Monthly Archives: May 2017

Social Media Will Tear Us Apart

I ruined my social media, sabotaged it even, on purpose. With purpose. I can’t pinpoint any specific moment for you, but in fits and starts I finally committed to getting away from the most prominent form of communication that has taken over our lives, I say without hyperbole. The reasons are many, but I do remember a few breaking points related to singular social moments that expanded like a big bang into the social mediasphere, causing explosions of emotion and debate and exaggeration and dismissal and, well, just a mess of human expression. A black man killed by a cop. A group of people killed by a religious zealot. And less pertinent moments. A new flavor of ice cream. An off-color comment by a politician.

The “crush of humanity” as i’ve heard it called, just became too much. Everyday it was a new issue dragging everyone into an emotional debate ending only in some manner of catharsis before being dragged into the next a day later, or just hours later, only to repeat the process again and again. The pattern became all to predictable. A moment explodes. Everyone screams into their screens. Nothing changes the conditions that created the moment in the first place. We all move on to the next. We aren’t even actors in a play anymore. We’re the audience writing reviews after the show is over, buying tickets for the next episode.

As someone who finds solace only in actually effecting change, getting pulled into these debates and “having my say” left me feeling empty, self-served, frustrated and…suckered. I don’t like knowing those that pull the strings in our society get to shoot first and laugh later while the rest of us yell and scream about how wrong the shooting was, only to wait for the next one, which we always know is coming. We yell. They reload.

Those moments, on the other hand, are the larger societal flash points, while the rest of our time on social media involves filling in the gaps, by detailing every thought, action, and moment of “feeling myself”. The camera live streaming EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. of our days is barely removed from the obstacle of bandwidth. It’s coming. Not as an anomaly, but a norm. Narcissism wins. The affirmation of our existence, of which we all agree upon, is always in jeopardy if we aren’t constantly reaffirming it over and over and over.

It’s all so painfully absurd.

And I willingly played my part, for a while unaware of my own narcissistic absurdity, until the mirror of others showed me just how ridiculous, unimportant, and CONSUMING my expressions were. I was increasingly embarrassed that as a grown ass adult I was playing the game of youthful narcissism. At what point was I going to get over myself? 40? (made it) 50? 60? Sharing stupid old man thoughts and grey haired selfies, uncomfortable in my dying age, still looking for affirmations from others even as I neared the end of my existence?

The inconsequence of my moments (of most people’s moments) also emotionally wore on me. The problems of the world are brought into our lives as a continuous stream – a testament to this communication I critique – narrowing the geographical gap between the lives of the privileged and those ravaged by economic inequality, but we speak to each other from our own positions on the ladder of privilege, letting each other know how many miles we ran today, what we did with our hair, how awesome our dinner was, and all the THINGS of our days. Meanwhile, people drink poisoned water. Meanwhile, people take apart toxic computers for a living. Meanwhile, people are shot in the streets for demanding freedom and safety.

And to not be too cynical, at times we use these constant streams of communication and connectivity to affect these more important, less cynical issues in one way or another, to varying degrees of effect.

On the whole though, I felt swamped, by others and by myself. Ultimately, I log on every day. I scroll through. I click and respond. But when I took the time to step back and sit with myself for awhile, or more importantly, to sit with my surroundings, or sometimes run with them, the connectivity was broken and I could see the mediasphere more clearly, or with less of a veil of inevitability. When I could come up and take a breath of air above the flood of communication, I was able to evaluate my role in the smothering, the crush of humanity, and really assess the ratio of actual living versus the talk of living.

The thing about social media is that it is fundamentally abstract. It is very rare that it brings about physical action, or direct experience, or an immediate awareness to ones surroundings. The more I sat in that realm, the more I realized my ideas (these ideas) were confining me to that realm, and neglecting actual action, physical reality, and direct change. The realm of society is built and destroyed on a physical level, not through the hopes and wishes of what we say. I found it increasingly futile to discuss and critique issues that I didn’t address physically, while remaining emotionally tied to these frustrations. I craved the physical experience more and more.

I also remember the days before the internet, before the crush of humanity, when the world I knew was the world I interacted with on a daily basis. I miss that world, but I’ve been trying to get it back. In a nod to zen buddhism, I just wanted to experience what I could affect and respond to in my immediate realm. I wanted to know what I could only know right NOW.

I started by sabotaging my Facebook. I deleted all my friends. ALL my friends, except Laura. Confirming my decision to do so, I received some really angry messages from people who felt hurt and betrayed that we were no longer digital friends. Instead of deleting my Facebook account though, I just deleted all my friends as an attempt to “start over” at zero, and over time I slowly built a list of people I enjoyed, going from 30 to 50 to 80 to…all of a sudden I had hundreds of “friends” again, and the weight of all that information began weighing on me again, but worse, I found myself checking Facebook in every moment of pause and boredom. The addiction of my narcissistic tendencies was over powering, and although I was less engaged, that wasn’t enough. I had to go all in..or, all out. I deleted everyone again, except Laura. This time I had deleted so many people and groups that any draw to log on “just to see” essentially showed me nothing that would keep me coming back. I had cut the cord. It took losing any of the potential satisfying experiences of Facebook to kill the motivation to even check anymore.

