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.

Escapism

Alcohol consumption has been increasing steadily for the last 10 years.  Cannabis use is at an all-time high.  Opioids have been declared a national emergency.    Entire sub-cultures of youth and young adults are finding fewer and fewer reasons to leave the house.  It’s like we’re all trying to escape from all this… sucking.

Do well in school.  Work hard.  Be nice to others.  Pretty common advice for most of us growing up.  We were supposed to do well in school so that we could learn the skills necessary to earn a good income.  We were to work hard because the more effort we put in, the greater the reward.  We should be nice to others because it’s important that we all get along.

So what happens when you do well in school but struggle to find a job when you graduate?  And what about those who had to take out student loans?  What happens when you realize that you’re not the one being rewarded for your hard work?  And what happens when you start to feel like the world has genuinely given up on getting along with one another?

You escape.

We all hallucinate our own reality and it is by that mechanism that we can choose to exist in a reality where we don’t feel the weight of these issues.  Some escape to a digital reality, some to an altered state, but the objective is still the same – being there is better than being here.

Why not just step your game up and go take what the world owes you?  Just make sure you out-perform your peers and you’ll get that top 1% lifestyle that you’ve always wanted.  And once you get there, you’ll know that you’ve made it and that you’re truly different than the other 99%.  That’s what a younger me would’ve said.  To the victor go the spoils, so just make sure you win.  Modern-day cannibalism at its finest.

The problem with the ‘try harder’ approach is that it only works in a zero-sum scenario.  If a few people put in more effort while everyone else is doing the same as they were, those who are putting in more effort are likely to receive more rewards.  If everyone puts in more effort, relatively speaking, the effort levels all remain the same.  Effectively, if we all try hard, we all stay exactly where we are.

So being a grown-up is nothing like what we were told.  Effort is no longer the difference between being rich and poor.   Jobs are disappearing to automation at an increasing rate.  The cost of living is climbing faster than income.  Debt has replaced savings.  Home ownership and a family are now an irresponsible financial decision for most.  And when we look to our leaders and our policy makers in the hopes of change, we see one of the most embarrassing breakdowns of governance in the modern age.

We can’t seem to get to where we want to go.  The advice we were given did not hold up.  We’re being told it’s because we’re lazy.  We’re being told that we’re the problem.  It just doesn’t make sense…

Depression.

Escape.

But we rise.

Our hope that the human condition will prevail remains in tact.  While you look to divide, we look to connect.  Where you seek control, we seek freedom.  Where you look to horde, we look to share.  Where you look to keep secrets, we look to expose the truth.  While you’ve looked to maintain the status quo, we look to challenge it.  And where you fear the future, we embrace it.

We’re just trying to be patient, waiting for our turn.  We see you trying to drag this out though.  I recommend against it.  It’s not a fight you’ll win.

 

Uninhibited Humanity

What does it look like?  If we had no considerations for what other people thought, no fears of being judged, no consequences for non-conformity, how would you behave?  How would we behave?

How common would pedophilia be? How common would rape be?  If we allowed ourselves to be uninhibited, would how would it manifest?  Would irrational behavior correct?  Is it our judgement or actions which are irrational?  I’d guess both.

There’s a pattern I’m seeing.  Pedophilia and sexual slavery rings with connections to some of the world’s most powerful circles.  Eccentric celebrities getting caught messing around with kids.  Powerful individuals testing their sexual boundaries.

If you can reach a stage in your life in which you have more resources than you can use, more admiration than you can return, and more power than you can wield, your perspective of the world may change dramatically.  Rather than being focused on survival, one can be focused on exploration.  That might explain the eccentric personalities of the rich and famous, uninhibited interests.

So if inhibition decreases as freedom increases, and wealth can expand personal freedoms, maybe all this behavior should be looked at with a different lens.  Maybe we’re not all as normal as we thought we were.  Maybe this is what human nature looks like when we’re given the freedom and power to explore our humanity.  I’m not saying that some of this behavior isn’t irrational or counter-productive for the individuals involved, but that’s how the hive-mind works.  We push boundaries, we make mistakes, we learn from those mistakes and we make progress.

