One of the good guys

2016/04/29 at 07:44

A couple of years ago, I really stepped in it in a local Crime Watch Facebook group. Someone posted a link to a local news article about some burglars who had been caught. When Facebook processed the link, it displayed an image from the article along with the link and article headline: the mugshots of the two burglars, who were both African-American. As was unfortunately typical for this Facebook group, several members posted short, nasty comments, one of which was just the word “Thugs.” I responded to this comment with “You may not want to use that word. It’s racially charged.”

I thought it was an extremely mild rebuke, but I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of responses that I got. In addition to some really nasty name-calling, several comments were self-defensive: “I can’t be racist; I’m Hispanic,” or “I didn’t mean it racist.”

My takeaway at the time was that I was viewing this interaction in the context of systemic racism: you don’t have to have racist intentions for your actions or comments to contribute to a racist atmosphere. The defensive commenters, on the other hand, viewed racism as a conscious act of hatred. Therefore, by their definition, they were not racist.

Today, my favorite blogger Fred Clark posted OotGOism: ‘Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it …’ (That’s One-of-the-Good-Ones-ism). In his post, he explains that if you see yourself as a good guy, that limits your ability to take criticism, to better understand your intentions, actions and the environment in which they exist:

He’s talking about the temptation to want to be seen as “One of the Good Ones,” and the insidious way that desire will trap us in our idea of our selves, of our identity, such that we’ll never be able to become anything other than that — someone trying to be perceived as good. And that’s not the same thing as actually being good, or becoming good, or even just becoming better.

We white liberal types fall into this trap all the time. Well … not so much fall as leap into it, tripping over ourselves to reassure people of color that we’re One of the Good Ones. This often leads to earnest but awkwardly cringe-worthy gestures that aren’t so much products of good intentions as they are desperate pleas to be perceived as having good intentions.

This explains the defensive nature of the responses that I saw in that Facebook group.

I made another Cthulhu

2016/04/19 at 11:20

Cthulhu

Have a nice poop

2016/03/24 at 16:42

Have a nice poop

Verbiage

2015/10/25 at 12:53

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time chatting with a 29-year-old programmer coworker. During out chats, he mentioned that in addition to his day job, he and his wife ‘have three startups.’ I gather that these are mobile applications that he has developed and deployed to the app store. Furthermore, he explained, while he didn’t really expect any of those projects to ever turn into anything, he had hopes that he would make some money off of one eventually.

My coworker’s use of the word ‘startups’ really struck me. Based on my understanding of what he and his wife are doing, I never in a million years would have described them as ‘startups.’ I would describe them maybe as ‘side projects’ or ‘small businesses’ but not ‘startups.’ The fact that this usage struck me so strongly made me think that he means something very different than I understand in the term ‘startup.’

I took this question to Facebook, and Susan Brumbaugh, who was my partner in similar extracurricular work back in the day, provided the clue that I think explains my puzzlement. Back when Susan and I were in a similar situation, our primary motivation for our side projects was learning, not money. Don’t get me wrong; we charged an hourly rate for some of the work that we did for others, but we also undertook a lot of technical projects solely for the sake of learning and working together.

So, maybe basic motivation explains my coworker’s use of ‘startups.’ Maybe he is more directly motivated by the potential to make money than we were.

Of course, this brings up the bigger question of the meaning of the term ‘startup.’ To me, you start with an idea, work on it, and maybe if it seems viable in some way, you take money from others in order to be able to put more effort in it. And if things work out, maybe you make money from it. I think that’s an ‘old school’ view of what constitutes a startup. These days, I understand, a lot of people have the goal of starting a startup. To me, they have it backwards: the business is the primary goal, the idea is a detail.

Generation gap

2015/08/18 at 08:56

A couple of months ago, we bought me a bright blue 2008 Toyota Matrix. I thought it would be funny to put a ‘Blue Pill’ bumper sticker next to the Matrix badge. I’ve subsequently discovered that while most younger people get the allusion, many older people immediately think of a different blue pill. One of my neighbors thinks it’s admirable that I can be so open and playful about my ED problems**. Oops.

Matrix: the blue pill

** NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: I intended the movie allusion. If I do have ED problems, it’s nobody’s fu***ing business.

Office Sweet Office

2015/04/27 at 06:54

I have this recent project proudly displayed above my desk.

Office Sweet Office cross stitch

One Tough Chick

2015/04/27 at 06:48

I recently completed this cross stitch project for my coworker Nicole.

One Tough Chick cross stitch

White fragility

2015/03/20 at 12:07

In regard to my previous post, On Political Correctness, what I experienced in the neighborhood Facebook groups has a name: “white fragility.” Per the linked interview:

SAB: What causes white fragility to set in?

RD: For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”

In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.

