Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Throwing Darts at the Map

September 12, 2016

The secret to escaping strait-jackets: blindfold yourself and determinedly not know where you are, really. They say the brain begins to hallucinate from lack of stimuli; this is precisely what you are trying to accomplish. (Or, if you’re a bit claustrophobic by nature, then simply travel. That’s what I did.)

If you think you need a break from life, take one. Maybe that break is two months down the road, but you can’t hide from feelings of despair forever. Repression is a hydra. Home starts to feel oppressive, your guerilla mind plots against itself, and destructive habits soon plant their flags of victory.

Alcoholism is my reason, why I so desperately needed to flee from the inviting clutches of the comfort zone. I stopped drinking two weeks prior to the greatest week of my life, what I have endearingly titled, the #AlkaSeltzerGreatAmericanRoadTrip.

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Itinerary: find a place to sleep, drive there, park, begin to wander until fatigue sets in. Repeat.


Instructions: do no research, do not google suggestions, and especially do not get comfortable. (I would even recommend taking my approach of not estimating travel time in advance. Get in the car before you plug in the address of your destination. Let the duration shock you.)

The world isn’t that big of a place. I won’t tell you specifically where I travelled, but let it suffice to say that my time was well spent.

Goals: see some nature, try some local cuisine, steep myself in culture, and feel so uncomfortable by my lack of security that I have no choice but to neurotically journal out my experiences before bed each night.

A road trip is supposed to suck a little bit. Endless hours looking at a hundred thousand incarnations of the same shit. Tree after tree after tree after tree. Hopefully some good music to break the monotony. The information your brain is imbibing starts to condense. The memory of what is  concretizing births nostalgic satisfaction, the feeling that bubbles out your ears, whispering, “Let’s go again, let’s go again!”

Am I stupid? Yes. But less stupid after deepthroating a week of different cities and cultures. I didn’t even give myself time to chew. Museums, microbreweries, marketplaces. Nature, nature, nature.

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Day two of my trip, somebody on the street asked me what the time was. What a stupid question, I remember thinking. Time’s oppressive weight had been lifted from my back and I hadn’t even realized it.

Each morning I’d exchange goodbyes with the roof over my head, return to my car-prison, and endure the endless hours with no one more interesting than myself. Each day, right as the penultimate half-hour of my travels approached, the mental geyser of epiphany would belch its way into gaseous existence. And just before language could bottle up the airiform ideas–There! My parking spot awaits! The moment of relief so strong as to be legitimately mistaken as an orgasm. Everything is forgotten.

The car is parked, my bed is secured, thus the timeless adventure resumed. Tick, tick, tick, remember, tick, tick, tick. But I wasn’t even dimly aware of clocks. The most striking feature of the #AlkaSeltzerGreatAmericanRoadTrip was that everything was new, everything in motion.

[We’ve been taking road trips long before cars plagued our world. I distinctly remember, back in 1789, riding a horse along the East Coast…]

Errant. Errant. Errant.
Flâneur and Anti-Flâneur.

Get lost, I wanted to tell the guy without the time. I stood on this street corner, having been violated from my incognito. I stressed to this time-ignorant blessed soul: it’s not that I’m mean, I mean it! Go, get lost, wander, intentionally lose your way, that’s the only way.

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Clocktime is the most oppressive force in the western world. Smash the patriarchy all you’d like, but the most despotic social construction from which all the oppressive manifestations of human repugnance arise is our cultist belief in the 24 hour day. Some useless sociologist once taught me something extremely useful: Thomas’ Theorem, the idea that, if an idea is real in its consequence, then it is real in the world. I hate clocks.

Clocks have actually convinced people that there’s a fourth dimension living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day.

Rewind a few rotations around the sun, and we arrive in my bedroom. I had just met god, who was presented to me in the form of myself. The psilocybin was in full effect. The ceiling was melting into the wall at an alarming rate. But pure ecstasy resulting. And I proceed into a world that makes me scoff at Dante’s: I couldn’t read clocks.

I looked at my phone, saw the numbers, but couldn’t read them. I looked up at my wall–which thankfully had stopped melting–and that clock was unreadable too! I looked out at the sun, who wasn’t giving any answers. Time paused.

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God fearing folk warned me not to look god in the face, that god’s image will blind you, etc. That might be true. Maybe this time-resistant world wasn’t going to let me go, forever. Maybe hell isn’t an “after” life, maybe it’s a tax on your “now.” The privilege of seeing god incurs an existential tariff. Thus, I sat on the mountain of shame for the next 10,000 years, alone, sweating. Time resumed.

And so, with all of this in mind, we return to the street corner. I still haven’t answered the guy’s question. Unlike you, I chose not to burden him with my web of temporal associations. So I lied. I don’t have the time, I said.

Garnering Insight from the Garden: Environmental Food Justice

May 6, 2016

Most of my time gardening has been spent with ornamentals, but this year I decided to finally start a garden of proper food-growing plants. Food growth appears deceptively simple: buy a tomato plant, dig a hole, water it in, harvest. But, of course, that mental image is far from the truth. Mid-April, as I’m currently learning, brings the night moths, the snails, the aphids, the leaf borers. If you want your tomatoes to stay vegetarian, some kind of insecticide is to be called upon. Thus, in a flustered attempt to debug my tomato plants, I learned a lot about the relationship between food-bearing plants and the environment which they are embedded in. I also realized how ill-equipped Florida’s soil is for the naive gardener. But the more I learned, the more I realized that I, and others like me, didn’t know about the broader implications regarding our food choices and their impact on the macro-environment.

Everything we do as humans is implicated in the broader context of the planet. We build, we create, we destroy. This is true of food as it is of any human endeavor. But food is a unique issue, in terms of our ability to ignore it as something potentially problematic and pernicious on the globe itself. With fewer than 2% of our population currently employed in the agricultural industry, and most of them cordoned off in large scale operations far from any urban eye, it’s no wonder how oblivious most of us can be. For the vast majority of the American population don’t see the topsoil runoff, we don’t see the aquifers being polluted by pesticides, we don’t have to endure negative health consequences (neurophysiological and respiratory damage, predominantly) from being downwind of a slaughterhouse. The simple reality is that we have our backs turned on the very mechanism which brings food to our fridge.

An Agricultural Actuality

The issue of food justice and its concern with environmental justice are not particularly sexy, certainly not “BREAKING NEWS” in CNN’s liberal use of the term, but these issues are in fact worth caring about and, whether we realize it or not, will become defining issues of the future (my) generation. The United Nations, for instance, projects a world population of roughly 9.8 billion by 2050–that’s a rather large bump from our current 7 billion: roughly 3 billion more mouths to feed. Compile this reality with the State of the World’s observation in 2001 that between 1950 and 1990, “world grain yield per hectare rose 2.1 percent a year,” but “between 1990 and 2000, however, the annual gain was only 1.2 percent.” Effectively, this figure suggests an unpalatable truth: crop yield is decreasing simultaneously with an increasing at the rate of population rise, meaning that some people are going to go hungry. Many already are going hungry.

This trend of mutually reinforcing factors contributing to hunger are only worsened when we zoom out and ask how we can meet the needs of the projected future population. Not only are we running out of arable land, but we are running out of water. Our agricultural system uses approximately 50 billion gallons of water per day, 60% of which is directly draining from our groundwater aquifers. These figures exclude the other uses (often misuses) of water in other areas of our society (i.e. drinking, cooking, showering, watering your lawn, etc.). The scary reality of groundwater depletion is heightened by the reality of a growing global population, which will only metastasize through the havoc of climate change. And, of course, we could always desalinate water, or cut down hectares of forest to grow food, but the common environmentalist is already disquieted by such prospects. If there is a more agreeable alternative to our unsustainable food system, then we should seek out that path.

Climate Cataclysm

Pivoting to the broader impacts on the food system by climate change, the scientific consensus currently projects hundred of millions of people being forcibly relocated due to unlivable conditions. This is relevant to the question of food justice precisely because so many agricultural hubs in the tropics are projected to be forcibly relocated within the coming century. My home state of Florida is one such locale of climate change’s ability to turn a billionaire into a refugee, almost overnight. Florida, funnily enough, is an agricultural hotbed: 62% of the United States’ grapefruits are grown here, for a start. If my state sinks due to rising sea levels, as predicted, then we’ve got a lot more than grapefruits to worry about. For instance, as sea levels rise, they eventually overflow into our freshwater reserves–largely underground–thereby contaminating wells and poisoning farmlands (literally salting the earth). Not only will people have to relocate, but we will have to relocate our resources anew. And this is a double-effect: people lose their financial security at the same time that they lose their croplands. Climate change, as predicted, robs us of our homes, of large swaths of farmland, of our water, and thus, our very lives.

