Culture, Part II or: It’s Your Birthday? Celebrate Your Culture, Man.

One lingering question from my last post: if we truly are composed of trillions of single-celled Homo sapiens sapiens, how is a single emergent mind, consciousness, and identity possible?

Don’t expect me to answer how the mind or consciousness really works: many scientists have devoted their lives to those questions and still have s*** to show for answers. But I am going to attempt a tangential answer.

Hint: there’s a reason I titled this three-part series “Culture.”

No doubt your mind has now leaped to whatever conception of culture is rattling around, ambiguously undefined, in your head—e.g. “good ole’ American culture” or “I am soo utterly cultured.” Defining ‘culture’ is a whole blog article in itself, and a boring one at that, so let’s trust your definitions for now.

I lied, we need some sort of definition for my purposes. Succinctly, culture is the collective whole of all a group experiences or creates, the whole of which is used as a perceptual and behavioral framework for both their lives and their children’s lives (to whom they pass on the culture.)

Business cultures are an excellent example in that they are often intentional. This is our mission, these our values, our products and services, our brand, our tone and voice, our promotional history, our place in the market, and on and on. The whole of that culture is carried to a degree by each individual employee and frames the way they perceive changes in their environment as well as how they react to those changes. And when a new employee joins the force, it’s time for everyone’s favorite activity: onboarding! But seriously, onboarding is absolutely essential for a business to be successful.

But the thing to remember is that culture is an emergent property of the business environment, which means, philosophically, that the culture is irreducible to its lower component parts. Simply, the entirety of a business culture cannot exist in any single employee, nor can it be fully captured or articulated in any written form. No, a business culture is only complete when you consider the collective contribution of each employee. And though there may be much of what began as intentional features, cultures exist beyond our control (e.g. why it is so difficult to change a bad culture.) Culture is a mutable entity, neither tangible nor eternal, hovering in our minds and, seemingly, in the air around us.

Now take all that I’ve just said about culture, and apply it to the cells of your body. The emergent culture—your collective experiences and creations used as a perceptual and behavioral framework, which may be passed on, through nature and nurture, to the next generation—would sound like the answer to, “Tell me about yourself. What makes you you?” Is the very foundation of every “I am […]” Is, well, the essence of life itself; what defines us and guides us in all that we do.

Now, culture exists only in part in each individual cell. And yet each cell is necessary. Taken together, they add up to something much much more, something truly beautiful and magnificent. And though your little cells have some control over the culture of you that emerges, that control is minimal.

Which is a hopeless note on which to end this blog post. So stay tuned for the exciting conclusion! “Culture, Part III or: Who Tends the Untendable?”!!!

Culture, Part I or: Why You Have Never Been, Nor Ever Will Be, Alone

We are Homo sapiens sapiens. And no, I’m not talking about you and me. I’m talking about me, me and the other 37.2 trillion me’s that make up me. That is, my individual cells.

Imagine a single-celled bacterium. Now imagine a single cell of your body. Compare them. Are they much different? Both are matter in an organized, cellular form; both respond and adapt to their environment; both grow and asexually reproduce; and both use energy to survive—seven of the seven criteria of life. In fact, most evolutionary theories of multicellularity argue m.c. began with the aggregation of multiple single-celled organisms into a larger entity termed a grex (which is an absolutely delightful term.) Hell, some organisms even hover on the border between uni- and multicellularity, which is, well, it doesn’t support my point, it’s just weird and I thought you’d be interested. What I’m hinting at is: every single cell of our body is technically a life-form of its own.

“Yeah, but…”

Yeah but what? Individual human cells can and do exist apart (see: Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cell line.) We are biased to see ourselves as a single entity, a single consciousness (partly due to the Gestalt principle of emergence,) but we are in fact trillions of single-celled organisms working in concert to create a huge multi-cellular automaton. And no, those cells are not identical—irradiation, age, decay of genetic material, specialization, location, and more result in enough differentiation between cells that we do have to consider the cells as individuals. Certainly they’re as varied as a few generations of asexually-reproducing bacteria. Perceiving them as such even explains those times your body exists in fundamental disagreement:

<asleep>

Bladder: “We need to pee!”

