December 2010

Resolution Revolution

Resolutions. It’s the end of the year and the end of a decade. In some respects that’s a really big deal but really it’s just another day with a bigger tick mark on it in our heads that make it seem like it’s different than all the others. A way of marking the time that has passed. I’ve not been a big fan of resolutions for the most part because while they are meant to make you happier, make you a better person, right your past wrongs, the are frequently so lofty that the chance of success is very slim and that just leads to disappointments and feelings of failure when you eventually either don’t meet the goal or generally break the resolution.

Instead I prefer to look back on the last year, or on the last 10 years as it might be. Look at what I wanted to do, what I actually did, what I didn’t. Where did I think I would be today when I was looking ahead a year ago, or 10 years ago? Am I on track with those projections? If not, is the track I chose better than the one I thought I was going to take? What have I done right? What have a done wrong? Who did I help? Who did I hurt? I think reflecting is very valuable. It helps you see what kind of a person you are. It’s really easy to paint a beautiful picture of the person you want to be but actually taking a solid look at the person you are I think is a better way to see what actions to take that will help you to be a better person tomorrow.

I know not everyone cares about that, but it’s kind of the central thing to me. At least I always want it to be. I know I fuck up. I know I’ve done things wrong. I know I’ve hurt people. I didn’t want to or intend to do those things, so what can do, what can I keep in mind to reduce the chances of doing those things again in the future. And more that that, not just fixing mistakes, what can I do to generally improve situations. What can I do to be a better person. What can I do to not just make the world a little better place for me, but for those around me.

Of course it’s easy to write that off as equally selfish and lofty and I’d be lying to say these concerns are paramount every day – sometimes the only thing I care about is having a really good cup of coffee – but I think spending some time thinking about it every once and a while is a good way to asses and evaluate and adjust accordingly. I think wanting to do the right thing goes a long way and influences your actions without it being a conscious decision. Maybe I’m full of shit, but that’s what I tend to think.

And bringing that back to resolutions, thinking to myself that I want to try to do more good than bad seems more reachable and attainable than having some statistic I’m trying to reach. Of course I still have those mini-milestones in my head for this project or that one, but I think pulling those off should be the byproduct of being on the right track, not the main goal that is being worked towards. The destination isn’t the goal. When you get to the destination it’s over. And if that’s all you were thinking about then you missed the journey in between here and there.

Happy New Year.

Keep in Touch

I’ve never been too good at keeping in touch with people, this might sound strange given that I’m often associated with having a large network of friends and folks I’ve been involved with but I have a short attention span and put a lot of focus into what is in front of me at any given time which means that without realizing it I sometimes go weeks, months, even years without being in touch with people I genuinely like and care about. I’ve frequently chalked this off to just being busy but in hindsight this probably makes me a bad friend.

The worst part of that is once I’ve been out of touch with someone for a long time I don’t really know the right way to get back in touch with them. Either because I don’t know their new contact information or because I don’t know the context that would be fitting for a hi and hello. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is come off like I wanted something from them, as that is one of my biggest pet peeves when people I used to know reach out to me. For example, I interacted with a bunch of people when I was running a record label in a variety of ways. When I shut down the label a bunch of those people disappeared from my life as well. Years later when I was co-running an art gallery some of those people would pop back into my life but it was clear they had an agenda, they didn’t really know what I was doing but assumed it might help them out somehow. It was pretty lame. I’ve noticed the same trend again recently with people I was somehow involved with at the gallery who I haven’t heard from in years and are suddenly sending me notes to the effect of “Hey man, remember me? I saw you are writing for BoingBoing a lot recently, check out this thing I’m doing now..” – really. Is there anything shittier than that? (Don’t worry, I’m not talking about you. Unless you think I’m talking about you, then maybe I’m talking about you.)

But this is the thing right, the problem is I feel like they want to use me, not be friends with me. And reflecting that back on my own experiences I don’t want to be the kind of person who comes off as trying to use anyone.

Anyway, back to the point. When you loose communication and then try to rebuild it later it’s always suspect. It’s always suspect for me anyway and I try not to be that way to other people. The Japanese have a custom of sending news years cards out to their friends. This is a lowest common denominator level of effort but it it is some level of effort and it maintains some level of contact. It’s just enough to prevent those friendship ties from fading away to nothing. If at some point down the line you need to touch base with someone again, it’s doubtful they will think you don’t care about them unless they have something to offer because at worst the last time you’ve been in touch with them was the previous New Year when you took the time to send them a card.

I think this is a brilliant tradition and it’s something I’ve been thinking of taking up on my own because I don’t want these people who have been a part of my life to fade away and think I don’t care about them, but I also don’t want to have to manufacture a good reason to get in touch with them. Just saying hi should be enough. So in that right, a simple card saying Hi and letting them know I was thinking about them probably goes a really long way. I know it would if the situation was reversed.

I don’t think exceptionally highly of people I haven’t talked to in 10+ years who all the sudden get in touch with me hoping I can be of some benefit to them. However if at any point in the last few years they had reached out to just say hi and shown some level of friendship it would be a whole other situation. That said, it’s 2011 already and doing things that require the involvement of the post office or licking stamps seems kind of archaic, right? But I want to try to do something. My friends have always been the most important people in the world to me, definitely adopted family, and I hate the thought that I’ve let some of them fade away over the years for no good reason other than life getting in the way.

Dear friends, lets try to strengthen those ties again, cool?

Hero Worship, Julian Assange and Religion

[Advance apologies for scatterbrained nature of this post, it’s kind of an expanded idea I was running with on Twitter that keep taking more than 140 chars and I just wanted to write it out while it was fresh in my head. Perhaps I’ll expand on it more in the future as well if folks think it’s worthwhile.]

So there’s been a lot of discussion of the Rape accusations against Julian Assange recently, and a lot of discussion about the reaction to those accusations. I don’t think I’m mistaken when I say that a non-trivial number of people have publicly speculated the rape charges might be fraudulent for one reason or another putting the credibility of the accusers in question, but there’s also been a non-trivial number of people who’ve done just the opposite – instantly believed any and all accusations and condemned Assange based on what is basically hearsay at this point. We’ll see how much that changes after the trial, but I think that’s to be expected for a lot of reasons.

It’s easy to think this is indicative of some kind of sexism but it’s worth noting that, in my observations anyway, I’ve seen just as many men as women take both of the above sides. Personally, having known women who have been raped, as well as men who have been falsely accused of rape – I’m extremely hesitant to make early assumptions but I’m very much in the minority there I think. It might be some underlying sexism, it might be some ingrained guilt, or it might be something else. I think it’s less of those things and more that our society as a whole has a really hard time accepting the duality of people. People are not all good, or all bad. They are both, sometimes they do really good, or really bad things, but by and large one action isn’t indicative of everything about a person.

So in the case of Julian Assange, people who are supporters of wikileaks are having a really hard time with the idea that the guy behind it might not be a saint. And I’m not using that word as just a random example, I think religion, Christianity specifically, is very much to blame for a lot of this. People are brought up being taught about this group of people who were completely flawless or who if by chance did mess up, were instantly repentant and forgiven thus maintaining their good graces with God. Children are taught to aspire to be like this, and given this ideal that isn’t realistic or achievable at all. So what happens is when someone gets in to the spotlight all of those hopes and dreams are projected on them. We saw it with Obama and we’re seeing it again with Julian Assange.

It’s very hard for people to wrap their head around the concept that someone they look up to on one level might not be as respectable on another. Wait, how could Obama smoke? He’s supposed to be perfect and a role model. Wait, how could he give Bush & Co a pass, I thought he was going to be the shining light of change? This is a problem when you put anyone on a pedestal – how could Assange be anything but a gentleman in his personal life because wikileaks is such a great thing? Wait, I really agree with that one thing Assange said, but I can’t support rape so in order for that to balance out in my head one of those must be false, and I want a hero so I must assume the rape charges are bullshit. Hell maybe the rape charges *are* bullshit. But maybe they aren’t.

Good people sometimes do really bad things.

Bad people sometimes do really good things.

There’s no such thing as saints or saviours. People are just that, people. Anytime we expect them to be more than that we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. This is something we should keep in mind, and judge actions based on the actions, and not try to constantly fit people into the role of great redeemer.

If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine

For a long time I was known online as “that Ellian Wassup guy” because of a little run in I had with the Associated Press and a parody video I made about the Janet Reno / Elian Gonzalez situation. Long story short I put up the video and the AP told me to take it down. Before I could take it down someone else copied it and put it up. The AP told them to take it down too. But not before some other people put it up too. The AP contacted them too, but well you can see where this is going, before too long mirrors of the video were going up faster than the AP could try to get them taken down and that, among other things, finally got them to drop it. What I learned clearly in that situation was when the internet wants something, and I say the internet as if it’s one living organism because it kind of is, when it wants something, it gets it. That applies to getting into or giving it just the same.

I watched this play out then, I’ve watched it play out again since then in other situations and we’re all watching it happen again, it’s just some people don’t learn from the past. In the same way going after Napster didn’t put an end to MP3 sharing, but rather inspired the creation of less trackable and more decentralized sharing technologies, going after Wikileaks isn’t going to put an end to the transparency and accountability they are endorsing. Cutting off the head of the hydra doesn’t kill it, it makes it stronger. People – civilians, military and government alike – want the same things wikileaks does, and if wikileaks is cut down that will not be the end. It will more likely be just the beginning. It’s kind of shocking to see how shortsighted some people are being in their attempts to fight this. It’s much bigger than just one person or just one website. There’s no stopping the web when it wants something.