Tag Archives: social media

Why Non-Religious Cults Are Becoming (Almost) As Dangerous

Most religious people are not dangerous or ignorant, nor are most of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks who lead them. I want to make that clear early on. I know I’ve been very critical of religion in the past and I stand by much of those criticism. However, I do not want to give the impression that it makes sincere adherents unworthy of respect.

I have religious people in my family. They are good, decent people and their religious beliefs means a lot to them. I do not want to denigrate that in any way.

That said, extreme religious cults are dangerous. They are worthy of criticism and, in some cases, outright scorn. People have died because of these cults, including innocent children. If we’re going to be a better people now and in the future, we need to be vigilant of these dangerous cults. Otherwise, more people will suffer.

How we go about that is beyond my expertise. There are organizations with people far more qualified to pursue that effort, such as Cult Escape and Dare To Doubt. I urge others to support those efforts, regardless of your religious affiliation. There are a lot of people out there trapped in these cults who need help.

However, there has been another troubling trend in recent years that may complicate that effort. It involves cults that aren’t necessarily religious, in nature. Some have religious elements, but also mix in politics and conspiracy theories. The goals and methods aren’t always the same, but the outcome is similar.

People get sucked into an ideology.

They get caught up in a trend that evokes strong emotions within them.

They connect with like-minded people who reinforce and reaffirm their beliefs.

They start attacking or shunning outsiders or anyone they don’t agree with.

They stop doubting their beliefs and are openly scorned if they dare raise questions, making it next to impossible to leave.

It’s a common story that many endure, but now it’s happening without the religious angle. Now, people are falling into cults that offer little in terms of theology, but still descend into a toxic mix of groupthink, hero worship, and self-delusion.

You have organizations like Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help program that sucked people in and reshaped their thinking at the hands of a sociopath leader.

You have charismatic public personalities like Jordan Peterson and Tony Robbins, who may not set out to create cult-like movements, but still create a community wrought with cult-like behaviors.

Then, there’s Q-Anon.

Believe me, I do not want to go into details about that. I’m afraid to even post any links. I do not want someone to get sucked into that ultra-toxic rabbit hole, which has led to real-world violence and torn families apart.

These are serious issues that affect real people, as well as their families. Thanks to the world-wide reach of the internet and clunky nature of social media, it’s a lot easier to fall in with the wrong digital crowd. You don’t have to be religious. You just have to be willing to buy into a certain ideology or narrative. No miracles are necessary.

That is dangerous and I suspect it’s going to get worse in the coming years, especially as mainstream religion continues to decline. Will it be as dangerous as the religious cults of old? Well, that depends on a number of factors. At the moment, even the worst non-religious cults have major shortcomings.

Religious cults can, by definition, hide behind the guise of religion. That comes with plenty of benefits, including the kind that allows them to avoid paying taxes. Religion also has legal protections, as evidenced by the constant push for “religious freedom.”

Non-religious cults don’t have the same advantages. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that these types of cults couldn’t even exist without the internet or the widespread connectivity of modern media. They also don’t have the overall structure that many religious organizations have. That means they’ll only be able to do so much.

On top of that, the nature of the internet makes it a lot harder for cults to keep their members in line. At any point, an adherent could get curious and start looking up opposing views that could cast doubt on their beliefs. There’s only so much a cult can do to control a person from behind a computer screen.

Even with those limitations, they’ve still done plenty of damage. They’re likely to do plenty more and we should be very concerned about that. The world is already a chaotic place. Extreme religious cults have already done plenty to add to that chaos. The last thing we need is for non-religious cults to do the same.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, religion

A Message To Those Who Whine About The “Mainstream Media”

There are certain institutions and organization no one wants to defend. Usually, there’s a good reason for that. Who would ever want to stand on the side of the IRS, insurance companies, or oil companies? I don’t deny some will make the effort, but it’s often born of questionable motivations.

Now, I’m not out to defend any of those organizations or the people they pay to protect them. In fact, I’m going to try very hard to not take a side here. That may not be possible because in this case, I’m going to try and be balanced on an institution that has only become more imbalanced over the years.

I’m referring to “the mainstream media.” Yes, I put that term in quotes. There’s a good reason for that.

I’m also aware that people talk about “the mainstream media” the same way they talk about hemorrhoids, traffic jams, and malignant tumors. You’re unlikely to find anyone who will come to their defense. It’s why trust in “the mainstream media” is at an all-time low.

However, is that entirely the media’s fault?

Don’t get me wrong. The modern media is a mess and definitely needs a top-down overhaul, but I’m not smart enough to discuss that at any great length. Instead, I want to focus on those who constantly whine about “the mainstream media.”

You hear it from liberals who claim right-wing news sources peddle disinformation and outright propaganda.

You hear it from conservatives who claim left-leaning news sources basically treats anyone to the right of Jimmy Carter a fascist.

You basically hear it from everyone from every side of the political spectrum. Either “the mainstream media” is actively undermining democracy or they’re an unofficial arm of an oppressive government. There’s no middle-ground or nuance. No matter your politics, you’ll find an excuse to hate them.

I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit.

Again, this is not me coming the defense of mainstream media. This is just me saying there’s legitimate criticism of modern media institutions and then there’s just bullshit whining. The latter has grossly overwhelmed the former as of late.

I see it in comments section and social media. It takes many forms, but it often boils down to this.

“The mainstream media is covering up the truth!”

“The mainstream media is spreading lies!”

“The mainstream media is attacking [insert favorite politician/pundit/celebrity]!”

“The mainstream media is destroying the country I love!”

Trust me, it gets more hyperbolic and vulgar. In some cases, real people faced outright death threats because of peoples’ hatred for “the mainstream media.” Even after the death of Rush Limbaugh, the hate isn’t subsiding. It’s only going to get worse.

That’s because it’s easier than ever to basically customize your news feed. If you want to only hear news from a right-wing bias, you can do that. If you only want to hear news from a left-wing bias, you can do that too. If you just want news that’s uplifting, there’s even a source for that too.

It’s not entirely a result of the internet. This has been happening since the rise of talk radio. People learned that you could garner a large, loyal audience by telling them the news and opinions that they want to hear. They won’t care how factually accurate it is. They just want to hear what makes them feel good.

That’s not inherently wrong. We’re human. We have our biases. There’s no way around it.

The problem is that, because people are having their biases satiated, they’re becoming more antagonistic towards anything that doesn’t do exactly that. That means any news that isn’t their preferred news is “the mainstream media” and “the mainstream media” is always bad.

I wish I could write that with more sarcasm, but this is a serious issue and one with deeply distressing implications.

This is part of why it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince people that a certain news story has been debunked or discredited. It’s also why people will cling to certain issues, citing only uncredible and bias sources, long after they’ve faded from the headlines.

You cannot reason with someone who clings to an unreasonable source of information. You also cannot have a civil discussion with someone who sees anything that doesn’t agree with them as wrong, evil, or a conspiracy by shape-shifting lizard people. I swear that last one is an actual conspiracy theory. I wish I was joking.

For this reason, I’ve had many unpleasant conversations with people who are otherwise decent human beings.

For that same reason, I’d like to send those people, as well as those who side with me on most arguments, a simple message.

The mainstream media is not out to get you.

The mainstream media is not out to destroy your way of life.

The mainstream media is not some evil organization run by a cabal of supervillains.

In essence, whining about “the mainstream media” has just become code for whining about certain people or organizations that don’t agree with you politically or ideologically. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that gives people an excuse to dismiss every point they make, even if it’s right, accurate, and completely credible.

It’s pathetic that people are that insecure about their politics, but it’s also dangerous. The events of January 6th at the Capitol is proof of that. I’m not saying we should all start trusting the media at every level. I’m just saying that there’s a better, more balanced way to get a clearer view of our world. You’re just not going to get that view if you only ever listen to Infowars.

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Filed under Current Events, media issues, political correctness, politics, psychology, rants

A Quick (And Critical) Lesson On Tolerance And “Cancel Culture”

There are certain topics that I find difficult to talk about, but I’ll still make the effort because they’re worth discussing. That’s why I’ll write something about abortion or religion every now and then. These are serious, emotionally charged issues. There’s merit to discussing them.

Then, there’s “cancel culture.”

I’m sorry, but I’ve yet to see a single discussion about “cancel culture” that has ever been productive. Some say it’s a threat to free speech and western values. Some say it’s not really a thing. I say both are wrong and both aren’t helping by making sub-par arguments.

Every few months or so, it starts trending and for bullshit reasons. Usually, what some bemoan as “cancel culture” depends heavily on their political affiliation. A conservative won’t see Colin Kaepernick being shut out of the NFL as cancel culture, but they’ll whine endlessly about Rosanne Barr getting fired from her show.

Conversely, a liberal will cheer when Lou Dobbs gets fired, but will make endless excuses for liberal celebrities who say objectively dumb shit. It always seems to boil down whether you’re politics align with whoever or whatever is canceled. It’s arbitrary, it’s petty, and it’s absurd. I really don’t have any other way to describe it.

Now, I could rant for hours about bullshit “cancel culture” arguments. However, I’d rather do something more productive with my time. I’d also prefer not to add to the whining. The only reason I’m bringing this up is because that’s all anyone has been doing since the story about Gina Carano broke.

If you’re not up to speed, consider yourself lucky. I won’t recount the details. The long and short of it is she got fired by Disney for some stupid tweets that mentioned the holocaust. Now, I won’t give my opinion on the contents of these tweets. Again, that’s not a productive use of my time or anyone’s time, for that matter.

However, I don’t want to bring this topic up just to rant about it. Instead, I’d like to use the ongoing whining about “cancel culture” to offer some perspective about what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters. I could try to put it into words. Thankfully, people far smarter and more talented than me already have.

The following image that I found on Twitter sums it up nicely.

If that doesn’t get the point across, please see this helpful little image detailing the paradox of tolerance by Karl Popper.

In short, being tolerant is a good thing. Protecting free speech is a good thing. However, there are lines, limits, and context. Failing to understand them will only cause more outrage and whining. The world already has too much of that. Let’s not add to it.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology, television

Why We Should Treat Our Data As (Valuable) Property

Many years ago, I created my first email address before logging into the internet. It was a simple AOL account. I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I was creating anything valuable. At the time, the internet was limited to slow, clunky dial-up that had little to offer in terms of content. I doubt anyone saw what they were doing as creating something of great value.

I still have that email address today in case you’re wondering. I still regularly use it. I imagine a lot of people have an email address they created years ago for one of those early internet companies that used to dominate a very different digital world. They may not even see that address or those early internet experiences as valuable.

Times have changed and not just in terms of pandemics. In fact, times tends to change more rapidly in the digital world than it does in the real world. The data we created on the internet, even in those early days, became much more valuable over time. It served as the foundation on which multi-billion dollar companies were built.

As a result, the data an individual user imparts onto the internet has a great deal of value. You could even argue that the cumulative data of large volumes of internet users is among the most valuable data in the world.

Politicians, police, the military, big businesses, advertising agencies, marketing experts, economists, doctors, and researchers all have use for this data. Many go to great lengths to get it, sometimes through questionable means.

The growing value of this data raises some important questions.

Who exactly owns this data?

How do we go about treating it from a legal, fiscal, and logistical standpoint?

Is this data a form of tangible property, like land, money, or labor?

Is this something we can exchange, trade, or lease?

What is someone’s recourse if they want certain aspects of their data removed, changed, or deleted?

These are all difficult questions that don’t have easy answers. It’s getting to a point where ownership of data was an issue among candidates running for President of the United States. Chances are, as our collective data becomes more vital for major industries, the issue will only grow in importance.

At the moment, it’s difficult to determine how this issue will evolve. In the same way I had no idea how valuable that first email address would be, nobody can possibly know how the internet, society, the economy, and institutions who rely on that data will evolve. The best solution in the near term might not be the same as the best solution in the long term.

Personally, I believe that our data, which includes our email addresses, browsing habits, purchasing habits, and social media posts, should be treated as personal property. Like money, jewels, or land, it has tangible value. We should treat it as such and so should the companies that rely on it.

