Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When Geeks Rule the Earth




     When I was growing up I used to hang out with a lot Punks and Skaters. One of the things which always impressed me was the way they dressed. A lot of their shirts had anti-social or anti-government slogans and expressions which they would carefully stitch or sew on themselves, and the creativity involved was so new to me and I found it absolutely fascinating. To express one’s individuality in ways that were outside of both the status quo and the normal merchandise medium really felt to me like some kind of pure underground movement of rebellion.

     These days, you can go to any Hot Topic and find pre-made shirts, pants, backpacks and any number or accessories which are, ironically, splayed over with anti-establishment catch-phrases and ideas. The idea that you can now walk into a corporate owned store and purchase anti-corporate, anti-government, or anti-social merchandise is both baffling and repugnant to me. What happened to the idea of individual expression? Where is the staunch refusal to buy into the mass consumerism and blind corporate obedience? Apparently, it’s for sale and hanging on a clothes rack.
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     However, I’m not actually here to talk about the steady decline of the underground. I want to talk about the world of Geekdom. And how it means absolutely nothing anymore.
I’ve already said how I grew up hanging around with the more rebellious fringes of society, and while I did (and do) wholeheartedly embrace their love of the “Anti-”, I wouldn’t say that I quite fit in with their crowd. I was definitely socially awkward, but I expressed myself quite differently. You could usually find me with a book or a comic or with a video game.

     Being a nerd in the early 90’s was often a lonely experience. I don’t think I met more than five or six people in school who knew what Dragonlance was, or who had played a Final Fantasy game before FFVII. And don’t even get me started on trying to find someone who loved comic books as much as I did, or who collected them for reasons beyond trying to make money. The world of the geek/nerd (I use the terms interchangeably), while not as vocally or visually flamboyant as other outside groups, was still a universe filled with lonely nights and barely-contained mockery from those who embraced the “norm”.

     See, back then, when you were passionate about something, whether comics or music or disrupting the “system”, it was up to YOU to express that passion. And, to those not within your circle, you often looked like a complete weirdo while you did so. You spent hours talking about how badass Raistlin Majere was, or about how someday you were going to bring down all those “Suits” and their bland cloned lives, because to you and your close knit-circle it was genuinely exciting! You simply couldn’t contain how you felt about it. In other words, you “geeked out”. And your fellow geeks never looked at you askew as it happened…they were too busy geeking out right along with you.

     Today brings us a very different world. The world of the geek is literally everywhere. There are comic book movies, video games and…comics. Doctor Who lunchboxes and T.A.R.D.I.S. pens, mugs, costumes, phone covers and galore are available at even the tiniest of shops. You can’t walk anywhere without running into someone’s fandom popping out. Geeks have truly inherited the earth…or, at least it seems.

     The cracks in the walls of this fabled Nerdtopia first began to appear to me while watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Now, I do understand that quite a lot of critics (correctly, IMHO) dismiss this show as being faux-geek. However, as it’s intended audience is the nerd crowd, and the shows main characters all fit the stereotype, I find it useful for this discussion. In the episode I watched (the exact episode eludes me), Sheldon Cooper, the show’s anal-retentive “super geek”, was getting all gooey about some comic book characters and wanted to have an elaborate conversation about their merits in a battle. His supposed geeky friends, rather than joining in, instead mocked his keen interest and changed the subject to more “male-friendly”, normal conversation matter. Sheldon was defeated.

     Did you notice what has happened here? A group of people, often found wearing T-shirts with super-hero logos on them, and who obviously have the passion to pursue careers in the scientific fields of study…find passion-fueled conversations preposterous. How in the hell did that come about?

     I think I have an answer: because being labeled a “Geek” is more important than actually BEING a Geek. Knowing the correct fandoms, being versed in the plethora of references and recognizing them when in public, while also wearing as many garments and accessories and stickers of popular nerdy things has now trumped possessing the all-consuming fire of Passion. And that, my friends, is the very antithesis of geek culture. It is an exact parallel to what happened in Punk and Skater culture: the merchandising of a former fringe group, to bring in those who are actually part of the status quo/norm.

     Go to any coffee shop these days, and you’re bound to see a Captain America T-shirt or someone with a Sci-Fi TV-show-themed mug or other commodity. But what you’ll see much less frequently is a heated conversation about the shows or media behind the logos. More than likely, what you’ll see is the fervent giggling as someone points out the multitudinous displays from whichever particular fandom they also happen to enjoy. This entire movement has turned into a sort of Nerdy-Ouroboros: the only passion anymore is all about being a Geek…which itself is a term used to express passion about something else! I’m honestly surprised the world hasn’t imploded from the paradox. Doc Brown would not be amused.

     So, what am I trying to say by all this? Is it wrong to be obsessed with geeky/nerdy culture? I certainly don’t think so. My teenage-self beams every time I see one of my beloved superheroes up on the big screen. And, every time I’m reminded of just how prevalent Video-Game culture has become, I smile and thank the heavens that people are appreciating the medium for what it is, instead of relegating it to the toy section. However, with great obsession, comes great responsibility. We owe it to ourselves as Geeks and Nerds to make this name mean something! If we want to have a world where we can all be free to have as much love and passion for something without fear of judgment, then we need to actually HAVE that passion without fear of judgment, or without judging others for being so obviously in love with an idea or movement or fandom. Otherwise, using terms and labels is meaningless. Really, they already are meaningless, but that’s a discussion for another blog post.

     Go out and engage in the things you’re passionate about. Don’t be so obsessed with knowing when to give the expected nod to a subtle Doctor Who reference when it’s dropped; rather, talk about how amazing it would be to travel the universe in a T.A.R.D.I.S. or argue about which iteration of the Doctor you’d prefer to travel with, or why you think Spider-Man is much better than Batman or why the world of Dragonlance or Final Fantasy (any of them) would be such an amazing or horrible world to live in! Geek out! Dare to look goofy because you care so goddamn much about people and places and ideas that don’t actually exist in our grey, mundane world. THEN and only then, will Geeks have truly inherited the earth, my friends.
Now, go live long and prosper.
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why I Sort of Gave Up Fighting The Good Fight

 

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     Many years ago, when I was in my early twenties, my life was pretty well sorted out. I simply knew I was going to become a Minister someday, teaching the Word of God to the faithful and reprobate alike. It was my daily joy to peruse the Bible and commentaries for hours on end, and then to ruminate on those delicious nuggets of truth and wisdom I had dug up from their hidden depths. People came to me for that wisdom and knowledge, and I would often pontificate and illuminate them as humbly as possible.

And then I got on the Internet.

    Due to various reasons I hadn’t really had an online presence for most of my young adult life. I was familiar with computers in a general way, but getting online was something I just didn’t have access to for quite a while. When it finally did happen, the natural first step for me was to find a way to use it as a means to continue on with my life’s passion of spreading the light of truth.

     So, I began browsing the Christian chatrooms and website forums. I found topics on all sorts of subjects, with people asking questions on what the Bible had to say about this or that thing. It was absolutely heaven for me. The fields, indeed, seemed fertile and ready for me to plant the seeds of truth, and I could do it all right from my desktop! But, what I found instead were grounds cold and hard and full of weeds.

     You see, the thing was, nobody wanted to hear what I had to say. Almost Shield with Arrowsinvariably, a poster would start a thread asking a question, usually about what the Bible had to say about, for example, tithing or speaking in tongues or even how to deal with unruly children; and so, quite normally, I posted responses based on what I had learned, backed up by scripture quotes and putting everything into a firm context that wasn’t cherry-picked. What happened next, again almost invariably, was absolutely astounding to me: they argued, discounted what I said and relegated my posts to the realm of opinions.

