The first thing I wanted for myself was to travel. Good grades, admission into university, a successful career—all these wants were given to me. But to explore the world for myself and see it on its terms and my own? That want was birthed in the secret and mysterious places of my heart.
In the first three months of this year, the gates to worldwide travel slammed shut, and a curtain fell over the highways, airways, and waterways that humanity spent millennia engineering. Not everything about a globalized world is good, I promise you. But the freedom for different nations, peoples, and cultures to meet, exchange, and grow is one of the most transformative blessings humanity has achieved for itself.
As a man who has drunk deeply of this blessing and knows its many benefits, I feel the loss acutely.
Today, rather than enjoying motion between destinations, we live indoors on a frozen planet, cut off from our outdoor lives of work, school, nature, hobbies, sports, worship, and community. Emotional isolation has been the most common result, along with creeping frustration and exhaustion.
But it gets worse. In our shared aloneness, we’re being polarized against each other:
Black vs. White
Man vs. Woman
Right vs. Left
Gay vs. Straight
Science vs. Faith
Individual vs. Collective
Citizen vs. Police
City vs. Countryside
And so on.
It’s easy to demonize strangers when we’re not allowed face-to-face contact with them. It’s a universal human tendency to project onto “the other” every dark quality that lives within ourselves. If we could leave our homes, we might be able to see our fellow citizens and humans for who they are, and find ways to resolve our challenges with courage.
Instead, the clerics of science, medicine, and politics proclaim that we must remain inside, afraid, and wait for the media’s images to tell us how to proceed.
After months of non-stop exposure to these images, some of us have begun to question their reliability, or are beginning to. Unfortunately, doing so publicly today entails certain risks.
For an era that appears to be without religion, these are dangerous days to be a heretic.
WHO I AM
I’ve seen a lot of the world, and not just in the terrestrial sense. I’d like to share some facts about what I’ve done—including some things you’re not likely to know—so you can get a sense of who I am.
I’ve visited 33 countries on all 6 inhabited continents.
I’ve walked on glaciers, climbed mountains, trekked through deserts, bushwhacked jungles, swam in lakes, ridden on grasslands, sailed across oceans, snorkeled off beaches, scuba dived reefs, camped in forests, hiked up hills, explored a cave fifty meters underground, flown in a biplane through the sky, and stared into the cauldron of a live volcano.
I’ve traveled on jets big and small, props and puddle jumpers, trains, subways, trucks, buses, cars, carriages, vans, scooters, tuktuks, rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, cruise ships, sailboats, dinghies, kayaks, horseback, camelback, donkeyback, and also on an elephant.
I’ve slept in dorms, tents, huts, yurts, cabins, casitas, treehouses, guest rooms, living rooms, family homes, five-star hotels, grimy apartments, and sleeping bags on the cold, hard ground under the stars.
I’ve feasted, fasted, partied and prayed; fallen in love and fallen for scams; cried tears of joy, tears of pain, and tears of laughter. And I’ve watched a loved one die.
I’ve witnessed the light and dark in my soul on entheogens like Ayahuasca, Huachuma and Bufo Alvarius. I’ve surrendered to the loving embrace of God and experienced something approximating hell for twenty long seconds.
I was born Jewish and Bar Mitzvah’ed. I went to a Catholic Jesuit high school. I’ve had daily practices of Kabbalah study and dream interpretation. I’ve meditated with Buddhist monks until my consciousness disappeared and trained with a kung fu master on a mountaintop at sunrise. I’ve broken bread with Muslims and visited their mosques, prayed with Sikhs at the Golden Temple, and participated in the largest gathering of Hindus on Earth, bathing in their holy river. I’ve attended New Age festivals and retreats, been to Burning Man three times, sweated in Lakota lodges, heard the sacred medicine songs of the Shipibo and Emberna peoples of Central and South America, performed a haka war dance with the Māori of New Zealand, and had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
I have friends who are lifelong Conservative Republicans. I have friends who are devout Christians. I have friends who are anarchists, atheists, and libertarians. I have a friend who is a Flat Earther. I have a friend who did time. I have friends who are hippies. I have friends who are gay and swingers. I have friends who proudly voted for President Trump. I have friends who can’t stand him. I have friends who despised him and now are voting for him in November. I have friends who are rich. I have friends who are poor. I have friends who are old and friends who are young. I have friends who are professors. I have friends who are dropouts. I have friends who are policemen, soldiers, and former interstate drug dealers. I have friends in every shade of skin color and in every country I’ve visited. I wish I could get all my friends together. We’d have an awesome party.
In 2008, I campaigned for the election of Barack Obama. For six months I made hundreds of calls to voters all over the country, including on election day.
In 2009, I attended President Obama’s inauguration in Washington, DC. In 2010, I collected in-person signatures for Obamacare, and attended the Stewart & Colbert “Rally To Restore Sanity” on the National Mall.
After the Democrats lost control of Congress in 2010, I realized that laughing at Jon Stewart and posting on Facebook wasn’t affecting change, regardless of my sense of self-satisfaction at doing both. So beginning in late 2011 I became an anonymous mid-level activist for Occupy Wall Street in San Francisco. I built and ran the city email list from scratch, and produced and designed print materials for a team I co-founded, the Ideological Liberation Working Group. If you live in San Francisco, you might have seen my work without knowing it.
I attended protests and linked arms to prevent the occupation at Justin Herman Plaza from being raided by police. I spoke on the “people’s microphone” and shivered in the damp winter cold during long weeknight meetings. For more than a year I gave up my hobbies to be an activist as a side job while working in an office full-time during the day.
I quit Occupy in 2012 primarily over its unwillingness to condemn property destruction as a form of protest, after watching the movement be infiltrated by a group of violent bad-actors in black hoods. I attempted to broker an agreement between the two leader groups to work together without the need for violence, and I almost succeeded. But the black hoods backed out at the last minute, and I left. Years ago, I concluded the black hoods were likely working for an outside organization.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication from Stanford University, Class of 2002. While at Stanford I lived in Ujamaa, the African-American ethnic theme dorm. By charter, half of the dorm’s 109 occupants must be members of that race. (Stanford also has Asian, Latino, and Native American ethnic theme dorms.)
I was assigned to Ujamaa at random my Sophomore year in 1997. When I had the opportunity to live anywhere I wanted on campus during my Junior year, I chose to live in Ujamaa again. That year, I was named “Most Active Member of the Non-Theme Race” by my fellow residents.
In 1999, when I was 21 years old, I co-founded a dotcom startup with a fellow student, an African-American man named Ralph, who became our company’s CEO. He and I sat on the Board of Directors together. With our other co-founders we raised millions of dollars from private and institutional investors, and hired dozens of people from around the country and the world.
I lived on Treasure Island in San Francisco—the third most diverse zip code in America—for twelve years, until 2016 when I left to travel. I was a proud member of my community.
I dated a Filipina immigrant for over a decade.
The woman I almost settled down with in New Zealand is part-Māori, and works towards Māori social equality in the field of national health research.
I invite you to consider the facts I’ve shared, and what you might intuit about any man they’d describe.
THE IMAGE OF TRANSFORMATION
In the past four months during lockdown, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the roads I’ve traveled, the things I’ve done, and the versions of myself I’ve been. I’ve been assembling and reassembling the pieces, trying to figure out where I’m going next and who I’d like to be.
During this time I’ve also wanted to write on my blog about topics related to my travels, and that might not touch on current events. But I’ve held back due to fears of “cancel culture,” a form of online bullying that attempts to determine who can speak and what they can say. I’ve been worried about losing close friends and drawing the ire of family if I say the wrong things or if I fail to say the right things, even if I don’t believe them.
I’ve investigated the ideology behind “cancel culture” enough to know that anyone who shares it won’t care about what I’ve done, seen, or learned firsthand from my rich and varied life experience—which is to say, they won’t care about me. The ideology only cares about race, gender, sexual orientation, and demonstrations of allegiance, even if that allegiance is just performative.
Similarly, the ideology doesn’t care about truth, dialogue, learning, or growth: it apparently has all the answers it needs. It has sacred texts and prophets, evangelists and zealots, and cannot be questioned, taking on all the worst aspects of a religion.
This new religion is seeking both converts to the faith and heretics to crucify. I know I’m not alone in observing this phenomenon and hoping to avoid becoming either.
The problem is that’s no damned way to live.
On the road I spent four years expanded as close as I could get to the size of a planet. Before my journey, I spent two years resurrecting myself to stand upright like a man. Through effort, intention, and courage I escaped from the cages I’d built around myself. Then I left the U.S. and completed my Hero’s Journey with honor and dignity, manifesting my heart’s dream to wild success. Every step of the way I was aided by human and divine grace, for which I’m eternally grateful.
In other words, I did the thing.
Now I’m supposed to spend my life in a shrinking physical and linguistic sphere, circumscribed by bureaucrats and ideologues? And I’m to stay here until they tell me otherwise?
I’m sorry, no.
Because another thing has happened over the past four months: I’ve lost more than 30 pounds, and I won $2500 for my efforts. Click below to see a pic. (Warning: half-naked pics of me.)
These photos are 108 days apart: Monday February 17 to Thursday June 4, 2020. I accomplished 2/3rds of this during lockdown using diet, bodyweight exercises, yoga, and occasional agility drills in a nearby park. No gym required. The second photo is more than a month old now, too; I’m fitter today. And I did my own photo shoot in my apartment.
The shedding of physical baggage has accompanied a shedding of emotional and spiritual baggage. While transitioning from travel to home life, and transforming my body into a healthier and more capable version of itself, I’ve discovered something:
I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to feel guilty for.
Because I know in my heart that I’ve walked the roads of my life with compassion, kindness, curiosity, and humility. I’ve done these imperfectly, to be sure, but at every turn I’ve done them to the best of my ability. The truth is in my conscience and my spine.
I mention this because “cancel culture” and the religion behind it impose themselves by force on individuals and institutions using tactics of guilt and social shaming. They have no other tools, especially not rational debate.
But as I look into myself in daily meditation and prayer, I feel pride, deep gratitude, and a carefully-cultivated and preserved integrity. This means I’m not likely to be a convert to the religion. That leaves just one other option: heretic.
A third choice might be silence, an attempt to ride out the storm. But I don’t foresee this storm passing soon; it’s been building for awhile.
Besides, silence hasn’t served me. In self-reflection I’ve discovered I have a voice and with it, things to say. I also have this platform on which to say them. I don’t have to interject my thoughts into anyone’s Facebook or Instagram feed, I can put them here.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
I will gladly bear the risk of taking on cancel culture’s favored tactic: a predictable accusation of bigotry. My conscience acquits me of that through the choices I’ve made during the last 25 years of my life. Actually, the matter never comes to trial.
I didn’t make those choices because I was “supposed to,” or because anyone was watching, but because the choices were obviously right. I did them alone, often at great personal cost, and long before today’s crusaders took up the charge. I climbed mountains and told no one.
Finally, I’ve seen more of the world—up and down, left and right, inside and out—than anyone I know. Probably more than any two people. In doing so, I’ve questioned my prejudices and fears not with book research but action.
More times than I can count, I took bold leaps into frightening and unfamiliar situations and cultures for the sole (soul) purpose of seeing the truth for myself—whether on the pilgrim-packed streets of Prayagraj, the dark alleyways of Cartagena late at night, a local bus in the suburbs of Ulan Baatar, Market Street in San Francisco in winter, remote islands in the Vanuatuan archipelago, or a hard meditation cushion in the mountains of Kashmir. The perspective on true human diversity I’ve gained from those experiences—and thousands of others—are a part of me, and cannot be taken away.
God blessed me with these opportunities over and over again. As I reflect on my story, I can see I’ve seized each one with both hands.
Because that is who I am. The further back I look, I see that is who I’ve always been.
TO LOSE THE WORLD AND GAIN MY SOUL
I understand that for some, no evidence will be enough to convince them of my “ideological innocence” when their worldview is consciously or unconsciously based on spreading guilt and toxic shame. This is fine.
Thankfully, I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to those of you in the middle, who feel yourselves caught in a war, hunkered down in a foxhole listening to the battle like I was. You know what you hear, you know what’s true, and you know what feels false. But maybe you don’t know how to express that, or whether or not it’s worth it to try. Maybe you want someone to speak with, to, or even for you.
Or maybe, for God’s sake, you want to hear someone talking about anything other than politics for once!
Well, I’m not a martyr, but I am a man. I’ve earned the right to call myself that. And if I’ve learned one thing about men and masculinity over half a lifetime of deliberate study, it’s that men must stand up courageously for what we believe in and what we know. There’s no hope for anyone unless we do.
So going forward, I’m going to express myself on the subjects that I choose. Not all of my posts will be political. For those that are, I’ll endeavor to connect them back to travel and my larger perspective on the world, driven by my experiences. I’ve been blessed with a life that’s given me the chance to explore far beyond the bounds of the average person. This is a rare gift in all of human history. I claimed it, and now it’s my responsibility to share the prize.
I also confess a selfish motivation: I want my planet back.
I want to fly again, to sail again, to travel again. I want to see the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. I want to marvel at the ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome, and Egypt. I want to party at Carnavál without a mask, watch the Northern Lights, climb the steps of Teotihuacán in Mexico, take photos of Red Square, drink a Guinness at the factory, and set foot on the South Pole, my seventh and final continent.
Through doing all of these I hope, as ever, to be a stitch that helps to knit our fractured world back together in a fuller, better way; and to help you, through word and photo, see “the other” in the ways that I’ve been fortunate to.
But none of these things will happen on our current trajectory. I refuse to see the world through a TV screen, to watch loved ones grow old and die on a video call, to be blackmailed out of my sovereignty by medical bureaucracy, and least of all to allow myself to be silenced by a secular religion that determines my virtue by the color of my skin, rather than my priceless, God-given individuality.
I hereby refuse the terms being offered by our institutions and media today, and I believe them to be deeply suspect.
I cannot take up arms for these causes. The world doesn’t work that way, thank God. For now I fight with my ideas, thoughts, memories, questions, voice, mind, heart, spirit, and effort, supported by as healthy a body as I can achieve.
This is what I choose: to find my way through the middle, as always, not out of hatred for what is but a fierce love for what can be.
If that costs me the approval of the world today, so be it.
I may lose the world, but I gain my soul.