Eyes: “Ughh, no.”

Limbs: “Second that.”

Brain: “Well, I’m awake now. Do de do de do. Let’s worry about things!”

Eyes: “Go back to bed, brain.”

Bladder: “Don’t listen to those idiots, brain! Concentrate on how ready-to-burst I am. Think of flowing water. Think of pisstastic relief.”

Brain: “Waterfalls, rivers, rain, puddles, this is fun!”

Limbs: “Fine! If it’ll make you shut up.”

Eyes: “Well I’m not opening, go ahead and stub your toe.”

Toes: “Hey…”

Our body is a bustling city of tiny Homo sapiens sapiens, each working its little specialized biological profession, striving to keep the city humming. And industrious little beings that we are, we have built one marvelous city capable of utterly remarkable feats of brains and brawn.

Actually, more accurately, we are an ocean in miniature. For though we see ourselves as land animals—and we do live on land—in a way, we merely took the salty ocean with us when we clawed our way onto the shore (see: the human body is 65% water.) We are a waterskin filled with the microbial soup of “us.” And, as with any ocean, these soup-sacks are chockablack with other tiny organisms. One study indicates that, within our own body, our cells are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the cells of other organisms (mostly single-celled, but “heyyy there Demodex mites.”) And those little critters, especially the ones in your gut, have an enormous impact on your life.

So yeah… I find this delightful, and you should too. Because it means you have never been and will never be alone. The true ‘you’ is the plural form of ‘you.’ So use the royal we. It’s more accurate, and you don’t want to alienate your old friends.

As for how to make sense of the self with this new-found plurality in mind, check out the follow-up, “Culture Part II or: It’s Your Birthday? Celebrate Your Culture, Man.”

How to Prepare a Terrible Pitch (And Be a Horrible Human Being): Part 1 of 2

Was doing research on how to pitch a new idea (for work, not how I spend my free time.) Stumbled upon this wikiHow: “How to Deliver a Good Sales Pitch.” Guess you could say the images caught my fancy. So here is my take on its antithesis (p.s. this is a fun way to exercise your creativity, especially with regards to imagining characters.) Enjoy.

PREPARING THE PITCH WITH COWORKERS

Pretend to be researching for the pitch. Have someone else do the real work. Lie your way out of some meetings. Forget the rest.

Listen to your coworkers’ ideas. And steal all the credit. (2)Ignore your coworkers’ stories. Tell plenty of your own.Brag about how big an asshole you are.Live your assholery. Abuse your coworkers.Abuse strangers.Where abuse fails, threaten.Take lots of bathroom breaks.Despite your behavior, brag about how much more money you make.And, god forbid youMomentary regret happens to us all.

The Shifting Ages of Man

see:
as we lie down in our bathtubs, we end up
nearer the ground surfaces of our lives, and near,
brains tricked by distances, the world entire grows—
monolithic counters, low ceilings high-vaulted—

think:
how huge must the world have seemed when still a child,
the age all took part in those bedtime rituals,
mothers leaning over—shirt wet, hair hanging—
scrubbing off the grime stockpiled from days of frolic?

no,
perhaps, our porcelain-level eyes disclose
that it is we, like wonderland Alice, that shrink
down to the size of, become again, the child lost
(why we prune? too much skin for this infant’s form?)

yes.
in these hot and soapy fountains of youth we
rejuvenated souls refind the comfort and
contentedness, the steam-cloudy heaven, once ours:
all our working-life’s ambitions won without toil.

so,
why toil for dreams as cheap as utilities?
why strip our childness like soiled clothes onto cold tiles?
better we play and play until bone and muscle,
shin-splinted and acid-lactic, ache unhealing,

then,
only then, when the lifelong day draws to close,
soak away the dirt and pain and sweat and scabbing,
and towel off to lie atop soft linen sheets,
windows open to the eternal summer night,

there
to sleep the long sleep of the low blissful dead.

“I Would So Watch That!” — Another Nightmare Made Movie Idea

Had two nightmares the other night. We won’t talk in detail about the first, where dream me decided to watch the first few minutes of The Shining with my brother. Of course, being a dream, my brain showed me something that was both not The Shining and, absurdly, much more terrifying than The Shining. Suffice to say, it was the type of nightmare where you feel utterly trapped by the horror, unable to move or even breathe lest it take notice and turn towards you—sluggishly, monstrously, like some tarry Titan of the subconscious, an unholy absence projected against the night sky—and, once facing, its hollow eye-sockets would feast on your quivering soul.

So yeah, I don’t feel like talking about that dream at length.

I’d much rather talk about the other dream which, once you take out the flying and add a plot, could be a quality horror movie. Because flying sort of bleeds the tension out of everything.

Tolerability_of_Nightmares

The whole thing takes place at a wealthy dinner party out in a rural manse. Everyone is having a great time—in fact, to the audience they would be quite a delight to watch: a shared wealth of hilarious anecdotes they are just tipsy enough to re-share. The first act of the movie doesn’t play at all like a horror movie as no attempts are made at foreshadowing or building tension or even suggesting that the genre is anything other than comedy.

As the evening goes on though, with games and competitions and dancing and whatnot to keep the material varied, all but one of the guests subtly metamorphs into violent, bat-shit crazy psychopaths. Laughing maniacally, hallucinating lemurs, stabbing each other to death with serving forks, screeching paranoid screeds about the infiltration of Reptilians among the partygoers (the lemurs are their mammalian brains fighting back, trying to reveal the truth,) and generally falling all over themselves like blackout drunks.

But, as mentioned, one of the guests is unaffected. And, as people around him are murdered left and right in brutal and absurd fashions, he must find a way to survive the chaos (this was me in the dream, and this the moment I discovered I could fly.) Eventually, he realizes that the only way to survive is to be the last one standing—there is neither hope for a cure, nor a chance to outlast the psychotic spell. And so the only sane person left at the party has to himself become psychotically violent to triumph, ingeniously violent. And as the movie draws to a climax, the final foes actually begin to rot while still alive. Of course, he lives. But only by the skin of his teeth.

At the very end of the film, he listens as the M.E. explains that the cause was a rather fast-acting and severe case of ergotism, resulting from extremely ergot-infected rye bread served with dinner. To which our protagonist responds, “So that’s it? A fungus? And I’m standing here, alive, merely because I have fucking celiac disease? A disease which I happen to fucking despise?” “Well, yes, sir. It saved your life. You should be thankful.” “Thankful? Have you ever had a fucking gluten-free cookie?”

And credits.

What Beds Are For

DAY’S END
Beds are no buttress, no sturdy sea-wall
to hold back the rising forces of sleep.

Beds do not dispel the gathering storms
of somnolence and sloth hanging heavy.

Beds beckon the rising tides to o’erflood
the self’s citadel, drowning us in dreams.

DAYBREAK
Waking in the downy heat of comfort,
washed-up, wallowing in weed-warm waters,
we are not refreshed, want anything but,
want nothing more than to give ourselves con-
tinually forever more to sleep.

DAY
And yet we force
wakefulness on
our struggling
brains, sleep-sodden,
eyeballs puffy and be-gritted
body and limbs abyssal-sunk,
and climb the cliffs that o’er-tower our bedraggled beachhead, up
up towards the sun that glints and gleams off ringing belltowers.

SOMEDAY
Someday I will throw all considerations aside,
all work and to-do’s and to-be’s and appointments
and see how long this bed will have me for,
how long I will ask for nothing more.