I have a friend called Andrea. She is a music teacher. The man who taught her music is called Mike Perkins. Mike feels an affinity with her because they both share an interest in music and teaching it to others. One fine Facebook day, Andrea posted a status update asking if she should pursue her university studies or further her music qualifications.
This screencap has been edited, but only to take out posts by other people.
As you can see, I humorously suggested that she should give up music entirely as it was a waste of her time (the joke being that she already makes a successful living from it, and presumably could only do even better if she chose to follow that road). Mike then chose to poke his humourless oar in * and take everything seriously. So seriously that he had to list his material possessions and the precise specifications of his plasma television ("42 inch panasonic 400 Hz").
Now, in my time I've had to deal with a fairly broad cross-section of people who make this world a worse place. Some of them blindly follow religion. Some of them are well-meaning but just misguided in a few very specific areas. Some of them are actively trying to hurt other people. And others are just morons who haven't thought anything through but still insist on developing strong opinions. If this page teaches us nothing more, let it be this: You should never develop strong opinions about things you don't understand.
It's been my experience that each of these categories of people are not open to reason, or any sort of correction. If attempts are made to explain the error, they will incorrectly interpret this as an invitation to a debate, and hence a validation of their stupid opinions (as Richard Dawkings said about refusing to debate Creationists: "It would look very good on their résumé; not so good on mine").
Accordingly, there are two strategies for dealing with these people, and you will see me execute these strategies all over the internet: 1. Assume that the bonkers opinion is true, and take it to its logical conclusion (the hope being that the person will be confronted with the stupidity of his opinion in a more direct fashion). 2. Ironic sarcasm leveraged with hyperbole and ridicule.
As a career in music is a perfectly reasonable option, the former strategy was denied me, and so I was forced into the second option. I first suggested that his hostile, aggressive and excessively materialistic attitude was the result of too much cocaine, which I assumed he would understand as a joke, because I know nothing at all about him - certainly not enough to be able to arrive at such a conclusion with any authority. And yet in his next message ("I have never taken drugs") he handed me that authority! He took it seriously! I had incorrectly assumed that accusing him of being a cocaine fiend would be ridiculous enough. Well, what's worse than being a cocaine fiend? Being a paedophile! So in my next post, I accused him both of being a paedophile (based on something he said about being friends with Andrea when she was 10 years old), and that Mike Perkins wasn't his real name. Surely now he would understand that I'm not actualling accusing him of anything?
That didn't happen. He took my accusations of paedophilia seriously, although he seems to not have noticed the allegation of fraud. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I'd never come across someone that utterly defeated me before. I had signalled that I was joking in as clear a manner as I could (although in retrospect maybe I should have accused him of bombing the World Trade Center), so I gave up. That's right. For the first time ever I actually gave up. I told him I was just fucking with him (post number eight in the linked thread) and that I was sure he's lovely, and also how I thought the accusation of grooming should have been enough to understand what I was doing. This should really have been the end of everything. What happened next is what catapulted Mike Perkins from run-of-the-mill idiot onto a shelf high above all our heads, for which we need a whole new word.
He refused to accept my retraction. Despite the fact that I said in plain English that I was fucking with him, he continued to post as though I were still genuinely accusing him of being a cocaine-addled paedophile. I had completely lost interest in the thread at this point; I honestly thought his answer was going to be something like "Oh. Well, sorry. But you're still an asshole. LOL." or something like that. I didn't consider for a second that the following level of retardation was even possible in another human being.
The rest of the thread is me attempting to underline my retraction and attempting to explain why it was funny. I don't like explaining my jokes, but sometimes the explanation can be funnier than the actual joke. And for the remainder of the thread, he continues to not get it, either wilfully, or because he honestly doesn't understand.
That was a few months ago. Skip ahead to July 2, 2011, when this wonderful exchange occurred:
This screencap has not been edited in any way. This started with him putting the movie Sucker Punch into Andrea's "top 3 films of all time" without consulting her, and by regarding someone rapping over a Queen track as "awesome". I echoed the consensus opinion that it's not very good, but you might like it if you want your movies to look like video games.
This screencap has not been altered in any way - and thank fuck I took this when I did, because the whole thread went into weird mode straight afterwards. You can see there are differences. My first thought was that he deleted his message to make things worse for me. But then I looked at it again, and one of my messages is gone too (the one with the fantastic line about One Tree Hill)! And I know I sure as hell didn't delete that slice of comedy gold. As Andrea was clearly not online at the time, a more reasonable explanation would be that whatever Facebook glitch caused my post to disappear probably also caused Mike's post to disappear. Sadly, this logic escaped Mike Perkins, who soon after threatening me with legal action and all sorts of racist whiny gibberish, sent this seemingly triumphalist message to me as a personal Facebook message:
"It hasn't gone. It's right here right now." He is clearly under the impression that I deleted my message. He hasn't noticed that his own message is missing too! I should probably take it as a compliment that he's paying attention to everything I say to the exclusion of everything else around him, including his own contributions. And although he says with a hilarious attempt at menace that it's "off to a few other people as well", he actually sent me the same message five times, so I was seriously entertaining the possibility that he had made some sort of mistake. Then this appeared on my Facebook home page:
I'm imagining Mike typing his sternly-worded email of complaint to Facebook HQ in his dimly-lit Dickensian flat in inner city London, fingerless mittens turning down parrafin lamps as the evening draws to a close, the yellow-green fog creeping its way around the cobblestones and horse-drawn carriages, conveying men at midnight to those who would indulge their dark complusions. I'm also imagining the poor bastard at Facebook HQ who probably had too much will to live to actually read any of the messages, and just hit a Send Warning button somewhere to shut Mike Perkins up. Maybe this will work, thinks my imaginary Facebook employee, maybe now Mike Perkins will quit whining. I never did check that box, and it just disappeared after a week; I acknowledge nothing!
Before we get into the legal morass of jurisdiction and how it's more or less impossible to nail anything down online, "defamation" is a legal term for something very specific: spreading lies about someone which causes them measurable harm. Obviously, making stupid jokes isn't covered. Sometimes even saying obviously hurful and nasty things without humour isn't covered, and in fact, not a single case ever taken against Facebook or any Facebook account for defamation has been successfully prosecuted (although that won't stop some people from taking money from people dumb enough or angry enough to think they have a case). Not a single one. In this particular case, for instance, the judge threw out the case because the people had set an earlier precedent of making obviously outlandish statements for the purposes of mockery, but you could throw that case out for a number of reasons. Facebook is, as are all social networks, full of uptight assholes getting offended and expecting someone else to be responsible for it. So good luck with that, Mike Perkins.
But let's say that the comedy exception doesn't exist (which it does). Even in that case, he'd have to demonstrate that it caused him measurable damage (defamation doesn't give a shit about "emotional distress" - in other words, the fact that you got upset is your own fault, legally (and common sensically too)). He would be unable to do so, because the only people who saw that were on Facebook, where he's the only person (apart from his poor wife, to whom my heart goes out) who didn't think it was funny. Ironically, claiming that my business failed could be seen as defamation because, firstly, it's false, secondly, he clearly takes it seriously and expects others to believe it as a fact, and thirdly, it could be damaging to my future employment prospects (although being a business failure didn't do George Bush any harm).
He's made the mistake of assuming that becasue he finds something offensive, everyone else has to also. This is a fundamental disorder of humanity. When the divorce referendum was passed in Ireland, it only passed by 0.3 %. what this means is effectively half the country showed up to say not only do I personally disagree with divorce, but no one else can have one either! As you can see, at least in my country, this sort of disordered thinking is quite common. In reality, that fact that Mike Perkins got offended by something I said means fuck-all legally, and if he wanted to get into a legal thing, he'd have his ass handed to him, not by me, but his own lawyer.
Incidentally, after the little box went away, I read the Facebook Community Standards for the first time while researching this page, and the good news is that mockingly referring to someone as a pseudonymous, cocaine-taking paedophile does not violate ANY of the ten sections! Go click on the link; have a look. It's instructive.
