Category Archives: outrage culture

Why Non-Religious Cults Are Becoming (Almost) As Dangerous

Most religious people are not dangerous or ignorant, nor are most of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks who lead them. I want to make that clear early on. I know I’ve been very critical of religion in the past and I stand by much of those criticism. However, I do not want to give the impression that it makes sincere adherents unworthy of respect.

I have religious people in my family. They are good, decent people and their religious beliefs means a lot to them. I do not want to denigrate that in any way.

That said, extreme religious cults are dangerous. They are worthy of criticism and, in some cases, outright scorn. People have died because of these cults, including innocent children. If we’re going to be a better people now and in the future, we need to be vigilant of these dangerous cults. Otherwise, more people will suffer.

How we go about that is beyond my expertise. There are organizations with people far more qualified to pursue that effort, such as Cult Escape and Dare To Doubt. I urge others to support those efforts, regardless of your religious affiliation. There are a lot of people out there trapped in these cults who need help.

However, there has been another troubling trend in recent years that may complicate that effort. It involves cults that aren’t necessarily religious, in nature. Some have religious elements, but also mix in politics and conspiracy theories. The goals and methods aren’t always the same, but the outcome is similar.

People get sucked into an ideology.

They get caught up in a trend that evokes strong emotions within them.

They connect with like-minded people who reinforce and reaffirm their beliefs.

They start attacking or shunning outsiders or anyone they don’t agree with.

They stop doubting their beliefs and are openly scorned if they dare raise questions, making it next to impossible to leave.

It’s a common story that many endure, but now it’s happening without the religious angle. Now, people are falling into cults that offer little in terms of theology, but still descend into a toxic mix of groupthink, hero worship, and self-delusion.

You have organizations like Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help program that sucked people in and reshaped their thinking at the hands of a sociopath leader.

You have charismatic public personalities like Jordan Peterson and Tony Robbins, who may not set out to create cult-like movements, but still create a community wrought with cult-like behaviors.

Then, there’s Q-Anon.

Believe me, I do not want to go into details about that. I’m afraid to even post any links. I do not want someone to get sucked into that ultra-toxic rabbit hole, which has led to real-world violence and torn families apart.

These are serious issues that affect real people, as well as their families. Thanks to the world-wide reach of the internet and clunky nature of social media, it’s a lot easier to fall in with the wrong digital crowd. You don’t have to be religious. You just have to be willing to buy into a certain ideology or narrative. No miracles are necessary.

That is dangerous and I suspect it’s going to get worse in the coming years, especially as mainstream religion continues to decline. Will it be as dangerous as the religious cults of old? Well, that depends on a number of factors. At the moment, even the worst non-religious cults have major shortcomings.

Religious cults can, by definition, hide behind the guise of religion. That comes with plenty of benefits, including the kind that allows them to avoid paying taxes. Religion also has legal protections, as evidenced by the constant push for “religious freedom.”

Non-religious cults don’t have the same advantages. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that these types of cults couldn’t even exist without the internet or the widespread connectivity of modern media. They also don’t have the overall structure that many religious organizations have. That means they’ll only be able to do so much.

On top of that, the nature of the internet makes it a lot harder for cults to keep their members in line. At any point, an adherent could get curious and start looking up opposing views that could cast doubt on their beliefs. There’s only so much a cult can do to control a person from behind a computer screen.

Even with those limitations, they’ve still done plenty of damage. They’re likely to do plenty more and we should be very concerned about that. The world is already a chaotic place. Extreme religious cults have already done plenty to add to that chaos. The last thing we need is for non-religious cults to do the same.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, religion

Censorship Vs. Accountability: Know The Difference

I hate talking about censorship.

I hate talking about “cancel culture,” a term I think has all the wrong connotations for all the wrong reasons.

I am a proud American and I believe in free speech to the utmost. I will gladly fight for that freedom and support those who do.

I say all that because, in wake of the terrible events at the Capitol recently, there has been a lot of whining from certain people. I won’t name names. I’ll just note that they’re whining and ranting about censorship and cancel culture. Watch the news for more than five minutes and you’ll know who they are.

Now, I don’t want to go on an extended rant about why censorship is different from not being allowed to post on your favorite social media site. Make no mistake. There is a difference. There’s actually a lengthy legal framework behind what constitutes censorship in a purely legal sense.

I’m not a lawyer, nor am I smart enough to break down the various complexities about censorship, cancel culture, and the various cases attributed to both. I doubt any point I make will change anyone’s mind, especially if they’ve been affected by perceived censoring from either side. Even so, I still think a point is worth being made.

In watching this debate, I’ve noticed something that’s both peculiar and revealing about this issue. Whenever there’s a case of alleged censorship or cancel culture, those who bemoan it only complain when it’s used against them.

For instance, say your favorite politician who you vote for and vocally support was kicked off Twitter, Facebook, and all major social media platforms for rhetoric that incited violence and spreads damaging disinformation. Chances are, you’re going to defend them more than you would if that politician was someone you vocally opposed.

Yes, I realize this is not a subtle example. It still gets the point across.

Those same people might not raise an eyebrow if there was a case of an gay couple who denied service at a bakery. They might also be perfectly fine with laws on the books that actually ban atheists from holding public office. Those are both actual cases of discrimination, but it’s happening against people who they don’t agree with, politically. As such, they don’t care or actively support it.

On the other side of that coin, the same people who celebrate certain politicians from getting kicked off social media will loudly support boycotts and bans from certain individuals speaking on campuses. They’ll also whine about a certain scene in a TV show or certain media depictions of minorities.

