Monday, July 7, 2014

"How am I suppose to trust anyone when I can't trust like 50% of the thoughts in my head?"

That was said to me recently by a friend, and not as a rhetorical question. I told them I needed to think about that before I could try to answer it with any amount of intelligence. This friend lives with a mental illness, like me, though not the same one. It's not really relevant to the general public what it is, just know that it's there and it can have serious effects on their thinking and emotions.

I was reminded of various things as I tried to think the question through. When I was younger, like young teen years, I didn't trust anyone. There's various reasons for that, some of it probably related to then undiagnosed depression, but that's what it boiled down to. But I wanted to trust people. I wanted someone in my life that was trustworthy so I could be close to them. Eventually, I decided that if I wanted someone trustworthy, I needed to start by being trustworthy myself. So, I set out to become a trustworthy person. I vowed to myself not to lie (barring extreme, life-threatening situations), even if it would cause me pain, or hurt someone's feelings. This doesn't mean I'm lacking in tact. I know how to keep my mouth shut, and I don't mind telling only half the truth, so long as I don't out and out lie about it. I can be evasive. For the most part, I've stuck to this principal, even more than 20 years later. I think my idea was that if I could be the trustworthy person I wanted others to be, than others would be more likely to be trustworthy in their relations with me, and that trustworthy people would find me. For the most part, it appears to have worked. I have trustworthy people in my life now, but perhaps that was just a matter of time. I don't know.

So, a question about trust reminded me of my own trust issues. Big surprise. But it doesn't seem to entirely relate. Sure, I can recommend to my friend -and anyone else- that they be the trustworthy person they want others to be (though not necessarily to take vows against lying). And I do recommend that. But that's not so easy when you have an illness that fucks with your thoughts and emotions, making it difficult to trust even yourself, and may be not be entirely helpful.

Of course, I was also reminded of some of the difficulties my own illness, depression, has caused me. In the worst of my times, I had a hard time believing that there could ever be a happy future for me. I had friends, people who cared for me, people I trusted. But my illness made it very difficult for me to see any possibility of a positive future. It would blind me to the positive things in my life, and rob me of my energy and motivation. It made suicide seem like a reasonable choice. Eventually, it was a matter of I would either die, or something had to improve. Intellectually, I was able to see the possibility of hope, and for a while, that intellectual decision had to be enough. To realize that intellectual hope, I had to take my meds and take my treatment seriously (i.e., therapy). Eventually, the intellectual hope I clung to started becoming emotional hope, something I could actually feel. I got past that particular bout of depression, and into the future.

However, my situation, again, is not entirely the same, or entirely relevant. But I was also reminded of a blogger named JT Eberhard. JT's particular illness is anorexia. Sometimes, his anorexia causes him to hallucinate when he looks in the mirror, and at times, these hallucinations will contribute to him not eating. So, I searched his blog to see if there was anything that could be helpful. The first part of this post seems relevant.
The worst part isn’t admitting that you’re crazy (that was, ironically, very liberating). The worst part is doubting everything else. It’s thinking that if I cannot rightly perceive reality with regard to mirrors, is there anything else my brain is twisting? It makes you paranoid, and it makes you question your ability to interact with the world in an acceptable way.
Sounds similar.
It occurs to me though, that all of our brains are deficient toward accurately seeing the world in one way or another. This is how illusions exist. For instance, take this image of the famous checker square illusion: 
Squares A and B are the exact same color. You can use photoshop or whatever other means you wish to confirm this.  . . . 
Virtually every human being will be unable to perceive reality correctly with regard to the two squares. None of our sensory inputs give us all the correct information, and none of our brains parse that information in a way that gives us a fully accurate view of existence. This is why we have science, critical thinking, and other means to get around the flaws of our cognition 
For people like myself, like John Nash, and the other anorexics, schizophrenics, and such out there, we deal with one more way in which our minds deny us reality, but it doesn’t make us as different from everybody else as one may seem. There’s this perception that there are normal people and those who are crazy. But the line is actually not that distinct, and I suspect every normal person, when presented with an illusion like the one above, can relate to us in not seeing reality accurately. This is what it feels like to hear voices that aren’t there or to see reflections that aren’t real, the only difference is that people can become frightened of you if you are plagued by the latter illusions.
This seems a wise observation to me. To some extent, none of us can trust the thoughts in our head. Wikipedia has a whole list of ways that completely normal brains bias our thinking in ways that can lead to false beliefs, including confirmation bias, illusory correlation, etc.

