One Theory to Fool Them All

I’m glad for a post I can follow over on Unlearning Economics. I’m not formally trained in economics by any means, but I’m passionate about the subject in general. I have spent many, many hours listening to talks, reading books (Moshe Adler for one) and spend many hours in thought, deducing what I can. I understand the basic subject matter. It’s just the academic jargon that trips me up once in a while, but it is an excellent blog. (Another is IDOA)

Given the fact that I am a self-proclaimed layperson on the subject, it’s very disturbing to me to see the kind of cognitive short-cuts and presumptions that are being made by people who are supposed to be much smarter than I am. It seems very obvious to me that some have become too immersed in the rhetoric of our economic systems to see that they’ve made very specious and dangerous assumptions. This post seems to highlight one of many; Basically that economists presume and are largely focused on one, unifying theory of markets to the exclusion of considering that it may not be possible. Several sensible objections are given.

As for my own thoughts on it, I think there is a disconnect. When I try to call it out the problems with economic thought myself, it seems like it triggers a strawmen misrepresentation in their minds of an overly emotional simpleton who is just grossly naive, but I won’t let it stop me here.

What I would say is that they have lost track of what money and economies are supposed to represent, and what they are supposed to do for us. In fact the thought of them even doing something for us (99%) has become an absurd and blasphemous notion. They are supposed to be secondary concepts; proxies for more practical mechanics and material ends for the good of all, but now we have displaces them with their proxies. This ideas have apparently become worthy of ridicule. It’s obvious to me, that we are now serving markets and wealth for the sake of markets and wealth. This has twisted the discourse on the subject. In fact, the service of markets and wealth has itself become a proxy for “serving the good of all”. How many times have we heard talking heads with anxiously or commandingly barking about “what’s good for the economy”, as justification of harming the public?

They want  there to be a unified theory, because it serves market and monetary ends. It seems to me that the objections mentioned in this article are all centered around the human elements of the story, and that is why they miss it.

It seems to be one of the greatest cognitive weaknesses of the human mind to desire simple prescriptions for complex problems. This is true of his over-arching point. It’s also true in terms of why they made that mistake in the first place. There is, at first, a good point to be made about not clouding logical decision making with emotional biases. However, when you take that notion too far in lusting for that perfect, simple answer, you end up with an anti-sentimental bias and miss the boat altogether the other way.

Servicers Rended

It’s really hard to engage with my job when I hear what is happening in the world. The narrative I was given that used to make it seem meaningful is no longer working. I no longer believe in what I’m doing, especially when I consider what its place is within this system, and even the very nature of so-called “employment”. Not just what it is in the narrow sense of having to work for money, but what it really is due the context within which it resides.

It is not simply a “reward for services rendered” that I’m supposed to believe. It is life held ransom to illegitimate structures of control called companies, corporations, private industry. Both subjugator and subjugated sing the same song. If “Work or die” is the chorus, then “No excuses” would be the crescendo. “If I can do it, you can too” we mindlessly drone.

That is until something happens. “The economy” takes a dip. You hurt your hand. You lose your mind. You remember the liner notes of that song telling you that everyone gets the help they need if they only try. You suddenly realize that there were no references or phone numbers next to it. You just “knew” it was true… until you didn’t.

The truth is that I grew up with white picket fences and the fallacy of a “just-world” where people simply and predictably get precisely what they deserve. I’ve been viciously torn from that delusion as I’ve born witness to the brutal reality of other people.  I’ve seen these so-called safety nets and support structures and how they operate at the ground level. They are emaciated and hollow at best. They occasionally help but often do more harm than good. The less you fit the structural, ideological narrative of who belongs in society the less tangible that help becomes.

You see, their stated and supposedly intended purposes have been twisted and contorted under pressure. Their modus operadi is swayed by the same hierarchical power structure that everything is ultimately subject to.


From the very inception of colonial North America, it was designed this way. Money is power: Increasingly ignorant, delusional and self-serving power. This power increases exponentially as it feed in upon itself, gaining more momentum. That momentum is fed by corporate lobbying, infiltration into government regulatory agencies, and increasingly through access to military and civil control (police).

We may now be reaching a crucial tipping point as they begin to infiltrate our schools with corporate programming.

With each new generation we seem to be becoming more inured and unaware. We become increasingly lost in a self-destructive cycle of mindless consumerism, chasing empty promises of pre-packaged happiness.

It is not only ruthless, but mindless. Even as it becomes increasingly apparent that this imbalance in power is detrimental and destructive to the majority of people, it is only increasing in pace.

An often overlooked characteristic of the culture of power, is that it is not simply fueled by mustache twisting, comic-book villain evil. Yes, it does follow the patterns of Narcisism and the sociopath, it’s true.

But just as it is with everyday individuals, there is in impoverish and fearful ego behind it all. Their jackboot is on our throat, but in the back of their minds they are terrified. If they let up for a moment, all their precious control will be stolen away. If not by us, then by each other.

Yes, these lowlifes dare to need help. The brazen welfare queens conspire to live that sweet, sweet free ride with their painted nails, and limousine trips to the welfare office. They have their own conspiracy theories, as mythical as the Sasquatch, and it seems to include anyone who dares challenge them.

There is no fucking sweet life. I’ve met them, the real people. They are looked down upon and downright terrorized every damn place they turn, forced to hide their situation for fear of judgment, and scorned for it when they are caught. You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t deserve it after all. You are presumed guilty and demanded upon to prove your innocence. It’s an exercise in futility designed to satisfy your demanders’ as every fact will be discarded and thrown in your face. You are demanded to agree with them about your guilt before they will agree to give you any pittance of their “help” which tends to be either useless or demeaning.

This is what I now know to be waiting for me. Should I ever crack and need to get out of this dysfunctional, abusive workplace, this is what I can look forward too.  I know this now. If I were a woman, had more pigment in my skin, or especially a mental health diagnosis, I could expect it to be much worse.

The mental health systems, at least here in Manitoba, do not actually believe in mental health. To them it’s a bogus construct for people who just aren’t trying hard enough, a convenient excuse. There is no reality but their reality and if you refuse to acknowledge it, you will be crushed under it.

I must acknowledge that I have things better than probably 90% of the rest of the planet, this is true, but even then, that reality has also been these power imbalances, these broken structures, and our poisonous ideologies.

We are caught up in a grand delusion. Everything is fine. Go about your business. Nothing can be done anyway. Might as well go buy another TV.

No! Fuck that!

Idle No More

In light of the recent surge of Idle No More into public awareness, one might feel a kind of cognitive dissonance; a sense of conflicted realities. We have this popular notion that Canada is one of the “good guys” of the world. We have national health care, progressive policies and the expectation of being liked almost anywhere we can travel. So what is all this about? Why are these people complaining? Don’t they get lots of handouts from the government?

You might deal with it by telling yourself that it can’t be that bad. You might remind yourself that this is all about what happened in the past. You weren’t even alive then! Oh, you know there were residential schools and some abuses and stuff, but you just don’t understand why they are coming after you. Why should you have to pay for what you didn’t do? You life has been a struggle too, and you’ve had to fight for everything you’ve got. How can you be the culprit.

That’s just it. We who are colonizers of this land feel implicated, blamed and attacked. In fact we feel threatened most of the time whether or not we think too much about it. It’s constantly in our face on the news and the newspaper stands and the talk in the office and with friends. Murders, car-jacking and theft, gangs and drug violence, and it almost always “those natives”. Oh, you’re not racist or anything. It’s not racist if it’s true, right?

Yet, these factoids and headlines, or more importantly what they suggest and even assert as the truth behind the events,  fall apart upon inspection, but chances are that you haven’t thought about it too hard. You take the explanation that is readily available; your personal crisis is abated. Why would you look for other perspectives when you already have one that fits? There is no problem here, and the fault is theirs anyway.

This is what we learned in school and likely at home. There are rules, and when they are broken the job is to find the culprit and stick it to them. We had two worlds then; home life and school. Those other students only existed in our school world. The reality of their home and life before us had no real estate in our brains. If they were bad in school, they were just bad kids. There was no camaraderie with them, no empathetic investigation into what they were experiencing, and perhaps most importantly, no thought of whether they were in fact doing anything differently than any other student in the first place. Labels are assigned and the order established.  With the attention of teacher and judgement of the class diverted, we could get back to trying to survive our day without being yelled at or teased.

Come back to the present. These days we point fingers and yell “corruption!” at the mere accusation of foul play in the aboriginal community. You know it’s justified. You can no longer remember why you are so certain, but it’s true anyway and there’s little time to waste on being “PC” about it. Society is crumbling and we need to fix this NOW! Take away their autonomy since they obviously aren’t capable.

Two plus two equals C-45.

Where does corruption really lie? Is it possible that we are grossly biased toward our own legitimacy over others, and against all facts of the matter? Should another country move in on our corrupt, robo-calling government?

Some more questions for you:
Do you remember when you started believing what you believe or why you did? Are you getting both sides of the story? Where does your information come from? Who owns your media sources? What are their interests, motivation and ethics? If their mandate is profit (which corporate executives are legally mandated to do), is there more profit in challenging popular beliefs, or in catering to them? Yes, this goes for both left and right who are both often guilty of missing the facts. Do they stand to make more in direct sales of their media, or in popular acceptance of their ideology? More importantly, why have you never been prompted to ask these questions before?

As hard as life can be for all of us, we do have a kind of privilege as the children of colonizers. It’s the ability to deny, to pretend, and to ignore. The ability to not have to think too critically about what we believe. It’s a luxury that we seem able to afford when not everyone can. Yet, nothing is denied forever. Reality is greater than our wishful thinking. or our fearful avoidance. It always finds its way.

On many fronts we are now being made to face the denied reality of those who have long since passed. Our biosphere groans under our weight, bodies and minds crumbling under an exasperated economy and stress load. None of us can afford to put our head in the sand, least of all those of us who can speak without being smothered by stigma and prejudice.

Yet do not think that First Nations peoples are weak. They do not need our salvation. Pity is also not empowerment. It’s not about feeling guilty or making restitution for the past. It’s about stopping the present character assassination through sensational, selective journalism and in the public discourse. It’s about seeking out their voice and ceasing to silence. It’s about getting behind instead of piously reaching down.

If you want to change something, start with yourself. Learn your history. Be honest about what you have done and take responsibility for what you have inherited. It may not be your fault, but you are here. Who else is going to take up the challenge. Finally, if you are going to help a community, you need to put aside your ego and serve their goals and respect their autonomy,

Since I cannot explain it better than this man. I leave you with this:

Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

Resolutionary Manifesto

I’m happy to hear that many of you have had a great 2012 and I hope that your 2013 will be as good or better.

I’m resolved to be very candid in sharing that the closing of 2012, for me, has been marked by major changes which may be for the better but challenging nonetheless. It’s also been marked by some painful regrets and humbling realizations about myself.

I have come to pride myself on being a highly self-aware person through much personal effort. Indeed, I have learned a lot in the last few years, there is no denying that. Yet without being aware of it, I came to depend on this being a new and all encompassing fact about myself. Mike, the new king of self-awareness! Yep that’s me!

This all came crashing down for me on multiple fronts, with different people, just in these last few weeks leading up to the new year.

They were not directly connected to each other, but only indirectly through me. The first of these would be my partner over the past four years. With her I thought I could take care of everything. I even thought I was. I thought I had no limits in my ability to handle things that were making me unhappy, or that I could bypass them. I thought that everything was my responsibility. I thought I understood her needs. If it wasn’t hers, it HAD to be mine, right? I thought I was communicating well enough. In short I thought I knew what I was doing. This was all wrong.

In the other, I thought I knew myself. I thought I was aware of my own expectations. I thought I knew what I was feeling, and I thought I knew why. I thought I was in control of those feelings. I thought that it could exist in its own happy microcosm and not be affected by what was happening in the others and my resulting sensitivity and emotional vulnerability. I thought that this new super-self-awareness had me covered. I thought that progress in handling feelings was always in a positive direction; that a lesson learned was learned forever. I thought I was being a good friend, or at least… an open and candid one. Wrong again.

In the first, the reality is that I was burying my needs, making false presumptions about theirs, and suppressing communication to spare their feelings which might have helped to avoid so much damage done to both of us. Even the bits that were not my responsibility would probably have been dealt with if I’d not suppressed my feelings and instead spoken up.

With the other, I ultimately found that I had regressed in being able to navigate my emotions or was at least temporarily beyond my capacity to do so. I found that knowing why you behave in some way is not an automatic fail-safe against doing it again. In hindsight I believe I was careless. I put myself into situations that I knew would lead to me having even stronger feelings for her. I put too much hope into this being a super happy new thing to counteract all the suckage going on elsewhere; Maybe some sort of catalyst for a new phase of life. I don’t know.

I believe that what was right in front of me was far better than anything I seemed to be pushing for, or at least much like what I really needed: an amazingly accepting and candid friend who really liked me for me and who obviously enjoyed spending time with me. I ended up driving her away. I pushed her boundaries; not just once but twice in short duration and in the same way. It remains to be seen how much has been damaged.

The king self-awareness is feeling more like a second-rate jester. Despite having a pretty good time with my partner on New Years Eve, I went to sleep with a lot on my mind, my chest aching with regrets and sadness. A new, dear friend having been pushed away by my foolishness. My relationship with my dear partner on the verge of major change and reinvention as she moves to her own place with friends. So many mistakes and sorrows.

I don’t believe it fate. I don’t believe in any sort of magical power imbued into the event of a clock rolling over. Yet, I find it poignant that I should wake up this morning, January the first, with the ache dissipating, and being displaced by a sombre feeling of… acceptance.

Yes, acceptance. I’ve forgotten you again. It occurs to me that I gave that new friend some great advice about acceptance when we recently reconnected. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve found myself giving advice that I neglected to follow myself. Seems like a good time to remedy this.

I think that acceptance is not the same as pretending that everything was fine or that it doesn’t matter. It certainly does matter. I am not an island and I can’t ignore how I’ve affected these people in my life.. I don’t think that it means not having any regret either, and I certainly have no shortage of those right now.

I think acceptance is letting go of that desire to deny, to release the vice grip on our heart from trying to crush the painful truth out of existence. It is expanding our view out past the narrow perspective of that painful moment in time to re-incorporate our present and our future. When we do, we allow it take on meaning beyond our self-destruction and denial.

Yes, I did these things and they may reveal unflattering truths about me. I can feel fear and regret ask myself, “What does this say about me?” Then I can either choose to deny that truth, or I can take a step back and ask “What will I do with this knowledge?”

Strangely enough it was the making of this new friend that sparked some awareness in me of the candidness and vulnerability which was missing in the relationship with my partner. It lead to lengthy discussion and exposure of painful truths about how far we’d come off track, but has also opened up the possibility of acceptance and healing between us.

So, these are my hopes for the new year. To live candidly. To embrace my desires, at least in principle. To accept my limitations and fallibility. To accept that I will not always remember each of these things. To mend what I have damaged whenever I can. To keep on trying regardless. To exercise acceptance.

I look forward to new possibilities in 2013. I know that not everything is in my hands, but it does start with me. Hopefully meet you on the road!


Means and Ends

Q: What is the purpose of an economic system?
A: To provide the goods and services people need.

Period. End of story.

Profits were meant to be a motivator to drive the creation of those goods and services as a self-selecting response to the needs of people. Somewhere along the line, they started convincing us that the means were more important than the ends. The means have supplant their intended ends and taken up the throne as an ultimate end unto themselves.

Yet, some of us still have to live in this real world where everything has cause and effect. The real world, where people lose their homes, their livelihoods, and die without adequate care. We can’t afford to live in the bubble these people have created for themselves where profits are the self-referential moral reward for the mere act of having acquired them. That bubble has run out of room to grow. That bubble needs to burst.

I’m going to be a bit radical and suggest that we stop acting surprised.

Let’s stop acting surprised when Wall Street has a meltdown and we find out they’ve been squandering everyone’s livelihoods. Let’s stop acting surprised when we find corporations institutionalizing young people in prison for years for extremely minor incidents. Let’s stop acting surprised when global corporations bully farmers into either buying their GMO seeds or suing them into the ground. Let’s stop acting surprised when buy out state senators to be pawns for their agenda. Let’s stop acting surprised every time there’s a dirty deal, a cover-up, infiltration of legislative bodies, broken regulations and outright murder of every day people.

We may find it shocking, as well we should, but it should not be surprising. If you actually discern the nature of our economic and ideological systems, these are all “natural” progressions of those values and ideas.

Corporations and even government systems with the same values, are extremely efficient.

What are they efficient at? They are efficient at maximizing SHORT TERM PROFITS… and NOTHING ELSE! PERIOD! The next time you see some shocking example of “corruption”, just remember this, and everything will become crystal clear!

Can we please stop deluding ourselves that there is some kind of moral fix to be applied to a “few bad apples”?
Can we please break out of our own bubble? It’s time that we paid attention to what’s happening. It’s time we started thinking for ourselves.

There is a flip-side to this however. There is a means of resistance not often talked about.

Every time they go into the world and tilt the playing field more in their favour, through lobbying and infiltration of our legal systems, infiltration of regulatory agencies, and every other kind of backroom deal, they put pressure on the public. Pressure to meet basic needs. Pressure to live free of suffering. Pressure to live!

You might recognize some of the signs:
– Depression and other mental health issues.
– Racial and class segregation.
– Increased isolation and decline of local community.
– Violent crime
– Drug use

All of these are either created or aggravated by social and economic pressures, sometimes creating inter-generational feedback effects. We are socially trained to write other people off and dehumanize them, to tell them to pull up their own bootstraps, the we deserve everything we’ve “earned for ourselves” (sound familiar?) and convince ourselves that taking care of only me and mine is not just OK, but a duty.

I am coming to believe that when we do this, we are complicit. We take up our place as a brick in the wall, a support for the hierarchy that we ourselves are suffering under. It’s not just a fluffy notion about karma, but about being an actual node in a great system of cause and affect.

It’s time that found some new motivators. It’s time we took responsibility for our own awareness. It’s time we created our own world to benefit all. We need to do this globally and systemically.

I’m Privileged and I Know it (Work it Out)!

I came across a very interesting article today that I wanted to make some commentary on.

This was a very well written article, and he does a brilliant job of describing the main concept of privilege distress. I believe it is very true that winning people is very important.

It should be fairly obvious to someone who understands women’s issues, for example, that winning people over to feminist understanding will have a much more transformative impact than passing a limited bill in some isolated jurisdiction.

Not to argue against those changes, but I can even see how small changes can have an entrenching effect among the privileged masses if it gets a certain kind of publicity that leaves them believing that they are an embattled minority that is losing ground.

I get the concept and its importance.

In my own life, I have gone through such a transformation. I have traversed from a position unaware privilege, to not only becoming aware of much of my privilege, but actually being in a process of continually exploring and deconstructing it. None of this could have happened without the long and determined effort of my partner. It also couldn’t have happened without a certain willingness on my part to wrestle with my own privileged distress that arose when I was being challenged.

The thing is that I could never wish upon, and certainly not demand from anyone, what my partner had to go through. She has reminded me recently of some of the ways that I reacted and the things I said along the way; things that with most people would leave me frothing at the mouth were I in her shoes. I would have to not only have a certain emotional investment, but also a willingness to endure the pain and frustration of being misunderstood and misrepresented by the person having the privileged distress, as they inevitably resist. There are degrees of resistance, but it is always present. If there is privilege, there is resistance. It’s simply a fact.

What gets me about this article is that he doesn’t seem to explicitly state who his audience is. I’m left to believe that the marginalized themselves are at the very least being included if not singled out. The personal pain that I experience as described above is not even fully my own. It is merely the pain of being an advocate. I can walk away from it. I can choose to be silent when it becomes too much, yet that isolation and misunderstanding has still been strong enough at times to cause emotional breakdown.

How much worse must this be for marginalized people who are unable to hide from or avoid their marginalization? How can I, or this author, in any reasonable way impose upon them the burden of coddling the privileged under whom they experience their own oppression (regardless of supposedly benign, non-hating fee-fees). Personally, I just can’t do it.

As I’ve stated earlier, I have come from being very privileged while simultaneously unaware. As I have delved further and further into the mire, I found myself on a pendulum swing from trying to save the world to giving in to rage, first empathizing with, and then mimicking much of the vicious tear-down of privileged rhetoric with no empathy for its proponents. I still do not and probably never will begrudge the marginalized for doing so themselves. How could I? What would this be other than an over-privileged person telling under-privileged best to advocate for themselves? They are reclaiming their right to speak and be angry which we; the privileged, have continuously denied them.

However I believe I am finding that, despite my desire to revel in and repeat the outrage of the marginalized as an expression of solidarity and empathy, this is not the most useful role that I can perform. This author has given expression to ideas that I have been formulating just in the last few months; the idea that my greatest role is to endure the stream of privileged ignorance and fight to maintain my empathy and acceptance for them as good people with bad ideas. To realize that not everyone can be won over, and that their choices are not my responsibility, but to at least not give up on the process altogether and take what is, for me, an easier road.

I can only hope that I am his intended target. Otherwise, I think he has missed it.

Michio Kaku and the Myopic Universe

A critique of Michio Kaku’s video “The Universe in a Nutshell

What irritates me about this narrative, is how physicists as individuals and as a group often conflate themselves (and their field of study) with the concept of physics itself. Yes, ‘physics‘ is, in the broadest sense, the foundation of how everything works. As far as we know there is no reason to think that anything that exists or can be known, lies outside of the scope of everything that is physics. I love physics. I love science. I LOVE pure, humble and impassioned investigation.

That is exactly what is lacking!

The idea that physics encompasses all understanding, is no longer true when you are discussing ‘physics’ as an academic field of study, as a function of limited human minds inseparable from their social, historical, economic, philosophical, and cultural contexts and inevitable biases. The word is the same. Their contextual meanings are not.

In this video, Michio Kaku actually implies with straight-faced conviction that “the internet a simple by-product of electromagnetic force” and then has the gall to suggest that “where there is the internet, there’s prosperity”,  subtly confirming the insidious, but endlessly repeated trope that those poor countries must be full of stupid, unenlightened, regressive, helpless people who probably just need to “get it together.” There is not even the suggestion that centuries of colonial domination could possibly have anything to do with this. Not a peep.

Seriously!? Ass-kissing glasses!? This is something we’re looking forward to? Let’s not talk about the significance that every last goddamn motherfucker in that cocktail party scene was as white as my bare ass in January. No significance there. It just a fun internet video, right. What a buffoon! Talk about a zero-foot view! This is a disgusting display of unexamined, white-supremacist,  neo-liberal, self-righteousness bullshit!

There is no more room in this world for scientists to say “I’m only interested in the science” as if to suggest “that other stuff is just for hippies and people liberal arts degrees.” You cannot divorce any science from any of its inherent contexts. You cannot divorce yourself from the affect of your impact in thought-space simply because you don’t geek out about it. You have a fucking responsibility to be aware, or your so-called science will be infected at a level deeper from which any scientific method can save it.

You will miss the deeper meaning of the questions and completely misunderstand the potential effects the answers.

Keeping the scientific method pure within the confines of the question you’re trying to find answers to IS NOT ENOUGH! The questions themselves need to be examined. They must be informed by deep understand of all of the contexts with which it has an intersection and there are many. If you don’t you end up like this guy, perpetuating poisonous, ignorant, unexamined assumptions, glossing it over with a veneer of grand-scale material accomplishments whose impact and meaning are also unexamined.

I applaud the pioneers who have unlocked many of the mysteries of our world from whom I have reaped many benefits. I now also stand in the awareness of many others in our world who still don’t have access to these benefits. I boldly dare to suggest that the scientific community itself is part of the answer to this question. The reasons for, and solutions to these problems are just as in dire need of exploration, and likely more so.

I can get behind science advocacy. Surely to God (pardon the irony), we need more scientific literacy. We are desperately missing critical thinking on the grand scale. Unfortunately, much of the scientific community itself has many gaping blind spots. Not the least of which is the hopelessly imbalanced distribution of the benefits of discovery, but also the increasing rate at which the direction of research is being steered towards myopic goals of the narrowest, most devious and cannibalistic of minds.

The vast, vast majority of us are not in need of stupid gadgets or trips to Mars. This ultimately doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game. I’m not advocating for other lines of thought instead of scientific discovery. I’m advocating that our scientific communities need to have much broader understanding of the world and themselves, and need tread outside the comfortable and privileged domains in which they now reside.

The humility and passion for investigation of our scientific community MUST go beyond mere academic, scientific inquiry.

Our future depends on it.

Unnatural Selection

This is just going to be a quickie as it’s all I have time for today.

I’ve been lately about how some of these supposedly inspiring success stories that float around are really examples of selection (as in systems of evolution) rather than accurate explanations of said success. I think this holds especially true for actors and other public figures who’s success in one degree or another depends on or at least benefits from popularity. Will Smith comes to mind. His opinions about himself are of the most boot-strappy I’ve ever heard. You heard him 2+2 = “whatever I want it to be”. “The Secret” must really give him a hard-on.

The fact that we hear certain people’s stories and not others is not necessarily due to the inherent survivability of the traits they promote. It may simply be because we unwittingly select and promote them PRECISELY BECAUSE we prefer the explanations that they offer us for their successes, even if they are ultimately inaccurate.

It’s a little bit like breeding many generations of horse, selecting exclusively for spotted coats and then saying that horses with spotted coats are better survivors because “Look! More of them have survived because of spotted coats!!” Indeed it is true, but only because we made it true.

It may be and often is true that for every person telling you that they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps with little or no help, there may be a million more with the same attitude, giving the same effort and having the same determination that end in desolation and obscurity rather than succeeding at something more attainable. This is not an affirmation that “success” (whatever that is), is the only thing that matters, or that an individual should not try their very best and be deeply determined.

The point is that we are sometimes inclined to promote very inaccurate and harmful ideas when there are more accurate and meaningful ones to be had.


On the Rise

Being the fourth of May today (May the fourth be with you), I felt compelled to read a post by “monkey” contributing on the What about teh Menz blog.

It might seem strange at first, but I was immediately reminded of an old article on about rich elites in the U.S. having a sense of persecution while they strangle and subdue the livelihoods of their entire nation.

The connection for me is in this idea of comparing geek culture to religion, except that there’s a more general principle at the heart of it. That is the idea of dominant groups feeling persecuted, and turning it onto those with relative disadvantage.

Now of course, things are never as simple as THIS LABEL makes you THAT. There are places in the world for example where being out as a christian can get you killed. We do well to always keep our minds open to nuance and context against any generalization. Dominance and disadvantage are always relative and almost always simultaneously at work within a group or individual albeit in different contexts. This is the nature of Kyriarchy. I will be using a broad brush to make my point, but I do realize there is nuance and variation. Please keep this in mind.

That being said, I often see a dynamic where the members of a dominant group identify themselves as underdogs apart from whatever reality might be. It seems to me that as geeks, we have long surpassed the aggressiveness and social brutality of any group we might have called “jocks” (whom we still feel inferior to in the privacy of our minds). In reality, we dominate the much of the online medium, now the dominant social arena, and steadily taking over pop culture.

Take the ignorant and moderately disinterested (though still very harmful) sexism of the jock, and make it active and aggressive. Now take that insecurity overcompensating with outward arrogance, give it a dozen red bulls and pinch of anonymity and you have the modern geek. Add a science degree and/or a self conflation with being “rational” and you’ve got a skeptic which is often a scarier monster; Another rant for another day. But either way, from the culture’s perspective, saying male, cis, and even white is usually redundant. There are geek girls (also cis and white), but they’re often not really in the club. We let them in with a token membership (so we can ogle at them of course).

Another aspect of the culture is that like all men, we like to define ourselves by what we are not. Almost universally we like to define ourselves as “not woman”, “not gay”, “not-trans”, etc. For the geek we add “not Star Trek/Wars”, “not DC/Marvel”, “not LARP”, “Not LoTR”, any manner of elitism we can scrounge up gets thrown in the mix.

Anyway you look at it, we seem to more and more reflective of the fearfully aggressive mob, desperately clinging to our fragile sense of identity. But what’s truly insidious about it is that we still sell the harmless, mild-mannered Clark Kent with Superman alter-ego when in reality we’re more like Billy Boy turned Dr. Horrible.

I think we easily forget by the end of the show Dr. Horrible is no hero, not even a grey one. And though neither of them prov to be very decent in the end, Dr. Horrible proves far more sinister and dangerous. He’s Captain Hammer add a chip on his shoulder and a potent mind. What’s makes him most dangerous is that he feels like an underdog, and we want to agree with him. After all, it’s OUR TURN to get the girl dammit!!

He seems to get a pass of sorts because we as a culture, like Dr. Horrible, value smarts and recognition more than goodness and perspective, and it’s beginning to show. For recognition we seek the holy trifecta of status, riches, and access to (conventionally attractive) women’s bodies. All others don’t seem to even warrant our attention except to exert our superiority over them. His are crocodile tears over his own loss, most obviously displayed by the fact that he doesn’t duck out of his villainous glory, the pursuit of which cost Penny’s life.

I think Dr. Horrible is a very astute reflection of geek culture, whether or not he was intended to be so. We’re an insecure and powerful mob. Even if merely socially rather than politically, this is not a good combo. We feel like heroic rebels, but act like The Empire. We are the new gatekeepers. We have become the bullies. We just haven’t figured it out yet.

Morality vs Ethics – Round 1 – Race

There are two concept which I believe are at war in our society. The concepts are of morality versus ethics. In a discussion today about race and privilege a saw an opportunity to show the nature of and contrast between these concepts.

Morality is a process of making lists of rules and managing what I would call a kind of moral portfolio in relation to it. It is a process of self-preservation that only looks are far as one’s own self interest in avoiding judgment and feeling bad or guilty. It also involves a kind of jousting for relative moral position in relation to others. “Oh yeah? Well at least I’m not as bad as that other person!” It is not about investigation or understanding, but about self preservation.

This is why you hear people saying “I’m not racist, I have an ___ friend” or “I love my ___ neighbour”. It’s a desperate attempt to avoid being morally implicated. Doing this misses the point in an epic way. Everything is awash in a battle of aggressively trying to enforce extreme sameness (how come they can criticize but we can’t???), but from a perspective that everyone is starting out on a level playing field when actually it’s not that way.

An ethical view is one based on empathy and understanding. It desires to be as informed as possible, and actively seeks to fully understand someone else’s reality.

“Empathy is about seeing things from another person’s perspective, not imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation. The former is the first step to understanding others; the latter is a kind of naive narcissism that does more harm than good.”

It does not come from a panicky position of self preservation and is engaged in actively listening and personal investigation. It realizes that the idea that I may have something called racial privilege or even lack of race-specific disadvantages isn’t about whether or not I’m a good moral person. It recognizes that being wrong about things is a normal part of human experience, that blame is usually not the point, and even if sometimes is unfair and/or about blame, that it’s still worthwhile to try to understand.

The morality model is far and away the majority model, even among those who have long escaped from other religious ideas. It is the by-product of a society built on competitive and abusive ideologies that convince us that those on the margins are ever ready to sanitize and debilitate we the “normal” (Political Correctness). We feel like we are about to be destroyed while our jackboot is on their throat, yet we can’t understand why they’re angry. I mean before they brought all their snark and anger and everything, things were just fine… right?

Morality says “I’m not guilty, why do I need to feel shame.”

Ethical empathy says “You don’t, but we’ve inherited some responsibility here.”

There’s a brilliant analogy that has been made by a man named Tim Wise:

“I want you to know that this has nothing to do with guilt. I realize that none of the people in this room and none of the people in any of the rooms to which I speak every single week in this country somewhere are the ones who themselves, individually or even collectively, are responsible for the creation of this system of inequality, of privilege, of oppression, of marginalization. And that is not the point. I know we didn’t create it, but we are here now, and we inherit the legacy of that which has come before. If you were to become the chief executor of a company one day, you would not be able to go in and call your chief financial officer on the phone and say, you know what, I want to look at the books I want to know how much we have, what our assets are what’s our revenue stream. I want to know all that because I want to take us to new and greater heights and so you ask the CFO to come in and give you the power point presentation, the spreadsheets, and she comes in with all of this technology and all of this data and gives you the presentation. Here’s our assets, here’s our revenue stream, here’s our outstanding debt. What do you think? You wouldn’t be able to look at that CFO and tell her, you know, I really liked your presentation. It was great to know we have all these assets and some really amazing income coming in, but the next time I ask you to come in and show me that, don’t bring me the debt material, all that stuff about what we owe, because, see, I wasn’t here when you all ran that up. That was that other guy. That was your last CEO. The debts of those older leaders, those are on them. Have them pay them. I am going to make use of the assets, oh yes. I am going to make use of the income, oh yes. But I am not going to pay the debts because they are not mine. You couldn’t do that. You’d be ushered to your car by security. But that is exactly what we do as a society, isn’t it? We say, the debts are not ours. Oh, the glory is ours.”