Students For Sensible Drug Policy

Well, by time this post I will be well on my way to the Playa dust of Burning Man and letting my freak flag fly. While I won’t be able to do my regular ridiculous Facebook posts about drug policy, libertarianism, love, science, and all things Awesome, I hope that if you enjoy what I share you will take a moment and consider donating what you can to Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

SSDP is the premier organization pushing for a sensible approach to prohibition. By focusing on students they help mobilize the next generation of leaders, encourage the adaptation of policies that actually save lives, and educate a wide range of citizens on the harm produced by such a tyrannical approach to narcotics. They have personally impacted my life in a huge way and I have agreed to match every dollar that is raised between now and the end of Burning Man up to $1000. I wish I could give more but that is what I have right now, I hope you will consider giving a few dollars as well.

I am not a staff member, board member, or anything like that. I am simply an individual who believes in their mission and hopes to see change in my lifetime. We live in a time where medicine is unavailable to veterans suffering from PTSD, cancer patients, and lives are being ruined when students make one-time mistakes. It is time for things to change, it is time for policies to reflect science, and it is time to give students the opportunity to grow and prosper. Every dollar helps.

 

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On The Spirit

Dealings of spirituality and religion are a bit difficult to me. I grew up in a Christian home but at some point along the way found it lacking. It isn’t necessarily the teachings of Christ that I found disagreeable, it is more the Church did not reflect what I saw in Christ. In addition, my upbringing denied scientific theories like evolution but did not provide any real counter-theory. I was told to just have faith, I was told “God works in mysterious ways”, I was told that evolution was “just a theory”… things that both insult the human capacity for logic and shows a complete ignorance to what a scientific theory is. They were straw men and when I was presented with evidence, logic, and the scientific method the straw men burnt easily, but the words of Galileo rang true “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

I certainly consider myself a skeptic, and by that I mean I place greater weight in objectivity and science than subjective experiences and faith. But science at this time cannot explain everything and the places where measuring objectivity is not possible (yet?) we must compile subjective experiences, look for patterns, and attempt to formulate measurable hypothesis. Still, we humans lack the ability to objectively measure spiritual experiences, and it may be that we can never measure them. No matter how much we can look into the mind it is difficult, or maybe impossible, to determine the source of spiritual experiences. They may be created and executed completely in the brain or the brain may act as a conduit for experiences coming from another dimension.

I use the term dimension in a semi-scientific way. I admit my knowledge of physics is pretty laymen but it seems it is possible that a dimension may exist in a way that it can interact with ours under certain circumstances. Meditation, psychedelic drugs, near-death, spiritual revelations, and maybe even dreams may act as gateways to another dimension. I don’t know this for a fact, but that is the point. We lack the scientific knowledge to measure and compare subjective spiritual experiences. It is possible our brains are like a water cooler where all the mechanics of dispensing water are controlled in one body, or our brains may be like a water faucet where the mechanics move outside our homes into an area that we don’t currently have access to (at least not without professional help).

The truth is, I don’t know what the spirit is or what spiritual experiences are. I think there is some truth in the spiritual practices that have woven itself within humankind. I feel (admittedly a subjective response) the spirit exists and that we can access enlightening experiences through various means. In some ways whether spiritual experiences truly exist or are simply misfiring neurons in our brain seems of little relevance if they help us live a more fulfilling and happier life. I think the mind, body, and spirit is a triad that encompasses the human experience, and each section must be exercised for complete health. I may be wrong, but in the end it really doesn’t matter to me, this balance of belief and evidence about reality helps me live a life of peace, love, and personal growth, and if there is a meaning to life that seems like a good one to me.

Extreme Futurist Festival Recap

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What a weekend. On top of the EFF I also had one of my partner’s in town and we went down to visit some of my family down in San Diego. There might be more on that later but before everything slips my brain I want to recap the EFF.

It was an amazing experience. I had a wonderful time and it was incredibly inspirational and thought-provoking for the most part. It also had a slight twinge of crazy and some stuff that I didn’t understand. I guess there are some forms of art that I just don’t get.

So, the good… it was an incredible two days and a very positive time. The vast majority of things were good. There was a diverse group of speakers on a ton of topics but I had my favorites. Aubrey de Grey was the keynote and  his talk on medical advancements and potential for extending life was phenomenal. Alex Peak‘s discussion of gaming and how games can be used to educate the world (and the need for fluency in code) was something that will stick with me for a while and has piqued my interest in code-writing. Kevin Fischer’s talk on cognitive enhancement was probably the most practically informative of the day for me but Anastasia Krylov‘s was my favorite. Anastasia talked about social norms as they apply to relationships and sex in a way that was not confrontational and incredibly enlightening. She is also a gifted speaker who kept things fun the whole time. There were many other speakers that I enjoyed and a full list can be found here.

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Vortex Immersion Dome

Another awesome thing about the conference was where the speakers held their talks. It was in something called the Vortex Immersion Dome, a semi-large dome that had projectors on the side to completely surround you with visual and auditory stimulation. The speakers stood in the center which took some getting used to but it worked really well for the conference, particularly Dixon’s Violin performance which was one of the single most amazing things I have ever experienced (seriously, check it out).

It was also really nice to see Brian Doherty speak and Reason Magazine sponsor the event. Many of the discussions had libertarian leanings even if the participants didn’t fully realize it and I think it is important for libertarians to be more socially active outside of the beltway. Futurist, technology, and entertainment conferences are an important audience to reach because they are the future. The future is going to be an information and entertainment economy made possible by technological advancement and libertarians need to be on the front lines showing the best way to advance human development is free from government restrictions.

Now, the bad… I want this blog post to be honest and not everything about the conference was great in my opinion. Most of my criticisms on this point may be biased and oversensitive because I have spent the last few years participating in and running conferences. To be frank, the logistics were a bit sloppy. There were little things like no real process for checking in other than getting a sharpie mark on your hand like a night club, the speaker printout didn’t have any subjects included, and information about a VIP pre-party wasn’t announced until the day before.

There was also a few logistical things that I think are more serious. Mainly, the speaker times and order were changed both days without any real announcement. It was impossible to know when someone was actually going to speak. The speaker time slots were also only 30 minutes which is not enough time for a real discussion of most topics, and there were not any breaks between speakers for food or just to run to the bathroom. The conference organizers also gave the speakers very little notice of when their time was up, during one speaker someone walked in and told the presenter that he had 1 minute without any prior notice causing the speaker to hurry through much of the presentation. There also seemed to be some favoritism played where Aubrey de Grey was basically rushed off the stage during a Q&A session so that a performer who was a friend of the conference organizer could present.

Lastly for the bad, the benefits of being a VIP were not communicated very well. I got a VIP ticket and I still don’t know what exactly I got for that. I was able to see the robot show (which was awesome) but there were not seats, a marked VIP area, or really any way of knowing where we were supposed to be or what the perks were.

It was still an amazing event, I just think logistically there is room for improvement (which is to be expected for a relatively new event).

And, the ugly… these are things that I didn’t understand or enjoy. It is very subjective and really no value should be attributed to it. Primarily, I didn’t understand Lydia Lunch’s performance at all, it may just not be my thing but to me it sounded like a angry verbal presentation of some of the most poorly written blogs from the internet. Many people seemed to get it and love it though, which is fine. There is plenty of room in the future for all types, my type of futurist focus will be more on science and technology instead of art. I originally felt that Lunch was at the conference to perform due to her close relationship with the conference organizers but seeing how many people loved her performance I think it was more than that. She is an artist, I respect her for that even if I don’t get it.

