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What The Politics of Khashoggi's Death Say About Humanity

7 min read

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(I wrote this a few weeks ago, but it made me really emotional and I just couldn't finish it.)

In the past I've written about the privacy concerns of our surveillance world in an effort to illustrate the dangerous power we've given corporations and governments. To my horror, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has brought to light something more frightening than the loss of privacy, the failure of humanity.

Government assassinations are nothing new. Recently, Russia has come under fire from a number of countries for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The CIA has been *suspected of removing (or plotting to assassinate) a number of leaders. In fact, in the 70s a Senate Select Committee investigated the CIA in regards to Patrice Lumumba, Ngo Dinh Diem, Rafael Trujillo, and Fidel Castro. Then there's Bin Laden, which there is no denying was killed by a U.S. strike team. What is new is that we live in a surveillance state.

Espionage is all about controlling data. Either protecting your own information, or obtaining confidential info from others, spying has always been about power. Using the information obtained, you can create a defense, plan an offensive, expose the truth or manipulate people. The information could be used to influence elections, for example. Extortion and blackmail are the types of things were often done behind closed doors. Exposing the information to the public is not as powerful as keeping secrets.

However, we now live in the world of Orwell's 1984. While many of us may not understand the technical wizardy around us, we accept the probability that a camera is watching. The cameras and microphones on our devices, plus other digital tracking systems used by Google, Facebook, Amazon, and our governments are also following the spies. Most likely, this is why so many people are ready to believe that Turkey has evidence of Khashoggi's death. Of course, they could have also bugged the building.

Power Over People, Not To The People

Turkey has chosen to use this information as leverage. This is the part I cannot stomach. I am appalled by this act. President Erdoğan keeps promising to reveal "the naked truth." The theory is that Turkey is releasing little bits of proof on a daily basis to strengthen it's relationships with the U.S. and other countries. Vice News reported:

A State Department official with extensive knowledge in the region told us that despite the rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan had signaled that he would be willing to quash the release of incriminating evidence at the right price. The State Department's official added, 'Erdoğan is playing this masterfully.'

Khashoggi was a human being, not a bargaining chip. Most likely you're reading this because you know me and occasionally stop at my website. Perhaps you don't know me, but have read something else here or on my social networks that made you curious to read more. Now imagine that connection between you and I being severed by my murder. The killer took my life because they overheard me saying I don't like coffee. My body was cut into pieces after being tortured and I was erased from existence. The one witness to the crime won't come forward because the murderer is her mail carrier. If she calls the police, she fears she will not be able to send and receive mail. In fact, blackmailing my killer allows her to now send letters and package without postage. My imaginary, and not very creative story is a gross simplification of the matter and sounds utterly ridiculous and awful. Why? It's called the ethics of reciprocity or the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is present in just about every religion on the planet, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's about compassion and avoiding suffering. Nobody wants to feel pain, ever. That's a natural human reaction. When we learn of serial killers or murderers that have taken lives unnecessarily it is unnerving. When our governments take lives during wars and conflicts, we focus on the end goal rather than dwelling on the casualties. When a government brutally murders a man and slices him up as an act of vengeance for words he's written, that is more than cause for alarm. When Turkey refuses to share the evidence of a human being's death in hopes to get a few more Easter eggs in its basket that is disgusting.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

Please don't lecture me on the minutia of foreign affairs and the economy. For too long we as people have looked the other way for some greater economic benefit. Well, we think you should treat your people better, enter country name here. So we've decided to issue you a stern warning. Now, if you could pass us those trade dollars. Thank you.

When is the government that represents its people going to start caring about humans?

Everywhere around the world we see decisions being made at the cost of human welfare. Trump's war against immigrants and their children, and the xenophobia in Europe is based on fear. People fearing other people! To answer my question above, governments will start caring about people when we do.

You and I need to set aside the past and forget about the future. We need to sit together, now. It's not about what kind of world you want for your children, but what sort of world do you want to live in? You and I can make those changes. I'm not talking about protesting Trump or shaming Turkey as my rambling post may appear. I believe we need to make changes at an individual level. Only by striking up a conversation with that person you fear, can you learn their story. That person is a fellow human. You can never truly experience the world as they have, but you surely have your own stories of happiness, sadness, and suffering.

