Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kilroy Café #30: "The Setup"

Here is the latest Kilroy philosophy essay. You can print it out on a single page via the pdf file, or you can read the full text below. Also see my other Kilroy Café newsletters.

The Setup
Every life is based on lies. What are yours?


No matter how rational you think you are, the structure of your life is based on flawed assumptions that, if you live long enough, are going to proven false.

Here's an example: "Real estate always appreciates in value, never depreciates." How many homeowners have been suckered by that assumption and are now paying the price? For decades, if not generations, this was the mantra of new home buyers, luring them into commitments they couldn't afford and didn't really need. In reality, there was no economic science behind the belief, only blind faith.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Virtually everything you are doing right now is based on one or more lies. I can't tell you exactly what your lies are, but they are essentially religious beliefs taken without proof and reinforced by your past investments. Probably, you already know what they are deep inside but can't afford to speak of them openly. You can't bear to see these lies for what they are because you have already devoted so much of yourself to them and would face great pain to let them go.

Is your career based on lies? Your marriage? You whole current lifestyle? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. But don't think you are alone. Just about everyone else is in the same boat. The whole world is a big lie factory.

You were born into a set of lies: those of your parents and the world they lived in. Because you had no means to question them, their lies became part of your nervous system. There was Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny but also a thousand more subtle lies that your whole family took as truth.

A simple case: Don't go swimming within a half-hour of eating, I was told, or you will get cramps and drown. Turns out, there was no medical or statistical basis for that one whatsoever, but the kids in my family took it as truth, because that's what we were told by the people we trusted.

It seemed like every week since I first became conscious, I was discovering new falsehoods. Even today, I am learning that things I had been taught or had assumed from the examples around me were in fact pure fiction. That's the fundamental trauma of growing up. No matter how benign your upbringing was, it dished out fairytales to you that reality is eventually going to trash.

It's unavoidable. To introduce you to a complicated world, your parents had to simplify things for you. These simplified theories (or invented fictions) allowed you to learn, but eventually you had to let them go and move on to more complex theories. The letting go is usually painful, but it's part of growing up. Every theory is temporary and will eventually be replaced by another.

The danger comes when you get heavily invested in one theory, like the one about real estate always appreciating. If you have a mortgage and are struggling to make the payments, you can't afford to believe anything else. Your theories are no longer permitted to change, so your growth in this area comes to a halt.

In the normal course of a human life, your invested fictions are going to accumulate and eventually box you in. You may continue to "learn," or gain new facts, but you will no longer "grow," or change your fundamental schema, unless the change is forced upon you.

And reality will provide that service! If you invest too much in a false theory, reality will eventually hand you an appropriate catastrophe, like a crash in the housing market. Then you'll have to change, but it won't be so graceful as when you change on your own.

If you are pummeled by reality enough, you might eventually get wise by realizing how naïve you really are. No matter how old you are or how important you seem to be in the world, you haven't worked things out, are nowhere near working things out, and are a fool if you think you have.

It's okay to pursue a fiction for a while—That's better than having no direction at all.—but don't ever treat the fiction as permanent. If it ever comes down to signing on the dotted line to set your theories in a stone, you better have a gag reflex to protect you.

Maybe it's all fiction. Maybe everything you believe is based on a lie. At least you should leave yourself the freedom to change your lies as conditions warrant.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kilroy Café #8: "The Tragedy of Success"

Here is the latest Kilroy philosophy essay. (It is a revised and retitled version of #8, originally published in June 2008.) You can print it out on a single page via the pdf file, or you can read the full text below. Also see my other Kilroy Café newsletters.

The Tragedy of Success


If you had an enemy who you wanted to hurt, what would be the best way to get even with him? You could sue him in court or humiliate him in the press. You could torture him on the rack or draw him over hot coals.

Or, if you really wanted to destroy his life in a slow and excruciating way, you could arrange to have him win the lottery. A few million dollars will do it. He'll probably never recover.

Never underestimate the destructive power of excessive and unwarranted good fortune. It zaps the life from individuals and societies. It detaches people from their roots and from healthy relations with reality. It promotes sloth and discourages growth. It encourages frivolous investments that drag down people's lives in the long run.

Winning the lottery may seem fun at first, but the penalty comes when the money runs out and you've lost the skills to sustain yourself. Then you may end up far worse off than you were before.

The same thing happens when you feed the pigeons in a city park. They love the free food, but when you feed them regularly, they lose the ability to forage for themselves. Their numbers expand under your largesse, so the environment can no longer support them naturally. When you stop feeding them, as you inevitably must, the pigeons will be in dire straits. It won't just be a little hunger now but mass starvation.

When someone experiences some form of good fortune—be it a job promotion, falling in love, sudden wealth, or winning a beauty contest—you want to congratulate them. It is remarkable, however, how quickly good fortune can morph into bad. Success is a disorienting change that most people can't handle, and it often sets them up for future failure. Something apparently good in the short term may not be best in the whole arc of ones life.