If we don’t recognize these individuals as members of humanity that are exploring our collective psyche and pushing our collective boundaries then we wont understand the situation for what it is.  These people aren’t demons.  They’re mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, best friends and god parents, and in many cases, extraordinary contributors to society.  When I think of great artists of our time, I’m seeing at least a few ‘disturbed’ minds. When I think of the great business minds of our time, I’m seeing at least a few sex dungeons.  When I think of the great athletes of our time, I’m seeing at least a few OCD sex addicts.

Should the behavior be addressed?  Probably.  Things like rape and violence are rarely, if ever productive.  But they need to be addressed with intelligence and compassion, not just compassion.  There are solutions that create more solutions and solutions that create more problems.  Understanding the situation for what it is, is always the first step in a real solution.

Solutions that Create More Solutions

I was reading a Harvard Business Review article a while back and it was talking about the dynamic of a self-perpetuating business.  An easy example is the classic ‘customer first’ strategy:

If you always put the customer first, the customer is always happy and if the customer is always happy, then they’ll keep coming back and every once in a while, they’ll come back with a friend.  As more friends become shoppers, the business grows and more locations can be opened to serve more friends.  As more locations are opened and the business scales, it can reinvest in itself, ultimately leading to better customer service.  And the cycle continues.

Good customer service is a solution to the problem of bad customer service, but it’s also a solution that creates more solutions.  There are other solutions that create more problems.  Cost cutting can be an example:

Revenues are down so you look to cut costs  to maintain profitability.  You realize you can fire your top performing employees who are being paid the most, and replace them with new talent who will work for half as much.  Next year’s forecasts are now back in line with corporate targets.  Solution?

Probably not.  Firing your top performing employees is a quick way to decimate your organizational culture and that leads to lower levels of acquisition, retention, and production.  It was a solution in that it was able to achieve reduced costs, but it also created a problem by way of significantly reduced revenues over the long-term.

This isn’t a business concept.  It’s a universal concept.  It persists in the laws of physics as well as in the truths of philosophy, and it’s one which the world desperately needs to understand.

You have the compassionate crowd who actively fight racism with racism, and actively fight against free speech to protect free speech.  It won’t work.

You have the intelligent crowd who spend most of their time picking apart bad solutions, and then defer to whatever benefits them personally, lacking the understanding that this is all a collective effort.  That won’t work either.

I’m still trying to understand why intelligence and compassion are at odds with one another, because they also share a very significant connection:

The most intelligence decision you can make is a compassionate one, and the most compassionate decision you can make is an intelligent one.

This isn’t neutral territory between the left and the right, this is the guiding star that we should all be following.  Compassion is the compass, intelligence is the map.

 

Me Too?

I appreciate the perspective that I have on sexual harassment, not because I understand it, but because I am making progress in understanding it.

Back when I was working at the banks, we had a training program that they would send us out to Toronto for. By the third trip, our cohort had gotten to know each other and one night we were on the hotel rooftop having drinks. A bunch of us were standing in a circle and one of the ladies decided she would show some interest. She walked over to me, started whispering things in my ear, then started rubbing my chest, then her hand went in the shirt, then down the pants.. all while I kept up a conversation with the others in that circle. I was obviously getting a lot of looks, but I kept pulling her hand out my clothes, politely told her to settle down, and laughed it off. It took about 20 minutes, but she eventually moved on and took someone else back to her room.

This was 5 years ago and I want to share what I’ve learned. It was only recently that my experience occurred to me as an example of sexual assault because it didn’t feel like it.. and I think I know why.

Part of it is that I’m quicker to compassion than I am to fear or hurt. She had a husband and kids at home, but she was on a work trip, drunk, tying to bed a guy half her age in front of a small crowd of coworkers.. I knew she was probably going through a rough patch so I tried to handle the situation with dignity. I wanted her to be better off than when we met.

