Tag Archives: human progress

Why 2017 Was The Best Year In Human History (Seriously)

20160218-ilchi-lee-authentic-living-for-a-solar-body-for-new-hopes-and-dreams-of-creating-human-peace-4

These days, being an optimist is hard. In some cases, you’ll get laughed out of the room for not thinking the world is on a steady descent into a dystopian hellscape in the mold of “Mad Max,” “1984,” or “Idiocracy.” I don’t deny that current events, especially after the 2016 Election, have made optimism difficult. However, that’s exactly why it’s worth talking about.

I do consider myself an optimist, at heart. I sincerely believe that, on the whole, things are getting better for the world, the human race, and everything in between. I’ve even tried to make my case through personal experience and through empirical data. I don’t imagine I’ve changed too many opinions, but I still think it’s important to put that perspective out there.

With a new year upon us, I think that perspective is worth belaboring once more. This time, however, I’m not alone in my optimistic sentiment. There are others who share in my optimistic outlook. Some of those individuals are far smarter, far more accomplished, and far more charismatic than I’ll ever be.

By those standards, Steven Pinker checks all the necessary boxes. While he’s somewhat of a controversial figure in some circles, the man has some solid credentials. He’s an accomplished professor at Harvard and has written multiple books on issues ranging from language to psychology to human nature.

His seminal work, though, is his book, “The Better Angels Of Our Nature.” If you want a compelling reason to believe that the world is getting better by most measures, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s not just about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Mr. Pinker provides real, verifiable information that the world is getting better and human nature is far better than we give it credit for.

Beyond his books and his famous TED Talks, Mr. Pinker continues to make his case for a more upbeat outlook in various ways. Recently, his work was cited in an op-ed article in the New York Times entitled “Why 2017 Was The Best Year In Human History.”

Granted, a title like that is a bit heavy on hyperbole, but the writer, Nicholas Kristoff, is dead serious in making that case. Link Mr. Pinker, he doesn’t just interpret all the ongoing trends in the world through the mind of a stoned hippie. He puts the state of the world into a context that goes beyond all the horrible headlines we saw in 2017.

He, and other optimists like him, tend to look at the broader trends in human society. The data is out there, but it’s hard to put into a compelling headline. That doesn’t stop men like Kristoff and Pinker from making a concerted effort, though.

We all know that the world is going to hell. Given the rising risk of nuclear war with North Korea, the paralysis in Congress, warfare in Yemen and Syria, atrocities in Myanmar and a president who may be going cuckoo, you might think 2017 was the worst year ever.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, 2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.

A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.

Again, these trends are hard to see and harder to report on because they don’t happen all at once. If tomorrow, all poverty was magically wiped out, that would be a big news story. However, human progress doesn’t work that way. It’s slow, gradual, and sometimes boring. It does happen, though. The events of 2017 were no exception.

Violent went down. Poverty went down. In fact, they went down to their lowest levels in modern history. Compared to a year ago, 5 years ago, or 50 years ago, the trends we saw in 2017 were all improvements by most objective measures. A lot of these trends are things Mr. Pinker has been talking about for years. Mr. Kristoff simply builds on them.

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.

For most individuals, these trends are difficult to notice. That’s largely because they’re driven by forces that most people don’t notice or understand beyond their personal existence. Even in a world that’s so connected and becoming more connected with each passing day, it’s easy to overlook this kind of progress.

It’s also a lot harder when the news is largely dominated by negative headlines that highlight how dissatisfied the general public is with the direction of society. Again, there is a context here and one that I’ve tried to point out before. It’s one of the first lessons I learned in college when interpreting media of any kind, be it the news or superhero comics.

The reason why all these negative headlines are headlines in the first place isn’t because they’re common. It’s because they’re so rare. Stories such as mass shootings, brutal murders, and war crimes make the news because they don’t happen every day. That’s why they qualify as news. They’re aberrations and not normal occurrences.

Conversely, good headlines rarely make the front page because they lack the same novelty and emotional impact as bad news. Naturally, people are going to react more strongly to a horrific headline because our survival instincts compel us to devote more energy to the bloodier, more dangerous information.

That’s why, even if 2017 was the best year in the history of the human race, our caveman brains aren’t going to process that because it’s so focused on all the negative news that came out over the past year. That news may very well be a tiny sliver of the events that transpired in 2017, but that news will still garner more attention, especially in the current digital economy.

We can still take comfort in the progress that happened in 2017, though. No matter how many negative headlines there were, that doesn’t undo the genuinely good things that transpired in the past year. Mr. Kristoff even went out of his way to provide an anecdote, of sorts, that highlighted just how much good can come from even the worst parts of the world.

Granted, this column may feel weird to you. Those of us in the columny gig are always bemoaning this or that, and now I’m saying that life is great? That’s because most of the time, quite rightly, we focus on things going wrong. But it’s also important to step back periodically. Professor Roser notes that there was never a headline saying, “The Industrial Revolution Is Happening,” even though that was the most important news of the last 250 years.

I had a visit the other day from Sultana, a young Afghan woman from the Taliban heartland. She had been forced to drop out of elementary school. But her home had internet, so she taught herself English, then algebra and calculus with the help of the Khan Academy, Coursera and EdX websites. Without leaving her house, she moved on to physics and string theory, wrestled with Kant and read The New York Times on the side, and began emailing a distinguished American astrophysicist, Lawrence M. Krauss.

