RIP Aaron. You are not alone

The corner of the internet that I hang around in has been mourning all weekend with tributes, eulogies, and heartfelt sharing about the untimely death of Aaron Swartz.

I don’t remember meeting Aaron personally, but I have heard him speak, am friends with many of his friends, and was very aware of his work and activism.

I am furious and sad to hear that he took his own life. I have lost a few friends and relatives to suicide, and years ago wrestled with some of these demons myself. Honestly, I am not sure how I feel about politicizing this moment. There are strong arguments on both sides. Being persecuted by the state is horribly stressful and isolating, and I also feel strongly about many of issues that Aaron advocated for. But, I am concerned about responses that reduce and simplify Aaron’s complex decision. This post about suicide reporting on the internet raises the concern that sensational reporting causes an increase in suicides in the wake of the coverage.

What I want to contribute to this conversation is an important message to any geeks, hackers, or activists that are struggling with isolation, alienation, depression, or even suicidal thoughts. You are not alone. And, sometimes it takes alot of courage to decide to stay alive.

For the past 10 years, radical mental health groups like The Icarus Project have been developing support materials for activists that provide alternative ways of thinking and talking about mental health. Take a peek at their forums, publications, podcasts, documentaries, and more. They have really helped so many people rewrite their own narratives, and connect with others struggling with similar emotions.

In the past year or two especially, I have seen more and more geeks/hackers who are attempting to organize around these issues, eliminate stigma, and provide peer-support outside of the mainstream psychiatric paradigm. Geeks, hackers, and activists are especially suspicious of authority, and habitually question systems of power.  They are justifiably mistrustful of psychiatry, but need a place to turn to for support.

I don’t know the state of all of these projects, but they seem like a good place to pick up the conversation for how can we take better care of each other and provide kind of compassionate support we all need so horrible tragedies like Aaron’s, Ilya’s and countless others can be averted in the future.

  • Blue Hackers is a fledgling community of hackers dealing with depression
  • At HOPE#9 this past summer, there was a 3 hour (!) panel on Geeks and Depression. The notes and slides were posted here.
  • Just last month, at the Chaos Communications Conference (29c3), Violet Blue gave a talk on Hackers as a High-Risk population, and suggested a harm-reduction approach for thinking and talking about these issues.

It feels like there is an important conversation starting to happen here, and not just around free culture and prosecutorial abuse. How can we steer this conversation without reinforcing the stereotypes and stigmas around suicide?

Rainbows have nothing to hide

On my recent journey to the West Bank I learned about a wonderful Muslim holiday called Eid al-Adha.  Eid is a 4 day, family-focused holiday, celebrated with gift-giving and great feasting. The holiday commemorates the binding and non-sacrafice of Ishmael (since, in the Koran, it was Ishmael not Issac who was bound), and the Covenant between Abraham and the Lord.

When I learned about Eid, two questions came to mind:

  1. Why don’t Jews celebrate any holidays commemorating events that occurred in the book of Genesis?  [It is not really surprising that the religion of Moses takes its cue from the book of Exodus, but I found the omission surprising. However, I am not particularly interested in exploring  answers to this question].
  2. Does anyone on this seemingly God forsaken planet remember, never mind commemorate or renew, the covenant between Noah and the Lord?

Remember the story of Noah in the Bible? Though it is taught widely to children everywhere, I’ve been surprised at how the rarely it’s recalled. (Ed. note: In 2014 Darren Aronofsky (!) will be reminding us all how this went down, with Russel Crowe as Noah).

To recap: God commands Noah to build an ark and collect animal couples, 40 days/nights of rain, a raven, three doves, and an olive branch. Remember how it ends? Why are there so many songs about rainbows?

And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, 10 and with every living thing that is with you — birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well — all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. 11 I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. 13 I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth. 17 That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.” *

Hmm… Sound relevant?

I just finished reading Imperiled Life: Revolution Against a Climate Catastrophe, and I am feeling the urgency of this calling.

I am thinking about starting a campaign that activates the mass communication networks known as organized religions, by short-circuiting the cognitive dissonance between fundamentalism and climate change denial. I want to invoke the Noahide covenant as an on-ramp to help educate religious folks about climate change, in the hopes of transforming their awareness into intention and action. Let’s help God keep his word, and hold up our end of the Rainbow!

An ambitious goal, to be sure, but we live in dire times. I realize that it might sound like there are logical gaps in this chain of reasoning, but I also believe convincing true believers using scientific reasoning is a dead end. I want to craft a hermeneutic argument, clothed in scripture, to convince the religions of the world to care. I want to turn Earth Day into a religious holiday.

And, I think we might be able to realize (and fund) the first stage of this awareness raising effort through merchandising.  I’m imagining rainbow flags, t-shirts, cups, hats, etc, covered with unifying symbol representing the solidarity of world religions. Something along the lines of Coexist, but more encompassing than just the Abrahamic faiths.  Something closer to the opening image on the World Festival app. Maybe something like this:

So, what url do you like best?,, or

Quetzalcoatl and Back Again

It’s nice to be on the spring side of the winter solstice. Farewell, Apocalypse. Nice try.

What a year. In 2012 I occupied — Wall Street, Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association, and my dissertation. I catalyzed the production and distribution of Mindful Occupation, and helped organize the Icarus Project’s NYC 10 year anniversary event and art show.  And, I was privileged to visit the great Mediterranean capitals — Cairo, Istanbul, Athens, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. All while holding down a full-time job.

Some were not concerned that the world would end on 12/21, but instead, were horrified at the prospect that humanity will continue hurdling forward, business as usual. As many on our planet yearn for unity and the Most Great Peace, and there are hints we might be learning to direct, harness, and measure our collective intentions. But, as mystics have long understood, our collective choices will decide if we converge on a global state of war or peace.

All of my travels this year were transformative and intense, but my October trip to the West Bank was really the culmination of my hero’s journeys. I travelled there for the final stage of the project we began 2 years ago, trying to help Palestinian educators develop their capacity to improve their teaching excellence (Towards the (educational) liberation of Palestine, Dispatches from Cairo: The Raw Data, If I forget you, O Palestine…).

I travelled with my friend and colleague, Mark Phillipson.  Together we delivered a keynote speech at the Palestine Technical University — Kadoorie, in TulKarm, and taught workshops on cutting edge, video-based, teacher training and assessment techniques.  The PTUK team officially opened the Multimedia and Educational Resources Center (MERC), and were raring to go. The MERC center is an impressive accomplishment, but I also experienced great sadness and disappointment at the unsustainability of the development grant. Just as we were finally getting some traction, the funding was finished.  I understood that unsustainability is a common failure of projects like this, but the firsthand experience felt worse than any theoretical critique.

My boss/advisor/mentor, Frank Moretti, was unable to make the trip this Fall, but recorded a video introduction to our keynote that set the stage for the rest of my trip. The introduction started out cordial and friendly, but 3/4 of the way through, Frank lobbed a handgranade was starker and sterner than any Mayan prophesy. He warns that unless educators incorporate the twin themes of environmental catastrophe and nuclear war into every stage of curriculum we are headed for a “collective calamity”:

This warning framed the rest of my trip, and the rest of the year. I’m still unpacking the fallout.

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