Librarian of the Internet. Collector of Stories.
2925 stories
·
38 followers

The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 3)

1 Share
Please consider becoming a patron. Cornered in the Office “You’re frightening me,” the Android Assistant 2100 said. “Put that thing away!” “Ha,” said Robert. “You should have seen the look on that hick’s face when I shot a glass jar sitting on a fence behind him. Oh, don’t be frightened: I rested my arm on […]





Download audio: http://johndaviddukejr.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/unwelcome-thrust-of-progress-1-3.mp3
Read the whole story
adamgurri
4 hours ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

The Minefield of Prejudice

1 Share

One common approach for discrediting an opponent’s ideas without engaging with them on their merits is to attempt to place them in an unsavory history. Critics since Nietzsche and his On the Genealogy of Morality have been drawn to the power of this method. Recent projects in this spirit include Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers, about the ideological allegiance of the early progressive economists to the principles of eugenics, and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, which attempts to tie the development of public choice economics to the “massive resistance” movement against desegregation. History of this kind is important, but to think that it is in itself discrediting is mistaken. We do not have a large menu of valuable frameworks on hand which lack troubling histories. Investigating the histories of frameworks is important precisely because we aren’t in a position to align ourselves with something entirely pure. It is therefore imperative that we wrestle with the potential dangers in how our ideas and other alignments prejudice us, and “genealogy” of Nietzsche’s sort can be an invaluable tool to that end.

We are not the third-person omniscient narrators of our lives. We approach everything from a perspective, an overall orientation. This orientation has many sources: our relations, culture, institutions, and the ideas we’re exposed to, to name a few. Every orientation is prejudiced. This is not categorically a bad thing. In any given situation, there are more details we could potentially pay attention to than we are in fact capable of paying attention to. Our orientation is determined precisely by what we think matters, tacitly as much as explicitly.

Of course, the fact that we need to be discriminating in our focus does not mean that all such discriminations are benign. I doubt it needs to be pointed out that a lot of our prejudices involve selectivity in what we focus on about other people, and that no small part of this involves lumping them into groups we can generalize about.

An unprejudiced orientation simply does not exist; it is a contradiction in terms. But this does not mean that we can be complacent. Acknowledging that we cannot see everywhere at once while driving a car does not stop the cars we cannot see from being potentially fatal to us—or us to them! We need to scrutinize the prejudices in our orientation, but we also need to be realistic about our ultimate goal. Contra Hegel, we cannot achieve complete illumination about our orientation, any more than we can see everywhere at once while we drive. But—at risk of overextending the metaphor—we can look extra closely at the direction we’re intending to turn, and compensate for any blind spots we’re aware of as best we can.

Scrutinizing the sources of our orientation is an important way we can learn more about our prejudices.

For example, I know that I have been heavily influenced by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. The entire framing of this post, in terms of orientation, prejudices, and their sources, is derivative of ideas either espoused or inspired by him. There’s one rather awkward problem, however: Heidegger joined the Nazi Party, and he did so before it was mandatory. What’s worse, in 1933, he gave a speech praising the Reich using the peculiar language of his philosophy. The political involvement and the ideas cannot be cleanly separated (nor should we assume they could have been if he hadn’t invoked his philosophy in the speech in question).

As a Jew, I am rather alarmed by Heidegger’s Nazism. I can point to others who employed Heidegger’s ideas or refined them, such as his student Hans-Georg Gadamer, who were not Nazis and were horrified at Heidegger’s actions. But that is too convenient. A most influential individual in the line of thinkers to which I have substantial allegiance was a Nazi. If I am to continue to employ their frameworks, I must accept responsibility for wrestling with this fact. In particular, I must ask: Are there specific prejudices and blind spots built into the framework which allowed becoming a Nazi to seem like a reasonable choice? This is not the place to pursue such an investigation, for which there is a large literature I could not begin to do justice to. The point is, precisely because I find a Heideggerian framework so valuable, I cannot shrink from asking hard questions about what Heidegger’s Nazism implies for it.

