I think I’m going to switch my blog to medium. My first post there: Infinitives of an Oppressor, a reflection on some of my inner workings wrt social justice.
The voice is a gift
and he gives it not to some but to all
to YOU all
the small and the large
the weak and the in charge
We all have that thing
we were born to say
you may not be able to access it today
let me hear you say someday
I will stand tall
I will take charge
Outward my inner prayer I will pray
I used to be ashamed of my voice
Couldn’t make the choice
to be heard
I had hurt
I had heart
but I couldn’t speak the words
Couldn’t sing the songs
that I knew all along
Every day a new invention
A hidden intention
Well this is my intervention
I make the choice to use my voice
I stand tall
I take charge
And outward this inner prayer I pray
I pray to come alive today
There ain’t no other way
My brothers can think what they may
Cause I know they also got something to say
Let my courage show you the way
And let yours be inspiration to another
This is the situation there’s no other
It is WE who light the world on fire
Who inspire the weak and the tired
To be strong and admired
To change ourselves from liars
mask wearers, fear bearers
Heart hiders, insiders
To fearless riders
carrying our word
be it simple or absurd
the truth is the word
OUR truth is the word
I make the choice to use my voice
I stand tall
I take charge
And outward my inner prayers I pray
On a day long ago was learned
a terrible lesson, my friend.
In the memory burned
Too swiftly to comprehend
And dry a great river turned.
What happened that echoing day?
To this little boy, full of passion
So much to give and to say
A life for beauty amassing…
Then for watching it fade away.
“I’m sorry,” he began to cry
Before giving his gift.
It became too much to try,
A burden too heavy to lift,
And he almost told it goodbye.
Someday, it is said, he will find
Holding the hand of a friend
The memory locked away in his mind
And the courage to give once again
With shame left far, far behind.
What would you have me do?
For your sake I’d hidden myself from you.
I knew inside so I built a wall,
Attached a mirror, so whatever you wished you would see as true.
Might you I ought to’ve cared for,
But I resolved not to pretend anymore.
A false heart I’d not caring call,
And when I did finally speak, it stopped feeling so awfully sore.
This sharpening pain I have made,
I hope is better than how I’ve betrayed.
All I really want is to bring down this wall.
I asked for love, truth asked of me, and I obeyed.
When a particular mutation causes some cells to start dividing faster than the others — a self-replicating explosion that is characteristic of life — we call them cancer and they kill their host. With their host they also die. The latent bacteria and fungi kept in delicate balance by the sophisticated systems of the body take over, each exploding in its own way, recycling and reintegrating the materials that composed this human machine into the larger world. What was the human’s individual consciousness reintegrates into the Earth in whatever way that happens.
At some point a mutation in the memetic code altered humanity. We began wearing clothes, building houses, and with this developed a concept that we are separate from each other and the rest of nature — Self, Ego. We have expanded much faster than our surroundings, and the amount of the Earth’s resources we consume to continue doing so outweighs the value we give back into our host.
The Singularity is based on the observation that the rate of technological innovation has been accelerating for a long, long time. This mystical belief system projects what might happen as this acceleration continues. What happens as the structure of self-replication and transformation of nature continues to its limit? By analogy, what happens when the small mutation that causes cells to divide faster continues to mutate for its own propagation? In some accounts, a structure of energy will be created that expands outward at the speed of light, integrating the consciousness of our local nature into the universe — Stepping into the Light.
The Singularity is a concept of death. Environmentalists see our unhealthy habits and want to get our act together so we can continue living a healthy life; technologists see the unstoppable advancing tumor and are trying to accept our fate and embrace death — not the end of all things but indeed a major transformation in being resulting in the loss of all our attachments. It is a peculiar contradiction, in a divine-truth sort of way, that many technologists believe that we will invent a way never to die. Each of us transforming ourselves through the advance of technology is participating in the larger process of death that the Earth faces. Environmentalists hope that our cancerous expanse can reconstruct a functioning body on top of ourselves, keeping the host just alive enough to preserve our Selves — restoring the Earth to the past in which humans are few and in parity with other animals is not what we have in mind. With hope and desperation we awe in Mother Nature’s embrace.
We belong to the Earth, and she is dying.
I was sitting at a large, round table with all the teachers of the CHOICE middle-school program sitting around me solemnly. They had called me here to inform me that, in my final year at middle school, I wouldn’t be allowed to go on this year’s spring trip — a multiple-day hiking and camping excursion taken every year by the school. Ms. Green cried as she delivered this news. The reason was that I was not a good enough student — that I did not complete enough of the work that they had assigned me to be afforded this privilege.
I don’t remember analyzing the situation closely, but I do remember being rather unfazed. After all, it meant that I got to stay home for a week doing as I pleased instead of spending a week with my cruel classmates and lack of friends. I did empathize with my teachers who were very torn up about the whole thing. I knew that they saw “potential” in me and perceived that I was squandering it, and felt that they needed to impose “consequences” in order to drive the message home. Perhaps I learned that if I don’t do what authorities tell me to do, they set me free and allow me to do with my time what I actually want.
In 11th or 12th grade physics, we were learning about circuits, and I was learning LISP on my own time (instead of doing homework). I saw a mapping from the circuits we were studying to a hierarchical description, and wrote a program that would reconstruct as much information (currents, voltages, resistances) as possible from the information given using repeated application of Ohm’s law. I informed the teacher of this, and he seemed pleased; I asked if I could use it on the homework and tests and he said that I could not. Writing the program increased my understanding of circuits a great deal, but the existence of the program itself afforded me no real advantage. Perhaps this experience is why my preferred way to use software today is as a mathematical and mind-expansion exercise rather than making a tool that can actually be used.
When I studied education in college, the community was very interested in making sure that students saw the real-world application of mathematics, trying to combat the (correct) perception that what students are being taught is useless. Hence the all-too-familiar “word problems”:
Train A, traveling 70 miles per hour (mph), leaves Westford heading toward Eastford, 260 miles away. At the same time Train B, traveling 60 mph, leaves Eastford heading toward Westford. When do the two trains meet? How far from each city do they meet? (source)
Of course, nobody has ever tried to solve this problem with two trains unless they are already interested in math, and then only in the abstract (this kind of information is difficult to find about actual trains). The truth is that at this level of “real world”, math beyond basic arithmetic and estimation is not really useful, so any attempt to make it seem so will be disingenuous. I believe kids are smart; they will not be fooled so easily.
The theme tying these anecdotes together is disrespect. I do believe that teachers have the best intentions for their students, and in many cases love them. But if you respect your students, you would not give them as a word problem a situation you have never come across to convince them that math is useful in the world. Why not give them a problem of algebra similar to problems people actually face — how much should a tech company expand its datacenter capacity given a projection of its growth; when will it cost more energy to drill for oil than the energy it returns; should a company with a given amount of capital build its own infrastructure at a fixed up-front cost or lease it at a monthly rate? The fact that the “real world” presented to students is one of travel times, house building, and saving and spending sends a strong message to them about what they can become. Algebra is used in engineering, science, and business, not purchases of milk and eggs at the grocery store. You will ignite a student’s passion for math when she understands that she can use it to become something, not that it is (pretending to be) an essential skill for a consumerist greyface. Conversely, if the student has no interest in engineering, science, or business, he is right to be disinterested in math class; let him do something useful with his time.
I felt disrespected that my teachers felt I was squandering my potential by failing to do the work that was assigned to me. I felt disrespected when I couldn’t use my creation to assist me with my homework. I felt disrespected when, despite getting high test scores, I was punished for not doing the work assigned “to help me learn”. No attention was paid to my developing programming skills or my talent for music — they never asked what I did with my time instead of doing homework. (I wonder what they thought?) This was all confusing to me at the time, and I rebelled from my heart, not my intellect; now that I have a more acute awareness of society, I am grateful that I rebelled. In retrospect the message shines through with clarity: school is not for me. I had assumed that I was there to learn the content and the teachers were all just blind or crazy — I know now that I was there to learn to follow orders, and my education is for the ones who give them. When teachers talk of my squandered future, they refer to a future of subservience to authority. (If I’m going to squander a future, please let it be that one!) The disrespect for my personal autonomy was pervasive enough that the idea that I could be an entrepreneur, an artist, or a leader were not even considered possibilities.
What boggles me is that I doubt my teachers saw it this way. They truly cared about me, I could tell. I feel that this is a cultural phenomenon of seeing children as less than human, as incapable of making good choices for themselves. (A basic rhetorical analysis The Powell Memorandum reveals that leaders of enterprise feel the same way about the working class.) I don’t know where this view comes from — except the teachers’ own internalized oppression as working class. Teachers are not paid well, which makes them feel bound and powerless, which is communicated to the students and sustains the system of subservience.
Today, just as in school, I struggle to follow orders, and this comes as no surprise to me. I was not successfully trained to do so. I struggle to continue exchanging my alienated labor for Google’s money, and I am realizing more and more that convincing myself to care about this labor is not a viable strategy. Sometimes I think badly of myself for this, but it is not a fault only to have energy for what I care about. I don’t know what I would have become if my gifts had been acknowledged and nurtured rather than ignored. It’s too late for that; now I must bring to others the respectful, humanizing education I was denied. The remaining question is how?
This week’s reading was more scattered than last week’s, which was focused mainly on US surveillance and politics. Still lots of interesting stuff this week — it’s amazing what comes to light when I allow myself to care.
I thought a lot this week about worker’s rights and democratic companies. I realized that Google’s workforce has no real decision-making power for the company — we do what the leadership tells us to do. This realization came with the awareness that it doesn’t have to be this way. Google does not have a worker’s union, but if we did, we could democratically control the company — the power is already available, we need only claim it. But we have no need to claim it because the leadership is doing a good job. All systems which rely on labor of the many are eventually democratic, the question is only how much resistance the many need overcome to affect the decisions of the powerful (however, I might stop classifying them as “eventually democratic” at the point where power’s resistance is physically violent). Hence education plays an incredibly important role: the more this is known, the more powerful the people are. But Google makes me wonder, how powerful should the people be? I like Google’s leadership, and honestly if Googlers were encouraged to vote on important company decisions instead of having them decided by the leadership, it’s not clear that Google and/or the world would be better off. Google is made of geeks whose views of the world are often idealistic, opinionated, and out-of-touch. I wouldn’t trust me to make good decisions for a company, no matter how many of me there were.
Chomsky noted that the USA must oppose the democratization of Iran because the census showed that 80% of the population supports Iran building nuclear weapons. It is fairly convincing that more countries with access to nuclear weapons creates more chance of total nuclear annihilation due to local political instabilities. I believe in democracy, but now I must ask: do I support a US-controlled oppressive monarchy as an alternative to a democratic, nuclear-armed Iran? Do I support US hegemony as an alternative to a yet-more dangerously unstable world? Am I only doubting democratization of Iran because I live in the USA? I don’t know these answers.
With those happy thoughts, here are the pieces I found notable this week. As always, comments and suggestions for further reading are welcome and appreciated.
- Kiev (Ukraine)’s government is murdering journalists and the Western media isn’t reporting it. It seems to be known that the Kiev regime is backed by the USA, though I can’t find anything definitive. This is complex and I need to research it more; I’m posting it anyway to raise awareness.
- Gazan Youth’s Manifesto for Change (from 2011, but still a goodie). This gives a good look into how the Israel-Palestine conflict is affecting some of the people there. It’s easy to empathize with them as human beings rather than the through radical militant story we have created.
- The EPA recently relaxed the requirements on allowable radiation levels in public water supplies even though it was found that radiation is more harmful to health than previously thought.
- Declassified FBI reports on the Occupy Wall Street movement. Interesting to look through, if nothing else to understand how the FBI works. On pages 61 and 68 there is some talk of the possibility of assassinating leaders of the movement via sniper fire, though the redactions are such that I can’t tell by whom. The following passage indicates that well-planned protests can be remarkably effective.
The protestors’ actions shut down the port of Oakland for more than 14 hours. If this movement were to spread to the port of Long Beach, the second busiest port in the United States, the disruption of port operations resulting in cargo reaching their required destinations late could have much more serious effects on the supply chain network in the United States. (p. 46)
- Talking about how much you get paid is protected speech; that is, you have legal recourse if your employer retaliates against you for talking about how much you get paid. Pay as a taboo subject benefits the employer, and contributes to pay inequality between men and women.
- The graphic design community is against “spec work”, for example logo contests, claiming that it devalues their industry. I support the community and will raise awareness of this type of exploitation when the opportunity arises.
- The State of Working America, a site that collects data and trends in US demographics. They published the book Failure by Design which analyzes the policies which led to the horrendous economic inequality we have today (I haven’t read it, but might).
The good news is that policy works, it does what it’s actually designed to do; the bad news is we designed it to do, in my view, a very bad thing.
- Walter White Supremacy, an essay about the racist themes in Breaking Bad.
The white guy who enters a world supposedly beneath him where he doesn’t belong yet nonetheless triumphs over the inhabitants is older than talkies. TV Tropes calls it “Mighty Whitey,” and examples range from Tom Cruise as Samurai and Daniel Day Lewis as Mohican to the slightly less far-fetched Julia Stiles as ghetto-fabulous. But whether it’s a 3-D Marine playing alien in Avatar or Bruce Wayne slumming in a Bhutanese prison, the story is still good for a few hundred million bucks. The story changes a bit from telling to telling, but the meaning is consistent: a white person is (and by extension, white people are) best at everything.
- The Catholic schoolgirl & the wet nurse: an important paper to read for social justice-aware people sharing about racism. It describes the way our narratives of racism both simplify and dehumanize the victims and make the oppressors invisible. I felt +1 to Nuance after reading this.
Six weeks ago, Jimbo Wales tweeted a link to a fantastic article titled Privacy under attack: the NSA files revealed new threats to democracy. At the same time, I had been reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in order to become a better teacher. Freire’s book is about freedom and humanization, and is full of disquieting rhetoric calling people to take charge of their situations and their agency in transforming the world. These two pieces got together in my brain and started a campaign, the outcome of which was to politically activate me. I began listening to Noam Chomsky on YouTube at work and at home, following and furiously reading news and history, refining and deepening my view of the world, where it is going, and my place in it. It broke my heart. The importance of my comfort is fading away, the actions I take which are not in support of creating a better world are beginning to feel trivial and meaningless. It’s shattering to my illusive sense of safety — the truth is frightening. Yet I would never choose to unlearn what I have learned. The truth is unique that way.
I expect that I will continue learning a great deal about the state of the world. I have been sheltered and naive, making other things more important, and there is much to find out. So I decided to start this series (I hope it’s a series, I haven’t been good at keeping up with series’ I’ve started in the past) of summarizing what I have learned, as a way both to congeal through reflection, and a way to share with others who are similarly interested. I am absolutely open to further information readers have about what I post, ways my readings might be mistaken, or ways I am not seeing far enough. If you want to join this conversation, please do.
Without further ado, here are the pieces I found notable this week.
- Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown. The Pentagon is funding research to the order of $100M to understand how social contagion and tipping points work, “geared toward producing quick results that are directly applicable to field operations.” In particular, they are focusing on civil unrest which may be caused by climate change. Particularly interesting is the rhetoric around who is considered violent.
- The IPCC predicts 4-6 inches of sea level rise in the next 50 years. When thinking about just the coastlines, this didn’t seem like it would be a huge deal. But then I remembered foundations, basements, sewers, etc.
- Homeland Security Starts Citywide Cellphone Tracking Project in Seattle. Homeland Security and the Seattle Police Department have installed wifi devices on every street corner, not to provide free internet access to all citizens, but to be able to track the location of citizens by their cell phones. This infrastructure has been built without any limiting legislation or public oversight. This comes back to the increasingly common pattern of “trust us” security infrastructure.
The SPD declined to answer more than a dozen questions from The Stranger, including whether the network is operational, who has access to its data, what it might be used for, and whether the SPD has used it (or intends to use it) to geo-locate people’s devices via their MAC addresses or other identifiers.
- The Powell Memorandum. Chomsky pointed me to this 1971 letter between leaders of enterprise, which is a call to action. The American economic system is under broad attack, it begins. Powell is concerned about people speaking out against problematic corporate establishments, and ostracizes the owners of the media for allowing this to happen on their own networks. He calls for a major collaborative campaign to train and implant pro-corporate academics and activists into public discussion, and to censor anti-establishment advocacy in the media.
- In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber those who are. This article contained the first evidence that I have seen that NSA is actually using its massive data collection for anti-terrorism.
Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the request of CIA officials, The Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations.
- Rich People Rule. This is about the Princeton study I read long ago and dug up again, showing that the preferences of average citizens are far underrepresented in the USA’s policy in favor of the preferences of the wealthy — essentially that people below the 90th percentile of wealth only have 1/15th of a vote when considering policy legislation.
- A San Fransisco Bay Area Progressive Directory, a directory of activist movements in the bay area which I am using to find how I can be of service.
- Noam Chomsky, Surviving the 21st Century. This Chomsky lecture has a very interesting historical arc from 35:00 to 51:00 on the US Government’s blatant disregard for national security in favor of dominating the world.
The act of striving to become more, to learn more about living is a prominent part of many people’s lives; it certainly is for mine. However, I’ve observed a form of suffering which is associated with growth and striving, which I suspect is pervasive in progressive society. I will talk about the underlying beliefs that cause this suffering and the complex of dynamics that occur as they come forward for transcendence. I analyze these beliefs for the purpose of undermining them. However, I seek to undermine them not to cease striving, but to elicit understanding the cause and mechanism of striving-suffering, bringing it into clearer focus and illuminating the path to transcendence.
The core of the belief system I’m speaking about is the pair I’m not good enough : I need to be good enough. I name beliefs of this form motivating dualities. They begin when we set a standard for ourselves, here denoted “good enough”, and acknowledge that we do not meet that standard. This pair creates a vector — a drive to become more in the direction of our standard. Without both sides of the pair, these beliefs would not be motivating.
When the standard is concrete, this pair can integrate peacefully into a growing human being — it is equivalent to setting a goal and acknowledging where we are in relation to it, motivating us to close the gap. This pair will cause striving-suffering as we begin to identify ourselves with the abstract act of striving and/or achieving, separated from the goal to achieve. I’ve seen this both in cases where the person believes herself to be achieving highly and where he does not. When this identification occurs, the underlying belief system that created the vector is cemented into place — to transcend the motivating duality means letting go of striver as part of our identity; simultaneously, our identity as a striver is formed by these underlying beliefs, so we cannot let go of that in isolation either. We become trapped in a Nash equilibrium of beliefs and identity.
As we develop, we will eventually meet our previous standard, but because our identity and beliefs are trapped in this equilibrium, they mutate to adapt to their environment. The concrete standard that formed the initial vector is abstracted, and we begin to feel that we aren’t “up to standard” as a general principle. Goals that once had concrete action steps for growth become fuzzy, and we begin to grasp for Good Enough in the abstract. This grasping is the core of striving-suffering. We strive but never near our goal, because it is now too abstract to be measured.
I should be clear about the way I am bringing in some Buddhist philosophy, specifically that attachment is the cause of suffering. To interpret me well, it’s important not to read suffering as “bad” or “thing to be avoided”. It may be that all striving is attachment and thus suffering, but when we are nearing a goal, when we see the gap of a motivating duality closing, we feel pleasure and fun. Living while oscillating between suffering and pleasure/fun is an often pleasurable and fun life which includes suffering.
Striving-suffering is calling me for analysis because it undermines its own end. The striver-sufferer seeks to expand herself and her consciousness, however she is blocked from transcending this aspect of her beliefs and identity. Someone trapped in striving-suffering will often not be able to access universal consciousness — the deeply peaceful identification of self as the universe — because they are unable to take off the lens of “good enough” because it would mean the collapse of their identity. Striving-suffering is a common condition in progressive culture, and we see its effects: many highly talented and accomplished people, dedicated and hard-working, with narrow, inflexible consciousness.
So, while the motivating duality I’m not good enough : I need to be good enough drives us to grow, to continue growth of our consciousness we must eventually transcend it. One path to transcendence is to undermine both beliefs at once by breaking down the core concepts upon which these beliefs are built. Breaking core concepts to the point of existential crisis is a practice I engage in more often than most; it is often deeply overwhelming and confusing, and many don’t feel they have the freedom of lifestyle that would allow such frequent crises. A smoother path is to unlink the self-reinforcing complex so that each aspect is free to go without being pulled back into place by its companion. A striver-sufferer can do this by, for example, observing and reinforcing himself as someone who naturally seeks to grow, so that the motivating duality is no longer the sole support for that aspect of his identity. This frees the motivating duality to be transcended without invoking a crisis of identity.
A striver identity supported by natural seeking is more flexible than that supported by the motivating duality — it requires a less hefty lens, and the lens can be removed without threatening our identity. It moves our motivation from extrinsic — motivated as a means to an (impossible) end — to intrinsic, which can be trusted while beliefs and ways of perceiving shift, freeing the consciousness to expand in new domains.