Angry Reader of the Week: Cayden Mak

"I'm a giant overeducated dork with a philosophy degree, so I'm really here to understand the world, and deeply."

Not Cayden's cat. His neighbor's cat.

What's up, everybody? Once again, it's time to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Cayden Mak.

Who are you?

I'm Cayden, 1/3 of the full-time staff at 18MillionRising.org. I'm also a full-time earnest Midwestern weirdo. And, I have cats.

What are you?

I'm a cyborg. No, really. I think we all are, to a certain extent, but the real question is what you do with that. The main reason I got into technology in the first place -- as a kid -- was that I felt like information technology made my life survivable. When I knew I couldn't live without it, I realized I needed to have agency to shape it. That goes for technology outside of computers and the internet, too: clothes, transportation, language, buildings, laws, cooking. I have an insatiable curiosity for understanding how the things we make work, and how culture shapes them, and how they shape who we are.

Where are you?

I live in Oakland, California now. I like it a lot here -- I feel spoiled by the weather, and by my neighborhood. I live in San Antonio, in East Oakland, on top of a huge hill with an epic view of the Bay. My neighbors are rad, and it means a lot to me that the neighborhood is ethnically diverse and pretty stable. I love that I get to ride my bike to work everyday. I love being surrounded by other queer people of color, basically all the time. I haven't been in the Bay Area long, but so far it's been good to me.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, which is one of the wealthiest suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. As a kid I had a hard time fitting in, because my family was so atypical, but I also kind of fit in everywhere, I think because everyone just kind of saw me as a quiet nerdy girl. There was probably also some model minority stuff going on there, too.

Now, when I go back, I feel like this divide between belonging and feeling completely out of place has only grown. I think that's adulthood -- growing up and out, defining who you are for yourself, but being unable to leave the past behind entirely. But it's also got something to do with being marginal in a number of common social identity buckets in America. I'm mixed race. I'm transgender. I have a chronic, and mostly invisible, mental illness. My family was firmly middle class in a pretty wealthy part of the country.

What do you do?

I'm the New Media Director at 18MR, which means I do a lot of different work. I design and administer a lot of our technology. Increasingly, I build it. I tend our database and do experiments with content. I manage our social media team. I design almost all our images. I strategize. I write a lot, and help the rest of the staff with their writing. I have a lot of feelings about activism and racial justice and the internet. I have a lot of ideas about what we can do differently and why, many of which I get to execute. It's actually the best job ever.

It's really given me the confidence and capacity to build my skills as a technologist and a campaign strategist. I take seriously the fact that the tools we use to organize online are actually quite new, and as a result, we need to be constantly iterating and experimenting in order to help the field mature. It's changing really fast, so it's an exciting place to be doing work. People don't always realize how much work goes into the platforms they use everyday, but I hope to contribute positively to the landscape of the possible online.

Outside of paid labor, I spend a lot of time in radical tech and art communities in general. I keep helping organize the Allied Media Conference. I've been doing some work with the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. And I'm also scheming to complete the Master of Fine Arts I started but haven't finished.

What are you all about?

I'm a giant overeducated dork with a philosophy degree, so I'm really here to understand the world, and deeply. A lot of the road that has led me to do the day-to-day work I do is lined with high theory. I can't say enough about the value of the "useless" intellectual education I received studying philosophy, or the meaning and direction critical theory, media & technology studies, and radical thought on gender, race, and sexuality have given me. I sometimes wish I could slow the world way down and have more of these conversations with more people.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about where Grace Lee Boggs, the great Detroit movement leader and intellectual, and Walter Benjamin, the prophetic 20th century philosopher of media and revolution, meet. It's a little mystical, but I think that when Boggs asks what time it is on the clock of the world, she's asking a question about where we are in chronological history, but it always also makes me think about Benjamin's messianism—he has this concept that the time of revolution is a time out of sync with the temporal logic of capitalism. I've started to be really preoccupied with this idea, especially because Benjamin talks a lot about how revolutionary change happens when the unconscious dream life of the collective bursts through into actual, waking life. I wonder what that means for us now, in a time when revolt is bubbling up and revolution is on people's tongues.

At the same time, I think it's important to not be all theory and no action. What can we be doing now to make this change a reality, both in the microcosms of our lives and the macrocosms of social structures? Ultimately, I'm about being serious about my commitments and really staying accountable to the people I serve. I feel like I'm trying to blaze my own trail in that regard, although certainly movement elders like Boggs and others have some incredible models for how to make that happen. Sometimes I feel torn about what I do because I could be doing so many different things, but I often remember I'm in a place where I can both create and generate ideas. It's exciting.

What makes you angry?

A lot of things, these days! Often it comes down to the way we tend to frame issues as zero-sum games, as if there are always only two outcomes and one is good and one is bad. The world is far more complex than that, but I think those with power in this world are pretty invested in making sure that we don't stray too far out of that framework. A great example of this is the way we talk about domestic and sexual violence, and the way we invest in prisons and police as a supposed solution to domestic and sexual violence. Prisons and police won't solve the problem, because police intervention doubles down both the interpersonal and structural violence that people struggling with DV are going through. It ignores the fact that violence is cyclical, and the prison system is a form of structural violence. But we put such stock culturally in it, and not just as a solution, but as a complete mythology around crime and criminality.

I used to teach an intro to film course that was thematically focused on prisons and crime in cinema, and it really transformed the way a lot of my students thought about prison. I designed it that way because it makes me incredibly angry that people don't know they're being played -- they think they're playing. We watched a lot of classic and contemporary films about prison and crime. We read Angela Davis. I think they got it. It sounds really curmudgeonly to say, but it makes me very angry that we have a huge investment in building faster, louder media, but a marked disinvestment in teaching people media literacy. My students had never thought about how cinema changes how they perceive massive institutional structures, and in fact dissuaded them from asking questions about those structures.

But I worry that the politics of scarcity is more than just fueling comment sections on the internet that make my blood pressure spike. It's also closing our collective imaginations to the future. Nothing makes me more angry than that: in our scramble for the goods, we're denying ourselves the time and space to explore the borders of the possible. I also think that magic is real. It's important to temper anger with forgiveness, patience, and hope. That's how you forge strong steel.

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