Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The world is more complicated than a tweet

As some of you know, I bailed on Twitter a while ago. I no longer wanted any part of a platform that permits and enables not just hate speech, racism, and bigotry, but actual threats of nuclear war by someone in a position to start one.

I now skip over "news" reports that consist of someone telling me what someone tweeted, and then showing me a screen shot of the tweet, sometimes an entire conversation of tweets masquerading as news with both the text and the screen shots repeating the information. I want more from my news than that. This superficial analysis is essentially a he said, she said issue, and the problem usually is that one of the sides is a complete idiot spouting utter nonsense. Sometimes both sides, and it's not a surprise if it's three sides, counting the 'journalist' as a side.

You see much the same things in the comments section of any news outlet that permits them. Complete nonsense, and it's easy to tell that the author is yelling, completely full of self righteous bile punctuated by spelling mistakes. I don't read the comments section either and my blood pressure is the better for it.

Whatever happened to actual articulate speeches or position papers that outlined a plan, the reasons for it, maybe some preliminary cost estimates and timeline, that people could respond to? A proposal to do something positive, rather than undoing something. There might be hearings to attend or provide submissions to, perhaps there would be actual debates about the issue out in public and everything. The reasons would actually make sense or appear to, and not be some simplistic jingo appeal to patriotism, or a bleat to lower taxes, or dog whistles to a favoured group.

One upon a time, the world was a simple place. You worked your ass off hoping not to starve to death and did what your lord (secular or religious) told you to do. Most people were told what to think and usually lacked any peaceful exposure to people who thought otherwise. Then you died of some horrible disease while still a kid by today's standards, or were killed in an aristocratic spat.

Now the world is a much more complicated place, and we're here (most of us anyways) for much longer. We know that much of what people have believed in the past is not true. You'd think we would be able to discuss things like grownups, taking the time to unravel the complexities and doing the right thing, or perhaps the least wrong thing.

But no. There are people that seriously believe the earth is flat, that Americans have not walked on the moon, that vaccinations are a bad thing, that aliens walk among us (usually grey lizards wearing human skin, if I understand it correctly), that airplanes flying into the World Trade Centre buildings were not the reason they fell, that the world is going to end real soon now (from a wide variety of imaginary causes), that chem trails are a real thing, that homeopathy is effective, that Elvis (or many other celebrities) are still alive (he would be coming up on his 83rd birthday as I write this), that Kennedy was shot by (take your pick), climate change is a hoax, that Obama was born in Kenya or elsewhere but certainly not the USA, that there is a magic carburetor that gets 300 miles per gallon(are there any cars in North America currently sold with carburetors rather than fuel injection?), that any number of common substances cure cancer, and I could go on but it's too depressing. Often they are loud and proud of themselves. I quite frankly think that if you actually believe any of these to be true, you aren't smart enough to be voting for our elected representatives. Or better yet, your vote is counted against the person you voted for, except that's complicated too.

As I've said other times, the common thread to unraveling any conspiracy theory is how many people had to be involved to make it work, and remembering that 3 people can keep a secret only if two of them are dead. After that, anyone with a functional brain and what I consider a high school education can find the holes in such conspiracies.

Such people appear to want to return to the days when someone told them what to think, and it was simple. Problems had simple solutions, which usually involved killing some other unpopular person or group. Now we have various (usually conservative) groups spouting simple (simple-minded is the word) slogans that will cure all the problems facing us. Have you heard any of these? Build the wall. Lock her up. Build a pipeline. Cut taxes. Repeal the carbon tax. Fire fat cat civil servants. Gold plated pensions. Anybody could do that job. Radical Islamic terrorism. Environmental terrorism. Drill baby drill.

Pick a problem. As big as global climate change, or as small as changing the bus routes in your neighbourhood. There might be a variety of proposals to consider, each with points for and against. I don't mind someone holding a particular position I disagree with, and I don't mind them being passionate about it. I don't even mind if they are stuck on one particular point, usually because it affects them personally or they think it does. (Looking at YOU, Mercedes Man.) Just be honest about it, and don't try to wrap it up in some bigger issue that is meant to bully other people. Accept that other people will disagree and that the price of you being allowed to speak is them being allowed to speak too. No, you're not more important because you're a rich white man. And don't start shouting. My usual rule is that whoever starts shouting first has demonstrated they've lost their grasp of the issues, and the debate.

It's like we've forgotten how to hold a civilized discussion, where people take turns making their points, recognize there is a sense of order and method to the discussion, that people can hold opposing viewpoints yet not be an enemy, and accept that a decision might not go your way.

It's clear to me that attention spans have been dropping, as evidenced by sound bite journalism and rapid cut movies. But there seems to be less willingness to tolerate a different opinion, and essentially no willingness to explore why someone might hold such an opinion. It's a cliche to find out someone unfriended another for saying something they disagree with, which is one step to turning the internet into a giant echo chamber. It can't be a surprise that politicians take advantage of this.

There are exceptions, though. Two politicians come to mind. Calgary Mayor Nenshi made it clear he wanted to talk in complete paragraphs, and actually made sense when allowed to do so. But I know people that thought it was weird, and got lost in what he was saying, then started saying derogatory things about him. I couldn't decide for sure if this was resentment at what appeared to be someone smarter than them showing off, or simple racism.

The other is Adlai Stevenson. I have no actual memories of him, being born too late, but I remember some of my older relatives talking about him. Over the years I've read about him and his campaigns for President. I remember reading a quote attributed to Adlai Stevenson upon being told that he had the vote of every thinking person, "That's not enough, madam, we need a majority!" That was back in the 50's, and he was prescient enough to see the rot setting in. He died in 1965, and some of his quotes are even more relevant today.

While I was researching that to make sure I got the wording right, I found some other quotes. Enjoy.

"The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions. But there is also, it seems to me, a moment at which democracy must prove its capacity to act. Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal cords."
Speech in New York City (28 August 1952)

"I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them."
Campaign statement in Fresno, California (10 September 1952);

"My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."
Speech in Detroit, Michigan (7 October 1952)

Read those three over again and think about what's happening today. The only way we can stop it is to push back. Don't vote for politicians spouting nonsense, in fact, laugh at them. Get involved in the issues, and support people that recognize the complexity of the issues. Anyone that says the issue isn't complex, and all we need to is 'x', is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

There are consequences to any action, or even inaction. Sometimes the consequences are good, such as fewer children dying of measles. Sometimes bad, such as inadequate drug testing leading to Thalidomide being prematurely released. Sometimes we have to balance the consequences, deciding if it's worth adding to government spending to build some piece of infrastructure. Sometimes we just don't know for sure.

But the first step to noodling through it is to realize that it is complicated. The reasons given often are not the real drivers. There are connections to other issues that might not be visible on first examination. There are different ways to look at it, and placing different priorities will lead to different results. I once had a boss who picked the result he wanted, then reasoned backwards to find a trail of "logic" that got him what he wanted. You want to watch for that, and call them on it.

The advice of "follow the money" is still applicable. Find out who benefits, and you'll begin to understand why things unfold the way they do. Keep in mind it often isn't the politicians that are driving things. They're just the stooges, I mean, the front man. Look for the person pulling their strings, a less competent wizard of Oz behind the curtain, I mean the corporation.

The one tactic that frosts my noodle is when a an entity dresses up a rape and plunder policy as something beneficial to the victim, and slips it to them like a fraudulent dose of cod liver oil. We see that happening a lot in the USA just lately. I can't believe people are stupid enough to vote for Republicans that are fixed on removing improvements to health care.

We see it here with cries to cut taxes. What they don't tell you is that to do that they intend to fire front line workers in health care and government services. Union people. Nurses and teachers, mainly. People that just happen to be your neighbours providing a vital service. It's a multi-pronged approach. There's an element of gender wars, since most of those people are women, so it removes their independence from men. There's an attack on unions, who provide a counterbalance to the powers exerted by wealthy corporations. The people that get the most benefit from a tax cut are already personally wealthy and corporations. When corporations benefits, what the really means is the people running it can earn more personal income because the corporation plunders more profit. There's a side of money siphoned off to "consultants" who help them decide who to fire.

Don't fall for it. Think it through. This is more important than following the imaginary lives of people on TV. The TV shows (sports, reality shows, soap operas, whatever) are the modern version of bread and circuses, designed to distract you from what's important. Inform yourself, and don't believe the first guy you find on the internet selling you more of the same. Keep looking. Speak up. Write letters, and send email. Vote.


  1. I think the smart people, the 'thinkers' are getting worn down by the relentless idiocy we're being subjected to on a daily basis. How do you apply logic or sense to much of what's happening in the US? There's none, it's greed and arrogance leading the blindly faithful. Did you read that article on Johnstown, PA and why they support trump? Awful state of affairs.

  2. mmm Well perhaps this time the technology gods will cooperate. Thank you for another one of your wonderful rants. As you know once upon a time I bcame a business analyst. I was good enough to keeping getting contracts but I didn't really become decent until I stopped trying to be right. It is far more interesting to provide good answers than trying to be right. Much of what you have written, appears to be associated with people wanting to be right regardless of the logic. We need far more people to stop trying to be right, and many more people to give considered answers to difficult questions. f11 @ 1/125 :) Cheers


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