Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Books I Read in 2017

I am usually late to the party when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions; 2017 was no different for me.
A few weeks into the new year, I decided that I want to read more books in one year than I had ever read before.  I believe that before 2017 I had never read more than seven or so books front to back in a calendar year.  The allure of video games, movies, social media scrolling, and shorter articles normally nabbed my sedentary hours.  I set my sights high and aimed for 25 books. Any book counted towards the goal as long as I read the entire book.This is not a particularly stellar goal as I know of people who read nearly 200 books a year, but I believe everybody fights their own battles and we must set our goals commensurate to our unique experience in this world. Here follows the list of books I read from front to back in the year of our Lord MMXVII, including my nominations for book of the year.

·        Big Ideas: The Sociology Book (Dorling Kindersley)
·        Sex at Dawn (Chris Ryan, Cacilda Jetha)
·        The Evolution of Desire (David M. Buss)
·        Over the Edge of the World (Laurence Bergreen)
·        Captain James Cook: An Biography (Richard Hough)
·        The Autography of Charles Darwin (Charles Darwin)
·        Churchill’s Wit (Richard M. Langworth)
·        Upside: The New Science of Post-traumatic Growth (Jim Rendon)
·        Sport, Physical Activity, and the Law (Alan Goldberger, Linda Carpenter, Neil Dougherty)
·        Anxious: Using the brain to understand and treat fear and anxiety (Joseph LeDoux)
·        Originals: How non-conformists move the world (Adam Grant)
·        The Wisest One in the Room: How You can Benefit from Social Psychology’s Most Powerful Insights (Lee Ross, Thomas Gilovich)
·        A History of the English-speaking Peoples (Winston Churchill)
·        Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)
·        The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli)
·        On Liberty (John Stuart Mill)
·        The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels)
·        Freakonomics (Stephen Dubner, Steven Levitt)
·        Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell)
·        The Operator (Robert O’Neil)
·        Tools of Titans (Tim Ferriss)
·        Zero to One (Peter Thiel)
·        Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Jared Diamond)
·        Jan Smuts: Unafraid of Greatness
·        Hillbilly Elegy (JD Vance)
·        Code of the Street (Elijah Anderson)
·        Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi)
·        Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
·        The Diamond Age (Neal Stephenson)
·        The Super Afrikaners (Ivor Wilkins, Hans Strydom)

3    30 books in all, I achieved my goal!

I will allow you to draw your own conclusions of my interests based on my reading list, but I think one thing worth pointing out is that I only read three works of fiction (27, 28, 29).  I probably should invest more time into reading fiction to balance out my psyche.

The top three books for me this year: In third place, The Operator by Robert O’Neill.  I suppose like most males I am interested in military things even though I do not see myself ever joining the military.  I loved the inside look into Navy SEAL life and the exposition of the authenticity of dealing with the good and bad of being the man who got Osama bin Laden.

In the second place, Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen.  In times past, when I engaged with history I would always wonder what it was like when groups of people who never contacted each other would finally meet.  This book enlightened me in this regard and also showed me how difficult life on a ship could be.
The best book I read in 2017… Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Human Sexuality by  Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha.  This is an academic argument written for a general audience and I believe it is an argument made brilliantly well.  Are humans monogamous?  Probably not.  Based on my reading of the book, I understood that humans are actually polyamorous beings.  This understanding strikes at the core of my Christian upbringing where one man was meant for one woman.  Although, I still believe trust in my Christian upbringing I now have more understanding for those who struggle with the cultural standard of monogamy.

On a different note, the best movie I saw this year was The Class Castle.  The best band of 2017 for was The National with Gospel being the song of the year.

To everyone around the world, may God bless your 2018 and may you read numerous good books.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Mutt I Didn't Think I Would Be

There you have it: my DNA results from  I waited nearly two and a half months and spent my birthday money for this late birthday present.  Yes, I am the type of person who buys a DNA test for himself for his birthday. 

Whatever the case may be, I am, just like everyone who takes the test it seems, surprised at the result. However, I would say my surprise might be greater than your average chap or lass who takes the test.  I will tell you about my surprise.

I grew up an Afrikaner.  I am of the people who came from the Netherlands to start a refreshment post at the foot of Africa for the Dutch East India Company.  I am of the people who crossed the harsh interior and Drakensberg mountains of South Africa barefoot and lugging their whole lives on ox carts.  I am of the people who fought a bitter, failed war of independence against imperial Britain.  I am of the people who oppressed millions of Africans in the name of ethnic superiority.  I am of the people who are few, but who, like the Jews, managed to make an indelible impact on history for good and evil. 
My last name has strong German roots.  My mother's and grandmothers' last names alluded to French and Dutch ancestry.  As far as I know, my paternal lineage of ancestors have been living in South Africa since before the year 1700.

At least, I THOUGHT I was all these things.

With the test from AncestryDNA, all of the above gets thrown on its head.  I find out that I am nearly two-thirds the imperialists my ancestors struggled so bitterly against.  I find out that I am merely 1% Western European, when all the last names were pointing to this region.  I find out that my blond is not a Germanic blond, but a Scandinavian blonde.  I find out that my tendency to speak with the hands in one-on-one communication must be because of that 11% Italian/Greek descent.  I find out that I am only 97% white - the old hands during the Apartheid regime would hardly have thought this sufficient for a white in a one-drop-rule society.  I find out that, somewhere along the way, a Melanesian fought his/her way into my ancestry alongside a Kazakh and a native Southern African. 

The conversations and enquiry into my past has only just begun.  God knows how this may affect my future and thoughts about the world.  The only sure thing at this point in time is that I am not the mutt I thought I would be.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

On His Twenty and Third

Life has a way of running about.  Of this day you marvel at the much that is yet to come and of the other you lament all that has been - that which could have been and that which should never have been.  Yet, through the daily meditations and considerations of the now, life never ceases to abound round about the pondering.  To the point, it seems, where we may ask what is even the purpose of reflection?  Why remove yourself from the ceaseless whirl that is life in all its richness?
I answer, with mere twenty and three years of wisdom, with a theory, certain to amend to tomorrow's lore, which calls upon the modern meanderer to consider the goings of the times, of people, of nature at the odd stop.  Consider and ponder their significance from every viewpoint that the mind can conjure up.  Let it teach you as no other could.  Ere you be consumed, do proceed away.  Proceed away with the richness of experience, with the richness of feeling so deeply and join again ceaseless whirl of life and all.  Man was meant to traverse, to sample, but also to grow.  So paradoxical is movement and stasis, traversing and laying down roots, that logic fails to comprehend.  Yet, such is the story of mankind - a juxtaposition of logic - but uniquely, truly, unequivocally human.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Why I am Single: An Exposé