I am also a Democrat. Among Democrats, there are people with views on Cuba I find quite troubling. This ranges from those who only ever mention Cuba in order to praise its healthcare system, to full-blown Castro apologists. As a first-generation Cuban-American, I have always found this infuriating. But does aligning myself with the party that includes such people mean that I am enabling them? Or worse, that I am developing similar blind spots towards tyrannical regimes without realizing it? It should be obvious that as a partisan, I must consider how my party impacts politics and the public conversation. Less obvious is that I should also consider, and take responsibility, for how membership in my party influences me, that is, influences my orientation.

Genealogy as scrutiny

There’s no handbook for scrutinizing the sources of one’s orientation, though a great deal of contemporary art and academic work fixates on this very subject. It is necessarily a qualitative, judgment-based endeavor. That is troubling, given it is our judgment itself which is in question! This is why it is important to get perspectives other than your own, through direct conversation but also through secondary sources. But ultimately, there’s no escaping the fact that this is a hermeneutical investigation, where objective, independent verification may be entirely elusive. This is, after all, an attempt to know and improve yourself.

Let us take another example from my own orientation: I received my M.A. in economics from George Mason University. Possibly no single individual had an influence on the development of GMU’s economics department exceeding that of James Buchanan. But MacLean, a historian at Duke University, has attracted a lot of attention this year with her book Democracy in Chains, which attempts to tie Buchanan to the  to the racist legacy of the pro-segregation Byrd Machine in Virginia. Writer Marshall Steinbaum goes even further, claiming that Buchanan’s entire subdiscipline dehumanizes African-Americans, elaborating elsewhere that it was developed in order to “explain what happened when, for the first time in a long time, black people won the vote.”

Now, I am not especially well versed in Buchanan’s work specifically. Nor was public choice—the subfield he helped to found—something I took a class in at GMU, or have read much of since. Nevertheless, the public choice approach and Buchanan’s influence loomed large while I was at GMU. He came up frequently and small examples of how his analysis might be applied were common. I made many friends at GMU, and social media is such that my connections to it and to other alumni remain an important component of my orientation. In short, accusations of this nature are too important for me to ignore.

So I read MacLean’s book, and attempted to gauge what I could from citations for key passages. I’ve read countless criticisms and defenses of the book as well. And I’ve talked with people who have direct access to Buchanan’s archives, which have been professionally organized in the time since MacLean had access to them. Obviously, I could devote a lot more time to this question. Buchanan wrote an autobiography, and one thing lacking from MacLean and especially Steinbaum’s accounts is direct engagement with the substance of Buchanan’s works. But at this time I’m satisfied that MacLean’s evidence is thin and Steinbaum’s thinner still. For those interested, this is the best summary and this is a crucial piece of counter-evidence.

This is no grounds for complacency. Part of what made some of the accusations seem plausible is that I have noticed blind spots regarding race among some of the family of frameworks of which Buchanan’s is undeniably a part. I must continue to try and be wary of these potential blind spots in my orientation.

What’s the point of all this? In my mind, it isn’t about discrediting or defending, though defending someone’s intellectual legacy from being unjustly tarnished is a worthy activity in itself. When it comes the sources of our orientation, the challenge is that many are quite valid within a broad range of application. Elsewhere I put the matter more bluntly: For Some Values of X, Y = Genocide. The best possible framework may be terrible within certain ranges of application. One way of mapping these danger zones is to attempt to suss out what is implicit in our frameworks. But this approach is limited, and we can easily allow ourselves to articulate only a comfortable, innocuous seeming version of a framework.

It is important, therefore, to have recourse to a different method: looking at how a particular family of frameworks has gone wrong in the past. The purpose is not to determine whether or not the frameworks in question are tainted by the evils of the past. The purpose is to determine whether or not they are systematically bent towards such evils, and if so, under what circumstances.

Opposing prejudice explicitly is no grounds for complacency

Even if liberals and the left have taken on the mantle of opposing racism, sexism, and wicked prejudices of all sorts, they cannot afford to ignore the sources of their orientation. Implicit and institutional biases remain even among those who have explicitly denounced the biases in question. Perhaps no single individual was more influential on the 20th century left than Karl Marx. Putting aside the obvious problems that arose among Marxists specifically—although a small but growing group has begun once again to defend the indefensible—Marx’s antisemitism is well known. What is more, “On the Jewish Question” is considered so central to the development of his thought that it is standard to include it in collections of his writing. His criticism of capitalism is intertwined with his antisemitism in ways that any critic of capitalism employing frameworks on which he had influence ought to be concerned about. Again, this isn’t a matter of discrediting the left; if this kind of argument could accomplish such a thing, the present piece would be self-discrediting by employing Heideggerian logic while admitting Heidegger was a Nazi.

But such things must be wrestled with. So when Marshall Steinbaum and Bernard Weisberger set out to respond to Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers, I would have hoped they would address concerns of this kind. Leonard argues that eugenics was central to the orientation of the generation of progressive American economists who founded the American Economics Association. Steinbaum and Weisberger both draw heavily on those early progressive economists; indeed, they previously attempted to revive general interest in them. So surely they must either disprove Leonard’s assertions or take ownership of the troubled package they are buying into.

They do neither. In their first response to Leonard, they argue that:

[T]he exclusionary aspects of that scholarship are essentially absent from today’s progressivism. Nazism forever discredited eugenics and removed it from any progressive intellectual or political platform.

If Steinbaum and his co-author are right here, then it seems I can breathe a sigh of relief with regard to Heidegger, at least. If there’s one thing that Nazism’s defeat discredited more than anything else, it’s Nazism itself! Since the Nazi “aspect” is “essentially absent” from today’s philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger, they can stop trying to wrestle with why he became a Nazi and what it might mean for them. We’re in the clear!

No, I don’t think so. Rather, I find Steinbaum and Weisberger’s dodge quite troubling. Even more troubling is that their piece is rife with innuendo and fails to engage with any of the extensive source material that Leonard cites and quotes. Thankfully, by the time they wrote their second response to Leonard, a book review for the Journal of Economic Literature, they were willing to use the phrase “mandatory sterilization.” In their original piece they simply called it “collective action to control the birthrate.” Moreover, in their JEL review they assert that:

no eugenicist with any progressive links realized that the notion of innate inferiority could open the door to the mass murder of living populations.

A convenient argument which they provide absolutely no evidence to back. Imagine an apologist for slavery defender John C. Calhoun arguing that the man never realized arguing that African-Americans were innately inferior could lead to systematic mistreatment. Now consider the following statement from Richard T. Ely, one of the economists whose legacy Steinbaum and Weisberger appear to only take selective ownership of:

[T]here are classes in every modern community composed of those who are virtually children, and who require paternal and fostering care, the aim of which should be the highest development of which they are capable. We may instance the negroes, who are for the most part grownup children, and should be treated as such.

Steinbaum and Weisberger’s defenses of Ely boil down to listing the problems they have with Ely’s adversaries, and adding the claim that contemporary progressives have no danger of slipping into eugenics. I wish we could be so sanguine. But I think the occasional defenses of China’s one-child policy that crop up from time to time give reason to think eugenics is still very much with us, a specter looming in the background.

More to the point, if the last year has shown us anything, it is that a serious deterioration of ideas is going on amongst conservatives. We cannot allow them to be our benchmark of what is acceptable. We cannot allow ourselves to grow complacent, just because their prejudices seem clearly worse than ours. There are dangers lurking in liberal and leftist orientations that we may not be able to anticipate, if they only make themselves known in situations that haven’t played out before. We owe it to ourselves to at minimum explore the ways such orientations have gone wrong before, and take the risk of repetition seriously.

