Looking back

Punk is a reflection of what it means to be human. What separates us from other animals? Our ability to recognize ourselves and express our own genetic uniqueness. Ironically, the commonly held view, among the marketeers and publicity engines, stresses the “animalistic”, “primitive” nature of punks and their music.

They assume that violence is a key ingredient in punk music, and this assumption is easily perpetuated because it is easy to market violence and news items about violence always get column space. This focus on violence misses a key element of what Punk is all about:

PUNK IS: the personal expression of uniqueness that comes from the experiences of growing up in touch with our human ability to reason and ask questions.

Violence is neither common in, nor unique to punk. When it does manifest itself it is due to things unrelated to the punk ideal. Consider for example the common story of a fight at a high school between a punk and a jock football player. The football player and his cohort do not accept or value the punk as a real person. Rather, they use him as a vitriol receptacle, daily taunting, provoking, and embarrassing him, which of course is no more than a reflection of their own insecurities. One day, the punk has had enough and he clobbers the football captain in the hallway. The teachers of course expel the punk and cite his poor hairstyle and shabby clothing as evidence that he is a violent, uncontrollable no-good. The community newspaper reads “Hallway Beating Re-affirms that Violence is a Way of Life Among Punk Rockers”. Spontaneous anger at not being accepted as a real person is not unique to punkers. This reaction is due to being human, and anybody would react in anger regardless of their sub-cultural, or social affiliation if they felt de-valued and useless. Sadly, there are plenty of examples of violence among punks. There are glaring examples of misguided people who call themselves punks too. But anger and violence are not punk traits, in fact, they have no place in the punk ideal. Anger and violence are not the glue that holds the punk community together.

Nature bestowed on us the genetic backbone of what punk is all about. There are roughly 80,000 genes in the human genome, and there are roughly 6 billion people carrying that genetic compliment. The chances of two people carrying the same genome are so small as to be almost beyond comprehension (the odds are essentially 1/80,000 times the number of possible people you can meet and mate with in a lifetime! A practical impossibility)

The genes we carry play a major role in determining our behavior and outlook on life. That is why we have the gift of uniqueness, because no one else has the same set of genes controlling their view of the world. Of course cultural factors play the other major role, and these can have a more homogenizing effect on behavior and world-view.

For example, an entire working-class town might have 15,000 residents who are raised with the same ideals, work at the same factories, go to the same schools, shop at the same stores, and like the same sports teams. As their children develop, there is a constant interaction of opposite forces between the social imprinting their culture imparts and the genetic expression of uniqueness.

Those who lose touch with their nature become society’s robots, whereas those who denounce their social development become vagrant animals. Punk stands for a desire to walk the line in between these two extremes with masterful precision. Punks want to express their own unique nature, while at the same time want to embrace the communal aspects of their cookie-cutter upbringing. The social connection they have is based on a desire to understand each other’s unique view of the world. Punk “scenes” are social places where those views are accepted, sometimes adopted, sometimes discarded, but always tolerated and respected.

PUNK IS: a movement that serves to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through willful ignorance of human nature.

Because it depends on tolerance and shuns denial, Punk is open to all humans. There is an elegant parallel between Punk’s dependence on unique views and behaviors and our own natural genetic predisposition toward uniqueness.

The compulsion to conform is a powerful side-effect of civilized life. We are all taught to respect the views of our elders, and later when we realize that they are just dogmatic opinions, we are taught not to make a commotion by asking difficult questions. Many just go along with the prevailing notions and never express their own views, which is analogous to a premature death of the individual. Our species is unique in the ability to recognize and express the self, and not exercising this biological function goes against the natural selection gradient that created it in the first place. This complacency combats a fear of failure. It is easy to assume that if everyone else is doing something, then there is no way to fail if you just go along with it. Cattle and flocks of geese can probably recognize this advantage. But the entire human race could fail because of this mentality. Thinking and acting in a direction against the current of popular opinion is critical to human advancement, and a potent manifestation of Punk. If an issue or phenomenon is found to be true only because other people say it is so, then it is a Punk’s job to look for a better solution, or at least find an independent variable that confirms the held view (sometimes the popular view is just a reflection of human nature, Punks don’t live in denial of this). This ability to go against the grain was a major part of the greatest advances in human thinking throughout history. The entire Enlightenment period was characterized by ideas that shunned the dogma of the time, only to reveal truths in nature and human existence that all people can observe, and that are still with us today.

