I came across the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) in my general meanderings in life… as authored by Ed Diener, Robert A. Emmons, Randy J. Larsen and Sharon Griffin in the Journal of Personality Assessment. It’s notable enough that I thought I would post it here:
A whole bunch of people I don’t know made some decisions, and I have absolutely no say in the situation. And I couldn’t if I tried.
Most folks who read this blog live in countries that attempt or claim to be democracies. If that is you, I have a question for you: How much say or choice do you feel like you have in the world that immediately surrounds you? If you want to be listened to by people that make decisions that affect you, are you able to speak to them and be sure that they will take you seriously?
I’m guessing that, for the great majority of us, the answer to that last question is no.
I’ve been thinking about a couple of psychological phenomenons that happen when humans don’t have control. One is relatively documented (though I’m having trouble thinking of the search terms to google it with) and that is when people engage in activities with a high rate of failure outside of their control, they create superstitions around success and failure. The best example I know of is baseball. People who are good at baseball will fail upwards of 70% of the time when they have an at-bat (for the sake of this conversation I’m going to ignore advanced metrics). A pitcher can strike out two batters in a row with the same pitch, then give up a home run to the next batter while still using that same pitch. The games are low scoring enough that what scientists call “statistical noise” can be the determining factor in winning or losing a game. Often. So often that whole team’s seasons can occasionally be chalked up to the equivalent of a fluke. So baseball players develop a wide array of superstitions about playing. They will have a lucky glove, lucky socks, lucky facial hair. If they wore a certain undershirt when they did really well, they’ll keep wearing that undershirt. On and on. I encountered this when I first started playing baseball when I was a kid at six years old, and it’s something that gets brought up in current broadcasts of professional games today featuring grown men.
But that is a vocation. What happens when people are left out of the decision making process for most of the issues that affect their daily life? What if there are some people out there somewhere making those decisions, and you don’t even know who they are? Why did that road get paved? I don’t know. Why did that bridge get built? I don’t know. Why is the local school’s curriculum the way it is? A whole bunch of people I don’t know made some decisions, and I have absolutely no say in the situation. And I couldn’t if I tried.
My hypothesis is that’s when people create conspiracy theories. In our current political climate, lots of people are writing about how conspiracy theories get disseminated. But why are people coming up with conspiracy theories in the first place? Why are people open to conspiracy theories at all? My own personal experience is that I’ve never heard a conspiracy theory come out of someone’s mouth who has also had a strong relationship with their local government and/or community. The more I’ve worked with local government in my career, the more absurd most conspiracy theories sound. I know that my own personal experience is not statistically significant, and my experience has me wondering about ways to test this hypothesis.
If my hypothesis were true, then that would mean that our current prevalence of conspiracy theories is a symptom of a greater problem. The problem of disconnection from our communities and our systems of power within our country. This dovetails nicely with my view that there is a severe lack of pro-social pro-community structures in our American society. Another hypothesis that I haven’t developed a test for.
A whole bunch of people I don’t know made some decisions, and I have absolutely no say in the situation. And I couldn’t if I tried.
This feels like the motto for modern democracy. Not that there isn’t a shortage of folks who say “but you can be heard if you try!” “You can be the change in the world you want to see!” In my view, thinking like that is thinking designed to overcome the problem. But it isn’t addressing the problem. The problem with modern democracy is that reality needs to be overcome by everyone, all the time. Very few people have the energy for that.
My own personal conspiracy brain says “it’s that way because that’s how they want it.” But I don’t actually think that’s true. I think this is an unhappy accident.
So what do we do about it? I’ll let you all think about that. I’m thinking about regular community gatherings, that are official in one way or another. I think we need to make sure that people have multiple connections with the community around them. I’m thinking of small government on a neighborhood or borough scale. I’m also thinking that these sort of things, and a lot more ideas that will strengthen our communities, will become more doable as we strengthen the middle class and address they systemized inequality within our country. I’m not thinking of social media. I think we’ve seen the ceiling for social media, and it’s considerably lower than everyone thought it would be.
How do we even begin to measure how connected a person is to their community and the systems of power that affect them?
If you’re like me, you learned almost nothing about the ongoing conflict in school
Growing up in the United States in the 80’s and 90’s, everything around me was pro-Israel… without any real explanation of how or why. Nothing truly opened my eyes to the history of the region until I stumbled upon the incredible podcast series by MartyrMade: Fear & Loathing in the New Jerusalem.
Darryl Cooper does a great job of telling the history as well as dispelling many of the myths we’ve been hearing for years.
For those of you unaccustomed to history podcasts, spending hours listening to something like this can seem daunting. MartyrMade is one of the very best out there, and the time goes by fast. History podcasts are my jam, I listen to them while I’m commuting.
(this space intentionally left blank in the hopes you’ll click the link)
I’ve been thinking about obstinacy. I’ve been thinking about it in the context of American politics, Middle Eastern politics, and everything else. I’ve been thinking about the stubborn unwillingness to question one’s beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that those beliefs are incorrect. I’ve been thinking about how it’s common, prevalent, in our world today. Yet, it’s always been with us, hasn’t it?
Is it new for a politician’s followers to assert that the politician won an election, when there is no evidence that they did? No. Is it new for one people to take land from another people and then act like it’s been their land the whole time? No. Is it new for people to ignore all reasonable advice that would keep them safe in the time of a global pandemic? No.
Yet, it’s one thing to know that these are historical truisms of humanity. It’s another thing to live it. It’s another thing to know that people are falling for the same old stuff they’ve always fallen for, and there probably isn’t anything you can do about it. There certainly isn’t anything I can do about it.
You and I, all of us, are subject to the whims of the people in our community. Relatively speaking, we are all just bits of water riding the waves of humanity. Sometimes, those waves take us in the wrong direction. None of this makes me feel better.
Yet, obstinacy serves it’s purpose. I’m sure there are many an entrepreneur who will tell you that they had to keep going in spite of all the evidence otherwise. I’m sure every person has their story of having to persevere in spite of all evidence pointing against them.
Maybe that entrepreneur thing is a myth. Maybe that is something we just tell ourselves, in America. It certainly seems like I’ve heard it everywhere. Part of my thinking on this, is that in America, I think we may have a collective mythology about obstinacy. Our heroes are people who stood up against the masses, who went against the long odds.
The statistical outliers.
So when we’re confronted with things that challenge our beliefs, why can’t we be the heroes to? Can’t we say; I know better than that? Doesn’t it feel good to zig when the rest of the world is zagging? Does it feel good to know that you know better than the masses who are just sheep?
A saying I find very relevant to our times is that; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Today it feels like a lot of folks are forgetting the evidence part.
Yet again, none of this makes me feel any better. For me, the challenge is forgiveness. The challenge is to forgive people even though they hold fast to beliefs that I find nonsensical. Even if my life is made harder or shortened by their behavior because they hold those beliefs.
How do you forgive someone who reinforces your suffering because they refuse to acknowledge the truths that are readily apparent to you?
Don’t get me wrong, my suffering is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. My suffering is just the suffering of someone who sees the pain of people living on this planet in the year 2021.
But you know what? I’m gonna give it a shot: I forgive you, humanity. I forgive you for hanging onto ideas long past when they’ve outlived their usefulness. I forgive you, for letting people suffer and die to achieve your own selfish ends. I forgive you for messing up. I forgive you for doing, and saying, the wrong thing at the wrong time. I forgive you for making things worse. I forgive you for abusing your power. I forgive you for disrespecting people’s sovereignty over their own lives. I forgive you for ignoring the impact you have on your community and your environment, so you can continue to enrich yourself. I forgive you…
For months I have been planning to write this blog. I would look back at all the things that have happened in this year plus of covid. I would look at statistics, talk about all the little things. The big sufferings and the small sufferings.
But I just don’t want to. I don’t really want to think about the last year. I’m fully vaccinated. The adults in my family are fully vaccinated. I want to start the Hug Tour of 2021. I’ve missed so many hugs this year, I just want hugs.
I want to get together with friends. I want my kids to have play dates. I want to get a babysitter, so my wife and I can go on a date. I want to meet strangers.
I want to move on. I want to relish life again. There will undoubtedly be a time to process all that has happened, and all that hasn’t. But now is not that time. Now is the time to live again.
Let me know when you’re ready for a (vaccinated) hug 🙂
This inauguration, let’s remember that unity is possible. It just takes us putting the effort into doing it. I’m inspired to re-share the music video I had the honor of making with Amy Obenski a couple of years ago for her song, In Each Other’s Arms. It’s especially salient today.
I was scrolling through my twitter feed, as one does, and I saw someone had tweeted something to the effect of “Check in on your MAGA friends. See how they are doing. Do they have any big plans coming up?” I kept scrolling, but that idea stuck with me. So I started checking on my MAGA friends by looking at their facebook feeds.
It’s not pretty, y’all. I saw a lot of denialism. The bubble has not burst. In the past, I have engaged with folks on an argument by argument basis. Like “hey, you know that’s not quite true? Check out this data (citing a source) and this data (citing another source).” Only to be told that my sources aren’t true, and that I’m being lied to. But when I asked them for their sources, I would get nothing whatsoever. Or I’d be told to watch some youtube videos (ha!). Or I’d be told to google something, I’d google it out of due diligence, and find myself in a conspiracy theory and clickbait filled website that clearly has no journalistic integrity whatsoever. Engaging with folks about this stuff became Sisyphean. Yet they are still out there, doing their thing…
Now, I feel like we need to be talking on a different level than individual arguments. I just want to say “Dude, you’re in a cult.”
I don’t expect that simply pointing out to someone on their facebook page that they are in a cult is going to go well. I don’t expect that pointing out to them that their distrust of “mainstream media” has been weaponized to get them to willingly believe lie after lie after lie… will be accepted readily.
But, what is going to make a difference? Back when I was in high school, we’re talking the late 90’s, I would just say the shit I had to say. I would just stir the pot. Some of the desire to do that is still in me. One of my favorite phrases is “the truth shall set you free, but first it shall piss you off.”
I do know from experience, that even if the truth is said in the most caustic way, if it’s repeated and inescapable it will eventually sink in. But how to do that online, during a pandemic, when this sort of communication is effective in person? How do we compete with the lies that are repeated and inescapable to our friends and family who have sipped the kool-aid?
In person, a person can see that when I’m telling them that they’re in a cult that I still love and respect and admire them. Online, I’m just words on a page. A person can think “do you think I’m so stupid that I would join a cult?!?” And I, not seeing that on their face, can’t say “no, being in a cult isn’t about intelligence. It’s about the cult meeting a deep unmet need that you have.” I imagine the person that is being told they are in a cult will think they need to defend themselves, lest they get cancelled, or defend their cult – because cults are bad m’kay. But I don’t want to make their life harder by telling them they are in a cult, I want to make their life easier. I want them to know that the world outside of their cult isn’t filled with scary, lying, evil people. It isn’t filled with communists. It isn’t even filled by deluded sheep that have had their minds numbed by the mainstream media. Really!
I haven’t written something like this before because I have been afraid of the backlash. People in cults don’t like being told they are in cults. Some of those people are my friends. Also, now that the events of the last few weeks have confirmed all of our instincts about Donald Trump as a president, it’s intellectually easier to call a spade a spade. Or a cult, a cult.
I’m not an expert here. I have read quite a bit about cults, and my biggest takeaway has been that no one is really an expert. We might just have to muddle through these conversations.
So, if you think this may apply to you, imagine when I say “Dude, you’re in a cult” that I say it with love. That I’m not attacking you, I’m inviting you to look at life differently. And if you aren’t ready to look at life differently, I’ll be here when you are.
The process of making this film outlasted my passion for it
I’ve been making one movie since I was 23. I’m 38. I’m done with it. More precisely, I’ve been sick of working on it for years – but I finally have an edit of it that feels finished.
I’ve learned a lot making this movie. It’s a documentary, and the big lesson I learned was how not to film a documentary. Even though the raw footage was only about 20 hours; because I did not have an idea of how the final product would look, I spent countless hours watching the footage to find the story, refining the story, organizing it, putting it into a digestible format….
All while life continued. I had a day job, or multiple day jobs. I met the love of my life, and we got married. We got dogs. We had kids. We bought a house. We got a cat. So a project that I wanted to take three years on, became this. I never wanted this to be a fifteen year project. I never wanted to spend the amount of money or energy on it that I did. But it’s my first feature film, and it never felt right to give up. Even when emotionally, I was long done.
What’s the documentary about? It’s a focus on the gaps in the mental health system that lead to people who are depressed, bipolar or suicidal to average 5-7 years after onset of symptoms before seeking help. It illustrates the structural reasons that exist that lead a to huge number of Americans to live lives without the mental health assistance that they know they need.
What’s sad is, those conditions haven’t changed notably in the fifteen years that I’ve been working on this project. I’m sure that the content of the film is just as real and relevant as when I kicked off this project a decade and a half ago.
From a filmmaking and communication perspective, the structure of the film is wrong. But it would take at least one more re-shoot to do it right… and I don’t want to spend a few grand more of my money on another shoot. I don’t know if this film is going to go anywhere, anyway.
I want to be proud of this film, like I am of my first music video. But I’m not. I’m sick and tired of it. I’m embarrassed that it took this long. I’ve been embarrassed for a while. I think my feelings toward this film kept me from finding a structure for it I like – I have certainly lost the capacity to think creatively about it anymore. I’m writing this blog in the hopes that by writing and posting this I can unload some of the burden that this film has become.
I wasn’t originally going to post the film here, but here is the link. After I’ve done such a great job of selling this movie, I’m sure you can’t wait to watch it 😉
It’s a little less than an hour long. If you’d be so kind to take a look, I need to know what it this film is, and if it’s worth pushing forward with it. I lost perspective on it too many years ago to know. That link is a private listing, if it gets a bunch of views I’ll take it down.