Intellectual Autobiography


The future is not an overbearing presence in my mind. The nature of my life and my work, whether it develops in five years or twenty, is what remains potent to me, not the pace at which I make achievements. In five years I suspect I will be working for a media company, and in ten or twenty years I hope to be managing my own company, all the while doing the work that impassions me, that is as creative as it is moral. It was that desire, to interweave cultural expression with social good, that drew me away from music performance and into the humanities, and it was that desire that kept me working on my cultural activist projects. That same desire will guide me into the future, however long it stretches before me.

Noam Chomsky describes how persons come to believe themselves crazy in a controlled media enviroment.¹ I know what it means to confront that delusion. My intellectual life began with a social awakening that coincided with my move from Miami to Tallahassee, two Florida towns that could not be further apart in distance or culture. I fell in with a community of student activists and found myself at an anti-globalization protest in Washington DC. I had never heard the word globalization a month before. I knew that I was a tourist in that political environment, and I recognized the contrivance of the event itself. But these kids helped me understand a new reality. From the oncoming Iraq War to the scripted protest march to the promiscuous little party we had that night, I saw that it is the world that is crazy. I am not the one with the problem.

A time of fervent self-definition, without the dependence of childhood or the responsibilities of adulthood, is adolescence. It colors our minds even as a we age and grow into something else. Adolescents come together around symbols with a particular tenacity. The culture industry knows this, studies this, and aims for youthful identities, shaping their culture for them through repetition and association. Where adolescents break away and shape themselves are places of independent culture, and with luck these cultures breed and multiply, spreading into the controlled media environment.

But there is a human fact to confront. People do not go to cultural events simply to experience culture. They go for the admiration of their social group; to affirm one another's value through shared tastes; to feel cool; to index status. Independent culture becomes the same as commercial culture, an aesthetic veil over an underlying signification of status. But in their fluidity and diversity independent cultures can overcome these insecurities. As individuals break apart, reform, and negotiate multiple scenes, they liquify whatever status relationships and become free cultural agents.

I have several friends who take part in Some have been printed via the website and regularly communicate with other Threadless users, most of them young and independent. These users create a community of artistic support and criticism, forming a youth culture. Unlike most scenes Threadless has a production agenda. Their business structure contains the motivation to create output, to make real material expressions, inspiring an active community of artists and an emergent aesthetic. Though based on light-hearted conventions like cute animals and puns, the Threadless aesthetic satirizes commercial culture and resonates with modern experiences.


There was the house where I lived in Tallahassee. The house was a venue for rock shows that run together in my mind as a seamless memory. In these shows I saw a sincerity that contrasted with the commercial manifestations of culture I had grown up knowing. These were cultural events as far from fabricated as anything could be, and I was thankful to be a part of their creation. I fell in love with organizing. At the same time I felt dismayed by the my humanities education, in which real world engagement was simply not included. With the goal of bridging my intellectual, aesthetic, and social passions I began work on a periodic cd compilation called "The Fertile Compilation" which featured local talent and was sold to benefit local non-profits. Elizabeth Coleman notes the "collaborative, messy, frustrating, contentious, and impossible world of politics and public policy" ² that must be engaged to enact change. After years of confronting such frustrating worlds, it became clear that I needed help and training. I decided to go to graduate school.

Humans are symbolic animals. Like other creatures we live with many instincts, but ours play with symbolic environments created through our history. These environments and our interactions with them create culture, adhering us to one another in shared beliefs and values and creating distinct groups of people. Under elite interests these cultures grow removed from the material world where resources are becoming scarce and needs are being ignored. We focus on our symbolic world through consumption and identity formation, and we ignore the material needs of our societies and our future. This does not mean we must abandon the symbolic world that binds us, as if we could. We should associate our cultures with the material needs of our circumstances; political, social, environmental, etc. That association is my agenda.

Associations between the symbolic and the material have been built before. T. V. Reed, in his book "The Art of Protest" ³, chronicles political art movements over the last century; from gospel music and civil rights, to murals and chicano rights, to Live Aid and African relief. Efforts are not flawless, but that does not diminish their ability to bridge the gap. Today, projects like Playing for Change and Yellow Bird Project are using new media to benefit social organizations with art products. After graduation I hope to intern with such a group. From there I will make my own contributions, perhaps building collaborations between cultural activist groups, thus strengthening that bridge between material good and symbolic identity.


Since childhood, I have had an appetite for lofty conversation, an appetite that serves my intellectual pursuits today. Star Trek provided a wonderful kick in the head when I was sixteen, and McLuhan provides the same kick today. There have been a very few teachers who have struck me with that wonder. A Film Studies class, geared towards uncovering the hidden messages of media, had such a teacher. He used the class room as a stage, drawing out humor and interest, even while many of the students huffed in disbelief. "How can you see so much in a Hollywood movie? It's just a movie!" More recently the internet has provided a source for imagination-widening experiences called This is the future of enlightened discussion. Ramachandran changed the way I see culture, Pinker shook my humanitarian values, and Coleman gave me goosebumps. TED has made me a better thinker and a better person, and has given me more hope for the future than any other teacher.

My father has been another source for intellectual wonder. His adoration for Richard Dawkins pars well with my postmodern sympathies. Our conversations and my time on has made the tension between science and humanities pronounced. A comparison between Lyotard's grand narrative and Dawkins's meme can elucidate. Lyotard, coming from a literary background, compares cultural systems to narratives, while Dawkins, coming from a biological background, compares cultural systems to genes. Both models describe cultures as complex systems that homogenize human perspective and behavior, revealing precious common ground. The negotiation between science and humanities will be a major theme in my academic work, as I find tremendous profit in their development towards each other. The scientific world is no longer mechanistic; it breaths and adapts. As scientific models look towards the complexity and adaptations of biological systems we will see science synch with humanitarian insights, with all it's account for subjectivity and multi-culturalism. As Dave Pink says in his TED talk, "The data confirms what we have always know in our hearts." ⁴

Progressive education often frustrates students seeking some solid ground like what the scientific discourse enjoys. Reflecting on my creative process, I note my own introversion and I see other students working in isolation, managing their projects with little time to assist one another. Direction and opportunity can be created through collaboration and universities should develop structures that assure collaborations, with students trading leadership and supportive roles. While at New School, I want to learn to work with others; to facilitate in their efforts towards common goals. For this ambition management becomes a prime skill as well as the ability to develop an effective project, one that achieves it's aims and takes full advantage of it's environment. These skills are my most practical priorities.

Works Cited

¹ Chomsky, Noam. "The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda." Open Media. Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, Pamphlet#10. February 1992

² Coleman, Liz. "Liz Coleman's call to reinvent liberal arts education." TED Conference. February 2009.

³ T. V. Reed. The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. University of Minnesota Press. July 2005.

⁴ Pink, Dan. "Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation." TED Conference. February 2009.

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