James Damore’s Ideological Flogging

This is how I feel after reading James Damore’s memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, and a bunch of opinions about it:

google-diversity-memo

Who knew that sanity lied at the intersection of sexism and delusion?

Seriously though, I’ll go on the record and say this:

When disagreeing with someone, especially about something important, one might hope that they would be (1) open to debate, and to having their mind changed, (2) scientifically minded, open to reason. Even better would be to agree about the ideal outcome and to only disagree on how to get there.

It’s understandable that the memo garnered a lot of backlash. It sounds awfully similar to the everyday, offhanded comments you might hear from sexists.

And he went on for 10 fuckin’ pages about it?

But I’m fairly certain the assholes women encounter everyday aren’t opening up their comments for debate like the memo does:

“… open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document.”

“Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. […] I’d be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations.”

Nor do they care much for science, especially if it contradicts their gut (or whatever). The memo is clearly scientifically minded, even if you disagree with its use of references, the research it cites, or its interpretation of it.

Finally, the memo contains suggestions “to reduce the gender gap.” The author states, “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.” It seems he pretty much agrees with his detractors on what the ideal outcome is.

Now, some might say that the claims of being in favor of diversity or open to discussion don’t matter because the rest of the content is offensive to them. But they’re wrong.

Intent does matter. It’s the difference between involuntary manslaughter and premeditated murder (… I challenge you to find a less flattering comparison). Lumping in the close-minded sexists with those who have a reasoned view of diversity—and are asking for feedback—is a disservice to the cause.

In our day and age, when we can’t seem to convince each other that abortion ought to be legal, or that climate change is real… where many have closed themselves off from all factual evidence and criticism… we’d be lucky to have more people like James.

 

 

Writer’s Apathy

I don’t write for months or even years at a time. Every now and then the stars align and I’m back at my keyboard. First I need to want to write. I often don’t feel like expressing myself. Then I need to have something to write about. (Duh.) It happens that I want to write but have no good subject in mind. And vice-versa, I might have subject ideas but feel otherwise apathetic.

Finally, I need self-confidence. To feel that, somehow, my words add something to the billion others published every day—or to be indifferent whether they do or not.

I once talked to a mentor of mine about this very subject. I hold him in high esteem—he has a lot of valuable insights and stories to share. But he doesn’t write. He feels, like I do at times, that writing on the Internet is like yelling into a black hole. And so the circle of people benefiting from his knowledge is much smaller than it ought to be.

And so, you’ve got to wonder, how many others?

Say someone discovers the answer to a major mystery about our universe. It seems they would quickly tell others, perhaps out of pride, perhaps altruism, probably both. Or would they? We are biased towards thinking great ideas and discoveries are shared because the ones we hear about always are.

How many legit geniuses have we never heard about because they’ve been either too self-conscious or completely apathetic towards sharing?

I jumped straight to geniuses, of course this applies to anyone who has something worth sharing but doesn’t. Who would blame them? The last time I wrote a piece which became popular the first comment it received was “who cares.” (I wish that person had been a little more apathetic towards sharing their constructive comments.) We live in a pretty judgmental world, it’s quite natural to feel self-conscious.

Which brings us to apathy. As in feeling no particular inclination to write or to share one’s thoughts and discoveries. Honestly, I wish I had some of that. My motivation for writing comes in part from seeking validation. I try to write clever things so people will find me clever.

What I’d like to say is this. If you feel self-conscious: good, you’re human. In fact, feeling self-conscious about your writing might be a signal that you’ve gone deep and personal. This tends to make the writing interesting. Embrace it if you can.

And if you’re apathetic, if you’ve freed yourself from the need for approval: congratulations. As far as I’m concerned you’re Buddha. Go to Nirvana, then write anyway. I bet it’ll be good.

 

Why I Traded My TV for a Turntable

A few weeks ago my wife and I sold our TV. I told a friend and he asked if we were trading it for a better one. Nope. It was perfectly adequate. In fact we watched it all the time. Which is why it had to go.

It was a radical move several years in the making. I’d already taken breaks from TV and other forms of entertainment in the past, even journaling through my most recent streak:

Day 2—of having quit, that is. Quit TV. Quit Reddit. Quit the news. Quit anything that resembles any of these things.