Reconciliation between cultures doesn't happen in a meeting. It happens at an individual level and takes time. Rather than raising your protest sign to show support, extend your compassion to those in fear. Get to know their story of the suffering. If you're in fear, remember each of us is an individual. When I was younger, I was bitten by a dog. That event didn't make me steer clear of that dog in the future. No, I feared every dog for a long time. However, it was one individual dog, not her entire breed, not all white dogs, and not all big dogs. Fear does not have to be abolished, your lizard brain is trying to protect you. Understand that about those who are xenophobic.

Compassion is the way forward, not economic crumbs. The precious economy and the government overseeing it are made of people. Do unto others. If you have information that can end the suffering of Khashoggi's friends and family, why not offer it freely. Imagine, President Erdoğan, if you find success in this venture the precedent you set for your own life. Perhaps your game could backfire and MBS may offer a large, multi-year deal to the country of Turkey for you, dead or alive. Should we be bargaining with humans? I think not.

Safe Spaces, Suffering & Humanity

4 min read

An image of clouds over a school field with the sun rays shining through

 

One of the side effects of going to mental health groups for me is seeing humanity in pain.

Each of us is afraid of hurt. Two angry people shout at each other before throwing punches because deep down they do not want pain. In groups we are given a list of rules which basically boil down to treating each person as a human. It’s a vulnerable setting for everyone there. In a way, the rules aren’t needed after a while because we’ve all shared our inner fears and have bonded. We didn’t come together because we’re amazing athletes or because of our successful business stories. Our relationships in the room are not dependant on our productivity, but built from our common hurt. Athletic careers can change overnight, just as business success. However, there’s always going to be pain in our human lives.

Stepping outside of the safe space of our group meeting room, I see so much suffering in the world around me. Of course, I see it through my own lens, this journey that has brought me here to vulnerability. People around me seem to be so busy avoiding emotions. Work harder, achieve more, ignore pain. Though, I don’t see those people in their own safe spaces. Perhaps they share emotions with a partner, a friend, or a family member. Safe spaces are incredibly important.

Conflict on the Internet

Recently, actor Wil Wheaton was banned from the Mastodon server he joined after leaving Twitter. It was dramatic, brutal, and brought all sorts of emotions up for me. I’m not here to argue for either side of this story. Basically, the thing about posting thoughts online is that they have potential to live forever. People felt uncomfortable with Wil Wheaton’s past. I don’t know what he feels or believes because I am not him. I cannot speak for the LBGT folks who fought to have him removed. All I am left with is sadness.

People are entitled to their emotions. There is no right or wrong, only suffering. The way I see working through pain is not with fighting, but by accepting and listening. Wars are not won on a battlefield. They are resolved by a few people in a room talking and listening. As someone who has fallen in love with the community I’ve made on Mastodon it was hard to see the division taking place. It was inevitable, as the Fediverse continues to grow, but it hurt me nonetheless.

Seeing the article linked above from The Verge on this Mastodon drama made me realize just how important safe spaces are. So many people complained about Wheaton that the administrator of the server he was on was getting 60 complaints an hour. Yet, if you look at the comments on The Verge article, there’s an absent of LBGT voices. It’s obvious to me that they don’t feel safe speaking there. Though, I’m not surprised. I recently watched this video from HBO and Vice News about the history of discrimination when it comes to blacks accessing swimming pools. I was shocked to see footage recorded on mobile phones in this day and age of people attacking blacks at public pools! It’s truly sad that we seek to divide ourselves instead of seeing our common humanity.

The need for safe spaces is important. While public spaces may not be ideal, I cannot imagine living in fear of sharing my beliefs or who I am with people I love and trust. It’s one thing to decide not to engage, and listen, and another to hide from others for fear of abuse. Even if we magically dropped our avoidance of emotions and pain, we would still need places where we can share. A nudist, and a Muslim who believes in a certain standard of modesty may not make the best support buddies. However, they may be able to bond over the persecution they’ve received. I’d like to repeat what I said before, we’re all suffering.

Listen and love, my friends. Each of us has our own suffering. I’ll leave you with an awful joke that I made up.

A priest, a rabbi, an iman, a non-binary person, a furry, a nun, a minister, a lesbian, a gay man, an atheist, a lama, an astrologist, and a white guy walk into a bar to have a drink. Isn’t that beautiful? All these different individuals coming together to share a beverage, no matter what they choose? I wish it wasn’t a joke.

Much<3

Patreon Problems Highlight Issues of Corporation Versus Community

7 min read

eggs in one basket

Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on Unsplash

All over the web, creatives took to social networks to curse Patreon recently because of failed transactions. The Verge reported that many payments have been flagged as fraudulent. In my opinion, much of Patreon’s recent problems have occurred because it is growing too fast, like so many venture capital backed startups.