     Now, the thing about religion is that a lot of it is built upon subjective personal experiences. How you feel about God and His working in your life is something that no one can rightly judge but yourself. But, this changes when you’re reading a text. A text  is a text. What is written therein cannot be unwritten or unsaid. It’s there. For all to see. The CONTENT of a book is absolutely objective, although its meaning certainly isn’t.

     And this was my main area of frustration. Asking a person what the Bible says about an issue ought to be done with an understanding that the text itself is unequivocal. If I ask you, “What does the Bible say about killing?”, well, it says “Thou shalt not kill”. THAT is what it SAYS. Now, what does it mean? We could debate that all day. Does it mean wars are justifiable acts of homicide or are they also sin? It could be argued in so many different directions in fact, that real and fruitful discussion about it may never be possible. But, my point is that the text says what it says, and so when asked for Biblical instruction I would literally just share its text as-is.

     However, it turns out that people aren’t actually interested in learning what the Bible (or anything, really) has to say. Their usual natural preference is for their own opinions to be validated. And that’s an entirely different ballgame from what I was trying to do.

     Fast forward a few years to my later twenties. I’d come to find myself as a bitter, world-weary man who no longer had the energy to try sharing the gospel. Did I still believe it? Every word. Was my faith still in an almighty God? Of course. And it still is, even today. That’s something important to know about me. I’m a complex creature, which seems perfectly reasonable when I believe my life came from a complex deity. What changed wasn’t my belief in the Divine; no, what changed was my attitude about sharing that belief with the world.

     One can slam their frail head against a hard wall only so many times before you realize it’s time to stop or risk going all Rocky Balboa in the brain. So, that’s exactly what I did. I stopped devoting my days to endless studying of religious texts. I learned more about the Internet and how it works. My mind has always been a curious one, so I spent my days learning about science, politics, history and about what makes a society tick. I read more fiction, played more video games, and talked to all sorts of different people, NON-religious people. And that’s when I discovered the absolute last thing I ever expected to find.

     Contrary to what was always taught at church or by my mentors and ministers, the non-religious had incredibly open minds! When asked for an opinion on something, rather than immediately discounting what I offered, they usually responded with genuine curiosity and further inquiry! I was astounded almost to muteness! People were interested in learning things, or at least seeing another perspective on something, and validating their own opinions wasn’t their default setting! Heaven indeed!

     Now, being an introvert, this led to a lot of thinking about why such a dichotomy existed. I couldn’t fit my mind around just why people who were driven by faith in the unseen felt that they absolutely knew all the answers about the world and life and death; but, those who were slowly building up ideas about the world, at the pace of rugged scientific and logical advancement, acted as if they barely knew anything. These non-religious friends I’d come to know almost never claimed to see “how it all works”. Rather, they were the first to claim, like Socrates, that their so-called wisdom lay in what they did not know. And, when I saw this in my mind, my eyes felt like they were truly opened for the first time.

     I began to see that there is a fine distinction between a confidence borne of studying the factual discoveries and reasoned understanding of our world and environment, and an arrogance built upon the dust-bathed traditions and inculcation of pendants and truth-guardians who seemed seldom likely to trust neither facts or discovery,  nor a reasoned outlook at the collected data of humanity’s history, but rather on a subjective feeling for what “ought to be true”. Such a realization completely broke my heart. How could I continue to “fight the good fight of faith”, as the Bible says, when it was becoming increasingly evident that the majority of religious minded people, good people, were no longer interested in that very same fight? Instead, they fought the “fight” of keeping their particular worldview safe from any intrusion…even if that intrusion meant shedding the specious skin of error so that the light of truth and real knowledge could somehow find a way inside.

      My internal fire slowly began to die at that point. waterandfireI had a crisis of faith, so to speak. God, in all His glory, had spawned a race of fools it seemed. And I no longer cared to feed them milk, or tend their wounds. Let them raise themselves into whatever hellish mutants they intended to become. My bitterness at Christians became almost palpable. It’s incredibly difficult to either explain or understand the ambivalence of loving and hating a group you feel is your “spiritual family”. They certainly didn’t act like family…or, maybe they did. I mean, aren’t most families full of warring attitudes and views? At any rate, I distanced myself from the Church almost as completely as I could. It hurt. It really hurt, especially as I watched members in my own household gripping their newfound faith tighter and tighter in the ensuing years.

