NCAA Football, accents, free will

Things I’m thinking about Monday:

  • Tonight’s the last NCAA football game of the season. Thank goodness. I hope it’s a good one.
  • I want to pronounce “Monday” with a Scottish accent, but it turns out I have no idea how to make it sound like it’s a Scottish accent. It’s not my accent, whatever it is, but I have a feeling a Scot would be… unamused to hear it. In my head I’m thinking a Scot would say “Wot the bloody … is that” but on thinking about it, I think even that sounds more Irish in my head. And I’m sure the Irish would be offended by that. Maybe I should stick to my native Southern accent.
  • I’m still trying to keep up my exercise regimen. My core is stronger than it was, already – this is a very good thing – but I’m constantly sore, which isn’t bad, but it’s not good. Still keeping it up, though. Haven’t really lost significant weight yet.
  • Professionally, few things annoy me as much as when an AWS container reboots on me.
  • I tend to speak little and quietly, not because I think volume adds gravitas, but because I recognize the value most of my words have for others (not a lot) and I don’t want them to feel bad for interrupting.
  • Tool’s “Right in Two” is a fantastic song. The opening lyrics include “… Why did Father give these humans free will? Now they’re all confused” – which is a great line – but isn’t that a natural result of having free will? Free will doesn’t mean making the RIGHT choice every time, it means making your own choice. Still a great song.
  • I would far rather be “a good guy” than “the good guy.” It’s not a zero-sum game.

The Golden Rule

I’ve been thinking about the Golden Rule lately, and it’s confusing and difficult for me. It’s also confusing and difficult to express.

I am fairly certain that this post will come across as whining and petulant. Who knows, maybe it is – but I don’t think so, and that’s not the intent with which it’s being written.

Here’s what I know of the Golden Rule, offhand:

Somewhere in Judaism’s past, the “Silver Rule” came into being. It’s pretty simple, and pretty ethical, and actually pretty awe-inspiring in scope – as in, “Why didn’t people think this already?” The Silver Rule is this: “Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.

So if you really don’t appreciate the idea of someone walking behind you and bonking you in the head with a shoe… don’t go around walking up behind someone else and bonking them with a shoe. It’s a simple way to restrain dumb and potentially harmful impulses. Don’t take advantage of something for your own gain or amusement if you wouldn’t like someone else doing the same thing over you.

It’s essentially a negative rule, a restriction: do not do something if it fits this simple criteria. If you wouldn’t appreciate it, assume others wouldn’t appreciate it, and hold off, you goober.

Jesus Christ, however, recorded something that I honestly think is better, the “Golden Rule.” It’s worded positively instead of negatively.

The Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’m probably paraphrasing; it’s Matthew 7:12 in the Christian Bible, if you want to look it up and verify.

It’s a positive requirement. Figure out what someone might want, and do it, as opposed to the Silver Rule’s far more passive form of “Figure out what you don’t want, and avoid doing that.”

So far, there’s nothing petulant or whiny in this post, and I’m glad for that.

Here’s where this post gets whiny. Again, I’m not trying to complain, I’m just speaking from my own experience, and I’m personalizing it because it’s me. I thought of trying to write a story to illustrate the point, but I’m just too tired.

I try to follow the Golden Rule. I really do. I think that Jesus had the right idea of it, and if we all tried to follow it, the world would be a better place. Maybe it wouldn’t be healed, but it’d be a better place.

I look at those friends I can identify and attach to – which isn’t easy, because I’m not a person who forms attachments easily. Innately, I tend to have two friends at any given time in my life.

I am at war with myself over things like that. Right now I have … gosh, nearly twenty people I’ve forced myself to see as my “inner circle.”

TWENTY. I … when I tried to do a count, and came up with that, I was stunned. I’m still stunned as I write this, actually. For me, having that many people to actually care about is pure and simple madness. Insanity. Daunting beyond belief. Impossible, really.

Really. And truly. Impossible. I can’t do it.

And I don’t say that because I’m trying to get sympathy or whatever – it’s an admission of failure, not a cry for attention. It’s a flaw in my psyche that I can’t actually do it.

But I’m trying anyway.

So the question is: what does it mean to be in my “inner circle?” It means that I try to keep in mind your struggles and triumphs, and share in your burdens. I know details about where you’re employed, what you do, what you care about, what your goals are, what you’re going through. Certainly not every detail – I don’t know exactly which elementary school you teach at, Melissa, nor do I know what campus you work at, Jennifer – but dang it, I am trying despite such details having no direct impact on my life whatsoever and therefore, to my mind, being absolutely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

But those things are relevant to the people I have decided to care about. So I apply the Golden Rule, and I care. I make myself care. I make myself ask. I try to remember despite those details having little context in the matrix of my thought patterns. (I remember details by way of their association to patterns, so details with little context are verrrrry difficult for me to retain. It drives my wife crazy.)

