Friday April 9th

Systems of Theft

A new rabbit hole

  • I met a bunch of people today through a new space, and it made me smile, because they were all interesting. Meeting them reminded me of being in Los Angeles in the Arts community, where people would weave in and out, where you might pop in and see that the VFX Supervisor for the current 10-time Oscar winning movie that year was casually taking a drawing class and sitting next to you, or a Mathematician doing her PhD in Topology was taking a painting class with you.
  • I left the space excited. The whole group has this energy, this momentum, like we are all sitting on the edge of something new. And when I say “new”, I don’t mean one that is defined by the feudalistic approaches and hierarchical structures that allow a definition of new, but new-new. Everyone there was so refreshing to meet. I left the group and had a moment where I caught my breath and thought “wow. This is SUPER cool. My advisor might kill me, but WOW.”. It energized me.

Innovation in Hierarchical Structures (or Conformity “with Sprinkles”)

  • One of the things that has been interesting to me about Academia is that I am seeing striking resemblances to some other industries I’ve been a part of, where the higher up you are, you are rewarded for “innovation”. My advisor and I had a brief discussion about it this week, because it had been pointed out that on the lower levels of Academia, or say, being a PhD student, you are not rewarded for truly being creative. When people invest in you on this level, it is because you have done the things that are instructed of you. Someone you work for or with may be doing particularly novel work, but at that level, there isn’t a real way to determine if you are particularly doing novel work; the system is structured so that your work is really a reflection of your obedience and loyalty to a higher power.
  • The system simply doesn’t reward independent thinking at that level; you’ll be considered the Nick Leeson of PhDs, and the higher ups will probably look at your advisor in contempt and ask whether they are sure they have “everything under control”.
  • It’s funny how there is this sold version of a “comfortable rebel”, a “constrained free thinker”, if you will. These kinds of inconsistencies are beloved by institutions that follow the status quo, while giving themselves a pat on the back for fostering innovation. They are anything but, though. We ascribe value in our up and coming by the degree to which they demonstrate obedience, rather than by their ability to generate their own ideas, to think freely and critically, and we suffocate them with “busy work” so that they simply don’t have the time or the space to engage in this type of thinking. If they do, we alienate them.
  • You are promised that if you stick with it, you will have the opportunity to express your creativity. This seems really strange to me, because it means that if you are truly a creative person, but you lack resources, or the ability to stick out the process for whatever reasons, you may never have an opportunity in that very structure to see any of those creative ideas come to fruition. Unless, of course, it is stolen by someone with more power, more clout.
  • I have seen this for myself in such systems as the film industry, where everyone asks “why are we making another sequel”, but you can pick up a stone and throw it and find incredibly talented people who are struggling. If you are such a person, what does it take for you to look inside yourself, for years of struggling, with a lack of support, pitching your ideas and possibly seeing them stolen (this happens a lot!), for the opportunity that one day the world might be able to pair your ideas with your identity? Maybe that’s part of why we see the people we see rise to the top in that industry?
  • I had a bizarre experience recently where something I was really definitively talking about as something I wanted to do, and had written a proposal for, kept getting rejected. But strangely, I went to an event of large company, and they began essentially saying that their work would be in that direction, and I know that they had read my proposal. At the time I thought it was funny, and had thought to myself cynically that they probably shouldn’t pitch it to organization X, Y or Z because they wouldn’t give you funding for it. I watched a video a while ago by Louis, where he talks about how you can control your reaction when these things happen. When you get screwed, you lose if you lose your head, if you let it get to you. I’ve had a history of being stolen from, on so many levels, across various fields. The funny part is that it was usually while the higher-ups were telling me I was too much of a smart-ass and needed to learn my place. Your place is that you are here to be pilfered from, to be a vehicle that hides our mediocrity. You are here to be used.

This isn’t new

  • I come from a region that, if you ever had the time, would give you a long list of examples of being stolen from in terms of ideas (and resources or capital).
  • Imagine coming from an island of 1 million people, travelling to Europe, and hearing a song by another European artiste that had just come out that year, and everyone told you that the song was really catchy, even though you knew the song seven years ago as being sung by a local, unknown composer. This happened a lot when I was growing up, and even in my parents’ time. Let’s just say that there is a lot of eye-rolling and a lack of trust because of how frequently it happens. When you are an unknown, who will you turn to in order to protect your ideas? And lest you say “it’s not ideas that matter; it’s the execution”, I’d like to remind you that in many cases, these songs were recorded, and if the situation were reversed, the small, island artist would be heavily sued. I believe there’s a type of moprhism in Maths for that; the one that only goes in one direction. I’m taking a class on that stuff next semester. A ring of thievery and lies. I don’t think that’s a subfield but maybe it should be.
  • Would it change your truth, if your story is never told?

How do you sustain your creativity in systems that penalize innovation at the lower level?

  • When I was in high school, my dad was very afraid that my school would destroy my writing style, because he said that the way I wrote was engaging, but he was worried that our rigid educational system (thanks Colonialism!) would slowly eat at me, until there was nothing left that was mine anymore. And this happens. People do grow weary, and they do settle. Especially if you give them just enough to be content, or you break their spirit. They give up. That song about the Boxer comes to mind, and it’s so powerful because in that system, they fought. I often imagine that the song is about so much more than that; as they were musicians. It’s about continuing to stay true to your identity, in spite of being ground down.
  • In film, there’s a common saying at the lower levels; “we hired you from the neck down”. I’ve never thought about it this way, but maybe that also means that “if you have ideas, for the people at the top, your ideas are fair game, and we can profit off of them”.
  • What does that mean for sustaining oneself in such a system? I have been taking this Artificial Worldbuilding class, and we were looking at Sandspiel, which is a simulator for things such as sand, water, fire, etc. I noticed that eventually, everything would go up in flames. The world would eat itself whenever I spent time on simulations involving sand, water, fire, lava, fungus, plants, etc. What does that say about permanence or longevity of certain systems?
  • So back to my initial group; I’d like to use it as a space that seems to want to move away from a lot of the systems I’ve observed over the years, and developed a distaste for, while telling you that you should be lucky to be a part of it, and feel demoralized if you have been deemed not worthy. A space that’s just not for power-hungry A-holes. What can we build, whose ideas can we lift up? What can we create and how do we preserve accountability? Time will tell.

And that’s it

Written on April 9, 2021