Tag Archives: outrage culture

Why Social Media Is NOT The New Tobacco

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It’s a full-blown crisis. Kids are spending hours upon hours using it. They’re becoming mindless, unmotivated zombies. Every day, it’s getting worse. It’s all around them. There’s no escaping it and if something drastic isn’t done, it’ll corrupt an entire generation beyond repair.

No, that’s not some hysterical rant from Jessica Lovejoy on “The Simpsons.” It’s not referring to smartphones or social media, either. That urgent message was referring to television. This isn’t another one of my thought experiments. This is one of my memories. It’s true. Televisions was a real concern when I was a kid. Some called it a full blown health hazard.

If that sounds strange, then chances are you aren’t old enough to remember a time before the internet was the ultimate addiction. It really existed. It makes me and many others in my cohort feel old, but it happened. When I was a kid still in grade school, especially between first and sixth grade, the internet wasn’t the thing destroying kids. It was television.

That memory I mentioned wasn’t unique. It came courtesy of an assembly my school held. I don’t entirely remember the purpose of the assembly. I was just a kid and it was an excuse to get out of class. What I do remember, though, was the common refrain about the dangers of television.

Adults of all kinds would find creative ways to tell us to stop watching television and do something “productive,” which I took to mean more homework, more chores, and anything else my teachers made me do. It didn’t really appeal to me and I don’t think it changed the TV habits of my peers, either.

That panic, while nowhere nearly as extreme as the Satanic Panic of the 80s, came and went like many moral crusades tend to do. Some are just forgotten, but others just evolve into a whole new panic. That seems to be happening with the internet and social media now. Watching TV is actually in decline among younger cohorts while their usage of the internet and social media is increasing.

I imagine those same teachers who bemoaned the impact of TV when I was a kid would be giving similar lectures on social media now. They would have competition too because parents today worry about their kids’ internet usage more than their drug usage. Some go so far as to call it the new tobacco to belabor its damaging and addictive nature.

While that kind of comparison strikes all the right emotional chords with concerned parents, I think it’s an unfit comparison to say the least. At most, I would call it absurd. The memories of all those warnings about the dangers of TV leave me inherently skeptical of anything that’s allegedly poisoning children. Unless it’s actual poison, I think the tobacco comparisons are premature.

Now, there’s no question that the internet and social media are having an impact on young people, old people, and everyone in between. There are documented cases where people have exhibited addictive behaviors surrounding their internet usage. Before you make any nicotine comparisons, though, keep in mind that people can be addicted to all sorts of weird things. The human mind is just that strange, powerful, and flawed.

Tobacco, and the nicotine it delivers, is an outside chemical that enters the brain and has real, measurable effects. Using the internet, whether you’re checking FaceBook or browsing Instagram, is not like that. That’s why internet addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that legitimate doctors use to diagnose addiction, but substance abuse is.

It’s also why porn addiction is not considered a true addiction, which I’ve talked about before. However, porn is more specific in its purpose and its effects. There’s also still a stigma, albeit a damaging one, surrounding it that sets it apart from the rest of the internet. A kid browsing the internet, for the most part, is no less damaging than watching cartoons on TV all day.

That doesn’t stop a growing number of people from expressing sincere concern about the effects it’s having on their minds and their health. Some may even prefer that their kids watch old Hanna Barbara cartoons rather than tweet, text, and live-stream all day. There’s a growing sentiment that the internet, social media in particular, hacks our brain’s rewards system.

On paper, it makes sense. You pick up your smart phone, you turn it on not knowing what to expect, and if you find something you like, you get a quick release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. It’s basically a form of gambling. A slot machine works the same way, but you don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy the gambling-like thrill.

Like so many other ideas on paper that go onto fail, though, it’s nowhere near that simple. The human brain can’t be that crude with its chemistry. As a good rule of thumb, if you ever hear someone other than a legitimate neurologist talks about the effects of dopamine on pleasure or addiction, chances are they have a very limited understanding of it at best.

While dopamine does play a role in how we experience pleasure, that’s just one part of a wide range of functions it has within our brains. Trying to understand addiction through dopamine alone is like trying to bake a cake with only a teaspoon of flour. There are many more chemicals, processes, and interactions at play.

