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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
…the need for an enemy that we can blame for everything seems to be written into our operating system, a fact that renders us vulnerable to manipulation by anyone who successfully labels another group the enemy because of all the automatic behaviour that this triggers. Fear reduces our ability to think completely about it and we move forward believing that they are the problem without ever noticing what is going on as it is occurring.
I can easily imagine that there is a saying that political operatives use behind closed doors that goes something like “don’t worry about the middle until the month before an election, then throw them a bone and they’ll fall into line.”
The reason why I have no trouble putting these words into the months of hypothetical people who work for very real political campaigns and politicians is because the political candidates and parties ACT like this. In Canada, a country that has a very limited campaign time and predetermined election dates, we have to listen to politicians throwing mud at each other and towards the supporters of their political rivals for close to 4 years, only to have them pivot and talk at the middle for 36 to 50 days as the campaign officially runs. The Canadian public vote on the third Monday of the forth October following the previous election and on the very next day everyone goes back to ignoring the middle while focusing their praise and efforts on either the left or the right, and their scorn on the other side.
I’m not sure which is more embarrassing, the behaviour of the political class or the fact that the overwhelming majority of Canadians, those who make-up the middle, allow this abuse to continue. It is like all those in the middle suffer from a collective Stockholm syndrome or from the disease of low expectations caused by the race to the bottom that has us hand-over our power the moment someone exceeds them.
There is another saying, stick with me here, that has a public life, one used by personal trainers, coaches and anyone who is responsible for directing the actions of other people that explains who is at fault.
“If you have a client who is doing something wrong, they are doing it because you coached them to do it or because you are letting them do it.”
So the reason why the politicians treat the majority of Canadians with complete contempt is because we have coached them to do it by letting them do it. It’s sad for them because they might actually want to do good for people, but we let them treat us poorly nearly all of the time and respond like trained animals when, come election time, they promise us something nice and shinny.
This last federal election in Canada, and the last midterm election in the US, have seen a change in the strategy that the political class employ to manipulate people into giving them a job or allowing them to keep the one they manipulated themselves into last time. Whereas they used to only buy our votes, they have added catastrophizing to the play book. This is very effective for two psychological reasons, a re-framing effect that capitalizes on our inability to process information effectively and an emotional hijack that triggers a reduction in, and possible elimination of, logical thinking.
The re-framing effect converts a cost into a loss. Previously, a vote for anyone other than them would cost you whatever it was that they were promising. Everyone accepted this fact and has more or less made their peace with it. In fact, we seem to be able to handle paying big costs so long as we get something of value out of it. For example, lets imagine that a person was carrying a $10 bill in their pocket and when they reach into their pocket they notice that it is gone. They have, for all intents and purposes, lost it. However, if they take some time to consider what has happened and decide that they will only carry money in their wallet which will be placed into a zipped-up pocket, they may be able to perceive the missing $10 as the cost of this lesson. They have paid $10 to ensure that they will never lose $20 or $50. The value of this lesson is at least $10 but may be $40. That is a 1:1 ratio or a 1:4 ratio. It sucks but it wasn’t a complete waste and in the long run, there is a chance that they will be better off for having learned this way vs. some other way.
From a psychological perspective, a loss of $10 is experienced as more painful than a $10 lesson. The reality is that re-framing a loss into a cost actually requires more energy in terms of having to think about “what did I learn?” The brain however does not view it this way and accepts what has happened as a fair or fair enough trade of one thing of value for something of approximate value.
By catastrophizing the outcome of voting for anyone OTHER than them, they are effectively telling people that a vote their opponents is going to destroy everything that is good in your life. So not only do you not get the thing, the cost, but you will NEVER get the thing and your remaining time on the planet is going to be much harder than you can possibly imagine, the loss of practically everything. The story they are telling is that a vote for someone else is both a cost and a loss, and this is enough to boost the psychological pain associated with simply thinking about doing so.
This catastrophizing is also very emotionally triggering. YOU are going to be responsible for destroying the world and eliminating the future of every young person that has the potential to exist. That’s a big cross to bare and arguably the worst thing that you could ever do, and you are going to do it simply by voting for the other guy. That makes you the worst person in the universe, something that you can avoid by voting for someone else.
Being emotionally triggered is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on which emotion has been triggered and the magnitude of the emotional response. Being happy is not the same thing as being sad, and being slightly angry is a very different state than being apoplectic, and each of these states has a different impact on the brain. The general rules of thumb are 1) the greater the magnitude of a response, the larger the impact on mental functioning and 2) emotions that have a negative valence have a greater impact on cognitive functioning than emotions that have a positive valence.
For example, someone who is slightly happy will show brain activity that is very close to their neutral baseline and they show very little impairment in cognitive test. Someone who is very happy will have a greater deviation from baseline both in terms of brain activity and performance. Someone who is slightly angry will show a moderate change in brain activity as well as performance when compared to their neutral baseline and to their slightly happy state. An extremely angry person will display a very large deviation from baseline, with certain areas of brain effectively being off-line; the dramatic alteration and decrease in brain activity will temporarily eliminate certain cognitive processes rendering the person operationally different from who their are at baseline.
Emotions that are of a positive valence tend to impact critical thinking while emotions that are of a negative valence tend to impact logical thinking. The narrative practical implication of these alterations are that happy people are willing to take action, but they are more inclined to make mistakes that a level of skepticism or a second review would catch. In other words, they are less likely to feel “wrong” and will therefore move forward believing that they are right. Angry people are more likely to react in disproportionately large ways and are more inclined to take “final” actions or actions that permanently take care of the situation – they will be more aggressive than normal and will attack with the full force of their fight or flight abilities.
The underlying mechanism at play is not the same and for the purposes of winning elections via the introduction of losses, it is sufficient to understand that large negatively valenced emotions suppress activity in the prefrontal cortex which has the consequence of eliminating the future, removing the ability to regulate reactions, and to reduce logical thought. This is a survival response that is adaptive and has historically been very effective at keeping our species alive because in a life or death situation, the individual needs to take drastic action or else they will die. When time and intensity are of the essence, there is little time for rational thought because any delay might just prove to be fatal. It basically comes down to “do this or die” and since this part of our programming evolved hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago when death was all around, it was both necessary and effective. However, modern life has effectively eliminated most of the actual life and death moments, meaning that nearly all of these reactions are out of place and are very likely to cause more harm than they prevent.
But the code that programs these processes and the hardware on which they run is exactly the same today as it was hundreds of thousands of years ago. This means that anyone who is able to trigger an emotional response in another persons brain has the ability to alter their thinking in very predictable ways.
Another important fact to consider is that negative things are more salient in our minds than positive things. In order to counter-act something that has a measurement of -1 in terms of negativity, the person will need to be simultaneously exposed to something that is a +2 in terms of positivist. This is why re-framing a loss as a cost makes the experience less negative. It is also why the “sunny ways” talk that was thrown around during the 2015 Canadian election wasn’t present in 2019 – it wouldn’t have worked because the tone of this most recent election was intensely negative and fear evoking.
So in summary, modern elections are about fear and anger because 1) these emotions reduce logical thinking, boost catastrophizing, and promote action of a specific type (getting people to the polling stations to vote for the candidate that will protect us from the object of fear or anger 2) you only need half as much of these emotions so they are more favourable from an economic stand point 3) the bypassing of critical analysis that positive states fuels is very narrow in terms of time frame and context – when a person is happy, you will be able to slip things past them but since they return to baseline very quickly, the door is only open for a short time and 4) negative emotions persist for a much longer time than positive emotions. All emotions are made up of matter in the form of neurotransmitters and hormones but negative emotions are composed of more physical material because they actually serve to fuel physical action. The entire body is involved with a fight or flight response, therefore these chemicals are released into the blood and circulate everywhere. It takes time for the body to remove them from the blood stream, particularly if no intense physical activity has occurred. The mass of happiness is much smaller, it serves very little survival purpose, and it is more psychological in nature meaning it is more or less only a brain experience. It requires much less clean-up and in fact it can be stopped almost immediately if something bad happens right in the middle of it. This is not the case with intense anger.
