He Said, She Said

“He who only knows his side of the argument, knows very little of that.”

This paraphrased quote, borrowed from utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, speaks to the idea of the importance of counter arguments. It is impossible to render a verdict until both sides of the argument have been provided and explained, no matter how strongly one may feel about an issue. Many of my students have changed their minds over an important matter after they were forced to argue the opposite side of their (seemingly) preferred position.

I would contend the same holds true in our interpersonal relationships. That is to say that when a friend is having trouble in a relationship and are explaining this relational strife to you, I would extend this idea that he who only hears one side of the story, does not know the story at all, or, at the very least, very little of it.

So when someone recently was explaining to me the plight of their friend who was “screwed over” by their now ex-husband, my first reaction was as to whether or not they had heard the ex’s side of the story. Exasperated that I did not immediately just buy into the “victimhood” and plight of her friend, we just decided to drop the conversation. What she wanted to hear was, “That no good, dirty bastard!” Of course he may be, yet I have lived long enough to know a scorned human being is rarely an objective one, perceptions jaded by the scabs of deep wounds.

This is not to suggest I believe such people to be lying, rather they are experiencing the situation through hurt and prejudiced senses, lacking the ability to perceive their own personal responsibility, if there is indeed some to be found, and, in my experience, there usually is some.

This is not a gender issue. I have heard a myriad of men speak to the misery unleashed by their former significant female other and I refuse to believe such a demonization until I have heard what their now-nemesis and former lover has to say; after all, men and women typically have different antennas. However this is only if I am requested to render a conclusion at all. Often times I just sit silent and think to myself what the other he or she would have to say…most frequently no response neither requested nor necessary.

Same for the “he said, he said” and “she said, she said” crowds. Hell, even for the “they said, they said” relationships.

All of us human beings just love to fill-in-the-blanks of unknown, missing and incomplete information.

Or…

Perhaps in our quest to empathize with those we love we forsake THE truth for the sake of HER or HIS truth?

Could it be both sympathy and/or empathy are superior to truth seeking?

Ah, my place, tensionland.

Rene’, my partner for over 40 years, and I have always said that if one of us declared in a court of law the 4 or 5 worst things we have ever done or said to each other in these past 4 decades, we would both be able to paint a pretty awful picture of each other…without uttering one single lie and no trace of perjury to be found.  40 plus years is a hell of a long time to be picture perfect for your partner. To catch someone and declare them guilty in their few worst moments, when thousands of best moments abound, is both inaccurate and unfair. And if you know what I think of my partner, that is fairly eye opening.

I must admit to being skeptical towards one who feels the need to express their ill will towards a former lover at all in the first place. Why? Are they seeking said empathy? Or trying to abdicate their personal responsibility and personal poor behavior over their role in the dissolution of the relationship? By painting a horrible and terrible picture of a former partner are they attempting to justify their own poor choices?

I would contend it is frequently the latter, and perhaps, at times, the former. Maybe both.

Does empathy outweigh truth-seeking?  One could argue THE truth will likely never be known in any case, so why not love on and console a hurt loved one? Or does truth-seeking keep both parties responsible for their role in the failed relationship, hence coming to terms with their own reality and culpability? This may provide a good opportunity to look in the relationship mirror at our own shortcomings.

Of course, the answer to these questions is purely on a case-to-case basis, while one “empathy vs. truth seeking” size does not fit all.

In any case, before we go ahead and demonize anyone, we may want to hear the other side of the story, as he who only knows one side, knows very little of that.

 

 

 

 

Legacy

I think every family has that “weird” uncle, right? I am quite certain, that in my family of origin, I am that weird uncle to certain nieces and nephews. In fact, I know I am.

However, if you believe this moniker of “weird” is somehow unflattering or disrespectful, you have no idea about my thoughts on “weird.” If interested, you could read about those thoughts here.

In short, I really like people who are different. How boring this planet would be if we did not have eccentric, strange people inhabiting it.

Enter my Uncle Les. My 87 year-old uncle recently passed away from lung cancer. As the one who presided over the funeral while delivering the eulogy, I had a chance to sit back and really reflect on my strange uncle. Though was he really that strange? You be the judge.

Uncle Les never married. He rarely dated, at least to my knowledge, and I was around for 56 of his 87 years. He never had children, or if he did he performed a stealth-like job keeping it a secret. He lived alone with his two pooches in a modest house in the hills of Burbank.

While recently cleaning out some of his belongings in his home, a neighbor came over and informed us he was very territorial and, allegedly, threatened gun play when someone dared park in front of his house or trespass on his property. I do not think he was a violent guy, you know, he just, like, didn’t appreciate unwanted trespassers I guess.

I have plenty of Uncle Les stories, like the time when I was a kid and my family was driving home one night and we watched as police officers were giving a man a field sobriety test…lo and behold it was my uncle.

But that was a long time ago. Uncle Les stopped boozing sometime in the mid 80’s.

Yet perhaps the strangest thing about him was his relationship with money. In our Hungarian family he was known as an “ocho sheggi,” (please do not hold me accountable for the spelling of this phrase) which is Hungarian for “cheap ass.”

To illustrate, often times for Thanksgiving he would eat at the local Salvation Army to save a few bucks. He was generous enough to will me his car upon his passing, and though Uncle Les had plenty of money in the bank, several properties, and a home worth damn near a million bucks, he left me a 2011 Toyota Yaris with crank windows.

I had no idea they still manufactured cars with crank windows in 2011.

You could say he was a “no frills” kind of guy. He actually enjoyed being extremely cheap, saving every penny he could whenever he could. He would brag about how little he paid for things…if he even paid for it at all and was not picking it out of a local dumpster.

But dammit, I loved the guy…a lot. I really did, particularly as he aged. His relationship with money was endearing in a strange kind of way. We would often take him out to lunch or dinner and I would pick up the tab. As I swooped up the $32.49 check to pay, he had a look in his eye like I just bought him a new Tessla Roadster or 14 carat diamond watch.

And, to be fair, he would treat on occasion as well…even if it was the greasy spoon called Harry’s Family Restaurant in beautiful downtown Burbank, where the omelettes are 4.99 though the cockroaches come for free.

But this is not why I write today. I write because Uncle Les is remnant of a bygone era whose values are sadly dying with it. Born circa 1930, a depression era baby, Uncle Les and his ilk did not run out and by new socks when one wore a hole through one – you stitched it back up and off you went.

You valued hefty savings accounts not expensive cars; a “rainy day” fund over fancy clothes. Uncle Les had enough money to do whatever he wanted to do: buy a bigger house, a nicer car, a vacation property or two, but, no. He had developed a lifestyle that he was content with and lived life on his own “ocho sheggi” terms.

So now I, along with my siblings and cousins, am left with what Uncle Les refused to spend and I feel really weird about it. Really weird.

Perhaps my biggest take away is the old adage, that money cannot buy you happiness. Or that a man worked his entire life and saved damn near every penny for the sole purpose of leaving it for the next generation – a next generation that did not include any children of his own.

Uncle Les lived in an age where character mattered and the legacy a person leaves actually meant something.

As we buried Uncle Les we did not bury his legacy nor our gratitude for his profound generosity. As we lowered him down his legacy rose like a phoenix out of the ashes along with our love and appreciation.

I now realize Uncle Les is in many ways a role model for all of us and I am now challenged like never before to consider what legacy I can leave the next generation when my number comes up.

I guess sometimes (Uncle) Les(s) is more…than you could have ever imagined. Thank you. Your legacy lives on.

Walking On Eggshells

Recently, I was in New York City attending a conference concerning the preservation of open inquiry, constructive disagreement and viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses through an organization called Heterodox Academy (HxA).

In terms of rhetoric, we are in the age of walking on eggshells, i.e. a constant worry and concern about saying the wrong thing at the wrong time regardless of intention, however honorable that intention may be. HxA is therefore a welcomed and much needed reprieve for those who like to critically examine issues and are concerned with the free expression of both actual ideas while not assuming ill intention behind opposing ones.

It would seem, from my experience, that HxA exists in part to preserve the right to risk cracking some fragile eggs.

If one is into constructive disagreement, this conference is the mecca of all meccas. If you are not, then names like hard-hitting-shell-crackers Jonathon Haidt (“The Coddling of the American Mind”), Bret Weinstein (former Evergreen State biology professor famously forced to resign for not joining a campus activity), Lenore Skenazy (“Free Range Parenting” and famously noteworthy for allowing her then 9-year-old son to ride the subway to work), and Nick Gillespie (Editor-at-large, “Reason” magazine who Robert Draper in The New York Times Magazine writes, “Nick Gillespie is to libertarianism what Lou Reed is to rock ‘n’ roll, the quintessence of its outlaw spirit.”), among others, will mean nothing to you…much like if you were to read me a list of superstar European soccer players. (Forgive me, I am writing this from London so the futbol analogy at this moment –during the women’s world cup- seems apropos).

