Tag Archives: Racism

Shaming Vs. Criticism: Why The Difference Matters

Let’s be honest. It’s very difficult to have honest, civil discourse with anyone these days. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Try expressing any opinion about any issue that’s even mildly controversial. Chances are you won’t spark a civil discussion. You’ll likely trigger a flame war, especially once Godwin’s Law comes into play.

Now, I’m not going to blame all of this on the internet and social media. I don’t deny that it plays a role, but let’s not miss the forest from the trees here. We, the users of these tools, are the ones driving the content. We’re the ones who guide these discussions towards angry, hate-filled outrage. The medium is only secondary.

There are a lot of reasons why civil discourse is so difficult, but I want to highlight just one that has become far more prominent in recent years. It’s an objectively bad trend and one I genuinely believe we need to reverse. It involves this inability to distinguish shaming someone from criticizing them.

It goes like this. Two people connect, either in person or via the internet. They have a disagreement. When there’s criticism, it tends to go like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: Why do you hold that opinion? I don’t understand how you could.

Person B: Well, it’s because of X, Y, and Z.

Person A: I don’t disagree with Y and Z, but I take issue with X.

Person B: Why is that?

Person A: Well, it goes like this…

Ideally, both people in this exchange get something out of this discourse. Person A offers Person B another point of view. Person B has their opinion challenged and they’re now in a position to defend it. In doing so, they may reaffirm or question their position. They may even convince Person A of the merit of their position.

That’s a healthy level of discourse, guided by fair and civil criticism. There’s certainly a place for that. I even see it on social media from time to time. However, that’s not what makes the headlines. It’s the shaming that usually generates the most noise. Shaming is very different from criticism, both by definition and by practice. At its worst, it goes like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: What? You’re a horrible human being for holding an opinion like that! You must be a fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick!

Person B: Fuck you! Your opinion is a goddamn atrocity! Only a true fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick would even entertain it! You should be fucking ashamed!

Person A: No, you should be ashamed! You should lose your job, your money, and all manner of sympathy for the rest of your fucking life!

Person B: No, you should be ashamed! You should cry like a baby, get on your knees, and beg everyone like me to forgive you! And you should also lose your job, money, and any semblance of sympathy until the end of time!

I don’t deny that’s an extreme example. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’ve seen stuff like this play out. I’ve seen it in comments section, message boards, Twitter threads, and Facebook posts. It’s not enough to just criticize someone for holding a different opinion. People have to outright shame them to the point where they’re mentally and physically broken.

In some cases, people look for that kind of rhetoric. Some people just love trolling others by posting opinions they know will piss people off and start a flame war. They don’t care about civil discourse. They just care about riling people up. It’s what gives them a cheap thrill.

Those people are trolls. The best thing anyone can do is ignore them.

They’re also in the minority. They may be a vocal minority, but they are the minority. Most people, in my experience, are inclined to be civil. They’ll give people a chance, even if they don’t agree with them. Things just go off the rails when they interpret criticism as shaming. It’s not always intentional, either. Some people just frame their criticism poorly, which sends all the wrong messages.

Whereas criticism is impersonal, shaming evokes some very basic emotions. There’s a tangible, neurobiological process behind it. It’s linked heavily to guilt, an objectively terrible feeling that most people try to avoid at all costs. Shame attempts to impose guilt. While there are some things we should definitely feel guilty about, holding certain opinions is rarely one of them.

Does someone deserve to be shamed for how they voted in the last presidential election?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for believing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was a terrible movie?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking certain female characters in media are too sexualized?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking they shouldn’t believe every claim a woman makes about being sexually harassed?

These are difficult, emotionally charged issues. With that kind of complexity, there’s going to be many points of criticism. Some have real merit and they should be discussed. That’s how we learn and make sense of our world and the people in it. Once shame enters the picture, though, the merit tends to vanish.

The problem is that once the shaming starts, it escalates quickly. It doesn’t even need to escalate that much before a person stops listening and gets defensive. At that point, there’s basically no going back. It’s less about understanding someone else’s perspective and all about defending yourself.

That’s not a metaphor, either. Like it or not, people take their opinions seriously. Attacking them with words, even if it’s through a computer screen, still feels like a physical attack on some levels. You’re not just attacking an opinion, anymore. You’re attacking a person. You’re throwing metaphorical punches that have non-metaphorical meanings to those you’re attacking.

With that in mind, look at it from a purely instinctual level. When someone is physically assaulting you, is your first inclination to engage in a reasoned, civil discussion? For most people, it’s not. You go into survival mode and that often involves attacking the attacker.

You throw your punches.

They throw theirs.

They call you a fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

You call them a worse fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

There’s no logic or reason to it. Once emotions override everything, criticism becomes a moot point. It’s all about hitting back to defend yourself. It’s not about being right. It’s about survival, at least from your brain’s perspective.

If there’s one silver lining, it’s that people get burned out quickly on this kind of discourse. You can only hear two sides call each other fascist for so long before the rhetoric loses its impact. It also gets boring. It takes too much energy to sustain that kind of hatred towards someone you don’t know. Most people who aren’t trolls have better things to do with their time.

As I write this, I understand that we live in contentious times. I see the same heated debates online and in person as everyone else. I know that civil discourse is a scant and precious commodity at the moment. That’s exactly why we should make the effort, regardless of what opinions we hold.

Once we stop shaming each other for daring to think differently, we’ll realize just how much we have in common. We don’t have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to like one another. We can and should still be civil with one another. That’s the only way we’ll make any real progress.

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On Privilege, Resentment, and Lottery Winners

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

Now, imagine that same person won the lottery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Columbus Day (And My Honest Thoughts On It)

First off, Happy Columbus Day!

I know that’s a somewhat political statement these days, but I’ll say it anyways, just to get it out of the way.

I’m not saying it to be political. These days, I try to be very careful about statements that can be even partially construed as political. That’s just the nature of the times we’re living in. We’re so divided, defensive, and tribal that it’s hard to see anything we don’t agree with as a politically-motivated attack.

As a result, Columbus Day has taken on some very political overtones in recent years and not in a good way. It used to just be a day to celebrate the landmark voyage of a famous explorer from the 15th century. That voyage, regardless of the politics surrounding it, opened the door to a new age of exploration between the Americas and Europe. Some believe that is worth celebrating.

On the other side, there are those who rightly highlight the negative impacts and outright atrocities that Columbus’ voyage incurred. If you were a native living in the Americas at the time of his arrival, you had no reason to celebrate. The man ushered in an era that saw the utter decimation of the entire native population.

He was also, even by the standards of his time, quite the asshole. He took slaves. He wasn’t exactly popular with his crew. He might not have been the worst offender of his time, but he certainly didn’t raise the bar.

Like many historical figures from the distant past, Christopher Columbus was a complex figure. There’s a lot we’ve come to know about him, especially in recent years as the less savory parts of his story have become more accessible. With that knowledge and the benefit of hindsight, a critical question remains.

Should Columbus Day still be celebrated as a holiday?

I admit freely that, for most of my life, I saw Columbus Day as little more than an extra day off school. I didn’t know or care much about the man or his story, beyond what I was told in school. Since then, I’ve tried to keep a balanced perspective on him.

If you want a fairly comprehensive assessment on who Columbus was and how we should judge him in the modern era, I recommend the rundown from the YouTube channel, Knowing Better. He does make his biases and opinions very clear, but he still gets the point across.

If there’s one take-away worth gleaning from this video, it’s that we can appreciate the achievements of Christopher Columbus. We can even acknowledge the impact he had on world history, for better or for worse. However, celebrating him as a holiday at this point has connotations and implications that just don’t work in the modern era.

