Attention Whoring, Indignant, Media, Socialism

Getting Arrested is My Only Inspiration

There’s a thought that keeps screaming back into your head – it’s as if you’ve left this thought to run away on its own, but it’s attached by a bungee cord and at some point you’re smacked in the face by this thought again: “I shouldn’t be here. I haven’t done anything wrong. No one thinks I’ve done anything wrong.”

We’ve named our set of jail cells “correctional facilities” despite the fact that they are not intended to correct and are barely facilities. It’s like some morbid stand up comedy routine. There are 8 of us in 4 cells. 3 men to my left, 1 man to my right, two men in the cell with me, and two women in a cell within yelling distance. We’ve all been arrested for various degrees of being a tourist. One man can’t stop ranting about how all he did was pat a cop on the back and say “good job” sarcastically. From their our crimes become more and more confusing. One was trying to put away a sign he was legally allowed to carry, but didn’t do it quick enough. Another didn’t want to put away a sign. Another put away his sign and started to walk away in order to follow police instructions. Me and another were standing near the guy who tried to walk away. One accidentally backed up into a police blow-horn. Another was accidentally backed up into by a police officer.

None of us wanted to get arrested that day, but the feeling doesn’t change when you intend to get arrested. You still feel like getting arrested is not a proper response to a mild disagreement about where to stand.

Honors British American Literature was the first class I had with Lucas Michelson. I knew him vaguely as the rich kid. I’m sure he knew me vaguely as the tiny vegetarian. We quickly came to not particularly care for each other. It wasn’t hatred. It wasn’t even true dislike, but it was a disagreement about how to handle life that we weren’t quite mature enough to handle in discussion. One day Lucas went to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom. He had been sitting in the comfy chair. I had been sitting in it at the beginning of class, but I had gotten up to get a drink and go to the bathroom. Now the chair was free and I was free to take it back. He had set the rules that a free chair was a free chair, and though I disagreed with his ruling, the rules were now turned in my favor. I retook the chair and our classmates applauded my decision. It wasn’t that Lucas was disliked. He was. But so was I. It was that we had all witnessed his original seat stealing antics and had decided against trying to reason with the spoiled kid with the well known temper problem. When he re-entered the classroom, Mrs. Lyons’ large wooden hall pass dangling from his wrist, his eyes lite up with fury. The primordial screams of “GET OUT OF MY CHAIR!” seemed to echo in my ears as he grabbed me by the throat and picked me up – feet dangling above where my books and homework assignments had fallen. Mrs. Lyons was a measly 3 feet away and yelled with the same force “LUCAS!” Her scream was surrounded by a cloud of confusion and disappointment. Though I never scream at the cops, I feel that same cloud of confusion and disappointment surrounding the words I do say to them.

When I was slammed down on the ground, I asked if I was under arrest. “Am I under arrest?” It wasn’t a snarky response to a police officer to claim a higher understanding of my rights. It was a question asked out of genuine confusion as it seemed as though I had just been collateral damage as the cop tackled a crowd of people trying to leave a crowded area. It was a question I was realizing the answer to as I asked it and it filled me with disappointment. Disappointment in this police officer, disappointment in the country, disappointed that we lived in a society that would immediately interrogate me and my motives first.

We all spent 11 hours in those tiny cells without getting a drop of food before we were shipped off to another jail cell. I tried to sleep, but I kept getting woken up by this thought. This thought that I shouldn’t be here, I didn’t do anything wrong, nobody thinks I did anything wrong.

The cops don’t even want to look you in the eye because they know they’ve screwed up. Your “arresting officer” is never the one who tossed you to the pavement, but they know you have no reason to be there. They feel guilt and shame but it doesn’t change their actions because they’ve been told a job is more important that morality. They’ve been told that you do what the rules say not what you believe – and this becomes an increasingly difficult tightrope to walk as the rules keep getting changed.

The system is broken because it pits the guilty against the confused in an effort to distract from the evil. The system is broken and needs to be corrected, but in its last act of self-preservation the system got rid of the correctional facilities. Let’s create our own correctional facilities. Let’s start correcting the facilities that be without fear of laws because laws do not translate to morality – that connection is becoming thinner and thinner every day. If we have morality on our side then we will eventually tear down the laws that bind us to immorality. At least, we have to believe that. At least, I have to believe that. For me. And Mrs. Lyons.

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Indignant, Socialism

A Plea For Sanity In Economic Thought

I’m not opposed to positive reinforcement which is essentially the idea behind incentive based economies – the economy America keeps demanding that we have and we have more of – but we’ve gone too far. We’re now incentivising doing good for yourself and out of fear of being hypocritical we’re punishing doing good for others. We’ve become a culture defined by its economics, and the economic system is one that punishes sharing – that is based on the idea that empathy is dead, or at very least a silly concept born out of childish naivete.

While I’m not sold on the idea that empathy and positive reinforcement are incompatible, if we are to treat that as the choice we must make then we have a tough decision on our hands. The decision is grounded in this simple question: What happens to the psychopaths? We can either pat lots of people on the back at the risk of patting the wrong person on the back, giving psychopaths our endorsement and our resources, or we can act as indiscriminately with our second chances, giving psychopaths fewer resources but more opportunities to use those limited resources. With fewer resources psychopathy has a harder time mounting power, though with more opportunities psychopathy has an easier time conning their way into laziness. You give psychopaths resources you end up with people like Bernie Madoff and companies like Goldman Sachs. You give them opportunities you get “welfare queens.” Which is more destructive? Which do we truly believe hurts us more?

We can strive to be the society that has left the largest mark on our world through the unchecked psychopathic reign of a few (these are the societies that created the pyramids and the great wall of china, though our great accomplishment will be a large hole in the ozone layer) or do we strive to create a society in which the people who are here in the present are happy and creative and our psychopathic few are kept in check through comfortable but mindless tasks. Do we suffer evil or lazy?

I propose this, but don’t think we need to answer this question.

I believe there is another conclusion that starts with a rethinking of how we define culture and economy. As I said before, we define our culture through our economy. Black Friday and Valentines Day are holidays in America that were created solely by economic forces. Buying a house and a car has become an American right of passage – ideas created to increase the bottom line of industries in power. In America, the question “what do you do?” is aimed at finding out how you acquire money. Because culture is being decided by economy, empathy has been pushed aside. There was no mathematical way to talk about how empathy and profit are correlated when America was defining itself as a superpower. While that’s changed, and an empathetic culture has proven to provide a longer-term profit, it’s more important to change the direction of the equation. No longer should we be slaves to the economy because money should not dictate how we live, rather we should dictate how money lives. Money is simply pieces of paper and metal, right? We need to embrace the idea that our economic system needs to be a reaction to our culture, and if we change our culture first – specifically to something empathy based – than our economics will change too. If we define our culture and let our economy follow, economics will have the best interests of the people in mind as opposed to having the best interests of the money in mind.

Defining culture does not mean that we define what a family should look like, or how a person should dress, culture is how we treat others within our society, so let’s define our culture to be one where empathy reigns supreme and psychopathy is shunned.

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Indignant, My favorites

Thoughts From a Hardened Criminal: Part IV

I was always embarrassed of my parents because they were very loving and supportive. They would show up to all four performances of the play that I had less than four lines in. When I was reprimanded by the school for performing in the talent show as the co-writer/director/star of a ten minute skit riddled with masturbation jokes my dad stood up and yelled at the staff head of the “hearing committee” for making a sham of the public educational system. I always had more fans in the stands than minutes played at soccer games. They made me an unwilling activist from the age of 10.

My dad was not just a part of every peace protest he was the one at the beginning of every email thread that started every peace protest, and I hated it. It’s embarrassing to get dragged into town on a cold December Saturday to chant “No More War!” because you don’t have plans that allow you to excuse yourself from protesting because you look and talk like you’re twelve and your friends are starting to have sex. And it’s embarrassing to discover your voice cracking at age 16 through screams of “Drop Bush, Not Bombs.” I confused my teenage angst with disgust for the way the movement was run. I was looking for errors in the way we presented ourselves – searching for flaws in the message – claiming a higher understanding of the morality that we were supposedly together to espouse; all because I had delivered upon myself the role of critical thinker – of the prophetical voice of reason in the confused mayhem of longhaired wishful thinkers stuck in an era where they had the ability to change things but didn’t have the internet.

They said: “Show me what democracy looks like.”

I said: “This is what democracy looks like.”

Then in my head I continued: “But was Winston Churchill right? And if this is democracy, is democracy simply a futile exercise ultimately aimed at finding solace in like-minded accompaniment? Is democracy purely a therapeutic activity for a group of individuals needing a loudspeaker on which to hear their voice?”

Fuck Winston Churchill.

Faith is a belief not based on proof or necessarily evidence. I understand the animosity some people have towards it as one of those people, but I think it’s important that we understand that that absence of rationality is linked to the same emotions that make us human. It’s sometimes okay and necessary to release logic. It’s just important to direct that release of logic in a positive direction. Therefore I choose optimism. If I am to have faith, I have it in hope – the idea that improvement is possible. It may be irrational, but it seems to be a reasonable way to improve.

Before this gets too Oprah, I want to tell you what I first saw when I came to Zucatti Park in late October.

There was a vibrant group of individuals no longer concerned with individual goals. Flashbacks to my days in the midst of Vietnam protest veterans at first filled me with trepidation. There were the same telltale signs of futility – signs, songs, and repetition. Repetition was my least favorite. It’s what I always hated about marching down the streets of Bangor, Maine. Someone would yell “No Blood For Oil” and the rest of us would be expected to yell the same, as though we all had the exact same belief on what our oil policies should be. Sure, I agreed with the idea that the blood to oil exchange rate should be zero, but I didn’t think that was the only reason to stop our descent upon Iraq – and I wanted to be welcoming to new people who might slightly disagree. Repetition was the death of discussion. Repetition forced us to masquerade under the false concept that we all believed the same thing.

This repetition was different though.

Repetition was a tool being used to amplify each person’s voice as opposed to being used to simplify a message – forcing a palatability of concept so that the legislators can hear our voice on the news and interpret the changes we want. The trust in our lawmakers had vanished, but the occupiers had reinstated that trust within themselves. They said let’s finally have the conversation we’ve been telling our leaders to have for years.

Within this 33,000 sq. foot rectangle was an open mic, a kitchen, a library, a medical tent, a sanitation department, and people – lots of people: discussing. Still, I felt self-conscious about joining the discussion so I took out my sign and sat down.

It claimed a message that could not be repeated because it was too silly, but I felt it pushed at a deeper truth about the structural issues in our financial system. But most of all: it was my belief. Most people (including most occupiers) don’t believe in the dissolving of our currency system, but it proved to be a conversation starter. I didn’t have to worry about starting discussion because soon discussion came to me – not started by a discussion starting leader, but rather by an environment that encouraged dialogue. A 25 year old after school teacher who had left his job at a bank and I talked about the political movements and image and the importance of a representation in a media environment bred for 24 hour slogan machines. A 43 year old tea party activist from the Midwest and I talked about the role of a government paid for by the people. A day traveler from Philadelphia and I talked about the validity of a wheat and ore strategy in Catan.

We talked. In the past month and a half I have discussed more politics and formed more solutions to our current problems than I had in the rest of my life combined, and that was because of the Occupy Movement. Occupy’s openness to discussion is all the Occupy is about.

Discussion means not focusing on that one detail you don’t like, but rather searching for the details you do like and expanding upon those. Discussion means not interrogating a message until you discover what you disagree with, but rather uncovering the truths you do agree with and providing your perspective. Discussion is an improv game and you need to say “yes, and…”

The world is a terrible place full of hope.

That frustration that comes from the fact that this world is terrible is understandable, but not the end of our journey. You can be a critical thinker that adds to the critical dialogue.

I always assumed I would get arrested at some point in my life. From a young age I understood that laws were not always just, and it would be my duty at some point to stand up against those laws. That was what ran through my head when I got arrested for the first time just over two weeks ago. And all of my fantasies of jail were exceeded. Jail was a just another place for us to occupy. The discussion continued. Join. Join this discussion because it needs your voice – because it wants your voice. But if you join, want other’s to join because this is about hearing – this is about listening. Go get arrested when there are unjust laws because they cannot shut down discussion by putting it in a jailcell.

Our first amendment is freedom of speech because it is the principle our country was founded on, but we have to remember the freedom of speech is also the freedom to listen.

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Attention Whoring, Indignant

Thoughts of a Hardened Criminal III (There will only be IV)

The minute I was permitted to prison, I was pained by the possibility of public pooping.

I didn’t want to be the first occupier to occupy the half stall in the back of the cell, but I was aware that the two servings of yogurt that I had scarfed down to start the day were finding their way to the bottom of my large intestine. The farts that were sneaking out somewhat embarrassing, but I felt the farts were really just warnings of a more embarrassing situation. As I peed in anticipation of a more significant bathroom experience I noticed that there was no toilet paper sitting next to the toilet, but I didn’t want my last sentence in this paragraph to have a different form than the other two.

“Mic Check!” “We need to ask for some toilet paper.”

A few chuckles followed, but everybody knew I was deadly serious. A few people hugged me and told me that they were proud of me for speaking up.

This is what the Occupy Movement is about: reveling in the small victories that good communication affords us. We live in a world where shame rules our conversation – where we sometimes refuse to say what we want to say solely because we’re scared that people will be scared about the way we say it or the place we say it. Opinion is simply opinion – it isn’t fact. No one’s opinion is true. Just as no one’s opinion is false.

On my trip back to New York after Thanksgiving I found myself in Baltimore’s downtown just after I got off a bus looking for another bus that would take me out to a suburb where another bus that took me to NYC awaited me. As it was downtown in a major American city, there were people milling between the buildings – all with a better understanding of the public transportation of Baltimore than me. Instead I opted for trying to read maps that were new to me as my ride stopped and left. I called after Bus 35 to White Marsh, but it was too late. The next one was 20 minutes later. Just late enough to make me miss the third leg of my bus journey. Well, that was only half of it. The other half of it was that I got off three stops too early because I was too scared to ask… anything. I had overheard someone say they were going to White Marsh and just got off with them, but there were multiple stops in White Marsh and I was left with a 15 minute walk to catch up to where the bus would have taken me in 2 minutes. Once again I found myself unable to find the correct bus. It wasn’t until my third Magellanesque trip around IKEA I finally asked someone for directions. They quickly directed me toward my final leg and I was in New York 4 hours later.

My inability to create dialogue with my fellow man left me $23 poorer, an hour later, and a pound of sweat weaker.

Somehow in leaving New York I forgot what I had learned in my occupy days. I forgot to ask questions and listen for the answer. We do not live in this world by ourselves, so to think that we can solve the world’s problems by ourselves is absurd. We must work together.

Sometimes it is nice to be alone though. To allow yourself to think on your own can sometimes lead to positive results. Like this joke I thought of on my journey to the bus:

I think the existence of IKEA has to make us question the very fabric of our government, I mean now socialists are better at even capitalism.

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Indignant

The Thoughts of a Hardened Criminal

It smells like urine and I’m sitting uncomfortably on a seat made of what seems like hell – hardened. Surrounding me are depressed souls staring down at their own individual void as they wait until they are released. I want to go back. I wish I had never gotten into this box-of-sadness. I want to scream out “All day! All week!” but I know nobody will respond because I’m on the subway.

Seven hours earlier I was sitting with the same physical uncomfort at the back of the jail cell – near the toilets. Jacob, a fellow Mainer who had been arrested with me strolled back and sat on the floor.

“I keep drifting off, but immediately wake up in order to cheer.”

This is the refrain of my time here. I’m exhausted from being arrested, from being tossed to the ground, from only eating stale bread with stale cheese and stale mustard. But the second a new prisoner/brother enters our room, I cheer. I clap. I’m excited. Because it means there’s another person who wants to talk – who is interested in changing the society that we live in.

I served time talking to a boy who had to blackmail his way into an honorable discharge from the Iraq War because he refused to fight.

I served time in a discussion of how currency as a concept could be changed.

I served time singing listening to a man sing made up love songs out the little holes in our cell to the female officer on the other side.

I served time talking about how art can grow in an activist movement.

I served time talking about what the spring held for the Occupy Movement.

I served time chanting and clapping and hugging and laughing and giving twinkle fingers and and wishing that dude would just stop rambling.

I served time.

The attitude was never despair. We felt only excited that we were in this moment in history and we were together – together with a common mission. A mission to listen and learn. Each of us has something to say and it’s important to listen to everything you can listen to before a decision is made. You cannot stop discussion by putting that discussion in a jail cell.

You stop discussion by putting people in a subway with Angry Birds and tell them to not talk to strangers.

I say “We are..” under my breath and no one responds.

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Indignant, Socialism

Occupy, In Which I Say…

b) I’m tired of our forced hatred of numbers. As artists, numbers are the enemy, right? They make emotion seem irrelevant, right? They make people seem like quantities, right? Wrong, they allow us to see the world in a way in which analysis becomes possible. Analysis without numbers is not analysis – it’s speculation.

Here’s some numbers:

There are 11,000 people who are considered to be a part of the wealthiest 0.01% of Americans.

The poorest of that group of people makes $8,579,000 a year.

The average person in that group makes $35,473,200 a year.

Now, let’s let emotion creep in. Specifically the emotion of empathy.

44,000,000 Americans make less than $36,000 a year

Does anyone really need to make more than 8.5 million a year, when almost half of our country lives on $3000 a month? What’s the point in that? What good is their 9th or 10th million doing? Is it actually incentivizing anybody to let millionaires keep their 12th million dollar?

If we took all of the money that people make past 8.5 million dollars per year and gave it to the government that would give us $295,836,200,000. That’s without raising any current taxes, just taking away any money that anybody makes past 8.5 mill in a year. At 8.5 you get cut off. We only implement a new tax – I call it “The Max Tax.”

If we brought that cut off down to the top 0.1% income earners – in other words the top 110,000 people in America in terms of money made – the cut off would be at $1,532,400. It would also bring in $686,891,700,000 (aka: the bank bailout – aka: the money we gave to the people in this income bracket).

If we split that money evenly between the bottom half of America’s income earners, we would be giving them each $12,488.94.

I’m not suggesting we do that, but we should do that.

Source.

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comedy, Gender, Indignant

Where I Say Things Over Again

a) Comedy, Women

The greatest trick the devil ever played was not convincing a bunch of assholes that Kevin Spacey’s performance in The Usual Suspects is hands down the greatest acting performance that has ever fuckin’ happened, it was convincing people to argue about whether or not women are funny. I once got in an argument with a sadly misinformed friend who was claiming that men were funnier than women on average and I defended my opinion by using this graph:

I was wrong. So wrong. I was trying to say that there are a group of people that are super funny and they are evenly distributed between men and women, and below that are just people forced to be where they are on the funny line by social construction. Funny isn’t so continuous. It’s a word. Either funny or not. It’s binary.

90% of laughter is forced because we feel it socially demanded of us. This is the true construction that keeps this argument going. All the people below that dotted line do not deserve to be laughed at, but we have decided that it is important that women laugh and men get laughed at (e.g. All Sitcoms). Therefore we force laughter when we see a man do something that we know he thinks is funny and we force criticism when a woman tries the same thing. Stop forcing laughter.

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