Cynicism And Skepticism Are NOT The Same

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Someone once told me that I was the most cynical person they had ever met. I thanked them for the feedback, mentioned that they needed to get out more, and agreed with them that I was skeptical. They either didn’t notice this correction-agreement pairing or didn’t react to it; although I presume it was the former.

Cynicism and skepticism are not the same thing. While both are is “isms”, the locus of control for each is different. With cynicism, the individual is in control of the interpretation. No matter what other people do, the individual will remain in a negatively valianced state that has them default to the worst possible interpretation of things, one that is highly resistant to contradictory evidence. With skepticism, the individual tends towards an initial negative interpretation that is not sticky; it is a wait and see approach that moves in response to evidence pointing one way or the other. Skeptics have a locus of control that is external meaning other people get to determine whether the doubt continues based on their actions.

Back to me being called cynical for displaying skepticism. It was very clear right from the start what the person was trying to communicate and it had nothing to do with me being cynical or not, it had to do with them not liking the prediction I had made about the future based on my experience. It was one of my old bosses, who was speaking about the future actions of one of my peers. They were telling me that my peer was going to take care of something and as soon as they had, I would be able to move forward with a project that my boss was pressuring me to complete. When they mentioned that my peer would have things wrapped-up by the end of that business day, meaning I could get started that night working from home to make sure no deadlines were missed, I replied with “I’ll try to get started this evening, but I’m not going to do any work on it if what they deliver is not accurate.” This was met with a reply of “oh my God, you are so cynical.”

Why was my comment an indication of skepticism vs. cynicism?

Evidence, and very specific evidence. My peer had a track record of not delivering the work that was needed in order for me to pick-up the baton, do my part, and then hand off the complete project to the sales team.

A peer not being up to speed on the requirements or them lacking the ability to perform their tasks is not something that I necessarily have a problem with. Life is tough, most jobs are composed of a multitude of tasks that are novel and only meaningful in a very tight context. It is going to take people a few tries to get it right, and a bunch more to get good enough at it so as to be a contributing member of a team. So long as the person approaches things without any arrogance, I am fine with their below average performance and bug-filled work because I know they are open to feedback and will make the effort to alter their specific actions to improve the quality of their results as they move forward. There will be incremental improvement as they take in more information and adjust their approach in response.

The peer in question, however, was arrogant. They had a track record of handing off error filled work and reacting to my feedback with “interesting, I’ll try that next time” or, “well, if you were to think about for a second, you’d realize my approach is an improvement.” Both of which were followed by them doing nothing more at that moment and doing nothing different in the future. I was left to correct their mistakes and after a couple of these interactions, I knew full well that my job had expanded to include the new task of fixing their inaccurate work.

When they started, I was optimistic that they were the correct hire and that they had the right values in terms of doing the best work possible. That was not based on anything that had happened yet, just the hope that those in a position of making the hiring decision had the ability to identify the correct values and soft skills that would ultimately result in a competent coworker. Whether or not being able to generate hope is a bug or a feature of the human brain is an interesting side question, but I have found that it is a requirement when working with other people. You cannot approach things with certainty one way or the other because the human brain has tremendous capacity to learn new things, just as it has the capacity to decide that it knows all that is needed and then remain impervious to new information.

More often than not, people rise to the occasion and invest the effort to learn and improve. It takes effort, willingness, and the ability to tolerate being wrong for long enough choose to do something about it. While not everyone will do this, I have had ample opportunity to notice that many people will lean into the uncertainty (or the certainty that they are wrong) and advance their understanding of the situation. And it is only because of these experiences that I have been able to avoid cynicism. I have seen enough people take action to try and improve that I accept that the locus of control for other peoples ignorance resides outside of me. I KNOW that they CAN do it, I just do not know if they will. Most of my other peers did, the one in question did not.

With cynicism, the locus of control for taking the actions to address ones ignorance becomes secondary to the lack of hope or belief that anyone will take the actions that are needed; or the certainty that they will NOT take these actions. It is as though the cynical person adds something to the effect of “and yet they won’t” to the end of any sentence or statement that makes reference to someones ability to take the actions to move forward or advance their understanding. For example, “They have the ability the fix the problem, and yet they won’t.”

Doubling down in this, cynical people also employ a more robust version of the fundamental attribution error (FAE). When an outcome is bad, they attribute it to a characterlogical short-comings or flaw, which is a near text book definition of the FAE. What they add to it is their response to a positive outcome, which is to attribute situational or circumstantial causes to it vs. the unconscious assumption that the other person got it right because of talent, skill, or ability. When the outcome is bad, the other person is to blame, when the outcome is good, the other person was lucky. So no matter what happens, the other person is always going to be painted in the worst possible light.

NOTE: I have not suggested a second alternative, that the cynic has an internal locus of control for taking the actions to correct another persons ignorance, because that point of view is only embodied in people who believe that things can be different, which a cynic does not believe.

So what?

There is nothing at all wrong with being skeptical so long as you change your view when you encounter evidence that justifies changing your point of view. Skepticism is basically taking a “wait and see” approach, which is actually a very logical way to view things. People can, but will they?

I invite everyone to engage life with this or a more optimistic approach as it will help you achieve a lot more than taking the cynical view that “they can but won’t” or that “they can’t.” The reasons are twofold. The first is that it will allow you to change your mind and move forward based on reality vs. the application of a preconceived generalization that does not change. The second is that it communicates a very different message to other people. Cynics tend to broadcast their doubt in a way that influences the actions of other people leading to the very outcomes the cynic was predicting. Being skeptical does not broadcast doubt because there isn’t any. It tells the other person that they can, that you believe they can, but that actions need to be taken by them.

Useless Speak – Karma and Ripples in the pond

Any and everything that helps to get things done is fine, but then, only as much of it as is necessary. Less is the best, so when in doubt don’t talk or stop talking.

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In Buddhism, something that I consider to be a valid approach to life and not a viable religion, they have a concept called useless speak. A lot of topics are lumped into the category of useless speak so a general definition or understanding will go a long way in making the concept clear. Useless speak is any speech, internal or external, or any communication, to the inside or to the outside, that has no purpose.

On the face of it, that doesn’t include a lot, but when you consider a number of the other notions that Buddhism holds, what it includes expands to cover almost everything.

First off, Buddhism believes in the notion of no self. They do not suggest that people do not exist, but they view the self as something rather different than what most westerners believe. You are a body and that is it. You have thoughts that come from you body. whatever narrative identity you hold of yourself, it isn’t something that is real. It’s just an elaborate story you tell yourself that, when interrogated, will not stand-up to the scrutiny. As such, any talk that deals with you, your thoughts, your wishes, etc…. is useless speak.

Next, given that the self does not exist, no other self exists either. So talking about other people is useless speak as is talking about their thoughts, actions, whatever.

Finally, for the purposes here, is the concept of impermanence. No matter what happens, it will pass away. Before you thought or felt something, you didn’t think or feel it, and since it will fade away after a moment or so, it doesn’t really exist. Everything in the universe is impermanent so there is no point in discussing any of it.

So almost everything is useless speak. You are encouraged to talk about the dharma, which is the way – the experience of being alive in the present moment; which is kind of a paradox so maybe it was just the Buddha being funny. I don’t know, but in the event he wasn’t kidding, your free and encouraged to talk about this.

You are also allowed to talk about things that are helpful and things that have a purpose. As a monk, you would likely need to discuss things with other monks in terms of preparing food or coordinating work. As a householder, you have a lot of responsibilities to look after so any speech that is critical and helpful in taking care of these things is acceptable. Banking, house work, job responsibilities, raising children, teaching people useful skills, etc…. Any and everything that helps to get things done is fine, but then, only as much of it as is necessary. Less is the best, so when in doubt don’t talk or stop talking.

Okay, so now we know about useless speak, what it is comprised of and what speech is not included in the category. If we were to stop at this point and implement what we know we would simply talk less and only about useful things. That would lead us to see a big improvement in our life, which is worthwhile. Life will become both simpler and easier. We’d have more energy, an increase in available mental capacity and we would find ourselves with more free time.

With this increase in mental capacity we would begin to notice the impact of our actions, or the impact of our non-actions, on other people. They too would enjoy the same benefits that are given to us, but to a smaller degree that reflected the elimination of OUR share of useless speak into their life. Whatever impact our unnecessary or unhelpful words were having on them would disappear and these liberated resources would become available to them. What they choose to do with them is their decision and in fairness to them, that is a much better way to let people live.

The concept of Karma and how it is involved with useless speak.

Karma is best understood to be the consequences of an action. It is neither good nor bad, it is intangible and it is not banked.

The common idea of generating bad karma for doing something crappy and later receiving your comeuppance as retribution for this act has no place in secular Buddhism; this notion is shared among particular divisions or sects but I find it unhelpful as a way of objective living because it introduces the supernatural into the physical world. Equally unhelpful is the opposite idea of good karma that will contribute to a future reward or positive occurrence in the holders life. The palatability of the idea of a fair and just world that good and bad karma create is just not worth the sacrifices we make for holding them as truths. The world and the universe just are and this is neither good or bad. Things occur, these things cause other things to occur, which cause other things to occur and so on. It’s objective and measurable, and simply stimulus response or cause and effect. None of it matters to the universe regardless of the impact on the living being. Actions have consequences in the physical world and these consequences are called karma. Release yourself from the idea of good and bad and gain the power of understanding things as they are.

Given that every action has consequences it is accurate to say that every action creates karma. It is helpful to imagine a small pond that has a few similarly sized rocks in it that are sticking out above the surface. Let’s think about what happens when we drop a rock of the same size into the pond. The first thing that will happen will be the displacement of the water where the rock first enters the pond. The water will be forced down and away from the rock and it will appear that the water is bending. This is exactly what is happening as the surface tension is holding the water together like a sheet. But the attractive forces of the water molecules are weak and will quickly release allowing the rock through. The water will do a few cool things. The first is the restoration of water level around the rock; the bending of the surface of the water will be eliminated and the flatness will be restored. Next, the level of the water will increase by the volume equal to the volume of the rock that is below the surface. Finally, and most importantly here, there will be the displacement of water at a volume that is determined by the mass of the rock and the speed at which is entered the water. This displaced water will move away from the from the the rock in predictable directions and speed based on newtons laws and it represents the energy transfer from the rock molecules into the water molecules.

This energy wave will be transferred through the water away from the rock as a ripple. After a few moments, it will make its way to the other rocks that are sitting in the pond. The wave will hit the rocks and appear to bounce off. It will continue in away from the second rock in predictable direction, with some of it moving back to the first rock. The wave or ripple is will be smaller because it will have transferred some of its energy into the second rock. After a few moments, the second wave will begin to hit the other rocks and the first rock causing the wave to bounce off them and move in predictable directions away, but with less energy than before. This will continue until all of the energy from the wave is gone and the pond water will settle down as gravity pulls all of the water molecules down and the flat still surface is restored.

It’s easy to think about all of this and imagine it happening. It is a clear example of chemistry and physics at play and we have all seen it in one form or another.

When thinking about karma as the consequences of actions, consider the action to be the rock getting dropped into the pond and the wave to be the consequences. Or, useless speak is the rock and the karma is the wave. When we follow the wave we notice it hitting other rocks and transferring some of its energy. This is the karma having a consequence on other people or things. The wave bounces off the rocks and comes back to the initial rock and has an effect. This is the karma coming back to us.

This metaphor works well because it is very close to what happens. Our actions do have consequences on our physical environment (the things, people and matter around us). The actions that are a consequence of our karma will have consequences on the environment (and potentially us). And all consequences spread out like ripples and have an impact on the things that are near to them. And the size of the ripple is related to the magnitude of the action meaning that bigger actions have bigger consequences.

Given that all actions have consequence it is clear that unnecessary actions will cause consequences that are, by definition, unnecessary, and these in turn will have consequences, etc…. Rephrased, unhelpful actions will have unhelpful consequences, etc….

When we take what we have just considered and take a second look at the notion of people getting what they deserve because of the karma they create, we are able to see that there is some truth in this idea, although it remains a mistake to imagine some bank that holds a detailed account of the good and bad that each of us cause. If we think about a helpful action that creates karma, it is easy to imagine that the helpful waves bounce back and bring us something helpful. The inverse is also easy to imagine, that being a dick creates negative waves that come back at us bringing us dickish consequences. This is something that happens, although there is often a time delay between when the waves hit the other side and when we are impacted by the karma they helped bring about.

This is part of why the karma bank idea is so sticky. Not only does it manufacture a narrative of a fair and just world, but we do see people who do good receiving good and the doers of bad suffering. But a consistent narrative is just a story that feel like the truth and plausibility is not evidence of fact. It is more likely, and demonstrably true, that when we take good and useful actions that we move the physical world in such a way that the outcome is more favourable for us. For example, when we work hard and consistently do the right thing, the karma we create shifts the structure of the brain in the people we impact to form positive long term memories and that in turn shape the way they act towards us, resulting in waves of good things coming our way. Someone who always phones it in and does the bare minimum will earn this reputation and this will impact how other people approach them.

With all of this being said, the nature of the waves we create does not actually mean that they will bounce back and impact us in the same way. Most of the good things we do will result in positive consequences in places we do not consider or intend. When we drive safely and act with courtesy we enjoy a driving life free of tickets and accidents, but there is a very good chance that we will never benefit from the courtesy of other drivers. Most people look after themselves only and are not obligated to pay anything forward. Even with those who do pay things forward, it is statistically unlikely that we’ll get it back when they make the payment.

How does this impact luck?

In an objective material world, every action has and equal and opposite reaction in the opposite direction. Acting in any way creates predictable outcomes. If we take enough actions, we alter the world in such a way as to increase the chances that something will happen. Over time, enough of these things will come to pass and the environment will be set-up in such a way that has positive waves come at you. When this happens, we’ll be “lucky” when compared to those who do not have the things happen. The hard-work we did to shape the environment will largely be ignored by people who see only the nice thing happening to us. Take the person who gets the promotion at work. Those who get passed over may feel that the freshly promoted was lucky. They may never have seen or appreciate the actions that the person took to place themselves at the front of the line when it came to getting the next higher level position. But not seeing something does not mean that it does not exist. The person who got the promotion did a lot of work to put themselves into the position were they could be “lucky”. The reality is that the actions they took created the karma that change the environment in such a way that made giving them a promotion the only reasonable choice.

Back to useless speak now. When we say anything we are creating karma and these consequences have an effect on the world. When what we say is not useful, the impact on other people is not useful. This is at the core of why certain speech is useless. Helpful actions have helpful consequences. Useless actions have useless consequences. When we teach someone how to read, the long term consequences have them reading books, learning new things and altering the course of their life by altering the structure of their brain.

When we gossip about something, we create useless consequences within the listeners – they end up thinking about something stupid or pointless, which is a waste of their time, and they end up having less time to spend on the things that are helpful or important to them. Consequently, they may miss out on an opportunity to act in a helpful way or engage in useful speak, which will mean there is no positive consequences. While the gossip may not necessarily cause anything bad to happen, it does prevent the opportunity for something good to happen by filling the space that the good thing would have occupied. At best, useless speak creates karma that results in time being wasted. The possible consequences get worse from here in terms of things not getting better, opportunities being wasted and potential not being actualized.

The best advice is to keep the pond as wave free as possible and, when making ripples, make only helpful or positive ones. Every action has consequences. Always keep this in mind when you are about to act. If what you are about to do has no purpose or if it has a clear and likely downside, just don’t do it. Use your energy for something else and give people the dignity and freedom to choose what they get to do with their energy. Useless speak is a waste of time, time that can never be salvaged. Use your time to be useful and helpful!

Politicians – Criminal Trespassers

We can all laugh at how quaint and silly people were a hundred years ago, and feel somehow more evolved or superior given that we no longer believe that we should spend time having cow trials. But the fact that we’re not all completely sickened by the emotional and cognitive manipulation tactics used by the politicians is an indication that we still do not get it. The fact that they are allowed to continue to do it is PROOF that we do not get it.

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It hit me after I posted “Politicians, Watch Out For The Middle, We Have Figured You Out” what exactly bothers me so much about the tactic the political class is using. It is a private property issue and that they are trespassing.

Yes, it is true that if we do not like having other people trespass on our private property we are free to avoid people or to put up a bigger fence to keep them out. But that is actually more proof of the problem and not a solution.

Human beings are social creatures who default to believing what they hear. Our programming also dictates that we cannot ignore all other people. Social isolation used to be a death sentence. This means that we are running code that ensures the release of reward chemicals in response to the perception of anything that falls into the realm of social connection.

We can train ourselves to avoid others, but this takes time and will only occur after the default programming has been expressed. Making ME responsible for preventing others from committing property crimes on my property is victim blaming and doing so prevents us from taking advantage of the behaviour modification qualities that the punishment of social scorn facilitates.

This is a very simple and straight forward issue, one that more people should be talking about and that we should all be trying to put an end to.

When someone makes-up a story or when they present a biased point of view or narrative that will trigger outrage or fear, they are effectively attempting to reach inside the heads of other people and turn the taps that control the release of very powerful chemicals. Once opened, these chemicals hit the blood stream and move throughout the brain and body. The effect can be very profound. With a full sympathetic nervous system response, the prefrontal cortex ceases activity, knocking off-line a number of executive functions that are related to improved decision making. This makes the person temporarily less intelligent, which is a problem on it own, but so much worse when you realize that their body has been primed for intense aggressive movement.

A highly aroused poor decision maker is potentially much more dangerous than a person who is operating at their baseline state. In the same way as we are able to consider the role the brain tumour might have played on Charles Whitmans murder spree, we need to be able to consider the role fear or outrage have on diminishing the cognitive abilities of normally functioning people; those without any underlying pathology.

I am not directly suggesting that a politician who makes up a pizza-gate type story is responsible for firing the gun, but they are responsible for setting in motion the events that lead to an internal state of a person who then chooses to fire the gun. We will never know what would have happened had the pizza-gate story never been told but it is reasonable to conclude that the story did have an impact on the material world in that someone who had a predisposition to shoot a gun into a restaurant found a reason and an emotional state that would allow them to take violent action.

THIS is the sources of the problem. The words we use convey NOT only ideas that are automatically assumed to be true but they also trigger emotional reactions that are based on this automatic believing. When the triggered state is one that suppresses logical thinking and consideration of consequences, there will be blood on the hands of the speaker when the listeners fails to consider the totality of the circumstances and reacts.

For example, about a hundred years ago in the US, they had cow trials to determine the guilt or innocence of bulls that were being used to breed. The details are moderately interesting and remarkably crazy to contemporary thinkers, but at the time it seemed like a good thing to do. There was a court with a judge, a prosecutor and a defendant. Witnesses would give sworn testimony and the judge would make a determination, and sentence the guilty bulls to some sort of punishment. Usually it was a speedy death, but on occasion they were given a 30 day stay of execution to eat as much as they could so when the death sentence was carried out, they would provide more meat for the farmer to sort of make-up for the crime they committed.

I wish this was something that I was making-up.

We can all laugh at how quaint and silly people were a hundred years ago, and feel somehow more evolved or superior given that we no longer believe that we should spend time having cow trials. But the fact that we’re not all completely sickened by the emotional and cognitive manipulation tactics used by the politicians is an indication that we still do not get it. The fact that they are allowed to continue to do it is PROOF that we do not get it.

Would you hold a polar bear responsible for attacking a tourist who makes the bad decision of picking-up one of its cubs? No, you wouldn’t. The bear may get shoot in an attempt to save the persons life, but if the person gets away and the polar bear is not encroaching on any community it will be left alone to do bear things. Bears are bears and you cannot fault a bear for acting like a bear just as you cannot fault it for not acting like a human. All of its coding and all of its hardware are perfectly shaped and formed to be bear-like.

So while a person undergoing an amygdala hijack or full sympathetic nervous system response does not suddenly become a bear, they do become somewhat less of a human than they were before the response. They are also not entirely responsible for this slipping, and even less so when an external operator has deliberately engineered the situation to trigger the response.

So what?

The full force of the law should be directed towards the people who trespass against others. Their actions have consequences and they are not harmless nor victimless. They are consuming other people for their purposes and the outcome can have long last effects. Any thought that we have is also an experience, and any experience we have can be reinforced and therefore repeated. Any repeated experience can influence gene expression. Once genes are expressed, they can influence the future in powerful ways.

By choosing to suppress your critical faculties, they are using you in an attempt to shape the future in a way that helps them get what they want. But they are not getting your consent to alter your neurological functioning, it is just something that is done to you. They are effectively violating your body, breaking into your brain and implanting fake ideas that you are powerless to not respond to.

They are no longer concerned with surfacing the best ideas to make the world a better place. In fact, they are no longer concerned with ethics, morals, or virtue. It is all about labelling the other side as vile, disgusting, and dangerous in order to win. They are going to continue to do this until we treat them as the criminal trespassers they are. Until we do, it is only going to continue to get worse.

Slow-motion Car Crash – Wrecking The Planet Takes Humans And Time

There are worse things for humanity than global warming…. Pollution is a bigger problem. Antibiotic resistance is a bigger problem. Bad ideas about differences between groups of people is a bigger problem. A lack of diversity in terms of crops and livestock farming is a bigger problem. Obesity is a bigger problem. The fact that very few people know how to make any of the things that we use is a bigger problem. Our collective ignorance about how exactly we got here is a bigger problem.

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Things take time. Other than the big bang, which for some inexplicable reason created an expanding universe out of a near infinite mass of matter contained in a tiny area of space. That was very very quick. Everything else takes time.

We as a species are beginning to stumble from one disaster to another at a quickening pace. For billions of years, not much happened. Then things started to pick-up a bit of speed. It wasn’t much speed, but it was a lot faster than the pace in the previous billion or so years. This continued along for hundreds of millions of years with only slightly more than nothing happening. There was another increase in the speed of change, still slow by big bang standards, but it was faster. This incremental pace of increases continued along for hundreds of millions and probably billions of years.

Not everything went at this snail’s pace. There were moments of dramatic action followed by slightly longer periods of time when the planet would experiences the physical consequences to that moment before things slowed right down again. These moments are more or less completely made-up of the times when large objects that had been travelling through space crashed into the earth. Like that time when a massive asteroid / early planet joined the earth with such force that the resulting debris eventually all coalesced to form the moon. Or that other time when an asteroid slammed into the water just off the coast of what is now Mexico and the ensuing chaos killed 98% of the land dwelling creatures – basically all of the ones that were not able to take shelter a few inches below the surface. The consequences from this one took a lot less time to materialize than the moon maker; estimates range from less than 6 hours to a couple of years.

Then effectively nothing for an unimaginably long time.

Except this time was a little different. The culling of most surface life created a space for a different type of animal (or classification) to get an opportunity to live without too many predators. This classification was the warm blood, live birth giving creates that are collectively known as mammals. Some of the most famous animals that are not dinosaurs fall into this category – panda bears, the cute as anything kola bears, sloths, wild dogs, wild cats, and human beings. It took a while for each one of these species to come to be but what is important is that it happened. The land was safe enough for early mammals to live, breed, and naturally select or mutate a high level of diversity into this class of beings. Sometime between 50 thousand and half a millions years ago homo-sapiens came into existence. This was the beginning of something entirely new, a species of life that would eventually develop the capability to manufacture natural disasters and other slow moving events that that nature used to have a monopoly on causing.

I’m not going to suggest that human beings are great, because we are kind of flawed in very fundamental ways, but we appear to be the first species to ever exist on the planet that is able to engage in complex interactions with other members of the species, and of considering abstract ideas and stuff that doesn’t exist. There is reason to believe that many other species are capable of at least rudimentary abstraction, but none of them have the capacity to communicate these ideas to others nor do they have the ability to look at what is going on at one moment and figure out what will happen in the next, at least not to any substantial degree. Some can learn through observation and understand concepts like fairness and reciprocity, many more are capable of the abstraction that is object permanence, and all of them are incapable of communicating these things to other members of the species – all learning was the result of direct observation or direct experience.

Welcome to the beginning of the end, thank you for coming!

In fairness to early man, they were practically useless. Sure they had an advanced brain that ran much of the same programming of the mammal species that came before it and it functioned in effectively the same way (neurons that alter their electrical charge slightly to be “on” vs “off” and collections of them interacting to form neural networks to respond to and make things happen), but out of the box, there wasn’t much more to this version than the one that came before it, but there was potential. The newer version had a huge capacity for storage and the capability to process more information faster, and in a way that was new. This brain was also coded to grow a larger prefrontal cortex than any that came before, although it was programmed to do most of this growth beginning around the time puberty.

This late growth stage is an argument against intelligent design. No one with a fully developed and functioning prefrontal cortex could miss the inherent problems with having one part of the brain lag 15 years behind the rest of it. This will not go as well as having a brain that grows at the same pace.

It’s also an occurrence that supports the theory of evolution that a new species will arise from what came before. Whatever mutation triggered the brain to grow an exceptionally large prefrontal cortex also coded for it to grow later in life. Take what is already there, let it run its course, and when it’s done, start growing the new stuff.

This of course changes nothing about the eventual outcome of having human beings evolve into existence. These consequence will take time but the moment the genetic code mutated to program for a human brain, the count down was started.

The problem has to do with the human ability to learn quickly and without having to observe or directly experience something. Consider wild dogs for comparison and contrast. When they are born, their genetic code contains instructions that will ensure that the reward centers of their brains will release reward chemicals in response to particular things. If these things never happen, the animal will never become conditioned to take particular action. Their motivation will be fueled only by punishment and thus be exclusively avoidant. However, if the animal happens to experience one of the things for which the reward chemicals will get released, their future will immediately transform to include repeating the experience. Through this mechanism, wild pack dogs can learn a number of things and act in very specific ways that can very easily be mistakenly to be group behaviours that were communicated. Wolf packs can track down prey and perform some highly coordinated attacks including flanking maneuvers by pack members that are invisible to the rest of the pack. But all of it is simply the result of gene expression and behaviour shaping based on reinforcement. It is fantastic, but all of it was determined by the millions of years of life that led to the emergence of the wolf species.

Human beings are not like that. Well, they are not JUST like that. Gene expression and behaviour shaping through reward and punishment are at work within each one of us, but we also have the ability for abstract thought and remarkably robust communication abilities. The addition of these later two means that we are capable of out of context learning merely by hearing them. E.g. we learn many things at school that we later apply to work and the day to day living of adult life. Factor into this the ability to learn fantastic amounts of information and to then work with and reprocess this information and the floodgates to knowledge and wisdom swing wide open.

It might be important to consider the fact that very little advanced knowledge exists in isolation – advanced ideas build upon less advanced ideas, which were themselves built upon less advanced ideas. When we figure a fact out, it gives our species a big hand in accumulating knowledge. As the collection of knowledge grows to include more advanced concepts, we have the ability to fill-in the gaps or the missing steps in our knowledge. For example, if we teach someone fact A and then teach them fact B and then just to fact G, the human brain will be able to make a guess about steps C, D, E and F and will be able to manufacture compatible and congruent knowledge based on knowing the starting point and knowing the ending point.

That wasn’t a big deal for early man, which we accept as being mostly clueless. But it didn’t take very long before they began to develop technology that was based on this progressive model of knowledge organization. Shelters, fires, weapons, tools, tribes, leaders, education, division of labour, hunting, gathering, farming, domestication of animals, specialization of labour, government, schools, etc…. While not necessarily in chronological order, each one of these technological advancements / discoveries had the effect of improving production and security and of reducing the need to teach young people EVERY lesson that came before. If you work on a farm, what is important is that someone knows how to hunt well enough so that you don’t have to know how to hunt and that you know how to farm well enough so that they don’t have to know. This will free-up a lot of energy to learn or discover more about farming or hunting. When the first working animals were domesticated, farmers no longer needed to know how to plow the fields by hand, they just needed to know how to connect the animal to the plow and how to walk it in a straight line while it drags it. Learning how to do this, however, also meant that you could easily figure-out how to do it by hand by reverse engineering the process.

The rate of change began to accelerate. Sure, it took a very long time for the first pieces of homo-sapien discovered technology to surface, but as soon as they did, they could be shared. This gave the technology staying power and it allowed other human beings to improve upon it. Things advanced slightly and slowly, but within a couple of generations, early man was capable of doing things that pre-man had no concept of. Give it a few hundred generations and what the people consider to be common knowledge would have seemed like magic to early man.

This is the point at which the fate of the species and possibly the planet was sealed. We began to assimilate ever increasing amounts of the physical environment into the collection of matter that is implicated into the life of humanity. Whereas early man would eat animal and plant life in order to convert it into energy and building material, use other plants to build and heat shelters, and use other various materials to form primitive tools, tens of thousands of years later we had developed the ability to build complex tools and machines out of molecules that were themselves processed into usable form by other complex tools and technologies. Sand was turned into glass, iron ore was processed into the iron, the stored energy of the sun was harnessed through the use of mills on rivers and dams, the movement of electrons that is triggered when a magnetic field moves across a copper wire becomes electricity, etc….

A lot of these things were just novel ways to use or take advantage of what had always existed, many were just an industrial scale increase in the assimilation of existing things, but some of the technology caused the formation of completely new combinations of molecules that had never existed in nature before. These useful yet Frankenstein creations and the increase in availability of the preexisting ones are problematic for a similar reason. Life evolved in the presence and concentration of the preexisting elements and compounds meaning anything that is alive either used the molecules or was unharmed by them. Changing the availability of them, and adding new ones, can interfere with the normal biological functioning.

The industrial revolution lead to the creation of the chemical industry and from that moment on, there was a no holds bar assault on the environment. The levels of everything increased, and creatures that had never been exposed to particular chemicals began to assimilate them into their bodies. These chemicals then began to change how cells function.

Some of these changes were health promoting – various medicines, vitamins, and nutritional compounds supply something that predictably alters physiological functioning in the direction of better. Some of them helpful because of the very specific way in which they are incompatible with life – antibiotics, cancer drugs. But many of them have effects on life that are neither helpful nor compatible with the ongoing flourishment of human kind – PVC and asbestos cause cancer, while bacteria adapt to become resistant to antibiotics.

This brings us to where we find ourselves today. The slow change over billions of years has been transformed by human technology into a lightening pace of change. The carbon that has been locked and stored in various places in being released at an ever growing rate as we our technologies break apart the molecules to release the stored energy. The energy is useful, the resulting molecules is less so. It is a matter of scale here. Seasonal fires used to trigger the release of large amount of CO2, but the fires would go out and the land would quickly begin to recapture the carbon as the forest started to regrow. Over millions of years, a balance had been struck that effectively negated any of the positive or negative consequences of releasing this stored carbon. Human beings and the technology they have created since the beginning of the industrial revolution has eliminate the seasonal aspect of release and recapture, replacing it with constant release and a decreasing partial recapturing.

We have entered a no man’s land of chemical diversity and availability. Plastic is everywhere. Carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in a very long time and have increased at a rate that is faster than any time in the past except for the moments of impact with asteroids or volcanic explosions.

This is where the mutation that caused the human brain to come into existence is no longer something that is improving our chances of surviving. Specifically, the ability to think in abstract terms, to learn through listening vs. direct experience or the observation of real experience, and to build upon existing knowledge in ever more complex ways, means that we have no experience and little awareness with the consequences of our technology. Unlike the dinosaur killing asteroid which was a near instant released of 1.3 – 58 yottajoules of energy into the environment, the rate of human caused energy release is much slower. This slow burn delays the impact and consequences from less than a few hours to years, decades or even generations, which is the exact recipe for imperceivable and denial. For example, an earth quake, forest fire, or volcano will reveal consequences almost immediately or within days, the effects of moderate radiation or moderate toxic chemical exposures can take twenty years or more for come to pass. This causes humans to make the incorrect assumption that these technologies are only acute harmful in high doses given the quick onset and death in these circumstance. Smoking was harmless until the 1950’s when doctors began to notice a big increase in cancer deaths, particular lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases. Those who were getting sick had been smoking for decades so the temporal relationship between cause and effect was too wide for most people to perceive the existence of a relationship at all. Nonetheless, there is a strong link between smoking and disease, and there is a correlation between the amount of exposure, both in terms of concentration and duration, and negative health outcomes.

There are worse things for humanity than global warming. Not to trivialize the direct impact on millions of people so far, and the billions of people who will be impacted by rising sea levels, but there will be enough well above sea level land that those effected will be able to move. It will suck and it will be expensive, but they will still be alive and healthy. Although by the time it happens, there may not be a lot of people left to be impacted.

Pollution is a bigger problem. Antibiotic resistance is a bigger problem. Bad ideas about differences between groups of people is a bigger problem. A lack of diversity in terms of crops and livestock farming is a bigger problem. Obesity is a bigger problem. The fact that very few people know how to make any of the things that we use is a bigger problem. Our collective ignorance about how exactly we got here is a bigger problem.

And yet, very few people are talking about these things because they are too busy talking about the latest stupid tweet, reality tv show, fashion trend, or the absolute vileness of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. We are talking about what doesn’t matter because it feels more real than the things that do matter. We’ll wear our ignorance like a badge of honour instead of it triggering shame and motivating us to learn something.

There’s a slow-motion car crash happening but we’re not noticing it. We only see the shiny, new, and the fast moving. None of us have seen an extinction level event first hand and since the last one created the clearing that allowed human beings to evolve into existence, we have nothing to fear, especially given that we are the ones steering the car.

“OK boomer” – Because more Division Is What Is Needed

My problem with it is that it causes further division between people and it risks triggering people from one group to line-up across from the other group to battle it out in equally childish and unproductive ways. “I don’t listen to boomers” or “I don’t listen to millennials” is a remarkably unhelpful attitude simply because not listening to other people is a remarkably useless way to behave.

Author Reading Blog Post

TikTok, in the event you have never heard of it, is a social media / video app that lets users make and share videos of three to fifteen seconds. It will also allow users to loop a video for up to sixty seconds. I have never used it and the only TikTok videos that I have seen are compilation videos posted on YouTube. As close as I can tell, it is very similar to Vine (which allows users to post videos that are slightly more than 6 seconds long). My reasons for not using TikTok, or Vine, have nothing to do with the app. My life just isn’t that interesting and I am not so connected to other people that I or they feel the need to share or consume small chunks of life. These are common feelings that are reported from many people who are a part of generation X and did not grow-up with the Internet. Maybe we are just not good at it, maybe we never learned to find these things rewarding, or maybe it is something else entirely.

Before my father died in 2012, I recall having a conversation with him about Twitter. Neither one of us had an account, I still don’t. I’m not proud of it, nor does it trigger any shame, I just don’t have a need for one. The key thing I remember from our chat was his feeling that it was kind of pointless because the character limit prevents the sharing of complete thoughts. There was a sense or concern that the compression of complex ideas into a sentence or two effectively ensured that misunderstanding was going to occur in nearly every case. He loved reading and consumed a massive amount of information over the course of his life. Paying attention, listening and hearing what people had to say, and asking clarifying questions was something that he was good at. He had seen a lot and had, over time, come to realize that many aspects of history tend to repeat themselves. The only thing to blame were the people directly involved and the people who did nothing to prevent the predictable outcome. “People are smart. We can be lazy though, and a lack of effort is very often the antidote to progress. Most of the answers are out there because so much of this has happened before, a few times before. We hit the iceberg when we choose to go with the feeling that we know as opposed to finding out if we actually do.”

Having been born in 1944, he had memories of rationing after the end of the Second World War as Europe took the time to rebuild from all the destruction. In fact, his brain was filled with memories of the Korean war, the Vietnam war, countless wars in the middle east, revolutions in south America, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the cold war, the space race, the creation and spread of personal computers, the Civil Rights movement, famines, natural disasters, too many musical trends to count, the cycles of fashion, economic booms, busts, and echoes, and more than 60 years of other things. In all of that he had come to accept that everything changes and almost everything repeats. The cast of characters will be different, but the events and the mistakes they make will be the same. Because of this, he had invited my brother and me to try and remain curious about what was actually going on and to be humble enough to be uncertain about the things we pretended to know with certainty. The challenge he had with Twitter was the lack of depth 140 characters allows. It was good for transmitting simple factual information, like a road closure or an approaching weather event, but it was just too limiting in terms of allowed text to clearly transmit anything more complicated than that. It was also hindered by the anonymous nature of being online. You were probably never going to know with certainty who was tweeting, and that opened the platform up to all of the antisocial behaviour associated with there being no real consequences for your words.

What was sort of funny about it was that he had a lot of respect of Jack Dorsey and the rest of the Twitter founders, and basically anyone who created an app, a platform, a social media site, or basically any legal IT thing. Even when their creations were not things that he would ever use, the fact that there were human beings using computers in new and interesting ways was something to admire. It didn’t matter if, in his view, it was pointless, it was still a very impressive thing to make something out of nothing. The fact that it was younger people doing it actually made him feel better. “It’s their world too so they have to make it the way they want it to be. I don’t have to like it, they do, because they are going to be around well after I move on.”

At the time, I didn’t think much about this approach. I accepted it as probably being true but most importantly I was happy enough to just live my life and not have to involve myself with having to control the actions of other people.

This was a powerful lesson that I wish all people taught their children. Each generation gets their chance to make the world the way they want, so as long as no one is killing, hurting or causing suffering in other human beings, it’s probably best to leave them at it to do their thing however they deem fit. Being alive is so complicated and the universe is so large that it is impossible to say that life has a singular purpose that is unchanging and shared by all living beings.

About 2 weeks before he died, I asked my dad what it was like to know that he wouldn’t be around soon and he replied with something very similar to what he said about twitter. “I know I’m supposed to be sad about it, but I’m having some trouble with that. I was always going to die, and I knew it, so I tried to have the best life possible. I enjoyed my childhood, I loved my parents and brothers (he had no sisters). I had fun. I got a job, met and married your mother, and raised you and your brother. There are no regrets. Sure I’d like more time, but all I have left is all I’m getting, so that’s not going to happen. It’s important for old people to get out of the way and let the younger people have their turn. Life has come-up with the perfect solution for any of us who are unwilling to move to a back seat and give the reins to the next generation. Death clears a path and I’m glad it does. It cleared one for my generation, and it will clear us out of the way for the next generation.”

There was something very sinister though. Not in his views but in the accuracy of what he was saying. He had seen what the 1960’s had been like and understood very well the damage that will be done when one group of people vilify another group of people for reasons that do not exist, as opposed to clearing the way the younger people to make the world they wanted. The older people had views that were not aligned with common decency or anything factual. As they dug in to resist change, the rest of the world rolled forward.

The most striking example was that of skin colour. Underlying racism is an automatic mental process that notices things that are similar or different, and which are the same as us superficially and which are different for this reason. The output of this noticing process becomes the input for other processes that are more narrative than binary, and they quickly begin to surface evidence to support the idea that a lack of sameness is an indication of material differences. When left unquestioned, this evidence is consolidated into reality and begins to be a “fact” vs. the output of some mental process.

My dad was exceptionally liberally minded in that he didn’t care to stop anyone from doing anything that wasn’t harming others or that all parties had consented to do. It was as though he believed that anyone who was 18 years old or more had the right to do whatever they wanted with their life, even if that to waste it. If someone made a mistake and owned it, he was a big fan of second chances because he knew full well that very little is what it seems and when people realize how things actually are, they make different decisions.

However, there is a limit to what human beings are able to experience and continue to be able change as they move forward. I’m not sure what this limit is exactly, like if it is an experience, a duration of exposure or reaching a particular age, but most people tend to change less as they get older. For example, the views I held when I was 15 are remarkable different from the views I held at 30. My views at 30 are much more similar to the views I hold today. I have never cared about a person’s race, in my late teens I shifted away from having opinions about sexual orientation. I was a fairly tolerant teenager, a very tolerant 30 year old, and an “uninvolved in other people’s business” 45 year old. If I had to guess about the one thing that will continue to shift as I move into my 60s it would be that I will remain a social liberal and will become more financially conservative in so far as I will become even more certain in my belief that a person needs to take responsibility for the outcome of their choices. Most people are not victims of anything other than not trying, not doing their best, or not taking the actions that are within their control to cause a better results. There is an element of luck in all of it, but too few generate any because their actions are weak, misguided, or non-existent.

I am a fair distance from the liberal thinker I was at 27 because I have endured the consequences that years of not acting strategically have served into my life. As much as I would like to blame other people, no one but me is responsible for these things. The benefit of this shift in thinking is that I now have the chance to improve things on my own, something that I started doing towards the end of my thirties.

This is a process that many people experience as they move their way thought life. When we are young, we have very little power, so we look around for people and things that have it. There are competence, prestige, and dominance hierarchies everywhere, and when we have a low place on all of them, we try to identify the higher-up so that we can get stuff from them. But the human brain is a remarkable thing, so if we work hard enough and for long enough on something, we will gain knowledge and wisdom that will move us higher. We may not see it initially because we spend the first 10-15 years of life being completely helpless and fully reliant on our parents or caregivers. We form an unconscious habit of believing that we are at the bottom of these hierarchies so any movement upwards will need to be perceived before it can impact the narrative story we tell our selves about the world and our place in it. This is a slow process and for many people it never gets much traction because that the powers that be are constantly conspire to keep them down.

All of this comes down to our DNA and the impact that experience plays in gene expression.

Some simple background in the form of a story. All life has a very complex program that has been written over millions of years that determine how life will unfold in terms of physiology – how we create blood cell, who our cells use oxygen, how we respond to pain, etc…. All of this information is stored in our DNA, and any grouping of related information that codes for something is called a gene. We have hundreds of thousands of genes and they determine everything about us. Some of them are stand alone, some of them are primarily stand-alone while being conditionally related to others, some of them do nothing on their own, while many do not appear to do anything at all.

Some of these genes will automatically express themselves while other will only express themselves in response to very specific experiences. NOTE – it is not the experience itself that triggers gene expression, it is triggered by the chemicals that are released by the body in response to specific experiences. This is a blessing for most living beings, and a mixed blessing for humans. While dogs and cats will enjoy the beneficial outcomes that real experience facilitates in terms of gene expression, human beings can cause gene expression through lived experiences OR through imagined experiences.

A great example of this is anxiety which is a universal emotion for all people. It seems that the reason we evolved to experience it is because it improves physical and mental performance when compared to our resting baseline. An elevated respiratory and heart rate improves blood flow to all cells priming the muscles for activity because of the increase of oxygen and energy. It also improves cerebral blood flow, which can enhance brain activity. These things are useful when peak performance will improve outcomes. A cold start tends to result in more injuries and delayed thinking. So the ability to experience a baseline level of anxiety provides a survival advantage.

Problems begin to take shape when an individual’s anxiety response is triggered too easily. While there are people who have an innate response that is on the higher end of the scale, this does not necessarily cause a problem. It is entirely possible that one of these people could live a completely normal life so long as they do not trigger too many releases OR they do not trigger the “enhanced anxiety” genes to express. IF these genes express themselves, even someone with lower end baseline levels can find themselves suffering from the symptoms excessive anxiety.

There are only three ways this can happen. The first is through repeated direct experience, the second is through repeated imagined experience, and the third is through a combination of the two others. Regardless of the source, once the enhanced anxiety genes become expressed, the individual is prone to unnecessary or excessive bouts of it.

Imagined experience is much easier for people to have, so with reference to anxiety, worry or uncertainty about anything are sufficient triggers. Given a long enough time frame, someone can condition anxiety to be their default state which will leave them suffering from a heightened state of physiological arousal that has no immediate catalyst.

Gene expression is permanent. Someone who activated the enhanced anxiety gene will ALWAYS have the ability to experience more anxiety than they did before. Relapse after years of remission is very common with anxiety disorders and often times there is no warning that something is about to happen.

The unique challenge with anxiety stems from how the body physiologically goes about causing it. When anxiety is triggered, chemicals are dumped into the blood stream and begin to impact on the cell for which there are receptors. There are hundreds of millions of these cells located throughout the entire body, and particularly within the brain. So just as muscle cells will begin to alter their functioning, brain cells will also alter their functioning. With small releases, the impact is usually enhance mental functioning. As the quantities increase, this beneficial effect will drop and very quickly begin to impair our ability to think. This can impact how the person perceives the source of the anxiety, allowing them to subjective react to something that is an objectively non-factor.

This is why being deeply in debt or reaching a state of insolvency lowers people’s performance on cognitive tests and why everyone who declares bankruptcy very quickly find their mood lifting and the restoration of their objectivity. The source of their chronic anxiety evaporates and while much about their future remains unknown, the darkest pieces of it are simply eliminated.

Take a moment to consider what actually happens when someone declares bankruptcy. A form is signed, you hand back or cut-up all of your credit cards, you lose access to any credit you did have, a 9 to 21 month process is started that sees your declaration sent to the credit rating agencies rendering you a high credit risk for 7 or more years. That is a lot of things happening, but when you look at each one in isolation, very little actually happens. In fact, almost nothing happens to you directly. You needed to sign a form and probably have a couple of meetings with a trustee, but other than a few clerical items – keeping and submitting a monthly budget, changing bank – the days leading up to the date you declare are nearly identical to the days leading away from it. If you are in a situation that frees you from having to borrow money and allows you to avoid having a credit review performed, there is only up-side. All of your debt is wiped off the books and this eliminates the source of your anxiety.

Think about that for a second. By signing a form, the source of your problems disappears. This means that the source of your problems was a lack of a signature on a form. Well, sort of. The source of your problems was an imagined future that has you unable to pay your bills and NOT the real experience of trying to pay them but not being able to. The problem was the version of the story you were experiencing and not the lived reality you were experiencing.

The take home here is that the experience of living the story is sufficient to serve as a trigger for gene expression in spite of the fact that what was really happening was not much of anything. And changing the story was enough to prevent an anxiety response. This is why the dogs and cats have an easier time with activating the best genes to help them survive their life than people do because the only genes that get expressed that wouldn’t have been expressed automatically are the ones that get expressed in response to REAL changes in the environment.

Bringing this back to the topic at hand, remember that once a gene has been expressed it will remain expressed and that any heightened response it may cause will be triggered by real and imagined things. But since most of what happens in modern life has no physical impact on us and therefore only occurs as an imagined event, anything we do that changes the story has the potential to alter a response. My movement towards the more liberal side of the social spectrum was caused by changes in the narrative and not by any hands on specific experiences. I stopped caring about sexual orientation when I realized just how hard life can be and how difficult it is find a source lasting joy. If two people find love in each other that is fantastic, and when they are left alone to enjoy it, the outcomes from all people improve slightly. The opposite is also true, when joy is denied from people, the outcomes for all people get slightly worse. My progressive mindset wasn’t progressive for the sake of being progressive, it was a reframing of things that just happened to have what seems like a progressive outcome. I still find it strange that two men can fall in love because I have never experienced it, but I no longer care about the genders of people who fall in love with each other. I know that people finding, falling and being in love is way better for society and for me specifically than making sure the world runs according to whatever I learned was normal when I was growing-up.

I think that maybe my dad had realized that there is a limit to what human beings are able to reframe and this was why he was so certain that old people needed to move on and make room for the next generation. We never chatted about why people close-off from reframing, and while I wish we had because my dad had some compelling and transformative ideas, it doesn’t change the fact of the matter. Very few people remain young in mind for the entirety of their life. Many close off very early on, and the rest move from being open and certain to closed and certain during the first 3 to 6 decades of their life. This I believe is why he was so willing to view the IT inventions as being remarkable and why we are more than happy to invite someone back to the table when they realized, admitted to, and made their best amends for taking action based on something they no longer believed.

So what?

Since life does not have a clearly defined purpose that all human beings share, the best we can hope for is that over time things will improve and that the amount of suffering that is experienced by people continues to fall. After that, who knows. We all live in the real world but we are all living out a different story. The story we tell and the meanings we put onto things, is going to be determined by our life experiences and these will, in a very real way, help to determine our future experiences; either through gene expression or the reframing of the story. The impossible will become possible the instant our story changes, and if it never changes the thing will remain impossible.

Older people know this because they have experienced it. Younger people may believe it, but having never experienced it, they are more likely to weigh their actual experiences more heavily. Younger people know a lot less than older people. In many ways this makes their living of life easier because they have a lot less stuff in their brains to consider, but this lack of information has the effect of presenting their experiences as being unique and everything that happens in the world as being completely new.

They are also struggling to move up the prestige and competency hierarchies, which are already stuffed full of people. It is very competitive and since it takes a very long time to generate prestige and competency, when being compared to people who have 20-40 years more experience, it can be very appealing to reframe the story and usurp a spot by removing some of those who are in the way. But the realness of these hierarchies is not sufficient enough to actually locate someone let alone physically remove them, so taking over someone’s spot is as easy and simple as reframing them as being in a different position or as not being on the hierarchy at all.

The most effective way to achieve this is to believe that what is going on is completely new and that NO ONE has any information that will make navigating it any easier. To this end, if someone is able to reframe an older person as having no more information than the younger person, they have neutralized them in terms of prestige, and if they then reframe them as being so far removed from the current social zeitgeist as to be unaffected by it, they have effectively kicked them off of the competency hierarchy. This will work out very well for them IF the thing is actually new, moderately well if the older people do not actually know something, and very badly when what is occurring is a part of the repeating nature of things. The reasons are simple, if it is new, a younger faster brain that is not bogged down by lots of experience will find solutions much faster, particularly if it doesn’t have to deal with the irrelevant musings of old people. If the old people do not know anything, the young people stand only to lose out if they spend anytime listening to them. But if what is occurring is actually the same thing that happened 35 years ago, shutting out the old people who have experience with it forces the remainder to solve the problems without the benefit of having access to the knowledge that has already been discovered.

The “okay boomer” phenomena is a clear indication that this is happening again. The 1960’s saying “never trust anyone over 30” has been rebranded and launched into the minds of next generation. It is a pejorative that a younger person will say to an older person in an attempt to dismiss their point of view because it came from someone who doesn’t know anything about how things are now and who is probably responsible for why things are so bad. It’s a power grab of sorts because it tells someone that they are too old and too ignorant to provide anything of value to the discussion while simultaneously placing the person who says it above them in a number of hierarchies.

Saying it is rude. Dismissing something out of hand with no evaluation is short sighted. Shoe-horning yourself into a higher position is a non-accomplishment.

And yet saying it is very effective because it hurts to hear. The emotional reaction to being dismissed is primal and automatic. It lands like pain. It’s no good and by the time you notice how you feel about it, the reaction is already well established. Now you have to deal with someone calling you old. It is a lot to handle and the energy that is building in your body would be released if you could just attack. You can’t, so how are you going to deal with it?

The thing is this, NO human being likes to be dismissed. Even when they have nothing to add or contribute, the act of remaining connected to the group or a person is at least slightly rewarding. Having someone else sever this tie on you removes this reward and the sense of alienation and worthlessness that accompany being pushed away hit you like a punishing blow.

Everything I am saying here applies equally to ANYONE who uses any tactic of dismissal to reduce the force or silence other people. And in a way, I can understand why some millennial or generation Z members direct “okay boomer” towards older people. What have they had to listen to being directed towards them?

A couple of years ago, I was talking to one of my friends about her job, and she mentioned that there are a lot of clueless people in positions of power and influence, who cannot seem to make a good decision to save their jobs. This women is bright. She thinks faster than nearly everyone I have ever met, she sees connection between things that seem completely unrelated, and she has a very clear understanding of what is going on inside the heads of the people she is talking to. She kind of scares the crap out me because she’s fine with being wrong, making mistakes, admitting to them, and learning the proper way to handle the situation next time. There is no arrogance and she is kind to everyone, until they give her a reason to not be.

In this particular conversation, she was relating to me how her boss had responded to one of her concerns about a process change by saying “oh you millennials, you’re all so keen to point out what can go wrong. Such a sense of entitlement, like you expect everything to be perfect” before discarding her suggestion and chastising her. When I replied with “oh, that’s rude” followed by “but they pay you to point out what could go wrong” she took off.

“I’m f’ing glad he said it Pat. He SHOULDN’T need me to identify the stupid things he does, and he clearly doesn’t WANT me to. Throwing me into a bucket based on when I was born and suggesting that all those people have a sense of entitlement actually works better for me. We’re not partners anymore, we’re not aligned. He’s an ageist knob who now gets to drive his career into a brick wall. I’ve been dismissed, he gets no more of my help.”

He was fired less than three months later for screwing-up the very thing she was trying to help him with.

If she had said “okay boomer” to him, I would have understood it and I would only fault her if the reply was a reaction vs. a response. But she said nothing to him in spite of the fact the interaction annoyed the hell out of her. She was less offended that a simpleton had said something stupid than she was that he dismissed her outright because of some story he tells himself about all people her age.

This is where I struggle with “okay boomer.” On one hand I can understand someone wanting and feeling that they need to say it to someone, particularly if that person has a track record of saying “millennials are lazy” or “millennials don’t want to earn their place” or any variation of the same theme. But on the other hand, meeting rudeness with rudeness is a kind of biblical vengeance that makes me question the righteousness of the responding party after having determined that the instigator is unable to address the material concern and is therefore going after the person for things they cannot control and which do not make any difference.

My problem with it is that it causes further division between people and it risks triggering people from one group to line-up across from the other group to battle it out in equally childish and unproductive ways. “I don’t listen to boomers” or “I don’t listen to millennials” is a remarkably unhelpful attitude simply because not listening to other people is a remarkably useless way to behave.

My friends’ response was perfect. She vented out whatever negative emotion that was created and journeyed forward honoring the belief system that her boss possessed and made clear to her – if all millennials are that way, best they don’t bother you with it anymore. She continued to listen to him until he was fired because she had a lot to learn about how not to do the job. So even though he had dismissed her, she had not dismissed him. What he knew was still valuable because it was knowledge, even if some of his beliefs were out of line. She had no desire to make the same mistakes he did so continuing to pay attention to him was only going to make her future easier.

If you were to take only one thing out of this post it would be to always remember that when we have not lived through history, our decision to ignore those who have will guarantee that we get to.