Zoom…Bombing

As we all hunker down in the unique manner each one of us hunker down, there is one hunker down phenomena that has, and is currently, sweeping the globe, the virtual meeting site called Zoom.

Zoom allows face-to-face meetings to take place over the web. One can opt out of being seen or heard if one so desires, unless of course you are in my public speaking course, in which case we must see and hear the person. I have been in meetings with a handful of people as well as meetings with well over a hundred participants.

Speaking of which, I am very fortunate and grateful to have a profession where I am able to work remotely, or at a distance. While meeting face-to-face is always my preferred mode of class delivery, it is not absolutely necessary.

I am Jimmy. “Hi Jimmy!” And I am currently a Zoom addict.

So yesterday, when I heard of a new phenomenon called “Zoombombing,” I was reminded that there never will be a shortage of dumbasses in the world. Zoombombing is a term for online hackers who break into meetings and perform any number of dumbass activities, such as draw scribble, put up pornographic pictures, hurl racial slurs, you know, the stuff of dumbasses. Lest we think this is a rare and obscure activity, it is not. Not only have I been hacked, a number of my colleagues have been hacked as well.

My hack was rather benign as someone mysteriously came on and started drawing arrows and such. However, a colleague of Middle Eastern descent was hacked and was bombarded with racial hate speech.

At first when I heard of this dumbass activity, I was both angry and mystified. As I thought more about it, I tried to look at this a bit more rationally. Who would do this? Why would they do it? I am a big believer that to find answers you must first and foremost follow the incentive trail, typically, the money.

Now, the hackers do have the ability to record the meeting and, if potentially highly sensitive information is exchanged, can potentially be exposed to information that could lead to some type of profiteering, I guess. Though I do not know anyone who goes into these meetings to share personal banking information. I guess if they hack one’s personal therapy session a potential blackmail could be on the table? Maybe. Though this still sounds more Black Mirror than reality.

Then it hit me. Kids. It has to be kids. Who has a desire to be a little dumbass dick and there is nothing in it financially, or otherwise, for them? Kids. And perhaps some developmentally stifled adults who have the brains of a 13-year-old. I was 13 once. And I thought this way. Not that I ever really did anything about it, yet I remember having impish thoughts of how satisfying/fun/hilarious it would be to wreak havoc for, well, no good reason.

When one is 13, hormones and glandular wackiness aside, these emerging adults are going through the ringer. They not only have little control over their own lives, they desperately lack impulse control. And what does every 13-year-old lack that they deeply desire? Some type of power or control in an otherwise chaotic adolescent world. Certainly, there is no financial gain in it for them, yet there is an emotional gain and a weird, 13-year-old type of satisfaction.

So as the Zoom powers-that-be scramble to get their software ahead of the hackers, we can all be reminded that humanity really has not changed.

When I was 13 it was “ding dong ditch,” or a bag of dog poop lit on fire on someone’s porch, or a good “teepee-ing” of your neighbor’s house down the street or a slew of prank phone calls, the list goes on. Sure technology changes, though 13-year-olds do not.

I am not equating hurling racial slurs with lighting dog shit on fire. The former is far more disgusting and revolting than the latter. However, if we had the ability in 1975 for 13-year-olds to say whatever they wanted with the complete assurance of anonymity, these little dumbasses may have spent less time on stranger’s porches risking getting caught with dogshit and more time behind a screen saying dumbshit stuff.

So Zoom, I am not sure you can create enough safeguards to curtail dumbasses from being dumbasses.  At a time when dumbasses were born into a digital age when computer code is practically grafted into their DNA upon birth, it’s a losing battle.

That said, I’ll start using passwords just to be safe. And if I do get hacked, I hope it’s an entertaining dumbass.

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus: Threat Or Opportunity?

Just when I thought life could not get any stranger, it did. A mere week ago I had my trip to Cordoba, Argentina planned to witness the birth of my first grandchild. I worked tirelessly to get all my ducks in a row in order to be able to make such a trip during a very busy academic season. Long story short: Did not happen. However, my partner Rene’ was able to grab the very last flight that Argentina would allow into the country by pulling some strings and an American Airlines rabbit out of a hat.

But cross your fingers, as I write this she is still in the air…so who knows. (see the conclusion of this blog)

I dropped her off at a ghost town called LAX. Turns out I’m not the only one cancelling travel plans. As we exchanged our tearful goodbyes, it was amidst a vast sea of uncertainties, including not knowing when I will see her again…when everything hit me like a ton of bricks.

My guttural moans and weeping shrieks bubbled to the surface.

I broke down. Yes, I was guilty of uncontrollably weeping while driving.

I do not consider myself a very healthy emotional person. Unless healthy means hardly feeling anything when the shit goes down for months at a time, only to then let it all out in one giant weep fest.  A weep fest that sneaks up on you whenever it so chooses. Call it what you will, a weep fest or break down, in either case it is a barrage of feeling everything -at the same time.

Yes, a large reason I cried was because the love of my life was leaving for an uncertain period of time, but oh so much more.

The tears of grief, sadness and joy were fueled by:

  • My ailing and dying father.
  • Still grieving and missing my departed mother.
  • The selling of my childhood home.
  • The joy of the rekindling a relationship with my sisters after nearly twenty years of not speaking.
  • Sadness I will not get to hold my newborn grandson in my arms.
  • The joy of knowing I am going to be a grandfather.
  • Sadness I will not be there for my son and his wife in the most momentous event of their lives.
  • My new transition into my twilight years. Grandpa Jimmy.

Of course I cannot discount the Coronavirus social freak out that is happening globally at the moment. I know that was a huge part of the break down equation. But why?

This is now a new season of uncertainty for all of us. Just how bad is this public health crisis? No one knows. I do try to live by the creed that things are never as bad or good as they may seem at the moment. Therefore given this little proverb, things can only look up, cause things seem pretty damn bad.

For those who know me, they will be the first to tell you my thoughts on fear and the media. Fear is to media what gas is to my Honda or what a battery is to a Tesla. Therefore my initial inclination is this whole thing is fear on overdrive derived for profit by a soulless media.  And I still believe this, but only in part. The fear is real though they will take every opportunity to shove more fear down our throats, so long as it increases clicks and attracts eyeballs.

However, I have another fairly fundamental belief concerning the explanation as to why something may be happening: that of simply following the money. People do not turn their noses up to billions of dollars in untapped revenues. Rich individuals do not cancel events that costs them hundreds of millions of dollars for no good reason. And unless there is some mastermind conspiracy for global something or another, I have to believe the threat is very real and not even slightly conjured up. Sorry conspiracy theorists, can’t ride that train on this one.

I believe it is in all our best interests to see this health crisis as both an opportunity as well as a threat. Officials are instructing us to try to stay home as much as possible and, when in public, practice social distancing. This may be a perfect season to now start that novel you have always wanted to write, read that book you seem to never have time for, or watch some of those Netflix shows everyone’s been talking about for years. We can reconnect with loved ones or do those house projects we’ve been putting off. I plan on hiking up our property tomorrow and clearing out space to plant some new fruit trees. I can finish blogs I have started and never got around to finishing them. Maybe now is the perfect time to put away the booze and get sober or start that diet you’ve been putting off. Being as healthy we can be right now is a great idea. Other ideas:

  • Learn a new musical instrument
  • Watch some youtube videos on learning a new skill, perhaps learn how to clean those musty headlights on your car
  • Start the practice of meditation
  • If a student, get ahead on your reading. If not, just read!
  • Take long walks in nature
  • Paint a picture
  • Clean your room
  • Do what I did today…practice social distancing at the beach…while reading the biography of Leonardo Da Vinci (do you know he designed weapons for war?)
  • And the list goes on….

As far as the coronavirus itself? If we live wisely and practice smart sanitary living, chances are we are good. If not, the damn virus is going to do what the damn virus wants to do. We cannot live our lives worried about the “what ifs” in life. If we get sick? Try to get better. Perhaps this is also a time for us to grow as a person, in that we can learn to live amidst higher degrees of uncertainty. It is good thing to be reminded that nature is bigger and stronger than the rest of us. Learn to respect and appreciate life just a little bit more. Enjoy a big slice of humble pie.

I realize this pandemic will cause financial hardships for many. Now is a good time to get financially creative as well as generous for those in need.

Yes, I broke down in the car, though recovered and still realize I live in the same reality. Same issues. However, perhaps this is a time when I can reflect and work through some of my issues and practice gratitude and thankfulness for this beautiful thing we call life.

This is an opportunity to sit back (alone), take a deep breath, and hit life’s reset button.

We can learn a little something from the children of Italy who are painting signs all over the country, stating “Everything Will Be Alright.”

And it will.

One way or another.

Addendum: The day after I wrote this blog, Argentina would not allow Rene’s plane to disembark. She is flying back to Los Angeles as I write these words. At least in terms of seeing the love of my life soon, everything IS alright.

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.

 

 

The Preferred President Reactionary Principle: Or How I Knew Trump Would Win The Election

I have held a political theory of rhetoric for many years and up until this point have never put it in print –as I was hoping before the last election my theory would be proven wrong.

It was not.

I believe human beings, at least the westernized version of which I am most familiar, are generally reactionary and not proactive creatures. Typically our actions are in response to something perceived as negative as opposed to being in anticipation of creating something positive. So, for example, human beings wait for a child to be kidnapped and murdered before they institute some new stricter legislation that may have curtailed this tragedy.

I find this reactionary principle at work when it comes to selecting the President of the United States, or the POTUS, as some of the kids are calling the office today. In my lifetime of political cognition, I have seen eight presidents come and go; yet if you count my political pre-cognition days, this number would be ten as I was about six months old when President Kennedy was shot.

Since Gerald Ford replaced the impeached Richard Nixon over the Watergate fiasco in 1974, I have found my Preferred President Reactionary Principle (PPRP) consistently at work over the last forty-three years. It seems the American public prefers a particular rhetorical style –and that style would be the most diametrically opposed to whoever the incumbent president to be at any given time.

Let us put PPRP to the test in my lifetime, shall we?

Gerald Ford replaced Richard Nixon in 1974 and ran for election in 1976. One might describe Ford’s rhetorical style as excessively boring, conventional and lacking wit or any hint of charisma. Remember WIN buttons? (Whip Inflation Now)…Ford is probably best known for this cheesy acronym. So who did the American public elect in reaction to the drab Ford that year? A somewhat charismatic -in a charming, innocent, “undrab” kind of way- unconventional outsider, a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia named Jimmy Carter. One would argue the exact rhetorical and political opposite of Ford.

Whereas Ford could put you to sleep within a few words of a sentence, Carter raised eyebrows with his southern drawl while at one time admitting to Playboy magazine that he has lusted after women in his heart.

TMI. PPRP.

Arguably Carter turned out to be one of the worst presidents in US history, yet that is not the point. We needed a good, down to earth Southern simpleton to save us from the big city corruption of insiders Nixon and the Ford who pardoned him of his crimes. However, voters did decide that southern charm was one thing though incompetent southern charm was quite another. After four years and a failed Iranian hostage crisis rescue later, we longed for some much needed eloquence and guidance as the whole southern boy thing wore out real fast: Welcome former actor and silver-tongued, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was the complete opposite of Carter in nearly every way –stylistically, politically and most important to PPRP, rhetorically. Eloquent and charismatic, Reagan was the wise grandpa we all wish we had in our lives and was deemed, “The Great Communicator” by some of his contemporaries. Love him or hate him politically, he was certainly an excellent statesman. Of course I will never forgive him for burying his head in the sand ostrich-style for many years during the AIDS crisis, yet one cannot deny the rhetorical dignity he brought to POTUS office, which waned a bit during a his last couple years in office when small hints of his Alzheimer’s became somewhat apparent.

After the Reagan years were completed, was it just coincidence that voters elected none other than the rhetorically challenged, quite uncharismatic, “naht gonna da it” George Bush Sr.? PPRP thinks not.

Are we beginning to see the pattern here? Bush Sr. was so rhetorically challenged that his incompetently uttered phrase, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” sealed his POTUS demise after only one term.

Now kids, can you tell me the rhetorical style of the next incoming president when applying the PPRP? Of course you can –someone charismatic, slick, eloquent and one who you might say was so smooth he could charm the dress off…well, he was charming indeed. Enter stage left, Bill Clinton, better known as Slick Willie by his adversaries.

This guy was good. He could sell snow balls to Eskimo’s (or is it “Inuit’s” now?) and any used clunker car on the lot. Of course his eloquence with the ladies was his biggest downfall and, as one of my students recently observed, he was the first president to be impeached over a blow job and a very poor blowie at that (Whoops…did that just hit your dress?).

