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.

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?

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

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

A Future Worth Loving

If the Internet is an ocean, I am a fish. This is where much of my life has been lived, and so I have grown to love it, warts and all. It has enabled, for me, that which I love most in the world: endless knowledge and learning. I never went to university — my education has been largely digital, from beginning to end. Some of my earliest memories are of exploring Encyclopedia Britannica, watching animations about windmills and levies. I remember the first day I found Wikipedia — I immediately went on a 2-hour dive through black holes on through retinas and cow-tipping. I just couldn’t believe that such an expansive resource existed. Everything I know about design and programming has been learned online. I’ve devoted thousands of hours to lectures and documentaries. For me, computers and the Internet really are a bottomless spring of knowledge and ideas.

This isn’t how many people see or use the Internet. For a time, this irked me, similar to the way a dancer might feel about someone who’s never danced — something of intrinsic value, perhaps not actually essential to modern life. Today, however, there is no question that the Internet is a central component of so many of our daily routines and exchanges. Watching this growth, that irksome feeling has steadily grown into a deep concern for the ways computers are failing to unite us, or even creating divisions where before none existed. While the Internet opens up rich new channels of exploration and connection, others seem to be closing.

One beauty of the Internet is that you can, at this very moment, go to YouTube and find all manner of skills demonstrated by people around the world. Your Facebook feed is likely sprinkled with photos of various hobbies, projects, and achievements. And it’s all inferior to experiencing things in real life. The online conversations we share about these activities — particularly with friends and family — are often unsatisfying, lifeless and primitive imitations of real world communication.

For some people, their purest and most powerful form of expression is with a paintbrush. For others, it’s a guitar. A basketball. A pen. A sewing needle. A steering wheel. A deck of cards. Pick whatever you want — there’s someone, somewhere who could stun you with their mastery over these inert objects, that could expose you to new thoughts and ideas through the creative expression realized in their demonstration. It’s passions and talents like these that weave the fabric of culture and enrich the human experience. But on the Internet, these skills are worth only their weight in views and likes.

Continue reading A Future Worth Loving

video game feminism

I’m a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. Although I highly recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in pop culture or video games, the series is quite long. Since this post involves many of its core ideas, I’ll provide my summary of Sarkeesian’s most important observations.

Video games and the industry surrounding them are extremely male-dominated. Games aren’t just being marketed exclusively towards men — games themselves are designed around the assumption that the players are male. They overwhelmingly cater to this group to such an extent that it is actively alienating the players that do not match this target demographic.

Continue reading video game feminism

chief

A brief comment on the resignation of Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich.  In particular, the contents of the quite viral article from Ars Technica are what inspire me to write.  I have one point to make, and it’s a simple one.

Let’s do some phrase replacement with the quotes from the article.

Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all [opposition to the Civil Rights Act] was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by [racial or ethnic biases] he or she supports as a private citizen.

Continue reading chief

label

Is it dumb to love a label and its culture?

I’m just a huge fan of Mad Decent and its culture. Just really different and always tries something new. I feel like I like it and the idea of it, too much.

Do you feel me?

It’s a good question, one that is ripe for discussion.

One of my favorite labels is Kitsuné – I enjoy the vast majority of the artists they sign, and it’s no coincidence that they also happen to make clothing. They recognize that their listeners have a certain style they can tap into. The cynical perspective is to say they’re manipulating sheep into buying a lifestyle, but the fact of the matter is that music correlates to more than just what we listen to, much the same as any other serious passion in life.

Continue reading label

required

For posterity, I preserve here my summary of why the individual mandate (perhaps the most contentious feature of the Affordable Care Act) is not a slap in the face to Liberty or Freedom.  This was the inciting fartbook comment.  Oh, and yes, I’m on that shit again.  Whatever.

Forcing people to purchase anything, is an encroachment on liberty

BLOOPADOOP (<— REDACTED LOL), that stance is non-viable in this context. It’s comparable to answering “Yes” when the question is “Red or white?”.

The individual mandate is not some socialist conspiracy, nor does it have any relation to personal or social freedom. Every modern country implements some version of the individual mandate because at some point every citizen is going to use the health care system. Unless you’re going to argue that hospitals should reject life-saving treatment at the ER because they cannot immediately determine the financial or insurance status of a patient, then those people need to have insurance if health-care providers want to have any hope of receiving compensation for the treatment they provide.

Continue reading required

edify

As a teenager, 24 was one of the first television shows to really draw me in. I’ve been revisiting it, and it’s spurred a lot of thoughts about how television has evolved and why the show held such wide appeal during its run.  It was an intense and tightly edited series. It told multiple stories in parallel, the drama was generally compelling, and the main character was an uncompromising badass. Kiefer Sutherland really knows how to look good running around with a drawn pistol. Now that I’m a bit older and wiser, the show seems almost crass in the simplicity of its dialogue, character construction, plotline, and the absurd quantity of cultural and gender stereotyping that fuels the conflicts and interactions across the show.  But it’s an interesting case study in how network television channels managed to escape the mire of episodic sitcoms that dominated the 90’s.

This is what Jack Bauer looks like at most points during the show.
Jack Bauer is not exactly a complex character.

In 24, characters frequently behave in ways that are clearly motivated by the writers’ need to create drama and increase tension, lest the show drift into that most dangerous territory of the mundane. The writers are frequently shameless in how they generate character interactions, making heavy use of techno-babble simply to provide an excuse for characters to walk from one desk to another. What these characters actually do at their jobs is hilariously difficult to define. With all their talk of protocols, encryptions, and sockets, you might imagine that they’re in IT, but at no other point do these characters profess any expertise in the realm of technology or computers.

Continue reading edify

fantasybook

After 8 years on Facebook, I deactivated my account this weekend for the first time. I can’t quite say it’s the last time, as it’s turned out that third-party applications are able to reactivate your account (I’m glaring at you, Spotify) – but the idea is to be done with Facebook for all personal matters. It’s still a necessary broadcast node, so I’ve converted to a fan page, but it’s nonetheless on its way out as a core website in my internet experience.

Continue reading fantasybook

massecrate

I generally try to avoid jumping on media bandwagons when picking topics to explore, here, but I’ve seen one too many glib quotes from people who want to explain the world as having one big problem that just so happens to coincide with their worldview. I get as choked up as anyone else reading about the Sandy Hook shooting, but there’s some hard facts that demand recognition.

This is going to happen again. And again. And again. No matter what.

The only factors we can control are the frequency and the severity.  I’m entirely on board with much stronger gun control – but we’re kidding ourselves if we think it was a lack of legislation that allowed this event to happen. Broad legislation is not effective in dealing with lone individuals that aren’t a part of any organization or group. It’s the same with drugs; prosecuting users is a waste of time, and that’s why the focus of law enforcement agencies is on producers and distributors. The goal is to reduce availability and increase the cost of acquisition to the point that it’s no longer desirable or feasible, particularly at larger scales.

Continue reading massecrate

control

Recently, John Campbell, the author of my most favorite webcomic, pictures for sad children, wrote a series of articles (for lack of a better word) that have generated some interesting controversy that’s relevant to my previous post about trolls.  Although they’re an interesting read, the titles alone rather succinctly describe the content.  The only background you need here is that John Campbell’s comics and street art are nothing if not compulsively melancholic, but never, ever serious.

His entire confession and apology was fake.  A lot of his readers and fellow artists were pretty offended, and not unfairly – but one line in particular got me thinking.

I regret the borderline people, those who could identify the problems in their life, face them, and allow themselves to be changed, but instead found it necessary to conceive of themselves as “struggling with depression” rather than being genuinely held back emotionally by some nasty and real situation. Any work participating in the “culture of depression” has probably contributed to these sad and unnecessary cases.

Continue reading control

pathogen

The last month has seen more activity in the Middle East, complete with senseless murders and vast rioting.  Yet again, this has spurred a great deal of head-scratching as to how in the world a feeble insult in the form of a minute-long YouTube video could inspire such a response.  The usual explanations are everywhere: large groups of unemployed and alienated young men, hyper-conservatism fostered through theocratic rule and aggressive media filtering, or America’s incomprehensibly bad relationship with the entire region – there’s so much to choose from.   However, whatever the situation over there predisposes people to feel or do, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of people were rioting about a YouTube video.  I propose to you that it’s because they aren’t getting trolled frequently enough.

Trolls are a vaccine for the social immune system.

Continue reading pathogen

nomenclad

In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.

What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.

As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.

The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:

  • salandarin
  • saladman
  • salad
  • sal
  • salmon
  • salmonesque
  • SALMONATOR

I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.

For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games.  Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game.  So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages.   With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.

  • SALMONATOR
  • HEROIC SALMON
  • SMICKDASH
  • CHIROPRACTIC MANSLAUGHTER
  • PREMIUM FOOD STAMPS
  • GONNA POOP ON YA
  • IMPROMPTU BRODOWN
  • BUTT ALCHEMIST
  • PREHISTORIC MOP
  • JANITORIAL MASQUERADE
  • INTERSTELLAR VISIGOTH
  • SERF DUNKING
  • QUESTIONABLE OSMOSIS
  • LOBSTER CANNON
  • CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK
  • SMUGFRUIT
  • FATSLAP
  • DUMPTURKEY
  • SPOONIST
  • SHAMBURGER

Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be.  I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great.  Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).

Continue reading nomenclad

quibble

A foray onto the topic of gay marriage, inspired by the book of faces.  I’d like to take a look at a few ideas that seem to fuel much of the opposition to homosexuality.

  • Strictly defined gender roles

I watched a great Norwegian documentary a few months back that investigated some of the dominant theory in psychology and sociology in Norway, where most explanations tend to favor nurture over nature in the development of the human psyche and society.  Over the course of the series, he demonstrates how the desire to create total equality leads to dogma which rejects the possibility that people aren’t just blank slates.  To the point: as much of the anecdotal evidence suggests, men and women are fundamentally different from one another in certain ways.  This observation forms much of the basis for “ought” statements concerning the genders, but to stop here is to use incomplete evidence.

Continue reading quibble

occupation

I’ve kept an eye on the Occupy Wall Street protests these last few weeks. I’m lucky enough to have several people in my social networking feeds that are doing the same thing, even including one guy who’s been on the ground with his camera. We’ll see what happens tomorrow with the temporary eviction, which I think could be serious test of the movement’s public image if they don’t work amicably with the rather reasonable desire to keep the park in good condition.  Then again, it could also just be a pretext for shutting it down.  It’s hard to know for sure – regardless of the the motivation, I doubt the protesters have any interest in leaving, and I also doubt the police will feel any reticence in evicting them.

Continue reading occupation

adorable

This blog was given an award.

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Adorable was perhaps the last adjective I had in mind in the creation of this blog, though Lauradid say it was given ironically. Social convention dictates that I accept and conform to the stated rules of this award:

  • Thank the person who gave you this award, and link back to them in your post.
  • Tell us 10 things about yourself.
  • Nominate your bloggers.
  • Contact these bloggers, and let them know they received this award.

The alternative to doing these things is that I embrace my inner asshole and analyze the shit out of a seemingly minor event. Can you guess which one I’m going to do?

Continue reading adorable

hiphopscotch

Let’s start this with a primer.

Until recently, I must confess that I held no special love for America. It wasn’t a hate, but more a boredom and lack of hope for progress. Having witnessed first hand the incredible amount of history and tradition that forms the backdrop of European culture, anything in America just pales in comparison. Prototypical American practicality and efficiency do not leave much room for what we largely consider to be the frills of society: artistic expression, creative thinking, and serious introspection.

Continue reading hiphopscotch

naturally

Even when I was still a consistent driver, I never paid much attention to bumper stickers. Aside from the minority that provide a cheap laugh, they seem to me like the most cowardly and ineffective way to make a statement. Every victim of the bumper sticker is left unable to make any sort of response; the argument starts and ends on a 12 x 3″ adhesive pad. The ultimate last word.

While I doubt the bearers of the stickers I saw while on my most recent monthly errand run really understood the philosophical and theological ramifications of their banners, some old concepts were brought to mind. A simple “JESUS is GOD” sticker brought a flood of memories of my childhood bible camp. Another “Jesus SAVES” led me on a long chain of thoughts; I’d nearly forgotten that the whole idea behind Jesus was that he’s meant to be saving us from something we cannot save ourselves from. Most people think of that something as being hell, but the more technically accurate answer is sin.

Continue reading naturally

transform

It’s been a long time since a classic post. Forgive me if I’m a bit rusty.

Every few months, I go back to church just to see how it compares to the last time I went, and each time the experience is more bizarre.

The service itself has become increasingly uncomfortable for me. When the congregation speaks in unison, the chorus of mumbles precisely imitate what I imagine hypnotized zombies to sound like. I still enjoy the singing, but the emotions involved are more akin to singing along to Rihanna than anything else. The lyrics are distant and meaningless, simply being a mechanism by which to carry the tune. The sermon is a long series of statements that I just don’t agree with; where once I felt great confusion over how I felt about the implications of the content, I now simply see totally different interpretation of our existence. The crowning moment of awkwardness is when I lift my hand to deny the communion plate. The server pauses for a moment, as if to make sure he didn’t just imagine that I did what he thinks I just did. The guy sitting next to me stares at his piece of bread with absurd intensity. Every time. I remember how I looked around to see who was and was not taking communion, and I know that a very large number of eyes took note of my choice. I know that single decision molds the interactions I experience thereafter. I can sense in each conversation a careful tiptoeing and delicate probing to see where I am, and how I am doing.

Continue reading transform