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Moral Outrage and the Algorithm – Two Small (But Mighty) Steps

By Education, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Men's work, Uncategorized

In the first article of this blog series, I talked about how some families in my hometown of Bend, Oregon are “quiet quitting” public schools in favor of homeschooling. There are several reasons behind this. One is that some parents don’t want their children to have to learn about enslavement, social justice, civil rights, or the history of discrimination in the United Statesnot because they are making a conscious choice—but because they have read/heard quotes about Critical Race Theory and its supposed negative impacts on children.

The second article in this series turned out to be about a tragic event that also happened in Bend when a young man went into a Safeway store armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun and killed three people before taking his own life. The thing I focused on from the story was the now predictable profile of who the shooter was: a young, isolated, depressed, and angry white man. 

I’ve used up, if not exceeded, my time talking about the problems. Here are two things I’m going to do in terms of trying to make things better; join me if they make sense to you:

1. We have got to learn to deal more constructively with our moral outrage. And what exactly is moral outrage? It’s the strong emotions we feel when we experience or see an injustice that we then convert into a moral judgment in a nano-second. When we feel it, we often resort to shaming or attacking the wrongdoers.  

Though I can’t prove it, I think it’s highly likely that many quiet quitting school families are keeping their opinions to themselves, so they don’t have to suffer through the judgments and moral outrage of their neighbors. We don’t know the motivations of the Safeway shooter, but his social media posts and reports from people that knew him suggest he felt isolated and unable or unwilling to express his feelings out loud. 

In my own extended family, I notice how one group of relatives whom I know feel differently about a number of societal issues than I do rarely allow our conversations during visits to stray into current events, politics, or personal beliefs. They’ve also witnessed my hyper-verbosity and intensity when I unbridle my moral outrage. That preview alone would probably be enough to keep them from ever wanting to engage with me on topics which we disagree about. 

For me, the solution is to remember that relationships and connection with other people is one of my primary espoused values, and allowing my moral outrage to take control is counter to those values. Also, if I tell myself the truth, my moral outrage is harmful to other people; there is nothing constructive about shame or guilt. I can’t let myself go there, no matter what the injustice or wrong is.

2. Less is more: I need to pay attention to how and when I use social media. Of course, this is a huge topic, but in this context all I’m talking about is what I need to do to build better partnerships with people who see the world differently than me. The way I use social media—including how I express my own moral outrage on occasion—also does a lot more harm than good. The anonymity of digital communication can enable us to behave pretty badly towards one another if we’re not mindful of it. 

I’ve been reading The Chaos Machine – The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher. Fisher talks about the physiological response most of us have to social media posts that prompt different feelings, including moral outrage, and the data is not good. There is a lot of creepy stuff that social media companies do to keep us engaged—and it’s engagement that is the key to them making money on us—but we can’t blame them for creating the algorithms that hook us; it’s still our choice. 

Since reading the book and noticing my own unconscious response to different stimuli on social media, I now catch myself before writing and sending snarky responses to complete strangers. I also notice that most of the snarkiness comes from other white men, and Fisher’s research also confirms this.

I’m noticing social media is an accelerant for creating and maintaining polar differences between us. It’s hard for me to even find or get access to groups whose members see the world in a different way than I do. The algorithms I experience on Facebook and Google are almost impossible for me to break out of. It’s not hard to see why those politicians who take pleasure in fomenting the polarization are also heavy social media users.

The world’s got big problems, and these are but two small (but mighty) behavior changes. Still, imagine what would happen if all of us actually committed to making them.

Note: Along with these ideas, there are some additional tools and tips that you can try. These are described in my new book, Gaslights and Dog Whistles: Standing Up for Facts Over Fiction in a Fearful and Divided World 

 

Lowering the Walls that Divide Us

By Leadership, Men's work, Racism, Uncategorized

Courtesy, Central Oregon Daily News

Two weeks ago,  I talked about my hometown of Bend, Oregon and the silent move over 1,000 families have taken to pull their kids out of schools and opt instead for homeschooling, as many of them don’t like what the schools are teaching when it comes to critical race theory, racism, or the unpleasant elements of U.S. history.

My plan to follow up that post with a how-to post changed when, last Sunday night, a young man from a nearby neighborhood walked into a Safeway with a shotgun and an assault-style rifle, shot a few rounds into the air, and then walked into the store and killed two people before taking his own life.  

Our town was rocked, as was I. At the time of the attack, a buddy was across the parking lot in a Whole Foods grocery store. His recounting of being on lockdown in the store for 90 minutes made the experience even more visceral, more real. 

The murderer’s online manifesto revealed a rageful, isolated, hopeless young man who consciously used the event to take his own life. He was in his early 20’s, and he was white. It’s not a coincidence that so, so many of the people committing mass murders in the U.S. are white men; over 80% of them are. 

It’s not like the struggle with identity or the depression and anger white men feel is new. It began during the financial crisis in 2007-08 when so many people suffered catastrophic financial losses in their savings. White men in particular felt like their shot at the American dream was lost, along with their savings. 

The crisis made the income gap between the richest and the poorest among us more real. For many, the crisis provoked a loss of confidence in our financial system, economy, and even the government. Social psychologists suggest that some white people weathered the blow worse than other groups because they sensed that their race gave them an advantage in our society. Their loss, some suggest, was harder due to a sense of entitlement. Whatever the reason, individually and as a group, we white men have been in trouble ever since.  

I won’t recite all the statistics, but on a per capita basis, we’re more likely to commit suicide or acts of violence—especially with assault-style rifles—than any other group in the U.S. We use more prescription drugs, and we are less likely to ask for help or seek therapy. 

We don’t know what the Bend murderer’s life was like, but it’s a good bet he didn’t have the level of mentoring or support he needed to cope with the stresses he felt. He may have had underlying mental health issues that weren’t treated or addressed, which also could have contributed to his death. 

In the hundreds of sessions I have conducted with the thousands of participants over the past 20+ years, I have noticed that many of the angriest white men I’ve worked with feel they’ve been labeled as “white” and that, to them, being white hasn’t felt like an advantage whatsoever. 

They hate the term “white men” because it represents a stereotype of a middle-class and up, suburban-raised, liberal arts-educated person who only had a job in high school so they could buy gas for the cars their parents lent or gave them. Meanwhile, the other group of white men—the ones who were not born into as much money or convenience as others—often worked to contribute to their families from an early age, or they wore hand-me-downs to save money, or their after-school social lives were limited because they worked five days a week after school.

And now, here I am, lecturing them on who does and does not have privilege, as if I know anything about what their lives were like. 

Often they don’t see or believe that racism, sexism, or homophobia is as real as people like me think it is, but they sit through the session, afraid to voice their skepticism or reveal their truth, as they risk being labeled, or worse, being told they discriminated against someone at work. 

So here we are: on opposite sides of a deep canyon created by economic hardship and disparity, and a different view of if it is caused by individual random acts or some larger system. Our ideological differences also keep us apart, even though many of those differences stem from a belief system we inherited because of where we were born and who we were born to.

 

Here’s one first step we can take to lower the walls of the canyon, whatever our position on these topics: we can work to suspend our moral outrage, the feelings that convey an “I’m right and you are wrong” message, even if we don’t say it. Our beliefs—whatever they are—don’t make us better than anyone else, so let’s stop acting like they do.  

We don’t need to get better at debating the issues. Debating more often than not turns into an argument about who is right and who is wrong, and right or wrong in this context doesn’t help.  Moral certainty in any of us —the belief that we are in the right and others are not—just deepens the canyon and makes bridging it almost impossible. 

The tragedy of the shooting in Bend isn’t just about guns or mental health or class; it is also about the ways we marginalize, demonize, and vilify people not just after they have committed a heinous act, but when they simply tell us they disagree or they don’t see it our way.

I LOVE being right. It makes me feel better to know I KNOW something. It alleviates some of my chronic self-doubt. But if I bring that righteousness to my relationships, it will lessen my connection with others instead of enriching it. 

We know the positive behaviors to embrace that can help whomever we are “in the canyon” with climb out; empathy, compassion, care, and the gift of listening. 

We will never know what would have happened if someone could have touched the heart of the man responsible for the murders in Bend with care, listening, and compassion. I hope people tried. I hope he wasn’t made to feel small or less-than because someone was more interested in telling him he was wrong than telling him they cared.

Caring about the outcome and deepening our connection with others instead of making someone feel less than—that will make it easier for both of us to climb out of the canyon, won’t it?

 

(This is part two of a three part series by Jim.)

Let’s Start a Men’s Movement! Mandatory Vasectomies for All!

By Men's work, Women's Rights

Let’s hear it for Chaz Stevens. 

Never heard of him? I haven’t either, until today when a colleague told me of his story. Chaz, it seems, wants to ban the Bible in Florida public schools.

Chaz questioned the age-appropriateness of the Bible, pointing to its “casual” references to murder, adultery, sexual immorality, and fornication. “Do we really want to teach our youth about drunken orgies?” he said. He also noted the number of Biblical references to rape, bestiality, cannibalism, and infanticide.

