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Get Some Perspective!

Entry 2017, on 2019-12-10 at 20:37:58 (Rating 3, Comments)

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!

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Comment 18 (5165) by OJB on 2019-12-16 at 15:49:48: (view earlier comments)

Sure, there are a range of responses to the cartoon. Obviously the more extreme demands, like for him to be fired, I disagree with more than those simply demanding an apology. I also don't think he needs to apologise, but I recognise that as being a somewhat more fair demand than others.

So I totally understand the situation isn't black and white, like no situation ever is. I often talk about nuance in my blog posts.

But my key point here is that these demands (whether they are more severe like for him to be fired, or more mild, like an apology) are based on opinion, and I think a person has a perfect right to refuse to act on an issue which is just a matter of opinion.

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Comment 19 (5166) by Anonymous on 2019-12-16 at 16:29:29:

Think we'll need to agree to disagree. You call it opinion, I would describe it as notion of humanity, decency, or moral integrity. These are all important concepts, but would possibly fail your "logic test".

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Comment 20 (5167) by OJB on 2019-12-16 at 17:59:45:

Yeah, because this is all about opinion, we will need to disagree. Your opinion and mine are different. There is no objective basis to say one is right and one is wrong, Because opinions have no truth value, they should not be used as a basis for action in most cases. You seem to keep making my point for me! :)

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Comment 21 (5168) by Anonymous on 2019-12-16 at 23:35:33:

No, it could be that your view isn't what you thought it was ;)

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Comment 22 (5169) by OJB on 2019-12-17 at 09:47:07:

My view must be what I thought it was, because it was me who thought it. Sheesh! Maybe it is *you* who misunderstands my view. It's pretty simple: don't make draconian demands for action based on just your opinion. Your opinion is just that: something appropriate for you. Don't force it on others.

Also, I will repeat here: I am primarily criticising those more extreme people who demand that anyone who expresses an opinion contrary to theirs should be fired, humiliated, or ostracised in some way, not people like you who just present contrary opinions. Contrary opinions aren't just OK, they're to be encouraged.

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