Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Who is Aron Hsiao? ▼

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.
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

This times 1,000.  §


Democracy.  §

“In democracy, the most critical issues are decided at random by a few million fools, because we tried having them decided by a handful of wise men and felt the result was unfair.”


Kick me out of the academy.  §

Kick me out of society.
Boil away my friends.
Because this:



Quotes file: On masculinity.  §

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Things.  §

  • People who talk all the time about the power of love do so because they don’t believe in it themselves, but would desperately like to.
  • I’ll say it now, out loud: the emperor has no clothes. The race/gender lobby has turned into the totalitarian inquisition that they have long accused the Christians of being. Neither inquisition is compatible with enlightenment. Both are dangerous, and everyone knows it, only nobody right now is willing to call out the race/gender lobby because of their abusive, PTSD-infused tactics that can sink institutions and careers. The time will come.
  • Nobody—N O B O D Y—actually believes in liberal values. Show me ten people who say they believe in diversity, tolerance, freedom, reason, consciousness, and any other high-minded ideal that you care to name, and I will show you ten hypocrites who are lying through their teeth. I don’t care what their political persuasion is. People are selfish, end of story.
  • This is what a society that mocks philosophy looks like.

Things.  §

Sometimes in life you are just plain tired. Right now I am just plain tired.

— § —

It is difficult and painful to operate with honor, integrity, and maturity, but only fools and children believe they’ll somehow save themselves difficulty and pain in the long run by betraying these things.

— § —

The start of fall is always a happy time. The middle of fall is always a bittersweet time. New beginnings beget awareness of ever-approaching endings.

— § —

Less than a month of Karate as a kid and I’m able to help my own kids with their form in Taekwondo now. It’s amazing to imagine how much they’ll retain after having done this for many months, or even many years.

— § —

The days pass quickly while you are busy wondering what you ought to be doing with them.

— § —

The clothes I just recently put away because they were “too warm” need to come back out again. This is the grown-up version of the “making the bed” argument.

— § —

Once you concede to blackmail, you will never, ever be free of it again. The best policy is to hold your ground to begin with, even if it seems painful.

— § —

Tomatoes, which I hated so much as a child that I wrote a poem to that effect, are amongst life’s little joys.

— § —

Self-marketing is the single most important key to success in life. I am terrible at it, mostly because it makes me feel dirty and as someone with a modicum of integrity, I struggle to get myself to do it. As a result, I end up teaching people everything I know, then watching them become successful with my teaching—largely because they advertise their accomplishments—even if I am generally better and more experienced at the same things. Meanwhile, I do not progress, and continue to informally teach. I wish my wiring was a little less like that of a monk, and more like that of Tim Ferriss.

— § —

My wiring is not very much like that of Tim Ferriss and very much like that of a monk.

— § —

When I was young, I hated repeating tasks. Drudgery, it felt like. I sought to automate them, or find ways to not have to do them at all. Now that I’m older, repeating tasks have become little rituals that make life somehow less forbidding. Once a week I add 25 lbs. of air pressure to my right rear tire, which leaks. Every day I mop the floor, starting and ending on the same sides of the room each time. Twice a week I clean the bathroom. And so on. Without these little Tasks That Must Be Done, I might stagnate completely, lose my job, and become an unfit person. But the tire must have the air. And so everything else in life gets done.

— § —

That’s not to say that I really understand why most things in life must be done—not at an ontological level. Just at a practical one. Ontology itself seems to me to be the study of the effectively arbitrary.

— § —

It took me weeks to fix the sprinkler system this spring, and so I didn’t run it at first. As a result, big chunks of the lawn died. Then, I got it fixed and re-seeded. The re-seeding went well, and the grass is now growing thick and requiring watering and mowing and so on (the latter at least one or two more times before the season is done). The final result is that I wish the grass would die off again.

— § —

Basil is also one of life’s little joys. Basil and wristwatches. Not being broke though; that’s not a little joy at all.

October.  §

bite off a little bit at a time
because survival matters

the world is made up of
the echoes of unwritten stories
that will never be finished

and days
that will never be lived

Parenting Zen.  §

People have reduced parenting to an extensive set of rules.

Do X.
Don’t do Y.
Frame things in terms of Z.
Adopt strategy A for discipline.
Adopt strategy B for rewards.
Keep in mind these 11 Axioms about C.
Always buy U.
Never buy V.
And so on.

And then people are still on Facebook and Twitter about how many rules there are and how bad their kids are anyway and how it’s such a struggle and they need a big glass of booze and so on.

It’s all nonsense. Rules don’t make for better parents or for better kids. They miss the point. There are exactly two steps to successful parenting and happy kids.

(1) Internalize the fact that you are the adult parent and they are the kids, without confusion or hesitation.
(2) Take joy in parenting.

Lots of people can’t do #1, and even more can’t do #2.

Oh sure, everyone says “I love being a parent!” but then the follow it up with “But I hate tantrums, messes, battles over television, lying, fighting, having to lay down the law strictly…” Loving being a parent is not the same thing as loving parenting. Loving parenting means that the tantrums are adorable, the messes inspire a cozy glow, the battles over television are amusing and humorous, the lying is cute, the fighting amuses you, and the strictness feels—in that moment—like love and love only.

Because those are the things that parenting is made of. If you do not love those things, enjoy them, find them to be interesting and fun and an inspiring challenge to grow, etc. then your parenting is not happy parenting. You may love being a parent, but you are not parenting happily. And parents are always parenting. And kids are happy when their parents are legitimately and authentically happy. So given that you’re parenting basically nonstop when you’re a parent, if you’re not happy when parenting, your kids ain’t gonna be happy either. And if you don’t know that you’re in charge and they’re not, then you’re going to get run over, whether everyone is happy or not.

Those two points are all that it’s about. Be the grown-up and take joy in parenting, and everyone is happy and everything that has to get done gets done. Fail to take absolute, moment-by-moment pleasure in the everyday parenting tasks and challenges from your children and nobody will be happy. Fail to be the adult in the room or to be conscious of that fact and nothing will get done.

The rest is just… the rest.

Yikes.  §

A toxic, mutually-destructive relationship is one in which both people feel as though the other person is always interfering with their best ideas, skills, initiatives, and characteristics. Rather than both people thriving, each feels as though the other one is actively working against them, trying to sabotage everything they are trying to be and do. Over time, each person shrinks—becomes smaller and less than they were, rather than bigger and more.

When two people significantly diminish each other, just by being their best selves, they should not often be in the same room together, much less in a relationship with one another. They need to distance themselves from one another and live their own lives.

More and more truth.  §

“You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

Irritation.  §

I get irritated at a lot of things that are abstract—society and culture, the limitations of physics, and so on.

But it takes a whole hell of a lot to really, really irritate me on a person-to-person level—to get me irritated at somebody in particular. I’m a person with lots of feelings, but usually irritation is near the bottom of the list.

Right now, however, I am seriously personally irritated. I am trying to talk myself down, but frankly, there are few harder feelings to talk yourself down from.

Nonsense.  §

What nonsense times we live in, full of nonsense easy answers. Somehow everyone simply thinks, “Gosh, generations before me must have been stupid. Life is so easy! A couple of buzzwords and some inspiring quotes!”

Nonsense. There will be many reckonings for a generation. And then the pendulum will swing, full speed, in the other direction once again. It has already begun to do so, as evidenced by recent mass movements in politics.

The current crop of 30-somethings has been the ’70s “me generation” all over again. The return of Reagan’s revolution is next, with a resurgence of traditional values. Generation Y is already showing signs. Another generation down the road and it will be here.

Activism, protest, and the riot, or, democracy is dead.  §

T’was a time when the persuasion at work in democratic publics operated in quotidian interactions along tie networks. Change took longer, yes, but there was relatively little chance of large-scale social disruption.

