I Can Lead Myself

In recent years I have noticed increasing resentment to the draconian rules implemented by our “leaders”. I put that last word in quotes because I really don’t think these people are leaders at all. Before I discuss this, I should say who I am talking about. I am referring to authority figures at all levels: government, city councils, law enforcement, and management… especially management.

I was sitting in a cafe recently, and heard some fellow coffee drinkers talking about their job. There were two comments about their managers which particularly resonated with me. The first was something like “they’re not living in the real world; they live in a cocoon”, and the second was “there was a horrible little man walking around the site taking photos”.

And I heard a staff member of a large organisation saying that she had “lost the will to live” after spending all morning and still “getting nothing done” when carrying out meaningless, and excessively bureaucratic procedures for a task which was simpler before a new regime was implemented by management.

Finally, I have encountered numerous instances of staff just not caring at all about the organisation they work for, because the managers make doing a good job almost impossible, and they have reached the stage where there is no point in even trying any longer.

In fact, with all my dealings with various larger organisations I have found almost no one who has any respect for their “leaders”. They are seen as a nuisance who have no ideas what they are doing, and are viewed with attitudes which vary from mild amusement to outright hate and disgust.

Of course, the leaders seem to view themselves in a quite different way. Unbelievably, they actually think they are virtuous, well-informed, tireless campaigners for a better world. They think that their staff admire them, and in the rare cases where they feel the lack of admiration just they dismiss it as the result of the people at the lesser levels being incapable of seeing “the big picture” or being unwilling to “accept change”.

In fact, there is a complete area of management dedicated to change management, which effectively reduces down to three actions: produce plenty of propaganda pointing out the alleged advantages of the new system, threaten anyone who doesn’t comply, and finally rid the organisation of anyone who doesn’t accept the new regime by firing them or implementing various dirty tricks to force them to leave.

So clearly “management of change” is an intensely dishonest and immoral activity, not that there would be any surprises there.

I should say here that change isn’t always bad. Sometimes change is necessary for the efficient running of an organisation, especially if the conditions the organisation operates in have changed, such as the appearance of new technology, competition, or markets. And sometimes the necessary changes are difficult for existing staff to cope with, and maybe sometimes they really do resist necessary change.

But that doesn’t cover the vast majority of cases I am aware of. In most cases the changes involve attempts at increasing efficiency by introducing more layers of bureaucracy, reducing staffing levels while increasing the number of managers, and allegedly improving processes by implementing hopelessly poorly defined and complex new procedures.

So generally anything created by a “leader” works incredibly badly – but why? Well, the big problem, as insinuated by the comment about “cocoons” above, is that managers have no idea how the real world works, and despite their reassurances of consultation, they make changes from a position of extreme ignorance.

In most cases I know of, after a few years the organisation does start working fairly well again, and will generally return to a similar level fo efficiency it had before the change. So the assurances the “leaders” provide that the new system will eventually start working properly are generally true.

But not for the reasons they think.

I guess the leaders thing the new system starts working properly because people get used to it, and start using it as was intended. But what actually happens is that the state of complete chaos which everyone finds themselves in by following the new rules gradually improves as people find work-arounds and short-cuts which bypass the system. After a while most of the staff will be working in ways which have little to do with the new system and more closely resemble what was happening before the change.

I always imagine it like this: it’s World War I and the general is courageously standing well back from the front lines giving out orders to advance on the enemy. He gives the orders and sees his soldiers advancing on the enemy machine-gunners. His job is done so he quickly retreats to his office to start his next great plan. The soldiers advance on the enemy but realise the orders are suicidal, so as soon as the general’s back is turned they take cover, plan an attack on the unprotected flank of the enemy, and generally ignore their orders in favour of action which has a chance of being successful. The general hears about the success of the operation and congratulates himself on being a great leader. The soldiers think he’s a dangerous idiot.

Is the general a leader? He might think so, but no one else does. We don’t want or need leaders. They are just a nuisance we need to find a way to bypass. But they can do a lot of harm before that happens. I’m an intelligent adult: I can lead myself.

That Ricky Gervais Rant

British comedian, Ricky Gervais, certainly made some interesting comments during his recent opening monologue for the Golden Globe awards. He has been controversial in the same role in the past, but this time he seemed to get right to the core of the problem with many parts of modern culture, including the status of celebrities, and there has been a significant amount of discussion and analysis of his speech.

So not wishing to miss out, I will present my own analysis of his speech here, first by stating what he said, then by offering my thoughts…

Gervais: You’ll be pleased to know this is the last time I’m hosting these awards, so I don’t care anymore. I’m joking. I never did. I’m joking, I never did. NBC clearly don’t care either – fifth time. I mean, Kevin Hart was fired from the Oscars for some offensive tweets – hello?

Comments: I an also surprised that the organisers of this show keep inviting him back. There has been some open hostility towards him in the past, so I do commend the person who made the decision to have him back again for taking such a risk. Gervais does make a good point though, in saying that other people have been fired for far less than what he has said. One point which might explain the phenomenon: would anyone care about this silly award show if Gervais wasn’t there? I mean, I wouldn’t have a clue who won any of the awards, but I could quote parts of his speech. Maybe that’s why he has presented at this show 5 times.

Gervais: Lucky for me, the Hollywood Foreign Press can barely speak English and they’ve no idea what Twitter is, so I got offered this gig by fax. Let’s go out with a bang, let’s have a laugh at your expense. Remember, they’re just jokes. We’re all gonna die soon and there’s no sequel, so remember that.

Comments: He makes these points in a flippant way, but the essential validity of them is still obvious. They are just jokes – although like most good humour, the jokes have an uncomfortable underlying layer of truth – and in the greater scheme of things, offensive comments aren’t that important. That, of course, is exactly what the “woke culture” most of the celebrities indulge in can’t seem to accept.

Gervais: But you all look lovely all dolled up. You came here in your limos. I came here in a limo tonight and the license plate was made by Felicity Huffman. No, shush. It’s her daughter I feel sorry for. OK? That must be the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to her. And her dad was in Wild Hogs.

Comments: Felicity Huffman is a celebrity who was found guilty of fraud, in relation to college entry for her daughter, and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. I believe license plates used to be made by prisoners in the US, so that is the joke here. It is pretty disrespectful to a previously well thought-of celebrity, really… which is great!

Gervais: Lots of big celebrities here tonight. Legends. Icons. This table alone – Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro … Baby Yoda. Oh, that’s Joe Pesci, sorry. I love you man. Don’t have me whacked. But tonight isn’t just about the people in front of the camera. In this room are some of the most important TV and film executives in the world. People from every background. They all have one thing in common: They’re all terrified of Ronan Farrow. He’s coming for ya. Talking of all you perverts, it was a big year for pedophile movies. Surviving R. Kelly, Leaving Neverland, Two Popes. Shut up. Shut up. I don’t care. I don’t care.

Comments: From what I understand (I’m no celebrity expert) Joe Pesci is short (5′ 5″) so this is just a personal insult more reminiscent of older shows. Ronan Farrow is a journalist who uncovered alleged acts of sexual abuse among Hollywood celebrities, and this is just a little reminder that the PC culture the celebrities support can also be used against them. The crack about “Two Popes” is just a reference to the constant uncovering of sexual misconduct amongst members of the Catholic Church – so another big, corrupt institution got hit, not just show business.

Gervais: Many talented people of colour were snubbed in major categories. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about that. Hollywood Foreign Press are all very racist. Fifth time. So. We were going to do an “in memoriam” this year, but when I saw the list of people who died, it wasn’t diverse enough. No, it was mostly white people and I thought, nah, not on my watch. Maybe next year. Let’s see what happens.

Comments: This is an attack on the identity politics common amongst celebrities. It seems that it is more important to get a good variety of genders and races in any group today rather than use any traditional criterion, such as competence or appropriateness. Does this even extend to who died during the previous year?

Gervais: No one cares about movies anymore. No one goes to cinema, no one really watches network TV. Everyone is watching Netflix. This show should just be me coming out, going, “Well done Netflix. You win everything. Good night.” But no, we got to drag it out for three hours. You could binge-watch the entire first season of Afterlife instead of watching this show. That’s a show about a man who wants to kill himself ’cause his wife dies of cancer, and it’s still more fun than this. Spoiler alert: season two is on the way so in the end he obviously didn’t kill himself. Just like Jeffrey Epstein. Shut up. I know he’s your friend but I don’t care.

Comments: Netflix appears to be taking over from traditional TV and movies, but it is just as vacuous, politically correct, and unimaginative as what it is displacing, a point Gervais failed to capitalise on unfortunately. I love the crack about Epstein though, the memes about him being killed – usually by either Bill or Hillary Clinton – rather than committing suicide were beginning to come up less often, so it’s good to see the conspiracy renewed here, especially since so many celebrities are also allegedly involved.