So, how can we trust other people, and perhaps ourselves? As JT said, "This is why we have science, critical thinking, and other means to get around the flaws of our cognition." Follow the evidence, learn about critical thinking, and practice those skills. Most people are basically decent people, so you can start with an assumption that the person is probably trustworthy, at least to a point (the same principles I'm talking about can apply even if you don't think most people are decent, and you can't bring yourself to start with an assumption of basic trustworthiness). Then, over time, and over the course of your interactions with that person, apply critical thinking to the evidence they provide, and apportion your trust accordingly. Just remember, in order for someone to demonstrate that they're trustworthy, they need to be given the opportunity to prove that they're trustworthy. This means you will need to take some risks, and put yourself out there, perhaps more than you're strictly comfortable, but they're necessary risks. Nonetheless, feel free to start small, and take your time. If the evidence matches your gut instincts most of the time, then you can start to trust your gut more as well.

At the same time, be observing yourself (if you're asking yourself questions like what my friend asked me, you're probably doing this already). A big part of critical thinking is understanding that everyone makes mistakes in cognition. Watch yourself for those, even as you're watching others. But that also means that we should be forgiving of such mistakes.

Even if you practice this for years, and get to a point where you're usually able to make accurate assessments and determine who's likely trustworthy right from the start, even if you've got this down to a science, you're going to be wrong some of the time. That's to be expected. It sucks when you're wrong about someone, when you thought you could trust them, and then it turns out you can't. It sucks when you think someone's a good person, and then it turns out that they're not. The danger here isn't so much in the being wrong, it's in coming to then doubt everything because of that mistake, to overgeneralize that negative event to other events, and assume that all of them will be bad, or that you're always going to be wrong, or that you really can't trust your judgement. Forgive yourself, and try to learn from the mistake. Then move on.

That probably won't be as easy as I make it sound (it isn't for me), but try. That's all we can do. Try.

And hope. What I said earlier about using hope to get through depression can, I think, apply to trust as well. Hope that the person is trustworthy as you put yourself out there. Hope that you can learn to trust your judgement. If you can't actually feel that hope, then just recognize on an intellectual level that some people are trustworthy, and there is a non-zero chance this person will be as well. And other people have developed the skills to trust their judgement, even people with a-typical brains, so there's a chance you can as well. Better to aim for that chance than not, I think. Hopefully (heh), your intellectual hope will eventually be realized.

Friday, June 27, 2014

How to care for introverts -- or is that everyone?

Sometimes I see things that I want to agree with, and then I realize it's not that simple. For example, an image called "How To Care For Introverts" that I spotted on Facebook. It's supposed to be a list of things that teach to, well, care for introverts. But as I read through it, my most prominent thought was "shouldn't you just treat everyone that way?"

For example, the very first item on the list is "Respect their need for privacy." How is that specific to introverts? Shouldn't everyone, even extroverts, have their need for privacy respected?

"Never embarrass them in public." That really should be a general rule, followed whenever possible. Introverts (and yes, I am one) are not special in this respect.

And it goes on like that. Rules or guidelines that just seem like they should apply to people, rather than only introverts. The only thing on the list that is close to specific to introverts is the last item, "Respect their introversion. Don't try to remake them into extraverts." Even that just needs a swap of terms to apply to damn near everyone, in a wide variety of situations.

Introverts and extroverts do have their differences, but this list is not helpful at all in capturing any of those differences.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Some background for Caladrel, a drow noble ronin sword saint

A character I came up with using the Random Character Generator from Ultimate Campaign for Pathfinder. Some details are left deliberately vague, and not all of his gold from the Wealth by Level table has been spent, leaving him with 4,350 gold pieces. If anyone wants to use him, feel free, but I suggest spending some of that gold to round out his gear. He could use a bow, for example.

It's unknown why Caladrel was with the drow raiding party. He no longer remembers why. Certainly it wasn't to fight, as he was just a child. But there he was.

A drow raiding party attacked an elven village when Caladrel was young. They were beaten back, and when the elves assessed the damage, they found the young child hiding in some bushes, terrified, yet defiant. Somehow, in the confusion, he failed to follow the raiding party's retreat. He was deemed too young to be complicit in the attack, and was adopted by the weapon and armor smiths for the local militia, a young couple with no other children. Though the exact relationship wasn't determined (uncle? brother?), one of the drow men killed in the attack was clearly related to young Caladrel, and clearly was important to Caladrel. Though he remembers little of his time before the surface elves, that death still haunts him.

While growing up, he received training with the militia, and came to worship the god Gorum, god of war, when a wanderer, and cleric of Gorum, briefly joined the militia. This cleric had been exiled from his previous home for reasons unclear, but nearly everyone was suspicious of him. Everyone but Caladrel. Caladrel befriended him, and listened to him, and over the brief time the cleric was around, became a fanatical follower of Gorum.

A misunderstanding between the cleric and a local family became exacerbated by Caladrel's fury when his newfound beliefs were questioned, causing Caladrel to murder the entire family, including their child, in a fit of rage. Only the cleric knew, and helped him cover his crime up. The cleric left immediately after, leading many to suspect he was the killer. Caladrel stayed on for a full year before finally leaving. He truly regrets the murder of innocents, but nonetheless keeps it a secret.

A samurai sword saint, specializing in the katana, he became ronin when he left his home to travel. He became a mercenary and adventurer, and is known for never betraying an employer, or his comrades. He remains ever zealous in his devotion to Gorum, and some companions have remarked that it's a wonder he isn't a cleric himself.

In battle, Caladrel singles out an opponent, and seeks to eliminate that opponent as quickly and efficiently as he can, before moving on to the next. It is rare that he willingly backs down from any fight, a trait that has nearly caused his death more than once. His weapons and armor have been crafted by himself, though enchanted by others, and he cares for them as his most precious possessions, only replacing them when he feels his crafting skills have progressed enough to create even better gear (and when he has the coin to afford new enchantments).

Currently he resides in Telazar, taking on whatever jobs come his way that allow him to ply his skills of war and violence, for only in the midst of battle does he truly feel alive.

Calendrel, CR 14
Drow Noble samurai (sword saint) 13
CN Medium humanoid (elf)
Init +9; Senses: Darkvision 120'; Perception +6
AC: 27 (+8 armor, +5 Dex, +2 Natural, +2 Deflection)
HP:118 (13d10 + 26)
Fort +10  Ref +9 Will +8, +2 vs enchantment
Immune: sleep; SR 24
Weaknesses: Light Blindness
Speed: 40' (30' base, 10' enhancement)
Melee: +2 keen flaming burst adamantine katana +22/+17/+12 (1d8+11, +1d10 on crit, 15-20x20), or +2 keen flaming burst adamantine katana +22 (1d8 +13 +2d8, +1d10 on crit, 15-20/x20)                              
Special Attacks: Challenge 5/day, Iaijutsu Strike, Brutal Slash, Terrifying Iaijutsu, Weapon Expertise
Spell-like Abilities:
     Constant—detect magic
     At will—dancing lights, deeper darkness, faerie fire, feather fall, levitate
     1/day—divine favor, dispel magic, suggestion (DC 15)
Caladrel will pick the most dangerous looking warrior and declare his Challenge, then try and move into position for an Iaijutsu Strike, adding his Improved Vital Strike damage. If the opponent still lives after that initial attack, he'll go into a full attack routine. If he's in a situation where he can only make one attack, he'll hold his katana in two hands and use his Improved Vital Strike feat. Once his opponent is finished, he'll move onto the next, again seeking to use Iaijutsu Strike, unless circumstances would prevent that or make it unwise. He always tries to concentrate on eliminating one opponent at a time, using Power Attack only if their AC appears low.

Str 20 Dex 20 Con 14 Int 16 Wis 18 Cha 15
Base Attack +13; CMB +18; CMD 33
Feats: Improved Initiative, Weapon focus (katana), Weapon Specialization (katana), Vital Strike, Power Attack, Greater Weapon Focus (katana), Improved Vital Strike, Greater Weapon Specialization (katana), Penetrating Strike
Skills: Bluff +18, Craft (weapons) +19, Craft (armor) +19, Diplomacy +18, Knowledge +19, Sense Motive +20, Survival +20
Languages: Elven, Undercommon, Common, Draconic, Goblin
Special Qualities: Self Reliant, Without Master, Resolve, Greater Resolve, Honorable Stand, Greater Challenge, Ronin's Challenge (+3)
Combat Gear:
Other Gear: +2 keen flaming burst adamantine katana, +2 mithril breastplate of moderate fortification, Ring of Protection +2, Amulet of Natural Armor +2, Belt of Physical Might +2 (Str and Con), Boots of Striding and Springing, Lenses of Darkness, Bag of Holding Type III

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A magus prepares his spells

Just a wee bit of fiction based on the RPG Pathfinder, written as an exercise in imagining spell preparation from the perspective of a magus or wizard using a spell book. More exercises in imagining game mechanics through the eyes of a character may or may not be coming. Critique is welcome.

Tizen settled down cross legged, his back against a tree. It was just after dawn, and a glance around the camp showed that the others were engaging in their morning routines to get ready for the day. Sarlan, the cleric, was facing the rising sun, holy symbol held before him as he prayed to his god, requesting his spells for the day. Shawna, a powerful psychic warrior, knelt in front of the dying embers of last night's campfire, meditating to replenish her psionic energy. Once she was done, she would begin her stretches and excercises for the more physical side of her art. And Speckle was up in the trees, watching everything, and keeping an eye out for trouble.

Tizen turned his attention to his spellbook, and opened it up in his lap. He took a deep breath, and let his vision go unfocused as he looked at the spellbook, clearing his mind as he began his own meditation to prepare his spells. The world fell away as he mentally wiped away the lingering dreams from his sleep, and prepared his mind to ready his spells. Though it seemed but a few moments to him, it was fifteen minutes later before he let his vision refocus on his spellbook. Now it was time to select his spells. First, Corrosive Touch. This would allow him to charge his hand with magical acid, that could then be delivered to an opponent with a touch, eating away at flesh and bone. He traced the runes of the spell with his finger, whispering the words that would lay the spell in his mind. The formula was complex, but then, even the simplest of spells had a complex formula, requiring great effort if one wished to truly memorize the spell and eliminate the need for a spellbook to reference each day.

He reached the end of the spell, or rather the end of preparing it. It was now mostly cast, thrumming in his mind, ready to be released. That release would come with the proper gestures and words used to finish the casting, most likely in the heat of battle, though perhaps also to dissolve a lock on some chest in a dungeon. It remained to be seen. Tizen continued selecting his spells that he would have for the day, preparing each in the same manner, taking just under an hour to finish them all. He left room in his mind for a couple more spells to be prepared, in case he came across a situation that could benefit from a specific spell he hadn't prepared (and assuming he would have at least 15 minutes to prepare such a spell).