The absurdity is the same. The only difference is the target and the political affiliation of those complaining about it. It’s just tribalism at its most basic. You support and make excuses for the people and things you support. You protest those you think are against you. There’s no logic to it. It’s all based on who you support or hate.

With respect to those who actually do get censored, there’s also another side of that coin. While I am a vocal proponent of free speech, I also believe in accountability, especially for people in positions of power. It’s one thing for me to say something stupid on social media. It’s quite another for someone who is an elected official.

Those words carry a lot more weight. When someone in that position encourages anger, outrage, and protest, it can lead to real world actions. We saw that at the Capitol. Real people suffered and died because of those actions. In that case, there are consequences.

When you incite violence against others, that’s not free speech. That’s a crime. When your words lead to tangible harm and destruction, that’s something that you are accountable for. It’s not censorship. It’s not cancel culture. It’s just accountability, plain and simple.

If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand free speech and what it really means. Now, with respect to tech companies removing certain voices or having a bias, that’s another issue. It’s complicated and requires more nuance than simple whining.

However, when it comes to powerful people just wanting to use social media to exercise their power, that’s different. Powerful people must be held to a higher standard. If not, then people far less powerful will pay the price and we can’t have any kind of freedom in a society like that.

Also, blurring female nipples is still bullshit censorship. Can we at least agree on that?

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, extremism, outrage culture, political correctness, politics

Young Adults Are Making Better Decisions About Their Sex Lives While Older Adults Still Complain About Them

It’s a tale as old as time and no, I’m not referring to “Beauty and the Beast.”

Younger generations clash with older generations. The older people are appalled at how the youth are conducting themselves. They see them doing things and behaving in ways that they never would’ve imagined in their youth. It’s not new. In fact, it’s been happening since ancient times in some form or another.

It’s especially pronounced when sex enters the equation. Older people don’t like thinking about their kids having sex and young people don’t like thinking about their grandparents having sex. We know it happens. There are over 7 billion humans on this planet. It happens a lot. It just makes us both very uncomfortable.

From discomfort comes assumptions and from assumptions come irrational fears. It’s not always overt, but it’s present in popular perceptions. Personally, I’ve never heard someone over the age of 60 claim that young people today are far more responsible in managing their sexual behavior. I doubt anyone in that age group could say that with a straight face.

However, that’s not what actual, verifiable data says. According to recent research in Psychological Science, young people today are more responsible than ever when it comes to making decisions about their sex lives.

Psychological Science: Young Adults Make Rational Sexual Decisions

We examined risky sexual choice under the lens of rational decision-making. Participants (N = 257) completed a novel sexual-choice task in which they selected from among hypothetical sexual partners varying in physical attractiveness and in the probability that one would contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from a one-time sexual encounter with them. We found that nearly all participants evaluated the sexual-choice alternatives in a coherent fashion consistent with utility-based theories of rational choice. In subsequent analyses, we classified participants’ responses according to whether their sexual preferences were based on maximizing attractiveness or minimizing the risk of STIs. Finally, we established an association between sexual choice in our task and reported real-world sexual risk-taking.

It doesn’t just stop with responsible choices, either. There has been a relatively consistent trend over the past 40 years. Sexual activity, as a whole, has been going down, so much so that it’s a demographic concern. That has corresponded with a decline in teen pregnancy, abortion, and unwanted pregnancy.

These are all good things for society for the most part. There are some legitimate concerns that a lack of physical and emotional intimacy could be detrimental on these young people, but with respect to the rampant promiscuity that older generations often complain about, the reality just isn’t as titillating.

That’s not to say there aren’t irresponsible young people in this world. There certainly are. I’ve known quite a few. Most people have. It’s just not this big, decadent trend. Cable news and popular media love to paint young people as these strange, tradition-hating deviants who seek to destroy our most precious institutions. They are simply wrong.

They’re also trying to sell you a bullshit narrative to get ratings, but that’s another story.

Even in matters not exclusive to sex, older generations still try to find ways to criticize these crazy young people. It’s become more popular in recent years to call anyone under 30 a cohort of over-confident narcissists. Some go so far as to say there’s a narcissism epidemic.

Research says young people today are more narcissistic than ever

‘Somebody high in self-esteem values individual achievement, but they also value their relationships and caring for others,’ she says. ‘Narcissists are missing that piece about valuing, caring and their relationships, so they tend to lack empathy, they have poor relationship skills. That’s one of the biggest differences, those communal and caring traits tend to be high in most people with self-esteem but not among those who are high in narcissism.’

Again, this is a flawed and incomplete narrative. It’s also incompatible with with the notion that young people are somehow more decadent sexually. Among the key traits of narcissism is promiscuity and it’s not just related to the sexual kind.

It’s hard to be narcissistic and responsible for the same reason it’s hard to be relaxed and enraged. The human psyche just doesn’t work like that. Society, as a whole, doesn’t work like that either. It can’t. If young people really were as decadent and narcissistic as old people thought, then our civilization never would’ve made it this far.

I know I’ve brought up flawed assumptions about young people and their sex lives before. I doubt old people will stop complaining about the deviant, decadent behaviors of young people anytime soon, even if a mountain of data says they’re better-behaved than their predecessors.

The reason I bring it up now is because this is one of those years when we should all re-assess our perspectives. The grim events of this past year have affected everybody, young and old. It’s affected our society, our emotions, and our sex lives. A lot will change as a result of this year. Generations afterwards will feel it.

