Tag Archives: hate

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.

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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

Shaming Vs. Criticism: Why The Difference Matters

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

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

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

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

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

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

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

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

Person B: Why is that?

Person A: Well, it goes like this…

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

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

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You throw your punches.

They throw theirs.

They call you a fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purpose, Value, And The Suicide Gender Gap

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There are few subjects more depressing and tragic than suicide. It’s not a topic people like to talk about. When people take their own lives, either out of sorrow or desperation, it’s terrible. It leaves deep, painful scars on friends and loved ones.

However, it’s because suicide is such a difficult subject that people should talk about it. Before I go any further, I want to urge anyone who might be feeling deeply depressed or suicidal to seek help. The suicide hotline is always available. Please, if you’re feeling that hopeless, call 1-800-273-8255. As someone who has had depressing stretches in life, I urge others in a crisis to seek connection.

Unfortunately, it’s not a connection that people are making these days. According to the American Psychological Association, there was a 30 percent increase in death by suicides from 2000 to 2016. It was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2016. By the numbers, we haven’t seen rates like this since the Great Depression.

There are a great many depressing and tragic factors behind this rise. The ongoing opioid crisis is certainly a factor. A few researchers have cited the influence of social media as contributing to self-destructive behavior. Like mass shootings, everyone has their theories, criticisms, and solutions to the crisis. I’m of the opinion that human beings are too complex to boil it down to something simple.

I agree that in certain cases, opioid addiction can factor into someone committing suicide.

I agree that in certain cases, the use and influence of social media can factor into someone committing suicide.

That’s not to say they’re the cause of it. They’re just small trees in a much larger forest that’s difficult to see, given the heavy emotions involved in this topic. However, I do believe it’s possible to see that bigger picture. To do so, it’s necessary to highlight one particular trend in suicide that also happens to be tied with gender politics.

While suicide is tragic, regardless of gender, there exists an unusual paradox within the data. Women have been shown to attempt and contemplate suicide more than men, but men are still the ones dying at greater rates. It’s not a trivial gap, either. Men are more than three times as likely to commit suicide compared to women.

This indicates there are factors beyond depression, stress, and mental illness. There are other forces at work here and they’re affecting men more than women. What that is and how it works is difficult to surmise. However, speaking as a man who has seen other men endure depressing situations, I believe there are certain factors that gender politics compounds.

At the core of these factors are an individual’s sense of purpose and value. There are many terrible things running through the mind of someone who is suicidal, but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that people who feel suicidal often feel their lives lack purpose and value. There’s nothing left for them to contribute. There’s no value for them to provide. Without that, what’s the point?

It sounds like the kind of sentiment that should affect men and women equally. Depression and despair, after all, know no gender. However, there are a few confounding factors for men. For one, there’s still a significant taboo for men who admit to even having such feelings. It stems from the same taboo about men showing emotions, in general. It’s seen as a form of weakness and men aren’t allowed to be weak.

To understand the implications of that taboo, consider the following scenario.

A man is sitting by himself. He’s crying uncontrollably. He’s sad, depressed, and lonely. He feels like he has nothing to live for. Someone walks by and shows concern. They listen to him lament about his sorrow. They offer sympathy, but tell him he needs to toughen up and get his act together. He just needs to grit his teeth and push forward with his life.

For most people, this scenario isn’t that unrealistic. Most decent human beings will show sympathy when they see someone suffering, male or female. However, the gender of the person suffering does have an impact. I’ve explained before how and why society places a greater emphasis on protecting women’s bodies over those of men.

Even if you discount the extent of that influence, the implications are still clear. We see a depressed man and tell him to fight through it. If he needs to be coddled or treated, then that’s a failure on his part. If he’s that weak, then he has little value to offer. Without value, he has little purpose as well. In essence, he has to prove he’s somehow useful to warrant not killing himself.

Now, consider this scenario.

A woman is sitting by herself. She’s crying uncontrollably. She’s sad, depressed, and lonely. She feels like she has nothing to live for. Someone walks by and shows concern. They listen to her about her sorrow. They offer sympathy and encourage her to find professional help. They even offer contacts and connections. She’s suffering and there are people willing to help her.

Take note of the different approach in this scenario. The person still show sympathy and compassion, as most human beings are wired to do. Where they diverge is in the assumptions surrounding the woman’s distress.

For her, it’s not something she can tough her way through. She’s not expected to just grit her teeth, pull herself out of this deep pit, and move beyond whatever is making her so upset. She’s suffering and the first instinct is to get her some meaningful help. Her life has inherent value. Her just being alive is sufficient to give her purpose.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of that assumption. It’s an assumption that many men feel like they don’t get. Their suffering is seen as a personal failure. A woman’s suffering is seen as a systemic failure that needs fixing. It perfectly reflects one of Chris Rock’s most memorable quotes.

“Only women, children, and dogs get loved unconditionally. A man is only loved under the condition that he provides something.”

In the context of suicide, men who don’t provide anything have no value. Absent that value, they have no purpose for existing. The source of this disparity is difficult to pin down. Some of it is cultural. Most data shows that when people live in a society with high social cohesion and abundant career opportunities, suicide is low.

That makes intuitive sense. Those social bonds provide purpose. Those opportunities provide value. When people have both, they’re less likely to be depressed. Even if they are, they have a support system that’s there to help them, regardless of their gender or disposition. These bonds are harder to maintain for men because they have to provide something.

Even though women may contemplate or attempt suicide more frequently, the current makeup of society and gender norms provides them with any number of affirmations to remind them of their value. If nothing else, it gives women a moment of pause. Most men don’t get that moment. It’s truly tragic, but it’s a tragedy that gender politics does plenty to compound.

Again, if you are feeling suicidal, regardless of your gender, please take this as my personal plea to seek help. It’s okay to do so. Your life has value. Your life has purpose. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you need to talk. People will listen. People will give you a chance. Whatever the disparities may be, let’s not add to the tragedy.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, men's issues, psychology, sexuality, women's issues

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day And Escaping Hate

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To everyone out there who values peace, justice, and equality, I wish you a happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To some, this is just a day where kids get an extra day off school. To others, it’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come in the struggle against racism, injustice, and bigotry. Even though it seems like we’re stagnating at times, we’re still world’s better than we were in the days of Dr. King.

It’s hard to for young people today to understand just how entrenched racial attitudes were 60 years ago. For generations, inequality and bigotry wasn’t an aberration. It was the norm. Fighting that was like fighting the tides for a lot of people, but unlike the tides, hearts and minds can change.

That’s something Martin Luther King Jr. believed in. He dedicated his life to confronting hate and pursuing justice for everyone, regardless of race. His legacy lives on today for minorities of all kinds, from the LGBT community to immigrants. It may seem like an uphill battle at times and even after Dr. King’s death, there are still plenty of bigoted attitudes in the world today. Some people cling to those attitudes more than most.

However, it is possible for someone to let go of their hatred. It’s not easy, but it does happen. In the spirit of this day that I’m sure brings out a lot of conflicting passions in today’s society, I’d like to share one of my favorite Ted Talks.

This one is from Christian Picciolini, a former Neo-Nazi and white supremacist who managed to leave his hateful past behind. His story is one that’s especially relevant on a day like today because it doesn’t just reveal how people end up in hate groups. It shows just how difficult it is to get out. It can be done, though, and Mr. Picciolini’s story is one worth telling.

Whatever your politics, prejudices, and attitudes, we are all still human. We all inhabit this planet together. We all want a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. Ultimately, we can achieve much more by working together than by hating one another. That’s what Dr. King fought for and his legacy is worth celebrating, now more than ever.

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Filed under extremism, human nature, media issues, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology

Lessons In Love According To Rick Sanchez

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What is love? Can we ask that question without referencing to a one-hit wonder R&B song from 1993? I think it’s a question worth asking and one people have been asking since the dawn of our species. Many men who are way smarter than I’ll ever be have tried to answer this question. Some have offered revealing insights. Others just use it as an excuse to whine about a cheating spouse.

