Monday, October 07, 2019

Status Update

It’s been a bad year, and it isn’t over yet. Without getting into all of it up front, I’ll just say that I decided to take the step of leaving the city of Baltimore, where I’d lived for eleven years, in an attempt to regain control of my life and subsequently improve it. The second part of the plan has yet to come to fruition, and things are still wildly out of control.

It is very difficult to move to a new city without a job lined up. I did this when I moved to Baltimore, after I graduated college, and I was young enough that it felt invigorating to be constantly meeting new people, even though much of my life was very much a struggle. Even as I made new friends, I still spent months e-mailing olds friends who were going through similar readjustments in different cities. I’d secured housing in Baltimore via a Google Group mailing list used by the city’s then-booming arts/music underground. In more recent years, as friends I made in Baltimore migrated elsewhere, I posed to them this question, that while it seems like the physical spaces people once congregated were dissolving, as more people spent time online, it also felt like the online spaces people once turned to were falling apart, and I no longer knew where people were.

I left Baltimore for Philadelphia, a much larger city that was relatively recently comparably priced. The larger size theoretically affords more opportunities, although it also makes them much more difficult to know about. I have no idea where the people I would get along with would be located, if they are not already friends with the people I knew in Baltimore who moved here a few years prior to me. Without a large network of contacts, finding work is difficult. One can attempt to believe in the meritocracy and think they might find a job on Craigslist, which is where I’ve looked for housing.

In looking on Craigslist, I’ve met a handful of weirdos I cannot trust, some “normal people” who most likely eye me with suspicion, but more than that, I’ve exchanged messages, e-mails and texts, with entities that are seemingly either not located in the United States or are bots that can’t be said to have a physical location at all, running scams. The first scam I encountered involved being referred to a website called “Roomster” to start a profile, subsequent research shows this to be an App that you pay a certain fee for the first few days, that then renews at a higher rate, and continually renews every month at a rate of $24.99. This, again, is a scam pitched to people looking for roommates, people looking to occupy a room in a house shared with other people, most likely a money-saving technique for those who do not have much income. By all accounts, most of the posts on the Roomster app are made by bots as well. I’m unclear on what those bots’ endgame consists of, as I didn’t join. It might be the second scam I encountered, which apparently proliferates on dating apps as well. In this scam, the person texting you alleges to wish to confirm your humanity by having a code sent to you, which you then respond to them with. This code is generated by Google, as part of setting up a Google Voice account, and establishing a recovery contact, if I understand it correctly, which I do not. Essentially, if you were to give this code to this other person, they could then have a Google Voice number set up in your name, which would then, I suppose, give them the ability to conduct more of these scams (and other ones) with you on the hook for them.

These scams are minor, in the face of all the other troubles we face. They’re petty and small-scale individually, and feel targeted to one person at a time, and I think many of the people to encounter them escape unscathed and congratulate their hard-won sense of discretion which has emerged from their world-weariness. They are not the biggest problem, but they feel symptomatic of what’s wrong in a way they won’t go away until larger structural problems are fixed. You encounter enough, as you’re desperately trying to pursue leads that could lead to finding a stable place to live, and you feel like society is collapsing. If there are more people in the world that are predatory than are honest, we’re doomed. You are grateful that these people have only come to you through the phone or your modem, and not in the street armed with knives, and at least no physical harm was done.

I’m grateful for my physical safety, obviously. The troubles I alluded to as being the cause for my leaving Baltimore included being the victim of violent crime and dealing with the trauma lingering as stress and anxiety when I had to walk by places I could not avoid. These scammers, I suspect, are not nearly so close at hand. They are most likely not located in the U.S., but Eastern Europe or Asia somewhere, one of those places that makes the news with talk of clickfarms and fabricated pro-Trump propaganda.

However, the danger is still real that being the victim of an online scam could take more from you than any person armed with their fists ever could. I got jumped by four teens and left with a swollen jaw, and the amount of cash they gained to split between them was only ten dollars. You most likely have encountered a homeless person asking for change and been unable to help them, even if you were willing, due to no longer carrying cash on you. What you have on your person is likely nothing compared to the digital slime trail of data quietly being monetized by digital conglomerates that monitor the moves you make online. When people talk about identity theft, they’re not talking about body-snatching aliens, but an association of your name with transactions you had nothing to do with. You might have more credit afforded you than actual cash on hand, and the scammers seek a profit more valuable than what a person with a gun could pull off your body unless they had the knowhow to sell your organs after the fact.

Some reading this will want to tell me what I’ve been told before, that Craigslist is dead, and that people now find housing via Facebook marketplace. As the paranoid cast of my comments about data collection may suggest, I am not on Facebook, and consider their ubiquity a sort of meta-scam unto itself, a large-scale profit generator which also does its part to subvert democracy.

The absolute wrong lesson to learn from this is that we need to be more closely surveilled, with our retinas on file in a database, and these sorts of measures will prevent identity theft. Let me clarify that I I think this sort of “global economy” of exploitation and internet has made cities within the United States the target of this sort of thing is a large part of the problem, and that things need to shift to a smaller scale to better accommodate human beings, and their concerns and communities. As long as data collection and surveillance are large segments of our economy and people are alienated from those around them, we will be disincentivized to create the sort of sustainable communities in which we have agency and are safe.

I am talking about all of this stuff as a way of dancing around another issue, which is that all this struggle has taken a toll on me. The amount of effort it takes just to be alive is wildly disproportionate to whatever reason for living I feel like I’m supposed to have. I often feel like I want to die simply because the struggle I’m undergoing is without reward. My last post spoke of my generation’s death drive and attempted to play it off as something of a goof. Obviously, there are responses to this stuff, cries of “mental health care” that I know everyone knows it’s difficult to get. My despair is not so severe as to be the result of brain chemistry gone awry. It results from not having needs met. I left a city where I no longer felt safe, and while going somewhere more expensive means paying for less active danger, it also creates a greater sense of precarity. If suicidal ideation is seen as a mental health crisis, or something that should be avoided, we also need to create a world that feels in some ways abundant, where people have the agency to change their circumstances, without this seeming like a luxury. I am lucky that the past few months there is still a large number of friends I can text with. None of them, of course, are in a place where they can offer material support. Part of this is by design, where I find rich people disgusting and cannot relate to anyone not engaged in the day-to-day struggle of reality and making rent. I’m also aware the truly rich have all of their relationships be determined by transactional gain, and this seems like a truly spiritually deadening way to live.

I know everyone knows about the high level of income inequality in this country, and how this creates a world where the rich increasingly shore up their fortresses for themselves while the rest of us are thrown to the wolves, to be besieged by disease and crime and addiction, and that the vicious churn of it continually throws people from lower rungs into the thresher to be destroyed. I talk about all of this simply to account for the growing void, the hungry maw lapping at the shores of the threshold of safety, as Trump continually threatens to crash the economy, and people in positions they think might endure until the next election are likely unprepared for the latest mutations in societal viciousness. As of now, I am not yet registered to vote in Pennsylvania, as I’ve yet to secure a permanent address. To the rest of you, I can only entreat: Please vote for Bernie Sanders.

Thursday, October 03, 2019


Much to my dismay, Joe Biden is the leading Democratic candidate in the polls. I do not think he could win an election, although I am aware that in polls showing match-ups with Trump, it is Biden that wins by the largest margin. I do not think this is true, although I do generally think that anyone could win against Trump, as he is historically unpopular. I know people imagine that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would take a large amount of damage once the full operational power of the Fox News propaganda machine is targeting them. I do not worry about that. However, I do worry about the damage having Joe Biden and Donald Trump compete against each other would have on the morale of the American voter, especially among those young enough to not yet be experiencing cognitive decline. The sort of dementia-off normally confined to retirement homes where children never visit would play out on national television for hours on end. There’s a reason Michael Haneke’s Amour is not shown on network television.

People talk about about how climate change is an existential threat, or how Donald Trump is an existential threat. Both of these things are true. However, having Joe Biden go up against Donald Trump would signal that we live in a world that is completely absurd and meaningless, and in a way that is not fun, but crushingly tedious. The distinctions between them are strictly partisan, and they have far more in common than they do distinguishing features. Both are old racists who do not respect the boundaries of women. They would surely be friends if Biden weren’t such a loser. The idea of voting for either one of them should make any sensible person want to kill themselves, but here’s the thing: You don’t need to actually commit suicide, and go through the rigamarole of bumming out your loved ones, if Donald Trump gets a second term. He will surely kill us all in time.

Unless they work specifically as therapists, older people are likely unaware how widespread nihilism and suicidal ideation is among my generational cohort. If faced with the choice between Biden’s do-nothing incrementalism or Trump’s fuck-it-all accelerationism towards extinction, why wouldn’t we just sit it out, and wait for the end? We all want to die. I’ve previously said “If you want to vote for Joe Biden, move to Delaware,” but for most of us that’s a fate worse than death. Just because it’s the greatest tax haven this side of the Philippines doesn’t mean it has anything else to offer.

Some of us need reasons to live. Despite its crises, the twenty-first century offers plenty. The modern world, for all its air of impending doom, is exciting. We are living in the future! In 2016, Bernie Sanders was the candidate that seemed to understand, and be excited about, the fact that it wasn’t the 1990s anymore. Since then, I have continued to feel he would be a good president for this era, where there are mainstream public debates happening about reparations, decriminalization of sex work, and ending mass incarceration. It’s insane that in Donald Trump we have a president who is in every way a throwback to the twentieth century, with the pro-Klan politics of D.W. Griffifth’s 1915 The Birth of The Nation but who fast-forwards through Steven Seagal’s 1988 Bloodsport. Still, I am sure this is what accounts for his popularity among the elderly. This also explains why so many old people support Joe Biden, who, probably literally, does not know what year it is.

While I would gladly use ableist slurs to describe both Biden, Trump, and their supporters, I do not wish to be unduly ageist. Bernie Sanders’ sharpness is admirable, and I firmly believe that in 2020, he should be the first presidential candidate that is also a spokesman for Fish Oil gummies. The youth of a candidate like Pete Buttigieg is not a point in his favor, because I fully recognize that it is too young. Technically, I will be 35 by the time of the 2021 inauguration, however even though I know I’m smarter than Donald Trump, I also had to deal with a recession right after I graduated college and am nowhere near what could be called a career path. That dude is already planning a plum retirement of of giving speeches to investment banks while the rest of the class of 2008 is one accidental pregnancy away from moving back in with whichever divorced parent has the most room at their place.

I am an “elder millennial” who was once excited to vote for John Kerry, a feeling that is now incomprehensible to imagine. The only reason I can imagine why “Is this candidate better than John Kerry” is not a question asked about every Democrat running for the presidency is that after realizing he’s a complete nonentity, we forgot he ever existed. He’s still alive and married to the ketchup lady, I think. I’m afraid to google it and find out some sort of Mandela effect thing has happened where in the timeline we now live in, he married a syrup heiress who has since murdered him. There are plenty of voters younger than me, who I know older people love to label as optimistic. It’s true, there are a great deal of inspiring youthful activists for climate and gun control. There is no reason to believe any of them would vote for Joe Biden, as it’s only the more progressive candidates who are sincerely engaging with them and their goals. “Vote blue, no matter who” is the rallying cry for people whose identity is defined by being Democrats, which is a distinctly over-forty thing to do. Younger people would prefer an identity that’s marginally cooler, like being otherkin, or asexual.

Maybe people could rally behind the other centrists in the race. Of everyone running, Biden seems uniquely repulsive. (I’m writing this assuming that by the time it’s published, Amy Klobuchar will have dropped out of the race.) Even the joke candidates are at least somewhat relatable — Andrew Yang is a rich guy who wants to buy friends! Marianne Williamson reminds me a lot of my two friends in a Fleetwood Mac cover band. But there is no one I would describe as “doddering,” unless there is an 18-year-old with Benjamin-Button disease I’ve yet to hear about. I’m sure the dark-money forces united behind the Biden campaign already have an array of VP candidates ready to assuage my fears  and remember the names of foreign leaders for him, but I hope I never learn who they are. I certainly don’t want to deal with their nonsense when they mount a campaign for president in 2032 when “blue state” refers to places literally underwater and our only saving grace will be the electorate’s brains will be too fried to conjure up the name recognition Biden is currently coasting on.