field notes pt. 1 (06/16/2017)

these are being written after-the-fact. didn’t have a notebook yesterday.


 

Quite a day in St. Paul. Was at work around 4:00pm on the computer. Facebook messaging a comrade to offer her some thanks & affirmation when she let me know that the verdict came thru on officer Yanez. Not guilty on all charges.

Funny how we are taught to believe that progress – time – passage of years, decades – exist. Or hold relevance. There is absolutely no correlation between the passage of time and the improvement of social circumstances. None. A fictitious civil rights era is touted by the establishment today & folks are quick to rest when they’ve been told that we all have equal rights. So as soon as the little red notification (one new message) popped up, & I clicked that chat window, & heard the news – it was like stepping into a time machine. This is Alabama with Parks & Mississippi with Till. One can only hope that Philando – who suffered brutality as Till did – is as highly revered by the history books (& the masses) as Parks. At the very least he is revered by the masses of St. Paul – we’ll see about the history books.

Immediately after clocking out I messaged a few folks about getting down to the State Capitol. Juliette joined me – after a few moments trying to gather myself at the house we took off. Walked up to University ave & hopped on the light rail – of course, it was more packed than I’d ever seen it. I was expecting a ton of Metro Transit officers to be cashing in on the opportunity: so many young bodies, & people of color, headed to the capitol…you’d think they would have been very aggressive trying to ticket people on the light rail. Add more coins to their piggy banks. Luckily, the train we were all getting on didn’t have any bacon boys in sight.

Got to Capitol/Rice street station and wow…..the people. So many people. As Juliette and I approached the inside of my chest was searing – the heat of excitement, of belonging, of antagonism against the state. It was almost like a massive inferno and we were the orange yellow hot hot hot dancing burning combustion. Flames already licked and ate and swallowed each and every municipal surface & sent the group’s smoky cries for justice up to the heavens. But the smoldering coals and carbon-clad ashes upon which this fire burned were pure sorrow. Pure, loving sorrow. The flip side of love is not hate – in fact, I don’t think love has a flip side. But love certainly has a cousin, and a teacher, and a source: very often it is this indescribable sorrow that can only come from unimaginable tragedy. The necessary colleague and advocate for this sorrow is rage- A contempt the likes of which occupies the mind, the spirit, one’s entire life- a rage which replaces each and every cell with a disoriented sense of self. A collection of candles can do more than light a room: they can set it ablaze. And so we did.

To be white during times like these is, for me, a reminder of my own emotional disconnect from the lives of POCs. Rage, sure. Sorrow, yes. But it is a learned sorrow based on mutual personhood – not on mutual experience. I can try to relate to these experiences – I can listen to them but not experience them. I can try to understand – I can hear them out but never understand them. I can relate to the vision of the racially marginalized but only because of their immense efforts and outward cries. But despite seeing their vision, which must on a daily basis be hammered and hammered and hammered through the enamel of white supremacy – which has so thoroughly passed itself from our [white] ancestors to ourselves, & has engulfed the very surface of our brains – I do not see their day to day experiences. Not from their perspective anyway. But what I can see in our shared imagination is their hope for a future – the chance at a future. To be upset at racial issues when one is white is not a phenomenon with a single source or meaning, or legitimacy. Some white folks want to feel entitled to credit or they want to feel helpful & so they show up at rallies expressing rage. Outwardly. But who does this serve? In some instances it can be directed usually. But whites feeling offended after blacks are murdered must not be a weakening force for whites themselves. As we approached the scene I was deeply aware of my own rage and discomfort but struggling to know how to direct it. And of course the beautiful folks running the entire protest were more than gracious & offered some plain & simple direction for how everyone ought to direct their bodies. So as the sound of the crowd grew louder and the thousands of candles drew their light to the capitol I found myself fully aware that to add heat – hot, dripping wax – was a validating choice, but still a choice. A choice that I was privileged to have. So many folks don’t have the choice – death and extermination by police has been their lives since day one. But for me – & other white folks, however marginalized – the point is to be supportive of the movement while still realizing we aren’t oppressed. The point is not to feel threatened by white supremacy – though it is threatening. The point is to instead cash in on one’s own white privilege to CHALLENGE white supremacy, in whatever way is most supportive. The hot hot hot feeling in my chest was therefore being mediated by my little brain – listen, Ian, don’t act up. 


