Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

Some Thoughts on Power and Control

A friend of mine recently wrote that he was focused on “isolating and removing those elements in my life where others have power over me; financial, emotional, physical, mental, etc.”

I responded as follows:

It’s pretty much impossible to operate in this world without entering into power relations with others (unless you want to become a hermit— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermit —something that has sadly disappeared from the world). We live in a society in which mechanisms of power operate at every level.

That being said, it’s important to distinguish between situations in which people have power over you (which, unless you are in prison or the military or a religious order or a child, is fairly rare for people of a certain class living in non-authoritarian societies) and situations in which obligations are created between yourself and others.

Even situations of employment, to the extent that they are not abject servitude or outright slavery, involve elements of exchange—my time and skills for your money and the opportunity to participate in a project directed, more or less, by someone else—and obligation (I have committed to this, you have committed to that).

My assumption is that you are struggling not so much with questions of power but with questions of control. You don’t feel in control of your time, your resources, your relationships.

It’s probably worth thinking about that and why that might be. Along the way, you will have to come to terms not only with power, but also with weakness and vulnerability. All the gurus of success and strength and manifesting power don’t want to deal with this and, in face, relegate weakness and vulnerability to a “victim mentality.”

I recommend, on the contrary, wondering why an ego feels so threatened and out of control, and experimenting with what it might mean to be completely powerless, not in the sense of being a victim, but in the sense of being someone whose entire mission is to serve others.

Here’s something else to consider.

The other day I wrote on Twitter, “Everywhere I see more successful versions of myself.”

An acquaintance saw that and reached out to see if I was ok and how he might help me be more “successful.”

Along the way, he asked what “success” meant to me. I wrote: “…to have and maintain a sense of openness and equanimity towards others and the world.”

As you can see, this has nothing to do with “success” in terms of prestige, fame, or accomplishment.

That being said, it does have something to do with power, specifically, the power to understand myself and work with those habits, behaviors and attitudes that stand in the way of openness and equanimity.

Life Lessons

So, this morning, I was writing in my diary on the subway and I thought, “If I were to die, and someone found this book, what would I want them to know?”

  • There are always more options than you realize or are actively considering.
  • Giving is good.
  • The system obeys its own logic. It is not a human logic.
  • Our conscious perception of reality is a product of our nervous system. Ensuring that this product reflects the inputs as accurately as possible poses its own unique challenge. The other challenge is not always falling for this product and forgetting that we have conjured it forth.
  • There’s nothing wrong with lying, per se. There are no rules, strictly speaking, but telling the truth, as difficult as that can be (given, in part, the difficulty of knowing the truth with certainty), is often easier to live with. It can also, at times, be downright heroic.
  • You will be wrong about this and that. Admit it.
  • Everybody is on some trip, though not everyone consciously so. This trip is an archetypical paradigm, a “way of living” that may have been sketched out explicitly for us (in church or school or work), or inferentially in song and story. It could be a power trip, an ego trip, a rebel trip, a mother trip, a father trip, a blues trip, a business trip, a science trip, a slacker trip, whatever. Recognizing you own trip qua trip can be helpful as can recognizing the trips of others. However, our overblown sense of individuality and personal novelty makes it difficult to accept that we are on a trip (we can, in defensiveness, immerse ourselves, lose ourselves, in it), so pointing it out won’t exactly win you any brownie points.
  • Compassion towards others should be your default setting. Realize that they are on their trip or running their script, their programming, or simply living out their limitations, acting out, acting against something invisible, unconscious. And that they are doing so deliberately, as it may happen, as you yourself may be doing.
  • Trips run the game.
  • When somebody is coming at you, being rude and aggressive, it can be hard to remember that this is a trip they are on (it can be almost as difficult as realizing this is a trip you are on). You are going to feel like you need to defend yourself (in fact, you may actually need to), and you will want to respond with your own form of rude aggression. Choose another option.
  • Feelings change. Life is longer than you expect. It’s all over before you know it.
  • Be hard on yourself. Give yourself a break.
  • There are infinite, though not unlimited, ways of doing anything.

Death Undoes Us

It does.

Why I Am a Vine Skeptic

Note: I wrote this as a comment on a post over at MarketingProfs, but when I realized I’d written 300+ words, I thought: This is a post in itself!

At this point, as much as I’ve had fun with Vine, I’m still a Vine skeptic.

I’ve got two issues with the app. The big one is sound. Montage works in movies because you can have a separate audio track that provides continuity. Since Vine doesn’t allow you to separate sound from image, the soundtracks of Vine-ettes (as I call them) tend to be choppy and abstract (or, “experimental,” to be generous). You can show a kind of story, but it’s much harder to literally tell one.

The sound is also a distraction. Whereas I can scroll through Instagram while waiting at the dentist’s office without bugging people (or at home without bugging my wife), with Vine I either have to use earbuds or keep the sound off, which means missing what can be an important piece of the content (though, to my first point, often is not).

The second issue is time. Unlike Instagram, it takes time to make Vine-ettes. This makes it, in its way, “anti-mobile.” Since Instagram allows me to pull in pictures from my photo library, I can snap pics on the fly and “Instagram” them whenever I want.

With Vine, as simple as these things can be, sometimes it takes time to get them right and sometimes I will re-shoot a couple times and then just give up (ok – I’m a quitter).

There is also something to be said for the at-a-glance scrolling that both Twitter and Instagram provide. With Vine, I have to stop and watch. Again, it’s only 6 seconds, but it adds up and makes the interaction lumpy rather than smooth.

I’m not saying that Vine couldn’t fix these issues—by allowing for separate sound recording, for example—but, frankly, if they added more features it would simply make the process more involved and time-consuming. Once that happens, this will become what I think it is destined to be: a novel social tool/network/phenomenon whose widespread adoption will stall.

 

Tinariwen, Paradise, Boston, MA, 10.12.12

A Brief Holiday in Other People’s Misery

Before I went to see Tinariwen the other night, I read up on the political situation in Mali and it is pretty grim. A quarter million people have fled the country since January 2012 and the beginning of the “Tuareg Rebellion,” a conflict fueled in part by the return to Mali of Tuareg fighters who, up to that point, had been in the employ of Muammar Gadddafi.

The Malian government has now long since lost control of the northern part of the country, some of which is controlled by the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, and some of which is controlled by Islamic fundamentalists—the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in Northern Africa and Ansar Dine (under the command of a former Tuareg rebel leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly). The result has been the forced conscription of children, systematic rape, imposition of Sharia law and the disturbing news that fundamentalists are compiling lists of unwed mothers.

Against this backdrop, as I headed out to lose myself in the trancey, guitar-driven desert groove for which Tinariwen has become world-renowned, I was reminded of the opening line from “Holiday in the Sun” by the Sex Pistols, “A brief holiday in other people’s misery.” While that line referred to visiting East Berlin during the Cold War, it seemed to apply just as well to this middle class American seeking entertainment and diversion from guys who every day are wondering and worrying about the fate of their families in a land plunged into unrelenting chaos.

The Absented Messiah

It’s not the case that Tinariwen just happens to be from an African nation that is well on its way to “failed state” status. They have expressed support for Tuareg autonomy in the recent troubles and in fact have been part of Tuareg resistance to the Malian government for decades now. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Men Sociopaths?

I just found out that an acquaintance—a college student— was roofied at a bar several months back. She was not raped but she did pass out, cutting up her face in the process, and awoke in a hospital.

It got me thinking. At what point does a guy begin to consider it “ok” to drug a woman and rape her? Is it simply that roofying a woman is really only one step away from getting her so drunk that she can’t resist or protest (or give consent, for that matter, which makes it rape)? In other words, is it just a logical extension of behavior some men find acceptable?

