When Opinion Becomes Mob Mentality

I want to say something about the rising anti-intellectualism that we see in the United States. This isn’t a “yelling into the bullhorn” rant, but rather my thoughts about where these ideas might have come from.

From flat-earthers to COVID non-believers, our society is heading in a direction that I feel is dangerous. Myself and a significant number of my friends and colleagues. It’s frustrating.

I’ll use the flat-earth movement as an example here. The Ancient Greeks proved the spherical Earth over two thousand five hundred years ago using experiments of various kinds. And minus a few crackpots over the years, most people agree with this. Yet, we have a growing subset in our society that “choose” not to “believe.”

It’s the same thing with COVID non-believers and “anti-vaccers.” I was talking with a coworker about the new policies put forth by the Biden administration to curb the spread of the disease in its new variants. She was adamant that she would not receive any COVID vaccines because she didn’t know what was in them. In her opinion, she would not put anything in her body that was rushed to market and might be harmful to her or her kids. She said this while mixing a supplement shake purchased through an MLM. The very supplements that aren’t regulated. The very supplements whose ingredients lists are understandable by only very advanced chemists. I don’t think she saw the irony.

This is where I find the problem that I mentioned with anti-intellectualism. People want to believe that the opinions that they hold are valid, which they are. But they further want to believe that the opinions that they hold are as valid as people that hold expertise in a field. This is of course not true but I think I may have an idea of where this comes from.

People want to be validated. We all want to have someone support and agree with us. I believe that this is part of our social nature. But with the advent of the internet and social media, this had become are easier to find. Easy to the point of finding so many people that agree with an individual’s ideas that those in agreement become a shouting mob that any criticism is drowned out if not outright driven away. Yes, this is the definition of the internet mob. Wer all know about it. Maybe some of my readers have been victims of it.

But this trancends mob mentality. Because these people have online forums where they can exchange ideas, it’s often the same idea that gets “exchanged.” And with this comes constant reinforcement to the point that the group can’t accept any outside ideas. The original line of thought has become sacred and unassailable. The true expert has been shouted down and dissent will not be tolerated. Dunning-Kruger is at it’s most developed.

When this has happened I just leave that group to whatever beliefs they hold dear. It’s not my place, nor is it worth my time and effort to tell the emporer he is buck-ass naked. I feel that this will come to whatever group given time.

It’s Been Over a Month Now…

Now that It’s been a month since I’ve last consumed alcohol, I’ve noticed some positive changes in myself. The first thing that jumps to mind is relationships. My relationships have been a lot less strained, especially with my wife. She’s been such a huge help, mostly listening and supporting me when I tell her that I’ve been tempted to stop someplace and pick up beer. That was a daily practice before this last month. I’ll most likely be writing more on this subject soon.

Meet my editor, James Joyce Cat. It’s hard to impress him.

Another improvement I see is that I am physically feeling better. I’ve been sleeping better and waking much better rested. Along with that, I have much more energy throughout the day. It really is a huge improvement.

But the one big change that has come about from my abstinence, at least from the point of my creativity, is the return of my desire and drive to read and write. I’ve been working on my fantasy manuscript again in the mystical hours known as “wee” before heading off to work to support my newly rediscovered writing habit.

I’m finding the process not as easy as it had been before I set it aside, but I’m just as sure that as I continue to write, things will get easier again, just like getting out for long walks for exercise.

I’ve been reading in the evening as a wind-down from the day. Maybe this is helping me sleep as well?

At my blog’s peak, I had around a hundred followers. I feel that I let them down as well. For that, I apologize, and I hope I can regain your desire to follow what I put to paper here. Digitally speaking, that is. Perhaps given time, I could even grow my little corner past that. We’ll see.

My rediscovered happy place.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to find something more interesting than this to write.

Peace.

If Not Me Who? If Not Now When?

These Are questions I’ve asked myself many, many times over the last twenty years while I’ve been at work. Why wasn’t something done or not done? Who was going to finish a particular job or task? Why couldn’t a job be finished ahead of schedule? Who was going to work overtime? And on, and on and on… Like I said, for twenty years.

I’m not a supervisor, nor a manager. I’m just a machine operator where I work. But I’ve always taken more responsibility than most laborers there by far and away. That is, until this year, like I mentioned, my twentieth. In that time, I have been passed over for promotion more times than I have years there. All the while being given great performance reviews. So something wasn’t fitting.

It struck me when a person I trained when he started years ago was promoted to my shift supervisor. I had at some point run afoul of my area manager, the person who promoted my supervisor.

I wouldn’t consider him a bad person, not at all. But definitely a weak leader. He has a history of making decisions via the path of least resistance, what would be easiest for him or cause him the least amount of work. This has hurt several people that work or have worked under him. And in this economic climate, a few of those people have left. I’ve considered leaving as well. But that again would cost me accruing at least three weeks of vacation time and a loss of health insurance of sixty to ninety days.

But here’s the deal: I could shift my focus from looking at my job as what defines me to what I do to support me while I enjoy doing what defines me. For far too long, I’ve been setting aside what I love doing, namely reading and writing (this little blog is an example), and did what a great number of fictional characters, mostly middle-aged men, do. Sit on the couch, glued to the idiot box with beer in hand. The more I engaged in this behavior, the more I resented my job. The more I resented my job, the more I sat and stewed. And that, dear readers, is the very definition of a negative spiral.

What prompted this self-reflection was the realization of how much weight I had gained and how much money I had started to spend on beer. My anger for my job had been turned inwards. I needed to do something positive about it, step away from what was becoming very negative behavior.

Which brought me back to here, my writing desk: My sanctum sanctorum, my happy place. The place where I can do something that I can feel good about myself. I can write a few hundred words here and feel much more accomplished than I can during an entire eight hour shift at my place of employment.

Now I feel that I am back in the place I was meant to be, the place that brings me happiness, and the place where I feel that I can accomplish the most. At least I can feel accomplished for myself. I think for the time being, that is a great plenty.

Peace.

I Don’t Believe It

I always cringe, at least inwardly, when I hear somebody say, “I don’t believe in science.” I know that I’m not the only one who does. I say it as well, but not for the same reasons.

It’s been my experience when I hear that said, I take it to mean, “I find (insert scientific concept her) so far beyond my understanding that I reject it without pursuing it any farther.” It becomes a de facto argument from incredulity.

When I say, “I don’t believe in science.” I mean something totally different. What I am trying to convey is that Science, in all of its legitimate forms, isn’t a belief system. Science “works” by hypothesis formation, experimentation, observation, reforming hypothesis, rinse and repeat. There isn’t a place for belief because belief, and I’m talking religious belief in this context, is the assertion that one can call something true that one have never observed.

I was raised Roman Catholic. There is a tradition in the Church of Transubstantiation. The belief that during Mass that the wine is turned into the blood of Christ, and the bread is turned into the body of Christ. I remember growing up and Sister Rose Andre telling the class, as we prepared for our First Eucharist, that while these may still look like bread and wine, they are really the body and blood of Jesus. At that time, I did believe precisely that. There was no observable change. We just took it as truth. There is no harm in that belief. There is also no scientific basis for it.

That is the crux of what I’m saying. We believe as true what we can’t experience through our senses. We believe Transubstantiation is truth.

We know from our personal experience that the grass is green, water is wet and when I bounce my head off the sidewalk, it hurts like all get out. That’s empirical. That’s also Science, sort of.

My point is this: One is welcome to believe anything she, he, they want to. I have no problem with that. My problem lies where people substitute out belief for observation and that line blurs.

White Hats and Black Hats

Way back in the day a person could do the the local movie theater and catch something called the Cowboy serials. The type of story that hasn’t aged well and is hackneyed and full of cliches. And one of the biggest of these cliches is the good guys always wore white cowboy hats and the bad guys always wore black cowboy hats. It was an easy way to know good from bad.

This past weekend I watched a documentary film called

Movie Code 2600

. It was, in part, about the subculture of computer hackers. One thing that struck me was that they were divided into two distinct camps called the White Hats and the Black Hats. And it meant the same thing that it did in the days of the serials.

Black Hats are the easy ones to define. They want to disrupt, to cause harm, to steal…

White Hat hackers are a great deal more innocuous. The White Hats that I found in my research are privacy advocates, pointing out to the users of the likes of Facebook, Google, Instagram, and others, where their personal information is going. Maybe even how it’s being used. Is my data being used at directed marketing? I did look at the Pillsbury website last week…The White Hats believe that you have the ABSOLUTE right to know how the data you enter into Social Media sites, and commercial sites are being used. Are you for sale?

Perhaps there is a way that all of us can use these sites that we find useful in the extreme, without surrendering who we are and our personal data.

Holy shit-biscuits! When I started this post this morning, I had no intention that it would be multi-part series.

Give a Journalist in column inch, he’ll take a four part series.

More to come soon, gentle readers.

Peace.

A Word on Journalism.

At work today I heard a coworker say something to the effect that journalists can say (write) anything they want to…

Another time I heard a professional say in front of her peers at her convention, that Journalists, “… twist words to what they want…” (Keep in mind that I was covering this convention on this particular attendants’ behalf.)

The ellipses are essential here because, at this point, whatever these people thought or felt matter.

And what they felt, in my estimation, is this: The Press is the Enemy.

I’ve been asking myself, “Why is this?”

I don’t think there is any simple answer. As a journalist, I’m not a licensed professional, not like a lawyer, not a like teacher, not a like physician. There is no licensing board or ethics panel I may face.

As a Journalist, I only have my reputation and the judgment of my peers to direct me. It might sound like a comprehensive and accessible course, but trust me, it isn’t. Remember Dan Rather and the story he broke about President George W. Bush and the president’s time in the Texas Air National Guard? He failed to adhere to one of the most basics tenants of Journalism: Check at least two sources. That mistake cost him his reputation as even one of the best television news journalists.

A Journalist’s first duty is to the truth. That is it. That is all. The highest example of this was when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal in June of 1972. These two were bullied, threatened, and lied about in other press outlets but inevitably these two were delivered the truth to the American people.

We Journalists must minimize our biases. We, like scientists, cannot afford to start with a conclusion, then find supporting evidence. We have to start with the evidence and follow it to its final conclusion. That is how investigative journalism and science must work. Any other way is wrong.

In this country, journalists have come under attack, sometimes physically, for attempting to reveal the truth. In the recent racial unrest, reporters and photographers have been beaten to the point of hospitalization or shot with rubber and plastic bullets. The reason is clear. People on both sides of the divide, at least at that moment didn’t want the truth to get out.

This brings me to my own conclusion of the question: Why?

Specifically: Why was Freedom of the Press so crucial as to be included in the Bill of Rights? For me, the answer is more than merely an extension of the Freedom of Speech. The answer lies in the Founding Fathers’ belief that the American people needed a direct way to keep an eye on the government.

When we attack Journalists, physically and otherwise, we are attacking our own ability to watch the government. By the same token, when Journalists don’t put aside bias, they are blinding the population to the truth. This is very much a two way relationship.

Somehow we’ve lost that and it needs to be rediscovered. Let’s work on that.

Most likely I’ll be revisiting the subject of Journalism in the future. Fair warning given.

Until the next post, Peace.

On Math…

I have nothing to say.

Well, practically nothing.

Math and I don’t get along. That is to say, that I am one of those people that have a great deal of trouble when it comes to understanding math. So much so that I barely passed the two Mathematics courses that I needed to fulfill the requirements for my degree. When I say that I barely passed, I mean that I received a midling C. I really don’t thing of myself as a dummy considering that I was doing A level work in my other courses, especially English.

I never knew why I had this particular difficulty. I was extremely lucky to have two phenomenal math professors that took the time to hold my hand and walk me through many problems during their office hours. Doctor Hussein and Doctor May, I owe my Journalism degree to you as much as any of my J-school and English professors. Thank you so much.

I was determined to have nothing to do with the subject ever again. Then I came across this YouTube video:

Something clicked. This video made me want to learn more math. These scientist and mathematicians made me want to take another look at math. In short, these fifteen-odd minutes made me curious about math.

With that in mind, this last Saturday, I went online and looked into the Khan Academy website to see what I could learn in Mathematics. I logged in and signed up as an adult learner. I then started to watch the lessons on Algebra. And then it happened. Math started to make sense to me. I know this isn’t Earth-shaking or anything, and I would venture a guess that a good number of my friends will always understand a lot more about math than I ever will. For me, it was an initial step. I found myself enjoying learning about mat, even if it was only Algebra and only a review from a few years ago.

Maybe this math thing isn’t so bad.

Or maybe it’s a combination of the right time and place for me to pick up some adult learning and it just happening to be in an area that I am weak in. To quote the old adage, “Build upon your weaknesses until they become your strengths.”

I’ll have to work on algebra for now. Differential Calculus is still a good ways off. I hope we can all find something that we want to revisit the idea of learning.

Peace, gentle readers.

It’s Early in the Morning

It’s early in a beautiful, late summer morning. The breeze is light and warm. I have two short-form pieces that I’m working on and I could publish either one. But I decided to do this instead: remind myself why I write.

I just poured my first cup of coffee and I have one of my cats, James Joyce by name, staring on at me from the chair next to my desk. His litter-mate sister, Nyanerz, is busy attacking the cat tower in my office. The windows are open and I’m listening to the crickets chirp importantly to themselves. Somehow, this all seems just right.

Photo: My own.

Funny how it took this guy to remind me that I need to be enjoying what I’m doing with this.

There comes a time that I have to remember that I shouldn’t be writing this blog to allow myself to sound smart. For the love of everything that is good and beautiful knows there are enough pedantic voices out there attempting to do exactly that. The one thing that these people have in common is that the only people that are reading them are other people who are trying to prove how smart they are.

Even though it’s early in this project, I need to think about where I’m taking it, I need to find what works best for me and move in that direction. It could be so easy to get lost trying top sound smart and have what I should be loving become a chest-deep slog through molasses.

I don’t want to write like that and I’m as sure you don’t want to read anything like that.

I need to find more of what I enjoy writing so you will enjoy what I write more.

Peace.

Why I Find the STAR TALK Podcast So Good

Not too long ago, I started watching the Star Talk radio show. Hey, it’s the days of social media; it IS possible to watch radio. It’s a science show hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and often co-hosted with comedian Chuck Nice. Focusing mostly on astronomy, Niel is especially adept at explaining complex topics in very plain and approachable terms. The subjects covered in the show form a wide range from astrophysics to the physics in everyday life, to why there is no symmetry in nature and pretty much every point in between.

https://me.me/i/if-you-cant-explain-it-simply-you-dont-understand-it-5171416

Neil certainly lives this quote. But his explanations are far removed from being dry. What I find that really makes this show a stand out from other science shows, is the interplay between Neil and his co-host Chuck.

There is great chemistry (no pun intended) between the two of them. Chuck Nice does so well as the “everyman” asking questions and making the topics at hand within reach of most everyone. His sense of humor never for me seems out of place or forced. While at the same time Chuck is serious when the situation calls for him to be so. I find it rare that two hosts do so well together as a team.

If you’re new to science or have been away form it for a while or if you’ve found science to be intimidating, this show could be a good fit for you. It could even be a jumping off point for you to look into the realm for science more in depth. For the person who is more acquainted with scientific subjects, you may well find enough to chew on as well. As much as I find this phrase hackneyed this is a show that is truly, “entertaining and informative.”

What Science Means (And Doesn’t Mean) to Me

One of the most important characteristics of #science Is that it’s self-correcting. If a hypothesis is tested and the results aren’t expected, the hypothesis is reworked taking into account the new results and tested again. Experimental results are carefully recorded and these further observations again compared to the hypothesis’s predicted results. It’simple elegance through critical thought. Please note that it’s the Scientific Method that is simple and far less often than not, than the experiments themselves. Don’t believe me? Ask any grad student that has requested observational time on any of the major telescopes or anyone working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

In the scientific realm, we’ve moved from Newtonian Mechanics and Newton’s Laws of Motion to Einstein’s Theories of Relativity. Why? Because even though Newton’s laws work perfectly well here on Earth, they don’t work so well as objects approach the speed of light. Personally to me, this is one of the best historical examples of how science “works.” It’s not just science history either.

Around the world every day, experiments are concluded and the data from them is compared to the hypothetical predicted outcomes. And a large number of those hypotheses have to be reworked. If you would ask any scientist if their incorrect predictions were seen as a defeat, I would guess that a large number of them would say “no” in no qualified terms, It gave them the chance to discover something unknown and that is the reason for “doing science.”

https://www.needpix.com/photo/1157074/laboratory-care-health-medical-medicine-experiment-professional-biology-hospital

This brings me to what Science is not, at least to me. And that in a word: Ridged. Science is not a belief system. Science doesn’t bring a dogma to the table. It doesn’t come with presupposed outcomes. While Science has a very strong base in ethics, it doesn’t compel adherence to a moral system based on religious text.

I understand that faith-based systems give the follower a foothold on how to interpret the world and apply meaning to what they see, I feel the same way about science. As the writer I am, science gives me the tools to interpret and understand the world as I see it. You don’t have to agree with me, but understand that I see the world through hypothesis, experimentation, data interpretation, re-visitation of hypothesis; repeat as necessary. (It’s always necessary.)

If you look at the world through a different lens, I would love to have a constructive conversation with you,. Or if we agree on some points, let me know that too. Let’s start a dialogue.

Peace, gentle readers.