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The Day After, Once Again.

We’re not getting any time to process this. The American government is still in place, but the damage is done, the insult complete. The assault on the Capitol building in Washington D.C. didn’t even get the dignity of having barbarians at the gate. It was carried out by people cosplaying as barbarians. Now it’s coming out that many of the rioters used their statuses as police officers and military veterans to get past the barricades.

It’s so difficult to figure out what I’m looking at here. Yes, there was a riot in the US Capitol. Yes, the rioters were disgruntled Trump supporters. They deserved to fail and get all the consequences this current system of government will afford them. Still, I feel like I’m playing this children’s story of what society is in my head, over and over again. It’s failing to explain all of this.

Is this a worker’s revolt? It doesn’t seem like it, the rioters were based out of the Hilton and flew in on their own dime. The body armor they wore doesn’t come cheap either. Is this the system trying to re-establish itself? If so, why did it fail so spectacularly? Where is this all leading?

There are lots of historical precedents for this. Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Mussolini’s march on Rome, even the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, which was a turning point in establishing segregation in the American South. The coups in Wilmington and Rome succeeded, and the Beer Hall Putsch led to the prison sentence where Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf”.

The facts are still coming in, but I think one thing is clear: Our ignorance is catching up to us. I didn’t know about the Wilmington Massacre until this week, and I’ve only recently started reading books about white supremacy like “Policing Black Lives” by Robin Maynard or “So you want to talk about Race” by Ijeoma Oluo. If we acknowledged how our societies are built on taking land, labor, and rights away from people we deemed “uncivilized”, we would have had a stronger sense of why Donald Trump’s rioters were wrong and how Black Lives Matter is trying to make our society safer. If we had a better grasp on society as it is, rather than what we wished it was, none of this would have happened.

I want to make a special shout out to everyone who said something like this would happen and were written off as anxious. I for one thought this would end in a comedy chase scene across the Mar-a-lago golf course, but the reality is more unsettling. It’s as if irony is not only dead, but has been re-animated in some kind of uncanny facsimile. It takes more than just anxiety to make these predictions. It also takes imagination and curiosity, qualities we’ll need a lot more of to get us through this.

Year One

So here it is, another 2020 year in review post. Sure, everyone’s doing them, and for good reasons. When you see so many lies fall apart in one year, your only option is to speak your truth.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. My family is healthy. My friends who got Covid recovered. I never had to stop working. If anything I feel like I got a dress rehearsal for this year in 2019. A tree fell on my in-laws house at the beginning of the year, and a pipe burst in my house flooding my family room at the end of it. We only just cleared out the clutter in our storage area from when we had to scramble posessions in and out of both houses in time for the new year. By the time the pandemic hit, it felt like it was just the latest in the series of crises. This was before the riots and the forest fires, of course.

I’m still crushed and exhausted by this year, but I think I might have underestimated my capacity a little. I don’t think stress is a true binary, like newtons of force or the seconds of time. You can maintain a holding pattern during a crisis, but suddenly you take on more work willingly and find more resiliency. Is it because you’re choosing your own ordered pain over the chaos of the world? Maybe. There are probably some really good studies about it that I don’t have in front of me right now.

It’s easy to focus on the negative. Our ancestors who only focused on the positive didn’t live to tell the tale. That tiger’s not going to care how many blessings you’ve counted if you don’t stay alert in the underbrush. There’s so much danger now, and not all of it clear and present, that we have to triage in ways that only Homo Sapiens can. 2020 wrecked us in ways that our ancestors couldn’t comprehend. How could we have foreseen that we would know exactly what to do to keep everyone alive, but not do it because our power structures wouldn’t allow it? We are used to thinking that our leaders are accountable, but the fact is during an emergency we are kind of held hostage by their incomplete decision making. Competing for control over those power structures isn’t going to help. This crisis was created by the concentrations of power we already have. To replicate those systems is to repeat our own mistakes.

This is why 2021 is the year we find our friends. No matter what form our society takes in the coming year, it will be made from the same thing: people. We need to find where we stand within our communities. We’re not out of the pandemic yet, so this is going to be tricky. The major social networks make this difficult, because they are about “engagement” and not communication. If you’ve ever taken a week off Facebook, you’ll notice how your notification bell howls in anguish at your absence. If you have connections you value on Facebook or Twitter, see if you can talk to them on some place smaller, like through a text message or a phone call. If you are able to, set up your own website to host your content. Put a link to your stuff in the comments wherever you are reading this. Put out more art, put out more thoughts, do not be a passive consumer to fate. We are still creating the future here.

A True Struggle

If the past is a different country, we are all a long way from home. All of our vacations, concerts and conventions have been cancelled. Millions are out of work. Hundreds of thousands are dead. The United States has been in constant civil unrest since George Floyd was murdered by police on May 25th. For comparison, the 1968 riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination only lasted 4 days.

What’s really infuriating is all the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, chances people in power got to make things right. So many peaceful protests, so much patience. Now all that goodwill has run out, and rightly so. The protesters who burned down that Minneapolis precinct enacted more change in a single week than most organizers can manage in decades. It’s got people worried that things are moving too fast, but we already know the consequences of moving too slowly. We’re living in them right now.

What’s more, I just feel betrayed when friends, teachers, and older relatives sound off on social media about “the rioters” and “the looters”. Like all those lives ruined by the police are acceptable casualties of a just society. Like they don’t matter. Especially sickening is this open letter published Harper’s magazine signed by intellectual magnates such as Malcolm Gladwell and Margaret Atwood. The letter defends the idea of having a “good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences”.

It’s one of those lovely liberal screeds that sounds perfectly reasonable if you remove it from the context of this universe. People don’t have equal access to free speech. There is a difference between an article in Harper’s magazine and a twitter account. The editor they mentioned that was “fired for running controversial pieces” ran an op-ed about how the US government should use military force against civilian protesters. One of the letter’s signatories, J.K. Rowling, has wrote several articles against the very existence of transgendered people, using the same logic that gets them regularly fired, de-homed, and murdered.

It is a chilling love letter to objectivity and the “marketplace of ideas”. People are now dying in the streets because of this so-called civility. People like Diaz Summer, who was killed on the same stretch of road where I used to drive my family on vacation. There have been 66 incidents of protesters being run over since George Floyd was murdered on May 25th. Do you think those drivers are swayed by “exposure, argument, and persuasion”? There is no debating with people like that. Certainly not the police who share memes like “all lives splatter”. Debate is something that takes place between parties who respect each other as equals, not between wannabe murderers and their potential victims. This is a letter is a call to treat real people’s pain like it’s an abstract thought experiment. It’s repulsive.

This is not to say that debating is useless, or that violence is inevitable. We can accept that there will be conflict in this day and age. We can accept that we have limited time and energy, and we don’t have to spend it on people who are going to be willfully ignorant. We focus so much on our relatives who share conservative memes and articles because of something called a Negativity bias. It is a real psychological phenomenon that causes us to focus on unpleasant things like your favourite children’s author going full TERF. I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this, for every high-school classmate who loudly proclaims they won’t take a COVID vaccine, you have at least 10 friends who are sharing protest news, bail fund donations, and links to social justice petitions. Message them, empower them, like, comment, and subscribe to what they’re sharing. We cannot depend on our leaders, we cannot depend on our elders, and we absolutely cannot depend on so-called liberal intellectuals who can’t stomach a mean comment on twitter. What can depend on, dear readers, is each other.

May the 4th be with you!

Even though I’m known as the “Star Wars” guy in a lot of my social circles, “May the 4th Be With You” always sneaks up on me. Should I have put up decorations? Should I hold a dinner? Should I invite that one relative with the controversial prequel opinions? I never know what to say on May the 4th, but after looking at some of the online discourse, I have some thoughts.

It seems like the final film, Rise of Skywalker, made nobody happy. It didn’t ask a lot the thematic questions that the Last Jedi did. Many characters that we fell in love with were sidelined, their arcs left unfinished. The final conflict was decided by the characters who screamed the loudest. And ultimately, we were reminded that these movies are directed by a bunch of white guys who don’t quite realize the hopes and dreams that these films carry. Hearts were broken. Boxes were ticked. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but I’m a little ashamed of it.

If you want to say Rise of Skywalker is a bad movie, I’m not going to disagree with you, but it’s getting to the point where these opinions are taking away from the goodness that was Last Jedi. I enjoyed Rise of Skywalker because I knew there was no way that it could follow the act of the Last Jedi. That movie parodied, deconstructed, and deified that franchise all in one movie. We were lucky to see it. For me, it was like watching Adam West’s Batman punching out Jared Leto’s Joker. All of the characters were experiencing this conflict between the holding on to the past and destroying it for the sake of the future. Rey had to convince Luke that she was worth training. Finn had to decide between running from the resistance and facing his former taskmasters. Poe had to grapple with the responsibilities of his command. They all made mistakes, people died, but by the end, they all grew a little, as characters should.

The next movie was complete cheese-whiz on microwaved buttered popcorn, but that shouldn’t overshadow that inspiration we discovered. Here’s the brilliant thing about Star Wars. We can fix the parts we don’t like. Do you know why? It’s fan fiction. George Lucas wrote it because he couldn’t get the rights to Flash Gordon. Just like how Nintendo created Mario after they couldn’t get the rights to Popeye. We can write our own stories where love triangles aren’t resolved by two of the people being brother and sister. We can have that marriage between a career politician and a high flying dumbass that works. Stories where protagonists don’t have to be white or straight. If you can’t write it, look for it. It may even already out there, and just hasn’t been served up by starving special effects artists yet. Did the Mandalorian have too much machismo for you? Try the Murderbot series! I love them both, but Murderbot has more emotional intelligence. The new novel is coming out tomorrow. We can find those stories that energize us, that make us grow, not by complaining about what we hate, but by celebrating what we love.

The Unfairness of Expression

Hello, everyone. To anybody who doesn’t know, my name is James Strocel. I’m speaking to you from the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. It’s April 1st. I’m in my basement, and in the madness of isolation, and the desperation of impending doom, I’ve done the most selfish, unforgivable act. I’ve created a podcast. Vlog. Essay type thing. You are hearing my voice right now. And that’s unfair.

I didn’t want to do this while history was raging around me. I wanted it be my own personal midlife crisis thing, where I figure out how to use a microphone, to talk to the camera, and how to do that thing youtubers do when they smash cut where there’s supposed to be a joke. It started off with a new years resolution after I made a blog post that got over 20 likes from my friends and family. Thank you, everyone, for encouraging my most pretentious impulses. It was then and there I decided tha like some people who bring out guitars at parties, I’m the guy who gets a pen and paper. I program websites for my day job, I love writing, people say they like my writing, but writing doesn’t pay enough to cover my mortgage. But I still love doing it, I love creating things. It’s just an impulse i have.

Even, I can’t escape the feeling of how fundamentally unfair it is that I’m doing this. People are dying, people have lost their jobs, and will lose their homes, and here I am in my house, surrounded by my family, with a job that I can do from home. The internet’s working, the utilities are on. My extended older family members are staying put for the most part. I live in a country with a single payer health care system. My car works. I have all the consoles. Because this happened while I was having a staycation, I got to prepare for the coming shelter in place guidelines.

Really, with all the safety and security in my life, right now. What right do I have to take up people’s time like this? There are many marginalized people out there who are being aggressively not listened to. There’s racism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, and just outright theft of people’s lives going on. You should be listening to Shelley Moore, or Naomi Klein, or Ijeoma Oluo, or Casey Explosion, people who have a direct connection to injustice, and have a platform to do something about it. What is the point of listening to yet another white guy, playing with his electronics, drunk on the fantasy, that anybody, anywhere, cares what he thinks?

Then again, maybe you’re just here to talk to me. Me specifically. You clicked the link, opened the file, or read the transcript because we know each other, maybe we’re acquaintances, maybe you’ve known me all my life. Maybe like me, you’re just kind of in a holding pattern and you want to do something more with your thoughts and feelings than bake sourdough bread. See, I love writing, writing stuff like this video. I am sharing it because I want to know if it’s any good. If it’s not, I learn and get better. I hope I can do one of these videos a week. I’ll talk about books I’ve read, things I see, things I’m doing. I don’t know if this has any value, but the value of everything now is such an open question. This is how I’m going to wrestle with it. With all of you. See you next time.