Soon after 9/11, paranoid mutterings were made about one "M. Perkins" in relation to the World Trade Centre bombings. Although conveniently out of the country at the time of these terrorist acts, the FBI seems clear on the connection. Evidence gleaned from aggressive interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay was confused. Some miltants placed him in the airplanes on the day (which, as I've said, is impossible), some claimed he was one of the masterminds of the entire operation (with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atef), while still others said he was coincidentally in the background of a number of high-level meetings, but didn't know where he was or what was going on.
Initially reluctant to present himself to the authorities due in part to his paedophile past, and a cocaine habit which, in the words of a source close to Mike Perkins, "made David Bowie look like a Christian", eventually his legal counsel convinced him that offering testimony was preferable to the feds kicking his door down and dragging him away in a sack.
What happened during the following three days (the maximum allowable interrogation time before charging becomes legally necessary) is a matter of debate. All four people present differ in their accounts, but they all agree that his written evidence was confused, frequently contradicted itself, and seemed to imply a massive conspiracy of terrorists which including a network of fundamentalist Muslims who manned the major ports of Europe specifically to smuggle paedophiles into and out of various countries (mainly Italy, France and Germany). This conspiracy went "all the way to the top", although when challenged, he was unable to name anyone at the top, or the prime ministers of the United States or England. He then attempted to use his inside knowledge of this conspiracy to leverage leniency from "the judge", even though it was repeatedly explained that he wasn't being charged with anything.
Ultimately, the role of Mike Perkins in the World Trade Center bombing may never be known, but it behooves all right thinking people to ask the question: how many lives would have been saved if his threat to the community had been identified by law enforcement earlier? Probably at least three or four, I'd think. Maybe even five.
* Seriously. I have never seen a boat propelling mechanism that had such a low appreciation for the subtle art of ironic sarcasm.
I’m not your typical LA girl. I am from [somewhere with a cooler climate] but I moved here for the sunshine and my career. I like [some combination of the following]: hiking, yoga, Runyon Canyon, social cause X, reading [Sedaris / Palahniuk / Murakami], listening to [Radiohead / Muse / Mumford and Sons / The XX], farmer’s markets, Whole Foods, and Wes Anderson movies.Now, since everyone has written the same thing, it’s hard for me to see exactly how you’re not the typical Los Angeles type. Analysis: engaged.
In the opening credits of the Simpsons, there is a tiny clip of the baby wildly steering a car through a number of dangerous curves. Then we pull back and it is revealed that she is sat in front of a toy steering wheel, happily imagining that she is influencing the course of the vehicle, while her mother drives badly, because she is a woman.
As a metaphor, the toy steering wheel is very tempting. In a very boring 2007 article on SOA Policy, Rich Seeley compares Maggie Simpson's efforts to those poor deluded folk who think they can influence service-oriented architecture software. Lucky for you, this is not why I started typing today.
It was a toy steering wheel, it turned out. Lawes had a seven-year-old son he sometimes took with him on trips.
He said that the President of the United States ought to be given a wheel like that at his inauguration, to remind him and everybody else that all he could do was pretend to steer.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird (1979)
Now we're getting more interesting. A complicated political idea, a damnation of electoral democracy if you will, concisely delivered through a well-chosen metaphor.
Since your behaviour is already fully accounted for by physical antecedents, any distinct conscious goings-on would seem to be casual* danglers, themselves irrelevant to subsequent events. They would be like the toy steering-wheel which the infant on the passenger seat fondly imagines is controlling the car.
- David Papineau, Introducing Consciousness (2000) [*I believe this is a typographical error for "causal", but I may be wrong.]
And we're getting into the juicy stuff - the very nature of reality; or at least the nature of our perception of reality, which as any violent child wielding a small rock will reveal, are very much not the same thing. If, as some believe, everything has a cause, and everything would be predictable if we just understood the causes, then we have no free will. All our actions and beliefs and opinions are caused by something else, and those causes were caused by something else and so on. If we had but all the information we needed, we could predict what someone was going to do and say to the letter.
This is a dreadfully uncomfortable thought to someone who likes to think he has opinions, but history has shown that uncomfortable ideas are sometimes true. Papineau is not the only psychological philosopher to make use of this rather depressing imagery to help people understand what this lack of free will might feel like.
I read an article about consciousness by an English philosopher once (I forget the source but it could be What We Believe But Cannot Prove, a digest of essays from various scientists from different disciplines who tried to justify their evidence-free beliefs - the subject of the Richard Dawkins essay was aliens) where she said she had more or less given up on any conscious decision-making. She just sort of let life roll over her, and did whatever popped into her head. The reason being, according to her, that most of what we interpret as decision-making is actually post facto rationalisation for whatever we've already decided to do. Think about that. It's very disturbing.
Your homework: the next time you have a normal, face-to-face conversation with another human, monitor yourself. When you answer, are you really making decisions about what to say next, or does it just sort of come out of you, and afterwards you assumed that's what you had intended to say? In the example of verbal conversation, there seems to be, at least partially, an automatic pilot. After all, if you were to consider your responses to everything, there would be large gaps whenever someone stopped talking. But that doesn't happen. If anything, people tend to frequently overlap during verbal conversation. Watch yourself the next time you talk to someone, and see if it applies to you. Then think about what that means.
And then good luck getting any sleep.
If you flick across the non-standard cable channels, you may come across a lot of Oriental garbage. There is a lot of Oriental garbage in the world, and they are not ashamed of putting most of it on television. I guess we have that in common.
Recently, I have had reason to watch Korean dramas, which are by all accounts popular. I made the joke that they were all the same, not just because all the actors look the same, but they seem to have the same plots and characters. Here is what happens in every Korean drama:
1. A woman is doing a weird screaming/crying thing. This must happen at least once every twenty minutes.
2. 20% of all the females in the show dye their hair a weird orange/red colour. No one else dyes their hair any colour except this orange/red shade, and it should be a steady 20% of all the female cast members.
3. There is an older lady who never smiles. This is broken up into 'lady who is always sad' (like Eunnim's real mother in My Bittersweet Life) and 'lady who is always angry' (like Su Young's mother in Ojakgyo Brothers). You will never see these characters in any other light. Ever.
4. There is some confusion over who the main character's (or her love interest's) parents are. Maybe someone's adopted, or the babies were switched at birth, but there's always something terribly wrong with the mother-child relationship.
5. There is some guy who looks like he's 15 years old in a position of some influence at a company. No one's sure, exactly, what the company does, but there are tense board meetings and feverish papers passed in hallways.
6. There's a young girl who likes this guy, but he likes some other girl, and there's some other guy who likes her and blah blah blah. You know? That sort of thing.
7. Some character is being judged ill because he's poor.
8. Women screaming and crying. All the time. About everything.
Related: Flip Channels
On the 9th January, ABC broadcast episode 2 of season 16 of The Bachelor, a terrible show which always brings in high numbers. I'll be watching it, or at least downloading it afterwards. I don't even know why.
The producers find some rich, pretty guy who wants to find a girl to marry. The producers source a bunch of exclusively white women who are looking for a man to marry and they fight over him until one of them "wins". No bachelor has married the winning contestant in the entire previous fifteen seasons of this reality show, but whatever. Sixteenth time lucky.
1. The Bachelor: This season's beau is a likeable halfwit called Ben who co-owns and runs a vineyard in Sonoma, California. However, given that he seems to spend all his time dating women and screwing around on reality TV during what he readily admits is an extremely narrow window of harvest, one would be justified in questioning just how "co-" he "runs" the business. Ben was a contestant on last year's The Bachelorette, where Ashley Hebert turned down his offer of marriage the day after "road-testing" both him and JP (whom she seems to be marrying) as the camera pulled out of a candles-and-rose-petals bedroom in a scene which made me feel unwell (and I was fine with The Exorcist).
2. The Girls: I never had sisters, but I am aware of the concept. If you don't, let's all pretend that you have three sisters, who are average girls. Now let's say that they all want to go to the club and there's only one dress, into which they all fit. At some point during the ensuing melee, the mood would lurch violently from caring about the club towards eliminating the competition for the dress.
Now, let's take away your sisters and imagine twenty-five ambitious, fame-hungry young women specifically chosen to favour the emotionally unstable and/or psychologically damaged. Now let's imagine that you encourage them to get drunk with permanently and freely available alcohol. Now let's imagine that instead of a night-club, they're interested in a man, and instead of a dress, the avatar of this goal is network reality TV hegemony. OK? Good.
3. The Editing: Obvious musical cues are plonked on top of otherwise harmless exchanges, or conversations which would take on altogether a different hue if a different musical cue were placed on top of it. That's not canny editing; that's crass psychological manipulation. I don't mind a bit of psychological manipulation (for instance I felt like shit when Sherlock Holmes hurt himself in the last episode of BBC's glorious Sherlock, which was all down to the editing and music cues), but The Bachelor uses this so much that it's grating. "Feel happy now! Feel sad now! This is an energetic bit! This is sad again!" No one needs that. In addition, the previews they show you from upcoming episodes obfuscate, both in-show and as a break bumper on other shows. For instance, they show someone talking over someone else's actions, and reaction shots to completely separate events.
4. Unreality TV: The problem with fiction, as Mark Twain said, is that it has to make sense. Reality doesn't have that problem. But the broader implications of fiction vs. reality are that reality not only doesn't make any sense, but it doesn't even have a narrative structure or believable characters or any of the things that make us want to watch fiction. So, makers of reality TV have to find some way to take reality and shoehorn it into a narrative structure, and to almost invent personalities for the people in them to make it look as though they've changed and grown over the course of the series.
It's not optional, nor is it a happy consequent of reality television; they have to do this to justify the mere existence of the show. They have to create fictional problems and get their constructed personalities (cobbled together, as you will remember in paragraph 2 above, from people specifically chosen to be suggestible and easily manipulated) to genuinely believe that anything they do or say matters, that they're learning something about themselves, that they're improving themselves. In other words, they get sucked into their own fictional narrative which was written by some hack at ABC. And why not? They're on television.
5. Me: This is genuinely how I think when I'm watching every second of this thing. I can't turn it off and just "enjoy" the show, however the fuck I'd manage to do that. I like to imagine that I'm training myself to spot these little tricks, but am I getting sucked into my narrative? AND WHO WROTE THAT!?
Related: You Go, Boss (a semiotic analysis of CBS's Undercover Boss)
1. If you claim to be in favour of cutting spending for government programmes, please explain how you would implement this claim in the matter of the three billion dollars we send to Israel every year, and also the one trillion dollars which has so far been spending on the illegal and counter-productive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2. If you claim that religion has a place in public life, please explain how you intend to acknowledge Islam in this manner.
3. If you claim that Christianity has a sole claim as the religion you want in public life, please explain how you intend to incorporate "love your enemies; do good to those who hate you" into your foreign policy and "let him who is without sin cast the first stone" into your policy regarding the death penalty, and "what god has joined let no man tear asunder" into your position on divorce.
4. If you claim that the government has no business interfering in the personal lives of its citizens, please explain how you would implement this claim in matters of abortion and gay marriage.
5. If you claim that corporations should have no impediments to creating wealth, please explain what objections you would have, in theory, to slavery (apart from the fact that it's illegal).
6. If you claim to oppose foreigners taking American jobs, please explain how you would implement this claim in the matter of US corporations effectively exporting entire tranches of the American workforce to India and China.
7. If you claim that you favour state rights over federal rights, and wish to see federal government reduced to almost nothing, can you explain how all the problems you see with federal government would not be reproduced at the state level once responsibility for those areas was transferred.
8. Additionally, if you favour a massive reduction in the role and size of government, please explain why you would not favour secession.
9. As a matter of policy, if you had, say 500 billion dollars to spend on a war thousands of miles away or on a program to cure sick Americans, which would you prefer (keeping in mind that we are aware of your voting record)?
10. Do you know the difference between a fact and an opinion? Please explain what you understand the difference to be.