     That gaping wound is still here with me. But healing has begun to occur in a way that I didn’t really see coming. I decided to change the trajectory of my life’s ambitions, while still using the talents and skills that I felt I had been blessed with. I am not interested in ministering to the Sheep of the Fold anymore; instead, I want to warn those with open hearts, believer or non, that the worst danger they can ever face is the stony fa├žade of a closed and calloused heart and mind. When you think you know everything, you truly don’t know anything, just as a filled teapot cannot contain more water poured into it.

     And that is why I have written this, I think. To both remind myself of why I hold so ardently to the views that I do: about government, about education, and privacy and intellectualism; but, also to maybe show others that the nature of the world is still being revealed to us anew each and every day. Nobody knows it all. Not the Church, not the Scientists, and certainly not the people over in Washington. Anyone who claims to hold a corner on truth…or even to know what truth really is…is fooling themselves and all those they try to proselytize.

     My fire has been rekindled for now, though it burns with a different light these days. Oh, the light from God is still there, but I think He means me to use the “lesser lights” of solid reason and perspicacity. And, so far, they are serving me well.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Draft of a story: Birth of the Time Master

(This is a rough draft of a story I began at the prompting of my good friend Luna Raven. It’s based on a dream I had about time travel yesterday. Please enjoy and any feedback is much appreciated! – C.)

I awaken to another day in this sordid hell hole that is my existence. The usual routine begins: drab coffee that’s always a touch too hot, paired with the only savory meal of the day: a much-needed cigarette. After dressing in my grey unimaginative uniform, I proceed to the work which is my life.

One by one the mindless drones carry out their tasks, lifting and lugging the huge bricks and materials to build the new edifice. I am a god among men, so it should be fitting that I live in a temple where they can worship at my feet. After all, don’t I deserve this? I brought these wandering, mindless sheep of a people to order and prosperity! Their empty lives were drowning in mindless entertainment, eyes glued to screens and monitors. I simply tweaked this arrangement, guiding their fallow brains toward utility.

No more were the people to spend endless hours watching videos of cats or babies. This was meaningless. Instead, I led them to think of greater things, much more meaningful things: I taught them how to master Time itself.

Of course, this required discipline. The complex navigation through the science of Time travel and mastery could not afford idle time or thoughts intruding upon its excellence. And so I banished everything that made the mind idle: books, movies, music and games. These are the work of feeble minds, hampered by the need to feel elation and distraction. Time has no room for such obstacles.

And so, my world is grey and ordered, with every moment of each day structured and planned for the people. One less thing they need concern themselves with: original thought. Now, they do as I bid, with my instructions detailed on their precious screens. They perform my calculations, build my machines and carry out my wishes throughout all of time. And, when necessary, they kill for me.

Time is the greatest resource of mankind. We are all born with exactly the same amount at our disposal. Each day we have the same 1,440 minutes, that we can either use for good or waste. No one has any more or less. Only the dead use these minutes for naught…but even they still exist in time. I have learned how to make time my slave. There is no need for me to rush or hurry any more, because I have all the time I need. You see, I found a way to steal the minutes given to each human being and use them for myself. Before I brought Salvation to humanity, they foolishly wasted time. Now, time will never be wasted again.

I created a technology that allows our precious screens to not only view events in Time, but also to take us there. We are told that the human brain is a super computer. I decided to take this literally, experimenting on (sometimes unwillingly) available subjects until I found a way to connect the hippocampus with the electrical impulse and wireless signal of cellphones. That part of the brain is responsible for both memory and spatial awareness. In effect, one can dial into your memory or a particular location and then BE THERE.