Soundbite Overload and Factual Deficit

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By all appearances, it seems that there is a baffling lack of thinking in this country right now. What I will cover here is a strange, almost contradictory circumstance. We have a situation where people have a Soundbite Overload, and yet at the same time seem to be suffering from a Factual Deficit.

Soundbite Overload/Factual Deficit

While the internet is a wonderful tool, there are flaws in the system and in how it is used. There is an excessive amount of opinion, partial facts, spin, misunderstanding, sensationalism, as well as outright lies. There is so much information out there on any topic or news story that it takes time and effort to sift through it before you can even begin to truly understand a topic or event. People don’t want to take the time to really know and understand. They want to get the soundbites and assemble an opinion to post on Twitter or Facebook.

People who know nothing about a given incident or topic start ranting about details that may or may not be facts. Often, these are simply assumptions on the part of the person who is seething with rage  and hate. These rants turn into soundbites that are repeated by the masses. Little tidbits of misinformation, a slightly old picture to exaggerate the youthfulness of a key figure in the event, and quite often – quick one-liners that allow a person to deflect counter-arguments and shame those with a differing view of events. This becomes the Soundbite Overload. A person heavily armed with misinformation and half-truths, emboldened by righteous indignation and hate.

To this mess we have to add another problem; the Factual Deficit. With so much false information and intentionally misleading information there are bound to be problems, but when the real facts are left out, for whatever reason, then understanding becomes that much more challenging, if it remains possible at all. Facts are missing, or obscured by the lies. And when you actually do find some facts you are shouted down by the crowds who know better than you, because they read it on twitter or Facebook or saw part of a news report.

The Soundbite Overload/Factual Deficit is probably an older problem than I am aware of, but if it is not new, it certainly has been exacerbated in the age of the internet. These problems are added to, or in some cases exploited by the other factors.

Confirmation Bias

There is the human habit of ignoring details that run against their assumptions, while clinging to details that confirm these assumptions. I don’t care what assumption you want to start with as a basis for this line of reasoning. Once you make an assumption, from that point on you are going to notice only the details that seem in your mind to confirm this. From that point onward, any information you receive will be checked, unconsciously, against your preconceived assumption. If it matches what you already believe, you will stick with it, if it runs counter, you will dismiss it. This is a human habit, and everyone does it. (At least, it is my preconceived assumption that everyone does it…just TRY to prove me wrong!!!)

Media

The media has a role in this as well. Gone are the days when they were there to keep an eye on things and look out for us. The networks make money off of your viewership, and this is why they sensationalize things things the way they do. It is business to them; not a mission, not a service to the public; it is money. They tell stories in a way that will bring out an emotional response from the viewer, and this is not by accident. Give it a simple test. Watch an evening national news broadcast and note every time that you start to have an emotional reaction to a story, whether that emotion is anger, disgust, or joy that there are still good people in the world. If you pay attention you will see that there is a pattern they take you through, almost every evening. Don’t take my word for it, go check it out for yourself. If you pay close attention, you will see that the media are master manipulators.

Critical Thinking

If you are aware of the processes used by the media, and if you are aware that some random person on Twitter or Facebook are not really experts on any given topic, then you can be a step ahead, but it takes effort and it takes time if you want to understand real issues. It is a mistake to allow yourself and your actions to be shaped by people who know not whereof they speak.

Critical thinking is a tool that allows you to examine arguments offered by others. It is not an outright dismissal of another’s position, but instead a method of checking their argument within a framework of reason.

Do you have to be an expert?

On the internet, everyone and their Uncle seems to be an expert about everything. My suggestion is to not participate in that game.

Wait a minute! Did a martial artist actually just say you don’t have to be an expert at everything?!?!

Yes I did.

Why be like everyone else? Why not be strong enough to admit that you do not know something? Why not be willing to say that some social issues are very complex and do not have answers simple enough to fit into a one line soundbite? It would be refreshing to see people willing to take that step. I don’t think it will happen because of the massive number of people who make emotion-based decisions, but one can still hope. Right?

Personal Safety: Lifestyle

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Your lifestyle plays a tremendous role in your personal safety. The good part about this is that your lifestyle is a factor 100% under your control. In this article I am going to take a look at some of the lifestyle choices people make that affect their personal safety, and offer some points of consideration on ways to make good choices that will increase your safety. We will look at two main categories of lifestyle that affect safety; health/fitness and personal choices.

Healthy Lifestyle

Put simply, eating right and exercising are self defense. Although the point is often overlooked, you are at a greater risk from preventable diseases than you are from a mugger. There is no good reason to not exercise and eat right.

Speaking as a person who spent the better portion of their life not eating right, and is currently paying the price for it, I want people to know that it is very important to make the right choices regarding diet and exercise. For me, the turning point was when I began to have trouble going up the stairs in my home. I often tell people that my weight peaked at 312 lbs., but that ignores the day I stepped on the scale and it read 317 lbs. (I told myself the scale was broken…). I stopped and took a look at how I was living. There were years in my life where if it wasn’t at least six eggs and a half package of bacon, it wasn’t breakfast. Every day I was eating the same lunch; a sandwich they called the “Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger”. I was having it with a large fries, two tacos, SEVEN cheese-stuffed deep-fried jalapenos and a large sweet tea. That comes out to 5,580 mg of sodium. Just FYI, a fatal dose is 3,000 mg per Kg. My dinners were slightly healthier except for the fact that I was not eating a normal human sized portion. During this stretch of time I was gaining a pound each day. When I realized what I had been doing to myself, I made some pretty drastic changes. My breakfast changed to three eggs and no sides. My gigantic lunch was replaced with a single sandwich from home. And dinner is a single serving, human sized.

I also began to exercise and started much more intensive martial arts training. The weight came off slowly, but I am down to 255 lbs.

I tell this not to pat myself on the back, but to let you know, if you have let yourself go, you can recover. I did it through the only method proven to work – eat less and move more.

Your physical health plays a huge role in your personal safety in more ways than feeling better, as important as physical health is in and of itself.

There are two factors about your health that play a role in personal safety that jump to the front of my mind.

Fighting Fit

In self defense classes and seminars all over the world, you will find instructors who are unable to get through the defense they are teaching you without huffing and puffing. Set aside the fact that they are also usually teaching very elaborate and excessively intricate defenses against simple attacks; they are also clearly not capable of protecting themselves in the event they need to simply because they do not have the stamina.

Obviously, when speaking of personal safety we seek first to avoid the situations where violence is likely. We do not want to be where the violence is going to take place. But there are possibilities, however remote they may be, where we were unable to avoid it and we must face it. It is at those times that our physical health really becomes a factor. If we are not fighting fit, we are in a much more dangerous situation.

Projection of Confidence

There have been different studies that have shown slightly different levels of importance regarding the level of confidence a person projects and the way predators select victims. But in all of the studies I have been able to find, it does matter. If a person can project health, confidence and alertness, many times the predator human will keep looking for a different target. They are looking for a resource, not a fight.

Often, as I make this point in face to face classes, I am told that it is easy for me to say this because of my size. I stand six and-a-half feet tall. Almost no one is going to select me as a target in most cases (the exception being a drunk who has decided he can take me). I have to respond that the studies show that how you carry yourself really is a factor in whether or not you are selected as a target.

Keep in mind that I am speaking of quiet and unassuming confidence, not cockiness. Arrogance will be seen as a challenge by some who could well decide to take you down a few pegs.

Actually having the ability to back up your projected confidence is also likely something that predators can pick up on. We often forget just how much is communicated non-verbally.

LIFESTYLE CHOICES

The other aspect of lifestyle that affects our personal safety is the choices we make regarding where and with whom to spend our time.

Although often decried as Victim Blaming, this is certainly not the case. As one who is constantly teaching the lost concept of personal responsibility, I assure you that victim blaming and personal responsibility are not even related. Don’t believe the hype.

If you are someone who is interested in increasing personal safety, then it is important to take certain steps.

Alcohol

Alcohol makes people stupid.

You impair your own judgement and reflexes when you are under the influence. People tend to think that alcohol makes people mellow, and there are some people that this is true for, but by and large it is only going to be true up to a certain amount of alcohol, and after that things get a little less certain. And even if alcohol makes you mellow, what about the other people in the bar or at the party? How sure are you that they will not go nuts? Are you willing to bet your personal safety on it?

Bad things happen at places where large amounts of alcohol are being consumed. If you want to increase personal safety, avoid these places.

Bad People

If you are truly interested in personal safety, then you need to also consider the people with whom you choose to spend your time.

If you spend your time hanging out with criminals, you are going to be less safe than if you made a different choice. If you spend your time around violent people, violence will be a part of your life by default.

I have been told that this position I present amounts to telling people to judge others.

Well…

Every single person judges people every day. When you choose to keep a person as a friend, you are passing a judgement on them just as surely as if you choose to no longer keep them in your life.

Safety

I wish to make clear that I am looking at this from the standpoint of personal safety. There are activist groups that go out of their way to be offended by the thought that a person can take responsibility for their life and be safer as a result. I remind you, the world we live in is the one we must prepare ourselves for, not the utopia of the imagination. It would be wonderful if we could simply generate a world without crime through telling bad people to not do bad things, but that is a fantasy. There is a story often told in the Chinese martial arts of a scorpion who asked a frog to give him a ride across the river. The frog said, “No way! You will sting me and I will drown.” The scorpion replied, “I give my word, I will not.” So the frog agreed. When they arrived at the far shore, the scorpion stung the frog. As the frog was sinking beneath the water, dying, he said, “You said you would not sting me.” The scorpion replied, “I am a scorpion. It is my nature to sting.”

There are bad people who do bad things. You have to prepare yourself for that fact and not invent a fantasy where they will stop being bad.

Word Wars: Online Conflict and Self Defense

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Within the martial arts, the term self defense is misused and overused to the point where people, often as not, don’t know that it is a legal term, and as such not really open to personal interpretation. This is so common that as a martial arts instructor, when I mention consequences of using fighting techniques, I am always and forever hit with the question, “But what if it is self defense?

I have beaten that old dead horse so much I don’t want to discuss the error anymore. For my purposes here, it is sufficient to say that self defense is a very narrowly defined legal term, and most of what you think of as self defense is assault.

What I do wish to cover today is the strange thought of verbal self defense during online arguments.

The thought to write this came as a result of some of the correspondence I received after my last post. There were some people who went right past the point of the article, which was “be careful what you post online”, and zeroed in on the story of the Duncanville teacher who had to resign after posting some very unprofessional remarks on her twitter account. There were several people who remarked that the teacher “had to defend herself” against what people were saying about her or her comments or whatever. Others took the position that there was nothing wrong with her being outraged and venting in the way that she did because others were saying equally bad things in response to her original statements.

I will leave aside that these comments clearly show that the point of that article was missed, and address the idea of self defense as applied to online banter.

Is it really self defense?

In much the same way as what happens with physical “self defense”, people are under a mistaken belief that arguing with someone is self defense. It isn’t, but they sincerely believe that it is. In a physical conflict, people often see their behavior in the verbal escalation phase as merely protecting themselves. Their ego urges them to sooth an imagined wound, and the way that it does so is to escalate the argument. This is a mistaken viewpoint that can have really bad consequences.

Marc MacYoung gave this topic the best treatment I have read to date in his book In the Name of Self Defense. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in this topic.

The same mental mechanisms involved in face to face verbal and physical conflicts are at work in these situations of online arguments. They can be dangerous in that they get more and more hateful as time passes. People push the limits of dialogue as they try continually to “one-up” the other person. This escalation is no different in essence from when Person A makes insinuations about Person B’s mother and Person B responds by commenting on the sexual preferences of Person A. It is escalation and it is a bad road to be on, face to face or not.

As we saw in the incident mentioned in the previous post, things can get out of control. It happens so easily, and the sad thing is that even people who chose a side after-the-fact will claim that one person was “defending herself/himself”.

Neither person is innocent as both willingly escalated the event. You might feel sorry for one or the other, but in truth, neither person is right or correct or justified in their behavior. Either person has the option to simply stop participating in the escalation. And, they have this option at any time, they only need to see it, and take that option.

What do you gain or lose?

In looking at how similar the online argument is to the face-to-face argument, what advice would a self defense coach give to a person in such situations?

I like to look at it from the perspective of “What do you lose by not participating in the argument?”

In the online confrontation, you may feel like you are losing face. Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t. There is really little difference. In most cases, if you take a moment to think about it, you really have no interaction with these people outside of the website where the argument is taking place. You might convince yourself that you can save your pride by one-upmanship, but in fact you might end up suffering a huge public humiliation. People lose their jobs because of an inability to see that there is no winning of an argument online with a stranger who already has their mind made up. So, as far as gain is concerned, there is nothing to be gained.

As far as loss, well…that is a different story.

As brought up in the last post, the teacher in that story had to resign from her job of twenty years after what others want to call “defending herself”. The fact is, there was no need at all to reply to their comments. Just as I advise kids when dealing with cyber-bullying – if you stop reading what they are writing then you do not feel pressure to respond and participate in such a way as to allow the nonsense to continue.

You may feel the urge to comment on a hot topic news story. And you certainly have a freedom to comment. But you should do so with the foreknowledge that others will not agree with you. Add to this the need to be aware of the rampant immaturity in the world today and you can be aware that people will disagree with you in very childish ways. Few people actually know how to discuss differences of ideas anymore, and instead engage in ad hominem attacks from the start. Are you thick-skinned enough to handle this? If not, then it is best to not comment.

Emotion Based Decisions

If you must respond to something said online, in the full knowledge that the other person will not be persuaded to accept your opinion, then it is probably good to take a moment first.

Think.

Posting something online should probably not be done while in an emotionally agitated state. Many people make fun of the people who post all of their private business on Facebook, and with good reason. Many people seem to have forgotten that private life is private for a reason. This inability to draw a distinction between what is okay to place in a public forum and what is not seems to stem from making decisions based on emotion. In the “heat of a moment” it is easy to lose sight of bigger picture concerns. People can, and have, posted online comments that cost careers, jobs, friends, relationships, and respect.

In a moment of trying to be a big shot online, you can make a mess of many parts of your life.

This problem can become especially pronounced when the hot centers of the brain trick you into thinking that an online attack is the same thing as an actual physical attack. You will slip right into the hot centers and begin reacting based on emotion, and very bad things can happen.

Be careful about these things.

The Perils of Social Media

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The topic for this essay is social media. Specifically I am going to write about the way people lose a lot of social intelligence when they participate in social media.

At the time of this writing, a teacher in the Duncanville school district (right outside of the DFW Metroplex in Texas), Vinita Hegwood, has resigned her job as an English teacher after a big dust up resulting from a profanity laced and racially derogatory post she placed on the social media website twitter. Continue reading

Violence as a Disease

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I have an unusual hobby. I participate in free online courses called MOOCs. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. Because of MOOCs I have been able to take classes from Universities all around the world, and study subjects as varied as U.S. Constitution, Western History, Irrational Thinking, Thomas Jefferson, Theoretical Physics, Positive Classrooms, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism, Plato, and World History. Last Spring I put together a MOOC on Self Defense and as a result gained a lot of insight in the massive amount of effort and time that goes into the production of such online courses.

I recently took a MOOC offered by Emory University through Coursera titled Understanding Violence. Continue reading

Victim Blaming

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I was sent the following link by a friend who asked me what I thought of the article.

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/07/self-defense-blame-victims/

When I saw the line in the link “Self defense blame victims” to be honest, I threw up a little bit. But I went ahead and read the article, dumber though it made me, and I am posting my thoughts and response here.

The article starts off Continue reading

Random Violence

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There is a lot of talk and concern lately over these random violent attacks. As a personal preference, I like to not “date” my articles unless I am writing about a specific event, but with the frequency of these attacks right now it seems that it will not take a great deal of imagination or personal research to find a pile of stories. Here, I am going to write about random violence and answer those questions I have been receiving about the topic.

By its very nature, random violence is, well…random. This makes prediction highly challenging for the most part.

Having said that…common sense needs to still be used. Continue reading