Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Part 4: Pedestrian Activity and Complex Chaos Theory

Natural Principles 2: Understanding Pedestrian Activity through Complex Chaos Theory

Newton’s third law states, “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction; or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” In illustration, if a pedestrian is simply standing on the street, the downwards force that the body enacts on the pavement is met with an opposing upwards force that the pavement enacts on the body. A cart vendor who is pushing his halal food cart is exerting a force on the cart, but is inversely having an equal force exerted by the cart onto him. Skimming the surface of Newton’s third law, we can extract the straight sell of applied forces and resistances, but the deeper implications derive an understanding that Newton’s laws of motion operate on the key theme of bodies interacting. This is where chaos theory comes into play.

Betsky’s quote on the ideal world encompasses a close system where architecture, order, people and nature are the only active components. However, the ideal buildings which stand, control, and is, are the dominant force which impinge upon the smaller forces of people and nature. New York City has tried to reject the chaos of nature by closing the system with borderlines of grids and sidewalks, traffic lights and roads. And yet, chaos of the streets is still produced, because of the simple fact that human agency and unpredictable human interactions are complicating factors that were not accounted for. New York City, mapped out, can be considered as an ideal system. Once translated into the every day life however, New York entails a true complex system which opens doors for the chaos theory and an absolute nature-human compatibility.

Chaos in nature can be defined by scientists as “a system behavior which is apparently random even though it is driven by deterministic rules”. Experimental work done by Ruelle and Takens (1971) and later, Swinney (1983), showed that simplicity and determinism could lead to complexity; “that a simple deterministic model, under certain conditions, was able to generate behaviors as complex as those observed in nature”. When working in a complex system of an infinite number of variables, chaotic behavior is said to be likely when the number of variables is equal to or greater than three. The simultaneous presence of counteracting forces create multiple interactions that, though possibly originating as simple relationships, can turn “into a highly complex network of which behavior is impossible to anticipate”. In other words,. increased interactions between multiple bodies can create an apparent randomness, or chaos.

One person darting across the street during a green light when cars are meant to cross and people are not can be viewed as a simple relationship. However, twenty people running across the street–some making it through, others being caught up in front of the car, or others vacillating nervously back and forth from the road to the curb–can produce a chaotic situation if simultaneous. New York City is permissibly a space where a number of variables (people) are simultaneously present and interacting within the given system of sidewalks, and thus anticipates complex relations. In a chaotic state, there is exponential instability; “a small cause can have a big effect,” otherwise known as Lorenz’s butterfly effect. A chaotic system is induced when “small variations in some of the variables might have monumental consequences, consequences which could not have been predicted beforehand.”

Such is the tale of New York pedestrian activities. Consider the following example: a group of tourists is trickling north on 34th Street towards Times Square at a slow velocity and zero acceleration, musing over the grandeur of surrounding sky scrapers. Behind them are three rushed New Yorkers, quickly approaching the group. Coming at both the group of tourists and the triple in the opposite direction are 50 other bodies, all with different velocities and heading straight south, south east, and south west. The two group come to a curb where the light for pedestrians is flashing a caution signal, warning of oncoming car traffic. At this intersection, more bodies are coming from east, north east, south east, west, northwest, and south west, and all with different velocities. If the three rushing New Yorkers travel at the same constant velocity that Newton’s first law suggests, they will run physically into the tourists and their motion will be impinged upon.

They are late, and in a sudden collective decision, they accelerate. One pedestrian sweeps to the left of the group, another through the group, and the third to the right of the group. The pedestrian who steered left collides into another pedestrian. The pedestrian who steered right accelerated enough to run successfully across the street and avoid almost being hit by a car. The pedestrian who traveled through the tourists becomes entangled in the group, and scatters several of the tourists who confusedly collide into other pedestrians.

Sound familiar?

