AFYM: If something evokes strong emotions, take a moment to question it

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As someone who suffers with OCD, the disorder has taught me a valuable skill, to question strong emotions.

Emotions aren’t wrong or bad, and I do not advise suppressing them, but when you read, watch or listen to something that raises your blood-pressure, it’s important to take a beat.

In the age of global social media warfare and government sponsored trolling, the internet is more than ever a huge minefield of misinformation, spread with the intent of creating divisions, and anger.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Anti-science / Anti-mask movement in the US has its roots in either the Chinese or Russian Government’s efforts to undermine the western world.

But this goes beyond the pandemic, in life, people will tap into your primary emotions in order to manipulate your decisions, your wallet, or your ballot.

The key to not being blustered about via the emotional whims is to practice mindfulness. When you are confronted with an emotionally charged “fact” or headline, take a moment, and question, what is this person, passage or quote trying to get from me.

You won’t be able to do this immediately, and it takes practice but eventually, you might be able to avoid being so upset all the time.

The Hate You Love to Give

Anger is useless if it isn’t focused

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Roar as the dawn rises, in the stench of blood and rot. we dwell in cities iced in luxury but the core is soured, old milk on hot pavement, the carton looks fresh and new, but chunky truth hides in the middle.

So many rage. I see it. I feel it. Every time a shooting happens, each time a man’s neck is kneeled upon, each time a polotical scandal breaches the surface.

“Has the world ever been this bad?” Utter lips, their question rhetorical, they know in their heart it’s never been this bad.

Or has it?

I am going to say something controversial, the world is better than ever.

The world was much much worse in the past, but we didn’t know about it. If you wanted to learn about the atrocities that a black man in the south lived through you might have to actually track him down and ask him, or more likely his surviving relatives.

If you wanted to know about political corruption you had to hope the newspaper told you about it.

Now everyone is a whistle-blower, and the hot steaming truth of the horrors of the world once hidden from us is at our pocket level each day, and each night.

Moreover, we are fed this horrible info, because capitalistic systems have figured out that the best way to monetize us is to make us upset.

And so we walk around in a state of low level upsetness, each horror we consume adding to our guild and existential debts.

I ask, what value have we derived from the overflow of knowledge? What do we glean from this consistent impotent rage, checked by flare ups?

Nothing.

And why? Because Citizens of the United States are constantly allowing themselves to be distracted by the next outrage. They eschew dialog in favor of looking good to their peers, and they push agendas lazily from behind a keyboard.

This is not an indictment, Real, Long Lasting change, is difficult, messy, unsatisfactory, and slow.

The kind of change being demanded by various protest movements is one of systemic policy making, and requires organization and an effective organization requires a unified ideal.

Part of the reason many left leaning movements in the united states have fallen apart can be see in the disparate elements of the party.

Not that this is a particularly good thing, but the right wing of the united states was quick to back the president. While seemingly spineless this sort of rallying can be no means dismissed as ineffective.

Most protest movements fall apart simply because they have no unification. Factions within the movement draw lines, and preform social signaling to prove they are the most worthy.

Without a clear structure, clear goals, and a unified long-term strategy, people who want to enact change will either burn out their rage impotent or potentially more dangerously flock to utopian ideals.

One needs only look at the 20th century’s death camps, famines, wars, and police states to know how dangerous utopia can be.

Ideology: The Memetic Virus

The Shepherds of Ideology

I live in a small conservative town. The people are kind for the most part. We have our fair share of entitled people, but for the most part most people just want to get along.

I have a habit of engaging in dialog with almost anyone. It’s something I’ve done for a long while, and it often leads me to philosophical paths. I do not intend for things to go there, but I like big ideas, and to hold ideas in my head that I don’t particularly agree with.

However, in my town the two pervading forces are church, and right wing politics. Interestingly enough, I am not anti-religion, nor am I hyper liberal, but to many of those possessed by these ideologies any amount of fervor other than the maximum is not pure enough.

Many a kind conversation has turned sour when certain topics like mortality come up. I see the speaker’s eyes glaze, their jaw slacken, the words ” what do you think happens when you die?” dribble out of their mouth, and flop with a wet thud onto the floor.

In my younger days, I used to argue. I used to bring up philosophical questions, I used to care. But now, I kindly refocus the conversation, or attempt to. I’ve taken to directly addressing the wet mess on the floor. To some this is a wake up call enough but to most they begin to push their ideology.

This is not an exclusively Right-wing or religious idea. Man is a religious creature, and having killed god has sought for some time a replacement. Some have turned to post modernism, others harder to the established religious and some have turned to the state.

I understand. The need for certainty is a powerful driver, as someone who suffers from mild to moderate OCD, I have lived nearly each day in the shadow of doubt. But it is that doubt that has made me understand the importance of not knowing.

Ideologies are set in stone. There is no wiggle room. No doubt. One must conform to the tenets of the ideology, even as they are poorly defined.

There is no easy answer on how to avoid becoming possessed by an ideology, but there is a feeling. Supreme certainty of ones actions is a dangerous feeling, and one that should always be tempered with doubt.

Algorithmic Dystopia: Part 2

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Choose a website. Any website. Chances are you are not being shown the true chronological and wholesale content of that website.

Instead you are seeing what the complex math of an Algorithm decides is worthy.

Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter are the biggest offenders of this but they are by far not the only ones.

While this might be argued to give a better user experience, I’d argue that it’s more about the nature of causing conflict, which extends user time, which by and large is an attempt to extract advertising revenue.

This makes sense. We were offered connection, at the price of privacy, but these things were not spelled out to the public. We were blissfully unaware that our information was harvested, and sold to the highest bidder, the advertisements were the icing on the cake, the extra money.

The real dystopic algorithm is the one that shows us the content that prompts interaction, and then proceeds to take note of that interaction.

Slowly, but surely these algorithms attempt to understand and exploit the cognitive weaknesses inherent in all human beings.

All of this of course comes down to the idea of money. Or should I say the idea of a Zero Sum game idea of money. But that is a topic for another day.

Stand Watie: A Complex Man

Stand Watie, Cherokee Brigadeer General of the Confederacy, headed the last significant force to surrender in the American Civil war.

A native American from the Cherokee tribe, he consistently defies easy labeling. He fought on the side of the confederacy, and he owned slaves, yet he came from an arguably more oppressed group, native Americans.

An smart man, he wrote for the local paper, and involved himself in politics from a young age, fighting for the rights of his people, against state, local and federal policies.

I won’t go over all of Stand’s trials and tribulations here. He lived a complex, checkered, immoral, and human life. He faced adversity from every possible angle you could think of but ultimately he was a man of his time.

Was he a good man? Who am I to say? I just find him horribly fascinating. A man who himself was the victim of institutionalized federal racism willingly enforcing that racism on others. A man who fought to preserve his tribe yet, fought for a government that most likely would have turned on him eventually for being non-white.

To me he stands as the perfect example that history is never simple, never clean, and ultimately is the story of humans in all their flawed glory.

Attention is Power

Distraction is a powerful tool. Love him or hate him, whenever I see the president speaking in the news, I begin to sift through the news links on page 2.

Usually, congress, or some similar organization slips an unpopular piece of legislation under the noses of the United States’ people in plain sight.

It’s not so much a conspiracy as a tactic that taps into the central nerve of the current century. Our access to information is nearly infinite but our capacity to pay attention is hopelessly limited.

With the internet information’s power hollowed to a shell, the smartphone the last nail in the coffin. Few need a degree in English now that you have access to the opinions of the greatest literary minds’ on demand.

However, with this openness of information came the algorithmic dystopia. A constant nozzle of putrid bile, the worst of humanity poured daily into our minds, not our of malice, but instead out of capitalistic short sighted greed. Whatever the reason, man sits at the font of the whole of human tragedy, and sips from that poison cup, meeting it with near bottomless yet impotent rage.

Yet, it need not be this way.

The solution is simple, yet exceptionally difficult to achieve. Each wo/man must choose actively what they pay attention to.

It is not that the tragedy of the word are not worth paying attention to, but it is instead a humble detonation. “i am small. I can maybe save myself, and maybe I can make the world not a worse place to be. Saving others, that is truly an extraordinary feat.”

Many consider this defeatist, and I admire them for that, their hope and determination is admirable, but I think we do not honor the wo/man who simply does not make things worse, quite enough. The one who pays attention to what he can control, and directs his energy not at the masturbatory failures of the world but the failures of his personal world.

S/he is the one who votes in all the local elections, and volunteers where they live, donates what s/he can, and simply works to make their corner of the world a little better each day.

Some days you can only save one person, and it’s OK if that one person is you.

The Least Sexy Political Topic: Publicly Funded Elections

The nature of structural change is difficult and slow moving, even without the influence of the capitalistic actors such as the news, and social media.

With them, the United States citizens have become simply burnt out.

Each day a new horror is unleashed before us, and we are exposed to them at an increasing rate.

Algorithms spew either echos of our own thoughts or those things that rile us.

But most of us are just burnt, because despite all the roaring against the machine many of us feel our wishes are being ignored. Largely because they are.

The current nature of the US Political system isn’t evil. It’s ultimately self serving. Corporations give unlimited campaign donations to Congresspeople and Senators who ultimately become lobbyist themselves upon retirement.

Each of them rationalizes their taking of this money. “oh well if not me, then someone worse than me will come along, so yes, I might have to do some terrible thing to the American people, but others would do worse.” They say.

But that is not, as many people want it to be, a moral failing, but a systemic failure.

The solution is not a moral crusade, but instead the slow injection of policies that change the structure of how the system works.

I say slow, not out of some urge of caution, but instead as a flavor agent of sorts to make such a change more palatable to people in power. Very few people in power would vote for something that so dramatically threatens their self interest and so this system of implementing reforms would have to take place over a decade or so.

While this all might sound cynical, I am at my heart a man who thinks that a practical long term solution is much better than a flashy short term one.

Shame Feels Good but Fails to Fix Things

The court of public opinion is a powerful entity, but the current need to shame individuals is troublesome and puritanical.

Shame does not work to enact long term change. It is a short term solution that makes the one throwing it feel better.

Which makes sense. Nearly all creatures avoid discomfort, and seek comfort. It is the natural human response to want to remove the uncomfortable, and troublesome elements in the shortest time possible.

Unfortunately, in both individual and societal growth, quick fixes are the antithesis of sustained long term change.

The main problem with shame, and by reflection the whole of cancel culture, is that we have a method for vengeance, but no mechanism for forgiveness.

I am not saying that we should forget, or even allow certain individuals back into the collective tribe, but the current method of punishment is indefinite banishment. This seems a bit harsh, and does not encourage people to come forward and seek redemption.

If there is no method for redemption in our culture, no standard to be met collectively, what reason is there for the individual to change authentically? Moreover, seeing the destruction of their fellows will this not drive those who have similar beliefs further underground?

Here, in the quiet warmth will their views not continue to fester and rot, while they wear a mask?

Are we to summon the inquisition, and torture innocents to find these few hiding elements?

Would it not be better to simply have a true path to redemption?

Some may say providing a path would lead to immodest and untruthful seekers of forgiveness, but are we to toss the rest of those that actually want to be part of society out with the heathens?

I have no answers, only questions.


We Earn our Leaders

It is no secret that the United States, my preferred nomenclature for the country so often regarded as America, is in limbo of sorts.

Love him or hate him, the president of the USA ‘s actions are ineffectual for the most part. At the beginning of the pandemic he denied how serious it was.

This is not a political statement, though I am sure people will make it one. I can understand from a historical and personal perspective why many of his supporters chose him.

The current US President is precisely why Plato hated democracy.

However, I do not think, as ineffectual he can be he’s the problem.

We’ve not changed in 20,000 years always demanding leadership and sacrifice but not demanding it of ourselves.

We’ve lied to one another. We’ve acted against our best interests. We’ve earned our leaders.

We allowed our merchant class to export our jobs, because we feared what unions might inspire. We allowed our politicians to take money from special interests because we’ve swallowed the lie that the government is too corrupt to distribute funds to campaigns.

Each freedom stripped away did so in the face of great fear, and like all fears each time we did nothing to challenge it, each time we ran from it, it grew stronger and demanded more.

In the years of the Obama Administration we grew complacent. We did not demand accountability for things he’d done, we assumed racism was fading, we assumed people were simply going to do the right thing, that the historical forces were now one their way to permanent utopian levels.

We gave up the good, slow, habitual work that led to the first black president, and in that void others, powered by fear, hate and poverty elected a man unfit to lead.

The current state of the united states is on all of our heads. We all have work to do. We will always have work to do. That is the nature of the universe.

Disenfranchisement is deeply rooted in the USA

The Founding Father’s did not intend for you to vote.

If we are being completely honest, most of the founding fathers held what we might call troublesome beliefs about nearly everyone.

If you were not a White Anglo-Saxon Male with property, the founding father’s did not think you should vote, or really have rights.

We have to remember these were not ignorant men. Jefferson literally wrote about how slavery was a “hideous blot” all the while owning slaves.

The electoral college’s initial position was to prevent someone the ruling class didn’t like from getting into office.

So the current idea that somehow we are enlightened, and we’ve come from perfect stock is ridiculous.

The United States is a nation where Feminists, Abolitionists, Progressives, and Minorities pulled their right to vote kicking and screaming from an entrenched political establishment.

It’s been this way since day one. The problem is one of the most human problems. The problem of self interest.

We should have term limits on everything. Supreme Court Lifetime appointments made sense when people lived until they were 70, but now an appointee at 60 can judge on the bench for 30 years.

The same Congresspeople and Senators can keep their positions not out of merit but complacency for 30 years.

The trouble comes that how do you convince people to work against their own self interest? Especially in a world without Legacy?

I wish I knew.