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How to Fight the Crushing Sense of Isolation Social Media Inspires.

December 18, 2016

head-1597555_960_720A few weeks ago, after months (if not years) of feeling a constant undercurrent of dread and anxiety, I paused to consider where these feelings came from and whether anything could be done about them.

I’m happy to report that my contemplation delivered some really smokin’ insights.

Facebook is making you depressed.

I have meditated a bunch and done a lot of psychotropic drugs. As a result, I often experience my emotions as a primarily physiological sensation that it takes me quite some time to explain. While this brings huge disadvantages in any conversation that starts with “What’s wrong?” it is invaluable in quickly identifying that something or other is indeed wrong.

If I’m uncomfortable with something I know it right away, although I may not be able to explain it. Since you have a human brain too, I assume this may also be the case for you, unless you’ve never had an epiphany, in which case you probably just blame your lover and move on with your life.

Anyway, I observed over a period of time that the more time I spent on Facebook, Twitter and the like, the more anxious I became. That was a startling observation, given the amount of time I was spending on social media, and the fact that my mental health has been steadily deteriorating since Zuckerberg’s left nut dropped.

All the world is NOT a stage.

To make a long story short, I mulled it over and concluded that who we pretend to be on social media is a public projection of our most deplorable self.

In my former life, I used to connect with people by cornering them at parties, allowing our conversations to follow whatever path they naturally took. Facebook interactions are the house party equivalent of forcing the band off stage, grabbing the mic, making sure everybody – even the neighbours and the government – hear what you think.

That is fucking terrifying, right? If you’re just your normal awkward self, spouting erroneous opinions and embarrassing anecdotes hither and thither on social media, whatever will your employer think?

So we adopt one of a range of popular one-dimensional social media personalities. Are we rebels? Are we trolls? Are we activists? Are we “entrepreneurs”? What is our brand? Social media technology demands that we decide which facet of ourselves is acceptable to our network and curate our opinions to conform to that demographic. Or curate our social network to conform to our brand.

Gone are the days when I could have a lively pint with an Albertan conservative, ask him how many Iraqi babies he is willing to murder to oust Saddam Hussein, then go make out. Odds are I’ll never sit down for a friendly pint with a conservative again, let alone make out, given that I’ve curated my social network to exclude people with deplorable political opinions.

In addition to stifling my self-expression and limiting my real world social opportunities, Facebook has become my primary method of interacting with friends and family. If I have something to say to them, I post it on Facebook and tag them. They like it or comment or whatever and I carry on looking at the train wreck western civilization has become.

Slowly, my one-on-one communications with the people I care about have almost completely stopped. No mail, no phone calls, no emails -nothing but the occasional text.

That is my social life outside social media. Even my invitations to real world parties tend to go through Facebook rather than direct communication, which gives me the blissful impression (for an introvert) my absence will not be noticed.

One-on-one communication is essential to our well-being.

I wondered what would happen to my anxiety if I consciously undermined the isolating effects of social media. What if I phoned somebody? Sent a post-card? Invited a friend for brunch?

So I committed to directly contacting one person I care about every day. For science. It can be a post card, a letter, a phone call, an email, a text, anything with no audience other than the intended recipient. It can not be a  fly-by tag, a like or re-share, or a “post to friend’s timeline”.

The people I care about need to know I went out of my way to contact them specifically and candidly, without prompting, without an audience to applaud our interaction, and without any specific business to attend to.

The results are in.

On the first day, I called my 97 year old grandmother. Not to make arrangements for the holidays or the next family reunion or whatever the fuck, but just to say “hi, how are ya.”

Grandma’s reaction was explosive. Her obvious delight at hearing my voice out of the blue brought a tear to my eye. She called me back hours later to see if mum had put me up to it. She’d been thinking about it all day.

Her over-reaction to a bog standard family phone call brought me to a terrible revelation: the positive correlation between social isolation and social media activity might extend beyond my own sad situation. I’m not the only one who hasn’t called grandma lately. It’s my entire family. Maybe my whole generation.

What if none of us are calling my grandma? She’s on Facebook. My family talks about her all the time, shares pictures of her, hearts those pictures, goes to bed thinking warmly of Grandma. But she has no idea how to use Facebook. Her idea of a good time is regaling the family with poetry she learned in a one room schoolhouse in Cattlefart, Saskatchewan in 1925.

Feeling a little overwhelmed, the next day I cheaped out and texted a work friend “happy birthday” rather than Facebooking it.

A brief, private conversation ensued, during which it became clear he had no birthday plans. A reciprocal exchange happened a few weeks later on my birthday, during which I also revealed I had no birthday plans. Nevertheless, I’m still not over the realization he was doing nothing on his birthday. He’s in his twenties. I’m in my forties. I didn’t give up on birthday plans once and for all until last year.

