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Refuge for the rational.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Opening Sentences 

I can’t write an opening sentence that doesn’t sound totally forced. I’ve been staring at my screen for half an hour trying to write about Thursday night. I went to the bar, and I’m writing about it for school. Because that’s what anthropology students do—pretty much whatever they want.

When I tell people that they seem to freak out a bit. They get this vision of themselves reading accounting books for hours on end, bored to death, and questioning the purpose of their existence, while I’m interviewing people over cigarettes and beer.

Archaeology students are a different story. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of archaeology, but I study it because I really want to dig up dead people. It’s all so that we can understand the social implications behind plagues and disease transmission. It also has important things to say about the way we treat the environment and the consequences of ecological destruction. They’re bad—I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an archaeologist who doesn’t believe in climate change. That’s another difference between accounting and anthropology students.

Another way to make them jealous is to tell them that you’re going to do fieldwork in Egypt. They get this vision of themselves in the museum as a kid, watching Indiana Jones, and wanting to be an archaeologist, but not having gained the necessary secondary sexual characteristics in later life to do so.

Now, I’m likely never going to drive a brand new car. Or drive one at all if I can help it. And that’s yet another difference between accountants and anthropologists. The University is kind enough to get you ready for the disparity early on. That is, they under-fund the social science programs and put a lot of money into the business schools. It doesn’t bother me much because I’ve never really cared for money or its management. At the end of the day, I get to learn that this current system of exchange is rather new, and despite the hype, rather ineffective. And it won’t last. So, given the current rate of destruction to our ecosystems, the health risks associated with this, the lack of social awareness or action in the public health department, the seemingly nonchalant attitude of the general public to antibiotic resistance, and rapid new disease emergence, I have a feeling what I study might be a lot more relevant in the near future. But, that’s only if the accountants are willing to give us any funding.

Monday, January 22, 2007


I have a long history with liars and yet I barely understand the phenomenon. When I was about five or six I had a friend who was a compulsive liar. She lied about everything, and I always wondered if the grandness of her lies were the result of her being stupid, her thinking I was stupid or some unholy combination of the two. I still wonder. She once told me this ridiculous story about how her family was not allowed to go to Toronto because her brother had bombed a building there. Oh, and her grandparents had died in the bombing. And her cat. I reacted to the bullshit the same way I still react. I didn’t confront her. I had enough foresight to recognize that she would simply become defensive and this would start a conflict and an argument, and I simply wasn’t interested in wasting energy on something that was so obviously false. I think defending a position in the first place lends credibility to the other side. And it’s rare that I’m willing to do that.

At this point, I was confused as to the motivation behind the lying. So confused that I considered (very briefly, but I was only six) the possibility that her stories could be at least partly true. I think it’s far easier to lie to someone whose first instinct is to be honest, because honest people simply don’t understand the motivation behind blatant lying.

I had reached the conclusion that people who lied like this did so for attention, and I resented what I perceived as a deliberate betrayal of trust (I was a pretty sensitive kid). That is, until my friend told me another ridiculous lie. The difference between this lie and the other was that it involved my own family. It was something small and silly, but nevertheless, something I could so easily refute. I considered a number of hypotheses to explain this, but was never able to decide on one. The only thing I can say for certain is that for some people lying is so much a habit that lies can seem real. But I won’t go as far as to say that they don’t know or can’t control doing it.

I am either a statistical anomaly, or pathological liars are not so rare as to deserve such a diagnostic label. It's just that I've known so many. However, I will say that there is a distinct difference between a chronic liar and everyday lying, for example, the kind that saves your ass at work. The difference is that the chronic liar seems to do so for no apparent reason. The lies are petty exaggerations that, though possible, are extremely unlikely, especially when their probability is calculated alongside any number of other improbable ‘facts’ contained within the person’s life’s story. What I’ve noticed about these people is that they think of themselves as honest people, and in fact will even go so far as to condemn dishonesty in others. The irony isn’t even funny; it’s just fucking pathetic.

The problem with these fucks is that I actually like spending time with some of them. I have friends like this, and the fact that I like them, and may even think they are intelligent, is negligible when I’m constantly exposed to shit-spewing. On the rare occasion I’ve tried to confront them, they have become defensive and launched into rhetorical tirades so obnoxious that it becomes impossible to say anything without being rudely interrupted. And then they pull out experts they know, or their boyfriend, sister, or mother knows, and places they’ve been, and things they’ve seen, and more lies that are impossible to disprove, and frankly, not worth the time of disproving.

I’ve even had these liars go so far as to lie about things I study. I can’t even express how absurd it feels to be interrupted by an air of expertise and a ‘fact’ you know to be wholly inaccurate because you have spent the last several years of your life studying it. At that point, it’s just offensive. I don’t know why people think they are more educated than they are. It’s endemic in our society. On the surface, it would seem as though these kinds of liars really do believe they are telling the truth. It could be that they read something that was inaccurate and took it as fact due to a lack of critical thinking skills. Or maybe they didn’t understand a valid presentation of the material and their misinterpretation grew into some horrible untruth that was far beyond their control. Either way, they’re pretty stupid.