There’s plenty of editorials around the web criticizing Silicon Valley and the get-rich-quick culture surrounding the web. The country club version of Tumblr, Medium has had a number of issues as it looked for ways to appease investors and the old dog in the neighborhood, Twitter, has always been in the negative. The currency of Silicon Valley isn’t Bitcoin, it’s us, the users. Show big numbers of signups and you get funding. Most new startups use the funding to expand the product and get more users, rather than really making a solid product.

As a Patreon user, I wouldn’t think the company has grown too fast. I sat through many monthly video hang times as users begged for the same features over and over. Meanwhile, Patreon kept hiring new people to expand. What were they doing? After a while, each video hang time included information from Patreon’s in-house data gurus. These presentations were to help users learn how to better extract funds from potential patrons, as in “Here’s what’s working!” It was also a bit of cheer leading to exclaim how great Patreon was doing. Of course, data is helpful for Patreon to expand as well.

Too Big

Eventually companies get so big that in order to solve a customer problem you must go on a quest through a phone maze, or Sagan forbid, navigate numerous automated emails to find help. To be fair, how else can you service 2 million users?

In my twenties, I bought a house and put on my big boy pants to look for insurance. I wasn’t finding the “deals” my parents spoke of, like when you have your house and car insurance through the same company. So, I started shopping for each separately. My parents warned me against the slick online companies like Geico and Progressive that were advertising such good rates. My father had the same local insurance agent for most of his life. There was a bond there. My dad could call up Vern and say that a rock hit his car windshield and Vern would take care of it without an out of pocket cost. I wasn’t going to have this familiarity if I went with Progressive, it would just be some woman on the phone in another part of the world quoting my deductible cost.

This is the problem of centralized internet companies getting too big. The humanity gets lost. I’ve had a brief conversation with Patreon CEO Jack Conte and I completely respect his work and vision. I interviewed another team member at Patreon and I call her a friend now. I have no ill will to these people despite what I am writing about Patreon, at the moment. I want them to succeed, but I think being a for profit company is getting in the way of helping people. The demand from shareholders to grow makes the product, and so many others like Google and Facebook, lose effectiveness.

That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but the current climate in the business world is all about more. For example, several years ago Facebook had already captured all of the developing world. The only way for them to get more users was to get Third World countries on their product. So, the company started making sim cards for phones. People in Third World countries could switch the sim card from their mobile carrier out and put in the Facebook card to access a version of the site.

Power in Community

Most cities, states, provinces, and villages were founded by like-minded individuals. The pilgrims came to the New World to accuse each other of being witches without the King interfering in their murderous behavior. Okay, that’s not a great example. My point is that the early web was similar. People who grew orchids got together on a forum site to share ideas and techniques. They may have had an area on the board where non-orchid conversation could happen and they got to know each other further.

Then, there was money found in the world wide web. We got America Online, MySpace, and Facebook. The orchid forum gave way to a more general gardening group chat. Instead of 400 orchid lovers from around the world, you got 4,000,000 people talking about weeds, basil, and hay fever. Instead of the passionate and opinionated conversation between Rosita, Cheryl, and Guillaume, you get a thousand people shouting just to be heard. The humanity is lost.

Communities are still possible online! We don’t all have to join a service just because our friends and family are there. It’s possible to share your pictures and thoughts on your own blog. Is it really that inconvenient to click on a bookmark in a browser? Nope. On Facebook, I am a number lost in an algorithm. On Mastodon, as a Trekkie I can join TenForward.social and share conversation with fellow Star Trek fans. Since Mastodon is built on a protocol (like email), I can also chat with people on other servers of different subjects. This way I don’t need multiple accounts for orchids, Star Trek, and my old high school chums. If I have a problem connecting or I want to donate to ensure the server doesn’t go down, I can contact the administrator directly. Seriously, you can talk to another human!

This is why I think projects like Mastodon are so important. This is the internet the way it was originally designed, information traveling freely, not through corporate silos. You may feel it is no different, either you’re under the thumb of Mark Zuckerberg or the administrator of TenForward.social. However, in one you are the product, in the other you are part of a community sustaining the server. If you don’t like the way it is administered, you can start your own, or just like a web page, you can buy your own Mastodon instance and make the rules.