I have debated for a long time as to whether I should take a shot at writing about this particular subject or whether I should afford it to linger and stew for even longer within me.  This is probably, in all my life, the thing that I have been struggling with the most and, honestly, it is the reason why my blog has the title that it has.  Bear with me and pray for strength for me as I try to lay bare my biggest struggle for all the world to see.  I hope that what I write actually makes it on to the internet and doesn’t lay dormant in a file deep within my computer, never to see the light of day.  A final disclaimer before we jump right into my greatest apprehension: I write not this for pity, for attention or for someone to necessarily save me.  I write this to empathise with others who struggle (you are not alone) and to humanize myself.  One of my greatest objections of social media is that it seems to spur us on to only ever show the very best of ourselves to the quiet, onlooking world.  We tell others of our achievements, our strengths, our beauty, our intellect, our happy disposition, but never do we tell the world of that which bothers us, our insecurities, our fears and the pains we carry in our ostensibly smiling dispositions.  I hope through this writing to give myself less reason to fear and more reason to have the courage to do what I really want to do – to get to know the hearts of the hundreds of faces that pass me by every day whether it be to abate my singleness or whether it be for His Kingdom.
As some of you may know, I have been single all my life.  It’s a topic stirs up a mixed reaction within me.  I feel proud that I have avoided relationships that could have hurt me and removed my naivety about people.  I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in others, probably because no one has ever really hurt me to an unforgiving degree.  Had I been grievously hurt, God knows how negative I may have been about people.  On the other hand though, I feel a deep sense of longing that I have never truly taken the chance of getting to know someone beyond “How are you?” “What is your favourite band?” and “Who are you voting for?”.  That said, I am drawn to deep conversation and really getting to know people’s stories, but I must admit that this has been primarily limited to males.  I cannot say that I have ever had a female best friend; friends, yes, but best friend, no.  I think this to be quite tragic, actually.  How can I go about this life and experience it in its entirety if I never get to know half of the human race?  Believe me, women are fascinating to me.  I spend a disproportionate of my time considering their nature and trying to learn about them through vicarious means.  As much as I have come to know about the fairer sex through alternative mediums, the second-hand knowledge just doesn’t seem to hit the spot.  I desire for more.  I desire to touch, to feel, to see, to smell these majestic creatures, to use way too dramatic and poetic terms.  But I fear!  I am crippled by inaction!  I state that I desire to know more, but my actions show avoidance rather than action or even curiosity.  I berate myself so, so often for that.  My head can be a violent place sometimes – primarily towards myself.  I can be quite the perfectionist and thus I oftentimes have little mercy for myself.  I can be quite understanding and gracious towards others, but for myself, I set cripplingly high standards which make me feel like a failure so often.  I can probably rattle off a long list of all the failures I have had (relative to my own standards), when, in reality, I have much to be proud of.
One of the most crippling, heart-wrenching things that I hear about myself (and this happens every now and then) is if someone says they want to get to talk to me, but are too intimidated.  This actually happened only minutes before I started writing this post.  I was told by an admirable fellow at the lunch table that some of his female friends want to talk to me, but are too intimidated to me.  My first reaction to this is to sink into a hell-hole of grief and misery because I know (and I told the admirable fellow this) that there may never be communication between myself and his friends because I am probably more scared of them than they are of me.  Just writing that sentence is like feeling a fiery dart sear through my soul, but it is quite true – at least if one considers my actions.  I think a well-adjusted guy would have reacted to the statement by the admirable fellow with something to this accord, “So, do you think you could introduce me?” As much as it is my desire to ask the selfsame question, my immediate reaction is one of lamentation rather than action.  Maybe the key for me is to simply stop these negative cognitive distortions and rather let instinct take over.  The instinct knows what to do, but the heart is heavy.
In general though, I can say that I have a hard time in giving compliments to people.  The main reason for this is because authenticity is important to me.  I do not want to compliment something about someone unless I am sure that I really do like that aspect of them.  Considering this in a male-female interaction paradigm, I think many conversations are started by men towards women because they might compliment the woman on something.  I most certainly see many beautiful women in my meanderings in this life, but I don’t know if I have ever told an acquaintance or a stranger that I thought she was beautiful.  My rationalization for this is because I don’t want my very first interaction with someone to indicate that what I value about her is her appearance.  I mean, yes, the beauty is what drew me to look at you and is most likely what spurs the desire within me to bridge the gap between us, but I try so very hard to treat people in a Deontological way.  I mean by this that I treat everyone I come across not as a means to an end, but an end.  In other words, even if nothing else comes from our brief or lengthy moment of contact I had you for a moment and that is all that should matter.  If something extra such as a hug, a friendship, a relationship comes forth from it, then that is absolutely a bonus.  I will admit that the deontological approach to treating people is extremely hard.  I so often want more than just the person from an interaction.  I am someone that really likes to be touched.  I might not always show this (probably because of being untouched for so long), but almost every time I am touched by a female I am in a dream-like state for a little while.  How can I keep to this philosophy then if I so desire a something as simple as touch?  God knows how this virgin would react to an embrace, a kiss or sex!  I would like to know too, believe me.  All shall be revealed in its good and intended time.
To bring this point to a close, it’s hard not to compliment someone on appearance if that is by far and away the most salient characteristic about that person.  The end result is that I say nothing due to this moral-neurotic holding pattern (when I could have remarked something about her shoes, for example) and the person walks on, out of my life forever and I did not have the guts to communicate a simple gesture which would have afforded that moment of eye contact to proceed onwards to who knows how long. 
The tragedy and triumph about being a man in the society and times we live in is that your limit is your courage do and to act (relationally speaking).  This is great when you have the courage and take appropriate action, but absolutely tragic when you don’t.  No matter how successful, attractive, distinguished, good, rich, etc. you become, if you don’t have the courage to face rejection and talk to a woman, you almost certainly will never have one in your life.  God did say that it is not good for man to be alone and I know that life is better together than alone; therefore I need and want more female influence in my life.  It will never happen unless I develop the courage to change that. 
I know within my heart of hearts that I have much life, joy, growth and wisdom to bring to any person that comes across my way on this good earth, but even more so to a woman with whom I get to share intimacy with.  A tragic life is one without intimacy.  In spite of all the academic and sporting strivings I have made, my life lacks intimacy and therefore I am incomplete.  Corinthians 13:1-3 sums it up so, so well: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  Just reading this passage is a tear-jerker for me.  I do understand that it doesn’t necessarily specifically refers to romantic love, but I think we can all agree that romantic love is certainly a part of love.  I am missing that aspect of love and I will never be complete therewithout regardless of moving mountains, fathoming all mysteries and giving everything to the poor – therewithout I lack.
You have my utmost gratitude for making it this far.  I will probably end with this paragraph.  I think I still have so much more to say on this topic – I wrote much, but didn’t say much at all though my period of lamentation has passed and my ideas and feelings have past as well. However, this is the first step in me being more honest of what I lack.  I have never publicly admitted to what I admitted to in this post, so, regardless of what this day further brings, I can have some pride as to the small step taken by the post, but the giant leap that is hopefully in progress. 

I feel somewhat embarrassed that I have made such a big deal out of something that is actually easily fixable.  There are people with significantly worse struggles than my own who cope with it just fine.  However, this struggle is mine and it affects me and therefore I do have the right to feel duly affected by it.
We march

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Not too Dysfunctional: Gratitude and a Sense of Purpose

I am taking Abnormal Psychology this semester.  The class has stimulated a great deal of enlightenment within me, as my eyes have been further opened to suffering in this world – suffering of others and suffering of myself.  I would like to believe that the first step in defeating an enemy is to get to know them.  I have gotten to know very many enemies this semester!  In the most recent chapter personality disorders were discussed.  Schizoid personality disorder (extreme social isolation, but no desire to change it) and Avoidant personality disorder (extreme social isolation and a strong desire to change this, but inability to do so) stood out to me.  We were required to make a forum post (Prompt was: Which disorder was most surprising to you?) about the contents of the chapter and this was my response:

“The Schizoid and Avoidant personality disorders were personality disorders that were not necessarily surprising to me, but types which, whilst reading, awakened a sense of sorrowful remembrance, but also gratitude and a sense of purpose within me.

I saw a psychologist (thanks to gentle nudging therewards by my family) back in 2013 with the hopes of getting some clarity on various issues I had in my life mostly centring around social anxiety.  After a few sessions with the therapist, she stated that I had a mild form of social anxiety.  I certainly had the desire to approach, talk and enjoy other people (unlike the schizoid type), but had a good deal of fear and numerous terrible, non-self-serving cognitions (like the avoidant personality type) that held me back from living my life more fully and completely.  Since the diagnosis I have taken up the sword and the shield to defeat the demons of my past and I have fought this fight publicly - I have created a blog that mostly deals with social anxiety and fears that I struggle with.  I certainly have not completely vanquished the enemy, but I have come a long way in living a life more closely to what I am truly capable of living. 

Reading about the avoidant personality type was especially heart-wrenching because I identify with so many of the characteristics that outline diagnosis for avoidant personality.  I actually wondered why I was not diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder, however, the text discussed how many researchers consider avoidant personality disorder to be a more severe form of social anxiety rather than a diagnostic category in and of itself.  This discussion made me realize that even though I certainly had social anxiety, my condition was a far cry from avoidant personality disorder.  I had it good, so to speak.  I had an acutely strong appreciation for my parents and family for letting me grow up in the wonderful way that I did so that I developed sufficient resilience to not devolve into a more severe form of anxiety.  I wondered how different I could have been had I grown up in a broken, dysfunctional home in a war-torn, impoverished area where hope is something that you only see in the movies - not a daily reality. 

I can only thank God that I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving family who probably (in no way do I think is this an overstatement) saved me.  I can only hope that one day I may help improve dysfunctional families/communities and contribute to overcoming fear that resides in others, much like Marsha Linehan did to take up the fight with borderline personality disorder which she was afflicted by for so many years.  I think we all deserve the opportunity to have a shot at self-actualisation which is the very top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and I feel that I have a responsibility to get others to the point of seeing that promised land.  What someone does with their shot at self-actualization is, however, up to them.”