Tag Archives: politics

A Quick Perspective On Controversy, Scandals, Politics, And Elvis’ Hips

Every controversy seems absurd when you look at it with enough hindsight. Think of all the big social and political controversies going on right now. From mansplaining and safe spaces to all-female movie remakes to sexy Super Bowl Halftime shows, there’s no shortage of outrage and moral panics. In general, I try to avoid contributing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected to some extent.

Even if the issues feel genuinely serious, it’s worth taking a step back and maintaining a certain perspective. What seems serious now won’t always end up being that serious in the grand scheme of things. Things like the Cuban Missile Crisis were serious. The impact of playing Dungeons and Dragons don’t even come close. For the most part, these controversies become obscure footnotes in the history of pop culture.

In the interest of preserving a balanced perspective, I find it helpful to think back to Elvis’ hips. For anyone under the age of 50, I’m sure that sounds strange, but make no mistake. At one point in time, Elvis’ hips were the most controversial thing in the world.

It’s hard to imagine now, given the accessibility of sexy music videos and internet porn, but there was a time when Elvis Presley shaking his hips on live TV was the most scandalous thing in the free world. People at the time deemed his dancing too sexual and obscene. There was serious, genuine concern that this was just too shocking and lurid for innocent eyes to see.

Granted, this took place in 1956. The world was a very different place in 1956. However, that’s not exactly an ancient time period. There are plenty of people alive today who were alive in 1956. They lived through that controversy. They might have even watched that fateful episode of the Ed Sullivan show where Elvis dared to shake his hips in too sexy a way. Now, compared to a standard Beyoncé video, it almost seems quaint.

Even if it sounds absurd now, take a moment to appreciate the context of this controversy. There was a time when people genuinely thought Elvis shaking his hips was too obscene. These same people genuinely thought such overt sexuality would do serious damage to society.

Now, look at everything we deem too obscene, controversial, or damaging today. How much of it will seem just as absurd as the sexiness of Elvis’ hips several decades from now? We may think that our standards have been fully refined, but history has shown time and again that this rarely holds. What is obscene today may be mundane tomorrow and obscene again a decade from now.

Controversies are fleeting, petty, and often build on a foundation of absurdity.

People are often irrational, following emotions over logic while claiming every emotion is perfectly logical.

Trends are unpredictable and fleeting. In 1956 it was Elvis’ hips. In 2003 it was Janet Jackson’s nipple. Who knows what it’ll be this year or in the years that follows?

With time and perspective, it rarely ends up being as serious as we thought. Even if it was, people and society adapt. That’s what we have to do, as a species. We might make fools of ourselves along the way, getting worked up over something that ended up being so petty and contrived. The best we can do is laugh and learn from it.

Think about that the next time someone complains about a halftime show or a music video. Remember Elvis’ hips and the perspective they offer. It’s every bit as powerful as his music.

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Filed under censorship, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, sex in society, sexuality, Uncategorized

A Message For The Moral Crusaders Of My Childhood (Inspired By The Trailer For “Paradise PD” Season 2)

I’m old enough to remember when parents, teachers, and politicians protested incessantly about shows like “Beavis and Butt-Head” because they were too obscene.

I’m old enough to remember when parents, teachers, and politicians complained endlessly about the lyrics and themes of gangasta rap music.

I’m old enough to remember when parents, teachers, and politicians whined constantly about the violence depicted in every episode of “Power Rangers.”

Hell, I’m even old enough to remember when those same parents, teachers, and politicians said that “The Simpsons” were too immoral for prime-time TV. Those memories make me feel much older than I care to admit, but that’s beside the point.

I have a message for those same parents, teachers, and politicians of that era. I know some are no longer with us, but I know for a fact that plenty are still alive, healthy, and as vocal as ever about bemoaning anything obscene, objectionable, or fun. To those people, I have one simple request.

Watch the following trailer for “Paradise PD” Season 2 and then tell me how you feel about all those other shows you whined about throughout the 1990s. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

For the record, I’m a huge fan of “Paradise PD.” I’m very excited about Season 2. I know it’s a show that takes vulgarity, obscenity, and gratuitous violence to levels that even “South Park” won’t touch, but it’s more fun than a pervert in a panty factory and I intend to enjoy every second of it.

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Filed under censorship, political correctness, politics, television

How Much Money Do You Really Need?

Most people aren’t born into wealth. The vast majority of the population has no idea what it’s like to be a billionaire, a millionaire, or someone who just doesn’t live with the constant dread that they’re just one missed paycheck away from total ruin. There’s a reason why they’re called the one percent and it goes beyond basic math.

I admit I’ve often contemplated what it would be like if I suddenly became wealthy. I’ve even articulated some of those musings in detail. I suspect most people have day-dreamed at some point what they would do if they suddenly had a billion dollars at their disposal. For most people, it’s difficult to contemplate because, like it or not, money changes people and not always for the better.

When someone asks what you would do with a million dollars, it’s easy to come up with all sorts of answers. Some are inevitably going to be more absurd than others. The movie “Office Space” articulated that point perfectly. However, there’s another question that I feel is worth asking and I also feel it’s more revealing.

How much money do you really need?

I’m not talking about fantasy wealth here.

I’m not talking dream vacations, dream homes, or spending sprees.

How much money do you actually need to live a happy, comfortable life by whatever standards you define it?

That’s a harder question to answer because it varies for everyone. There are some people in the world who think a million dollars isn’t enough. Depending on where you live in the world, that’s not an unreasonable position. Even with those variations, it still doesn’t zero in on the answer. How much is enough?

I’ve seen how people act when the lottery gets above the $300 million mark. In my experience, once things get over $100 million, that’s when even a typical day dream isn’t enough to appreciate just how much money that is. I’ve tried to imagine it and in every case, I come to the same conclusion.

If I had that much money, I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with it.

It’s not that my needs are simple or cheap. I think my costs are fairly average for someone living in a suburban area. If I had $100 million, didn’t invest a penny in stocks or bonds, and stopped making money today, I still wouldn’t be able to spend it all before I turned 100.

I probably couldn’t even spend $50 million. When things get into the billion-dollar territory, it gets even more absurd. Even millionaires have a hard time fathoming how billionaires operate. Most people, even with decent math skills, don’t understand just how much money a billion dollars is.

At that point, you’re way beyond basic needs and wants. You’re in a domain in which you literally cannot spend all that money at once. You have to legitimately try to lose it all and while some people have done that, it often happens in the process of seeking even more billions to add to their fortune. It rarely occurs just by spending money on your day-to-day needs.

In that context, contemplating how much money you actually need says more about you and your situation than it does about your understanding of finance. If you need that much money to be comfortable, then that says something about your mindset and it’s not just about greed. Some want to change the world for the better with that money. Some want to impose their will on it. It depends on who you are and what drives you.

For me, personally, I don’t think I need anything above $10 million. I probably wouldn’t need more than $5 million just to maintain my current living costs, adjusting for inflation, and planning for my future. That might change if I ever get married and have kids, but for now, that’s my perspective.

I’m interesting in hearing how others would respond to this question. How much money is enough for you? How much would you need to be content, stable, and happy? Let me know in the comments. I’d be happy to revisit this issue again down the line.

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A Perspective On Generation Gaps

As a general rule, I try not to talk about politics with anyone. I avoid getting into political debates online, as well. I used to actively seek that out. I’ve since learned there are less frustrating ways to waste my time.

A significant part of that frustration comes from talking politics with people who are significantly older or significantly younger than me. I’m in my thirties now. I still remember my teen years, but I also can’t deny that I’m different now than I was back then. I’m still the same person. Time and perspective just have a cumulative effect.

I think most people experience the same thing, regardless of their age. I’ve talked about issues regarding generation gaps before. I imagine they’ll become even more prominent as Generation Z comes of age. It’ll only get more divisive as the Baby Boomers start to retire.

I know this because I’ve gotten into more than a few debates with older relatives and family members. Every time politics comes up, they’ll share stories with me about how things used to be, how they see things now, and how they think things are going to pan out in the future. I’m not going to lie. It has led to more than a few “Okay Boomer” moments.