He looked up at the camp, blinking away his concentration. The world tended to disappear for him when he prepared his spells. As usual, he was the last to finish his morning routine, and the others were quietly chatting.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A modesty meme

I saw this on Facebook recently:

It says, for those who can't see the image:
Dear Girls,
Dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure. Yes you'll get attention, but mostly from pigs.
Sincerely, Real Men
It made me a little angry. "Dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure." So, according to this meme, if you dress "immodestly," you're dirty, and may as well be covered in feces. Gee, isn't that just the most respectful thing you've ever heard?? Don't show too much ankle, or by golly, you may as well be covered in stinky cow poop.

All right, let's see if I can do this without more sarcasm. First off, who decides what's modest, and what's immodest? Western culture really did consider showing too much ankle to be indecent (read: immodest) at one time. Even a knee length skirt would've been considered scandalous. And right now, some Muslims believe that a woman must wear a burka in public, or it's considered immodest.  So, what standard are these so-called "Real Men" using to determine who's dressing immodestly?

But that's not the worst of it. What this meme asks us to do is place a value on women (or "Girls"; just what age bracket were they aiming for with that salutation?) based on what they are wearing, and to consider those that are dressed immodestly as less valuable. Yet the value of a woman (or anyone, for that matter) is not, or should not, be based on what they're wearing. When you devalue someone, whether based on clothes or not, you encourage feelings of disrespect for that person, which in turn makes some people think that the devalued person deserves whatever they get. That is the real "manure" behind modesty.

Respect for self (and some modesty advocates claim that modesty is about self-respect) shouldn't be based on one's wardrobe choices and completely arbitrary standards of modesty. Instead, let us base it on our character and actions. How do we treat others? Are we seeking ways to empower each other to our fullest potential? Do we strive for appropriate fairness in the way that we treat each other? And so on.

As far as clothing, just wear what makes you feel comfortable, or happy. If you want to dress in a way that makes you feel sexy, go for it. If you want to dress in a way that makes you feel powerful, go for it. You can, if you want, treat your clothing choices as an art form, as self-expression. Or you can treat them as a simple utility. Whatever it is that you think is going to be most comfortable, and help you flourish the most.

But for goodness sake, stop thinking that your respect is based on how modestly you do or don't dress.

For more on the manure of modesty (because there is more that can be said), I recommend reading Love, Joy, Feminism by Libby Anne. She's written a lot on the subject.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Thoughts on Soylent, the new food substitute

Before I get going, full disclosure: I have not been able to try the stuff, on account of money.

There was a good article at Ars Technica recently about a new product called Soylent, and it made a lot of good points. Soylent, if you're not aware, is a meal replacement product that got it's start on Kickstarter, where it rapidly blew past it's funding goal, and eventually attracted other investors as well. It's supposed to be so nutritionally complete that three shakes per day would give you all the nutrition you need in a single day. And judging by it's FDA approved nutrition label, it can do just that.

But apparently some people hate the very idea of such a product, a product that could, in theory, let you avoid regular food altogether and be perfectly healthy. Yet some object, not in a "not for me, but ok" kind of way, but in a visceral, "it shouldn't be allowed" kind of way. It's that second reaction I have a hard time understanding.

One of the things mentioned in the article is that some people have pointed out is how easy it is to simply cook something healthy up in your kitchen. Except it's not that way for many, not just for people in third world countries, but for people right here in America, a food saturated country and culture if ever there was one.

I have struggled with hunger in my life at multiple times. Times when I was poor, times when I was homeless, and times like right now, where I'm employed, my wife is employed, but somehow, I still struggle to eat enough. I've been losing weight steadily for months, but not on purpose. True, I don't like that pot belly I've got, but neither do I like losing it because I'm forced to restrict myself. Sometimes I only eat once a day, other times maybe twice. I'm rarely truly full and satisfied. I have to struggle to balance my hypoglycemia against the lack of money we have to afford simple food. A product like Soylent, which shows promise in becoming truly cheap and affordable (the makers have stated an eventual goal of $1.50 per meal), is something I would jump at as a way to afford to be healthy. And yet there are people who think it just shouldn't be allowed? I find that, honestly, a disgusting attitude that lacks in genuine appreciation and empathy for the struggles that people right here in America are going through daily.

Aside from that, there's the issue of "it's easy to cook" that I just don't find to be true. I relate to the following from the article:
As many have pointed out in past comment threads on Ars and on other sites, cooking isn’t hard at all—whipping up a wonderful pan-seared salmon with a bit of olive oil takes literally less than 10 minutes. The Internet is bursting with easy recipes that can be quickly pulled together from simple ingredients. There is no excuse, I have heard many people say, for not being able to produce a healthy and delicious meal even if you’re pressed for time. 
To quote Ben Kenobi, what they’re saying is true—from a certain point of view. Though it may not be obvious to someone who keeps a full pantry, effective and sustained cooking requires an incredibly complex long tail of supporting knowledge and skills that a lot of geeks—me included—simply don’t have. With the possible exception of baking, cooking is a decidedly analog process, relying as much on deduction, intuition, guesswork, and experience as it does on measured ingredients and conditions. This "fuzzy" process can induce anxiety and actual fear in people who have never cooked before—especially geek types. 
Here is a simple recipe for cooking ground beef. I plucked it randomly out of Google because it looked easy. But right away, it’s filled with things that either require you to already be familiar with cooking or that will send you down endless rabbit holes of additional research. The recipe’s introduction talks about how to pick fresh beef and how you may or may not want slightly fatty beef. But how do you know? What effect does that have on flavor? Is it important? Can it be quantified? How do you make an informed choice about what you want your food to taste like based on these kinds of squiggly, soft parameters? Further, there are steps in the recipe labeled as "optional." How do you know whether or not you need those steps? What are the parameters defining optional, and what effects on the outcome of the recipe will they have? 
Step one says to "film the pan with a little" oil. How much is a little? It says "film," so does "a little" in conjunction with "film" mean to ensure the entire bottom of the pan is covered in oil? If so, to what depth, exactly? Or does "a little" semantically override "film" and you really only need a few millilitres? If so, how many? 
Step two says to "warm the pan over medium to medium-high heat." Which one is it? What set of initial conditions are we attempting to achieve? "Medium" isn't a temperature, so exactly how hot should the pan be? How do we know when it’s hot enough? Should we get a thermometer and attempt to measure when the pan has reached thermal equilibrium with the burner beneath it? 
Steps three and four are even more problematic. Step three says to break the meat into "several" pieces, but then step four says to "continue breaking the ground meat into smaller and smaller pieces." Why are these two discrete steps? Is there supposed to be a delay between steps three and four? What constitutes "several" pieces? How do we know when the beef is sufficiently broken up? 
And then, worst of all, we have to "sprinkle with salt and any spices"—how much salt? Is there a preferred ratio of salt to beef? And what kind of spices? There’s a tremendous variety available—how are we supposed to know, based on this recipe, which ones to use and in what quantity?
Until recently, I worked at a group home for disabled adults, and I had to cook. Rules were that meals should be from scratch whenever possible. I hated the cooking, positively hated it, for exactly the reasons laid out here. I found it a daunting, sometimes terrifying, prospect, and my attempts to follow "simple" recipes wound up in more than one disaster of a meal, or near disaster. Yes, I can brown hamburger, but a lot of things about cooking were still, and are still, a mystery of fuzzy complexities that belong in the Abyss. I love microwave meals for their simplicity: stick in the microwave for a specified number of minutes, and bam! you got a meal. Soylent sounds as easy as a microwave meal. Just mix, and go. No time wasted (because I also hate how long cooking takes for so little return--seriously, 30 minutes to an hour for something that takes ten to eat?), and no daunting, terrifying, fuzzy instructions.