Columbus isn’t history’s greatest monster, but he’s not someone who deserves a state-sanctioned holiday in a country that has a diverse population, including groups that suffered greatly due to Columbus’ legacy. For that reason, I think at the very least, the name of the day should be changed.

Some have proposed calling it Indiginous Peoples Day to celebrate the legacy, as well as acknowledge the hardships, of the Native American populations of the Americas. I would certainly be on board with that.

Perhaps we can call it something more generic like World Exploreres Day or Unity Day. While Christopher Columbus may have been an asshole, he did succeed in one critical area. He took a major step towards connecting the world. Whether they called it the old world or the new world, the result was the same. We are now one world because we dared to explore and connect.

That, in my opinion, is worth celebrating and we can do it without glorifying Christopher Columbus.

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A (Longview) Question For Those Who Fought To Change The Name Of The Washington Redskins

It’s really happening.

I doubt anyone expected it to happen in their lifetimes, but after years of protesting and pushing, it’s finally happening. The Washington Redskins are changing their name. As someone who has followed NFL football his entire life and knows way too much about the history of every team, I am genuinely shocked. I really didn’t think this was going to happen, especially with how stubborn the owner of the team has been.

Shocked or not, it’s happening. The Washington Post announced it and the team made it official. They are changing their name.

Washington Post: Redskins To Retire Team Name

In an interview July 4, Coach Ron Rivera – who is working with owner Daniel Snyder to choose a name – said he hoped the new name would be in place by the start of the 2020 NFL season. Others have said it will be revealed as soon as within two weeks.

Two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said Sunday that the preferred replacement name is tied up in a trademark fight, which is why the team can’t announce the new name Monday.

Many are already celebrating this victory. In the battle against offensive sports mascots, this was the equivalent of Goliath. It’s one thing to get a publicly funded college to change their name. It’s quite another to get a private multibillion dollar sports franchise with an 80-plus years history. It’s a huge feat. Let’s not deny that.

Granted, it’s a feat that only happened once money became a factor. This was not done for moral reasons or because someone made an impassioned plea. This was a business decision done for the sake of doing future business. If there’s any lesson to be drawn from this endeavor, it’s that. Moral arguments do nothing. Money does all the talking.

It’s because of that, I suspect this is one of those issues that will still divide people. No matter what the new name is, people are still going to see them as “that team that used to be called the Redskins” or “that team that used to have a racist moniker.” Even though the team eventually did what some saw as the right thing, they’ll still be scorned because they didn’t do it soon enough.

That’s just the world we live in. The people who protested the name aren’t going to say “thank you.” They’re more likely to say, “It’s about damn time you racist piece of shit. Now, suffer for the rest of your life while we shame you, your children, and everyone you ever associate with and take it with a goddamn smile.”

That might be hyperbole, but that’s the power of outrage. It’s kind of addictive. The idea of turning anger into kindness, friendship, and harmony just feels like a bridge too far. People do get bored with outrage eventually, but only because they find something else to direct it towards.

That being said, I have a question to all those who are celebrating this feat. I want to ask that same question to everyone who passionately protested this name for years, protesting its racist connotations and use of caricatures. It’s a sincere, simple question that I hope people seriously contemplate.

What real, tangible benefit will changing the name of a football team accomplish for Native Americans communities in the long run?

The key word in that question is tangible. I’m aware of the various studies regarding the psychological impact of Native American mascots and caricatures. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. However, psychological impacts don’t always translate into tangible impacts. You can feel and think all you want. If you don’t do anything with it, then the impact never goes beyond brain chemicals.

As I write this, nearly a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty and the unemployment rate on many reservations is around 40 percent. That’s a trend that has not improved substantially in recent years, regardless of how many or how few mascots a sports team uses. The Native American community has a host of other critical issues to deal with that include, but are not limited to:

  • Violence against Women and Children
  • Native Americans are Less Educated
  • Poor Quality Housing
  • Inadequate Health Care
  • Unable to Exercise Voting Rights
  • Native Language is Becoming Extinct
  • Limited Financial Institutions in the Native Communities
  • Natural Resources Exploitation

These are complex issues. I’m certainly not equipped to discuss them in detail. Some are more urgent than others, but plenty involve real, tangible impacts on a community. A lack of adequate health care, decent housing, and good education all incur tangible impacts. That’s beyond dispute. How will changing the name of a football team affect any of these issues?

I’m not being facetious. I genuinely want to know how much or how little that changing the name of an NFL football team will impact Native American communities in a tangible way. I don’t doubt that some will feel better about not having a football team with a racially insensitive name, but is that the only extent of the impact? Does that impact justify all the time, energy, and resources that went into this effort?

Please don’t answer that question now. Preferably, I’d like someone who is in touch with the Native American community to answer at least four years from now. By then, there will have been enough time for the impact of this event to play out. Whether it’s a decrease in poverty or an improvement in life expectancy, it should be clear by then. If it isn’t, then that poses another question.

Was all that effort to change the name of a football team a quality use of time and resources?

Again, that’s not a facetious question. I ask this as someone who really wants to know just how much a football team’s name actually impacts a large number of people within a minority community. I don’t expect to get clear answers now, but I hope they become clearer in the next few years. I also expect those answers to raise even more distressing questions.

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How Much Should The “Central Park Karen” Be Punished? An Honest Question (And My Biased Opinion)

Karen

In general, I try not to comment on an ongoing surge of internet outrage. In my experience, joining the digital riot often leads to misguided and misappropriated anger. Sometimes, it’s based on flawed assumptions that mirror the same flaws as the moral panics of old.

That said, I’m going to make an exception for the recent case of the “Central Park Karen,” as she’s come to be known. I hope this is a rare exception, but I feel compelled to comment because I think perspective is important when the outrage is fresh. In addition, I have some personal experience with some stereotypical “Karens.”

To those who don’t know the story yet, consider yourselves lucky. This is one of those stories that won’t damage your faith in humanity, but it will raise some challenging questions. The basics are as follows:

  • An African American man was bird-watching in Central Park
  • He saw a white woman walking her dog in the same area without a leash
  • He tells the woman to put her dog on a leash, as is required by law
  • She gets upset and threatens to call the cops on him, claiming he’s threatening her life
  • He records the incident, posts it online, and the woman is vilified
  • The woman is later fired from her job

Overall, it’s a case of a woman being an asshole and potentially putting a black man’s life in danger. Sadly, around the same time this incident unfolded, a black man was killed while being subdued by police in Minneapolis. She might not have realized how dangerous it was for her to threaten this man in such a manner, but it’s still a dick move. She could’ve gotten him killed or seriously hurt over a goddamn leash law.

In this case, the facts are hard to dispute. The whole incident was captured on video. There’s no ambiguity on who was being the asshole here. It has become the ultimate manifestation of a stereotypical “Karen.” For those not familiar with this term, it’s an internet meme turned slur towards a certain type of woman. Here’s a quick rundown of those traits by Wikipedia.

The Karen archetype carries several stereotypes that are common to “basic white women”; the most notable is the stereotype that a Karen will demand to “speak with the manager” of a hypothetical service provider.[5] Further common stereotypes associated with the Karen pejorative include anti-vaccination beliefs, racism against black people, use of Facebook and a bob haircut with blonde highlights—pictures of Kate Gosselin during the airing of Kate Plus 8 were used in earlier memes about a “can-I-speak-to-your-manager haircut”,[6] and continue to be used in Karen memes[5]—engagement in multi-level marketing schemes, and Facebook posts sharing trite motivational messages.

With respect to this incident, the woman in question, whose name I won’t use out of privacy concerns, epitomized one too many of these traits. She acted like the law didn’t apply to her and threatened an innocent person of color, likely knowing that she had an advantage by being a white woman. In watching the video, it’s hard to much have sympathy for her.

I say that as someone with some admitted bias. That’s because I’ve had multiple jobs in the past in which I’ve encountered quite a few “Karens.” In fact, every job I’ve had has resulted in at least one encounter with someone who fits one too many traits of this stereotype.

When I worked at a fast food restaurant, I had Karen yell at me for trying to clean parts of a nearby table while her family was still eating.

When I worked at a software company, I had to respond to numerous Karens who demanded urgent assistance for issues that were trivial at best.

I know these kinds of women. I understand why they evoke so much animosity. I’ve harbored some of that resentment before. I don’t deny that my past experience affects how I interpret this story. While I try to be understanding in situations involving internet outrage, that’s considerably difficult in this case.

The outrage for this woman has already led to some major impacts. The woman has already been fired from her job and has had to make a public apology. On top of that, since her name has already been made public, she’s been subject to plenty of hate and harassment. By any measure, she has faced severe consequences for her actions.

That still raises one important question.

Has this woman been punished too harshly?

It’s not an unreasonable question, even from someone with a bias against stereotypical Karens. There’s a good chance that this woman’s life has been damaged for years to come. She lost her job. She’s being relentlessly harassed. She even had to give up custody of her dog. That’s quite a harsh punishment for someone who wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime.

At the same time, we can’t lose sight of the fact that she threatened an innocent man in a way that could’ve ended very badly for him. She openly and eagerly abused her status as a white woman flaunting the law. Had this not occurred, or had the video not gone viral, she wouldn’t have changed her ways. She would’ve just kept doing what she was doing.

That kind of behavior doesn’t just put innocent people of color at risk. It gives no reason for this kind of Karen-like behavior to stop. It’s only by facing consequences for her behavior that she realizes how wrong it was. Hopefully, others like her see what could happen to them if they were to behave in a similar manner.

That’s the best case scenario, but those scenarios are rarely the end result. At worst, this woman now has even more reasons to resent people of color. She might not have harbored overtly racist attitudes before, but she might feel differently now. She and others like her will now just have to be more tactful with their hate, which could subsequently lead to worse incidents that don’t go viral.

It’s hard to say without knowing the woman personally. I’m usually inclined to accept someone’s sincere apology. I genuinely hope that the woman was sincere. If the man she threatened accepts her apology, then I think the right thing to do is for the rest of us to accept it as well. She has faced plenty of consequences already. Forgiveness should be our first inclination when it is an option.

In a perfect world, the outrage would cease if the person wronged decides to forgive. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. I sincerely doubt the after-effects of this incident are over for the woman involved. It may take a long time for her to recover and in the long run, the outrage could do more harm than good.

It leaves me genuinely torn. I believe that asshole behavior like this should be confronted and punished, especially when it puts an innocent person’s life in danger. I also believe there should be a limit to that punishment. I just don’t know what that limit is and I think it’s worth contemplating.

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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 Biological Weapons Will Be A (MUCH) Bigger Threat In The Future

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It wasn’t too long ago that the biggest existential threat facing humanity was nuclear war. I’ve noted before how distressingly close we’ve come to a nuclear disaster and how the threat of a nuclear holocaust is still present. However, that threat has abated in recent decades, especially as nuclear weapons have gotten so destructive that their use is somewhat redundant.

More recently, people have become more concerned about the threat posed by advanced artificial intelligence. The idea is that at some point, an AI will become so intelligent and capable that we won’t be able to stop it in the event it decides that humanity must go extinct. It’s the basis of every Terminator movie, as well as an Avengers movie.

While I certainly have my concerns about the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, it’s not the threat that worries me most these days. We still have some measure of control over the development of AI and we’re in a good position to guide that technology down a path that won’t destroy the human race. The same cannot be said for biological weapons.

If there’s one true threat that worries me more with each passing day, it’s that. Biological weapons are one of those major threats that does not slip under the radar, as evidenced by plenty of movies, books, and TV shows. However, the extent of that threat has become more understated in recent years and has the potential to be something more powerful than nuclear weapons.

By powerful, I don’t necessarily mean deadlier. At the end of the day, nuclear weapons are still more capable of rendering the human race extinct and turning the whole planet into a radioactive wasteland. The true power of biological weapons less about how deadly they can be and more about how useful they could be to potential governments, tyrants, or extremists.

For most of human history, that power has been limited. There’s no question that disease has shaped the course of human history. Some plagues are so influential that they mark major turning points for entire continents. The same can be said for our ability to treat such diseases. However, all these diseases had one fatal flaw that kept them from wiping out the human race.

Thanks to the fundamental forces of evolution, a deadly pathogen can only be so deadly and still survive. After all, an organism’s ultimate goal isn’t to kill everything it encounters. It’s to survive and reproduce. It can’t do that if it kills a carrier too quickly. If it’s too benign, however, then the carrier’s immune system will wipe it out.

That’s why even diseases as deadly as Ebola and Influenza can only be so infectious. If they kill all their hosts, then they die with them. That’s why, much to the chagrin of creationists, evolution doesn’t favor the natural emergence of apocalyptic diseases. They can still devastate the human race, but they can’t necessarily wipe it out. It would only wipe itself out in the process and most lifeforms avoid that.

It’s also why the large-scale biological weapons programs of the 20th century could only be so effective. Even if a country manufactured enough doses of an existing disease to infect every person on the planet, it won’t necessarily be deadly enough to kill everyone. Even at its worst, smallpox and bubonic plague never killed more than two-thirds of those it infected.

That’s not even factoring in how difficult it is to distribute these pathogens to everyone without anyone noticing. It’s even harder today because powerful governments invest significant resources into preventing and containing an outbreak. If large numbers of people start getting sick and dropping dead at a rapid rate, then someone will notice and take action.

That’s why, for the most part, biological weapons are both ethically untenable and not very useful as weapons of mass destruction. They’re difficult to control, difficult to distribute, and have unpredictable effects. They also require immense resources, considerable technical know-how, and a keen understanding of science. Thankfully, these are all things that extreme religious zealots tend to lack.

For the most part, these powerful constraints have kept biological weapons from being too great a threat. However, recent advances in biotechnology could change that and it’s here where I really start to worry. With recent advances in gene-editing and the emergence of tools like CRISPR, those limitations that kept biological weapons in check may no longer be insurmountable.

While I’ve done plenty to highlight all the good that tools like CRISPR could do, I don’t deny that there are potential dangers. Like nuclear weapons, this technology is undeniably powerful and powerful technology always carries great risks. With CRISPR, the risks aren’t as overt as obvious as fiery mushroom clouds, but they can be every bit as deadly.

In theory, CRISPR makes it possible to cut and paste genetic material with the same ease as arranging scattered puzzle pieces. With right materials and tools, this technology could be used to create genetic combinations in organisms that could never occur naturally or even with artificial selection.

Imagine a strain of smallpox that was lethal 100 percent of the time and just as infectious.

Imagine a strain of the flu that was as easy to spread as the common cold, but as deadly as bubonic plague.

Imagine a strain of an entirely new pathogen that is extremely lethal and completely immune to all modern medicine.

These are all possible, albeit exceedingly difficult, with genetic editing. Unlike nuclear weapons, it doesn’t require the procurement of expensive and dangerous elements. It just needs DNA, RNA, and a lab with which to produce them. It’s a scary idea, but that’s actually not the worst of it, nor is it the one that worries me most.

A doomsday bioweapon like that might be appealing to generic super-villains, but like nuclear weapons, they’re not very strategic because they kill everyone and everything. For those with a more strategic form of blood-lust, advanced biological weapons offer advantages that sets them apart from any other weapon.

Instead of a pathogen infecting everyone it comes into contact with, what if it only infected a certain group of people that carry a specifics traits associated with a particular race or ethnic group? What if someone wanted to be even more strategic than that and craft a pathogen that attacked only one specific person?

In principle, this is possible if you can manipulate the genetics of a disease in just the right way. Granted, it’s extremely difficult, but the potential utility makes it more useful than a nuclear bomb will ever be.

Suddenly, a government or terrorist organization doesn’t need a skilled assassin on the level of James Bond to target a specific person or group. They just need the right genetic material and a working knowledge of how to program it into a synthetic pathogen. It could even be made to look like a completely different disease, which ensured it didn’t raise any red flags.

It’s not the ultimate weapon, but it’s pretty darn close. Biological weapons with this level of refinement could potentially target entire groups of people and never put the attackers at risk. As a strategy, it can effectively end an entire conflict without a shot being fired. Those infected wouldn’t even know it was fired if the pathogen were effectively distributed.

It’s one of those weapons that both terrorists and governments would be tempted to use. The most distressing part is they could use it in a way that’s difficult to detect, let alone counter. Even after all the death and destruction has been wrought, how do you even prove that it was a result of a bioweapon? Even if you could prove that, how would you know who made it?

These are the kinds of questions that only have disturbing answers. They’re also the reasons why I believe biological weapons are poised to become a far bigger issue in the coming years. Even if it’s unlikely they’ll wipe out the human race, they can still cause a special kind of destruction that’s almost impossible to counter.

Unlike any other weapon, though, the destruction could be targeted, undetectable, and unstoppable. Those who wield this technology would have the power to spread death with a level of precision and tact unprecedented in human history. While I believe that humanity will eventually be able to handle dangerous technology like artificial intelligence, I doubt it’ll ever be capable of handling a weapon like that.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, Current Events, futurism, technology

Why The Outrage Over Brie Larson And “Captain Marvel” Is Misguided (And Counterproductive)

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Celebrities sometimes say dumb things. I doubt most people would contest that. Sometimes, celebrities say things that aren’t dumb, but badly taken out of context. I imagine most people would agree with that too. However, in an era where outrage is a national pastime and social media makes it way too easy to blow things out of proportion, it’s easy for a celebrity to cause controversy for all the wrong reasons.

Brie Larson, whose star is set to rise considerably with the release of “Captain Marvel,” is learning this the hard way and a large consortium of angry people on the internet are intent on making it harder. What should’ve been a culmination of a young woman’s career and a female hero’s ascension to the superhero A-list is now mired in the ugliest kind of gender politics.

The origin of that controversy actually had nothing to do with Ms. Larson’s role on “Captain Marvel.” Back in June 2018, she made some overly political comments while accepting the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film. While celebrities making political statements is nothing new, Ms. Larson’s statement was hardly extreme.

It wasn’t some radical feminist tirade.

It wasn’t some angry rant about the outcome of 2016 Presidential Election.

It wasn’t even some act of elaborate virtue signaling by some smug celebrity.

All Ms. Larson did was advocate for greater diversity among film critics. She didn’t just make such a statement on a whim, either. She did so in response to a study published by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that revealed a significant lack of representation in the industry of film criticism.

That’s not an unreasonable concern. The western world is becoming more diverse and the success of movies like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” shows that there’s a market for such diverse tastes. Advocating for greater representation in the field of film criticism makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, that’s not the message that some people gleamed from Ms. Larson’s comments. All they heard was that she doesn’t want to hear from white men anymore. They somehow got the impression that Brie Larson resents white men and her movies, including “Captain Marvel,” aren’t made for them. They’re not even welcome in the conversation.

Who these people are and the politics they represent is difficult to discern. I don’t think it’s accurate to call them conservative, liberal, feminist, anti-feminist, leftist, or any other political label. Outrage culture rarely gets that specific, but given the heated politics surrounding movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it’s a frustratingly familiar narrative.

While I can understand some of the outrage surrounding “Ghostbusters” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” in this case I don’t think it’s justified. That’s not just because I’m a big fan of Marvel Comics, superhero movies, and all things Captain Marvel. It’s because the actual substance of Ms. Larson’s words don’t warrant the controversy she has generated.

For specific reference, here’s what she actually said during her speech in June 2018. Read it very slowly and try to understand the context of her statement.

“I don’t want to hear what a white man has to say about ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ I want to hear what a woman of color, a biracial woman has to say about the film. I want to hear what teenagers think about the film. If you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is a chance that a woman of color does not have access to review and critique your film. Do not say the talent is not there, because it is.”

Remember, she said these words after learning how little diversity there was among movie critics. Unlike most people, she was actually in a position to do something about it. Being an Oscar winning actress who was poised to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, her words carry more weight than most.

Even so, those words were construed as racist and sexist, two exceedingly loaded terms that bring out the worst in people, especially on the internet. Never mind the fact that she made clear in her original speech that she did not hate white men. Never mind the fact that she has since clarified her words. She is still being attacked as some angry radical feminist who hates men, especially those who are white.

It would be one thing if she had said outright that white men should be banned from criticizing certain movies. Many celebrities, including a few still relevant today, have said far worse. However, that’s not what Ms. Larson said. She never, at any point, advocated disparaging white men. She didn’t even say that people who hate her movies are racist and sexist, something the “Star Wars” crowd is painfully familiar with.

Again, all Ms. Larson spoke out against was a lack of diversity among film critics. That part is worth emphasizing because it renders the outrage surrounding her statement as utterly absurd. It also makes the targeted attack on the fan reviews for “Captain Marvel” both asinine and misguided.

Even though the movie isn’t out yet, the movie is being targeted with negative comments on Rotten Tomatoes. Since it has only screened for a handful of audiences, it’s unlikely that any of these people actually saw the movie or were inclined to see it in the first place. Some are even claiming that this has already impacted the projected box office for the movie.

Whether that impact manifests remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that when “Black Panther” was targeted with similar attacks, it failed miserably. At the moment, early reactions to “Captain Marvelhave been glowing so the chances of these attacks hurting the box office are probably minor at best. If the pre-ticket sales are any indication, the movie will likely turn a hefty profit for Marvel and their Disney overlords.

Even if there were an impact, it would be for all the wrong reasons. It would send the message that there’s a large contingent of people who are willing to work together to tank a movie because of comments a celebrity said that had nothing to do with that movie and weren’t the least bit controversial, when taken in context.

In this case, it was simply twisting someone’s comments to make them sseem like they said things that they never said or even implied. Then, those who bought into that narrative simply use that as an excuse to disparage a movie that they haven’t seen. That’s not just absurd, even by the skewed standards of outrage culture. It sends the worst possible message from those who think they’re protecting their favorite movie genre.

It tells the world that they don’t care what a celebrity actually says. They actively look for an excuse to hate someone who doesn’t completely buy into their preferred status quo. It would be one thing if that status quo was just and reasonable, but that’s not the case here.

All Ms. Larson did was advocate for more diversity among film critics. If that is somehow too extreme, then the problem isn’t with her or celebrities like her. It’s with those determined to hate her. There are a lot of issues in the world of celebrities and movies that warrant outrage, but advocating for more diversity in film criticism isn’t one of them.

I can already hear some people typing angry comments stating that if she had said those same words, but changed the demographic to something other than white men, then it would be an issue. However, the fact remains that this isn’t what she said.

It also doesn’t help that Brie Larson identifies as a feminist and that term has become incredibly loaded in recent years. However, she has never embraced the kind of radical rhetoric that other, less likable celebrities have espoused. Until she does, those determined to identify her and “Captain Marvel” as racist, sexist propaganda are only doing themselves and their politics a disservice.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, extremism, gender issues, Marvel, media issues, men's issues, movies, outrage culture, political correctness, superhero movies