“One hearty laugh together will bring enemies into a closer communion of heart than hours spent on both sides in inward wrestling with the mental demon of uncharitable feeling.” - William James
The above quote gets at something very practical in life. It’s remarkable how many conflicts start (and go on for years) over minor tensions or even complete misunderstandings.
I guess it’s some kind of arbitrary conception of pride and self-importance that keeps people from stepping into an obvious tension and easying it by a bit of self-deprecating joking around.
I interact with several very different groups of people (academics, fighters, computer nerds, musicians, etc) and the funny thing is that the people who are most willing to swallow pride and make fun of themselves when tension builds for whatever reason are the fighters. I think that stubborn pride derives from insecurity and fear, and a person who’s been through many battles of being punched in the face over and over has conquered that fear.
Take it easy, as the Eagles say, “don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy”.
800 million unique users visit YouTube each month. In that time, they watch 4 billion hours of video, leaving over 100 million comments.
Looking at my YouTube history, most of the videos I watch are technical lectures on computer science, math, or programming topics, some lectures on philosophy, history, and politics, and a few documentaries here and there. And yet, even on these videos that would conceptually attract a more educated audience, you still get racist and sexist comments that with just a couple of sentences manage to produce a Pollock-like “masterpiece” of stupidity, hatred, and bad grammar. Here’s an example that (I think) blames the Jews for controlling the media:
This is pretty common on videos related in some way to the Israeli Palestine conflict, but really the content of the comment often has nothing to do with the content of the video. The video just has to be popular and it will attract the rare but bright exploding stars of anonymous hatred.
Another more subtle example is one I just yesterday saw in a top comment on an informative video from the Stanford Center for Internet and Society:
The comment starts with: “This is fucking ridiculous…” As of now, this comment has received 18 positive votes. This comment is a bigger problem in my mind than the racist and sexist comments, because hate gets downvoted on YouTube and so if you just read the top comments, you can safely avoid the moronic rantings of bigots from ruinng your faith in humanity. However the “This is fucking ridiculous” comment that gets upvoted is a sign that YouTube has developed a culture that lacks the basic civility of rational discussion. There are times when saying “fuck” works perfectly even when giving a speech to an auditorium full of PhD’s. I think people like Christopher Hitchens do it best:
But when used carelessly, language has the power to disrespect the reader to a degree where they are no longer interested in hearing the point you are making but are more interested in responding to the personal attack nature of the commentary.
Unfortunately, there are no good ideas on how to elevate civility on YouTube. You can’t enforce it from on high. Google is trying to get people to connect their real identity to their YouTube accounts, but of course anyone who enjoys throwing up hateful or even just dismissive comments will not want to remove the mask of anonymity.
The only path to civility it seems is the hard one like with everything else in society: We have to make the change in our own life, and hope others follow our example. In the case of YouTube, that means leaving well-thought-out comments on videos without carelessly disrespecting the intelligence and viewpoints of others, and up-voting comments that do the same (even if you disagree with them). It takes effort to be blunt and yet respectful, but that’s the kind of effort that’s required for any kind of productive discourse. YouTube is a uniquely global stage on which we can exchange ideas, if only we exercise the patience required for the exchange to happen.
In 1935, Hitler asked the citizens of Germany for their opinion on whether they should abandon the Treaty of Versailles and begin to build up their army. His argument was that Germany was suffering injustice and in order to pursue “peace with honor” it must be freed from constraints of the treaty.
The prevailing message was that: “…he who does not vote and vote ‘yes’ today, shows that he is, if not our bloody enemy, at least a product of destruction and that he is no more to be helped… It would be better for him and it would be better for us if he no longer existed.” That’s a long-winded way of saying “vote yes or die”.
In the book In the Garden of Beasts, Larson mentioned that of the 2,242 prisoners in Dachau, 88 of them voted ‘no’. Not much can be known about these men, but from the little I gather, there is no more profound form of heroism. In a time when fear clouded the whole nation, when the price of an opposing voice was the very real possibility of death, and when that voice was not to be heard by anyone, I admire deeply the fortitude and character required to vote ‘no’. Most of us will never be tested in this way…
Average monthly salary for a migrant worker in China is $240 (source). Less than 26% of them are provided any kind of pension scheme, work-related injury insurance, and medical insurance. Still, for many people this is a big step up from the alternative of rural subsistence. Check out this gallery of Chinese factory workers with the toys they are making.
Can a life defined almost completely by long days of hard monotonous labor be fulfilling Does the concept of “pursuit of happiness” have any meaning when pursuit of survival is the reality of daily life?
I think most Americans turn a blind eye to the grinding of gears of capitalism on the global stage. It’s hard to acknowledge the fortune of being born in a first world country or in an environment where upward mobility needs nothing more than hard work.
The problem of poverty is too big. All efforts to fight it appear absurd to any rational mind, but still some people try, e.g. Paul Farmer:
Main point: Either we have to be willing to watch a poor man die or we have to force that man to pay for insurance throughout his life.
Suppose a man is lying in the street, bleeding to death. He has no money, no insurance, but a simple procedure would save his life. The libertarian argument is that this is the cold moment when a man must take responsibility for the decisions he has made in the past and the cruel turn of luck that has led to his current circumstance.
It seems to me that we don’t live in a society that is willing to let such a man die. The alternative is to force the healthy and the fortunate to pay for the sick and the unfortunate. So until we are willing to turn a bleeding man away, I see no other option but to let government step in and force us to be responsible. I purposely phrase it in a way that seems like a contradiction, but one that’s no worse than the contradiction of our moral system.
By the way, the Supreme Court is scheduled (next year) to hear the case of whether Obama’s healthcare overhaul is constitutional:
This case is not as philosophically interesting as at first may seem, but unfortunately it will likely be politicized to a point where it may influence the decision of the judges.
Thomas Jefferson was elected president in a tied election in 1800. He then went on to win a landslide election in 1804, beating Charles Pinckney 72.8% to 27.2%. This is the biggest margin in history for a U.S. election with more than one major party candidate. Most attribute this dominant win to the popularity of the (unconstitutional) Louisiana Purchase.
Jefferson predicted an end of partisan politics based on this experience. I think, much like Obama, he often presented himself as a person who is above partisan bickering. From this kind of (possibly artificial) idealism came a vision that the “truth” will eventually make partisan politics a rarity. Of course, as we see today, the opposite has come to pass.
Soon after Jefferson’s presidency was the War of 1812, followed by the Era of Good Feelings, when Monroe rode the nationalistic high of “victory” to a unanimous landslide win (except for one electoral vote). Unanimous!
Such elections seem nearly impossible these days. Still it continues to impress me how many people are able to stay unified under one of two parties. It is remarkable to me that if you like guns, you’re also (statistically) likely to be pro-life, anti-immigration, anti-union, etc. The bunching of social, political, and fiscal views into two packages for distribution every 4 years is a surreal process.
I’m in awe of the idea that 10 to 40 thousand years ago our early ancestors pushed on into the unknown across the the Bering land bridge (that used to link Siberia and Alaska) through difficult weather conditions to populate the North American continent.
Of course, they did not see it as some epic journey. They took it one day at a time, surviving, following huntable or gatherable food sources. But their way of life, to me, is one of existing amidst overwhelming uncertainty. I have no doubt that the existential concern of “What’s for dinner?” was enough to keep their minds and bodies occupied.
Still, it’s hard, from the bird’s eye perspective of the 21st century not to appreciate the force of life that fueled the journey against what I can only imagine were insurmountable odds.