I’m A Creep. I’m A Weirdo. What The Hell Am I Blogging Here?

Creepy: Having or causing a creeping sensation of the skin, as from horror or fear.

As I have written about previously, it seems we prefer to relegate specific negative descriptions of people to specific genders. For example, men are assholes while women are crazy. When it comes to the creep, it seems we as a society reserve this, what I consider a vague and ambiguous term, nearly exclusively for men.

So today I explore the idea of being creepy while examining just what it means to be labeled a creep.

I first began thinking about the whole “creepy guy” thing when a former colleague of mine; a very sharp, well-educated and progressive minded woman -whom I consider a friend- made the observation on social media that all “older” men are creeps. She wrote that she had a series of episodes when older men made untoward comments and advances on her…therefore concluding that all older men must follow this same profile.

Which, of course, would make the likes of Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, hell, even George Clooney, some of the creepiest among us as decades separate the ages of their younger lovers, but I digress…

I really expected much more from an educated person and, of course, as the target demographic of this stereotype you cannot blame me for being a bit on the defensive, right?

Now, a year later or so, I just read a wonderful blog entry by a female friend of mine, Jean Franzblau, of Cuddle Sanctuary fame, ironically entitled, “In Defense of Creepy Men,” which dusted off the creepy male milieu topic once again in my mind. This very short and readable blog entry -an entry that I would strongly recommend you take a moment to read- refers to the idea that often times certain behavioral signals are frequently interpreted as creepy, when, in fact, they come from a much different place.

Jean wrote:

I hadn’t thought much about creepy men before…I thought that a creepy man was creepy all of the time. What I learned is that a person can come off as creepy because in that moment he feels awkward. I googled “I’m afraid she’ll think I’m creepy” and got over 19 million results. In Jon Anthony’s article, Why Girls Think You’re Creepy, he explains that creepiness is “much more of a ‘vibe,’ than it is a look.” It comes from a lack of confidence and the need for validation from others.

But wait. A lack of confidence? I feel that sometimes. A need for validation from others? I’ve certainly had experience with that, too. I had no idea I had so much in common with creepy men!

As Jean so artfully demonstrates, it is imperative that we take an educated and critical look at behaviors and make reasonable judgments based on the individual, not the stereotype.

Referring to one as a creep is, at best, just lazy thinking or, at worst, passing terrible judgment onto a man who, among other things, may lack certain social skills or possesses physical traits of which he has no or little control.

So just what are these behaviors women believe to be creepy?

I really wanted to dive into the creepy deep end so I did a little bit of research.

Creepiness is all about not being able to figure out whether there is a threat,” said Frank McAndrew, Professor of Psychology at Knox College and author of a study on creepiness. As I have already mentioned, he asserts that men may be seen as creepier than women because they’re perceived as more menacing.

As a result of this study, creepy traits and behaviors include:

  • Standing too close to someone
  • Smiling peculiarly
  • Talking too much about a topic, especially sex
  • Laughing at inappropriate times
  • Not letting someone out of conversation
  • Displaying unwanted sexual interest
  • Asking to take pictures of people
  • Displaying too much or too little emotion
  • Having bulging eyes
  • Having long fingers
  • Having pasty skin
  • Having greasy hair
  • Having dark eye bags
  • Wearing dirty or weird clothes
  • Licking lips

Creepy? It seems to me that any behavior/trait that we do not understand can simply get thrown into the creepy pile. Any one of these traits and behaviors, perhaps sans the sex stuff, can be the result of any number of legitimate conditions. And if man is too sexual? Tell him to STFU and you are not interested. Rather than throwing him under the creep bus assert some much needed boundaries.

And here is what I am NOT saying: There are no such men that exhibit these traits who have malicious intention. Of course some do. There are some people we should absolutely be concerned about when certain signals demand it. My concern is that we have only two options when pondering one’s creepiness, a legitimate concern or an illegitimate one.  A legitimate concern rests in the human propensity to sense fear and danger in the environment due to REAL threats. While recently having lunch in a family bar and grill, a man walked past and the hair on the back of my neck immediately stood on end and I sensed fear. I could not even see his face from my angle, only noticed it was a sleight Caucasian man, probably a bit older than myself, with a cowboy hat and rodeo-like gait. Long story short: My inclinations were correct as he was shortly kicked out of the restaurant for inappropriate words toward a waitress.

However, and this is my primary concern and the one that drives the central idea of this blog, as human beings we have a disposition towards tribalism and when a person, behavior, thought form or new idea enters our life that transgresses our tribal norm, we typically have the same response: Danger. Rather than deal with the nuances of this “danger,” we dismiss it all as creepy and move forward, or, perhaps more aptly, backward.

“But wait Jimmy, you sensed creepy and your perception turned out to be correct.” Yes, yet my inclination was not based on a different type of person (an older white male, just like me), behavior (walked normally), thought form or new idea (we never even talked); it was a purely vibe-filled, guttural like, instinctual reaction of which I had no immediate control. My then rational side can then conclude that rather than calling this guy a creep, he is more likely an alcoholic that needs to check himself into a 12 step. Sensing danger can be our friend, jumping to irrational stereotypes can be our foe.

I would never want to suggest to stymie one’s perceptual antenna of fear, rather make certain this fear comes from an authentic place and not an irrational one.

As I write the word creep I realize the utter mystery and ambiguity of the term itself. We can describe one as a liar, cheat, nice, friendly, mean, loud, quiet, inappropriate, etc…based on a very particular set of behaviors that may lead you to one of the these descriptive conclusions. Yet to define one as “creepy” there are no set and definitive identifiable behaviors that provide a direct correlation to creepy.

Just like all stereotypes, it seems we like to throw the creep term around when we are too lazy to make more nuanced and accurate assessments of human behavior, only to then make rash and ignorant judgments on an entire segment of society because they appear weird to us…which is really just a self-justified form of xenophobia.

