If you calculate the sum of who you are by only subtracting what you’re not,
you’ll end up negative.
If you calculate the sum of who you are by only subtracting what you’re not,
you’ll end up negative.
Is reincarnation a reversible concept? Like a gym pinnie?
Most people like the kickass red side-the one that whispers the reason you don’t like water is because you drowned in a past life. Most people like the red deja vu side … it’s romantic in a weird way. It’s sexy to know where you’ve been.
But no one acknowledges the shitty yellow side that has all the sweat and grass stains from exertion and failed attempts-the one that pulls you forward, towards the morass of what lies ahead. People don’t seem to like the yellow side … it’s not the psychic with the crystal ball who, despite her occupation, has a phone number, or the mysterious bandana-ed tarot card reader in a tent.
I quite like the yellow side. Sure, the nagging imp of deja vu, knocking at the paned glass of your mind, is a fun, yet fleeting guest. But I like even more the benevolent, silent specter of the future gliding into your chest cavity and pulsing an electric current through the speedway of your veins; you hum back to life like a rejuvenated generator and your mind senses that this place or person or thing will be of significance to it … will be integral to your future.
Deja vu yanks you backward by your red collar, halting forward progress, grumbling, “you’ve been here before, you idiot, don’t you remember?”
But future coaxes you onward with lithe fingers, reaching for your yellow, sullied pinnie, whispering, “this is all right. You’re where you’re supposed to be.”
She has a mind of flint.
Set her against thirsty, hungry, sex-starved vegetation
-So the petalled rose of her cheeks may spring green envy-
And seek not spring nor asphyxiating mud.
Find percussive device of proper density,
Be it sylvan or mountainous or forged in the earth’s heart-like hearth
And wield in the most motherly hand, having birthed ideas from out the brain, warmest womb.
Then, against better judgement, strike her.
From lump inanimate and strawish, abandoned kindling
Leaps forth a spark borne from her electric neurons and synapses.
Now watch the truest holy fire.
Raging with healing, brightest knowledge that consumes the old and
Creates the new, swirling, hypnotic, invasive smoke, she sets the world aflame.
She intermingles with the eternal atmosphere, forever altering.
From peak to peak, then over and under, her flames
Devour and mutilate the old world of
Hunger and mindful darkness and clenched tyrannical fists.
Let this mind, and all like it, succeed that
Ill-famed trinity upon humankind’s throne
For though prejudice and tyranny has mutilated the three,
They and she are one and the same.
How do we communicate?
Albert Mehrabian, in 1971, conducted a study and famously procured the following statistics: “words (the literal meaning) account for 7% of the overall message, tone of voice accounts for 38% of the overall message, [and] body language accounts for 55% of the overall message” (http://www.bodylanguageexpert.co.uk/communication-what-percentage-body-language.html). But is that all? Can a neat and orderly application of mathematics truly express the complexities of human communication?
I don’t believe so.
There is something else, not accounted for in Mehrabian’s equation, that governs human communication: the zeitgeist. The sociological, political, religious, and overall the “general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zeitgeist).
If I may call upon the economist and philosopher, Karl Marx, and his ideas presented in Capital, I’d like to redefine our quotidian notions of a value and currency in terms of communication. Marx says, “the utility of a thing makes it a use value”. He is the first to put into words the concept that an object can have a use value irrespective of the effort it took to make it or any value the object had before. As he puts it: “this property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities”. Therefore, this introduces another party into the equation: someone to determine the value. Marx states that “use values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf). Simply put, an object’s value is determined by the other buyers and sellers within the market.
Additionally, Marx speaks of currency as a numerical or tradeable reflection of the value of commodities. Marx explains, “Now if, in consequence of such a rise or fall in the value of gold, the sum of the prices of commodities fall or rise, the quantity of money in currency must fall or rise to the same extent. The change in the quantity of the circulating medium [will then be reflected in] … its function as a measure of value”. Whether it be gold, silver, green paper, coins, or a check, currency is a fluid, transferrable placeholder for value.
So, if we may translate these Marxist ideas to communication: what is the use value of our communication? What is the currency? This is where the zeitgeist comes into play.
Communication currency has changed, just as economic currency has changed. The use value of communication commodities has come and gone.
Before we had words or body language, we had food. Food was our currency and its use value was astronomically high. It was the difference between life and death. We traded and communicated in food.
Next, we developed gestures, words, and rudimentary forms of writing and pictograms and used these to formulate more efficient means of gathering food. These basic communications were indeed important, but food still reigned as governing currency.
Then with fewer nomadic people and the stabilization of agriculture, came the more elevated idea of religion. We discovered advanced and consistent sources of food, but these methods depended upon such great forces as weather and the earth’s ecological phenomena. In an effort to understand, we attempted to rationalize the unexplainable with concepts of luck, blessings, curses, and deities that oversaw the earth’s movements. The dim beginnings of formalized languages were beginning to settle in, but hardly any groups of people were writing. Therefore, with only words to communicate to each other and to the gods, who would then oversee our acquisition of food, words became the currency, with which to ‘purchase’ food from the gods or each other.
In this way, the use value of words was extremely concentrated. If it reached the ears of the gods, be it blessing, oath, or curse, it would come true. Scholars state that an oath “[implied] a belief, not only in the existence of the being so called upon, but also in his power and inclination to punish the false swearer; and the force of an oath is founded on this belief” (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Jusjurandum.html). It is given value by the communal, shared belief in this system of justice; just as Marx states, the use value of an oath is determined by the other buyers of belief. Where you put your words is where you put your faith.
This currency in the form of words holds true, even beyond the disappearance of polytheism, on through the rise of monotheism, in the form of prayers, confessions, or curses; what does shift, however, is the use value. We no longer depend on the currency of words for mortal sustenance, but for immortal sustenance. The lord’s name used in vain or a curse word would be heard and could threaten our immortal souls. Once again, we have a shared market that provides the currency its value.
Sometime later, however, just as Marx himself is growing up, humans experience a shift in reality unlike any they had seen before. Something stronger and larger came about that immediately diminished the use value of words. The Industrial Revolution reared Marx to manhood and with him came a new governing set of rules and principles. Capitalism chased out monotheism. The use value of food plummeted-it had become nearly commonplace. With the developments of vast, intercontinental markets came a new belief system, a new market, and a new currency: money. Where you put your money is where you put your faith.
You want Microsoft to succeed, so you invest your money. You want America’s economy to improve, so you buy American. You tell your daughter you love her, but just saying it isn’t enough, so you buy her a new car. You want to share with your children the magic of Christmas, so you buy them toys. You want to obtain an education to pursue the American Dream, so you buy it.
In the first century, exchanging food is communicating.
In the eleventh century, exchanging words is communicating.
In the 21st century, exchanging money is communicating.
But now, we have technology and social media-a resource which, by its very name, suggests communication, yet eliminates all but the least significant variable in Mehrabian’s equation. There is a notable lack of communication because words lost their meaning long ago.
But now, we have income inequality where, as of 2014, the top 0.1% has as much wealth as the bottom 90% (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/nov/13/us-wealth-inequality-top-01-worth-as-much-as-the-bottom-90). Money hasn’t lost its value, but we no longer communicate in money because there isn’t enough to spare. There can be no market if there are no buyers or sellers to determine use value.
So, how do we communicate? What is our present communication currency? Or what happens when we lose our currency?
What happens when we stop trading altogether?
Yeah, so, jet lag. My body was either thinking positive thoughts all of yesterday or was running strictly on caffeine. Both are entirely possible. Anyway, 8:30 dawned early this morning. We whisked together a light, healthy breakfast because we had a very special, very important, very relatively early orientation session this morning, for which we […]
Well, folks, this is an official ‘Pip, pip, cheerio’ from the far bank of the pond! We are all settled here in Londontown, even if our bodies’ clocks are straddling the Atlantic. After about a seven-hour flight for a large group of us (all of your friendly bloggers except the California-native Emily), departing from PHL […]
Well. Another promising day on the Home Page patrol. Skies are clear, with high morale and a high probability of cat videos. Reactions of grades ANGRY or SAD are at a monthly low and the only rogues going live and clogging up the newsfeed are the usual suspects.
Only four notifications to report this morning.
Otherwise, it is free Home Page patrolling this morning.
Jeremy shared an AJ+ video; best to watch the first twenty seconds, then scroll on. Oh, good, Lily shared a cat video; best watch the entirety. Nothing that needs immediate attention.
NOW REPORTING: a large body of text. From foe or friend? Ah, an FMF—frequently misguided friend. Subject matter? Oh, dear god. Politics. The fiend! POV? Wrong. Dead wrong. Completely wrong.
Recommended course(s) of action: ignore this blatant attack, which will surely happen again or … dispatch the enemy surely and swiftly with counterattack.
Express understanding. Go.
Validate point, superficially. Go.
Standby, switching tactics. Ready …
Tactfully disagree. Go.
Provide crushing textual evidence. Go.
Bring it home! Use evidence against FMF main point. Go.
Increase force of sass in order to …
CONFIRM HE IS WRONG. GO. GO. GO.
All that’s left to do … reply button armed and ready. And. Go.
Well done. Another Facebook FMF forever changed thanks to your thoughtfulness and intellect. Congratulations. The Home Page thanks you.
NOW REPORTING: notification from FMF. ALERT. We have a reply without a like, I repeat, we have a reply without a like. Reply report: several Gs of sass, maximum amount of ignorance, and zero degrees of change.
Recommended course(s) of action: respond with flag of truce or respond with force.
RESPOND WITH FORCE.
LAUNCH THE HIGH HORSE.
LAUNCH THE BIG WORDS.
GIVE ‘EM HELL.
Reply button armed and ready. And. BOMBS AWAY.
NOW REPORTING: notification from FMF. Notification from friend of FMF. ALERT. We now have a joint attack and not a like to be seen.
Recommended course(s) of action: respond with flag of truce or fight on both fronts.
FIGHT ON BOTH FRONTS.
LAUNCH THE LOGICAL FALLACIES.
LAUNCH THE HOLIER-THAN-THOU GUNS.
Reply button armed and ready. And. MAKE THEM WEEP.
NOW REPORTING: notification from FMF. Notification from 3 friends of FMF. ALERT. It’s an ambush. You’re in enemy territory. There’s only one way of escape.
Recommended course(s) of action: respond with flag of truce to keep a shred of pride or do not respond, thus admitting you were wrong.
FLAG OF TRUCE.
PULL THE AGE THROTTLE.
Systems reverted to second-grade vocabulary and problem-solving abilities.
Launch the little words.
Launch the emoticons.
Launch attacks on personal attributes.
Launch semblance of concession.
White flag ready. Reply button armed and ready. And. White flag is raised.
Relationship with FMF: Ranging from strained to broken
Likes gained: 0
Friend requests gained: 0
Opinions changed: 0
Big words used: 16
Instances of misconstrued tone: 28
Mental well-being: -35%
Moral well-being: +0.5%
Summary: Not Worth It.
Comments: “We have so much to say, and we shall never say it.”
If I’ve assumed something of you, I’m sorry.
If I made you feel smaller or less important, I’m sorry.
If anyone has waited a moment before murmuring about the ignorance of my statement, I’m sorry.
I assure you I didn’t know.
I assure you I’d want to know
If I’ve hurt you.
Because the two things we can both understand:
The need for kindness and
The want to be kind.
Just because I don’t know
Doesn’t mean I don’t want to know,
Doesn’t mean I can’t learn and do better.
You see, I’ve learned what has been done in the past;
I’ve learned what not to do.
I haven’t learned what to do.
I know now …
It’s time for me to listen—
I’ve been speaking for far too long—
So talk with me as you’d want me to talk with you.
Tell me stories.
Help me laugh, help me cry.
I’ll never know, but I can try.
You’re a person, same as I,
So let me sit beneath your sky.
Won’t say a word or make a sound,
Just listen to your words resound.
Won’t start my mouth until I’ve found
That you and I share equal ground.
“Right, so go to the home page … No, Ma. No … Ma, don’t tap that. No, I told you that’s just a text, probably from- No, I said don’t!”
“You tapped it, didn’t you? Jesus, Ma. I told you not to do that, now we gotta start all over again.” Lila fell back aggressively on her white duvet with a huff.
She rolled over on her side to look at me as she rolled her eyes.
I smiled slyly at her from behind my knees and went back to enjoying her tutoring session with her mother, scanning Facebook, putting the finishing touches on an essay, and eating a salad. And reminding myself how much I hate kale.
“Okay, you’re back at the start? Okay,” Lila sighed. “Open the app that says- the icon. The floating little square thing. Right, the grey one with the gear on it, it’s labelled ‘settings’. Then scroll down with your finger … I am not sassing you. What tone? There’s no tone. I’m not- I know. I know you did, it must have been very difficult. I know! Okay. Now scroll down to ‘general’. You see that? Okay, now go to ‘accessibility’. Like halfway down it should say ‘larger text’. Touch that. Okay, see the slider right there? Yeah, slide it all the way to the right. Yes, all the way. All the way. Ma. Ma, you’re blind as bat, go all the way to the right. Right. I know! Yes, it’s much bigger, I know. Yeah, so that should do you until you find those glasses. Okay. And if it’s not big enough, just call me, I’ll get you the secret font sizes that no one else knows about. Yes, I can do that. Do you doubt me, Mother? Are you testing me, Mother? To whom do you owe your next week of cellphone-ular interactions, Mother?”
I guffawed and Lila looked up at me, wryly blank.
“That’s what I thought. Uh huh. Okay. Love you, too, Ma. You’re welcome. Anytime. I know I’m the best. I know. Okay. Yeah. Love you. Bye.”
Lila hung up and knuckleballed her phone into her pillow. She gazed up at the cement ceiling of our dorm room, her hands pulling her hair.
I watched her for a moment. “How’s Deb?”
She let out a burst of wind, a pathetic excuse for a laugh. “Deb has two doctorate degrees, twenty-seventy vision, and still cannot master the apple.”
“Well. Making the font bigger? That’s pretty advanced stuff.”
“User-friendly my ass.”
“Hey. Come for my iPhone one more time today, I swear to god, fight me.”
“Don’t need to, your fucking Note 7 will burn your ass before I do.”
“No! Too fucking soon! Get out of my house!” Lila sat up and pointed at the door.
“Make me, you won’t. I’ll go to Deb’s house. She’ll be like, ‘well, at least, I have an adopted daughter who loves me and visits me’.”
Lila feigned gagging at my flawless imitation of Deb’s Jewish mother. I smiled into the next bite of salad, typing, ‘allows France to forget its violent colonial past, which consequently reinstitutes the ‘radical terrorist’ and, in the words of Fanon–’
“But, like, she’s so smart,” Lila reasoned. “She’s so educated and, like, worldly. And she can’t even figure out this little device. This little thing in her hand.”
“Well, yeah, but you grew up with it. It’s not fair to judge her ‘cuz she can’t figure out something that’s only existed for the last … what, seven years of her life, and you’ve had your entire adult life,” I said as I typed, ‘this forgetfulness revitalizes the settler’s racism in bouts of outrage regarding a conflict that is interlaced inextricably into the nation’s DNA, reappearing at every sinusoidal turn of the double-helix’. I stopped, disgusted with myself and jabbed at the delete button to get rid of that last piece of bull-
“Yeah. But she used to be a quick study.”
“With stuff that she knew about. Like ask her to play baseball or something and she’d be a trash can at it. But new scientific methods, she’s great at.”
“Yeah. I guess I just thought this would be close enough to what she does already that she’d be fine by now.”
“Old dog. New tech.”
“You calling my mother old?”
“Good. ‘Cuz, like, I’ll fight you.”
“So violent today.”
“I’m PMSing, you know that.”
“I fucking do. We had chips this morning. No fucking chips anywhere anymore.”
“Eat your fucking kale.”
“I will eat my fucking kale,” I said through a mouthful of fucking kale.
She watched me try to force the oversized leaf into my mouth, amused. I stared back at her, blank.
“It’s like eating a tree,” I mumbled.
She snorted. “I don’t touch the stuff.”
“No, Miss Susquehanna University eats Chipotle bowls only,” I announced into my fork. “That’s right, it’s the Burrito Bowl Diet for Miss Susquehanna University. Just look at those love handles. Irresistible.”
I dodged a pillow pet dog named Goat.
“Go fuck yourself, Miss I-Burst-Out-Of-My-Fucking-Yoga-Pants!”
“I was doing squats!”
“They’re very strenuous.”
“You look like you’re constipated whenever you do them.”
“Yeah, well, you are too fucking extra in zumba, so fight me. Like, honestly, who you tryna impress? There ain’t a single set of balls in the whole room, so like … why?”
“Just because I have fun doesn’t mean-”
“You are not having fun, you are trying to get some,” I said, clapping the last few syllables.
“Makes one of us, so.” She flopped back on her bed again.
“Whach’you know ‘bout me?” I grumbled, turning back to my essay.
Lila laid on her bed a moment longer, then sat up and grabbed her phone. “But actually. This is my mother. Like I depend on her for everything and always have for the past twenty years, but now she depends on me for something that is, like, at the center of being a human in twenty-seventeen.”
“At the center of being younger than thirty. Older people don’t use their phones like we do.”
“Yeah, but, being a professional, especially being a scientist … you kinda have to know how this stuff works.”
“Right, but our parents’ generation that doesn’t know how it works is being phased out. Eventually it’ll be just us.”
“So, like, why is no one hiring us?”
“Ooh. She said it.”
“But actually.” She slid off her bed and padded over to her closet.
“But actually.” I shoved another leaf of fucking kale into my mouth. ‘Although the film’s depiction of both French and Algerian violence would certainly strip a Frenchman bare of his present ‘innocent victim’ status, it would also do much to console that confused (and now indecent) Frenchman in that it provides a rational formula in which constructive violence is a variable.’
I closed my laptop, content with my progress. Lila, now pajamaed, leapt into her four-foot raised bed and turned off her light. I turned off mine.
I blame Disney.
There is no wicked witch.
No fair, gentle princess.
No evil sorcerer.
No handsome, charming prince.
No small, conniving minion.
No cute, infallible furry friend.
No sage elder to give advice.
To tell a child so is pure falsification and over-simplification.
All of these traits, tropes, and characteristics lie in her or him.
She is kind to her grandmother, yet bullies her classmate.
He advises his brother, yet cannot decide what to eat.
She is proud with her boyfriend, yet shrinks with her father.
He loves his father, yet hates his teacher.
When life becomes:
My choice is good, yours is bad
My opinion is right, yours is wrong
My president is good, yours is evil,
We begin to expect
Gaston’s fall from the balcony,
Clayton’s fall and hanging,
Frollo’s fall into the fire.
We begin to expect retribution
For that inherent evilness.
(Even despite ‘Thou shalt not kill’.)
When we assume evil in a person, we can no longer see the person.
He is her prince and sage.
She is her furry friend and minion.
He is his sage elder and sorcerer.
She is his princess and torturer.
I blame Disney.
You have diminished me to one.
You have falsified my world.
You have made it black and white
When I want to see all the colors of the wind.