Oculus (Part 3)

Holding an Ontological Mirror Up to The Model Minority

(10 min read)


“Who could ever calculate the path of a molecule?  How do we know that the creations of worlds are not determined by falling grains of sand?”
— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Of course, I’ve never been a big fan of Uncle Chan⁴⁵, so let’s leave behind us the tainted and futile mirage of assimilation and address the noble option.  How can we change the World?

Well, in order to change something, you must first understand what you’re dealing with.  In Philosophy, the Absolute Sovereign of all Human Enquiry and Activity, the study and analysis of the Nature of World belongs to the category of Metaphysics, in contrast to Epistemology, which addresses the nature of Human Knowledge and how it is acquired; Axiology, which deals with Art, Ideology, and Ethics; and Methodology, which concerns all tools and techniques necessary to bring ideological goals to life (also known as Technology).  These four domains of philosophical Thought encompass the entire infinitude of the Human Being and the Human Condition.  They can also easily be represented by a four-stage framework familiar to Corporate America:

screenshot 2019-01-09 at 11.19.34 pm
Engaging in Philosophy: The Metaphysical-Epistemological-Axiological-Methodological

What is the Metaphysical Nature, or Ontology, of the World?  In order to uncover the deep structure of the Universe, we must strip away all extraneous outer garments and glamorous surface forms, and grapple directly with the underlying categories that constitute the naked skeleton of the entire World: the Roots of the Ash Tree Yggdrasil.  What are the common “buckets”, domains, areas, or regions and territories that are universally present in any type of World we can imagine, or any subdivision of the known and unknown cosmos, whether tangible and concrete or intersubjective?

All Ontology, all Being, all World, whether macroscopic or microscopic, can essentially be boiled down to three components:

  1. Locations;
  2. Interconnections;
  3. Activities — changes in Locations or Interconnections over time — governed by Rules.

Locations are physical or imagined sites, sets, nodes and focal points, or in the parlance of graph theory⁴⁶, vertices, which are specific co-ordinates in Space-Time that can be both immobile (like a brick post office building), and mobile (as in the case of human beings).  Interconnections are relationships that link one site to another, or to multiple other sites, known in graph theory as edges.  Finally, activities — changes in the nature of either a site or interrelationships between sites — can be envisioned as a grid of cellular automata⁴⁷, with each cell following individual update rules (heuristics that govern behavior) based on feedback from other cells (which can be either Locations or Interconnections or both).  The upshot? Every world that is both empirically tangible and/or theoretically imaginable is just a constellation — a Configuration — of dots and lines, with sets of rules governing their interactions over time.  All the different angles and perspectives through which we can view this configuration is known as that particular World’s topology, or multidimensionality.


The Roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil⁴⁸: Graph Theory (Top); Cellular Automata (Bottom)

What does this mean for Asian American men?  We, too, are just a dot — a mere speck — especially at the individual level.  Yet, through the various whims, caprice, and vicissitudes of Fate, we also have intrinsic connections to other dots: People or Locations.  Furthermore, we also have the ability to create connections, or forge new relationships. And finally, with enough Self-Discipline, the fruit of both Self-Reflection and Personal Labor, we possess the capability to change the rules governing our behavior as well as the behaviors of those we are entangled with in a web of mutual aid, debt, and obligations.  Therefore, changing yourself is the first step to changing the World.

It is now instructive to consider the case of the Yellow Brotherhood⁴⁹.  The Yellow Brotherhood was started by Nick Nagatini and Art Ishii in west Los Angeles, California in 1969, the same year that Alex Hing was pulling together the New Red Guard Party in San Francisco.  The founders created a gathering space for young Asian kids out of a building that they affectionately dubbed the “YB House” — in other words, they established a Location.  The people came together, forming an intricate configuration of Interconnections, with the goal of working towards addressing and overcoming common issues that afflicted the Asian American juvenile community at the time: high rates of gang involvement, drug use, depression, and suicide, the real life “underside” of the gleaming, manufactured Model Minority narrative.