In the day and age of political correctness, an age in which we are constantly changing our terminologies in order not to offend, extending olive branches out to traditionally disenfranchised communities and building an overall culture of acceptance, it seems we are fine with liberally throwing out a label to a demographic of individuals who may have exhibited a particular behavior that we can freely and lazily now refer to as creepy simply because we do not understand it, without so much as a bat of the eye from the society.

Defensive much? Yep. As an older, straight, and “privileged” white male it is not often that my demo is the victim of stereotyping, thus it feels a bit odd and disconcerting. However, it concurrently reminds me of the shortfalls of stereotypical thinking that tears culture apart and how I need to be more sensitive to this shortcut way of thinking in my own life.

So, kids, next time you see or feel the vibe of a creep, think again. Perhaps the person suffers from a diagnosis (ie. Aspergers, alcoholism, autism, stuttering, shyness) of which you know nothing about or you are just reacting in fear as you try to make sense of your world.

It’s 2017 and I think it is high time we retire the creepy term in with the faggot, nigger, wop, kike and retard. At one point and time we called all of these once disenfranchised groups creepy as well.

We should know better.

 

 

 

Anyone Want To Cuddle?

When I first heard the title, “Cuddle Party,” my mind went to the place that your mind is probably going to now; a very weird, new age-y, ultra L.A. fluff, moderately obscene group of people engaging in a type of pre-orgy, foreplay ritual. Ok, maybe your mind is not as perverted as my own, yet I would wager whatever it is you might think these parties might be, you are not even close to what they indeed really are.

And, yes, they really do exist. I “touched” on them in a blog I wrote several years ago. However, when I first heard about such gatherings, I absolutely abhorred the thought of it, let alone imagined going to one.

Why? Frankly, I was never a big “toucher” in my life. I did have a father who was extremely physically affectionate (for which I am very thankful) yet a mother who was exceedingly non-tactile. As a result, I would never consider myself weird and dysfunctional when it came to touch, yet I was very uncomfortable with it -sans those closest to me.

For example, for my 25th birthday my father gave me a gift certificate for a massage –I said thank you and then promptly gave it away as I was not about to have a stranger touch me.

I came to learn that such parties are not about cuddling per se, rather they are groups where individuals can practice asking for what they want, setting boundaries for those things they do not want, while learning the joy of acceptance and the impersonal nature of rejection. Touch is simply the currency used to practice and learn such skills. Hell, they could use dollar bills, food or just about anything else to learn these same concepts. In addition, and perhaps ironically, we all have a surplus of touch at our disposal in society, yet, for a variety of reasons, many still are starving for it as it is a practice we do not engage in nearly enough.

Not me. I’m good. Or am I?

Fast forward to circa 2011. As I shuttered at the thought of such parties, I have this weird chip deep inside of me that is programmed to try things that are WAY outside my comfort zone.

So I made the trek down to a Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade yoga studio. I sat in a circle with strangers and a cuddle guru, who spent the better part of an hour instructing us on the boundaries, rules, purpose and objectives of our soon to be cuddle experience.

Long story short: I hated it…beyond hate, it truly hurt. I was neither the recipient nor provider of touch that entire long evening.

It was the long trip back over the 405 that I knew I needed to go back and revisit the touch demons inside of me; tactile apparitions that needed either some desperate attention or a flat out exorcism.

I went to few more, another in Santa Monica, a couple in the Bay Area and one in Santa Cruz. It was after this last Santa Cruz experience, circa 2012, was when I concluded my Cuddle Party experiment was over and my demons were at long last retreated. Me and my cuddles were set to retire.

Make no mistake, I still did not like Cuddle Parties, yet I least mustered the competency to not vomit at the thought of going to one.

Fast forward to 2017.

I have the wonderful opportunity to have good chunks of time off in both the winter and summer, while giving me ample time to experience life outside of my teaching. It was during this season when I once again stumbled into the cuddle world.

For a variety of reasons, I found myself at an outdoor Cuddle “Sanctuary” this past Sunday afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica. I really do not know the history, though somewhere in this 5-year period, “parties” morphed into “sanctuaries” and I must say that I am down with the reverent feel of the latter moniker. After all, in spite of the fact I am not terribly comfortable with it, at some level I do believe touch is sacred as we depend on it for survival. I did commit to going on Friday morning, then promptly spent the next 40 hours or so trying to think of excuses why I should back out.

I couldn’t. It was that damn uncomfortable chip gnawing away at my soul again.

The sanctuary was really no different than the party. We spent the first hour doing exercises and going over the ground rules. One of the things I love about the experience is that no touch is required at all. People attend these events to practice setting boundaries in their lives, learning how to say no. I have really never had a problem setting boundaries in life, yet I have had issues asking for what I want and being cool with the consequent response.

I was in the right place.

So with my slight nervous shake and rapid heartbeat, I engaged once again, now a few years older and, ideally, a wee bit wiser.

I hugged numerous people. Held hands with someone as we talked about our families, used one’s thigh as a pillow, even had a thumb war or two with some folk. Every act of touch needs to be mutually agreed upon and any touch whatsoever requires permission. It is expressly non-sexual, while even the issue of, “What if something suddenly pops up?” is addressed and the best ways to appropriately deal with any “rising” concerns.

I certainly cannot speak for everyone, yet for me, these events are very strange and highly unusual –kinda like me.

I left the event relatively unscathed and realized that I am certainly cementing myself as the “older guy” at many gatherings in my life. I suppose that being the older gent does have its perks…such as really not giving a shit about saving face and caring what others might think. TOFTS (Too Old For This Shit).

However, what did not strike me that day hit me like a sledge hammer later that same evening.

We had a small gathering of people over to watch my son’s film, “Going To Nepal With A Camera On My Forehead.” In this moving documentary about people, cultures and countries coming together in love, in times of both peace and crisis, the film struck me in a way it has never struck me in the half a dozen or so times I have viewed it. My son just happened to be in Nepal and filming when the April 2015, 7.9 earthquake hit the country, and is all documented in this film.

