Tag Archives: human psychology

A Former Israeli Space Security Chief Says Aliens Exist And Have Visited Earth: Why I Don’t Believe Him

There was a time in my life when I was convinced that aliens were real, UFOs were alien space crafts, and the government was keeping it a secret. It was a strange time, indeed. It coincided with a phase where I watched every documentary involving UFOs, aliens, and conspiracy theories I could get my hands on.

Like Fox Maulder, I wanted to believe. In hindsight, I was too eager to believe.

I’ve since refined my perspective. I still believe there’s other intelligent life in the universe. I just don’t believe they’ve come to this planet and are hiding while the government keeps them secret, “Men In Black” style. That’s just a fanciful conspiracy theory that makes for great movies and TV shows, but not much else.

It’s not the part about intelligent aliens I find unbelievable. It’s peoples’ ability to keep a secret that big that I find so implausible. I don’t care how big a conspiracy theory you are. People can’t keep secrets, especially big ones. There are legitimate psychological reasons for that.

That’s just one of the reasons why I don’t believe the Haim Eshed, the former Israeli Space security chief, when he says aliens exist and humanity has been in contact with them. In a year like 2020, it would almost be fitting that aliens entered the picture. However, this is one story that warrants more than a little skepticism.

In case you missed it, this is what was reported by the Jerusalem Post. Now, it’s no disreputable tabloid, but it’s not exactly the BBC.

The Jerusalem Post: Former Israeli space security chief says aliens exist, humanity not ready

Has the State of Israel made contact with aliens?

According to retired Israeli general and current professor Haim Eshed, the answer is yes, but this has been kept a secret because “humanity isn’t ready.”

Speaking in an interview to Yediot Aharonot, Eshed – who served as the head of Israel’s space security program for nearly 30 years and is a three-time recipient of the Israel Security Award – explained that Israel and the US have both been dealing with aliens for years.

And this by no means refers to immigrants, with Eshed clarifying the existence of a “Galactic Federation.”

The 87-year-old former space security chief gave further descriptions about exactly what sort of agreements have been made between the aliens and the US, which ostensibly have been made because they wish to research and understand “the fabric of the universe.” This cooperation includes a secret underground base on Mars, where there are American and alien representatives.

These are some remarkable claims, to say the least. It is impossible to overstate the implications here. We’re not talking about some scandal involving a politician and an intern. We’re talking about the biggest scientific discovery in the history of humanity.

The discovery that we’re not alone in the universe and there are other alien beings out there would be profound, to say the least. Even in a year like 2020 when we have so many problems to deal with on this planet, such a discovery would have an enormous impact on how we see ourselves and the universe.

That’s exactly why it’s laughable to think that anyone, let alone a vast government conspiracy, could keep such a discovery under wraps. People can keep small secrets to a point, but not secrets this big. That’s not just my opinion. There’s some actual math behind it.

According to Oxford physicist, David Robert Grimes, the large number of people involved in a conspiracy essentially guarantees that it won’t stay secret. It takes thousands of people not saying anything to sustain itself, but it only takes one Edward Snowden to expose it.

For something like intelligent aliens, it would be even harder to suppress. Even if they’re advanced and intelligent, they would leave traces, especially if they were nearby. That would be difficult to hide and even harder to keep quiet on a global scale.

This is a world that can’t even agree on the metric system. How could we, with all our different agendas and politics, all agree to keep a secret this big?

I won’t say it’s completely impossible. I don’t like being that absolute in my statements. I’ll just say it’s exceedingly improbable. I’d put it right up there with the sun being made of radioactive cheese.

However, if that’s still not convincing enough, there’s one other reason why I don’t by Mr. Eshed’s statement. It also has nothing to do with my position on government conspiracies and why people can’t keep secrets.

The man is trying to sell something. Specifically, he’s trying to sell a book. In the same article in which he makes his bold claim, there’s this little tidbit that the headline doesn’t mention.

Eshed provided more information in his newest book, The Universe Beyond the Horizon – conversations with Professor Haim Eshed, along with other details such as how aliens have prevented nuclear apocalypses and “when we can jump in and visit the Men in Black.” The book is available now for NIS 98.

For me, that’s the reddest of red flags. The man is selling a book and this bold claim is basically a sales pitch. He’s making this ground-breaking revelation that could potentially change the world. Then, he directs people to buy his book to learn more.