 

Featured image is  The Formation of Man by Prometheus with the Aid of Minerva , by Louis de Silvestre

Read the whole story
adamgurri
1 day ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

‘New Game!’ and the self-taught programmer blues

1 Share

New Game! is my favorite accidentally feminist anime—in an effort to populate the series with only cute girls and have them explore yuri relationships, it’s a show that features an all-female video game company that makes games for exclusively female gamers.

My favorite character is Nene, who has undergone some impressive character development this season. After leaving her Eagle Jump temp gig as a debugger, Nene goes back to college and decides to build her own game from scratch in C++ without using a game engine.

With the help of some dog-eared library books, she builds “Nene Quest” from the ground up, not only programming all of the code, but drawing her own graphics, too. As she continues, she seeks feedback (well, mostly praise) from classmates, friends, and her former temp boss, Eagle Jump’s lead programmer Umiko. For Nene, the best-case result of a finished program is hopelessly intertwined with validation from other people.

I’m not a C++ programmer, but I, too, am self-taught and I definitely saw ties between Nene’s work and mine as a web developer. I know the pain of having one errant curly brace crash your project. I especially found Nene’s approval-seeking very close to home.

Earlier this week I had an especially bad work day in which I had to deal simultaneously with a WordPress issue and with another WordPress developer talking down to me. It’s not so much that I resented him for doing so; it’s that I don’t have enough confidence in my own abilities to say I didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I didn’t get a Computer Science degree. I lack the intellectual and theoretical aspects of a degree, and my skills are narrowly focused on the tasks I’ve had to implement in the real world. I have weird gaps in my knowledge, like sometimes I don’t recognize the correct term for a type of function, even if it’s one I regularly write.

Nene’s skills aren’t where Umiko would like them to be, but Eagle Jump still hires her on a trial basis. Unfortunately, the approval she craves is short-lived. Her new colleague, Naru, has been studying programming since middle school and is mildly incensed that Nene started learning “on a whim” and accuses her of getting hired only because Umiko knows her. It hurts to see Naru drill into Nene like this, but Naru is right. Nene’s skills are impressive for just four months of practice, but she needs to put twice as much effort in to keep up with everyone else.

One of the best podcast interviews I’ve ever done was for Code Newbie, where I talked about being an amateur programmer. Two years later, I wrote about the imposter syndrome I’m still struggling with. Like Nene, I’m able to do my job, well even if I put my mind to it. But I’m not that talented. I Google solutions daily and sometimes seek help from other developers. I can’t do it alone, so I have a hard time allowing myself to feel like I deserve any praise.

I was wondering how Nene’s concerns about her comparatively low skills would manifest at an all-woman company. In our world, women are few and far between in tech jobs, which adds another layer of anxiety for me—I sometimes feel like I’m constantly serving as a representative for all women. Since New Game takes place in a world without men, Nene doesn’t deal with the anxiety of being a minority. Instead, her female coworkers are the instigator she needs to excel, even if it doesn’t always feel that way to her.

Naru’s prodding and Umiko’s guidance (and potential praise) help Nene push her impulsive, fun-loving tendencies aside to put her all into her work. I feel the same way: working with other people keeps me from getting too down on myself or too stagnant in my work. For a self-taught developer, a support system is a great way to determine whether your skill level is too low or outdated. And for a developer who might not be able to find validation internally, Nene can earn it through showing her hard work off to her mentor.

The second season isn’t over yet, but I’m thrilled to see how far Nene has come. I especially love that she’s not a genius and she’s not always as focused as she should be—but she’s always respondent to feedback, even if it isn’t positive. Nene’s story shows me that maybe it’s not such a bad thing to rely on friends and mentors a little. Whether you’re self-taught or educated, none of us really does it alone. Listening for not only praise, but tough-love critique, can help us get better, no matter what skill level we’re at. 

New Game! is streaming on Crunchyroll. 

Read the whole story
adamgurri
2 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

ETERNITY LEAVE

1 Share

protectedimage

It would probably not come as too destabilizing a shock for one to know that I have a history of neuroses. And in my younger years they were, by very possibly every standard, somewhat eccentric. In elementary school I had a fear of dragonflies. By middle school I risked panic attack every time a classroom was handed over to a substitute teacher. I’m sure this is all very amusing; it is to me, don’t worry. But I can’t imagine it seemed that way to my parents, who had to shepherd me from therapist to psychiatrist and back, not to mention three different elementary schools to accommodate my learning disability, to put me on an even keel.

One of my more acute issues was some variant of separation anxiety. It proved rather resistant to the talking cure, so when I was about eight, my mom took a more proactive approach. On a Saturday afternoon, she drove me to the elementary school I was then attending, sat me at the front bench with a pad of paper, and left me there for some 20 minutes. Though it was a nice enough day there was not a soul in sight as far as I can recall, save two older girls who walked up, asked me what I was doing and, upon hearing my candid reply, looked at each other in understandably perplexed silence before walking away.

Having carried that experiment with the austere dignity of a John C. Calhoun portrait, this pattern would hold for much of my childhood and adolescence. Even in college I was propelled along through Mom forcing me, from 70 miles away, to join things and be social. Though the specific moments of “strong encouragement” were beneficial at select turns, it left an enduring impression on me. If I was to improve at all, it was through effort. Even misfired effort done in good faith, I convinced myself, would bare some reward. I don’t think I was quite right there, but even so, I took it upon myself to assume a self-presentation that was outgoing. I accepted invitations, solicited my time and services, developed personal charm, and traveled alone more often to unfamiliar places, all in the hope of forging a network where I didn’t always have to be so fucking gregarious.

Success was not always consistent, but every time it came it left me wondering why I hadn’t done this sooner. What a revelation it was that being normal wasn’t very hard at all with some practice. In fact I had come to realize that I enjoyed talking to people and could even be very easy going in new company. It was a slow but illuminating education on how humanity kept moving.

But every time I think I have the norm pegged, its mysterious keepers pull the rug up from under me.

“Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day,” writes Jonathan Rauch. “Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk?” This is the opening passage to his 2003 Atlantic article, “Caring for Your Introvert.” In it, Rauch declares himself and others as part of a little-known, perhaps even oppressed “orientation” (emphasis his), who are neither consistently shy nor misanthropic but who are nonetheless tired by people. And they would like some goddamn recognition.

The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts’ Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.”

There’s quite a bit tongue being planted in cheek here, but it’s hard to otherwise see this as a catalytic document for an emergent national mood. I had known nothing of introverts or the Myers-Briggs test until a few years ago. Now the content farm is bountiful in the introversion crop. Psychology Today gives “Nine Signs You’re Probably an Introvert.” The Huffington Post boasted 23 more. The process, it seems, is to confirm one’s introversion and to report to Buzzfeed in perpetuity. A joke that Buzzfeed assures “will make introverts laugh more than they should” is a tweet that simply reads “Can’t. On eternity leave.”

I suspend judgment as to whether the wave of introversion is sincerely felt or part of an ongoing trend (I can’t recall where the Myers-Briggs classifications were likened to astrology for the Neil deGrasse Tyson set, but it works). Its impact is more certain to me, and it’s proving at the very least to be competitive with other social phenomena (Trumpism, heroin) for long-term tangibility and consequentialism.

Ever since it was profiled in Fast Company earlier this week, the service startup Bodega has been pilloried without relent on social media. Founded by former Google employees, Bodega “sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the ‘store.’” The pantries are designed for multiple locations: gyms, offices, apartment and dorm complexes, etc.

The outcome, as it is framed in the article, is to offer a more convenient alternative to the convenience store. But Bodega was very quickly taken down several pegs by the fact that Bodega sounded like a glorified vending machine, and that similar, less convoluted pantries are already in place in offices and hotels. Though Helen Rosner at Eater agrees that Bodega is ridiculous. Its business model is a mess. But Rosner pushes back against critics saying it’s just another redundant product like Juicero. “I think a better analogy is Blue Apron,” she writes:

Like Bodega, Blue Apron took something that involved leaving the house and engaging in moderate human interaction — in their case, grocery shopping for dinner — and slickly repackaged it in a way that it seemed actually to be selling a balm for recipe anxiety. Bloomberg’s always very smart Matt Levine called it “a tech company in the sense that its product is not meals, or ingredients, but simulacrum.” The problem was that the simulacrum wasn’t proprietary. As soon as it became clear that there was a demand for meal kits, everybody else got in on the action, too. (Emphasis mine.)

Companies like Bodega and Blue Apron are, as Levine puts it “virtual-reality companies,” curing modern life of once-unavoidable daily hassles—like shopping. But as Rosner points out, Blue Apron is struggling in an oversaturated market, and so will Bodega. I would not dare to question the more immediate and far more sophisticated analysis of these two, but I find the essence to which they cut both services down hard to overlook. Indeed, to look at the creators of Bodega as actual businessmen, with a practical strategy to turn a profit, is a mistake. Many entrepreneurs go out of their way to pose simultaneously, perhaps primarily, as visionaries. For once this might actually be the case.

If the Bodega creators and other internet and tech titans lack any feasible way of doing actual business, they have at the very least a coherent understanding of where society wants to go: nowhere. It wants to stay in, to curate, and to exclude. The problem of overstimulation is eased by the ability to manage stimulation. The freedom of access gives way to the power to mute, even to block. The global village of Marshal McLuhan gives way to E.M. Forster’s machine-dependent, physical interaction-repulsed cell dwellers in “The Machine Stops”:

There were buttons and switches everywhere—buttons to call for food for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.

This is the shut-in economy. It will come about gradually of course, and with little to no enabling of a devastated earth as it had been in Forster’s story. The fall of each inconvenience like profane icons happens not all at once but through quaint revelations almost in passing. One botched beta test or sunken IPO will, in time, give way to a genuine article. And then another. And then another. Soon the personal population of one’s life is brought down to the most brutal of bare minimums. Soon neighborhoods will become quieter, and homes less lively, evinced with no greater activity than the glow patterns in the windows. Soon no one may notice when one goes completely dark.

The shut-in economy is not one steeped in laziness but in hyper-minimalism, first of the material kind. “The cyber-lords have already convinced us that maps, paper, pens, and even push buttons are somehow incredibly inconvenient and clumsy, leaving us scraping and pawing like drooling bug life on their flat digital dildos,” writes Ian Svenonius. “Google’s search engines and applications have likewise taught us to refrain from using our apparently out-of-date and hopelessly inefficient brains.” And also of the emotional kind. We would be cleaned of all unnecessary strain on our social graces and patience. This hits service, retail, and shipping first and ruthlessly. Then it eats into relationships. What is a relationship? It is at once right next to you and passively filed away somewhere, to be accessed as need dictates.

We’ve become accustomed to a great deal of this already. The power to while away weekends with whole televisions seasons that melt time almost in an instant is an impressive gateway drug. But people looking for a sudden reversal or “cure for convenience” are encouraged to read, I don’t know, Matthew Crawford and not me.

My history of anxiety is active. And though my current afflictions are less comical than they once were, they remain burdensome. I am afraid of driving, not the right thing to be in the suburbs. My journey to get my license was long, ending after two attempts on the road and as little as five attempts on paper. But anxieties can invigorate as much as cripple. One thing I didn’t see coming as I sat stiffly on the school bench was my aversion to inertia. These are never easy to reconcile, but a world with far fewer people and far greater space might be the surest way to their management.

