Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Self-Defense Goes Bad

Headline: "The 9 Most Overlooked Threats to a Marriage"

I keep telling myself that I will stop reading the comments on stories because they tend to be so awful--and generally I'm doing a better job of it--but sometimes I still sneak a peak. After reading this story I did just that and, again, was sorry for doing so.

In this case the type of awful comment that seems to prevail is a version of "this bit of professional advice/insight is wrong because my view of my life is different." Ugh. This is the same flawed style of thinking that has people denying global warming because it's cold today in the place where they happen to live.

An individual experience or single set of circumstances can never be a stand-in for something larger. In addition, our biases and faulty memories work against our being able to accurately and fully account for conclusions we reach on our own.

I think we all have a tendency to protect the view we've developed of ourselves. It's a form of self-defense. This habit has the unfortunate effect of often having us being unable to even consider not only challenges to our self-formed view but our placement of that created self within macro-humanity.

When coming across information or advice that seems to be a challenge to one's self, getting overly self-defensive shouldn't be a considered reaction. Instead, we should realize the non-universality of the human individual in order to not be our own roadblock to a greater understanding of our existence, the existence of others, and the existence of humanity as a whole.

Deploying a stand your ground self-defense mechanism does not provide the benefit desired. Instead, an opportunity to gain a more knowledge and wisdom gets destroyed.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Again With the Satire Headlines?

Yes...

New research suggests themes used at all political and religious rallies are just versions of "they suck"

Increasing number of people see long-distance relationships as "less annoying" than those with regular personal contact
OR
New dating website launches in response to increase in people opting for long-distance relationships

New advocacy group planning discrimination lawsuits is seeking protected minority status for Internet trolls

Brain scans show credibility drops equally from being seen on Fox News or caught picking your nose

Losing Our Fear of Hypocrisy

We often justify some stance or action based on a rule of some kind we like. The rule may be well-known or ad doc, something newly expressed. But we are always in fear of that rule also being used to either undermine what we've just used it to support or being applied to a similar stance or action where support is absent. I doubt there is any case where the rule in play is so perfect as to not also be available to detractors of the stance or action. We use the term hypocrite a lot in these cases.

This problem stems from our unfortunate quest for ultimate rules that an always be applied without exception. No such rules--especially ones to justify human behavior--will ever be discovered because they do not exist. No two circumstances are ever alike because history does not ever repeat itself exactly. Our movement through time forbids it. What happened in the past stays there, never to be experienced again.

Even if we could come up with a rule that appears to be applicable to a past set of circumstances, it wouldn't be. We can't know absolutely everything relevant--past or present--leaving open the very real possibility that the rule being applied was invalid even then.

Rules are our enemies if we think we've created or discovered something universal. We can hope to find wisdom and a moderate amount of guidance from past experiences and the rules that were in play, but our past can't rule our present (or future) unless we want to abandon reason and justice.

Our fear of being named a hypocrite has us searching for something that doesn't exist, and, ironically, this search takes us on a journey away from what it is supposedly designed to seek. Hypocrisy should not always be seen as our enemy--not because we don't want to try and be consistent where we can, but because the idea pre-supposes that we always can or should be. The circumstances of our human behavioral existence are too complicated and fluid to apply rigid forms of measurement. Our information will always be incomplete, contain more than a few inaccuracies, and be applied badly.

In order to be on the lookout for new information that is always coming our way, we deserve to give what we now call hypocrisy a way of helping us out. It can be our friend if we take the time to understand how and why.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Resurrecting the Articles of Confederation

Coinciding with the continuing wave of court rulings favoring marriage equality, there is also a wave of conservative diatribes that always include the tired "unelected judges," "will of the people" and "states rights" talking points. (The latest is from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.)

I so wish the media would address these assertions with a short reminder about the failed Articles of Confederation, the original document on which our U.S. ancestors first tried to form a country without a strong federal role. Included in that history lesson needs to be the idea that the judiciary is there to enforce the laws passed by those elected by the people, which include the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. If a state ever goes rogue when it comes to federal law, then it is the job of the judiciary to stop it, not endorse it. It's the way the system is meant to operate.

If people want to change it, then fine. Start holding Repeal the Constitution rallies and propose the Articles of Confederation be brought back from the dead. It's a proven failure, but that has never been a barrier to conservative desires.

A Few More Satire Headlines...


New hotline opens for truckers wanting to kill those who stay in their blind spot

Regulars at local bar anticipate Ebola solution after next round

Hoping to get more visitors, neighborhood cat lady switches to stamp collecting

Students taught fear of Ebola by their parents bully unconcerned classmates for not being horrified

Friday, October 17, 2014

Science: To Boldy Know What No One Has Known Before

Those who dismiss science often tend to do so with the assertion that science doesn't have all the answers. This misses the point; the simple goal of science is to know more than we did yesterday, not to declare a state of ultimate knowledge and then claim victory. It's a pursuit that will never end.


When the Defintion of Work Needs Some

Articles from earlier this year...

"The Rich Aren't Rich Because They Work Harder. They Work Harder Because They're Rich!" (Huffington Post)

and

"Nice work if you can get out" (The Economist)

Contained within these articles is the often undiscussed notion that what constitutes "work" for the poor and the more well-off are not the same thing.

For those with money, their definition of work generally needs some.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ebola Leaves Worthy Contenders Behind in Fear Race

The ongoing effort to scare the crap out of people in the U.S. about Ebola is now officially ridiculous. It's even more over-the-top when compared to the non-reaction to real threats from things like guns, climate change, anti-vaccers, people against providing health care, and those who simply won't treat others decently.

We can suck sometimes. We really can. There must be money in it.

P.S. If a vaccine for Ebola existed, would anti-vaccers afraid of the disease be against its use?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Anthropomorphized Company We Keep

We live within the ridiculous notion--now legally certified--that corporations are people. It's easy to assert this notion as nonsense, but there is an unfortunate use of language we employ that works in opposition.

It is common when speaking about corporations, or organizations in general for that matter, to say things like "XYZ company wants such-and-such" or "ABC company decided to do X." This kind of language assigns human qualities to an organizational idea we invented. In short, we have anthropomorphized a concept.

This is not a small thing. How we use language is not something to be dismissed as irrelevant. How we talk and write informs how we think and the decisions we make based on those thoughts. Given the way we now refer to the virtual as being not only real but human, it'll be hard to get out from under the faulty notion that real people are indeed different abstractions we invent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I just can't stop! More satire headlines...

Okay, I'm on a satire headline kick right now for some reason. I do admit to being a fan of The Onion and Andy Borowitz, so it comes from that. But why do this now? Not sure. Just am. 


Terrorist groups now celebrating Columbus Day in effort to find common ground with Americans

Diner patron convinced he can permanently shoo away that fly before dessert

George Lucas reveals that Star Wars is fiction

Leaving default 1-2-3-4 password intact fails to entice hackers to steal Donald Trump's naked selfies

Local mother of three vows "to do whatever it takes" to fit into her original bride of Frankenstein dress for Halloween


Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Satire Headlines...

A few more satire headlines...

Local shopper feels lucky after picking rare container of mold-free strawberries, spends salary on lottery tickets

Research confirms consistent time capsule disappointment leads to support of the History Channel's abandonment of history programming

Elderly man decides to "hold it" after failing to find urinal in new restaurant's unisex bathrooms

Doctor who contracted Ebola now sorry for always ignoring hand washing directive from bathroom wall diagram

Brainy Autoimmune Disease Against Knowledge

Headline: "Climate change, Benghazi, the Fed: The science behind the right’s irrational obsession with conspiracies"

The headline is unfortunate because this is a really good and in-depth article covering the science behind conspiracy theories. It outlines in detail how and why we have a tendency to create these theories and, even worse, refuse to let them die. It's just one more example of how the human brain can't be trusted to reach valid conclusions on its own.

It reminds me of the Wikipedia list of biases that seems to go on forever. With so many things working against us when trying to find out anything for sure, it's not surprising it's taken millions of years for us to get this far. Our brains act like an autoimmune disease against knowledge.

But because we now know about these problems, we can, if we want to, take steps to mitigate them by relying on evidence and processes that remove us as much as possible from the results. We just need to want to do so.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

More Satire Headlines...

A few more attempts at headlines in the style of The Onion (I know I've made posts like this often lately, but it's a new mind exercise I'm trying out!)...

Newly single man shocked to discover putting dishes in the sink to soak is not the final step

Woman discovers her best thinking is done during slow internet connection pauses

To ease Middle East tensions, President Obama to personally knit Christmas sweaters for ISIS commanders

Study finds "adorable" most used word for those wishing to hide their real opinion

God to save money by awarding new call center contract to handle prayer requests to Philippine company


The Scientific Need For The Personal Touch

I love this editorial from Nature magazine: "A little knowledge: The significance of expertise passed on by direct contact— tacit knowledge — is moot."

In short, the piece outlines how important it is to have the experience of in-person contact when sharing knowledge. Reading papers, even ones that are very detailed, can't pass on the quality of knowledge that personal sharing of information and techniques can achieve, the editorial claims.

This has been a pet peeve of sorts with me for over 10 years due to a personal experience. When I received my first I.T. certifications, the classes I took were in a traditional classroom environment with other students and an instructor. When I went back a few years later to update those certifications, the classes were all just videos that "students" sat down and watched.

I didn't enroll.

I knew that the knowledge I needed to acquire couldn't be obtained by watching videos (and the money do watch them was ridiculously expensive). I need the interaction with others to do any kind of useful learning, and I think that's true in general for everyone. The way knowledge is absorbed through shared experiences can't be duplicated by watching a video or reading a paper, as the editorial explains.

I think this is an under-recognized problem that shows itself most noticeably in the proliferation of online universities. I'm not sure I would trust a person with a degree from one of those places to have the level of knowledge and skill as someone who had a degree from a place where learning was done in-person and hands-on with others.

We need to acknowledge that we need one another to learn and that learning needs to literally be personal. We ultimately lose knowledge if we keep trying to share it in ways that keep us isolated form one another.


Friday, October 10, 2014

The Power of Past Sentence Fragments

Headline: "Islamic State group uses only half of a Quran verse to justify beheadings — see what’s in the other half"

It is not atypical for humans to do this, so it's odd that it's news. I would submit that all religious fundamentalists do this--as do secular ones. Perhaps the most prominent secular example is the sentence fragment pulled from the Constitution's Second Amendment by hardline gun advocates. And, for religious texts, it's not only taking part of a verse, but pulling a whole verse out on it's own. Many verses are sentence fragments themselves, and using a tidbit of a longer passage--whether it's a verse or part of one--can't be an accurate justifier (given that you hold such things to be possible in the first place.)

Because we exist in an ever-shifting mix of unpredictable circumstances and attitudes, I don't think there is a way for any declaration to be considered valid or relevant past the immediate moment in which it was created (assuming it was valid even then). This causes those who look to past declarations for justification of a current desire to carve out what they want and ignore the rest. We just pile up our problems by failing to move away from this faulty process. Instead, we should take responsibility for our current problems ourselves with fully contextual information from the here and now.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A few more "The Onion"-style headlines...

A few more The Onion-style headlines...

Last man in local office to use Xerox as a verb retiring

Frequent traveler saves extra person hotel charge by claiming wife is only a visiting prostitute

Local couple stays together only to continue meaningless angry dispute with neighbors

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Failure of Armed Fear

We are being told to be afraid--very afraid--of a small band of rebels on the other side of the world. What good are our tanks, war planes, a navy full of ships and submarines, an incredibly enormous spying industrial complex, a large percentage of the civilian population armed to ridiculous levels, police departments that shoot people with little or no provocation, an enormous border security apparatus, and who knows how many nuclear weapons? It's as if being armed well beyond any other population in history provides no comfort, doesn't stop people from accepting pretty much any directive to be afraid, and ends up creating a attitude among others that being our adversary is noble. It's hard to imagine any other real situation that could be ranked as more bizarre, especially when the new call to fear voting is factored in.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More Potential Headlines For "The Onion"

Some more potential headlines for The Onion:


New study reveals customer only right 27% of the time

Salon owner comes clean: copying celebrity hair styles doesn't change your life

Researchers confirm "Two-Four-Six-Eight" victory chant to be a hoax

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I Am What I'm Not

There is a consistent complaint by some atheists about the term itself. Because it notes what someone is not, those with the sentiment claim it is unworthy of being used. They would rather be known by other terms that note what they are instead of what they are not.

But I don't have a problem with it for the same reason I don't mind being called a non-smoker or atypical, or designating some businesses as non-profit. It is just the way our language works in some cases and is entirely appropriate where it's necessary to be accurate.

On a bit of a silly side note, this made me wonder recently if there is a clever joke to be made from a comparison between the dangers of second-hand smoke and second-hand religion. If not, maybe just a point of contemplation might be worth a few seconds of thought.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hoarding Our Past Fails Our Future

I have written before about the false comfort we get by looking to the past for answers that supposedly trump new information we find and confirm. (This is perhaps the most core attitude contained within the beliefs of some religious groups and philosophical outlooks.) But I have experienced a new take on that issue in a more day-to-day practical sense and it has to do with clutter that comes from keeping old items "just in case."

This is almost purely anecdotal, but I am someone who tends to toss things out as I go along. This goes for things that include emails, snail mail, old tax forms, gadgets of all kinds, clothes, and, in general, things I haven't used in a year or so. I have no qualms about giving them away or tossing them out. For me, hanging on to stuff from the past tends to inhibit my ability to look to the future where better information and improved stuff resides. Keeping the past around is an unnecessary burden and a distraction.

For others, however, there is an opposite tendency along a spectrum of possibilities where just about everything old has not only some kind of value but very important value that has, by default, more going for it than anything new. To toss out something old is to destroy solutions to humanity's greatest problems that, for some reason, originally failed, or is evidence of something profound. (To be clear, I'm not including things being held for purposes of sentimentality or pure nostalgia.)

Why this behavior comes across as intriguing to me is that the old stuff being saved rarely, if ever, gets used or is even accessed again. If it does, it's usually given an overabundance of present value, tapping into the desire we seem to have for ancient hidden treasures to give us answers instead of looking for them with the best tools we've since created. But, in reality, these things are not even close to being qualified to provide them. While the past certainly has value in understanding the human journey, this unfortunate desire to look backwards to find answers ignores all the evidence that shows the the best information--and tools to find more--is always ahead of us.  

So, I guess the point is that I think this tendency to give undo power and overrated value to the past affects our behavior in ways that don't seem related. These include the keeping of folders of credit card bills from 30 years ago and old gas can caps "just in case," to religious texts of ancient societies containing their guesses about our place in the universe.

I'm not sure why this is the case (if it is), but I suspect there is more than one thing going on. The possibilities likely include a need to know something concrete about our "source" (on a personal level and in a larger sense), not wanting to insult ourselves by admitting the human journey has been filled with mistakes, and searching for evidence of universal meaning that, if true, must have always been there.

These are nice ideas at some level, but they misdirect us on our journey. What's most important is our future, not our past.