Think about that story, for a moment, and reflect on how 2017 made it possible. Thanks to all the progress made in global communications, a woman in Afghanistan in 2017 was able to pursue opportunities that would’ve been impossible a mere 20 years ago.

This woman, despite living in one of the most war torn parts of the world, still managed to gain access to the kind of education and informational resources that were once reserved for aristocrats and academics. That, by any measure, is an astonishing accomplishment for humanity.

In many respects, 2017 was the best year ever because it continued the trends had been going on for years. As a result, more people have access to information, education, and the basic necessities of life than at any other point in human history. That, more than anything, is why it’s not unreasonable to say that 2017 was the best year ever.

The fact that concerns over celebrity scandals is a greater concern than poverty, war, or famine shows that we are making more progress than we think. It also bodes well for 2018 being an even better year than 2017. Despite what negative headlines may say, the human race is on an unprecedented winning streak and I hope, along with men like Mr. Pinker and Mr. Kristoff, that the streak continues into 2018 and beyond.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Sexy Future

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Reasons and Excuses

Why Evil Billionaires And Politicians Will Save The World

The world is fraught with so many problems. There’s climate change, poverty, economic turmoil, disease, and reality TV shows. At times, it seems so overwhelming. Even though I’ve argued the world is getting better by most measures, I don’t deny there are still a lot of problems in the world that need solving.

So who’s going to solve them? Who will save us from all these destructive forces and guide the human race forward? Movies, TV shows, comic books, religion, and Oprah have convinced us that it’s the selfless, loving heroes who live to dry the tears of sick orphans and shit rainbows who will save us. Hell, a part of us needs it to be true.

However, in the same way media that pretends us that sex involves a lot more rose petals and spanking than it really does, reality presents a colder, harsher truth. Like the making of a sausage or the outcome O.J. Simpson trial, the truth tends to shatter your preferred fantasy with a hammer and shotgun.

The hard truth, in this case, is that superheroes, saints, and legendary kings who pull swords out of stones won’t save us. Robert Downy Jr. is not going to put on a giant suit of armor and defeat terrorists. Christian Bale is not going to put on a costume and beat up all the criminals. In reality, it’s the evil billionaires and self-serving politicians that will save the world.

I’ll give everyone a moment for their eye to stop twitching. Take all the time you need. I have a feeling I’m going to get plenty of hate for this post. It wouldn’t be the first time either. I know this is not a popular sentiment, especially from someone who loves comic books and superhero movies as much as I do. It is, however, the cold hard truth.

Before you try to punch me through your computer screen, please hear me out. I’m not bringing this up to upset people. I’m talking about it because sometimes, a dose of harsh truth is necessary. In a world where too many people look for easy solutions to impossible problems, it helps to maintain some level of perspective.

In this case, it’s less about perspective and more about understanding how the world works and how people, in general, govern their affairs. Most people who aren’t billionaires or in high positions of power probably have some vague, albeit cynical understanding of how they operate. Whether you’ve seen every Michael Moore documentary or watched one too many Chuck Norris movies, the vision is similar.

You imagine a dark room in a highly secure, underground bunker. In that bunker, there’s a group of men in fancy suits. Sometimes they’re old white men. Sometimes they’re evil foreign dictators. Sometimes they’re scheming celebrities who fantasize about all the ways they’ll corrupt the world’s youth.

It’s a mental picture that plays out in every James Bond movie and every hippie fever dream. We all think that the politicians and billionaires of the world live only to destroy the environment, spit on poor people, and pleasure themselves while sick children suffer. It’s a simple, understandable sentiment that makes us feel like the underdogs in our own movie.

However, this isn’t a movie, nobody is an underdog, and that mental picture is complete bullshit. The reality is that evil billionaires and corrupt politicians are still human, like you and me. They still want similar things. Sure, they may want crazier things like a pool of orphan tears to swim in every now and then. At the end of the day, though, they still eat, sleep, and get horny like everyone else.

As such, they have a vested interest in making sure the world stays in one piece and people don’t die needlessly. They need a world that’s stable, prosperous, and not full of rotting corpses. They need it because their power, wealth, and everything in between depends on it.

It’s the harshest, but most refreshing truth, in a sense. Since we don’t live in a James Bond movie, the companies, governments, and religious groups have a lot of incentive to keep the world in one piece. Sure, they’ll still take stupid risks that end up causing a lot of destruction, but in the grand scheme of things, they want the world to keep turning. They can’t get money, power, and adherents if it doesn’t.

That’s why all the evil organizations and sinister dictators we see in fiction wouldn’t last a day in the real world. It doesn’t matter if they’re as smart as Lex Luthor or as devious as the Red Skull. If they enter this world, they have to go through Disney lawyers, criminal cartels, entrenched lobbying groups, corrupt bureaucrats, and governments with bloated military budgets. They really don’t stand a chance.

I can sense that some are still skeptical, though. I imagine the left-leaning crowd will scoff at the notion that big corporations will somehow save the planet. The crowd on the far right will scoff even harder at the idea that governments, dictators, and all things un-American will do any good whatsoever.

