Blog

Outrage

Outrage is sexy. It sells newspapers and attracts online clicks. If you want to raise a ruckus, get outraged, because people go gaga over people going gaga.

Of course, that’s all the value one can get from outrage. Although entertaining to watch and speculate over and gossip about, outrage very, very seldom changes anything, and can even make a bad situation worse by injecting anger into the mix.

On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior. By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue. We’re saying, “How horrible this situation is, and how capable I am of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!”

Whether we actually happen to be right or wrong is irrelevant, because the sense of injustice we revel in is actually a self-esteem boost, gained by climbing atop rabble and rubble. It makes us feel taller to indignantly puff ourselves up with outrage.

The share-rate of rage-inducing news can be attributed to the flood of ‘hurts so good’ chemicals that accompany righteous anger. Getting hooked on this feeling is all too common, and causes us to seek it out. The need to be angry or upset in order to feel good is a sad state of affairs. Look around: there’s no shortage of business models predicated on saturating people with these chemicals, keeping them hooked on an anger-induced high.

To avoid this type of addiction, it’s best to avoid delving into scandals and fabricated, bias-heavy news items and storylines. Instead, decide where and how you can actually make a difference.

This move is guaranteed to pour water over the rage-high we might otherwise get hooked on, because it requires us to think rationally — not emotionally — and requires us to determine which problems we will participate in solving and which are just fun to get upset about.

If you want to be involved in something scandalous, do something other than sitting around and seething, while spreading the same venom to others.

Anger without action leaves us feeling as though we’ve accomplished something when we haven’t. This results in fewer solutions, not more, because the desire to solve the problem is washed away by the feeling of satisfaction we get from being incensed. Resentment without an effort to rectify accomplishes exactly nothing, and makes us part of the problem we’re so angry about.

In short: if you’re not willing to lift a finger to solve a problem, you’ve lost the right to complain about it. By complaining more selectively, we’ll spend more time solving problems and sharing solutions, and less time perpetuating outrage-addiction.

This post is an excerpt from my book, Considerations.

Update: April 20, 2017

Recognizing this about social media and certain facets of the larger media industry really freed me up to focus on more of the important stuff. Stifling the outrage reflex keeps the stress levels low and grants a sense of calm that is often hard to achieve while riled up 24/7.

Blog

Fiction and What Comes Next

I daydream quite a lot about pie-in-the-sky efforts, like a guaranteed universal minimum income and solar roads and post-scarcity social models.

As a result, I end up talking about them a whole lot and bringing up some of the more unlikely ones in my fictional work so that I can show how they might happen, what they might look like in practice, and what the repercussions might be.

One thing I love about fiction is that you can speculate, while nonfiction requires that everything be tethered to reality.

Of course, fiction is quite often realistic. When I say ‘reality’ in the above context, what I really mean is ‘reality that seems likely.’ And unfortunately, anything beyond the imaginable norms come across as incredibly unlikely. Silly, even.

Try and wrap your head around the social upheavals that would take place in a post-scarcity world, for instance. The concept is that everyone has everything they need to survive (food, shelter, and other necessities). Our entire societal structure and governmental system and economic theory is predicated on scarcity, and as such would no longer be relevant in the same way it is today. We’d need new philosophies and laws and social structures and approaches to research and development and even little things, like figuring out who maintains the roads (if anyone…robots? Who would build and maintain them? Reprogram them if they were hacked?).

The point is that it’s hard to imagine seismic shifts in how we operate, and that’s why some concepts, though they may solve many of the problems we cope with day-to-day, seem incredibly unlikely. They’re just too different, and require too many changes, and we seldom see shifts so dramatic in a single lifetime.

And that’s a fair argument, though I would make two counter-arguments.

1. Fiction is one way we prepare ourselves for such changes. Fiction allows us to imagine ‘what would happen if…’ before we pull the trigger, and allows us to refine our approaches based on possible outcomes (Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are a great example of this, as they seem so iron-clad, but he himself showed many possible ways around them in his writings).

2. I think we’re doing an overall great job iterating, truth be told. As humans. Collectively, looking at the big picture, and despite all the horrible stuff that’s occurred as a byproduct or direct result of our biological, technological, and social evolution, we’re moving forward. Learning from our mistakes. It may not seem like it sometimes (because it’s more profitable to sell panic than peace, and because the more we learn, the more details we see, and the more flaws we’re capable of seeing in our own development), but that’s how it looks from my standpoint. That said, I also think there’s little more terrifying than being stuck in an ever-present ‘now.’

That would mean never changing beyond what we’re able to imagine based on our day-to-day activities. New social structures could never emerge, because they don’t jive with what we can imagine based on our experiences at the office and politics as normal. We can’t develop and produce solar roads, because then we’d have to change the laws, the production equipment, potentially the cars themselves, the energy grid; too many changes. No way, no how.

I think, in many ways, any given ‘now’ is only as strong as its ability to help people see a potential ‘soon.’ And though not everything printed and sold or projected on a screen somewhere is gold, there are a whole lot of ideas out there, floating around. Books, movies, TV shows, online content, video games, graphic novels/comic books, board games: we’re awash with interesting fiction. And though the primary goal for many of the people involved with the creation of a piece of fiction may be entertainment and industry, the byproduct is that we’re all capable of imagining so much more than folks a generation or two before us.

We’re capable of stepping outside ourselves and wondering, what if? And though such thoughts are pie-in-the-sky, they’re also what enable us to take large steps, understanding ahead of time a little about what may await us on the other side.

A version of this post was originally published on Facebook.

Update: April 20, 2017

I was trying my hand at tackling current events issues on Facebook at this point in time, as I hadn’t yet converted Let’s Know Things into a news analysis-style podcast, and didn’t really have a use for Facebook beyond reposting what I share on Twitter.

It didn’t stick. I did a few of these, but Facebook, in my experience at least, just isn’t a great place for discussions. It’s become a low common-denominator for getting attention, but even that is less valuable, since they charge you to reach your own audience.

Blog

Free Speech and Labels

Remember:

1. The freedom of speech is only really necessary when someone is saying something you don’t agree with. If we all agreed on everything, or were only told things we already agreed with, no one would have to fight for free speech (and no one would be exposed to new perspectives, ever).

2. Violence against those who would express themselves is heinous and indefensible (note that as soon as the speech itself infringes upon others’ rights to express themselves, it’s no longer simply ‘speech,’ but something else entirely, but it still doesn’t warrant violence).

3. An entire group of people is neither responsible for, nor need apologize for, the acts of an individual or group that’s technically affiliated with them in some way. If this was the case, we’d all be apologizing for things we don’t agree with and are philosophically unaffiliated with all the time, and civilization would cease to function. Blame the people who commit crimes, not those who also happen to be from the same country, follow the same religion, wear the same clothing, listen to the same music, play the same video games, are also left-handed, etc.

4. The press, even the portions of it we don’t agree with, is a valuable and powerful thing. If it wasn’t, those whose words and actions cannot survive in an open, informed society (villains of all flavors) wouldn’t try so hard to silence it. Keep that in mind, know that there are different ways to silence the press, and watch for such activities the future (and remember who is doing the silencing, and think about what that says about their words and actions).

Be safe and understanding and kind and brave out there.

This post was written in response to this. And was originally posted on Facebook.

Update: April 20, 2017

Strangely, this is even more applicable now than it was all those years ago. This attack I was writing about was just a flash in the pan compared to what we see all the time, these days. But it still struck a particular chord with me because it was an attack against free speech and a free press: two things that I consider to be absolutely vital to a liberated society. Those who attack these things are almost always some flavor of authoritarian, as weakening our ability to communicate the truth and challenge authority is the goal of those who wish to strip us of the ability to think and act independently.