Aldon Hynes's blog

From Transcendentalism to Transhumanism as a Participant Observer

I am starting this blog post Saturday evening after a long day. I got up at about 5 AM, or about 16 hours ago. I put up a blog post and checked in on social media. I drove to New London for an enrollment fair. I was weary and ambivalent about having such a busy Saturday scheduled, but it was a beautiful fall day, a little on the warm side. Along the way, I stopped to play a little Ingress and balance out work and fun.

There was a lot of positive energy at the health fair. I took some good pictures which I will share later. From there, I drove up to Middletown where folks from CHC were helping with Habitat for Humanity. They are in the process of renovating a really beautiful house. I took a bunch of pictures and headed off to the next event.

One of my co-workers teaches archery with 4-H. The archery club was at the Portland Fair and I agreed to show up and take some pictures. I posted a few of them on Facebook and hope to share more later.

Finally, I arrived back home, took a nap and watched a little H+ with Kim.

NaNoWriMo is just a few weeks away, and I've been wondering, will I have the time and energy to write? In the evenings, my mind is just too tired for such activities. Perhaps, I can build a schedule to get up early, write, and then head off to a normal day, gathering experiences for my writing.

I've been thinking more about approaching life from a participant observer stance. It seems to me, that to write well, you need to work, hard, on your craft, yet at the same time, you need to be in the world, gathering experiences to write from.

I'm especially interested in this right now, in terms of trying to get a better sense of the people around me, how to create more compelling characters in my stories, and not just flat, two dimensional caricatures.

As I look for depth and complexity in life, I'm struck by the contrast between Thoreau and Ginsburg.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. … A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.

Too many people work hard all day, come home exhausted, and veg out in front of the TV; the modern day amusements of a mankind leading lives of quiet desperation.

From Thoreau, I go to Nietzsche.

I TEACH YOU THE SUPERMAN. Man is something that is to be surpassed.

and from there I go to Ginsberg,

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

How does one surpass the men of quiet desperation without ending destroyed by madness? How does one adopt the stance of the participant observer, without ending up on the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix?

My mind drifts back to H+, transhuman. From transcendentalism to transhumanism. H+ the web series, is complex. It is the sort of entertainment that I enjoy, challenging my mind.

Yet too often, I just don't have the energy to watch a few more episodes. So, perhaps, they will wait for rare weekends, and I'll try to come up with a schedule of writing in the morning, participating and observing the lives of quiet desperation during the day, trying to consolidate thoughts and then dig into additional material, as I have time and energy in the evenings.

On Sunday morning, I slept a little later than usual. I've been thinking more about what our Facebook posts say about ourselves and if there is any relationship between Nietzsche,transcendentalism, transhumanism and what is going on in the polarization of current U.S. politics. And, with my interest in health disparities, I'm wondering how all of this relates to culturally and linguistically appropriate services and multiculturalism.

There are probably several blog posts worth exploring in this, but it is time to wrap up this post, get a little webwork done before heading off to church and a couple family events. More later...

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Meeting Needs

As elected officials in Washington set aside their own pride and gluttony and worked together to meet the needs of all the people in our great country, our not, I spent the day going from one event to another seeing the power of community coming together.

My Thursday morning started with a visit to a small neighborhood school in New Britain. They were starting a new program, a "Walking School Bus". Parents would walk their kids to school, along a predetermined route. Along the way, other kids would come out and join the group. They would all get exercise as they headed off to school. Parents would talk, and get some exercise themselves. The community would be strengthened and absenteeism would be decreased.

People from various community organizations showed up to join the celebration, encourage the families and look for ways to spread the program.

From their, I went to a meeting of the Connecticut Multicultural Health Partnership. We were discussing the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards in Health and Health Care.

A friend, who does trainings on this for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, spoke about the importance of challenging your own thinking. I've been thinking about this a bit in writing. Next month is National Novel Writing Month. I wrote a novel one year, and tried a few other years, but just couldn't make enough time. I need to work much more on my writing; plot development, setting, and especially my characters. Other friends of mine in health care write novels, and it struck me that culturally and linguistically appropriate character development training would be great for novelists.