I genuinely think we could all use a little more compassion in our lives, but it’s important to understand that it was easy for me to arrive at compassion because I never lost power or control of that situation. I was twice her size. Even if she were twice my size, I wouldn’t be concerned that she could force herself on me. In my mind, I was safe from what she was trying to do, and it let me act with compassion.

Most women aren’t twice the size of the men in question. All that safety that I felt likely wouldn’t exist for a woman in that same situation. For many, I’d wager that safety becomes fear. As we continue to discover/understand what gender equality really means… physical stature and the physical safety that comes with it is still a very real inequality.

That doesn’t mean that we should feel bad for being men, but it is a reminder that as men, we need to step up.  If you have the power to harm, you probably also have the power to protect.  Imagine if instead of hearing about a high profile sexual harassment case once a week, we heard about how the men around that person stepped up and shut it down?  That’s a future I’m willing to help 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.

Win the Next Presidential Election With This One Weird Trick

I was tempted to throw in the /s but it’s true.  Seriously.

It wasn’t the republican right that elected Trump.  It wasn’t the democratic left that let Hillary down either.  It was the American people who made themselves heard.  Trump was elected as a giant fuck-you to how America governs – justifiably so.

It was a fuck-you to career politicians with fake smiles and fake laughs.

It was a fuck-you to wall street influencing monetary policy.

It was a fuck-you to the oversensitive and irrational alt-left.

It was a fuck-you to partisan politics and the inability of politicians to get anything done.

It was a fuck-you to the wealthy elite.

And perhaps most importantly, it was a fuck you to a lack of honesty and transparency between a government and the people it serves.

Trump may just be the best thing to happen to American politics in generations, in the same way that a bull is great for a china shop.  Bull wrecks china shop, owner realizes nobody buys china anymore and uses the insurance money to open a dispensary.  I think a lot of the people who voted for him already knew this, but if there was any doubt… he’s worse than a career politician, he’s the wealthy elite’s racist grandpa.  One of the first things he did was cozy up to wall street.  He’s just as irrational and oversensitive as the alt-left.  With republican control over the senate and house, he still can’t get anything passed. Bipartisanship is worse than ever.  Finally, and most importantly, Trump has probably solidified himself as the most dishonest politician in American history.  For anybody looking at this objectively, he’s the one you send in to undermine any remaining confidence in the American establishment.

So by the time the American people are ready to elect their next president, what are they going to be looking for?  The same thing we’ve always wanted…

 

Honesty and Transparency.

 

Seriously.  That’s it.  We’re just going to want it that much more after all this nonsense.  Run a campaign under the premise of releasing every confidential government file ever held.  Moon landing?  Release it all.  JFK?  Release it all.  9/11?  Release it all.  Area 51?  Release it all.  Every god damn piece of information that the government has – make it readily available to the public.  Maybe it all amounts to very little, but at least the public would regain their confidence in their government.  Or maybe we find out that the government hasn’t been as honest with us as we would’ve liked and we have an opportunity to rebuild that trust with a proper foundation.

Electing someone we don’t know to run a system we don’t understand isn’t exactly the best example of democracy but it does remind us how important honesty and transparency is between a government and its people.  Without good information, we can’t make good decisions and if we aren’t equipped with the information necessary to elect good leaders, where exactly does that leave us?  And yet honesty seems more scarce in politics than in any other profession.  Maybe this is what happens to lawyers when they don’t have to worry about perjury anymore.

We need to move beyond this idea that being uninformed makes us safer.  We need to move beyond this notion of the government taking measures to make us ‘feel’ safer at the expense of being less informed.  We need the government to stop treating us like kids and start treating us like equals and that starts with telling us WTF is actually going on.

I’m putting some brain power towards figuring out how to build an honest democracy that just doesn’t just hold itself accountable to the public, but also engages the collective thoughts and wisdom of its people on a regular basis.  I’m making progress.. might be ready in time for Mars.