It is complicated. It is well understood but it is complicated. It is also very hard to be aware of as it is happening because the very thing that is responsible for noticing it happen is the same thing that it is happening to. So when you are happy, you are not well set-up to analyze what is going on because your critical faculties are dialed down. When you are angry, your brain has been hijacked and is only capable of focusing on survival. Outsiders can see it, and we can see it in ourselves after the fact, but as it is going on we are nearly powerless to do anything against it. This is why we have seen the addition of losses and catastrophizing to the political campaigns – they do predictable things and make us susceptible to manipulation, lies and bullshit.
So what? Well, there’s a lot.
First off, we are being lied to by everyone and we can uncover the nature of the lie based on the emotion they are working to activate.
Those that are trying to make us feel happy are about to insert a thought into our brains that we would normally resist or at least vet for accuracy. For example, taxes will go down or the standard of living is going to improve for everyone. The realities here are that if taxes go down, services will be reduced OR deficits will increase OR the taxes for someone else will increase to make-up any shortfall, the standard of living does have, in the short term, a zero sum flavor and it doesn’t happen for everyone all at once – it starts with the rich and works its way down to the lower classes.
Those trying to make us angry or scared are trying to motivate us to take action to ensure that we survive. Ultimately the action is to vote for them, but it will also include vilifying the group they are talking about and updating our definition of them to include aversion, disgust and anything else that will move us away from them. The goal is to manipulate our world view to have us want to see the other group eliminated and to condition our nervous system to release negative emotion in response to thoughts or the mere mention of them.
Second, the re-framing of costs as losses is an economic manipulation in that creates an imaginary loss that then serves to trigger a negative emotional response. It makes something out of nothing and this something has a big impact on our nervous system and brain. Logically, we know that a vote for one person is the same as not voting for everyone else and that not voting for any particular person will probably cost us whatever it was they were promising. BUT when this is presented as loss and not cost, it increases the significance and is much more likely to trigger negative emotion, which will suppress logical thinking.
Finally, the story telling that uses catastrophizing IS triggering for fear and anger and it DOES suppress logical thinking. The moment we react, we no longer have the ability think about the future, which eliminates our innate capability to ask the question “what do they have to gain from making me feel angry or scared.”
In summary then, for most of the time the politicians ignore the people in the middle while trying to do things to make their base happy. When election time comes around, they begin to focus their attention towards the middle in an attempt to buy votes through promises of goods or services, take votes away for their opponents by presenting costs as losses, and to temporarily suppress cognitive abilities by manipulating blood flow to the prefrontal cortex via the release of emotional neurotransmitters and hormones.
Phrased another way, be concerned when they are talking and be very concerned when they are talking to you.
What is the significance of the middle having figured out how politicians manipulate them when they are not simply ignoring them? Society is very expensive and there is a constant demand for our limited resources. We are already giving a lot of them to the government and regardless of who is in power, not everyone gets the same value from the money they spend. The D’s or L’s will look after their base first and everyone else second while the R’s or C’s will look after their base first and everyone else second. But each side has a punching bag on the other side that they hammer to get money for their base or to generate votes. We flip flop back and forth between these two sides with things getting worse for one group and better for another, then reversing, all the while those in the middle get nothing new while paying disproportionately for the entire thing. When we say something about it, we get chastised, lied to, told that the solutions for our problems come from a different level of government, or, worst of all, get told that is it nuanced in a tone that reeks of condescension and from a person who is so smug that they do most of their talking with their eyes closed. They treat us like we are stupid, which may actually be true given that they do get voted into office over and over again.
Personally, I am glad this part of it is coming to an end, and the sooner the better. Politics is both boring and complicated, and for the very same reason. It’s so complicated that most people who talk about it do not know enough to have a good conversation making their opinions shallow, uninteresting, and therefore as valuable as those opinions spewed out by a partisan talking head.
This being said, it is going to be a lot worse before it begins improve unless something awful happens that serves as the catalyst to united people. World war one and two, the space race, the aftermath of 9/11 before the politicians decided it would be a good time to eat the public’s liberty and freedom, and the occasional sporting event, like the 2019 NBA final, that has one country align together for the metaphoric face off against another country.
The reason for this are very simple, human beings NEED an enemy and they will find it in their friends and family if there is no one else around to blame for life going the way life goes. We find it a lot easier to declare and demonize a new out group, like the liberals, the conservatives, the tree-huggers, the immigrants, the Apple fanboys, the whatevers…. But we are not fussy when it comes to filling the role of dangerous and vile enemy so when a real enemy does not exist we’ll find someone and set about re-framing everything in our life that bothers us as being somewhat causally related to them, even if that person is our neighbour or someone we have broken bread with.
As bad as this seems, the fact that we have started turning on our fellow citizens is actually a sign that things in the world have gotten a lot better in so far as most other people in the world do not spend much time or energy making our lives tough. Life is actually very good, void of serious conflicts, and our biggest threats are actually the known consequences of our own actions. Pollution, global warming, and the abundance of low cost, highly rewarding foods will shorten the lives and reduce its quality for more people than any of our enemies ever can, will or did.
This being said, the need for an enemy that we can blame for everything seems to be written into our operating system, a fact that renders us vulnerable to manipulation by anyone who successfully labels another group the enemy because of all the automatic behaviour that this triggers. Fear reduces our ability to think completely about it and we move forward believing that they are the problem without ever noticing what is going on as it is occurring.
But lies are lies, and no matter how convincingly they are told sooner or later they will be discovered. The volume of them has increased so dramatically recently that anyone who consumes the news or talks to anyone is getting exposed to dozens of them a day, hundreds a week and thousands a year. With this amount of exposure and practice, it is nearly impossible to not get good at spotting them. And with the Internet available all of the time, EVERYTHING a politician says will remain on the record and at easy reach. We will identify the pattern, and as soon as we do, most of the automatic and unconscious click-whir power that the liars have will evaporate. They will be seen for what they are, other people who have a conflict of interest that serves to fuel their motivated reasoning and the ideas they push forward in spite of the fact that they are demonstrably false. While they are not all full of shit, none of them are full enough of diverse opinions and experiences to be seen as objective brokers of reality. They are just human beings who need a job and want the power and are so blinded by these desires that they will try to convince you that one idea is better than all others and any of the others will harm you, your children and all the other good people who believe what they do.
I’m not holding my breath for this to happen quickly, mostly because I cannot hold my breath for the next two to seven years. BUT there are promising signs that things are starting to change. Specifically the ugliness of the last US election, the last Canadian election, the awareness that Fox News and CNN are biased sources of whatever it is they are pumping out 24 / 7, along with the fact that violence has started to breakout at protests about some issues. All of these things are bad, but they are bad in a way that is both unsustainable and so outside of the normal human interaction dynamic that they stand as examples that something is not working. The volume just needs to get turned-up a little bit louder before the middle can no longer ignore what is going on, moving them to put their foot down and putting an end to the nonsense the fabulists are spewing in order to get whatever it is they are seeking.
None of this is based on anything that is actually happening in objective reality. It is all a result of a persons subjective internal representations of the real world. This is, in the long term, a source of friction in their life. While it may not matter one way or the other what is being sold by Goop or what the click-author is writing, the brain is learning new habits about what triggers the release of reward chemicals and creates a sensation that is perceived as having a positive valence. And being a brain, it will start to apply these lessons to other things in order to get more of the reward chemicals.
Let’s consider Goop for a second, and notice how the site is used by content creators, along with some manipulation techniques, to trick people into reading and believing things that are not not true, not real or did not happened.
Goop is Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, a web site along with some brink and mortar locations selling things that she may or may not endorse, know about, or like. There is some debate about how deeply versed she is in terms of the products that they sell but what is not up for debate is that SHE is the biggest part of the brand.
On one hand, she is a very beautiful women and a remarkable and successful actor, so I’m sure there is no financial reason for her to create a lifestyle brand that sells things – she has a net worth that is north of 100 million US dollars. While on the other, she is a human being and likely has the same needs as the rest of us to do meaningful work and to contribute to the betterment of society and the world in whatever ways makes sense to her.
I’m willing to believe that Goop is her effort to satisfy this need for contribution vs. some need to generate more wealth. Fine, in principle, maybe less so in practice. The challenge for her is to balance this need to do good for other people with the need for honesty or more fundamentally, to do not harm.
She isn’t a doctor and has no obligation to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. But she also doesn’t need the money, which makes the way forward for her a lot less clear. This is where she sometimes stumbles, which over the long run has transformed Goop into a gold mine for people who are looking for a topic to write about that is certain to generate a lot of page views.
To say that Goop sells some questionable products would be an understatement. They sell a lot of good products as well as a lot of harmless products meaning some of their stuff will help people directly while some of it will trigger a placebo response allowing it to become helpful. Even when no placebo effect is triggered, some of the stuff will make people feel better, which is a nice thing to feel. Regarding the stuff that is benign, while it is not necessarily a problem on its own, making false claims about its merits IS a problem. It is a problem in that making unsubstantiated claims, particularly those in the realm of health, is illegal and grounds for prosecution or the levying of fines.
The remainder of the stuff that they sell, be it products or ideas, are actually harmful. This is a problem for two reasons. The first reason is that you shouldn’t be selling anything that harms other people. That is a shittie thing to do or to be a part of. No one should do it and in the event it happens by accident, corrective steps should be taken immediately to make things as right as they can be. The second reason it is a problem is that it calls into question the validity of EVERYTHING they sell, which makes life tougher for the people who engage the brand with an earnest desire to learn something true or buy something that works. Since it isn’t obvious what is valid, what is dangerous, and what is harmless, you are faced with three choices – assume it is all good, assume it is all bad, or take the time to verify the accuracy and validity of the claims being made about the product or idea.
Goop has now become more than what it was before. In the eyes of many people it has become a punchline or joke. Those who view it in these terms see it as place for new-age alternative health people to go to and buy their useless trinkets just to get a feeling that they are somehow closer to Gwyneth Paltrow. The believers in the brand are nothing more than easy marks who have disposable income to throw around. The view is that these people would be spending their money somewhere so all Goop is doing is giving them a place to spend it. That is the nature of capitalism so it is easy to just assume that the customers are trying to live a better life and have a genuine belief that Goop will bring this experience to their door.
This is the real problem. The fact that Goop and therefore its customers are viewed so harshly means that Goop has become the perfect object to use so someone can signal their virtue by writing a “hit” piece. “Look how dumb these people are?” is a passive aggressive way of saying “I’m smart” and announcing to the world that what else you have to say is important and worth consuming. Most of the time it isn’t because their piece really just amounts to a tribal attack on a group of people who are not in a position to defend themselves and who are NOT the same thing as Goop. In this way, Goop has become a cash cow for people whose worth is generated via page clicks.
I don’t care much for people. I want them to have as easy a life as they feel they deserve and to experience as much joy as is possible under the circumstances of their life, but when it comes down to what I think and feel about people that I will never have any contact with, I don’t want them to suffer and that is basically the end of it.
However, I believe that the source of most suffering is an incomplete or inaccurate internal view of the world. Friction is created when we take an action, which is basically just the manifestation of a prediction our brain makes about an outcome, and it does not generate the desired result. The easiest way to avoid or reduce this friction is to do nothing, which is very effective as it completely eliminates the possibility for errors. But this isn’t a practical approach. So assuming that we need to do stuff, anything that we can do to improve the accuracy of out internal representation of the world will, over time, reduce friction by increasing the quality of our predictions.
Goop makes this very unlikely now that they have gained the reputation for selling products / ideas that are based on pseudoscience, a reputation that coats the entirety of their offering as pseudo-scientific nonsense. The consequence of selling jade eggs is that it paints their articles as being a part of the same thing. It also means that the click sellers can park on the site waiting for the next thing to pick apart and then write their own article about it. They KNOW that their target audience will eat it up because piling-onto the “Goop is nonsense” bandwagon aligns people with others and makes them part of a tribe that believes they know more and that is smarter than Gwyneth Paltrow and her brand believers.
This isn’t really much of a problem if the Goop article or product is useless or is dangerous. The readers may get some useful information about a product / idea that should be avoided, but I’m not convinced they gain this information via any critical consumption and analysis of what is contained in the click sellers article. It is much more likely that they made the decision to read the article in order to have their preconceived view – that Goop markets and sells useless stuff to people who do not know any better – validated. It is a reaction more than a cognitive operation. Seeing “Goop” followed by a product immediately initiates a series of unconscious thought processes that have been conditioned through experience and that cause the release of reward chemicals. On the simplest level, perceiving the word “Goop” is a pattern match, which is rewarding. The feeling that Goop is nonsense for people who don’t know any better creates the us : them dynamic which manufactures a sense social connection or belonging, which triggers the release of reward chemicals. The fact that the click seller article supports the readers preconceived belief serves to validate it, which triggers the release of more reward chemicals. The final significant factor is that the chemicals that create the sensation of outrage just happen to be energetic to the individual who is experiencing the outrage. Taken together, all of these things mean that any article that is written about anything that appears on Goop will trigger the release of reward chemicals in the brain of reader and it will boost their energy level. The articles are reinforcing and they cause a physical sensation that serves as a “hook” to further consolidate the habit of reading the articles.
None of this is based on anything that is actually happening in objective reality. It is all a result of a persons subjective internal representations of the real world. This is, in the long term, a source of friction in their life. While it may not matter one way or the other what is being sold by Goop or what the click-author is writing, the brain is learning new habits about what triggers the release of reward chemicals and creates a sensation that is perceived as having a positive valence. And being a brain, it will start to apply these lessons to other things in order to get more of the reward chemicals. This is how someone can very quickly learn how to automatically and uncritically ingest nonsense believing that it is fact. As they do this more often, their world view gets further pollute rendering predictive accuracy even lower.
Addressing the behaviour of the click-authors, they are no better than the Goop people, and may actually be bad actors. They are writers, journalist, and content creators. They have not agreed to uphold the Hippocratic Oath, so they do not necessarily have a moral responsibility to do no harm, but as human beings, they do have, in my opinion, a social responsibility to leave the world at least no worse than how they found it. Using psychological manipulation to generate clicks and income is not rent seeking behaviour; which is passively making a profit from doing nothing. They are actively doing something that adds no value and which can have a long term negative impact on the lives of their readers.
When the Goop product does work, or when the idea is actually worth considering and learning, their actions ARE a problem. By writing a “Goop is stupid” article about something that is actually helpful, they are moving their readers away from the truth by triggering the learned click-wirr reaction that arise when dealing with non-truths, nonsense or falsehoods. Once these reactions start, whatever meaning they indicate is automatically and unconsciously paired with the content of the article. The outcome is that facts will be not be considered as facts and will instead be encoded as being wrong. This will further erode the quality of their readers internal representation of reality.
