Temples of Violence

June 19, 2017

You stand on a wide, green field. An elysium field. This field is dotted with hills, some massive and some small, and usually in clusters. This green field waves with unseen winds, some coming from the hillsides and some falling from some spectre that haunts it in certain places.

There are places in this field, though, where dark things dwell. Where the grass dies, where the sky seems dark only there, and where the earth feels pitiless and hard. Places where the hills seem meanacing and the winds cut deep within the soul and burn the bones.

Scattered around these places, some on hills and some in the wide valleys between, are temples made of clean stone and strong timbers, even in the dark places. These temples are built to a variety of styles and focuses, each hung with the trappings of their devotion.

This is your emotional landscape and the temples, themselves, your emotions.

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In Defense of Idealism

August 23, 2013

We live in an age that punishes those who believe that change is not only possible, but reachable. A time when those who insist that good can be wrought from the nature of humanity are derided and treated as naive. When we are told not to read the comments, not to expect better of our leaders, not to fight hard because we shall never win. We live in an age when those who wish to save the world from the excesses of pain, of frustration, and injustice are overwhelmingly punished for the simple crime of compassion. Those who care are systemically disavowed of their notions of sympathy and affection, told that there is no functional way to achieve positive action in the world around them because people are simply too jaded, too broken to make any meaningful action. The world is the way it is, and the world shall never be any different. This, however, this acceptance of the inevitability of injustice and pain, is the first step toward defeat. Accepting that change is impossible is acquiescing to the unjust structures already in existence. Victory, in anything, requires the idealistic notion that victory is first possible, even in the remotest sense, before it can be achieved.

I am an idealist. It is why I am a feminist, it is why I am an author, it is why I am a hedonist, and it is why I am an atheist. I have a fundamental understanding that humanity is basically compassionate, basically social, and basically just. The breakdown occurs in culture, where we’re trained (not taught, but trained) to see others as non-people, to see humans outside of our prescribed tribal groups as somehow antagonistic even in the most innocent of actions. These systems are taught to those in power, and those outside of the power structure are not told about the secret methods that this training entails. People of color do not learn what white parents tell their children. Girls do not learn what men tell to little boys. Those born disabled are not told the whispered admonitions given to those born able-bodied. The poor do not hear the rules given to the rich by their parents and peers. Even groups that bloom after this training begins, such as gender and sexual minorities, are not told of the fear and indoctrination that those outside of their groups are subject to. Even now, as a pansexual man, I am frequently read as straight and the same calls and dogwhistles I heard growing up, asking me for solidarity against “The Gays”, are directed at me as if I were part and parcel with the institution of oppression that these phrases represent. However, the oppressed know the training happens. The oppressors use the same words, the same actions, the same visual cues, the same looks. Oppression is an expression of a community, not an individual.

Sometimes these systems can be reverse-engineered (such as Feminism, the academic discipline of sociology, deconstructing patriarchal systems and Critical Race Theory deconstructing institutional racism and white supremacy), but those who are oppressed are never given the full training regimen of the young oppressors. The fight against deconstructing these systems relies on a certain kind of idealism – a belief in inherent justice, in a fairness that does not rely on the narratives of the powerful and oppressive aspects of our shared culture. An idealism that rests on creating new narratives, new ideas, and new stories that are inherent in their justice and balance, inherent in their fairness and compassion. Every social movement has relied on similar idealism, whether this was a new religion, a new social order, a new economic order, or a change in leadership. Wars require idealism, no matter the kind of war they are, and new ventures require idealism. Someone who guides the new idea has to burn with the passion of change, of possibility, of ideals. Someone has to push everyone in the right direction to accomplish that change, and someone must give a story to everyone else. “When we topple the empire, we will be free.” “When we restructure the economy, all will be able to eat heartily and regularly.” “When we buy the land and build the store, people will come.” “When we make these changes, all of us will benefit.”

This is still idealism. In retrospect, we can call it vision or wisdom, potential or genius, but it does not change that, in the moment, it was a single ideal held with enough passion to inspire others to follow it as well. In our world where we are told not to read the comments and that oppression is a necessary state of the world, that all we can do is learn to adapt and deal with the aggressions against us (from micro- to major), it is important to remember that everything from new businesses to the first empire started as an ideal. It is important to remember that alone, we may feel like we are weak and powerless in the face of the status quo but together we can rewrite our personal stories, our social stories, and even the narrative of our culture as a whole. We can move mountains, we can change orders, and we can overthrow any power that can be arrayed against us. Idealism is the heart of all social change, and without idealism we will always flounder and stop before the work is done. Do not stop being practical, do not stop being realistic, but also do not stop dreaming. Do not stop looking forward in time and seeing a powerful, just, and ethical future. A future founded on what are just ideals now, but ideals strong enough to carry the world.