 

The most pathetic part about the ruling class – politicians, corporate & business authority, & the cops who protect them – is their fear. I cannot imagine the hell which must follow the life of oppressive elites – they walk the earth believing that they are good. That’s the thing with human beings – we all feel like the good guy. So think about how truly delusional it must be to put on that officer’s badge each day (or to pick up the lobbyist’s briefcase). They, like you & I, drink coffee and experience some conscious tumblings in their frontal lobes about the day. Each thought and belief of these monsters is just as down to earth and kind as our own – they want the best for their families. But they know not how very small and limited and white their communal families are. They have not the love or awareness of larger groups & therefore continue to draw lines in the sand. They do not know of their indirect injustices and legitimately think that they write laws, or keep the economy moving, or keep communities safe.

All they do is steal.

The cries against them are so viciously controlled and suppressed that the white elite seriously think of themselves as normal, happy, loving human beings. And at the day to day level these state players are happy. But in the mythological-theological sense these people are demons. They live off of the blood and tears and oppressions of millions. The lavish cloaks & suits they wear are knitted with threads of death, & the legacies they inherit are nothing but shame embodied. And yet they believe they do a service to the world by waking up to write laws and work in courtrooms. Can you imagine the dissonance? Can you imagine how it must feel to have tens of thousands of people – all of whom have much better shit to do – complaining at your doorstep?

The human brain has a remarkable capacity to reduce dissonance and it often comes at the expense of social engagement or positive emotions. It must be so pathetic to be a politician. Especially in Minnesota. It must also be so pathetic to be one of the petty thugs who protects them – a badge is surely more powerful than any drug, and the occasional affirmation or thanks that officers receive is enough to carry their ego generation through generation, and through untold shootings. It is so sad for them, aside the obvious fact that it is sadder for those of us in the working class. As I stood at the capitol amidst the many faces this was all I could think of. The capitol building is one of the ugliest things I have ever seen – yet, at this junction in our several-thousand-year-tenure on earth, most humans think of those buildings as remarkable. They harken back to the Greek days – and of course, state authority would be nothing without some cheap mockup of Greek architecture. The silly robes that a judge wears – which provide a real sense of security to the white majority – are just a Puritan minister’s robes. These ancient and blind forms of authority are the bread and butter to white people, who don’t even realize that the marble-clad building is a waste of time and waste of space. Theatre is a powerful thing and the lavish decoration of our state is nothing more than cheap theatre. What must it be like to still be in the audience? How must it feel to be trapped within the delusion of white supremacy? Even the words white supremacy are so jarring to the ear that folks who propagate it instantly shut down & enter a flurry of hallucinations, excuses, & legalspeak. It is a fascinating form of neurological disability – not an inherent one, but a learned one.

I watched the surveillance plane owned by the PD circle overhead over and over and over and I pitied whoever was flying it. I pitied whoever was responsible for attaching the stingray node to the bottom of that little plane and I pitied whoever analyzes the data, & whoever uses all of that stolen cell phone information to continue this police state. I pitied them because only a terrified and lost group of people would ever go to such lengths to surveil a group of loving people – a group of lit candles. How awful it must be to be a part of the State backbone – to live off of fear, saved only by a thin membrane of control – & to continue believing that you are a good person. I’m sure most demons know nothing of the hell they wield, nor of the ignorance they harbor – least of all, these demons have zero imagination that they can access or direct towards better things. Any criminal’ that you grab off the street (save those who harbor a lot of self-loathing) has good reasons for doing what they are doing. So it is easy to see why someone dolled up, socially accepted, & with pockets full of money and decent health insurance must legitimately believe they have good reasons for doing things. Unbelievable. They can’t handle the fear of equality – the illusion is easier. They instead must fly planes over us, they instead must send militarized police to control us, they instead must keep their friends close but their guns closer. What a hell it must be.