Years later my very own daughter testified to his undeniable charm as she sat and listened to him speak at an engagement in Orange County, only to immediately come down after the address and hint at joining him to his next stop at UCLA. Apparently this suave man spits game to all and without prejudice.

So, what next? Enough with the charm already! We needed someone a bit more down-to-earth, rhetorically rough around the edges, while longing for the days of simplicity and southern comfort, so to speak: Enter George W. Bush.

During Bush’s first campaign in 2000, the consensus among many liberals was that he was an idiot, a barely literate simpleton in the vein of Chauncey Gardiner (look it up kids). Many of the greatest Bushisms date from those early days. “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?” Bush noted during a campaign stop in South Carolina, a couple of weeks before inviting a New Hampshire audience to imagine themselves in the shoes of a single mother “working hard to put food on your family.”

Perhaps my favorite is, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”

Nothing like pulling out The Who lyric card amidst a brain fart. Oh how we misunderestimated the level of Bush’s rhetorical incompetence.

Yet for all his rhetorical snafus, unlike previous southern boy Jimmy Carter, Bush did have a simple enduring charm about him. And as PPRP would predict, after eight years of super smooth (Bill Clinton), we needed another eight of super rough to get us back to even, and so we did.

So what next? How about the smoothest, most articulate, sweet sounding, beautiful music to the ears rhetoric of any POTUS in history? Yes, enter Barack Obama. I remember shortly after he was elected listening to him give a speech and thought to myself just how inept W was in comparison. If Clinton was considered the smoothest, Obama just set the bar that much higher as he was smooth with a conscience and could keep things where they belong, so to speak, at least to the best of our knowledge.

And, now, this is why I knew circa August, 2016 who our next president was going to be. My original PPRP was going with overweight ruffian and overall school yard bully Chris Christie up until that point he was officially “Trumped” by the single biggest rhetorical blithering bully in US history. PPRP informs us that the stronger the rhetorical trait, the more extreme we must go in the opposite direction as a corrective measure in response -and extreme we did. Perhaps the biggest problem with Obama was he was just that good that it warranted a follow up rhetorical style that was just that bad in equal measure.

If you are a Trump supporter this is welcome news. If not, the good news is PPRP boldly predicts a reactionary vote in 2020 and it will likely not be the bombastic divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump. However the one aspect of PPRP must take into account is the influential factor of incumbency. Since 1976 our only presidents who have only served one term were either in the rhetorically challenged (Bush Sr.) or politically inept (Carter) categories, which are both the case with our current POTUS, IMHO; therefore my theory predicts one term and our current president will be replaced with a Clinton/Obama-like mixture of charm and sweetness, in the same way Carter was replaced in one term by Reagan and Bush Sr. replaced in one term by Slick Willie.

The question is, who is it that will be the smooth and inclusive rhetorician that will attract our strong desire to vote against the volatile rhetorical temperament of the current POTUS?

I can’t tell you that though this I can tell you, I can’t wait.

And I hope now my theory once again proves right.

Why You Always Hatin? Confessions Of A Hip Hop Listener

On a lovely drive home from a dinner with my Uncle, my partner Rene’ and I enjoyed some conversation while being serenaded by my Sirius XM radio in the background. However, when one of my favorite Hip Hop songs came on, “Why You Always Hatin,” by YG, I just had to turn it up and send out a quick Snapchat (yes, I know I am not 14 but we shall get back to that issue in the conclusion).

These few brief moments did not go over too well with Rene’ who immediately launched into a diatribe concerning “real music,” as in, Hip Hop slash rap is not real music. I, for perhaps the first time in my entire life, became the defender of all things Hip Hop…not really knowing fully why.

Please understand the context of our conversation; Rene’ is a very well respected voice teacher who really knows not only the inner workings of the voice, but she knows music in general. If she were to offer her opinion upon, say, sports or cars or even a sports car, I would not really care too much for it and would only feign attention. However, she does know music—really knows music—to the point that her opinion matters greatly to me and I want to know, not only what she thinks, but why she thinks it.

And so the conversation ensued.

So let me summarize the basis of both our positions. Hip Hop, in her informed opinion, is essentially not “real” music for five reasons:

  1. It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity.
  2. It, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.”
  3. There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading.
  4. The loops are repetitious.
  5. It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women.

The basis of my counter argument essentially rested on the understanding that every generation in the last 100 plus years has uttered similar complaints about the music “the kids are listening to these days” since the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s.

Of course, this in and of itself does not counter her arguments, specifically. I suppose this really could be the generation in which the above observation is actually correct—yet I would counter this: Every generation has made this same claim. So let us take each reason and break it down.

It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity and it, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.” This really begs the question, what, then, is art and what makes one art form any more or less valid than another? Of course volumes could be, and have been, written on these questions alone, so, in order to expedite this process, I asked God (google) what is art?

“…it is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Would Hip Hop music fit this definition? Well, whether it is degenerate in nature or not, it does take a certain amount of creative skill and imagination (just deriving the word, “ho” from “whore” does take somewhat of a creative knowing of English lexicon, yes?) and it definitely is appreciated by millions while evoking an emotional response in some way, shape or form, even if the reaction is in the form of disgust. Therefore I like to apply the, “can I do it?” test. Like any art form that is unappreciated, quite often the “haters” believe it is very simple and easy to do. As in, “hey, I could easily do what Jackson Pollock does…he just splashes paint around.”

So what about an “artist” like Pollock who is known for simple splashes of paint on a canvas? I believe such an artist is analogous to the “Hip Hop as art” debate as his critics sound very much like Drake’s, or, hey, even YG.

Rob Woodard writes: One of the things I find most interesting about Pollock’s art is how it continues to be controversial. When his work is discussed many of the old complaints quickly surface – “It’s just the flinging of paint!” and “Hell, anyone could do that!” – while others will passionately defend Pollock with extravagant claims regarding his talent and value. This leads me to believe that Pollock’s detractors, be they of his time or ours, are largely wrong – for it’s hard to see people getting so worked up over an artist, more than 40 years after his death, unless there’s something in his work that truly matters.

Not sure anyone will be debating the merits of “Hotline Bling” in 40 years, but you get the point.

I would contend that such controversies concerning the nature of art will never cease and the “art” of Hip Hop music is no exception. I would argue that, regardless of one’s view on the matter, it is FAR more difficult to create than most would think -and that any good artist makes an artistic creation seem easy and effortless. The fact of the matter is that excellence—in any endeavor in life—is always the product of very hard work and dedication.

I believe to create a song, any song, that millions of people enjoy and pay money for—for whatever reason—is not at all easy and takes a particular skill set. Otherwise, as they say, everyone would be doing it.

There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading. The loops are repetitious. I cannot find any source that would suggest that something is art based on melodic composition, or lack thereof, and repetition. As I think about it, are not most of the great songs throughout history somewhat repetitious? I have never heard any songs, in any genre, more repetitious then say, Hey Jude or Let It Be, by the Beatles while they are considered one of the greatest bands in the history of music.

So, alas, we tackle her last, and I believe most valid, critique: It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women. I will not even attempt to defend certain Hip Hop slash rap lyrics…the key word being “certain,” not ALL. However, just like any art form—be it painting, film, sculpture…you name it—there are obscene versions of it. That said, I will concede that unlike these other art forms, obscenity is much more prevalent in the Hip Hop world.

I would go back to my, “can you believe what the kids are listening to these days?” argument. Cutting edge music and youth culture in general has always been about pushing boundaries. It just so happens that pushing boundaries in 2017 takes a whole different strategy than in 1997 (did Madonna really kiss Britney?); 77 (Fonzie could not wear leather on Happy Days); 57 (Elvis shook dem hips); or 27 (face it, flappers are hot). Simply, it takes more and more to be walking that fine line of really pushing the “socially acceptable” envelope.

So, in conclusion, I do listen to Hip Hop music and I do have a the aforementioned Snapchat…mostly for professional reasons while keeping up on the communication channels the younger generation engages with today. I do find it interesting that whether it concerns social media or music, the younger generation is the first to discover it while the older generations eventually do come around and appreciate these things as well. Just ask my kids when I was the oldest dude on Facebook circa 2006…now my parents are the primary generation using this “cutting edge” social media.

Hip Hop music is certainly not for everybody, yet neither is country, jazz, blues or classical. Perhaps one day we can live in world where Hip Hop lovers (say Fetty Wap) and, for example, musical theater lovers (Jason Robert Brown), can drive in the same car in peace and harmony…as long as they listen to talk radio.

But that is an entirely different controversy.

Peace Out.

Why This Privileged White Male Refuses To Write About The Election

While enjoying a wonderful birthday lunch for Rene’s brother Nick at a swank eatery in Silverlake, (Cliff’s Edge, check it out) it was agreed upon at the outset of our meal that there would be no discussion of the presidential election.  The thickness of the tension was, and is, still in the air and the mood was to be festive…and nothing like raining on the festive parade when addressing issues that deeply divide us.

Of course we then proceeded to have a discussion about NOT discussing the election…kind of a meta-discussion about the lack of discussion.2016-election-logo

I suppose you can throw this article in that same “meta” basket, as this is an article about not writing an article concerning my thoughts on the election.  I actually have several reasons why I do not believe now is good time to throw my political two cents into the social media world, among other places.

To begin this meta-article, in Communication Studies courses the first thing we teach our students is that the most important aspect of the communication process is knowing your audience. It is impossible to tailor a message knowing little to nothing of whom you are attempting to communicate.

Keeping this in mind, judging by the tenor of social media, personal discussions and general observations of life in general at this moment, my audience analysis tells me this: Shut up. Leave it alone. Don’t go there.

Probably the worst thing you could possibly tell an upset, venting woman would be something along the lines of, “Well, you are just on your period,” or, “I guess Aunt Flo is going to be visiting soon.” I believe the reason these statements are not a good idea is obvious…and right now many of us are most definitely on our post election, president-elect periods.

Many people are upset. Even for those pleased with the election result, they are upset about the upset reaction (protests) of the election.  As I write, many local Los Angeles high school students are marching the streets in protest because they are upset, scared, fearful, etc.

When people are upset they are overly emotional. When people are overly emotional, they tend to listen with their hearts and not their heads. When you think with your heart and not your head you cannot objectively and rationally listen. If you cannot objectively and rationally listen, I have no interest in attempting to send you a message.

Please understand this…I could offer my opinion and you could fiercely disagree with it and that would be fine. Wonderful. No problem.  I would love to engage in that thoughtful and rational dialogue. However if that opposition is fueled with a highly emotional rage, I have found that this is not time for a discussion rather it is time for an entirely different, and completely valid, type of communication: Pure expression.

Now is not the time to reason, it is a time to express.

Pure expression is a very good thing…a great thing in fact. Without means by which to blow off steam, vent our feelings and/or verbalize our frustrations, we would all be dangerous psychotic messes.  Although this is my first presidential election that I find myself steeped in social media, I cannot recall the need to vent ever this strong in my lifetime…and I’m 53 1/2.

Please do not interpret my unwillingness to engage in political dialogue as somehow dismissive nor disrespectful. Sometimes the need to vent “Trumps” (did I really just write that?) the need to sit and reason. There are many, many times in my life that I am simply not ready to address an important issue as my personal emotional context is not quite ready for that discussion, whatever the reason driving my emotional  condition may be.

I suppose the final reason I find it counterproductive to discuss the election at this time is something that has been thrown in my face quite a few times this past week and, apparently, I have committed the greatest evil I could possibly have committed: I was born a straight, white male. They tell me this somehow disqualifies me from uttering any word that remotely implies, “Please do not panic.”

“Easy for you to say,” they tell me. “You are a non-Islamic white male.”

If racism is defined as allowing or not allowing a person a basic human right, in this case, freedom of speech, based purely on racial characteristics, well then, this would be racism.

But I get it, periods can be funny that way.

Hey, I can be pretty self-centered at times though I am definitely not that selfish of an ass that I cannot empathize and feel for those unlike me.

I recently told a very scared and fearful former undocumented student of mine, who was brought to this country as a small child and considers this her only country, that I would engage in the most severe form of civil disobedience in the event immigrants are torn from their homes and deported to a country they know nothing about. Yes, this straight, white, privileged male would stand up for an innocent brown person being threatened with deportation against their will.

Regardless of one’s position on immigration, I would hope most citizens of any color, religion, ethnicity or class, would act as decent human beings and stand up against any perceived social injustice as well, even if that injustice is perpetrated against one of a different race.  And I believe the great majority would.

I have never, and will never, pretend to know what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes. I will never know what it is like to be a woman and experience objectification or admiration, or a black person in a white neighborhood, or, hell, even a Hispanic in the grocery store. I have no idea of the verbal or nonverbal treatment I would receive. The glares and stares or lack thereof. I have no clue what it is like to be you. And, guess what? That is correct, you have absolutely no idea what it is like to be me.

But, alas, who is really thinking with their head right about now anyway?  I am quite certain that even in this very vanilla blog, someone will take exception with something. Which is why this privileged person will just shut the hell up…for now. And when thine ears are ready to be taught, a teacher will appear, post period of course.

 

Yeah, But Still…Be Your Own Factual Boss.

I heard it said that statistics are just numbers waiting for an argument.

Then argue with me.

Despite a significant US population increase since 1991, the murder rate that year was 24,700 compared to 14,249 in 2014 with a decrease nearly every year in between. The odds of you getting murdered have been nearly cut in half the last 25 years.

Yeah…but still.

There were 687,730 robberies in 1991 compared to 325,802 in 2014.  The chances of you being robbed has been well over cut in half the last 25 years. In addition, aggravated assaults, thefts and burglary rates have all plummeted during this same period.

Yeah…but still.

In 1991, the population was 252,177,000 and there were 14,872,900 violent crimes committed. In 2014,  the population was 318,857,056 and 9,475,816 violent crimes were committed.318,318,857,056857,056

yeah-but-still-1_1250

Adjusting for population, violent crimes have been cut in half in the last 25 years. The United States has never been a safer place.

Yeah, but still.

Thus far in 2016, 57 Americans have been killed by terrorists, including the recent Dallas police officer murders. In a 30 year study, it is estimated that a minimum of 3,000 and as many as 49,000 Americans will die from the flu each year.

Yeah, but still.

According to the Washington Post, 1,502 people have been shot and killed by police since January 1, 2015.  732 were markedly white and 382 were markedly black -with the rest of unknown ethnicity.

Yeah…but still.

In my very first blog in 2012, I wrote, “The odds of a child getting shot and killed at school is 1 in 12.2 million, pending the year. A child is over 16 times more likely to get struck by lightning than to die in a school shooting. To provide another vantage point, the CDC reports that in 2008 alone, 1,700 children died from child abuse and neglect in the US.”

Yeah…but still.

By far the greatest danger to children’s lives, other than abuse and neglect, are not guns, shootings or terrorism, rather it is our country’s swimming pools -with nearly 400 deaths per year.

Yeah…but still.

Speaking of children, though we instill a healthy fear of “strangers” in our children, they are far more likely to be abused, kidnapped or killed by their parents than all the strangers on the street combined. Ernie Allen, the once head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said, “We have been trying to debunk the myth of stranger danger.”

Yeah…but still.

With 41,143 suicides in 2014 and only 16,105 homicides that same year, you are 2 ½ times more likely to kill yourself than to be killed at the hands of another.

Yeah…but still.

In regards to breast cancer, the chances are far greater that a US woman will die from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension or lung disease/cancer before breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer is the 6th leading cause of death for women up until this writing.

Yeah…but still.

According to US News, undocumented “illegals” who supposedly drain our system, contribute nearly 12 billion dollars per year to the US economy, with California receiving nearly 3.2 billion of this pie. This does not include their labor contributions.

Yeah…but still.

We fear the things we should not while not fearing those things we perhaps should. Thanks mass media. You are just awesome. We have been trained and conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to believe your bullshit.

Yeah…but still.

Argue with me.

Empathy: Who, What, Why, When and Where?

I am strong believer that one possesses only a finite and limited amount of genuine empathy to practice in life. I have blogged about a similar idea previously- the notion of “Dunbar’s Number,” a theory that posits that people have a limited amount of human beings, namely family and close friends, for whom they can authentically feel and care.

I wholeheartedly believe this theory.  Therefore I jealously guard my empathic feelings and emotions for those whom I can have a direct and real impact on in their lives –my parents, my own family, and close friends.

Please do not get me wrong, if I were to see a stranger choking on a sandwich in public I would rush to practice the Heimlich maneuver as my empathy would be generated by close proximity and my ability to engage.bt-against-empathy

Yet the mass media, also known as the handful of corporations that control the news I receive and the impact/style in which I see it, wants to drain my empathy tank and create news narratives that tempt me to care.

Let’s think outside the mass media box for a few moments. Please bear with me…

What if I were to suggest that the shooting of a gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo means nothing to me, or, for that matter, an alligator killing a young child at Disney World does not effect me in the slightest? Oh, and what if I was to say that I would not lose any sleep over a horrific nightclub shooting with 50 lives lost?

I would be an asshole, right?

Maybe. Yet perhaps such an attitude is warranted at a certain level.

I certainly could be informed of important information regarding such reported occurrences…careful of gators, vigilance in public places, etc…though empathy?

Perhaps it is a wise decision to NOT allow news directors to guide our life narratives, concerns, and conscience. Perhaps it is not cruel hearted or sociopathic to be in control of our own personal story while refusing to allow someone else to dictate what we should find relevant and important.

“But wait Jimmy, these terrible things really happened. Is it not natural and humane to show concern for such events?”

Glad you asked.

So, if a lack of concern for these matters causes you to think negatively of such a person, myself in this case, I could counter that your complete lack of concern over the thousands in our country who have died since these media events through illness, traffic accidents, drownings, and less “sexy” means of death –most of which go unreported- might make you the callous asshole, a lemming callous asshole at that, because you are allowing greedy corporations to dry up your empathy tank.

My father is not doing very well these days. I absolutely care about that. I care deeply and feel for him. Yet the news media tries to suck my limited amount of available empathy for strangers 3000 miles from my home? I do not believe our brains are even wired to be able to practice genuine empathy in these cases. Although I cannot make a direct cause and effect argument, perhaps it is no coincidence that with the rise of reported global events comes the rise of anxiety and depression…perhaps big pharma, producers of Xanax, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc…have none other to thank than mass media.

If you do care and empathize with these reported events and show no concern for the un and under reported events, I would not believe you are a callous asshole, rather just a fellow human being who cannot possibly exercise true empathy for every tragedy the world offers up each and every day -we allow the news directors to do that work for us. Imagine having to be concerned for the 151,600 people who die EVERY DAY through all kinds of means? Kill me now.

I refuse to allow a news director tell me which of the 151,600 deaths I should care about and which ones I should not…by sensationalism in the former and through negation in the latter.

If the gorilla were my pet, the child my family or friend, or the nightclub patrons those within my social circle, I most definitely would care.

If I can go all neuroscience on your ass for a brief moment, according to Jason Mitchell, the head of Harvard’s Social Cognition and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, human begins are wired to want to know and empathize with what is going on in the minds of people around them. In fact, this “neuro” feature has been instrumental in our success as a species as we are able to accomplish group goals that individuals alone could not. Empathy and understanding are vital to our survival.

In the context of the above research it was determined that this human aspect of the brain will begin to make us practice empathy with technology and machines as well as human beings. Yet I do believe there is another application as well.

So what happens when our empathic feelings are directed toward events in which we have no stake, nor ability to act? I can only speculate at this point, though it would seem that our empathic infatuation with media inspired events would ultimately work to handicap our personal ability to practice empathy in the contexts that really matter.

A friend recently wrote me an email and here is an excerpt that may demonstrate my point:

What I haven’t posted about but only alluded to is how profoundly affected I have been by what happened in Orlando.  My strong sense of empathy has always drawn me toward watching unfolding news stories like mass shooting and reading the subsequent coverage.  I can recall sitting on the bed in the house in (his city) back in 1999 watching the Columbine massacre and subsequently being engrossed in the news coverage 9/11, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and the others.  Jim, I have not been able to watch television coverage or even read an article online without becoming so distraught, I have to turn it off.  I cannot say that some of that is because those killed were young gay men, but I felt as saddened by the deaths of the school children in Connecticut as I do to those in Orlando.  What I keep coming back to is that text that one of the victims sent right before he was killed that said, “Mommy, I am going to die.”  NO ONE should have to send a text like that and NO ONE should have to receive a text like that….NO ONE!  The point of all this (right now) is that I am a huge ball of emotions right now.

This is my point…we are not wired to empathize with the entire planet.

Of course I could be wrong, though I would just venture a guess that my good friend is probably not a lot of fun to be around at the moment and that his strongly empathic reaction to these events is hindering his ability to function effectively in his relationships that matter most to him -on an interpersonal level.

Our brains are now deluded with global sadness that will harm our ability to practice local, effective relationship management.

But, but, but,…..these things that happen are so awful!

Yep, they are. Yet no more awful than the injustices, tragedies, horrific unreported things that happen every day.

From this day forward I vow to be captain of my own empathy ship -a ship with a limited cargo of empathy.

Duke Lacrosse, The McMartin Preschool And The Transgendered: 5 Reasons Why Most People Believe Lies, Misinformation And Fake Stories

I teach critical thinking. Yes, I teach people how to think critically regarding all the various aspects of their lives. Yet, I do not just teach it, I try to live it and breathe it. I love it. Of course I am human and do not always practice it, but I sure try. In fact, I would go as far as to say that spreading the gospel of critical thinking is my life’s mission and passion.

It is armed with this understanding that I relate to you the following incident that is now experiencing its 10 year anniversary. I realize many of you are familiar with the story though may not know all the details.48459

In the end, this is not a blog about the Duke lacrosse incident, rather it is about critical thinking. Yet, an understanding of the basics of this story are in order to get to my point.

In 2006 the Duke lacrosse team threw a raging party in which they hired a stripper and consumed plenty of alcohol. The stripper, Crystal Mangum, later reported to the police that she had been raped by 3 members of the team, around midnight or so, the evening of this party.

Within just a few days, word got out about this alleged rape and pandemonium ensued. Students, administration, faculty, community members, and local politicians all began a witch-hunt style attack on this team, directed towards both its coaches and players. They were labeled “privileged white racists” and were accused of rape and blatant, overt racism.  Bands of protestors called for the dismantling and elimination of this team from competition and the firing of its head coach.

Leading the rush-to-judgment crowd at Duke was Houston A. Baker Jr., a professor of English and African-American Studies. He showed his intent in a March 29 public letter to Duke administrators that boiled with malice against “this white male athletic team” —a team whose whiteness Baker’s fifteen-paragraph letter stressed no fewer than ten times. He demanded the “immediate dismissals” of all lacrosse players and coaches.

In fact, 88 Duke professors signed a document condemning the Duke lacrosse team shortly after this alleged incident happened.

The beloved head coach, who led his team to the National Championship the year previous, was fired.

Professors, journalists, and politicians all banded together in this horrifying frenzy of groupthink.  There was not a single shred of evidence to suggest these young men did anything wrong at all, except if you call getting shit faced and watching a stripper for a few minutes, “wrong” -which you may- yet it is certainly not illegal.

Now, I promised I would make a long story short, so here goes:

The evidence finally came out. DNA tests, phone records, eyewitness accounts, etc.

So, what happened that evening?

Nothing…nothing illegal and certainly not a rape.

The three young men charged with rape were all found innocent.

So was this just another case of white privilege using their power and riches to overcome the system?

Hardly, read on.

The truth? Stripper Crystal Mangum arrived at the party, drunk and on the muscle relaxant Flexoral, as well as several anti-depressants, danced for a few minutes and then promptly blacked out on the back porch.

That’s it.

Not only were the young men innocent, it was found that District Attorney Mike Nifong (white, btw) hid evidence that would have exonerated the Duke athletes as proceeding with this high profile case would boost his chances of being re-elected to the position…as he was trailing in the polls prior to this incident.  He was later disbarred and spent a short time in prison for his actions. The lead investigator, Michael Gottlieb (white btw), manipulated all the evidence in an attempt to frame these young men. He was also removed from his position and committed suicide in 2014.

These young men were not only innocent, they themselves were the victims of a corrupt system, reverse racism and out-of-control media that is primarily interested in stories, not truth. Crystal Mangum later confessed that she made the entire story up and has been institutionalized for depression, mental disorders and addiction. The sad part is the DA had this information…and pursued the case anyway for the sake of his own personal and professional best interest.

Once the evidence was presented and the truth was discovered, how did all those who led the witch-hunt, prior to ANY evidence being presented, react?

Many apologized to the team. For example, ESPN journalist, Jemille Hill, stated in a letter to the team:

My being a black woman, my knowing too many athletes who treat women like items to be purchased in a vending machine, and my witnessing enough athlete rape trials where accusers are overwhelmed by their fame and fortune — it all tainted my perception and made me doubt your innocence.

