“Hey, you guys remember how good air-conditioning felt?” Ted, wiped the copious sweat above his eyes onto the back of his hand. It was immediately replaced by more sweat on his brow.
“Hell, yes,” drawled Mitch. “Thanks for reminding me. You’re a real a-hole, you know?”
“Thanks, Mitch! I appreciate that. It helps me feel cooler when I think of it; that’s all.”
Josh shook his head. “You two quit your jawboning and help me move this stack into the shade. It’ll be cool there.”
Ted snorted. “Not by much. Matt, give us a hand.”
The four walked over to the jumble and grabbed about four or five each and wandered over to the remaining shady corner of the rubble-strewn building that had once been the Doltzville Library. They struggled, but managed to get their bodies onto the painted concrete floor. Mitch struggled the most. Basically, he fell the last foot and a half, lost his balance and spilled his stack into Matt who spilled his stack into Ted who spilled his stack into Josh who spilled his stack onto Mitch’s lap.
“Thanks a lot, you idiot! You dropped your whole frigging stack onto my ball sack!”
“Yeah. Yeah. Like you have one. Let’s get this done so we can get back home for our bourbon ration!” Ted winced and swallowed hard, once again wondering how he had ever ended up with these three dolts sorting books.
He grabbed the closest two tomes and held them up next to each other. It was a tough choice, but the left hand book was definitely a bit more reddish and the one on the right, was a bit more orange. Easy enough choice. He mentally patted himself on the back. But in doing so, he mentally hurt his rotator cuff. He winced but managed to shake off the imagined pain.
Ted picked up two more. Another tough choice. He chewed on his tongue but finally decided the one in his left was more of a pine green while one in his right hand was almost a dark khaki. He glanced around the room. “Hey guys, where the hell is the khaki stack?”
Josh spat on the floor. “Find your own damned stacks, Ted. We have our own work to do.”
Mitch shuffled his stack this way and that way trying to start with the easiest pair. “Screw it,” he muttered under his breath. This is too hard. “Hey guys! Let’s not go too fast. What the hell is that racket?”
The racket grew to an almost deafening roar. Ted covered his ears to try to block out the noise. It didn’t work. Josh squeezed his eyes tight hoping that if he made it dark enough, he wouldn’t notice the noise. That didn’t work. So, he made it even darker by covering his eyes with his hands as well. Still the noise grew in intensity. None of them had heard anything this loud since — since before. It bothered Matt so much he felt nauseated so he quickly used his soiled hands to cover his mouth. Mitch thought it might help to cover up the noise with more noise so he screamed as loud as he could.
At long last, the noise abated. Had any of the four actually served in military combat, they might have recognized the noise for what it was — a helicopter landing on the expansive treeless lawn of the Doltzville Library. Once the noise stopped, they didn’t show the least bit of curiosity about what had caused the ruckus and went back to their book sorting task.
Josh’s brows knitted as he struggled with a particularly difficult distinction between a purplish black cover and another one that was more of a blackish purple. Their deliberations were interrupted as the front door of the library swung open. In marched a platoon of heavily armed guards.
The soldiers formed into two parallel lines and stood at attention. The commanding officer strode down the line and over to where the four sprawled on the floor. “What in the name of all that is holy is this mess? This library isn’t in order at all! You were supposed to have been done organizing the books a week ago.” He glanced around the room. “What the holy hell? The books aren’t even in the stacks. Which one of you — gentlemen — is in charge?”
Ted glanced at Mitch who glanced at Josh who glanced at Matt who glanced at Ted. It constituted a Circle of Jerks. But no-one would claim to be in charge. At last the three younger men pointed at Mitch. As though on cue, they said in unison, “He is!”
The colonel walked over and stood in front of Mitch. He put his strong arms beneath Mitch’s forelegs and jerked him upright. The colonel felt a twinge as he did so but nothing registered on his deadpan. “Well?!” Barked the colonel. “What do you have to say for yourself? I’m not a frigging librarian, but these books don’t look organized to me! They certainly aren’t in the stacks, are they?”
Mitch swallowed hard. All these guns made him nervous. He had always wanted lots of guns in the hands of ill-trained malcontents. But not in the hands of trained soldiers.
Well, he consoled himself that he had lied his way out of worse jams than this, so he began to answer with one of his six distraction patterns. “Well, Sir, our orders were to put the books in stacks and this, as you can clearly see, we have done. There are some edge cases we really need more expertise to settle on. Josh here, for instance is trying to decide on whether this book is more of a purplish black or more of a blackish purple.” Then, he added as an afterthought: “Sir!”
“What exactly do you think all those shelves are for?”
Mitch followed the line of the colonel’s hand. “Shelves? For…knickknacks I suppose. My wife collects knickknacks. I’ll bet yours does too.”
The colonel shook his head and muttered inaudibly. “Those are — never mind. You’re extremely behind schedule, but how are you cataloging them? By Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress?”
Josh’s eyebrows shot up incredulously, “Congress has a library?”
The colonel’s eyes darted back to Josh like the mythical Jewish Space Lasers used to light forest fires. Josh looked down and bit his lip, regretting he had said anything.
Ted spoke up. “Sir, is that a trick question? We organized them as they should be organized. By color.”
“What?!” Screamed the colonel. “By color? What the hell is wrong with you people? They’re supposed to be organized by what the book is about — what’s inside. Good Lord, my four year old grand-daughter knows that!”
“But Sir,” objected Matt. “How do we … what do you mean? What a book’s about? What does that even mean?”
“You read the books, decide what each one is about and categorize it. What’s wrong with you people?” The colonel glared at them each in turn, beginning with Matt and ending with Mitch.
Mitch straighten his shirt against his sagging plastron and frowned. “A reed? Like in a clarinet?”
Matt chewed on his lip, savoring the taste as though he were painfully biting the lip of a teenage girl. “Maybe you mean like a reed that grows by a riverbank?”
The colonel strode over to Josh and snatched the blackish purple book out of his hand. (Or, maybe it was the purplish black one). He snapped the book open to a seemingly random page. “Here! Read! Like this.”
The colonel’s strong baritone rang out as he recited the paragraph.
“What made that an interesting situation to discuss for my intro psych class was that it was never the people who actually had the right of way who did the honking and screaming. It was always (so far as we observed) the people who sailed right through the new — and unseen — stop signs! These stop signs were in plain view.”
The colonel stared. Then, he shook his head. “Look here. Here’s a title.” He jabbed his finger on the title to emphasize his point. He did a neat little toss of the book in the air and flipped it a half turn. Then he pointed to the back. Here’s a description of the author. Here’s a summary of the book. You read these to help you decide what the books about. But in all the time you’ve had, you could have read the books cover to cover. Or at least skimmed them. That’s how you categorize it. Not by the color of the cover. I’ve never heard such a stupid thing in my life. Anyway, get your gear.”
The four stared at the colonel and then at each other. But no-one moved. Not until the colonel shouted, “MOVE!”
The four of them grabbed their gear and scrambled onto the bus. The only seats left were at the back, near the toilet. Which stunk.
Once they were under way, Mitch said, “Read. How ridiculous.”
Matt nodded. “I agree. That’s what we did in college. There’s no need to do that now.”
Josh nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Ridiculous. Think how much work it would be to understand what’s inside a book and organize them by what they’re about. It’s absurd. Putin never told us to read.”
Ted added in hushed tones. “Hey, something is going on. Did you guys see the markings on this bus? No confederate flag. No swastika. Not even a bloated orange deer tick. Just an old style American flag. What’s that about?”
That sat in silence for a time.
Ted couldn’t recall the last time he had ridden a bus. Then, it hit him. He had been in high school. Yes, he had read back then, he remembered. In fact, he admitted to himself, he had actually enjoyed it.
But it was hard. Much harder than simply following orders. He looked over at Mitch and whispered, “Do you think our coup could have failed? Is that what’s going on? Otherwise, why the American flag?”
Mitch seemed to retract his head down into the folds of his high-necked sweatshirt and he pulled the hood over his pate.
After getting no response from his co-conspirator, Ted stared out the window. It rained heavily and the windows fogged ever more during their ever-darkening night ride. He liked the fogged windows. It helped him block out his worries as well as the stench of the over-used toilet. The rumble of the wheels gradually lulled him to sleep.
He awoke to the screech of the wet brakes as they pulled up to their final destination. He stared outside. The monochromatic sodium flood lights lent an air of magic and mystery to the black barbed wire atop the high concrete walls of the maximum security prison outside. Still half-asleep, he wondered idly whether someone had made a wrong turn along the way.
Many groups, and not only religious groups, perform various rituals. Some are done periodically like daily prayers. Some are done on special occasions such as baptism, graduation ceremonies, marriage ceremonies, last rites, funerals, etc. Rituals appear to address many issues simultaneously.
Rituals, so far as we can tell, are quite old. They seem to serve several purposes. It isn’t clear to me which of several purposes they were originally “designed” to solve.
Here are the problems they seem to touch on and offer partial solutions to:
In many cases, it is necessary for groups of people to work in a coordinated fashion. If each person separately develops their habits for dealing with things, conflict and confusion can arise. How can the group behave without interfering with each other?
Some rituals deal with major life changes. When Complex Adaptive Systems are faced with major changes, a whole host of individual changes and adaptations may be necessary to deal with the new circumstances. Too much change can induce exogenous depression. The person simply does not know what to do. Exogenous depression may be a coping mechanism to avoid making a catastrophically wrong decision before the person has had a chance to adapt to the new circumstances. However, in some cases, action must be taken before people have had a chance to let the implications of the new circumstances “sink in.” For instance, a death in the family has many implications. No-one knows quite what to do. Yet, something must be done. How can one behave when one is too depressed to think straight?
In very small groups, such as the tribes we evolved in, everyone knew everyone personally. As groups grew larger and larger; in order to accomplish more ambitious tasks, for instance, it became difficult for people to recognize who was in their “in-group.” How can one recognize who is in one’s group when there are too many people to know personally?
People grow aware of their own mortality. How can one gain a sense of belonging to something that transcends the boundaries of their own bodies when their own bodies are limited in space and time?
As groups grow larger and larger, there will be more and more diversity of abilities, capacities, styles, and so on. How can we keep track of what people are like?
Human life is complex and so is the human behavior that attempts to deal with that complexity. Our behavior at time t is influenced by what happens before hand and especially what happens directly before a given activity. If it is important to perform something at time t precisely, it helps to preface the action with a series of actions right before the critical time t. This also “loads” working memory with the same material.
Individuals naturally have somewhat different ways of doing things.
Having individuals do things in different ways means that some individuals will discover, invent, or happen upon ways of doing things that are superior.
Group behaviors, to be most effective, require some degree of coordination.
* Some situations are so stressful and/or novel that people cannot make reasonable decisions.
* Some situations require action in a timely fashion.
Communities develop rituals over time. A community ritual may address any subset of at least five problems at once:
It provides a set of roles and procedures so that people may act together without interfering with each other.
It provides people with a “plan of action” that they can follow in times of change without having to try to think it through individually.
A ritual provides a kind of behavioral “test” that shows whether someone is in our “tribe.”
A ritual, since it has many common elements over time and space, reminds us that we are part of a larger effort.
Precisely because rituals are to be done in a common way, they partial out those aspects of behavior which are due to circumstances and motivations from those that are due to abilities and inherent styles.
When someone seeks optimal performance of a complex behavior, it can help to preface the complex behavior with a series of preparatory behaviors that are performed in exactly the same way over and over.
First, I present below some “porto-rituals” from my own life that I don’t claim are examples of what people generally think of as rituals, but which are behavioral “in that direction” which solve each of these subproblems.
I do most of the food preparation for my wife and I. We mostly like the same things, which is handy. But sometimes, there are slight differences in preferences. For instance, I never add salt to my portions. In some things, my wife likes additional salt. Therefore, I alway prepare her drink or dish on the left and put mine on the right. This just avoids confusion. One might imagine however, that over generations such a heuristic could evolve into an actual ritual; e.g., women’s portions are on the left; men’s are on the right.
As I learned more and more psychology, it became more and more feasible to use what I learned in order to teach others or help others. But when? How much is enough? When do (or should) people “trust me” enough to take my advice? The ceremony, credentials, and rituals around getting a degree provide a handy shorthand that is generally though not universally accepted as showing that the point had been reached where my advice was “valuable enough” to receive credence (and reimbursement). This was much better, in my opinion, than having to decide every single day, “Should I stop learning and get a job today? No? How about tomorrow? How about the day after?”
One of the things that people in many academic communities do is review papers and grant proposals. In my experience, the reviewing process is partly influenced by reading signals about whether someone is in or not in the appropriate “tribe.” In a study of a new computer interaction technique, for instance, in my “tribe” it is not enough to simply claim that a new technique is superior. One is expected to show empirical evidence to that effect. If one does not do that, it detracts from the credibility of the claims. More than that, however, it signals to the reviewer that the author is not yet a full-fledged member of the community.
My mother was one of those people who always returned shopping carts to the store rather than leaving them in the parking lot. I do the same. I want to model good behavior for others, and avoid unneeded wreckage of carts and unneeded scrapes on the paint jobs on cars. But another motivation is that it reminds me of my mother. Since I am carrying on her tradition, it gives me a small feeling of continuity across generations.
In a similar fashion, my grandmother told me stories that she made up herself. I create stories for my grandkids (as I did for my kids as well). Apart from other benefits, this gives me a feeling of being part of a tradition which I think is beneficial for me, for my descendants and for society.
I organize some tennis games for some of the local tennis players who are about my age and ability. In order to do this, I book courts and then send out email asking everyone on the distribution list whether they can play. Anyone who wants to play replies. Around 7 pm the evening before the upcoming tennis game, I let everyone know whether they are “in.” I’m not claiming it’s exactly a “ritual” but only that it’s a kind of “proto-ritual.” It has ritualistic elements. One of the people I play with — actually one of the very best players — cannot consistently perform this ritual. Sometimes, he shows up without informing me. Sometimes, he send three emails telling me he wants to play. Sometimes, he responds to an email from weeks prior. The fact that he is unable to perform the ritual shows a fair degree of impairment in working memory. If you simply observed him playing tennis, you might never know this.
In tennis serves, golf putts, baseball pitching, and many other athletic and non-athletic behaviors that require top performance, many people find it helpful to engage in a consistent series of overt behaviors and thoughts before the critical activity. Engaging in a preliminary ritual is not only a performance enhancer; it is also a learning enhancer. It essentially means that if you are trying some new “tweak” in your tennis serve, the way you putt (or trying a new putter) or trying a slightly different way to throw a knuckle ball, you are keeping every other variable as constant as possible.
The earth revolves around the sun. If the the gravitational attraction between earth and sun were much less, the earth would fly off into space and soon all water would freeze and life would soon cease. If the gravitational attraction were much greater, the earth would soon spiral down into the sun and the planet would be incinerated.
A society, group, team, or partnership must similarly have a balance between centripetal forces that tend to make it collapse into a singularity and centrifugal forces that tend to make it fly apart. Ritual can be seen as one of the centripetal forces that keep groups together.
As an individual lives their life, they will typically do some things in a fairly creative and ever-changing manner and other things will become habitual and routinized. For example, there are several ways to tie shoes but most adults only use one way. Unless, as once happened to me, you break your arm, you need pay little conscious attention to shoe typing. Anything that gets the job done is sufficient.
Singing “Happy Birthday.” Playing the National Anthem before sporting events. Taking exactly two practice swings before a golf swing. Saying grace before a meal. Going out for a beer at a particular pub after every game. Reading the mission statement at the beginning of each “All-Hands meeting.” Reading the minutes of the previous business meeting at this business meeting.
Pan, Y., Roedl, D., Blevis, E., & Thomas, J. (2015). Fashion Thinking: Fashion Practices and Sustainable Interaction Design. International Journal of Design, 9(1), 53-66.
Schuler, D. (2008). Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Social Change. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Thomas, J. C. (2017). Building Common Ground in a Wildly Webbed World: A Pattern Language Approach. PPDD Workshop, 5/25/2017, San Diego, CA.
Thomas, J. C. (2012). Patterns for emergent global intelligence. In Creativity and Rationale: Enhancing Human Experience By Design J. Carroll (Ed.), New York: Springer.
What new rituals could be designed to remind people of their relationship to all life on earth and the impact of today’s actions on future generations? Could such rituals help remind people to “do the right thing”?
Are there existing rituals which could be used as is, or modified, for ecological purposes?
As you might expect, crooks are using the opportunities afforded by the COVID19 pandemic to increase the number and severity of identify thefts in America. Here are a few sites with statistics on the scope of the problem and some practical steps that you can take to help prevent you from becoming the victim of identify theft.
Although statistics are excellent for helping us get a feel for the frequency and scope of a problem, to get a feel for what it means for the individual who is the victim of identify theft, it might help to imagine what goes on in one particular case.
Ted was about to close the best deal of his life. He handed the papers over to his customer — or perhaps it was his father — or older brother — when, as bad luck would have it, the fire alarm went off. Somehow the fire department arrived immediately but instead of hoses, they were spitting on the fire through tiny straws. He began to scream at them for their inefficiency.
Ted wondered How do they know my name?
“TED! Wake up! You’re having a nightmare!”
Groggily, Ted wrinkled up his eyes and stared at someone who looked remarkably like his wife. He thought, You look just like my wife! Just like! Wait. You are my wife. “Darla?” he said aloud. “What is that blasted noise?”
“That blasted noise is the alarm you set for yourself last night. Remember? You set it early so you’d have time to work on your presentation for your ZOOM meeting this afternoon. Turn it off. I’ll go make coffee. I’ll take it to your office.”
Ted flung his hand over to the nice big, easy-to-slap switch atop his BOSE. He swung his still-athletic body back to the left in time to catch a glimpse of his wife’s wonderful frame silhouetted beneath her sheer nightgown. He smiled. “Perhaps…” he muttered, “but no. I have to get going on that damned presentation.”
By the time Ted sat at his home computer with a hot cup of coffee beside him, he was ready to dive in. “Oh, yes. I wanted to check the news for some timely item to use as an intro.” Ted usually talked aloud as he worked. That was one main reason why, after the kids moved out, they had decided to convert both of the rooms the kiddos had to home offices. As Ted waited for the online WSJ to appear, a broken image shard of firefighters blowing spitballs appeared in his mind’s eye. A frown flickered across his face briefly but he ignored it. “What the f-fudge” he muttered at the fact that they to pick this moment to ask him to enter his userid and password. “Crap! I don’t have time for this.” He gritted his teeth and realized there was no way he remembered his password. Of course not. He thought, I never have to enter the damned thing. He shook his head trying to imagine whether it would be faster to look the damned thing up in his notebook, find the file where he kept his passwords or have them send him a new password via email. Now, what the hell did I call that file? Important stuff? I know I didn’t call it passwords. It’s under documents, personal. Or, documents, work? I — oh screw it. I’ll have them send me e-mail. But which e-mail? Is it my gmail or hotmail account?
Ted knew enough about himself to realize that he needed to stay calm and not let trivialities put him in a bad mood. I’ll try one then the other, he thought. “Easy enough, Ted. Just be patient,” he said aloud. And he was patient.
At least he was patient till he discovered he could not log into either account. Maybe I used my work email, he thought. But that didn’t work either.
Darla had always been able to concentrate pretty well at her own work and ignore Ted’s mutterings. At first, this morning was no different. She delved into her work deeply. Eventually, however, she noticed that he was muttering more loudly and angrily than usual. She sighed, got up and walked over to his office door. Without opening it, she asked, “Ted? Is everything okay? Would you like another cup? Maybe some toast? Ted?”
Ted meanwhile, glanced at his coffee cup, no longer steaming beside him. “Darla? Can you come in a moment?”
Darla came in and knew immediately something was wrong. “What’s up, Ted? You haven’t touched your coffee.”
“Can you get on your computer okay?”
“What? Sure. Something wrong with yours?”
Ted considered. “Well. No, I mean, the computer seems to work, but I can’t get into any of my online accounts. Not the Times; not the Journal; not even either of my email accounts. I mean, I can’t even do my remote log-in to my work account. How is that even possible?”
Darla had read about people suddenly becoming pale and she had always thought it was some sort of literary device. But no. She felt herself go pale and cold. “Ted. Have you tried to log on to our online banking?”
Ted sounded annoyed. “What? No. I don’t have time for that crap. I’ve got to get this presentation ready. That’s the whole reason I got up early. I can’t…you don’t think…oh, crap. Let me try.”
Darla moved in close. She placed a gentle hand on Ted’s shoulder as she peered at his keyboard.
She clenched her teeth; pursed her lips. She sighed.
Just then, Ted’s cellphone rang. “Just what I need. Another interruption!” Ted glanced at the screen. No double someone asking for another charity or political contribution or explaining to me how much I want to buy car repair insurance, he thought. But something made him take the call.
Darla’s hearing was still quite good. She heard both sides. One of their credit cards had been compromised. They had agreed to put a stop on it and another one would be mailed forthwith. Ted had no sooner clicked the call off when another came. Their other credit card was also being misused.
The financial loss and inconvenience of identify theft is certainly bad enough. No need to make it worse.
But let’s nonetheless imagine that it is even worse — much worse.
Identity Theft 2.0:
The doorbell rang. In their current state of confusion and anger, the doorbell felt like a painful electrical shock.
Darla spoke gently to Ted. “I’ll get it.”
Ted meanwhile gulped down his cold coffee. He was too upset to bother to walk the twenty steps it would have taken to warm it up in the microwave. He hoped the cold coffee would at least allow him some clarity to get this straightened out. After all, he still had a presentation to prepare.
Darla re-appeared at the door of Ted’s home office a few moments later. “Ted? There’s a guy at the door who claims to be the real you.”
“WHAT? Well, call the police! Don’t let him in! He’s either in on the Identify Theft or he’s a nut case.”
Darla tilted her head. “Keep your voice down, Ted. He can hear you. He’s in the entry way.”
Ted’s eyes widened. “What?! Are you … what are you talking about? You let a stranger into our house?”
Darla said, “Well, he swears that he is the real Ted and that you are just a fraud. He says he will make everything all right. That we’ll be richer than ever if we play along with him.”
Ted craned his head forward and stared at Darla. His mouth moved but no words came out for awhile. “Are you nuts! Who is this guy?”
“You, Ted. At least that’s what he claims. He’s better than you and richer than you. And, says he’s the real you and you’re the fraud.”
“Darla? Is — does he look like me?” Ted was no shaking his head like a grizzly on the horizon, hoping that motion parallax will clarify the fuzzy images.
Darla smiled, “Oh, no. He doesn’t look anything like you really. He’s much older and overweight. And, he has a — you know — hair thingy.”
Ted wondered for a moment if he was in a nightmare. Or having a psychotic break. He glanced into the corner and his eyes alit on his high school baseball bat. He thought perhaps he should have a weapon. Maybe this interloper was armed. But why they hell had Darla let him in? Claims to be me but doesn’t even look like me? WTAF?
“Darla — let me get this straight. Some stranger comes to the door. He doesn’t look anything like me. He obviously is not me. And, yet you let him into the house? And now you’re not sure whether he’s me or I’m me? Are you nuts? Are you having an affair with him? What’s going on?”
“No, Ted. We’re not having an affair yet. But would it really be an affair if — you know — if he’s you? I know he doesn’t look like you. He doesn’t sound much like you either. But he says he’s you and that you are a fraud, so who’s to know really?”
And it’s precisely the kind of Identity that is happening in America right this very minute. Just because someone claims to be the Republican Party doesn’t mean that they are the Republican Party.
And America’s liberals, sadly, are fostering this preposterous lie. A short few months ago, we had a secure, free, fair election in America. That election was not supervised just by Democrats. It was supervised, as always, by Republicans and Democrats working together all across the country. The election was contested by absurd lawsuits thrown out by both Republican and Democratic judges.
A very small, but consistently lying group of people are claiming that they are the “real Republicans” while Democrats and Liberals are saying, “See you can’t trust the Republicans!”
You can’t trust insurrectionists. You can’t trust liars. And one of the things that they lie about is that they are Republicans. They are not. They do not have a platform, or a set of programs, or a philosophy that is consistent with a conservative take on America.
The insurrectionists are nothing more than an extended Crime Family. That’s bad enough. But don’t put wind in their sails by agreeing that these insurrectionist liars constitute the Republican Party. They don’t. Sadly, they’ve screamed the lie so insistently and consistently that many — but by no means all — Republicans now believe that pack of lies. Importantly, most of the Republicans who were actually involved in running the election do not believe in the big lie.
The Big Lie, of course, is a classic technique that dictators use to come to power including dictators of the Communist stripe like Stalin and dictators of the Fascist stripe like Mussolini and Hitler. Don’t fall for the Big Lie. But don’t fall for the Identify Theft either. Most of the people who believe the Big Lie only do so because the Big Lie is claimed by people who claim that they are Republicans. But they are not.
No previous POTUS, Republican or Democrat, made every important decision so that it benefited a foreign dictator. No previous POTUS, Republican or Democrat, actively worked to isolate us from our allies. No previous POTUS, Democrat or Republican, steeped themselves in corruption from stem to stern; from left to right; from top to bottom. No previous POTUS of any party replaced experienced, patriotic experts throughout government with inept lackeys. No previous POTUS, Republican or Democrat, ignored facts in order to promote lies that killed Americans by the hundreds of thousands.
Once upon a time, it is true, some of the Trumputinists were Republicans. But just because they once were does not mean that they legitimately get to keep calling themselves “Republicans.” I was once a teenager. That doesn’t make it true to call myself one now.
They have no Republican platform. They have no Republican philosophy. They have no commitment to American Democracy. They are not Republicans. They merely want to steal the Identity of the Republican Party so that they will have grass roots support from people who have been life-long Republicans.
Don’t support; don’t vote for; don’t send money to Trumputinists out to destroy our democracy simply because they call themselves “Republicans.” The Trumputinists are a Crime Family.
Of course, Identify Theft in the political domain is not new. The dictatorial Stalinist empire was called “The USSR — The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” It wasn’t really a union at all. None of the constituents were themselves actual republics. And all of them ceded wealth and power to Russia. Similarly mis-named are the names of most dictatorships today which generally contain the word “Republic.” They are not. North Korea goes so far as to call itself a “Democratic Republic.” It’s not a Republic nor does it have more than the thinnest thread of democracy. At least the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just comes right out and says it: “Kingdom.”
As a matter of fact, the Trumputinists who call themselves the “Republican Party” are lying about both words. Not only are they not Republicans; they are not a Party either!
It isn’t really a “Party” when only one person is invited and everyone else is there to serve that one guest!
Matt had played football in high school and still prided himself on his musculature, though truthfully, his weight training sessions at the gym had nearly petered out to nothing even before COVID. He was in much worse shape than he believed himself to be. Truthfully, even at 42, his arteries conspired with his depleted mitochondria and excess weight to make him a pretty strong candidate for an early heart attack.
Matt saw himself, however, as powerful. Maybe he wouldn’t be mistaken for “The Hulk” but that was the kind of superhero he identified with. He was, after all, a white male; the “ruler of the roost”; a family man who provided for his family despite the grief he often gets at work from his young “webersnapper boss.”
This week played out no differently (honestly, it never did) so Matt came home in a pre-tornado mood. He was ready for a nice tumbler of good Kentucky whiskey on the rocks. Or rock. Maybe, he’d watch some TV while his wife…where the hell is my wife, he wondered.
A quick glance out the front window showed him what he should have noticed as he drove up, was that his wife’s car, the Subaru Outback, was gone. Crap. No dinner yet. Where’s the beef? He glanced at his son sitting at the dining room table typing away on the computer. Sonny seemed more intent on that goddamn computer than on greeting his dad. Matt thought to himself: There sits my useless son working on homework even though it’s 6 pm Friday.
Matt said aloud, “Christ, Sonny, when I was young, at least I had some blood in my veins. What the hell are you studying?”
“I’m doing an essay on Aesop’s Fables for English class.” Sonny’s strategy tonight, was, as it always was, to stay neutral and not take any of the bullshit his father tried to use as bait.
“What the hell do you need to take English for? It’s not like you’re a fornicating foreigner for God’s sake. Who the hell is Aesop?”
“He was a Greek slave who was a storyteller…”
“Greek? What the hell!? You know they’re all queer, right? And the same goes for studying English. Just do me a favor. Don’t grow up to be a fricking faggot, okay?”
“The fable is actually kind of interesting. It’s about this dog who has a bone and he’s all happy and everything. Then, he crosses a bridge over a little water and he looks down and he sees his own reflection. Only, he thinks it’s another dog. A dog with a bone. And he wants that bone too. So, he growls at the dog in the pond and of course that dog growls back up at him. So he snarls and the reflected dog snarls too. Then, he barks loudly at the watery dog below. As he opens his mouth, the bone falls out into the pond. It’s called…”
“Who the f*** cares what it’s called. It’s a stupid dog and a stupid story and has nothing to do with life. Jesus H. Christ. Where’s your mom? It’s almost dinner time. Did she say where she was going?”
“I haven’t seen her since breakfast. But, it’s the second Friday in May. Doesn’t she have her painting class today? I think she has the second and fourth Friday every month. I think May is Surrealism. She should be back soon.”
“She’d better be. Why do I bother to work anyway? Man can’t even have dinner on time. Take a hike. Get some exercise. I need the computer now.”
“I’ll be done with my essay in ten minutes, Dad. Do you really need it right his minute?”
“NOW, Sonny. Get up. Yes, I need it NOW. I need to check on our finances. Go outside & get some fresh air. Do something useful for a change. You can finish later. Geez.”
Sonny shook his head and sighed, but it was a nice day out and this late in May, there was plenty of daylight. His train of thought had been completely derailed anyway. Might as well let Dad view his porn. He toyed with the idea of showing his Dad how easy it was to see exactly what he was actually doing on the computer and it definitely had nothing to do with the family finances.
If his father actually would have looked at the family finances, he might have noticed something that no-one in the family was as of yet aware — that every month, a significant amount of money was being withdrawn for a continuing political contribution.
While Sonny went down the street to see whether any of the neighborhood gang were shooting baskets, his Dad logged on and was about to go to one of his favorite porn sites when a pop-up grabbed his eye. The pop-up itself verged on being pornographic. A silky haired blond with sultry blue eyes stared out at him wantonly and invited him to come on board for something exciting.
Matt grinned at that and clicked the bait. He was already licking his lips in anticipation of a barely legal… but what was this? This didn’t look like sex. What were they selling, he wondered as he scanned the text and images before him. There was some company, “Ansestery dot co” — “I’ve heard of them” Matt muttered under his breath.
Except, of course, Matt had not previously heard of “Ansestery dot co” — he had heard of people talking about “ancestry.com” which used genetic tests and other methods to help you build your family tree or find out your genetic background. Although Ansestery dot co was not something that Matt had actually heard about, they had heard about him. Thanks to billionaire con men who used big data analytics applied to every keystroke, pause, and click Matt had ever made in the last ten years on the family computer, they knew everything they needed to know about Matt — what trigger words he had; what his secret fears about his masculinity were; what his hopes and dreams were. The script tree in which he found himself was tailored to be especially appealing to his sense that — somehow — things should have turned out differently for Matt. In fact, Matt deserved to have had things turn out better in his life. On this, Matt himself and the AI algorithms that chewed on his personal data, were in perfect alignment.
Matt’s heart raced. He felt excited, a little scared, proud, relieved. People had chosen him — him — as a candidate for special training. If he accepted their terms, he could have a new life… a new life! There might not be anything particularly wrong with his current wife, but he could have one much younger and more athletic and docile! And, he could have a new kid — one who was a star athlete, not a frigging nerd who studied English for God’s sake!!
The site didn’t just give statistics and amazing images of people just like him who had signed up. There were video testimonials. This was real! The site said time travel was impossible but that this was the next best thing to it. There was also a money-back guarantee! It was right there in black and white!
Matt’s wife Molly had always let Matt take care of the finances. And — although they were by no means rich — they did okay. She certainly never expected the reception she got at her favorite dress shop when they showed her not one but two checks that had bounced. They wouldn’t take her check. Her cheeks glowed crimson with embarrassment though she was sure it was a bank error. Nonetheless, a bounced check, let alone two, was something that Molly associated with traitor trash. She was sure Matt could explain. Sure. Matt will explain tonight, Molly thought as she walked the four short blocks back home. She bit her lip though. She wondered whether he really would explain it. She thought: Maybe it was not just a bank error. Maybe he had lost his job — maybe months ago — and he’s too proud to tell us. Could that be it?
Molly knitted her brows and tried to remember when … when the changes had started with Matt. It had been a few weeks ago. Matt had seemed upset that she didn’t have dinner ready. She had reminded him about her art classes, but he had simply grunted and said he needed the computer. Sonny and Matt had argued a bit. Somehow, Sonny thought Matt had promised that he could have the computer back right after dinner. The argument had seemed unusually heated that night. But that had only been the beginning. Matt spent an unusual amount of time on the computer. He always said that he was double checking the family finances. Molly wondered if maybe there was a problem with the family finances and that’s why the checks bounced.
And that wasn’t all. Matt had never seemed to take much interest in politics. But now, he would curse at the TV news and call people a “bunch of crooks” and ask where the “real patriots were.” He’d generally storm out of the room halfway through the program. And he “forbid” anyone in his house from listening to what he called the “fake media.” He even called them the “Enemy of the People.” Molly thought it must be symptoms of manopause.
Matt’s real problem might have had a little bit to do with manopause. But mainly, he was slowly being drawn deeper and deeper into what others would have described as a conspiracy theory, but which he himself thought of as “the real truth” that “explains everything.” It explained why, despite working relatively hard, and despite being a straight white male, he was not rich. Not yet. It explained why his son was a faggot. It explained why his wife was no longer passionate. And, best of all, it didn’t just explain. It promised. Very soon, he would have his new life. And, in his new life, he’d be much richer. Everything would be as it should be.
He would finally be that knight in shining armor he had always thought of himself as. And better yet, his new kids and new wives and new concubines would also see him that way. And they would show him the respect he deserved! Damn right, he thought. He’d show them. Things are speeding up now, Matt thought. It’s all coming together just like they said. The signs were everywhere once you had been trained to look for them! One last payment.
“MATT! Are you okay? Sonny asked you three times for the mashed potatoes. You’re staring off into space. Again.”
“What? What are you talking about? Mashed potatoes? Don’t you people have any idea what’s happening? Who cares about mashed potatoes? Here. Here, have some mashed potatoes. You can have them all, Sonny Boy. If you really even are my son.” Matt pushed his chair back from the table, grabbed the computer and headed upstairs.
Molly and Sonny sat starting at each other with mouths agape. Matt had always been something of a jerk, but these days, he really seemed unhinged. And angry. And angrily unhinged. And unhingedly angry. Almost all the time. And he spent almost all his free time on the computer when he wasn’t screaming at them.
Molly told herself she wouldn’t cry, and she didn’t. At least, she didn’t cry audibly, though tears streamed down her cheeks. How could Matt have made that nasty crack about Sonny not being his son, she wondered. Ever practical, Molly glanced at Sonny and saw that he was equally upset and equally determined not to show it.
“Well,” said Molly with a brittle bright voice, “I’ll just put the rest away for later!. We can just” — but at that moment, Molly brittle bright voice faltered. The lights went off. The hum of the refrigerator stopped. She sighed. She grabbed her cellphone, and called the power company to complain. She to hear free Muzak for a full five minutes — which felt like an hour. The same tin can versions of the same music alternated with the voice of the warm, friendly woman who assured her that her call was important to the power company and that the call would be answered in the order in which it had been placed. Molly found the voice comforting in an odd way. Even the Muzak seemed soothing compared with Matt’s screaming. Molly closed her eyes and shut out his screams. Despite those efforts, occasional words filtered through. Something about how they’d all soon see he was right all along (About What?). And they would pay for having blown a fuse because of what they had done (Which was What exactly?). He had screamed about coming down there and giving them what for! (What For?).
Once, many years ago, Molly and Matt had argued about whether to carpet the stairs. Like most angry marital arguments, this particular argument had two losers (or three losers, if we count Sonny and we probably should count Sonny) and zero winners. In the end though, the stairs had stayed uncarpeted because it was more “economical” as Matt had put it. And that would have been okay if Matt had been barefoot. Or wearing sneakers. Not great in the dark, but doable. But not with socks on.
When a human voice finally answered the phone, Molly was stunned for a moment. Then, she remembered why she was on the phone in the first place and asked if there were widespread power outages. No, the lady patiently explained. Their electric bill had not been paid on time. The grace period had also expired.
Molly stopped paying attention to the patient lady on the phone, who must somehow be mistaken, of course. Molly’s attention had been grabbed by a strange noise she had never heard before. What was that? It sounded like a very large pudgy animal pinwheeling its way down their front stairway and landing with a thud on the marble entry way.
Every wonder how the mind of a sociopath works? Maybe these stories about a child sociopathy will help. Here’s a link to the first. Donnie Plays Bull Dazzle Man.
Every wonder how and why millions of Americans could deny the reality of a pandemic that is literally happening right before their eyes? The story that begins with the link below is to fiction — but — is it plausible fiction?
Nearly everyone in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (related fields are known as Human Factors, and User Experience) has heard of A/B testing. How should we lay out our web pages? Should we have a tool bar? Should it be always visible or only visible on rollover? What type fonts and color schemes should we use?
Clearly A/B testing is useful. However — there are at least two fundamental limitations to A/B testing.
First, for almost any real application, there are way too many choices for each of them to be tested. This is where the experience of the practitioner and/or the knowledge of the field and of human psychology can be very helpful. Your experience and theory can help you make an educated guess about how to prioritize the questions to be studied. Some questions may have an obvious answer. Others might not make much difference. Some questions are more fundamental than others. For instance, if you decided not to use any text at all on your site, it wouldn’t matter which “font” your users prefer.
Second, some decisions interact with others. For instance, you may test a font size in the laboratory with your friends. Just as you suspected, it’s perfectly legible. Then, it turns out that your users are mainly elderly people who use your app while going on cruises or bus tours. In general, the elderly have less acute vision that the friends you studied in the lab. Not only that, you were showing the font on a stable display under steady conditions of illumination. The bus riders are subject to vibration (which also makes reading more difficult) and frequent changes in illumination due to the sun or artificial light being intermittently filtered by trees, buildings, etc. Age, Vibration, and Illumination changes are variables that interact by being positively correlated. In other cases, variables interact in other and more complex ways. For example, increasing stress/motivation at first increases performance. But beyond a certain point, increasing stress or motivation actually decreases performance. This is sometimes known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerkes–Dodson_law)
The story doesn’t stop there though. How much stress is optimal partly depends on the novelty and complexity of the task. If it’s a simple or extremely practiced task, quite a bit of stress is the optimal point. Imagine how long you might hang on to a bar for one dollar, for a thousand dollars, or to save yourself from falling to the bottom of a 1000 foot ravine. For a moderately complex task, a moderate level of motivation is optimal. For something completely novel and creative, however, a low level of stress is often optimal.
The real point isn’t about these particular interactions. The more general point is that testing many variables independently will not necessarily result in an optimal overall solution. Experience — your own — and the experiences of others — can help dissect a design problem into those decisions that are likely to be relatively independent of each other and those that must be considered together.
Life itself has apparently “figured out” an interesting way to deal with the issue of the interaction of variables. Genes that work well together end up close together on the chromosome. That means that they are more likely to stay together and not end up on different chromosomes because of cross-over. By contrast, genes that are independent or even have a negative impact, when taken together, tend to end up far apart so that they are likely to be put on different chromosomes.
So, for example, one might expect that a gene for more “feather-like skin” and more “wing-like front legs” might be close to each other while a gene for thicker, heavier bones would be far away.
Clearly, the tricky way variables interact isn’t limited to “User Experience Design” of course. Think of learning a sport such as tennis or golf. You can’t really learn and practice each component of a stroke separately. That’s not the way the body works. If you are turning your hips, for example, as you swing, your arm and hand will feel differently than if you tried to keep them still while you swung.
Do you have any good tips for dealing with interactions of variables? In User Experience or any other domain?
I was trained as a scientist. I believe in science. I believe that doing laboratory experiments about how we perceive, learn, decide, and solve problems has merit and applicability to the real world. One of the things I studied in the laboratory was perceptual adaptation. So, I had first-hand experience conducting experiments on perceptual adaptation. Please keep that in mind as you read this short story.
Many years ago, I drove to IBM Research five days of the week. It was a beautiful drive among Westchester reservoirs and at one point, my journey took me through an “erector set bridge” — you know the kind — they literally look to be made from a giant erector set. At the time, I was driving a sky blue Chevy with only an AM radio for entertainment. I typically listened to Imus in the morning on the way into work each day. AM radio being what it is, and steel erector set bridges being what they are, each time I drove through the metal bridge, the sound volume went down quite noticeably until I emerged on the other side. I did this for years.
At some point, I decided I would treat myself to an entertainment upgrade. I had never bought anything like this and I was somewhat nervous that I might be “taken” or that the installation would be shoddy.
I had a tape deck and AM/FM radio installed as well as stereo speakers. To me, it seemed marginally too luxurious, but I was really looking forward to some higher quality music and listening to books on tape. (I didn’t even know about NPR or WBAI at that point). I felt quite happy and contented as I drove to work that first day with my new tape deck. I had it playing some of my favorite and most spirited music. A perfect way to begin the workweek!
All at once, the sound volume went way up! And, then, a few moments later, it went back down again. My first thought was along these lines: “Damn! There must be a loose wire in the thing. Crap, now I’ve got to spend hours trying to straighten this out and argue about the bill. Yech.
Wait a minute! That was the bridge! I just perceived the sound to be louder because I so strongly expected it to be softer!
OK. But why the delay? Why didn’t it immediately occur to me as my first explanation? I knew that I was using my ear brain system to perceive the sound. I knew that expectation impacts experience. I knew I had spent years driving through the bridge and having the sound level go down. I believe in science, I participated in the visual analogue of such a phenomenon myself.
One explanation is age of learning. I learned about how people think and solve problems from watching my own family interact and listening to radio. Later, that was supplemented by watching television, and to a lesser extent movies. I had at least a decade of indoctrination of “finding who is at fault” and “if I perceive it, it must be true!” Before I ever heard of the “scientific method.”
Is it possible that those thought-patterns still influenced my initial takes on how to solve a problem? Is it feasible that they do not? In the instance related above, my “scientific and professional training” did come into play and overcome my initial impression. Indeed, the second hypothesis leap-frogged way ahead of the “loose wire” theory as the most plausible explanation.
Note too that not only did the “loose wire” theory initially come to the fore; it was embellished with a guilty party! Even if there were a loose wire, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the person who installed it had done a bad job.
I had a job for awhile as a projectionist, and I did make a few mistakes. But it also happened more than once that I was “blamed” for a film breaking when the real reason was not bad threading but the fact that the film had been spliced a hundred times! Or, I would be given a rotary slide tray by the lecturer and one of the slides would be out of order. That’s my fault? Was I supposed to get an advanced copy of the presentation and critique it? No-one mentioned that as part of the job description. But there it is: the tendency to blame someone who may or may not be actually to blame. I have been on the receiving end. I suspect everyone has. Yet, my mind jumped to the same nonsense.
Even if you’ve never been trained in science, you’ve almost undoubtedly had many experiences that show that your perceptions of reality are not necessarily reality. You’ve likely jumped to conclusions and later found out you were wrong. A good way to remind us all of this is based on Native American wisdom called “The Iroquois Rule of Six.”
In the case of the little vignette I shared above, I was driving to work. It took place before the invention of “smart phones” so even if I had been tempted to pull over and give that stereo installer a “piece of my mind” I had no feasible way to do it.
Bob had never realized how much he had been subvocalizing when he thought. His first day on the ventilator had taught him that.
“On the ventilator” — what a fun expression, thought Bob. It makes you feel as though you’re in control. You’ve got that damned ventilator just where you want him and he’d better do as you say. Well, poop. It isn’t anything like that at all! You’re not “on a ventilator” at all! It’s on you. Worse, it’s in you. And, what’s worse, I found that when I can’t mutter to myself, I can’t even think straight. And, maybe that’s a good thing because you have no right to think straight. Thinking straight means you get to a goal. But what goal? You’re going in circles because you can’t control anything. And, the only thing you want never to think about is how thick-headedly stubborn you were. And you knew! That was the worst part. You knew the pandemic was real. You knew masks and vaccines would work. You just wanted to show how brave you were. For what? You weren’t brave at all, Bobby Boy, were you? No, you were too chicken to show how horribly disappointed you were in that man. And, by the time you realized it, you just set your jaw and lowered your head and rammed it right into that brick wall called reality. And now, here you lie. Lie. Yeah.
And there was a time, Bobby Boy, there was a time when you was honest. You wouldn’t have dreamed of cheating in school. Or, football. Well, our coach would have kicked our ass if he found us cheating or even staying out past curfew! But this new coach! He’d kick our ass if we did not cheat. It’s what it’s all about. But I’m not really like that. Why did I go along with it? And, now — this! All I had to do was get vaccinated for Christ’s sake! I wouldn’t even have to tell my friends. Why the hell should I have to tell them? I could’ve just pretended I didn’t. They’d never know. Unless one of them punched me on the arm. Or asked my wife. So what? So what if they found out? It’s still better than being “on” this f***ing ventilator.
“Mr. Roberts? We’re going to have to move you to help prevent your bedsores from getting worse. Okay? You ready?”
Who knew, thought Bobby, that medical Doctors and not just dentists ask you questions when they know damned well you can’t answer! Why the hell do they do that? I guess it’s a power trip, right?
That’s right. It’s all about power. There is no good and bad, really. Isn’t that what Voldemort said? But still. Who cares? There is no good and bad, really.
Yet here I lie. Living a lie is what got me here.
“There we go, Mr. Roberts. Oh by the way, your wife and sons said to wish you a Happy Birthday. See you tomorrow.”
Yet, here I lie. Bob felt as though he were looking into a fog at night, nearly able to make out the strange shape coming toward him, but as it got closer, it remained elusive — almost shy or reclusive. He couldn’t even tell whether it was an angry bear or a very large crazed criminal. He thought, If it isn’t all about power, what else is there? Truth and Love, I suppose. That’s corny. That’s for suckers.
Now, the odd shape of the truth revealed itself, not as a vague nothingness in the fog but as clear and definite, much like a white rose in the bright summer sunlight. And there it was. Plain as day. And loudly reverberating in his own head.
“You know the truth, Bob. You and I both know the truth. The real suckers are the ones who put power above Love and Truth. They play the game for Death. So, it is of no great surprise that, as you say, ‘Yet here I lie.’”
Bobby Boy, he thought to himself, you are truly losing it. I need that nurse to bring me a pad of paper. I have to tell people. I have to tell the truth! Before it’s too late! But why would anyone believe me, even on my deathbed. The evil that men do lives after them. Isn’t that what … somebody … Marc Anthony, said? When you lie, no-one believes you even if you do tell the truth. I can’t change my vote now, can I?
The alarm rang, and people heard, and people came, and people did the usual things that people do when one of the over three million COVID patients dies.
Of course, the misery of a Bobby Boy’s death does not itself end with the death of Bobby Boy. In many cases, there will be more misery after a death than before. I imagine that to be so for Bobby Boy.
Before, his friends and relatives will likely have had hope. After, they will feel grief about Bob. They will feel angry that Bob didn’t care enough about the truth to face the truth and that he instead acted like a damned fool. And a selfish one at that. And, they will be in a spin about what to do next. Their lives have been changed forever and they have no idea yet just how to cope with that fact or even understand the magnitude — the depth and breadth and width of that massive gaping black hole of a change. And, they will feel loss of the things that they loved about Bob even if he was stupid enough to think power was better. They may not have each thought of it in precisely those same words, but they all felt that about Bob. And, they will feel fear. If this person, still in the prime of life can be struck down, what about the rest of us? Will we ever get back to normal? It’s important to understand in a clearer way than Bob ever did that his allegiance to power over truth did not just cause misery in his own life. It also caused misery in the lives of everyone who cared about him.