Anyone who has ever dealt with public relations or sales people should immediately realize what’s going on. The rule of thumb is that if it looks like a sales gimmick, chances are that’s exactly what it is. This certainly matches that critera.

Even Fox Maulder would be skeptical at this point. Honestly, what’s more likely?

Could it be that a retired space security chief is finally breaking his silence and revealing to the world that thousands of people have been keeping this secret about aliens for decades?

Or could it just be a man making a bold, but false claim that he hopes will help him sell more books?

I know the Fox Maulder in us all wants to believe, but sometimes Occam’s Razor just cuts too deep. I still believe aliens are out there and I hope they visit us one day. I just don’t think they’ve arrived yet. Chances are, when they do arrive, we’ll know and no conspiracy will be necessary.

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Filed under Aliens, Current Events, human nature, psychology

On Privilege, Resentment, and Lottery Winners

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

Now, imagine that same person won the lottery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Current Events, extremism, gender issues, human nature, LGBTQ, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology

Michael Jordan, Intensity, And Championships (With References To Glengarry Glen Ross)

There has been an ongoing, and at times insufferable, debate in the world of basketball. Who is the greatest of all time? ESPN recently released their ranking. The top five are as follows:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Magic Johnson

Do you agree with this list? How do you even go about determining who is the greatest player, given how much the sport has changed over the decades? That’s not an easy question to answer, especially for a sport like basketball. Unlike football or baseball, it is possible for one player to make a huge difference on a team’s chances of winning. Just ask the Cleveland Cavilers.

That question has gotten more scrutiny lately and not just because there are no sports to distract us. A comprehensive documentary entitled “The Last Dance” has added some rhetoric to the greatest of all time conversation. This documentary covers the career of the number one player on ESPN’s list, Michael Jordan.

If you haven’t seen this documentary and are marginally interested in sports, I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, it’s worth seeing for reasons beyond the sport it covers. It offers an unprecedented insight into the life, drive, and mindset of a player that many believe to be the greatest. That insight is also something that has inspired some mixed feelings.

Now, I’m old enough to remember the second half of the Michael Jordan era for the Chicago Bulls. I remember seeing his team win those last three championships and being in awe. To say he was an iconic athlete would be an understatement. In the same way it’s impossible to describe how big Michael Jackson was in the 1980s, it’s impossible to articulate how big Michael Jordan to the sports world in the 1990s.

Being like Mike wasn’t just a marketing slogan. It was a testament to just how much Michael Jordan dominated at everything he did. I know there’s an entire generation of basketball fans who only know the greatness of Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, but in terms of sheer star power, Michael Jordan was bigger.

There’s always caveats about whether he would dominate as much in today’s game. I’m of the opinion that he would. Like I said, I grew up watching him in his prime. He’s one of those rare athletes who would have found a way to dominate in any era. However, that’s just my opinion. We’ll never truly know if Michael Jordan is better than Lebron James or Bill Russell.

However, Jordan’s greatness isn’t the only thing on display in The Last Dance.” In some sense, it exposes the dark side of being great. In public, Michael Jordan is that smiling, friendly guy who tries to sell them overpriced sneakers. In private, and during games, he was not that. He was incredibly intense. Some even call him a bully.

While that may surprise others who only know Jordan through his marketing team, it really shouldn’t. You don’t win six NBA championships, multiple MVPs, and a nickname like “Air Jordan” by being overly nice. In the world of professional sports, you can’t be Mr. Rogers. You have to be intense, sometimes to an extreme.

Michael Jordan was the epitome of extreme. Even as a kid, I saw it in the games. The man looked like he was ready to run through a wall and over people to win. The way he played the game with such intensity almost made him seem superhuman. That makes for amazing television, but on the court and in the heat of the game, it makes him something else.

That intensity reminds me of another famous insight into what it takes to succeed. It’s not nearly as iconic as Michael Jordan making the winning shot in the NBA Finals, but it’s close. It’s Alec Baldwin’s legendary speech about closing in “Glengerry Glenn Ross.” In case you need a reminder or some brutally honest motivation, here it is.

Look at Baldwin’s demeanor. Listen to the intensity of his voice. He sounds like a bully. He doesn’t sound at all likable. He sounds like the kind of guy you wish you could punch. Unfortunately, he also sounds like the guy who succeeds at what he does.

He’s intense.

He’s abrasive.

He demands greatness from others and has no sympathy for those not willing to put in the effort.