As someone who will one day become old and cranky, I hope to maintain a healthy perspective regardless of what happens. I don’t doubt that when I get to a certain age, I’ll see young people behaving in ways that I find shocking. Some of those shocking ways might involve their sex lives. If I ever have kids, that’s going to concern me.

At the same time, I imagine that part of me will envy those young people for having the time, energy, and passions to behave in such ways. On some levels, I think many older people share those feelings. Their youth is a memory. The days of breaking traditions and upsetting their elders is long gone because they’re not elder. It’s just part of life.

We can’t avoid it, at least not yet. I don’t know what kind of state the world will be in by the time I turn 60. I just know I’ll have plenty to complain about. The fact that young people are bucking those complaints gives me hope that it’ll be better than any false perception.

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Filed under gender issues, health, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Why Liars, Cheaters, And Hypocrites Get Away With It

We all deal with them.

We all encounter them.

We all despise them on some levels.

Call them any vulgar insult you want. It’s perfectly warranted, but it doesn’t change what they do. The liars, cheaters, and hypocrites of this world will keep doing it. They’ll keep lying to your face, cheating you out of money, and breaking promises or precedents without a second thought.

I know it’s a depressing thought. It has become a lot more in our collective faces in recent years, given how political rhetoric has become so heated. Both sides argue with one another. They each lie or cheat to varying degrees. They jump at the chance to call the other out on it, but nothing really changes.

They keep on lying and people who align with their politics buy into it, even when they know it’s a lie. It’s frustrating. I argue it’s gotten even more infuriating in recent years. It does, however, raise an important question.

Why do people who lie, cheat, and break promises keep getting away with it?

It’s a valid question. Nobody likes being lied to. Even kids know on some level how wrong it is. So, why does it keep happening and why does nobody seem to pay a price? Well, the very nature of those questions already answer that to some extent.

In short, people keep getting away with it because they never get punished, pay a price, or face any consequences for their dishonesty.

It’s not a very comforting answer, I know. It’s probably just as infuriating as being lied to. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Think about it. What price does someone really pay for lying? Sure, there’s the accompanying guilt that comes with it, but for some people, that’s not much of a price. You don’t have to be a psychopath incapable of guilt to lie. You just have to be capable of enduring the momentary discomfort that comes with it.

That’s not much of a price for certain people, especially when there’s money to be made and power to be gained. Granted, certain liars and hypocrites will lose credibility with certain people. Lie too much to one person and they won’t trust you, let alone be inclined to do you any favors.

On a larger scale, though, that’s less of an issue. Add mass media and the internet to the mix and it’s basically an afterthought. Right now, anyone can tweet or post some completely dishonest information to any number of major sites.

They could claim a certain politician beat up a child.

They could claim that a certain celebrity sexually assaulted someone.

They could claim that the theory of evolution is a plot by the Illuminati to keep people from finding out about the shape-shifting lizard people that secretly run our government.

That last one is a real conspiracy theory that some people actually believe, by the way. I wish I had made up something that absurd.

Some of these lies may incur lawsuits or blocks, but again, is that really much of a price? Some people can afford frivolous lawsuits. Many don’t care if certain people block them. Even when major websites try to clamp down on it, that only seems to fuel the liars.

That’s another critical element as to why it keeps happening. Not only do liars, cheats, and hypocrites pay little to no price for their dishonesty. In some cases, they’re rewarded. In some cases, the reward is huge.

We may hate hypocrites and liars, but so long as they have something to gain and little to lose, not much will stop them. If they have no sense of guilt or shame, as many politicians and CEOs often do, they have every incentive to do what they do. There’s just too much money and power to be gained.

On top of that, there are some people who want to believe in their lies. Everyone has their own reason for doing so. It often boils down to the lies being more appealing than the truth or reinforcing some position they already have. Whatever their reason, they keep give even more incentives to those willing to exploit that inclination.

I say this not to be dire, although I don’t deny the election last month is a motivating factor. I offer this as a means of adding perspective to those frustrated by the dishonesty and hypocrisy that seems so prevalent, no matter where you look.

There’s a reason it’s there and is a painfully valid reason. As long as the liars, cheaters, and hypocrites we despise keep gaining so much and losing so little, they will continue with their deplorable behavior. They have no reason not to. It’s just the nature of our flawed world.

We can only do so much to make it less flawed. One way you can help is to keep voting, even if it’s just for the least dishonest candidate. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a start.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, rants

Shaming Vs. Criticism: Why The Difference Matters

Let’s be honest. It’s very difficult to have honest, civil discourse with anyone these days. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Try expressing any opinion about any issue that’s even mildly controversial. Chances are you won’t spark a civil discussion. You’ll likely trigger a flame war, especially once Godwin’s Law comes into play.

Now, I’m not going to blame all of this on the internet and social media. I don’t deny that it plays a role, but let’s not miss the forest from the trees here. We, the users of these tools, are the ones driving the content. We’re the ones who guide these discussions towards angry, hate-filled outrage. The medium is only secondary.

There are a lot of reasons why civil discourse is so difficult, but I want to highlight just one that has become far more prominent in recent years. It’s an objectively bad trend and one I genuinely believe we need to reverse. It involves this inability to distinguish shaming someone from criticizing them.

It goes like this. Two people connect, either in person or via the internet. They have a disagreement. When there’s criticism, it tends to go like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: Why do you hold that opinion? I don’t understand how you could.

Person B: Well, it’s because of X, Y, and Z.

Person A: I don’t disagree with Y and Z, but I take issue with X.

Person B: Why is that?

Person A: Well, it goes like this…

Ideally, both people in this exchange get something out of this discourse. Person A offers Person B another point of view. Person B has their opinion challenged and they’re now in a position to defend it. In doing so, they may reaffirm or question their position. They may even convince Person A of the merit of their position.

That’s a healthy level of discourse, guided by fair and civil criticism. There’s certainly a place for that. I even see it on social media from time to time. However, that’s not what makes the headlines. It’s the shaming that usually generates the most noise. Shaming is very different from criticism, both by definition and by practice. At its worst, it goes like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: What? You’re a horrible human being for holding an opinion like that! You must be a fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick!

Person B: Fuck you! Your opinion is a goddamn atrocity! Only a true fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick would even entertain it! You should be fucking ashamed!

Person A: No, you should be ashamed! You should lose your job, your money, and all manner of sympathy for the rest of your fucking life!

Person B: No, you should be ashamed! You should cry like a baby, get on your knees, and beg everyone like me to forgive you! And you should also lose your job, money, and any semblance of sympathy until the end of time!

I don’t deny that’s an extreme example. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’ve seen stuff like this play out. I’ve seen it in comments section, message boards, Twitter threads, and Facebook posts. It’s not enough to just criticize someone for holding a different opinion. People have to outright shame them to the point where they’re mentally and physically broken.

In some cases, people look for that kind of rhetoric. Some people just love trolling others by posting opinions they know will piss people off and start a flame war. They don’t care about civil discourse. They just care about riling people up. It’s what gives them a cheap thrill.

Those people are trolls. The best thing anyone can do is ignore them.

They’re also in the minority. They may be a vocal minority, but they are the minority. Most people, in my experience, are inclined to be civil. They’ll give people a chance, even if they don’t agree with them. Things just go off the rails when they interpret criticism as shaming. It’s not always intentional, either. Some people just frame their criticism poorly, which sends all the wrong messages.

Whereas criticism is impersonal, shaming evokes some very basic emotions. There’s a tangible, neurobiological process behind it. It’s linked heavily to guilt, an objectively terrible feeling that most people try to avoid at all costs. Shame attempts to impose guilt. While there are some things we should definitely feel guilty about, holding certain opinions is rarely one of them.

Does someone deserve to be shamed for how they voted in the last presidential election?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for believing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was a terrible movie?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking certain female characters in media are too sexualized?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking they shouldn’t believe every claim a woman makes about being sexually harassed?

These are difficult, emotionally charged issues. With that kind of complexity, there’s going to be many points of criticism. Some have real merit and they should be discussed. That’s how we learn and make sense of our world and the people in it. Once shame enters the picture, though, the merit tends to vanish.

The problem is that once the shaming starts, it escalates quickly. It doesn’t even need to escalate that much before a person stops listening and gets defensive. At that point, there’s basically no going back. It’s less about understanding someone else’s perspective and all about defending yourself.

That’s not a metaphor, either. Like it or not, people take their opinions seriously. Attacking them with words, even if it’s through a computer screen, still feels like a physical attack on some levels. You’re not just attacking an opinion, anymore. You’re attacking a person. You’re throwing metaphorical punches that have non-metaphorical meanings to those you’re attacking.

With that in mind, look at it from a purely instinctual level. When someone is physically assaulting you, is your first inclination to engage in a reasoned, civil discussion? For most people, it’s not. You go into survival mode and that often involves attacking the attacker.

You throw your punches.

They throw theirs.

They call you a fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

You call them a worse fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

There’s no logic or reason to it. Once emotions override everything, criticism becomes a moot point. It’s all about hitting back to defend yourself. It’s not about being right. It’s about survival, at least from your brain’s perspective.

If there’s one silver lining, it’s that people get burned out quickly on this kind of discourse. You can only hear two sides call each other fascist for so long before the rhetoric loses its impact. It also gets boring. It takes too much energy to sustain that kind of hatred towards someone you don’t know. Most people who aren’t trolls have better things to do with their time.

As I write this, I understand that we live in contentious times. I see the same heated debates online and in person as everyone else. I know that civil discourse is a scant and precious commodity at the moment. That’s exactly why we should make the effort, regardless of what opinions we hold.

Once we stop shaming each other for daring to think differently, we’ll realize just how much we have in common. We don’t have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to like one another. We can and should still be civil with one another. That’s the only way we’ll make any real progress.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology

Has Tribalism And Ideology Supplanted Religion?

If you’re an American, chances are you’re painfully aware that 2020 is an election year. That means that, on top all the other awful crap that has transpired this year, we’re in the midst of a political firestorm that regularly brings out the worst in people. Trust me, my non-American audience. It’s even uglier than you think.

As proud as I am to be an American, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with politics and discourse. I know that’s not saying much. I didn’t live through the turbulent eras of the 60s and 70s. My parents have told me it has been very bad before, but even they admit that this year is a special case of awful. They almost long for the hippie-style protests of the 60s.

I won’t get into why things have become so contentious, although most people can probably discern the most noteworthy source. I don’t have the patience or the sanity to digest that. Instead, I want to offer an observation that I’ve noticed as this election drama has played out. It has to do with both politics and religion, two incredibly divisive forces with a strong basis in absurdities.

I’ve done plenty to highlight the flaws, failures, and outright atrocities that have been committed or justified in the name of religion. I’ve also touched on some of the frustrations and annoyances that manifest in politics. Together, both can be extremely damaging to people and society alike. History has proven that on multiple occasion.

Lately, however, I get the sense that a new kind of zealotry has taken hold. It’s not entirely political or entirely religious. It just take the most destructive elements in both and channels them in a way that inspires some objectively deplorable behavior.

In essence, the same dogmatic stubbornness that often fuels religious extremists has now been applied to someone’s political leanings. By that, I don’t just mean what party they belong to or who they voted for in the last election. I’m saying they now see their political affiliation in the same light some see their religious adherence.

To some extent, this makes sense. Organized religion, in general, has been in a steep decline for decades. The rise of the internet, as well as a more educated public, has significantly undermined religion’s ability to lock in adherents for generations. However, a lack of a religion doesn’t make someone any less inclined to believe absurd, misguided, or demonstrably false concepts.

The same tribalism that often fuels religious rhetoric is becoming a larger factor in politics. I won’t go so far as to say that political ideology is replacing organized religion outright. I just think that same tribalism is becoming a more prominent factor.

It often goes like this. In the past, I often saw discussions like this play out.

Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

Conservative: I respectfully disagree. I think a minimum wage ultimately harms the working poor by limiting the number of entry level jobs.

Liberal: I don’t think the data bears that out, but can we agree to disagree?

Conservative: Of course.

That’s fairly civil. Ideally, that’s how political debates should go. It’s not an argument about whose deity is better and who’s going to Hell when they die. It’s just a simple exchange of ideas to further a discussion about real-world issues. It can get ugly at times, but it rarely ventures into the same damaging extremism that often comes with religion.

That kind of civil exchange now feels so long ago. These days, you need only look at a comments section or a thread on social media to see how outrageous the discourse has become. It tends to go more like this.

Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

Conservative: You American-hating, baby-murdering, politically correct cuck! What kind of Marxist wannabe are you? Get the fuck out of this country! You don’t belong here!

Liberal: Fuck you! You’re a racist, sexist fascist, gay-bashing hypocrite! Go back to Nazi Germany and beat your women somewhere else! You’re destroying America!

Conservative: No, you’re destroying America!

Liberal: No, you are!

Conservative: Fuck you!

Liberal: Fuck you!

I admit, this is a generalization, but it’s not that far off. Between Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and 4chan, this kind of hateful rhetoric is fairly common. Even the street preachers who hold up signs, telling everyone that their deity wants to send them to Hell, isn’t nearly this vitriolic. Anyone who tries to be civil or inject some simple facts into the discussion is quickly drowned out by hateful dogma.

The internet and social media has acted as a catalyst, of sorts. It’s one thing to hold extreme, dogmatic political views. It’s quite another to share them in a community that constantly reinforces, reaffirms, and encourages those views. It’s become incredibly easy to exercise your own confirmation bias. If you have an opinion or want evidence for a crazy belief, chances are you can find it on some dark corner of the internet.

It’s at a point where if you try to criticize someone’s political leanings, it’s not just a point of disagreement. It’s treated as outright blasphemy. I’ve seen it on both sides, although I think those who lean right/conservative are worse offenders. Trying to convince any side that they’re wrong is akin to trying to convince a creationist or flat-Earther that they’re wrong. It just evokes more extremism.

This is not a healthy trend. Religious extremism is bad enough. Plenty of people have died because someone was convinced that a certain holy text was literally true and it was their duty to attack those who don’t agree. To religious zealots, the mere act of disagreeing and disbelieving as they do is seen as an insult, an affront, and an act of violence. That can’t be how we treat politics.

At the same time, the ugly forces of tribalism are still as strong as ever, if not more so in the age of the internet. Those influences aren’t going away anytime soon. Being part of a tribe or group is fine. We’re a very social species. It’s part of why we’re so successful. However, that same force that unites us can also inspire the ugliest kind of hate.

At its worst, it makes view anyone who disagrees with us as a non-person. They’re not sub-human, but they are someone we would rather not have in our domain. It’s not enough to disagree with them. We’d prefer they not even exist in any way that affects us.

It’s a special kind of dehumanizing and something religion has done for centuries, weaponizing the age-old us-versus-them mentality. We can only do so much to temper our tribal nature, but there comes a point where the line between differences and hatred become too blurred. We share this same planet. We also live in countries full of people who don’t agree with us.

That’s okay. We can still be friends with these people. We don’t have to hate, scold, insult, demean, or dehumanize them. That’s a conscious choice we make and, unlike religion, it requires little in terms of indoctrination. As society becomes less religious, it’s important to remember why we’re moving away from organized religion in the first place.

In the same way most religious people are decent, good people, most people of any political affiliation are the same. We’re still human at the end of the day, but I sincerely worry that the increasing ugliness of politics is making us forget that.

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A Note On The Criticisms Of THAT Scene From “Avengers: Endgame”

I love the internet. In general, I think it does more good than harm. Our lives are objectively better because of it. I know it has its share of baggage and drawbacks. Like anything, you take the good with the bad.

However, there are times when taking the bad is just annoying as hell. I’m fine with challenges and struggle. Those help us become stronger, in the long run. The same can’t be said of annoyance. That helps no one. It just makes you want to bang your head against the wall.

This brings me to what I feel is one of the weakest, emptiest, most pathetic displays of internet outrage I’ve seen in recent years. It unfolded last year, but has become relevant again this year. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, certain people still find the time and energy to be so insanely petty about something so banal.

It stems largely from that scene in “Avengers: Endgame.” You probably know the scene I’m referring to. I doubt I have to be too specific. For general reference, here it is.

Just playing it again, I can easily imagine a certain group of people whining like babies, as though someone just stole a piece of their birthday cake. It’s a shot of some of Marvel’s most notable female characters, all in the same scene, getting ready to kick more ass in the final battle against Thanos.

Yes, people actually got upset over this.

Yes, it’s as dumb, pathetic, and petty as it sounds, and then some.

They’re not just men who complain about a female superhero’s bra size. They’re not just women who complain how these costumes are woefully impractical. They call this scene cringy. That’s usually code for, “This doesn’t pander exclusively to me and it hurts my precious feelings!”

Many probably whine about other people who whine about things they don’t agree with, be it politics, video games, or which celebrity had an opinion that hurt their precious feelings. This scene just caught more attention than most, being part of the highest grossing movie of all time.

The outrage unfolded as soon as the movie came out. Here’s just one of the responses on Twitter.

Trust me, this is tame compared to some of the other rage tweeting that went on. Most of it boiled down to people saying the scene was so forced and tried too hard to make a political statement. Naturally, you can’t make political statements these days without attracting trolls, assholes, idiots, and narcissists.

I say that as someone who has made his share of political statements, some of which I know won’t age well. I know I make certain people cringe with what I say and how I say it. Most of the time, it’s understandable. I have enough empathy to realize that hearing something you don’t agree with can be distressing.

This scene, however, is not one of those instances. To see this scene and assume Marvel Studios is making this bold political statement about feminism, female characters, and how men should be ashamed for not letting women shine isn’t just contrived. It’s just plain goddamn stupid.

I’m sorry. I wish there was a more articulate way to say that. Sometimes, you just have to be as blunt and straightforward as possible. There are things worth cringing over. There are things worth getting outraged over. This isn’t one of them.

It’s just a very brief, very colorful moment within a two-and-a-half hour movie that took all but seven second. Somehow, that was enough to evoke whining, outrage, and trolls? Seriously, how does that make sense?

The reason I’m bringing this up now is because this scene has become relevant again, thanks to Amazon Prime’s “The Boys.” Now, I love that show and the comic that inspired it. I hope I’ve made that clear. I love the scene that re-opened this old wound, too. It was a great scene. Watching Starlite, Maeve, and Kimiko beat up Stormfront was very satisfying.

There was nothing political about it, but now it’s getting political because of how it supposedly contrasts with the “Avengers: Endgame” scene. I say supposedly because they’re both very different scenes with very different stories told in a very different context. Linking one to the other to make a larger political statement is just asinine.

When I see the “Avengers: Endgame” scene, I don’t see anything political. I just see an epic shot of Marvel’s female heroes. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s just a fun scene that nicely depicts how many great female characters have developed over the years in the MCU. Can’t it just be that?

The same goes for the scene in “The Boys.” Can’t that scene just be a fun display of three of the show’s best characters beating up some Nazi-loving bitch? There’s no politics in, either. It’s entertainment. It’s fun.

If you’re going ascribe politics to either scene, then you’re missing the point. You’re also whining like an immature child, incapable of accepting a world that doesn’t always pander to every one of your sensibilities at every hour of every day. I don’t care where you lean politically. That sort of misguided outrage isn’t the least bit justified. It’s just flat out pathetic.

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Filed under gender issues, LGBTQ, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, media issues, movies, outrage culture, political correctness, sex in media, superhero comics, superhero movies, women's issues

On Privilege, Resentment, and Lottery Winners

Think of a person you knew in high school that you just didn’t like. The reason why you didn’t like them isn’t important. They’re just someone you don’t care for and would prefer not to think about them in any capacity.

Now, imagine that same person won the lottery.

Suddenly, this person you seriously resent has been gifted a glut of random, unfeeling luck. They now have access to wealth, resources, and opportunities that you can only dream of.

From afar, they look happy and thrilled. Their life seems destined to be one of excitement, leisure, and fulfillment. They did nothing to deserve it. They didn’t work for it or earn it. They just got lucky.

Would that make you resent them even more? Before you answer that question, ask yourself another.

Is it even right to resent a person who just got lucky?

Most reasonable people might have a problem despising someone, just because they got lucky. It’s petty, resenting someone for their good fortune. It implies that you don’t think they deserve it.

It also implies that you think you deserve it more. There’s something inherently wrong with a system that allows someone like that to get lucky while you are stuck in your current circumstances.

I bring this up because it helps illustrate the hot-button debates surrounding privilege. It has become somewhat of a dirty word in recent years. In many discussions surrounding race, politics, religion, and gender, the topic of which group has which privileges tends to come up. These discussions can get downright ugly, especially when they’re racially charged.

Now, I’m going to be very careful with my words here. I want to make a valid point, but I don’t want it to inspire even more ugly discussions. I also don’t want to give the impression that every side of the issue is equally substantive. Some arguments are more absurd than others. That’s an unavoidable pitfall when discussing sensitive issues. That’s where you’ll get argumentative equivalent of flat-earthers.

With that context in mind, I want to try and deconstruct the rhetoric surrounding which group has privilege, what it implies, and why it matters. The concept of social privilege is pretty simple. In a diverse, multi-cultural society, like the one we’ve established over the past few centuries, certain groups have inherent advantages over others. However, not all of those advantages are the same.

If you’re a straight, cis-gendered man, you have certain advantages.

If you’re a straight, cis-gendered woman, you have certain advantages.

If you’re white in a society that’s predominantly white, you have certain advantages.

The same concept applies to disadvantages. Being a minority in most societies, regardless of development, will incur some disadvantages. If you’re black, gay, Muslim, Jewish, transgender, bisexual, or disabled in a society where the majority is none of those things, you will face challenges that others won’t. For anyone who values fairness, justice, and equality, that’s an issue.

It can be even subtler than that. If you’re born with natural beauty, you’ll have advantages as well. Like it or not, people tend to help someone who’s physically attractive. The same applies if they happen to have a special talent, such as throwing a football or playing an instrument. People without those skills are at a disadvantage, if only with respect to attention.

As a social species, humans already have an innate sense of fairness. These disparities don’t go unnoticed by both the majority and minority. Like playing a game where someone is using cheat codes, people are going to strive for greater fairness.

Some will be more aggressive than others in that pursuit. At the same time, those who have those advantages will try to maintain them. They may not even see them as advantages.

While that seems simple in the context of a game, it gets exceedingly complex when you apply it to society at large. It also gets contentious, as both historic and contemporary protests have shown.

It has even become popular to tell people to “check their privilege” at the door when entering a conversation. Even if it’s done in the spirit of fairness, it can still come off as downright resentful.

That may be understandable, to some extent. It may even be acceptable for some because achieving perfect fairness and perfect equality just isn’t realistic. There’s always going to be someone who gets lucky or is just naturally more talented or beautiful. It’s the nature of reality. It still doesn’t answer the same question I posed earlier.

Is it right to resent a person who just got lucky?

For anyone attempting to answer it, there’s probably a short and long version of that answer. It may depend on the nature of the luck involved. Someone who wins the lottery is easy to envy, but difficult to resent. If you don’t know the person, then chances are you’re not going to resent them. You’ll just be jealous of their luck.

However, the random luck of a lottery winner isn’t that different from the random luck that makes someone straight, white, Christian, and male at a certain point in history within a certain society in which they have advantages. When we’re born, we don’t have a choice in the circumstances. We simply grow, develop, and react within them along the way.

Those circumstances can include some very distressing facts. There’s no getting around the fact that certain groups have brutally oppressed others and effected the system to preserve their advantages while disadvantaging others. Even if it happened centuries ago, the effects of those injustices are still felt today.

Most reasonable, decent people are in favor of righting such injustices. However, the right way to go about it is where a lot of resentment starts to emerge. Some of that is unavoidable, given how easy it is to derail an argument, but there’s another component to discussions about privilege that goes beyond lottery winners.

Whenever someone protests the privileges of any group, be they white men, affluent middle-class women, or people born with natural beauty, there’s often an angry backlash and not just from those seeking to protect their privilege. In fact, most of that backlash comes from people who fit the generalization, but are not privileged.

There are straight white men who, despite their demographics and circumstance, have no advantages whatsoever. They’re poor, destitute, and miserable. They work every bit as hard as those in minority groups, but still struggle.

Then, despite their dire circumstances, they hear rhetoric that claims they’re somehow the most privileged people in the world. Chances are, they’re going to feel resentful too.

That’s because, statistically speaking, only a handful of people who fit the stereotype of “privileged” individuals really enjoy those advantages. These are individuals in positions of power and authority, both politically and economically. Some are identifiable by name. Others are just indirectly influential, due to their wealth, status, and resources.

The vast majority of men don’t have a say in how patriarchal or egalitarian society is.

The vast majority of white people don’t have a say in how racially segregated society is.

The vast majority of women don’t have a say in how men are disadvantaged men are in divorce court, child custody, or alimony.

The vast majority of straight people don’t have a way in how the law handles issues LGBTQ discrimination.

The vast majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus have no say in how their religion conducts itself as an organization.

However, since there’s rarely a single, mustache-twirling villain who exists solely to oppress on certain issues, our only choice is to generalize. We’re already a tribal species, by nature. It’s depressingly easy to channel that into what we perceive as the source of an injustice.

It’s also easy to resent people who are clearly privileged and go out of their way to abuse it. Those individuals deserve that kind of resentment. Like a lottery winner who becomes an insufferable asshole because of his luck, the resentment is both understandable and justified.

The problem with resenting the privilege of entire groups is that it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees. The existence of one asshole lottery winner doesn’t mean that every lottery winner is an asshole by default. By that same token, the existence of one group of people who enjoy egregious advantages doesn’t mean everyone like them enjoys them as well.

There are all sorts of complexities and nuances that go into what gives certain people advantages over others. Sometimes, it’s objectively unfair how certain people exploit their advantages and we should all work for a more fair and just system.

However, it’s a simple matter of removing the privileges to level the playing field. It’s also not realistic to yell at people until they purposefully disadvantage themselves for the sake of others. That’s akin to demanding that lottery winners give up their winnings in the spirit of fairness. It doesn’t just defeat the purpose. It makes us the resentful assholes.

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A Brief Message To Iman Vellani In Becoming Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan

In a year so full of objectively awful news, a tiny bit of good news goes a long way. When that news involves superhero comics and upcoming TV shows, it goes even further with me. On that front, such news has been few and far between. This year has been fraught with major delays and cancelled conventions. Fans like me need some good, exciting news for once. We’re due.

Then, this past week, we got it. It’s been in the works for a while now, but now it’s getting real. One of the big Marvel Studios Disney Plus shows that has been in development, “Ms. Marvel,” officially found their Kamala Khan in Iman Vellani. As an unapologetic Ms. Marvel fan who has sung her praises before, this is just the news I needed.

Deadline reported it. Many others in Hollywood circles praised it. Fans like me were just elated that Kamala Khan is set to enter the MCU.

Deadline: Newcomer Iman Vellani To Play Title Role In Marvel’s ‘Ms. Marvel’ Series For Disney Plus

After a long and hard search, Marvel has found its Ms. Marvel. The studio is tapping newcomer Iman Vellani to star in its Disney Plus series based on the comic-book character. Marvel and the streamer recently named Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Meera Menon as directors on the project.

Now, there’s a lot I want to say about this news, this casting, and the prospects for this show. I’ve already touched on some of that before and I have every intention of highlighting even more as the show develops. Ms. Marvel is very near and dear to me as a character. I’ll be among those cheering the loudest for her and for Ms. Vellani to succeed.

Before I get to any of that, though, I want to offer a special message to Ms. Vellani. I doubt she’ll ever read it. I’m sure she’ll hear from plenty of other voices far more prominent and insightful than mine. I still want to put this message out there because I think it’s worth saying.

Dear Ms. Vellani,

First off, congratulations! You just earned yourself the role of a lifetime with an incredible character. On behalf of many other Ms. Marvel fans, I wish you the best. We’ll all be cheering you on as you bring Kamala Khan to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It will be challenging. Anything worth doing is. I believe you’re up for it. I also don’t doubt that you’ll face obstacles, some of which have nothing to do with your acting abilities or your love for the character.

The world of superhero media is an amazing place. Both on and off the screen, there a lot to take in. Chances are, it will be overwhelming at time, but once the fans embrace you, they’ll be your greatest ally. It’s what helped Ms. Marvel become such a prominent, beloved character. That’ll help you achieve success on a level that will do justice to her legacy.

Now, there are parts of that world that are less pleasant. As in any genre, there are critics and trolls who will try to tear you down. They’ll attack you, just as they’ve done to the likes of Brie Larson, Daisy Ridley, and Kelly Marie Tran. Do not let them get you down. Do not let them stop you from being the best Ms. Marvel you can possibly be.

Also know that Kamala herself has attracted plenty of trolls. Some of the ugliest elements of superhero fandom have been denigrating Ms. Marvel since the day she debuted. Some go so far as to attack her creators. These people are no different than the villains Ms. Marvel fights. They do not deserve an ounce of your attention.

The love people have for this character is many times greater than those who go out of their way to hate her. That love is what makes Ms. Marvel special. We hope you feel that love as you don that now-iconic costume. May it carry you through the challenges that await and may it enrich your world, just as Ms. Marvel has enriched ours.

Sincerely, Ms. Marvel Fans

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PSA: Disagreeing With Someone Is NOT A Violent Act

There are certain basic, inherently decent truths in this world. Most reasonable people understand them to some extent. We don’t need to be persuaded of their merits.

Being a selfish asshole is a bad thing.

Lying, cheating, and stealing is a bad thing.

Compliments and kind words help us and others like us.

Not everything you see on the internet is true.

These are just a few. I hope they’re not controversial. I like to think I have enough life experiences to make these statements with some credibility. Ideally, we don’t need to remind each other of these simple truths. They should be a given for anyone with a functioning brain.

Unfortunately, we live in an exceedingly imperfect world and years like 2020 only intensify those imperfections.

So, in that frustrating spirit, I’d like to make a quick public service announcement that I hope will function as a simple reminder. Please note I’m not referring to one particular person or a single group. I’m addressing as many people as possible. If you can, please forward this along because this needs to be said, reinforced, and belabored.

Someone disagreeing with you is not a violent act against you, nor should it be construed as one.

I know. That sounds like common sense. It is, for the most part. Most of us learn in grade school that someone disagreeing with you is not a big deal. You don’t have to like it. You may feel angry about it, but it’s hardly damaging. We live in a diverse society with diverse people. You’re going to encounter people who don’t think or believe like you do.

That’s fine.

That’s life.

However, lately it feels like the mere act of disagreeing with someone is somehow construed as this aggressive, violent political statement. Just telling someone you don’t agree with their politics or voted differently in the last election is no longer a simple point of disagreement. It’s an outright affront.

I see it in social media, comments sections, and in person debates. It gets incredibly ugly and it escalates way too fast. It often goes like this.

Person A: I voted for this candidate/hold this position/support this effort.

Person B: Really? I voted for the other candidate/position/effort.

Person A: You horrible piece of fucking shit! You’re ruining this country and this world! I hate your fucking guts and everything you stand for! You should fucking die a horrible death!

I wish I could say that was hyperbole. I really wish I could. Sadly, that’s a painfully accurate paraphrasing of the rhetoric I see whenever people start arguing. Whether it’s about politics, pop culture, video games, or which fictional characters they like, it gets so ugly, so fast that it’s disturbing.

It’s not treated as a difference of opinion. Some treat simple, differing opinions as a series of kidney punches delivered by Ivan Drago. It’s a gross, irrational, unbalanced response to the mere act of holding an opinion. If you don’t believe me, just try making these comments on any social platform.

I enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I support professional athletes protesting police injustice during the national anthem.

Brie Larson is a great actress.

There should be more diversity in certain franchises.

These are innocuous opinions. They don’t physically harm anyone. They reveal only a tiny sliver of who someone actually is. However, the mere utterance of these opinions is often a trigger for the most vile, hateful, rage-fueled reactions you can imagine.

That’s not just wrong.

That’s not just misguided, either.

It’s fucking stupid.

There’s no other way to describe it. These reactions are not the least bit warranted. Someone disagreeing with you is not an act of violence. It’s just not. Treating it as such is absurd, not to mention regressive.

Nobody, I don’t care who you are, is ever going to live in a world where everyone agrees with them. Humans just aren’t wired like that. Getting so upset about it is not a productive use of our time, energy, and passions.

I realize this will likely fall in deaf ears for some, but I hope others will take a step back and reassess how they react to someone voicing an opposing opinion. This world is messy enough. Let’s not make it worse by fighting each other for petty, unwarranted reasons.

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