More Slats, Less Thunbergs!

I get it; there are things about the world which aren’t as good as they could be. And there are things which are simply dangerous and need urgent action. When we see bad things in the world we should do something about it, right? Well sure, I would agree with that, but there are two points which need to be emphasised at this stage: first, that anyone who finds a problem should be aware that they could be wrong and might be trying to fix an issue which doesn’t exist; and second, that taking “action” by complaining, protesting, etc is a very passive and probably ineffective strategy.

So let’s look at the biggest issue of this type which we are faced with today: environmental damage, including climate change. There are two people whose styles I want to contrast in tackling environmental issues.

The first is Greta Thunberg. Just in case you have been living in some alternative reality and don’t know, she is a young climate activist who has been prominent recently in her activism against world leaders and their failure to respond to climate change to an extent which Thunberg considers sufficient.

So she travels the world “shouting” at world leaders, using catch-phrases such as “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words” and “how dare you!”

Looking at this phenomenon, how does it stack up against my two points above? Well, I think climate change is a real issue, and I think the scientific evidence supporting it is strong enough such that some sort of action is required, so she gets a pass on that one. But what about the second point: is she just taking the easy route and protesting without offering any real alternatives? Has she got lazy and just left school to go on a talk-fest consisting mainly of un-nuanced and poorly considered points? I think she is guilty of that.

The second person I want to consider is Boyan Slat. He is a young Dutch inventer and entrepreneur who has been working on environmental issues since age 16 – the same age Greta was when she started her campaign. But, unlike Greta, he wasn’t happy with mindless complaining and demanding action without offering any real way to achieve it. He actually did something, most notably inventing a system to automatically remove plastic waste from the ocean.

So, unlike Thunberg, he runs an organisation with 100 employees and with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollar, which has produced something that makes a difference. Despite initial problems, his plastic waste recovery system now works, and is particularly effective cleaning up badly polluted rivers, as well as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the pacific ocean about double the size of texas, where plastic and other waste tends to accumulate.

Eventually this technology could clean up the garbage patch, as well as many rivers, in relatively short periods of time (years or decades) without disrupting any existing living standards or economic processes.

He thinks other problems might be tackled this way as well, including climate change, but already works 7 days a week on his existing project so can’t expand the idea just yet. However, other companies are working on technologies which can clean carbon from the air, so there is some room for hope there too.

But all this aside, my point here is to make a comparison between the two figures dedicated to similar causes, but tackling the associated problems in very different ways. Thunberg tours the world (using a lot of carbon-based fuels despite some superficial efforts at avoiding that) and seeking fame without really achieving any positive results.

And it has worked, because she ahs achieved a lot of fame. For example, she was announced as Time’s Person of the Year in December 2019, and is on a list of “people who mattered” in science, produced by the prestigious scientific journal Nature. While Boyan Slat has been given some honours for his work, they are far less numerous and prestigious than Thunberg’s. But which really deserves the greater accolades?

This seems to be a major problem, with western culture today. We (by “we” I mean western culture in general, not myself or any group I belong to) reward superficial behaviour as long as it fits in with the narrative we want to support, that is simplistic catchphrases which are ultimately meaningless, the dedicated activist who is prepared to stand up to power, and the heroic individual taking on the evil of the patriarchy and capitalism.

Why not celebrate a person getting on with finding solutions, working incredibly long hours behind the scenes, and accepting our current political/economic system as having flaws but still being worth saving. That doesn’t quite fit in with that the media want to portray so gets largely ignored.

The main reason I wrote this post is because I recently listened to a podcast featuring Slat, and was impressed at his intelligence, knowledge, and realistic attitude about what can and cannot be done. Compare that with interviews with Thunberg. All I hear there is ridiculous childish screeching from a spoiled baby. Sure, she is younger than Slat is now, but he did start his work at the same age. And sure, she has autism, but that cannot excuse her excesses. If she wants to get involved with politics she needs to accept the consequences.

I think climate change can be fixed, but not in the way Greta thinks. It has got to the point where we need to start removing carbon from the atmosphere, not just taking largely ineffectual steps towards reducing carbon emissions. We need more people like Boyan Slat… and a lot less like Greta Thunberg!

No One Expects the Leftist Inquisition

Religious fanatics can be really annoying. Sure, they can be the source of great entertainment too, but in general they are just a nuisance. Why? Because they have – through some unfortunate sequence of events – found themselves in the situation where they belong to a group whose foundational beliefs are as strong as they are ridiculous. But that’s not the problem; the real problem is they want to spread those beliefs to everyone else, and anyone who doesn’t hold them is seen as inferior and perhaps even evil.

That’s not a big deal though, is it, so what is my point here? Well, my point is that the sort of religious fanaticism we used to see only manifest through genuine religious belief is now becoming apparent in other areas, especially politics.

As a moderate, with beliefs near the political center, I see this coming from both sides of the political divide. Note my use of the word “divide” there, because the division between the left and right seems stronger now than it ever has been, because of this pseudo-religious way political issues are now treated.

But, surprisingly perhaps, the most fanatical ideas, and the wish to spread those ideas to everyone, now seems to be primarily concentrated on the left. It is the left who are attempting to dictate what is right and wrong – particularly in regards to controversial social issues such as gay rights, women’s equality, etc. And, like the fanatics I mentioned above, they aren’t happy with just possessing what they see as a virtuous political view themselves, they insist on it applying to everyone, and for anyone who fails to “convert” being inflicted with severe consequences.

These consequences vary from simple criticism and name calling (the same old tedious claims of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc) to being forced out of a job, to actual physical violence (such as the actions taken by extremist groups like Antifa, who are more fascist than the groups they claim to oppose).

After making the “fascist” claim above I should try to justify it. The word has two meanings. Here they are from the OED: “fascist (noun) an advocate or follower of the political philosophy or system of fascism. 1 a person who is extremely right-wing or authoritarian. 2 a person who is very intolerant or domineering in a particular area”. Clearly the first definition doesn’t apply, because it specifically applies to the political right, but I think equally clearly the second definition does apply, and is equally damning.

Of course, I welcome people with views which I disagree with, because as a free speech advocate I welcome all views. What I don’t welcome is the fanatical drive to inflict those opinions on everyone else, especially through harmful tactics such as de-platforming, and even more so through physical violence.

I think the world would be pretty boring if we didn’t have people who believed nutty stuff, like creationism, moon landing denial, and 9/11 conspiracy theories. But those people have no real power and can’t force others to believe what they do. The left wing “fascists” though, do have considerable political power, and use it to stifle opposition to their views, and force others to follow their “religion”.

This doesn’t happen, you say? Well, here’s a list of people, with what the left seem to think are unacceptable opinions, and who have been de-platformed on college campuses in recent years: Ben Shapiro, Ann Coulter, Richard Dawkins, Jason Riley, Steve Bannon, Jordan Peterson, Christina Hoff Sommers, Charles Murray, John Brennan, and Milo Yiannopoulos.

OK, some of those people have controversial views, but so what? And how could anyone see Richard Dawkins as a threat? Well, if having reasoned and fair points against your worldview is a threat then sure, he is a modern Hitler! And we all know that Milo deliberately makes a lot of controversial claims, but they are just words. What’s the harm there, compared with the outright violence of Antifa?

One reason I suspect religious fundamentalists are so enthusiastic about converting people is that having opposition to their clearly mythological ideas is dangerous to them, so an active program of conversion is a good strategy. And in the past, anyone who opposed the dominant religion was tortured or killed. Christianity has lost that power, although Islam still has it to some extent, but now the extreme left seem to have taken up the same tactics with considerable enthusiasm.

The left are the new religious fanatics, the dangerous purveyors of ideas which others must follow, and if you like, follow the new religious orthodoxy. It’s like an inquisition. And no one expects the Leftist Inquisition!

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!

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!

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?

Relax: It will be OK

If you still read or view mainstream media you might be excused for thinking that the world is in a really dark place, that we have unprecedented problems, and that society in general is worse than it ever has been before. But, while there are certainly problems which we need to be cognisant of, things really aren’t that bad. The issues which are being highlighted tend to be either nowhere near as bad as they are portrayed, or not really issues at all because we are just paying attention to things which were ignored in the past, or they might even completely non-existent.

So many of the apparently serious problems we are facing are more the result of increased sensitivity and vigilance – sometimes to the point of creating problems where none really exist – rather than anything genuinely serious. And the real problems are so misrepresented and trivialised that they are difficult to take seriously for many people.

Sometimes the truth of a matter is well illustrated in fiction, satire, or humour. And in this case I have several political cartoons illustrating this phenomenon which I think are useful…

In the first one, the main character is sitting in front of his TV watching the news and the news presenter is demanding to know “what can we do to lessen the grip of fear from terrorism?”. The character simply turns the TV off, followed by a smug grin.

There is little doubt that the mainstream media horribly distort the relative importance of events. Why they do this is difficult to establish, but creating sensational headlines to get more clicks and greater ad revenue must be one reason. Another might be that most media are very politically biased and emphasise stories to reflect this. The danger of terrorism in most Western countries is very small, so the news media are certainly responsible for a lot of the fake fear, as the cartoon suggests.

Then there’s a comparison of feminists now and in the past. The first photo shows an historic photo, titled “feminism then” with a woman holding a sign reading “votes for women.” The second photo is titled “feminism now” and shows a “feminist” holding a sign which reads “proud slut.”

As I have said in past posts (especially “St George in Retirement” from 2019-10-04), feminism has basically run out of real issues to try to fix, so it has now been reduced to demanding solutions to problems which don’t exist, or looking for more and more obscure and trivial problems to deal with. The cartoon shows an example of this (note that this is actually two real photos with captions rather than a traditional cartoon).

While we’re on the subject of ridiculing feminism, the next shows an hysterical and clearly traumatised woman. The text states: ” New feminist study: 7 out of 3 men will rape in the next 15 minutes. Feminist: I already got raped 3 or 4 times today, and it’s not even 8 o’clock yet!”

I don’t want to minimise the traumatic effect of genuine cases of rape, but the word, and its close cousin, sexual assault (which can mean a lot of different things), has been expanded to try to make the problem seem worse than it really is. So we get ridiculous statistics based on actions which are never well defined, and are often not rape at all, and might not even be lesser crimes.

Then there’s a cartoon featuring our old friend, Greta Thunberg. In the first frame it shows her saying “Yet you all come to use young people for hope. How dare you!” The second frame shows some bad-ass looking action movie actor (sorry, I don’t know who, I’m not good with celebrities) saying: “I don’t remember asking you a goddamned thing.”

This is a good point, isn’t it? Greta seems to think the older generation have made a mess of things and are running to her for solutions. What utter drivel. She is a tool being used for political influence, and most of us would prefer to listen to sensible adults, rather than a silly, hysterical child. But again, things look bad if you take too much notice of this neurotic nonsense. (Just for clarity here, I believe global warming is real and primarily caused by humans – I just object to the frivolous and ridiculous political rhetoric from people like Thunberg).

My favourite is this. Multiple frames show young people from different eras. The first shows life 700 years ago and the text reads “1300s: I’m dying of black plague.” Next is: “1800s: I’m working 16 hour days.” Then: “1900s: I’m off to fight a war.” And finally: “2000s: I’m offended.” The first 3 frames show people demonstrating grim determination as they try to survive plague, struggle to complete 16 hours of hard work, and march off to war. But the final frame shows a bunch of teenagers sitting around and dramatically crying over nothing.

A similar sentiment is shown in my final example. Two frames show young people from two different eras. The first shows young soldiers, with the text: “1944: 18 year olds stormed the beach at Normandy into almost certain death.” The second shows some pathetic modern teens with the text: “2019: 18 year olds need a safe place because words hurt their feelings!”

I’ve heard the idea many times that people need some element of danger, risk, or adventure in their life. When there is no genuine source for these, something fake needs to be created as a replacement. People returning from war report they can’t cope with the mundane sameness of everyday life. They actually miss the fear, companionship, and excitement from living in a situation where death is imminent. Maybe being insulted by someone using the wrong language is the closest thing the modern generation can find to having any sort of genuine struggle. If so, it’s kind of pathetic.

There is one other related cartoon I should mention while I’m here. The caption for this one says: “Guess what happens after you’re offended. Nothing, that’s it! Now be an adult and move on!”

And that’s another good point. If someone says something you don’t like, you could do one of two things: first, ignore it and move on; or second, get really upset about it, start a major argument, and try to get the person who said it banned or fired. Which one is more sensible in the end? Which causes the least trauma for all concerned?

I do feel a bit like an “old fart” when I criticise the younger generation like this, because older people have always done this, and often not looked particularly credible in the process. But I can’t see why the criticism isn’t valid. I can remember when I was that age I was also politically naive and supported many of the trendy issues of the time, but I really hope I wasn’t as presumptuous and overconfident in my own infallibility as the current generation is. And even then older people told me similar things to what I am saying now, and – although I usually didn’t accept it at the time – they were often right!

So it seems to me that the stress and anxiety that many, especially younger, people today feel is really their own fault. Things aren’t as bad as we are often told. They should do what the character in my first cartoon did: turn off the TV. Note that I mean that figuratively. They need to disconnect from all overwrought, exaggerated portents of doom, and relax: it will be OK!