That won’t make him many friends, but it will make champions. That’s the kind of intensity that athletes like Michael Jordan channel. It’s not something that just anyone can do. It’s not even something you can entirely fake. You can try, but it only goes so far. You either have it or you don’t.

Being intense, competitive, and a little abrasive is often unpleasant, but it’s critical in pursuing success. Whether it’s selling real estate or winning six NBA championships, you need that kind of intensity to raise your game and those around you. You can have all the talent and charisma in the world, but it’ll only get you so far if you don’t have the drive to push yourself.

Michael Jordan had that drive. He pushed himself and those around him. He stepped on a few toes. He made plenty of enemies. He strained himself and his teammates. He also made mistakes, but that only fueled his intensity.

That’s why, in my opinion, he’s the greatest of all time.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sports

How Much Of What We Know Will Be Wrong Years From Now?

Take a moment to consider all the things you think are right, true, and valid. Please note, I’m not referring to opinions. I’m talking about things that are, in your mind, unassailable fact. These are things like certain laws of physics, certain assumptions of politics, and a general understanding of how the world works. To us, they’re both common knowledge and common sense.

Historically speaking, it’s a guarantee that at least some of what you believe to be completely true will one day be proven completely wrong or at least only partially true. It won’t happen to everything you think you know. You may not even live to see it. However, that day will come and you’ll have to consider the painful possibility that you were wrong about something.

I pose this little thought experiment as a means of refining perspective. We like to believe that we live in a time when the great mysteries of the universe are either known, unknowable, or within our grasp within our lifetime. Every generation likes to believe they have a firm grasp of everything they need to know, more so than any generation before them. The idea that another generation might be better than them is untenable.

Again, history says we’re destined to look foolish to the vast majority of people 100 years from now. It’s not just from changing social attitudes. It’s not just in the workplace, either. Rest assured, there are things you accept today that will be wrong, rejected, or scorned in the future.

It’s hard to know what those things are. From a societal standpoint, our current attitudes regarding wealth disparity, the treatment of animals, and how we care for the elderly could be subject to categorical scorn. In some cases, it might just be a product of circumstances, but that wouldn’t make it any less wrong.

In terms of science, it gets even trickier. Over the centuries, there have been a multitude of well-accepted theories that were subsequently proven wrong. If you’re a creationist, don’t get too excited. Those theories were wrong because we uncovered new information that helped us craft better theories that nobody even thought of. It’s how we got things like germ theory, the big bang theory, and quantum theory.

Many of these revelations began with us looking for evidence that we were right. Even though confirmation bias is a powerful force, it can only do so much against an unforgiving reality. Even the likes of Albert Einstein got a number of key issues wrong when seeking to understand the universe.

Years from now, our smartest scientist will seem like a mediocre college student. It’s just a matter of time, effort, and discovery. Every time we think we understand something completely, we uncover information that reminds us just how little we know in the grand scheme of things. It can be frustrating, but it also is what helps us progress as a species.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of tools like advanced artificial intelligence. Everything humanity knows is limited by how much humanity can collectively understand. Our primate brains are driven by primate instincts. That limits our ability to understand things beyond a certain point. In theory, an advanced artificial intelligence could understand things in ways our brains literally cannot process.

That’s why it’s such an important perspective to maintain. You are going to be wrong about something at some point in your life. Years after you’ve passed away, your children and grandchildren will find out that you were wrong about much more than you thought. It’s inevitable. It’s also humbling and worth embracing.

We’ll never know everything about everything, but knowing more than we used to is always valuable. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.

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Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, technology, Thought Experiment

Religious Zealots, Vaccines, And (Unavoidable) Hypocrisy

To some extent, a global crisis is the ultimate bullshit filter. You can bullshit your way through a lot of things. Things like politics, economics, theology, and philosophy can all be twisted and obscured by a skilled bullshitter who has little concern for the truth, ethics, or decency. However, no amount of bullshit can circumvent the grim realities of a global pandemic.

A disease like the coronavirus/COVID-19 doesn’t respond to fancy rhetoric, dogmatic beliefs, or ideological divides. It responds only to the immutable laws of physics and biology. To this virus, you’re not a liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or Satanist. You’re just another host.

It’s a grim, yet sobering perspective. It’s also revealing in other ways. As I’ve noted before, I believe we’ll eventually beat this disease. Not since World War II has there been a crisis that has unified humanity’s effort to a singular cause. It will take time and people will still die, but we’ll ultimately save more lives because of the advances we make. The fact that nobody dies of Small Pox anymore is proof of that.

