As a professor of Critical Thinking at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, CA, my entire academic life I have been constantly receiving similar feedback on my observations and opinions, something along the line of, “I have not really thought of it that way before.” Jimmy’s intention is to develop critical thinking skills, look at things a different way and to question everything. I speak and write of all aspects of life, from Buddhism to twerking, from the spiritual to the profane, from meditation to pornography. It all makes for great conversation and analysis.

So sit back, read and/or listen, and question me as we learn in the tensions of life.

Yeah, But Still…Be Your Own Factual Boss.

I heard it said that statistics are just numbers waiting for an argument.

Then argue with me.

Despite a significant US population increase since 1991, the murder rate that year was 24,700 compared to 14,249 in 2014 with a decrease nearly every year in between. The odds of you getting murdered have been nearly cut in half the last 25 years.

Yeah…but still.

There were 687,730 robberies in 1991 compared to 325,802 in 2014.  The chances of you being robbed has been well over cut in half the last 25 years. In addition, aggravated assaults, thefts and burglary rates have all plummeted during this same period.

Yeah…but still.

In 1991, the population was 252,177,000 and there were 14,872,900 violent crimes committed. In 2014,  the population was 318,857,056 and 9,475,816 violent crimes were committed.318,318,857,056857,056

yeah-but-still-1_1250

Adjusting for population, violent crimes have been cut in half in the last 25 years. The United States has never been a safer place.

Yeah, but still.

Thus far in 2016, 57 Americans have been killed by terrorists, including the recent Dallas police officer murders. In a 30 year study, it is estimated that a minimum of 3,000 and as many as 49,000 Americans will die from the flu each year.

Yeah, but still.

According to the Washington Post, 1,502 people have been shot and killed by police since January 1, 2015.  732 were markedly white and 382 were markedly black -with the rest of unknown ethnicity.

Yeah…but still.

In my very first blog in 2012, I wrote, “The odds of a child getting shot and killed at school is 1 in 12.2 million, pending the year. A child is over 16 times more likely to get struck by lightning than to die in a school shooting. To provide another vantage point, the CDC reports that in 2008 alone, 1,700 children died from child abuse and neglect in the US.”

Yeah…but still.

By far the greatest danger to children’s lives, other than abuse and neglect, are not guns, shootings or terrorism, rather it is our country’s swimming pools -with nearly 400 deaths per year.

Yeah…but still.

Speaking of children, though we instill a healthy fear of “strangers” in our children, they are far more likely to be abused, kidnapped or killed by their parents than all the strangers on the street combined. Ernie Allen, the once head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said, “We have been trying to debunk the myth of stranger danger.”

Yeah…but still.

With 41,143 suicides in 2014 and only 16,105 homicides that same year, you are 2 ½ times more likely to kill yourself than to be killed at the hands of another.

Yeah…but still.

In regards to breast cancer, the chances are far greater that a US woman will die from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension or lung disease/cancer before breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer is the 6th leading cause of death for women up until this writing.

Yeah…but still.

According to US News, undocumented “illegals” who supposedly drain our system, contribute nearly 12 billion dollars per year to the US economy, with California receiving nearly 3.2 billion of this pie. This does not include their labor contributions.

Yeah…but still.

We fear the things we should not while not fearing those things we perhaps should. Thanks mass media. You are just awesome. We have been trained and conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to believe your bullshit.

Yeah…but still.

Argue with me.

Podcast With Son Stevie

My 21 year old son Stevie asked me to be a guest on his podcast…though after this short 17 minutes discussion he decided it was too personal. I then asked him if I could post it on my jimmysintension podcast and he agreed. So hear us discuss family, education, money. etc…

 

Empathy: Who, What, Why, When and Where?

I am strong believer that one possesses only a finite and limited amount of genuine empathy to practice in life. I have blogged about a similar idea previously- the notion of “Dunbar’s Number,” a theory that posits that people have a limited amount of human beings, namely family and close friends, for whom they can authentically feel and care.

I wholeheartedly believe this theory.  Therefore I jealously guard my empathic feelings and emotions for those whom I can have a direct and real impact on in their lives –my parents, my own family, and close friends.

Please do not get me wrong, if I were to see a stranger choking on a sandwich in public I would rush to practice the Heimlich maneuver as my empathy would be generated by close proximity and my ability to engage.bt-against-empathy

Yet the mass media, also known as the handful of corporations that control the news I receive and the impact/style in which I see it, wants to drain my empathy tank and create news narratives that tempt me to care.

Let’s think outside the mass media box for a few moments. Please bear with me…

What if I were to suggest that the shooting of a gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo means nothing to me, or, for that matter, an alligator killing a young child at Disney World does not effect me in the slightest? Oh, and what if I was to say that I would not lose any sleep over a horrific nightclub shooting with 50 lives lost?

I would be an asshole, right?

