Category Archives: human nature

Whistleblower Confirms That Facebook Is Harmful: So What Do We Do About It?

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There are certain products in this world that we know are harmful, but use them anyway. Cars kill thousands every year through traffic accidents. Thousands die every year by overdosing on drugs that were legally prescribed to them. However, we still use these products because they are essential for our way of life.

With that in mind, I think most people already know that certain social media platforms, such as Facebook, can be harmful. You don’t need to look that hard to find harmful or damaging misinformation on Facebook. Having been in college at the time Facebook really took off, I think most people understood to some extent that this product could be used for immense harm.

So, was it really that surprising when a whistleblower came out and revealed just how much Facebook was aware of the damage they were doing? Just like tobacco companies before them, they could see that harm unfolding in real time. They just weren’t willing to take the kinds of steps that would hinder their profits.

They’re a multi-billion dollar business. They want to keep making billions for years to come. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the nature/flaw of capitalism.

In case you haven’t been following this story, the fallout from this whistleblower’s revelations are still unfolding. If you want details on the story, here is what NPR reported:

NPR: Whistleblower to Congress: Facebook products harm children and weaken democracy

Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy and much more,” Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal documents, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms [they] caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony. “I implore you to do the same here.”

Haugen will urge lawmakers to take action to rein in Facebook, because, she says, it won’t do so on its own. “The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people,” she will say.

There’s much more to the article, but I singled out this excerpt because it effectively sums up the situation. Again, most reasonable people probably suspected that a platform like Facebook was doing real harm to public discourse and the psychology of teenagers, especially girls. It’s still nice to have confirmation.

As someone who uses Facebook, I can attest to its harms. There is some pretty toxic crap throughout the site, as well as some equally toxic people. Sadly, some of that toxicity comes from friends and relatives sharing content, often of a political nature, that gets people upset and outraged. That’s not a bug, either. According to the whistleblower, that’s entirely on purpose.

Now, in the interest of maintaining some kind of perspective, I’m inclined to remind everyone where that content on Facebook comes from. Remember, they’re not the one’s producing it. They’re just the platform. It’s the users and the people who are creating that. It’s people willing to lie, denigrate, demean, and troll who create the content that makes Facebook and social media so toxic.

To blame Facebook entirely for these harms is like blaming car manufacturers for traffic fatalities. At the end of the day, the car itself doesn’t cause the harm. It’s the person using it.

That being said, Facebook is not a car, nor should we treat it like one. It’s also not a tobacco company and we shouldn’t treat it like that, either. Facebook doesn’t create a tangible product that we can hold in our hands to harm ourselves, nor is it a chemical we willingly put in our bodies. It’s a digital service that we engage with and, in turn, it engages with us.

From that exchange, real harm is possible. This whistleblower confirms that and, based on the available information, I think the data presented is valid. That still leaves one question to ponder.

What do we do about Facebook and other companies like it?

That’s still an unresolved question and one that too many people try to answer bluntly. Shortly after this story came out, the ever-popular #DeleteFacebook hashtag started trending. However, I doubt anything will come of that. I’ve seen that hashtag trend on multiple occasions and it has done little to affect Facebook’s growth.

These revelations are bad, but I doubt they’ll be enough to bring Facebook down completely. They may lose subscribers and revenue in the short-term, but they’ll adapt and grow in the long run. You don’t become a multi-billion dollar company without being able to adapt in lieu of bad press.

At the same time, I think we should take some action to mitigate the impact of Facebook and social media. What could that entail? I’m not smart enough to offer a comprehensive answer, but I do know the extremes people are throwing around just won’t work.

For one, Facebook can’t be banned or shuttered. It makes too much money and it would set a dangerous precedent for every business, online or otherwise. It’s also probably grossly unconstitutional, at least in western democracies like the United States and Britain.

Even if it were banned, people would find a way to get around it. Just look at the countries that have tried to ban porn. People still find a way to get it.

Others have thrown around ideas like splitting up Facebook, just like America once did with oil companies and phone companies. That would certainly be extreme and there are precedents for doing so. However, would that really change how Facebook and social media are utilized by real people? Would those not satisfied with the newly broken up Facebook simply create something similar under a different name?

The most logical recourse might just involve demanding that Facebook make the changes they refused to make, according to the whistleblower. They could also be subject to major fines and taxes, as we’ve done before with tobacco. Will those measures be effective? I don’t know, but I’m skeptical, to say the least.

I honestly don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. I also think that, even if governments did implement new measures on social media companies to combat their harms, both the companies and the users would find a way around it. Both sides are just too motivated at this point.

I still believe there’s a better solution. I just don’t know what it is and if anyone has one to offer, please share it in the comments. In the meantime, I guess the best recourse we can all do is to just be careful about what we place on Facebook and be more mindful of the content we consume.

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Rethinking Jobs And Business: How Pandemics And Relief Benefits May Change Both

Help wanted? | Free | hometownsource.com

The world is always changing. That’s the only constant.

Sometimes, it changes more rapidly and chaotically than usual. That tends to happen a lot when major events transpire, such as a once-in-a-generation pandemic that infected millions and shut down entire countries. I hope I don’t have to belabor that to anyone with a news feed for the past year.

At the same time, these kinds of rapid upheavals can get us thinking harder about things we tend not to question. I’m not just talking about how much we take our health, our infrastructure, and our essential workers for granted. I’m referring to bigger concepts about how we approach life, society, and how we structure our lives.

One area that seems to be getting more scrutiny lately is how we approach jobs, work, and careers. I’ve certainly given it more thought, mostly in terms of the impacts of telework and how I used my stimulus check. I suspect many others have contemplated these topics in new ways in wake of recent events.

Now, as the pandemic nears its end, some of those concepts are already manifesting in the real world. One effect, in particular, has been especially jarring in America, mostly for reasons that other industrialized countries may find laughable. It has to do with people not wanting to work for a lousy, unlivable wage.

I know that shouldn’t be such a radical concept, but it is and as a proud American, I find it infuriating. There’s no getting around it. The ages for the average, non-CEO American have been stagnant for decades. It’s an issue that has been festering since long before the pandemic and even before I was born.

Before the pandemic swept in, there was an ongoing debate on whether the minimum wage should be increased to $15 nationally. I won’t get too heavily into the politics and talking points behind it, mostly because it ultimately descends into cycle of speculation and fallacies. I’ll just say that the pandemic has complicated that debate in unexpected ways.

During the height of the pandemic, the economy was basically shut down. Suddenly, millions were out of work and businesses had to shut down. Many still haven’t fully recovered. A big reason why many didn’t starve to death or end up on the streets was because of government relief packages, which included extended unemployment benefits.

While America’s relief package wasn’t nearly as generous as other countries, it was certainly better than nothing. I know plenty of people who genuinely needed that relief to stay afloat in terms of paying bills and feeding their families. It’s also not unreasonable to say that this was a critical measure in terms of preventing the pandemic from getting even worse.

However, this effort revealed something remarkable. According to a study done last year, the unemployment benefits that many workers received was actually better than their previous wages. It wasn’t an insignificant chunk of the work force, either. The benefits were greater for approximately 68 percent of American workers.

What does that say about the wages we’re paying our workers?

Moreover, what does that say about the system in general that workers can make more by not working than they would if they were?

Something about that doesn’t add up, literally and conceptually. I get that this was an unprecedented situation. At the same time, it reveal something about how we see work and workers. It’s something businesses are starting to realize too.

As the country and the world opens up, new job opportunities are arising. That’s good news for those who have been out of work. Unfortunately, those same businesses are having a hard time filling those positions.

The jobs are there.

The workers are there.

They just aren’t gravitating towards one another.

Here’s a brief rundown of the situation, courtesy of NPR. If you haven’t been working or are lucky enough to have kept your job during the pandemic, it should offer some insight and perspective.

NPR: Millions Are Out Of A Job. Yet Some Employers Wonder: Why Can’t I Find Workers?

At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, businessman Bill Martin has a head-scratching problem: He’s got plenty of jobs but few people willing to take them.

“I keep hearing about all the unemployed people,” Martin says. “I certainly can’t find any of those folks.”

Martin helps run M.A. Industries, a plastics manufacturing company in Peachtree City, Ga. The company makes products used in the medical industry — specifically, in things like coronavirus tests and vaccine manufacturing and development.

But as he struggles to keep up with demand, Martin is finding it almost impossible to find new workers.

As someone who has worked his share of lousy, low-paying jobs, I can’t say I’m surprised by this. Don’t get me wrong. I still feel for the business owners who need workers to keep things going. I just can’t forget how arduous it was, working hard at a job that paid so little and left me so exhausted at the end of the day.

If the alternative is staying home and collecting unemployment, which ultimately pays more, then the choice is easy. That’s especially true for those who have kids or relatives they need to take care of. It’s not that they’re lazy, as some overpaid pundits love pointing out. It’s just that the nature of these jobs aren’t that appealing, especially when the pay is so low.

If anything, this situation has inspired us all to take a step back and look at how we approach work, jobs, careers, and business. When you think about it, it’s a little distressing that we build so much of our lives around work. It’s not just something we do out of obligation and responsibility. Many literally have to work in order to survive.

Is that right?

Is that just?

Is that healthy for society as a whole?

I say this as someone who has been lucky enough to have jobs that I’ve both loved and hated. I know what it’s like to work for a business that you hate. I also know what it’s like to have a job you find genuinely fulfilling. Not everyone is that lucky. In fact, I suspect the vast majority of the population, even in America, never experience that luck.

I get that there are economic reasons why some businesses can’t pay their employees high wages. I’ve worked in fast food restaurants. I know the profit margins aren’t exactly large. I also know that, even when I could make more than minimum wage, it was rarely enough to live on. That’s not even factoring the physical toll some of this work takes.

Despite that toll, there was still an undeniable stigma to those who didn’t work or those who simply avoided low paying jobs. In America, it’s a direct extension of that old protestant work ethic that equates moral worth with a willingness to do backbreaking labor for minimal pay. I’m not saying that work ethic is wrong, but I do think it needs to be re-evaluated.

The pandemic suddenly gave people an option on whether or not they wanted to do these kinds of low-paying jobs. Many understandably opt to just collect unemployment. They may not live luxuriously, but they will live. In some cases, they’re even better off.

It may be a sign of things to come. I already speculated on how the pandemic relief bills could be a precursor to a universal basic income. Now that people have experienced life in which their survival isn’t directly tied to having a low-paying job, I think it’ll be difficult to back.

I also think that’s a good thing. Regardless of how you feel about minimum wages, work ethic, or running a business, I think it’s generally a positive trend that we’re starting to decouple work with the right to survive. I think it’s a trend that has to happen, especially as automation does more and more of the low-skilled labor traditionally done by human workers.

It’s true. Some people are lazy and don’t like to work. Some people are just so driven and incapable of not working. Both still deserve to live without needed a job to keep them from starving to death or losing their home. As bad as this pandemic has been, I sincerely hopes it inspires us to rethink how we structure our society. There is a better way of doing things. We should always strive to do things better. Sometimes, that means rethinking everything we’ve come to believe about work, business, and life in general.

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What Going Through The D.A.R.E Program Taught Me (And What It Failed To Teach Me)

Was D.A.R.E. Effective? | Live Science

Don’t do drugs. They’re bad for you.

We’ve been telling that to kids for decades. Many people reading this probably remember hearing it as well when they were kids. They heard it at school, form parents, from churches, and from any number of anti-drug PSAs. “South Park” has even done entire episodes about it.

The message is out there.

It’s not exactly ambiguous.

Drugs are bad and you shouldn’t do drugs. We get it. It’s so belabored at this point that it might as well be background noise.

However, it’s for that very reason that we should scrutinize that message. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but despite all those anti-drug ads and programs, drug abuse is still a big problem. People are still doing illicit drugs and thousands still die from it.