As hopeful as I am for this outcome, which still seems so far away, it does bring up another issue that will likely emerge once this crisis ends. That issue has less to do with the science and more to do with the religious zealots who have spent decades trying to inject themselves into scientific circles.

I’ve mentioned religion before in pointing out some of the humorous headlines they’ve inspired in this crisis, but there’s nothing funny about this particular issue. As always, I want to disclose that most religious people aren’t zealots. They don’t take their religion, their holy text, or their eccentric leaders too seriously. They believe what they believe, but live their lives as decent, loving human beings.

This is not about them.

The people I’m referring to here are the people who yell the loudest whenever someone points out a scientific fact that contradicts their preferred holy book. These are the people who demand that their theology be treated with scientific credence in a classroom. They’re also the ones who demand special treatment by the government and greater influence in society as a whole.

I single these people out because in a crisis like this, they can’t survive with the rest of society without being hypocrites in the highest order. I say that as someone who freely admits he can’t predict the future to any degree. However, I’ve met enough religious zealots in my life to surmise predictable patterns.

With that in mind, here’s how I predict religious zealots will react when a vaccine or treatment is found for COVID-19.

They’ll thank their deity and not the doctors or scientists.

They’ll eagerly get in line to receive the treatment, whatever it might be.

They’ll later claim that their deity protected them over the course of the crisis

They’ll then claim the crisis was a punishment for insert-hot-button-social-issue-here.

On top of that, they’ll do all of this with a straight face and a clear conscious. They won’t think of themselves as hypocrites, but that’s what they’ll be by the very definition of the word.

They’ll have claimed that prayer heals and protects adherents, but conveniently overlook how it failed to protect anyone during this crisis.

They’ll have claimed that any science that contradicts their theology, namely evolution, has no merit and should not be supported on any level. Then, they’ll gladly enjoy the fruits of that same science once a vaccine is perfected. Chances are they’ll go right back to bemoaning the same science because it doesn’t line up with their holy books.

Even those who openly defied orders by health officials will face few consequences for their behavior. Even if it’s proven that people suffered and died because of their reckless behavior in the face of a pandemic that doesn’t respond to prayers or preaching, they aren’t likely to change their ways. Even if their hypocrisy is thrown in their face, it won’t change them or their zealous dogma.

That’s the most frustrating part. Most reasonable people, regardless of their faith, understand that there’s a time for prayer and a time for working with the science we know to solve a big problem. Many of those working on a vaccine as I write this are religious. Some might even be motivated by their religion to save as many lives as possible. These people are truly heroic in their own right.

Those who build their religious zealotry on false promises, false hope, and even outright fraud deserve no such praise. Their theology depends on a foundation of bullshit and when a crisis like this cuts through it, then the only thing left is hypocrisy.

I take some comfort in the knowledge that, thanks to the internet and social media, a record of their hypocrisy will remain. They might try to bullshit their way around the facts, but at some point, all the bullshit in the world can’t overcome such hypocrisy.

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Filed under biotechnology, Current Events, human nature, politics, Reasons and Excuses, religion, technology

Loneliness, Bitterness, And Perspectives From Pandemics

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The crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic affected our world and our lives in ways too numerous to list. I hate talking about it and lamenting on all the things we’ve lost because of it, from March Madness to movies to new comics. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. Unlike misguided outrage or clickbait, I can’t just step away from my computer and escape. The world around me is still quarantined.

It’s a rare, unprecedented level of awful that will likely resonate for decades to come. It’s awful on so many levels, but it’s often through awful experiences that new perspectives emerge. I’d like to offer one today, if only to divert attention from how bad the news keeps getting.

Let’s face it. If you’re a very social person who enjoys going out, meeting new people, and forging new connections, this experience has been hell. It’s not just that bars, clubs, malls, and movie theaters are closed. You can’t even get close to people to connect with them anymore. Social distancing has made everyone less inclined to get close. For people who value that closeness, it’s nothing short of devastating.

At the same time, the less social crowd has probably noticed just how little their lives have changed. If you enjoyed sitting on your ass all day, watching TV and playing video games, then chances are you’re not feeling the impact that much. You might even take a perverse satisfaction out of the fact that your hobbies and passions have already equipped you to weather this crisis.

Between those extremes, however, lies the insights that are worth noting. Before this crisis took hold, it wasn’t uncommon to cite lonely, anti-social people, most of which were men, as damaged and dangerous. They’re behind many of the insults thrown at the “incel” community or those who debate feminism and social justice on message boards.