The speeches at the capitol were beyond powerful. The most striking moment for me was when Philando’s dear friend took the mic. He sobbed. He wailed. He bled each drop of love out of his heart & into the air, and the hot bright flame of his candle surely burned brighter than the sun. The smoky wails flew not only to the heavens but into us – and we burned with him. As soon as his speaking began countless eyes began to water, as if an actual smoke were agitating them. He sobbed and explained that Philando was like family – and that Philando had come over to his house, to use his own mother’s dinner plates to eat off of. They were family. As soon as Philando’s friend mentioned that his own mother’s dinner plates had housed many a meal for Philando I lost it. Food is love & to share it – to commune in it- is deeper than any other experience. We are each made of food, & the gift of togetherness-in-eating is what has built my very bones. Yours too. And Philando’s. Moments later the speaker broke down in screams, and in cries, and as I looked at the ground I knew God must be crying, because a single teardrop fell at my feet.

We listened to many more wails and cries – from many more friends (I have lost track of their names). And then we marched.


 

5 minutes is 300 seconds

http://consciousness.arizona.edu/

marvin & marty meet a philosopher (4/5/2017)

last wednesday i was finishing up acting class at Macalester when my tummy began to rumble. time to stuff some food into my abdomen! despite receiving some 200 hours of acting training from professor Harry Waters Jr since last year he and I had not yet grabbed lunch together – big mistake. we walked down to the St. Clair broiler & sat down in a booth next to the uncomfortably large fish mounted upon the wall.

mr marvin berry & i discussed some of the more topical/superfluous/symptomatic elements of our conscious experience: how things are going lately, a few stories about youth & a bit of personal background, etc. it was the typical type of conversation that most humans have. amidst our conversation about parenting, teaching, and life there was an older gentleman sitting one booth over reading a book. when we finished our dessert & got up to leave the fellow, wearing a red sweater and a friendly smile, got our attention.

“Sorry to interrupt you two, but did I hear you talking about teaching a few times?”

“Well, yes, you did!”

“Are you a teacher? Or, I mean, do you teach? I teach. I used to be a professor over here at St. Thomas, which is why I ask.”

& so the conversation began. Harry had to leave after a brief period of time but professor Tom Sullivan and I went on to chat for over an hour. he’s a philosopher who is extremely well respected and well versed in the areas of philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and theology. it was quite enjoyable to have an extended conversation about consciousness with someone who is equally (or more) informed, intrigued, and stumped by the hard problem of consciousness. we discussed the merits of nagel and chalmers (duh) and the shortcomings of koch and crick (sorry, boys). Tom was nice enough to offer an extended explanation of what he finds to be the problem with creating a theory of consciousness. In a later blog post I will lay that out (or perhaps just upload my notes from the conversation).

 

The Barbara Schneider Foundation – a brief summary

Most of the world, connected tightly by digital devices, fiber-optics, and touchscreens, is well aware that we have a problem with use of force by law enforcement. In fact it is not uncommon for the average person in the United States to be acquainted with someone who has been the victim of brutal and outdated forms of police training and often times also to have been a victim themselves. This is especially true for people of color, persons with brain diseases, individuals who do not conform to gender-binary norms – and if you’re several or all of these things, life in America is feudal. And it’s all over the news – every day there are videos of more shootings, more police officers being released despite having blood on their hands. You know it sucks. Everyone knows it sucks – not least of all the police themselves.

But despite the huge public awareness of the problem, there is very little discussion or awareness of possible solutions. Why is that? Certainly, for many people, the mistake is to assume that there are no solutions to the use of force problem or to police brutality. This is actually quite understandable. Why should the average citizen, who is pretty much voiceless and without any influence over the police, be expected to understand how to stop police-related killings?  In our western world the preference of media entities and of lawmakers is to stagnate any real progress in the realm of public safety or social equality, and subsequently tragedies continue to occur and the police continue to have suboptimal training. The police themselves (with the exception of some groups) have, without adequate education or funding or support, been absolutely unable to be the nation’s emergency psychiatrists, even though they are generally expected to be. But thanks to the federal and state governments there is no money or space for individuals with sickness, and the cycle of death and pain continues. The natural tendency of individuals at the level of the community, then, is to be upset – the media can make a lot more money by perpetuating and dramatizing that problem rather than helping to solve it. Those who remain unaware that this is a systemic issue of a lack of training continue to be upset with one another, and upset at the police, when disaster strikes again and again. It makes sense, even though it’s terrible. So it’s not surprising that the problem persists overall.

