The Broken Geek: Thanos knows better than you (or at least thinks he does)

One of the biggest questions asked since Infinity Wars has hit the theaters has been “Was Thanos right?” This question pits schools of philosophy against each other, and speaks to the psychology and motives of those who seek to change the world, supposedly for its own good.

So was he right or was he misguided?

Let’s exlore. [spoilers]

The Philosophical Debate

When the philosophy of ethics are debated, it is standard practice to evaluate an issue according to the two main schools of ethics, mainly those of Deontology and Utilitarianism. Deontology, simply put, is the ethical school that states that ethical decisions are those made by applying moral ideals, duties,  and principles. What is ethical is what your morals say is right. Utilitarian ethics is the school that focuses on the effects of a decision. What is right in utilitarian ethics is what causes the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Infinity War pits these two schools against each other. Captain America is the champion of the Deontological school. Early on, for instance, Vision offers himself for sacrifice to save the universe. He suspects that if Wanda uses her powers, she can break the mind stone and thwart Thanos’ plan without the need for anyone else dying, but he himself would die in the process. Captain American ardently refuses on moral grounds.

“We don’t trade lives.”

This statement and the logic of the decision made from it has been examined and criticized since the movie premiered, but the reasoning behind it is rooted in a moral principle he refuses to compromise on. The result of this deontologically rooted decision sets the stage for the climactic battle of the movie.

Thanos, on the other hand, is the avatar of Utilitarian ethics, specifically the sub-field referred to as lifeboat ethics. Lifeboat ethics specifically wrestles with situations of limited resources. Using the analogy of a lifeboat with a fixed number of seats and limited survival supplies, this school wrestles with the questions of who gets to be on the lifeboat, and who does not. In Infinity War, this is the philosophical argument that drives Thanos’ actions. Facing an environmental crisis due to overpopulation on his home moon, Thanos proposed cutting the moon’s population in half so that those left would have enough resources for survival. In his mind, there are twenty survivors in the sea, but only 10 seats/rations in the raft, and he feels that 10 must die so that the other 10 can live. In his twist, rather than argue who should deserve the privilege of living, he treats all people as truly equal and randomizes death so everyone has an equal chance at life.

This is the philosophical battle that lies behind the symbolic battle on the ground in Wakanda. The iconic scene where Captain America catches Thanos’ gauntleted hand was set to be the symbolic denoument of the philosophical battle between them. The pause itself was more a point of Thanos’ hesitation of belief in the face of Cap’s “argument.” There was no reason why, after all, that Cap could have stopped the hand of a being who was strong enough to treat the Hulk like a ragdoll. Thanos’ pause, instead, was a pause in his resolve as he faced this mere mortal who stood against him all out of deontological principle.

thanos catch

Those who argue that Thanos was right in his philosophy do so on the grounds of Utilitarianism, that the hard choice he makes will ultimately be best for the universe. Those who condemn Thanos do so on the Deontological principles that deem his killing as mass murder that is never ethical.

However, there is more to this question than just the question of philosophy. There are deeper issues that drive the question of what actions need to be taken to solve a problem, and these lie in the psychology of those making the choice.

The Psychology of the Choice

One of the biggest aspects of moral decision making that often gets overlooked, however, is that despite the philosophies utilized, research on ethical decision making shows that these decisions are often more made emotionally at first, and then are justified later. [Haidt, J. (2001). “The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment.” Psychological Review, 108, 814-834.] Because of this, just discussing philosophy is never sufficient to examine a decision, you must also look at the emotional factors.

This blog has explored the personality types of the core Avengers team before, and how it has driven some of their conflicts. A good argument can be made that Thanos falls within the paranoid personality organization. A look into his backstory shows that he was ostracized from birth due to his physical disfigurement, setting him apart and socially isolating him. This set up for the sense of “badness” that he would have to choose to internalize or project within his own psyche. When his people were facing an environmental crisis due to overpopulation, he argued utilitarian lifeboat ethics, suggesting he kill have his home population. His people refused, and the planet collapsed. His response to this, however, was to become a world conqueror that would destroy half of the population of the worlds he conquered. He would boast of the utopias he created by this path, as if he was trying to prove that he was right all along, that had they let him , he would have been the savior of his home planet as well. This thinking style reflects the heart of those with a paranoid personality structure. They face their sense of badness by externalizing it. They aren’t the bad ones, the badness is the evil force outside of them, and they have to be the heroes to find and destroy it, and usually it is at any cost. This is what lies at the heart of Thanos’ motivation and why he clings to the Utilitarian school. If he can present the solution, he is no longer the outcast, but the savior, and he is willing to do anything to become that savior. (Cap’s depressive personality organization, however, causes him to internalize the badness, which made him more prone to attach to a external ideals and a deontological leaning, as well as hold other’s lives as being more important than his, so while he won’t sacrifice others, he won’t hesitate to sacrifice himself.)

This understanding of psychological motivation is important in arguing whether or not Thanos was right. Though a Utilitarian might argue that motivation is unimportant so long as the results serve the greater good, in actual practice, this motivation prevents a person from finding the solution that would actually serve the greater good for two very important reasons. First of all when one is motivated to be a savior, the goal of helping others is placed above the goal of solving the problem. The second reason is that in the real life, most big problems are too complex to solve by one individual’s actions.

With the first problem, that of the savior motivation, the issue that gets set up is one of priorities. If you are driven to prove yourself good and the other bad, your primary priority is the reinforcement of your status of savior. Because of this, when there are multiple solutions, and the better solution requires one to share glory in a way that sacrifices that savior recognition, they can’t accept it as contracts their primary goal. In short, they will surrender the more effective solution for the one solution of glory.

This feeds into the second issue, mainly that important solutions are so complex, that any simple solution will not be a long term effective solution. Large important problems exist because of a complex interaction of causes and require multifaceted interventions that rely on the dedicated work of a lot of people. As much as society likes quick fixes and prizes the unilateral actions of heroes (this is due to several intersecting motivations, some more noble than others, not solely due to everyone having a savior complex), such actions never cause stable solution. Backpacks that turn into tents won’t solve a housing crisis when there are complex social and political forces that would have the homeless arrested for even trying to use them. Nail polish that detects drugs won’t stop new drugs from being used or rapes that don’t rely on drugs, and do nothing to stop the fact that society continues to find ways to justify rape. Finding or creating a new miracle food crop won’t stop world hunger because the world actually overproduces and discards food as it is, and the miracle plant will get wasted because the problem of food access hasn’t been solved. While working in Africa, I saw several quick fix solutions come in and fail, and often the failure would leave the community worse off. And as the Film Theorists point out, Thanos’ quick fix would not work because he has not actually addressed the factors that lead to the overpopulation in the first place.

A real plan to save the universe would be one where you push the universe to save itself. In modern effective community development work, both domestic and abroad, effective interventions are developed in collaboration with the community itself. When I worked into the Peace Corps, we were taught to begin nothing for the first 3 months, and spend that time connecting to the community, identifying counterparts, and understanding the unique needs and barriers of the community. We were there to provide resources and technical knowledge, but for change to be stable, our goals had to be to empower the community to provide the real solutions. A plan to save the universe would have to be similar. Each world would have to be visited and worked with individually. This would take a lot of time, but a certain green gem would make sure that time were available.

What is interesting is that in the the movie itself, there is one person that takes this tactic, Dr. Strange. At first, Dr. Strange has a similar ethical battle where he and Tony Stark argued about destroying the time stone. Tony took the role of the Utilitarian while Dr. Strange took as stance involving the Deontological refusal to break his duty to protect the time stone. In his story arch, however, he struggled to balance the two as he ought to find the best possible plan to stop save the universe from Thanos. Rather than rely on his own beliefs and judgements, however, he consulted the time stone to help understand all the factors involved and built his intervention around what he learned. And in this final plan, he identified a counterpart, someone else who would lead the heroes to victory, even though he himself would be removed from the active role as a result. His motivation was primarily solution focused, and he chose the collaborative option that negated his own glory because that would lead to the best decision.

So in the end, the question of whether Thanos was right lies not in the philosophy used to justify his solution, but rather the psychology that drove him to choose that solution. Motivated to be a savior, he chose an overly simplistic solution that cut everyone else out of the glory. Thanos’ paranoid personality structure made him need a solution that put him in the superior position. He needed to have the answer that saved his people, and when they rejected him and died, he needed to prove that his solution was the best. In short, he needed to show everyone he knew better than them, and therefor was better than them, in opposition to the sense of badness he held. But in doing so, he chose the solution that would most likely fail in the long run. In the end, he was wrong, and wrong because he was driven to be the one knew best.

*update* The directors of the Infinity war just confirmed this:

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Myths that murder: Why gun owners would not stop Hitler.

One of the commonly argued myths used against gun control is that civilian gun ownership is necessary to prevent or overthrow dictators. The assertion goes that if someone like Hitler were to ever try to take over the country, it would be the armed populace that would take him down and preserve freedom and democracy. This argument is offered with the assumption of fact without any actual analysis or reality test. It is often accepted as true without any attempt to see if the claim holds up, and gets passed around as if it were the definitive argument in the discussion.

The problem is, if you actually took a substantive look at research and actual history, this myth completely falls apart.

First, research is actually clear on this. When trying to overthrow a dictator, non-violent resistance is twice as effective as violent resistance. People who regard guns as the cure-all against dictatorships are actually praising the less effective option and doubling the possibility of keeping the dictator in power.

But since people are rarely swayed by facts and science, we also have history to look at to back this up.

Since Hitler is brought up most often as the prototype dictator, Nazi Germany is often brought up to support the myth of the armed civilian over-thrower of evil. However, as Jon Greenberg of Politifact points out, an actual analysis of history of Germany’s gun laws and gun politics destroys this myth. Despite the claims made in the myth, Hitler actually loosened gun regulations, instead of increasing them, to build his rise to power. When taking power in 1938, Hitler deregulated the buying and selling of rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. But even before that, the German people were already well armed. the 1928 gun control laws were not well enforced, and during the 1920’s, paramilitary groups sprouted  up all over Germany. These armed civilian groups, however, contrary to the myth of armed citizenry, ended up being the backbone of the growth of the Nazi movement. They didn’t stop despotism, they enabled it, and if you look at the connections between paramilitary groups and white supremacy groups today, those same processes are still in play. And when the paramilitary groups became too difficult to control, the German SS easily destroyed them.

It is often then pointed out that the gun laws that still remained banned Jews from owning any weapons, and this gun regulation is what lead to the Holocaust. However, as Greenberg points out, despite regulations both before and after Hitler’s initial rise to power, Jews still were able to aquire and own firearms. If gun ownership itself were sufficient to prevent dictatorship, the problem would have solved itself. However, the problem that lead to the Holocaust had little to do with Jewish weapon possession, but with the German civilian permissiveness of and agreement with racial persecution. The remainder of Germany was still armed, and there were plenty of paramilitary groups that could have stepped in and stood up for their fellow Jewish Germans citizens.