Using social media may offer its users a rush whenever they get exciting news on their feed or see something that intrigues and/or offends them, but our brain processes that in a way fairly similar to anything else that catches our attention. The primary difference with the internet and social media is that it happens solely through a digital screen and that does somewhat limit those reactions.

I know that undercuts the concerns of parents who think the internet permanently damaging the collective psyche of their children, but I think they’re overestimating the influence of things that are experienced solely through a screen. Much like TV, the internet and social media can only effect so many senses and that is a major mitigating factor in its impact.

To understand that, go find a picture or video of an exotic location. If you’re a heavy user of Instagram, chances are that won’t be too hard. Look at those pictures. Watch that video. Take in the sights and sounds of that location. To your brain, it’s an appealing bit of visual and auditory sensations. However, those are the only two senses it stimulates.

What about the smell of the air, the feeling of the wind, and the sense of place that being in those locations evokes in our brains? Even if you experience it through hyper-realistic virtual reality, it’s still just sights and sounds at most. Thinking that alone is enough to damage a kid’s brain is like thinking someone can win a sword fight with a sewing needle.

That’s not to say the internet and social media can’t have a powerful psychological impact on certain people. That’s the key, though. It impacts certain people the same way TV impacts certain people. Sure, there are documented cases where social media played a role in a major tragedy, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

In the same way not everyone gets addicted to a drug after they try it, not everyone is going to be irreparably damaged by the internet, social media, or TV. There’s a reason why extreme cases of people being heavily influenced by these things makes the news in the first place. It’s exceedingly rare.

I would still make the case that the internet and social media are more influential on people, society, and our culture than TV ever was. By being so hyper-connected to such a wide audience, the professional trolls of the world have a way to effect others in a way that just wasn’t possible, even with TV.

As bad as some of those trolls are and as tragic as it is when some suffer because of them, blaming the internet for those ills is like blaming umbrellas for hurricanes. Lumping it in with cancer-causing drugs only further obscures the real issues associated with the ever-evolving internet.

There are, indeed, serious issues with how people use the internet and how it manifests. However, treating it like a dangerous drug did nothing to address the issues surrounding TV. It’ll do just as little in addressing the various controversies of the internet. Until the next “new tobacco” comes along, those same people who lectured me on too much TV will bemoan the dangers of the internet while ignoring all the good it does.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology

Being Offended, When It Matters, And What To Do About It

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Let’s face it. We live in a pretty offensive world. As much progress as we’ve made, as a species, there are still a lot of hateful, insulting, and outright disgusting things in this world. I’m not just talking about war atrocities, injustices, and reality TV shows either. You don’t have to look too far to find something that offends you to your core.

Therein lies the problem, though. In this era of super-connected, hyper-vigilant people who can’t always tell the difference between actual news and “fake news,” it’s exceedingly easy to find something offensive. Look hard enough, deep enough, and with a reckless disregard for facts and context, and you’ll probably find a way to be offended.

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I hope I’ve made clear, by now, that I don’t particularly care for the politically correct, inherently regressive attitudes that undermine our ability to live, love, and even make love. In fact, I’ve gone on record as saying that this crude approach to evaluating our society and culture needs to go the way of dial-up internet.

While I doubt political correctness will fade anytime soon, there are signs that it is cracking under the annoying strain it has caused, as the 2016 Presidential Election showed. It still rears its head constantly in controversies involving movies, video games, and even my beloved world comic books. However, it doesn’t quite have the momentum it used to when it really got going during the 2014 GamerGate saga.

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I expect that momentum to fluctuate in accord with whatever controversies and/or outrages emerge over the course of 2018 and beyond. I also expect those who claim offense will demonstrate wildly varying degrees of pettiness in their outrage. For some, it’ll be genuine. For most, though, I don’t expect it to go beyond the “I hate it and it makes me upset, therefore it shouldn’t exist” variety.

With that exceedingly varied pettiness in mind, I’d like to offer a quick a service, of sorts, to those who will inevitably be offended and those who will be annoyed by the degree of pettiness that such offense requires. I won’t give it a fancy name or anything. I just want to lay out some guidelines for interpreting offense.

Having watched political correctness and regressive attitudes evolve a great deal over the course of my life, I’ve noticed more than a few patterns in the attitudes of those who are genuinely offended. They tend to be very different compared to those whose offense is indistinguishable from trolling.

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At its core, the exceedingly regressive, politically correct forms of offense require a certain set of attitudes. Those attitudes include, but aren’t restricted to the following:

  • Being offended on behalf of an entire group of people, regardless of whether or not you’re actually a member of that group
  • Demanding broad, systemic change from the top down, imposed either by rules or by public scorn
  • Demanding some form of reparation or acknowledgement of past wrong-doing, regardless of whether or not someone was directly involved
  • Seeking to fix broad, non-specific injustices all at once
  • Re-shaping society through petty scrutinizing of media, language, and thought

There are probably more attitudes I could highlight, but for now, I’ll use these as the core tenants of those whose offense requires a significant absence of context or specifics. I won’t cite certain groups or sub-cultures, but those who spend any amount of time on social media or message boards can probably discern a few that fit that criteria.

Now, before I go any further, I want to add one important caveat. Regardless of how petty or asinine someone’s sense of offense may be, I don’t doubt for a second that it feels relevant from their perspective. Granted, there are a few professional trolls out there who will pretend to be offended, but I think those people are the minority. The rest do feel offense, but only to the extent that it has limited substance.

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Genuine or not, there are certain types of offending sentiments that carry more weight than others. Offense over the historical treatment of minorities, the inflammatory remarks of a public figure, and general insults from ordinary people exists on a vast spectrum.

It’s one thing to take offense to the depiction of minorities in an episode of “Family Guy,” but it’s quite another when someone makes a direct threat to an entire segment of people. That’s the key element to the substance of the offending behavior, though. It’s a matter of how direct it is.

Think of it as a forest-from-the-trees concept, but from the opposite direction. A person actively promoting a policy that would murder an entire group of people is different from one who just says horrible, disgusting things about that group in general. Promoting a policy is a tangible act in the same way a tree is a tangible thing, whereas a forest is more a concept.

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This gets even trickier for those who claim to be offended for an entire group of people. That offense requires that everyone within the group actually think and feel the same way about a particular issue. Absent mass telepathy or a Borg-style hive-mind, that’s neither feasible, nor logical.

Even for those who are part of that group, be they a race, religion, or sexual minority, attitudes can vary wildly because people are complex. Every individual has unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The more a type of offense relies on everyone sharing those sentiments, the more petty and empty it has to be.

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As a result, the endgame for those offended in such a way requires a recourse that is either antithetical to a just society or exceedingly unreasonable, if not wholly impractical. You know a form of offense is petty when it requires things like:

  • Condemning people just for thinking certain thoughts or holding certain beliefs
  • Demanding that other people sacrifice a part of their freedom, assets, or autonomy on behalf of another
  • Apologizing for past injustices that they did not directly commit

The pettiness is really on display whenever the offense requires the interpretation of other peoples’ thoughts. This often comes up whenever media like TV, movies, and video games are deemed offensive. It’s not that they’re triggering actual crimes, despite what some may claim. They’re somehow influencing the process.

This sentiment has gotten much more extreme in recent years, especially when it comes towards sexism. Never mind the fact that rates of sexual assault are declining and have been since the mid-1990s. It’s the thoughts and attitudes this media is instilling that’s so offensive.

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Again, that kind of offense requires someone to actually know what’s going on in the minds of other people when they consume certain media and see certain images. While we are working on that technology, that’s not possible right now. Absent a case where someone can tie a specific crime directly to a real victim, this kind of offense is empty at best and disingenuous at worst.

Those specifics matter even more when it comes to really sensitive issues like reparations for slavery, affirmative action, or the gender pay gap. These issues are sensitive because they often require a particular context. Namely, they require that part of that context be ignored in order to seem palatable to a large group of people.

To get behind slavery reparations, people have to ignore the fact that there’s nobody alive today who directly enslaved someone else. To get behind affirmative action, people have to ignore the fact that promoting diversity will come at the expense of disadvantaging someone who might be more qualified. To get behind the gender pay gap, even, it’s necessary to ignore all the other factors that go into that disparity.

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With all this in mind, how does anyone determine how much their offense matters beyond their own personal feelings? Well, the criteria for that is a bit trickier to determine, but there are concepts that pass the Simpson Filter. They can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Tying a specific incident to actual, verifiable harm suffered by another person
  • Recourse that involves a specific, feasible goal that reforms a situation and addresses a direct injustice
  • Establishing a phenomena that has actual causation and not just correlation in a way that other people can verify
  • Incorporated the entirety of context within a given issue

It may seem like an impossible set of standards, but it can and has been done. The civil rights reforms that men like Martin Luther King Jr. fought for were targeted, specific, and addressed an ongoing injustice. More recently, the protests at Standing Rock created a real movement to address a real injustice with a clear goal in mind.

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Again, that’s not to say that someone who takes offense to a shirt a man wore during an interview is entirely empty, but it is exceedingly petty and a little selfish to seek vindication for that offense on a larger scale. That’s where the really damaging effects of political correctness and regressive attitudes take hold.

At the end of the day, the universe and society at large is under no obligation to change in order to accommodate your hurt feelings. Sure, you can attempt to persuade others that your offense is somehow legitimate, but attempting to force it only undermines those whose offense is real and genuine.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, Marriage and Relationships

Reasons Vs. Excuses: Why The Difference Matters

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Has anyone ever asked you to do something you really don’t want to do? Actually, let me rephrase that. How many times does someone ask you to do something you don’t want to do in the past 24 hours? Let’s face it. Unless you’re a king, a dictator, or Taylor Swift, it’s happened at least once.

Whatever was asked of you, how did you try to get out of it? I know some people will just grit their teeth and do it. Those people deserve ten times the respect they get. Every now and then, if not most of the time, we try to do something to get out of doing what we don’t want to do. Whether you’re in New York City or the Gobi desert, you can’t escape these situations. They’re just part of life.

Whenever we’re in these situations, we usually try any number of things to get out of it. Whether it’s chores, homework, or ballet recitals, we all have our own set of tactics. Some are more elaborate than others.

I knew a kid in school who could throw up on demand. He didn’t even have to put his finger in his mouth. He could just concentrate, cough, and then spew the kind of chunky bile that would dissuade any teacher from giving him an exam. I lost count of how many times that skill got him out of trouble.

Most of us don’t have that talent though. We all still look for ways to get out of things we don’t want to do. I sure have. I don’t deny that. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either. It’s a good skill to have, knowing how to avoid situations that make you miserable. However, it does reveal an important concept that I find myself noticing more and more as I get older, although sometimes I wish I didn’t.

It has to do with two simple words: reasons and excuses. They both have similar definitions. Most of the time, outside of a scientific context, we use these words interchangeably. For the most part, we understand the meaning behind them.

However, for the purpose of this discussion, as well as future discussions since this is a big topic, I’d like to focus on a particular context. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the situations and justifications we individually use to do or avoid doing something. Make no mistake. There is a difference between a reason and an excuse.

A reason is logical, narrow, and concise. It can be understood by anyone with a functioning brain and verified with simple tools. That’s not to say a reason has to be cold and callous like a Vulcan. It just has to be valid and clear.

I’ll offer a simple example. Growing up, there were a certain set of chores for which me and my siblings were responsible. If we didn’t do these chores, we didn’t get an allowance. It was that simple. The one chore I did most often was mowing the lawn. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I still did it.

Then, one day, I got sick. I’m not talking about a headache either. I mean I got really sick, so much so that I ran a 102-degree fever. I know because my mother took my temperature twice. I was then bed-ridden for the next two days. Somebody else mowed the lawn, but I still got my allowance because I had a valid reason. My parents understood that. I understood that. There was no need for debate.

Using this same example in lawn care, I’ll highlight why an excuse is so different. If I wanted to use an excuse to get out of mowing the lawn, I sure as hell wouldn’t have chosen something that could be verified. Sure, I could’ve claimed to be sick, but that would’ve been pushing it because they could check. They could take your temperature and see if you’re running a fever.

On top of that, your parents may be really good at knowing when you’re lying. Mine certainly were. It might as well have been their mutant power. They knew when I was lying and if I ever tried, I’d just make an ass of myself.

Plus, lying to your parents isn’t just a dick move. It’s a bad long-term investment. If you lose your parents trust, especially over something as trivial as mowing the lawn, then you’ll give them way too many valid reasons not to trust you in the future, even when you have a good reason of your own.

So in order to make a more valid excuse, you need to come up with something more believable. It doesn’t have to be a lie. It doesn’t have to be completely true either. You could claim you’re depressed that your lover broke up with you. You could say there’s a movie you’d rather watch instead. You could say you just don’t feel like it. These aren’t lies. However, they are still excuses.

The primary trait of an excuse is that it doesn’t physically prevent you from doing whatever is asked of you. It defends and/or justifies your particular decisions, preferences, and what not. Being on vacation in Fiji ensures I can’t physically mow the lawn. That’s a reason. Being in a lousy mood and just wanting to sleep in does nothing to prevent me from operating the lawnmower. That’s an excuse.

With that in mind, let’s take the concept of reasons and excuses to a larger stage. Let’s assess how this applies to the overall process we use in rendering the various decisions and actions of our lives. What we do and why we do it is at the core of what it means to be a conscious human being.

For practical purposes, we like to think that we’re reasonable people. We like to think that we have valid reasons for what we do and why we do it. We break up with a lover because they’re not right for us. We buy organic food because it’s better for our health. We smoke pot because it makes us more fun to be around. Some of that may be true, but we still think of them as reasons and not excuses.

The problem with this is basically everything about it. Once again, caveman logic enters the picture and spits all over that rosy picture we have of ourselves and others. Based on our growing understanding of cognitive science and neurobiology, we have a better idea of how we make decisions and how we justify them.

When it comes to reasons and excuses, the two main factors are choice-supportive bias and cognitive dissonance. I know those sound like terms that Sheldon Cooper would use in a skit on “The Big Bang Theory” that somehow makes him sound like more of an asshole, but unlike 98 percent of what Sheldon says, these concepts are useful.

Choice-supportive bias is our tendency to ascribe positive attributes to the choices we make. It’s also a byproduct of cognitive dissonance, which is just a fancy way of saying our brain feels stressful and uncertain.

In essence, our brain is wired to avoid wrong decisions and for good reasons. Back in the caveman days, if we made a wrong decision, it usually meant we ended up as dinner for a hungry grizzly bear or ate poison berries that made us shit out our lower intestines. We’re alive because of this wiring so let’s not discount its use.

Unfortunately, nature is still a blunt instrument and our brains don’t know we only encounter bears in zoos that charge ten bucks for a soda. That aversion to making wrong decisions is still there, even when we decide something as simple as which breakfast cereal to buy.

With that in mind, we’ll do anything and everything to avoid wrong decisions and the brain stress they cause. Unfortunately, that often means making excuses to reduce the stress and justify our choice, even if it ends up being wrong.

If that weren’t bad enough, our brains don’t run our decisions through a logic filters first. Don’t worry though. That filter is still there in our brains. It’s just not at the front of the line like we all wish it were. If it were, then half the videos on YouTube wouldn’t exist.

Instead, according to current neuroscience, we make most of our decisions on snap judgments and emotions. Then, we’ll use reasons and excuses to justify those decisions after the fact. Unfortunately, since reasons are so rigid and stubborn, we’re more inclined to make excuses. Even if those excuses are mostly true, they’re still excuses.

There are so many other dynamics behind reasons and excuses. There’s no way I’ll be able to cover even half of them in a single blog post. However, there is a reason why I’m discussing this topic and it’s a good reason. It’s applies to both my novels, as well as other topics with very sexy implications.

That reason will become clearer in later posts. For now, consider this a trailer of sorts, minus the cheesy one-liners and explosions. If possible, take a moment to analyze how many excuses you make for your decisions compared to reasons. You may be shocked/appalled/disgusted by what you uncover. I promise you, though, it gets much crazier.

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Filed under Reasons and Excuses

Important Announcement: It’s OKAY To Be Sexy

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Today, I have a very important announcement to make. No, it has nothing to do with the release of my upcoming book, “Passion Relapse.” That’s still coming out on April 18th though. Yes, I’m going to promote the hell out of it in the coming weeks so get used to that.

This announcement is every bit as important as my first book. It may even be more important. Since I’m a long way from success as an erotica/romance writer, I don’t say that lightly. However, I do feel that this is worth saying. It needs to be said so brace yourself. This may shock a few people.

It’s OKAY to be sexy!

I’ll give everyone a moment to recover from the shock. Take all the time you need. I know. This is a startling revelation, but hang in there. We’ll get through this together. I promise.

Okay, that’s enough sarcasm for now. I’ll ease up on the melodrama, but it was necessary for a reason. I say it’s a good reason too because this is one of those topics that has no middle ground. Either people just shrug it off or they’re downright hysterical about it.

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Since I’m trying to break into the erotica/romance world, this subject actually affects me and could very well affect my future career. The stakes are higher for me is what I’m saying. So what exactly makes this announcement so vital?

Well, to answer that, here’s some context. It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t make too big a deal about characters in movies, video games, and comic books who were overtly sexual. I’m not saying some people got their panties in one too many knots. I’m saying that, for a time, it really wasn’t high on the list of things that pissed us off.

That time wasn’t too long ago. For reference, allow me to cite one of the most iconic female characters of the past couple decades, Lara Croft. She’s always been one of those characters with a special kind of sex appeal. You could argue that her sex appeal helped make her an icon. How could it not? This is what she used to look like.

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That’s pretty sexy. I won’t deny that it’s somewhat impractical for a soldier or a fighter, but Lara Croft is still a badass, globe-trotting fighter who happens to look good in short shorts and bikinis. There’s nothing wrong with that. As a man, I greatly appreciate that sort of visual appeal.

Then, back in 2013, her character was essentially revamped and rebooted. The sex appeal was downplayed, if not outright purged. Lara Croft went from being a badass, globe-trotting fighter with a sexy attitude to just a badass, globe-trotting fighter. She’s still a beautiful woman by most objective standards, but she’s not allowed to be quite as sexy anymore. This is what she looks like now.

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Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with how Lara Croft looks now. That hasn’t made her video games any less enjoyable to play. However, the removal of her sex appeal is somewhat jarring.

Lara Croft isn’t the only female character to undergo that change either. Remember when I did my list of female characters that make men hate women? Well, on that list, I put a character named Felecia “Black Cat” Hardy. She’s a typical female vixen character from the Spider-Man comics. She’s another character whose persona is built around sex appeal, as evidenced by her costume.

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Well, like Lara Croft, she underwent a change too. No, she didn’t become any less likable. Yes, she’s still a character who will make men hate women on some levels. The only difference now is that she doesn’t show as much cleavage.

It’s part of an ongoing story in the Spider-Man comics to make Black Cat more of a crime lord than a vixen. The story has been mediocre for the most part. I won’t say it’s bad, but I will say that it has done nothing to change the parts of Black Cat’s character that make her so unlikable. Whether she’s fully clothed or wearing a G-string thong, she’s still a character that make men say stupid crap about women.

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I find this trend somewhat troubling and not just because it means less visible boobs. It troubles me because for some reason, the image of sexy women is somehow a bad thing. Granted, sexy women have always made people feel a bit uncomfortable and not just in their pants, but this is getting into dangerously regressive territory.

There’s no doubt that there’s a certain level of sexism in the media. There’s also a vocal component of radical feminism that has this mentality that any man who admires the image of a sexy woman is somehow sexist, perpetuating sexism, or contributing to rape culture. For a guy just admiring a beautiful woman, that’s pretty extreme.

Beautiful women, pictures of beautiful women, and any female character that has some form of sex appeal is now somehow contributing to this concept of “toxic masculinity.” That’s basically a catch-all term for all the terrible things men do and, conveniently enough, the cause is something that’s hard-wired into their own biology. That’s like calling a man sexist because he sweats more than most women.

Never mind the fact that the ideas of toxic masculinity and rape culture are somewhat flawed concepts. Never mind that since 1995, rates of sexual assault against women have declined by 58 percent. Apparently, all these sexy images are causing a crisis somehow.

Regardless of the facts, these crises are becoming more and more petty. Last year, I mentioned some of the laughable outrage generated by a comic book cover for Invincible Iron Man. Maybe I should’ve pointed it out then too, but that was just one sign among many.

Whether it’s due to concerns about body image or female representation in media, there’s a new moral crusade brewing. This time, however, it’s not being led by clerics, mullahs, monks, and popes. It’s being led by ordinary, educated people who have somehow convinced themselves that being sexy or admiring sexy things is somehow wrong.

I’m here to say that’s simply wrong. It’s okay to be sexy. It’s okay to admire sexy images. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’re not a bad person for enjoying things you find sexy. You’re just a healthy mind in a healthy body. There’s no reason to apologize for that.

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Filed under Sexy Sunday Thoughts

How Professional Trolls Hack Your Brain

Here’s a quick non-rhetorical question. What do Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, Lena Dunham, Bill O’Riley, John Oliver, Alex Jones, and Sean Hannity all have in common? Other than being richer, more successful, and more well-connected than you or I will ever be, what could possibly tie them together in a way that would help them get along at a barbecue?

Take all the time you need. I know this is one of those questions that’s not going to have a very satisfying answer to anybody. I also know it’s one of those questions that pisses people off, even before they answer it. This is the internet. People get pissed off for far less.

Are you done? Well, knowing full-well that I’ve already pissed off plenty of people, here it is. They’re all trolls who use the exact same tactics to make themselves successful and relevant. They may not do it overtly. They may not even admit to it, but on some levels they understand what they’re doing and why it works. Sadly, it works very well.

Now when I say they’re all trolls, I don’t mean to imply that they’re the kind of internet trolls that harass people on social media with insults, death threats, or pictures animals eating their own shit. Those kinds of trolls are a different breed. Granted, they’re annoying and should be ignored at all cost, but these professional trolls are on another level in that they make a damn good living doing what they do.

What these professional trolls do is as brilliant as it is disturbing. Pick any notable public figure who says controversial things. It can be Milo Yiannopoulos making derogatory comments about Muslims. It can be Lena Dunham saying she wished she got an abortion. Just think about any controversial thing that any controversial figure has ever said.

Whether it’s entirely planned or one of those instances where they don’t shut themselves up fast enough, the results are the same. People get outrage. Hashtags get started. Protests erupt. Venomous hate clashes with vocal support. There’s basically all this noise full of anger and passion.

As all this is going on, Milo and Lena are probably laughing to themselves at how much free publicity they just got. Anyone who has ever been in show business, media, or publishing will probably agree. The hardest part of success in Hollywood is getting publicity. There’s only so much of it to go around and people have a very finite attention span. Being able to get free publicity is like being able to play a game with cheat codes.

Now we’ve all heard there’s no such thing as bad publicity before. That sort of sentiment pre-dates the internet, going all the way back to the days when Ozzy Osborne bit the head off of a bat. Today, there’s one key difference that takes this phenomenon, gives it an unlimited supply of crystal meth, and sticks a nine-inch needle in our collective brains.

That difference is immediate access to information. From the internet, to our computers, to our phones, and into our pockets, we no longer have to wait for the evening paper to hear about these atrocious events. Thanks to social media, alerts, and annoying text messages, we can know about them mere minutes after they happen.

While this is a marvel of modern technology and communication, it does have a downside and it’s one that the professional trolls of the world have exploited to the utmost. That downside has to do with how stupid our collective brains are.

By that, I don’t mean that people themselves are stupid. I may be in a minority, but I believe that people, in general, are fairly decent and competent in their day-to-day lives. When I say our brains are stupid, I’m referring to the overall functionality of the hardware involved.

This goes beyond caveman logic, which I’ve cited many times before on this blog. This even goes beyond humans being wired for survival and reproduction rather than logic and reason. This is a byproduct of nature being too much of a blunt instrument rather than a scalpel. In this case, it makes professional trolls rich, successful, and famous.

They do this by hacking an unfortunate quirk in the human brain and using it to their advantage. It’s called “Misattribution of Arousal.” Unlike other convoluted scientific phenomena, this is exactly what it sounds like.

Have you ever been on a roller coaster? Have you ever been really scared by something? Well, if your brain is in working order, it got you extremely aroused and alert. You were afraid, excited, anxious, or euphoric. You could’ve felt any number of emotions at the time.

From your brain’s perspective, though, it’s the goddamn same thing. You’re aroused. There’s a stimulus you need to respond to. That’s all there is to it. As brilliant and complex as the human brain is, it’s still a pretty crude organ. It can’t do math worth a damn. It can easily be tricked by the David Copperfields of the world. It can, however, be tricked into getting aroused for all the wrong reasons.

This is what professional trolls do. They do or say something that gets people aroused. It’s not enough to just get their attention. I’ve already covered how attention is a big part in the “Always Be Closing” approach to success. However, attention only does so much. Adding arousal to the mix does something far greater.

When your brain is in a state of arousal, it doesn’t care much for specifics. It just knows its aroused and needs to respond to something. When you have instant access to information that upsets, angers, or thrills you in any way, that triggers arousal. That arousal, even if its the bad kind, causes the release of dopamine and this is where it gets really dangerous.

For those of you who aren’t caught up on neuroscience, you should still know what dopamine is. That’s the feel-good, everything-is-awesome chemical that our brain uses to reward us for doing things we like. Naturally, it’s a big part of our sexual response. If your brain is swimming in dopamine, that means you’ve had amazing sex.

Now the outrage/interest/arousal we fell with professional trolls doesn’t release quite that much dopamine into our brains. However, it does release some. It releases enough to get a response and due to the crude wiring of our brains, that’s more than enough.

That means that, on some levels, we like being outraged or upset by professional trolls. We like the feeling we get when we despise certain people, groups, or ideologies. Anger, hate, and fear all trigger the same arousal. Our brains enjoy that arousal to some level and thanks to modern communication, it’s far easier to get today than it has ever been in human history.

It’s uncharted territory. If these professional trolls were around 40 years ago, they would probably have a much harder time building an audience. They could say some of the most horrendously-offensive things anyone could possibly say, but it wouldn’t get a lot of attention because word would spread too slowly. The internet, along with social media, is changing that in a big way.

The professional trolls are maximizing that change to their benefit. They’re finding all sorts of ways to anger, upset, or inspire us, even if it’s stressful. Again, our brain doesn’t care. It still arouses us. It still gives us a non-trivial dose of dopamine. That’s all it takes to get people going.

It’s the hidden, unknown, unacknowledged secret that we’re just starting to understand. Whether you’re a die-hard social justice warrior or an outspoken supporter of the alt-right, you use the same methods as the professional trolls. You say and do what you need to do to get people aroused.

It doesn’t matter if it’s true or honest. You don’t even have to believe it on some levels. There are probably many figures out there who, in their private moments, know that what they’re saying is wrong or foolish. They just don’t care though because they’re not looking to say something right or uplifting. They’re trying to get people aroused and worked up.

Now I don’t know which professional trolls feel this way in private. I believe that on some level, they all really believe in what they’re doing. I also believe that on some level, they understand that some of it is misguided and flawed. There’s this vast gray area of understanding that’s hard to grasp and we’ll probably never know for sure just how much these professional trolls believe their own rhetoric.

Whatever the case, this is the world we live in now. We’re all very much at the mercy of the flaws of our collective brains. It’s hard to say where we’ll go from here. I don’t see the methods of professional trolls changing anytime soon. What they’re doing works. It’s making them money, getting them attention, and earning them fame. Until that changes, they’ll keep doing it.

There’s a lot more I can say about this topic and the science behind it. I’ll probably do a few other posts on it, if only to explore the implications for my own efforts to become a successful erotica/romance writer. Until then, I’ll leave some of the other details the brilliant people at Cracked.com.

A while back, they did a podcast on this subject. They bring up some pretty interesting/disturbing points about professional trolls. I don’t agree with their sentiment on every issue, but I do think they make some valid points. For anyone who is generally annoyed by professional trolls, those points are important to understand, if only to maintain a healthy perspective on why trolling works so damn well.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights