Being Old and Observing the Young

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The older I get, the further away I get from the young. It’s not intentional on my part. They’re just leaving me behind.

When Audible.com has a sale, I buy audiobooks about unfamiliar subjects and subcultures to check out. Recently I bought I, Justine: An Analog Memoir by Justine Ezarik. Ezarik is a young woman who goes by the name iJustine, and is supposedly well known on the Internet, but completely unknown to me. Her book turned out to be well worth the $4.95 sale price, because of its many insights of growing up in a unique subculture. I love books about computer history, so this volume was more than a web celebrity’s personal story. The times, they keep a changing—I’m reading more books about people born in the 1980s, growing up in the 1990s. I think I first took note of this generation with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I Justine

iJustine makes her living doing what she loves. Totally geeking out on with Apple computers, gadgets and gaming, establishing a career by making her fan-girl life public, especially on YouTube. She even live-streamed herself for a while, which I found bizarre, and still spends most of her time making videos about her daily life, friends and digital life. I, Justine chronicles how she developed her internet celebrity business. iJustine, born in 1984, and now 32, is a Millennial.

iJustine is young, but not that young, because she also reports on the generation coming up behind her, which aren’t always her fans. iJustine describes a lot of nasty animosity in her world, which I occasionally encounter online. I find that very hard to understand. iJustine is an attractive young woman, who I would think guys would want to flirt with, instead some guys hate her, sending her the social media equivalents of hate mail, death threats, and even calling the police on her (swatting). There’s a lot of Gamergate type misogyny around her online world. I assume most of her time is spent having fun, being friends with nice people, and I just remember the bad stuff from her book.

I find the hateful incidents in her story disturbing, in the same way I find Donald Trump scary. iJustine herself is wholesome, polite, upbeat, and leans towards the silly side. She’s an extreme fan of Apple, working in a subculture that’s beyond my comprehension. I’m old, and only see digital life as an outsider. Reading I, Justine made me realize just how far away I am from being young. Although, my peers think I’m up-to-date because I know about computers and they don’t, being tech-savvy isn’t the whole story. I also wonder about how iJustine feels about aging. She says her target audience is preteen and teen girls. She’s half my age, and her audience is now half her age. At what age does a young woman start to appear too old to that audience? I wonder when she gets to be 64, will iJustine have trouble relating to the very young growing up in the 2020s? And can our culture keep mutating so frequently?

Since I don’t play video games, and don’t own a gaming console, that puts me on the other side of a huge generation divide. I was about to buy a new iPad so I could read my digital magazines better, but I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t buy an Xbox instead, just to see if I can get into video gaming. iJustine got her granny to play Call of Duty , and I assume she must be older than I am. I must be iJustine’s parents age. Maybe if Susan and I had had kids we’d have grown up with a succession of video gaming consoles too.

Now there’s growing excitement about VR. Virtual reality has zero appeal to me. I suppose this will put me two degrees away from the young. Or two-and-half since I’m a half-ass user of social media. I’m not quite Amish, but it seems I exist halfway between the Pennsylvania Dutch and hip hop America. What’s beyond VR life? Jacked in cyborgs?

Most of my friends live on the edge of the Internet. We all have smartphones. Most of us are now cord-cutters, watching TV off of Roku. I read ebooks and audiobooks, I listen to music via Spotify and Pandora. Half of my friends even use Facebook. We have adapted. But I, Justine showed me how far away I’m still from the digital norm. Like I said, I live on the shallow end of the net, while the young thrive in the deep end. There’s a big difference. I don’t comprehend the pithy (and often nasty) world of Twitter. And there’s a whole host of social media apps that I can’t even name, much less understand what they do.

That’s not saying I won’t catch up. Quite often subcultures become dominant. I’ve read many essays written at the dawn of the television age, resisting that change, and TV watching became universal. Yet, I can’t imagine wearing a VR headset. Will people start tuning out of reality for longer and longer periods of time? That seems no more practical than LSD back in the 1960s.

I support David Brooks notions about character and manners. All too often, iJustine reported having to deal with people who are rude and uncivilized. Is that becoming the new social norm? I’ve had to deal with some of those people blogging, and it’s stressful. I worry the more we interconnect through social media, the more we drop self-controls, letting raw emotions hang out. That can’t be good. At least not for dwelling in the Hive Mind.

I’ve had two friends my age whose bosses asked them if they had ADD. And other friends who said young coworkers would push them aside to do a task, not in an unfriendly way, just impatient to see the task finished quicker. Which makes me wonder if young people see us as moving too slow, or think we can’t comprehend. More than once I’ve been dismissed as just an old white guy. That doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it makes me wonder if there’s a cognitive gap.

By the way, my wife and women friends tell me to stop writing about my age, and hide that I’m old. My guy friends are like me, unconcerned about age. My lady friends warn me young people don’t want to read about old folks. Of course those women want to think they are still young. My wife plays video games, loves Facebook, and her and her friends are always texting and sending selfies.

There was a scene in I, Justine that was kind of sad. iJustine worshipped Steve Jobs, and the one time she got near him, Steve probably recognized her, and ran away. Maybe Steve was feeling too old to deal with a crazy young fan. I’m sure iJustine is a nice young normal woman, but her world does seems a bit hectic, sometimes mean spirited, fast changing, often silly, and way too videoized. Yet, if you just look at her videos, iJustine seems quite normal, if a bit goofy, and so maybe all the problems are with how the young communicate with each other—the snarky Tweets, the extreme expressions of emotion, the black hat hacking, doxing, swatting, phishing, misogyny, death threats, and all the endless ways they treat each other like they didn’t understand the person on the other end is a real person, and not some video game character to destroy.

JWH

How To Save The Planet–Without Detailed Instructions

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Humans are destroying the biosphere of planet Earth. Homo sapiens have overpopulated the planet, crowding out all the other species, and has initiated a self-destruct countdown. To solve this crisis requires creating a sustainable way of life, one that will ethically accommodate 13 billion people, allow other species to thrive, create a stable weather system, and not poison the biosphere with pollution. This is an immense challenge. There are countless books, studies, organizations, documentaries and pundits claiming they have solutions, but few people agree on anything. (I use the number 13 billion because most people today will see the Earth’s population grow to that number before it starts to shrink.)

The real responsibility falls on us individually. We each have to decide how to live and justify that lifestyle’s sustainability. In other words, any rational for survival you choose must be judged by what impact that lifestyle would have if 13 billion people also followed it. The Lifeboat Earth metaphor applies here. Ethically, we all have a justification to claim one thirteenth billionth of the planet’s resources, excluding the ethical share we first deem is due to all the other species. Our current philosophy is “everyone for themselves” – grab all you can get, and fuck all other humans and all the animals. It is this philosophy that will lead us to self-destruction, and why there is so much hate, violence and stress in the world.

Earthe-Europe1413

Finding an ethical way of living that is equitable to our fellow humans and to all the animals is hard. You will have to do a lot of research, read a lot of books, watch a lot of documentaries, and listen to countless thousands of talking heads argue and argue. One recent documentary I feel is very persuasive is Cowspiracy, a film by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. I shall use it as an example. At it’s core, the film is trying to do what I’m talking about regarding sustainability. However, I don’t trust it’s numbers, and I’m guessing it’s motivations aren’t entirely honest and straight forward. But understanding these problems I have with the film are exactly the skills we need in evaluating any solution to save the planet.

There is no reason to want or expect us all to decided on the same path. We can each develop our own consumption plan so long as it integrates into the whole, and we each use only our fair share. Before we can begin inventing our individual solutions we need to understand what is our fair share of consumables and pollution. The mathematics of such an undertaking is way beyond my ability. So I never trust other people who claim to have that ability.

I find documentaries that use lots of facts, figures and infographics to be more persuasive than documentaries that don’t. The watchers of these film must deal with is whether or not the film’s figures are accurate. Even cheap, crudely made films can have great impact, such as Cowspiracy. I was far more moved by Cowspiracy than I was the more famous and better made, An Inconvenient Truth. Both appear to be about climate change and environmentalism, but I suspect the underlying motivation by Cowspiracy is animal rights. Andersen and Kuhn contend that raising farm animals has more impact on the environment than all burdens the various transportation industries place on the planet.

Do their numbers add up? Is their basic assumption correct? They are offering a reasonable solution to save the planet. Are they right? They offer a very simplistic path to solving the sustainability problem. First, watch the film Cowspiracy (free on Netflix streaming, $4.95 digital download, $19.95 DVD). Their solution, stop eating meat, poultry, fish and dairy. We must evaluate their plan. Would choosing a plant based diet make a sustainable lifestyle? Cowspiracy defines the sustainability issue properly, but I doubt their numbers justifying their solution, even though I’m personally pursing a vegan lifestyle and I’m for animal rights. I’m willing to consider that there might be ethical ways to eat meat that is sustainable.

Whether or not to eat meat, and whether or not raising food animals has a massive impact on the environment are a highly contentious issues. You can can find people on both sides of the argument claiming they know the truth and throwing out tons of facts and figures. I wish to set the ethical issues of killing animals aside for a moment, and just consider Andersen and Kuhn’s assertion that raising animals for food has a greater impact on the environment than all of the transportation industries combined. Does giving up meat help the environment significantly? More than going to mass transit and switching to a renewable energy based economy?

My guess is we could greatly improve meat and dairy production to make it sustainable, but it might require that people eat a lot less animal products than they do now. And even then, we’d still have to bring back the issue of animal cruelty. Andersen and Kuhn do define many of the issues we have to consider in creating a personal sustainable lifestyle.

  • We all have a fair share of fresh water this is sustainable, but will vary by location.
  • That a sustainable lifestyle will impact specific area of land.
  • That land set aside for humans should leave plenty of natural areas for animals.
  • That the impact of our land requirements not impact the weather, pollution or the biosphere.
  • That our personal energy use must be sustainable.
  • That we shouldn’t let people starve while we feed animals to produce meat.
  • Can we raise animals so they have quality lives before we kill them?
  • Are there humane ways to kill animals?
  • Is it ethical to kill animals?
  • Should you eat any animal that you didn’t personal kill?
  • Should we give land to food animals when wild animals have so little?
  • That factory animal raising is not sustainable.
  • That free range animal raising is less sustainable than factory animal raising.
  • That industrial fishing isn’t sustainable.

I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, and in the last couple years I’ve been veering towards veganism to reduced the clogs in my arteries, so Andersen’s and Kuhn’s solution would be no sacrifice for me. It would demand a tremendous change for most people, and a drastic transformation of society. Can you imagine if all restaurants were vegan and all grocery stores health food stores? I’m going to assume Cowspiracy plays fast and loose with its numbers simply because the film is on the amateur side. On the other hand, I’m going to assume they might be right and explore their solution.

We often admire members of The Greatest Generation because they survived The Depression and WWII. We admire their determination and sacrifice. We admire first responders and soldiers for their dedication and heroism. Often I meet people who wished they had done more good in their lives, or even lament they hadn’t done something extraordinary like their heroes. Some even feel their life has been without meaning. I don’t believe you need to be Pope Francis or Martin Luther King to help other people and make a great sacrifice. Just being decent, law abiding and nonviolent adds a lot to our society. Choosing not to act like an asshole and controlling your temper goes a long way toward bringing peace on Earth. Of course, I think many folks reading this will say they’d prefer to work inside burning buildings or go to war in Afghanistan than give up eating meat. However, from now on out, the best thing we can do for our fellow humans and our descendants is live a sustainable lifestyle. Are we willing to make that sacrifice and dedicate ourselves to meeting the challenge?

You need to see the film to be convinced that animal farming is having a greater impact on the Earth than all forms of transportation combined. Cowspiracy asks why all the major environmental groups are not focusing on the biggest problem the planet faces. If Andersen and Kuhn are right, then the single quickest way to fight climate change, the current mass extinction of animals, the destruction of the oceans, the collapse of civilization and create a sustainable society is to give up eating animals. The documentary points out that a plant based diet is sustainable, and it’s healthy. My own research into healthy diets is uncovering more and more doctors advocating a plant based diet. Giving up meat is better for the planet and better for you, and gives us hope for our descendants. However, I don’t know if Andersen and Kuhn’s numbers are anywhere near accurate.

Will people give up eating meat? I doubt it. Republicans are taking the brunt the responsibility for not doing anything about climate change because they refuse to give up fossil fuels. What if giving up meat could actually solve climate change without waiting on new renewable energy technologies? I doubt even liberals would embrace that solution. Why are bacon and eggs, milk and cheese, beef, chicken, pork and fish so important to us? What if the facts and figures in Cowspiracy are right?

Are there any sustainable sources of animals products? If people raised chickens and rabbits in their backyards, feeding them with yard grown food, would that be sustainable? What about hunters culling deer populations every year, or other animals that could live abundantly in the woods without human support? What if all fishing was from hook and lines? Andersen and Kuhn make it obvious that neither factory animal farms, or free range animal farming are sustainable. But what if everyone hunted their own meat? What if you really wanted to eat meat and were willing to hunt down an animal, kill it and butcher it, you could eat it and be sustainability justified? Andersen and Kuhn assumes all the land that went into grazing or raising food for livestock would be returned to the wild. Would that be true?

We all ignore the fact that we’re consuming more than the Earth can give. Humans are increasing in numbers while everything else is decreasing. We’ve been laughing at The Limits of Growth for forty years because the book hasn’t come true. We always assumed science and technology would continually solve the problems of exponential growth. The Club of Rome didn’t anticipate disruptive technology, but their basic premises were still correct. The Earth’s resources are finite and consumption can’t increase forever.

Table of Contents

Consensual, Prostitution and Rape

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, March 12, 2015

I saw a silly movie this weekend that had two disturbing scenes that I can’t stop thinking about. The film, Kingsman, is a comedy-action spoof on spy films. I’m sure the screenwriters and the audiences considered everything in good fun, but two scenes troubled me. The first was a mass killing at a church, which I will write about in the future, and the second, is when Princess Tilde tells our young hero, Eggsy, she’ll give him anal sex if he will free her from her dungeon prison. It bothers me that this modern fairy tale has the Princess bargaining for her freedom with Prince Charming. Is the hero’s reward consensual, prostitution or rape?

Princess-Tilde

Matthew Vaughn, the director, considers this scene just another bit of comedy, but I think fiction has a moral language, a philosophical point of view, that we should always take seriously, no matter how stupid the story. Most people want to believe that fiction has a neutral impact on people’s minds, and is entertainment, merely a pastime. That’s why conventional wisdom wants us to believe that video game and movie violence don’t cause actual violence. To me, believing fiction has no power to influence is bullshit.

We all live by fictional beliefs. Unless a concept has been proven by science, most of the beliefs we live by are fictions. To say that fiction has no impact is silly. There are thousands of religions on this planet, and only one or zero of them can be true, so if you look at what religion causes people to do, then I think that’s logic enough to prove my point. Movies do influence people, even light-hearted comedies like Kingsman. Hollywood now has more influence than religion. The scene where the damsel in distress offers the hero sex in exchange for her freedom sends two messages. The first, is to promote the acceptance of anal sex in society. Hollywood has always promoted sex, but that’s not the issue I want to deal with. The second, is that’s it’s okay to barter sex for freedom – that’s loaded with moral issues that need to be examine.

Sex as a form of currency goes back to the animal kingdom. For example, male bowerbirds create elaborate nests in exchange for getting lucky with lady bowerbirds. Evolution uses traits for one gender of a species to set a high price for reproductive access. At one level we can say Princess Tilde has judged Eggsy worthy in a naturalistic way. Even among species were sex is recreational, prostitution sometimes reveals itself. But humans also have free will, and we’ve invented fine shades of laws, ethics and morality about dating. Essentially we divide sexual encounters into three domains of agreement between the two parties: consensual, prostitution and rape.

Ethically, when it comes to sex, our society has intellectually decided we want it to be consensual. Ethically, we quibble over the morality of sex for payment, and we consider sex by force to be one of the worst of crimes. We value everyone’s right to control their body as the highest forms of freedom and one of the greatest human rights. This hasn’t always been so, and it isn’t so everywhere, even today, but it’s inherent in modern liberal societies. We’re still moving towards the goal of perfect equality among the genders, but unfortunately, we’re not there yet, not even close. This incident with the hero and princess in this movie is a good case study why.

There are two sex-for-freedom cases in Kingsman. The hero’s mother in trapped in a relationship with a violent thug, and we’re led to assume it’s because the hero’s desperate mother aligned herself with this man to provide for her children. The hero hates this arrangement, so it’s rather startling that Eggsy would take the same bargain with the Princess Tilde – using his strength to get sex. Why do the moviegoers hate the thug but not the hero? We want to believe that the Princess Tilde is having consensual sex with the hero – but is she? Is any kidnapped woman, captured for what may be years, terrified of dying,  capable of making a free choice? Is the hero’s mom making a free choice when she has sex with the thug to provide for her kids?

Libertarians would like us to believe that prostitution is consensual and maybe it is in some cases, but if a woman is selling sex to survive is that really consensual?  If a wife tells her husband that she will give him a blowjob if he’ll watch the kids Saturday afternoon while she goes shopping might be an example of consensual prostitution. But even then it could be ethically iffy. What if the wife truly hates giving oral sex, but does it out of a sense of obligation, isn’t that still against her will?

When is consensual prostitution? When is prostitution rape? As a society we don’t fully realize the extent of rape in our culture. Few people understand the extent of the feminist message. It’s important for everyone to learn these distinctions, and spot them, even in supposedly harmless comedies. Anyone who has studied humor will understand comedy often has a subtext of hate.

The decision when to have sex is always changing. The generation before mine believed people should wait until after marriage to have sex. My generation, women embraced a variety of culturally supported decision tools, some even coming up with schemes about putting out after a specific number of dates. In modern times, women often go by their own internal desires and reading of their chemistry, which is naturalistic and biology driven. However, biology imposes a tyranny on both men and women. Our bodies push us to have sex, but we often don’t know why.  Nowadays some people prefer hookups without dating. It’s more egalitarian and consensual. Both parties want sex, and getting down to business avoids all the complicated other issues. Most people want sex. There are a percentage of people that don’t, but most do. If two people find each other and scratch each other’s sexual itches by mutual consent with no consequences, we can remove them from our ethical discussion.

Where things get difficult morally is when one person is coerced for whatever reason. We know biology forces us, but how is culture a coercive factor? If you study television and movies with the right insight, you can see how culture imprisons us all in gender stereotypes. As long as women are seen as rewards for male success we won’t have a truly egalitarian society. The trouble is many woman still buy into this belief too.

Ultimately, I want to explore the ethical issue brought up in Kingsman, and most other movies today, that sex is the reward men expect from females, and whether or not this expectation is egalitarian. Are young women programmed by culture to be sexual rewards? In the old days, the hero saves the Princess, and they get married to live happily ever after. In Kingsman, the Princess says, “Oh thanks for saving my life, as a reward I’ll let you fuck me in the ass.” What messages does that send to young women? Pop culture often supports the idea sex is proper payment for the weak to pay the strong? It bothers me Tilde was at the beginning of the show a political powerhouse and stood up to Valentine, but turned airhead weak for Eggsy in the end. Of course some feminists will broil me for linking female sexual desire with female willpower. I’m perfectly fine with Tilde wanting to have sex with Eggsy, but I’m unhappy how she’s portrayed as a joke. We don’t laugh at her when she’s strong, but we do when she’s weak.

Most people are going to say I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but isn’t that because they already accept Kingsman’s messages as true? Can we have an egalitarian society if women are seen as rewards for success? Sure, that’s the way nature works, but nature is not egalitarian. Nature doesn’t give a shit about what happens to anyone. Nature is not ethical. We are evolving beyond nature, into a humanistic state of being. We can reject nature. Maybe we’re evolving our souls, and I’m saying Kingsman isn’t helping.

We’re in new territory here. It’s only within the last century that we’ve started considering women to be equal to men, and most people still don’t. Take the Catholic Church. If we all have equal souls why can’t women become priests and even Pope? Is there something different about their souls? I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe in heaven, but for you people that do, answer me this: Does heaven have gender issues? Does not having a dick make you a second class soul? Do souls have genitals in heaven?

Now that we’re inventing gender equality, we have to assume that all humans are truly equal. Even though I’m an atheist, I like the concept of the soul because souls don’t have physical attributes – they’re pure consciousness. If we’re egalitarian souls, then we can’t discriminate by genitals or chromosomes, and isn’t that what movies are doing? From now on, whenever you watch a movie, or television show or read a book, think about how culture assigns different roles to males and females. Is that consensual? Is what the Princess did truly consensual? Even if she sounded more than willing? I don’t believe so.

As a guy, we always want to believe women want to have sex with us, but just how true is it? If the decision was measured against a scale, with a green zone for consensual, a yellow zone for prostitution, and a red zone for rape, how often when we get laid would the meter swing into the yellow or red?

We are so programmed by pop culture that we fail to see its evil. Princess Tilde was a strong independent woman when she resisted Valentine’s evil plan, but in the end her character is used for laughs, and she’s turned into a batty-eyed sex object. Roxy and Gazelle are never fully realized characters, and neither is Princess Tilde.  Women only represent sexual pawns in this story. Roxy is the token female Kingsman, and Gazelle, the novelty henchmen. Of course, all the characters are cartoonish comic book characters – but the male characters make the decisions. The story is a fairy tale for adults and not meant to be serious, but unfortunately, like all fairy tales, they come with a subtext, and when decoded, we see the darker side of being human.

JWH

A Totally New Reason To Give Up Old Religions

By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, November 22, 2014

I am an atheist, but I accept that other people want to be religious. However, even my religious friends are willing to admit that religions have their problems. No need to go into specifics, just pay attention to the news. The results of those problems are religious people arguing and killing each over details of religion that happened centuries and even millennia ago.

My advice is to give up the past and start over. If there are inherent aspects of reality that support religious morality, they should exist now, and there’s no need to endlessly speculate about what happened a very long time ago. Whatever Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, etc. saw in our existence should still be here now, and modern people should be able to tune into it.

Many of the problems threatening old religions is modern experiences. Old religions can’t handle the discoveries of science, human diversity, egalitarian equality to all, and our current sins. Old religions were invented when people were homogenous tribes that were horribly xenophobic, and their sins were much different from ours. The old concepts of religions were invented before all the concepts of systematic knowledge.

People want religion for guidance on how to live fairly and just, to reward the good and punish the bad, and hopefully find everlasting life.  Most of the ethical rules people want from religion can be hammered out democratically and should work on a global level. The desire for the soul to be eternal must be taken on faith, and if that’s so, it should be pure faith, and not anything that tries to deny what we know about reality.  Denying the knowledge gain from science does not prove the possibility of eternal life.

Any new religions created now should always incorporate modern knowledge. Modern knowledge provides no encouragement for eternal life and heaven, but it doesn’t preclude those possibilities either. Instead of denying science, just say there’s hope one day our souls will transcend this reality, and let it go at that.  It would also be wise to say that God is unknowable and beyond description.  Let science explain this reality and choose to believe that there is a greater reality that is impossible to detect from this reality.

Any speculation about a transcended reality is pointless, other than the faith and hope that it exists. Such speculation can generate an infinity of possibilities, all of which will lead to arguments and killing. This reality has its own rules and structure. To ignore them is delusional. We won’t find out if another reality exists until we die, and then we can learn its rules and structure. Any moral or ethical considerations about this reality should be based on how this reality operates, and not speculation on other possible realities. If there is a God, and that being put us in this reality, it should be obvious that understanding this reality is the important job of being here.

Most people love religion because it gives them purpose and a community to belong to. Rejecting old dogmas does not mean giving up these core fulfillments of religion. My challenge is to the faithful to invent new religions that are globally encompassing, egalitarian, anti-xenophobic, and structured to incorporate all the knowledge we have about this reality.

JWH

The Hive Mind of the Internet–Is Complete Freedom of Information Possible?

Internet-1200

By James Wallace Harris – September 23, 2014

In America we take freedom for granted, and because of this we expect the Internet to be free and open.  Internet visionaries like to think that everyone who joins the Internet shares their ideals.  The potential of the Internet is to unite humanity and reduce the distance between 7.3 billion people to zero.  We are all just a few keystrokes away from each other, and we can organize into groups not related by geographical boundaries.  Over time this will erode the concept of nations and it’s a threat to all theologies and philosophies.  Open access to all information is the universal solvent to narrative fallacy.  Censorship on the Internet is a complex issue.

Sunday The New York Times published an extensive essay “China Clamps Down on Web, Pinching Companies Like Google.”  Because China wants to control the flow of information its citizens sees, it has practically turned off Google, and is working to censor many other global Internet companies and services.  Other countries do this too.  Even in America, parents and schools censor the Internet.  Each of these groups want to protect people from what they consider dangerous ideas.  But what ideas are dangerous?

Ideas are dangerous when they threaten an individual or group.  Their specific dangers are relative.  I want the Internet to be as free and open as possible, but I am willing to accept limitations imposed on us by reality.  The Internet is a commons open to all, but it might need some imposed rules and some suggested forms of etiquette and courtesies.  It will probably take decades to hash these out.

Complete open information is a threat to all ideologies.  Most people on Earth live by beliefs they feel are true, but most are not.  To protect their narrative fallacy groups have to limit information consumption by their believers.  The Internet is leading us toward a future where all ideologies will have their validity challenged by open access to all knowledge and facts.  In other words, the Internet is having a homogenizing effect and various groups want to fight that.  That’s one level of censorship.

We all believe in censoring the internet to a small degree.  No one wants scammers, phishers, viruses and malware.  No one wants criminals and terrorists using the Internet for evil.  Nor do we want to see beheadings or child porn.  And many of us are getting annoyed by the level of ads.  Everyone wants their personal computer and the cloud computers they use to be safe from criminal activity, and to be protected from seeing the worst horrors of the world.  That’s another kind of censorship.

In Europe, Google is being forced to erase references about people when they request it.  That’s getting into a gray area.  Some people want privacy and protection from libel, but other people would prefer Google not whitewash history either.  There are editorial wars on Wikipedia by polarized groups who battle back and forth on particular entries hoping to present their version of the truth.  At Amazon, authors and their friends will write glowing self-promoting reviews, while people with grudges against those writers will write one star reviews.  This kind of control of information is not censorship, but something like what we see in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – whoever writes the narrative gets to make the truth.

A huge problem on the Internet, especially in anonymous comment sections, is declarations of hate.  It has gotten so bad that many sites are now turning off their comment features.  Is this censorship or policing hate crimes?  We like to think we have absolute freedom of speech, and total freedom of the press, but we don’t.  Political correctness is evolving to protect most citizens of the Earth, but not the enemies of civilization.  There are actions, ideas, beliefs and people who embrace hate and chaos that we have to protect ourselves from.  This begs the question:  Should we allow anonymity on the net?

I think we can agree there are lines to be drawn, the trouble is almost every nation, citizen and group wants to draw the lines differently.  The wonder of the Internet is it’s openness.  It’s fantastic that every person on Earth can interact with any other person on Earth.  China has a different vision of how to create a perfect society.  So does The United States.  The problems mentioned in The New York Times article that trouble me are those cases involving scientists and businessmen working around the world on collaborative projects.  I would like to think all scientific journals are open to all.  That’s how science succeeds.  We really don’t want the scientific world of China, and the scientific world of North America, and the scientific world of the European Union.

Then we have various religious groups trying to control what is science and what is not, or what belongs in the classroom, and what doesn’t.  We have to be protected from their ideological censorship.  There is freedom of religion, but there is also freedom from religion.  Should we censor individuals and groups that publish lies and deception?  Who decides?  How?

We have to assume we’re all living in the same reality.  Any Balkanization of the Internet will create islands of delusions about reality.  We need to make sure the Internet is as open as possible, but this might mean we need to negotiate agreements on some censorship and filters for the sake of that openness.  Nations will have to hammer our firewall treaties that respect each other, but we should all promote the maximum openness possible.  There is talk in different places around the world, of seceding from the Internet to creation national nets.  Isn’t this like creating Amish communities?

Ultimately I think any political philosophy or religion must coexist with how reality actually works.  Groups need to work out methods of coexisting with other groups.  Nations, corporations and organized belief systems need to have their rights protected, but all users must be protected from ideological imperialism, or even rampant commercialism.

But I also think individuals need to hammer out Internet codes of conduct too.  Society off the Internet is evolving concepts of political correctness for proper public behavior in the real world.  I think such personal political correctness should exist in the cyber world as well.  I’m horrified by what some men say to women they disagree with on the Internet.  I’m horrified by what many people believe.  But within the bounds of free speech and human rights, I need to accept that people have a wide spectrum of beliefs I don’t agree with.  On the other hand, I think we all have the right to expect a certain level of civility.

We’ve reached an age where the human race is partially living in the hive mind of cyberspace, and it’s going to take some time to develop new laws, rules, etiquettes, proper behaviors, concepts of politeness, etc.

JWH

Are Humans Superior Creatures?

I believe the people of the future will look back on these times and judge us harshly, like we judge the people of the 19th century for slavery, colonialism, genocide and other atrocities those folks committed without any apparent ethical qualms.  They will see even the most liberal of us as heartless in our neglect of poor people, animals, the Earth and the environment.  I’ve always wondered how people like the abolitionists gained their insight to see beyond the ethical status quo.  There have always been a few people that were more empathetic than the common crowd, and I think they were the bellwethers of their times.  If you you read and watch the news carefully, there are always stories that portend the future of human kindness.  To change requires going against the tide of common opinion, and that’s hard.

We like to think humans are different from animals.  That we’re the crown of creation, made in God’s image, that we’re the unique species on the planet that has a soul.  I believe different.  I think we’re ahead of all our fellow creatures in the thinking department, but we share a whole lot of behavioral experiences with them.  If you look at this seal pup in the video above, it’s obviously enjoying itself.  It hung out with these surfers for an hour.  Maybe it didn’t think, “Look Ma, I’m riding a surf board,” but it did feel a sense of fun, play and curiosity.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on animals lately, and reading many books about them too, and the more I study, the more I see animal behavior in the people around me, and human behavior in animals.  Religion falsely teaches us we have dominion over the Earth and animals in a way that is harmful to both our humanity and animals.  Our sense of superiority blinds us to the evil we create.  And to maintain our illusion forces us to ignore just how close we are to animals in our behaviors.

the elephant who found a mom

For instance, we like to elevate sex to love and sanctify our mating habits with legalities and romantic notions, yet it’s still  animal courtship rites based on biological programming.  We like to think our emotional needs are vastly more complex than our four legged friends, but are they?  We like to think our self-awareness and intelligence puts us a quantum leap above all other creatures we share this Earth with, but the latest animal studies show the gap isn’t as wide as we’d like to think.

This summer PBS showed two new 4-part series that emphasizes my point:  My Wild Affair, and Sex in the Wild.  The first episode of My Wild Affair, “The Elephant Who Found a Mom”  will make you cry your eyes out and make you want to go to Africa to shoot poachers.  The other shows in the series are “The Ape Who Went to College,” “The Rhino Who Joined the Family” and tonight’s “The Seal Who Came Home.”  Each episode is a very emotional story about an individual animal bonding with humans, revealing how close we are to our evolutionary cousins.

Sex in the Wild gets down to the nitty gritty of how elephants, orangutans, kangaroos and dolphins get it on.  In fact, it’s XXX animal sex.  These shows are graphically educational, so you might not want your little ones to watch, but then again, they are very educational.  This series is less about individual animals and more about general behavior.  But the courting behavior of our wild kingdom friends often reveal insights into human courtship.  I found a lot to identify with in the love life of orangutans.  Even the strangest animals they profile have distant similarities to the two legged animals we see in episodes of Sex in the City.

Just watch and think about how women judge men, and how men compete for women.   Then the next time you watch a romantic comedy pretend you’re an animal scientist studying that weird species of two legged creatures that inhabit the urban jungles of the world.

Sadly, these eight documentaries are through showing on PBS, but you can still catch them at streaming sites like PBS Roku,  Amazon streaming, or on DVD.  But even if you don’t catch these particular shows, just keep an eye out for nature shows in general.  Nature on PBS’ regular season is tremendous.  Or just watch funny videos on YouTube about dogs and cats.  Sooner or later it will come to you what they do is not that different from what we do.  That the tricks Caesar uses in The Dog Whisperer can be applied to human children and adults, or even to your mother-in-law.  If you’re really savvy in your observations you’ll begin to see your own behavior and how it formed.  If you’re a guy who can’t get lucky with the girls, or a girl that can’t land a Mr. Right, you might study animal behavior.

But beyond learning more about who we are by how we evolved to get here, the real issue is animal rights.  We haven’t worked out human rights yet, but animal rights are just as important, for them and for us.  If we are the crown of creation on this planet then it’s our ethical job to manage the Earth.  I can’t help but think that’s to preserve biological diversity and not destroy it.  I worry that a hundred years from now, those who look back will see us as the worse mass murderers of history.  They will ask themselves over and over, “How could they have been so cruel?  Could they not see what they were doing?  Could they not feel the suffering they were causing.  Did they not foresee what they were doing to all the future generations to come?”  They may see us being more evil than Hitler, Stalin and slavers because we made species after species extinct, unbalanced the environment, extracted the wealth of the many for the pleasure of the few, poisoned the oceans and air, and killed everything that ran, swam, flew, crawled, slithered, or hopped for food and sport.

Future generations will despise us for our hubris in believing we’re the crown of creation when they think we’re the cancer that killed the Earth.

Billions believe they will find heaven when they die, not knowing this world is the heaven of the universe, and we destroyed it.

JWH – 8/8/14