Warmth

My mind is a Pachinko machine; my brain fatigued. Add to this the environmental distractions, such as breakfast, and it’s not conducive to focus. Today, it’s scrambled eggs and dry muffins—sans jam or butter, only some whipped substitute unfit for human consumption,

My prompt for writing the recent post on Professionalism was my reaction to the hospital staff and their demeanour—or as a colleague suggested in a comment, decorum. Perhaps I can remain focused on the words on this page as I type.

For service staff, warmth is a necessary ingredient of professionalism. This is particularly true for persons in the healing arts. The top indicator for pursuing legal action in a medical malpractice suit is the doctor’s bedside manner—personality and disposition—, whether the patient feels a personal connexion—a human connexion.

My experience in hospital is that the Medical Doctors have been hit or miss in the department—more miss than hit. I can even recall the names of the memorable ones. I suppose were I to be ill-treated, I’d remember as well. Here, it’s either treated nicely as a human or otherwise as an object in an assembly line. Thankfully, there have been no mistreatments or abuse.

The Registered Nurses had a better warmth ratio. Asking my circle of family, friends, and associates, this seems to be the general consensus. The rest of the staff were somewhere in between.

This warmth or human connexion extends beyond healthcare and to the service industry where human-to-human contact is made, even where that connexion is virtual—perhaps more so in order to bridge the distance. In my experience, the human factor tends to fall more at or below the level of the Medical Doctors. Any warmth is accidental. I am not saying that the people themselves lack compassion—though that could be the case. Rather, I am saying that they are moulded into automatons by the systems they are part of. It saps people of their humanity.

I started writing a post titled Bureaucracy is Violence, but I never completed it because I got lost in research. In a nutshell, bureaucracy is a Procrustean bed. I’ll leave it there for now. If you know, you know. Meantime, rage against the machine.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

Anatomy of a Social Media Challenge

As a Social Justice Warrior, I tend to favour diversity and inclusion as a principle. As such, I follow some people who share this interest. In fact, most of these people expend much more energy toward this end than I do. The challenge I am about to convey is that some people don’t read beyond the subject line, and don’t even attempt to assess the underlying claim, let alone the issue at hand.

I recently engaged in a nonsensical interaction that I am sharing and dissecting. It started with this share, an image of the border outline of Nigeria with an overlay caption that reads: “Nigeria becomes the first country to ban white and British models in all advertising”.

I’d like to point out two items in particular. Firstly, the caption is fabricated. I’ll get to the source reference presently. Secondly, the re-poster aptly corrects the caption when he shared it—”Well, all foreign models, but HELL YEAH!”

Nigeria recently passes a law that essentially assesses a tariff or levy on advertising content using non-Nigerian talent. There is no mention of ‘white’ models, though British models would fall under this umbrella. This protectionist law stems from nationalism. I’d guess that ‘white’ people comprise less than one per cent of the Nigerian national population, but I could be wrong. This is well outside my area of expertise.

My response was to say “Down with Nationalism and the Promotion of Otherism.”
I may be misinterpreting myself, but it feels to me that this is denouncing racism and other forms of otherness.

Sabrina responds, ‘Why is not having white models in advertising a bad thing?” and “Isn’t the whole point of advertising [for] people to…see themselves… ?”
In response, I should have pointed out that the initiative had nothing to do with skin colour. Instead, I responded to the second question: the point of advertising is to sell product. Full stop. If people see themselves with the product, then great. Clearly, this comprises a fraction of successful adverts. More common is to make a connection to what they aspire to. It’s not about making a social statement—unless, of course, that social statement will sell more product. If an ad with a white model will sell more product, a business would be derelict not to employ one; conversely, if white models result in lower sales, a business would be foolish not to switch to the more successful vector.

Sabrina really goes off the reservation with her reply, somehow conflating Nigeria with the African continent. Attention to detail is not her forte.

At this point, I feed into her laziness and send her a link to an Al-Jazeera article addressing the law.

She leaves with a parting shot, and I quote: “Have you ever thought about the harm you might cause by playing devil’s advocate and “creating an argument”?”

She’s off course and then attempts to diminish my point by calling it ‘playing devil’s advocate’ rather than admitting that she hadn’t even considered the rationale and possible ramifications. She didn’t even grasp the main point, so I suppose I should forgive her for not noticing secondary and edge cases.

At this point, Dr Perkins adds her voice. Her initial question is valid, and as I responded, the answer is “No”. The race card was introduced by some narrator who didn’t know what game he was broadcasting. But then she goes on to “applaud Nigeria for making a [decision] centering [on] Blackness”, save to say that was not what prompted the decision.

Notice, too, that other people “Liked” the other comments, a testament to the principle of least effort of the bystanders, too.

I recognise that the original post anchored the conversation off the actual topic, but it was also very easy to track down the reference and note the content discrepancy. Granted, this takes time and effort, but so does responding on a thread and then escalating commitment to a non-cause. And for one tilting at windmills to be tossing around accusations of playing devil’s advocate. It’s not a good sign.

But wait, there’s more. I commented on this post on a second thread.

In this case, Dr Anderson suggests that this is just “a country celebrating its own citizens by recognizing their beauty and knowing they can move product just as good, and probably better than white women, to which I responded that this is a testable hypothesis. It’s either true that on balance white models sell more product or black models do. Again, don’t fail to miss the point that none of this is about white versus black models.

Somehow, LinkedIn can’t seem to keep their threads in order, but Ms Rice takes my hypothesis testing point as a support for racism before precipitating to full-on troll mode.

It scares me to see that there are two academic doctors participating in this thread, neither with a trait of attention to detail nor even a fundamental pursuit of evidence.

This is why it is difficult to engage with social media. You have no idea what level a commenter is coming in on. And even when spoon-fed information, they refuse to alter their position. In fact, they tend to double down on their wrongness.
Moving on…

Reading: The Last Messiah by Peter Zapffe

I decided to try my hand at reading. I came upon Peter Zapffe when I was reading The Conspiracy against the Human Race, and The Last Messiah is a relatively short essay. It’s under 25 minutes.

My first goal was to figure out how to pronounce Zapffe. As it happens, the terminal E is pronounced as a schwa. And that makes sense. My heritage, as it were, is Norwegian. My grandad was born in Norway, emigrating during the so-called World War 2. His family surname is Gade, with the E pronounced the same way, so the name is pronounced as /gäʹdə/, but Anglicised, it the A becomes a long vowel owing to the silent E, so it becomes /geɪd/.

What was new to me is that in Norwegian, Peter is pronounced /pɛt ə/ [as if spelt Petta] rather than /ˈpiːtɚ/ or perhaps /ˈpiːtɹ/ in some American renditions more familiar to English readers.

Tolerance and Normalisation

I chatted with an associate this evening about the gun debate in America. For some reason, gun control is again a hot topic. He believes that guns, like drugs, should be treated as mental health issues.

Click an image to read the referenced article.

The Atlantic: An ER Doctor’s ‘Third Way’ Approach to the Gun Crisis
The Atlantic: The Real Reason America Doesn’t Have Gun Control

Full Disclosure: I do not believe that the Second Amendment of the United States confers unrestricted rights to own a gun. Full stop. I believe this is a perversion by activist Supreme Court justices of the original intent of the grammatically-challenged Forefathers of that cursed country.

The mental health topic brought my attention to the question of tolerance and normalisation. Mental health, an interest of psychology has a sordid past. At its very core is the idea that humans can be normalised, that they can be categorised into normal and abnormal behaviours, and what is deemed normal might have some room for variation, but this tolerance doesn’t really allow for much discrepancy.

Normalisation expects to bring people into some basic conformity—give or take. The problem is that this is contextual and the acceptable range changes over time and place. Many behaviours previously considered abnormal are now acceptable, and some acceptable behaviours are no longer tolerated. Some of these changes have flip-flopped legal status as well. It’s just a game to some people.

Tolerance takes a position that there is no normal, per se. Some people just have different ideas.

Here is a clip of an interview with Dr Oz ( né Mehmet Cengiz Öz) where he illustrates my position. I’ll disintegrate it next.

Dr Oz explains why he does not support legalisation of marijuana

Transcript

Reporter: What is your stance on [the legalisation of] marijuana?

Dr Oz: … There are not enough Pennsylvanians to work in Pennsylvania, so giving them pot so they stay home… I don’t think [is] an ideal move. I also don’t want to breed addiction to marijuana. It’s not physical addiction; it’s emotional addiction, but I don’t want young people to think they have to smoke a joint to get out of their house in the morning. We need to get Pennsylvanians back at work you got to give them their mojo, and I don’t want marijuana to be a hindrance to that. I also don’t want people operating heavy machinery and driving by me when they’ve been taking their fourth joint of the day. But there are other issues that are plaguing Pennsylvanians. We’re a border state, practically, … because they’re flying illegal immigrants up here from the border in the middle of the night … but they’re also getting their narcotics up here really easily.

So, let’s break down this word salad. This will reveal some of Dr Oz’ and my worldview biases.

  1. Neither Oz nor I advocate the use of marijuana or other recreational drugs. However, Oz wants to make or keep it illegal and criminalised. I do not agree. I feel they should regulate it and tax it. Although I neither advocate nor endorse the use of any of these herbs and chemicals, I feel they should do this for all drugs. [And if we are going to make these chemicals illegal, let’s not be hypocrites and make nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine illegal.] I’m not advocating this. I’m just saying adopt a position and maintain it with integrity.
  2. There are not enough Pennsylvanians to work in Pennsylvania.

    First, Oz is a wage slaver. Next, the unemployment rate for PA was 4.9% in March, so this does not appear to be a problem.
  3. so giving them pot so they stay home… I don’t think [is] an ideal move.

    Oz makes an unsubstantiated connection between the legalisation of marijuana and staying home—being lazy or unmotivated.
  4. I also don’t want to breed addiction to marijuana.

    Marijuana is not known to be addictive. As a doctor, Oz knows this.
  5. It’s not physical addiction; it’s emotional addiction

    Here, Oz backtracks, but he also introduces an unsubstantiated claim. If you are interested in why I consider psychology pseudoscience, follow this link to explain DSM changes in this area.
  6. but I don’t want young people to think they have to smoke a joint to get out of their house in the morning

    Oz makes a total non-sequitur here. Nothing he has mentioned this far would lead to this conclusion. If someone already feels this way, its legal status is irrelevant. Enough said.
  7. We need to get Pennsylvanians back at work you got to give them their mojo, and I don’t want marijuana to be a hindrance to that.

    This is more Calvinistic wage slavery advocacy. Again, he is equating the consumption of marijuana with being unmotivated. Perhaps he should challenge Micheal Phelps to a swimming race. If motivation is the issue, perhaps he rather favours legalising amphetamines—but I supposed he’d have a preconceived rationale for that, too.
  8. I also don’t want people operating heavy machinery and driving by me when they’ve been taking their fourth joint of the day.

    Where does the number four come from? Is four different to one or two? Has this been studied? Is he saying this doesn’t already happen? Does he believe that current intoxication laws and incapacitation regulations aren’t in place?
  9. We’re a border state, practically…

    Where to start… Pennsylvania is a border state. It borders New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia. If one counts for the water border of Lake Erie, one might be able to argue that it shares an international border with Canada—although, I feel that’s a stretch. At that point, one wouldn’t be far from considering Hawaii to border California. It’s only water. He does say practically, so perhaps that’s his out.
  10. because they’re flying illegal immigrants up here from the border in the middle of the night

    Wait a minute… Geezer’s talking about the southern border between the United States and Mexico. (That’s where brown people live.) The fewest number of states between Mexico and Pennsylvania is four, but that’s stretching it. Something tells me that Oz is at least an elitist and at worst a racist. I’m a sad panda.

    Another non-sequitur. Somehow, Oz is trying to create a link between marijuana and narcotics whilst also contending that legalising marijuana would somehow affect these illegal flights. Wait, are the flights illegal or just the passengers? How does he know that either is illegal? And does it have to be at night? I get the feeling that Oz watches too much television. Perhaps that’s what we should criminalise. So many questions.
  11. but they’re also getting their narcotics up here really easily

    OK? Perhaps we should contract with them to transport the marijuana up here if they are so efficient. Or would it be better to grow it locally? Racists tend to be nationalists and would likely favour a Made In America policy—unless they can exploit brown people. Or Oz can employ otherwise unemployed Pennsylvanians on his pot plantations. Where does it end?

What does this have to do with normalisation and toleration?

People like Dr Oz want to mainstream people, a concept some familiar with special education might remember—get the people in line with the herd. Proper people—normal people—are supposed X and Y and Z. Toleration allows that there may be people with descriptively ‘normal’ traits and behaviours, but there should not necessarily be a penalty for noncompliance.

When I was an undergrad student, I had a side job as a shift supervisor at an Au Bon Pain in Boston. On an occasion, one worker, let’s call her Mary, was arguing with another worker that we’ll call Marie. Mary said she was not going to make any more sandwiches because she had already made twice as much as Marie. Although I understand the notion of fairness she was invoking, I reminded her that she was being paid by the hour, not the piece. As long as she was still on the proverbial clock, she would continue to make sandwiches. Although I didn’t press this point, I could have hired Marie to watch Mary make sandwiches. In fact, I suppose I was hired to watch them both make sandwiches.

The point is—Mary’s perception aside—that there was no reason to presume these two should produce an equal number of sandwiches in an hour, a day, or a month.

I mention this because—getting back to Oz’ drugs scenario—if people are happy getting high on heroin and nodding out on Kensington Ave, that’s their issue, not Oz’ and not mine. If Pennsylvania needs workers and can’t get them, figure out how to attract workers. Don’t create a situation so bad that the alternate to work is just the lesser of two evils. This reminds me of a story from my consulting days.

Without dropping any names, I was hired by a company to ‘deflect’ some costs. The high-level concept was to redirect people from a relatively expensive call centre to cheaper self-service. I reminded them of the Principle of least effort.

Essentially, I conveyed that people are inherently lazy—echoing Carl Jung. People will take the path of least resistance. If it’s easier for them to call, they’ll call; if it’s easier to self-serve, they’ll do that.

“So we should make it more difficult for customers to call?” was how this was interpreted.

“You should make it easier to self-serve.”

I’m still shaking my head to this day. What humans will do to other humans in the name of commerce.

Where was I?

Trustwise

The lamb spends all its time worrying about the wolf and ends up being eaten by the shepherd.

— Unknown

I think one could look at this from several perspectives or through different lenses.

We worry about the wrong things.

At some level, this is about trust.

We trust the wrong people. Those whom we most entrust do us in. But I feel this is contextual.

One might feel this shepherd is Capitalism or the State or organised religion. Perhaps it’s culture or identity cohorts. Or all or these or none of these.

On another level, it recalls the inevitability of death. This shepherd reaper is always waiting in the wings whether or not one worries.

In the words of RATM, Know Your Enemy.

Memento Mori

Some art just catches my eye and resonates. Here is an image of a robotic arm. Nothing quite captures the Modern human condition quite so poignantly. This is the plight of Sisyphus but not so pedestrian as Camus’ version. One can’t imagine this one happy. This robot was built intentionally to bleed the hydraulic fluid that is its lifeblood, as it toils to retain that sanguineous fluid. But as with life and humans, the task is futile.

In this shot, we see human spectators watching its eventual demise. Memento Mori. No one gets out alive.

The Instagram copy captures my sentiments pretty well, so I’ll end this here.

Vantage

A runner helps a competing runner to complete and win a race. The competitor had been confused, as signage was in a language foreign to him, so the other helped him out.

Iván Fernández Anaya and Adel Mutai Race

Although the debate in the comments thread on LinkedIn of whether the rules of the event supersede the overarching human condition leans heavily toward cooperation over competition, some are vehemently opposed to the thought of ‘breaking the rules’ of the contest.

I suggest that this is an issue of framing. Sporting events are a wholly contained subset of the human condition. If you visualise this as a Venn diagramme envisaged as camera lenses, you’ll see that the event is a deliberate tight shot. One with the broader human experience cropped out. But the viewer has the ability to pull back and capture a wider shot. This shot recognises factors other than winning a petty sporting event. It emphasises cooperation over competition.

There is no moral imperative here. One may adopt either lens without shame. As for me—and apparently most—, the wider shot is preferred. But a wider lens is not always the default view for humans.

Humanism

When it comes to how, as people, we fit into the larger universe, we tend to adopt a human-centric view. And one doesn’t need to be a Humanist to take this position. Most religions do this by proxy, where the gods have appointed humans as the Ones.

How can one not be a racist?

This is the same choice as whether to adopt a tight or a wide shot. And some people take an even tighter shot, where the focus is on nationality or race or colour or sex or gender or affluence or whatever. But the wide shot captures all species on the same plane. Peter Singer is the leading Western philosopher in this space. In his world, Humanism, this human-centred view, is Speciesism.

The most common responses to this charge are to dismiss it on the grounds that ‘humans are superior for reasons’ or that ‘as long as we consider the biosphere as a system, we can still take an elevated position’. I don’t truly accept either of these positions. The first is, frankly, narcissistic, as is the second, but humans have an abysmal track record when systems thinking and complexity are involved.

How can one not be a Speciesist?

The obvious question, then, akin to, ‘How can one not be a racist?’ in these #BlackLivesMatter times, is ‘How can one not be a Speciesist?’ But there are still wider lenses as we pull back to capture the entire taxonomy. We can elevate species to genus to family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, domain, or life. And why stop there except for moral convenience?

Ask yourself: What lens are you using? What is your frame? Where is your focus? What is your depth of field?