Eureka #2!

Ever make a decision that feels SO right, that your whole body feels more settled? I just did that and I’m very glad. I’ve decided NOT to publish the second book I wrote.

I wrote it, I polished it, I polished it some more. It’s 387 pages long. I love the main character – her spirit, her personality. She sparkles. But, I think that when you are your own publisher, when you don’t have that gatekeeper function of an editor, you have a different set of responsibilities.

I have a responsibility not to undermine the achievement of the first book, by putting the second one out there. The main characters are related – they’re cousins. I explored some painful themes. Although I’m caucasian (in appearance, if not in genetic heritage), I have experienced my share of prejudice and unfair recrimination. I have been shouted at in public, for no reason other than that the shouter has anger issues and I somehow served as lightning rod.

In the second book, I was hoping to translate how this felt – to be shouted at in public with an unfair adjective – into something that could help white people to understand racism better. I was exploring emotions – anger, hurt, defiance. But I suspect, on reflection, that there may be people who are so traumatized, that they might take my efforts as somehow hurtful to them. I have no intention of hurting anybody. There have been a few indications that this second novel could be controversial, and maybe even taken as hurtful. So, that seals it.

It feels wonderful to know that just because I wrote it, doesn’t mean that I have to publish. I feels very freeing. Now, I can write without putting obligations on myself to make my work public. I can keep it private – and I shall, in the case of my second novel. It was still a very cathartic exercise to write it, and I’m glad I did. But it shall remain an unpublished work.

Now, on to novel #3, which will be finished soon. I’m very happy with this one. I think it will be a high-quality offering. That was my issue with novel  #2 – I just wasn’t sure if the quality is high enough. I only want to put what I feel are good things out there. If I have any doubts, then into the “unpublished” folder it goes.

I guess the spectre of publishing something I’m not thrilled with, was hanging over my head. Because I feel so much better having made this decision. That’s why I know that it’s right.

As for Novel #1, it remains to be seen if I can move it out there. It will require a lot of work. Once the paperback is available, I’ll initiate an advertising campaign, and I’ll order a set of the books to give away. It will cost me some money. But that’s how it works. You have to spend money to make money, and self-publishing is no exception. I might put together a book launch as well, if I think that it’s worthwhile and if I’m able to find some help with that.

If this book is ever a success, this could only happen organically – i.e. because people like the book. I don’t believe that you can force that. You have to honour the reader, in my opinion, by just letting it happen. But by the same token, it will require a real effort to provide the information that the book exists. Otherwise, who will know?

The girl who wouldn’t do math, part 2

MWs (math wizards):  Well!  It’s about time!  Do you have the answer yet?

G (girl):  Hold on there.  This is just an exercise, right?  You haven’t really put me in charge of this life-and-death decision, have you?  And by the way – yesterday I spoke to one of you.  But today there are five of you.  Why is that?

MWs:  We have decided to gather the council of elders in order to deal with you.  We use the number five, so that there will be a majority when we render judgment.

G:  Judgment?  I didn’t realize that I am being judged.  Would have been nice if you’d told me.  Am I on trial?

MWs:  We realize that we have made an error.  We never should have put somebody like you on this mission to take down the “beast”.  This is not a job for somebody who does not understand math.

G:  I understand math, you silly old men.  I love music – music is based on math.

MWs:  (muttering all at once)  Not all of it.  Not all music is based on math.

G:  Don’t tell me I’m dealing with complete idiots here?  Did we not agree yesterday not to allow our discussion to become bogged down with abberations or exceptions?  Well?

MWs:  We did.

G:  Then …. how is it that one small sub-set of music, modern jazz – which seems to be independent of math – renders my point about music and math null and void?  How would one small subset of music be AT ALL relevant to my point?  Are you going to do that every time I say anything, or can we actually have a lucid intelligent discussion?

MWs:  All right.  Point taken.  Music depends on math for its rhythm.

G:  And that’s not all.  I am good at mathematical problems.  I’ve been tested at quite a high level, and I passed with flying colours.  And that’s almost 40 years since I studied math in school.  So don’t tell me that I don’t understand math.  This seems to be a deliberate misunderstanding of me.  Why would you do that?  Never mind.

MWs:  Fine then.  What is the answer to our question about the “beast”?

G:  I will answer that, once I’m done with my trial here.  Or will you judge me without even letting me know the charges against me?  Do you really need to cheat like that – is your procedure really so flawed that you can’t even let me know that I am under scrutiny?  That seems so very weak.  So, then, you are indeed as weak as you look. (surveys the panel of white-haired, pale, overweight or skinny men)

MWs:  There is no need for insult.

G:  Not when you’re the target of it anyway, right?  But you feel quite entitled to level insult at me though – is that right?  Well – fire away.  Allow me to defend myself at least.  Now it’s out in the open.  What exactly is your complaint?

MWs:  You have demonstrated within your personal life that you do not follow a logical budget.  You set a poor example for other people, with the unsound decisions you make.  And your personal appearance makes it obvious that you do not take life very seriously at all.

G:  Just how did you come upon factual details of my personal life?  Have you been breaching my privacy?  What entitles you to do that?

MWs:  Well, it’s important that we know exactly whom we are dealing with.

G:  Will you allow me the same advantage?  What about YOUR personal life – and yours?  And yours?  What are the details?  Do you follow a budget?  Prove it!

MWs:  (silent)

G:  Now, let’s not bother ourselves with private lives, shall we?  Hmmmm, well all right – I will give you one thing.  Have you ever heard of Gone With The Wind?

MWs:  Some of us are slightly familiar with it.

G:  Are you aware of the “drapes” scene?  Scarlett O’Hara needs money, because her entire way of life has been destroyed in the civil war.  She was born and raised as a landowner and this is her skill set.  But she has had to let her “employees” go, and now she fills their tasks as well, working in the fields.  She has had to learn their jobs.  This results in a very different physical appearance than she is used to.  She tries to preserve her former appearance, and lifestyle, by sewing some clothing out of drapes.  And she goes to meet with her old flame to ask him for a loan.  He tells her – “You are a sight for sore eyes!” and he is almost fooled by her drape-dress.  But not quite.  He sees that her hands bely her, and that she has had to do work with which she isn’t accustomed.  He realizes that she is even worse off than she claims.

MWs:  Is there a point to any of this?  Get on with it!

G:  I am wearing drapes.  They are green.  I am doing what I can to reach the best outcome possible, for myself and my family, while insisting on a physical appearance which suits my personality – to preserve my sense of self.  Yes, this is not easy – but I am up to it.  The decisions I make, are the best decisions for my future.  So how dare you judge me?  And how dare you pry into my personal life?  You certainly are despicable.  But since we are here, I will answer your question from before.

MWs:  Finally.  If you are done acting like a hysterical woman, let’s examine the issue.

G:  Hold on – when I object to YOU, I am hysterical.  But when you object to me, you are being rational.  I need you to see all the different ways that you are a bunch of hypocrites – and there are so many.  Shall I list them all?

MWs:  No, just get to the point – we have things to do.  You have said that you refuse to be backed into any corners, and that you reject “binary” “either/or” thinking.  Well, which is it?  Do you reject binary thinking, or do you embrace it?  You must choose one.

G:  (laughing)  Oh, that’s a good one!  You’ve given me a binary choice, involving binary thinking.  You’re wrong.  I can choose when and where to employ binary thinking.  Sometimes it’s suitable – sometimes it’s not.  This depends on the arena we are working in.  This is a public discussion, being disseminated using binary data – do you think I don’t know that?  Please.  I use binary every single day of my life, of course.  It’s quite useful.  But when you seek to understand me using binary code, then you will surely make serious errors.  Because I am of course a living being, with a living brain – changeable, shifting, constantly growing and sometimes reducing.  You will never pin me down, nor any other living being.  Whenever you do, you make mistakes.  And you’ve made a whopping few.

MWs:  Fine – whatever.  You pick and choose when binary code suits you.  Now, what about the answer to our question?

G:  You already know my answer.  I’ve given it to you – several times already.  The answer is, change the “beast” or wait for it to change.  Because change, it will – as long as you allow that and facilitate it.

MWs:  That has been tried, and failed.

G:  Did you try to use threats, insults, judgment, assumptions, and binary while attempting to change it?

MWs:  (silence)

G:  I thought so.  Has it ever occurred to you that this so-called “beast” is a living being, with a conscience?  Did you ever consider that maybe it’s gotten wound up in this web without meaning to?  And perhaps it’s looking for a way out – a dignified way out, with honour?

MWs:  That thing has no honour.

G:  How do you know?  Are you just assuming that it has no honour?  You are the kings of assumption, after all.  In fact – the entire problem that you posed yesterday was absolutely filled with assumptions.  You assume that people can’t extricate themselves from this web.  You think too little of them.  You assume that the “beast” will always remain the same – but that’s because you expect it to stay unchanged.  You assume that the only way to help the situation, is with violence.  And finally, you assume that your choices are A – take down the “beast” with its web, or B – leave it to devour everything.  I reject those choices.  I say, we choose C – allow the “beast” to redeem itself.  Redemption is very powerful.  People almost always choose it, when given the chance.  Have you even tried facilitating redemption for those involved in this situation?  No – I thought not.

MWs:  We will consider your words, thank you.  But we are unlikely to change our minds.

G:  I know.  And that’s why I dislike you so much.  You are static beings – are you even human anymore?  You’ve been here far too long.  You’ve become jaded and dried out.  You’ve fogotten all about your hearts.  I tell you what – I’ll give you a lesson in “heart math”.  You really need it.

MWs:  What is “heart math”?

G:  It’s basically “un-math”.  It’s a calculation, which doesn’t calculate anything.  It’s an equation which isn’t equal.  It’s a procedure which has no process.  It’s alive.  And it can only be created “heart to heart” between living creatures.

MWs:  (glancing at eachother in confusion)

G:  I’m going to have to use numbers to illustrate this point, even though it really has nothing to do with numbers.  Let’s take two groups of people.  One group, group A, has “detached” from other beings and from one another, as their “guru” has instructed.  They instead embrace a nebulous concept called “universal love”, of which their “guru” is the recipient of course.  They carefully guard themselves from “attachments” or true affection, caring, for other people.  They relate to one another at arm’s length, even though sometimes they do bizarre rituals which involve physical contact.  Are you with me?

MWs:  (nodding, looking guilty)

G:  Now, let’s talk about group B – this is a family unit, with parents and children, consisting of healthy people who deeply care for one another.  We can say that they relate through their hearts.  They connect with their hearts.  They embrace being attached to one another, without fear.  Every day, they do things to support one another and express their love.  They don’t know “universal love”, which really has no definition – but they do know love.  And they love eachother.  I don’t suppose any of you are familiar with that.

MWs:  (shaking their heads, looking sad)

G:  Here’s the un-math.  First, group B.  Let’s say that your personal efforts, your actions, your acts of service, by which you care for the others in your immediate group – and others – carry a sum.  We’ll call it 25.  So, we have a small group B consisting of only 2 people.  One, the parent, brings 45 today.  The offspring brings 25.  Is the total 70?  No.  The total is something more like 7,000.  Because the energy that is created by loving service, kindness, respect, and attachment, is like a living being which multiples by itself, showering the group members with as much energy as they require – shielding them from damage, healing them when they are damaged, and giving them hope.  Now let’s look at group A – the sad group which only relate to eachother on a superficial (and sometimes bizarrely physical) level.  Let’s say it’s a group of 3.  If each of them brings 25, they should have a pool of 75 from which to draw energy, correct?

MWs:  (nodding)

G:  Wrong.  There won’t be 75.  There will be less.  Because the energy that’s created by such a group, becomes a consuming creature which feeds on them – rather than nourishing them, as in group A.  They will find that what they create together is hungry, rather like a cranky orphan.  It won’t be very much use to them at all.  As a result, they will all become defensive, and they will guard what they have from one another, rather than sharing.  That’s un-math.  Do you see?

MWs:  Well thanks for coming out today.  Obviously you have nothing to offer us.  We have a meeting in five minutes – gotta go.  (scurrying out the door)

And so ends the girl’s trial, quite abruptly.

 

The girl who wouldn’t do math

Once upon a time, there was a girl who refused to use math in order to understand life.  The math wizards tried all kinds of ways to force her to think in a mathematical way.  But she insisted on defying them.  They had many conversations together – here are a few:

MW (“math wizard”):  We have created a dilemma for you, which will force you to choose either Option A, or Option B.  Sorry to back you into the corner, girl, but you are an enduring mystery to us.  In order to figure you out, we have devised a series of corners to back you into.  Here is one.  Now, there you go.  See?  Your back is to the wall.  We stand in front of you, blocking your way forward.  We have a series of choices for you.  First choice:  do you want to remain in the corner, or come out of it?

G (“girl”):  (silent)

MW:  Aha, see?  You have chosen to remain there.  Life is a series of choices.  It’s always this, or that.  It’s like math.  Add up 5 plus 5 and you get an answer that is either right, or wrong.  10 is the correct answer.  Either you got it right, or you got it wrong.  See that, girl?  Life is binary in nature.

G:  (still silent – and then she vanishes)

MW:  HEY – whoops!  Where did you go?

G:  I’m up here.  I just floated.  You gave me a choice of either staying in the corner, or walking forward to get out.  I decided to screw your binary choice.  See that, clever wizard?

MW:  Well, then, we can fix that.  They back her into another corner, and this time, they place an inescapable ceiling over her.  Now, are you going to stay, or come out?  And IF you choose to come out, are you going to choose going left, or right?  It’s a two-pronged choice.  Let’s see what you do.

G:  (vanishes again)  Hey, you smart ones – I’m back here.  I decided to just melt backwards through the wall behind me.  Once again, I chose Option C – the one that you did not provide me.  I refuse to bow to your precious binary way of thinking.

This goes on for quite a while – in each case, the “clever” math wizards foreclose her escape route, and back her up once again into the corner.  Each time, the girl comes up with a new way to defy their binary choice.

G:  Have you had enough yet?  This can go on forever.  Because my mind is not binary, and I won’t play your game.  Take your math, and shove it.  Get it, old men?

Here is another conversation between the math wizards, and the defiant girl who would not do math.

MW:  All right, we are done backing you into various corners now – you’ve made your point.  Now look at that group of people, protesting – either they are right or they are wrong.  Which is it?

G:  That’s just a different kind of binary thinking.  I refuse to make a choice, without further information.

MW:  Aha, this means that you think they are wrong.  Because if you aren’t with them, you’re against them.  If you don’t speak up on their behalf, then you automatically have joined the ranks of their enemies.

G:  No, that is not true.  I have elected to with-hold my opinion until further notice.  I am neither with them, nor against them.

MW:  Sorry, little girl.  Those people do not agree.  They have decided to sort all people into either Group A (supportive), or Group B (non-supportive and therefore, enemy).  This is their choice.  And if you do not speak up and audibly support them, you will have identified yourself as the source of blame.  You will have helped to cause their problems, if you don’t speak now.

G:  I disagree with your definitions and your way of understanding this situation.  Guess what, old men?  Being blamed for something, is not the same thing as causing it.  If I am said to have “caused” their problems, by refusing to speak up until I have more facts, then the sun in the sky has also caused their problems.  Their mothers, in giving birth to them, have caused their problems.  Their teachers, in leading them to this moment, have caused their problems.  Because if you want to widen the circle of causation to include me – a non-actor in this scenario – then your circle of causation is going to catch a whole host of things, not just me.  Either you broaden the circle of causation, or you don’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  Also – the way that this group defines me, does not define me.  I still have my own free will.  They can’t force me to do anything.  I am not their enemy.  In time, they will come to learn this.

And now, another conversation between these old foes – the old math wizards who insist on reducing LIFE to binary calculations, and the girl who continuously defies them:

MW:  And now we come to a moment of reckoning, girl.  Yes – you have caught some attention, this much we admit.  Your defiance is interesting.  However, there is a great beast at the centre of a vast web – a web which has caught up many innocent families.  Look here – there are children involved.  This beast is slowly strangulating everything around it.  Those caught in its web are like hostages, innocent parties.  This beast will eventually devour them too.  What will you do?  We have decided to put you in charge of the take-down operation.

G:  Me?  Why me?

MW:  Because you have an imagination – but we want to teach you that not everything has a creative solution.  Sometimes, it REALLY IS a choice between A, or B.  Sometimes the situation IS binary in nature.  This is one of those times.  Math is here.  Math wins.  You can’t deny it.  Because either you do nothing, and allow this beast to continue devouring, jeopardizing everybody on the entire planet, OR you take it down.  Unfortunately, all of those innocent families, including children, who’ve gotten caught up in its web, will have to come down with it.

G:  Why?  Why do they have to die?

MW:  Because they are there.  Look at what this beast has done – it is so intricately wound up in this web, that there is no way to extract it without destroying the web itself.  Look here – these people are also inextricably caught up.  The beast has ensured this situation, to preserve itself.  It knows that die-hard, bleeding hearts like you will stop its destruction – simply to save these innocent folks.  These hostages grew up in this web.  It is a part of them.  You can’t extract them, either.  It’s either take the whole thing down, or else, leave it up.  If you leave it up, everything will die.  If you take it down, yes – those innocent families will have to die.  But they are “sacrifices”.  This has to happen.  It’s very unfortunate, yes.  They have to die, to save everybody else.  Their lives are worth the same as everybody else’s lives.  Do the math, girl!  It’s binary.  See?  Either/or situation here.  The ultimate corner – no way out.  Either choose Option A, and minimize the loss of life, or else choose Option B, and do nothing, eventually causing the loss of ALL life.  What will it be, girl?

(The drama of this moment, this situation, is so vivid, that the answer will not be posted just yet.  It will be posted tomorrow.  In the meantime, if anybody has any ideas as to how to handle this situation, they are more than welcome to weigh in here.  To be continued ….  Think, people.  Think.)

Attitude is everything

I read something the other day which I found very disturbing – a “TED Talk” about how to have the wrong attitude about other people.  It was a “how to” of “making people do what you want, in the civic arena”.

One of the most pervasive problems that we have, collectively, is this sort of attitude towards other people.  “Making them do what you want” shows that you have made yourself too “large” and by the same token, have minimized the free will of other actors.

The terminology smacks of manipulation of others.  This is precisely the wrong attitude to have, in any arena.  I’ll try to describe the main reasons why this is so.

In any situation there are multiple actors at play.  Each brings to bear their own experience, their personal knowledge, their style, their “take” on what’s best to do.  Collaboration always yields the best, most lasting results, because when a solution is the product of collaboration, nobody involved will be tempted to undo it.  If everybody had a say in coming up with the solution to a problem they mutually face, then they would be much more likely to feel satisfied with the outcome.  So the first point to make about the wrongness of this attitude of “making” others “do what you want”, is that in holding this attitude, you are automatically minimizing what others want, while aggrandizing or enlarging what you want at their expense.