Maybe. Yet perhaps such an attitude is warranted at a certain level.

I certainly could be informed of important information regarding such reported occurrences…careful of gators, vigilance in public places, etc…though empathy?

Perhaps it is a wise decision to NOT allow news directors to guide our life narratives, concerns, and conscience. Perhaps it is not cruel hearted or sociopathic to be in control of our own personal story while refusing to allow someone else to dictate what we should find relevant and important.

“But wait Jimmy, these terrible things really happened. Is it not natural and humane to show concern for such events?”

Glad you asked.

So, if a lack of concern for these matters causes you to think negatively of such a person, myself in this case, I could counter that your complete lack of concern over the thousands in our country who have died since these media events through illness, traffic accidents, drownings, and less “sexy” means of death –most of which go unreported- might make you the callous asshole, a lemming callous asshole at that, because you are allowing greedy corporations to dry up your empathy tank.

My father is not doing very well these days. I absolutely care about that. I care deeply and feel for him. Yet the news media tries to suck my limited amount of available empathy for strangers 3000 miles from my home? I do not believe our brains are even wired to be able to practice genuine empathy in these cases. Although I cannot make a direct cause and effect argument, perhaps it is no coincidence that with the rise of reported global events comes the rise of anxiety and depression…perhaps big pharma, producers of Xanax, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc…have none other to thank than mass media.

If you do care and empathize with these reported events and show no concern for the un and under reported events, I would not believe you are a callous asshole, rather just a fellow human being who cannot possibly exercise true empathy for every tragedy the world offers up each and every day -we allow the news directors to do that work for us. Imagine having to be concerned for the 151,600 people who die EVERY DAY through all kinds of means? Kill me now.

I refuse to allow a news director tell me which of the 151,600 deaths I should care about and which ones I should not…by sensationalism in the former and through negation in the latter.

If the gorilla were my pet, the child my family or friend, or the nightclub patrons those within my social circle, I most definitely would care.

If I can go all neuroscience on your ass for a brief moment, according to Jason Mitchell, the head of Harvard’s Social Cognition and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, human begins are wired to want to know and empathize with what is going on in the minds of people around them. In fact, this “neuro” feature has been instrumental in our success as a species as we are able to accomplish group goals that individuals alone could not. Empathy and understanding are vital to our survival.

In the context of the above research it was determined that this human aspect of the brain will begin to make us practice empathy with technology and machines as well as human beings. Yet I do believe there is another application as well.

So what happens when our empathic feelings are directed toward events in which we have no stake, nor ability to act? I can only speculate at this point, though it would seem that our empathic infatuation with media inspired events would ultimately work to handicap our personal ability to practice empathy in the contexts that really matter.

A friend recently wrote me an email and here is an excerpt that may demonstrate my point:

What I haven’t posted about but only alluded to is how profoundly affected I have been by what happened in Orlando.  My strong sense of empathy has always drawn me toward watching unfolding news stories like mass shooting and reading the subsequent coverage.  I can recall sitting on the bed in the house in (his city) back in 1999 watching the Columbine massacre and subsequently being engrossed in the news coverage 9/11, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and the others.  Jim, I have not been able to watch television coverage or even read an article online without becoming so distraught, I have to turn it off.  I cannot say that some of that is because those killed were young gay men, but I felt as saddened by the deaths of the school children in Connecticut as I do to those in Orlando.  What I keep coming back to is that text that one of the victims sent right before he was killed that said, “Mommy, I am going to die.”  NO ONE should have to send a text like that and NO ONE should have to receive a text like that….NO ONE!  The point of all this (right now) is that I am a huge ball of emotions right now.

This is my point…we are not wired to empathize with the entire planet.

Of course I could be wrong, though I would just venture a guess that my good friend is probably not a lot of fun to be around at the moment and that his strongly empathic reaction to these events is hindering his ability to function effectively in his relationships that matter most to him -on an interpersonal level.

Our brains are now deluded with global sadness that will harm our ability to practice local, effective relationship management.

But, but, but,…..these things that happen are so awful!

Yep, they are. Yet no more awful than the injustices, tragedies, horrific unreported things that happen every day.

From this day forward I vow to be captain of my own empathy ship -a ship with a limited cargo of empathy.

The 5 Things I Learned While Wearing A Dress All Day As A Man

I love to challenge my students in regards to beliefs, societal norms, and cultural expectations.  As a strong proponent of new experiences and change, I frequently find myself encouraging others to try something different in order to gain new perspectives.  I believe this to be of particular importance the older we get—as opening ourselves up to new information and experiences truly helps to keep our minds fresh and challenged.

So, this past week when I challenged a particularly effeminate male student, who basically despises everything masculine, to open himself up to new “macho” experiences in which he may feel uncomfortable, going to an NFL game for example, he cringed.  It occurred to me that perhaps that could be too much, too soon. So I reconsidered.

“Ok, Jack,” I stated, “if you wear an NFL football jersey to class on Thursday, I will wear a dress…all day.”

As a man who has no interest in wearing women’s clothing, I somewhat instantly regretted my offer as he quickly took me up on it. However, I also have no interest in being a hypocrite. If I challenge my students to take on new experiences that go against their natural inclinations, why shouldn’t I?

It turned out to be one of the better ideas I have had in my life

So, the next day, I went with my daughter Tessa dress shopping (at The Good Will…. I knew I would likely never wear it again) who helped me pick out a nice red and black paisley with matching sleeves and a delicious plunging neckline.

And what did I learn from my day dressed as a woman?  5 things. 5 things I already knew at some superficial level, though experiencing it firsthand solidified and greatly deepened my understanding. I realize these lessons are very specifically from the United States perspective of cultural norms.

  • Wearing a dress all day gave me an unusually high level of awareness concerning my, ah, “junk.” A dress provides extremely easy access to the genital area while having to work fairly hard all day ensuring you are not the victim of public upskirt porn or the Marilyn Monroe style blown up dress.  Could it be that we made dresses for women the, essentially, cultural norm in a society that hyper-sexualizes them? I do not claim to be a student of fashion history, yet dresses certainly make women more easily sexually available from a practical, “let’s make this as accessible as possible” perspective. In the little bit of research I performed for this blog, it does appear that the voracious male sexual appetite has always played a central role in determining clothing norms.  Call me crazy, yet when you have to work all day ensuring your genitals do not fall out, a much greater cognizance of their presence is the natural result. As a man with pants we just tuck that bad boy away, zip up, and move on.
  • Wearing a dress all day made me feel somewhat scared and vulnerable.  As I walked through campus and endured the laughs, the dirty looks and even taunts (one young man said, “you wearing that dress makes me want to kiss you,” in jest, to be sure, though it still crossed his mind) I was not sure if I was even safe. Now I am quite certain if I did wear a dress everyday my level of sensitivity would decrease, yet this experience offered me a very small, yet profound insight into the vulnerability some disenfranchised others—such as the handicapped, effeminate males, “bull dike” lesbians or certain out-of-place ethnicities, may feel on a daily basis. Wow. I just wore a dress one day at a college campus as a stunt…while certain people have to live this as a way of life. This experience was surprisingly insightful and has given me a new perspective of cultural outliers.
  • Wearing a dress all day caused me to reach a higher level of critical understanding concerning cultural norms and practices. Why shouldn’t men wear dresses? It is just fabric that covers the body—which is really the entire purpose of clothing. Why have we attached such strong gender specific identification to clothing? It is just…CLOTHING. Who gives a flying f? Who was the council that got together and declared what is for men and what is for women… and what was the logic behind it? It makes absolutely no sense from a strictly “do things rationally for a valid reason” perspective. I realize that some men wear dresses as official garb, such as priests and supreme court justices, yet that is designed to place dress over existing clothing as to not let the outfit you are wearing underneath play any form of distraction in official proceedings. What other bullshit cultural norms do we we buy into everyday? This experience really has me thinking at a higher level of consciousness concerning what we do and why we do it.
  • Wearing a dress all day made me realize society has a double standard: Women can dress like men and it is socially acceptable though men cannot dress like women. Ok, my daughter, Tessa (the one who likes to go dress shopping for her dad)  disagrees with me on this one and I understand her point and do not necessarily disagree with it.  Her understanding is that this double-standard really is not a double-standard at all.  Men are the powerful in society and to emulate one through dress is acceptable; to emulate the less powerful is unacceptable—and perhaps this is true, yet, it still creates the same result —there is a stigma against males dressing as females, whatever the reason. Ruth Greyraven, a card toting member of the “female who dresses as male” club and biology professor at Crafton Hills College, had this to say about gender and clothing on Facebook:

Since 1968, I’ve been participating in a social experiment where I wear “men’s” clothes. I got sent home from school and threatened with expulsion the first few times, even when the outfit was a girlie-colored and femme-cut pantsuit. Times changed for women, but not as much for menwomen don’t get arrested for cross-dressing in this country. And a butch woman is far less likely to be beat to shit by queer bashers than a cross-dressing guy.

Agreed Ruth. In my courses, most female students do not wear dresses, rather, mostly, jeans and a t-shirt…traditional guy clothing. However, to my point above, why does this double-standard even exist? Clothing should not be an issue in the first place. Wearing a dress all day reaffirmed my commitment to continually challenge myself and others to test all cultural norms. Why? Not to be different, arrogant, unwilling or defiant—rather for the purpose of assisting the evolution of culture to be more loving and accepting of others, and, secondly, for the purpose of personal growth. As mentioned above, what else are we doing in 2016 that is traditional though not logical; unacceptable but with no basis; insensitive and for no good reason? Clothing is likely just one cultural contradiction of many.

