Saturday, January 24, 2015

What Might We Learn From Looking At Microcultures More Closely?

I've recently become interested in what is known as microculture. There are varying definitions, but it generally means the shared behavior and values of a small group of people. Most of the references I've read, however, are noting groups that are larger than what interests me, groups such as Native Americans and those who follow minority religious beliefs. What interests me are even smaller groups, those that contain something like 50 members or less.

I have a feeling that by looking closely at microcultures we can discover valuable information about ourselves that can't be obtained otherwise. What we learn will also likely correct or improve invalid information we think we know about our social behaviors and attitudes.

Examples of these groups include our closest 3-5 friends, those who do the same job at the same company, those who play the same position on a sports team, people who are energetic about a little-known hobby, individuals with a shared fetish, and family members who have a shared enemy within the family. In short, I'm thinking about any small group with a commonality that is cohesive enough to hold them together, even if it's temporary.

I don't have anything substantial to share yet, but some recent observations and experiences makes me think that we tend to be influenced more by microcultures than larger cultural groups--or at least more than we realize. I also think we tend to be members of multiple microcultures, and each person's unique combination of microculture memberships constitute that individual's personal culture. If we think of a person's behavior and attitudes with microculture and personal culture models in mind, I think we'll discover things about ourselves not previously revealed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Erectile Denial

We readily accept multiple causes for physical responses that include tears, crying, laughter, and sweat, but generally fail to do so for erections.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

White Riot Restraint

Story: Goal post torn down, 89 fires set after Ohio State's national title win

When white people riot...

"Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said officers tried to use as little force as possible to control those celebrating."


The Limits Of Conservative Reponsibility Claims

This Rupert Murdoch-J.K. Rowling exchange is getting a lot of exposure, but the initial Murdoch tweet made me wonder why conservatives don't say the same thing about the police.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Search For Consistency

One of the many thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my brain for quite a while has to do with what seems to be an innate human desire to flush out inconsistencies. I haven't yet been able to work out something fully coherent on this, but it keeps popping up for me so I wanted to share my initial thoughts.

I usually notice this during a disagreement or argument when one party is trying to discredit another. They dig until they find some point of inconsistency (perceived or real) they hope will be an unraveling of the other's entire idea or position. If an inconsistency is declared, it is usually also hoped that their own position will then be seen victorious by default.

In these cases this desire for some sort of consistent truth is not truly genuine; it's merely an attempt to discredit something with which one personally disagrees. It's not really a search for something universally consistent as an independent goal. These arguments are almost always inane exercises producing nothing of value.

Interestingly--at least to me--is that this goal, usually twisted when pursued in a social, political or religious setting, is also in play in science. What is often considered to be the ultimate scientific prize is the discovery of a Theory of Everything, a single explanation of how the universe works. This ultimate explanation would never have exceptions and would explain every possible scenario that could exist in our universe.

For me it is frustrating to see this pursuit of consistency happening with little acknowledgment of the incomprehensively massive number of variables in play. When it comes to the unending silly political and religious arguments based on this notion, there will always be inconsistencies to be discovered. There are simply too many variables. No explanation of anything can take them all into account. Science has a better chance of doing so, but I think that's only a theoretical possibility. Nailing it all down may not be a practical possibility.

To make matters even worse, we have to consider the issue of change. Even if we could somehow create a list of every possible variable that needs to be considered, the conditions under which those variables exist is always changing. What makes sense under one set of circumstances will not necessarily be true under differing sets of circumstances. The issues of quantity and variability create an incomprehensibly gargantuan matrix of possibilities.

This idea is also a part of any legal system. Because each act in which a human engages is unique, there is no way to write laws that cover every scenario, meaning they are inevitably applied to circumstances with no exact match. Laws can't be written to cover every circumstance--there are simply too many circumstances to take into account. This means that every law is necessarily misapplied in every case. It simply can't be any other way.

As I wrote at the beginning, I'm still flushing this out so I don't have much more to offer yet. I guess all I can share at this point is the hope that these problems will one day be acknowledged. But I don't have high hopes.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Bias Of Ignorant Bliss

Among the basic tenets we should continually acknowledge about the human condition are the troublesome problems of ignorance and bias, with bias becoming more dominant as we age. We need to openly acknowledge them because each is a dominant cause behind a large percentage of the problem we either cause outright or fail to address properly.

Taking steps to mitigate the problems caused by these conditions is obviously difficult. Ignorance includes the absence of the knowledge necessary to know the problem exists; bias includes a rejection that the problem exists. But imagine the improved societies we would be able to create for ourselves if a serious attempt at mitigating these tendencies were to be undertaken. It's hard to imagine the reward not being worth the effort.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

No Cops on Career Day

I'm waiting for the situation where a public school refuses to allow police to be a part of career day, referencing a policy against inviting representatives from organizations that openly employ violent racists with weapons.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Defending the Rich is a Poor Tendency

While reading a few items recently that contained the normal conservative support for the most wealthy among us (even by the poorest among us) I began to sense a strong similarity to the attitudes expressed by those who have supported dictatorships and monarchies. The specific example that came to mind first was the "White" Russian army that came to the defense of the Czar after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Similar defenses of a society's ruling minority by those who do not belong to that group are not rare so others soon came to mind. There were forces loyal to the English crown during the American Revolution, of course, and the French Revolution was not immune from groups looking to save their monarchy. There are even a few cases I now remember reading about where blacks were in favor of South Africa's former apartheid government.

Although I haven't done any kind of real search, I can't think of ever learning of a case where a minority ruling class didn't have among their supporters those being oppressed by them. If there is a case, it would be an example worth studying in as much detail as possible because it's difficult to understand why people who are suffering would openly support those who cause it. I do understand how some people who are living on the edge will not eagerly take any action that is seen as causing their personal situation to worsen by, for example, being fired from their job if they speak out against injustice. But once a revolution is underway, or there is a clear alternative that will improve one's life, support for the people who cause the suffering is baffling.

This attitude reminds me of a John Steinbeck quote: "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." If true, which I think is the case in one form or another, this sentiment could be the best explanation. But it is still bewildering, to me especially given the historical evidence against social and economic mobility in a society ruled by a powerful minority.

Whether a country's ruling classes are called nobility, clergy, capitalists, or anything else, as a species we seem to gravitate and then support the idea of being ruled by some sort of powerful minority. A true democracy where the power is possessed by "We the People" is something that doesn't come naturally, it seems to me. If we really want to live in a democracy with a working separation of powers principle that diffuses and weakens control by small groups of people, we need stop finding value in their creation. When we don't, our unfortunate tendency to let it happen wins, which means the vast majority of us lose.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Using "Good Cops" To Justify Bad Ones

One of the regular responses to the bad police behavior now getting increased exposure is to claim "good cops" are a relevant mitigating factor to be considered. These comebacks should be discarded from consideration because they are based on the invalid idea that "points" can be earned by any cop in a uniform to be put in a pool to pay for all police brutality and exterminations. I would hope that the creation of a pool of murder points by "good cops" is an insult to them, but I have to see any major objections.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Torture Me, Torture You

Story: "Poll: Almost half say torture sometimes needed"

Finding humanity disappointing on a regular basis is now the norm for me. Not only is this pro-torture sentiment about as evil as imaginable, it's one that is fought with vigor when the torture is being inflicted by others instead of to others. "Moral for me only" is the declaration we are supposed to praise, apparently.

The next time an American claims they were tortured by a foreign agent, I will be looking for Dick Cheney and his supporters to voice their support for the torturers. I won't find it, but I'll look.

I also can't help but notice that this sentiment has a religious basis, given that a threat of eternal torture is a typical religious assertion seen as moral. It's hard to be against torture when your religion puts it front and center as a godly action.

It's also worth noting that those who complain about a perceived absence of a "moral compass" will be the ones most in favor of torture, making the claim supremely ironic and pathetic. The moral compass they are looking for literally can't exist.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Satire Works When The Content Is Real

What I think a lot of people don't understand who criticize people who find value in The Colbert Report is that the delivery is what's satirical, not the content. And it's content people can't easily get elsewhere. That is what makes a winning combination.

If "real" or self-proclaimed news organizations would actually deliver the content covered by shows like The Colbert Report, The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, comedians wouldn't have to. The fact that they don't gives these programs even more credibility because they cover uncovered topics are completely open about what they do and how they do it.

(Image and details on the report available from the Pew Research Center.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Mistake Of Letting Dead People Make Our Decisions For Us
This comic hits on a point I've mentioned before having to do with letting what we create control us.

Other than the creation of religions that we let control us, perhaps the other most obvious example is the U.S. Constitution (or any set of laws). This document is seen by what is probably a vast majority of Americans as ruling over us in a way that takes control of our lives out of our own hands--and they are okay with that.

The list of things we create and then follow without question is huge and includes just about anything people justify with "we've always done it that way." They can range from something rather innocuous like a recipe to something truly awful like racism.

When we give up taking responsibility for ourselves and, instead, claim we must follow some set of past decisions, we create some pretty appalling conditions.  The society we live in is what we create and accept. To improve we need to change and adapt, not following a set of decisions made during a different time. Blaming what we do on people who are dead is not a valid excuse for anything.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Blame Game Communicaton Block

We often hear from hardcore religious types that some of history's most terrible actions were caused by an individual's atheism. The unrelated this-then-that loose framework at play to discredit this reasoned position on deity claims, however, is never seen as valid when it comes to the much more tenable relationship between gun ownership and gun violence.

No atheist has ever made the claim that their deity-free ethos is the cause for any harmful action (unlike religious believers who brag a deity-based schema directs what they do), and no causal link has ever been otherwise claimed and validated. But we do have gun owners proudly declaring their gun-based ethos will play a role in their future actions when it comes to harming others. It's the claimed reason they own weapons at all. Yet, when one of them ends up inflicting clearly unnecessary harm or death with a gun, other gun owners are quick to try to disconnected the gun owner's actions as some sort of irrelevant anomaly.

Assigning gun-centered actions to a religious belief is also something that doesn't get any weight, even if there is a public claim of religious justification. But if an atheist does something with a gun, a connection will be made tout de suite.

This is just one example of why I have no idea how to communicate with large swaths of people. I just can't relate to where they exist.

Criminal Exposure

It seems to be a fairly common trait among conservatives to see a crime's revelation as criminal. There also appears to be a direct relationship between the criminal magnitude assigned to the act of exposure and what's being exposed. Examples include the recent CIA torture revelations, clergy child abuse, almost anything to do with guns, racist and other discriminatory acts by those with power and/or authority, and the illicit spending of money.

Oh, and there seems to be an increased level of outrage at the source of the information if a white person is shown to have been involved in the activity being revealed.

I'm not sure what to say about this other than I'm stumped, especially because conservatives typically announce themselves as generally being in favor of people not breaking the law. I guess this is an exception to that idea, but I have no clear idea of its formulation or purpose.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Police Killings, Torture Report Reveal Racism's Ugly Survival

The recent non-actions by grand juries along with the new torture report from the U.S. Senate are without a doubt a disturbing pair of news items. But what I haven't seen people notice yet is the related racism that's being revealed by them being in the news at the same time.

Racism is what's driving the attention being given the grand jury stories, but racism is being largely ignored when discussing the torture report. The victims of the torture meted out by the CIA were certainly not white and, while we don't know all the players involved, those delivering, designing and ordering the torture most likely were white.

Also telling is that those who most adamantly support the use of torture and what happened with the grand juries are overwhelming white. It's hard to imagine a scenario where such intense support from a collection of white people would be present if any of the victims in either case were also white. The fact that so few of the pro-torture and pro-white police killings are even willing to acknowledge the possibility of racism reveals the unfortunate survivability of deeply strong pro-racist attitudes.

This could be a transformative teaching moment, a catalyst for an improved future, if we would just notice what's been shown to us. But humanity's track record tells us we'll forgo the opportunity to elevate ourselves and, instead, twist the moment in an attempt to justify the bad behavior.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Replay For Sports, Not For Police

The vast majority of us will gladly dispute a referee's call while watching replays if the video shows it was in error. We are so confident in the ability of this technology that we've even accepted it to make on-the-spot corrective actions during a game.

But this acceptance stops for many when using the technology to reveal a mistake made by the police. The reasons why reveal not a flaw in the technology, but in the people who base its accuracy on who is recorded.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Affectively Moving Thoughts To Speech

About this meme...

At first this seems like a simple and rational statement, but I think it has a flaw that needs to be addressed. My objection is based on the difference between the act of thinking and the act of speaking, which this statement can be seen as conflating. As we have all probably noticed (if we're paying attention), saying something can transform a thought from it's original thought-only state. This transformation can be something minor, like when we declare after saying something silly, "That sounded better in my head." But the act of speaking can reveal something more profound about the unspoken thought.

For example, try and get someone who is avidly pro-gun to speak the entire Second Amendment. Even if the caveat is added that the person is not supporting the idea of a "well-regulated militia," they will have a hard time simply speaking the words. The same is true when asking someone to speak any words that contain an idea or assertion with which they disagree. This is because speaking does have the power to transform not only the thought itself but the person speaking it (along with anyone else who is listening). This is in direct opposition to the assertion in the meme above.

However, I know the point of the meme is somewhat different. It's saying that listening to others is valuable because what other people have to offer can be new information to a listener. But so is listening to ourselves--if we decide to actually speak the things we think. What's revealed can be just as meaningful and transformative as listening to what someone else says.

P.S. Along these lines, consider the belief that magicians can speak special words to accomplish something. Think of the secret names of various gods, and the names of gods that are never to be spoken. (For a pop culture reference, think of the movie Beetlejuice.) Think of the courtroom requirement that people speak instead of, for example, nodding yes or no. The human race has known for a long time the power of the spoken word and has taken steps to try and control this power we don't understand.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The One Dollar Dream

The Dream: Waiting for the day when Rupert Murdoch publicly receives his $1 from the the Koch Brothers for winning a bet that a single cable TV network cold ruin a country, a la Trading Places. Then we can get back to normal.

Spiritual Schizophrenia

Very few people seem too see at least a potential problem that their chosen god accesses their brain in the style of those suffering from Schizophrenia. A method with less baggage would seem more appropriate.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Insufferable Divide

Improving the human condition will always be difficult for a variety of reasons, many of which get no attention at all, including the tendency for the ignorant and the educated to find each other insufferable. If we ever get around to making a list of what holds us back, perhaps this one should be at the top of that list.