Then, there’s Rick Sanchez. I know that by saying that name, I’ve completely altered the tone of this topic. I could’ve easily spent the next several paragraphs breaking down how the smartest men in history view love and how that understanding reveals itself in our modern concept of romance. For now, I’d rather scrutinize love from the perspective of a hard-drinking, brutally honest, nihilistic cartoon character from Adult Swim.

Yep, I’m referring to this guy again.

Make no mistake. I’m not just using this as another excuse to talk about “Rick and Morty,” although I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that. I really do think characters like Rick Sanchez have something to teach us on the topic of love. Being an admitted romantic and aspiring erotica/romance writer, I believe those lessons are worth heeding.

On paper, Rick Sanchez is the last person most would go to for insights into love. From the first scene in the first episode, he establishes himself as an overly-cynical, high-functioning alcoholic who may or may not be okay with blowing up the world for the sake of a fresh start. To say he’s not the romantic type would be like saying Jerry needs help with his golf game.

However, Rick does demonstrate throughout the show that he has a capacity for love. He has even had a few moments where he has shown genuine heart. There’s an odd mix of eccentricity and complexity to Rick’s behavior. That’s part of what makes him such an endearing character and why he resonates so much with an emerging generation.

From all that chaos, though, there are insights worth noting. “Rick and Morty” may go heavy with nihilism and moments of existential crisis, but it doesn’t avoid the impact of love. Whether it’s Morty constantly trying to get with Jessica or the constant upheavals in Beth and Jerry’s marriage, love is an underlying factor throughout the show.

This is despite the fact that Rick is pretty overt about his feelings on love. In “Rick Potion #9,” the sixth episode of the first season, he gives his clearest, most quote-worthy opinion on love.

“Listen, Morty, I hate to break it to you but what people call ‘love’ is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science.”

That sounds pretty jaded, to say the least. It’s perfectly fitting with Rick’s misanthropic mentality. However, there is a context here and one that’s fairly subtle, as things tend to be in the world of “Rick and Morty.”

Part of that context is Rick’s family situation. Beyond being a drunk and an eccentric mad scientist, he also has a family. It’s not just his daughter and two grandkids, either. He mentions in his cynical musings that he’d fallen in love and gotten married at one point.

That, alone, has some pretty profound implications. It shows that even the smartest, most capable man in the multiverse cannot avoid the impact of love. Keep in mind, this is a man who travels the multiverse on a whim, defeats Thanos-level super-villains while drunk, and understands how meaningless everything is in the grand scheme of things.

Despite all that, Rick Sanchez still fell in love. He still got married. That, in and of itself, shows the power of love better than any Huey Lewis song. While the show hasn’t revealed much about his former wife, Diane, it does establish an important fact. Rick is capable of love, even when he sees it as just a confluence of brain chemicals.

The show goes onto to reveal that Rick is still influenced by love, despite this reductionist understanding of it. The most comprehensive example comes in Season 2, Episode 3, “Auto Erotic Assimilation.” In many ways, this episode helps convey the most meaningful lesson in love that any animated series has ever attempted.

In the episode, Rick catches up with an old girlfriend, who happens to be an alien hive mind named Unity. If that sounds weird, even by “Rick and Morty” standards, trust me when I say it doesn’t crack the top ten. The fact that Unity is a hive mind is part of why the insights are so unique and impactful.

Throughout the episode, we learn about the particulars of Rick and Unity’s relationship. Unity establishes herself as one of the few beings in the multiverse who can keep up with Rick’s eccentricities. If anything, she has to be a hive mind in order to do so, as evidenced by Rick’s elaborately kinky requests.

In this context, Unity is the ultimate manifestation of supportive lover. She can literally do anything and be anywhere because she has the collective resources of an entire planet at her disposal. She’s more capable than a shape-shifter like Mystique or even an advanced sex robot.

If she wants to make love as a beautiful, buxom blond right out of a Playboy centerfold, she can do that. If she wants to do it as a greasy-haired, middle-aged man with a hairy back and bad breath, she can do that too. She can be two people, ten people, or as many people as she wants to be to love Rick and express that love however they want.

This breaks down, however, when Unity’s efforts to pursue that romance with Rick ends up straining her ability to maintain her hive mind. It gets so strenuous, at one point, that it leads to a nipple-driven race war on the planet. Again, this is pretty standard in terms of weirdness for “Rick and Morty.”

The implications of this breakdown are serious and I’m not referring to the nipple-driven race war. Logistically speaking, Rick and Unity had everything they needed to make their relationship work. They had unlimited resources and unlimited opportunities for intimacy, decadence, and everything in between. In exercising that, though, their relationship devolved into an ongoing spiral of self-destruction.

There was clear, unambiguous love between Rick and Unity. However, the act of being together proved toxic to both of them. Unity couldn’t be with Rick without losing herself, literally and figuratively. Rick couldn’t be with Unity without descending into a spiral of debauchery. Even if the love is there, embracing it leads to both of them getting hurt.

This made for one of the most dramatic and emotional moments of the show, one that reveals just how much Rick loved Unity. After she leaves him, it really hits him on an emotional level, so much so that he nearly kills himself. Remember, this is a man who said love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain.

The pain in that moment, though, belabors a much larger point about love and being with someone. Just loving someone is easy. As Rick says, it’s just a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s something that can happen to anyone, even the smartest man in the multiverse.

However, being with someone and expressing the full spectrum of love involves much more than convergent brain chemistry. For some people, love can be downright destructive. If pursuing love means undermining your sense of being, as happened with Unity, then that’s a sign that the relationship isn’t tenable.

It’s tragic, but unavoidable. You can love someone with all your heart, but not be capable of having a functional relationship. It’s a harsh reality, one that’s perfectly in line with the nihilistic subtext in “Rick and Morty.” At the same time, though, there’s a less dire lesson to be learned.

Even if love is just a brain function that helps propogate the species, it has the power to affect us in the best and worst of ways. It can lead us to the greatest of joys, as Rick and Unity experienced for a brief time. It can also lead us to the worst of sorrows. Few other brain functions can make that claim.

That wide range of experiences are a powerful mechanism for finding meaning in a meaningless universe. Rick Sanchez doesn’t avoid the pain in those experiences and he doesn’t hesitate to pursue the joys, often to a reckless degree. Finding meaning in this universe is hard enough, but love can do plenty to carry us forward. You don’t have to be a Rick-level genius to appreciate that, although that’s probably a good thing.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, philosophy, Rick and Morty, romance

How The Idea Of “Toxic Fandom” Is Fundamentally Flawed

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The internet is a vast, wonderful place full of mesmerizing gifs, amazing stories, and the collective knowledge of our entire species. I would argue that the internet is one of humanity’s most important tools since the invention of fire. I strongly believe that is has done more good any other tool we’ve created.

I have a feeling that this rosy view of the internet is a minority opinion. These days, all the good the internet does tends to get lost in the stories that highlight its many dangers. I don’t deny that there are dangers there. The internet does have some dark places where hate, harassment, and outright depravity are on full display.

More and more, it seems, the internet is becoming an enabler of a new manifestation of popular culture. It’s called “toxic fandom” and it relies on the greatest strengths of the internet to bring out the absolute worst in people. It didn’t start with the heated fan reaction of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but it certainly made it relevant.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. There are assholes on the internet. There are also assholes in real life. The internet doesn’t make them that way. It just gives them a platform to be an asshole on a larger scale. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of the internet, but one that tends to obscure a larger narrative.

That’s because, much like inane terms such as “toxic masculinity,” the idea of toxic fandom relies on a series of assumptions that only ever have a sliver of truth behind them. It builds around this idea of there’s this grand, over-arching effort by immature, angry young men who secretly wish they could sexually harass women with impunity. It’s not quite on the level of an Alex Jones type conspiracy, but it’s close.

There have always been overly-passionate fans. It existed long before the internet and would still exist if the internet disappeared tomorrow. “Toxic fandom,” and there’s a reason I’m putting it in quotes, is something very different.

This doesn’t involve obsession with a particular celebrity. It involves a particular type of media like a movie, a TV show, or a video game. In some respects, this sort of fandom is a byproduct of overwhelming success. When something like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” comes along, it resonates with an audience on a profound level. That sort of impact can last a lifetime.

I can attest to the power of that impact through my love of comic books. I’ve even cited a few that I find deeply moving, both in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Most everybody has had an experience like that at some point in their life, whether it’s their reaction to seeing “Titanic” for the first time or the feeling they get after they binge-watch “Breaking Bad.”

The toxic part usually comes when the media they’ve come to love manifests in a way that’s not just disappointing. It undermines those powerful feelings they’ve come to associate with that media. The results can be very distressing and until recently, the only way to express that distress was to sulk quietly in a darkened room.

Then, the internet comes along and suddenly, fans have a way to voice their feelings, for better and for worse. They can even connect with fans who feel like they do so that they don’t feel alone. The human tendency to form groups is one of the most fundamental acts anyone can do as a member of a highly social species.

Now, there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about that behavior. It has only made the news because the passions/vitriol of fans is more visible, thanks to the internet. Just browse any comments section of any movie or show on IMDB. Chances are you’ll find a few people who claim that this thing they once loved has been ruined and will use every possible medium to voice their displeasure.

This is where the “toxic” aspects of fandom start to have real-world consequences. Most recently, Kelly Marie Tran became the face of those victimized by toxic fandoms. After her portrayal of Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she became the most polarizing figure in the history of Star Wars since Jar Jar Binks.

The story surrounding Ms. Tran’s harassment, which was objectively horrible, became vindication for those who believed that the Star Wars fanbase had become a mess of angry, hate-filled fanboys. They didn’t like that something they loved was changing and becoming more diverse. As such, their criticisms don’t matter. They may as well be wounded storm troopers in a room full of angry wookies.

The problem with this assumption is the same problem we get when someone writes off facts as fake news or diversity efforts as a neo-Marxist conspiracy. It’s a simple, convenient excuse to ignore possible flaws and justify personal assumptions. It also conflates the inescapable truth that assholes exist in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.

None of this is to imply that harassment is justified or that fans can be exceedingly unreasonable. By the same token, this doesn’t imply that studios don’t deserve criticism when they attempt to revamp a beloved franchise in a way that does not keep with the spirit of the original. It’s only when criticism gets lost in the outrage that the “toxic” behaviors become more prominent.

It’s within that outrage, though, where the true flaws in the “toxic fanbase” narrative really break down. To a large extent, the “toxicity” that many complain about aren’t a product of unhealthy attitudes. They’re a manifestation of an inherent flaw in the relationship between fans and those who produce the iconic media they love.

To illustrate that flaw, think back to a recent controversy involving a “toxic fanbase.” Before the reaction “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” became the poster child for this issue, the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was the most prominent example. It earned a lot of hatred for reasons that I’d rather not scrutinize.

With that hatred in mind, imagine a long-time Ghostbusters fan seeking to express their dismay. They decide to write a kind, detailed, and thoughtful letter to the studio, the director, and anyone else involved detailing their dismay and their criticisms. They may even cite specific examples on what they felt was wrong with the movie.

Chances are this sort of thoughtful, well-worded message would get deleted, ignored, or just plain lost in the digital landscape. Even if the head of Sony studios read it and agreed with every point made, they wouldn’t respond. They wouldn’t do anything ot change it. That would just be too inconvenient and it would look bad publicly.

From the perspective of the fan writing the letter, though, it sends the message that their sentiment doesn’t matter. Their passion for the media doesn’t matter. They might as well not even exist in the eyes of the producers. The only way for them to even acknowledge their existance is to be louder, angrier, and even a little meaner. Even if the reponse is negative, it at least acknowledges their existence.

It’s not the same as trolling. Trolls just want upset people for the fun of it. Fans voicing their displeasure are more sincere in the sense that they believe they’re protecting something they love. Whether or not that’s misguided is debatable. Some, namely those who harass and make threats, are more misguided than others. However, they only ever make up a very small percentage of fans.

In the end, that’s the most important perspective to have when it comes to fandom. Those who are the loudest tend to be the most obnoxious, but they’re loud because they feel like they have to be. The internet just gives them a way to be heard, which is something most fans haven’t had before.

That’s still not an excuse for being an asshole, but it’s also not an excuse for using those same assholes to call an entire fanbase toxic. It overlooks and undermines the genuine and sincere love people have of these cultural icons. As as a result, when someone feels like their love is being ignored, that’s when toxic hate often finds a way to fill that void.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, movies, political correctness, Star Wars

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. And The TRUE Meaning Of Equality

Usually on a holiday, be it a major one that kids celebrate because it means no school or a more contrived one meant to sell greeting cards, I go out of my way to acknowledge it on this blog. I even try to channel the spirit of the holiday, if only to make the day feel like more than just something people mark on a calendar.

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, though, I feel compelled to do more than just acknowledge it or the spirit behind it. In fact, I feel as though the spirit of this holiday is more critical now in 2018 than it has been in year’s past. When I look at the world today and all the ongoing conflicts unfolding before my eyes, I believe that the message and spirit of Dr. King is more relevant than ever.

Most people know who Martin Luther King Jr. is and why he’s such a prominent figure in modern history. He has a holiday named after him for a very good reason. He was both a leader and an icon of a very volatile time in American history. He was also a strong man of faith, one who actually took the non-violent teachings of Jesus Christ to heart. That’s an increasingly radical concept these days.

What Dr. King accomplished was remarkable, especially in the face of so much heated opposition. However, it’s how he accomplished it that really sets him apart and makes him worthy of celebrating. Like I said before, he believed in non-violence and he took them very seriously.

According to the King Center, Martin Luther King Jr. had a very specific way of utilizing non-violence to achieve the goals he sought. In his book, “Stride Towards Freedom,” he organized them into six principles.

  • Principle #1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  • Principle #2: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  • Principle #3: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
  • Principle #4: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
  • Principle #5: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
  • Principle #6: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

Take a moment, if you can, to appreciate the sheer heart and idealism espoused in these principles. Remember, Dr. King fought against some of the most extreme racism anyone can imagine. Take the most offensive, vile messages you’ve seen on social media or 4chan. Then, create a society around them and give it political power. That’s what Dr. King was up against.

However, he didn’t seek to defeat that racism through the kind of outrage, protests, and meme wars that seem to dominate the overall rhetoric today. He took these principles of non-violence and employed them. He did this, despite often being threatened with violence.

He still stuck to those principles, though. He believed that his message would transcend the violence. The fact that he now has a holiday named after him and is one of the most celebrated figures in modern history proves that his beliefs were vindicated.

What stood out with these principles and how Dr. King practiced them literally showed the power of these beliefs. Rather than pick fights with racists, he sought understanding. Rather than voice outrage, he chose to voice love. This is readily apparent in his famous “I have a dream” speech that still resonates to this day. Even in 2018, it still gives people chills for all the right reasons.

Read or listen to that speech and then contrast that with how people today are trying to fight racism, sexism, and bigotry. Think about the misguided movements from both sides of the political spectrum that operated under very different principles. Then, look at the results or lack thereof.

This is where the power of Dr. King’s principles really shows. It also reveals just how much we’ve forgotten or negated what it means to seek equality or combat bigotry. It’s articulated in the second and the fifth principle of non-violence. He sought understanding and love over retribution and hate.

This matters today because society today is more and more driven by a toxic mix of outrage culture and attention-driven economics. We’re seeing this in increasingly petty arguments within feminism, racial politics, and political groups. These days, it’s become less about actual progress and more about winning debates.

As a result, our entire understanding of justice and equality has become twisted. It’s no longer a matter of pursuing the equal treatment under the law that Martin Luther King Jr. fought and eventually died for. It’s about fighting and hating the real and perceived source of that inequality.

We see it among both feminists and men’s rights activists who seek to demonize one another rather than promote gender equality.

We see it among racial and ethnic groups who seek to elevate themselves at the direct cost of another.

We see it among religious groups, sometimes within the same religion, who seek to dominate rather than cooperate.

These are antithetical to the message that Dr. King espoused. In his preaching and protests, he didn’t demand that one group be elevated over the other. He didn’t demand that oppressors suffer the same indignity as the oppressed to balance the scales of justice. He understood, probably better than anyone alive today, that fighting injustice with injustice still leaves us with the same amount of injustice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It’s not always the kind of obvious legal injustice that was so prevalent in Dr. King’s time. Today, injustice takes many forms. There are those who seek to actively punish those for daring to express thoughts that counter a popular movement that claims to seek justice. There are those who seek to shame others for not being affiliated with a movement or not going far enough.

We’re getting into dangerous levels of tribalism in that it’s becoming less about pursuing justice and more about being part of a shared agenda. Thanks to the internet, that’s becoming distressingly easy and the broader ideals of Dr. King’s principles seem to get lost under the weight of all the outrage.

In his tireless efforts, Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equality of treatment. He didn’t seek to elevate one group over the other, exchanging one form of oppression for another. He didn’t seek to destroy his opponents. He sought to make them friends and allies. He fought their hatred with love and their ignorance with wisdom. It wasn’t about winning a debate. It was about actually pursuing the spirit of equality.

That, more than anything, is the message we should heed in 2018. Pursuing equality doesn’t mean subduing opponents. It means standing with them on the same level, embracing what us similar and unique. We can never share the same outcomes in life, but we can share in the struggles.

In the end, pursuing equality requires a great deal of humility, as well as a genuine faith that people will embrace justice if you give them a chance. We’re giving ourselves fewer and fewer chances these days. In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and everything he stood for, we would all be wise to give ourselves those changes moving forward.

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Being A Good Person In The Age Of Social Media (And Why We Obsess Over It)

Whenever there’s an argument on the internet, and there are no fewer than 1,029,296,198 going on at any one moment, they tend to fall into a fairly standard pattern. Whether it’s politics, religion, video games, comic books, Harry Potter, or the series finale of “Lost,” the crux of every outraged outburst usually boils down to this.

“I believe that [insert crazy idea/opinion/theory here] and that’s that.”

“You’re a horrible person for believing [insert crazy idea/opinion theory here] and should be a ashamed of it! I demand that everyone shun, scorn, and marginalize you and everyone like you from now until the end of time!”

I want to say that’s an extreme example, but I’ve been navigating comic book message boards, Reddit fan theories, and the comments section of every major news site for too long. I can pretty much set my watch to when, how, and to what extent the argument with devolve.

Follow any thread on politics and within five minutes, someone will accuse someone else of being a Nazi. Spend more than a day on any message board, be it Harry Potter or the Walking Dead, and you’ll find entire sub-groups of fans that have tacitly declared war on another.

Some of it is a product of the passion people have for certain issues and ideas. Some of it is just plain tribalism, a factor I’ve highlighted before as the underlying source of a great many problems in our world. However, recent trends in social media, along people just being more able to anonymously share every crazy thought and feeling on a whim, have created a new source of conflict that more and more people stress over every day.

Think back to that generic argument I mentioned earlier. There’s one more component to it that doesn’t always play out on any message board, comment section, or video chat. It’s something that most people are reluctant to acknowledge, but on the inside, we’re all telling ourselves the same thing.

“I’m NOT evil! I’m a good person! I know it! Why can’t these people see that? For them to feel that way about me, THEY must be the bad ones!”

Again, that’s a very generalized summation. I doubt this mentality has played out anyone’s mind, word for word. However, I think it’s a near certainty that everybody is concerned with how they’re perceived by others, to some extent. Unless you’re a sociopath or playing a villain in a movie, you want others to see you as a good person.

It’s not just because being a dick rarely does anything to improve your life or those around you. We kind of need people to think we’re good on some levels. Otherwise, we have problems functioning.

Even if you are a sociopath, you need to at least give the impression of decency so you can live a functional life in between torturing small animals for fun. If not, then the Dexter Morgans of the world would get weeded out fast and characters in sitcoms would be a lot less interesting.

While society has always had some pretty nasty people, the growth of the internet and social media is changing the rules. It used to be that you could get away with being a terrible person because news of your terrible deeds rarely went beyond the small town or city you lived in. For most of human history, you only ever moved along with your tribe or community.

Now, there are entire generations of people in this world who have grown up in a society of unprecedented mobility and connection. The generation being born now will likely continue that trend, so much so that they’ll never have to know how an old 56k modem sounds. In that world, being perceived as a good person, even if you’re an asshole, will be that much more vital.

It’ll be impossible to hide. In a world where everyone has a smartphone and those phones can broadcast crimes in real time, it’ll be much harder to hide our more rotten tendencies. While it might be helpful to know who the real assholes are out there, it comes at a price. It means the margin for error is that much smaller.

That’s because in this hyper-connected world, it’s a lot easier for someone to call us out on being a lousy person. Even if we’re not, someone can effectively create that perception and, as I’ve said before, perception beats reality 99 times out of 100.

When someone is accused or accosted of being a bad person, it can be pretty traumatic. It’s like being a kid on a playground and everyone ganging up on you all at once. With the internet, though, it’s like legions of other kids from every other playground on the planet joining the battle. It can get pretty damn harsh, so much so that it can seriously undermine our sense of identity.

For a clear example, I don’t even need a thought experiment. Seth MacFarlane already did that for me. In one of the harshest scenes in the history of “Family Guy,” Glenn Quagmire basically lays into Brian, pointing out every harsh truths about his phony, pseudo-intellectual douche-baggery. For Brian, it’s pretty soul-crushing.

What Quagmire does to Brian is basically a microcosm of what people face today whenever they create a presence online. Whether it’s on social media or in the anonymous comments section in digital sewers like 4chan, there are legions of faceless strangers out there who are not afraid to lay into you, even if you are the nicest person it’s possible to be in real life.

Therein lies the problem, though. The identities we create online are so fluid and prone to corruption. One misplaced tweet, one viral video, and one ill-conceived comment on FaceBook is all it takes to ruin a life now. Even if it’s unintentional or misconstrued, it doesn’t matter. It will still be used to make you a bad person in the eyes of the world.

In a sense, we have to obsess over whether we’re a nice person, both in real life and online. It’s just a lot harder online because once something bad or embarrassing is out there, it’s almost impossible to remove. If you don’t think that matters, keep one thing in mind. When you’re out there looking for a job, employers are looking you up. They can and will use the crap you put online to decide whether or not to hire you.

When you consider the stakes that come with having be perceived as a good person, it makes perfect sense that people might get unreasonably defensive with their positions. I’ve noticed this in any discussion online about politics.

Everyone in the debate thinks they’re the good person. They think they’re on the side of everything that is good and pure. They may or may not be right, but that’s the narrative they craft in their minds. For them to lose an argument doesn’t just mean admitting that they’re wrong, which is extremely distressing, in and of itself. Losing means conceding you might be a bad person and that’s just untenable.

Being the optimistic person I am, I tend to believe that most people are inherently good. My own life experiences have convinced me of that. I recognize that some have very different experiences and I cannot blame them for thinking otherwise. However, our very identity and sense of self requires us to believe that we’re a good person at heart.

It can sometimes twist our perceptions and make us cling to irrational, immoral, and downright weird believes. In many ways, it’s an extension of excuse banking and virtue signaling. In the past, we didn’t have to work so hard to maintain that narrative of ourselves that has us believe that we’re the heroes of our own story. Now, thanks to the internet and social media, it’s harder than ever to escape it.

I suspect that our collective obsession with winning arguments and being the good guy will escalate as we become more connected, as a world. I don’t doubt that our obsession will get downright unhealthy at times. However, the mere fact that we obsess that much over being good also convinces me that we want to be good.

That should offer some comfort to those who feel as though the world is filled with angry internet trolls who exist only to make good, decent people feel miserable. Granted, there are some very mean trolls out there. Most people, though, don’t see themselves that way. They think they’re the good guys, just like you and me.

The more we recognize that shared effort, the less inclined we’ll be to call each other a Nazi. Given recent events, I think that should count as progress to everyone.

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