Psychology

A New Kind of Critical Thinking Text (guest post by David Manley)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/05/2019 - 11:04pm in

“What would it look like if we taught only the most useful skills from the toolkits of philosophy, cognitive psychology, and behavioral economics?”

That’s a question David Manley, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, asked himself after coming to think that the standard approach to critical thinking courses in philosophy departments was not as effective as it could or should be. His answer is in the form of a new, online textbook that brings philosophy together with other disciplinary approaches to take aim at more common reasoning errors using “the tools best suited to fix them.” In my opinion, this is an important, needed step in the development of critical thinking pedagogy.

In the following guest post*, Professor Manley describes the book, its motivation, and how it has worked out in the classroom.


Corinne Wasmuht, “Pehoé P”

A New Kind of Critical Thinking Text
by David Manley

My new text, Reason Better, is the result of rethinking the standard playbook for critical thinking courses. It’s about acquiring a mindset of inquiry, recognizing our cognitive biases, and adjusting our beliefs to match the strength of the evidence. You can check it out here. (Use the “Enter as Guest” button on the right, and once you’re in, view the chapters properly by clicking “Full Screen” on the bottom.)

Over the years, I got frustrated with the standard playbook for Intro to Logic and Critical Thinking courses. I felt that I was teaching students a grab-bag of items that had been handed down and were taught mostly out of convention. The material wasn’t aimed at the most prominent reasoning errors, and wasn’t using the tools best suited to fix them.

So I thought: what would it look like if we taught only the most useful skills from the toolkits of philosophy, cognitive psychology, and behavioral economics? And then I wrote the text for such a course. The result is a book that:

  • emphasizes acquiring a mindset that avoids systematic error, rather than persuading others.
  • focuses on the logic of probability and decisions more than on the logic of deductive arguments.
  • offers a unified picture of how evidence works in statistical, causal, and best-explanation inferences—rather than treating them as unrelated.

The unified account of evidence I offer is a broadly Bayesian one, but there aren’t any daunting theorems. (Without knowing it, students are taught to use a gentle form of the Bayes factor to measure the strength of evidence and to update.) It’s also shown how this framework illuminates aspects of the scientific method, such as the proper design of experiments.

I’m happy to report that there’s no need to accept the false choice between a narrow Intro to Logic course and a remedial Critical Thinking course. The course at Michigan (Ann Arbor) that uses this text– at the moment taught by the amazing Anna Edmonds–is rigorous but immensely practical. Students come away with a sense of how to weigh the strength of evidence for claims, and adjust their beliefs accordingly.

When I used this text last Fall for a class of nearly 300 students, I asked them to comment in their evaluations about all aspects of the course, including the text. The comments about my teaching itself were mixed, as usual. But the text and platform were just wildly popular. I don’t think I’ve ever had unanimous consent in a large class on anything before.

I’ve been hesitant to turn to a traditional publisher, because I like the TopHat platform so much:

  • There are embedded questions in each section that are auto-graded and ensure the students are doing the readings.
  • It offers a really nice UI for students with search and note-taking capabilities, and they can read the text and answer questions on any device.
  • It’s pretty cheap: TopHat charges $35 plus a $10 platform fee if the student isn’t using TopHat already.
  • Most importantly, any prof who assigns the text can change it however they like. Want the students to skip a section? Just cut it out. Don’t like the wording of a question? Just change it. It’s hard to overestimate how useful this is in a text.

The text is ready for use right now, but I’ll be continuing to improve it, so I’d be very happy to get any feedback. For the next month or so I’ll be working on an additional chapter called “Sources”, about social epistemology in a world of information overload: navigating science reporting, expertise, consensus, conformity, polarization, and conditions for skilled intuition.

Anyone who’d like to use the text for a course should email me at dmanley8@gmail.com from their academic account, and I’ll provide them with all kinds of course materials to go along with it.

The post A New Kind of Critical Thinking Text (guest post by David Manley) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Walking Far Enough To Find Our Way Back To Ourselves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/04/2019 - 11:09am in

In ‘Running Through Fear,’ an extended excerpt from her memoir Running Home, ultra-marathoner Katie Arnold writes of the aftermath of an assault she suffered while out on the trail:

Afterward, in the disorienting fog of sorrow, everything scared me: my babies, so small and vulnerable and precious; my own body, once so strong but now ancient and aching with grief….My anxiety lasted more than a year. I tried everything, but the only remedy that worked was the one that had always worked: running. On the surface, it seemed like the least logical choice. I lived in constant terror of my body breaking down, but I pushed my limits every day, clocking long miles alone in the wilderness. I didn’t know the first thing about training for a 50K ultramarathon, but deep down it made sense. My father had raised me to find solace outside, on camping trips and bicycle trips and river trips, on long rambles through the Shenandoah Valley, up mountains in Maine, in musty tents in Nova Scotia. Maybe, I reasoned, if I ran far enough, deep enough, into the trail networks and hills, into myself, I would find my way back to the fearless girl I’d once been.

Arnold’s final sentences above strike a deep chord within me. I’ve always been anxious and fearful, and for such a person the ‘great wide world outside our doors’ is full of reasons to be anxious and fearful. But walking in the outdoors always made me less anxious, more calm, more inclined to sleep deeply at night. (Except when I was alone but that feeling has changed.) Indeed, when I stayed out on a trail, I was possessed of a curious vision, one that came to me in my other physical exertions, and which I imagine, must be shared by many: it was a feeling that if I did this long enough, every single weakness and impurity and imperfection, whether physical or psychological, would be swept out of me, flushed out by the relentless flood of physical exertion, of perpetual movement. The trails I walked on, whether flat or downhill, or uphill, all seemed in one important sense to head ‘upwards,’ up toward a zone of deliverance and clarity where all the  muddled thoughts and feelings of the ‘lower’ regions would be made more distinct and pure. The feeling of being cleansed–internally, even if not on the ‘outside’–by the walk was euphoric; the simplicity of the solution was stunning. All I had to do was keep walking; my steps would take me closer to that state of mind and being that I so desperately craved. This was a ‘stairway to heaven’ that seemed real, not fantastic, right here on earth. Just put one foot in front of the other; repeat.  For as long as it took.

Things don’t work like that, of course. But to possess this powerful vision for change, for relief, was in itself empowering and relieving. It is one I carry with me every time I leave the city, head to the trail, and start walking. Always upwards.

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

On Becoming A Second-Class (Train) Citizen

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/04/2019 - 11:18am in

I was nine years old when I became a second-class citizen. At least as far as train travel was concerned. Before then, before another day of infamy that lay in December, the date of my father’s retirement from the air force, my family and I had always traveled by first-class on our train travels. My father was an air force officer, entitled to discount first-class travel for himself and his family; when the time to buy tickets came, we filled out the mandatory ‘D’ form required of all government employees who traveled and submitted it along with our train reservation requests. Just like that, we paid less than half of the full fare, and we were off. First-class was luxurious; we, a family of four, traveled in a private sleeper cabin with padded bunks. We had privacy; we had ‘room service’ of a kind for at periodic intervals, when the train stopped at stations, we bought food and drink through the bars of our windows. There was, most importantly of all, no crowding; certainly none of the chaotic, teeming, masses who were always present at Indian train stations were present in our cabin. We were insulated, quarantined, safeguarded.

I knew what the alternative was: second-class (or worse, third-class.) The second-class coaches seemed impossibly congested and messy, bordering on squalor. (This was especially true of third-class coaches.) There were no private cabins that slept four; instead, a series of metal and wood barriers cordoned off six bunks at a time, three on each side of the enclosed space. The folks who traveled in these trains looked crowded and unhappy; they appeared resigned to their fate.

I was not, at that early age, too sensitive to my social class. But I was dimly aware I was more fortunate than many around me; in some subconscious corner of my mind lurked the thought that I had lucked out in the great Indian sweepstakes of fortune, and happened to be born into a family that could take vacations every summer and winter, live in government-subsidized housing, and travel by first-class coaches for overnight journeys all over the country. But my glimpses of those who traveled in second-class and third-class did more to convince me of my great class-related fortunes than any other privilege of mine. I knew I didn’t want to be like ‘them’; my life was incomparably better, just because I traveled in first-class.

And then, disaster struck. My father decided his life in the armed forces was over; twenty years was enough. But when he handed in his papers, he also handed in his privileges. We went to being run-of-the-mill civilians, moving from a two-bedroom flat to a one-bedroom one. My brother and I began sleeping on folding cots in the living room; we had lost our ‘boys bedroom.’ But these were exceedingly minor blows compared to the disaster that awaited us on the trains. That winter, as we made plans to visit my grandfather’s home as usual, I learned we would not be traveling first-class any more. That family train journey in that private cabin, in which our family sat together and shared meals and jokes and stories and affection, was no longer ours.

The night of our journey, when we arrived at the train station, I was uncharacteristically subdued; I used to look forward to train journeys. But not this one. Something of the magic of the train was gone; a trial of sorts awaited. A tribulation that would remind me all over again of my fallen station in life.