I know because I’ve been called that on more than one occasions. It’s often some variation of “basement-dwelling neckbeard” or something of the sort. I honestly don’t pay much attention to those insults. I’ve been on the internet long enough to grow fairly thick skin. At the same time, I think this crisis can offer a new perspective on loneliness to those who aren’t used to it.

Being trapped at home for days on end, unable to go out and socialize, means a sizable chunk of people who haven’t experienced loneliness to this extent can now know what it’s like. While I genuinely hope it ends soon and doesn’t leave any lasting scars on people, I hope it makes the necessary impression.

If you’re lucky enough to have a family, then you’ve got some support. If you’re lucky enough to have a lover, then you’ve got a source of intimate contact that feels like a precious luxury to many. That assumes that nobody you care about is sick, which adds a new level of dread to the loneliness. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s also a feeling worth scrutinizing.

To get that point across, I’d like to pose some questions to those who have ever labeled someone an incel, toxic, problematic, or any other insult that makes them unworthy of compassion.

How does it feel to have the desire to connect with others, but not the means?

How does it feel to be cut off from intimate human contact through no fault of your own?

How does it feel to have hours on end to yourself with nothing more than your hobbies to occupy yourself?

How does it feel to feel so utterly alone through no fault of your own?

How does it feel to be completely powerless to change your current situation?

I apologize if any of these questions come off as harsh. I hope they still convey the necessary message. Some of it may be personal for me. I’ve had people insult me whenever I’ve admitted to feeling lonely. Being a man, I feel like I don’t get much sympathy. People just assume I’m not doing something right and it’s up to me to fix it.

While part of that might be true, there are also parts that are simply beyond my control. A global pandemic is one of those things that’s beyond everyone’s control, from young men who play video games to world leaders who wield real power. For once, we’re all at the mercy of the same overwhelming force. We can’t hide from it or its effects.

There’s no patriarchal conspiracy, radical feminist plot, or secret cabal of lizard people working against us. This is just something that emerged from nature and hit us where it hurt at the worst possible time. For once, we’re all on the same page in terms of how vulnerable and concerned we are.

It’s a rare, but bittersweet opportunity. In recent years, there has been this narrative about lonely, bitter men, as well as lonely bitter women. They’re lonely and bitter because the world didn’t give them everything they wanted on a silver platter, so they take it out on everyone else.

They want the world to cater to their sensibilities.

They claim their preferences are right and anything to the contrary is flawed, political, or in some ways invalid.

They cling to their opinions, citing only the facts that justifies them while attacking those that oppose them.

Everyone is guilty of doing this. I certainly am. It’s tempting to write them off as products of a bitter, lonely existence for which they are wholly responsible. If nothing else, this pandemic shows that everyone is at the mercy of their circumstances.

Whatever someone’s attitude may be, even if it is misguided and flawed, it doesn’t make their loneliness any less real. It’s easy to insult those kinds of people when your situation is entirely different and arguably better. Now, this disease has put every one of us in the same boat, relatively speaking.

I hope we all remember this feeling and how much it sucks. I genuinely hope it inspires and educates others to understand how crippling loneliness can be for some people. Not everyone deals with it in a healthy way. Many will continue to cope in unhealthy ways long after this crisis is over.

At least now we know what drives those feelings. Whether you’re a lonely man, a lonely woman, or just lonely in general, we’ve all experienced the struggle it brings. Keep that in mind the next time you judge someone who seems bitter and angry at the world. They may just be lonely and no matter what your politics or ideology may be, it can make us feel as sick as any pandemic.

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Why Do We Root For Characters Like Bojack Horseman?

Why do we root for people who do awful things?

Why do we root for the crazed killer in a slasher movie?

Why do we celebrate anti-heroes over traditional, upstanding heroes?

Why do we want people who do irredeemable things to be redeemed?

These are questions are similar in that they have a common theme, but they apply to a wide variety of situations. It feels like those questions have become more relevant in recent years as the standards for quality TV, movies, and characters has risen, which I’ve called the Walter White effect. While it can make for compelling stories, the questions themselves have distressing implications.

I’ve found myself contemplating those questions more seriously after the final season of “Bojack Horseman.” While I love this show and have praised its themes in the past, the final season really pushed the envelope on how far a show could go in telling stories about broken characters.

