Compelled Patriotism

There have been times where I’ve felt more patriotic than others, but generally speaking, I find it a little strange.

The times where I identified as a patriot, were times where I felt good about how my country was impacting others, and felt aligned with the values my country had displayed.  That doesn’t happen so much these days.  These days, it’s difficult to understand what a patriot really is and whether anyone should want to be one.

The NFL looks to have passed a new anthem policy.  From what I understand, if you’re on the field, you have to stand for the national anthem.  The president’s remarks were something to the effect of, ‘if you don’t want to stand, maybe you shouldn’t be play.  Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.  If you’re not proud of the country, you shouldn’t be here.’  I’ve often said that Trump was going to be one of the best things to happen to this country.  Not because he leads or inspires, but because he’s forcing us to ask questions which weren’t being asked.

What if you’re not proud of the country?

Google defines a patriot as a person who vigorously supports their country and is ready to defend it against enemies or detractors.  Seems pretty straight forward.  So where’s the nuance?  I suppose it would be in how you define supporting your country, and who you determine to be the enemies or detractors.

Some people support their country by displaying the country’s branding as often as possible.  Maybe I should’ve said flag or colors instead of branding, but which is more accurate?  Some people support their country and defend it against enemies by joining the military and fighting overseas.  But how did you know who our enemies were?  Some people defend the country against detractors by protecting the commander and chief.  But what do you think the commander and chief should be protected from?  It seems as though patriotism has more to do with manipulation than it does with national pride.

I’ve struggled with the concept of pride recently,  When to have it, why to have it, and when it’s too much.  I grew up around ‘Azn Pride’.. it was kinda like white pride but Asian.  More often than not, it was about screen names and gamer tags but from time to time, it meant more than that.  It reminded people not be ashamed of where they were from or what they looked like, and gave them a sense of confidence and community among their peers.  But there were also times where Azn Pride was about showing dominance over other groups.  But what are you really proud of at that point?

Personally, I don’t think you can have patriotism without nationalism and nationalism never seems to work well out for anyone.  Nationalism really is a game of us versus them on a global scale.  Not only did we not have a say in where these lines on the map were drawn, we have no choice as to which side of the line we’re born to.  Yet these lines are enforced vigorously.  We are told that the people inside those lines are our brothers and sisters, and that the people outside those lines are potential threats.  And yet our country was built upon those who came from outside the lines.  And is under attack from those who were born here.

Perhaps patriotism is inherently flawed.  Right now, it encourages us to protect our enemies and betray our communities.  We’re told that we’re not patriotic when we don’t follow the direction of our president.  When the values of our people, country, and president are no longer aligned, who deserves our loyalty?  If patriotism is defined by a loyalty to a country, is that better understood as the people of that country, or those who are running it?  People in government demanding loyalty  sounds awfully undemocratic.  In a democratic country, where democracy literally means government for the people by the people.. the answer seems rather obvious.

So what does democratic patriotism look like?  Maybe it’s not necessarily an oxymoron.  I think it looks like a celebration of the people.  It’s a celebration of our diversity rather than a celebration of the red, white and blue.  It’s building monuments to the people who are making the world a better place today rather than arguing over old civil war statues.  It’s marching together for no more wars, and it’s marching together for no more police violence.  It’s not just about celebrating our accomplishments, but about acknowledging our darker moments in arriving here.  And you’re damn right that it’s about being able to take a knee during the national anthem to show your support for those the country has failed.

So what does patriotism look like when the lines between us and them disappear?

 

 

The Illusion Of Privacy

Every so often, I come up with an idea which I think is worth writing about.  When I do, I make a note and then come back to it when I’m ready.  This one is from December, but all the hype around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica suggested it was time.

There seems to be a fair bit of traction behind the #deletefacebook movement and I find that surprising.  But then, less so.

We seem to be in an age where we quickly look for someone to blame.  I can relate to looking at a problem and immediately looking to identify the cause, but there’s often a wide gap between the cause of a problem and someone you can blame.  In many cases, the individual being blamed, even when ‘justified’, is a symptom of a bigger problem that isn’t being acknowledged.  It’s why problems usually find ways to persist when you remove the symptom.

In a world where people are quickly looking to label the bad guy, I find a lot of people blaming businesses or technology.  Something something corporations are ruining the world.  Something something technology is destroying humanity.  I find this perspective rather challenging.  As far as I know, technology and business becomes rather hollow when you remove people from the equation.  In that sense, both are extensions of our own humanity.  Both are tools we’ve developed over time to help us accomplish more with less.  Understanding that these tools are a reflection of our own humanity, we accept that we can be capable of both good and evil.  From fireworks to gunpowder, from missiles to rockets.

What I’m getting at is that if we want to move past the blame game and start looking to solve the problems we’re facing, we need to look at the people.  It’s people who are behind the development of this technology.  It’s people who are behind the companies like Cambridge Analytica.  And it’s people who are allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by both.  So it’s about time we look at the people involved.

For the most part, I place very little responsibility on the tech developers at Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter.  Almost every piece of technology that’s made, is made to solve a problem.  If it doesn’t solve a problem, it becomes obselete.  Throughout history, people have shown a desire to be more connected with one another.  Technological advancements in transportation brought us from horseback riding to hyperloops.  In communication, we went from telegraphs to texting.  Along the way, we realize that we didn’t have to physically be in the same place to have a social interaction with someone.  To some extent, we realized that we didn’t even need the other person to be there at all.  Asian Avenue, Apartment 107, Black Planet, Myspace… all pre-cursors to Facebook and show a continuum of what we were trying to accomplish.  The internet gave us this great platform where we could connect digitally instead of physically, and it was a dynamic that we clearly wanted to explore.  Had it not been Facebook, it would’ve been someone else.  And to think that this evolution stops at Facebook would be be unwise.  Social Media wasn’t a lab experiment from Silicon Valley, it was a social evolution, started by, driven by, and consumed by people.  Facebook just happens to be the playground we chose to play in today.

The blade is a tool, indifferent to whether it cuts the flesh of your enemies or a dinner for your friends.  It’s the person who chooses how to use the tool.  Could Facebook have made it more difficult for Cambridge Analytica to do what they did?  Probably.  What happened to #DontBlameTheVictim?  Maybe it only applies to people..  Regardless, understanding what happened at Cambridge Analytica is definitely the fun part.

Cambridge Analytica was a firm who realized that Facebook could be used as a platform for modern political propaganda and did so with a high level of efficacy.  That’s it.  I’m trying to see why it’s more complicated and complex than this, and I don’t think it is.  Propaganda isn’t a new or foreign concept.  For as long as there’s been politics, there have been people trying to manipulate the message for the sake of political gain.  And America has probably used those tools more frequently and effectively than any other government in the last 100 years.  How much has been used against its own citizens and how much has been used in countries abroad is anyone’s guess.  But just as propaganda found its way into print media, broadcast media, and digital media, it would surely make its way into social media.

Cambridge Analytica looks like they may have been up to some other shady political tactics.  If they happened, it just strengthens the case that politics desperately needs to be removed from governance.  But politics is how the powerful stay in power so perhaps that’s too big of a topic to tackle here.  What is worth focusing on though is what Cambridge Analytica was able to do and why they were able to do it.  After having watched all the hidden camera footage from Channel 4, one thing stood out to me more than anything else – their goal of targeting people’s fears.

The only thing that Facebook really provided Cambridge Analytica with were details on the things that you liked and didn’t like.  The sinister part was when they took the details of each voter profile and used them to created targeted groups based on what they were most afraid of.  If you were from a southern community which had lost jobs to immigrants, it was ‘build that wall’.  If you were afraid of a change in gun legislation, it was ‘Hillary will take your guns’.  If you were concerned with political corruption, it was ‘drain the swamp’.  Whatever you were afraid of, they would play to your fears.  While most people know that making decisions from a place of fear isn’t great, not everybody knows why.   Turns out it’s literally the wrong part of the brain for making these decisions.  The part of the brain which governs emotions like fear, is different from the part of the brain which governs rational thought.  People are navigating this propaganda in an emotional state of mind instead of a rational state of mind.  Instead of being able to think critically and rationally about the content that’s in front of them, they’re thinking emotionally and looking for an enemy.

And this is where I let Cambridge Analytica off the hook.  They should be held accountable for what they did, but then, we should also be held accountable for what we let them do.

The first few times I saw a juicy headline on Facebook, I definitely clicked through.  Juicy headlines and misdirection have been around since well before the Facebook news feed so it’s not like I was being duped, I was just sufficiently curious.  But each time was a let down.  The headline was always better than the content.  So I learned to stop clicking on what was eventually termed ‘click-bait’.  Seemed straight forward.

Over time, digital publications like BuzzFeed and Vice started popping up on my timeline.  They were far more legitimate than the click-bait articles I was used to, but something else was going on.  These publications also realized they had tapped into fear.  The fear of being a racist, the fear of being a sexist, the fear of being transphobic, and perhaps most importantly, the fear of being on the wrong side of a movement which seemed to be based on the virtuous pursuit of equality.  Their approach was more nuanced than Cambridge Analytica.  Instead of pushing raw propaganda to their audience, these digital publications started editing interviews or not properly sourcing articles, looking to craft a narrative which their audience was hungry for.  They were more interested in providing a narrative which made you feel good about what you already thought.  When you think you have the moral high ground, confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing.

But not everyone fell for it.

Not everyone took Jordan Peterson’s Vice interview at face value.  Not everyone liked or shared memes saying ‘The South Will Rise Again’.  Not everyone saw a comment section where everyone was agreeing with them and jumped right in.  Not everyone avoided a perspective that challenged their own.  And for those who did debate, not everyone approached it as a battle of them versus us.  Some of us couldn’t help but look at it as us versus the problem.

The problem isn’t privacy.  The problem isn’t Facebook.  The problem isn’t even Cambridge Analytica or the shady politicians they help put in positions of power.  The problem is us.

The problem is us.

When tools stop working, people stop using them.  Propaganda is the tool, and it will be used as long as we keep letting it work.  If we #deletefacebook, I can all but guarantee that this propaganda will follow us whichever social media channel we choose to spend those hours.  If we put the team at Cambridge Analytica behind bars, I can all but guarantee that another organization will take its place.  So why is our reaction still to place blame instead of facing the reality that this is about accountability.

If you think that sharing information about yourself makes you a better target for people looking to take advantage of you, welcome to the world.  But there’s hope.. and perhaps things are darkest before dawn.

I’ve learned to live my life like an open book.  I’ve abandoned the illusion of privacy.  I understand that information is more valuable when fewer people have it, but I also understand that knowledge is most valuable when everyone has it.  Digging deep on why people value privacy, it almost always comes back to a fear of what others will do with their private information.  So I choose to live without a fear of what others would do if they knew everything about me.

And – it – is – glorious!

I really couldn’t care less if Facebook showed to the public: my health records, my genealogy, my personal finances, my relationship history, purchasing behaviour… all of it.  To some extent, I wish they would.  I would gladly take that risk to try and demonstrate that transparency isn’t itself a risk.  In reality, our ability to share more information with one another has been at the core of every big leap forward our species has taken.  From a spoken language, to a written language, to the printing press, to the internet.  We just seem to have momentary lapses in judgement where we’re afraid of what will happen when only some of us can access that information.

We’ve now arrived at a point where between Facebook, Google, Apple and the NSA, there isn’t much that isn’t known about us.  The data is already being collected and unless you’re keen to go live off the grid, it won’t stop.  Who gets access to that data is largely out of our control.  There will always be bad actors with innovative ideas on how to abuse that dynamic… which means we either have to accept that we’re screwed, or find a way to rise above it.  I choose to rise above it.

My choice is that when someone takes the time to learn about me, and to use that information to take advantage of me, I’m prepared.  Not only am I prepared to be critical of the information I’m being presented with, I’m also prepared to be critical of my own actions if I allow myself to be misled.  It’s not always easy and I’m not always perfect, but when you let go of right and wrong and prioritize the truth, seeing through the noise becomes much easier.

I think that everyone’s life will be impeded by dishonesty and misdirection at some point, but I think it’s worth considering that it’s our tendency to be dishonest with ourselves which impedes our progress most.  A fear of how others might perceive us and how that might impact our lives.  But what happens when we let that fear guide us?  What happens when everyone had the ability to project to the world what they thought the world wanted of us?  Social Media gave us that ability and we’ve used it to create noise.  It’s a feedback loop of confusion where people struggle to understand the disconnect between how we present ourselves and who we really are.  And the closer we get to facing the truth, the louder we yell ‘Privacy!’

Or we could just let go.  When I imagine a world that has abandoned the premise of privacy, I see a world which has embraced the value of transparency.  I see a world that has truly realized the value of honesty.  A world where every piece of information is always available to every person.  I can’t help but think about that being the ultimate equalizer.

 

Decentralized journalism

Had an idea the other day.  I think it could be a big one.

Decentralization is something I’ve paid a great deal of attention to over the years.  We’ve seen it tackle the taxi industry, hotels, and several forms of media.  Next, I’m keen to see how it tackles things like energy and currency.  In each case, the premise seems rather simple:  Make better use of the resources we already have, and let technology shoulder the workload of keeping things organized.

Every great business is a solution to a very real problem.  In this case, the solution is to the problem of modern journalism.  Currently, journalism places a greater emphasis on being first than it does on being right.  Sensationalism has replaced accuracy.  Journalism has become more about producing ammunition than telling a story.  And it needs to change.

There’s a curious link between humans, size, power, and corruption.  The bigger we get, the more power we’re inclined to have, and the more power we’re inclined to have, the more susceptible we are to corruption.  The news industry in America became tremendously powerful over the decades, and was far more centralized than most people realized.  Even today, organizations like Sinclair and Fox are making significant moves to expand their political reach.  Anytime an industry gets big and corrupt like this, it’s time for decentralization to save the day.

My idea is a news platform which would allow journalists to earn a living while maintaining their independence and their integrity.  While also holding them accountable.  I realized that while I knew the names of all these news anchors, I couldn’t name the author of a single article I had read in the last week.  The twisted thing is that I barely watch any cable news – and I real a lot of articles.  Why didn’t I know their names?  It was because they were promoted as secondary to the organization they were reporting on behalf of.  I wonder what journalism would look like if journalists were front and center for their work?

Similar to a Google news feed or Reddit, your feed would be a collection of news articles curated around your interests.  What would make it different though, is that the person behind the article would also be well profiled.  These individuals deserve to be recognized for the work that they’re doing.  By letting good journalists be closely associated with their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing and build a reputation for it.  By letting poor journalists be closely associated for their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing as well.