The second point to make is that viewing yourself as the player, in a complex scenario, who has the most to contribute is a form of psychosis.  Think of a 3 year old in a “play” situation with other 3 year olds.  You will see them playing side by side, or alongside one another, without directly interacting very much.  This is a relatively young stage of human development.  Each 3 year old is completely absorbed in what they are doing, although they will permit others to be physically close to them.  They might casually glance over at the other children, but they will persist in their own activities.  As children develop cognitively, they become more able to include others in their play behaviours.  As they grow up, playing WITH others, as opposed to playing ALONGSIDE others, becomes the preferred norm because the other children bring more richness to the play situation.

Deciding, therefore, that you want to devote yourself to “making others do what you want” denotes that you have regressed to toddlerhood, doing what you will despite the free will of other people, and leaping straight over their potential contributions.  It’s insular in nature, which is the last thing that anybody should be doing in complex situations that affect many people.

Certainly the civic arena is an obvious sector where anything that happens can affect the lives of many citizens.  So this is the last place where anybody should be going off on their own, and coming up with methods of manipulating other people into doing what THEY have individually decided should be done.

Finally, this instruction of how to manipulate people and situations in the civic arena reminds me of the so-called “law of attraction”, which teaches us (erroneously) that we are the centre of our own universe, and that we need to order our thoughts to “make” goods and resources come our way.  The “law of attraction” is also psychotic in nature, and just like this business of “making” others do things that you “want”, it automatically, by definition, minimizes other people in your view.  Because when you “attract” something, it had to come from somewhere else.  When you gain, somebody else had to lose.  Rather than trying to use some magical formula to “make” things come your way, it’s better to focus on the mundane reality of hard work.  The problem I’ve always had with “magic” is that it seems to be simply an attempt to avoid work.  That’s unbalanced in nature, and it shows that you feel that you are so important, compared to other people, that you think it’s fine to indiscriminately “make” things happen your way, no matter who else will lose out in that scenario.  The “law of attraction” is psychotic in nature because it’s a form of “magic”, or “getting things” without working for them, and without collaborating on the mundane level with others.  All of that is hugely problematic, and it’s the source of a lot of problems in our world.

When you collaborate, you can offer a solution to others, to broaden their options and increase their potential choices.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  By offering a contribution without trying to “make” anything happen via manipulation, you are honouring their free will and their right to choose, making your contribution but then standing back to allow others to do the same.  This shows that you value other people equally, as yourself.  Collaboration demonstrates that you consider yourself on the same playing field as the other people in a complex scenario – no longer operating at a toddler’s level, but being a real grown-up.

I am alarmed that this “TED Talk” is being put out there as a viable attitude to bring to the civic arena, and hopefully people will recognize sheer manipulation as the primitive, anti-community, anti-progressive action that it really is.

Problem solving Part 2

It’s difficult to solve multi-faceted problems with multiple, complex causes – but it’s not impossible.  If many people work together, each taking one small aspect of the overall problem, co-ordinating their efforts with good communication and avoiding in-fighting and one-upmanship, then solutions can happen.

Sometimes it’s helpful to visualize the location or “locus” of the complexity involved.  In the last blog I used two examples:  1) algae blooms, and 2) unpunished domestic violence.  Algae blooms have remarkably complex causes from multiple sources, and each of these causes has multiple sources of blame or fault.  The key in solving such an issue would be to divide the problem into its numerous parts, and concentrate on tackling your own small part of it, in co-ordination with others.  It’s also important not to become overwhelmed by the scope of the overall problem, but that’s easier said than done.  Focus is key.

Unlike algae blooms, however, the analysis of domestic violence going unpunished is slightly different.  The locus of complexity is in a different place and this changes the visualization of the problem.  When a woman is abused, hurt, killed, or imprisoned in her own home, the immediate cause is obvious.  Somebody is doing this to her.  That somebody is easily identifiable – likely her spouse, father, or brother.  So the immediate cause is not complex at all.  The immediate cause is apparent.  But if you back up one step and examine why this is allowed to happen, without charges or prosecution or censure of any kind, this is where the complexity occurs.  The cause of the impunity is multi-factorial, i.e. social, cultural, religious, political.  The various causes of the lack of legal consequences for abusing one’s wife, daughter, or sister, are many and would vary depending on the country or region.  But there’s no mistake about who is doing the abuse.  That’s easy.

If you were to make a diagram about how or why a problem is happening, at some point in the causation analysis you would be looking at a vast network of players in various capacities.  That is true for both examples (algae blooms, and violence against women).  But the place where the complexity happens differs substantially between these two examples.  This is why I hold that violence against women should be easier to solve.

It’s interesting how much more attention climate change gets, than violence against women.  Not only does gender violence lack the same amount of attention as climate change, not as much of a cause celebre, arguably being swept under the rug and largely ignored – but it is very common for anybody who tries to fight gender violence to be victimized themselves.  Human rights defenders are targeted routinely, again with impunity.  Here, our two examples do have similarities in that environmental activists are also targeted for violence.  But in this case, again, the locus of complexity is not within the immediate causation.  When an activist is hurt or killed or threatened, the immediate cause is another person doing this to them.  With vigorous rule of law, and enforcement, this problem could be solved.  There’s no complexity there.

In Canada, you don’t just get away with killing your wife.  We have criminal laws here and these are enforced.  In other countries, the cause of each such event is evident – i.e. whoever did the violent act, is the cause.  But again, when you back up a step (i.e. why does this genderized violence happen there so often?) you will encounter complexity and multiple factors, perhaps with multiple players.  Religious leaders condone it; politicians refuse to implement policies against it; societies ignore it. But all of that could be solved in one fell swoop, with a pledge to implement the rule of law, and enforce it.  Violence is a criminal act and this is a universally held value.  It just needs to be reflected in the law.

You can also duplicate this analysis in terms of human rights.  It is arguably everybody’s right to enjoy clean air and water – but when pollution happens, exactly who is responsible for denying you this right?  Who should specifically be held accountable?  Who should we punish?  The obligation to prove guilt makes the enforcement difficult.  But when a violent act occurs, with somebody abusing or hurting another, we know who is responsible – the individual(s) who did the act.  It’s more of a simple analysis so, by the same token, the solutions can also be fairly simple by comparison.

The point here is that violence is a relatively simple problem to solve, unlike climate change which has complex, multifactorial causation.  The way to solve violence is to stop condoning it, stop ignoring it, and develop vigorous rule of law all over the world with tools for enforcement.  And if individual countries won’t do this for their own citizens, then perhaps the international community should step in.

Influence: the gray

Today we’re going to think about how people affect one another’s actions, i.e. how one person “makes” another person do or think something.  It’s important to cover this topic, since that’s why I’m trying to do with this blog: change how you think.  My attempt to influence you must be out in the open or else I’m doing something unethical.

As with any topic in ethics, first we should define our terms so that we know where we are going.  The obvious divisions are between the unethical (secret or unknown influence done to manipulate people), and the ethical (openly influential, without trying to make anything in particular happen).  Personally I am trying to be very clear that I am of the latter category, i.e. openly providing information, facts, and cognitive tools, to help people to think more clearly.  Not doing anything secret.  Nothing up my sleeve here.

Examples of highly unethical influence would be:  employing psychological tricks, to prevent people from realizing that they’ve been fooled; hiding facts and information from people, to influence their opinions; secretly using a person’s weaknesses, to manipulate their thoughts or actions; or trying to do a “magic spell” which is meant to strip people of their free will.  Sure, some of these examples are outright crazy but still, people do them and so we have to look at that.  Nobody would seriously argue (I hope) that any of these examples of unethical influence are OK to do.  All of these examples involve forcing, or attempting to force, people to do something in particular to benefit the manipulator, and all of these examples interfere with the free will or the freedom of choice of people.

Basically, anything that removes a person’s choice from them is, by definition, unethical.  Removing choice can be done by withholding facts or information, so that the person does not even realize that they have a choice to make, or by misleading them with false facts or information such that their choice is not fully informed.  The most insidious way of removing choice is to directly affect the mind, putting people to sleep or manipulating their environment so that they can’t tell what is really going on.

And now we come to the vast gray area of influence, i.e. not obviously ethical or unethical.  Gray areas are always challenging to analyze, but at least we can define our parameters and formulate a few questions for examination.  To analyze free choice, free will, manipulation, and information, we can look at a few categories within this huge gray area.

Advertising can be ethical, or unethical – but at least it’s out in the open.  When you see an ad, you are being told “We are trying to influence you”.  Nothing wrong with that.  It has been identified, so that you know that someone is interested in making you do something.  As long as you keep an open mind and understand where they’re coming from, no harm done.  But what about misleading or false advertising?  This crosses the line into unethical territory as we all know.  This is why we have laws against that.  Advertising is therefore a pretty straightforward analysis.  So let’s move into a less straightforward subject:  leadership.

There are all kinds of leadership – some ethical, some unethical, and some lying somewhere in between.  Leadership is arguably dangerous. The danger is that somebody positions themselves as a leader and then, they do whatever benefits them at the expense of their followers.  Some may argue that if people blindly follow a leader without thinking things through, then they have gotten what they deserve – but it’s not always that simple.  Unethical leaders use psychological tools to fool people into believing that they have the goods.  They use TRUST against people – they hold themselves out as someone to be trusted, when they don’t deserve it.  Once a person has been fooled into trusting the wrong “leader”, they no longer have the ability to exercise their own free will – and they will just do whatever they are told.  We can try to shake them out of it, wake them up, force them to see what’s happened to them.  But as we all know, sometimes it’s dangerous to wake up a sleepwalker.  You might get trolled – or worse!  You might find yourself the target of blind hatred.  But still, to me, it’s worth a try to wake people up.

Then we have ethical leaders who are trying to get something done.  Many things can’t get done without the help of others, so you have to get them onside and willing to do the work.  This type of leader does deserve trust.  Often, somebody does have to lead, because many people prefer to be followers and want someone to guide them.  There are quite a few ways to tell when somebody is a good, trustworthy leader and I’ve written about that many times.  A good leader doesn’t seek out the spotlight – they step into it reluctantly, only as necessary.  A good leader directs “from behind”, meaning that they retreat whenever possible and allow others to step up – because a good leaders knows that the more that people help them to lead, the better.  A good leader does a lot of listening, not so much talking.  And they don’t hesitate to show where they have flaws – they want people to see them as flawed, so that they aren’t pretending to be perfect.  A good leader admits when they have been wrong, and tries to help others to become leaders too, recognizing that they can’t do it alone.  And a good leader knows when to step down and allow somebody else to take the reins.

But where things get tricky is when somebody becomes a “cult hero” or some sort of cultural leader, without any real leadership skills or knowledge.  Celebrities are such people.  To me, the best and most valuable thing that a celebrity can do for us, is to do something to fall from grace – showing their humanity, their limitations.  That way people won’t be adopting their opinions blindly without thinking, which would be dangerous if they lack skills or knowledge to actually be teaching anything.  Another tricky example is the “beloved professor” or highly regarded teacher whom students line up to hear, and fight to get into one of their classes.  Such a teacher needs to guard against becoming a prophet – because nobody knows everything.  And students should take even what such a popular teacher has to say with a healthy grain of salt, or a dose of skepticism – and don’t be afraid to challenge them.  A good teacher always welcomes a challenge and doesn’t shy away from it.

The other type of “gray area” influence is what some people call “opinion making”.  This is where a writer tells people what opinions to have, and people are influenced by that into adopting their opinions.  This is very dangerous.  On the ethical side, an trustworthy opinion maker is just showing people how to have opinions.  For those who don’t feel competent enough to have opinions, this exercise can be valuable.  It can enhance free will.  Because how can you exercise your power of choice without having an opinion as to what the correct choice would be?  You need to be able to make decisions for yourself.  But on the unethical side of opinion making, are people who position themselves as faultless and wise, and who try to hand people all of their opinions and choices.  “I do this” can translate into millions of people doing the same, for no particular reason.  I can think of one popular celebrity who does this:  “Everybody, buy this book.”  And they do.  Whether or not it’s a good book, it becomes a best seller solely based on her opinion.  She must have picked some good books in the past for people to trust her opinion so much.  But can she be bought?  Can she herself be influenced into listing somebody’s book?  I can think of at least one questionable author who has gotten onto her list, whose book is barely understandable and makes the reader simply go around in circles.  So this celebrity who has the “book list” stands firmly in the middle of ethical and unethical – it’s hard to know.  Maybe she’s done that on purpose, just to keep us on our toes.  She wields enormous influence in many areas.  What’s the solution?  I think that everybody should take a step back and get a second opinion, before spending their money based simply on what one woman says they should do.  But that’s just my opinion.

Notice that I don’t really propose any concrete solutions or guidelines here.  At best, you must be slightly confused by this point.  But I’m not trying to throw shade or confuse people, I’m just trying to alert you to the fact that your free will could be hijacked at any time.  Your power of choice could be taken away from you, without you even knowing it.  You could be openly consenting to handing somebody else your power of opinion, out of sheer laziness or even a lack of time.  But at least you should know exactly what it is that you are doing.

I don’t have any answers, as usual – just a whole lot of questions.  If everybody on earth had the ability to think clearly, I’m quite sure that the world would be a much better place.  So I’m just doing my part here.  The solution to most problems begins with one word:  THINK.  Beyond that, I really have no idea.

In conclusion, what makes the manipulation of others so unethical is that it is a form of disrespect.  On the one hand to act out in the open, making it obvious what you do, means that you do respect the free will of other people and that you intend for them to make an informed choice.  But to manipulate them in secrecy, means that you are putting your own interests ahead of the inherent right of everybody to make choices with complete information.  This type of action is disrespectful of the rights others and therefore, it is unethical by definition.

The error of unjustified extension

Is it hypocritical to value the beauty in spiritual words of comfort, while calling out a religious organization for falsifing history?  Only if you blindly follow the edicts of brain-mashing “leaders” who instruct you on how to draw conclusions from limited evidence.

Being impressed with the personality and sayings of a historical figure who was “sainted”, while also noticing that there is an overall pattern to sainthood which could spell socio-economic manipulation of the masses, is not mutually exclusive at all.  These two things can and do easily co-exist.  Maybe an individual was very special and deserves historical recognition, however the belief system itself which promotes this person might be flawed.  Those are two very different things.  And they can, and do, co-exist.

The common cognitive habit of confusing and conflating (i.e. jamming together) things which don’t belong, simply because they share a larger category , has become so widespread that people do it without even realizing it anymore.  Remember that there has never been, nor could there ever be, any human being who is faultless and without error.  However many people, perhaps out of mental laziness or stunting, have assigned all of their opinions over to somebody else and adopt them blindly.

It’s an error of thought which happens again and again – merely sharing a large category is said to mean that some conclusion about one aspect, is automatically moved over to all aspects within that larger category.  This error is very subtle and hard to explain.  Let’s say that we have a large circle of topics, all encompassed within the overall subject of farming.  There are many different aspects of farming, each of which are sub-topics or smaller circles within the larger circle of farming.

Now let’s say that it is discovered that one of these farming sub-topics, or smaller circles, has been operating under a huge mistake such that, for example, those farmers have been doing something all wrong – for example, damaging their lands without meaning to.  These are only examples to try and illustrate this point.  So, let’s say it is proven that a group of farmers has been doing something wrong.  Does this then mean that all of farming is a mistake?  Of course not.  But this error is precisely what goes on in many arenas – politics, religion, gender, society.

A real life example would be as follows:  A politician appears to have made a mistake.  Therefore, they are “doing a bad job”.  Note that this opinion of them “doing a bad job” would apply to everything that they’re doing.  This extension of one or two facts, applied to the overall performance of a person, is done every day.  Media headlines often put forward this cognitive error, again and again, showing people how to do it.  “He said this – therefore, he has been really screwing up.”  They take one single concrete example of something, and then follow it with a wide sweeping statement which encompasses everything else that they do.  Another example:  “We uncovered what appears to be an example of dishonesty in this person.  Therefore, they are a complete liar and you can never believe a word they say.”  You get one UNPROVEN fact, and this is followed immediately by a grand overall statement.  The small circle (what could have been an example of dishonesty here) paints a bigger circle (what is this person’s overall character) in a big way.  This is factually wrong.  And it’s being done everywhere you look.

There are examples all over the place of this basic error in thinking. A very common current example is to decry that all religion is “invalid”, and that religious people must therefore be stupid, because there have been examples of religious clerics behaving badly.  These facts do not lead to the conclusion of overal invalidity of an entire belief system, but many people are doing this anyway.  Another example:  some food animals are treated with cruelty; therefore, to consume any meat product at all means that you support cruelty.  The conclusion does not flow from the facts, but there are entire organizations based on this very error in thought.  In fact, examples of this error (making a generalized conclusion out of limited, often unproven, facts) are all around us.  This cognitive error stunts a person’s ability to be discerning in their thoughts … and it systematically trashes logic.

Another common error is to invade privacy, pull out an example of a person’s private conduct, and then extend this to the person’s entire persona.  Nobody should do this unless they have first thoroughly examined their own private conduct (example: a frank emotional conversation with a close family member) and then ask themselves if they think that this example should apply to who they are.  Of course it does not – but all the same, people are very quick to engage in such judgments of other people simply because they are shown every day, via various apparently trusted sources, how to do this.

I used the example above of seeming “hypocrisy” when it comes to spiritual matters, because spirituality is a highly personal thing.  People are free to adopt whatever aspect of any religion they choose, according to their own comfort, while at the same time being free to criticize and question any story or teaching with which they disagree.  None of this means that they are being hypocritical, or contradictory.  All of these things can logically co-exist.  People are free to have “contradictory” opinions about all sorts of things and it means nothing about them.  But the habit of others to judge them based on pulling out a few examples, means a lot – those people drawing conclusions simply do not know how to think properly.  And this is quite alarming.

As usual, the only remaining mystery would be why this sort of error keeps occurring everywhere in news, and socia lmedia.  Why are people continuously taught to erroneously draw a grand, sweeping conclusions about somebody based on 1 or 2 isolated events?  For what purpose would this be done?  It’s a bad mental habit that can do serious damage where none is justified or necessary.  Perhaps this type of error is a form of character assassination and if so, one should ask why it is being done.

Addendum:  a further example of flawed, incorrect thinking would be reading the above and saying, “I guess this person thinks that it’s OK to be contradictory, and that we should ignore what people do when we are assessing them.” That would be a mis-reading of my points.  One should always try to be consistent, however there are at least 2 scenarios where this isn’t true.  1) When you are dealing with 2 different things, it’s fine to have 2 different opinions; and, 2) When you learn new facts that lead you to change your mind, that’s OK too.  As to ignoring what people do, this is not the point either.  The point is that you should not generalize to a person’s entire character, as a result of a mere 1 or 2 unproven facts.  It’s also incorrect to judge a person from their private behaviour – we should not confuse the private and public realms.  Basically, to over-generalize what I’ve written about here, is to illustrate my point exactly.