I’m not against the Bible at all. But I am for the establishment clause of the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) and I am most definitely for Mr. Stevens who—no joke—- petitioned 63 Florida school districts to ban the Bible. 

What’s more, in Broward County, he also petitioned to ban the Oxford Dictionary, calling it “a weighty tome over 1,000 years old, containing more than 600,000 words; all very troubling if we’re trying to keep our youth from learning about race, gender, sex, and such.”

I am finally seeing a white man who isn’t a movie star or politician (though he is a self-described satirist and “stunt activist”) express his outrage at policies like the Florida state law that makes it easier for parents and county residents to challenge books in schools and having his views make the news. He didn’t just get on the news; he used his time, energy, and resources to put his idea into action.  

In light of my continued frustration at men’s complacency over the Dobbs vs. Jackson Health decision that overturned Roe v Wade, I was inspired by Chaz Stevens’ courage and creativity. What keeps the rest of us from taking a Chaz Stevens kind of step, including me?

Chaz Stevens at the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, Fla., in 2013. Brendan Farrington/AP

I have an idea, finally: Men, let’s get organized and suggest to our state representatives that we introduce a bill that requires all men to get a vasectomy or use a male version of the birth control pill until they want to have a child when then they can apply somehow for permission. Of course, this will be almost impossible to enforce, so we’ll have to require all pregnant women to register pregnancies and claim who the father is—then the government can prosecute him/them. And for convicted rapists or deadbeat dads who don’t pay child support, let’s give them vasectomies as well. It’ll be an elegant solution for overpopulation and a strong deterrent for those who have perpetrated violence on women. Maybe the new law will soften the blow for the majority of women in the US who are outraged that their government is telling them they cannot have sovereignty over their own bodies. It’ll be a quid pro quo of sorts. 

In the name of equity, one could argue that women should also have to go on birth control and face sterilization for rape, but of course, that isn’t really necessary. Men rape women in our society, rarely is it the other way around. Yet women are the group who get penalized for being the parent nature assigned to carry a child.

If you are a man, and you read the preceding paragraphs thinking, “wow, dictating who gets sterilized and making men use birth control feels like overreach for a country like the U.S.”,  the truth is, it’s not overreaching since we overturned Roe. We now have a precedent for how far into our lives the government can exert its influence, thanks to Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health.

MEN, if we don’t fight for women’s reproductive rights, we’d better be ready to deal with the consequences when the tables are turned on us. 

But I know you don’t really believe the tables could be turned, do you, men? Yeah, neither do I. 

A lot of other mindsets and cultural beliefs—some of which are 500 years old—would have to be turned upside down before we need to be worried about government-mandated vasectomies or birth control for men. 

But reproductive rights are just the tip of the iceberg.  

What about the default view that in our society, women raise children regardless of if they are employed?  In our society, women are expected to have TWO jobs—one that takes care of domestic issues and child-rearing, and frequently, another income-earning job as well. Yes, that’s shifting some; thank God for millennials and Gen Zers—but we have a long way to go.  

What about pay equity for women at work?  Oh, that’s OK, we don’t have to pay women as much because they can’t work the same long hours as many men since women shoulder more of the domestic obligation, even if they don’t want to. This “motherhood penalty” is why mothers make 70 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. It’s clear that employees need to update their policies to reflect the reality of today’s working moms and dads.

What about single women who don’t have children? They aren’t impacted, are they? They will be now if they need an abortion and live in a state where they can go to jail for getting one. 

No matter what the issue is, there are layers upon layers of embedded cultural habits and beliefs that help sustain the status quo, which in this and many cases in our society, benefit men and disadvantage women. And our U.S. Supreme Court just made a major contribution to ensuring women will be in this weakened position for at least another generation.

Fellas, we better start lobbying now, or we’ll be next.    

On some basic level, I’m betting Chaz Stephens knows how systemic all of this is, hence his strategy: they want to ban reading books like “Gender Queer –  A Memoir” because if kids shouldn’t be exposed to LGBTQ+ issues at school (even if they are queer or gender-fluid) then we better ban the book where all of these elements are first described. 

Thank you Chaz for your courage. I’ve been stuck and struggling with where to begin. With all the social media and news I consume, yours was the first white male voice I have heard that really speaks to these issues.  

Maybe we’ll call it “The Chaz Act” when we legalize mandatory vasectomies. Won’t that be an honor for Chaz? Hmmmm.

Never mind, I’m off to write to my representative

 

**Special thanks to Peggy Nagae from The Diversity Collaborative for her ideas and positive provocation and conceptualization in the creation of this piece.