Sustainable Growth

Of course, even non-profits aren’t perfect. LiberaPay, a similar platform to Patreon has had its problems as well. Though, it is interesting to note that the issues seem to be with the larger payment processing company, similar to Patreon’s many woes. Yet, LiberaPay may be able to weather the storm of discontent and problems because it is growing at a natural pace. Their 10,360 users may be easier to manage through a crisis as LiberaPay grows, than the over 2,000,000 users at Patreon.

Again, this is why I like the model of online communities. There could come a time when there are too many people or opinions on the Mastondon instance of TenForward.social. Perhaps a schism could arise between those who favor the new films and fans of the older films and shows. And so, a new community would be born, maybe Kelvin.timeline. The opposite could happen as well. Just as in the real world when a town grows into area communities and they join together to share resources, communities online could do the same.

Instead of going after users and numbers, we can use the web to connect to other humans, not profits. This is what many Patreon creators have learned. They started a community of fans and patrons who didn’t just support them financially, but interacted with the creators. The connection is what sustains the creators, not the simple number of payments they are receiving.

Patreon and the corporate sites aren’t going away, but you can choose how you want the web of the future to treat you. Do you want to be a commodity bought and sold by corporations, or do you want to be part of a community, sharing ideas and a common humanity?

This Tom Gauld comic is perfect. Come on we're better than this. What makes us human is that we're imperfect. Let's come together in that. http://myjetpack.tumblr.com/post/166841754185/from-my-new-book-baking-with-kafka-which-you-can

Learning About Yourself Through Others

4 min read

Who dis?

He calls himself Jeena. He’s a software developer. Have you got an idea of what type of person he is? Another fact, Jeena plays in a metal band. Now, how do you see him? Jeena loves photography as well. You’ve probably got a perception of who Jeena is, at this moment. Of course, you’d be wrong. Even as someone who has got to know him a bit more, I would be also be mistaken. That’s the one thing that brings us all together, we’re individual, imperfect humans.

Jeena is a fellow human I met online. He started a podcast and credited Paul and I as inspiration. While that’s one reason I like Jeena, I also enjoy the fact that he’s a world away in Sweden. A Polish man who lives and works in Sweden, dries meat, brews beer, plays in a metal band, and does a podcast. There is some crossover, but so much else that makes he and I different. Jeena’s most recent podcast is about FOSDEM (Free and Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting) and much of the topic might go over my head. Yet, I still listen with absolute joy.

Before you, or he, thinks that I’m going single white female on Jeena, let me say I enjoy his podcast, social feeds and website because it is a chance for me to see the world in a new way. In the first paragraph you may have started to make assumptions based on the tidbits of Jeena that I gave you. Those assumptions are based on your lived experience. My lens is one of North America. Another example, to someone who listens to rap or classical, Jeena’s love of metal may be confusing. Our lenses, our views of the world around us are so very limited.

A shallow perspective can be dangerous. When you learn Jeena lives in Sweden, what do you think about that country? High taxes? A cool temperature? After listening to all of Jeena’s podcasts so far, I start thinking it must be a pretty amazing place because his interviews are in English. Really? Do all Swedish people know 2 languages? That’s amazing! Of course, that’s an assumption that I just made, and it's likely not true. However, that’s why I like widening my world view, to keep teaching myself how little I know. I want to stop making poor assumptions. I want to embrace our differences, not use them to divide myself from others.

Learning more about Jeena and others in the world helps me on the bad days. I am reminded that 6800 km away something else is happening. The world isn’t as dark as I might see it, at that moment. This planet is full of other humans, some struggling and others prospering. On the good days, I can see similarities as Jeena has talked to people about filmmaking, ADHD, and video games. People in Sweden are different, and yet we have similar interests.

The other day someone asked, “What is the one thing that makes us human?” Her answer surprised me, “We’re imperfect.” We use the differences to divide us. By believing that my taste in music is better than Jeena’s joy of heavy metal, I am trying to boost myself. Like politicians trying to sway the votes in their direction, I am trying to make up for my feelings of insecurity. In truth, Jeena can play a musical instrument and I cannot. Thanks to my father, I know my way around a bicycle and could probably build one from the ground up. Perhaps Jeena is not as comfortable with that subject? The point is, we need each other. Perhaps, Jeena doesn’t need me to literally fly to Sweden to fix his bicycle, but we humans need each other. We’re pack animals. We’re social creatures. Those things that make us different are what make us amazing. We need to stop looking through our tiny lenses and have a much bigger world view.

sketch of Jeena

Thanks Jeena. Thanks to Mastodon, Dimitra, Spikey, Pierre, Jacob, Joe, Arturo, Jonathan, Jonas, Quoc, Al, Colette, and all my friends and family for helping to shape my view of the world. Thanks for being imperfect and trying your best. Make generous assumptions about the people around you. We’re all in this together, each and every one of us.