As for me? Just a little slice of heaven as I am not just listening to these people, I am having lunch and conversing with them, in some cases, over adult beverages. I am learning that really smart egg crackers can be super friendly egg crackers.

And speaking of smart…I like smart. I love experts in their field. In fact, I like people who are a whole lot more informed than I. As a professor, I am in the continual practice of teaching and lecture, while attempting to reach students at their level. So, to be perfectly understood–and simultaneously stretch to understand in conversation–is very appealing and a position I do not frequently encounter.

It is not only the conference attendees’ intelligence that is so extremely appealing, it is the notion that we are on the same page, a page that attempts to understand and improve our cultural dialogue and examine how to become both more engaged in civil argument. All the while, with a commitment not to finding what is “right,” rather, discussing why something may be right, or wrong, or neither, or both, today, yet may not be so tomorrow

However, to journal about my experience at this conference is not the foundation for this blog entry. Rather, it is to contrast this experience with its interplay on the culture at large.

Let’s get cracking.

When I joined this organization and subsequently attended the conference, I had a notion that such a place may be an unintended enclave of somewhat frustrated conservatives; frustrated due to both the growing presence of the hyper ever-increasing forced censorship of the progressive far left as well as the perceived intellectual shortcomings of the current powerful far right. Surely there must be room for reasonable people with a somewhat conservative leaning to find solace? Enter Heterodox Academy.

In conversations with some at the conference, I found that an impetus to many of the sentiments expressed were in direct opposing response to contemporary progressive ideas such as virtue signaling, call out culture, and “microaggressions.” I am not suggesting that HxA takes an official position on any of these matters, in fact I believe they must not since some of these notions were spoken of in a positive light by panelists. HxA clearly states that they are a non-partisan collaborative.

What I am suggesting is that in spite of what any official position may be, HxA attracts a right leaning audience, disgusted with what they perceive to be a progressive left that is spiraling out of control, leading culture into an anesthetized state of silence for fear of offending…anyone at any time over nearly anything.  

I sense that a good amount of these members may have voted for Trump, if they voted at all (in conversation, I found many that sat out the 2016 election) not for his snarky style, his bombastic personality, his hurtful rhetoric, or seemingly lack of thoughtfulness; rather they voted philosophically conservative for fear that the left has gotten so out of control they pose a far greater threat to our country’s welfare than a one-man-crazy-show could possibly pose.

Of course, I realize I am projecting my personal perceptions in attempting to make sense of a newfound organization and its direction, yet I had no trouble finding simpatico voices in my frustration of the growing amount of self-censorship I must apply in the contemporary college classroom due to a growing eggshell-like sensitivity: a sensitivity I have not experienced in my thirty plus years of teaching, until now.

Perhaps I am guilty of prioritizing the values of free expression and free speech over many others in the world of important ethical principles. Though in a world where a plethora of needed humanitarian values are needed to thrive, such as justice, fairness, and authority just to name a few, we all must decide for ourselves which take priority in the moral execution of our lives.Still I find Jimmy in tension. Nearly all cultural evolution has been met with resistance from the “back in our day” crowd. If things are indeed evolving into a heightened sense of profound accommodation for all, I want to be a part of it. However, from where I sit, it seems things have just simply gone too far, beyond the point of reason. Yet, have not nearly all trends seemed unreasonable when first practiced? My 85-year-old father still refuses to wear his seat belt stating, “I’ll be damned if the government tells me how I should drive!”

That said, my partner Rene’ writes for a local publication. As she was writing about the notion of celebrating the fourth of July, she sadly lamented to me that she had to stop writing as she was afraid that a couple of her favorable opinions about the US would be met with resistance from not only her clientele, but her own friends.

Is this really what we want?

I truly want to understand and embrace sensibilities when justified and warranted. I really, really do. Yet until I hear reasonable arguments, that I hope to hear from organizations like the Heterodox Academy, I must embrace a line of logic that does not threaten a free expressing democracy.

We are in the season of hypersensitivity and walking on eggshells. Ironically, all eggshells are designed to eventually be cracked, either to give birth to new life or sustain existing life.  An eggshell not cracked is, well, a completely worthless egg.

Perhaps such conferences will inspire the cultural dialogue to focus not on the cracking of the eggshell, rather the new life that emerges once the breaking of it is complete. Good ideas are typically the result of the trial and error of some bad ones in order to evolve to better cultural practices. We must preserve the right for a diverse marketplace of ideas, as the evolution of our humanity depends on it.

And some eggs may be cracked along the way. We have no choice.

 

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.