There’s no getting around it. From the first episode to the series finale, it’s abundantly clear that Bojack Horseman is not a respectable person. He’s a self-centered, narcissistic, alcohol, ego-centric asshole who has hurt people, exploited people, and taken full advantage of his celebrity status. If we knew someone like this in real life, we would never root for them. We’d probably root against them.

However, as I watched this show over the years, I still found myself rooting for Bojack. In following his story, learning about who he is, where he comes from, and how he deals with his problems, I genuinely hoped that he would find some semblance of peace in the end. Even as his sordid deeds started to come to light in the final season, a part of me didn’t want to see him fall, especially when he’d made so many strides.

Bojack isn’t the only character with this issue. There are countless other characters in popular culture, such as Don Draper and Wolverine, who do many awful things throughout their story. I’m a fan of those characters, especially Wolverine. At the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that he’s done terrible things that are on par with Bojack’s crimes.

At the same time, I root for Wolverine. I also find it easier to root for him over Bojack because while Wolverine is largely a product of what others have done to him, Bojack is a product of his own awful decisions.

Bojack has no special powers or excuses, outside being a celebrity. He has his share of issues and circumstances, from verbally abusive parents to substance abuse to legitimate mental illness. However, throughout the show, he’s still the one who makes the choices that ultimately hurt him and his loved ones. Moreover, he spends a great deal of time avoiding the consequences or downplaying them.

This is why I think the final season of Bojack Horseman” was so impactful. While I did often root for Bojack throughout the show, the final season made it a point to remind everyone of the terrible things he’s done. The show is brilliant in how it has everything collapse around Bojack, but not because of circumstance. Once again, his own terrible choices and endless excuses are what do him in.

Seeing him face real, actual consequences for his decisions helped give the show a sense of balance when it ended. Bojack didn’t have a happy ending. Very few characters did. At the same time, he wasn’t killed or endlessly punished. It just left him in an uncertain state where he faced consequences for his past choices. Now, he has to make new choices moving forward.

It’s not satisfying for anyone who’d been rooting for Bojack. At the same time, it’s cathartic for that part of us who wanted him to face consequences for the awful things he’d done. Even so, the fact we rooted for him in the first place is oddly jarring and I think it speaks to a part of our nature that’s difficult to understand.

On some level, I feel like people want to see horrible people redeem themselves. Redemption stories are powerful in both the world of fiction and the real world. I think it’s in our nature to want to see good in everyone, even when they’ve done awful things. The power and desire to forgive is real.

However, does that mean we should let horrible deeds go unpunished? It’s one thing to forgive someone for a lie, but what about someone who abandons his best friend when he gets fired? What about someone who nearly chokes a woman to death in a drug-fueled rage? What about someone who takes advantage of a woman with amnesia?

Those deeds are all things that Bojack did over the course of Bojack Horseman.” There are many others, some of which he never faced consequences for. Even though he’s an extreme example, even by fictional character standards, we still root for him. We still want him to find redemption. I think that says more about us than it does about him.

Awful people will do awful things, but when we see them trying to make things better, it’s hard not to cheer them on. I believe its in our nature to want to see others be the best they can be. The challenge is balancing that inclination to root for them and the need to punish shitty behavior.

Bojack’s story is over, but there are plenty of other characters like him that we root for. It’s not wrong to root for them, but it’s important to maintain a proper perspective. Redemption can be a powerful story. However, can there be any redemption without consequences?

I don’t know the answer. If you have some insights, please share them in the comments.

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What The “Mass Effect” Trilogy Revealed About Paragons, Morality, And Human Nature

I genuinely believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. I know that’s not a popular opinion, these days. I’ve even tried to remind people of it a few times. You need only look at the news, history books, or headlines from Florida to undermine your faith in human nature. I don’t deny that there’s plenty of bad, but there’s also a great deal of good. Sometimes, you find it in unexpected places.

In this case, the place is the epic space opera that is “Mass Effect.” It’s not just one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, which I often go out of my way to reference. It’s a game that dares to give players a choice in how moral or immoral they want to be. There are plenty of games out there that let you play virtuous heroes and deplorable anti-heroes. This game lets the player decide which path they want to follow.

In the original trilogy, it’s called the Paragon/Renegade system. Throughout all three games, you’re given choices on what to say or what to do in various situations. Some are inherently selfless and heroic, such as saving the Rachni from extinction. Others are just pure dick moves, like punching a reporter or shooting Mordin.

