Do Not Get Your News From Social Media

February 9, 2020

Culture and Society

During the last presidential election cycle here in the United States, it has been confirmed by several reputable news sources and government agencies that Russia tampered with our election. I do not know the full extent to which they did this, but one of the more notable ways was through social media.

This sounds like it came out of an espionage novel, but the truth can be as nefarious as fiction. Russian operatives created fake news sites and blasted Facebook and Twitter with stories that were aimed to dis-inform the general public with slightly skewed or blatantly false information. These stories and headlines were often shared and discussed by users of social media, and with enough time and replication, the perspectives of millions of people were influenced.

Now in 2020, we are approaching the apex of another presidential election cycle. If we do not learn from our mistakes of the past, we are woefully doomed to repeat them.

I have taken the following simple steps to avoid reading news on social media (These apply toward whichever poison you prefer be it Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram).

  • Limit time spent on social media.

    This is the first line of defense if you know in your soul that you cannot live without being on sites like Twitter and Instagram. The less time you spend on these sites, the smaller the likelihood that you will click on the sensational headlines that your friends share. It’s not likely that your friends are vetting the sources of these stories or the websites they came from, however benign your friends may be.

    Avoiding social media as much as possible will significantly minimize the possibility of disinformation spreading to your brain. Try limiting use to a specific time of day for only an hour. Leave your phone somewhere hard to reach. Do whatever it takes. It’s also likely that you’ll find something better to do with your time.

  • Be discerning about what you click and read on social media

    It’s one thing to read and comment on a personal story or anecdote that a friend shares. It is another thing entirely to click on the news links people display. Not only can these websites provide false or misleading information, but they can also have malware that can get into your computer. (Again, this sounds crazy, but the technology exists.) You do not have to click on any news headlines at all, but if you have to, proceed with caution and a questioning disposition.

    I find it much more useful to connect with friends about their lives than to discuss political opinions and news. That is the filter that I use to navigate through my feeds.

  • Use legitimate sources outside of social media to get your news.

    As the previous election demonstrates, the algorithms and technology behind social media cannot be trusted. When I disengage from the addictive cult fashioned by Mark Zuckerburg and other powers that be, I seek out actual news sites for detailed information and varying perspectives. This sounds like more effort, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid the mind control that social media seems to be intent on weaponizing.

Incidentally, here is a list of news sites that I like to frequent. Have a look if you are curious, and to make it more convenient, create a folder on your web browser’s “Favorites” list to house them all for easy access. (If you do not like any of these, proceed with caution and skepticism to find others.)

This year’s presidential election will be fraught with drama and noisy divisiveness. It will be more important than ever to be clearheaded and focused on the platforms of different candidates and how you feel about them.

Stay engaged and informed, and please, do not get your news from social media.

-Roqué

The Colonialism of Religion

February 3, 2020

Culture and Society

Across the history of humanity, religion has been a powerful and all-encompassing force. I have some thoughts I want to share about the nature of formalized religion both historically and in the modern day, but before I dive deeper into this post, I have a few details to establish.

  • Like most of my family, I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. I received the sacraments of baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation under the auspices of this Christian religion.
  • I grew up on an island in the South Pacific going to Catholic mass every Sunday morning. I served as an altar boy and graduated from a Catholic high school.
  • As an adult, I personally do not ascribe to any particular formal or established religion. I follow a private set of personal spiritual beliefs that I keep all to myself.

Now here are some technical points:

  • According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “colonialism” is defined as “control by one power over a dependent area or people.” It is also known historically by the word “imperialism.”
  • Examples of colonialism include the establishing of the 13 colonies by Great Britain in the New World, France taking over a small group of islands in the South Pacific now known as French Polynesia, Germany taking over the Samoan islands, and Spain claiming the islands of the Philippines (my original home country). Lands and resources of indigenous people all over the world were forcefully taken away by powerful European countries.
  • Colonialism still exists today in many different forms.

Lastly, I have nothing against the healing powers, the compassion, and deep spiritual connections that people experience through their religious practices. These can be rich, tender, and deeply fulfilling components of a person’s life.

What I have a problem with is the part of organized religion that needs to survive and grow by imposing its beliefs on everyone it can get its hands on. There are thousands, if not millions, of missionaries all over the world preaching the glory of Christ and the benefits of “being saved.”

I understand that people can be so passionate about their beliefs that they genuinely want to share the joy of their spiritual experiences, but often enough, this sharing occurs in mission trips in foreign, third-world countries in which people do not have the means and education to advocate for themselves. Missionaries proselytize toward the sick and impoverished and those who are vulnerable. In some ways, they are getting much-needed attention and assistance from these missionaries, but in a broader sense, is it possible that they are being forced to believe in something outside of their own history and native traditions? Is this an example of a powerful religion forcing its hand upon the vulnerable?

From a deeper perspective, religiosity and militarism have often been cozy bedfellows. The former has often been the cause of the latter. Religion has often been the rationalization for violent acts all over the world (such as the conflicts in the Middle East), and it should come as no surprise that it has also been the justification for imperialist expansion. One harrowing example is the concept of manifest destiny, which proclaimed that the United States was given the divine right by “Providence” to expand its territories across the continent. This ideology was used to empower the forceful US acquisition of vast lands and territories for its own purposes.

Clearly, religion can be a dangerous and formidable device. It has wielded its powers to the furthest reaches of our planet.

When I was young and lived on a small island in the South Pacific, I noticed something strange about the local villages in the area.

They all had churches, and everyone went to church.

This is certainly not unusual in and of itself, but I began to question why Catholicism and the Mormon church had become so ubiquitous that they were thriving in a remote island thousands of miles away from anything.

Did a bunch of European missionaries arrive on this island to claim this land and “enlighten” the local savages? Were they saying our “God” is better than your gods and all of your native traditions? Did these ambassadors of religion do all of this as a way to extend their influence and power all over the world?

Simply put, yes.

This brings to mind a question that has haunted me for a long time.

Why isn’t there an EXCHANGE of ideas and beliefs rather than the obliteration of one spiritual practice over another?

Did these missionaries ever think to simply have a discussion about their different spiritual traditions? Could it have been possible that the rituals and traditions of indigenous people were just as rich, meaningful, and powerful?

Simply put, in the colonialist mindset, no.

As an islander, I often wondered what spiritual practices existed in our villages before European Christianity came and took over everything. There was never any mention of it when I attended school. I wondered about the purity and uniqueness of what might have existed—that a spiritual life can be cultivated by a small group of people through their own ideas and experiences. The notion that an indigenous people can have their own independent spiritual lives is a thing of beauty.

Over the last few decades, my childhood island home has built numerous parochial schools and huge church buildings that no tropical hurricanes and tsunamis can take down.

Religious colonialism has made its mark all over the world, and that’s just how it is.

Whenever someone tells me that they are about to go on a mission trip, I honestly cringe at the thought. I want to tell them that I am happy for their personal spiritual growth, but is it absolutely necessary to force it onto other people? I often want to encourage them to also have discussions and exchanges about the local, indigenous spiritual truths that exist in those areas that they visit.

Better yet, what if they just went to help them with their needs without any of the proselytizing?

Under that scenario, these missions would become an act of pure kindness and compassion with no expectation of getting anything in return and without imposing a foreign (and largely European) religious ideology.

Would that be so bad?

Simply put, no.

-Roqué

Why You’ll Never See Me Shirtless

January 26, 2020

Culture and Society

Imagine if you will a pool party. It is a warm and breezy day as sunlight glistens on the water. Music is playing, and people are drinking all varieties of colorful drinks with those little umbrellas that never seem to go out of fashion.

There are men and women scantily clad laughing and lounging about.

Then, sitting on a lounge chair, there’s a guy.

He’s wearing sunglasses, a hat, a long-sleeved button down shirt, pants, shoes, and socks. He knew full well that he was attending a pool party, but he had no intention of ever swimming.

I’m that guy.

Sure, I don’t like extended exposure to the sun for purely practical reasons. Overexposure is not good for your skin, but there is a deeper explanation.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to admit it, but I’m not particularly fond of my body. I’ve never been the chiseled athletic male you see on the cover of magazines. In fact, here in America, most people don’t think of Asian men when they fantasize about beautiful men. I get it. There’s Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and all of those other impossibly handsome and talented white men to fawn over.

That’s not me, and the fact that it’s not me seems to have invaded my sense of self and my collection of personal insecurities.

Beyond race, I’ve also never considered myself handsome or beautiful in any serious way. I do the best with what I have, and that pretty much covers it.

I am often fully clothed everywhere I go no matter the occasion or season.

I understand now that my behavior and outlook are rooted in shame.

Yup, deeply so and for better or worse.

Essentially, body shaming, which I impose sufficiently upon myself, is as ubiquitous as it is insidious in our broader society.

For example, whenever you say “Wow, you lost weight! You look amazing!”, there is something deeper at play. Sure, it is intended as a compliment, but you may as well as say, “You look better now than you did when you were fat.”

Ouch.

This is how I see it, anyway, and these kinds of “compliments” happen everywhere all the time. There does not seem to be an awareness of how we impose unfair and unrealistic standards of beauty upon each other.

Why couldn’t we always say, “You are infinitely perfect just as you are”? Why can’t we encourage people to make healthy decisions for their lives (like eating organic foods and regular exercise) without the intended/unintended judgment about their bodies?

There may need to be a collective seismic shift in how we perceive beauty and in our awareness of body/fat shaming when we talk to each other.

In any case, writing this post is a step in some sort of direction for me in terms of how I see my body. Perhaps admitting that my shame exists is a step toward someday defeating it.

Will I someday be that other guy proudly sporting a speedo and nothing else at a pool party?

Nope. Highly unlikely.

But maybe, just maybe, I can start seeing that other guy when I look in the mirror and smile just a little bit, even if it’s someone no one else will ever get to see.

Who is that person? I don’t even know where to begin.

For now, I’ll enjoy showing off my wardrobe at any pool party I attend. I’ll have fun regardless.

The parts of me everyone sees will shine enough, and for now, I am very okay with that.

-Roqué

How to Recycle Different Materials

January 19, 2020

Culture and Society

First of all, if you live in an area that has a curbside recycling program, then lucky you. There are parts of this post that will not be relevant to your situation.

However, if you do not live in an area that prioritizes that kind of initiative (like I do), then you take your recyclable materials to your local recycling centers as regularly as possible. In my household, this involves putting paper, cardboard, plastic, and aluminum cans in different bags instead of in the trash. I load up my car every week to do this. Otherwise, it all starts to pile up.

Despite all of the effort it takes for me to make this happen, I am thankful for the simplicity of the process. I take all of these items to the recycling centers and put them in their corresponding large metal bins. After that, I’m done, and then I probably treat myself for my time and effort.

There are, however, some other tricky household items that may or may not be recyclable. If not, they may otherwise be hazardous and need to be disposed of properly.

Here is a short list of links I have pulled together as a resource in case you might have any of these materials and do not know of a good way to get rid of them. Each link takes you to an article that describes how each item can be safely and properly disposed:

Here are some tips that I follow to make my weekly recycling trips easier:

  • Use Reusable shopping bags to give them an added function.
    Yes, I am one of those people who brings his own bags to the grocery store instead of using all of those plastic bags that they have handy. I also use them to carry paper, small (broken-down) cardboard, and plastic bottles/containers for recycling. I also have quite a few of them in various sizes and colors. They all fit more easily in the back of my car than a bunch of boxes would.
  • Write down the hours of operation for 2 to 3 recycling centers in your area.
    In my case, I have a small handful of places where I can take my recycling, but some of their hours and days closed can vary greatly. Save yourself some grief by knowing when you can and cannot deliver your goods. It’s not fun when you make a trip only to find out that it is closed. If you happen to know of another one that is open, then that would make it all better.
  • Ideally, prepare all recyclables the day before driving it all out.
    I find that the work of gathering all of the materials (particularly if there is a lot) and loading it all up in the car on top taking it to a recycling center and unloading each bag is an awful lot of work for one day. When possible, I like to gather everything and load it all into my car the day before. This breaks up all of the labor into more manageable chunks.
  • Use those large leftover dog food, cat food, or potting soil bags for recyclable items.
    We reuse them every month for our aluminum cans since we don’t recycle those until we know we can make a decent sum of money from a scrap metal recycling plant that pays by the pound. It can take a long while to accumulate a whole lot.

If recycling is a big part of your life, then I hope this post was helpful. Almost every other day, I hear more know about how climate change is affecting our planet, and the news seems to get progressively worse. Recycling is one thing I can do, among many other acttivities, to help undo the massive pollution we humans create every day everywhere.

I want to be more of a steward of the earth than a destroyer.

If you don’t already recycle, please consider making it a part of your weekly schedule and life, and if you do recycle, thank you very much for your efforts, compassion for our planet, and diligence.

-Roqué

My Post-College Reflections, Part 1

January 12, 2020

Culture and Society

Close to a month ago from this posting, I graduated from college. I donned a black cap and gown and joined hundreds of fellow graduates marching into a spacious arena on campus to collectively bid farewell to our undergraduate lives.

It was surreal and exciting.

I was a non-traditional student who returned to college after a solid break. I still remember my first day of the fall semester when I returned back in 2016. The lengthy journey that lay ahead felt like an impossible eternity. Everyone kept telling me that it was going to fly by in a hurry. Well, I actually never felt that way.

I was one of those students who went all in. I decided to be as engaged as I possibly could. All of my assignments were turned in on time, and I did not miss a single class regardless if I was sick or exhausted. No, my college days did not rush by me. My meticulousness with my studies often felt like time was slowed down every day. I diligently plowed through so much work that my days often felt long and arduous.

I did all of this and then some, and I did it because I truly wanted to finish what I started. I wanted to do it well and to learn as much as I possibly could.

With some distance from the whole college experience and time to think about its impact, there are two big takeaways which I now hold dear:

  1. THE LEARNING MUST NEVER END.

    Being in college gave me a controlled and concentrated environment in which to learn. The learning made me more competent, confident, and capable.

    Why should this only happen in college and end when I graduate?

    Truthfully, it shouldn’t. Learning is a primary key toward personal growth and self-empowerment, and I want to be as strong and qualified as I can possibly be. By now, I have already purchased two tutorials for some new software that I want to learn, and I am currently one-fifth of the way through the first one.

  2. SEEK OUT MENTORS.

    I cultivated good relationships with all of my professors not because I wanted to kiss-up to them but because it was their job to help me attain knowledge and grow as a thoughtful individual. To me, professors were more like mentors who guided me toward a higher level of understanding. One of the best aspects of getting an education is that it grants students immediate and intimate access to people who are experts in their respective fields. This is incredibly valuable.

    In time, I hope to meet with more people who have the knowledge, skills, and experience I want to obtain. Since I will not be around such people all of the time like I was in college, I will need to work harder to seek them out, but these connections are worth their weight in gold simply for the wealth of information one can learn from them.

I plan on writing another one of these reflections six months after my graduation date. It may be amusing to see the broader picture of how my college education will have changed me and the kinds of decisions I will want to make.

Until then, I am slowly easing into my post-undergraduate life. I have numerous decisions to make and more adventures to behold.

My college diploma, which I did not actually receive at my graduation ceremony, arrived in the mail today. It symbolizes so much hard work and deep commitment on my part.

I will hold on to my diploma with great pride.

-Roqué