Those moments shouldn’t define the discourse, nor should it be an intractable barrier. I’ve faced similar barriers in talking politics with people far younger than me. It’s hard to explain the complexities of the world to teenagers when their experiences are so limited.

With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to offer a brief perspective on generation gaps and discussing controversial issues. Whether it’s politics, society, or life in general, I feel it might help to take a step back and try to see the forest from the trees. To that end, here’s a quick insight that I hope people from every generation can appreciate.

Your attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions are not the same as they were 10 years ago.

Your attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions will not be the same as they are 10 years from now.

However, at your core, you are still the same person.

The attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions of every functioning adult you’ll encounter are not the same as they were 10 years ago.

The attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions of every functioning adult you’ll encounter will not be the same 10 years from now.

However, at their core, they’re still the same people.

You and the people around you may change, but change is never anyone’s first inclination. It only takes hold when it feels right, necessary, or convenient.

Whether you’re young, old, or middle aged, I hope this helps make sense of things. I don’t claim to be smarter or more insightful than anyone else with an internet connection. I just believe that making sense of this chaotic world and the many people within it starts with a balanced perspective.

You won’t be able to understand every idea from every generation, but it’ll remind you that people have more alike than they are different. We don’t have to identify with all those differences. It’s just easier to get along when we remember just how similar we are.

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How Do We Regulate Artificial Intelligence? Seriously, How?

In general, I don’t pay much attention to doomsayers who claim the end is near and we should all cower, tremble, and give them our credit card number. Don’t get me wrong. I still believe there are serious existential threats facing humanity today. Some are worth taking seriously and dedicating resources to addressing. Others are not. Some simply require a more balanced perspective.

There’s a long list of failed apocalyptic predictions. The fact we’re surviving and thriving by most measures shows just how resilient, adaptable, and capable humanity is. There are some threats that I believe humanity will eventually resolve, thanks largely to our accelerating progress in science, technology, and logistics.

Others, however, have me more concerned. While some are more immediate than others, one in particular continues to confound me, as well as some of the smartest people in the world. It involves artificial intelligence, an emerging technology that’s as promising as it is unpredictable. Given the complexity of this technology, it’s difficult to explain in totality, but it can be best summed up by one simple question.

How do you regulate artificial intelligence?

That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s not a thought experiment either. It’s a serious, honest question that people far smarter and far more capable than me are just starting to ask.

Elon Musk is one of them. Very recently, he called for more regulation on artificial intelligence. That, alone, should be both telling and worrying. This man is a billionaire. Usually, billionaires are more inclined advocate removing regulations. Whenever they make an exception, that’s a sign they know it’s serious.

Even though Musk is one of the top advocates for solving big problems with technology, he still has concerns about the problems associated with artificial intelligence. In AI circles, it’s often called the control problem. It’s not a very creative name, but it gets the point across.

How do you control something that is potentially as smart, if not smarter than a human?

How do you manage something that thinks, adapts, and evolves faster than any machine or living thing?

How do you regulate an artificial intelligence that was built by humans, but isn’t at all human?

These are all difficult questions to contemplate, let alone legislate. Even Musk doesn’t provide specifics. Chances are he doesn’t know any more than the rest of the non-billionaire population. That’s a problem because if we’re going to try and regulate this technology, we need to understand it. On top of that, politicians and lawmakers have a long and embarrassing history of failing to understand technology.

However, this isn’t just about writing laws that protect citizens from being exploited by tech companies. Artificial intelligence, especially the kind that exceeds human intelligence, has capabilities that go beyond sending text messages from bathroom stalls. If handled improperly, it wouldn’t just be an existential threat. It could destroy humanity in ways we literally cannot contemplate.

Now, I try to be an optimist in most things involving emerging technology. Humanity has found a way to manage dangerous technology before, namely with nuclear weapons. However, artificial intelligence is a different beast entirely. Regulating it isn’t as easy as simply controlling the materials that make it. The very concept of regulating this technology lacks precedent.

The closest we have to date is Isaac Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics, which were introduced in 1942. Asimov was a brilliant writer and very ahead of his time on some concepts, but this is one issue where we need more than just three simple tenants. We need to think bigger and bolder. If we don’t, then an advanced artificial intelligence will quickly leave us behind.

After that, it won’t matter what kind of regulations we try to pass. It’ll be smart enough to circumvent them. That doesn’t mean humanity is doomed at that point, but we’ll be distressingly vulnerable. I know it’s in our nature to procrastinate on things we don’t see as vital, but if ever there was an issue to make an exception, this is it.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, philosophy, technology, Thought Experiment

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Pursuing A Dream

Today is a day in which we remember a dream. In a world that’s full of hard truths, fake news, and gross injustices, we need that dream more than ever. It’s a dream I like to think that humanity has always had on some level, but it took a remarkable man named Martin Luther King Jr. to put it into words that will resonate for generations to come.

In general, I don’t like talking about politics. I’ve written about sensitive issues before, but I honestly think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think it’s possible to change someone’s mind by just debating the issues. I also don’t think it’s possible to convince someone that they’re wrong through discourse alone. It’s not impossible, but it’s exceedingly difficult.

Dr. King did something remarkable during his tireless pursuit of justice and civil rights. He confronted hatred, but he didn’t fight back with it. He dared to inspire, appealing to ideals greater than politics or tradition. He presented a dream of a better world. He preached a message of hope and love. It might not have changed the minds of his opponents at the time, but it inspired generations of others to pursue that dream.

It’s a dream that’s still worth pursuing. Some may argue that we’ve regressed. I respectfully disagree. While we haven’t made as much progress as most would prefer, signs of progress are there. There’s still room for improvement, but the dream is relevant as ever. As Dr. King himself once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

If you need another reminder as to why that dream is still important, you need only listen to Dr. King’s most famous speech. It’s a speech that made the dream feel real and it’s a dream worth pursuing now and for generations to come.

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Why Organized Religion Opposes Assisted Suicide (For The Wrong Reasons)

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Most people under the age of 40 are too young to remember the controversy surrounding Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as “Dr. Death.” For a time, he was one of the most polarizing figures in the world because he made assisted suicide a major socio-political issue. From 1989 to 1998, he took part in approximately 130 assisted suicides. It’s because of him that every state has a law regarding the practice.

Before I go any further into this very sensitive, exceedingly emotional issue, I want to make one thing clear. I don’t have a strong position on assisted suicide. I’ve had a hard time arguing in either direction. On one hand, I can understand someone in chronic pain wanting to end their life. On the other, I also worry that making such a practice mundane could undermine efforts to treat debilitating conditions.

I have people in my family who have fought debilitating illnesses. Some have lost those fights. Others won out and are stronger because of it. I believe that if you had talked to them on a particularly bad day, they might have seriously considered assisted suicide as an option. It’s a heart-wrenching issue that I’m not qualified to debate.

Despite those qualifications, I believe I’m still capable of scrutinizing certain aspects of the debate. Reasonable people can make reasonable arguments for and against assisted suicide. I’ll leave that part of the debate to people smarter and more informed than me. For the bad arguments made by unreasonable people, however, I think I’m as qualified as anyone.

One of the most vocal opponents of assisted suicide come from organized religion, especially the Catholic Church. Their position is fairly clear. Suicide is an egregious sin and a crime against human dignity. Even if you’re in debilitating pain, it’s not your place to take your own life. Only the all-powerful, all-knowing deity of their faith can do that. Some go so far as to claim that suicide automatically condemns a soul to Hell.

Setting aside, for a moment, the kind of theology that would condemn suffering people to more suffering in the afterlife, it’s worth taking a step back to ask why assisted suicide is an issue for organized religion in the first place. What interest could any religion have for getting involved in such an immensely personal issue?

To answer that question, it’s also necessary to distinguish between organized religion and the personal faith that people have. Your personal faith is personal. It’s between you and your loved ones. When religions get organized, they become impersonal and subject to different influences. As demonstrated by corporations or governments, those influences aren’t always holy, to say the least.

An organized religion, be it a huge institution like the Catholic Church or just a small denomination of churches, temples, and mosques, are driven by the same incentives. They need money, adherents, labor, and support from as many followers as possible. How they go about obtaining those resources varies from faith to faith. When it comes to maintaining those assets, however, things get less varied.

I’ve noted before how religious institutions have used dogma to maintain and reinforce social inequality. Any institution, religious or not, has a strong incentive to keep its followers in a state of ignorance, poverty, and dependence. It also can’t have too many people questioning the dogma, nor can it have people with enough resources or comforts to function without its help.

With religion, those incentives are easier to codify because it can claim that their doctrine doesn’t come from law, money, or brute force. It’s ordained by a powerful deity that is on their side. People can argue against politicians, protest greedy businesses, and question long-standing traditions. They can only do so much against a powerful, invisible deity.

It’s within this context that organized religion clashes with assisted suicide. Like with inequality, assisted suicide directly undermines the manpower and resources of religious institutions. It doesn’t just take from them an adherent or a potential convert. It strikes at the foundation on which organized religion builds its influence on people.

In the same way that a business needs customers with money to spend on their goods, organized religion needs people who feel deficient, impoverished, or desperate. It’s a well-documented phenomenon. Those who are poor, hungry, and suffering tend to gravitate towards organized religion.

Sometimes, this is a good thing because there are religious organizations out there who provide food, comfort, and care. Even if doing so acts as an indirect way to recruit adherents, it still provides tangible help to people who need it. That’s an aspect of organized religion that deserves respect. When it comes to suffering and dying, however, the practices aren’t nearly as commendable.

When people are dealing with a suffering loved one, it’s incredible difficult. It takes an emotional toll on both the individual and their family. It’s heart-breaking on so many levels. It’s also an unscrupulous opportunity for organized religion.

While they won’t outright prey on someone else’s suffering, they’ll often act as a source of relief and comfort. They’ll try to act as a shoulder to cry on, telling both the person suffering and their families everything they want to hear. It earns them points from both them and the larger community. They can claim they’re helping a suffering family, but without actually helping them.

They stop short of paying for an expensive, life-saving procedure. They’ll also stop short of paying medical bills that might have piled up. They’ll sometimes promise to promote scientific research to treat whatever is causing so much pain, but in terms of over-arching incentives, that makes sense in the context that any organization wants to keep its adherents alive.

When assisted suicide enters the equation, the religious organizations miss out on that opportunity. Instead of comfort from a priest, mullah, rabbi, or monk, those suffering can get relief from a simple medical procedure. Their family can also enjoy a sense of closure in that their loved one isn’t suffering anymore. No religious influence is necessary here.

For some, that’s not just a problem. That’s a threat. Anything that subverts the need for the religious organization undermines its ability to maintain and grow its influence. Assisted suicide does all that and then some. However, it goes beyond simply not having the chance to endear themselves to sick people and their families.

From their perspective, assisted suicide sets a dangerous precedent. If too many poor, desperate, suffering people start killing themselves to escape, then they lose one of their best sources of new adherents. It’s the same reason why they discourage abortion and contraception, hoping that adherents produce more adherents for the organization. It all comes back to maintaining and growing the institution.

That usually isn’t the stated purpose. Almost every major religion that discourages assisted suicide will argue from a moral perspective. However, the indirect effect is certainly there. That’s not to say that the heads of these religious organizations secretly meet in dark rooms and craft their dogma with these factors in mind. It’s simply a byproduct of large groups of people responding to incentives.

Even if the implications of opposing assisted suicide are indirect, it’s still not a good reason to oppose the practice. It requires that people overlook the suffering and pain of others while convincing them that they don’t have the right to make important choices in their lives. That effort only leads to more suffering and that can never be justified, no matter how much dogma is applied.

As always, I want to make clear that I’m not calling all religious organizations malicious for opposing assisted suicide. I don’t believe that those within these organizations are out to cause more suffering. Most believe, in their heart of hearts, that they’re doing the right thing. The problem is that dogma, doctrine, and powerful incentives can overshadow those efforts.

There are good, legitimate reasons to oppose assisted suicide. Unfortunately, organized religion rarely relies on those reasons. On top of that, they have one too many incentives not to focus on those reasons.

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