Tag Archives: politically correct

Rise Of The Phony Nihilists

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A while back, a relative of mine told a story about a college professor and a smart-ass student. The student claimed he was a hardcore nihilist. He genuinely believed that there was no inherent purpose to humanity, life, or the universe. His professor didn’t respond at first. However, that didn’t stop him from making a point and sending a message.

Shortly after that initial encounter, the professor handed out grades on the first paper. He gave the self-professed nihilist a zero. When the student protested the grade, the professor just shrugged and reminded him that he was a nihilist. If he thought nothing mattered, then why should he care about his grades?

Regardless of whether this story is true, it makes an interesting point. That professor, who I suspect a PHD in trolling, exposed his arrogant student’s hypocrisy. He claimed to be a nihilist, but he still cared about his grades. He may have overestimated the extent of his nihilism, but the professor proved it only went so far.

It’s a lesson that’s a lot more relevant today because nihilism, in general, has become oddly fashionable. We have popular TV shows like “Rick and Morty,” “True Detective,” and “Bojack Horseman” that each espouse a certain degree of nihilistic philosophy. Iconic villains like Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” also embody the random chaos that often reflects the chaos of a nihilistic worldview.

As much as I love the “The Dark Knight” and “Rick and Morty,” including its unique approach to exploring nihilism, there are serious issues with applying their philosophy to real life. These are fictional characters unbound by the logistics and consequences of real life. Nobody could reasonably do what they do and get the same result. We already have enough scary clowns committing crimes.

That hasn’t stopped some people from taking those complex philosophical concepts more seriously than most. It also happens to complement the ongoing rise of trolling, both on the internet and in real life. That makes sense because the mentality of a troll has to be nihilistic to some extent. When your goal is to cross lines and demean people for the thrill of it, you can’t be too concerned with greater meaning.

That’s not to say there aren’t trolls who are genuine sadists. I’ve encountered more than a few who would qualify. For the most part, though, nihilism is an excuse rather than a motivation. Some pretend they just want to watch the world burn when they say something that’s horribly offensive or laughably absurd. They’re just trying and failing to be as charismatic as Heath Ledger’s Joker.

It’s a phony brand of nihilism and one that defeats itself when you apply the slightest bit of scrutiny. It often leads to empty arguments on otherwise serious issues. It usually breaks down like this.

Someone will say something absurd, wrong, or just flat out offensive.

Someone else calls them out on it.

An argument ensues that usually involves an escalating amount of hatred, insults, and frustration.

Ultimately, the person who made the triggering remark claims they’re just in it for the kicks, the cheap thrills, and to taste the tears of their enemies.

In the end, they try to come off as this enlightened, above-it-all intellectual who has somehow transcended the petty arguments that the non-nihilists of the world keep having. They pretend they’re above it all or just don’t care. Again, it’s an excuse. They’re not full-on nihilists in the traditions of Rick Sanchez or Friedrich Nietzsche. They’re just assholes trying to hide from the fact that they’re assholes.

These same people who claim to care nothing about the greater meaning of the universe rarely practice what they so poorly preach. They still pay their taxes. They still work jobs that they probably hate to make money so that they can function in this undeniably flawed society we live in. If they were truly nihilists, they wouldn’t see the point in any of that.

If they got sick, they wouldn’t go to a doctor to get better. What’s the point?

If they lost all their money, they wouldn’t worry. What’s the point?

If their lives were utterly ruined by their behavior, they wouldn’t complain about it. What’s the point?

The phony nihilists pretend they can be Rick Sanchez or Heath Ledger’s Joker. However, they never come close to turning themselves into a pickle or setting fire to a giant pile of money. Those are things that a hardcore nihilist would do and they wouldn’t bother arguing about it. Again, and this is the question that phony nihilists avoid answering, what’s the point?

More and more, nihilism is being used less as a philosophy and more as a rhetorical tactic from trolls. In an era where it’s easy to troll and people are extremely divided, I understand why this brand of phony nihilism is emerging. I can even see why it has an appeal. It allows people to skip the part where they have to justify their beliefs or take responsibility for the actions. It’s more about convenience than conviction.

I don’t expect the trend of phony nihilism to stop anytime soon. If anything, it’s going to intensify as the world becomes increasingly complex on every level. There are over 7.7 billion people on this planet and it’s getting exceedingly difficult to feel like you matter in such a world. Falling into a nihilist trap is easy and even comforting for some.

It’s still not an excuse to be an asshole. Even if you think nothing truly matters and we’re all just globs of matter waiting for the heat death of the universe, you’re alive in this world with billions of other people trying to find their place in it. Being an asshole, whether it’s out of nihilism or some other philosophy, is never justified.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, nihilism, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology

The Pathetic Life Of Alan Harper: A Prelude/Warning To Men?

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Sometimes, popular culture is uncanny at predicting the future. “Star Trek” famously predicted cell phones. “2001: A Space Odyssey” predicted tablet computers. Then, there’s “The Simpsons,” which has predicted so many things that it’s creepy. Some predictions, however, fly under the radar. Some aren’t even predictions as much as they are worst case scenarios.

One such scenario played out in “Two and a Half Men,” a show more famous for its off-screen drama than its on-screen antics. Granted, those antics were fairly crude. Most episodes revolved around dirty jokes, sexual innuendo, and glorified hedonism. In today’s social climate, this show would trigger mass protests with every episode.

That didn’t stop it from being funny. I consider myself a fan of the show. However, this is one of those shows that could never be made today, even with an emotionally-stable Charlie Sheen. Its brand of comedy just wouldn’t work in an era where sexy Halloween costumes are considered controversial.

However, the message “Two and a Half Men” conveyed goes beyond its brand of humor and the actors who made it controversial. It’s a message that probably wasn’t intended when the show first aired, but one that manifested with time. That message centers around the only male character to make it through every season alive and unaltered, Alan Harper.

As a character, Alan is the catalyst for the whole show. It begins with him getting kicked out of his house by his wife, forcing him to live with his brother, Charlie. It serves as the foundation for the antics that follow. However, in light of recent trends in feminism, Alan Harper has become more of a concept than a character.

Simply put, Alan Harper is the perfect embodiment of a defeated, emasculated man. He’s a step below the stereotypical beta male. He’s the masculine equivalent of rock bottom. Even the entire cast of “The Big Bang Theory” or Al Bundy from “Married With Children” would feel sorry for him.

You don’t need to watch every episode of every season to see how this plays out. The show rarely goes more than a few minutes without highlighting how pathetic Alan is. The denigration goes beyond his ex-wife kicking him out of his house, divorcing him, and hitting him with egregious alimony payments.

Alan Harper, at his core, is a man dependent on everyone around him for affirmation, but is incapable or unwilling to earn it. His womanizing brother, Charlie Harper, often describes him as a parasitic leech who feeds on the pity of others to survive. In terms if how he conducts himself throughout the show, that’s pretty accurate.

Everything Alan does, from trying to make a living to pursuing romance, is done from a position of dependence. He depends on his brother for a place to live. He depends on his ex-wife to see his son, Jake. He depends on all the women he encounters for love, sex, and affection. He never has any leverage, always working from a position of weakness.

This earns him sympathy, but he’s no lovable loser. In addition to being dependent and weak, he’s also neurotic, selfish, and lazy. He rarely puts much effort into improving his lot in life. He never stands up for himself, rarely accepts responsibility for his mistakes, and endures failure without ever learning from it.

This is especially true in the later seasons of the show after Charlie Sheen was fired. Instead of having to leech off his brother, Alan managed to leech off a total stranger in Walden Schmidt. He makes every possible excuse to keep living in his brother’s house, never pay for anything, and avoid any semblance of personal growth.

Even if you pity Alan Harper, there’s little reason to respect him. Whenever he has a chance to make choices that can change that, he either makes the wrong decision or avoids it entirely. He’s not just a perpetual victim of a vindictive ex-wife, a hedonistic brother, and an idiot son. He actually clings to his victimhood, as though it were part of his identity.

It was fodder for comedy when “Two and a Half Men” was still on the air. Now, it’s a serious issue that affects men and women alike. That’s because leveraging victimhood has become less a comedy trope and more an ideological tactic.

The current discourse, especially when it comes to gender, is often built around who victimizes who. A big part of the anti-harassment movement is driven by the idea that women have been victims for years, suffering in silence under the thumb of misogynistic men. There are more than a few situations like that in “Two and a Half Men.”

Men are just as guilty of using that tactic too, albeit not to the extent of Alan Harper. Men have cited the lack of attention people give Terry Crews or Corey Feldman whenever they talk about issues like sexual abuse. They’ll point out the ways in which women get preferential treatment in our society, some of which actually plays out in “Two and a Half Men.”

There’s no question that harassment and inequality are problems, but just being a victim can’t be the end of the conversation. Alan Harper is, in essence, the personification of what happens when we don’t attempt to further that conversation. It impacts everybody, but it’s especially relevant for men.

Alan reflects a worst-case-scenario. In the overall gender dynamic, he draws every bad card and makes every wrong move. He marries a woman who hates him and exerts immense control over his life. He has a callous, egocentric mother who gives him no affection, guidance, or support. The entire world takes advantage of him and he does nothing to stop it.