So there you have it, my day dressed as a woman, in a dress. I had absolutely no idea the profound impact this would have on my psyche.

I dare you. Step out and explore new realms.  You will have no idea of the effects it may have on you, the individual, and culture, the collective. Jack did it…so can the rest of us.

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Duke Lacrosse, The McMartin Preschool And The Transgendered: 5 Reasons Why Most People Believe Lies, Misinformation And Fake Stories

I teach critical thinking. Yes, I teach people how to think critically regarding all the various aspects of their lives. Yet, I do not just teach it, I try to live it and breathe it. I love it. Of course I am human and do not always practice it, but I sure try. In fact, I would go as far as to say that spreading the gospel of critical thinking is my life’s mission and passion.

It is armed with this understanding that I relate to you the following incident that is now experiencing its 10 year anniversary. I realize many of you are familiar with the story though may not know all the details.48459

In the end, this is not a blog about the Duke lacrosse incident, rather it is about critical thinking. Yet, an understanding of the basics of this story are in order to get to my point.

In 2006 the Duke lacrosse team threw a raging party in which they hired a stripper and consumed plenty of alcohol. The stripper, Crystal Mangum, later reported to the police that she had been raped by 3 members of the team, around midnight or so, the evening of this party.

Within just a few days, word got out about this alleged rape and pandemonium ensued. Students, administration, faculty, community members, and local politicians all began a witch-hunt style attack on this team, directed towards both its coaches and players. They were labeled “privileged white racists” and were accused of rape and blatant, overt racism.  Bands of protestors called for the dismantling and elimination of this team from competition and the firing of its head coach.

Leading the rush-to-judgment crowd at Duke was Houston A. Baker Jr., a professor of English and African-American Studies. He showed his intent in a March 29 public letter to Duke administrators that boiled with malice against “this white male athletic team” —a team whose whiteness Baker’s fifteen-paragraph letter stressed no fewer than ten times. He demanded the “immediate dismissals” of all lacrosse players and coaches.

In fact, 88 Duke professors signed a document condemning the Duke lacrosse team shortly after this alleged incident happened.

The beloved head coach, who led his team to the National Championship the year previous, was fired.

Professors, journalists, and politicians all banded together in this horrifying frenzy of groupthink.  There was not a single shred of evidence to suggest these young men did anything wrong at all, except if you call getting shit faced and watching a stripper for a few minutes, “wrong” -which you may- yet it is certainly not illegal.

Now, I promised I would make a long story short, so here goes:

The evidence finally came out. DNA tests, phone records, eyewitness accounts, etc.

So, what happened that evening?

Nothing…nothing illegal and certainly not a rape.

The three young men charged with rape were all found innocent.

So was this just another case of white privilege using their power and riches to overcome the system?

Hardly, read on.

The truth? Stripper Crystal Mangum arrived at the party, drunk and on the muscle relaxant Flexoral, as well as several anti-depressants, danced for a few minutes and then promptly blacked out on the back porch.

That’s it.

Not only were the young men innocent, it was found that District Attorney Mike Nifong (white, btw) hid evidence that would have exonerated the Duke athletes as proceeding with this high profile case would boost his chances of being re-elected to the position…as he was trailing in the polls prior to this incident.  He was later disbarred and spent a short time in prison for his actions. The lead investigator, Michael Gottlieb (white btw), manipulated all the evidence in an attempt to frame these young men. He was also removed from his position and committed suicide in 2014.

These young men were not only innocent, they themselves were the victims of a corrupt system, reverse racism and out-of-control media that is primarily interested in stories, not truth. Crystal Mangum later confessed that she made the entire story up and has been institutionalized for depression, mental disorders and addiction. The sad part is the DA had this information…and pursued the case anyway for the sake of his own personal and professional best interest.

Once the evidence was presented and the truth was discovered, how did all those who led the witch-hunt, prior to ANY evidence being presented, react?

Many apologized to the team. For example, ESPN journalist, Jemille Hill, stated in a letter to the team:

My being a black woman, my knowing too many athletes who treat women like items to be purchased in a vending machine, and my witnessing enough athlete rape trials where accusers are overwhelmed by their fame and fortune — it all tainted my perception and made me doubt your innocence.

I feel stupid now…

So to Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, the three Duke lacrosse players whose lives were mangled by an unsupported rape accusation, I say two of the hardest words in the English language:

I’m sorry.

Still many have not apologized, including lead witch-hunter, Professor Houston A. Baker, who has since left the school to teach at Vanderbilt.

Professors, supposedly leaders in teaching our nation’s youth how to critically think, were the most heinous violators of reasonable and logical thought.

Critical thinkers are at the very least able to acknowledge they do not know something or that they were wrong. Sad. Our educational system is in trouble.

So, I told you this was not a blog concerning the Duke lacrosse incident and it is not. I could have told the story of Peggy McMartin and Raymond Buckey -whose lives were ruined after they were accused of pedophilia and running the satanically inspired McMartin preschool back in 1984- in the longest and most expensive trial in American history at the time. And what did they do wrong?

Nothing. Nothing at all…after 6 years of a living hell and public witch-hunt.

I could tell countless stories of African Americans wrongly accused and railroaded into public disgrace and guilt before any actual evidence was presented. There is no shortage of these shameful examples of the human mind’s lack of critical thinking skills.

Why do we human beings tend to make judgments about people and situations, then react hysterically, when we have zero to little reliable information? Why do we believe shit that we have no business even having an opinion on? Why the lack of critical thought and analysis? I believe there are 5 primary reasons we believe lies and misinformation, aka, “bullshit.”

We tend to believe stories that fit nicely into our own personal life narrative. If we believe this or that about a certain ethnicity, gender, religious group, etc… as in, ”I know that group and they are all______________(fill in the blank)” and we hear a story that fits this narrative and confirms this preconceived bias, we go with it. If you were sexually abused as a child, you may tend to believe the McMartin case allegations were true. If you were ever the victim of suppression and hatred on behalf of the privileged white man, you would likely believe the accusations against the Duke players were true, truth be damned of course. Critical thinking through every story we come across can be a real bitch…while it may result in having to change our preconceived biases, which can be scary, as we have so much invested in creating our comfortable and cozy little narrative about life…and now must suck up every morsel of evidence -true or false- that backs this story up.

We tend to believe stories that will provide a form of therapeutic release for our own hurts and dysfunction. In the above-mentioned sexual abuse or racial hatred examples, by channeling our anger at those who have been accused of such things, this provides a form of release and inner revengeful satisfaction that one’s own personal hurts are finally being vindicated and, in a sense, healed. Truthfulness and voracity mean very little to the injured and wounded soul that seeks comfort and refuge. Raymond Buckey can now act as the projected lightning rod and become the pedophile pervert that sexually abused you as a child -and his loss is your emotional gain. Of course this makes no sense on a rational, critical level yet the landscape of the psyche can be a strange and unstable emotional place.

We tend to believe stories because we are too lazy to think otherwise and do a little research. I am a firm believer in not only questioning authority, rather questioning everything -all the time. Question every bullshit meme you run across, every bullshit story in your Facebook thread, every Reddit post, EVERYTHING. Remember, all news media has only one intention and that is to make a profit. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, news anchors of yore who possessed a startling sense of morality concerning the truthfulness of stories, are long gone. We live in the age of intense bullshit and it has never been more important to practice cynicism regarding all the information we run across in our lives. Get off your ass and THINK. If we do not…

We believe stories because we believe false information. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a student believe staunchly in some type of philosophy or ideology and then request the student to do some research into a reliable pool of information so they can base this strong opinion on some evidence. Most come back with a revised, or in some cases diametrically opposed, position after the facts are discovered.  I am not sure as to why…perhaps it is due to my age, my lot in life, or the progression of information overload in our culture, yet it seems to me that people, on the whole, are far more gullible than ever.

We dismiss credible stories that contradict our current belief system. Recently I brought a speaker to our school, Georgia Lee McGowen, who is a transgendered woman for the purpose of educating the ignorant, promoting understanding and to begin a dialogue. She came to speak to my diversity class yet I encouraged my other classes to sit in and hear her lecture as well. She has had a very interesting and difficult life.  Imagine my dismay as some students said they would not attend the lecture because they did not believe in being transgendered and that it went against their belief system.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! (read: primal scream of frustration and heart sinking).

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I realize listening to someone this different can make some very uncomfortable, I know. She made me uncomfortable when I first met her years ago….because I was ignorant of the transgender community. However, for those who want to cocoon themselves in this tidy little fictitious world of they way they want the world to be-as opposed to exposing themselves to what it really is- there are very dangerous implications. When we close ourselves off to new information and simply choose to believe whatever it is we choose to believe, for whatever reason, we are closing ourselves off to growth, development and open-mindedness- all characteristics central to critical thinking. I am quite certain most historical dangerous dictatorships were not big fans of opposing ideas, new modes of thinking or critical analysis.

There are many other reasons we believe bullshit, such as impishly delighting in the misfortune of others, being entertained by it all or the story just makes us feel better about ourselves.

That said, in the age of a culture dangerously close to amusing itself to death, critical thinking and exposing ourselves to new ideas is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.

Our world has lived through witch hunts, holocausts and genocides…and these all began with a lack of critical thought from the masses who refused to open themselves up to different ways of thinking and living: Blindly believing the bullshit and propaganda of its leaders.

Yeah, I teach critical thinking…and I am concerned. Is another holocaust right around the corner? Probably not. Yet a case of public hysteria over a situation in which we do not have all the facts, certainly is -and it does not take a critical thinking genius to figure that out.

