Letter from
the Founder

August 2019 #ThatHigh

Somewhere in the world, a little boy lives in a country ravaged by civil war. One where bombings are such a normal part of life that those not actively participating in the fighting simply go about their daily lives, breaking bread with their families and sitting in rush hour traffic. Except that sometimes they have to take a different route to work because the exit to their office has been shredded by airstrikes. 

Every other night, towards the end of the broadcast, the news presents a list of citizens who’ve been executed that day on drug charges. The long list of names scrolls across the screen like the closing credits of a movie. One night, the boy turns to his dad and asks him about this bizarre epidemic of violent drug addicts. “Papa, what kinds of drugs are these people doing?” His dad releases a hearty laugh and explains that drugs are an excuse. These were political enemies and decedents. 

Communists, socialists, proponents of democracy. Voices of opposition. Artists. 

#ThatHigh for fun, for art, or more?

When the Justified Hype Operators came up with the list of themes for each month of our digital magazine content, August 2019’s #thathigh was mostly regarded as the funny one. At our weekly working sessions, we’d laugh uncontrollably at tweets and reddit posts like this: “Was laying in bed and wanted to grab my laptop. Instead I put the tv remote in my pocket and stood in the kitchen.”

When presented with the theme, Creators and friends in the Justified Hype Collective brainstormed different possible interpretations of #thathigh. Some played with the idea of actual high up vantage points for photography. We looked at the fun parts of being #thathigh as well as psychedelic healing experiences where being #thathigh leads to personal development and spiritual expansion. 

I am writing this piece while seated in San Sebastian’s only Starbucks. Apparently it rains a lot here in Basque Country (a place well acquainted with civil strife) and my mind has been exploring a whole different side of #thathigh while dwelling on the eternal gratitude I feel for being privileged enough to call Southern California home. Where the clear skies and orange and teal sunsets serve as the backdrop for endless joy and laughter while #thathigh. Where we don’t have as large a chunk of our population serving life sentences on drug charges like we do in other parts of the United States. I haven’t seen too many cops on the streets here nor have I gotten high, so I can’t say with certainty how free it feels here in regards to that experience, but one of the memories on the forefront of my mind is when I was getting on my flight on Qatar Airways at LAX the last time I left the United States. I was stuffing down an airport Starbucks bacon and egg sandwich as fast as possible because, while I was getting on the airplane, it suddenly dawned on me that I was boarding an Islamic airline while eating pork. This sounds ridiculous now but my heart began pounding with panic and a feeling of helplessness crept in for a minute or two. A claustrophobia of political, religious and sexual subjugation. Sometimes I hear friends in San Diego talk that revolution talk while puffing on Cali premium grass, kickin it at the beach with sex partners of their own choosing, and I kinda giggle to myself, “oh you’re adorable; you think you’ve experienced oppression.” 

Competing over who’s got more scars is a fool’s errand because the feeling of oppression is not that easily measurable or quantifiable. In the westernized world, for example, the oppressors often don’t even realize they’re doing the oppressing. If one hasn’t faced direct physical brutality, it can be an internal feeling connected to our own personal life journeys and generational traumas. A little litmus test of whether or not you have that little tiny seed in your consciousness is if you’ve ever felt panic when you got #thathigh. Specifically if you’re worried that “people know.” Because if you really do feel totally and completely free, why would you give the remotest shit if people know you’re high?

The why of getting high - and why is that a problem?

Creator and artist J Good once explained to me that the act of getting high, at its core, breaks down to two reasons: escape or expansion. Bursts of dopamine during our favorite techno drop or our tongue finding itself in a deep embrace with a triple layered melted cheese pizza. High or not, expansion generally happens when we ask questions which leads to creating neural pathway as we consider new possibilities, either by injecting fresh information into our brain’s memory banks or by dissecting previous information down to it’s simpler terms and reverse engineering thought systems that had been running on autopilot. Getting high makes us ask questions and they (that ominous all-conspiring they) don’t like when you ask too many questions. This jarring quote from one of Nixon’s aides made the rounds a couple of years ago: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

Society fears what it doesn’t understand because often times people’s behavior, while escaping or expanding, looks kind of similar. Watching a person’s eyes rolling back in their heads is terrifying. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave could serve as an argument for exactly this phenomenon. 

I’d like to add that none of this rant is a dig at individual law enforcement officers who carry the burden of serving as foot soldiers in an impossible-to-win war with the wrong enemy. I fully place the blame on us, the citizens. Us who’s extent of involvement with our government is watching The Daily Show on our iPhones, the government that’s supposed to be by the people and for the people, as they enforce archaic laws based on outdated motivations that demonize altered states of consciousness. Then again, what are laws but humanity’s most fear-based thoughts manifested in written form? But I digress.

A graceful revolution will win the war of ideas

If a dream is a memory of something that didn’t happen and human memory is the most unreliable form of testimony, can we rely on any of that loop of visuals in our brains we call memories? I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. 

That little boy in the war-torn country will become a man who lives with that past. He will have to decide what to do with it, how he uses it to interpret the world, how to interact with it, whether to become a hero or villain in this hallucination we’ve all decided to call reality. Violence may win the short-term battles but it won’t win the war of ideas. 

I do want to see a revolution. But I just know, with all my guts, that the only changes that last are those that are gradual. A single charismatic bully can plow over people and change the course of a nation. It could be argued that history is simply a rogues’ gallery of ambitious men; a documentation of their rise and fall. But for change to truly last everyone needs to be a part of the conversation that builds that new world we’re envisioning. This is the vision for Justified Hype: a creative collective that builds slowly and deliberately, with smaller intentional movements and deep personal connections. To build an international tribe of storytellers who can write the next chapter of our society. 

I want to see a graceful revolution because we’ve already seen the violent one and it doesn’t last. We’ve seen it’s brutal and oppressive aftermath and we’ve seen what happens when instead of meeting our opponents at the table, they’re simply told to shut up. When the oppressed become the oppressors.

Be radical. Be revolutionary. Be controversial. But instead of simply shouting at the world, take the time to tell a story, create moving imagery or build a slow and intentional community. I want to see a revolution where the mob picks up paint brushes instead of pitchforks. Let’s show them the infinite patience they didn’t show us. Regardless of if you are a Justified Hype Creator, collective member, supporter or fan, you are a part of this movement. Let’s change the world with multilayered art, infusing all perspectives with creative joy instead of violence. Because ideas, thoughts, stories… Those are immortal

The photo accompanying this piece is a self-portrait (when a professional photographer does it, it’s not just a selfie) I took at AfrikaBurn, where our camp had an endless supply of pre-rolls sitting on the table like a candy bowl, which may or may not have contributed to my tripping over a tent wire and face-planting in the African desert at two in the morning, leading to an endless source of laughter and a great story to share on the Vegas strip upon my return to the United States. I kept remembering my buddy, Mikey’s reassurance: “It’s cool man. Chicks dig scars.” 

 


Arash Afshar
Founder, Justified Hype