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I'm thinking about the moral obligation behind symbols, and use of symbols, in art. I don't think that a symbol should be off limits to someone because of their cultural background or their relative social power. But I do think that a line can be drawn between responsible use of those symbols and hurtful, exploitative use. The cult of "authenticity" that's been observed in white/Caucasian cultures, and corresponding exoticization of cultures and cultural signs seen as more authentic, is one example of the latter. It's where a lot of crass commercialism and crap, self-congratulatory art comes from, and I think that activists are right to take aim at it.

I'm also a devil's advocate for art that isn't crap, even if it's problematic in a lot of ways. And I'm an advocate of case-by-case judgment of those problematic works. I think that there's a point where criticism, like art, can be abusive too; even if it's coming from an anti-oppression stance.

One of the traps of criticism from a position of identity is that it risks becoming a blanket criticism, and in doing so, erasing the voices of those who share the identity, but not the criticism. For example, I see this in some descriptions of the trance scene in Goa, which has been described as a form of neo-colonialism (Yellow Peril magazine), as a fundamentally "white" scene (Arun Saldhana), or as having "nothing to do with India" (Asian Dub Foundation). Of course this is too sweeping -- people of color, including Japanese, Thai, Indians living in India, Indians living abroad, and Afro-descent people, have been a part of the Goa trance scene from its early days -- but the problem goes beyond not every participant in Goa being white. The hippie traveller/expat community of Goa has its own indigenous value system, which isn't above being criticized but isn't easily reduced to the worldview of colonialist occupiers. To many, as important as the music, drugs, and parties was an ethos of nonmaterialism, of co-existence with the host culture, and of willingness to learn from the host culture. Tourists, whether they came from Bombay or Britain, were excluded from the inner circle of hippy life, but I'd claim that this has less to do with what Saldhana calls "racial viscocity" than it does with subcultural viscocity and with incompatible aims and values.

(By the way, this too can be an overly broad narrative; I've met one Indian artist/DJ in the Goa scene who started out as a tourist from Mumbai)

It frustrates me when I see a movement with a strong cross-cultural element denounced as appropriation. At the same time, it frustrates me when I see all appropriation denounced. Again, it comes down to each individual case. If you're telling someone else's story, badly, and passing that off as more faithful than it is, then you're doing it wrong. If you're using something with great significance to another culture as a decorative shiny in order to make yourself seem more interesting, you're doing it wrong.

But if you're free-associating for its own sake, or deliberately blending elements from different cultures to make something new, I can't say that you're necessarily doing it wrong. Perhaps I'm being naive, privileged, or too apolitical. But I believe that art, all art, is the birthright of all people.

What I'd rather do, instead of discouraging appropriation, is encourage appropriating upwards. Art can respond to oppression in this way; satire, at least good satire, contains an element of appropriating the symbols of the powerful.

Moving off the topic of appropriation, blanket statements of identity politics are also an issue in feminism, and with some feminist criticism of media.

Something that concerns me, as a not-uncritical fan of anime, is the treatment of gender in the English-language anime blogosphere. Specifically, I'm concerned with the way that "male gaze" theory has been applied to anime with female casts. In the past, I've been less than polite with people who've advanced male gaze arguments, and a lot of that is my dumb fault; I let them irk me too much, where I could've just said "it ain't necessarily so", given one or two counterexamples, and left it at that. Still, I want to revisit it, as a point where I disagree with the majority of critics.

One thing we need to stop assuming is that every viewer, or even the great majority of viewers, of non-shoujo anime with female casts are men! Yes, Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon are aimed at a young female (shoujo) demographic, while something like Pani Poni Dash! or Negima is aimed at young adult males (seinen), and Princess Jellyfish or Nana at young adult females (josei). But, while I haven't looked into how fast these demographics hold in Japan, based on English-language fandom I can say that there are a lot of female Negima fans, and a lot of guys that dig on Nana. And at least from looking at Japanese cosplayers, I wouldn't be surprised if the reception wasn't as cut-and-dried over there, too. A lot of work gets interpreted differently from authorial or corporate intentions; yaoi came out of shoujo manga, but most of the work that gets hi-jacked for yaoi purposes is shonen (aha, upward appropriation!). And yuri, though it's associated with seinen, has strong roots in shoujo manga and anime made for heterosexual girls. Yuri, btw, is another genre whose audience is more mixed than is usually thought.

Something else we need to stop assuming is that these shows are inherently sexual or romantic for the viewers. If critics are wedded to male gaze theory, they end up forcing every show with cute/attractive female characters into it, when someone might not experience male gaze, or indeed any attraction at all, but instead /identify with/ the characters (I credit littlebutfierce@Dreamwidth for making this argument first). And yes, straight female fans of "moe shows" do exist. Some straight women like cute shit, who would have thought? ;p

(Hell, there are straight women who like yuri. Though I get the impression that has a component of romantic attraction. Maybe liking two partners on equal footing, too, since het and yaoi tend to have more power difference/struggle)

That's not saying that moe is a completely unproblematic concept; it isn't. Or that anime isn't plagued by a glut of cookie-cutter 'wacky schoolgirl ensembles' with nothing to say; it is. Someone I follow on LJ, setsuled, recently wrote that these shows carry the message that stupidity in women is a virtue. And at their worst, they do.

At best, though -- and this is the counter-argument I'd make -- these shows promote receptivity, vulnerability, aestheticism, and other qualities that are surpressed in mainstream culture, maybe particularly so in Japan. This can be a bad thing in itself, if it sublimates deeper unmet needs; but, as the 'finger pointing to the moon', some of these shows about women dreamers carry a radical potential.

I'd love to see more from the boy's side, too. I wasn't interested enough in swimming to watch many episodes of Free!, and I thought that what I did watch seemed kind of formulaic; even so, as a gynosexual, I found it very interesting to see an anime made by and for heterosexual women, with the explicit intent of fan service. Maybe because of its strong and sympathetic female cast, Negima has been repurposed by its contingent of women readers. The gender politics are different around something like Free!, but in theory straight guys could watch it for identification, too. Or if not, at least get a sense of how girls are likely to experience watching "their" anime.

I'm not there yet, but I'm working on it.

A good universal moral, and a good thing to always check yourself against, is "never punch down".

Which is not to say "never punch". But punching down is most of the punching that people do.
From now on, unless I have an announcement that I want to make sure absolutely everyone reads, I'll probably keep my posting to Livejournal. LJ isn't perfect, but I don't have as many problems with it as I used to (while my problems with Dreamwidth have only multiplied), and I have an LJ-only friend and a few other acquaintances/people I follow that aren't mirrored over there. I still check my Dreamwidth friends feed every week, but it doesn't update often, and all of the people (or at least all the ones who actively post) who post there are also here.

Which is to say: I need to make some new friends! If there's people on LJ that I should be talking to, recommend them in the comments. I may not agree with all suggestions, but I'd like to have a few more things to read on here, at least.

(never mind, feeling too shit right now. I may do this later)
Addendum to previous entry:

To put it another way, I feel that I'm not possessing of a body, but possessed by a body. I make choices, go places, do things, but I don't feel like I'm willing them so much as being a part of their happening. This is when sober, BTW.

It's kind of fun, actually. And might have something to do with being non-binary/agender. Comorbid with it, if not caused by it, because it's not something that lends itself to a sex-based gender identity.

I think I'll re-open my TMI/brainwreck journal. I've been posting fairly candid stuff on LJ, so I'm not worried about that, but the temporary ritual space of another name has an appeal. Will start adding the potentially-interested when it's up!

The unmoored mind

Reading about Cary Grant's experience with LSD is a great way to disillusion yourself about LSD. Not that taking LSD was bad for Grant... if anything, it was a positive experience, freeing him from a lot of neuroses and probably making him a better artist. But finding out how narrow-minded he remained in many ways -- along with his sexism and racism -- makes me disinclined to think of acid as anything more than a mental disinhibitor.

I'm not straight edge anymore, but kind of drug-neutral. I don't have very strong feelings, positive or negative, about drug use. I'd generally encourage not using any, with caffeine and antidepressants being among the worst of the legal drugs. But I like the occasional IPA. I admit my bias: I'm a person that gets on better with 'downers' than 'uppers'.

So it goes. And so my mood goes.

I've been feeling pretty fab for the last 24 hours. Cute, confident, up for anything life throws at me. My moods have been a cycle of A. that, B. SO RONERY, and C. apathetic/disinterested, with apathy generally dominating.

Missing from the cycle is D. existential terror. And that's a recent development. I don't know if last year's events have anything at all to do with it, and don't want to jump to conclusions. That said, wow, I might not be thanatophobic anymore.

I don't think that dying is a moral imperative, or that fighting death is wrong. I'm still interested in extending my life indefinitely, and I still see transhumanism as both necessary and inevitable. And my thoughts about causing death have remained the same. I remain a staunch opponent of all animal use, and an opponent of assisted suicide.

What might be different is a more nihilistic, or just amoral, view where my own life is concerned. I feel that consciousness, in the sense of a self-aware self, is a kind of trick of the light; it's a contingency that makes itself seem omnipresent. When that one instance of localized and specific organization dies, is that a terrible thing?

I feel a bit like Crona from Soul Eater. I had the thought the other night that it might not be bad to be mushrooms growing on wood. Maybe I've eaten too many mushrooms, but it seemed like a nice existence, just being a plant and growing. No worse than being a person and thinking.

"From my rotting body, flowers will grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity" - Edvard Munch

There are drawbacks to this daydreaming state. I can't live completely unmotivated to change my situation for the better. But I guess I like having it as a facet or layer of my thoughts.

I'm looking into Oxford International's TEFL course for next year. It seems like Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, urban China, and Taiwan are all viable possibilities post-college; the city I most want to live in is Taipei, but without prior experience I'm unlikely to find anything there. Assuming it all doesn't end in tears, my strategy is to spend a year or two teaching in another Asian country, pay off my loans, and fly to Taipei with some money in my pocket and a CV.

It seems to me that the countries that, as of late, welcome foreign English teachers are also the ones dealing with a lot of cultural PTSD. Still, Taiwan calls to me... fairly LGBT-friendly, religiously diverse, and, very important to me, with the highest fresh fruit consumption of the industrialized world. By contrast, Korea (where I'm most likely to find my first job) seems like the Texas of Asia; I have my doubts about living in the land of soju, galbi, Jesus, and the flag. I don't mind being an outsider, or expect the culture to change for me, but I don't want to be sacked because a hagwon boss or co-workers perceive me as an anti-social freak. OTOH, I could read the signs over there, and we both have issues with Japan, so there's that. :P

Afterwards, when I come back to the States, I'd like to open a small tea house/cafe. And operate a nonprofit record label, which I might start in another country and just take with me.

Anyway, there's not much point in stressing over it now. I still have to finish my courses, make myself presentable, and get the job before all of this can happen.

Maybe it's the mimosa I just drank talking, but I want to hug y'all through the screen. <3 Just thought I'd say that. I'm not the easiest person to get along with online.
(EDIT: I took out the whining for attention. I thought better of it after writing, and it's one of the things I want to change about myself.)

God, my hair is a rat's nest again. This natural shampoo that Mom's been buying helps, but I may once again opt for a buzz cut before the year is out. That, or go full weeaboo and get hair straightening treatment. ^^;

OK, serious time now. I think coding, as a quick way to a job, was probably a stupid idea. The main problem being that 'entry level programming work' seems to involve several years of experience already, and that it's already a high-paying, fiercely competitive position. I'm not ruling out courses, or learning a language like C++ or Python as a secondary skill, but if I haven't started by now, I'm definitely not driven enough to make a living at it.

So, here's another plan.

First of all, I don't think I'm that terrible of a student; though aimless at times, and susceptible to death-by-procrastination. If I focus on communicating one simple point at a time, I can write a decent essay. Problems begin when I overdeliberate, and feel bad about doing it, and that begins a spiral into feelings of worthlessness. I start to think that I have nothing worth saying or that anyone would want to listen to. One, that's not true. Two, it's overly big-picture. Nobody reading a job app or grading a paper is going to have their life changed by its contents; they're busy people, and want to see certain concepts communicated.

Underconfidence, and feeling like I shouldn't speak or express myself, is something I want to keep working on and chipping away at. Otherwise, it'll keep dogging me throughout my life, even if I were to never sit in a classroom or look for a job again; it's not about those things at its core.

Come January, I'm filing FAFSA again. I'll take the Pell grant and the maximum allowable state loans and apply those to my senior year. I'm not taking out any private loans, which will help keep the interest at a manageable level. In March, then, I'm petitioning for re-entry. I need to talk to an academic counselor to find out whether that will complicate financial aid; I'm basing my strategy on the FAFSA offer from this year, so it should be OK, but each part will have to talk to each other and recognize that I'll be a 2014-2015 student, after three years of not taking classes. The petition is a formality: I have a 3.0 and this is my first and only absence. So I'm really only worried about complications in financial aid.

That leaves the question of why. Why earn a four year degree, other than the ego boost of proving to myself that I can? I do have one very big... if tentative, and needing more research... reason for wanting a BA. I'd really like to spend some time away from home and out of the country. It'd be good for me to live on my own for a year or two, and learn how to adapt myself to an unfamiliar culture and situation.

After I graduate, I'm planning to take a TEFL certification course in the summer, and start looking for English teaching positions in Asia. I've been interested in languages for a number of years, mostly Japanese and Korean, and I think I can empathize with the difficulty involved in learning a foreign language with a completely different grammar and script.

Factoring in cost, safety, quality of life, and personal compatibility, my #1 pick is Taiwan.

Like Korea, Taiwan was under martial law until the mid-1980s, and it's still a fairly conservative country, though AFAIK more liberal and tolerant than mainland China, Korea, or Japan. Obedience and saving face are still very important there, and people are often described as introverted. I'm not a loud person by any means, but I'll have to be more political and careful in how I present myself if I end up staying there.

Concerning veganism, Taiwan gets the edge. I can live comfortably anywhere there's rice and fruit, but Taiwan and Taipei in particular seem to be friendlier than other East Asian cultures. Like Thailand, it's heavily Buddhist, and there's an abundance of tropical fruit. Packaged food and mid-sized supermarkets are dodgy, while street vendors, family businesses, and big-box stores are all excellent. Rent is very low -- about $300USD for a studio apartment -- and the traffic is said to be horrible. I haven't looked into public transit quality yet.

Teaching EFL looks like a fun job! Ahem. Well, I watched a Youtube video and it looked like fun. Lots of VERY NOISY kids. From the accounts I've read on blogs and message boards, most of the work in an EFL class is extremely rote, based on drilling English grammar. The most common complaint I read is that someone's students don't seem to be learning, or learning much, and that the teacher is just there to babysit (if the students are younger kids) or go through the motions (if the students are older). There are also issues with the amount of unpaid hours, like time spent prepping for classes, and shoddy business practices at some of the private cram schools. It's also getting more competitive, and not everyone gets hired anymore, especially if you want to live in Taipei. Kaosiung, Tainan, and Taichung seem like pretty good second choices and awesome places to live, but I'll have to keep an open mind. But yes, there are certainly ways in which teaching in Taiwan might not be perfect.

Before that, going to college while living in close quarters with my parents has presented and will present a unique challenge. Honestly, it's rough. It's emotionally rough, because I'm exposed to whatever problems they're going through; it's practically rough, because three people can't keep the same hours while sharing one bathroom. I don't hate it, though. There's nothing to hate if it's temporary, if I can see a way out of it, and if it doesn't trap me through inertia.

I'll come back to this thought.

An interesting aspect of being away from home is that when I have a room to myself, I'm always surprised by how it feels. I'm not used to 24-hour privacy. I start to feel like a completely separate individual... something I don't, for better or worse, take for granted.

That's given me a different perspective than my richer, better-educated friends. I've talked before about the dangers of assigning a positive moral value to independence, and how 'independence' could alternatively be conceptualized as freedom from structures that hold you fast. You're dependent on your car insurance payment to drive, dependent on mortgage to have your own home, dependent on your boss to give you a paycheck. Even if you freelance, other people will always determine the value of your work; you're depending on them. That's not inherently a bad thing, but it's good to deconstruct what we mean when we say independence. How much personal agency, how much social influence, and how much economic power does a given person want in order to be happy, and what are the ways in which those concepts interact?

The danger in seeking 'alternative lifestyles', however, is precisely that of letting society off the hook. I don't want to marginalize myself to the extent that my life becomes an act of capitulation. I reject some things because they're not a part of the world I want to see; others, like Facebook, because they're unnecessary to have a fulfilling life. Other times, it might be a good idea to dance with the thousand scaled dragon. That's the fundamental tension of my politics: I'm an anarchist, yes, but also an unabashed romantic futurist in many ways.

(where I indulge in some political thoughts...)

One of the problems I see with political activism is that different people have different ideas about what 'progress' means, and until you address that, their groups will talk past each other. The two main ones being a justice/equity-based idea of progress, and a development-based idea of progress. People who identify with development may see some forms of justice/equity... veganism, anarchism, environmentalism... as anti-progressive, and define themselves against 'hippy activists'. You see a similar pattern in people who identify with justice, and view material or technological progress with knee-jerk skepticism. Critical theory seems to fuel this bad habit, which is a shame, because we need more constructive criticism of the technocratic narrative that's truly constructive and truly critical.

My father, who worked in the aerospace industry for several years, largely stayed out of 'defense'. But at one point, he worked on a computerized identification system for planes to minimize friendly fire. That particular program was never implemented, but in a small way he contributed to the Cold War. I've come to stop seeing this in shades of grey... it was a bad project to work on. Ensure that war is safer, and you make it more attractive. Geeks gotta eat, but I think there needs to be a kind of technological conscientious objection. Maybe we're starting to see the first of that already, with Edward Snowden.

But I digress.

What I want, in the long term, is to become something more than what I am. I never talked about this before, but the last drug experience I had was a death trip. I really believed I wouldn't live to see the next day. Rationally, I know it was a bad trip, and it's interesting to think about why it happened... given the time frame, I probably felt some guilt about dropping out of school, being broke, and sneaking psychedelic drugs, and maybe I thought of myself as 'having no future' (though at the time, I experienced the 'death' quite viscerally). Nonetheless, I'm still integrating the thought that I 'died' that night in my room. Maybe it was a death of sorts, in a way I'll come to better understand in the future.
One of the things I find most objectionable about capitalism is that money is, I think, the real universal language. Strip away all of the politics, economic philosophies, and moral associations, and money at its core is a means of communication. And it's compulsory to learn; you have to be fluent in it, or at least conversational, to survive.

Isn't it ridiculous, then, that we have a society where everyone isn't at least conversational?

It's like telling a four-year-old that you'll teach them to read, but only after they pass an interview. Conducting an extensive background check on someone before they can check out a book from the library. Forbidding the teaching of language, except under special regulated conditions (and contracted to a handful of favored businesses, natch).

If we can learn to read, write, and speak without government or corporate approval, then there ought to be a guaranteed livable income. You could say that less people would want to work, but 1. in many cases, that's a good thing (work that doesn't benefit humans, other animals, or the planet) and 2. people don't become less interested in something because it isn't forced on them.

The slums of Gothenburg are still slums, and you can't fix large-scale social misery with money alone. But money is a crucial part of the solution, and you can't leave it to chance, the invisible hand, and people's ability to sell themselves. When you both compel labor and don't guarantee jobs, you get at best a society of Stockholm Syndrome, of widespread alienation and disingenuous economic hostages. A society of farmers might be able to get by on hard work and self-reliance, but modern-day capitalist markets aren't built for the task of sustaining life. It's a superstition to think they are, or that modern technology can't do better.

Centrally planned socialism has a necessary role to play. Maybe distributed planning does as well, or will have a larger role in the future. Here's an idea, one I want to roll around for a while: open source money.

But until the very poorest have access to a system like Bitcoin, AND a way to use it to reliably feed, house, and clothe themselves, it's only a theoretical concern. So for now, for our most immediate, base of the pyramid needs? Socialism all the way.

necessary evils, further thoughts

I'm going to a campus talk on the 6th, where I will, hopefully, find out something about entry level programming careers.

I'm only taking courses at CC to learn work skills, and most of those courses seem to be taught online. In a way, it'll be nice to not have the extracurricular baggage associated with being a student. It was good to have at the time, for the sense of involvement it gave, but not something I need to repeat. I visited my CC yesterday, and was reminded that I've made some progress in the last five or six years. I haven't made a lot of tangible advances, no, but my perspective is a bit wider. I do feel like I found myself, through trial and error, the first time I attended. College doesn't have to shore up my identity anymore... it's just something to do, if I choose it. Realizing that brings a bit of healthy cynicism to the table.

And if I go back, sooner or later, to UCLA, it won't be in order to get a job, to contribute to society, or to prove anything to anyone else. It'll be for my own satisfaction. It's dumb to let a school break your heart. I'll go back, older and wiser, and caring less about what the classes I'm taking say about me. Another year in college wasn't the right experience to have in 2012; it may or may not be right in 2014, 2015, or 2016, but I'll learn something even if I make a mistake.

And at the end of this process, what kind of person do I want to be? What kind of life do I want to live, what virtues and vices do I want to embody?

I want to have access to things, rather than own things. A form of communal, low-rent, or rent-free living, which includes staying with my parents until anything or anyone draws me away. Supporting my parents somewhat, so they don't have to live in constant fear that their pensions won't be enough. Starting an arts collective based around music and throwing parties, and having a safe, legal or otherwise unbothered space for the purpose. Going out for bowling and pho chay. Buying John McDougall and T. Colin Campbell books by the dozen and giving copies to every friend and acquaintance. Being absorbed in the nightlife and culture of a big city, sometimes a different big city, and finding a kind of transcendence there.

And I could live this life with anywhere between ten and twenty thousand dollars a year.

So that's my goal. However I get there is just a means, and I'll try not to mistake it for an end in itself.
I've been turning over the thought of going back to school, either on a part or full-time basis.

I don't say this without caution... the graphophobia, communication anxiety, and analysis paralysis of previous years is still a concern. I think I have a little more perspective, a more realistic self-assessment of my abilities, and a less crippling fear of failure now than I did in 2010 and 2011. But until I'm actually under the pressure of a deadline, I can't know if that's true or if it's just what I'd like to believe about myself.

And even if I get that sorted out, I have my problems with the institution of college itself. I don't like or morally agree with for-profit education, and going behind the scenes as a temp, where UCLA's business school used me and tossed me away like a candy wrapper, seemed to confirm my worst fears.

(I realize, too, that I shouldn't overgeneralize based on one bad experience. Still, that incident stung)

At the same time, I need some kind of supportive structure in my life, something that will both provide and provoke forward momentum. And I should do something to improve my techno-literacy... I'll need to work at some point, and I haven't ruled out programming or web development.

There are certificate courses in comp sci at my local community college. I could start in January and finish by the summer of 2015. And if I decided to re-enroll in UCLA afterwards, I could get a Pell grant (I've checked the numbers, and they're good) and a few thousand dollars in loans, finish my last year of undergrad, and graduate with a marketable skill.

Please feel free to add anything! I'm still talking this out in my head.

It's possible that I'll like coding, too. There's some internal resistance to that idea. I often hear from people that "someone like me" should work in tech, or that it's surprising I'm not already in tech. I'm not entirely comfortable with that. I don't feel like unpacking that feeling right now, but it touches on race, class, gender, introvert/extrovert dichotomies, and other social dichotomies and assumptions. I do want to unpack it someday, and I want to mention it so people know it's there.

Also... this is probably something I have to research on my own, but if you have any ideas on how coding might dovetail with sound production, I'm all ears. ;)

(cross-posted to Dreamwidth; I need all the advice I can get)

Oct. 3rd, 2013

My power is not a masculine or macho power. It’s not the kind of power that comes from leading others or from defeating the enemy or from standing up in front of a room full of people and being right. Nor is it the femme action hero kind of power of a Lucy Liu character who kicks all sorts of booty without ever messing up her eye makeup. I’ve tried that, and I do admire those femmes who strut their stuff, make cutting remarks, show their power by negotiating for salaries or starting a business or leading their communities. But that’s not me... (m)y power comes from my enthusiasm.

- from here, emphasis mine