If single twenty-somethings are watching Netflix alone on their birthday while they give upward thumbs to the happy birthdays streaming in on Facebook, something is rotten in Denmark. Nobody, but nobody, gets laid that way.

It’s not just you.

If the world’s sexiest nonagenarian grandma and an attractive twenty-something urban bachelor aren’t being directly contacted by anybody, I have good reason to suspect social media isolation is a serious problem. It’s not just affecting me. It’s affecting my grandma. It’s affecting my younger, prettier friends.

One-a-day challenge.

I have been on this one-a-day anti-Facebook contact program for about a month.

I have to admit, after a euphoric phase in week two, the drawbacks have become clear. Namely, having contacted a couple dozen people, I am sometimes called upon to become more involved in their own lives. This can be tough when there’s so much new Netflix to catch up on.

But the rewards! I’ve started playing music again. I’ve cut way down on television and booze. I’m writing a screenplay. I’m in therapy. And most importantly, I’m not pacing around Facebook like a polar bear in captivity, searching for mental stimulation that never comes.

And, of course, I know how many of my friends and family are really doing, outside the confines of their “brand”.

I think you should try it. I really do. I think you should call somebody you care about right now and tell me how it goes.

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Watch this stuff.

June 4, 2010

Is your house on fire? No?  Then watch this.

And this:

Hat tip to Graham Linehan for the phrasing of this post.

Skepticism for the pragmatic apophatic

May 31, 2010

One of the many subcultures one finds  on the internet are small crowds of science and technology fanatics who label themselves skeptics.  Despite the skeptic’s self-image as a person who is liberated from the shackles of doctrine and dogma, there are a many questionable ideological themes running through these communities.  For many of them, science and technology are always good.  Religion, spirituality, superstition and myth are always bad.  Healing alternatives to Western medicine (drugs and surgery) are scams, shams, superstition and charlatanism. All GM food, vaccines, drugs and new technologies are good and precautionary concerns are empty-headed fearmongering.  Widespread human experiences that are difficult to explain are delusion, but research to discover the mechanisms behind such experiences is ludicrous.

You get the picture.   It seems the modern skeptic is very often a person who is made so uncomfortable by the unknown that even musing about what might lie beyond our current scientific paradigm is thought worthy of contempt and ridicule.   It’s very chic among self-labelled skeptics to make much of the fallibility of human recollection, cognitive bias and imperfect reasoning – provided it’s everybody else’s:  a skeptic among skeptics is thought to be well defended against such cognitive frailties.

When did this shower of hostile, condescending, dogmatic cynics take over the philosophical tradition of skepticism?

For the record, I have no beef with the skeptical community’s central tenets of empiricism, materialism, critical thinking, atheism, fascination with scientific discovery or any other description by which they might sum up their own world view.  I only think their criticism is often much too outward looking.

One would think the first unsubstantiated convictions on the chopping block for an honest skeptic would be her own.  Any critic of bad ideas ought to be able to find a lifetime of questionable beliefs with which to preoccupy herself without ever having to look beyond the confines of her own mysterious and convoluted mind.   The task is never ending: unsubstantiated convictions crop up like weeds even in the most vigorously tended human psyche.

It is certainly the case that a person with a passionate devotion to scientific enquiry will have a much better grasp of the functioning of the material world than your average bear, provided her passion for science translates into actually reading reputable material on the subject.  However, keeping current with the latest studies in a handful of interesting fields is not a defense against irrational beliefs on subjects outside these areas of interest, and is no defense at all against susceptibility to cognitive bias, propaganda and misinformation.

In keeping with the notion that we must learn to love ourselves before we can love another, the apophatic skeptic seeks to discover and eliminate the fallacies clogging up her own mind before turning her sights on anyone else, all the while recognizing that her task will never be complete.  Ideally, the recognition that it is not only everybody else that can’t get their facts straight, but also herself,  would lead to criticisms that are measured, compassionate and tactful.

A quick perusal of my past posts is enough to reveal I haven’t been weeding, to say the least.  Starting now, I’m going to spend more time thinking about my own wacky misconceptions and less time hollering about everybody else’s.  I might also unsubscribe to a few of the snarkier blogs on my RSS feed and start shopping around for blogs that offer more dispassionate and intelligent commentary.

Blog recommendations are more than welcome.  My interests are peaceful progressive activism, civil liberties, politics, biology, physics, psychology, transition culture, literature and laughter.  There are a lot of blogs going down the drain today, so don’t hold back or I’ll have to start reading the mainstream news (*spits on the ground*).

Canada stands alone against Indigenous Rights

April 22, 2010

That seems to be the way the wind is blowing.  Originally only New Zealand, Canada, the US and Australia voted against the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (while 11 countries abstained).