Perhaps it was the intimacy of touch and human connection I experienced that day on the beach that put me in a connected place of insight and vulnerability that evening. I literally reached out and touched others as we expressed our lives, frailties and general bullshit we humans tend to carry with us on a daily basis.

As I watched humanity connect with each other on the screen that evening- people helping people, the healthy helping the sick, the “haves” pouring out their resources on the “have nots,” the resonance of my own day came into focus.

I was connected.

And I felt it.

I cried over the beauty of humanity reaching out and touching each other in love during a time of great need.

And it felt really good to understand the power of both literal and figurative touch.

I knew there was a reason that gnawing chip inside of me would not let me sit this one out.

We all have a surplus of touch currency and what a shame to let it go to waste.

And, on this day, I felt to be a richer man for it.

 

Reflections On The Human-Animal Relationship, Part I

Full disclosure: I began writing this blog well over a year ago and have sat on it all this time. Why? A couple of reasons: First, it is a very sensitive and controversial issue for many, in particular for some that I love and cherish dearly, while having no desire to offend these loved one as I deeply respect their values. Secondly, my thoughts on this issue have been in such a constant state of flux and change over the past year that I wanted to have some level of cognitive consonance on the issue before I posit any opinion -even if it is only a tentative position in my evolving thought process.

I also decided that this blog post needed desperately to be divided into two separate entries as I have so many thoughts on this issue.

In summary, I have, in recent years, reopened my personal inquiry into the nature of the human-animal relationship. I was brought up with the belief that animals were, well, just lowly animals, and humans were a superior breed of species. We always had pets as I was growing up, treated them well, yet, to be sure, our dogs or cats never deserved the types of amenities reserved for humans -and I was fairly “dog”matic on these ideas (sorry).

Yet how we were brought up, while most certainly having an effect on our initial orientation towards any given matter, should have absolutely no bearing on making rational, autonomous decisions as an adult. Overcoming “the way I was raised” argument may be difficult yet certainly attainable.

Consider that many people may have been brought up terribly wrong, perhaps myself included. Blindly following customs simply because they were your customs can be “cat”astrophic (ugh, I can’t help myself). I would now like to offer my thoughts as a free thinking adult.

So allow me to first address the idea of human and animal equality; a sense of equality that a growing amount of people are starting to adopt. Of course this is not a new idea. Many years ago Leonardo Da Vinci is quoted to have said, “The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.

If that is not argument for human and animal equality I can think of no other.

To begin, please allow me to tell you what I am NOT saying: If one makes the claim that humans are in some ways superior to other species, it does NOT infer a reckless abandonment of a code of morality toward all other species. In fact, as I will argue in part II of this series, it implies an even greater sense of responsibility and benevolence towards outgroup species. I encourage you to read to the end of this blog to gain a clear sense of my position.

With this understanding, let’s begin.

Self-Preservation, The Animal Kingdom and Survival of The Fittest

At some very rudimentary level, I believe in the human as the more advanced species as evidenced by our reaching the top of the food chain. I believe in this human “superiority” for reasons to be explained in this blog: First, the instinctual act of species self-preservation; second, the realities of the animal kingdom; and, finally, the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest and our accompanying moral conscience.

First, the bottom line is if I or a loved one were starving to death, I would have no qualms about killing an animal in order to survive, as I am quite certain said animal would eat my ass if it were dying as well. I am also quite certain most of us would pull a person out of a burning building over the building rats or cockroaches. There is something intuitive about preserving one’s own species -seemingly much more pronounced in the human species- at the expense of others. This is a necessary component in the propagation of a species. If a species is naturally inclined to protect its own, this would infer inequality as each species judges it as more valuable than the others.

I am reluctant to use the word “superior” to describe the human orientation towards animals as this is far too general a term and it is not meant in the universal sense. Many animals have superior skill sets to humans –many run faster, have superior audio/visual skills, can fly all on their own, perhaps even possess far more advanced interspecies communication systems; yet, when it comes to possessing the overall skill set to sit atop the food chain and essentially control the animal kingdom, humans are clearly the unanimous winner through following this self-preservation instinct.

Second, in contemporary society, it would seem many of us have been sequestered and sheltered from the harsh realities of the animal kingdom. Death for the purpose of nourishment is as basic to the narrative of both animal/human existence as breathing –and one species eating another certainly infers a harsh lack of equality as the eaten creature is inferior to the eating creature -in terms of its survival capabilities. The animal kingdom, of which we are very much a part of, is absolutely no theater of morality when it comes to issues of killing and death. Perhaps perceptions that have contributed to the notion of equality have been greatly influenced by the Disney-induced anthropomorphic deification of animals -but I digress.

Take for example in a grassland ecosystem, a grasshopper might eat grass, a producer. The grasshopper might get eaten by a rat, which in turn is consumed by a snake. Finally, a hawk—an apex predator—swoops down and snatches up the snake. We then can either kill the hawk and eat it, or, as the lead proprietors of the animal kingdom, go to great lengths and protect it, which we failed to do for the grasshopper, rat and poor snake -thus pointing to the routinely accepted act of imposing hierarchies of importance toward certain animal species…which goes largely unnoticed and is an accepted practice for many (hence the irony of dog on your dinner plate); yet perhaps this horrid inconsistency is a different blog for a different day. I do believe it does point to a hierarchy in nature that cannot be dismissed: Nature operates most efficiently with a chain of command as the idea of equality in the animal kingdom simply does not exist.

Thirdly, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, it is still very much a dog eat dog world at its core. The animal kingdom already imposes this aforementioned hierarchy of superiority -we are simply following suit. Many animal species even eat their own young pointing to the common practice of death as nourishment in the evolutionary sweepstakes.

