Anthropology & Social Change
The first time I entered the Social and Cultural Anthropology program at California Institute of Integral Studies I remember someone asking me how I felt about my decision to begin my Ph.D. Three years ago my answer was simply: fluid – my decision felt fluid.
I have lived a life of accumulated privilege. A life of grace is a difficult word to live. I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I lived an ideal childhood, and I have floated on a wave of successive achievements within academia, including my ascent toward a doctorate in Social & Cultural Anthropology. My experience has been by all accounts “fluid”, until about two years ago when I found myself locked in unacknowledged addiction, fostered by compounding unproductivity, sadness, anger, and excessive student debt. The worst dimension of this bottom was living with my most precious visions, my scholastic hope of revolutionary service that extended only as far as my own atrophied progress. It turns out that dams are real – real psychic, somatic, and social barriers to growth and accomplishment. It also turns out that my individual experience was not simply located but extended through my school, my department, even shared across a wide global spectrum.
I do have a history prior to my residency at the California Institute of Integral Studies and that history shaped me well enough. It is pale light when compared to my emergent journey of restoration and recovery that surrounds my decision to finish my Ph.D. in Social & Cultural Anthropology at CIIS.
Willingness, humility, and acceptance are my strongest companions in the present. With them I have moved from aporia and absence to insight, from dissolution to resolve. Mind altering abstractions have birthed embodied sobriety; hyper isolation has yielded to strong community affiliations; an inheritance of privilege and white guilt has fermented into empowerment and embedded critical engagement; And, utter loss in department and soul has resurrected and reconstituted my commitment to this Other, which is not only a people, but an everlasting will of overcoming.
My most fundamental revelation and the reason for my application to Social & Cultural Anthropology is incredibly simple, elementary by every account: it is that, I am not alone. In my last “autobiographical” statement submitted to SCA, I paid homage to Jacques Derrida’s autobiographical conviction that autos (self) and bios (life) are always, already in contact with heteros (other) and thanatos (death). The past year I have lived a life in full decision that in order to recover, restore, or even redeem the life of that spans the 29 year history before this account… I must humbly accept and be willing to admit that “I” am not in control – there are others, an Other, whom I serve. I write my life according to its heterographic constitution, interpellated by narratives of national and cultural hegemony, the psychic and genetic lineages of my parents, even the deep mythos of order, sacred and profane. Every death, every current of loss shapes my biography. It is the gift of death as much as life that brings value to my narrative. I write an autobiography to remember that I am not alone. I reapply to Social & Cultural Anthropology because my work inspires and sustains empowered community, because the fruit of my labor not only builds a world for this life, but also creates worlds for others, with others, in light of death.
My story of visionary flow, seeded, watered, and cultivated within the academy, which was once a tormenting gift of sure failure, is pollinating my life calling. That calling has come into clearer and clearer view over the last year. It is to build new worlds; Worlds that cross the threshold of destitute and shadow to live the dream of individual, social, and ecological liberation. This story is my story; it is one of gratitude that I am not alone, that I stand within a community, a San Francisco community in the Tenderloin district ripe for empowerment. This life looks to the future, inspired by those pioneers whose breath constituted my inherited strength, guided by scholarship whose rigor shaped the direction of historical power, and blessed with strange capacity innately human and spiritually resonant with an era of transformation. I live Edmond Jabes’ confession that, “I am the nucleus of a rupture…” that as I transform so does the world around me. Am I not One with the world?
I Am… a Tennessee boy from Appalachia who has lived in San Francisco for the past seven years. Prior to the last seven years I have spent my meditative hours dwelling in the realm of Philosophy and Religion broadly. Motivated by my greatest teachers I have spent the last seven years driven to manifest an individual whose spirit carried within it the possibility of radical social transformation. What I have found was not the power of an individual which is deeply inadequate, but the power of institutions and the resounding claim of their own logic: I am not alone; We are together.
Two institutions have nurtured and sustained my presence in San Francisco – The California Institute of Integral Studies and Glide United Methodist Memorial Church. My dream of world building concentrates on these buildings, their people and projects. The education I have received at CIIS brought the worlds of spirit and scholarship into lived focus. The role of Glide – arguably the most significant social service institution in the city – brought my integral education into the realm of service. Two institutions, both implicated in a system of capital and surviving on the margins, strive toward ideals that extend far beyond the rule of economy or the place of academia.
I believe that like synchronicities, like random mutations for biological favor, and like experiences of luminosity – the exceptional – can become the rule; And institutional powers performing feats of character till now accredited only to individuals can be multiplied. I see libratory ideals living through post-capitalist institutions. We are deserving of these histories, these institutions of agreed peoples.
I have wed my biography into a marriage of institutional livelihood that rejects normative encounters for the sake of exceptional relationships. Despite the assumptions of some, on behalf of the needs of many, my life stands on integrity that no longer only flows but dwells within as a molten fire of creativity, generating a world worthy of our ancestors and especially our children.
It is the future that concerns me and writes me in the present. My autobiography is a prayer that I pray unfolds for the benefit of all beings. I am humbly submitting myself, this application, my scholarship, activism, and potential to the program of Social & Cultural Anthropology for the purpose of becoming a doctor of philosophy. Not only a doctor, but a practitioner in loving dialogue with a present in need of memory, of remembering, that none of us are alone.