Tag Archives: Election 2016

Was Socrates Right About Democracy?

Socrates - HISTORY

I am a proud American. I love my country, the ideals it espouses, and the vision it offers for freedom loving people. I consider myself lucky to have been born in the United States. I understand that being an American comes with many benefits that millions of others cannot enjoy. For that, I am eternally grateful.

However, I do not deny that this country I love has flaws. I am a patriot, but I do not overlook or underscore some of the objectively terrible things the United States has done in its brief history. We shouldn’t ignore those flaws. Loving your country doesn’t mean always believing it’s right, good, and just. I know that’s not a popular sentiment among certain Americans, but that’s exactly why I value it.

That same misguided sentiment also has a significant impact on democracy, one of America’s highest ideals. Regardless of your political leanings, that’s the one tradition that America holds more dear. We embrace democracy and empower the people to pick their leaders. Considering how leaders have traditionally come to power throughout history, it’s an admirable institution.

At the same time, it’s not without its flaws. Democracy, in principle, is great. It empowers the people. It allows the people to set the standards by which a ruler is put into power. Given how often power has been abused by rulers, that’s critical for a stable, functional society.

Despite that strength, it’s still worth asking an important question.

What are the greatest flaws of democracy?

I know just asking that will put me at odds with many of my fellow Americans. Thankfully, I’m not the first one to ask that question. In fact, this is a question that has been contemplated since before America was ever a country.

Democracy itself is not an exclusively American invention. Most educated people know that it existed in various forms throughout history, most notably in Ancient Athens. However, even back then, there were some who had major criticisms of democracy, both in principle and in practice. One of the most vocal critics was the Father of Philosophy himself, Socrates.

Now, I’m not a philosophy buff. I couldn’t begin to properly break down all the concepts, principles, and contributions that Socrates made to philosophy and Western Civilization in general. So, I won’t bother trying. Instead, I’ll just focus on what he said about democracy and why he viewed it so unfavorably.

To that end, this video form the YouTube channel, The School of Life, does a nice rundown of Socrates’ biggest criticisms of democracy. Watch it and follow his ideas. You may or may not agree with them, but they’re still worth contemplating.

Again, this is just a brief summary. The nuts and bolts of Socrates’ ideas and principles are far greater in terms of breadth and concept. With respect to democracy, though, his criticisms are fairly concise.

Democracy, namely the kind in which too many uneducated people have a vote, tends to lead towards demagoguery. Instead of diligent, qualified, well-meaning leaders, people will simply elect those who are capable of winning people over with promises and rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if they’re aristocrats or con-men. They just need to sway 51 percent of the population into giving them the power they seek.

I hope I don’t need to cite an example of this happening in the real world. I also hope I don’t need to name names of those who have carried themselves like demagogues in the American political landscape. In fact, there has been a distressing trend of American’s actively seeking to put their favorite demagogues for positions of power.

These are not skilled ship captains or trained doctors, like what Socrates described in his video. These are people who are just capable of persuading a large mass of people that they should wield power. They didn’t train to wield power like a doctor trains to treat illness. They just say they’re capable and it’s up to the people to believe them.

It’s not an unreasonable criticism. Does that mean I agree with it completely? No, I do not.

Does that mean I think there’s real merit to these criticism? Yes, I absolutely do and I think there are ways to address them.

Socrates’ issue wasn’t just with democracy in principle. He was more concerned about uneducated people who don’t appreciate or care for wisdom making critical decisions, such as who should lead a country. Another great philosopher, George Carlin, put it even better.

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

I think this sentiment is more relevant now, especially after last year’s Presidential Election and the horrors of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Me and my fellow Americans have never been more divided. As a proud American, this worries me a great deal.

I still love my country. I want it to be better. I want it to live up to its greatest ideals. However, I don’t think it can do so without taking the criticisms of someone like Socrates seriously.

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A Post-Inauguration Letter To America

I’m a proud American. I celebrate, value, and promote the ideals that America stands far. I don’t ignore its flaws, nor do I overlook the egregious mistakes that it and its people have made in the past. That still doesn’t stop me from appreciating all that America strives to be.

Saying all that the day after Inauguration Day shouldn’t feel so dramatic. It really shouldn’t. However, the past year has really shaken up the political and social landscape, albeit in a very distressing manner.

I don’t want to get into the details of why, how, and who’s responsible for all these distressing disruptions. I know that, by doing so, I’ll only invite the wrath and whining of people intent proving their particular ideology or politician is right. I’d rather not do that. I feel like there’s been enough of that in recent years.

Instead, I want to send my own personal letter to America and its new President. Think of it as an addendum of the letter I sent the day after the attack on the Capitol. That was the low point of low points. Today, I’d like to start raising the bar for this great country once more.

It all comes back to one simple notion that I still believe, even after everything that has happened this past year.

We can do better than this.

We can be better than this.

We can and should start working towards a better future rather than trying to realize an idealized past.

I know that all sounds like simple platitudes. Some may even find it corny and empty. I don’t care. I still think they’re worth putting out there to my fellow Americans, including the ones who vehemently disagree with me and did not vote for the new President.

I believe those people can be better too. I don’t think they’re terrible people for voting as they did or for believing what they believe. I do think some are misguided, some more so than others. There are times they say and do things that I find to be genuinely hurtful, hateful, and divisive. It goes beyond disagreeing with them and towards feeling genuinely threatened.

That’s painful because I’m related to some of these people. I have close friends and relatives who avidly and proudly espouse political views that I find repugnant. I do what I can to separate the views from the actual people, but that’s not always easy, especially after what happened at the Capitol.

I genuinely worry about some of them. They have great passion for their positions, but when they argue from a misguided standpoint, it gets disconcerting to say the least. However, I cannot forget that they are still Americans. They still live in this country and want to see it thrive, albeit in their own misguided away.

We may never fully agree on all the issues.

We may never genuinely like one another on every level.

At the very least, I still believe we can all find a way to live together in a way that brings peace and prosperity to both of us.

That’s the message I want to send to my fellow Americans as a new President and a new administration begins. We have many challenges ahead of us, the least of which involves a once-in-a-century pandemic that has killed thousands. We’re not going to overcome these challenges by endlessly insulting one another for our politics.

At some point, we do have to tolerate one another to maintain a civilized society. We have to live together, work together, and even learn from one another as we move forward.

Like it or not, another day will come. The sun will set on one Presidential administration and rise on another. In 2024, we’ll go through the process again. We don’t know what state the world will be in by then, but we can all assume we’ll still have many challenges before us.

That’s something to remember for the future.

For now, let’s focus on the present.

Let today be the first day when we close our eyes, grit our teeth, and try to look forward. I know it’s tempting to look back on all the frustration, derision, mistakes, and injustices of the past. We shouldn’t forget them, but we also shouldn’t be defined by them. We cannot change the past. We can only effect the future before us.

Let’s begin that process today.

On this day, let’s remember that we’re all still Americans.

We still love, value, and celebrate this wonderful country. Whoever you are and however you voted, never forget what that means. Let’s not just focus on making it great. Let’s work to make it better than it has ever been.

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Happy Election Day! Now Vote!

It’s Election Day here in the United States of America. I don’t know how many people have been following the news for the past four years, but even if you’ve somehow avoided it, I hope one thing is still abundantly clear.

This election is a big fucking deal.

Regardless of which party you’re affiliated with or which candidate you support, this is the day where the rubber meets the road for democracy. This is where citizens exercise the power granted to them by the constitution.

As such, I encourage everyone to use it.

I’ve got no larger point to make today. I’ve got no sexy twist to put on it or larger narrative to explore. I’m just going to say what so many others have been saying for months now.

Go out and vote!

Get out there early. Bring water, snacks, and a lawn chair if you must. Stand in line as long as necessary. Just make sure you vote.

This is America. We value democratic principles. Those principles don’t work if people don’t vote. So please, my fellow Americans. I’ll say it again.

Go out and vote!

America will be better because of it. Thank you.

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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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George Carlin (Still) Perfectly Explains The Abortion Issue For 2020

These are scary times for many people. Between pandemics and politics, a simple scroll through your daily news feed might as well be a horror movie. However, for those concerned about abortion rights in the United States, it’s even scarier.

There’s a very real possibility that abortion rights could regress. Now, with a new vacancy on the Supreme Court, it’s very likely that the laws surrounding abortion will change considerably in the next several years, regardless of how the election pans out.

If you’re a woman, I feel for you. I honestly have no idea how frightening it must be, the prospect of going back to a world where abortion had to occur in the shadows.

Now, with abortion being such a relevant issue, I’m tempted to write about it more. I’m also considering doing a video about it for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. I’m not quite sure I want to invite those kinds of politics to this site or my channel just yet. If I do, I’ll be sure to announce it.

In the meantime, I still want to leave those debating the abortion issue with something of substance. Thankfully, the late great comedian, George Carlin, already masterfully broke down this issue years ago. To date, I’ve yet to see anyone make a more effective statement on the abortion issue and the absurdities surrounding it. Just watch and see for yourself.

He could’ve said every word of this today and it still would’ve been relevant. It still would’ve been true, accurate, and concise. Honestly, it’s kind of sad that this didn’t end the debate completely. It’s even sadder that neither side has come up with better arguments.

We miss you, George Carlin.

This world really needs someone like you, right now.

Abortion is such a sensitive issue and one that will only get more divisive in the coming weeks. I don’t know what the endgame is. I just know it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

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Good People, Corruption, And Politics According To “Designated Survivor”

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Politics is a dirty, cut-throat world that often requires good people to compromise principles, integrity, and basic human decency. Most people wouldn’t argue that. Even before the internet, the corruption that often goes hand-in-hand with politics was well-documented. That corruption has only become more visible in recent years. It’s hard to go more than a week without seeing a fresh case of shady political conduct.

However, instead of dwelling on how ugly politics can get in the age of social media and outrage culture, I’d like to scrutinize the nature of that corruption. I don’t doubt the ugliness or absurdities that politics often breeds, but it also poses some interesting question.

Do politics naturally corrupt the people who get involved?

Is corruption in politics unavoidable?

Do politics only attract corrupt individuals?

Is it possible to get anything done in politics without some amount of corruption?

These are not easy questions to answer. You don’t have to look hard to find corrupt politicians or uncover cases where politics undermined efforts to pursue a public good. However, the extent and the process of that corruption is sometimes difficult to understand. Those of us not involved in politics have a hard time imagining how ordinary people could become so callous.

That’s why a show like “Designated Survivor” is so uniquely compelling. Even as a work of fiction, this show explores the complex world of politics within the most extreme of circumstances. There’s political drama, intense action, and ongoing mysteries that go beyond politics, but the latest season of the show accomplished something unique in terms of how people become corrupt.

The premise of the show starts simple. Tom Kirkman, played by Keifer Sutherland, works at the White House as a fairly low-level department head as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In terms of rank and influence, his authority is barely above that of a typical intern.

Then, prior to the annual State of the Union Speech, he gets picked for the unenviable role of designated survivor, which is a real thing. It’s a role meant to keep the government going in the worst of worst-case scenarios when there’s a catastrophic attack that kills the President, Congress, and much of the government. In the pilot episode, that’s exactly what happens.

Suddenly, this man who has never run for political office or served as an elected official is thrust into the role of President of the United States and after the worst attack in the history of the country. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. It makes for great TV drama, but it also creates a unique experiment in what power and politics do to an otherwise ordinary person.

Before Kirkman is thrust into this role, it’s established early on that he’s somewhat of an idealist. He identifies as an independent who is genuinely concerned with using the political process to pursue a public good. He also demonstrates early on that he has a strict understanding of right and wrong. For him, there’s no compromise or second-guessing when it comes to ethics.

On paper, he has the kind of character and ethics that most people want in a politician. Even the dire circumstances of his ascension are favorable because he never had to raise money from billionaires to finance his campaign. He doesn’t even have to make shady deals or back-stab anyone, which is also an all-too-common tactic in politics.

In a sense, Tom Kirkman comes into this position of power free of corruption. He is in a position where he can govern with his principles and ideals intact. This isn’t “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” This is Mr. Smith gaining unprecedented power without having to go through the corrupt process.

Throughout the first and second season of the show, Kirkman tries to do his job with his ideals intact. Whether it’s tracking down who blew up the Capitol or preventing an all-out war in East Asia, he has to constantly render difficult and weighty decisions that test his ability to keep being that affable man from the first episode.

For the most part, he succeeds on many fronts. The conflicts throughout the show often followed a common formula. President Kirkman faces a difficult issue. One side urges him to make one risky, politically-motivated decision. The other side urges something else that’s just as risky and just as political. Kirkman, unwilling to compromise his laurels, has to forge a third option.

Time and again, the integrity of his character shows. By the end of the second season, the extent of that integrity is beyond dispute. Then, the third season arrives, via Netflix, and everything changes and not just due to the sudden increase in profanity.

This season, unlike the previous two, cast aside the formula of the first two seasons, but not without reason. The entire third season is built around Kirkman running for re-election as an independent. At this point, all the good he did with respect to rebuilding the government after a devastating attack is a distant memory. It’s all politics now and this is where his integrity is pushed to the limit.

Almost immediately, Kirkman discovers that just being a man of integrity isn’t enough. The first episode of the third season really sets the tone, highlighting how easy it is for his ideals to get lost in the politics of an election. Just saying what’s true and right isn’t enough. It has to resonate with voters. That’s the only criterion that counts for anything.

His primary opponent in this season is Cornelius Moss. In the second season, he was an ally. He came in as a former president who knew the rigors of the job better than most. He was also an experienced politician. He had experienced the corrupt world of politics and he had successfully navigated it. As a result, he never comes off as having the kind of integrity and principles that Kirkman espouses.

For a while, Moss comes off as an outright villain in the world of “Designated Survivor” and in a season that introduces a full-fledged bioterrorist, no less. He conducts himself the same way most people expect a corrupt politician to behave. He doesn’t care about truth, integrity, or decency. He does whatever he must in order to win the election and secure his power.

In previous seasons, Kirkman would’ve sought a way to counter those tactics and come out with his integrity intact. It was part of what made him so respectable, as both a character and a politician. Season three makes it abundantly clear that this is not going to work this time. If Kirkman wants to win, he’ll have to compromise his principles.

Without spoiling too many plot points, I’ll just state that the conclusion of this struggle leaves Kirkman in a very vulnerable position. He’s no longer the same man he was when he became President. The attack on the Capitol that made him President was an extreme circumstance that he never could’ve known about. What happens with the election in season three is very much a byproduct of his own choices.

It doesn’t definitively answer those questions I listed earlier, but it does offer some insights. More than anything else, season three of “Designated Survivor” makes the case that the political process will ultimately corrupt anyone who gets involved. It doesn’t matter how principled or decent they are. The very nature of navigating power requires that people compromise their ideals.

It’s not just Tom Kirkman who struggles with it, either. The same supporting cast that helped him cling to his principles for the first two seasons, such as Aaron Shore, Emily Rhodes, and Seth Wright, end up compromising, as well. For some, it’s disconcerting. For others, it’s downright traumatic. In the final episodes of Season 3, the reactions of Emily Rhodes nicely mirror those who valued Kirkman’s character.

There’s now an unavoidable disconnect between what Kirkman says and what he does. Even the actions of Cornelius Moss are obscured when he too becomes a victim of shady political dealings. In the end, there’s no one left in “Designated Survivor” whose integrity hasn’t been compromised. There’s also no one left whose morals aren’t muddled by circumstances.

Even in a fictional context, the politics in “Designated Survivor” are surprisingly reflective of real-world complications. Like in the show, every political party or movement believes they’re right and their opponents are wrong. They believe in what they’re doing. They also believe that if they fail, then the wrong policies will prevail.

Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and even anarchists are guilty of that flawed mentality. It’s one of the many reasons why politics tends to breed polarization. When people are so convinced that they’re the good guys, they become more willing to cross certain lines to defeat the bad guys. Tom Kirkman managed to avoid that for two seasons. He couldn’t in the third.

Whether or not he’s vindicated for his choices remains to be seen. Depending on whether the show gets a fourth season, it’s inevitable that he’ll face consequences for his choices. How he manages those consequences will reveal how much integrity he still has. If he plays his cards poorly, he may not have any left when all is said and done.

Designated Survivor” is a great show that explores difficult issues. Season three had its faults, but it marked a major turning point for Tom Kirkman. He is definitely not the same person he was in the show’s first episode, but he’s not quite at that point where we can say he’s lost sight of his laurels.

Both circumstances and politics did plenty to change Tom Kirkman over the course of the show. You could make the case that these forces corrupted him. After season three, you could also make the case that he’s now on the same path as Walter White from “Breaking Bad” in that these circumstances simply brought out a side of him that was always there.

Whatever the case, the ugliness of politics is something people have to navigate, both in the real world and the fictional world of “Designated Survivor.” Good people will keep trying to do good. Corrupt people will keep pursuing corrupt behavior. Politics, whatever form it takes, can only ever complicate that process.

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Is Democracy The Best Way To Ensure Basic Rights?

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When it comes to ensuring the happiness, advancement, and general prosperity of humanity, it’s not unreasonable to say that basic human rights are a core ingredient. Most know the basics of these rights as life, liberty, and property. Some even throw in the pursuit of happiness, which denotes all kinds of freedom, including the sexy kinds.

Beyond just sounding great on paper, human rights are a major guiding force. History has shown, time and again, that societies that value these rights tend to prosper more that only exist to glorify a despot. The contrast between the two Koreas is proof enough of that.

However, the preservation and promotion of basic human rights is no easy task. The world is full of corrupt, cruel, and power-hungry people who would scoff at the very concept the same way they would anyone who claims trees have souls. The fact that some of them manage to get elected in countries with democratic institutions says a lot about just how hard it can be to protect human rights.

It’s that vulnerability in one the most cherished modern institutions, which some claim took a major hit in 2016, that leads me to ask a question that I’m sure is going to draw me some level of ire. However, in wake of recent news and a particular Hollywood movie that indirectly touches on this concept, I think it’s worth asking.

Is democracy the best way of preserving basic human rights in a society?

I ask that question as someone who loves and celebrates the freedoms that being an American has given me. I feel lucky and honored to live in a country where I get to participate in the democratic process. I make it a point to vote in every election, be it mid-term or a presidential election.

That said, I’m not among those hyper-patriot, Ron Swanson wannabes who willfully ignores the flaws of the democratic systems around me. Between the limited choices offered by a two-party system, the non-democratic nature of the electoral college, and misguided ballot initiatives, I see these flaws as much as anyone else with an internet connection.

To some extent, I recognize that not all of these flaws are fixable within a democracy. The essence of democracy is people electing their government. Unfortunately, people aren’t always rational and anyone who has read headlines from Florida knows that. People can also be whipped up into a hateful, mob-like frenzy. It’s one of the side-effects of being such a social species. We’ll often go with the crowd before we go with reason.

In a perfect democracy, every voter would be completely independent, completely informed, and only vote to elect the person they believe will best preserve basic human rights. Since there’s no such thing as a perfect democracy any more than there’s such a thing as a perfect autocracy, there are bound to be flaws in the system.

Some of those flaws can be mitigated with things like voter education. Others involve mixing democratic systems with that of a republic. That’s primarily what the founding fathers attempted to establish with the United States, a republic being the fixed body of laws to preserve our rights and using democratic systems to protect those rights.

Other western democracies utilize various methods to address these issues, but so long as people are involved, there will be human flaws in any system. The key is making sure that those flaws don’t end up undermining human rights. The results haven’t been perfect. Ask any number of minority communities for proof of that.

With these flaws in mind, I believe it’s worth thinking beyond democracy to imagine other ways of preserving and promoting human rights. Some of those concepts manifest in movies, comics, and TV shows. The “Black Panther” movie presented an enticing, albeit fanciful, idea of an all-around good king who believes in basic human rights and does what he can to promote it, at least for his own people.

I’ve also cited Dr. Doom in a previous article who, despite being the ultimate villain in the Marvel universe, is pretty much the perfect ruler for any system of government. Sure, people in his government fear his wrath, but that’s the only thing they fear. You could argue that such fear is inconsistent with basic human rights, but in terms of actually securing people, property, and what not, Doom has no equals.

Outside the world of superheroes, though, there are also instances where a great leader who deeply values human rights gets thrust into power. That’s the entire premise of “Designated Survivor,” a show where Kiefer Sutherland does more than just shoot and torture terrorists. The best possible leader for a government isn’t elected. They essentially find themselves in that position.

In a sense, that embodies the disconnect between the fictional world and the real world. The idea that a king with ultimate power in a secretive country or some low-level government appointee would turn out to be a perfect president assumes a lot of things that don’t play out in the real world. It essentially vindicates what Winston Churchill once said about democracy.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Those bolded parts are my doing because those are the parts that most people recall. Considering the context in which Churchill said those words, having just fought a massive war against two leaders who had been democratically elected, it’s hard to blame him.

Even today, extremists who do not hold certain human rights in high regard do get elected to positions of power. It’s not a matter of people just throwing the concept away. People are still very tribal, last I checked. They’re going to vote or protest in accord with their own interests, even if it means undermining the interests of others.

That situation leaves basic human rights vulnerable. There are, as I write this, people living in functioning democracies whose basic rights are being undermined. While we have made a great deal of progress over the past century as democracies have spread, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Going back to the original question I asked about democracy’s ability to preserve human rights, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. For now, I’m inclined to side with the wisdom of Winston Churchill. Democracy has it’s flaws, but it’s the best we’ve got thus far. We can definitely stand to do better and should work towards doing so.

Some of that may involve getting money out of politics to mitigate corruption. Some involve doing the opposite of what China just did and setting term limits for politicians. Some are taking an even more radical approach by integrating emerging technology into the democratic process.

These are all bold ideas, which are certainly worth pursuing in the future. Until we have a real life T’Challa to be king or a super-intelligent AI capable of running a government with perfect efficiency, democracy is our best bet for preserving human rights. We shouldn’t stop trying to improve, but we should still celebrate it’s merit.

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Five New Years Resolutions We Should All Make For 2018

Christmas is over. The last major holiday of 2017 has come and gone. Now that we’re done opening presents, roasting chest nuts, and getting drunk on eggnog, we turn our attention to 2018.

2017 was a long, eventful year to say the least. It started with plenty of controversy and plenty more followed it over the course of the year. Along the way, this blog underwent some enormous growth in terms of traffic. I also got finalized the release schedule for my next novel, “Rescued Hearts.”

While there were plenty of positives in 2017, especially if you’re a New England Patriots fan, I think this year will go down as one most people would rather forget. There are many reasons for that, but I don’t want to focus too much on those. I’d like to look to the future rather than lament on the past and not just because the future may have sex robots.

With every new year comes renewed hope. With renewed hope comes an opportunity to make things better than the year that came before it. However bad 2017 might have been, 2018 offers an opportunity to make it better. It’s an opportunity we should all collectively seize.

As such, I’d like to propose a brief list of New Years Resolutions for 2018. These aren’t resolutions for just one specific person or group. These are resolutions that, I hope, will apply to everyone and benefit everyone. The events of 2017 gave us all too many reasons to be jaded and cynical. With these resolutions, I believe we can make 2018 much better.


Resolution #1: React, But DON’T Overreact

This should be at the top of everyone’s list of New Years Resolutions in 2018. To hell with trying to lose weight. Make this the cornerstone of your effort to do better in the new year.

A good chunk of 2017 was built on a foundation of continue, unceasing overreactions to everything from the fan response to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to a typo on a tweet by the President to how Kellyanne Conway sits. I get it. People are passionate about what they’re passionate about.

However, there’s a fine line between passion and outrage and nobody even tries to walk it anymore. Passion is good in that it can be channeled. Outrage is not because it’s just glorified yelling and whining, which rarely adds anything meaningful to a conversation. Sure, it’ll get attention to an issue, but it won’t do much to solve it.

Now, that’s not to say we should stop reacting to things that outrage or offend us, but we should make a concerted effort to not overreact. That way, our overall response is more meaningful and substantive. We need more of that in 2018 because we sure as hell didn’t get it in 2017


Resolution #2: Acknowledge The Positives And Don’t Belabor The Negatives

This may sound like something an idealistic guidance counselor may say. I admit it’s cheesy, but I think it has merit. One thing I noticed in 2017 that I found very distressing was how eager and quick everyone was to focus on the negatives of any issue.

It’s not enough that some person, group, or organization did something controversial. Everything about that action has to be terrible, evil, and an affront to all that is decent in the world. Whether it’s the President, a Hollywood celebrity, or a controversial policy made by a video game company, it’s only the worst parts that seem to get the energy and attention.

I don’t doubt there are negatives in a lot of these issues, but they don’t encompass the entirety of an issue. People and the world around them is more complicated than that. The truth is there are silver linings. It’s rare that an issue is so lopsided that there’s no possible benefit to consider.

I’ve tried to do my part, pointing out the silver lining to the surge of sex scandals that came out in 2017 involving powerful men. It wasn’t much, but I like to think it serves as an extra bit of perspective for 2018. There will always be plenty of bad news to go around, which makes highlighting the positives all the more important.


Resolution #3: Acknowledge Another Point Of View (Even If You Don’t Agree With It)

This feels like one of those resolutions we should’ve had at the beginning of 2017, but just let it slip aside because we were too busy processing how the Falcons collapsed in the Super Bowl. In addition to the constant outrage that dominated 2017, there was also a growing inability by anyone with an opinion to acknowledge the other side of an argument.

It’s not just on message boards, YouTube videos, and protests. The entire year of 2017 seemed like a testament to increasing polarization of everything from politics to the Season 3 finale of “Rick and Morty.” If there was a middle ground, it was either ignored or blown up with a fury of collective outrage.

More than ever, people are convinced that their ideas are correct and anyone who disagrees with them might as well be a card-carrying Nazi. It’s like Godwin’s law became a goddamn commandment and as a result, nobody is listing to anyone else make their point. It’s worse than a political echo-chamber. It’s a brutal cycle of self-glorification and never-ending frustration.

There is an easy remedy to that, but it involves taking a deep breath and actually listening to someone make their arguments. I know that’s hard when it’s so much easier and more cathartic to remain outraged, but inherently more productive and gives people fewer excuses to hate each other. Seeing as how we have enough of those, this resolution should be a high priority.


Resolution #4: Be Willing To Trust, But Eager To Verify

Another common theme of 2017 that we should avoid carrying into 2018 had to do with accusations. At first, it was just everyone accusing everyone else of being a Nazi, a racist, a bigot, and whatever other insult you see in the YouTube comments section of the “Ghostbusters” trailer. However, it got much worse and for good reason.

Like it or not, 2017 will go down as the year that sexual misconduct by men of significant power became a huge issue. I’ve covered it in multiple ways, acknowledging the extent of the misdeeds and expressing concerns about the implications. However, as the year went on, it became less about the conduct and more about the accusations.

We’re at a point where there seems to be new accusations of sexual misdeeds every other week. We’re almost used to it and that’s a dangerous thing because accusations aren’t the same as actual facts. While it’s not inherently wrong to believe someone when they say they’ve been a victim of sexual misconduct, that belief shouldn’t be blind.

Blind belief isn’t just unhealthy. It’s the primary ingredient in creating dangerous cults. We should continue taking sexual misconduct seriously in 2018 and beyond, but we can’t just keep focusing on the accusations. We need to be more eager to verify the validity of those accusations, making sure they have some basis in reality before someone’s life is irreparably ruined.

I know this resolution will be controversial. There’s a growing sentiment that not believing an accuser somehow counts as victim blaming. It’s not easy resisting that sentiment because most people inherently sympathize with victims, but sympathy is only meaningful when there’s some measure of validity to the accusations.


Resolution #5: Try To Love And Not Just Tolerate

This is more an approach, rather than a resolution. I won’t say it should be at the top of anyone’s list, but it should be in the back of everyone’s mind in 2018. Again, I know it seems like more hippie talk, but there is some greater purpose behind it.

For years now, tolerance has been a major goal. For the most part, we’ve succeeded in that goal. People today are far more tolerant of other races, religions, ethnicity, and sexual minorities than they’ve ever been before. That’s an objectively good thing. We should continue that effort as much as possible in 2018.

However, tolerance has become kind of a low bar in recent years. It’s one thing to tolerate a minority, but it’s quite another to actually embrace and love them. That’s something we haven’t put a lot of energy into in our efforts to create a more peaceful society.

Given all the outrage and polarization that emerged in 2017, I think 2018 is a good time to start making that extra effort. We can’t just be satisfied with tolerance. It’s like the humanitarian equivalent of a C-minus. We need to start shooting for B’s and A’s in 2018.

That means making an effort to love someone, even when there are things about them we find distressing. It goes back to my comments about having faith in people. Sometimes, we have to put some extra effort into believing people are better than we think they are. Making that effort in 2018 will go a long way towards helping people be better for the new year and beyond.

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Reflecting On The Brighter Headlines Of 2017

Goodnews

It’s over. The year that was 2017 is done and for some, the big New Years ball in Times Square couldn’t drop fast enough. I don’t blame those people. It was, indeed, a rough year for many. I consider myself among the lucky few who made strides in 2017 and have high hopes that I’ll do the same in 2018.

Even for those who did enjoy progress this past year, it’s easy for the news paint a different picture. Every day seems to bring a new headline hinting that we’re all about to die a terrible death, either by nuclear war, a new plague, or by all our smartphones exploding at once. I try to be optimistic about most things, but I totally understand why others are so pessimistic.

The past couple years have been more hectic than most, primarily due to the results of the 2016 Election. It was around the end of 2016 when I made it a point to remind everyone that, despite what the news media may claim, the world is becoming a better place by nearly every objective measure. I even go out of my way to report on news that promises the end of disease, suffering, and stupidity within the foreseeable future.

However, I realize that such progress is difficult to see and some of the more futuristic advancements I’ve discussed are still a way off, especially with sex robots. So, in the interest of putting a positive spin on the end of 2017, I’d like to highlight a few uplifting and promising news stories to help get everyone excited about 2018.

Some of them involve technological breakthroughs that promise to improve the lives of many. Others involve the kind of feel-good stories that often get overshadowed by bloodier, more sensational headlines. These are the stories from which we should draw inspiration as we head into 2018. We’ll do ourselves and our futures better by moving forward with a sense of hope.


Muslim Hackers Unite To Kick ISIS Off The Internet

There’s no way around it. Muslims face a lot of discrimination, thanks largely to the worst of the worst of their extremes. Religion taken to extremes can, has, and will continue to cause all sorts of horrors throughout the world. That’s why a news story like this is important for perspective.

When it comes to taking on the extremes of any religion, the best weapon are the adherents of that very religion. Given how ISIS has often exploited technology to further their extremism, there’s an uncanny sense of poetic justice in seeing other Muslims fight back. It should give anyone hope that the extremes of any faith rarely succeed in the long run.


FaceBook Uses AI To Help Prevent Suicide

Social media and its effect on people has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The events of 2017, which built off the side-show horrors of 2016, only made it worse. It’s getting to a point where social media only ever makes the news when it’s doing something bad.

However, like ski-masks, machetes, and crazy glue, it’s a tool like any other. Its moral value depends on how it’s used. For an effort like using artificial intelligence to measure social media activity to assess suicide risks, I say that’s an inherent good. We lost some great people to suicide in 2017. Any effort, be it AI or simply calling a hot line, should be applauded.


Practical Quantum Computers Are Almost A Reality

On the technology side of things, something I try to stay on top of on this blog, there are all sorts of exciting advances and not just in sex toys. Most are bits and pieces of progress from other bits that we made in years past. Others, however, have the potential to bring so much more.

That’s why advances in practical quantum computers is such a big deal. The idea and concept of quantum computers is actually pretty old. Making them practical, however, has been one of the biggest engineering challenges in computer technology. It’s a first step, but by far the biggest.

Advances in 2017 weren’t just baby steps. Now, the theoretical part of quantum computers is basically resolved. It’s now a matter of when and not if. Once quantum computers enter the picture, then all bets are off. From biotechnology to 3D printing to sex toys, quantum computers promise to revolutionize all of it and this past year brought us that much closer.


Gene Therapy Is Set To Cure Once Incurable Diseases

I’ve talked about big advances in biotechnology. I build the entire basis of “Skin Deep” around them and entertained thoughts of a world where diseases that hindered our sex lives are no longer a concern. Some of those advances are still a way off, but 2017 saw advances that should make our future that much healthier.

Before we can wipe out all disease, we need to attack those most vulnerable. This past year, we began that process by modifying the genes that cause fatal inherited diseases like SCID and Glybera. It’s a critical first step towards modifying other disease-causing genes, both in developing embryos and adult humans.

It may not be the giant leap some are looking for, but those leaps rarely come in a single year. However, this still counts as a major step and by taking that step, the years beyond 2017 will have less suffering and more health.


Getting Into Space Got A Lot Cheaper Thanks To SpaceX

If fighting the good fight and advances in technology aren’t enough to lift your spirits, then why not look to the stars? Let’s face it. It’s been a while since anyone got excited about space travel. Nobody has been to the moon in decades and space travel is so routine that we don’t even think about it. Then, Elon Musk came along and made it cool again.

Musk being Musk, though, he had to do one better. He actually made space travel a growing economy. Thanks to developments by his company, SpaceX, getting to space got a lot cheaper and more efficient with the Falcon 9 rocket. It marks one of the most important steps in making space travel more than just a gimmick for governments.

Cheaper, more efficient rockets means getting to space is easier. Getting to space easier means more opportunities. More opportunities mean more chances for ordinary to know what it’s like to actually venture towards the stars. That should give anyone who admires the stars reasons to get excited for 2018.


Prison Inmates Give Food To Needy Kids

Blurred image of prisoner shaking hands with charity owner when handing over food donation.

Even if you’re still jaded by 2017 and all the stories I just shared didn’t help, then sit tight. I’ve got one more that should help make 2018 more appealing. Even if you think this past year sucked, I’m willing to bet you consider yourself less jaded than standard prison inmate. If you’re free or not in the process of being arrested, you consider that a plus.

So when a bunch of prison inmates find it in their hearts to give food to needy children, how can your heart possibly remain hardened? It’s true. This past year, a group of prison inmates showed that humanity is not at all beyond possibly say your heart is still hardened?

These kinds of stories are part of the reason why I believe humanity deserves more credit than it gets. Yes, the news tends to highlight our worst, but stories like this show us at our best. That’s why I believe having faith in humanity is so important and carrying that faith into 2018 can only help us in the years to come.

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Truth, Lies, And Why “Daria” Is More Relevant Now Than Ever Before

For the past couple of days, I’ve been talking about the best and worst when it comes to fictional female characters. Since I deal in fictional characters as an aspiring writer, it’s a relevant topic of discussion. I want to create great female characters for my novels. I think I’ve made some strides with novels like “The Final Communion” and “Holiday Heat,” but I always feel there’s room for improvement.

That brings me back to Daria Morgendorffer from the classic MTV show, “Daria.” In both my lists discussing the best and worst female characters of fiction, “Daria” found a way to the top of the list. There’s a damn good reason for that too. Daria, as a character, represents something that is more relevant now than it ever was in the late 90s.

As I said in my past posts, Daria is one of those characters who was just ahead of their time, but not in a Nikola Tesla or Elon Musk sort of way. She came during an era when dial-up internet was still popular, boy bands were still relevant, and pagers were still in use. It was a strange and different time.

It was also a time when concepts like “alternative facts” and “fake news” were more associated with skits on “Saturday Night Live” than actual concepts that the general public has come to dread. In that sense, Daria is downright prophetic in the sense that she highlights a concept that become increasingly obscure over the past decade.

Throughout the five seasons of “Daria,” as well as two movie specials, one Daria’s most defining traits is her ability to point out the harsh truth that nobody wants to acknowledge. She doesn’t shy away from it. She doesn’t celebrate it either. She just points it out and lets the harsh truth do its thing.

For the overall narrative of this series, this is kind of necessary because Daria is often surrounded by those who constantly avoid the harder truths of life. Sometimes, as with air-headed dumb-asses like Kevin Thompson and Brittney Taylor, it’s out of ignorance. Other times, as with her sister Quinn and her eccentric teachers, it’s out of hopeless self-delusion.

Daria, being an outcast who isn’t afraid to think for herself, sees all of this from a distance and isn’t afraid to point it out. She doesn’t care that it alienates others. Even her sister, Quinn, refused to publicly acknowledge that they were even related until the final season.

Her parents constantly think something is wrong with her. Her teachers and peers constantly think she’s weird. Everyone thinks there’s something wrong with her. Daria even acknowledges that. However, as crass and callous as she may be, Daria may actually be the most sane person in her world.

This is best shown in Season 4, Episode 47 entitled, “Psycho Therapy.” In this episode, Daria’s family undergo a psych evaluation as part of a screening process for her mother’s promotion. It makes for some odd and entertaining escapades, but the most revealing moment comes when he doctors reach a remarkable, albeit unsurprising conclusion.

Daria, despite being so emotionally withdrawn and overtly sarcastic about everything around her, is by far the most well-adjusted person in her family. She understands and acknowledges all of her family’s quirks, but she doesn’t obsess over them or lament over them. She just accepts them and moves on with her life. I’m not a psychologist, but that’s way more healthy than we can expect of most teenagers these days.

In fact, Daria might as well be a unicorn dipped in gold with diamond-encrusted hoofs. She isn’t just accepting, understanding, and well-adjusted to her surroundings. She actively thinks for herself and no one else. She doesn’t shy away from the facts, nor does she avoid their implications. She is, by all accounts, the very antithesis of this current era of buzzwords, fake news, and alternative facts.

That’s what makes her so much more relevant now than she was back in the early 90s. She came at a time when people who said the cold, hard truth didn’t get it twisted through internet memes, social media feeds, and hashtags. Daria doesn’t do beat around the bush or try to twist the story. If something is true, honest, and blunt, then that’s the end of the conversation.

In an era where everyone, from our politicians to our gym teachers, has to have some kind of personality, Daria Morgendorffer is a breath of fresh air and from 1999 no less. What’s that say about our current state of affairs? I could spend the next 38 blog posts discussing it, but that wouldn’t be very sexy for a blog run by an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

I will say, though, that the attitude Daria embodies is something that’s a lot more critical now than it was in 1999. We live in an era where everyone seems intent on joining a trend, becoming part of a movement, or denigrating those who oppose your movement. Daria, being the consummate realist and independent thinker, would roll her eyes at both.

The idea of someone who just thinks for themselves shouldn’t be such a radical concept, especially when it was the core of a successful animated show that ran for five seasons on a network best known for documentaries about teenage mothers. However, that idea couldn’t be more important in 2017.

We current live in an unpleasant convergence, of sorts, where truth and brutal honesty are easily circumvented by fake news, alternative facts, and online trends. It’s too easy for someone to insulate themselves from the harsh realities of life. We all need a Daria Morgendorrfer in our lives to keep us anchored and too many don’t have one.

Being the optimist I am, I believe Daria’s words of wisdom will one day pierce the many veils of bullshit that permeate our culture at the moment. It may take a while. It may be painful, arduous, and distressing in the process. However, that’s exactly why it’s worth doing.

Thankfully, Daria herself gives us some memorable words of wisdom to make the process easier. In the spirit of celebrating everything Daria represents, here it is.

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