Gervais: Seriously, most films are awful. Lazy. Remakes, sequels. I’ve heard a rumour there might be a sequel to Sophie’s Choice. I mean, that would just be Meryl just going, “Well, it’s gotta be this one then.” All the best actors have jumped to Netflix, HBO. And the actors who just do Hollywood movies now do fantasy-adventure nonsense. They wear masks and capes and really tight costumes. Their job isn’t acting anymore. It’s going to the gym twice a day and taking steroids, really. Have we got an award for most ripped junky? No point, we’d know who’d win that.

Comments: I totally agree. The type of movies being made currently really are just the most terrible derivative and inane nonsense. I know people have been conditioned to make a big fuss of this stuff, but really: what level of intelligence to film-makers think the viewing audience have?

Gervais: Martin Scorsese made the news for his controversial comments about the Marvel franchise. He said they’re not real cinema and they remind him about theme parks. I agree. Although I don’t know what he’s doing hanging around theme parks. He’s not big enough to go on the rides. He’s tiny. The Irishman was amazing. It was amazing. It was great. Long, but amazing. It wasn’t the only epic movie. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, nearly three hours long. Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere and by the end his date was too old for him. Even Prince Andrew was like, “Come on, Leo, mate. You’re nearly 50-something.”

Comments: As I said above, I also think movies – especially the superhero genre – are kind of pathetic, so I would agree with Martin Scorsese here – hey they can’t be wrong all the time! I like the little dig about Prince Andrew there too. Another useless celebrity getting the criticism he deserves.

Gervais: The world got to see James Corden as a fat pussy. He was also in the movie Cats. No one saw that movie. And the reviews, shocking. I saw one that said, “This is the worst thing to happen to cats since dogs.” But Dame Judi Dench defended the film saying it was the film she was born to play because she loves nothing better than plunking herself down on the carpet, lifting her leg and licking her ass. (Coughs.) Hairball. She’s old-school.

Comments: The “Cats” movie has been severely criticised, which is unusual, so it must be really bad. I have never understood the popularity of the Cats musical. I don’t know what Andrew Lloyd Webber was on when he wrote it, but it wasn’t good! One famous (and really good) song is about all there is to it, apart from a bunch of actors leaping around pretending to be cats. Huh?

Gervais: It’s the last time, who cares? Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show, a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China. Well, you say you’re woke but the companies you work for in China – unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?

Comments: My readers will know I am a fan of Apple products, but I fully realise Apple is just as bad as all the other big corporations when it comes to their unethical stance on labour, payment of taxes, freedom of speech, etc. Tim Cook is a particularly politically correct leader who I find quite annoying on many occasions, so it was great to see Apple taken down this time. Whether “The Morning Show” really is superb or not, is hard to establish, but judging by the description he gave I think maybe Gervais was just trying to be sarcastic.

Gervais: So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.

Comments: This is the core point of the whole speech, I think. These celebrities really are arguably the worst possible group to be lecturing to the public. These are the people who are amongst the most privileged in society, yet lecture a lot of us about the privilege they claim we have. These are some of the richest people in the world, who really don’t work particularly hard but still feel entitled to offer condescending advice on how to succeed. These are the people who say they want to see the poor and underprivileged succeed, and to see the country do better, yet hire the best accountants to avoid paying tax which might make those goals possible. In other words: these people (with rare exceptions) are the most ignorant, hypocritical, self-centered scum anywhere. Yet they still think they can lecture us? I would have been a lot more critical than Gervais was!

Gervais: So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and F off, OK? It’s already three hours long. Right, let’s do the first award.

Comments: I love the phrase “little award” here. It’s very condescending, and a bit like comparing this event to one where young kids get meaningless rewards for participating in some sort of pointless competition. Most people don’t know who got the awards, and most couldn’t care less. Unfortunately I believe some of the winners did make political speeches, not that many would be listened to because, as I said above, I know plenty of people who listened to Gervais rant, but none who watched the actual awards.

So yes, I really liked that Ricky Gervais rant. He did a great job of using humour to criticise the rich and powerful, in a similar way to how the court jester used to be the only one who could criticise the king – at least that’s how I remember it from my study of Shakespeare in high school!

Movies and TV Suck!

Movies and TV are an important part of existence for many people. When new movies are released a lot of people get quite excited about it, and TV series seem to be a highlight of some people’s lives. But when I am asked what I thought of the latest movie or TV series I usually say something like “I didn’t see it because I’m just not interested” or “I saw it and it was rubbish” or “I sort of half watched it on Netflix while surfing the web looking for some technical information, arguing with someone about politics on social media, or reading an article about World War II tanks on Quora”.

The mainstream media seem to spend more time than they should covering “news” about movies and TV, and especially celebrating the lives of the actors and directors who make them, so that might be one reason why these forms of entertainment seem to hold a more important place in society than they really should. But what am I really saying here? Basically, that I can’t be bothered with this stuff and I think a lot of people would be better off if they joined me in my dismissive and apathetic attitude.

So, why am I so negative? Well, there are several reasons. First, watching TV and movies is just so passive. Second, most of the material is very unoriginal, especially what comes from the “sausage factories” like Hollywood and Netflix. And third, the majority of the stories we see are extremely tame, predictable, and (you didn’t think I would get through a post without mentioning this, did you?) politically correct.

I particularly dislike some of the more popular genres today, such as superhero movies. The problem there is that there are generally obvious good and bad characters and the good guys almost always win. This means I know the outcome before it happens, making the whole experience rather mundane, and making me feel like the writer or director is insulting my intelligence. And in these movies, along with others in the fantasy genre, there are no laws of physics to worry about, so the plot often involves the lamest “deus ex machina” contrivances, further making me feel like I’ve been insulted.

The next questions which should be answered regarding this subject are: even if this stuff is as bad as I say, what is the harm; and what should people do instead of watching movies and TV?

To answer the first question: the harm is that people spend a lot of time watching without gaining many benefits. They are wasting time that they could spend doing something more creative or active. And they are influenced in subtle ways to acquire the beliefs and attitudes of the people who made the programs, meaning they are being assimilated into the extremely “woke” culture of the entertainment industry.

And here are my thoughts on the second question: people should do something creative or at least guided by themselves instead of by whatever societal trends might be popular at the time. The best option for me is to create, which I do through writing for this blog, recording podcasts, or building web sites. Of course, there are plenty of other possible creative endeavours too, such as writing or performing music, participating in an inventive hobby, or playing a game or sport.

In fact, computer games are a great alternative to movies, in my opinion. At least they involve some input from the player, so they aren’t completely passive. Actually, maybe I’m not the only one who thinks this way, because computer games are rapidly overtaking movies as an entertainment industry.

But games don’t suit everyone, so what other possibilities would I recommend? I believe YouTube is a better source of material than conventional TV or movies (and these include streaming). YouTube offers a huge variety of material and, while its censorship rules are far from perfect, at least a variety of opinions can be found there. The “Up next” section has some great, unexpected material, so its possible to accidentally find some excellent videos which might never be viewed otherwise. And because a lot of YouTube material comes from “amateur” sources the bias and predictability found in standard TV and movies is often absent.

So the internet offers options whatever your tastes. You can watch the mundane stuff churned out by the conventional sources (and that includes Netflix now) or you can choose something different and more participatory. Of course, you can also do both, because watching inane drivel on mainstream broadcast TV or Netflix isn’t all bad. We should just leave some time for doing more interesting and creative stuff too.

They Think They’re Right

I’d like to tell you about three aspects of human behaviour that I have particularly noticed recently. First, many people like power. They like to control others, and tell them what they can say and do. Second, people like to belong to a group of others who they agree with and who give them support. And third, people like taking on issues which they feel strongly about, and often they like to tell others what to do as a result.

I have often wondered why so many people feel so strongly about various social issues, which don’t really affect them personally, and may not even be a particularly big problem to those who are affected. For example, why do so many people of European descent care (or at least pretend to care) so deeply about the alleged disadvantages of black and indigenous people? And why do so many straight individuals want to make so much effort to support the rights of those in the LGBTQIA+ community? And why do so many men identify as feminists?

It’s possible that there are cases where the person exhibiting this behaviour is totally genuine, but I doubt whether that is very common. I have watched the way these people act, and I think there are other explanations, which maybe even the person involved might not truly be aware of.

As you might have deduced from the introductory paragraph of this post, I think the first two factors explain the third. In other words, people like to participate in social justice issues for two primary reasons: so that they can control others, and so that they can gain recognition and affirmation from their allies in the relevant cause.

There is one further factor which I need to mention at this time, which elevates these groups from annoying to dangerous. That is that they are totally convinced they are right, and that they are “doing the right thing” and that anyone with contrary opinions is inferior in some way; especially that they might be ignorant or evil.

Being convinced you are right is an almost sure way to provoke extreme behaviour. I mean “right” in two different contexts here: first, right in the sense that they think they are correct, that they have some special knowledge that others either have never discovered or refuse to accept; and second, that they are taking the moral stance and that they are right in the sense of being ethically superior.

Anyone who thinks that they are not only factually correct, but also have the proper moral position might be excused for taking a fairly strong stance in supporting their own views. But the problem really arises when we consider the initial assumptions that they are right in the first place – and even if right and wrong, or right and unjust are the proper way to think about many social issues.

We should all be able to think of examples where people might fit the description I have offered here. If you are a leftist you might think of people on the right who want to control women’s right to an abortion, for example; and if you are on the right, you might be thinking of rabid leftist mobs who shut down discussions on gay rights and who have people banned and even fired for offering an opinion on that topic.

So let’s look at the abortion example. Those who support abortion really believe they are right and that a woman should control her own body. But their opposition are equally convinced that they are right because they are protecting an unborn human from being killed. When both sides are so convinced that they understand the facts, and hold the moral high ground it’s not surprising that they find anyone with opposing views problematic, or even reprehensible.

And in this case at least, I think that both sides can make a good argument supporting their views. All other things being equal, a woman should control her own body. And in the most simple case, killing an unborn child is an immoral action. But note that I qualified both of those points, because both arguments are superficial and are only valid in their simplest form.

Because a woman can control her body, but in the case of abortion a second body is involved, which she doesn’t have the right to control completely. And terminating a pregnancy is the most moral action in many cases, such as where the mother’s life is credibly threatened by the pregnancy. So both groups, who are totally convinced they hold both the correct and the moral view, are wrong.

But, in this case, am I falling onto the same trap by saying that I know the truth and have the most moral perspective? Well, no. I am pointing out the nuance in both sides of the argument and showing how neither extreme view is correct or moral.

By doing that I am not going to exert any control over anyone. I’m not saying that abortion should be legal or illegal; I’m saying that there are situations where both views have merit, but more importantly, that neither is a good perspective to take. And I’m not going to get a lot of support from other people holding the same position as I do, because they aren’t the types to indulge in that sort of behaviour. It’s generally only people with more well-defined views who build communities around those views.

In fact, in the rare cases where I do get positive feedback for my position I feel almost embarrassed. I don’t comment on contentious issues to try to control people, or to indulge in the cordial sociability of being in the in-group. And I definitely don’t feel completely confident that I am right. It’s more fun debating subjects I am less certain about. That’s why I am constantly reviewing my thoughts on so many different subjects.

Except free speech. I’m moderately convinced that I am right about that one. Why? Because that is the basis for all other discussions. We need free speech to allow reasoned discussions on every other topic. It is a sort of meta-phenomenon: an undertaking which allows progress to be made on other subjects. So, in that context I do want to control others, I don’t mind if I get support from others with the same belief, and I think I am right. Hey, no one’s perfect!

Get Some Perspective!

The world seems to be getting more out of touch with reality with each passing day. Specifically, by that I mean, more people seem to be becoming more outraged by less. You might think that isn’t a big problem, because it’s easy to ignore these phenomena and just get on with life, but I don’t think it is that easy, because the more time which is wasted on trivial stuff the less time remains for subjects which are more consequential. And there is a constant danger for anyone offering certain types of opinions to find themselves dragged into a time wasting controversy over that opinion.

Let me give a few examples of this effect…

Recently, my local newspaper published a cartoon which referenced the measles epidemic in Samoa. The cartoon showed two women leaving a travel agency and the caption was this: “I asked, ‘what are the least most popular spots at the moment?’ She said, ‘the ones people are picking up in Samoa’.”

So the text was a play on words, where the word “spot” has a double meaning (a place you might holiday in, and a mark on the skin caused by measles). Is it a particularly funny joke? Well, no. Is it an example of brilliant satire, or deeply meaningful political commentary? Again, no. Is it insulting, vicious, or an attack against any part of society? Of course not.

Yet this cartoon lead to a noisy protest outside the newspaper’s office, an official apology by the editor, an inquiry into the selection process for cartoons, the suspension of that cartoonist being able to publish work, and a nation-wide sense of outrage, including a “news item” on the subject leading the TV news that day!

You know, there’s only one word for this: pathetic. Even if the cartoon crossed the line into bad taste, so what? The cartoonist is well known for pushing the boundaries, and it’s inevitable in that case that sometimes he might go too far. Whether he went too far this time is debatable. I personally don’t think so, but even if he did, was the reaction in proportion to the “crime”? If you think so, then I believe you really need to re-examine your sense of proportion!

I spent quite a lot of time that day debating with people about the cartoon and the reaction to it, and a lot of other people also spent a disproportionate amount ot time talking about it. But, instead of debating something so utterly trivial, why were we not holding the Samoan government to account over their failure to implement an effective vaccination program? And why were we not asking why the victims (or, in most cases, the parents of the child victims) of this disease were often against vaccination and often preferred traditional natural “cures” (which are ineffective) instead?

To be fair, that has happened to some extent since the cartoon furore finally calmed down, but even then it seems that there is less condemnation over those failures than there was over a harmless cartoon.

There’s another example, which happened a few months back, which I was just reminded of today. Well known astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, tweeted this after a weekend where there were two mass shooting in the US: “In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings. On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose… 500 to Medical errors, 300 to the Flu, 250 to Suicide, 200 to Car Accidents, 40 to Homicide via Handgun. Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.”

The numbers are difficult to establish with any certainty, but they do seem roughly correct, so any debate over this isn’t a matter of whether it is factual. But Tyson was slammed on social media and eventually issued an apology. Here’s a widely quoted reaction: “Smash Mouth: F OFF!!!! There’s your data!!!!” (the full word was used, not just “F”, but I try to avoid “offensive” words in this blog, which is sort of strange, now that I think about it!)

Notice that the reaction isn’t really a reaction at all, it’s just mindless cursing. I presume other people made more coherent criticisms of the tweet, but why? First, he acknowledged the mass shootings were bad when he said “the USA horrifically lost 34 people”. Then he quoted some facts which were relevant to his point. Then he made a comment which is an interesting basis for discussion.

So I think he did make a good point. People do have an unreasonable fear of shootings in the US, even though they are far more likely to be the victim of other forms of harm. Of course, mass shootings are a terrible thing, and we should be aware of them, but how aware? Well, it’s not going to be easy to know what the most sensible way to react is if we can’t even talk about it!

And here’s another point I should make: those same people criticising Tyson – who were primarily leftist social justice warriors – criticise others for paying too much attention to terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. That form of mass murder is conveniently minimised, and the motivation and relevance freely discussed, but apparently applying the same standards to events not inspired by Islam is put into a different category.

My final example happened just today. Apparently some minor celebrity (who featured on a TV reality show called “Married at First Sight”, so he really is minor) posted an Instagram selfie with the caption “I might want some Airpods”. His “crime” was setting his location to White Island, the location of a volcanic eruption which resulted in several deaths that same day.

Again, social media went crazy, and the “news” even leaked into mainstream media. It’s barely possible to believe, but this seems even more pathetic than the cartoon example above!

What is wrong with people? Are they really so utterly fragile that they cannot handle anything which looks like it has even a peripheral relevance to some unfortunate event? Are we all supposed to react the same way, with fake comments involving “thoughts and prayers” or “deep sorrow of all people” or other inanities which seem to be part of a script? Do people not see through this extreme sense of concern? Is it not obviously just a way to virtue signal to your followers?

It would be a very sad world if everyone reacted the same way to traumatic events. I welcome alternative views, even if I disagree with them. Surely a range of different perspectives is valuable in these cases. Yet, if anyone dares to transgress against the politically correct standards established by the self-appointed arbiters of good taste, they are bullied until they apologise, are fired, or suffer other forms of social vilification.

There are many things wrong with the world today, and we should be discussing these problems in a mature and candid way. If the only way we are allowed to refer to disasters is to ramble on about how sad it is, and make the same fatuous comments we have all heard a dozen times before then what’s the point? We could just design a program to choose a few random phrases like “words can’t describe how sad we feel about this whole disaster” or “I can’t believe these atrocities keeps happening. Our thoughts and prayers to those affected”, or “we need to make sure this won’t happen again”.

But you know what? Unless we can discuss these things freely, they probably will happen again. Everyone should choose their battles, and listen to alternative views, even when they aren’t PC – in fact especially when they’re not PC. And please ignore cartoons and social media posts – try to get some perspective!

The Wisdom of Age

From “OK, Boomer” to “pale, male, and stale” to “how dare you?”, there seems to be a lot of bigotry aimed at older people today. Of course, it is also aimed at white people, and males in particular, but on this occasion I want to concentrate on the ageism we regularly see demonstrated today.

Before I am accused of being one of those extremely privileged people who still complains about the exact thing I criticise other people for complaining about, I do want to say that I’m not really doing that. I think people should be free to say that older people’s opinions are invalid, or should be ignored, or whatever else they might want to say, just like I want the opportunity to challenge social justice warriors in a similar way. But I do think that I have the right to answer those comments, and to point out where they are wrong.

But are they wrong? Well, it actually goes beyond mere wrongness. You might say they are not even valid enough to be wrong, because these arguments are so superficial and meaningless that they are neither right nor wrong… they are nothing. If I offer an opinion on a controversial subject, like free speech or abortion, and my thoughts are rejected through a comment like “oh, you’re just an old white guy, you can’t comment on that”, then is that an effective riposte to my thoughts? I don’t think so. We haven’t actually learned anything from that response because it isn’t a counter to anything I have said – it’s just irrelevant.

If a young person had made the same comment as I did – and that is possible, because some younger people do share my views – what would the response have been then? It would need to be something different, which shows the person isn’t really honestly answering the actual point; instead they are offering a meaningless ad hominem, which many would say is the most basic type of logical fallacy.

So I think it is clear that those types of responses are worse than no response at all. The fact that the person has to resort to an attack on the person, rather than the point that person is making, to me shows how weak their opinions really are. At least if they had remained silent we might generously assume they have real arguments, but the personal attack suggests maybe they don’t, because if they did wouldn’t they have used them?

So I think it is clear that attacking a person based on their age instead of trying to counter their ideas is grossly lazy and intellectually dishonest. So the next question might be, do older people’s opinions make sense; are they relevant; and are they applicable to the current time, or are they out of date?

As an older person myself – having just celebrated my 60th birthday – I unsurprisingly am going to say they are relevant. In fact, I think older people have more wisdom from the experience they have gained over their lives, and might be less susceptible to group thought – in other words they are far less likely to base their beliefs on what is currently trendy, and more likely to think for themselves.

There is a well-known phenomenon where people in their teens and twenties do put a lot of effort into fitting in with their peers, so after growing out of that tendency a person’s thoughts are more likely to be their own. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are more likely to be right, but it is a factor to consider when you see younger people all parroting the same platitudes.

Numerous studies show that older people have better judgement and make better decisions, based on the lessons they have learned during their life. This compensates for a reduced ability to learn new information – in fact it exceeds it and means older people actually have an advantage. It also just makes intuitive sense that an older person will have had time to consider more ideas and will have a far greater sense of nuance than someone who is younger. Of course, this is just on average and I’m sure there are some every wise younger people, and some ignorant and unreasonable older ones.

In my own case, I know that I have a more subtle and reasonable view on the world than I used to, and I am certain that I am less affected by what my friends and colleagues think, and that most of my views have come from personal experience and thought. My blog goes back almost 17 years and a reading of that demonstrates this principle quite well. I have definitely drifted towards being more conservative, but I also recognise the good and bad aspects of every political philosophy far more than I did in the past.

And that is an interesting point: as people get older, they often do become more conservative. Why is that? Some might say it is because older people are less able to accept new ideas and want to return to the past. Others might say that they gain advantages from the system staying the same, so their selfish response is to resist change. But I think it is because of a more reasoned and nuanced approach. I have better understood the role that conservatives play in society recently. I also understand the role liberals play. So it’s not so much that I am a conservative, it’s that I am rational and can see the good and bad aspects of both political views.

And I really think it is a simplistic, dogmatic view that the younger people have which leads them to favour more radical ideas and to reject those which have already been proved to work. Of course, we should welcome change when it can be clearly shown to be advantageous, but change for the sake of change is generally not a good strategy.

Finally, don’t assume that this means that older people are more boring. In fact, you could make a case to say that it is the others, who jump on every new fad with the predictability of mindless automatons, who are really boring. I can still engage in a political rant like the best of them! But I just do it a bit less often now, and am self-aware enough to know that my rant is fairly humorous, because I don’t take myself too seriously any more.

So, it’s not so much that I have changed my mind on most issues, it’s more that I can now see both sides. For example, I still think democracy is a deeply flawed system, but it has many good points too, and those shouldn’t be ignored. Similarly for capitalism: it has caused a lot of harm, but a very good case could be made to say that it has resulted in a lot of good too, and states practicing more pure forms of socialism have been an obvious failure in every case (at least, as far as I am aware). And political figures I don’t like aren’t automatically wrong about everything. I have doubts about Donald Trump’s presidency, but I think the Trump bashers are often wrong, and I admit when he does something good. The same applies to our PM, who I don’t like as a person, but I am prepared to admit that some things her government have done have been quite beneficial.

These attitudes might sound just like common sense, and you might ask what’s the big deal. Well, here’s the deal: they are common sense, and that is exactly my point, because many people don’t use common sense in forming their opinions, they are too swayed by popular trends and dogma.

And maybe I was in the past too, but not any more. I am now enjoying the wisdom of age!

Who Needs That?

It has been a while since I have talked about Fred. He is my friend and colleague, and Fred is not his real name, but I keep that secret to avoid repercussions – and that’s an interesting point in itself, because why do I need to do that just because he is expressing an opinion? He works in a similar role to me in a similar large organisation (it could be anywhere in the world, so don’t try to guess!), so I find his opinion a useful way to evaluate whether my experiences and ideas have any parallels elsewhere. Note that I don’t necessarily agree with all of Fred’s opinions, although (for obvious reasons) there is some consistency between his and mine.

So after that introductory disclaimer and explanation, I will get on to the issue at hand…

Fred’s organisation has recently gone through a major reorganisation, and many people affected by that don’t think it has been particularly successful. In fact, the words such as “unmitigated disaster” often come to the fore in discussions on this subject. I suspect that is an extreme opinion, because even changes designed by the most incompetent managers generally bring some benefits, even if it is purely by accident, but the fact that people feel the need to use that phrase does show the level of frustration and disgust involved.

In fact, Fred has told me that the magnitude of dissatisfaction has got so great that even the management have realised that something is wrong. When he says this, he is not just trying to make a rhetorical point, because managers generally are blissfully unaware of the level of loathing the workers have for them, and tend to have few clues about how their decisions affect other people’s work.

For example, Fred recounted an incident where a moderately senior person in the new regime met him in the corridor and asked how much he was enjoying the new system. She was utterly astounded when he told her that he thought it was hideously inefficient, bureaucratic, and that almost no one liked it. When asked what a solution might be he said “go back to what we had before” but was told that is not an option. He thinks this is most likely because then the managers would have had to admit they were wrong, and that never happens because it might destroy their fantasy world perception of their own competence.

But it would seem that any reasonable person should have already known about these problems, but apparently the management rarely do, so it is a minor miracle when they do understand what is happening amongst the unfortunates who have been forced into trying to make their terrible systems work.

And they seem to have taken it seriously, because they have hired some expensive consultants to find out why things aren’t working as expected. Fred says that the very fact that their first reaction to a situation like this is to hire some consultants should give them all the answers they need. And the type of questions these consultants are asking makes it clear that only an answer involving deficiencies on the part of the employees will be accepted, because there isn’t a lot of opportunity to criticise the management. Obviously, a company being paid a small fortune by management is only going to give them the answer they want, or they might not be hired again.

So, according to Fred at least, the entire process, from the first fake consultation, to the last examination of what hasn’t worked as well as expected, is a farce. I’m sure the management could give an alternative explanation of what is going on, so the situation probably isn’t quite as one-sided as Fred makes out, but clearly something fundamental is wrong with the system.

I think the problem he describes is related to a phenomenon I have commented on myself on occasions. That is that ignorance and arrogance are a dangerous mix. I can understand a person or group being ignorant, because it’s impossible to know everything to a high level, making some degree of ignorance inevitable. And, while arrogance is often seen as a negative characteristic, I think it is understandable if the person involved has good reason for it. You might argue that someone at the peak of their profession has a right to be arrogant, for example.

But the danger comes when those two attributes are combined. Arrogance from ignorant people is really problematic. And research shows that ignorant people are often lulled into a false sense of their own infallibility, which could easily lead to arrogance. So anyone who is ignorant can easily overlook the facts showing their own lack of competence, leading to more arrogance, and that in turn leads to the inability to recognise the need to improve, which creates more ignorance. It’s a vicious circle of self-delusion.

The other source of many of these problems is the echo chamber effect. People at the top of most hierarchies only interact with people at similar levels to themselves. They are all part of the defective system which almost inevitably leads to an even greater level of self-delusion. These people all want to support the hierarchy as it is, because they are doing well out of it, and the occasional person a bit further down who might be involved is unlikely to be too critical because their chance to rise to a higher level depends on them saying what their “superiors” want to hear.

You might think that the victims of these systems are also in an echo chamber, but that isn’t usually the case. The people near the bottom are constantly impacted with the consequences of what those at the top are doing, so it is a one-way process.

And do you know what the saddest thing is? According to Fred, one reason those people at the top think the situation is under control is that their incompetence is being disguised by the people at the bottom working longer hours, finding clever ways to minimise the disruption from the changes forced on them, and generally getting things done despite the changes inflicted on them from the top.

So it really is a mess. How widespread this sort of problem is can be difficult to ascertain, but I do hear a lot of complaints from people in other large organisations, just one conspicuous local example being the health system in this country, which seems to suffer from similar issues to those Fred describes.

Fred often becomes quite dispirited regarding these issues, because he actually cares about the organisation he works for, unlike (he says) the management. But I advise him to protect his own mental stability and let it go. There’s not a lot he can do, and constantly fretting about these issues can lead to depression and stress. So I hope he takes that advise, or I will be listening to a lot more bitter complaints from him in the future, and who needs that?