Newark Mayor Cory Booker gave a killer speech at the Democratic National Convention this evening, capped toward the end by a few minutes of pure, awesome, shouting, Democratic taking-us-to-church about the kind of country America says it is, about the opportunities for all that should exist.
You can watch it the whole thing below, but here’s my favorite part (on the video from 8:08 to 10:10, if you want to read along), where he explains in two thrilling sentences what the American Dream really means (to me, anyway, and presumably to the Democrats, a party of which I am not a member, not that Booker didn’t nudge me a bit closer tonight):
It is our fundamental national aspiration, that no matter who you are, no matter what color or creed, how you choose to pray, or who you choose to love, that if you are a citizen of the United States of America, if you are an American, first generation or fifteenth, one who is willing to work hard, play by the rules and apply your god-given talents, that you should be able to find a job that pays the bills, you should be able to afford health care for your family, you should be able to retire with dignity and respect, and you should be able to give your children the kind of education that allows them to dream even bigger, to go even further and accomplish more than you could ever imagine.
This is our platform! This is our platform! This. Is. Our platform. This is our American mission.
These are the dreams of our fathers and mothers, this is the demand from the next generation who call to our conscious in a chorus of conviction, in classrooms from sea to shining sea, from north to south, when our children proudly proclaim those sacred words from our most profound pledge, that we are a nation with liberty and justice for all.
Amen! You’ll note that I’ve omitted the middle six sentences, where he was just pumping the crowd, in my headline claim. The first paragraph and last paragraph are the two sentences I’m talking about.
When the Republican vice-presidential nominee, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, lies baldly and publicly about how fast he ran a marathon, we all need to step back and admit that our country has a deep, serious problem.
Lying about your marathon time is perhaps something many folks do — to casual acquaintances, coworkers, etc. But it’s not something you don’t remember. Everyone who has run a marathon knows their time. It’s been recorded and is easily checked.
So when someone lies about something so easily refutable in a huge public way, we have to look at them not just with disgust or anger, but with concern. They have a clinical problem. Either their brain chemistry is miswired in some fundamental way that makes this kind of lying impossible for them to avoid, or they were raised and acculturated by parents and community members who also had no moral compass about lying.
Liberals have often claimed that many poor, undereducated people who are trapped in a generation-after-generation cycle of poverty and despair aren’t solely to blame when they become criminals. We say that the system is also to blame, that they didn’t necessarily know better because no one taught them different, and their examples growing up were of similar lawlessness.
If this has some truth — and I believe it does — then we have to say the same is true of the immorality we sometimes find in right-wing folks. People raised in an environment where cheating on your taxes is not only acceptable but encouraged; where doing things your religion says are immoral (various sexual improprieties come to mind) is OK as long as no one finds out and it happens behind closed doors; where daily lies are normal because it’s important to “put the best face” on every aspect of your life so you seem normal and successful to the outside world — people in these situations, raised generation after generation to behave this way, won’t have the ethical tools to stop themselves from lying or behaving badly even when they are likely to be called out for it.
It’s possible this is what’s happening for poor Paul Ryan. He seems unable to tell the truth, and he seems not to know how unacceptable it is. He’s teaching his children that it’s just what people do.
When you add in religion, it gets worse. Organized hard-right religion is openly disdainful of critical thinking. But critical thinking skills are necessary for us to be able to sort fact from fiction, to be able to know HOW we know whether things are true or not.
I’m reminded of a recent incident I heard about on NPR, where a young conservative being interviewed mentioned that President Obama had removed the work requirement from welfare. The interviewer quickly rebutted that this is untrue and explained what Obama actually had done — given states more flexibility to improve employment outcomes — and the young person responded with, “I don’t believe that.”
When I heard this, I was dumbfounded. This isn’t a rational response to having something you think is a fact revealed as not a fact. Facts aren’t subject to your belief. The rational response, for anyone with critical thinking skills, is: “How do you know that? Can you prove it?” Or, as I was taught in journalism school: “Who says?”
Sadly, many people raised in a conservative religious environment don’t know how to find out what is true and what isn’t. Evidence and proof don’t count in the face of “Because the Bible tells me so.” And many people raised in a generation-after-generation cycle of lying and cheating don’t know how to tell the truth. They simply weren’t given the tools.
Anger toward these people won’t help us, any more than locking up every poor person will end crime.
The epidemic of lying currently running through America — and especially through our politics — is corrosive and threatens to undo our country. We can’t make good decisions if we don’t use facts rather than falsehoods, and we’re doomed if we don’t know how to tell the difference.
We need to teach ourselves ethics, apparently, along with a crash course in critical thinking skills. We need to do it for everyone, not just our children, and we need to do it now. The longer we wait, the more lies Paul Ryan will tell us.
I recently got asked this question during a survey from one of those political action petition websites. I found it an interesting thought experiment. My answer is below, but I really want to know YOUR answer. What inspires you to try to change the world? Why do you do certain things with more intention and focus than many other daily acts? Why not just sit on your butt all day?