But they didn’t.

In fact, they did the opposite. The armed civilians, did not prevent the Holocaust, they enabled it. The paramilitary groups protected Hitler in his rise and continued to support him until Hitler decided to get rid of them. Even if the Jews had moved like an army in response to Hitler, they would have been quickly defeated as they were still a minority in the country and the majority of the citizens were also armed and willing to treat them as a less than human group deserving of oppression. In the end, the Holocaust was not ended by an armed civilian force, but by a military coalition.

This bring us back to the research and what it says about overthrowing dictators in reality. According to the Stephan and Chenoweth study, dictators fall when a minimum of 3.5% is engaged in active resistance, and non-violent resistance achieves this more successfully. When you look at the world, both in the present and recent past, the reasons for this becomes quite apparent. First, dictators and despotism does rely on the will of the people. Dictators come into power because the people are convinced that they belong in power. Dictators start by wooing the people and only switch to oppression after their power is secured, and most of those oppressive policies move into place with the blessing of the people who are convinced it is only going to get used on some outgroup only to see its application expanded. Because people are still agreeing to hand over their rule step by step, initial violent resistance does not get a lot of support socially, often gets labeled as a terrorist organization, and can even empower fascist civilian groups, as we saw with the rise of the Brownshirts as we saw play out in Nazi Germany. Once people realize they tiptoed their way into despotic rule, it does become harder to violently oust them, as they now control the police and military who outgun them, and the political spin machine that can dissuade people from the resistance by labeling them a terrorist organization. In short, your violence becomes the easiest thing to use against you. But non-violent resistance is harder to suppress. Dictators know that they still rule at the will of the people, and suppression of non-violent protest is an act that can cause that to crumble down. They can’t move against the non-violent without carefully crafted strategies that can easily fall apart if exposed, especially in the modern information age. In addition, most people are averse to the idea of killing another person, and so violent resistance tends to dissuade recruitment. What this creates is an environment where the pivotal 3.5% tipping point is easier to reach non-violently. And once that point of active resistance is reached, the dictator topples.

In the end, the myth of the armed civilian protecting democracy is just a myth, but it is a myth that leaves people vulnerable to gun violence. Ultimately, history has shown that dictators rise and fall at the will of the people, and that armed civilian is more likely to put the dictator into power. Once the dictatorship is established, the armed civilian, if they realize the problem they welcomed, is outgunned by the government, and their chances of success are actually half as  effective as non-violent mass resistance.

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We need your Courage, not your Violence

All battles are fought on two fronts: the battle with the enemy without, and the battle with ourselves within. This struggle we currently face is no difference, as there has been a regular contentious and argument over the use of violence as a form of political action. And what has been interesting about this argument is that it follows the same path as all discussions on the use of violence tool, whether it be about hitting a child for discipline or the excessive use of force by police: the opponents of violence use history and outcome research to show that violence works against goals and that the the non-violent methods are more effective, while the proponents of violence claim that the facts and research are not reality, that if they can’t be violent then they are just being permissive, and then accuse the opponents of of making the situation worse.

We have the science that shows non-violence is twice as effective as violence when it comes to taking down corrupt regimes, and that it can be aggressive and varied. But as my friend Mark has been regularly pointing out, facts don’t change minds in the current political environment. And the truth is, he’s right, and we sadly have the science about that too. It wasn’t until I was graced with the opportunity to hear the (hopefully soon-to-be Honorable Judge) Henry Sias speak that I was given some insight into the side calling for violence.

Anxiety is the mood, par excellence, of ethicity,” he told the crowd, invoking the words of the great activist Avital Ronell.

All emotions have a purpose for their existence, and anxiety is no different. Anxiety is a warning emotion. It tells you that something is wrong and gives you energy and motivation to address the problem. For those of us in the resistance, this anxiety is our primal motivator, as we fear not just for ourselves, but those we love.

The great problem caused by anxiety, however, comes from the fact that the anxiety of modern man is not the same as it was for early man.

When we were first becoming hardwired as humanity, the threats posed were directly physical. The problems of early man were the beasts and opposing tribes for whom the simplistic solution of violence was appropriate, and because of this, natural selection programmed violence as our instinctual response of fight or flight. This hard wiring is why non-violence seems to counter-intuitive to so many, there is a base level programming in our brains that causes us to see violence as the answer. Violently attack the problem and you can drive it away, and you can drive the anxiety away with it.

However, as humanity matured, our problems became less physical and more existential and abstract. We no longer have the monsters at the opening to our caves ready to strike with tooth and claw. Our monsters sit in ivory buildings attacking us with prejudice and inequalities. These are problems that cannot just be driven away in simple actions, as they are not caused by singular actors but are embedded in the larger social fabric itself. Today’s problems cannot be driven off, as doing so just pushes them out of your bubble for someone else to deal with. Anxiety is the mood of ethicity because anxiety is necessary as a prolonged state for the decisions that need to be made to create an ethical world. Truly solving modern problems requires prolonged and sustained efforts, and maintaining motivation for these efforts requires us to also maintain our motivating anxiety.

