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.
My senior year at Case-Western Reserve, I went to college full-time but I was also head of a small family. I was married and we had small baby to take care of. I worked three jobs. One of those jobs was as a teaching assistant in downtown Cleveland at a place called “The Supplementary Educational Center.” The job involved a wide range of activities including putting new walls in, painting them, putting up NASA exhibits, running a planetarium and teaching about space and how airplanes worked. The Supplementary Educational Center bussed in sixth grade students (around 11 years old) from diverse parts of the city to learn about American History and about Space Science.
Another job grew out of my class on Learning. The Professor in the previous story about operant conditioning without awareness recommended me as a research assistant for another professor who was also a Skinnerian. He was doing studies on operant conditioning. I “programmed” the experiments by literally plugging together components such as timers and relays. I also ran the experiments. By sheer coincidence, the “subjects” for the Professor’s experiments on operant conditioning were also sixth graders.
The kids would go sit in a chair in front of a screen. On the screen, an image of a red circle would appear from time to time. In front of the kids was a lever. If they pulled that lever when the red circle appeared, a nickel would fall down as a reward. They were completely enclosed in what can be fairly described as a large Skinner Box. After a kid pulled the lever and received their nickel a few times, we began to “thin” the schedule. Now, they had to pull the lever 2 or 3 times before getting a nickel. Then, only every 5-7 times. Then, only once every 10-12 times. (Remember, it only “worked” if they pulled the lever while the red circle was there.) Finally, they were put into a phase where they would never get any more nickels no matter how many times they pulled the lever.
At that point, we (or more accurately, the relays we had programmed) stopped showing the red circle and showed other things such as a smaller red circle or a larger red circle or a green circle or a purple circle or a red ellipse. None of these ever paid off. But the instruments recorded their level pulling and we would soon satisfy our curiosity whether they would “generalize more” (i.e., pull the lever more) to a stimulus that varied in color, shape, or size from what they were originally trained on. I cannot recall how that actually turned out. As I look back on it, the notion that we would have a “general ordering” about the relative importance of these dimensions based on this experiment seems rather…naive.
Although the kids were run as subjects one at a time, it often happened that they came with a friend or two. The kids who were not being a subject just then, sat in a nearby waiting room and stared at the floor. I felt sorry for them. There were no magazines, games, books, etc. The room did have a blackboard though, so I picked up the chalk and began “teaching them” about the planets in the solar system. They seemed to enjoy my mini-lecture so I felt pretty good at having spread some enlightenment among the masses.
Despite the fact that the Professor was a devout Skinnerian, he still suggested that I debrief every subject — ask them what they thought they had been doing. So I did. What I discovered to my amazement was that some of them thought that my astronomy lecture was an advance organizer for the task in the Skinner box! “Well, first you showed me a picture of Mars many times and then Jupiter came up….”
In my mind, the little mini-lecture and the Skinner box experiment were two entirely different things that were not at all connected to each other, but each of which was connected with a specific job and conducted miles apart. The people I saw in these two roles were different; the hours were different. In this specific instance, I had used a bit of what I knew — and more importantly, what kids that age were interested in — to help them pass the time while waiting their turn. It never occurred to me how the situation appeared from their perspective.
From their perspective, they go to this strange place on a college campus and meet this college kid (me) who greets them and takes their permission slips and has them take turns at some weird way to earn nickels involving looking at circles and ellipses. And, this same college kid (still me) teaches them about the solar system with circles and ellipses. Of course, they would think they were related.
For me, there were two distinct circles. For the kids, there was one circle.
“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!”
—- Robert Burns, To a Louse
First in a series of stories about the mythical Veritas tribe who value truth, love, and cooperation and their struggles against the Cupiditas who value power, greed, and cruelty. Our tale begins as the shaman/leader of the Veritas seeks an eventual successor so she devises a series of trials that mainly test empathy.
The name of B. F. Skinner is not often invoked in discussions of User Experience. There are limitations to his basic theory, but perhaps it is time to revisit the baby that was, by many, thrown out with that bathwater. Skinner’s approach has two major limitations that come to mind. First, human behavior is moderated by internal structures such as beliefs, framings, assumptions, labels, and so on. If one ignores these cognitive structures and tries to predict human behavior solely on the basis what behavior is “reinforced” those prediction efforts will often fail.
Second, humans (and other animals) are not born as “blank slates.” We have a number of inborn predispositions. For example, if you “punish” a rat by shocking the rat after performing a particular action, it will quickly learn to avoid that action. Similarly, if you feed the rat a food with a distinctive taste and that food will make it nauseous, it will quickly learn to avoid that taste. Some readers may have also experienced this. If your first experience with oysters, say, made you vomit, you may never try them for the rest of your life.
On the other hand, if you shock the rat after it tastes something, that is a much harder association to master. Or, if you make the rat nauseous after pressing a level, that is also a difficult association to learn.
Despite these and other limitations of the strictly Skinnerian approach, reinforcement still works in many situations. It is even possible for people to “learn” a behavior because of reinforcement and to learn without any conscious awareness of the fact that they are being trained in this way.
As an undergraduate at Case-Western Reserve, one of my psychology courses (on learning) was taught by a “Skinnerian.” He was an excellent instructor and I enjoyed the course immensely. Since we had a syllabus, I knew exactly when he would be lecturing on the topic of “unconscious conditioning.” As usual, almost the entire class was seated before the Professor arrived. This gave me time to explain to my classmates my idea for what the class would do: condition him to stand in a corner and comb his hair with his hand.
I think you will appreciate the fun here. He was giving a lecture about how people could be conditioned without awareness and while he was doing that, we were going to condition him without his awareness.
I will return momentarily to explain just how we managed, but first, I must explain the concept of “shaping.” Shaping is an extremely important concept for training your pets or your kids to behave in convenient or useful ways. Basically, the idea is to begin by reinforcing any behavior that is in the direction that you want the behavior to go in. If you want to potty train your child, for instance, you don’t initially wait for complete success. You praise the child even if he or she sits on the potty. You praise the child if they try to make it to the bathroom but have an “accident” on the way. Gradually, your criteria become stricter and you only reinforce behavior closer and closer to the goal. Similarly, if you want to train your dog to “shake hands” you initially praise them for anything even close. For instance, if you put your hand out and they lift their paw even slightly off the ground, you praise them. As they become more adept, you change your criteria for reward. Eventually, you only reinforce them then when they are “shaking hands” as well as you think possible.
Now, let’s return to the Skinnerian Professor and his lecture on unconscious conditioning. If the class had waited until he stood in the corner and combed his hair with his hand, we never would have succeeded. At first, we only reinforced him (by looking up and looking very eager and interested) when he stood to the right of his lectern (from our perspective). Then, we only began to reinforce him when he was near the corner. Then, we only began to reinforce him when he raised his hand slightly. Then, we only acted eager and interested when his hand went up toward his head or face. Finally, we only acted eager and interested when he stood in the corner and combed his hair with his hand. It took almost the entire hour for this to work. I kept a written record of his behavior and noted the times and the changes in our criteria for success. When the lecture was over, I walked up and explained what we had done. I showed him my records.
He was astounded! It was awesome. I suppose theoretically, he could have been putting it on, but if he was, it was the best acting performance I saw in all my years attending Eldred Theater or the Cleveland Playhouse. Once he recovered from his initial shock though, to his credit, he didn’t get angry with me or deny the reality of what had actually happened. He just nodded and said (essentially). “Yeah. This stuff really works.”
Yeah. It really does. And, although B. F. Skinner’s approach to human behavior is overly simplistic, it still does work in many circumstances, including a human’s behavior interacting with a computer system.
Another important contribution of B. F. Skinner is his work on “schedules of reinforcement.” It’s worth understanding this in some detail, but for now, I just want to focus on one aspect. The “schedule of reinforcement” that leads to the highest rates of behavior is to reinforce, not every time a desired behavior is observed, but very seldom and randomly.
Las Vegas comes to mind. I only visited once. For a time, I watched people at the slot machines. Unlike the people who win on TV commercial casinos, in the “real world” (to the extent Las Vegas is part of the “real world”), I saw four people win and not a single one of them showed even a glimmer of pleasure. They simply started feeding their winnings back into the machine. This is how the Casinos make their money. Basically, they are using “a thin Variable Ratio Schedule” to get people hooked on behavior that is statistically guaranteed not to be in their financial interest. (Of course, it’s understood, people also gamble for fun. That’s okay.) But if you are gambling against the Casinos in order to make money. Well….good luck. Remember: they have chauffeurs, yachts, and mansions. You do the math. They say, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But they might instead say, “Money that comes to Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
In most User Experience contexts, we want the relationship between what the user does and the consequences to be consistent. I say “most” because, when it comes to games or learning experiences or computer art, this is not always true. In most work-related applications however, we want the user to be reinforced every time he or she takes appropriate action. I think that’s what designers mainly strive for.
I believe, however, that the users themselves sometimes fall into doing something that only occasionally pays off. For example, let’s say a college student has ground floor dorm room and connects to the internet via satellite. The connection is flakey. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it works much better on the top floor. So, when he or she tries to access the Internet and fails, they walk the three flights of stairs and they successfully connect every single time. But walking three flights of stairs is a pain so the student in question decides it might help if they close all their windows before trying to connect. Now, say that didn’t work so they decided to close all the windows and then reboot. Well! What do you know!? It worked. So, the next time they have trouble connecting, instead of walking up three flights of stairs, the student closes all the windows and reboots the machine. Maybe, by sheer chance, it worked again!
The next time, perhaps it doesn’t work. But three flights of stairs? That’s a long ways. So, they try again! It works!
But winter is coming.
And with winter comes rain. And with rain comes worse connectivity to the satellite. So, as the rain goes from San Diego rain frequency to San Francisco rain to Portland rain to Seattle rain frequency, our student becomes less and less successful in actually connecting. But every so often, the procedure works. They may have rebooted their machine ten times before it finally connected, but that just makes it more likely they will be willing to try twenty times before giving up. Furthermore, the student may have “given up” on even considering walking up 3 flights of stairs. Having the persistent habit of rebooting the machine multiple times actually prevents the student from either doing the thing that has always worked or working toward a more permanent solution (e.g., changing rooms, getting an antennae, finding a wired hookup, etc.).
It is possible in this way to train a rat or a pigeon or a college student — or even a professor — to do something they would not have consciously chosen to do — or to do something at a much greater frequency than they would have chosen to do it.
Next (Perhaps): “The Skinner Box and the Box Next Door.”