How to end the flat earth argument

Apparently people still think that the earth is flat despite an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary. This stuff is all over social media, and it infuriates me to no end because we’ve known that the earth was a sphere for thousands of years, and if ancient man could figure that shit out then I would expect that someone who has access to satellite photography would also be able to figure it out. But alas, people are ignorant as fuck and thus we have the flat earth theory. Everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, recently had to respond to an NBA star commenting that the earth is flat.

I had an exchange with someone on Instagram earlier today. Someone I follow posted something showing how the earth was curved, not flat. Well, cue the “woke” enlightened folk. So I asked how a flat planet could form in the presence of gravity. Well, apparently gravity is also a conspiracy. Here’s the response I got:

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See, guys, there’s no such thing as gravity because density! Duh. And no, I’m not blurring anyone’s name out on here because if you’re stupid enough to think the earth is flat and gravity isn’t real you deserve to be called out. And yes, I also realize that you all have my Instagram handle now.

But here’s why I asked about gravity.

I wanted to think of a proof or a thought experiment I could give a flat earther to get them to realize that they’re wrong. And I think I came up with one. And it all hinges on gravity. In order for a flat planet to form, gravity either 1) needs to not exist, or 2) not behave according to our current models. My response to good ol’ Jonathan there was this:

“There’s a very easy way to prove whether or not gravity is real. Pick an object, any old object will do. Next, find a place you can drop it from–a second story window, a tree, a rooftop–it doesn’t matter. Now, if you know the mass of the object and the height from which you’re dropping it from, then it’s a matter of simple math. Calculate the time it would take the object to reach the ground 1) by using the standard model of gravity and the equation time = √(2d/g) and 2) by substituting the value of g for literally anything else–like the formula for density. Then drop the object and compare the times to those given by your two equations.”

That’s really something any middle school student should be able to do. The response I got?

…total crickets. Nobody had a response. None of the flat earth geniuses, to nobody’s surprise, derived a new form of math to describe acceleration and motion that didn’t use gravity.

Because you can believe that the government lies to us about the shape of the earth and the ISS and moon landing are faked by NASA, but there’s one thing that doesn’t lie–GODDAMN MATH.

But just the fact that this needs to be explained to people is incredibly disheartening. It speaks to a broken education system. It speaks to a culture steeped in paranoia. It speaks to a political system wherein people are encouraged to openly deny evidence. People are so quick to latch onto conspiracy, but they can’t see that the way to to truly keep someone ignorant is to make them question observable, measurable, testable, repeatable evidence. THAT’S how you keep someone in ignorance. And the fact that this is happening speaks volumes about our social and political state.

So if you ever run into a flat earther, give them this proof and see what happens. My guess it that cognitive dissonance will be so great that their head will explode.

It’s all bullshit, folks

I’ve seen the following meme making the rounds on social media:

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I find stuff like this somewhat amusing. While most people are arguing about which religious headgear is the least sexist, I’m just standing off in the corner, laughing at how stupid the entire concept is in general.

To me, the concept of hijab itself is stupid, no matter which religion is practicing it. As an atheist, they’re all equally offensive to me because they’re all equally oppressive. You can argue all you want about how the patriarchy in each religion uses head covers and whether or not it’s sexist, but they all represent regressive, superstitious ritual to me. They’re all symbols of belief in a magical sky being who, for whatever reason, seems to give a shit what you wear on your head.

So to recap: anyone who wears special clothing to “devote themselves to god” is oppressed in my view, because they’re signalling to me and everyone else a surrendering to blind belief in a deity, and subjecting themselves to a life guided by the traditions taken from archaic books written by ignorant desert-dwellers.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a bit by the late, great George Carlin about religion and hats. And so, for your viewing pleasure, George’s thoughts:

As George concludes: “It’s all make believe!”

Stupid political memes

As much as I hate to say it, internet memes are important now. They’re as much a source for news and information as any other social media outlet now. Indeed, memes are not only a way to transmit information, they’re also representations of ideas and beliefs held by people. There are literally entire generations and groups of people who get all of their news and information and ideas from social media and memes. So it’s important to call out bad memes that represent bad ideas, because they’re a very common way that misinformation and bad ideas spread. So without further ado, here are some popular political memes and my refutation of them.

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I’ve seen this one on Twitter and Instagram a lot lately, and it’s very disappointing. Right off the bat, anyone who paid attention in 8th grade history class should know something that casts suspicion upon this meme. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Now, does anyone know when the Federal Reserve was created? 1913! A whole 48 years after Lincoln was assassinated. I guess old Honest Abe had a time machine that he didn’t tell anyone about.

Really, what we’re talking about with this meme is the idea of conspiracy. Because if there’s ever turmoil in this country, it has to be a conspiracy, right? And if it’s conspiracy we’re talking about, then obviously it’s the Federal Reserve’s fault, because why not. After all, everyone’s favorite crazy grandpa, Ron Paul, is always screaming about the Fed and how it’s the cause of all of the world’s problems. Except that it isn’t, clearly.

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I saw this one just today and got into a bit of an exchange with someone about it. First of all, let’s take the two sentences at the top. “Never arrested. Never convicted.” Well fucking duh, because again, history. Obviously Hitler was never arrested and convicted of any of his war crimes because he fucking shot himself before we could capture him. Now, let’s take the last sentence. “Just as innocent as Hillary.”

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Clinton isn’t some angelic figure. But Hitler? Come on. There’s no comparison. Nothing Hillary Clinton has ever done even remotely compares to straight up genocide and literally trying to take over the world. This is false equivalency or dichotomy at its absolute finest. By the way, the person I debated about this meme kept calling Clinton a despot, which is what makes her as guilty as Hitler, apparently. Her despotism according to this individual? Voting for the war in Iraq and the no-fly zone in Syria. Because obviously those are just as bad as the holocaust, guys.

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This was pretty popular when Bernie was still in the race, but I still occasionally see it making the rounds, or other memes that are similar to it. The only problem with it is that it’s total and absolute crap. Taxes are not collected at gunpoint. Similarly, nobody is going to shoot you if you don’t pay your taxes. And do you know why? BECAUSE YOU CAN’T COLLECT TAXES FROM A DEAD PERSON. And despite all that, your economic value is still greater even if you don’t pay taxes than if you were dead. So knock this bullshit off, the government doesn’t go door to door with soldiers to collect taxes.

At the very worst, tax evasion will land you in jail. But most likely it’ll result in a garnishment or lien of some kind.

But let’s take this moment to look at countries who do practice socialist principles. People in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, etc. gladly and proudly pay taxes. Their systems are sources of national pride. Some of the very things that Paul and his ilk believe are privileges are considered human rights over in parts of Europe. And while we’re on the topic…

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No, taxation is not theft, goddamnit. For anyone who believes this drivel, please kindly give me an example of one modern society that functions without taxation of some kind. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I’ve been waiting, because nobody that I’ve ever posed that question to has ever been able to provide an answer, because the whole premise that taxation is tantamount to theft is absolute horse shit.

And comparing the government to the mafia is also horse shit. The mafia doesn’t produce anything. The government, on the other hand, and contrary to popular belief, DOES produce things with your taxes.

Taxation is roads. It’s bridges. It’s schools. It’s the fire department. It’s the police department. It’s the trash collectors. It’s the military that defends us. It’s drinking water. It’s all of the things that are promised to us by the social contract. But if you really think that taxation is theft and you shouldn’t ever have to pay any taxes, then go right the fuck ahead and leave society. You’ll see real fast how far no taxes and no social contract gets you, you twats. I also find it hypocritical that these same assholes probably use all of the public goods that the taxes they hate so much paid for.

And before anyone says it, saying that you’re being taxed too much or that your tax dollars are being used inefficiently is not the same thing as saying that all taxation is armed theft. So don’t even try making the argument that it’s all really the same thing.

What all these memes have in common is that they show a breathtaking ignorance of history and fact. And yet there are millions of people out there who see stuff like this and just accept it as fact. And they all vote. Every last ignorant one of them.