Why is that?

Did these people not hear the same anti-drug messages that we’ve all been hearing for years?

It’s very likely they did. It just didn’t have any effect on them. That raises plenty of other questions. Before I even try asking those, I’d like to share a brief personal story about my experience with these anti-drug programs. Once I do, I hope it reveals why their impact is so muted.

When I was in grade school, the now-infamous Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, better known as DARE, was in full-swing. All over the country, various schools and community programs would take time out of their schedules to hold these DARE-sponsored events. Those events were meant to be informative, but they always came back to just telling kids not to do drugs.

I was in the third grade when I first went through it. I distinctly remember only caring about it because it meant an entire afternoon had been cleared of other schoolwork. That’s how most of my friends at the time thought of it, too.

The program itself wasn’t that elaborate. We just had two men, a DARE spokesman and a police officer, sit down in front of our class to talk about drugs. I don’t recall any discussions about addiction or why people do drugs in the first place. Almost everything revolved around identifying certain drugs and learning to say no to them.

Some of those drugs, namely marijuana, are now legal in large parts of the country.

Curiously, the two drugs they never mentioned were alcohol and tobacco, which are far more likely to be abused.

I’m sure there was a reason for this and it had to do with these two drugs having billion-dollar companies behind them, but I digress.

What my third-grade brain took away from this was mixed, at best. Going through this program, these well-meaning adults painted a strange picture. They made it seem like there are these evil, nefarious drug dealers lurking in the shadows, looking to jump you on your way home from school, and shove illegal drugs in your face.

As a kid who read a lot of comics and watched plenty of cartoons, I found that to be very strange. Even crazed supervillains had some motivation behind it. These DARE people never talked about that. They didn’t mention things like drug cartels or gang violence. They just said these drug dealers are evil people who just want to get you addicted to drugs.

I honestly wanted to ask questions, but we never got a chance. This whole program was basically a lecture, not a discussion. The only questions they answered involved what certain drugs looked like and what they were often called.

Things got even more confusing in later years when I went through other parts of the program, which often included watching cheesy, poorly produced videos about the horrors of drugs. We would see pictures of ugly drug addicts and people getting arrested. At no point did we ever learn why these people were addicted or what happened to them after they got arrested. It was all so basic and bland.

Now, I understand keeping things basic for school kids, but it’s also worth noting that kids have bullshit detectors. They may not be as smart or as knowledgeable as an adult, but they’re not stupid. As a result, the way DARE framed drugs, drug dealers, and drug abuse never came off as something serious. It just felt like another case of adults talking down to kids again.

In that sense, I really didn’t get much out of DARE. If anything, it often left me confused.

I understood what drugs were, but the way DARE talked about them left little room for nuance. I still remembered at the time my parents often saying we had to stop off at the drug store on our way home. I knew what they meant. Some of us had prescriptions that needed filling. My parents explained it to me. I understood that, despite my age.

Now, here’s this program that constantly tells us drugs are bad and you should never do drugs, but never specifying what exactly they mean by “drugs.” Technically, aspirin and cough syrup are drugs. Were those just as dangerous? Again, I never got a chance to ask questions to clear that up.

Even as I reached middle school and high school, DARE programs didn’t change much. They just hammered away at that same message. Somebody from a police department would come to talk to a bunch of students and tell them not to do drugs. At this point, though, we were so numb to it that I remember some of my classmates falling asleep or doodling on their notepads the whole time.

To date, I’ve never met anyone who says the DARE program stopped them from doing drugs. That sentiment is mirrored in actual research done on the effectiveness of this program. For the most part, it didn’t work. In some cases, it actually had the reverse effect because it sent the message to kids that drug use was far more common than it actually was.

Then, there were the kids and teenagers who did drugs just to spite adults. Tell them not to do something and they’re just going to want to do it even more. I don’t know how common they were, but I know for certain those people exist.

Now, I’m an adult and looking back on it, I won’t say the DARE program was a total farce. I don’t doubt for a second that the intentions behind it were good. I know people who’ve had drug problems. Drug abuse is serious and it really does a lot of harm. However, there are far better ways of talking about it with kids and adults alike. None of them involve talking down to anyone.

I also feel like DARE was incomplete. It talked about drugs, but not the kinds of drugs people most often abuse, namely alcohol and tobacco. I didn’t learn about that until I was nearly in college. By then, most people already knew about it from other, non-DARE sources, so it was far too late to do anything about it.

It also felt like a missed opportunity because drug addiction has evolved since I was a kid. Today, abuse of prescription drugs is a far more serious issue than crack cocaine ever was. It’s killing people at a terrible rate and the way it manifests is nothing like what the DARE program described.

These days, DARE is largely seen as some cheesy relic from the late 80s and early 90s. That’s true to some extent, but having gone through it, I also think it’s worth looking beyond the dated references. It showed that we all realized there was a drug problem in this country. We needed to address that problem. We just went about it the wrong way with DARE.

I’m not saying we’ve fixed our approach to educating people about drug abuse. People are still using, abusing, and dying from drugs at an alarming rate. If DARE taught us anything it’s that there’s plenty of room for improvement. We just have to be willing to be serious, realistic, and understanding of this issue. If we aren’t, it’ll only get worse.

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A (Sincere) Question To Critics Of Critical Race Theory

Sawicky: Critical Race Theory is not what its critics suggest it is |  Community Views | loudountimes.com

In general, I try not to wade into a hot button political topic until the rhetoric has become less heated. I think it’s rarely productive to throw your voice into the fray when everyone is still shouting their talking points at the top of their lungs. I know I’ve weighed in on political issues in the past, but I’ve tried to do so from a broader, bigger picture perspective.

Sometimes, though, it’s too hard to wait for everyone to stop shouting. In certain instances, the extent of that shouting is symptomatic of a larger mentality. It’s not just about the topic that’s relevant. It’s the general sentiment, passions, and feelings surrounding it.

Not too long ago, it was social justice and feminism.

Before that, it was same-sex marriage.

Before that, it was civil rights and sex discrimination.

Go back far enough and you’ll see similar discourse. When an issue is very relevant, it brings out both heated rhetoric and the prevailing attitudes of the time.

Today, I get the sense that Critical Race Theory has become that issue. Whenever people talk about it, their political tribalism rears its head and it’s neither subtle nor pretty. While I don’t doubt this issue will eventually pass to make way for the next one, it’s something worth touching on.

At its core, the particulars of Critical Race Theory aren’t that radical. If you look it up on Wikipedia, it doesn’t sounds wholly unreasonable. It’s simply a study to evaluate how social, culture, and legal traditions have impacted larger institutions and social systems.

As a social science, it’s hardly revolutionary. These are concepts that social scientists have been studying for decades. The main difference with Critical Race Theory is its emphasis on race, especially those pertaining to the African American community. After what happened with the murder of George Floyd in 2020, it only grew in relevance.

Now, I’ve stated before that we, as Americans, should not avoid the less flattering parts of our history. Acknowledging past mistakes doesn’t make you any less patriotic. It just offers a larger perspective towards certain American ideals.

However, that’s a point that those protesting Critical Race Theory don’t seem to harbor. Ever since the George Floyd protests erupted last year, this theory has been attacked and protested on multiple levels. In general, I try to sympathize and empathize with the passions of these people. They are my fellow Americans, after all. I believe they have a right to voice those passions.

At the same time, I cannot help but groan and cringe. I also genuinely wonder if they understand the full implication of what they’re arguing.

It’s true that Critical Race Theory has some distressing implications. Beyond acknowledging America’s racist past, it further complicates efforts to create a more just society. Addressing the transgressions of the past is not as simple as passing a few pieces of landmark legislation.

The system, as it functions now, is still very flawed. Fixing it may require greater effort, as well as a larger cost. Many people, who likely believe in themselves to not be racist, are bound to have a problem with that. They see it as an agenda, one that will label them and their children as a racist by default.

Whether or not that’s a reasonable concern is beside the point. I won’t claim to know what those protesting Critical Race Theory are truly thinking. I’m not psychic. However, in reviewing all this heated discourse, I’d like to offer a simple question to these people. It’s a sincere question and one I ask you consider seriously.

Why do you oppose teaching or discuss one particular idea over the other?

With that in mind, take a step back and look at this without Critical Race Theory being the main subject. Now, take a moment to appreciate what you’re asking of society, at large. You’re saying this idea that you think is wrong or flawed should not be discussed.

Even if you think it shouldn’t be discussed outside certain fields, you’re still making a statement. This is a dangerous idea and it shouldn’t be discussed, especially with children. Even in a country like America, which espouses the value of free speech, you’re arguing for an idea to be censored or suppressed.

Now, I don’t doubt there are some horrible ideas out there. Some are legitimate precursors to violence. That’s why organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are rightly vilified and prosecuted. Except, Critical Race Theory is nothing like that. So why, in that context, does it warrant so much outrage? Again, it’s a sincere question and I’d like to get a sincere answer. Please explain your reasoning in whatever way you see fit.

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Dear Professional Sports Leagues: Marijuana Is NOT A Performance Enhancing Drug

Senate marijuana draft bill: Chuck Schumer, Democrats unveil proposal to  end federal prohibition on pot - ABC7 Chicago

I love sports. I love watching people push their bodies, minds, and skills to the limits of what they can achieve. It’s a testament to what hard work and dedication can achieve. I find that inspiring and worth cheering for.

I also understand that sports, like any major endeavor, has cheating in it. There are no shortage of cases in which athletes cheated to gain an edge. When money and glory are at stake, some will be tempted to cheat. That’s just human nature.

While I wholly support efforts to clamp down on cheaters, there is one area that I think is completely counterproductive and utterly absurd. It has to do with drugs in sports, one of the most time-tested forms of cheating in history.

Now, I know there are certain drugs in sports that really do confer a major edge. If you use steroids, stimulants, or pain killers, you’re going to have a distinct edge over those who don’t. That’s just science and chemistry. That also constitutes cheating and should be treated as such.

However, when it to marijuana, the science is just as clear. It is NOT a performance enhancing drug.

This is one area of sports and science that isn’t just outdated. It’s flat out absurd. I get that, until very recently, marijuana was illegal in most parts of the United States and the world. A lot has changed in the past 10 years. However, even before that change, we knew what the effects of marijuana were. Most of us know people who have used it before.

Even if you’re not a doctor or an athlete, you’ve probably noticed that one thing is clear. When it comes to strenuous activities, it does not enhance performance. People who are stoned are not usually inclined to compete at the highest level. Unless that activity involves eating chips and laughing, it’s not going to enhance much of anything.

Despite this very common knowledge, athletes are still being disciplined from sports because of marijuana use. For once, there is no bigger picture or broader perspective. This rule is just plain dumb.

Even if you don’t believe in the anecdotal reports about marijuana, at least believe the science. In this case, the data is pretty damn clear. Marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug. If anything, marijuana makes it more difficult to compete professionally because it’s likely to make you eat cookies and lounge on your couch rather than train.

As for why athletes smoke it in the first place, that’s also quite clear. In addition to all those other side-effects that come with smoking weed, it does a great job of relieving pain. For athletes who subject their bodies to immense strain and conditioning, pain is unavoidable. Dealing with it comes with the territory. How they manage it varies, but marijuana become increasingly popular, especially compared to dangerous opioids.

More and more, the stupidity of this policy on marijuana is becoming clear. Calling it a performance enhancing drug is akin to calling sleeping pills study aids. It’s not just absurd. It’s completely ass backwards. You can call marijuana a lot of things, but a performance enhancing drug in the realm of professional sports isn’t one of them.

I know I have little credibility on the subject. I’m just an aspiring erotica romance writer. Ifyou don’t trust my expertise, then please consider the argument by the late great Robin Williams on the subject. If he doesn’t convince you on this issue and make you laugh, then I don’t know what will.

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Earth, Jeff Bezos, And The Overview Effect

The Overview Effect: How Seeing the Earth from Space Changes You

What happens to someone when they’ve spent their entire life seeing the world one way, only to have it radically change in an instant?

What happens to someone’s perspective when everything they thought they knew and understood suddenly seems smaller and less grand than they thought?

It can be a jarring experience. For some, it might even be traumatic. It can take the form of a religious experience, a major life-changing event, or even something as simple as falling in love. Whatever the case, it’s powerful. You see the world one way when the day starts. Then, when the sun sets, you see it completely differently.

That brings me to astronauts, space flight, and Jeff Bezos. I promise there’s a connection there and it’s one worth highlighting.

Most are aware that Amazon founder, and world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, took his first flight into space. It was well-covered by the media and was certainly fodder for plenty of criticism, some of which was quite warranted. However, I’m not going to touch on that. Instead, I want to focus on how this experience might affect him and his outlook.

That’s where the Overview Effect comes in. If you’re not familiar with this unique psychological phenomenon, then think back to the questions I asked earlier. Those are very relevant in that they’re part of what certain people experience when they go into space.

In short, the Overview Effect is a byproduct of this newfound prospective astronauts have when they go into space and see Earth from afar. Some treat it as a religious experience, so much so that it has an almost euphoric effect. That’s to be expected.

Up in space, there are no national boundaries. There are no politics, prejudices, and personal gripes. It’s only in space that you realize just how small Earth is and how small humanity is by comparison. That has a major impact on a person’s psyche. Some in the field of neuroscience have even studied it. One retired astronaut, Scott Kelly, once described it like this:

“The planet is incredibly beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful. Having said that, parts of it are polluted, like with constant levels of pollution in certain parts of Asia. You see how fragile the atmosphere looks. It’s very thin. It’s almost like a thin contact lens over somebody’s eye, and you realized all the pollutants we put into the atmosphere are contained in that very thin film over the surface. It’s a little bit scary actually to look at it.

And then you realize looking at the Earth, that despite its beauty and its tranquility, there’s a lot of hardship and conflict that goes on. You look at the planet without borders, especially during the day. At night you can see countries with lights, but during the daytime it looks like we are all part of one spaceship, Spaceship Earth.

And we’re all flying through space together, as a team, and it gives you this perspective — people have described it as this ‘orbital perspective’ — on humanity, and you get this feeling that we just need to work better — much, much better — to solve our common problems.”

That sort of perspective is hard for most to imagine. The number of people who have been into space is less than 600. Jeff Bezos is only the latest entry into a very exclusive club. That may also mean he’s the latest to experience the Overview Effect.

Now, it’s hard to say how much or how little he was influenced by that effect. His trip to space didn’t last very long. However, the journey may have already left an impression. He has already been quoted as saying this:

“The most profound piece of it, for me, was looking out at the Earth, and looking at the Earth’s atmosphere….But when you get up above it, what you see is it’s actually incredibly thin. It’s this tiny little fragile thing, and as we move about the planet, we’re damaging it. It’s one thing to recognize that intellectually. It’s another thing to actually see with your own eyes how fragile it really is.”

That could just be him making good PR, but it could also be revealing. Again, not many people have gone into space. They haven’t had a chance to experience the Overview Effect for themselves. While plenty of trained astronauts have done it, none of them are Jeff Bezos. None of them are worth in excess of $200 billion.

There aren’t many people on this planet who have access to resources like him. There are even fewer with the means and the skills to take a grand vision and make it real. Now, Bezos has seen the world in a new light. He has had his perspective changed. What will that mean for him and for us?

Before he took his famous space flight, Bezos stepped down from Amazon. He’s still very involved, but he now has time to focus on new ventures. Some of those ventures may take us into space. Some may go towards fixing the environment.

It’s hard to know where this will lead. However, if someone like Jeff Bezos can be impacted by the Overview Effect, then what does that say about the rest of us? How much would the world change if more people got to experience that perspective? Maybe we’ll find out one day. Maybe we’ll get that chance because Jeff Bezos funded it.

Only time will tell. Personally, I’d like to experience the Overview Effect myself. Maybe I will one day.

Also, Jeff Bezos should still pay his workers more.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, philosophy, psychology, real stories, technology, Uplifting Stories

ANOTHER COVID-19 Surge Among Unvaccinated: A Product Of Math, Science, Politics, And No More Excuses

More vaccinated than unvaccinated Britons are now dying from the coronavirus

I do not want to keep talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. I really don’t.

I don’t want to keep urging people to get vaccinated. I’ve already provided tools. I proudly announced when I got my dose of the vaccine. I even went so far as to tell the anti-vaxx crowd that they’re actively killing people. I even cited a video to help debunk the most common anti-vaxx claims.

Now, I understand that I am not a very influential figure. My audience is very small, compared to other voices on the internet. I’m completely aware of my limitations with respect to getting my message out there. At the same time, I can’t keep hiding my frustrations.

This pandemic should be over. We have multiple vaccines. They’re free, they’re widely available, and they work. Most of the restrictions that we lived under for over a year have been lifted. We are in a better place now compared to last year and we have these vaccines to thank for that.

Unfortunately, it’s still a problem. The crisis is not over yet, but it’s not because we lack the tools to resolve it. It’s because people are refusing to do what’s necessary to save lives and end this madness.

I still like to have faith in humanity, as a whole. I really do believe that most people are good. However, the people currently prolonging this pandemic are really challenging that faith. These are people who, for reasons that range from politics to ignorance to completely insane conspiracy theories, refuse to take this vaccine.

As a result, there’s another surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, including my area. However, this surge is different. This surge isn’t as widespread and indiscriminate as previous surges. This time around, the surge in cases is among the unvaccinated. That’s not too surprising, but it’s also a perfect manifestation of the current political land social divide.

NPR: U.S. COVID Deaths Are Rising Again. Experts Call It A ‘Pandemic Of The Unvaccinated’

The death rate from COVID-19 in the U.S. is rising steadily for the first time in months as the nation grapples with a renewed burst of cases in what’s become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The seven-day average of new cases has increased by nearly 70% to almost 30,000 per day; hospitalizations are up 36%. And deaths from the virus have risen steadily in recent days, reversing a months-long downward trend that began in mid-January.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, said at a Friday briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. “Our biggest concern is we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly deaths among the unvaccinated.”

The upward trend in national statistics is being driven almost entirely by outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates, such as the Ozarks, Florida and parts of the Mountain West. Some counties, especially in Missouri and Arkansas, are recording more cases now than they did during the winter.

“Unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. “Each COVID-19 death is tragic, and those happening now are even more tragic because they are preventable.”

More than 99% of recent deaths were among the unvaccinated, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this month on NBC’s Meet the Press, while Walensky noted on Friday that unvaccinated people accounted for over 97% of hospitalizations.

That bolded text is my doing because it makes an important point that I haven’t been able to make until now. A reasonable can have reasonable concerns about a vaccine that was approved in record time. A reasonable person can even be forgiven for waiting until a certain amount of the population took it before getting it themselves.

I understand that.

I really do.

Nobody likes getting shots. They’re uncomfortable, stressful, and leave your arm feeling sore for days.

However, there comes a point where reluctance becomes absurdity and that absurdity is causing more suffering. It doesn’t help that these vaccines have also become politically charged. There is a clear, but distressing correlation between how you identify politically and whether or not you’re getting vaccinated.

If you’re liberal or left leaning, chances are you already got vaccinated and this surge isn’t affecting you.

If you’re conservative or right leaning, chances are you haven’t been vaccinated and you’ll eagerly cite less-than-reputable sources to justify those choices.

While I don’t want to get into the politics of those pushing anti-vaccine messages, I do want to point one thing out to those who take them seriously. Please note that this is not a personal attack. This is not me talking down to you as someone who has been vaccinated and who probably gets his news from very different sources. This is just me making a sincere, honest observation.

At this point, we’re beyond politics and science. You can have different politics. You can even have certain attitudes towards science. At the very least, though, you have to undestand that simple, basic math cannot have an agenda.

I’ll restate what the NPR article said. This latest spike in COVID-19 cases is affecting the unvaccinated at a rate of 99 percent in terms of deaths and 97 percent in terms of hospitalizations.

That is not a trivial difference in terms of margin.

When something is 99 percent, it’s as close to definitive as you can get without god-like aliens coming down to Earth and affirming the results. Think of it in terms like this.

If a pill had a 99 percent chance of curing cancer, would you take it?

If a fruit had a 99 percent chance of killing you, would you eat it?

If a car had a 99 percent chance of exploding every time you turned the key, would you drive it?

If a slot machine had a 99 percent chance of winning the jackpot, would you play it?

I could go on, but I honestly don’t know how much more I can belabor this point. These vaccines work. They prevent COVID-19 from infecting and spreading. If enough people get it, the pandemic will end. The suffering will stop. That’s all there is to it.

The science says they work.

The doctors, experts, and medical authorities throughout the world who dedicate their lives to this sort of thing says they work.

Now, even the math says they work.

At this point, if you’re still skeptical or hesitant, you’re not just being unreasonable. You’re not just being absurd. You’re just being an asshole. We all want this pandemic to end and you’re preventing that. As a result, more people will suffer and die. Face it. You’re out of excuses and the damage this surge does is on you.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, political correctness, politics, psychology, real stories

Finding Love Has Become An Extended Job Interview (And For Good, Yet Unromantic Reasons)

Being a self-professed romantic and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I often scrutinize the nature of romance more than most. Whereas some might watch a movie or TV show and see the basics of a romantic sub-plot, I’ll dig much deeper. I’ll identify which romances are inherently flawed, why some work beautifully, and why love triangles are inherently awful.

That scrutiny goes beyond media, popular culture, and my own efforts to tell a good love story. I often find myself observing how romance unfolds in real life. Whether it’s how people have pursued romance in the past to my own romantic endeavors, there’s a lot to break down and it doesn’t always make sense. Love isn’t known for being rational, after all.

It’s because of this tendency of mine that I notice things that rarely come up in discussions about romance. Recently, I realized something profound while reading several stories about how modern dating has changed in recent years, of which there are many.

Modern romance has become more a job interview than an emotional journey.

I imagine some will roll their eyes at that notion. Some might even agree with it and not need any convincing. A few probably think I’m giving this too much thought, even for a romance fan. That may be a fair point, but I believe the evolution of modern romance is becoming a lot less romantic.

To be fair, finding has undergone many upheavals throughout history. It wasn’t until the past couple centuries that people actually married for love. Those who claim to champion “traditional” marriage probably aren’t aware that marriage and formal relationships were little more than passionless business contracts for most of human history.

Love and romance were always there. We, as human beings, are hardwired to form loving bonds. It just took different forms and people went about it in very different ways. Most people have a general idea of how people go about it today. It tends to go something like this.

  • Two people meet, either in person or online
  • There’s a spark of attraction
  • They both pursue each other
  • They go on dates to learn about one another and explore their romantic connection
  • If the connection is strong enough, they forge a lasting relationship and build a life together

Granted, this is an exceedingly gross simplification. It still covers most of the basics. That’s the problem, though. It only deals with the basics and people are rarely basic.

It starts shortly after a mutual attraction is established. Once two people start pursuing one another, the dating phase starts. Movies, TV shows, and romance novels tend to be vague about how this unfolds. However, it’s here where the parallels with job interviews start to show.

While a love story may depict candle-lit dinners, coordinated dancing, and intimate gestures, the bulk of that process tends to involve more pragmatic acts. For two people to understand whether they’re romantically compatible, they need to get to know one another. To get to know one another, they need to interact.