If you're sitting there thinking "but cooking is easy!" still, consider this example from the article of something else that's easy, at least for some:
To turn the problem on its head for perspective: expecting someone without experience in the kitchen to jump in and make healthy food from a recipe is a little like expecting a non-technical person to sit down and compile a complex Linux application from source. It's not exactly hard—I mean, you don't even have to write any code! You just download your tarball, make sure you have your dependencies, set the options you want, and then it's just configure, make, and make install. The computer does all the work! You just sit there and watch it cook, er, I mean, compile!
Easy, right? Actually, that went over my head, so let me consider an example from my own kind of geekery: RPGs. Make a tenth level Pathfinder character for a campaign that features dungeon crawling and political intrigue.  It's not that hard. First, roll up some initial stats, using a standard 4d6 drop the lowest one method (or, if I'm the DM, 5d6 drop the lowest two, because I like things a little powered up). Second, decide on class. Of course, to do that, you may wish to consider what kind of character you want to play, and what sort of stats you got from your initial rolls. Do you want a tough, kick-in-the-door style of character that really doesn't like all these political games? Or how about a charismatic magic user who uses charm magic to, well, charm people? What about a sneaky, manipulative type? Etc, etc. Not that hard, though you really ought to consider the sort of campaign your in, and what the other players are making for their own characters. Someone needs to be a healer after all, especially when going into the trap and monster filled dungeon, or if there's an expectation of assassination attempts as part of all the politics. Then you need to pick skills: do you want to be good at climbing and jumping? How about book learning? And don't forget to pick your feats, and to choose from an array of class abilities. Once you're done with that, you still need to consult the Wealth by Level table to determine how much and what kind of equipment you can buy for your character. Then, plug everything into your character sheet, add up your modifiers, and you're good to go.

Easy. And a lot of fun.

Unless, of course, you're not into that sort of thing. I'm not into cooking. I hate it. I have no interest in being good at it, and don't know that I ever could be good at it. The frustration and hatred I feel for the process just makes the end result seem not worth the time. So, I'm sometimes forced to do it, but I'll avoid it when I can. Some are probably thinking "but it's a challenge that you should try to overcome! it's good to overcome challenges!" Sure it is, but why is this particular challenge one that anyone should be required to overcome if it isn't necessary? And with the advent of things like Soylent, it might not be necessary. That's a good thing.

There are more things in the source article that I really hope you'll take a look at, and consider carefully if you're still having doubts. For my perspective, anything that has the potential to be cheap, very healthy, and not a time waster, is something we should embrace. At least on behalf of those who can benefit from food that's cheap, very healthy, and not a time waster. I intend to be watching the prices on this, and if it drops enough, I'm grabbing some.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thoughts on free speech

There's at least a couple of different components to consider in looking at the concept of "free speech." There's the legal, political component, as mentioned in the First Amendment to America's Constitution. And there's the ethical and moral component. How does free speech apply in private lives and personal spaces, places that the government isn't a part of (ideally)?

I cannot speak to what America's Founding Father's specifically intended with the First Amendment, nor am I a lawyer who's up on the Supreme Court decisions regarding free speech. So, let me first say what I think a legal right to free speech, as it relates to the government, should be all about, and then I'll get to the ethical component in our private lives.

Any government that is meant to be a government for the benefit of the people, rather than the benefit of the government itself, should support a legal right to free speech. Governments are creations of humans, and as such will make mistakes in policy from time to time. A good government (by which I mean both an effective government, and one with the best interests of it's citizens in mind) would be willing to admit when mistakes have happened, and seek to correct them if possible. Free speech allows the citizens to criticize the government, to say when it thinks the government is wrong. It allows the citizens to lobby for change, and to express discontent with the way the government is doing things.

On the other hand, if the government only cares about it's own power, such as a tyrannical government, then free speech is something to suppress. The more citizens are allowed to criticize and express discontent, the more that discontent is likely to spread. When discontent spreads, there's a greater likelihood of revolts starting. That's not something a tyrant wants. A tyranny needs to control what is said, and when it's said, as much as possible if it wants to retain power.

That's what legal rights to free speech are about at a base level: power. In a government where the power is supposed to, in principle, rest with the people, then free speech is a means to keep the power in the hands of those people. In a tyranny, limiting speech, or even controlling speech, is a means to keep power in the hands of the government.

Now, when considering free speech in our personal lives, we need to consider speech in our home, in our emails, on our Facebook walls, on blog post comments, etc. Pretty much anywhere that isn't strictly a case of speaking in relation to the government, really. However, we don't need to necessarily consider them all separately. It should be possible to come to a general understanding of free speech that can be applied to the specifics of each of these different areas. And let me point out, I'm not speaking legally at this point, but ethically.

People should be free to express their opinions, generally speaking, but not if that opinion expressing is going to cause actual harm to others. Note that I said harm, not hurt. It can be difficult if not impossible to avoid occasionally hurting people, and at times may even be necessary for the long term benefit of the one being hurt. For example, if someone is being lazy, and you tell them such, they may be hurt or offended, but if telling them that gets them up and doing positive things, then it was a good thing that you told them. Of course, there are often ways that we can say even hurtful things in less hurtful ways, in an effort to achieve the good benefits we aim for, while minimizing the hurt or offense.

Being free to express our opinions gives benefits similar to those that we get when free to express opinions on the government. We can criticize each other in ways that allow an opportunity to change course, if needed, or perhaps for the other to argue why the criticism is unwarranted. This is, ideally, beneficial to the person being criticized -- or, if unwarranted, to the criticizer when it's explained to them why the criticism is unwarranted.

Now, sometimes I've seen people get called out on the use of certain language on people's blogs, or on personal Facebook pages. All to often, those who are called out will fall back on the "I have free speech" argument. But do you? If you're on privately controlled internet space, can you claim the right to say whatever you want, without consequences, such as blocking or banning?

No, I don't think you can. For one thing, there's the harm issue. Much of what people want to say under the guise of free speech is actually abusive or harassing, such as death threats, rape threats, abusive insults (constantly calling someone a cunt is going to be abusive), and so on. Free speech is important, yes, even in our personal lives, however, it's importance comes from the ability to freely exchange ideas and criticisms in a manner that allows for people to actually consider those ideas and criticisms, with an eye toward improvement for everyone involved. Calling someone names, hurling insults, being abusive, harassing people, etc does not fall under the umbrella of idea exchange and criticism with an eye toward improvement.

Sure, you could claim that name calling and insult hurling are forms of criticism, but they don't function to improve anyone involved. They do function to get people angry, which generally doesn't help them take in the criticism in a constructive manner. They also function to silence people, to make them reluctant to speak up when they see something they disagree with. And if they aren't speaking up when they disagree, then how is anyone going to be able to respond to that disagreement, and argue that they're wrong? Or, on the flip side, what if this insulted and reluctant to speak up person is actually right, but doesn't speak up because of the verbal insults they received in the past? Then those they would disagree with go on their merry way, being wrong. Do you want to be wrong, when you could be right?

But let me back up for a bit, and look some more at the idea of personal spaces, such as homes, blogs, or Facebook pages, and consider if limits can be placed there, even if the speech being limited would be constructive. Legally speaking, the law of America recognizes that the right to free speech is referencing citizens relationship to the government, and not the relationships of citizens to other, non-government related, citizens. But again, I'm not speaking to the legality issues right now, but to ethical and moral issues.

When we're in a person's home, that person has the right to limit the behavior that can occur within that home. This might mean no smoking in the house, or drinking, or drugs, etc. If we violate those standards, they are well within their rights to revoke our invitation. Personal Facebook pages, blogs, and other such sites are analogous to our homes. They're a private space that we have a right to control, including the right to limit people's speech to the non-abusive, non-harassing, non-hateful kind. Those who aren't willing to abide by such rules can certainly have their invitation (implied or otherwise) revoked by means of blocking or banning. Doing this helps to ensure that there is a safe space for people to talk about what might be difficult, triggering subjects, such as discussions of abuse. It also creates a space that is more conducive to constructive criticism that can actually spark some thought.

It may be that there are also limits to the control that one can exert over their personal space, but that's a subject for a different post.