Now I have heard it argued that just because a species can or cannot do something, this in no way implies superiority nor gives a species the right to impose its will on another species.  Then why can the rat, snake and hawk impose its will -yet the human cannot? What gives us the right to think we are above these other species and that we have to abide by an altogether different moral code? Ironically, such a position proves the moral superiority of the human being as we quite “humancentrically” project our values onto other species, assuming because they are superior values.

If we claim humans do possess a moral conscience most other species do not possess, there most certainly is no equality. If you are claiming we do not, then it is clearly natural and fine to eat other species.

I contend that in the evolutionary stakes, human beings are the clear winner and have managed to rest atop the food chain rung. In the Darwinian sense, humankind is “superior” (again, I use the term loosely) because it managed to prove being the fittest in the game of survival. I believe if any other species managed to pull this off -be it cows, gorillas, fish, whales, alligators or lions, they would have gladly assumed the top position and I might be an appetizer on some animals prepared dish. Yet, as an Irish-Hungarian, and with any luck, I might be found on some weird European protected species list.

That said, our evolution in contemporary western society has negated the need to enslave animals and use them as our only form of sustenance. One can survive and thrive on a plant-based diet in 2017. Therefore to use the argument that humankind needs to eat animals in order to survive is just not true. Might that change? Of course it could…yet, for now, it is not necessary. Yet, keep in mind the aforementioned rat, snake and hawk, like most animals, have no such conscience. Such consciousness and a distinct moral compass, which at least questions and examines ethics even if they are not universally agreed upon, are other critical factors in separating humans from other species.

Next up: My thoughts on “Speciesism,” factory farming, and my slow transition toward vegan principles.

And I hope my loved ones still love me 🙂

 

 

The New Nationalism: Why?

(Disclaimer: Since writing this blog a few days ago, I have heard the theory I am about to express just mentioned on the latest Sam Harris podcast with guest Yuval Noah Harari, just as I am now sure it have been espoused through other sources as well. Not sure this adds credibility to it or not…though it was original when I though of it!)

Curiousity. I love it. I am all about it. In particular when it comes to human behavior and the choices we make and why.

More specifically, I am very curious in regards to cause and effect relationships. Like one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics, does on a weekly basis, I like to posit theories on why something is the case. For example, since 1990 violent crime rates have dropped significantly and, outside of certain particularly violent pockets, continue to do so.

Why?

What correlating factors have transpired in society that explain, at least in part, why this phenomena is occurring? The above Freakonomics podcasters have drawn a correlation between the legalization of abortion in 1973 with the drop in violent crime rates. The logic behind this thinking is that those who are more likely to perform violent crimes -unwanted children- would be entering prime violent crime age in 1990 and, well, simply did not exist to do the evil deed.

Agree or not, it is reasonable theory. At least someone is attempting to make sense of social events.

Regardless of your personal thoughts on this rather controversial cause and effect argument between abortion and crime rates, it is imperative for a culture to be asking such critical questions and attempt to find hidden and unintended correlations between various social manifestations.

If we are not continually asking the question “why?” a trend is taking place, we will forever be enslaved to the consequences of that which goes unexamined.

So today I look at our world and see a wave of nationalism sweeping over the majority of countries.

What is nationalism? I understand the word to mean a type of patriotism run wild and amok. It is the presence of strong ethnocentrism that is much more than having a sense of pride in one’s nation – it such pride accompanied with xenophobia, hatred expressed toward particular outgroups, and the suppression of such groups. It is the protection of national identity at nearly all costs…blood and war included.

The point of this blog entry is not to inform on where, or if,  this is taking place (for a good read on this check this Economist article…after which you will no longer have any doubt of its global existence) rather it is to ask the question as to why it is taking place.

Why, in 2017, are countries resorting back to isolationist type policies, fearing immigration and feeling compelled, perhaps more than ever, to protect itself at all costs including the coveting of its own sense of ethnic and racial identities? Why is pure patriotism morphing into dangerous nationalism? It is so much more than Trump’s victory, a victory that promised walls and protection, or even Brexit, which was fueled over the issue of immigration. We see this happening everywhere, including France, Austria, Hungary, India and, of course, totalitarian nationalism in North Korea, just to name a few.

I am far from an expert on global politics though I am a person who is very curious. Why this? Why now? Why nearly everywhere?

As is the answer for most social phenomena, it is hardly as clear cut as a single determining source. Such complex activity is typically the result of a confluence of complicated factors, probably best answered by political scientists. Yet, hell, someone very close to me even suggested it may be the alignment of the planets -as the last time we saw such a wave, in the 1930’s, the planets were aligned in a similar fashion.

I must confess that this astrological theory is somewhat outside my intellectual comfort zone. But who knows?

As one who is paid to observe human behavior and the communication process, I would like to throw my (more grounded?) communication-based theory into the ring and propose something a bit more down to earth.

I would begin my inquiry by examining what all of these countries have in common and, as a communication guy and quasi-Neal Postman disciple, I must look to the idea of our technological mediums as the answer to the question of what common denominator might be shared around the globe.

It is indisputable our world is becoming an increasingly global village as a result of our technological advances largely due to social media. As our world continues to move in this direction of global oneness, it does what each of us do when faced with drastic change in our life: We fight back and attempt to preserve what is, or, in some cases, what was…in spite of the oncoming inevitable new technological world and the threat of potential global unification it may usher in.

Where there is a big push there is a pull; an action, a reaction; a thesis, an antithesis.

Could the macro movement towards isolationism, protectionism and anti-immigration be the micro equivalent of the resisting child screaming with their hands over their ears when her parents tell her the unwelcomed news that they are perhaps moving, or worse, divorcing?

Perhaps we are experiencing a natural human push back against the effect mediums are having upon the globe –effects that include the breaking down of communication walls, a more global economy and the impending consequence of eroding needs for a strong nationalistic identity, including less need for demarcating lines in the sand distinguishing “us” from “them.”

And those who push back to this new world reply with, “Not on my watch.”

An overreaction is typically driven by the feel of a threat with fear at its core, while typically operating at a subconscious level. As technological media imperialism makes its way through the globe and brings all humanity in contact with each other, such an overreaction to build walls and preserve strong nationalistic identities seems a natural reaction to the “threat” of globalism, fueled by technology.

Could it be that the current wave of nationalism is an unintended consequence of Google, Facebook, Couchsurfing, Twitter or, hell, even Craigslist among nearly countless other social media sites? Individuals can now connect with each other, bypassing mainstream media (some might contend the indoctrination of mainstream media) to form their own identities, free from ethnic or nationalistic overtones.

We can now, more than ever, associate with our own personal identity group first and foremost, perhaps LGBT or Buddhist, for example, while the need for a strong national identity wanes as a thing of the past.

What we see today is a major push back against this new world of potential new identities.

I am not naïve enough to believe that far more complicated and compelling political theories that may have far greater explanatory power do not exist; I am certain they do. However, perhaps this unintended consequence of internet access plays some role, however minor or major, and should not be ignored in the discussion. I hardly doubt I am the only one who has made this connection.

Perhaps it is an inevitable -and temporary- consequence on the road towards a global village, or, at the very least, a more global village.

So I am a curious guy who likes to find correlations between seemingly unrelated phenomena.

Hell, it might even be the alignment of the planets.

And if you have a better theory, or would like to add to it, I look forward to your response.

The Top Ten

Every semester I ask most of my classes to reflect on the past term and identify the Top Ten things they learned for the semester. I ask them to select a concept or idea learned, who was responsible for it, a short definition and why they selected it.

I would like to share with you a few of the comments I recently received from a couple of classes. Why do I share these?

First off, I do NOT share these with you to in any way make myself look good or be at all self-congratulatory. In fact, I am not naïve enough to believe that my manner of conducting a class works for all students…it most definitely does not. Therefore, for as many who take to my style while bringing out the best in them, I am certain there are a number of students whom I hinder in equal proportion…albeit unintentionally with a constant earnestness to continually minimize this, perhaps inevitable, number.

I do share these with you as a result of our current political climate and the great need for sane, productive, reasoned and open minded dialogue. All college classrooms should be providing such a place–a place, by the way, where it should be happening–not through the safety of social media where it is easy to muster up courage to espouse an idea, an idea that largely goes unchallenged, or a bullhorn, which produces not a collection of reasoning individuals, rather a meandering mob.

So I was delighted when a student responded with the following:

Discussion can be civil and not get nasty. This class was so diverse in culture and politics, that I thought it was going to be a tough class to be in. It was nice to be able to have civil conversations even though we disagreed on a lot of stuff. I think having our comfort level pushed has really made me a more understanding person

Ahhhhh, such music to my ears.  Others produced similar sentiments:

That we can all get along. I learned that there are others like me who can disagree but get along. The whole class showed this to me. It was important to me because at times I feel kinda hopeless because it seems that people cannot coincide with so many different views, in current times.

So true.

The next response comes from student who, earlier in the semester, was visibly upset over a very conservative student’s remarks in the classroom. When I asked her if she spoke with him about it she essentially said it would be a waste of her time as he does not listen.

“Do you listen to him? I mean REALLY listen?” I asked her.

She confessed she does not. Therefore, it was no surprise that one of her Top Ten final responses was the following:

Hearing people out.  It’s important to listen to others even if their view is different from our own. Be open minded. If you expect others to listen to you, you need to do the same. Otherwise people just butt heads.

My students know full well that argument is a wonderful, welcomed and anticipated activity in my classroom –as arguing does not mean fighting, rather it means sharing with others with an anticipation of finding some common ground while proactively practicing some good, old fashioned give-and-take.

It’s okay to argue. This class revolved around arguing that was mature and mostly meaningful. Give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share ones view. Argument can be used a good way as long as it has supporting experience, or evidence and is meaningful.

They get it! I love it.

This final comment comes from an older woman (yet still younger than myself!) who confessed her mind and world had been blown open by this course. Thus, I was pleased when she wrote:

The whole class is infinitely different in age, social class, stage of life and what they intended to get out of the class.  Through a series of exercises and much communication we really became a community of people trying to increase our communication skills.  Every person came from a different beginning and progressed to new levels of personal growth because of the relaxed and engaging atmosphere in the room. Any teacher can teach, some teachers can coach and few can create the perfect learning environment to have the students want to grow and change for personal gain.

Like I said, my style does obviously work for some and if we can create this environment in the classroom, is it too much to believe we can foster these environments elsewhere?

Perhaps I am blessed to have a flexible point of view, or that I love cognitive dissonance, or that I am more about process than I am result…but I can’t be the only one. Whatever your lot in life, I challenge each of you to be the spokesperson for sanity and reason while understanding that those who disagree with you are not demons; they are, well, others with a different understanding…and that is OK.

You might even make someone’s Top Ten one day.

 

 

Dear Professor, I Cannot Support The Gays And “Lesbos”

As I was going through some old computer files, I ran across an email a former student sent to me a few years back…an email I forgot completely about.  As I reread her email the other day and my embedded response (in italics) to her position on homosexuality, I was reminded that ignorance and backward thinking still exist in our country–it just seems the political climate has changed so these folk tend to now shut up or utter their ignorance behind closed doors. So today I offer you this letter, complete with my various reactions to serve as a reminder  this continues to exist in profundity in our culture. I have left the letter in the original condition in which it was written…though the editor in me really wants to clean it up. I believe the poor spelling, grammar, and syntax might be more telling than anything else. I did create the use of paragraphs myself as it was hardly readable in its original condition.

Quite frankly, if this letter were written to me today, I may or may not take the time to respond. But it was not; it was when I was a bit younger and probably had a bit more hope than I currently possess. Or, hey, you may disagree with me and think she is on to something. If so, I would love to hear from you.

Dear Professor,

“I understand your point on committing adultery and gutton (gluttony?) and gossipers are not being addressed in 2010 but the same-sex marriage is (my point is not whether or not they are being addressed, rather they also violate “God’s laws” -as you understand them- thus where do we draw the line on what we enforce and what we do not?) and I just don’t agree with it, now aside from the Bible let’s say for instance If I didn’t believe in God I will still find it Very disgusting to see another man macking down another man in front of me (unfortunately, Civil Rights and laws cannot be mandated on what an individual might find offensive. I am sure many gays would prefer not to see you “macking down” on a male as well…though you are free to do so), I’m sorry it’s just not natural I mean it’s gross to me (many things in life are not “natural” as you contend…medicines, automobiles, prosthetics, books, etc. and yet we engage in these things constantly), I don’t care what’s fair to gays  because they don’t care what Fair to straights (so your bible tells you only to love those you like and who love you back? What happened to loving your enemy?), and it’s not fair for my kids to see that in my opinion (though you have already established you do not care what is fair).

If gay people were suppose to be gay, why is it that they CAN’T bear their own children the way a women can? NATURALLY but we find them all trying to adopt a child? (Should we restrict those straight couples who are unable to bear children the right to marry? Or couples that use birth control? Again, this is a very unnatural act) don’t people find that odd? (Again, no more odd than the millions who currently practice birth control for the purpose of not having children). They can’t bear children threw their rectum (does the inability to bear a child rectally undermine one’s rights and freedoms?) …two of the same sex have the same equipment, I mean to play catch you need a ball and glove not two balls or two gloves you’ll never catch anything. (Should we also outlaw oral sex? For this is sexual activity that will not bear children). The  body wasn’t made that way how does people think we all got here?!?!? (No one is suggesting everyone become gay). The big bang theory? like seriously, thats more of a miracle then God creating the Heavens and Earth don’t you think? (this is a red herring as creation vs. evolution is not the issue) lol

my husband and I were just talking about that yesterday Because my sister who I love dearly is a lesbo (the label is lesbian and I find your term to be offensive for many…name calling is not allowed in this course) and has questions for me like the ones you asked but really I’m not going to back up what I believe with reference from the bible or what have you That’s not necessary because people are going to believe and act as they want wether you prove it or not but in my opinion if man was suppose to be with man and women with women why can’t they bear their OWN children? (This issue has already been addressed) and their adopting children from what MAN and WOMEN created? My answer: “Because God gave us human beings that blessing to bear  are OWN children between man and women.”

I don’t Hate gay people or dislike them If you were gay I would totally talk to you and befriend you it doesn’t bother me, (that is absolutely awesome and great to read…definitely a step in the right direction) I just won’t help legalize something I don’t agree with I just don’t accept their ways and I will never consider them either and this topic of discussion can go on and on but I have understood, let people who are confused with their sexuality be confused and let them find their way and if they never do that’s their problem not mine cause I’m straight (whatever happened to the concept of compassion?) I’m not and will not confuse the generation that I had come out my body naturally “my four children” to believe such a thing I have answers as a straight person too, you know gay people to me always play the victims but I’m a victim too 🙂 (I believe you cannot speak for all gay people…this is called stereotyping) and another thing I don’t understand is why they want to get married anyway it’s a covenant under God which how it was originally before people started making their own rules and laws. (Does not divorce break this covenant? Should we outlaw divorce because it is not part of God’s covenant? In our country, marriage is a legal contract that does not even have to be religiously based.)

This is a crazy subject and I will not have a open mind to the gay life style even if someone panted it with pink and white poka dots 🙂 (This is called dogmatic thinking; it is probably the type of thinking of the majority of people) I just think it strange but I love everyone regardless of what status they have of lifestyle they choose but I just don’t choose to help legalize it for my own reasons, I’m not a mean person either lol or a confrontational person 🙂 (someone who is not mean or confrontational would never feel the need to claim they are not) I just won’t budge on what I believe 🙂 sorry this isn’t to offend anyone just my opinion and not a fan of pro 8 that’s all”

Hmmmm, maybe I should just stop going through old files.

Or maybe it is a really good exercise to practice arguing with unreasonable arguments that we might think do not warrant a response.

 

Respect The Race

(Full disclosure: I wrote this blog entry shortly after the November election. Now that today is Inauguration Day and, for better or for worse, people are accepting -I use this term loosely- of our new political reality, I would like to offer up my sociological perspective on the election. That said, I am quite certain I will have my fair share of  disagreement. By way of introduction I want to share with you a recent social media post I shared that reaffirms my sentiments from November. “I find it affirming when really intelligent people, with whom I may overall agree or disagree with on certain issues, articulate (far more eloquently) sentiments that I have been espousing for years. As a balance theorist, I love former global Islamist Maajid Nawaz idea that, ‘The easiest way to hand a victory to your political opponent is by doing in excess the very thing that is going to fuel their rise, providing them to things to point to, to say we told you so.’ Welcome to the planet, 2017.” Now to the blog…)

What does a marathon, the 1969 Super Bowl and the 2016 Presidential election have in common?

Before this article begins sounding like a bad “Freakonomics” chapter, let me explain.

I was never much of a runner until I hit my mid-20’s, and my weight hit the mid-200’s, when I realized that running was the most expedient and easily accessed exercise ever invented. With only a good pair of running shoes necessary, there was no fancy equipment, gym membership or uniform needed. Hell, you did not even have to rely on anyone to make this sport happen, just an open road and an agreeable, operable set of legs.

I started running circa 1992, started competitive racing a couple of years later, dropped around 40 lbs., and firmly self-identified as a runner. It was circa 1997 that I decided I was going to attempt my first marathon; that is, 26.2 miles of foot pronation (supination?…its been a while) as I dysfunctionally struck pavement for well over 3 hours. Prior to this I went and asked an old friend of mine, Dave Delong, a marathon runner himself and an esteemed track coach, what his advice would be for a new marathon runner.

