hindsight

The thought I’ve been coming back to the last two days is that, if he hadn’t been elected, I would be less politically engaged. I’m sure the same is true for many others.

To be clear, it’s not like I’m putting in any herculean effort here. I called my representatives for the first time. I marched in my first protest last year. I voted in my first local election yesterday. Maybe I’m reading and writing a bit more. But all it takes to bring change is just a little more engagement from a lot of people.

If Hillary had been elected, would we see anywhere near the same levels of participation? Given how slim the margins have been for these disastrous bills in Congress, it seems quite plausible to imagine that they would pass if there were fewer calls and protests. Does that outweigh the damage from Gorsuch, the executive orders, and his appointments? Perhaps not, I don’t know.

November 2016 was a major shift in my perspective. I spent weeks feeling utter dread. It was so hard to imagine a good future in world where Trump could be elected. I’d never felt such a persistent mixture of disappointment and disgust.

But over the last year, I’ve seen tons of powerful activism, which has stayed strong even though the news is so relentlessly, oppressively terrible. More than ever, we’re painfully aware of the problems in our society. I don’t see anyone with the answers, but I see a lot of people searching for them. More than before. There has been horror, but also solidarity and reassurance in seeing that there are many people as horrified as me.

We’ve survived our first year. This year’s election bodes well for 2018. Nothing is yet broken that cannot be fixed. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m hopeful, but I do see plausible routes for our country to recover.

maverick

I see a lot of sudden celebration of John McCain as a legendary hero in response to his diagnosis of brain cancer.

I don’t wish illness or death on anyone. This isn’t about withholding sympathy or empathy. You can be sad that someone is sick or mourn their passing without ignoring their flaws. But our collective willingness to suddenly cast the sick and the dead as heroes is not honest or helpful.

When it comes to the life and death of public figures, it’s a chance for society to reckon with the quality of their character. Famous people, whether they like it or not, become role models by mere virtue of their presence. They are examples of what sort of lives can be lead. How we talk about their example is one of the many ways that we define the meaning of a good life, of a life well-lived. When we speak in glowing terms of someone’s story, there is an implication to everyone listening that this person’s actions are worth mimicking.

I’m not a student of John McCain’s life. All I know is what I’ve seen for the last decade or so.

To me, he’s the guy that picked a woman he barely knew as his vice presidential candidate. He launched Sarah Palin – a dreadful harbinger of Trumpian behavior and rhetoric – into the national spotlight. He’s a guy that frequently goes on television to critique Trump, but still votes with him over 90% of the time. He’s an active participant in the political party that denies climate change, limits civil rights, that actively enacts policies that intentionally harm the poor, the needy, and the suffering.

No doubt, he appears to be a more decent human being than many of his colleagues. He shows respect for others. He has a history of voting across party lines (even if that hasn’t been the case recently). He went out of his way to call Obama a decent human being during the ’08 election. He doesn’t speak with venom or malice.

But that doesn’t make him a hero. It means he’s not a terrible person, that he does what a lot of us do every day of our lives. He looks great because he’s surrounded by such abhorrent individuals.

I think that’s what people are reacting to, more than anything else. It’s not about him specifically, but the fact that the one guy who lets out even a fart of reasonable attitudes might be out of the game. That we’re one step closer to political insanity.

tweets’n’such

Twitter is easily the worst place for my mental health with its relentless formula of cynicism and groupthink masquerading as irony, but it provides an incredible wealth of information and perspectives on current events.

It took over a year, but I finally curated an excellent mix of people that provide a reliable stream of useful insight with a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. The direct access it provides to journalists and political insiders is a thing of beauty. It can often be its own, isolated world, where people continually mistake the shared catharsis of mocking opponents with meaningful engagement. But there is legitimate, educational, enlightening discussion going on there. It just takes a lot of digging to find.

I still don’t feel comfortable contributing or interacting on Twitter. I don’t think I have much to contribute in that format, but I’ve also never really tried. I think it would be quite difficult to navigate towards an experience that would be fulfilling rather than soul-crushing.

Meanwhile, Facebook is utterly dead to me as a place for evidence-based discussion. I have seen zero constructive disagreements take place here since the election. At the same time, this is the only reliable window I have towards seeing actual, confirmed human beings express sincerely-held conservative beliefs. Finding that on Twitter or Reddit is impossible, so I do appreciate the occasional glimpse of “my god he really believes that trump is doing the lord’s work” as a reminder that our election was not a joke.

That leads me to conclude that there is still merit in putting thoughts out there as a means of bolstering representation. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll give some words to thoughts that others have not yet been able to articulate.

But it’s important to recognize these efforts for what they are. My posts are little more than thinking out loud, an outlet for the stuff that gets bottled up in my brain over time, a mostly selfish act rather than some benevolent community service. I’m not changing the world with my words. Nobody’s going to be won over or convinced solely by what I write.

paris

It’s hard to keep talking about climate change because it’s depressing and relentless and the more we learn, the more we realize how much trouble we’re in. It’s also challenging from an individual standpoint; we’re each a tiny gear in an enormous machine, and it’s difficult to feel relevant or effective.

That’s why it’s so important for governments to lead the way in taking action. They can set the standard, raise the bar for what to aim for, draft goals and provide the resources to help everyone reach those targets, and most importantly, establish firm rules and take corporations to task that fail to meet those rules. No other entity in the world has the ability to do this. If you believe that market forces will be sufficient, the behavior of oil companies is a very clear indicator that this is not the case. The interest of the shareholders is rarely in line with the needs of the environment.

Trump has abandoned the country – and the world – on this issue, and for no clear reason. No sane person believes that coal is coming back. What’s good for the people and the environment in America is also good for the rest of the world – there is no reason to make this an issue of protectionism.

This is how America ceases to be relevant. This is the sound of faltering progress. History will not be kind to us, and the future will not be kind to our children.

collective dogma

One of the problems with obsessing about politics and society as much as I do is that it means I am constantly thinking about life in an abstract sense. I often ponder about other people’s lives, imagining what it is that makes others happy, fantasizing of the ways that we can eliminate sources of pain and suffering, creating opportunities for people to fulfill their dreams and capture their desires.

When I do this, I try very hard to remove my concept of fulfillment from the equation. I don’t want to be hegemonic, to prescribe my preferences to others, to assume that what satisfies me is at all sufficient for anyone else. I operate on the premise that my life, as I experience it, is not what most people want. Yet I have to recognize that it is dishonest to think that I can be political without being prescriptive. If I have an opinion about public policy, that is a moral stance about what the best way of life is, of what other people’s lives ought to look like.

Yet, these stances do not construct any tangible notion of a life well-lived. My generation has few role models, hardly anyone that we can all point to and say “they did it right, that is the way it should be done”. Is that a sign of enlightenment, that we recognize there is no one path that works for everyone? Or is it a sign of being lost, that we find ourselves without specific or concrete direction?

To many of us, it sounds great that we should each search and discover our own purpose in life. But I find it to be a great irony that we are so strongly driven by individualist ideas of self-determination, of shedding dogma and doctrine, yet we are so eager for a more unified and collectivist society.

panorama

This weekend, I built a prototype for a kind of news aggregation I’ve had on my mind for a while, which I’ve called Panorama.

The idea is fairly straightforward: look for all possible articles on a specific story, across many different sources, then put all the headlines in one place, in chronological order. That’s pretty much it.

For my proof of concept, I picked Michael Flynn, for a few reasons:
1. His brief tenure made it easy to scope down the time range
2. It’s not an ongoing controversy (Turkey lobbying aside), and a relatively self-contained story with a beginning an end is easier to grok
3. Responses to the scandal are mostly polarized

The notion is that, by placing all news sources together, trends will emerge. It should be possible to identify an agenda, for bias to be (more) self-evident when placed in the context of news as a whole.

In terms of methodology, some things worth making note of:

  • This was all collected by hand. There are certainly errors.
  • I did a lot of googling and did my best to find every relevant article on the Washington Post, Breitbart, and the New York Times from the election until now. Other sources are just articles I found along the way.
  • I did not include syndicated articles – AP, Reuters, UPI, etc.. These articles don’t really represent what I’m interested in. Also, it turns out that Breitbart buys almost every syndicated article, no matter how redundant, so there are hundreds of these articles just for the last month of news on Flynn. I assume this is for SEO purposes, since it makes Breitbart much more likely to show up on any given search on a topic.
  • Just getting reliable publication times can be a huge pain. For all of these, I had to open up the source for a timestamp – sometimes I could get an ISO string, other times I’d have to convert from a plaintext time.
  • Some articles just don’t have accurate publication times recorded, e.g. there are articles about Flynn’s resignation showing up before he’s actually resigned.

Deeper thought on this experiment to come later.

greatness

One of the understandable but misguided responses that Democrats had during the election was that “American never stopped being great” or “America is still great”.

I get the sentiment. It feels like a natural response to MAGA. It made for a heartwarming speech from Michelle at the DNC. But it is very much the kind of fairy tail that the left must divest itself from going forward.

The cold, hard truth is that America was never great.

We’re a country whose initial wealth came straight from the blood and sweat of slaves, whose children we now imprison at ten times the rate of any other racial or ethnic group in the nation.

Our land was stolen from Native Americans, whose genocide was actively sought by our founding fathers and early presidents. The most aggressive and murderous of those, we still honor with a place on our currency.

Our dominance in the 20th century has nothing to do with our democracy, our capitalism, or our Judeo-Christian values, but the mere fortune of being separated from two world wars by two giant oceans, the pure luck of sitting on enormous quantities of oil that we discovered right as we entered the industrial revolution.

