Mill Avenue Resistance: Saturday, November 29th 2008

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the SFTS does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, November 29th 2008.

After I arrived on Mill Ave and got to work with my usual interviews and observations, I noticed that the STFS—in the form of the Resistance—arrived with their amplification to locate the evangelicals gathering in front of Border’s. Kazz, Rocco, Rachel, Todd, Kyle, Brian, Kevin, and Ashley making up the Resistance; and the preachers had some familiar faces in Erin, Al, Suzanne, and a few others.

I really like having Suzanne around because she’s a good speaker, actually spends the time to converse with people, and listens thoughtfully to what they have to say—of course, she found herself locked in a conversation most of the night with Rocco and in spite of his geeky expression he is extremely good at holding a conversation.

Border’s

This part of the night made for an interesting environment for the Resistance because the preachers did not set up any sort of amplification. They just stood around passing out tracts and talking to passersby as per normal operations. This lasted about two hours or so at most, and occupied most of the time of the Resistance during that part of the night.

I spent most of my time getting to know the various players, movers and shakers actually in the region, keeping track of people; I’ve collected some tracts from the preachers but they’ll be stowed amid my other documented manuscripts and missives from the Ave.

This was something of a social gathering pretty much for all involved.

Pamphleteering seems to be the primary role of that part of the night.

Post Office

Eventually things moved out in front of the Post Office after the pianist vacated his location. Al moved from Border’s out to there. I found him because I had holed up there primarily to get a soda from the Thirsty Dog, but to also see what the pianist was up to (since he had mentioned he was also a street rat at some point.) He is part of my observation now because he seems to also have been proselytizing to the crowd around him and I’m sure the Resistance would like to know about him.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much—he didn’t stick around long enough for me to speak to him.

Instead, I got myself into a conversation with John—who came out with Lee—and we talked about some nostalgia about the Ave and other interesting tidbits about anthropology and how to study people. The conversation seemed to turn into one of those of Biblical misanthropy. I am becoming a little bit concerned about this particular product of the religion: beginning at a base state of dehumanizing other people by presenting them as evil and unruly seems like a good way to dismiss them as peers and as respectable people.

I hate to quote Ayn Rand, but I believe that the evanescent saying would be, “You cannot rule an innocent man.” A great deal of the meme here seems to be that everyone is wicked and therefore they need to be ruled by something; and, unsurprisingly, that something is going to be whatever religion made the unsupported assertion that everyone is bad.

I don’t believe that people who promulgate this meme realize that they are deliberately dismissing everything good that anyone does by trying to shackle it to their religion.

Trevor

I met him last week and I have the same criticism of his presentation as the above; that people drown themselves too deep in this misanthropic meme they are setting themselves up for dangerous, xenophobic separation from the rest of what could be a loving community. By approaching the world, and other people, as if they were terrible, horrible things we are essentially becoming Aristotle’s “lover of war” because we are immediately judging other people as evil rather than peers.

People who say things like this may spend their time saying things like, “I am just as bad,” but this is a sallow and cowardly divorce from what they just said before—really, we do not approach other people from a philosophy that suggests that we’re both evil and actually have a sane relationship.

I am being unfair to him at the moment, though, as we didn’t get a lot of time to speak.

It’s difficult to talk to him because he is so deep in his mirrorspeech that I’m not sure when the real person is going to surface. Today he wanted to know when I would, “Start preaching the gospel,” when his god would “raise me from the dead and bring me to life.” Perhaps I am just looking at a profound form of culture shock with these weird metaphors that he uses; because I am not sure that even the most diplomatic person that he talks to would take metaphors like that as proper conversation.

Brant

Wow. He misspeaks a lot.

At about 11:30pm amplification was set up outside the Post Office and first Trevor took to it—but I didn’t hear much of it because I had interviews to do—but then finally when the Resistance arrived on the scene, having moved from Border’s, they came head-to-head with a new evangelical preacher named Brant.

He has a somewhat square face and punchy cheeks, real farmboy build, short but slicked up brown hair, flat matte in the Mill Ave lights. He had a white sweater and blue jeans; amid his support crew were a pair of girls carrying tracts. He showed distinct signs of being barely trained to speak in front of crowds, although he seems to have practice; but he had little way in preparation for the siege that the Resistance was bringing with them.

For some parts Vince decided to speak with Brant on the microphone; he’s pretty good at what he does and he’s a real raconteur so that one didn’t go so well for proselytizing. Vince is a street rat, extremely into mystery religions, well studied, and excels at standing on his own turf—while he’s not distinctly part of the Resistance, he certainly helped them hold their own with some fun and interesting criticisms.

Brant to Vince, “If you’re not a Christian, then I can talk it over; but if you aren’t a Christian, then I don’t care.”

Brant did attempt to run the Good Person Test on Kyle—which was not going to go well because as a member of the Resistance he’s wise to the misinterpretations of scripture; the emotional blackmail; and the general immoral structure of the test. That ran a strange gambit as Kyle’s replies were split between Brant and Kazz/Todd as they replied themselves on the Resistance’s amp. Score another point for the siege style criticism that the Resistance brings. Of course, a bit of this was in part that Brant was just not prepared for this sort of encounter.

Eventually Todd took over—and that just went downhill for Brant. During the Good Person Test against Kyle it was brought up by Rocco (and others) that the very basis for the test didn’t even apply to Gentiles (that’s anyone who is not from the tribes of Israel.) They even went to a bible and found the part of Exodus that says so.

Brant to Todd, “Todd is going to read from the Bible, and he professes to be an atheist—but he knows in his heart that there is a god.”

It was actually Rocco who found it; but he had a lot of trouble getting the Resistance microphone or even Brant’s attention in order to reply to the challenge. Normally, I don’t think that it’s proper to debate the evangelicals on the Bible (as Kyle and/or Joe pointed out once) because it’s just psychic masturbation and doesn’t really lead anywhere. A lot like how Jewish people deal with Christians is by totally dismissing the New Testament; the atheists and other cultures really shouldn’t be going into that book in order to prove points—cross culturally there is only culture shock and the scriptures of either mythology aren’t as important as the social bridge between them.

However, this was an interesting blow because it did manage to point out a serious flaw in the design of the Good Person Test.

Brant may have some training in crowd control and speaker mollification but he’s not very good at deploying it. He tends to use, “Fair enough,” too often in the wrong places and mistakes it not for the affirmative that it is because he uses it and then contradicts what the person said. This creates a sort of backlash from the entire crowd who hear him say “yes,” and the in the same breath “no.”

For anyone who is familiar with the Good Person Test, here’s something that you should never accept from them. If they’re doing the bit where they ask, “Have you ever stolen anything?” And you’re hemming and hawing because most people have never actually stolen anything and the questioner says, “Have you ever downloaded music illegally from the Internet?” If you have: You have not committed theft.

Don’t let people get away with this stupid, ignorant-of-the-law meme. Copyright infringement is not theft. It’s not. Assault is not theft; murder is not theft; arson is not theft; vandalism is not theft. There are millions of illegal acts that are not theft and copyright infringement is one of them. The Supreme Court of the United States themselves has rendered decision after decision to make this clear to the public and the judicial system as if it were necessary.

The entire concept of Intellectual Property is an extremely infantile idea; the Bronze Age culture and dogma from which the Ten Commandments is derived had no conception of what IP was—it is not covered by any of them.

Brant: You are on notice. You have been told twice now that it’s not theft. Learn or be left behind. I expect you to be a rational, intelligent, and healthy peer of mine and actually do your homework and learn why copyright infringement cannot be theft. Stop trying to say that it is simply because it is convenient for this immoral, toxic, and psychologically abusive tool “The Good Person Test.”

The Resistance did not take well to Brant, probably because he’s particularly loud and refuses to be conversant—probably all part of his training in crowd control. This is particularly galling to the members of the Resistance who are there to create a public dialogue. Certainly I’ve heard others mention that they’re, “Not here to debate; but preach the gospel.” Okay, but what is not being understood here is that they’ve entered into a public forum and part of the function of the forum is to become part of a play-by-play of interaction and conversation.

Break that and you’re going to cause friction, and here’s the friction.

Some of the things that I noticed was that Brant would fall quickly onto saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And more than once he found irritated fury in the mouths of the Resistance who had faced up to his crowd control techniques and didn’t like what they were hearing; except that he absurdly replied with, “I’ll take that as a compliment,” to things like Rachel’s flagellations:

Rachel to Brant, “You are an ignorant airhead!”

Brant said, “I take that as a compliment.”

Well… “Oh, how clumsy of me: I meant to insult you,” Captain Von Trapp, The Sound of Music.

I don’t know what he said to elicit that reaction, and I didn’t get a chance to post interview Rachel to find out; but there was shortly some sort of dialogue about brainwashing involved. I fear that Brant misspeaking and his use of crowd control techniques was causing abrasions, which spiral rapidly into frustration on both sides. I’d warn people to use caution with flat ridicule “on the first date” but since I missed part of that exchange I cannot properly comment on it.

If I see more of this sort of sparks between the two groups I will try to make comments on how social critique and public rebuke work—especially in the context of siege protests. Irony, sarcasm, parody, and other swift, sharp kicks in the delicate sensibilities have to be tempered with careful contextualization. Both groups are producing a sort of production for an audience; like a pair of entertainment troupes playing off of each other.

Castigat ridendo mores,” Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.

If anyone can give me experiences, how they feel when these events are going on, and what they can remember from their interaction and what they want to present and what obstacles they feel they have I will try to include that in my future critique.

Funny

I almost want to call the Resistance “The Résistance” instead just to be funny but … I think that I’ll stick with the less high faulting’ name.

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