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And all of my 19 followers (I love you all, even the spam bots): Spandrella’s not dead, only sleeping. I’m working on A Project which will hopefully be done in a month or so (and which you will see when it’s done). I didn’t mean for it to derail my blog so completely, but I’m having trouble with creative multi-tasking. So…be patient. And please come back when I return.

Thanks!

All shall be well,
All shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.
-Julian of Norwich


photo-1.JPG For a long time, I didn’t tell people that I was from Littleton. I didn’t go to Columbine–I went to Arapahoe–but whenever people learned I was from Littleton, they wanted to know if I went to Columbine, or even assumed I did. And I just didn’t want to deal. Surprisingly enough, repetitive and painful conversations about mass murders are not the sorts of things I want to engage in with strangers.

Just when I started telling people I was from Littleton again, in 2010 or so (it took ten years for people to stop talking about Columbine, and even then, depressingly, that was only because more horrific mass murders eclipsed it). And then James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, and I stopped again. Not at first–at first I thought to myself, fuck that guy. He doesn’t get ownership of my town. I’ll claim it for mine. And then a woman in a store in New York City ask me, looking all aghast, how I felt about “all these” mass murders that keep happening in Colorado. (If I hadn’t been so shocked and angry, I might’ve asked her how she feels about all these terrorist attacks that keep happening to New York, but I didn’t). And now–a year after Newtown, almost fifteen years after Columbine–guns have returned to Littleton. But it’s different, now. Fifteen years and who knows how many school shootings later. The kids are different, the country is different.

The biggest thing that sticks out for me is the growing refusal to name shooters in the media. Rachel Maddow no longer does it. The Arapahoe County Sheriff won’t do it either. The sense of horror that I remember so clearly after Columbine is shutting down and being replaced by impatience and psychological exhaustion. We still don’t know why these things keep happening, what goes wrong inside these kids’ heads, but our patience for learning why is waning. Once you bring out a gun and start shooting people, we no longer care to sympathize with you and whatever bad thing is going on in your life that’s destroyed your will to live (or to allow others to live). If you do this thing, we will no longer speak your name, or admit that you ever walked the earth. If you read accounts of Columbine, you will often see it said that thirteen people died that day. But it wasn’t thirteen–it was fifteen. Fifteen people did. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are so far beyond cursed that we don’t even count them among the dead anymore. And admitting this is hard, but here goes: I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, that kind of hard, bitter boundary can be a deterrent. Or at least, we hope that it is. But on the other hand, I don’t think anyone is beyond forgiveness, beyond grace, or whatever you want to call it. And I wish we could phrase ourselves in such a way so that even lonely strangers feel loved (in a non-creepy, non-boundary crossing way).

The problem is, when you’re depressed, and you feel yourself edging toward that hard boundary that you know is there, beyond which lies only exile, it doesn’t help to know that people feel that stony about people who do things like what’s inside your head. It doesn’t bring you back from the edge, it pushes you over it. It doesn’t make you feel more loved to know you haven’t done this thing. It makes you feel more alone. More like a monster. Because only monsters do this sort of thing, right? That your brain is even contemplating something like this makes you different than everyone else. Makes you special. Makes you a monster. Just the act of contemplation places you beyond redemption, so you might as well play chicken with the devil.

What I remember from Columbine, my first reaction when I learned about what the boys had done and why they’d done it, my first reaction–before the media started spinning its own stories–was that I knew those boys. I knew how they felt. If they’d been at Arapahoe between 1996-2000, I probably would have been their friend. We probably would have hung out.

There but for the grace of God, right?.

I didn’t know what made me different from them. I didn’t know why it happened at Columbine and not Arapahoe. I still don’t. And most people, when they think “There but for the grace of God,” are referring to not getting shot by a bullet, rather than not being the one who fired it. Now that I’m older, I know that I’m extremely unlikely to ever raise a weapon against another person (which is not to say I won’t ever raise one against myself). But when I was seventeen, I didn’t know that. Here’s what I knew:

We are all of us angels and devils.
All of us sinners and saints.
Equal parts Judas and Jesus, Nazi and Jew.

And maybe if we were better at admitting that, at articulating it, maybe–just maybe–the kids who start losing the battle with their internal monster wouldn’t feel so alone. Wouldn’t feel so damned. Wouldn’t feel so beyond redemption, when they haven’t even done anything yet to exile themselves. In Littleton, after 1999, a popular bumper sticker for a number of years read “We Are All Columbine.” If that’s true, then we are all of Columbine–Isaiah Shoels and Corey DePooter and Rachel Scott and Lance Kirklin and all the rest of them. Including Eric and Dylan. All of them are within all of us.

Because you don’t pull shit like Columbine, like Arapahoe, like Newtown, like Virginia Tech, if you think you can be redeemed. You pull that shit when you think you’re already beyond it. Already damned. When you believe the monster’s already eaten you–it’s after that that you get truly consumed, not before.

We are all in danger of being eaten by monsters, only they’re not the monsters that our parents warned us about. And I think about all this, and about my own dark inside corners, and I feel pity for these kids. These murderous kids. Jesus Christ, they’re just fucking kids.

And then I remember that they’re murderers. And that there’s a reason we don’t speak their names.

And you know what, Karl Pierson? Fuck you. What the fuck is wrong with you, you stupid, entitled little shit? How arrogant and selfish must you be, to think that walking into school with a shotgun because you had some kind of dispute with your debate is an appropriate course of action? I don’t care what he did, I don’t care if he hit you, I don’t care if he molested you, because instead of telling the cops who could have helped you, you shot an unarmed girl and then offed yourself when you realized that actual adults were about to get in on the action. When the actual reality of the shit you’d started came crashing down around your head. Who the fuck taught you problem-solving skills as a child? Who the fuck taught you how to screw up and then learn from it? Who the fuck taught you how to deal with anger, humiliation, and embarrassment?

