1. A common rhetorical technique in which, after severely insulting their opponent, one side of a conflict responds to the predictable backlash with cries about how their First Amendment rights are being silenced. The aggressor may compare their target to a fascist, or they may simply invoke such snarl words as "political correctness", painting themselves as a hero or an iconoclast. The common element appears to be an error, honest or willful, that leads people to believe the Constitution somehow protects their speech from private criticism in addition to official censorship. A classic example is that of the internet troll who frames his quest to call everyone a faggot as a struggle for freedom, but this strategy appears in many other places, from high school cafeterias to the conservative talk show that lends it its name.
This fallacy applies only in cases where the target does not threaten or express desire for actual legal action, though one would sometimes have difficulty blaming them.
The word "benzopunk" is a fusion of "benzo" from the benzodiazepine class of sedatives with "punk" from cyberpunk and its derivatives. It describes a form of writing that is essentially an experiment in combining socially liberal (or even outright libertarian) views on race, gender, sexuality, and drug use with a moderate amount of contempt for all forms of group pride and nationalism, including those of minorities. It takes place in the modern West, which it portrays as a messy, ideologically inconsistent web of overlapping prejudice and power.
The "benzo" in its name is both a statement of opposition to the Drug War and a symbol of human society's ultimately mechanical nature. Actual benzodiazepines need not appear, though it would not be surprising if they did, and other drugs are likely to materialize as well. Alcohol and tobacco are narratively and thematically lumped in with the rest of them, despite their protected cultural roles.
It takes some measure of inspiration from cyberpunk, which almost exists in reality at this point. The cyborgs of that genre are largely confined to fiction, but we have computers, data theft, recreational drug use, smartphones that people cling to as dearly as cybernetic implants, and an Internet that can maintain connections and send messages between entire continents at speeds that are nearly instantaneous. Human-machine integration exists. Its mechanisms are merely more subtle than the hybrids of science fiction.
Benzopunk treats social systems as enemies of individual liberty, despite the necessity of their presence. Its approach to them operates on six basic principles:
All Social Groups Are Inherently Similar
All races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, sexualities, social classes, and religions contain the same basic sorts of people. Their average opinions and psychologies vary, but they display the same basic range of emotions, and they all have the capacity to band together and beat other groups down. Which tribe holds power is therefore entirely malleable, a matter of size and cultural setup. For example, every racial group in America routinely displays some measure of prejudice against the others, but whites sit on top from a combination of social force, large numbers, and historical imperialism that worked to their benefit.
Any Group Can Attack Any Other
Bigotry is not limited to the powerholders. Black men can be sexist, women can be racist, homosexuals can be both, and any of the letters in LGBTQ may at any time feud with one or more of the others.
Any Group Can Turn on Itself
Similarily, any group can turn on itself, whether from internalized oppression, selfishness, or some twisted sense of pride. Men call male rape victims faggots, women spread rumors and use misogynistic language to beat each other down, gay men sneer at the more effeminate among their ranks, black people call black college students race traitors, guilt-ridden whites show condescending favoritism to minorities, and fundamentalist Christians torment each other with warnings of eternal damnation.
Social Norms Are Inconsistent
Many social norms severely contradict each other. Drug use is demonized and branded a felony, but it remains legal and accepted in the form of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, as well as in prescriptions for methylphenidate and amphetamine that are handed out with wild abandon. Injuring a domestic cat or dog is considered wrong, but killing livestock is condoned and often glorified. Consensual sex is censored more heavily in entertainment than murder, despite where most people would place the two morally. Atheists are called arrogant if they express their beliefs even a fraction as loudly as many Christians trumpet theirs, and rape victims are shamed along with their rapists. Some of these norms result from a divide in public opinion, but some are outright hypocrisy that we proudly entertain for the sake of conformity. Benzopunk exists to point out such things without necessarily proposing a definite solution.
Our Culture Falls Short of Its Own Ideals
American society is full of sexism, classism, racial slurs, homophobia, gun violence, armed robberies, alcoholics, adolescent drug users, animal cruelty, political tribalism, rape, murder, nationalistic war-mongering, self-righteous Internet WARRIERZZZZ, White Guilt (TM), and people who don't put their empty soda cans where they're supposed to.
No One Knows Everything
Humanity as whole is ignorant of many things, and each individual member can only hope to absorb a fraction of the species' already limited knowledge. No one has all of the answers, including me. I do not know the precise solution for any of the problems I just mentioned, legal or otherwise. I can only read, write, and talk about them in the hope of finding something better than what we have now.
Benzopunk was conceived as a way to challenge traditional forms of bigotry without being hamstrung by the language-policing, identity-based double standards, and inability to place the truth over appearances that characterize conservatism and liberalism alike. Its abrasive tone and drug references came from hardcore hip-hop, its subject matter sprung from the realization that our unconscious minds and common speech patterns are tinged with prejudice in a way that renders outrage against racial slurs and other hated words deeply hypocritical, and its ultimate methods are an attempt to respond to such corruption by burning the ideas behind it down instead of sinking into the humorless, nihilistic pit of group shame that I saw as the only logical alternative.
Writing of this nature runs the risk of sounding rather like a sermon, and I will have to remember that, but it serves no political or cultural master, and the point it will ideally hammer in is something along the lines of "people are complicated" or "appearances don't mean much". I don't think that I could ever in good conscience write without touching on these themes in some manner.
Of course, I'm an amateur, and, aside from essays, unfinished drafts, and short snippets, there is currently a total of two pieces of writing that serve as an example of this prototypical genre: a semi-autobiographical prose poem called The Alphabet of Adolescence, and a fictional short story called Somnolence. I'm not a master writer, and naming my own style may come across as rather arrogant at this point.
Nonetheless, the label gives me something to work towards, and it helps me focus my efforts. Ultimately, that's what matters, however much recognition or however little recognition it may eventually obtain.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." — Arthur C. Clarke
There are several different definitions of the word "magic". One concerns the manipulation of supernatural forces, which is by definition impossible, because anything that exists in nature is inherently part of it. Were their presence someday confirmed, ghosts, ESP, and psychic powers would simply be an exotic part of the natural world. They would not transcend it, and neither would the Greek gods, despite their power.
A second, less common meaning involves the command of natural forces in a vaguely mystical manner. This is usually taken to mean the same thing as the first, but, if you so desire, it can be read in a more technical and inclusive manner. It is my contention that modern engineering fits into this category almost as well as anything else could.
The technology of the 21st century is, put simply, a marvel. Electricity gives us power over heat and lighting, chemistry allows us to attack microorganisms and create the same poisonous gases and fireballs as stereotypical fantasy wizards, and radio waves fuel communication by sending words and images across thousands of miles with a speed that might as well be instantaneous. To our modern eyes, these abilities seem mundane, but they involve powerful, complex manipulation of natural forces that were almost completely beyond us in years past. Our medieval ancestors had fire, but electricity escaped them, and they would have seen our control of it as fantastical, or perhaps even demonic. Our powers in this area are as mystical as any stereotypical fantasy trope short of polytheism or the afterlife, and we forget that only because of how inescapably common they are.
If basic chemistry and electrical engineering are equivalent to pyromancy, then the Internet and the computers that power it go far beyond even that. We have created, through a combination of natural energy and modern wiring, metallurgy, and plastic design (this is an oversimplification), an incredibly expansive, constantly-churning soup of information, entertainment, and pornography. What started as a series of data exchanges became a world all its own, fully realized in picture and sound. Its attractions range from vast virtual libraries to fickle, harsh social media sites, harsher news article comment sections, immersive, semi-hallucinogenic video games, and porn sites that are simultaneously despised by polite society and maintained by the desires of its inhabitants. Like the underworld of a cyberpunk novel (a genre which essentially exists in real life at this point), it holds enormous reams of forbidden knowledge, and its total landscape would take tens of thousands of years to fully explore. It may be our crowning achievement as a race, at least from the perspective of sheer, environment-bending advancement, and our casual, almost bored desensitization is a testament to how quickly the human psyche can acclimate itself to changing conditions.
On that note, both psychoactive drugs and ordinary medicines are fairly effective analogs of magical potions, if often more limited. We can't turn people invisible or treat every disease with a one hundred percent cure rate, but we can alter their thought patterns, give them temporary enhancements in emotional control or physical strength, and save them from infections that would have been fatal without assistance. The primary difference between my Vyvanse prescription and a magical energy serum, aside from its side effects, lack of silver bullet properties, and limited (but not entirely absent) utility for normal people, is that it actually exists.
There are other things I could point to as well. Genetic engineering can transfer traits from one crop to another, certain forms of composite armor are strong enough to block non-shaped explosive charges, cars allow us to travel hundreds of miles with speed that surpasses a racehorse, and airplanes can cross entire continents in less than a day.
Thus, as I use my electricity-powered laptop, the virtually-generated sound waves of In Flames' Colony, and the peak effects of said Vyvanse to write this, I am a wizard. I'm doing magic, and so are you. We do magic every day. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Marie Curie, skilled drug manufacturers, and other such experts are/were archmages. The rest of us are mere apprentices, and perhaps dark ones, depending on how badly all those fossil fuel emissions ultimately come back to bite us in the ass.
Of course, the definition I used to reach that conclusion can easily be extended to include the natural bending of heat and kinetic energy that create order and motion, as well as the chemical reactions that take place inside our own bodies. Everything is magic, or perhaps nothing is, depending on how you word it. I suppose that only goes to show how primitive the whole concept really is.
As of this afternoon, all statewide bans on gay marriage across America have been defeated. The Supreme Court ruled in a narrow 5-4 majority that the marriage rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples must be extended to homosexual ones.
This decision may not ever directly affect me. I can be attracted to anyone of either gender for their personality, but my instinctive physical responses are so weighted towards women that it's hard for me to use the term "bisexual" with a straight face, despite its technical accuracy. The fragment of same-sex attraction that terrified me in middle school and confused me for two years after now seems only a small shard of my full identity, significant more for its potential social ramifications than its actual attributes.
Nonetheless, I'm glad the ruling took place, both for same-sex marriage itself and the legitimacy it grants homosexuality and bisexuality in the eyes of our culture. The LGBT community hasn't necessarily won yet, but the people who want to throw them back in the closet have lost, and in time I suspect even the Republicans will have little use for their bigotry, despite the shitstorm that party is throwing up right now. Gay has entered the mainstream.
The New Testament condemns homosexuality as immoral, and the Old Testament brands it a crime worthy of death, but our society has left many of that book's other judgements behind, and this one seems likely to fade as well. Many Americans who support gay marriage identify as Christian, after all. Their beliefs come as much from their own emotions and their internal sense of right and wrong as the words of their holy book.
Is that a complement? I think so, but I'm an atheist. Make of it what you will.
(Post copied from my blog)
Ah, yes. ADHD. A controversy, a fad, an uncomfortable reminder of the physical nature of our minds, and a license for the use of such evil stimulant drugs as amphetamine and methylphenidate. Common remedies include the aforementioned evil stimulant drugs, along with exercise, therapy, clonidine, Strattera, noradrenergic antidepressants, and beating your kids until they magically acquire the attributes you desire.
It's like smoking but with less cancer.
The Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders estimates that five percent of children suffer from ADHD, but rates of diagnosis in some areas run as high as eleven or thirteen percent. Proposed explanations for this epidemic include overzealous attempts at diagnosis, mislabeling of sleep deprivation or family stress as a disorder, environmental toxins, and the idea that ADHD is a natural variant of human cognition. On a technical level, the fourth point is entirely accurate, and I'd be surprised if the first two didn't hold water in a fair number of cases. ADHD is not schizophrenia. The diagnostic criteria for it are imprecise and subjective, and so is their application. This lends itself well to false positives.
Some use that knowledge to deny the disorder's entire existence, but we know by now that some people naturally have great difficulty focusing, and a moderate or even severe amount of overdiagnosis does not change that. What label we give those individuals is equally irrelevant. As the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders has gone through its various revisions, mental retardation has been renamed to intellectual disability, multiple personality disorder has been renamed to dissociative identity disorder, Asperger's syndrome has been merged under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder, and ADD has been subsumed and reworded into ADHD as a variant with symptoms concentrated in the area of inattention. None of these textual alterations change the underlying nature of things, including that of my own mind.
I have, for whatever reason, great difficulty with focus and multitasking. My mind is a chaotic swamp of memories, self-analysis, politics, philosophy, music, writing ambitions, and a million other ideas. Any train of thought can potentially intrude on any other at any given time, no matter how unwelcome it is and no matter how badly it interferes with the task at hand. This is not a result of sleep deprivation or anger. It is a basic component of my experience, and it happens every second of every day in my natural state, regardless of my mood or energy level.
In fact, enthusiasm can actually make it worse, and so can attempting to limit my attention to one or two items. I'm smart enough to complete many individual tasks very quickly, but life is not merely a pool of individual tasks. it is a neverending chain of chores and responsibilities, and the rapid, purposeful switches in focus required to navigate much of it are beyond me.
Some have called the process I describe a side effect of high intelligence, and perhaps they may be right, but it's still a problem. It's a problem for productivity, it's a problem for organization, it's a problem for independence, and it's particularly going to be a problem if I ever start driving a car. Distraction in that context can be lethal.
The Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders did not allow ADHD to be diagnosed alongside Asperger's or any of the other autistic disorders, which I clearly suffered from. The Fifth Edition does, but it still took me until tenth grade to realize that I probably had both and until the end of eleventh to get an actual evaluation. This isn't something my parents made up because I wouldn't sit still or because they heard about it on the news. In fact, neither of them were very happy when I suggested it, and one of them was hostile enough to delay the evaluation for several months. I consider myself fortunate that it happened at all.
Some of you may currently be berating me for not working hard enough, for not taking "personal responsibility". Well, you know what? I tried. I tried exercising, I tried getting more sleep, I tried keeping a daily planner, I tried thinking positively, and I tried drinking caffeine, but none of those things solved my basic problem, and the latter sometimes made it even worse. I suppose I could have started smoking, but tobacco is a tremendously toxic drug, worse than alcohol, weed, Ritalin, Adderall, caffeine, and a whole host of others. Its yearly death toll exceeds 400,000. I prefer not to join that statistic.
Caffeine didn't work, lifestyle changes didn't work, and tobacco was out of the question. Those weak interventions were insufficient, and so I arrived at this lovely molecule.
It'll take out your soul.
Amphetamine. Speed. I have a prescription, of course—I'm not a felon—and the doses I take are fairly low, but it's still speed.
This particular form of speed is known as Vyvanse. It's a molecule of dextroamphetamine fused with a molecule of the amino acid L-lysine. Their combined form is biologically inactive, but your body separates them soon after ingestion, and then the freed dextroamphetamine molecule enters the brain. The inherently delayed nature of its release makes it somewhat harder to abuse than Adderall or Dexedrine, but in the end it produces the same effects, even if you can't make it work faster by shooting or snorting it.
In essence, it feels like a severely exaggerated version of caffeine. It gives me a moderate boost in self-confidence, speeds up my thoughts, makes them much easier to direct, and gives me so much motivation that slacking off becomes harder than working. This has led to such spectacles as cleaning up my entire room out of the blue, happily completing two math assignments in one class period, writing a 6,800 word short story in three days, and voluntarily taking on four household chores in rapid succession. This sensation is pleasant, of course, but it doesn't eliminate my normal range of emotions, and doesn't turn me into a raving megalomaniac. It merely makes me more efficient and less prone to error.
The more prominent and speedy effects fade after a few hours, but the focus increase lasts well into the evening. This is consistent with dextroamphetamine's long half-life of 10-13 hours. It is also consistent with the observation that I have to take it very early in the morning to stop it from damaging my sleep.
This substance essentially eliminates all the problems I just mentioned, but at the moment I'm only taking it three or four times a week. More frequent usage could lead to tolerance, and that could lead to dose raises. The prospect of getting a car raises some questions about this pattern, but for now I'm going to try to avoid such troubleshooting.
Notice that everything I just mentioned, from motivation to focus to insomnia, is a classic stimulant effect. A lot of them would probably go away if I took it more often, but they're still classic stimulant effects. They are not "paradoxical", and they are not categorically limited to people with ADHD. Amphetamine and methylphenidate might be better at correcting deficits than turning users into Stephen Hawking, but normal people can still use them to some effect, and that's worth remembering. It renders authorized medical use and illegal performance-enhancement more similar than our culture would like to believe. I think this is an argument for legalization, or at least against locking non-violent users in cages, but you might have a different perspective. Make of it what you will.
I've already said most of what I need to say, so I'm going to close this off by responding to a few potential questions/insults.
There are some kids and teenagers with ADHD who hate taking stimulants because they make them feel blunted and mechanical. I am not one of them. This means that different people have different reactions, not that I'm faking it.
Similarly, please don't come screaming at me about how ADHD doesn't exist and I'm just a fucking junkie. I think it probably does, but, even if its existence is someday invalidated, I still have autism, which is itself strongly correlated with focus issues. There's a reason people often meet the criteria for both. I have problems, no matter what you call them.
On that note, if you tell me that I'm just another bum who needs to "work harder" or get a sense of "personal responsibility", I am going to slap you with a tenth grade psychology textbook. We're biological machines, not demigods. The brain is a physical thing. There are limitations to our hardware, and not all of them can be overcome through Republican buzzwords. Life doesn't work that way. It just doesn't. I don't know why that's so hard for some people to understand.
And, please, please, don't go the Neal Boortz route and expect me to believe that ADHD is some kind of government conspiracy to drug up our children and make them easier to control. You don't use amphetamine or methylphenidate as tranquilizers. You don't. They're stimulants, not sleeping pills. They don't fucking work that way. A minority of users experience depression and somnolence, but, in general, they make people more aggressive, more outspoken, and, to some limited extent, smarter. The drug you're thinking of is alcohol, and it doesn't require a prescription.
Separate names with a comma.