There’s More in the Mortar Than the Pestle

Mazeways, reality range and glowing red                                                                            
rat cunning, invention of engines, fuels,
tanks full of the stored fat of bloodshed,
machine-shaped, faceted 3D printed jewels.

Factories of fascism, launching rockets
on the ecliptic, living within the lie,
full manifests of memes and dockets,
launch determines orbit, STANDBY.

Red glare, the bombs bursting in air
48 hour screams, a pounding earthshake,
an evil tongue commentariat billionaire
declares, "All news I don't like is fake."

Idemopotence: same action, same result.
Nesting doll of lost futures, a relic
of an afterlife and the future cult,
merely breathing in the psychedelic.

There's more in the mortar
than the pestle will say,
what's real, what's fake,
what's in-between in the grey.

Mind Your Mind: Dissecting Astroturf

Above is an interesting piece of astroturf a friend of mine received a few days ago via WhatsApp. There are a couple of things about this that immediately make me question whether this is “fake news.”

The first question I always ask when I see something like this is: “Who does this message benefit?” There is no positive message in the piece. It’s a hit piece on Tulsi Gabbard. It’s the kind of thing a Republican might dream up to damage her politically.

It’s also not wrong. The Intercept had a piece around the same time this video was published on YouTube. However, there is a crucial difference in the discussion.

In the video above, they make emotional appeals and try to argue that she is supporting the Indian Nazis. But, they are doing the rhetorical equivalent of saying the Republican party is the party of white supremacist neo-nazis. White supremacist neo-nazis might support the Republican party, but it doesn’t mean it’s a characteristic of a majority party. Same goes for the major political parties of India.

The Intercept article, by way of contrast, frames it more as a question of having a problematic base of support, much as Donald Trump’s support by the “alt-right” was questioned in 2016 and after. It also questions her support of dictators, such as Assad in Syria or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt. The only real problem in supporting dictators is that these are not the dictators the United States usually supports. But, there’s nothing unusual about U.S. support of dictators, just as there’s nothing unusual about U.S. politicians taking campaign money from any source willing to give it to them.

The other strange aspect of the video above is that the person speaking on behalf of the Organization for Minorities of India is pronouncing the names of the Indian states in a way that makes it clear he isn’t from India. Do they not have actual minorities of India available to make this video?

I became curious. So, I used the WHOIS lookup on ICANN’s website. Entering in minoritiesofindia.org and hitting LOOKUP, the following is returned:

“Registrant Contact
Name:
Organization: Geneva Liberty Group
Mailing Address: , California US”

This is a lucky break. WHOIS used to be a reliable method to identify who was behind a website. Often, this is no longer the case. For example, if you do a search for cafebedouin.org in the ICANN WHOIS lookup, you’ll see the following:

“Registrant Contact
Name:
Organization: Knock Knock WHOIS Not There, LLC
Mailing Address: , OR US”

Professional astroturf groups will hide their WHOIS registration behind another entity, just as I have done.

Now, we come to the next question, why is a public advocacy group like we would presume the Organization for Minorities of India have a website registered by an organization called Geneva Liberty Group? Normally, non-profits, if they are real, incorporate so they can accept tax-deductible donations. The Organization for Minorities of India does not appear to be a non-profit organization and doesn’t show up in Guidestar.

Let’s do a web search on what we know: “Geneva Liberty Group” and California. Top result is Cherish California’s Children. Scanning down the page, we see the following:

stevemacias

If we go to Cherish California’s Children leadership page, we can see the handy bio that Steve Macias provides:

“Steve Macias is the Executive Director of Cherish California’s Children and founder of the St. Anselm Leadership Institute. He is a delegate to the California Republican Party State Central Committee and Vice President of the California Republican Assembly. Steve and his Wife, Sarah, live in California’s gold country and are members of Church of the King Sacramento.”

This information is out-of-date, but it provides some useful insight as to what might be motivating Steve Macias. For more detailed information, we might also look at his website: stevemacias.com.

My name is Fr. Steve Macias and I am an Anglican Rite Catholic Priest.

I serve as the priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s Anglican Church and Headmaster of Canterbury Christian School in Los Altos, California.

I deliver sermons, teach Bible studies, administer a school, pastor students, organize conferences, write articles, record podcasts, and pray the daily office.

My wife Sarah and I have five children…

It’s one thing if Fr. Steve Macias wants to share his views as Fr. Steve Macias. It’s very different if he is hiding who is behind organizations with names like Geneva Liberty Group, who in turn are hiding behind the Organization for the Minorities of India. Getting people of color to promote messages that further the interests of the Republican Party and exaggerate the problems of Democratic candidates is classic astroturf.