So how am I doing? Not bad, I’ll say. I thought it would be worse by now. There’s something helpful about quitting completely. No questions. I don’t do any of it, under any circumstance.

Day 2 and I already thought it would be bad? That surprised me when I reread it. If you don’t think you can quit something for 2 days and be cool then you know you’ve got a problem.

Day 4—Today was the worse yet. I left work early and had a lot of time to fill at home. I laid down for a while. Still, I was able to stay busy. I finished a book, completed a task I’d been procrastinating on, and had a great talk with [my wife].

Most notable is I feel more social. I want to talk to people. Probably for lack of having something else to do. Perhaps television and Reddit comments were satiating my social needs.

After just 4 days I felt more social. This is a trend that continued throughout the cleanse. It’s of particular interest to me because I consider myself introverted. Needing to see and talk to people was unusual. Now I wonder how much of it is personality vs environment.

Day 6—What if this becomes an alienating experience because the rest of the world has changed? What if I make time for social connections that can’t happen, because there’s nobody left to connect to?

There’s a new thing happening at my workplace where men use their phones while at the urinal. Not just while they wait for their turn, mind you. They pull their phone out as they’re peeing, for however many precious seconds that lasts… I’ve even seen the urinal used as a phone stand. One particular maverick held his phone with both hands as he punished the porcelain.

Not that urinals are a great place to socialize. But it’s a striking barometer for how hooked we’re all becoming.

Day 20—It’s a paradox. I often want to help the time pass. But I also know that I won’t have enough time. I’ll run out and regret not having more, or not having spent it better.

Why desire time if I also desire to waste it away? Why waste time if it really is precious?

My mind is trained to continuously jump forward. Look for the next activity, the next distraction. That’s no way to live. That’s not the way I want to live.

Pretty intense! But I gotta agree with myself there. Time and time again I am reminded that living in the moment, being present, mindful, whatever you want to call it… is key to a balanced life.

And so I kept going. On day 33, after beating my original 30-day goal, I wrote, “it was easier than I thought it would be. Very few moments of boredom. No real cravings.” It didn’t feel the way I imagine quitting a hard drug does, but it was clearly beneficial.

Day 41—My quitting of TV and all is going very well. It feels natural now not to do those things. They’ve been replaced with going out, spending more time with [my wife] and/or friends, and reading.

I kept journaling regularly—a habit I had picked up prior to this experiment—but mostly about other things. And then:

Day 48—I started watching the 2nd season of Master of None.

Don’t worry, I was just making an exception, not giving up… then a couple more weeks went by… the new season of Better Call Saul was out… you know where this is going. Soon my experiment was officially over. I was back to my old habits, making up for “lost time”—that’s the thing with taking a break from TV, there’ll always be a queue of excellent shows awaiting your return.

And yet I was more convinced than ever that I would be better off without those distractions in my life. Not just as a matter of freeing up time for creative or social endeavors, but also to reduce stress, and to feel more connected to the world around me.

But it’s so hard to give up those things when they’re so readily available. Between my TV, my laptop and my phone, my next dopamine hit is never more than a few taps away. The movies, the shows, the apps, the websites, the Facebook, the Twitter, the Netflix… they’re engineered to be as easy, as fast, and as addictive as possible.

You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing with sleep, on the margin.
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO

This quote blows my mind. To give you some context, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is explaining why he’s not concerned about Amazon or HBO as competitors. So basically, “don’t worry about other companies eating into our profits because there’s still sleep to deprive people of.” That’s not something to brag about, Reed. Sleep is a crucial component of good health, you parasite.

But there you have it plain as day. Multi-billion dollar companies are competing as hard as they can for our attention. They’re using technology, biology, psychology… anything at their disposal to make sure we spend as much time as possible using their service, consuming their content.

What chance do we have? I’m lucky I lasted a month and a half if you ask me. Which brings me to the reason I don’t own a TV anymore. Giving any attention to these companies and their products is giving them an opportunity to get their hooks in. While it seems impossible to avoid, one thing we can reasonably control is our environment, especially at home.

The most prominent feature of my apartment used to be my TV. It was big. It was centered on the wall. It’s the first thing you’d see coming in. The most comfortable place to sit, the couch, was right in front of it. Even during my break my TV was here everyday, reminding me of the fact that I could be watching it.

Not anymore.

I still have my laptop, of course. And my phone. But that’s not quite as nice as watching something on a 49-inch TV. It’s not as comfortable. It’s not as visibly present.

Replacing it with a turntable went even further. Do you have any idea how complicated it is to play music on those things? I didn’t. Playing a record usually involves removing the dust it easily collects, as well as cleaning the stylus (the part that comes in contact with the record). Records have 2 sides, each containing a little over 20 minutes worth of music, so you have to flip them. Some albums take up 2 or even 3 records.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never become addicted to that process. But its length is what’s great about it. The time it takes to setup prompts me to pause and enjoy the experience. Now ask yourself, when’s the last time you took a breath and enjoyed the music?

I Wrote Fake News

After Trump got elected I started thinking about the millions of people who voted for him. To this day I still feel a mix of anger and empathy towards them.

You want to use your vote to make your healthcare less affordable? Fine. You’re voting so that I’ll pay less taxes and you’ll pay more? Fine. But Donald Trump? Fucking Donald Trump? You made that guy our President? This clown represents me now? Fuck you.

Then I remember they’re victims too. They got duped because our education system failed them, and that’s not their fault… But it is a problem. They’re getting their information from dubious sources, and they believe anything as long as it sounds like their brand of conservatism.

Then I thought, alright, if they’ll believe anything that sounds conservative, no matter how credible the source is, maybe that’s a way to reach them. And that’s how I decided to create a fake news site.

First I needed a name. It had to sound both conservative and unbiased, which is paradoxical, except in the alternative world where my target audience lives. I settled on Real Right, America’s best news source.

The idea was simple, could I use fake news as a weapon against itself? Any person who believes a made-up story hastily written on a brand new Medium account is clearly unfit to vote. And so my first article announced that the Electoral College has decided to reelect Donald in 2020. No voting required.

I thought I’d instill some empathy and magnanimity by imagining Trump offering food to protesters.

This whole creative endeavor lasted just a few weeks, enough to help me cope with the aftershock of the election. Still, my favorite fake news story was the one I wrote about Crocs, the footwear company, endorsing Trump. It was inspired by a real story about a New Balance exec favoring Trump, which prompted some of his supporters to call for buying New Balance shoes.

If one more Trump fan bought and wore those hideous crocodile shoes because of me, then it was worth it.

 

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The Profit Motive

We overestimate how widespread our own beliefs and motivations are. It’s only natural, and stems from a human tendency to overvalue the information we can recall, even if we know it to be incomplete.

This effect is well documented in one of my all-time favorite books, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, who often refers to it as “what you see is all there is.” Here’s an example from the book:

Consider the following: “Will Mindik be a good leader? She is intelligent and strong…” An answer quickly came to your mind, and it was yes. You picked the best answer based on the very limited information available, but you jumped the gun. What if the next two adjectives were corrupt and cruel?

Going back to our own beliefs and motivations, it should be fairly obvious that they’re always top-of-mind. And so we often project them onto other people when we imagine the way they think. A person exclusively motivated by money (or fame, or something else) will tend to believe it’s what motivates others as well because that’s all they know from first-hand experience.

And if you agree with that, it follows that a person’s beliefs about others are a reflection of their own state of mind. Someone who says they believe others are motivated by money is probably motivated by money themselves.

Which brings me to politics. We’ve all heard people state their belief that government is inefficient. In fact we often hear politicians say it, despite the fact that their entire job is to govern as best they can. Like a doctor who thinks medicine is a terrible way to cure diseases. Anyway, their argument goes like this: the private sector will always do a better job because there’s competition and they’re incentivized to make as much money as possible.

In other words, they believe that the profit motive leads to better results than the intrinsic motivations of the US government. According to its constitution those are to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

So what does that say about them? Plain and simple, these public servants are telling us that they are personally motivated by money more than by their oath of office.