Sean Bonner

misanthroplogist
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Belief

I was reading a fantastic post by my friend Wil about how he ended up as a “believe whatever you want just leave me out of it atheist” and was reminded of a very similar path I found myself on. I’ve written before about coming to terms with my own beliefs, or lack of beliefs as the case may be and fitting those in with my very religious family and upbringing. Growing up I went to many schools run by monks and nuns and was very frequently faced with the “believe, or else” philosophy of christian religion. I was regularly threatened with eternal damnation if I didn’t do any number of things, religious or otherwise. A family member once tried to exorcise the demons from me because she didn’t like my attitude. These people use threat of hell to create fear to build power and when that became obvious to me as I kid it lost all it’s power. When you realize someone is just trying to scare you into doing their thing, and that they are threatening you with made up nonsense, it’s really hard to get behind anything they have to say. You start asking question. And in my experience, those kinds of folks really don’t like being questioned. This reminded me about something I blogged about almost exactly one year ago about a pastor – a full grown man – bragging about punching a kid who wasn’t buying into his crap. I wrote that post on the occasion of National Religious Freedom Day which as it turns out is tomorrow.

It’s one thing to lament about things that happened back when we were kids, but in todays world the topic of “believe or else” is unfortunately just as current. And I’m not even talking about extremist events like the terrorist group ISIS beheading people on YouTube because you don’t even need to look that far. The United States prides itself on being the land of freedom, with freedom of religion baked right into the Bill of Rights, yet our currency declares allegiance to a supreme being (that was added in 1956 by the way) and Saudi Arabia considers atheists terrorists. A crime punishable by death, by a country that just last week beheaded 47 people in public for various crimes, most of which weren’t capital. This from a US ally and member of the UN Human Rights Council. One has to question the level of religious freedom and tolerance that exists a country that helps decide global human rights thinks it’s OK to kill people because they don’t believe in their personal favorite fairy tale. How many countries is that now that I can’t travel to, for fear of being murdered because I had the audacity to think for myself?

Thinking about all this causes me to constantly weigh out my own feelings. I think everyone should have the freedom to believe whatever they want, including the belief that all these superstitions are a bunch of crap. And I think they should grant me the same to me. I think if everyone just left everyone else alone to their own conclusions we’d be fine. But the fact of the matter is that for so many of these people, the only way they can feel good about their own choices are to condemn the choices of others. All religions have blood on their hands, and it’s almost always from people who decided to believe something else. And it’s because of that I can’t help thinking how much better off we’d all be without any of it.

So happy Religious Freedom Day, I look forward to the time when I can say that while actually enjoying religious freedom. That day certainly isn’t today.

Continuing Thoughts On Personal Uniforms

Back in 2010 I wrote about my attraction to personal uniforms. Effectively a simple set of clothing that can be replicated and worn every day, ideally eliminating the “what am I wearing today” decisions first thing in the morning. Just grab the same thing everyday and go.

In the initial post I designated 3 core principles:

  1. Replicable
  2. Mix-matchable
  3. Travel friendly

I’ve been playing with this idea for the better part of the last 10 years, on again and off again, though it’s getting to the point where I find off again frustrating and it stresses me out to the point of inaction more often than I want to admit, so on again is my preference these days and I’ve been actively getting rid of things that don’t fit the bill. Over those years the specific items I choose, as well as what exactly those core principles are have changed and evolved and I thought it might be useful to track it on GitHub so I’ve created a page there with some info that I’ll add to as time goes on, and anyone is welcome to fork or suggest changes to.

My current thinking is that a personal uniform should be replicable by definition so having that as a principle doesn’t make a lot of sense. And for me, mix-matchable is resolved in a single solid color. So, circa December 2015 the principles are:

  1. Primarily Black only – YMMV on this one, but I have to finally admit that when I get things of other colors they never get worn.
  2. No blatant branding – Again, maybe it’s because I designed shirts for so long, but anything I have with graphics pretty much collects dust and I shouldn’t add to that.
  3. No impulse buys, research everything ahead of time – On occasion when I’m swayed by something in a store that I hadn’t known about or considered previously and I’m convinced to buy it, very often I’ll go home and research it and then end up feeling the need to “upgrade it” to something else. When in fact, I should have just researched and bought the thing I wanted first, or taken that extra time and decided against it entirely.
  4. Travel friendly (light, compact, packable) – This is more or less important to people based on their travel schedule, but I fly over 100,000 miles a year so it’s pretty important to me. If something will get wrinkled and messed up, or takes up half my suitcase, it’s probably not the best choice.
  5. Multi season friendly – I’m committing to layering vs single temp items. Base layers, Mid layers, shells, etc. This also helps with the previous packing/travel note as more than once I’m going from hot to cold, wet to dry in the same trip.

Brands I’m liking right now for this include Outlier, Acronym, ExOfficio, Rapha and Patagonia. I’ll list out some specific items from these companies on the GitHub page in the coming days.

Making Pictures

I talked m friend Harper into buying a ridiculous camera and his payback was to ask me to come up with some photography tips. It’s no secret that I take the occasional photo but I’m not sure I consider myself someone overflowing with advice on the subject. That said, I jotted down a few things that came to mind and thought I’d post them here for future reference. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.

  1. The world has no shortage of fast and crappy photos, so I try not to add to that. I’m not always successful, but it’s something I keep in mind.
  2. In 2012 I wrote about why I like shooting with film  and while obviously now I have started shooting primarily digital I try to keep a lot of those ideas in mind. Anyone can shoot 10 million pictures and find a good one in there, but I don’t think that’s really something to be proud of and I think the notion that “good photography is all about good editing” is crap.
  3. I used to think of my photography as documenting things and now I think of it as trying to create something – which is a subtle difference but a difference none the less.
  4. I try to think about “the obvious shot” – that is, if 20 other photographers were standing where I am would they all take the same photo? If so then I try not to take it.
  5. Obviously everyone has their own voice so to speak, and my photos kind of run the gamut, but I tend to think my strongest work is when I catch little personal moments .
  6. I try NOT to process photos just after I’ve taken them, because I’m too close to them and my memory of the event clouds my objective view of the photo. If I can wait a week or a month to go back and look at them, then I more often judge photos based on the photo itself, and that helps me in thinking about what photos to take in the future.
  7. I carry my camera everywhere and try to have it in hand ready to shoot at every moment. I might not even take a photo all day, but some of the most amazing photos I know I missed was because my camera was in my bag at the time. So I’m quicker at getting the thing I want when I
  8. Look at a lot of photos. I went to a class on photography once and the best thing I took away from it was to look at a shit ton of photos, pick the few that jump out at you and then try and figure out why. Find photographers or subjects that resonate with you and it’ll tell you something about what you are looking for.

Insurances

I’m lucky enough to live in a city with multiple, excellent choices for health care and even more fortunate that I’m able to afford them. I say that because when I first moved to this city and started visiting doctors I quickly learned that there are two kinds of doctors in Los Angeles. Ones who accept insurance and ones who have decided that rather than spend time fighting with insurance companies they’d rather spend time with their patients so they don’t. Specifically, and repeatedly, a number of doctors I found in town told me this – “Insurances companies don’t want me spending more than 10 minutes with my patients, and I can’t do my job to the best of my abilities in only 10 minutes so I don’t take insurance and then I get to spend as much time with my patients as I think is needed.” My pediatrician, my ENT, My sports medicine doctor, my dentist – all told me similar stories. They went to school to learn how to practice medicine and when 20-30 years down that career path an insurance company notified them that they could no longer spend the time with their patients that they felt they needed to they cut the insurance companies out of the equation.

But this was all up front so I knew what I was getting into. I set up a recurring transfer with my bank so that each month I’d put X dollars into a specific savings account that I knew was just for doctor visits. This certainly would have been useless if I was hit by a bus, but as a relatively healthy active guy in his mid-30’s (at the time) it covered the bases for what I needed quite well, and when I needed it I felt that I got the best health care I possibly could. My doctors were thoughtful and caring and took time to give me choices, explaining the potential outcomes of every potential route. This was a starkly different feeling I’d ever gotten from a doctor previously where I’d always felt rushed in and out, and prescribed some course of treatment without any understanding what or why. Of course, now I understood why, those doctors were trying to meet the demands of the insurance companies.

Skip ahead to 2015. I’m now legally mandated to buy health insurance and as noted by many others the low premiums translate into massive deductibles. And to be clear “low premium” is still a few hundred dollars a month. It’s about the same as I used to squirrel away in my health savings account. Which I still have to do by the way, because my doctors still don’t accept insurance. So I could dump them and go to another doctor who does accept insurance and then it would balance out right? Wrong. Because until I hit that giant deductible I’m still paying out of pocket. So where as before I was paying out of pocket for health care, now I’m paying out of pocket for health care and health insurance that I can’t take advantage of unless I get super sick.

Earlier this year I had to make an emergency room run late one Sunday night. Whew, I thought. At least that health insurance wouldn’t be a total waste. A few months and bills later and the end result works out to basically I pay $6,000 and my health insurance pays $200. Because it turns out they don’t cover 99% of anything done in an emergency room. This is on top of the now twice as much as I used to have to spend every month on health costs.

And again, I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford it. But lots of people aren’t. People are forced to have insurance but still can’t afford to go to the doctor. This is a mess. Single payer is still seems like the only reasonable solution.

Riding Trains

I sent out a newsletter today and in it linked to a story I found about people who fall asleep on other people’s shoulders on trains in Tokyo. I mentioned I’d seen the same thing happen many times and recounted a not entirely dissimilar experience of my own years ago. I remembered writing about it at the time but I looked around and couldn’t find what I’d written anywhere. Moments ago I remembered a long forgotten blog I set up and made one single post on back in August, 2007 – and it was the post about the train. As I’ve already lost that once, I thought it would be worth it to repost the story here for future reference. For context, at the time I was working through how to write and tell stories that weren’t entirely from my perspective and weren’t entirely based in fact. So this is that.

The platform at the Jiyugaoka station was packed with people waiting for the next train, an express going towards Yokohama. Suits. Salary men. A few school kids and ladies who all seemed to have some sort of shopping bag with them. He’s seen this scene several times in the last week and blends right in the best of his ability. Headphones in place blocking out the noise of the tracks and book in hand to occupy the time between stations. The train arrives and everyone boards. It’s not as crowded as he expected it to be, but still very much standing room only. He’s reading Pattern Recognition and is a little freaked out that all of the places Cayce visits in Tokyo he also saw, though a day in advance of reading about them. Patterns for sure.

People get on, people get off. Somewhere near Kikuna a seat opens up and he takes it, careful not to take up any more room that absolutely needed. It’s next to the wall and he slides right in. Everyone sitting is doing the same thing – arms and shoulders tucked in tight, attention focused on a book or mobile device. No one looks around, no eyes ever meet. The further away from Tokyo they get the more the ratio of people getting off the train beats out those getting on. About the same time he notices that there are only 3-4 people still standing he notices her. He’s been sitting next to her the entire time, either that or he sat down next to someone else who go up at some point without him noticing. It’s possible because he’s been sucked in by Gibson at this point, but doubts it. She’s on his right, the wall is on his left.

Another stop and more people get off. For the first time on this trip there are vacant seats, and no one left standing. Another stop and more people exit for whatever destination they are off to. She’s still pressed tight against him and he stops thinking about the footage, and wonders how long until she slides away from him. More people get off, vacating more seats but she doesn’t move. He looks at her but she doesn’t return the glance. Her hair is long and black, though barely concealing a set of white iPod earbuds. He sees the nano she’s holding but can’t see the screen, not as if he could read it anyway. It’s the pink model. He smiles and turns back to his book wondering what she’s listening to. The Jesus and Mary Chain are pumping through his own sound isolating plugs. They are good and he can’t even hear the train which says a lot.

“I get an electric shock from you”

He almost jumps when she touches his hand, but doesn’t. He jumps inside, but it doesn’t register outside. He realizes he’s been holding the book with his left hand and let his right drop down near his leg on the seat. She’s done the same with opposite hands and her fingers had just brushed the back of his hand. He didn’t know if it was an accident, her eyes still fixated on something else, some other direction, not him. But her hand doesn’t pull away. She moves it closer. The backs of their hands are touching when their fingers start to merge. Another stop, more people getting off the train, no one new gets on.

“And there’s something going on inside”

He’s still staring at the book but hasn’t read a single word in what seems like an hour. The only thing he’s aware of at all is the two fingers pushed in next to his pinky and ring finger. She hasn’t looked but there’s no way she’s unaware of it. Another station, another stop. There’s no one else on their bench but she hasn’t moved away at all. The doors close and he grabs her hand. It was a bold move, the first thing that couldn’t be brushed off as accidental. She doesn’t pull away. She keeps her hand there, she never looks.

“Yeah, the world could die in pain, And I wouldn’t feel no shame”

They are definitely holding hands. She’s never looked at him, not that he’s been aware of. He’s never seen her eyes. She hasn’t looked. He’s trying not to. The last other person gets off the train leaving them completely alone. He looks at her but she keeps looking the other direction. He turns back the book which he’s completely lost interest in and feels her squeeze his hand just the slightest bit. She still hasn’t looked. He realizes that this is equally the sweetest and strangest moment he’s shared with anyone in possibly years when the train reaches it’s final stop. She lets go of his hand, puts her iPod into her bag, stands up and walks off the train. She never looks at him. He watches her walk out the door, down the platform to the escalator towards some random exit. She never looks back. He doesn’t follow. He sits there and listens to the song. The train doesn’t move.

“Makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky”

Most of this never happened.

Running With The Devil

[This is a recent excerpt from my newsletter where I send out thoughts and links and stories once a week or so about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. That is to say, the topic below isn’t something I write about all the time, but I do every once and a while.]

Speaking of the pre-internet early 90’s when I was in high school and controversial topics – In HS I had an english teacher who I thought was the coolest, though he had an obsession with The Rolling Stones that I could never quite wrap my head around. Anyway, his name was Jon Scott and he was one of the few teachers I ever interacted with who I felt I learned something from and helped me along the way. At one point, in an exercise about journalism and writing from a non-biased perspective, he assigned us to write a paper about something controversial that would have clear opposite sides that we could examine. Not to decide which side was right, but to be able to write about differing viewpoints without taking sides – and compare and contrast the viewpoints. I recall other kids in my class choosing things like “which are better, cats or dogs” and “why SPORTS GUY changed the face of SPORTS” and things like that. For my paper I decided to write about Satanism. I don’t think I could pinpoint exactly what led me to that decision but my family was super religious and took huge offense to any questioning of things they felt were unquestionable so probably played into it on some level.

Mr Scott had to approve everyone’s topics and when he got to mine he asked to talk to me after class and wanted to know what I was getting at. I must have made a convincing argument though I don’t recall it because he signed off on the idea and let me write the paper. I wish I still had that paper because I’d like to see now how my 15 year old brain was processing things, but I remember that after spending countless hours in both the school and local public library I couldn’t find a single book making the case for, but there were endless writings against. I thought that was odd, it was like there was this giant discussion about something but no one actually involved was included. So instead of writing a compare/contrast piece I wrote about this bias and wondered how all these authors could have so many opinions and consider themselves authorities on something they had never had any actual interaction with. Seemed odd to me. I remember Mr Scott liked my approach and gave me a nice grade on the paper. He told me later that he was very used to topics having two sides and that I’d approached this from a completely different perspective and surprised him which wasn’t something he was used to happening at the middle of nowhere Florida high school where we crossed paths. I’ve thought about that many times over the years and think I owe much of my approach to research to his encouragement of my questioning the motives of the sources. I imagine if I had known then that Satanists were not in fact devil worshipers but rather atheists I could have written an even more surprising paper. Speaking of memories, turns out morality, not memory, makes us who we are.

Anyway, there’s a point to this and that is that the other night I fell down a google search rabbit hole and found a 2014 article called “Satanism and Scholars of American Religion” by John L. Crow which I found fascinating. He wrote:

“If we look at Oxford’s recent volume, The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, of the twelve scholars, only one teaches in America, Eugene V. Gallagher, a prominent scholar of New Religious Movements. The rest are from or teach in Northern Europe, mostly Scandinavian countries. While a number of the scholars in the book examine Satanism in a European context, seven of the essays look at aspects of American Satanism, many focusing specifically on the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Why is it that European scholars of religion have more to say about religious Satanism, a religious tradition that emerged in America, than American scholars of religion?”

“The answer to all of this is that scholars of religion in America are deeply ambivalent about Satanism, and much of this ambivalence comes from the field’s theological history and the theological commitments of its members. American scholars of religion are frequently uninformed about religious Satanism, and more importantly, due to a variety of reasons, mostly theological, do not consider Satanism a “real” religion or a religion worth study. Satanism shares many of the same problems as the traditions in the field of New Religious Studies. However, it has the added burden that, unlike other traditions studied and engaged by the field of NRM, Satanism rarely has anyone clarifying and educating about its historical background or place in American religious practice. Our field repeatedly attempts to portray itself as secular and independent of theology, particularly Christian theology. But the ambivalence about Satanism brings into focus the ways in which theology still shapes the field of religious studies, especially in America. Ultimately we need to ask ourselves. Are we theologians or are we social scientists? Sadly, when the topic is Satanism, the field, as a whole in America, looks more like the former than the latter.”

He followed that up a few months later with a post on his own blog with more thoughts on the topic and links to some other books addressing the issue. I bought all the books and can’t wait to read them.

Covert To Overt

[This is a forward that I wrote for the book “Covert to Overt: The Under/Overground Art of Shepard Fairey” which was released today. Shepard has been a trusted friend of mine for close to 20 years now and he remains someone I have unmeasurable respect for – I was honored to contribute something to this book. I though I’d post what I wrote here in case some people didn’t see the book but might enjoy it – though I fully recommend grabbing a copy for yourself regardless.]

1985 was a rough year for me. At home, at school. The fact that my recently divorced family had just moved across the country to somewhere in rural Texas, and had started using an assumed name didn’t help things. What did help things was a tutor that a teacher suggested I spend some time with after school. The tutor was a kid from a few grades above who seemed equally excited about the situation. We actually clicked right away. This was noteworthy because I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids. Not saying that I didn’t get along with them, I did, they were just into things I couldn’t really get excited about. I often felt like more of a spectator, just kind of watching things play out around. At that time I didn’t know any better and assumed I was just weird. Not that I’m not weird, but that’s a different story. Anyway, this tutor and I were supposed to work on my math and Latin (yes, Latin) skills which were sub par apparently, though they didn’t get any better during our lessons. Thing is, he didn’t teach me any math or latin, but he did clue me into everything awesome in the world.

The people you can point to in your life who had a significant impact are rare, but this guy, whose name I don’t even remember, introduced me to both Monty Python and the Circle Jerks, among other things. If you know me today you can see how much credit is due this one guy. On his suggestion I snuck home his loaned cassette copy of Group Sex and within seconds of putting it into my walkman I had an overwhelming feeling of “Finally!” Until then music had been one of two things for me – either the slow, mopey and depressing stuff that my mom way constantly playing at home, or the stuff on the radio that people were always dedicating to each other. One psudo-father figure who used to hang out around my house was a big Casey Kasem fan and was always listing to the weekly Top 40 countdowns. I found all of this to be terribly boring. Conversely, this cassette was exciting and scary.

This resonated, and made me excited about what else was out in the world that I didn’t know about. I dove in deep and had similar reactions upon hearing Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Run DMC, Gorilla Biscuits, NWA and Sick of It All not long after. I’d found my people, and even if they weren’t right there with me physically, knowing they were out there in the world somehow made things better. Knowing that these people who weren’t happy with the way things were and wanted to make a change could do something –even if it was just to sing about it. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful for me to learn at such a young age. Unconsciously these bands became my social litmus test, I could gauge right away where new people I’d meet fit in my world view. Were they people who would accept things as they were, or were they people who would try to change things for the better.

I had a similar experience with art. Growing up I’d been to museums and found them largely boring. I know now that was as much due to what I was being taken to be see as anything else, but as an angsty teenager I really didn’t give a shit about the old masters. Eventually I stumbled onto the likes of Bosch, Darger and Worhal and I got it. Just like the bands I was now obsessed with these artists were commenting on the society surrounding them, and not everything they had to say was roses and sunshine. Even if sometimes it was.

A decade later a friend who I’d been exchanging letters with for a while but never met – a penpal as we used to say – came to visit in Chicago. We spent the entire night of his arrival driving around the city in a borrowed pick up truck, blasting NWA and talking about the drive to have a hand in shaping the future. We talked about small actions that can have huge impacts. Writing a song. Telling someone about a band. Creating an image that makes people ask questions. Simple actions that can change the world. As sun rose we called it a night, having accomplished our goal of installing huge images of a sunken eyed figure looking out over the city commanding people to OBEY.

Or perhaps challenging them to resist such orders.

Betrayed

I depend on my hardware when I travel, I set things up and I expect them to do what they are supposed to. It saves me endless stress and frustration, so long as it works. Which, because I’m an Apple user, it always does. I never have to think about it. Until recently when it’s all I think about because Apple thinks they know what I want my hardware to do better than I do.

Example 1: The kid has an iPad, I loaded it up with videos for him a while ago. Anytime we travel together I know that as soon as the plane takes off I can give him the go and and he can watch any of the videos on his iPad and kill a few hours of travel time. Except last week as soon as we hit the runway one of his videos won’t play, then another, then another and another. I look and find some new setting “show all movies” which is turned on, I turn it off and now it shows “only movies that have been downloaded to this iPad” which is about 5 of the 30 that used to be there. Some unauthorized autoupdate changed this and deleted files that I had on this hardware. I don’t have autoupdates turned on for this so everything about this was against my wishes. Who on earth at Apple thought this was a good idea?

Example 2: Same trip, my iPhone. Same problem. Half my music is gone. I don’t use icloud, I don’t use Apple Music, I don’t use any streaming shit. I have my own MP3 files and I chose which of those files, those songs, I wanted on my phone. Except now half of them are gone because again, some update that I didn’t consent to deleted files from my device.

I used to be able to trust that Apple products would just work. Now I can’t. I feel betrayed.

And that’s on top of the massive piece of shit that iTunes has become.

While I’ve been reassessing my digital interactions I now find myself reassessing what tools I use as well. Suddenly a dumb music player that reads 256GB MicroSD cards sounds like a more appealing travel companion than my iPhone. And that makes me reassess everything else.

I need a new laptop as my trusty 11″ MacBook air that I’ve dragged all over the world for the last 2 years is on it’s last legs. I’d been eyeballing the new MacBooks but that was when I was trusting Apple to be making the right steps forward. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the older MacBook Pro seems much more appealing even though it’s bigger and heavier – if only because it has ports I can trust and depend on. But reconsidering that is making me reconsider anything. I’ve loyally used Mac OS since the early 80’s but suddenly I’m wondering if something else isn’t a better choice.

I don’t want a company deciding how I want to want to use my stuff. I want to make that decision. I don’t know if Apple respects my choices anymore. But what else do I consider?