Alice Neel and the Rat Race

Fuller Brush Man

Alice Neel painted most of her paintings in the living room of her apartment on 107th Street in New York. She sometimes painted a painting each week, living off of $100 a month from the Works Project Administration, until it ran out in 1943, after which she lived on welfare, and 23 years later, found a patron who paid her $6,000 a year. She had four children with four different men, and was investigated by the government for her involvement with the Communist Party. Her son, Richard, became a lawyer and said, “I don’t like bohemian culture, frankly.”

I like to paint people who are in the rat race, suffering all the tension and damage that’s involved in that, under pressure–of city life and the awful struggle that goes on in the city.

U.S. Congress Takes a Momentous Stand Against Human Trafficking


I have for quite some time done what I can to help children who are used for sex. I am a contributor to organizations that fight sex trafficking, and I follow much of the law surrounding it. So I was very happy to see that the JVTA, which has been sent today to Obama to sign, passed our Congress. Here is the writeup from CATW:

New York, May 19, 2015 – The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) applauds the U.S. Congress for passing the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), the first comprehensive bill to address domestic human trafficking. It now awaits the signature of President Barack Obama to become law.

The JVTA creates a new funding stream to finance services for U.S. trafficking victims. Up to $30 million of the innovative funding mechanism will come from $5,000 fines on perpetrators of crimes ranging from human trafficking to child pornography. The legislation also redefines federal law to clarify that sex buyers of children and human trafficking victims can be prosecuted as traffickers.

“Not only will the JVTA finance services for U.S. victims of trafficking, it puts the onus on sex buyers who cause the devastating harm. We finally have strong federal legislation that aims to prevent the demand for sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation,” says Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of CATW.

One of the JVTA’s most important provisions requires the Department of Justice to incorporate demand reduction strategies into all human trafficking training programs. Survivors have been key in demanding more accountability from commercial sex buyers who cause extensive harm to those they exploit. As a result, the JVTA also creates a new U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, with at least eight survivors, to make recommendations to the US Government on anti-trafficking strategies.

“This victory is not only the result of successful collaborations across political and ideological lines, but it is a testament to the power of survivors enlightening us with the best solutions to end trafficking and exploitation,” says Bien-Aimé.

Bluebells and buttercups eliminated from childhood in favor of celebrities and chatrooms

There was a recent update to the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and someone noticed that many words describing nature had disappeared. The Guardian says:

Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.

Social Peacocking and the Shadow

I’ve long spoken of the idea that much social media has turned into “social peacocking” — showing yourself in a favorable light online, presenting only the happy moments, a “highlights reel” of your life, so to speak, and how this leads to FOMO in others. Look at me: here I am doing cool things, in interesting places, with beautiful people. This has always given me some pause. When I look at Flickr and Findery, two social media companies I’ve built, they are not, I hope, venues for presenting the air-brushed version of one’s life. So many of the new social networks seem to encourage it. They seem pretty, but shallow.

It occurred to me that the real problem was not the showing off. The eminence grise that was Carl Jung showed us what can happen to those who stay on the sunny side, and only on the sunny side of life. Jung posited the idea of The Shadow, the dark side of one’s character. The Shadow is not only what is evil, but what is petty, selfish, childish, annoying, and usually unconscious. The more a person acknowledges his shadow, and brings it into consciousness, the healthier and more whole the person will be. But if driven underground and sent into hiding, The Shadow will take on a life of its own, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Ursula LeGuin wrote a magnificent essay, “The Child and the Shadow” (which I collected quotes from last year), in which she discusses the fairy tale “The Shadow” by Hans Christian Anderson. In the story a man allows his shadow to leave him, and the shadow goes on to live its own life, without the positive side of its character. Eventually the Shadow has grown strong, and the man has grown weak, and the Shadow come back and murders the man. LeGuin writes:

If the ego “is weak, or if it’s offered nothing better, what it does is identify with the “collective consciousness.” That is Jung’s term for a kind of lowest common denominator of all the little egos added together, the mass mind, which consists of such things as cults, crees, fads, fashions, status-seeking, conventions, received beliefs, advertising, pop cult, all the isms, all the ideologies, all the hollow forms of communication and “togetherness” that lack real communion or real sharing. The ego, accepting these empty forms, becomes a member of the “lonely crowd”. To avoid this, to attain real community, it must turn inward, away from the crowd, to the source: it must identify with its own deeper regions, the great unexplored regions of the Self. These regions of the psyche June calls the “collective unconscious,” and it is in them, where we all meet, that he sees the source of true community; of felt religion; of art, grace, spontaneity, and love.

Social peacocking is life on the internet without the shadow. It is an incomplete representation of a life, a half of a person, a fraction of the wholeness of a human being. It’s the lonely crowd, the network and society, and not the community, as Tonnies would have it. As Jyri Engestrom observed, it’s implied in Google’s mantra “Don’t Be Evil.” That’s the Yang without the Yin. We have to bring The Shadow back into our technology if we are to live there and find our humanity reflected back to us. In our strivings to be better, we must not forget to be whole.

Sesat School in Wired

homeschooling - the cooks

I’m happy that Jason Tanz, who has written before about the sharing economy, wrote an article about homeschooling for Wired Magazine: The Techies Who Are Hacking Education by Homeschooling Their Kids. It gets across the entrepreneurial and DIY nature of the self-taught, and how the future will require us to be more inventive, take responsibility for our own education and be more entrepreneurial in our lives, education and pursuits. We were also happy that our micro-school, Sesat School, was included in the article.

Most of my interview was not included in the article, and unfortunately the one quote that was included made it seem as if I were endorsing an exclusive, privileged education that readers should “feel free to roll [their] eyes” about. Nor am I anti-public school or anti-democratic. This was unfortunate.

My public school education included a love of poetry and classical music–I was not homeschooled, and in the article it is implied that my experience has something to do with homeschooling. It did not. I was speaking in the context of what was good about public school education, and how being different didn’t hurt, but helped me in life.

In the interview with Jason I had said that the “gifted children’s programs”, in which I had participated in public school, were elitist and that all children should be able to participate in them. In many ways it was a reaction against privilege that led me to homeschooling. One of the many reasons I started looking into homeschooling — or independent education, as it is better named — was that I was repelled by the line of limos outside the private schools in the morning.

I was especially happy about this paragraph:

Problems arise, the thinking goes, when kids are pushed into an educational model that treats everyone the same—gives them the same lessons and homework, sets the same expectations, and covers the same subjects. The solution, then, is to come up with exercises and activities that will help each kid flesh out the themes and subjects to which they are naturally drawn.

The best part of the New Jersey public schools “gifted program” was exactly that.

I am grateful that Jason wrote this article. It does a great service to homeschooling in general, and delineates its entrepreneurial and DIY ethos very well. I just don’t want to be the poster child for its “privilege”– the very thing I’m resisting.


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