Monday, March 21, 2011

The dangers of great expectations

Photo by David Shankbone
I firmly believe in the importance of expecting great things from yourself. Too often people just quit because it's too hard or they think goals are given, not earned. I find that level of apathy irritating.

Yet it's interesting how we can expect so little from ourselves and so much from the things that make up our daily lives. I think comedian Louis C.K. sums it up well.

I'm guilty. I'm always so caught up in matters of money and trying to keep up with the Joneses, but I never stop to ask why. Why do I want this particular thing? Do I really want it? Do I really need it? Or do I just think I do because that's just what people do?

I honestly don't know. I'm not sure if happiness comes from personal satisfaction or the accumulation of stuff. If I had to guess, it's probably both.

Most of the purchases I've made that truly contribute to my happiness have led to self-actualization through connections to others.

I've spent a ton of money on music equipment, but it opened me up to a whole new world of creativity and connected me to a social group that would have otherwise been completely alien.

I've spent a ridiculous of time consuming college sporting events, but they've enabled me to bond meaningfully with my father.

I've spent a lot on video games, but through the power of X-Box and the Internet, those games became kind of a social network that helped me stay connected to friends miles away.

Money can't buy happiness, but it can foster creativity and connectedness, and to me those are the roots of happiness.

In the end, however, I think we'd all be better off if we expected as much from ourselves as we do from the often unnoticed technological miracles that surround us daily. Without such expectations, how fast I can download music from iTunes doesn't really matter.

Now to see if my stupid phone can download that fart noise application. Then my life will be truly complete...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The days after DOMA

With the unrest in the Middle East and the constant debate over government spending dominating the political and news landscapes, one important story flew under the radar last week -- at least to some extent. President Barack Obama is refusing to defend DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996.

Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will no longer force the Justice Department to defend the law in court, opening the door for the future legalization of gay marriage and admitting that refusing that right in the first place is a violation of civil rights.

In a word: finally. I've criticize Obama pretty harshly on many of his social policies and his failure to stand up for the electorate. Lately, however, it seems that principle trumps political expedience, which it typically should.

Still, it's a bit odd for the executive branch to declare a law unconstitutional, as that is typically the role of the Supreme Court. Though uncommon, this move is not without precedent. But as one would expect, there are oppositional voices from conservatives.

"Some conservatives questioned Mr. Obama’s timing and accused him of trying to change the subject from spending cuts to social causes," said Charlie Savage and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times.

I think this criticism is accurate, but neither party really has grounds to accuse the other of altering national discourse for political gain. It happens constantly. In 2004, the Republicans rode the threat of terrorism and national moral erosion into the White House. Obama did the same in 2008 by shifting the focus to domestic issues. Then there's the 2010 election, when concerns over deficit spending put Republicans back in control of the House. So how is this different? It's not. Moving on.

This is my personal favorite among the dissenters: "This is the real politicization of the Justice Department — when the personal views of the president override the government’s duty to defend the law of the land." This statement comes from Republican Texas Rep. Lamar Smith.

Personal views always inform political and legal decision. Why do you think the approval of Supreme Court justices takes so damn long? We vet their personal views. The law is really just a social contract that reflects our collective personal views concerning what we deem acceptable and unacceptable at the time of its writing. As our views change, so does the law, though much more slowly.

My big question in all this goes to the Republicans, supposed champions of personal freedom and limited government: Why do you care about how two consenting adults choose to live their lives and why should the government involve itself in such decisions? To me, their stance it the epitome of hypocrisy. Score one for freedom!