NFL and discussing the family’s divorces, babies, and surgical procedures. The day’s battle settled, halftimes bring the patriarch’s mandated Thanksgiving speech followed by each singled out family member’s obligatory declaration of “what I’m thankful for”. This is where children learn that adherence to the respect of the origins of the Thanksgiving ideal lies only in this one obligatory sentence. Our elders reveal that a wide berth of veracity is allowed in this ritualistic reality of the modern Thanksgiving experience. As long as you are thankful for something, no matter how meaningless and insignificant, you have fulfilled your familial, and thus your nationalist duty.

Could it be that I am caustically cynical about how we as a society have desecrated this manufactured attempt by our ancestors to remind us of the nobility of our nation’s origins and respect for non-white peoples?  You’re damn right I am. Frankly, I’ve been pulling my punches. There were way more expletives in my first draft. Have we no shame? We can’t even honor a national holiday based on a falsehood.

And I haven’t even gotten to the whole unholy Black Friday thing. Just as the tree lights have crept onto shelves earlier and earlier so has the other gluttony of the day. We used to have a few hours respite, a chance to digest both the food and the sparring before we arose like vampires at midnight. Once upon a time the retailers actually waited until Friday. This year my Target credit card authorized me to get doorbuster prices on Wednesday. Emails from a week or more before the holiday teased me with “Black Friday prices”.  I’m pretty sure you were offered “Black Friday in July” pricing this summer. Dinners now start at halftime in order to get in line by 5 for the 6 PM Walmart opening. It’s let’s throw the dishes in the dishwasher and time’s a wastin’.

Armed with our family battle plan, forged out of intense research and study of the three-inch thick Thanksgiving Thursday newspaper, we attack the vast array of local big box stores in a multi-front, coordinated frenzy of credit card maxing out.

I’ll run interference while you grab the last deep discounted ultra high def flat screen smart TV at 70% off MSRP. This is why we watch football earlier in the day, to get some ideas for blocking schemes, to keep the other family’s linebackers away from our designated grabbers. It’s every gang for themselves, may the best shopper win.

Some folks skip the meal entirely and go directly to the self-propelled vacuum cleaner at pennies on the dollar. Why not? It’s damn hard to roast a turkey. And to avoid going 12 rounds every year with Uncle Harold over gay abortion is a great idea. In fact, why don’t we just do away with Thanksgiving altogether? I mean really, who is really thankful for anything these days, without reservations or exceptions or objections or consequences.

Am I still caustic, full of vitriol, toxic in my disdain? Of course, you betcha. I just can’t understand why we insist on allowing one of our most positive, meaningful traditions to deteriorate into disrepair, unredeemable and sadly, distinctly unamerican. Even if it wasn’t true it still represents something. What are we thinking?

So what am I thankful for, as an American on this day of flying cartoon characters and too dry turkey and football and deep discounts? To what do I owe gratitude on this disappearing tribute to an imagined America of tolerance and shared abundance?

I am thankful that I am still free to write these words and express my anger without fear.

I am thankful that America has always been great, if only for simple freedoms and always keeping a space available for love.

I am thankful that America has always been great for allowing dreams the opportunity to become reality.

I am thankful that America has always been great in its vision beyond the horizon, its foresight in the face of hindrance, hope in the face of despair, life in the face of violence.

Please don’t think I am chastizing everyone. Millions and millions of us know love of neighbor in their hearts and are thankful for their good fortune, health for them and their families, joy, and respect.

I’ll never give up on Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful I can.

Is Once Always?

If we use the Jimmy Carter definition of having lust in your heart as tantamount to adultery then 110% of men are disgusting pigs and not worthy to carry out the garbage or rake the leaves. Sexually we live in the dark ages. If the criteria for holding office were to never have made a sexist, disparaging remark to another man about a woman passing by not only would the halls of Congress be nearly empty but also all levels of government right down to the proverbial dog catcher. Perhaps all of us old white men should just resign en masse and hope to avoid the damage to everything that dragging us all through the mud would entail.

We can replace us all with young lesbian women of color. Or we could just let everything slide and maintain the status quo.

Of course to do either of those things would be absurd and all levels of bad. But I have heard both of those solutions expressed, although not always in so many words. In the face of lancing the boil of traditional toxic male dominant sexualist behavior, and as the flood waters continuously and rightfully rise up and engulf more public figures daily, we must make, as a society, some difficult and historic decisions about how to go about ending the cycle of male dominance and it’s favored child, sexual predation, that has plagued humanity since before we walked the earth with dinosaurs.

Addressing this festering issue in the world of politics and the American entertainment machine is a start but only represents the tip of the iceberg. There is no more pervasive and perverse commonly accepted American norm that I know of. And now that this ship of state has sailed there will soon be no ships of any kind anchored in any port, in any harbor, and rightfully so. The scourge of authority’s use of omnipresent sexual dominance is now coming under attack from many sides, with varying levels of disgust, anger, and determination but also with a previously diffuse display of the real power that has always been there.

So how would we deal with the massive power vacuum created at the top of the food chain? How would we deal with the temporary but vast and immediate collapse of society as it unfolds before us? The system has been meticulously set up to protect the good old boys. To destroy it out of hand would unlock a chaos and anarchy many would find frightening. Will we let accusations come out slowly and let each individual case fry in the flames of outrage? Do we just get it over with and rid ourselves of the lot of them all at once, comfortable in our knowledge that they are, all of them, guilty.?

Now, wait just a darn minute. Why am I saying the observer’s them? Them is me. I have been a full and willing participant in not imagined harassment throughout much of my life. And not in the distant past. Frankly, virtually no male of my generation (and others) hasn’t transgressed in some way.  Add to that a number of women as well. Do we have to throw out this old fart along with the ocean of bathwater needed for all the other deviants? There must be a more nuanced way of dealing with this. And as always, the devil is in the details.

There remain giant, wooly mammoth in the room, questions to be answered. Are there different levels of assault and harassment and can do we differentiate between the two to start with? How do we determine levels of intent or levels of contrition? What consequences equivocate with the crimes and are appropriate in their severity, a severity which is another metric we must measure? Who adjudicates right from wrong, a big deal from not a big deal. Can we adequately quantify psychic and emotional pain and do we want to? What are the long-term costs of spiritual despair? Is it impossible to make a plausible apology? We have so little accumulated “case law and precedent” to guide us. For centuries the issue never got to the yes this happened stage much less the #me too. Now we have to carry it to its end.

Frankly, anyone over the age of middle school, gender notwithstanding, is lost to any cure, if there is one. For them, there is only treatment for the symptoms. Because this problem will only be adequately addressed, this malignancy excised, by changing the way we raise our children. Not so much by teaching them different things or differently, but through changing the societal norms we unconsciously pass on to them. This will never be easy. America’s white, male, Western European, capitalist society makes many deeply flawed and even deeper subconscious assumptions about behavior, paramount among them that men have dominion over women and all other inferior peoples, and that violence is our preferred means of conflict resolution. Make no mistake; sexual abuse is more about power and violence and less about sex.

There is a moral hierarchy pyramid in America that places white men at the top in unchallenged dominance. At our evolutionary level, we have yet to unlearn millennia of fight or flight mechanisms married to the false morality of might makes right. Male sexual dominance was originally a basic biological imperative which guaranteed that our animal-like ancestors would reproduce. Violence was the means of enforcing that imperative. The superiority of male physical power served that violence. We have left that animal nature behind us in our imaginations only. In reality, the imperative will always be there and although we claim to be civilized and human we have not significantly changed our way of fulfilling it since the neanderthal.

