Tag Archives: trolls

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

Rise Of The Phony Nihilists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone else calls them out on it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting On The Greatest Advice Rick Sanchez Ever Gave Us

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Greetings, and wubba lubba dub dub! By now, you should know that means this will be another article about “Rick and Morty,” one of the greatest animated shows of this century or any other century, for that matter. I know that sometimes means the topics involved are depressing or downright fatalistic. I can’t promise this one will balance that out to any meaningful, but I still hope that this piece is more useful than most.

Love it or hate it, either due to its nihilistic undertones or exceedingly passionate fanbase, there are a lot of interesting insights to explore within “Rick and Morty.” From specific episodes that deal with the not-so-hidden appeal of the apocalypse to those built around Rick turning himself into a pickle, there’s a wide variety of lessons and themes to take in.

In this case, I want to focus on what I feel is the best advice “Rick and Morty” has given anyone, both within his animated world and in our own world. It’s a lesson that anyone can use in a multitude of situations, be it dealing with never-ending flood of depressing news to finding out a beloved actor was a total asshole.

Rick has given this advice to Morty on more than one occasion throughout the show, including the pilot episode and, most notably, in “Rick Potion #9.” It applies to battles against alien security guards, burying the body of your alternate self, and that time you farted in class a bit too loudly. It can be summed up in four simple words.

Don’t think about it!

On the surface, it doesn’t sound too useful. Not thinking about something seems like an elaborate excuse to avoid a particular problem or issue. It sounds like something adults tell children just to shut them up so they’ll stop bothering them. Whether they’re asking about where babies come from or why we can’t stop fighting wars, it feels like the overly easy way to avoid an unpleasant conversation.

However, I don’t think that’s what Rick means when he says that. He’s already proven in multiple episodes that he doesn’t give a Grunglokian fart about unpleasant conversations, as evidenced by his many unfiltered rants around his family. When he says “don’t think about it,” he’s saying it in a particular context that makes it more than just a method for avoiding awkward moments.

Watch any one episode of “Rick and Morty” and you’ll notice more than a few themes, not all of which are based on Rick’s ego or Morty’s obsession with a particular redhead. One of the major over-arching concepts that binds the show, and gives much of its appeal, is the idea that none of the things that people hold dear actually matter in the grand scheme of things.

Whether it’s religion, the economy, love, family, or the formula for concentrated dark matter, it just doesn’t matter in the long run. Religion doesn’t matter because it’s just some arbitrary set of beliefs built on unrelated correlations. The economy doesn’t matter if the value of money is entirely arbitrary. Love and family don’t matter when there’s an infinite number of them in the multiverse.

While that fits with the shows more nihilistic themes, it also speaks to the helplessness and frustration that a lot of people feel when dealing with a chaotic world/multiverse. There’s so much they can do, but so much of it doesn’t matter. The causes they fight for, the wealth they accrue, and the people they encounter simply lose their meaning when you consider the sheer size of the universe and how old it is.

In that context, not thinking about it might actually be helpful. If you work a job you don’t like, pay taxes you don’t like paying, and deal with people you can’t stand every day, the idea that it’s all for nothing in the long run isn’t just untenable. It maddening. How can anyone possibly cope with that kind of existence?

Not thinking about it, though, solves a lot of issues because it allows you to maintain the necessary perspective to function within that existence. Even if the things we do are meaningless, not thinking about it at least gives us the illusion that they’re meaningful. More often than not, perception beats reality and not just in terms of bias news.

It’s a byproduct of human’s being so limited in their thinking. Human brains did not evolve to prioritize reason, understanding, or making sense of an obscenely large universe. They evolved with the primary function to help us survive and reproduce, as individuals and as a species. Anything else is secondary or an afterthought.

Rick Sanchez seems to understand that and constantly exploits those limits for his own ends, whether it involves outwitting the President or outsmarting the devil. Unlike everyone else in a meaningless world within an infinite multiverse, he’s a super-genius. He has a portal gun that allows him to travel to infinite timelines at will, even if it’s just for a pizza.

Nobody else in this world has those capabilities, although I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Elon Musk weren’t working on it. Nobody in this world is as smart or as resourceful as Rick Sanchez. There’s very little he can’t do. This is a man who defeated a Thanos/Darkseid rip-off while blackout drunk. By every measure, what he does should carry more meaning than most.

Despite Rick’s abilities, he’s the one who often belabors how meaningless everything is. Never-the-less, he still operates as though there’s a reason to continue existing. That may send mixed messages when he says not to think about it, but that’s only if you overthink it, which would entirely defeat the purpose.

Rick knows that nothing he does matters in the long run, but he doesn’t think about that.

Rick knows that everyone he cares about are just random clumps of matter in a meaningless universe within an infinite multiverse, but he doesn’t think about that.

Rick knows that love, connection, and emotions are just manifestations of brain chemistry that help our species survive, but he doesn’t think about it.

Instead, he focuses his genius intellect on the things that matter to him. Whether that’s his family or that sweet, delicious Szechuan Sauce, he concerns himself primarily with what he feels gives his cosmic adventures meaning. It doesn’t matter if that meaning is empty in the grand scheme of things because, again, he doesn’t think about it.

It may sound egotistical or selfish, but it’s remarkably pragmatic in a meaningless universe. It keeps us from stepping back, realizing how insignificant we are, and succumbing to despair. It directs our energy and efforts into issues that are localized. For Rick Sanchez, a man with access to a portal gun and a space ship, localized is a relative term. For everyone else, though, it’s just that much more pragmatic.

There’s only so much we can do to exact meaningful change in the world. Unless you’re willing to go through the long, tedious process that involves reshaping government institutions, influencing cultural trends, or educating people on a mass scale, you can’t expect to achieve much change, especially by yourself.

Rick Sanchez could probably achieve all the change he wants, but chooses not to because he knows it’ll bore him or it’s just easier to go to a universe where that change has already occurred. For the rest of us, though, we’re frustratingly limited. We may never see or inspire the change we want. Even if we do, we can’t do it alone.

That kind of helplessness can be depressing. The idea that so little of what we do matters, even when we believe in a cause, is pretty distressing. That’s why Rick’s advice is so relevant. It’s not deep or inspiring, but it gets the job done.

Upset with past injustices upon a particular group? Don’t think about it.

Upset that you can’t change the minds of your friends and family on politics, religion, or ideology? Don’t think about it.

Upset that we’re not doing enough to address climate change? Don’t think about it.

Upset that the economy isn’t doing well and all the best opportunities are gone? Don’t think about it.

These are all things that you can’t change without a portal gun or galactic-level genius. Since Rick Sanchez has that and we don’t, our best recourse is to not obsess over it because there’s not much we can do. Eventually, the heat death of the universe will render everything we do or have ever done totally meaningless.

That can either be depressing or empowering, depending on how you look at it. Yes, not thinking about it won’t undo a traffic ticket, undo a crime you committed, or turn off your biological urges to eat, sleep, love, and mate. Efforts to do so can be damaging. For everything else though, not thinking about it is probably better for your mind, your body, and your overall sense of being.

In that sense, we should all thank Rick Sanchez for this amazingly useful device. While he’d probably say that gratitude is just a polite way of idiots admitting how incapable they are, it’s probably best not to think about his reaction. So long as the advice he gave works, what does it matter? Wubba lubba dub dub!

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, philosophy, Rick and Morty

Being Offended, When It Matters, And What To Do About It

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Let’s face it. We live in a pretty offensive world. As much progress as we’ve made, as a species, there are still a lot of hateful, insulting, and outright disgusting things in this world. I’m not just talking about war atrocities, injustices, and reality TV shows either. You don’t have to look too far to find something that offends you to your core.

Therein lies the problem, though. In this era of super-connected, hyper-vigilant people who can’t always tell the difference between actual news and “fake news,” it’s exceedingly easy to find something offensive. Look hard enough, deep enough, and with a reckless disregard for facts and context, and you’ll probably find a way to be offended.

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I hope I’ve made clear, by now, that I don’t particularly care for the politically correct, inherently regressive attitudes that undermine our ability to live, love, and even make love. In fact, I’ve gone on record as saying that this crude approach to evaluating our society and culture needs to go the way of dial-up internet.

While I doubt political correctness will fade anytime soon, there are signs that it is cracking under the annoying strain it has caused, as the 2016 Presidential Election showed. It still rears its head constantly in controversies involving movies, video games, and even my beloved world comic books. However, it doesn’t quite have the momentum it used to when it really got going during the 2014 GamerGate saga.

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I expect that momentum to fluctuate in accord with whatever controversies and/or outrages emerge over the course of 2018 and beyond. I also expect those who claim offense will demonstrate wildly varying degrees of pettiness in their outrage. For some, it’ll be genuine. For most, though, I don’t expect it to go beyond the “I hate it and it makes me upset, therefore it shouldn’t exist” variety.

With that exceedingly varied pettiness in mind, I’d like to offer a quick a service, of sorts, to those who will inevitably be offended and those who will be annoyed by the degree of pettiness that such offense requires. I won’t give it a fancy name or anything. I just want to lay out some guidelines for interpreting offense.

Having watched political correctness and regressive attitudes evolve a great deal over the course of my life, I’ve noticed more than a few patterns in the attitudes of those who are genuinely offended. They tend to be very different compared to those whose offense is indistinguishable from trolling.

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At its core, the exceedingly regressive, politically correct forms of offense require a certain set of attitudes. Those attitudes include, but aren’t restricted to the following:

  • Being offended on behalf of an entire group of people, regardless of whether or not you’re actually a member of that group
  • Demanding broad, systemic change from the top down, imposed either by rules or by public scorn
  • Demanding some form of reparation or acknowledgement of past wrong-doing, regardless of whether or not someone was directly involved
  • Seeking to fix broad, non-specific injustices all at once
  • Re-shaping society through petty scrutinizing of media, language, and thought

There are probably more attitudes I could highlight, but for now, I’ll use these as the core tenants of those whose offense requires a significant absence of context or specifics. I won’t cite certain groups or sub-cultures, but those who spend any amount of time on social media or message boards can probably discern a few that fit that criteria.

Now, before I go any further, I want to add one important caveat. Regardless of how petty or asinine someone’s sense of offense may be, I don’t doubt for a second that it feels relevant from their perspective. Granted, there are a few professional trolls out there who will pretend to be offended, but I think those people are the minority. The rest do feel offense, but only to the extent that it has limited substance.

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Genuine or not, there are certain types of offending sentiments that carry more weight than others. Offense over the historical treatment of minorities, the inflammatory remarks of a public figure, and general insults from ordinary people exists on a vast spectrum.

It’s one thing to take offense to the depiction of minorities in an episode of “Family Guy,” but it’s quite another when someone makes a direct threat to an entire segment of people. That’s the key element to the substance of the offending behavior, though. It’s a matter of how direct it is.

Think of it as a forest-from-the-trees concept, but from the opposite direction. A person actively promoting a policy that would murder an entire group of people is different from one who just says horrible, disgusting things about that group in general. Promoting a policy is a tangible act in the same way a tree is a tangible thing, whereas a forest is more a concept.

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This gets even trickier for those who claim to be offended for an entire group of people. That offense requires that everyone within the group actually think and feel the same way about a particular issue. Absent mass telepathy or a Borg-style hive-mind, that’s neither feasible, nor logical.

Even for those who are part of that group, be they a race, religion, or sexual minority, attitudes can vary wildly because people are complex. Every individual has unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The more a type of offense relies on everyone sharing those sentiments, the more petty and empty it has to be.

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As a result, the endgame for those offended in such a way requires a recourse that is either antithetical to a just society or exceedingly unreasonable, if not wholly impractical. You know a form of offense is petty when it requires things like:

  • Condemning people just for thinking certain thoughts or holding certain beliefs
  • Demanding that other people sacrifice a part of their freedom, assets, or autonomy on behalf of another
  • Apologizing for past injustices that they did not directly commit

The pettiness is really on display whenever the offense requires the interpretation of other peoples’ thoughts. This often comes up whenever media like TV, movies, and video games are deemed offensive. It’s not that they’re triggering actual crimes, despite what some may claim. They’re somehow influencing the process.

This sentiment has gotten much more extreme in recent years, especially when it comes towards sexism. Never mind the fact that rates of sexual assault are declining and have been since the mid-1990s. It’s the thoughts and attitudes this media is instilling that’s so offensive.

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Again, that kind of offense requires someone to actually know what’s going on in the minds of other people when they consume certain media and see certain images. While we are working on that technology, that’s not possible right now. Absent a case where someone can tie a specific crime directly to a real victim, this kind of offense is empty at best and disingenuous at worst.

Those specifics matter even more when it comes to really sensitive issues like reparations for slavery, affirmative action, or the gender pay gap. These issues are sensitive because they often require a particular context. Namely, they require that part of that context be ignored in order to seem palatable to a large group of people.

To get behind slavery reparations, people have to ignore the fact that there’s nobody alive today who directly enslaved someone else. To get behind affirmative action, people have to ignore the fact that promoting diversity will come at the expense of disadvantaging someone who might be more qualified. To get behind the gender pay gap, even, it’s necessary to ignore all the other factors that go into that disparity.

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With all this in mind, how does anyone determine how much their offense matters beyond their own personal feelings? Well, the criteria for that is a bit trickier to determine, but there are concepts that pass the Simpson Filter. They can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Tying a specific incident to actual, verifiable harm suffered by another person
  • Recourse that involves a specific, feasible goal that reforms a situation and addresses a direct injustice
  • Establishing a phenomena that has actual causation and not just correlation in a way that other people can verify
  • Incorporated the entirety of context within a given issue

It may seem like an impossible set of standards, but it can and has been done. The civil rights reforms that men like Martin Luther King Jr. fought for were targeted, specific, and addressed an ongoing injustice. More recently, the protests at Standing Rock created a real movement to address a real injustice with a clear goal in mind.

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Again, that’s not to say that someone who takes offense to a shirt a man wore during an interview is entirely empty, but it is exceedingly petty and a little selfish to seek vindication for that offense on a larger scale. That’s where the really damaging effects of political correctness and regressive attitudes take hold.

At the end of the day, the universe and society at large is under no obligation to change in order to accommodate your hurt feelings. Sure, you can attempt to persuade others that your offense is somehow legitimate, but attempting to force it only undermines those whose offense is real and genuine.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature

The REAL Alex Jones: Performance Artist Or Troll?

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Recently, I talked about how media figures like Bill O’Riley, Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, and Lena Dunham are basically professional trolls who exploit your caveman brain’s love of outrage. In public, they’re walking controversies who inspire protests wherever they go. In private, they’re about as genuine as a Nigerian prince.

Within that who’s who of professional trolls, I mentioned a man named Alex Jones. I didn’t go into too much detail about him because there are cartoon animals that are more genuine than him. Think of the craziest, crackpot conspiracy theories this side of a Dan Brown novel. Then, triple it and give it an endless supply of crack. That’s Alex Jones.

If there’s a crazy, insane, downright stupid right-wing conspiracy theory, including those that involve aliens and lizard people, this guy believes it. Tell him that Barack Obama is a time-traveling alien who shot JFK from the grassy knoll and he’ll believe it. He’s just that crazy.

However, is he really crazy? Or is he just saying what he thinks his audience wants to hear so they’ll give him attention, money, and fame? Given how crazy people tend be poor managers of all three, as most hair metal bands from the 70s and 80s have shown, the latter is far more likely than the former.

A recent story that broke earlier this week may actually confirm it. According to the Independent, Alex Jones’ lawyer called him a “performance artist playing a character.” That’s not the same as calling him a professional troll. It’s a lot more polite, but the implications are the same.

Like David Copperfield doing magic at a Las Vegas show, Jones is just giving his audience a spectacle. He’s giving them something they want to see and for some reason, a lot of people want to see an overweight, middle-aged man drone on and on about how aliens and the Illuminati are mind-controlling us by putting fluoride in our water. I’m not judging. I’m just saying I’d rather see David Copperfield’s show.

A number of people, myself included, have claimed that Jones doesn’t believe even 99 percent of the crazy shit he says. Even if it makes a lot of sense, given how much money and attention that crazy shit earned him, his fans still brushed it off. Now, his own legal team may screw him over more than usual by pulling back the curtain, so to speak.

So why is he in this situation to begin with? Why are his lawyers spilling the beans on his secret persona? Well, there’s no alien agenda this time. It’s just part of a bitter custody battle between him and his wife. Sadly, sometimes the truth really is that inane.

His wife wants out of their marriage and she wants custody of his three children. If it’s an agenda by the Illuminati, it’s not a very elaborate one. This is something real people go through, regardless of whether or not they believe in shape-shifting lizard people.

Even without the aid of lizard people, Jones’ wife has a lot of advantages here, if only because she can use Jones’ own trolling against him. She says:

“He’s not a stable person. He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J-Lo to get raped.”

Notice how she points out what he says. That doesn’t necessarily means he believes it when his head hits the pillow at night. His wife may even know that to some degree, but in a court of law where money and kids are at stake, sometimes truth is more expensive than lawyer fees.

She may just be saying that to win favorable treatment in a separation, as well as a chunk of Jones’ assets. That’s entirely understandable. It may also be part of a larger conspiracy against Jones, organized by Obama and funded by the George Soros. That’s far less likely, but something Jones’ fans would totally buy.

Whatever the case, the story offers insight into the world of professional trolls. While Jones’ most ardent supporters would never admit it, they’re playing us. They’re using our brain’s inability to differentiate between outrage and arousal to influence us. We get our little dopamine fix. He gets money, attention, and fame. It’s not quite as even as it sounds.

I won’t go so far as to say this news vindicates the points I made in my previous article. This is a legal battle between two people going through a bitter breakup. With lawyers involved, everything is basically a he said/she said shit storm where the truth is almost impossible to smell, let alone keep up with.

At the very least, it offers an inconvenient truth to those who either buy into the craziness or get overly outraged by the antics of trolls. In both cases, it only serves to benefit the troll. Jones may or may not believe most of what he says, but what he does still gets a response from people. Given his net worth is in the millions, he knows how to convert that response into money.

Remember this next time someone like Bill O’Riley or Lena Dunham says something that gets people outraged. What are the chances that behind the scenes, they’re just rolling their eyes and counting their money? I’d say those odds are far better than we care to admit.

They know outrage generates attention. They also know that attention is the first step in selling shit for money. They want to make money like the rest of us. The problem isn’t them. It’s us, the ones who succumb to the trolling. So long as we keep giving people like Alex Jones attention, money, and fame, they’ll keep doing what they do. No shape-shifting aliens need apply.

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How Professional Trolls Hack Your Brain

Here’s a quick non-rhetorical question. What do Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, Lena Dunham, Bill O’Riley, John Oliver, Alex Jones, and Sean Hannity all have in common? Other than being richer, more successful, and more well-connected than you or I will ever be, what could possibly tie them together in a way that would help them get along at a barbecue?

Take all the time you need. I know this is one of those questions that’s not going to have a very satisfying answer to anybody. I also know it’s one of those questions that pisses people off, even before they answer it. This is the internet. People get pissed off for far less.

Are you done? Well, knowing full-well that I’ve already pissed off plenty of people, here it is. They’re all trolls who use the exact same tactics to make themselves successful and relevant. They may not do it overtly. They may not even admit to it, but on some levels they understand what they’re doing and why it works. Sadly, it works very well.

Now when I say they’re all trolls, I don’t mean to imply that they’re the kind of internet trolls that harass people on social media with insults, death threats, or pictures animals eating their own shit. Those kinds of trolls are a different breed. Granted, they’re annoying and should be ignored at all cost, but these professional trolls are on another level in that they make a damn good living doing what they do.

What these professional trolls do is as brilliant as it is disturbing. Pick any notable public figure who says controversial things. It can be Milo Yiannopoulos making derogatory comments about Muslims. It can be Lena Dunham saying she wished she got an abortion. Just think about any controversial thing that any controversial figure has ever said.

Whether it’s entirely planned or one of those instances where they don’t shut themselves up fast enough, the results are the same. People get outrage. Hashtags get started. Protests erupt. Venomous hate clashes with vocal support. There’s basically all this noise full of anger and passion.

As all this is going on, Milo and Lena are probably laughing to themselves at how much free publicity they just got. Anyone who has ever been in show business, media, or publishing will probably agree. The hardest part of success in Hollywood is getting publicity. There’s only so much of it to go around and people have a very finite attention span. Being able to get free publicity is like being able to play a game with cheat codes.

Now we’ve all heard there’s no such thing as bad publicity before. That sort of sentiment pre-dates the internet, going all the way back to the days when Ozzy Osborne bit the head off of a bat. Today, there’s one key difference that takes this phenomenon, gives it an unlimited supply of crystal meth, and sticks a nine-inch needle in our collective brains.

That difference is immediate access to information. From the internet, to our computers, to our phones, and into our pockets, we no longer have to wait for the evening paper to hear about these atrocious events. Thanks to social media, alerts, and annoying text messages, we can know about them mere minutes after they happen.

While this is a marvel of modern technology and communication, it does have a downside and it’s one that the professional trolls of the world have exploited to the utmost. That downside has to do with how stupid our collective brains are.

By that, I don’t mean that people themselves are stupid. I may be in a minority, but I believe that people, in general, are fairly decent and competent in their day-to-day lives. When I say our brains are stupid, I’m referring to the overall functionality of the hardware involved.

This goes beyond caveman logic, which I’ve cited many times before on this blog. This even goes beyond humans being wired for survival and reproduction rather than logic and reason. This is a byproduct of nature being too much of a blunt instrument rather than a scalpel. In this case, it makes professional trolls rich, successful, and famous.

They do this by hacking an unfortunate quirk in the human brain and using it to their advantage. It’s called “Misattribution of Arousal.” Unlike other convoluted scientific phenomena, this is exactly what it sounds like.

Have you ever been on a roller coaster? Have you ever been really scared by something? Well, if your brain is in working order, it got you extremely aroused and alert. You were afraid, excited, anxious, or euphoric. You could’ve felt any number of emotions at the time.

From your brain’s perspective, though, it’s the goddamn same thing. You’re aroused. There’s a stimulus you need to respond to. That’s all there is to it. As brilliant and complex as the human brain is, it’s still a pretty crude organ. It can’t do math worth a damn. It can easily be tricked by the David Copperfields of the world. It can, however, be tricked into getting aroused for all the wrong reasons.

This is what professional trolls do. They do or say something that gets people aroused. It’s not enough to just get their attention. I’ve already covered how attention is a big part in the “Always Be Closing” approach to success. However, attention only does so much. Adding arousal to the mix does something far greater.

When your brain is in a state of arousal, it doesn’t care much for specifics. It just knows its aroused and needs to respond to something. When you have instant access to information that upsets, angers, or thrills you in any way, that triggers arousal. That arousal, even if its the bad kind, causes the release of dopamine and this is where it gets really dangerous.

For those of you who aren’t caught up on neuroscience, you should still know what dopamine is. That’s the feel-good, everything-is-awesome chemical that our brain uses to reward us for doing things we like. Naturally, it’s a big part of our sexual response. If your brain is swimming in dopamine, that means you’ve had amazing sex.

Now the outrage/interest/arousal we fell with professional trolls doesn’t release quite that much dopamine into our brains. However, it does release some. It releases enough to get a response and due to the crude wiring of our brains, that’s more than enough.

That means that, on some levels, we like being outraged or upset by professional trolls. We like the feeling we get when we despise certain people, groups, or ideologies. Anger, hate, and fear all trigger the same arousal. Our brains enjoy that arousal to some level and thanks to modern communication, it’s far easier to get today than it has ever been in human history.

It’s uncharted territory. If these professional trolls were around 40 years ago, they would probably have a much harder time building an audience. They could say some of the most horrendously-offensive things anyone could possibly say, but it wouldn’t get a lot of attention because word would spread too slowly. The internet, along with social media, is changing that in a big way.

The professional trolls are maximizing that change to their benefit. They’re finding all sorts of ways to anger, upset, or inspire us, even if it’s stressful. Again, our brain doesn’t care. It still arouses us. It still gives us a non-trivial dose of dopamine. That’s all it takes to get people going.

It’s the hidden, unknown, unacknowledged secret that we’re just starting to understand. Whether you’re a die-hard social justice warrior or an outspoken supporter of the alt-right, you use the same methods as the professional trolls. You say and do what you need to do to get people aroused.

It doesn’t matter if it’s true or honest. You don’t even have to believe it on some levels. There are probably many figures out there who, in their private moments, know that what they’re saying is wrong or foolish. They just don’t care though because they’re not looking to say something right or uplifting. They’re trying to get people aroused and worked up.

Now I don’t know which professional trolls feel this way in private. I believe that on some level, they all really believe in what they’re doing. I also believe that on some level, they understand that some of it is misguided and flawed. There’s this vast gray area of understanding that’s hard to grasp and we’ll probably never know for sure just how much these professional trolls believe their own rhetoric.

Whatever the case, this is the world we live in now. We’re all very much at the mercy of the flaws of our collective brains. It’s hard to say where we’ll go from here. I don’t see the methods of professional trolls changing anytime soon. What they’re doing works. It’s making them money, getting them attention, and earning them fame. Until that changes, they’ll keep doing it.

There’s a lot more I can say about this topic and the science behind it. I’ll probably do a few other posts on it, if only to explore the implications for my own efforts to become a successful erotica/romance writer. Until then, I’ll leave some of the other details the brilliant people at Cracked.com.

A while back, they did a podcast on this subject. They bring up some pretty interesting/disturbing points about professional trolls. I don’t agree with their sentiment on every issue, but I do think they make some valid points. For anyone who is generally annoyed by professional trolls, those points are important to understand, if only to maintain a healthy perspective on why trolling works so damn well.

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