Members of the Yellow Brotherhood in front of the YB House

Tackling these issues required a flurry of new Activities: actively disbanding gangs and removing drugs from within various local Asian American neighborhoods and communities.  The Yellow Brotherhood also created programs that promoted community and coalition building with other Asian American groups, establishing new Locations and sparking new Interconnections, expanding the real-life World of Asian America.  These programs, which would bring together Asians of all walks and backgrounds to cultivate solidarity and team spirit, included boxing classes, weightlifting classes, tutoring sessions, and basketball and volleyball leagues. By building Community, a World of our Own, the Yellow Brotherhood was able to serve on the front lines towards alleviating social issues faced by Asian American youth, and provide them with safer alternatives to the illicit, dangerous activities that the U.S. government and American Society had forced them into.  Mentorship from older brothers kept traditions and relationships alive, which became increasingly important for these lost and forgotten Yellow kids who did not conform to the official State-sanctioned Model Minority image of Asian people and were therefore exiled to the periphery and made invisible to mainstream society.

The creation of Community also allowed Asian Americans to take a more active and engaged role in American politics.  The Yellow Brotherhood, in addition to helping build a physical World for all young Yellow folk in America, also participated in anti-imperialist activism, attacking the military-industrial complex and the Racist War of Criminal Imperialist Aggression being waged by Uncle Sam in Indochina.  Their demands included holding American corporations and CEOs accountable for manufacturing napalm during the Vietnam War, an unholy private-public partnership between Industry and the American State that resulted in the brutal destruction of millions of Asian lives and communities. Through both these internal community-building efforts and external political efforts, the Yellow Brotherhood became etched into history as an important part of the Asian American Movement.  They provide a possible blueprint for how Asian Americans, in 2019, can start changing the World today.

Of course, I anticipate that some of my more pessimistic readers might now ask the following questions: “So what?  What happened to the Yellow Brotherhood? Are things any better today because of them? If not, what’s the point?” The answers to these queries are, of course, not so simple.  The Yellow Brotherhood was eventually disbanded in 1975, after almost 7 years of operation. However, while the Yellow Brotherhood today exists only in name as the title for some Asian youth basketball teams located in Los Angeles, the spirit of young Yellow men gathering together in a house, a shared location — a Safe Space — in order to build connections with each other and the local communities around them over time, while working together in solidarity to tackle broader issues affecting our people as a whole, lives on in the form of modern-day Asian American fraternities such as Lambda Phi Epsilon.


Lambda Phi Epsilon, Michigan State University, Delta Class (Fall ’05): (Left) Me, Albert “Mojo Jojo” Hur, #29; (Right) Keith “LL Kool-Aid” Chen, #28; (Front and Center) Taj “Skeet Skeet” Rahman, #30, second-generation Bengali Muslim American, and affectionately known as “Skeetator” by Zeta Class for his iron rule as President of our chapter

As the physicist Per Bak⁵⁰ says, there is no difference in the way a magnitude three and a magnitude nine earthquake (which we might consider a geophysical version of a popular social movement) starts — the magnitude nine earthquake simply keeps going.  This is not necessarily because the larger earthquake has some unique, special, intrinsic quality to it — although it may — but mostly because the previous magnitude three (and other) earthquakes that came before it planted deep fuses within the Earth and throughout Time, which the magnitude nine then detonates in its sprawling rumblings to achieve its spectacular, terrifying, earth-swallowing majesty.  These sorts of momentous, world-rending, cataclysmic changes — physical, social, economic, or political — are built atop of the bones of all the attempts that came before them and paved the way, in a furious explosion of pent-up historical energy that Per Bak calls an avalanche.  And these tremendous forces are often triggered by nothing more than a single grain of falling sand, a tiny mote of dust, an individual particle, a dot, perhaps, even, a single Asian American man willing to reconfigure his relationships towards himself and others, seek out new locations, or change his thoughts and behaviors:

“How can the Universe start out with a few types of elementary particles at the Big Bang, and end up with life, history, economics, and literature?

Complex behavior in nature reflects the tendency of large systems with many components to evolve into a poised, “critical” state, way out of balance, where minor disturbances may lead to events, called avalanches, of all sizes.  Complex behavior, whether in geophysics or biology, is always created by a long process of evolution. The phrase “you cannot understand the present without understanding history” takes on a deeper and more precise meaning.

The canonical example of SOC (Self-Organizing Criticality) is a pile of sand.  A sand-pile exhibits punctuated equilibrium behavior, where periods of stasis are interrupted by intermittent sand slides.  The sand slides, or avalanches, are caused by a domino effect, in which a single grain of sand pushes one or more other grains and causes them to topple.  In turn, those grains of sand may interact with other grains in a chain reaction. Large avalanches, not gradual change, make the link between quantitative and qualitative behavior, and form the basis for emergent phenomena.”
— Per Bak, How Nature Works

Let us return, at last, to the parable of Eden.  As with all monomyths, religious allegories function less as a guide to the Great Beyond (of which we have no clue, no matter what the preachers try to sell you) and more as a Symbolic Map of the Praxis of Human Living.  With that in mind, let us revisit the story of the Fall. The Garden, of course, represents the Ignorant Bliss of Solipsism. The Serpent⁵¹, like the Spider in other folklore, is a symbol of a Mortal Threat to Mankind: one who tempts Adam into disobeying God and engaging in Self-Reflection.  This results in Narcissism, the idea that Mankind knows better than God, the Original Sin for which Mankind is punished by being banished from the Garden and cursed to toil. God then hides Eden and places the angel Uriel — who represents Repentance — at the entrance of the Garden, wielding a flaming sword.  It is only at the end, when Adam dies after a lifetime of Labor and Self-Reflection, that he gains the power of Penitence for his Original Sin of Narcissism — Humility — and is able to return to Eden. There he rests in peace, underneath the shade of the Tree of Life — Change — whose fruit is Immortality: Legacy, otherwise known as Glory, the moment of us creating a New World, which makes us like unto God and fashioned in His image.  God, of course, is the Eternal, Primordial, Absolute Love of All Things.

Passionate labors of love, feats of great heroism, and glorious acts of self-sacrifice are the only way to extend beyond the infinitesimal, finite scope of our time-bound lives.  Death is certain, the afterlife forever uncertain, but in the motions and decisions of our lives, we can join the heroes in the Elysian Fields, the Halls of Valhalla, and those written in the Book of Eternal Life, which are all symbolic representations of Collective Human Memory.  To engage in the Great Work, to fight the good fight, contest all odds, unite for change, and strive to bring forth a New World, even in the raw, hideous, snarling faces of Agony and Depression, our great existential Scylla and Charybdis — that is what it means to be truly Alive, to live as Man qua Man (Asian or not), and to exist as a Human not just Being, but Becoming his True Self in the infinite Universe of many Worlds⁵² that make up the endless, starry constellations of our localized, contingent particularities.  That is what it means to be Heroic.

To all my incognito Yellow Brothers, let us resolve to work towards and keep Faith in the Future: the Hope for the Return of Eternal Glory, which is known as Historical Progress, the Greatness of God.  And when confronted with Despair and Oppression, let us not sink into the depths of Helplessness and succumb to the Shadow of Narcissism and Complicity with Injustice, but instead — in Mind, Body, and Spirit — rage.  Rage against the dying of the light.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
— Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Spawn, my favorite American comic book superhero growing up.  Spawn is the tale of a Black man who is assassinated by the U.S. government, is resurrected, fights Satan and injustice here on Earth — sometimes alongside other heroes like Batman — and eventually becomes God temporarily to avert the Apocalypse.  Eat your heart out, Black Panther.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a Yellow Man was also reborn as a Hellspawn…

(Part 1)
(Part 2)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]


  1. https://www.vulture.com/2015/01/eddie-huang-fresh-off-the-boat-abc.html
  2. Introduction to Graph Theory by Richard J. Trudeau (1993)
  3. A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram (2002)
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yggdrasil
  5. https://blogs.brown.edu/ethn-1890v-s01-fall-2016/historical-figures-and-organizations/the-yellow-brotherhood/
  6. How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality by Per Bak (1996)
  7. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20151022-where-does-our-fear-of-snakes-come-from
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation

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