Not all evolution happens slowly at the biological level. We evolve mentally and spiritually as well. And these less dense evolutions happen much much faster. If we allow our lizard brains to continue controlling our sexual natures this problem won’t be changed until perhaps star date 3257, if then. We must make a concerted and conscious effort to evolve, rapidly, our mental and spiritual understanding of the biological imperative we slave under. And do something about changing it.

This change will only happen when we, as Americans, live in accord of thought, word, and deed. We must dig deep into those ancient twitch areas of our brains and become mentally clear about our goals. We must express those goals and our intentions to achieve them unequivocally. We must then follow up with right action. We cannot leave any nook or cranny of our minds unexamined. We must set up and enforce public accountability. And we must vigorously self-regulate.

The consequences must be commensurate with the crime. Given the severity of the issue, those consequences must be meaningful, enforceable, but with some level of recompense. With the realities of society as they are this, unfortunately, must needs be a slow, arduous process and to be honest will require years of culling the herd of sexist, predatory dinosaurs such as myself. Few now alive will be able to change. Some will, but this will not get better without a substantial dying off and a significant level of pain, involving all parties. I hope against hope that I am wrong.

To not embark on a swift, agitating, and yes, a risky path would be a travesty in its own right. As we get closer to unearthing the real issues facing sentient beings on this our only planet the stakes get higher and the risks greater. Surgeries to remove lies are only beginnings. To not act now and decisively is not only unacceptable but untenable. We as a race cannot afford to leave any stone unturned in our pursuit of a better world and the evolved beings that must inhabit it.

I admit to not knowing where to the draw the lines to be crossed, place the tops to go over, establish the points of no return or determine what is beyond the pale. I feel naked and powerless without a concrete suggestion of how to act in this moment. There are so many variables, lines of demarcation and if/thens that my mind boggles. I feel inept writing down these words of judgment without having any small sort of answer for them. I can only say my piece and surrender to the will of the time, who is a young woman of color with gender options, and the allies that stand beside and behind her.

And it starts with raising our sons to the surety that they no longer stand in front and decide for her.

And in the Red Corner, Liberty​

It has come to my attention, evidently moving from one side of my brain to the other, that the words freedom and liberty, used both often and liberally, have many different perceived meanings; which are then debated, argued and fought over. To a more conservative minded person, freedom and liberty may have very different meanings than to a liberal minded person. Not to mention the fact that there is also significant disagreement inside both conservative and liberal circles over what these words mean. (I hate the term “not to mention” because invariably, directly after saying it one mentions what is allegedly not to be mentioned.)  Not to mention the fact that these terms are constantly used to describe and define essential elements of American democracy. Sad.

When people use these words, freedom and liberty, they assume they are universal concepts universally understood; they feel certain everybody knows what they mean. But in reality, it’s only what that particular person thinks they mean. It’s the “everybody knows” mistake. Everybody does not know. Not everybody sees liberty and freedom just like you do. It is contradictions like this that gets us into loads of trouble from a societal standpoint. Misinterpretations lead to misgivings.

When we talk about freedom or liberty, and we assume we are all talking about the same thing, we go a little crazy when the other guy says something that clearly shows we are not talking about the same thing. We either think they are stupid idiots or they are trying to subvert and undermine what we are saying. Neither of those things is likely to be true and neither do they lead to anything good.

It’s hella frustrating.

So, in discussions about freedom and liberty, I think it wise to start off by explaining our definition of terms. Rather than creating discord and argument on the backside, it’s a good idea to define terms on the front side, as in a formal debate. When you talk about freedom and liberty, tell people upfront what you mean by these words. For example, don’t say:

“I think people need to be free, but when xyz does abc they are preventing 123 from being 456 and that takes away their freedom”

What does being 456 have to do with freedom exactly? Depends on what you think freedom is.

instead, you could say:

“Freedom means 789 to me and when xyz does abc it stops 123 from having 789 and that takes away their freedom to be 456”

Then at least you know they think 789 has something to do with being 456 and to them that has something to do with freedom.

You may need to read that bit over again.

