philosofunk

what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin


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The Heroin Problem

Recently I found out an acquaintance died from a heroin overdose. I had not seen this person in about a year, yet have clear memories of him that now seem sad in hindsight in the way that death overcasts a person’s memory. According to the New York Times, “heroin related deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013” and is becoming a scourge in many American neighborhoods. Heroin dealers are shrewd for money and power. Heroin users are looking for a fantastical escape that is bigger than themselves. It is a clear problem for which we are not finding a solution.

The documentary “Black Tar Heroin” is a comprehensive examination into the daily lives of heroin users. The documentary aired on HBO in 2000 and captured the attention of the public due to its honest portrayal of the struggles of heroin addicts.

One of the subjects in the film, Tracy, now writes a fantastic blog about her heroin days in hindsight now that she has been clean for many years. In the documentary, the audience meets her in the midst of heroin’s claim over her life. She notes that “it looks like I’ve gotten dropped in a dumpster” due to the physical toll shooting up in her legs took, and generally seems very out of touch with reality. After getting out of jail and doing a shot of heroin, she notes the disappointment of the hit and that the anticipation was the driving force to get her to shoot up. She is depressed and lost, a person with promise who turned to the most powerful substance to numb her pain. Her boyfriend in the film, Ben, also does crack cocaine which is a source of argument for the couple. When couples use drugs together, things get very distorted because of the enabling nature of the relationship and lack of genuine affection because all energy is reserved for the procurement and administration of the drug. Tracy says “recently all I’ve been thinking about what I’m gonna do when I quit heroin…and it seems like getting there is easy all I have to do is kick…even if I wasn’t doing heroin I don’t know what the fuck I want to do with my life I would’ve just done it”. She vacillates between wanting to not use and accepting her use. Junkies use many excuses to justify their bad behavior and often act as victims of their circumstances whether it is true or not. Fast forward several years and Tracy was able to kick her habit with dedication, support, and sheer will. However as her blog notes, the experiences of using heroin and the atmosphere that heroin use creates is not something a person can simply escape from, it stays with you and creeps up in the night.

For another subject, Jessica, the documentary remains a testament to her demise due to the streets, heroin, and a prostitution lifestyle. Jessica turns to prostituting in order to pay for her habit which is a very common decision for many female addicts. On her refrigerator a poem about the heroin lifestyle is scrawled, “Dead End Street Kid-bloody needles/full of junk/never bathing/smell like skunk/strict-9 acid/fuckin’ bunk/drink 40s/goddamn punk”. She says that in prostitution “you get through with them you try to clean up yourself in the car…and you stand back on the street and it feels like you’re a tissue being wiped”. She acquires AIDS and doesn’t stop prostituting, being so jaded that she no longer cares about putting other people in danger. It is clear in the film that she is dying, the last scene with her in it is very dark and disturbing. With her head shaved looking androgynous, she states that shes tired of “the sex trade business, I’m about to the point of just robbing people but I can’t do that because I’d go to jail because some stupid person would have to try to take a swing at me and I’d have to cut them up into little pieces”. She knows she lives a risky life, with the possibility of being raped and/or robbed a daily threat. “At the rate I’m going in a year I’ll be dead”, she says to the camera, with full knowledge of where the consequences of her actions are going.

wages of sin

This photo “for the wages of sin is death” is shown at the beginning of the film. However, heroin use in and of itself should not be considered a “sin”. Drug abuse is a recognized disorder on the DSM-V and addiction is a medical condition that must be treated carefully. Drug addicts may do bad things due to the nature of addiction (ie. stealing money from family to buy drugs), but saying that they are sinful is reducing their problem to something too basic. Due to the likelihood of any person becoming addicted, this disorder could theoretically happen to anyone. That is why it is so important to understand how addiction works and why it is so important to destigmatize drug addiction, something that could possibly cause more people to receive help for their addictions because of the reduction of the shame factor. Shame factors are enablers of negative behavior because it makes the person feel so negatively about themselves that they become unable to seek proper and adequate treatment.

The film ends with Tracy dumping her used needles into a bin at the needle exchange, a very important health care service that addicts need in order to be safe and protected from diseases. This is a strategy of the “harm reduction” school of thought, which states that since people are going to engage in potentially risky behavior, there should be services that provide ways for drug users to stay as safe as possible. Harm reduction does not label people because of their medical condition of addiction but rather seeks to recognize that the humanity these people have includes the right to be as safe as possible in their decisions, and if there is a way to facilitate that safety, it should be done. This strategy is more honest than the school of thought that prohibition of narcotics is the superior way to eliminate drug use.

In our society, it should be clear that prohibition is not working. It is a propaganda ploy to create power structures that are unbeatable. It creates black market jobs that are filled by dangerous people and causes people who are addicted to hide away from the public creating acute medical crises across the country. There will never be a “solution” for heroin use, that is heroin use will never completely go away. However, recognition of what the disease of addiction actually is could improve the conditions that come with heroin use.


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Bitch Better Have My Marijuana Money

Currently obsessed with Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”, the title of this article comes from the title of the song based on a tragic life event of epic financial proportions, “Bitch Better Have My Money” stems from Riri’s real life dealings with a shady financial dealer. The video is insane and looks like it cost a pretty penny to have made:

Like a lot of people in the world, I worry about money for a number of personal reasons. Like a lot of millennials, when I’m relaxing at home in my bed letting my mind wander, sometimes it stumbles on the “oh my fucking god I’m going to get old” moments. These can be happy imaginings, like how beautiful and sweet my grandchildren will be someday, or terrifying and distressing like what the hell is going to happen when social security collapses? How am I going to live when I am old and decrepit? Why am I not doing something to make money that I love doing? Then, I read about something how Colorado made fifty three million dollars in legal marijuana as of February 2015.

New York also likes to pretend it has legal weed. It does not, it has non-smokable marijuana derived products that require a license to legally obtain. That is in no way shape or form marijuana reform progress nor is it something that should be considered legal weed. This is a legitimate problem, this is not an problem of immature people or people who refuse responsibility or quality of life. Obtaining marijuana is a normal problem for many millions of American adults. As Colorado demonstrates, huge cash flows are being diverted to black market economies which could be used more positively and in ways that directly benefit society.

I included the Rihanna video because the aesthetic is so pleasingly angry that an issue could be made over having to living your life with integrity and dignity. This person, this financial person, screwed her over despite that she contends she “calls the shots”. In our lives, whether or not we feel we do, we call the shots. It is my decision to spend my time and money on an illegal substance and quite possibly could suffer legal consequences because of the use of that prohibited substance. It is parallel to Kantian notions that law is essentially arbitrary and is not inherently moral because of it’s simple nature as law; law is law, it is not morality. It is not immoral to smoke marijuana, and due to such, to a degree, it is not necessarily immoral that I spend some of my money within the black market economy which does not officially benefit society due to the lack of a tax system. This is something that reasonable and responsible people should seek to quell the discrepancy of such a normalized part of life for so many millions of American marijuana users.


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The Significance of HBO’s “Oz”

Prison fascinates me, as an American I have somewhat of an obligation to be at the least minimally interested. Paradoxically, the worlds largest democracy imprisons the most number of human beings on the planet in jails, prisons, and detention centers for persons who illegally crossed into America. A nation of privilege, Americans are prudent to ensure the correct persons enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As a public policy, I disagree with mandatory disenfranchisement of the prison population. If a person commits a political crime, then it is logical to restrict their participation in the political sphere. Granted, when a person commits a violent crime they are trespassing against society, but as Kantian logic dictates, the law is not the utmost determinant of justice. The law can and is manipulated to target certain populations and limit their power within society. Using the loss of the right to vote as an example, despite the fact that prisoners cannot participate in the voting process, their populations are still weighed when determining political districting. That is, even though they cannot vote, they are still counted when figuring out how many representatives a county gets, how much funding an area receives, and the number of electoral votes a state has, which is particularly significant for states that hold federal prisons because federal prisoners can easily be moved from state to state. If prisoners themselves are disenfranchised, then they should not be counted within the political process. This is a manipulation of the law that distorts the political process.

Previous attempts to watch “Oz” were not successful. I found the entire concept too distressing, and couldn’t get past the first ten minutes. However, now after knowing people who have been to jail or prison or both combined with my personal interest to understand the American prison system, I felt compelled to watch the series in its entirety. This was psychologically somewhat exhausting, and completely shocking. First, as a film and television connoisseur, I was fascinated with how the producers and director of the series decided to tell the tale of the Oswald State Correctional Facility, level four (maximum security). Using Brechtian style techniques, “Oz” is one of the only series I have seen successfully pull off a narrator for the entirety of the series. “Sex and the City” attempted this and failed miserably, and generally television and film stay away from direct character narration because it is difficult to integrate into the work. The narrator in “Oz” is a wheelchair bound murderer and drug dealer named Augustus Hill who was thrown off a roof during the bust that sent him to prison thus causing a spinal injury that disabled him. By using something called “Verfremdungseffekt” (“distancing technique” in German) the audience is removed from the immediate storyline of “Oz” and let into one of the prisoner’s minds with Augustus’ narration. It is partly used to show the absurdity Oz’s world, and partly used to allow the audience to process the dramatic and raw portrayal of life in a maximum security prison. Harrold Perrineau (“Matrix Revolutions”, “Sons of Anarchy”, Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliette”) does a fantastic job of bringing the audience into the mind of a prisoner. Augustus guides us through the alliances that have been made, through the seedy underside of the prison black market system, and gives us a peek into how a world of violence effects people.

“Oz” is also one of the most Buddhist shows I have ever seen. Raised as Buddhist, I see the world as the equivalent of a harsh paradise. My father, also a Buddhist, calls the world a beautiful assault. One of the main question raised in “Oz” is the profound conundrum of finding a reason to live despite the harshest, most ruthless, devastating, degrading, and oppressive conditions a society has to offer. One of the questions of Buddhism is finding peace within the world despite the hardships. Can a person find a way to have peace in prison, the show asks us. Is there a way to reconcile the devastation with the desire to see another day? “Oz” gives the answer that despite devastating conditions, humans are hardwired to survive and continue the struggle, whatever it may be. The show also gives credence to the idea that there are individuals who thrive on suffering, those who enjoy violence for violence’s own sake, and people who are truly twisted and bizarre. To be a human is to witness the outrageous.

Certainly, “Oz” has its downfalls. Some of the storylines are bizarre and ill planned giving the effect that one is watching a soap opera. This is only at its worst though, generally the show avoids that feeling. However, given the high shock of the graphic nature of “Oz”, the show avoids sentimentalism for sensationalism’s sake while having the pitfall of overindulgence.

“Oz” will haunt you and leave you feeling psychologically tried. Witnessing a severe portrayal of depraved humanity is not an easy undertaking. I often wondered who exactly watched the show at the time of its airing from 1997-2001 but I suppose one could wonder why I watched this show in 2015.

A society can be viewed by how it treats its prison population. The purpose of prison should be to segregate those who dysfunctionally participate in society and provide them with either an opportunity to improve themselves as citizens of a country, or to ensure that they cannot participate in society because they are too dangerous. “Oz” asks us to suspend our disbelief that we could like any of these individuals who have trespassed against society and possibly see them for their humanity beyond the scope of the worst of their actions.


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Corporate American Prison Culture

I know a lot about prison culture. This is from academic study, intellectual thought of that study, and personally knowing people who have been to prison. I also know a person who was for a short time a prison guard. Some of the most intelligent people I know have not achieved graduation from high school and instead spent their time focusing on immediate survival because the most dire of circumstances were occurring in their lives. They are beautiful human beings who have been forced through a series of situations, both beyond their control and within the scope of their control should they have made wiser choices at the time, to embrace the view of the world that we contain both the capability for doing bad deeds for reasonable reasons, such as feeding one’s own child and providing for their family in ways that they would not be able to achieve by the legally presented choices that are available to them. For some this had to do with race, but always it had to do with economic status. The intersecionality of race, socioeconomic status, and gender made each person’s experience unique in regards to how they interacted within what could be called, “the underworld”.

My time in the underworld was extremely colorful. I met some of the most influential people in my life, individuals who contributed greatly to my formation. All of these individuals committed illegal acts. Many of these individual’s familes knew that they committed crimes in order to make a living and accepted the money in order to live. I take a Kantian view of the law: the law is not inherently moral or ethical just because it is the law. Some of these individuals were my lovers, others were just my friends.

