Category Archives: psychology

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

How Bad Should We Feel For Certain Bad People?

New Research on TV Binge-Watching Behaviors – Department of Communication  Arts – UW–Madison

In general, I try to be forgiving, empathetic, and understanding, even towards people I think are total assholes. I also think it’s generally good for society to be forgiving and sympathetic to others, even when they’ve done bad things and fostered bad events.

Now, there are always exceptions. There are certain people on this planet who are genuine monsters and they deserve only scorn and condemnation. However, this isn’t about them.

I’m of the opinion that most people, broadly speaking, are decent human beings. They may act like assholes on occasion, especially online when they can be anonymous. When you’re actually with them, though, they will show some semblance of humanity.

That has been my experience. I have met people who are real assholes on Facebook, but genuinely nice in person. That’s why I generally favor being kind and understanding to others, even when you don’t like their personality, their opinions, or their agenda.

However, there is a line to that sentiment. I certainly have a few hard lines that, if crossed, will keep me from feeling any semblance of compassion for someone. I’ve only met a few people who have crossed that line over the course of my life. There are other celebrities and media figures who have done so. As a result, I refuse to support anything they do.

This brings me to a situation involving a man I’ll just call Dick Spencer. If you’ve been following politics for the past five years, you’ve probably heard of him. In fact, you probably know him as the guy who got punched in the face and that got people cheering. In case you haven’t seen it in a while, here it is again.

Racism Blacklivesmatter GIF - Racism Blacklivesmatter Neonazi GIFs

I’m not going to lie. That’s still very satisfying to watch. I try not to take too much pleasure in it, but if you’ve read up on this guy, you understand completely why he got punched.

I won’t go over all the deplorable things he’s said and done. I don’t even want to link to it because he’s not worth the energy. All you need to know is that this guy is a textbook neo-Nazi and that’s not an exaggeration. This is a guy who actually wants racist, sexist policies implemented and enforced on a large scale.

He’s as bad as you think he is and then some.

For that reason, and plenty of others, he’s made way more enemies than friends over the past several years. For a time, his voice carried weight and influence. That was then. Now, it’s a very different story.

A recent story from the New York Times revealed that Dick’s life has taken a massive turn for the worse. Apparently, being a hateful bigot who openly advocates neo-Nazi policies is not good for your career, your social standing, or your bank account. Vanity Fair offered a more colorful take on his situation, which I think encapsulates how many feel about this man.

Vanity Fair: Richard Spencer, Racist Putz, Is Having A Lousy Labor Day Weekend

Richard Spencer, the loathsome alt-right skunk best known for getting clocked in the jaw during an interview, is feeling the repercussions of his actions, according to a report published in The New York Times on Sunday. The article details how one of the central figures in recent white nationalism, who shouted “Hail Trump!” in a widely seen video as his followers made Nazi salutes, has been effectively silenced by his neighbors in Whitefish, Montana.

Spencer, who is “unable to get a table at many restaurants” according to the report, faced bipartisan pushback, led by local synagogues and human rights groups as the summer resident’s notoriety increased. Currently, Spencer, whose organization is dissolved and whose wife has divorced him, faces trial in Charlottesville, Virginia next month for his role in instigating the deadly white nationalist rally in 2017. However, the man who once lived in his mother’s $3 million summer house can not, according to the Times, afford a lawyer.

I’ll say it again. I try not to take too much pleasure in other peoples’ misfortunes. I try, but I don’t always succeed. I admit that hearing how this guys life has gone since becoming the face of racist hatred in America brought a smile to my face. It reaffirmed that the forces that oppose bigotry are generally stronger than those that ferment it.

At the same time, this guy is in a very bad place, to say the least. The organization he founded has been dissolved. He has little to no money. His wife divorced him. He’s been kicked off every major media platform. He’s being sued for instigating the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. The man is in an objectively bad place.

However, he’s responsible for putting himself in that place. He’s not a victim. These are the consequences of being such a racist bigot. Dick probably didn’t think they would be this severe, but that doesn’t make him any less responsible.

Believe me when I say I’d rather not know anything about this person, his politics, or his egregious behavior in the past. I doubt I’m alone in wishing that Dick never became a relevant figure in any capacity. Unfortunately, he was and still is to some extent. We are aware of him, his past actions, and his current situation.

That still leaves us with one relevant question

How bad should we feel for this guy?

It’s relevant because this guy has no power, money, or influence. He’s not some politician or rich celebrity who can twist the narrative to his liking. He’s just a guy with some very deplorable political beliefs who may very well be broke, homeless, or in prison at some point within the next few years.

I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve those consequences. I think he deserves most of them. However, he’s still a human being. The hate and bigotry he spouted is no restricted to him. There are others who share Dick’s beliefs and who will not face the same consequences. Does he still deserve any sympathy or compassion, however small it might be?

I’m honestly torn here. In the Vanity Fair article, he claims he’s just a guy and he’s not the same racist firebrand he was several years ago. However, at no point does he come out and apologize for anything he’s done, nor does he concede that he was wrong to espouse such hateful rhetoric.

Near as anyone can tell, he hasn’t changed his mind on anything. He’s still a racist bigot and no amount of public shaming will change that. For that reason, I just can’t feel bad for him in the slightest.

If he actually tried to apologize, I might feel differently. If he came out and apologized tomorrow, while also committing to atone for his past behavior, I might even give him a chance. Right now, I just can’t muster any ounce of compassion for him.

A part of me worries that the utter lack of compassion he gets could only make him more hateful. Another part of me worries that any compassion whatsoever would only keep him from facing the consequences that he has brought upon himself.

I’m honestly torn. I don’t know how to feel about a guy like Dick. I guess time will tell.

In the meantime, I open this question up to everyone else. If you have any feelings or sentiments that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

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Filed under Current Events, politics, psychology, rants

A Question (And A Challenge) For Those Who Once Opposed Same-Sex Marriage (But No Longer Do)

Fighting for the right to recognize same-sex marriage in Japan | The Japan  Times

People change.

Societies change.

General attitudes towards certain subjects, ideas, or behaviors change.

None of that should be news to anyone. Change is the only true constant in this crazy, complicated world. I’ve certainly seen plenty over the course of my life. It really wasn’t that long ago that the idea of marijuana being legalized in one state, let alone a dozen, seemed unthinkable.

It also wasn’t that long ago that the idea of same-sex marriage being legalized nationwide seemed equally unthinkable. In terms of major social and/or political issues, that issue resonates with me because it became a hot button topic while I was a teenager. In essence, it grew as I grew.

I still remember all the headlines from 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. I also remembered all the heated discussions that came from it. I even participated in a few. I felt like I understood the arguments made by the proponents. I had little issue seeing the logic behind their points.

Two individuals love each other and want to get married.

The state currently prevents them from doing so, thereby denying them the many benefits associated with marriage.

That denial is simply not reasonable in a free society that permits people to marry whomever they choose.

However, it was the arguments made by the opponents that I often struggled to understand. Honestly, their arguments from tradition, morality, or the idea of “defending marriage” just didn’t make sense to me. Even as I got older and saw arguments against it from major pundits and thinkers, often from those who identified as conservative, I still didn’t get it.

How does two gay people getting married affect anyone?

How does it tangibly and measurably undermine marriage between heterosexual couples?

I never got a straight answer. Most of the time, I just got hit with a bunch of bible verses from the Old Testament or some variation of “marriage has always been this way.” I never found any of those arguments convincing.

Fast forward two decades and suddenly, the lack of substance in those arguments really show. More and more, people are started to realize that too, including those who identify as conservative and likely opposed same-sex marriage at one point.

Just recently, Gallup released a poll indicating that support of same-sex marriage was at a record high. On top of that, even those who vote republican and identify as conservative have since come to support it. It’s still not quite on the same level as that of liberal democrats, but it’s still a majority and that’s a big deal.

Gallup: Record-High 70% in U.S. Support Same-Sex Marriage

U.S. support for legal same-sex marriage continues to trend upward, now at 70% — a new high in Gallup’s trend since 1996. This latest figure marks an increase of 10 percentage points since 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must recognize same-sex marriages.

Republicans, who have consistently been the party group least in favor of same-sex marriage, show majority support in 2021 for the first time (55%). The latest increase in support among all Americans is driven largely by changes in Republicans’ views.

Now, I welcome this news. I think it’s an objectively good thing that more and more people support same-sex marriage. The opposition to it never came off as anything more than varying degrees of bigotry.

I also think homosexuality and LGBTQ issues have gotten to a point where they’re no longer so unfamiliar or radical. We see them on TV, in movies, and in major positions of power. At the same time, the brand of reactionary religious zealotry that condemns homosexuality has fallen out of favor.

Again, this is good news. Accepting same-sex marriage and affording same-sex couples the same rights and protections isn’t just fair and just. It’s the right thing to do. Even if you despise homosexuality, you can’t justify having your personal preferences imposed and enforced by law. That’s just un-American.

Beyond that news, though, I have a question and a challenge for those who once opposed same-sex marriage, but no longer do. I’ll even extend it to those who still oppose same-sex marriage. Now that same-sex marriage has been legal for over five years, I think this question is worth asking.

How much or how little has your life changed since same-sex marriage was legalized?

It’s an honest, sincere question. I’d really like to know. There was a lot of fearmongering on the part of opponents to same-sex marriage. I won’t get into the specifics, but there were real concerns by opponents that legalizing same-sex marriage would have dire consequences.

Have any of those consequences even played out? If so, what data indicates as such?

Again, that’s an honest inquiry. I’d really like to know.

In addition, I also have a challenge to those who once opposed same-sex marriage. It’s a bit broader in scope, but is just as relevant.

What other issues besides same-sex marriage have you come around on?

Like I said earlier, change is the only true constant. What’s considered normal and acceptable today might be considered atrocious tomorrow. The same goes for what we consider immoral or deviant. A couple decades ago, it was same-sex marriage. A century ago, things like divorce and interracial marriage were just as taboo.

It’s hard to understand the attitudes of generations that have long since passed on. However, the vast shift in attitudes do offer some perspective. I believe they challenge us all to contemplate our current attitudes and how differently they’ll be seen in future generations.

We can’t know for sure which position will change drastically between now and twenty years into the future. We should still make a concerted effort in refining our perspective. Same-sex marriage showed just how much attitudes towards one single issue can change within a couple decades. Which issue will undergo a similar change two decades from now? Only time will tell.

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Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, Marriage and Relationships, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, Uncategorized

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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Malcolm In The Middle: Dynamics Of Poverty And Dysfunction

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It explores the depths, dynamics, and chaotic humor of one of my favorite shows of all time, “Malcolm In The Middle.” It also expands on a piece I wrote about this show a while back on what makes people deviant. In addition to being funny, this show reveals a lot about what fuels dysfunction. It also manages to be oddly uplifting in the end. Enjoy!

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Filed under Jack's World, psychology, television, YouTube

Contemplating The Lies, Sincerity, And Dishonesty Of Public Figures

53,509 Lying On Back Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

When you lie down in bed at night, alone in the dark with your thoughts, I believe that’s when you’re most honest with yourself. Whether you sleep alone or with a lover, this is one of those few times when we can allow our minds to wander freely. Sometimes, we find ourselves thinking things that make us uncomfortable. While it may be distressing, I would argue that’s healthy.

I freely admit that I find myself contemplating a lot of strange things when I lay down to go to sleep at night. I doubt I’m alone. I would question the honesty of anyone who claims their private thoughts perfectly match those they contemplate in public.

With this in mind, I’d like to pose a relevant question. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a thought experiment because this is one of those questions that may have a definitive answer. Granted, it’s an answer we’ll probably never know for sure. However, I still feel it’s worth asking for the sake of the bigger picture.

It has to do with public figures. By that, I don’t just mean major celebrities like movie stars, musicians, and what not. I’m also referring to well-known politicians, political commentators, and even popular social media figures on sites like YouTube and Tik-Tok. To all of them, I pose this question.

When these people lie in bed at night, do they genuinely believe the things they do, espouse, or support?

I think the answer to that question, even if we cannot know it, is incredibly revealing.

Let’s face it. These are all people who have a very public persona. Most people who know who they are know them only through that persona. Whether they’re a politician known for saying dumb things, a celebrity with a nasty reputation, or religious preachers with controversial views on certain subjects, they have a public face and a public personality.

It’s also incredibly common for people to not be honest with themselves. Most of us have done that at some point in our lives to varying degrees. We carry ourselves as someone we’re not. We convey feelings, ideas, and emotions that are not entirely in line with our true selves. Why we do this varies, but it can be incredibly damaging if taken too far.

For certain public figures, though, there are many additional layers of complications. For some people, especially politicians, shock jocks, and social media personalities, they have to present a certain version of themselves to the public. That version is almost always carefully crafted and refined. It rarely reflects a completely honest version of that person.

On top of that, this version of themselves is presented as a means to obtain money, power, influence, attention, and everything that comes with that. They say and do whatever reaffirms or builds upon that persona. If it gets any level of attention, be it positive or negative, it gets reinforced.

It can quickly become a cycle, but one that’s reinforced with money, power, and influence. At that point, a public figure doesn’t just have an incentive to keep up this persona. They have incentives to double down and take it to new levels. Even if it makes them infamous and hated, they still get enough out of it to justify the effort, no matter how dishonest it might be.

With those incentives in mind, I often find myself wondering how much or how little certain public figures are aware of them. Perhaps when they lay in bed at night and are alone with their thoughts, they acknowledge that hard truth to themselves, but wouldn’t dare acknowledge it to anyone else.

Think about someone like Bernie Madoff. Before he got caught in his infamous Ponzi scheme, he knew what he was doing. He knew he was a fraud. How much or how little did he realize that when he was in bed at night before he got caught?

Think about some of the most radical, right-wing or left-wing politicians you know. Think about some of the craziest beliefs they espouse. When they lay down at night, do they realize how crazy they are? Do they even truly believe what they say? Do they just say what they need to in order to keep their persona going?

Think about some of the radical religious preachers who bilk money from the faithful. Do they truly believe the terrible things they espouse? Do they really believe that they are somehow more holy than everyone else? When they lay in bed at night, do they realize that what they’re doing is antithetical to their religion? Is it possible that some don’t even believe and are simply doing what they do because it earns them money and influence?

We’ll probably never know the answer. Regardless of how you feel about these public figures, especially the ones most decent people find deplorable, the question is still relevant. It should also inform our perspective about certain public figures. If someone has a powerful incentive to keep being who they are in public, then expect them to keep doing what they’re doing. The only time they may acknowledge it is when they lay in bed at night.

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Filed under Current Events, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, religion, Thought Experiment

The Promise, Perils, And Potential Of Elon Musk’s New Tesla Worker Robots

Tesla Promised a Robot. Was It Just a Recruiting Pitch? | WIRED

We’ve all had jobs that are laborious, boring, and repetitive. In fact, for most of human history, those were pretty much the only jobs there were. If you didn’t spend 12 hours a day in a field or factory, doing the same thing again and again, you didn’t have what you needed to survive. Only royalty and the wealthy got to enjoy leisure of any kind.

These days, those types of jobs are still there. Even though we live in an age of increasing automation, there are still plenty of jobs that are hard, repetitive, and draining. Anyone who works in an Amazon warehouse can attest to this.

I have some personal experience with those jobs. I once worked a job at a fast-food restaurant that probably could’ve been done by a trained monkey. I hated it and wouldn’t want my children having to do that kind of work. The fact that many people still have to work these jobs to make endsmeat is tragic.

The prospect of eliminating these jobs with technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence has always been intriguing. I’ve written about it before, both the artificial intelligent aspect of it and the social implications. Unlike other ideas about the future or future technology, this is one trend that’s already happening. Automation is a real thing and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

However, Elon Musk is once again looking to make another massive leap and enrich himself even more in the process. In addition to working on electric cars, commercial space flight, brain/computer interfaces, and flamethrowers, he now wants to create a legion of humanoid robot workers.

Basically, he wants to create the robots in “I, Robot,” minus the part where they go haywire and try to kill everyone. I wish I could say that was a joke, but we already have killer drones, so I think that would be in poor taste.

Musk made an official announcement of this effort on behalf of Tesla. Below is an excerpt of the story, courtesy of The Verge.

The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla is working on humanoid robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company is working on a humanoid robot and that it will build a prototype “sometime next year.” The humanoid robot will leverage Tesla’s experience with automated machines in its factories, as well as some of the hardware and software that powers the company’s Autopilot driver assistance software.

Musk, who has spoken repeatedly about his fears of runaway artificial intelligence, said the Tesla Bot is “intended to be friendly,” but that the company is designing the machine at a “mechanical level” so that “you can run away from it, and most likely overpower it.” It will be five feet, eight inches tall, weigh 125 pounds, and have a screen for a face. The code name for the bot inside the company is “Optimus,” he said.

The robots will be designed to handle “tasks that are unsafe, repetitive or boring,” the company’s website reads, but little else, at least at first. (There, the bot is simply called “Tesla Bot.”) “I think essentially in the future, physical work will be a choice, if you want to do it you can,” Musk said.

Musk revealed drawings of the robot near the tail end of his company’s “AI Day” event, where it showcased some of the artificial intelligence and supercomputer technologies that it’s working on with the goal of one day powering self-driving cars. The company also had a mannequin version on the stage, which wasn’t working.

Now, before I continue, I want to make a quick disclaimer. I am not about to gush over Elon Musk and anoint him the bringer of a new techno-utopia. He might be one of the world’s richest human beings, but even he has limitations. I know I’ve gushed over Elon Musk in the past, but I’ve since tempered some of my attitudes.

I’m aware that Musk has a reputation of overpromising and failing to deliver. The article even points that out. I’m also aware that Musk, like many billionaires, has done some shady things in the past. You really can’t get as rich and successful as him without being an asshole to some extent.

At the same time, you cannot overlook the man’s success. He didn’t invent the electric car any more than Steve Jobs invented the personal computer or the smartphone. He just took existing technology, combined it into a new product, and successfully marketed it in a way no other human being had done to that point. He was so good at it that he became even richer than he already was.

Like it or not, he succeeded. He thinks big and tries to deliver. Even when he fails, he gets people to push the envelope. He underestimated just how difficult it was to create a self-driving car. I have a feeling he’ll do the same with these robots.

However, I also think that he will do more than anyone to speed up the ongoing trends in automation. Like I said before, this is not some new, fanciful technology. Robots exist. They already work in factories, doing work that used to be done by humans. They aren’t humanoid, but that’s because they’re limited to just a single task.

These humanoid robots will offer something different. They’ll be able to perform a wider ranger of tasks. The robots that make cares can’t be reconfigured to make something else. These Tesla bots could at least begin that process. Even if it’s flawed and unsuccessful at first, that’s still progress. Pretty much all technological advances are like that in the beginning.

His timing here might actually be just right. In recent years, companies like Boston Dynamics have shown off just how capable robots have become. They’re no T-1000, but they’re getting to a point where they can walk, run, lift, and jump as well as an ordinary human. With some refinement, they’ll be able to do even more.

Just like he did with the electric car, Musk could create the first true fleet of robot workers. They wouldn’t be able to replace every human working a laborious job, but they would be able to take the place of some. At a time when there’s a growing labor shortage, there’s definitely going to be a market for that sort of thing.

Personally, I don’t think Musk is going to be able to deliver functional robot workers as quickly as he claims. However, I do think he’ll get the ball rolling for a new industry. He’ll demonstrate that this technology is possible and there’s a growing market for it. In the same way other companies have started making electric cars, they’ll also start making robot workers.

Even if he only succeeds in part, though, that does raise some major concerns. Stories about workers being exploited aren’t difficult to find and the COVID-19 pandemic only made those stories more relevant. I don’t doubt for a second that if companies could replace their workforce with robots and get the same production, they would do so in a heartbeat.

I suspect that some are already cheering Musk on behind the scenes. Those same people probably won’t give much thought to the larger implications of a robot workforce. The prospect of a large population of people who aren’t working, have no job prospects, and are unable to earn a proper living does not bode well for society.

While people like Musk have advocated for a universal basic income of sorts, the politics behind that are messy to say the least. Given how politics rarely seems to keep up with technology, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be ready for a robot workforce that does all the laborious jobs that people used to do. It’s definitely cause for concern. In that sense, perhaps it’s a good thing that what Musk seeks to do probably won’t work exceptionally well, at least at first. However, even if he fails, it’s only a matter of time and engineering before someone else succeeds. At that point, we won’t be able to avoid the larger implications.

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Why Superhero Secret Identities Are More Relevant Than Ever

Superman

You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.

It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.

From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.

In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.

I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.

This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.

Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.

While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.

What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.

There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?

That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.

Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.

The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.

It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.

In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.

That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.

That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?

For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.

In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.

To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.

For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.

The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.

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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