Bigotry Doesn’t Care About Your Intentions

Racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and other forms of discrimination that limit opportunities to people based on some unchangeable fact about themselves don’t care about intentions.

Forms of discrimination have become a very different sort of beast in the current day.  It’s no longer the obvious racism such as the Jim Crow laws.  Racism, sexism, ageism, and much discrimination is now a subtle subconscious mindset that, if one is not paying attention, can be perpetuated unwillingly and unknowingly.  Because of this it is increasingly easy to contribute to these subconscious paradigms unwillingly and accidentally.

There are very obvious sorts of discrimination, but it’s the unconscious reflexive sort of actions that truly contribute to discrimination in our current world.  Actions such as checking one’s wallet when they pass a black person or holding on extra tight to their purse can be the subtle sort of unconscious racism that permeates our culture and constitutes our subconscious racist paradigms.  They are socially constituted and culturally ingrained through stereotypes. Continue reading

The YouTube Learning Community

John Green, author of Looking For Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars (among other great novels), was recently featured on TED Talks in a talk called The Paper Town Academy.  This talk is phenomenal and you should watch it here. He talks about cartography, fake towns, fake towns turning into real towns, and (most prominently) the idea of a Learning Community.

John Green’s talk focuses on the idea of being a part of a learning community.  A learning community is a community which heralds the idea of intellectualism and the act of learning new things.  There is a new learning community developing on YouTube and that is what I’m going to talk to you about today.  I believe that the YouTube learning community represents a shift in the mentality of, at least, some people.  A mentality where we no longer feel insecure about our desire to learn and be intelligent.

The reason I think this community is so special is because of the way I was mocked for my want to be a part of the learning community.  I was once at a bar with some friends.  We were all chatting and they were all talking about music – a passion that my friend holds above all other passions.  I was relatively isolated and alone as most of the people there were friends of friends.  I was like an 8th wheel (which is weird because with 7 others around you would think I could engage someone in conversation).  We were talking and someone mentioned something – I use vagueness here because I cannot remember what the subject was.  What I do remember was popping into the conversation saying “Wow, that really reminds me of the thinker.”  Before I could even elaborate, speak further my friend responded, and  I will never forget the response I got.  “Really?! You’re talking about art and the thinker in a bar? Really?” And then he continued to ignore me.  And there I sat – sad and even more alone than I had been before.

I share this story because I wanted – oh so desperately did I want – to be a part of the community that wants to learn.  He did too, but he wanted to be a part of the music learning community.  But because he viewed the community of learning I wanted to be a part of as “intellectual” and as (I somewhat assume) “pretentious” he would constantly shut me down, mock my comments of intellectual attempt, and disengage me from any group I was a part of.

I believe the YouTube community of learners can change that.  Do you love physics?  Check out Minute Physics on YouTube.  Do you love slow motion and want to learn something unique?  Check out Smarter Everyday.  Do you love History?  Check out Crash Course (Done by John Green).  Science? SciShow! These are all YouTube channels that cater to the YouTube Learning Community.

However, this doesn’t solve the problem entirely.  I didn’t just want to learn, I wanted to engage in the community of learners.  I wanted to talk, discuss, and engage in deep discourse about the world around us and how we perceive said world.  While I found some of this in college, I also found that students more often would just wait for me to answer questions in class (because I rose my hand and engaged in classes) rather than engage each other.  They merely wanted to achieve a grade (not even necessarily a good one), an arbitrary hurdle which dictates apparently how smart we are.

If you look at the channels that I have put above, you will see that the comments section is actually filled with engaging and encouraging comments.  People ask questions, answer other people’s questions, and generally engage each other as a learning community.  This is how YouTube has helped me out of the alienated funk that my friend put me in.  This is a place, sacred and secluded from those who don’t want to engage the learning community, where learners can engage with each other about learning.  Learning thus becomes about learning the things that you want to learn, understanding the answers to the questions that YOU want to ask, and not jumping through the arbitrary hurdles set forth by school districts who decide what you should learn, how much of it you should learn, and how proficient you should be at it by testing you and assigning a symbol which represents your perceived intelligence.

I hope that this community will continue to grow and that learning, in any capacity, will be completely acceptable – whether it be understanding literary works of art, the deep rooted history of Batman or Superman, the ability to recite poetry, the laws of economics, the laws of physics, etc.

Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist

The Miracle of Mindfulness and Conventions

This post is a journey of thought, talking about happiness in everyday life in relation to happiness at conventions – TeslaCon in particular as it was this weekend.  Today I want to talk to you about my own happiness, my own life, and how we can use conventions as a way to understand happiness in everyday life.

Over the weekend I was at TeslaCon – talking with people, socializing, having a great time all around – and after such an fantastic weekend I was worried that ConDepression would set in.  However, when yesterday came I worked from approximately 8:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night, with sporadic breaks in between, and found myself just as happy as when I was at TeslaCon despite being alienated from the great people that were there. Some might just say that I was still riding the wave of happiness from the convention but I think it’s something different.

I have this morning off, and when I woke up I was surrounded by all these memories from TeslaCon.  I’m always worried about ConDepression because it hurts my work performance and my motivation for the day (and can often spiral into motivation for the week).  In line with a new event I’ve added to my daily routine (reading for an hour every morning) I picked up The Miracle of Mindfulness to reread and bring my mind away from the fact that TeslaCon is over and I miss it dearly. I read for about an hour, this book which I haven’t picked up since high school, and realized something.  The happiness that I achieved yesterday was the same happiness that I achieved at TeslaCon.

In the Miracle of Mindfulness, Mindfulness is all about keeping one’s mind focused and in the present.  Rather than focusing on what will happen after we finish a task, what will come of the future, we must keep our mind focused on what we are doing and think of it as a great thing.  The example used by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book is washing dishes.  We should focus on washing dishes when we wash dishes, not the cup of tea which awaits us when we are done.

Now, how does this have anything to do with TeslaCon?  At conventions we are focused on the present.  We are entirely engaged and engrossed in the present.  We are no longer thinking about the e-mails which may be flooding our inbox or the deadlines our bosses have given us.  We are only thinking about the present moments which we are experiencing.  This is arguably a way to happiness – it has been heralded in the East for a very long time in many of their religious ideologies and Western studies are beginning to emerge which show the same.  The happiness that I achieved yesterday, despite the fact that my favorite convention of the year is over, was because I was focused on the present and focused on my daily tasks in the same way that I was focused on panels, events, people, and the immersion experiences at TeslaCon.

TeslaCon offers us a place, a time, a history, and people in which we can engross ourselves wholly and entirely.  We embrace the moment and we forget about the past and future by living in the present.

So this is one reason that Conventions are so great.  We become entirely consumed by the moment, by the present.  Rather than worrying about our social relationships, our work relationships, the things we have to do, the things we ought to do, and the normal everyday worries which plague our minds, we are consumed only by the joy presented to us by living within the moment.

Some may think this is all bull honky, and if you do then you are welcome to think that way.  But I urge you to think about your experience at conventions (if you have had one) and remember the worst time you had at the convention.  It was probably that moment in which you stopped thinking about the convention, stopped living in the moment, and allowed your mind to stray back to worrying about work, worrying about relationships, and worrying about the future or how past mistakes were going to hurt your future.

We should apply these living in the moment experiences that we all have at conventions to our everyday lives.  Rather than consuming our thoughts with the worries of past mistakes or possible failures of the future, we should be working hard and focusing on the present as we do when we are engaged at conventions.  We should bring Mindfulness into our lives, focusing on what we are doing now to create the future we want, rather than worrying about what might go wrong or turn that future on its head.

Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist

One thing to be noted – I am not saying that we should abandon all thoughts of our future or all thoughts of our past.  What we should do is make thinking of our future a task, something which we can focus on.  We should set time aside to think about our future, rather than allowing those thoughts to randomly set up shop in our mind.  As for thoughts about our past – we should be focusing on the moment and the only thoughts of our past should be when they apply to the present (this includes when we are dedicating time to thinking about our future).  We shouldn’t dwell on the past and, as Tim Sanders says, poor experiences and failures should be learning experiences where we shed the experience but keep the lesson.

Trolling as Social Conditioning

Trolling is something that we’re all familiar with, and something that I’ve discussed in the past.  But I’m not sure that I gave the idea of trolling as social conditioning the attention that it deserves.  Trolling is a form of social conditioning, in the same way that people become apathetic to the things in our world that negatively impact us (non-bullied teens who are apathetic about bullying, poor living conditions in certain parts of cities that don’t get any attention anymore, etc.).

To start with social conditioning is when we, as people, are conditioned by social forces to believe, think, or act a certain way.  I think an excellent way to see social conditioning is to start with something we are all familiar with – social conditioning by government.  Governments take actions everyday, often at a detriment to the their citizens, and usually under some guise that it is supposed to benefit its citizens.  An excellent example of this is when governments install cameras on street corners, traffic lights, and sides of buildings to monitor the population.  I think we all recognize that this is something that we don’t actually want to happen – but it does.  And as time goes on and it goes on long enough people become desensitized to it and are conditioned to think of the cameras that watch them on a daily basis as something that is normal and things are the way they are.

Trolling does the same thing.  Trolling has become so common place that people just come to expect it and often times people merely ignore it when it happens.  The viewpoints that are put forth in trolling – fat, ugly, slut, stupid, moron, you suck, suck my c*ck – are all expected in the current day of online media.  Trolling, in a sense, has become normalized.  Because it has become normalized the viewpoints expressed are normalized.  When a woman gets called fat online it’s merely trolling and we go on about our daily lives doing our normal tasks because it’s not out of the ordinary.

Through social conditioning, we as an online culture have been conditioned to expect and accept the trolling that happens on a daily basis.  The more the trolls do it, and get away with it, the more we tell them it’s okay.  Like a child who pushes another child and then doesn’t get chastised for it, they haven’t been punished and they didn’t face any serious ramifications for their actions.  They will continue to see how far they can go and what they can get away with.

This is why it is important for people to report trolling as abusive behavior.  We should make sure that gamers are creating a safe and healthy environment for each other – not calling each other a faggot, queer, slut, bitch, or asking others to perform lewd acts upon us.

As always,
Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist

Sub-Culture – Why Call Them Sub-Cultures

I was thinking today about the different sub-cultures that exist.  Personally I am a part of many different sub-cultures, Steampunk, Gamers, Martial Artists, and some others.  But why do we call them sub-cultures?  I originally thought I had the answer, which seemed rather obvious when I used to ask myself this question.  The answer I had was – they exist underneath the surface.  Steampunk, for example, is by no means part of the mainstream.  It’s becoming extremely popular, but the culture of Steampunk exists underneath the surface of society.  The reason that I now question this understanding is asking myself the question what makes something culture and not sub-culture?

Studying Anthropology culture should be very easy for me to define.  And, of course, I can give you an academic definition – a set of beliefs, symbols, and ideas which connect people and through which people come together.  (This is my own definition, and I think many would agree on this definition).  However, what makes something mainstream culture?  If sub-cultures exist beneath the surface than non-sub-cultures should most assuredly exist at the surface, or more importantly they are the surface of society.  But if this is the case then how do we define these things?

How do we create this dichotomy between culture and sub-culture?  How large does a culture have to be for it to no longer be sub-culture?

I would argue that all culture is sub-culture because it encompasses only a subset of the overall human population.  Using AIs this how we should define culture versus sub-culture?merica as an example, American culture cannot be defined in any single way.  There is a culture of the South, East, West, and North and there are overlapping areas of this four circle Venn Diagram.  These cultures are made distinct through their geographical location.  But then, which one of these is America Culture?  What about political culture.  We have liberals and conservatives in America.  We also have Republicans and Democrats.  By no means are these cultures overlapped as there are liberal Republicans, conservative Democrats, as well as conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.  So which one encompasses America and which one is the true culture of America?

I could go on and on about this but my answer has now shifted to why we use the term sub-culture.  I now answer saying that sub-culture only encompasses a subset of all people.  But this describes all culture.  Even something as gigantic as the culture which surrounds Justin Beiber, as mainstream and widespread as it is, is only a subset of people.  Beatlemania was even merely a subset of all people living in America.  San Diego Comic-Con has over 100,000 attendees every year.  That is gigantic, and many people still wanted to attend who didn’t get a chance.  Does that make it large enough to go from sub-culture to regular culture?

I think we should understand that while we use the term sub-culture for culture which lays underneath the surface of “mainstream” culture, no culture actually lays beneath the surface.  The surface itself is not comprised of any single culture that all people are a part of, but that the surface itself is a mosaic of brightly colored cultural pieces that people use to connect to other people through.  It’s just that some pieces are more brightly colored and larger than others.

Collective Effervescence and Conventions: What Makes Conventions so Amazing

What is it that makes a convention so popular?  This is a question that I think many of us know the answer to: the amazing and fun atmosphere that they provide.  What makes it fun and amazing?  It’s the fact that we are all part of the same group, that we are all self described as a geek, a nerd, a gamer, or whatever else the convention is offering.  But more so, we get lost in the collectivity of the convention.

Collective effervescence was first described by Emile Durkheim in his book Elementary Forms of Religious Life.  He was studying “primitive” religions (I put primitive in quotation marks for, what I hope are, obvious reasons) and in studying these religions he most notably had a focus on the rituals and rites of the religions.  In these rituals he noticed this perceived “collective effervescence” which was an energy that flowed through the group participating in the ritual.  For the individual it was about forgetting about the individuality of one’s self and thinking of one self as a part of the group, being the group not the individual.  The group provided the identity for the individual.  In short, collective effervescence is a shared experience and elicits strong emotion, most often euphoria.

This collective effervescence has been studied for decades now and it has become clear that this isn’t just a religious phenomenon or something that is solely associated with rituals.  Collective effervescence is something which is experienced merely by being a social creature.  Anyone who plays games, who gets together with friends, or does something that involves direct interaction with a group (as opposed to doing things only as an individual) can be a part of the shared experience that is collective effervescence.

We can see this in just about every large social event.  Sporting events are an excellent example where people are no longer individuals and become defined by the group they are a part of.  Going to a sporting event one loses their self and connects with every other person through a single rallying point – the support of a team.  I know this experience with the Green Bay Packers.  When going to a bar or a friend’s house to watch a Packer game I am no longer defined by my individuality as a Philosophy and Anthropology major, or as a geek who goes to conventions.  The things which make me unique, are wisked away and I connect with everyone around me through our mutual and collective support of the Green Bay Packers.  Screaming, shouting, and yelling are all mutual feelings that make up a shared experience.

Dance Picture from CONvergence

This is a picture from the dance at CONvergence. Dance is an amazing way to experience Collective Effervescence.

Conventions are not unique in their creation of collective effervescence.  It is the idea behind conventions, the rallying point, which moves us to buy our tickets and take 6 hour car rides that makes it unique.  The being a nerd, a geek, a gamer, or whatever else the convention focuses on that makes it and its participants unique.  Conventions are so popular because it is a way to connect with people who share the same unique interests.  Conventions are ways to share experiences with friends, family, and complete strangers.

It is also about celebrating what makes us unique.  There’s a subtle and beautiful irony there that I love.  When we are out in the world, scattered, the things that we love separate us from the majority of people around us, and we have pride in that unique thing which we don’t necessarily share with the majority of people.  Out of this pride we seek to have experiences with others who share that same uniqueness which separates us as individuals from society as a whole, while simultaneously binds us to others in society.  At conventions it is about celebrating what makes the group different from other groups and being proud of it.

It is easy to lose one’s self among all of the costumes, games, parties, and dances that happen throughout a convention.  When one is stopped for pictures of their costume the costumer is recognized not just for his or her individual effort, but for being a productive part of the community.  The mere act of taking a picture of someone in costume tells them that you like, if not love, their costume and that you think they are a valuable member of the community.  This is the atmosphere that conventions have been built around.

Look how happy those villains are

The smiles on their faces are all part of the shared experience these friends had together. As friends they interacted with strangers and created memories and experiences that could only be created at a convention.

Losing one’s self is a great thing to do as well.  It creates human connections.  It relies on empathy.  It is a way to have trust in someone who you barely know, to let your guard down and say “This is me!”  and have someone say back to you “I’m like that too!”

But it isn’t only about the shared experiences with strangers, but a way for friends to participate in the larger group together.  It’s about sharing moments with both friends, family, and strangers simultaneously.  Costuming is something that I cannot do on a regular basis (at least not yet) and even when my friends and I get together it would be rather strange for all of us to be in costume constantly (even if it would be absolutely awesome).  Conventions serve a purpose of creating memories and experiences with friends and strangers that couldn’t normally take place.

Conventions are not just a bunch of geeks or nerds getting together, but geeks and nerds building experiences and memories together that are unique to only geeks and nerds.  It is about building an experience and a memory that only geeks and nerds can have and also sharing it with the people that you love.

One more photo from CONvergence for everyone:

Women "Gender Bending" the Doctor from Doctor Who

This was a group of women who all coordinated their costumes together for the Masquerade at CONvergence. The show was amazing and they were stopped for probably a good 20 minutes while everyone was taking their picture together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist