Thursday, November 27, 2014

What's at Stake: A Letter to My Family

Last night, I sent an email to my white, predominantly conservative family. My partner, Jocelyn, forwarded it to her white, predominantly conservative family. One of her family members was touched and asked me to post it publicly.

I realized that it was hypocritical to protest to strangers both online and on the streets of Seattle, while ignoring just a single appeal to my family. I can be just one more sign-holding body in a crowd, but I am more likely to influence those who know me. That thought stuck in my brain until I wrote and sent the email.

After I wrote this letter, I heard an additional, chilling statistic. Death by police is the second leading cause of homicide in the state of Utah, where I was born. In the state where Darrien Hunt was killed for wearing a samurai costume. More citizens are killed by police, than by gang members, drug dealers, and child abusers. What could scream police state more than that?

SUBJECT: What's at Stake...

I wouldn't normally send a political email to family. But this is personal. I don't need you to agree with me, I don't want you to argue with me. I don't need you to do anything except consider these deeply felt concerns from a member of your family. 

Sending this is is a little scary. I'm writing this with shaky hands. But I feel impelled, because this is perhaps the most important cause going on in my lifetime.

I was raised in a certain political environment, one in which I learned Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist, an instigator, an anti-American. I was taught that the protests of the Civil Rights Movement were drummed up by communist thugs trying to overthrow our American way of life. I learned all the reasons why the marches and riots of the 60s were unneeded and unjustified.

But I also learned that I had the right to protect my life and property, with force, if needed. That if the state began to infringe on my rights, I should be willing to fight to the death to protect my liberty. I learned about the power of the Bill of Rights, especially the First and Second Amendments. 

At home, I learned that freedom wasn't free. That sometimes, it had to be fought for.

So on Monday, I protested the fact that Darren Wilson will not stand trial for killing a black teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. I held up traffic. I stood before a line of impatient drivers, held up my hands, and chanted, "Hands up! Don't shoot!" 




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Moment of Silence

I was not planning to make a Thanksgiving gratitude post. My thoughts of thankfulness this year are summed up here. And I am thankful that my children are alive.

Now, a moment of silence.

Donate to the Ferguson Public Library.

Donate to the Ferguson Defense Fund.

Donate to Saint Stephen’s Food Bank.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Double-Standards: The Irony of Empathy and Autism

From I, Robopsychologist in Discover Magazine
I sat on the bed across from my partner, tears in my eyes as I prepared to share with him an insight I'd had at therapy that day. I felt incredibly vulnerable, ready to open up this secret part of me I'd kept defensively hidden, even from myself, for many years.

That afternoon, I had become aware that my aloof exterior obfuscated a deep well of emotion and caring. I had blocked myself off from what would otherwise consume me. I'd learned as a child that if I thought about anyone's pain, I'd fall into the vortex. I'd lose myself in a trippy, altered state of consciousness, and not in a good way. 

For example, I once accidentally saw a short video about the maltreatment of animals in the Chinese fur trade, and I couldn't get the horrible feeling or the images out of my head for months. The experience came unbidden, and I couldn't stop imagining what it was like to be those animals. When this inadvertent exposure happens, my only defense is to keep trying to forget, to try to switch off all feeling, to stop caring about anyone. Even as I write these words, I'm fighting off the flood. The result is a hardened exterior, an unfeeling facade, a sort of clinical detachment that I apply to any expression of pain. 

So when I had this insight, I was eager to share it with my partner, who always thought I'd been too distant, too cold. Who had encouraged me to try to open up more, to feel more empathy for others. 

I opened my mouth to speak…

Thursday, August 14, 2014

DEFCON 22: The Con That Keeps on Giving

Load up this soundtrack while reading this blog post: http://somafm.com/defcon/ I'll wait.


Alice in Hackerland by Tess Schrodiner
Winning artwork for DEFCON 22

Redefining The Experience

I began my seventh DEFCON looking for a way to give back.

There's only one other con I hold in as high esteem, and that's my hometown science fiction convention, RadCon (this year was my 18th RadCon). Over the years, I've been to dozens of other cons, some regularly (like PAX Prime and Norwescon), but if I miss them, no big deal. DEFCON is a pillar of my year, drilled 100ft into the earth and rising up to the clouds, and it would take one hell of a real-life tragedy to keep me from it.

And like RadCon, I can no longer just attend. I've been a panelist at RadCon for the last two years, and I'm driven to figure out how to participate in DEFCON. Not only because of how much I've gotten from it, and how much I continue to get from it, but for the selfish fact that there are diminishing returns in terms of what I can learn as a non-participant audience.

The few talks I attended were unremarkable. Since I no longer work in IT, I avoid highly technical talks, which are no longer useful to my career. I know enough security theory to write fiction; readers don't want to hear the tech details anyway. If a story is set in a far-future, 2014 tech won't matter, and if I need something current, like safe-cracking for Through a Shattered Tumbler, I can look it up online. 

As a curious person, I often enjoy hearing about new exploits, but even those have started to blend together. The message is always the same: All things are pwned or pwnable. This is a very worthy message, but for me, it's ancient news. It's not as likely to give me a dopamine "ah-ha!" or "holy shit!" feeling anymore. After "holy shit did you know you can stop someone's pacemaker?" and "holy shit all of Boston's transit is owned!" and "holy shit the Russian cybermob, the nets are all gonna DIE!" ... You can only get excited about the sky falling for so long before even that becomes normal. The sky is falling, and it's already fallen, and Situation Normal All Fucked Up (SNAFU).

This screenshot circulated on Twitter
of a hacking tool itself being the vector for mass pwnage.
Amusing, but totally unsurprising.
I don't mean to make DEFCON sound unexciting. I had an amazing time this year, as always. But as a neophile, I crave new experiences. Moreover, I'm writing for neophiles who also crave new experiences, and you don't want to read a recap that's a recap of last year's recap. So this isn't a regular post describing the talks or hallway shenanigans.

Mostly, this year was about seeking my place, teaching others, and enjoying the synthesis that comes from mingling knowledge. i.e. making friends and having conversations. This is the true value of any con, because we can learn the rest online. We can watch all the talks on YouTube. What we can't do is talk and wave our hands about and toast to a point that everyone agrees on.

This year, mingling came easy thanks to my autism diagnosis and anxiety medication. This was my second DEFCON since my DX. Last year, my SSRI prescription was brand new and I was still adjusting. I noticed the improvement then, and all the more this year. The power of technology has made social anxiety a distant memory, and I have better coping mechanisms and a higher sense self-acceptance since I know that there is a medical basis for my quirks.

However, the meds don't fix everything. The distracting and painful sensation of anxiety is quelled, but it doesn't fix my awkwardness, the times I'm not sure what to do or what is appropriate. I'm still combatting 38 years of overcompensating, learned behaviors I used to avoid anxiety. The extra serotonin doesn't cure my autism or sensory processing disorders. Sometimes the background noise is too loud and I can't tell what people are saying. Sometimes I'm not sure how to engage in conversation with people I want to talk to, or leave conversations with people I'm no longer interested in.

Sometimes I lock up and don't know what to say, so I stay silent when I should be talking. Or the opposite, a more recent coping mechanism where open my mouth anyway, and let words pour out without any filters. Which works until it doesn't, and I say the wrong thing.

The meds really help in all these cases, because when I do make mistakes or face uncertainty, I'm not assaulted with waves of anxiety that pull me under onto the hamster wheel of self-assault. I'm much more resilient and can keep rolling.

Why Spot the Fed
when you can bring the Feds to you?
This has all improved my experience at DEFCON a hundredfold. It's a much more social event than it has been in years past.

I'm-Poser Syndrome*

* - Attempted pun

When I arrived at the Rio on Wednesday, I felt pretty wobbly and low, and I wondered what right I had to be at DEFCON at all. I'd submitted a talk to CFP, which summarized my several years of research on unethical persuasion and group mind control (which all culminated in my book Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control). The talk got rejected, partly because it was non-computery and partly because the religious criticism it contained was potentially too controversial. I would be attending as a non-participant once again. And in absence of a tech career, with less hands-on computing in my hobby life, with my interests shifting more to psychology, neuroscience, and writing, I really wondered why I belonged at DEFCON at all. Impostor Syndrome had set in pretty hard.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflected in Ice: An Aspergers Review of Frozen

The following movie review contains mild spoilers. I try to tread lightly, but can't avoid addressing a few in-movie moments or thematic elements.


There are two measures of good art.

The first is anything that can make me feel strongly. The other is that which holds up a mirror to the viewers, in which, each sees herself.

Frozen accomplished both of these goals with resounding success.

