pollychromatic

the world through rainbow eyes


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… and Hope and Charity

I feel very overwhelmed with this US presidential election year.

Usually politics concern me, but do not worry me. I watch and comment and get involved where it seems prudent or useful.

This year feels different. I see the hate speech and violence ramping up at Trump rallies. The machine that the GOP made using the Southern Strategy has been so successful that it created a vacancy that Trump stepped into seamlessly.

His charisma when people feel ill prepared, financially, to achieve and sustain basic life needs appeals to people. His charisma when people feel entirely Future Shocked also appeals to the masses.

I seem to be mostly surrounded by people who do not see the appeal of Donald Trump. Most of us have sat helpless and hopeless watching his effect grow.

Yesterday was Super Tuesday in my state of Georgia and I watched my state’s conservative Primary voters turn out to support Trump. My own feelings of hopelessness grew. I listened to Trump talking about ‘Making America Great Again’ and heard echoes of other similar historical promises made.

I woke up with my mind ruminating on this and spoke with a friend about it. How do we fix this? How can we fix a world where cutting one’s self off from others seems the safest solution, or the only viable solution.

The answer we finally came up with was charity. The world is broken, and the only way to go about fixing it is to directly apply ourselves.

People do not feel hopeless when there is hope. They do not feel helpless when they are helped or helping. They are not prone to the charismatic and empty promises of hatred that are simply an act of cutting one’s self off from compassion and empathy when they have been directly touched by compassion and empathy.

So the question of what to do is charity but the question of what charity is and how to do it remains.

Maimonides said acts of charity are:

  1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
  2. Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of charity with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
  3. Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving charity before being asked.
  6. Giving charity after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving out of pity or sadness.

This seems like a reasonable accounting of the ways of doing charity. It even lists the ways that are imperfect, but still doing charity. Life is not perfect, and I am not perfect, so I can do this.

So I am going to dedicate myself to [at least] one act of charity a week. My friend agreed and we will hold each other accountable.

In this way I can help restore the world. No empty promises of making America great, but actual work toward humanity.

Join me?


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Of Thriller and Happy

I was 11 when Michael Jackson’s Thriller first aired. It was truly huge. It’s hard to explain to kids of this generation how big it was, even. As you walk into the past of my life to witness cultural phenomena there’s more and more of that.

Bigness.

We marched in a closer lockstep then. The Internet had not arrived. 24 hour TV was really mostly network tv with some late night/early morning programming that was monster movies and the such. Probably the most diverse thing we had going was actually the radio, believe it or not (hard to imagine in this era of Cumulus Media and Clear Channel, but it’s true).

So I can say pretty clearly that an awful lot of people watched Vincent Price introduce Michael Jackson to do a dance that we all know nowadays.

I’m getting somewhere with this, I promise you.

See, a lot of my friends are really deeply disturbed by news nowadays. Climate change, political and economic disasters, wars everywhere. To say that these events bum them out would be an understatement. They are devastating to my friends. They’ve turned to hobbies and insular communities to get away from the 24-Hour New’s pronouncements of our impending doom.

It’s not really precisely frustrating to me that this is the state of things. That the ideas that I tend to swim in prove toxic to people I care about. What I have a hard time articulating is why it doesn’t feel toxic to me.

Which brings me back to cultural events such as Michael Jackson.

Yesterday was International Day of Happiness. For it, Pharrell William’s fantastic site 24hoursofhappiness.com came back up on the radar again, and suddenly a bunch of people I know are discovering the song and incredibly inclusive video. Which is cool, but sorta weird. The song has already broke records. It’s the sort of thing that one would expect to have as big a cultural impact as Thriller, actually. The sort of thing that you might expect people to look back on and say their little part in.

I kind of doubt that will happen, though. It’s not that it isn’t as big a deal, it’s that socially impacting and beautiful stuff like that happens all the damn time now. All over the world, all over the internet, people are part of incredibly important and impacting social movements every day. There’s no cultural lockstep because there’s room for literally thousands of subcultures to make their impact and to dabble in dozens of them

It’s hard for me to not have hope that the coming generation isn’t changing things, and isn’t bringing change when facts like that are present.

One might say that it makes me happy.


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Paradise Gained

A year ago, Paul Mitchell left the Internet. 

Now he’s back, and what he has to say about his experience is ephemeral and abstract. It’s all rather unsatisfying for people who live in a culture that full-out romanticizes all things Luddite. We are hungry for stories that reinforce our outlook that surely if we just drop out, unplug, and simplify that surely we will find a life that is more satisfying, less overwhelming.

It’s not really satisfying from the other angle, either. He doesn’t bring back tales from the land of the unplugged about how impossible it was to find his way around, or shop for the best deals, or any of a number of feats that we find impossible without the internet.

Instead, he speaks of a vague unease; he speaks of a disconnect from a connected world.

 

I can really appreciate that. My life doesn’t really have a divide between In Real Life [IRL] and OnLine [OL]. Friends that I have met walking about in meat space I often follow around in the bits and bytes of the internet. We keep in contact and get together regularly to speak and exchange thoughts and pleasantries. The same goes for meeting people online. The vast majority of my IRL friendships either started OL or were tangentially related to an existing OL relationship.

I’m often baffled by the admissions of those who separate out their OL “persona” from their  IRL “self.” How in the world is it “not you” to act like a twit? You just did it. How does it “not count” because it happened in digital space?

I digress.

My point is, take away my internet, and I would be missing half my self. It’s another dimension to my interactions that is essential. It connects me to most of the continents, and makes my life richer just on a personal and mundane level.
Which isn’t even really scratching the surface of what the internet does for the world that I feel the impact of. The internet is catapulting science forward in leaps and bounds that are hard to even calculate at this point. To liken it to the invention of the plow on the dramatic change in humankind is too small, much closer to the invention of written language and the invention of the printing press bringing written language to the common man.

Not many generations passed where such things were in records and not in memory.

I think about that a lot.

I also think of the first time I got in a car with a person who used GPS often. I remember her programming the GPS to tell her how to get to her local grocery store. This was a grocery store she had gone to many times before installing GPS, but one that she admitted she could no longer get to without the GPS unit telling her to turn here, or go forward there. She was not ignorant or unintelligent. She was genuinely bemused at her inability, but had simply come to accept it.

Admittedly, most people do not use their own GPS functions on their phones, or units to that extent. You know how to get around your neighborhoods just like Paul Mitchell found he could without internet to tell him the navigational directions.

I still think about that, though. I juxtapose it with what happened to oral history in the wake of the invention of the printing press. I know that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the changes the internet has wrought  on our very neural processes. That it will change.

 

I think this is something that Mr. Mitchell sort of discovered. We have already crossed over. There is no going back. You can unplug yourself, sure. It may gain you some insight to yourself. It may gain you a loss of distraction, even. It may be that your particular interactions and usage while plugged in are unhealthy and simply distracting you from what you truly need and want to do and be. That is not the internet, though. That’s you. If you don’t do it OL, you’re going to do it IRL. It may take a while to shake down to there if you unplug, but your bad habits will follow you there.

What will also follow you is isolation. And this is really the greatest gift of the internet. Which is not to discredit the beauty and need to experience the silence we all need and must experience. But.

The isolation is a different matter. The power of the loss of that isolation is tremendous and nearly unquantifiable. Some of it is great, and some of it is terrible. We can’t go back on it, though. It’s simply here.

 


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Brave New World

On November 4th 2008 I was just a bit over 2 weeks into recovery from the emergency c-section that had brought P and Pie slip-sliding into this world.
I was determined to vote, and left my wee babies for either the first time or one of the first times with my husband. I showered and dressed, excited to not be wearing house clothes that were mostly determined by their function and ease of use. I put on socks and shoes, brushed my hair, kissed my family and walked to the driveway to get in my little car.

I drove to the local polling precinct (a local Baptist church, as are most of the polling places surrounding me), prepared to stand in line for hours.

This was a pretty unnecessary mental preparation. There wasn’t much of a line, but the poll workers took one look at me and pulled me to the front of what meager line there was.

