Hypothesis: Positive Human Feedback

Beyond satisfying our physical needs, we are evolved to desperately desire Positive Human Feedback (#PHF). It’s the baby monkey choosing to cuddle a box wrapped in fur. It drives all our social interactions, at both the level of personal relationships and every creative endeavor. The question becomes what kinds of actions our culture generally teaches us will make us worthy of this #PHF. It ties together our needs for purpose, identity and community. Consumer culture is targeted towards making us think that what we buy will elicit this from others, by making them appreciative of the value we provide for them or that others will think more highly of us for what we do or possess. It’s why people want to be famous, that others will think of them often and like them. You’re thought of as cool if you fit in to some group whose opinions you value. We want love because that person can provide this feeling for us most directly and reliably. We usually do what’s expected of us to earn the general approval of those we interact with most regularly. Weirdos simply prioritize the opinions of some groups of cultural outsiders more than they do the general public. The true artist simply values the opinions of those who understand their perspective over the consumerist perspective above. Religions provide the religious with a community to give them those feelings, and often a sense that their relatives (and God) think well of their devotion.

The Work of Politics If You Care About Democracy

Trump’s election exposes the limits of a politics of persuasion. Instead of trying to convince people to vote for someone, we should be helping them to see through attempts to manipulate them, doing our best to get the general public the most good information possible and providing a political system where people can vote their conscience. The candidate’s job is to explain how they want to vote/govern. Then the people can choose wisely.

America is free and democratic to the degree to which it creates citizens, not just consumers, courageous critical human beings who are willing to keep it free and democratic every generation. If they don’t do it, you lose it. And you’re going to end up with a crypto-fascist America. Nothing. The laws of history in terms of the role of complacency and cowardice and apathy rule in America too. Plato’s great critique of democracy. Show me a democracy and what? I’ll show you a group of people who are driven by so much unruly passion and pervasive ignorance that it will produce a tyrant. That’s Plato. That’s why we wrestle with Plato. Not his conclusions. We don’t need philosopher-kings. The critique. Powerful then, and powerful now.

What #MarchforOurLives Wants

The movement has a website and there appears to be 3 sections that make demands:

Mission Statement

Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of an assault rifle to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.

This is not just schools, though. This is churches, nightclubs, concerts, movie theaters, airports, and more. A child should not fear a bullet on their walk home. We may be children, but we are not fighting for just children. All lives are precious, and our country must make the safety of its citizens a number one priority.

March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students of all ethnicities, religions, and sexualities across the country. We will no longer sit and wait for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass shootings.
The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is assure that no special interest group or political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country. We demand morally-just leaders to rise up from both parties in order to ensure public safety.

Specifically, we are working towards…

  1. Universal, comprehensive background checks
  2. Bringing the ATF into the 21st century with a digitized, searchable database
  3. Funds for the Center for Disease Control to research the gun violence epidemic in America
  4. High-capacity magazine ban
  5. Assault weapons ban

We came together on March 24th and through continued unity, we will save lives. We will not stop our advocacy until we see the change we demand – a change that is necessary in order to save innocent lives across our nation.

How We Save Lives page

1. Fund gun violence research and gun violence prevention/intervention programs.

We must provide the CDC with dedicated funding to research gun violence as a public health issue. Even the original sponsor of the law that limits the CDC’s ability to do this research, former Congressman Jay Dickey, said that it was a mistake. More than 100 medical organizations have called on Congress to restore funding. Furthermore, we believe that gun violence and prevention community work is essential to reducing gun violence and these groups should be funded fully.

2. Eliminate absurd restrictions on ATF.

The gun industry has operated mostly unchecked for far too long. ATF, the only federal agency with jurisdiction to regulate the gun industry, has been operating with one hand tied behind its back – unable to even digitize records of gun sales – or require gun dealers to conduct annual inventory checks to make sure they aren’t missing any guns. The ATF needs to become a modern agency, one capable of keeping receipts and efficiently regulating this massive industry.

3. Universal background checks.

It is too easy to obtain a firearm. Right now, federal law only requires you to obtain a background check if you purchase a gun from a licensed dealer. We must close the private sale loophole and make sure all sales undergo a background check.

4. High-capacity magazine ban.

High-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds serve only one purpose – to allow someone to shoot as many bullets as possible, in the shortest amount of time. These magazines are devastating and need to be banned.