Fucking nobody did any of those things. Clearly.

You self-righteous, selfish, immature, misguided little twit. You colossally stupid fuckwad.

I wish that you’d told somebody what you were thinking. Just so they could say it back to you, and you could hear how idiotic it sounded once it was outside of your own head. Just how far out of scale your reaction was to whatever the actual dispute entailed. I wish someone could have told you it was small and petty and insignificant and that nobody cared, and that neither would you, in six months, after you graduated and went to college and never saw that fucking teacher again. I wish someone had smacked you across the back of the head and called you an asshole.

Maybe then you’d be alive. And more importantly, maybe Claire Davis would be alive, too.


Priorities

19Nov13

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“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” –Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

Sometimes, I procrastinate posting something for so long that it becomes relevant again, or my thoughts on the matter actually change or mature. Today’s one of those days, so, huzzah, I suppose?

I sometimes have trouble getting worked up about things I should probably care about (positively or negatively). One that comes most immediately to mind is “inspiration porn” stories of people doing something nice for a kid with disabilities (This story of a boy with autism getting put in his school’s basketball game and scoring many points is a really good example; or any story of a high school senior with Down syndrome being made Homecoming Queen/King). Doing nice things for kids with challenges is just as much (if not more) about making us feel like we’re good people as it is for the benefit of the person. And, if you don’t interact with disabled people in your day-to-day and the only time they cross your path is when they’re bagging your groceries or when one of your friends posts a story like this on your Facebook wall, you may be led to the logical but perfectly erroneous impression that the best thing you can do for a person with special needs is give them one overwhelmingly awesome experience of awesomeness and make their day. I don’t have the patience for people who indulge in that kindhearted but misled attitude. I love the effort, I’m glad you want people with disabilities to have good experiences, and if you want to share them on Facebook that’s fine, but they just don’t generally touch the happy space in my heart.

On the other end, I had a really hard time getting worked up back in mid-August when a family was sent a shockingly horrendous letter about their son, a 13-year-old boy with autism.* Again, this should be right up my alley, right? Defending people with disabilities is right in my wheelhouse. If I was a superhero, I would haunt the places where adults with disabilities hang out and just wait for neurotypical teenagers to show up and start taunting them, and then I would go all Batman on their asses. But the letter really didn’t horrify me, for two contradictory reasons: one is that I think a lot of people are dismissive or hostile or annoyed by people with disabilities, though they’re obviously less caustic about it than whoever wrote this letter. To all the people who were shocked and appalled by the letter, the dark and cynical corner of my heart wonders, where have you been? Where were you in middle school when kids were calling each other retarded? Where were you when Ricky Gervais was pulling “mong faces” on Twitter, and then dismissing the opinions of everyone who was insulted by telling them they were oversensitive? Where were you when Ann Coulter called the President of the United States a retard? Where were you when Margaret Cho said that all the remaining eggs in her ovaries were “retard babies”? (And to all my queer, liberal, feminist, fat-positive friends: Do you understand why I cannot, will not, indulge in your Margaret Cho love?) Do you see how not caring about the language used to describe disabled people leads directly to bullshit like this? But on the other hand, and contradictorily, I also know that the letter writer’s feelings are atypical of the general population. I know that pretty much everyone, once they meet my sister, loves her and wants her in their lives. They want what’s best for her. They want to protect her. They want to keep her around. My sister is extraordinarily well-loved, and that love provides a buffer for me (and for her) when it comes to hostility from misinformed and maladapted strangers who don’t deserve to know her anyway. Haters gonna hate, as they say.

So yeah. Don’t really care about your hate, don’t really care about your feel-good human interest story. I’m tired of it, I’ve heard it before, I want us to have a new discussion. I have bigger worries on my plate than people thinking my sister is a one-dimensional happiness angel, or even people who think she’s a one-dimensional waste of oxygen.

All you people who post the above stories on Facebook, who want to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities: Where were you when voters in my county defeated a ballot measure that would have eliminated the county wait list for services available for adults with disabilities, and improved their quality of life? Where were you while the rate of sexual assault of disabled adults got frighteningly, absurdly high? Where were you when my parents tried to figure out how to financially support my sister when they die, so she doesn’t end up homeless or in a state-run group home or dead? Where were you while Goodwill was paying prison wages or less to their disabled employees thanks to a law that apparently hasn’t been updated since 1939? When disabled adults started living in poverty and homelessness at several times the national average for neurotypical adults?

My sister needs people who love her and care for her, yes. She needs people who respect her and treat her like a person. And she has that. But that’s not all she needs. She doesn’t need people cooing and coddling over her. She needs people who will make sure that her safety and her financial stability are high on the list of priorities. Who know that her quality of life on a day-to-day basis matters. Who won’t let her fall through the cracks. And on that score, somehow, I don’t think I have a hope of getting a million Facebook likes. I don’t have a prayer of convincing anyone in Washington that any raise in the minimum wage should also close the loophole that allows disabled adults to get paid so little. I feel like there’s nobody in the world in between my sister and a life of poverty and danger except for me and my family. And that’s not a confidence-inspiring feeling. That feeling that Samwise Gamgee had, looking down into the pits of Mordor, knowing that all that stood between Sauron and the destruction of Middle Earth was two small hobbits? And moreover, knowing that the responsibility of keeping Frodo safe fell on him, and him alone, in that whole big bad world? Yeah. That’s the feeling.

*The response of the boy’s mother is worthwhile reading, more worthwhile than the original letter, anyway.


anonymouslogoThis is an essay I wrote during my undergrad studies at Columbia in early 2011. Since it’s about the internet, naturally it’s already out of date, but I like it so I’m re-posting it. It even got published (fancy!) in the Columbia undergrad journal, The Morningside Review. If you want to read it twice, you can find here over here.

In late 2010, a loosely knit group of internet denizens who call themselves Anonymous launched cyber attacks against Amazon, MasterCard, PayPal, Visa, and PostFinance using a tactic known as “distributed denial of service,” or DDOS, overwhelming the attacked sites’ servers and rendering them inaccessible for several hours.  The companies became targets because they had, in response to political pressure, either stopped hosting or frozen donations  to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, which was then in the midst of releasing a huge number of classified U.S. diplomatic cables to the public. Anonymous evolved out of chatrooms on the website 4chan.org, and first gained attention in 2008 staging pranks on the Church of Scientology.  Since then, the group has launched attacks on the government websites of countries including Australia and Iranian, white supremacist radio host Hal Turner, the Koch brothers, and alleged sexual predator Chris Forcand (it was actually Anonymous, in a To Catch A Predator-like trap, that led to the arrest of Forcand in the first place).  Since the pro-WikiLeaks operation, Anonymous has also launched attacks in support of the protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Wisconsin (Grigoriadis).  Generally, but not exclusively, Anonymous targets organizations that it perceives as suppressors of free speech and freedom of expression, or seek to influence others through dishonesty.

Though individual members (or people who claim to be members) have come forward and been interviewed by the press, Anonymous remains largely faceless.  An estimated 50,000 people took part in the WikiLeaks operation, enlisted not only through chatrooms on 4chan and IRC, but also through the group’s website and Twitter account (Grigoriadis).  Anonymous’ slogan (“We do not forgive.  We do not forget.  We are legion”) and their penchant for wearing Guy Fawkes masks in public underlines their desire to remain, well, anonymous.  Lacking definitive sources or informative press releases, characterizations by the media and social commentators run the gamut: from activists, civil disobedients, and allies against oppression at one end to vigilantes, vandals, and immature adolescents throwing a collective tempter tantrum at the other.  These characterizations probably reveal as much about the commenters as they do about Anonymous.

Often, the question of whether a group is aligned with devils or angels must wait for some historical consensus.  Civil rights protestors and activists, investigated in the 1960s by the FBI as criminal organizations, have been vindicated as heroes by the passage of time.  Inversely, the Ku Klux Klan, self-appointed guardians of the white Christian Southern way of life and accepted by the early 20th century power structure, has been condemned as a white supremacy group that used fear and violence to terrorize black citizenry.  Groups organize and gain influence over a period of months or years, and as they evolve, so do our analyses of them (though of course, we interact with these organizations in real-time).  But Anonymous exists and acts amid a unique and often brutal Internet culture that is evolving at a speed to which we—as both participants and observers—have yet to adapt.  As the Internet and its various subcultures spill out into the real world, they take on a force borne of networking ability that has not been seen before.

Though Anonymous’s actions are often illegal and some of its members have been arrested, in a network that is 50,000 strong and scattered across the globe, individual participants—like a school of fish in which each individual feels safe because it’s surrounded by others—can operate with relative impunity or fear of the law, and (collectively speaking) with a disconcerting amount of power.  As British author Alan Moore asked, “Who watches the Watchmen?” (Moore)  How we characterize such groups will, in large part, define how we react to them, and as social trends and events develop at ever-increasing speeds, we need to feel assured that groups will use their power in a moral, benevolent way.  What do we have to fear from Anonymous?  If it makes decisions based on morality, then we can make some predictive assumptions about its behavior.  But is morality an appropriate standard to apply to a group like Anonymous?

Morality can be surprisingly slippery.  It is generally simplified as “a code of conduct that applies to all who can understand it and can govern their behavior by it,” and is assumed to be beneficial (if not downright essential) to individuals and society as a whole (Stanford).  Moral codes feel “mandatory and universal” to the point that the thought of violating them often feels impossible (even in hypothetical situations), but despite their universal existence, which suggests some basis in evolution, moral codes vary widely from culture to culture (Pinker 56).  Yet morals are often oddly inexplicable, both to the people who follow them and to outside observers.

Consider, for example, the Trolley Problem, devised by philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson.  A runaway trolley is hurtling towards five men, and only you can save them.  You can pull a lever that will throw a switch and divert the trolley onto a spur, killing only one man who happens to be there.  Or you can hurl a fat man off a bridge, landing on the tracks and stopping the trolley, killing the fat man but saving five people.  With either option, the math is the same.  So why do people generally find the first option easy to answer (yes, divert the trolley), and feel morally conflicted about the second (don’t kill the fat man) (Pinker 35)?  Were morality simply logic and rules, there would be no disparity between the two options.  Irrational functions like emotions and a sense of justice have somehow become deeply entangled in our moral brains.

Today, as scientists join generations of philosophers and religious thinkers, using 21st century tools like fMRIs and large-scale survey studies to discover why morals have such a hold on our psyches, we are beginning to discover just how complicated our moral reasoning can be. When asked to explain why certain actions are moral or immoral, many people struggle to articulate a reason.  Moral reactions can be among the strongest that we have as a species, and yet we can barely explain the reasons behind them.  It turns out that moral decisions—in particular, moral dilemmas—engage several different areas of the brain, including emotional and rational centers, logic as well as instinct (Pinker 35).  A challenge for social scientists has been addressing how a moral sense can be “universal and [yet] variable at the same time” (Pinker 37).

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, though not explaining the evolutionary source of morality, describes some of the underlying patterns and universal themes that underpin our culturally variable morals.  He outlines five foundational categories: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity (Haidt 999).  One of the reasons morals can seem so different, Haidt argues, is that different cultures prioritize the five themes differently—Asian cultures, for example, value obedience to authority and loyalty to the group more highly than Americans, who tend to emphasize fairness and reciprocity.  Haidt describes morals not in terms of moral reasoning, but as moral intuition.  People start at the moral conclusion and work backwards, a “post-hoc process in which we search for evidence to support our initial intuitive reaction” (Haidt 998).  Morals also serve a utilitarian social function, bringing groups together.  Morality “binds and builds; it constrains individuals and ties them to each other” (Haidt 1000).  A common context helps members of the same culture, even if they don’t know each other, to predict each others’ behavior and establish a baseline of trustworthiness. For example, on the assumption of trustworthiness, creative writing groups—often comprised of relative strangers—share personal pieces with each other on the assumption that other group members won’t steal their creative product.  Any member caught doing so would be asked to leave the group.  Morality, in this sense, has a coercive effect.  The reward of being a moral person is that you are a trusted and included member; people who violate a group’s moral codes are untrustworthy and no longer welcome (Haidt 1000).

The standards of morality Haidt offers help us to better understand Anonymous.  They value fairness highly, believe that everyone has the right to personal expression, do not respect authority at all, and act mostly (if not exclusively) in support of their moral intuitions.  Perhaps they arrive at a moral conclusion to justify their actions, rather than the other way around, but this tactic is common in moral reasoning.  It’s possible that those who argue that Anonymous is nothing but a bunch of internet vandals do not understand the value system in which their actions make moral sense.

Admittedly, Anonymous’ immediate social context complicates and possibly undermines their claim on morality.  The website which spawned Anonymous, 4chan.org, is a notorious gathering place of “trolls,” or internet users who delight in upsetting unsuspecting people in any number of ways, for no other reason other than “lulz” (a bastardization of LOLs, or LOL, internet speak for “laughing out loud”—they do it because it’s funny).  4chan, for example, went after Jessi Slaughter, an 11-year-old girl who attracted their attention after posting a YouTube video (in response to another Internet dispute unrelated to 4chan) saying, among other things, “This is to all you fucking haters, okay?  Guess what—you guys are bitches…I don’t give a fuck.  I’m happy with my life, okay?  If you can’t realize that and stop hating, I’ll pop a Glock in your mouth and make a brain slushie.”[1]  4chan users decided to call her bluff, and taunted and insulted her on her YouTube vlog, MySpace, Facebook, and email.  Some 4chan users tracked down her real name, home phone number, and address, and made numerous prank phone calls as well as (according to the family) death threats and accusations of child abuse which ended up being investigated by the local police department.  Obnoxious and foul-mouthed Jessi Slaughter may be, but it’s hard to imagine any justification to gang up on an 11-year-old in such a coordinated way and expect her to be able to cope with it, and hard to characterize 4chan’s users as anything other than bullies in this particular situation.

4chan has a sense of humor, as well.  Lolcats (pictures of cats with funny captions, now mostly found on icanhazcheeseburger.com) have their roots in 4chan.   They overwhelmed an internet contest in a bid to send Justin Bieber on a concert tour to North Korea and invented the “Rickroll” (in which you click on a link only to discover that it takes you to the YouTube video for Rick Astley’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up”) (Grigoriadis).

Such antics sometimes spill over into Anonymous.  It was Anonymous who overwhelmed YouTube with porn uploads one day, and allegedly wallpapered an epilepsy support discussion forum with loud, strobing advertisements (noise and flashing lights being known to cause seizures) (Courtney, Poulson).  Anonymous also flooded and prompted the shutdown of several hip-hop websites and a California teenager’s website for his No-Cussing Club (Potter).  Anonymous’ recent activities may be morally motivated, but the culture in which it exists (and it is hardly a stretch to assume some overlap between the people who defended WikiLeaks and those who attacked Jessi Slaughter) is often frivolous, certainly questionable, and sometimes downright predatory.  “Lulz” and internet Darwinism do not exactly foster the requisite environment (mutual support and beneficence, social conformity, establishment of trust) for group morality to function healthily.

Is the Internet a better, safer place because of the Anonymous? The group is trying, in its own selective, capricious way, to take on the role of Internet Cop, Guardians of Freedom. Clearly, Anonymous is not nearly as concerned with its own morals or conduct as it is with making sure other groups act in compliance with behavior it deems to be honorable and humiliating groups which deviate from its standards.  This puts Anonymous more comfortably in the company of fictional anti-heroes such as Batman, Rorschach (of Watchmen), and Wolverine of the X-Men.  But guardians of morals cannot be automatically assumed to have morals themselves, not in the same way that civil rights groups in the 1960s lobbied for the rights of citizens while also adhering to their own internal moral standards.  And groups like Anonymous cannot be assumed to function like groups with a more defined structure, either.

Studies of morality frequently examine an individual, an overall culture, or an organized group of people.  But Anonymous prides itself on its leaderlessness and facelessness.  The idea that anonymity can breed trusting relationships between its members contradicts Haidt’s hypothesis that one of the functions of morals is to have a coercive effect on the behavior of group members, including those who adhere to the standards and ostracizing those who don’t.  And although the group can effectively punish outsiders, Anonymous has no way of policing its own membership, excluding those who don’t adhere to its moral code, or coercing its members into behaving.  With no leaders, Anonymous goes where the whims of the hive mind will it to go.  If members of a community are bound together by their common individual morals, members of a hive mind are bound by something else altogether.  Groups with no authority figure or hierarchy must rely on the authority of each individual member to create something that reflects the collective whole of the group.  Anonymous is a different sort of group to which the traditional assessment of group dynamics—to say nothing of morality—is challenging to apply.

The formal study of group dynamics began in the 18th century, but has fascinated our ancestors for many millennia (Chant).  How do ants make a colony, or bees make a hive, or corals form reefs?  What happens to higher reasoning when individuals join a mob?  Leonardo da Vinci dissected cadaver brains looking for the place where the human soul resided.  Charles Darwin explained the collective weight that random, singular genetic mutations can have.  In the modern world, how do videos go viral?  How does Google rank its search results?  How does order emerge from disorder?

Western philosophy has historically viewed the loss of individuality, the surrender of one’s autonomy, as threatening and dystopian.  One thinks of the Bacchantes, ripping Orpheus to pieces in collective madness; or the many senseless riots that have caused incalculable damage in cities all over the world.  Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Madness is rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule,”  (Nietzsche 90).  There are times when the surrender of individuality is a goal, such as in certain religions; the practice like the Sufi dhikr, and other forms of religious ecstasy, which are believed to bring the practitioner closer to God.  But the assumption is that moral individuals tend to become immoral in aggregate, and generally, complicated social action (of the sort that Anonymous engages in) is not what people envision crowds doing.  The line between the madness of crowds and the wisdom behind collective action is only beginning to be understood.

As scientists study crowds, they discover that crowds have an odd sort of intelligence.  For example, when trying to guess how many jellybeans are in a jar, no one person will be right—but when all the guesses are averaged together, it turns out that the group is almost exactly correct, within a jellybean or two.  This has been documented over and over again, with a variety of different problems, including economic issues of supply and demand (Surowiecki 4).  And the larger the crowd, the more correct the answer is likely to be, the more likely that the noise of individual stupidity can somehow coalesce into a signal of collective wisdom.

James Surowiecki, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds, outlines four qualities that a crowd must have before it can be considered “wise:” diversity of opinion, independence of individuals, decentralization of authority, and aggregated decision-making.  Individuals in Anonymous can trawl the entire internet for information, making their own decision about whether to participate in any given operation.  No one individual’s opinion holds more weight than anyone else’s, and whether or not an operation is a success depends directly on how many people participate.  It’s hard to imagine a purer distillation of opinion.

So Anonymous may be a “wise crowd.”  Though it is difficult (perhaps impossible) to predict what organizations will attract Anonymous’ ire, there is a deliberative process involved—both when the group is deciding on targets, and when individual members of the group decide whether they are going to participate.  It is hard to know how long an idea bounces around in the community—probably not more than a day or so, online attention spans being what they are—but at some point, the “What if…” and “We should…” has to become “We are going to…” with a precise date, time, and plan of deployment.  Given the aggregative aspect of Anonymous’ decisions and actions, though, how much do individual members allow their assumptions about whether or not others will participate in an action influence their decision?

Professors of philosophy Sara Rachel Chant and Zachary Ernst (University of Missouri) examine the “state of equilibrium” in a group, when individual intentions reach a tipping point and become collective action (Chant 96).  When individuals in a group are reasonably certain that other actors will show up and also cooperate in the effort—like moving a large piece of furniture, for example, or cleaning a neighborhood park—they are more likely to commit to a project.  Reasonable certainty about the “intentions and behaviors” of other individuals in a group can, at least in part, explain whether an individual member commits to an activity or not.

So though Anonymous cannot breed trust-based morality between individual members, if individuals can make reasonable extrapolations about the intentions of Anonymous as a whole, then they do not have to trust other individuals—they can trust in the collective weight of Anonymous.  As politically-motivated actions outnumber actions waged against 11-year-olds, Anonymous gains a reputation as a particular sort of organization, and an organization that carries through with its intentions.  Thus, as the group ages and evolves, new members will self-select to reinforce the morality they perceive Anonymous to have—and in the process, will make Anonymous a more moral organization, unintentionally shaping it in their own image.  In the greater, wider, wiser crowd that is the Internet, everyone has a vote in the ultimate identity of Anonymous, whether they are part of it or not.


[1] http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/jessi-slaughter


1. Boys turn really ugly right when you go to kiss them.
2. Cordelia.
3. You’re sitting on top of the Hellmouth. Go sit on some other mouth.
4. The town’s plumbing situation seems prone to emanating menstrual cycles.
5. Murderous invisible girls.
6. Questionable fashion choices.
7. The school administration seems either unwilling or unable to deal with the abnormally high rate of students and faculty who meet gruesome deaths while on school property.
8. The student population also appears to be eternally replaceable.
9. There’s only one nightclub in the whole town, and they allow minors inside, which means they can’t serve alcohol.
10. Demonic children. Seriously. I’m not sure if they start out deranged, or if the trauma of living in this town destroys their innocent little souls, but something is up with the kids ’round here.
11. Remember how Voldemort disappeared from history for like fifteen years after leaving Hogwarts? I’m pretty sure he went to Sunnydale.

Reasons to move to Sunnydale:
1. Invisible girls are hot.
2. The library has an armory.
3. Hot computer science teacher.
4. The internet is totally fine now.
5. Witty Slayer repartee.
6. People doing high kicks in very short skirts.


0321121711.jpgDear Internet,

Shut the fuck up. No, seriously.

I get that you have an opinion on everything and one of the glorious things about the digital age is that you have the power to share your opinion with everything and everyone, but there are many things that a) are not your business b) your opinion does not matter and c) you are ruining important things for people, all while you run your mouth about something that has no effect on you.

Case in point: Miss America Pagaent. An Indian-American woman won. Were you in the pageant? Do you have any chance at ever being in the pageant? Are you directly related to someone who was in the pageant? No? Shut the fuck up. Nobody cares about your racism or how you feel about the winner or who you think should have won. There’s a reason you’re not a judge in the Miss America Pageant. You know who this whole thing does matter to? The woman who won. Your shitty comment that you make in a moment of pique and then forget about? Has real consequences for her. Has the power to ruin what should be a grand thing for her. Shut the fuck up.

Do you think Quvenzhané Wallis’ name is hard to pronounce? Guess what. It’s not your business, and you’re never going to meet her, so you probably don’t have to learn how to say it. Also, she’s a kid. Leave her alone. Shut the fuck up.

Miley Cyrus isn’t complying with your definition of how women should act? Mind your own business.

Don’t like the hipster with the big glasses and the typewriter? Why do you care? Why do you think that we care that you care? Can’t you go away?

Like many people, I was bullied in elementary and middle school. It was nothing terribly serious; I was never afraid to go to school or anything like that, it was just part of the fabric of my public education. It was a thing that happened. And probably half of what I got teased about was my clothes, which in elementary school were largely hand-me-downs. When I moved to middle school, I begged my parents to buy me some brand-name clothes (No Fear and Mossimo were big at the time), and they did. I thought if I wore what the other kids wore, they’d leave me alone. But no. I got teased in middle school for my transparent and pathetic attempt to try and fit in, mocked for wearing the clothes that everyone else wore to fit in and be invisible.

In high school, I finally got the good sense to be annoyed, even angry, and gave up trying to make people like me, at least through my wardrobe choices. Because what the fuck, middle school classmates. Why do you fucking care what I’m wearing. What business is it of yours. We’re not friends. You’ve made that epically clear since second grade. So why are you even talking to me, about my shirts or anything else? Go away. Shut up and go away. Leave me alone. I’d rather be left alone than to have to interact with you on any level.

Some days I feel that way about the Internet as a whole. Shut up and go away.

Love,
Ella


bartcrying.jpg I don’t know if you watch The Simpsons, but there’s an episode from either the first or second season where Bart is in danger of failing the 4th grade. He has to pass a history test, or he won’t go on to 5th grade (irony being, of course, that Bart has continued on in the 4th grade for the past 25 years). And for once, he studies as hard as he can–actually falls asleep over his books–but only gets a 59/100. Mrs. Krabappel drops the graded test on his desk, and what is one of the sadder moments in all of Simpsons history, his face crumples, and he puts his head down on his desk and starts to sob.

“But Bart,” says Mrs. Krabappel, “I’d think you would be used to failing by now.”

“You don’t understand,” cries Bart, banging his head on his desk, “I tried this time. I mean, I really tried. This is the best that I can do!” And in that moment, the audience understands. Of course Bart is a troublemaker. Of course he doesn’t try. It’s so much easier to not try–it’s so much easier to handle that kind of failure–than it is to try and not be able to do it. In the first, you may have suspicions, but you can tell yourself that of course you failed, because you didn’t try. In the second, there’s no way to protect yourself. There’s nothing to say besides this is the best that I can do. And it’s not good enough. And you have to look at your real self, not your potential self, not the self you want to be. You have to look at the self that couldn’t get it done.

I know how Bart feels, though I come at it from the other direction. I don’t remember my parents ever telling me to do well in school. I never got rewards for good grades, or even very effusive praise. It was accepted that I would do well. My parents knew I was smart enough. I knew I was smart enough. So we never discussed whether I would do well. And I never really learned how to handle it when things were academically hard, because it never was (and when it was, even when I was a little kid, I knew the difference between trying and failing and not applying myself).

One of the worst things about failing at Columbia was that my ability to fulfill that expectation completely disintegrated in spite of my intelligence, not my lack of it. I was, and am, smart enough to do the academic work at Columbia. I can do the work. But it all fell to pieces anyway. My ability to think critically collapsed. My ability to read something and then recall what I’d read crumbled. My ability to assimilate information from multiple sources floundered. My ability to remember things–even completely simple things like buying food–deflated.

I choked. That’s all there is to it.

The first and most obvious sign was probably the lens essay assignment. I knew the assignment. I know what my teacher wanted. I knew I had a decent idea, the topics I wanted to address, and where I wanted the essay to get up.

And I could.
Not.
Make.
It.
Happen.

It wasn’t writer’s block. Writer’s block is when you don’t know what to do, don’t know what to write. Writer’s block is when you’re out of ideas.

What do you call it when you’re full of ideas, but all that comes out on the page is a muddle?

Usually I can at least write something, and if it’s crap, I can clean it up later. This time, I could not.

Writing is the one thing I can do. The one thing I can do, the one thing I’ve always been able to do, and do well, and now I couldn’t. I stared at my computer screen. Spread my rough draft out over a table in the library and just stared at it. I muddled with it all night. I couldn’t get it clear in my head and because of that, I could never get it clear on the page. Never before had I really understood what David McCullough had said: “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” When your thinking processes break down entirely, of course you can’t write a paper on historical revisionism and photographs of lynchings.

The paper was due in twelve hours. I couldn’t start over. I couldn’t hand in this thing that wasn’t even a rough draft. And so I stared. And I fumbled. And I cried.

I cried more later, talking to my teacher, trying to explain why my essay sucked so much, and tell him that I knew it sucked, and that I was really sorry, that I wasn’t just turning in something sucky just to finish an assignment and get a grade, but that I really, truly did not know what had happened.

It was the best that I could do. And it was nowhere near good enough.

My teacher did an extraordinary and compassionate thing. He gave me an extension–all the way to the end of the semester. He worked with me on that essay. And I finished it, and even I knew it was good. (You can read the whole thing here–trigger warning for graphic images and disturbing content.) Not the best ever, maybe, but I said what I’d set out to say, and figured out some stuff about myself in the process. And by contrast, the second essay I did for that class, in spite of being longer and more complex, came stupidly easy (and it looks like I never posted that here. I should fix that).

That wasn’t the end of me falling to pieces. And while I had this one teacher who was willing to work with me, nobody else was. To be fair, I wasn’t willing to ask. I mean, what do you say? What previous experience could I draw upon that could have taught me what to do? And what professor at an Ivy League university is prepared to hold hands with an undergrad who’s old enough to handle her shit because she has a sad?

I don’t know what I could have done different. I did my best, and it wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t something I could just push through. I know my dad just wanted me to ride it out and survive it and get it done so it wouldn’t feel like I’d wasted two years, without truly understanding just how bad it had gotten, inside my head.

I don’t really have a conclusion or universal truth to acknowledge. Sometimes you fail, that’s all. Sometimes you fail.


01Sep13

hubble4.jpg “When I do something wrong I tend to alibi, to make excuses, blame someone else. Until I can accept whatever it is that I have done, I am only widening the gap between my real and my ontological self, and I am thus excluding myself so that I begin to think that I am unforgivable.” –Madeleine L’Engle


Words of Wisdom

31Jul13

photo-1The last two years, when I was so depressed, one of the things I hated about it was how it skewed my view of reality (see this entry). How it made me think that nobody would even notice if I just evaporated. It created a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d behave as if all the things that Depression was telling me were true–and it didn’t make it true, necessarily, but it did mean that I barely even tried to go to social functions, make friends, connect with people. Being isolated made me depressed, and depression made me isolate myself.

And you tell yourself it’s not true. That Depression is lying to you. And on your okay days, you can believe it. But Depression lurks in the space behind your ears, laughing, mocking you. “I don’t lie,” he whispers, “I tell the truth. I’m smart. Look around. You have no friends, you’ve messed everything up. If anyone’s lying to themselves, it’s you. Listen to me. I’m Depression. I’m an objective observer; I know what I’m talking about. Let me list all the things that make you a terrible person, because I’ve been keeping track. I’m the only one who loves you. I’m just trying to protect you.”

“I think you’re lying to me, Depression.”

“That hurts my feelings, it really does. Why would I lie to you? I want you to know the truth.”

“Could you leave me alone for awhile?”

“Of course not. We live together. We are one. I love you. We’ll be together for always and I’ll never let anyone else have you.”

I tell Depression he lies and he just laughs and sidesteps, and though I keep saying it, I’m never quite sure if it’s true, or if it’s something I need to say whether it’s true or not (because what’s my alternative, really?).

And then I run across this blog entry, (who got it from this other one), written by an actor I haven’t followed for years. Depression lies, he says. It is the thing I have been trying to tell myself, but could never quite believe, because Depression is rampaging around, chewing up my sense of self and shitting out uncertainty all over the inside my head.

Depression lies.

And because these words come from Wil, and not  me, Depression can’t eat them. They don’t come from me, so they can bypass my logic brain, which has so very many weak spots in it right now. Some little magpie in my heart, who has been keeping very quiet so that Depression can’t find her, reaches out of the crack she’s hiding in, and grabs this pearl, and pulls it into the crack and holds it close. Maybe, she reflects, it’s the sort of thing that can grow if it’s carefully tended. Maybe she’ll plant it, if it turns out to be the sort of thing that grows. But for now, it’s enough to look at it, to hold it, to learn the taste of it. Depression lies. Maybe she puts it on a shelf and marvels at it, sees how it catches the light. Depression. Lies.

He wrote that entry almost a year ago, and I read it then, and it still feels as new and marvelous as the day he said it. Depression lies.

In June, I went to see Neil Gaiman at his Last Ever US Signing Tour(tm) at the Tattered Cover in Denver. It was the sort of day that, if I was independently wealthy, I’d do all the time: spend six hours sitting on green carpet, surrounded by books, and read, and talk to people. Listen to Famous Author talk for an hour. Wait on green carpet for another 3 hours so that you can spend 42 seconds being smiled at by Gracious Famous Author. Ride bike home. Fall asleep holding signed book like a teddy bear.

I had him sign American Gods, because it’s the first book of his I read. My Gateway Gaiman, if you will. (He also signed The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, because that’s the book he’s publicizing. I thought about telling him he really didn’t have to sign that one because I really don’t need multiple Gaiman signatures [I'm a one-signature kind of girl], but then to turn down autographs seems rude, so…)

He smiled at me. And said nice things about how battered my book was. Inside, besides my name and his, he wrote “Believe!”

He didn’t say believe in what.

But the little magpie in my heart pulled that into her hiding place too, to turn over in her hands (yes, my magpie has hands. Shut up). Believe.

Believe in gods.
Believe in yourself?
Make good art?
Believe that you can make good art.
Believe that depression lies.
Believe.


morenoise.jpgThe return of the “Bosstones Discography Stream of Consciousness” series. Today we have More Noise & Other Disturbances, the Bosstones’ second full-length album, the last one on the Taang! record label, the first one with Joe Sirois and the first one that really introduced (in unavoidably in-your-face fashion) the plaid theme that would run through the Bosstones for the next eight or so years (technically, the Where’d You Go? EP introduced it first, and their live shows introduced it before that; maybe it’s my geographic distance from the Boston scene but I tend to assume that albums have the farthest reach when it comes to these things). But anyway, chronology aside, there’s a large picture on the inside of all the boys in as many different stripes of plaid as they could possibly assemble. I believe Dicky even has a plaid cummerbund.

Also, I missed a Bosstones show just yesterday. Free, in Boston Common. Apparently 40,000 people were there. I have a certain amount of jealous hatred for all of them, not gonna lie.

Okay. Song one. “Awfully Quiet.” This is one of those songs that you think is pretty easy to get a handle on, but then when you really listen carefully to it, there’s so much going on in the background. Like the intense bass line. Like the fact that the drums and the horns are adding more to the cacophony than even the punk guitar. That, for all his vocal roughness, Dicky’s lyrics are incredibly clear (and incredibly fast). It’s not the most profound song ever, maybe, but I think it presents a compelling argument for the idea that a solid, compelling song doesn’t have to be about something deep or profound or controversial or moving.

“Where’d You Go?” opens with the sound of a Harley, which in the music video is actually a Vespa, leading to much amusement amongst the people. This is one of the earliest non-Let’s Face It Bosstones songs I ever heard, and I think, too, it was one of the first songs that I was able to decipher the lyrics to myself (for Let’s Face It I didn’t have to because the Bosstones have published their lyrics with all of their albums; by the time I got the rest of their discography I’d looked up and printed out all of their lyrics off of the Internet, and knew most of the lyrics before I ever heard any of the songs). This is a song that they still play live, almost all the time. I think it’s also one of the two that ended up on the Clueless soundtrack. It also presents an argument for a song that is solid, and compelling, but is about a very specific moment in time, about Dicky doing this one very specific thing, and not even trying to extrapolate that out to something universal. This is one of the things I like about him as a lyricist: he writes universal thematic songs, sure, but he also writes songs about specific days, or specific people. Songs that nobody else could ever, ever write, because they never had this experience he had. And it’s not like it’s a life defining experience, it’s just him waiting for someone to come home and meet him. But it’s his experience, and he turned it into a story and into a song.

“Dr. D.” Also still played a lot. Also a song about a specific person, and about gratitude, and about the things that make a person a good person. About patience and compassion and hospitality.

“It Can’t Hurt” contains the immortal lyric: “You had to do what you had to do/And you bit off more than you could chew/Open your eyes and look at where you’re at/Shut your mouth and swallow that.”

I’ve more or less stopped typing, and am just listening, because I’d forgotten how good this album is. It’s been so long since I listened to it front to back.

And now we get to “What’s At Stake,” a….funkified? But still utterly threatening-sounding cover of Minor Threat’s song. This is one of those songs where, instead of complimenting the guitars or providing a counterpoint, the horns are instead managing to pile on, to add to the anger and the power and the I’m-going-to-hit-you-in-the-face-with-music aspect of the song.

Also, the last part of the chorus to this, when I looked up the lyrics someone had posted on a Bosstones website that it was “Get yourself back up before it’s too late or your life and day will be on fake,” or something like that. Then one day it just clunked into my head: He’s saying “or a life of pain will be your fate.” The Internet doesn’t always get things right.

“Cowboy Coffee.” Another that still makes common appearance in set lists. It’s fast and ska-y, and is fun to watch Ben dance to. Cowboy Coffee is an actual thing; it refers to making coffee straight in the mug you intend to drink it from (sort of like how you make French Press coffee, but without the filter so that you don’t get grounds in your cup). I remember practicing “hurricane breakneck speed rapid fire dreams” so that I could sing along to it (it goes by fast). This whole damn album goes by fast. I mean, we’re already on track 7 of 11.

Classic Bosstones lyric:

The place is packed, I needed that.
The bottle’s cracked, I’m glad for that.
A good night’s rest? Forget about that.
I feel alive in this dive so I’ll drink to that.

Coming after the songs above, this song is kind of deceptive. You have songs like “Awfully Quiet” and “Where’d You Go,” which aren’t super profound, and then “Dr. D,” which is more obviously profound but still isn’t really. “I’ll Drink To That” sounds like it’s just about getting to a party, but really, it’s also about finding your reasons to live. It’s about making a choice. It’s about what gets you through the day. It’s about how, sometimes, even if you don’t have much of anything figured out, you can have just enough figured out to enjoy tonight, and let tomorrow be tomorrow.

“Guns and the Young.” This is probably the first song that I really ever got into that you could call a punk song, or a hard song. Understand that I came from a family of Motown, of Peter Paul & Mary, of New Orleans soul, of Billy Joel. Liking punk rock didn’t come naturally to me. And one of the early things I liked about ska was its ability to talk about deep things while still sounding happy. But this song sounds angry, as it should. The opening montage of sound clips and drums and news clips is one of the most powerful moments in the Bosstones discography to me. Another song where the horns cut like razor blades. Kids are dying, and the Bosstones are pissed. And, on a certain level, Dicky’s not just singing about gang violence and the media. He’s singing(yelling) about his own neighborhood. His own gang. His own childhood. He was 27 or 28 when the song was written and released, which–especially in the punk rock world, which has such a large number of youth–isn’t that far away from being a kid in the wrong neighborhood.

“What do you do if he’s packing? What the hell can one man do? What do you do if he’s cracking? Hope he can’t shoot straight?” Everyone’s helpless in this song, including the kid with the gun, and the Bosstones are pissed, because life doesn’t have to be this way, and they know it. Kids know when they’re being cheated.

Okay I just got distracted for ten minutes looking for video footage of “Bus No. 9,” a Nickelodeon show that Dicky Barrett was on like once in 1998. Which doesn’t seem to exist on youtube. How strange. Anyway!

“He’s Back” is one of those songs that starts out sounding like one song, and then when the intro is over, it turns out they’re playing something completely different. There’s rumor that this song is about Joe Gittleman, the bass player (untrue). As far as I know, Dicky’s never clarified who, exactly, the song is about. They also still play this song regularly. They still play a lot of this album regularly. It’s a combination of them being both solid songs, that I imagine are fun to play, and a lot of the songs are crowd favorites.

“Bad in Plaid” is a song that I don’t think they do hardly ever play. It’s just a silly, jokey song (even Dicky’s said as much). The Bosstones take a weird amount of pride in their appearance considering they sort of look like a convention of used car salesmen exploded all over them.

“They Came To Boston.” This is the song that I got onstage to at the 2000 Throwdown (and, as a kid from Denver, that was just completely and awesomely appropriate). Jump, spin, jump, spin. Only time I’ve ever crowd surfed and I got on stage for it. I should’ve stage dove off, but I chickened out.

The part where he says, “Don’t want to swear, but it seems clear that I’m going to haft….AWWWW FUCK” is a fun part of the song to sing along to in any instance of slight annoyance. Also fun horns. Also fun lyrics. ALSO FUN. THE BOSSTONES ARE FUN.

Outro of the album and I’m thinking about Throwdowns (#16 was just announced!), about friends, about Boston, about dancing your way through life.

They came to Boston.
I came to Boston.




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