Beyond the isolated concerns regarding Florida, it’s important to understand how environmental refugees are spawned by more than sea level rise alone, and how this exacerbates the strain on our already unsustainable food system. Frederik A Kaufman, in his book, Foundations of Environmental Philosophy, writes of environmental refugees as “people who can no longer live in their traditional homelands because of environmental degradation.” This broad definition encompasses those victims of repeated/prolonged droughts, storms, floods, and rising oceans. So, in other words, any climatic region is vulnerable to climate impacts. Norman Myers, staunch defender of environmental justice, writes of how climate change will affect areas like southern Canada, southern Europe, mid-western United States, Australia, etc. which are all crucial regions to food production. Climate change threatens the food system from every front, forcing farmers off their lands and eliminating the supply chain for over 100 of the words developing countries. We are very likely facing famine on a scale we have never seen, dwarfing that of Mao’s China. A prolonged drought in these areas would cause an estimated 50 to 400 million people to die due to lack of food access; this estimate excludes impaired growth, cognitive function, physical ability, and all the residual effects on those who survive the famine, but only just so. And, in terms of worldly concerns, the amount of lost revenue and, thus, increased unemployment will be staggering. In this grim future, starvation would almost become normal.

* * *

Solving mass starvation, climate change, and a world population on the trajectory to double, is no easy task. From the literature I have steeped myself in, I don’t think any one person could say with a straight face that they have a solution. But we are bound by duty to feed our fellow neighbors, to protect our planet, to harbor the climate refugees when they come, to restructure society in a sustainable way, to curb population growth, etc. Though I am of the belief that there is no panacea for this problem, I will attempt to sell you on what I perceive to be the closest things to it. And making those changes, in terms of practicality of reinventing our food system, requires an antecedent ideological restructuring of our food values (aesthetically, ethically, and environmentally).

Japan: A Lesson in Innovation

Traditional agriculture relies on expansive farmland which to some extent restructures the physical landscape such that it is optimal for maximum yield. Obviously, given the interconnectedness of environmental concerns and concerns of food justice, we have to change the way we are growing food. And, as we’ve seen, this comes at all levels: water management, topsoil conservation, biochemical sensitivity, etc. Japan has taken up this challenge mightily, but it has yet to expand its scope beyond a few prototypical factories. Their idea is to grow more food in less amounts of space by building vertically: Japanese scientists repurposed an old Sony factory, beginning in 2004, and progressively onward, which has become arguably one of the most agriculturally efficient food production facilities in the world.

This Japanese operation consists of a mere 25,000 square feet, yet yields over 10,000 heads of lettuce per day. This vertical interpretation of farming is over one hundred times more efficient, inch for inch, than traditional agricultural methods (horizontal and outdoors). Not to mention, they have fewer insect problems, less fungal issues, a decrease in power usage by 40%, a decrease in food waste by 80%, and a decrease in water usage by an astounding 99%.

An unexpected benefit to this new form of vertical farming is disease resistance: if one greenhouse breaks out with a plague (akin to the great potato famine, only one crop yield suffers). They are physically isolated in the way that open-air, outdoor farming is not.

Following the disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis to wreck Japan over the last few decades, notably the recent 2011 travesty, scientist Shingeharu Shimimura determined this new method of vertical farming to be the future. Much cropland in Japan was lost in the recent tsunami event, and this seemed like an obvious solution. The factory, repurposed, not only reclaimed old urban space, but offered somewhat of a food sovereignty to the locals of Japan. Rows of LED lighting line the vertical racks of lettuce and, in conjunction with temperature and humidity controls, artificial days and nights, water retention and soil preservation, this previously abandoned space has transformed into one of the most promising beacons of the future.

Prototypes of this vertical farming have expanded to Russia, Hong Kong, Mongolia, and beyond. If the United States, one of the most prolific food wasters, inefficient agriculturalists, and most neglecting environmentalists in the world, adopted this program, there are untold benefits to such an endeavor.

Importing Agricultural Ideology

If we accept this new Japanese method of vertical farming as a potential solution to the multifaceted problems we’ve so grimly outlined above, then we must take this application and integration into American society very seriously. The first question arising is a logistical one: Where would we build these factories? An obvious answer would be to repurpose our own buildings in America, akin to the Sony factory in Japan. It is no secret that America is not only home to the free and the brave, but the deforested and abandoned strip mall. These large spaces, impractical for retail restructuring, serve as ideal floor plans for a similar grow-op in nearly every urban city in America. As these buildings are climate controlled to an almost unrealistic degree, they can be located anywhere: north, south, east, and west.

Though Shimimura’s prototype factory has not experimented with a gamut of popular crops, one could easily envision a crop like Quinoa–which requires high elevation to maintain its consistency of firmness, taste, nutrients, and yield–being grown through controlled air conditions. One could, in theory, harvest winter crops like kale in the dead heat of a Floridian summer. Not only does is this farming more efficient, it is expandable, it has diverse purposes, and it serves to reinvigorate American jobs directly in their native communities. Thus, in terms of food justice, vertical farming in urban spaces attacks all facets of modern food justice: food deserts, grocery gaps, food insovereignty, gender and racial inequity, socio-economic barriers, environmental degradation, worker exploitation, and the list goes on.

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

As rosy as the picture I have painted sounds, we have to take into account some immediate concerns, worries, and potential objections to the proposal I have just outlined. The first and most obvious concern is the question of startup cost: who is going to pay to renovate these abandoned properties and repurpose them with expensive equipment, American wages, distribution costs, etc. There is, in other words, a large up-front cost which may not be met: the demand might just not be there on the consumer end. While this is indeed a viable concern, it is a very narrow and short sighted approach to the problem. At best, this concern is cynical, because it assumes a parsimonious society, placing primacy on the pecuniary and not the longevity of the planet. This has some merit, but I would simply reply to the cynic here by pointing out how, as with solar power, the immediate costs are practically paid off overnight: lower energy requirements, more efficiency of crop yield, lower water usage, less square footage required, less chemical to protect crops, etc. are all immediate gains by method alone. If we take Shimimura’s 100% increased efficiency at its word, then one would, in theory, make 100% more profits per harvest. In all but the immediate, this vertical farming approach pays for itself before the first investment check has been cashed.

Another objection to my proposal is what I’ve alluded to somewhat already: the concern regarding crop biodiversity. If we take food justice concerns to heart, including culturally significant foods as worthy of concern, then it is important that we don’t look to vertical farming as a panacea. For watermelons, for example, require an abundance of horizontal space to produce sizable fruits. How could this be alleviated by vertical farming? In a sense, this objection has some veracity; but even on its worst day, vertical farming still outperforms horizontal farming in aggregate. A watermelon-producing vertical farm would, in every case, produce more than a horizontal one, but it may not be the touted “100%” more efficiency of lettuce. But what about fruit trees? In some cases, fruit trees can peak out at fifty feet tall; wouldn’t this eliminate the benefits of going vertical? Yes and no, for not many fruit trees peak at such height, and none of them–to my knowledge–cannot produce fruit at a more petite size. So, in a sense, this objection has merit, but only if we are being pedantic about the specific percentage of increased efficiency of this farming method. In all cases, we are being wiser–both economically and environmentally–to move indoors, to move vertical.

Eating Animals

In Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, he puts to bed the question concerning the relationship between one’s diet and one’s environmental impact: “Omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do.” His analysis of environmentalism draws on research from the University of Chicago, which reveals how our food choices contribute at least as much to climate change as do our transportative choices. And, according to his research, drawing on Pew and the United Nations, farmed animals contribute more globally to climate change than transport. He cites 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions–“around 40 percent more than the entire transport sector”–as due to eating animals at the factory farming, industrial scale. Somehow, in our political discourse, all we hear about regarding climate change is fossil fuels. Yet, according to the UN, factory farming is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems” especially “land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.” As Safran Foer so damningly puts it, “someone who regularly eats factory-farmed animal products cannot call [oneself] an environmentalist without divorcing that word from its meaning.”

The case presented by Safran Foer is exactly why I was so hesitant, at the top of this essay, to call vertical farming a “solution.” Yes, it solves the problems of plant raising. But we cannot realistically expect to eliminate meat eating if we are to properly feed the projected 9.8 billion population by 2050. We need a stable protein source, we need the extremely calorie-dense meats to adequately serve the nutritional needs of the many–right?

A Creepy Crawly Solution

Most people find the thought of insects disgusting. We pay people hundreds of dollars a year to eliminate them from our homes, from our yards, from our lives, and yes, from our food. But, as evidenced across many cultures, insects are extremely nutrient dense foods. Unlike livestock, they are ubiquitous, affordable, and rapidly procreating. Compare 100 grams of insect protein with that of chicken, pork or beef: the protein content is much the same, but crickets (for instance) report higher levels of essential vitamins and minerals (i.e. calcium, zinc, and iron), gram for gram, than that of traditional livestock. Not only is this a more nutrient-dense solution to the question of increasing global hunger, but it is also a spatially considerate solution, akin to my proposal to vertical farming. The 1.53 billion hectares of cropland, and 3.38 billion hectares of pastures, accounts for a resulting 38% of land you’ll see on a map being used for agriculture and farming. But, whereas one pound of beef requires 200 square meters of land to produce, insect protein requires just 15 square meters for the same production of crickets. Again, fixing one factor of our agricultural system, the inefficiency of growth space, affects many other aspects of our problems concerning food justice.

Another way insect protein solves our issues of food justice and environmentalism is the question we have raised above concerning water. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live without regular access to drinking water. Returning to the inefficiencies of our water use in agriculture, this could be reduced dramatically. One kilogram of beef requires no less than 22,000 liters of water to produce; one kilogram of crickets requires no more than one liter of water. Farming insects instead of livestock is, simply, twenty-two thousand times more water efficient, kilo for kilo. There is no question that transitioning to insects is a better environmental alternative to current livestock farming. And, as though this were not enough, insects as food are demonstrably more efficient in terms of digestive capability: roughly 80% of a cricket is edible and digestible, whereas just 40% of cattle is edible.

A final consideration regarding eating insects is the obvious one: the gross factor. Most westerners like myself are repulsed at the idea of snacking on a cricket for breakfast. But, despite such resistances, it’s not as though you and I are strangers to eating insects. That’s right, for every 100 grams of lettuce consumed, an average of 50 insects have made it into our mouths as well (i.e. aphids, mites). This is true not only of lettuce, but of foods like peanut butter, and drinks like beer. We may not care to admit it to ourselves, but bugs are extremely common to the human diet.

Synthesizing our Supper

Throughout the previous pages, I have tried to approach some multifaceted concerns regarding food justice (population increase, climate change, starvation, etc.) and propose practical, immediate solutions to those concerns (vertical farming, shifting our diets from animals to insects, etc.). None of these strategies on their own will cause a volte face in our food system. There is too much entrenched corruption, bureaucracy, greed, and tradition at stake to see such an overnight change. But these shifts in agricultural practice, location, dietary makeup, and environmental relationships, can be taken up in any location, by anyone, at any time. The science has yielded quite an abundant harvest of innovation and technology to move forward, it is up to us to ensure we don’t let that harvest rot and go to waste.

Rejoicing in my Incognito

April 13, 2016

“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.”

– Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

 

Chamblin’s Bookmine, to the public, lives in two incarnations: Uptown Jacksonville, and Roosevelt Ave. on the westside of Jacksonville, Florida. It is known, nationally, for its ubiquity of selection, reasonability of pricing, timeless atmosphere, etc. In fact, I remember once remarking how I wished that, if heaven exists, let it be here, in Chamblin’s. I am intimately familiar with the space and, yet, in an uncanny way, the very contents of its vast array of texts is functionally alien–background, beneath my perception–to me. This is to say that I, with my own biases and interests, don’t notice the majority of the bookstore; I go where my mind wanders.

In my recent haunts of Chamblin’s, with the Flaneur in mind, I have tried to forcibly alter my limited perception, in order to problematize and complicate my experience of what has been, for me, a heavenly, specifically-tailored-to-me, kind of space. I wanted to follow people around the store, taking inspiration from Vito Acconci’s following piece. I would track people’s movement throughout the bookstore, peer into the books that they perused, and see what I could find.

My bookstore wanderings began on a Monday morning. I arrived at 7:56AM, four minutes before they open, and I nervously checked through my phone, trying to distract myself from the anxiety of following others around a bookstore for (potentially) three hours at a time. Given my schedule between full-time work, full-time school, family, friends, and other personal complications, my anxiety metastasized under the pressure of the fact that I only had two shots to get this project right. Luckily, three other customers gathered around me, like a flock of bookish pigeons, to enter the glass door as the iron bars slid open for business.

***

I enter this hallowed space with a profane motive; to follow the first person who wanders off into an unfamiliar book aisle. A thirty-something in flannel paces by. I take a swig from my energy drink and begin surreptitiously trailing him. With a stiff posture, he paces up the stairs displaying an urgency of one who is rushing to beat a red light, only to stop abruptly atop the landing. He is in conquest of a specific manga, of which series I have no inkling, and I plop down beside him, in the Economics section of the endcap. He soon leaves. I pick up the book he had perused without purchase, flip to a random page, and it reads, “Law school, of course, required even more reading.” I am perplexed, but I write the phrase down.

Some twenty minutes later, the perfect specimen comes along: an indecisive twenty-something woman, who all but fondles one book per row. I follow her through no fewer than thirteen aisles which I haven’t heretofore explored: mathematics, music theory, aviation, sports, autobiography, islamic theology, romantic fiction, etc. I feel as though I am learning the story of this young woman better than I could have by my own conversational devices. Inevitably, romantic thoughts leak their way in, despite her lack of physical appeal; I am magnetized towards the mystery of this woman’s solitude. And, true to my vocational inspiror, Vito Acconci, I remain silent. She moves on, and I collect nearly a dozen of lines for my notes.

At this point, the people I follow begin to bear less individuality. One pepper-bearded man lingers in the opening section containing books about Florida. One old man wanders into books regarding Death and Dying. A little boy finds his way into the aisle of Literary Criticism, which, when I collect the book he had been perusing, I find–to my immense ignorance and astonishment–a secondary text on Derrida, and I lose my mind. (In retrospect, this one might be notable.) Many others pass, and my time ceases. I must leave for the day.

 

I return a week later, under the same pretense, but now under the direction to turn these fragmented collections of people (books) I’d been following into material for a poem. I, in other words, am looking for lines for a poem which I will orchestrate for my Flaneur presentation in April. Again, I arrive just a few ticks away from their opening time of 8:00AM. A beautiful–and I cannot stress just how beautiful–young woman is my companion, entering the doors as the staff does.

I follow my infatuating companion into the general fiction aisle, upstairs, where I find it increasingly hard not to stare. I catch eye-contact with her twice in one aisle–a new record for me–so I determine to not let my eyes waver from the copy of DJ MacHale’s Pendragon I am pretending to read. She leaves, and I get up, in my routine, to fetch the book she had just returned to the shelf. I wonder to myself, with earnest, what profundities she may have just ignored–what romantic profundity I may have just ignored–and she jolts back around the corner, nearly knocking into me.

“Sorry,” she says. And then her apologetic eyebrows sharpen into familiar, almost accusatory, ones. She notices my book: her book. Her eyes return to meet mine, and I feel my throat tense, like sore muscles after a workout. She doesn’t know what to say, and I can read into her face that she has recognized that I am following her–and from what I can tell, this isn’t the first time she’s been followed by a man–so I try to explain, in the most reasonable demeanor possible, “Sorry, I was waiting to pick up the book your were just looking at. I’m doing this project for my ‘Flaneur’ class at UNF, where I have to ‘wander’ and, in the case of my project, ‘follow’ people. I’m trying to let people lead me into unfamiliar corners of Chamblin’s and see what kind of books and instances of prose I find.” (This account of my reaction has been sterilized of the “umms,” “uhs,” “it’s kinda hard to explains” etc. of this encounter.) As I’m explaining, I can tell that she isn’t buying it, so I pull out my list of fragmented excerpts from the books I’d arrived at. She seems skeptical, but waves it off, and she is pretty cool about it. I apologize again and assure her that I will cease following her. Funnily enough, she walks in on me in the philosophy aisle not three minutes later.

***

In collecting these lines from unfamiliar books, I realized how they could be material for a poem. Upon this realization, I assembled a both a formal version, and an experimental version, of the poem. The formal version stripped these lines from context, separating individual lines from the larger books in which they were contained. The experimental version further alienates these out-of-context lines from context by individually cutting them out, shuffling them in a top hat, and passing them around the room to be picked out at random by my classmates. It was a one-time poem which would be inauthentic to reproduce here. However, the randomness of the experimental poem became compressed, so much so, that, by the end of the in-class live “poem,” the final line, “These claims should not be misunderstood,” is, in some ways, self-referential such that the incomprehensible contents of my project provides for, in some way, a comprehensible endeavor. Order is created amidst the chaos.

My project had a large potential to fall on its face–an empty bookshop, being noticed, not gaining any insight, having the poem-experiment in class fail, etc.–but it didn’t. I learned about how the Flaneur’s way of seeing is not always moderated by how the body wanders, but also how the mind wanders. The Flaneur is able to discern, not just where the mind wanders to, but, more importantly, what causes the mind to stop wandering. The kinds of books that jumped out at the people I was following jumped out at them, caused them to stop, to take it into consideration. But until my Flaneur project, they didn’t jump out at me. Until these visits to Chamblin’s, the aisles I didn’t wander into served as Sartre’s nothingness, as static noise in the background, as not-being-there. And, in a sense, this project transformed my own perception of Chamblin’s. I now wander through the aisles with stories to tell, I can recognize how being in the crowd of books is, in some ways, like being in the crowd of people.

Following Piece (Chamblin’s Poem)

April 11, 2016

Law school, of course, required even more reading.

They yelled for more.
Florida is the nation’s most popular retirement state.
Not that Tomas needed motivation.
“No,” said he, proudly, “their Majesties letters commanded me to submit.”
For a great propagandist of the Union’s cause.
Like satisfaction at the condition of the Scutari hospitals.
Presumably to simulate my memory.

Marriage was clearly on Harry’s mind.
Clinton & sexuality.
By 1952, science writer Bob Cowan at the Christian Science Monitor could flatly predict the end of vacuum tube relationships.
Physical management for the quadriplegic patient.
Forgery in Christianity.
Jesus went unto the Mount of olives.
Life is only real when “I am.”
No one of these things can be wholly explained by either association or utility.
It was a sordid scene.

Warhol disappeared himself by “repeating” others, like Mao Zedong and Marilyn Monroe, over and over.
These claims should not be misunderstood.
Quaestio mini cactus sum.

Old wine, new bottles.

The adoption of a replacement behavior appears to play a major role,
“The German people is no warlike nation.”
Emphasize God’s amazing limitlessness within your own life.
Tomatoes, green, whole, raw.

Finally, the name possesses the place.
Unfortunately, Einstein’s idea of representing an electron as a black hole failed.

Kurzgesagt: Why Bernie Sanders has my Vote

January 14, 2016

berniecover(My friend solicited my opinion on Bernie Sanders as a political candidate. Without editing, here is my reply.)


K—–, thank you for taking my position seriously, as I know these conversations are too often just self-satire of people talking past eachother.

Firstly, I should say that my general political views are culturally libertarian, and economically socialist (not the “socialism” of Bernie). If not for Florida’s closed primaries, I would be still be a registered Independent. I voted libertarian in 2012, and I’ll probably vote Green Party this year if Bernie isn’t the Dem nominee–just because I’m stubborn.

In truth, I didn’t like Sanders at first. His charisma just rubbed me the wrong way. However, I took the “I Side With” quiz online and was stunned by my 97% alignment with Bernie. That puzzled me, so I went to FeeltheBern.com and looked into his positions. I think the 97% figure is a *little* inflated, but it’s something like 85%.

I watch many rallies, speeches, and every debate. I am on the treadmill for an hour every morning watching CNN and Fox next to eachother. I just have an armchair understanding of politics, but I’m actively trying to figure out what to think and what’s true–even if that truth is bitter. From these efforts, I’ve concluded that Bernie is the only candidate who relentlessly brings the political conversation back to things which matter most to me, personally: Getting money out of politics, addressing climate change, rebuilding infrastructure, keeping jobs in America, deinflating our ridiculous criminal justice system, making college more accessible, etc. I’ll expand on these one by one:

  1. Money in politics is the biggest issue, and Bernie has been preaching the same message for decades. Martin Luther King Jr, Pope Francis, etc. have said the same thing. I drink the Bernie kool-aid that we’re living in an oligarchy. I firmly believe that we can’t truly “fix” our government without fixing this first.
  2. Climate Change is the issue I’m most sensitive to. Idk how much of a science geek you are, but it’s pretty clear that Earth is an extremely vulnerable, fragile place for us. A meteor could strike us, a massive earthquake could sink California, Yellowstone could blow up North America, etc. but Climate Change (investing in both the technology, and the research) seems fixable and is a *must* if we’re gonna survive as a species. You think we have a refugee crisis now? Wait until Florida floods (projected 3-6 foot sea rise by 2100).
  3. Turning to his economic issues, it’s easy to blame people at the bottom for their being there, that’s the implicit premise in a meritocratic system (i.e. the American Dream). I agree with a lot of my republican friends who think it’s a drag on our system to have people on welfare (we can get into what I think in terms of solutions, but this is already a novel reply). But I don’t think we’re wise to abandon anyone in our country.
    Infrastructure is such a non-sexy political topic. But most of our infrastructure is far underfunded, as Bernie says, “crumbling,” and fixing it provides decent paying jobs to tons of people. Seems like a great idea to me (even Trump espouses this idea).
  4. Prison, as you saw my post, is something that really bothers me. Particularly the prison-binge we’ve seen over the last thirty years. I think we need to get rid of private prisons. We need to stop looking at prison as “punishment” in every case (though I can understand exceptions), and instead focus on their role as “correctional facilities.” Our recidivism rates are insane. We have more than 1% of our population incarcerated. Nonviolent drug offenses are ridiculously over-punished. And they cost so freaking much; one prisoner for a year costs as much as three kids’ K-12 public education. etc. etc. You get the point. Bernie is the only candidate making any real effort to fix it, in my opinion.
  5. Making college affordable is important to me. I’ll admit, I’m biased, being someone going after his Ph.D. But I think that education is never a bad thing. It’s not expensive (when bureaucracy and neoliberal administration doesn’t inflate, as it has). And there is no world in which having a better educated population is a bad thing, to my mind. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
  6. Healthcare another big issue for me. Forget Obamacare, and transition to a single-payer system (again, odd that Trump also has this position). The fact that you can go bankrupt for being sick or injured in the hospital is insane, to me at least. Take Breaking Bad as an example, the dude cooks meth to pay his hospital bills. I consider healthcare a right, even though it costs a hell of a lot. But a single-payer system is far cheaper and provides for all. I think that’s important.
  7. The final major agreement I have with Bernie is regarding Social Security. In the Republican debates, almost all candidates (with the exception of Kasich, I think) say “raise the retirement age and cut social security.” Yes, social security is very expensive. But people need it precisely because of reasons like lack of affordable healthcare, and lack of education. If we fix those other issues, then social security becomes easier to attack. But I think they all kind of work together. I worked with a 70 year old who washes dishes to keep food on the table. Call me a “bleeding heart liberal,” but that stuff really gets to me.
  8. I also like his position on guns. He’s not all paranoid “BAN ALL GUNS ALWAYS EVERYWHERE” like most liberals tend to be.

The kind of conversation Bernie is having is starkly different than the right. Generally, the Republicans talk about cutting taxes and strengthening our military. I don’t believe in either of those values. I think taxing is necessary, whether we like it or not. And we spend far too much on our military as it is (ironically, hundreds of thousands of our veterans starve on the streets, are mentally ill, and/or are incarcerated). And what automatically turns me off from republican candidates is their outright denial of Climate Change. My argument is that *even if* 98% of scientists are wrong and Climate Change is not real, we are still ridiculously wasteful. We use far too many resources. If nothing else, get off fossil fuels to keep the air clean. I spent some time in Beijing last year, and there are days where it’s necessary to wear masks. That’s where we’re headed unless we get off fossil fuels (and cows, but that’s a whole other story regarding climate change). And there’s just the sheer buffoonery of what happens with accidents: Deepwater Horizon, and the recent incident in California, for example. Even if Climate Change isn’t real, we can and should do better. Doing so creates thousands and thousands of jobs in America. I’m stubborn on that one issue more than any other, perhaps unreasonably so. Thus, I can’t in good conscience support another candidate.

And Hillary… oh god. We don’t even need to get into that circlejerk of slaying her.

I don’t consider Bernie my ideological savior. I actually agree more with Jill Stein of the Green Party. I somewhat disagree with Bernie on the $15 minimum wage. That seems to be an issue where we’re just begging for inflation, and treating the symptom rather than the disease. (I will say that a “living wage” seems like a great idea, however. You shouldn’t be in poverty if you work full time, simple as that.) There are some other things like the “wage gap” that I’m skeptical of (as the 77 cents figure, specifically). His pro-Israel stance puzzles me (more than it should?), etc. But in general, he has my vote.

There’s all kinds of things I want to say, but that’s the short(?) version.

What do you think? What about him are you skeptical of?

Reacting to the Regressive Left

December 31, 2015

stephen-fry

The year 2015 has been fecund to the lunatical ideas of the ideologically repressive cultural authoritarians on the left. My ideological neighbors have invented genders, manufactured outrage, increasingly barricaded us against dissenting ideas, and have even maddeningly tried to repeal free speech protections. Enough, I say. Somehow this vocal minority dominates political dialogue, parroting absurd maxims like “Check your privilege.” These intolerable, insufferable, regressive ideas have unwittingly abandoned their very liberal founding principle: Liberty for all.

Notable public figures such as Sam Harris, Douglas Murray, Dave Rubin, Majiid Nawaz, Milo Yiannopoulos etc. have merely began naming the problem. Every side of the political spectrum has begun to wake up to this unconscionably stupid movement on the left. The dogma of minority groups has seeped its way into the very fabric of public universities, social media, and now our government. Let’s not be cowardly and ignore what these hateful “liberal” goals are: The subjugation of the straight, white, cis-gendered, middle-class male. These gender, race, class warriors have no idea what the hell they are talking about and, thus, don’t notice the glaring contradiction of their skeletal ideology. With one hand, they preach tolerance, with the other, they oppress the group they are preaching to.

Roughly a year ago, I penned two brief essays alluding to these problems. My writings weren’t nearly ambitious and honest enough; my rhetoric was hedged by an urge to remain neutral and politically correct to my friends on the left. Unfortunately, neutrality is no longer possible if we are to maintain the kind of free speech and liberty I value as a participant in the democratization of society.

I’ve defined Regressive Leftists as cultural authoritarians; that is, collectivist ideologues who dictatorially and unorganically impose their values onto society. Regressives are most clearly exemplified in millennials who, in their attempt to subvert racism, sexism, xenophobia, ageism, etc., become vitally and dogmatically concerned with social justice. (Funnily enough, my generation is the most tolerant, least xenophobic in history.) On the surface, this is wonderful to see. There are no tenable arguments in support of such unreasonable, prejudicial views about human beings, in my view. Trickles of discrimination clearly have festered to some extent in America and, sometimes, are far from surreptitious. Thus, we must address these bad views through civil discourse. To this extent, my views on these issues are indistinguishable from my fellow liberals. That all human beings should be treated with equal dignity and respect, is a self-evident truth.

Regressives go further than the position I have outlined, however, for these views on basic human decency have been hijacked by angry, ignorant, misanthropic, imbecilic values. There are explicit ideological tenets and doctrine to which one must adhere if one is to nowadays be “politically correct.” Whether explicit or implicit, one must be ideologically hegemonic in these politically correct circles, lest one be smeared with a laundry-list of pejoratives. These pejoratives are tools with which to immediately besmirch the insulted person’s intelligence, integrity, opinions, and beliefs, thus dismissing their argument without every needing to engage it. That alone is an embarrassingly immature way to begin civil discourse, especially regarding politically salient issues (i.e. disproportionate black men in prison). Radical as it is, I find it a deontic imperative that one listens to differing views from one’s own. My fellow leftist Regressives are too often not acknowledging the humanity of their interlocutors, which is terrifyingly pernicious.

I’d go as far as to characterize this regressive, cultural authoritarian movement as religious. Borrowing from Maajid Nawaz’s excellent work, consider these four elements of religious social movements: Ideas, Narratives, Symbols, and Leaders. Ideas–or, more accurately, dogma–are the cause one believes in, the goal of the social movement. Narratives are the propagandistic mechanisms employed to sell the aforementioned idea. Symbols are identity tools of iconography to congregate followers under one banner. Leaders are the charismatic individuals which we transfer the symbolic meaning of the social movement onto. Collectively, all of these elements comprise what are being called “Social Justice Warriors.” I’d go further, as these uncannily religious qualities are the very foundation on which my regressive political neighbors make their arguments–well, claims really.

I deplore the trend of regressivism so vitriolically because of this uncanny resemblance to organized religion. Religion, to my mind, is beyond mere theism–which I will table for now so as not to derail the broader discussion of the regressives. Let it suffice for me to supply you with Steven Weinberg’s famous quip about religion, supplementing (in this case) regressive leftists: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” The semantic shift here, is doctrine. There’s even the metaphysical component to regressive religion, “the Patriarchy.” The same, I think, applies to these issues between the progressive left, the regressive left, libertarians, and other political affiliations. Identity politics are at the heart of regressivism, which stem from misdirected collectivist ideology. That is, by forming a collective you implicitly have barricaded yourself to those outside of the collective. In being so obsessed with engendering minority groups (are women even minorities at more than half the population?) with power–which is frankly a poorly disguised imposition of historical guilt–we have razed the voices and issues of the majority.

In Islamic doctrine, for example, there is the declaration of hatred (and violence) towards apostates. The analogy is most boldly paralleled with regressivism because of the same ideological mechanism of collectivism. We can all agree that killing someone, or maybe even hating someone, for having dissimilar beliefs from your own is a bad idea. Why is it not a bad idea when regressives commit such ideological insult? That’s not a rhetorical question because, as aforementioned, we are seeing hate, vitriol, straw manning, and cruel punishment for ideological heterogeneity. But I propose that it’s wrong for anyone to get fired because of something they said on their private account, outside of work. It’s wrong to spread patent lies and mischaracterizations of anyone’s view, without charitable interpretation. It’s wrong to dismiss someone’s humanity because they disagree with you. The list goes on, and the regressive left have misstepped on each account.

As I have mentioned, the irony of the regressive left is that with one hand they preach tolerance, acceptance, anti-bigotry, equality, etc. yet, with that very same hand, they dogmatically attack ideological opponents like no other. (We wouldn’t have coined the neologism, “doxxing,” had we no regressives.) In preaching tolerance, they intolerantly scream at people, unloading their quiver of pejoratives. In enacting acceptance, they, by definition, exclude those who have opposing ideological commitments. In fighting bigotry, they become quintessential bigots. In waving the rainbow flag of equality, they shut down the very group they are trying to dissent: Straight, white, cis-gendered, middle-class males. I can’t emphasize this irony enough. Take, for example, Milo Yiannopolous’ breathtaking closing speech at the recent Oxford debate on the question, “Have we reached an age of gender equality?” Regressive ideology is hilariously wrong, but has terrifying consequences for classical liberals such as myself.

Take another example, the popular pejorative of “Islamaphobe.” Not only does my spellchecker indicate that this word is meaningless but, often, so is the way in which regressives use this term. Any time a political commentator on the left wants to link Islam to terrorism, they are met by charlatans. These charlatans operate in the trade of obscurantism and religious apologetics. “ISIS is just a symptom of US foreign policy,” is an all-too-common equivocation from dealing with the specific problems in Islamic doctrine. If you are already flaring up at the fact that I am criticizing these ideas, then you are probably a regressive; it’s a pretty easy litmus test, really, as I haven’t once made a criticism about specific people. Again, to borrow from Nawaz, “No ideas are above scrutiny, and no people are beneath dignity.” I wholeheartedly believe in this maxim. My regressive friends make the mistake of apologizing for Muslims, “Not all Muslims…” as though I had made that generalization; more comical is calling a critic of Islam a “racist.” I object to this insipid, cowardly, two-faced religious apology, for the sake of political correctness, because Islamic theocracies in the Middle East offend on the very cause these regressives scream about in the West. When the Qur’an and Hadith are taken literally, vacuously, fundamentally, we get societies where women are oppressed, apostates are murdered, free thought is restricted, sexual fluidity is stamped out, etc. I cannot allow these farcically contradictory mental gymnastics to dominate the political discourse on the left any longer. I reject Islamic theocracy, as I reject anything which impedes on the liberty of all.

The absurdity of the modern movements for “equality” is no secret which I alone have the ability to identify. Regressive, cultural authoritarian influence in our society is ubiquitous. They take it much further than Islamaphobia (which, a good case can be made for its existence, particularly on the right), as each group under the regressive umbrella has emerged its own language, that of privilege, oppression, trigger warningsmicroaggressions, safe-spaces, transphobia, misogyny, etc. To those of us who speak English, these pseudonyms and neologisms are intentionally, unintelligibly, childish and provocative. And, though there are absolutely marginal cases of these terms doing some intellectual work, they are largely vacuous, commonly referring to innocuous, insipid, bastardized versions of what these terms were intended for. That is, regressives abuse these words–they see them everywhere–and, thus, they lose their meaning almost immediately.

Douglas Murray argues that this abuse of language stems from the left’s “supply and demand problem” for bigotry. That is, there aren’t enough genuine racists in the West anymore to really make a case against. There aren’t enough raging sexists, homophobes, etc. Thus, we begin to hear the regressive language of a “microaggression” if I make a joke which steps on the toes of minorities. We begin to see college students cordoned off into “safe spaces” when they can’t handle elementary argument and disagreement. It’s intellectually embarrassing, linguistically inept, and–to those who suffer from actual discrimination, oppression, violence, and hatred–disgustingly insulting. The abuse with which regressives treat the language of oppression stultifies, rather than inspires, positive social change.

The skeletal structure of the regressive language is so hollow precisely because it is used too often, and often wrongly. Sexism is not a man asking a woman out at a bar; racism is not criticizing someone who happens to have black skin; homophobia is not being unattracted to your own gender. Yet, surprisingly, regressives smear these actions, those “privileged” people, with these pejoratives at every turn. This is an embarrassment in every sense of the word, for I pride myself on being a liberal, being someone who treats all equally and with respect. Regressives have dismantled the meaning of oppression and xenophobia such that we are beginning to see otherwise political allies disassociating themselves from liberalism, as such, hence the meteoric rise of Donald Trump. Oppression, for instance, is synonymous with a tyrant, despot, slave-driver, autocrat, dictator, etc. Being a recipient of social “privilege,” (which is in scare quotes despite my acknowledgement that such social forces do subtly remain in everyday life) does not equal these damning definitions of oppression. Generalizing about people is not an evil, despite what regressives will scream at you; if we can’t make generalizations, we can’t discuss anything at all. It’s insanity that, in the year 2015, I have to defend the position that men are not oppressing women in modern day America such that we are “slave-drivers.” But regressives now have entirely tipped the scales in the other direction such that I must dissent; minorities are treated with incessant privilege, and regressives–in defining men as oppressors–have by definition generalized against a gender. This point deserves no further justification.

Are we so cowardly as to not refute this utter nonsense? The answer is yes, we are terrified. Professionals are having their careers ruined, individuals are being harassed simply for expressing skepticism about these views (but so far we have no shootings. I guess that’s an anomaly in and of itself in modern day America. The regressives, to their credit, are remarkably non-violent), and there are increasingly larger scale penalties for ideological dissent on these matters. New York, for example, has now made it legal to fine someone up to $250,000 for misgendering a transsexual person. I understand the psychological rammifications of being misgendered, and I don’t intend to dismiss that; but it’s hard enough to remember faces and names, yet we’re now criminalizing ectopic pronoun usage. If this indicates the trendline of the political climate, then I think those of us who believe in the necessity of unfettered civil liberties have a lot to be wary of in the coming years.

The real problem with regressives is in their socio-political power–particularly in the news media and on college campuses. In my previous writings, I have characterized a common and weak evasion of argument called “the offence card.” When one invokes the phrase, “I’m offended,” or nowadays, “That’s problematic!” we know all reason has flown out the window. For, who are we to pontificate on an area of genuine dispute and ambiguity of interpretation if we haven’t heard both sides? Perhaps there are, in fact, measurable differences between sexes, genders, differing ethnicities, different abilities, etc. Regressivism, as things stand, fundamentally resists these possibilities. I don’t have a well-informed opinion on whether or not these differences exist. But the mere supplication of argument about these concerns is translated, through the foggy regressive lens, into bigotry and intolerance.

To be charitable, I am not determined to be a voice of authority on these issues of social justice; this brief essay is merely opening the door to the broader conversation (i.e. change my mind). I have seen this phenomena in my ideological neighborhood and I am tired of being evangelized about something I already practice and believe. I don’t need consent classes, for I am not a rapist. I don’t need to check my privilege (even though I just did?), for I do not take advantage of others. I am not a sexist simply for eyeing a woman or asking her out for a drink. I am not a racist because I don’t like the behaviors and qualities of someone who happens to be of a different race than myself. etc. Each one of these claims devolves into further, mad contortions of political correctness which I, frankly, will not waste more time accounting for. If my mere writing causes offence, I have done my job well.

I wonder if we have outgrown our infantile human tendency to hold historical grudges. The only reason for violence in many areas of the world are because of historical injustices. The only reason for the regressive left is that we used to actually oppress those members in which the cultural authoritarians, i.e. intersectional feminist community, broadly speaking, are advocating to now privilege and whose issues we prioritize. This kind of thinking, of assigning blame to someone for what their predecessors or progenitors committed, is absolutely untenable. I’ve written about the native Americans, how we killed nearly all of them, how we stole their land, their culture, their lives. That is actual oppression, that is actual evil, that is actual despotism. But when these atrocities happened, I was not born. My grandfather’s grandfather hadn’t even made it to America yet. In which way am I culpable for the crimes of my associative ancestors? Furthermore, am I morally responsible for cruelties which, if happening today, I would rail against? The urgency to abandon historical prejudice is equally salient for border conflicts, for religious conflicts, and this is currently most true for the regressives. We have not learned the lessons of history. The regressives are busy legislating about pronouns whilst we ignore the North Koreas of the world.

I have not denied the existence of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. in this essay. I am simply saying that we are at a point in society where these regressive groups have taken these ideas too far. There exists, simply, Murray’s supply and demand problem regarding the bigotry regressives are begging to find. Cultural Authoritarians, to my mind, are looking for excuses to be assholes to people who they think are assholes. The supply of racists, sexists, and homophobes is paltry; the demand for them is longer than a Black Friday (racism??!??!) line. The logical conclusion of safe-spaces, scholarships for seemingly everyone who isn’t a straight white man, having gender quotas in the workplace, etc. is evolving into a new form of “oppression.” To even propose that men could be marginalized is laughable to regressives; they often, hypocritically, hold no sympathies for men. It matters not to these “bleeding heart liberals” that men comprise over 90% of the prison and jail population, that men comprise nearly 80% of the homeless, that 75% of murder victims are men, etc. The regressive rhetoric flicks these statistics out the window like cigarette ash. And I worry that these groups will end up becoming the very despots they rail so hard and vocally against.

Usually, my philosophy for approaching disagreements of this kind is to first lay out what we have in common. Only then do we explore towards the realms of disagreement. Humanizing your interlocutor in a debate or an argument is fundamental if you’re serious about seeking what is true. Immediately closing off their point of view because they have a differently self-assigned label than yourself isn’t helpful. You aren’t going to change your mind if you don’t want it changed. But, conversely, you should not being jamming your ideology down someone else’s throat if you aren’t willing to have the same done in exchange. That’s what a conversation, argument, or debate, implies: multiple voices in the conversation.

To the regressives, I would brandish the fact that I am not your enemy, I am an ally. But being incessantly criticized and dismissed for how I am privileged, oppressing, demeaning, etc. for factors beyond my reasonable control (straight, white, cis-gendered, male) does not help start the conversation. It shuts our minds down rather than opening them up. You are a deplorable, disreputable hypocrite if you don’t think every human being has a voice to add to the conversation, a role to play in the quest for equality and social change.

Recently, I have been told that my opinion–my thoughts, ideas, beliefs, research, etc–had no value in the conversation of social justice. As a contrarian, this strategy naturally backfired and I had a long passionate exchange against a handful of friends online. I was defending attacks from all sides; rather than spam their social media feeds, I have chosen to pen this brief essay. Out of pure spite, I vow to write about this issue more frequently, specifically, and honestly in 2016. I understand minorities need a voice in civil discourse, and I would never deny that. Yet, the regressive tendency is to push my ideas aside–not on their merit–because we need to fill a gender or race quota. Treating ideas unequally is antithetical to equality, and if the regressives believed in civil liberties for even half a second, they would shudder at the vile hypocrisy of their constitutional cowardice.

In contrast to the regressives, I don’t care at all about your sex, gender, race, age, etc. It has no value whatsoever in the quest for figuring things out about the world. If a fresh idea, undermining tradition, works better and maps more accurately onto reality, then it must be apprehended in practice. Yet, above all, my philosophy is to divorce ideas from people. Ideas are criticizable, modifiable, and easily tossed aside when no longer useful. It’s a bad idea when we treat people in this manner (i.e. You are X, therefore Y).

2015 was the year victimhood and grievance culture peaked, where irrationality dominated the discourse, where fear drove decision-making. Next year will be better.

Thankful Thoughts this Thanksgiving: 2

November 27, 2015

Last year, I penned a brief account of the things I was thankful for. I choose not to reread it and reflect on it just yet; rather, I’m looking forward with this second edition. I think it’s important to keep thankfulness in mind throughout life. This is my attempt at capturing things I really feel good about. Our culture is so determined to push us forward through “progress” and “work ethic,” but I want to enjoy life for just a moment.

This year I am thankful for:

Life. First and foremost, I think that’s something I’m growing to appreciate: Mere existence. It’s miraculous not only that I can type this sentence, but that existence is a thing at all. Talk about religious feelings. I think on the cosmic vastness of space-time and just drool with stupidity and wonder.  Amen to that.

Smokie. My cat is about twelve this year, and he’s had a few health scares that have made me really appreciate him a lot more than I usually have. He’s my pal, my comrade, my compatriot. He’s just chillin’ on the windowsill right now staring out into neighboring yards. Gotta love him.

Mom. Obviously, she’s my lifegiver. She has put me into this insane world and, though I think she’d have been wiser to abort me, I am very happy to be alive. I owe everything to her.

YouTube. Plain and simple, I spend a lot of time and get a lot of my information from this video-sharing website. It sounds silly to include this, but I don’t know what my life would look like without the existence of YouTube. The intimacy and communal aspects of the website aren’t understood well enough. It’s how I stay sane.

Books, of all kinds. Professors, for that matter. Anyone/anything that wants to challenge my mind. I literally get off on new ideas, finding out the truth, understanding the complexity of something. That’s damn important to me.

Bernie Sanders. Laughable to include him, but he’s the first politician I’ve ever seen who has made me feel great about America. If we can do what Sanders wants to do, I think we’ll be a much better off, more moral country. It’s amazing that someone like him exists. A true man of moral principle.

I’m thankful for my republican and religious friends. Without them I wouldn’t understand the boundaries of my own ignorance as well. Though i disagree with their conclusions about the world, they make me think harder than anyone who agrees with me could. I appreciate a lot of America because of them.

In that sense: China. My trip over there for six weeks this year wasn’t “profound” or “transformative” in the romantic way most writers and students who travel doll it up to be. But it was genuinely cool and humbling to be in the literal other side of the globe. To see the history blended with the urban modernity of the place was simply crippling to my superiority as an American. I realized a lot of what I valued in life by being away from it. Physically and Psychologically, I was changed a little bit. But I would never go back. Fuck that.

My garden. The Plant Ranch. Everything to do with plants is fascinating to me. I love them. I want the whole world to love plants. It makes no sense, I have no reasons or argument for why I think plants are cool and beautiful and important to care about. But I love them beyond words.

Becoming single. This is weird to be “thankful” for, but I broke up with my partner of 2 1/2 years this October. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the break up was necessary. I have a lot to work on about myself and I want to improve in multitudinous areas. I loved her and, frankly, still feel a deep-seated intimacy and trust and hopefulness for her. But being thrust out of that comfort zone was entirely beneficial to my personal growth. It was the stimulus I needed to get on with becoming “me.”

My friends who work at Bailey’s Gym. They’re awesome people.

My friends from UNF. The “Sextus Empiricus” crowd, as I have dubbed it. Casey, Emily, Joel, and everyone else. We’ve really formed a community and I love them. I haven’t made close friends in a long while but I’ve really opened up to them and they’ve really opened up to me. Cultivating that human centricity to my life is awesome.

My friends in general. Josh, Daniel, Zach (who came back into my life), Andrew, Trevor, Forrest, AJ, Tpro, Chris (who also reappeared), Jacqui (even though we never hang out), and fucking everybody who has stuck with me despite all my bullshit. Expressing appreciation for friends isn’t something we do enough, so I have to overcompensate here.

Anything else that I’d add to this list would spoil the magnificence of everything above, so I’ll arbitrarily stop here. Let it be documented that in the year 2015, everything above this text was awesome. I hope to live life even more next year.

An Admirable Education

October 2, 2015

When it comes to the purpose of education, I find myself gravitating to an education which would produce the attributes of Aristotle’s “good life”: Virtue, Wisdom, and Fulfillment. It is my view that traditional education does far too little in regards to these three aims. I think Jean-Jacques Rousseau got it right when he wrote, “Life is the business I would have [the child] learn.” In bringing this about, I think education should consist in an array of courses, with lessons grounded in experience, and a range of assessments. The value of any discipline or subject in education should directly reflect upon its ability to foster communication, critical thought, and an eagerness to seek knowledge. An admirable education is one that, above all, teaches one how to live well.

There are three aspects I would aim to refine, through education, in the child: The life of the politician (virtue), the life of the philosopher (wisdom), and the life of pleasure (fulfillment). These three attributes seem necessary and sufficient conditions to produce well-rounded individuals. I agree with John Stuart Mill in that “a liberal education does not train individuals for their trades but is intended to enable persons to be reflective members of their society…with intelligence and broad perspective.” First and foremost, we should cultivate virtue. Our educational system should produce thoughtful, morally sensitive individuals who are actively involved with the communities around them. Enveloped in this is an understanding of the world, its history, and ideas about our values in it. This is Aristotle’s “Life of the Politician.” John Dewey argued that, in order to cultivate virtue, “school must itself be a community.” Social life and, more importantly, ethical behavior should be encouraged in any admirable school. Returning to Mill, we should teach students to “love virtue, and feel it an object in itself, and not a tax paid.” In other words, education should render virtue as pleasurable for its own sake. In addition to virtue, we should add wisdom. This is Aristotle’s “Life of the Philosopher.” Our educational system should promote a healthy skepticism and a broad association between varying contents and subjects. For this, I agree with Bertrand Russell’s stressed importance of cultivating a “fundamental open-mindedness” but not so open that our brain falls out. Students should be readily able to grasp new situations and content. But we should not dictate subjects as fixed, finite, in-and-of themselves. Again, I think Russell was right in saying that “education ought to foster the wish for the truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth.” We should prompt students to follow down the paths they find, with nudges from the teacher. Finally, school should promote happy citizens. This is Aristotle’s “Life of Pleasure.” This entails students being able to identify their own problems with solutions in mind and who, upon graduation, are able to flourish in many realms, not just vocationally. By encouraging students to pursue their own interests, we foster that quality beyond schooling. Returning to Dewey, “an individual is happy and society well organized when each individual engages in those activities for which [they have] a natural equipment.” The more equipped a student is in engaging the world, I believe, the happier they will be. Above all else, these three goals should be on the mind of any philosopher of education.

We have identified our purposes for education, but we should now turn to the methods to bring them about. In terms of academics, I would provide a “menu” of courses, ground lessons in experiences, and assess learning mastery through, again, a “menu” of projects. A menu of courses is, essentially, the way the University is structured, only I would employ this model in earlier education. Choice in education is a huge motivator for students: It produces, in Rousseau’s terms, “well regulated liberty.” They can choose, from a list of pre-approved courses, what they want to learn. A massive motivator for students is their present interest which, drawing on Rousseau, is “the great motive impulse, the only one that leads sure and far.” Of course, it is necessary to expose them to things they aren’t already interested in or familiar with, so there should be requirements for students to fulfill categories of knowledge. This makes learning more intimate, and students more enthusiastic about their courses. Most importantly, this breeds autonomy in the future.

The structure of schooling should always be mindful to ground lessons in experiences. This means treating lessons as ends, not as means. Dewey had it right when he wrote that “education is literally and all the time its own reward,” which reveals that “no alleged study or discipline is educative unless it’s worthwhile in its own immediate having.” (249). So, every course should have an immediate value, not just an instrumental value. When material “has to be made interesting,” to borrow again from Dewey, we are doing something profoundly wrong (248). If a class discussion is necessary, let it be in a socratic circle, where every student can see each other’s faces–make it an experience–and have an equal degree of participation. This puts the instructor in the circle with the students, on their level. Let instructors not be authority figures so much as learning companions and facilitators. In addition, field trips are far underutilized as a pedagogical tool in traditional schooling; the engagement of kids in fresh environments is obviously superior to their engagement in the familiar classroom. Returning to Rousseau, “When I see young people confined to the speculative studies at the most active time of life and then cast suddenly into the world of affairs without the least experience, I find it as contrary to reason as to nature and am not at all surprised that so few people manage their lives well.” If the purpose of education is to teach how to live well, then we should provide concrete lessons through experience. Dewey wrote that “there is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education.” Field trips, then, should be regular and broad. Teach botany, for example, by a lesson planting food that the students return to harvest later. Teach animal rights through a trip to the zoo, etc. Nothing is less effective than a lesson divorced from the child’s own life.

Assessment should be a menu of projects. This can take the form of essays, portfolios, short films, etc. Students express their feelings and understandings of things in varying ways, and we should not be so insensitive that we limit the way they can demonstrate their learning. In other words, assessment should be seen as an opportunity to explore. Mill wrote that “Those who know how to employ opportunities will often find that they can create them: and what we achieve depends less on the amount of time we possess, than on the use we make of our time.” The more we narrow down opportunities for expression, the more we confine the child’s autonomy in the future. And this broadening of assessment immediately benefits instructors as well as students. Imagine having to read the same essay thirty times; that sounds monotonous and dreadful. Traditionally, we are extremely magnetized towards standardized testing. This is easily the most efficient method of assessment. But Dewey has convincingly argued that “efficiency” results in “distortion of emotional life.” We want anything but that. Projects, as tools of assessment, should be presentations of sorts. I think this ensures that assessments don’t provoke fear and anxiety at the thought of failure or incorrectness. In the words of A.S. Neill, “The [most] important fact is that they try again.”  We have succeeded as educators when a student has taken genuine interest in producing their project for assessment.

The kinds of things an admirable school would teach–the learning outcomes–would be an array of subjects all aimed at the cultivation of broad, fearless knowledge: Curiosity. Russell succinctly sums up my thoughts on the matter: “With the death of curiosity we may reckon that active intelligence, also, has died.” The three aims for learning outcomes, then, would be communication (Literature, Art, and Poetry), critical thought (Philosophy), and an eagerness to seek answers (Science). First, education should equip students with an ability to relate well with others, to speak clearly, and to listen effectively. Dewey argued quite persistently that “All communication is educative.” This is what I consider communication to be, the passing and receiving of new information. Communication and, perhaps more importantly, empathy, are cultivated best through symbolic expression: Literature, Art, and Poetry. Dewey would seem to agree with my sentiment that “much which has to be learned is stored in symbols.” Our society functions, for all intents and purposes, symbolically. Let the child be equipped to deal with that reality. Secondly, I would cultivate critical thought through philosophy. Education should bolster critical thought through lessons in reasoning, ethics, investigations into the philosophy of X, etc. This doesn’t confine the course menu only to philosophy courses, however. Many subjects can be philosophical in application, not necessarily in content alone. Critical thought means a disciplined mind, which, according to Mill, “makes our opinions consistent with themselves and with one another, and forces us to think clearly, even when it cannot make us think correctly.” We have succeeded when a student polices themselves intellectually. Finally, I would cultivate an eagerness to seek answers through science. The scientific method and its applications should be near the center of any admirable education. In Dewey’s words, “Science is the experience of becoming rational.” The sciences are the bumpers in the bowling lane of reasoning; they keep our ideas from rolling into the gutter. Russell also thought that “without science, democracy is impossible.” But we need to get clear on what we mean by science, here. Students should first learn about a scientist—their life and what they contributed—and then go about experimenting, reasoning about the ins and outs of the theory, how it has changed the world in various ways. Any effective science that will be taught, according to Russell, “requires a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy.” Place science in the context of a narrative; tell us the story of the sciences. Above all, we, as educators, should understand that knowledge is fluid. Students should be led to realize this through their learning. And that should not dampen their persistence to get to the heart of the matter. These three learning outcomes would produce, what Russell considers, components of the “ideal character:” Vitality, courage, sensitiveness, and intelligence.

Too often is education politicized by agendas which have nothing to do with the flourishing of children. It is vital that we respect the rights of children. We should not be exclusively concerned with worldly success as the purpose of education; I think worldly success is a byproduct of teaching students how to live well. In the words of Patricia Heidenry, “Our children’s lives–not their reading scores–should be our primary concern.”

 

No Preamble: Never Shout Never “Recycled Youth” (Volume 1) Review

March 2, 2015

This album is part one of a three-part set of releases. I write this on the eve of the record’s release. Follow this link to tune in alongside my commentary.

On the Brightside: Harking back to the animated music video several years back, its hard to swallow this rendition of the previously chipper tune. There isn’t much to complain about in regards to this track aside from the fact that the original version exists. And, at the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, there is just a disconnect between the timbre of Christopher Drew’s vocals and the tone of the instrumentation (most notably the violin). I enjoy the evolution of NSN but I’d argue this intro to be the weakest track on this record. Yet, this assessment is not a barrier-to-entry for most other tracks on Recycled Youth. 6/10

Sacreligious: I didn’t expect much from this track; this song always reeked of semi-commitment. In re-recording this, the band bears down on the melody and adds previously-nonexistent depth to an already familiar track. This song’s structure flows more openly in Recycled Youth. The occasional guitar pauses, the choir-esque floating harmonies, and the picking pattern across the chord progressions all contribute to a much more palatable version than the original. Of course, I don’t condemn the original. But if we’re picking between the original and the revision (?), the recycled version fares better. 7/10

Love is our Weapon: Track 3 is a genuine transition between the original and RY, unlike many others on here. Great flow. Good alterations. It feels organic. Drew’s vocals are at their best in conjunction with other harmonies–Again, Drew’s altered singing style has its weak elements. This song’s theme and instrumental march almost demand the harmonies/layers. 8/10

Black Hole/Liar Liar:  If I remember correctly, this came as a B-side on the Summer EP and I wouldn’t have expected this (great) song to make it onto this album. That aside, I couldn’t be happier that it did. The original will always maintain a special place in my music library, but this recycled version just feels right. The surf-guitar tones really chill down the song, and the light kick drum spruces up the lack of high energy. Didn’t expect Drew to hit the high notes, but he rocked it out quite splendidly. The guitar solo and light chorus at the end really wrapped it up nicely. 10/10

Robot: This track is nothing short of the conclusion to a musical. It feels less angsty than the original, which has its strengths and weaknesses. With just a touch more of piano (lead vs. rhythm), I think this recycled version would be impenetrable. Amazing bridge and instrumental. In fact, I almost wish the bridge/instrumental ended the song. Other than for the sake of mirroring the original, the final chorus serves no genuine purpose. Near miss with this track. It was almost amazing, but not quite. 8/10

Here Goes Nothing: Thinking back, I only now realize that this is the third version of this song I now own. There was the myspace demo in 2007(?), followed by the Yippee EP rerecording. For whatever reason, the older tracks seem to translate much better into these new versions. As I’ve noted, Drew’s voice and singing style have altered considerably in the intermediary period between the original and recycled version. I have never met a NSN fan who doesn’t point to the Yippee EP as NSN’s golden age (and I have to say its hard to disagree, despite loving each succeeding release). There is something trance-y going on in this, perhaps because the kick/hi-hat placements sound like something straight out of Fruity Loops. Definitely a highlight track on this record. 10/10

Sweet Perfection: Again, what a great rendition. If it weren’t for the fact that I already loved the original version, this might have sold me. Luckily the amazing harmonicas were kept, accented with a little more vibe than the original. The peppered surf-guitar sounds like something that would appear in the Hawaii special of The Brady Bunch. The chorus harmonies in this version really buttress the otherwise meandering tone of this track. Great, silly ending. 9/10

Trance-Like Getaway: These final two tracks had more to live up to than the other seven combined. Off the bat, the whistling and harmonica so wonders to set the stage. I’m a little disappointed at the lack of overpowering Time Travel-esque harmonies; a lot of the vocal layers have been cut out. In a way, I can see how this would have (more or less) been the original growth of this song. There is something more authentic about the way this song progresses than the original. Yet, the bridge fizzles out in a way that the original completely succeeded in accomplishing. There is a feeling of release and relief at the end of the cyclical buildup and, in this version, that aspect is lost. 7/10

Lost at Sea: Time Travel holds a place in my heart that is unmatched by very few records. This is the definitive song off that record, in my mind, and, that being said, I will critique from a position of assuming you understand that I love this song. The “recycled” version begins in a way that is so great that the remainder of the song nearly fails to accomplish that same level of emotion. The harmonies are mixed in a way that feels fresh, open, and independent of the rest of this song. The verses just do nothing to bolster the impact of the choruses. There needs to be more than one looping acoustic guitar for such a heavy-handed track as this. And then, what? A couple plucks on the acoustic just end the song (and the record)? Hmm. Hard not to furrow my brow at this lackluster rendition. 8/10

Overall: 73/90. This record has its strengths across the board. I’ve never seen an artist go down this route of reinterpreting, “recycling,” one’s past recordings. It’s both a treat for fans and an opportunity to bring consonance to the ever-evolving style of music NSN produces. While some of these songs are bogged down by comparison, this album stands quite well on its own. I highly anticipate volumes two and three in the near future.

No Preamble: Lights – Little Machines (Deluxe Edition) 2014 – Album Review

December 3, 2014

Lyrics & Vocals: 9/10
Lights’ voice speaks for itself; there are too few vocalists of her caliber today. In terms of lyricism, Little Machines delivers a melancholic mixture between dark and cute moments. Lights vocabulary never ceases to surprise the close reader. There are gentle and complex concepts, both philosophical and playfully childish at times. A few repetitive concepts appear, such as the cliche of metaphorically being “low” and climbing “higher,” or of being a child and suffering from the battle between youth and adulthood. Luckily, Lights does it well.

Musicianship: 7/10
Nothing especially unique about this album in juxtaposition with her previous releases. There are moments of grittier-than-usual synth percolating throughout some choruses and interesting patches dancing along in the background. Also a bit more guitar is present, or at least appears in more stand-out areas than before. Excellent balance in the mix. Her vocals sit perfectly atop the instrumentation.

Album Cohesiveness/Flow: 9/10
This album carries its weight at almost all times from front to back. There is a nice blend of tempos fluctuating across each song and, although a few tracks lag behind, no chorus feels stale or repetitive. Little Machines begins with the tranquil, progressive “Portal” which extends itself into the full flow of the rest of the album. Some highlight tracks are “Up We Go,” “Speeding,” “Muscle Memory,” and…alright the whole album is awesome.

Experimentation: 6/10
This is perhaps Little Machines’ only weak point. It seems that The Listening was a collection of past demos and experimental jams, Siberia was a process of really honing her songwriting, and Little Machines is a refinement of all these sounds and ideas. The final bonus track, “From All Sides” has promise of dynamically pushing Lights in unexpected directions. It takes a few spins to (not “accept,” but) really adjust to the direction this album wants to take the listener. Not much has changed, but no two songs carry themselves the same

Overall: 31/50
The only appropriate way I can describe Little Machines is “ear Skittles.” Not a perfect A+, but certainly worth picking up and acquainting yourself with. Unlike so many artists who release copy-paste albums when they “find their sound,” Lights keeps things fresh without alienating her audience. Old and new listeners alike should be able to find high points across all 14 tracks.