The suffragette and civil rights movements, for all the good they did, shattered this. Yes, they were necessary, because of structural democratic problems; without the franchise, the persuasive bar was set much higher, and it was evidently unfair, compromising democratic systems at the point of legitimacy. However, their success gave rise to clear understandings of the efficacy of activism and protest, which have become ever easier as technology evolves. Today there are vanishingly few without the franchise (basically, illegal immigrants and felons) and yet activism and protest are more prevalent than ever.

The persuasion at work in our democratic publics now relies on, in the first instance, public disruption and the fear of even more intensely disruptive mobilization and its consequences, for its effectiveness. In short, all of politics has become terrorism. Every demographic group is a terrorist group. Every voting bloc is a terrorist bloc.

This is the problem with our system—the rapidity and low barrier to public action that modern media and transportation offer have enabled a politics of terrorism (of public disruption and its significant threat) that is now the foundation of what remains of democracy. This is playing out on our college campuses, in our communities, in our places of employment, and in our national elections, as well as in other nations.

Democracy is dead as we have known it; it was killed by telecommunications, mechanically-enabled transportation, and the success of the suffragette and civil rights movements. Democracy can’t survive under conditions of terrorism, yet terrorism can no longer be defeated without destroying the fundamental contemporary principle of democracy.

Popular sovereignty is thus dead. As a technology for sublimating the riot and social darwinism, it has expired; the riot and social darwinism have returned anyway, and thus democracy will fade away as everyone realizes that it serves no useful purpose any longer.

Dig deep.  §

“I think I’m going out of style
I think I’ve known it for a while
I think I’ve known it with a smile
I think I’m going home.”

— § —

The social world is characterized by its gaps. The gaps between some people are really big, and that’s that. The gaps between other people are smaller. Not much can be done about this. Is it genes? Is it environment? Forty years on the planet tells me that it doesn’t matter, a gap is a gap.

Mind the gap.

— § —

Never date or love based on mutual fascination or mutual admiration. Stick to mutual understanding. Grokking beats applauding.

— § —

They say that hope carries the day, but this is bullshit. Remembering carries the day. Remembering is everything.

— § —

To all those people over the years that are long gone now: you sucked as much as I thought you did. No regrets here. Hope you’ve pulled it together now. Good luck to you.

— § —

Okay, here’s one for you. Is “diversity” a valuable end in and of itself, in my considered opinion as a Ph.D. and longtime expert in multiple subjects both technical and humanistic? No. No it is not. Diversity is merely what it is. The rest is bullshit. Diversity is not an automatic tool to end discrimination. Ending discrimination is how you end discrimination. And in fact, even there the “obvious good” factor is seriously lacking. Learning to have discriminating preferences is a part of arriving at maturity. Discrimination is a tool, not a value good or bad. I used to teach this. People ought to read the definition of the word and reflect on things.

But diversity for diversity’s sake? Sophomoric. The whole world has gone sophomoric on us. The adults have left the gymnasium, all “gone out of the universe” as was once said in a famous film. Bullshit. It’s all such bullshit. Every time I think about getting back into academics, I’m reminded of this nonsense.

The world is steeped right now in bullshit. “Privilege” and “diversity” and “microagressions” and blah, blah, blah. What rot. If you have ever used these words, ask yourself if you are ceding most of your control, responsibility, and initiative to everyone else just so that you can play the hero in front of your own ego.

— § —

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster. For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

The problem with this, of course, is that sufficiently large monsters can only be defeated by other monsters. From time to time, it is necessary to take on the role and become the monster. That, too, is part of being a pragmatic adult rather than an idealist.

The trick is to be able to discern that moment at which the monster is defeated, and to return to non-monsterhood again.

— § —


Progress and the con.  §

Recently it generally feels as if by the time evening arrives, I have run entirely out of stamina, as well as out of thoughts. This is not good, as evening is one of my go-to times for getting things done, and for typing a few thoughts out here. Must fix.

— § —

I’m thinking about taking up Taekwondo like the kids have. I’ve been repeatedly invited, and it’s an interesting thought. I’m trying to figure out whether it would something that I really want to do (probably healthy), or whether it would be in that genre of things that I do to correct past wrongs or unfinished tasks and/or to prove something to myself (possibly unhealthy, though I’m actually not entirely sure).

One issue that would have to be overcome: daughter is dead-set against dad taking it up. This is actually a big part of the calculation for me, as I want her to continue to love it. I think it’s one of the best, most important components of her growth as a person right now.

— § —

Other thoughts that keep nagging at me:

– Jumping back into the academic production and career hunt
– The possibility of another degree (law, medicine, or philosophy)
– Housebuying
– Questioning of my own financial literacy

— § —

I’m a pretty tough-minded person. I’m incredibly fair; I’ll never ask for anything more than is just and right and proper, and generally won’t take it even if it’s offered, but I’ll also fight tooth and nail for the very same just, right, and proper, and I never, ever give up simply because the going is rough. I generally do a very good job of weighing things rationally and making sound (even if tough) decisions.

I can cope with setbacks and with criticism and I can have (and even initiate) the hard conversations and engagements. I am not particularly affected by other peoples’ opinions of me, only by my opinions of myself.

There have been some (okay, many, many, many) over the years that didn’t like one or, more commonly, all of these things about me. I mean, people really hate it when you’re tough-minded. When you don’t back away from what’s right despite obstacles, and when they can’t shift your course with their input unless you concur with it. They absolutely hate it.

Yet I think it is the right and proper and productive way to be.

There is nothing that I would more prefer to inculcate into my children as a parent and mentor than similar tough-mindedness.

— § —

Automatic and Eco-drive. Eco-drive and automatic.

— § —

I enjoy football season. I really, really enjoy it. I know that for a million reasons ranging from socioeconomic class to responsibilities to the neurological health of high school students I’m supposed to hate it, but I don’t. I enjoy it. I enjoy the hell out of it.

— § —

About a year and a quarter. That’s how long it’s effectively taken to climb back to some semblance of stability, productivity, and some sense of stability and discipline following the initial separation.

They say it takes 1-2 years at least to climb out of your hole. They are right.

The house is being put back together. Grass has been re-seeded and is nearing the age when I can mow it without risk just in time for the last couple mowings of fall. Laundry has gone from “clean, dirty, whatever, it’s all in a few baskets by the machines” to being folded and filed in drawers. Living room has been painted and redecorated (these were badly needed). Carpets have been shampooed. Fridge is clean. I no longer feel like a stranger or an alien in my own place of residence. I wake up and feel normal. I’m coming to feel on top of things at work (not caught up, just not in a continuous panic).

Not that there’s no nervousness or fear; just that they’re far lower than they were. And not that I let those things incapacitate me—I didn’t—but I imagine that my blood pressure is finally returning to normal after just over a year of looking like a volcano about to erupt.

— § —

I am getting some interesting offers again to take up photography with compensation, rather than just doing it as a hobby. I am very tempted. It is a path that was open to me once, a long time ago, and I decided to pursue academics instead.

Now there are some places to put my feet in the door again. The right time? The right choice? Hard to say. I still enjoy doing it. The question is—how far to take it? Do I really want to pursue it as a thing, or just as a one-off or cuppola?

I don’t know.

Same question for academics. Where am I going with my thoughts? What am I really thinking, if I try to remove the filter that I (like everyone) use to separate myself from myself?

— § —

On that note, now that I’ve arrived back at “steady, inside and out,” I need to begin to pursue “more tightly and completely integrated, conscious and subconscious.”

Lifelong projects.

Maybe we’re approaching time to begin picking them all up once again, finally.

— § —

Final note: there is absolutely, positively no point in dating. Because there is nobody worth dating, anywhere, anywhen. Never has been, never will be. It’s a con, folks. Don’t do it.