Talking this over with a friend, she chalked it up to “rape culture.” In myriad ways, according to this argument, men are given the message that raping a woman is ok (or, more commonly, that acts that are in fact rape are not really rape).

While I agree that these messages are out there, and that when educating men about rape you can spend a lot of time addressing such messages and images and encouraging men to reflect on them, I did not agree that men are given the message, “It is ok to drug women and rape them.” In fact this is (I would hope) seen as not only criminal but severely f*cked up (though it is the central theme of many Quagmire jokes).

Personally, I view drugging people in any form, but especially in order to incapacitate and rape them, sociopathic. Mentioning this, my friend replied, “Well, men are sociopaths.”

Again, while I can’t completely disagree with this statement—men are, after all, capable of an extreme suppression/compartmentalization of their feelings and the commission of acts ranging from the callously heartless to the horrendously monstrous—it still begs the question, “Why are some men more sociopathic than others?”

In the end, I’m asking these questions because I want to know what it would take to stop men from doing this to women. If otherwise normal guys are somehow getting the message that it is ok to drug and rape women, then I suppose you might be able to correct this through education about sexual behavior and the myths surrounding rape.

If, on the other hand, it’s a question of sociopathy, then it would seem only early diagnosis and intervention would address the problem. Making that happen, or even what it would look like, seems very challenging.

The fact that there are men who right now are planning on drugging and raping women, or, frankly, raping them at all, is disturbing.

The idea that these men have somehow been acculturated to believe that this behavior is, if not normal, at least reasonable, is depressing.

The possibility that this is ingrained in masculine culture, that it is not a radical aberration but rather occupies a place on a continuum of male behavior that seamlessly links the teenager pressuring his girlfriend into having sex to the “sociopath” putting Rohypnol in a stranger’s drink, fills me, due to its undeniable plausibility, with a sense of hopelessness.

Consensus, Hierarchy and the #Occupy Movement

A friend of mine posted this video on Facebook:

It explains the consensus process used by the Occupy Wall Street folks.

I lived in a cooperative house in college that relied on this process to make all decisions, so I am familiar with both the theory and the practice behind it. The basic notion, if you haven’t worked with consensus before, is that it is the only way to make decisions which affect an entire group in a way that allows everyone to express their opinion and agree to—or at least agree not to block—a particular decision.

Why does consensus appeal to people? It appeals because zero-sum decision making processes such as voting can often lead to an intense frustration and a concomitant sense of disempowerment. Just ask anyone who voted for Kerry in 2004. When Bush won and crowed about the “political capital” he had thereby gained, I was angered and disgusted. 44 million people can vote against you and, because 45 million voted for you, you can basically give the 44 million the finger? That’s just not right. Read the rest of this entry »

Portal or The 36 Chambers of Death Metal

imagesDeath Metal is genre music. Its defining characteristics are complex riffing (with a sometimes equally complex approach to meter), “blast beat” drumming, and vocal stylings that range from deep grunting to “cookie monster” growling to maniacal screaming. Naturally, the lyrical content of death metal centers around death —its many causes, violent and otherwise, as well as its various physical characteristics and consequences— feelings of terror or menace, and the occult. Likewise, the genre’s visual palette consists of images of the dead, the undead, war, murder, satanism, heathenism, barbarity, all-pervading darkness, and a post-apocalyptic futurism replete with blasted landscapes and bio-mechanical weaponry.

While there are bands like Opeth or Enslaved who have pushed and prodded these generic attributes in many surprising and strange directions, if you are wandering the halls of the record shoppe (or browsing through iTunes) and you see a cd whose cover depicts necrophagia or some pagan or devil-worshiping atrocity and the name of the band is Baphomet or Entombed or, well, Necrophagist, then you pretty much know what you are going to get.

That predictability is the beauty of genre music. Like country music or reggae or acid house, death metal, in the abstract, “all sounds the same.” But as any lover of the genre will tell you, there are real differences between the greats and the innovators and everyone else.

Which is why I want to tell you about Portal.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Santana Problem

317438083_2e3067b329_mFine. I’ll admit it. I like Carlos Santana.

Not the resurgent, iPod friendly, Michelle Branch cum Matchbox 20 Santana of several years back, but the Evil Ways-Black Magic Woman -Oye Como Va-Santana of the hippie era.

Heck, I even dig the jazz-rock-fusion Santana of Love, Devotion, and Surrender and Welcome. And while we’re at it, I’ll cop to having a big soft spot for Moonflower, or about half of it anyway. There, I said it.

Why do I feel like I am herewith confessing to a regrettable aesthetic peccadillo? Because Santana is a one (or two) trick pony who plays a handful of licks with an albeit distinctively fat, warm tone, but who, when required to branch out on extended jams, quickly repeats himself and even more quickly falls back on a weird, wah-wah-fueled, ascending chromatic accelerando which is cool when you hear it for the first time as a thirteen year old but makes you shake your head when heard ever after.

Nevertheless, periodically I find myself listening to Santana, especially the first two albums and any live stuff I can dig up from the early 1970s. The Tanglewood concert on Wolfgang’s Vault is a good example of what I find compelling from this period of Santana’s oeuvre, particularly things like his frenetic but concise phrasing on “Batuka/Se Cabo.”

I think I return to this music, ultimately, because I consistently appreciate Santana’s unabashed devotion to melody, his rhythmic fluidity, and the fact that his playing frequently exhibits enough psychedelic bite to excuse me while I kiss the sky. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, check the outro-solo on “Evil Ways” where the guitar line twists and whips around like a paisley rattlesnake. My mind just blows and blows.

Certainly there is something clichéd about Santana (something which Zappa lampooned with his “Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression”), but it’s important to remember that it’s a cliché  Santana minted and coined himself on his journey from the strip clubs of Tijuana to the patchouli soaked stages of the Fillmores East and West. He’s an icon and a dinosaur who speaks in a hilarious hipster patois that I can never get enough of, but he is also the classic example of a musician whose art is inseparable, for good or ill, from the spiritual longing that burns at its core.

I don’t know how you feel about him, but if you like Santana, you’re going to love him live in Ghana. Enjoy:

Image Courtesy of dgans.

MarketingProfs Digital Mixer, Here I Come!

MP_DMM_BloggerBadgeI’m off to MarketingProfs’ Digital Mixer in Chicago this morning and I’m practically giddy.

Look, I’m a people person and if there is one thing that conferences like this have, it’s people. The bonus is that in this case, I’ve actually met some of them before and am very much looking forward to reconnecting with Paul Chaney, Amber Naslund, Beth Harte, Jason Baer, Mack Collier, as well as all the great folks from MarketingProfs proper.

The super-bonus is that there’s gonna be folks there whom I haven’t yet met but, having met them, will find my life utterly transformed and the world full of bright, ever-expanding horizons. Or at least I’ll get their business card.

I must admit, however, that, aside from meeting people, “deepening relationships,” and “participating in the conversation,” I have another goal in attending the MarketingProfs Digital Mixer: atonement.

You see, at a MarketingProfs event last June, I moderated a panel on content strategy. At the beginning of the session, I asked people to put away their laptops and refrain from Tweeting unless prior to doing so they could honestly and earnestly say to themselves, “The world must know!” It was not surprising that, for doing so, I was called, by Greg Verdino among other people, a “douche.”

I don’t know if the mustache I’m growing will really help me live down my reputation as “douchey,” but, heck, I’m gonna do my darnedest to make up for this egregious social media faux pas and show everybody that I’ve drunk the Kool Aid, that I’ve gotten with the program, and that I can play well with others.

And much like my conscious decision to grow a mustache, in spite of its many perils, that last sentence was written in the complete absence of any inner sense of irony or sarcasm. See ya there!