5. Limit firing power on the streets.

Weapons of war have no place in our communities. Our nation requires a comprehensive assault weapons ban that prohibits the future production and sale of these weapons and provides a solution for dealing with those assault weapons that are already owned, such as a buyback program or registration. Limiting high-powered weapons to the military has worked elsewhere to eliminate the opportunity for mass shootings.


An Act to Protect & Save Your Children

We support the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms, as set forth in the United States Constitution.

But with that right comes responsibility.

We call on all the adults in Congress elected to represent us, to pass legislation that will protect and save children from gun violence.

Our elected officials MUST ACT by:

1. Passing a law to ban the sale of assault weapons like the ones used in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Aurora, Sandy Hook and, most recently, to kill 17 innocent people and injure more than a dozen others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Of the 10 deadliest shootings over the last decade, seven involved the use of assault weapons.

No civilian should be able to access these weapons of war, which should be restricted for use by our military and law enforcement only. These guns have no other purpose than to fire as many bullets as possible and indiscriminately kill anything they are pointed at with terrifying speed.

2. Prohibiting the sale of high-capacity magazines such as the ones the shooter at our school—and so many other recent mass shootings used.

States that ban high-capacity magazines have half as many shootings involving three or more victims as states that allow them.

Limiting the number of bullets a gun can discharge at one time will at least force any shooter to stop and reload, giving children a chance to escape.

3. Closing the loophole in our background check law that allows dangerous people who shouldn’t be allowed to purchase firearms to slip through the cracks and buy guns online or at gun shows.

97 percent of Americans support closing the current loopholes in our background check system.

When Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks on all handgun sales, they saw a 40 percent reduction in gun homicides.

22 percent of gun sales in this country take place without a background check. That’s millions of guns that could be falling into dangerous hands.

A background check should be required on every gun sale, no exceptions.

The children of this country can no longer go to school in fear that each day could be their last.

The Meanings of Words & Symbols

I took a trip with my brothers this weekend to Houston and the Lone Star motorcycle rally in Galveston. During my travels, I thought I figured something out. And then I heard a podcast about DFW and his post post-modernist understanding of language (52 minutes in…), which reinforced some of the same thoughts. Then I was repeatedly told about some wisdom Mr Coates imparted to us all about the word nigger, and I felt compelled to write up my ideas.

Words & symbols gain their value by our collective agreement about what they mean. These words & symbols do not mean anything until we decide they do, and whatever meaning I assign to them is at best useless unless others agree. But our understandings of many of these words & symbols also differs based on experience, and then the context of their use also matters a lot. So there can be a lot of misunderstandings but also sometimes people are intentionally tricky, using words & symbols to make others think something while claiming that wasn’t their intention at all.

What I am trying to get at is that something like the Confederate flag can have different meanings to different people. Some see it as a horrible symbol of racism anytime it shows up, while others don’t connect it to slavery at all. They call it the Rebel flag and it adorned the General Lee car in the Dukes of Hazard for years without most people making the connection. For others, it all comes down to context, who is displaying it and how and perhaps why if that can be truly determined. But the key is to recognize we don’t get to control how others interpret words & symbols. While anybody can take offense to anything, being nice means trying to accommodate popular opinion.

But this can suck. It can be difficult or annoying to have to stop using a word or symbol because now other people have decided it is offensive, when you never intended it as such. And people can develop incorrect and damaging views of others because of this kind of misunderstanding. Or sometimes the change is hard to understand or does not feel justified, or unfair when the context of who is using the word or symbol is a huge factor in how offensive it is to others.

Personally, I think it would be most useful if we could all really just try to calm down. Disputes over what to do now about the same words & images that have been around for a long time clearly can’t be symbolic of a rise in hateful feelings, but can only be a recognition of what was always just a more quiet offensiveness to some. Some of this unrest must also be coming from our increased cultural division, a failure to understand the perspectives of others and a loss of faith in the goodness of others. And a media that sows discord in their endless search for more attention and engagement.

Beyond the Material World

Life is complicated. As far as we can tell, there is an objective reality outside of our consciousness. It still exists when we’re sleeping, dead etc. But everything we know must be filtered through our consciousness, which is shaped by our experiences. And science still doesn’t understand how it arises out of the biology of our brains. Consciousness feels to each of us like a ghost controlling our physical bodies, with our ideas and emotions stemming from somewhere inside of that. And it is only when we connect these ideas up with those of others and the outside physical world, we build a culture, which then reflects back and shapes all the other consciousnesses.

Of course I’m rambling.

But my point is to confront spirituality directly. To take back this space from religion and bring it down from what some consider the lofty realm of philosophy. To both say that there is more that just our material world that we all know exists from personal experience, while also reclaiming discussion of those ideas for the public sphere. When we limit the discussion of certain ideas and refuse to admit we don’t know something, a cult of what passes as knowledge or those with that knowledge can develop. In the world of adolescence, you can kinda see it with drugs and sex. In the larger society, misunderstandings evolve into myth, people become tribal. And as time goes on, the questioning necessary for growth becomes more easily interpreted as personal attacks. And we hate. And we kill. But most common of all, we refuse to try to better understand each other and be less lonely and find compromises to improve the human condition.

So again, this is why I want to talk about all this. Why I care about how our culture is failing to evolve. Why I’m disappointed in what passes as adult life, conversation and priorities.

Free Speech and the Power of Attention

Our problem is not with free speech, but instead, we are now deeply concerned about all the issues around access to attention. Whether people know it or will admit to it, the key concern is which ideas deserve to be heard and discussed. Most of the time, control over attention is exerted in such a way to maintain power by keeping better ideas from spreading. Bad ideas can persuade, but the answer to that is meeting those ideas with better alternatives and advancing critical thinking in the public sphere.

The obvious point of contention here is conservatives on college campuses. Those places constitute a forum that will inherently provide access to a certain number of people in the room, if not worldwide by then having the event broadcast on the internet. But granting that space will also get some coverage in the media, accompanied by opinions and various levels of factual reporting on what was said, etc. The ripple effect of culture.

But this gets at the larger point, that all media is a forum that must ask itself questions about its own audience and what to expose them to. And then at root, every person has always had these personal questions to consider about their own communication choices, only now greatly amplified by the internet and social media. What do I say, what ideas will I spread, how will these choices reflect on me?

What we see as new concepts to consider personally, are in truth old, but now new to most of us in our wider possible effect. We have a power and responsibility that was reserved to a very few in the past. There are questions on how to manage these issues well, both in law, code and norms. To not think on and then engage is to let a new set of rules develop, ones that we may come to later regret.

Hypocrisy, Authority and Value Systems

Empathy is natural and serves as the foundation for all of our other values. The advantage here is it means we have an inner guide for how to live, but our problem is that translating those values into action can take a lot of thought. Sometimes those values conflict, or we don’t have the time for a lot of steps in getting from an idea to a relevant decision.

So we build or come to accept mental shortcuts for ourselves in the form of ideology. A bunch of rules that easily answer a lot of questions for us in normal life. But they sacrifice precision for general usefulness. And they drag along tribalism and time wasting tradition. They create roadblocks to the full application of reason.

Or perhaps we accept the guidance of others, in personal relationships or institutions like religion or the media. It allows us to transfer the mental workload onto another, who is hopefully more experienced in the area, more well read or has just thought about the issues more. But maybe they haven’t, maybe they have less or bad information, or maybe their bias is particularly problematic in this area.

My argument is not that we can do the hard value work all the time, but that we can and must do it more than we are. And that we must acknowledge our own limitations and engage others in these kinds of conversations. These kinds of conversations must become normalized, in order to get more perspectives, better trust ourselves and feel less lonely.

“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”

― C.G. Jung

The Alternative

My sketch of what a free culture media consumption model would look like:

It starts with something like #mastodonsocial – distributed social media with no ads & no algorithm. No outside control of what shows up in your feed, cause that is now solely determined by who you follow and what they share. Perhaps there is a view for the most popular posts, but of course that’s only from the people you follow and customizable by the user. Same with muting or blocking or hiding, that’s your choice and responsibility.

And all media player apps incorporate that feed as the recommendation engine, and allow you to contribute to the feed from the app as well. No black box recommendation algorithms. All your media players talk to each other, mobile to box on the television etc, helping you keep track of what you’ve seen/heard/read but not sharing that information with others unless you choose to. They all manage episodic content and streams as well as playing almost all file formats.

And creators host their own content and let you access it for free without ads or paywalls, because we’ve made supporting creators simple and automatic and people understand the trade-offs involved. To help with distribution, media players support torrents. Content is well-documented and easy to find/access, directly from any media player. There is a one step process to share anything with anyone.

Broadcast TV and radio and cable and satellite go away. We use that spectrum to get everyone high-speed internet access as a public service. All media playing hardware connects to the internet with media player apps as described above, with access to your own content and everything that is shared on the internet.

No gatekeepers. We decide what goes viral. We’ve done the cultural cost-benefit analysis and are now willing to pay.