365 T-shirts - the reasoning

This blog should be sub-titled: a journal of my life in geek.

I get my geek on with things about which I am geeky: comic books, Baseball, Ultimate, science fiction, my favorite bands, books I have read and loved, and Jungian psychology to name some of the most frequently traversed subjects.

I began this project simply as a way to count my T-shirts. I own a lot of T-shirts. But how many do I have? Do I have 365? We shall find out.

When I started this blog, I thought about how each T-shirt means something to me. I bought it for a reason, after all. I set myself the task to post an entry about a new T-shirt every day as a way to simply write something every day, a warm up for writing fiction, which is my passion. Writing is like exercise. Warm ups are good for exercise. But after completing a month of blogging about T-shirts, I have learned that this blog serves as a journal; it documents my life in geek, sort of a tour of my interests in pop culture. The blog serves as a tool for self-inventory, for assessment and analysis of self and the origins of self, for stepping through the process of individuation in catalogues, lists, and ranks.

The blog also made me aware that I have some serious gaps in my T-shirt ownership, and I am in the process of collecting some new T-shirts for several of the great popular culture icons that I truly love. Stay tuned.

I was also a bit surprised that people checked out my blog and continue to check it, read it, and even comment on it. I am very appreciative of this readership. Please feel free to share your thoughts in my comments section. I will respond.

Also, please note that I have moved the original introductory text to the side bar. And now, I present to you the most recent entry of 365 T-shirts: a journal of my life in geek. Thank you for reading.
(Second Update - 1310.24. First Update - 1306.05 Originally Posted - 1304.25.)

Friday, May 24, 2013

T-shirt #64: Embrace Uncertainty; Question Everything

T-shirt #64: Embrace Uncertainty; Question Everything

Here's me on 1305.14 at the office of my therapist, Dr. Brady Harnishfeger
If college gave me anything valuable, and this question is open to debate, it instilled in me the value of questioning everything. From my first days at college, my mind opened in new ways to the power of possibility and to the mode of critical thinking. Drill backwards. Why? Is this accurate? Can this be viewed another way? Why am I rejecting what you are saying? Is there value in what you saying? In those days, my main credo was "question everything." I was unsatisfied. I was searching for answers. Not much has changed today. I am still searching, and though I have reached some conclusions, or what feel like conclusions, I have added to the credo a second motto that keeps me open to possibility.

In 1998, I was hired by the Gender and Women's Studies department at Western Michigan University to teach a media studies course called "Media and the Sexes" that would have been more aptly entitled: "Gender and the Media" or "Gender and Media Studies." I previously wrote about this job in T-shirt #37.

The central question posed by this course involved the intersection of gender and media, forming a kind of chicken and the egg type conundrum. Do media products reflect our ideas about gender as a culture or are our ideas about gender germinated and cultivated in the media products we ingest (often whether we want to ingest them or not)? My answer to my students about this question was "I don't know." It is a complex issue. And there may not be an answer. In fact, it may not be necessary to ask the question. If we want to transform our culture (and that's another question that's open to debate), then for this cultural transformation, attitudes need to be changed, and it doesn't really matter where or how they are formed. Focusing on transforming the attitudes is the key. If the attitudes change, then, well, the attitudes will have changed. It may take generations. But already the attitudes of today are more advanced and sophisticated than they were ten years ago. Social media has played a significant role in creating dialogue and dissemination of diverse viewpoints. We are poised on the cusp of great social change in our culture. Paradigm shift time. The Singularity is near in all kinds of ways.

So, back to the shirt. I created the motto "embrace uncertainty" to go along with "question everything." It made sense to me that some things did not have answers or that one might spend a lifetime seeking these answers. It also occurred to me that certainty can be a terrible thing. With certainty, people are closed off to difference, closed off to possibility. Certainty breeds conformity. You must think like me, dress like me, like what I like, act how I act, or I am not interested in having you around.

Granted, certainty in some things is essential. I am not uncertain about the horrors of rape, child abuse, and a host of other crimes or abuses. So, let's take that obvious counter argument off the table.

Just focusing on possibility, on respect for difference, and love of diversity, "embrace uncertainty" can help us to hear the opinions of others because a great many people cannot even get to the point of tolerance for opposing viewpoints because they are shut down and closed off before they have even fully heard the opposing view.

Why is this? Why do we as humans (or maybe more appropriately Americans) have trouble accepting the opinions of others? We have a mass insanity of conformism: everyone must agree, or there is something wrong.

Years ago, when I started teaching, students would parrot and oft-used phrase, one I found myself using, “I respect your opinion because you have the right to your own opinion.” The statement always preceded an attack upon the opinion, which, is what I was seeking: open dialectic. However, I arrived at another conclusion after a year or two of teaching. I respect all "reasonable" opinions--important emphasis there on the word "reasonable." I crave and thrive on difference, I adore the myriad and quotidian (and not so common) variations of humanity; however, I have absolutely no respect for opinions that pander hate and/or violence; I have no respect for the tools of prejudice and discrimination. I have no tolerance for those views, no respect, and certainly, no acceptance. And it's usually these opinions, ones promoting hate and/or violence, that are propelled by the greatest and most steel-hard certainty. There's often an almost fanatic and maniacal certainty behind those acts, at least the ones not lost in a a haze of rage, insanity, or blind emotion.

But reasonable difference of opinion, argument, dialectic, those things are my greatest sustenance. And though I may argue for my own views, good arguments give me pause, strong and compelling arguments force me re-consider and re-evaluate, to have doubt, to embrace uncertainty. And that’s one of my greatest mottos: Embrace Uncertainty. Because “certainty” has ruined a lot of lives...

Recently, I have been teaching a mythology course, and the more I often I teach it, the more I love it and its subject matter. The course gives me the chance to lecture with passion about one of my favorite subjects: Jungian Psychology. Last night, I linked Jungian thought to many world religions (especially eastern religions), the ideas of the British and American transcendental romantics, and gnosticism. We discussed the meaning of life and the collective unconscious. We hoped that the idea of "everything is connected" is real, though recognized that we are open to possibility, questioning, and the willingness to embrace uncertainty with this hope in our hearts. I spoke ardently about a book I dearly love called Jesus and the Lost Goddess by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, a book which questions established ideas about literalist Christianity in what seems like new and exciting ways but which are very old, the views of the original Christians. We watched many excellent videos, one of which I wish to share here.

The absurd notion of one

by Timothy Freke

Years ago, I started another blog: SENSE OF DOUBT. I had intended to write about embrace uncertainty there, but I became too busy with finding employment and making a marriage and a family and so I posted only very intermittently to the blog and never came around to writing about my main credo.

In 2009, I was inspired to write about Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" : There's No Shame in What You Are Feeling. I faced several arguments from some readers about what I wrote in that blog. In response, I wrote a rebuttal that I believed would be a good introduction to my thoughts on embrace uncertainty. Now, four years later, I would rather close with this rebuttal, hidden in a jump break. If you have read through to here, thank you. Either way, I will see you tomorrow because unlike four years ago, I have found the time to post to a daily blog.

Many people have a difficult time with criticism because it feels like an attack, even if it is not an attack on them. It's a unique gift to be able to step outside of one's own perspective and look at a debate from an intellectual point of view. This always comes up when people read my criticism. There’s all these specious arguments about free will and freedom of choice.

For instance, with my blog about Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl,” I hear arguments about how Katy Perry is an adult and can produce whatever songs and videos she wants. Well, of course, she can. I am vehemently against censorship. I am not arguing that her song and video should not exist. But if she is going to put those products out there, then I have the right to criticize them.

With this criticism, I am not even really criticizing Katy herself. She may be a fine and likable person. I wouldn’t know. And I am not making an argument for censorship. What I am doing is reading the signs, uncovering the subtext, analyzing the implicit messages that the media product, the meme, the infotoxin, transmits to an unwary and passive public.

I am always going to be instantly critical of ANY meme that glorifies one thing over another thing, thus negating or dismissing the other thing, marginalizing it, fearing its difference. In this case, it was the glorification of heterosexuality over any other sexual identity. I felt that Katy Perry’s video needed analysis and criticism as it is so insidious. It appears to be a positive statement for same sex desires, and yet, it is not at all. But that’s just my opinion. I believe in my opinion; I am arguing for it, but I accept that other opinions that differ from mine may have validity.

The greater issue is the red herring sidetrack of introducing the issue of censorship where it does not belong, of dismissing valid criticism with the argument that artists may produce whatever they want, or worse, of making a psycho-sexual analysis that I lust for Katy Perry, and since I will never have her, I shred her artwork in a public venue. To all of this, I say, balderdash. But it’s a great concern because these are the kinds of roadblocks students would throw up all the time in response to media criticism. 

Whew. Glad to have that off my chest after four years.

- chris tower - 1305.24 - 12:01

PS: The picture of me in my T-shirt was taken, as the caption shares, in the office of my therapist. As a lover of psychology, I have always wanted to be in therapy, but, for many years, I could not afford it. Now that I can manage to make use of it, I am zealot for therapy. Being open to possibility, embracing uncertainty, or rather freeing one's self from certainty about some things, is truly part of the therapeutic process.