Even with easy sociability I still take pleasure in near-empty consumer spaces. I go to the diner, the grocery store, the library, and sometimes the movie theater outside of peak hours. I am tantalized by the prospect of a society were all hours are off-peak, and where the new norm is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Not that this is sustainable, of course. Each business will vacate in time, leaving plaster and concrete husks to the elements and to a social being made new thanks to the retiring multitude. I will miss their company. But if they want to live vicariously through my Instagram feed that is their choice. Thankfully for them I would be able to take it further than I thought possible.






Read the whole story
adamgurri
6 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

What to Bring

2 Comments and 8 Shares
I always figured you should never bring a gun to a gun fight because then you'll be part of a gun fight.
Read the whole story
adamgurri
6 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete
2 public comments
Covarr
6 days ago
reply
"Why did you bring a knife to thanksgiving dinner? We have enough silverware for everybody."

"I know. The knife is for something else."
Moses Lake, WA
alt_text_bot
6 days ago
reply
I always figured you should never bring a gun to a gun fight because then you'll be part of a gun fight.
eriko
5 days ago
You should away bring a gun to a knife fight. That way you can stop the knife fight.

Anime and the people we used to be

1 Share

My little sister recognized Death Note’s Misa instantly from my Netflix queue.

“That’s the girl you used to draw all the time!” she exclaimed and darned if she wasn’t right. I was in my freshman year of college back then, but I was home for every break, doodling anime characters in the corners of my biology notes. Misa was especially iconic, a goth in pigtails who defined the next five years of lazy anime convention cosplay. She’s the crux of Death Note’s surprisingly sincere love letter to a specific era of Japanese goth-rock aesthetic.

After the train wreck that was the Netflix Death Note live action, I’m rewatching the anime again. So different to see it in high definition rather than pirated pixels on a bad DSL connection. I’m shocked at how little I remember. And after my sister’s comment, I realized I barely recognize the person I was when I first saw it, during my freshman year of college.

When I came home for winter break from college, I hardly recognized my own home; my parents had redone the kitchen in granite and put a pool in the backyard. My little sisters already looked different from the photos I had of them on my dorm room desk. At college I had been a little homesick, but back here I already missed my dorm and my new friends. I was in between homes and I didn’t know where I belonged anymore.

But anime has always been there for me during times like these. I remember watching Death Note because I used its labyrinthic, thriller plot to escape my problems. I related most to Light—not his sociopathology, but the way he increasingly isolated himself, drawing inward while slowly, the outside world become wholly uninhabitable to him, populated with people he couldn’t relate to or trust. An overdramatization of my own withdrawal, sure, but great TV for a girl who felt kind of lost.

Rewatching it now, the best moments are the scenes that prod my memory; that not only force a reaction, but the knowledge that I’m reacting differently to it now than I did 10 years ago. Back then I was as old as Light, L, and Misa are, and they seemed all the more intimidating for being my peers. Today, I feel so much more compassion for how young they are. Today, I feel so much more sympathy for my former self, watching this to escape her own loneliness.

I have these mental triggers for so many other shows. I’ve discussed how Welcome to the NHK helped me out of a depressive episode I went through while job hunting. I shared how The Devil is A Part Timer reflected my transition to freelance. Honey & Clover will always make me think of my budding relationship with John (it was the first anime he ever recommended to me), and though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, Nerima Daikon Brothers will always make me think of how I used to blast those peppy musical numbers after fights with my parents, tears still streaming down my face as I sang along. Less notably, Masamune-kun’s Revenge got me into weight-training (Masamune is a fitness nut).

This isn’t unique to anime. When we read a book or watch TV or look at art, ourselves come flooding into the experience. Anime is ostensibly an escape, but when we show up to process what we’re seeing, our own narratives are what help us put this story in context. Our surroundings as well. I was so surprised my sister remembered my drawings because until then, I didn’t consider the way my experience watching Death Note affected the people around me.

Can you separate a show from the person you were when you watched it? I don’t think I can. Rewatching a show is less about revisiting a storyline than looking for glimpses of that girl who watched it first, the person I used to be.

Misa in disguise, Death Note episode 13. 

Read the whole story
adamgurri
10 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories