Category Archives: Current Events

Why Social Media Is NOT The New Tobacco

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It’s a full-blown crisis. Kids are spending hours upon hours using it. They’re becoming mindless, unmotivated zombies. Every day, it’s getting worse. It’s all around them. There’s no escaping it and if something drastic isn’t done, it’ll corrupt an entire generation beyond repair.

No, that’s not some hysterical rant from Jessica Lovejoy on “The Simpsons.” It’s not referring to smartphones or social media, either. That urgent message was referring to television. This isn’t another one of my thought experiments. This is one of my memories. It’s true. Televisions was a real concern when I was a kid. Some called it a full blown health hazard.

If that sounds strange, then chances are you aren’t old enough to remember a time before the internet was the ultimate addiction. It really existed. It makes me and many others in my cohort feel old, but it happened. When I was a kid still in grade school, especially between first and sixth grade, the internet wasn’t the thing destroying kids. It was television.

That memory I mentioned wasn’t unique. It came courtesy of an assembly my school held. I don’t entirely remember the purpose of the assembly. I was just a kid and it was an excuse to get out of class. What I do remember, though, was the common refrain about the dangers of television.

Adults of all kinds would find creative ways to tell us to stop watching television and do something “productive,” which I took to mean more homework, more chores, and anything else my teachers made me do. It didn’t really appeal to me and I don’t think it changed the TV habits of my peers, either.

That panic, while nowhere nearly as extreme as the Satanic Panic of the 80s, came and went like many moral crusades tend to do. Some are just forgotten, but others just evolve into a whole new panic. That seems to be happening with the internet and social media now. Watching TV is actually in decline among younger cohorts while their usage of the internet and social media is increasing.

I imagine those same teachers who bemoaned the impact of TV when I was a kid would be giving similar lectures on social media now. They would have competition too because parents today worry about their kids’ internet usage more than their drug usage. Some go so far as to call it the new tobacco to belabor its damaging and addictive nature.

While that kind of comparison strikes all the right emotional chords with concerned parents, I think it’s an unfit comparison to say the least. At most, I would call it absurd. The memories of all those warnings about the dangers of TV leave me inherently skeptical of anything that’s allegedly poisoning children. Unless it’s actual poison, I think the tobacco comparisons are premature.

Now, there’s no question that the internet and social media are having an impact on young people, old people, and everyone in between. There are documented cases where people have exhibited addictive behaviors surrounding their internet usage. Before you make any nicotine comparisons, though, keep in mind that people can be addicted to all sorts of weird things. The human mind is just that strange, powerful, and flawed.

Tobacco, and the nicotine it delivers, is an outside chemical that enters the brain and has real, measurable effects. Using the internet, whether you’re checking FaceBook or browsing Instagram, is not like that. That’s why internet addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that legitimate doctors use to diagnose addiction, but substance abuse is.

It’s also why porn addiction is not considered a true addiction, which I’ve talked about before. However, porn is more specific in its purpose and its effects. There’s also still a stigma, albeit a damaging one, surrounding it that sets it apart from the rest of the internet. A kid browsing the internet, for the most part, is no less damaging than watching cartoons on TV all day.

That doesn’t stop a growing number of people from expressing sincere concern about the effects it’s having on their minds and their health. Some may even prefer that their kids watch old Hanna Barbara cartoons rather than tweet, text, and live-stream all day. There’s a growing sentiment that the internet, social media in particular, hacks our brain’s rewards system.

On paper, it makes sense. You pick up your smart phone, you turn it on not knowing what to expect, and if you find something you like, you get a quick release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. It’s basically a form of gambling. A slot machine works the same way, but you don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy the gambling-like thrill.

Like so many other ideas on paper that go onto fail, though, it’s nowhere near that simple. The human brain can’t be that crude with its chemistry. As a good rule of thumb, if you ever hear someone other than a legitimate neurologist talks about the effects of dopamine on pleasure or addiction, chances are they have a very limited understanding of it at best.

While dopamine does play a role in how we experience pleasure, that’s just one part of a wide range of functions it has within our brains. Trying to understand addiction through dopamine alone is like trying to bake a cake with only a teaspoon of flour. There are many more chemicals, processes, and interactions at play.

Using social media may offer its users a rush whenever they get exciting news on their feed or see something that intrigues and/or offends them, but our brain processes that in a way fairly similar to anything else that catches our attention. The primary difference with the internet and social media is that it happens solely through a digital screen and that does somewhat limit those reactions.

I know that undercuts the concerns of parents who think the internet permanently damaging the collective psyche of their children, but I think they’re overestimating the influence of things that are experienced solely through a screen. Much like TV, the internet and social media can only effect so many senses and that is a major mitigating factor in its impact.

To understand that, go find a picture or video of an exotic location. If you’re a heavy user of Instagram, chances are that won’t be too hard. Look at those pictures. Watch that video. Take in the sights and sounds of that location. To your brain, it’s an appealing bit of visual and auditory sensations. However, those are the only two senses it stimulates.

What about the smell of the air, the feeling of the wind, and the sense of place that being in those locations evokes in our brains? Even if you experience it through hyper-realistic virtual reality, it’s still just sights and sounds at most. Thinking that alone is enough to damage a kid’s brain is like thinking someone can win a sword fight with a sewing needle.

That’s not to say the internet and social media can’t have a powerful psychological impact on certain people. That’s the key, though. It impacts certain people the same way TV impacts certain people. Sure, there are documented cases where social media played a role in a major tragedy, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

In the same way not everyone gets addicted to a drug after they try it, not everyone is going to be irreparably damaged by the internet, social media, or TV. There’s a reason why extreme cases of people being heavily influenced by these things makes the news in the first place. It’s exceedingly rare.

I would still make the case that the internet and social media are more influential on people, society, and our culture than TV ever was. By being so hyper-connected to such a wide audience, the professional trolls of the world have a way to effect others in a way that just wasn’t possible, even with TV.

As bad as some of those trolls are and as tragic as it is when some suffer because of them, blaming the internet for those ills is like blaming umbrellas for hurricanes. Lumping it in with cancer-causing drugs only further obscures the real issues associated with the ever-evolving internet.

