I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday, called Invisibilia, and the show focused on a unique attempt to counter Islamic Extremism, which was to run an American Idol type reality show in Somalia. If you don’t have time to read the 40 minute podcast, you can read about it here. If you don’t have time for either, the gist of this was that there was a plan supported by the U.N fight extremism by impacting the emotional landscape of the country. The government at the time was unstable but had recently replaced the far more extreme Al-Shabab government that had previously held Mogadishu. So things were better, but delicate. Previously Al Shabab had forbit music, even at weddings, and went so far as to kill many important Somalian musicians and poets.
Hearing this story brought a number of thoughts to my head. One was how pop culture might be used to transform a culture in a positive way. In my last post I talked about the harms of excessive moral outrage exacerbated by social media, which polarizes and brings more instability to a culture. Here was an attempt to do the opposite. It might seem surprising but some of the advantages that American Idol has are:
democratic voting process
a panel of judges that are both men and women
one mean/tough judge, that increases the joy of the contestant when the mean judge soften to approve the contestant
It may not seem like much, but when you think about the just act of getting into the habit of voting, and getting a say in an outcome, seeing authority that is both mean and women, and a nation of people watching and sharing in the joy of a contestant who has overcome a number of hurdles. Well maybe it’s the upper the country needs to continue to stem the tide against extremism.
Of course this also made me think how easy it is to erode culture with western culture, and that’s an entire other conversation, but the good thing here is that they not only made it about music, but also included a poetry, as part of the competition, which is big in Somali culture. At the very least they were trying to adapt their idea to fit Somali values and traditions.
These are of course only seeds, and real change will happen slowly. As the article says:
Which brings us to this question: Did this reality show actually change reality in any way?
It would be impossible to make the case that Somalia is a completely different country now. It isn’t.
But there is at least one undeniable change since 2013. Music is back in the streets. Brought back, slowly and painfully, through a complicated combination of political strategy and personal courage.
Anyway, I thought this was an interesting story and wanted to share it.
As always the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain had my mind churning today (Episode 48*). This one was talking about the double bind women find themselves in when they strive for leadership positions. I am sure any woman reading this doesn’t need much explaining. The basic idea is that if you’re nice (as you are stereotypically supposed to be) you’re weak, and if you’re a competent strong leader you’re unlikable. The lack of representation of women in government and as CEO’s of fortune 500 companies is pretty good evidence of this. And I know professional women experience shades of this regardless of whether or not they are vying for top leadership positions. Just asserting yourself can have you seen as bossy, bitchy, abrasive. Attributes that rarely get prescribed to men when they are assertive. And there are other double binds beyond the scope of the podcast such as additional judgments that go along with their appearance that men often don’t have to face. The expectation to maintain the home, and take a lead role in parenting in addition to their own personal ambitions. For many women it seems like there are consequences no matter what they choose.
What my mind started to think about, in addition to the challenges women face, is why would we consider a “nice” woman a “weak” woman? In terms of leadership attributes studies are showing the importance of empathy in a leader. Another episode from the same podcast (Episode 43) reported that people who were empathetic inspired more people to follow them than those that were authoritarian.
One thing that has always bothered me about the oppression of women and I feel doesn’t get talked about as much is the devaluing of those qualities that we typically associate with women. Why is kind, nurturing, or emotional a bad thing? In a fascinating story (also in podcast form, but written about here) a new method for improving safety on oil rigs was employed where employees (all male) were trained to become more openly emotional. To be vulnerable. The results were astounding with an 84% drop in the accident rate. Many of the workers also forged more meaningful relationships with their spouses and children as a result of being more emotionally open. Today we see how many of the stereotypes that men face, as a consequence of those feminine characteristics that we devalue, are equally harmful and dehumanizing to them as well. The key difference between these gender stereotypes is that one is valued and one is not. Maleness is the standard. I wrote about this in one of my earliest blog posts concerning a biologist who talked about how the male of every species is the one usually depicted in textbooks and used as the star in major animated features. Feminism is a fight for gender equality and important one. But I worry sometimes that too often the fight is women trying to achieve that standard of maleness, as opposed to celebrating those feminine qualities and seeing them as having value, seeing those a strengths, and not weaknesses. I’ve always gotten along with women better than men, because I have always been drawn to that dialogue that is open emotionally. It has helped me grow, become wiser, become stronger, and in my opinion is a superior way to be human.