I have noticed people claiming to have 190 IQs usually have problems with lying. So, not only are they aware of their own mental incapability, as evidenced by the incessant need to prop themselves up, but they think I’m so absolutely mentally retarded as to believe a lie that was fabricated by a complete idiot. I guess you could call it circular retardation. It’s also endemic in our society.

If anyone has a real explanation for this, please let me know. Otherwise, I guess we can just make fun of them.

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Friday, January 12, 2007


Motherboy was here again today. This is the name I graciously applied to a mother and her liminally adult son. They come in for coffee one or two times a month and she spins him like a top just to make sure he doesn’t get too far away from her, and to make sure he’s not getting spun by anyone else.

I know women like that. Cows. Everything is matter of fact and purposefully, patronisingly polite. Because as long as you don’t call someone names, you can speak to them however you wish. She has a mild English accent and faintly reeks of the colonial persuasion. She is cold and matter of fact and, like most women her age, round, with a waddle that renders her absolutely absurd.

Boy is as passive as you would expect one to be with a mother like that. In keeping with the colonial theme, he reminds me of a fancy-pants little heir to property in Kenya, whose short adulthood has been plagued by constant efforts to hide his homosexuality from his family. And to top it all off, the first time I ever saw Motherboy come in, boy was sporting these ridiculous Darwinian chops. And, since I have a passing fancy for sideburns that are, shall we say, more extensive than usual, the opportunity to further the ridicule of my odd inclination became a rather profitable pastime for my co-workers. I duly explained the minute differences between the Cold War and the War of 1812, but these protestations fell on deaf ears and I was forced to bear the humiliation of an invented connection to the disgusting little heir until he had the courtesy to shave the fucking things off. They didn’t last long, thankfully.

Once Boy came in with a girlfriend. She was a fairly plain-jane number, the kind you would expect a pallid little meekling like Boy to date. The thing that was notable about her was that she was smiling. It felt incongruous amongst the insipidness of Boy and the passive-aggressive sternness of Mother. Clearly, this was an interview. That’s what ‘nice’ boys do. They bring their poor girlfriends to meet their juggernaut mothers. There was nothing remarkable about the meeting; it was as silent and cheerless as always, with Mother doing most of the talking and Boy quietly absorbing her ‘advice’. When they left, Girl wasn’t smiling. She wasn’t unhappy either; if I know Boy, I’d say the relationship likely wasn’t anywhere near a point where she would have cared. That’s what ‘nice’ boys do. They bring their poor girlfriends to meet their juggernaut mothers before they bother to establish anything meaningful at all.

I never saw Girl again, but I guess that was inevitable. The fact the relationship was ever established to begin with was probably a wonder of physics. Though a variety of the usual secret lives and perversions could be summoned to decorate the inane Boy, none of them apply here. After all, I know boys like that. Disappointing. They use their silence to let you think there’s something more, but there never is. There are no perverse or even interesting surprises—just missionary sex and bad conversation.

Mother made me feel slightly less nasty toward boy when she came in with two of her hen friends. Mother and daughter—how perfectly fitting. The three sat around for over two hours and discussed indulgent subjects such as shoes and basically anything consumable. And then came an eerie, paranormal sound that halted the entire café. Mother laughed. She tilted her head back and let out a cackle. And she did it without smiling. She lowered her head and looked at the Sunday-best-dressed daughter and coldly said, “it’s because she’s jealous of you, dear”.

Despite not being privy to the context of the story, I was angered. The male sector of my audience may not know this, but women bandy this ‘jealous’ concept around all the time, and I’ve just about fucking had it. But this is another entry entirely. Suffice it to say that it’s the insecure, bitchy ones who seem to need it most. So, I felt a little pity for boy. I wanted him to grow the fuck up and kick mother’s ass to the proverbial Park Avenue curb.

A few weeks later they came in together again. There was the usual quietude and blank stares from Boy. And then I overheard her say something to boy that made me think, “Finally! He’s got to let her have it now!”

“She’s not our kind of people.”

Boy just sat there. He lowered his head. He raised it again. He looked left. He looked at mother. And then she kept on speaking.

Fuck you Boy.

So, it’s like I said. Secret lives and perversions don’t apply. Boy isn’t a serial killer or child pornographer or gay or secretly working on the solution to some great physics mystery. Boy is a stupid little boy, hanging from mother’s apron-strings by his ashen neck. He might take Prozac to cover up his underlying dissent, but his only sad attempt at eccentricity was shaved off months ago. He will marry some boring girl and they will have spoiled children whom they will be mildly proud of and who will be mildly successful. Such is life in the vacuum of consumption.

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