Recently, Goop posted an interview with Traci Mann, Ph.D. in an article titled Busting Diet Myths. As is the case with the predatory authors who write click-article, there was some stuff in the Goop article that they could use as the foundation for something they would feed to their readers to trigger the reward chemicals and outrage. The problem is, the stuff wasn’t actually in the article. Traci Mann was very clear on what she was suggesting as a better approach towards weight loss and there wasn’t anything in what she said that is the least be controversial from a scientific point of view. However, the Goop article was not written in a defensive form meaning that it was easy to take some of the stuff out of context. And since there is money to be made by the click-authors, many of them did, creating a non-existent narrative and then put these words into Traci Mann’s month. While this is not slander, it is a pretty dirty move, especially when you read what she actually said and realize that her advice makes sense and is workable for everyone.
Of all the things that Tracie didn’t say that click-authors attribute to her, the most dishonest centred on the words “leanest liveable weight.” I have to admit, I had no idea what that meant when I first read it. It can mean “the lowest possible weight and body fat percentage that you can have without showing any physiological impairments.” It could also mean that lowest possible weight and body fat percentage that you can maintain without having to resort to heroic actions. The first interpretation is about survival, the second is about quality of life. While a person can live without any low weight health concerns at a body fat level of 5-12 percent depending on gender, maintaining such a low body fat level SUCKS. The long term health outcomes from someone who maintains a low body fat percentage vs. someone who maintains one that is 5-12 percent higher is not significantly different. However, the quality of life outcomes tend to be very different simply because staying at 5-10 percent body fat is a full time job that consumes so many mental cycles that there are practically no reasons to ever do it.
If only there was a way to know what Traci was talking about a person would be able to stop guessing between two possible points of view. It sure would have been nice if someone had taken the time to write an article about her thoughts that captured exactly what she meant.
Good news, someone did! Not the click-authors, but Goop. When one takes the time to read the original article, there is a section titled “what does “leanest livable weight” mean and how do you determine this number for yourself?” Her explanation can only help to clear-up any misunderstanding or provide a completely clear one. But you have to read it, consider it, and figure out how it might work in real life.
Okay, I have a back ground in this stuff, so her explanation was easy for me to read, understand and imagine implementing. But I have no reason to believe that a lay person could read “your leanest livable weight is the weight at the low end of your set range. Your set range is a genetically determined range of weight that your body generally keeps you in, despite your efforts to escape it. If your weight is below that range, biological changes due to calorie deprivation happen, and generally push you back into your set range. However, if you stay within your set range—at the lower end of it—you should be able to maintain that weight without your body making those negative changes” and think she was suggesting that you should starve yourself and get to the lowest possible body fat level that will not cause health concerns.
BUT a lay person would need to read that paragraph and possibly take some time to consider it, which is not something the click-authors recommend that their readers do. Not surprising given their lack of respect for the people why are targeting with their articles.
Consider the following exert, which is very similar to the ones that appeared on various “news” web sites”:
Speaking this weekend, Dr Yeo branded the advice “dangerous” and said it encouraged eating disorders.
“This is a dangerous suggestion, as many people will take it to mean they should be as thin as possible,” he said. “It is irresponsible because the idea is so open to misinterpretation, especially for young girls susceptible to eating disorders. The problem with many of Goop’s recommendations is that they are not based on science, but pseudoscience.
The advice is not dangerous, although following though on a misunderstanding of it might be. But I fail to see how anyone could misunderstand it if they were to read the Goop article, something that the piece in stylist.co.uk does almost NOTHING to encourage people to do.
The rest of the quote contains conjecture, an inaccurate syllogism, and that lumping thing that click-authors are so keen to do when they pile-on to a topic that they believe their readers will consume.
Worse than just being misinformation is the wasted opportunity that Dr. Yeo had to clarify any confusion by unpacking what he knew Traci was saying or reasonably should have known she was saying. His qualifications as a doctor heighten the level of responsibility that he has for making sure things ARE understood, although his role as a presenter on BBC’s Trust Me, I’m A Doctor may be interfering with this.
Goop is part of the reason that people have become afraid of eating. We need to love our food, just eat less of it.”
And there you go, while that statement may be true – in that anything is a part of the reason for anything else – it isn’t very true. It suggests two things that are a problem. The first is that it implies that Goop has a lot more power and influence than it does. Second, it suggests that people are both ignorant in terms of knowing what to eat and foolish in that they will take anything that Goop says as absolute truth. It is true that we should probably eat less food, particularly if our body fat levels are on the rise or we want to lower them BUT the quoted statement is a fractured syllogism because the the second premise is not true which renders the first premise meaningless. People are not afraid to eat therefore Goop has no responsibility for people being afraid to eat.
KNOW that people are going to lie and that they tend to lie in the same way and about the same type of things over and over again. These lies will be told for the same reason and many of the people who have a similar goal will tell the same lies and in the same ways as other people. There are patterns and you can train yourself to notice them.
Accept that learning things can hard at times but that any work it entails will be worth it in the long run. Creating an accurate internal representation of the real world is a massive undertaking because life is very complicated. It’s hard enough when we are being exposed to nothing but the truth, so it gets way more challenging when there is an unidentified source of lies around corrupting the information that we are storing. The only way we will know who and what these sources are is by listening to what they say and then taking the time to verify it. By figuring out what they are communicating and then determining if it is actually true, we will ensure that we only learn and remember things that are potentially helpful in the future.
Before reading or listening to anything, take a moment to consider the source. The most important thing here is to get clear on the persons motives and to uncover any conflict of interest they may have that could be skewing the message towards falsehood. Simply by asking the questions “how does the person benefit when I consume what they wrote” or “how does the person benefit if I believe what they are saying” you will activate a level of skepticism that is a requirement for the consumption of contemporary media.
Finally, be aware that there is a physical sensation associated with the click-wirr reaction, a confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, in group / out group thinking, and outrage. Train yourself to identify these sensations and take the time to notice when they are being triggered by the actions of another person. Any time you notice this happening, dig in a little deeper and make the call on whether or not it should be happening. Stories about suffering that is caused by greed should be alarming, stories about how person X said this a stupid thing that does not effect you should not. We evolved to react to any perceived lack of fairness, we LEARN to react to irrelevant things. Slow things down when you have to and take as long as needed to make sure you know the truth and the relevance. Once you do this, pay particular attention to who is lying, what they are lying about, and how they go about it. Knowing these three things will go a long way in helping you decide who is in it for the clicks and who is earnestly trying to broadcast the truth.
This is not the start of a joke like “so Don Cherry walks into a bar…”.
Don Cherry has said worse things than he did on Saturday November 9, 2019. Much worse things. Things about Europeans, Russians, Native people, liberally minded people, women, those who speak about social injustice and the privileging of some groups over others, former NHL enforcers who air their concern about the damage caused by getting punched in the face and head over and over again, advocates for responsible treatment of the planet and people who speak about the approaching challenges of a warming climate.
Don Cherry has said much better things that he did on Saturday November 9, 2019. He is a fierce nationalist who LOVES Canada, he is a strong advocate for Veteran rights, and he supports the troops by raising money and going out of his way and into war zones to show his appreciation for them. Unrelated to last Saturday night, he is a big fan of younger and developing hockey players and recognizing their achievements, he advances the pursuit of hockey IQ, he understands the game well and seems to break it down in a way that has me conclude that he still has some coaching chops, even if he now spends most of this time on something else.
I was sad when his dog died because he seemed terribly heartbroken and it’s nearly impossible to not have empathy when someone loses the object of their unconditional love.
And I don’t know much else about the man other than the superficial qualities that are easy to figure out by looking at him on TV during Coaches Corner. So he is old, he is 85, he’s male, he’s white, and he has some contacts in the fabric and garment business who are able to source some of the strangest material ever imagined-up.
The things that kind of sucks is the fact that the way he acts seems to be the behavioural caricature manifestation of his superficial characteristics or qualities. No one was surprised when he said that he would have voted for Trump. No one was surprised when he said that anyone who believes that humans are causing climate change are cuckaloos. No one was surprised when he said that he was “being ripped to shreds by the left-wing pinko newspapers” during Rob Fords inaugural meeting as mayor of Toronto. No one was surprised when he said that the best hockey players in the world are from Canada, or when he suggested that hockey players from Europe shouldn’t be allowed to play in the CHL or that the way they celebrate scoring a goal is going to get them put onto someones hit list.
That is the thing about Don Cherry, no one is surprised by anything he says or does. Good or bad, it is unsurprising. He has some very good qualities and works to improve the lives of some people, and he has some bad qualities and says stuff that makes you wonder if he has any good qualities. None of this is the point really. He’s been doing what he does for so long that we all kind of just accept it as Don being Don and we move off of it quickly. It’s like the frog in a boiling water that doesn’t notice things are heating-up. The pace has been such a slow creep that we didn’t really notice much of anything over the last 40 years.
This is a part of the problem. While everyone else was changing, he was either staying the same or become more like Don Cherry. There is no way that someone who vocalizes the problematic things he says would get a spot of TV today – at least on CBC; although he hasn’t worked for them for since 2014.
I am not sure what triggered him on Saturday, probably living in Mississauga and noticing that the people no longer look the way they used to and not enough of them were wearing poppies to pay tribute to Veterans. While he didn’t come right out and say the first part, he did directly state the second part before indirectly stating the first. If he had simply made two observations, that Canada is becoming more multicultural and that these days he sees fewer people wearing poppies, people would have agreed with him on both counts and maybe been compelled to go out and buy some of their fellow Canadians a poppy. Even if the audience was motivated to do nothing, Don would still have his job.
The thing with what he said on Saturday night is that it eliminated the possibility that moderate thinkers would be able to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was inarticulately making a valid point.
I don’t wear a poppy. This doesn’t mean that I hate Veterans or that I adore war and violence. It isn’t something I do because I’m not a big fan of virtue signalling. I buy them, I stuff money into the donation box, take a poppy, and feel like a heal because I have done next to nothing to improve the lives of the people who served in the armed forces or lost someone who did. I think it would actually be a few steps worse than nothing if I was to wear the poppy because I feel like I am trying to take credit for doing something that amounts to effectively nothing.
But I am aware of the first world war and the efforts made by Canadian soldiers. Many of them died, many more were gassed, and they got after taking care of the threat that Germany represented to the entire world. I am aware of most of the wars that Canada has found itself in and am grateful that many Canadians made the decision to join the armed forces and risk their lives fighting the numerous enemies over the last century.
I am less clear on what aging Veterans want from Canada or from their fellow Canadians, or if they view those who wear poppies as being with them and those who do not as being against them. If I had to guess I’d put my money on them not thinking much about who wears the poppies and their thoughts being on the people they served with, and particularly those who did not make it home. This is said having no direct experience with any of the nastiness of war. Maybe they did what they did to make sure people were as free to wear the poppy as they are to not wear it, but my feeling is that poppies were the last thing on their minds when they at war and that they don’t think much about them for 11 months of the year.
I’m willing to give Don Cherry the benefit of the doubt in so far as suggesting that he was trying to say something very positive about Veterans and that he wanted Canadians to re-up their appreciation for the actions taken by our armed forces personnel. And I kind of wish that he had just said it like that because it would have generated a lot of good will and probably a boost in donations for the poppy drive. What he said is, if nothing else, a distraction from Remembrance Day and the legitimate need for Canadian citizens and permanent residence to make sure ALL of our Veterans are treated fairly and well taken care of. Give money and time to Veteran organizations.
Of course, all of this could have been avoid if Don had said something else OR if we had heard what he was saying years ago. How much stuff did we just shrug off? And whats does that cause to happen? Well, things escalate. When the time comes that you do have to draw the line, it is going to be over something worse than any of the things that have been overlooked. The end result is that when the line is finally crossed it is about something that you would never have predicted as having dealing with. It will be so far past what is acceptable that for it to be the first offence will seem like a massive jump.
This is the problem with giving people too many passes. Because they are not punished for their misbehaviour, they develop a sense of invincibility and start to believe that the collective silence from everyone is an indication of our collective agreement with what they are saying. And when they get the next pass, it serves to reinforce this belief. After years of this pattern, there ends up being a moment when they cross the line, keep going and have a Saturday night like Don did when there is a big flip in the minds of many people and they say “enough is enough.”
Enough is enough, and it was enough a long time ago. He should have been corrected years ago and if he was still unwilling to change his behaviour, he should have had his future freed-up and been given the opportunity to do something else. This would have saved his legacy a lot of damage and it would have saved Remembrance Day 2019 from having to share the spotlight with news about Don Cherry’s termination from Coaches Corner.
I am not a fan of silencing people. I believe that unless someone is inciting violence or committing a crime with their words, they should be free to say more or less whatever they want. The same applies to Cherry, and as far as I can tell, he is still free to say whatever it is he feels like saying. He lost his job which is a measure of the same free speech he had and continues to have. The managers of the company he works for have every right to employ the people they want and, so long as they do not violate any labour laws when they terminate someones employment, they are well within their rights to do so. They actually have a responsibility to shareholders to release the problem talent and replace it with something more profitable.
I do not fault Rogers Communications Inc. for letting him go. They didn’t have a choice because he no longer speaks for all Canadians or most Canadians. He speaks for some Canadians and these people will be more than happy to give him a place to land when this whole things blows over.
I fault us for Don Cherry. We tuned-in and watched, we gave him an audience to talk at. Our attention was the reason why various media companies over the years hired him. He made them a lot of money because we gave him an ear. We didn’t say stop, smarten-up, change your ways or your going to be out of work, we simply said “oh, that’s just Don Cherry” as if that is a valid reason for anything. We kept him going because at some level of functioning, we are willing to overlook the tired actions of an old man who hasn’t been able to keep up with the pace of change.
The consequence to this inaction is going to be the further divide between those who think Don Cherry is great and those who are tired of having to tolerate someone who just doesn’t seem to be trying to get it right.
Don Cherry does not have a problem, he’s fine with what he said and seems willing to move on. We have a Don Cherry problem, and have had one for a long time. He may be a good man who says some stupid things. He may be an okay man who is stuck in the past. Or he might be an 85 year old white guy who cannot fathom how anyone could have a problem with his voicing his support and loyalty for Veterans while simultaneously declaring how “real” Canadians should act for the benefit of the people who just come to Canada for milk and honey.
This should serve as a warning that we cannot and should not give someone a pass for saying things that are wrong, pointlessly unhelpful or harming, or are divisive to the country as a whole. Give them a warning and the opportunity to change their course, and if they take it, welcome them back. If they chose not to, thank a Veteran for fighting for the persons liberty to remain as they want to be then honour the persons decision and your word by acting quickly to clean-up the mess. Doing nothing just moves the problem into the future while ensuring that it grows larger with each unpunished misstep.
It was as though he was saying “yeah, life, it’s the worst” followed by the rhetorical question “but what are you gonna do” having asked and found out that I wasn’t depressed and was willing to keep going for as long as it lasts.
Last year I went to see my doctor for something. I cannot for the life of me remember what it was about specifically but as is the way with him, we chatted a little about life and how I was feeling about things. I answered his questions truthfully because that is what my role was, based on my most recent reading of the “Big Book Of Social Conventions” that doesn’t exist.
I remember now why I went to see him. It was to get a prescription renewed but it also had something to do with the fact that I had started to realize that life is tough and it remains kind of hard even though I am getting better at it. While I am not as physically fit as I used to be, I have no trouble putting in a full days labor if that is what the day calls for. The toughness that I was noticing was not of a physical nature – I think on some level the brain has come to terms with gravity, the mass of things, and the practical implications of the stuff Newton was ranting about after that apple hit him on the head. We have dealt with momentum, inertia, and the tendency for everything to try and drop into the center of the earth for so long that we just sort of accept that. Even if we concede the loss to physics, we still have to play the game and constantly hold things up.
The challenge that I was relating to him was more of the existential struggle that some measure of people will notice, think about, and share with their doctors. It is the struggle that I think those without children will become more aware of because there is nothing in their life that fills them with blind hope and dogmatic optimism about the future of the planet. My saying this as a lot to do with the feeling I get when I watch a parent interact with their child and celebrate the days tiny successes – like the drawing of a stick figure family that includes the correct number of people is a solid indication that the child’s intellectual horsepower will result in them curing some awful disease. They have to be optimistic because who really wants to be responsible for teaching a young person what the world is all about? Plus, they get to see first hand the magical power of the human brain taking in, making sense of, and then interacting with the real world. All of the little benchmarks in their child’s development are actually something truly remarkable. But having no children, my days are filled with interactions with once children who afford other people no reason to be optimistic that tomorrow will be any different than today or that their parents optimism was ever anything but misguided. I deal with grown-ups and if I was forced to describe us all in one word that word would be “average.”
Average is not very good, and it is certainly no reason to be optimistic about anything other than the continuation of mediocre. I am a data point in all of this so no part of me is honestly suggesting that my contribution to “average” is doing anything to lift the score. Life is not easy, talent is rare, and becoming good at something requires consistent and frequent hard work. Being average at something takes just slightly more effort than being utterly useless so it should not be surprising that the world just kind of sucks, mostly completely.
Now I have been aware of this fact for a long time; at least my brain has been aware of it simply because it has been the thing that has had to deal with it in much the same way as it has had to come to terms with gravity. The transformation recently has been that I have become consciously aware of this fact and it has started to grind me down and make me kind of realistic about today and the future. Today is going to be a lot like yesterday and tomorrow is going to be a lot like today. Very little changes other than the coat of paint, even if it seems like so much is changing. It is years of nothing, then a moment of shifting to the left, followed by more years of nothing. Repeat, but with the occasional jog to the right, or backwards, and a new iPhone that requires a different cable so your charging problem is back, rebranded but it’s the same problem you solved three years ago.
When I was talking to him, I didn’t take a moment to consider just how unsympathetic he could have been. He’s seen more than I have, and what he has seen is about as raw and unvarnished as anything can be. So while I was dealing with there being too many people in line or some store worker just hating me because they hate their job and me showing-up serves only to remind them that they are at work, he has been dealing with rot and decay, and the eventual end of each individual person. But he’s a grown-up, knows full well what the world is all about, and still asked me how I was doing.
I said something like life was kind of a drag and that if I had any advice to give it would be to not start it. This caused him to ask about self harm and I honestly replied “no, I’m going to see it through to a natural ending, whenever that is. It’s just that every day is more or less the same – wake-up, eat, go to work, work, eat, leave work, go to the store, shop for food, go home, make dinner, eat, watch some TV, feel like I’m wasting my life, feel stupid for feeling like I have it bad when I have it really good, go to bed, dream, wake-up and do it over again. It’s life, it’s what it is. It continues long after you get good at it and start to lose interest. I just wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but that isn’t really how things go.”
He kind of laughed because he’s a doctor and it was a true statement. Maybe it was a little funny too, I don’t really know, but I know my life is easy compared to almost everyone else who is alive right now, and better than EVERYONE who had lived before 1950.
But the brain doesn’t work that way, which is a bug and not a feature if you were to ask me. It seems nearly powerless to hold in mind just how crappy things used to be and instead chooses to track in on just how crappy things are right now. While we should be smiling because we know NO ONE who died from lockjaw or from blood poisoning when the compound femur fracture they got when their horse threw them ended-up getting infected, we choose anger instead because our selfie from the Kiss concert only got 87 likes or because McDonald’s now serves some breakfast items all day.
Sure, we can force ourselves to think about the good stuff and to generate a sense of gratitude, but that requires effort and tends to earn us the label of Pollyanna.
He didn’t offer me any advice or criticism and just kind of nodded in agreement with what I was saying. It was as though he was saying “yeah, life, it’s the worst” followed by the rhetorical question “but what are you gonna do” having asked and found out that I wasn’t depressed and was willing to keep going for as long as it lasts. Killing myself was never on the table as I’m not even unhappy that I am alive. It was as though he was just checking in to make sure that my sudden realization that the living of life is a very different experience than thinking about “life” had not been so destabilizing as to render me unwilling to keep at it. And once he got that confirmation, the potentially very serious health crisis evaporated and it was just two people in a room talking about the primary disincentive for stasis. Life has to suck most of the time or else we won’t do anything. Even when it doesn’t suck, we have to find things to complain about in order to create the motivation to do something different.
Of course, we didn’t talk about that part of it. He has a job to do and I have a role to play, and neither of these include tracking in on the fundamental reason why being chronically unsatisfied might be the only reason why our species has survived as long as it has. My role is to get my prescription renewed and to answer his questions as honestly as I can, and his job is to know what questions to ask and make an educated guess about how my life will unfold over the next six months based on the content of my answers.
And in fairness to him and to the medical profession in general, there isn’t anything that he can say about the topic. So long as I am fine with continuing my life, any realization that life is hard, thankless, and effectively exactly the same every day once you hit 35, is not grounds for concern. Just because I didn’t realize it before doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been this way forever. Their job is not to help me come to terms with being alive, it is to make sure I stay alive and to offer assistance and help when something starts to go wrong that can be corrected. Me waking up is not something going wrong, or that can or should be corrected.
This is the wisdom of his questions. People tell their doctors all kinds of stuff that they probably wouldn’t tell other people. My dispassionate soliloquy serves two purposes. The first is straight forward enough, it’s to let him get a handle on what is going through my mind at that moment in time to make sure there isn’t something serious bubbling just below the surface. The second is to give me the chance to say out loud what has been going through my mind recently in an attempt to make it more than just some thought. This second part is for me, and it’s a small piece of therapy because those things need to be said out loud in order to be understood and interrogated for accuracy and meaning.
By giving me the opportunity to say “life, I wouldn’t recommend it” the doctor is making sure that I listen to, hear, and process the bulk of these thoughts. So long as there is no pathology, he’s not going to be able to do much about it because he’s not an expert on me or my life. But by giving me a chance to say out loud and to another person my thoughts, he’s kind of forcing these ideas back into my brain to be reprocessed for meaning as they apply to me. While he didn’t ask the question “if what you are saying is true, is there something troubling about it or what do you find troubling about it?” these are the questions someone should consider because people talk about things that matter to them or things that they believe are important. I was reporting what I believed was significant to me at that moment in time, so I as trying to shine a light on the fact that my life had become less enjoyable and less significant than it had been. My pointing out that each day is more or less the same as yesterday or today, is an indication that my brain was no longer getting the stimulation it needed to ignore the fact that life can be really boring when you are not doing anything or are not doing enough things of value to distract you for the mundane nature of being alive. His questions are posed in an effort to get me to voice any dramatic contrasts I have been experiencing and to then try and figure out what has changed.
Related, but not exactly relevant here, is my tendency towards the thought “if I wasn’t alive I wouldn’t need to deal with this anymore.” This thought has come to my mind about five times in my life. At my absolute worst, when I was in the grips of a deep depression, I never thought about not being alive anymore. Death wasn’t a solution, I was just depressed and I made no judgment about the validity of the feelings I was having. Depression sucks, it taints everything a particularly dark color of pessimism that leaves you so certain that everything is going to suck that your motivation is capped at empty. Yet I never considered ending my life to get out of having to live another day of bedridden depression. It was as though I knew there wasn’t much that I could do about it and therefore felt no shame or responsibility for what was going on. Time, rest, a good diet, exercise, and medication would take care of things and I set about correcting the mental trajectory of my emotional system.
The five times I thought “if I was dead I wouldn’t have to do this anymore” all surrounded decisions that I was making that were causing my life to be something that I wasn’t looking forward to. For example, I had a job managing a gym in a small town about 3 hours away from Milton (my home town). It wasn’t a bad job at all, it was actually a fairly good one. I had the support of my boss, my team knew that I believed in them, and work was about 95% great. In fact, I preferred being at work than living in the apartment that I rented; I was happy to wake-up in the morning because I got to go to work and sad as hell nine or ten hours later when it was time to call it a day. It was during one of these drives home that I heard myself think “if I was dead I wouldn’t have to do this anymore.”
My problem was that I didn’t like the majority of my life. The 40 to 55 hours a week I spend at work were great, as was the 3 hour drive back to Milton and the time I spent there every other weekend. The rest of it was not all that enjoyable and as time moved along, I became more and more aware of just how little I was getting out of being alive. When I heard myself say “if I was dead…” it caused me to take a look at my life and to try and figure out how I could think something like that.
Well, for one thing, it is a factual statement. When you are dead you do not have to repeat yesterday and pretend that it is a new day. Ending life is a very extreme way to solve the problem of having to do something that you don’t want to do. It is very effective but has the side effective of being completely limiting in terms of future options.
This begs the question “was it life that I wanted to stop or was it what I was doing within my life that I wanted to stop?” given my tendency to never want to stop my life. Any time a thought about ending my life pops into my head it is ALWAYS going to be the second part of the question – because I was doing something in my life that I wanted to stop doing. But it will include something even more important, that I am the one who is choosing to do the thing that I want to stop doing. In the case of the job, I knew I needed to move on to a different opportunity and realized that doing so was going to cause some waves and consume a lot of energy. In two or three months everything would have come to pass, but the time between now and then would be tumultuous. The thought was basically an avoidance fantasy like “imagine how amazing it would be to not have to go through any of that stuff.” Whatever that stuff is, the choice I have to make is between going through it now or going through it later, and not whether or not I have to go through it at all. The eventual outcome is clear, I will have moved on, I just need to decide when that will be and announce the beginning of the end.
The other four times I have had this thought were very similar. They were about something that I was choosing to do, that was making me unhappy, and that I was free to stop doing the moment I call it as being over and I put in the effort to deal with the fall out of that decision. It is always better a few months later and never as bad as the worst case prediction before the choice is made.
Another property these experiences share is they are moments of decision between two bad options mainly because of what I chose before. When given the choice between a good option and a bad option I picked the bad option. From there the quality of the options dropped until we arrive at this bad thing and that bad thing. For a lot longer than I’d like to admit, I choose to do nothing, kicking the decision down the road raising the stakes a little higher.
This is like “The Book Of Questions” but instead of the one that is written by a normal person, it is written by a psycho or sociopath. The question “would you rather drown or burn to death?” is asked. Instead of learning something about yourself or gaining some insight about an action that you must take, your brain gets curious and you begin to wonder what life choices would have led you to a situation that has only “burn” or “drown” as the answers. There are a few back stories, and all of them begin with making a bad choice when when presented with a better option. And once it’s on, a series of bad choices lead you having to pick between two things that are, for all practical purposes, the same thing.
Fortunately it isn’t very much like the psychopath’s book of questions. The main similarity is that, at the core of it all, it is ME having been the one who made the choices that lead me to the moment. I am responsible for my place in life so I am therefore responsible for finding a new place or creating my peace with this one. My thought that it would be great to not be alive anymore was 100% caused by my brains unconscious realization that I caused it all to happen. The idea was manufactured by some mental process fantasizing about an existence that freed me of having to take responsibility for what was in order to navigate my way out of it and one that allowed me to continue to keep my head in the sand about what was actually going on. Once I learned what the thought indicated, I came to accept what was going on. The internal conscious reality instantly matched the internal unconscious reality, which had come to match external reality.
There’s a funny thing about life that all people share. The moment we accept things for how they are, much of the difficulty simply evaporates as we stop resisting or wasting effort trying to make them different and channel that effort onto dealing with the reality. When we see clearly, we stop pretending and get round to doing something about what we have seen. My doctor was right to make sure I was going to keep going and then say nothing more about it. He probably could have said something that reflect some of his wisdom, but he left the opening open for me to fill-in. “Yeah, life is tough, and you are going to have to figure it out because it is going to continue.”
He was also correct to laugh at my recommendation that no one should start life. Whether or not it is true is irrelevant, it just isn’t a recommendation that anyone can ever follow. I interpreted what he said as him saying “yes, it is better to not begin, but once begun, it is better to finish.”
Headlines matter because they act to prime the reader for what they are about to consume. Their psychological purpose is to activate particular circuits and power-up mental processes that will influence the experience of the reader. An outrageous headline activates a lot of unconscious brain activity that readies the reader to engage in in-group / out-group thinking, virtue signalling behaviour, toxic empathy, and a version of the selection bias that has them ignore or disregard anything that would serve to mitigate the outrage. It suppresses objectivity and rational though by hijacking the brain of the reader.
Today I read the Toronto Sun article by Dr. Ken Walker (who writes using the name Dr. Gifford Jones) titled Did you hear about the North American wimp epidemic? It appeared in my Google news feed and after consciously trying to ignore it a few times I found myself clicking on the link.
I was expect one of two things. The first was an article about how “men” in North America have become emotionally more expressive as they tap into the well feminine energy in an attempt to become more progressive. The second was an article that outlined the hormonal changes that are associated with consuming too much soy protein as our culture moves away from eating animal protein. It was neither of these, which says a lot about me.
The article was about pain medication and how people in North America consume a lot of it. Based on a study that was referenced but not cited – Opioid Prescribing After Surgery in the United States, Canada, and Sweden – the author talks about the finding that people in Sweden are less likely to fulfill their prescription for opioid medication after keyhole surgery when compared to people in the US and Canada.
The results were shocking. It showed that 79% of Canadians and 76% of Americans used opioid prescription drugs following these procedures. But only 11% of patients in Sweden needed an opioid drug! You do not need to be a statistician to surmise that something has gone awry in North America.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones
As the article continues, he coins the term “pillitis” as a symptom of our mania for pills. For this, he places the blame on three groups:
The first is big pharma who have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to make as much money as possible. They manufacture and market chemical solutions to the problems that people have, and, as such, they have a conflict of interest when it comes to the truth. If they can sell the problem and the solution, they’ll beat earnings projections which translates into greater divided-ends and larger bonuses for the C level personnel.
The second group is the doctors who prescribe the medicine to their patients. Their motivation is to reduce suffering while doing no harm to the people they are helping. Being the only people in the equation who have the legal authority to say who can buy and consume most medication, they are the gatekeepers who basically introduce the end user to the drug dealers. This introduction comes in the form of a prescription, a dosing recommendation, and their blessing.
The final group are the people who consume more medication than their counterparts in Sweden. These are the “wimps” that Dr. Gifford-Jones is talking about. We are the ones suffering from pillitis, unwilling or incapable of enduring any sort of pain and only too happy to shell out cash to buy whatever magic coloured pill that has been invented to alleviate the symptoms of whatever medical condition happens to be making our life a little bit less than ideal.
While I happen to agree with a lot of what the author is saying – that many of the medical problems that people suffer from are not problems per-say, and are actually symptoms of a series of poor life choices – I have difficulty with how he goes about saying it and what he does to get the message out.
According to the JAMA article that he references, around 8 of 10 people in North America who get surgery will fulfill the prescription for pain medication that their doctors gave them. In Sweden, this number is around 1 in ten. Using logic and hyperbole, the conclusion is drawn that people in North America are wimps and the folks in Sweden are tough.
This is a little rich, particularly for a medical professional. It’s the kind of thing that I would expect from a blogger, copy writer, or pundit who has a vested interest in pushing a particular point of view. It is the very thing that kind of has me try to ignore sensationalist headlines and avoid consuming the articles they are trying to promote. It is more understandable when a writer, marketer or talking head does it as they may not see themselves having any other choice. It is a different story when a doctor does it.
This I say while agreeing with most of what the author is stating. Too many people rely on pills or medication to treat the symptoms of a problem that the person could solve if they just took some different actions – eating more whole food and more fresh vegetables, and consuming lower amounts of food will go a long way in eliminating the “need” to take heart burn medication. The body is doing its best to process the crappy food-like stuff that is being pushed into the stomach, which means making and releasing more than a reasonable amount of digestive acid. More acid dumped into a full stomach means that some of this acid is going to find it way to the top and begin to leak out. There is a very good chance that your daily heartburn would disappear if you ate less in general and consumed more things that are easy to breakdown.
As evidence that North Americans are wimps, our constant indigestion does not meet the mark. It is more likely evidence of a different condition that is not medical – it indicates that we make chronically bad choices and find the consumption of various food-like products to be so rewarding that we cannot stop ourselves from eating them.
That same thing might apply to the filling of the post-surgery opioid drug prescriptions that the doctors write. This one is a little tougher though given that very few people are doctors and that most people are compliant or obedient when it comes to the recommendations of authority figures. When the doctor hands over a prescription it is natural for a patient to be motivated to get it filled and to follow the doctors’ orders. This is the case for almost all medications and for most people, and it is behaviour that is instilled in us when we are young and any time we hear someone say something about antibiotic resistant bacteria. Super bugs are primarily created through the over use of antibiotics in animal farming and, to a much lower extent, by people not completing the entire course of antibiotics. However, since most people are not farmers, our civic duty is to take ALL of the medication the doctor prescribes and to consume it exactly how they outline.
If you do not want to be a bad person and end up ruining the future for your children you WILL do what the doctor says. Factor this into a health care system that doesn’t afford the doctor a whole lot of time to get into the ins and outs of opioid pain killers and you have the perfect recipe for the creation of a continent of wimps. The doctor told me to take the medication every 6 hours so I took the medication every six hours. And by the way, the doctor cut a couple of holes into me, pumped the area full of CO2, and scrapped or cut out stuff that wasn’t supposed to be there. Sure, when compared to the old school method of slicing a 14 inch cut just below the rib cage and having the doctor and three surgery assistants put their hand inside feeling around in your guts, laparoscopic surgery isn’t much of anything. But it is still “surgery,” albeit a much less invasive form of cutting someone open.
I don’t think this makes people wimps – at least it does not necessarily make us wimps. People in North America are much more likely to get their opioid prescriptions filled, and according to the JAMA article, are going to be prescribed a greater quantity of medication when compared to Sweden. Does this mean that doctors, as the middle people between the drug seller and the drug user, are the ones who are writing the prescriptions and are therefore in near complete control over who gets access and the quantity that they get access to? It does, but it is the wimps who are following the doctors’ orders. Does it also mean that people in Sweden are much less likely to listen to what their doctors say and to ignore the medical advice that they dispense? It does, but that is because they are not wimps like we are in North America.
Here’s the rub, and it bothers me a lot. First off, I agree with what the doctor is saying about over prescribing medication, particularly opioid pain killers. These drugs are a potential problem because they have the quality of eliminating psychological pain as well as most physical pain. Life can be tough, it can even be painful. Maybe you come home from work and your back hurts from lifting something. Maybe you come home and your spirit hurts from the realization that you are the lackey who must dance when your boss grinds out a tune on the organ. Both of these things are a version of pain, both will disappear if you take some oxy, and maybe both should be experienced because they are a symptom of something not working for your body. The ability to experience pain evolved for a reason, we eliminate it at our own peril. Not wanting to experience pain does not make someone a wimp, it indicates that the system is working correctly and that the person is psychologically well adjusted. Pain is there to motivate us to avoid something. The truth is, post-surgery pain is an indication that the surgery should be avoided and that you should avoid surgeons. That is true in so far as their interventions DID cause the pain but it is not true because when we take a long view, their actions actually reduce long term suffering.
My annoyance comes from the title of his article and on who he blames for the abundant filling of post-surgery pain prescriptions. As a doctor, he isn’t going to come out and say “surgeons in North America are prescribing more pain medication than is necessary and this is helping to line the pockets of drug companies” because it would be professionally risky and while it might be technically true, doing so isn’t on their radar. The intention of a surgeon is to reduce suffering and allow people to live with less pain and without the need for pain medication once healing has taken place. All of that being said, the JAMA article was not about people who went out and bought pain medication on the black market, it is about people for which a medical doctor prescribed the medication and that the patients bought through a well-established and legal system.
The author has a point of view and has an obligation to the publisher of the Toronto Sun to create content that will generate page views. While his article was a less than perfect marriage of these two things, it was moderately successful at the first and very successful at the second. He seems to believe that people should be more tolerate of pain and have a willingness to alter their behaviour to eliminate some of the discomfort associated with making poor choices. He also seems to believe that doctors should not be prescribing opioid medications as frequently or in the amounts that they are. But in order to get people to consume these messages, he creates an outrageous title that implies that wimpiness is the newest epidemic to hit North America.
This makes me wonder, would he have gotten as many page views if he had selected the title “Thousands Ignore Medical Advice In Epidemic Of Swedish Masochism?” I have to concede that I would have clicked on that link INSTANTLY and would have laughed at the tactic to trigger my interest and capture my attention.
Headlines matter because they act to prime the reader for what they are about to consume. Their psychological purpose is to activate particular circuits and power-up mental processes that will influence the experience of the reader. An outrageous headline activates a lot of unconscious brain activity that readies the reader to engage in in-group / out-group thinking, virtue signalling behaviour, toxic empathy, and a version of the selection bias that has them ignore or disregard anything that would serve to mitigate the outrage. It suppresses objectivity and rational though by hijacking the brain of the reader. A feel good headline on the other hand offers so much less to the brain of the reader. No problem is presented and since no one is being victimized, the moral high-ground is not so clearly found. The absence of an obvious “right” and “wrong” offers little incentive to the brain of a potential reader. Unconsciously, we KNOW that there is nothing in it for us and while we may feel good after reading it, we will not feel activated and alive in nearly the same way as we do when we read about Trumps latest tweet – regardless of the side of the fence you find yourself on, Trump’s tweets satisfy everyone because they are either outrageous or how people respond to them will be.
I do not fault the doctor for any of this. He is both a doctor and a writer, and the identity of each requires a different set of skills and behaviours. The lines are blurred a little bit with his “wimp” article because he’s using a tactic of a writer to get people to consume his medical opinion. Getting people to read anything is a tough task, so maybe he had little choice when it came down to it. However, after reading his article and the original JAMA study, I’m left wondering if it was worth the time and effort.
And that is the point of this post. Headlines are used to capture people’s attention and trick them into reading something that they would normally ignore because they trigger seeking behaviour that is, in many ways, very similar to the moves drug addicts make as the effects of their last hit begin to fade. But just like the cravings of a drug addict, we do not need to give-in to the desires that are launched by an extreme headline. These decisions to not indulge will, overtime, reduce and eventually eliminate the intrusive thoughts that lead to the impulsive behaviour of clicking to read things that we actually do not care about or that we were tricked into believing mattered to us.