These collisions and dynamic, nonlinear interactions are repeated throughout every day at varying degrees on the streets of New York City. Although sidewalks are meant to enclose behavior with idealized lineaments and regulating traffic lights, human agency and interactions between bodies make pedestrian traffic too complex to be contained on footpaths.

Another characteristic of chaotic systems is that of “attractors,” which create implicit order within chaos. “Apparent random behavior gets ‘attracted’ to a given space and remains within its limits,” and a new form of order is thus created out of chaos. If cars are moving in the roads, pedestrian will become attracted to the sidewalk for safety and be deterministically chaotic in that space. If a car is still far away, pedestrians become attracted to the road and chaotically, for a brief moment until the car approaches, will all pedestrians swarm the intersection to cross the street. The disorderly activities of pedestrians bumping into each other, charging into each other or pushing past slower bodies may seem simplistically random in behavior. However, pedestrians increase or decrease accelerations in response to impinging forces; they learn to predict how to cut across another’s path or to measure the time in between cars to jaywalk, or turn the body to squeeze into between two other bodies so that constant velocities will not be interrupted. To walk in the chaos of the city is to learn the new forms of order that pedestrian traffic demands.

Concluding Comments

To bisect a human into a hierarchy of two polarized parts–mind and body–is too reductionist in simplification. Such Cartesian dualism presupposes that the mind and the body can only be simplified into exclusive substances that make each incompatible, when in fact human existence and nature are far more complex than two extremes of good or bad, rational or chaotic. When man turns to a system of rationalize in city planning, the grids, regulations and delegated spaces of traffic all symbolize the claim that nature is not ordered enough for human existence. Nature is thus negated.

New York City pedestrian activity, however, is a present- day working example of the need to shift normalized thinking from simple dualisms to more complex paradigms of understanding states of individuals. To reject nature as irrational or random is to fail to understand that humans cannot be separated from the natural life. The physics executed in every day life and in the traffic of pedestrians are signs of nature working in us and among us. When man finally comes to terms with the fact that order can beget chaos as chaos can beget order then the science of sidewalks can be better understood. The science of sidewalks calls for a relinquishing of static Cartesian values and relishing of juggling modern day physics and the chaotically but systematically alternations of simple and complex dynamics.

 

Advertisements

Part 3: Pedestrian Activity and Newtonian Law

Natural Principles 1: Understanding Pedestrian Activity Through Simple Newtonian Law

Science is not lost. If nature can briefly be posited as physics for the following sections, then it can be claimed that nature has yet to be removed from human existence, despite denials. Science is operative in basic everyday behavior in New York City pedestrians. Confronting the city as reality in its simplest form, as a closed system whereby sidewalks and foot paths are formed for the sake of pedestrian order, it can be demonstrated through Newtonian Laws of Motion that nature still exists. Keep in mind that Newton’s Laws operate in a simple, ideal system of few variables.

Newton’s first law of motion states the principle of inertia: “An object initially at rest is predicted to remain at rest if the total force on it is zero, and an object in motion remains in motion with the same velocity in the same direction”. In other words, an object is inert (has zero velocity) unless acted upon, and if acted upon, will move with the same constant velocity until interrupted by another force. New York City is known to be a fast-paced environment.

As bustling pedestrians travel through the streets, they reclaim nature by simply walking to the beat of Newton’s first law. A student travels at a constant clip to get to class. It is a windless day and so the total force applied is zero. As she comes to the end of the block, she intersects with a car and must stop. The car is an acting force which interrupts her constant velocity. In this case, order of the rationalized city is accomplished; the pedestrian stops at the curb where she is supposed to stop and wait for vehicular traffic to pass.

In another scenario, two pedestrians are rushing down the block at constant velocities, one moving slower than the other. Having not hit any other pedestrians, their respective accelerations do not increase or decrease. As they come to the end of the block where the traffic light just turned green and a car is about the cross their paths, the faster pedestrian hesitates and slows in acceleration. The second, slower pedestrian catches up and act upon the first by pushing the first pedestrian across traffic, creating positive force in the same direction. The first pedestrian runs forward with this combined velocity, and moves at thew new constant speed across the street before the car comes. This is Newton’s second law, in which Force = Mass * Acceleration. This is a case where the total force on an object is not zero, and thus the object will accelerate. In this case, order of the rationalized city is not accomplished; the pedestrian, subjected to external force, has jaywalked and moved in a time not designated for walking.

Finally, Newton’s third law of motion–for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, segues into the principle of complex systems. Although it works in simple systems, it introduces the chaos theory of modern physics which dictates how the city works in complexity and explains how the city can produce chaos despite regulations.

Part 2: NYC and Systems of Nature

New York City Bespeaks of a Negation of Nature

Nothing moves. The architecture is there. It stands; it controls; it is. You might say that the buildings have taken over for the life of the people. This is the ideal world to which the ruling men of the Renaissance aspired. In this world the activities of everyday life were of as little importance as they were to the Greeks. What mattered was the perfect order they could create in place of both nature and those lives. – Aaron Betsky, Erecting Perfection

The ancient Romans created architecture of pure order. Building arrangements followed rules of proportion derived from the rigid formality of Vitruvian arrangement. The Renaissance Italians too created regulated architecture by way of art and visual control. As one of the “greatest innovations of Renaissance art,” perspective became an operative method of rendering three-dimensional reality on a two-dimensional surface. In art, an artist could place a grid over reality to “subject it to an ordering system. The grid, which Alberti suggested you create by stretching strings within the frame, gave everything and everybody a place…This meant that the value and reality of all things depicted existed in the grid itself and no longer in the objects”. This is perspective: a grid that can delegate a space for people and buildings, a grid that dissects reality into a series of squares, a grid that demands artists, architects and inhabitants to behave properly within allocated, proportioned lineaments. Perspective codifies a world where humanity can be subjected to law and order; architecture is meant to maintain such a rule.

Manhattan likewise embodies perspective in physical reality, negating the random and nonlinear dynamics of nature by its design. Etched throughout the entirety of the landscape are near-parallel and perpendicular streets and avenues in what is known in city-planning as the grid-system. The increasing street numbers from south to north and east to west harkens back to the Romans and their constructions of buildings that suggest movement in a predetermined direction. New York buildings themselves are usually rectangular or square, providing perfect 90 degree angles that slip smoothly into gridded blocks of real estate. The voids in between the gridded architecture are dedicated to roads for cars or sidewalks for pedestrians. There are perfect lines in which to walk and drive; there are distinct stopping points for both man and machine to alternatively give way to one another’s moment of traffic. New York City, in such a plan, should be ideal. New York City should be a city of perfect control and rationality, but is is not. Far from having buildings taking over the lives of people as Betsky’s ideal city proclaims, in Manhattan the people seem to take over the city. How can a city that has been designed with such geometrical rules find its circulating human population at such disarray? How does order beget disorder? Finally, how does the irrational unordered personality of nature surface in such confined spaces and lines?

Thomas Hobbes postulated one representation of human existence in which the state of man was that of a socially independent individual, called the “State of Nature”. In this State of Nature, “a person’s only aim is the maintenance of the individual self, as he or she competes with all others for the means of subsistence.” While individuals are equal, without restraining rules or laws of reason, individual behaviors and competition can give rise to conflict and disorder. Hobbes regarded this existence as a barbaric condition that preceded the emergence of law and order, of some social structure. The State of Nature could not compatibly exist with human existence, for human existence is only possible with the introduction of reasoned limits. Laws allow the State of Nature to be dominated by a state of social organization. When the structure of society breaks down, State of Nature resumes.

New York in turn is a paradoxical city of seemingly irreconcilable realms, as deemed by Hobbes. Its laws and grids are meant to dominate the State of Nature so that nature does not reign over humans. Although the city has social and physical regulations it nonetheless is subsumed by individual break downs of traffic laws and fractious conduct. Does New York pedestrian traffic dictate an ultimate return to unruly Nature, or are we merely finding the evidence of sidewalk as case in point that man cannot cut the umbilical cord from nature which it negates? Hobbes proclaims that human existence cannot exist in nature. The city, in its attempts to rationalize space, grid reality, and ultimately bring order depreciates the value of the systematic randomness of the universe. New York City planning negates nature by enacting social structures that should ensure the impossibility of coexistence. However, the sidewalks of the city claim otherwise; nature can exist in the urban where it has been shunned.

Simple vs. Complex Systems

It can be said that the attempt to institute the city into geometrical and gridded order is not only an attempt to rationalize human behavior (and more specifically regulate the flows of moving bodies). Rather, by claiming a perspective of urbanity as civil and systematic, and Nature as chaotic and unpredictable, another duality set is brought into discussion. Elizabeth Grosz defines dualism as “the assumption that there are two distinct, mutually exclusive and mutually exhaustive substances, mind and body, each of which inhabits its own self-contained sphere. Taken together the two have incompatible characteristics.” Implicit in this is the notion that no only are mind and body incompatible, but that nature and humans are incompatible as well. The new paradigmatic duality that needs to be considered when analyzing pedestrian behavior is that of simple versus complex systems.

The simple-complex dichotomy separates nature and humans in a contradictory way. By splicing notions of existences within our physical reality, we are engaging in a reductionist approach to the world. To claim that supposed inferior force (nature) opposes a supposed superior force (man) is to exhibit habits of a simple-complex abstraction. Man is more rational than beast, the mind is more capable than the body, control is more effective than anarchy–these are all dichotomized cells of thinking that are configured with intention to simplify complexities. In other words, the reduction of two complex existences, man and nature or body and mind, to perceptions of one as notably “better” than another is a simplifying tactic. It does not compromise the complexities of each, found at the micro-level, and rather subjects it to incomplete generalities.

In much of the same vein, another consideration that needs to be injected is that the planning of New York City is not just about organizing architectural systems of order; it is about simplifying the complex chaos of human nature. Indeed, human nature is chaotic; it is not innately rational. To reiterate, this is because human nature cannot entirely separate from nature; it is still a part of nature and thus is subjected to the same natural disorderliness that is has tried so hard to negate.

Scientifically speaking, an understanding of simple and complex systems can be facilitated in the following identifications: Systems that include a limited number of ordered components or distributed elements subsumed under a few formulaic concepts (such as Newton’s reduction fo the universe into three components–force, mass, and acceleration) are said to be “isolated in thought from the rest of the concrete universe and are conventionally regarded as closed systems”. As such, the system is “fully defined” by core characteristics and this is “ideal”; it represents reality in its simplest form. It ignores the possibility of external complicating factors and thus engenders a simple system.

A complex system, on the other hand, compromises an infinite number of randomly distributed elements that vary and often interact with one another and their environment with differing degrees. “Not all factors that determine the state of the system are identified,” and hence the complex system is that of an open, partially defined, and non-ideal mode of reality.

The dualist approach to bifurcating man and nature in simplistic terms renders it a simple system with only two concepts acting: good (man) and bad (nature). Even physical ordering of the city works in a simple system interpretation whereby grids, sidewalks, stop signs, cross lights and zebra lines for pedestrians simplify the city into an ideal, closed system of allocated order. Let us re-interpret this space and use of sidewalks to understand that human agency is disqualified as a complicating factor. chaos and nature are implicit in urban behavior, regardless of regulations enacting upon humans, and once we can conceive of the city as a complex system we can acquire an understanding that human existence can allow for a State of Nature.

Part 1: The Science of Sidewalks

I came across this tidbit I had conceptualized back in 2008. Thought it was worth resurrecting, a throwback to my smarter days and more thoughtful times. Sans references.

Introduction

The bifurcations of human existence have largely been vain measures to divorce humanity from the ecosystem at large. The implicit Cartesian assumptions of man over beast, of the rationalized mind pinned against the animal body, and higher cognitive functions as superior to lower corporeal impulses, suggests a Freudian paranoia with natural origins and nature itself. Man spends a propensity of mental strength and social practices rejecting the natural; he is ashamed of defecation, excretions, sexual performances, childbirth, carnality, and even death. He hides these away behind bathroom doors and bedroom walls, behind curtains and hushed whispers. They are hardly exposed to the public and thus shape an indictment of man’s worship of civility–a civility that pretends that he is not prone to the same natural behavior as animals, a civility that projects a separation from and negation of nature. In doing so, an undertone of negation obsession has arisen throughout the ages; cities have been geometrically ordered, gridded, plotted and planned for rational circulation; bodies have been devalued, regulated an militarized in diet, action and thought. It has been a laborious and often interrupted process of realization that human existence cannot diverge very far from nature.

New York City is a classic example of this attempt to order and to disassociate. Whereas natural landscape randomly distributes hills, valleys, water beds and other terrains, Manhattan protects its urbanity from being classified as the rivaling rural by developing a concrete jungle replete with gridded streets, traffic lights, and artificially-produced, geometrical landscapes. The city calls for planned order and rational civility, and yet, is so saturated with free moving bodies that the expected organization of humanity seems hardly predominant. The traffic–pedestrian and vehicular alike–in New York constitute an infamous lack of civil order and disregard of the rules. Man seems to lose himself in New York City to a sense of premature savageness, of pushing and shoving through the streets, of running through red lights, of certain blindness to proper street formations. A conditional shift from simple dualism is necessary to reconcile this paradox where two apparently irreconcilable visions of rational order and disorderly chaos in the city obviously coexist. This paper will attempt to explain that nature, materialized in the form of physics, is not lost in urban behavior; in fact, an analysis of pedestrian traffic can provide instances of scientific performance in the human domain of sidewalks.

An Overview of Somatophobia

Since its inception into Greek philosophical discourse, the body has been distinguished as a source of interference, lack of reason, and even danger to the mind. Envisioning “irrational or appetitive functions of the soul,” Plato conceived of the body as something to be ruled over by reason. Its composition as fleshy matter is no match for the non-corporeal consciousness and its intangible operations of reason, and thus it has been thought that the body should be subjected to a ruler-ruled relation in order to make possible harmony within public and private society. When Descartes later instituted a philosophy of dualism and Cartesianism, not only was the denigration of the body perpetuated, but mind, body, and nature became increasingly forced apart.

Greek philosophy long anticipated a separation of mind from body. What Descartes rendered into being was a separation of the soul from nature. Distinguishing two kinds of substances: a thinking substance (res cogitans, mind) and an extended substance (res extensa, body), Descartes believed that only the extended substance could be considered part of nature; “the mind, the thinking substance, the soul, or consciousness, has no place in the natural world”. While dualism is responsible for claiming an incompatibility between two presumed distinct and mutually exclusive substances of existence, Cartesianism indicated three negative perspectives of the corporeal form: 1) the body is primarily regarded as an object for the natural sciences where it can be understood in terms of its basic organic and instrumental functioning, 2) the body is construed as a passive instrument, tool or machine that lies at the disposal of a more animated vessel of consciousness, and must be disciplines or trained by higher reason as proclaimed by Plato, 3) the body is commonly considered as a medium of expression, transmitting to the public what originates privately.

Cartesian tradition of soma-oppression posits the normalized abhorrence of the human body’s animal needs and beastly relations. As Georges Bataille determined, “Man is the animal that negates nature.” Man cannot banish his own personal receptacle of being, and thus instead limits the shameful animal activities that become of the body–sexual function and excretion–to dark or secret places. Ergo, “we have fashioned this humanized world in our image by obliterating the very traces of nature…It is clear that we are sorry we came from life, from meat, from a whole bloody mess.” To prohibit natural bodily projections from being performed publicly, matter is unduly squeezed into particular boundaries and spaces of what constitutes civil humanity and what constitutes embarrassing resemblances of animals and nature.

