Define Tyrant

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

What????

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?

 

 

Body Swap

Are you ready to swap bodies?  For fun?  For profit?

Wait, there’s more!

We’ll swap bodies AND do some time travel at the same time.

But first, let’s set the scene.

In my favorite hardware store the other day.  Stu, one of the owners, was having a semi-political discussion with Pete, a customer.  Stu is incorrigible, irascible, and constantly wearing a snarly face; and that’s on his good days.  Pete is a tall, barrel chested, clean shaven, square jawed, silver-crew cut of a man.  Pete was bemoaning the current state of the economy, government, especially complaining about our “imperial president.”

In his own diplomatic fashion, Stu said “All I know is that we didn’t have to start working 7 days a week until the first year of this President’s term.”

Right there, in that instant, time stopped and I froze the scene.  My time travel body swap was ready.

Our 20 trillion dollar economy is so large that no one president can impact it very much in one year, let alone two or three.  Whatever pain the owner was feeling came from the previous president.  And that even assumes the president truly has much influence over the economy anyway.

But as people, as humans, we’re not geared that way.  We like to look at our local gods, whether they are good or evil, and blame them.  Whether Obama likes it or not, most people deify him – and not always in a good way.  Ultra conservatives give him credit for destroying our future, our way of life, and the Constitution.  Pretty good for a guy who’s limited to running the executive branch and vetoing the occasional bill.

As a nation, as intelligent adults, we should be smarter than to deify anyone.  We should know by now that the economy is large and complex.  That policies put in place 5 years, 10 year, even 50 years earlier could be impacting us today.  We shouldn’t be measuring our pleasure and our pain by the year of someone’s reign.

Yet here was an American, doing just that.

Body swap:  Stu becomes Japanese.

Did you know the Japanese still have an emperor?  In fact, they claim they’ve had a continuous line of emperors since 700 years before the common era (BCE).

But what’s even more fun is that we can stick Stu into a Japanese body, and get him to say the exact same thing.  Because many Japanese measure life events in terms of their current emperor’s reign.

Stu could say something like “Business was terrible in the first year of the Chrysanthemum Throne (1989).”  Or, “The first decade of the Chrysanthemum Emperor was all recession.”

Many Japanese remember their birthdays or anniversaries based on the emperor’s reign.  How quaint.  Are they also blaming the emperor for what is good or bad?  Perhaps.  But the very fact that they mark time based on a celebrity instead of a more objective system says something in itself.

Time swap:  Stu becomes Egyptian

In that next moment, I can take Stu and put him into the desert sun of the upper Nile.  Pharaoh Sesostris III has undertaking great tasks to unite many separate states into a greater Egyptian empire.  It’s 2,000 years BCE.  The pyramids aren’t quite yet built, but paper and mathematics are well on their way.  Meanwhile, most of humanity is still running around in skins.

And what do we find Stu the farmer doing back in the days of Sesostris?  According to written records, we know that his harvest, his battles, and his marriages and births are all being recorded based on the year of Sesostris’s reign.  In year one I got married.  In year two we gave birth to a son.  In year three the harvest was good, and so on.

Time swap, body swap: Returning to the present.

So, I smiled at Stu and Pete.  I may not agree with their politics, but in that instant I was able to watch Stu become a modern Japanese, and then an ancient Egyptian.  As far as I can tell, he’s none the wiser.

 

But is humanity?

 

 

President Trump

What goes through your mind when you hear these words?

President Donald Trump.

My brainy and / or more liberal friends shudder.  Then they gag.  Then laugh, hug each other, cry, and finally acknowledge that it could happen.

Quite a few other people are counting on it.  In fact, they plan to vote for him.

And why not?  Who’s to say he won’t make a great president?

The sad news is that our country doesn’t have any standards for what make a president good or bad.  Popularity got George Washington in for two terms and he’s voted our best president ever.  But the second-most successful president was also one of the least popular; Abraham Lincoln.

So Trump may become president, and he may be a great one.  At least, by his standards.

We have a pretty crazy country going on here.  It’s run by millionaires for one thing.  And those millionaires take lots of advice from very rich friends who make lots of money off the rest of us.

Anyone can be president in the USA.  Of course, certain conditions apply.

So, my advice to all of you who may be feeling a political chill, is to put on a sweater and deal with it.

Should you still be afraid?  Sure.  But not because Trump got in.  He’s just the symptom.

The reason someone like Trump gets elected (or any other idiot you’d like to nominate) is because not enough of us ordinary people care.

The reason Trump may be president is because there are too many special interests who are allowed to spend as much money as they want.

The reason our government feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket is because it mirrors exactly what is happening in our society as a whole.  Yes, our poor government is also a symptom of our disease, not a cause.  What is that cause?

We’re getting older.  We’re getting poorer.  We’re getting dumber.

Perhaps worst of all, we are all of us getting tired of fighting the tide.  We don’t want to stand up in public and debate the issues.  We don’t want to demand better performance out of our candidates, out of our government, and out of our journalists.

I’m also getting older.  And poorer.  But I’m fighting the dumber.  And I haven’t given up fighting, not yet.

This is my weapon; the pen, and education.

So, to all of you who also haven’t given up as yet, get up and get out there.  Fight!

If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the alternative.

 

“The Force” has gone

The new “Star Wars” is BORING.

My date wanted to see it.  I knew what to expect, and as we drove away, she agreed.

The story, even some of the exact characters, are lifted directly from the same movie of 1977.

Abrams gets “credit” for the writing and directing, but his specialty seems to be in copying others, including himself.  That’s my highest praise.

The whole idea of a magic bullet that destroys planets?  Not only lifted from the original star wars, but also from a “star trek” movie he directed.  Remember the wiggly jiggly big red ball of death?  Aaaargh.

Finally, the latest edition of star wars sports a good amount of poor acting, lousy internal consistency, and a whole lot of “just don’t make sense.”

But spoiling on the latest movie isn’t what this post is about.  No, I like taking a bit of current culture and using it to illuminate the big world around us.  And this movie, no matter how much money it makes, helps prove that “the force” is leaving our culture, our humanity.

You see, even as we watch crazy giant aliens blow up planets, our own civilization could be building its own on Luna and Mars.

Instead of watching crazy red tractors float across sand dunes, we could be capturing lightning to power our cars and computers.

Instead of watching evil magic-wielding weirdos sporting beautiful makeup and hair, we could be working towards universal healthcare and education.

Instead, our government, our culture, and our civilization are moving away from all these things.

Instead, most of us are more concerned with our pensions, our youth, and showing off our “stuff.”

Every great civilization has risen, and fallen.  The Egyptians, Indus, Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and others.  Every single one of them became inbred, and finally bored with themselves.

Then young upstarts from outside those civilizations came in and conquered.  Those young upstarts weren’t bored.  They were motivated.  The Romans called them “barbarians.”  Today we call them entrepreneurs, radicals, even terrorists.

Star Wars is boring.  Our current culture is boring.  The lesson from History is that boring is the same as death.

Who do you know who isn’t boring?  They are the ones to watch.  Because the force is with them.

May the force also be with you.

 

Millionaire Magic

Want to make a million?

That question is relatively new, as society goes.  Back when we all scratched each other for ticks, we didn’t worry about accumulating cash.  We wanted babies and power.

Even a few hundred years ago the idea of individual ambition was far-fetched.  Only your lords and royalty were allowed to be ambitious.  The rest of the herd could only rise so far, success was measured by your belly.

Today’s society allows us to be ambitious, to take chances, and accumulate wealth without great fear of it being swept up by his highness.  Maybe our Uncle will sweep some up, but that’s in exchange for intangible goods.  Another story.

So, let’s make a million.  Here’s two recipes, tried and true many times since the invention of the Renaissance.  First, take an ordinary substance, like water.  Second, take a dash of technology, like sugar, food coloring, or a spice or other natural element.  Maybe a combination of all of these.  Then create a story about your new product and weave them together.  PRESTO CHANGO!  You have a product that can make you a million.

We are surrounded by such magical products that have made many millioinaires, and indeed, global mega-corporations whose reach extends deeply into all of our lives.  But what does it say about us, as a society, that we are willing to exchange some of our wealth for a bit of their magical product.  What does it say about comparing societies, perhaps some allow more magic than others?

The moral of today’s story is that we as individuals, and we as a society should question everything.  Value should be of a lasting and improving sort, not something that merely subtracts from our current existence.

And what’s that second recipe?  Let me know if you want to know – and I’ll tell you!  Here’s a hint – Ben Franklin is one of the first to put it to use!

 

Why study Behavior?

“You in the back.  Yes, you.  Blue shirt, chewing gum.  Why are you here?”  I used my gravelly voice.

She looked about, casting for help, and responded timidly.  “Because I want to study behavior?”

“I already know that.  This class is Behavior 101.  More to the point, why do YOU want to study behavior?”

She stared at her device, blankly, then looked up again with fear in her eyes.  I’ve seen that fear at the beginning of every single new class.

“I’m not sure?”  in the form of a question.

“You’re not sure?  Are you in the right body?”

The class tittered, giving me time to find her name.  I wandered across the stage for drama.

“Perhaps, Miriam, you have a boyfriend and you want to understand him?”

Her eyes widened, and she shook her head no.

“No?  Perhaps then you wish to learn why your mother always acts crazy with you?”

“Leave my mother out of this!”

“Miriam, do you want to save the planet?  Do you care about your unborn child?”

“Of course!”  Almost petulant.  Good, perhaps she had a backbone.  But a backbone can also be a weakness.  Best to test her now, rather than later.  I let the silence linger.

“Miriam, do you have a hidden agenda?

“What?  No!  I don’t think so.”

How do you feel about drug testing on cute little animals?

“Very much against it!”

“Mizz Miriam!”  I put as much fury into my face as I could without laughing.  Acting was the hardest part of my job, and I can’t write about it without smiling.

“Who made you God?”

“Professor!” she gasped.

“You, all by yourself, encouraged by your animal-loving friends, have already decided.  How can I trust you to learn the truth, if you already have the answer?”

“But they’re so cute.  How can hurting them possibly…?”

“Miriam, you might be right.  Perhaps it is cruel to hurt cute little animals.  But our job is to study behavior, not to judge it.  You have to learn to put your judgements away, and to study behavior with a completely open mind.  Do you understand?

“Maybe.”

“Miriam, are you the kind of person who distorts reality to fit your agenda?  Will you sacrifice logic and respect for others in order to achieve what YOU think is right?”

“I don’t know.”

“YOU … DON’T … KNOW?”  I bellowed this to the whole class because it was so important.

“Listen, all of you.  By the end of this semester, you will know why you’re here.  If it’s not to start understanding behavior, you will at least begin to see what it takes to understand behavior.  This road to knowledge is not for the greedy, or the weak.  You will be dissecting live specimens in this class, and that specimen is yourself.  If you have an agenda, you will fail.  If you have a problem with truth, you will fail.  If you have a bias or preconception of any kind, you will fail.”

I turned back to face Miriam again.  The poor thing was already trying to sneak out the back door.

“Miriam!” I bellowed.  She stopped and turned.

This time I smiled and asked her the ultimate question.

(stay tuned!)

 

50 shades of self-loathing

There’s a popular book and movie running around at the moment that features a young woman being sexually manipulated.  The fact that he’s a older man is not important for now, because the subject of today’s observation is the fictional young woman. [1]

Many cultures have ways of keeping themselves organized.  The British have always been good about tracking their families; what schools they go to, what lands they own, what titles their ancestors have carried.  In Britain, you can be part of the nobility and upper class, or an ordinary person without status.  How they indicate this is both obvious and secret.  Obvious signs of status might be your title, or your school tie, or the fact that you live on an estate.  Secret signs might be the very way you pronounce “heredity” or “worcestershire.”

Signs of status are more numerous in India, where the caste system has been in effect for thousands of years, well before England even spoke English.  And in Japan, there is a very well engineered caste system embodied in the language itself!  Women speak to each other differently than men speak to each other, speaking to elders is different, and speaking within your social rank is different from speaking up or down in rank.

Now we have a popular fictional character submitting to acts of sexual stimulation for another person, and as a culture we find this acceptable.  What does it say about us?

It says that a new form of status expectation is forming.  It reinforces the stereotypes of young versus old and woman versus man.  It re-emphasizes the importance of sex as part of that relationship, and sends an unambiguous signal to everyone that these are considered acceptable behaviors.

As an indifferent observer, I’m not going to label these developments “good” or “bad.”  They simply exist, and whether or not society is a better place because of them will be for others to decide.

But as a parent and husband, I choose to teach and reinforce self-respect and confidence in my daughter and wife.  They never need to bow or pretend for anyone.  They stand equal with anyone on this planet, including the queen.

And in this there is no grey – only black and white.

 

 

[1]  Spoiler alert: I know nothing about this story, and don’t have enough popular culture curiosity to find out.  I do know it makes older women giggle and whisper among themselves.  And I’ve read the first few paragraphs on wikipedia.

 

Foster Parenting for Fun and Profit

Want to drive a social biologist crazy?  Look them in the eye and ask them to explain “altruism” in 25 words or less.  It’s fun to watch them stammer and melt.  Have a drink handy, they’ll need it.

Altruism means helping others even though it hurts you.  It’s love in its most extended form, because sometimes those you help aren’t related to you.  Heck, you may never even meet them.  They might not even be alive yet!  I call this long-distance altruism.

People who practice long-distance altruism are the kind of people who believe that being good today has great effects on all of society down the road.  An economist could argue that this is ultimately selfish, because if you are part of society this means that you or your offspring will ultimately profit.  Economists are big on selfishness.

I’ve recently met several people who are very active foster parents.  In one case he and his wife had 4 of their own children, have adopted four others (youngest is only 12), and have fostered over 20.  Incredible dedication and investment on their part.  Yet they are not revered by society, heck we hardly even notice them.  And there is a tragically large backlog of children of all ages who need a safe haven from their current conditions.  Foster parents are in short supply.  What are we to do?  From the perspective of a great nation that staunchly believes in profit,

Let’s open up the profit gates!  Let’s calculate the cost to society for abusing and tormenting children today, because tomorrow they may have to be retaught, or worse, simply caught and put away.  Let’s pay these wonderful people a significant fraction of what we think the long term cost is, and let them use the money as they see fit.  Of course there will be oversight, but let’s bring this out in the open!  Let’s have a reality show featuring the best and worst of these foster homes.  Let’s make it a competition of sorts.  Why not?  We’re a competitive society, let’s see if it can’t be entertaining?  After all, if we enjoy watching families swap their wives, what’s wrong with swapping out a few kids?

Not enough praise can be given to today’s foster parents.  They do it for themselves, with only a small amount of help from the government.  But as a society we leave them alone, and as a result many children “fall through the cracks.”

Anyone want to join me in patching up the cracks?

 

Altruism, for fun and profit

July is a great month for birthdays; birthdays of Democracy, that is.

The US of A was effectively born at the beginning of the month, and the next great democratic experiment was born in the middle.  That second country was France, and we here in the US owe the French a bit of a debt for our birthday.  They were sort of a midwife, helping us into the world.

From there our paths quickly split; France got an emperor and had lots of middle age nonsense to deal with.  Even today they are pretty big on letting the central government decide everything (not always a bad idea) while here in the US we try to go to the other extreme.  Keep decision making local, because many times it’s the person closest to the problem that knows what to do, and how best to do it (also not always a bad idea).

Another way the US and France differed back then is what we consider the best motivation.  The US went the way of laissez faire – free enterprise.  The French pretty much stayed back in the middle ages, telling people what to do and letting them grow into their professions through family associations or apprenticeships.  The fact that today’s France fully embraces the idea of profit and risk means that they also think it’s a good idea to run a society.  Let’s make money!  That get’s a whole lot of us motivated.

But there’s a lot of things that go on in our society that don’t really lend themselves to this whole “making money” thing.  Like giving women the vote.  Or trying to prevent child abuse.  Or cutting back on residential drug use.  Or reducing our carbon footprint.  So what’s a good modern society to do?

Let’s get creative!  It is one of the best things in our nation that we are allowed to get creative.  And it’s about time all citizens start exercising that right.  Tomorrow, I’m going to exercise my right and see if we can’t take a behavior that is very hard, very much in demand, and yet imposes a heavy load upon those who perform it.  Foster parenting.

Got any ideas?  Let’s hear them!

 

Unleash your child

Don’t you hate it when you see parents toting their children through a park while tethering them to a leash?  At least I do.

Did you know there’s a good chance that you are doing the same thing?  Yes, the same thing.  Except the leash is inside you, and that child is your inner child.

Yesterday I wrote about how kids can ask the funniest questions about our world.  Why this, and how come that.  You were once that same child.

There’s a good chance that you were also treated like other children, told to wait, told to never mind, and told that it was just the way it was.  There’s another good chance that you hid your inner optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm from your parts all the way till you went away to college.  There you allowed it to express itself again in new ways.

You probably took courses like English, or Psychology, or even Philosophy, in an attempt to get a better understanding about our world; your world; yourself.

It didn’t work, did it?

Faced with the pressures of family, reality, economy, and survival, you have grown the way almost everyone else has grown – into a common sense individual who no longer asks silly questions.

But that child is still a part of you.  Look inside.  Don’t you still wonder where sneezes come from?  Why we sleep?  Why baby bunnies are so cute?  Why their tails are white and round?  Or why their poop is so tiny, round, and black?

Let your child out.  Ask questions.  It’s the only way we’re going to get out of this mess.