Galileo fought the church, the church won the battle, by putting him in jail for life, but ultimately lost the war; few people today believe that the sun orbits around the earth, and thus God didn’t create the earth as the center of the universe. Francis Bacon insisted that human destiny is equal to understanding. If we deny this fundamental principle of what it means to be human, he reasoned, then we descend into the depths of mere barbarism.

Charles Darwin wrote after the heyday of the Enlightenment, he nonetheless was directly influenced by its tradition, was trained as a theologian and yet still was driven to understand the underlying order that connected biological species he observed in his travels. His views threw into question many of the Bible’s tenets, yet his reasoning was sound, and through a process of self-improvement (the struggle in his own mind to understand) he improved mankind by establishing a new benchmark of human knowledge.

The dogma of the church was further marginalized. The fear of repercussion from the church was overshadowed by the wave of understanding that his views created in people, and by the truth to his observations.

The modern-day Punk thought process, driven by this desire to understand, is a carbon-copy of the Enlightenment tradition. The fact that so many historical examples exist that reveal a will to destroy dogma leads to a powerful tenet: It is a natural trait of civilized humans to be original. The fact that uniqueness is so rare reveals that our nature is stifled by an equally potent opposing force: fear.

PUNK IS: a process of questioning and commitment to understanding that results in self-progress, and by extrapolation, could lead to social progress.

If enough people feel free, and are encouraged to use their skills of observation and reason, grand truths will emerge. These truths are acknowledged and accepted not because they were force-fed by some totalitarian entity, but because everyone has a similar experience when observing them. The fact that Punks can relate to one another on issues of prejudice comes from a shared experience of being treated poorly by people who don’t want them around. Each has his/her own experience of being shunned, and each can relate to another’s story of alienation without some kind of adherence to a code of behavior.

The truth of prejudice is derived from the experience they all share, not from a written formula or constitution they have to abide by. Punks learn from this experience that prejudice is wrong, it is a principle they live by; they didn’t learn it from a textbook. Without striving to understand, and provoking the held beliefs, the truth remains shrouded behind custom, inactivity, and prescriptive ideology.

Philosophers distinguish between capital “T” truth and truth with a small “t”. Punks deny the former.

Truth with a capital “T” assumes that there is an order prescribed by some transcendental being. That is to say that truth comes ultimately from God, who had a plan for everything when he created the universe.

Little “t” truth is that which we figure out for ourselves, and which we all can agree upon due to similar experience and observations of the world. It is also known as objective truth, from within ourselves, revealed here on this earth; as opposed to big T truth, which comes from outside and is projected down to us, specifically for us to follow. Morality need not be thought of as a product only of big “T” truth. Objective truth lends itself just as readily to a moralistic, spiritual culture.

PUNK IS: a belief that this world is what we make of it, truth comes from our understanding of the way things are, not from the blind adherence to prescriptions about the way things should be.

Punk’s dependence on objective truth comes from the shared experience of going against the grain. Anyone who has stood out in a crowd feels the truth of the experience. No one had to write a doctrine in order for the outcast to understand what it meant to be different. The truth was plain enough, and that truth could be understood and agreed upon by all those who shared a common experience.

The fears that drive people to conform have caused dismal periods in human history. The so-called Dark Ages, were tranquil and without upheaval, but also dismally quiet and pestilent, nary a contrasting view to be found. The pseudo-comfort and tranquillity that the people of the Dark Ages experienced, by conforming to a rigidly enforced bureaucracy enforced by the king and church, was masked entirely by the misery they had to endure in their day to day life. Life is easy as a peasant, no direction, no purpose, just produce more goods and offspring for the benefit of the king. But using fear to control peasants (or modern-day blue-collar workers for that matter) is just a short-term foul exercise, because peasants have the same mental equipment as the royalty.

The deeply ingrained biological traits of self-recognition and the desire to express the self cannot be quashed for long. Eventually peasants realize that life without the practice of reason is as good as being a farm animal. Being controlled by fear is the same as being biologically inert, unable to take part in the human drama, merely wasting away. The fear that controls human behavior is learned. It is different from the immediate, reflexive, run-away-from-the-nasty-stimulus response that other creatures employ to stay alive. We have motor reflexes like these as well, but fear of failure, and fear of speaking out come from the limbic system.

The limbic system is a network of neurons in our brain that control our most deep-seated emotions. It connects two parts of the brain together: the midbrain, where sensory information is sent (i.e. sight and hearing stimuli) and the forebrain, where that information is processed. Although the forebrain has been around for at least 480 million years (it was present in the earliest vertebrates), it evolved special functions with the advent of humankind.

A specialized portion of the forebrain, called the cerebral cortex, is highly developed in humans. 95% of our cerebral cortex is responsible for associative mental activities like contemplation and planning. The other 5% is responsible for processing motor and sensory information. By comparison, a mouse (also considered a higher vertebrate), has a cerebral cortex with only 5% of its neurons devoted to associative functions, while 95% are devoted to motor and sensory functions.

The highly developed limbic system is at the core of what it means to be human. We differ from other animals in the amount of time we spend planning, contemplating, and expressing ourselves. Our limbic system is very powerful. It can over-ride primitive emotions, and suppress deep desires. Anyone who has ever seen a sad movie with friends, and willfully held back tears because they didn’t want their friends to see them crying, employed the power of their limbic system. They contemplated the repercussions of their friends reaction to crying, and shut off the emotional cascade that would have brought the tears.

In the same way that rationality is the product of the limbic system, fear is also centered in the same neurons of the limbic system. Fear is usually rational behavior, based on irrational thoughts, and it can freeze the processing power of the cerebral cortex. Denial and fear go hand in hand, and both are examples of how our limbic system can suppress obvious stimuli and promote behavior that is safe and conforming.

The limbic system is like any other organ in the sense that it can operate unchecked to produce detrimental results. Being in touch with our bodies leads to overall general health, and the limbic system needs constant attention in order to master it. To overcome fear, one needs to be in touch with their limbic system, and recognize when it is suppressing the obvious.

Etiquette and “being nice” are forms of limbic-system repression, necessary at times, but ultimately demeaning of human originality. Lying is the ultimate form of limbic-system repression. It is a denial of the obvious. Truth-tellers, those who are authentic and trustworthy, have learned to master their limbic system. They recognize the desire to lie, but rationalize the futility of advocating something that is not true. Liars, on the other hand, are slaves to their limbic system, out of touch with their most basic mental capacities. Their behavior is guarded and shifty because they let their flawed reasoning, to cover up the obvious, control their entire makeup. They eventually have to give in to the truth and concede defeat, but only after every possible avenue of deception and twisted logic has been advocated in the interest of hiding their fear. Politicians, Clergymen, Business leaders, and Judges are masters of twisted logic and promotion of fear. They make good intellectual targets for Punkers because they don’t respect people who have learned to master their limbic systems. And Punkers are not afraid to point out that which is obvious, even if it means their social status might be jeopardized.

PUNK IS: the constant struggle against fear of social repercussions.

I have tried to enumerate some of the factors that make Punk a movement, in the cultural sense. The typical stereotype of a feeble-minded ruffian vandalizing, destroying, stealing, fighting, or arguing in the name of some empty, short-lived cause is no more punk than the pretty-face-empty-head image of today’s pop stars.

Because it is so easy for record companies to sell images of violence, sex, and self-importance, many bands have taken the bait and portrayed themselves as Punks, without realizing that they were actually perpetuating a stereotype of conformity that is wholly un-punk.

The “come join us” attitude that seeks to attract followers, usually results in a rabble of weak people who think that their power lies in the large numbers of like-minded clones they have compiled. There is no strength in numbers however, if the people are glued together by a short-sighted, self-serving, fear-induced mantra that promotes factions and exclusionary principles. Strong ideologies don’t require a mob, they persist through time, and never go away, because they are intimately connected to our biology. They are part of what it means to exist as Homo sapiens. Punk typifies that tradition. It is a movement of epic proportions, that transcends the immediacy of the here-and-now, because it is, was, and always will be there-and-forever, as long as humans walk the earth.

As we enter a new era in the voracious march of culture, Punks will have their day. The internet has allowed people to communicate directly once again. On the web, human behavior is interactive, like it was before the advent of mass-media.

People now focus on ideological discussions and lifestyle issues, as opposed to the classic 20th century behavior of closing oneself off from cohorts, and adhering to a network’s, or commercial’s prescriptive code of acceptable behavior. The lies, and mysteries of elitism will erode quickly as the global conversation that transpires daily on the web invades more people’s lives.

The world population will be more receptive to alternative ideologies because they will be creating them. People will be less receptive to ideologies of outdated institutions because the holes and flaws in their logic will be ever more amplified when they are broadcast instantly around the world as they become revealed.

The “Strength-In-Understanding”, and “Knowledge-Is-Power” ethics that Punks maintain will become the norm. The rigidity, brutishness, and futility of secret agendas will be made obvious, paving the way to an appreciation of human uniqueness, and a new era of originality.

Everyone has the potential to be punk. It is much harder for someone who comes from a placid, un-challenging, ignorant upbringing, because they don’t see the value in questioning or provoking the institutions that gave them such tranquility. But such examples of carefree existence are rare in today’s shrinking world.

Eternal questions still burn in the minds of most people. What it means to be human is becoming more clear every decade. Sometimes, people are trained to follow the safe path to an early grave by consuming and repeating the dogma of a fearful aristocracy.

On the other hand, the human spirit is hard to kill. Punk is a microcosm of the human spirit. Punks succeed with their minds, not their brute force. They advance society by their diversity, not their conformity. They motivate others by inclusion, not domination.

They are at the front lines of self-betterment and by extrapolation can improve the complexion of the human race. They adhere to unwritten universal principles of human emotion, obvious to anyone, and shun elitist codes of behavior, or secret agendas. They embody the hope of the future, and reveal the flaws of the past. Don’t tell them what to do, they are already leading you.

PUNK IS: the personal expression of uniqueness that comes from the experiences of growing up in touch with our human ability to reason and ask questions.

PUNK IS: a movement that serves to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through willful ignorance of human nature.

PUNK IS: a process of questioning and commitment to understanding that results in self-progress, and through repetition, flowers into social evolution.

PUNK IS: a belief that this world is what we make of it, truth comes from our understanding of the way things are, not from the blind adherence to prescriptions about the way things should be.

PUNK IS: the constant struggle against fear of social repercussions.


A Comment On Responsible Voting

Voting is a privilege. As such it requires responsibility. Irresponsibility when coupled with license can lead to social tragedy. If one is to feel good about his or her vote, it is necessary to have an agenda to use as justification, and also to adhere to some sort of ideological protocol for casting a particular vote. Too often in the past, our generation has voted and formed opinion based on self-serving interests. I know what is good for me, and I don’t really care about what is good for others, I will vote for the candidate or issue that benefits me the most is a common way of thinking. This is an example of the simplest possible voting convention. It doesn’t require much worldly knowledge or social concern, it is simply a selfish desire for personal gain. This will probably typify most people’s thinking on their way to the polls this year, as it has in years past. But it does not make for a better society. Voting offers us a way to responsibly improve society. If you don’t care about such a goal, then voting isn’t a privilege for you, its just a routine behavior that happens every four years, or worse, a way to implement evil policies that further degrade the lives of the careless and powerless. If you don’t care about improvement, you better hope that those who do go to the polls advocate your interests.

Societal improvement is a somewhat nebulous concept because change is rarely teleological and it rests in the whims of the populace. Most people think that a candidate who wins an election can make the world a better place. This has rarely happened in history. It is the people, or the ruled, who make the world a better place by behavioral changes, and the ruler is usually only a by-product of this collective phenomenon. The process of voting, because it demands sharing of information, requires people to gain knowledge about their world. It offers an opportunity to question whether they accept the tenets of their representatives and of their society. When this occurs, people get informed, people can communicate their distastes, and their hopes. They feel useful and acknowledged by their fellow citizens. And through communication comes action, and eventual abatement of the stigmas that cause suffering and misery. An informed person is a content person. An informed society is a strong society, supportive of its citizens, aware of, and compassionate to those less advantaged. Finally, an informed vote is a responsible vote. It goes far beyond the election in question. The knowledge is carried through the life of the possessor, and it shapes the way that person views his/her position in society and communicates with others. All of this is a contribution to a better community and a more meaningful election.

1. Determine whether you care about the general well-being of society (If you do not, skip to step 7, if you do, continue on)

2. Determine whether you are a privileged citizen (If you are not, then proceed to step number 6, if you are, read steps 3, 4, and 5 only)

3. Examine not how well you will fare if a given issue is voted into law, but how poorly the under-privileged will suffer (no matter which laws pass a vote or who is voted into office, you will probably always still be better off than the people you fear you’ll become, namely the under-privileged).

4. Create an ideological balance-sheet that details how much better you will fare, as a percentage of your current comfort level, versus how much worse the under-privileged will drop in their current comfort level (for instance, as a very banal example, a mere 2% drop in your current income, could provide a tremendous relative rise in an under-privileged household’s income).

5. Vote for the issue or candidate that promises to balance the disparity between the privileged and the under-privileged classes, even if it doesn’t make you richer or if it provides a small compromise in your day-to-day comfort.

6. Vote for the issue or the candidate who will make your life better.

7. Abstain from voting

Finally, remember voting started out as a way for concerned citizens to play a role in creating a society that was good for all. Over time it evolved into the monstrosity it is today which is no more than a vehicle for selfish partisanism, and worse, a voice for those who want the law to preserve and increase the disparity between needy and privileged. This unfortunate turn of events has made us a hostile, hopeless people. We should remember that history is relevant, and can help us gain a perspective on our current situation. NO civilization persists without a strong sense of social welfare. The British empire expired once its subjects learned that through unity and enlightenment of the underprivileged came a new power structure and a new sense of national community, one strong enough to turn away any possible oppressors. We are headed in the same direction as the failed British empire as our privileged class increases in wealth yet shrinks in population, and our underclass grows in population and shrinks in wealth.

Your vote is meaningless if it merely bolsters the selfish desires of a small privileged minority of citizens. A meaningful vote depends on the passage of issues or election of candidates that help to create a better scene for everyone, not merely the rich elite, and not merely provisional support for the poor. If you follow these guidelines, we will have a less polarized, more enthusiastic underclass, and a less greedy, more compassionate upper class; and the quality of our social fabric will be drastically enhanced.

(Gregory W. Graffin)


When the meaning is gone

I used to believe in happiness. In a life that could be beautiful. That I would again find grace in this world. It gave me hope in the darkest of times, and I had plenty of them. I was so strong, even when my dad died. I kept going, with a heart full of holes, because I knew that happiness was possible. Not the pursuit of happiness, as we see in many Constitutions on western countries (and I agree with Žižek about this being stupid), not the ‘be all you can be’ or ‘become what you want’, but something else. Something much closer to a happiness I saw in Asia, more in Vietnam than in Japan.

As a child, my mother was everything to me. She was a single mother: although my father was never absent, he usually wasn’t there either, and my mother never blamed him for that. It took me time to understand why she accepted everything. When you have what matters the most with you, it’s easier to walk through hell. I kept her going even when the ones she loved hurt her. The love of her life, her brothers and sisters, family, friends. She also had a heart full of holes, but kept going for as long as it was beating. Until profit driven medicine killed her…

I grew up in a fantasy world that my mum built for me. We lived in the center of a busy and dangerous city, so she felt like I should be sheltered. Unfortunately it also meant I did not have many friends. To make up for it, she became the best friend I could ever have, at least when I was little. And it worked beautifully, as this was her best talent: to care for, entertain, educate, and teach children in the most truthful way. It was her job after all, for many years before I was born. With her I climbed mountains and domesticated wild animals; I was truly free to explore that world.

As I got older, that shelter became too small. Venturing outside I realised how much ugliness there is in our society. Hunger, poverty, inequality, crime. But I was ready, I walked out in my own pace, my persona had solid rock to stand on thanks to the formation years my mum gave me. My dad always helped, he did what he could. He gave me logical thinking, wanderlust and dignity. School was also helpful (thanks to a few dedicated teachers, because the system itself was always deeply flawed). But my mother gave me love, affection, a strong moral compass. And happiness.

I travelled to almost thirty countries, and I spent at least a month in most of them. I’ve been to the most distant city (from my hometown), around 19.000km away. I’ve seen a lot, I’ve had many moments of intense happiness. Maybe if I start moving fast, if I drive until the roads end, I can forget the sorrow for a while. Maybe I can love again. But I do not believe that happiness is possible anymore. Não com tanta saudade. Nothing is the same without my mum, and it won’t ever be again. I no longer stand on solid rock, I am now in a sea of tears and I’m a dreadful swimmer.


I wish things were easier. I wish I could simply do what I’m supposed to.

I wish I could be wiser. And trying won’t get me there, I suppose.


There’s life out there, but how can it be lived alone?


I wish things were easier. I wish I could simply know what I’m supposed to.

It isn’t time yet, though, so I stay home, alone with the flu. Still living underwater.

And yet I’m still holding tight
To this dream of distant light
In that somehow i’ll survive
But this night has been a long one
Waiting on a word that never comes

The whisper in the dark
Is that you or just my thoughts
I’m wide awake and reaching out

And yet I’m s…