My cathartic exchange over soldier exploitation

REMEMBER WHEN I ASKED YOU how it felt to punish lower enlisted soldiers by making them do pushups? And you said that you did your best to not make them do pushups because there are better ways to “get what you need from a Soldier.” “I’d like to think I’m less one dimensional than all that,” you said.
 
There are a few NCOs that come to mind, in my short four years, that seemed one-dimensional assholes in their approach to leadership. It didn’t work out too well for them.
 
There certainly was a cultural-Darwinistic quality to how the military functioned, so, with the will of the collective unit, an asshole NCO will be weeded out, eventually: they either fuck up and no one has their backs, or, I guess, there are other ways to “fast-track” a soldier.
 
That’s a good thing, in the context of the military, for people living that life. Asshole NCOs get in the way, in a real way, especially, of course, because their fuckups (being relatively one-dimensional pricks) have consequences in combat. Or, to a lesser degree, their presence makes for a toxic environment that breeds mediocrity and other assholes who may one day be “leaders” themselves. It’s kind of fun, in the moment, to think in a nostalgic way about the nuances of the NCO-soldier dynamic, that paternal, father-figure bullshit.
 
But the reality is neither one of these people, soldier nor NCO, have enough autonomy. Worse, soldiers are exploited by things they’ve been convinced they shouldn’t even bother thinking about. You’re expected to be one-dimensional in the political sense, fall in line, be apolitical. I can’t help but have some respect for people within that dynamic because I’ve known more than enough who I wouldn’t say made a deliberate choice when they joined. The fact that the prefrontal cortex, where such deliberate decisions would have been made, isn’t fully developed in humans till 25 is enough for me. 1 2 I was 19. How old were you? Ironically, there’s enough data to illustrate the unfortunately touchy subject of soldier exploitation that it could be its own discipline of study, meaning one could spend an entire professional career loathing the realities of the very specific issue of soldier exploitation. 3 4 And it may be easy for some to say things like that from some academic institution, or at a stupid fucking TED talk, but you and I were very much alike when we met and became close.
 
Your past definitely led you to having no other choice but to join, same for me, and it wasn’t because we wanted to be NCOs. Remember, “I’d be dead or in jail.”
 
I resent vampire institutions—whichever failed you on your way to joining.
 
If all drugs were legalized and the people who sold them weren’t criminalized, would you still have joined the military? How different would Atlanta be if that were the case? 5 Think of all the fathers who would have been there for their children. Think of all the NCOs, talented, frankly beautiful people such as yourself, who would’ve stayed in their community and would’ve been leaders there, where they belong. The absence of fathers in communities because of dumb archaic views facilitates more absent fathers, and the same logic can be applied to the military culling people from communities that desperately need them.
 
Ice Cube pointed this out in the 90s, on the song “I Wanna Kill Sam.” 6 I don’t expect anyone to look it up, so here’s the intro to that song:
 
 
“The army is the only way out for a young black teenager.
 
We’ll provide you with housing.
 
We’ll provide you with education.
 
We’ll provide you with everything you need to survive in life.
 
We’ll help you to be the best soldier in the U.S. of A.
 
Because we do more before 7 A.M than most niggers do in their whole life time.”
 
 
With D-- on deployment
 
While thinking of the D– I knew, you have in me someone who hopes you actually take the chance, leave the Army, apply the discipline you have on your own terms.
 
I saw your reply about the things you posses because of the money you get from the army: the television and whatever else. With anyone else I might say something like: you’re basically admitting that those are the reasons why you do what you do. I’m not exactly sure what the implications are of a soldier saying that to civilians, but, nonetheless, I don’t believe that’s why you do what you do. I know you’re not so petty.
 
But that’s neither here nor there, I resent that as your talent is exploited in the Army you could be in your former community, doing something that will make an impact (here in America for a change). Perhaps looking out for the raver community you were so proud to be a part of?
 
I mean, look at me. What incentive do I have spending so much time typing this out? You could simply dismiss all of this and continue on.
 
But here’s my situation: I actually believe if enough people like you bounced from the military and applied themselves in the “civilian world” America would be a safer place. Applying the couple hours to hash this out a little more than usual is much more worth my time than spending it in the army so I can feel good around other people who have nice shit.
 
At any rate, I would rather struggle having conversations like these than be stuck on the other side, with my nice things, quietly considering what I’d rather do than be hauled around in a cattle truck to God knows where: Drum, Fallujah, the horn of Africa–just for relatively nice things? Nope.
 
 
Graphics by Alyssa Monet
 

 
 

On selfies

I DISTINCTLY REMEMBER the last selfie I took. I had taken my dog for an evening walk along a familiar route, when I came across the corpse of a cat laid beside some trash cans. The sight horrified me not only because of the novelty of a dead domestic animal but because of the callousness with which it was discarded. Immediately after seeing it, I rushed home, and, once safely inside, I sat on the floor and cried. As the tears streamed down my face, I realized I was holding my phone; almost reflexively, I opened my font camera and snapped a picture of my mascara smeared eyes.
 
With the picture saved on my SIM card, I noticed my boyfriend shaking his head in my direction. He clearly disapproved of my decision to take a selfie in that moment. I initially defended myself with the claim that I did not intend on posting the selfie, but this defense did not persuade him so much as raise a prying question in my mind. If I did not take the selfie with the intention of positing it, then why did I take it?
 
It was a weird moment to take a selfie, but I am sure a lot of people can relate to it. People take selfies when they experience powerful emotions. Photographer Emily Knecht even went so far as to take a selfie every time she cried for three years.1 2
 
Unless you have a well-defined philosophical opposition to selfies or cannot afford a proper camera phone, you probably have a few dozen selfies saved on your camera roll. Selfies have become ubiquitous; taking them has become a habitual part of modern life, and selfies on social media warrant an almost compulsory reaction from close friends and voyeuristic creeps. It is safe to say that selfies can be qualified as a phenomenon of modern life.
 
To understand this phenomenon, I think we need to establish a shared understanding of the camera phone, the instrument with which selfies are created. Cell phones with high-quality cameras have only been around for the last half a decade. Their relative novelty is significant because technological advancements are often accompanied by an interesting shift in human behavior. As we become accustomed to the new technology, we outsource a corresponding aspect of human existence into it. Consider the invention of the car, before which it was commonplace for people to walk what many people today would consider obscene distances. Walking was thought of as not just a pastime but a mode of transportation, and people would regularly walk miles in one day. Now that we have cars, we rarely consider walking to nearby locations. We are still perfectly capable of making the trip on foot, but we have psychologically outsourced this ability to cars. In this sense, the capacities of our cars have been integrated into our human capacity, and our abilities have been correspondingly expanded. In other words, we are able to do more because we have outsourced an aspect of our existence into a more capable vehicle.
 
With camera phones, we have an amazing ability. We can chronicle our everyday lives in minute detail, and we can capture ourselves in almost every moment. We can save our memories on our SIM cards. As we did with our capacity to walk long distances when we adapted to cars, we have outsourced our memories into our phones; however, unlike our relationship with cars, our growing relationship with camera phones bears greatly on our sense of identity.
 
An understanding of our past comprises, in part, our sense of self, and, in the 21st century, this understanding is inextricably linked to our ability to use our phones to log not only moments and places from our past but our faces in past moments as well. The effect of past events wears on our faces, and we turn to selfies to visualize those effects. As inherently visual and social beings, this self-visualization becomes vital to our sense of identity. Michel Serres notes the importance of self-visualization in his philosophic text, The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, writing, “Historiated skin carries and displays a particular history…Memory is inscribed there, why look elsewhere for it?” We want to know how we looked during noteworthy moments, and, in discerning this, we chronicle the body part we are biologically programmed to note, our faces. 3
 
Central to our inquiry into our appearance is a curiosity towards and desire to control the way we are perceived by others. We want to understand the vehicle with which we relate to others, and, in the quest for this understanding, we must look at ourselves. Selfies provide us with a readymade window into our relationship with the societies that surround us, and, in the end, say more about our social nature than our individual egos.
 
Also notable is our tendency to post selected selfies on social media. Whereas past generations tailored their life stories to appear successful or happy to others, we now choose our most flattering selfies from noteworthy or lonely moments to share online. While people have always tried to represent their lives in the best possible light, selfies allow for a new kind of social interaction. As a representation of our faces, selfies act as invitations for conversation more so than photos of other subjects. Consider how a photo of a vista will not garner nearly as many comments on social media as a selfie taken against the backdrop of a vista. Selfies that we post online then share a dual purpose of projecting a message of success to others and inviting social interaction, and, in this way, they have replaced the once more commonplace practice of dropping by someone’s house to talk. However, selfies also allow us to involve ourselves more deeply in the social interaction allowed by social media. They humanize online social interaction and bring a personified element to an online presence.
 
Selfies are a human adaptation to an increasingly technological world. They reflect our desire to find and construct a connection both with our own identities and with others. Rather than indicating that our culture has become more egotistical, selfies evince a culture that, as social interaction becomes increasingly digitized, is more desperate than ever to understand itself.
 
 
Featured design by Alyssa Monet
 
 

Cessation as revolutionary—the morbid reality of tobacco-use disparities

I FIND IT FASCINATING that—despite my resolve and the temporal distance between me and my last cigarette—if I think about smoking enough I can still sense a subtle craving beneath the surface of my visceral consciousness. This craving coincides with memories, especially of long-gone relationships, all of which are swift and nostalgic in their transient retrospection.
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