In regards to the current administration, I have seen both the fight and the flight reactions to the anxiety that has come to warn us about this very real problem. I know many people who are working hard to maintain the psychological flight of denial in order to chase away that anxiety, and we all know that kind of denial is detrimental in the long run. But they are running into denial because they are answering their anxiety with the flight response. But just as those who are fleeing the anxiety are not choosing the effective answer, those who are calling for violence are likewise just confusing driving away a problem with solving it. You may be able to punch low level nazis out of your personal bubble, but that won’t really effect the well protected administration or change the forces that put it into power in the first place.

It is in building the capacity to tolerate anxiety for the long fight that non-violence finds its true strength. This is not about playing nice so that normal people will feel good about playing with you. Non-violence has nothing to do with placation. Non-violence is about assuring people that you will be beside them to face the anxiety with them until the end, not just push it away from your sphere and leave. Non-violence is about pulling people in and holding their hands so they are willing to push past their own anxious reactions, which can just as likely, or even more likely, turn to flight as it does fight. The methods of non-violent resistance are about saying that they are safe enough to hold their anxiety because you will hold it with them. Non-violence is about keeping each other going until the problem no longer exists, not just merely about driving it away. Violence cannot do this because violence is just the flip side to the flight from anxiety, non-violence is the real counter argument to it.

For the resistance to be successful, need courage, not violence. Courage is not about defeating anxiety, its about persisting in the face of anxiety. The violent reaction to anxiety is the antithesis  to this, as it seeks to drive the anxiety away, not solve the problem that caused it.

As I finish, I need to point out that the call for non-violence does not mean there is not a place for those who see themselves as the soldiers of the resistance. Right now, there is a need to provide for the safety of the many who are threatened by the administration’s unofficial agitators. Mosques, Jewish Community Centers, LGBT community centers, synagogues, and minority owned businesses are all under constant threat. Volunteering to stand vigil for the safety of these centers is technically non-violent, as you are not intending to start any fights. Standing as the sentinels of equality and justice is not the same as anxiously reacting through violence. Rather, by standing guard, you are taking on and sharing the anxiety of those who are already threatened, and letting them know you are there to see this through to the end for them. The greatest warriors of legend were more about who they fought for, not who they fought against.


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Understanding the Role of the Attention Economy in the Current Administration

What is the Attention Economy?

The Attention Economy is a concept that has emerged as economics entered the information age. Attention economics conceptualizes attention as a finite resource that is necessary to acquire for information to be consumed by a population. There are few concepts in this that need to be understood about this attention economy:

1) There is a competition for attention capital.  If a person has 30 seconds of attention to give, and there are two competing  30 second advertisements to watch, the advertisement that can draw that limited attention is the one what will be seen and have the chance to sell their product. This concept has become integrated into software design, social media, and is the reason for click-bait and spam.
2) Attention capital can lead to the production of similar media and ideas. If a youtube video involving someone getting hit in the crotch gets a lot of views, there will be a lot more crotch shot videos that get made across the platform.
3) It does not always matter if the attention is positive or negative, all that matters is that the attention capital is monopolized. It does not matter if there a youtube video of me feeding the homeless or flashing a crowd at Mardi Gras. If I get you to watch that video, whether depicting altruism or debasement, I have gotten you to hand over your 3-5 minutes and encouraged similar videos.
4) Social norms can regulate attention capital. We all know the things we are allowed to talk about in a group, and what topics may be taboo. Also, the terms of service on every social media site contains a list of forms of expression that are disallowed, and those limits restrict how one can seek attention.

Essentially, attention, as a limited commodity, is an economic force that leads to the generation of like ideas and the exclusion of competing ideas, and negative attention can be just as effective as positive attention unless socially moderated. This set of concepts is what is important to understand as it is the source of the power in Republican administration.

Attention Economy and the Administration

If you look at the rise of the current administration, a leading factor has been the rise of fake news. Fake news media use psychological manipulations to get your attention. They couch everything in terms of a threat to you or your way of life to get your attention. Once they have your attention, they then feed you the “alternative facts,” and because your attention is on their voice, you never hear the voices that point out how divorced from reality those fake facts are. That is how they carefully crafted a narrative over the past 2 decades that lead people to voting against their own interests and deny the reality of actual science and facts. Their use of emotional draws to acquire the attention capital that allowed them to deliver the lies and out compete actual facts.

Trump has long been operating within the Attention Economy, and saw a way to take advantage of the fake news media efforts and steal away that attention capital for himself. When he would value the “Trump Brand” at a few billion dollars, that was the principle he was applying. His business tactics, such as selling people on emotion, reflect how the fake news sites sell their lies. He spent a few years working his way into their fold and then when he was ready, escalated his attention grabbing. Because the fake news groups never bothered to discourage negative attention, he used that to his advantage to capitalize all the attention of the media.

The administration’s Alt-right Nazi supporters also build their power off of the attention economy. Their entire focus is generating and taking advantage of negative attention. Their leaders intentionally create events where they call for the removal of human rights from people based off their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or religion. The methods rely on manipulating 4chan, reddit, and internet memes. They know their arguments won’t win on merits, so they monopolize attention to deny the counter arguments from gaining attention. This is why arguing with them does not work, as their win condition is not the truth but attention manipulation. They also have mastered the art of playing the victim. Whenever a people do step up to shut them down, they invoke the narrative of the “social justice warrior” to take attention off of the hate they are spewing and refocus it onto the fact that they are now the victims of the SJW’s, and in the process steal the attention from the people pointing out their hate and place it back onto a false narrative of integrity. As a result these trolls have thrived by creating a situation that forces you to believe there are only 3 options to react to them: ignore them (giving them all the attention), debate them (giving them a chance to monopolize the debate and get more attention), or attack them in a way that violates their rights (causing them to steal attention by playing the victim). The end result is that they monopolize the attention which is then used to encourage the reproduction of of their views and tactics.

