On Facebook being the Matrix and how I still need the Kool Aid

I learnt recently that Matrix 4 was being created. Although I am cynical, I also still think of the Matrix as one of the all-time greatest statements on society ever made (I may also harbour some secret feelings about its potent mysticism and ‘awakening’ properties, but let’s not go there).

Some part of me is looking forward to the release of Matrix 4 because I wonder if it can seek to address, at least in part, some of the immense problems that the Matrix, i.e. reality, is facing at present. But the other part of me is also sadly aware that it has well and truly gone passed its prophecy powers and will most likely be at-worst an action-packed superhero flick, or at-best a Bladerunner 2049-style masterpiece. I mean, could it really be to 2019 what the Matrix was to 1999?

Anyway, I digress. Or more to the point, I have begun this post with a digression because every time I try and discuss this topic, I am overrun with multiple tangents and I figured I may as well begin with one as a way in:

Over the last four months I have tried to reduce how often I use Facebook, and whilst it was an initial success it has now gone the other way, with both Facebook and Instagram acting as my vein-tapping delights for both a morning and evening dose of gape-mouthed scrolling. Whilst social media use conjures up many suspicions in me, not the least of which that it subconsiously encourages me to compare myself to others and berate or aggrandize myself in the face of their achievements, I have been turning to it as a salve against the sense of disturbance that I feel from the rapid uptake in general news media that has accompanied my weening off the ‘book.

Why? Well, as most of us have already been discussing on a near day-to-day basis, the world seems really fucked right now and the levels of fuckery that it is capable of reaching feels to be hastening multiple potentialities for the (either fast or agonizingly and horrifyingly drawn out) apocalypse of some kind. (Haha, that’s so funny how I’m exaggerating and being melodramatic! Isn’t it. Ha. *delirious smile*).

As I ween off Facebook and try and re-intelligent myself on the world by intaking multiple sources of news from various reputable sources, I end most reading sessions with a heavy sigh and a density that is stifling to carry through the day.
Whilst I can understand that I am in the process of coming to grips with the terrifying reality of a world that is absurdly and persistently cruel, incapable of logic and humanity, transparently corrupt, and driving with full force towards event horizon, it is a separate realisation that irks at me:

What if the world was always this way and we were just buffered from it?

It is important at this point to identify that there are multiple worlds of fucked-upness that we could be talking about. I feel the need to articulate these:

A) The ‘world’ of fucked-upness that we perceive if we use Facebook a lot (which is algorithmically and network-ly inclined to feed certain kinds of information through)

B) The ‘world’ of fucked-upness that we perceive if we read a range of news media from reputable sources regularly.

C) The ‘world’ of fucked-upness that we perceive if we read a range of news media from reputable source regularly, crossreference those with other articles to fill in gaps of bias, and read books and independent news journalism from around the world that are non-corporate affiliated.

Admittedly, I am only just coasting B) level ‘world’ right now, and I can tell you that it is significantly different from A) level ‘world’ (Note: Guys.. FB seriously fucks with your news media. If this is the primary news source, the reader may as well be in a timeless loop of outrage and baloney).

But my point is not to make you feel guilty, or outraged, or even that you should particularly give a shit about any of those levels of ‘world’. I am simply pointing out that the more I am finding out about B) level ‘world, the more I find myself dipping back into A) level ‘world’ for a hit of the good fluffy stuff. And it feels to me like I am slowly just plugging myself back into the Matrix.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the scene in The Matrix where Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) is sitting with Agent Smith (evil guy) at the restaurant and selling out the secrets of his comrades so that he can get set up with the perfect faux-life. He describes the woman he wants to be with, the house, his wealth. And then he holds up a piece of steak on a fork and looks at Agent Smith and says: You know.. I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth; the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years.. you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.

Is it though? I think it is more like: ignorance is manageable. That is, it is easier to feel that there is an X out there that is large and looming that we do not know than to scratch the surface of the giant meteor coming towards earth that may or may not be X.

Do you remember the good old days when we used to watch “the news”? When you would come home from school and monopolise the television until 7pm when your parents would wrangle the remote away because “the news”. When Ian Henderson and Lee Lin Chi and Indira Naidoo would tell us everything we needed to know that was important in the world. And then, we would all move on with our lives (i.e. with Seinfeld or Friends or whatever the hell was on after the news).

