Politics as storytelling

Two decades ago, during my biweekly game in Berkeley, the black, white, and Latino players engaged in a series of long, heated debates about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. We didn’t necessarily change each other’s opinions about the case, but we gained a far deeper understanding of each other—and our respective group’s experiences—in the process. This surely affected our political perspectives too.

I’ve been mulling this scene. I think the reason I like to discuss politics with people of all perspectives is peeking under the onion layers. Prod someone into talking about something they are passionate about, and they tell stories. They describe how something makes them feel by talking about how it relates to a past event.

Okay, some people are going to be purely factual about a position. That is boring to the human brain. A story engages us. So people eventually fall into telling stories that make their point.

Most people fall near the center of a spectrum on a random issue. And, how they are asked about something can influence how they respond. Ask about abortion and someone is either for or against. Ask about different types and some people who are against turn out to be okay with allowing some types. Tell different stories about a certain type and depending on the details some people can flip their stance depending on the elements it contains.

We do this without really being aware. And I love to notice people not being aware of these inconsistencies.

And these stories reveal far more about them than just the stance. The stories we tell reflect an attempt at shaping how a person wants to be perceived. We instinctually leave out the parts that we don’t want others to know, but others who have experienced the same event know those details. Those omissions also over time get lost as we forget them.

Gotcha Jerks

Part of the political content that lately makes me uncomfortable about discussing political things are the gotcha posts. Someone makes a mistake and another person on the “good side” catches them in that mistake and cuts them down in epic style. (We call  it “owning.”) The one I saw prompting this post was a name redacted Facebook post where someone was glad the GOP is going to end Obamacare but did not realize their ACA insurance would go away as that is from Obamacare. It ended with the “friends” gloating about the post still being up and not deleted after getting owned so hard. I also have seen interviews where Fox News, Daily Show, John Oliver, and Tomi Lahren all shut down someone who was on the other side. It is easy find people on our side who does this kind of thing to people on the other side.

And easy to adopt a superior feeling at catching the people on the “bad side” in their mistake. The thing is people on the “good side” make mistakes too. Both (or all) are doing this to each other over and over in a perpetual pointless cycle. Catching a person in their mistake is going to make them more invested in their side not less. Because they know they made a mistake, they are going to become more invested in proving the other side is wrong.

Both sides are making the other more committed because of this activity. Neither side is getting the other to convert over getting embarrassed online. Conversations between strangers in forums or public spaces are all about catching mistakes to embarrass each other. Friendships on opposite political sides have devolved into replicating this activity, such that it is more important to prove friends wrong than discuss to understand new perspectives.

I am tired of this. I am sure others are too. I bet they thought their side winning the election would end it. That was a mistake because it just means the losing side wants to push harder to prove they indeed still have the moral high ground. And the winning side will push harder to prove they indeed have a mandate to govern. It solves nothing. Growing empathy works leaps and bounds better.

This sat in queue for a while as I tend to let some posts marinate. I ran across this LinkedIn story where a woman let board members think she was the secretary and man coyly asked her for the expert opinion to shame their sexism and felt the comment below by Fred Patterson more eloquently expressed my last point:

This will be my last post to this and as I write I know I shouldn’t continue. I am so confused by what I keep reading. People are so offended by this mistake or misguided move, but yet they revel in it. Joy in the train wreck that is sure to leave someone injured. This is why racism, sexism, etc continue. It is the voyeuristic delight and if it were ever gone that delight will be as unacceptable as the slight was. So many posts of jubilation and so few of TOLERANT understanding that there are people that need guidance. I’ve learned those lessons in my life from coworkers, my sons, someone I’ve never met. They didn’t take joy in it they took time and humbly helped. I’m convinced that the vocal minority doesn’t want this to end because they would have to sit idly by until a new issue appeared. Be kind. Be helpful. Coach. Mentor. Most of all set a great example for others coming up in life. Good luck.

So… Instead of reveling in each other’s mistakes, lets kindly help each other.

UPDATE: Part II

TED Talk: Let’s try emotional correctness

Sally Kohn gets an unbelievable amount of hate mail for doing her job: being a liberal pundit on Fox News. Political persuasion begins with emotional correctness: the respect and compassion we show one another.

