Archived entries for human nature

In-tolerance we trust

Us vs Them

Something has gone terribly wrong with media and the Internet: we’ve lost the ability to tolerate opinions that run contrary to our own.

These days, if you express a politically incorrect point of view (which sadly, is increasingly coming to mean not toeing the line on a progressive, “small-L” liberal political agenda), then the Internet sees it as its moral obligation to set you straight.

But I get where the hate is coming from. We’re forced on a daily basis to contend with fake news and dangerous, unscientific ideas, and that’s got us all riled up because it might harm us or that which we love – both people and things (like the planet we live on). But in our attempt to protect ourselves we’ve taken to passing instant judgement on things that we’re unfamiliar with. What’s worse is that we fail to appreciate the subtlety and nuance of a debate and defer to simple archetypes and tropes in order to cope with the sheer volume of crap being slung at us at high velocity via our social media feeds.

The Same Sex Marriage postal vote currently underway in Australia has pretty much become a worst-case example, where an issue has been reduced down to exactly two tribes: Yes and No. For what it’s worth, I’ve already cast my vote, but I won’t be drawn on which way I voted because in the spirit of this post I maintain that both sides have valid arguments – not that they are equal and opposite because I did eventually choose one over the other – but that neither side of the issue is completely wrong and without merit as some would have us believe. There are people on both sides who will claim that the issue is as simple as all that, but it’s precisely this kind of reductionist thinking that’s causing the problem I’m talking about.

The obvious danger is, of course, groupthink, when you defer responsibility for understanding the issue to the tribe you identify with, which inevitably boils down to “us” vs “them” (or “Yes” vs “No” in our case here). When you Like or Share a meme on Facebook that supports your point of view without comment, you’re pretty much certainly guilty of groupthink. On introspection, you may even find that you actually disagree with some of the things that your group thinks, but in order to belong you overlook them as minor or inconsequential.

It also leads to close-mindedness against arguments offered by the other side. Given the impossible task of discerning a valid argument from an invalid one, the reasonable course of action is of course to consider all of them invalid. But because we’re challenged to engage, we avoid doing so at the intellectual level and respond emotionally and viscerally instead.

But there is a high road: just shut the fuck up.

People who haven’t read this blog nor spent the time to get to know me, and only know me from my infrequent posts on social media, will probably be surprised to find that I lean conservative on a lot of socio-political issues. Even as an atheist, my sympathetic attitude towards religion finds me few friends on either side of the fence, and I’ve learned that it’s better to keep a low profile than to attempt to nut out one’s immature, partially-formed worldview in full view of the public. To be otherwise is to provide know-it-alls and holier-than-thous with an open invitation to a slagging match.

But more than that, we need to practice tolerance as a skill; the ability to suck it in and let something pass without comment. Don’t get me wrong, I see no small irony in my saying that and writing this post, which is the very picture of me not tolerating the bullshit that I’m seeing on Facebook and elsewhere. But in my own defense I have at least made an attempt to lay out some form of argument instead of trying to get my point across in less than 140 characters and/or a narky picture.

I won’t be unfriending or unfollowing anybody, or trying to convince anyone to vote the same way I did. I’m not going to label you as a monster who hates human rights, nor some fanatic who is out to destroy the innocence of children. I will tolerate your views, with the view that one day we might be able to discuss them from a mutual position of respect. There’s more to life, and presumably friendship, than where you put your mark on the survey form.

And if you disagree with me on this, I will gladly tolerate your thoughts on that too. Feel free to leave a comment below.


Has anybody else ever wondered why public toilets are designed in a way that’s opposite to the way that humans behave? Viz: the male stereotype is that we are solitary, antisocial creatures yet urinals are largely open affairs. That leads to a mathematical conundrum as to the optimal spacing that minimises the possibility of accidentally (or even intentionally) seeing another man’s junk through a sideways glance.

Women on the other hand, are supposed to be social creatures, with a persistent stereotype that they go to the toilet together in pairs or packs. They love checking each other out, although of course you’d never get one to admit it, yet they’re forced into separate cubicles. Admittedly this arrangement does allow for handbag hooks on the doors, which I’m told comes in handy.

Is there any logical reason why “socially sensible toilets” aren’t more common?

To finish on a completely random note: they’ve installed squat toilets at Adelaide University (video):

Toying around with creativity

My Transformers displayI’ve written here about my Transformers collection, but you may wonder what do I do with them exactly, other than putting together elaborate displays in my cabinet. To be honest, nothing; they largely gather dust (and are horribly difficult to clean, I might add). I had an epiphany the other day that the difference between me now as an adult and me back when I was a child: I no longer give myself the freedom to imagine.

Over the weekend I played with Jenny’s cousin’s son, a hyperactive two year old. Both my body and my mind received a thorough workout as we roughed up a stack of Jenga blocks, where the individual tiles were transformed into a pile of bricks, a horde of money, food, cars, trains and planes. Next, we moved onto an etch-a-sketch, where we drew faces, created scenes of day and night, and drew a whole lot of random scribbles from which we’d eke out meaning, like a Rorschach test. We did the same with his collection of toy cars as well as his Thomas the Tank Engines of various sizes (which somehow came to represent members of his family). Overall, about 2 hours of intense play.

It was like the opening scene of Toy Story 3 – toys aren’t simply objects to be appreciated for their features and design – they were avatars for the personalities and characters that we invent for them in our imaginations. As embarrassing as it is for me to admit this, I used to play with Transformers in the same way that girls played with dolls. I distinctly remember one Transformer called “Searchlight” that I used to play with a lot, for whom I built a little bed out of a tissue box for him to sleep at night.

As an adult, I no longer afford myself the opportunity to truly play with toys. My limit is putting them into spiffy poses and taking a photograph or two – any more than that and I’d probably be committed. The generally accepted adult expressions of creativity are things like this:

That’s great if you have the passion and the talent, but what do you do if you don’t?


Geek conversation etiquetteI make no bones about the fact that I’m pretty geeky, so I’m generally aware of my deficiencies in most of the social graces. No idea why, but yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t know how to take a compliment. For example, somebody says to me “hey man, that’s a nice jacket”, my response would be along the lines of “um, yeah… thanks”. It’s a real conversation killer, and could be one of the reasons why I find the experience of talking or socialising with other people such an awkward experience.

Should I have returned the compliment – “thanks mate, you’re looking pretty sharp yourself”, or downplayed it with “nah, I just threw it on this morning ‘coz it was cold”?

Is it possible to learn this in a systematic fashion to compensate for not having acquired it by osmosis during the last 32 years?

Reading between the lines

Jenny absolutely loves movies. Me, I don’t care much for them, reason being that the plots inevitably hang one or more of the characters doing something stupid. We borrowed a couple DVDs recently – The Descent, which featured a group of girls being as irritating as possible and making irrational decisions at every turn so that their friendship dissolves into bitter enmity; and The Reader in which a character allows herself to be incarcerated for life because she’s too ashamed to reveal that she’s illiterate.

Kate Winslet in The ReaderWhile The Descent did nothing to improve the thriller/horror genre’s standing in my books, I did find myself being somewhat affected by The Reader (and not because Kate Winslet is naked in half of her on-screen appearances). There’s a lot of tension as Michael Berg (played by David Kross) grapples with his conscience as to whether he should keep silent and see his unrequited love go to jail, or speak up against her wishes and shame her in front of the court (and presumably, country). While Jenny was weeping by the end of the movie, the whole time I was going “is it really worth being sentenced to prison for life, just to hide the fact that you can’t read and write?” while secretly choking back a tear.

This probably reveals just how much of a geek I am, which is to say completely out of touch with my emotions (feelings that can’t be expressed with an emoticon don’t exist :-P) – but maybe like the cliché about the speck of grit being the source of great beauty, flaws are necessary for the telling of great stories, and it’s only by allowing yourself to ignore these flaws that one can connect emotionally. I blame my inability to appreciate this on being exposed to too much awesome.

So where does that leave The Descent? The oyster must’ve gotten a mouthful of dirt, choked and died.

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