Secret Wish - Tami Vaughn
I had this printed on a mousepad I used for years.
Good mirrors are composed of metaphors and character traits and plot in the right combination of vague and specific to reflect a broad range of life situations and personalities. Many types of people see themselves in Frozen: girls who are raised to be perfect, sisters who struggle in their relationships, women who are deceived by those they trust, those who have secrets, neurodiverse people, anyone who is misunderstood, and anyone who is rejected for all the wrong reasons. And like the second trial in The NeverEnding Story, a mirror which reveals the viewers "true self", Frozen's mirror can reflect the ugly parts of some people, like the blogger, "Well-Behaved Mormon Woman", who calls Frozen part of the "gay agenda to normalize homosexuality" and who says it's terrible we're letting kids get the message that rebellion is better than obedience.

Can you hold it down, please?
I'm trying to make history over here.
Whatever, lady. I have an entirely different view when I look at myself in art.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

RadCon 6B Report

What an amazing RadCon was at its best this year. It's not just me saying that, but all the blog posts and Facebook reviews say the same. I was left yesterday being completely exhausted, that type of bone-weary you feel in every cell, like when you're sick, only without any symptoms. Today, after resting up, I'm bursting with post-con energy.

I was a panelist again this year, but this time it wasn't a last-minute thing, so I had participated in the programming process from the beginning. Liz was trying to keep everyone with a maximum of five panels to avoid wearing us out, but I'm greedy. I like sitting around a table talking about things I know and am passionate about. So I asked her for more. I ended up with eight, including my reading. On top of that, NIWA scheduled me for five hours running the table in the small press room. Even though this meant I had zero time to see the rest of the con, I don't regret it for a second.

Luna Lindsey reading Touch of Tides
from Crossed Genres magazine.
Photo by Andrew Williams
This is the first Radcon where I never stepped one foot inside the dealers room or the gaming room. There simply wasn't time.

Friday began at 2pm with a last-minute panel because someone else had canceled. It was Professionalism in Indie Publishing, in which I met or re-met some great fellow indie authors and publishers, Kaye Thornbrugh, Mike Chinakos (former president of NIWA), and David Boop. We talked about the importance of presenting a professionally written and formatted book, acting professionally, and the differences between individual self-publishing and independent publishers.

At 4:30, I moderated my first panel ever, Picture This! This is an unusual panel, and my second time doing it. It's a really fun exercise. Three authors (myself, Peter "Frog" Jones, and S. Evan Townsend), read some fiction, while pro authors and audience members (if they want), draw a sketch inspired by the reading. The Pro artists included Howard Tayler, Herb Leonhard, and John Gray. It's a really great way for artists and writers to mingle. Our two creative crafts can play off one another so well. I've been inspired by art, and as they proved in the panel, it works in the other direction.

I read a draft of my as-yet unpublished story, "Meltdown in Freezer Three", which included vivid images of ice cream trucks and praying mantises. Here are the three different interpretations of my story:

Howard Tayler - Meltdown in Freezer Three

Thursday, February 13, 2014

RadCon 6b Schedule

If you're in the Tri-Cities, WA (my hometown), come see me at RadCon this weekend! Their tagline is "The big con with the little con feel", and that's true.

I'm on many panels this weekend and am also manning the NIWA book-selling booth in the Small Press room.

Here is my schedule:

Friday: 

2pm – Indie Professionalism in Self-Publishing
2205
Do you have what it takes to be a successful indie? Selling your book to hundreds of readers requires more skill than selling it to a single editor (not less). Discussing professional behavior in networking, PR, and dealing with rejection.
With: Willich, Dameon      Thornbrugh, Kaye      Chinakos, Mike      Boop, David

4pm – Picture This!
Fan Suite
Everyone has a mental movie that plays as we read. Our writers bring bits of story to share for artists to sketch to.  Beginners and experts welcome!
With:  Jones, Peter     Sturgeon, Jeff     Townsend, S. Evan
          Tayler, Howard,    Gray III, John    Hall, Vandy      Leonhard, Herb

6:30pm – Reading "Touch of Tides" 2209

8pm – Polyamory Revival
2205
Polyamory is returning to mainstream consciousness with hit shows like “Polyamory: Married and Dating” on Showtime and feature stories in major news outlets. There are several misconceptions about polyamory, the first being that it is a “new” type of relationship model.  Learn how polyamory is from times of old, how agriculture and property ownership changed family dynamics, and how certain polyamory models are especially empowering for women. Enjoy the discussion, and walk away with suggested readings to further your knowledge on this fascinating subject.
With: Jones, Peter     Goldstein, Ari     Baldwin, Amanda  Thomas, Johnathan   Lindsey, Roland