I think nostalgically about this memory, missing those gatekeepers that we trusted to sift the news from the chaff. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that those gatekeepers might have just been our 90s Facebook. And although we trusted them more, and they seemed to fuck with us less than they do now, all of it is still the proverbial Matrix and we were, and are still, plugged in. The only difference was that back then we didn’t have a choice, and now we do.

A friend and I were discussing the other day that perhaps growing old is just a process of moving from idealistic hope to cynical realism; a gradual decline into accepting the cruel, cruel world described by Dr. Cornel West. I don’t necessarily think that thinking the world is a piece of crap and spending each day in existential panic should be part of this, but I do wonder if it is some sort of rite of passage to shift from fear and outrage to a sort of post-horror ‘wokeness’ (for want of a better term). What if our outrage is not new? What if the corruption of the world at large is a stablemate of our species? What does it mean for us to break the cycle if we are Matrix-ly inclined to reenact the rhetorics that perpetuate it? How do we self-define and what ‘issues’ are we doing that in relation to? Where did we get that information from and what path are we performing?

These are all questions I am pondering as I toggle between Facebook and my ‘self-curated’ Google News feed. For now, I keep sipping from the Facebook Kool Aid to numb the reality of the world and to share my blog (even though fuck you Zuckerberg for consistently selling private data, overseeing the circulation of fake news, interfering with democratic process, promoting climate change denial and extremist hate speech)

At some point, I hope to Neo-up and just pull this junk straight out of my head, leaving only the scars of sobriety behind. Even if the red pill seems likely to have one hell of a comedown.

Image: NI, Istanbul,

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On Trying Not to Think About Refugees, Class Privilege and the Climate Apocalypse Whilst on Holidays

I probably shouldn’t have chosen to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie whilst holidaying on a Greek island if I didn’t want to think about said topics whilst on holiday, but equally it might have been difficult to have had a classically ignorance-is-bliss vacation on any Greek island if you have been plugged into any kind of news media over the last week.

I am really into freddo espressos. I should admit this upfront. They have reintroduced my love of sugary coffee with a fervour, combining the cocaine-like goodness of the white gold with my already well-nursed addiction to coffee (churned with a tonne of ice in 35 degree heat). I order them and they unfailingly arrive in a plastic cup with a plastic lid and a plastic straw (in plastic packaging). Europe loves plastic, and no doubt the plastic companies love Europe. Resisting the packaging seems futile in a place that often responds to your refusal of a straw with the non-requested gifting of a plastic stirrer that goes straight into the cup. Did I mention that tap water is undrinkable on the island? Add a few litres of plastic bottles to that equation and hey presto – the impending ecological collapse feels undeniably the fault of you and every other holiday-maker on any equatable island in the world.

But back to Chimamanda: I read Americanah and can’t help but feel grateful for the fact that this writer has articulated her experience of being a ‘Non American Black’ in a way that allows me – an Indian (Australian citizen), brown woman – to feel a little less guilty about my non-compliance to asserting the appropriately nuanced political stances that a Person of Colour/Progressive Leftie ought to have in the Western world in 2019. What this book suggests to me, or more importantly, what resonates with me from this story, is that perspectives on race, class and politics occur in context to one’s experiences across various geographic locations and who/how they are perceived as in those locations. The benchmark is always shifting depending on where you’re standing. Added to that is the fact that your conditioning under the social and cultural mores of multiple cultures can collide with one another and manifest into multiple grey areas on how you see the world. Depending on both your experiences of prejudice and class privilege, and on the opinions and experiences of those around you, you could be occupying various points across the political spectrum simultaneously. Political ideologies have a long and global history and even simple statements can often be coopted into (and read as) the rhetoric of propaganda despite your best intentions.

How could this happen? As I unfold on my sunbed among my holiday-making peers who are for the most part European/British/American/Australian, whilst a few kilometres away people fleeing violence and war bank upon the islands of Samos and Lesvos and crowd into camps of inhumane conditions, (to be later possibly processed into countries governed by anti-immigrant politicians) it seems to me that the answer is what is so often called privilege. Race privilege? Class privilege? Passport privilege? All of the above? Yes, and No. Because all of the above collides and coagulates depending on what/where you are talking about, and nobody has the perfect answer without throwing somebody else’s experience under the bus (which all current political ideologies seem to do).  This is the symptom of systemic dysfunction. So these influences occur, yes, but is that all that is at play? I’m not sure.

This not-sureness plagues at me as I watch the bobbing waves over my sundrenched belly and feel the rising existential crises within myself.

I listen to Dr. Cornell West and Joe Rogan discuss race politics, music and art on a podcast. West talks about how the greatest flaw of the American dream is that ‘the dream’ tends to regard an indvidualised sense of liberty, and rather those of us with liberty ought to work to assist others less fortunate to gain access to that liberty. I hear this, and agree with it, and think about how often immigrants come into the country of their salvation and pursue their own version of this American dream. They/we want this safety, security and wealth for themselves and for their families, and they want to leave the conflicts of the past far behind and be left the fuck alone after everything they have been through. I think about how much my upbringing, and that of so many in my community, has been about pursuing that neoliberal dream hard enough that I become untouchable (pardon the pun dear Indians), peaking at the hierarchy of the Australian (model minority) dream.

Privileges grow and change, ideologies collide, frictions mount, and no one is who they were anymore.

Clearly though, for so many of us – brown, white, purple and otherwise – who achieve this safety, we reach the top and look out at the world and say: what the fuck? And then we start to descend the stairs of the capitalist pyramid scheme (albeit with the embodied sensibilities of someone who has had it all), to try and help The People.

Which people? The refugees? The disadvantaged? The sick? The poor? The depressed-anxiety-laden-opioid-addicted-millennial? The 12-year old Ethiopian boy trying to walk to Saudi Arabia whilst wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Always Seems Impossible #Until Its Done’?

My mind goes spiraling in trying to crack – in a few hours – the nut that most spend their entire lives breaking open. What should I do to help this situation? How can I gain access to the resources I need to do it? What is the pressure-point of the problem? What is my role in improving this?

Needless to say within said few hours I am shorn of any holiday cheer that my environment seems to subliminally demand. Every known avenue of potential salvation seems mired in the impending apocalypse. Human beings are too fucked, I think to myself; this chaos is too far gone, too systemically embedded for anything to truly reverse the situation. My heart is cloudy and I stay away from the waves lest I should sink from my general surrender to doom. I go online for that other addiction, but I realise quickly that social media, like sugar, will only distract me in further hype and procrastination rather than provide any real solutions. Instead, I allow the seeming truth to sink in: my complete and utter powerlessness to change the world.

It seems lame that this should depress me, seeing as how I have had this realisation cyclically and reliably over most of my young life (except when I’m hopped up enough on said sugar or some sort of post-art buzz that fills me with real hope). But simultaneously it dawns on me that it is a trap to fall into the depression that this realisation beckons.

West says to Joe that the world is a cruel, cruel place, and that any individual, group or collective that thinks it is the messiah is dangerous. Rather, he says, we ought to work towards the connection and inspiration we can provide for each other. The hope and the love we are able to cultivate despite the despair.

What this says to me is that somehow love and hope must exist alongside suffering and despair. That my falling into despair at the cruelty of the world only seeks to deplete whatever hope and love I might be capable of if I had not already conceded defeat. What also occurs to me that despite empathy and compassion for others, multi-billion lives occur across the world that are each subject to different experiences, and that whilst the internet now connects us to each others experience, it is not our experience. So, if I try and deduce from this fluffy-feel-goodness something of value it comes out like this: my falling into despair is not helping the situation.

So I reluctantly decide that right now, i.e. whilst on holiday inbetween working contracts and figuring out where I’m supposed to live and where money is coming from after the next six months, is probably not the ideal time to brood over the existential crises of the coming climate-change-mass-migration-civil-conflict-resource-depletion-apocalypse with any appropriate sanity or attention. Right?

I sleep. I drink one less freddo espresso. I finish Chimamanda and submerge myself in the salty water. I let ideas float in and jot them down in my notebook, and see emails from others who are actualising their small acts of love and hope and inspiring me to feel like I could do the same. I listen to another podcast by Russell Brandt and Brene Brown and consider their stances. I hear them say that a spiritual path can and will save the current political climate of the world.

And – rightly or wrongly – I call bullshit.

It turns out I can be full of love and hope, and still hold the despair and injustice. I can believe in inspiration, and still observe where race and class privilege breed short-sighted and feel-good rhetoric – both in myself and in others. I can meditate and practice yoga, and still feel unwavering in my belief that fundamental socio-political, economic and structural adjustment is required for us to actualise those spiritual beliefs. I can be on holiday and feel despair and still find, amid this all, the inspiration to go back to work.

All the little /griefs.

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something wants to be said, then.
of all/this little
/grief.

the stray cries upon the roof.
the street loses power for 27 minutes.
he takes his life.
crop fields burn,
in (some other) retribution.

are we must to warring?

joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world- Campbell.
another says such buddhism is too wont to death.
a different reading: shared sorrow is perhaps the clearest indication we have that we have not lost our humanity. in the smoggy chaos ad absurdum, this is sure cause for
joy.

is it the violent rupture that gifts us liminality in which to truly situate our ‘ness?

everyone who knew him is together in the aftershock.
they turn toward that time a decade ago when he walked passed, smiled and
/we are all strangers baptized to intimacy upon demise.

a rubber mat is placed on the parquetry and the dull blue of dusk pixelates short-sighted vision. a silent prayer gives this practice to his memory. what does it mean to dedicate the sweat and composure of moving limbs and postures to the memory of a man you barely knew? it is these acts of humanity that occur as self-reflexive, embodied affirmations to the living.

a ‘ness of some essential being, counterpointing flesh and bone and thought, with near awareness of the no-time emptiness that Is.

a graze upon the borderlands of dwelling, with a perpetual and focused return to breath. each inhalation lives the question of what it is to exist. each exhalation surrenders to never knowing.

when the power returns, the candle is blown out.
neighbours clear from the courtyard and resume the life they were living
/unpaused.

a minor shift
to the turning of things in their order.
/

sleep is a resolute luxury,
to a body that is,
urgently living.

 

 

A [quiet] return

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It was innocent enough, see.

It was adding photographs and (volunteer) commission pieces. It was adding images taken by other volunteer professionals. It was an attempt, here and there, ever so mild at first until it became the main game, of appearing the way that one needs to appear if one wants to be taken seriously as a ‘Creative’. If one wants to secure that grant, or be programmed, or prove that you’re capable of the frightening capital ‘A’.

Oh. You’re an A**ist. How delightful.

I look back on the old blog posts I used to write and sense clearly that some innocence has now been lost. It is the innocence with which one arrives at the computer at some ungodly hour of the morning, not to delve into critical theory and create sound foundations for That Big Project that Maybe Your Present Career Depends On, but rather because one had a sense about the meaning/fracture/potential of existence; love; consciousness; darkness; or whatever-the-fuck it is to be a human at this point.

Yes. Such exploration is commonplace among those Ar***ts. It is also commonplace among You. Yes. Literally, everybody reading this and most humans who have walked upon the earth.

I have recently had enlightened upon me the articulation of my frustration with said A*t**t label, as I strive and strive away and yet feel a hollowness in the place where I used to put up the poems that I wrote (NOT the poems considered of sound quality for literary prose journals to blast out on their social media) alongside whatever image I found online that aptly represented my feelings at that moment. A flower. A watercolour painting. A hand. A homeless man holding a sign that said ‘God is a Sock’. (etc). And somewhere along the way, such cut-and-clag efforts towards capital A art became liabilities to my potentiality for a ‘profession’ in the capital-‘A’s.

It could be said that this rant in itself, and the slow morphing of my personal blog into an official ‘ARTIST SITE’ is proof that I achieved a goal. Yes. I’ll take it. I strove and strove away with a loyal crew of fellow amazing humans and got together some semblance of what could be said is a portfolio. Oh la la!. (No, but seriously, I’m very proud of it and thanks everyone who helped me for real.) BUT on the other side of climbing this mountain, I look down and it appears those first few innocent steps that got me here have been desecrated, hidden behind high-resolution images and polished references to critical theory.

I don’t want to be that person. Correction: I don’t just want to be that person. And this other person under here that is not polished and presentable and has existential thoughts for much of the time is STARVED for connection/communication/human-chaos-life-vomit-in-text-form to other ordinary humans who don’t care about my capital-A endeavours.

So… what I am really asking is… can we be friends again? Yes, you dear reader, old or new, that was with me once in my innocent, playful, existential, ranty, ways. Do you want to get back together?

I can’t promise you it will be the same as it was before because, let’s face it, the only law we know is change. But I can promise you unfettered access to my intense impulse towards existential and life-pondering thoughts as I try and make my way through this very strange and interesting time in my being.

If you said yes, read on. And if you said no, read on anyway.

As far as I’m concerned, we’re back together.

So hold on to your cups of tea and let’s dive in shall we.

l*ve,
N