Death By a Million Cuts
Lingchi was an actual method of torture, resulting in execution, whereby a person was slowly killed by being administered thousands of small incisions across their body over several hours. Metaphorically, the phrase, “death by a thousand cuts” represents how a large number of small problems can accumulate to cause a significant impact. Owing one person fifty bucks is not too dangerous, owing thousands of people fifty bucks, who all come to collect at once can be catastrophic. In Psychology, a series of minor negative changes occurring over time may dramatically change a person for the worse in the end.
Large, robust systems in Government, Finance and Law protect themselves against sudden change, particularly malicious, with bureaucracy and redundancy. Still, entropy exists and over time, all can be altered. Wherein their designs are overtaken for nefarious ends, the same principles apply in reverse. They may be fortified against direct calls for reform but not impervious to the demands of the thousands emerging from shadows.
The Way of the Digital Ninja
Between the ages of eleven and fifteen, I was a student of Ninjutsu. Obviously I would soon adopt the art of break-dancing but first I needed to master my inner ninja; the body must be sculpted before the soul can be expressed. There was little variety in Shinobi Shozuku, the ninja’s uniform, yet I had a secondary backup, just in case my main one was in the washer or dryer. I was a good little ninja. I had shuriken, sai, a few cheap throwing knives, as well as several tools of hand to hand combat and a sweet Kaginawa, a grappling hook for advanced missions.
I later used my Ninjutsu ability to hone my break-dancing craft. I was a particularly adroit pop-n-locker but also sufficiently skilled with foot and floor work to probably have enticed the ladies into tempestuous trysts had I made the effort. Alas, my brain was too porous to display my wares, I was too shy.
Karate Kid came out in 1984, the same year as Run DMC’s inaugural, eponymous album. It told the story of a Jersey kid named Daniel moving to California, having a difficult time fitting in but fighting to triumph in the end. Daniel-san, for a Ninjutsu master like me, was the antagonist. I hated him. I didn’t root for Johnny or Cobra Kai, I just wanted Johnny’s slick blonde hair, cool jacket, confidence and sweet headband.
My nunchuka skill was top tier. Despite my capability, I never once engaged in a one-on-one nunchuka battle but everybody knows how that would’ve gone, otherwise someone would have stepped up to battle me. No one did.
The three-piece staff was far more difficult to master. I had two battle-combat-worthy versions, one maple, one oak, as well as a practice staff with foam that didn’t cause concussions the many, many, many, many times I smacked myself in the head. Even with the foam, you sometimes needed a nap after a particularly proper thwack.
Binary is 0 or 1. Two doesn’t exist until numbers are borne. Still, there’s a reason that 3, 6 and 9 have such significance across multiple cultures. At two, counting exists. Three, now mathematics exists.
I only got so phenomenal due to constant practice, defeating my inability with a thousand attempts against it, eventually defeating death itself. Once I got home from school, I’d stand in the backyard and practice my skills until it got dark, hours every day. It was the same with break-dancing, cardboard covered my bedroom floor for three years straight.
But life is about balance. My computer skills also grew those years; when the body grew weary from chucking shuriken or crushing the cardboard, I’d retreat to the basement and work to meld my mind with the digital. It was all about mind, body and soul; I was preparing for when the world would need me most. I was too young to understand at the time but I was simply following proper programming protocols.
Slow Death to the New Normal
In 1985, I applied that relentless study to a unique interest. Assembly language was about as close to speaking directly to the computer you could get, bested only by machine language, whereby you’d input numbers referencing commands and registers to create some effect. This was digital Zen. It was the most difficult thing I’d attempted to that age, ultimately creating a program that allowed me to write rap lyrics in the back-and-forth fashion of Run D.M.C.’s style. Upon completion, I had a physiological, cathartic reaction of relief. Almost like I was an orphan finally reunited with his parents.
Testosterone soon surged. Boys at this age are overcome with it and try as you might, avoiding the physiological manifestations of change is impossible. Porky’s was now on it’s third sequel and each new movie felt like a taunt.
I awkwardly expressed my interest to Katrina in 1986. She’d recently moved to our area and with her unique, creative, open and bright personality, I was immediately smitten. She was like a movie character, carefully crafted by someone far more creative than me. She told me she was interested in a guy named Geoff who had Johnny’s cool blonde hair. I was crushed. No way Geoff had my nunchuka skills, let alone break-dancing or computer know-how. It would be another year before she would finally find affection for me.
Something else peculiar happened in 1986. I yearned to understand the world and the way it worked. Willingly, I took on complex subjects beyond my mental acuity. Much like my pursuit of machine language, with dedication and patience, I conquered new mysteries and at that moment of comprehension, rose above the figurative horizon, a surge of sensation, almost like an electrical wave, swept over my body. I was quickly hooked and took on more and more subjects in hopes of recreating the feeling. I was chasing the dragon of cognition. I attempted to consume knowledge like a newly nascent and sentient system of Artificial Intelligence might.
This was a central driver for me through the 90s. Life is duality. Express the right brain to uncover the unknown, explore the left brain to process what you learn from the right.
I have no memory of early childhood. It’s as though I was born as the age of four, with a very hazy memory of a pre-school where I met my friend Louis. The rest of my memories begin a year later, after we moved to St. Joseph. The only pictures of me that exist begin in 1974.
Distance is not finite. It is relative. Everything bends to mass.
The bigger the bureaucracy, the stronger the fields of attraction and repulsion. But nothing is invincible nor impermeable. Over time, an army of ants can move mountains. And time is relative.