Stop painting the past as a place that we should have any desire to return to. Cease this pretense that our wealth and stability are the result of any genius or invention of our own. It is an insult to the memory of the many people who have suffered and died at the hands of American injustice.

No, America was never great. Not once. Not ever.

But it can be.

We should look forward. The future is a place of enormous possibility. We have incredible luck on our sides. A rare chance to write our own destiny. Fleeting, slippery though it might be, we can turn the tides of climate change, of racial, social, and economic injustice, of bureaucratic gridlock, nepotism, and corruption.

The window is closing. A decade or two of inaction, and our chance will be gone. We’ll find ourselves cast back onto the roiling seas, our fates determined more by the whims of weather and inheritance than our own designs.

too many

too. many. things.

mass coral bleaching

record arctic circle temperatures

dakota access pipeline, ugh

talk about fascism a bunch cause we’re intellectually lazy

every. single. nomination.

the inauguration is coming

brief pause for biden memes

oh god i keep forgetting the supreme court

he’s literally going to run his business from the oval office

the media keeps chasing his stupid tweets

(i mean sure they’re bonafide insanity but this didn’t work during the election, why the hell would it work now)

the electoral college is not going to stop him

a recount is not going to elect her

republicans are not going to disavow him

stop it with these fantasies

breitbart is growing

aleppo is crumbling

another log on the fire of xenophobia courtesy of ohio state

la pen is a nightmare

merkel’s losing her edge

too. many. things.

false media

okay fake news let’s go

1. the term itself is overloaded & ambiguous
2. it implies a false binary between real and fake
3. sometimes when we say fake news we actually mean propaganda
4. poorly handled but factually correct news was at least as damaging in this election as fake news – e.g. instant media freakout over Comey

Nonetheless, fake news is a major problem. I personally hadn’t considered its relevance until the last few months but it fits right in with my current favorite narrative that the relationship between news and social media is toxic. Depending on where you get your news, you could be living in a completely separate reality from everyone around you. Facebook already demonstrated that you can dramatically influence mood and opinion based on the general tone and content of your feed.

To up the stakes, the intelligence community is on the record – multiple times this year – in saying that there are other countries actively promoting fake news in the US. This is one of those issues that i cannot understand why it isn’t front-and-center on every outlet, on repeat.

This kind of attack is absolutely trivial. Botnets are dirt cheap – you can get thousands of computers signing up for accounts on every platform, promoting a simple, unified message. single individuals have been doing this with spam since the beginning of the Internet. this is effectively state-sponsored spam, but instead of ads for dick pills we’re getting propaganda about our election.

Part of me wonders if this isn’t just karma for Stuxnet, PRISMA, and the countless other violations of global trust from the NSA.

Facebook and Google might be more technologically sophisticated than what Russia and China have at their disposal currently, but the notion that Facebook alone can handle this problem is unrealistic. We cannot ask corporations to do battle with other countries and hope that they’ll stay on our side.

We’ve evolved into a system where quality journalism is worth less than clickbait. That isn’t the fault of mainstream media or alternative news or any nation-state. I doubt anyone dreamed up our current state of affairs, saying “yeah I’d love to see a landscape of news where everything is reduced to all-caps headlines paired with evocative stock photos and investigative journalism is nearly extinct”.

But this is where we are. We should not be surprised that there are people taking advantage of this state of affairs.

guilt by association

I have friends that identify as part of the alt-right. I would like to think that I understand their reasons for identifying with the movement. It is a fact that not all of them are racists or sexists. But the window for immunity from association is closing.

This is a movement whose strongest catalysts are actually racist, literally sexist, seriously anti-Semitic, genuinely bigoted. Every single day, Trump names a new cabinet member that is at best, deeply questionable in their commitment to serve all Americans, and at worst, shows active disdain for minorities or anyone who disagrees with them. We have not gone a single day without new revelations about people fundamental to the alt-right movement who are waving loud and proud the banner of white nationalism.

I want to empathize. I want to humanize. I want to understand. But the alt-right – questionable as it was before – is quickly becoming synonymous with white supremacy. We are entering into territory where it is supremely difficult for me to give the benefit of the doubt. And that makes it all the more challenging to know what to do.

burden of proof

There is an ongoing debate in the left, right now, about what conclusions to take away from this.

To my dismay, I am seeing a lot of folks double-down on their contempt for the Trump voter. The ideological divide in this country has never been larger, and there does not seem to be much hope of closing that gap right now. I am genuinely concerned that we could see violence of consequence in the next decade, given our current arms race of outrage and other-ing of entire demographics.