This is pretty embarrassing if you think about it. I had showered, for cripes sake. Clean clothes were on my body. I was not wearing yoga pants, and my shirt had not been marketed in any way as a nursing accessible shirt. I felt the very best I had felt post-natal. Yet, I  still looked so much like death warmed over that they carefully walked me to the registry, and to the voting stall. They gingerly held my hand as though I might fall down or start spitting pea soup at any minute.

Nevertheless, I found the strength to do my bit and even enjoyed a tiny afternoon out afterward.

The rest of the day is lost to memory for me. What I do remember, though, is watching the returns that night. Myself and my husband watched as the votes were counted and history was made. Our babies slept peacefully through the process.

When the election was called and it became apparent that our 44th President would be Barack Obama my heart swelled. I did not have any incredible great hopes or expectations tied to that feeling. I voted for him because I thought his was the best and most credible plan. I considered his personal history and life record and thought that they embodied something worthwhile for the Oval Office.

That wasn’t what the heart swelling was about, though. It was about the fact that we had managed to elect a black guy. Not just any black guy, though, a black guy with a name like Barack Hussein Obama. During a time when a name like that should have basically been the end of any political career.

I didn’t think that racism was over or that xenophobia was now a thing of the past rather than a force that was alive, well and still kicking the shit out of a lot of people.

What I did think was that the odds had just gotten pushed into a slightly better arrangement. That was worth a bit of heart swelling. So swell my heart did. I held my children and my heart swelled and I kissed their heads and whispered into their ears that they were alive and here when something amazing happened.

This time around, my heart was slower to swell. I wanted the outcome that happened, sure, but what happened had already happened.

Halfway into the night, though, I had a realization.

The newborn infants that I had whispered into the ears of four years previously were gone. In their place were two rambunctious four year olds. In four years when this happened again, those preschoolers that I knew would be gone. In their place would be two eight year olds. Instead of sleeping while this happened they would likely be awake and present for most of it.

Not only that, but, and this is where my heart started to swell, the only President they had ever known would be about to be replaced. For the first eight years of their life the head of their country will have been President Barack Obama.
They will not be children of Johnson, Nixon and Ford as myself and my husband are. They are not the children of Carter, or Reagan, or Bush one or two. They are not the children of Clinton.

I don’t really entirely know what that means or will mean to them. It does feel more hopeful in this age when we are looking forward, though. The landscape and possibilities of humankind are changing at a drastic rate right now, at speeds that I can’t even quantify.

The invention of the silicon chip followed by the invention of the Internet has laid a new field down. Science and research are taking jumps that seemed to be previously mired in treacle. The political implications have already been earth shattering and somewhat unpredictable all around the world. We’re still trying to get our feet out from under us as to what the social landscape is in this new world.

To our children, though, this isn’t a new world. It’s just the world. There has always been internet. Phones were always flat things that one carried in their pocket. We’ve always had a map of the human genome. It’s always been possible to video chat with someone across the world. Barack Obama has always been President.

Will they someday look at the family’s new 3d printer the way my brother, sister and I looked at our family’s new microwave? Will it also be incorporated into their lives the way the microwave was incorporated into our lives? Will they print out models for school assignments? Will we use our phones to take a quick scan of their bodies instead of going to the doctor?

I do know, already, that their friends will be here, there and everywhere the way my friends are. Not because my friends migrated, but because the Internet makes it possible for me to befriend someone from New Zealand even though I never left the US.

Now, all that has little to do with our 44th President. His re-election made me consider that, though. The current hand wringing and grief over losing the election, typified by Bill O’Reilly saying on air that “the white establishment is now the minority” and “it’s not a traditional America anymore,” points out how tied to the past we were. The election went to the youth, to the minorities, and to the women who could no longer stand by while they lost all that their mothers and grandmothers had fought for.

That’s a really good thing. You can’t step forward when you’re satisfied with where you are standing. The white male establishment was, as a whole (though not necessarily in parts), satisfied with where they were standing in the US.

My children strive forward into a future that I do not know.

I sort of think that’s a good thing.