There are, indeed, serious issues with how people use the internet and how it manifests. However, treating it like a dangerous drug did nothing to address the issues surrounding TV. It’ll do just as little in addressing the various controversies of the internet. Until the next “new tobacco” comes along, those same people who lectured me on too much TV will bemoan the dangers of the internet while ignoring all the good it does.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology

The WRONG Way To Deal With The Incel Phenomenon (And Ideas For A Better Way)

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When dealing with complex social issues, people have a frustrating tendency to propose solutions that cause more problems. Some of them are unintended and manageable. Some are just absurd and untenable.

I say that as someone who has stated before that complaining about a problem without pursuing a solution amounts to little more than empty whining. I’m in favor of confronting major issues, be they small-scale problems on a local level and bigger problems that may end up being an existential threat to the human race.

However, most reasonable people agree that attempting to solve a problem with a bad solution is akin to killing a fly with a machine gun. Even if it works, it causes plenty of damage and creates an entirely new set of problems that need solving.

This brings me to what I feel is the most asinine issue to emerge since religious zealots got needlessly outraged over the Teletubbies. I’m referring, sadly, to the incel phenomenon and believe me, it makes me miss the days when the Teletubbies were a problem.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’d really prefer to talk about less frustrating topics, but this is quickly evolving/devolving into an issue that isn’t going away on its own. People have started dying because of this phenomenon. Some depraved individuals are already being idolized because of it. This is not one of those things that will blow over after the next Kardashian scandal.

Before I go any further, I need to make clear that I do not think highly the incel phenomenon. It brings out the absolute worst in those who espouse it. I also do not associate incels with other movements involving men’s rights, gender equality, or any mainstream political ideology. These individuals are their own entity.

Their deplorable behavior and demeaning attitudes are solely on them. Their hatred, misogyny, and violent acts are not the least bit justified. I can only manage so much sympathy for those who identify as incel, given the recent news surrounding them. With all that being said, I’m going to try and be fair in addressing this problem.

As much as I abhor the ideology of self-identified incels, I don’t deny that they’re real human beings who are in a state of deep distress. I also don’t deny that their distress is painful to them. Others can call it pathetic all they want. To them, the pain is real.

This is a group of people who genuinely feel that they are the victims of a gross injustice. They see themselves as individuals who have followed all the rules that society has laid out for them. They believe themselves to be good, decent people who are worthy of sex, love, and intimacy. To them, the fact that they aren’t getting any of that is akin to denying a starving child food while donating meals to Bill Gates.

It certainly doesn’t help that popular culture has been selling us all the narrative for decades that being a nice person will get you the lover you want. Since kids, we’ve been led to believe that if we just follow the examples of our favorite photogenic heroes, we’ll get what we want. It always works out in the movies and on TV. Why shouldn’t it work out in real life?

Anyone with a passing knowledge of reality knows why that sentiment is dead wrong. We all have to learn at some point that we are not the heroes of our own story. Things don’t always work out. Life isn’t fair. Nobody owes you anything and the universe doesn’t give a wet fart about your feelings.

It’s a painful revelation, but for those in the incel movement, that pain is too much. It’s not that they haven’t gotten over it. It’s that they’ve given up. They call it “taking the black pill” instead of the red pill. Rather than the truth offered by “The Matrix,” the black pill is akin to just waving the white flag and conceding the battle to the machines.

In this case, though, the machines are the social conditions that ensure incels will never have sex, find love, or feel intimacy. Like sexual and romantic nihilists, they stop trying to navigate a world that they believe is actively working against them. They don’t try to change it or help it. They’re just left wallowing in their hatred and misery.

To some, it’s self-deprecating melodrama. I think it’s tragic. I even understand to some extent how certain people might look at the challenges before them, see how many forces are working against them, and not even try because the odds are so stacked against them. Whether or not that’s actually true doesn’t matter. This is their mentality and it’s a very damaging mentality.

It’s for that reason that the potential “solutions” some have set forth seem intent on either furthering that damage or exchanging one problem for another. One emerging “solution” comes in the form of something called enforced monogamy. It’s not quite what it sounds, but it still lends itself to a great many problems.

The logic, on paper, makes some sense. It posits that in a sexually free market, most of the women will only pursue the top tier of men. It works if you have the looks of Brad Pitt or the bank account of Warren Buffet, but for most everyone else, they’re left behind. As such, monogamy must be rigidly enforced and promiscuity significantly discouraged.

It could take many forms. People who have sex with one too many people could be taxed, fined, or jailed. People who refuse to marry someone could be required to do so. If someone doesn’t sufficiently perform they’re monogamous duties, then they’re subject to both condemnation and punishment. Whatever form it takes, the inherent flaws ensure this “solution” will only incur more problems.

Never mind the fact that human beings, as a species, may not be naturally monogamous. Never mind the fact that sexual monogamy is exceedingly rare throughout the animal kingdom. For the good of society and repressed incels, it has to be imposed and enforced. I’ll give everyone a minute to fume over that half-hearted effort at sarcasm.

In any case, this recourse requires that some segment of the population be oppressed to placate another. Historically speaking, that has never worked out. Sure, using the power of society to guide and/or micromanage sexuality might grant a little intimacy to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it. It will also significantly undermine the freedom and liberty of another individual.

It doesn’t just exchange one problem for another. Whenever society tries to micromanage peoples’ lives, it tends to collapse and not just because it fails the Boredom Filter. Human beings are complex and difficult to manage. Trying to manage the unmanageable is destined to end in failure.

While it’s doubtful that forced monogamy will ever gain favor in any society outside “The Handmaid’s Tale,” other less oppressive solutions have been put forth, relatively speaking. They largely center around legalizing sex work or hastening the development of sex robots.

While I’ve spoken favorably about sex robots and advocated the decriminalization of prostitution, I don’t think either would resolve the incel issue. In fact, I think it would make the situation worse.

Even if we all woke up tomorrow and discovered that prostitution was legal and sex robots were perfected, the incel phenomenon would still exist because those who identify as such would still feel like failures. Even if they had plenty of satisfying sex with prostitutes and sex robots, the fact they had to resort to those means would only affirm their failure.

On top of that, those working in prostitution who served them would probably be subject to stigma of their own. That’s on top of the stigma already associated with sex work. There would be a similar stigma on the manufacturers of sex robots or sex dolls, which has already drawn ire from sex-negative feminists.

In the end, not only will incels still feel angry and resentful, but those associated with this “solution” would have a reason to feel that way too. Given the breadth of that problem and the inherent flaws of the proposed solutions, is there any recourse that is both effective and tenable? I believe there is, but it’s not one of those solutions that’s simple, direct, and requires the passage or removal of a particular law.

The incel phenomenon was born of chaotic social issues that were further compounded by mass media and popular culture. Before solutions like prostitution and sex robots can even enter the conversation, the stigma associated with sex, both for the incels and those involved in sex work, must be confronted.

The idea that anyone who has too much sex or not enough sex deserves stigma is the primary driving force behind controversies surrounding sexuality. Whether it comes from uptight religious zealots or radical feminists, heaping stigma on someone else’s sex life is both damaging and demeaning.

Beyond confronting the stigma, it’s also important to educate those who identify as incels that it’s not entirely hopeless. They can still find love, sex, and intimacy. Part of that process, though, involves learning that they are not owed sex and they have to actually work for someone else’s affection.

That could come in the form of helping people develop better social skills. It could also come in the form of identifying those in the incel community that have legitimate issues with mental health. At the end of the day, they’re still people. Helping them should be prioritized over resenting them.

Re-shaping attitudes and teaching better social skills will be a slow, arduous process. People do have a nasty tendency to cling to their hate. However, it is possible to help someone overcome it. I believe most incels can be helped and are deserving of it. Only those who commit acts of violence should face such scorn.

This is not the kind of effort that one particular gender must take on. It has to be a collective effort, which I know will upset some who feel incels are an exclusive manifestation of toxic masculinity, a term I still contend is inherently flawed. We’re all still human, regardless of our gender. If some of us our suffering, then we’re still the one’s responsible for confronting it.

We can’t expect the incel issue to resolve itself. We also can’t expect those who identify as such to change just because others scorn, mock, or hate them. At some point, one side has to take a deep breath, be the adult, and confront the issue in a meaningful way.

Chances are it’ll get worse before it gets better. It’s also likely that both incels and those who despise them will hate dealing with the issues associated with them. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to address. The longer a group of people remain at the mercy of stigma and self-loathing, the more suffering the world around them is likely to incur.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Free Speech And The Long-Term Fallout Of The “Rosanne” Cancellation

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When it comes to free speech and freedom of expression, I consider myself somewhat of an extremist. If I were in charge of setting the standards, I would permit un-bleeped profanity, unfiltered hate speech, unblurred nudity, and anything else that One Million Moms finds offensive. That’s how much I believe in free speech.

It’s probably for that reason that I would be woefully unqualified to establish a legal framework for what constitutes free speech and how it would be enforced. I’m not a lawyer, a legal expert, or some colorful TV personality who pretends to be one. Despite my qualifications, though, I do feel like I have something worth contributing to an ongoing debate surrounding free speech.

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet or a TV over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the scandal surrounding Roseanne Barr. Simply put, Rosanne Barr made some offensive tweets that she blamed on sleeping pills. The tweets triggered a major outrage across social media. As a result, ABC canceled her hit show, which had been generating strong ratings since its return.

On some levels, I can understand this reaction. ABC is owned by Disney, a company that has one of the strongest brands in the world. They are not the government. They are a publicly traded company and as such, public perceptions affect their profits and their image. If you think that doesn’t matter, just ask the NFL what happens when a brand gets undermined.

On every other level, though, I see this reaction as one of those short-term solutions that could create many other problems in the long run. Whether you agree with Roseanne Barr’s politics or hate her guts, she was still just voicing her opinion. Yes, it was in bad taste and had some racial overtones, but she did apologize for it. The sincerity of that apology is hard to gauge, but the effort still counts for something in my opinion.

Even without that apology, the potential precedent and backlash are already in place. We, as a society, have established a process for punishing speech that we don’t like or find offensive. The process has nothing to do with an authoritarian government cracking down on its people. It doesn’t even involve the kind of mass censorship that other countries routinely practice. We’re doing this all on our own.

Essentially, we’re doing Big Brother’s job for him. We’re just not calling it censorship or a crackdown. Instead, we’re creating our own category of speech that a significant number of people believe ought not to be expressed or shared. There are no lawyers or police enforcing those standards. We’re doing that through a type of speech-based vigilante justice.

Me being a die-hard fan of superhero comics, many of which are built around vigilante justice, I’m somewhat sympathetic to those who want to right the wrongs that our imperfect justice system leaves unfinished. In this case, however, I don’t see the kind of justice that Batman would pursue, nor do I see the kind of villainy that the Joker would carry out.

I see an emerging system where a huge population of well-connected, well-informed, and generally well-meaning people want to confront people and ideas that they feel our damaging to others, themselves, and society as a whole. I don’t doubt their sincerity or their idealism. However, I seriously doubt they understand the implications of what they’re doing.

I don’t agree with Roseanne Barr’s comments. I didn’t find them funny, but I didn’t find them that offensive either. I see far more offensive comments on message boards and Reddit at least twice a day. That sentiment is out there. It exists. Even if the internet disappeared tomorrow, people would still have these thoughts and opinions.

That’s exactly why the outrage, protests, and subsequent consequences don’t necessarily achieve much beyond removing a few offensive comments from an immense network that’s full of so much worse. It does nothing to actually change the sentiments of those expressing the speech. If anything, it just makes them regret getting punished.

It’s akin to the inherent conflict we feel in accepting a criminal’s apology. We can’t know for sure whether they’re genuinely sorry for doing what they did or whether they’re just sorry they got caught. One is very different from the other. Without reading Roseanne Barr’s mind directly, we don’t know if her show getting cancelled has changed her political persuasions or just made them worse.

Moreover, her losing her show, her job, and her credibility reveals to a hyper-connected world that this is how you combat speech you find offensive. You don’t try to change someone’s mind. You don’t grow thicker skin and deal with it. You just get enough people to voice enough outrage and eventually, you can both remove the speech and punish the person who spoke it.

For those who didn’t like Roseanne’s comments or were genuinely offended by them, I doubt that seems like a bad thing. They are, after all, simply voicing their own free speech and using that to effect change from a non-government, publicly-traded company. They probably see themselves as the heroes in this story.

What happens, though, when the script is flipped? It’s not unlike the distressing thought experiment I pitched a while back that involved swapping the genders of famous movie or TV scenes. Reverse the roles and suddenly, the situation takes on a very different context.

You don’t even need any imagination to contemplate this because it already happened with Colin Kaepernick. Like Roseanne, he expressed himself in a very public way that triggered a very public backlash. He ended up losing his job and any prospects of getting another.

The same people celebrating Roseanne Barr’s cancellation likely protested how Kaepernick was treated. Some of them even protested on his behalf in a very public way to apply pressure not unlike the kind ABC faced. While the two situations are not exactly the same, the general premise is clear.

If someone expresses a political opinion that you don’t agree with, you and those like you can protest as well to silence that opinion and publish the one who expressed it. Conservatives can do it to liberal figures. Liberals can do it to conservative figures. The end result is the same. The speech is silenced and the speaker is punished, but the underlying attitudes remain untouched.

It’s those untouched attitudes that may end up having the biggest long-term impact of both the Roseanne Barr situation and that of Colin Kaepernick. Being public figures, these two made themselves targets with their controversial expressions. However, the way others confronted it is potentially damaging to the very concept of free speech.

Thanks to the internet, social media, and outrage culture, both situations make clear to those of any political persuasion that you don’t have to confront the actual substance of someone else’s speech. You don’t have to thicken your skin, evolve your thinking, or learn how to process offense. You can just protest the speech and punish the speaker, all without getting the government involved.

That’s the kind of approach that does not foster a free, open exchange of ideas. If anything, it ensures that people internalize their feelings and sentiments that others may find offensive. In doing so, that makes it even harder to confront them and potentially change their minds. Roseanne losing her show isn’t going to convince her that her critics are right. If anything, it’s going to make her hate her critics even more.

The end result of this kind of self-censorship is downright dystopian. Imagine a world where everything online, on TV, and in movies is so filtered, so watered down, and so overly polished that nobody even has an opportunity to voice anything offensive. The government doesn’t enforce it. We do.

In that world, hate and bigotry still exists. It’s just hidden and we have no way of knowing about it. History and human nature makes clear that internalizing these feelings can be very damaging. Now, we’ve just given Roseanne Barr and everyone who shares her views to be angrier and more hateful. We’ve also given them a tool with which to fight back against those they disagree with.

It’s a dangerous situation with damaging implications for the future of free speech. We could argue whether or not ABC was right to cancel Roseanne’s show or whether a company like Disney has the right to fire people who damage their brand. At the end of the day, though, the source of the outrage and conflict still comes from us. If offense is all it takes to censor speech, then speech is no longer free.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, media issues, political correctness

How Much Are We Willing To Hurt The Innocent To Punish The Guilty?

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There are certain questions that nobody likes to ask, but still need to be answered. Questions concerning crime, justice, and punishment are usually at the top of that list. Lately, answering those questions has becom more urgent. If current cultural trends continue, that urgency will only increase.

That’s not because people are becoming more keen on justice. It’s more a byproduct of injustice being so much more visible in the age of the internet and social media. Crimes don’t just make the news these days. They can trigger full-blown social movements, destroy careers, and bring down powerful people.

To some extent, this is a good thing. We, as a social species, have an innate sense of justice hardwired into us. When we see something unjust, be it a kid stealing a cookie or a gruesome murder, most sane people want to see some level of justice enacted. When it isn’t, that bothers us. That’s where our sense of empathy comes from.

That said, it is possible for that innate desire for justice to go too far. Nature is a blunt instrument, largely out of necessity. Our desire for justice is no different and in the same way egregious injustices are harder to hide, gross misapplications of justice are becoming more visible as well.

As of this writing, the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that works to exonerate those who’ve been wrongly convicted of a crime, have freed 350 people, some of whom were on death row. Those are the lucky ones, though. In a 2014 study, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that approximately 4 percent of those sentenced to death row may be innocent.

Think about that, for a moment, as a simple math problem. For every 100 people who are executed by the state for their crimes, 4 of them are completely innocent. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian, or communist, the murder of an innocent person offends our humanity to the core. Only a sociopath would be comfortable with that math.

That murder of some innocent people for the sake of punishing the guilty is an extreme example, but one that nicely highlights the potential pitfalls of our reckless crusade against injustice. I don’t bring it up to start a debate on the death penalty, which is very much a dead-weight issue within politics these days. I’m using it to provide context for misapplications of justice that aren’t as clear cut.

Thanks to social media and global connectivity, it’s a lot easier attack injustice without the rigid bureaucracy of legal justice system. It’s largely because of this emerging technology that the ongoing anti-harassment movement and the push for greater diversity have become more vocal. Instances of injustice that might have been ignored in the past are now much easier to confront.

Instead of hiring a lawyer, getting the cops involved, or going door-to-door to raise awareness, these perceived injustices can be attacked online, which can subsequently lead to offline consequences. While that can be an effective recourse for those who wield great power and have an army of lawyers, it does come at a cost and innocent people have felt that cost.

While there are plenty of cases that don’t become mainstream news, some of the most notable include the Duke Lacrosse incident or the UVA rape case. These are both cases that struck the right and wrong chords at the right and wrong time, evoking in people their inherent aversion to injustice in the utmost. It got people upset and emotional, so much so that they didn’t stop to wonder whether those involved were really guilty.

The alleged crimes were undeniably heinous. There’s no question about that. Anyone guilty of such crimes deserves to be punished. However, in wanting to punish such crimes, innocent people suffered. Some had their reputations temporarily ruined and others have been irreparably destroyed.

There are other lesser known cases of innocent people suffering because of an accusation that later turned out to be false. There are likely more in which the innocent person never gets justice. It’s impossible to know how common they are. Most will point out how rare those instances and in terms of raw numbers, that’s true.

However, that still implies that we have to accept the price that some innocent people will suffer in our pursuit of justice. It also highlights how important it is to have a functioning justice system that includes traditions such as due process and the presumption of innocence.

It’s a tradition worth belaboring too.

It’s an imperfect process, admittedly. There have been notable cases where someone likely got away with a crime because the standards for a conviction are so high. The principle behind that system is that, in the name of not condemning the innocent, we accept the price that some of the guilty may escape justice.

For some people, that’s more untenable than the condemnation of an innocent person. That has become a much more prominent theme in recent years, due to the anti-harassment movement. That’s somewhat understandable, given how long men like Harvey Weinstein got away with their deplorable behavior.

In the effort to prevent or punish such deplorable behavior, though, those critical tenants of our justice system that are supposed to protect the innocent are being cast aside. There are some within the anti-harassment movement who emphasize the importance of believing the victim’s accusations in lieu of the presumption of innocence.

Other, more radical, voices in the movement have favored changing the standards of evidence for rape cases so that they would no longer be subject to reasonable doubt. Granted, these are somewhat extreme measures that probably won’t upend our justice system anytime soon. Others far smarter than me have already pointed out the dangers and debunked many of the assumptions.

None of this is to say that the anti-harassment movement or the effort to hold people accountable for their behavior is entirely misguided. I’m in favor of exposing crimes and having the guilty pay for those crimes, provided they really are guilty. I support efforts to reduce harassment, sexual or otherwise. I support efforts to reduce sexual assault on women and men. Most decent human beings share that sentiment.

What I don’t support is the idea that it’s okay for more innocent people to suffer for the sake of capturing even more guilty people. As I mentioned before with the Innocence Project, our flawed justice system already condemns innocent people. A willingness to let more innocent suffer is the wrong direction to go in fighting injustice.

I know that’s easy for someone like me to say because I’ve never been the victim of a serious crime. I’ve had some stuff stolen before, I’ve been cheated out of some money, and I have been roughed up before, but I’ve never been seriously injured or assaulted. I can’t imagine how someone who has been seriously victimized feels about what happened to them.

Their suffering matters. The suffering of innocent people matters too. It’s why the question surrounding hurting the innocent to punish the guilty needs to be asked, even if the answers make us uncomfortable. The fact those answers make us uncomfortable reflects the flaws of our justice system and how imperfect our world really is.

At the same time, it also reminds us why seeking justice and combating injustice matters. We, as a society and a species, cannot function if there isn’t some semblance of justice. For victims and innocent alike, we need those institutions so that we can prosper and grow as a civilization.

From the anti-harassment movement to crusading prosecutors to overt bias in the court system, there comes a point in the pursuit of justice where compromising the innocent is a price that some are willing to pay. Once that line is crossed, though, it sets a dangerous precedent that relies on dangerous assumptions.

To be willing to compromise the innocent, it’s necessary to believe that people who fit a certain profile are guilty by default. If their gender, race, ethnic group, religion, or nationality checks enough boxes, then innocence becomes an afterthought. It becomes another numbers game in assessing potential guilt over actual guilt.

That’s a precedent that can easily devolve into a panic and, as history has shown, panics tend to harm the innocent far more than the guilty. It also undercuts the suffering of actual victims because if actual guilt becomes an afterthought, then so too does actual victimization.

That, in many ways, is the greatest price that comes with compromising innocence. Punishing a guilty criminal simply rights a wrong. Punishing an innocent person has impacts that go beyond simply making an undeserving individual suffer. It has a ripple effect on the entire concept of justice, much of which cannot be qualified.

That’s why, even if it is as rare as some claim, the punishment of one innocent person should offend our sense of justice more than a guilty person escaping. A guilty person is still going to be guilty, no matter what their high-priced lawyers say. An innocent person who is punished for a crime they didn’t commit often lose so much more than just their innocence and that’s an injustice no one should tolerate.

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Using Nihilism To Make Sense Of Politics

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I don’t consider myself that huge philosophy buff, but in general, I’m a fan of anything that helps me make sense of mind-bending complexities of the universe. In an era where mass media and the internet have made it easier than ever to see the breadth of that complexity, I think such tools are more valuable than ever.

Lately, I’ve found myself more frustrated than usual with the news media, the politics surrounding it, and the never-ending crisis/outrage cycle that it seems to perpetuate. I’ve written articles before where I’ve mused over the absurdities surrounding the media and outrage culture in general, but I’ve tried to be apolitical about it.

It hasn’t been easy, to say the least.

Well, given the ongoing trends of politically-driven divides in recent years, I don’t think that approach is entirely tenable in the long run. At some point, I’m going to have to get somewhat political on certain issues, more so than I already have. For that reason, I want to take a certain kind of philosophy and use it to cut through the layers of political bullshit that are sure to obscure any issue, present and future alike.

That philosophy is nihilism, which should come to no surprise of those who regularly follows this site. Whether it involves the tendencies of future generations or my favorite cartoon show, I’ve made my fondness of nihilism fairly clear. I also think that, as a philosophy, it’s a more useful tool than most with respect to filtering hyper-partisan politics.

In my experience, Nihilism is useful because its premise and principles are relatively simple. There’s nothing too convoluted or esoteric about it. As a baseline philosophy, nihilism posits that life, the universe, and everything in it has no inherent meaning. Human life isn’t special. Life, in general, isn’t special. The entire universe isn’t special. It’s just random clumps of matter floating around aimlessly.

It’s simple, albeit depressing. There’s a good reason why it’s popular among goths, punk music, and Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty.” It makes no promises and guarantees nothing. It acknowledges that all the meaning we ascribe to our lives and our world, be it through religion, ideology, or our favorite football teams, is entirely arbitrary.

Naturally, this does not sit well with those whose religion preaches faith in a higher power or whose ideology requires adherents to accept some greater, intangible meaning to it all. The basic implications of nihilism can leave many feeling uneasy. The idea that our universe is so purposeless can trigger an existential crisis, especially among those who’ve been led to believe there’s something special about them.

However, it’s that same cold, callous element to nihilism that makes it so useful. It immediately casts doubt on anything that someone or a group of people deem meaningful. It forces both observers and participants to take a step back and ask some metaphysical questions about why they deem something so meaningful.

To illustrate, here’s a painfully recent example. There have been two school shootings in 2018, thus far, that have garnered major media attention, followed significant political upheaval. One occurred in Parkland and the other occurred at Sante Fe High School in Texas. In both cases, the political upheaval involved gun control. One even led to a major, nationwide protest.

For one side of the political spectrum, these incidents motivate politically minded individuals to fight for stricter gun control. That’s the common position of liberal politics. For the other side of the political spectrum, such incidents motivate other politically minded individuals to protect the rights of gun ownership against government intrusion. That’s the common position of conservative politics.

Which side is right? Which side is wrong? Which side’s policies are more supported by verifiable scientific research? Which side’s position is statistically shown to result in less suffering?

These are all questions that both sides of the political spectrum argue about endlessly and to the point of absurdity. They’re questions that are impossible to answer. However, when you apply a little nihilism to the debate, the context suddenly changes. Instead of asking all these specific, unanswerable questions. Nihilism asks only one major question.

Why does it even matter?

More specifically, why does it matter what the liberals say? What does it matter what the conservatives say? Why does all the outrage and protest surrounding gun control, abortion rights, or convoluted campaign finance laws matter at all?

It’s not a question meant to trigger or troll an audience. The purpose, in this instance, is to get people to take a step back and understand that the meaning behind the current debate requires that the meaning behind this current point in time be exceedingly inflated.

With gun control, the primary catalyst for the debate that rages today began with the Columbine shooting in 1999. Many of the passions surrounding gun control began with that event. I’m old enough to remember how big a deal it was when it first happened. My school underwent a great deal of melodrama during that time.

As horrific as that event was, why is it any more meaningful than the deadly shooting that occurred in 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin? Going back even further than that, what about the deadly massacre that occurred without guns at Enoch Brown that occurred in 1764 and left 10 people dead, 9 of which were children?

Most people don’t even remember or know of those atrocities. Do they matter any less? Sure, there aren’t as many people alive today who are affected by them. In fact, for most atrocities committed before the 20th century, nobody is alive to ascribe meaning to those events.

That makes sense through the lens of nihilism because, given enough time and entropy, nothing matters in the long run. The outrage of those events and all those effected passed as soon as the people involved passed. When they died, they took the meaning with them. Even though the records of those events still exist to anyone willing to look them up, they are devoid of meaning.

Now, with that in mind, think about how meaningful the recent school shootings will be 200 years from now. It’s a given that they won’t be nearly as relevant, but will they carry the same meaning? Will anything that happened as a result really matter in the long run? Will all those political debates mean anything in the grand scheme of things?

If history is any indication, and history itself is subject to arbitrary meaning with nihilism, then chances are it won’t. There’s a high possibility that the current uproar surrounding gun control, as well as the uproar surrounding every political issue we deem important today, will eventually be rendered pointless.

That’s not to say they become pointless in an instant. Time has a way of skewing and twisting hot-button issues that don’t always make much sense in the decades that followed. Before the 1980s, abortion was largely considered a Catholic issue and didn’t become really touchy until the rise of the religious right.

The same thing happened with issues of censorship. Back in the mid-1960s, campuses like UC Berkeley were the central hub of the free speech movement that championed the right of people to say controversial things. These days, those same campuses have promoted censorship of controversial speakers, sometimes to the point of violence.

To most, that comes off as an act of hypocrisy. In a nihilistic context, though, it makes sense because both positions are similarly flawed. They were deemed meaningful during a particular time, but once that time passes, that meaning faded once the people who gave it that meaning moved on.

That, more than anything, is the ultimate message nihilism conveys to political discourse. What people consider politically charged is only relevant because the people currently alive are making it so. When those people die, move on, or get bored, the political upheaval fades and loses meaning.

The fact that such a heated issue can lose meaning further implies that the meaning ascribed to it in the first place was entirely arbitrary. It only meant something because people subjectively believed it. There was no larger force at work in the grand scheme of things. It’s just individuals in a certain time at a particular place collectively deciding that this is worth their emotional energy.

It may seem callous. It may even seem to undercut suffering and injustice. However, I would argue that nihilism actually helps by putting an issue into a proper context. Whether it’s gun control, abortion, or the right of a person to marry a squirrel, the meaning of both the issue and the passions behind it is contingent on those experiencing it. There’s nothing else beyond that and pretending there is only obscures the situation.

Nihilism, and its propensity to strip away inflated meaning, reduces every issue back to temporary, finite beings concerned with their current condition in a fleeting, uncaring, unguided universe. It doesn’t matter if life is ultimately meaningless in the long run. It doesn’t matter that life in the past has been rendered pointless or that life in the future will eventually be pointless. What matters is what we’re experiencing now.

Anything beyond that context within a political issue is just false meaning. Anything that attributes more meaning to the events in the past and future is just as arbitrary. Ultimately, the individuals alive today are responsible for ascribing meaning to an issue, whatever it may be.

I believe that harsh truth actually puts every political issue in a proper perspective, one that shows just how responsible we are as a society for giving meaning to an issue. It doesn’t mean we should all just give up and lament at the meaninglessness of our lives. It means we should be mindful of the things to which we ascribe meaning because, in a nihilistic universe, nothing else will do it for us.

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Are Cheerleaders An Endangered Profession?

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There are certain professions that go extinct and for perfectly valid reasons. Occupations like elevator operator, switchboard operators, and milkmen are all jobs that just don’t have a place in the economy or society anymore. Technology and trends have rendered them unnecessary or obsolete.

For a small, but vocal contingent of regressive individuals with a low threshold for outrage, there’s a particular occupation that they’d like to add to that list. That is the profession/hobby of cheerleading, specifically the kind that involves parading beautiful women in sexy attire so they can dance, shake pom-poms, and get a crowd excited. Hell, it’s not like there’s anything inherently appealing about that.

That last sentence was sarcasm, by the way. I want to make clear that, as both a man and an avid sports fan, I love cheerleaders. They embody so many wonderful concepts about the world. They combine sports, sex appeal, dancing, and excitement. They bring happiness, excitement, and spirit to an event. There is literally no downside.

Unfortunately, that regressive crowd who insist on seeing sexism, misogyny, and oppression at every corner sees none of that. They only see beautiful women being paraded around in sexy attire for horny men to gawk at. It doesn’t matter if those women choose to do so or are paid to do. Beautiful women attracting the attention of horny men is seen as inherently oppressive to all women everywhere.

 

That was sarcasm too. I’m sorry if I’m using more than usual, but I find it’s the best way to highlight the sheer absurdity of this attitude. However, it’s an absurdity with serious implications because it reflects a growing trend. Now, in an era where it’s suddenly scandalous to depict the female body in any sexual context, cheerleading is a growing target.

It’s a target that has already taken a few hits. Earlier this year, Formula One Racing announced that it would no longer utilize grid girls, who are basically cheerleaders for racing. This act was cheered by the radical anti-sex feminist crowd. It was probably secretly cheered by priests, mullahs, and monks, as well. While it did inspire somewhat of a backlash, it hasn’t stopped that same crowd from aiming at other targets.

More recently, NFL cheerleaders are in the spotlight. In terms of cheerleading, as a profession, this is basically going for the very top of the hierarchy. The NFL is for cheerleaders what the Pro Bowl is for NFL players. It’s seen as the very pinnacle of the profession and it may be in danger.

It hasn’t helped that there have been some distressing scandals involving how some NFL cheerleaders are treated. The recent scandal involving the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad has only added more fuel to the outrage. Never mind that the facts of these scandals are limited and anecdotal, in some cases. It gives the regressive crowd everything they need to cry sexism and misogyny.

Now, none of this is to downplay some of the real issues surrounding cheerleading, as a profession. There are certainly issues with respect to how much cheerleaders are paid and how their lives are micromanaged. Those issues should be addressed and reformed. However, that’s not the conversation anyone wants to have.

Instead, cheerleading is getting lumped into other outdated traditions like arranged marriages, virginity tests, and being forced to cover their ankles in public. It’s not a profession or a passion that needs to be reformed and improved. It’s something that needs to be outright purged from society.

That’s not just an extreme reaction to a job that isn’t even the most dangerous or the most prone to sex scandals. It’s an attack on the very idea that beautiful, sexy women can and should be used to promote anything, be it a sports team or a fast food meal. The problem isn’t how the job is unfairly managed. It’s the job itself.

From the perspective of cheerleading’s opponents, it objectifies the female body and commodifies female sexuality for the consumption of men. In an era where sexually harassing a woman is seen as the ultimate evil, whereas sexually abusing a man isn’t nearly as outrageous, that’s just unacceptable.

The attitudes of the women who seek this profession don’t matter. The attitudes of the men who enjoy the sexiness and excitement that cheerleaders inspire especially don’t matter. All that matters is that cheerleaders are too sexually stimulating to the masses and that’s feeding a culture of misogyny and sexism. I wish that were sarcasm, but that’s what these regressive people genuinely believe.

For them, undermining the freedom and agency of those who want to pursue cheerleading and those who want to admire cheerleaders is a price they’re willing to pay. While some, like the Grid Girls, try to fight back, they’re facing an uphill battle and it’s one that cheerleaders might end up losing.

That’s because these are exceedingly sensitive times. Just trying to inject reason and criticism into the movement against sexism is subject to irrational outrage. Matt Damon found that out the hard way. More and more, people are just avoiding the conversation altogether because it just keeps fueling more outrage.

The current dynamic is as simple as it is unfair. If you stand up for cheerleaders, then the regressive crowd can just claim you’re a sexiest who wants to gawk at beautiful women. Even if you’re a woman speaking on behalf of cheerleaders, your criticism can be cast aside because you’re just brainwashed by the patriarchy and you’re for the objectification of women.

Never mind the fact that the very concept of objectification is fundamentally flawed. Never mind the fact that that flawed concept is also prone to some pretty disturbing double standards. The protests against cheerleading is framed as a protest against sexism, misogyny, and patriarchal oppression. It doesn’t matter how wrong or misguided that notion is. That’s the perception and there’s just no way to win that argument.

These days, being called a sexist is bad for business and for your profession. I believe the regressive crowd knows that, to some extent. They understand that the NFL is a business and one that has already been ravaged by negative press. Their success and their profits are dependent on their brand. If they see something as potentially damaging to their brand, then they’re going to either get rid of it or downplay it.

I’m not good at predicting the future, but depending on how these recent cheerleading scandals play out, I suspect that the NFL might just slowly phase out cheerleaders, altogether. It’s the path of least resistance. Keeping them around means keeping the outrage around. That’s just more risk and frustration than it’s worth.

It would be another major loss, one far bigger than the loss of the Grid Girls. However, as much as I love cheerleaders and the sex appeal they bring, I can totally understand why a major organization like the NFL would resort to such an extreme. By just removing cheerleaders, altogether, the crowd of regressive outrage will move onto their next crusade and, hopefully, leave them alone.

It’s a scenario that nobody wins. If the NFL ends up eliminating cheerleaders, it won’t be because they’ve seen the error of their ways and are now champions of women’s empowerment. They’re just protecting their brand. They’re trying to stop the whining, an approach that only offers the illusion of progress and not actual progress.

Personally, I hope the NFL resists the outrage. The more ground we give to regressive attitudes, the more regressive our society becomes. This is a crowd that won’t stop until everything that might potentially evoke sexual feelings or portray women in a sexy way is either eliminated or stigmatized.

As both a fan of all things sexy and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s not a world I want to live in. That’s not a world that even other women want to live in, as the Grid Girls have shown. It’s a boring, unsexy, downright dystopian world that’s worth resisting and I hope there are plenty of cheerleaders, male and female alike, who will cheer on that effort.

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The Strange Appeal Of The Apocalypse (According To “Rick And Morty”)

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What is it about the apocalypse that fascinates us so much? Why do movies about zombies, machine uprisings, and overall societal collapse appeal to us? Is it just the dramatic, action-packed stories they evoke that thrills us? Could there be something more to that appeal?

While I enjoy a good apocalyptic tale every now and then, I don’t consider myself a fan of the genre. In general, I opt for more hopeful and optimistic stories about the future and the present. I can still appreciate movies like “World War Z” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead,” but it’s not the kind of story that appeals to me, in general.

Even so, I don’t deny that there is a certain appeal to it. I’m not just talking about apocalyptic stories either. For some, the idea of a world in which civilization has collapsed has an innate allure that goes beyond zombies, killer robots, or even invading aliens. To some extent, that appeal is directly related to the flaws of civilization itself.

To appreciate those flaws and where the apocalypse fits in, it’s necessary to reference a show that has a knack for conveying complex philosophical insights in a way that’s both entertaining and hilarious. Yes, I’m referring to “Rick and Morty” again. No, I’m not apologizing for that.

In the same way this show has conveyed complexities of nihilism and the burdens of genius, this show also does a better job than most at conveying the unique appeal of the collapse of civilization. It does this through two episodes, “Rick Potion Number 9” and “Rickmancing The Stone.” While the details are subtle, as is often the case with “Rick and Morty,” the message is clear.

Simply put, the fruits of modern civilization are debilitating, dehumanizing, and soul-crushing for the vast majority of people. If you’re rich, good looking, and well-connected, then civilization is fantastic for you. You can get pretty much whatever you want and you can get other people to do all the hard stuff you don’t want to do.

If you’re everyone else, though, you’re kind of stuck. Throughout “Rick and Morty,” Rick Sanchez doesn’t hide from that fact. His nihilistic commentary on life, death, and everything in between makes clear that civilization is just a few extra inconveniences to an undisputed super-genius who can build a nuclear reactor out of pond scum.

However, it’s through characters like Jerry Smith, Rick’s perpetually mediocre son-in-law, that the true weight of modern civilization becomes clear. To some extent, Jerry represents all the non-Ricks of the world. They don’t have the benefits of good looks, deep pockets, or god-like genius navigate civilization. They’re basically stuck working for the scraps.

Both myself and most people reading this probably have more in common with Jerry than they care to admit. We work jobs we don’t like to make just enough money to survive in a society where simply living is both overly-complicated and expensive by modern infrastructure, law, and economics. For most people, just living in a decent place with a manageable mortgage payment and good WiFi is the most they can hope for.

In the apocalypse, though, everything is simpler. All those complexities of modern civilization go out the window. Life is no longer defined by your ability to find a job, pay the bills, stay out of jail, and not piss off the wrong people. It’s defined by your ability to survive day-by-day. It basically resets our society back to its tribal roots.

For some, that’s a horrible setback because it means they actually have to work, sweat, and toil for their survival rather than relying on underpaid peasants. For most, though, it’s a massive equalizer. Suddenly, your money, your fancy clothes, and your tax bracket don’t matter. All that matters is your ability to survive another day.

In “Rick Potion Number 9,” Rick and Morty’s antics bring about the complete collapse of civilization. In the process, Jerry Smith gets a chance to be something other than the guy that modern society walks all over because of his inherent mediocrity. Suddenly, he doesn’t need genius, looks, or connections to thrive. He just needs an ability to hold a crow bar and fight monsters.

In “Rickmancing The Stone,” this breakdown of civilization and equalization of stakes gets an even greater push, albeit without Jerry. He still plays a part in the story, but only to the extent that it’s clear just how much modern civilization crushes people like Jerry whose skills are too limited to thrive. Conversely, a “Mad Max: Fury Road” style apocalypse simplifies the types of necessary skills.

In that world, and nearly every other apocalyptic narrative for that matter, you don’t need to go to a fancy college, invest in complex industry, or network with rich elites. You just need to be willing and able to learn basic survival skills, like hunting, foraging, self-defense, and basic crafts. Most people with moderate hand-eye coordination and a little grit can learn those skills.

These are skills that go back to the basics of our hunter/gatherer past. They’re skills that still manifest today, both with rugged outdoor-lovers and in societies that have collapsed, albeit on a non-zombie, non-global scale. Whatever the circumstances, though, the end results are the same. The apocalypse doesn’t just simplify the stakes. It requires us to be egalitarian in the most pragmatic way possible.

Think of all the petty divisions we currently deal with, from identity politics to philosophical debates to never-ending feud between “Star Wars” fans and “Star Trek” fans. In the face of an apocalypse, all that stuff becomes meaningless. Disagreements over feminism and masculinity don’t matter. Clashes between liberals and conservatives don’t matter. Complex economic theories don’t matter.

To some extent, that is appealing. Sure, it also means no internet, no TV, no movies, no social media, and no media of any kind. It also means no air conditioning, no electricity, no modern medicine, and no modern comforts. That may limit the appeal, but at the same time, it removes the complications that comes with those amenities.

Let’s face it. They are complications that get pretty infuriating. In the modern world, you can’t just survive. You have to have a career. You have to have some sort of profitable skill. Even if you do, that’s no guarantee you’ll gain the respect you want, attract the mates you want, or establish yourself as a productive member of your community.

In the world of the apocalypse, it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers you had or likes you got on FaceBook. It doesn’t matter how many friends you had in high school, how many matches you won on “Overwatch,” or how many dumb things you did as a kid. When society, civilization, and infrastructure collapse, none of that matters. You’re essentially free to just live and survive.

For the Jerry Smiths of the world, the apocalypse would be the perfect make-or-break scenario. You either show that you’re willing to work, fight, and survive or you die. That’s all there is to it. It’s simple, blunt, and uncomplicated. You have just as much an opportunity as some guy who went to an overpriced prep school. Even if you fail, you fail on your own accord.

That said, there’s also a dark side to that appeal. While “Rick and Morty” double down on the dehumanizing, degrading nature of modern civilization, other shows like “The Walking Dead” show how it can take people who would be unremarkable in a civilized society and turn them into monsters. That’s how a high school football coach can become a tyrannical, but charismatic dictator.

Like modern civilization, the apocalypse affects people in different ways. Some, like Jerry Smith and Negan, might actually thrive in it. Others won’t be able to handle it, having become too comfortable with the trappings of civilization. That’s something that modern survivalist groups bank on and, should the apocalypse ever come, we’ll see how much or how little that pays off.

Personally, I hope that day never comes. It’s not just because I probably wouldn’t last long in an apocalypse. I’ve never gone camping, I don’t have any survival training, and I’m not sure how I’ll react to a zombie. I think that while modern civilization has its flaws, it has more long-term potential than any apocalypse, by default.

Since much of that potential is still unrealized, although we are making progress, the apocalypse will still have more appeal to the vast majority of people who feel trapped by the rigid complexity of modern civilization. They can only do so much with their lives and there’s only so much they have to risk.

Then again, maybe that’s something both civilization and the apocalypse have in common. As Rick Sanchez once said, “To live is to risk it all. Otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.” It’s just easier to do that in the apocalypse because, with or without zombies, the stakes are simpler and clearer for everyone.

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