As a professor of Critical Thinking at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, CA, my entire academic life I have been constantly receiving similar feedback on my observations and opinions, something along the line of, “I have not really thought of it that way before.” Jimmy’s intention is to develop critical thinking skills, look at things a different way and to question everything. I speak and write of all aspects of life, from Buddhism to twerking, from the spiritual to the profane, from meditation to pornography. It all makes for great conversation and analysis.

So sit back, read and/or listen, and question me as we learn in the tensions of life.

Heterodox Academy and the Community College System


Below is an article/blog entry written for an Academic Academy I recently joined. I encourage all of you to check out their website, https://heterodoxacademy.org/. This is an organization committed to: enhancing the quality and impact of research — and improving education — by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning. I am leading a breakfast discussion at their conference in New York City in June. Many members of this wonderful academy are from “elite” schools and I decided to write a blog entry concerning the vital role of community colleges in their efforts. It is long…I hope you appreciate the read!

As an enthusiastic new member of HxA, I am just beginning to scratch the surface of everything this academy entails. HxA’s mission of promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement are wonderful ideals for which I fully stand and support.  I would go as far as to say my personal mission in life aligns in perfection, while, like a Pavlonian puppy, I salivate to the bell of these rhetorical principles. As I continue to read and listen, I would like to suggest more directed efforts towards the dissemination of these values toward one of our largest populations of students in the country, the community college system, most renowned within my home state of California.

In light of the recent allegations of widespread scandal in the collegial admissions processes for wealthy—though otherwise potentially unqualified—students, perhaps it is time to shed light on institutions that truly function on the premise of an entirely even playing field.

The California Community College system is the largest in the country and routinely accounts for nearly fifty percent of all college students in the state. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “Compared to other states, California relies more heavily on community colleges and less on four-year institutions—the state ranks fifth nationwide in the share of recent high school graduates who enroll in community colleges and 47th in the share who start at four-year schools.” As of 2018, there were 980 public community colleges in the United States. In 2016, about 5.8 million students were enrolled in public 2-year postsecondary institutions across the U.S.

However one wants to dice up and decipher these numbers, community colleges account for a very large population of our country’s postsecondary students; students that cannot afford to be overlooked when it comes to the mission set forth by HxA and other like-minded organizations in this time of growing political incivility and unrest.

To preface, I am a community college Professor of Communication Studies at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, CA. I am currently in my thirteenth year as a tenured professor, though had decades of experience as an adjunct professor in various public and private colleges as well as universities in the Southern California area.  Having no one in my blue-collar family of origin attend college, nor even believe in the value of higher education, you can only imagine how deeply grateful and indebted I feel toward the California Community College system. It was within this system, Los Angeles Valley College specifically, that I found my voice as a student, was taught to critically think, while being offered both wonderful academic and life guidance from very caring faculty members.

The community college system gave this blue collar demographic a chance at a higher education. It was my first, and as I will explain, most powerful exposure to higher levels of critical thought and analysis. Therefore, I confess upfront that I am an elite academy “outsider.” Aside from having two of my children attend top tier schools (Chapman University and The King’s College London) I am not on the inside looking out rather the outside looking in. I defer all elite academy expertise to those in the elite trenches. One might say I am a representative of the “common” academies. However, and as we shall see, many of my observations are supported by the “elite” insiders: insiders who are deftly familiar with this context of academia.

The Atlantic recently reported: “In 2017, a team led by the Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that students coming from families in the top 1 percent—those who make more than $630,000 a year—are 77 times more likely to be admitted to and attend an Ivy League school than students coming from families who make less than $30,000 a year. Furthermore, the study found that 38 elite colleges have more students who come from families in the top 1 percent than students who come from the bottom 60 percent (families making less than $65,000 a year).”

Anthony Jack, assistant professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing The Disadvantaged Students, suggests, “We have been teaching students from more privileged backgrounds for so long, that we take a lot for granted on a college campus. Mental health offices, career service offices, they are so used to students being more proactive and entering their doors because they’ve been taught that if you want something, you go out and get it. The fact that you have to go seek things out, that’s an unspoken rule on a college campus that disproportionately hurts low-income students from disadvantaged high schools. There is a bias towards privilege on a college campus that permeates so many things that we do.”

Culturally speaking, due to its socioeconomic homogeneity, the community college context is the most socially inviting and habitable environment for many disadvantaged students, even those who possess the academic prowess to attend an elite university.

As will be referred to later in this essay, paying more attention to these “common” academies can better address the growing disparity between elite universities and two/four year state schools: a disparity that primarily rests not on intellect, rather student wealth inequality. In recent years, I understand several elite academies have worked with great intention to provide the promise of an elite education for all those deemed worthy: wealthy and poor alike. However, though such efforts are certainly respected, it would seem the issue of wealth inequality is still very much present in academia as a whole.

HxA, as well as others who share these core values, would be remiss to downplay the importance of our country’s community college system in the quest to instill civil free speech dialogue in our institutions. Aside from the inequality expressed above, there exists three fundamental reasons to promote HxA energies towards this system: First, community colleges possess the power of the educational primacy effect for its great many students; second, is home to extremely wide diverse student population by nearly every conceivable measure; and, finally, are institutions committed first and foremost to the teaching and interaction with all types of students, not just the traditionally academic and/or those with orthodox academic skill sets.

Primacy Effect

Psychology, and now neuroscience, informs us that early initial encounters with others lead us to form an initial expectancy about the people we meet.  Once that expectancy is formed, we tend to process information in ways that keep that expectancy intact.  For better or worse, once we have developed a schema, it becomes very difficult to change it.

To analogize, the community college has the advantage of the educational primacy effect in many college students’ lives. For most students, it is the beginning phase of learning how to think critically. Each year the state of California transfers over one hundred thousand students to four-year colleges and universities throughout the country. These students have already formed their collegial identity; they have cut their teeth on issues related to free speech and freedom of expression, and have been exposed to both destructive (unfortunately) and constructive disagreement. This initial exposure to higher education has a tremendous impact on students and the future trajectory of their education and career choices.

Many of our students in the communication studies program have been trained to publicly advocate for various issues, engage in academic debate, and have learned the value of civil discourse. These students are going to have a large voice in their future respective universities and will have great influence in achieving HxA objectives. I am routinely impressed by observing the amount of growth, maturity and academic prowess many students achieve in their short time within our system. Students who are now fundamentally ready to make a difference, not only in four-year colleges and university systems, but also in their overall duty of the citizenry in general.

As for those students who may never transfer for any variety of reasons, many of these students would have never been exposed to critical thought and analysis in any type of formal sense were it not for this system. As for those students who have landed at a community college by default and do not finish their programs, it is this institution alone that has the only opportunity of imparting higher-level critical thinking skills to an otherwise completely uneducated population.

Diverse Student Populations

In regards to the community college environment, one must consider that these establishments are home to extremely diverse student populations, such as the historically disenfranchised, the underrepresented, and, in many cases, the impoverished—all populations that must be given an opportunity for voice.  Some have opined that the only true diversity at elite schools exists in race and ethnicity; as far as social class, there is little diversity at all.

If the Millennial and Gen Z American minds are currently the product of excessive coddling, as Jonathon Haidt suggests, consider the community college students the least victimized in this current pandemic of over sensitivity.  Though I know of no such studies, anecdotally speaking the most striking examples of virtue signaling and call out culture appear to come from the more elite universities. While these students are reaching for social status and self-actualization, our students are figuring out how to meet their lower level needs and surmise where they are going to fit within the larger social structure.

At our campus, we have a program for our homeless student population—probably not a group largely represented at the elite academies. The majority of students who go off to elite schools or even four-year colleges typically have a built-in support network on which to rely. At Crafton Hills, many of our students will not eat if they do not work; which is why we have a food bank on campus for our hungry students. Perhaps we may consider this food bank our version of a “safe space” for students who suffer from food insecurities.

A significant portion of our student population is academically prepared and qualified for the university, yet has either not qualified for financial aid or has lacked the necessary guidance to lead one through the bureaucratic maze of administrative paperwork to do so. For each class I teach, I typically have students who have been accepted into the UC, or other four-year systems, though their source of funding was withdrawn at last moment. In addition, though administrative policy does not allow us to know this number specifically, with our campus slightly over fifty percent Latino in Southern California, we surmise a significant undocumented student population as well.

On the flip side, we also have a student population with some affluence. Many of these students, who elect to stay in the area, attend the University of Redlands with dual enrollment at Crafton Hills. Insofar as age, our primary student population is between the ages of eighteen and twenty four, yet it is not at all unusual for classes to have students of all ages with many different generations, political orientations and life experiences all represented. With this amount of campus diversity, it is not at all difficult to encounter contrarian points of view on any number of issues.

Classroom Focus and Reaching the Traditionally Non-Academic

Allow me to preface this final section with a couple of observations. First off, we are all hugely indebted to the wonderful and insightful research and subsequent publications generated by our elite universities. Simply, I could not do my job without the contributions of elite scholarship. I would consider most of my courses rife with “elite” curriculum; that is consisting of research produced by elite academies. In my area of communication studies, in particular critical thinking, Harvard’s Steven Pinker as well as Duke’s Dan Ariely have profoundly shaped my curriculum. Elite universities benefit the entire higher educational system. Secondly, I know from personal experience that both excellent and poor instruction exists at all colleges and universities, for a large variety of reasons. The most influential (and conversely uninfluential) professors in my education were found in the two-year College, four-year University, and graduate school contexts (albeit none considered “elite.”).

In the attempt to extol the value of the community college system and its need for HxA values, it is necessary to critique what may be some of the shortcomings of the elite university system. The elite university system is certainly not a one-size-fits-all system and is not an alternative for many types of students. The elite universities are reaching a certain type of elite, in some cases an “intellectual elite,” and in many cases the wealthy elite, while the idea of multiple intelligences would suggest that one with a high degree of, say, kinesthetic or interpersonal intelligence, would likely not be highly desired at these elite schools.

 
There are those who go as far as to address the disadvantages of an “elite” education. The American Scholar recently republished an article from Alumnus of Yale and Columbia, William Deresiewicz, in which he observed of elite students, “Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A’s in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time.” 

As for those who may end up at an institution like a community college? Deresiewicz continues:

“They didn’t get straight A’s because they couldn’t be bothered to give everything in every class. They concentrated on the ones that meant the most to them or on a single strong extracurricular passion or on projects that had nothing to do with school or even with looking good on a college application. Maybe they just sat in their room, reading a lot and writing in their journal. These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resumés.”

Perhaps unlike Deresiewicz, I believe we need “world-class hoop jumpers” within the diverse mosaic of higher education. As well, we need the voices of the historically oppressed and disadvantaged. Together, we can unite in HxA principles and form alliances that cross socioeconomic lines.

One of the primary reasons I thoroughly enjoy the challenges of the community college education, is the opportunity to focus primarily on the classroom and student interaction versus the mandate of research and publications. To the best of my knowledge, there exists no concept of “publish or perish” within the community college system.  Though we certainly have our fair share of out of the classroom duties to which we must attend, such as committee work and shared governance, our primary focus is the students and the students alone.

It is not at all uncommon for a student who transferred to a prestigious university to return only to observe the excellence of their classroom instruction at Crafton Hills. Of course this is a very generalized observation usually driven by one of several possible university experiences: classes with lecture halls of hundreds of students that lack personal attention from the professor; classes taught by a professor who may only teach to justify her first love of research; and/or classes taught by inexperienced graduate assistants and not seasoned instructors. Of course these will vary from institution to institution and, again, is not to suggest poor instruction does not exist at the community college level, it most certainly does, though it likely would not be generated for any of the above reasons.

Regardless of one’s political position on any number of matters, it is a fundamental American value that all voices be given a platform in a pluralistic, democratic society. We all must champion the cacophony of viewpoints from the historically disenfranchised, the underrepresented, and the impoverished.  We all must champion the voice of the underdog. The Community College System, though a default alternative for some, remains a very important institution for those born without wealthy donor parents, those with limited academic choice, and who possess overall limited social privilege and capital.

Old Fart Disease

If any of jimmysintension readers have been engaging with this blog with any regularity, they would certainly know my position on any number of matters- perhaps none more so than my thoughts on what is not so affectionately known as, “Old Fart Disease.”

Allow me to provide some background.

Historically, OFD was a condition that primarily effected those of advanced age. However, current trends suggest OFD may effect anyone at any time at any age. Recent studies out of Brown University do point to the idea that a growing number of young people suffer from this dreaded syndrome, which also knows no race, ethnicity, educational level, gender, class, etc…

Researchers have various theories as to why OFD is spreading in younger populations, though first let us take a look at the symptoms, how to identify the disease, and possible cures.

Symptoms often include phrases such as, “These damn kids today…” or “Well when I was growing up we did not…(fill-in activity/behavior that is now perceived reprehensible by the OFD victim).” Those who suffer from OFD may have feelings ranging from mild irritation or bewilderment on the one hand, to disgust and anger on the other.  In severe sufferers, it can dramatically affect their quality of life as feelings of contempt toward the young pervade their every thought.

OFD sufferers are known to complain about the background music in restaurants and often wonder out loud how anyone can actually like this shit. In addition, you can find them frequently verbalizing about the “crap today they call entertainment.” When dealing with one who has OFD, it is recommended by doctors to avoid contact or attempt to reason with victims as often they will deny the disease while stating they are simply, “set in their ways.”

There are currently no known cures, yet sufferers have found ways in which to cope and manage the disease, so there exists hope. It has been suggested, though not yet clinically tested, that taking a long and honest self-assessment of one’s attitudes can help manage the symptoms (usually with the needed help of a professional therapist). In addition, the afflicted can gain positive results by going back into old journals and recall memories in the attempt to remember what it was like to be the age of those who are now their OFD triggers. Though the side effects of such treatments have not been thoroughly tested, some early inconclusive reports suggest they may include psychological trauma and severe anxiety as they now are forced to have to live in reality, on reality’s terms.

It is recommended that those with OFD staunchly avoid observing younger people in their natural and unsupervised habitats, such as stores and restaurants, or any public event that has diverse age ranges. When dealing with a bout of OFD, it is suggested that one remove themselves from the location of the youngsters and turn off all media that may provide unwanted depictions of the young offenders –depictions that can set off the disease at a moment’s notice. There have been several reports that depressed OFD victims will purchase Tide pods and attend a gaming convention or Comic con in an attempt to end their life.

Unfortunately, many sufferers of OFD never fully recover and live their remaining contemptuous years in semi isolation. Should a victim choose to have relationships, they will typically surround themselves with fellow sufferers. Though such clustering (also known as OFDC, Old Fart Disease Clusters) of those with OFD may provide temporary relief of symptoms, it is known to make the disease progress far more quickly with much less hope of recovery.

As suggested, new research is shedding light that the disease may be spreading to younger generations. Experts have suggested that with the rapid growth of technology, such OFD symptoms are becoming much more prevalent among Millennials and Generation Z. There have been reports of these generations spotting young children in restaurants who are playing on their tablets and mumbling that when they were young children, they “never played on a computer when eating dinner with the family at a restaurant. That is just rude.”

Dr. Henrietta Merlow of Brown University warns, “Though it is strange to see young person acting like an old ass curmudgeon, it is a growing phenomena that we can no longer afford to ignore. It is now quite possible to suffer YOFD, “Young Old Fart Disease.”

Frequently OFD is misdiagnosed. For example, those who might critically assess new innovations in search of their unintended consequences may appear to be afflicted with OFD on the surface. However, though such behavior does mimic some symptoms of the disease, upon further observation they are actually providing benefit to the younger generations.

It is critical that diagnosis is left up to professionals.

If you fear that you or someone you love may suffer from OFD, it is important that you be evaluated for treatment immediately. The longer one remains in the state of OFD the more resistant they may become to a possible cure. If one waits too long, they may become a DOF, also known as a Dead Old Fart

Now you know.

Mad Respect. Thanks Mom.

The other night I was pumping gas at the local Exxon station. As the 87 octane was flowing from pump to Honda Civic tank, in my proactive attempt to avoid the annoying television screen that pops on when you start filling, I stared off into the night. It was not long before I noticed a dark-haired woman of about 50 years of age foraging through a trashcan just a few feet from my car. This is not at all an abnormal occurrence, but, for whatever reason, I seemed to take extra strong notice of this activity on this evening.

As I watched the dumpster diving unfold, it appeared she was looking for recyclable goods, such as plastic containers and cans. I noted her shopping cart, left at the station entrance, was full of both these things as well as blankets and clothes, so it was pretty much a dead giveaway she would soon be off to the recycle bin. We caught a quick glimpse of each other as she looked me in the eye for a quick millisecond creating the briefest of gazes. Then, without the remotest hint of wanting anything from me, looked down in her continued quest for a few dollars’ worth of trade-in goods.

I was actually very impressed with this “apparently-but-who-knows” homeless woman. She did not have a dirty homeless look about her, rather a perhaps “recently homeless” look as if a homeless “newbie” or a woman on the verge homelessness. However, what impressed me about her was, during our millisecond gaze, having the greatest of opportunities to ask me for a handout and not doing so.

As the prepaid $24 worth of gas continued to pump, I realized what this woman was doing. In addition to perhaps providing the few dollars for a meal that evening, she was actually performing a public service. Her trash activity was making all our lives an environmentally better one. She was helping herself yet she was also indirectly helping you and me as well. I wanted to reward her so I reached in my wallet and took out a $20 bill. By this time the woman was on her third or fourth trashcan and now about 30 or 40 feet from my car.

I was thinking: What do I do? Should I approach her? Would this be insulting and demeaning? Dangerous? Is this a really bad idea? A really good idea? If I do approach her, what do I say?

I really just wanted to get in my car and drive off, though my impulse was strong on this cold and very rare, rainy Southern California night.

To better understand my inner conflict, know that I am very big believer in not enabling panhandlers and the like. When I see people giving money to street beggars and such, I am repulsed, as I believe providing money to those seeking handouts only perpetuates the problem and, in turn, creates a much larger one.

This anti-handout position in no way, shape or form applies to those wanting to provide some type of service for a handout -in which case it is no longer a handout rather a payment for services rendered. I will frequently drop a few bills in the tip jar of a street performer or give the guy at the red light a buck for washing my windows as I am stopped.

I also refuse to give because, well, I frankly believe many of those seeking handouts are compulsive liars and are not using the money for basic necessities.

Just a few weeks ago in the city of Redlands, CA, at another gas station (this time an Arco) a man came up to me and asked for some money for gas. I would normally just walk away, though, for whatever reason (am I changing?!?) I told him to pull up to the pump and I would fill his car up for him. He said that was not possible cause the car was several blocks away and he did not even have a gas can. He just wanted the cash.

I politely told him, “good day.”

Now at Exxon, I fought my instinct to drive away as I watched the woman continue to forage. I slowly began walking toward her, still not knowing if when I arrived I would follow through with my giving her the cash.

I was now a few feet from her,

“Excuse me, do you need some help?” I mustered the courage to ask.

She smiled and said yes.

I handed her the $20.

She smiled and said, “God bless you.”

That was about it. Not a lot more to write. Not a lot more to say. She accepted the money and I walked away and she continued in her recyclable endeavor.

However, I must say that, in addition to giving her the money making me feel really good, I realized how much I respected that woman: for both what she did do –recycle otherwise landfill refuse- as well as for what did she did not do –ask for a handout.

As a young teen, my mom once told me that there is never any shame in earning an honest dollar. Of course she told me this as she was getting ready to begin her afternoon cashier gig at the McDonald’s across the street from my high school. Pretty amazing words coming from a registered nurse who was taking some refresher courses to get ready to jump back in the nursing game.

I would take my dearly departed mom once step further…not only is there no shame, there is some mad respect. Deep mad respect. I love you mom.

And thank you woman. Thank you.

Sometimes It Is Better To Just Take The Hook And Forego The Line And Sinker

It seems as the years go by, my aging process is bringing with it an ignited resolve to live in peace with one another. Lest you think I am transforming into a pacifist loving, liberal tree hugger (sorry tree huggers, know I love you too and believe we really do need you), I absolutely LOVE grappling and wrestling with positions and ideas, yet can do so without personal animosity or ad hominem (personal) attacks against a disagreeing party.

I love arguing ideas for the purpose of learning and advancing, yet I detest “fighting” with people. One can argue with me whenever they please, though once a name is called or a personal insult is hurled -which are more indicative of petty fighting and immaturity over the beauty of arguing (hello youtube and twitter)- I am completely out. Which is probably why I am down to having only one social media -two if you count this blog- but that is a different blog for a different day. Uncivil dialogue is really not dialogue at all.

As I ponder my newfound resolve for peaceful and concurrently productive encounters, it occurs to me that one such root cause of the strife and divisiveness found in our current cultural conversation can be traced back to our collective suffixes of ments, ism’s, ist’s, and ity’s.

Nearly all ideological monikers that possess such a suffix must be approached with great caution and a discerning mind.

I am very reluctant to give an example of each as it may seem I am referring to a particular ment, ism, ist or ity: I am most definitely not. This blog does not concern a critique of any ideology or collective belief system in and of itself, rather it concerns the problematic nature of marrying into and identifying completely with ANY such group with this suffix.

But aren’t there both really good and really bad ments, isms, ists and itys? Absadamnlutely, though it is essential we understand the dark side of completely committing to ANY ideology and its thought forms. Once we commit to identifying and being perceived through the lens of an ideological group ending with such suffixes, we must realize we are now potentially placing an ideology over logic and reasoning as we often remain loyal soldiers to our suffixed movement -particularly in the face of an overall very reasonable movement possessing an unreasonable position.

Certainly some ideologies are overall better or worse than some others for the good of society as a whole, yet I will put forth the grounds that there exists no perfect ideology: all ideologies have their flaws. Once one identifies with an ideology or movement, there exists a pressure to conform to this system even when their own personal logic, reasoning skills and even personal intuitions may suggest otherwise.

As with many other aspects of my evolving belief systems in life, I find that I am unintentionally entering a very BuddhIST way of thinking (yes, the irony is not lost on me…just know that I do not identify with this particular “ist” as I am not a Buddhist: as much as I agree with many of its teachings). A writer who applies Buddhist principles suggests, “Millions of human beings have been murdered because the isms and ists applied to them were the wrong isms and ists. It’s pretty simple. Turn something one way and one person’s terrorism is another’s patriotism; turn it the other way and it’s vice-a-versa. Isms and ists can be useful, for example in libraries they can help us sort things. Isms and ists, when used by individuals or groups as descriptions of who they think they are and what they believe, can be, and usually are, a red flag to contraction. It’s often quite flagrant and not particularly useful in clarifying anything.”

After recently viewing the documentary by Deeyah Khan, White Right: Meeting the Enemy, I was deeply saddened as I watched young men (and yes, primarily people with penises who also identify as men) in their personal quest to find some meaning and identity in their lives, being recruited into these white nationalIST organizations. Often the need to identify with a ment, ism, ist or ity is driven by our deep personal needs to feel loved, connected, needed and have purpose in life.

Yet I would argue we can accomplish these same life objectives while remaining an ideological free agent.

Lest you believe I am suggesting we would all be better off without any ments, isms, ists or itys, you would be wrong. We have some excellent ideologies that are providing wonderful sources of positivity and usefulness in our evolution as a culture. Yet, each and everyone one of these movements have their flaws and, left unchecked, can turn an overall positive movement into a less than positive one at best, and a dangerous one at worst. It is certainly possible to be part of an ideological group and remain independent and critical, it is just really, really difficult to do so. It would seem very few can actually just bite the hook while successfully avoiding the line and sinker.

It is so very important that when our “something-is-not-quite-right” personal radars alert us to even the most minor of disturbing occurrence, such as the use of suspect words or behaviors within an ideology, we must take strong notice and listen to that voice of inner reasoning. The dangerous power of the ideology is found in its amazing ability to stop critical and independent thought immediately in its tracks, as if our personal identity is stripped of us in our pressure to conform and serve the ideology.

I personally was involved in an ity for decades and am now ashamed at how many times I ignored my personal radar for the sake of the “greater good” or the “bigger picture.” I suppose when the leader of this ity, who was strongly against the idea of premarital sex, found out his young unmarried daughter was pregnant and was able to convince the flock that she was impregnated without having intercourse, an “immaculate conception” of sorts, I should have turned and run and never looked back.

I was sickened by the whole thing yet still remained true to the cause: ments, isms, ists, and itys can have that effect. It was not until 2006 that I realized I had a brain that did fire a few critical thinking neurons and that I should probably use it.

One of my favorite “ists,” as in AtheIST, Sam Harris, will frequently address the upside of religious communities and what they bring positively to the cultural table, such as community, charity, discipline and good works. However, to put it in his words, why is it necessary to have to believe a bunch of bullshit in order to employ these wonderful practices in one’s life? In my words, it should not take a loyal oath to an ideological dogma, which may result in at least partial intellectual suicide, to practice the good side of what an ideology may bring to society.

Yes, I really do want to live in peace with others as we continue the necessary practice of challenging and refining ideas and thought forms. Loyal ideological foot soldiers frequently stand in the way of such essential dialogues and conversations, and, ultimately, it is both our personal reasoning skills and culture-wide civil discourse that fall victim.

I will remain at the ideological buffet table and pick and choose from each ideology what will best serve myself and others in this short stint called life.

The Potential High Cost of Truth Seeking or Fine, Some Are More Neanderthal Than Others. So What?

What happens when the world of what may be true collides with the world of what we desperately want to be true?

It can get very ugly, very quickly.

So, when political scientist Charles Murray published a book in 1994 concerning intelligence, The Bell Curve, in which one chapter is devoted to the understanding of the role of race and IQ, these worlds collided and it was not pretty.

Since this book was written nearly 25 years ago, Murray has been all but officially banned from the social scientific community and universities -his life and well-being threatened.

In this one chapter, his scientific inquiry led him to the conclusion that race does play a role in IQ in the main, with plenty of outliers. To summarize a complex conclusion based on many variables, his research concluded that of all the populations on the planet, Asians possessed the highest IQ, then something along the lines of whites, blacks and Hispanics.

When I first heard of this book, my first questions were, “What’s the point? Even if there are racial differences in IQ what would be the practical application of such data?”

After listening to an interview with Murray, I never received an altogether satisfying response. He warns of a potentially dangerous “cognitive elite” and something along the lines that social policy should be the product of good science. I am thinking he means policies such as affirmative action, though I am not entirely certain.

He does not sound like a racist, then again, very few real racists sound like racists.

Whether or not Murray is a genius, racist asshole or something in between, is not the point of this blog. I am not a fan of Murray nor have the background or understanding of the brain’s inner workings and its interplay with neuroscience to even have an opinion…and I would bet you don’t either.

I do know the claim that certain groups lack sufficient intellectual skills is one that has been used to argue for slavery, racism, sexism, Jim Crow laws, and eugenics, just to name a few. No level-headed champion of social causes would ever want Murray’s research to be even remotely true.

And this is the point of this blog and the cognitive dissonance I am currently experiencing: When does the search for what may be true need to take a backseat to what that search may cause in terms of social fallout and injustice? If it turns out to be true, that is all racist assholes would need to justify their intolerable and hate-filled views.

I realize that in 2018 we are striving for an equal playing field for all, though I know with absolute certainty there are a lot of people way, way, way smarter and more intelligent than I (in fact I am not smart enough to know if that last word before this parenthesis was supposed to be “I” or “me” or even “myself”). I do think it is an interesting study to find out the effects of intelligence on society and what the advantages the “cognitive elite” have over myself and others while seeking strategies for a more level playing field.

Yet if such a study would cause social upheaval and used to justify injustice, is the price of seeking answers to these questions simply too high?

To illustrate, I recently read a scientific journal article that stated genetic researchers are finding out certain human beings have more Neanderthal DNA than previously believed. “East Asians have about 2.3 to 2.6 percent Neanderthal DNA, while people from western Europe and Asia have retained about 1.8 to 2.4 percent DNA. African populations have virtually none because their ancestors did not mate with Neanderthals.”

I could not help but think that what if those numbers were flipped and African populations were part Neanderthal and not whites and Asians? If this opposite were true, would it be worth reporting this scientific discovery knowing this could propel a racist narrative for those hungry to confirm their racist bias? What is the purpose of reporting such a finding at all if it means providing fodder for evil agendas, i.e. idiots?

Yet as one who concurrently likes to read and seek out such interesting information, I am squarely “in tension.”

I am keenly aware of the role confirmation bias plays in the human psyche -the path of least resistance is simply seeking out “confirming” information and stimulus that provides the backing for what we want to be true and discard the rest. Also, as one who attempts to critically think, the path of least resistance is never the preferred path.

The easiest thing to do in the case of Charles Murray is to discredit the man as a racist asshole and move forward…and maybe he is, yet maybe he is not. Maybe he is man that loves to study one’s intellect and its role in culture, and, for whatever reason, race is studied as part of that larger equation.

I could not tell you.

Perhaps honest scientific inquiry can simultaneously move society backward and forward at the same time. I have far more questions than answers: Is the “truth” always worth seeking out? If scientific inquiry divides people, is there a good point to it? Why study anything by race…why not just study the human race? What are the ethical considerations science must adopt when conducting such research? Or should scientists just do science and allow the social chips to fall how and where they may?

I’ll write another blog when I figure these out and let you know. In the meantime, I have a feeling many more worlds will be colliding in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

Russia, Fire Balloons, Divide And Conquer: Can You Say Gullible?

Boy are we stupid. Pardon my French…but we are just so fucking stupid.

This month Congress released over 3500 Facebook stories generated by Russian agencies for American consumption directed toward very targeted communities.

All the ads were paid for in rubles.

What was the purpose of Russia attempting to throw out fake and/or redacted stories and ads before and after the election of 2016? Certainly it was to promote one candidate or the other, right?

Wrong.

How do I know this to be wrong? Two reasons: The great bulk of the fake stories concerned very divisive issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, and, yes, racially charged stories such as Black Lives Matter. Sure there was some disconcerting fake stories about Bill and Hillary Clinton, though the vast majority did not concern political candidates whatsoever. Secondly, the Russians continued the practice after the election was over. In fact, they actually stepped up their game once Trump was elected.

Now, why would Russia have a vested interest in promoting American infighting and discord, in which we all so happily followed along like stupid ass lemmings marching in lockstep?

I recently heard one explanation and that is we need look no further than Japan’s use of  in World War II.

The project — named Fugo — “called for sending bomb-carrying balloons from Japan to set fire to the vast forests of America, in particular those of the Pacific Northwest. It was hoped that the fires would create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt the U.S. war effort,” James M. Powles describes in a 2003 issue of the journal World War II. The balloons, or “envelopes,” designed by the Japanese army were made of lightweight paper fashioned from the bark of trees, which would arrive in America via natural wind gulf streams. Thank goodness it never succeeded.

In other words, though the fires would not directly help Japan’s war efforts, the time and energy it would take to deal with these massive fires would provide an indirect benefit in Japan’s war tactics, as the great distraction would direct our American attention away from the war.

Sound familiar? Create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt? In 2016 Russia successfully pulled off what Japan failed to do in the 1940’s; only this time the fires were not of a physical nature but a social and psychological one.

As these stories blazed through Facebook like wildfire, they successfully segmented us, angered us, divided us, while brilliantly following the Phillip II of Macedon’s war edict to divide and conquer. How better to weaken a country than to have it’s own citizens turn on each other? If we do not get our shit together, the conquer part cannot be too far off.

In my last blog concerning “Cultural Appropriation,” I noted that this term did not exist prior to 2012. It was as if we were worried that are not enough things in 2012 to be pissed off about so we created a new category for people to get their panties in a bunch.

I would not be surprised if Russians inspired this new phenomenon as well.

Our enemies want us to look at life through our identity first and foremost -be that black, white, male, female, gay, trans, Hispanic, Hungarian, you name it. As we our so busy protecting our tribe and warding off those who threaten it, we weaken the collective and, in turn, the country and, in yet another turn, the planet.

I am not suggesting that we should never take up social causes, because we most definitely should. Yet can we not take up social causes in an inclusive manner? Must we draw a plethora of demographical qualifications to be part of any given movement?

How about this new movement: The “stop believing everything we read and getting pissed off about things we should really not be getting pissed off about and come together as one people” movement? Can we give this one a shot?

Some might reason that this is Facebook issue and I understand why one may believe this, yet I respectfully disagree. Facebook just happens to be the chosen platform for the spewing of such propaganda; yet if not Facebook, it would simply be another social media. The problem is not Facebook, it is us and our damned gullibility and lack of critical discernment.

I conclude with a real problem and this would concern the lovely people of Hawaii, who have this little problem called an exploding volcano. As I watch the lava explode and flow while consuming roads, cars and houses, I think to myself, “Now there is a real problem.”

Perhaps the volcano goddess of fire, Pele, is sending us messages to remind us what real problems look like.

And when we read that next “news” story that angers and ultimately divides us, perhaps we can think again.

Thank you Pele.

 

 

Cultural Appropriation, Tribalism, and Unity

I really like to find out how, when and where social issues and trends come into being. So, I ask, how, when and where did the idea of “cultural appropriation” spring forth into the social narrative in just the last few years? Were cultures just way cooler in regards to sharing their stuff way back when in 2011?  Or did subjected cultures just keep their resentment to themselves when different cultural trends were adopted? I suspect a gringo or two wore a sombrero to a Halloween party pre 2012.

According to Google Trends, “cultural appropriation” was nearly unheard of until 2012, as the internet was modernizing and Twitter was becoming more popular.

I am fascinated by the invention of the various social issues du jour. Be it the “White Flight” of the 70’s or the more contemporary uproar over Standing Rock, many of these issues seem to disappear as fast as they enter. Or, at the very least, the dissipation of outrage wanes rather quickly.

So a new politically correct law enforcement unit has been formed, as if the word police enforcers were not enough.

So what is this cultural appropriation trend?

Appropriation is, essentially, taking something from someone for your own personal use. I could appropriate your bank account, take $1000 and use it for my own pleasure. Cultural appropriation is taking something from another culture and doing with it whatever we please.

Before diving into my feelings on the subject, I believe expressing what drives my general fundamental values on this subject is in order. I realize my perspective is coming from a very individualistic, low power distance and low context perspective and I certainly recognize my own biases in this regard.

But that’s ok. We are all products of our varying cultural dimension.

Some time ago, Rene’ and I were having dinner with some friends who happened to be Jewish. We recently attended their daughter’s bat mitzvah so discussing issues of a Judaic/ethnic/religious matter was on the table and “appropriate.” I asked our friends if they would be ok if their daughter eventually married outside the Jewish community.

“No,” he said firmly, “that would definitely not be ok.”

Kind of made me want to crawl under a big, fat, gentile rock.

I mean I get it and understand it. I really do. I once thought that way as well in terms of being, “unequally yoked.”

However, we have no control over our unchecked initial guttural reactions to something and, in this case, it was a feeling of sadness. What if their daughter fell deeply in love with a gentile? What would happen to their relationship? Is that fair to put that kind of pressure on one’s child? I believe love should be between two people who share mutual feelings for each other regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, politics, etc. and it is only their business and that of no one else…even parents (that’s the individualism in me, I know).

However, what struck me at the deepest level was a more general and overriding value –my disdain for unnecessary societal divisions and further segmentation.

I understand that basic tribalism is a fundamental feature of the human race. We like and need “tribes.” Whether that tribe is a religious community, a family, ethnicity, hell -even as my students would say, a “rave squad”- we like to segment into our preferred groupings. In the above case it would be the tribe of Judah.

As much as I see the necessity of this grouping process for basic human survival, it rubs against my personal grain of social unity and coming together when it is practiced to, what I believe to be, the extreme.

Simply, I like to see society and cultures come together and not further divide based on, well, whatever you want to base it on –race, religion, sexual orientation, customs, traditions, class, etc.

So when I read and hear of people getting upset that another culture is hijacking one of their cultural customs, be it food or fashion, the same unity trigger goes off in my head. Cannot we all be nice and share in the goodness of each other’s culture? Last time I checked there are no cultural trademarks or proprietary laws. I do believe the exception would be in cases where a culture holds something to be sacred and it is appropriated in such a way that does not afford that something the respect it deserves. I totally get that part.

Anna Chen writes, “When cultures meet and mingle, they inform and enrich each other. I can wear tartan, wear pyjamas, knock up a curry, curl my hair, cry along to the blues and dance to funk. I know the difference between a schmuck and a schlemiel. I’ve sat shiva for a friend’s father. I love gefilte fish. Does this make me a cultural appropriator?”

Good question. It’s 2018, who knows?

It is ironic that something with such good intentions as a desire for cultural unity can be perceived as something disrespectful or insensitive.

I love hip hop and rap. Yikes.

When in Croatia I purchased the Croatian national futbol team jersey. Whoops.

Hell, I even own a pair of bright orange FUBU shorts. Why? I ask myself the same question.

I really solicit feedback on this issue. Please help me see what I am missing. Again, I understand those things a culture holds sacred and dear should be afforded a high level of respect. I would hope a Muslim would not use the Bible as toilet paper in the same way I would never use the Koran as such. Conversely, I want to respect a book or custom a culture holds dear whether I subscribe to it or not.

Please. I want to share my Hungarian Kapoosta with you all. I want you to enjoy my Hungarian national treasures: Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor. Goodness, I’ll even throw in Olympic Volleyball player Karch Kiraly.

This whole issue kind of makes me wonder what we will be outraged by 5 years from now. I am sure we will think of something.

Humans seem to never fail or disappoint in this regard.

Age Matters

As people age, I hear many recite the old adage, “Age is just a number.”

Is age just a number? Are you sure?

Our society is FILLED with age restrictions and functions that are centered on age. From the time we start kindergarten at 5, go to certain movies at age 13 (PG 13) or 17 (NC 17), obtain our driver’s license at 16, vote at 18, drink at 21, run for president at 35, retire at 65, and the list could go on and on, I would argue that culture does not treat age as just a number, rather a critically important demarcation of what we should be doing, or have permission to do, in life at any given time.

It is with this understanding that I approach the issue of the youth generated movement, “National School Walkout,” which was inspired by the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, as a protest of contemporary gun laws in the United States. Many high school students took to both the streets and microphones to communicate their support of more gun control laws in the country.

I must confess to being in tension.

On the one hand, it is so awesome to see student engagement and learning from an early age that a democracy has to have active voices and engagement to work optimally –this aspect of the movement is exciting and shows promise. However, on the other hand, since we are an “age-centric” culture, at what age is one mature, educated, and experienced enough to have earned a voice in the public square? There are reasons we have age restrictions and permissions on nearly everything, whether you agree with the precise age or not.

So when I hear gun guy and rocker Ted Nugent say the Florida students calling for gun control have “no soul” and are “mushy brained children,” I am not altogether dismissive of it in the sense, well, they are, by definition, children. And I have never known Mr. Nugent to be a fan of anything remotely politically correct.

Nugent, a longtime member of the NRA’s board of directors, said survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are wrong to blame the NRA and its members for mass shootings.

“These poor children, I’m afraid to say, it hurts me to say, but the evidence is irrefutable: They have no soul,” Nugent said. He added that the gun control measures the students support amount to “spiritual suicide” and “will cause more death and mayhem.”

It is not surprising the Parkland, Florida students demanded an apology from Nugent.

Good luck with that kiddos. You have a better chance of catching cat scratch fever (google it).

Now, please make no mistake: This blog is NOT about gun control or protest or school shootings or even the crazy motor city madman Ted Nugent. I have no opinions on any of these things at present. What I do find intriguing and opinion worthy is the issue of age appropriateness and its role in society.

I have taken notice that on social media that many are very critical of those, like crazy Ted, who are, in turn, critical of these kids. This criticism is often accompanied by a very positive evaluation of these teens speaking out for an important cause.

One of my social media friends and former student, Adam, now having earned his Phd from Michigan State and in whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote: “If you are one of these adults mocking children who are simply speaking their truth and experience you should be ashamed of yourselves. You may not agree with their opinions but you have not walked in their shoes and they deserve to have their voices heard. They don’t deserve petty attacks from adults. These are victims of a horrific crime not your enemies.”

I totally get that…and I do not believe any public discourse should include as part of its strategy, mocking. Yet the key word in this post is “children.” So I agree with Adam’s general sentiment, yet when children take it upon themselves to enter the very adult arena of the NRA, you are now playing in the adult big leagues –and it likely will not be pretty.

As I age, and I just turned 55 last month, I am confounded by the social admonition to “act your age.” What does that mean exactly? If one wants to posit that older folk such as myself should not engage in certain behaviors or activities because it would be inappropriate for a 55 year-old, should not the reverse be true as well? I mean, there is a reason we want our president to be at least 35 years old.

Neuroscientists now tell us our brains prefrontal cortex is not fully functioning until around the age of 25, and I prefer we enact social policy that reflects science. So is it too much to ask that our doctors, lawyers, educators, law enforcement and others, have, at the very least, a fully developed brain?

So, ironically and perhaps paradoxically, I want to develop the voice and passion of our young people while teaching the power of civic engagement, YET, I would prefer our children not have a say in creating social policy.

There will be a day when the children graduate from the kids table and earn a spot at the adult one.

Until then, let’s teach our children well.

Age is not just a number. Age matters.

 

 

RIP Michelle. On And On The Village Goes.

“On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on
On and on”

Life is in constant forward motion that has no room, nor patience, for stragglers. We keep moving. And sometimes I just want to stop and turn back. Singer John Mayer reflected this sentiment when he wrote, “Stop this train. I want to get off and go home again. I can’t take the speed it’s moving in.”

I wish.

I just spent nearly my entire Sunday at a memorial service in honor of my daughter Rosie’s best friend growing up, Michelle, or, as she refers to her, Michu.

She passed away of breast cancer on March 29 at the age of 27.

Wow. Life is just not supposed to happen that way. I guess.

Yet “on and on” we go.

So when I looked across our table at another friend of Rosie’s growing up, Kelsey, I was reminded of life’s seemingly careless twists and ferocious unpredictability.

Kelsey was a beautiful and gregarious child. When she was in the seventh grade, she caught a virus that was diagnosed to be healed in just a few short weeks. In the meantime, this nasty virus caused the bottom half of her body to go paralyzed and she became wheelchair bound.

The virus never healed and now, 15 years later, this beautiful young woman experiences life from a chair.

“On and on. Toss up my heart to see where it lands.”

I watched Michelle’s dad, Dan, shriek guttural screams and primal cries as the slow drip of the reality of death became ever more present with each passing story, photograph and memory. I connected with his fatherly energy, feeling and empathizing with this deepest of internal agony. I. Cannot. Possibly. Imagine.

I think a brutal ripping out of our guts would not be nearly as painful as burying a child.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”

My daughter posted on Facebook, “[The Rabbi said], ’Don’t try and search for meaning in any of this, there isn’t any.’ I think those were some of the most comforting words I’ve heard the last few days. This is all so unfair and unjust, and I know it’s only going to get harder, but I will continue to celebrate you every day.”

Rosie, who has now lost a grandma and best friend within a six month period, is forced to reckon and deal with seemingly endless pain. Forced to learn at age 28 how do deal with the sting of loss, whether she wants to or not. Life can be that way. Learn or go home.

“On and on
She just keeps on trying
And she smiles when she feels like crying”

I watched all the moms and dads, our faces having aged and wrinkled since when we were youthful, hopeful and eager parents of elementary schoolers; hopeful for the exciting promise of what the future may hold for our precious little ones, now our faces bearing the toll of the years and the knowledge of what that future really held.

Our collective countenance suggested a sharing in the pain of Dan and his wife Ellen. In a sense we all lost a child that day. Our village was in mourning. Our faces etched with another wrinkle of experience, wrinkles lined with unwanted loss and grief.

“So he takes a ladder, steals the stars from the sky, puts on Sinatra and starts to cry”

I heard the outspoken basketball analyst Charles Barkley once say that when it comes to doing battle with Father Time, we humans will always be on the losing end as that is a battle that can never be won.

Yet “on and on” it is, in an inevitable forced march with no turning back. No stopping allowed. Not for a second. Do not pass go. This train stops for no one or no thing.

So what do we have? I do know we have each other. We have this moment and we have a life full of memories.

I do know that I will continue to live the hell out of life.

Yes. That I do know. I may not beat Father Time though he is gonna be so sick of me by the time it is all said and done he may wish he had lost.

So my precious village, I love you…this I know. Goodbye Michelle.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”

Hey Boomers and Gen Xers…STFU

As a fifty-something mid-lifer and a very late Baby Boomer and very early Generation Xer, I frequently find myself in the company of those within ten or so years of my age. It amazes me how many in this age bracket believe I am predominantly like-minded and share many of the same philosophies and ideas they do. They feel free to share their thoughts as if our matching ages will somehow automatically synchronize our opinions.

Wrong.

Perhaps the most prominent area of my opinion departure from many of my contemporaries concerns the judgment of the younger generation, namely the “dreaded” Millennials.

There are so many negative judgments freely and casually dispersed upon the Millennials I cannot keep track. According to many of us old farts, the Millennials are -entitled, lazy, selfish, assholes, narcissistic, rude, obtuse, fill-in-the-blank, etc… so much so it is to the extent they are oblivious to the necessary cultural skill set to be effective in contemporary society.

Please. To borrow texting shorthand from my beloved Millennials, STFU old people.

Many of my contemporaries fail to realize it is THEY who have changed, not the 20-something generation.

Standpoint theory suggests that we are constantly viewing life from where we stand and that stance is in constant flux as we age, travel, learn, and well, just live and love. It would seem from listening to the old farts that the first thing to go as we age is memory.

Hey boomers and gen Xers, remember what it was like to be 20? Remember having no direction or idea where you were headed? Remember thinking the world revolved around you? Remember all the dumbass stuff you did that you would love to take back? Remember what it was like to occasionally feel alone and isolated? Remember what it was like to search for identity?

If you want to look at our Millennials and have any critique whatsoever, that critique must be about US and the world WE created for this young generation. Perhaps they are entitled because we handed out participation trophies and heaped praise where none was earned. In our quest to build self-esteem in our children we built false delusions of hope where there was none.

So, old farts, every time you open your mouth and criticize the kids today, you are criticizing yourself. We are the ones that raised this generation so, I suppose you can say, we, as a village, were bad parents.

Yet, alas, I do not believe the Millennials are entitled, lazy, selfish, assholes, narcissistic, rude, obtuse, fill-in-the-blank, etc… at least not any more than we were at that age.

I love Millennials. I love nearly everything about them. Sure they look at their phones a lot, though frankly, not much more on any given day than I, and probably you, do. A good friend of mine, Paul, a high school teacher in Reno, recently stated they had a faculty meeting specifically to address the concern of students and their cellphone use in class. He told me the meeting was a miserable failure as most of the faculty was continually staring down at their phone and not paying attention.

Hypocrites.

I love to bask in the energy of youth and entertain their curiousness and lust for life. I love speaking with my students who may share a “brand new” revelatory idea with zeal and enthusiasm, yet I do not have the heart to tell them this idea was around when I was in school. And why should I tell them? I want them to discover life on their terms, not to mention how many times I have fallen victim to the same thing….remember temporalcentrism?

But wait Millennials, you don’t get off so easy. This next paragraph is for you.

tbh u all can be just as guilty af of old fart disease, or in your case aka yung fart disease, smh. some of u like to complain about todays children being rude or sittin on their tablets during family dinnr. well, tablets r nuthin new as we had em in the 70s. we also would stare at r private screens at the kitchen table during dinnr. they were called etch-a-sketches. so dont be a old fart at a yung age, rofl

(Please notice I never defended the texting-caused bastardization of the English language of Millennials…but I digress).

Imagine if it was socially acceptable to marginalize entire groups of people based solely on a demographic. Oh, wait, we have. Over the years the powerful have marginalized blacks, Jews, gays, and the list goes on -we call them racists, homophobes and anti-semites. Why is it now ok to marginalize one group based entirely on age? In a weird way, it somewhat like reverse age-ism.

So, please, old farts, just in the same way my white friends will not secretly whisper to me the problem with “the blacks” simply because we share our whiteness, please do not bore me and reveal your ignorance with your stereotyped opinions of the youth today….just cause I am around your age.  This criticism says far more about you and your ignorance than the youth and their “entitlements.”

Ily Millennials. And I suppose it would be good advice for ALL OF US, to take a break from our phones every now and then.

And STFU old farts. And be the AITR.