The path you choose doesn’t prevent you from completing the game, but it does affect the story. It also effects the endings of certain games and the plots of others. You can basically play the same three games and forge a very different story. You can be a pillar of virtue and nobility or you can be a total dick who still gets the job done. It’s entirely up to you.

I’ve played this game so many times that I’ve done both, but I prefer the path of the paragon. It just feels more rewarding at the end, even though it doing so does come at a price throughout the game. Recently, in an article by Forbes that featured one of BioWare’s developers, I found out that I’m not the only one who shares that sentiment. In fact, that sentiment is revealing in ways that go beyond the game.

Forbes: You’ll Be Surprised What Percent Of ‘Mass Effect’ Players Chose Paragon

The information comes from BioWare’s John Ebenger, who was retweeting a meme on Twitter about how devs give players choices to be evil villains in games, yet people always pick the nice options anyway. And it turns out that’s even more true than the meme suggests, as Ebenger laments that with all the work they put into the Renegade content in Mass Effect, that something close to a whopping 92% of players chose Paragon in any given moment.

Those bold parts are my doing. Regardless of your math skills, 92% is not a slim margin. That’s an overwhelming majority of players. Given the many stereotypes of gamers, it’s somewhat refreshing. When given the choice to be a hero or be a dick, they choose to be a hero.

That’s a profound notion because this is a video game. There are no real stakes outside beating the game. Players have no real incentive to be good or evil, but they still choose good. Even when making the renegade choices comes with legitimate advantages, players still go with the way of the paragon. I think that says more about people in general than it does about those who play games like Mass Effect.”

Say what you will about the genuinely evil people in this world. They exist. They make the news. They’re the kind of people we can’t overlook, but therein lies the critical context. We’re aware of such evil because it’s so rare. When most of the people are simply making paragon choices, it’s not noteworthy. It’s considered normal.

As someone who has faith in humanity and loves all things “Mass Effect,” I find that genuinely uplifting. It proves to me that most people are inclined to be good and decent. Even if you put them in a galaxy-spanning adventure against rampaging Reapers, they’ll still do the right things for the right reasons.

In a sense, Commander Shepard gave us insight into the nature of humanity and showed us that most of us have the heart of a true paragon. That’s something worth celebrating and cherishing.

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What “Malcolm In The Middle” And “Joker” Can Teach Us About Deviance

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What makes someone deviant? What turns otherwise normal human beings into the kind of deviants who go onto commit crimes, foster discord, or lash out at the rest of society? These questions are often contemplated by psychologists, police, politicians, and people who just want to live in peace.

The answers aren’t easy, but they often make for compelling movies and TV shows. Some dare to offer answers that are as revealing as they are distressing. That’s part of what made “Joker” such an impactful movie. It’s also what triggered the controversy surrounding its subversive message. I tried to explore that message my review of the movie, but in doing so, I uncovered something surprising.

The themes in “Joker” are more relevant today than they’ve been in years. It makes the case that when people denigrate, marginalize, or ignore those in the lowest rungs of society, they’re going to create the kinds of monsters and supervillains that undermine the current order. Moreover, they deserve the chaos and deviance that these individuals cause.

In “Joker,” Arthur Fleck was a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances and societal denigration. While Gotham City didn’t turn him into the Joker, they put him in a position to make those fateful choices. Nobody tried to help him or give him other options. If anything, the help and options he needed were taken away. It was part of what made his deviance both compelling and understandable.

It reminded me of a famous TV show that made a similar point, albeit one from a very different genre and medium. It dared to make that point decade earlier, long before the current controversies surrounding mass shooters in movie theaters and so-called “incel culture.” That show is “Malcolm In The Middle.”

The two narratives couldn’t be more different. One is an R-rated movie that defies the conventions of the superhero genre and explores the twisted mind of an iconic villain. The other is a prime-time sitcom full of funny, cartoonish antics from a dysfunctional working-class family. One is dark and serious. The other is funny and light-hearted.

Despite those vast differences, they convey very similar messages. They both make the case that a callous, negligent society will create deviant individuals within its most disadvantaged. They also highlight how efforts to push them aside or suppress their deviance will only make things worse.

In “Joker,” it turned Arthur Fleck into an agent of chaos who went onto inspire more chaos in others. The circumstances in “Malcolm In The Middle” were very different and a lot more subtle, but the underlying message was still there.

It’s subtle, but it’s there.

From the first episode of the show to its finale, Malcolm and his family are depicted as both dysfunctional and disadvantaged. In some instances, they’re downright destitute. On many occasions, they deal with crippling debt, dead-end jobs, and arrogant upper-class types who look down on them with disgust. More often than not, Malcolm and his brothers get back at them in their own creative way.

Whatever form the antics take, the show never uses the lower-class status of Malcolm’s family to justify their behavior. Much like “Joker,” it establishes that the characters have agency. They’re dealt a lousy hand, but they still have opportunities to make non-deviant choices. They’re rarely forced into deviant acts. Opportunities arise and they exercise poor judgement, to say the least.

The very least.

Malcolm and his brothers didn’t have to lie about what happened to Dewey’s bike in Season 1, Episode 15. They did it anyways and things only escalated from there when the consequences caught up with them.

Malcom and his brother didn’t have to buy their mother a terrible birthday gift in Season 2, Episode 3. They still did and the end result led to them fighting an army of clowns in one of the show’s most memorable moments.

It’s not just the kids, either. Hal didn’t have to resort to unorthodox tactics when coaching Dewey’s soccer team in Season 3, Episode 16. He still did and things only got messier from there.

Lois didn’t have to force Malcolm to getting a job as terrible as hers in order to teach him a lesson in Season 5, Episode 6. She still did and, in doing so, taught him an entirely different lesson about just how screwed people like them are. It’s a message that even found its way into her memorable speech in the series finale.

It’s an important component of the show’s brilliance and humor. Malcolm and his family are a mess. They’re constantly getting screwed over by circumstances, bad choices, and other people who look down on them. However, they never come off as victims, nor do they carry themselves as such. They have opportunities to become less dysfunction, but often squander them.

Arthur Fleck had chances to become something other than a killer clown. There were a number of instances in “Joker” in which he could’ve gone a different path. He simply chose not to and society didn’t lift a finger to help him. If anything, they took away what little help he got.

Throughout seven seasons in “Malcolm In The Middle,” Malcolm’s family finds themselves in similar situations. One of the best examples is in Season 4, Episode 17, which happened to be the second clip show episode. In that episode, Hal and Lois recount the births of their kids as they prepare for the arrival of another.

In every instance, the births are subject to strange and hilarious circumstances. In one of them, Lois goes into labor in the driveway of their house because Francis locked her out of the car. Then, while she’s writhing in pain from the labor, a jogger passes by. She yells out she’s having a baby, but the jogger just ignores her and congratulates her.

It’s funny, but symptomatic of the family’s lot in life. Nobody goes out of their way for them. Nobody offers to help them. It even happens again a few episodes later in Season 4, Episode 21 when Lois goes into labor with Jamie. Even though someone calls 9-1-1 and an ambulance arrives, they don’t get there until after she gives birth. The EMTs even joke about how they stopped for coffee.

Like Arthur Fleck, the society around Malcolm’s family doesn’t care about them. They even go out of their way to avoid or neglect them. In “Joker,” Arthur is repeatedly victimized by both the system and individuals who go out of their way to harass him. His situation is already bad, but these ordeals only make it worse.

Early in the movie, Arthur does show signs that he’s capable of being a decent person. He tried to make a kid on the bus laugh. He entertained sick children at a hospital. He could’ve been a productive, positive force in society. Then, society started screwing him over and bad choices on his part led him to become a dangerous deviant.

While Malcolm and his family didn’t become as deviant as the Joker, they still did plenty of damage with their antics. At the same time, there were plenty of instances that showed that, as dysfunctional as they were, they could still be good and decent to others when given the chance. They just rarely got those changes and society rarely provided the incentives.

It’s a powerful message with respect to what makes people deviant. Some people are at the mercy of bad circumstances, be they poverty, mental illness, or having an overbearing mother like Lois. They’re still capable of being good, but it’s easier for them to become deviant when society neglects them. That deviance only compounds as a result of poor judgement and bad choices.

Yes, they compound a LOT.

There are plenty of differences between “Joker” and “Malcolm In The Middle.” Whereas “Joker” takes things to the worst possible outcome in the descent towards deviance, “Malcolm In The Middle” manages to maintain a more hopeful outlook. People can still be deviant and dysfunctional, but they can rise above it. The events of the series finale affirm that.

Those differences aside, this movie and this TV show offer lessons and insight into something that all societies must deal with. There will always be a certain level of deviance. There will also be those more inclined to pursue it. It’s just a matter of how to confront it. More than anything else, “Joker” and “Malcolm In The Middle” shows the consequences of confronting it the wrong way.

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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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