Tag Archives: sociology

Falling from grace and blind faith

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Down, down, down… own work, CC-BY.

The list of leaders who have fallen from grace due to various bad behaviors is long.  Recently, it was reported that Sogyal Rinpoche, the ‘most famous Buddhist after the Dalai Lama’ was accused of serious misconduct.   According to the article, he’s living in Tibet, and been disowned by the Dalai Lama.  It seems like these sorts of stories never end.   A quick search on ‘list of disgraced religious leaders’ turns up quite a few hits.

If there’s a silver lining to this, it is reported that the Dalai Lama not only brought this up, but maintained (again!) that you shouldn’t blindly follow anyone, including himself.  This, of course, is a core tenet of Buddhism – don’t take anything on face value, and do the investigation into truth by your own hand.   This is pretty much a basic thing, and one of the attractive qualities of Buddhism.

Are there any politicians or other leaders so brave and honest that they can say, “don’t follow me blindly?”  We need smart and capable leaders, and ones who know from day one that we shouldn’t trust them blindly.  Otherwise, they’ll eventually wind up on one of those lists.

 

 

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Too much connectivity

Two roads, from left to right; the one on the right might have worse traffic!  Own work.

There’s an interesting bit in the world of traffic management.  One of the non-obvious tenets is that sometimes, adding additional connections between two or more points can cause traffic to slow down, rather than speed up.   In the picture above, assume traffic goes from left to right.  For the two roads on the left, if one side is slow, the other will be unimpeded, yet, for the roads on the right, when traffic is slow on one of the roads on the left, traffic may not be the same, as other people will try to switch lanes, and cause slowdowns due to merging traffic.  This isn’t to say that having the cross connections is necessarily bad (if traffic is light, having cross connections is a good thing), but having them open all the time may cause non-optimal behaviors.

In the same way, perhaps our hyper-connected social media world is causing our thought processes to decay, and our general decorum to decrease as well.  Internet trolls are legion, and many struggle with the ease at which the ‘net can get us caught in and endless rabbit hole of information, staying up late, and getting distracted by our devices and social accounts.   Too much connectivity slows our brains down, as our thoughts keep switching from “one road to another.”

One solution?  Spend less time on the computer; spend less time on social media; spend less time being connected.  For me, this means not reading certain email accounts during the day, using a dumb phone, and keeping computers out of the bedroom, kitchen, or any place else there is  something more important going on.   We do need those connections (of course?), but if they are connected all the time, the net result may be a system that is worse off.

Questions:

  • Of course, too little connectivity, and you also get into trouble.  What is the optimum of connectivity/crosstalk for any system?  How does one calculate it, or measure the ‘best’ results of a system?
  • Was the Internet of old a bit “better”, in that because of limited bandwidth, it forced us to make better use of the online resources we had?  A sort of reverse Jevon’s Paradox?   Should we go back to dial up (horrors!)?
  • How would we reduce this connectivity, now that we have it?   If you were to have exits on a superhighway every quarter of a mile, the merging problem would be immense, especially in heavy traffic (essentially you get an avenue!).  Yet, if the exits are too far apart, the road become useless to many.
  • When we start to see glitches in our own systems (Internet, food delivery, transportation), and we think things are getting worse, might they possibly get… better, in the grand scheme of things?  After all, too much of anything generally is a big problem.

 

 

 

 

 

Red Pill Redux

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Venus and Mars, own work, based on public domain symbols

Just finished watching The Red Pill, a documentary made by Cassie Jaye in 2016, about men’s rights activists (MRAs).   It’s an interesting film, and worth seeing, although it does have to be accompanied by a bit of homework, and a bit of prep work beforehand.  A few things that jumped out out me,  after watching it (but without the prep work):

1) The louder you are, the less likely I’m able to take you seriously.  Some of the folks appeared to be loud, angry, and a bit heavy on cruder language.  Their opinions could have been heard far better (both literally and figuratively), if they turned the volume down.   None of the MRA folks appeared to be shouting down the opposition, but that, unfortunately, may be a trick of Cassie Jaye’s editing (and that may apply to the entire film, alas).  Whenever I find people trying to shout down a speaker, or shout down a talk on any topic, that makes me wonder if they don’t have valid arguments, and turn to ramping up the volume instead.  An old hippie I knew,  when trying to get my college to divest from South African investments back in the day put on a three-piece suit, went to the board, and gave them cold, hard economic reasons why the school should divest, as well as adding in the obvious humanitarian reasons.  Protests consisted of people holding signs (in silence) before the board walked to the conference room where they were to discuss the matter.  That was far more powerful.   There’s a great story about someone listening to two people argue in a language they didn’t understand; they correctly surmised that the person losing the argument was the one getting louder.

2) Money changes words, and what is discussed.  One of the women (a hero, to the MRA community) who started refuges (UK equivalent of domestic violence shelters) made the offhand remark that originally, the complaint was against capitalism, but it was changed to patriarchy so the topic would be more “fundable” (will have to go back and rewatch that part; but my memory thinks that was the point that was brought up).  That was a telling moment, and it was a shame more time wasn’t spent on that.

3) Lastly (and this could only be done with a bit of my own research),  if you make a documentary film on a particular worldview, you may wish to ask harder questions, or else the entire premise may fall apart.

There’s another element, which was mentioned in the Wikipedia article on this documentary, which bears repeating, because it brings up the topic of compassion:

Corrine Barraclough, of the Australian tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph, said “the message of The Red Pill is compassion” and the film made her “wonder why feminists tried so hard to silence this crucial conversation.”[28]

I wish the movie could have discussed things in more detail, only in the last moments did it try to make any points about differences between the MRA,  pickup artists, the Red Pill folks, and the MGTOW movement.

There are still some very big questions about the entire MRA movement; even the Wikipedia criticism section notes that the film is considered a bit one sided. After a bit of reflection and research (and discussion with other rational folks), that became more apparent.  When seeing a film like this or any other ‘Topic X’, a good natural reaction is to go searching for “Topic X criticism”; a few reviews of the film do bring up a good many salient points which could have rounded out things.   Indeed, a bit of searching afterwards on Paul Elam turns up disturbing stuff, and it does make one want to immediately throw up your hands and dismiss his appearance and arguments.   Elam does bring up important points (the CDC says domestic violence against men isn’t insignificant), and serious points about child custody, but if you are going to say outrageous things (in 2010, before the film was made) like, “Should I be called to sit on a jury for a rape trial, I vow publicly to vote not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true,” then it puts your entire argument at risk, and makes people dismiss you entirely.   When hearing something like this, it has an even more chilling effect than having people raise their voices; when you vow to reject overwhelming evidence, it means you aren’t thinking, and you choose your pet worldview over the truth.   It is a bit troubling that this wasn’t questioned in the film, and it does make me wonder about the due diligence of Cassie Jaye in doing her homework beforehand.  An entire reddit discussion on this is here.

There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and the MRA worldview has been lumped in with the likes of the incel community (described by the always eloquent, even-keeled, and thought-provoking Contrapoints here), although Cassie Jaye says they are of different stripes.   After listening to Contrapoint’s explanation of the incel world (and oh boy, does the rabbit hole go deep), it makes me want to ask Cassie Jaye to make another series of documentaries on these groups, but with a lot more balance.   From the explanation given by Contrapoints, however, it sounds like the incel folks are quite far off into the weeds; they even have a term “the black pill“, which goes into some dark places.  To her credit, she does have a bit of compassion for them, and she does bring up a bunch of parallels between her world and theirs.

This topic may seem like a bit outside of the jurisdiction of this blog, but the issue of fairness on any topic, and the ability of anyone asking questions (writing a newspaper story, doing a piece on the nightly news, making a documentary, inviting people to a debate) is important.   If a filmmaker was to do a more charitable or favorable story on climate change denialists, in the same format, my reaction (since I know more about this topic) might be to denounce it on the spot.  Since I hadn’t read anything about the MRA world (but knew about other elements of the ‘manosphere’  very peripherally), it was only after doing some ‘opposition research’ did a fuller picture of their arguments and worldview (warts and all) become visible.   Part of me feels more than a bit shortchanged (and a bit suckered), because some of the topics the film brought up were eye opening, but it didn’t follow through on some important background information, like Elam’s previous comments.

It’s tough not to get passionate (and loud) about things you feel strongly about.  On climate change, sure, there is an urge to rage a bit, or get loud, when discussing things with people who flat out deny it.  But the surer path to victory over ignorance might be in the Socratic method (rather than getting louder), and be willing to ask hard questions, even though they might initially detract from your own argument(s).   Lastly, approaching anything with compassion isn’t such a bad idea (although, one must guard against idiot compassion, a topic for another day).

This is a tough thing; the Truth is something we’d all like to have, but muddying the waters on any topic is frustrating.

Questions:

  • Have you seen the film?  What did you think?
  • What other documentaries have you seen which have changed your mind, or at least made you see things from a different perspective?
  • What is the responsibility of a film maker/documentary producer to give an even handed view of things?
  • Have there been any books/films/articles that have made you question your most heartfelt beliefs or worldviews?  The question that always gets asked here is “Who is your best critic; who is the person who has an opposite worldview, but who you respect?”
  • How has your mind best been changed on any topic?
  • How ‘pure’ do the leaders of any movement or worldview have to be, in order to be seen as legitimate?  Elam might bring up valid points, but probably destroyed any legitimacy or ability to sway public opinion with some of his comments.   Do climate change proponents (or denialists) destroy their legitimacy in similar ways?
  • Can you have a Socratic dialogue with ardent neo-Nazis, or folks from the incel community?
  • Playing devil’s advocate – could Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” be considered one sided?   Do valid criticisms of his own lifestyle make the argument less believable?
  • Is there anybody in the MRA world who rejects Elam’s outrageous comments, and who has a more balanced view?   There may be valid criticisms of any “obvious” worldview or philosophy, from climate change to capitalism to feminism/men’s rights to racism, but if you are going to say/believe/promulgate outrageous ideas and ignore evidence, whatever shred of good points you have can be destroyed.

 

On rules and hypocrisy

Hypocrites_1915_Naked_Truth.jpg

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hypocrites_(1915_film)#/media/File:Hypocrites_1915_Naked_Truth.jpg – in the public domain

If there’s anything that has been echoing around in my world for the past week, it has been stories and complaints about hypocrisy.  Some of the stories are recent, and some slightly dated, but they all have been popping up this week, either a news feed, or by comments from friends and family.  They’ve included:

  • The usual comments from friends on the right about the pursuit of Trump, while the Clinton camp was let off the hook with regard to private email servers and mishandling of very classified information.
  • So-called “environmentalists” who chose to fly, and have big houses, families, or extravagant lifestyles.
  • Complaints by big companies, which won’t pay for technical talent when their back is to the wall, yet would be the first to drop or underpay an engineer if the employment situation wasn’t as tight as it is now.
  • Folks in the #MeToo movement who have done questionable things in a personal sphere.
  • People who rail against guns, but surround themselves with private armed guards.
  • “Capitalists” who get corporate welfare (and of course, preach “free markets,”) while having governments (or government-sanctioned organizations) set the price of money by fiat (interest rates), the key to any financial and investment calculations.
  • Republicans who rail against abortions, except, of course, for their pregnant mistresses.
  • And of course, the long list of Republicans who voted against same-sex rights, while actually, you know… being gay.
  • Revelations that a bunch of Catholic priests were doing very un-Christian things with children.

This isn’t new, of course; it’s just that it seems to happen with astounding regularity, and that the hypocritical acts and behaviors seem to amplify with time.  If there is a silver lining to all this, it seems like some in the world are quite literally walking away from groups that are hypocritical, or that have hypocritical behaviors.

The real killer bit for me is that these behaviors aren’t tied to the any political ideology; folks on the left, middle, and right are all guilty here.   Nobody is perfect, for sure, but very few are even admitting up front that they could be wrong in the first place.  If you can admit you could be wrong while making your case, and living a life in close alignment with what you preach (nobody is perfect), then you are far more likely to make converts, and have people take you seriously.

Questions:

  • Who are some of the most hypocritical institutions, politicians (left or right), you’ve dealt with?
  • Who are some of the most unhypocritical, even if their worldview doesn’t match ours?
  • Nobody is perfect; we all can be hypocritical to some degree, in some parts of our lives.  When does this become problematic?  One possibility is that it becomes problematic when you don’t recognize it, or don’t try to remedy your hypocritical behavior.

 

Gen X Saves The Day?

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commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Bell_X-1#/media/File:Bell_X-1_in_flight.jpg (Public Domain) No, not that X generation!  But a great picture…

It may be a bit ahead of the curve (and the book isn’t even out yet), but a new title caught my eye, and it is definitely on the radar.   It’s Zero Hour for Gen-X – How the Last Adult Generation Can Save America from Millennials, based on an article at City Journal. Now, from the gist of it, it sounds like a attempted body slam on both the Boomers and Millennials.  It’s been written about before in this blog (my take is that we may wind up being referees between the two generations).

For sure, our elders are getting, well, older, and don’t care as much as they might have in the past.  Some older people I’ve spoken with have actually said, “well, I’ll be long gone,” but a few do know that hard times are coming for the younger generations.   Although anecdotal, I have seen quite a few Millennials who have been sucked into their smartphones at dinner, which is now becoming a bit of a trope.   Some aren’t like that for sure, but the love of Silicon Valley, the Internet of Things, and inability to fathom a world where patience was built-in to everyday life are certainly going to cause problems down the road (if not now).

