Tag Archives: social problems

Thought Experiment: How Much SHOULD Society Seek To Control People?

Make and Enforce the Rules Without Making Enemies | FirstService Residential

The older I get, the more I realize how complicated the world can be. By the world, I don’t just mean complex socio-political or cultural trends that manifest over extended periods of time. I’ve found that most people, in general, are complicated.

Every individual has their own story to tell.

Every person has their own goals, wants, needs, morals, and methods for doing things.

Every community and culture has their own approach to molding a functioning society.

There’s no one perfect way to go about it. If anything, there are too many approaches that are good, bad, or some messy combination of both. Many of us like to think there’s a single way to maximize the happiness and potential of all individuals. Many even believe they know it when they’re young and idealistic.

Then, we get older and we realize that’s not just impossible. It’s untenable.

I say this as someone who went through his share of ideological shifts, especially in college. I won’t bore everyone with the details. I’ll just say that my perspectives on politics, religion, and culture when I was 20 were vastly different from what they were when I turned 30.

In developing those perspectives, there weren’t many common threads, especially when religion and politics were involved. I know I’ve touched on both many times before and while I try to be fair, I don’t deny I have certain leanings that I don’t hide.

I am generally mistrustful of organized religion, as well as the agendas of those who are overly extreme in their beliefs. I am just as mistrustful as those who take extreme positions on certain political ideologies, be they conservative or liberal.

I am deeply critical of conservative religious types who basically seek to impose a theocracy.

I am also deeply critical of extreme left-wing liberals who seek to impose a politically correct autocracy.

People on both sides will likely claim they’re not seeking anything bad or negative. They genuinely believe that their way will be for the greater good. They believe people will be happier and more prosperous of everything they believe is imposed and integrated into a larger order.

Sincere or not, I still say those beliefs are misguided. I also suspect those same people don’t understand the complexities and nuances of individuals or humanity, as a whole. At the same time, I do think they raise an important question, which also warrants a larger thought experiment.

How much SHOULD society seek to control people?

It’s a question both sides of the political/ideological/cultural/religious spectrum grapple with, even if they don’t say it out loud. It often comes back to this. Whether it involves determine morals, crafting laws, or developing a larger culture, this is one of the most common issues.

It’s not an unreasonable concern, either. To some extent, society needs to exact some control over peoples’ behavior. Even in small, tribal settings, individual behavior can have a profound impact on others. If people just did anything they want without any regard for others, we couldn’t function. We couldn’t cooperate, coordinate, or collectively thrive.

Humans evolved to be a social species. One individual, on their own, can only do so much to function and survive. A group of individuals can achieve so much more. With a large enough group, we can create a civilization that can literally reshape the face of the planet.

That kind of coordination requires some level of control over the individual. Whether it’s by punishing or shaming certain behaviors or strongly encouraging others, we need some mechanism for maintaining social cohesion. It’s just a matter of extent.

Some ideologies go to incredible extremes. Religious conservatives can be particularly draconian in enforcing control. They don’t just seek to punish certain behaviors while censoring certain messages. They actively seek to police peoples’ thoughts and feelings, often in a way that’s damaging to many individuals.

Extreme liberals can be just as bad. There are those who seek to not just punish those who do so much as tell an offensive joke or depict video game characters in a way that’s too sexual. They seek to punish individuals in the present for the actions of those in the past. Like their religious counterparts, they also attempt to police others’ thoughts.

Then, you’ve got the extreme libertarians who try to minimize social control to the greatest extend possible. I would argue that too is not practical, if only because it ignores the nuances and complexities necessary for a functioning society at large.

For most people and societies, the extent of the control they impose varies. In some places, free speech is protected while in others, it’s tempered in the name of ensuring social harmony. The same goes for things like encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors, like drinking, gambling, or promiscuous sex. Some involve laws while others involve shaming. The goal is still the same.

It all comes back to control. To complicate things even more, some individuals require less control than others. There are those who are perfectly responsible and don’t need the law or shaming to be decent, upstanding members of society. There are also those who are just pathologically incapable of following the rules and getting along with other people. What does society do about them?

I understand I’m using “society” in a broad, generalized term. That’s because the question, and any thought experiment surrounding it, needs to focus on the bigger picture. I know that’s not easy for any one individual. Like I said, we all have our biases, prejudices, and predispositions. We also tend to believe we’re right and are generally resistant to change.

I maintain that’s exactly why we should ask questions like this. It’s also why we should dare to think about how much or how little we control one another on a societal level. Civilization and society, for all the wonders they achieve, is an ongoing process. That means there are always opportunities for refinement. We can and should take every opportunity to do so.

If you have any insights on this thought experiment, please share them in the comments. Also, if you have any thought experiments you’d like me to discuss, please share those as well.

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Filed under philosophy, politics, Thought Experiment

Post-Election Day PSA: Do NOT Trust Or Expect Politicians To Solve Your Problems

It’s over, my fellow Americans.

It’s finally over.

Election Day has come and gone. I won’t get into the drama leading up to it or the drama that’s still unfolding, as I write this. I just want to take a step back, catch my breath, and offer some perspective to those who will hear it.

I agree this was rough. I think most others will agree with me when I say this was the most chaotic, divisive, and downright stressful election in recent memory. I’ve spoken to relatives who voted for Kennedy in 1960. They agree that this year was, by far, the worst in terms of stakes, rhetoric, and tone.

That’s saying a lot, by the way.

However you feel about the candidates or who you voted for, I genuinely hope this election has been revealing, to a certain extent. It’s tempting to be cynical about it. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling that way. At the same time, we should also take stock as to why this election was so harrowing, for lack of a better word.

The world is such a messed-up place right now. We’ve got wars, economic collapse, and a once-in-a-century pandemic has that killed over a million people in the span of nine months. Things are bad right now, more so than they’ve been at any point in my lifetime.

Most don’t question that, unless they’re rich and well-connected.

What I do question, however, is why people trust or even expect politicians to help solve these problems.

That’s a notion that, in my opinion, fuels stressful elections like this. An election is supposed to be a job interview for a position for a public-serving official. It’s not supposed to be some expensive spectacle in which we all get behind the candidate who says the right things to just enough people in a handful of swing states.

That’s not democracy.

That’s a bad reality TV show.

Now, it’s tempting to just blame the politicians and that’s understandable. Politicians are easy targets for mockery and they’ve no one to blame but themselves for that. We should criticize them. They are, after all, in positions of power and public trust. They should be held to a higher standard.

That standard, however, should not involve trusting them to fix everything that ails us, from the economy to who pays a fine for when a female nipple is shown during a halftime show. That’s not just asking too much of one person. It’s asinine.

It’s also self-defeating. Politicians make lots of promises and break plenty of them, but let’s not lay the blame entirely on their honesty or lack thereof. They’re only human. Even the most selfless, hard-working politician can only do so much to deliver on every promise. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or enough personnel to get it done.

That’s not even accounting for the times when politicians make objectively impossible promises. Certain policy pitches may sound like great slogans or taglines, but logistically speaking, they just cannot be done in the real world. It’s not that the sincerity isn’t there. There just isn’t enough people or resources.

Therein lies the source of the great cycle of toxic politics. It goes something like this.

Politician A makes a bold promise. People rally behind them. Politician A get elected.

Politician A cannot deliver on those promises. People turn against them.

Politician B comes along, offering new or better promises. People rally behind them. Politician B get elected.

Again, Politician B can’t deliver on all those promises. People turn against them.

Politician C comes along to make another set of promises and the cycle continues.

It goes beyond party affiliation, political systems, or shifts in power. It’s an unavoidable flaw in a democratic system. An election, by default, isn’t going to elect someone with the greatest governing skill. It can only elect someone with the skills to convince enough people that they can govern.

I won’t say it’s a terrible system. Compared to the alternatives, it’s probably the best we can manage right now in our current environment. However, it is not a system in which any politician, no matter how successful, can solve the problems we want them to solve. Even when the system is working at its best, it’s still limited.

That’s not to say politicians can’t be part of a solution. They definitely can be. A politician can be a facilitator of sorts, either by leadership or by policy. The specifics, though, are best left to people with the right drive, incentives, and know-how.

Whether it involves combating climate change, reducing poverty, or promoting public health, the bulk of the responsibility will still fall on the general public. We, as a people, have to collectively work on these issues together. That’s how any social species within a functional society adapts, grows, and prospers.

The role of government and politicians is always changing. The extent or details of that role depends heavily on the issue at hand. The Presidents we elect, as well as the various legislators and judges at all levels, will always have some impact on how we further our interests. The key is balancing that impact with actual, tangible efforts on our part.

The next four years are sure to be eventful. Hopefully, they’re eventful for all the right reasons. Whatever happens, use this past election as a teachable moment.

Politicians come and go.

Ambitious people will keep making bold promises and breaking them, either on purpose or through no fault of their own. At the end of the day, it all comes back to us. We have a part to play in making our world and our lives better. Let’s focus on doing ours before we trust anyone else to do it for us.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, political correctness, politics

John Oliver, Sex Dolls, And The (Unwarranted) Shaming Of Lonely Men

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There’s a general rule in comedy with respect to insults. If you’re going to demean, denigrate, or make fun of a particular person or group, you don’t want to punch down. Granted, you can do it. You can even get a few laughs out of it if you do it well and are exceptionally funny. However, in the grand scheme of things, you’re still an asshole.

It’s the main reason why comedians, be they stand-up comics or talk show hosts, generally direct their insults at the rich, powerful, and privileged. There’s a general understanding that if you’re doing well in this chaotic game of life, either through luck or talent, you can afford to take a few insults. At the end of the day, you can still go home and cry into a pile of money, fame, and affluence.

When you insult a group that has none of those things in any abundance, it’s usually not something people respect, even if they laugh. It’s why even great comedians like George Carlin had to be very careful and exceptionally skilled when he joked about rape.

We miss you, George. We miss you SO much.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be as funny or talented as George Carlin. Sometimes, insult comedy hits an undeserving target. It tends to reveal something about the comedian delivering the insult and where society is, in terms of sympathies. It’s often subtle, but the subtext is there and it has larger implications.

That brings me to John Oliver, the nerdy smart-ass British comedian who owes 95 percent of his fame to John Stewart. His show, “Last Week Tonight,” has won multiple Emmy awards and has garnered substantial praise for its colorful approach to tackling major issues, from the abortion debate to annoying robocalls to the flaws in standardized testing.

While I don’t agree with Mr. Oliver’s politics all the time or his approach to tackling certain issues, I consider myself a fan of his show. Compared to other satirical comedy shows, he tends to strike just the right balance between quality comedy and tackling serious issues.

However, he recently took a comedic jab that deviated from his usual style and not in a good way. It occurred during his episode that focused on China’s controversial One Child Policy. It’s an issue that has been subject to plenty of controversy for years and I think Mr. Oliver was right to talk about it.

One of the major consequences of this policy, which Mr. Oliver rightly pointed out, was how it led to a massive gender population imbalance. Due to a historic preference for sons, there are millions more men than women in China. The disparity is so great that it has caused major social upheavals.

While discussing some of those upheavals, the issue of sex dolls came up. In a country where there are so many lonely men, it makes sense that they would seek some form of outlet and it helps that the market of sex dolls is growing. This is where Mr. Oliver did a little punching down and, unlike his jabs at New Zealand, this didn’t have the same impact. See for yourself in this clip.

Take a moment to consider what he’s joking about here. There are millions of men in China who, through no fault of their own, are likely doomed to a life of loneliness. It’s not because they’re bad men. They’re not creepy, cruel, or misogynistic. They’re just at the mercy of math and demographics. There simply aren’t enough women in their country.

For these men, the old saying that there’s plenty of fish in the sea is an outright lie. Their options are limited and Mr. Oliver is making light of that. He essentially claims that men who use sex dolls are somehow even more pathetic and destined for more loneliness. He makes that claim as someone who is married, has a child, and doesn’t have to deal with those prospects.

It’s not just bad comedy. It’s hypocritical. Earlier in that same clip, he showed sympathy and understanding to a Chinese woman who was forced to have an abortion against her will. He’s shown similar sympathy to people in other situations, from women dealing with restrictive abortion laws to prisoners who had been screwed over by an unfair justice system.

Why would he show no sympathy for these lonely men?

Moreover, why would he make a joke about it?

To some extent, it’s not all on him. There is an egregious double standard when it comes to men who use sex toys. A woman can walk into a sex shop, buy a vibrator, and talk about using it without too much stigma. Sure, there will be a few repressive, sex-negative religious zealots who will complain about anything that gives anyone unsanctioned pleasure, but most people don’t take them seriously.

For men, however, there’s a taboo surrounding the use of sex toys in any capacity. Some of that comes from men more than women. There’s this not-so-subtle assumption that a man who needs a sex toy is somehow less manly. Any man who has to resort to one must be somehow deficient. It can’t just be that he’s lonely or wants to use new tools to please his lover. That would make too much sense.

For the men in China, and other areas where there’s a huge gender disparity, the situation is even worse. These are men who are facing both loneliness and sexual frustration. There’s more than a little evidence that this is not healthy for them on any level. That’s not to say that sex dolls or sex toys will help fill that void, but it will give them an outlet, just as a vibrator gives a lonely woman an outlet.

Unlike a lonely woman, though, these men can’t expect much sympathy. As Mr. Oliver demonstrates, they can expect plenty of shame and stigma. It doesn’t matter that they can’t do anything about their situation. They’re victims of circumstance, demographics, and basic math. Adding stigma and taboo to the mix is akin to kicking them in the balls on the worst day of their lives.

I won’t say that Mr. Oliver should apologize for his remark. He’s a comedian. He’s a citizen in a free country. He can say what he wants. However, the fact that he can joke about lonely men and still get a laugh says a lot about the current attitudes towards lonely men, in general.

We know they’re suffering. We know there’s not much they can do about it, especially in places like China. While we’ll give plenty of sympathy to the lonely women who resort to using sex toys, we’ll stick to shaming and stigmatizing the men who dare to do the same. Then, we’ll pretend to be surprised when they get angry and resentful.

Is that fair? No, it isn’t.

Is that funny? No, I argue that it’s not, especially with the way Mr. Oliver went about it.

He’s no George Carlin. He’s no John Stewart, either. In this particular case, he’s just an asshole.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, men's issues, outrage culture, psychology, sex in society, sex robots, sexuality, women's issues