I really want to know, so please, comment with an answer. Here’s mine:
We all create the world everyday, from scratch, by our collective force of will and imagination. I tend to think we’re limiting ourselves creatively by choosing to build this same, tired material world over and over. I would prefer something sillier, merrier and freer; however, each of us only has the influence of one person’s will, and our ability to affect what this constantly rebuilt world looks like is limited by how much will power we exert to make it so.
And I take my job as a world-creator seriously, so I consciously strive to make every action — all the time, every day, in every task, thought or interaction — be one that reflects my values and helps build a world I want to live in.
Isn’t that why everyone takes action? =)
**NOTE: This is a loooooong post, because it’s a big birthday. I’m no longer a thirty-something!**
I’m one of those counterculture folks who has tried many different ways of eating over the years, for a variety of reasons.
I came to life in small-town Pennyslvania in 1972, so I was born into the Standard American Diet (SAD). My parents were raised in this “regular” way of eating — lots of grains, sugars, fat and meat.
My parents were hippies, though, and after we left small-town Americana, we embraced more hippie foods. Wheat germ, homemade yogurt and lentils with brown rice were regular features of our kitchen. For a while we were quite poor, and then we ate what we could afford, which included hamburgers from chub beef — those fat tubes of plastic-covered rotting cow waste that many poor families know well.
Then at 16, inspired by a high school classmate (my ex-wife Sarah), I became a vegetarian. Meat is murder, and all that. I’ve been veg ever since — sometimes vegan, sometimes ovo-lacto. In my mid-thirties, I spent about 18 months eating totally raw. I always choose organic, local, fresh.
All of my dietary changes have been good in one respect — they’ve led to better health overall. When I went raw, I lost 60 pounds and gained a sense of self-control. But there was no guiding principle backing my dietary ideas. I had some philosophies, sure, about the morality of food and agriculture, about not killing other sentient creatures, about farming practices that are in harmony with nature. All of those are important to include, but they don’t always lead to health, especially if your eating is driven by the insulin yo-yo of constant starches and sugars.
I had built up a stock of “conventional wisdom” about nutrition from the media: Fat is bad, saturated fat is the worst, you should eat low-fat grains and processed vegetable oils. But I didn’t know very much about WHY those things were supposedly true.
And I didn’t know what else to do to stop gaining weight. I can tell I’m not alone in this: The U.S. is increasingly a country of fat, sick, miserable people. The Standard American Diet truly is SAD, because it’s clearly not working to produce good health. Instead, we have more morbid obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer than ever before. Not to mention ADHD, depression, bipolar, autism spectrum — all things affected by diet.
In 2012, after living abroad for a few years, I returned to the U.S. because of medical issues in the family. I started researching food and nutrition to help with cancer. What I found, when I looked at the evidence, is that the conventional wisdom — that you should eat carbs and polyunsaturated fats instead of more traditional foods — is nothing but a heavy glycemic load of crap.In order to question, analyze and evalute the various claims about food, I used science. What evidence is there? What other scenarios could explain that evidence? Who’s paying for the evidence? What are their motivations? What are they leaving out? What does their data really show? What’s the probability that what they’re saying is true?
In other words, I had to use scientific principles to evaluate the current scientific evidence. As a former journalist, I know how the mainstream media will unquestioningly parrot the prevailing establishment’s ideas, and I know the establishment promotes profit above all else. So I decided to look at the studies myself, like many other folks I found at various health blogs and nutrition sites. Does the research say what we’ve been told it says? Does the evidence about the study and its funders make it more or less probable that the results and their analysis are being skewed?
Science is the key. I don’t mean the established system of university departments, private companies’ labs, government research centers, federal regulators and peer-reviewed journals — those institutions are generally corrupt and run by money, which in America means they’re owned and run by big corporations for the interests and profit of big corporations.
(Is it surprising that when Wesson and Proctor & Gamble needed to sell corn oil in the 1960s, “scientific studies” were produced saying how bad butter was, and how much better corn oil was for you, and those studies were then trumpeted by all the corporate media outlets? Too bad it wasn’t true. That basic pattern is the boringly repetitious story of American food choices.)
No, when I say “science,” I mean a way of knowing — the idea that we ask questions and then try to find repeatable evidence to support one potential answer over another.
There’s no magic to acquiring knowledge, just work. But I am heartened by the idea that, even though it IS a lot of work, my health is worth it.
After all, I’m now 40. At nearly the halfway point of my life. I’ve already decided I’m only living until 81, because that seems long enough (it also aligns with my personal number symbology, but that’s a topic for another post). I want to be a responsible sharing partner with the other creatures on the planet, and living too long is unsustainable and greedily uses resources.
Looking ahead, I know some of what’s coming in the final years. We all do, because we’ve done it before: Inability to feed yourself, inability to control bodily functions, inability to convert how you process incoming stimuli into successful human communication, etc. Babies go “goo-goo-gaa-gaa” and older folks have dementia.
But before those years happen (if they must happen), I want each year of life to be the best so far. Starting now, in my 40th year. This will be the best year of my life. And every year after. The best so far.
To do that, I need to keep my body as healthy as possible, or it won’t be able to keep up with my increasingly awesome life. And that means using science to find the very best ingredients to build my body.
My goal gives me boundless motivation. I want an awesome 40 years of living. If I have to eat reindeer poop that’s been crystallized on a special mushroom that grows from granite cliffs in Norway blended into my raw green smoothie, then I will.
The good news is that there is no reindeer poop that’s been crystallized on a special mushroom that grows from granite cliffs in Norway. I don’t have to blend that into my raw green smoothie.
Instead, the very best human fuel is fresh, local, organic produce. That’s what we need to be eating. According to the U.S. government — and its standards are the bare minimum required to keep you just alive enough to get terrible degenerative diseases that make tons of profit for the medical industrial complex, but even according to the government’s standards — produce should be half your plate.
And when we look at the evidence, the nutrients that keep us healthy work when they are together in a whole food better than as isolated compounds — in fact, in most cases, isolating certain parts of food through harsh industrial processes is much, much worse for you than eating the whole food. In some cases, processing isolated nutrients (like soy protein) makes them toxic to us, because they’ve been chemically altered at the molecular level, so they’re not actually food anymore. Most of what’s sold in grocery stores isn’t anything our body recognizes as food. It’s a food-like product.
On the other hand, when we look at these whole, fresh food compounds — phytonutrients, isoflavones, micronutrients and others — we find that they slow cancer growth, or they fight diabetes, or they work even earlier, reducing free radicals in your body and stopping disease before it even thinks about becoming disease.
If you add whole food probiotics and live enzymes throughout the day (as in fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha), these whole fresh food compounds all work together and are shown to slow or stop diabetes, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular problems, mental health issues and cancer.
When we look at the diseases the establishment tells us are just a part of getting old, it turns out these degenerative illnesses aren’t just winning “naturally” because of age but also because of a lifetime of malnutrition — eating processed starches, fats and proteins.
So for my 40th birthday, I’m giving myself the gift of health, the gift of tradition, the gift of compassionate, science-based healthful eating. I call it “The As-Possible Diet.”By returning to traditional foods — foods from before the agricultural industrial complex started making everything in a laboratory from chemically isolated pharmaceutical nutrients — and eating the way traditional peoples have eaten for thousands of years without all these degenerative diseases in such high numbers, every year of my life CAN be the best year ever.
And why WOULDN’T I do whatever I can to follow the evidence? We’re talking about eating — the most important action we all do every day, taking in physical objects and transforming them into our flesh. Why wouldn’t I eat as well as possible? As fresh as possible. As raw as possible. As organic as possible. As local as possible. For me, because I choose not to kill other sentient creatures for food, it’s also as vegan as possible.
You’ll notice the “as possible” repetition. That’s on purpose, and it’s important. Just because I can’t get everything, for example, raw AND organic AND local — I shouldn’t just throw my hands in the air and head for the snack aisle. Instead, just make it as healthy “as possible” — with, for me, a few rules.
No corporate food-like products, at all. These toxic chemicals are killing thousands of Americans every day with heart disease and diabetes and cancer, and the companies who make these products use the profits to fund research that misleads people about diet and health. Many of these companies are also in the health care business, so bad nutrition is a good thing; it just creates customers for later. No corporate fake food.
No grains. Seriously, these little packages of poisonous starches have been debilitating us for far too long. I want my body burning the fuel it’s naturally supposed to: Fat, not sugar and starch. Saturated fat is important. Eat it. Stay away from grains.
No industrially processed fats, carbs or proteins. These are the most important nutrients we take in every day. They have to be top quality and whole, as nature gives them to us, or lightly processed with gentle methods, preferably by me.
People like to say that science improves nature — “Better Living Through Chemistry!” — but the direct evidence we have is that is does not. After 200 years of constant industrial “improvements,” our planet is teetering on the brink of total disaster. Vast floating plastic islands in our oceans, nuclear poisons spreading across our planet, drought, wasted farmlands, bad crops, flooding. We have nearly ruined Earth to the point that it won’t support life, or at least not human life.
Previous to these last 200 years, humans had mostly been living in tandem with nature (although we started to throw the balance out of whack about 10,000 years ago when we became agriculturalists in the Neolithic era).
Nature does provide us foods that are whole, raw and healthy, but many that are not as healthy in their raw state. I try to mix the raw and the lightly cooked, because while raw food has many micronutrients and enzymes that are killed by heat, there are also anti-nutrients — potent compounds that protect the plant from being eaten — in raw nuts, seeds, legumes and many raw vegetables.
On the other hand, using science-based eating means being aware of cooking. High-temperature cooking without water (which means frying, sauteeing, baking, grilling and roasting) in most foods creates acrylamide, a known carcinogen. If the food has protein and sugar, heating above 248 F will produce this cancer-causing chemical. Most of the human exposure to acrylamide comes from smoking cigarettes.
But roasting coffee beans creates so much acrylamide that a single cup of joe can have as much acrylamide as one cigarette. So can a small serving of tortilla chips. A bowl of breakfast cereal can have twice as much. A small serving of potato chips can have as much acrylamide as 5 cigarettes.
The safe way to cook things is in the presence of water. Water stops the chemical reaction. So use steam. Use water AND oil to stir-fry. And cook at a lower temperature. Keep it below 248F and there’s NO acrylamide.
We don’t know what a “safe” dose of acrylamide is. There is absolutely zero information about how high the risk is from chronic, daily exposure to small amounts of it. Given that acrylamide interacts with DNA in cells and actually CAUSES cancer, I’m not going to eat ANY of it unless I absolutely have to. Same goes for organic food. The corporate industrial food system says pesticide levels in foods are safe. But many of these chemicals cause cancer, so I will always choose NOT to eat them as much as possible, thanks anyway.
Sometimes “as possible” means using a traditional preparation method, like for beans, where they are soaked for days and allowed to germinate, then are fermented and cooked (in water!). This removes the anti-nutrients (legumes and nuts generally have high levels of phytic acid and lectins, neither of which you want to eat) and can make some nutrients more available.
“As possible” also means being aware of the benefits of some dairy products and eggs. If the animals are well-cared-for and raised humanely, if they’re fed organic pasture and NOT grains, if they’re raised without chemicals and poisons added, some of these foods give us valuable nutrients we can’t easily get elsewhere.
Vegans generally disagree with this on moral grounds, and that’s fine. I share the concern about using animals for any reason without their consent. That’s a personal decision each individual has to make, and it’s why I say “as possible.”
Some folks probably wonder about taste. Will it taste good? After all, when you’ve spent a lifetime getting your tastebuds used to certain types of foods, you often crave THOSE foods.
But I have spent nearly 40 years eating stuff that tasted good. Fulfilling my senses, rather than my following my intellect or intuition. Chasing after sensory pleasures has never been very successful for me. I tried it with food, drugs, sex. The problem is, sensory stimulation is temporary. The more you chase it, the more you want it, the more you can’t really have it. Just when you’ve got it, it slips away. Now you need more. And more and more.
This change in diet, then, also comes with another gift to myself, a stocking stuffer: I’m done eating just for sensory pleasure. My body, my mental health, my excellent life yet to come, all the many “Best Years Ever” waiting for me, all of these things are more important, more satisfying and more constant than whether or not some specific food stimulates my tastebuds in a certain way. I know what debilitating disease looks like, and I don’t want to spend much time with it.
How about, instead of asking if this food tastes good, why don’t I decide that however a good, healthy life tastes, I’ll call THAT delicious! I’m in control of my body and my mind. I get to decide how to react to all the incoming stimuli in my world. I’ll CHOOSE what I think is delicious, and I’ll make sure it’s also healthful.
(The good news is that after you stop all the processed poisons that make up the Standard American Diet [SAD], real food DOES taste super delicious. My mouth waters thinking about my green juice smoothie in the morning. A few days ago, I made egg salad with local organic free-range pasture-fed eggs, with a homemade mayonnaise using organic olive and raw coconut oils, and it was MUCH MORE DELICIOUS than any corporate egg-salad-fake-food-product I ever ate.)
You’ll notice this post doesn’t have lots of research citations or scary factoids (other than the stuff about acrylamide). Go Google it all if you’re interested. I’ll annotate some of my favorite sites as guide posts at the bottom, but this process has been about me finding a solid basis for a plan of action. Science is that basis. The evidence is going to change with time, and my diet will change in response.
Some people use the uncertainty of human knowledge as an argument against science-based eating. “But Sioen, these scientists are always changing their minds! One day, you hear that lettuce is good for you, the next day everybody says don’t eat lettuce or you’ll die! It’s all nonsense.”
Actually, the only nonsense is the idea that anyone knows anything for CERTAIN. Certainty doesn’t exist, but many people live under the illusion that they know for sure. Just like many people believe the illusion that things can remain as they are. No matter how nice the present moment is, permanence is a fantasy.
Change is a constant, and evidence changes. There’s nothing scary or weird about it — this IS the normal, regular, natural order. If you want to be living in harmony with nature, with the Earth, with the universe, then you’ll embrace change, because that’s what nature is.
So, no. I don’t see uncertainty as a problem. The fact that we constantly get better information which changes our actions is refreshing and inspiring. Being attuned to change keeps me agile in spirit and eager to learn. If in the next few years, we start to get good sets of data showing that you CAN cure all diseases by eating reindeer poop that’s been crystallized on a special mushroom that grows from granite cliffs in Norway blended into a raw green smoothie, well then I guess I’ll start doing research about Norwegian reindeer so I can learn which breed produces the poop with the most beneficial crystals and which cliffs contain the right microorganisms to facilitate the cellular activity of the mushroom. Having that kind of flexibility is strength.
Since I started my “As-Possible” diet, I’ve lost 25 pounds and feel better physically than ever before. My mental health has evened out. For 20 years, I’d had bipolar-like cycles that followed the moon. Now instead of constant swings, with out-of-control ups and angrily depressive downs, I generally have a constant, manageable up.
I am now productive, cheerful, outgoing, in a way I thought wasn’t possible. I used to think my introversion and mood swings were hard-wired into my brain’s basic chemistry. That may be true, but it also turns out that diet hugely affects it. As it does every part of our life. We are physical bodies, and we build our body every day, with everything we put in our mouths. Now I’m going to start doing that as intelligently as possible, using a compassionate, evidence-based approach.
(P.S. You’ll notice I didn’t really mention the “Paleo Diet” or the “Primal Blueprint,” although many of my food choices match theirs. The difference is, I want to use science as the basis for my diet, not just a philosophy. And frankly, “What Would ‘Grok’ Eat?” has to be the cheesiest, silliest question I’ve ever heard that has no bearing on my life. I am NOT a Paleolithic man. I live now, here, in this environment with these food choices and a huge set of political and social issues that “Grok” never had to consider, like the effects of factory farming or global trade.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Mark Sisson or Loren Cordain. I think the scientific idea — that over thousands of generations, our genes have evolved alongside the foods we eat such that our food choices are more or less limited if we want optimal health — is mostly sound. And both of them rely on science to bolster their philosophies. But I just want the science, not the philosophy; I’ll use my own complicated, interwoven worldview and morality to make the final choices. Besides, none of the Paleo folks seem interested in discussing the morality of killing other sentient creatures, as though our health is of such primacy that eating meat is worth whatever the cost. To me, compassion toward all creatures and our planet is a crucial part of good health.
For all those reasons, and because this post isn’t really about the details of my diet, but rather my journey toward it, I decided not to mention specific diets. You’ll see them in the links.)
**Please note that a link is not an endorsement, either of everything on the page or of other things on the site. These are places to look for information, not definitive arbiters of truth about food. My research has spanned many years and involved many sources, not all of which are listed here. Just Google it!**
So I did it; I finally dumped Facebook. Like so many others before me, I actually DID the thing I’d been talking about for a long time. I’d revisited the topic repeatedly over the past couple years with a number of friends, many of whom expressed similar feelings (though they haven’t acted on them yet). But I did, and it feels great. I am no longer a Facebook user.
User is the right word, too. More and more the information overload — the constant scrolling of dozens of funny, inspiring, political, stupid, witty, frustrating and entertaining images, videos, and status updates — felt like an addiction. My day needed to start and end with Facebook time, and increasingly all day long I needed to check in for a fix of that sweet mind-numbing infoporn noise.
That’s not the reason I left, although now that I’m gone, I see that reclaiming my mindspace is just as important — and I’m going to extend my Facebook sobriety to other corporate media content. But that’s a different essay.
My reasons for leaving Facebook are the usual ones: They don’t respect our privacy, they track us everywhere we go, they keep us logged in when we log out, and for me, primarily: I don’t need to be earning money for a $100 billion corporation that has absolutely no respect for me or my values as a human being.
Sean Bonner put a lot of my thoughts in very nice prose form, here, but some of them are worth repeating.
My convictions matter to me. I don’t grab onto opinions and values about how people ought to BE in the world without also extending those values back to my own actions. If I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t have convictions, just bumper-sticker slogans. Having and owning a personal value means analyzing and then sometimes making difficult decisions about the right way to behave in accordance with that value.
If I choose to just not think about the possible consequences of my behavior, then I’m leading an empty shadow of a life. I have known some people like this, unwilling to talk about anything serious or important (but they can regale you with witty banter about TV shows, movies, celebrities, fashion, shopping, gossip) because it might mean examining and changing their behavior.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not judging those people. Our modern world can be difficult to live in, and we all make choices about how we deal with reality. But for me, I want to know that I’m not doing the things I think are bad for myself or others or society or the planet.
And Facebook is bad for ourselves, each other, our societies and the planet. Interpersonal communication should not be monetized. There seems to be this never-ending drive to monetize everything; I know there are people in the social media world who seem to live off being, essentially, nothing more than an interesting party guest.
I think human interactions are more than that, and more important than that. Advertising, as it is practiced today, is the great scourge of our time, the lying, manipulating, creepy guy in an alley who shows you a fake picture of the world, one in which you can’t possibly measure up, but for a small fee, he has a patented extract of snake oil guaranteed to make you shine like a star.
I ought not to be helping Facebook deliver eyeballs to corporate liars, and I don’t want my eyeballs delivered to corporate liars, either.
Just as important as the commodification of our humanity is Facebook’s ongoing flippant disregard for the security and privacy concerns of its users. The times Facebook has made changes or improvements have only come after an extended period of outcry by users, and then were only partial measures, usually delivered with an attitude of “There, it looks better now, so stop being a silly worry-wart!”
Facebook supports CISPA, and why wouldn’t they? The bill lets them spy on everything all the time. On the issue of security and privacy, there couldn’t be a bigger gulf between my values as a human and the values of this $100 billion corporation.
I know a lot of people have fallen for the sales pitch: “What would I do on the Internet without Facebook?” It’s a portal, a way in, for lots of people, and especially for lots of people who don’t have much experience with computers. For other younger folks, they’re fine with the technology, but they’re so young that they think this kind of monetized, mediated, monitored communication is a normal way of humans having a life.
But it isn’t a normal way of living. It’s remarkably new, and like other corporate bemoths in the past, Facebook has done a fantastic job in a very short time of convincing everyone that this is just HOW THE WORLD IS. And therefore, the usual corporate line goes, that’s how the world OUGHT to be.
Yet it’s not how things ought to be. To me, it represents most of the maladies of our modern life — the disconnectedness from others; the inability to be quiet or still for any period of time; the constant repetition of known falsehoods, lies and mistakes; the lack of depth, discretion and nuance in thought; the near total failure to include historicity, context and understanding in a piece of information. Not to mention the near-total control of corporations over nearly every aspect of most people’s lives.
Luckily, there is another option besides Facebook. You see, while I don’t want to participate in the corporate-made culture, I greatly enjoy people-powered content. I like other humans, when they are doing things free of corporate chains. Independent culture is awesome.
Enter Diaspora, a totally decentralized social network like Facebook or G+, only without any corporate owners running the game. Also, Diaspora lets YOU decide how much to share, with whom, when — and you are always the owner of your information and can remove it at will. No one’s selling ads from your communication on Diaspora.
This essay isn’t an ad for Diaspora, so I’ll leave it at that. My point is that there IS at least one other option that lets you engage with other people and share ideas, words, pictures, videos, etc., that ISN’T Facebook. So that’s not a reason for me to stay.
When I finished reading Sean Bonner’s essay, I knew immediately I was going to quit, too, for reals. So I started taking all the steps to prepare for the total kill switch — unlinking accounts at various other sites and services so that I wouldn’t accidentally re-login to Facebook during the 14-day waiting period for deletion, deleting cache, cookies and bookmarks, downloading my Facebook data, etc.
And doing that meant dealing with my five additional fake accounts. Soon after I joined Facebook in 2008, I started playing Mafia Wars, and I got all gung-ho on having lots of Facebook-only friends so I could get the bonuses and other goodies they dangle at you to get you to drive tons of traffic and revenue for them.
But lots of friends wasn’t always good enough. What if I wanted a specific bonus RIGHT NOW, so I could keep playing right now? Then I saw other people’s fake Facebook accounts and realized that’s why they had them. At the time, Mafia Wars mostly only allowed five clicks on any one bonus, so I set up five fake accounts. I played the fake accounts quite a bit, too, to earn different objects that I could then send back to the real me.
As I played more and more, I found out that tons of people do this. All the most serious players on almost all the games seem to have multiple accounts. I got friend requests from dogs, cats, famous people, fake gangsters and strange objects. My main account had 2,911 friends (although five of them were just me, and tons others were other people’s doubles). I’ve always wondered how many actual humans use Facebook, rather than just the number of accounts registered. It seems awfully like a lie that Facebook calls all of those accounts “users,” but hey, in corporate America it’s not a lie if you first define the sun as the moon, and ONLY THEN start referring to “the moon” when you mean the sun.
So all six of me are gone. At noon today, I deleted my accounts and started breathing easier. No more worries about checking back on someone’s comment to my comment on some topic I don’t actually care that much about but decided to enjoin because somebody said something that just REQUIRED a rebuttal. No more sifting through awful anti-Obama stuff and repetitive pro-Obama Kool-Aid and yet another funny thing somebody’s kid said and leftist conspiracy theories and endless pictures of cats or sexually suggestive vegetables and inspiring quotes and political debates and the same news article from the same corporate news source posted over and over.
Starting today, I can spend more time with things that are actually edifying. I can once again pursue content based on my intellectual interests without corporate overlords being involved in it. I can find other like-minded people to genuinely connect with.
And the whole time I’m doing that, I WON’T be earning more money for a $100 billion corporation. They can do their own work and earn their own money.
When I came back to Oregon in March to spend a bit of time hanging out with and supporting family through some medical issues, I didn’t quite know what I was in for.
The medical stuff is what it is, and I love domestic chores, so being in a laboring-supportive role isn’t the concern. Quite the opposite, it’s terrifically fulfilling.
What I wasn’t expecting was the big yard project to come. My parents have always had a big garden in the backyard, and have added compost and other organic amendments to the soil over the years. But last year we had some a few plant-nutrition issues, and the veggie beds were just drawn on the surface of the yard. Also, there was a really big old diseased maple in the corner of the yard.In March, we had a powerful set of storms, with high winds and then eventually snow. The wind took down our next-door neighbor’s big old cedar tree. Luckily, it fell in such a way as to not damage anything. But my parents decided the smart thing to do was have someone come take down our diseased maple, rather than wait for it to fall and potentially destroy the house.
And there was my first chore: Split and stack all the maple logs. That took a bit, and was great muscle-building work.But then, as we were trying to decide what to do with the rest of the yard (there have always been veggie beds, but there also have always been some big grass patches, and flower beds, etc.) given the new opening of light in the back half of the yard that the maple used to shade. My mom has always wanted raised beds, and we decided as long as I was here to do the work, we should redesign the whole yard, dig out all the rest of the grass and build raised beds. My parents did the visioning, designing and purchasing of materials to transform the yard. I did the digging, grass-removing, clod-breaking, dirt turning, root-killing, dirt transporting and building of the beds. (My mom helped for some of it, but she had other spring-related weeding and bed preparing to do, so the heavy work was all mine.) Tiring, yes. But wow, what fun! We now have a beautiful set of raised beds, with tomatoes, peppers, chard, asparagus, onions, squash, lettuce, collard greens, kale, broccoli, potatoes and more. Even without the garden, there’s more work to do. We’re going to dig up the back fence line and put in a row of bamboo as fencing. And there’s still a raised path to build, and the back corner area, where the maple used to be, to design and create. (Our plan is to make the stump into a table for backyard leisure, and to make the surrounding area into a “mountain vista” sort of spot, because no matter where you are in the yard, that corner is a draw for the eye, so we’re going to make it visually appealing.) That’s what I’ve been up to this spring in Oregon, in addition to brewing kombucha; sprouting all sorts of things; growing and juicing wheatgrass, barleygrass, sunflower greens and buckwheat greens; and growing mushrooms. It’s all fun labor, not work, and our new urban farm should yield a fantastic harvest of vegetables.
I hope NOAA is wrong, and we don’t have a cooler-than-normal summer in the Pacific Northwest. But even if we do, we had a great spring, with lots of warm, sun-filled days. What a treat!
I read somewhere someone trying to explain the scale of the difference between rich and poor in America by using this example below, of counting your money $1 every second. So I made it into a poster for easy looking with the eyes.
Sometimes, my appearance is my moat. For better and worse, I can keep people at bay. More important than the keeping people out function of a moat, though, is the quality of people it lets in.
I know it’s not entirely my appearance. The modern world has created tons of people afraid of interaction — especially totally unknown interaction with a complete stranger. So that right there weeds out a lot of people with whom I am probably happier not communing.
But I can tell my appearance does its job at times, too. You can read it all over their faces, if you’re a study of facial expression, as I am. And the effect is just getting stronger as I get older. The pool of people who will decide it’s worth it to strike up a conversation out of nowhere is dwindling.
Nearly all the time, this delights me, as it leaves me free to observe (and judge, and critique, and delight in, and be amused by) people without the aggravating time suck of direct contact.
Once in a great while, it makes me sad or lonely for a moment, but that’s usually just because of some tiny specific thing about a certain person that I thought I’d like — to now more about, to be around, to find out about, whatever. When I stop and dissect that desire, I see that it was not only probably not entirely accurate — whatever trait I saw probably didn’t REALLY have the draw that I thought it did — but the fulfillment of the desire probably would have made the interest wane quickly, and then I just would have been left with the aggravating time waste of direct contact that’s difficult to extract oneself from.
If you’re not the kind of person who doesn’t have the same anti-social tendencies, you probably don’t understand terribly well much of what I’ve been saying. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not as though I see all human interaction as a waste of time. I’m often thrilled and bemused by one-off (or two-off, or repeated multiple) personal moments of connection with other people in the world.
But the preponderance of the evidence in my direct experience is that most of the time with most strangers, I will be aggravated and consider it a waste of time, because most people are either not the kind of people I have much interest in or commonality with, or they have a specific agenda that is so far from my own that, well, it’s an aggravating waste of time.
Once in a while, this all works in my favor in a fantastic way.
I’ve been staying in Phuket Town, on the lovely Thai paradise island of Phuket (if you’re laughing about the name, know that it’s pronounced “poo-KET,” not how you were thinking), at the Sleep Sheep Hostel. It’s relatively new and very nice, clean and cheap, but apparently not a lot of people know about it, because it’s not very full.
I checked in Wednesday and was assigned to a coed 8-bed dorm room. Only four of the beds were even made up, and there was no one else here. The first two nights, it was just me enjoying my spacious air-conditioned room for only 300 baht ($10) a night, with free wifi and continental breakfast. Delightful!
Tonight being Friday night, I thought more people might show up. I prepared myself for this, but by about 6:45 p.m., I figured the danger had passed and I was getting the room to myself again.
As is my habit, I was sitting at my computer with no shirt on (like half the farang men on Phuket today, given that it was about 92 and 75% humidity and felt like 100 in the direct burning sun), wearing only my sarong, my midlength hair standing straight up like the Heat Miser from Rankin Bass’s “Year Without a Santa Claus,” huge buffalo horn spiral earrings in my gauged-out ears, four days unshaven showing the enormous amount of gray in my beard, and my chubby torso sunburnt like a lobster.And then there was a knock on the door.
I got up and opened it just as the landlady was using her key, creating a startled “Oh!” moment for her as the door swung open and she was standing there with her arm outstretched. I smiled, and said “Sawatdee krap” as I noticed the early 20-something blond-haired backpacker chick behind her.
“This is the dorm room,” the landlady said to the potential invader of my space… but the backpacker chick wasn’t looking at the room, only at me.
“Uh-huh,” she said in assent, as she backed quickly away, much like the stray dogs do here in Thailand.
As the landlady closed the door and left me alone in my spacious air-conditioned room, I was beaming. I’ve never been so happy to look potentially threatening.
Partially nude chubby middle-age white guy FTW!
(Postscript: After writing this, I went out to use the bathroom and discovered the same backpacker chick sitting out in the hallway using the shared computer. I can only hope she was Facebooking all her friends describing how she narrowly avoided disaster by escaping the clutches of some scary dude in the dorm room. Ahhh, the joys of traveling!)
Two years ago, I was inspired by various bits on the webnet (and by one of my fucking friends on Facebook, who insisted that unicorns need horns) to write the poem, “Best Fucking Friends,” and create two beautiful pieces of classic modern art to accompany it: The “Best Fucking Friends” poster and the “Best Fucking Friends” audio-with-still-photo-overlay video artwork.
These two masterpieces of fucking brilliance have since become legendary across the Winnertubes for their sincerity, their alacrity, their vulgarity, their other-ity descriptors — all of it, and more!
So here now, presented for you and history to adulate, is the poem and poster, “Best Fucking Friends”:
And now, presented in plain text mode for search engines to find and catalog for posterity, is the poem, “Best Fucking Friends”:
I’ll always fucking be there,
Through thick and fucking thin.
I’ll fucking hold your hand
When you lose or fucking win.
I’ll answer the fucking phone,
Whenever the fuck you call,
I’ll fucking hold my arms out
To break your fucking fall.
Fuck, this poem’s all mushy,
Fuck that fucked-up shit.
I don’t mean the fuck to
Sound like a fucking twit.
But I’ll abso-fucking-lutely
Be there till this fucker ends.
You can count the fuck on me,
Because we’re fucking friends.
And now, please enjoy, as you simply must given its total awesomeness, the audio-with-still-photo-overlay video artwork of “Best Fucking Friends”:
It’s not that India “beat me” as much as that I gave in. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
This round between me and India is over. And I guess I’d say we both won. I lasted three times longer than my first attempt, and I feel like I helped, I did something, I made a difference.
So there’s that.
On the other hand, I didn’t last as long as I’d hoped, nor did I do all that I had wanted. But then, I suppose that sentence will be true for many years yet, about life in general.
Regardless of the final tally, it’s finished. My India funds are depleted, I’m on my way to Thailand for a brief bit of hedonism, and then I’ll be preparing for a whole new Asian experience coming later this summer: Korea.
Teaching English in South Korea for a year should be a joyous bit of excitement. New, lucrative, rewarding, developmental.
Before that, though, I get to revisit my beloved Thailand, which my heart has been missing for nearly two years — since the day I left.
For those keeping score at home, my original long-term plan was to go teach another year in Thailand. As I mulled it over, though, I worried that I would be attempting to re-create and relive a unique experience. You can’t ever recapture your first year teaching (or so I’ve been told). And I don’t think anything could duplicate my first year living abroad, my first year living in the tropics, my first first firsts.
So in order not to try — and fail — to recapture the original, for now I’m moving on. There are plenty of countries in the world to fall in love with, plenty of new things, food, people, music to see and hear and learn and do.
There’s an added bonus: Korea pays very well, and they fly you to and from for your year’s contract. So despite my poverty, I’ll be able to return to the U.S. (as soon as my Thai hedonism is finished), see friends and family again, possibly (hopefully) be able to attend Sarah and Joel’s wedding, and then head to Korea on the company’s dime.
It’s a good deal, and it will set me up with enough money to be able to return to India (I know I’ll be eager to return to the Dharmalaya Institute) for some more volunteering — AND then after that, also some volunteering in one (or both, perhaps) of the two spots I’m still aching to visit, but both of which qualify as Advanced Level Traveling in my book: Africa and Palestine (or the Occupied Territories, whichever name you prefer).
Now I wait for the taxi to take me to the airport. Soon I’ll be in Bangkok! And thanks, India, for another challenging experience. Let’s do it again some time.
P.S. (Some of you who ARE keeping score at home might be wondering what has happened between my last blog post and this one. I will backtrack and fill in those bits, my 11 days in Pondicherry in lovely southern India, in an upcoming post. Whenever I’m sober enough to write it from Thailand. No, really, I will. Plus, there’s photos! To come. Eventually.)
P.S.S. To the funders of my India volunteering trip, be expecting a package in the next few weeks. (First I have to send some things to the U.S. from Thailand, then they will have to be sent onward to you, but it should be coming fairly soon.)