Questions:

  • Any thoughts on the article?  Are we, Gen-X, the last hope, like Obi-Wan?
  • Every generation complains about the others.   Has this ever not been the case, or has the technological change inherent in our world made this more pronounced?
  • When technology didn’t change much, did generations merely carry on, without the labeling?   Did this generational squabbling occur much before the Lost Generation, or are we just writing/whining about it more?

 

Missed meals; missed comforts

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marshmallows.jpg

One of the many epidemics in our society is obesity.  Not just being overweight, mind you – serious, life-threatening body-mass-indexes (BMI) that are over 30.   The high level view is that the cause is a preponderance of sugar/corn syrup in our modern diet.   According to a Chris Stefanick podcast on the topic,  eating less calories is good, but unfortunately, your body catches on, and then starts to metabolically slow down.   Likewise, exercise is good, but exercise alone won’t allow you to eat whatever you want, because you’ll get hungry, and eat more.  One of Chris’s suggestions (he mentions quite a bit of research on this) is that reducing carbohydrates is a key to reducing the insulin rush (cause by carbs/simple sugars) that cause this.

But even better?  Going on a fast – voluntarily not eating.  From the podcast, he mentions people who eat 2400 calories each day, if fasting every other day, they will eat 0 calories while fasting, and 2900 calories on the days when they are “catching up”, for a net reduction of (1900/4800) 40% calories in the long haul.  It sounds a bit simple, but the science does seem sound.

What if we expanded this concept, to other areas of life?   This was touched on by a post a few years ago (Learning To Live Without).  You may have heard of a few folks who have gone on news or Internet fasts for weeks or months.   I’m currently in the middle of an experiment where I’m only checking personal email twice a day, and it’s been a boon to concentration and getting things done.

Could society use a bit of this, in general?  Jack Alpert, who founded the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab has an extreme idea, which might be the ultimate in delayed gratification.  He recently was a guest on JHK’s podcast (the KunstlerCast; he is interviewed here).  The upshot? Almost everyone alive now is to be sterilized (!), and then lotteries for the right to have children, essentially, to lower the final population of the earth to 50 million – the “delayed gratification” of having a working (albiet small) civilization.

Questions:

  • The research on delayed gratification is extensive (check out the marshmallow experiment); how could delayed gratification be introduced into groups, instead of individuals?
  • What sort of delayed gratification would you like to see more of?
  • Could Jack Alpert’s idea ever get going?  Seems like it is a bit extreme for most.
  • Obviously, too much delayed gratification is a bit of a problem; if you don’t eat, you starve to death, so fasting does have its “upper limits.”   What is the criteria for too much delayed gratification?   Even an Internet “news fast” might not be good, in that you could miss timely news about storms, disasters that might be coming, or other things that might affect you.
  • Missing meals, missing comforts – temporarily not having these may be a bit annoying, but in the end, there is a great gain.  What have you deliberately cut out of your life, in order to make your life better in the long run?

 

Missed the point

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Day#/media/File:Earth_Day_Flag.png

I’m not a fan of flying.   Not that I’m afraid, of course.  Flying is much safer than driving, so they tell us.   But the carbon footprint is a lot larger, and of all the activities you can do to lower your carbon footprint, not flying is one of the big ones.  Of all the ways to reduce your carbon footprint, a few basic items:

  • become a vegetarian
  • forego air travel
  • ditch your car
  • have fewer children (the biggest impact)

It was amazing then, today, to get an email from an airline company, wanting to celebrate Earth Day (with a prize of … flights!).   Links to vote on your favorite causes were provided… but not one of them was regarding population growth/overpopulation.

It is the elephant in the room, of course.  Having children in industrialized countries like America, places a huge load on the ecosystem (relative to other countries), but talking about it is somewhat taboo.  There are, of course, some more radical ideas on the whole topic of human existence and population.

One question to ask someone who “cares about the environment” is to ask what they think the carrying capacity of the planet is, or should be (if it is possible to “will” a carrying capacity).  And then ask them if they are having children, and how many [late edit].  Or ask them if they fly by air for vacation.

We live in a world where many of us need to fly or drive for work.  If you don’t own a car or have kids, and fly for vacation once in a blue moon, then perhaps your footprint is smaller than those who own a car and commute.  But having kids is the big one.

Questions:

  • What is the carrying capacity of the Earth, for humans?  The estimates vary widely; from 100 million to 40 billion.  The Georgia Guidestones call for a population of 500 million.
  • Is Earth Day just another marketing day, like Christmas, Memorial Day, or Labor Day?
  • How do you personally stack up with the big items above?
  • Bringing these items up is difficult; how do you do it without antagonizing your audience?