Success tends to freeze people at the developmental level they were at when the blessing occurred. If you suddenly win everything you ever wished for, you have little incentive to move on. If you find fame as a movie star or a football player, you're pretty much trapped in that career. If you hadn't got what you wanted, you might have been forced to evolve, perhaps in a direction that is ultimately more meaningful.

All developmental growth involves some anxiety and risk. It requires that you be hungry enough to leave your comfort zone. By eliminating your hunger and offering safety, success can sometimes trap you in a velvet prison where life is too easy for your own good. There needs to be an edge to fall off, a nearby abyss, before you are really motivated to change.

Yes, you can be too pretty, too rich, too famous and too blessed. As soon as you have these things, you tend to take them for granted. You see them as an entitlement—something you deserve for your personal virtue. Often, however, the success turns out to be a product of dumb luck more than anything, and it can vanish just as easily as it came. Then, you're just another fool, another rags-to-riches-to-rags tragedy.

How many have sung the same song? They knew success, but they flew too high, melted their wings and fell back to Earth. In the end, they would give anything for even a thimble full of what they once had, for the resources they once blew on trifles.

Success doesn't have to be turned away, but you must never take it personally. You are only the custodian of good fortune, not the recipient. It isn't a sin to have money in the bank; the risk comes when you start spending it. Sports cars, vacation homes and other unnecessary luxuries require ongoing maintenance that ultimately sabotages your freedom. With a little shift in the winds, these possessions and commitments can quickly become a prison.

Money, beauty and good fortune also let you buy your way out of tight spots that should have woken you up and forced you to change. You start falling back on dumb, awkward, expensive solutions rather than cheap and elegant ones.

Success is a powerful drug, like cocaine. It feels good at first, but you quickly become addicted. When the drug is then taken away, the results are usually sad. Most of history's greatest tragedies, from the Fall of Rome to the Great Depression can be directly linked to the excesses and euphoria of success.

Like a free buffet, success can be a pleasant experience at first, but for your own health and nutrition, you need to limit what you take from it.

—G .C.

©2008-09, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Song #9: "Final Stand"

My latest song recounts the last words of a desperado. Here is the tune (.mp3), the sheet music (.pdf) and me singing the song, poorly (.wav). The full lyrics are below (not too meaningful without the music). Midi file available upon request. Both the tune and the words are my own original work.

Final Stand
I got two shots left in my gun.
It's the end, my last setting sun.
It's just me alone again,
My friend by my side.
I've got no place left now to run.

I know I'm right.
Come hold me now.
I'll stay and fight.
But I don't know how.
I'm not afraid.
Oh, yes I am.
Please take my hand.
My final stand.

We will all become what we choose.
If you want something, pay your dues.
It's just me the fool again,
Back against the wall.
I've got nothing left now to lose.

I know I'm right.
Come hold me now.
I'll stay and fight.
But I don't know how.
I'm not afraid.
Oh, yes I am.
Please take my hand.
My final stand.

I am not alone.
I can go back home,
To my cottage there in the glen.
In reality, it's my fantasy
That we all go home in the end.

I hope my life
Was not in vain.
Enduring Strife,
Now I feel no pain.
See who I am,
No what I've done.
Please lead me on,
My Kingdom come.

Now the law won't take me alive.
I did what I did to survive.
And no chains will hold me down
As long as I breathe.
I've got no choice left but to leave.

I've got one shot left in my gun.
Lyrics and tune copyright © Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.

You can see all my songs here. All my songs and screen stories are indexed at Love

Friday, February 6, 2009

New Blog: Homeless by Choice

A few days ago, I created a new blog extolling the virtues of "Free Sleeping"...

Mission Statement

This blog explores the techniques and philosophy of "urban camping"—that is, spending the night in a populated area without paying rent. Whether you do it for one night or every night, what are the risks and rewards? We will explore the various personal, economic and social implications, and will conduct field studies to prove the concept and test our techniques.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

25 Random Things About Glenn Campbell (a Facebook survey)

This is my own response to a "survey" going around on Facebook...

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to "notes" under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

1) I have never had any interest in alcohol, drugs, gambling, amusement park rides, video games, or playing or watching sports. Must be a genetic defect.

2) I have an iPod in my head. In an instant, I can call up any of 1000s of songs, all of them completely free.

3) I don't care whether UFOs are real. They are not relevant.

4) I can sleep almost anywhere.

5) God, if He exists, isn't going to care whether or not I believe in Him, just as long as I do good.

6) Doing good is a lot more complicated than it seems.

7) All of the main problems of life come down to "triage"-that is, getting the best results you can with the inadequate resources at your disposal.

8) I was raised by television but hate it now. If I never see it again, it won't bother me.

9) Gilligan, the Skipper, too, are like family to me. I will always regret how they were treated by the entertainment industry.

10) I am completely immune to advertizing, except when it shows me a lower price for something I was going to buy anyway.

11) I have always had a major travel addiction, but I think I have it under control. I can quit anytime I want.

