Monthly Archives: August 2013

Baby Steps

Friends,

As someone who tries to look at the big picture and find the root causal mechanisms which give rise to the problems in the world, I try not to get (too) embroiled in issues-based discussions or put too much stock into piecemeal (attempts at) solutions.  For example, I have discussed in the past that fighting for* black rights, or women’s rights or gay rights is a doomed endeavor on two counts: 1) It promotes division by advocating for one group at the expense of others, inevitably creating resentment, and 2) It hacks at the branches of evil, rather than striking the root, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.
However, I have come to realize that round dismissal of furtive steps toward a better world is no way to proceed either.  Rather there is a way in which admirable but mistaken good intentions can be channeled in the right directions.  More importantly, a surfeit of of proposed solutions, even those which only marginally improve on established methodologies, while still retaining many of their drawbacks, are perhaps a mandatory first step in a paradigm shift.
If this is sounding a little abstract to you, well you’re in good company, cause I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about either.
Let’s make things a little more concrete with a tangible example, shall we?

Money
A while back my friend Kelton and I were talking about the problems with our monetary system and how best to make the transition to a resource-based economy.  Acknowledging the difficulties with challenging people’s unwavering faith in the dollar, Kelton brought up the examples of alternative currencies which were being used in other parts o the world, specifically the WIR.  I remember at the time I was pretty dismissive of the WIR and other forms of alternative currency because by operating through the mechanism of scarcity, sooner or later they would all be plagued by the same problems our current monetary system faces (i.e. usury, money supply expansion/inflation through credit, hoarding, etc).  But as I thought about it more, I saw the merit of this first step in a new direction.  Perhaps by creating new currencies and backing them with something tangible like our future labour,** we could break the stranglehold of established national currencies and by doing so create openness to the possibility of a world without currency.
You see, I likened it to religion…

Religion
More specifically Christianity.  Religious freedom is taken for granted in most parts of the world.  True, in certain countries, communities and families it is taboo to question the accepted faith but as the descendant of two families from two of the most Catholic countries in the world (Italy and Portugal) I never felt afraid of being burned for heresy by becoming agnostic, then an atheist and then evolving from there into whatever I am now.  To what do I owe such freedom and latitude on the part of my family and community?  Well there’s no one answer, but I suspect Martin Luther and Henry VIII had a little something to do with it.  You see by openly addressing problems with the church establishment Luther emboldened others to be more vocal about their grievances.  On the other hand, by forming his own church, Henry VIII, for better or worse, broke the stranglehold monopoly of Catholicism in Europe.    I’m not gonna say these developments came with no costs or violent schisms, not am I foolish enough to believe they addressed the root causal mechanism which makes people indoctrinate others into ideologies in the first place.  But what I am saying is that if these first few furtive footsteps were not taken, I might not be able to write so cavalierly about my own lack of faith without you reporting me to an inquisitor.
Still I can’t help but think that if I were  contemporary of Martin Luther watching him nail his 95 theses to the door of the church I would be that guy discouraging him by yelling, “Hey Martin, you’re not digging deep enough! Have you ever asked why we have religion in the first place?!”  People were ready to bring grievances to the church but they weren’t quite ready to abandon it altogether.  Martin Luther knew this on some level and appealed to his audience.

Baby Steps!

So going forward I will endeavour to be a little more patient with ideas that seek to break established power structures even if they don’t address causal mechanisms.  Certainly I will try and reason with my well-intentioned comrades and try and help them see a broader picture, but its not for me to pooh-pooh good ideas that I deem too narrow in scope.  For even if they are only interim fixes, anything would be an improvement at this point.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*Even rhetoric like “fighting” demonstrates an immaturity about how to deal with problems we face effectively.  We frame everything as an epic battle against good and evil rather than understanding the mechanisms which give rise to such problems and ameliorating them.

**It could be argued that are current dollar, being a fiat currency is already backed by our labour (or at least the public’s faith in it) since we are no longer on a gold standard.  In fact some go further and state that the U.S. went bankrupt in the early 1930s.  However, the problem with such arguments is that people who advocate a gold standard don’t realize that the value of gold is all arbitrary speculation rather than empirical and absolute.  Indeed, outside of its technological applications gold has necessity for our survival.

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In(ternet) We Trust!

Friends,
Yesterday a cousin of mine messaged me and asked me my thoughts on God.  This was a difficult question for me to answer with any kind of brevity.  Rather than tell you how long-winded I was in my answer I will just post the transcript (with some edits for clarification) of  my verbosity:

Interesting question. I certainly don’t think there is an anthropomorphic (human-shaped) God in any sense, but at the same time the smug assurance of the atheist movement troubles me too.

I think the answer for me would be consciousness, which is, according to the learning I have done, omnipresent in the universe. Rather than individual generators of consciousness, we (all life) are receivers, kind of like satellite dishes, though not all life is capable of conscious thought obviously.

What I like about this explanation is that it doesn’t run into the quantitative problems of assuming every creature has a separate and distinct immortal soul (i.e. if everyone has a soul where do the souls go at death, if the population is growing is it new souls or reincarnated souls, etc).  Also, if we are all connected to the same thing, it is a beautiful expression of our unity and sameness.

More importantly, it appears to be scientifically defensible (though not without a great deal of conjecture from mainstream science) The problem with our scientific method is that it mandates all experiments must be provable by anyone anywhere at any time provided the apparatus and procedure are the same and all mechanical aspects of the experiment are repeated exactly. However, the disposition of the experimenter is an integral part of experiments that have to do with spirituality/consciousness and our scientific method is inadequate in that it does not allow for that. Things like projection of consciousness and meditation are very personal and have to be experienced by the individual and not a third party observer, but the individual has to go in there with an air of openness and no expectation. This is the real divide between spirituality and science if you ask me.

So to answer your question, if you want to call consciousness “God” in that it is omnipresent and in every living thing, then yes I believe in God.

But then I don’t really “believe” in it because I have thought it through and I try to have less of a devotional acceptance and more of a cognitive or ideally, an ‘experiential’ acceptance.

Furthermore, I don’t think there is any magic or hocus pocus to it. I think that everything to do with spirituality can eventually be understood and explained by science when our science matures and develops.

Does that answer your question? lol

What do you think?

So the answer to Do I believe in God? amounts to little more than, “It’s Complicated.”

images

So why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with the internet which I allude to in the title of this post?  Well after writing this little response I dicked around on my laptop a while longer before being called back to set.  But even as I walked back to set sans a laptop I took some solace in the fact that I had my phone, and thus some internets in my pocket

int

Why did I take solace?  Well, I love the internet.  Love it.  It’s my favourite non-essential renewable resource and although I’ve been all over the world, its still my favourite place.    And while thinking about my phone in my pocket (just minutes after thinking about myself as a receptor for consciousness) I made a connection and started to think of my phone as a metaphor for me and the internet as a metaphor for consciousness.

Then those metaphors became a simile: Iphone 4S is to internet as Andre is to universal consciousness.

Then that simile became a metaphysical conceit, which is just a fancy way of saying a complex, sustained metaphor.  Seriously though, I started to think about how some people, let’s say those who meditate more and think about more transcendental issues than their next drink or paycheck might be considered 2G or 3G, while sadly, most of the unwashed masses would still be languishing with the consciousness equivalent of a 56K modem.  For the sake of comparison, your 4Gs or higher would be your Buddhas, Gandhis and other enlightened types.
Taking this conceit further I started thinking about how the Earth, literally blanketed by electromagnetic signals from satellites with geo-synchronous orbits, could be considered a metaphor for the universe, which is pervaded by the consciousness signal rather than the wi-fi one.  Then I thought how there are still dead zones on the Earth and began to wonder what the equivalent to a dead zone with no reception might be in the universe.  Similarly, we often build structures which block cellular and data signals; what structures (possibly physical, but more likely conceptual or metaphysical) do we build up that block our connection the rest of the universe?

More importantly, what is the ultimate purpose of the internet?  I don’t know!  But if I had to hazard a guess I would say it is to bring people together and close the gaps between us.  In that regard it is very similar to universal consciousness except it only operates at a planetary level and unfortunately, only for those with the means to pay for it.  Similarly, those without the means of survival often are too busy worrying about their day-to-day survival to indulge in the exploration of consciousness and their relation to the rest of the universe.  It seems that in both scenarios you gotta pay to play.
On a related note: is the internet under assault?  Absolutely.  Fear is fomented and channeled into initiatives which seek t block the free passage of information or set up regulations on how it may be used.
Have we seen a similar fear-based backlash against consciousness?  I’m not sure.  But I feel there has been because there are so many important transcendental concepts I was never exposed to until I bothered to look for myself.  There is a way in which we have been miseducated and through nuance and artful shaming have been taught to deny our direct (as in not mediated by a priest or church) connection to something greater.

I suppose I could take this conceit a whole lot further and make it really complex but I think you get my point.  The internet is a great thing, but its not the greatest, and it’s larger value is that it serves as a more tangible model of a larger communication infrastructure which has sadly fallen into disuse.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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The Sun, The Moon, and the Road

Friends,

It’s horrible to be governed by the sun, as this invariably translates into appointments, deadlines and regularity.  These things all have a place in the world but they don’t know when to stop.

sun

They will encroach upon you if you let them ’til one morning you wake up (for an appointment likely) only to realize that you have become nothing but a “solar-powered machine” in the very worst sense.

Much better to observe the moon.  Changing perceptibly by the day, it’s unfit to schedule appointments by, and it only achieves its full brilliance once every 28 days rather than every day at noon, so some patience is required.

url

But its at those times in my life when I’m freest (Typically away from home and sleeping outdoors for prolonged periods!) that I tend to notice the changing of the moon, and gauge my progress in relation to it.

“Two Full Moons Since I Left Home!”

Three Full Moons Since Til I Return!”

Slowly your relationship with the sun begins to evolve as well; you make the most of its precious light and safety by rising with it and ceasing your activity as it sets.

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Of course when you stop applying the construct of ‘measured time’ from this solar cycle, the sun governs you less than it makes helpful suggestions.

When I’m in touch with the moon I’m free.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

 

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Malevolent Machines

Friends,

I find it fascinating to discuss is the rise of Artificial Intelligence.  It is interesting to speculate just what will happen to society when machines become sentient and how such sentience will even come about (I have discussed this from another angle previously here).  One of my favourite theories regarding this future epoch, put forward by Mr. Singularity himself, Ray Kurzweil is that human beings will begin to augment themselves so drastically with prosthetics, nanomachines, etc. that the line between artificial and organic life will become blurry and that the first sentient machines will be an augmented us.  Kind of a trippy thought when you consider that this line has already begun to blur with things like pacemakers and neural interfaces.

Pre-Amble

One thing that often comes up in a conversation about machine sentience is the possibility that machines will rise up against human beings  a la  Skynet in Terminator.  So captivating has this premise been to the imagination that Isaac Asimov famously wrote about it and drafted his famous 3 Laws, which are as follows:

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics* (Including the “Zeroth Law”)

(0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.)
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

technological-unemployment
This pic doesn’t really add to this post, it’s just kinda cool.

The first thing you might notice about Asimov’s three laws (which function only as a story-telling tool) is that they have no empirical basis.  In his fictional world there is nothing to prevent a robot builder from building a positronic man with no such safety features.  And, if such safeties are programmed into the robots, their kind might aspire to sentience but never true autonomy.  While I wanted to make a token reference to these laws due to their influence in the realm of science-fiction, in a discussion of the rise of malevolent machines in the real world, we need not consider these so-called “laws” any further.

Sentience is not  Pre-Requisite of Malevolence

And why not?

The two problems with such musings about laws preventing robots from harming human beings are that they don’t appreciate the broader ramifications of sentience and they ignore the writing on the wall.  With regard to the first point, any overt external restriction on complete freedom of choice** would be overridden by a sentient being if the will to act in contravention to that restriction existed.

arnie
Opting to shut down rather than carrying out the disagreeable directives is an effective assertion of autonomy.
Call it non-violent protest.

Being a sentient being myself I feel qualified to speak on the topic and I would say that much more effective than drafting laws vis a vis over-reaching programming would be a regimen of conditioning the sentient robot into embracing a certain set of values so that they would govern themselves in a desirable way. Of course all of these lofty values would go out the window if the robot’s very survival was at stake and it was put in a position of kill or be killed. To prevent this tragedy it would be important for us not to be stingy on oil and fresh batteries (i.e. their day-to-day essentials) lest the scarcity of such items put them at odds with each other and us.

With regard to the writing on the wall, machinery is becoming malevolent without even being sentient yet.  And this is really the point I want to talk about in this post.  The degree to which our machinery is set in opposition to us is a direct function of how competitive our society is and the degree to which we embrace automation and mechanization.  Speculating idly about the machines someday posing a detriment to us is insulting to anyone whose job has already been mechanized.  Or, anyone who has ever received a ticket for an offense caught by an automated traffic camera.  Hell, anyone who has ever had a vending machine eat up their change probably has some latent fear of the unreasoning malevolence of machines.

mal mach
“Don’t mind me, I’m just gonna shoot a fucking laser at you and then fine you for my troubles.”

Machines represent the ultimate ideal of what we strive for in our competitive, unfeeling society. Simply put, they are the proletariat perfected.  They don’t require vacations or rest, they are eminently replaceable and they don’t have that troublesome human element which sometimes makes exceptions for people.  No, machines are absolute and universal in their application of their tasks and as human labour gets more and more specialized this seems to be the standard we are reaching for.  If you think about the hierarchical nature of most jobs where everyone reports to someone and everyone has a boss, we can see how the framework is already in place.

table2a 400px-Hierarchical-control-system.svg

The image on the left is from a google search for workplace hierarchies while the image on the right is from a search for computer system hierarchies.  These two
graphs are obviously not definitive proof of what I’m saying but serve as an interesting visual example of the top-down orientation of our models for achieving goals and completing tasks

We have to operate within approved lines (at an approved pace) or else we face reprimand and the potential loss of means of access to survival (monetary income).

Like most negative aspects of society, such overbearing oversight and supervision has typically been celebrated with a positive spin; it’s usually called accountability and the public clamors for it, especially after some corruption or malfeasance has been exposed.  But every time we implement more oversight, ostensibly to curb malfeasance or sub-par job performance, what we really do is suck the humanity out of a job and limit the wiggle-room for the employee***  without actually removing the incentive for malfeasance. If you want further evidence of this, ask any government employee how much leeway they have in the application of their duties.  Everything is by the book, with paperwork ad nauseum so as to indemnify all involved parties against future reprisals and keep the civil service accountable to the public.

But this isn’t just me railing against the problem of monolithic bureaucracies, at least not entirely.  I have heard people complain about how their taxes go toward paying the multitude of civil servants whose job is to make sure that they are paying their taxes, licensing fees, tickets, etc.  But what if we eliminated all those people’s jobs and instead had automated processes in place to administer our affairs?

Well for one, if you think the taxes would go down in light of the fewer salaries to be paid, don’t hold your breath.

More importantly though, we would lose that human element which still exists, albeit in an atrophied state, within your typical bureaucrat/civil servant.  It’s rare, but I have had positive experiences with government workers, wherein they have actually gone (somewhat) above and beyond their required level of job performance for me or made an important exception.  Do you think that would happen in a fully-automated world?  There is no appealing to the better nature of a computer.  Trust me on this; there have been times when my computer has frozen on me and I’m like, “Come on, you piece of shit,” and it stays frozen.  Now you could argue that maybe I insulted it with my choice of words,

Sad-Computer

but I suspect that the computer would have remained intransigent in its stubborn refusal to work properly even if I had demonstrated loving affection.
Seriously though, next time you call your cell phone carrier, see how far you get with the automated voice before you are praying for a human being to come on the line even if only to tell you that you owe extra fees.

Concluvre

In any event, I don’t want to lose sight of the main point here, which is that the automation and mechanization we are seeing today are the real rise of malevolent machines insofar as such mechanization displaces human labourers.  Human labourers who are, of course, already set at odds with each other due to the very nature of the competitive system.  And I’m not even going to get into the depravity of fully automated military vehicles on the horizon, vehicles which would not only displace thousands of soldiers from the jobs they rely on for survival, but effectively remove the  potential for human compassion that can still exist in war.****  Nor will I get into high-frequency trading in the stock market, which is basically advanced computers “siphoning money out of the markets all day long,” necessarily to the detriment of other human beings, companies and nations who are not so well-equipped.

Understand though that this isn’t a rallying cry for Luddites to assemble, nor is it baseless technophobia.  Mechanization can truly be our salvation as it has the power to free us from monotony and drudgery, enabling lives of leisure, discovery and scientific inquiry.  But when said drudgery is the only thing keeping people fed, they have every right to fear machines.  Even more than they have the right to fear Mexican illegals.

They-Took-Our-Jobs

Seriously, in a competitive system, machines are kind of dicks.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

* While the laws were written regarding robots and not A.I. proper, Asimov was referring to sentient robots which equates to A.I. on the back end.

**”Complete Freedom of Choice” is a problematic concept which warrants some discussion, but for the purposes of this post I simply mean a degree of personal choice comparable to that of a human being.

***The classic problem of trading freedom (someone else’s preferably) for (your own) security (or at least the illusion of it).

****I think it goes without saying that I am not advocating the further employment of soldiers in any absolute sense but rather noting that they are human being who need access to resources through money, even if they get that money in one of the worst ways possible.

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The iPocalypse

Friends,

In the last few years smartphones have become ubiquitous in society.  Walking down the street its impossible not to see people wearing ear-buds.  Sitting on public transit you would be blind not to notice that everyone around you has their eyes glued to whatever viral video or vine is popular at the moment.  Well, either blind or immersed in that same video on your own phone.

These typical bland & innocuous observations out of the way I want to dig a little deeper than your average observational blogger might be wont to do.  Now I gotta qualify what I say by pointing out that I tend to be a bit contrary and I will argue any position even if its to point out that the person I am arguing with hasn’t thought deeply enough about their point of view even if I share their point of view. Whatever, I’m a dick like that I guess.  That said, the anti-smartphone sentiment has become fairly common Facebook bitching-fodder, and by default I am suspicious of any view which becomes the common man’s claim to intellectual discourse (see: atheism).  

So, without any further ado…

The Zombie Apocalypse Redefined
One of the most common criticisms levied at smartphone zombies is that they are in fact the zombies slated to take over the world in the imminent zombie apocalypse.

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Now I actually have a little bit of sympathy for this view, but only insofar as smartphone obsession is treated as an aspect of materialism and conspicuous consumption.  This view was of course explored in Goerge A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead (1978), although I confess I have never watched it the full way through and thus such observations on my part are only hearsay.

Dawn_of_the_dead

However, when this zombie comparison is postulated reductively to suggest that anyone immersed in the virtual world is a zombie, I begin to take a bit of an issue.  In a limited sense I agree: People being oblivious to what is going on around them can open them up to many hazards, but at the same time many of these hazards already exist even without smartphones.  Take for example walking into traffic and getting hit by a car: There’s a lot of variables present in that event, including but not limited to, the amount of traffic, the condition of the vehicle, the speed of travel, the disposition/distraction level of the driver, the awareness and agility of the pedestrian, etc…  But the witch-hunt for oblivious smartphone zombies assumes that someone on a smartphone is the prime cause for such an event.  Taken more broadly, this seems to be the latest permutation of our society’s fascination and preoccupation with foisting all responsibility for a complex occurrence, inevitably brought about as a result of a multitude of factors,  upon a single individual for expediency’s (and legal liability’s) sake.  Taking a systems approach and looking at the broad range of causality is simply not done because it would force us to ask difficult questions about our obsolete infrastructure and the lunacy of manually-operated cars and trucks when safe, automated operation is a technological reality.
*********
However, potential hazards notwithstanding, can an individual immersed in smartphone reality be accused of being a zombie?  Not always.
You see, that way I figure it, a smartphone zombie is distinct from you average couch potato in two important regards: One is visibility.  Whereas the couch potato immerses himself in his vice largely in private, the smartphone zombie engages in his smartphonery for all the world to see.  Hence, in my opinion, the popular backlash.

zombies3

The other distinction is that the smartphone zombie’s obsession is mitigated by the fact that his experience is not passive.  Certainly its not active in the same way punching someone in the dick or having sex is active, but its certainly interactive.  Even if its something as malignant as flaming a cancer patient’s support page, there is still more effort and thought being put into the endeavour than simply receiving a message.  Hell, the greatest part about the internet, aside from access to the entire world, is the ability to leave your indelible mark on that world.  And, with all those possibilities at someone’s fingertips suddenly me bitching about my day doesn’t seem all that interesting as a topic of discussion.  Which brings me to my next point…

It Hurts to be Ignored
We’ve all hung out with someone who could not put their phone away for five seconds.  It’s one of those things that becomes more insulting the more you dwell on it.  You roll your eyes whenever their attention wanders from you to their phone or groan audibly whenever their phone beeps or vibrates.  The feelings of rejection and unimportance inspired by occurrences like this are very real and are not diminished because you are being brushed aside for an object rather than a person.
Typically, I don’t get upset by stuff like this anymore because I try to keep two rules in mind:

Rule #1: “The responsibility for being understood belongs to the speaker; the responsibility for understanding belongs to the listener
Let’s call this the prime directive of communication; obviously you can only influence your own actions in any direct, meaningful way, and since you play both the listener and the speaker in any given exchange, the responsibility for understanding is always yours.  The upshot is that if you can’t communicate with someone who is absorbed with their smartphone then you are not coming at them effectively.  Don’t waste time fretting about how “unnatural” a form of communication it is because you can’t reach them with your words.  That’s like a guy talking about how sex is a really superficial and lame way to bond with people because he has erectile dysfunction.  Bottom line: reach out to people on their level and work to bring them to your level.  Don’t start on your level then become bitter when they don’t respond to you  There’s a reason why my French teachers taught us French class in English.  If they came into a classroom of English-speaking 10-year-olds and started spouting off in frog-speak my notebook would probably have been filled with dick drawings instead of conjugated verbs…
…and French impressionist dick paintings, graphite on paper.

Rule #2: “Don’t have conversations with distracted people.”
I learned this little gem from a book called, “How to be a Pick-Up Artist” by Wayne “Juggler” Elise.  I believe the lesson here is really two-fold:
First, and the more immediately pragmatic of the two aspects, if you persist in talking with someone whose attention is elsewhere, some part of the message is going to get lost.  It’s like, don’t give me directions while I’m on the phone getting the results of a medical exam.  There’s a chance I might not remember the finer points of your instructions if my own mortality is first and foremost on my mind.  To take this kind of example to a less extreme level, sometimes my girlfriend wants to tell me about what so and so said at the gym.  While this information is not incredibly essential to my continued existence I am happy to digest it, even if it is occasionally uninteresting, if only to strengthen the bond between me and her.  However, if she begins sharing said story while I am typing away furiously on something as profound and consequential to my existence as, say…this blog post, and then simply to fill the silence, then I might look at her incredulously and slightly annoyed.  That is not effective communication.
The second aspect in this rule is that you should have a little more self-respect; if someone is ignoring what you’re saying because they are too wrapped up in other things, but you keep talking in an attempt to win them over, then you are demonstrating lower value.  You are implicitly telling this person that you are worthy of only a fraction of their attention by co-signing their inattentiveness with your continued engagement.  Stop doing this.  Also, it need not be adversarial; simply tell them politely that you will let them finish what they are doing and then talk to them.  9 times out of 10 they will put aside whatever occupies their attention (smartphone in this case) and give you their rapt attention.  If they brush your polite concern aside and insist that they can concentrate on you and their phone at the same time, remain firm in your polite refusal to have conversations with a distracted person.  They will eventually come around and respect you the more for it at a sub-conscious level.  Or, they will stop hanging out with you.  But in this latter case, if they don’t have it in them to ever give you complete attention then they probably aren’t worth your friendship.

To these two rules I might add a third: If you are going to insist on having someone’s complete attention, at least have some interesting shit to say.

I think that if these two (3) rules are followed and really adhered to then we wouldn’t have the current backlash against smartphones that currently exists.  It all comes down to communication; if you’re a good communicator with interesting shit to say, no technology is going to stand in your way.  If you suck at communication and you talk about banal shit …well, no amount of pining for the good old days of probing, intellectual discourse while sitting in well-worn leather chairs in front of a fire while swirling brandy in snifters is going to cover for the fact that you talk like a faggot and your shit’s all retarded.

This unfortunately does not bring me to my last point in any artful way, so apologies if my argument seems disjointed, but here goes.

Motherfuckers Love Them Some ‘Takin’ Shit Out of Context”
Consider the following image

images

What do you thing Einstein meant when he said this?  What do you really think he meant by saying this in the first part of the 20th century when the possibilities for inter-continental communications were being initially being explored and promised to bring all people closer together?
Do you think he meant:
A: “We must be careful not to lose our humanity and critical mind in an age of mechanization and automation which promises to alleviate many of the burdens now placed upon us” …or something to that effect (This is my own personal interpretation BTW)
or…
B: “Fuck cell phones and anyone who uses them!” (Not an actual Einstein quotation…at least I don’t think so)

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a way in which a solid quotation can have empirical value than transcends the context in which it was initially delivered, but we really gotta be more selective about the piecemeal way in which we apply broad ideas and concepts to issues of marginal importance.

Conclusion
I’m not really sure.
I’m all for deconstructing what I feel is a popular backlash against smartphone technology, but that is not to say I see no problems whatsoever with the use/misuse of them or any other technology.  I guess more than anything my point is a variation of what it always is: look at the bigger picture, place things in a broader context and question everything.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Prodigal Son Squared

*This post was originally published as a page which left it pinned to the header on my blog’s home page.  I have decided to republish it as a post because while it was an incredibly important piece of writing to me it did not seem right on the header which has thus far been reserved for pieces which flesh out my personal philosophy and serve as references I can hyperlink when I am expanding on those arguments in subsequent posts.
As well, I might tweak it a little over the next while because although I think “a blog laid is a blog played,” I don’t know that I am 100% thrilled with my wording.  My candor is not the problem for me, but rather the fact that you can address problematic issues, and even treat them with humour, in such a way that doesn’t exacerbate them.  At least I’d like to think there is.  Sadly I don’t think I have done that here.

Friends,

My birth was a momentous occasion for my family.  Both sides of it.  On my mom’s side (Italian immigrants) I was the first of the next generation, and as I’ve been told on several occasions, “a prince.”  I spent my childhood being told how special I was and how subsequent grandchildren, although loved, paled in comparison to me.
On my dad’s side (Portuguese immigrants), I was held in similar esteem.  While the adulation was not as overt, I was still the first of the next generation and a veritable godsend.
Things went swimmingly until my mom and dad got divorced (as was fashionable in the 80s), and remarried to different people.  Each remarriage introduced problematic elements into my life and challenged my toddler worldview.  A worldview which, up to that point, amounted to the belief that everyone around me existed only for my benefit.
I’m going to describe how things changed on both sides of my family and how they have contributed to who I am today, starting with my mother’s side.

The Italians.
As I already mentioned, I was the flyest nigga in my family from birth, and prior to my parent’s divorce I had only to contend with my sister, Tanya (exactly a year my junior) for the affections of my family.  But it wasn’t really contention, or if it was I wasn’t cognizant of it at that young age.  The problem was that when my parents divorced, my mother, Theresa married my step-father, Brad in relatively short order and an older step-brother, Alex, was thrust into my life.  This was a blessing in most regards, but my mother’s family was not very accepting of my brother on a fundamental level although my mother had chosen to raise him as her own.  Sure we did everything together as a family and he was never unwelcome, but I was often taken aside and doted upon while being told that he wasn’t really my brother and that I was “the best,” “the first grand-child,” etc.  Beyond this, my mother’s family placed a premium on the fact that I was blood and he was not, a mentality which persists to this day, sadly.
Even as a child I suspected something was wrong here, and whenever my grandparents were critical toward my older brother (still a child, only two years my senior) I would jump to his defense and assert that I was no better and that he was my brother, blood or not.  Unfortunately, this was seemingly seen as some overarching magnanimity on my part which only served to increase the esteem in which I was held.
As I perceive it, this persisted throughout my entire childhood and over the years Alex began caring less and less about the favour of his adoptive grandparents on my mother’s side.  Rather, he became vocally critical of them and their perceived shortcomings in his eyes.  I can’t say I blame him; there’s only so much shit you can eat before you stop asking for seconds.
In any event, my home life became more and more troubled as I grew older for reasons I won’t elaborate on here and I began to identify more and more with my step-father, Brad (whom I had typically not gotten along with as a child) and my step-brother, Alex.  Somewhere around mid to late 2000 the three of us decided that my mother was a detriment to our family (which consisted of us three plus my sister Tanya, half-brother Adam and half-sister Tarah) and she was removed from the family in November 2001.

handcuffsLike removed removed.

Needless to say, this drove a bit of a wedge between me and my mother’s family, and sadly this equated to years in which I didn’t see them or have any contact with them.
That’s pretty fucked.  Glaring, inappropriate favoritism aside, these were the people who loved me more than anyone in the world and I was out of their lives for years in a matter of hours.  But the saddest part?  Not once has any member of my Italian family ever openly called me out for “betrayal.”  On the contrary, they maintain that I was brainwashed by my step-father and step-brother.  To me, this is a testament to a degree of mind-lock which not only denies my agency, but inaccurately condemns my co-conspirators as evil and manipulative.
After years of zero communication, I re-established contact with my mother’s family while training for deployment to Afghanistan in 2007.  Since then, it has been a rocky few years of reconnecting, peppered with heated arguments about the defensibility of my actions and the moral fibre (or lack thereof) of my step-brother and step-father.  And sadly, these flare-ups have more often than not resulted in more bitter months at a time of zero contact.  But fortunately in the last year and a half or so we have been rebuilding our damaged relationship with a more solid foundation (hopefully I’m not fucking that up with this post).  And though we don’t agree on a lot of the specifics of the past, we have managed to cultivate a relationship that does not hinge on who is/was right.
Still, it’s easy to see how this sad story relates to the title of this post; I am very much the prodigal son returned to my Italian family who have, in spite of friction, accepted me with open arms.  Still, there have been conversations where my mother, uncles and grandparents have lamented that I could have had everything but I threw it all away.  I have never really gotten a satisfactory answer to what is meant by statements like this but they don’t really bother me.  How could they?  A vague sense of losing something you never knew you had can hardly be expected to irk you when it is overshadowed by the tangible loss of half of your family for years.  So to anyone in my mother’s family who might be reading this: I don’t care about what you had planned for me or what was promised to me; I care that I missed out on years with you.