Currently, after devouring “The Jinx”, I tuned into “Oz” on Hbo.go (thank the Buddha for whoever came up with the idea of putting all of HBO’s programming online).  Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Harper’s and to my delight, Harper’s Index (an assortment of statistics that reveals a theme about domestic public policy or economic’s or sociological facts) focused it’s first on the American prison system, an institution I personally devote a lot of time to studying both academically and recreationally. Through my journey of “Oz”, I have found myself profoundly questioning the corporate American prison system. While reading Harper’s statistics, I found myself morally obligated to share my feelings and opinions publicly. For example,

  • Minimum number of times in 2014 that Rikers Island correction officers broke the bones of an inmate: 98
  • Days of solitary confinement a South Carolina prisoner was assigned in 2012 for threatening a prison employee: 41
  • Years of solitary confinement he was assigned in 2013 for posting on Facebook: 37

Read those last two statistics again. From this specific example, we can see that this inmate was being made an example of in the second statistic. In the first, we see what is viewed as a routine occurrence within prison due to the culture of violence. What can be derived from these statistics? That prisoner’s having access to the first amendment beyond the scope of the walls of the prison is more dangerous than a threat of violence to one of the prison’s employee’s.

This should be disturbing to any American who supports the first amendment because the discrepancy is between days and years. What is so horrible that a prisoner could tell us beyond inane ramblings of an inmate.

This this or this.

I am unsure what America is attempting to accomplish with the endorsement of a demeaning and violent prison culture given we are the number one nation for locking people in cages. I do believe that we need prisons, yet morally I feel obligated that a society should ensure the minimum number of human beings are confined by chains. Serious crimes that are directly related to harming other human beings are crimes that should be applicable for confinement away from society for a period of time, and these crimes are both directly violent and non-violent yet harmful. I do not believe that there should be a tremendous amount of comfort in prison, there should be bare conditions however they should be humane. If not for the prisoners, I am concerned about the mental health of prison employees working in such dire conditions.

The more disturbing phenomenon in the combination of corporate and prison culture in America is obviously the private prison system. Like Blackwater and other mercenary armies, private prisons are the antithesis to a democratic society due to the lack of government oversight and the inherently disturbing nature of making money off of the suffering of other human beings. In fact, this could be psychologically compared to antisocial personality disorder, known in laymen’s terms as psychopathy. American corporatism at it’s most depraved has already been compared to having antisocial personality disorder, especially given the Supreme Court decision that endorses the legal principle that corporations are persons.

If corporations are persons, and there are private prisons that are owned by corporations, then that means some of these prisons function as dysfunctionally as the violent offenders they house. This is clearly an ethical and moral threat to democratic ideals.


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American Police Racketeering

Whenever there is an opportunity to connect a favorite media of mine and real life, I take it with enthusiasm. Today while talking to my beloved father, he enlightened me to the idea that the Ferguson Police should be indicted not on civil rights violations, but on federal racketeering charges. This blew my head open and made my jaw drop, “But of course!” I replied. This then speed my cerebral neurons firing off, making me think of “Breaking Bad” and the descend of Walter White into the criminal underworld. One of my favorite moments of “Breaking Bad” is when Walter White’s brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank Schrader, is describing Mr. White, or rather his alter-ego Heisenberg, “He runs the biggest meth racket in the Southwest”. This is a feat, an accomplishment for sure because the Southwest is absolutely huge, absolutely wild, and meth is incredibly dangerous.  Hank is irate, irritated, and outraged when he says this. Racketeering from his own brother-in-law enrages him and he must put a stop to it. The show “Breaking Bad” is perhaps one of the best examinations into how taking on the identity and persona of a criminal works, the intricacies and delicacies of dominance that must be displayed in everyday life and applied to one’s work, the secrecy, the orgasms of power, the sheer unadulterated selfishness and point of view that everyone else’s life is expendable. Racketeering is defined as “refers to criminal activity that is performed to benefit an organization such as a crime syndicate. Examples of it include extortion, money laundering, loan sharking, obstruction of justice and bribery”. Hank and my reaction were similar when we realized the truth about who is capable of racketeering.