Positively Pessimistic

5 min read

 

A telemarketing company calls you for the 3rd time this week and you think to yourself, “They’re annoyingly persistent.” That evening you’re staying up past your bed time to finish the laundry. There’s nothing in there that you need tomorrow for work. No, you want to finish the laundry because you set a goal to have it done today and “I’m being stubborn!”

It’s curious, right? Telemarketers are slime and yet we had the courtesy to call them “persistent.” For ourselves, we use a word with a negative undertone, “stubborn.” Why is it so difficult to be kind to one’s self?

Thanks to the province and city I live in, I am able to get help to find some answers. Specifically, I’m learning why it is so hard to be positive. It turns out that I don’t particularly care for me. As such, if you were to call me persistent for seeking help instead of ending my life, I wouldn’t accept the compliment. “It’s nothing. Anyone can do it. It was easy.” On top of not taking credit for persistence, I would further strengthen my self-hate by thinking the fact that I need help is proof that I’m a failure. Every mental illness, every treatment, therapy and medication has a stigma. Why would I see “getting help” as a positive thing?

Stigma of Mental Illness

In the group sessions I attend there are a wide range of mental health issues. Each of them have their own stigmas and they vary by gender. I was discussing the power of The Mask You Live In, a documentary on how men are brought up, with someone at the centre recently. My new friend pointed out that Hollywood has a big influence. For example we may have compassion for women with schizophrenia, but all the men are depicted as violent killers. Pregnant women with addiction issues are blamed or judged in our culture. Since the perceived role of women in society involves bearing & raising children, we charge them with maintaining the moral values of our communities as well. Meanwhile, my depression is viewed as nothing more than a stumbling block. The idea that this is a temporary setback for me is related to the stigma of mental illness.

A 2015 study in Canada reported that 40% of people said they “experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.” Plus, 39% of workers surveyed shared that they would not inform their bosses if they had a mental health issue. Seven years before that study, a whopping “46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour.” Remaining positive as I try to heal is very difficult when the world sees me this way. Remember, how supportive you are to friends that break limbs. We’re even compassionate to people who lose limbs. Yes, their lives will change, but at least they’re still living, right? Many of us have mental health problems, but we’re still here. Support us, don’t shun us.

Sikk Is Sick

In order to help with my depression & anxiety I take medication and I work hard each day to quiet my pessimistic inner self. These are facts. Next year, I won’t be off the meds or working less hard. This is reality. It’s the goal going forward. The idea that I can drop the meds or the hard work is not the aim. People have come forward to my partner sharing stories of friends & family who have gone through similar episodes. Sometimes, they share their own stories of mental health. I appreciate those willing to openly communicate about mental wellness. The support is always helpful, but each case is individual. Be careful not to stigmatize those of us with mental health problems while trying to show support. It’s perfectly fine to be on medication, to go to group sessions and see a therapist.

The groups & therapist have challenged me to journal about my happiness. What are my talents or skills? What positive characteristics do I have? Well, I’m great at beating myself up. Does that count? Sorry, my negative self core is persistent when it comes to his job. Hey, look at that! I wrote “persistent” instead of stubborn. That’s positive right?

Yeah, so I have some work to do. I wanted to sit down and write about how difficult it can be to come up with positives at the moment. Yet, I typed a lecture about the mental health stigma in our society. Perhaps, composing a note on the perplex idea of being kind to myself would have challenged my negative outlook. In the process, I could have stumbled onto something positive. Today's blog seems to be some avoidance.

Alright, here’s something positive. I am not my mental illness. You are not your sexual preference. Your boss is not her political opinions. Your neighbor is not his race. That girl on the bus with the speaker blaring is not her choice in music. Your uncle is not his religion. We are humans. Let’s treat each other with respect and love with that in mind. Go hug someone. If you know my partner, start with her. She’s received lots of well-wishing for me, but she can use support and love as well. I have not always been an attentive spouse and my mental health is not an excuse. She can always use a coffee, a hug or safe space away from my recovery.

Thanks for reading. Much love to you.

Image: I hid everyone who posted Star Wars related things in FB.

There's not even ads.

If only we cared as much about humanity as we care about a Disney/Marvel film based on a brand.

THIS. Cards Against Humanity bought a Chinese Factory's capacity for a week to give the workers a paid vacation. https://www.cardsagainsthumanity.com/china/