Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

Close Your Mind: A Response to Zigmund Reichenbach’s Guest Post

Hey everyone. In case you missed it, my response to Zigmund Reichenbach‘s guest post has been posted over at his excellent blog, All My Small Thoughts. In it, I discuss how using Zig’s idea of methodological skepticism can strengthen your own arguments and how this relates to debates and even the law, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But I also get into how an excess of skepticism can lead to an inability to judge. In other words, that there is such a thing as being too open-minded. An excerpt:

“Judgment” has become a dirty word, as though making a decision–and sticking with it!–is somehow a bad thing. How dare we place value on anything that anyone alive on this world decides to do or say? Who are you to judge?!

I’ll tell you. I’m a thinking human being.

Open-mindedness is good and all, but at some point you have to close your damn mind and discern and decide and yes, judge.

Read the whole thing at Zigmund’s blog, read the rest of his writing because he’s posting a lot of good stuff over there . . . and tell him Alex sent you.

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Generalizations: A Love/Hate Story and the Dangers of Mind Reading

We make generalizations because they can sometimes depict, on average, something that is usually true. Others call this pattern recognition: a vital skill. But don’t let it turn you into a mind reader. Because you’re not.

And yet people think that they are! They think that they know you better than you know yourself! On line, or real life, so many act and believe as though they’re the second coming of Professor X.

Professor X from the X-Men

Even worse, people think that generalizations mean you are talking about everyone. It all goes back to the comprehension gap between what words actually mean and what people think they mean. Is it due to the deplorable state of American education? A mass hysteria induced by political demagogues whipping people up into frenzies? Arrogance and ignorance walking hand-in-hand?

Probably a combination of all three, and more. But whatever the reasons, false mind reading is a cognitive trap that it’s important to be aware of so that you do not fall prey to it.

All generalizations, including this one, are either false or dangerous, depending on if you follow Mark Twain’s or Alexandre Dumas’ formulation. But regardless, they are telling you, based on observable patterns, that something is usually something on average, or in the aggregate.

Now, we see how this can lead to some rather distasteful stereotypes based on things like ethnicity, religion, national origin, and so on: All X are good at Y, or bad at Z. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

Given America’s increasingly violent political climate, I’m focusing more on the realm of disagreement: “All Republicans are evil racist Nazis.” “All Democrats are America-hating communists.” “All Libertarians are unserious, weed-smoking open-border advocates with no real ideas.”

Okay, that last one might be true. But I digress.

Whatever the case, generalizations can lead to a lot of vitriol. Check out the political violence in Berkeley that happened over the weekend if you don’t believe me when I say that generalizations are turning people into mind readers.

What do I mean by mind readers? It’s this: If you believe that “All X are Y,” and you meet one X who is not Y, that disproves your generalization.

This is why a good, effective generalization speaks in terms of averages and not absolutes.

Anyway, if one encounters the exception to their absolute generalization, what do they do? Do they reevaluate their position based on new information, perhaps tweak their mental model, and come to a greater understanding of the world and their fellow citizens?

Of course not. Continue reading “Generalizations: A Love/Hate Story and the Dangers of Mind Reading”

Book Reviews: Comparing and Contrasting Never Enough by Michael D’Antonio and MAGA Mindset by Mike Cernovich

donald-trump-president-person-of-year-time-magazine-2-facebook

You can't get away from Donald Trump. He's the President. As with Barack Obama, Trump has those who worship his every move and those who hate his stinking guts.

But I am not here to praise him nor to bury him. No, I'm not even here to talk politics.

I'm here to talk books.

Regardless of your personal feelings, Trump is President. And it's always interesting, at least to me, to learn about our elected officials and see what makes them tick. Because, to be honest, one has to be a little touched in the head to want to go into politics. And so, I read (actually, listened) to two books about the man, one that painted him in a distinctly negative light, and another that was far more flattering.

Let's face it: Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is an interesting cat. And he did beat both a veritable army of GOP insiders and the most favored candidate in American history, to win the election.

[Full disclosure: I voted for the guy. Mainly because, as a reluctant Republican, I have grown so disgusted with the party as I have with the Democrats, and Washington in general, that I relished the idea of sending a giant, human middle finger to the entire establishment. Regardless, one does have to admire his ability to accomplish what he sets out to do, even if you dislike him politically or personally. I felt much the same about Barack Obama (whom I did not vote for, twice–but still, the man knows how to accomplish what he wants and is also an interesting guy. There's a lesson there for all of us.)]

First up, the more "negative" book, Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success by author and journalist Michael D'Antonio, published in 2015. I know that in 2016 D'Antonio updated the book and re-christened it The Truth About Trump, but I listened to the audio version, borrowed by my wife from our local library for me to listen to during my many long car trips between the D.C. Metro area and New England I had to make in the recent past.

Reviews of this book call it “A carefully reported and fair-minded account" (USA Today), “A brisk and entertaining read, drawing on interviews and documents and distilling decades' worth of news coverage to tell the story of Trump's childhood, family, business deals, and political forays” (The Washington Post), and "Balanced, well sourced, and perfectly timed" (Financial Times (UK)). Me, I find these claims of balance and a lack of bias laughable.

Let's get it out of the way: D'Antonio clearly does not like Trump. That said, the book is meticulously researched, well-written and constructed, and sheds a lot of light on Trump and what makes him tick.

Trump's family history is pretty fascinating, with his hellraising and, quite frankly, dishonest and kind of sleazy grandfather (who first built, and then lost, the family fortune), to his father Fred who, through hard work and good timing, nearly single-handedly rebuild the family fortune, to Donald himself, the story of the Trumps is one of sheer determination and will. No one will tell ANY of these men that they cannot do something, and they all have a knack for sniffing out an opportunity and exploiting it . . . even if that involves some unsavory steps along the way.

Michaelauthorphoto

What D'Antonio discusses definitely raises some red flags (and sensationally hints at far more sinister doings without much in the way of evidence, but I digress) about Trump's temperament and proclivities–his penchant for stretching the truth, if not outright lying; his habit of bending the rules to benefit himself and his family, if not outright breaking them; insinuating that he is a virulent racist and anti-Semite with no real proof; his cozy relationship with corrupt attorney Roy Cohn . . . but was it enough to make me pull the lever for his opponent? Absolutely not. For all of his vices–greed, arrogance, women, and a pathological inability to not fight back seem to be Donald's vices–to me at least, Hillary Clinton was far worse.

And yet, through it all, Trump comes across as an enthusiastic builder with an almost childlike sense of wonder about everything. One can imagine him looking at a building he fought tooth-and-nail to get built and being like, "Holy cow, can you believe it?" He clearly also believed in his designers and architects, going to the mat for many of them. And he, obviously, believes in himself.

He also tends to, let's say, exaggerate his accomplishments and disparage those of his opponents with stereotypical New York bravado. Continue reading “Book Reviews: Comparing and Contrasting Never Enough by Michael D’Antonio and MAGA Mindset by Mike Cernovich”

Get Some Help

I'm not going to lie: famous, successful, and beloved people committing suicide freaks me out. Anyone killing themselves is terrible, but the rich and famous seem to have fewer reasons to do so. Don't they?

Of course not. There are many reasons why people take their own life, and those who seemingly "have it all" also have as many mental and emotional issues as the rest of us.

And like the rest of us, they didn't get the needed help that may have prevented this.

Help is a funny thing. We all know it's good, but so few of us ask for it when we should. And this doesn't just go for mental health issues, but any aspect in life.

I've had recent, chaotic experiences that brought this home. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and I found myself overwhelmed. It was not my finest moment. I survived with minimum damage, but it was still brutal.

So focused on staying afloat, I didn't even think to ask for help from anyone. I also kept agreeing to take on more duties, because of the "I can do it!" attitude that some may mistake for stubbornness, but I like to call…

Okay, it's stubbornness.

But the point is this: people like to take on too many burdens, and delude ourselves into thinking we can handle it all.

We can't. Not always.

And since I'm a man, and men kill themselves at appalling rates, and I'm also a white man, and white men kill themselves at an even more appalling rate, and I tend to write about what I know, I'd like to share a hypothesis as to why men tend to not ask for help:

Most of the available resources are women.

In fact, as recently as 2013, there were 2.1 female psychologists for every male one.

There are many reasons for this gap, which mirrors the general widening gap in educational attainment, and the reasons for this could open up another whole can of worms that I don't want to get in to here.

But before you call me a "misogynistic, patriarchal, heterosexual subhuman," hear me out: I'm not saying it's a good or a bad thing; it just is. Maybe it's societal. Maybe it's biological. I have a strong suspicion that it's a bit of both. Continue reading “Get Some Help”

A High Tolerance for Chaos: What I’ve Learned from Rejoining the World of Customer Service 

I got a second job, and it’s going along nicely. Sure, working after work, or on a weekend, isn’t nesesarily the first thing one wants to do. But the extra money is nice, as is the chance to just get out, meet some people, and hopefully learn something. 

In this case, about wine. 

But the return to the customer service industry has also proven to be educational on other matters besides the vino. For example, I’ve learned some things about myself and others.

You see, this past Friday and Saturday night, our point-of-sale computer system was out of commission. So all billing, taking payments, and accounting had to be done by hand.

In a historic downtown hotspot.

In the middle of summer.

On the two busiest nights of the week.

Like this, but sadly with less mustache.
Despite it all, we survived. And we survived with style. 

Here’s what stuck out to me from this brief return to the days of my youth when doing everything by hand would have just been considered normal.

We rely on machines way too much. A malfunctioning machine, in this case due to a quick lightning storm that rolled through town, made everyone panic like the sky was falling.

Well, not all of us. There was definitely a, shall we say, demographic difference in how people handled things, but I’ll get to that later. 

The thing is, the idea of having to do things manually seemed to abhorrent, not only to employees, but to the customers. From the looks of pity and soothing words we received, it was like we all lost loved ones.

It wasn’t that bad. Really. In fact, in some ways just writing things down was easier.

But this doesn’t bode well–and I’m really stretching things out here–but if there’s ever some global catastrophe, be it natural disaster or act of war, that knocks out our power grid, we are totally boned.  Continue reading “A High Tolerance for Chaos: What I’ve Learned from Rejoining the World of Customer Service “

The Anti-Self-Loathing Manifesto

People hate themselves. 

It is now a big part of my mission to help end self-loathing. Not just in me, but in others. As an idea or a way of life.

Self-loathing is at the root of many societal and cultural problems we have today. And I do not understand it.

So what happened?

A part of it seems to be the Western Enlightenment tradition of questioning everything. The endpoint of this, with no objective truth to ground this search, appears to be “Well, we’ve run our course lads. We’re uniquely evil upon the world. Let’s all die!”

This is bad. 

Another aspect seems to be subconscious boredom. When you’ve reached the top and live in peace and comfort, there’s nothing left to do but tear it all down and start over. Instead of starting a new project, we seem hellbent on wrecking the one we’ve built over the millennia.

And of course there are the enemies of civilization who foster and actively work towards this. 

But this is societal self-loathing. And societies are made of individuals. Individuals whom have that fallen, common, all-too-human tendency towards self-destruction.

I cannot change society myself, but it makes me sad to see my fellow humans, in real life and online, hate themselves. If my words can make anyone reconsider this course, I’ll consider all of this blogging a success. 

But what to do? What authority do I have?

Let me tell you: I have been there. And it’s still a struggle. But I’ve learned to not hate myself. It can be done. You don’t have to become an arrogant, selfish psychopath…but a little swagger never hurt anyone. 

Below I humbly declare my Anti-Self-Loathing Manifesto! Continue reading “The Anti-Self-Loathing Manifesto”