Define Tyrant

The very first step towards understanding ANYTHING is knowing that a THING is a THING.


Whether it’s the colors of the rainbow, or knowing if your leaders are corrupt, you first have to have a way to think about those things: colors, corruption, whatever.

These are definitions.  If my own little brain can’t define colors very well, then I’m never going to have a decent conversation about rainbows; even WITH MYSELF.

If I want to talk about rainbows with you, then I need to share my definition of colors with you as well.  If you agree, then we can have a nice conversation about rainbows.

The same goes for tyrants.  What is a tyrant?  Some people are already calling tRump a tyrant.  Many of his supporters totally disagree.  Who is right?

Let’s take a stab at a simple definition.  Let’s pretend that one way you can identify a tyrant is if they use their position as a public speaker to incite a mob towards violence.

Now, violence in general could include rugby or smashing beer bottles.  But what if the violence is targeted towards certain people?  Like people who wear yellow stars?  Or people who talk funny?  Or people with skin that looks like coffee or chocolate?

Here’s my definition.  A tyrant is someone who uses their public position to incite mob violence towards opposition or a group that is different from themselves.

Guess what?

We have video, much written experience, and even a lawsuit about President drumpf using exactly these tactics during his speeches.  I wish it was only during his campaign that he does this, but it turns out that he continues to use the highest office in the (previously) “land of the free” to do the same thing.

Now, many of his supporters will be quick to point out that this is fake news and have alternative facts.  However, Pres 45 did exactly these things even in his last press conference.  More like a press battle, but if you look carefully, you can see that he is at battle with a free and independent press, and pushing his supporters to punish them appropriately.

Disagree?  Fair enough.

So, what’s your definition?



Suicide as Behavior

We don’t want to think about it, exercising free will upon ourselves in such a way as to end our lives must be discussed.  It happens all too frequently today, and usually distresses everyone around the ‘victim.’

One of the reasons it’s difficult to discuss is that we don’t want to admit that everyone considers suicide as an option.  The good news is that very few people consider it as a viable option.  It’s considered, and then it’s gone.  Because it’s a deep dark thought, we never have to admit it.  Yet evidence of its familiarity are all around us.  Shakespeare perhaps said it best (of course) as Hamlet considers whether he should be or not.  However, consider this.  How many children have considered running away from home, away from the repressive regime represented by their parent?  How many parents have heard the tearful teenage admonition, “you’ll miss me when I’m gone!”?

The thoughts are there, always to some degree.  In some minds the dark forces are stronger than in yours, and for that we are thankful.  It’s our job as students to try and tease out the forces that push the decision one way or the other, no matter how ugly they may be.

And in this fashion, the simple lessons of primal biology give us the greatest insight.  For it may be that the choice of suicide is one of avoiding pain.  In fact, it could be argued that most of the decisions we make everyday are to avoid pain.

Yes, suicide is painful.  No matter how we would choose to do so, there will be some fear factor in its execution, and fear equals pain.  Furthermore, we are human, and we have relationships with others.  We know that our choice will bring pain to those we care about.  Add up all this pain, and we have a sum representing the force of life.

Life.  For most of us, life is mostly joy.  But for some, life is mostly pain.  In truth, life is a mix of both.  Sources of pain are pressures from our peers, parents, and teachers.  We have homework, social obligations, possibly a job, a family, and a huge project.  Perhaps we don’t have a job, and we want one.  There is the great divide between where we want to be and where we are, even after years of toil.  Add to this our knowledge that all these sources of pain may increase over time.  The sum of all these sources of pain, added up across time, becomes the force of death.

Then we choose.  The easier the tools are to find, the more accepted the choice is within society, then the more likely we are to choose death over life.

As students of behavior, it’s difficult to truly say we study this phenomenon with impartiality.  But we must try.  And as we study, we realize that suicide does not only come in one size, or in one form.  For that we must step back, and consider the balance of forces on yet another scale.

The scale of a generation.


Watching the Putin follies

Last month the big geopolitical news was that Ukraine was imploding.  Russia, led by their intrepid Czar, Vladimir “bare chested” Putin, swooped in to save the Crimea.  What were they saving the Crimea from?  From the Crimeans, apparently.  Over the last decade or so, Russia has been moving in many Russians for business and military reasons.  Those Russians felt in danger, so luckily the Russian military has arrived to liberate and protect those poor people.  The fact that the Crimean legislature has decided to secede from Ukraine and join Russia is mere coincidence.

Let’s look at the BIG picture for a moment.  Please, step back from your computer.  There you go.  The big picture is this – Russia has always wanted Crimea.  They also wanted Afghanistan, but that didn’t go over as well.  The last time Russia made a play for Crimea was around 1850.  They had to give it back a few years later.  The reason?  They want it for the beaches.  Really.  The Crimea has access to warm water all year round.  Good for your tan, Vladimir.  Also good for your Navy.

Back in 1850, rising political pressure forced Russia to go home.  Today’s takeover is only a few months old, but the political pressure is already starting to rise.  You can tell how excited Putin is about the takeover by how hard his nipples are in those pictures.  Right after the takeover, very excited.  Today’s pictures, not so much.  Why?

Well, the Russian stock market is taking a hit.  Who has their money in Russian stocks?  Rich Russians, that’s who!  How much money are Putin’s pals going to lose before they start calling Vlad up in the middle of the night?  The conversation probably sounds like this:  “Hey, Vladdy, what’s the deal?  My dacha and my devushka are ditching me because I had to sell the two yachts!  Even my wife is getting upset!  Do something!”

Stocks aren’t the only pressure our modern society brings to bear on the Bear of Russia.  We are starting to freeze the bank accounts of Rich Russians and Russian companies.  Very inconvenient, don’t you know.  How would you like to jet off to London or New York and find that you can’t withdraw a million from your bank account?  Now you have to carry all that in cash – and you KNOW how bulky that stuff is!

So, if you’re crying for Crimea, hang on to your babushka.  This is only the beginning.  For the rest of us, sit back and enjoy the Putin Show.  I’m not “Putin” you on!  (Sorry.)


et tu, Neal?

Cosmos 2.0 has begun, and like the Olympiad, it heralds a new dawn of entertainment.  Whether it also ushers in understanding is another question.  On this day that we celebrate and respect religious worship, does it seem odd that Neal deGrasse Tyson should appear just before the altar?

Now that 34 years have passed, Dr. Tyson is taking up the mantle of Carl Sagan and teaching us about the wonders of the cosmos.  In so doing, he’s touching upon some significant events in our intellectual history.

A tragic character chosen in Episode One is a priest named Giordano Bruno.  Now poor Mr. Bruno didn’t do well as a priest, ostensibly because he had a great revelation about the infinite cosmos.  He tried to tell others, but the Catholic church took offense.  Somewhat unwisely he returned to Rome where the church gave him a warm welcome – and goodbye.  They burned him at the stake.

It’s not quite true, unfortunately.  The stake part is, but let’s say that the show took poetic license in telling the story.  You can read the details here.

The details aren’t quite important for today’s post, because my question is this; why do you think the Church felt threatened by Bruno’s crazy ideas?  That they were crazy is beyond doubt, because any idea that isn’t shared by more than “a lot” of people has to be crazy.  That’s the whole definition of crazy.  The fact that he would eventually be proven right, centuries later, isn’t important.

There’s a good chance that you, too, have a deeply held model of the universe.  It might have a god, or a GOD, or a whole pantheon of gods.  For all I know it may center around a black hole.  However, I ask you, why is it that (for most people!) it’s such a sensitive topic?  If someone comes along and says “Your view is wrong!” what does it matter?  Why do you care?

Why DO you care?



Reporting stereotypes

Last week noted how reporting is a relatively new profession within our society.  As a profession, they have come a long way.  Yet there is a long way to go.

When a reporter tells us a story that contains a couple of facts, they can save time by resorting to a stereotype.  The word stereotype comes from the early days of printing.  A metal plate had to be made up of all the letters to be printed on a page of blank paper.  That was the stereotype.  We started using the word later on to mean describing something in very general terms.  “All computers are useless” is a stereotype statement for an old crotchety person, even though the rest of us think that is incorrect.

Reporters like to use stereotypes when they can because it saves them a lot of time.  If they didn’t, the story would take longer, and their mean editor would make them take out something else – like a boring fact or two.

When a reporter describes a particular challenge that a dark-skinned person has encountered, they like to describe it as a problem of “race.”  In our society, we used to like to describe different ethnic groups as different “races.”  The Italian race, the Jewish race, or even as “Red” or “Yellow” depending on their backgrounds.

The deep problem here is that these divisions are wholly contrived, they don’t exist in reality.  We made them up for emotional reasons, and they persist because people like reporters continue to use them.  Biologists, geneticists, and anthropologists have proven over and over again that there is no such thing.  We are all so similar as people that we may as well divide ourselves based on “gap toothed” or “pigeon toed.”

So, if you’re a reporter, please stick to the facts – the real facts.  And if you’re a student of behavior, remember that we are all alike in very deep ways.  You may have even been the victim of prejudice because of your skin color, but take solace in the fact that it wasn’t because of your race.


Making copies

There’s an old comedy skit where the funny character keeps answering the question, “what are you doing?” with the sing-song answer of “maAYKin copies!”

As with most comedy, it is funny because it’s true – we know these people.  In the business world, it’s important to be productive.  The only way to be productive in most people’s eyes – especially the eyes of your boss – is to be physically busy.  And that’s where the copy machine comes in.

The copy machine may be one of the single greatest business enhancers, and productivity killers, of all time.  It was great because you could make copies! quickly.  It killed productivity because too many people realize that they could look busy by making copies of various documents.

Unfortunately, the best time to realize what they are doing is after they’ve been fired.  I’ve had to “let go” several people over the years, and eventually we get around to reviewing all their documents.  It’s been unfortunate that only too late do I realize that this person, who is getting paid a healthy salary, spent a large portion of their workday making copies.  This tells me several things.

First, I found out way too late.

Second, they should have been fired much earlier.

Third, they should never have been hired at all.

Here’s the hard part.  Making copies isn’t the only way someone can look busy without truly being productive.  Today there’s email, and networks, and so many other things that the creative employee can do to appear busy – yet they are not so overtaxed.

So, the next time you pass the boss while you’re heading towards the copy machine, think about what you’re going to say.  After all, there has to be something more to life, and to your business, than “making copies.”


Big girls, big confidence

One of the many good things that comes of writing like this is getting to see who is out there, reading our few words.  To “big girl” I can only say you have inspired this particular observation.

Confidence.  Who are we?  More importantly, who are we with respect to the rest of the world?  Who are our peers?

A few of us are very lucky in that confidence is something we are both born with (genetics) and something our families nurture within us (environment).

Some of us, however, may have the double negative double whammy.  It may be because of our weight, our speech, our eyes, or something else.  We weren’t born with it; and our families didn’t even try to nurture it.  What’s important is that we face these fears head on.  As students of behavior we have to create our own confidence.  We have to trust our own hearts, our own minds, and love ourselves for what we are.

So many of us have parents who put us down.  It may be that it’s being done unintentionally, in a loving fashion.  It’s also likely that to an outside observer, these put-downs would be considered inconsequential.  But for so many women, the slightest gesture from their mother crushes whatever happiness that held in that moment.

For you who are put down by your parents, love them for who they are, but don’t feel bad about avoiding them for what they do to you.  For today, in this universe, you are the most important being.  And you are connected to everyone else.  Owe to them the same courtesy you expect from others.

As students of behavior, think about confidence as you would any other feature of your physical body.  What does it really mean?  Is it possible to understand confidence to the point where we can both have and not have it?  How much of it relies upon our peers and popularity?  Is it possible for someone who is truly alone to be confident?

Let me know your thoughts!

Women, War, and Sex

There aren’t many plays that can entertain us for more than a year or two.  And there are even fewer that last more than a generation.  Then there is Shakespeare, whose plays have lasted 500 years (almost) and are still going strong.  But even the Great Bard comes in after the winners when compared to the Greeks of the Golden Age.

411 years before the Christian Era, and Aristophanes writes a comedy that involves a group of women who are sick and tired of war.  The Big War for them was between Athens and Sparta, and it simply went on too long.  A brazen woman named Lysistrata decided that the best way to force men back to the bargaining table and secure peace was to hold back on the only “piece” under their control.  No peace, no sex.

Oh yes, there are antics and some sub-plots along the way.  Some moralizing about the frailty of women and the duties of men to keep them under control.  But look at the play more closely and there is much more than that.

For the moralizing, though dated in our eyes, is actually a sarcastic statement commenting on the absurd expectations of men and women, over two thousand years ago.  Aristophanes was effectively the voice of our own modern women.  And there’s more.  The play centers around the masculine need for war, and the feminine desire to forge peace at any cost.  These are sentiments that still ring true today, perhaps even more than then.

And it is here that the play has its greatest value for me.  It shows us that there are fundamental behaviors, regarding men and women, war and peace, that humanity understands no better than it did 2400 years ago.  Lysistrata’s complaints and Aristophanes observations are just as relevant.  And until we, as students of behavior, commit to truly understanding what these behaviors are about, we are doomed to relive the past.  War and Peace, peace and war.  Perhaps it’s time for another Lysistrata to rise!



Tim Armstrong, pick on someone your own size!

Armstrong tried to wrest a few more dollars out of his workforce the other day by making some excuses.

The big excuse (and his big mistake) was picking on a few babies.  One of the babies was born premature, weighing about 1 pound and delivered after only 5 months of pregnancy.  The bill that AOL got was about 1 million dollars.

I don’t blame Tim for yelling about the bill.  That’s outrageous.  But what’s even more outrageous to me is that he BLAMED THE BABIES!

They didn’t have anything to do with it Tim!  Why don’t you pick on the insurance company, or the hospital, or whoever else is actually billing you that outrageous amount???

What is it with today’s egoistic megalomaniac leaders?  They find it easier to pick on those without voices, and leave the true culprits alone.

Help me with this one.  I’m ready to retire… to the moon.


A letter to M

Dear M,

I heard about you from your mom. She writes beautifully about you and your life. You’re a very lucky 5 year old to have such a caring mom. Too many kids have moms that don’t care. In case you didn’t know, her writing is on the computer at

Your mom wrote that sometimes you feel sad.  Sad because your mind is a girl mind, but your body is a boy body.  I want to tell you a few things that might help you feel better.

You are special, very special. Your mom is very special, too. These things should make you happy.

Did you know nature makes everything different? Everything! Clouds, mountains, and rivers, all different. Flowers, blades of grass, even every snowflake, all different. And people – all of them – every single person is different from every other. Nature can’t make anything the same way twice, not even twins!

So everything and everyone is a kind of experiment. What’s an experiment? An experiment is when we mix up ingredients to see what happens. I’m an experiment. Your mom is an experiment. And you are an experiment.

Most of the time the experiments are boring. They can be boring because nothing is special. Sometimes experiments go well and everything is good. Sometimes an experiment goes wrong, and the kids and their parents become sad. Sometimes when I’m sad, I think about other kids who weren’t as lucky as me. Then, sometimes, something special happens. Nature mixes things up in a new way. That’s what happened to you.

What makes you special? You’re special because you are two things at once. Most people can only be one thing, a girl or a boy. You are both, and will be able to understand both worlds better than someone who only stays one thing.

You should feel sorry for the ordinaries, because they are locked in one world forever. They are in girl world and will never know what it’s like to live in boy world.

One important thing you can do when you’re special is to become a teacher. The best teachers are those who live in different world, like you. Then they can teach the rest of us in one world what it’s like in the other world. People who fly in space can teach those of us who live on the ground how much fun it is. People who swim in the deep ocean can teach those of us on land about wonderful sea creatures. And school teachers who know what it’s like to be a kid, but also know lots of interesting things, teach kids about the exciting world.

You are special because you can become a great teacher. Your mom is special too, because she is also a great teacher. She is teaching you!

You always have to be a teacher because there are many people who won’t understand you, but they may want to learn about you. You have to teach them. You have to help them. You have to have patience.

If someone is mean to you it’s probably because they don’t understand. When people don’t know something it can make them afraid. When people get afraid they may get mean. Don’t let it upset you. You will know they are mean because they are afraid. Now you can try and help them.

When you are teaching people about yourself, you’ll also be teaching them something about themselves. This might surprise them, but it won’t surprise you.

As a teacher, perhaps you’ll also get people to ask hard questions about other things. For instance, is it possible that there are experiments like you, but in dogs, or cats, or mice? Why should it only be people? Maybe you’ll be the kind of teacher who finds the answer.

So, Dear M, please count your blessings. You have a mother who adores you, you have a healthy body and strong mind, and you have many hidden friends, like me.

You also have another blessing. Did you know there have been many others like you for all history? We don’t know a lot about them because it wasn’t polite to talk about such things. And many people were scared to talk in the open. Today we’re not as scared.

One very famous person who got to be a girl and a boy was named Tiresias. Tiresias learned a lot and taught all of us. Please count all your blessings, don’t count the things you don’t have. Always remember, only you can decide what you will become. You have been given a great gift, please use it to help your friends.

With love, your future friend,