Fundamental Reconditioning

Selfie

Selfie

There is evidence–that I think most people are aware of at this point–that posting certain kinds of content on the internet is a sign of a narcissistic personality. Though I would argue that there is a certain breed of teenager that lacks the self-awareness to even know that this is arguably a bad thing. Duck faces in selfies are only a particularly visible manifestation of this weird tendency in today’s youth. A culture of young people brought up in the digital age without actually understanding what that means and being absolutely utterly clueless about how it all works.

Digital natives? Not a chance. Kids today don’t know how a computer works any more than grandma does. They know how to operate an interface. They understand how to swipe and to text and to post pictures. I have had students who had never actually realized that Clash of Clans is a computer program written by humans. Completely oblivious to the fact that computers are really stupid and need lots and lots of human hours by smart people to be made to do anything useful at all. Or anything entertaining. They don’t get this. When something goes wrong with their computer, they don’t know how to fix it.

One day, I had a drove of iPhone wielding sophomores eagerly awaiting new iOS version drop. Talking about how sweet it was going to be. The weird thing about this is that while I get that they were excited and had I an iPhone, I might have been excited as well, but I feel like we would have been excited for completely different reasons. They were excited because the icons were getting a makeover. The physical feel would be different. I would at least be able to temper my expectations with the knowledge that those sorts of changes are purely cosmetic. A software update is still just a software update. It’s just company doing its job, maintaining base code, expanding functionality, fixing security loopholes, or maybe introducing new ones for the government to exploit. It’s incremental. So what if the icons got a makeover? It’s still basically the same device with mostly the same functionality. What’s cool is the under-the-hood stuff. Or at least, it’s the stuff that I think is cool.

Lollipop gave the Android OS a new Java runtime which is arguably a huge step, but in the minds of everyone out there who has a Galaxy S5 holstered at his/her hip, it’s irrelevant. What do they care that apps will load faster or that ART has faster and less frequent garbage collection, or that it compiles to native machine code! They don’t. All they actually care about is that it seems different and maybe just a little better. Without the accompanything interface tweaks and reskins and the big Material Design push, they would not really be aware that anything had changed. It might feel smoother. It does feel smoother. But that would be it.

And arguably that’s the point. We build interfaces to sheild people from complexities. We as programmers build interfaces to sheild ourselves from complexities as well. It’s why we like frameworks. Frameworks keep us from rewriting the same boilerplate code every time we want to build a web page. Frameworks and IDEs increase efficiency dramatically, but they also make us lazy. Interfaces make us lazy. They make us forget (or not even be aware) that (for example) the tcp/ip stack is a monumental mess of poorly documented, convoluted spaghetti code.

spin-onehalf.com used to have a different theme that was written entirely by me in HTML, PHP, and CSS. It was really great in its heyday when I first built the blog, but it was time for a new interface. Something with a more modern look. And so I thought about building my own from the ground up again. But you know what? My heart wasn’t in it. So I used one of the WordPress defaults. And I don’t even feel bad about it.

Oh, sure I’ll customize it and put my banner ads back (which you people never click on anyway), and add personalized header bar and maybe some cool bootstrap stuff, but the underlying code will stay mostly as it is. I will save reinventing the wheel for another day. For another website. So it’s fine. I am being lazy. I am using an interface to get something done rather than putting it off. Am I no better than the selfie-posting teenager? Maybe a little bit. At least I have a bigger vocabulary.

Wo denkst du, du gehst?

Affluenza Is A Misdiagnosis

smaug_affluenza

I do not mean to compare the actions of a teenager to those of a centuries old dragon who essentially committed genocide. Or do I? In a way, maybe I do.

Let’s put on our imagination caps for a moment. Imagine you’re a great dragon growing up in middle earth, doing all those dragony things that dragons do when they’re young. Burning down villages, stealing gold and jewels, eating dwarves and humans, causing a ruckus and whatnot. Now imagine that, as a dragon, there is, in all likelihood, no one in any way capable of standing up to you. There are, in effect, no negative consequences for your actions. We assume that dragons have no intrinsic sense of justice here. Indeed, there is only positive reinforcements for all your dickery. Lots of loot, people grovelling, making offerings so you won’t burn the town down and such. And then, what? Centuries go by. Eventually, you hoard all your gold in a mountain and go to sleep for a while until a murderous little halfling comes by and bests you. Oh, the indignity.

Centuries unopposed. Done in by a fat, hairy-footed burglar. At least, that’s how it might appear to Smaug.

Let’s spin this out a bit more, since that’s what we do here. I propose to you dear, readers, that, in the case of Ethan Couch the the right thing happened.

You heard me. Justice was, in fact, served. Well, I might have made some minor tweaks to his punishment, but, all in all, I do not think that punishment was too light.

I know what you’re thinking. In fact, it seems like most of the internet is eager for blood on this one. They want to see the boy strung up by his toes, flayed alive, perhaps even executed. At the very least, they want to send a 16-year-old boy to prison. This, I think, would be a fantastic miscarriage of justice. And I’ll tell you why.

He’s sixteen years old. That’s it. He’s a kid.

I don’t give two shits if he’s rich or poor. He’s a kid. I am well aware of the fact that this same judge sent a 17 year old to grown-up prison for manslaughter. It just so happens that this kid was black and poor and not rich. And that was, in fact, a miscarriage of justice. That was wrong. That kid was also just a kid. That kid should also have been sentenced to probation and sent to a cushy treatment facility on the taxpayer’s dime (since it seems unlikely that he would have been able to afford their program on his own).

You see, Couch doesn’t suffer from “affluenza”. That’s a goddamned made-up word. That’s a bunch of gold-plated bullshit. It’s very clever bullshit, but it’s just utter nonsense. He suffers from being 16 years old. I’m a substitute teacher and you know what I’ve found out about 16-year-olds? They are idiots. Most of the time, they are benign idiots just discovering what it’s like to try on different personas, just starting to have opinions about stuff, but for the most part have not actually accrued anything resembling real world knowledge. I posit that no 16-year-old truly understands the consequences of his/her actions.

I sometimes find myself wondering, while talking to some idiot 16-year-old, “How can you be such an idiot?” but I have to remind myself that every generation is a bunch of new idiots. And every generation has to learn all the lessons I learned the hard way. No generation of kids is ever going to learn just by you telling them what’s what. They don’t care what you think and won’t until well after they learn the hard way. They are going to screw up and do completely stupid, moronic, possibly downright offensive stuff. Some of them will learn. And some of them won’t. But all of them are still figuring this stuff out.

Now, to be honest, I would not have sent the kid to some posh resort with horseback riding and yoga. I would have sent him to a hippie commune with farming and yoga. That kid would spend every summer vacation until college growing his own food without a car or a credit card. He would be put in a position to learn what it is to work. And he would be a better person for it. Maybe. I also would have done the same thing with the poor black kid who ended up in prison.

But there’s a problem with this. The American justice system is not built on these principles. In fact, this sort of punishment would not serve the actual function of the American criminal justice system. What is that function you ask? It’s to maintain a hierarchical society. Couch didn’t go to prison because he’s rich. He did the same idiotic thing that the poor kid did, but because he’s rich, he didn’t go to prison. I don’t even think the judge was bribed (though I did, I admit, initially knee-jerk in that direction). I don’t think the judge needed to be bribed. Maybe he even saw a bit of himself in the boy. He saw someone of his own class (because you don’t get to be a judge without being affluent yourself).

The fact that practically the entire internet thinks this kid should be in prison like the poor black kid speaks volumes about our blood-lust society. Everyone is saying, “He should be treated as badly as me.” No one is saying, “I should be treated as well as he.” Everyone wants to drag others down. No one wants to elevate anyone.

I have a radical theory that the truly morally correct way to reduce recidivism in youth crime is to take that gang member or rich drunkard and separate them from their peer group, isolate them in a safe, comfortable place like a farm, or research station, or poor village in Africa. They will grow vegetables, help do science, or pass out food and medical aid. That is how you fix the problem. It even pads the resume rather than blemishing it.

If a person is an adult and robs a convenience store, should you put him in jail? No. You should give him an interest free loan to go to school, learn a trade, start a business, or whatever, until that person can pay back the person that he wronged. That’s how you handle crime.

But, you say, won’t that encourage crime? I don’t think it would. Poor people, by and large, commit the most crimes (excepting the mass atrocities committed by world governments or corporations). If you elevate those people, rather than send them to prison, they will stop committing crimes. Most crimes are committed out of desperation, not out of evilness. Even murders are often acts of desperate people.

The problem is that we, as a country and civilization, are more interested in punishing and degrading than we are in understanding and elevating. And it isn’t working. The statistics support this.

Couch got what was coming to him. I just want to see everyone get the same kind of punishment.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
? Nelson Mandela

Mens Rights Now!

You’ve been on the internet, right? You know what it’s like?

The internet is a weird goddamned place. If it can be thought of as a place. Have you ever heard the TED Talk about the “filter bubble“? The internet is a place where you can be exposed to literally every perspective on the planet, where there is this never-ending torrent of information and knowledge and opinion and argument at your fingertips. And yet, do you go to the internet to hear about those things? I don’t. I go to Facebook to see what my friends are up to and what stupid things they’ve been posting and then I go to Reddit to check out all the things that are being re-posted in all the same old subreddits I’ve always been subscribed to. I have about a dozen or two other websites that I check regularly, but I do not go out of my way to explore outside opinions. I never go to Fox or Stormfront, is what I’m saying.

So I see the internet as this thing that has this uncanny ability to alienate people from mainstream society while at the same time connecting them with people that they agree with. If you are fringer with fring-ey beliefs, you are going to find other people that see things the same way as you do and you will associate with them and they will make your beliefs seem normal and okay. They are going to make you feel like you’re right. They are going to reinforce those ideas and make you less likely to find flaws and reject them. No matter how fring-ey your weird ideas are, there are people who think like you. I’m talking about Alex Jones motherfuckers. I’m talking about Stormfront. I’m talking about Nazis and the KKK. I am not linking those bastards, but on your own time, you might find some of those sites interesting from a sort of anthropological perspective. The front page of the KKK’s website is particularly fascinating because it presents this bizarrely wholesome, “family-values” kind of face. Only it’s all about white supremacy…err….separatism, I guess. It’s utterly bizarre.

In particular, the movement that has been plaguing and annoying me is Men’s Rights Activists. I do not understand these people. First of all, bear in mind that MRAs do have a couple of reasonable points. Things like child custody ought to be addressed and discussed. I think in today’s cultural moment a serious discussion of what it means to be masculine–or indeed what we mean by masculinity–needs to be had, especially in response to the strides that feminism has managed to make. Do I think that there are feminists out there that maybe take things a bit too far? Absolutely. Do I think for a moment that this means that men are somehow oppressed? No way. In fact, I truly think that it’s insane to be a man, especially a white man, and somehow feel that you are being discriminated against based on your gender. Just completely insane. You cannot be in the majority–I use “majority” in the sociological sense here–and also be oppressed.

These men believe that feminists have…somehow created an atmosphere of female privilege where all women do is accuse men of rape and abuse and get sweet alimony/child-support awards and live off of men’s hard-earned money. Do these things happen? Sure. But that certainly isn’t the majority of situations. Domestic violence is most often perpetrated by men. Rapes happen all the time and more often than not go completely un-prosecuted (or just unreported).

And it’s also true that there are feminists who have an overinflated sense of the importance of femininity. But what the fuck do you expect after like ten centuries of being told that you’re inferior and suddenly realizing that you’re not?

My take on the whole MRA movement (and honestly, it is a collection of movements on a spectrum…some less absurd than others) is that it’s a bunch of entitled little boys with no girlfriends (or who have been spectacularly hurt by a specific woman) who are cherry picking extreme cases in the media to conflate and distort and revel in so that they can feel indignant.

Let’s look at this from the standpoint of reproductive advantage. There are a couple of different ways that mates can be chosen. Consider a community of chimps. Most of the time, the alpha male and his buddies get to do most of the sex, especially when the females are in heat. Chimp females have unambiguous estrus (unlike human females), so it’s fairly easy to tell when they are fertile. So during that time, they have to hang out with the jocky alpha dudes and accept their manly gifts. There are some other issues that further complicate the matter, but for the most part, this is how things are done. The males choose their mates and the females have little say in the matter.

Now, in birds, it’s almost completely the opposite. The males have a biological imperative to impress a female or he doesn’t get laid at all. He has to have the brightest feathers, build the swankiest nest, and the sing the most beautiful twittering aria to attract a female’s interest.

Human society used to be a chimp society. Alpha males chose their mates, the betas (and lower) got whatever was left over and that was that. We had things like arranged marriages (arranged by the fathers), dowries, female genital mutilation, virginity tests, and all sorts of other horrifying things. Well…we still have that in some areas of the world…a disturbingly large percentage of the world, actually.

But in America, at least, we have changed. We are now something else. But far from swinging the pendulum all way to bird society, I think we’ve become something new. Rather than a male choosing a female or a female choosing a male, I think the cultural ideal (if not the norm) is that the two choose each other. That there is a mutual attraction, mutually agreed upon and consummated and built and worked on. That’s not to mention homosexuality and polyamory, where again, I believe the ideal is a situation where all parties involved forge a relationship based on a mutual understanding between consenting adults rather than one party choosing another and forcing or manipulating the other party into a relationship.

What I think most MRAs think is that we have become the bird society. A culture under the tyranny of women, where sex is used as a tool to manipulate and abuse men and men are now an underclass with fewer rights and privileges. But that’s what happens when privilege is lost and equality becomes the norm, isn’t it? When a tax is proposed on the super-duper wealthy they talk about how it isn’t fair. Fuck you, it isn’t fair. It’s loss aversion. They don’t want to lose something that they once had. It’s nostalgia for a bygone era. It’s like reading Tennyson. It’s a bunch of mopey whiny bullshit from a bunch of crybaby men who wish they could still fuck whoever they want and take whatever they want and be secure in the knowledge that they won’t be ripped apart by the media or by society in general. The fuck of it is: odds are, they probably still can. To a great extent, that privilege still exists.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m making mountains here. I just know a few of these guys and it just seems ridiculous to me. The level of obsession exhibited by them suggests something pathological. Or at least it seems that way to me. To be fair, just about everything anyone says on Facebook seems vaguely pathological or at least mildly narcissistic. But then again, to categorically claim that all feminists are raging bigots is crazy. Isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Ein Mann muss tun, was ein Mann tun muss.

A Secular Rapture

Just to be clear, this is not a picture of Jesus. It is a picture of the Great Prophet Zarquon. And he is quoting Carl Sagan. Allow me to explain:

At the end of Chapter 18 of Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the Great Prophet Zarquon returns to his flock.

Here is what Zarquon said as he stood in front of a audience of delighted diners just as the universe was collapsing outside the time bubble:

“Hello, look, I’m sorry I’m a bit late. I’ve had a the most ghastly time, all sorts of things cropping up at the last moment. Er, how are we for time? Have I just got a min–” And so the Universe ended.

Slightly edited for convenience.

Douglas Adams is so perfect that to discuss the bit of fun, the gentle teasing that he is directing at Christianity and very idea of the Rapture that has been “nigh” for the last two thousand years, you kind of take a little away from it. I’m going to do it anyway, but there it is. He’s saying that at this point, it’s probably not ever going to happen, and we should just accept that fact. The universe is going to end at some point whether Jesus/Zarquon returns or not. This is empirically verifiable.

It is said that atheists and secular humanists do not believe in anything. That they don’t have faith in a better future in the afterlife. And in a way, there’s a point to be made there. It is a comforting thought. As long as I believe in Jesus, I can go to heaven and be deliriously happy for the rest of eternity. Awesome. Atheists look forward to what, exactly? Oblivion? Non-existence?

I would say that non-existence is certainly a step up from eternity in hell. And there doesn’t seem to be any real consensus about how it is, exactly, that one is supposed to get into heaven.

What do I have to do make you happy, God? Well, it depends largely on who you ask. God’s pretty silent about the topic, but Catholics would argue that you must confess your sins and pray to a saint to intercede on your behalf and take part in a number of sacraments and go to church like fifteen times a week. It’s really a business transaction. The business of guilt.

Calvinists say that it doesn’t matter what you do; it’s all predetermined. It is only the fear that maybe you are destined for hell that keeps you in line.

Modern protestants, I’m increasingly convinced, are insane. What does a protestant have to do to get into heaven? Nothing. All they have to do is believe in God and accept Jesus as their savior. Being a nice person doesn’t really factor into it, it seems.

Regardless, all Christians believe that someday Jesus is going to come back and sweep up all the good, believing Christians and take them up to heaven. Atheists think this is ridiculous. What, they ask, is God waiting for?

I meant that initially, to sound flippant, but the question is valid. What’s the hold-up? It’s been two thousand years since Jesus promised he was coming back and…he’s not here. It’s sort of like Groundhog Day. Humans just keep making the same stupid mistakes, killing each other, not learning their lessons, sinning, calling each other names, and it just never fucking ends. Where is Jesus? Maybe we’re supposed to learn our lesson before we can get out of the cycle. The problem is, we are actually running out of resources.

Here’s the thing. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in things. I believe people when I think they are telling me the truth. But I don’t believe in things. That’s weird. If I can observe it, I can accept it. Otherwise, there’s going to have to be a heap of circumstantial evidence. Jesus coming back is one thing that I just can’t bring myself to count on. Especially as a matter of faith.

What I want to put to you, dear friends, is that despite this, atheists still believe in a rapture. Rather, we hypothesize, that if certain conditions are met, then yes, humans will get to live in paradise for-fucking-ever.

Yeah. Here’s what we hypothesize: if humans will just figure their shit out, stop killing each other over stupid shit, start treating each other with respect and dignity no matter what they look like or who they are, and begin really throwing every conceivable resource at their disposal at science, philosophy, art, and education, eventually we will all live in an awesome futuristic, super paradise Star Trek world. We will live in a world where all our needs are met. We will be free to pursue whatever career or interest meets our fancy. We will get to fly in awesome space ships that travel faster than light. We will actually ensure that the human species (and many others besides) doesn’t go extinct. That is the Secular Rapture.

The difference between the Christian and the Secular Raptures? One requires that you not do anything and never forget that you are scum and deserve to roast in hell, and as long as you can grovel and snivel at Jesus’s feet, you will go to a place where you will be incapable of being crabby for the rest of eternity. Boring.

The Secular Rapture is something that requires hard work, a thirst for knowledge, genuine innovation, a drive to be better than we are, and some real imagination. One comes about because of God. One comes about because of us. One is beyond our control and is apparently the result of a whim from some selfish human-hating deity (and before you tell me that God loves humans because of Jesus…just shut up, I don’t buy it…he allowed us to kill his son so that we could be forgiven? That doesn’t even make a single bit of sense.). One is completely within our control and might not happen if we don’t get our collective asses in gear. And hell, it might not even happen if we do.

It might just be too late. Just like Zarquon.

Peregrinari inter sidera est mea maxima desiderium.

Lt. John Pike, the Sixth Avatar of Vishnu

Several weeks have passed since the shit went down at UC Davis.  The highlight moment, of course, was that whole thing with orange cloud of agony. Sort of the modern day Prismatic Spray.

I think the media has missed a crucial detail about this whole narrative. And I will address it presently.

First, I think it’s important to note that one of the officers, one Lt. John Pike, with his little red can has earned a certain amount of…let’s call it celebrity.  The internet at large has had a chance to digest this imagery and a consensus has emerged. The internet has judged him at once hilarious and monstrous at the same time. The internet, the place where all media is carried to its logical extreme, has taken this image and this footage and created a sort of inspiring memetic art series. Each image is more absurd than the last. Each one adds to the narrative without fully realizing the full ramifications.

This isn’t just a political thing.

First, the official narrative. If we look at this purely from the standpoint of law enforcement, the official statement is clearly false. I am not being politically biased, I am being intelligent.

The question that has been asked time and again with respect to Occupy Wall St. and the 99% movement is essentially this: has the response from authorities been appropriate to the situation?  The authorities all say “yes” but, of course, they would.  The 99%-ers say no, and I tend to agree with them. To an extent.

Look at Pike. Take a good look at this picture because this is the most important one.  Watch the video.  The justification for the pepper spray is the safety of the officers.  They supposedly felt threatened and this was the justifiable response in that situation.  To hear officials talk, the protesters should be thankful that Pike didn’t start blasting them with rubber bullets for how unruly they were.

But does his posture look like that of a threatened man?  Body language is really difficult to quantify scientifically. That is, it’s hard to quote. So after the fact, all we have is the video and the narratives handed down to us from the authorities and from anyone else that was there.

The problem is, the narrative from the authorities does not match the footage or the images. However, I am about to argue that 99%’s narrative is, while closer to the truth, still not accurate. I am going to propose a third version of the story.

Humans are, by and large, experts at reading body language, barring some sort of neurological disorder.  Most people are empathetic enough to understand when a person looks uncomfortable, angry, happy, sad, etc.

In short, we can all recognize a man casually spraying a noxious orange cloud over a bunch of spoiled college students. The media and the authorities spoon-feeding us the story that this man was somehow afraid for his life is the purest bullshit. What I mean is, anyone with half a brain can see that this guy is not feeling threatened. But, I will point out, neither does he feel glee. He takes neither pleasure nor wrath. He is showers these kids with the casual ease of a gardener spraying pesticide. A sort of beatific…peace.

This is what I want to focus on here, because a friend of mine believes, and I think I agree with him, that Lt. John Pike is very likely a heretofore unknown sixth avatar of Vishnu. Or at the very least, a Buddha, or a Bodhisattva, or a Saint or an angel (if you’re of the western persuasion).

Compare with an image of Vishnu.  Observe the way he stands in close detail.  Not only does the students’ pain mean nothing to him.  The students themselves mean nothing to him.  He cares not one whit whether you experience pain nor joy.  This is a sign of a true enlightened one.  The kids on the ground are the true sinners.  Buddha said that suffering arises from craving.  From  materialism.  Indeed, in our tableau, it is not Lt. Pike that is the sinner, but the college students.  They are the ones who are living in suffering.  The mace which is causing their suffering is symbolic of their obsession with the material world and their refusal to pursue the true enlightenment, to cast off that which causes suffering. To cast off their obsession with material wealth and gains.

He is like a Boddhisattva who has chosen not to ascend to Nirvana, opting to stay behind as a teacher.  A teacher of important lessons which issue forth from a spray nozzle.  Many have denounced Pike for a monster. But he is not. He brings knowledge and wisdom in an industrial can of pepper-spray. Indeed, his benevolence knows no limit for he has put off Nirvana specifically to convey this important wisdom to the masses. The lesson: pain is illusory. By succumbing to it, by allowing ourselves to suffer by wishing for the absence of pain, by craving, we are only distancing ourselves from the enlightenment that could be ours.

And so I believe that this is the truth that the internet has touched upon with all of the fantastically edited versions of this image. But what they say in images, I say in words. This man, Lt. John Pike, is the enlightened one. He is a prophet of a new age. And we should listen. Because he cares. He doesn’t show it, but he cares.

Ein weiser Mann schmeichelt der Narr.