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April 9, 2012

In which I experiment with being a cyborg…

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 10:44 am

…at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs. Since, as Lafe says, CWA is essentially “chat room mental masturbation for old people”, I’m not too concerned about people here thinking I’m disengaged. πŸ˜‰

I’m also on Twitter @wanderingpirate using the #CWA2012 hashtag.

Table of Contents (In Progress):

Session: Peeing on Corpses and Worse: Official and Unofficial Expectations of Conduct in War
The Gender Neutral Bathroom Challenge for Cis People
Session: The Sacred and the Scientific
Session: All a-Twitter: The Fleeting Nature of Digital Communications

First session: 1112 – Peeing on Corpses and Worse: Official and Unofficial Expectations of Conduct in War

9:00-10:20 on Monday April 9, 2012
Macky Auditorium
Matt Howard
William Nack
Jay M. Parker
Sanho Tree (I think he’s the coolest.)

Jay M. Parker: Theater of War uses performances of Sophocles to explore war trauma.

Iraq Veterans against the War works to stop the redeployment of traumatized troops. Troops who take part in massacres, “trophy”-taking, war crimes, are framed by government as “bad apples” rather than individuals with mental health issues, victims of the compound trauma of war, military dehumanization training, successive redeployments. “There’s a context that creates the conditions for something like this to happen.”

A “feeling of eliteness” is necessary for going into war; trained into Marines through dehumanization, hazing, moral ambiguity, etc.

The Marines claim to be “post-racial”. Nobody is referred to as “white” or “black”, there are only “Dark Green Marines” and “Light Green Marines”. Um. Whoa.

Audience questions. Early 20s white bro-ey student wearing an ancient Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt asks a super intense question analogizing “American gangs, like, putting guns in the hands of 12 year olds, like the Bloods and the Crips, saying they hate each other, do you think that’s, like, dehumanizing?” I don’t even know where to start with that. This is a weird, uncomfortable exchange, implicit racism that nobody addresses, and then people just start talking about other stuff that’s only vaguely related. William Nack responds with a Cormac McCarthy quote from Blood Meridian about necrophilia. Cormac McCarthy is awesome, but…what? Matt Howard makes a thoughtful but fairly shallow point about links between gang violence, poverty, and the American military.

Sanho Tree: I work in a context where you have a classical insurgency that has evolved over five decades into what looks like a gang conflict, which is the civil war in Colombia. There’s the original insurgents, the paramilitaries, and the government, and they’re all involved in the drug war. People join one side or the other, perhaps out of poverty or desperation. And once you join these units you develop some very powerful bonds with the people fighting by your side. Then, often, your buddy gets killed by someone on the other side and you want revenge, payback. This is no longer about ideology; it’s not about Marxism.

Question about how those who do recover from trauma, reintegrate into society, are able to do that. Nack: Just returning to civilization, small town in Iowa, helps. Self-examination, ability to see the horrors of war and horrors of own behavior toward others “with clarity.” Hmm…

Young woman, looks like a student, asks a question about the impact of the popularity of video games on warfare. Nack’s grandson is 12, really good at videogames. “He’s like Bobby Fischer. Other kids want to play him.” Nack finds this troubling. “This isn’t what it’s really like, kid. This is a fantasy. Nobody’s bleeding. This isn’t what war is like.” […] “And now he’s been cut off. From Sunday night to Friday night, he’s not he’s not allowed to kill people wantonly.” Parker: Veteran counselors say that playing FPS-type videogames can be therapeutic for veterans, allow a way into opening up and discussing their experiences. Howard: These games e.g. Halo, Modern Warfare are really popular in the military, played extensively.

Sanho Tree: Colombian paramilitaries are “probably the worst civil rights abusers in this hemisphere”. Supposedly have no official ties to Colombian government, but of course they do. Killed so many people that the Colombian gov’t eventually called a meeting with them to complain that foreign media were stumbling over their mass graves, so paramilitaries built ovens to incinerate the bodies — including some that weren’t dead.

Student asks about an action plan for addressing disrespect of dead by the military. Howard: Don’t have our troops over there. Parker: It’s difficult to solve, but just agreeing you need an action plan is a start.

Student wearing a yellow bandanna links local dehumanization of immigrants to dehumanization that happens in war. This is much more thoughtful. Tree: Yes. Dehumanization and scapegoating are a key part of the drug war. Nack: Reads a quote citing slurs against the Japanese from WWII. I feel like he’s just looking for vaguely-related excuses to read all these intense quotes.