Anyway, starting a conversation about freedom or liberty with what you mean by freedom or liberty gives the other person a reference point to engage in a respectful, meaningful discussion, rather than reacting negatively to something they think they heard that they think they know which may or may not be true or at all relevant. Unfortunately, when definitions aren’t made clear, contested concepts like liberty and freedom can spark the kind of needless arguments that plague civil discourse and turn a legitimate debate into angry violence, emotional and/or physical.

The contested nature of many contested concepts is not always naturally occurring. Entities with agendas actively foment misunderstanding and will intentionally muddy the waters by promoting their opposing definitions of certain terms. If they feel the use of a certain word doesn’t serve their agenda they will work to subvert the meaning of that word by constantly repeating their alternate definition, constantly repeating it in as many ways as they can to as many people as possible. They will constantly repeat it over and over, by constantly repeating it, over and over. When constantly repeated, over and over, over time their definition will come to be accepted by enough people so that in a discussion there will be contention over the meaning of terms. A strong contention that can engender anger and fighting, spiritual, emotional, mental and often physical.

Therefore, it is crucial that we listen closely to how people use words and to hear their words contextually. We can then discover what they really mean when they use a word, especially when it means something different to us.

We need to listen for agendas. We can’t live in a bubble. If we accept and understand conflicting meanings and find where they originate, then knowing why people define their terms as they do we have a much better chance of reconciling our contentious, gridlocked issues.

Words and their meanings are so important.

I can’t emphasize that enough.

OK, I need to get back to freedom and liberty.

I believe in working with these words it can be valuable to recognize the subtle differences in their natures. I would say that a majority of people use them interchangeably. But freedom and liberty are not quite the same things. If you look closely at the concepts these words describe you will see that freedom is about what, and liberty is about who. Freedom is about being, and liberty is about doing. That is, what is being versus who is doing.

For example, looking at slavery in America, emancipation made slaves FREE to no longer BE slaves, but as things turned out they did not always have the LIBERTY to DO what they wanted. This was the essence of issues faced by freed slaves in the Jim Crow era. They were freed by law from being owned, but the dominant white power structure took away their liberty to do as they desired. Freedom gives us the opportunity to BE a banker if we so choose. But it is in the choice to DO so where the liberty lives. When people talk about freedom, look for WHAT they want to BE FREE from. And when they talk about liberty, look for WHO claims they have the LIBERTY to DO something.

We should remember that freedom is a more concrete word than liberty. Not having a freedom is a clearer concept than not having liberty. It could be why freedom normally trumps liberty in contested situations. And why there is nearly always indignation arising out of those victories.

Looking at it from the standpoint of rights, freedom relates more to a constitutional right and liberty to an inalienable right. Freedom is an earned right and liberty is a birthright. We have freedom from something but have the liberty to do something. Freedom is granted by government and liberty is granted by God. Frankly, although the words mean nearly the same exact thing, the difference is substantial enough that there will always be a battle between that which is given by Caesar and that which is given by God.

A good example of this esoteric struggle is the clash between Cliven Bundy and the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Essentially Bundy claimed that he had the God-given right, the liberty, to graze his cattle on federal land, simply because he could. And the BLM said no, that’s the government’s land and your cattle aren’t free to graze there.  The disagreement originated in a clash between claims of liberty and assignments of freedom. And in the end government and its bestowed freedom triumphed over Bundy and his claimed liberty. And much indignation arose out of the government’s victory.

As an aside, but relevant, I also see the irony inherent in this relationship of freedom juxtaposed with liberty as the basis for a meaningful contradiction of spirit. It is a contradiction displayed by people who want to supplant civil law with biblical laws, all the while fearing that sharia law will supplant civil law.

As we see, the differences between the concepts of freedom and liberty are subtle and do nothing to help us avoid contention. In this time, sadly, the words are used interchangeably but are understood to mean many and often vastly different things. Yet in a disagreement, yea an argument, understanding those differences just might give you the subtle edge that allows you to establish your definitions, create some movement of hearts, and perhaps change a mind or two. At the very least, understanding that freedom and liberty are contested concepts and the guy on the next barstool over might not hear them the same way you do gives us all a better understanding of how difficult it will be to bridge the gulf of partisanship we now so sadly live with.

Words make a difference.

A big difference.

 

 

You Won’t Like This

Las Vegas.

It usually takes me several days to process dramatic and truly damaging events that permeate our shared public consciousness. Las Vegas is such an event. It has made such a deep impact on America that I cannot even speak of it in the past tense, as it will linger and fester in our souls for a long time. I don’t even have to qualify it. Simply the name of the city is enough. And this will probably be the case for a long time. Unless the arms race of massive death creates another tortured soul with a plan.

Heroes is not necessarily the only word I would use to describe the many whose acts of courage and compassion are rightfully honored and revered. So many, in all disasters are called heroes. But in this, as in those, heroes is an incomplete concept. For me, it is not enough to simply say they are heroes. I need to hear why they are heroes, either big or small, either saving lives or soothing scared children.

Heroes do what they do, they run towards not away, because they love their neighbor, out of compassion and empathy. Because they intuitively revere and love life and people, who all deserve to be saved. Tragedy destroys the boundaries between people and carries suffering down the path to hope. The clarity of our shared pain shows us we are one, individual yet part of something greater, something that lives deep inside us and manifests when we need it. This is the divinity and beauty of heroism, not merely a selfless deed.

Now the authorities are looking for motive. Desperately. The motive is simple, as it is for all mass killers. They are in pain and choose to assuage that pain through heinous murder. No matter their state of being they all make a choice. Whether suffering through political anger, mental disorder’s damaged thinking or aggrieved despair, the pain is the same and the choice to act with violence is the same, to make others suffer as they do. Having known severe pain I cannot hate them. But why do we make so many more of them than anywhere else?

These killers act out because American culture permits us to resolve conflict and pain with violence. Not only is it permitted it is the preferred means. Immorality as social norm. But one cannot legislate morality. Conservatives know this but are so heavy-handed and self-serving they cannot serve that truth in a way that serves society. Liberals want to help save people but sell themselves short out of fear. They cannot maintain outrage because more tragedy is always around the corner to overwhelm them. And the twain shall never meet.

Everybody knows subconsciously that the American culture’s affair with guns makes the gun violence dynamic here different than the rest of the world. We cannot be another Australia no matter how much we legislate gun sensible laws. Law can only scratch the surface. Sensible gun safety legislation will help, but not enough. There must be more.

Many say we can’t stop invisible lone wolves from acting, from committing mass murder. That it’s impossible to ferret them out. They use this as an excuse to never try stopping them. The gun makers tell us the solution is more guns. Plenty of us believe this to be true. And a majority of the country does not trust the law to solve anything. In this case, they may be quite right. But I see these people as cowards, throwing up their hands in insincere despair. Selling death for profit.

To my mind, there is a good solution here, perhaps the best solution. Instead of trying to stop these evil killers when they are fully grown and engaged, we should change the way we raise our children, especially boys and especially white boys. Call it sexism/genderism and racism but the statistics bear it out. White men make up a large majority of mass murderers.

The way to stop us from accepting gun violence as a solution to social problems is to stop teaching our children this myth, this soul-crushing lie that violence is the way to go, the way to make everything right. The circle of violence can only be broken by Americans acting in concert to stop telling our boys to “be a man” and then equating that manhood with violence. I feel strongly that this “be a man” syndrome is sinful. The Christ does not ask us to turn the other cheek for nothing.

The glorification of violence is outdated at best. The fight or flight autonomic reaction existed for a creature with few reasoning skills, creatures without language as a tool of peace. There is a reason it is buried deep in our brains. It is no longer a viable means of avoiding pain or resolving conflict. As thinking beings, we can overcome our instant calls to violence. This is not easy. But as humans, we can call on the power of mind over matter. It works.

We must begin the hard work of creating fewer and fewer men with unbearable pain, those who feel horribly wronged but who hide it well, those subjected to abuse who process violence as normal, and even those who are barely aware of what they are doing. Of course, there are anomalies. There are women who act out in this way but as much as prehistoric women were rarely called upon to fight for existence, modern women are rarely acculturated to violence. This, I feel, is part of why they make up a small percentage of mass murderers. Yet another anomaly, in the instance of the sins of psychopaths these souls may never be inclined to abandon violence.

As said, it is imperative that we contribute to the solution the right way, by telling our children that violence is never acceptable. We must still learn the ways of violence as a defense against an existential threat. Complete passivity is naive. But the best way is to show our sons and daughters that violence is not the way is by our actions, modeling peaceful negotiation and mediation as the preferred method of conflict resolution, that through human interaction we can ease our pain.

The best way is better than the right way. And the example we set is the best means of successfully moving our pain into hope, as befits sentient beings. The Sanskrit word for weapon is also the word for tool. We can, as the Christ intimated, beat our swords into plowshares. We can use our hearts, souls, and minds to change society, to join many of us together as one without needing a disaster to unite us. We would no longer need to battle in the halls of Congress. We wouldn’t have to fight so much at the taverns, cafes and dinner tables of America. We could change.

An addendum

You won’t like this.

This will be seen as and called racism and it probably is. But I must say my piece. The situation in the black and much of the Latino communities, as I observe it, is that the relative lack of mass murderers from these communities is due to the fact that their suffering involving gun violence is intimate, up close and personal. It is directed at the individual, the person right there in front of you. Violence here is not an anomaly, it is omnipresent. One need not meticulously plan a bloodbath of the anonymous. Here the pools of blood will be at their feet, and the plan was formed quickly, specific to the grievance. So when those in the public eye conflate murder in these POC communities with mass murder they are terribly wrong. Though the solutions to the violence are similar the essence of the problem is different.

Mea Culpa. Please forgive me if I am wrong about this. I cannot know for certain but I witness. I fully accept a charge of racism for these comments and the mantle of racist. I speak what I feel.

You won’t like this either.

A word about prayers, including candlelight vigils and moments of silence. Prayer is a good thing. Praying for the peaceful repose of the lost souls and healing grace for their friends and families is a good thing. Candlelight vigils and shrines and moments of silence are good things. But they are all also feel good actions. They allow us to feel as though we have acted, we have done something good, something to help. We can do this and then go home and not take any further action, thinking we have done our part. In this, I do not judge. I only bear witness. Think on it yourself.

As powerful as is prayer, for the departed, we must also pray for the strength to do the hard work of changing the nation’s zeitgeist. It will take several generations but we must change the way we do this business. Praising those we call heroes and changing our laws and offering prayers are all good things but they can only save a fraction of the lives we need to.

These things are right things to do but they are not the best things to do. It is not easy to find and choose the best thing over the right thing. Doing the right thing we are so tempted to be satisfied and go home. I am convinced that, for America, the best path to hope out of pain is accepting our own pain and finding our own hope. This will give us the confidence to teach our children well. I believe we all know in our hearts that this path is true.

Let us start on this path together in love.

 

It’s In The Cans

Some time ago my daughter came to me saying she was tired of the ear bud headphones most kids use with their iPods and such. She wanted a “nice” pair of over the ear headphones for college. She was, of course, most familiar the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre, which are de rigueur for anyone for whom street cred is the least bit important. The most popular models are the Solo, which are expensive for a 16 year old at $200, and the Studio, which, for a teen, tempt burglary at $300. The main feature of the Beats, that which gives them their cool factor, is their bass reproduction, which features the same kind of teeth rattling booming that you hear when a car full of gangsta wannabes pulls up next to you at a stoplight. This is what most teens want to listen to whether they are into hip hop, dubstep, death metal or classic rock. Monster sells them in droves.

The fact that a particular market segment has particular taste in what they like music to sound like is the basis for my observations of the headphone world, as I have been researching a pair for my daughter as she heads off to find adulthood in college. To get an idea of the positive and negative features of the various brands and models readily available I have been reading the user comments at websites such as Best Buy and Amazon, where the average user would purchase. I figured the more esoteric websites offering lesser known yet quality brands were the domain of audiophiles and aural fanatics and would skew my opinions of a product meant for an iPhone and laptop and not a studio or a top drawer entertainment room featuring class A amps and space age speakers with the best 7:1 surround sound crossover unit.

I found that the consumers who actually took the time to comment and review these products were primarily of two types, serious pro musicians and sonic aficionados with limited budgets who were looking for near state of the art, pro level equipment at high end consumer prices and high school kids who wanted to be cooler than their friends and have phones that were more expensive and had better bass than the ubiquitous ear buds worn by the mere peons.

Regardless of brand, model or price the comments were overwhelmingly either raving positive or bitterly negative. One could pretty much determine which category of buyer the commentary was from by the nature of the judgement. A scathing negative comment was invariably from a musician or self appointed audiophile while the “best I ever heard” comments were from kids whose best previous audio experience likely came from a pair of $12 budget ear buds from Walmart. This disparity speaks to many cultural values, our expectations, our perception of value, marketing, design and manufacturing strategies, who creates our entertainment media and why, the realities of sound frequencies, pressure, recording techniques and the human perception of same, and the broadly diverse range of subjective truth among humans relating to their relative perception of the exact same phenomenon.

It is the disparate perceptions, embraced by different people, of phenomenon witnessed by all people, pretty much from the same viewpoint, that are what I see as important here. People perceive both things and concepts, in some ways the same and in others quite different. The frames people use to process these phenomena depend on which perceptions they accept as true. We communicate our truths through language. If we agree that language deals with things and concepts then it is my contention that all things and concepts have both an absolute and a relative nature. I’ll examine this further.

Let us first look at things. The government gives people Food Stamps. This is a tangible activity. It has a giver, a taker, requirements, a physical transactional document that is honored by certain businesses as valid, and a result. It is an absolute thing whose metaphoric frame can be known by knowing any of those various segments separately. It is real and has a recognizable substance. Yet, different people see and judge its value in dramatically different ways, using radically different language to describe and define it. In this sense it is totally relative and one must be aware of the perceiver’s relative agenda before they can know the other parts of their base frame, see it in it’s entirety, and know the language that triggers it into consciousness. To simplify, the glass that is equally full and equally empty is absolute, tangible and universally knowable. But it is relative to those seeing it as half empty and those seeing it as half full.

Concepts are another thing entirely. Concepts are not tangible and therefore there are often as many perceptions of the definition of a concept as there are people perceiving it. But this does not represent relativity. Contrary to things, there is no physically tangible reality to perceive. The absolute nature of a concept must include every disparate perception, for everyone’s perception is real and has to be included in any definition of the concept.

Perhaps this can be slightly more simply stated by using mathematical set circles to describe these ideas. With things there is a real object which means there is something all viewpoints share. Thus all sets intersect and share points of data. These intersected subsets represent the absolute nature of the thing, qualities that everyone accepts as truth. For example everyone sees that a certain chair is made of wood. People who say it isn’t wood are considered as not being truthful. Their set does not intersect the “truth” subset. The relative nature is represented by all the different sets of perceptions, however slight, of the thing. These relative sets may include subsets of shared perceptions of their own but always include exclusive qualities that separate them from other sets. They are sets on their own and not subsets.

Regarding concepts the sets are much different. In this case all the relative sets are actually subsets of the gigantic absolute set of qualities. Once again they may share qualities, creating other subsets, but are again unique subsets unto them selves and thus relative.

So to summarize, the absolute nature of things are subsets and the relative nature sets, and the absolute nature of concepts are sets and the relative nature subsets.

Back to the headphones. Applying the aforementioned principles, the actual headphones are a real and physical thing. They have an absolute nature, the subset of construction materials, color, name, packaging, which everyone sees as the same, and a relative nature, represented by the sets of semi pro and amateur listeners, with their different perception of what the headphones do, how they perform. These differences are revealed through the reviews. Although the relative sets are all different, the subsets created by the shared perceptions of certain relative sets point to a modestly dualist relationship between those sets. They break down basically into those who, for a number of reasons, think they sound good and those who think they sound awful.

This is where things get interesting from my perspective. There are undoubtedly those who would say that how the headphones sound is not about the physical reality of the thing at all but a subjective thought process, in other words, a concept. This sounds logical but it is not quite accurate. Yes, it is subjective process but it remains a thing and not a concept. Regardless of the relative perceptions of sounds good or sounds bad those perceptions are still dependent on the thing being the thing. Therefore the perceptions are also a thing. This is the logic behind the statement “perception is reality”. The thing itself represents the physics of it’s existence and the perception of the thing signifies the metaphysics of it’s nature.

Where we get into concepts are in the reasons for the perceptions. Yes, reasons also relate to the thing but are not dependent on the thing. A reason may relate to several other things. Reasons that relate to many different things, often in a large shared subset, can sometimes be called ideologies, or a logic of ideas. So a reason can exist outside the realm of the thing and must be considered a separate idea, or concept. This subtle but significant difference between perception and reason is confusing to many of us and, when applied dishonestly, can blur the line between the perception and reality of both things and concepts.

Often when coherent collected concepts, ideologies, are applied to perceptions, things can be made to appear to have several different realities, and the agenda behind the ideology directs and focuses all perceptions of the thing into a particular desired reality, somewhat like cattle being led to the killing floor. Absolute truths can appear relative, and thus subject to seemingly logical doubts that the truth might not really be universal. Relative truths can be made to appear universal and apply to everything. It can get kind of scary.

But back to the headphones. The concepts dealt with here are the “reasons” people use headphones in the first place. They relate to the use of the thing, the headphones, but they are more broad reaching. In this instance they line up in a simple, if over generalized, duality of “I want to be cool and have fun” versus “I want state of the art and have a superior experience”. But they could also apply to a relationship with other things, such as the choice of buying an X Box or an iPad, or the choice of going to a poetry slam or a theatrical play. So the reasoning is more conceptual than tangible and thing specific.

What I find interesting about this is the phenomenon of people using the same words to describe essentially different concepts. This muddying of the waters has been called using contested concepts. Words such as love and freedom have become contested concepts because there are many unrelated ideas that use the very same word to describe all of them. For example the people with the highly disparate concepts above, about headphones etc., could all describe their reasoning as doing what is cool. Cool is perhaps the ultimate contested concept.

So how did I get off onto all this esoteric tangential stuff just from thinking about buying my daughter some headphones. Because sick minds leave no stone unturned when it comes to complicating a simple task. But I do think its not bad to understand that we all share at least some truths about “things” even though there are those who say we don’t. And many of us have very few or no shared “concepts”, outside of a sharing of contested words, when we are often told that we not only do share but must share.

So Monster can market Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones to impressionable kids because they are able to convince them that the concept of being cool can only become an absolute reality when they buy those headphones. This flies in the face of the relative reality that any number of headphones, some more and some less expensive, are perfectly able to satisfy their initial reason for having “good, over the ear headphones”. But it is a clear example of how smart marketers use psychology and knowledge of metaphysics to influence our nation of consumers.

Confusion about absolute and relative truths and ideas, concepts, perceptions and reality abound in our world. But we don’t have to suffer that confusion. It can be as simple as believing what we feel or believing what we are told. Yes, one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. Just try to remember that both men are in the same building.