@Nero’s Banishment

After reading “The Circle”, it was easier to see some of the changes going on in our culture because of social media. Mike Isaac (the reporter of the article that inspired this, which linked at the end) does an excellent job capturing the hot-spots of Milo Yiannopoulos’ banishment from Twitter:

Is it fair to censor Milo?

Does/Should a private company have the capability to limit Constitutional freedoms?

What “rights” do people have on the internet?

I don’t think it is fair, or right, to censor Milo. Unless his speech incites violence or lawlessness, it isn’t illegal; but what’s more important is that he (and his followers) should be allowed to say it. Because (my right-leaning friends are probably jonesing to point this out) someone could troll Milo for a lot of things, in the name of social justice, and not be touched.

So he gets to say ugly things and lead the horde of trolls to Ms. Jones’s doorstep; but what is the response for Ms. Jones or her fans? Jim Jeffries, in his latest special “Freedumb”, addresses the conflict between love and hate. “Now love doesn’t always beat hate. But it does do something…Think about a person who hates you and you hate them. From now on just show that person nothing but love…Eventually, everyone will see them as the asshole.” And that’s the thing, Milo’s hate-game has an expiration date that comes quicker and quicker the fewer people that react to it. So if you’re really upset about all this: love Ms. Jones’s work, ignore Milo’s, and create something better on your own.

My short answer to second question (framed with “Should” instead of does, because I don’t know what the legal precedent is) is, “No.” Companies exist within our society, not above them, and so we aren’t relieved of society’s rules or privileges because we use a service. Are there examples where this has happened? Of course! “Globalization” flies in the faces of what I just said, but again, I’m answering what I think should be the status quo.

So Twitter has to play by the rules we’ve set down here in the States. Unless Milo’s words incited violence on Jones’s person or estate, then it is simply hate-speech which is protected. (Now an interesting debate could be, is Ms. Jones’s online profile considered a part of her person or estate?) Also, I think it will be counter-productive to their aim of more civil space.

This may have alluded to my last answer, about our “rights” on the internet. Frankly, we don’t have any yet; at least not entrenched rights, which are protected by the Constitution, and are arguably the most steadfast ones. In this case, the right to avoid offense – even hurt – isn’t something we should expect or advocate for. I worked for an advocacy group, and our lawyer’s office was within earshot of my cube. One morning I overheard his half of a phone call where he said, “It’s a free country. And you’re free to be an asshole in it.”

So I don’t know that a law or Constitutional act can address this kind of behavior. But there are some questions about this sandbox we’re creating online, particularly around privacy and anonymity, that would strengthen our fledgling-legs before we go further along on our society’s journey through modernity.

Play nice out there.


NYT Article: http://ow.ly/kWfV302r0Bp

“Freedumb”: https://www.netflix.com/title/80106979

“The Circle” (Review): http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2013/11/21/eggers-circle-when-privacy-is-theft/



Friday Five-Hundred: “They Think What?!”

Ever find yourself baffled by the words that exit someone’s face-hole? I sure do and if you’ve spent any quality time with me you’re aware that it sends me into a fit.

Go through social media or watch some of the news (any will do, even the neutered public ones), and you’re bound to find a story where somebody professed some incredibly uninformed thought. Ever catch yourself going, “They really think that?!”

One that provoked my ire involved a poll which reported that 43% Republicans think the President is a Muslim. I can tackle the lunacy of this in another post, but for the meantime stick with me and think about the poll itself. Seeing the results of the poll may lead you to wonder if there’s a bunch of GOPers bumbling through the world in trepidation of a Muslim president. Science says, “Kind of.”

There are some things you should know before we progress. Political scientists use a basic model (see below) to frame people’s opinions. Here’s the quick and dirty on how it works.

Opinion Model

Inputs, like media and interactions, are where you get your life outlook. Beliefs are things that you know. They can be proven true or false. A value is a judgment on the morality or ethics (good or bad) of an issue. When values and beliefs come together they form a belief system, a fun term that sums up the complex matrix of ideas that roll around in your melon.

When that system is engaged by an outside stimulus, such as an idea or question, an attitude is formed. That’s that warm or bristly feeling you get. Finally, that attitude manifests itself in the form of an opinion when it becomes expressed through words, deeds, or verses.

Whew! Now we can move on.

A political scientist, Chris Achen, wrote that Americans have “true attitudes.” Essentially, he claimed we go through the world with values and ideas tumbling through our minds, the problem is that surveys are simply inept at accessing those core beliefs. However, two other gentlemen, John Zaller and Stanley Feldman, argued instead that people are ambivalent about most things. They said opinions are only expressed based on what you can think of at the moment.

If an analogy is your thing, try this on. Your special someone is coming over for a dinner date. You weren’t thinking about it, so when the time came, you put together a quick meal from whatever you had available. If there wasn’t much to work with, dinner was probably awful and left a terrible impression. Public opinion is a measurement of what’s in everyone’s mental kitchen, at that moment.

What does it all mean? Political polls, like the one mentioned above, really only capture a person’s reaction that’s based on the limited knowledge they’ve got. If you’re not informed (an amendable condition) you aren’t good or evil, just one of the sheeple.

So keep learning, impress your friends with this, or supplant the robot overlords. Go forth and be fearless.

Story about the poll: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/253515-poll-43-percent-of-republicans-believe-obama-is-a-muslim 

Zaller & Feldman Paper: http://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS234/articles/zaller_feldman.pdf

My Reaction to Another Mass Shooting in the U.S.

I’m pretty tired of gun violence. In light of the most recent mass shooting in Oregon, I decided to throw in my ideas for solutions. I decided to write a note because really difficult problems can’t be solved in the maelstrom that Twitter becomes after these things. Hang in for some nuance.

Violence is a spectrum. We’re all upset about shootings when they happen but will gladly cheer when the opposing team’s quarterback gets steamrolled. Two kinds of violence, obviously separated by many degrees, but still violent. Even if we look at the violent act of punching someone. We (society) deem it bad when a bully strikes someone who is unable or unwilling to defend themselves, but condone the person who steps in and pummels the bully. We don’t have a clear steadfast rule on how to evaluate these things as they happen. An unfortunate byproduct of Language’s limitations.

The things we’ll hear over the next few days about guns are most likely going to distract us from the solutions at hand. There is no single way to relieve our country of this burden. It is going to take a great amount of things we don’t seem to have much of, namely: patience, willpower, and quiet.

You want gun violence to subside? Great. Let’s start with making sure everyone in the U.S. has adequate nutrition and shelter. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Our government could subsidize global hunger with less than a percent of its budget. Healthy people tend to be less irrational and more civically engaged. So start there.

You want gun violence to end? Nice! Start teaching children how to meditate. Let’s start teaching them that feelings are natural, including anger and loneliness. From now on though, let’s tell and provide them with acceptable outlets for those feelings. Teach children about the biology, psychology, and physiology so they’re more likely to respond to feelings in an appropriate way.

You want people to stop shooting each other? Ok. Then we’re going to need to stop pretending that a 9mm is there to take care of our deer population. Let’s treat these weapons like what they are, deadly. Teach people about weapons, and the laws that pertain to them. Maybe I’m naive. Given the chance, I like to think that most people will do what’s fair and right.

I find it hard to believe that I live in a country that has bacon-flavored-anything, more cars than people, three sports that are only played here (but best teams are still considered World Champions), and was home to some of the greatest innovators the Blue-Space-Marble has ever seen; yet we can’t find an intelligent way to resolve this. I’m sure you picked up where “patience” and “willpower” fit into my proposed solutions, but here is where “quiet” catches up. We need to stop clamoring. Shut up. Take a breath. Think things over. And only speak up when we’re ready to say, “I want this to end. How can I help?”

Podcast On This Summer

It has been far too long since I’ve posted here or expressed my thoughts through this medium.

I just wrapped up one of the best experiences of my life, which was my internship in Washington D.C. this summer. I’ve been chewing over my thoughts for the past day or so and decided to record a podcast. In it, I talk about what was most impactful for me, as well as some of the important questions that were posed throughout.

The link is below, so have a listen and I hope you enjoy it!

Until next time. Be fearless.


A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with some friends at my apartment. As we worked our way through the usual conversation fodder, someone brought up the recent internet chaos, which was brought on by a Christian blogger’s choice to abstain A few weeks ago, I received an email from a friend. It had no subject (a good sign, in my eyes). Just a link to a student run blog called the Badger Herald, and the words “sexual harassment” in the URL. I followed the trail to a blog post so good, it merits a haiku:

“Men without any class

Cancer to equality

Respect is needed”

First, I’ll say that I was really taken by this article. From the start, I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen. As I burned through the paragraphs, I found myself compulsively nodding along to the author’s points, and smiling at her candor. For me, this article was like listening to a friend rant over coffee (which is something I really enjoy). So take my bias into account as we move forward.

Also keep in mind that the concepts of “manliness” or “male culture” are far from defined. So my thoughts are just general theories, based on my own experiences and observations. Generalizations can be frustrating, I know.

The headline, “Let’s Talk About Sexual Harassment” concisely captures the spirit of the post. From then on, the author goes on to highlight the spectrum of harassment, what her feelings are about being a woman (the typical target of harassment), and questions what the hell we are going to do about it. The article is well worth the read, so go here and find out for yourself.

I was taken by the whole article, but one part particularly caught my attention. Erin (the author) says, “guys…have a fundamental gap in understanding on what it is to be a female.” For me, this suggests that men should be investing more time into developing an understanding, and through that empathy, for women. While I agree with the end goal, mutual respect and ability to empathize with women, I think the route to get there is different. I think men need to understand what it means to be a “man.” Respect and empathy tend to go hand-in-hand with knowledge and reflection.

Earlier in the piece, Erin concedes that she doesn’t have a “10 Step Program” for addressing the problem. The answer lies within that idea though. There isn’t a “program” or prescribed experience in order to become a man anymore. We don’t have any societal codes of honor or ethics. Gone are the institutional rites of passage, which proved that a boy was an asset to the tribe or community. For the past century or two, there hasn’t been a standard by which American men have been trained and held to. As always, education is the key. In the absence of shared knowledge and community, apathy and unruliness take over.

So where do we learn from? We reflect the behavior of our parents, mostly. We’re also inundated with ideas from media; most of which is guilty of objectification in order to cater to their audience of young, testosterone driven, males. There are also still plenty of institutions which color the lenses young men look through such as fraternities, sports, and religion; and they don’t tend to be associated with progressive views on women.

The key is education. Learning from the good (and bad) examples from the past, facilitating self-discovery, and challenging young men to prove their worth is what I believe will breed more “good” men. The resources are out there too. I’m a huge fan of The Art of Manliness, which is dedicated to sharing positive habits and attitudes for men. The information is there, the challenge is getting it where it needs to be.

It starts with an idea, then a conversation, which builds to action. Kudos to Erin for kicking things off.

The Art of Dehumanization and How It Is Used to Manipulate Us

I got a text about a week ago. I rarely get these messages, because I’ve either already given my opinion without being asked or my friends are scared of what will come out of my mouth. I’ll lay out the situation as clearly as possible.

Friend: “I want your opinion on something.” (That is what the beginning of a regrettable conversation with me looks like.)

Me: “Ok. Fire away.”

My friend went on to share that they were watching a news report, which featured Smith College, who is raising money to provide a scholarship to illegal immigrants. This school is a private women’s college (from Massachusetts) and was looking to support immigrant students who wished to attend their school by creating a private scholarship. My friend asked me if I thought it was fair that these people (illegal immigrants) should get this kind of opportunity. I said that I didn’t see any problem with a private entity doing what it wants to with its own money (which I also thinks is a key part of “charity” in general).

So I turned the question back to them, and asked if they had a problem with it. Their answer surprised me. “They (immigrants) aren’t even citizens. So why should they get more benefits?” This began a brief back and forth about the struggle to get citizenship, as well as the difficulty in accessing our education system. This spiraled into a brief sermon about how fortunate we both were to have a white middle-class upbringing here in the States. My sermon evolved into a lecture about how sad it is that the middle-class and poor are constantly being put against one another. Finally, I was looking to seal a “win” for what had become an argument, so I laid on the pathos and said that this school is doing a good thing because they are looking to raise money to help “people.” Undeterred, they said, “I still don’t agree with it. We should want to help each other before we help everyone else.”

Then my head exploded.

I was so angry. I raced to Google to dig up some information about the ridiculous amount our government has spent on things that are either not people, American citizens, or a combination of the two(which if you didn’t know, is A LOT OF MONEY). I bombarded my friend with all of the information I had to make them feel guilty for their momentary resentment of the less fortunate. As the smoke in my brain began to clear, I began to question why my friend felt that way. Why would they say these things?

So I began to look back through the texts, and as I did a few key words began to jump out at me. “Illegal.” “Citizen.” “Immigrant.” It struck me that the reason we could talk this way about people, is because we were using words that are designed to dehumanize. We have been subtly trained to talk about issues using vocabulary that removes the humanity from a discussion, so we can focus on data and “logic.”

Whoa. I was taken aback. I would never use these words to talk about people I knew, or even strangers whom I’ve met. I would never (but may start to) text my roommate, “Citizen, what time do you like to go to the bar?” And I would never have spirit (either bold or cruel enough) to say to someone who I think is an immigrant, “Excuse me. Are you one of the illegals?!” This language is intentionally used to steer our perspectives to a pre-determined conclusion.

Think about it. When you hear the word “illegal” does that give you a positive feeling? For me, I think of a thief stealing my things. When I think about a “citizen”, I imagine a blend of Mayberry with ancient Rome. Friendly people meandering down Main Street in their togas, probably on their way to vote or rescue a kitten from a tree. When I think of an immigrant, I think of someone who is displaced. I see a faceless traveler, who is looking for a new place to belong. (I know it is a bit romanticized, but it is my imagination, so I’ll do as I please!) That image gets very distorted if I combine “illegal” and “immigrant.” I feel distrustful. My shoulders slightly tighten as if I was expecting to get hit. The power of words is amazing.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used or seen words used to dehumanize people. I dabbled in education for a while, and as I worked with high school students, I was encouraged by my employers to avoid calling them “kids.” “They’re ‘students’ or ‘youths’, but not ‘kids.'” I understand the reason behind it: The intention behind this dehumanization is to avoid the implication that anything inappropriate could happen. A teacher may be in jeopardy with our PC culture, if they say, “I love my kids!” I get it. The job isn’t to become invested in their lives. Primarily, the job is to teach them and facilitate their learning. Caring is just an option.  Teachers must walk the line between caring for students, and their success, and acting inappropriately.

Another example of our ability to dehumanize one another is in times of war. I know this maybe cliché, but it is as clear as an example can get. I remember playing my first World War Two game (Medal of Honor). I was stoked to pick up that BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and shoot some of those damn Nazis. And that was the message. “Nazis are the enemy. Evil. Dangerous. Shoot them to save the day!” I ate it up. Then I watched one of my favorite movies of all time, Saving Private Ryan. I hated the Nazis before the opening trailers had finished. When Private Jackson plugs the Nazi sniper through the scope, I could have sung “The Star Spangled Banner” right then and there. Google some of the war posters from the time, and you’ll get the idea. They want you to be afraid of the enemy, proud of your troops, and willing to sacrifice your lifestyle in order to “win.” Nazis didn’t have families. They were (still are?) the most evil people who ever roamed the Earth. Why wouldn’t we want to kill them?

It is simpler that way. It is easier to kill or abuse something you are afraid of, or don’t value as your equal. I know the Nazi example is cliché, and brings a flurry of emotions (hate most likely). So much emotion, that I have to take a paragraph to address it. Were there truly evil people in the Nazi regime? Of course. I will say that I think a lot of them were not. They were scared, desperate, and easily manipulated. Just like us. And like us, once they started down a dark path, they rationalized that their society had already gone too far to turn back.

I want to avoid going down a similar path. After writing this, and reflecting on the way I speak, I’ll catch myself saying and hearing dehumanizing words. I’ve been conditioned to use them, and think nothing of it. I think we all have. Whenever we hear dehumanizing language, there is an agenda behind it. We are hearing those words for a reason; and it is our job to discover what those reasons are. This is why it is so important to question everything we hear. Who is saying this to me? What do they stand to gain if I believe them? What are they trying to get me to think, feel or do?

When we dehumanize others, we have to give away a little bit of our own humanity as well. I understand that social issues like immigration are extremely complex and textured, but that is why I think it adds insult to injury when we attempt to simplify the discussion by using dehumanizing words and terms. Have a hard conversation. Use the data and information at your disposal to craft a solution. Always keep in mind that you are working with and for people.

We’re all just people. Let’s talk and act like it.

Just a thought.