But there are solutions. Despite the fact that your local and state government have absolutely no time, money, or compassion for the individuals suffering at its own hand from mental illness, drug abuse, or personal crisis, there are a handful of individuals within that system who have helped to make some progress. And above and beyond that there are truly miraculous grassroots efforts to improve circumstances for individuals in crisis who have to face off with police – these are tiny groups of advanced trainers who teach law enforcement officials and police how to better handle these situations peacefully. Larger still is the contribution of individuals – doctors, nurses, social workers, advocates, community organizers, families, friends, clergy, artists – the burden continues to remain on medically unskilled persons to bear the emotional weight of their troubled loved ones. Out of these massive support networks, and the associated tragedies, a number of groups have emerged to offer the world’s most advanced training in crisis intervention. Various survivors of police encounters, police trainers and officers themselves, and other healthcare, emergency medicine, and psychiatric experts are the meat and bones of these entities, who are few in number but great in power. With great pleasure I am describing to you groups like Minnesota’s own Barbara Schneider Foundation – a nonprofit that focuses on the CIT model of crisis intervention.

I have spent some time speaking, teaching, and consulting with this group in particular about my own experiences. This past January I also wrote their director a brief proposal  that articulated my understanding of the work BSF is accomplishing and my small vision for how it might be improved. In summary it is my opinion from experience and academic training that the brain sciences (and particularly the areas of affective neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, and psychiatry) will in coming years offer a revolutionary and unparalleled set of solutions and strategies for communities and nations to address the issues of brain disease, extreme personal crises, and the psychiatric stability of the public. The World Health Organization is of the opinion that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disability on earth. I would rather not cite statistics on how many persons with mental illness are killed by police every year – just go read about it yourself. The brain is the source of these mysterious issues, and it is through an accumulated world history of powerful, personal, and sometimes tragic anecdotes, combined with new and nearly mystical insights into our own existence through the study of the nervous system, that will begin to alleviate the suffering of so many. This must start with basic empirical research at the level of how mental health crises emerge in the brain, in the moment, and in the world – hence, ‘3 levels of the mental health crisis.’

enjoy.

BSF PROPOSAL

-iv

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (pt1)

By thus being set face to face, however weak the mental faculties may be, there is no doubt of one’s gaining Liberation. Yet, though so often set face to face, there are classes of men who, having created much bad karma, or having failed in observance of vows, or, their lot [for higher development] being altogether lacking, prove unable to recognize: their obscurations and evil karma from covetousness and miserliness produce awe of the sounds and radiances, and they flee. [If one be of these classes], then, on the Fourth Day, the Bhagavān Amitābha and his attendant deities, together with the light-path from the Preta-loka, proceeding from miserliness and attachment, will come to receive one simultaneously.

I’ve gotta admit it, guys. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is really messing with me.

Tibetan Book of the Dead? What’s that? Google it. Read it. There are a few different editions and .pdfs you can find online [if you’re too cool to go to your local bookstore]. Many of them have commentaries and commentaries and commentaries and commentaries throughout or preceding the text. Whether or not that’s helpful for you is completely your choice. When I first starting reading this text towards the end of last year it was fantastically fascinating.

Here is a book that seems practical. In fact, books about death seem extremely and incomparably useful for any human being that might have to…you know…..anyway.

In extremely lucid and relatable language this text (AKA the English translation I quoted above) describes the process of death. Whether or not the authors of this arcane, ancient anomaly managed to accurately articulate the post-humous experiences of sentient beings is unknown. But in any case the document serves as an incredible artifact and, for me personally (and many others), a touching and eerie account.