Our challenge is to find the compassion for others that we want them to have for us. That is emotional correctness.

Given the current climate of anger, this seemed pretty appropriate.

If the video does not load, the try Sally Kohn: Let’s try emotional correctness.

TED Talk: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim

A few years ago a direction challenged friend asked me to go looking at houses with her.  She had a knack for getting lost in neighborhoods. My job was to provide a second opinion and help her get unlost. Only a couple times did I need to suggest to her how to get out of the place. Somehow, I don’t recall how, I started talking about how the money in political campaigns are bad for us. That it makes our politicians dependent on financiers not their constituents.

Fast forward to the past Friday. I had seen something about a local manufacturer in the weeks prior and stopped to say hi to the owners. Something that surprised me was that they have multiple sites around the state and how that hurts them. Of course, then it drifted into politics, how he likes the automatic spending cuts because Congress is incompetent. I made the mistake of trying to explain how it is in the best interest of Congress not to solve any of these issues. He was particularly offended that people like him who give so heavily to our house member could be thought of as “Kingmakers”. Even worse, I never really got to explain the Baha’i Faith’s elections, the style system I would replace US elections.

If the below video does not work, then try Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim.

TED Talk: How common threats can make common (political) ground

Haidt writes and talks about Moral Psychology. This is third of his TED Talks I will post here.

I liked this one because I agree we are capable of working together even when we have differences. Getting past those differences? There is the accomplishment.

If the video below does not load, then try Jonathan Haidt: How common threats can make common (political) ground.

TED Talk: Trial, error and the God complex

A conversation with the father/grandfather of family friends was about the need of intellectuals in politics. If he meant intellectual as in a natural philosopher which we typically refer to now as scientists, then I would agree. Then again, I really like the flow of try, analyze results, and determine if successful or not. Also, the idea of double blind testing and other measures to achieve objectivity. These are all things rarely seen in politics.

But then again, some people want a leader who is certain. Someone whose bearing means to them they have a handle on the situation to improve things. Never mind that confidence under pressure does not equate to making well reasoned or even successful decisions.

Quotes That Make You Think: Collected for First Half 2011

More quotes for Quotes to Make You Think collected over the past year. Additional ones can be found under the Quotes tag.


The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. — William Arthur Ward (1921-1994)

Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity. — Charles Mingus

The greatest obstacle to love is fear. It has been the source of all defects in human behavior throughout the ages. — Mahmoud Mohammed Taha

The Seven Blunders of the World…

  1. Wealth without work
  2. Pleasure without conscience
  3. Knowledge without character
  4. Commerce without morality
  5. Science without humanity
  6. Worship without sacrifice
  7. Politics without principle

— Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. — Faber. From Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. — Marcel Proust

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away. — Marcus Aurelius

They say: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you.”
I say: “Laugh and they wonder what you are up to.”
— Unknown

The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem. — Theodore Rubin

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. — Unknown

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
— Lao-Tze

The truth is, we make a mistake when we think that generations can be separated. The truth is you need me so that I have shoulders you can stand on, and we need you because you have shoulders somebody else can stand on. We are one. —Maya Angelou

The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars. — Robert Heinlein

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors and let each new year find you a better man. — Benjamin Franklin

If you are in the grip of the ego, you believe that by doing more and more you will eventually accumulate enough ‘doings’ to make yourself feel complete at some point in the future. It won’t. — Eckhart Tolle

It is unlucky to be superstitious. — Unknown

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. — Unknown

Those who know the least will always know it the loudest. — Unknown

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around — Leo F Buscaglia

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. — Lao Tzu

Happiness is like a kiss… you must share it to enjoy it. — Unknown

Stopping at what we think is the limit of embarrassing behavior, we let others claim the credit, the opportunity, the job, the person we love from afar… What you perceive as prudent social caution is  probably limiting your life to about half its natural capacity. — Martha Beck

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. — Buddha

Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit / There’s footprints on the moon — Brandt Paul

Thanks to Brian, Dusty, Ekstrom, Janice, Juls, Kyle, Mojan, Sherry, Tonya, and other friends who posted their favorite quotes.

TED Talk: David Brooks: The social animal

Some quotes I liked from this talk.

“Emotions are not separate from reason. They are the foundation of reason as they show us what to value.”

“The first gift or talent is Mindsight: the ability to enter into other people’s minds and learn what they have to offer…. Babies are born to interpenetrate into Mom’s mind and download what they find.”

“We are overconfidence machines [1]. Ninety-five percent of our professors say they are above average teachers. Ninety-six percent of college students say they have above average social skills. Time magazine asked Americans if they are in the top 1% of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans [say they] are in the top 1% of earners.”

Other abilities are Medis, picking out patterns to arrive gists, and Sympathy, work within groups, and Blending, synthesizing concepts, and Limerence, drive or motivation for moments of transcendence.

[1] In Why We Make Mistakes is a confidence test. The idea of the test is to give answers in a range where you are 90% confident the answer will be. The less certain, the wider the range. With ten questions, one can only get one wrong to pass. Managers given this test in their field got most

Tapping into the findings of his latest book, NYTimes columnist David Brooks unpacks new insights into human nature from the cognitive sciences — insights with massive implications for economics and politics as well as our own self-knowledge. In a talk full of humor, he shows how you can’t hope to understand humans as separate individuals making choices based on their conscious awareness.

Plus Size Soccer Jerseys

Some things are easy to buy online. A few times in the past month I’ve gone looking for a soccer jersey for any of the many football (soccer to my fellow Americans) team I follow. Three futile hours later, I am considering changing which football I follow since stores can carry appropriately sized apparel for it. I’m someone who wears a fairly rare to find size of 3XLT. (Or 4XL when tall is not an option. Or sometimes 3XL for teeshirts, but that usually means exposed back when I sit.)

It annoys me to find a design I like for a reasonable price only to discover there is no size available to me. In bricks and mortar stores, it means never returning until I hear they have a “Big and Tall” section hidden somewhere not obvious.

Here is a place where the Long Tail falls down. According to it, online stores, with their enormous warehouses can better afford to carry a more broad selection of less frequently selling items. They give us more choice. Therefore, it means I ought to find more choice online. For things not in my size, this is true. There is tons of choice. The same stores in a mall who carry clothing in the right sizes seem perfectly capable of offering a wider selection. Yet, an online store like Amazon can’t make it easy for me to find clothing that fits?

My main beef with Worldsoccershop.com is the lack of product in a size I can wear. (The one jersey would make me a Chelsea supporter.) They do get a couple things right.

  1. Quality search: I can put 4xl in the search and get back items with a size of 4xl. All these sites have a search. However, for many sites, size doesn’t appear to be a relevant word. The term “4XL” lands items with “XL” in the name. Useless!
  2. Narrow results by size: Brand, price, and seller are options Amazon offers for narrowing the search to more useful options. How is size not important enough to include? Useless!

Ultimately, I guess not enough people my size have enough interest in soccer jerseys. They end up American football or basketball or baseball fans which have clothes large enough for me. Maybe I should switch sports allegiances? It would help my political allegiances.

Frustrations

American politics frustrates me. Little of it is genuine. People are being tricked into believing obvious lies. Positions are veiled in marketing speak to make them sound better than the reality. Maybe there is an honest candidate? I just don’t have faith in the integrity in the American political system. In any case, I have already voted. I recommend that if you can, then get it done ASAP and prior to the actual election day.

Apparently, there are lots of car accidents on Election Day? I’ll hopefully be teleworking that day.

I turned down an offer to work a website called Real World Painting. The kid doing the web site let it get suspended (back up now). So the owner wanted my advice. He really needs the most help with search engine optimization. He’s interested in reading up on it. Does anyone have suggestions?

A friend has turned up with lymphoma. So I will probably set up a website to accept donations to help this family with the expenses.

Been talking with Mom about the economy. I did a quick calculation. Add $700 billion to the $10.3 trillion national debt to get $11 trillion. The employed U.S. workforce is about 145,255,000. That puts the burden of this debt at $75,728.89 per worker. Add in those on unemployment or not in the labor force to get 234 million people. We share a $46,936.33 burden. Last I did this calculation it was only around $30 thousand.

That is enough for now.