He never skipped a beat:

Simple. Respect the race.

“26.2 miles is a long distance. Respect every mile, every inch,” he told me, “Or the race can eat you alive.”

He meant that you might feel great at mile 21 or 23 or 25 and think that you got this…that you have beaten this race into submission.

Bad idea.

Respect the race, he told me. Respect that 26.2 miles is a very long distance. Respect the last few miles, respect the last few feet as at any time, the race can come back and bite you in the ass as one could hit the dreaded wall at any time. It is only then one realizes the nature of the foe you are attempting to defeat.

I never better understood the concept of respecting your opponent better than after my first few marathons. Dave was so absolutely correct that it taught me one of the best lessons I could have learned in life, let alone racing: Always respect the nature of your opponent….no matter how superior you think you might be.

I could not help but think of all the times in sports history when the David killed the Goliath due to this lack of respect, yet I will not bore you with sports trivia…though trust me, it is  common. Be it the 69 Super Bowl, Ronda Rousey or the 2016 Warriors in the finals…one must unrelentingly respect the race till it’s over.

So, alas, fast forward to the 2016 Presidential election.

Apparently some never have learned the simple value to “respect the race,” in this case, the presidential race. Please understand I am not suggesting you must respect the person, just as much as I am not suggesting you must respect the particular landscape or city of a particular race; rather, respecting the race is to respect the nature of the race, respecting the competition of the race, respecting the importance of the race, and to humbly realize the race is greater than you and to succeed begins with humility towards the race. After all, the goal is to win -nothing more, nothing less.

If ever there was a time in political history where the overwhelming favorite entirely disrespected its opponent, to its own deficit, it was the 2016 presidential election.  Trump’s chance of winning usually hovered around 25%, pending which poll was taken after which ill- advised statement was made Trump.

Among those who utterly dismissed and disrespected their opponent (if you have a few minutes please watch this video…it is fascinating) and who should know better include President Barack Obama -the guiltiest of all parties as his disrespect set the tone for a Trump victory; Bernie Sanders –and Bernie is so much better than this; Nancy Pelosi, the house minority leader who needs control of her tongue; Ron Reagan Jr., Harry Reid, Mark Cuban, Bob Beckel and nearly every leading political pundit in the soundbite world.

Some of those who stuck their egotistical foot in their arrogant mouths who are well known, yet whose only qualification is popularity, include George Clooney, Tom Hanks (“That man will become president of the United States the day space ships come down with dinosaurs and men with red capes”…whoops), nearly every late night comedian and the loudest of mouths on The View.

Anyone who even remotely suggested that Donald J. Trump would be our next president was laughed out of the building (please see Anne Coulter getting mocked and scorned at 2:00 in the linked video above, on the Bill Maher show, Politically Incorrect). Please watch as we can learn a thing or two about hubris gone wild.

Donald Trump was not only predicted to lose, he was mocked and laughed at by a, quite smug, untold millions more…in a strange twist, he was absolutely bullied and humiliated by those who should really know better. I suppose it was ok to bully the bully….but, then, you can see where that got us. The point the smug left forgot is that when bashing Trump you were bashing his supporters, calling them ignorant idiots—problem is their votes count just as much as anyone else’s.

If the American electorate could teach ANY politician just one critically important lesson, it is that the American public always finds and locates the middle ground…and stays there. If one side pushes too hard in one direction, the public will overcompensate in the other direction. The left bully pulpit, led by 8 years of Obama, just got a little too big for its political britches.

Did it seem odd to anyone, other than myself, that those who were anti-Trump felt free and safe to be mean, disrespectful, and outspoken (the President very much included…see President Obama on the Jimmy Kimmel “Mean Tweets”… bad choice Barack) while the general Trump supporters, sans those diehards at political rallies and few extremists, remained generally quiet and reserved to openly express their support for fear of being ostracized via social media and otherwise?

It seems those who were bullied quietly went to the principal’s office (the voting booth) to report the bullies…and they won.

It seems the left forgot the very important lesson to respect the race…to respect the office of the opponent…to be gracious until such time there is something to gloat over, namely victory.

A few days after Trump’s infamous secret recording came out about how he just grabs women by the, ah, “kitty,” a presidential debate commenced. Not realizing Trump’s words were obviously offensive, inappropriate, and quite unpresidential all on their own accord, Clinton felt the need to explain, as if we did not know already, just how wrong those comments were…thanks Hillary, yeah, we get it.

I was so hoping, when asked about these comments, she would take the high road and respond that those comments speak for themselves and the American public will decide how to interpret those lewd comments, now let’s get back to the issues.

You all tried to beat a bully by being a bully. Damn…don’t ya hate when hubris bites you in the ass?

As we adjust to 4 years that will bring a new meaning to the term, “bully pulpit,” I will be out on a run, respecting each step I am able to respectfully take.

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.

Facts And Other Fallacies

A former student of mine, who does read this blog and offers wonderful feedback at times, recently declared in my class that he is basically always right -as he bases all his ideas on the facts.

Ugh.

In my lifetime I have had countless arguments (a term I use with endearment and not with hostility, btw) with countless people when myself or the other will pull out the “fact” card, as in, “that’s a fact, man, look it up,” as if King Fact has just entered the room and has pronounced all further argumentative proceedings to be halted at once: The facts have arrived. I, admittedly, have been guilty of worshiping at the throne of King Fact…no more.facts-not-fiction

Truth be told, as I age, I most definitely am not a fact man. I believe the word is both misleading and dangerous while tending to derail arguments as if the final proclamation has been declared -deeming all further inquiry and conversation unnecessary.

Today I write about the idea of facts. What are they? Are they really true? And, perhaps most importantly, why are they potentially dangerous when used without nuance and discretion?

Regardless of how one may define a fact, it is nearly always inextricably tied with the notion of “true,” and therein rests the fundamental problematic root of the fact façade. The dictionary has over 25 different definitions for the word true that I will not bore you with…suffice it to say that nearly all these definitions are generally interwoven with the notion of “certainty” and, yet again, another fundamental problem with the idea of a “fact.”

If indeed facts existed as we commonly use the term, as in the truthfulness of a statement, why would, or better yet, how could, we ever have any disagreement or conflict in society? If life were as simple as adhering to a series of facts that no one could dispute, why do we have a divided nation? Factions? Ingroups and outgroups? Do we have two sets of people in society: Dumb people, or those who disagree with our facts and, smart people, those who agree with our facts?

Such thinking is not only intellectually dishonest, it is childish; if only the world were that easy.

I am fully cognizant that philosophers have grappled with the idea of facts and its accompanying sister subjects of truth and certainty for centuries while exhaustive works have been written on the subject, so today I discuss the idea of facts in terms of its use in contemporary communication practices, sans the deeper philosophical implications (Occam’s razor, ontological concerns, etc…), and how the term is used in erroneous ways that defeat effective communication practices.

What are the two biggest problems when we use the “Fact” card to discuss issues?

Facts change and can often not be trusted. When the idea of a fact is translated as true and certain, we have problems. How much in life is absolutely true and certain? Most definitely nothing in the social sciences yet what about the hard sciences? Is it certain the sun will rise tomorrow? Just because it always has does not mean with absolute certainty it will tomorrow. That E=MC2? A quick internet search will reveal many science geeks (of which I am not one) believe this to be false, or at least not altogether true. If something were absolutely true, would not there be universal acceptance of its truthfulness? Or is it just those dumb people again?

Consider how many “facts” are no longer true.  Was the existence of the planet Pluto once a fact? Yes, though no longer. Hell, it was a fact the world was once flat or that sun revolved around the earth.

“That’s not fair Jimmy, we now have progressed through scientific discoveries and those are basically beliefs from the Bronze age through the Middle ages.”

Agreed. And imagine in another century or so what science will be laughing at when discussing the ignorance of science in the year 2016? My hunch is we will have a whole new set of facts and we may very well be referred to as the Amusement Age, an era in which beliefs were guided first and foremost by influences that best met the prurient needs of the masses. But I digress…

I even learned this morning that the NCAA is taking away all the wins from the Notre Dame football team in the years 2012-13 due to an academic scandal.  Goodness, just yesterday it was a fact that this football team had recorded many victories in those seasons.

Facts change, therefore I would not hang too much of my intellectual hat on them. “Facts” may offer us probablity though most definitely not certainty.

Facts are often used to make a larger point that, in reality, it does not accurately substantiate. In other words, we use many “facts” to make a claim, or even an opinion, that something is true. For example, I can make the truth claim that people in the United States are becoming less violent and more law abiding. To back this up I may point to the “fact” that violent crime rates have been continually decreasing since the year 1990.  According to FBI statistics this could be verified and factually accurate. However, this does not address concerns such as, perhaps, a change in the definition by the FBI of what constitutes a violent crime, the accuracy of reporting violent crimes, a growing ineffective judicial system failing to convict violent criminals, and so on. The “fact” may or may not be influenced by some or all of these things, yet, due to their possibility, the “fact” must be used with great discretion and caution. Therefore your “fact” to support a truth claim may very well not be at all true, insofar as it goes in proving your opinion.

It is also a fact that drunk driving arrests among women have increased since around MADD’s (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) inception in 1980, from about 9% then to about 25% today. I guess then we could imply that more women are are drinking and driving today than in 1980 -not necessarily. The government, with such influences of groups such as MADD, have successfully redefined what “drunk” actually means…for many years it was undefined, then .15 blood alcohol content, lowered to .10 and now .08, and soon, perhaps to be .04 or lower. Yes, there may be more drunk driving arrests today yet the reason is we are constantly changing the definition of what it means to be drunk. This “fact” does not mean women have necessarily changed their drinking and driving habits, it means was have changed the definition, making the “fact” essentially meaning something entirely different, and in the sense it is comparing apples to oranges. Still want more “drunk” drivers? Move the legal BAC to .00 and voila! Drunk we shall be after the communion wine.

The idea of using the notion of “probability” is far more conducive to healthy dialogue over “fact.” The act of using facts in argument is an efficient heuristic that does not really deal with details of any given issue. Often times our facts are informed by a fundamental value system that directly filters our understanding of data.

When you think about it, this multitude of differing perceptions, understandings, and interpretations of facts, data and information in general, is what makes the world a much more interesting place. When one believes they are right because the “facts” are on their side, this is a red flag warning of dogmatic and closed-minded thinking that critical thinkers should not practice.

Whether it be political, social, or personal, most are driven by an internal need to massage their deeper emotional and intellectual needs then to arrive at an objective conclusion.

Perhaps taking an example from the micro in life may help put this “fact kerfuffle” into perspective. If we were to live our lives by the facts, none of us would be overweight, smoke, drink, or engage in any behaviors that may potentially act as a detriment to our health. The “probability” of such behaviors resulting in negative consequences is certainly substantial, yet most of us would confess to engaging in such behaviors at various times in our lives.

If we cannot allow these “facts” to inform and direct our personal lives, how could they possibly inform our public and social life? Would not the same pattern follow?

If I were to argue the fact that eating a jelly donut may be physically bad for you, you should never eat jelly donuts, right? The problem with this “fact” is that it does not take into account the complexity of the human psyche or context. Perhaps eating that donut will quell emotional angst (read: comfort food) and MAY play an overall health benefit for you in general, provided you do not eat the entire dozen…which is typically my problem. Or what about the person who is in starvation mode and their only choice of nutrition would be a jelly donut…or die.  A jelly donut would be the recommended dietary choice in such a situation.

Facts can get really fuzzy really fast.

If only life were as easy as adhering to a set of factual propositions that we can all uniformly adhere to and live happily ever after. We then could kneel at the throne of King Fact and bask in our delusions.

How boring.

 

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.