Mediocre White Dude. (It me.)

Hi. My name is Mister Nicholas, and I am a mediocre white dude.

It feels good to admit it. One of the reasons I left Facebook was that I’d developed a persistent insecurity over what I’d call “lifestyle porn.” It is easy to cultivate and manicure one’s social media presence to present only the best, most-polished version of oneself. Flattering camera angles. Slacktivism that gestures at a deeper concern with Social Justice and World Peace. Pictures of yourself hanging out in Cool Places, doing Fun Things. I would see my friends having the times of their lives, and I’d look down at all the ways I felt disappointed in myself and dissatisfied with my life, and I’d feel lesser.

(This is not to say that I didn’t also engage in lifestyle porn. I definitely did. I liked to draw attention to the good things in my life. I rarely spoke of the things that weren’t working out for me. It provided easy doses of validation and peer support, neither of which can be overrated.)

Rarely did I see people talking openly and honestly about their insecurities. The things they didn’t like about themselves. Things at which they’d failed. It makes sense, it’s natural – nobody likes failure, or to appear fallible, or to be vulnerable. (I especially hate feeling vulnerable. Can’t stand it.)

Paradoxically, I think people are at their most relatable when they’re failing. When we stop trying to hold up the image of ourselves that we want everybody else to see, maybe that’s when we get to be who we really are. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I am a mediocre white man. One could definitely argue that this blog is a form of lifestyle porn. I’m presenting an image of myself to you, the audience, that reflects how I want to be seen. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be seen and, as much as I dislike large groups and grumble about idiots, I want to feel connected to the world around me. I think it’s natural and understandable.

But I digress. There’s freedom in mediocrity. If you accept that you will fuck up, several times every day, maybe it makes it easier to be compassionate to yourself. Maybe that makes it easier to be compassionate towards other people.

When people talk about mediocre white men, I suspect they’re probably talking about this excellent tweet by Sarah Hagi. We’re overconfident because we’re too oblivious to our own privilege. It’s true. I agree with it. I remember talking about this on Facebook and being asked why I would ever accept being labeled mediocre. When I think about it now, I’d say this:

Accepting mediocrity is difficult, but it’s honest. It’s compassionate. You’re not always going to be the most intelligent, the most attractive, the most most whatever. There’s always someone a little better at something than you are. It opens up space in how you relate to yourself, and how you relate to other people. It’s good.

Happy Friday, Dear Reader. I hope this weekend brings you something good. I’ll be back on Monday.

Superheroes & Philosophy

I was bulled in high school. This is only relevant because of what it taught me later in life. The kids who bullied me were assholes at the time, and I hope that they’ve grown into happier, kinder people since. (Though I wouldn’t be sad if they stubbed their collective toes every time somebody reads this post.)

As a victim of bullying, I became defensive about the things I liked. Anything I exposed about myself became something someone could use to hurt me. It meant that I hid my enthusiasm and assumed that I’d be judged harshly for it. I developed a layer of pretentiousness as a defense mechanism, and I carried it into college, where I decided I would become a philosopher.

Then I met John.

John and I took Applied Philosophy together, though we were not friends at the time. During one class, our professor asked us whether we would rather live in a world where everyone meant to do us well, but with negative outcomes, or in a world where everyone meant to do us harm, but with positive outcomes. I don’t remember my answer, but I remember John’s quite well. He replied that he’d happily live in the latter of the two worlds and added, “I could live in Castle Greyskull.”

I probably sneered at him as I retorted: “John, there are no superheroes in philosophy.” (What a jerk, right?)

At the time, I didn’t take John seriously. While it was obvious that he was very intelligent, I didn’t understand him at all. He seemed entirely comfortable being exactly himself. He loved professional wrestling, and Anime, and had a big laugh. John radiated happiness, and self-acceptance. John carried himself in such a way as to be completely devoid of shame, and twenty-something philosophy major me just couldn’t get it.

During lunches and dinners, as I passed by the table where John sat with his friends, he would heckle me. “What about Wolverine, Nick? Is there a Wolverine in philosophy? What about Godzilla?” (Damn right there’s a Godzilla in philosophy.) It didn’t take long for me to relent my pretentious position, and John and I became fast friends.

I like telling this story about John because, for all the reasons that I love him, one of the biggest is how fully and completely John accepts himself and loves himself. He embraces joy openly, loves people for who they are, and is as generous and as friendly a human being as you could ever hope to meet. People talk about the difference between biological family and chosen family, and I definitely claim John as my brother. I love him about as much as I love anyone. He has inspired me to become a better version of myself. It’s a hell of a gift.

Social Justice … What?!

I am a Social Justice Curmudgeon. (It says so right there, up top.) I don’t have a high-enough strength stat to be a Social Justice Warrior, and I can’t sing, so Social Justice Bard is right out. If life were a D&D campaign, I’d probably be the bartender in your starting village.

I consider myself to be firmly rooted in introversion. Social interactions drain me. Quiet time alone refreshes me. Any time I’m in a group of more than four people, chances are good I’m going to spend most of the outing looking at my phone or talking to one specific person. If I’m being gregarious, it’s a defense mechanism.

I also consider social justice to be a fundamental characteristic of a functional society. I believe that any society is only as healthy and functional as its least-fortunate, least-privileged members, and that it is an ethical duty of the privileged to use that privilege for the greater good. I agree with John Scalzi that Straight White Male is the lowest difficulty mode there is. I also happen to be a cissexual, heterosexual, white male.

I believe that equality is for everyone. I believe that love is love. I believe that black lives matter. I believe that trans women are women, and that trans men are men. (My pronouns, by the way, are he/him.) I believe that GamerGate was never about ethics in games journalism. I believe that there is no such thing as too much nuance when it comes to important topics of conversation.

I am a Social Justice Curmudgeon because, while I probably like you on an individual level, Dear Reader, as a collective group I find you all exhausting, and I’d just as soon be at home with a good video game and a nice glass of scotch.

(Please envision me telling you this as kindly as possible.)

Signal : Noise

Two weeks ago, I deleted my Facebook account.

It was a decision made slowly. It wasn’t a reaction to the Cambridge Analytica thing, but watching Facebook fumble their way through the damage control on that was certainly an aggravating factor in the decision. Facebook is an advertising platform, and its users are the product.

This is not to say that the service is useless. Far from it. Facebook enables communication, commerce, and surreptitious stalking of one’s ex-partners in ways previously unforeseen. It’s an effortless way to stay in touch with a thousand of your nearest and dearest. As Facebook will eagerly remind you, the service connects people, and connection is important. Right?

I say, “yes and no.”

Conscious, deliberate, and intentional connection is important. It’s how we relate to the world, and how we get data about who we are as people. It helps us feel less alone in the big, scary world. (Yes, the world is big and scary, even when you’re in your thirties. The monsters under the bed just have different names now.) Broadening and reinforcing your social circle can be helpful.

Passive and unintentional connection — the kind you get when you’re friending people you don’t really know — is less so. It’s clutter, and it’s noise. I don’t think it really serves anything, and the bandwidth required for even the most passive connections (accept friend request, unfollow “friend”) became more than I cared to spend, and that was before I factored in the endless noise of advertisements, or people reposting intellectually lazy jokes and slacktivist memes.

Time and energy are finite resources. I find I’m happier when I’m conscious of how I spend each and deliberate in how I choose to spend them. I’ve definitely caught myself glancing down at my phone when I’m bored, or when I’m lonely, to fill the empty moments with anything, even if it’s the intellectual equivalent of gruel. It’s learned behavior now. Technology has enabled us to never have an empty moment. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but I’m heavily skeptical.

While I’m glad to have muted the background din of Facebook, I am consciously aware of not being able to see what my friends are up to at any given moment. I still think connection is important, and I still want to connect with people. I simply want to do it my own way, and without an army of advertisers analyzing every interaction I have with the service. How much of your privacy do you want to give away, and what do you ask for it in return?

Hence, this blog.