Why I Stay Out Of Internet Debates

I’m sure most of you have noticed, but if you ever get into any sort of debate or online conversation, you’re going to come across loads of overconfident “know-it-alls”.  For example, it can be unbearable watching a Youtube video online and then reading through the comments below.  If you actually do deeply understand the subject matter being discussed, such as me when it comes to physics and science, you’ll realize that most of these commenters have no idea what they’re talking about.  Yet that doesn’t seem to stop them from screaming their erroneous ideas and beliefs at everyone else, causing fights, name calling, and being nasty to one another.  Why is this?

To understand what’s going on, the key psychological dynamic to understand is what’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  It’s summed up in this chart.

Human nature is strange in that the less a person knows about something, the more confident they are about the subject matter.  In the beginning, they may not know anything about the subject, and that’s about the only time you can trust a typical person.  You’ll ask them about the Affordable Care Act and they’ll say, “Huh?  What is that?”  Great, an honest, reliable response.

But then something interesting happens.  The person reads one or two news articles, probably from an extremely biased source, and then all of the sudden they are an expert.  At least that’s how they fell.  They have a false confidence that they know and understand all that there is to know and feel compelled to broadcast this expertise to everyone.  If you disagree, they call you stupid, a moron, an idiot.  They’re combative and full of this amazing confidence.  Psychologists tell us that nobody is as confident as a person who dabbles a little in some subject area, not even true experts with PhDs in the subject.

This is what you are encountering in almost all internet discussions.  People know just enough to have an opinion, but not enough to actually deeply understand anything.  Essentially you have a bunch of blind know-it-alls, who don’t even realize how little they actually know, all fighting with one another about things they haven’t a clue about.

But then something happens.  If a person has enough drive, they’ll dig into this issue even deeper.  Say they’re really interested in politics and start digging into the Affordable Care Act.  That’s when they realize, uh oh, there’s more to this than I initially thought!  Their infallible confidence begins to wane.

Then they continue to dig, more and more, and that’s when they realize, wow, I had no idea what I was talking about!  I don’t understand this at all.  Horray, they’ve became self-aware!  Now their confidence is where it should be, at an all time low.

So now the person continues to research this area.  Maybe they even go to college and work to earn a degree in economics.  After maybe earning their bachelor’s degree, they start to think to themselves, you know, this is starting to make sense.  However, their confidence is still pretty low because now they’ve learned how complicated it all is.  They now know what they don’t know, and are aware of what they actually do know.  The confidence that they have is justified.

If they now decided to master in healthcare economics and earn their PhD, after six to eight years of dedicated research into this one area alone, then their knowledge is at an all time high, however, even then, their confidence is still lower than that of the dabbler who has only read one small biased news article.

So here’s what happens in practice.   Those who don’t know anything are also the most vocal.  These are the majority of commenters on the internet.  Those who actually do know what they’re talking about are few and far between, and because they understand all the difficulties and subtleties involved, they are very careful to make definite statements one way or the other.  They know what they know, but they also know what they don’t know, so they are careful with what they say.   So the end result?  The internet is flooded with the opinions and discussions of people who don’t have a clue.

This isn’t to criticize anyone.  When I was younger, just getting out of high school, that’s when I began blogging and writing a journal.  I felt compelled to blog and broadcast my opinions all over the internet.  I was so sure of myself and everything I wrote.  I would read different books, or read articles, and then I would comment on anything and everything.  I had these bizarrely confident viewpoints on things I had barely researched at all.  I look back on it all with utter embarrassment.

Now having earned graduate degrees in physics, even now, I’m extremely cautious when discussing topics.  I know how hard it is to know something.  It takes years, sometimes up to a decade.  Knowledge is not cheap.  You have to work for it, and make huge sacrifices for it.

We live in an age where people feel the internet has all this great information.  You can learn anything with a quick google search, so why do I have to go to college or a university to learn things?  To that I’ll say this.  The internet does contain a lot of information, but it also contains a lot of garbage.  Do you know enough to sift through it?  How does one go about doing that?  You have to learn how to think critically.  You can’t believe the first thing you hear.  You have to learn the importance of doubting things.  You have to learn to question things.  You have to become self-aware enough to say to yourself, “How much time I have I spent studying this subject area?  Do I really know what I’m talking about?”  You dig and dig and keep digging.  It’s hard work.  You have to really be interested in that question to have the dedication to really learn about it.

For these reasons I find I learn more by self-study than I do getting involved in debates online.  I get online and research books on the topic, go on Amazon.com, order a big pile of books, and then sit and read them all.  Then those books tend to lead to other books, which I further buy, and I keep reading, and keep studying.  And typically, the more I learn, the more I question all the things I thought I once knew.

I’ll say this.  When I was a young teenager, I was a devout, super religious Christian.  Then I went through my twenties, and I was this agnostic rationalist, all about science and reason.  And I kept studying and studying.  Learning more and more, and as I said, I even earned my degrees in physics.  Then I sort of got to the end of that road, to the cutting edge, and was like, wow, this is strange.  Looking at cutting edge cosmology, the fundamentals of quantum theory, and the rest of it.  It was just all bizarre.  And then I even got to studying even stranger books.  Near death experiences, hypnotic regression, the nature of consciousness, and other things.  Then around the age of thirty-five or so, I’m thinking to myself, materialist views of nature seem to be lacking, and there seems to be some bizarre evidence that consciousness may operate even outside of brain processes, such as these near death experiences and other phenomenon, but heck if I deeply understand any of this!  Then I’m thinking, you know what, those religious folks talking about spirits, and God, and the rest of it, there could be something to all that.

You have to be open-minded, but also critical, and just keep investigating everything.  Keep digging.  Keep learning.  It’s a long process, and before long you’ll be on a road all by yourself.  That’s because few people venture off the main road, the already beaten paths.  In doing so you may receive ridicule from peers, friends, or family members.  But go where the information takes you.  Go where the facts take you.  If you’ve been spending years deeply investigating something, chances are nobody else has investigated the subject as deeply as you have, so go where the information is taking you.  You may be led to unorthodox, bizarre conclusions as well.  Don’t be afraid to go there.  Keep going.

Black Mirror Is Here

Did any of you guys see that episode of Black Mirror where every person has a social media score, and every time you interact with someone you’re rated on a scale of 0-5?  Well, that’s now becoming a reality.  Facebook has created a ‘trustworthiness’ score, supposedly to combat ‘fake news’.

This is the pinnacle of herd conformity.  Just espouse a viewpoint on religion, politics, or anything else that is outside of the normal purview, and BAM, your trustworthiness score tanks, and you become invisible on the platform.  Who knows, maybe this kind of “score” will one day dictate what jobs, products, and services are available to you.  Think of the pressure that would create to conform.

As for ‘fake news’, do we really think that the masses are the best arbiters of what is and isn’t true?  What should and shouldn’t be seen?  It’s obvious how this will play out in practice.  The average person barely has any free time; they’re tied up with their job, children, and other things.  They will judge the reliability of an information source based on how it “feels” to them, or even worse, flag information as unreliable simply because they disagree with it. Even the article I linked to points this out.

It’s “not uncommon for people to tell us something is false simply because they disagree with the premise of a story or they’re intentionally trying to target a particular publisher,” Lyons said.

The end result is obvious — any information that goes outside of the mainstream is censored.  Well, that’s been Facebook’s goal all along.  If you haven’t heard, Facebook actually recently formed a multi-million dollar deal with CNN, ABC News, Fox News, and other mainstream outlets when forming their Facebook Watch group to combat “fake news”.  Ever since that time, smaller media outlets have been finding themselves heavily censored on the platform.

It’s not just Facebook though.  All the big tech companies are doing it.  I used to think these platforms were just targeting aspects of the right, but as I’ve learned more about it, I’ve come to realize they target all non-mainstream media sources that become popular.  They only want the corporately authorized, mainstream content to be popular, and the rest of us are all to be relegated to obscurity.

Take Jimmy Dore of the Young Turks for instance.  He was banned for having an opinion that went against mainstream news.  His content was taken down for calling out the recent events involving RussiaGate, saying it was without substance.

For another example, take a young Youtuber who’s been popular with religious, conservative women, Brittany Pettibone.  She simply expressed a degree of support for the Generation Identity movement, a socialist, Catholic, democratic movement in Europe, and for that alone she was banned from Patreon.  Patreon told her that unless she removed those videos and deleted photos from Instagram which expressed support for Generation Identity, she would be banned from their platform.

Google and Youtube are engaged in the same censorship practices.  The Amazing Atheist (also known as TJ Kirk) has had most of his videos demonetized these days, and for what reason?  They don’t like him.  He was told that just having the word “atheist” in his channel’s name had him breaching “community guidelines.”  Freedom of religious beliefs?  Not anymore, at least not on the big tech platforms.  He’s been banned entirely from Tumblr as well.  Youtube demonitized his channel, as well as all the channels he finds interesting and engaging.  They’re all being strangled off the platform.  He has been supporting himself through Pateron, as far as I know (I’m by no means an expert on his channel), but who knows how long that will last.  They want cookie-cutter, boring, family-friendly drivel on their platform, and are trying to run everyone else off.

I find that sad because I grew up in a deeply religious household and was exposed to very few ideas.  When Youtube first started getting big, I used to see the Amazing Atheist’s channel being promoted and thought, huh, what is an atheist like?  What do they believe?  What kind of people are they?  And watching his channel, I came to understand them, and I really like the guy.  But those days are now over.  Actually expressing yourself, your viewpoints, sharing what matters to you — that’s against the guidelines.  Talk more about your cat and how cute it is.

I can see it now.  All of the television ads and celebrities will be telling you, “be an individual”, “empower yourself”, “be one of a kind”, and other drivel, but in reality, the second you actually do express some aspect of your individuality, or an original opinion that goes outside of some box dictated to you by the herd, you instantly become a social pariah, or possibly banned completely.  The end result?  Everyone becomes fake and nobody will want to rock the boat.  Everything will become insipid, shallow and ridiculous.  Everyone’s kissing up for social brownie points.

My Personal Goals For 2019

At the start of each year, most people make new years resolutions.  I suppose this would be my goals for 2019.

I wish to find/create a place within myself where I am in a state of far greater contentment and in deeper harmony with God, for lack of a better expression.  I’m wanting to rise above dualistic thinking, purging myself of inconsistent thought and restlessness.  I’m seeking greater peace within and to live in a state of joy that is independent of circumstances around me.  That’s my primary goal.

Possibly another goal would be to further develop a detached, yet unconditional love toward all beings I come across.  I wish to always treat others well, and do good, but not let all the stupidity, violence, and insanity going on around me affect my inner world.  That’s what I mean by “detached”.  I’ll help you when and if I can, but if you’re intent on going down a dark road that’s sure to bring you all kinds of suffering, I’m not going to let it bring me down in any way.

The last thing I want to focus on this year is what I would call “reconnecting with life.”  Over the last decade or so, my life has mainly consisted of me sitting in a room, studying for exams, writing papers, working on physics research, and reading books.  Besides that, there has been way too many hours just staring at this computer screen.  I’ve noticed that the more time I spend staring at this glowing monitor, the more disconnected I am from life.  I’ve noticed this in others as well and the changes I’ve seen are not good.  Our online digital world is a sort of matrix of death.  Let me explain.

One example of this death matrix is all the time I’ve spent just sitting here reading news articles, most of which are filled with lies, partisan BS intended to stir me up against others on the “left” or “right”, or extreme fear-mongering and negativity.  Besides that, I don’t want to even get into all the fake news and strange ideas the internet has brought into our world.  We live in a digital sea of nonsense, both from the mainstream and most alternative sources.  It can lead some folks down a rabbit-hole of complete fiction, and sadly, when all is said and done, it seems that those who end up fighting with one another the most are the very ones who need to be coming together.  But I can understand getting confused by it all.  I believe that’s half of what it’s intended to do.  I’ve invested far too much effort trying to figure out what’s “really” going on, what the real agenda is, and who the major players are, feeling like I have to be some sort of stalwart defender of truth.  I know just enough to know that most of what we’re hearing is lies, but I also know that having the time and energy to decipher the sea of nonsense is a privilege only those with too much time on their hands have.  This confusion creates all kinds of tension, and in my life, there is this constant struggle to diffuse all the animosity these “news” organizations cause within my family and friends.  It’s exhausting and I wonder if it’s worthy of all the energy I put into it; is it worth paying attention to?

The digital death matrix extends into entertainment as well.  I’ve sat on Netflix and Hulu watching television and movies that are filled with moral degeneracy on display, senseless violence, and stupidity.  Ask yourself how many characters portrayed on television are role models, or examples of who you should strive to be?  How many of them inspire you to be more than who you are?  How many of them create an urge in you that this life has more to offer and that you can get out there and do new and amazing things?  How many of them challenge you to be better?  I rarely if ever see anything like that.  Almost everything on there is mental junk food, filled with violence and other things to emotionally titillate the lowest aspects of ourselves.  It’s even now come to a point where half of it is laden with political agendas.  But possibly the biggest one for me is mindless video games.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve spent far too many hours engaged in these computer games where there is no emotional connection to anything, just killing people and random monsters for sport, over and over and watching some experience bar go up.  This monotony is only occasionally broken up by the storylines, almost all of which are extremely shallow.  All of this stuff is just death, death, death.  Kill, kill, kill.  Sex, sex, sex.  Stupidity, degeneracy, fighting.

But this death matrix is now extending into our social lives.  Everyone is carrying around these cell phones and are locked into Instagram, Facebook, and other forms of social media, caught up in this fake, socially competitive, reality.  Most people present false images of themselves and their lives, caught up in some weird game where they all try to one-up each other, portray an image of “my life is amazing”, and are seeking everyone else’s approval with “likes”.  They have to keep up with the Kardashians as they keep up with their neighbors and friends.  It is the quintessential essence of conformity and herd mentality, not to mention the fact that past executives from social media companies are warning us that these platforms are destroying civil discourse.  Facebook is running studies and has learned they can control your emotions and mood by controlling what is displayed in your feeds!  They have literally hijacked people’s emotions as they spy on every aspect of their users’ lives and sell their information to greedy corporations.   It’s unreal.  But yet, this is one of the main activities going on in the digital world.

So yeah, for these sorts of reasons, I’m coming to a point where I’m almost completely unplugging from the digital world.  This has been an ongoing process with me, but I have to reconnect with real life and stay out of this digital death matrix.  The problem is, I’ve been locked into these patterns of behavior for so long, to break out of them it’s like, uh, now what do I do with myself?  Ok, so I don’t spend my days locked away in a room trying to understand some aspect of the universe, reading books, or preparing for exams, or reading stuff on the computer (mostly the news), or watching Youtube, or Netflix, or playing computer games.  What do I now do with my time?  To find out what’s next for me is requiring a lot of meditation and soul seeking.

I’ve been spending less and less time on the computer, and have been exploring new activities.  I’m currently learning how to fly hot air balloons and have been considering getting into flying paramotors.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym.  I plan on hopping on the motorcycle and going for a big road trip this summer, exploring the country.  I’m getting back into playing basketball again.  I’ve even been considering drawing and trying to express certain feelings/ideas I’ve had in pictures.  I’ve also mentioned that I spend a lot of time meditating these days.  That’s probably the greatest change I’ve made.  I’m not sure where all this will go, but the I don’t want to spend the remainder of my life in the digital death matrix.  Surely there’s better things to do with myself.

Cheers to 2019 and all that’s to come.

Joe Biden Has No Empathy For Millennials

If you listen to the mainstream media, they’re telling us Joe Biden is a top pick for the presidential nominee of the Democratic party in 2020.  I’m a bit puzzled why that is.  In the upcoming 2020 election, millennials will make up 40% of the voters, yet he’s been going around telling them to “shut up”.  Biden went on to say that he has “no empathy” for them or their problems.

That’s really surprising.  He seems really out of touch.  Why are millennials so outraged?  Let’s take a look at some facts.

Did you know, Mr. Biden, that it costed millennials nearly four times what it costed you to earn a college degree?  That’s inflation adjusted.  Four times as much.  And that without a degree, most of them have struggled to find any decent career?

Then you hear that many millennials end up with their parents basements after graduation.  Considering they’re under such a large debt burdens from student loans, it’s difficult for them to go out and get a home.  But that’s not the only reason. Homes are way more expensive than they once were.  If you look at the data, you see that home prices were relatively consistent for fifty years and then all of the sudden just doubled in price.  What’s that all about?

Believe or not, you can thank Joe Biden for that.  He was responsible for repealing the Glass-Steagall act which lead to a lot of this.  Just a quick look on Wikipedia and you’ll find:

After the financial crisis of 2007–2008, some commentators argued that the repeal of Sections 20 and 32 had played an important role in leading to the housing bubble and financial crisis. Economics Nobel prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz, for instance, argued that “[w]hen repeal of Glass-Steagall brought investment and commercial banks together, the investment-bank culture came out on top”, and banks which had previously been managed conservatively turned to riskier investments to increase their returns.

So as you take a look at this next chart, look at home prices.  Thanks Joe!  Your Wall Street buddies really made out.

Let’s take a look at wages.  When inflation is taken into account, millennials earn 60% of the wages someone in 1970, and on average, it’s clear to see it’s been going down ever since.  So for those stuck in minimum wage (which is a lot of people these days), they have to work two jobs to earn the same as previous generations did in one job.

Then there’s healthcare, which is totally broken.  Many jobs today refuse to offer benefits.  Why?  That’s because healthcare costs are four to five times what they were in the past.

And I’m sure everyone paying attention has noticed that he’s a total creep.  With every photo-op, the guy is dragging the young girls next to him, groping them, stroking their faces, smelling their hair, and whispering things in their ear.  According to secret service, when the cameras aren’t on, the guy’s ten times worse.  I believe it.  Take a look for yourself.

All these poor girls (and they’re always girls) are making awkward faces and trying to get away from him.  Sometimes the mothers and fathers are having to step in and get Joe away from their children. It’s even lead to memes on the internet.

This is the same guy who in 1994 passed extra strict legislation to lock everyone up in privately owned prisons.  In 1995 he was busy writing the Patriot Act.  Yes, he WROTE the Patriot Act. (take a second to pause and re-read that)  In 1996 he voted against gay marriage.  As I mentioned, in 1999 he repealed the Glass-Steagall act, turning our economy in a giant casino, wrecking the economy in 2008 (and the problems which caused that crash have never been addressed), and creating the housing bubble which I was showing earlier. In 2002 he voted for the Iraq War and was one of its biggest cheerleaders at the time.  In 2005, he was instrumental in removing loan protections for students who are struggling to pay their bills.  Oh, and in 2018, he felt compelled to offer George W. Bush the Liberty Medal.  What a guy!

If you follow politics over the last twenty years, he’s always been on the wrong side of everything.  He’s a Wall-Street, military industrial complex, war-mongering, corporate insider democrat.  If that’s what you want, Joe’s your man.  It’s not what I want.  If the mainstream media is telling you to like someone, look into them.  I can almost guarantee you that they’re NOT who you want.

Dead Malls

When I was a kid in the late 80’s, early 90’s, my parents would oftentimes take me to the malls in St. Louis.  I remember looking at the gigantic buildings with awe.  They were filled with so many stores and people were everywhere.  Being a toddler, I was drawn to Toys R’ Us, the indoor arcades, and the mini amusement parks they’d have set up for children, such as little trains, carousels, or miniature golf.  They’re fond memories.

On birthdays my mother would take me into Toys R’ Us and I could get anything I wanted.  I’d always go to the Nintendo section and was hard pressed to choose which game to take home.  Also, as I grew, I was in need of new school clothes, so we’d often go to the mall and there’d be these giant clothing stores, just filled with blue jeans, jackets, and shirts.  As a child it was all breathtaking.  So much clothes!  So much stuff!  So many people!

Shopping there was an experience.  There were food courts selling all kinds of tasty treats, kiosks trying to sell you expensive jewelry behind immaculate glass, and giant fountains spraying water high into the air, down into sparkling water below.  When you’d get tired from walking through the giant hallways, there were special chairs you could put money into and they’d give you a massage.  I can remember sitting in one of these chairs, getting a massage, begging my mom for quarters or other spare change which I could flip into the fountain.   Or I remember getting hungry and my parents getting me a giant pretzel, an Orange Julius, and some funnel cake, strange foreign treats which were unlike anything I would ever eat at home.

As I got older, particularly when I was maybe twelve years old or so, like all young boys, you start to notice the girls.  There were cute, teenage women all over the place, shopping with their friends.  There were groups of guys wandering around as well, many of them on the on the lookout, meeting and flirting with the girls.  It was a nice place to meet new people, talk together at the food court, and go to a movie together.  These giant malls had their own movie theaters.

I’m sort of baffled to see the malls shutting down, one by one.  Most are hanging on by a thread and many of them that have managed to stay open are now dead malls.  Unlike my childhood memories, they’re now giant, creepy, vacant buildings, like something out of a video game after an apocalypse.  You go into these places and there’s not a soul in there.  It’s like aliens came and abducted all of humanity but somehow you’ve been left behind.  You walk around these places thinking, “Where is everybody?”

Dan Bell creates a wonderful series on Youtube called ‘Dead Malls’, which is interesting to watch.  He’ll normally begin each episode with footage from the mall when it was booming, back in the 80’s and 90’s (when I was a kid), and then cuts to it today.  The contrast is hard to believe.  Like take a look at this video.  It features an enormous mall built near when I was born in Ohio, but it’s now completely dead.

So what’s happened to these malls?  From what I’ve read at least, it seems to be a combination of the evaporation of the middle class, competition from online shopping sites like Amazon, and a new generation of people who do not want to leave their homes, doing all their shopping from their computers and phones.

These malls were once filled with stores like Dillards, JC Penny, Sears, and other places.  As the middle class evaporated, these places went along with them.  I don’t know, it’s just sad.