However, I also understand that there are complications associated with this approach. Unlike money, data isn’t something you can hold in your hand. You can’t easily hand it over to another person, nor can you claim complete ownership of it. To some extent, the data you create on the internet was done with the assistance of the sites you use and your internet service provider.

Those companies could claim some level of ownership of your data. It might even be written in the fine print of those user agreements that nobody ever reads. It’s hard to entirely argue against such a claim. After all, we couldn’t create any of this data without the aid of companies like Verizon, AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. At the same time, these companies couldn’t function, let alone profit, without our data.

It’s a difficult question to resolve. It only gets more difficult when you consider laws like the “right to be forgotten.” Many joke that the internet never forgets, but it’s no laughing matter. Peoples’ lives can be ruined, sometimes through no fault of their own. Peoples’ private photos have been hacked and shared without their permission.

In that case, your data does not at all function like property. Even if it’s yours, you can’t always control it or what someone else does with it. You can try to take control of it, but it won’t always work. Even data that was hacked and distributed illegally is still out there and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Despite those complications, I still believe that our data is still the individual’s property to some extent, regardless of what the user agreements of tech companies claim. Those companies provide the tools, but we’re the ones who use them to build something. In the same way a company that makes hammers doesn’t own the buildings they’re used to make, these companies act as the catalyst and not the byproduct.

Protecting our data, both from theft and from exploitation, is every bit as critical as protecting our homes. An intruder into our homes can do a lot of damage. In our increasingly connected world, a nefarious hacker or an unscrupulous tech company can do plenty of damage as well.

However, there’s one more critical reason why I believe individuals need to take ownership of their data. It has less to do with legal jargon and more to do with trends in technology. At some point, we will interact with the internet in ways more intimate than a keyboard and mouse. The technology behind a brain/computer interface is still in its infancy, but it exists and not just on paper.

Between companies like Neuralink and the increasing popularity of augmented reality, the way we interact with technology is bound to get more intimate/invasive. Clicks and link sharing are valuable today. Tomorrow, it could be complex thoughts and feelings. Whoever owns that stands to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the user.

I know it’s common refrain to say that knowledge is power, but when the knowledge goes beyond just our browsing and shopping habits, it’s not an unreasonable statement. As we build more and more of our lives around digital activities, our identities will become more tied to that data. No matter how large or small that portion might be, we’ll want to own it as much as we can.

It only gets more critical if we get to a point where we can fully digitize our minds, as envisioned in shows like “Altered Carbon.” At some point, our bodies are going to break down. We cannot preserve it indefinitely for the same reason we can’t preserve a piece of pizza indefinitely. However, the data that makes up our minds could be salvaged, but that opens the door to many more implications.

While that kind of technology is a long way off, I worry that if we don’t take ownership of our data today, then it’ll only get harder to do so in the future. Even before the internet, information about who we are and what we do was valuable.

This information forms a big part of our identity. If we don’t own that, then what’s to stop someone else from owning us and exploiting that to the utmost? It’s a question that has mostly distressing answers. I still don’t know how we go about staking our claim on our data, but it’s an issue worth confronting. The longerwe put it off, the harder it will get.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, politics, technology

Censorship Vs. Accountability: Know The Difference

I hate talking about censorship.

I hate talking about “cancel culture,” a term I think has all the wrong connotations for all the wrong reasons.

I am a proud American and I believe in free speech to the utmost. I will gladly fight for that freedom and support those who do.

I say all that because, in wake of the terrible events at the Capitol recently, there has been a lot of whining from certain people. I won’t name names. I’ll just note that they’re whining and ranting about censorship and cancel culture. Watch the news for more than five minutes and you’ll know who they are.

Now, I don’t want to go on an extended rant about why censorship is different from not being allowed to post on your favorite social media site. Make no mistake. There is a difference. There’s actually a lengthy legal framework behind what constitutes censorship in a purely legal sense.

I’m not a lawyer, nor am I smart enough to break down the various complexities about censorship, cancel culture, and the various cases attributed to both. I doubt any point I make will change anyone’s mind, especially if they’ve been affected by perceived censoring from either side. Even so, I still think a point is worth being made.

In watching this debate, I’ve noticed something that’s both peculiar and revealing about this issue. Whenever there’s a case of alleged censorship or cancel culture, those who bemoan it only complain when it’s used against them.

For instance, say your favorite politician who you vote for and vocally support was kicked off Twitter, Facebook, and all major social media platforms for rhetoric that incited violence and spreads damaging disinformation. Chances are, you’re going to defend them more than you would if that politician was someone you vocally opposed.

Yes, I realize this is not a subtle example. It still gets the point across.

Those same people might not raise an eyebrow if there was a case of an gay couple who denied service at a bakery. They might also be perfectly fine with laws on the books that actually ban atheists from holding public office. Those are both actual cases of discrimination, but it’s happening against people who they don’t agree with, politically. As such, they don’t care or actively support it.

On the other side of that coin, the same people who celebrate certain politicians from getting kicked off social media will loudly support boycotts and bans from certain individuals speaking on campuses. They’ll also whine about a certain scene in a TV show or certain media depictions of minorities.

The absurdity is the same. The only difference is the target and the political affiliation of those complaining about it. It’s just tribalism at its most basic. You support and make excuses for the people and things you support. You protest those you think are against you. There’s no logic to it. It’s all based on who you support or hate.

With respect to those who actually do get censored, there’s also another side of that coin. While I am a vocal proponent of free speech, I also believe in accountability, especially for people in positions of power. It’s one thing for me to say something stupid on social media. It’s quite another for someone who is an elected official.

Those words carry a lot more weight. When someone in that position encourages anger, outrage, and protest, it can lead to real world actions. We saw that at the Capitol. Real people suffered and died because of those actions. In that case, there are consequences.

When you incite violence against others, that’s not free speech. That’s a crime. When your words lead to tangible harm and destruction, that’s something that you are accountable for. It’s not censorship. It’s not cancel culture. It’s just accountability, plain and simple.

If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand free speech and what it really means. Now, with respect to tech companies removing certain voices or having a bias, that’s another issue. It’s complicated and requires more nuance than simple whining.

However, when it comes to powerful people just wanting to use social media to exercise their power, that’s different. Powerful people must be held to a higher standard. If not, then people far less powerful will pay the price and we can’t have any kind of freedom in a society like that.

Also, blurring female nipples is still bullshit censorship. Can we at least agree on that?

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, extremism, outrage culture, political correctness, politics

Why Liars, Cheaters, And Hypocrites Get Away With It

We all deal with them.

We all encounter them.

We all despise them on some levels.

Call them any vulgar insult you want. It’s perfectly warranted, but it doesn’t change what they do. The liars, cheaters, and hypocrites of this world will keep doing it. They’ll keep lying to your face, cheating you out of money, and breaking promises or precedents without a second thought.

I know it’s a depressing thought. It has become a lot more in our collective faces in recent years, given how political rhetoric has become so heated. Both sides argue with one another. They each lie or cheat to varying degrees. They jump at the chance to call the other out on it, but nothing really changes.

They keep on lying and people who align with their politics buy into it, even when they know it’s a lie. It’s frustrating. I argue it’s gotten even more infuriating in recent years. It does, however, raise an important question.

Why do people who lie, cheat, and break promises keep getting away with it?

It’s a valid question. Nobody likes being lied to. Even kids know on some level how wrong it is. So, why does it keep happening and why does nobody seem to pay a price? Well, the very nature of those questions already answer that to some extent.

In short, people keep getting away with it because they never get punished, pay a price, or face any consequences for their dishonesty.

It’s not a very comforting answer, I know. It’s probably just as infuriating as being lied to. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Think about it. What price does someone really pay for lying? Sure, there’s the accompanying guilt that comes with it, but for some people, that’s not much of a price. You don’t have to be a psychopath incapable of guilt to lie. You just have to be capable of enduring the momentary discomfort that comes with it.

That’s not much of a price for certain people, especially when there’s money to be made and power to be gained. Granted, certain liars and hypocrites will lose credibility with certain people. Lie too much to one person and they won’t trust you, let alone be inclined to do you any favors.

On a larger scale, though, that’s less of an issue. Add mass media and the internet to the mix and it’s basically an afterthought. Right now, anyone can tweet or post some completely dishonest information to any number of major sites.

They could claim a certain politician beat up a child.

They could claim that a certain celebrity sexually assaulted someone.

They could claim that the theory of evolution is a plot by the Illuminati to keep people from finding out about the shape-shifting lizard people that secretly run our government.

That last one is a real conspiracy theory that some people actually believe, by the way. I wish I had made up something that absurd.

Some of these lies may incur lawsuits or blocks, but again, is that really much of a price? Some people can afford frivolous lawsuits. Many don’t care if certain people block them. Even when major websites try to clamp down on it, that only seems to fuel the liars.

That’s another critical element as to why it keeps happening. Not only do liars, cheats, and hypocrites pay little to no price for their dishonesty. In some cases, they’re rewarded. In some cases, the reward is huge.

We may hate hypocrites and liars, but so long as they have something to gain and little to lose, not much will stop them. If they have no sense of guilt or shame, as many politicians and CEOs often do, they have every incentive to do what they do. There’s just too much money and power to be gained.

On top of that, there are some people who want to believe in their lies. Everyone has their own reason for doing so. It often boils down to the lies being more appealing than the truth or reinforcing some position they already have. Whatever their reason, they keep give even more incentives to those willing to exploit that inclination.

I say this not to be dire, although I don’t deny the election last month is a motivating factor. I offer this as a means of adding perspective to those frustrated by the dishonesty and hypocrisy that seems so prevalent, no matter where you look.

There’s a reason it’s there and is a painfully valid reason. As long as the liars, cheaters, and hypocrites we despise keep gaining so much and losing so little, they will continue with their deplorable behavior. They have no reason not to. It’s just the nature of our flawed world.

We can only do so much to make it less flawed. One way you can help is to keep voting, even if it’s just for the least dishonest candidate. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a start.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, rants

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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PSA: Disagreeing With Someone Is NOT A Violent Act

There are certain basic, inherently decent truths in this world. Most reasonable people understand them to some extent. We don’t need to be persuaded of their merits.

Being a selfish asshole is a bad thing.

Lying, cheating, and stealing is a bad thing.

Compliments and kind words help us and others like us.

Not everything you see on the internet is true.

These are just a few. I hope they’re not controversial. I like to think I have enough life experiences to make these statements with some credibility. Ideally, we don’t need to remind each other of these simple truths. They should be a given for anyone with a functioning brain.

Unfortunately, we live in an exceedingly imperfect world and years like 2020 only intensify those imperfections.

So, in that frustrating spirit, I’d like to make a quick public service announcement that I hope will function as a simple reminder. Please note I’m not referring to one particular person or a single group. I’m addressing as many people as possible. If you can, please forward this along because this needs to be said, reinforced, and belabored.

Someone disagreeing with you is not a violent act against you, nor should it be construed as one.

I know. That sounds like common sense. It is, for the most part. Most of us learn in grade school that someone disagreeing with you is not a big deal. You don’t have to like it. You may feel angry about it, but it’s hardly damaging. We live in a diverse society with diverse people. You’re going to encounter people who don’t think or believe like you do.

That’s fine.

That’s life.

However, lately it feels like the mere act of disagreeing with someone is somehow construed as this aggressive, violent political statement. Just telling someone you don’t agree with their politics or voted differently in the last election is no longer a simple point of disagreement. It’s an outright affront.

I see it in social media, comments sections, and in person debates. It gets incredibly ugly and it escalates way too fast. It often goes like this.

Person A: I voted for this candidate/hold this position/support this effort.

Person B: Really? I voted for the other candidate/position/effort.

Person A: You horrible piece of fucking shit! You’re ruining this country and this world! I hate your fucking guts and everything you stand for! You should fucking die a horrible death!

I wish I could say that was hyperbole. I really wish I could. Sadly, that’s a painfully accurate paraphrasing of the rhetoric I see whenever people start arguing. Whether it’s about politics, pop culture, video games, or which fictional characters they like, it gets so ugly, so fast that it’s disturbing.

It’s not treated as a difference of opinion. Some treat simple, differing opinions as a series of kidney punches delivered by Ivan Drago. It’s a gross, irrational, unbalanced response to the mere act of holding an opinion. If you don’t believe me, just try making these comments on any social platform.

I enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I support professional athletes protesting police injustice during the national anthem.

Brie Larson is a great actress.

There should be more diversity in certain franchises.

These are innocuous opinions. They don’t physically harm anyone. They reveal only a tiny sliver of who someone actually is. However, the mere utterance of these opinions is often a trigger for the most vile, hateful, rage-fueled reactions you can imagine.

That’s not just wrong.

That’s not just misguided, either.

It’s fucking stupid.

There’s no other way to describe it. These reactions are not the least bit warranted. Someone disagreeing with you is not an act of violence. It’s just not. Treating it as such is absurd, not to mention regressive.

Nobody, I don’t care who you are, is ever going to live in a world where everyone agrees with them. Humans just aren’t wired like that. Getting so upset about it is not a productive use of our time, energy, and passions.

I realize this will likely fall in deaf ears for some, but I hope others will take a step back and reassess how they react to someone voicing an opposing opinion. This world is messy enough. Let’s not make it worse by fighting each other for petty, unwarranted reasons.

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A Quick Note: Fact-Checking Is NOT Censorship

In general, I am very against censorship. I’m a strong advocate of ending the outdated and asinine practice of bleeping profanity and blurring female nipples. There is no reasonable justification for that kind of censorship. It’s just a dumb, misguided effort to try and cover up certain words and images that some people find offensive. That kind of censorship has no place in a free society.

In that same spirit, I am also very much in favor of fact-checking. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know the near-infinite volumes of bullshit that fill websites, social media, and even blogs like mine. In fact, given the recent trends in politics and a preference for “alternative facts,” I think fact-checking has never been more critical.

For that very reason, it’s important to make clear that fact-checking is not the same as censorship. Verifying whether some bullshit claim about chemtrails or shape-shifting lizards is valid does not constitute censorship. It’s consistent with a sincere and honest effort to filter bullshit from meaningful facts.

I bring this up because certain groups and movements are having a difficult time discerning between the two. More recently, anti-vaxx groups on social media sites like FaceBook have been whining about censorship of their extreme, unsubstantiated views. ARS Technica recently reported that this whining has escalated into a full-fledged lawsuit.

ARS Technica: Anti-vaccine group sues Facebook, claims fact-checking is “censorship”

A notorious anti-vaccine group spearheaded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed suit today in federal court in California alleging that Facebook’s fact-checking program for false scientific or medical misinformation violates its constitutional rights.

Children’s Health Defense claims in its suit that Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the organizations Science Feedback, Poynter, and PolitiFact acted “jointly or in concert with federal government agencies” to infringe on CHD’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. The suit also alleges Facebook and the fact-checking organizations colluded to commit wire fraud by “clearing the field” of anti-vaccine ads.

As anti-vax movement gets weirder—and dumber—Facebook announces crackdown
Facebook has “insidious conflicts with the pharmaceutical industry and its captive health agencies,” CHD claimed in a press release. “Facebook currently censors Children’s Health Defense’s page, targeting its purge against factual information about vaccines, 5G and public health agencies.”

“This is an important First Amendment case testing the boundaries of government authority to openly censor unwanted critiques of government policies and pharmaceutical and telecom products on privately owned internet platforms,” Kennedy added in a written statement.

Now, I’m not a lawyer and I have no legal expertise on the nature of censorship and free speech in the internet age. However, I’m smart enough and sane enough to understand the difference between actively censoring ideas that I don’t want to hear and trying to verify a ridiculous claim shared on social media.

I’m also informed enough to understand that FaceBook isn’t the government, even though it tries to be at times. It’s a platform. It can decide for itself whether or not it wants to remove certain content. Every private organization does that to some extent, especially ones with such a vast reach.

The content they permit has a tangible effect on their brand image. It’s why FaceBook’s reputation is not on the same level as 4chan, even if that’s not saying much. Their efforts to verify or discredit claims on their platform is perfectly in line with standard practices. It doesn’t actively punish or fine anti-vaxxers like the government did when Janet Jackson’s nipple popped out during the Super Bowl. It just removes or flags the content.

You can call that a lot of things. You may not like that companies like FaceBook can decide what is and isn’t appropriate on a platform that has had such a spotty history with censorship, to say the least. In this case though, it’s not censorship.

If anything, fact checking medical claims during a global pandemic is probably the most responsible thing a company like FaceBook can do. Hosting those claims can potentially do a great deal of harm to those who don’t know the difference between clickbait and a legitimate news story. People could actually suffer and die.

When feelings and sensibilities are the only thing at stake, then it’s fine to talk about the merits of censoring content. However, when lives are at stake on a large scale, there is no merit. Claims that may or may not affect those lives should be fact-checked. You can complain about it all you want in a lawsuit, but unless you can verify your bullshit, then that’s exactly how it’s going to be labeled and that’s not FaceBook’s fault.

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, extremism, media issues, politics

Violence Vs. Nipples: A Rant On (Misguided) Censorship

First off, I need to apologize in advance because I’m about to go on a rant. I promise it’s related to current events, relatively speaking. I can’t promise it’s the most serious issue in the world, but I still think it’s worth saying.

Let’s face it. We’ve seen a lot of terrible things these past few months. That includes, but isn’t restricted to, images of mass graves, angry protests, and videos of people committing egregious atrocities. It’s all over the internet, broadcast daily on network TV, and streaming in on news feeds of all kinds. We’ve seen so much violence and injustice. We’re outraged by it, and rightly so. It’s horrible. Most everyone agrees with that.

With all that in mind, I have one simple question that I think needs answering at some point.

With all this horrific imagery, why is it still so obscene to depict a female nipple?

I’m serious. I’m not trying to be funny or cute. I’d like an explanation.

Why the hell are we still censoring female nipples? What good does it do? What purpose does it serve? Blurring genitals? Okay, I can accept that to some degree. At least it’s blurred for everyone, regardless of gender. But why blur female nipples at this point?

We know what they look like. They’re not some graven images that’ll make people burst into flames. Granted, female nipples look different than male nipples, but not so radically different that they’re fucking alien. So, why censor them?

On TV, they’re still blurred. On social media, they immediately get labeled as porn, as though female nipples, by default, make something porn. That makes no sense. We’re not talking hardcore sex acts here. We’re talking about the slightest glimpse of female nipples.

Why, in a world where extreme violence finds its way into cable news, are female nipples so egregiously obscene? This isn’t the 1950s. This isn’t Victorian England. Anyone with an internet connection can see an unlimited number of uncensored nipples. Are they really that shocking anymore?

To those who whine about the innocence of children, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. They know what nipples look like too. They have them. They’ve probably been breast fed at some point. You really think they can’t handle it?

To those who think it’s too sexy, I have to ask why do you think that is? Do you really think censoring a basic body part makes it less sexy? I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t.

At most, you’re just fetishizing it, treating it as this powerful trigger that will turn anyone into perverts. People don’t work like that. You’re not doing them any favors by treating them like they’re that sensitive.

Also, if you’re a woman who hates being objectified, I have to ask. How do you feel about this? How do you feel that a part of you is deemed too obscene for network TV, yet that same network has no problem depicting people getting choked to death? How is it fair that a man can walk around a park without a shirt, but if a woman does the same, she gets arrested? That’s not just objectification. It’s insane!

Seriously, after everything we’ve experienced in 2020, isn’t it time we get over our hang-ups about female nipples? I know it won’t solve much, but we cannot be strong as a people, yet still too weak to handle depictions of female nipples. We’re better than that. We need to be.

Thanks for bearing with me on this rant. Again, I apologize. I just wanted to get that out. If nothing else, I hope this gives everyone something less awful to think about.

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Filed under censorship, political correctness, politics, rants