Cost Saving Measures

August 5, 2013

I’m disabled. It’s an insidious disability though, an invisible disability that isn’t easy to diagnose. It’s a disability that causes muscle pain, joint pain, fatigue, and a near constant haze that causes me to forget things and, sometimes, completely zone out. I’ve spent as long as an hour trapped in an unfocused, unaware state where I could interact with the world around me but I had no real cognizance of where I was, who I was, or what I was doing. The first time this happened, I was driving. I destroyed a freeway on ramp sign and struck the side of someone’s car.

To say that this is an act would imply that I am a far better method actor than I feel reasonably comfortable accepting. I cannot do Othello, so I’m pretty sure I cannot do “invisibly disabled young man.”

That accident was over two and a half years ago. I was unemployed at the time, and shortly afterward I became homeless. Given that my entire history of employment was in Information Technology, a skill set that requires a lot of typing, it obviously would not work well with the fact that my hands had deteriorated to the point where I needed to take frequent breaks to get through short paragraphs. This has affected me while I’ve written these words, in fact. I had to pause in the middle of the last three sentences to crack my knuckles and let my muscles rest to avoid excruciating pain.

Here’s the best part, though – I’ve lived in poverty my entire adult life, and I haven’t seen a doctor since before I started high school. I have no medical history as an adult, either of my normal problems (back pain, neck pain, asthma) from before I became disabled or the development of the disability. I only know that it’s (probably) fibromyalgia from the fact that my mother suffers from the exact same condition and was diagnosed with it when it was called fibrositis. So when I started down the path to get disability assistance, so I could stop being homeless and suffering, I knew it would be a bit of an uphill battle.

I did not, however, account for the Social Security Agency’s nefarious cost saving measures.

In April, I went to my first in-person hearing for my appeal. As everyone is denied in the first round, from what everyone says (even inside the SSA), it was expected that I had to appeal. They sent me to a doctor that completely ignored my arthritic condition and just saw that I had all my limbs, that my neck wasn’t terribly malformed, and decided I must be healthy. In the hearing, the adjudication judge at the ODAR seemed impressed with how my joints cracked and sympathetic to the fact that I couldn’t work because of it. In the Hypothetical Scenario section of the hearing, the second and third hypothetical situations essentially left me without employment of any kind. The first hypothetical left me with either working retail or doing reception work. I was fairly confident that I would be confirmed as disabled or, at the very least, the appeal would be a little easier to pursue.

I was supposed to receive the decision within sixty days. It’s normally supposed to be thirty days, but the ODAR was very backed up according to the judge. I called the ODAR in July, on July 3rd in fact, and I was told that the case had been closed that day and I should receive it in the mail in the next week. As I still haven’t received it (this being the fifth of August), I decided to call the ODAR today to find out where the decision is. Apparently it was mailed on June third. It wasn’t returned and my father, who collects my mail, never received it. Luckily, they’re sending a new copy of the decision to my current address.

Now, let’s go over the time line again. I was unemployment after I lost my job, but that ended a year ago. So I’ve been without income for a year, going through this disability application process the entire time. It took six months to even get into a hearing room. The hearing itself didn’t come with an immediate decision, that took two months to generate. A decision that never reached me, which means I have not had the ability to respond to it in a timely fashion. A year during which I have been homeless. I have been poor. I have frequently been hungry. A year where a single person has accepted most of the financial burden for ensuring I do not simply starve to death. A year where I have had to move all of my possessions myself between the places I could sleep. I was able to couch surf, but that’s no walk in the park when you’re disabled in a way that magnifies joint and back pain. I have had to work the occasional day doing home repairs, days that left me exhausted and in pain for days afterward, to have any money of my own.

This year has illuminated the chief cost saving measure of the Social Security Administration in regards to its disability application process – I am sure now that they’re hoping that I die, in some unfortunate circumstance, so that they do not have to award me the disability that I paid into. That I helped support. The programs that I helped vote to keep and have campaigned to expand even before I was disabled. Given that the SSA has known that I was homeless, and that I was on SNAP (that’s food stamps to most people, and those I have been forced to reapply for since I no longer qualify according to a letter my father got last month). They know I have not had medical access for over a decade. All of this is in my file.

It’s clear that in order to avoid giving me the money I need to survive they’re taking as long as bureaucratically possible, using the excuse that when I am awarded I’ll receive pay going back to when I was identified as disabled…though unless I can convince someone in the payment processing center to give it to me right away, I won’t receive it for a year. Another year I have to tell my student loan processor that yes, I am disabled. No, I cannot see a doctor. Another year where bills that have come up while I’m disabled, money I’ve borrowed to not simply starve, people who have bought things for me that I’ve needed, go unpaid. A year of having just enough money to not die, instead I get to watch what’s left of my credit and legal personhood is destroyed by creditors.

These are situations, mind, that are known to cause suicides. Which would be convenient for Social Security – they wouldn’t have to pay me, and it wouldn’t be their fault, right? They’re just processing the system using the laws they were given. Using the budget that’s been passed. Meanwhile, I’m suffering literally every day trying to navigate this system, a system built for lawyers who exploit the disabled by pursuing disability claims using systems only they have reasonable access to in order to get some of the state’s settlement money in payment.

I have to work through this, however, because I need that money. I have to dance to their tune if I want to be able to support myself in any fashion – even if I could sell my writing, even if I suddenly generated a legion of fans who donated money to me every month to ensure my bills are paid and I can eat, letting me write and work on the things that I can contribute to everyone else, there will still be days, weeks, months even where I am incapable of working. When I will need not just the money from Social Security but also the access to disability services. To doctors who treat the poor and disabled. To transportation systems that service those who cannot get to the (inadequate) buses in Orange County and cannot afford the cab services here. Until I get the settlement, as well, it is unlikely I will be comfortable enough to be able to write enough to be published, get a part time job, or find a legion of fans who can help me every month. I was amazed at seeing friends and friends of friends reaching out for my deposit, to ensure that I won’t be homeless, but I cannot ask for that kind of support every month. It’s too much, from too many people, who I am sure are not in much better places.

To many people, this is a sad story. A story that they are sympathetic to, but feel like there’s no way to help. This is my life, though. My every day experience. This is the life, or a better version of the life, of many people who are disabled. People who deserve our help, people who suffer as public assistance programs like Social Security go underfunded and are mired in laws designed to keep people who are “healthy” from “exploiting” the system. A worry that has, as of yet, not shown to be a statistical issue. A system that, by trying to keep ne’er-do-well exploiters out has encouraged people in my situation to give up due to hopelessness. A system that, from any rational perspective, seems to encourage my death to avoid helping me.

A system that is so labyrinthine that only lawyers can really navigate it – despite supposedly being accessible to anyone with a disability. A system that doesn’t have enough employees to properly go through the requests for support. A system that has artificial barriers preventing multiple entities within the same agency from working with the same data. A system that is designed to encourage false negatives rather than false positives, which leaves people to starve and suffer when it’s totally unnecessary. A system that makes crime look attractive because I would be treated better in prison than I am here because there is no support here. A system that asks those who are least able to help me, those people in my immediate context, rather than do what it was created to do. A system built on a philosophy so flawed that even our soldiers, returning from war, who are disabled have waited as long as three years for support despite having clear medical histories from their service.

At the risk of angering Constitutional scholars, I’d like to point to the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution –

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

There is no stipulation here about it being in regards to criminal or civil prosecution. It follows two Amendments that state explicitly “in all criminal prosecutions…” and “In Suits at common law…”, but this amendment contains no explicit direction to being only applicable to legal proceedings. It states, simply, that no one in America shall be required to provide excessive bail, no excessive fines will be levied against them, and cruel and unusual punishments are forbidden. In any course. In any situation. In any context.

So why, given the Bill of Rights and the obvious sympathy for the plight of those that escaped the oppressive classes in England displayed in many of the arguments that created this Amendment and the Constitution itself, do we permit people to exist in my situation?

If being in a social position where I cannot work, where I have been homeless, where I have been hungry, where crime and suicide look like better options, is not cruel or unusual, what is it?

And if it isn’t unusual, is this the kind of standard that we want to encourage? Are we okay with a state of affairs that encourages the poor and disabled to kill themselves or commit crimes for basic survival?

The most important discussion in any human society is that of morals; what are our morals, how do we enforce them, and from where do we derive their authority? How do we define morality and what authority do we use to derive that definition? Most importantly, when we have established what morality is, our moral authority, and what individual morals we believe should guide our society, how do we implement them in our day to day lives? This is especially important in nuanced moral systems. No global rule or law is always going to be 100% effective, as there are always reams of hypothetical situations where normally unethical or immoral would be moral or ethical in just this one case. In fact, these hypotheticals are a favorite tactic of the juvenile debater. The nuanced moral system, though, accepts that there will be situations where certain moral precepts take precedence, and some of these moral precepts will therefor be contradictory. The easiest way to understand this is to look at murder; we agree, universally, that murdering another human being is unethical and immoral. We also generally agree that freedom, liberty, are important and moral states to strive for. However, we necessarily truncate our freedoms to give authority to law enforcement to prevent, try, and bring justice to those who perpetuate murder. Freedom, in this case, and the want not to be murdered are in conflict so we ere on the side of greater freedom for the masses (in this case, not being murdered, as being murdered necessarily ends any kind of freedom a person might have) in favor of the individual freedoms of being able to kill anyone one may want to.

I’m treating this article series as a way of exploring the question of morality, from its base to its peak, to establish what I believe and to show why my beliefs, as they are rooted in secular (as in, not derived from the arbitrary assemblage of religions in the world) and data-driven (as in, derived from observing the behaviour of the world and how people actually interact with each other in the environment) decision systems, have a stronger case for being valid than the historical and traditional moral systems. The first reason that I think I can prove this is that traditional moral systems, derived from religious ideals and reactionary measures, are not effective on their own terms, even before trying to find universal terms. A morality system, as any ideological system, should be internally consistent, self-reinforcing, externally validated, and nuanced in the places where rules conflict so that decisions can be navigated ethically.

Now, to define our terms.

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July 4, 2012

I may be kind of late on this meme, and I know there’s a lot going on at Twitter about the kinds of things people want to say to their children, things they won’t be proud of when they’re looking in the soft, bright eyes of their own progeny and wondering why they thought the things they thought.

I know this will still exist when you’re born and you’re grown. I don’t know when I’ll see you, or how much we’ll know of each other, or who your other parents will be. At least not yet. But I wanted to send you a letter through time with my love, devotion, and respect for you.

Most of all, I want to send you a promise. A promise that I’ll strive every single day to make my world, and your world, better in any way I can. That when you come into this world it’ll be ready for whatever and whoever you want to be. That it’ll be prepared for whatever seeds you want to sow and primed for whatever you want to grow from it. A promise that I will do all I can to make sure the world is beautiful, free, and ready for you. Make sure that there’s as little hatred, disrespect, and fear as possible. That it will be for you what it couldn’t be for me – safe.

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Not Your Normal

June 13, 2012

I’m not like the rest of the culture around me. I’m pansexual. I’m a nerd. I’m disabled. I’m autistic. I’m polyamorous. I’m a feminist. I’m kinky. I’m a gamer of all sorts. I’m a writer. I like tea. I’m into steampunk and other retrofuturistic speculative fiction genres. I like beer.

This is about where you might expect me to say, “But I’m just like you.”

I’m not going to, though. I’m not going to because I don’t need to. What needs to happen is that you need to accept that I’m not just like you and you need to respect that. I’m not your kind of normal, but I’m still normal. I’m my normal. I’m my ethical, moral, and just. I’m my own version of a person wrapped around a core of the good social justice arguments and social justice systems that have been shown to be better for everyone.

I’m not just like you, and that’s a good thing.

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Poison in the Well

June 1, 2012

Hey there fellas (Hey!), I want to sit down and have a chat with you. I want to talk to you about us getting laid.

See, I’ve got the sex drive that jokes about guys alludes to. I’m always interested in fin, and ding a partner for some intimate time, and I’m pansexual so I’m not as picky as a lot of people when it comes to finding partners. However, I’ve only had a handful of partners, and all but one of them have been in long term relationships. Everyone of those relationships have been built on top of awkward communication and a lot of me staying at arm’s length until I was clearly allowed to get closer. Even if I wanted, and they wanted, us to be closer I had to be absolutely sure.

Because if I wasn’t, I’d be an asshole. Even if I’m not an asshole, a lot of assholes are ruining it for the rest of us.

So today I want to talk about what poisoning the well means.

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