To make matters worse, there’s very little Alan can do to stop it. Even if he stands up for himself, he has no support because he’s so dependent on other people. If he gets kicked out of the house, he has nowhere to go. If he makes any money, someone else ends up getting it, often his ex-wife or an ex-girlfriend. He’s not just pathetic in how he handles it. He’s utterly trapped.

This is the kind of nightmare scenario that men genuinely worry about. Many women may laugh it off, but men aren’t blind to the bigger picture. If Alan Harper were gay or transsexual, then he would have organizations that support him. There are many groups that work hard to help disadvantaged members in the LGBT community.

There are also plenty of organizations that help women as well. If Alan were a woman who had been kicked out of his house by a vindictive husband, then there’s no way that the comedy in “Two and a Half Men” would’ve worked. It’s not funny to see a poor woman get thrown out on the streets and denied custody of her child. When it happens to a man like Alan, though, it’s hilarious.

That’s where the humor in “Two and a Half Men” becomes distressingly serious. A character like Alan Harper lends himself to ridicule, but his situation is no laughing matter. He’s the pinnacle of a defeated man. Society does nothing to help him and everything to mock him. If he weren’t a man, it would be a tragedy. Instead, it’s a comedy.

For men, that’s a scary thought. On top of that, his situation can manifest in the real world, minus the laugh track. It is possible for a man to lose his home, his kid, and his money thanks to a vindictive wife. It is possible for a man to be so utterly helpless that he has to depend on everyone’s pity to survive.

The fact that it’s possible, but still funny in the context of a sitcom, gives men more pause today than it did when “Two and a Half Men” was still on the air. Men’s lives are being ruined by a society that does not give them the benefit of the doubt. Any debate that tries to take the side of men tends to get labeled as misogynistic.

We can either take those concerns seriously or create a society where men may end up like Alan Harper, laughably pathetic and utterly destitute. “Two and a Half Men” was still a funny show. However, the core of its comedy has serious implications and that are worth taking seriously, now more than ever.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, political correctness, psychology, romance, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

Why I Don’t Use The Term “Social Justice Warrior” And Ideas For A Better Label

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Every now and then, I get comments and criticisms about my writing style. Some are constructive. Some are just angry rants that I’m perfectly content to ignore. There is one criticism, though, that I feel is worth addressing.

Specifically, it involves some specific terms I avoid using. Most people with an internet connection or access to cable news have probably heard the term “social justice warrior” at least once. It’s rarely in a positive light. It’s often used as an insult or a signal that you’re about to say something that’s going to evoke a lot of angry comments on social media.

I’ve been tempted to use it in the past. I’ve discussed many topics involving feminism, men’s issues, and social inequality that often get people throwing that term around as though it were a demonic chant. There’s a reason I’ve avoided it, though, and I hope to demonstrate that it’s a good reason.

First off, I want to make clear that I despise the term “social justice warrior” almost as much as I despise “toxic masculinity,” a phrase I believe cannot fade from our language fast enough. I see this label as one of the worst manifestations of the English language since the hippie era and at least they could blame psychedelic drugs.

I also believe that its continued usage will do more to breed hatred, outrage, and division at a time when we’re already more divided than ever. It derails a conversation and detracts from discussions about serious issue involving society, justice, and gender. This term is literally holding back progress, which is ironic given the nature of its definition.

The actual definition of a social justice warrior, or SJW as it’s colloquially used, is somewhat vague. It’s a modern-day catch-all term for a particular brand of politics and social attitudes. According to Wikipedia, the definition is as follows:

A pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism, as well as identity politics. The accusation that somebody is an SJW carries implications that they are pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and engaging in disingenuous arguments.

I think that definition covers most of the most common ways the term is used, but I think it underscores how much vitriol it inspires. Spend any amount of time on social media and you’ll find some of the most hateful, demeaning, and divisive rhetoric you can imagine.

However, it’s not just the extreme rhetoric this term inspires that discourages me from using it. It’s not even the tendency for a conversation to devolve rapidly as soon as the words “social justice warrior” show up in a sentence. What I find most objectionable about this term is how fundamentally dishonest it is.

To illustrate how, look at the anti-abortion movement, another extremely divisive issue that tends to evoke all the wrong emotions. There are some pretty passionate opponents to abortion, but they don’t call themselves anti-abortion. They call themselves “pro-life.” It’s a disingenuous term, but from a marketing standpoint, it’s brilliant.

That’s because, if you go by the literal meaning of the words, it means you’re for life in general. It doesn’t directly imply anything about abortion. By calling themselves “pro-life,” they skew the meaning so that they can claim they’re on the side of all things alive and good.

Again, it’s a smart ploy, but it’s also dishonest and George Carlin did a brilliant job of explaining why. Those who use the “social justice” label use a similar tactic. They use words that denote inherently positive concepts like society and justice. However, I would argue that this ploy is even more dishonest than those hiding behind the “pro-life” table.

Most reasonable people are for justice. They’re also for a functional society in which people of any race, gender, religion, or ethnic background can live in peace and enjoy the same protections under the law. On paper, we have that. In practice, there’s room for improvement.

However, whenever I listen to someone who adheres to the Wikipedia definition of “social justice warrior,” I never get the impression that their ideas of justice are genuine. They tend to reflect a personal, selfish brand of justice that is more concerned with how the world makes them feel and less with how it really works.

A “social justice warrior” will look at issues like female depictions in video games, cultural appropriation in media, and proper pronoun usage and not see the full picture. In fact, they’ll go out of their way to ignore that picture and focus only on the parts that sends their emotions into overdrive.

It’s not enough to just criticize these injustices. A “social justice warrior” has to treat them like some grand conspiracy by wannabe fascists who bathe in the tears of orphans and wish they could still own slaves. It becomes a potent blend of holier-than-thou grandstanding and virtue signaling. To say that brings out the worst in some people would be an understatement.

Talk to most people outside a 4chan board and chances are, they’ll be in favor of a just society whether they’re liberal, conservative, progressive, feminist, or whatever other political affiliation they may have. The fact that “social justice” now has more to do with misguided outrage and little to do with actual justice is downright tragic.

The term gets thrown around so often that I’ve made a conscious decision to just avoid using it in my writing. After this article, I intend to use different words that I feel are more reflective of the outrageous attitudes that “social justice warrior” evokes.

I’m not doing that because using words gives them power and I don’t want to give “social justice warrior” more power than it already has. While I doubt that’ll reduce the vitriol it currently carries, I still prefer terminology that’s more reflective of these damaging attitudes.

In the name of offering some potential solutions to this issue, I want to put forth a new approach to dealing with the “social justice warrior” phenomenon. I believe that it reflects an ideology that’s worth confronting. It espouses attitudes that promote censorship, infantilize groups of people, and elevates one person’s feelings over another for all the wrong reasons.

These are people and attitudes that will continue to make noise and push bad ideas on a society that already has too many circling around. For that reason, I believe that warrants creating some new labels for them, one that I think is more descriptive of what they truly area. Here are just a few.

Professional Whiner

Regressive Whiner

Weakly Whiner

Sad Whiner

I think the theme here is pretty obvious. Most of the time, “social justice warriors” don’t really protest. They whine. They whine in a way that’s worse than any child. They don’t try to solve a problem. They don’t try to learn the facts and figure out a better process for doing something. They just whine.

That’s not just pathetic. That makes whole “warrior” part of their label hypocritical. Warriors are supposed to fight and not whine. When reality doesn’t cater to your feelings, whining never changes that. A “social justice warrior” may even understand that, but they also understand that without validation of some sort, their outrage is empty.

That, I believe, is the key to confronting the misguided attitudes of the “social justice warrior” phenomenon. Attitudes that have little to do with actual justice or a healthy society need to be called out for what they are. I say that as someone who does have attitudes that some may consider progressive, but I understand that whining about them won’t do much to further those ideals.

At the end of the day, if all “social justice warriors” have to go on is whining, then the harsh reality of the world will do plenty to undercut their attitudes in the long run. Calling them what they truly are will just help remind them a little sooner.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, philosophy, political correctness, sex in society

The Unofficial Platform Of The Nihilist Party

What follows is a little exercise I found myself doing after hearing too many political debates on TV and reading too many rants on social media. Debating/whining about politics seems to be our new favorite pastime in the age of social media and cable news. Personally, I find it frustrating and unproductive.

It’s for that reason that I’m going to attempt to flip the script on the endless barrage of outrage-inducing diatribes. Instead of attempting to inject a new political context into a discussion, I’m going to just hit the whole concept upside the head with a baseball bat of pure nihilism. I’ve enjoyed talking about it in the past, thanks largely to my love of “Rick and Morty,” and I’d like to channel it into something new.

In the spirit of those equally annoyed by political mud-slinging, who just happen to have an extra-healthy appreciation of nihilism, I hereby present the unofficial platform of the Nihilist Party. I know it’s not  real political party. In fact, nihilism being a political party would be paradoxical, given its philosophical underpinnings.

Now, I understand the inherent absurdity of such a concept. I also don’t deny that my expertise in nihilism and other such philosophies are limited, at best. There’s only so much you can learn by binge-watching “Rick and Morty” and “Bojack Horseman.” I still feel like that’s enough with which to craft a new political party. It’s not like other parties set the bar that high to begin with.

With those disclaimers out of the way, I hereby present what I believe is the unofficial platform for the Nihilism Party. If you want to imagine it being recited in the voice of Rick Sanchez, then by all means. I’m not expecting it to win your vote in the next election. It really doesn’t matter, which is kind of the point.


Preamble

We, the random clumps of matter drifting aimlessly throughout a meaningless universe, hereby decree in the name of a wholly arbitrary set of empty standards, set forth the following principles that we feel adequately create the illusion that how we govern our purposeless society matters. We believe all political ideologies are equally vapid and all forms of government inherently flawed, albeit to varying degrees. As such, we neither seek to pretend ours is superior, nor do we claim we can fix the flaws others ignore.


Statement of Principles

We acknowledge that any functional society, be it free or tyrannical, is finite in nature and subject to inescapable entropy over time. In the long run, no society or its various achievements can hope to outlive the inevitable destruction of our planet and the heat death of the universe. To pretend otherwise is an exercise in futility and ultimately counterproductive.

With these harsh truths in mind, the Nihilist Party seeks only to forge a temporary medium of comfort for those who insist on living in functioning society within a infinitesimal speck in the universe for an inherently finite period of time. Whether or not the individuals in that society accept those harsh truths is irrelevant. The Nihilism Party’s primary goal is to maintain whatever functional order is necessary to keep others content as they wait for their eventual annihilation into nothingness.

In accord with that goal, as meaningless as it may be, the following articles reflect the wholly arbitrary articles of the Nihilist Party. Please note that these principles are necessarily vague in order to embody the empty nature of all political underpinnings. Any effort to inject specifics for a pointless society within a pointless world would be contrary to the principles of the Nihilism Party.


Article 1: Nihilist Rights

  • Since all rights are just legal constructs disguised as inalienable assets, we neither support nor discourage efforts by a significant group of people to randomly denote what constitutes a legal right, provided that group does not impose it others in a manner that would make their meaningless lives uncomfortable.
  • The tendency for individuals to form complex social bonds, as determined by the biological programming of their flesh, is neither the concern of the Nihilism Party, nor is it their responsibility to manage beyond ensuring the nature of these arbitrary bonds aren’t impeding the desire of others to pursue their own false meaning.
  • Since government is nothing more than a temporary construct attempting to manage an inherently chaotic world in an ongoing act of never-ending futility, the scope and reach of such government will be limited to simply ensuring that citizens residing within whatever invisible borders are in place can willfully and peaceful pursue a life of empty meaning on their own terms.

Article 2: Nihilist Economic Policies

  • To the extent that everything of value is based on people just believing it has value, the Nihilist Party remains ambivalent to whatever kind of currency people want to use, be it slabs of metal, pieces of paper with famous dead people on them, or bits of digital code.
  • While the the Nihilist Party does not ascribe or inflate the value of one economic transaction over the other, those built on fraud, lies, and deception hinder peoples’ ability to seek whatever false meaning they pursue and therefore, in the name of preserving meaninglessness for all, favors efforts to limit such behavior to the greatest extent possible.
  • Truth and ethics are ultimately pointless in the long term, but in the short term, it creates favorable conditions for contentment among people and since that’s the most any sentient life from can hope for, the Nihilist Party supports policies that preserve both in economic activity.
  • Since all economic trends are finite, fleeting, and prone to both inflated and deflated value, the Nihilist Party favors playing no favorites in any industry and strongly opposes any efforts to support one form of economic activity over the other.
  • In the interest of ensuring all economic activity is on an equally meaningless playing field, each transaction and industry will be subject to the same arbitrary fees and rules as any others, but the Nihilist Party favors limiting the fees and rules to an extent that ensures equally worthless pursuits of worth.

Article 3: Nihilist Justice

  • The Nihilist Party’s default position on justice is that no one individual, group, majority, or minority is worthy of greater or lesser justice than anyone else and efforts to the contrary are ultimately a waste.
  • Seeing as how justice is a product of flawed, situational perspectives within a given time and place that is ultimately pointless, traditional notions of what is just in one situation cannot and should not apply to another, seeing as how every moment is fleeting.
  • While a meaningless life incurs little meaning in the long run, the needless infliction of suffering and loss is seen as incompatible with the Nihilist Party’s belief that all deserve some modicum of contentment while they await their eventual death and seeks to limit any disruptions to that contentment to the greatest extent possible.
  • The Nihilism Party does not endorse special treatment for anyone who prioritizes their contentment over another and only favors treating measurable, tangible harms as actual wrongdoings, as those are the only harms that carry any weight in a meaningless universe.

Article 4: Nihilist Government Structure

  • The Nihilism Party believes that governments, like the failed economies and fallen empires before it, are simply finite manifestations of spontaneous order among sentient beings and can neither be trusted nor empowered to do more than simply preserve meaningless contentment among its citizens.
  • To the extent that meaningless contentment requires the absence of petty wars and violent conflict, the Nihilism Party favors the maintenance of whatever defense forces are necessary to protect the population within its arbitrary borders from such conflicts, but opposes instigating conflicts for vapid notions of empire and legacy that are ultimately pointless at the heat death of the universe.
  • For those seeking to attain positions of authority within a government, the Nihilist Party supports those who seek to persuade a large enough group of citizens of their worth, but also favors measures that permit the easy removal of such individuals in the name of preserving the arbitrary nature of authority, in general.
  • Since people inevitably die, laws inevitably change, and legal traditions are rendered null over significant spans of time, the Nihilist Party remains ambivalent to the structure and makeup of a government, provided it preserves the party’s policy of maintaining equal contentment for those who seek to forge meaning in a meaningless universe.

Article 5: Nihilist Omission Provision

  • The absence, oversight, or omission of any policy or position in this platform is not to be construed as tacit or indirect statement of support or opposition, seeing as the Nihilism Party holds a position of strict ambivalence in the interest of maintaining the equal meaninglessness of all endeavors, past and present.

There you have it. That is my version of the a platform for the Nihilist Party. Please note that I do not pretend to speak for all nihilists, nor do I claim to be an expert in the subject. This is just a fun little exercise in mixing politics, nihilism, and the absurdity of both.

If you feel like there’s something worth adding to this platform, then please let me know in the comments. For those who are just as frustrated with politics and debates as I am, I hope this offers a nice reprieve, a good laugh, or a potent mixture of both.

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How Excessive Guilt Inspires Regressive Attitudes (And Ugly Politics)

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Have you ever done something that made you feel so guilty that it messed with your head? Have you ever felt so much guilt heaped upon you that it made you feel sick in ways that combine the nausea of a hangover with the delirium of a bad flu? If you haven’t been in that situation, then consider yourself lucky because guilt really is that powerful.

Like anger and hatred, guilt is one of those powerful feelings that can circumvent reason, reality, and everything in between. It can be like a rat gnawing at your brain stem, a stabbing pain in the most vulnerable part of your psyche. It doesn’t matter what the facts of the situation might be. Like any other pain, you’ll do anything to alleviate it.

As bad as it is, guilt is a critical component of the human condition. Guilt is a major aspect of being a social species. When we do something wrong within a functioning society, we should feel guilty. In the absence of laws and governments, guilt is part of what binds us together as a people and helps guide us in doing right by one another.

It’s because guilt is so powerful, though, that it can easily be weaponized to pursue an agenda. I would even argue it’s too easy because in recent years, efforts to channel and pile on guilt have become more overt. It’s becoming so overt that it’s not even subtle anymore. The effects aren’t just damaging. They’re counterproductive.

Last year, I wrote a lengthy post about how certain people use virtue signaling to make them feel like the heroes in their own story. In some respects, that effort is partially fueled by feelings of guilt that just happen to supplement the inherent desire to feel like John McClane in a “Die Hard” movie. That inherent desire to feel virtuous can sometimes coincide with feelings of guilt, real or imagined.

However, it’s the imagined, contrived guilt that’s becoming a problem. It’s guilt belabored by those seeking vindication that’s subverting the actual guilt that’s healthy and necessary for a functioning society. In an era where it’s easy to shame and condemn others through social media, it has never been easier to channel the power of guilt.

In some cases, that might be a good thing, being able to use our inter-connected world to lump guilt upon those who might otherwise get away with serious misdeeds. One could even argue it’s because of mass media that we, as a global society, have become more tolerant over the past century. Unlike most of human history, we can see the suffering of our fellow humans and rightly feel guilt about it.

The problem, however, comes when that same media is used to evoke excessive guilt in people who may not have any real stake in an issue. It usually has nothing to do with any direct action or decision that these people made. It’s often more vague, involving anything from the crimes of our ancestors to social status to physical appearance.

Whatever the method, the end results are fairly predictable. It usually goes something like this.

“You’re a [Insert Race/Religion/Gender/Ethnic Group/Social Class Here]! Just look at how great your life is compared to all the poor [Insert Oppressed Class/Group/Opposing Political Affiliation Here]! You should feel ashamed of yourself! You should sacrifice your comforts, your time, and your money to pay for all that suffering! If you don’t, then you’re a horrible person and deserve no respect!”

Whether it’s race, religion, gender, or some other label, it really doesn’t take much. It just needs to single out a certain contingent of people who identify a certain way. It doesn’t even have to be a physical trait. Sub-cultures like gaming, sports, and general hobbies are prone to it. Gaming, especially, has been subjected to a lot of scrutiny in recent years.

If it’s possible to judge a group for not being inclusive, understanding, or generous enough, then guilt can be leveraged against it. On paper, it almost seems fair, using guilt to level the playing field. In practice, however, it has one exceedingly nasty side-effect that derails any effort at justice.

To illustrate how, it’s necessary to scrutinize the basics of guilt in terms of how it actually works compared to how some people think it works. To highlight that difference, here are two scenarios that focus on basic reactions to guilt. See if you can find where those nasty side-effects I mentioned manifest.

Scenario One: That person just made me feel really guilty about something. I had better sit down, listen, and calmly discuss this matter with them in a reasonable, rational way so I can address this feeling.

Scenario Two: That person just made me feel guilty. This feels awful! I hate this person for making me feel this way. Now, I need to find a way to alleviate this feeling. What’s the quickest, easiest way to do that?

I hope it’s obvious which one is more consistent with the real world. While I like to think I have more faith in humanity than most these days, I don’t deny there are some bugs in our collective operating system. When it comes to guilt, though, some will use those bugs against others in hopes of shaping their opinions. However, when guilt is the primary ingredient, those opinions are far more likely to be regressive.

Whether it’s extreme political correctness, extreme religious dogma, or extreme identity politics, guilt is effectively targeted to put people in a state of anxiety. You’re guilty for committing egregious sins against a deity. You’re guilty for being too offensive to a particular group. You’re guilty of not being inclusive enough to a particular minority.

That guilt doesn’t even have to involve a direct action or choice. It can be entirely wrong, built on myths, lies, or debunked science. It just has to evoke a reaction. Our brains, being the crude products of nature that they are, cannot tell the difference between the guilt we feel for stealing our mother’s purse or just being the same race as one that owned slaves 200 years ago.

As a result, our first instinct isn’t calm, reasoned debate. It’s to alleviate the guilt in the quickest way possible. That often means becoming defensive, angry, and aggressive. That kind of reaction is not going to make someone more understanding or tolerant. It’s going to make them hostile or upset towards the source of the guilt.

Guilt is pain on some levels, which is why many see heaping guilt on others as an outright attack. It’s why those attempting to evoke the guilt are vilified or despised. It doesn’t even matter if they make valid arguments. Their use of guilt renders their every word inherently toxic, a word I don’t use lightly.

When messages become toxic, attitudes become combative. When people become combative, their politics become regressive. Think about the guilt-obsessed Puritans or the loudest voices in the social justice crowd. They not just intolerant of the source of the guilt. They go out of their way to overreact, like attacking a fly with a shotgun.

In the name of alleviating the pains of guilt, that almost seems justified. It’s a big reason why the politics of those consumed by guilt tend to be extreme. It’s not enough to address a simple injustice in the present. Everything in the past related to that guilt needs to be a factor. That’s how you get people who condemn their own race, hate on their own gender, and favor politics that are antithetical to basic concepts of liberty.

It’s why radical feminists who say men are guilty of all the world’s ills actually make anti-feminism seem appealing to some.

It’s why race-baiting tactics by those attempting to promote racial equality tend to incur a major backlash.

It’s why attacking popular culture and sub-cultures who aren’t “inclusive” enough to become even less inclusive.

In that context, using excessive guilt only inspires a greater backlash than the one that usually comes from major social movements. If used carefully, it can subdue people into a state of desperation, longing for a way to alleviate the feeling. Some religion have managed this to great effect.

It doesn’t take much, though, in our interconnected world for guilt to become excessive. In a sense, it helps to see using guilt as using torture. Sure, the torture will usually get someone to say what you want to hear, but unless they’re a sociopath or exceedingly masochistic, they’re not going to share the attitudes or sentiments of their torturer.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, Reasons and Excuses

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

Health Care, Politics, And The Impossible Paradox

As a general rule, it’s my policy to ignore major political issues until after the protests have died down and people have stopped trying to strangle each other through computer screens. Politics is rarely sexy, unless it involves Monica Lewinsky and whoever John F. Kennedy was screwing. In my experience, nothing kills the mood faster than a heated political debate.

I know I’ve spoken on certain hot-button issues before. I did a quick response to the Women’s March earlier this year and the March for Life that quickly followed it. Those weren’t debates, though. Those were protests with simple, clear messages that were easy to break down. Debates aren’t just a little trickier. They’re downright infuriating.

There was a time when I used to enjoy engaging in such debates. I would even go out of my way to find people who disagreed with me, try to understand their position, and then try to argue my own. It was a good mental exercise, but that’s all it ever was.

At no point did I ever change anyone’s mind about anything. At no point did anyone change my mind either. Like debating creationists, they might as well have just been glorified shouting matches. They weren’t meant to actually persuade the other person. The debate was just a spectacle and nothing more.

The fact remains that people don’t like to change their minds about anything. I’ve mentioned time and again how rigid and stubborn the human brain is. Changing an opinion about something is a last resort. Before that happens, people will do the kinds of mental gymnastics that would make a Russian gymnast cringe to justify their opinion.

That brings me to the ongoing health care debate in the United States. I know everybody has an opinion on it and they want to shout that opinion from the highest hill over a bullhorn while Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty give them a back massage. It’s one of those issues that a lot of people are sick of, which is kind of ironic when you think about it.

It’s a frustrating debate to have in the first place because most other industrialized countries have resolved it. The United States of America, despite all the flexing it does of its patriotic nuts, is one of the only industrialized countries that doesn’t have universal health care.

It’s been argued over endlessly by politicians and presidential candidates. Every now and then, one will even build a platform around it. There have been any number of initiatives and policies, some of which do result in meaningful legislation. However, the debate still continues and so does the whining.

Now, I’m not going to take a position in that debate. That’s not the purpose of this post. I’m writing this because someone needs to point something out in this debate that nobody seems to recognize. It’s something that both sides of the debate need to understand, if only to maintain a sense of perspective.

It’s not a thought experiment. It’s not an opinion. It’s not even an argument or a policy idea. It’s a cold, unambiguous fact that is at the heart of the health care debate and others like it. This is a hard truth so whether you’re a card-carrying liberal or a die-hard conservative, you might want to brace yourself.

What we’re trying to accomplish with our health care system is physically IMPOSSIBLE.

Let that sink in for a moment. I don’t usually write in all caps, but this is something that’s worth shouting. If you’re reading this out loud, please read it over again and shout it as loud as you want because it needs to be belabored.

Health care, be it universal or reserved for rich people with decent insurance, is an impossible endeavor that tries to account for infinite possibilities with finite resources. There are over seven billion people on this planet. There are hundreds upon hundreds of diseases that afflict the human body. Treating every person to the utmost just requires too many resources with too few people qualified to administer them.

That’s why the answer to the health care debate isn’t as simple as adopting the same universal health care policies as Europe. Contrary to what Bernie Sanders fans might believe, health care in Europe faces some pretty huge challenges for the exact same reasons. There are too many people who need health care, but there just aren’t enough resources to go around.

Go to any country with any type of health care system you can think of. Don’t be like Michael Moore and focus narrowly on one particular part of a system. No matter where you go and no matter what system you encounter, be it universal or administered by wizards, you’ll always find cases of people not getting the care they need.

Within those cases, you’ll find plenty of unusual cases, such as people who resort to do-it-yourself dental care. You’ll also find plenty of tragedy about people suffering horribly due to their inability to get the care they need. So long as demand outstrips supply, they’ll always happen. That’s just basic economics and dispassionate logic.

In the end, whatever health care policy or reforms get enacted, it won’t be enough. There will still be people who suffer because of it. There will also be people who end up paying more for both their care and that of others. There’s just no way around it. Health care requires resources and people. When there aren’t enough of both, you’re going to get people who get screwed over.

It doesn’t help that many countries, including the United States, face a shortage of qualified doctors. Despite the generous salaries and sexy nurse fantasies, the actual process of becoming a doctor is extremely costly and very difficult. No matter how sexy Hugh Laurie makes it look, becoming a doctor is hard and laborious.

It also doesn’t help that pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are for-profit companies whose incentives aren’t always in line with providing the best of care. There are people in this world who will risk doing real harm to sick people in order to turn a profit. These people aren’t super-villains or sociopaths, for the most part. They’re just working within a system with flawed parts.

This is not to say that the health care debate is hopeless. For the moment, the situation is impossible. There really isn’t a way to provide adequate care to everybody. However, there are some rays of hope that should keep everyone’s panties from getting too dry.

To combat the doctor shortage, companies like IBM are using Watson, their Jeopardy champion, to help diagnose disease and research treatments. Major biotech companies are using tools like CRISPR, which I’ve talked about before, to alleviate diseases that were once fatal and expensive.

Further into the future, advances in technology like smart blood or brain implants will improve overall efficiency in determining appropriate care. However, there will still be a cost. There will still be a bureaucracy, which both sides of the political spectrum find inherently unsexy. So long as that process is determined by humans and for humans, there will be flaws.

Remember this the next time someone debates health care. No matter what side they’re on, the issues they’re highlighting are literally impossible. It’s still a debate worth having. We should still strive to give the most amount of quality care to the most amount of people. That’s good for society, the economy, and even politicians.

Let’s just remember that there’s a difference between a solvable problem and an impossible situation. Health care, at the moment, is an impossible situation. We shouldn’t lose sight of that, no matter how the debate unfolds moving forward.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights