Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook Is A Call For Kindness

I hadn't even heard the news of the shooting before reading several new political rants about gun control and other things. In fact, it was these rants that informed me of the days events, and upon reading of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the rants faded into the background completely.

I stared at the headline: "26 Killed, Including 20 Children In CT Elementary School Shooting."

I was horrified, and I cried. I couldn’t scroll down to read the story for at least a full minute. I didn’t need to know the details. It was a moment that felt like an eternity, when the need for the ‘why’ is overshadowed by sadness so great, you want to believe it didn’t happen.

I thought it hadn’t, at first. In that eternity of seconds, a war raged within me. I could see this happening in a movie, right as the hero is the most lacking in his faith. I could see it happening in a dream, where I get to wake up and ponder what it meant in the comfort of reality. But this happened in reality.

I finally scrolled to read the details, none of which stuck out to me at the time. I still had my Facebook open, so I returned to post a status about how I felt, and then went for a walk.

A storm system that arrived after many dry months in Southern Arizona had just peaked. Tucson was covered in a dark blanket in the middle of the afternoon from one horizon to the other, and it all felt terrifyingly synchronistic. 

I had a lot to think about. 

I thought about how this would change our world and specifically our country. I thought about how it would change me. I thought about the devastation of those parents and teachers directly affected.

I was shocked to realize that this shooting affected me more than 9/11 ever did. We all knew 9/11 was big, and it changed everything. But somewhere deep down, even as a high schooler watching the footage of the towers live, I always knew something like this could happen. I knew there were bad people who would stop at nothing to get what they want, and to destroy us.

But Sandy Hook was different. It is still unclear why the killer did it, but I don’t really think it matters. There is no reason that would make sense.

9/11 made sense, in a jingoistic sort of way. But this makes no sense. I cannot understand what the thought process would be of a person who would slaughter not one, but twenty small and screaming children. Even as I type these words, my hands shake.

It upsets me that we blame each other for this, too. In times like these, we bargain and blame, because we can’t make sense of it as a society, either.

And I was also angry. I was angry at the blame game I saw on my social network. The bodies of the victims were still warm, and already the drumming had begun for one political agenda after another. If only we had less guns… If only we had more guns… If only we had universal healthcare that covered mental health… If only we hadn’t turned our backs on God… If only we hadn’t chosen to follow God… If only…video games. If only…the parents. If only…public education. And on and on and on.

I would have jumped into this constant torrent of opinion, and it was my first instinct to do so when I first read the headline.

But this one is different. It is too serious for that. The truth is, how in the world could you treat someone who disagrees with you politically as if he was one and the same with this killer? I don’t care what your political stripes are, nearly no one is this evil. This is as evil as it gets. 

Even the most insensitive, selfish TV pundit would never do anything like this, and so it’s important to place your very genuine and legitimate rage where it belongs: the killer.

This is the exact sort of event that should bring us together, not give us cause to turn on one another. There is no doubt we will learn and grow from this tragedy, but it is in vain to do so if we disrespect these losses with our own selfish preaching.

And I have to be honest: I have been guilty of this, too. It is so easy to hear a story and take the bits from it that serve your purpose, so that your reason for relaying it has less to do with its own significance and more to do with your own ego. I have sinned big here in the past. I have been part of the problem, and it is my wish that my friends would smack me down if ever I do it again.

I also learned another lesson: Even I can forget the goodness of people. Though some people on Facebook took to ranting, most did not. Most offered up condolences and prayers, and nothing more. Some of them are those who are otherwise very political people, and it tells me a good deal about them that they chose not to do it now.

As an optimist, I tend to see the good in all people, and I believe most people are good. When a tragedy like this happens, our tendency is to give the killer the most face-time, but I believe this changed with the Batman shooting. The majority of those who posted stories about that killer were met not with approval but with indignation and criticism.

I responded to the news of the Sandy Hook shooting by going to a movie. 

I don’t have children, but if I did, I would have played with them instead. What I do have is movies. It’s why the Batman shooting hit me as hard as it did. As Kevin Smith explained: for fans and makers of movies, the theater is like your sanctuary, and an event like that shooting is like an attempt to rob you of something sacred.

I saw The Hobbit in the new HFR 3D format, and even as I had the massacre in the back of my head the whole time, I reveled in the magic that was the next great evolution in cinematic technology. I might as well have been in a pre-historic forest during a cold night, huddled with others over a fire and listening avidly to the storyteller, whose story offers yet another account of that rebellious, beautiful and kind human spirit.

When I got home, that was when I discovered the backlash on Facebook against those seeking to politicize the events. It seemed more and more like I was not such a loner in my genuine grief, or in my stubborn reluctance to cave to cynicism.

And I’ll end on that note: The love of people for each other will eventually conquer all. The cliché is accurate. We are capable of such great and beautiful things, even if we are capable of acts as heinous as this shooting. I won’t say what I think needs to be done just yet, but one thing is almost certain: more kindness. We’ll never know if a pat on the back from a respected elder or a genuine hug from a sibling or peer would have been enough to remind a killer like this what kindness feels like, but it couldn’t hurt.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Paul Ryan and Tom Morello Should Get Married

Why Paul Ryan and Tom Morello are NOT making mad passionate monkey noises together in the back of a roach coach is beyond me. Maybe they are, actually.

They are the perfect marriage. Political allies of the most curious kind, bound to one another by hypocrisy like big government foot-stink.

I’ll bet the conversation went something like this:

Agent: “Hey Tom, guess what? Your band has a fan!”
Tom: “A whole fan? Really?! Oh please tell me who!”
Agent: “Paul Ryan.”
Tom: “Seriously?”
Agent: “Yup.”
Tom: “Um. I don’t know what that means.”

It means a bromance made in heaven. I don’t know if that’s how it went down, but I know he eventually came to his senses and attacked Paul Ryan anyway. It seems to be quite popular.

And God bless Mr. Morello for his passion. He’s placed his rage in all the right places. Definitely. It’s good to have a powerful man worth $60 million going after the embodiment of the 1%, because…

Oh wait a minute. $8.4 million, that’s the threshold for the 1%, right? (shhhh… don’t tell Tom he’s in the 1%…)

Anyways, it’s good to experience such brilliant anti-establishment art as the music of Rage Against the Machine. I just love that they donated their time and energy to those so-called Warner brothers who are just like you and me. That indie film – oh what was it called?

The Matrix. That’s right.

And it just warms my heart that they’ve decided to stick with an indie label, too. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Epic Records? Probably not. That’s because…

Oh. Owned by one of the “Big Four”? You don’t say.

Well, it’s no matter. At the end of the day, I just prefer my rock idols to be really really angry. Doesn’t really matter why, just as long as it’s directed at the right people. And I don’t care how much they make. I know in the end they really care about me. Like all the folk that also write for that newsletter that published his article. Small newsletter called Rolling Stone. You may have heard of it?

But I know he wouldn’t just try to capitalize on people’s hatred of Paul Ryan, because he has every reason to love Paul.  Paul Ryan is Tom’s representative in Congress. I mean, surely he sees that.

Paul Ryan does hate things. And if the system Tom’s group has raged against was to be changed into a system of the very kind of rage that fuels his own, it would come in the form of someone like the Congressman. So be proud of your Congressman, Tom. He’s got your back.

Or, to put it another way: They would go down with the ship together in honor. The women and children would still go first, then the real men. Then, the people like you and the Congressman would stay. Because douchebags go down with the ship, and they feverishly play “Fight The Iceberg” on the cello while those who know how to save themselves fail to care.

“Fist in the air in the land of hypocrisy,” you once raged.

I agree completely.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

4 Arguments Against the Dislike Button

I know it might be an unpopular position to take, but I don’t think Facebook having a Dislike button is a good idea. I know that disliking things is very popular right now, and a good many of my friends really want the chance to dislike things openly. Disliking things is fun, requires zero effort and allows you to put a dent in a reality that you find offensive without getting involved. But that’s sort of why it’s a terrible idea. There is nothing constructive about the Dislike button, and I believe the narcissism already present on the Internet would be only intensified and made destructive if allowed to exist. That is because the desire for the Dislike button comes from the remnant of a primitive brain which seeks to tear down and control the reality of others, and rejects communication, cooperation and respect for other people.

First of all, there is a practical reason why Facebook shouldn’t have a Dislike button, and it’s the same reason why it never will: A Dislike button is bad for business, especially if your business is social networking. Think about it. Why in the name of all things sacred would a business based around the idea of creating and building relationships introduce an element that could only break one down? How soon after they introduce the Dislike button would you see a rapid decline in activity on Facebook? How could a dislike button possibly contribute to a dynamic that is supposed to be all about sharing, and not about division and hate?

Some argue that using a Dislike button to show empathy could build relationships, such as for comments like “I just lost my job,” or “My wife and I are getting a divorce.” But why wouldn’t you rather leave a comment for these types of posts anyway? Why would you clamor for an alternative that allows you to sympathize without actually doing any work? I would sure rather see a comment from a friend as opposed to a bunch of dislikes. Not to mention there have already been suggestions for alternatives, such as a Hug button, to differentiate these sorts of things.

But in the absence of these alternatives, how would Facebook differentiate these types of posts from others that people just don’t like, such as, “That new Katy Perry song is awesome!” If Facebook filters its feed on the basis of how many likes a shared item or status update receives, wouldn’t it just bury the “My dog just died” posts as well? The list of problems goes on.

But let us not forget the other reason it’s bad for business: Sponsors. Imagine you were Coke, and Facebook just announced it was adding a Dislike button. Do you think Facebook would be a good place to advertise after that? I don’t think so.

But in case you think that’s just as well, realize that it applies to ALL businesses, including that concert that you and your band were thinking of creating an event for. Your local mom and pop could get slammed with dislikes, making Facebook no longer a place to network and communicate with its fanbase. Not only would Facebook be hit with a loss in advertising revenue, which would affect how well it operates and whether or not it can expand, but it would make it even harder for smaller businesses to compete.

Again, this is all to say that the Dislike button would do very little to build relationships, but would do everything to break them down.

It is very fortunate for everyone involved that the Dislike button will never become a reality. But why would people keep arguing that it should?

Well the second argument that it shouldn’t is a philosophical one: A Dislike button wouldn’t add more choice, but it would make choosing unpleasant for everyone. People act like they have a fundamental entitlement to a Dislike button, and the fact that they don’t is an affront to their freedom of choice. They want to be able to dislike something, and they can’t, and it’s just not fair. Well this view of choice is very immature, because it reflects a very poor understanding of what choice actually is.

The word “choose” comes from the latin verb gusto, which means “to taste.” It is also the origin of the modern “gusto,” which means enthusiastic enjoyment or pleasure. The action of taking, tasting, eating and enjoying is inherent in the idea of choosing. If you did not enjoy something, then you couldn’t say you chose it. To NOT pick the apple from the tree is NOT a choice. You can’t say, “I chose not to pick that apple.” You could say, however, “I didn’t chose to pick the apple.”

So if you decide not to pick the apple, what is that called, if not a choice? I would call it a rejection. I would even say it is an inaction until you consciously decide not to pick the apple. Once you decide you don’t like the apple, then you move on. But it’s not a choice, it’s a rejection. In other words, there is always a yes involved in choice, because that’s what choice IS. It’s you saying yes to something. Even when you use the word, that’s understood. If you choose red not blue, you don't say,“I choose not blue.” You say “I choose red."

So if you see something come up on your Facebook feed that you don’t like, don’t choose it. And if you really want a Dislike button, you won’t be getting the freedom to choose, you’ll be getting the freedom to reject.

Having said that, it should be clear just how unpleasant it would all become to ACTUALLY choose something in an environment filled with rejection. If something comes up in your feed that you like, but others publicly dislike, your liking it is now an open invitation to be harassed for it. The more dislikes, the more likely you are to get hassled for liking it, making you less inclined to like anything. The repercussions of your decision to like something would always have to be considered when choosing to like something. And that is very sad.

Facebook should be a place where everyone can have the experience they choose to have, to like what they want, even if there’s only one other person that agrees with them. You don’t get to decide that for them, even if you know they’re crazy.

That leads me to the sociological argument: When it is known how unpopular a thing is, the quality of the discourse diminishes. This seems like a no-brainer. Think about how kids react to knowledge that a certain kid is unpopular. All they need is a little bit of encouragement and they turn into monsters. Many of them are good kids, actually, but if lead by the hand and given the ok, they will go along with all of the awful things the truly awful kids are doing.

We like to think that we are not like them, that we are grown adults. But we are kidding ourselves if we think that’s the case. Think about every alliance that formed in your workplace between those looking for a scapegoat and those few whipping boys who actually pull their weight. Think of all the gossip magazines we read and all the popular TV shows where we all get to watch a family fall apart. We enjoy it because we know that millions of other people are watching it too, and so its ok. But imagine a world in which watching “Hoarders” made you more deplorable than its own subjects. Imagine if you didn’t have the support you needed in the dislike of celebrities and politicians. What would you do?

You would make your case, that’s what you would do. You would have to do so intelligently, coherently, concisely and passionately. This is what happens on discussion boards and forums where the article or subject did not include a like or dislike button.

If you do not know how many people are on your side, you are more inclined to form your own opinion, or abstain when you feel you are lacking in the knowledge with which to comment.

To be fair, this argument is true for the Like button as well, since the popularity of an idea often carries the ethos of credibility. But undoing the damage of a bad idea with a lot of Likes is as simple as posting a link in the comments section. Undoing the damage of a good idea with a gazillion Dislikes is close to impossible. Plus, in most cases, there is no harm done by clicking Like.

 If you are reading this and you really want to help create a better world both on- and offline, then the final argument should matter a lot to you: The absence of a Dislike button is Facebook’s version of “innocent until proven guilty,” and that’s a very good thing. This is the moral argument, and I’m not sure that many of the people I talk to about the Dislike button are aware of this.

I think the Dislike button represents something in all of us that needs to die out. It is the power to destroy, motivated by the desire to control the reality of others.

It is much bigger than simply being able to say, “I really don’t like lolcats.” It is as if you think that every piece of media that passes before your eyes begs the question, “Do you think this should exist?” People have been exposed to so many things that they don’t like, they just really want the chance to make it go away, and they feel like they ought to have a right to do so.

The Dislike button at least gives you the gratification of saying, “No.” You don’t even have to be personally involved in the thing you don’t like, you don’t have to think about it for very long, and beyond that you can just let your gut tell you if it's good or not. No regard needs to be paid to the person who made it, or the others who like it.

But here’s the thing: It still exists. You are not going to get rid of something in cyberspace just by disliking it.

Maybe you think, “People will stop making this sort of thing if enough people dislike it, and that is alright with me.” Not only is this an unrealistic assumption, it once again demonstrates your desire to control the reality of others. What is actually happening is people are connecting to one another by an experience, and you are trying to destroy it for them. It is not your experience, but you don’t care because you don’t think it was fair that you were exposed to it in the first place. Well I say you need to grow up, if that’s what you think.

To be clear, I’m not saying that actually disliking something is wrong, and I’m certainly not saying that making a comment to that effect is bad. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. Your efforts to voice your displeasure should be one-to-one and co-operative, not top-down and authoritative. The Dislike button is a replacement for conversation, and it contains no insight, criticism or respect for the content's creator.

Part of that conversation that MUST be present is evidence. If you are displeased with something and voicing your displeasure in the form of a Dislike could have a very negative impact on the content’s creator, you should be required to explain yourself. You should not be allowed to take an action like Disliking a video without having to – or at least being able to – defend it.

This is crucial for building a better world for all of us. Only in the last few hundred years did we learn a very important moral lesson which has helped us become better people. One of the core principles of Western philosophy is the idea that a person’s guilt should never be assumed, and that everyone has the right to defend themselves. You shouldn’t be able to send me to the chair just by pointing your finger at me, and I should never be able to do the same to you.

This is such a profound ethical achievement on humanity’s part, and we’ve come too far in our real life to allow this idea to die out in our digital world. Once it disappears online, we will see it less and less in the real world. We will go back to the way things used to be decided: By tyranny, where a totalitarian ruler decides. or by mob rule, in which an individual is defenseless against the many.

We are already seeing it now with every major criminal case, from Gabby Giffords to Treyvon Martin. Everyone has an opinion, but nobody knows the facts. And nobody cares that they don't have the facts.

The argument doesn’t even have to be that big. Think about it on a personal level: How would you tell someone to their face that you don’t like what they’ve made? I suppose a few of you reading this might actually be just as blunt in real life. But even if you are, wouldn’t you then include your reasons or would you just say, “It sucks,” and leave it at that?

I suspect most of you would either lie and say you liked it, or you would try to find a nice way to say it. You might even re-examine your dislike and find that it’s not that bad after all. There are many reasons why a Dislike button eliminates avenues of communication that would lead to relationship-building, but instead it drives a wedge between two people who are potentially very much alike.

If nobody likes something, it won’t get shared and it won’t last long. The Dislike button is not necessary, and it will introduce much harm to a world that is just starting to get built. There are so many problems in the world, and we can’t let it fall apart just because we’ve introduced a relationship-destroying element into our community. There is no content that is so Disliked that it can’t either be debated with or flagged. As human beings, we should be wanting to like and create, not finding things to dislike and destroy.  

 If you would like to hear more about this from others, I would recommend this guy, who has a lot to say about it. I would really like to know what your thoughts are on the subject, so please leave a comment!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

2012: Lessons Learned So Far

I’ve been feeling for some time like a great change is occurring, if not in the world at least in myself. This could be just me emerging from that quarter-life crisis we all have, when we finally find footing after being flung into a world that looks and feels and acts nothing at all like we were told it would.

I’ve been taking it one day at a time in everything I do, trying my best to live by a philosophy that maintains simply that if you don’t like your life and your world, change it. It is further driven by a sense of rational optimism that is informed merely by the good results it produces.

I’m certain now that the recent and abrupt termination of an otherwise awesome relationship with a wonderful woman was absolutely meant to occur. The dedicated crew of impassioned and creative people I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire is also, I feel, no accident.

As cuckoo as it sounds, at this very moment in my life, I’m prepared to accept that forces beyond my power or control are guiding me in a certain direction.

That I should choose to include a pomegranate as a decidedly important symbol in my music video, only to find that my art director himself possesses a pomegranate bush. Added to this the odd fact that it began leafing the very first day I met with him to discuss the project, and may very well begin to flower at precisely the same time we shoot. The full moon on the day we begin pre-production, as well as the solar storm we are currently experiencing and various other little things of this nature all seem very synchronistic.

That this all is circumstantial is obvious, but there is also the feeling of it. I have become very much intuitive about everything now. Even my body has found a way to tell me exactly what food to eat, and it seems stubborn in its refusal to accept anything else. Beer, for some reason, is in great supply these days. The hearty type, with lots of body and very dark.

All this is to say that I am feeling more and more like a player in my own life, and not just an actor or an observer. All my life I’ve judged the merit of my own actions on the sensibilities and successes of others. I wasted time in college in this futile attempt to gain acceptance and to depend on the advice and opinions of others.

But as monumental a task as learning to truly form your own opinions can be, it is still only half the battle. If you truly want to carve out a niche for yourself and be a free spirit, there are things you will learn that may leave you with that feeling of existential dread in the pit of your stomach keeping you up at night. Just know this is temporary.

I believe the lack of appetite I’ve had these days is related to this. No longer do I care what people think, but no more do I care to change what people think about anything, even me. I can help them to understand me, but no expectations should be made of it.

The truth is, I just can’t care enough anymore. It’s not possible. It has taken all of the energy and passion I can muster just to forge on for myself. Perhaps someday when my hair is gray, I will have something to say, when I can no longer be a player. Or sooner, if I can obtain any sort of mastery which others would want to hear of.

One thing I can speak of, though, is that oft-neglected aspect of optimism that even the most positive person can forget: the valley. If you’re a pessimist, your world is pretty flat. Ever so often you find a mountain that might reach into the heavens, but it will be rare. An optimist, though, lives in the Alps. There are peaks and valleys galore. It can be a most beautiful sight, but the hardest part is that no mountain looks more intimidating than when viewed from the valley. The relativity makes the valley unbearable.

I imagine a world where the sanctimony and pretension that pollutes most human interactions will wither away, and I believe that we are seeing it happen today. The rebel spirit in all of us that decries intolerance and cruelty has never been louder. The wretched fuel normally reserved for heated political discourse is now dwindling and the loud cry of justice bellows through bottom-up forms of media like Youtube and Facebook.

That our economy will be wrecked by runaway inflation is inevitable, as will be the panic that follows. But never underestimate the power of human ingenuity and goodness.

I can’t describe my place any more clearly than that. That everyone has a path to walk is a fact not needed to explain my own path. I may talk about humanity’s desire for knowledge to combat ignorance, but this just may be my purpose.

One thing is certain, though, and this is perhaps my purpose for writing this: If you are not on the right path, the universe will tell you! To a Christian, this is akin to turning your back on God. To a scientist, this is like choosing to abandon good logic and sound reason. You will find success to be very difficult if you stray from the path.

I don’t know who chose the path – if it was some god or angel or alien or even me, before I was born – but it exists. The universe is set up in a specific way, and a reckless life isn’t any more sustainable than a snowflake on the Tucson asphalt in August. All that matters is taking the hints the universe gives you and the rest is up to you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ode to The Mint

To Kricket, who, together with a young Justin, beat us at pool and won a free pint of the finest Natty Light a Tucson dive bar has to offer, and who greeted my friend and I with the joke, “That break was a Dolly Parton break: all bust and no balls,” I say: Thank you. To Louis, who complemented me on my Stetson hat and concluded a ten minute diatribe with the words: “I just can’t stand the sound of rocks under my feet,” I thank you. To the woman who slapped her hands together, proclaiming, “Alright! Let’s do this!” Who then emerged from the restroom with a rake, together with a gentleman wielding a mop, and proceeded to play a most impressive game of pool with said tools in the accompaniment of her Toxic Avenger and concluded her evening with the aforementioned Louise on the dancefloor – as if it was made for her – I say: Congratulations, you’ve got it. And finally, to the remarkably gracious bartender who let me into the holy of holies to gander at the beer selection and left me with a tab I could have paid with the change in my pocket: I am very grateful.

There are people in this world who continue to inspire me, and they are the ones who seem to care the least about social norms, or about intellectual endeavors. They don’t care about politics or class, or where you come from. You meet them, and the meeting is the best part. The real human moments occur in the most unlikely of places. They occur when people gather to express – with stubborn optimism – their desire for a better life. That they should succeed is beside the point. The pursuit is its own justification.