12) If necessary, I can go days or weeks without human contact and still function efficiently (although not happily). I don't need anyone to tell me what to do, because I already know what to do.

13) I would like people to read and appreciate what I write, but it isn't necessary. I know when something I have written is good, and that's enough to keep me going.

14) I have no problem walking into a room full of people who all disagree with me or who are even openly hostile to me, as long as I am physically safe. I relish any opportunity to defend my position, even if I know no one is going to be changed by it.

15) I could go on live TV in front of millions of people and not be nervous, at long as I can express my own views and not someone else's.

16) I have actually done #15.

17) The biggest worry in my life is the well-being of my ex-wife and her kids, even though I have very little contact with them.

18) My only significant possessions are my laptop computer and my camera.

19) I can get by on very little as long as I can write.

20) I am permanently settled in a mental age of 24, but I have a few more tools now then I had then.

21) By about the age of 12, I recognized that the Christian God didn't exist and that all religions were made up by Man. I continued to happily go to church, however, as it was my only social life. (I was raised Episcopal, which is just about the easiest religion ever. No one expects you to declare anything.)

22) My favorite movie as a kid was "2001: A Space Odyssey." The idea of an astronaut alone in space both terrified and fascinated me.

23) In high school, I used to hang out at M.I.T. I used to be a math whiz, but I lost it all in senior year. Before I lost my math, I nearly aced the SATs and Achievement Tests.

24) I was banned from Canada for 10 years and didn't even know it. (The 10 years is over now.) Canada is an optional country anyway. It's not like losing France or something.

25) I am an existentialist, but I still haven't figured out what that means.

Here is the link to this item on Facebook, including comments from others. (Facebook login and/or friending may be required).

Kilroy Café #29: "Theory meets Reality"

Here is the latest Kilroy philosophy essay, released today. You can print it out on a single page via the pdf file, or you can read the full text below. Also see my other Kilroy Café newsletters.

Theory meets Reality and...
Reality always wins.


Reality is big, really big. Just when you think you have it all worked out, reality throws you a curveball that says, "You don't know nuthin', buddy!"

Reality is so big that there's no way us puny little humans can grasp it all at once. There's just too much data for our tiny skulls to hold. Instead, we come up with simplified theories about reality that each try to capture some aspect of it; then we behave as though those theories were true.

Liberalism is a theory. So is conservatism. Love is a theory—a wonderfully messy speculation on what someone else may or may not feel. All religions are theories, unless you happen to be the Supreme Being Himself. Gravity is a theory—and a damn fine one I might add! It's the theory that keeps you from walking off cliffs thinking you can fly.

All theories are just that—theories. They are simplistic models of reality that try to capture a tiny slice of it for a particular purpose. No theory is good forever. There will always come a point in its life when it is going to mislead you.

It is okay to follow a certain theory for now, if it is the best one you currently have access to, but it's a mistake to think this theory will always be the best, because that's when reality sneaks up and bites you.

There is an element of faith in every theory—some key assumption that we don't really understand but that we believe will always be there because it has always been there in the past. Take gravity—a damn fine theory, as I said. "What goes up, must come down," is going to save your butt on any number of occasions. But no one really knows where gravity comes from, and therein lies the sort of loophole that reality is eventually going to use to make a fool of you.

Newton expanded our theory of gravity, and Einstein came up with a new theory of physics that frames gravity in a whole different way, but it's funny how each new theory ends up raising more questions than answers. There seems to be no endpoint to the investigation, no place where we can say we've obtained perfect knowledge.

Which is all to say, "Have some humility, man!" Whatever your theory about reality may be, you've got to understand it's a stop-gap measure, a thumbnail sketch. Reality is way big, and you shouldn't go around claiming you're God and have it all figured out.

People do that all the time. They think they've come up with the perfect theory, so they commit to it always being true by signing various kinds of long-term contracts based on that theory.

How about this one: "Real estate is the only investment that always appreciates, never depreciates." How many people have been suckered by that theory and are now paying for it?

A theory might be good enough for now, but over time every theory is going to start diverging from reality. And I mean EVERY theory. It's not that the theory necessarily becomes ineffective within the framework it was designed for, but over time the whole framework tends to shift. The underlying assumptions about life that you built your original models upon are bound to change. That's called "growth."

What do most people do when their theory starts conflicting with the hard evidence of reality? If they have already committed themselves to their theory, to the point where changing it would be unbearably painful, they're going to start fudging reality instead.

In other words, when evidence starts leaking in that your investments might be misguided, it seems a lot easier to kill the messenger than to revise the theory. Over the course of their lives, people fudge reality, and fudge it some more, and as they do their universe becomes smaller and smaller, because looking outward just reveals more disturbing evidence. Personal growth slows to a crawl.

If you stop listening to reality, one of two things is going to eventually happen: (1) You will die before reality catches up with you, or (2) reality will get the last laugh by calling in a catastrophe to even the score.

THEN you'll revise your theory!

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.