Be a verb, not an adjective

My brother had an exchange on Facebook the other day that made me think about racism and oppression in America. It all started when my brother posted this meme (the caption is the text he included with it):

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“Watch out for the PC police, they’re everywhere”

This elicited the following response from one of his friends:

“God forbid we live in a world where people recognize the disparities that exist between race, gender, and sexual identity, and attempt to foster dialogue that doesn’t intentionally or unintentionally solidify the social hierarchies that exist today…I’m just tired of the joke and the overall backlash around “PC police” and “social justice warriors”.”

Fuck this guy and people like him.

If you think making people more sensitive or aware of language does anything to tear down the very real and physical structures and systems that keep minorities oppressed and powerless, then you’re a fucking twat. I’m pretty sure that at this point in history literally everyone is aware that disparity and inequality exist, captain obvious. Can language hurt someone’s feelings? Sure. Can it remind people of their shitty situation within a system where they have no power? Absolutely. But will forcing people to change the language they use change that power dynamic?

No, it fucking won’t, so get off your damned high horse and actually do something.

It’s one thing to sit around and correct people’s language and lecture them about how it reflects or reinforces a system that oppresses minorities or those that are different. But at the end of the day, once these people stop patting themselves on the back for getting another word or joke banned, if they stopped kissing each other’s PC asses they’d see that that had ZERO EFFECT ON THE PROBLEM.

Because the problem isn’t language, and it isn’t off-color jokes.

50 years ago it was pretty common for white people to use the word “nigger” when referring to black people. Then that word became unacceptable. Fine. But preventing white people from calling black folks niggers didn’t somehow magically stop racism. It didn’t even slow it down. The words just changed.

Because racism isn’t just about what jokes people tell or what words they use. Those are symptoms. It’s more about their actions, and actions and words are not mutually exclusive. Can I be a feminist and laugh at jokes about women? I’d argue yes, because the fact that I laughed at a joke doesn’t mean that I take the joke to heart, and it doesn’t mean I don’t support equal opportunities for women. And that’s the point that’s completely lost on idiots like the guy who deigned to lecture my brother about his meme.

Quite frankly I don’t think it really matters if people occasionally tell an insensitive joke or use an offensive word because it’s how they treat the actual people that are oppressed that matters. It’s the things they do to affect change–voting, using their money to support organizations and businesses within a broken system– that matter. Did exposing the racism behind the term “nigger” help black people advance in society? Maybe. But you know what really helped? The fucking Civil Rights Act.

If someone votes people who are pro-equality into office and uses their dollars to support businesses that are pro-equality, that’s what matters. If someone raises their kids to believe that everyone is equal and everyone deserves a fair shake at life, that’s what matters. But that doesn’t mean you have to tell your children that they can’t laugh at a joke. Humor, culture, and human beings are nuanced, and the “war on language” that a lot of self-appointed heroes are waging doesn’t take that into consideration.

So my advice to everyone, especially those who think microaggressions or lack of trigger warnings are the problem, is to stop being an adjective; if the only thing you can do to stop oppression is to label people and language, then congratulations, you’re officially doing absolutely nothing to end oppression. Instead, I would encourage you to be a verb and actually get out there and change the goddamned system.

What’s in a name?

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I saw this tweet the other day and had a hearty laugh. And then I started thinking (uh oh!).

There have been several highly publicized studies about how if someone named “Lakeisha Jones” changes their name to “Cindy Jones” on a resume, suddenly they get a much better response from the HR folks screening job applications. The tweet made me wonder if there will come a time in the next 10-20 years when HR people are going to say, “Oh great, another hipster-spawn yuppie” and toss out the resumes of affluent white kids based on their names.

And then I started thinking about how this even extends beyond multi-culturalism. I know that I’ve been been guilty of thinking, “I’ve never met a guy named ‘Blake’ who wasn’t a total douche bag,” or “I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl named ‘Kasey’ who wasn’t a total bitch.” Maybe I’m the only person who’s ever had thoughts like that, but I’d suspect that I’m not.

And then I started wondering if this extends beyond America. Do people in other countries have similar biases against names, even names from their own culture? Is there some HR guy in Japan looking at a resume and thinking, “Oh great, another ‘Toshi’; just what I needed, another asshole to add to the pile.”

What’s going on here? How could a name produce such powerful reactions before we even meet a person? It’s not like people name their children Blake thinking that they’re going to grow up to be total D-bags. Nobody names their daughter Candy because they hope that someday they wind up dancing on a pole.

So where do our reactions come from? Is it simply because people hate things that are different or outside of the norm, and this extends to names–is everything, as the tweet implies, relative? Or could it really the case that certain types of people gravitate toward certain names? All asshole parents think “Blake” is a cool name, so they wind up raising an asshole child, or that all hippies think “Daffodil Buttercup” is a pretty name, so they wind up raising a bunch of free-spirited and aimless children with the same name?

What say you, internet? What are your thoughts on names?

Throwaway culture

We live in a disposable society.

What do mean by that? Everything is designed to be thrown away. And why wouldn’t it? Our economic growth is fueled by blind and increasing consumption. In order for people to continue consuming, they must dispose of things eventually. And so things aren’t designed to be reused, and they certainly aren’t designed to last.

In fact, have you heard, dear reader, of something called “planned obsolescence” (to use the business parlance)? It’s the practice of designing and engineering things to fail after a certain period of time. Why build something that can last a lifetime if that only means that someone will ever only buy one? Businesses make way more money if they sell you a product repeatedly.

And so things are designed to fail. Cell phones, computers, clothing–you name it and it has a poor shelf life. Part of the reason is because they’re built poorly to cut cost. But the other part is that their obsolescence has been planned so that you toss out the old and buy the newer model.

That’s the economic paradigm we live in. And all for the sake of growth.

And growth for the sake of what, exactly?

That’s the question anyone hardly ever asks. We’re told economic growth is great! More growth = more wealth, and that’s a great thing! But why?

Is the quality of life in a country that generates $6 trillion dollars a year really that much better than the quality of life in a  country that “only” generates $4 trillion? Probably not. We’ve seen studies that show that happiness has a ceiling in terms of dollars; after an individual makes a certain amount of money, their amount of self-reported happiness plateaus and additional income does not raise it. You can read all about that study here and here.

If that’s true, then what’s the point of continuing to push for ever-increasing growth? It would literally be pointless.

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But more to the point, this behavior of casual disposal might even be harmful to us.

We throw out food while others go hungry. We destroy entire ecosystems with our trash and cause extinctions of entire species. “Oh well,” we say, “there are plenty of other animals.” We view life as disposable! A dog bites a human (a completely natural reaction for a dog). Do we bother to re-train it? No, we just kill it. Human being commits a crime. Do we rehabilitate them? No, we just throw them away–to jail or prison.

This push for constant economic growth and accumulation and consumption of things to fuel it has created a rather cavalier or flippant attitude toward other forms of life and the planet itself that simply isn’t sustainable, and is in fact causing harm. At some point, enough is enough, literally and figuratively.

The wonderful thing about this type of problem is that it doesn’t require a miracle invention or anything of the sort. It’s completely behavior driven–change the behavior and you change the outcome. And changing the behavior is super easy–just don’t buy stupid shit you don’t need. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Don’t buy something just to own it. I don’t really know how many other ways a person can say the same thing. Don’t let other people tell you what you need to be happy, and always be skeptical of someone who tells you that giving them your money will somehow increase your happiness.

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Denial disguised as skepticism

I’ve noticed a new trend. There have always been people who have flat out denied science for one reason or another. Take your pick–evolution, global warming–a lot of well established scientific theories have their vehement and vocal deniers. But I’ve been taking a course on vaccines in order to improve my practice as a public health nurse, and it’s here that I’ve really seen this new trend blossom. And that’s denial masquerading as skepticism.

Denialists have no evidence to support their beliefs. Let’s get that straight right out of the gate. If there was any credible evidence against an established scientific theory then you could bet scientists would be all over that. So what do you do when you have an unsupportable belief? Well, you make your belief sound smarter. And crying “skepticism” is what a lot of these people are doing now. It’s fairly simple. A lot of people who deny the safety and efficacy of vaccines were confronted in the discussion forums of this class, and the results were…well, they went along the lines of, “I’m just saying we need to question the science. I thought skepticism was healthy in science.”

See, by couching their beliefs in skepticism, it makes their position sound more grounded, almost rational. After all, questioning things is indeed a hallmark of science. But not blind questioning.

Skepticism doesn’t come from the gut, it comes from contradictory evidence.

There’s a mountain of data and evidence going back more than fifty years that crosses all ages, all places across the globe, gender, race, etc. that says vaccines are safe and effective. This same pile of data makes it very clear that chronic diseases and things like autism are not the result of vaccination.

You could say the same thing to people who claim to be “climate change skeptics.” Mountain of evidence on one side, zero evidence on the other side. There’s no reason to be skeptical of these theories other than personal bias or misinformation, period.

I’ve screen captured some of the discussion board happenings in this class that I’m taking in order to better illustrate what this new ploy looks like. I’ve blacked out last names for the sake of respect and privacy–my responses have the name blotted out in green:

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You’ll notice in this first example that Cheryl talks about “possibility.” The old “How can you be reeeeeally suuuure?” canard. Because there’s no evidence to support your position, Cheryl, and all the evidence to support mine. Ironically, I even get called out for NOT just considering one possible cause. When I originally suggested looking at other environmental factors that have recently changed, that’s the scientific approach. But no, apparently it’s “common sense” to single out one thing and then just run blindly with that. Don’t even think about other possibilities–thinking about the big picture isn’t common sense to people who live in Cheryl’s world. But just that first bit there, introducing “possibility” into the mix, is a much gentler and pseudo-reasonable way to introduce denial.

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In this example, we get this lovely fallacy: not all experts know everything, and not all laypeople are idiots. Fair enough, but that doesn’t change the evidence, which Jenette doesn’t seem to understand. You hear this nonsense with climate change and evolution, too. “Well, not all the experts agree.” Fine, but fact isn’t dependent upon universal consensus. To be fair to Jenette, she does admit that she’s here to learn the science of vaccines, which is a step in the right direction. But there’s still this attempt to introduce denial by way of making both sides of the argument equal. The media is guilty of this sort of thing. Cable news will have Bill Nye and some congressman debating climate change on a split screen. Well, when you see a climate change denier side by side with Bill Nye, it kind of sends the message that both sides are equally legitimate. Despite the overwhelming amount of data and evidence that one side has and that’s missing from the other.

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And lastly we come to my favorite excerpt. I’ve circled Andre’s problematic statement at the top of the picture. Science does not work like Amazon customer reviews, which is the lovely analogy Andre gave us. I don’t think I really need to explain why this is wrong and patently stupid. The important point here is trying to elevate denial to the same level as established science. It’s steeped in “research.” Do your own research sounds a lot less like philosophical dislike of something. Even though, if one were to do actual scientific research, they would arrive at a conclusion different from Andre and all of the other deniers in this class: vaccines are safe and effective.

When deniers talk about “research” what they’re really talking about is watching Youtube videos from “whistleblowers” or combing through a Google search or reading a book published by someone with their own agenda. Which, obviously, is not scientific research and data. But, to another person who isn’t well versed in how science works, hearing “I did some research” might sound legitimate. It certainly sounds better than “I just feel that…”

But at the end of the day, that’s really all these so-called “skeptics” have to fall back on: feelings. Paranoia about industry and government. Anecdotal stories from third parties. Maybe they have a “study” done by a non-peer reviewed entity or person. But it doesn’t amount to anything close to actual data or evidence. They “just know” the truth. They’ll make it sound, though, as if denial is healthy. As if skepticism and denial are the same thing. Make no mistake: denying something is not the same thing as being skeptical or critical.