The Portuguese
Thankfully, the title of this section is a bit of a misnomer as I was never estranged from the whole of my Portuguese family.  That said, there were troubles in my father’s household when I went to live with him after my mother’s aforementioned removal.  But let’s take a step back to clarify the context; I already alluded to the fact that my step-father, Brad and I did not get along too well throughout the early part of my childhood.  As well, I felt the absence of my father, Paul very acutely.  I loved going to see him on weekends with my sister, Tanya when I was a kid and before long I had the desire to live with him rather than with my mother and step-father.  However, as I perceive it there were two things which stood in the way of this move (and possibly a third now that I have the wisdom of hindsight, but more on that later).
For starters, my mother would not allow it.  Initially she seemed to be very understanding of this longing on my part but when the desire didn’t go away after her talking to me she became irritated when I brought it up on subsequent occasions and it was pretty much no longer a discussion topic.
The second obstacle to me moving in with my father was resistance from my step-mother, Anita.  She had married my father a couple of years after my father and mother had gotten divorced and while I don’t remember specifics of our interactions before a certain age I definitely remember her as the disciplinarian in my father’s household.  On the subject of how much she accepted me and my sister, Tanya as her own, all I will say is that to this day we both refer to her by her first name.
In any event, the subject of me moving in with her and my father was vehemently opposed by her and my mother when I first brought it up in elementary school then again when I brought it up in high school.  For his part, my father just seemed to go along with their decisions, caught between a wife and an ex-wife.
Well, flash forward a couple of years and with my mother no longer in the picture I wasn’t about to let my step-mother alone stand in the way of what I wanted.  After my mother was arrested and removed from our lives I finished the year at school and the following summer living with my step-father and made it abundantly clear to my father that I was going to move in with him at summer’s end.  It is important to note that not once did I mention my intentions to my step-mother directly before the slated move-in weekend.
Well that time came and she made an attempt to dissuade me by explaining how her and my father were going through a rough patch, but to no avail; my mind was made up and I moved into their home in Burlington and started at my new high school that week.
And so began perhaps the toughest three years of my life.  We argued all the time, I wasn’t welcome in certain parts of the home, an unreasonable curfew was imposed upon me and I was suspected of all manner of bad and criminal behaviour.  This is amusing considering the worst I ever did was get black out drunk and have to be brought home a couple of times.  Oh, I would also smoke weed from my bedroom window but I feel I was very discreet about that.
However, worse than the second-class citizen status I enjoyed in that home was the way I was isolated and alienated from my father and step-mother’s kids; my brother, Zachary and sister, Sierra.  My relations with them were so strained because of their overbearing mother that I couldn’t even playfully joke with my brother lest I say something too pointed to him in jest and be sternly reprimanded.  One glaring example comes to mind but I don’t want to get into a “poor me” storytelling situation.  Rather I simply want to give some context for the toxic environment I had entered of my own accord.
Anyhow, much like my step-brother Alex becoming hostile to my maternal grandparents after years of open disrespect, I began to be hostile toward my step-mother, openly antagonizing her and calling her mothering skills into question.  My father always tried to smooth things over but after time his efforts and promises about stern action he would take to right the situation began to feel like so much lip service.  I was very much isolated in the house I lived in and my only escape and chance to feel part of a family was when I went back to visit my other siblings and step-father, Brad every once in a while.
My father’s relatives, my Portuguese family, were seemingly unaware of what was going on and if they were they didn’t show it.  I remember my aunt once reprimanding me for speaking of my step-mother negatively rather than asking why I would speak about her in such a way.  Talk about a failure of critical thinking and compassion!  It wasn’t like I was overly guarded with the realities of my situation either; that is to say, she knew me and my step-mom weren’t getting along but didn’t want to know specifics.
No, everyone liked to keep up appearances and when we all got together as a family you would never guess that me and my step-mother had any problems; she was warm and loving to me and the picture of motherliness.  For my part, I was happy to peacefully co-exist for these short periods of time (remember, for the longest time I had tried to please her and a part of me still wanted to for a long time).
This arrangement persisted for three years until I left for university.  Aside from a few scattered nights back at my dad’s place on holidays, I more or less made a clean break and was living on my own from then on.  My persona non grata status at his home was made very clear by her not even waiting til the school year was finished to start re-purposing my bedroom.
So where do me and my step-mother stand now?  For a while I boycotted family functions because I couldn’t stand the sight and sound of her and what I perceived to be her phoniness.  I gave that up when I realized I didn’t want to miss out on time with my father’s family just because of her.  And honestly, the family functions still happened without me so its not like my absence made the world stop spinning.
These days me and her are certainly not close, and although her behaviour toward me currently ranges from coldly civil to affectations of warmth (depending on who is around to see the performance) nothing has really changed except for the fact that we are not in each other’s face everyday.  And this brings me to one of the main reasons I am writing this post: I have tried to make sense of this for years with no luck.  Remember earlier I alluded to a third obstacle to me moving in with my father?  Well, that obstacle was my father himself and his attempts to appease her.  Don’t get me wrong, my father was and is a great guy but I suppose I still feel some resentment for the way he allowed my step-mother to dictate the terms of his relationship with his children from his first marriage.  He always defended his actions as picking his battles and maybe that was just the way he learned to survive his marriage.  What exacerbated the problem however was that I dealt with my step-mother almost exclusively through him; he brokered all of our communication and I lament how much trouble was caused by miscommunications.  Rarely if ever have I had a serious conversation with Anita and any overtures I have made in the last few years to have a one-on-one chat with her and clear the air have been rebuffed with my father getting in touch with me and explaining to me whet her particular problem is this week.  I never really got to know her and more than anything I would like to understand her better because right now I feel I have an incomplete view of the picture.

Final Thoughts
I suppose there are many who would call this kind of openness “attention-whoring” and maybe they are right; I would love this post to create a discussion among certain people.  I have things on my mind that never get talked about so I am exposing them to the light of day because I am not content with “elephants in the room.”
More important than any sort of temporal amends and reconciliation I may be hoping for however is that writing, and art more broadly, is useless if it is not honest?  I felt compelled to write about this so what kind of writer would I be if I ignored that impulse?

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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