Tuesday, June 30, 2009


So, this past weekend, I had the good fortune to go back to my home town and see my family. It's always a wild experience going back to my old stomping grounds, and every time I do it I get a little something new. Perhaps something I'd misplaced, perhaps something I didn't even realize I was missing, but each visit is invariably a life experience. This visit, I gained a history. I regained a connection I'd pretty much given up as lost, and I had the pleasure of refreshing all the other relationships I tend to forget.

Now, a family history is a strange thing. By the time you have a family history, the history has lost much of its urgency. The people are generally long since dead, the relationships in question have lost much meaning, and all that's left is an assortment of black and white photos fading into yellow of people that look just a little bit more familiar that the sort of people in those pictures generally look. With my mother's side of the family, it was always taken for granted that they'd been around since the dawn of time. Or possibly since the days of French fur traders, whichever came first. But my father's family has always been a bit of a mystery. I know that we all come with large ears, hot tempers, and varying degrees of blue around the collar. There were sketchy references to this ancestor from Mexico, or that relative who was Cherokee, but by and large it was something that simply didn't come up in conversation. This weekend, though, my older sister showed me that maybe things weren't so simple after all. Turns out the big ears come from both sides of my Dad's family. As well as the penchant for facial hair and the expandable forehead. A whole new universe full of stories and facts I'd never known I was connected to, laid out in all its sepia glory.

Growing up, I never really questioned my family. My sisters, my parents, everyone just kinda was. They weren't so much people as they were geographical features. One is never surprised when they leave the house in the morning, and discover the hill across the street is still there. So it was with my family. But then, one day some time in high school, the hill across the street wasn't as big as it had been the day before. That ancient oak that stood sentinel on the corner was suddenly replaced by a shrub, a little bush daring you to ask what happened. One bit at a time, it all slipped away. By the time I knew what was happening, though, I was the rat deserting the sinking ship. It's been a long time, though. I no longer have anything to run from in that town, and I finally have the chance to restore some connections. A series of happy accidents connected me with old friends and family I had given up as lost, and I discovered the world keeps turning under all of us. And with these friends, this family, it all spun in just the right way.

I must have left that town a hundred times since I first came north eight years ago. This was the first time I truly grasped what all I was leaving behind. The world is a fluid place, and there are things in life too important to be taken for granted.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Listing Toward Windmills

In light of what appears to have been a successful first post, it would appear a follow up is appropriate. I hope it will serve as a counterweight to the first, an immovable object to offset the irresistible force. In the past week and a half, I have found a "calling" (for lack of a better word). Something of substance and significance that has motivated me to get up off my ass and do something. Or perhaps sit on my ass more, and do something, given the amount of involvement I have been engaged in through the internet. But even as I write this, I can feel the shadow creeping back in. The life of decadent apathy I wasn't even aware I was living. A friend of mine had his own eye-opening experience today, of which I am honored to say I was a secondary catalyst. What is it that calls us to this life of complacency and mediocrity? One would think that children raised to uphold the virtues of the Revolution wouldn't be so inclined to sit back and indulge in marathon naval-gazing. If it is the insurrectionist's zeal that forged us, what is it that quenches us, tempering us into moderately overweight couch ingots?

I think that we as a culture have fallen victim to the curse of getting everything we ever wanted. If I am hungry, I go out to my infinitely complex automobile designed halfway around the world and constructed halfway across the country. I burn the decomposed remains of animals dead for millions of years that has been shipped in a machine larger than I possibly imagine all the way around the world, and accelerate to speeds faster than any other land mammal can travel (assuming there aren't any cops around). I blast away to a building full of food stuffs, shipped in from around the globe, processed to last longer and stay fresher than organic material has any right to last. I bring it home, and bombard it with unnaturally high levels of radiation, triggering a molecular reaction within it, vaporizing particles of water I would need a powerful microscope to see. Or if I'm feeling particularly lazy, I harness the elemental power that drives a lightening bolt to activate and interface with an extraordinarily complex device that is the pinnacle of millenia of technological advancement, to access the most advanced and extensive computer network the human race has yet to devise. I then order pizza. See above if you want some perspective on exactly how complicated that is, but take out the part where I have to actually stand up. And yet, this seems perfectly normal to me. I accept this as being completely natural. I'm currently listening to music that belongs to a genre that is played by instruments that do not and cannot physically exist (techno). I do not have a band living in my apartment, but rather, that same elemental power I used to order pizza is harnessed to trigger a series of magnets that vibrate faster than the eye can see. They vibrate so fast, in fact that they actually create recognizable sound patterns beyond "click click click click". I am typing this on a device that is not actually connected to anything, currently sitting in my lap until I put it on the table in front of me so I can go take advantage of modern plumbing.

And do Not get me started on air conditioning. Not today, when it was so hot my back door actually sealed itself shut from the heat.

Perhaps we have been overimmersed in the miraculous. Perhaps modern society has reached a level of sensory and mental callousedness that we cannot react anymore. For days now, I have been trying to turn the marvelous machine in front of me into a weapon against oppression. Unfortunately, I have been stymied by its complexity, but I can't stop trying. But when I tell others about this grand struggle, I feel like I am trying to alter the trajectory of the earth's orbit with a hamsterwheel and a series of paperclips. We have established a level of cultural inertia the likes of which the world has never seen before. I fully expect for my life to end in a world much the same as the one I was born into a quarter century ago. The toys have been improved, but the rules are the same. My father was born into this same world. Perhaps someday, if I am fortunate, I will father my own son, and I imagine when my progeny breathes his last, he will do so in a land of supermarkets, automobiles, and a presidential election every four years. The ancillary rules will probably look a little different, but the fundamentals are the same. This culture has worn itself a nice, comfortable butt groove in the sofa that is The Human Race, and physics tell us that an object at rest won't get up unless it needs another beer.

It is in direct opposition to the revolutionary spirit we are raised with, a foil that holds us down like the spoiler on a race car. Our ancestors have fought and died, sacrifices we must remember and hold as examples, for our right to not have to fight, and eventually "pass away". Don't upset the apple cart, don't rock the boat, don't make waves. We have become the champions of The Status Quo, living social monoliths who will someday be laid to rest in a great empty field commemorating all the others who have likewise lived effectively uneventful lives. Except for those poor few who wound up as victims of cannibalistic sociopaths who thought that they were trying to upset the establishment. Those poor souls had their bodies laid to waste in the metropolitan sewer system. The concept isn't too far removed, though.

Why is it that only complete and utter lunatics get to rise up and be noticed in this land? Why is it that to fight my revolution, I have to hop an internet connection around the world? We are so caught up in the muck and mire of our culture that we are bogged down when the time comes for us to try and do something noteworthy.

I am interested to see what happens to this cultural inertia should the Iranian revolt succeed. Personally, I think I would be okay with trading my shiny toys for the knowledge that I did something worthwhile, and helped secure a better world. It is simply the lack of that confidence that keeps me in place. And perhaps, one or two too many pizzas.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Children of Revolution

Recent events have forced me to come to terms with an element of my world view that I never truly understood before. Two weeks ago, I was a rather complacent, middle-class, white, male American. I grew up in a land where you could be or do anything you really felt like, just so long as you didn't break too many laws in the process. I grew up in a middle class family, with the understanding that my parents would support me just so long as I didn't do anything too tremendously stupid. I knew my government wasn't paying too much attention, but that on some level they were at the very least passively supporting the people governed. I had a decent education, and learned all about how once upon a time, it wasn't really this way. And that somewhere, dangling off the edge of the map, it wasn't this way there either. "Here there be restrictions on social liberties, and slightly further out, there be monsters." I had a nice happy little something going on, with minimal effort required to keep it in place. The little talking box in the living room would whisper about those far away places, and sometimes show pictures of people who didn't look anything like me, miserable and suffering because they were so far away.

Yet, underlying everything, was this destructive instinct, buried deep. For some reason, I felt an almost instinctive distrust of uniforms, of political hierarchies, and of arbitrary boundaries. I knew that if the government had reason to look my way it was a bad thing, and a thing to be avoided. I heard the stories of great men and women, tilting at windmills and fighting the power, and I felt a kinship. I felt a stirring to go and do likewise.

Then, a shade over a week ago, one of those distant lands dangling off the edge of the map had their little election. I recognized one of the men running for office from my talking box, and I didn't like him. But what of it? That place was literally a world away, and none of my concern. The angry little man no one on my talking box seemed to like won his election in a landslide, and people said it was not so, that he had stolen the election. It was frustrating, but what could I do? I thought one of our politicians did a similar thing recently, and we all just grumbled about it.

But something went wrong. The people didn't grumble. The people rose up, and cried out "Shenanigans!" I heard their call, and something stirred in me. I listened to it, and I realized it didn't sound so different to my own voice. These people, they weren't so different. I am a child of technology, and binary is the same in all languages. Here were people with cell phones, and computers, and all the other gadgetry that defined my life. What is more, they were using those toys, those conveniences to fight back. On the internet, geography means nothing. Language is not a barrier, but rather an inconvenience. These people were fighting with blogs, and torrents, and twitters. I knew these things, and suddenly these weren't just people, these were my kin. These people were brothers and sisters in arms, likewise born children of technology. So I took up the call, used what tools I found close at hand, and threw myself into the fray.

I realize I'm no Iranian. I realize that my contribution is meager at best, and I could very easily just go back to my complacent life, play with all my shiny toys, and leave those people on the other side of the world to take on their own battles. My pathetic internet relay is one of a myriad, and I have no voice that change the world. Something in me would not permit this, though. Something in me screamed out "Fight!" Something in me woke up, and suddenly I was neck deep in someone else's fight. I've been trying to figure it out for days, and I've finally got it.

I am a child of Revolution. I am an American, a land founded on the principle that the people up top don't know better. The motto of my home state is "The Show Me State"; skepticism has been ground into me since day one. I was raised to believe that people should never fear their governments, but that governments should fear their people. I am a child of Don Quixote, windmills are made to be tilted at. Freedom is not a privilege, it is a right. Deep down within all of us, I believe there is a revolutionary that has been carefully groomed and prepared, because there could come a day when it is necessary to stand against the machine. Every young American who learns our history is taught to be a revolutionary, because if we ever forget that, we will lose the very thing this land was created for. We need to revolt against something. Especially now, with complacency rife and government corruption prevalent. It is a dangerous thing to raise children to honor those who questioned authority, and then present them with a ruling power that could very well be unworthy of the authority they have. It stews and simmers in us all, but we are free enough that we simply create fantastical fictions where it is not so, so we can feed our need to revolt. Movies and music, screaming out against the establishment, these things appease our cravings, but they don't remove them completely.

So when I found a gateway to revolution, a chance to finally unleash a lifetime's frustration at repression, it was a non-issue for me. Iranians were no different. If anything, they worship their revolutionaries even more than Americans, so that internal tension must have been even greater. The people who are throwing themselves into this, both Iranian and the web-based community at large, we are all doing what we were bred to do. Social repression, injustice, and violence towards a populace who did nothing to warrant it? It would be harder for us not to fight. My tools are meager, my life mostly safe, and my rage is largely impotent.

But I was raised singing the songs of angry men. I can't help but raise my own voice when I hear the chorus begin again. I support the Sea of Green.