Here’s the thing: out of the twenty people in my inner circle, the ones for whom I apply the Golden Rule as harshly as I can… I’m sure they care. I just can’t tell.

I hit a low point recently. One person in my inner circle knew about it. Others saw it.

Think about that, if you would.

Out of twenty people, a full one took notice and said “Hey… can I help?”

It made me think: is this normal? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the question, and because I’m me, I told the truth and said, “no,” nor do I resent the people who didn’t recognize it (really and truly, I don’t) — but daaaaaaaaaaaang.

If we, as a people, can’t recognize when the people around us who are supposed to be close to us are struggling… why? Why aren’t we watching?

We see all these school shootings and we wring our hands and say “Don’t forget to connect to the people around you! Prevent stuff like this!” — and I think it’s easy to conclude that connection to others is the key. (Banning guns is stupid; game theory illustrates that it simply makes the problem worse without addressing a first cause. Sorry, gun banners. You’re barking up the wrong stop sign.)

So if we say “Yes, connect to others…” great, but why don’t we do it?

I live in a Christian world. Jesus had two “great commandments” for Christians: to love the Lord, and to do unto others as they would have done to themselves. Looking around, and without trying to criticize, I wonder if we try either one of those… and why.

My rules for social media

Recently, a fellow I know on Facebook mentioned unfriending someone (for very good reasons), and it got me thinking a little more on the rules on how I use the site.

I find that I have four fairly simple rules.

Rule #1: Add People I Might Respect as Friends

I add people who I think I would respect in real life as friends, and follow them. It means I don’t have a giant list of friends, I suppose, but it does tend to mean that when I have someone on my list, it’s someone whose name I would recognize in real life.

I add them because I know them (in real life) or I came across them through their interactions with others (i.e., friends of friends) and would want to interact with them.

It generally doesn’t matter if I agree with them or not, although there are some simple metrics that would probably prevent my bothering with them, I guess. A friend of a friend who constantly refers to http://rawstory.com and http://salon.com as God’s given truth is probably not someone with whom I’d interact. (It’s not that those sites cannot say something true, but they’re so typically slanted that … ugh.)

It happens that I add people who I get to know better over time, and … who knows? Maybe I regret it, but I’m not a fan of surrounding myself with people with whom I do nothing but agree. I don’t want to be expected to comply with someone else’s ideology; why would I demand someone comply with mine? (See Rule #3.)

Rule #2: No “Likes”

I use Facebook’s “Like” feature very very rarely. The general rule for me is that if I might “like” it, I’ll choose to share it or comment on it instead. This goes for everything; posts, comments, whatever.

It’s not that “Like” isn’t useful – it’s been designed to show a response to a posting, after all, and it’s gotten more nuanced than it was.

In general, though, I don’t want Facebook altering my feed based on what it thinks I will respond to.

Rule #3: No Unfriending

I want a heterogenous culture surrounding me. I want different viewpoints. I want different opinions. I want people to challenge me intellectually and emotionally. I don’t want a horde of potential sycophants providing content.

If I thought enough of you to add you as a friend, regardless of what wacko thoughts you had rolling in your head, then I trust myself enough to keep you as a friend.

This doesn’t mean that I will never unfriend someone, I guess, but it happens very rarely. (I don’t remember the last time I unfriended someone.)

I will, however, stop following people under some conditions, mostly related to problems with Rule #4.

Rule #4: Avoid Discussions with People Ruled by Emotion

When someone shows that their decision processes are ruled by emotion, I stop interacting with them.

Facebook has a lot of people on it who seem dominated by rage and offense. (I don’t think they’re this way in real life – but on social media, some aspects of personality are emphasized to cartoonish levels. People who don’t recognize this really need to stay off of social media altogether, but that means 99% of Facebook would have to quit.)

The truth is that a lot of the rage is probably justified. In the last week, we had the “Stanford Rapist” – a rapist who received an outlandishly short jail sentence – and the Orlando mass murder at the Pulse nightclub.

Both situations were horrifying, in different ways; both deserved a visceral response.

Spoiler alert: they got their responses.

However, the nature of the responses – especially through discussion – tells me a lot about the person with whom I might interact.

It doesn’t bother me if they’re emotional; these are emotionally laden events! Anyone who can read about a rape without emotion is a robot. Anyone who reads about 49 people killed and has no feeling of horror… that’s someone desensitized to being human.

My thought is: feel the emotion! Understand it – and then act rationally. Emotion is a perfectly valid stimulus for decision-making.

It’s a terrible sole source for decisions, though, just like “pure reason” would be.

The world’s not simple, folks. Emotion wants simplicity; the killer used guns? NO MOAR GUNS! FOR ANYONE! EVAR! The rapist was a white man? NO MORE WHITE MAN! ALL WHITE MEN ARE THREATS!

That’s stupid. That kind of insistence on trigger-laden decision making is something that I can’t deal with.

I recognize the validity of the emotion; it’s emotional, after all. It’s not that the person echoing these sentiments is unjustifiable, or invalid, or stupid. I don’t want to say “don’t feel what you feel” – that’d be wrong.

But reacting that way tends to lead to them telling me that I shouldn’t feel what I feel. That’s just as wrong as me telling them how to feel.

So once they show themselves willing to accept this kind of decision-making, I … simply … stop. I don’t tell them they’re wrong. I don’t inform them of their error. I don’t tell them that I’m not talking to them any more. I don’t unfriend or unfollow them.

I just watch and listen. I still (probably) value their expertise and humanity in other ways, after all. I just can’t interact with them without endangering their perceived safe spaces, and I don’t want to bother with their emotions. They’re not my emotions, after all, and if they’re not willing to treat me with rationality, well, I’m okay with that. I don’t want to inflict my views on them any more than I want them to demand that I comply with their views.

Conclusion

So there you have it; my basic four rules for social media. There are more, realistically:

  1. I try not to insult people (although it happens, because I’m sarcastic and have a very dry sense of humor).
  2. I try to avoid personalizing religion. I have no problem discussing religion, but it’s removed; I’ll explain religious orthodoxy but I won’t demand compliance to it (especially if it’s not, you know, my religion.) People have to make up their own minds. I despise ignorance; someone claiming a blood libel’s truth is going to get an explanation of the blood libel, but I’ll leave my own history with it (if any) out of the discussion unless it’s explicitly relevant.
  3. I try to write formally and precisely. This gets me in a lot of trouble, because people don’t know how to read precisely. (“My initial reaction was…” doesn’t mean “this is how I feel,” it means it was my initial reaction.)

How do you govern yourself on social media?

Think about your connections.

Recently, Ted Neward posted a link on Facebook, “How We All Miss the Point on School Shootings,” by Mark Manson. It’s got some interesting points to it, the most crucial of which is that thoughts about gun control and mental illness are not the best conclusions from such events, but the disconnectedness between us as human beings is the greatest cause and cure for tragedies like this.

That got me thinking, and I’d like to issue a challenge to everyone who reads this.

Christian authors Steve Timmis and Tim Chester wrote a book called “Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission,” which was trying to address the construction of what they call a “post-Christian culture,” in which people have no intention of attending church. Since people don’t really want to attend a “formal church” very much, a living church should therefore find other ways to be act as a church. They said that small groups of churches – what many Christians would refer to simply as small groups today – were effective, mostly because of the way humans interact.

They stated that formal churches just don’t have the ability to actually establish interpersonal relationships, which they see as the way for Christians to minister and instruct others. As a culture, we don’t really want to dress up and go to church every Sunday, listening passively to some bloke behind a podium, reading from some manual of thought to which we have no connection. (Of course, that’s not always true: people worship at the altars of popular entertainers and politicians, but thankfully we actually listen to them about as well as we would some evangelist, too.)

Since we don’t do the whole church thing as a culture all that much, it’s up to the church to do the “people thing” instead. But that’s too much of a burden to place on a pastoral staff; people, including pastors (since they’re people), aren’t wired that way. If memory serves, Timmis and Chester said that we connect to around eight people consistently – more than that and the quality of connection drops off dramatically.

Therefore, a pastor with a church of four hundred members would be likely to have three hundred and ninety-two members who lack connection with him. That violates what I understand a Christian pastor to be: a shepherd to his congregants, someone who they know cares about them.

Times and Chester acknowledged that, and said that it was actually up to the church to rectify that; a church has limited staff, but a reservoir of members, after all. The members should care for each other, serving as pastors themselves, forming a giant network of connections that should span the entire church and keep it healthy and vibrant. The pastor’s responsibility is to create the environment in which a healthy network of members exists.

This makes sense to me, even while I don’t think I could actually handle eight connections – I’m not wired that way.

Now, consider the point on school shootings (that connections missed are the best chance we have to protect both the victims and the shooters). Consider how great social networking is at absolutely disconnecting us from the people in close proximity, replacing those real human contacts with ephemeral and light touches that actually don’t serve to reinforce who we are or our humanity, granting us the illusion of real contact with few of the psychological benefits.

So let’s consider my challenges to readers.

The First Challenge: To whom are you connected?

First, I dare you to figure out who your closest contacts are.

One would hope your nuclear family was on this list; your wife or husband, and your children – all of them. (If I had a protest against large families, it would be based on this: I cannot imagine being able to attend to the needs of sixteen children, such that I’m invested in them and they’re invested in me. It’s just too many people, with too many demands. If the parents are able to keep track of this, they’re far better at this interpersonal contact thing than I am; I get overloaded even thinking about it.)

It may be that your extended family is on this list in some form, too. Maybe that’s as far as it goes – and that’s fine.

Ideally, your list would stretch to at least two other people outside your family (number picked at random; three seemed like a lot to me, but one was just plain pitiful.)

It might be the guy who recognizes you when you get your coffee, or it might be the football player you coach with whom you’ve established some kind of special bond.

It doesn’t matter who is on your list – but it should be someone you’re willing to ask about. You know, you’d ask about how their day went – and care about the answer. If things aren’t going well, you’d know them well enough to recognize their situation – and empathize with it, and maybe even help. You’d be willing to listen to them, commiserate with them honestly, celebrate with them, help them when they’re down, and tell them when you are down. They’re the people who you’d go into a foxhole with, more or less.

If your list is empty, well… time to change that. Start talking to the guy at the coffee shop, or the people at the gas station when you buy your snacks for the road, or… basically anyone who’s in your life on a regular basis.

It’d hopefully be someone with whom you have actual physical contact, but I imagine it doesn’t have to be. I have close friends in my circle who live eight hundred miles away – and whom I haven’t seen in person in years, and that’s okay, I think.

The Second Challenge: Who do you know who’s not connected at all?

Second, think about who, of the people you know, lacks human contacts?

Take that coffee-shop guy, for an example. Do you know if he’s a loner? Do you even know if he’s alone? (A loner might not be alone – I’m in this category. And someone who is alone might not be a loner.) Do you know if he wants to be alone?

If you know of someone who doesn’t have those contacts – i.e., someone who you think couldn’t list out their contacts – maybe that’s someone in your life to whom you could reach out.

You don’t have to become their best friend, you know? It might be that that person could become your best friend in the future – who knows, who cares? But reaching out to them might be the connection to humanity that person is needing more than anything else. It might be the lifeline that kills the seed of disaster.

It might not, of course. Not everyone is a ticking time bomb (or so one hopes). But what would it harm, exactly, to form even loose friendships with people, in the hopes that those tenuous connections might become stronger, or at least establish human connections?

The benefits would be enormous.

My greatest mistakes were because of intent.

Overall, I think I’m a fairly decent person, who’s done some really stupid things.

Almost every time that I’ve done something that hurts the people around me, it’s been through lack of intent. That doesn’t mean that my failures were intentional – I’m not the sort of person who sets out to hurt others, I hope – but it means that my failures and flaws came about mostly because I didn’t have an intention in mind.

They happened not because I meant for them to happen, but because I didn’t mean for them not to happen.

I wounded a close friendship apparently past recovery because I didn’t intend to preserve it – I said or did something thoughtlessly and the relationship was damaged.

I’ve hurt relationships, because I didn’t pursue what I thought was right – I figured that what was right would happen, and therefore drifted in ways that were not beneficial.

It’s not that I want to do the wrong thing; it’s that I think the right thing will be done, almost passively.

The way I see it is something like this: few men actually want to have affairs, but those who have affairs don’t remind themselves to purposefully avoid situations. They allow themselves to be in position to conduct an affair, rather than actively avoiding circumstances, because they know that their intent is to remain faithful. This is a construct of information, mind: I don’t know this for sure, but this is how I see my own behavior.

When I am at my best, it’s because I actively examine what I do, and measure it.

I was reading a site this morning, for example, and it made a reference to an off-color resource. It was not a clear reference, and I’m a curious person, so my first thought was to go find out what the reference was about. After all, I’m not interested in being off-color; I am faithful to my wife, and I’m not interested in not being faithful, right? Surely I can look at a humor site that’s moderately explicit without violating my mores about faithfulness, right?

… and then I caught myself. I wasn’t being intentional. I was allowing myself to be seduced by my own confidence (which has happened before, sadly.) I know I’m not interested in being unfaithful, but I was taking a few steps in that direction, by not actively pursuing a rigid monogamy. I wasn’t actively judging my own behavior; if someone were to say “here are my mores, I want to do this, do you think I’m being inconsistent?” to me, I would respond that yes, they were being inconsistent… while not looking at myself in the same light.

I was being unfaithful, in a tiny manner, by not being intentional and direct about being faithful. Once I realized that, I could do what I feel is right, and I can recognize my own curiosity (and acknowledge it) while denying its fulfillment. Once I am intentional about what I am doing, I can do what I think is right, and move on.

Without that sense of acknowledgement, what would happen? Well, I might go to the site in question, of course (I don’t know if my filters would have tripped it or not)… or I might not, which is what I’d hope would have happened.

But acknowledgement is critical, because if I don’t actually understand my own thought process, the curiosity would remain. I’d always wonder if it would have been okay to go to that resource, surely it couldn’t have been that bad, maybe it was funny, maybe enlightening. Maybe just distracting if I ever needed a distraction. (BTW, I never need distra- HEY, A SQUIRREL!)

With acknowledgement, I discard the site and whatever it was about. With acknowledgement, I put the behavior – destructive or not – in the past, and it doesn’t have to affect my any more. With acknowledgement, I can be intentional about what I do and read and say and think, such that I avoid anything that causes harm.

It’s not okay to just not intend to do something… “I didn’t mean it” is a horrible thing to have to say. By trying to live with intent, I can instead try to live in such a way that my grandfather would have been proud of my whole life, and I own what I do.


I actually changed the link for “Emotional Intelligence” to point to this page because it does a better job of describing it.

Weasel Words Are Great

Weasel words are great. And yes, I know, I left out weasel words in making that statement.

Weasel words are words like “some” and “may.” Most clickbait authors – i.e., people on Facebook – are allergic to them, so you get fine headlines like “Conservatives hate the gays!” instead of the less-click-baitish and far-more-accurate “Some conservatives hate gays.”

Yet weasel words – sometimes seen as poor writing – aren’t poor writing at all. (See?) Weasel words allow you to describe things without being absolute about the description. They also allow you to temper a statement – which might even lead to more temperate statements, so instead of “Conservatives hate gays!” you might write “Some conservatives hate gays!” and then the ironically more-inclusive “Some people hate gays.”

Weasel words also create an allowance for error. Saying “Conservatives hate gays” means you’re liable to be countered by some conservative pointing out that he or she demonstratively does not hate homosexuals, which means your entire weasel-free claim is invalidated, since it makes no allowance for exceptions.

“Ah, but exceptions are implied,” you might be saying – but no, they’re not. Not on the internet. If you don’t provide room for the exceptions, the internet – which amplifies everything you write, since there’s nothing to temper a statement like body language or tone – makes it seem that there are no exceptions.

Nearly everyone is doggedly literal on the Internet. Acting like your audience is made entirely of people who are not doggedly literal is ill-advised.

So: Befriend the weasel words, folks. Really. They’ll help create actual dialogue, by allowing nuance.

(Reposted here from a Facebook post of mine, of all things, to preserve it.)

Conversation is the roar of the tide, not a ping from a radar.

One of the things I’ve noticed from watching Facebook is that the nature of conversation is being fractured. Facebook, Twitter, and other such mediums encourage the use of soundbites, basically snappy and memorable phrases. Conversations become about headlines, rather than content or context.

The thing is: that’s not how we actually exist.

Our conversations are actually built in a context; it’s the sound of the tide crashing on the shore. What Facebook does is encourage the use of one wave out of that whole tide, as a complete representation of everything that person says, while ignoring the impact of everything else that person believes or thinks or even has said in the thread of that conversation.

What you end up with is an endless series of snap judgements, not a comprehensive picture of what someone thinks or who that person is.

The result is a ruinous, judgemental, callous, libelous society of fools, a subculture built around extraction of tiny phrases to reinforce bias. We don’t look for reason, or balance; we only look for something we can use.

Witness one fellow saying that “no-one has the guts to allow poor people to wither and die.” (Warning: this link is from rawstory.com, and therefore is editorially suspect. It’s spun, folks, spun hard. I don’t care if you agree with them or not, but you should know the source material is intentionally tainted to encourage a political view. In general, people who quote rawstory.com and a few other such sites on Facebook are almost instantly discounted, for me.)

John Johnston, who is challenging Democratic state Rep. Chuck Moseley for the 10th District seat, said during a social media discussion on poverty that “no one has the guts to just let them wither and die.”

The Valparaiso resident told The Post-Tribune on Tuesday that his comments were simply hyperbole, and he told the paper no thoughtful society would allow people to go hungry.

I’ve mentioned hyperbole before:

Avoid hyperbole, statements that are exaggerated in order to illustrate a point, unless you actually know your audience is going to recognize it for what it is. The truth is that a public audience of virtually any size will not recognize hyperbole. Some in the audience might; maybe even most. But assuming everyone will recognize it is going to lead to you having misrepresented yourself.

Hyperbole is sometimes useful. Not always, of course, but sometimes. But the use of snippets of conversation as a basis for judgement makes hyperbole actively harmful, even though it shouldn’t be. The quote from John Johnston is a good example. He might have been laughing as he said it; he might have been deadly serious. It doesn’t matter – in the conversational mode of the day, the way the text can be spun is all that matters.

People – including reporters – should instead look at a person as an entire being. I don’t know John Johnston, but if I was reporting on this meeting, I’d try to look at who the man was, and what he actually did in life, before deciding that he hated poor people. Maybe he works at a food bank; maybe he’s lower-class himself.

What does he actually think? That’s pretty relevant, and no, a sound-bite isn’t enough. You can suggest that one instance of a crime has mitigating circumstances without suggesting that every instance of that crime has mitigating circumstances.

Imagine two men are shot by the police, for example. In both, the men were running from the police. One, however, might have been a 19-year-old kid, frightened by all the references in the news to young men being shot down without cause, and the other might have just robbed a store at gunpoint, allegedly shooting a store clerk.

Let’s say a person – “Sam,” who doesn’t exist – suggests that one of them deserved being shot. That doesn’t mean that Sam thinks the other also deserved being shot. But without understanding or characterization about Sam, we have no idea what kind of person Sam actually is. If Sam spends his time ranting about illegal immigration, flies a Confederate flag, and mourns the oppression of the Ku Klux Klan, well… those things serve as some form of characterization. Maybe they’re not complete – maybe Sam is directly affected somehow by illegal immigration, or maybe he’s from the Deep South and doesn’t have negative connotations about the Confederate flag, and maybe he’s ignorant as to what the purpose of the Ku Klux Klan really is – but these, too, are characterization points that serve to inform us of who Sam might really be, inside.

These things form the tide that serve as Sam’s makeup, whereas his statement about a shooting serves only as a single wave.

The tide is far more important.

Look at who people are. What they say and do is relevant, of course, but their motivations are rarely as simple as “I hate white people” or “poor people deserve to die” or “shucks, she was asking to be raped.” (To my knowledge: no-one asks to be raped. Ever. If she asks, it’s not rape. If she thinks she didn’t ask, she didn’t ask.)

People are tides, not waves. Before rendering judgement, we should always look at as much of the picture as we’re able to.

We should read with emotion and reason, with reason having control. Sure, visceral reactions are fine, and they’re even necessary if we’re to consider ourselves emotional creatures… but visceral reactions are often based on primitive thinking. They should be tempered by reason and rationality. Fight or flight is not a decision to be made lightly, when you’re trying to actually learn something from someone else.

Be human. Read rationally. Sometimes rage is justified – but few people are all good, or all bad. Consider the context of the person with whom you’re engaged, and try to understand them – while there’s nothing saying that the person isn’t a total jerk, chances are that people have redeeming qualities even when they’ve acted inappropriately. (This is not the same as excusing inappropriate behavior; it’s still inappropriate behavior, and such behavior has legitimate consequences.)

Be human.

Legalized Discrimination in Indiana

Indiana’s “religious freedom” bill is a good example of something that should never have had to happen.

As I understand it – and I’m not a lawyer, nor do I live in Indiana any more, so I’m mostly seeing the aftermath of rage – it says that a business has the right to refuse to serve someone on religious grounds.

It’s Indiana SB 101, if you want to read what it actually says; as I understand it, it prevents the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate a requirement otherwise.” It also “prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.” (Emphasis mine.)

This means that a baker can refuse, on grounds of religion, to make a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding. It also means that a kosher deli can’t be sued just for not being halal, if a muslim desires to work there. It also means that someone could refuse to serve black people, presumably if there’s a demonstrable religious reason for doing it.

What we’ve seen of humanity so far is that someone will definitely be able to come up with a “demonstrable religious reason” to discriminate based on … almost anything, because people are inventive even if they’re stupid.

I think this bill is intended to mean that a minister of a conservative church can’t be forced to marry a homosexual couple, for example.

Naturally, a lot of social communities are up in arms about it. And they probably should be! A bill like this creates amazing potential for abuse.

But what was expected, really?

The reason bills like this are introduced is because of ineffective social activism. Someone in group “A” acts in such a way that group “B” thinks is bigoted – for example, someone in group “A” decides that making a cake for a homosexual wedding is not something they want to do. Group “B” thus decides to force the issue, claiming illegal discrimination.

Group A thus has a limited set of possible responses.

  • They can violate their own ethics by caving to the social pressure.
  • They can decide that the “unethical action” is an acceptable loss – something they should do despite their misgivings.
  • They can dig in their heels and defend their own freedom and rights.

The thing is: group B – the one forcing the issue – might be right; it might be illegal (well, illegal based on prior law, I guess) or unethical discrimination. Thus, they’re choosing to be social actors. This is what gave us integrated schools and lunch counters, after all, and discrimination represents an unpleasant set of memories for me, personally.

But then again, they might be wrong.

Demanding integration for public transportation and schools is entirely ethical – our government definitely has no right to refuse service based on the color of someone’s skin, or their sexuality, or their religion, or even their politics.

But when someone owns a private business, do they have the right to refuse service to anyone? If so, where is that line drawn? This bill says that it’s drawn on the side of the freedom of the business – they get to choose, even if that choice seems wrong to someone else.

And it should be up to the business! Otherwise, they could conceivably be forced to serve clientele who renege on the social contract between consumer and provider – imagine someone writing a series of bad checks to a business, then suing because the business doesn’t want to serve them any more.

Of course, with this being Indiana, chances are the one writing bad checks would win such a suit. I’m unimpressed by Indiana’s understanding of law.

This is not to say that I think discrimination is right – discrimination is wrong, in the general sense being used here. The problem here is that discrimination is being sought out, and then used as a basis for activism, which means that people who aren’t comfortable with a course of action on ethical grounds is being confronted often with that course of action. They’re being asked to endorse something that they feel they cannot ethically endorse. Again, they can cave, or change, or resist.

In most cases, changing is best; for example, I would think it would be a better ministry for a Christian bakery to make a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding than to refuse, but that’s something that each bakery would need to address. If the couple is aggressive about desiring a cake – well, I’ve heard horror stories from friends who were chosen simply because of the ethical position it would put the bakery in.

In other words, the couple didn’t care who made the cake, really, but chose a bakery solely for the conflict. Again, this is someone I know.

The Senate summary says that the government can demonstrate a requirement otherwise, so one would hope that there’s a legal barrier to outright discrimination. I’d almost rather, though, that people applied social pressure instead; imagine people of all skin colors avoiding a business that said “We don’t serve black folk at this here counter.”

The business has a right to decide who it will serve; the people it would serve have a right to decide not to frequent that business, and think of the massive opportunity such a declaration gives a competitor! Ricky Randy’s Racist Restaurant won’t serve none o’ them black folk? Well, what about Jimbo’s Restaurant one block away, which has no problem serving those two gay African American gentlemen, who get to sit right there in that nice window booth?

Eventually, Ricky Randy’s will have to explain to all of the empty seats that they might have to close them there doors for good.


It turns out that some of the conventions that Indianapolis appreciates might avoid Indiana, because of this law. Do I have an opinion on that?

Sure: I’m neutral. The convention has every right to avoid Indianapolis because of this; it’s a private entity, and thus has the same right the Indiana House has granted to other private entities in the state to refuse to serve Indiana. (See the irony? They’re protesting, using the same right that Indiana is demanding that everyone be granted.)

Vaccinations

I refuse to participate in the current flurry of condemnation against vaccination opponents. It’s ugly, it’s stupid, it’s wrong – not because vaccination is a bad move, but because the condemnation itself is ugly, stupid, and wrong.

Worse than being ugly, stupid, and wrong – it’s not effective. It’s cruel, in the end. If you’re one of the people throwing mud at anti-vaxxers, please stop – if only on behalf of someone who’s on your side.

I have a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s a great kid, and I’m very proud of him, but he struggles and he knows it. Having Asperger’s is difficult for him, and I’m especially proud that he doesn’t see it as something to use as an excuse, but he sees it as a challenge to overcome, instead.

When the original anti-vaccination wave came out (thanks to Orpah and Jenny McCarthy), I felt horribly guilty – had our vaccination of our son given him a challenge he’d have to face for the rest of his life? Why do they use mercury in vaccines, anyway? This sounds horrible – mercury’s a poison, we protest mercury poisoning in the sea, why are we using it for something we inject into every young child?

The truth is, of course, removed from that. It’s not mercury in poisonous form – it was denatured and served as a preservative, not as a poison, and the theory that it was causing autism was not, as it turns out, based on actual studies.

We know that now. Back then, we didn’t – we had Orpah Winfrey giving a platform to the idea that vaccines may not be entirely safe, with no metric by which to judge (all you had to have was a child), and a potential result that could be massively damaging to our childrens’ futures.

That’s the position most anti-vaccination parents have. A threat to their children, with voice given to where such a threat might originate.

Who can blame them for reacting?

I can’t. I don’t think they are reacting properly, mind you – the science behind the original anti-vaccination movement has been debunked (and retracted) – but I can’t blame them for reacting. When something threatens your child, you should react.

The problem comes to the way that vaccination proponents are popularizing their own point of view. What I see very often now is offensive and insulting: “What a dope you are for not vaccinating! How dare you! What are you, stupid? You’re endangering my children now, you freak!

It’s gotten now to the point where people are advocating removing any choice in the matter; the online magazine Slate posted How to Deal With Anti-Vaxxers, with the subheading of “If they refuse, we have to force them to vaccinate.” I’ve had numerous people endorse that view.

How sad! We reject the idea that ideas have to be accepted, except when it comes to certain topics – whether it’s Creationism, or vaccination, or Islam, or Common Core.

How ineffective, too. Forcing people to vaccinate will only force those people to work harder against vaccination – and the practice they gain in being anti-vaccination will only make their resolve stronger.

We can only convince people to vaccinate through reason and empathy. Anything else will work against our long-term goals.

Can this have a cost? Yes, it can. The war against mercury has a cost, in higher costs for vaccines.. but it’s a war that can be won. (We could always pay the higher costs, after all.) The war against anti-vaccinations has a cost, too, in that there’s a chance of more people catching these nearly-eradicated diseases. That’s… really not good.

But at the same time, do we descend to advocating state control of something that is, in the end, a very personal decision?

What happens when the state decides to enforce something that we are against, and passionately so? Should we too go meekly over the cliff’s edge?

I say no. I reject the idea of state control here. We are humans. We need to make sane and right choices – through our own faculties, and if our ideas are not strong enough to propagate themselves through reason and logic and empathy, then they’re not strong enough and we need to do better.

Repost: Welcome to the New Inquisition.

CNN posted Stopping ISIS today, containing some horrifying imagery: basically, ISIS filmed a man being forcibly converted from Christianity to Islam, and then beheaded him.

I suppose that somewhere the god of irony is weeping tears of stone.

God knows I’m weeping real tears. Is this really what we’ve come to? A religious movement, ostensibly of a “religion of peace,” reinvents one of the more horrifying episodes of humanity’s recent past; haven’t we learned enough about all this?

Haven’t the Muslims learned enough about all this, from being on the receiving end of this kind of stupidity?

Sometimes I wish that the Western world (by which I mean “the civilized world,” including countries in the East that aren’t retarded) had the wherewithal to really commit to fighting. The extremists – and I hope they’re only extremists, and not part of an Islamic core – win because they’re willing to destroy everything in order to get what they want.

What the angry, hurt, childish part of me wants to see is a declaration that it all stops, now — and the price of not complying is severe. Like, really severe. Like, imagine what the Taliban did to a Buddhist temple, fifteen hundred years old, dynamiting it… except inverted, and applied to some site like… the Qabah. Or Mecca.

Imagine irradiating these holy sites, once and for all, converting one of them to a smoking crater. “You see? That is the force you’ve been trying to war against.” And it would totally screw over Islam, too, because Islam doesn’t really have a structure by which it could reformulate itself like Judaism did when the Temple was destroyed; how can one pursue a Hajj when the journey ends up at a site that’s strongly poisonous?

Of course, I don’t think this should be done. I’d fear even making the threat, because of what it would say about me.

And if you made that kind of threat, you’d have to be willing to follow through, because you know the extremists don’t believe the West has the guts to actually do something permanent… but they’re playing with a dragon, and they don’t seem to care.

Darwin would say that either their time is up, or the dragon’s not actually so tough after all.