Website Update

Hello Friends! Greetings from the deep beyond. I bet you all thought the site was dead huh? WELL LO AND BEHOLD – we are alive and well!

There are a few reasons for our disappearance, a lot of them including life updates.

#1. Insyped and I got married! Yes, for all of you who didn’t know, we had a large Indian wedding, and apparently you don’t get to settle into married life by yourselves until your 8 months in. So the dust has finally started to settle.

Basically what that means is we have a lot of NEW content coming through, largely based in our Travel section, and a new section we’re going to have dedicated just to explaining what indian weddings (specifically Sikh, Punjabi) look like! That’s going to take a bit of time to put all out so you’ll need to patient with me.

Also, in case you all haven’t noticed, we have added another writer to our staff, Ms. illume! Please check her out and give her the support you’ve always provided me.

Finally, many of you may be aware that I’m currently based in the US. A LARGE reason I haven’t been able to get myself to write is simply the depression I’ve been facing constantly from the overwhelming political atmosphere. I had several articles planned out about Hillary and the investigations of her and Trump, but I could not get myself to finish them. Not to mention information was changing so quickly, by the time I finished an article, 3 pieces of information had already changed.

As such, a few things happened. 1. I’ve deleted my facebook. It was a big decision but the depression + the Zuckerberg trials really convinced me this was the right course of action. As such, I feel like a weight has been lifted of my shoulders and I have the motivation to write again! 2. I will, at least for the time being, not be addressing politics as I have previously. Usually, I have in depth, analytical posts about a topic-of-the-day. If I have any type of political update at all, it’ll be superficial.

So I hope you all are excited as I am for this new chapter! We’ll be adding lots of new content going forward, maybe even some podcasts~

Thank you for your continual support and I hope you’re all having a wonderful day.

RB

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Social Awkwardness

It’s odd to hear compliments on something you’ve historically been insecure about. I don’t think I’ve told many people, but I’ve honestly always feared I was socially awkward. I was afraid that people were only listening to me to humor me, too polite to say to my face they didn’t want to spend time with me. I’d feel ashamed every time I missed an inside joke, attempted banter that fell flat, or initiated a hang out only to be ignored. I used to find crowded places terrifying, and would run to the bathroom to cry.

I don’t anymore. Some of my best friends have told me for years that I’m not socially awkward, that I’m perfectly fine the way I am, and that fear is groundless. But it’s not until I’ve heard that message from multiple sources – an aunt, an uncle, a new acquaintance, fellow peers who tell me they envy my socializing ability, and finally the catalyst, a longtime manager attending a networking event who complimented me on my ability to network, saying every event has that one person who stands out as going above and beyond to engage attendees, and I was that person. I still had to ask another friend to affirm that I’m not socially awkward before I really believed the genuineness of his compliment.

With that said, I’m not some superhuman socializing networking machine that instantly charms every person I meet into handing me a job offer/marriage/party invitation. I’m not usually the center of attention nor do I feel the need to put myself there. But I am comfortable striking up conversations with strangers, have no qualms about public speaking, and find meeting new people a rewarding experience. It’s why I’m in DC right now, on a spontaneous week-long trip that I know I will not ever get the chance to do once classes and responsibilities pick up.

I share this not to brag about how awesome I am, but to tell a story I feel is not told often enough. Most people who have the abilities one aspires to have are not typically born with it. The person “good at x,” from painting to basketball to long-distance running to socializing, didn’t start out that way. That person usually worked hard at it, improving little by little, until unexpectedly, they crossed that threshold into “good at x.” I share this because maybe someone reading this will gain a bit of courage to break away from their self-labeled social awkwardness. Maybe it’ll be enough to start chatting with strangers, initiating conversations, making jokes. Sure, there’ll be plenty of shut-downs, cold shoulders, faked laughter, but it’s not your fault. You tried, they didn’t respond, but it’s not usually because there’s something innately wrong with your socializing ability. Stuff happens, often without any explanation. Such is life. I went through it too. We all do. Yeah, I was scared too. But now I’m not.

Anonymity & Ethos

There is something odd about the anonymity of blog posts. Typically, anonymity allows for a freer expression for the wearer. The mask allows the wearer to speak one’s true thoughts negating fear of the message coming back to negatively affect life outside the writing sphere. Yet curiously I find it harder to write because it is not tied to my personal identify. You readers don’t know who I am. You have probably never met me, never seen me, never spoke with me, nor shook hands. You know not of my existence, least of all the personal narrative I carry with me at all times. All they have are my words on the page to judge my character with, a surprising nakedness to my words, unprotected by my ethos.

I say this to preface my following post, which originally appeared on my personal facebook. Without having known me, the message loses some of its effect. It ends up reading as just another uplifting post floating on the internet, by some do-good stranger, who may or may not have had the same traumatic experiences of the target audience I am trying to reach. The anonymization of the post wipes away my credibility, minimizing the “even you?” reaction I wish to elicit. Regardless, I shout this message to the stars, in hopes it inspires one to face its fear head on, shining brighter than it ever thought possible.

Information Politics: Evil Adds Up to Zero

In the chaos of mis/information nowadays, finding moral reference points can be quite difficult. Everyone wants to get along with their friends, so if one says something that might sound a bit morally awkward, we might shrug it off. I believe some moral premises should be regarded as red flags that warrant further discussion. For instance: the zero-sum-game.

A zero-sum-game is a model of interaction in which any participants gains are balanced out by another’s losses. In other words: there is no scenario in which all players benefit. In order for one to gain, another must lose. As a moral premise, it is necessarily malicious.

As such, I think we should listen for it, especially in social or political discourse.

Listen for it in ideas like:
“I wish we didn’t have to keep bombing the Middle-East to stay safe.”

A much more insidious place this premise hides is in variants of “If we don’t hurt them, they will hurt us” from those who aren’t clear and present danger. As a softer variant, “if I’m not comfortable, they don’t deserve to be comfortable”, or “If I don’t feel safe, they don’t deserve to feel safe”. In application, the context can range from warzones to courtrooms to interpersonal relationships.

Not that people who say these things are evil, but these ideas should be elaborated on and scrutinized. Often this sort of rhetoric is used to support causes that, on the whole, have been good for the world. Despite this, I believe that actions carried out based on these ideas tend to do more harm than good. Do not let friends and loved ones act on the zero-sum-game unchallenged.

I think political discourse among those who disagree are much more fruitful when addressing moral premises, rather than debating the details of recent events.

No amount of research or raw information will affect the actions of the politically polarized, be they Congresspeople or new voters. We have to engage morally, because that’s where the divides must be bridged.

The time for abstract armchair philosophy and detached hypothetical scenarios is over, at least for me and mine. Now is the time to engage and act on however you think you can contribute to your idea of a better world. Find where we agree.

Violent conflicts may be an inevitable feature of human nature, but indifference is a moral blight.

Information Politics

Humanity’s relationship with the basic concept of information has experienced very rapid, jarring changes over the course of history. The first great leap was is attributed to the printing press in the mid-15th century. Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, does an excellent job of describing it’s impact on civilization that I think should be closer to the forefront of everyone’s conscious mind as we live through these chaotic times.

Excerpt:

The original revolution in information technology came not with the microchip, but with the printing press. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention in 1440 made information available to the masses, and the explosion of ideas it produced had unintended consequences and unpredictable effects. It was a spark for the Industrial Revolution in 1775,1 a tipping point in which civilization suddenly went from having made almost no scientific or economic progress for most of its existence to the exponential rates of growth and change that are familiar to us today. It set in motion the events that would produce the European Enlightenment and the founding of the American Republic.

But the printing press would first produce something else: hundreds of years of holy war. As mankind came to believe it could predict its fate and choose its destiny, the bloodiest epoch in human history followed.

With the printing press, one didn’t necessarily need to be in good standing with the church to create and distribute books with ideas that may have conflicted with religious doctrine. While this also spawned the European Renaissance, the chaos that ensued should not be forgotten.

If it’s not obvious why I brought this up: the internet is causing another information revolution. Before the printing press, the basic mechanisms of civilizations were designed around people having no more knowledge than what could be remembered offhand. If few people are literate, how can one distinguish a written lie from a truth?

Today, we’re having another stage of this problem. In the modern world, information has been ubiquitous for centuries. Every public school has a library filled with books that children are taught to reference whenever they seek more information to absorb and convert into knowledge that can be shared or applied infinitely. In fact, for centuries, simply having certain stores of knowledge in one’s head well enough to regurgitate on command was a viable skill; now, even that has changed.

Now, we have the same problem with information as the 15th-18th centuries had: more of it than we know what to do with. Academic institutions still require students to memorize things despite ubiquitous tools that store and regurgitate information for us. Bureaucratic institutions process physical forms at a rate several times longer than what’s needed to Google everything about the process and maybe even design a better one.

In homes, parents don’t know what to tell their children about surfing the internet safely because the internet is so fundamentally different from what it was just ten years ago. There’s no institutional knowledge for how tablets affect toddlers or at what age children are liable to wander into the darker alleys of the internet… or if that’s even correlated with age. What content is good or bad for them? Is that even possible to measure? I remember a time before the internet where ideas backed by information were stronger than ideas that weren’t. Now, every idea can so easily find information to support it, but not all information is equal. Therein lies the problem.

Our ability to distinguish valuable, relevant information from noise has not grown proportionally with our access to it. With books, humanity eventually developed filtration methods, primarily in the form of literacy and critical thinking. Rigorously refined ideas were the only ones that warranted the effort to be studied, reproduced, and incorporated into reference texts and archives. Schoolchildren and especially college students are rigorously taught to distinguish good from bad sources, and to cite their assertions.

We don’t quite have that yet for the internet. Digital activity is monetized by clicks, and measured by attention (time spent viewing content), so the economic incentive of any web-based company is to present you, the digital denizen, with information that you react to, which is probably what you like.

If you read something in a newspaper or heard it on a radio or even saw it on T.V., describing it to a friend would require some degree of processing and mental digestion, during which many baseless ideas might get filtered out. Now, with the touch of a screen or click of a mouse, any headline that even for a split second inspires you to share can within seconds be presented to hundreds or thousands of others, many of whom might have a similar reaction and continue the chain. I’ve fallen victim to this mentality many times, and am thankful for friends who hold me accountable and prevent me from harboring false ideas.

I implore you to ask: What is your standard for truth? Specifically in the realm of politics. Whom do you believe, and why? I don’t have a clear answer for this if you ask me, but these are questions I want to think about and discuss with as many people as possible. Given recent events, I think it’s evident that the average American’s understanding of the political climate is, at best, guesswork. Which might be fine if Democracy didn’t depend on us understanding one another. But it does. We’re all on this rock hurtling through space together; let’s at least try to get along, however bleak the task may seem.

And so, I’m going to start this series, primarily as my own outlet for meditation on the goings on of the world.

)'(- The Setup

The next day was rough physically, but very odd mentally. We (me and five other conclave members) spent most of the day setting up a 30′ diameter PVC geodesic dome, which involved ladders that were quite precarious for me, but very easy for my roommate, who happens to have worked as a professional carpenter. He was able to help me steak down my tent to secure it against the wind.

We also set up a scaffold for climbing up to get a view; I took the liberty of photographing the view around our campsite:

img_0002img_0003On the left, the tents of some of our caravan. On the right, a large geodesic dome that we spent hours setting up in the desert sun.

Setting up that dome was quite a task, and in retrospect, really helped me feel at home. Putting work into building it helped me feel a sense of contribution and belonging that my mind is usually hesitant to accept. It was filled with couches, a massive bean bag, and carpets and rugs on the floor. It served as the central communal space for our 50-person camp.

And that trampoline was also a massive hit with numerous passersby.

The Playa was rather sparse at this point, two days before the festival starts; large holes gaps in the camping lots that were soon to be filled.

At this point, my mental subroutines (check social media, data feeds, daily tasks, etc.) had checked out, and my mind was clear, holding only what I knew was coming… which was, to be honest, nothing. I didn’t know what was going to happen the next day, or the day after.

What a strange feeling. I did nothing with respect to tomorrow; I didn’t know what I was going to do, whom I might meet, what I might see, or where I might go… nor did I even think about it. Tomorrow fell, from an amalgam of plans and intentions, back into an arbitrary word for when the sun rises next.

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