Just…think. Critically. After all, you might just be the next victim of the media witch-hunt.

 

 

 

Day of Advocacy, March 8, 2016

This is a podcast from our March 8, 2016 Day of Advocacy at Crafton Hills College. Come hear students Ian, Derek, Tammie, Angie, Mario, Stephen, Ryan, Victoria, Brandon and Karissa advocate for various causes, including meditation, modesty, pet adoption, the metric system, and much, much more!

 

America Is Becoming A Big, Fat Joke. What Is One To Do?

Let me be clear…I am not, nor have I ever been, a cultural dystopian, aka, “doomsdayer” whose pessimistic outlook of our country spells certain future disaster.  Nor have I ever been a cultural utopian who believes our future is a yellow brick road leading to Nirvana.  I like to believe I am a critical thinker who calls it as I critically see it—dystopian or utopian be damned.

Thus, when I contend that America is turning into a big fat joke, perhaps some context is in order.

In my Critical Thinking course I teach the 1985 classic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, by author Neal Postman. In this 31 year-old insightful piece of literature, Postman posits that the television is turning our country into a culture of entertainment addicts: A world in which all of our areas of supposed serious cultural discourse—our news, politics, education and religious institutions, to name a few, are transforming into conduits of entertainment while providing fodder for the amusement-feeding frenzy of the American populace.

I first taught this book circa 1989…when I believed it to be an interesting argument. I continued to teach the book through 1999…when I then believed it was on to something fairly huge.  In 2009 I believed it was more relevant than ever. Now, in 2016, by simply including that television also means the internet, I believe it to be a cultural prophesy that has tapped into the present zeitgeist of a generation. The older the book becomes, the more relevant its application. My students clamor for it… other than the movie, “Back to the Future,” what else from 1985 is clamored for by today’s 20 somethings?

Postman has no problem with entertainment. In fact, he would likely argue that entertainment shows are the best shows on television. Why? Entertainment shows do not pretend to be anything else but entertainment. The danger, he suggests, are those programs which purport to carry meaningful substance and are, in reality, portals of amusement under the guise of serious discourse.

Postman bemoans the political debates of the 1980’s, yet, by today’s standards, those were exhibitions of the highest intellect—a political candidate referring to the size of his genitals? I doubt even the great cultural cynic Neal Postman would have ever predicted that one on even his worst, pessimistic day.

CBS president Leslie Moonves, referring to our current state of insane politics, could not have said it more clearly, It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Spoken like a man clearly leading the charge in a country bent on amusing itself to death.

Of course I thought I did see the presidential silliness writing on the wall when the state of California elected an action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to run one of the largest economies in the world, though, alas, I was wrong. It was when the great state of Minnesota conveniently one-upped us Californians with its electing wrestler, Jessie “The Body” Ventura, to its highest office, that the writing on the wall became truly legit.

We had to see this coming.

Oy vey. And I’m not even Jewish.

Moonves continues, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

According to Moonves, CBS profit “Trumps” our nation’s dignity and decorum.

Contemporary politics is only one example of our big fat joke. Our nation’s biggest star is only known for a porn video, a reality show and a fat ass. Today’s pop music largely centers around “niggers,” asses, bitches and hoes. Now is when my grandpa Jimmy rant really gets good: In my day we used to play video games for fun, today we watch hours and hours of others playing video games for fun.

When I was growing up the greatest threat to our country came from outside influences, namely the Cold War and Russia. Then President Ronald Reagan proposed a “Star Wars” defense shield that literally would be a dome-like structure over the nation to protect us from incoming missiles. However, today’s greatest threat, save for isolated terrorist attacks, does not come from outside missiles but from inside insanity. Our country is not set to explode due outside forces, rather, we are on the course to implode due to inside sources. Who is going to save us from us? Does there exist a protective shield for that?

A friend of mine, Dominick, recently wrote sarcastically on his facebook page “that it’s some kind of shocker to learn we live in one big Jerry Springer episode set in an enormous Walmart…” Believing in this cultural milieu is one thing, yet what am I to do with this understanding of America becoming one big, fat joke?jerry-springer-large-643x441

Do I grow a beard and stand on street corner shouting the end is near? Do I laugh? Do I cry? Panic?

Please understand that when I say I will do absolutely nothing -outside my normal daily routine and life- is not a sign of apathy nor concern, rather a sign of accepting reality on realities terms.

I could argue with gravity or with the necessity to breathe or with the entropic nature of the universe, but I would lose all of those arguments.

I could argue against the decay of western civilization…but what would be the point? It is what it is.

Perhaps my cultural observations might lead some to sorrow and despair, yet for me it leads to the necessity to live life with a fervency and passion; to continue to take responsibility for opening minds and educating those around me to critically think; to write my thoughts and communicate my mind to others; to spread positive energy to all those within my small sphere of influence while being eternally grateful for each breath I take on this floating round ball in space; all the while continuing to know the difference between observing, complaining and truly living.

Accepting the big, fat joke for what it is does not at all mean that I am pleased by it, nor enjoy it, nor embrace it.

Perhaps if I were aboard the Titanic I would be one of the guys enjoying the wonderful sounds of the violinists as the ship slowly makes its way into the watery grave that awaits. The ship is going to sink whether I panic or not.

In the paraphrased words of Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Hey, things could change, or not. Or, hell, I could even be completely wrong about all this.

I want to live a rich life and make a difference with those with whom I am able. Perhaps if we all did so, the course can be changed. Or not.

A cultural dystopian? Perhaps, but in a clearly utopian kind of way.

Podcast With SBCCD Chancellor, Bruce Baron, Part I

Jimmy sits down with a San Bernardino Community College District Chancellor, Bruce Baron, for a frank talk concerning the San Bernardino shootings, the vote of no confidence, perceptions of people, and quite a few other issues. This podcast ends rather abruptly due to technical difficulties though part II is coming soon! Enjoy the first part of this two part interview.

 

Why I Love My Partner Rene’

I am not big on the idea of public displays of affection (known in the biz as PDAs). Nor am I too hot on the idea of telling loved ones just how much I love them via social media–when I can just walk in the next room and tell them myself. In fact, my philosophy has long been that those couples who continually post love notes and “lovey dovey” pictures of their significant other on social media are likely the ones struggling the most in their PLLs (personal love lives).

It is as if the posting and public displays will somehow compensate for a struggling connection and perhaps may set the course straight. Or, maybe, we would just like to provide the world with an impression of our relationship that it is ideal when, in reality, it is far from it.  I have known far too many men and women on a personal relational level who I know are struggling greatly in their PLLs…yet one would NEVER know it via their social media. The deeper the struggle comes a commensurate rise in the “lovey dovey,” carefully crafted, impression given in their social media lives.

Ahhh, social media. The king of impression management.

Regardless of the motivation, this is my evolving and working theory in regards to interpersonal communication and technology. Therefore what I am about to write does not fall into this category. Or I do not think it does…at least on a conscious level. What I am about to write is not a description of my loving relationship; rather it is a tribute to the person, my partner, whom I deeply love. It is about her…not me…not us…her and only her.

So why this and why now? Two reasons:

One, I am currently reflective as this month marks the 31st year we have been officially together, 35 years unofficially, and we typically like to honor the other with our thoughts and feelings. Secondly, I would like to go public with my sentiments because we live in a world of divorce, strife and relational hardships…our relationship is a sign that, with creative and outside-the-box problem solving and thinking, long-term love and devotion can indeed exist.

To begin, when I tell people I have a partner named Rene’ they immediately think he is a gay Spanish dude. Far from it, Rene’ is very much a female who is my partner. Why partner? You can read about that here.

Rene’ is a partner in nearly every sense of the word. We partner in parenting, we partner in finance, we partner in domestic duties, we partner in nearly all aspects of our lives. Through mutual support, we even partner in our freedoms.

I have told Rene’ on a number of occasions that her funeral eulogy will be so unfortunate. In a time in which we whitewash and sing the praises of even the most miserly souls when they depart, people will be singing the saintly praises of Rene’ and only I will know that, not only are all the praises going to be true, they will also not go far enough in their exaltation.

She is selfless, deeply caring, deeply passionate, and without question the most loving person I have ever met.  Her life is a devotion to everyone else. When you ask her a “favor” she does not view it as a burden, rather an opportunity to practice who and what she really is…a continual and full-time giver.

Stories? I have far too many accounts that demonstrate the lengths she will go to serve others. If you are reading this and you know her, I am quite certain you do as well. 3am and you need a friend? Rene’s goodness knows no time and place. I guarantee it.

Yet, her hyper-kindness only scratches the surface of her greatness.

She is an impressive professional who owns and operates her own vocal coaching business. Her students will testify to her amazing ability as a professional and vocal coach. Even though her goal is for every student to nurture their inner voice and use it to serve humanity as a whole, this does not mean that many of her students do not go on to professional fame on broadway or television…they do.

She can vocally coach you to be the best singer and performer you can possibly be…you might say she is the self-actualization coach of the vocal world.

In her 40’s she went back to college and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, not to mention her certificate to teach college reading. I have NEVER met another person with her work ethic…ever…and I know some pretty hard working people.

Personally, she strives to be the best Rene’ she can be. At the age of 50, she took up pole dancing and prances about on the pole like a child on the monkey bars during morning recess. She sings, she dances, and extracts all the youthful exuberance possible out of life. It is of little surprise that many of her closest friends are half her age as her physical years and spirit years are not at all aligned -with the latter being decades younger.

I said this was not about us…and it is not. Certainly I love her with all my heart…though who would not? Loving her is like loving breathing…what is there not to love? It is I who is blessed and showered with her goodness everyday, all day.

Damn did I get lucky. Rene’s is probably the only person on the planet who lets me be completely me…who wants me to be completely me, and if you know me, well, I’m just sayin….

There you have it. Probably my one and only shot at “tributing” the love of my life on social media.

And, hey, if I can find it, I know there is hope for all of us.

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Thoughts on Haters

Criticism: The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

There are essentially two types of criticism. The first is the type of criticism that focuses on thoughts, ideas and arguments. I like this. This blog is devoted to that level of criticism. The second is the type that criticizes people and their character. I do not like this. Not a fan.

If I do not particularly care for someone, well, first off, I would probably never tell the person unless there was a compelling reason to do so. Yet if I had to tell them, for whatever reason, I would focus on their behaviors, thoughts and/or ideas that I find problematic…not their character or assuming motivation for what they do.

I am a professor. I am professor with an opinion. I am a professor who openly and freely shares his opinion.  I am a very outspoken professor who invites criticism. I actually enjoy being criticized -in the argumentative sense- and challenged. I seek it. How on earth are we ever going to discover new ideas and thought forms unless we continually challenge the status quo thought forms around us? Criticism is not only acceptable…it is sorely needed for a culture to evolve for the better. Just ask Plato or Socrates.

Given this, it does not take a math major to deduce just how much criticism I get…and I love it.

The great majority of people are really wonderful in terms of their feedback towards me -positive, supportive, understanding, and, above all, quite civil and polite. I was evaluated by my peers and students this past semester and every comment received was positive in nature. I was very pleased to earn a stellar evaluation in every sense. Yes, I, like most people, need positive affirmation in my life…it feels good. It is really nice to know you are making a difference in people’s lives as you contribute to the cultural conversation.

Yet there will always be a minority of people who do not just personally criticize, they hate…in fact, they are haters. dear-haters-i-have-so-much-more-for-you-to-be-mad-at-be-patient

If you would like to see a sampling of haters, go to nearly any youtube video and read the comments. Many are mean, spiteful and angry…and, frankly, I am not sure why.

I have had my fair share of haters in my day and I totally get it at one level. In a world full of different personalities, there will be inevitable clashes…I totally get not liking someone, being irritated by someone, completely disagreeing with nearly everything someone stands for…I get that part. I have a, fortunately, very small group of people in my life that I feel this way towards. And, guess what? I rarely think about these people as they are not worth my time and energy for me to do so.

It is the proactive hating part I just do not get. Who the hell has the time?

I suppose in one sense the day you have haters is the day you realize you have achieved something in life.

One of my favorite comedic bits is Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrity Mean Tweets in which celebrities read very hateful tweets about themselves written by others in a very self-condescending display of spiteful humor. It is fairly simple to conclude that individuals who put themselves out in a public way will be criticized, even further, hated by a small number of people who actually have time and energy for such gross negativity.

I was discussing this idea with Rene’ after she insisted I delete a very hateful comment that someone posted on this blog. I did publish it at first though she opined that it goes against the very nature of this blog -which, she correctly contends, is based on arguing thoughts and ideas- and not being mean spirited and, well, hating. After further reflection she was right, so I deleted it. Wanna hate and be mean? Go to ratemyprofessor or youtube…or find another blog to hate on. (In an ironic twist it does sound as though I am hating the haters, does it not?)

She mentioned a passage from a book she is currently reading by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear who has a different take on those who criticize or even hate:

Pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order. Thus, people will stick you into all sorts of boxes. They’ll call you a genius, or a fraud, or an amateur, or a pretender, or a want to be, or has been, or a hobbyist, or an also ran, or a rising star, or a master of reinvention. They may say flattering things about you, or they may say dismissive things about you. They may call you a mere genre novelist, or a mere children’s book illustrator, or a mere commercial photographer, or mere community theater actor, or a mere home cook, or mere weekend musician, or mere crafter, or a mere landscape painter, or a mere whatever. It doesn’t matter in the least. Let people have their opinions. More than that – let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing… or even their comprehension… in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.

Hmmmm…I like this. I suppose haters are simply ones trying to make sense of their own lives and need to vilify selected others in order to do so. Thus it says far more about them then it can possibly say about you. I suppose we should not put too much stock in either high praise or the hate as people need both their villains and heroes, deserved or not, in order to make sense of their own existence.

So civilly criticize away people! I believe it was the motor city madman, Ted Nugent, who once said, “If you are not making waves, you’re not paddling hard enough.”

I like that. I think that is pretty good advice for all of us. And maybe, just maybe, you can have haters as well -in case you don’t already. And then you can have the honor of knowing you are instrumental in the making of someone else’s personal narrative.