How these journalists would be profiled is a very interesting question.  An overall 5 star review system would probably be part of it, but maybe not.  Maybe the 5 star rating system is a better predictor of popularity than competence.  I know that for me personally, the biggest concerns in journalism are honesty and accuracy.  So maybe the first thing that gets added to the profile is a bullshit meter.  If you used alternative facts in a story you wrote, the people reading should know that and be able to hold you accountable.  And that becomes part of your profile..

Most of our news today is delivered to us through a TV personality, quoting another news organization, using a piece of information gathered by one of their journalists, who used an anonymous source to report what they heard.  By the time you hear it, you’re not sure what to make of it.  Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.  Who knows by the time it makes it to you.  But what if the journalist who broke this news, had an immaculate track record with their news releases?  What if they used anonymous sources?  Would you care if they’ve always been accurate?  Personally, I don’t mind the use of anonymous sources if they’re being verified by someone who I trust.  Not all anonymous sources should be treated equally.

So we would want everyone to be held accountable to the same standards of honesty.  How that would be accomplished exactly, I’m not sure.  I think it would probably do well to partner with an existing fact checking organization, but the best solution would involve the community holding its own community members accountable.  Something I enjoy thoroughly about the comment section on Reddit (depending on the subreddit), is that the most upvoted comment is often one that adds more clarity to the article.  Sometimes it’s for calling out the article on inaccuracies, sometimes it’s by providing additional sources to elaborate on a point.  I think that a community like this would be imperative to this platform’s long-term success.

The next thing I’d like to see on journalist prifles are accuracy of speculative statements.  If you have someone who’s always telling you how things are going to turn out, it’s important to know how often they’re right.  Those who are able to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy should probably be listened to more.  Those found to be crying wolf too often, should probably be heard less.  Allowing for people to be held accountable to these speculative statements will hopefully drive more practical discussions and limit unreasonable fear mongering.

However this profile ends up looking, it’s purpose is to give the audience context about who they’re hearing the story from.  It’s to help create an informed reader, while encouraging journalistic integrity.  Especially in a climate like this, I’m confident in the value of honesty.  I’m confident in the peoples’ value of journalistic integrity and honesty, but I’m also sympathetic to their distrust of large media corporations controlling the dialogue.  This would be a big step in separating the two.

I think this would have to work in tandem with a user profile as well.  One of the biggest issues we run into in modern media are thought bubbles and echo chambers.  Perhaps a way around that is having an algorithm track your bias.  For example, if your political bias shows that you’re off center, the algorithm would include some of the most credible articles that might disagree with your views.  A balanced perspective is key, and there’s no evidence to suggest that everything in your news feed should be something that you agree with.

Another element of this platform is that it would welcome all sources of media.  Podcasts are the new radio.  YouTube is the new TV.  This is about inclusivity of talent, and allowing merit to drive the spotlight.

Now how would you go about attracting all these high quality reporters away from their existing jobs?  Promise them the flexibility and freedom to write about whatever they’d like, at whatever place they’d like to write at?  Too easy.  Tell them they get to work from where ever they’d like, as little or as often as they’d like?  Meh.  Promise them that they’ll be the one’s who are recognized for their articles and that they have the ability to build a personal brand around their craft?  Maybe.  Or maybe tell them that they’ll have a 50% revenue split with all ad revenue generated by their articles.  Bam.

People might say that democracy is dying when Trump is elected while half the American voting population stays home.  Yet we’re liking, and up-voting more than ever.  I think we enjoy voting, it’s just that there’s a bit of a cost reward calculation going on.  Putting some big up-votes behind some talented journalists who aren’t afraid to put their neck on the line to expose those big truths… we could bring them to the mainstream.  We could make heroes out of them and remind ourselves of the ideals we should be striving for.  We could give journalism the home it deserves.

So where to start?  School news papers of course.  I\ve learned that when looking to the future, look to the kids.  Go to the high schools, universities and colleges, and show them how easy it is to move their school publication on to this platform.  Instead of having to run everything through the bureaucracy of a normal news paper or site, have your journalists operate independently.  Teachers might not be into it. Some parent’s might be concerned.  But that’s the point.  And the fun.  Have the conversations that they don’t want you to have.  Talk about the things that you’ve been told not to talk about.  Dig into the real.  And imagine how real that gets at a university paper.  And imagine the power of a platform like this taking hold at an academic level, and producing the fierce, confident, intelligent, rational journalists that are capable of providing us with an honest and accurate view of the world.

Wouldn’t that be something.

There’s a Storm Coming

I tried to write an entry on reverse seniority last night.  I couldn’t do it.  I’m bugging out.

No cannabis.  That’s probably part of it.

I have a brain that doesn’t turn off, a large appetite for information, and an obsession for understanding things.  Something I’ve been doing since high school is recognizing patterns and using them to predict what comes next.  Nothing is concrete, just possibilities and probabilities.  Too many variables to keep track of, but sometimes you can see part of the picture and filling in the rest isn’t so tough.

Coming from an investment background, it’s difficult to ignore what I see in the markets.  Bonds are paying next to nothing.  The equity market hasn’t had a major correction in about 10 years.  The housing market is on tilt.  Even crypto is now detached from reality.  Besides my private equity investments, I’m now in 100% cash for the first time in my life.  It’s like being at a poker table with a bunch of drunk rookies.  I have chips, I know how to play, but when everyone else at the table is throwing money at shitty hands… you have to be patient.  Some days are easier than others.

My friends and I used to battle it out for who could be more generous.  We’d always enjoy trying to pay for one another.  Now we’re too poor to hang out with each other.  Half of them still live with their parents to avoid paying rent.  I look at my generation and I see an epidemic of drugs used to treat an epidemic of depression.  If it wasn’t for my drive and my lack of emotions, I’d probably be in the same boat.  Considering how much weed I was smoking, maybe I was in the same boat.  I’m surrounded by a generation of kids who were told that if they stayed in school and worked hard, they’d be able to land themselves a good career and that a good career would lead to a comfortable life.  I’m surrounded by a generation of the most educated kids we’ve ever produced, entering into a rapidly deteriorating job market, with the highest cost of living we’ve experienced in modern history.  We’re barely treading water.  Something’s gotta give.

Maybe it’s the birth rate.  Maybe this is how we cull the population.  I literally broke up with the first girl I thought I’d marry because she was fixated on having children in the immediate future.  I wasn’t willing to bring a family into this world without building a foundation first.  The biological clock is real.  And my heart goes out to the women struggling to understand what they should be doing at a time like this.

I saw Paul Ryan on TV the other night saying that the Republican tax reform was going to give the middle class the boost it needed to get back to having kids.  What a bold faced lie.  But that’s become the status quo for American politics.  Only a few of us will actually put the effort into understanding what’s going on.  The rest of us will just pick a team.  Red or Blue.  By picking a team, we think we’re taking a stand for what we believe in.  But we’re not.  Red or Blue, it’s the same song and dance.  The value of a politician isn’t a function of policies, their ability to inspire, or their ability to govern – it’s their ability to raise funds for their campaign.  Why?  Because the best campaign wins the seat.  But in the age of billion dollar campaigns, where is this funding coming from?  Big business and the top 1%.  So is an elected official’s loyalty to the people who voted for them?  Or to the people who paid for them?  If you’re not sure, I suggest you ask net neutrality.

With problems this obvious though, how are we not motivated towards change?  I’d argue that we are.  Trump was elected for exactly that reason.  As much as I liked Obama, he didn’t do enough to stop what was coming.  People were left behind.  All the pain and disillusion that we’re seeing in major cities today, the rural towns were ahead of the curve.  But they were team red.  They were loyal.  And someone on team red came along and said I have all the answers, here’s who you should blame, and if they ever say otherwise, they’re lying.  MAGA.  And half the country became complicit.

But maybe this is just what we needed.  When Trump was elected, I knew he didn’t have the character, integrity, or intelligence to be a great president, but I was open to the possibility of him being a good president.  As things started to play out, I knew that ship had sailed.  What did occur to me though is that he might still be valuable.  He might be so crooked, so corrupt, and so incompetent that the world couldn’t help but see that he had reached the most powerful seat in the world – not by merit – but through the abuse of American ignorance and a system which has been compromised beyond repair.  And maybe that would be our motivation.

You know what I wanted for Christmas this year?  Mueller.  I check my newsfeeds at least a dozen times a day.  Every time I do, I hope to see another piece of the puzzle.  Eventually, I hope to see justice.  And perhaps justice means that Trump is exonerated from crimes which he didn’t commit.  But I doubt it.  And I’m good at predicting these things.

So what happens when one of the most respected law enforcement officials of all time lifts the veil on the real Donald Trump?  What do those tax returns actually look like?  How much is he actually worth?  Who does he actually owe money to?  And what happens if there was collusion?  Will it be enough to shatter the image and faith placed in Trump?  I hope so.

I see the clouds on the horizon, and I can hear rumbles of thunder, but the storm is still too far away.  And I wanna dance in the rain.

I don’t know what that first crack of lightning will be.  Maybe it will be Trump going to jail.  Maybe it’ll be the Republicans refusing to impeach him.  Maybe it’ll be a loss of consumer confidence that triggers an overdue recession.  Maybe it’ll be the bond bubble that’s been growing since the last recession.  Maybe it’ll be China’s house of cards that finally topples.  Or maybe it’s on us.  Maybe we finally realize that you and I aren’t so different.  Maybe we realize that we aren’t the enemy.  Maybe we realize that we’re in this together…. and maybe we march together, up those stairs, and tell them that this does not belong to you.

And tear the whole. god. damn. thing. down.

Reddit Might’ve Just Saved Net Neutrality

Reddit is one of my primary information feeds.  Perhaps needless to say, I’m a fan.  Over the last week or so, I’ve observed something rather significant.

First, the gaming community mobilized against EA and their release of Star Wars: Battlefront 2.  EA’s new progression system meant that most of the game’s best content had to be earned.  Doesn’t sound too bad at first, until you find out that to unlock all the game’s content, it would take over 4500 hours, or $2,100.  To put that in perspective, if you were to play for 3 hours a day, 365 days a year, it would take you just over 4 years to unlock all the content.  To put that in perspective, the next generation of consoles is expected out before then.  And that $2100 that they’re hoping you’ll spend?  That’s above and beyond the $80 price tag for the game itself.  Short-sighted greediness for sure, but something was different this time.

Someone on Reddit had a rant, and EA replied with a classic, corporate speak, disingenuous answer.  I won’t bother repeating the entire reply as the opening sentence says it all:

“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”

I’m tempted to pick it apart, but I’d just be pointing out the obvious.  The response though, was something special.  That reply, became the most down-voted comment in the history of Reddit, earning over 600,000 demerits within just a few days.  Not only did this make the news across several major outlets and cause the execs at Disney to check in on EA, but EA also froze the in-game payment system until further notice.  A win?  Maybe,  but the gaming community isn’t buying it (literally) as they suspect EA will just unfreeze the payment system once enough gamers have caved in.  Well fortunately for the gamers, sales are down significantly compared to the game’s first installment and that’s starting to weigh on EA’s stock price.  Effectively, the gaming community found a way to mobilize on Reddit to deny EA the opportunity to make a really dumb decision.  All within a few days.  All with a few clicks.  Very interesting.

Among all the gaming hoopla, I saw a post that said something to the effect of, ‘If we cared half as much about Battlefront 2 as we did about net neutrality, we wouldn’t have to worry about net neutrality’.  Well, Reddit responded.  Earlier this week, for about 48 hours straight, Reddit’s entire front page was entirely dedicated to the mobilization for net neutrality.  This wasn’t a banner, or an ad, or front page image, it was what seemed to be thousands of posts, across thousands of sub-reddits, all being up-voted by the masses.  I was almost a little annoyed that for 2 days, I didn’t have normal access to one of my news feeds, but I couldn’t help but be in awe of what I was seeing.

I don’t know if the effort by Reddit or any of the other tech majors will be enough to stop this repeal.  Senators don’t pay nearly as much attention to internet chatter as they do to phone calls to their office.  Assuming an average call takes 10 minutes, an office could theoretically take 144 calls over a 24 hour period, or 1008 calls over the course of a week.  There are 100 senators, meaning a little over 100,000 calls would completely occupy the senate’s phone lines for a week.  If that happened, it would probably be the documented as one of the greatest public protests of all time.

At this point, I don’t have a clue how many up votes were cast across how many posts.  If I had guess, somewhere between 2-5 million, suggesting that the support is somewhere between 20-50 times what it should probably take to get the government to reconsider their position.

There are a few problems here.  First, why is it that in a democratic framework, where the people have not asked to repeal net neutrality, is the Chairman of the FCC introducing measures to repeal net neutrality?  The second problem is that internet community, arguably the constituents of this decision, are protesting this decision more fiercely than anything they’ve ever done – and it might be ignored.  Finally, and perhaps the worst problem is that we’re encouraged to think that calls into our senators’ offices are what will make the difference here but at this point, we know that’s bullshit.  They listen when they have to, and they use public backlash as a measure of what they can get away with while still being able to get re-elected.  In all likelihood, there are only two calls that would make a difference here:  If Ajit Pai received a call from the president, or if received a call from the chairman of Verizon.  Unfortunately for us, both have vested financial interests in restricting how the general population accesses information… so I don’t see it happening.

Doom and gloom, I know.  But there’s a bright side.  An awesome bright side.  Government needs tech, desperately.  I’ve been mulling over the idea of a app that would let governments better connect and engage with their people.  The current lines of communication between politicians and their constituents minimize inbound traffic which increases the disconnect.  Without a live connection to your people, it becomes a lot easier to pay attention to the lobbyist that just took you out for a nice steak dinner.  The people need a platform that lets them engage in real time with the people making these kinds of decisions, one that’s easy to use, that people would want to use, and one which decision makers would be held accountable to.  The way that EA and Disney reacted to the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 issue was the first time that any modern platform, let alone Reddit, ticked all those boxes.  If we manage to stop the repeal of net neutrality, I might even say proof of concept.

While Reddit might be the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of a platform like this, Reddit wasn’t designed to bridge the gap between a government and its people.  To do that, it might have to be a little less rough around the edges and frankly, that’s just not Reddit.  But that’s ok, because I have a hard time thinking that I’m the only one that’s been inspired here.  I suspect there are a lot of smart people out there who are seeing what I’m seeing.  We need to revolutionize the way that a government listens to its people and I think the public is figuring that out in a hurry.

One of the greatest counter-productive efforts throughout history has been the ruling class putting a greater emphasis on maintaining their power than helping their people.  A lot of us assumed that kind of behavior died off with the monarchies but somehow it’s more obvious today than ever.  I think we have the internet to thank for that.  The internet revolutionized how we access information which means the government is having a harder and harder time controlling the conversation.   They’re still trying, and it’s confusing the hell out of a lot of people, but the truth keeps finding a way.

The best thing about this for me is that when I keep pulling at that thread and try to visual where this takes us, I start to see something pretty special. If we could create a public that’s actively engaged with the governance issues that they’re interested in, able to control the public discourse, and aware of what one another is thinking in real-time, we have a highly capable voter base that’s capable of decentralizing a government’s power.  If we can connect that voter base to governing officials who are accountable to public discourse and the ongoing engagement of their constituents, we may just be able to put everyone back on the same team and point them in the same direction.  Wouldn’t that be neat.

 

 

The Popularization of Victimhood

I grew up in a low income neighborhood where things were probably a little rougher than average.  It was mostly immigrant families who came here with very little, in search of better opportunities.  In neighborhoods like these, opportunities were scarce so you learned to fight for every opportunity and every advantage.  Sometimes that meant finding ways to sneak two lunches at school.  Sometimes it meant stealing part of the lunch from the person who got up to go to the bathroom.  Everyone was always being tested – if you left an opening, you got hit.

Sounds like a rough place, but it wasn’t without ethics.  Those with disabilities were always off limits, and often befriended by most popular kids.  If someone targeted them, they were immediately protected, and often by the toughest kids.  Others were simply known for being too nice to be picked on, and were supported for taking the high road.  The rest of us.. were fair game.

The appeal of victimhood doesn’t resonate with me and recounting through my childhood, I might I understand why.  When you grow up in an environment where just about everyone is starting at a disadvantage, working your ass off to get to the status quo is the status quo.  Drawing attention to our circumstances for the sake of sympathy or outside intervention just isn’t where we choose to put our energy.  Instead, we work hard in school, become productive members of society, and give back to the community so that we can solve this problem for future generations.  Today, our community center has the largest food security program in the city, one of the best basketball programs in the region (NBA Cares just redid our gym), and gets 75% of it’s funding through fundraising – largely from community alumni.  This is how I learned to deal with disadvantage.

The other remarkable thing that happens in this neighborhood is that we produce great people.  We’re not without our bad eggs, but generally speaking, we’re polite, kindhearted and well intentioned.  Even the friendships made there are more like family than friends now.  We were terrible to each other, but only when it didn’t matter.  When it mattered, we would fight tooth and nail for each other.  Perhaps it left me with a different perspective on when things mattered and when they didn’t.

This is why I struggle to relate to what appears to be a developing culture of victims.  Where I might see an opportunity to redeem myself, it’s as if they see an opportunity to draw attention to themselves.  It’s often under the premise of ‘raising awareness’ which seems well-intentioned but it’s a somewhat incomplete strategy on its own.  There’s a wide gap between being aware of something and understanding it.  Fortunately for all of us, awareness generates dialogue and dialogue helps to develop and circulate good ideas which ultimately help us understand what we’re actually dealing with and how to make progress.  The problem though, is that the solution is to popularize redemption.

Redemption isn’t just inspiring, it’s informative.  It says yes, you can get dealt a shitty hand and still come out on top – here’s proof.  It says look at what I just did, take what you can and apply it to your situation.  The better the story, the more viral that information becomes.  Some of the greatest stories in human history are based in redemption, but you can’t have redemption or all that fantastic personal growth that comes with it without adverse circumstances.  I can’t help but think that with the right perspective, adversity can be seen as positive.  It’s when we suffer that we learn the most about ourselves and the universe around us.  Adversity is that fuel that pushes us forward in the most meaningful of ways.  For the record, this is all from personal experience.

The problem with popularizing victimhood is that it’s encouraging the wrong behavior.  It’s like celebrating the loss rather than celebrating the win.  It’s also creating a sense of pessimism where people are spending more time looking for ways in which they’re being harmed than they are looking for ways in which they’re being loved.  And by the time we’ve all identified as a victim of something, what have we accomplished?  Do we still make a conscious effort to sympathize for a victim when everyone’s a victim?  Do we continue to use the word victim, both for someone who was killed in a mass shooting and for someone who was whistled at on the street?  Where I grew up, the word victim was often reserved for a drug overdose or a homicide, the kind of event you couldn’t overcome.  Now it’s a hashtag, part of how we identify, and indicative of social virtue.

Identity politics, where your social status and implied virtue is linked to your level of victimhood.  A racial minority? 1 point.  Female? 1 point.  Gay? 1 point.  Disabled? 1 point.  Straight white male? – 3 points.  I have to admit, there is some irony in how the popularization of victimhood has systematically marginalized straight white males.

As much hate as they get, this isn’t as much of a white guy thing as it is an old people thing.  They want control because they’re afraid of what will happen if they’re not in control.  They’re intolerant because they’re afraid they don’t know how to deal with change.  In a world of uncertainty, they’re afraid and are desperately trying to keep things the same.  In a world of change, we’re quickly taking over.

Let’s focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we’re going to create.

A Solution to Gun Violence

I like guns.  I appreciate the engineering, they’re fun to shoot, and it’s a skill I enjoy developing.  That said, I’ve only been out shooting a few times and while I wouldn’t turn down an invitation, it’s not big on my list of priorities.  What’s actually higher on my list of priorities is coming up with a long overdue solution to a very current problem: gun violence.

I guess I should start by laying out a few pieces of my framework on this one.  I agree that guns are fun to shoot and that people should have the ability to protect their families.  I also think that guns as they are today cause more problems than solutions and something needs to change.  When both sides are asking for something reasonable, compromise is a lack of imagination.

The first thing that people have to acknowledge is that this has nothing to do with the history of the country or the second amendment.  This is a conversation about how can we keep having fun at the range while protecting ourselves and our families, without putting lethal weapons in the hands of irresponsible people.

Part of how I arrived here is in observing the US’s global nuclear policy.  Effectively, the US focuses on limiting the number of countries with access to nuclear weapons because it’s risky to have that much lethal power available to someone who’s intentions you can’t be certain of.  So they go around the world intervening and restricting nuclear programs – perhaps rightfully so.  Personally, I think there will just about always be something more sensible for a government to invest in than nukes, but I’m also empathetic to the only reason that they give: we want to be able to protect ourselves from a hostile government.

 

On a global scale, America agrees that people should have limited access to deadly weapons.  On a domestic scale, they disagree.  I’m pointing out the hypocrisy so that we can agree that guns and gun violence aren’t an ‘American thing’ or part of our culture.  The situation that we’re in now is caused by mental illness, bad government, and a lack of innovation.  Mental illness is something that will take a cultural shift, bad government will take a revolution, but innovation is something we can tackle now.

So how do we close the gap?  How do we give everyone what they want?  Easy.

Non-lethal ammo.

Whether you’re at a gun range, or keeping a gun under your bed for home defense, you don’t need to kill your target.  There is literally zero need for a recreational target shooter to need lethal ammunition.  I would go so far as to say that without the risk of death, shooting ranges would be significantly more popular.  Further innovations would lead to a variety of non-lethal munitions, further diversifying the sport.

For home defense, I suspect most people would agree that if they had the choice, would rather incapacitate than kill.  The reality is very few of us, if any, have the wisdom necessary to know when it’s appropriate to take a life.  As we continue to be reminded, most who think they do are wrong.  If we can agree on that, let’s agree that the reason we want guns isn’t so that we can kill each other, or even kill someone who poses a threat to us, it’s about keeping ourselves safe.  We need a non-lethal ammunition that can reliably incapacitate.

The non-lethal options that exist today hasn’t proven viable, so we need to innovate.  I’m not smart enough to know exactly what this product or these products would look like but I do have an idea on how we could get there.  First the government announces an intent to shift from lethal weapons to non-lethal weapons.  Then, allocate $100 million to a venture capital fund and have that fund approach universities across America, looking to invest in companies developing alternative munitions.   This will spur a wave of innovation in the direction of non-lethal munitions and with a little bit of time, we should arrive at a better mouse trap.  Who knows, maybe we’ll end up with a Star Trek-esque stun gun.

The idea is that if we could design a weapon that was easier to use, barely needed to be aimed, and put your home invader into a comatose state until the authorities arrived, why would you want a classic pistol?  It wouldn’t increase your chances of defending yourself, only your chances of harming the other person.  If we can agree that the people who want to keep using lethal ammunition because it increases their chances of being able to hurt people shouldn’t have access to lethal ammunition, I think we’re all on the same page.  If we could get alternative munitions to the point where they were this safe and easy to use, imagine what it would do for everyone’s personal safety.

I know, I know, I forgot something.  Or rather saved it for last.  Hunting.  I’ll admit I didn’t quite have it figured out when I started writing this but a thought occurred to me while I was writing and it might be a good one.  The one recreational scenario where lethal ammunition does make sense is when you’re hunting, especially when you’re hunting for food.  Hunting for sport should probably be non-lethal to begin with so for the moment, let’s focus on hunting for food.  We need the ammunition to be lethal for our target, but preferably, only our target.  It would be nice to not have to worry about shooting other hunters.  If that’s our criteria, we could probably innovate our way out of this one too.  So we need a bullet that can be fired from a standard rifle which upon impact, would kill a… let’s say moose, but if it hit a person, would be non-lethal.  Sounds to me like a miniaturized dart (like from a tranquilizer gun) containing a compound that would kill a moose while leaving a personal unharmed.  Not only would that prevent nearly all hunting accidents, it may also be a more humane way to hunt.

When reasonable people are asking for reasonable things, compromise is a lack of imagination.  People should be able to protect themselves.  Protecting yourself isn’t the same as hurting someone else though.  If you want to protect yourself by hurting others, you need help.  Let’s find a means to protect ourselves without hurting others, and find a way to help others who haven’t yet figured out why hurting others just about always creates more problems than solutions.