But I still had Instagram. I have too many records of times with August and Laura and cancer experiences that I don’t want to completely eliminate, so I’ve retained it as something of a digital photo book, but I did make one effort to delete everyone that I imagined I would never see in the next year. I figured if I won’t actually see someone in person, there is no compelling reason for me to stay connected via social media either. I want to know the world around me, the world I can affect. I think I got the number down to 80 people, which again reduced my desire to even check in and see what was going on. Like a weaning, I found myself not only uncompelled to check the lives of others, but also enjoying small moments of my own in a new way. Nothing was interrupted. I remembered the calm of paused moments. And overall I felt less emotionally pulled and twisted and burdened by the lives and difficulties and successes of others. I only had the world in front of me to manage and experience, and that is enough.

And yet…

With so much more to be said, I can’t help but wonder how much positive effect I may sacrifice in regards to animal activism (and anti-authoritarianism in general) by cutting myself off from the stream of communication (outside of this blog). Activism, when I was younger, was very much about “direct action” and being involved DIRECTLY, and although the parameters of what constitutes “direct action” have changed, I also can’t discount the massive spread of veganism through these forms of communication and modern activism. A part of me definitely wants to critique what is called “clicktivism”, but the other part of me remembers struggling to relate to others about veganism and bringing the realities of industrial agriculture to people’s consciousness in a meaningful and impactful way. With the spread of so many videos and communicating the many facets of what comprises veganism and plant-based diets, it’s more than negligent to deny the positive effects such communication has had on furthering animal justice.

As activists, we were always striving to communicate veganism continuously and keep the consideration of animal lives on the front burner, but the infrastructure to do so wasn’t built. Now, with the ability to communicate continuously, we CAN do that, and I debate whether that should be part of my strategy. On the other hand, the ease and convenience of constant communication can lead to an inevitable comfort and form of apathy. If one can constantly repost vegan memes and videos and what not, they have the safety net of “doing their part”, all the while this, as previously described, ABSTRACT activism leaves the oppressors to safely carry out business as usual. If vegan activists leave themselves to the compulsions of the internet, reposting dinner as veiled propaganda, and sacrifice pressure against the institutions and businesses of animal exploitation, then I fear the stagnation that animal justice will face.

Make no mistake, the internet has enabled veganism to come a long way since the days of holding signs on the street corner, but we should not be deceived by the exaggeration of algorithms and self-created cultural bubbles that “we are winning”. We aren’t. That isn’t to say the internet is a useless step towards animal justice, not at all, but if we skew the ratio of activism towards one method, I fear we limit our potential for the rapid progress that is necessary to bring about the elimination of industrial animal agriculture and animal exploitation.

Of course, I say this as someone who has almost entirely broken from social media, primarily for personal emotional reasons, so I’ve limited my own involvement in this new form of activism. All these considerations are written as a positive critique of the movement for animal justice, but also written by someone who continues to wrestle with my own objectives for animals, my own involvement, and what exactly constitutes the project for liberation, not only of non-human animals, but all beings.

I have little to offer as a concise summary to all this, as a framework for solutions, but to simply offer an example of breaking from the stream. I can tell you that in some ways breaking from the stream of communication feels like burying my head in the sand, while in others it feels like seeing the world for what it truly, physically is and recognizing the limits (and potentials) of my actions. I know, above all else, that I wasn’t enjoying the stream of narcissistic expressions, that I don’t think we are ready to process this explosion of communication as a species, that I doubt the positive impact of it’s existence, and that in my most critical moments I genuinely believe we would be better off if the internet somehow just broke and we were all cut off, forced to see our days for what they are around us, and adjust as necessary.

In all these considerations, I keep trying to figure out how we’re going to expand the possibilities of liberation for all beings. And seeing the prison of exploitation our economic and hierarchical system has established, at the very least, I think it’s worth breaking from social media surveillance to literally break cages and set each other free.

Social media will bring us together…and it might also tear us apart. Meanwhile, the machinations of social exploitation continue with business as usual.


 

A Heads Up

There was a time when I wrote on this blog incessantly, essentially every day, because I really had little else going on, but running, and it seemed like the blog was more a personal journal than a forum to communicate to others, which meant I didn’t mind the narcissistic nature of the process. Over time, as I realized my “audience” was growing and growing, I felt more and more confined, more restricted, and more accountable to what I was putting out to others. This writing psychology has both it’s benefits and drawbacks, but I’ve found myself becoming more crippled than focused, and I wish that wasn’t the case. I also found myself losing focus of what matters with what I was trying to communicate. Yes, this blog was really about my running more than anything else, EVERY LITTLE DETAIL, if I’m being honest, but my intent was always to push veganism in both direct and subtle ways through my own experiences with running. When cancer entered the picture, things got a little off track in regards to those parameters. Don’t get me wrong, this is a personal blog, so I don’t regret sharing my experiences with cancer, but as the days blend into others I continue to consider how I can keep veganism and animal justice at the forefront of my communication. If I’m being blunt, sharing my experiences about cancer is really for my own catharsis and no one else. If I’m being more than blunt…my cancer doesn’t matter. It’s my own burden to manage and should mean little else to others. What really matters, when all is said and done, is how each of us relate to everyone else. And when I say “each of us” and “everyone else” I mean everyone, every animal, being, every human and non-human being on this planet. If someone found inspiration in my words and actions and that helped them build a better life for themselves….I don’t know, great? Good for them? If, however, someone finds inspiration in my words and actions and this compels them to treat others with respect and to stop being complicit in the enslavement, domestication and suffering of other beings…well, THAT is what will be the measure of our existence when the physical body falls away.

Where I struggle with putting veganism at the forefront of my writings is that, often, I don’t know just what to say. The crisis of our current relationship towards non-human animals is so immediate and so severe that it feels wrong to put anything into the world that isn’t as convincing and as deeply considered as can possibly be. To simply say, “Go vegan” feels insulting to the necessity of actually going vegan, to conveying the physical and psychological torments that animals are currently experiencing within the confines of industrial animal agriculture, and to the moral imperatives and intellectual depths that are grounded in the value-based constructs of the cognitive human experience. On the other hand, saying nothing feels worse than insulting. It feels permissive.

I lay out these personal difficulties because going forward I plan to write posts that deal very little with running and cancer and, rather, solely with veganism. If you come to this blog for something other than veganism, I don’t know, sorry? But not sorry. It’s my blog, I do what I want! (he says like a spoiled child). I will, of course, write about running and cancer and all that, but those are personal experiences that really have little to do with anyone outside of myself, whereas veganism is pertinent to everyone, whether you recognize it or not. I hope to be able to find ways to fold animal justice into my discussions on running and cancer, but I guarantee nothing…just that I plan on thought vomiting on here and if it feels weird or different to you, this was your heads up.

Oh…and this may be off-putting to some, which is not my intention, but I’ll be disabling comments. If you feel more than compelled to respond to anything I write on here, feel free to email me.

To close all this out, or open it up, whatever…tomorrow I’m running the Dances With Dirt trail marathon. I signed up for this marathon a couple months ago because I wanted to test myself out at this distance, but with no stress and primarily for the funsies, of which both are possible at an absurd race like Dances With Dirt. DWD is one of those trail races where the course is routed through the most ridiculous of terrain, making any sense of pace and consistency a non-issue. I’m not sure anyone has even completed this distance under 4 hours, if that tells you anything. I ran this as part of the team relay back in 2012, and remember sections of stairs that seem to climb forever, running down a ski slope, trouncing through 1/2 a mile of thigh high water, and other absurdities my brain has probably protectively repressed. And those were just my portions of the course. Who knows what the full 26.2 entails, which is exactly why I signed up for this. I just wanted to get into the woods and have some fun.

Tomorrow will be 3 weeks out from the Carmel marathon and if I was a smart runner (spoiler alert…I’m not), I wouldn’t even run this and would have taken more time off from the race, but I didn’t. So here we are. My right leg is a little sketchy from a hip alignment issue that has always been the plague of my running existence, which has caused some intermittent tightness and soreness in a tendon behind my knee, that has me a little concerned for what it might feel like deeper into the race. On the other hand (or leg?) trail running tends to stress my body significantly less than a simple road run, so here’s to hoping everything is a non-issue. Aside from all that, I’m excited to put in some climbing and descending (and ducking and scrambling…and probably falling) over the coming 26.2 miles. There are four other distances (10k, 1/2, 50k, 50m) and a team relay going on at the same time as my race, so the crazy is going to be at it’s highest volume and I’m really looking forward to sharing the course with a bunch of other runners instead of just being out by myself. I have no idea what sort of competition this race brings, so I don’t know if I’ll be running alone or trailing anyone else, but I’m also not so concerned with that either (he tells himself over and over again).

It may seem of little consequence to everything else, but I’m actually really excited to be running in my “Artie” t-shirt from Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary, of which I am a board member. I designed the shirt for their farmers market booth where they sell all their products to create revenue that goes back into helping take care of the animals brought to the sanctuary and to also educate the public through vegan awareness campaigns. I, rightfully, cut the sleeves off the shirt and WALLA! a running jersey. The race itself celebrates a “hog roast” for all the participants when the event is over, so cognitive dissonance (cognitive disgust if we’re being truthful) fully recognized, it feels appropriate to represent veganism and one of the beings rescued from such an insulting, fucked up fate that will be the animal killed for this event. In my own way, this is intertwining a bit of activism into my recreation, and adds motivation to finding my way as far as I can to the front of the field, training willing.

So here we go, in all the ways laid out above. With always more to say, and in the most effective way possible, for now, go vegan.

rescue_shirt_mockup_BLK