I didn’t contact Fr. Steve Macias for comment one way or another. For my purposes, it is besides the point. The video above has one narrative. I’m presenting another. There are shades of truth to each. The best scenario, for the makers of astrohurf, is when their propaganda is thought to be legitimate, but it can be useful to get people questioning or responding to outrageous claims to prevent them from staying on their own message.

Raise shields!

The point of this exercise is that you should start with a healthy scepticism of what you read and watch on the Internet. The vast majority of what is online is falsehoods, half-truths and misrepresentations. Be careful of what you let into your minds or pass along to infect the minds of others.

Keep Striking the Flint of Love

“Escape is the purest form of resistance.”

Joseph Kelly, “The Masterless People: Pirates, Maroons, and the Struggle to Live Free.” Longreads.com. October 30, 2018.

God. The United States Government. Money. You, yourself. They are all ghosts, and it is your head that is haunted.

There’s all kinds of ghosts in our lives. People fading in and out. Ideas and memes that are minds suddenly latch on to or let go of.

It’s interesting that it took a juxtaposition of telecommunications, computer hardware, and software to turn the noun, “ghost” into a verb. It wasn’t a term you heard before the mobile phone.

Yet, ghosting has clearly been a fact of life in human relationships since it has been possible to move between large communities and not have your reputation follow you. From the proverbial man who goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back to the prejudice against nomadic groups like the gypsies, there is always been worry about people that can enter a community or a relationship with an individual and then leave it with little consequence. It undermines the social fabric. It creates distrust and fear, particularly in places where distrust and fear are already prevalent.

Certainly, this was why divorce had such a high stigma for so long. It was thought to undermine families and communities.

But, it is the modern variety of transient relationships, with the ability of apps to create new connections that transverse diverse social networks, that has made the behavior so pervasive that it has become necessary to give it a name. It seems everyone is out buying cigarettes, getting away from someone.

Of course, we can mitigate the damage it can do to us personally by adopting new mental models, such as the theory of visitors. If you view everyone in your life as a visitor, one that can leave it any moment, then you only focus on your experience in the moment. We take people, moment-by-moment, rather than trying to forge lasting bonds.

But, this is a difficult view to adopt because most of us want lasting connections with other people, where we can love them and be loved in return. We don’t only live in this moment, but our mind is haunting both the future and the past.

We also want to be part of a community. We want to be accepted and have lasting connections to others. But, it is probably worth considering the basis for those relationships.

I was recently watching the Kung Fu television series from the 1970s. There is this touching dialogue between Caine and Master Po that gets at this point.

The Scene: Caine is about to present Master Po flowers but stops when Master Po rejects the flowers of another student. Seeing this, Caine is scared he too will be rejected, so he comes up short and stands off in the distance. Master Po, seeing what has happened, starts an exchange about love that this leads to this bit of dialogue:

Master Po: Do you seek love or barter?

Caine: If I love others and they do not love me, I will feel great pain.

Master Po: That is what you risk, Grasshopper. Great pain or great joy.

Kung Fu (television series)

It makes me think that ghosting is an idea based on this transactional model. With cell phones, our culture has evolved where there is a sense of always on, instant accessibility to the people in our lives. I send one message, they should send me one back. The more quickly, the more important I am to you.

There are also call logs. So, you can see the history. Who tends to contact who? At what time? Am I investing more of myself than they are? The accounting is built in because that kind of accounting is what computers are good at doing. But, it isn’t good for developing our love for one another.

And, this transactional view is particularly acute when we are first meeting someone. When we don’t have a lot of interaction, then each data point, each interaction bears a lot of weight.

You go to a first date. It seems to have gone so well. You spent hours together talking over dinner. You wandered through a local neighborhood for a few hours, talking. Perhaps you even slept together. Not hearing from the other person over the next week makes you question your whole experience. Did it happen? Did the other person feel the same as I did? If you are insecure, you might also wonder if there was something you said or did that caused them to ghost.

Even if it is true, maybe you spent a little more time talking about your infatuation with a co-worker than you should have with a possible new romantic interest, it’s not personal. It’s just how things happen sometimes. It’s largely random chance.

Sometimes, the timing is not right. Sometimes, the chemistry isn’t there or perhaps, something is going on in your life that makes you less attractive in that moment. Maybe you reminded them of a previous relationship that turned out poorly. Sometimes relationships just end, or more frequently, they never get started in the first place.

Love is like fire. You can start a flame. But, you cannot control how it burns. In a hard world, where fire fizzles out 999 times out of a 1000, it can be hard to keep motivated to keep striking the flint of love. But, counting strikes is easier on our psyche than counting fizzles or flames.

Related: Closeness lines.

Openness & Discernment

“The undiscerning mind is like the root of the tree, it absorbs equally everything it touches, even the poison that would kill it.”

—Kung Fu (television series)

Recently, I got into an online discussion where someone was trying to convince me that I should listen to some podcast that explained some current conspiracy related to the United States government. I told them that I was not interested.

Then, they encouraged me to have an open mind and listen to both sides of the argument. They also claimed to listen to the “other” side and offered as evidence that they watched CNN.

It’s a strange perspective. The reality is that there are an infinite number of sides. Our perspective is shaped by our lives, and by virtue of that, all of them are unique. We lose this uniqueness when we try to narrow and conform our view to just two possibilities.

Of course, it is important to keep an open mind and to be open to new perspectives. But, it is equally as important to screen your influences. Obviously, if you are screening your influences to limit them to perspectives close to yours or to just two, you are creating a filter bubble (or two) and are losing out on all the variety and opportunities for growth that exist in the world.

But, on the other hand, some ideas are simply bad and do not lead to growth, except in reaction. After getting the basic idea behind notions of racial superiority and judging it bad, it is unnecessary to evaluate every instance of this phenomena. Whether it is Christian Identity in the United States, Hindu Nationalism, notions of the “Original Black Man” and so forth, these ideas are about building a sense of self-worth from one’s racial identity.

Taking pride in being a part of a race is just as much of a part of racism as being prejudiced against people because of their race. One feeds into the other, the yin/yang that perpetuates itself through the generations and forms in and out groups.

It may be that there is a place for this type of thinking in a world with a history of subjugation, such as colonialism and slavery. It may, in some instances, serve as a corrective that at some point is no longer is necessary. Like women only transportation or classrooms, once society has progressed enough these measures can be dispensed with in order to transition to full equality. Although, they can also be obstacles to this kind of progression.

“Separate but equal” systems tend to perpetuate themselves and the very systems of subordination they are trying to address. Similarly, lifting up a race by focusing on the good qualities of the “race” has a similar effect. It is a dangerous crutch, and for me personally, racial identity is not an idea that would be a good lens for viewing the world. No amount of additional information is going to change my mind on this topic. This is a kind of virus meme, and it would cause an illness of character.

It is important to find our own path in this life, and it is impossible to do that if we allow every influence into our mind. Not being discriminating about our influences turns the pure water of our unmediated experience that we can use to live a unique life of meaning into a sewer of preconceived notions. It’s another form of colonization, just of the mind.

To paraphrase the great sage, George Clinton, “You got to free your mind, and your ass will follow.” There is no greater freedom than to choose what is good for you and to limit your exposure to the bad. The trick is not to think the new or different is bad.

When Toast Was “The Tip of the Hipster Spear”

“For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes? I wanted to know.”

—John Gravois “A Toast Story.” Pacific Standard. January 13, 2014.

I remember going to a bar once, and everyone was wearing clothes that were popular three decades prior. It’s startling to be so completely disconnected from the normal distribution mindset and suddenly noticing how much of our world is based on conformity to arbitrary norms.

This story about toast, for instance, got so popular it made it to an episode of This American Life, a show that could plausibly be described as “the base of the hipster spear”. Maybe toast can provide us with some insight into how these things gain traction and maybe help with seeing it ain’t all bad. Really, who’s against toast?

Poppy’s World

“Naturally, there’s infighting among the Poppy Seeds. Fans regularly split off on Reddit, Discord, and Facebook when they don’t agree with the rules set down by the original group—or if they don’t think that the leaders of that group are true Poppy followers. ‘I once saw a thread that asked ‘What do all Poppy fans have in common?” writes Unexpected_Gangsta. ‘The top answer is that we are all crazy. That is probably correct!’

That fervor is the very reason many enjoy engaging in the community. SamisSimas (offline, he’s Sam, a 21-year-old physics student), who runs the main Poppy subreddit, says the project first appealed to him for its ‘early-2000s surrealist YouTube humor and kind of nihilistic attitude.’ But the further down the rabbit hole he went, the more profundity he found. “Over time the project seemed to grow into more of commentary on modern internet celebrity and pop star identity,” he writes in a message via Reddit. ‘But most interestingly to me is the commentary on how fandom works. Watching how people react to Poppy’s content, especially the more hardcore fans. The project seems very manipulative and intended to create a sort of false sense of meaning.'”

–Pandell, Lexi. “Poppy’s World.” Wired. June 6, 2017.

First I’ve heard of Poppy. Manipulative is a good word. I was prompted to consider whether her video, “Delete Your Facebook” might be a better call to action than a reasoned appeal to do the same, such as my post on quitting Facebook. Yet, I didn’t much care for being on the receiving end of a manipulative subscription appeal in Gravity that was doing the same thing.

As interesting as the meta-narrative might be and all the possibilities Poppy’s viewers might bring to the interpretation of a work that leaves so much room for any viewpoint, the trouble with this little bit of performance art is that it is about creating an avid fandom and profiting from it. It’s fine to make money, but if the “Church of Merch” is the central idea of your aesthetic, you’re just bringing L. Ron Hubbard into the information age.