Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reading Rainbow & the Fragility of Civilization

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was "Reading Rainbow". LeVar Burton would visit some interesting place where something happened or something was made, and have a conversation with the people who knew about it. This would all be interspersed with book reviews and a story from a book. Like good children's programming, it gave you this sense that you could do anything if you worked to learn about it. Likewise, I think this contributed to me loving Book Fairs in elementary school. I loved to buy Which Way/Choose Your Own Adventure books, and then science books about astronomy, volcanoes, dinosaurs or nuclear power. I was curious about everything.

Children's shows like Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Bill Nye the Science Guy (who was after my childhood, but totally fits) painted a great ideal picture of the adult world, where people proudly worked at what ever they did and were respected for the knowledge that work gave them. People had good intentions. I got a very positive, kind-hearted science and humanism vibe from these shows. Eventually you grow up and realize that the world is not like this, which is still a sad realization for me some 30 years after I first saw these shows. For the cynical and world-weary, growing up is all about realizing that the world we portray to kids in these shows is bullshit, always will be, and we should learn to deal with it. For me, they represent an ideal to which we should still aspire.

Readers of this blog can probably figure out by now that this blog is basically an expression of my continuing disappointment that the world isn't measuring up to these standards. One of the ways that disturbs me the most is when something happens that provokes people to respond in primitive, bloodthirsty way. It reminds me that we have some functioning social institutions, but there is this savage animal tribalism lurking just under the surface that, in a bad situation, could come out and tear everything apart. In my dream world, when someone calls for violence good people look at each other like, "Oh my! This person has said something beyond the pale. We are civilized people. For shame!" If the person persists, someone steps up and lays the smack down (umm... verbally).

Given the nature of the blog, you know what is coming: An example of what I'm talking about! This exchange from my Facebook feed illustrates how people can react to news of crime. People get outraged and want revenge. I think we can all understand that impulse, of disgust and anger and dreaming of violent revenge on someone who has done something awful to another person. To get all Star Wars, to me, relishing, fostering and inflaming that impulse is straight up "Dark Side". Be careful! Anyway... here is the exchange, with commentary:

Sick mutha Effin people in this Damn world! HANG THEM!

These two people have been arrested in South Carolina, accused of raping a 1-year-old girl in Alpine Township.
They await transport back to West Michigan to face charges.
Man 1: We need the damn death penalty.. Sick people
Woman 1: What is wrong with people these days! Ugh! I would love to be the judge and jury on this one.
This woman implies that "these days" are worse than older times. A common response to awful crime stories is to trot out this idea about a mythical past of goodness and degenerate present. As far as crime goes, the present is actually a good time to live. Since I've been born, homicide rates are the lowest they've ever been, for example. Also, while this is an awful situation, her attitude shows she is ill suited to being either a judge or serving on the jury. We all understand this impulse for revenge! Fight to keep your head!
Woman who Posted: Poor baby :( 
Man 2: sick fucks should die
Man 3: No judge no jury just linch mob save state lots of money
This guy's post perfectly illustrates the dangerous savage impulse I'm talking about. I've even heard such nonsense as "He doesn't deserve a fair trial!" in peoples' outrage at events. The way I see it:

  • Have a lynching: Result - An individual is beaten, possibly killed and tortured, regardless of their innocence or guilt.
  • Have a fair trial: Result - Guilty people still get what we as a society believe they deserve, with the side effect of not killing and torturing innocent people to satisfy our bloodlust. I consider this to be a pretty significant advantage...

Woman 2: Just turn them loose, and tell everyone what they did! 
Woman who Posted: I wanna hang him from his nut sack & then hang her from her fricken neck & cut her fingers off one by one & feed them to him one by one & then burn them both alive! They need to be tortured like this poor innocent baby was & the 14 year old, & how ever many more innocent victims of these sick evil f**ks! Thank God the 1 year old wont remember, but the scars will be there for life :( AND WHERE THE HELL WAS THE BABIES PARENTS???? How could they NOT KNOW from changing the diaper?? MY GOD, IT HAPPENED 2 TIMES! SICK & so very SAD :(

Whoa! Holy shit! If you are giving me graphic instructions detailing your torture fantasy in a public forum where everyone can see, you have fucking lost it. Compose yourself! Also, I find it distasteful that in your hysterical outburst you blame the parents for this, who no doubt feel like shit. You don't know the full situation. You should calm down and let the investigators and courts get to the bottom of this. Our outrage is unproductive. It doesn't help anyone or anything.
Man 2: it makes me so sad that I could kill 
Woman 3: A few hours with big old bubba
It is also shocking how often people, both men and women, will seriously or jokingly call for someone to be forcibly anally raped. Here is a moral lesson I have picked up, and maybe you have heard of it: Rape is wrong. Apparently this woman thinks it is appropriate to rape certain people on occasion. Groovy.

Me in response to Man 3: No judge no jury, just lynch mob? That is scary and dangerous. You need to prove that someone has done something before you punish them for it. Otherwise you can accuse people of awful things and bring a bloodthirsty mob down on them, whether they did something or not. Outrage and lust for revenge should never be permitted to win out over an impartial, fair trial.
I had to just call this out.
Man 3 in response to Me: Ben this is what's the matter with today's fucked up people they wrap it up in court long enough there lawyer will find a way to get them out of it wrong paper work something bleeding heart fuckers oh no can't have a death penalty bull shit is what it is people keep getting sicker and sicker start killing them stupid fuckers off then maybe the rest of them would wake the fuck up open your fucking eyes world 
Man 3 again: Sorry but pisses me off I have a lil girl anybody touches her in anyway sexual or physical I will kill ya!! 
Man 4: I agree Ben, but the article clearly states they have video evidence of them doing the crime. 
Man 5: dont hang them take them tovthe center of town and stone them to death 
Me in response to Man 4/all: Yeah, I agree it looks like a pretty open and shut case. When people get very angry and start advocating for justice like in Saudi Arabia or some backwater village in Afghanistan though and it creeps me out. Those countries chopping off body parts and stoning people in the town square hasn't turned them into crime free paradises. I associate that kind of justice with primitive hellholes I don't want to live in. I understand the primal impulse to want to hurt people like this though, because WTF is in their heads?
On one level, some could argue that these people are just blowing off steam, and I'm taking them too seriously. I admit that it very much could be. This little Facebook entry was not at all unusual. If you follow the picture to its source you will also find an endless stream of people calling for torture and for the justice system to be completely bypassed. It is like there was a civics class and everyone decided we should go with the opposite.

Is it silly of me to ask: What would Mr. Rogers think?

Please, let's try not to be ugly people, even if it can be hard.


(Update: Woman who posted, Man 3 and Man 4 have all "liked" my last comment. Maybe there is some hope... "Butterfly in the sky...")

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Snopes Bombing Ineffective Against the Bunker of Predefined Narrative

A large contributor to the Social Catastrophe is how little facts and truth matter to people who are in the process of validating or reinforcing their biases. Everyone is susceptible to accepting stories with less examination when they confirm what they already believe. That doesn't mean we are all equally bad at this, however, as this post is about to illustrate!

Dumb Guy shared Shady Person's photo
"How fast can u repost" almost makes this shared photo seem like a test to see who is most willing to suspend their critical faculties the quickest. It is also some of the worst kind of "Culture Warrior" garbage. Am I only supposed to boycott these particular cans, but not Pepsi as a whole? Given all of the messed up shit in this world, am I honestly supposed to care if a company uses the pre-1954 Pledge? Why is any of this supposed to matter in any way?

These questions all crossed my mind when I read this (among others), but they all presume one thing: That this forwarded chain letter was even true in the first place. Of course, it is not true. Pepsi never produced any such cans. This is a sad phenomenon I call "multiple levels of fucked up and wrong". You post something which is false as if it were true. Furthermore, even if it was true, you would still be a tool for more than one reason. This is a dire place to be. I had to respond!

This is incorrect. The facts show that this is simply not true:

Sure, I am being very straight forward. Maybe I could have been a bit nicer about it. Let us consider some possible responses he might have to my debunking correction post:

1. He simply ignores it, and the whole embarrassing post fades into the history of everyone's Facebook streams. This is the option I expected him to take.
2. Embarrassed by the revelation that he has been taken in by a chain letter, he removes his re-post of this chain letter from the feed. I would be OK with this option, had he taken it.
3. He responds to me aggressively, either disagreeing with the facts or my tone. I wasn't expecting this to happen.
4. He responds positively with something along the lines of, "Oops! My bad!" That is a decent option.

Instead he took the saddest option of all:

5. He deletes my post containing the debunking of this false letter, while keeping his post up like nothing happened. 

When facts interfered with his narrative, he made the conscious decision to ignore the facts. That is some immature "The Dog Ate My Homework" level shit right there! Still, just because my post disappeared... I don't want to embarrass myself by accusing him when it may have been a computer glitch. Also, maybe I'll deliver it with a better tone. So, yes! I replied again!

Hey, it looks like this might be a myth:

See! I'm using more informal and softer language. It "might" be a myth, but hey, maybe its true? I've got to make that pill easy to swallow. At this point, I think any of my previous options could be his response again. Additionally, I feel there is a chance he would... "unfriend" me. That would make me sad, because he provides so much good material. He follows up with #5, deleting my post a second time.

Two times is no accident. Oh no! My animal man-brain has been activated! I am filled with a feeling of righteous anger! I'm going to escalate the confrontation! Fortunately, I was not packing a gun:

The fact that you deleted my debunking link twice is intellectually dishonest and shameful. We should strive to spread truth and not perpetuate myths contained in chain letters. If you believe I am wrong, I am open to the evidence. The chain letter you are re-posting is both false and over 10 years old. 
If you had let my comment stand, replied to it, or even removed your re-post, that's all fine. Deleting my posts while letting yours stand seems to say that you think building or maintaining a predefined narrative is more important than the truth, and that is not cool. 
I realize that I am being impolite in continuing to post. Normally I would take the hint from a post deletion and move on. I just think that perpetuating false stories that reinforce our biases is toxic to the national dialogue. We end up arguing over false things rather than real things, which leads to a lot of unproductive noise.
I have no idea if that was a good or bad thing for me to have done. I think that people passing phony BS around makes the world a shittier place. People start making decisions and shaping their politics around this creaking edifice of lies and false information. It seems that the default suggestion is "Just forget about it. People are stupid, and you aren't going to change that." Well, that is just too depressing. It reminds me of a time in my early 20s I told my parents about a guy who thought dinosaurs were a hoax. They responded with, "Of course he does. He's a preacher." 


There is never a situation where I should assume that someone believes dinosaurs are a hoax. I would rather act as if people were not idiots and be disappointed. On the internet, an atheist who assumes preachers think dinosaurs are a hoax gets called out for arguing against a caricature of Christianity that isn't true. So, savvy internet debating will have you treat the issues separately even if they are sometimes connected. No need to confuse the culturally Christian Deist "Prime Mover" guy with the guy thrashing around on the ground, handling snakes and going on about Obama, the Mark of the Beast and the UN Helicopters.

Speaking of...


So, after the previous events this individual left my final comments up without response, interestingly. Maybe he had learned his lesson and would do a little basic research before blindly posting things that are embarrassingly false. That would be awesome.

Uh oh... wait.  This isn't good!

Dumb Guy shared The Australian Tea Party's photo. 
Yeah right in your own state

My first response to this post was, "There is an Australian Tea Party?" My next response was, "You know what? I'll bet this didn't even happen in Dearborn. Let me check." For those of you reading who don't know me personally, I live in Michigan and Dearborn is down by Detroit and is somewhat known for its immigrant community. It turns out my suspicion was correct. This picture is not from Dearborn at all. Time to correct this guy again:

This picture is from Afghanistan, not Dearborn Michigan. This is from a rally held in Kabul on October 25th, 2009. Whoever captioned this picture was misinformed or is lying:
Imagine being a Muslim who fled Iran to escape the Ayatollah's oppression, then being falsely accused of spreading "terrorist ideas" by strangers using pictures of Afghans in Kabul, lying and presenting them as images of people in your neighborhood in Dearborn. That's gotta be pretty depressing. Bleh.

Dumb Guy sadly responds exactly as he did before, by deleting my correction post and leaving his up as if nothing were amiss. He has shown a failure to learn both that a lot of shit on Facebook is unreliable, and that I am capable of noticing that he deleted my post and have shown a willingness to be persistent. He is resistant to engaging in any dialog, yet also resistant to "unfriending" me. Anyway, after noticing his deletion of my post, I post again:

Again, you have deleted a comment correcting a falsehood you are perpetrating. This picture is false. It says, "Hello! This is Dearbornistan, Michigan." It is not. It is in fact Kabul, Afghanistan, as described in this Reuters article:
Pictures like this mischaracterize and further inflame hatred. In fact, commenters on this picture call for Muslims to be rounded up and bombed and call for other acts of genocide. This is clearly repulsive. They tell them to "go home" when the Muslims in the picture are actually at home... in Afghanistan! The fact that their comments are being triggered by a picture which is itself a lie makes this kind of primitive, bloodthirsty, tribalistic and otherwise awful behavior even more frustrating. Again... bleh... just, why?

We've all seen these people, the kind I am describing who left comments on the photo from the originating "Australian Tea Party" site. The kind of angry, conspiratorial people who unfairly and ignorantly stereotype a billion people as terrorist and go on about how they need their guns, and how all of these members of the out group need to be stopped or perhaps even completely killed and wiped out. They are walking next to us everyday in our communities, they are in our families.

When someone mentions rounding up and bombing entire populations, I find that kind of talk to be alarming. It is sadly common, however. "Oh, you know Uncle Bob, he's just a little conservative"  No, Uncle Bob is one of a million little piss-ant Hitlers, oiling up his gun and dreaming of genocide, who sees nothing wrong with saying it publicly at a family function. Maybe he's all talk. At the very least, he is all asshole. This isn't even hypothetical, I have personally had extended family members call for "glassing" an entire country, 3 dudes amicably chatting it over as if they were having a reasonable discussion on current affairs. Horrifying.

So, there is me raging a bit about those kinds of folks. What actually came of any of this? Well, finally, this person has disappeared from my Facebook feed. He both "unfriended" and blocked me. He never once said a word to me. I have no doubt that his behavior of posting factually inaccurate posts will continue, and his response to those pointing out those inaccuracies will be for him to continue to stick his head in the sand, weeding out those who bother him so he can maintain his comfortable world-view unchallenged.

This is the Social Catastrophe.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Imaginary Old Days

Adults these days!

Today I would like to discuss another social networking cliche: Saying some tired bullshit to make yourself sound like a cranky old man/woman. It comes with a heaping helping of false bravado and lying to kids!

Exhibit 1:



and on and on...

On some level, I think there are people who legitimately think this is hilarious. For me, this pretty closely ties to "cliche gender humor" which I've said my piece on. Fathers pretend like they are actually all hard-ass, and it is all just a bunch of disappointing bullshit. I understand being nervous about your children growing up and hopefully avoiding mistakes, but..  It is this whole retrograde story about protecting your innocent, sexless women from primitive male fuck animals. How about you raise your daughter with enough wiles to avoid douchey bros, and raise your sons to not be douchey bros themselves? Then maybe we can move beyond this "I'm just a normal middle-aged jagoff who has to pretend he's hillbilly Rambo so the boys aren't feeding my daughter drugs and impregnating her after midnight" situation we are apparently in now.

Exhibit 2:

Yeah, all of the sudden everyone my age is like a completely unfunny Bill Cosby with a childhood from the 50s. We respected our elders and were subjected to an endless string of ass whoopin! Seriously, it is like everyone my age took all of the shit our parents told us and just repeated it. Parents definitely did more physical discipline in my time vs. "kids these days", but I also know we got a lot less of it than, say, my Dad. I was spanked less than 10 times for sure, maybe even 5. None of this would have occurred after age 9 or 10 that I can recall. My parents nor I celebrate it or are big fans of it today.

Maybe all of the ass whooping is why you had an abortion at age 16, a brother getting into fights who spent 5 years in prison, and another brother that smashed his hip up and totaled his car because he was drunk driving, person I know in real life. I'm not saying this because "for shame!", but "for hypocrisy!" Don't worry, I won't tell your kids.

It is important we maintain the illusion that we lived like the Walton family, but with hard discipline and good morals, unlike kids today. The way to raise these kids right is with a big load of bullshit and lies.

Kids: Most adults are fuck-ups. Don't let them fool you. Good luck. You'll need it.