New Zealand and Australia have now signed the declaration (which is not legally binding), and the Obama administration has promised to undertake a review of their opposition.

So, here we are. All alone. The only country in the world that stands resolutely against rights for indigenous people.

Of particular interest  are the following articles:

Article 8

1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

(Whoops, there goes the Indian Act).

Article 26

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 28

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.

2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.

With Vancouver’s ramshackle old bungalows currently hitting the market for a million bucks a pop while King George’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 renders the entire province of BC basically illegal, I suppose the government is worried about the cost of this particular article.  But why?  After all, the declaration is not legally binding.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, “the Canadian government said in a speech by the governor general last month that it would take steps to endorse the U.N. declaration “in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s constitution and laws.””

Would that be laws like the Indian Act, which sweeps indigenous people onto government-sanctioned rural ghettos and instructs them exactly how to run their own business? Or laws like the Canadian Constitution, which reaffirms the Royal Proclamation of 1763?  Hmmm… I think I see a problem.

Thanks to Radio New Zealand (via the Aboriginal News Group) for the tip-off.

George Galloway: Windbag or Terrorist?

April 21, 2010

My favourite English MP has fallen victim to the Harper government’s habit of suppressing public discourse that does not promote their agenda.  According to Alykhan Velshi, Director of Communications for Conservative MP Jason Kenney (Calgary SE), providing material support for Palestinians who are still struggling under the Israeli embargo imposed in 2007 after their election of Hamas, makes you  a “terrorist”.  “Terrorists” are of course inadmissible to Canada, even (perhaps especially) when they are sitting British MPs who are consistent, unrepentant, passionate and media-savvy peace activists.

Sounds reasonable enough – after all, Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular are terrorists.  Every god-fearing neo-con knows that.  Bringing material comfort to struggling Palestinians is therefore an act of terrorism.  This is Velshi’s logic, and since the PM’s office gave the thumbs up to this appalling decision in writing we can safely assume it is our Prime Minister’s logic as well.

Velshi is a disciple of the American free market propaganda mill the American Enterprise Institute and the pro-Israeli Foundation for Defense of Democracies and, as is clear from emails to immigration officials, harbours a rather hysterical personal loathing of Galloway, not for his material support of Hamas, but for his political views.

Velshi personally kicks off the banning process by claiming to have received a “media call” questioning why “we’re letting in [Galloway] even though he’s called for money to go to a banned terrorist entity in Canada (Hamas)”.  He follows up by claiming he can back up this assertion by sending a link to a news article.  (He doesn’t).

Credit for the original “media call” has been taken by the paranoid, militant lunatics of the Jewish Defense League – a group which is referred to in a Department of Homeland Security resource as a “terrorist organization” for numerous ideologically inspired acts of violence and assassination plots since its inception.  The JDL claims to have sent a letter to Kenney’s office requesting that Galloway be banned.

The email exchange between Kenney’s office and Citizenship and Immigration Canada has been graciously leaked and is available for viewing at rabble.ca.  Put very simply, events appear to have unfolded as follows:

1. A Jewish special interest group of questionable integrity learns that a prominent critic of Israel’s conduct in Palestine is booked to speak in Canada and requests that a Conservative MP intervene to ensure Galloway be refused admission.

2. The Communications Director for Jason Kenney writes to the public servants in charge of immigration requesting that Galloway be banned.

3. The public servants appease the MP’s office by digging up a provision that can be used to justify the ban for reasons other Galloway’s criticism of Israel – here the accusation of “terrorism” comes into play.

4. The immigration officials proceed with the ban while Kenney’s representative panics about the possibility Galloway might be allowed in by a careless border guard, and flails about trying to identify which crossing he will use.

5. The Canadian Immigration office in the UK is advised of the ban and writes a very alarmed and thorough email warning of the irregularity of the banning and the likelihood of widespread press coverage and damaged relations between Canada and the UK.

6. An officer of the Prime Minister’s Office is brought into the loop and affirms they do not have a problem with the ban or its consequences.

And let us not forget the icing on the cake, so characteristic of the Conservative Party:

7: Jason Kenney denies that any of the above ever occurred, despite the widespread publication of evidence to the contrary.

So, in sum, it appears that suppressing criticism of Israel within Canada is more important to Harper and his cronies than our diplomatic relations with the UK or our international credibility as a country that affirms the right to freedom of speech and association.

Galloway’s challenge of the decision will be heard in the Federal Court of Canada in Toronto on April 26th.  According to rabble.ca, “the hearing is open to the public and is due to begin at 9:30 AM.  There will be a rally preceding the hearing, starting at 8:30 a.m., and solidarity rallies at federal court buildings in Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton and elsewhere.” Click here for more information.

I’ll leave you with some classic Galloway windbaggery:

And if you’re in Calgary SE and believe Canada’s immigration officials are not paid to do the bidding of marginalized, extremist, violent Jewish special interest groups, please stop voting for this guy:

Happy 4/20, Canada

April 21, 2010

Pot advocates puff en masse to protest against drug laws

Radio comment of the day:  “I walked past Robson Street and got a huge craving for Nachos.”

When is the smiting coming?

April 14, 2010

Dear Roman Catholic Church,

Please stop enraging me by ducking and weaving, obfuscating and pointing fingers at other people to deflect criticism for your policy of sheltering child molesters from any meaningful consequences for their actions. The public outrage that is filtering through the sand into which your holy heads are stuck is not, as you continue to publicly insist, a gay-atheist-media conspiracy to smear the good  reputation of the Catholic Church.

It may surprise you to learn that out here in the filth-infested den of lustful immorality that is the secular world, raping children is genuinely considered to be intolerably, infuriatingly wrong, and those who indulge are expected to be locked up and / or kept well out of the path of potential victims. Those who are aware of the rape of children are expected to report the abuse to secular authorities immediately so that an impartial police investigation can take place before the evidence goes cold, or risk being subjected to criminal charges themselves.

I’m afraid there is no way forward for the Catholic Church but to confess your sins. Not to each other, but to the secular police force in whatever jurisdiction to which your child raping clergy happen to be ministering. While your priest-rapists and their conspirators are moldering away in prison, they will have ample opportunity to repent. Later, while they are conforming to their parole conditions of staying hundreds of meters away from any place where children gather, they might attain the necessary distance from the targets of their despicable lust to reform.

Isn’t that what it’s all about, for a good Catholic? Sin, confession, repentance, and (ostensibly) reformation? I don’t recall a Catholic doctrine of sin, obfuscation, scapegoating, angry defensiveness, arrogant posturing and defiance, but in doctrinal matters I’m sure you know better than I.

Honestly, you are behaving as if you don’t think the molestation of thousands of children in your care is that big a deal. You are behaving as if you are surprised at the outrage and don’t understand its cause. I can’t help thinking that the needle of your moral compass has been firmly wedged up your own infallible ass for so long you’ve completely lost the ability to empathize with the concerns of ordinary citizens.

Please, if you are truly incapable of taking full responsibility for your actions and facing the consequences, at least petition your god to begin the smiting of evildoers.

Disrespectfully,
the Apophatic Attic.

In other news:

Pope Forgives Molested Children

Jesus is my gunsight.

January 23, 2010

How about this:

A US military contractor has said it will stop engraving Biblical references on rifles used by the US army.

The markings, in the form of coded references, have been appearing on products made by the US firm Trijicon, based in Michigan, for decades.

But on Thursday, US military chief Gen David Petraeus, said the practice of scripture references was “disturbing” and “a serious concern”.

The firm also sells the gunsights to Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

The inscriptions – which include “2COR4:6” and “JN8:12”, relating to verses in the books of II Corinthians and John – appear in raised lettering at the end of the stock number.

The first question: since when does a single sentence a paragraph make?

Anyway, the article does not elucidate what these verses refer to, so I will:

2COR4:6 4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a]made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

JN8:12 12When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

This kind of thing makes it quite hard to differentiate between your average suicide bomber and your average American soldier.

My new toy!

December 10, 2008

I’ve found the ultimate Protools plug-in – a virtual HDRI (high dynamic range imaging) filter. The one I’ve been playing with turns this:

img_2493

into this, with the touch of a button.

img_2493hdr

The plug-in is called ReDynamix by Mediachance. There may be other, better ones. I haven’t really looked, but I can’t seem to stop playing with it.

I will post more experiments after I get the hang of this.

Obama-McCain Joint Statement of Policy: Boring as Hell.

September 27, 2008

I just watched the US presidential debate thinking there were going to be fireworks, but no.  Only sweeping agreement on just about everything, liberally sprinkled with puke-inducing sentimentality, incoherent xenophobia and delusions of grandeur.

And what did they talk about in the midst of the most catastrophic domestic crisis America has seen in my lifetime?  Nothing but the fiddly details of American foreign policy.  (Who should we bomb?  When should we bomb them?  How successful has our bombing been?  How should we meddle in the affairs of Iran?  What about Russia?  Which of us can come up with a better metaphor for how evil North Korea is?  Isn’t Israel swell? )

Disappointment of the night: Obama calling Venezuela a “rogue state”  (sarcastic clapping).   Nice job, “leftist” candidate.

My verdict:  a tie.  The points gained by McCain in the ad hominem category were perfectly matched by Obama’s glittering generalities.

Booooooo.  Hissssss.

Anyway, unless someone announces a debate between Nader and Paul, I’m done with American politics for a while.  I hear Canada is having an election too!