The presentation by Josh Harris also left me baffled and confused. I still don’t know what he was talking about or the point of his talk, and when he said that the “singularities” spoke to him and he presented a homemade video from the late 90’s as proof I was totally lost. He also talked about being on the FBI’s list because of 9/11 and how his life was an art piece and government photos were part of it or something… I really don’t know. I was lost and this was the first presentation I saw so it really scared me that I had convinced some dear friends to purchase tickets to an event that wasn’t what it seemed.

I guess that’s really it. It was a great weekend and I will definitely be there next year.

Burning Man 2013

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This year already feels different for Burning Man. Not better or worse, just different. There isn’t the hype built up that was present last year when anxious burners flooded the internet with videos, pictures, and questions regarding ticketing and the theme. I don’t remember anyone hypothesizing what the theme would be this year and when the announcement was made it barely hit my social network radar. That might be because the organizers did not launch much of a campaign this year to build up excitement or maybe it is due to the fairly obscure theme (Cargo Cult) or maybe both. Regardless, this year is looking to be different from an institutional level and it will be very different for me as well.

My first burn in 2011 was a point of self-reflection. I spent a lot of time just being free and dealing with my personal issues with my military history, relationships, and my future. It was a time of healing. I needed to be comfortable with “me” before I could be comfortable part of a “we”. It was a successful year and allowed me to enjoy myself in a different way in 2012.

My second year was more social. My camp from 2011 had mostly scattered but I was more seasoned and joined some of my friends at a new camp. I was more open to trying new things and made a proactive effort to be part of a community. This wasn’t as successful as I had envisioned due to my personal life at the time, I was just finishing my bike ride across the country and lacked any real foundation. Having a room to myself was an amazing luxury that I utilized a lot for meditational and sleeping purposes.

Now 2013 looks to be different once again. Due to other commitments and changes the group I have gone with in the past will be rather small and not part of an established camp, but there may be many new attendees. Many of my friends are looking to take the plunge, including at least one of my partners. The partner dynamic at Burning Man may take some discussions, particularly given others that might be present as well. Overall though, I am excited about it.

My first year was “me”, the second year was being part of “we”, and the third year looks to be a year where I am an elder or senior member of “we”. So far every year at Burning Man has faced a personal and institutional evolution, something that is scary but also very exciting.

Late Bloomer

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I have one coworker at work who actually knows things about my personal life. For all intents and purposes she is my platonic work spouse… that person you joke with, vent to, and generally have around to make the workplace tolerable. Well, being the overly open person I am at times she also has a vague idea about my polyamorous and open relationships. She seems to think it is based on sex but she did ask a comment that struck a cord, she asked if I was a “late bloomer” when it came to sex. I don’t think it takes away from my philosophical and social choices but yes, I was a late bloomer by modern standards.

I lost my virginity at 23 to my ex-fiance. I only really drank alcohol once in high school, and probably would have been arrested if not for Officer O’Keefe recognizing my car and knowing that I was a police explorer. I didn’t smoke weed until well after the army and “harder” drugs didn’t enter my system until I was about 28. So yeah, I was a late bloomer, but I am happy for that.

As someone who was able to experience as an adult both the conservative life and the libertine life I feel I am much more capable of figuring out what works best for me. It also gives me the perspective to not judge others decisions with how they decide to live their life. My views on relationships, politics, anarchy, peace, and love come from life experiences outside of the city I was born in. What people do with their mind, body, and spirit is not for me to decide and I think being a late bloomer has helped with that. I don’t think these experiences would have happened if I went the traditional route of “growing up”.

This is particularly true for my drug use. I can safely use a variety of drugs because I have the experience and knowledge to act responsibly. Altering ones mind through drugs is best done when you are mature enough to know what normal is. There have been a few cases of serious damage due to the use of MDMA but this has little to do with the substance and a lot to do with people using them without knowing their bodies well or how to get help. When I was 15 I wouldn’t have known how to handle the effects, I just wasn’t mature enough.

I think this same principle applies to relationships. I look at people who graduated with me and most of them are married, with kids, and living a life that makes them incredibly happy but seems awful to me. I was almost in that same position and it makes me wonder if I would have been satisfied with that traditional life. I am incredibly happy now with my freedom, my partners, my friends, and my adventures.

So, yep, I’m a late bloomer and happy I am. Each year of my life I have grown more, learned more, and experienced more. Some accuse me of never growing up, I hope that accusation follows me until my last breath.

Magical Refocus

This last weekend two people who are dear to me and I decided to eat some mushroom that had psilocybin in it. I’ve done this a few times in the past with limited results, most times I feel next to nothing and feel like I just wasted $15. I did have one really good trip at Burning Man this last year and really that encouraged me to try it again.

This weekend trip was great. Like most drugs the greatest benefit for me is learning about myself and shrooms are a great tool for that. I have really settled in on the fact that drug use for me is an intimate experience and I prefer to be alone or with a small group. I also tend to like darker environments, well lit places tend to hurt my eyes (physiological or psychological?) but mostly I just feel anxious. I feel much more comfortable laying down in a soft place with low lights and my thoughts. Some people take shrooms and enjoy laughing and talking, that’s great for them but not for me. I do think that with the right people and mood tripping could be an incredibly sensual and intimate experience for people who love each other to share, hopefully I get to really dive into that in the future.

Anyway, I really did some analysis into myself to look at my own prejudices and what I want in the future. I feel much more refocused to work on my writing and am starting on that tonight. By coincidence a image came across my Facebook feed yesterday as well that really struck a cord and I’ve included it below. I feel like my book is really starting to get some structure in my mind and I’m excited about the future. Hopefully as I write I will actually be able to hash out some of my ideas and spend some time proof-reading and refining. I never proof-read and I constantly find errors in my writing, it works for a blog because I do this for me and I don’t care, it won’t work for a book though.

Objective Measurements

We live in a world where objective views and measurements take priority. We often try to quantify everything so that we can make a rational analysis. When it comes to making policy decisions or interacting with others I really have no problem with this. It makes complete sense in order to operate as justly as possible. Out here on the road the purpose and need is less clear.

When I have a route that takes me through lots of roads, twists, and turns it is generally necessary for me to pay close attention to time and place. If I don’t want to get lost I need to know where I am I relation to where I want to be, not that getting lost is really a bad thing but if I’m avoiding that objective measurements are necessary.

A problem starts to develop for me when I’m not frequently changing roads. I’ve been on HWY 54 for almost a week now. I have all the cities mapped out by mileage and I really shouldn’t look at my mileage or speed unless I’m in need of help or when I stop at a town so that I can prepare for the next portion of the journey. Unfortunately this is not the case, I’m constantly looking at my miles travelled. I fight the urge but it is there and I give in often (nurture or nature I’m unable to decide). The need to measure time and place becomes at best a distraction and at worse an obsession that diminishes the quality of existence.

We often say that “time flies when you’re having fun”, I think that is because for once you have shut down the need to measure time. I could just as easily say “time flies when I’m riding through beauty” or “when I’m contemplating great ideas”. Our brains seem incapable of both measuring quantity and enjoying quality. I don’t know if it’s a left brain-right brain thing but I know I would benefit from some more quality time without objective measurements. These measurements may be necessary for coordination and communication between people but they can also take away from the quality of your life experience.

I think this is actually part of the appeal of some drugs, particularly hallucinogens. As Aldous Huxley talked about in “Doors of Perception”, the use of mescaline made time and place unimportant but beauty and connection with the universe became powerful. I think the same can be said of other drugs MDMA, LSD, alcohol, and even the internal chemicals released during sex or meditation. The use of these is an attempt to pull away from a world obsessed with time, place, and objectivity. We seek the subjective and the pleasures that come from the moment without concern for time and place.

I’m glad to get out of the objective world occasionally and I think I’m a better and happier person because of it.