I feel stupid now…

So to Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, the three Duke lacrosse players whose lives were mangled by an unsupported rape accusation, I say two of the hardest words in the English language:

I’m sorry.

Still many have not apologized, including lead witch-hunter, Professor Houston A. Baker, who has since left the school to teach at Vanderbilt.

Professors, supposedly leaders in teaching our nation’s youth how to critically think, were the most heinous violators of reasonable and logical thought.

Critical thinkers are at the very least able to acknowledge they do not know something or that they were wrong. Sad. Our educational system is in trouble.

So, I told you this was not a blog concerning the Duke lacrosse incident and it is not. I could have told the story of Peggy McMartin and Raymond Buckey -whose lives were ruined after they were accused of pedophilia and running the satanically inspired McMartin preschool back in 1984- in the longest and most expensive trial in American history at the time. And what did they do wrong?

Nothing. Nothing at all…after 6 years of a living hell and public witch-hunt.

I could tell countless stories of African Americans wrongly accused and railroaded into public disgrace and guilt before any actual evidence was presented. There is no shortage of these shameful examples of the human mind’s lack of critical thinking skills.

Why do we human beings tend to make judgments about people and situations, then react hysterically, when we have zero to little reliable information? Why do we believe shit that we have no business even having an opinion on? Why the lack of critical thought and analysis? I believe there are 5 primary reasons we believe lies and misinformation, aka, “bullshit.”

We tend to believe stories that fit nicely into our own personal life narrative. If we believe this or that about a certain ethnicity, gender, religious group, etc… as in, ”I know that group and they are all______________(fill in the blank)” and we hear a story that fits this narrative and confirms this preconceived bias, we go with it. If you were sexually abused as a child, you may tend to believe the McMartin case allegations were true. If you were ever the victim of suppression and hatred on behalf of the privileged white man, you would likely believe the accusations against the Duke players were true, truth be damned of course. Critical thinking through every story we come across can be a real bitch…while it may result in having to change our preconceived biases, which can be scary, as we have so much invested in creating our comfortable and cozy little narrative about life…and now must suck up every morsel of evidence -true or false- that backs this story up.

We tend to believe stories that will provide a form of therapeutic release for our own hurts and dysfunction. In the above-mentioned sexual abuse or racial hatred examples, by channeling our anger at those who have been accused of such things, this provides a form of release and inner revengeful satisfaction that one’s own personal hurts are finally being vindicated and, in a sense, healed. Truthfulness and voracity mean very little to the injured and wounded soul that seeks comfort and refuge. Raymond Buckey can now act as the projected lightning rod and become the pedophile pervert that sexually abused you as a child -and his loss is your emotional gain. Of course this makes no sense on a rational, critical level yet the landscape of the psyche can be a strange and unstable emotional place.

We tend to believe stories because we are too lazy to think otherwise and do a little research. I am a firm believer in not only questioning authority, rather questioning everything -all the time. Question every bullshit meme you run across, every bullshit story in your Facebook thread, every Reddit post, EVERYTHING. Remember, all news media has only one intention and that is to make a profit. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, news anchors of yore who possessed a startling sense of morality concerning the truthfulness of stories, are long gone. We live in the age of intense bullshit and it has never been more important to practice cynicism regarding all the information we run across in our lives. Get off your ass and THINK. If we do not…

We believe stories because we believe false information. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a student believe staunchly in some type of philosophy or ideology and then request the student to do some research into a reliable pool of information so they can base this strong opinion on some evidence. Most come back with a revised, or in some cases diametrically opposed, position after the facts are discovered.  I am not sure as to why…perhaps it is due to my age, my lot in life, or the progression of information overload in our culture, yet it seems to me that people, on the whole, are far more gullible than ever.

We dismiss credible stories that contradict our current belief system. Recently I brought a speaker to our school, Georgia Lee McGowen, who is a transgendered woman for the purpose of educating the ignorant, promoting understanding and to begin a dialogue. She came to speak to my diversity class yet I encouraged my other classes to sit in and hear her lecture as well. She has had a very interesting and difficult life.  Imagine my dismay as some students said they would not attend the lecture because they did not believe in being transgendered and that it went against their belief system.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! (read: primal scream of frustration and heart sinking).

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I realize listening to someone this different can make some very uncomfortable, I know. She made me uncomfortable when I first met her years ago….because I was ignorant of the transgender community. However, for those who want to cocoon themselves in this tidy little fictitious world of they way they want the world to be-as opposed to exposing themselves to what it really is- there are very dangerous implications. When we close ourselves off to new information and simply choose to believe whatever it is we choose to believe, for whatever reason, we are closing ourselves off to growth, development and open-mindedness- all characteristics central to critical thinking. I am quite certain most historical dangerous dictatorships were not big fans of opposing ideas, new modes of thinking or critical analysis.

There are many other reasons we believe bullshit, such as impishly delighting in the misfortune of others, being entertained by it all or the story just makes us feel better about ourselves.

That said, in the age of a culture dangerously close to amusing itself to death, critical thinking and exposing ourselves to new ideas is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.

Our world has lived through witch hunts, holocausts and genocides…and these all began with a lack of critical thought from the masses who refused to open themselves up to different ways of thinking and living: Blindly believing the bullshit and propaganda of its leaders.

Yeah, I teach critical thinking…and I am concerned. Is another holocaust right around the corner? Probably not. Yet a case of public hysteria over a situation in which we do not have all the facts, certainly is -and it does not take a critical thinking genius to figure that out.

Just…think. Critically. After all, you might just be the next victim of the media witch-hunt.

 

 

 

People Are Suffering Around The World And I Do Not Really Care…Neither Do Most Of You

It was a lazy summer Wednesday afternoon so I decided to do something I do not often these days -catch a movie at the local theater.  Today when I now go to the movies, I want to see something “easy” and relatively mindless -meaning no complicated plot lines and low-context stories that require my complete attention and demand I stay awake. I prefer movies with simple story lines and very interesting characters -think Big Lebowski meets The Truman Show meets The Poseidon Adventure meets anything Steve Buscemi. My real life has enough drama and complicated story lines -no need to go to the movies for more of that. On this particular day I decided to take in “San Andreas” and appreciate the eye candy of watching my state shake to shit…in 3D.