Re: Gays in the military – Tree: “When you begin to neutralize a 3000 year old taboo about sex” that’s long been used as a way to dehumanize others, does that presage a shift in the military’s ability to dehumanize others? Transition from an “imperialist army” into “blue helmet peacekeepers”? (Mmm, I’m skeptical. It’s the fucking military. I suspect the opposite impact — co-optation of gay culture, homonationalism.)

Parker: His Dad talked about having gay soldiers and officers in his company in WWII, no big deal. “When did we suddenly get the idea that we’ve never had gays in the military?” “Ridiculous politicization” of something that used to be a non-issue. (Interesting counterpoint to Tree’s assertion that gayness has been taboo for 3000 yrs.)

Howard: 1 in 5 women in the military are affected by military sexual trauma. Men also. Epidemic of rape in the military.

…And that’s all, folks.

It’s always trips me out, the incredibly amounts of anomie and cognitive dissonance required to be able to sit in an auditorium full of people, and listen to someone talk in detail about rape and murder and the desecration of corpses and burning people alive, and just be like, “Yup. Yup. Uh huh. Nods. Gosh, that’s terrible.” And then, like, go about your day. I feel a little sick to my stomach, but that’s it.

I wonder if the technology creates an even greater divide for me, personally — allowing me to record and externalize my thoughts and feelings as I’m having them, rather than actually sitting with and feeling them. On the other hand, it allows me to capture the experiences to process later, when there wouldn’t actually be time/opportunity to go through that meaningfully here and I might’ve forgotten by the time I got home tonight. Pros and cons. Something to be conscious of.

Nothing else going on ’til the keynote at 11:30 — which doesn’t look that interesting to me. More panels at 1pm. Plenty of time to kill. Which is good, because I need to pee and that means I have to find a gender neutral bathroom. “The challenge: Don’t use any gendered bathrooms or change rooms for the month of April. If you’re cis. Trans* people, you got enough on your plates – go on with your bad selves.” (I screwed this up last night. I went to the Trident and drank a huge chai and two glasses of water before I remembered that I was going to do this. Made me think about various situations in which I choose to constrain my liquid consumption and deal with dehydration rather than having to go to the bathroom, and about trans* people having to strategize around that ALL THE TIME and what a drain that must be. But I used the Ladies restroom anyway, because I was gonna wet my pants otherwise, and I had the privilege to do so. (The privilege to use gendered bathrooms, not the privilege to wet my pants. I’m not sure what Pants Wetting Privilege would look like…)

I’m going to publish this now, but I’ll keep updating this post as the day goes on.

. . .

Went and found a bathroom in the basement of the UMC. The guy at the Info desk looked confused when I asked about gender neutral bathrooms and said he didn’t think there was one in the building, but then when I asked where the nearest one was, he remembered that there was a single-stall “Unisex Family Restroom” near the back exit of the bookstore. There’s a lot of cis privilege involved in just feeling comfortable ASKING that question of a stranger. Still, finding the bathroom was a hassle, and when I got there it was locked and I had this thought run through my head, “Wait, is this even a functional bathroom? Is someone in there or am I just going to stand here and wait forever? I really have to pee. Fuck.” Eventually, an older person with a cane came out and I went in.

I skipped the keynote, “Can the Center Hold: Democracy and Governance in a Polarized America” by Alice M. Rivlin, in lieu of free campus HIV testing and an interesting phone conversation with Asa about the nature of privileged identities. He wanted to complicate the nature that “all privileged identities are inherently debased” by pointing out ways in which e.g. “white culture” is so pervasive that it’s not experienced as such by people with white privilege. I’d like to expand on this more at some point…but, ultimately, the synthesis we came to is not that people in privileged positions are having an “empty” or “negative space” experience of culture/gender/etc; rather, people with privilege — by virtue of their NOT being forced to consciously engage with their culture/gender/etc — are having a real but comparatively shallow experience of culture/gender/etc along whatever access they have privilege on. (And that it can be genuinely emotionally painful — when peripherally exposed to some marginalized communities’ authentically richer, deeper, more diverse and complex experiences and understandings of culture, gender, sexuality, language, history, and the like — to come face-to-face with how shallow one’s own experience of those things feels.) I like this description of the experience, of people with privilege, although I don’t think it necessarily negates the idea that, as political categories, privileged identities don’t contain anything other than domination.