Well, while you’re scoffing, all those things you don’t think can happen are happening. Countries like China and Saudi Arabia, who have an abysmal human rights record, are investing heavily in green energy, biotechnology, and robotics. They are making a concerted effort to be the greenest, cleanest, most efficient society on the planet.

Now, they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. Don’t think for a nanosecond they are. Their goals are more pragmatic. They understand that relying on fossil fuels, polluting the air, and trashing the environment is not good for the stability of their country. Even if they’re evil to the core, they like they’re power and they want to hold onto it.

Like the Empire in “Star Wars” or Big Brother in “1984,” the biggest concern of any government, especially the repressive ones, is preserving power. They can’t do that if their society is dirty, inefficient, and disease-ridden. They also can’t do that if their people are sick, weak, or improvised. They need doctors, scientists, lawyers, and henchmen who don’t fall after a single judo chop.

That means these sinister rulers need to create a functioning economy that allows at least some of its citizens to prosper. If they don’t, they risk losing everything. They know as well as any high school history student that the Soviet Union, the Ottoman Empire, and the entire state of Venezuela collapsed for being a bit too evil and corrupt.

The same goes for evil billionaires running businesses that make the Lisa Simpsons of the world cry. Whether they’re cigarette companies, oil companies, or companies that sell lead-laced candy, they need a society that’s peaceful and prosperous. They need people to be alive and healthy enough to actually buy their shit.

That’s why companies that people love to hate will donate billions to charity, invest in new technology, and fund the kinds of social change that combats our tribal urge to slaughter one another for petty reasons. Money may very well be the root of all evil, but it doesn’t discriminate. Money from a minority is as good as money from Bill Gates.

Again, these big companies don’t do what they do out of the goodness of their greedy hearts. They do it to make more money. Sure, big pharmaceutical companies may charge obscene prices for life-saving drugs, but they’ll also work to create new drugs that save even more lives.

On top of that, some evil companies go so far as to compete with one another. If one company does something particularly evil, like make a drug that only treats the symptoms of a disease rather than cure it, another might try to give that company a big middle finger by creating a cure instead. Evil selfish people are petty like that. The fact their actions save millions of lives in the process is just an afterthought.

That’s the greatest irony. In order for all this peace and progress to be made, we need evil billionaires and corrupt governments to embrace some of that evil in order to make the progress we seek. We need them to be selfish, paranoid, and cunning.

That’s why it won’t be some selfless scientist, gentle nun, or peace-loving hippie who will fix the problems of this world. It will be some ruthless company or corrupt government looking to strike it rich, gain power, or selfishly fuel their ego. It’s callous, but the end result still benefits everybody.

For all we know, these devious people just want to do what they do to get laid. If that means running a country that funds education and green energy programs or creating a business that makes billions treating disease, then we should cheer them on. Sure, they’re still not heroes, but they’re going to save our asses and expect us to kiss theirs. If it means a better, safer world, then I’m ready to pucker up.

2 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

Why Standardized Tests Make You (Feel) Dumber In The Long Run

A new study finds that higher test scores don't translate into better cognitive ability.

As I write these words, there are millions of young people out there who are either dreading an upcoming exam or recovering from one too many all-night cram sessions. This is that time of year, after all. The sweet freedom of summer vacation is almost within our grasp. We just have to survive a few more soul-crushing, brain-draining final exams.

Like the final boss in a video game, exams and standardized tests are the migraine headaches of modern education. They are that stabbing pain at the base of every teenager’s spine. They know it’s coming. They know it’s going to be stressful. The most they can do is brace themselves, study, and hope they don’t throw up at some point along the way.

Image result for teenage anxiety

I get the logic behind these tests. I think even the students do, minus the ones whose only goal in life is to become an Instagram model. I don’t doubt that the intentions behind standardized tests are good. They’re supposed to help gauge the effectiveness of our education, revealing just how well we’ve retained the material.

I don’t doubt the merit behind that. A team of underpaid, under-appreciated teachers just spent nine months of their lives trying to cram a bunch of information into our developing brains. At the very least, they want to make sure that time wasn’t wasted. How devastating would it be if the found out all that time, effort, and chalk board lectures had been for nothing?

Well, with the utmost respect to the teachers and students who have to deal with this crap, there might be a repugnant stench in the air. As good as the intentions may be with standardized testing, they have a long list of issues. Just last month, the Washington Post listed at least 34 problems with these tests. With the memory of these tests still painfully fresh in my mind, I have a hard time believing there are only 34 problems.

Image result for standardized testing sucks

That’s because, and I’ve said this before whenever I’ve talked about the horror show that was high school for me, these tests don’t really measure how well you know the material. They only really measure how well you can take a test. That may help you get a driver’s license, but it won’t help with much else.

There’s a growing body of evidence that standardized testing does not translate into better cognitive skills. It doesn’t lead to better memory, better attention, or better reasoning skills. It doesn’t even reveal how well you know the material. Even if you do remember enough to ace the test, it’s rare for students to actually retain that knowledge.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially those whose memories of high school is still somewhat fresh. Depending on how traumatic your teenager years were, you probably remember not caring much about actually knowing the material at hand. You only cared about passing the test and not triggering an awkward parent/teacher conference.

In essence, that’s the biggest issue with these tests. That’s why, in the long run, they make us feel dumber. Just passing a test doesn’t make you smart. It just makes you good at passing a test. A lot of people can throw a football well. However, just being able to throw a football doesn’t make you as skilled as Peyton Manning. Just ask Ryan Leaf.

It’s just as bad for the teachers. They dedicate their time, energy, and patience to teach a bunch of immature kids and hormonal teenagers what they think is important. However, their effectiveness, as a professional, is entirely contingent on their ability to get these thick-headed kids to pass a goddamn test every year. Even doctors and lawyers don’t have subject themselves to that kind of frustration.

Related image

I can certainly attest to the inefficiencies of these tests. It’s pretty much the only skill that was regularly emphasized throughout high school. Every subject in every class felt like a prelude to one goal, which was to pass the test. That was always at the forefront of my mind. Actually knowing and caring about the subject was always secondary.

The only subjects I did know anything about happened to be subjects I had a genuine interest in. I liked writing, history, science, and even math to some extent. However, a lot of what I learned on those subjects wasn’t necessarily taught. I sought that knowledge out on my own.

Contrary to popular belief, not every teenager is a total slacker whose sole goal in life is to live out the rest of their days on the couch watching Netflix. Many are genuinely curious about certain topics and not all of those topics are related to food, sex, and punk rock music. If they want to learn more about something and you give them the opportunity, they’ll take it.

Image result for curious kids

For me, personally, it was writing. No teacher or guidance counselor needed to guide me to do that. It’s just something I started doing. My parents already had a computer so I had all the resources I needed. Thanks to a vivid imagination inspired by comic books and cartoons, I had plenty to write about. I haven’t really stopped since.

There were other topics that intrigued me too. Growing up, I was also interested in history, especially 20th century history. There was a period where I watched every World War II documentary on the History Channel I could. It got to the point where I knew the names of generals, battles, and dates better than my teacher.

It culminated one fateful day during my sophomore year of high school. I was in my history class and, much to my relief, we were focusing on early 20th century history. My teacher was lecturing, going over the textbook as they so often do, and at one point she got a date wrong. I, having the piss-poor social skills I had, just corrected her on the spot.

For some teachers, that would be a one-way business class ticket to getting detention. For this particular teacher, though, she smiled at me and thanked me. That was a proud moment for me. Later on, when we did take a test, I got a perfect score. I didn’t really need to study for it either. I knew the material because I wanted to know it.

Image result for smart kids

That’s both the key and the paradox that dooms standardized testing. It tries to create a one-size-fits-all standard with which to gauge every student. It ignores the fact that not every student is going to want to know the names of every Russian Tsar or how to use quadratic equations. Some students really are smart, just not on certain subjects.

On top of that, some students just aren’t good test takers either. I know this because I’m one of them. I often had to give disclaimers, of sorts, to my teachers about my test-taking skills. Some of it was due to nervousness. Some of it was just due to the mental fog that comes with the stress of taking a test. Some people can manage it well. I can’t.

The only exception, in my case, were the essay questions. I loved the essay questions because I knew I’d ace those. Writing is, I like to think, one of my greatest strengths. If I could’ve exchanged every standardized test I ever took for an essay, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. I’d have been the valedictorian of my high school.

Image result for valedictorian

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Standardized tests made me feel dumb, but I know I’m not dumb. I couldn’t manage this blog, keep track of major events in comics, or stay up-to-date on the status of sex robots if I were. I genuinely worry that a lot of impressionable, vulnerable kids will feel that same sentiment by taking these tests. They may never realize that these tests are not a reflection of how smart they are.

The issue of standardized testing is still ongoing and still controversial. There are a lot of moving parts to education, especially in large countries with diverse populations. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but an important first step is acknowledging the problem.

As usual, John Oliver has already done a far more astute job of exposing the problem than I ever will. He dedicated an entire segment of his show, “Last Week Tonight,” to it. I’ll let him fill in the blanks that I wasn’t able to cover in this post.

So to all the students out there still dreading their final tests of the school year, I can only urge you to hang in there. These tests will not determine the course of your life. These tests will not determine how smart you are. You will come out of this. Life will get better as an adult.

Sure, you have jobs, families, and taxes to worry about. Take it from me, though. If you can endure the stresses of exams and standardized tests, you can endure almost anything an adult life can throw at you.

4 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

A (Partially) Sexy Thought Experiment: Work Vs. Life

Here’s a question I’m sure everybody has asked themselves at some point in their lives, probably during a long day at work or during mid-terms at school. What if we didn’t have to work? What if our jobs was not critical to our survival?

That’s actually a question a lucky few don’t even have to answer because they live it. The trust fund babies of the rich elites, some of which go onto be the rich, arrogant shits on Instagram, already know that luxury. To them, it’s their perverse concept of normal. The idea of working to survive might as well be alien as having to cook their own meals. It just doesn’t resonate with them.

It’s because there are so few rich, arrogant fucks like that in this world that we can’t answer the question completely. Sure, we all fantasize about how we would live if we won the lottery. I sure have. That’s why I didn’t ask what you would do if you didn’t have to work. I asked what we would do so that means no elaborate fantasies about quitting your job.

By we, I mean us as a society. I mean us as a functioning, lawful, economically viable society and not some liberal utopia that exists only in Bernie Sanders’ dreams. I ask this question because I’ve been talking a lot about poverty recently. I’ve also talked about potential solutions, including the still-radical notion of a universal basic income. Now, I’d like to turn off the cold, harsh reality of politics and facts so we’re free to speculate.

I’m an erotica/romance writer so contemplating fantasies is easy for me. I kind of have to be good at it to write the stuff I write. That often means twisting and stretching my imagination in ways that even a team of Russian gymnast porn stars can’t match.

Every so often, I do try to think in extremes, like radical redesigns of the human body. Other times, I try to think of something a bit more feasible, like entirely eliminating all sexually transmitted diseases.

This experiment falls somewhere in the middle. It hasn’t been tried yet, but there are some places in the world that are conducting active experiments. The results of those experiments are a long ways off and it may be decades before a country has the balls to try it. Even so, like driverless cars and VR porn, it is conceivable that this will happen within my lifetime.

With that in mind, I want to create a scenario for people to imagine. It’s a scenario I think applies equally to men and women alike. The year is 2065. Society has progressed to a point where machines and AIs do pretty much all the work that humans used to do. This is an ongoing trend and one that will likely accelerate.

As a result, basic things like food, water, shelter, and utilities are pretty much free. No intensive labor is needed. To ensure that everyone has the means to live, every adult over the age of 18, although that age could be fluctuate depending on certain conditions, receives a regular basic income that’s today’s equivalent of $52,000 a year, which is the median income in 2013 for the United States.

Without getting into specifics about how the nuts and bolts of this system would operate, let’s just assume for the sake of the experiment that people receive this money the same way the elderly receive social security checks today. They can do with it what they please. They can still work. They can just sit home all day, smoke weed, and watch Netflix if they want. They have that freedom.

What would this do for our collective lives? What if working and surviving were no longer the same thing? This isn’t just a luxury for a bunch of rich fucks on instagram. This is an entire society where nobody has to worry about their next meal, their next rent check, or their utilities bill.

For some people, sitting at home all day, smoking weed and watching Netflix, is the first thing that comes to mind. However, not everybody is wired to do that and only that every day until they die.

People are diverse, eccentric, and erratic. They have all sorts of varying tastes, motivations, and aspirations. Many are stifled because they have to spend a good chunk of their time and energy working just to survive. How many more people would be inclined to pursue different passions if they didn’t have to work?

For someone like me, that passion involves writing erotica/romance. I know if I didn’t have to work, I would certainly spend more time writing more books. I may even find time to write about things I’ve never even contemplated. Not having to worry about money, food, or poor wi-fi would free me up to pursue entirely new ideas.

Beyond the lonely erotica/romance writers of the world, that extra time and energy could translate into more time focusing on family affairs. Parents could spend more time with their children. They would even have time to raise more children. As I’ve stated before, the birth-rate tends to decline when the economy tanks. Would a world like this lead to a never-ending baby boom?

How many families fall apart because the parents are too stressed to hold it together? How many children turn into assholes because their parents don’t have time to love them? How many families never even get started because the stress of work keeps them from having sex?

This is where the thought experiment takes on its sexier connotations. In this world, we don’t have to spend as much time worrying about work, money, or making the next rent payment. We actually have time to get out there, meet people, and form new social connections. Yes, some of these social connections would result in more sex.

Given the decline in sexual activity among millennials, who often enter a lousy job market with thousands of dollars in student debt, I can’t think of anything that would boost more libidos. When you’re less stressed and have more time, you can devote more energy into pursuing the relationships you want, sexual or otherwise.

Now for some uptight religious types, this is downright horrifying. There’s a reason why institutions like the Catholic Church and various protestant denominations revere the whole “protestant work ethic.” The impotent old men who run these institutions know that if young, sexy people are too busy working, they won’t be able to engage in large levels of fun and fornication. If they don’t know, it’s indirectly implied.

Maybe that ethic applied for an era where it took hundreds of people to farm land and hundreds more to protect that land from bandits, but in a future where technology and automation deliver our essentials, it’s kind of outdated. Like sacrificing a goat to ensure the rains come, it doesn’t need to be part of society anymore.

Being the optimist I am, I believe that a future like this will be a lot sexier than what we have now. I concede there will be those who use exploit this world and become fat, lazy slobs that would disgust Homer Simpson. However, I believe that the vast majority of people would use this world to forge new intimate connections.

Some of those connections will be simple fan clubs. Maybe more people will get together to share their fondness of baking dildo-shaped pottery. Who knows what gets certain people excited? Sure, some of those connections will lead to more sex, some of it of a kinky variety that will make every Catholic priest and mullah alive today faint in horror. I still think that, overall, it would be a net gain for the human race.

These are still the ramblings of an optimist who’s trying to make a living writing erotica/romance novels. This experiment may play out very differently in the minds of others, depending on how cynical they are about human nature or how many Nirvana songs they’ve listened to.

Whatever your outlook, I encourage you to do this experiment. I encourage you to contemplate a society where nobody has to work to meet their basic needs. What kind of society would it be? What kind of person would you be in that society? It’s an intriguing thought and, like so many of the others on this blog, one that has a lot of sex appeal.

3 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

My Advice To The Women’s March

As a general rule, I try to avoid giving advice on things I know I’m not qualified to explain. You want advice on writing erotica/romance? Sure, I’ll help, even though I’ve yet to achieve much success in that endeavor. You want advice on comics and superheroes? Hell, I’m your guy. I should be the first person you call.

In terms of complex sociopolitical issues, though, I’m as qualified to explain those topics as I am to perform brain surgery while blindfolded. I am not an expert. I’m not even in the same hemisphere as an expert. Then again, it’s not like experts have a perfect track record of explaining these issues either so it’s not like their voices are somehow more pure. At the end of the day, their farts stink as much as mine.

I establish this context because I’m going to make an exception to that general rule I mentioned earlier. I’m going to offer some advice to a group that I think needs all the help they can get. Specifically, I’m talking about the fine citizens of the United States who organized the Women’s March.

I’ve already given my reaction to this mark. I hope I made clear that I mostly agree with their policy positions at every level. They stand for principles that I don’t believe the current regime in Washington is going to protect. I support them in their efforts, even if I think their approach is lacking in substance. That’s exactly why I’d like to lend whatever help an aspiring erotica/romance writer can offer, however limited that might be.

What follows is a list of simple tips that I hope will help the people behind the Women’s March. What they seek is admirable and respectable. However, I worry that they will undermine their message by using a flawed, misguided approach in pursuing their goals. I hope with these tips, they’ll be better able to achieve those goals.


Tip #1: Acknowledge The Breadth Of The Audience You Seek To Influence

You see that map above? That’s a picture of how every county in the United States voted in the 2016 election. Notice anything unique about it, other than how it looks like a jigsaw puzzle designed by a brain-damaged orangutan? There’s a lot of red and only a few spots of blue. Why is that?

Well, the blue parts are the ones containing America’s largest cities. The red are largely rural, low-density areas full of small towns, tight-nit communities, and exceedingly few vegan restaurants. These areas make up a good chunk of the land, but less than half the population. That’s because the cities, which contain the urban crowds, draw in more people with more diverse economic opportunities.

Why does this matter? That’s because it’s these rural, under-developed areas are the ones who gravitate towards the conservative side of the political spectrum. They do this because their way of life is dying. It’s dying and the conservative crowd knows how to appeal to them, selling them false hope while the other side basically ignores them.

The Women’s March deals with issues that affect everybody, but they basically overlook this part of the country entirely. These are people whose lives are devoid of hope and issues like LGBT rights, speech codes on college campuses, and soda taxes aren’t going to affect their lives.

These are people who the Women’s March largely ignores, but they still vote. They still have hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Without acknowledging them or reaching out to them, they’re basically ignoring a huge part of the Country that desperately needs hlep and hope.


Tip #2: Abandon Political Correctness, Kill It, And Bury It In The Deepest Hole

I cannot stress this enough. It needs to be belabored, reinforced, and beaten down with a two-ton anvil. In order for the Women’s March to make their message resonate on the widest scale possible, those involved must abandon, kill, and disavow political correctness in all its forms.

I cannot be polite or funny about this. Jerry Seinfeld has tried, but even he can’t find the humor in it. That should tell you everything you need to know. If someone like Jerry Seinfeld can’t find humor in it, then nobody can.

By political correctness, I mean everything from speech codes to gender identity politics to people protesting the name of a football team. A big reason why the current regime is in power is because the vast majority of the population has heard the rhetoric of the politically correct and they hate it with a vitriol that rivals every Mortal Kombat character ever made.

If you really want to appeal to more people, you need to ditch the excessive PC bullshit that has alienated an entire generations from an entire end of the political spectrum. Either abandon it or watch as the new regime coaxes its way through election after election.


Tip #3: Focus on Justice For Everybody And Not Just For A Select Few

This seems obvious and most in the Women’s March probably agree with this sentiment. However, the problem with their style is that they focus too much on justice for one particular group. They focus on LGBT, women, minorities, and refugees. That’s all well and good. These people need justice too. However, don’t focus so much on them that you forget about everybody else.

Believe it or not, injustice knows no political party. It knows no political ideology. An LGBT person is vulnerable to injustice. A straight white man living in rural Alabama is vulnerable to it as well. If you want both of those individuals on your side, keeping mind that both vote, don’t focus on a few specific trees while ignoring the forest.

By focusing too much on one group or another, you get cases like the Duke Lacrosse case and the UVA false rape case. It also means that groups like radical feminists skew the message, throwing around toxic terms like “patriarchy” and “rape culture.” These terms poison the well and alienate others, all in addition to being mostly bunk.

It may be tempting to focus exclusively on minorities who are vulnerable, and they are, but alienating others in the process helps no one in the long run.


Tip #4: Be Serious (And Ditch The Goofy Hats And Costumes)

This directly address those who wear the goofy vagina costumes to these rallies. Look, I love vaginas as much as the next straight guy. I admire the beauty of vaginas all the time as an erotica/romance writer. However, when you make these costumes and use them in protests, you’re not sending a message of justice and inclusion. You just look like you came back from a Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion.

There’s a time and a place for comedy in politics. Those times should be few and targeted. It also helps to leave them up to the professionals, such as John Oliver and Trevor Noah. These are people who know how to inject humor into an issue for the right reasons. They are also funnier than 99 percent of the population.

Let them handle the humor. For everyone else, leave the goofy costumes at home. When you wear that stuff, people who don’t agree with you aren’t going to be swayed. They’re just going to roll their eyes and think it’s a joke. If you want to reach these people, this is not how you want to get their attention.

The same goes for those goofy pink hats. Those hats aren’t cute or convincing in any way. They just look goofy. If you really want to appeal to everyone, you need to come off as real, honest people. Believe it or not, people respond to others who they can relate to. What a concept, right?


Tip #5: Appeal To Feelings While Avoiding Insults

This may sound dishonest to some because shady car salesmen use the same tactics. They’ll come up to you and make you feel like the most important person in the world while trying to sell you shit on four wheels. It may be dishonest, but it works. There’s a reason why used car salesmen still exist.

If you learn nothing else from last year’s election, then at least learn this. Facts do matter, but they’ll always be secondary to feelings. When it comes to perception versus reality, perception wins 99 times out of 100. I’ve already written about this. I don’t want to belabor it, but I think it needs to be belabored.

This goes back to caveman logic. The human brain is not wired for truth and understanding. It’s wired for survival and reproduction. It doesn’t come to decisions based on facts. First, it has us react to the proverbial lion in the bushes. Then, our brains come up with a reason to justify our reaction. From a scientific perspective, it’s ass backwards. It’s also the only way you can relate to people.

If you can make someone feel like they matter to you, then they’re more likely to help you. That needs to be the first step. For the Women’s March to reach others who don’t already agree with them, they need to tap into those feelings that led them to vote for the other side in the last election. Those feelings are key. If you want to convince them of anything, you must first confront those feelings first.


Tip #6: Focus On Hope Over Outrage

This should be fairly obvious, but it’s one of those issues I think the Women’s March glossed over at times. Hope is a powerful message. Hope is what got Barack Obama elected twice. Hope is the ultimate motivator and rallying cry. That’s what got people off their asses and to the polls during the last election. Naturally, they chose the candidate that gave them the most hope.

Right now, the Women’s March is focused less on hope and more on outrage. That’s completely understandable. There’s plenty to be outraged about and I’m not just talking about grabbing women by the pussy. However, outrage is only slightly more meaningful than whining. It’s too easy for one to turn into the other.

The time for lamenting over losses is over. The election is over. The new regime is in. They’re already at an advantage because they’re going to find out that delivering hope is much harder than actually promising hope. This is where the Women’s March has the advantage. Instead of focusing on the failures of the past, they need to focus on the hope for the future.

What does that future mean? What can they offer that the current regime cannot or will not offer? Give people something to look forward to. Give them something to aspire to. It works for Superman. It works just as well for what the Women’s March seeks to accomplish.


Tip #7: Pick The Right Battles And Choose The Right Allies

This isn’t as important as hope or abandoning political correctness, but make no mistake. A movement will be judged on the allies it chooses. In the last election, the losing party chose poorly. How do I know this? Off the top of your head, who was the most reputable ally they chose?

Can’t think of anyone? I rest my case. You see, in addition to being big on feelings, the human brain is also big on association. If you associate yourself with something good, then that’s going to affect how others perceive you. If you don’t, then you leave yourself vulnerable to wild accusations that some people in the FBI can exploit.

If you want allies, make sure you pick the ones who will also fight your battles. You want someone who will fight for minority rights, religious rights, and the rights of women? Well, those organizations do exist. They’re easy to ally with and they accept donations. They include the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Habitat For Humanity.

Once you have allies like this, then you’re better able to pick the right battles. It’s a losing endeavor trying to shame, scorn, and scold others into accepting your views. By showing support through legitimate legal avenues, it shows you’re serious and people do react when they sense someone is putting in the effort.


Tip #8: Inspire Rather Than Demean

This is more a general rule than advice. Inspiration is every bit as powerful as hope. In the last election, one side inspired an entire population who had grown resentful of uptight, politically correct intellectuals who demeaned and denigrated them for the crime of not being a marginalized group. When you demean entire groups like that, you lose allies and send them running to your enemies.

Those people, however, can be swayed back. Doing so means changing the approach. It means changing the perception, style, and substance behind that approach. The people behind the Women’s March must show the college-educated urban elite and the poor white rural people that they matter. They think they’re good, decent human beings and they want to build a future with them.

All too often, a movement devolves into a classic “us against them” mantra. That may win elections in the short term, but it drives people apart in the long run. The people behind the Women’s March need to think about the long term. They need to think beyond the next election.

There are entire generations who believe that the people behind the Women’s March are only fighting for a few select minorities. They need to show that they will fight for everyone. It’s only when you can appeal to everyone that you can overcome everything. Remember that and you need not fear the outcome of any election.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

Relax! The World Is Getting Better.

Let’s not lie to ourselves. For those of us in America, the 2016 Presidential Election feels like a prolonged prostate exam without lube and delivered by Andre the Giant while wearing a boxing glove. In my adult life (and my non-adult life, for that matter), I’ve never become so disillusioned by democracy. The comic book fan in me wants to elect Dr. Doom over any of these choices.

For the non-comic book fans out there, Dr. Doom is seen as one of the most devious villains in the history of comics. He is the alpha and omega of all that is evil. I know this. I understand this. I have no problem saying that I’d still vote for him over the two deep-fried turds we have running this year.

It’s a sad, solemn state for this country that I love. I know we’re a walking joke of hillbillies, rednecks, hippies, and PETA supporters that the rest of the world can easily make fun of, but I really do love this country. I really love being an American. Where else can a comic book fan who writes erotica/romance in his spare time feel at home?

I’m not going to lie though. I’m scared about the election tomorrow. We, the citizens of the United States of America, may vote to give nuclear weapons to someone who may just use them because someone made a bad joke on Twitter. That is fucking terrifying.

While fear is going to make me wake up early to cast my vote, I do try to maintain at least some sense of optimism. I emphasize the word try because that’s pretty damn hard these days. We live in an era where anyone can sit down on a bench, take out their phone, and search for every form of obscure fetish porn. If you can find fetish porn, then you can find some news story that says the world is going to hell.

Just look at some of the news stories that come out of Florida. They’ll make you wish you were born retarded lizard.

As a result of all this fear, frustration, and an ability to find anything on the internet that makes you horny, it’s easy to overlook the fact that things are actually getting better for the human race.

Seriously, it’s true. Things are getting better. People today are better of than their ancestors were 100 years ago. Hell, people are better off today than our ancestors were 25 years ago. Today, people have high speed internet, Netflix, and free porn. That’s objectively better than any era in history by default.

It’s not just our access to movies and porn that make life better though. Despite what certain political parties say at their convention, things are getting better in terms of crime, violence, and overall deviance. I know that’s hard to believe when Fox News shows a new story about minority protesters beating up babies every other hour, but the actual facts (an alien concept to most media these days) don’t bear that out.

Reason.com, a great site for keeping things in perspective if you can sift through the pro-marijuana articles written by stoners, did a great article a few years ago at just how much progress we’ve made as a species. Sure, there’s still poverty. There’s still violence. There’s still reality TV shows that won’t die. Overall though, it’s still pretty damn good.

For most of human history, kids didn’t live long enough to see their second birthday. A good chunk of the female population died in childbirth. The best modern medicine you could get involved leaches and herbs that tasted like shit. Men either toiled in fields or died on whatever battlefields the kings of the day decreed. It was not a pleasant life and not just because it had poor wi-fi.

Don’t believe me? Well, check out the facts for yourself. A site called HumanProgress.org compiles and tracks the data surrounding what we associate with human progress. You’ll find information on things like violence, infant morality, LGBT rights, hate crimes, and racial issues. You’ll also find information on economic issues (good for the insomniacs out there) that put a dollar sign on these issues.

That’s not to say that all trends are going in a positive direction. As I said before, humanity has room for improvement. We still kill each other over what we think happens when we die and fail to see the irony. There are things we do have to work on, but actual data should give us reasons to be hopeful.

For instance, here’s a chart that shows trends in violent crime since the early 1970s. It’s not going up. It’s going down. We’re not turning into a society right out of an old NWA music video. We’re getting a lot better at not shooting and raping each other. That’s a good thing in my book, or anyone’s book for that matter.

 

Then, there’s this little tidbit about children. That’s another issue that should be completely apolitical. We love children and we don’t like seeing them die because of preventable causes. For most of human history, countless children did die because of diseases, disasters, and circumstances we couldn’t do shit about. Well, things have changed. We’ve gotten better at saving the lives of children. In fact, we’ve gotten a lot better.

It’s not just crime and health that are improving either. These may be objective statistics, but if anyone has learned anything about the 2016 Presidential Election, it’s that nobody gives a half-fart about statistics and facts. We go with our feelings, no matter how wrong or misguided they may be.

That can be pretty troubling, the idea that we humans can’t accept the fact that the world is getting better and are doomed to always dread the future. While it is troubling, it’s also inaccurate because things are getting better in the most subjective sense possible: happiness.

That’s right. People are actually happier today than they were 25 years ago. Sure, happiness is one of the most subjective feelings in the world, right up there with tastes in food, movies, and sexual fetishes. It’s still one of the most valuable measures we have towards gauging the state of the human condition and it is getting better.

We’re happier. We’re healthier. We’re more equal, free, and prosperous than we’ve ever been at any time in human history. That, by any measure, is something to be thankful for. It’s something to celebrate.

Now it’s entirely possible that the results of the election tomorrow could reverse all these trends, but baring a nuclear war, that’s very unlikely. This is where caveman logic really works in our favor. When we humans find something that works for us, we tend to stick to it and do everything we can to keep doing it. Again, there’s room for improvement, but we’re making progress.

We’re kicking ass as a civilization. We’re becoming more advanced, more tolerant, and more prosperous. We should all celebrate that, election or not. I’ll celebrate with a glass of whiskey and some of my favorite romance/erotica novels. I encourage everyone to celebrate as well.

15 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights