The Comprehension Gap

The logo for the organization Reading Is Fundamental

I feel it is obligatory to write about the whole Google memo thing; it’s all everybody is talking about anyway, so why not chime in?

“Because enough is enough, Alex!”

Ah, but I think you’ll find my take to be slightly different than your average customers’.

(See what I did there? It’s called foreshadowing).

So the memo, what some are calling an “anti-diversity screed” and are characterizing as “arguing that women are not biologically fit for tech roles.”

Which begs the question: did these outlets even read the memo, or are they lying about it?

You see, I am not here to discuss the contents of the memo, or its now-fired author James Damore, or even discuss what this means to the future of the American workplace–if you want to read a good article about all that stuff, check out Lord Adeonistake on the whole controversy.

I’m not even here to talk about the media: I do not expect honesty from them, nor do I expect them to be particularly intelligent enough to grasp what the memo actually said, which can be boiled down thusly:

The gap in representation in STEM fields does not stem from sexism, but from the AVERAGE PREFERENCES women make when choosing an occupation, some of which are driven by biological differences between men and women, and Google’s strategy of using discrimination to promote women, and certain other groups in general, does more harm than good.

That’s it. The author wanted more women to be working in STEM fields generally, and at Google in particular–in fact, he sounds like a fan of diversity (this is where reading comprehension comes in: did people just skip that part, or ignore it?). The memo is not “anti-diversity”; it is more “anti-Google’s current diversity policies, which he claims are not producing the desired effect, and are in fact causing more harm than good.”

A picture of the outside of Google headquarters

That’s a bit more nuanced, right? It’s not as good for clickbait, though. And you’ll notice that I am neither attacking nor defending the contents of the memo . . . I’m just trying to set a baseline of understanding so we know what we are talking about. It’s like in a formal debate or an informal argument: both sides need to be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Remember when that used to be important?

And yet, people want him drawn and quartered. People are frothing-at-the-mouth mad. You may find the contents of the memo offensive or distasteful–and that’s fine–but I certainly hope you at least read and understood what it actually said.

More shocking, to me at least, is this:

So many people seem to lack both a basic understanding of statistics and of basic reading comprehension.

And many of these people went to college.

This is what disturbs me the most. Continue reading “The Comprehension Gap”

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”

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”

Axiometry Part III “Don’t Think About What You Could Have Done Differently.”

“Don’t think about what you could have done differently.”

“Don’t beat yourself up.”

“Let the past go.”

Sayings we’ve all heard before. But are they valuable bits of wisdom, or valid, empty words?

Thats right! It’s time for more axiometry, my made-up word for examining common aphorisms and figuring out if they really make any sense:

Axiom: “A rule or principle that many people accept as true.”

metry: “Art, process, or science of measuring.”

There are many variants of this particular axiom, but they all focus on the same thing: regret.

Ah, regret. A favorite topic of mine. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you should know how I feel about regret:

Carry around your past regrets, not as an anchor, but as a guide.

So you maybe you think you already know where I come down on this particular axiom.

But as with everything , we shall see. Continue reading “Axiometry Part III “Don’t Think About What You Could Have Done Differently.””

Sartorial College

I used to think that fashion was stupid, dressing up was for stiffs, and that society had gotten to the point where what you do and who you are matter more than how you look.

And then I started working.

Suddenly, all of that boring, corny stuff my parents used to say made sense.

You see, humans are visual beings, and first impressions are powerful things. There is science behind all of this, but I’m both a lawyer and a man who knows my limitations, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole here. 

I have learned something else though: Second impressions matter too. And third. And fourth. And so on. 

How you present yourself carries over not only into your business and personal relationships, but also in how you carry yourself

Again, the explanatory  science is out there. You have the Internet. Search amongst yourselves. 

Me, I have trouble working if I’m not dressed up. I wear a suit and tie to work everyday, and have for the past eight years, even when the dress code at my workplace has been relaxed. 

What kills me about this more than anything are the comments I get:

  • “Aren’t you hot in that?”
  • “It’s Friday, you know.”
  • “Alex always look sharp…like a movie star.” (Someone actually said this to me)

And my favorite:

  • “You’re making the rest of us look bad!”

To which I say, you’re making me look good. Thanks! Continue reading “Sartorial College”

Confusion is the Enemy

Nobody likes being told what to do. But we can shrug most of it off.

“I like your hair better short.”

“Maybe not the red tie?”

“You should do your lawn like this.”

“Your breath stinks, man! Chew some gum or something!”

No big deal.

But when it comes to questions of morality or right or wrong? Things that we maybe should be willing to listen to outside input about?

“You know, maybe sleeping with fifteen girls a week, sans protection, isn’t the best idea.”

“Fraud is wrong. Knock it off or I’m turning you in.”

“Crack is wack, yo.”

We go nuclear!

Why?

The mere mention of anything touching these dimensions can make even the most self-proclaimed, brave, “I-never-get-offended” free-speech proponent go bonkers and try to shut you up.

Why? Continue reading “Confusion is the Enemy”

Feeding the Perfection Beast

Today is February first. In addition to things like Black History Month, President’s Day, and whatever else is celebrated in February,* it also marks the beginning of the annual RPM Challenge

Think of the RPM Challenge as the musical equivalent of November’s National Novel Writing Month. The Challenge, which started in my home state of New Hampshire back in 2006 by local music magazine The Wire, is a call to record either 35 minutes or 10 tracks worth of new music in the month of February. 

It’s a lot of fun. Or would be, if I ever finished the challenge. 

Unlike National Novel Writing Month, which I accomplished this year, the several times I’ve began an RPM Challenge project, I never finished it. 

The one time I sort of did was in 2009 when I played bass on my brother’s album. He’s finished the challenge four or five times, now, maybe more. And he has more kids than I do. 

Me, I always petered out somewhere along the line, sometimes due to time restrictions, sometimes due to technical or equipment difficulties, but usually due to being my own worst enemy. 

You see, back when I had the music equipment and the space to record, I fell into the thrall of that dreaded monster perfection.

Perfection is one mean bastard. He gets into your head and makes you think you’re some kind of rock star when you’re really just a dude with a 9-to-5 and a hankering to pretend, just for a few hours here and there, that you’re something bigger than you really are. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

This is the difference between me and my brother: I let perfection play on my immaturity and narcissism. My brother, while only a year and some change older than me, got married, started a family, and finished school far younger than I did. 

In short, he grew up faster. 

He knew the value of time and realism. He didn’t dicker around with trying to get everything just right. No, he said to himself, and I’m making this up based on observations but bear with me, “There is something I want to do. If I do X, Y, and Z for this amount of time every day, I will accomplish what I set out to do.”

He had a goal, and a system to achieve that goal. 

Process and not perfection. 

In short, he went for it. 

Me, not so much.  Continue reading “Feeding the Perfection Beast”