But the next panel is about to start, so more on this later.

Incidentally, this conversation with Asa made me even more conscious of how super-duper white the Conference on World Affairs is. I’m curious whether and how the participant demographics will be different when I got to The Art of Social Justice Conference tomorrow. I expect much more ethnic diversity and much less age diversity. That’s one thing about CWA, the people here range pretty evenly across the board from high school students to senior citizens and that’s nice; I don’t often get to spend time in spaces that are as diverse in this way. πŸ™‚

Second session: 1512 The Sacred and the Scientific

1:00-2:20 on Monday April 9, 2012
Old Main Chapel
Maggie Koerth-Baker – Science Editor for BoingBoing
Peter Morales – President of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Seth Shostak – Senior Astronomer at SETI

Old Main is so pretty. πŸ™‚

Shostak: I don’t want to defend science or spirituality, I want to talk about the interface. Because that’s where the fun is. People don’t break down cleanly along “believe-in-science” and “believe-in-religion” lines. Same percentage of religious people among scientists as among any other comparably educated population. Cites Stephen Jay Gould‘s assertion that science and religion are “different magisteria”, addressing different questions, can’t be compared to each other. (Yes!)

Some people think this means science and religion should just have nothing to do with one another. “That’s like saying men and women are separate magisteria, so they shouldn’t interact. I don’t think that’s gonna work out.”

I like this guy. πŸ™‚ He’s clever and self-deprecating. Apparently, people think being an astronomer means you have the answers about God; he was a science advisor on the set of The Day the Earth Stood Still, John Cleese and Keanu Reeves grilled him about his religious beliefs.

Koerth-Baker: Often runs into conflict between science and belief (not necessarily organized religion) around e.g. Western medicine. How do we deal with combatting pseudo-science that actually hurts people?

Shostak: Hard to do. Anti-religious extremism doesn’t seem to work, neither does giving people scientific data; preaching to the choir. 10% of populace is on the fence and you might be able to sway them, but “I’ve become moderate in my expectations.”

Morales: “When are we justified in taking action to prevent you from doing what you want to do with your own children?” Discussion of dautism, vaccinations, “freedom of religion in health care” — re: birth control, vaccinations.

Morales: We think it’s natural to classify religions by what they believe — set of ideological and theological propositions. This is the wrong way to think about it. Fails cross-culturally. Religions isn’t about who believes what, it’s about identity, what and who we love.

Student asks: “Is mathematics invented or discovered? I’ve been hearing this question a lot.” …Er, then I kind of tune out the answer ’cause I’m actually not feeling that engaged by this session. I like this conversation, but I also feel like it’s one I’ve heard a million times before. It doesn’t help that everybody on the panel and everybody in the audience all pretty much agree with each other already. It reminds me that I want to read some Gould, though.

Audience member: “How do you think ulterior political motives influence the debate?”
Koerth-Baker: People want to ignore countervailing evidence, not willing to have conversations about it. Sometimes this is because the reality is just too hard to deal with, solve, discuss.
Shostak: People don’t want to talk about difficult issues e.g. climate-change because it’s “too hot”, loses votes.
Morales: “False witnessing” – making a case for a point of view you’re not going to give up no matter what; this isn’t a discussion, it’s “apologetics”. Being unwilling to discuss/change your mind about certain things is okay, but it’s problematic/dishonest to pretend you’re engaging in open discussion when you’re not.

Shostak: “I don’t think either science or religion is going to bring about the end of the world. Whatever that means. Don’t worry about causing the end of the world. You can’t. There’s been life on this planet for 400 million years. Maybe homo sapiens is going to go away. But that just reduces the incidence of Reality Television or something.” I think I like him because his dry sense of humor reminds me a of Josh Alvizu’s. πŸ™‚

Up until fairly recently, Republicans were much more supportive of science funding than Democrats. Lots of “Hmms” from the audience.

Audience member asks about brainwave research re: meditation. Koerth-Baker says she has been planning to look into it.

After the panel, most audience members have left, two people — a man and a woman — approach Peter Morales, the Unitarian President. The woman doesn’t say much, but the man quotes the Bible and tells Morales that he will go to Hell for influencing such a large audience to turn away from God. Interesting that he picked the representative of religion, rather than either of the scientists. Morales responds to his arguments for a while, but eventually points out that they’re having an argument that can have no conclusion, since neither one of them is going to change their minds. Similar to point about debate vs. witnessing above.

Okay. Next is the Twitter panel! But first, I should really find something to eat. Turns out half an orange juice and a Snicker’s bar don’t actually constitute sufficient fuel for an entire afternoon; I’m starting to get a headache…

Session Three: 1715 All a-Twitter: The Fleeting Nature of Digital Communications

3:00-4:20 on Monday April 9, 2012
UMC East Ballroom
Mark Frauenfelder
Ross Haenfler
Andy Ihnatko
Sanho Tree

Tree talks about the pros and cons of Twitter. Potentially problematic in countries where he works w. people who are involved in armed conflict, Colombia, Ecuador, Afghanistan, etc. Worries him when he sees younger colleagues taking to social media so easily, especially Facebook. Used to be a lot of work for death squads to track down supporters of their enemies, now “state security agencies can hack a couple of Facebook accounts, find whole social circles of ‘subversives’ and find them easily.” On the other hand, Twitter has been v. valuable for him in working w. the media around his issues and projects. Tells a story about how Twitter was used to kill Glenn Beck’s show on Fox, etc.

Frauenfelder: When you put things on the Internet, they’re there forever. Reads a William Gibson quote from VICE that analogizes Twitter to cave paintings; this is what makes us human. “I use BoingBoing as a way to back up my brain, because you can post your thoughts and ideas and search for them and find them later on.” BoingBoing started as a ‘zine in Boulder in 1989 about Cyberpunk, indie comics, how people were using computer tech. Zines were a lot like blogs are today, special interests. BoingBoing zine distribution at its height was 800, cost a lot of money.

Haenfler: Only person on the panel w.o a Twitter account. Describes annoying right wing conservative e-mail fwd’s he gets all the time. “We have a lot more access to media, but I don’t think we’ve kept up with our media literacy.” A useful tool for activism. Also a lot of misinformation. Tension around the issue of “access” — “I have more access to people, but that means they also have more access to me.” (Not a real addressing of ACTUAL access to tech issues?) If we choose to disengage from social media, we feel like we’re missing out. “I’m kind of a late adopter of everything. We’ll see if this panel convinces me to get on Twitter.”

Suggestions for the First Time Twitter user?
Frauenfelder: Subscribe to pre-selected lists related to things you’re interested in.
Tree: Follow only a few people who favorite and retweet lots of interesting things.

Conversation about “The next big thing?”
Audience member plugs Google+. Tree says “Skynet”.

I’m Tweeting this panel more than I’m blogging it. πŸ˜‰

Tree: Politicians are hesitant to challenge or discuss “third-rail issues” because they are too complex to discuss in 140 char, 15 sec TV spot, w.o getting decontextualized, wastes valuable time (= money).

Audience question: How will the transition to digital media change archiving in the future?
Tree: Used to work as a professional historian. “I was accused of being a revisionist historian. ALL history is revisionist. […] Why else would you need 10,000 books on the Civil War. One should suffice, right? […] I can’t even imagine what it will be like for historians in the future. Will paradigms be overturned due to a single Tweet?”

Ihnatko: “The circadian rhythms of how you’re consuming and producing information.” We/future historians can mine and analyze data about peoples’ use of technology and data in really amazing ways over the long-term, learn lots about what’s going on with people and events.

Audience question about tensions between social media and traditional media.

Ihnatko: “My favorite newspaper people are the ones who think in terms of their mission instead of their job. The great newspaper people love Twitter because they can’t be at every single event. And they feel as if they spend a certain percentage of their day to manning Twitter […], they can perform their job so much better!”

Tree: Dailyshow takedown of CNN’s i-reporter. Media outlets are sometimes using social media as an excuse to cut costs, cut jobs, rather than paying journalists. I turn to Al-Jazeera; they still invest in reporters.

Now we’re talking about Facebook buying Instagram. Who owns what, etc. This isn’t that interesting to me. I feel like it should be. “Follow the money.” πŸ˜› But it’s hard for me to pay attention to conversations about megacorporate business plans and the stock market. I wonder how problematic this is. My usual solution is, rather than trying to understand high finance in the tech industry, to make friends with someone who thinks that stuff is interesting and important and trust them to tell me if there’s anything I need to know. Specialization? Am I shooting myself in the foot? Hm.

. . .

Okay. That’s it for today. I’m gonna take the bus to South Boulder, grab a cup of coffee, and go to a counseling appointment. πŸ™‚


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