23 July 2015

Or... maybe its neither

I am not really sure exactly what to think or feel about the fact that within the span of a couple months I can be accused of being both a libertarian and a communist.
By different people, of course.
But on the same general topics, and with my stance staying consistent.

As far as I can tell, the reasoning goes something like this:

"This guy [me] doesn't agree with my viewpoint, therefor he must hold the views of those other people".

In discussions I am regularly told, after stating my beliefs and understandings, something along the lines of "I bet you think ___________, too".
Well, no, I told you exactly what I think.
That other part you just made up.

That is always a pretty good sign that the statements the other person is making aren't even really their own.  They are things that person heard, and agreed with, and now they are repeating them.  Possibly in their own words, but unoriginal none-the-less.  It means they have subscribed to an ideology.
There is no "right" ideology.  There is no good ideology.  By very definition, one must accept an entire ideology as is, which intrinsically not questioning anything.  It is exactly like a religion: all of your beliefs are handed to you, externally.
It is anti-scientific, and it is intended to be.

But, no, when I argue for or against a particular point, that does not automatically mean I support whatever you think is the "opposite" position.
It is almost always a false dichotomy.
Consider the possibility that, you and your socio-political opponent, you are both wrong.

As tempting as it is to reduce the entire complex world to a few basic principals, and then dogmatically stick to the consequences of those principals no matter what they are, reducing any complex system is all but guaranteed to create some inaccuracies.  Once that's done, the more and more you build on a faulty premise, the more wrong your conclusions are going to get.

The only way out of that trap is to drop the "principals" and axioms at the foundation of the entire belief system - but of course the way human nature works, peoples "identity" gets so tied up with what they believe that it is painful to even consider that parts of the foundation may be wrong.

That psychology comes out when I make straight-forward, logical, fact based statements that undermine someone's position, and their responses - coherent at first - degrade to name calling (accusations of "communist", for example), appeals to various logical fallacies, and guesses as to what else I must believe, and sometimes even plain old statements of "that's just the way the world is", which isn't even an argument, its just an assertion of faith.
What it tells me when those things start happening is that the other person can't find any reasonable way to make any valid argument to counter whatever I just said - but they just can't possibly accept that what I said might have merit.  Because, if they opened that pandora's box a little, maybe the rest of their belief system would get torn down with it, and then what would be left of their self-identity?

This has all been very vague, let me go through some examples.

In the United States, there is a very uneven "playing" field.  Some people start out life with extremely significant advantages compared to the average person, while others start out with extremely significant disadvantages.  On top of that, our legal system is set up such that any advantages are extra enhanced externally, so that people who have an existing advantage have an even easier time getting even further ahead.  It is basically a "winner take all" system.
There is no particular reason our system has to be set up that way.  In fact, almost everyone would be better off if it wasn't.  In the end it causes a lot of inefficiency and waste, and it increases crime and reduces security for everyone, even the winners.


In the United States there is opportunity for everyone to get ahead.  Everyone gets a free education.  Everyone who can't afford college is eligible for a $5000 Pell grant, regardless of their GPA, which is almost twice as much as it costs in tuition and fees to attend the average community college.
The US minimum wage results in income higher than what about 1/2 the world makes (and that's after factoring exchange rates and cost-of-living), which means that it is absolutely possible to live on less.  Which means it is possible to save.
While there may be individual exceptions, people with unpredictable medical costs, for example, the vast majority of unsuccessful people have made some number of bad choices - frequently ongoing ones.

These things are both true.  They do not conflict with each other.  It absolutely is possible to be a "self-made" person.  They really exist, and there really are no barriers to anyone doing it.  AND the system is rigged to make it as easy as possible for the wealth to generate even more wealth without even having to work for it, while making it difficult for those who start out disadvantaged to ever catch up.

If the ultimate goal is to make society as good a place as possible for everyone, ignoring either half of reality ends up in bad policy.

Here's another:

Statistics show that a Black man on trial faces longer prison terms for a given crime than a White one.  There is no other way to account for that than racism.  Furthermore, slavery was a real thing that happened, and reparations were never paid.  This is simply historical fact.  Then there was almost 100 years of Jim Crow laws.  Despite that fact that it is technically possible for any given individual to succeed, and many individuals do, there are many reasons, both practical and psychological, why the majority of people inherit their social class.  Social mobility is relatively low in modern America.  Actual inheritance (not just in the form of wealth transfer upon death, but gifts and financial advantages for children throughout a parents life - paying for college, cars, co-signing a first mortgage), is a big part of it, but education (both the school kind, and the teaching of culture and values) is almost as big a part.  While policy may have a limited degree of control over the culture parents teach their children, it could do a lot to level the playing field financially, as well as put a much more serious effort into providing an equal education for everyone.


Nobody is forced to commit crime.  Ever.  There is no excuse for violence.  It doesn't matter the conditions you grew up in or how you were raised.  Violent crime is unacceptable. Period.  And the fact is, no matter how much we would like to pretend it isn't true, Black men in this country commit significantly more violent crime per capita.  "Slavery" is not a valid excuse for an individual to sell crack to his own community, steal a car, or shoot at someone.  "Oppression" does not justify attacking people, whether they are a rival gang or a police officer.  It may be true that cops, DAs and judges are harsher on dark skinned drug offenders, and of course we would improve things with decriminalization (without legalization - continue to lock up the dealers!), but no one is forcing Black people to take drugs.  If you don't take drugs, the drug laws are irrelevant.  Yes, they are addicting, but no one is addicted before they take that first hit.

There is no conflict between the two.
People are responsible for their own actions and choices.
Society is responsible for its treatment of groups of people.
One is macro-scale, the other is micro.  They are not interchangeable.
When you consider the ocean, you take into account the tides.  When you consider a glass of water, the tides are not relevant.
And so both paragraphs above can be true at the same time.

If you ignore the truth of either one, because it doesn't fit with your ideology, you are going to waste all your time and energy fighting to create policies that don't fit with reality, and as such are not going to solve whatever problem you are trying to solve.

I'm not suggesting "moderate", or in-between views.  I'm saying the entire idea of a polar scale is flawed to begin with.  It's more like both "ends" of the political spectrum are just plain wrong.  They are dogmatic, and as such ignore big chunks of the real world.  The truth isn't to the left, or the right, or in the middle, nor even on a tangent off to the side.  It isn't a point.
The real world encompasses everything.
If you want to make a positive difference, the first step in being effective is to open your eyes.
Even to the parts that you really don't want to see.

07 May 2015

OUTRAGE! (is to the left as fear is to the right)

I've heard it repeated a few times from different sources recently how people who tend to lean politically "right" frequently have a slightly larger amygdala, which controls the basic fear response.  As a result - so the theory goes - they are more easily frightened, and this leads to a desire to take the safe option in all questions; generally we think the option with the least unknowns is "safest", and so those more prone to fear are more likely to stick with things that are tried and true - in other words, to be "conservative".

Proponents of this theory - the scientists who noticed the trend in the first place, certainly, but much more so activists and armchair politicians - will point out the fear-mongering used by conservative political leaders and media.  Crime!  Terrorists!  Illegal immigrants!  Communists!

And since I've heard it, sure enough, I do notice just such a trend in media and speeches geared toward conservatives.

But then, since I was looking at news reports with the kind of eye you use to catch marketing psychology in advertisements, I started paying attention to what media geared toward liberals always tends to have in common.

Its outrage.

Not that conservatives don't love being outraged too.  No one has a monopoly on it.
I think there may actually be some part of the human brain that gets some sort of positive neurotransmitter release associated with the feeling of being outraged.

Probably something to do with in-group loyalty.  If multiple people can identify a common enemy, it binds those people together.

And that's one thing about outrage: it is always directed at another human.

Nobody ever gets outraged at volcanoes or earthquakes.  People don't even feel outrage toward bears or sharks, even though they are sentient beings who act deliberately for personal gain.

Since it never applies to "forces of nature", it is clearly a social emotion, akin to lust, or jealousy, or self-esteem, a feeling which can only exist in relation to other people.

Outrage is the inverse of shame.  While shame is an awareness that one's self broke a social rule and will likely be judged for it, outrage is that judgement.
It is stronger, though, than mere disapproval - its an intense enough version to trigger violence.
It is not merely semantics that the root of the word is "rage".

Since it tends to be amplified and reinforced the more people who feel and express it in unison, it forms the basis of mob violence.

No suspected witch was ever burned to death, no Black man ever lynched, no nobility decapitated, where the townspeople did not feel sufficient outrage.  Each individual feels like its this emotion inside of them, caused directly by whatever actions the target of outrage has done, but its is really more a matter of social control, which acts through individuals.  It is really a feeling not of the individual, but of the group.  Of course a group doesn't have "thoughts" or "emotions" of its own, but collectively, the hive-mind has group-think, and it can generate emotions in its members that they might not have on their own.

This is a real thing.  In psychology its called "Deindividuation"

The existence of this mechanism, this way to get groups of people to dehumanize specific other people, to think of them as "other", as no longer part of their own group, is a very useful tool for forcing conformity.  In the absence of law - rules, police, courts - all there is to provide for control over individual behavior is the threat of rejection by the group.  Without a formal government justice system, all there is is mob justice.  In order for mob justice to be carried out, each individual in the mob has to have strong enough individual feelings to drop their own daily business and go participate in the mob.
And so, in order to prevent individuals from doing selfish things that hurt the group (like stealing, or murder), humans come pre-programmed with this capacity for the emotion of outrage.

Of course, in order for it to be effective, it has to feel to the individual like its a real thing, like it is personal.  If people were able to easily separate hive-mind emotion from emotions that lead to individual self-interest behavior (like fear, or love), then it would cease to be effective.

And so, even though in the modern world the feeling of outrage has ceased to be particularly useful, it is still there.

The modern world is much more complex than the savanna of Africa our emotions were designed in.  Our social groups are in units of millions, instead of dozens.  We have news media that can inform each individual of outrage inducing incidents from all over the world, so that no matter how rare they actually are, we can always be kept in a constant state of outrage.

From a marketing point of view, this is very useful to anyone whose business is selling media.
Since people are not only primed to feel personal outrage over things that have nothing to do with them, but they also get some form of positive feedback for feeling it, delivering a steady supply of "news" which will trigger the feeling ensures a loyal consumer.

If you avoid paying attention to the content, and focus on the delivery instead, its obvious just how much - and how deliberately - they play this side of human nature.

TV and print news routinely tell you specifically how to feel!

They prime you to have a particular emotional response by telling you in advance what you should feel about what it is you are about to learn.

"Shocking footage"

"controversial new development"

"you won't believe..."

Watch for it.

I propose that anytime a story starts out that way, its a sign to tune out - whatever comes next is designed to appeal to your primative us VS them brain centers, and bypass all logic and reason.

06 May 2015

On an objective basis for right and wrong

Many years ago I got into a conversation with someone about ethics outside a Buddhist temple.

They were of the position that, without an external authority to dictate right and wrong - i.e. without Commandments from God - there was no possible way for ethics to have any meaning.

This is an argument I've heard elsewhere, but until then it was only from true believers in one of the big religions (but mostly just Christians).
Of course, if the reason a person does or refrains from doing something is because of the threat of punishment or promise of reward (whether that be in the form of heaven and hell, karma, or 72 virgins), then the ultimate motive is selfish.  If you believe in an ultimate judge or that everything somehow balances itself out, then no action is taken purely because it is the right thing to do.  Moral absolutism, then, is itself actually a-ethical.

This instance struck me because it came from an atheist.  I started to explain the objective basis for ethics which I am about to explain here, but this person interrupted to say that they had explored the debate thoroughly in philosophy class a few years before and they were 100% confident that there simply was no possible alternate conclusion, and so it was pointless to even listen to any response.

So of course I wrote that person off entirely - but the statement did provide me a new insight.

Some atheist philosophy may very well be the source of many religious people's belief that atheists are amoral.

Many pose a dichotomy: either morals are set in stone - literally, on stone tablets carved by God himself, and handed over to one special human who serves as ambassador to God - or, moral relativism.

Of course, if the issue at hand is morals, then technically this dichotomy is an accurate one.

The problem is, we treat the term "moral" as though it were interchangeable with "ethical".

The root of moral is "mores" which refers specifically to cultural standards and expectations.
Obviously those will vary from one community to another, and over time.
So you can fairly claim that consensual sodomy or adultery are "immoral" in Saudi Arabia, but are perfectly moral in San Francisco.

It has become so common for the term "moral" to be used to mean "ethical" that dictionaries have accepted it as such.

But ethics are really something different entirely.  They deal with the abstract concepts of "right" and "wrong".  This is what my debate partner thought could not exist on its own - but of course, if it doesn't exist on it's own, then it can not exist at all (which is exactly what they were claiming).
There can be no "ethical relativism".

Discounting the possibility of an omnipresent consciousness which created everything and has a will and desires and preferences, then the universe consists of a bunch of atoms grouped together in various degrees of concentration spread out over trillions of light years moving which ever way their momentum happens to be going and occasionally interacting with other atoms based on the arbitrary rules of physics.
It is all completely meaningless.

Discounting the possibility that some "higher" being gave us consciousness for some unknown and unknowable reason, then it seems as though life is really not much more than some extremely unlikely chemistry, and the consciousness and awareness of animals (including ourselves) is merely a side-effect of the self-increasing complexity of the chemistry of life.

Lucky for us, we just happen to (for the most part) enjoy being aware of being alive.

Of course, in a purely objective sense, looking at us from the outside it would be meaningless to say that it is "good" or "bad" that we exist, it is simply what is.  It is only from our own point-of-view that it is "lucky".

Ah, but there's the key!

Because we do actually exist - including our consciousness.

It isn't necessary to pretend that our own consciousness doesn't exist and then look at what's left in order to objective.
Being "objective" does not mean "outside of yourself", it just means not seeing things exclusively from one's own vantage point.  It doesn't require excluding the personal - in fact, to be entirely objective requires not excluding anything, which means it requires acknowledging the personal alongside everything else.

Consciousness does exist, and in turn it creates the experience of emotion.  Emotion is not tangible, and it is intrinsically subjective, but it none-the-less exists.

And by that existence, it creates the intangible, abstract - but also real - concept of Good and Bad.

If one particular creature experiences, say, a meteorite randomly crashing into its den, as harmful and damaging to its happiness and well-being, that experience itself, it's feeling of unpleasantness, actually exists.
It may well be nothing more than an indescribably complex series of biochemical pathways triggered ultimately by mindless DNA which seeks to produce copies of itself for no other reason than "that's just what it does", but it exists none-the-less.

It exists only in the mind of that one particular animal, but something only needs to exist in one place to be real.

So the fact that any individual experiences something as "good" calls the concept of "goodness" into being.
True, that only makes it "good" for that particular individual. At first glance this seems to fit into the idea of moral relativism...
The point is only to establish that such a thing as "good" exists in the first place.  Assuming that there are no conflicting claims about the same thing, we can say that something is good if it is experienced as such by at least one entity capable of experiencing.

There are very frequently conflicting claims.  Something which is good for one may be very bad for another.

Just because something objectively exists doesn't mean it has to be simple.

In order to return to an objective stand point, its necessary to step back from the individual doing the experiencing and look at every consciousness which the thing to be judged effects.  Weight the significance of each individual's experience by how much the thing effects them, and then sum up all the pluses and minuses.
That which is good is that which, on balance, brings a positive amount of pleasant experience into being.
That which is bad brings, overall, negative experience into being.

No external authority is necessary to dictate right and wrong.  Deliberate actions which bring negative experience into being  are wrong.  Some religious commandments fit that description, like rules against murder.  Others have nothing to do with right and wrong, like rules against non-reproductive sex related activity.

At the same time, nothing varies from culture to culture.  A particular culture may decide that a certain group of people are pariahs and expect everyone else to participate in attacking them, but the cultural norm doesn't detract from the objective wrongness of harming them without any benefit to anyone else.

The objective basis for ethics does not, however, answer all questions definitively.

It does not answer whether involuntary quarantine for an unconfirmed illness is ethical, or whether its better to kill and eat the weakest survivors while they still have enough flesh to eat so that the others can make it until rescue.  It's impossible to sum up all the positives and negatives involved in fighting WWII and come to a "right" answer as to when and whether various allied nations should have gotten involved.

But the thing is, the real world is really complex.
Having a bunch of easy answers just means you are cheating.  A complex world means there often aren't easy answers, and if we want to come as close as possible to being ethical, we have to be willing to accept that.

05 May 2015

I don't think in terms of "us vs them" - it's those other people who do that (Part II - real life)

In the Star Wars universe, it is understood that the Jedi are the good guys and the Sith are all evil.
Yet, when you look at their actual behavior, the differences are few, while the parallels are many.  The Jedi act on their own behalf, outside of the government they are supposed to serve, in blatant disregard for democracy, going so far as to internally authorize military and political executions - even the democratically elected head-of-state.


Here in the real world, Bill Maher outspokenly calls out Islam, saying in a recent interview:
"The vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But here’s the point people don’t bring up: They’re not terrorists, but they share some very bad ideas with terrorists, and bad ideas lead to bad behavior. You couldn’t put the Muslim equivalent of The Book of Mormon on Broadway. You can’t write a book like The Satanic Verses without millions going jihadi on you. You couldn’t have an art exhibit like Piss Christ, which made Giuliani mad in the 1990s. Hundreds of millions of Muslims believe that if you leave the religion you should get killed for that. Try walking down the street in Muslim areas—even in more tolerant places like Amman, Jordan—wearing shorty shorts or a T-shirt that says HEY, I AM GAY. That shit is not going to fly, not at all."

Elsewhere, in the very same magazine that published those words, it is mentioned in passing that in 1988 Christian fundamentalists fire-bombed a public movie theater for showing the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ".
1988 is hardly going back to the time of the Crusades or the Inquisition, it is within this current generation.  The majority of people alive today were alive in 1988.  There have been plenty of other terrorist attacks right here in the US by Christians and far right Conservatives, from 7 murders of doctors and staff of clinics that provided abortions in the 1990s to the Oklahoma City bombing.

The more "other" a particular group is, the easier it is to call them out.

We always think, consciously, that there are very specific, concrete reasons we think badly of some particular group, but it seems likely that whatever reasons we tell ourselves are almost always a justification made up after the fact.

In my current household there are two cats out of the four that absolutely hate each other.  Any combination of cats other than those two get along fine with each other, but when those two cross paths there are threats of violence literally every single time.
They don't have complex language, they don't have politics or religion to fight over.  They can share their territory peacefully with other cats.  But they have extreme hatred for each other, which is likely to last forever.

Humans do this too.

Sociologists once did an experiment on human in-group behavior in which a group of kids at a summer camp were allowed to encounter another group, and with no prompting from the staff quickly went from forming opposing sports teams to cabin raids to violence - almost... the sociologists called off the experiment early when they found the children making make-shift weapons, before the campers could go full Lord of the Flies on each other.
There was absolutely no difference between one group and the other, besides which of the two any given individual had been arbitrarily assigned to.

The nationwide protests are really, under the surface, not much more than the latest manifestation of the "us against them" sentiment that seems to be hard-wired into the human brain. Having a target we can all hate together brings us together is a feeling of mutual self-righteousness.

Of course the individuals who are angry are absolutely certain they are fighting real injustice, but the analysis of fact doesn't support the allegations (see: No One Ever Claimed Black Lives Don't Matter, Cops are the New Blacks, and No, Actually, Violent Black Men Don't Represent All Black People.)

It could be the nation next door, Muslims, Jews, the King, Africans, Asians, Latinos, politicians, communists, gays, republicans, liberals, Christians, it doesn't matter.
Americans - particularly Democrats, progressives, and liberals, pride themselves on their tolerance and lack of prejudice, and go out of their way to avoid broad generalizations based on race, nationality, gender, sexuality, religion... so instead they pick entirely different criteria to define which people make up "us" and which groups of people are "other".  Instead of racist or homophobic lines, they make sweeping generalizations and baseless assumptions about conservatives, or fundamentalists, or politicians, or rich people (which is always defined as "richer than myself and my peers")
Right now the focus is on cops.
Find the worst example (however rare), and pretend it represents the entire group.
It just has to be "other". It could never be "us".

That anecdote circulating around the internet about the "entire" police force resigning, allegedly in protest of having a Black female mayor? That was 5 people. Dig a little deeper, and it appears they resigned before they could be fired for corruption which she, as former city clerk, had uncovered.
"It must have been racism" is the easy, headline grabbing, outrage generating assumption.
But lets just pretend it was racism - the actions of 5 people don't indicate anything at all about a group of approximately 1 million people.

Here are arguments presented by those who would like to simplify the issue of Black community crime and violence as "Racist and violent cops":
"You can't trust those guys" [overheard in conversation regarding the statement made by an officer]
"it is hard not to wonder about the emotional stability and maturity of officers.  The fact that there are cops who desire to, dream about, chafe at the bit, to commit violence & play judge, jury & executioner " [from a recent online conversation]
Take out the word "cops" and substitute "savages" or "terrorists" or "heathens", and that is the justification of every single soldier in every war in every nation in the history of humanity has used to feel better about killing the other guy.

Everyone always thinks they understand the opposition better than the opposition knows themselves. Its called "The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight", and it is just that: an illusion:
"People in new situations instinctively form groups. Those groups develop their own language quirks, in-jokes, norms, values and so on...What you may not have noticed though is how much of this behavior is gurgling right below the surface of your consciousness day-to-day. You aren’t sharpening spears, but at some level you are contemplating your place in society, contemplating your allegiances and your opponents. You see yourself as part of some groups and not others, and like those boys you spend a lot of time defining outsiders...
Groups too don these masks. Political parties establish platforms, companies give employees handbooks, countries write out constitutions, tree houses post club rules. Every human gathering and institution from the Gay Pride Parade to the KKK works to remain connected by developing a set a norms and values which signals to members when they are dealing with members of the in-group and help identify others as part of the out-group. The peculiar thing though is that once you feel this, once you feel included in a human institution or ideology, you can’t help but see outsiders through a warped lens called the illusion of asymmetric insight...
They had subjects identify themselves as either liberals or conservatives and in a separate run of the experiment as either pro-abortion and anti-abortion. The groups filled out questionnaires about their own beliefs and how they interpreted the beliefs of their opposition. They then rated how much insight their opponents possessed. The results showed liberals believed they knew more about conservatives than conservatives knew about liberals. The conservatives believed they knew more about liberals than liberals knew about conservatives. Both groups thought they knew more about their opponents than their opponents knew about themselves. The same was true of the pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion groups.
The illusion of asymmetric insight makes it seem as though you know everyone else far better than they know you, and not only that, but you know them better than they know themselves. You believe the same thing about groups of which you are a member. As a whole, your group understands outsiders better than outsiders understand your group, and you understand the group better than its members know the group to which they belong.
The researchers explained this is how one eventually arrives at the illusion of naive realism, or believing your thoughts and perceptions are true, accurate and correct, therefore if someone sees things differently than you or disagrees with you in some way it is the result of a bias or an influence or a shortcoming. You feel like the other person must have been tainted in some way, otherwise they would see the world the way you do – the right way. The illusion of asymmetrical insight clouds your ability to see the people you disagree with as nuanced and complex. You tend to see your self and the groups you belong to in shades of gray, but others and their groups as solid and defined primary colors lacking nuance or complexity."

The funny, (but also very sad), irony of this is, even when reading something like the article quoted above, most normal people will acknowledge the truth of what it is saying in general, while simultaneously continuing to believe whatever particular thing they believe really is the "right" answer.  Everyone thinks that they personally are the one exception.

If you can point to a specific group of people who are the cause of society's problems, you are doing the same thing.

If you can easily point to The Correct Answer to any of the various "wedge issues" - gun control, immigration, abortion, crime prevention, poverty, it is an absolute guarantee that there are sides of the issue you aren't acknowledging. 

In order for you to have The correct answer, it would have to mean all those people who hold a different opinion or understanding are all much dumber than you and that you somehow have access to information that they don't.

If you think that you understand the psychology of the "other" side, or that if they had access to the better, wiser, more accurate information you have they would all change their minds, you are living under the illusion of asymmetric insight.

There is a reason at least half of everyone disagrees with you - and it probably isn't that they are all deluded but your chosen group is all wise.  Realize there are plenty of people with less than average IQ or less the average education who agree with your politics, and plenty of people with more than average of both, who disagree.

If you can sum up your opinions, beliefs, and allegiances in a single label, be it a religion, a political party, a social group, or a philosophy, you are following an ideology.

If there is any one group with whom you generally agree on a wide variety of issues, you are following an ideology.
Just because a particular group gets it right on one issue (say, for example, gay rights, or abortion) is no reason to assume they also have the right answer on something completely unrelated (gun control, or minimum wage).  The only way an entire group ends up agreeing on a wide variety of things is if everyone agrees to set aside their own critical reasoning skills in favor of group cohesion.  That's great if you live in a tribe of a hundred or so people and the survival of each individual is dependant on complete acceptance and approval of the group, but in the modern world that instinct just leads to group-think and hive-mind, which rarely leads to optimal outcomes.

This isn't to say that all ideas are equally valid, or that some problems don't have definitively correct solutions.  There are most certainly some issues where some solutions will have a better overall effect on real people's lives than others, and ultimately that is the only ethical criteria for decision making. This also not to suggest moral relativism.  There is a very concrete and absolute standard for ethics: that which causes harm to sentient life is bad.  That which increases happiness is good.  Rejecting the false morality of religion in no way takes away from an objective right and wrong.

There is validity in both the values of compassion and fairness, and the two are rarely in direct conflict.  Sometimes they do, and in those situations are ones without easy answers.
People generally pick one of the two values - compassion or fairness - and decide to focus on it exclusively, pretending the other doesn't exist or has no value itself.  But acting on either one alone never causes the best overall long-term outcomes for everyone involved.  It is always more comforting to have an Answer, but complicated problems usually have complicated solutions.

It doesn't matter which group you are a part of, or which you support.  
It doesn't matter if you watch Fox News, or MSNBC, or only read Mother Jones, or only websites run by independent individuals.  It doesn't matter if you are on the side of law and order, or if you are out on the streets protesting.

You are doing exactly the same thing as the people you think you are better then.  You are just doing it on the other side of a made-up arbitrary line.  Your self-assurance in your morality, your interpretations, your beliefs and convictions, they are a mirror image of the people on the other side of the line who are all thinking the exact same thing, and are just as self-righteous about it.

From my observations of human nature, I think its usually correct to say, any time a person feels self-righteous, about anything, they are probably wrong.
Righteousness is a defensive feeling.  It is used to cover up cognitive dissonance.  Knowing this, when one notices it in themself, the correct response, instead of anger and working to fix something, is to take a closer look at what internal conflict, and/or hypocrisy, and/or made up narrative with no basis in reality, is actually triggering the feeling.

If you want to see and understand the world as close to objectively as humanly possible, you can't have sacred cows.  You have to be willing to consider that people you respect might be wrong.  You have to be willing to let go of ideas you have held for a lifetime.  You have to be willing and able to listen - really listen - to people who you disagree with.  Until you can sympathise with their point of view, until you can explain their point of view to a third party and have them say "yeah, you got it right", then you haven't really been listening.

It may turn out that after questioning all your own most deeply held beliefs, after observing as much of reality as possible and applying the strictest logic, you still come to the same conclusions on some issues.  But until you've gone through the process, its just blindly following an ideology.

The Jedi went to war over ideology.  In cities across the US, we are leaning in the same direction.

04 May 2015

Us VS Them (Part I, the Star Wars analogy)

"There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere. "

So says the opening crawl of Star Wars Episode III (Revenge of the Sith)

Yet this message gets lost and forgotten as soon as it is off the screen.
As a viewer of any of the Star Wars movies, it goes without saying that the Jedi represent Good, and those who practice the "Dark" side of the force are Evil.
The Jedi and their allies say as much explicitly, at every opportunity.

Paying slightly more attention to the politics behind the action, though, it appears the reality is much more complicated than that.

In this Universe, roughly 50 thousand planets have agreed to a broad alliance, the Galactic Republic, roughly equivalent to the UN - each member state retains some degree of autonomy, and each sends its own representative to be a part of the Senate.The Senate is headed up by a Chancellor who gets elected by the Senate.  Each planet's government picks their Senator - if the planet happens to be a democracy, the inhabitants may vote on the senator, but if the planetary government is a monarchy, then it may unilaterally decide who will be the planets representative.  
The roughly 50 thousand planets are divided into groups of 50 (called sectors), with the senate floor consisting of 1000 chairs - some of which are taken by representatives of extra-planetary organizations such as trade federations.
That leaves one not-necessarily-democratically-elected individual to represent on average more than 50 entire planets.

(Much like the US), although they preach Democratic values consistently, the Republic makes no particular effort to practice them in actuality.

The Jedi were originally meant to be a security force that answered to the senate and the Chancellor (much like the CIA answers to the president).  They protected the Republic government (like the secret service), and enforced senate decrees (like Federal police), since the Republic did not originally have any military force of its own.  They were also considered a "moral authority", making them in some ways akin to Mutaween, the religious police that enforce Sharia law in some Islamic nations.  

01 May 2015

No One Ever Claimed Black Lives Don't Matter

That is what is called in logic and rhetoric a "straw man argument".

First you build a straw man (an argument that nobody was making in the first place), and then you knock it over (by making a reasonable and logical argument against it).

It is very easy to knock over a straw man - because he is made of straw, there is no resistance.

But then the logical fallacy comes in: you then jump from that made-up argument to your actual belief, one which is on the same subject, but which is not directly relevant to the argument you just made.  You state your conclusion as though what you just said proves your conclusion, and imply that unless someone can prop up the straw man, they have to accept your conclusion as well.

They can be very effective - especially when the topic is a highly emotionally changed one - which is demonstrated by these real life examples:

"In a 1977 appeal of a U.S. bank robbery conviction, a prosecuting attorney said in his closing argument[11]I submit to you that if you can't take this evidence and find these defendants guilty on this evidence then we might as well open all the banks and say, "Come on and get the money, boys", because we'll never be able to convict them.
This was a straw man designed to alarm the appeal judges; the idea that the precedent set by one case would literally make it impossible to convict any bank robbers is remote.
An example often given of a straw man is US President Richard Nixon's 1952 "Checkers speech".[12][13] When campaigning for vice president in 1952, Nixon was accused of having illegally appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use. In a televised response, instead of addressing the funds, he spoke about another gift, a dog he had been given by a supporter:[12][13]It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, six years old, named it Checkers. And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that, regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.This was a straw man response; his critics had never criticized the dog as a gift or suggested he return it. This argument was successful at distracting people from the funds, and portraying his critics as nitpicking and heartless. Nixon received an outpouring of public support, remained on the ticket, and was elected by a landslide."

I've been trying to let this go - its not like ranting really changes anything - but it keeps showing up everywhere.  I can ignore most media, but its on my local online groups, in the windows of cars and houses, it even comes up in conversations in real life.

This entire movement bugs the hell out of me.

Black men are murdered by civilians 50 times as much as killed by police officers.
Of those murders, other Black people are the perpetrator in 90%.
None of the activists had anything to say about that.

Blacks have a significantly higher death rate due to heart disease and diabetes. Ads and stores target Black communities with cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food.
No protests. No outrage.

So it isn't really about Black lives mattering. When a Black person gets shot and killed by a gang member or drug dealer - even when its an innocent person caught in the cross fire, nobody cares. Including all the people rallying and chanting over the supposed police violence.

30 April 2015

Nudity - the Default State

There's a special type of pedal used by serious bicycle riders which has a locking mechanism that attaches to a special metal cleat on bicycle shoes, which snaps the foot and pedal together, allowing for more efficient pedaling and more control.

The old fashioned way was to have a tiny metal cage called a "clip", with a cloth strap around it, which you would slide your foot into.  Some commuters still use these, but basically all racers and serious amateurs have gone to the new system.

Since the new system no longer has the metal bracket - the  "clip" - sticking out of the pedal, the new system was initially called "clipless".
The name stuck and caught on, and now, even though a young rider starting out today would find the interlocking-pedal-and-shoe-system the standard default, cyclists still refer to them as "clipless" pedals.

I was thinking about how odd it is that we would designate something's identity in the negative like this.  In other words, a "clipless" pedal is defined by what it isn't.
Which is odd, especially now that the new system is the standard.

Defining something as ______-less implies that whatever it isn't is the default.

I tried to come up with other things which we define by what they aren't, and couldn't think of much.  There used to be "horseless carriage", which is what automobiles used to be called, but today we have long since dropped the connection to horses, and even shortened "carriage" down to just "car".

Looking it up (powerless nameless worthless purposeless doubtless flawless motionless regardless endless fearless homeless reckless restless spotless useless) the majority of them refer to intangible states - mostly states of mind, or otherwise determined subjectively. None of them refers to a concrete, definite, observable state of being, the way a pedal either has a clip on it or it doesn't, a carriage is either pulled by a horse or not.
And they are all terms in which the opposite would indeed be reasonably considered the default state.

But then I eventually thought of one other common word which is defined by what it isn't - it had alluded me because it has become the de facto assumed "default" state to such an extent that the term doesn't even have the suffix -less in it at all.

You can probably guess, given the blog post title...

Or naked.

What those terms actually mean is "clothes-less".
They are defined by not having some form of cloth wrapped around the body.

We've all grown up in the modern world, so we take it for granted, but if you think about it, this is kind of strange.

29 April 2015

If It Had Happened That Way Instead...

I think this might be backfire effect - actually writing down the words that I'm trying to let stuff go that doesn't affect me directly and that no amount of talking or writing is ever going to change has just had the effect of making me hyper-aware of people's biases and prejudices, misconceptions and irrationalities.

Partially rebound, also partially several conversations I've had lately, starting to pile up in the head.

If writing purges them, no harm in that, right?

One place I see an equivalent logical fallacy (to that which I'll get to after this introduction) that isn't evidence but serves as further "proof" to someone who has already decided the answer, is the debate over the efficacy of bicycle helmets.

A lot of people assume that its a given - how could an extra layer of protection not make you safer?
Of course, mistaken assumptions about complicated physics problems often seem obvious, (for example, that heavy vehicles are safer than lighter vehicles: both the physics AND the statistics show this is false)
Hell, it's intuitively "obvious" that heavy objects fall faster than light objects, and the entire human population accepted this without question for thousands of years, until the world's first scientist (Galileo) came along and actually tried it and discovered everyone was wrong.

So what does the independent evidence say about helmets and safety?
Nothing.  It is completely inconclusive.
You can show in a lab, under strictly controlled conditions, that styrofoam absorbs X lbs of force.
But when researchers look at actual real world results, helmet use seems at best to be neutral, and in many cases head injury rates go UP as helmet use increases. (Link  link  link  link  link  link).  There are lots of potential reasons, and you can read all the links if you want, but my point here is just that some things which are both intuitively obvious and universally "known" turn out to be wrong.

When I have mentioned that, for example, cyclist head injury rates are inversely proportional to helmet use (even after controlling for miles traveled), or that few if any places see any drop in per mile head injury rates after mandatory helmet laws go into effect, or that some researchers have found that both cyclists and drivers take more risks around helmeted cyclists, or that some neck injuries seem to be made worse with helmes -
the response I get is usually an anecdote: "I knew someone who got into a bike crash once" (and then it goes one of two ways) "...and they were wearing a helmet and they were ok" (or) "...and they weren't wearing a helmet and they had a serious concussion."

And then from there, they tack on part 2, the conjecture: "...but IF they hadn't been wearing it, it would have been a serious injury"  (or) "...if only they had been wearing it, they would have been fine".
In the mind of someone who has already decided on the answer, this somehow counts as evidence.
Even though it is obviously pure conjecture!
It uses the very fact its aiming to "prove" as already being a given.

How do you know, what "would have" happened, considering that it didn't!?!?!?

Of course, I can honestly answer that anecdote with either "my ex-wife fell off her bike, wasn't even hit by a car or another bike, just fell off, at a pretty moderate speed on flat ground, and she was hospitalized with a major concussion, even though she was wearing a certified bike helmet at the time.  It was so bad that she had no idea how she got to the hospital, and was in a fog over an hour later when I picked her up.", as well as "In high school I rollerbladed down a 15 foot, 45-degree angle, concrete ramp with a 5 ft vertical drop at the end, messed up the landing, and landed on the back of my head, while not wearing a helmet, and aside from a surface cut, I was 100% fine.  Of course everyone around me freaked out, and they made me go to the hospital, but I never for a second lost consciousness or had any memory lapse, and analysis at the hospital said I was - as I already suspected - 100% fine."
For some reason my personally experienced anecdotes never seem to counter the 2nd, 3rd, or sometimes 4th person accounts which confirm what the person I am talking to has already decided is fact.

Which is fine - anecdotes don't ever prove anything - but it should be enough to counter the assumed outcome of the hypothetical: it is at least possible that if your friend had or hadn't been wearing a helmet, the outcome would have been exactly the same.

I hear the identical line of reasoning used by people regularly, who have made up their minds about the personality of anyone who goes into law enforcement.
There are many variants of the details, but they all go something like this:
[liberal white person] "I got stopped by the cops one time for [fill in the blank]. Its just a good thing I'm white; if I was black I definitely would have gone to jail".
Or, sometimes, the last couple words are "...been shot" - depending on just how extreme this particular person's bias is.

There is also the black person's version: "I got stopped for [fill in the blank] - you know if I was white they wouldn't have stopped me for that..."

See the similarity?
There is no possible way you can know what "would have" happened, hypothetically, if every single detail was exactly the same, except for that one.

In the real world every single detail is never exactly the same, so you can't control for race with 100% accuracy.  The best you can do is factor in as much detail as possible, and then compare across as wide a sample as you possibly can.
And just like with bike helmets, when you look at zoomed out real world statistics (instead of just anecdotes), the assumptions don't hold up - if you control for things like crime rate, sex, age, income level and education level, there is no evidence of bias on the basis of race at the arrest level.
(note - there IS evidence of race bias at the conviction and sentencing levels, but there is an extremely significant distinction in that juries, made up of random individual citizens, are responsible for deciding convictions.  Which means society as a whole may very well be racist, but that doesn't prove anything one way or the other about "the justice system")
In fact, if you factor in crime rates, it appears that blacks may often actually have a small advantage - I wrote about one example not too long ago, regarding New York's stop and frisk:
70% of people illegally carrying guns were black, 70% of suspects in shootings were black, 70% of those who shot at cops were black, and yet only 40% of those shot by cops were black.
If the data shows any racial bias, its against white people, who made up only about 25% of those carrying illegal guns and suspects in shootings, and yet made up 35-40% of those shot by cops.

But, just like with bike helmets, the human mind doesn't usually accept statistics as evidence, so, like with my two (true!) helmet stories, I'll share some (also true) cop anecdotes of my own.
Which, (just like with the helmet stories), won't change anyone's mind on bit, because people hate changing their minds about things they feel strongly about.  But at least once I write it down, I can stop thinking about it. ;-P

08 April 2015

Megan's Law and The Sex Offender Registry (is a seriously flawed system)

Any sexual contact with a minor is automatically classified as "abuse"

23% of "child sexual abuse" is "perpetrated" by another minor.
Of those, 80% were NOT "forcible" rape.  In other words, it is considered "rape" only because the "victim" is a minor.
In other words, any two children exploring their bodies, playing doctor, or "I'll show you mine if you show me yours", even if everything was entirely consensual, and both were the same age, for purposes of crime statistics, both children "abused" each other, and they are legally both sex offenders. If caught, they can end up on the list.  Sometimes for life.
"Teenagers and even young children who engage in certain sex-based conduct may find themselves subject to sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws. Some children are on registries because they committed serious sex offenses, such as forcibly raping a much younger child. Other children are labeled sex offenders for such non-coercive or nonviolent and age-appropriate activities as "playing doctor," youthful pranks such as exposing one's buttocks, and non-coercive teen sex." http://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/us0907/7.htm

The registry also currently includes "Internet crimes", in which there is not even a possibility of any physical contact.  All any "victim" would have to do, if they felt uncomfortable, is log off.

Which means that when ever you see some seemingly scary high number of how many children are "victims" of "childhood sexual abuse", that number is ridiculously inflated with things which aren't actually abuse, to the point where the numbers are meaningless.  This is similar to the recent redefinition of "rape" to include any sexual activity that takes place after entirely voluntary self-intoxication.  Have you ever had one too many glasses of wine with dinner, or stayed at the bar just a little too long before going home, and then had completely consensual sex with your partner?  Nope! Because according to the law in most states, the fact that you were intoxicated automatically makes it non-consensual.  You were actually raped, and your partner is a rapist.  Which, incidentally, means your partner, too, "deserves" to be on the registry.

55% of all Americans have sex by age 17.  Legally that means that more than half of all Americans, male and female, were "raped".  23% have sex (consensual) by age 14. When various crime statistics come out, almost never do they make a distinction between "forcible" and "statutory" rape.  They are treated as interchangeable.

29 March 2015

Hospital Births - A Distinctly First World "Problem"; (Slightly) Less Crazy Than The Anti-Vaccine Movement...

One of, if not the primary argument of proponents of home birth is that the process of giving birth is a natural process, one that the female human body was literally designed to do, and therefore barring the occasional special complication, there is no reason to treat it like a medical emergency or disease.

And superficially - especially looked at from our current generation's time - that seems to be a pretty reasonable argument.

There's just one big glaring hole in that argument: prior to modern medical interventions, giving bilth was the single most likely thing to kill a woman of child bearing age.  In the 1850s, those with no access to even the rudimentary level of medical care (i.e. slaves) had a 20% chance of neonatal mortality.
In other words, the "natural" process of birth killed 1 out of 5 humans who attempted it.
"In the 1850s, the infant mortality rate in the United States was estimated at ... 340.0 per 1,000 for African Americans"

In addition, another 1.5% of mothers die from the process with no medical intervention.

"Bearing a child is still one of the most dangerous things a woman can do. It’s the sixth most common cause of death among women age 20 to 34 in the United States.""In the United States today, about 15 women die in pregnancy or childbirth per 100,000 live births. That’s way too many, but a century ago it was more than 600 women per 100,000 births. In the 1600s and 1700s, the death rate was twice that: By some estimates, between 1 and 1.5 percent of women giving birth died."

That makes it a medical emergency.

26 March 2015

Reading list to assist in understanding everything about everything

While I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who think I'm an idiot, I think (hope?) its fair to say there are at least a few who find me to have an above average grasp of how the world works.

I don't really think I'm all that much "smarter" than average.
I may have a slightly better than average ability to spot patterns in complex systems.  Side effect of being a touch closer to the Spectrum than your typical NT, I guess.

But part of it, I think, is just that its much more my goal to understand things than for most.

It seems for a lot of people a lot of the reason for adopting particular beliefs is to fit in and be popular.
That, and having those beliefs justify what people would like to be true, which is comforting or justifies something that would otherwise conflict with ethical values.

Since I've never had much interest in large groups of people, I've never had any real use for conformity - including conforming to any non-mainstream sub-cultures.
Beliefs that feed rationalizations to avoid cognitive dissonance?  Well, who knows, maybe I'm as susceptible to that as anyone, I suppose if I were doing it, I wouldn't know, would I?

Anyway, another advantage I've had is just that I've been exposed to some good sources of information that tie it all together.

25 March 2015

Conversations on gender and sex

A collection of 4 emails I wrote to different people within the last year or so.


[Written to my future sister-in-law, after she emailed a link to a Ted Talk on gender by a friend of hers]

...The real problem has nothing at all to do with sex or gender.  The root issue is the expectation of conformity.

If, instead of moving between archetypal roles, we simply reject archetypal roles completely, this entire issue becomes moot.

A transsexual is a person who has (or would like to) actual physical sex reassignment (whether surgery, or just drugs), one who feels that their actual body is wrong.
The term "transgender" doesn't really mean anything - in fact, it confirms and reinforces the idea that gender is actually a valid concept to begin with, when in reality it is a social construct.

Sex -male or female - IS a binary.  Contrary to what lay people commonly believe, sex is not defined by testosterone v estrogen levels, secondary characteristics like beards or breasts, or even genitals.  It isn't even defined by chromosomes, which differ from one specie to another.
The universal characteristic that defines sex among all sexual species (almost every multicellular life form) is the precesnse of either testicals or ovaries.  Males produce sperm, females produce eggs.  This part isn't social.  Its basic biology.
That part isn't "assigned" by culture.  And there is no spectrum - no one, not even "intersex" born people, produces both eggs and sperm, and there is no hybrid or in-between reproductive cell.

People who reject our mainstream system (such as Carly) still talk about gender as though it were a real thing, as though it had some underlying validity.  
Gender - masculine or feminine - is no more than "that set of characteristics which a particular culture tends to associate with one sex or the other"
Since by definition it is associated with a sex, and sex is binary, gender is also binary.

There is no reason for any individual to accept the roles of gender in the first place!
One needn't be a transexual (pre or post op, with or without drugs, in body or purely in desire) or transvestite to reject gender roles!

24 March 2015

Cops are the New Blacks

Go back about 90 years.  And about 350 miles South (from where I am, in N. California).
Slavery has been abolished long enough ago that there has been almost (but not quite) a total generational turn-over; most people alive don't actually remember it, though it was recent enough that everyone is very aware.
Since reparations never actually happened obviously there remains a dramatic disparity along race lines.
Combine poverty, a lack of education in the parent's generation, and unequal public school services for the current generation, and you have not just a wealth gap, but sharp class distinctions.

Whenever there is a sharp disparity of wealth and class, combined with cultural isolation, increased crime is the result.  This isn't a "racial" phenomenon, per say - the same pattern happens within a "race" when the same conditions apply: the "untouchables" (Dalit) of caste system India, the Irish immigrants in mid 1800s America, gypsies of medieval Europe, or the Burakumin of Japan today; people indistinguishable from the main population by appearance, but separate culturally, and substantially poorer.
Predictably crime is higher - driven not only by poverty and desperation, but also by a mutual feeling of "otherness" relative to the main society which makes it easy to rationalize the harm done to the victims - to start with if the victim comes from the "oppressor" class, but resolving the cognitive dissonance of unethical acts against one group opens the door for setting aside morality altogether.

But here's the thing: In all of these examples, while the average crime rate may be higher among the sub-group than it is in the general population, it is never remotely as high as approaching 50%.  Even at it's very worse, rates stay down in the single digits per 100 population - for example, as excessively high as the Black incarceration rate in the US may be, it is only 1.2% of the Black population.

In other words, the vast majority of the marginalized population are ordinary ethical law-abiding citizens, even despite the prejudice they face.

07 March 2015

Some assistance in freeing your life from the influence of marketers, and using your money to buy freedom instead

Here it is, Bakari's anti-consumer / anti-waste / anti-cog-in-the-capitalist-system resource guide (compilation inspired for Isaak Brown's money management class):

1) Documentary on the history of American consumerism, marketing, and government manipulation of popular emotion.
One of the most significant transitions in modern western history, and most of us have never even heard of the main players who led it!  A lot we take for granted was actually unheard of just 100 years ago. 
This documentary may well serve as more of an AdBlock for the mind as anything possibly could in just an hour:



(part 2-4 linked below the video)

2) It is often more cost effective to pay more for housing if it means a shorter commute

3) A quick summary on the concept and math behind financial independence, and the possibility of achieving it even on a low income

4) For those who are opposed to investing/capitalism - the concept does not require investing:

5) There is no good reason anyone should pay more than $100 a month for ALL communication services (mobile phone, landline, internet, home entertainment) combined:

6) ERE post that first enlightened me to how even I took for granted using energy (money) to accomplish a goal with a really easy and obvious alternative solution, simply because "that's how its done"

7) No matter how logical and rational and savvy you think you are, unless you have already studied marketing psychology, most (if not all) of these tricks DO work on you.  Its just how human brains work.  Advertisers have learned a lot since Eddy Bernays's work.  But there is one way to avoid their influence: awareness!




8) Some hard number calculators, for when you are ready to get into the nitty gritty details:





9) And lastly, of course it almost goes without saying, but in case you haven't heard: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

(10 - A plug for the inspiration for this list:)

New!Earn more, give more, save more - worry less. Free your money on March 8th! Exceptional Lives 
hands-on tools for unconventional successIsaakbrown.com

19 February 2015

On not posting many blogs anymore

At first it was work. Was working as the manager of the building I lived in, along with all my other jobs.
And filling most of my free time with dating.

Then I actually ended up finding her.
Not even somewhere I was looking.  A series of very random and fortunate events.
I'll probably write more on that later.

So she's been getting most of my free time ever since figuring out that that was settled.
But she works full time, and I most certainly don't.

I have had just about as many thoughts, but been much less motivated to take the time and effort to actually write.

I think I may slowly be getting to that final stage.

Maybe there is so little writing from the wisest because they realize how little impact it would have, and so don't bother. (Or at least, that's what I'm going to keep telling myself.)

As the robots say: "all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again".
The more I learn, the more I start to believe that.

11 December 2014

I can't stand it anymore; OR - No, actually, violent Black men don't represent all Black people.

I tried, so hard, and for so long, to ignore the news, to ignore the protestors, and to not learn anything about the latest liberal outrage.

I'm not sure what finally broke me, but it may have been the FaceBook post ironically claiming it to be "Open Season on Black Men" in the wake of Officer Darren Wilson's acquittal.

Even then, I put off writing anything.
Because I know human psychology.
I know about the backfire effect.
I know that humans - and particularly Americans, it seems - actually enjoy the feeling of outrage, it is like a drug, something about our start as a revolution perhaps, who knows, but the real point is having something to protest, something to be angry about, someone to rebell against.  The details are just the excuse.

The chances are really really good that you, who ever you are, have already formed your opinion.
And that opinion is based 99% on emotion, and only 1% on having actually read the available evidence yourself and trying to form a logical conclusion from facts.  Of course you don't think you do this - nobody does - and yet psychologists and marketers alike know with absolute certainty that damn near every single person does.
And the crazy fucking thing is that if I present some of the available information, and I point out some rational conclusions that can be drawn from that information, if the conclusion contradicts what you already believe, not only will you not change your belief, it will make you believe it even stronger!

And so I'm tempted to not even write, because the last thing I want to do is make anyone believe this stupid, racist, counter-productive crap even more strongly than they already do.

And yet, I know me, and this is going to bother me forever if I don't get it down in print, and besides, about 4 people read this blog, so there's pretty limited damage I can do no matter how controversial I am.

So ok, lets go:

Oscar Grant.  Trayvon Martin.  Michael Brown.
What do they all have in common?

I know, I know, what the media wants to have immediately spring to mind is "Black Man".
There is something they have in common which is much more specific, and more uncommon, than that.
And I don't mean getting shot.
I mean in the moments leading up to getting shot.

Do you remember the actual details of these cases?

That is what triggered the events that led to each of them being shot.

14 October 2014

Gentrification is a myth

A friend sent me a report he had read on gentrification in Oakland, and asked for feedback, after a conversation in which I claimed gentrification was largely a myth.
This was the report:

This is a report in which they are specifically looking for signs of it, trying to play it up, and focusing specifically on neighborhoods and time spans with the most dramatic rent increases.
And even by their own numbers, even at its worst rent increased more slowly than inflation.

The thing about housing prices and inflation - if a loaf of bread goes up from $1 to $1.50, its not really a big deal, its 50 cents more.
If a house goes from 200,000 to 300,000, that seems like a dramatic increase, $100k is a lot of money. 
But they are both the exact same 50% increase.

Below is my more in-depth analysis of the specific report, including hard numbers instead of thought experiment numbers:

16 September 2014

Why I don't own a smart phone

Because I know I wouldn't be an exception:

Smart phone users spend an average of 131 mins per day on mobile communication. Thats out of only 480 minutes of discretionary time (not work or sleep) or about 1/3 of all free time. And that doesn't even include non-communication apps like games.

The average user checks FaceBook 14 times per day

75% of smart phone users sleep with it on and in the same room

25% have phone on and in reach 24hours a day

80% all but an hours or two

a quarter check while driving

almost a third check during meals with others

almost 2/3 check at least once an hour, even if it doesn't ring or vibrate

20% check their phone every 10 minutes

84% said that they could not go a single day without their cellphones

one in three would rather give up sex than go a week without their phones

A third admitted that being without their mobile for even short periods leaves them feeling anxious

Well... technically I do own an iPhone.
Its an "obsolete" iPhone 3, with no service. I got it in one of my dump runs.  I use it 99% as a music player.

My actual cell phone (with service) folds in half. It is water and shock resistant. The battery lasts more than a week.
The plan is $12 per month.
I have never run out of minutes and only once in over a year run out of texts.
It has a camera, including video, a built in music player, and even a few games.
It can actually access the internet, and occasionally I check emails in the field if I need some information I forgot to write down at home, or if I'm just really really really bored.

I'm not a luddite - I have a Roku and a wireless home network and a harddrive-mp3-based-car-stereo and traffic-aware GPS, for example.

I just have no need to carry a tiny computer with me where ever I go.

I never really wanted one to begin with, but having watched what they do to people who own them made me decide I wouldn't accept even if I was offered both the phone and plan for free.  Because before long I would be an addition to all the statistics above.

Basically, the smart phone is the opium of the 21st century.
Although I suppose a good drug addiction can cost a lot more than the $160 per month the average smart phone user pays, so I guess its a pretty good deal...