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.