 

 

It’s no surprise that McDonald’s has been slowly but surely dominated by better burgers and better fries from Burger King, tastier nuggets from Wendy’s, and more satisfying milk shakes from Johnny Rockets. How has this chain, so entangled in law suits, bad publicity and fat children with angry mothers, stay standing and still coveted?

Pavlov may be thanked for giving us some scientific footing in solving this fast food mystery—unless we should be considering any possibility of the corporation slipping cocaine into our greasy, fatty, thin-sliced patties.  In fact, such a thought isn’t far off from what the latest news has introduced. McDonald’s, without a doubt, has found a way to stick a super-fried IV into our veins and we’re eager to suck on the fat. Ivan Pavlov, Russian psychologist, determined through experimental research the basic laws of conditional reflexes. His famous trials of training dogs to salivate when they hear a bell is precisely what we’re looking at two centuries later.

A new study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has confirmed what we’ve always known: that children subjected to the golden arches overwhelmingly rate McDonald’s frozen and then fried potato shavings as better than real wedges, McDonald’s tiny bites of burgers as more delicious than a real, grilled-to-perfection 8 ouncer, its sausage patties more orgasmic than any Bob Evans links, and its nuggets beyond compare.  This new study claims that kids 3 to 5 favor branded foods over unbranded—despite the fact that they are identical. Significantly more children are said to have rated the McDonald’s-labeled products as more tasty.

Taken from Advertising Age:Researchers tested 63 children aged 3 to 5 who were also enrolled in Northern California Head Start programs. The children had an average of 2.4 TVs per household, and more than half had sets in their rooms. About 30% ate at McDonald’s more than once a week and more than 75% had McDonald’s toys at home.Each child was given chicken nuggets, a hamburger and french fries from McDonald’s and baby carrots and milk from the grocery store. The children were given identical portions of food, some carrying the McDonald’s logo, and others wrapped in plain paper. With one exception, significantly more children said the McDonald’s-labeled product tasted better. Oddly enough, the product they did not rate as better is McDonald’s signature item: the burger.” http://adage.com/article?article_id=119753

The golden arches stationed on that easily recognizable red pavilion are more than enough to make a child salivate on cue. Is it truly attributable to a fantastic branding gimmick that allows us to recognize unique tastes with that flashy logo, or is it more due in fact to old fashioned psychology? What this study finds is a hard fact merging of the effects of branding and the corruption of the mind. Don’t get me wrong—this is by far a success for the corporation and for advertisers, and I highly applaud their accomplishments and abilities to so deeply ingrain. Hey, they did their job, right?  Barring all other measures of successes, however, it has gotten to a sore point when we have to offer carrots, apples and salads with a brand name to make children eat the good stuff. For all that it matters, advertising and consumerism is supposed to be a never-ending duel. For all that advertising persuades you to do, the individual must battle it out with a challenge. This is how the symbiotic relationship can be sustained. In other words, if your child wants those apples from McDonalds and not your shiny Whole Foods one, it’s time to regulate. We play devil’s advocate. You play parent.

The McAddicts Make Pavlov, Advertisers Proud

Same pride cannot be said for parents

mcd.jpg

It’s no surprise that McDonald’s has been slowly but surely dominated by better burgers and better fries from Burger King, tastier nuggets from Wendy’s, and more satisfying milk shakes from Johnny Rockets. How has this chain, so entangled in law suits, bad publicity and fat children with angry mothers, stay standing and still coveted?

Pavlov may be thanked for giving us some scientific footing in solving this fast food mystery—unless we should be considering any possibility of the corporation slipping cocaine into our greasy, fatty, thin-sliced patties.  In fact, such a thought isn’t far off from what the latest news has introduced. McDonald’s, without a doubt, has found a way to stick a super-fried IV into our veins and we’re eager to suck on the fat. Ivan Pavlov, Russian psychologist, determined through experimental research the basic laws of conditional reflexes. His famous trials of training dogs to salivate when they hear a bell is precisely what we’re looking at two centuries later.

A new study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has confirmed what we’ve always known: that children subjected to the golden arches overwhelmingly rate McDonald’s frozen and then fried potato shavings as better than real wedges, McDonald’s tiny bites of burgers as more delicious than a real, grilled-to-perfection 8 ouncer, its sausage patties more orgasmic than any Bob Evans links, and its nuggets beyond compare.  This new study claims that kids 3 to 5 favor branded foods over unbranded—despite the fact that they are identical. Significantly more children are said to have rated the McDonald’s-labeled products as more tasty.

Taken from Advertising Age:Researchers tested 63 children aged 3 to 5 who were also enrolled in Northern California Head Start programs. The children had an average of 2.4 TVs per household, and more than half had sets in their rooms. About 30% ate at McDonald’s more than once a week and more than 75% had McDonald’s toys at home.Each child was given chicken nuggets, a hamburger and french fries from McDonald’s and baby carrots and milk from the grocery store. The children were given identical portions of food, some carrying the McDonald’s logo, and others wrapped in plain paper. With one exception, significantly more children said the McDonald’s-labeled product tasted better. Oddly enough, the product they did not rate as better is McDonald’s signature item: the burger.” http://adage.com/article?article_id=119753

The golden arches stationed on that easily recognizable red pavilion are more than enough to make a child salivate on cue. Is it truly attributable to a fantastic branding gimmick that allows us to recognize unique tastes with that flashy logo, or is it more due in fact to old fashioned psychology? What this study finds is a hard fact merging of the effects of branding and the corruption of the mind. Don’t get me wrong—this is by far a success for the corporation and for advertisers, and I highly applaud their accomplishments and abilities to so deeply ingrain. Hey, they did their job, right?  Barring all other measures of successes, however, it has gotten to a sore point when we have to offer carrots, apples and salads with a brand name to make children eat the good stuff. For all that it matters, advertising and consumerism is supposed to be a never-ending duel. For all that advertising persuades you to do, the individual must battle it out with a challenge. This is how the symbiotic relationship can be sustained. In other words, if your child wants those apples from McDonalds and not your shiny Whole Foods one, it’s time to regulate. We play devil’s advocate. You play parent.

Finding Enlightenment on the Metro

“Look beyond the single news item. Are they isolated events? Or are they part of a global pattern that has real significance?

The preaching of armageddon is no uncommon encounter. We’ve had it all in our respective experiences–sweet old men passing out brochures on Jesus, friendly but aggressive strangers accosting you in the middle of a campus, deceiving Korean Christians trying to recruit you to their Christian team, and of course the presumed lunatics who wander the subways and sidewalks proclaiming the end of the world and the coming of the messiah/Satan/reign of evil via the Bush administration.
These religious pawns are seen everywhere and usually ignored, albeit often times with the excusal of just being slightly off their rockers. In recounting my instances of run-ins with armageddon fanatics, perhaps I have found a thread of reciprocation to this seemingly ominous question aforementioned.

In other words, I think I can ask the very same that I’ve been asked.

My mother, feeding off the suspicious and superstitious Chinese tell-tale personality of generations, has been the source of amusement and fueler of fear for me when it comes to armageddon and its link to current events. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and the great tsunami–all of which killed so many people–my mother went around whispering during news hours, “The world is changing.” The random snows in California and the hot 70 degree winters in Maryland wrought a sense of fear in my mother and inadvertently in me, for she, as I’m sure many others around the world did, considered that perhaps these natural disasters and terrorist attacks were a sure-fire sign of man turning on man and the world coming to an end.

And then she blurts, “It’s because of Bush.”

I laughed at this translation, but according to Chinese superstition, the gods easily invoke their wraths of fury at world/kingdom leaders through natural causes. And of course, even the Christian legacy will proclaim the same with sinners, concluding the fate of the world with an ever frightening purge.

Is she crazy? Not at all. My mother is a very grounded, very sane, very reasonable woman. Her notion of world karma, however, is easily transferrable, easily corruptable simply through delivery. Take, for example, an experience of mine last month on the metro:

Every morning I catch the subway train to Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. As I was sitting on the train waiting for people to board at one of the many stops en route, I distinctively heard the blow of a horn. Boarding the train was a black man with a graying beard and ratty, khaki-colored clothes. He was fully equipped with a booming voice and a large horn. This horn was unlike an animal’s horn and certainly not like the brass instruments that we’re so accustomed to, but a full-fledge horn. It curled into a large arc and measured to be about the length of the man’s torso, and when he blew, it sounded reminiscent of a conch shell–except magnified about 30 times.

He blew, startling those around him, and bellowed, “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR. YOU CAN STILL AVOID EVIL. BUSH IS THE POSSESSED ANTICHRIST.” This easily could be a crazy homeless man who cares too much about politics, and yet, the root of his words matched those of my mother’s.

Coming from a Communications background, I am quick to remind you that the medium is the message. He prescribes his epiphany in an insane way, he is seen as insane. My mother–only mildly insane (although if you REALLY knew her, you’d claim otherwise).

Another instance: I was walking through Downtown Silver Spring and parked on the astroturf was a small crowd of people listening to a man demonstrating with an easel. He had marked on the left side of his board: MONEY + SIN + YOU = GOD. On the left side was a silhouette of a body torso with a red heart and a black hole in the heart. The snippets I caught announced the need for the acceptance of Jesus, but the image I saw was an amateur Fortune 500 lesson.

My point is that en-masse we notice patterns. We seem to respect large gatherings of events. After all, how much more extraordinary did the Virginia Tech massacre seem than your individual downtown murder, despite the fact that there is nothing normal about being shot to death?

En-masse, in hindsight, I noticed the pattern of increased armageddon preachers–does that mean that armageddon is truly near if these pawns are busy crawling out of their nooks and crannies and stealing our attention? Or are they isolated events, with each individual finding their own revelation that they must warn us of all invisible infractions?

What I found today on the subway was the true message of the Lord. He came in the form of a man–not a very beautiful man, not a very graceful man. I was sleeping on the train and I feel a heavy PLOP in the seat next to me. A large, muscular man with a heavy set jaw and sun glasses was holding a small booklet too flimsy for his large, tan hands. He shot me a clumsy grin and said, “I’ll be quiet. Shhh,” and allowed me to go back to sleep.

He had on blue sweat pants, sneakers, a light blue muscle shirt and a cap. I stared at his booklet and he leaned in and started to speak to me.

“You see this?” He pointed at a series of black and white pictures memorializing nuclear bombs, wars, battle grounds. Then he flipped the page to a drawing of rolling hills, sunshine and pure nature.

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful if the world could be like this? Do you know how it’s going to happen?”

“What?” I asked.

“Do you know how it’s going to happen?” I shook my head. “Would you like to find out?”

And he gave me the book, telling me he has plenty more.

I asked if he was Christian; he said yes, and he tries to be a good one. He told me he was from Washington to take care of his ill 80 year old father. He told me to be safe when I left. I told him him to have a good day.

He told me much more in those few moments I had with him–he told me of kindness, the faultiness that lays in judging a human by their cover, of what God’s true message was. God’s true message is to simply listen, hope, and spread the quiet moments that he gives us, for in our quiet moments does God speak the loudest.He told me that I would never know if the separate messages I received from armageddon fanatics were individual and unique or not. He told me that they should be, however, a pattern of global significance–that this pattern should be a peaceful, horn-less, one in which everybody spreads the word of God, the coming of the Lord, the end of the world as a beautiful merging of heaven and earth. He told me that anybody could find God in any one, anywhere.

I found it in him on my ride to work, he who told me so much but kept his promise–he was quiet…and I still heard him.