In my time on this Earth, I have known several individuals part of crime syndicates. I have known racketeers and other criminals. These are highly intelligent, skilled, fearless, dominant individuals who are always dangerous. They are cunning, and they always tell the truth even when they lie (Scarface said that about himself). If they reach any level of legitimate racketeering, they have looked the eye directly in the eye and pissed in that eye. These are not individuals who fuck around by any means.

The Ferguson Police Department, however, fucks around an awful lot to not be considered a crime syndicate. In fact, their actions line up more with a crime syndicate, and while clearly incredibly guilty of crimes against American civil rights, they are guilty of federal racketeering as defined by “criminal activity to benefit an organization…such as obstruction of justice and bribery”. This definition could consider “bribery” to be more expansive, a bribe by way of skin perhaps. Consider the introductory paragraph the in the New York Times about Ferguson’s police activity: “Ferguson, Mo., is a third white, but the crime statistics compiled in the city over the past two years seemed to suggest that only black people were breaking the law. They accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests. In cases like jaywalking, which often hinge on police discretion, blacks accounted for 95 percent of all arrests.”

Perhaps bribery in Ferguson is bribery of skin. Bribery that if a white person is fucking around, it is not as dangerous as a person with black skin fucking around. What harm will be caused by a black person jaywalking, as opposed to a white person? Will a black person’s black skin harm more people while they are jaywalking than a white person’s white skin, while jaywalking? There is literally no logic or reasoning to these statistics, they clearly reflect a bribery of skin color.

There is another significant aspect to police racketeering, which is something called “civil forfeiture”. Civil forfeiture occurs when police find cash on a person and take that cash into custody. The person must prove a legitimate source of where this cash came from within a specified amount of time, otherwise the state claims this money and it goes into the public coffers. Recently, many police departments around the United States have been abusing the authority of civil forfeiture to jam up poor persons, persons of color, and other easily targeted individuals in order to accrue more money for their police departments.

The other part of this is that when civil forfeiture, drug busts (however small or large), and other money generating busts occur, that police department receives more federal money, meaning, that those police officers salaries increase. That is, police are stealing from citizens, legally, under the law. Similiarly, the more rip and runs a drug dealer preforms against his fellow dealers, the more he can expect to make from his theft and subsequent financial transactions from that stolen property. The difference is in how easy it is to get justice from these thefts: it is a lot more dangerous to run up on a cop than a drug dealer.

But that is not the purpose of civil forfeiture. The intended purpose is to assert control over how money is used. In the United States of America, a person does not own their money. The Federal Reserve owns the money, and the federal government borrows the money and makes it expendable to the citizens. This is not ownership of the money by way of the government or the citizenry. To put it another way, that dollar in your pocket is not really yours because the government can take it if they have reason to believe that you came about that money in an illegal manner. Maybe you’re a weed dealer. Maybe you’re Walter White. Maybe you’re a dude whose car broke down and you had a couple hundred dollars that you didn’t have the bank receipts for and the cop decided that hey, you’re wearing a Grateful Dead shirt, you’re clearly part of the hippie mafia (yes, the hippie mafia exists. Where do you think the LSD comes from in this country?). That is most certainly racketeering by police against citizens and it should be regarded as a federal crime.

Continued harassment of African-Americans citizens by way of disproportionately arresting, detaining, jailing, fining, and “jamming up” those citizens is more than a civil rights crime. That’s basically what the old school Italian mob did when store owners wouldn’t pay their dues, they would jam them up. Bribery against the mob was paying your fines. Bribery against the Ferguson Police force is having white skin.

I am aware that there are legitimate law enforcement agencies and officers. The Ferguson police department is no different than a street gang, and in fact, any given street gang may or may not have better ethics. It is at least a possibility.

In the words of one of my favorite ridiculous rappers, Riff Raff, the Ferguson police department is trappin’ like a fool. Here’s Riff Raff to proclaim the truth about those brothers in blue:


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The Purpose of Documenting Reality

I am a documentary junkie, and an avid enthusiast of knowing everything humanly possible about the Nazi era and regime. This intellectual pursuit is motivated to provide a witness to one of the most dramatic stories in human history. As a Polish person whose family members were personally murdered by the Nazis because of their upper level jobs in the Polish government at the time the Germans came marching through (my family members were also left-leaning, so death was inescapable) I have a duty to my dead family members to understand what happened before, during, and after their murders. As a person who has all the characteristics of what the Nazi regime came to label “Aryan” (blonde hair, blue eyes, tall stature, fair complexion), I have to understand the power of my appearance and what it means to look the way I look. That may sound superficial, but when your face matches the visual representation of what one of the most murderous regimes of the twentieth century considered ideal, you have to look at your appearance if you want to stop it’s disproportionate power that helped cause human suffering. Maybe I still sound conceited, it is not my intention.

A Film Unfinished (2010) by Yael Hersonski is a documentary which I found several years ago on netflix. It’s not there anymore, but youtube sometimes carries it and here is the link through Hulu:

A Film Unfinished explores a set of unnarated film reels that were taken by Nazi propagandists with unclear intentions. Some of the shots are staged, some are direct first-hand visual accounts of what happened in the Warsaw ghetto. Perhaps one of the most notorious pits of human hell before the hellholes that lead to the flames of death at Dachau and Auschwitz, the Warsaw ghetto was a surreal reality of fascist hatred. Confined to just over one square mile with nearly half a million people, the Warsaw ghetto bustled with activity of people who were trying to stay alive by any means necessary. Deference to extreme human agony was a necessary survival tactic, a comment one of the survivor’s show’s barely any emotion about.

Many people do not have adequate imaginative skills to imagine other people’s reality. This is seen when people make insensitive remarks about victims, either rape victims or the black victims of police violence, about what they “would have” had it been them at the hands of a violent assault. People are especially resistant to understanding why victims loose their power, or even give their power over to their abuser. People believe that if it was them, they would fight to the death.

The truth is, few of us fight to the death. Most of us are beaten to death. That is a logical decision for a human to make; instead of making rash, sudden actions in the face of danger, instead to conform to the restrictions of the danger and ride it out until it ends. Because theoretically, it could end. There were holocaust survivors. There are rape victim survivors who went through the darkest parts of human sadism and lived. There are victims of extreme police violence who endure until they are let free again. Except, sometimes, it doesn’t end. Sometimes people get beaten, or raped, or traumatized until they die, and no one wants to think that could be them.

A Film Unfinished shows us those people who were beaten to death by the hatred of the world. Adam Czerniakow, the head of the Nazi set up Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Council (or Judenrat in German). Like Hitler, he would not see the post Nazi German era because he swallowed a cyanide pill on July 23, 1942 after the Nazis carried out “Grossaktion Warsaw” or the total destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. Czerniakow is an extremely important historical figure in understanding the dynamic between power and victim hood, how victims attempt to keep power, and what happens when victims come to understand that they are loosing.

Czerniakow was by no means perfect. He was a complex figure with a problem more intricately poisonous than what many face at the worst of crises. But he did write complex narrative down. He did try to take on the impossible task of creating some way for Jewish persons to be a part of some sort of society. He knew he was fighting a loosing battle. But if not him personally, who else would have been the Judenrat and how would they have led it? Czerniakow is a historical character worth investigating for anyone wishing to read about the complexities of power and victim hood that can sometimes act simultaneously.

Willie Wist, the only German film propaganda crew member to be interviewed for the documentary, agrees that the “documentary” of the Warsaw ghetto has a political agenda, to show the extreme differences between the “rich Jews and the poor Jews”. The two groups were often shown next to one another, pitting deathly poverty against the last shred of humility and dignity a person could have held on to during that time.The effect is startling, sickening, and brutal. If to say anything at the time, the Nazis could have pointed to a number of negative stereotypes against Jewish people at the time. Looking at it now, it is a heartbreaking example of the depths the human mind has to survive.

No one owns the truth, but there are those who monopolize it. If we do not document our own reality, however mundane and otherwise boring we personally see it, we do not contribute to the human narrative. We cannot draw correlations between human behaviors or historical patterns. We cannot see that we and them, we are all not so different. When we document it, we can look at it and revel at how different we are, how different realities are constructed, how different people’s lives are.