That, in and of itself, doesn’t make dating indistinguishable from a job interview. For that, the modern structure of relationships is what fosters that and I’m not just referring to marriage. This affects couples who cohabitate, as well as those who are serial monogamists.

From a logistical standpoint, a modern romance has many moving parts. It’s not enough to just be attracted to one another, enjoy each other’s company, or have great sex. People often have to find a way to fit one another into their lives. There are jobs, career aspirations, and living situations to consider.

These days, people aren’t as likely to stay in the same place they were born in, especially if the opportunities in that town are limited. The same goes for their families. Even if they stay, sometimes their parents or extended family move away. Maybe it’s for retirement, going to college, or pursuing their own romantic interests. Having to accommodate all that into a relationship can be daunting.

In the same way you might be qualified for a job, but not in a position to take it, you might find yourself in a similar relationship with romance. All the emotional, physical, and sexual chemistry is there. However, you’re just not in a position to pursue it. You can’t maintain that relationship when you’re both living in other time zones or pursuing different paths.

That’s not to say long distance relationships can’t work, but it’s like trying to do a job remotely. There’s only so much you can do when you’re not present. If that weren’t the case, everyone would work from home or from a tropical paradise. I that as someone who has been unable to pursue major opportunities and broken up from good relationships due to distance.

Even if you can work around issues of distance and time, there’s also the matter of becoming entwined with family affairs. As the “Meet The Parents” trilogy so hilariously demonstrates, being with someone is rarely just about being with them, individually. At some point, if the romance is to be serious, their family will get involved.

That process can be as complicated as matching qualifications for a specialized job on a resume. You’ve got to make sure both families can get along. They can’t just tolerate each other at the wedding or during the holidays. They have to be capable of co-existing in a way that doesn’t undercut the romance.

It’s very similar from having a job that matches your skill set, but for an organization that is just insufferable. A lot of people have had to endure jobs they hated, even if they paid well or matched their various talents. When the organization within the job is awful, then even a dream job can be awful.

You can love someone with all your heart. You might even have someone your family loves. However, if your lover’s family is an absolute pain, then the romance will suffer. Now that relationships aren’t just business arrangements, we have to navigate around one another’s lives and their families. To do that, it’s necessary to treat dating like a job interview.

You have figure out if this person fits into your life.

You have to figure out if their hopes, dreams, and abilities match what you’re looking for.

You have to prove that your hopes, dreams, and abilities match theirs as well.

You have to determine whether you fit into the organization of their life and their family.

Ultimately, you have to build that shared life together around all of that, knowing that breaking up/being fired/quitting comes with a personal/professional cost.

On the surface, it’s hardly romantic. At the same time, there’s an undeniable pragmatism to it. As society has evolved, complete with more egalitarian gender roles and fewer taboos about being single, we’re in a better position to chart our own romantic path. We don’t just have to settle for limited options and few opportunities. We can dare to seek something greater.

As a byproduct, the basic romantic elements of intimate chemistry can never be enough. It’s necessary, if not unavoidable, to assess a prospective lover’s entire life to determine of that romance is even viable. It’s not easy and it’s exceedingly imperfect, as the rate of divorce and abusive relationships indicates.

However, being the romantic I am, I still say it’s worth pursuing. That process is still very likely to change as society, technology, and attitudes change. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are sure to change it even more. Whether it becomes more or less like a job interview remains to be seen.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Love Or Obsession, psychology, romance

What Recent X-Men Comics Can Teach Us About Present (And Future) Politics

house-of-x-variant-cover-xavier-1200x676

Trying to make sense of politics is like trying to understand quantum mechanics while stoned. The process of governing humanity has always been tricky. Ever since we exchanged our basic hunter/gatherer ways for a more formal system of order, the process has only become more difficult over time. You don’t have to look far to see the complexities and the overall absurdities of politics.

I’ve tried to talk about politics before, albeit with a limited focus on hot-button issues. I never claim to be an expert or an authority on the matter. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. My understanding of politics is as limited as most people who don’t live, work, and breath these issues. Despite those limitations, I still want to make an effort to talk politics in a novel way.

As it just so happens, I’ve come up with just such a way and it involves X-Men comics. Considering how much I’ve written about X-Men and superhero comics in general, this should surprise no one.

More specifically, I want to take the events that have been unfolding in the X-Men comics for the past two years and use it to make sense of the current state politics. I also want to use it to speculate a bit on where these politics might lead us. Again, I am not even close to an expert, but I do believe that art and media have an uncanny way of shining a light on the real world and there are few narratives more uncanny than the X-Men.

The current state of politics, especially in the United States and Western Europe, has been dominated by polarization. More and more, citizens are becoming more tribal. On top of that, people are becoming more divided. That’s not just an anecdote, either. According to Pew Research, the public has become more ideologically split over the past 20 years and it’s only getting worse.

Rather than try to make sense of these decade-long trends, I want to apply it to the politics in the X-Men comics. More than any other superhero comic or franchise, politics are a major driving force for the X-Men, more so than killer robots. Co-creator, Stan Lee, stated that the inspiration for the X-Men was drawn from the ongoing Civil Rights movement that was in full swing in the early 1960s.

Over the years, this idea of mutants being an oppressed minority who were hated and feared for being different has been the driving force behind the X-Men’s story. It is also a big part of what helped them gain such a wide appeal. Some of the X-Men’s most iconic stories come from conflicts inspired by the hate and fear that ordinary humans feel towards mutants.

In the real world, hatred and fear are powerful forces that don’t need killer robots to cause upheaval. Hatred and fear is at the heart of debates surrounding migrants and immigrants. That same hatred and fear is at the heart of the political polarization.

Liberals hate and fear conservatives because they think they want to turn the world into one big plantation ruled by rich, wealthy slave-owners.

Conservatives hate and fear liberals because they think they want to abandon their heritage, punish people for the sins of their ancestors, and micromanage their lives.

In the world of X-Men, humans hate and fear mutants because they think they’re too dangerous, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. On top of that, if they truly are a new species, then that means their survival means humanity’s extinction.

The parallels aren’t perfect, but they are there. Mutants aren’t just a metaphor for any minority who has been oppressed, segregated, and denigrated. They represent just how divided two groups can be. Constant conflict ensures that hatred and fear will fester. However, it’s the events of House of X and Powers of X that the entire concept of X-Men has gained greater political relevance.

In case you haven’t been following superhero comics, the details of these events are many, but the theme is relatively simple. After years of fighting, running, surviving, and being marginalized because of movie rights, the entire mutant race has decided to reorganize themselves into a new society.

This isn’t some exclusive club or superhero team. With help from Charles Xavier and the powerful foresight provided by Moira MacTaggart, the mutants of the Marvel Universe have united within a new homeland, which happens to be a living island. They also have their own mysterious language that only they understand. They are essentially establishing themselves as a new political entity.

In the scope of the X-Men’s 50-plus year history, the idea isn’t new. There have been multiple efforts over the years to give mutants a homeland. One was called Genosha. One was called Utopia. Both enjoyed some measure of short-term success, but both ended up destroyed or abandoned. The reasons for this aren’t important. What sets them apart from Krakoa is the scale.

To understand it in a real-world context, think of Genosha and Utopia as enclaves within a community. They’re akin to neighborhoods in America or Europe that are predominantly populated by a particular ethnic group or religion. Many are quite successful in their own right. Others have become the sites of atrocities and tragedies.

What the mutants are doing with Krakoa in the comics is something bigger than an enclave. They’re not just seeking to be recognized as a full-fledged country, either. Charles Xavier, the X-Men, and every other mutant is building Krakoa to be a society that can function with or without humanity. It’s not land borrowed from humans. It’s land that’s theirs and theirs alone.

That’s not to say Krakoa operates in isolation, as Wakanda once did. They actually seek to maintain diplomatic relations with the world. They even have valuable resources with which to trade. They don’t have to make these kinds of deals, but under Charles Xavier, they do anyway. It culminates in “House of X #5,” in which Krakoa gains formal recognition by the UN.

This is where the politics of the X-Men comics add some necessary nuance to what we’re seeing in the real world. When people feel marginalized, they tend to feel unwelcome. Even if you are legally an American, a German, an Italian, or a Wakandan, being hated and feared by a large segment of the country makes you feel like you don’t belong.

Between divided polls and America’s colorful electoral map, it’s not hard for anyone to feel out of place. The added polarization provided by the internet, social media, and cable news only adds to the divisions and the animosity. As a result, people naturally retreat into groups and tribes where they feel welcome. Whether it’s a political group, a religious group, or an identity, they seek some form of sanctuary.

In doing so, these groups essentially create their own little world within their community. It’s a world that might as well be a separate reality from what others see. It’s how different people can see the same facts, but have wildly different interpretations. Their brains are still working and the facts are still facts. It’s how they apply them to their world that’s different.

Each group feels they don’t belong. They may even feel victimized. It doesn’t matter if the group happens to make up the vast majority of the population. They still feel like they’re the ones under attack, not unlike the X-Men when they constantly confront fearful, hate-filled humans. They act as though they need to carve their own place in the world and defend it at all costs.

This is where House of X and Powers of X can provide some possible insights into the future of politics. To some extent, Krakoa is a natural byproduct of mutants being hunted, attacked, and denigrated at every turn. They tried isolating themselves on islands. They tried living among humans, sometimes in their most populated cities. Now, they’re trying something bigger.

It’s not exactly peaceful and not everyone understands it, which seems antithetical to Charles Xavier’s dream. However, it’s pragmatic in a very political sense. They have a homeland that they can control. They have barriers for entering and exiting that homeland. Nobody who isn’t authorized can enter it. It’s basically the ultimate immigration control.

On top of that, it has valuable resources that the rest of the world wants. The mutants of Krakoa are willing to share them, but only if they respect their new homeland and treat it like a legitimate country with its own culture, laws, and norms. In a world where people constantly attack others for not respecting their culture or norms, it feels like the ultimate endgame of sorts.

Those who want their culture and way of life preserved will only have more incentive to become more organized. If they keep feeling hatred and fear, they may look for ways to simply function without those they feel don’t belong. People won’t just become more ideologically divided. They may end up more divided in a very literal sense.

It’s the ultimate manifestation of our natural tribal instincts. We seek to join, maintain, and protect our tribe from others, be they real or imagined. It doesn’t matter if there are objective facts that show our tribe is somehow wrong or misguided. We still feel inclined to protect it at all cost.

This era of X-Men comics has been exciting. Writer, Jonathan Hickman, has turned the X-Men from just another superhero team into a blossoming community with its own culture, identity, and borders. As an X-Men fan, I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. As someone in the real world who can’t always avoid politics, it leaves me worried about just how divided we’ll ultimately become.

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Filed under human nature, politics, superhero comics, X-men

How People Discovered (Accidentally) What Turns Them On

People are diverse, complicated, and erratic at times. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this planet, you’ve probably figured that out already. As a result, people are often turned on or aroused by weird things. The very existence of BDSM is proof of that. Some of the sexy stories I’ve written only add to that proof.

I know anything sexual tends to make people uncomfortable. That’s understandable. Sex has a lot of taboos and we, as a society, are still learning to deal with them. At the same time, no amount of stigma can stop people from getting turned on. The human body, the human mind, and the human sex drive is just that strong.

As a result, people will often uncover what turns them on or gets them aroused in unexpected ways. Sometimes, it’s by accident. Sometimes, it’s awkward as hell. It can also be both hilarious and hot. That’s just the extent of how complicated people can get.

To that end, I’d like to share some real stories of how people “accidentally” discovered what turns them on. It comes courtesy of the r/AskReddit subreddit and the YouTube channel, Reddit Legends. Please note that some of these stories are NSFW and some are less titillating’s than others, but they’re still fun and insightful. Enjoy!

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Filed under human nature, psychology, Reddit, sex in society, sexuality