Black Belts and Brown Shoes

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Humans have such highly-charged brains which has led us to accomplish some pretty amazing feats in our brief history. Space travel. Global communication. Combustible engines. Mass media.

It is equally amazing and mystifying how we waste that surging intellect on the oddest social constructs whether it’s what color shoes to wear with what belt or how no one looks each other in the eye when they’re in the elevator. There are books written on the subject of etiquette and how to avoid social miscues that draw unapproving looks from fellow hominids.

I’m fairly certain some of those odd social hang ups have some sort of survival root such as not making eye contact with strangers. Some of them though, like the belts and shoes, not wearing white pants after Labor Day and fork placement in a table setting, have no important basis. To me they are preferences that have somehow become “proper.” This is stupid of course. Many of these fabricated faux pas are things that don’t really matter in life and yet we spend so much time trying to adhere to them.

Why are we so concerned about this stuff? I woke up one morning and made a mental note of every action I took that was designed to fit some social norm. Yep, it started with my belt and shoes; then the right color of socks with my pants; then brushing my hair; then holding the door open for someone.

It’s probably that herd mentality that runs so strong in our DNA. Our survival has become irrevocably linked to social connections. We need each other to make it in this world, especially now that most people don’t know how to grow their own food or build their own shelter. Somewhere along the way though, these insignificant habits have become ingrained in that social necessity.

What’s worse is people who refuse to play along with some of these dumb rules are labeled misfits, non-conformists and abnormal. We even diagnose people with a disorder when they don’t pick up on specific social cues. We also make these social norms part of religion. Not only do we make people outcasts because they’re different, we also try to tell them that they’re going to hell too. There’s something wrong with labeling someone as diseased because they won’t make eye contact or their obsessively absorbed with a hobby or they just don’t care about matching their belts to their shoes.

To me, that’s dangerous. Criminal behavior is one thing. There are acts which work against the societal model on which our survival depends. But behaviors considered odd that have no effect on others is not the same thing. And therein lies the tragedy. What is considered different sometimes becomes anathema. We begin to judge people’s worth and abilities based on how they dress themselves. We interpret someone’s skill level with how well they fit in with others. We try to draw conclusions about each other on things that are, at the end of the day, preferences.

I firmly believe that we’re smarter than that. But yet again, this whole habit of judging based on immaterial social norms is based on one thing: mental laziness. We don’t want to think. Looking beyond someone’s appearance and odd behavior requires work. We actually have to invest time into getting to know someone and we just don’t want to do it. So we take shortcuts and pass judgment based on whether people know how to dress, use a salad fork for their salad or how neat they keep their desk.

Yes it does take a lot of energy to get to know someone and it’s not always feasible to do that with every person who crosses our path. But there is one thing we can do when it comes to dealing with people who are different: stop judging them so quickly based on superficial habits. We don’t have to take them to dinner or become their best friend. But we can reserve judgment until we’ve had time to know them and understand where they’re coming from.

We can do this because we have such high-capacity minds. Maybe it’s time that we used them.


Shot of Reason

Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized


We all know how I feel about vaccines. Vaccines do not cause autism and there is no reputable study that proves this.

A recent study released shows that campaigns intended to lure anti-vaccination parents back to the dark side of reason have backfired, turning parents who were lukewarm to the idea into total crusaders against the needle.

What bothered me about the story was not the argument of vaccination vs. anti-vaccination. It’s the core issue of people being turned off when they’re confronted with an opposing view. There was another study done in 2006 when people who considered themselves conservative were shown a fake report arguing the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They were then given a report that factually refuted false report’s claims. Did the test subjects shift their thinking? Nope. Apparently being accosted with facts only strengthened their resolve.

That’s a problem with people that has always bothered me. And this isn’t about conservative vs. progressive, science vs. God, global warming vs. Big Oil. It’s about basic logic and how our biases can so easily overpower our abilities to think straight.

I’ve touched on this before, about thinking. We become quite entrenched in our beliefs and once we reach that state, we can’t be convinced otherwise, facts be damned. We’ll result to all different types of faulty arguments to hang on to our cause, strawman logic, anecdotal evidence, sometimes just outright denial.

But why? Why do we latch on to our personal ideas and refuse to let go? The problem really boils down to one thing: laziness. That’s a dangerous combination. Considering two sides to a debate takes work. Keeping an open mind actually requires intellectual energy that we are either too lazy or too obstinate to maintain.

A closed mind requires no energy. It requires no thought process. It requires no ability to comprehend. It makes life simple because we don’t have to waste time trying to understand a different point of view.

The other danger non-thinking laziness presents is that it propagates pseudo-debates. Thanks to petroleum-funded “research” about global warming, they have managed to create a “debate” about the issue that does not exist. More than 95 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and that it’s our fault. But those who stand to lose billions and possibly trillions to CO2 emissions caps and other regulations have created an image of a two-sided issue. You don’t really need to have a debate, just the appearance of one, to confuse those who haven’t yet made up their mind. Once the undecided people find out which side they’re on politically, they gravitate in that direction and there you go, a contentious issue where there previously was none.

The anti-vaccination folk have now done the same thing and they don’t even have well-funded, contrarian research on their side. The numbers of those without vaccines are going up, as are the number of cases of preventable diseases like whooping cough.

How exactly do you solve this problem? How do you get people to stop blindly going in the direction they’ve always traveled?

It starts with one thing: thinking. But that can’t happen with a closed mind.

Internet Dunces



It’s been said so many times, by friends and newsies, that the Internet is making us dumb.

Not it’s not.

The Internet is showing us just how dumb we have always been.

Instead of using the vast connection of computers, servers and backbones for meaningful communication, it’s been relegated to pornography, social media and other pointless distractions. (Well, at least social media connects friends and family, even if it’s just banal and solipsistic updates on the variety of beer people are chugging at the bar.)

When television first came to prominence seven decades ago, it was hoped that it would be used for betterment, to educate and inform. We all know how that turned out. When given the chance, people will take a medium and turn it into some form of amusement or self-aggrandizement.

No doubt the Internet would become about entertainment. The tragedy is that it could have become primarily a way of spreading credible, valuable information. In my opinion it’s only served to spread pointless, misleading and outright false wisdom. (Not me though, I spread great wisdom)

This is all obvious of course and I sound like an old sage who walks around grumbling about what could have been. I guess I need to get over it.

The worst thing though and something that needs to be fixed, is the dangerous misinformation that spreads as true and valid. I don’t mean bringing to a halt all of the celebrity death hoaxes. I am speaking mainly of sharing information and “tips” about medical care, psychiatric therapy and homeopathic solutions for cold sores.

The paragon of false wisdom movements is the vaccine/autism issue. Though thoroughly debunked by medical science, the notion spreads because so many people get together online and talk about how much they believe they’re connected. They want to believe it because it makes sense. Autistic kids begin to show symptoms of their condition after the 12-month vaccination. They need some sort of explanation and they want commiseration despite the fact there is no correlation.

The Internet fuels all of it. There’s always been bad information out there. It’s just that now we have a way of spreading it all over the world with one hit of the ‘Return’ button.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a former journalist and sharing ideas is what I’m all about. While bloggers can be such blowhards, some of them do have insight (whether I do or not I leave to you.)

How do we separate the good information from the bad? Maybe we could start by considering the source and realizing that sometimes, knowing the origin is more important than the wisdom it provides.

Not Mine



Not long ago I saw something in the news about a village in India where men vastly outnumbered women. Seven out of 10 residents in the village are male.

I don’t want to delve into how a village got to be that way. The motivation certainly isn’t new. Societies throughout history in all corners of the world value boys more than girls and some are not afraid to weed out those pesky XX chromosomes.

The practice is despicable. It should go without saying that ALL life should be valued, not just those with a penis.

Something struck me though in the news report about the Indian village. The reporter asked one mother about her home and whether her fellow villagers understood that women are needed for a community to survive

The woman said of course families understand the serious mathematical issue with having nothing but boys, but they just don’t want the girls in their own house.

That kind of thinking has always stuck in my craw. That idea of Sure we should all make sacrifices, but not my family.

It’s just infuriating how, when we know there’s a problem, we refuse to make the necessary changes as a person and family unit to deal with it. There’s a sort of refusal to think collectively for a community rather than just your loved ones and relatives.

I watched another news report about autism and vaccines. Despite the fact there is no credible evidence of their being a link, some people insist there’s a connection. The problem is, when more and more children are not vaccinated, they affect those around them who are still susceptible to contrating those diseases.

The families who don’t vaccinate their children say they understand the problem, but they only care about their child. They would rather risk the lives of those around them than to risk their child getting autism (which again, is NOT A RISK).

A love for family is strong and that is a good thing. Homes, communities and cities are built on that simple nucleus. The beauty and tragedy of family is that it can make people who are ordinarily carefree about their own well being become emotionally committed to their loved ones. The downside to that is many take on a passive-aggressive selfishness and justify pretty despicable acts in the name of but not my family.

The solutions to all of our problems must start with the individual, then the family, then community and then society. We must realize that while our families are paramount in our lives, we all still share the same communities. The condition of that community affects the condition of family.

If we don’t learn to start with ourselves and ours, nothing will ever change and our societal ills will grow worse.

I have a young daughter. It is my mission to ensure she has a good, productive life. Part of that goal is keeping her in a community where that’s possible.

Science War


For whatever reason, everyone these days up and down the political spectrum, are denying science. There is no regard for how much research scientists do in certain fields. Global warming, evolution, DNA, vaccines.

Evolution is just a theory. Global warming isn’t real. Vaccines cause autism. Voluminous amounts of pages are produced about these subjects but the public will eyeball the entirety of the discipline and deny it.

I think the problem is, as it always is in cases of misunderstanding, human nature. Anything that tells us something we don’t want to hear, we don’t want to believe. Take global warming, neutralized lately by deniers as “climate change,” 99 percent of climatologists have pretty much agreed that our spinning rock is getting hotter. They also agree that human activity is to blame. We use too much fossil fuels. We create too much emissions. It traps heat on the planet. Ice cores. Data modeling. It’s all there.

But, unfortunately, global warming is a commentary on our lifestyle. We are mobile animals but it comes at a cost to our surroundings. We don’t really want to believe it’s true. Fixing it requires us to change a fundamental part of our mobile structure. What are we going to do? Ride bikes? Build miles and miles of electric rail? Walk? Electric cars?

Not in this life. So what do we do? Pretend it isn’t happening? Nope. Worse. We attack the very research which proves consistently that there’s a problem.

That is the tragedy of science today. It is a whole ideology based on empirical facts and an ethic that the basis of a theory can change with discovery. It’s all about what can be perceived by senses.

But people process science like they process religion. It’s all about belief. Because people don’t understand the science behind theories, they turn to faith instead. That creates a tendency. Much like religion, people believe in something that brings them some kind of positive feeling. Saying that our driving a car is destroying our comfy world is not warm fuzzy.

I have discovered that people’s “belief” in science is often proportionate with how much they benefit by it.

Nobody questions medicine, homogenized milk or the combustible engine. But when you say the sky is getting warmer and pollution levels are high, people get defensive.

More on this.