Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D.

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
 
Teaching
 
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
 
Companies and Brands
 
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
 
On Google
 
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
 
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
 
7 Books
Thousands of articles
 
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
 
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
 
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
 
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
 
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
 
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
 
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

The most fundamental values of our culture are telling—and embarrassing.  §

Self-definition.
Autonomy.
Inclusivity.
Wellness.
Safety.
Empowerment.
Justice.
Fairness.

These are the values of the West right now, in the U.S. and elsewhere. And let’s be real—they’re stupid. Vapid. Trite. Dubious and dubitable. Wilting and impotent.

Read them again. It’s high school social life elevated to the level of cultural framework and Weltanschauung. There is no room in it for heroes, great men, great moments, or battles against evils of any kind, including the evil of mediocrity.

Tragic and suffocating.

The West is unraveling because Trump is a mirror-finished iPhone and elites can’t see it.  §

The elites in the West, like the elites everywhere, since time immemorial, culturally constituted themselves as the non-plebes. “Who am I? I am a non-plebe. Who are my friends? My friends are the other non-plebes. That is what we have in common.”

This is necessary because elites, possessing vast social, geographical, and financial empires, and possessed of the proactively destructive nihilism that comes with owning everything yet finding meaning and immortality nowhere, are beset by too much individual specificity and bile to constitute themselves as a community in virtually any other way.

They’ll say this isn’t the case, but I knew them—well—and associated with them—deeply—for decades. Every little thing that rolls off the tongue or is planned into an event is a matter of distinguishing between the the “us” of the elite and the “them” of not-elite.

— § —

Independently, for the most part, enter the industrial revolution. And modernization. And then, modernity. And an unprecedented and ever-increasing level of reach and control, in the most abstract sense, for each individual endowed with the best resources (of every kind) of the times.

Those individuals so endowed, of course, being the elites.

And in true human fashion, they couldn’t resist the temptation to make use of this new ability to influence the world through technocommunicotransportautomatology in such a way as to try to remake it in the image of their own preferences, often inadvertently as a matter of deploying distinction.

Activisms and initiatives and committees and this and that and so on to “improve” things in such a way as to make the world generally safer for those of non-plebe preferences. Down with the fraternal lodges. Down with the rotary clubs. Down with the labor unions. Down with the nuclear family (not to mention the extended family). Down with even the corporate “family” and so on.

Ever more progress, ever more invention, ever more reach as a result.

— § —

Then, the final unforeseen change—the network.

For half a century the plebes found themselves less and less able to constitute identities or communities of their own. It was neither their wont nor their habitus to be intellectual about such things; for those who work and work hard and don’t expect too much of life or the world, it tends always to be a matter of intergenerational knowledge.

But now—for the plebes—”who am I?” becomes a tough question. “My father was a Boy Scout only now the Scouts aren’t an option. My father was an Elk only now the Elks aren’t an option. My father was a member of the local, but the local was dissolved. My mother was a leader in the rotary club, but the rotary club was dissolved. My mother was a homemaker but now family is frowned upon. My mother worked loyally for her company team forty years until retirement, but now I’ll switch jobs every two to five.

“Where does that leave me? Who can I be?”

Into the vacuum and to answer the question comes the network, and suddenly the elites are as visible to the plebes as the plebes always were to the elites, and two things become clear.

First, the elites define themselves as the not-plebes, in the most condescending ways, and tend to evidence a wide assortment of beliefs and cultural practices that are, though diverse, also common in their vanguardism, nontraditionalism, and general hedonism, all of which are generally regarded to be reprehensible outside elite circles and at the same time part and parcel, indeed the gritty cultural and material detail of this non-plebe identity.

Next, the one thing that the plebes still have—and can have—in common is that they are, conversely, not elites.

Voilá!

Community found.

— § —

Government is downstream of politics is downstream of culture, and the cultural reality of the present is now that across the developed world, societies are split into two groups who constitute themselves on the basis, in each case, of not being members of the opposed group.

What is that?

Precursor to civil war and the redrawing of borders. Coming to a whole bunch of societies near you during the next generation or two.

Because you can’t put the genie back into the bottle again.

This is a consumer society—elites sought it, deployed it, and now it’s here. And Brexit, or Trump, or populism, or whatever else have you—these are not “ideas” that you can “debate people out of” in some way, or “roll back” or “fight against.”

They’re a product. A product by which people are constituting their identities and communities. And people can’t be “un-sold” on products that they love. That’s not a part of the cultural milieu into whose cognitive-colonial geography they were born.

Once someone has “bought into” a product and the identity that it is, they’re not just going to stop. You can’t “unsell” people on iPhones once people get a whiff of them. Your only option, instead, is to come up with something better—an iPhone plus, or in this case, a Trump plus or a populism plus—that delivers all of the benefits that they now embrace, not least of which is identity and community—plus something else that you’d like to give them.

— § —

Is there some “populism plus” that can be pushed out into the market that people will prefer, and that somehow walks us back from all of this?

Possibly. But I doubt it.

And in any case, the elites are busy talking in high-minded terms about rolling things back and winning arguments and the traditions of democracy stretching back two thousand years.

Not a single one of them, ironically (given their otherwise generally accepted expertise in marketing and sales at grand scale), is thinking of these things as products being consumed by hungry consumers who are constituting identities through them in opposition to non-buyers (e.g. the very same elites).

So if I was a betting man, I’d bet on the eventual collapse of the West.

(N.B. I love that I’m no longer an “academic” and can just say things like this without feeling bound by the need to turn any 900 word thought into a 400 page argument complete with 100 citations. The intellectual liberation that comes with leaving the academy is surprisingly robust.)

All the self-expression and self-realization in the world can’t change what you are.  §

I have been remodeling my basement since sometime last year—October of thereabouts.

The basement had been a kind of dungeon since we’d first moved here. Dark, musty, with deep red carpet. Dim lighting. Yellow walls. Low ceilings. Too much ancient, degraded furniture. Asbestos in the ceiling that was often falling onto the floor. The sort of place, in other words, that a sane, middle class (even lower-middle-class) person didn’t want to go.

It was mainly used by Shandy, our aging pit bull, who was on his last legs then.

At some point in late October or thereabouts, I’d finally had enough, at least in part, and one night in a fit of pique I descended into the basement and started putting things into large contractor trash bags, then moving all of that old furniture out of the main room, into the adjoining bedrooms that have long been left idle and are generally not nicely habitable.

The room got emptied out.

Then, in February, once Shandy died, I decided to turn the largest room in the basement into a gym of sorts. I bought a room’s worth of padded flooring, intending to lay it down over the ancient carpet and just use the room for exercise and for punching things.

But of course if heavy breathing were to be involved, the rotting asbestos ceiling would have to come down first. Well, despite equipment, that didn’t go as smoothly as planned out the gate much equipment was purchased and much intensive work was done. And then, having done all of that over many weeks, I looked down and decided that the carpet was likely contaminated enough as a result that with ceiling now clean, the carpet would have to go, too. So, the carpet came out.

Then, with floor and ceiling out and concrete underfloor sealed off and secured, it seemed ridiculous not to paint the walls.

And so on.

A small project to move some clutter became a larger project to make a mini-gym became a full-on asbestos remediation project with HEPA equipment and head-to-toe Tyvek bunny suits and P100 full-face respiratiors and negative pressure and airlocks and on and on and on.

— § —

Until this weekend, the project had been stalled for several months.

Stalled because it was in a “clean” state. Old, formerly asbestos containing surfaces fully remediated. Airlocks and gear mostly down and stored. No chemical smells, not too much junk laying around. Air quality sensors showing everything clean, and large HEPA filtration system keeping it smelling nice. It was such a relief to have it in that state, and it’s felt so generally cheery that I’ve felt a kind of resistance to plunging the space back into a DIY nightmare.

In particular, I didn’t want to tackle the next step—the books. Yes, the walls were lined with yards and yards of books, floor to ceiling, of every possible vintage a kind, from Plato to Petrarch to Chinese dictionaries to forensics 101 to the little stack books that I wrote myself to full sets of National Geographic stretching back a decade before I was born.

All taped off behind plastic through all of that remediation work, yes.

But before then all of those hundreds (thousands?) of books had been sitting there in the room for years as the dust gathered and the asbestos ceiling fell down, piece by piece over time, and rested in bits on top of the books.

There was no chance I’d throw them out. Zero chance.

Which meant that the plastic sealing the shelving and books off from the rest of the room would have to be removed and the books themselves remediated.

All of them. One by one.

— § —

Funny thing about books, something that I learned on my vast trek through the asbestos jungle.

Books are amongst the most dangerous substances on earth.

Many of them actually contain asbestos, since it was a popular material both for enhancing structural integrity in flexible materials and for imparting fire resistance, both of these being very useful characteristics to have in places containing tons and tons of highly flammable paper in controlled semi-arid conditions, all just sitting around waiting to burn.

And it’s not just asbestos that often comes up in clouds when old books are opened—it’s silica, dust, and other forms of particulate matter that also tend to cause life-ending lung disease.

Librarians—librarians—are working in one of the most hazardous white collar fields in existence. They have death rates from COPD, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other forms of lung dysfunction that are many times higher than the general population.

To work in and around books is a heroic act; they literally put their lives at risk in order to preserve knowledge and make it available to everyone else.

I’d spent many years in and around and in love with books before learning this. And learning it has changed my relationship with them in some deep, unspecifiable way.

For those of us that read books, we also take our lives into our hands every time we crack one. There is actually real and present danger in the knowledge that we consume. It is metaphor come to life.

Or, at least, it once was—before the era of e-books and Audible took hold with sincerity.

— § —

And so it was that early today I headed back out to the home improvement store to get more Tyvek and more P100 cartridges for my respirator system, both to go along with nitrile gloves and yards and yards of one and three mil sheeting and duct tape, all for use in The Book Project.

I suited up, taped and sheeted up, got the air pressure and the HEPA running again.

I pulled the plastic sheeting on the shelving off, yard by yard, and worked off the duct tape that had already begun to degrade into sticky, uncleanable goop and got it all into contractor bags.

Heavy breath, heavy breath. The sound of oneself as Darth Vader.

And there were all the books, sitting there, dusty as ever, after all this asbestos adventure. So ironically protected all of this time from the asbestos project even as they sat there already bathed in their own time-accumulated pile of asbestos. It’s still not clear to me just what the point of sealing them off was, other than “to do things right” in a domain in which they tell you that not doing things right will lead to your death.

I had an area in the center of the room set up as a catch area with enclosable plastic sheeting of its own and I had buckets of wet wipes and the full triple-phase HEPA industrial vac with brush attachment ready to go.

And so we began.

Pick up a book. Vac the spine and all of the sides. Flip through it to release any particles. Vac every surface again. Get the cover and spine with wet wipes. Dry with shop towels. Place book on stack in holding area.

— § —

I return here to the sense of irony.

For the better part of a decade I’d lived with this basement room full of books and returned to it often to retrieve one of them, blowing off or knocking off any dust and ceiling debris that had accumulated on top of it before carrying it upstairs, not thinking about it at all.

And before that, when we lived in New York, they were on shelves that were mounted on walls that were almost certainly built with asbestos-laden drywall, next to radiator pipes whose wrapped insulation I’m almost now positive was asbestos-containing material, constantly shedding particulate matter everywhere, including on the books.

And now, here, late in the game, I’m gingerly cleaning them all off, one by one, in a highly technical hazmat environment that looks like something out of a horror movie, fully covered from head to foot in hazmat gear, breathing like a monster through a respirator and peering through steamy goggles at—

Dante
and then
Plato
and then
Proust
and then
Horkheimer and Adorno
and then
E.M. Forster
and then
Hammurabi
and then…

…each one a murderous enemy, an assassin that they say may have already killed me, or my ex-wife, or my children, or anyone else that came into contact with them.

Reality? Fiction? Who knows. The quality of information that one obtains in this age of information is different from the quality of information in years past. All information is now emotional information. Everything is now a threat to “safety,” to be handled with extreme care.

My grandfather spent an entire career in the military smoking tobacco and sanding rust and debris off of ships’ hulls with power tools wearing no protective gear whatsoever. I sat and watched over and over again as a child while my father changed the family car’s motor oil with his bare hands and old coolant ran down the driveway and then down the storm drain, never to be seen again.

I spent an entire life reading these books, before I suddenly put on the full hazmat uniform to vacuum and then wipe them down one by one with expensive, specialized equipment, hour after hour on a September Sunday.

— § —

Somewhere in the middle, I began to feel anger. The books began to be dropped on to the pile rather than gingerly stacked.

And then, somewhere after that, I began to feel rage, and there was a period of minutes during which books were being flung, hard, across the room, against newly painted walls.

It was after most of the fiction and after the books I wrote myself, somewhere around undergraduate textbooks, that the rage took hold. Forensic anthropology. Sociology. Religion and culture. Advanced German grammar. Somewhere in there.

And well beyond mere anger. But what was I angry at?

Hard to say. Hours into a project like this one, with all of the mindless tedium and the mental latitude that it thus grants, it’s difficult to know precisely what’s on one’s own mind. Like eyes, thoughts can “glaze over” with time and repetition.

It took me a dozen or two books, and in particular, seeing one of them essentially explode into loose sheets all over the floor, to arrive at that moment at which one asks oneself—

“Okay, what’s really going on here? What’s actually on my mind?”

— § —

All of the real problems that I confront in day-to-day life have a kind of brute materiality about them.

Health. Clutter. Yard. Rot. Asbestos.

Yes, money is a problem and I’d like to have more of it. And yes, in my line of work, this involves a lot of “knowledge economy labor” and so on and so forth—but at the end of the day the uses for the money, the reason to care, the precarity that drives me—is frankly and unavoidably and admittedly embodied in real stuff.

The virtual world is a strange and extensive edifice erected in the end to cope with utterly non-virtual problems, not least of which is mortality itself and everything that seeks to forestall it.

Here in my hands even were the books, the immaterial knowledge that we hold aloft with such pride and what am I doing with them? I am carrying them back and forth across the room and vacuuming little white bits of death off of them with a dirty giant machine full of miles and miles of filtration matter.

Matter.

It’s enough to make a person laugh out loud.

No, no, it’s not that the knowledge isn’t important. It’s that as a culture we’ve skewed so far in one direction that we are in effect all living a lie. We are liars, to ourselves, and to everyone else.

We are bodies. Little, soft, weak, terminal bodies. That’s what we are.

And all of the doctorates and gender changes and awards and Instagrams in the world won’t change the fact that we live as meat and will die as meat and that our happiness is bound up more than anything else with that thing that we don’t want to see about ourselves—

that we are only and just what we are, standing in our shoes or sitting on a chair, respirating and digesting other meat. And so is everyone else.

Until we make peace with that, we won’t be happy, and nothing will be better.

The enlightenment somehow set out to erase half of creation and we’ve carried on the tradition in our little epoch, imagining that God is a God of knowledge, and creation is a matter of theory, and so on.

Creation isn’t just ideas. Creation is things. Being.

For us at the very least, and for everything around us, being is a material state.

How utterly profound is that in our epoch? It almost stretches beyond our ability to conceive of such things, which says something about the era in which we live.

Descartes ought to be arrested. He is the author of much suffering.

— § —

So many books, so many indices to people.

People that wrote them. People that have read them. People that have taught them. In many cases, people that I’ve known and known well. People, in fact, like myself, once.

So many elite braniacs setting out to make the world A Better Place[TM].

And yet, for all the good they set out to do—for all the good I set out once to do—so much more good than all of them put together has been done by, for example, the little group of teachers at my local martial arts dojang who take children under their wing, teach them face-to-face to use and master their bodies and the feelings that are in fact part and parcel of those bodies.

Yes, I was tossing the books across the room because of the question that Johnny Rotten once asked.

“Do you ever feel that you’ve been cheated?”

Because for all the years I spent reading those books, a bunch of little flecks of dust sitting on top of them—dust dug right out of mountains—are infinitely more powerful. They can’t be fixed with theory or policy, only with big motors and big gears and big filters and the big movement of big amounts of air and moisture.

And because for all my degrees, it’s warping bathroom floors and leaky roof tiles and broken toes that now rule my life, day after day, and that in fact rule the lives of everyone—even those wealthy enough to pay others to hide such facts. I spent twenty-five years of my life learning things. What I didn’t learn in all that time was what bedevils me now—how to ensure that a toiled won’t leak, tidy a driveway, keep vegetable matter and mold from overtaking the foundation of a house, or keep my joints moving well.

And all the vast tide of books in my asbestos-laden library of knowledge are silent on such matters. Entirely silent on them.

— § —

Do you ever feel that you’ve been cheated?

You climb the mountain. You find the Truman Show.  §

Sometimes I have the urge to reach out personally to the other Ph.D.s and ask them what they think about things.

What’s going on…

Because Ph.D.s are supposed to have an opinion, no?

— § —

Thing is, I have one of those, too. I’ve read the books. A lot of books. An awful lot of books. And journal articles.

Did you know I had over 2,000 journal articles in my library while I was writing my dissertation?

I read them all.

Oh yes, I read them all.

I was erudite and such even before I embarked on my Ph.D.

Did a graduate degree at the University of Chicago before the New School, don’t you know.

What do I know?

Bupkis.

That’s the problem.

— § —

That urge to ask the other Ph.D.s… is misplaced.

What I’m looking for is one of: (1) enlightenment, (2) salvation.

They can grant me neither.

If they could, I’d be granting same myself.

I’m not.

— § —

It’s 2019.

Western Civilization is dying.

Ontology <-> =/= Gummi Bears.

Things are crap.

The books are all obsolete

and the people are all inadvertently, yet catastrophically, evil.

What is to be done?

— § —

What Is To Be Done?

Individual schmindividual.  §

Quick note:

Look at any online directory. Ad platform. Link exchange. Set of articles on building an online identity. Look at anything at all that has anything at all to do with online life.

What category of web properties is missing?

The category of “personal” content. The notion that an individual exists and might want to say something as an individual, as apart from products, industry vertical, community, party, etc.

Paradoxically, in this age of the transcendendental importance of individual autonomy, what we lose sight of is the quantity of the individual as apart from some binding to a larger group.

— § —

“So what’s your game, mate?”

“I don’t know, mate.”

“Your loss, mate.”

At hand is the social corollary to “dark matter” and “dark energy.” QED.  §

The hardest parts of life are the stretches in which nothing in particular is pending.

No deaths of family members, no unemployment, no cancer tests, no paid off mortgages or trips to Africa for safari, no births of children nor arrivals of new furniture sets, etc. Nothing in particular.

I suppose I might think differently if I weren’t divorced, but I am divorced, so I think what I think.

And what I think is that stretches of time in which neither crises nor victories seem to float on the air are dispiriting, at least as a divorced person. You’ve lost your partner in planning (let’s be frank, very possibly you never quite had them in the first place despite wishing you had, for those of us that are divorced) and if you’re divorced you’re likely not of school age any longer.

In short, there is a dearth of plans, of anticipation, and yes, even of fear that is difficult to bear.

It can feel as though you’re on a very long train ride to your own end times, and (this is risky to say but I’ll say it) there are times when you do that thing that all children tend to do—say to yourself (given that nobody else is listening), “are we there yet?”

— § —

I suspect that divorce is easier the younger you are. I also suspect that there are distinct psychological dimensions to it that are not to be taken lightly.

For example, though (as the crystal-wearing set, of whom I am not a member, might say) “forty is just a number,” the fact is that it is an important number. Divorced after forty has a particular flavor that is not especially pleasant, and this is not entirely a matter of personal taste.

The fact is that for others, too, the attributed identity and characteristics of an “over forty divorcée” are not at all the same as those of a “thirty-something divorcée,” despite the fact that the actual ages involved in such a comparison may be very near to one another indeed.

— § —

In short, there are a great many things that I could I suppose be productively doing, if productivity is measured in terms of simply having this rather than that, a little more rather than a little less, a little tidier rather than a little more cluttered, and so on.

But (and this is where I admit to perhaps still being in the throes of a mid-life crisis whose countours were only compounded by divorce) that sort of thing is difficult to get excited about.

After all, just a few short years ago you dreamed of changing—and of traveling—the world, and you turned down job offers from the United Nations, and you held in your hand rooms full of starry-eyed students looking to you for advice on What is To Be Done and How I Ought to Proceed in It All, and so on.

Now, you are on a long, straight, eventless train ride toward that final destination that by nature isn’t (and can’t be) an Experience of any kind for ontological reasons, and so it is that you’re hard pressed to lift a finger.

Because if all you’re doing is folding socks and pulling weeds, well hell, you have the next ten, or twenty, or thirty years to do that, and nobody’s looking anyway, damn it—so the rewards are rather small, particularly in juxtaposition to the unfortunate fact that is this particular ticket on the tracks and the wish you have (which cannot be granted) to switch to a different set of them.

— § —

I don’t know.

It’s easy to be envious of others. I try to avoid that.

It’s also easy to be jaded. I try to avoid that, too.

Or to be down on oneself. Also something to be avoided.

It often feels these days as if I’m trying to avoid things more than I’m trying to pursue things.

Hell, “feels?”

Let’s be honest—the job at hand since well before my divroce has almost entirely been about what I can avoid. How to manage life, in general, so as to avoid all of the Bad Things.

That has not changed.

I suppose that’s life in general, at least for people worth their salt. There are of course, the great majority of others who go and adopt the bad things as their own and revel in them. I’m tempted to say that’s almost the entirety of our society.

And sometimes it’s tempting to join them.

But thus far, I resist the temptation, for the most part.

— § —

I don’t know.

— § —

I’m not ashamed to say that over the last few days of monitoring developments in the Brexit affair, it’s not the actual politics that have made the largest impression on me but the figures and personalities involved.

I think John Bercow has become a minor hero of mine. I’ve just been to YouTube to watch him address the Oxford Union for an hour, and I enjoyed in very much.

Yes, this is the sort of thing that I do when I’m not working and the kids are not here, rather than—say—painting my basement, fixing my yard, or starting my own business.

— § —

I wrote in a review once that got rather good reviews in turn that the thing appreciated most about J.D. Vance’s book was that it illuminated the fact that choices matter. Even little ones. Even every day.

I think that’s also the sort of thing that Jordan Peterson has been talking about.

Perhaps it’s time that I go and read one of these people again, because I’ve arrived at that point at which I am doubting that, considered objectively, choices matter all that much at all, and as a result, I am struggling to bother to make them.

Yes, we live in a society in which once you’re past a certain age, you simply don’t matter.

No, I’m not going to become an activist about this. I think that’s as it should be, and that one of the gravest sins of the Baby Boomer generation is that they refused to Go Gently into That Good Night (and still do so, in fact).

But an intuition about what is right and proper and good on the one hand does not of necessity change the experience of living through the actual circumstances of what is right and proper and good on the other.

— § —

My time is nearly past. In another ten years it will be.

Did I do what I set out to accomplish?

No. But then I suppose (I say this now, with the benefit of a touch of the wisdom that comes with age) very few could have in my own case, and furthermore and for what it’s worth, very few do in the general case. And that’s the way it is and the way that it always has been and that, too, is right and proper.

— § —

What we need today, more than anything else, is clear-eyed truth-tellers.

I think at this point, my greatest ambition is simply to have the courage to be one of these.

From all indications thus far, it will require much more courage than I’ve managed to muster to date. And I’ve done a lot of things that (by my own standards at least) required more courage than I’ve often thought I had. Yet so it is that I must manage to travel farther still.

Wish me luck.

— § —

In the meantime, I don’t know whether to also ask that you wish me the dedication to paint some walls or that you wish me the self-possession to not care whether I do so or not as I continue to pursue the kinds of knowledge that interest me.

Uncertainty, Aron is thine other name.

There is more than hot air to conservative claims of censorship.  §

Anyone that knows me knows that I tend to read on all sides of an issue. And that I often hold unorthodox opinions on political issues in particular that straddle lines or thread needles as a result of trying to understand issues from the perspective of both sides of the “political tendency” aisle. I was pro-Gore, for example, in 2000, but at the same time pro-Bush when it came to the court cases. I voted for Obama, but later did not support Hillary, even as I also didn’t support Trump.

I’m not, that is to say, an ideologue, but rather try to understand and judge issues after seeking clarity from all sides.

Until today, I’ve not known what to think about the “social media censorship” debate. Conservatives have long claimed that they don’t get a fair shake, with progressives claiming that what’s being blocked or removed is largely hate speech. I didn’t have a strong opinion in either direction, I suppose, and continued to read arguments from both sides without having been convinced.

— § —

This week, I’ve been following the goings-on in Parliament int the U.K. regarding Brexit. The last couple of days have been particularly eventful, and I’d taken to reading hashtags on both sides of the aisle on Twitter to get a read on the perspectives on both sides from the British public.

What I got instead was an education on Twitter and social media censorship.

Pro-Brexit hashtags, including innocuous ones making no threats, showing no profanity, etc. have been simply disappearing, while the same is not true of pro-remain hashtags.

This morning, I tried to check in on several hashtags on both sides that had been seeing a large amount of activity over the last 24 hours. When it came time to look at the pro-Brexit sentiment, what I saw instead were blanks. No tweets for those hashtags. We’re talking a shift from thousands and thousands of tweets and active discussion to—nada.

I moved from the mobile client to a desktop browser session and searched again. I got a tiny handful of stale posts from several years ago. Everything more recent had disappeared. Simply gone. The pro-remain hashtags? Still incredibly active and deep.

I sat there in stunned silence for several minutes.

I don’t know whether the tweets in question have been removed, or the accounts, or neither and it’s simply that Twitter search is blocking searches for that keyword and returning no recent results. But I do know that actual work had to be done to hide these discussions, which were not hateful, not violent, not white nationalist, not racist, etc. Just politics and regular people voicing their opinions.

— § —

Where I stand on the social media censorship issue is thus evolving: it does, in fact, happen sometimes. And conservatives are right in saying that at least in some cases, it happens rather blatantly to conservatives. Interestingly, famous figures on that side of the aisle remain there and remain searchable.

This implies some amount of bad faith—the platform doesn’t want the public to realize that censorship is happening, which they surely would if very famous figures (i.e. Farage) started to disappear. No, this is a kind of stealth censorship—one that makes it look as though one side of the aisle has very little, if any, support, while making it look as if the other side of the aisle enjoys incredible popularity and support.

— § —

I don’t really know what to do with this information. I do know that I feel as though my eyes have been opened.

I had long ago changed my previously very sunny opinion about social media—the one that I’d held throughout much of my time in graduate school and as an academic. Since then, I’d come to realize that social media was much more a mixed bag, much more dubious, and much more problematic than I’d at first imagined, largely because of the way in which it changed social structure and social discourse, and because of a particular metaphysics that I’d not seen early on that appears in incompatible with certain aspects of a “good life.”

Now, I’m leaning even farther in that direction. Maybe the fiercest critics are right—rather than overselling things—in claiming that social media simply hides conservative voices, not necessarily the famous ones, but the numerous ones. Maybe that’s why the “Trump surprise” happened—maybe in fact social media is obscuring, rather than representing, the actual balance of public opinion on many issues.

No, I’m not positive. But on this issue, I am legitimately shocked. What I’ve seen over the last 24-36 hours is clear: Twitter went from showing two active sides on the Brexit issue to a state of affairs in which it appears that there’s only one engaged side on the issue.

Just. like. that.

At the end of a civilization, everyone plays silly games.  §

Every now and then I suddenly feel just how fascinating it is to be present at the twilight of a dominant civilization, just at the moment of climax when everything is beginning to crash to the ground and burn.

The inflection point that no one noticed was the moment—sometime in just the last few years—when everyone finally came to agree that yes, this is what is happening. Once you all agree you’re giving up, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a project with universal participation and endorsement.

And this endorsement has exploded.

Of course, different factions and tendencies have different rationales for supporting the collapse of their civilization, but the one thing that virtually everyone agrees with is that it is going and must go. (A few people try to wear a weak kind of denial like a pose, suggesting that it’s not that everything must go, only certain little chunks of it that are of course actually massive chunks when you look objectively, which no one does, but everyone in the end knows that it’s just a pose—we are all willing to destroy it without any promises for what’s to come next).

Those that came before us wouldn’t have tossed it away so lightly, but then they’d seen “things you people wouldn’t believe…”

— § —

What everyone gets wrong about Reagan is that it wasn’t about the idea that America was being saved (“morning in America”) but the underlying notion that the west was worth saving that led to his victory and that forestalled the collapse for another generation, as the final wave of holdouts found in him a champion for an otherwise (and soon enough to be fully) discredited idea.

But that demographic reality is long gone and any suggestion that it’s worth saving now, implicit or explicit, is met with derision on all sides, or that kind of disagreement-that’s-not-actually-disagreement by which people say it’s worth saving and then describe it in such a way as to make clear that they’re not actually proposing to save anything, but rather to tear everything down and refer to whatever takes its place using the same name.

— § —

The most comical thing—not amusing at all, but comical—in all of this is to watch our elite (vanguard) play at being The Very Serious People Who Analyze Such Things while all actually frantically working to avoid any analysis (as this might lend doubt to the project) and instead drive the bus onward.

It takes a while to spot this, but once you do, you can’t unsee it.

I was a fool for a very long time (I mean that in multiple ways) and played a role in their stageplay. For ages I was frustrated at the strange ways in which the incentives and sanctions of the environment didn’t seem to support the work that I thought we were all meant to be there doing.

Then, it began to dawn on me, that as someone that society was investing in, I was there to provide a return on that investment, and the return being sought was precisely to destroy things, first and foremost myself, my demographic fellows, and my corner of the population and geography.

Not to identify problems and solve them—not to build things. Building things is precisely what everyone doesn’t want in return for their investment in elites. Because we’ve all decided that this whole thing has to go. I was a commissioned officer in a very particular kind of army, I had a tactical mission in the larger strategic theatre, and that mission was the only thing for which I would receive support.

Once I realized that there was no particular market for anything in elite circles other than destruction vanguardism in my sector, everything began to fade for me, and soon I was out of such circles.

But I can still see them all from a distance, because they march very loudly wearing bright colors. There they go, Very Seriously Onward, putting on this odd, even twee puppet show as the fallout spreads and the bodies fall and everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone is in on the suicide.

— § —

I’ve thought a few times about returning to writing in a professional way. After all, I’ve written and published a minor stack of books, I know how to get it done. And I feel that pang of concern that suggests that a project ought perhaps to be in the works.

But such “projects” are rightfully the children of other kinds of epochs.

Now, the outcome is known in advance; you can quote the reviews, both positive and negative, left and right, before they’re written. You can quote them before the damned book is written. A dedicated artist could sit down and write, as a book, the entire media universe of coverage, discussion and counter discussion, that will arise in response to the book. Then, release the book and point, gigglingly, at everyone haplessly doing precisely what the book says they will in response to it.

But what’s the point? The giggle would be a shallow one and precisely in keeping with everything that such a giggle set out to “critique.”

We know what all the reviews from all of the parties in all of the valences about all of the products say. We know it in advance. We know it because it’s all just pantomime; everyone already knows because everyone is in on this together. We’re full of ennui and we’re going to burn this shit down, and we’ve all agreed that that’s what we’re going to do. The civilization, the neighborhood, the faith, our families, ourselves.

Not in that order. Because it doesn’t work that way. Together, ecstatically and while denying everything.

There is an ancient language that is no longer in play here—that has been lost. It is the language of making, rather than destroying things. At the start of our epoch, it was called “The Word.” No longer with us, we’re left only with technologies and discursive tools of death, despite (and indeed at the same time to the regrettably and regrettably indulgent ecstatic delight of) ourselves.

— § —

It’s not clear what the path out of this sort of vortex is, or that finding a path out is the right path in the first place. (Bit of self-deprecating QED there.) I tend to think that nihilism is like a contagious prion; once you have a critical mass of nihilism, it turns everything it touches into more nihilism—it even does this to anti-nihilism.

It sure is interesting to watch. Interesting times. The death of an entire way of being.

(This post will just have to stand in for the book.)

In which I argue, to much shock and confusion, that the world—and people—are polyaxial.  §

Tonight, apropos of a conversation that the kids and I were having about a particular old friend and my relationship to them, I explained that while I liked this person a great deal and have always considered them a friend, I’d never trust them.

They laughed.

“How can you like someone but not trust them?” came the largely rhetorical question.

The room was shocked into silence when I explained that not only was it perfectly possible to like someone very much and consider them a dear friend but not trust them, but that it was also perfectly possible to not like someone, not particularly think of them as a friend, yet trust them implicitly.

As the kids were spending some minutes in silence punctuated by bursts of chatter and follow-up questions, I realized that I couldn’t imagine most of the adults I’ve known over the years being anything but puzzled and a bit indignant about my position, either.

In today’s world of imposed reasoning and imposed conclusions, often at the point of an invisible ideological gun somewhere prior to consciousness, people just don’t allow this sort of thinking to register or to make sense to themselves.

What a strange, sad world we live in, in which many precious things have been lost.

Adults in the west hate children as much as they hate death. Maybe more.  §

Children today face an incredible set of pressures, partially in the form of negative sanctions, possibly in the form of positive reinforcement (or the withholding of such) by adults to:

  • Be sexually precocious (there are both gay and straight varieties of this)

  • Engage in cynical peformances (contemptuous punk rock at six)

  • Rattle off strings of slang and profanity

  • Exaggerate outbursts of sadness, angst, and self-pity

  • Repress attachment to those closest to them

  • Play the miniature Jacobin, fighting for “justice” apace

  • Appear as jaded as a mafioso as early as possible

  • …and so on

I find this troubling. I always did. Now I find it particularly troubling to see these things affecting my own children, and to know that it is primarily the adults of the world that are driving these things.

— § —

Tonight it hits me with clarity, in a ton of bricks.

I’ve always danced around the question with the presumption that it was a kind of sarcastic thought. “Why do adults hate children so much, sheesh?” I’ve asked myself, assuming that I was being hyperbolic.

Of course, as it turns out, I wasn’t.

Just as a great many things in today’s world can be explained by the generalized fear of mortality on the part of a population that has been insulated from hard things their entire lives, a similarly great many things in today’s world can be explained by the fact that, in general, the adults despise children.

Not only that, but they’re afraid of them. Disgusted by them. Repulsed by them. Torn apart by them. By the mere fact of their existince.

What is it that they hate about children?

Innocence, first and foremost. Innocence and truth. Evidence of the joy that they once felt and the potential that they once embodied, now both lost.

Adults today are terrifically, catastrophically, absurdly jealous of children. Jealous to the point of rage. Sublimated rage, but wild, frothing-at-the-mouth rage nonetheless. Today’s adults hate children with a passion, and their innocence, too.

And so they try to—let’s call it—neuter them. To remove the childhood from them. To get them doing sexual orientation, goth jokes, punk rock shows, and smarmy political virtue-signalling as soon as is possible.

Because when their children were born, suddenly, suddenly they found themselves standing in the very, very unfavorable half of a juxtaposition. Their children revealed just how inadequate they were and how hollow, hateful, and superficial they’d become. Yes, those juxtaposed against their very own children felt betrayed.

And those juxtaposed against others’ children felt indignant and imposed-upon and ashamed, as though a stranger had just seen them stroll healthily away from the handicapped parking stall.

— § —

I’ve saw this for years in people I’ve dated, from all over the place, for years, without realizing it until this very moment.

One of them hated children so badly I struggled to be around her whenever the topic came up. The bile poured forth in waves; it was like standing in the middle of a massive electric field and feeling your hair stand up on end and vibrate.

In the end, she clearly knew how much I’d been troubled by it because when I broke it off, she tried to halt the already departing train with what she thought to be an incredible concession. “I’ll give you children,” she said, “okay, I’ll do it for you, I’ll even give you children, just please…”

Funny thing, I’d never mentioned wanting any, and wasn’t sure I did. But I didn’t hate them, and she could tell—and she misread my decision that I couldn’t be with someone so full of venom any longer as (what in her eyes was) vice. It was like she was granting me an open relationship, or saying that I could drink as heavily as I wanted, or gamble as much as I wanted if I’d just stay.

Even in the moment of concession, she presumed that what I felt was guilt at a secret desire for children—one that she was willing in the end to indulge despite herself. It was beyond her capacity to understand that none of it had anything to do with me, or my responses to things, at all.

Go on, pick up The New York Times or The Atlantic. Or scan your Facebook or Twitter feeds. See how people in the opinion sections talk about children in passing. Or parenthood.

Or innocence.

Suddenly I can see all of the faces that I’ve known across the years that—I suddenly realize—were like wetted-down witches writhing and suffering in agony, burning at exposure to the truths most clearly embodied by our young, and determined to neutralize them at any possible cost.

— § —

Birth and death. Of course. I’ve rattled on about death for years.

But birth—birth, too, and perhaps moreso.

These are the two truths that already reveal a person’s inevitable mortality, and that always, inevitably, also reveal a person’s mistakes, regrets, and failings.

A society of badly fallen people running around like the criminally insane trying desperately to paper over the beginnings of life, the endings of life, and the extent of human potential before it is lost—so that they never have to face the truth about themselves.

— § —

I’m sure this post will earn me a veritable ton of friends.

It’s at the end of summer, not the end of the universe, that you meet yourself.  §

Summer wanes.

Late afternoon. Office chair. Three monitors, same as always. Work has come and gone; daylight has nearly done so as well. I haven’t yet turned on the light, so dusk has filled the room. Yes, that’s an inversion in physical terms—dusk is a growing absence, not a presence.

But absence has a kind of solidity as well, whatever the physical reality of things.

Physical reality is an impoverished dude, frankly.

— § —

What am I doing?

Not here, now. No, I mean—

What am I doing, in general? Big picture?

— § —

I routinely fret about all of the posts that I make that don’t have images in them. I have some 200,000 or more images sitting in Lightroom. So many years with a camera in hand, shooting everything.

And then I don’t use them?

Thing is, if I made the rule—I wouldn’t make any posts.

It’s an allegory on life in general. Or mine, at least. I do seem to recall running into a few people over the course of my life that run the opposite way—that appeared to be marvelously disciplined.

I wonder what’s more frustrating? Incredible discipline with average talent, or incredible talent with average discipline?

But then all of this is probably a misframing of things.

What would I do with all that discipline?

Be someone else. Not notice the dusk around me. Not even have the dusk around me, because I’d have turned the light on already. It’d be my loss.

What’s it all for, anyway?

What am I doing?

— § —

Some things. I’m trying to limit myself to one line each. Yes, yes, fine. Ego, attention-seeking, preciousness, and so on. I concede. Or is it confess? Whatever. I’m sitting in the dark, so I’m not embarrassed. Things:

  • America is in decline and will disappear within my lifetime.

  • Secular liberation is our new civic religion.

  • Yes, it has priests, who wear colorful vestments, even. Points for realizing who they are.

  • Not just America. The entire order that Constantine inaugurated.

  • Friendship is considered a sin in the new religion.

  • Not just friendship. Honesty, self-sacrifice, and loyalty, too.

  • Truth must never be anthropomorphized; when this happens, it becomes wrath.

  • All things pass mostly without notice, and all spans of time are ultimately congruent.

  • The notion that humans can “make” meaning is a tragic falsehood.

  • Always avoid the meaning-makers if you value your life, or your soul.

  • An old, wise fish—or an old, wise turtle—can teach one many things.

  • Old, wise humans lose their ability to convey truth, through no fault of their own.

  • It is a historical constant that no-one likes the Jacobins, including themselves.

  • Light, a miracle, is profaned by those who wield it rather than hear it.

  • There is not someone for everyone—or at least, not the someone you’re thinking.

These lists are never satisfying. It’s like I’m trying to arrive at the center of a maze, but getting no closer, turn after turn. Yet continue to turn I do, compelled—knowing all the while that sight of the center is not fated for me, and never will be.

— § —

The answer, invariably is:

I don’t know.

Small comfort in the existince of small certainties, &c.

Blogs make for interesting complications in life.  §

It strikes me every now and then just how odd it is to have a blog. And how reckless, in some ways.

Your name is out there. Everyone that meets you—from new friends to new employers—is free to find and read things you’ve lived, thought, and been. There’s no guarantee they’ll find something representative, or that they’ll hang around long enough to get a rounded image of you.

They might land on a vexing one-liner from a decade ago—or on a ten-page opus you wrote early some A.M. when your better judgement had gone to bed before you.

In a way, that’s thrilling. In another way, it’s at least foolish and possibly worse.

And yet here it is. And sometimes I absolutely love it. I must, after all this time.

The “all or nothing” trope has all and nothing on reality.  §

I am having trouble keeping up with facts on the ground.

This is the danger of road trips.

Particularly of road trips with your ex and your ex’s significant other.

This is proving to be both a terrible thing and also not a bad thing, all at the same time. And thus, this is also proving to be exceedingly confusing and confused.

The saying goes that when the student is ready, the master will appear. I suspect this adage to apply not only to actual human beings but to situational realities and ontological territory more generally.

Life, that inscrutable thing, is tying me in so many interesting knots.

The disentangling, to be completed later, promises also to be a performance of some interest, should it even prove to be possible.

Certain women struggle to move beyond “in utero.”  §

There is a way in which a certain slice of the world’s women, particularly in the western world, unknowingly want to pull everyone and everything around them back into the womb.

Not being a woman, I’m not sure exactly where this comes from or how it feels, but if I were to speculate, it must have something to do with the feeling of loss that comes from once having carried children as a part of one’s body and one’s identity… and then having seen them disembark and emerge into the world as separate beings… and then having seen them begin to wander off, independently, into society.

I’m sure it’s a wistful, if not downright painful, feeling.

But brass tacks here, there is a toxic femininity, and this impulse is it—all of life cannot return to the womb. It’s a physical impossibility, and even if it weren’t, for anyone not an infant, the womb would be a prison, not a space of nurturing.

The deep, pained pull toward always being and doing things “the same as each other” and “together,” the unbound desire for consensus, the frustration at competition, at independence, at agency and different opinions—all of these seem reflective of the deep-seated desire to recapture a lost unity that can never be again.

Life, in other words, goes on.

For boys in particular, the impulse to engulf isn’t just stifling, it’s deadly. Boys don’t have it. We don’t need it. We have neither womb nor the impulse to fill it nor the impulse to be within it. From the moment we come into existence, it is our destiny to leave the maternal milieu forever, to make a self and an identity that is our own.

We are fertile tendrils in our own right, new offshoots of humanity. We travel for adventure, materially or conceptually. We branch from the primary root and go our own way. We break new ground, forge new foundations.

As the father of a young boy, I have to say—upon reflection—that to try to pull a boy back into the womb is to try to kill him—even if he doesn’t realize it until far too late. Sad that this bit of wisdom has been lost today.

Everything important happens in California.  §

One more musing (or set of musings) for the night.

This time it’s about California.

I have a love-hate relationship with California.

Love because I have much family here, and many good memories of family here. And because the ocean is here.

Hate because every hard life lesson that I have ever managed to learn has finally stuck while I was in California. California has been the site of an awful lot of pain for me.

I only come here to be blessed or to suffer for my sins. There appears to be no in-between.

And for the first time, tonight, now, I am feeling grateful to California for that. Because to fail to be punished for one’s sins is perhaps one of the most painful and debilitating conditions in the universe.

So—here’s to you, California. You are the place that teaches me life lessons. The hard lessons. No matter how much I think I learn, I never truly learn until I come here.

Don’t get me wrong, California is a place of lies of the most seductive, devastating, and plentiful kind.

But, somehow, in that ironic, insane way that is beyond human understanding and that deeply marks the universe in which we live, that also makes California a place of deep an undavoidable truths that must be confronted if one is to grow.

Where did my first California epiphany lead? To me finally finishing my undergraduate degree after 10 years of aimless wandering. Where did my second California epiphany lead? To me going to graduate school and getting an M.A. Where did my third California epiphany lead? To me going back to graduate school, getting a Ph.D., and having two beautiful children whom I love very much.

Where does this California epiphany lead? I’m not sure just how to encapsulate it yet, though a sort of intuitive summary is below in the previous post. I suppose time will tell about how I frame it years from now.

In any case, California makes me suffer. Deeply. Existentially. That’s why I hate California with a passion. But as the (very rare) wise folk of our species know, suffering is the stuff of growth, and growth is the stuff of light.

That’s why I also love California with awe and gratitude.