When You Walk Away From Pikesville


We parked outside of the Toys R Us in Owings Mills. We just got done dealing with a woman who thought it would be a smart idea to barrel down the parking lot and honk at us as we were trying to navigate. Her road rage, to her, was justified, she had her son in the backseat. I had not thought at the time to ask why it was safe to drive that fast with her son in the back, but my goal was that I just wanted to see if there was liquidation going on. No dice and the entire time our mood was soured.

But between both Rebby and I, we lamented how there simply wasn’t much to do out here. We were cash-strapped and had few friends in the area. The worst of the snowstorm was over and we had cabin fever from the past two days. But every suggestion seemed to fall short. Didn’t have the money, didn’t have time, didn’t have the gas. But I kept thinking about where we were, why we were there in the first place. What was it like, really?

The Ghosts of Baltimore County

My placement in the Pikesville/Owings Mills area was not one that I had any choice regarding. It was a move made for the sake of locating us closer to my stepmother’s extended family. In that regard, it accomplished what it was set out to do. But for much of my life, I was left as a stranger in a strange land. I never belonged, and to this day I don’t believe I ever could.

My favorite game of 2017 was Night in the Woods, and I produced my favorite article on Splice Today saying “We All Live In Possum Springs”. I use that phrase as a shorthand for describing the alienation and monotony of the dying small-town/suburban life of modern America, a product of late capitalism. While Scott Benson drew more from his hometown of Pittsburgh, that game could very easily describe where I currently live and the struggles that people like me face.

Both Rebby and I exist as walking examples of Katherine Newman’s “The Accordion Family”. Neither of us has a full-time job, and while I work freelance and study full-time, I still rely on cheap rent from my parents. Rebby still can’t drive on her own, hamstringing any potential leads until that task is complete.

The job market here is dry, and what jobs are available are the kind of high-stress jobs that wreak havoc on autistic minds. There’s a place that hires people on the spectrum, but she still can’t drive. It’s been a slow process for both of us. I still have almost two years left until my bachelor’s degree, and Rebby’s pathway is still unclear.

There’s no future here, for either of us. We both see it. Our lives will continue, but they must do so elsewhere, for there’s nothing left for us here. We don’t know what will happen, but we have the understanding that it won’t be stuck where we are now.

When The Last Store Closes

And I think that there really isn’t a future for Pikesville or Owings Mills. Pikesville is dying. Owings Mills is dying. We can see the writing on the wall. It’s slow but shows no signs of reversing.

The last remnants of Rosewood Hospital have finally been demolished. The shell of the Wendy’s is still unoccupied. Go up a little closer to the Bill Bateman’s and you’ll find several closed gas stations. The Owings Mills mall will be turned into strip malls pretty soon, left to the suburban wasteland that it has become.

There’s a sensation that I’ve come to recognize in my time exploring dying spaces both virtual and physical. Whether I’ve walked through MMO Age of Conan‘s dead game world or the aisles of Toys R Us, I’ve begun to feel the dissociation that comes with visiting a place that’s clearly fading away.

The Owings Mills mall has long since closed. There really isn’t much to do in Pikesville. No one really talks about it with any sort of reverence, and frankly, I don’t blame them. Who wants to be around when the last store closes?

I don’t think suburbia has a future.

Beyond the Cul-De-Sac

Maybe suburban communities will adapt to the future, but more than likely people will migrate away from them as we are planning to. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been to a ghost town that the prospect of this place becoming a ghost town doesn’t sound so far out of reach.

I don’t know where the future lies, but it isn’t in a world of sprawl.


The Reality Of Millennial Life


I have found, yet again, another anti-millennial video making the rounds on Facebook. It seems like an entire genre of op-eds somehow manages to sustain itself on boomer antipathy alone. This content is usually shared with a certain hubris, a “speaking truth to power” attitude which flies in the face of the actual power that millennials have in comparison to the economically entrenched boomers and Gen X.

I could, in theory, attract quite an audience by catering to this mindset. I could crib notes from op-eds all over the internet since they all blur together anyway. I could even sell it and say “just add ‘entitled'”. But, because I want to write articles that are informed and not merely masturbatory in nature, perhaps I can shed some light on the reality that underlies the life that millennials face in the United States.

Millennials are not dealing with an attitude problem, they are dealing with a wealth of sociocultural and economic factors that are making it difficult just to get started.

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Understanding Radicalization Is The First Step to Defending Against It


Dr. Azar Estamypour-King Prepares a Lecture on the Psychology of Radicalization. Photo by Dylan Greene

In the current political discourse, terrorism and radical extremism plays a big role in shaping public policy. In the public consciousness, it has informed the basis of many controversial shifts in legislation including the infamous Patriot Act. Many Americans live under the fear of terrorist attacks, a fact brought to light by the 15th anniversary of September 11th, 2001. But far too often, trying to find the root of the problem doesn’t come up in mainstream discussion.

Dr. Azar Estamypour-King, in association with CCBC’s International Club, decided to bring this subject out into the open last Wednesday on October 5th. Her presentation focused on the current subject of discussion, that being radical Islam. However, what she presented can easily be applied to other ideologies. Her presentation was largely informed by her knowledge of psychology as well as her experiences in Iran, Europe, and the United States. In her own words, “Muslims are held hostage to extremism.”

In order to understand the phenomenon, it is imperative that the political and cultural contexts are also understood. Tensions in Europe are much more overt than in the United States with hostility being more pronounced. According to Dr. King, “Unfortunately a lot of Europeans, especially…the French are very nationalist.” This is evident in legislation in France that bars the wearing of burqas and the modern “burkini”. Homes of Muslims are vandalized with messages expressing attitudes such as “Muslims go home.” and anti-Muslim protests are commonplace. Those who came as refugees to escape the turmoil in their native lands are viewed with suspicion and contempt. Dr. King elaborates, “Racism [in Europe] is very open, people come and they don’t like you.”

As a way of capitalizing on the climate of fear, radical groups step forward with the siren song of an end to the chaos. This is done by manipulating disaffected and disenfranchised Muslim citizens. Usually, the people who are targeted by these groups are young. This is a way of exploiting the identity crises usually faced by the young. Dr. King cites the example of teenagers being given a plastic key as a promise that they will be rewarded in the afterlife.

Dealing with a complex problem such as radical extremism and terrorism will require further examination in public policy. It will also require a much more nuanced understanding than is typically presented. Going forward, policymakers will have to contend with preserving liberties and observing the differences between an ideology and its most radical proponents. However, perhaps the best first step in advancing the dialogue is by deconstructing the methodology used to bring vulnerable people on board.

Is Idiocracy Becoming a Documentary?



Photo by wintersixfour at Morguefile.com


Around ten years ago, Mike Judge produced a cult classic known as “Idiocracy”. It follows a very basic plot, the world has devolved into a society that is full of unintelligent people. It’s common for people to ask “Is this the direction we’re headed?” Equally common is the all-too-familiar chant of its inevitable onset.

When watching it now, I am always wondering “What’s going to happen? What can we avoid and how?”

Average People, Dumb Culture

Fortunately, one thing we don’t have to worry about is the initial chain of events that caused Idiocracy as a whole to happen.  The beginning of the film presents a scenario where a low IQ man named Clevon outbreeds a high IQ couple. He does this by having affairs with multiple women and recovering from an accident that would normally leave him without the use of his reproductive organs.

Obviously, this scenario is very oversimplified. There’s no way he could reasonably afford to raise the sheer number of children he has. So the scenario of being overrun with Clevon’s offspring is probably not going to happen.

What Idiocracy does get right, at least in many respects, is the culture. What exactly does Idiocracy’s culture look like?

In the vision that the film presents, America has fallen into an era of mass commercialism. This can be demonstrated with the constant saturation of advertising present early on. Corporations are extremely powerful, with Brawndo the Thirst Mutilator successfully buying the FDA and the FCC.

The specific marketing leans heavily on primal desires, the collective “id” or the nation. It’s very hypermasculine and hypersexual. Portion sizes are referred to as “Extra Big Ass”, the two most popular television channels are the Violence Channel and the Masturbation Network.

In the future, people are barely literate. Not only that but anyone who attempts to read is looked down upon in scorn. Education through Costco becomes a viable option, making the consumer model of education the standard (eerily enough, this was before the student loan debt crisis came into focus). Even skilled workers like doctors have become so incompetent at their jobs that they leave most of the work to automation. However, that automation is quickly breaking down with no one capable enough to fix it.

Pretty much every avenue of interaction has been distilled into mindless entertainment. The justice system’s scale is tipped so far that there’s not even show trials, they’re just shows. The political system has gone even further than the gridlock we have today (though I’m sure that people could see seeds of that system in the modern day) with the most effective counterargument to President Comacho’s proposed solution being “I got a solution, you’re a dick!” Rehabilitation is a code word for a blood sport where people compete in monster trucks in a duel to the death.

Eventually, the protagonist saves the day by proving that putting water on the crops makes them grow. But as his lawyer takes on many wives and has many children the process can begin anew.

Turning Back

Solving this problem, unlike putting water on crops, is going to be trickier because we have to deal with cultural biases that most of us are likely not even aware of.

Perhaps thinkers greater than I can point to a solution, and Susan Jacoby had written about the subject intensely in her book “The Age of American Unreason”. Perhaps there will be answers there.