And that’s what it really boils down to: defining what qualities make for a healthy human. I don’t mean to be binary here in my discussion because there are so many qualities that are beneficial to us as human beings. Distributing those qualities among men and women and automatically assigning value to one because it belongs to a certain gender isn’t really what we should be after. To put it another way, is gender equality about having more female Donald Trumps, or is it about having more female Bernie Sanders? Maybe it’s both, but I’d certainly like a world with less Donald Trumps.
I don’t mean to criticize feminism here, because in the end I believe in the value of a woman’s right for self-determination. If she wants to be a power-hungry authoritarian leader then so be it. I simply have never found much to like in such an individual. Man or woman. My friend Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes has told me that I am a man who is in touch with my feminine side. I take that as a compliment, but I’d rather think that I have gained a better understanding of how to be human. Women, at least the ones I have known, have always represented the best in humanity to me. As a man I have often felt that I would be better off to try and reach their standard as opposed to what the patriarchy has decided as the standard.
Women have and still do bear so much in this world at the hands of men. Maybe it’s because they’ve been given the freedom to be more human that has helped them survive through so much unspeakable dehumanization by men. Those emotional, empathetic creatures who are great at listening and nurturing. Maybe true gender equality is only reached when we recognize what qualities put humanity at their best and that these qualities are ones we all should strive for. This is why feminism, to me, is not just a plight for women, but something that we all should see as important.
*Note: The Hidden Brain Podcast on Women and Leadership challenged each listener to share it with one man and one woman. I thought it was worth it for more to hear it. I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called The Hidden Brain on NPR and they were talking about the climate change situation in a great episode called Losing Alaska. Basically they were saying that scientific arguments have little merit anymore in talking about climate change. I would have to say that I agree. As someone who holds a Ph.D. in the Atmospheric Sciences I can most certainly say that few people that I have debated with on the subject truly understand the problem scientifically and I don’t claim to be the smartest person in the world, this is simply the truth. My field is applied math and physics. Not only that, the climate system is complex.it Involves interdisciplinary knowledge as well in chemistry, oceanography and geology. To change someone’s mind from a scientific point of view, it would take a lot of study and learning. Now you may be saying, wait I accept man-made climate change, and it it’s pretty obvious. Well I would argue that you don’t really understand it, but it’s easier for you to accept because it already fits in with your ideology. And I don’t say that to be demeaning, especially I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad ideology to have. Specifically the one in which we recognize that something is very complex and we don’t have years to study it on our own so maybe I should listen to what experts are saying. Much like we tend to believe our doctor when they tell us we have cancer as opposed to learning the requisite knowledge we need in order to test ourselves.
But more to the point it really does come down to our personal ideology whether we accept the science, because let’s face it the science is telling us some pretty harsh things. Not only is the Earth in a lot of trouble, but we actually might be responsible for it all. And in order to combat the problem we are causing we are going to have to give up a great deal. Transitioning away from a fuel source we heavily depend on will require large shifts in business and industry affecting the jobs of many. And of course such a transition cannot be made overnight, but even at a moderate pace will require a cultural change at a rate faster than many of us would have a hard time adjusting too. That of course does not make it any less compulsory. Interestingly this podcast made the argument that we all are capable of great sacrifices at times of war or crises, and that dealing with man-made climate change requires an approach that is used by religion rather than one that is used by science. I find myself having a hard time disagreeing. While I would love to live in a society where science had a much more powerful influence on changing minds ultimately it does seem that we need to change minds at an emotional level over an intellectual one (which is to me what the podcast suggested by saying a “religious approach”).
In that vein, I wanted to address some of the main arguments I see used by climate change deniers, which tend to be more ideologically based instead of arguments that attack the scientific data on the subject. They are more dangerous to me, because they seem reasonable. They seem irrefutable. This is not the case.
Science had been wrong before, why should we trust scientists?
This is quite true. Scientists have been wrong before. In fact progress is actually built on that very premise. But notice the word “progress”. It always strikes me as strange that people overlook this aspect of science. Much like we learn from our own mistakes and grow and get better as people, this is how science works as well. So we do get things wrong, but we also get a lot of things right. Your daily lives in this modern world are a living result of that. From the car you drive to the device in which you are punching out your arguments. Now you could be right that someday we will discover that we were all wrong about this, but if we do, it will not because we were willfully trying to mislead people, but rather a new discovery has allowed us to view the world in a different way thus disproving our theory. So unless you’ve got that said discovery I can guarantee you that our assessment about the state of the climate system is based on the best available knowledge we have about how it works. And personally I see no shame in acting in the best interest of all on this planet based on what we know of it.
Finally, just because you don’t trust science or want to focus on the things it got wrong makes it your problem, and not science’s problem. To refute climate change science on those grounds is to commit the genetic fallacy. Directly address the assertions being made by those advocating the position in terms of their conclusions analysis of their data. That is really your only option. To explain it more simply “Al Gore is a democrat, and I hate democrats. Al Gore gives evidence for why man-made climate change is happening, but since he is a democrat, he must be wrong.” That’s not how it works. Sorry.
Scientists are just doing it for the money. IPCC is corrupt. Liberal media…
This argument is the same as the genetic fallacy because it is again an attempt to discredit to the reliability of the source to simply argue away what the source has to say. I’ll admit that in such instances I will use the same fallacious argument back, because, quite honestly two can play that game, and I can play it better. Let’s say all of us scientists are ego driven money-grubbing bastards. My options are renewable energy companies and liberal governments, or oil companies. Hmmm…I wonder who has more money. Not only that with all the other scientists clearly in the wrong camp, all that sweet oil money could be mine (as it was for Wei-Hock Soon) as there are even less people to share it with.
In terms of fame, the fallacious argument made by deniers fall even shorter. If I had definitive proof that all the other scientists were wrong. I would be the one who was famous. I’d be on all the news programs, giving talks around the world on a sweet oil company payroll, and even the liberal media would have me on their shows even to abuse me while I valiantly stuck to my guns with the full conviction that I was doing my science right. I would be the hero of deniers everywhere.
Sometimes even fallacious arguments are hardly worth the effort.
The climate has changed before when humans weren’t around. It’s natural.
This is the first part of an argument constantly used. It’s also known in logic as a type of naturalistic fallacy. Just because something can happen naturally, doesn’t mean it can’t happen unnaturally. Do floods happen naturally? Sure. Can floods also happen because of human activities? Absolutely. Natural selection happens in evolution. But you know what also happens? “Unnatural selection”. The fruits and vegetables we eat, the dogs and cats we have as pets, and the horses we ride are all examples of this. The same thing can happen with or without intention.
We cannot have an impact on something as big as the Earth.
This argument is made without any substantiation at all. It is often also used by people who are trying not to be religious but would rather take the James Inhofe argument that God controls the climate! Of course examples of how we have changed climate locally can be found all over through the building of structures like dams on rivers, cutting down forests and poor farming practices. In terms of the climate change issue specifically this person does a pretty nice break down of looking at how the amount of carbon we produce can quite easily explain the increase in carbon since pre-industrial levels. There is no reason to believe that we couldn’t have such a global impact. In fact that argument always seems to me a way of insulting or discrediting scientists again because it’s a pretty important question to answer before we would even start putting out evidence about climate change. I mean if the amount of carbon we produce paled in comparison to the amount of increase we’ve seen then I am not sure how the scientific consensus could be developed in the first place. It’s like when people say, the warming is being caused by the sun, and I think to myself “Oh my…we scientists all forgot to take into account the sun. I better make a few calls. Can’t believe we missed that one!”.
The Earth will survive. We’ve had major disasters before and life persists. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.
This is the most insidious arguments, because it’s not fallacious at all in a logical sense. However it is apathetic and immoral. A lot of times people will say things like…”we’re just another species. Whatever we do is natural, and whatever happens will happens.”
Let’s say you are an emergency manager who works at a national park in a mountainous area. The weather is starting to warm and there has been heavy rains in the mountains and typically when such rains occur, especially in combination with some ice jams in the water flash flooding occurs. It’s not a guarantee, but likely. A town at the foot of the mountain in which the river runs through is going to get flooded, people could easily die if they are not warned. This is a natural event, it was going to happen whether humans are around are not do you warn them?
I think most people would answer that they would. To me arguing that doing nothing is the only option we have because the Earth is just going to do is thing is tantamount to doing nothing in this example, and simply letting people die. Many people who accept the fact that the climate is changing but don’t think man is responsible still must accept the consequences to this warming. Some of the one’s we are more sure of are:
Rising sea levels drowning coastal populations and increased damages and deaths from coastal hazards such as tropical storms and tsunamis
Increased heat waves and droughts
Increases in extreme weather events as climate patterns shift
Increased severity of extreme weather events.
What’s more is that these types of things will adversely impact the most vulnerable of the worlds population. People who are in poverty. People who depend on subsistence farming. When local hazards happen communities do make sacrifices, and do look for solutions, through re-zoning laws, construction improvements, and other engineering solutions to try and make the world safer and have less loss of life. So even if man has nothing do with the problem it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to act to come up with a solution.
One can be logically sound but be ethically and morally irresponsible. Ignoring what experts are saying, making sweeping and unsubstantiated statements that there is nothing we can do, that it’s just nature, and the Earth will be fine is really the same as having the power to do something to save lives and not doing it. And this is why I agree that the conversation about climate change has to shift away from science and facts and be more about compassion, about love for our fellow human beings, valuing equality so that we all have the same chance to adapt and survive the changing climate, and about taking responsibility for the home that sustains us all. These are important values regardless of what is causing the climate to change and these are things we can address and even already have some solutions for. Of course I know that is even overly idealistic to think that such a solution of addressing people on an emotional level might work. Hell it’s difficult to find a religion that unanimously agrees poverty is something we should do something about. I feel pretty bleak in general about us actually doing something about climate change. It requires people to move beyond nationalism, beyond their own religious beliefs and worldview, which tend to not be very worldly at all. Maybe we can’t win against the forces of nature, but it sure would nice if we could overcome the forces that divide us as a species. We can try. Maybe in the end it really is easier to move mountains.
I was listening to another episode of the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain this morning and it rekindled something that often comes into my mind when tragic events happen and this the act of forgiveness. This podcast was extremely interesting because they were talking with a researcher who was studying forgiveness by collecting data and interviewing people in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of their civil war. It is a unique situation because after they democratically elected a new government people who were on separate sides of a conflict were in the same communities, and even neighbors. You could be living next to somebody who cut off your hand, raped or killed a family member. What happened in that country is truly horrific, and no side was necessarily worse than the other. People were allowed to go back to their lives unpunished by the new government (with perhaps the exception of certain leaders). In the main story that they follow in the podcast the play excerpts of an interview with two men who were friends before the civil war and when one was captured by the rebels he was made to do horrific things. He came across his friend and the rebels wanted him beat his friend, and he would not do it, and so they shot at him injuring him and told them that if he didn’t he would be killed. Fearing for his life he did as they asked, and then asked him to kill his friend’s father. He also ended up doing that in fearing for his life.
I am going to stop there before I going into the aftermath. Right now some of you are judging the friend harshly who killed his friend’s father. Some of you feel extreme anger towards the adult rebels who would ask a youth to do this and some of you are just lost in sorry for the pain and anguish that both of these boys must have felt. You are maybe thinking what you would do in the same situation. You are thinking about it rationally and cooly. Let me say first that whatever decision you are making right now, may not be the decision you would make in the moment. And I think the most important thing that you should think about is that you never want to have to face this situation. Fear, when facing our own depth makes us capable of much more than we think. Sometimes horrific acts.
Now the question you have to ask yourself is how forgiving do you feel right now? And if you can forgive, how much should we expect those who were in that particular situation to forgive? The podcast asks the question, how does one move forward from such atrocities after neighbor has been set against neighbor?
The way Sierra Leone has dealt with this in trying to stitch their society back together is that all over the country they have reconciliation ceremonies in communities where people stand face to face with people who have done harm to them personally or friends or family members. They confront each without physical violence. There is confession and ask for forgiveness. And forgiveness often happens, because those who are willing to take part in the ceremony want to be able to forgive. When following up on those who had taken part in the ceremony and when forgiveness happened they found those people were more productive in their community. They made friends easier, they helped others in their community, more participation in politics and ensuring a positive political future and were more conscious of social justice issues. It all sounds pretty great. Forgiveness is a powerful part of healing and there is no psychological study that I know of that recommends holding on to anger and exacting revenge. Many think it will bring peace, but it does not. But if forgiveness is the better way, why do we have such a hard time doing it? Already there are a number of you who are thinking that you could not forgive in such situations as described earlier.
It turns out that the downside of these people who participate in these reconciliation ceremonies is that while society at large gains, the individual suffers. The act of forgiveness requires a great deal of courage because in that confrontation with a person who caused you harm you must also confront your pain. You must relive the trauma, the memories, and those horrific images. Individuals report greater depression and other symptoms of PTSD. The researcher’s recommendation is that the act of forgiveness needs to be followed by individualized mental health treatment. It makes a lot of sense. In addition to the obvious reminder about the importance of mental health it revealed to me that ultimately to truly overcome pain that we experience requires a confrontation within ourselves. As hard as it may be for two people stand face-to-face in these reconciliation ceremonies, it’s even harder to face the pain with in us. Perhaps this is why people choose not to forgive and seek external solutions so they don’t have to deal with that pain and never find that path to peace. Anger, addiction, or just disciplined suppression are all hallmarks of those who cannot forgive and this generally leads to more pain for others and cycles of conflict and violence continue. I say this without judgment, because no matter how rational my thought process is right now, I cannot know how I would react in the face of extreme fear, and extreme pain. I find it hard to blame others for not being able to forgive, and I don’t blame people for being angry when they experienced trauma and pain.
As I’ve said to others in the past, the most powerful part of the message of Jesus Christ has always been about the power of forgiveness and that if there is something to believe in, it’s redemption. The good news from the story told in the podcast is that those two men are once again friends. I am sure there are times when it is not easy. The one who killed his friend’s father helps the other plant his crops as he was injured during the civil war. There are no quick solutions I am sure for them but both are clearly on a path to peace and healing and a chance for a new generation to not have to face the horrors they faced. And maybe that’s the best reason to be courageous and forgive. Maybe our own wounds will still burst open from time to time and cause us pain, but maybe we can keep that pain out of future generations. Because when we act outwardly on our pain and harm others the suffering it causes as pain ripples outwards into their loved ones makes your wound everybody’s wound. And in I’m not saying it’s all easy but as a people we need to get better about supporting paths that lead to peace. Especially those of us who have been fortunate enough to not have such events happen in our lives. We need to help people confront the pain that tears through their soul and teach them how they can overcome it. Forgiveness has value in the face of hurt and harm in whatever form it comes in. We need to give compassion without judgment and replace despair with hope.
I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately. There are times when I feel I have made it too big a part of my life. While I tend to be positive about this new age we live in, as I’ve written before, there are times when I feel like I might not be made for it because it can get very draining. I see too much of the compassionless banter in comments sections or Facebook threads; story after story of tragedy, injustice, or prejudice. Then there are times when I miss it. There are people I have good conversations with over the internet. There are moments where I laugh, and there are plenty of moments when I learn something valuable, something important, and something that will make me a better person. I think about my many friends, some who I have known in person and live far away from, and I can still keep in touch and follow their lives to a certain extent. I care and wonder about them often and the internet gives me ways of staying in touch that would be harder without it. Some friends, I have never even met in real life, yet all of who I enjoy learning from, getting to know better, and some who have become as close as any other friend in my life, always provide me with an enriching experience. In some ways I feel like my life would be less for not having met them and am thankful I have this thing called the internet that has such long arms that I can reach across the world and hold on to people that seem amazing to me and when they reach back I know it’s the beginning of a wonderful relationship.
I’ve been listening to a podcast on NPR called Invisibilia and one episode on there is looking at how computers have changed our lives and how they might change our lives in the future. What’s interesting is that you find many people who have zero problem with the way computers and related technology (smart phones, tablets, Google glasses) have become a regular part of our lives and have made us better humans. They are ready for the future and all the wonders it will bring. One gentleman named Thad Sturner believes that in time humans will have interfaced with computers so completely that eventually we will all become essentially cybernetic. Those that have lived more “integrated” lives claim that the technology has made them better in every way, from how well they do their job to more meaningful face to face interactions with other humans.
Still of course there are those who have a not so favorable view of it. It can be addictive like anything else, and often not in a healthy way. The validation we often get when we post things on-line through likes and comments can often give us a dopamine release but doesn’t necessarily help us really solve problems we might have or understand issues that make us upset. A study of Chinese tweets found that anger was the most common emotion expressed over social media, and the anonymity of the internet can cause many people to let out cruelty that they would never let out in a face to face situation. However that anonymity can also allow people to participate in discussions and express themselves in positive ways, that they may be too shy to do face to face, or because of societal pressures that prevent them from expressing themselves in ways that they would wish.
Rather than spend a lot of time posting all the research about how social media and the internet has or can change us, what’s clear is that academically a lot of people are studying it. People find adverse effects and positive effects. It seems to me that most of what gets posted are negative impacts of technology or that our choices are between using technology and dealing with the consequences or backing away from it because it is seen as an unhealthy source of stress, shame, or anger. But perhaps the time has come where we shouldn’t be trying to fight technology. Our children are going to be immersed in this world, and while there is no doubt that developmentally children need time away from the screen, they are still going to be using smart phones, and tablets, and computers regularly in their lives. So what they really need from parents, teachers, and society is the simple acceptance of this fact and need to be taught what are the harmful and beneficial behaviors in this new world of the internet and social media. They need to learn about better ways to communicate through this medium. They need to be reminded that technology is always a tool to be used as a means to end, and not the end itself. As a tool, the internet, computers, social media have a vast variety of uses some good and some bad; some enhancing our functions, some suppressing or adversely shaping our functions. As parents of this next generation we must help our keeps be effective navigators in this digital world, not just literate in finding information and surfing the web, but navigating the emotions, the attitudes, the pitfalls, and the advantages of this world. Just like being aware of cognitive biases helps us perceive the world in a better way. Being more aware of the impacts of computers in our lives will help us utilize the technology better. I would support modern research about the interaction between humans, computers, and social media being used to design a curricula to be taught to school children. Perhaps around middle school. I think it’s become that important.
I had recently reblogged a couple of good ethics posts about robots and artificial intelligence and what challenges our future holds. This era is coming sooner or later and so it’s time we gave up the fight against these technologies and start using them in a more moral and impactful way. I say this not in any kind of judgment either, but rather as one who struggles with this myself. We need to gain the literacy and positive ethics with this technology so that as new technology develops with the potential to be more world changing, that we can don’t find ourselves behind the curve as we seem to be today on the more negative aspects.
I for one am making a vow that I am going to work to use technology in a way that enhances me and my world instead of diminishing me and my world.