So how do we fight this?

Any strategy aimed at fighting and reducing the power of this administration needs to focus on stealing away their attention capital. Beat them at this game and you have rendered them powerless to carry out any of their goals. Here are a few ideas:

1) Don’s just attack or resist, replace. When you attack an idea, you are giving that idea attention. Remember, negative attention is still attention in terms of the issues of attention economics. If you create a counter solution and push that goal, you are creating a competing target that can steal away the attention capital.

2) When you protest, focus the message on something you want to support. This is what the Women’s March did brilliantly. The subtext was anti-trump, but the explicit and reverberating message was for women, so all the attention was on women’s issues. When people would successfully oppose Westboro Baptist Church, a group that likewise would use speech to provoke negative attention and then capitalize off of victimhood if people attacked them, they would beat Westboro by organizing not to take down Westboro, but to support those Westboro were targeting for attack. When a dozen WBBC member would show up with a message of attack, and a thousand counter protesters showed up with messages of love for the victims, the latter monopolized the attention capital.

3) Ramp up the creativity. Novelty and art are always the strongest attention grabbers. The Pussy hats are part of this creativity, and notice how much attention capital they have generated. At marches, there is actually a sort of status that has emerged with sign creativity, and that garners attention capital. When I was at a WBBC protest at Rutgers years ago, they made sure various choirs were there to use the art of song to monopolize the attention. The event also had people handing out noise makers as another form of creative attention monopolization as well. WBBC knew they lost and left within 15 minutes.

4) Send in the clowns. An offshoot of ramping up creativity, comedy has a special power when it comes to stealing attention. There is a reason why Alec Baldwin and the SNL cast gets the rage they do when they impersonate the administration. When Alec appears as Trump, he essentially transfer’s Trump’s attention onto himself. By assuming Trump’s image, Alec assumes his attention capital. Every form of negative attention Trump has built up gets siphoned off by Alec. This principle is the same that shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report had been so politically influential, as they employed political comedy and mockery to pull attention capital away from fake news media.

5) Don’t just make this about one person. There is a reason why I did not mention Trump in the Title and have limited his actual mentioning in the article. The truth is this whole thing is more than just Trump, Paul Ryan, Steve Bannon, and a whole lot of other actors that are playing off of him. Trump is just agreeing to be the focus of negative attention because he has built the system to use it. Bannon wants to minimize attention in himself because he knows that he would not be accepted in his position if the people took a good hard look at him. Paul Ryan still needs to maintain the appearance of legitimacy to keep his voters and position, so he is happy accepting the power from Trump’s negative attention while not being seen as the one getting dirty. The more we decentralize attention, the less we let them play out this power system.

6) When all else fails, be loud. There are videos where people are effectively shouting down Nazi hate speakers, ranging from stars like Shia Labeouf to random people on the street just screaming “Nooooooo!” every time they tried to talk. Being louder than the person takes away their ability to generate attention capital. Acting alone works, but if you can form a crowd, that increases your attention potential. This works better than attacking a person physically, because it removes the possibility of them reclaiming the attention capital as a victim.


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I Need to Ask You to Have Faith

The notion of faith is a difficult topic to bring up in this day and age. Some hold dearly to religious faith, while others question it in all forms. Because of this, I want to put  religious faith aside for this conversation, and talk about a different kind of faith.

The faith in ourselves and each other.

If I were to identify the largest contributor to the  position we are in today, it would be that we chose to hand our faith and power to small groups or singular people over the past few years. Rather than act individually to join our voices to the whole, we surrendered our voice to put faith in the one great leader to do our jobs for us. This is not a criticism of presidents of the past, but rather a criticism of how we grew passive as he did the work for us. This passivity led us to be vulnerable to where we are today.

So now to correct this we have been starting to reclaim our voices. We are marching, writing, letters, making phone calls, etc. But for many of us this reclaiming has not so much been by choice, but rather action taken out of necessity and desperation. Trump pushed our backs to the wall, and so we woke up to push back. And while this new awakening is placing us back in the roles we need to be taking, there is the risk and the temptation that we will retreat to the quick and easy actions again. And rather than solve the problem, the risk is that we will push it down just deep enough so that we can settle back to our passivity and be vulnerable again.

And this is why I need to ask for your faith.

The work needed for us to stay strong in our voices is tedious and tiring, and does not always produce results in the way or at the speed we would want. Without faith in ourselves and each other, the fear of failure sets in. This fear is why many handed over their power in the first place. Those we handed it to offered to take on the fear for us while we hid within our reality shows and lattes. Now that we are confront with the folly of that choice, and have taken up our voices again, but the temptation is there to sacrifice it again for another quick and easy solution so we can hide again.

But what we have forgotten is that there is a value in doing this hard and frightening work. No fear is ever countered by running from it, rather, victory over fear is always found in facing it. And with that victory always comes strength. And as we have seen with the overturning of the Muslim ban, the protection of our national parks, and other victories, when we join together even the most powerful man in the world can be beaten. If we persist, we will be strong, and we will be victorious.

But we will not win every victory, so we have to have faith.

They will test us and push us to the edges of our endurance, so we have to have faith.

They will try to wear us down, so we must have faith.

They will mock us to shame us away, so we must have faith

They will threaten us to try to frighten us off, so we must have faith.

We must have faith in ourselves, faith in each other, and faith in our cause. With that faith we can have the strength to abandon the quick and easy for the real work of value. If we can do that, then we can see this through to the other side, and in that process we will undergo a transformation whose results we cannot yet even fathom.

So I need to ask you to have faith.


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Self Care Tips for the Resistance

Right now, I’m seeing a lot of people burning out and falling towards despair. Day after day we are getting his with Trump’s Bullshitzkrieg of executive orders and horrendous statements. Each one has been worst than the last, and it is starting to wear people down. With all the hell this administration is putting the world through, I’m seeing people become overwhelmed with worry and dread.  It would be easy to give up and hide, and that may be what Trump and his ilk are hoping for. This is ultimately an endurance race, and the only way we can win is if we can keep going while waiting for Trump to burn himself out while burning his bridges and supports. But for us to outlast him, we need to take care of ourselves.

And so I want to offer some tips for self care for the resistance

  1. Take care of your health first and foremost. Maintain your diet, give yourself time to sleep, and exercise when you can. If you have been prescribed medication for physical or mental health reasons, take it the way it is prescribed. If you have a medical therapy appointment recommended and scheduled, make sure you go. If you are not taking these basic steps, you are not going to be in a state to be effective in the resistance effort.
  2. Divide time between your resistance and non-resistance life. You are allowed to take care of your own life while fighting for the good. You don’t have to fight every minute of every day, and you don’t have to let your life go to hell. You can focus on your job when working, family during meals and trips, and the cause when you are in the street. You can fight some of the time and heal and support yourself during the other times.
  3. Know your own triggers and the signs when you are starting to get pushed too far emotionally. With this information you can start  pick up when you are approaching a state of being overwhelmed and can take action early so that you can recover and keep going. It is easier to address a problem when it is small and just beginning, and if you wait until a crisis, it is often too late.
  4. Build a plan for when you do start to get overwhelmed. Put together a list of things that help you to calm down, release stress, and reset. When you notice the signs from tip #3, activate this list. If you need certain items, such as a music player, chewing gum, essential oil, etc, make sure you pack them.
  5. Focus on being action/solution oriented, not problem oriented. When a person only looks at problems, all he or she sees it the struggle, and can quickly start to feel helpless and hopeless in the face of the problem. But when a person focuses on identifying actions  to address the problem, his or her mind is now focused on how they can be empowered to take on the problem, and that helplessness and hopelessness disappears. Learn to go from “this is bad” to “this is how we are going to fix it.”
  6. Set smaller goals that lead up to the larger victory. Tell yourself you will make X many phone calls in a day. Commit to writing X many letters. Set fundraising goals as you collect donations for your cause. Make X new friends at each march. See each organized event as its own victory. If your only measure for success is the end of the Trump regime, you will see each day up to that point as a failure.  That is demoralizing. But if you set these small goals, you will have a series of successes to keep you going.
  7. Do more than just fight while you fight in the resistance. Not every moment of resistance has to be about voicing anger. The anger is necessary and justified, but will burn you out if that is all you have. Make friends at protests. Build a community. Organize and join protest parties. Host a letter writing pot puck. Reach out to others. Remember, when facing a dictator who rules by hate, the acts of love, compassion, and community are  themselves acts of resistance, and love, compassion, and community will carry you farther as the anger burns out.
  8. Set limits on your social media behaviors. Give yourself an hour or two away from the feeds so you are not constantly inundated with the Bullshitzkrieg. Don’t argue with trolls when you are online -You can’t reason with them because they aren’t interested in reason and they only want to monopolize the conversation, so don’t give them what they want. If you are already “woke” and committed, you don’t need to watch every video that shows a wrong doing. If you already know someone is prone to spewing hate, you don’t need to watch every video that person puts out.
  9. Pick only a few causes for personal focus while lending support to others. You cannot champion every cause without watering down your efforts in each one. And with Trump’s Bullshitzkrieg in full effect, taking on everything will cause you to just spin out and spin and spin. So pick your cause to research, organize, and take a leadership role in. Just make sure you also are volunteering to support the works of others. If you are adamant about Planned Parenthood funding, focus on that and set up your marches and fundraising for that cause. If your friend is focused on BLM, let them organize around that. But when it comes time for action and support, your friend will show for your Planned Parenthood event, and you will show and support your friend’s BLM event.
  10. Keep hope by remembering that in the end, Trump cannot win. Trump’s policies are a regression, but progress is never linear. There is always a slide back, a recovery, and then we move farther forward. Trump is pushing against history, and history itself will push back. Remember this, because to keep yourself going, you must have hope.


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Activate the 43

Last night I had a dream.

I wish I could say it was as grand as the one where a great man was standing on a mountain top. But alas, I am no great man.

Instead my dream began in the kitchen of my father’s old apartment. My father was showing me how he had learned magic, and was using it to clean his kitchen. If felt a revulsion, and picked up a dish and started cleaning it by hand, telling him “there is a value in doing this.”

I’ve probably lost you at this point. I was confused myself. Maybe some context will help. Maybe.

Every day we have been getting hammered with more and more bad news generated from the office of Trump. Within 3 days, he has literally downgraded our democracy. After spending day after day trying to be functional at my job while trying to figure out how to keep fighting, I go to sleep with a fantasy that this will all be over, and that tomorrow some great hero will have fixed it all.

My dream was telling me that those rescue fantasies are what caused the problem in the first place.

As we keep trying to figure out what went wrong to put us in this mess, the number 43 keeps repeating in my mind. As we keep trying to attack and argue with the 26% of voters that voted for Trump, we have come to ignore the 43% that did not vote at all. I can’t say if this is ignorance or just misdirection, but as a result our focus is on the 26% who we can’t sway, and we are letting the 43% we can stay in indecision.

And this is why they are winning.

That 43% does not only represent the largest failure to vote in 20 years, it signals that we have forgotten that there is a value in participation in our government. We have bought into a magical thinking about democracy. For some, this meant that we just vote for who we like and everything is taken care of. For others, this meant that they really didn’t even have to do that much. We gave up following legislation in favor of following sports teams. We stopped hounding our politicians in favor of pounding our favorite lattes. We forgot the value that comes from speaking loudly in a Democratic Republic.

And this is what we need to reverse.

The Women’s March was a great start. For all its flaws, it got people active again. But we need to do more than march. We need to find those in the 43% and let them know that there is no magic to fall back on, they need to be the power involved. We have to invite them in to letter writing, making phone calls, organizing, fundraising, and other actions to help them to be heard. We need to take them by the hand, walk then through the steps, and teach them to see the value. If just a tenth of those wake up, if just a tenth of them become active, we will have enough in our number to pressure Trump and any administration to listen to the will of the people again.

We need to activate that 43%


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Punching Nazis Makes them Stronger

It is very cathartic to want to think that video of Spencer the Nazi getting punched is an effective solution to the problem of the Nazi invasion of American society. It is tempting to fantasize about following in the footsteps of Captain America, Superman, and pretty much every patriotic superhero since the 1940’s or relive some of our favorite scenes from movies and video games and just knock the snot out of them. It seems like common sense that if you hit them hard enough they will learn their lesson and go away.

The problem with those thoughts is that if you are having them, you are thinking like a rational human being who connects cause and effect. In other words, you think that way because you are not a Nazi.

The Nazi mindset can best be described as that of someone with a paranoid personality organization. The fundamental characteristic of the paranoid personality organization is the inability to tolerate the feeling you are “bad” and respond to that by projecting that badness onto others and then trying to destroy the badness outside yourself. Essentially, they use the “I’m not bad, you are bad” defense. This is the reason why the racist is so quick to identify groups that need to be fought against and frame them as some invading force that needs to be dispelled. The Gay agenda, the Vagenda of Manocide, the need for racial purity, equating BLM with cop killing,  and every other paranoid narrative are all a manifestation of this externalized badness. The racist needs to attack them or else he has to face his own inadequacy. As a result of this, rational reasoning and cause and effect are thrown out the window. Citing facts does not work because they are not making their decisions based on reality but rather on their need to escape their inadequacy through projection. Attack them and they won’t think they did something wrong, learn their lesson, and change, because their paranoia prevents them from facing that they could ever be wrong.

When the Nazi was punched, he was given what he wanted. Right now, he is in the news playing the victim, a casualty of the the war he is fighting. But as he is doing that, he is recruiting others by calling for bodyguards. In secret, you better bet he is wearing that punch as a badge of honor to encourage more of his ilk into confrontations. What he is not doing is disappearing from public view or shrinking.

So if arguing won’t work and beating his ass won’t work, what do you do?

Be like Shia LeBeouf

The only way to fight a modern Nazi is to drive them away by activating their sense of badness through the application of shame. They want to believe they are secretly the resistors speaking for the people, the heroes in the shadows. Show them that you refuse to accept them whenever they show, and you challenge their narrative. Don’t argue with them, surround them and shout them down, and they have no recourse but to shrink away in failure. Make them face that badness that they fear so much.

Unless they get pissed off and swing at you, then it is self defense

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What the Women’s March Did Right and Why This is Important

The Women’s March is probably the biggest protest march in as yet recorded history. The low estimate if the total participation in the US is over 3.6 million people and the high estimate being over 4.5 million people, with Washington DC itself estimating an attendance between 500,000 and 1 million marchers (numbers via this source and referenced at the time of the writing of this article). And the target of the march, Donald Trump, noticed and felt the numbers, causing him to react in envy to the size of the crowd by attacking the media with lies so stark that even Fox News felt to call him out on it.

People have been trying to downplay the importance and power of the march, claiming it will ultimately go no where, that it is just a show. This attack on the march was made because its detractors know that it did the one thing they feared the most: it activated bystanders.

The national discourse over how Trump won has consistently been leaving out one frightening fact: voter turnout was at a 20 year low this election. As a result of that overlooked fact, all the discussion has been focused on what can be done to convert the 26% that voted for Trump, and all of it has been ignoring the better strategy: activating the 43% of voters who were too on the fence or felt too uninvolved to vote. Maybe this is accidental, or maybe this is intentional misdirection, but the result has been people banging their heads trying to figure out how to convert the entrenched minority rather than trying to figure out how to activate the much larger group of the unentrenched and undecided. That focus on the former is foolish at best. The real goal for real change needs to be to activate those bystanders.

The Women’s March did that beautifully

But how? But why?

One of the biggest weaknesses of recent organizational efforts is that it relies on attack. Attack the 1%, attack systematic racism, attack misogyny, etc, have been the call on the left for the past 5+ years. These were used because they were the open and honest statements, but the problem is that the language of attack challenges empathy. When attack and empathy collide, only those who can resolve the conflict by attaching their anger to their empathy through protection. This is not easily done naturally and usually involves great tragedy. Organizations of the far right and alt-right know how get around this. They carefully craft a narrative to unite their target audience to their side with an illusion of unity, craft a narrative to create a group of others that are against them, and then rile up their group with a false narrative of attack that need defense. This is why Trump Voters thought he would drain the swamp, because HE is one of THEM. And this is why BLM’s message of “stop killing us” automatically gets linked with an attack on the police to say “if we listen to BLM, then we can’t keep those you love safe.” This is why Trump supporters did not bat an eye when voting for a candidate that ran on hate, because they were made to feel attacked by his targets, and they were told that they were defending their way of life. But this is why the right has been more effective at motivating. The right likes to craft the narrative before telling you what needs to be attacked, and the left likes to be be straight forward and honest. The right likes to activate its followers before sending them off to war, the left likes to be open and make open calls for action.

What the Women’s March did right was that it was both open and activating. The Women’s March cause was straight forward and honest. There was no careful narrative that needed crafting. Reality and Trump’s own words did that for them. The group being spoken for, women, has a natural empathy that needed no cultivating among the majority of Americans, and women’s causes, like the right to make choices about their bodies, is supported by the majority of Americans. The march organizers were also explicit in that they wanted to bring in all allies, they let the out groups choose themselves rather than create one from scratch. They did not need to craft an illusion, their case was the reality the right seeks to fake. And with the inclusion of reality came that larger draw.

So how do we keep this going?

  1. The next step to fixing the problems caused by the Trump Administration is to keep people activated. We need reasons for more marches. Let’s send Trump a reminder on February 20th, aka, President’s Day. Let’s make National Woman’s Day a reminder of women’s importance. Lets keep giving people reasons to get out.
  2. After that, lets go to marches with the purpose of meeting people and building bonds. We need to find those former bystanders and link with them to encourage them to stay active.
  3. Then we need to invite our new friends to organizational and fundraising meetings. Let them have a chance to take meaningful roles in the movement. Give them a chance to raise money for Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women. Encourage them to take a role and then show them all ways they can continue to be active and let them choose. This gives them a stake in continuing in the fight.
  4. Keep educating them on their rights and the law. Protesting is a learned skill and we need to use skill building to counter worries and fears. The more they learn, the more they know, the more powerful and activated they become.

Do this, and we can render Trump inert. Do this and we can press congress to impeach him over his current and future Constitutional violations. If they don’t impeach or don’t fight  his most egregious policy plans, threaten to remove representatives at the next election (imagine the 100,000 who showed to the march in Wisconsin showing up on Paul Ryan’s doorstep demanding impeachment or he loses his seat.) This is how we will fight, and this is how we will win, and The Women’s March is a major force in making this happen.

Image source:

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Trump’s Bullshitzkrieg and how to stop it

Donald Trump’s twitter account is a wreck. It seems like there is one indefensible tweet after another. The statements he makes seem to violate every rule of common sense and logic. His tweets keep coming one after another, each more outrageous than the next, and we are getting so deluged it is hard to keep up and respond to each one.

But what if that is the point?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Bullshitzkrieg.

Trump’s antics have been described by social media as a DDoS on sanity. Basically, by continuously hitting us with new and increasingly bizarre statements, we don’t have time to properly respond. Instead, we are being put in a consistently reactionary state, which leaves us vulnerable to his manipulation. As part of this manipulation, he not only keeps us from gaining any traction, but he also distracts us from the real issues that scare him.

Remember his tweet about the 3 million illegal votes? Remember how it created a flurry of responses to contradict his claims? What you probably don’t remember is that it happened right after the New York Times published this article about all the potential conflicts of interest with his presidency.


Remember that irate tweet about how the Hamilton cast confronted Mike Pence where Trump demanded an apology? Remember how everyone responded by criticizing his claims that theater needed to be safe? Did you notice that was the same weekend of his Trump University settlement?

Trump will only remain in power so long as we cannot concentrate on and organize around his corruption. He knows this. So he is playing Three Card Monty with our attention, keeping us focused on the jokers on the table when the ace we are looking for was palmed and moved to his pocket. It’s not a very sophisticated strategy, its just an effective one. He is willing to call attention to things that will get him scolded so long as we don’t see the thing that would really get him in trouble. And he knows that all he has to do to distract us is say something guaranteed to piss us off into a reaction.

So, how do we stop the Bullshitzkrieg?

The most effective way would be to just ignore his tweets. Render them worthless by withdrawing their power. Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be possible to do that as he has a few million followers, and it would take too long to get them all to ignore him. Because of this, we need a different strategy: Operation Mjolnir

Named after the favored weapon of a deity who loved to “thrash trolls,” Operation Mjolnir is a coordinated effort to redirect each one of Donald’s tweets back to a scandal he wants to hide. Keep reading the investigative news and learn every dirty secret that gets uncovered. Every time he tweets, drop the hammer on him by asking about the scandal.

“Nice deflection, Donald, but I’d rather hear you comment on the fraud case you just settled.”

“That was proven to be false. How about responding to the Conflicts of interest investigation instead?”

“You can’t pass that law. Now tell us about how you own a stake in the oil company currently trying to destroy tribal land.”

I think you get the picture.

The goal of Operation Mjolnir is to show him that his Bullshitzkriegs will no longer work, and that every time he tries to deflect from the news he does not want us to hear, we will drop the hammer.

UPDATE: Operation Mjolnir has apparently begun as a natural evolution, as one hero has spontaneously called out his tweets


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