635535448941330013-MAINROCK

As I watched the movie something occurred to me that I often get in a lot of trouble for saying, hence the title of this blog. As I watched Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fight and struggle to save his family from death, I noticed he did something that most of would do if in that same situation -he watched people dying left and right, people he could have helped, in order to save, specifically, his wife and daughter. In other words, he would rather watch 100’s of people die in order to save 2, because those 2 are his own family.  Theoretically, if someone informed you that 10 strangers are going to die unless you agree to lose 1 very much loved one, most of us would probably choose to kill off 10 strangers in order to save our 1 beloved.

Why are we humans wired this way? Why would we, generally, and again, theoretically, work feverishly to protect our beloved selected few at the possible expense of losing many? Thank the universe most of us are never handed that choice and I am relatively certain how most of us would respond.

We could make the genetic slash DNA argument that we are all hardwired to protect our small tribe -be it children, parents, siblings- first and foremost.  Thus it is pure instinct and, bottom line, we are animals acting upon what our reptilian brains dictate.

Several years ago a student, Lou, introduced me to a concept he referred to as the “monkeysphere” -which I later found out to be more formally termed, “Dunbar’s Number.” If I were to risk huge oversimplification of this fascinating theory it would go something like this: All primates are only capable of caring and having social relationships with only a certain number of other primates depending on the size of their brain. Thus, from the size of an animal’s neocortex, the frontal lobe in particular, you could theoretically predict the group size for that animal.

If we were to buy into Robin Dunbar’s theory, the human being is capable of having approximately 150 casual friendships, 50 close friendships, 15 intimate relationships -for example, you could turn to these people in times of sorrow- and, finally, 5 ultra intimate relationships, meaning good friends and/or family members. These numbers are only averages and there is huge range among people, depending on personality type, etc.. In addition, social media is definitely playing a role in reshaping these numbers somewhat -though I think you get the idea here -as human beings we are only capable of only so much REAL empathy and social reciprocity towards others.

So I will take this understanding and stray from it just a bit yet still abide by its logic -our brains are simply not capable of truly caring for everyone on the planet experiencing suffering of some variety. I believe if we could do so we literally would go crazy. Yes, literally. Reality can be such a bitch that we must shut off part of our brain in order to not experience it in totality. So if I see a report of a tsunami in Japan, should I, or better yet even, CAN I, truly care?

Some recent brain science suggests that our brain functions quite differently when dealing with 3 distinctly different groups of people. First off, our brain handles interaction with real people with high personal relevance to us quite differently from, second, real people who have no personal relevance to us (think famous people) and, third, fictional characters -my hunch is this is part of our necessary survival process. So, let’s say one is watching a fictitious movie of a young child choking, a news report of a famous person’s young child choking, or one experiences their own young child choking (even if it were on film) our brain reactions would be highly different. Imagine if we witnessed hundreds of people dying in the aforementioned tsunami and we felt the same sense of care and empathy as if each of these people were in our ultra-intimate circle? Again, if we did, we would absolutely go out of our minds.

Now, here is what I am NOT suggesting. I am not suggesting that people cannot react to global tragedies and act with benevolence…of course they can and many do. Whether it is a tsunami in Japan, a hurricane in New Orleans, or an earthquake in Nepal we have seen people (think “Doctors Without Borders”) act lovingly and altruistically on such occasions. However, I would argue that these tragedies are simply the Disaster Du Jour, induced by a selective media that only plays the most viewable disasters for ratings, the ones that strike the most fear into our psyche, while making it feel hip to get on the bandwagon of support and fulfill our social need to belong.

Sound cynical?

Consider that if we felt real empathy for those suffering we would not have to wait for a Disaster Du Jour, that plays like great theater, in order to practice such empathy -there are plenty of more boring tragedies to go around that do get much media hype.

  • More than two-thirds (70%) of all people living with HIV, 24.7 million, live in sub-Saharan Africa—including 91% of the world’s HIV-positive children. In 2013, an estimated 1.5 million people in the region became newly infected.
  • Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year.
  • In 2014 alone, 5 million people were treated around the world for malnutrition and illness including:
    • 2,718,401 people in Nigeria
    • 104,117 people in Democratic Republic of Congo
    • 93,043 people in South Sudan

Shall I go on? Cause this is only the beginning.

Of course most of us fall for the proverbial hook, line and sinker for tragedies that news directors would like us to support (when I used to pastor I would plead with people not to let news directors dictate their prayer lists…that went over really well…now I write blogs…but I digress). I would argue that if we practiced REAL caring, TRUE empathy, and REAL concern we would not have to wait to do something until we watch Disaster Du Jour on TV and gasp in horror. Do we really care OR do we feel a sense of wanting in on the collective story in some way, shape or form, and, in a strange way, feel a bit better about ourselves in return? In the same way it so much more difficult to truly love one person than it is to “love” thousands, it is far easier to “care” about a tragedy in Nepal than to truly be a good and loving companion to your closest loved ones.

But Jimmy, just because I cannot truly love and be concerned for these people to the degree I would a close loved one, this does not mean I cannot care and empathize to a lesser degree and do what I can to help.”

Thank you omniscient arguer.

Perhaps we could have a semantics argument over the words care and empathize, yet I do contend we have been conditioned to view nearly all image-based news as a mild form of entertainment, even in spite of the fact it could provide us a twinge of what feels like concern and empathy.

I am often criticized when I say when we watch these natural disasters unfold we are being entertained…not in a humorous, “ha ha” kind of way, rather in a a theater of the macabre sense. We are watching others misfortune unfold half way around the globe and the tugs at our heartstrings are generated by those suffering who are well outside our monkeysphere slash Dunbar’s Number. Certainly none of us WANT others to suffer, yet we strangely do not mind being entertained by others misfortune, rationalized and condoned in the name of what feels like empathy. We gasp and shriek that this is horrible…yet we watch and watch and watch. Contemporary media has created a generation of eavesdroppers in the name of news.

If we want to practice true humanitarianism, perhaps we should not send a check to some organization in god-knows-where, China (Buttfuck, Egypt?). What if true humanitarianism was defined as being loving, kind, giving and compassionate to all those within your Dunbar number, to the people we can truly make a difference in their lives? Perhaps the world would be be a much more caring and empathic place.

I have heard the term, “Think locally, Act globally.” I would argue we must act locally first and foremost.

But perhaps I overthink.

Maybe I just should have watched JurassicWorld instead. I heard it’s pretty good.