On staying in your lane

I was listening to Pandora this morning and Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth (The there’s something happenin’ here song) came on. This got me thinking about the protests that I saw this morning (10/19/19) in London, the People’s Vote March. I think it’s fair to say that musicians – and artists in general – represent the emotional conscience of the community they’ve come out of. I think it’s also fair to include a lot of professional athletes and some of in their management structure, some NBA coaches more than anyone else there

Since, I grew up in the 80’s in a very white and conservative part of the country, I don’t think I really understood the general bias, in my community, against using music and award ceremony speeches as a valid platform of protest. I’m sad to say this generally stuck with me throughout my life. I don’t think I’m the only one that grew up in a community like mine who has this bias.

I think this “stay in your lane” approach to the arts in general and some professional athletes (I say some because white male athletes have more often been celebrated for speaking up than people of color or white women). Now, I know this isn’t anything ground breaking. If you look on #BlackTwitter and follow POC in general, you’ll see that this community has been well aware of this phenomenon. In fact, I would say I’m agreeing with their sentiment here. I believe this was a deliberate action to discredit these protests and minimize what these artists and athletes are saying. I think with the advent of television, specifically ramping up after the Vietnam war.

In one of the #1619Project’s stories there were clear cases where white slave owners intentionally prevented slaves from creating music and art. Because, those white slave owners knew the power of the arts. They knew that it’s easier to share information in song and get people’s emotionally invested by using music. This is why political campaigns do it now and why in movies music plays such an integral role in driving emotional response to scenes.

I think I first came aware of this during the Dixie Chick’s protest of George W. Bush’s wars. At the time, I was pretty firmly in the camp of staying in your lane, but I struggled with how to respond, because I agreed with them. I wasn’t a fan of their music and I knew it put them at huge professional risk. Especially, given that most of their audience supported the wars (country music y’all).

So this puts me in mind, how do we support these protesters. One, is obvious, add your voice to theirs. Tweet their message. Support politicians that support protesters. Go out and join a demonstration (this last one is the one I struggle with the most and it bothers me).

Second, is to protest organizations that support something you believe should be stopped. This can occur in a few different ways. First is to boycott that organization. So, I’m going to stop playing Blizzard games until they reverse their ban on the Hearthstones players that have protested for Hong Kong. In fact, I literally just uninstalled all the games. Furthermore, I won’t buy another game from the company until they change their protest policies.

Third, you can directly support artists/athletes/esports pros protesting something you believe should be protested. That can be in the form of buying whatever it is they create. You could donate to charities they support and/or are on boards of. You can also directly support them, if they have some sort of fundraising action going on. Although, if you’re going to be doing the last one, it may make more sense to provide that money directly to the people with less of a platform.

Another change, which I think is harder, is to help people understand why it’s important we allow our artists/athletes/esports pros to speak out. They have a platform that can amplify a cause. Some day that cause could be yours. If you hadn’t supported and, in fact, encouraged these people to speak out, then they might not be able to speak out for your cause.

As I said earlier, I’m not saying anything new that other people haven’t said before and probably said more eloquently. I’m simply adding my voice to that and working to unwind the stigma of speaking out against injustice no matter who you are. We need more protests songs, we need more protest art, we need more athletes to speak out against the horrors being committed all around us. Support them.

Ethics in Technology Matters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Right, We Instill Our Biases in Technology

Some people are unhappy about what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is saying here. People not like to imagine that software cannot have politics, intentionally or otherwise.

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Whenever I was earning my master’s degree, I took a number of courses on the ethics of technology and the history of technology in general.In one of my classes we learned that bridges, yes bridges can have politics. There was an architect, Robert Moses, that was hired by New York City to design and build bridges. Given that NYC is an island and there’s a lot of water there, building bridges is a pretty big deal. Robert Moses was a racist. He also hated poor people. So, if you’re hired to build a bridge from one part of the city to another part with beautiful parks and outdoor spaces that you wanted to have whites and rich people use but not poor people, how would you do that?

If you build a bridge that uses traditional arches underneath with no top support, any vehicle can cross. However, if you build a bridge that has a maximum height allowed, then you can limit that types of vehicles that can cross the bridge. If you built the bridge low enough, then you can prevent buses from crossing the bridge. Buses that would be carrying poor people of color.

It’s just a bridge, how can it be racist? A bridge is just a thing. Something built by people. However, those people have biases and intentions. These are built into that technology. While A bridge may not be racist, this one IS because of the racism used to build the bridge.

If a bridge can have biases intentionally built into it, there is no doubt that software will have biases built into them. We’ve seen time an again that beauty algorithms where the AI didn’t like dark skinned women. In those cases the people building the training set of images had biases. The engineers didn’t like dark skinned women and didn’t include a significant amount of them in the training set.

Soap dispensers aren’t able to detect dark skinned hands, because the engineers working on them didn’t think of test the sensor on someone with dark skin.

 

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These aren’t intentional biases. It’d be difficult to imagine a group of engineers all sitting around the room saying, “wouldn’t it be me great if we prevent dark skinned people from properly washing their hands? MWahahahahah.” No that’s not what happened. What happened is that the QA team was made of people that look more like me. The dispenser worked perfectly for them, QA passed! This isn’t an intentional bias, but it’s a bias none the less. It’s called the availability bias. If the only people that are available look a certain way, you don’t think about people that aren’t immediately available.

Everyone does it. More people are aware of the fact that there are people different from them. For white people this is critical. It’s similar to when a white person writes an article about how racism has significantly declined in a major news paper.

It is time that organization recognize this and create teams to ensure that ethics and biases are considered when developing and selling novel technologies – or in the cases of bridges old technologies repurposed for modern uses.

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – A guide for finding the right values to give a fuck about the right things

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually first heard of this book while I was reading an article about Millennial Burnout. The author of that article knocked this book, which now I realize that author clearly hadn’t read this book! I think this book is completely misnamed, because this book isn’t about ‘Not Giving a Fuck’ it’s really about ‘Giving a fuck about the right things.’ I think this is an important distinction and one that, if you judge the book by its cover, you’ll definitely miss.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on depression. I’ve read 1 book written by a layman that covers a great deal of different research on depression, Lost Connections. I’ve read another book that deals with Trauma and how that can cause depression, The Body Keeps the Score. Finally, I’ve read a book on the science of love and how unhealthy relationships while growing up and as adults can cause depression, General Theory of Love. I believe that I can add this as a fourth book to this list. In Lost Connections the author argues that a major cause of depression in our lives is a misalignment with our core values and the values of society. I believe that this book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, is an entire book about that.

The author’s premise is that we are valuing, and thus giving a fuck about, the wrong things. That could be chasing material items, women (the author himself is a self confessed womanizer), a bigger paycheck, a new job that will solve all their problems, and other things. We are chasing these things, because this is what we’ve been taught to value through our friends and families.

However, these things do not make you happy. Solving the right types of problems can make you happy. Those problems that you solve are what you value. Seeking them out can help make you happy. The pain and struggle of solving those problems lead to happiness.

This rings true to me. I’m struggling with work and finding balance and happiness with my life. I’ve had great success in my work and have made significantly more money since entering the job market. However, I am not less depressed. If anything my depression deepened. As a result, I feel like I’m flailing.

This book helped me put into context a lot of different ideas that I had read in the other three books. In a way it synthesized those ideas into something that was more actionable. In some ways, the action is to do something, anything. But start by putting one step forward. Try something small and take responsibility of that.

Responsibility is a key theme in this book. You take responsibility to how you respond to anything that happens to you. This isn’t to say it’s your fault this thing happened. For example, if you get sick, that is not your fault. How you deal with being sick is your responsibility. If someone treats you like shit at work, that’s not your fault, but how you respond to them is your responsibility. If you set boundaries and make it clear that behavior is unacceptable and act professional, you can start to change that relationship. If you retaliate and escalate things, you are responsible for that. Even if the person, really pissed you off.

I think this book is also important given the conversation around Toxic Masculinity. Toxic Masculinity is all about entitlement. This book argues that entitlement is one of the major reasons why people are unhappy. It leads to shitty values that make you a shitty person. If you are pissed off that people don’t like toxic masculinity, it’s because you’re concerned some of your behavior may be construed as toxic. You’re responsible for that response. You’re responsible for inspecting your values and your behavior to understand if you are a toxic person. If you find yourself wanting, then it is your responsibility to change and improve yourself. You can. This book helps provide a roadmap for it.

This book isn’t perfect, of course. The author definitely leans into the title during the beginning of the book, which can get old. There are other places where the author does this as well, because it seems to fit. However, if you are able to get past that bit of childish fun to get into the meat of the book, it’s well worth it.

I would strongly suggest that if you find this book interesting to read the other books about depression I suggested above. These together can help you work through your depression, if you are also depressed.

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Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #1) by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #1)The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a really interesting case study in leading the reader astray. The author does a phenomenal job of misdirection ensuring the audience bought into the main storyline in the second half of the book. After the twist happen, I certainly thought back on the book and realized I missed a number of clues leading up to the twist.

That aside, I loved this book. If there’s a book that you want to use to educate someone on the negative impacts of colonization, I think this is an excellent start. On the one hand it’ll challenge those people because of the complexity of the cultures that are being conquered and on the other hand because it talks openly of the tools colonizers use to dominate other cultures. In most fantasy series the only tool of colonization is military might. There’s some nuance in Malazan Book of the fallen in some cases, mostly Lether, but generally it’s military might.

In this book, that’s turned on it’s head and the characters openly discuss the best colonization tools for the culture they are working to conquer. As an American who has recently been to Hawai’i, where I learned a great deal about the history and conquest of those islands, it was painfully obvious these books are based on conquest like the US conquest and colonization of Hawai’i.

I recommend this book for anyone that wants a unique way to talk about colonization with a fantastic set of characters. Including POC, LGBTQ, and nontraditional relationships.

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Review of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was completely unaware that this was the 6th book of a series. I don’t think that really hurt my understanding of the expertly crafted world. This book explores, race, the sexes, sexuality, and the meaning of being human. Int his universe there are a number of worlds where humans live, at least 84, there could be more, but we only know of 83, plus the planet of Winter, where the story takes place.

The world is interesting for two main reasons. First, it takes place on a planet that has been in an iceage for millennia. Second, humans don’t have the two obvious genders, male and female. The humans on this planet are able to, and do, switch between the two during their “kemmering” whichis the ONLY time there are any sexes on the planet. In fact, the rest of the time they are essentially eunuchs. Technically having both male and female sex organs at this point. The book is interesting, because it’s a study of what life could be like without the duality of male/female. These discussions are important in this day and age, given importance of Trans rights in the political discourse and the general transphobia in parts of the polity (I literally looked at my twitter feed and the ACLU had just posted an article about a trans girl in Texas).

The book is, generally, written from the perspective of an Earth human, a young black man named Genly Ai. Which allows us to feel very connected to this book. The character struggles with handling the lack of duality and continually assigns maleness or femaleness to characters. He often gets them very wrong, especially in the case of his “Landlady.” Who looks more feminine to Genly Ai than many of the other humans on this planet. However, whenever he asked, he learned that the Landlady had never had any children of the flesh but had many children overall (essentially meaning the Landlady had never gotten pregnant but had gotten a number of other people pregnant).

Aside from the obvious relevance of the topic related to Trans rights, the book looks at how politics can change when a leader changes. How a peaceful country that has never known war, can create an otherness out of their neighbor and begin down the path of war. You can see through the action of people the impact of rhetoric of their leaders. This was written at the beginning of the Nixon administration and the end of the Johnson administration. But I think it still rings true given the Trump administration today. Our sense of otherness has moved from outside of our boarders to within our boarders in a terrifying way.

I really enjoyed this book. It was very thought provoking and definitely something worth checking out.

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What Books Have Meant to Me

I have been a voracious reader most of my life. However, it didn’t come easy to me at first. In First Grade, where we really started to learn to read, I struggled a great deal. I always feared reading out loud because I would jumble words. They would swim in my vision and make it really difficult to read. I still switch words and I feel like when I’m reading out loud, I’m staring at the whole page rather than a specific line. It’s very difficult. However, I liked the stories that I was plunged into and it definitely made things feel worth it. In 3rd grade I really started to read ahead, but started to get major headaches while reading, so I had to get glasses just for reading. It eventually turned into requiring glasses all the time.

In 5th grade I really jumped into the world of Fantasy. When i’d get in trouble with the parents, we’d get sent to corners and one of the corners was next to my parent’s “nice” book shelf. In there was a really old version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was super interested by the book spines, as there was this crazy eye in the center of a ring. I decided to read this book when I got an assignment for doing a diorama about a specific book. Most of my classmates selected much shorter books, but I was super proud of selecting that book.

A few years later, my friends and I had a falling out. I ended up falling back into that series again. I read everything i could get my hands on. I was so depressed, but didn’t really understand what depression was. I was alone, but couldn’t really articulate to my parents and nor could my parents help me with my depression and loneliness because they didn’t have the emotional tools to help me with my depression. My dad specifically, because he was struggling with his own depression so he just wasn’t there.

As a result, I end up spending a great deal of time with Middle Earth. Since this was around when Metallica Load came out, I deeply associated that album with the Lord of the Rings. To the point where I was really disappointed with the video of “Hero of the Day” because I kept associating the narrator of that song with Frodo. It’s not the worst video, but it definitely didn’t fit with what I was expecting given how many times I heard that album while reading those books.

Over the years I’ve escaped into books to deal with the depression rooted in my parents fighting. Dealing with my girlfriend in HS. The divorce of my parents. Books were always my escape from these difficult times. Lately, I’ve been depressed to the point where it was a struggle to read.

I plan to start a small series on here for when the fancy strikes to write about a book that meant something to me and why it meant something to me. Something in more detail than what I wrote, here, about Lord of the Rings. This idea came from the Movies with Mikey episode about what Animation Taught Us. For me though, since I was limited in what I could watch on TV, including Movies, I think that Books are more appropriate. I’m not sure exactly how this will play out, so we’ll see.

Talking about Depression: You aren’t “Broken”

I’ve wanted to write this one for a while now. It’s a common theme in books, songs, and movies that if you have depression or PTSD that you’re a broken person. A shell of who you used to be. Yes, you’re different than you were before the trauma or the start of your depression. You aren’t broken though. I think about this every time I hear lovelytheband’s song broken. Which talks about how a couple gets together because they were both depressed in a similar way. This is the basis of starting a relationship together.

I find this problematic, because it implies that a very natural reaction to stressful situations leads us to be broken that everything is our fault and that there’s no systemic problem at play here. For example, calling a solider with PTSD, broken may make it harder for them to get help because it puts the burden on them. The fact that they have PTSD is solely their fault when it certainly wasn’t their fault. There were a whole slew of reasons that lead them to enlisting in the first place. They were not the person making the decision to go to war. They weren’t the one making the decision to lead them into the battle that caused them to experience the traumatic event. Even if they were in charge, it’s impossible to know a priori what sort of event would trigger PTSD for a given person or themselves.

When it comes to more general depression due to the general factors controlling your life, think of that friend you know that never seems to have luck and ends up working at some shitty gas station. The one that was super smart that everyone thought would do really well for themselves. But then one thing went sideways, maybe they got sick, then their future collapsed into a single point where there’s no way out. Their going to be depressed. They aren’t broken, even though they have been beat up. They are reacting in an emotional way and a natural way. That person isn’t in that position because they wanted to be there. Their life isn’t what they wanted it to be. That doesn’t mean they are a broken failure of a person. Lucky always plays a role in anything that happens in our lives. For some people, it’s a case of bad luck that leads you to where you are. Other people they get a lucky break a different way and end up with a very different life.

I bring up the job example, because I watched a really interested video on YouTube, by a channel I enjoy watching, WiseCrack. They looked at the psychology and physiology of being depressed and what can cause a person to feel depressed. They typically explore themes in pop culture using philosophy and they’ve explored the Philosophy of One Punchman before. This time they use the same character to investigate depression related to not being properly challenged in your life. In this context “properly” can mean the amount of stress you’ve experienced across your life, it could be too much or too little. Each resulting in differing negative consequence when you’re stressed in the future. The other context for properly challenged means that even if you had been stressed in a healthy manner growing up, that in your current job you could be insufficiently challenged leaving you without a meaningful life.

Neither case means that you’re broken. You are reacting to what your body has been trained to respond to its entire life. Which isn’t being broken. Society is broken though. There are so many things that don’t align with our intrinsic values or needs, that we can’t help but look broken if we’re doing something that runs counter to that societal norm.

Anyway, I plan to revisit this topic again in the future. In the interim, check out some of the science of depression due to missing meaning in life.