9:15 – 50 Shades of Consent
2205
With the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey, more people than ever are reading about BDSM. But when writing about it, what are some misunderstandings or common errors to avoid? How can writers present it in ways that are safe, sane, and consensual?
With: Jones, Peter     Thomas, Johnathan     Baldwin, Amanda  Lindsey, Roland

Saturday:

11am-4pm – NIWA Booksales Booth - Small Press Room (2209?)
Emerald City Dreamer will be available for sale in print the whole weekend. Come during this time and get it signed!

8pm – Gender and Sexuality
Fan Suite
How do the gender roles society places on us affect our behavior and steer morality, self-esteem, even legal code? How about sexual preferences, gender identity and asexuality? Be prepared for a lively and open discussion!
With: Foster, Voss     Excell, Tamra     Lindsey, Roland   Louve, Rhiannon

Sunday:

11:15am – Getting into the mind of the Religious Fanatic
2203
Uber villain or bit player, what are they like? Are there any useful generalizations? Are they likely to be suicidal and does that depend on the religion or the person?
With:  Louve, Rhiannon     Guizzetti, Elizabeth  Letourneau, Guy

12:30pm – Writing Neurodiversity
2203
Creating neurodiverse characters with autism, Aspergers, ADHD, bipolar, OCD, and synesthesia, can give your writing new dimensions. Come learn the right way to represent these unique strengths and weaknesses.
With: Berry, DiAnne     Freeman-Daily, Janet     Townsend, S. Evan     Wacks, Peter

As you can see, it's a very busy con. Come see me!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Label Me, Illuminate Me

The label-debate rages on, and now that I know I have autism, I have firmly come down on one side: I am in favor of labels.

Labels can be used to dehumanize, to misconstrue, to overgeneralize, and to blind us to a person's humanity and individuality. As Wayne said, "If you label me, you negate me".

Preach it, Wayne.
Then party on.
Actually, it was the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who originally said this. "Butterflygirl" on Yahoo Answers summarized Kierkegaard thusly:
Once you label someone you cancel out their own individuality and replace it within the boundaries of that label, so their individually has been restricted within that label and therefore, for all those who accept that label for that person they have no longer accepted that person for who they really are but understand them only to the limit of that label.
And I know all too well from my research into mind control that loaded language combined with us vs. them techniques can indeed leverage labels to negate an individual and render her selfless. It can be used to dismiss external points of view. Labels can make a group insider feel benevolent and normal while demonizing outsiders as inhuman and evil.

Many people fairly point out that labels, particularly psychological labels, can divide people. Labels can become truth. We are all individuals, but dumping thousands or millions of people into the same bucket removes some sense of self. Being labeled in school can make kids a target of bullying, not just from other kids but from teachers as well. It can impose expectations in education and in the workplace and among peers. Labeling can trigger tribalism and hostility. When people are unfairly labeled, they end up filling the role others expect of them.

I've met people in person and read blog posts from people who hate all labels. Here's a dude summing up this line of thought:


These are certainly valid drawbacks, but like The Spork of Truth, it has four tines. Hm, no I need something else... Like the Spoon of Truth, it has two edges. The same aspects that make labels problematic also give labels power. And when your label has power, you have power.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Persuade the Bystanders

This post has to do with social justice – you know, topics like privilege, racism, sexism, classism, ablism, and all the other ignorant and/or hatey "isms" worth railing against. I'll get to those in a second.

In the late 90s, while arguing politics on BBS message boards, I realized an important truth that I've carried with me always:

When people argue in public, they will almost never convince one another. But they do influence the lurkers. 

WWIV message boards
My view of the world when I
learned this important life lesson 
Sometimes the persuasion is instant. Now and then a lurker will timidly post and reveal that their minds have been changed. But most keep this fact to themselves. More often, the change is slow. These lurkers continue to follow similar arguments, until eventually, they are swayed by whichever side has collectively made the best case. I myself have drastically changed my mind on deeply held beliefs in this way, both by debating and merely watching debates. I've also seen it happen to other people. But it's rarely instant.

It's hard to know that these neutral and persuadable lurkers exist. They are, by their nature, quiet. Very often, though not always, the more vocal a person is, the less likely they are to be convinced. So we tend to think everyone who doesn't use a megaphone is just like everyone who does. This is not true.

I think about the topic of persuasion alot. I'm a writer. It's my job to persuade. I also love debate, a casual pastime since childhood. Roland makes a wonderful and challenging debate partner to help me better understand what works and what doesn't. On top of all that, I've studied mind control, otherwise known as "coercive persuasion" – the ability of manipulators to convince people against their will.

Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 Accomplishments - 2014 Goals

What a year. In reviewing my goals from last year, looks like I got way off track, but I'm very pleased with what I accomplished.

This year, I:
One reason I didn't accomplish all of my 2013 goals is because of that little sidetrack. It's a book I had thought about writing based on my mind control website in 2005, forgotten about, and then on a whim decided to crank it out "real quick". The effort took 7 months (with distractions in between). It is currently out to alpha readers.

Emerald City Iron made it through the writer's group, and is ready for the next round of edits, when I can get to it.

I have a bunch of stories to submit, and one in particular is totally publishable. It's been rejected twice, both with a personal note from the editor, so I know it will sell. I just have to get it, and the others, out there. I set the bar pretty high for myself. I currently only submit stories to pro-paying markets until those venues are exhausted, and then I might send it to semi-pro markets. My time and splines are fairly limited, so I'd rather spend time aiming at high targets, being a perfectionist, and working on totally unplanned projects. ;)

So my goals for this year:
  • Publish Recovering Agency in print and ebook.
  • Market Recovering Agency, including launching a new website and giving interviews.
  • Be a panelist at Radcon again.
  • Be invited as a visiting pro at another con for 2015. Norwescon would be nice.
  • Speak at Defcon.
  • Speak elsewhere, either a seminar, or Exmormon Foundation, or some convention related to cults or religion, on the topic of mind control.
  • Write a whole bunch of blog posts on autism and mind control.
  • Release Emerald City Iron.
  • Complete a major step in a novel: Either write the first draft of the next Dreams by Streetlight book or the second draft of The Sun Never Rises.
  • Sell two stories to pro-paying markets. I'd really love to sell to an anthology.
If that seems like alot, it's because it is. So we'll see. :) There's a significant chance I will be caught up in marketing Recovering Agency for many months. It's already generated plenty of interest. I need to be okay with dropping many of the above goals in trade for promoting a book that could really help people. And maybe pay some bills in the process.

So here's to 2014. May it be a very good year for all of us.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Autism and Shame

At the end of the week when I literally wrote the chapter on shame (in my book Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control), I found myself curled up on my bed, sobbing, in the throes of a meltdown, feeling like the worst person on earth -- feeling vitally broken in all the ways that count -- feeling like the unresolvable source of pain for everyone around me. 

And I was helpless to watch from somewhere within, knowing I was suffering from shame, but unable to think my way out of its cage.

What is shame?

The concepts of guilt and shame are frequently confused with one another. They both seem triggered by the same stimuli. Yet they are two distinct feelings with quite different implications and outcomes. 

I've seen two definitions of the differences that ring true to me.

The first is that shame is related to your social position, while guilt is a personal feeling. That is, shame requires your sense of relation to others -- you have done something and others are exerting pressure on you to stop. OR, if they don't know what you've done, you are afraid they will find out because if they did, they would exert pressure on you. Whereas guilt is the knowledge that you've done something wrong, and you feel remorse and a desire to correct the behavior regardless of whether anyone else knows about it.

The second difference is perhaps the most enlightening. Guilt is about what you have done; shame is about who you are. Guilt is, "I have done something bad". Shame is "I am bad".

Brené Brown gave two powerful TED talks on the concept of vulnerability that both focus heavily on the concept of shame. I cannot overstate this concept enough, so I will repeat it in her words: "Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is I am bad, guilt is I did something bad."


Monday, October 14, 2013

Splines Theory: A Spoons Metaphor for Autism

An incident occurred last week where my child unexpectedly needed a ride to school in the middle of my writing session. And it ruined my whole day. Why?

I knew it had to do with Aspergers, but I wanted to know more. Puzzling over this question, I went in search for the perfect metaphor to describe the experience.

I love the spoons metaphor for invisible disabilities. It describes a portion of my world, and it goes something like this: Every morning, most typical people wake up with infinite spoons. They don't even think of spoons as a resource because they almost never run out. They can easily choose to do this or that without risking much other than time consumption. Sure, they get tired by the end of a full day, but generally they have enough spoons to do all the normal things. It's a gift they take for granted.

Those with chronic pain or serious illness or certain types of mental illness, like depression, only get twelve or twenty spoons a day. Each activity, even small things like getting dressed or making breakfast, takes a spoon. Careful choices must be made about how the spoons are spent; otherwise, they will be gone before the day is through. Or worse. A bad spoon-management choice might leave them without spoons for several days.

There is no spoon. It's just a theory.
Which states aren't enough spoons.
The word "spoon" is actually quite weird, when you think about it.
Why is it called a spoon?
Oh, that's why.
It's still weird.
I'm already out of spoons. I wonder why?
Oh look, a butterfly!
For the origin of Spoon Theory, and why spoons and not some other eating utinsil, see Christine Miserandino's account on her blog, But You Don't Look Sick.

I relate to this analogy somewhat, but it fails to describe the intricate resource-management I must do as an aspie. I wake up with a random number of spoons. Why? Why do I mysteriously get a bunch of new spoons at unpredictable times? The process of getting ready for a new task seems to cost me "spoons", but that model doesn't reflect the intricacies of the gathering process itself. What about the frustration I feel when I fail to gather or get interrupted? How do I describe the sense that a dozen little things need doing before I can start a big thing, each costing a fractional "spoon"?

Spoon Theory didn't fit the all data for my experience, so I went in search of a Grand Unified Theory of Resources or Law of Conservation of Aspergers Energy that I could use to think about and describe my universe.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Year I Survived Suicide

[Trigger Warning: Uncensored exploration of self-harm, suicide, and extreme exposure to the vulnerable side of Luna's brain. May contain trace amounts of navel-gazing.]

This year, I survived suicide. At least three times. The incidents have started to blur together,  so let's go with three. It's a nice round number.

I've only recently stabilized enough to process what that means. Last week a friend attempted, and the strong emotions that bubbled up showed just how much I needed to process my own recent encounters with death. I'm not here to tell her story. It's not mine to tell. But I've decided to finally tell my own. 


There are far more reasons to not talk about it. Those of us who suffer from suicidal thoughts also suffer shame for thinking them. The illnesses that lead to anguish and despair are themselves shameful, without the added "sin" and "crime" of killing oneself. I didn't want to talk about it then, not on Twitter, not to friends or family, not to therapists, and not even to crisis lines. I didn't want to be drama. I didn't want anyone to think I was manipulating them. When I felt better, I lied and told myself I was fine. When I felt terrible, I wanted everyone to think I was fine. I'm strong, independent, smart, rational. All the time. I wanted to pretend my weak times weren't really me.

Even well after the fact, I've hesitated and procrastinated writing this post. I've debated the merits and drawbacks. And then, along came Suicide Prevention Week. The Bloggess wrote a timely post on it, so I figured...

It's time. I am throwing aside my shame. I will use my aspy powers of unorthodox bluntness, and unwise social decisions, and a general blindness for knowing what's appropriate, and a pinch of impulsivity to tell everyone exactly how close I came to killing myself this year.

Because the stigma needs to end. Because those in pain need to feel okay reaching out. And those who suffer need to realize they're not the only ones who suffer. Anyone who finds themselves grasping the sheets in despair on those long, dark nights need to know that successful, talented, beautiful people also have dark nights, or weeks, or years when we hate ourselves. If someone like me can hate myself*, then maybe, just maybe, those other beautiful, talented, worthwhile souls will realize they, too, have something to be admired for. Something to contribute. Just one more little excuse to hang on a little longer. Because on those dark nights, every little excuse is a lifeline.

* Yes, I just called myself successful, talented, and beautiful. I'm also impulsive, blunt, socially unwise, and yeah we already covered that.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mind Control 101: Cogs of Dissonance

Your brain is full of machines. Each machine is made of thousands of cogs spinning in tandem with one another, and all the machines are more or less connected and dependent upon each other. When a cog starts to break down, other parts of the machine pitch in to repair it, replace it, or bypass it. This is because your survival is dependent upon the smooth functioning of each and every cog.

Or so the machines want you to think. Because they control you.

This is your brain on cogs.
Any questions?
This is, of course, an analogy which I'm using to illustrate a complicated idea -- the theory of cognitive dissonance. A cognition (or cog) is any single thought, feeling, idea, concept, perception, behavior, social feedback, memory, attitude, goal, value, or commitment. When you put them together with other cognitions, they build all the belief systems that make up you. Earth is round, tacos are delicious, love feels nice, kittens are fuzzy, corporations are evil, God is great, and Republicans all suck and should go hide in a cave until they come up with some way to not look like a bunch of clowns.

Or whatever it is you believe. I happen to have a moderate opinion on the flavor of tacos, and I've never met God so I'm not sure how neat He is.

Each of these cogs, and the belief systems they build, have varying levels of importance. There are people who would die to save their favorite taco, and other people who don't really care that much about food. How strongly you feel when your precious (or not-so-precious) cog is threatened will inform your reaction to various kinds of incoming cogs that other people throw at you. By the way... you might want to duck.

You see, living in the world means we constantly encounter new cognitions every day. The Flat Earth Society distributes pamphlets, paleovangelists push their anti-taco propaganda, love breaks your heart, kittens are proven to cause cancer, corporations run ads about saving lives, atheists say God is not great, and you've got friends who are Republican. Everyone has a different message to push, and if we really believed everything we heard, we'd change our minds everyday about everything. More frighteningly, we'd never know what brand of breakfast cereal to buy. (I'm a paleovangelist, so I don't buy cereal brands. None of them are true.) Our brains need some sort of mechanism to hold all our cogs together or they'd roll bouncing our of our heads and people would trip on them and fall down.

That mechanism is an emotional reward and punishment system known as Cognitive Consonance and Dissonance. Consonance is a good feeling. When we see a beautiful taco on TV, spinning in a glorious light, with beautiful green lettuce hand-picked for its photogenic properties, sticking out from the crunchy shell at aesthetically pleasing angles, and the announcer shouts, "Recommended by four out of five dentists who chew gum for people who like mouthwatering, savory tacos!", we think "Yes! I knew it! I knew I loved tacos. And now they're healthy, too! Sweet Jesus I was right all along! Baptize me in Fire sauce!"

Thursday, August 8, 2013

DEFCON 21: L33tism Yields to Unrestricted Access

Projector Art in the
Chillout Cafe at DEFCON 21
The hacker community is many things. We are curious, smart, knowledgable, subversive, rebellious, libertarian-leaning, technical, opinionated, unorthodox, and l33t.

But most of all l33t. Historically, we felt special, like our merits had won us the right to gloat in glory. We dabbled in technoarts and arcane secrets of circuits and mystical crypto that put us above everyone else. We were the best of the best, we pwned every test, earned the right to beat our chest.

Well, I didn't. Only "real" hackers did, and I wasn't a real hacker. In the DEFCON recap I wrote in 2009, I called myself a "Hacker Groupie". That was bullshit. Because I am every inch a hacker, and always have been, since second grade when I solved the weekly brainteaser without fail. When I begged my parents for a chemistry set. When I used university lasers to run the Michelson-Morely experiment. I'm less technical these days than I ever have been, with my shift away from a thirteen-year IT career in 2010, yet I am still a hacker.

Hax0rz Wild!
From the DEFCON 21 Playing Card Deck
L33tist hacker culture is changing, and it's about damn time. L33tism comes with problems. L33t = elite = elitism, and the price for that is exclusion of alot of really smart people who belong, but are too humble or shy to think of themselves as hackers. For too many wasted years, I was one of those people on the outside looking in, wishing to be part of an exclusive club that I actually had every right to belong to. It took meeting someone who never asks for permission and didn't think I should either. Roland taught me that to belong, I had to shove my way into the circle and simply be who I am. I had to have the rights granted to me by a boyfriend before I could enter.

No, this is not going to be a rant against sexism, though I will address that topic at some point. My exclusion wasn't due to my gender, though that was a factor. I self-excluded because I bought into the chest-thumping and was unwilling to call bullshit and be who I wanted to be. Too many men and women have done the same. I met several of them at DEFCON this year, and I tried to talk them into realizing their potential.

In 2009, at my second DEFCON, I somehow considered myself an outsider, a groupie, a tagalong. This year was my sixth DEFCON. Why did it take so many years to finally stop feeling like a poser? Like any topic worth talking about, it is complex and there are many reasons, but I want to focus on culture here, since I've been around to observe it since 1992.