I spend a lot of time debating with friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Usually its about stuff, this and that, and things. But sometimes its about meaningful topics like politics, dance music culture, and art.
Those latter topics are near and dear to my heart and I can talk about them for hours to the uninitiated who don’t know better than to walk away before its too late, swept into the no-resolution pit of quicksand with me. (My apologies in advance, of course.)
I have over 4,000 “friends” on that platform due to all the promotions and DJing and shows that I’ve thrown in the Los Angeles area for 15 years or so. Culturally, I feel that I’ve contributed my part to the Los Angeles and SoCal scene as my alter ego, Robtronik. It’s possible, that at one point, some of my efforts could be credited to driving the club culture in the region for a brief moment via my most well known effort, Compression. Alongside the more originalist Droid Behavior, we moved the needle towards the overall acceptance of techno as the preferred sound of dance clubs today, taking its place alongside the perennially favorite house music genre that never suffered the indignation of being pushed to the sidelines of dance music culture after the heady 90’s.
I’m pretty gratified by the experience, and from 2001 to 2016, I felt a true part of the fabric of that culture (warts and all), making friends and collaborations with originators of the sound, partnerships with likeminded djs and promoters, and finding musical inspiration from techno, minimal, electro producers both through playing of their tracks and having a chance to DJ with them at events that I was throwing.
It was like a bucket list dream come true for almost a lifelong fan of all things electronic music based sounds.
I also was quite enamored by the global reach of the dance music network by being an instrinsic part of it for so long – where I could travel to parts of Europe, NYC, Central America, Stockholm, Detroit, Berlin, Tokyo, Barcelona and have instant local connections to people who loved the art as much as I did. The world got bigger for me as an active participant in the culture of dance music – but it also got much smaller at the same time, seemingly more navigable and connected.
This part of the intimacy of the culture is intoxicating. It still is. For better or for worse, I feel entitled to be a part of this culture and have a say since I’ve donated my blood, sweat, tears, time, and money to the cause of this wildly awesome dance music culture for the last (almost) 20 years.
But all that being said, I have noticed that I have a different sense of how the world works than my peers in this techno/dance/artistic culture. Maybe my POV is informed by my schooling (degree in political philosophy from CSUS), or my work experience (binge entrepreneur, occasional business project management consultant, and high level contributions to corporate business world). It might just be the things I kept hearing from my family, and in particular, both sides of my Mom & Dad’s parents telling me things like:
- Build your own thing
- Take accountability for yourself and your own actions
- Have common sense
- Do the right thing
- Its up to you, and only you.
I heard these things in passing spending time with my grandparents throughout my life and growing up I always respected them. I’m sure that also attending a christian based private school for 5 years colored my sense of morality and a personal responsibility as well as forgiveness too as part of leading a successful life.
Like all of you, I have a myriad of influences that have shaped how I see the world today. But those are the ones that come to mind immediately and I think are relevant to this piece you are reading now.
Without providing too much navel gazing analysis, I came to realize that my center of beliefs were different than those I was around on a daily basis in the scene. It wasn’t obvious at first – I mean, what substantive things like “what do you believe in?” don’t readily get talked about in a dark club at first. It takes a bit of time to get an understanding of a person in any situation, and in the club/underground scene, it can be difficult with loud music and mind altering substances being a part of that mix.
But with the advent of the internet and now, social media, the inner workings of people’s minds, education, experience, preferences and tact are all out there for the world to see. It happened kinda slowly at first, but as we all know now, the speed and quickness for which people can broadcast their inner moral compass on the rest of the world is shockingly quick.
As this started to happen in the online world, I noticed these differences of opinion on how the world worked and for the most part I kept them to myself as I was running clubs/undergrounds, trying to be a universally well liked DJ, and it was just too problematic to convince people that you are good person too even though you might be politically at odds with them on ideas or policy. Plus, let me be honest: I wanted to be liked and two topics of discussion that can ruin that possibility, we are told, are religion and politics.
It simply wasn’t worth it to rile up my fans or customers or friends in the scene.
Anyway, move forward a few years with the internet taking front and center in everyone’s lives, including social media, the idea that we couldn’t discuss important topics in life disappeared. We could rap about music … And about the Iraq war (the first one, AND the second one), or 9/11, or – Obamacare, Obama, elections, Romney, and then of course, the grand daddy topic of them all, Trump.
We could make bare our opinions on guns, free speech, gay marriage, NFL players taking a knee, socialism, and whatever flavor of the day came upon us… and when those topics became easily broached online, my native instincts kicked in to take part, because I simply couldn’t help it. It was part of my nature – and hell, I got a degree in the subject of philosophy, so ideas and getting challenged on them is a sport, its fun, its a rush, and I wanted in! Let’s do this.
But guess what? SURPRISE MOTHA FUCKA! I found out this: “You don’t align with the conventional wisdom, you are outside the bubble of liberal thought” – and in a way that shocked me – because I thought I was a moderate, centrist kinda guy. Fuck, I voted for Green Party when Ah-nold ran for Governor of California. I voted for Bill Clinton. I voted for Gore against Bush Jr. I was a liberal but with fiscal sensibilities and a strong sense of the rule of law, and even traditional American core values (freedom of speech, freedom to practice your religion, tolerance, etc. etc. yadda yadda, badda boom).
But something happened along the way to what we see today – to my sensibilities a radical shift away from what defined a Centrist liberal to what was accepted and embraced in the artist community, progressive liberalism – that kind of collectivist movement that sought to make socialism type ideas as future thinking, worse fair, and a breakdown of civility between opposing views. I came from the school of capitalism and liberty of the individual and fighting for those causes (“pay any price” as JFK said).
I placed an extremely high value on individualism – freedom for individuals to be the full freaks they wanted to be. I believe that the sanctity of individual liberty, even at the expense of collective efforts was more important to protect and support than anything else. I was, and still am, an extreme advocate of artists and free thinkers wherever they exist on the spectrum of beliefs. They are entitled to their beliefs in the same way I am mine. I was against the idea that people had to subvert their time, money, or obedience to a central power ruled by law over us, even if that meant having to give up some of those juicy things like supposed “free healthcare”. Hell, I see what “free” education has done to our system in California and I felt I knew better (spoiler alert: I still think I do, but I get ahead of myself).
But every where around me, I was seeing violence of words erupting between people who vehemently disagreed with each other to the detriment of civility and any possibility of being friends.
Its a truism to me that the early rave and techno scene was aligned with the ethos of protecting and celebrating the individual. The uplifting of people not afraid to be themselves and certainly not regulated or moderated by some person in office somewhere or worse, by the police looking to throw us weirdos in jail. Raves and this crazy music we all hopped around to was for us, the weirdos and radical thinkers of PLUR (!), all congregated with the polysexual, the ignored, the passionate could get together on the floor and sweat it out. Together as individuals! To me, it was also a truism that a close minded person, a racist, a bigot, a person with a dim view of humanity and maybe even themselves could go and see the alternative of their views in action. They could be witness to the life changing exposure of the dance floor and, not to get all hippy dippy on you, through the love that was shared, their hardened heart might melt into one of tolerance and acceptance. The dance floor, whether found in a warehouse or a club, was a place that could change minds. Yes, we had steadfast beliefs of unity and respect for all types of people of color, religion, and culture but it also didn’t also judge, push out, or shame anyone who showed up. Hell, it was an opportunity to change minds. It was a chance to get people to drop the hate and join the love of the dance floor together.
And it worked.
I know this because it changed me for the better. I was raised with prejudices like anyone else who attended a Christian schooling (being gay is a sin! Rock music is underwritten by satanists!) that you don’t realize are suspect at best, bigoted or wrong at worst. What changed my worldview was discovering this music and attending events and (mostly gay) clubs in SF who were progressive enough to play this new amazing rave and house music.
I was not part of the disenfranchised like many were. I was living a life of no racial barriers or sexual preference bigotry, but here I was embedded suddenly and what arose from those early experiences was the pure individuality of people attending. The weren’t faceless people with systemic problems you read about – these were people living everyday with personal struggles that were human, relatable, and I felt instant empathy for those around me. This was happening despite my baked in prejudices I know I had …. and those experiences broke down my preconceived notions of the people around me. Suddenly they weren’t faceless groups – they were people, individuals, humans with names and unique histories.
I knew their names.
This was the beginning of my real awakening as a person – I can see that today. The world was a big place and I was part of it – and so now, the question for me was this: How do I intend to be a positive part of the big world? Or will I be close minded, scared, wary of differences between me and those around me? What’s it gonna be, Mr. Rob?
Well, the answer was obvious! I believe in the person, the individual! I support their right to be a unique indivual and their right to equal access to the things I simply took for granted. It was more than civil rights to me. It was the right to be treated in a civil way, given dignity and respect as a person, an individual as different from me as possible but still no less worthy of all the space to live in peace and a chance to those things this country provides, or should, to everyone.
Once that belief system began to take hold, it was an obvious jump to extend that artistic freedom of individuals in the music scene that I quickly adopted as my own. Those artists from Detroit and Chicago were the embodiment of outsiders who were changing the world for the better (warts and all, because nothing is perfect) and my sense of political beliefs were clearly aligned with supporting individuals who needed protection from those who would attempt to make them less so.
I guess you could say that my libertarian sensibilities started to arouse at this time in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It made sense to me, in the same way Ayn Rand articulated the sanctity of the individual over any sort of oppression, is what we should be concerned with. To allow this to happen to anyone is an affront to the advancements we had made about human liberty and freedom over the last few hundred years in this country and abroad. Those techno artists and dancers and me deserved to be fought for to have their voices be heard and not diminished while also supporting the inclusiveness of the party that had the ability to change hearts and minds to the acceptance and tolerance I had learned myself.
Changing mimds was the goal, tolerance of those who didn’t get it, love for those who did or who were on their way to learning, and a fierce dedication to protecting the freedom and liberty of individuals who made up our scene: those were the characteristics I wanted to promote and see in our culture we were building.
This stance held for quite awhile, mostly unchallenged and in my head, in alignment with everyone around me.
But then something funny happened over the last 20 years, there was increasing desire to subvert the individual in the service of the collective. Those of you reading this who identify with “progressive” politics and policy, I ask that you stick through this next part so as to help impart some understanding of my point of view. It might take stomaching a bit of criticism to your world view, but stick with it as I promise that it will help you understand a bit better the small few around you who you can’t understand in this culture who come across as good people, but are seemingly at odds with helping people in the same way you might.
After all, the point behind this piece is to help you and me understand each other better if we are at odds.
It feels like a sudden tsunami of change when internet bulletin boards hit, unfettered anonymous discussion, and email lists took off. How awesome was this change? Communication, connection, humanity networking, and hashing out ideas – trolls and all, it was mostly non-personal exchanges when dealing with politics and controversial subjects because everyone was using handles, aliases, and a way to not provoke personal animosity between real people hadn’t been created yet. Tempers flared but when you logged off, the line of demarcation existed, protecting the instigator from the offended and vice versa.
But let’s fastforward through Friendster, MySpace, and end up where we all exist now, mostly all using the very non-anonymous Facebook, instagram, and other personally revealing social media sites the majority of us take part in. Over the last 10 years the anonymous nature of online interaction has disappeared – not only do your real friends in life know your online persona, but so does the extended network of friends of friends, potential employers, your often used search engine, your favorite online shopping spots, your current employer, and … oh yeah, the government. So now, when you post something, buy something, search something, these interlinked online places and data repositories begin to know your identity and opinions.
And here is the kicker – they know your name. All of them.
They’ve categorized you into a group, they have put you into a box, a data set either into a massive big data analysis machine, or in their own personal friend assessment, put you into a ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ category based on this limited view of you social media activities
Unlike my experience of empathy and getting to breakdown the barriers of groups and demographic prejudices I had to break through to get know people at an individual human level, where connection and empathy, tolerance, and civility were created on the dancefloor first, this new form of connection was deeply at odds with that experience.
People and systems know your name, but now no one really knows you beyond some hyperfocused interpretation of you based on shallow visibility of you. It’s now more easy than ever to use someone’s name, to personally attack that person, without knowing them as a real person. Everyone is now part of predetermined groups again where it’s easy to demonize someone despite having the ability to get to know them if you want.
The destructiveness of this cannot be overstated. Suddenly people can call out others by name in the service of attacking a faceless grouping they disagree with. Suddenly what was once anonymous venting online with a line of demarcation between the online world and the real world was elinated and personal, real animosity has developed between people using each other’s names but not really knowing who they are. Whole people are destroyed online for a sliver of their persona revealed online – and it is happening without remorse, forgiveness, or even in a civil manner.
You know what this looks like to a person who is dedicated to helping people evolve to a better place? It looks like a toxic environment poised to smash freedom of thought, freedom to be wrong in words only, freedom to have ideas (good or bad). To my sensibilities, it looks clearly like a place that needs to be called out for the destructive tendencies it’s now promoting. Social media has turned the promise of connection, being and individual, a chance to share ideas (controversial ones, the best kind to discuss) into an unforgiving, poisonous, mechanism for stereotyping and minimizing people into groups, the kind of thing that makes it easy to turn your lifelong friend, or new acquaintances into an enemy.
Why? Because they know your name. But they do not know you.
And coming full circle, I view social media as an attack on the individual. It’s an attack on the free thinker. It’s an attack on ideas. Its aligned against tolerance and building bridges – even though it is sold to us as a way to “keep in touch”. It’s an affront to the essential characteristic for our society to work: civility. The ability to agree to disagree on specific things and still hug it out, hold hands, smile at each other, and call that person a friend even in disagreement.
When I think of our techno scene and the inclusiveness of it that helped change my thinking for the better, I lament the approach being taken today that does two things:
1) Ostracize those of us who champion individual liberties of you, me, the artists that live in our scene over government mandated programs that by design are intended to be enforced by law.
2) The immediate shaming and naming of individuals who might be – or are – at odds with what we know to be core values we hold dear.
Both are enabled by the current destructive nature of social media mechanisms. Both are at odds with the core values of what a healthy, confident culture can and should provide – a way to interact with opposing beliefs to teach otherwise or accommodate that there are different paths within that culture to achieve the same outcome.
There isn’t a person in the dance culture that doesn’t believe their values of inclusion aren’t being adhered to when they criticize a homophobe. I get it, you want to show that you don’t agree with those values. But that same person needs to be reminded that the victory isn’t in easily naming and shaming a person who you disagree with. That’s the easy, no effort part. The victory is in understanding that person better and creating a bridge to help them evolve to a better place. That requires work, tolerance, patience and a willingness to try.
In today’s world people don’t meet on the dance floor anonymously as the point of first interaction anymore. Their social media characterization precedes them, and the judgement that was once deferred until you got to know them personally (and you had some skin in the game) is now usurped by judgement of social media naming and shaming. And when that occurs, the chance of changing that person’s mind is almost entirely eliminated. It’s an opportinty lost.
Finally, I find that arguing with people on Facebook, in our community and outside of it, is a chance to build tolerance of ideas and civility. The goal is to eventually convince those at odds with my belief that they see my point of view and understand it better. We can be friends and disagree. We can hold each other’s thoughts and beliefs more intimately as people, as a person, as an individual first before we think of each other as one categorical group we are told to hate.
Discussion, lots of it, tends to heal, not drive people apart. That’s the goal.
And when you come across a person who says to you: I believe in your right to be a crazy wacko in your head, go on with your bad self, and also believes that we need to keep laws away from you me, and others around us to protect that individualism, cut us some slack. We are fighting for you too, your right to be more than just a name online, but an individual, a person worth something more than what social media is telling us to believe.
Oh yeah, forgot one last thing: Remember to log off.