Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider

I swear, the $3.99 Amazon monthly deal list is half-filled with Christian books.  Either there’s a Christian in charge of that list or Christian’s write books and don’t want to charge a lot for them in some sort of Christian charity thing.  Maybe it’s because Jeff Bezos is Christian.  Makes you wonder about what happens when only a few people own the largest forms of media and can easily impose their own biases on billions of people.  I didn’t know this would be a Christian book until I started reading it.  At $1.99, I didn’t bother with a sample.  The book doesn’t hit you over the head with Christian ideas, but it pops up.  I’m open-minded about things, but I’ve been exposed to Christianity all my life and most of the times it’s about saying one thing and doing another.  But this is how it is with most big ideas including Darwinism and Capitalism.  They all get corrupted, and the true messages get distorted. 

 This memoir reads more like a journal, and I’m sorry, but it sounds really whiny.  Here’s a 30-something woman raising three kids, and she wonders why her life seems so hectic and tiresome, but she wants to travel and enjoy her life in a slowed down, methodical, intentional way.  It comes across as whiny in that the obvious, blatant solution is for her to not have kids in the first place.  Having kids is hard work.  It’s why most educated, First World women tend not to want to be mothers.  We also live in a society that tells us that it’s all about taking and having things.  The author addresses half the problem, in that she tunes out the materialistic, consumerist garbage and learns to live with less and home school her kids.  But she doesn’t seem to get the other half.  Life is not about you having fun and enjoying and getting to travel a lot.  That’s part of the propaganda.  I learned this late, but as social beings, life is about giving and sharing, and this has been completely taken away from us by a society that convinces us that government can do all the giving and helping so we can be free to eat as much, drink as much, buy as much, and have as much as we want.  It’s a big lie, because we are social beings who derive the majority of our contentment and fulfillment through giving and sharing not taking and having. 

 What the author fails to understand is that American culture has created the nuclear family unit supported by government programs.  Happy yet?  No?  This is because, this is unnatural.  Throughout most of our evolution, we have raised children with extended families.  It doesn’t take a village to raise a kid; it takes an extended family that can pool resources effectively so as to give the parents breaks and emotional support.  This is what the author is missing in her life.  With government programs supposedly supporting the elderly and brainwashing children, parents no longer feel any reason to hang around their annoying family, and with Social Security, elderly people can be as annoying as they want with their kids.  I can only imagine that elderly people were not so annoying in the past, because they knew they would have to rely on their kids to support them at some point, and kids were not so annoying either, because they spent more time with their own families instead of complete strangers and bureaucrats who have absolutely no vested interest in their welfare.  You can pray to god all you want, but unless we address this critical failure of modern society, parents will continue to find parenthood undesirable and as a result have less kids and ultimately make their privileged, hedonistic, consumerist, materialist kind extinct.  The beauty of evolution is that is eliminates waste one way or another.  When humans decide not to use evolution as a model but instead employ this ideology of an overlord managing our lives whether a god or a ludicrous benevolent, authoritarian government, those humans will eventually perish.  Evolution wins every time. 

 Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in a god, but it isn’t a silly old man who manages our affairs or intervenes when you pray hard enough.  You get closer to this god when you study nature and appreciate it.  God rewards those who understand god and god is nature, but science is not the only way to understand nature, and this is one critical concept often misunderstood.  Understanding and appreciating art, music, emotions, feelings, novels, stories, allegories, dreams, these are all legitimate and powerful ways to understand and appreciate nature.  When you appreciate and understand nature, you are rewarded by living a more natural and fulfilling life, by simply being in tune and harmony with nature.  Nature has a way of rewarding us for being natural.  We get small biochemical bumps when we let someone merge into our lane or hold the door open for an elderly or disabled persons.  When we ignore nature for whatever reason, greed, ideology, religion, we live an unnatural life and we are punished with stress and toxic emotions.  We pursue unnatural things.  As social creatures, we live solitary lives and suffer, because we fail to understand and appreciate the simple fact that we are social creatures, that our desires overcompensate for scarcity and undercompensate for abundance.  In other words, men crave sex, because it has be historically scarce for them.  We crave sugar and privacy because of its scarcity, but if we give into our desires as our Capitalist, consumerist society encourages, we become obese and lonely. 

 Another thing this book misses is perspective.  Americans are the aristocrats of the world.  Most poor Americans would be considered middle class in developing nations and upper class in Third World nations.  You have electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, and air conditioning, guess what, you’re doing just fine.  While I applaud the author for taking care of her family, which should always be your primary focus, being American means that you should feel some guilt and responsibility for the rest of humanity.  I love to conjure my Rommel analogy.  Rommel was a brilliant military leader for the Nazis in World War II.  He was kind and generous to his own men and also to POWs.  His enemies revered and honored him.  Great guy right?  Um, aren’t we forgetting something rather important?  His boss was Hitler.  Every Rommel victory was a Hitler victory and every time Rommel secured oil for the Third Reich, it could continue murdering Jews and raping and pillaging their neighbors.  Don’t be a Rommel.  Being a good person does not mean building a fence around your house and only taking care of everything within that fenced area.  As a human, especially now that we are all connected via the Internet, it means if you see something, say something, do something.  You can’t be a good human if you read about injustice somewhere in America or in the world and sit there and go, well, I’m a great dad and father, so I’ll just do my own good work and ignore the fact that my tax money goes to bombing and killing the rest of the world.  Doesn’t work that way buddy. 

 I presume, the book is really a compilation of the author’s blogs as she admits being a professional blogger.  One section was on schooling and home schooling, and I have very strong opinions about schooling.  I find public schooling and much of private schooling unbelievably unnatural.  At no point in human or primate history, did we send our children off to strangers who instilled obedience and conformity and used grades to make them feel ashamed and humiliated for not conforming to the teacher’s standards.  Never.  It is nothing but a brainwashing asylum that makes people judgmental, narrow-minded, and most of them wind up learning to hate learning and reading.  You may argue that it is better than nothing, but this is like arguing that a Communist economy is better than no economy.  The premise of our entire society seems to be, pay taxes and let government take over most all our social duties so that we may have alone time to obsess about consumer goods, materialism, status, and making ourselves great and wonderful.  Besides giving and sharing, one of the greatest feelings for humans is teaching.  Not only are humans unique for the longest period of learning in nature, but we are also unique for all being natural-born teachers.  We love teaching, but teaching is not what you have been brainwashed to believe it is.  Teaching is not lecturing and then handing out exams to test how much the students learned.  That is hogwash.  Teaching is the act of demonstrating skills and closely watching over a small group of students no greater than seven, and adults were not the only ones to teach.  Older kids learned to teach by practicing on younger kids who looked up to them and adored them.  Teaching gives us a self-esteem boost, because kids crave to mimic adults and learn, and when we share our time with them, they are ecstatic.  To this day, I still remember when an older kid from my elementary school sat next to me as I waited for my mother to pick me up, and he chatted about all the things he did that day.  I don’t know what I did to deserve his personal attention, but it was the greatest feeling in the world for an older kid to even acknowledge my existence. 

 Government has taken away our opportunities and responsibility to give and share, and they have also taken away our joy for teaching as well as learning.  A parent should spend time with their children (in addition to their extended family).  This is natural and historical.  What is unnatural is how parents send their kids off for several hours and when they get home, they don’t feel any obligation to teach their kids anything, so the kids view them as bizarre cohabitants instead of valuable, guiding adults who can teach them how to be an adult.  We tend to believe that we have no obligation to teach our children, because we pay taxes and send them to schools where professionals supposedly are paid to teach them to succeed in life.  We are a very screwed up society, and the result is a population of screwed up adults who take prescription drugs to replace the feeling of self-worth and happiness from giving, sharing, teaching, and learning.  The great irony is that people think that by sending your kids off to school several hours of day, it makes you want to have kids, because you don’t have to spend as much time raising them.  What they don’t realize is that one of the most powerful benefits and rewards of having kids is actually raising them yourself!  I’m not advocating home schooling, but a significant reduction in the number of hours you send your kids off to strangers and bureaucrats.

 The author also misses the concept of false choices.  She thinks her choice is between free schooling for her kids and homeschooling or Whole Foods cupcakes versus laborious homemade cupcakes.  These choices are false, because public schools are not free; they are entirely subsidized by all taxpayers.  If homeschoolers did not have to pay their portion of taxes to public schools, the choice would be clearer.  A household could save money by having one parent at home homeschooling instead of losing money.  As expensive as Whole Foods is, sugar, wheat, and corn are heavily subsidized.  All taxpayers subsidize them, so if we paid the real cost of food, we would realize that often we could save money by preparing food ourselves instead of losing time.  Once the false prices that are heavily subsidized by taxes are taken away, we are liberated to make more common sense choices that are usually not only healthier and better for us but also save us money aggregately.  If we stopped collecting taxes for public schools, poor kids would not become illiterate.  Poor parents would pool their resources to teach each other’s kids.  They would use the Internet to utilize teachers in India or English-speaking teachers in East Asia.  Charities would also contribute to teaching the poor, and I am positive that private schools would offer scholarships to promising poor students as many private schools already do.  Likewise, cutting subsidies to farms would not cause American farms to collapse and the entire population to starve to death.  Yes, sugar, corn syrup, diary, beef, and grains would be more expensive, but that would just mean we would eat less of it which is a good thing. 

 The book brings up some interesting points about raising your children and also exposing yourself to multiculturalism.  America seems to be divided between “mono-culturalists” and “multi-culturalists.”  Certainly, the division has been exploited by politics and media, but underneath lies a real and clear divide in mentality.  I live in a somewhat borderline city, but fact is, it’s mostly white.  For example, the vast majority of my rideshare drivers are white.  I was just in San Francisco where the vast majority of my rideshare drivers were nonwhite and most from foreign countries.  When you’re exposed to so many people with different backgrounds, opinions, views, and beliefs, what happens is that you become a lot more inclined to question the preeminence and universality of your own opinions, views, and beliefs.  You start to realize that other people hold completely different beliefs and values than you, and they probably think your beliefs and values are just as bizarre and foreign to them.  You are more inclined to view your own beliefs and values as flexible, and perhaps you can change or question them if they make you uncomfortable.  I can only imagine that if you grow up in a mono-culture and almost every single one around you shares the same beliefs and values, and you also mistreat outcasts and people who undermine common beliefs and values, then it would be a much greater barrier to question or change your beliefs and values.  Interestingly enough, when you encounter someone from an even more conservative culture, one Afghan Lyft driver told me he believes only about one or two out of a million Afghans are gay, it actually makes you more capable of getting rid of your own biases and in this case embrace gay rights.  You realize how absurd any particular belief can be, so it’s easy to imagine that your own belief may be absurd and in need of changing.  When you live in a mono-culture, it’s easy to develop an us vs them attitude whereas in a multi-culture, you have to learn to flex your own perspectives and there is no ‘them’ unless it’s between multi-culturalists and mono-culturalists.  What you learn in a multi-culture is that you can get along with others so long as you don’t argue with their beliefs.  I didn’t tell the Afghan Lyft driver that his idea that there are fewer gay Afghans is an illusion and that in actually, they all hide in the closet and act straight to avoid persecution.  You learn that you can probably change the Afghan’s attitude more by maintaining good relations and then just showing him that there are nice, friendly people who accept alternative gender identities and orientations, and after enough exposure, he may too.  He certainly won’t change if you challenge him directly. 

 Another error the author makes is comparing modern life to industrial or agrarian life but not to primitive life.  For instance, she mentions how modern people get bored, but before we all worked all day long and didn’t have time to be bored when getting home and using our hands to wash clothes, cook meals, clean things, or make clothes.  I believe that before the Agrarian Age, as hunter-gatherers, we had a lot of free time.  When you look at apex predators, in abundant habitats, they lounge around a lot.  We didn’t have to wash much when we didn’t have much, and we didn’t make a lot of different clothes before there was fashion.  I think we all collectively forget that with the Agrarian and Industrial Age, society divided between the landowners and the workers or slaves.  The workers or slaves worked more, longer, and harder than humans ever worked before just like domesticated work animals.  It’s a nice lie to tell workers today that they are better off today, because “back in the day” they worked 80 to 100 hours a week for much less pay.  But they conveniently forget primitive life where I believe we spent a considerable amount of time just lounging around, conserving energy, and reinforcing social bonds.  In fact, people who can’t sit still almost always lack social skills and experience.  Hanging out with friends and family and socializing is actually not about hurried, fast conversations and intense partying but rather slowing down, just like with eating, and enjoying each morsel of everyone’s shared ideas, experiences, and feelings.  I caught a Lyft ride from the airport to my hotel, and it was amazing how hurried and distracted my driver was.  I had just spend a lazy day meandering around San Francisco.  She was so hurried and distracted that she didn’t hear my destination completely but even worse, she accidentally clicked cancel on my ride but gave me the ride anyway.  I didn’t realize this until after I checked my Lyft app.  It seems that modern culture is all about inundation and overstimulation, so it’s no surprise that kids today suffer from restlessness which is labeled ADHD to validate medication.  You cannot be hurried and distracted when you socialize.  I then go into work today, and guess what?  Everyone is hurried and distracted.  I do the usual return to work after-vacation smiling and sauntering about while everyone else looks shell-shocked and frazzled.  Before the end of the day, I’m walking around hurried and distracted.  WTF is wrong with modern life? 

 When people explore cultures today that are not so much primitive as removed from modern civilization, what they invariably discover is a much more relaxed, deliberate, slow, and social way of life.  When I was younger, it would always amaze me when I’d visit a much more socialized friend and his family, and how they would just hang out.  At first, I’d be bored, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I’d find myself sitting or standing for long periods of time as my friend talking to someone or just sat outside people watching.  “What are we doing?  What are we accomplishing?  Where are we going next?  Why are we just hanging out doing nothing?”  It never occurred to me that this was how life was supposed to be, and our time spent together was a form of non-verbal bonding.  We didn’t have to constantly talk to each other to trust each other.  The simple act of sitting in close proximity to each other without doing anything was a form of building trust just as you would with a dog.  When you don’t have any friends, life is stressful not only because you lack friends to provide emotional support, but you also lack friends to help you slow down.  Your body is constantly primed for action and in a constant state of alertness, activity, or restlessness. 

 Our measures of life are all distorted.  We measure intelligence by how much time a person spends memorizing trivial facts and practicing calculations and possessing an ever-active, hyper-alert mind.  We measure economic wealth and productivity by how much money is exchanged.  Famously, an argument against GDP as a measure of economic health is how you can go around burning people’s homes (or engaging in war) and rebuilding their homes, and your economy would be considered more healthy than one where you didn’t go around constantly burning people’s homes down.  Those who gain by our labor correctly convince us that we must be forever active and hyper and be constantly stimulated to be happy.  This way, we are either working hard or shopping hard, both conditions that provide them with profit.  We can’t ever just stop and smell the roses and hang out with friends, because not only does that do nothing for the rich, but it would also be the basis of organizing against them or at least comparing notes and realizing how undesirable their idea of modern life is. 

 I often find myself living in patterns either because I see them or for whatever reasons unbeknownst to me, they occur.  I recently watched the animated remake of Little Prince where a young girl runs into the now old version of the pilot who ran into the Little Prince.  The Little Prince now lives in the dystopian world of industrialized society where a rich dude hoards all the stars, and everyone else slaves away for him.  Our modern ailments can be traced back to an otherwise well-intentioned dude named Frederick W. Taylor who discovered that you can improve efficiency through quantification of movement and activities on a factory floor.  In other words, eliminate all wasteful activities like socializing, daydreaming, long breaks, you know, human stuff, the stuff that makes us great but awful automatons.  Another coincidental thing is that right after watching that movie I watched Sully which was about that pilot who landed a commercial plane on the Hudson and it too was about how the human element is often ignored or belittled when applied to machinery.  Just as we took Darwinism and Christianity beyond their logical conclusions to some dystopian end game of greed and genocide, we took Taylorism beyond its logical conclusion to a dystopian end game of making human life itself efficient by basically eliminating the human element from it. 

 This author of this book, like for so many other similar books, finds a problem and then finds her own personal solution and shares it with the world.  No problem here.  But I don’t want a personal solution.  I want a societal solution.  And to find a societal solution, you look at the source of the problem and why it was created in the first place.  To this day, people are creating vision boards, comprehensive plans, and quantifiable benchmarks and measures to create a perfect life, and in the process, they are creating a miserable life.  Why can’t people just realize that you can’t apply Taylorism to human life to make it more enjoyable and meaningful.  All it does is create a more efficient automaton.  If you want to have a more enjoyable and meaningful life, you might want to start out by finding out what a human being is, and you would discover that a human being is one of the most socialized creatures on the planet and more than any other creature needs socialization to be happy and lead a meaningful life.  Wow.  Big secret!  All the brain power in the universe, and they can’t seem to understand this simple concept!  Studying too hard, working too hard, great ambitions, huge plans, mass obedience, mass conformity, amassing wealth, greed, hoarding, solitary pursuits, all undermine your happiness and meaningful life because it undermines socialization.  Why am I unhappy, you wonder?  Because you’ve been brainwashed, and despite your high IQ, you’re an anti-social idiot.

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