Friday, February 28, 2014

An argument for inclusion and decency at the basic human level, rendered in simplest terms

As soon as you dehumanize other people, you lose. 

You lose a great many precious things. 

Most pragmatically you lose the right not to be dehumanized by someone else. 

You will only create hate, suffering and division. 

You will not advance civilization.

Loving everyone, works.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

An infinite number of wrongs make a right, but only in your head

There's a moral to this story, so I'm not saying this just to humblebrag: I used to be a climate shift denier.

It's true! This was just a few years back. I could very well have blogged about it, but for some reason it never occurred to me to put the exact logic that led me to this position on paper. Only now, with the inescapable clarity of hindsight, do I have that courage. This thought process may sound familiar to you.

For my pride, I had this idea that I knew what humanity was all about. When I heard about climate shift - specifically anthropogenic climate shift - I saw evidence of man's tendency towards hubris. The idea that we, mere mortals, could have a measurable effect on the planet Earth, I thought, sprang from a desperate need to believe that we are special. I wanted to believe that Mother Earth was bigger than all of us, that she could shrug off everything we threw at it. So obviously those people who thought different were just deluded by the fantasies of power, of importance, that comes so naturally to us.

There was a turning point. I remember it well. Someone told me, "Hey, stinkfingers, what about the megafauna?" The cave bear, the mammoth, the giant sloth, the giant moose, the sabretooth; you know why all interesting land animals except the elephant started going extinct around about the same time as humanoids learned to use tools and hunt in packs? We killed them. Humans have an enormous capacity to destroy our biosphere in ways that takes geological ages to recreate, if not astronomical. I just didn't like that to be true.

So I did what any sensible person fragile, ego-driven caveman would do: Dug my heels in and looked everywhere for confirmation of my beliefs, ignoring everything anyone tried to tell me. There's no absolute proof that our ongoing climate shift is caused only by the hand of man. Those scientists just want grant money. The ecosystem has a pliable toughness, capable of surviving radical disasters by adapting, naturally destroying its more complex parts and enduring in simplified form as peak complexity is reached in an endlessly renewing cycle. There's always other star systems.

I had an endless supply of bullshit pulled right out of my ass is what I had. I defended my position with absolutely no basis in any kind of observation or experimentation, because ideologically it seemed to me that it should be true. My gut told me that this is the way the world should work, and since the world couldn't be wrong then everyone who thought it was wrong must be the ones who were wrong. Bicameral-brained ancient Greeks four thousand years ago sitting in an actual cave and dreaming up stuff and deciding it was fact - I'm looking at you, Pliny the elder - made just as much sense as everything I just said there.

Eventually I was told to "Do some fucking reading before you open your stupid hole to me about things you don't understand, assfart" enough times that something resembling shame over not contributing to the discussion overpowered my willful ignorance. I did some light reading. I talked to some people who were working to save the planet, who had the resources and the skills and the motivation to actually try and figure out what exactly is going on with the air. I said the magic words, "I was wrong."

I only said that to myself, of course. My acknowledgment of defeat to the people who had bested me was more along the lines of "I guess maybe it wouldn't hurt to do some of that CO2 reduction stuff anyway, whatever, jerks" not so graceful. This was the Internet, you know.

But to me, it was those three words, and it was magic. You see, the sky didn't open up when I said it. My soul didn't break in a million pieces. In fact, I felt really good about myself. Like I had gone through and come out on the other side. Like I was taller than before. Like I could do anything. I had gone all my life being shit-my-pants scared of being wrong and there I was, wrong as the day was long, and it meant nothing. Less than nothing. But the simple act of admitting I was wrong, without hedging, without ifs or buts, without justification, just straight up stark undeniably wrong; that was glorious. That taught me something I couldn't have figured out in four thousand eight hundred years of always being at least a little bit right.

You don't have to be afraid of being wrong.

You don't have to be afraid of being wrong.

I've since adopted a conversational doctrine of saying whatever I believe to be true as plainly as I can. This way I've learned a lot. It can be frustrating for people to correct or ignore all your mistakes, I mean, some people get really offended when they think they're talking to a complete idiot, but you can just go ahead and file that in the "Not my problem" folder. You don't care if people think you're an idiot, because you don't care if you're wrong. And in the long run, you weed out the sort of shallow companionships with people who don't get you that you don't need in your life.

True companions are people who not only put up with all your shit, but love you when you say things like this.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Who's your Facebook and what does he do?

Some years back, someone asked me what Facebook does; what good or service it produces that justifies people putting time and money into it. I said "infrastructure", almost without thinking. It's the road network that ties the Internet's widespread locations together. I was wrong.

Now, I'd say if the Internet has any need for roads, we first need cars to use on them - we need the ability to traverse these virtual distances. And we need the desire to travel. I think I read somewhere that less than 1% of the Earth's current population travel more than 1000 miles from their birthplace within their lifetime. Less than 1% die more than 100 miles from where they were born. We are, and have always been, made to stay in one place. Even as nomads in prehistoric ages I would think we only moved from place to place because we had no other choice. Much like people on, let's say, rarely spread their wings far beyond that community.

It's a matter of mental distances rather than geographic, but all the same we don't as a rule have the brain cars that would require the information highway that Facebook may offer. But if you tried to use it that way, you'd just drown in noise anyway, with no signal getting through. If Facebook is our roads, it just shows us that we can't go everywhere at once, even if we wanted to go anywhere.

No. I think what Facebook offers is a standard for information exchange. Facebook is the Times New Roman of networking. It's default. It gets the job done, but no different than any number of other fonts. Except for all the crappy privacy and the ad money flowing towards all the already very wealthy individuals and the unwanted interface updates and the stalking opportunities and the arbitrary moderation and the presumption that there's something wrong with you if you elect not to use it; no different from countless other alternatives.

Now excuse me while I go write some letters by hand.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

And now, a poem

I call it "Captive's Litany"

You can take everything from me
that you can take from me
because I can't stop you.
You can do anything to me
that I can't stop you from doing
because I can't stop you.
You can make me do anything
that you can make me do
because I can't stop you.
You have exactly as much as you can take
and nothing more.
You have nothing that I can give
and you get nothing.
You can't have my soul.
You can't have my heart.
You can't have my mind.
You can't have my respect.
You can't have my dignity.
You can't have my guilt.
You can't have my love.
You can't have my hate.
You can't have my hope.
You can't have my fear.
You can't have my concern.
You can hurt me
but you can't make me care.
You can kill me
but you can't save me.
You can lock me up
but you can't make me want to stay.
If you want something from me
you won't get it.
I'm not yours.
I'm free.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Breakfast cereal, slightly used

Today I've been remixing this magnificent SMBC comic.

Not that there's anything bad with it to begin with. Neither of these are what I'd call an improvement.

I just saw this potential for a few adjustments to make the strip a) tell the story in a different way and b) tell a different story. The former, distilling Sally's speech to the essential five words surrounded by pregnant pauses that mark their significance; the latter, hijacking that speech to say something which, though less likely and less funny, I find more wise, like something I'd have been proud to say in her position. Although not too perfect because if there's one thing I have trouble believing it's when people in stories bust out impromptu speeches made of solid gold that they're not going to look back on as soon as they leave the room and wish they'd said at least some part differently.

Although in this case the stress of public speaking was emulated by me trying to fill predrawn speech bubbles with words one at a time with minimal editing.

By the way do you see how the dramatic pacing of all three strips is completely undermined if you imagine the messages take four and a half minutes to travel between the speakers like daaang land sakes alive.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What is the Internet?

At its best, the Internet is a global system for distributing pictures of cats. Cat pictures are the best. Right, Google?

Oh, it turns out kittens are evil above all else. Or more accurately, the aggregate of Google's searchable Internet pages, weighted by the popularity of those pages, say that kittens are evil. I like this function of Google autocomplete where it makes presumptions about what you want based on what the loudest majority of the world's Internet enabled population thinks it wants. It paints such a delightfully surreal portrait of the collective humanity. I've spent my day searching for a pattern in this tumultuous cacophony (two words I needed Chrome's spell checker to help me write.) First, I sought everyone's opinion on everyone:

It's "is", not "are", if you're not sure - which is a statistical certainty. I'd like to know if "everyone's gay" is due to gay activism or gay panic, but on the whole the only clear message here is that everyone thinks everyone's beautiful slightly more than everyone thinks everyone's racist. Isn't that wonderful?

Hmm, well, maybe humanity isn't as beautiful as everyone thinks since we produced this disgusting pile of hate and ignorance. But where is this coming from? What are not disabled people doing that's so much better than anything we can do?

Well, that depends on what you consider to be the opposite of disabled. The Internet has never heard of the term "Able-bodied people are", so that can't be it. Maybe we can begin with figuring out what the opposite of "normal" is.

Huh, I guess no one likes normal people but no one has any idea what not being normal would mean.

So, I went on to explore and compare opposites.

Wow, it's like people think we're from different planets. Don't we have any common ground? Is there nothing we can agree on?

Of course. No one gets hated more than people with the audacity to not fit solidly into one of two gender constructs. Well, maybe furries.

Now if you ask me, the opposite of socialism is individualism, but again, zero autocomplete suggestions.

Everyone is idiots. What else to expect? Maybe if we go to more extreme extremes.

Radicals are right and ruining your country (I see no contradiction there, since I guarantee whatever country it is would be better off if it stopped being a country), while no one's really sure what reactionaries do. (As it was explained to me, they try to make societal progress go backwards rather than hold it back as regular conservatives do.) But both are obviously unrealistic extremes, so what about the third alternative?

Nope, they're idiots too.

Even looking out for the place where you live in lieu of anywhere else to live is hypocritical, stupid and wrong and makes you a terrorist communist idiot enemy of consumerism, not to mention annoying. There's no right answer here, is there?

That line of thought is usually where people turn to a higher power.

True, for certain values of Christians.

Well that's a more balanced picture. Don't know what's up with that last one, it's like someone was told this religious group they hate are not composed of a hivemind and went to Google to search for confirmation of the exact opposite. Except someone in this scenario is a vast amount of people.

I guess the Internet doesn't have much to say about Buddhists. That must mean it's hard to hate them.

As a devout Humanist, I can say it's like a religion, except the higher power I worship is humanity. Anyway, are you starting to see the pattern yet?

Yep, everyone hates Atheists just as much as they hate every religion. I think it's for a lot of the same reasons too.

Not that a curious spirit is any better.

Here we encounter another thing that people don't know anything about except that it's wrong for some reason. I turn to alternatives to Rationalism for comparison:

Sorcerer was the only synonym for a wielder of imagination technology I could find that wasn't exclusively defined as a videogame character class.

If Rationalism is the pursuit of truth, and the destruction of that which the truth can destroy, is it better to lie? The answer is no. Everything is terrible.

I would have gone with "unenlightened people", but alas, Google. This is a joke, by the way. The actual opposite of Rationalists are:

Of course, they're just as bad as the people they oppose.

And there that is, just for the sake of completeness.

Does everyone hate everything? What about things that you reasonably should dislike?

Obviously, all hope for the Internet is lost. No, wait.

I just made the mistake of searching for opinions on the abstract ideology itself instead of people holding to it. There's some confusion as to whether fascists are socialists or conservatives (the answer is social conservatives), but everyone gets that they are bad news.

Like the world's most successful trolls.

Er. Let's just pretend this didn't happen.

I did KKK because earlier today I heard that they had a meeting with NAACP, and I think that's a dumb move that legitimizes the KKK. And also because KKK has gone on the record to condemn Westboro Baptist which is hilarious. Someone I hate also hates someone else I hate? THE WORLD IS CONFUSING

Oh wait, the Internet is still clearly racist. Maybe we can just agree that the KKK are assholes even if they are human beings who hate some of the same things that other human beings do.

The pattern, man.

The pattern!

I'm not going to try every damn country, cause by now you should get the picture.

I mean, Europeans aren't even by any definition a people, this is a list of nonsense statements. You might as well make up stereotypes about oldyoung whiteblack menwomen.

Australia suffers a surprisingly low amount of racism. Maybe everyone should move there. And be eaten by spiders, am I right

This might look confusing, but it's actually just more racism.

We seem to be the only people who aren't rude. But we're racist instead. Tough.

I know what you're thinking.

But it's the Internet that's ignorant, not me.

There's no obvious racism against Martians, but there's still a tone of suspicion and hostility that defines our collective image of a people from this place where no people have, in fact, ever lived. Let's leave the topic of territory and figure out what's the best system for interacting with people.

Not wanting to murder people is absolutely the wrong attitude.

But, and this should come as no surprise if you've noticed the pattern, the opposite is also true.

At this point I'm almost out of ideas for different people to compare, but even at the bottom of the barrel there's nothing but hate. Or did I forget someone?

Of course not. Everyone knows children aren't really people until they turn fifteen or so. It would be wrong to hate someone who doesn't have the ability to hate you back.

We see here the ability, however limited, of the writer to define the world around her at her own terms. But mostly everyone is still idiots.

Murderes, like people of all nationalities, are very rude. Otherwise the Internet has nothing bad to say about them. Isn't that wonderful.

In closing, let's examine the Internet itself; the process of creating all these hateful opinions.

That's kind of nice.

Oh yeah.

Now you might expect me to tell everyone they're wrong about everything, but no. The whole point of this exercise is to establish that the problem isn't that people are wrong about things, but that the Internet says that people are wrong about things. That's the common thread: Whatever you say, the Internet will tell you that you're wrong. There's absolutely nothing to think, feel or do that's not wrong according to the vocal majority of the Internet. Everything in the entire universe loses its potential and becomes wrong when it's touched by a person; including the person itself.

Except Nazism, apparently. Nazism and phrenology are the two most discredited ideas in recorded history, and of the two Nazism is the one that got most people killed for the worst reasons in the process of testing, so why are Nazis the only people in the world that Google autocomplete doesn't talk down?

Maybe it's just a question of phrasing.