As an aside, Friday, I met with an HIV outreach worker and a couple college kids to talk about a social media and beyond project addressing stigmas in health care. The HIV outreach worker is HIV Positive. He talks a lot about being 'positive' and at one point we got into a discussion about how people with health stigmas, like being HIV positive is rarely portrayed in popular culture, let alone portrayed in a way that reduces stigma.

I ended Thursday off with a visit to a Fall Food Fair for Diabetes Awareness, yet another chance for people to help one another in culturally appropriate ways to live healthier.

Today, I head off to help people get health insurance, then to document people from work rebuilding a house for Habitat for Humanity.

All of this, I set against what is going on in social media. The noise about disfunction in the GOP controlled House of Representatives in Washington dominates my feed, interrupted by people talking about their struggles. One person grieves the death of her son to pediatric cancer as an important Muslim holiday approaches. Two others have posted about friends of theirs who have recently taken their lives. One wrote a great status update. I shared it with my own status update following the same vein.

I hate those: "If you're a real friend you'll post one word as a comment about how we met, copy and paste my status verbatim, send me $100 and annoy the hell out of all your friends at the same time" sort of status updates. They aren't real.

They are as bad as the "Facebook is taking selfie pictures of me in the shower and sending them to perverts in Croatia. Please change some unrelated privacy setting so hackers in Moscow can't come through your friend feed to get to those selfies" posts.

So, I was struck by John's post today. It's real, folks. It is about connecting the way we are supposed to connect, with compassion and empathy. Yesterday, another friend posted about someone they were close to who took their life.

Please, read this, read John's status update. Stop and think about the people behind the other status updates you read today. Try to find some way to help others around you.

Thank you John for starting this discussion. Let's hope it spreads.

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

It struck me last night, how difficult this is, as we enter day eight of the U.S. Government hostage crisis. Social media and the traditional news media remain focus on the crisis and negativity abounds. There are the spin-offs of mentally ill people acting out and getting killed and of others immolating themselves.

Yesterday, I read a blog post, Does Reading Popular Fiction Make You a Dunce?. It referred to an article in the Atlantic Wire Now We Have Proof Reading Literary Fiction Makes You a Better Person , which in turn refers to an article in Science, Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind

The abstract for the Science article says,

Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults. We present five experiments showing that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective ToM (experiments 1 to 5) and cognitive ToM (experiments 4 and 5) compared with reading nonfiction (experiments 1), popular fiction (experiments 2 to 5), or nothing at all (experiments 2 and 5). Specifically, these results show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM. More broadly, they suggest that ToM may be influenced by engagement with works of art.

Years ago, I spent a bit of time studying artificial neural networks, and this still shapes a bit of my thinking. The inputs we receive help shape the way our brains work. The old saying about computers applies, "Garbage in, Garbage out".

So what if we spent more of our time contemplating things of beauty, a masterful painting or a well turned phrase? What if we spent more time trying to comprehend fascinating complicated characters and multifaceted ambiguous plot lines instead of two dimensional characters facing simple, predictable outcomes?

What if we stopped and listened and looked at beauty, for half an hour, for fifteen minutes, or even just a few minutes a day?

I have returned to the article I started reading sometime ago, “The Romantic Period, 1820-1860: Essayists and Poets” by Kathryn VanSpanckeren, (2008). I still have Blithedale Romance on my smartphone, and read sections of it from time to time, but it is slow going right now, so I added Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

I've thought more about Walden and Innisfree. How deliberately do we construct our lives? How much deliberation do we put into our lives? How do we balance deliberation and spontaneity? Can we live our lives as if they are an artistic creation we are working on?

Can we curate our social media feeds to assist us in this creation, spending more time on posts with a higher artistic value?

I was planning on review more of my Facebook feed, but that should wait for another day.

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Shutting Down the Core Curriculum

This morning, I read an interesting blog post about 'core curriculum'.

My regular readers will know that despite my children being exceptionally gifted and typically testing off the scale on standardized test, I am generally opposed to a one size fits all education system more focused on success on standardized tests than in creativity, collaboration, and twenty-first century skills.

They will also know that I'm a big fan of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

the other thing about football is we send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is, and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake, or indirect learning. We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. I mean, yeah, it’s really nice that I have a wonderful three-point stance and that I know how to do a chop block and all this kind of stuff. But we send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etcetera, etcetera. And these kinds of head fake learning are absolutely important. And you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.

The blog post talks about the problem of testing "students on material that they haven’t yet learned in September". She talks about how students respond,

when he gets consistently failing grades on the module assessments, what message do you think he’s getting?

She is rightly concerned that the indirect lesson for too many students is that they are dumb. This is where the real lesson can come in. Failure is okay! Not knowing things is okay!

The baseball player who fails to get a base hit two thirds of the times is a great success. Failure is okay!.

And, for students who fail spectacularly, they can consider running for public office. They can consider passing legislation that encourages a one size fits all education system more focused on success on standardized tests than in creativity, collaboration, and twenty-first century skills.

If they are really spectacular failures, they can try an end run around the constitution to get legislation they oppose, like health care reform, repealed by holding the appropriations process hostage and shutting down the government.

Yes, there are indirect lessons that can be learned. Creativity and collaboration is what matters; not success at tests in September, and not passing legislation that damages our country.

Let's take core curriculum failures and turn them into meaningful successes, let's talk with our students about the importance of creativity and collaboration and not fretting about stupid tests or stupid legislators.

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A Culture of Dependence

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…

This morning, as I read through posts on Facebook, I found one by Zack Exley where he talked about a discussion he recently had with someone from MIssouri. His interlocutor repeated and old criticism of government,

I think it's terrible that we're creating this culture of dependence with all these programs. It's just bad.

A culture of dependence. That is the big concern some people express about programs that help others. I believe this is an unChristian, morally bankrupt idea that ultimately is contrary to our very nature as humans.

We are born dependent. If we are fortunate, we live to a ripe old age and die dependent. Through out our lives we depend on others.

When I started composing this blog post in my mind this morning, I shared a comment on Zack's post:

I am depending on my Mac, the Internet and Facebook in allowing me to post this comment. This depends on the electricity system, the cable system for my Internet, and a bunch of other systems. I will write a much longer blog post about this on my blog after work today.

But first, I have to get to a job I depend on, because my family depends on me. I will have to drive across pubic roads I depend on, I will have to depend on other drivers and police to make it safely to work.

And yes, I will help provide health care to people who depend on their doctors as well as on the government which helps keep the health care system safe and funds portions of it.

When I get home, I will challenge the idea that creating dependence is a bad thing, based on my day, on music and on scripture.

My original thought was to start with

What would you think if I sang out of tune

Yes, I get by with a little help from my friends. There was a time when my favorite song was "I am a rock", when I didn't get by on help from my friends. It is a sad and lonely place to be, and I hope that those who criticize a culture of dependency will some day grow beyond that sad place.

Yet my plan for my blog post took a rapid change when I got to work. I found that the mother of one of my co-workers had died Monday and headed off to pay my final respects.

I never got a chance to meet Jessie Daniels Highsmith but her daughter is an amazing woman, and all the eulogies I heard let me know that she was an incredible woman as well.

She was the church secretary for 40 years.

Jessie exemplified a full commitment to faith, family and community. She was love in action and never met a stranger.

You could depend on Jessie. In times of grief, we depend on one another. A culture of dependence? Yes, we are called to be dependable and to depend on one another.

I pray for those who eschew a culture of dependence, hoping that someday, they may move from being a friendless rock to getting by with a little help from their friends. I pray that they may someday embrace their full humanity, including interdependence with one another. I pray that they may someday be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, depending on one another.

And perhaps, most importantly, I pray that our national dialog shifts to one of embracing our humanity and our interdependence on one another.

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