Interesting.

 

On Political Correctness

2015/02/28 at 10:24

A few months ago, I joined a couple of neighborhood Facebook groups, and like previous times when I’ve participated in lightly moderated or unmoderated Internet discussions, I was once again shocked by people’s opinions and behaviors. You’d think I’d learn. Anyway, one of the groups was a neighborhood ‘Crime Watch’ group, and several times when recent local (thankfully, not terribly severe) crimes were discussed, some commenters immediately assumed that they were perpetrated by the [mostly Latino] workers building new homes in the area. In two of these instances, the probable perpetrators were caught (in part due to awareness raised by the Facebook page, to give credit where it’s due), and the alleged criminals turned out to be white teenagers who live in the neighborhood. So much for people’s desire to believe that the crimes were perpetrated by outsiders.

A couple of weeks ago, someone posted to the Crime Watch group a link to a news article about two accused burglars who’d been caught, wondering if they had been active in our area. The news article displayed the mugshots from both alleged criminals, and as it happens, they were both African American. Predictably, some of the first comments on the Facebook thread were pretty horrible and/or racist, in my opinion. One of those first commenters simply wrote, “Thugs.” I added a comment, “‘Thug’ is a racially charged word. Best to avoid it.” In my mind, I hadn’t openly accused the previous commenter of racism, though in truth that’s what I was thinking. Naively, I did not anticipate the pile-on that subsequently occurred. The original commenter added that she herself was Hispanic and therefore couldn’t be racist. Later came accusations of political correctness, which quickly degenerated into flat-out name-calling. It got very ugly quickly.

For weeks prior to this, I would recount to Katie the appalling narrow-mindedness I saw in discussions in the Facebook pages, and Katie would always respond by asking me why I continued to frequent them if they caused me so much grief. Fair point. The name-calling pile-on brought her point home, so I resigned from all of the groups for my own mental health.

But it has continued to bug me why I was so unprepared for the responses that I got to my last comment. A few days ago, I ran across this Youtube video, and it helped me to understand better what happened:

Here’s the heart of the Youtuber’s point (thanks to Fred Clark for the transcription):

That mindset right there is what does as much as anything to perpetuate injustice all over our society. That assumption that only a “cretin” or a monster or a bad person would ever be racist or sexist or harbor any sort of bias or prejudice.

That right there is the Big Lie. There is nothing that does more to perpetuate injustice than good people who assume that injustice is caused by bad people. That’s just not how being good works. And that’s not how being a human being works.

The truth … is that all of us, as good people, are still naturally prone to doing bad things. We all have natural tendencies toward implicit bias and prejudice and bad habits. …

I now realize that I had a different definition in racism in mind than some of my neighbors on the Facebook group. My definition is more like the one in the video: we all have biases, and even if we don’t, then those who read our words might. Therefore, it’s best to avoid terminology that might be understood as racist–even if not intended that way. The people who reacted so strongly to my comment, however, define racist as the overt, intentional racism of ‘bad people.’ Therefore, my suggestion of racism was, to them, an accusation that they are that type of person.  Unmoderated internet discussions are not a good place to explain nuanced views.

Turing test

2015/01/29 at 08:37

I find this interesting and depressing at the same time: developing robots to mimic handwritten letters in order to dupe people into open marketing mail that they would otherwise just toss, including varying pressure of the writing instrument, creating margins that mimic human writing, and of course, developing fonts that write the same letters in various ways.

Technical issues aside, here’s the heart of the matter:

Half the time, I’m cynical/alarmed/wearied that so many people are working so hard to make machines fool humans.

But the other half the time I’m kind of cracked up by the fact that the most avid prosecutors of Alan Turing’s sly and audacious 1950 thought-experiment have been not philosophers or computer scientists or advanced A.I. labs but … marketers. The former folks have foundered for years on the difficulties of understanding the fractal contours of human consciousness. The latter just want you to open up their damn mail. Comprehending the mysteries of human thought and behavior is hard. Emulating it? Not so much! It’s partly why Turing’s test is so unsettling: Man, are we really that easy to copy?

Mind you, this particular Blade Runner dimension of modern life could quickly diminish in relevance, because frankly, postal mail is itself declining rapidly. The amount of upright, breathing humans who regularly write letters by hand has been shrinking steadily for years. So maybe it’s not long before handwriting flips its its existential polarity. A handwritten envelope will become not a litmus test of humanity but sure-fire proof that we were sent a form letter by an impersonal database. We’ll sort through our paper mail with the inverse logic of today, tossing aside immediately all the letters addressed with pen-script (robot, robot, god, another one sent by a robot) but then pausing at the sudden, startling appearance of an envelope addressed by a dot-matrix printer.

Hmmm, we’ll say to ourselves: Now this might be real.