Dr. J. Clarence Thompson shuffled thorough his unfolded shirts. He glanced at the clock. “Crap!” he muttered, “I’m going to be late. Next time, I’m going to put my shirts away so I know where to find the one I want.”
He muttered to himself a lot since he had been “retired” from his job teaching topology at nearby Kansas State University. “Damn. I’m going to be late for my tee time. Maybe I should call…hold on. Here we go.” At last Dr. J. Found the green and gold Hawaiian shirt he had been looking for. Some of his other golf shirts restricted his movements. He had enough trouble staying in the fairway. “What the hell? What’s with this shirt.”
Let me explain. Dr. J. Had a habit of removing his shirts so that at least one, and sometimes both sleeves were inside out. This time though, the shirt was twisted in some very odd way. Like the whole shirt was inside out inside one of the sleeves which was itself inside out.
“This kind of crap always happens when you’re in too much of a damned hurry. I should have just gotten up earlier. Or, skipped breakfast. But that never works. What the hell is wrong with this shirt?”
Without really meaning to, he scrunched his eyebrows together and clenched his teeth. He hated being late for a tee time. He snorted ruefully. “Shouldn’t really be that hard for a topology professor. Ex-professor,” he reminded himself. “This is ridiculous. The shirt…Okay…the sleeve is inside the shirt but he shirt is inside the sleeve that the…Hey, Jenni…Oh, crap.”
He had promised himself to stop talking to his deceased wife. Or, to use her name any more than necessary. Every time he thought of her, it pained him. Stupid skiing accident. He pursed his lips together tightly. She liked golf. At least that’s a safe sport. You don’t break your neck running into a tree.
Dr. J. thought back to a time he had landed in the woods a few yards off the fairway. He had decided to try hitting the ball toward the hole rather than taking the easy way out and chipping it out onto the fairway. A wasted shot, he had thought. Instead of streaming through the small gap, the golf ball had hit a tree and whizzed back inches from his head. He now lay 40 yards farther from the hole. But he tried it one more time with exactly the same result. Finally, he had “taken his medicine” and chipped out into the fairway. Triple bogey despite some nice putting on the green.
“All right then. Let’s take this one step at a time. I pull the sleeve out this way…and … WHAT?!”
Dr. J. stared at where his left hand should be. It. Was. Not. There. But…there was no blood. “How could there be? I haven’t cut himself. But where the hell is my hand!? Call 911? And say what? They’ll put me in the looney bin for sure. It doesn’t feel like my hand is gone. But maybe it is a phantom limb phenomenon. No. It can’t be gone.”
He snapped his fingers. He felt his fingers snapping. But there was no sound. “There!” he shouted joyously. “I hear it. But…how can it take that long for the sound to get here.”
“I need a beer. Jennifer? Can you… oh crap, that’s right. Stupid skiing accident. Damn her! How could you be so thoughtless?! Beer? I need whiskey. I will pull my hand out with my other hand. Then, I will call Carl and tell them I can’t make it. Twisted my ankle. I’m not going to tell them about … this. I just need to calm down and think this through. What is that damned racket? No wonder I can’t think straight.”
In the background, CNN was interviewing some random “man on the street” and Mister Random was saying: “He’s the only politician who tells it like it is. He doesn’t pretend to be all politically correct. You know? He’s truthful.”
The reporter put the mike near his own mouth and asked, “How do you know he’s truthful?”
“He’s told us! He told us to watch out for — no offense — but you work for the fake news! You guys are all liars. He’s the only source of truth. It’s refreshing.”
Dr. J. glanced at the TV and saw the reporter trying hard not to let his feelings show on his face as he asked again, “And the way you know he tells the truth is that he says he tells the truth?”
Dr. J. had long ago discovered that when you were absolutely stuck in solving a problem, that it often helped to think about something completely different for a few moments. He shook his head at the hapless fool being interviewed on TV. A vivid picture formed itself in Dr. J.’s imagination. He saw a large orange “picture” of a Klein’s Bottle. Of course, it wasn’t really a picture, just a children’s illustration. Of course, the “logic” of the interviewee wasn’t really a Klein’s Bottle. It was simply a circle that fed itself forever. The hapless fan had no more idea how foolish his circular reasoning was than the eddy at the end of an oar worries about … well … anything. Water doesn’t worry. It is being pushed about by external forces. In the same way, this “fan” had been manipulated into going in a circle. Dr. J. recalled an illustration in a Scientific American article he had read about ants following pheromone trails. Normally, the ants coordinated marvelously with each other and found their way home without a hitch.
But you could turn them into a death cult. Lay a circular trail of pheromones and the ants would follow each other in a circle until they starved to death.
“Okay, enough of that. Back to the problem at hand.” Dr. J. had begun muttering to himself again. “How do I get my hand out? Maybe if I reach in … like so … from the other side.”
Carl had worked hard to convince the rest of his threesome to come with him. Carl was popular but Dr. J. was difficult for most people to deal with. But they did come, because, as Carl explained, we look out for each other at this age. It wasn’t like Dr. J. to simply forget about their regular Thursday early tee time and not even call. There was no knock at the door, but the apartments at Happy Acres afforded only a few places to hide an extra key. Carl opened the door. Something, he was sure, was amiss. But what?
They searched the apartment and found no note, no hint of where he had gone. Carl also noted that Dr. J. had left the thermostat set at 72. He would never leave it that hot when he was out and about.
After an hour’s search, they called the police who very politely explained that if they wanted to file a missing person’s report, they could, but that, in his experience, the person always turned up shortly and most of the time, they turned up alive. Not always, but almost always. In any case, police policy forbid them from searching for him or indeed, doing any real investigative work for 24 hours.
Carl excelled at being persuasive. After all, he had been in the 100 percent club his entire career at Megamax. But he could not move the police officer into action. He put down the phone and realized he had no idea what to do either. He felt sure something was wrong, but he couldn’t really put his finger on anything in particular. Dr. J’s house looked as it always did. It did seem odd, come to think of it, the way that shirt is all folded in on itself.
“Hey, guys, come take a look at this weird shirt.”
Ben put a very serious look on his face and said, “That’s it! He’s in the pocket of his own shirt!”
Then, he and Avram began laughing uproariously.
Carl joined in the fun himself. But he still persisted. “Okay, okay, very funny. But it — I mean if you were going away for a week or two, would you leave your shirt lying on the floor, all twisted up like this?”
Ben chuckled. He could see a great opportunity to ham it up. And in the process, he’d jolly Carl out of being worried over nothing.
“Yeah, here, I’ll solve the mystery. The mystery of the twisted shirt! Watch this folks! I, Ben Sherlock, will place my hand into what appears to be an ordinary shirt!”
That turned out to have been a huge mistake. As were all the successive rescue attempts.
When Mr. Ted Chews screams “FREEDOM!!” In his attempt to sound ferocious and therefore uses his most big-boy voice he can muster, be assured, he is not talking about your freedom. He is not talking about freedom at all. He is talking about power and license. For him.
The thing Chews finds attractive about his idol is not the Golden Calf’s competence and certainly not his (non-existent) compassion, nor fair-mindedness. Mr. Chews has no illusions about that. He knows Trump’s a monster. But he’s a monster that promises that old white dudes like Ted himself will be able to have it all and take it all if he becomes dictator.
The fact that Trump seemingly never has to suffer any consequences for his many serious and petty crimes is a proof point! Ted figures: “If someone as stupid and inept and uneducated as Trump can get away with anything, then, I sure as hell can! I’m twice as smart and four times as educated. And younger! And, speaking of younger, if I play my cards right, and support T-Rump, either I’ll get picked when he drops dead right before the convention or — I’ll get picked as his VP and he’ll die soon after he takes office. And hell, he’d only have at most, five years as dictator. I will have decades and decades to suck every ounce of wealth, and enjoyment out of America and funnel it to myself! Why the hell not!! Rules don’t mean anything! Laws don’t mean anything! All that matters is power for power’s sake! And I will have it all.”
Rest assured, when Mr. Chews screamed “FREEDOM!!” he was screaming about his own license to do whatever the hell he wanted to whomever the hell he wanted to do it to.
Teddy Boy, of course, is not the first person to have come up with this idea. Nor was Donald Drumpf. It’s a compelling idea partly because there is a part of nearly everyone that can relate. You want things for yourself! You do. I do. Nearly everyone does. But there’s another part of nearly everyone that has to do with caring, with love, with empathy. And, if we are adults, we also realize that if we act like a$$holes all the time, it encourages others to do the same and we will all end up in a much worse place. And, even if you can’t see that, you can at least hopefully see that there will be real consequences if you act like a selfish a$$hole all your life.
That is true for nearly everyone in the society. However, if you happen to be an absolute dictator, two of these constraints on your behavior are lessened. First, since you control the laws and the press, you will suffer no consequences from the law. While it is true that your actions will make the entire society crappy, that crappiness will fall hardest on those with the least power. So, although everyone will be worse off (except the dictator) in a dictatorship, those with some power will enjoy mistreating those “beneath” them and that gives them some sort of sick pleasure. Meanwhile, of course, they’ll be getting mistreated themselves by those with more power. Everyone is held rigidly in place and does not want to take a risk, reveal bad news, speak truth to power, try anything creative. It is quite literally making a prison of the entire nation. You think not? Why do countries prevent their own law-abiding citizens from leaving? (Putting aside PANDEMIC-related reasons; barriers to emigration predate that).
The only thing that would keep a dictator from doing incomparable horrors is empathy. But if you were strong on empathy, you wouldn’t even be interested in being a dictator.
“So, what exactly is the deal here? I mean is this for real? I thought all this was just BS — takes on to know one as they say so I figured it was all a put-on. Really. But this is cool. So where to? Again, what’s the deal? Time is money so they say.”
The huge back lit figure answered in a golden voice. Now, I realize people say this about singers, but this was not just metaphorically golden. Molten glowing gold actually formed the speech sounds sweetly and flawlessly. “Where do you think you deserve to be?”
“Well….I mean, sure I did some pretty gross stuff. Lied a lot. That’s what I’m best known for. But bullying too. Yeah. Cruelty. Sure. Like everybody. You know. And the rape stuff? Total bull$hit. They wanted it! Afterwards, you know how women are. They have second thoughts. Or, sure they fought but they were small and I was strong. That’s what we guys do, right? That’s what God does, right? Takes advantage of his superior strength to get what he wants.”
There was no response from the radiant being except to repeat the same question.
“Where do you think you deserve to be?”
“Well…I mean it’s not for me to say, right? But a good place. The best place. I mean, sure I may have made a few miss…no, no, I never made a mistake. It was all good. Everybody was always out to get me. People say I was born rich in one of the richest cities in one of the richest states of the richest nation in history.
“Like that makes my life easy. People don’t realize how hard it is to be rich in America, especially if you’re a white male. Which…by the way, what the hell color are you? You don’t look white but you don’t look black and you don’t look brown. You’re kind of yellow. Are you a Chinaman? No. No. But you’re all colors. You’re not any kind of ,,, I did Okay considering how put upon I was by circumstances beyond my control.”
As we look on to this odd scene, you and I must admire the patience of the ever-vibrant radiant spirit as the words were once again intoned in the sound made from the brightest golden sunset on a gently rippling lake. The sound was the buzzing of the bees; the splashing of the fish; the murmur of the breeze-blown trees; the distant laugh of a child. It was all of those and more but it was also these perfectly rational and appropriate words.
“Where do you think you deserve to be?”
“In the best possible place of course! The very best! I’m the best person ever! So, I should have the best place ever.”
Now, the voice tone modulated. It was still the coo of a baby and the purring of a cat and the screeing of the eagle and the bubbling of river. Yet, in the distance you could hear the screech of brakes; sirens blaring; dogs barking. It was still the most golden voice either of us has ever heard.
“Then you shall have it! The absolute best! Just for you!”
He awoke confused. He thought to himself, “I must have blacked out. That’s it. What was happening? Oh, yeah. Now I remember. All that stuff was true. What a kick. And, I … I conned the big guy! I conned the big guy! I made him think I deserve to be in the best place and here I am. I gotta go tell any other … any body who’ll hear … how I …what the hell? What?”
Now he voiced his self talk —- first as a whisper — but ending in a shout.
“Where the hell am I? There’s been a mistake! I’m supposed to be in the best place. That’s not a small concrete cell!! What’s going on?! I deserve to know the truth!!”
In such a damp, dank, and dismal place, the honeyed booming resonant voice of the radiant energy seemed out of place and uncomfortable. Chopped, curt, cutting the words:
All was silence except for the echoes of the screams. The screams rebounded. He poked his fingers into the cinder block. It wasn’t cinder block! He could stick his fingers in it. It felt…like spider webs or bread dough. What the hell is this stuff? I can’t go through it … but it isn’t hard. It feels like … like snot.
He screamed for a time. (Well, actually for all time. After all, there wasn’t much else to do.)
“I’m encased in a huge bubble of snot! That’s not the best there is on offer! He lied! Lied to me! Lies!
“That’s what I’m encased in: Lies. These are my lies. That’s the thick bubble of snot I’m in. And, they were my favorite part of me too.”
Then…POOF! … just like that, the golden light blew out and was replaced with a large dark cloud.
Ted found himself all alone on an island. All about him, the roar and crackle of the storm made it hard to orient himself. The rain, if it could even be called ‘rain’ tore at his skin so hard, it was as though his fancy dress shirt and tailored pants didn’t even exist. “This must be hail,” he muttered to himself. The sound of his words were blown away by the gale before they even reached his own ears.
“Where in God’s green earth am I? How did I get to this forsaken island? I must have fallen and smacked my head. I don’t know where I am or how I got here.”
Some of the neurons in Ted’s brain whispered that they knew. Some even half-raised their hands, much as a shy third grader in a new class might when he or she was the only one who thought they knew the answer. But Ted had spent a life-time lying to himself. He was pretty damned good at by now. So, the neurons, just shook their virtual heads, put down their timid hands, avoided looking at any of the other neurons.
Ted began to shiver violently. He realized he was cold…damned cold! Starting a fire was completely out of the question, but maybe there was shelter somewhere on this Godforesaken isle. At last, he found two rather large rocks and wedged himself between then to wait out the storm.
The rain, or hail, or sleet or whatever it was splattered everywhere. His clothes, despite the absurdly high price he had paid, seemed completely useless at holding any warmth. He closed his eyes and tried to understand how the hell he had gotten here. He thought back. It seemed a million years ago.
“Okay. Okay. I was on my yacht. It was actually a sunny day. No sign of a storm. Fairly calm seas. Isn’t there a saying about calm before the storm? But…? I was lying on the deck. And … and what’s her name was beside me. Susie or Sue or Susan or something like that. We had just done it and I was enjoying a martini. Yes. A martini. Nice and cold. And then…? And then I finished my first martini and was going to get a second. Sue or whatever — she asked — no I asked. I’m a nice guy. I asked her if she’d like one. She said, no, but she’d like a glass of red wine. Merlot if I had it.
I sighed. “We’re drinking martinis.” That should have been obvious to her, but she was too stupid to notice what I wanted I guess. I told her it was cold vodka or nada. I thought that was pretty clever because it kind of rhymed. But she again asked for wine. Now, if the whole crew had been on board, sure. I’d have one of them open a bottle. But it was just the two of us. I said, “I can’t be bothered.” Thing is, I didn’t even know where the damned corkscrew was. My chicks liked hard liquor like I did.
Ted frowned. He realized, he didn’t really know what they liked. He just assumed they liked martinis. Who wouldn’t? But then, he tried to recall what had happened? He had gone below to get another martini. He thought back. It was a smooth walk to the freezer. No storm. She yelled something down to him, but he couldn’t remember what it was. Anyhow, it didn’t matter. But there was no storm. Not then. And why didn’t Suzie join him on the island? Where the hell was she? She must have been blown overboard. For that matter, where is my damned yacht? Merde! Talk about a bad day. I lost my lay and my boat. He gritted his teeth in anger.
Just as well. If Sally were here she would undoubtedly be blaming me for this hellish weather. It just blew up out of nowhere. “It’s not my fault!” he told the universe firmly. Ted snorted. It felt good to say that so he said again, but louder.
“It’s not my fault! You hear that, universe? Screw you! And put me back on my yacht!”
Ted pictured the yacht in his head. An image came to mind of a safety beacon. He wondered how it worked. He had always let André take care of it. What had André once said? “You really should learn ow zees work.” Ted recalled snorting as he shot back, “I can’t be bothered.”
“Concentrate you A-hole,” he said to himself and tried to recall what happened next. But it made no sense. I had just opened the fridge to get the vodka. Vavoom! And just like that, the whole frigging boat had … disappeared. Or, at least disappeared for Ted. He opened the door and the refrigerator light must have gone incandescent. Like a giant flashbulb. Maybe a freak storm came up and lightning struck and that explains the bright light. I was shocked. That’s all. Electricity knocked me out. So, I fell down, hit my head and I must have been shipwrecked. And while I was unconscious, I dreamed about some weird dude being there talking to me about my life. He had promised to look into my “case” as he called it in my dream.
“Concussion” Ted said to himself. “I must have suffered a concussion. It’s that damned Susan’s fault. If she just would have been okay with a martini like me, none of this would have happened.”
Several of Ted’s neurons cast sidewards glances at each other. None dared speak aloud though. Ted had long ago beaten the crap out of all his truth-teller neurons. He tried to think back to what this imaginary dude had said. The chattering of his teeth made it hard to concentrate. But the dude’s name was some weird made-up rock-and-roll name like ‘Saint Peter.’
“Yeah,” muttered Ted. “He said he would look into my case. And then he said: ‘I can’t be bothered.’ What the hell kind of a thing is that to say?”
The words for some insane reason echoed in his brain. Whenever the crazies at his club had asked why he never wore as mask, he’d always looked at them like they were garden slugs and said, “I can’t be bothered.”
Ted turned and craned his neck to look out through a small gap in the rocks toward the sky. No sign of clearing.
It looked to Ted very much as though this storm would last forever.
For once, Ted was right.
Saint Peter had thought about reviewing his case. But he just couldn’t be bothered.
One way to mis-frame a problem is to use your own cultural framing when you are in another cultural context. Of course, most of us recognize that different languages are spoken in different places. Communication is much more time-consuming and error-prone when you are speaking different languages. But the frameworks that we use can also be different and those can be more subtle.
The first time I visited Japan, around 1977, I had spent some time learning something of the Japanese language before arriving. I had had some experience learning French and a bit more learning German. As a native speaker of English, when you learn a German word or a French word, you can generally find cognates in your own native language for most German or French words. I find that helps me recall the German or French word.
For instance, my first word as a child was supposedly “Moon.” In German, “the moon” is “der Mund.” The vowel sound is very close to that in the English “moon” so it’s fairly easy to remember. In French, “the moon” is “la lune” which sounds very similar to “the moon” but is also related to the English words “lunar”, “lunacy” (people used to believe too much time in the moonlight could drive you crazy” “lunette” (an architectural space shaped like a half moon), etc.
These similarities are not surprising because English grew out of the Germanic Anglo-Saxon but was heavily influenced after the Norman Conquest of 1066 by French. Typically, English has words related to both the French word for something and the German word. For example, in English we have the word “hand” which is similar to the German “die Hand” and we have the words “manual,” “maintain,” and “manicure” which are similar to the French for “le main.”
In fact, this duality is so common, that if you happen to know that the German word for “the forest”is “der Wald” (which is like “the woods”) then you can be fairly certain that the French word will be similar to “forest” and indeed we have “la forêt” in French. Or, if you happen to know that the French word for the English “the foot” is “le pied” (which is similar to “pedicure” and “podiatrist”) you can guess that the German word will be close to “the foot” and, indeed, it is “der Fuß.”
When it comes to Japanese, however, these kinds of mind games are not possible. In a few cases, foreign words have been adopted by Japanese. “Coffee” for example is “kōhī” but apart from a few such cases, you won’t be able to use your knowledge of Indo-European languages to much advantage in learning Japanese.
If you enter a “Restaurant” in Berlin or a “Restaurant” in Paris, you will not only see many English words, you will be almost certainly following the same “script” for how things happen at a restaurant in England, American, Australia, or Canada. You go in. You are typically greeted near the door by a host or hostess. You are shown to your table. You are given a menu. You order off the menu. Your meal is brought to you; you eat; you get a bill; you pay your bill. You leave.
When I went to have my first breakfast in Japan, I went with dictionary in hand. I knew I had not come anywhere close to learning enough of the language to manage on my own. But what I had not counted on was that the “script” for eating in that particular restaurant was quite different from what I was used to in America.
I went in, and sure enough, I was greeted by my host. “Ohayōgozaimasu” which basically means “Good morning.” She didn’t seem to be in any hurry to show me to my table, however, so I began to walk past her and find a table on my own. She again said, “Ohayōgozaimasu!” But, this time, she said it, a little more insistently; indeed, she moved as though to block my entry. I checked my little Japanese guidebook and again said, “Ohayōgozaimasu!” I said it a bit more enthusiastically and distinctly this time, sure that I had mispronounced it slightly and that was causing some confusion. I moved to walk past her and this time she once again said “Ohayōgozaimasu!!’ She bracketed this with some other things that were not in the guidebook and that I did not understand. And, this time, there was no mistaking it. She was actually blocking me from entering the restaurant!
Two things occurred to me. First, I must not have said “good morning” correctly. Second, I must have said “good morning” without being sufficiently polite. I tried again, this time, being sure to bow to her and she had bowed to me.
No. Something else was going on.
Eventually, she explained to me with Japanese and gestures that there was a completely different script in play. Here, you were supposed to go in where the hostess greeted you and then you were meant to immediately pay the price of breakfast. In return, you receive a wooden token. You walk in, choose your own place to sit, and display your wooden token on the table conspicuously. Then, at some point, your breakfast arrives. You eat your breakfast and then you leave. When do you order? You do not order at all, because everyone has the same breakfast!
Next time you find yourself confused by what is happening, you might consider that you are playing a part in a very different script.
By the way, a traditional Japanese breakfast is probably my very favorite breakfast. Yes, I love pancakes. Yes, I love bacon and eggs. But, I not only love eating a Japanese breakfast. I love how I feel afterwards: satisfied, clean, healthy, and not sluggish from being overfed. What is shown in the photo below is close to what I had. The main difference is that I was given a raw egg, not tamago. As recently as 1977, raw eggs did not presumptively have salmonella.
You may or may not ever have the pleasure of visiting Japan. If you do, I can pretty much guarantee that you make some sort of cultural faux pas. If you do, you may or may not realize it, because, generally speaking, Japanese are polite and will cut you more slack than if someone brought up in Japan did as you did.
And, speaking of guaranties, I would be surprised if you did not at some point find yourself not understanding the “language” of those you were working with who came from a different background or discipline. Sure, some words will be similar. Others won’t. And the worst will be words that are spelled and sound the same but in fact refer to different concepts. For example, in my field, psychology, the word “reinforcement” has a very specific meaning that is similar but distinct from its daily usage. The word “force” in physics means something quite different and more objectively measurable that the “force” of an argument or my using “force” to get my way.
Even more subtle traps, some inadvertent, arise because people you collaborate with may have different cultures. In my research roles, for example, it came to pass that I had occasion to interact with people with a business background. In some cases, I was asked to present a “business case” to show how a product or research program would have a good ROI. They wanted me to mathematically “prove” an idea financially worthwhile.
Only they did not really want a “mathematical proof” in the sense that a mathematician (or a research psychologist) means “mathematical proof.” Of course not! How could they. They want reasonable assumptions with some back up and a plausible story, laced with math, that can be used to support their decision to their management. If I had a “mathematical proof” that they could not understand, they would be unable to use it with their management. Partly, this is a case of a word meaning different things, but more, it is a story about two different cultures.
Business propositions can never be proven to be wise ahead of time. Unlike the frictionless plane of the physicist or the “controlled lab experiment” of the psychologist, or the well-defined axiomatic system of the mathematician, actual business outcomes can be impacted by a huge number of unpredictable factors; e.g., weather, legal actions, public relations disasters, etc. In addition, a scientist usually has a longer time-frame in mind. While the business decision maker only needs to explain or persuade a layer or two of management who will typically spend less time and have less expertise than the presenter, the scientist must be prepared to present her or his work to the most brilliant and experienced people in the field.
These and other natural differences between “business thinking” and “science thinking” lead to different cultures. In 1977, when I visited my colleagues in Japan who worked in Human-Computer Interaction, I felt more akin to them while talking about computing than I did to my next door neighbors back home who worked in sales or construction.
Two very different things. But perhaps they are different only in the very short term.
When you try to do something that benefits you in some practical way, for best results, use empathy for best results.
If you are a farmer and eat your own breakfast first, you’ll feel sluggish and you will not be so tuned in to your animals. Sometimes, you might not even do it till much later in the day — when you get around to it. When you feel like it. And sometimes, you won’t feel like it at all. And, the animals might go hungry. But what the hell? They’re just animals, after all.
Feed them a little less. Feed them a little more irregularly. They’re only animals, after all.
You may think you are being “practical” but are you? Are you really? Is it so hard to see that caring — really caring about your animals will tend to keep them healthier and easier to deal with?
Maybe the same thing could be said for the animal in you. Is it possible that sometimes you get so busy with things that you forget to eat right or get enough exercise or take enough time to pet your cats or tell your loved ones that they are your loved ones? Of course, there are emergencies where you do have to go without sleep, or food, and maybe you cannot even see your friends. But is your whole life really just one long emergency? Do the sirens ever stop blaring? Do the drums of war ever stop beating?
My mother’s father and my mother’s mother were both brought up on farms. Many people lived on farms back then.
My grandfather was practical, and empathic. He was an engineer. He was also an artist.
He worked hard. And so did my dad. But neither of them felt obligated to work until well into the evening and take work-related phone calls on the weekends.
Things change. I get that. But are we so busy making a living that we forget to make a life?
Think about it. Some life-forms, like us, move through space. Other life-forms, like redwoods don’t walk about the forest. (Only ents do that!). But, internally, they move all the time. And, over a larger time scale, they move through a larger scale of space. But insects, trees, humans, fish — we all have phases.
When it comes to humans, the first nine months are a whirlwind of change! Perhaps, part of the reason we can “get away with” such a fast sequence of transitions is that we follow a modification of an evolutionary pathway. (Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny).
An evolutionary pathway is highly constrained as compared with what humans can produce. We can build an automobile-producing plant that produces finished automobiles that “work.” But at almost every point before that final assembly, the car doesn’t “work” at least as a car. Some hunks of metal, I suppose could serve as a doorstop. When it comes to life though, every single generation has to have some survivors. You can’t “invest” so much in one generation that the next one goes extinct. Well, you can, but if you do, your strain, species, etc. will die out.
Life, of course, is extremely diverse! There is life in Antarctica. And there is life in the Sahara Desert. Life flourishes in the Brazilian rain forest, and the jungles of Hawaii and the Outer Banks of the Carolinas and the Canadian tundra and even in boiling sulphur springs in the ocean depths at pressures that would crush you or me!
Every single one of these life forms has phases.
Let that sink in.
Life forms in all these absurdly diverse environments has found it “necessary” to go through phases.
When I consider human beings, it seems clear that we not only go through phases of a biological nature. We also go through phases in our subjective life and in our behavior. The two are related of course. When we’re born, unlike most species, we have very little clue as to how we are to behave vis a vis others of our species.
Very soon, we are (hopefully) bonded through love with our parents, siblings, and others. But at young age, there is no reasonable expectation that we will do the “right thing” or “be considerate” of others. Very young children are capable of empathy. But they’re also capable of rage or behaving in a rigid, self-defeating way and stubbornly stick to it.
In America, people are not deemed fully responsible to vote until they are 18, or drink alcohol until they are 21, or drive a car until they are at least 16. It isn’t that people are physically incapable of voting, or driving, or drinking at a much earlier age. It is that we realize it is necessary to learn from experience that it is better for everyone, including you, but also including people you care about.
Most people, myself included, “try out” some pretty selfish behavior in their early teens. And, most people, myself included, learn from these experiences, that it’s far better to be decent. Eventually, you discover that things like the “Golden Rule” actually make a lot of sense. As inconvenient as it may seem at first, as there are more and more people in the world, we have to make more and more accommodations to others.
Our bodies change over time. There are “phases” at long time scales as we go from infancy to childhood to puberty to adulthood to old age. There are phases at shorter time scales as we go from hunger to satiation and wakefulness to sleep. There are phases at still shorter time scale as we breathe and have our hearts beat.
We have both cyclical and non-cyclical phases. Hunger, breathing, and sleep are cyclical. Our height however grows in one direction for most of our lives and then, in old age, we may shrink slightly.
Our psychological maturity generally grows in one direction, but we can “revert” to an earlier phase of life. If we identify with a sociopath who has never learned how to trust and be trustworthy and who refuses to be fair or follow rules, then we too become as a child. Ironically, as psychological toddlers, we will insist on our rights ever more strongly even as we refuse to take any responsibility.
A nation of toddlers only will not long survive.
Trump refuses to take any responsibility for his actions in inciting a riot. He’s a toddler.
Trump’s followers who stormed the Capitol point their fingers at Trump. They are toddlers.
The lawyers who are charged with “defending” Trump give up because it’s too hard. So instead, they lie and use fallacious reasoning or no reasoning at all. They are toddlers.
The GOP Senators who don’t even pay attention to the trial are toddlers as well.
Those GOP Senators who refuse to take their oath of office seriously and who hand their souls and minds over to Trump for his personal use are Toddlers who are deluded into thinking they can hold on to power this way. They have no power. They are slaves of Trump.
They say “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
But I can guarantee you that a political party of toddlers with no adult supervision will vote for candy over healthy food no matter how many teeth fall out.
Please do not quote or summarize or repeat what the likes of Ted Crews, Minorlee Greene, or #MoscowMitch say. Their words mean nothing. They have worked to overthrow our democracy. They are not interested in fair trials. They are not interested in the rule of law. They are not interested in fair elections. They are not interested in taking their oath of office seriously.
They are interested in one and only one thing: power. They want power in order to line their own pockets and decide what other people can do in their private lives. They have zero interest in governing, solving America’s problems, or listening to what liberals, Democrats, Independents or experts have to say.
Yes, they vibrate their vocal cords. Yes, they move their lips and jaws to form sounds that remind people of actual words. But their words mean nothing.
Their word means nothing.
When they take a solemn oath to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, they don’t mean it.
When they take an oath to have a fair trial, they don’t mean it.
When they say that a Supreme Court Justice should not be confirmed during the last year of a President’s term, they don’t mean it.
When they say that tax reductions for the rich will benefit everyone, they don’t mean it.
When they say that they think the attempted coup and the attack on the Capitol was despicable, they don’t mean it.
They don’t mean anything they say.
They bark and snarl and whine and, I grant you, it sounds a lot like actual words.
But it’s different. They use these barks that sound like words only trying to lie, cheat, steal from Americans and to confuse enough voters and donors to get votes and money in order to stay in power.
In America, we have a long tradition of trying to be “fair” to “both sides” of a debate, discussion, campaign, election, etc. And, given that you have two sides playing by the rules, that is a great tradition. But if only one side is playing by the rules and the other side subverts and avoid the rules, that is no longer a relevant tradition.
If two sides are both arguing in good faith based on facts, then presenting those facts with various analogies and analyses in order persuade people that their plan, position, or platform is superior, it is good to make sure people hear both sides or all sides of those arguments in order to make a better-informed decision. That’s fine.
But if one side is telling the truth and one side makes up stuff out of thin air, it is not the duty of the media to repeat both sides. If one side is using words in order to destroy our democracy, it is not the duty of the media to repeat both sides. If one side is on board with a Crime Family and pushing for an absolute dictatorship, it is not the job of the media to repeat their lies.
When a patient has cancer, the ethical doctor limits treatments to those treatments that kill the cancer cells or improve the health of their patient. They don’t give medicine in “fair proportion” — giving equal doses to those treatments that help the patient and those treatments that help the cancer cells.
When a general leads his troops in a war, he or she doesn’t go out of his way to make sure the enemy has just as much ammunition as their own troops so they can have a “fair fight.” They call in air support to bomb the enemy. They don’t ask their bombers to be sure to they are dropping shells equally on both sides.
The likes of Ted Cruise, #MoscowMitch, and all the other Trumputinists who tried to overthrow our government by refusing to certify the election; the likes of Trumputinists who attend a trial and snub the entire process of prosecuting the most egregious campaign of actions that any President has taken in the entire history of the nation are not involved in true debate, true discussion, true dialog, or true governing.
They are interested in one thing: power. And they will do anything and everything to get that power — including overthrowing the duly elected government through violence.
Repeating the lies of violence-loving traitors is not part of the duty of the media.
You might think that it is okay so long as you add the tag line that what they say is contested or even a lie. Sadly, however, that doesn’t really do the trick. Once the lie is presented to people enough times, it will “stick” in some people’s memory. (See this post about the “primacy effect” in human memory).
What betrayal of trust in all of American history rivals the relentless campaign of lies, conspiracy theories and violence perpetrated by Trump and supported by disingenuous, treasonous Trumputinists? There is nothing close. Presenting the so-called opinions, views, musings, thoughts, etc. of the Trumputinists is not the duty of the media any more than it is to repeat the delusional lies of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, or Kim Jong-un.
We are not having a dialog, or a debate, or a discussion, or a contest with Trumputinists. They want to destroy our country. Don’t be fooled into pretending to have a debate with them. This is an attack on our country every bit as much as the sacking of the Capitol by the British in the War of 1812. Trumputinism is an attack on America every bit as much as Pearl Harbor. Trumputinism is an attack on America every bit as much as were those who flew planes into the World Trade Towers.
As I mentioned before, one of my part-time jobs during my Senior year in college was as a teaching assistant at the Supplementary Educational Center (SEC) in Cleveland. In addition to actual teaching, I did a variety of other chores as well including erecting and painting walls, setting up lighting, putting up NASA exhibits, etc. One of the worst tasks I was assigned was putting a straight pin into each one of a billion variously colored squares of construction paper.
No, there weren’t really a billion. It just seemed that way. I sat at a desk with a very large pile of these 3” x 4” pieces of paper on my left and a large supply of straight pins straight ahead. I picked up a rectangle of paper, picked up a pin and poked it through in two places so that friction held the pin in place. Then I placed it in a pile on my right. I picked up another piece of paper and did the same thing. Again. And again. After awhile, I looked down and noticed that there was a large pile of these pinned pieces of paper on my right — and none left undone on the right. But I only “noticed” doing the first several. After that, my brain took a vacation.
It’s not the only time my brain has taken a vacation when faced with a boring task. If I had a heavy industry job on an assembly line, I have no doubt that I’d be mangled or dead within a week. I just “tune out” of the task at hand. Perhaps you have experienced something similar while driving a well-known route. You get in your car to drive home from work — and then — you find yourself at home — and you have no conscious recollection of driving home! It’s an interesting phenomenon but not the one I’m going to explore in this post.
Hopefully, you are also curious about why I had been assigned the task of putting these pins in all the various pieces of colored paper.
Here’s the deal. The school system of Cleveland, like many others at the time, was very racially divided. There were many neighborhoods in the Cleveland area that were nearly 100% black and others which were nearly 100% white. One of the goals of the SEC was to bring kids from various neighborhood schools together so that they could have at least some experience interacting with kids of different races and ethnic backgrounds. Sadly, the situation is pretty much the same today as the map below from 2018 shows. (Red are majority black areas; orange are Hispanic; Green is Asian; Blue codes for white).
So, cast your mind back to your time in the sixth grade (about 10-11 years old, typically). One day, you get in a bus and ride to downtown Cleveland and go into the Supplementary Educational Center and there are kids there from two other neighborhoods — kids you’ve never seen before and will likely never see again. Are you going to hang out with your friends? Or, are you going to walk up to some total stranger — of a different race — and introduce yourself and hang out with them for the day while you learn about American history or space science? I don’t have any conscious recollection of ever being a racist, but I have no doubt whatever that I would spend time with my own classmates; in fact, I would hang out with a subset of my classmates who were my friends.
That’s exactly what the kids did as well. They hung out with their friends. The administrators of the SEC eventually noticed this and constructed a social engineering “solution.” They gave every kid who entered a tag of green, blue, yellow, or red. For the day, at least, the “greens” would be with each other. The “blues” would hang out together with other “blues.” And so on.
Thus my assigned task of putting pins so that the kids would have a tag that they could pin on their clothes. This way, so the thinking went, people from diverse neighborhoods would end up in the “green” group. Sounds reasonable in theory.
If you’ve never actually been a kid.
Or, if you’ve been a kid but have nonetheless convinced yourself that you weren’t.
Or, if you’ve been a kid but you never think back on your actual experience in order to inform your design decisions when you’re designing for kids.
Cast your mind back to when you were ten or eleven years old. You get on a bus and ride to downtown Cleveland and as you walk in the door of the Supplemental Educational Center, you’re handed a red tag and the two friends you typically hang out with are handed a green tag and a yellow tag. You discover that these tags will determine who you get to hang out with for the day.
What would you do?
I can tell you what the kids at the SEC did. They immediately traded tags with other kids so they could still hang out with their own friends! Mostly, they could do this with kids in their own school. On rare occasions, they also went to kids from other schools in order to get the “right” tags so they could hang out with their friends. At least for a few moments, some of them did actually interact transactionally with kids of other races long enough to trade tags.
Please understand. The administrators and teachers at the school weren’t dummies. But … ? Did they really think this ploy would work?
I’m not saying that empathy is an infallible guide in design. Things change. It’s possible that your experience as a child would be quite different from what children today would do. Technology changes; culture changes; nutrition changes.
Nonetheless, thinking back to your own experience as a child should at least be consulted when you’re designing for kids. Your experiences are vast. You can not only think back about your experience as a kid. You can think back about your own experiences of being thirsty or hungry or afraid or angry. If you’re designing for users who might be experiencing these states, that can be useful information.
I’ll say it again. Your own experience is not an infallible guide. User testing is still necessary. Just because you might have liked something doesn’t mean others will. On the other hand, when it comes to any real world problem, the design space is huge. You can use your own experience as an inspiration to design and you can also use it as a first level check on design ideas.