What has helped me reach an understanding of how someone could ever have voted for Trump, is realizing exactly how much they hated Hillary. That, in hindsight, was my largest mistaken assumption over the course of the election. Now, I will continue to argue that the hatred of her is totally unwarranted, arbitrary, and augmented by (if not rooted in) sexism. But in the final days of the election, we had:

– Comey’s absurd double-blunder, wherein he causes a media firestorm over literally nothing, and then further enhances the perception of corruption by retracting it days before the election
– Fox News running a false story based on a tip from an anonymous FBI employee that Hillary was being indicted. This ran for an entire day.
– An endless stream of emails from WikiLeaks. While none of these contained much information of consequence, they drew attention, fueled speculation, and plenty of them were vague enough to inspire all manner of conspiracy theory.

Every one of Trump’s horrifying tirades was buffered on each side by a controversy from Hillary. Yes, this is a false equivalence of the highest order. It’s an insult that we would ever compare the two as equals. But the fact remains: there was a compelling and legible narrative from the right, readily available for all.

What was the narrative from the left?

For all our talk of inclusiveness and equality, what tangible vision of change did we offer for rural working-class Americans? To the person who does not see climate change as an imminent threat, who does not know any black or hispanic or Muslim Americans and thus has little reason to care about how we treat them, who does not see sexism as a relevant force in the story of their lives, whose quality of life is more immediately threatened by the price of gas than nearly anything else – what did we offer?

Look, I’m as bleeding heart liberal as you get. I believe firmly in the policies of the left to bring meaningful, positive change to people in every walk of life.

But my belief in this stems from a vivd, tangible concept of what these possible futures look like. My fear of climate change is rooted in a very clear image of a world with a billion more refugees. My love for basic income stems from an understanding of how soon robots are going to be replacing all of our unskilled labor. My passion for feminism and anti-racism comes from listening and hearing stories from people I care about, learning the ways that my friends have suffered at the hands of bigotry and stereotypes.

You cannot expect people to just get it. Nothing in this world is as obvious or clear-cut as we like to think. It is on us to explain ourselves, to justify our ideas, to fill in the blanks, to populate the imaginations of people across the world so that we can have a shared vision, a unified goal.

It is time for the left to take up the burden of proof and run with it.

de-termination

Up til this point, I have felt okay with my level of participation in the political process. I spend at least an hour or two every day reading the news, trying to learn stuff. I post links. I write my little essays. I vote. I try to stay informed on the issues that matter and share that information with my friends and family. What else is there to do?

But this election has changed the way that I think about the future. I already knew that progress was not guaranteed. But I still figured it was likely. There might be setbacks, but they would be temporary.

I no longer feel this way. There is no hard floor to this descent. There is no inevitable march forward. It will be far easier for this administration to burn bridges than it will be for us to rebuild them. It may take decades to rip down the walls that he builds in a few years.

The point of this being, I think you are going to see me getting a lot more political in the coming months and years. My now perpetual state of anxiety dictates that I take action and do whatever I can to subvert the incoming tidal wave of xenophobia and racism. I cannot abide my own existence if I am not actively working towards a future that doesn’t suck.

I am going to keep pondering what, exactly, this looks like. I know relatively little about law and have a lot of reading to do before I can hope to meaningfully change a system I do not understand.

I will be looking for ways to get involved with my local government so that I can see how the system works at the lowest level. I will be sketching out ideas of tools to build that can alleviate the major pain points in our system. I will be searching for ideas and inspiration wherever I can find them.

And, of course, I will keep writing, trying to improve my grasp on the slippery eel of social media that I have never felt comfortable with. But it is clearly a necessary tool of the trade, now, and I will learn whatever necessary to be an effective actor in this system.

crying wolf

One recurring thought for me is that what most of us feel right now must be similar to how Trump’s base felt when Obama was elected.

This isn’t to say that the feelings are equally legitimate. But an entire sector of our media was devoted to painting Obama as the antichrist. There was endless FUD about FEMA concentration camps. Or that he secretly hated America as evidenced by his refusal to wear a flag pin for a few days. Or that he was a black supremacist. Remember the whole thing with death panels? And, of course, the birther movement. A lot of people believed all of that to be true.

Now we have someone that really is what the media says he is. There’s no hyperbole when we express fear that he would deport millions of Americans or begin racial and religious profiling en-masse. He truly does think that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He actually sees nothing wrong with sexually violating women. The fires of bigotry, sexism, racism, and xenophobia have been stoked by this election, and minorities throughout the country are justified in their terror.

How can you make clear the difference to someone who really thought Obama was a terrorist? What words are available to use when we’ve already been running on maximal hyperbole for nearly a damn decade? Is there any possible phrasing that would bring home the gravity of this mistake? Or have we been screaming for so long that we’re just deaf to one another?

nightmare

So. Here we are.

First off. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I love you no matter who you voted for. Trump built his campaign on demonizing the other, and if we have any hope for the future, we have to build on the premise that we’re all human beings with legitimate needs and desires. But my choice to love my neighbors unconditionally does not mean I will not speak my mind.

We’re staring down the barrel of the most malevolent and incompetent government ever devised. A government that runs the world’s largest military, the largest economy, and a huge nuclear stockpile. A man who cannot be trusted with his own twitter account will soon be handed the keys, and none of us can get off this bus.

I don’t have any hope of impeachment. If Trump’s base was not dissuaded by the infinite catalog of horrors that spilled out during his campaign, I see little reason to think that he could ever do anything in office that would meaningfully change his image. We are stuck for at least 4 years.

Furthermore, downballot was a disaster. Simply put, we are not going to see progressive legislation for several years. This doesn’t mean that every good thing we know and love is at risk – the nature of Congress hasn’t been altered and significant legislation of any kind is still near-impossible to pass.

But stagnation is no comfort. The status quo means that gerrymandering and voter restrictions will continue to increase. This means that his 4 years are more than likely to turn into 8 years. We should not hold our breath and wait for this to dissolve.

This is not the time for despair, for self-pity, to wallow or to embrace nihilism. We have work to do, friends.

outrage loop

The interaction between modern social media and democracy seems overwhelmingly toxic.

More than any previous year, Facebook and Twitter have played a central role in every step of this election cycle, possibly to everyone’s detriment. Facebook shoves breaking news about world events in between wedding photos and clickbait listicles. Everything is competing for our attention.

Modern journalism is enslaved to view counts and there is no room for nuance or depth. Headlines are carefully selected to make people upset, because when we’re upset we click and share. Everyone’s screaming into echo chambers, recursively amplifying outrage.

Our memory seems to grow shorter and shorter. Scandals and tragedies constantly flow through our feeds, but never stick around long enough for the full story. We’re left only with hyperbolic headlines that reinforce our pre-existing notions and biases about the world.

In this environment, it seems that lying is optimal. If what matters most is spreading headlines, then Trump has demonstrated the winning strategy. The man’s tweets are pure, uncut viral gold. Liberal outrage over his nonsense may very well be the fuel for this eternal dumpster fire. We broke one of the basic rules of most internet forums: don’t feed the troll. But we’re way past that advice, now.

It remains to be seen is what lessons other politicians take from this debacle. If we can’t divorce ourselves from this model of news that makes us so susceptible to these loops of outrage, I fear that November 8th will not be anywhere close to the end of what we’ve been experiencing for the last year and a half.

purityrannosaurus

Most people know that I grew up very religious.

(here, I take a deep breath and type very slowly)

In person I’m happy to bring this up and talk about it, because it’s so much easier to gauge the other person’s feelings on the topic. I usually know when to back off or shut up, when someone wants to hear more, and how I should phrase my experiences so that I’m not transmitting any judgment or disrespect. Hopefully, anyways.

Writing about this is far more difficult. Being honest while still showing love and respect is hard enough in most areas of life, and this is people’s raison d’etre. All that’s to say: I dearly hope I can manage to explore this topic with the utmost respect and sincerity, whatever beliefs you (you!) might have.

My religious past is something that strongly informs my worldview. I know what it’s like on both sides of the fence. Usually, that means reading any mainstream (secular) writing about religion is purely obnoxious. The people who feel most compelled to spout are usually those that have no real familiarity with what being part of a church community is actually like. So, it was with a little bit of surprise that I encountered this very decent article on Joshua Harris and the purity movement of the late 90’s early 2000’s.

This was quite the read for me.

As a teenager, I went to multiple purity seminars where I signed my name on a heart to give to God. I went to a bible camp every summer where there were 2-3 sermons every day, half of which were about sex and lust. Joshua Harris was frequently mentioned by folks in these circles and at church – the article does not exaggerate his prevalence in this movement.

One of the core tenets of this ideology of purity is that by having any kind of lustful thought or desire, you are sinning against God. For me, this meant I was in a constant, unending state of sin.

Have you ever wronged someone you love – intentionally or not – so badly that there is no amount of apologizing that would make a difference? The kind of harm that you can only hope that the other person will forgive you for…eventually? You know the way that guilt hangs so heavily from your heart, makes you want to sink to the bottom of the ocean? That is what my guilt over my sin felt like.

It was relentless, inescapable, and all-consuming. For years, I prayed regularly and earnestly for God to take away my lustful thoughts and dreams. I wrote about it in my journals, on my blog, and took up hours and hours of my mentors’ time to anguish about it. And this is as someone who didn’t start having sex until 19 (right around the time I left the church). I barely dated in high school.

Hopefully now you can imagine the strength of my feelings on this topic, having gone and done all of the things I swore not to do, to find that very little of what I was told turned out to be true:

You really can fall in love more than once. There is more than one possible companion out there.

It is possible, and often necessary, to talk openly, without shame or judgment, about past relationships with someone you’re dating.

Sex can be safe. Birth control works. STD tests are accurate. It’s possible to fully trust someone on these issues without being married.

People have wildly different desires and expectations from relationships. Not everyone needs the same thing. For most people, your virginity is not important.

There is no platonic ideal of sex. Sex can be a lot more different than you might imagine and still be perfect.

If you’re with a good person, you will not be loved less for your past mistakes.

Sex is not inherently ethereal, transcendent, or magical in any way. It is made fabulous by passion and creativity.

You might indeed lose parts of yourself through some of your relationships. But this will not dilute you. You will also walk away with a piece of them, too. What they leave with you will make you a far better person than you were before.

These are a few of the things I wish i’d heard as a teenager. What the purity movement gave me was the exact opposite.

I hope that Christianity can embrace sex-positivity, some day. But I’m not holding my breath.

complicated sharing

Vulnerability and sharing are tricky things with social media.

It’s been oft-observed that most people choose to share the positive, exciting parts of their lives here. Vacations, weddings, births, and all the various accomplishments we encounter in life are the meat and potatoes of what people reveal online. They’re safe, they make us look good, they give off the impression that we’re living happy and fulfilled lives.

Certainly, not all negative things get hidden. I see a lot of people sharing their grief over death, especially over time. I remember it being less common in the past, but perhaps we’re getting comfortable as facebook becomes more of a fact of life, in combination with its slow support for varied reactions (until recently, I never felt comfortable liking an announcement of a death).

But there’s so many things that never show up here. It’s not very often you’ll see someone announce that they’re suffering from crippling depression. People generally don’t feel comfortable saying they lost their job, dropped out of school, or failed to achieve one of their dreams. But if you pay attention, you can often tell when something’s up.

We’ve probably all had those moments where you stumble across someone you haven’t kept up with for a while, and the tone of everything they share has changed. They moved. They’re alone in all their pictures. Wait, weren’t they married — oh my god they got a divorce. It’s these moments that remind us how much of our lives remain obscured from most of the world.

Of all the aspects of life that are shared asymmetrically on social media, relationships are probably at the top of that list. It’s universally cool to express your love and affection here. No birthday, anniversary, or wedding dare go unannounced. Even the saltiest cynics will gleefully post every picture with their loved one. But you never see the other side.

It often seems that no one wants to hear about how painful it is to go through a break-up. You won’t find nearly as much support if you want to talk about how much it sucks to be single, how lonely the world can feel without a companion, the emptiness that comes with parting from someone who fundamentally understood you, or the way that memories of past relationships can haunt you at random moments throughout your day.

Admittedly, it’s tricky stuff. Assuming you care about the people in your life – past and present – you have to take so much caution with what you let slip out. Oversharing can damage more lives than just your own. The safest option is often to say nothing at all, to grit your teeth and bear it.

But for myself – and I have to assume for many others – so much of my life experience is wrapped up in my past relationships. I learned so much. There are beautiful memories. intense pain, embarrassment, frustration, lessons learned, time lost, and wisdom gained.

It feels like such a dishonesty to say nothing about these things, but I lack any notion of a healthy way to broach these topics through this medium. I don’t know what the solution is, or if one exists at all. Perhaps facebook will never be a place where that kind of honesty is truly safe.

It seems a grave tragedy that the parts of our lives that would benefit the most from community support, open communication, and honest discussion, are ostensibly the most taboo. How many marriages would benefit if we were more willing to discuss the thorny, complicated realities of long-term relationships? Could we not all learn from each other’s mistakes? Don’t we all have lessons that we wish someone had shared with us earlier in our lives, that might have made us better partners, better human beings?

awarewolf

One of my ponderances of late has been how our exposure to the news shapes our perception of the world.

I read at least 100 headlines a day, knowingly or otherwise. I scroll through facebook, reddit, twitter, and my RSS feeds a few times a day. It’s all filtered through the people and organizations I like or trust, building into some vague sense of what the state of the world is, what the nearest possible futures look like. But that whole sensation of knowing what really goes on in the world is just a complicated lie, a house of cards built from countless availability heuristics.

I try to counter that by searching for data and statistics, but this is just a fart in the hurricane. For instance, there’s no way to test the idea that global xenophobia is actually getting worse; I can only make a guess based on the number of bigoted statements that make it into the headlines over the last month. And the certainty of that guess is always haunted by the very plausible notion that the world is the same as it has always been, and I just happen to hear about more of the awful things that occur.

What is the true value in this increased awareness? There’s so much anxiety to be found in keeping up with the goings-on of humanity, but I feel a responsibility to keep trying, lest I unknowingly perpetuate the sins of my ancestors or participate in the errors of my own generation through my ignorance.

Some of these matters, I tacitly know that I lack the discipline to contribute to the solution. Knowing full well the horrors of industrial farming, I really do just love beef, even the stuff they dole out at Taco Bell. Meanwhile, my outrage over racial injustice seems to be limitless. My heart ached in very literal pain and anger as I read of the latest shootings last week, even though these incidents are total deja vu.

There is a temptation towards nihilism as I add all of the latest crises together. There are so many, and none of them can be considered unimportant or irrelevant. Is it possible to care about everything that much? Can our hearts stretch infinitely so that we become capable of empathizing with all the important goings-on of the world? Or are we forced to pick our battles and hope that, between the lot of us, someone else cares enough about the other problems – climate change, education, sexism, poverty, health care – to take care of them? Don’t most of these problems require effort and attention from everyone to truly solve? Is humanity really capable of solving its own problems, or have we built a society more complicated than our meager brains can manage?

Happy Monday, friends.

party for two

Preface: I love you no matter who you vote for. Even if it’s Trump. I don’t think there is much progress to be found in ostracizing or villainizing those who make poor decisions, whatever those decisions pertain to.

When Bernie first announced his campaign, I was on board. I had known about him for a long time prior, and I was immediately excited, even if doubtful. I felt the bern. But by the time the NY primary rolled around, I ended up checking the box for Hillary. Admittedly, I stood in the booth for a solid 10 minutes as I weighed that choice, but that’s where I landed when the time came to pick.

I’ve not mentioned this to many people, as I’ve had a genuine fear of what my more passionate friends would think.  I don’t want to lose their respect.  I hope they’re able to understand.

I made that choice out of pragmatism. It was very clear, at that point, that if Bernie had a real shot, he needed to win South Carolina months prior. He got trounced there, and while he had respectable showings in many states thereafter, he was always losing ground. So, it was my desire to see his campaign wrap up and move towards reconciliation with Hillary so that we could secure the election against Trump.

As Bernie’s campaign has winded down, Jill Stein has picked up many people of the #bernieorbust attitude. This is not surprising, of course; a significant fraction of Bernie’s base were independent voters that only registered as Democrats just to vote for him. So it should be expected that there would be some people returning to that. But there are some basic facts about the democratic process in America that make voting third-party an unwise decision.

Continue reading party for two

groundhog day

I want to talk about guns, but let’s talk about hate first.

We do this thing, as a society, where we start calling someone a terrorist, and that makes it really easy to think of them as some kind of alien.  A terrorist materialized in our midst and caused great suffering.  In our lexicon, terrorist is basically the antonym of American.

But the majority of these shooters are Americans, born and raised.  Most of them white.  They speak English.  They had jobs, cars, phones, bills.  They lived in our society for decades.  Often we hear every variation on the phrase “we never would have suspected” from friends and family.  And I bet most of them weren’t lying.

We’re so hung up on ISIS and Islam.  But maybe this guy, and the guys before him, just followed the lead of our culture, the examples of our role models and aspiring leaders.  We had 29 years to talk this guy out of it.  He spent his life in America.  Maybe he learned his hatred from us.

Can we not find daily examples of homophobia broadcast across all channels of life?  This last year has seen the campaigns of Cruz, Rubio, and Carson – people actively denying basic truths about sexual identity and promoting draconian ideals about gender and sexuality. More explicitly anti-LGBT laws have been proposed in state legislatures this year than ever before.

Why should we be surprised when someone takes to heart the messages from our society that some people are less deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Continue reading groundhog day

abundance is everywhere

Littered in my sketchbooks are outlines of a modern progressive epistemology, where I try to detail each of the core tenets of progressive politics and ideology. It’s a fun thought experiment, but when I try to flesh it out into paragraphs and pages, it grinds to a halt.

I ask myself who I’m writing this for.

It can’t be for myself – dreaming up political theory in a vacuum is a gross cocktail of narcissism and solipsism.

Who, then, is it meant for?

Providing support for progressives that already agree? Eh. The world doesn’t need more preaching to the choir.

Attempting to sway centrists or conservatives? Most progressives wouldn’t read a modern conservative’s epistemology, nor would most conservatives have any interest in my treatise. Another poor tool for effecting change.

So, I put to rest this notion, but there remains an urge. Change requires unity. Unity requires shared understanding. Everywhere, I see a lack of shared understanding.

Discord seems to be growing in America across all spectra. Demagoguery is on the rise. Tensions are building. Sure, it’s election season and maybe things will chill out in 2017. I tend to doubt it.

How is that even possible? Regardless of what the future looks like, we live in a time of the greatest abundance in the history of mankind.

There is, at this very moment, enough food to feed everyone on the planet.

The most common deadly diseases can be cured, treated, or vaccinated against – globally.

We have enough labor and materials to provide shelter to everyone.

Knowledge has never been more widespread and available.

But we’re still fighting over basic goods and services.

Given dire enough circumstances, humans will do just about anything for survival. That’s a pretty uncontroversial fact. It’s the premise of most post-apocalyptic stories, but history gives us a pretty good picture of this as well.

For most of history, humanity has had little control over those dire circumstances. A year of drought could lead to mass starvation. Disease could swoop in from a few rats (or gerbils) hanging out on a wagon. Our margins for error were a lot thinner. That’s in societies where more than half of the population were farmers or directly involved in agriculture, and they still struggled to feed everyone.

A War on Poverty would not make sense in ancient China, medieval Europe, post-revolutionary America, or any other point in history. Eliminating poverty wasn’t an achievable goal until the mid-20th century. Class and caste systems inherent to many past civilizations are a direct response to that. There’s no point in hoping for a better life – you were born into poverty, best just to accept it as your lot in life and hope for better luck next time.

Scarcity changes everything.

But we don’t live in a time of scarcity.

If there’s one idea that I think needs to spread, it’s that we are in an era of overwhelming abundance. There are enough resources to meet everyone’s needs, without qualification or exception. This is a fact.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy task; the logistics of distributing resources are intense. Our economies might not be configured for the task – but that can be changed with less difficulty than we might imagine.

Many of our current political schisms seem to be premised in the notion that not everyone can be prosperous and not everyone deserves to prosper. But if the first notion is false – we have the abundance to provide basic necessities universally – why is there any need to determine who qualifies for help?

Abundance is everywhere. Everyone can prosper.

practical pragmatism

I have a hard time imagining a more interesting presidential race than what America is faced with in 2016.  The Republican end of things is, of course, both fascinating and troubling in ways that no one could have foreseen, but the Democratic primary presents a deeply meaningful choice to voters that care about the issues.

Is it better to have an effective president who offers slim, but guaranteed gains for progress?  Or to have an authentic president who will pursue the most progressive policies currently viable in the country, with a significant chance of complete failure?

That, to me, is Hillary versus Bernie in a nutshell.

Continue reading practical pragmatism

income, basically

Finland recently revealed that it would be embarking on an experiment with universal basic income. This has sparked a fresh wave of mainstream interest in the idea, although it’s been growing steadily in the last decade.

Here goes my attempt to explain and justify basic income in America. Many others have done this before, but these are the components of it I find to be most relevant and compelling. It’s become rather dear to me and, at least until research comes out demonstrating it to be a colossal failure, it sits now at the core of my current political philosophy.

Continue reading income, basically

for the greater good

Ran into a flurry of Zuckerberg charity articles and couldn’t resist a drive-by commentary.  High-level social politics, tax law, and whispers of oligarchy?  I am but a moth to the flame.

If you’re not familiar with the baseline here:

  • Zuckerberg and Chan create an LLC where most of their wealth (99% of Facebook shares, currently >$45bil) will be converted into potentially charitable contributions to society, though the legal boundaries on what their money can be used for are pretty lax.  It’s not really clear what they’re planning to focus spending on.  Always a good start.
  • The whole thing is spurred by Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, an initiative to get the superwealthy to donate the majority of their wealth rather than devoting it to an inheritance.  A surprising amount of billionaires have been on board with this.
But…

It’s hard not to sound like a stale bag of farts in questioning or critiquing a billionaire giving away his fortune.  The ideas here are laudable.  I tend to believe that most people – superwealthy or not – are generally doing what they think makes sense, and even if these actions benefit him indirectly or directly, there has to be some recognition that he could have gone the path of pure wealth optimization.

But the story is not as simple as a billionaire going all-star humanitarian.  There’s 3 major perspectives to consider here, and I’ll follow up with my opinion.

Continue reading for the greater good

Time Will Tell


I


One of the most consistent features of getting older has been the changing nature of my relationship with time. It’s not just, as the cliche goes, that it flies by, but the passing of days takes on a very different tone and architecture. I remember how agonizingly slow the world felt as a child. I remember staring helplessly at the clock in school, knowing that the very act of watching the hands tick was increasing my agony.

Tick. Fuck. Tick. Fuck. Tick. Fuck. Tick.

But lately, days blur seamlessly into weeks and months. Some of this is circumstantial; I now work entirely from home, and it is not uncommon that I go weeks without prolonged human interaction, even while I live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. I have no commute. No morning or evening routine. I have virtually no interruptions during my day. I work. I read. I might play some games for an hour or two. I watch some lectures or a movie. I sleep.

When I look at the clock, there is no anticipation, nor any dread. Time is just a number to make sure I don’t forget my appointments. Once in a while, it’s a pressure, a deadline, a countdown — but I love my work, so I have no resentment for this aspect.

Memories begin to slip through my fingers more and more as there are fewer landmarks to orient my internal narrative. For perhaps a brief moment recent experiences stay near to me, but it’s not long before they disperse into a vast ocean of thoughts, or become lost inside the dense forest of my subconscious. Though I know these experiences are still a part of me, floating somewhere in the expanse of my cognition, many are no longer retrievable as distinct events.

Continue reading Time Will Tell