 

More Tory Racism As Suella Braverman Rants about ‘Cultural Marxism’

More Eurosceptic racism from the Tories. On Wednesday, Zelo Street reported on yet another embarrassment for the Tories when Suella Braverman, the MP for Fareham and another Brexiteer, used another term from the Far Right in a speech she gave to the Bruges group. This is another section of the Tory party composed of Eurosceptic fans of Maggie Thatcher. According to Business Insider, Braverman told the assembled Thatcherite faithful that as Conservatives they were engaged in the battle against cultural Marxism, and that she was frightened of the creep of cultural Marxism coming out of the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn.

Cultural Marxism is one of the big bugbears of the Far Right, including Anders Breivik. The Groan’s Dawn Foster recognised the term, and asked her to talk a bit more about it, considering that it had been used by the Fascist mass murderer. Braverman responded by saying that she believed we were in a struggle against cultural Marxism, a movement to snuff out free speech from the Far Left’. The Sage of Crewe points out that this really means that Braverman would like to be able to say whatever she wants, without being called out for it. Which she then was.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews then criticised her for her use of a term that is used extensively by the Far Right with anti-Semitic connotations. They told a reporter in the Jewish Chronicle that the term originated with the Nazis, who called it Kulturbolschewismus, ‘cultural Bolshevism’, and used it to attack Jewish intellectual, who they accused of spreading communism and sexual permissiveness. It is now popular amongst the Alt Right and Far Right. It is associated with a conspiracy theory that sees the Frankfurt School of Jewish philosophers and sociologists as the instigators of a campaign to destroy traditional western conservatism and traditional values. It was used by Anders Breivik in his manifesto, and by the vile mass murderer in New Zealand.

Zelo Street points out that Braverman was a leading Tory MP before she resigned over May’s Brexit deal. She used an anti-Semitic term, and had to have it pointed out to her that it was anti-Semitic. She then dismissed the criticism as an attack on her freedom of speech. He makes the point that if she had been a friend of Jeremy Corbyn, the press would have had a field day. Instead they were silent all that morning. Which shows that not only does the Tory party have an anti-Semitism problem, but their friends in the Tory press don’t want the rest of us to know about it.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/03/board-of-deputies-roasts-suella.html

There are several aspects to this. First of all, everything the Board’s spokesperson said about the origins and conspiracy theory behind the term is correctly. However, the Frankfurt school, while certainly leftists, were anti-Fascists, who believed that Adolf Hitler had been assisted into power through popular culture. They were passionate supporters of traditional European culture against what they saw as the destructive, coarsening effect of low culture, like comics. Frederic Wertham, who was the leader of the anti-comics crusade in the 1950s, shared many of their attitudes. He attacked comics because he was afraid they were sexualising and corrupting American youth, leading them into crime and juvenile delinquency.

The conspiracy theory confuses them, who were actually culturally conservative, with Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was an Italian Marxist, who had been imprisoned by Mussolini. He believed that instead of the economic structure of society determining culture, as in classical Marxism, culture also helped determine and reinforce the economic structure. Thus, if you wanted to attack capitalism, you had to change the culture. It’s also been confused with post-modernism and the rise of Cultural Studies, which does attack western culture for its racism and sexism.

And like much pernicious right-wing drivel, it also seems to be partly influenced by Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was determined to purge British universities of Communists and Trotskyites, and so passed legislation that no Marxist could get a job as a lecturer. What happened was that the Commies and Trots got round it by denying that they were Marxists. They were instead Marxians, people who were Marxist in their culture. Now I can sympathise up to a certain point with Thatcher’s intentions. It is one-sided to ban the genocidal race-haters of the Fascists and Nazis from teaching, while permitting old school Stalinists, who also supported genocide, to continue in their jobs. But not all Marxists stood for Stalinist dictatorship. In the case of the Trots, it’s the exact opposite, although I doubt that Trotsky himself would not have been a dictator if he’d succeeded Lenin as the president of the Soviet Union. In any case, Thatcher’s attempts to purge the universities of Marxism was itself an attack on freedom of speech and thought.

The attacks on cultural Marxism are also being mobilised to justify continuing attacks on left-wing, anti-racist and anti-sexist staff and organisations at universities. It’s come at a time when fake, astro-turf students’ organisations in the US have been demanding and compiling watch lists of left-wing and liberal professors with the intention of trying to get them silenced or sacked. One of those calling for this was the right-wing Canadian psychologist and lobster overlord, Jordan Peterson. At the same time US conservatives and the Trump administration have also been trying to force universities and colleges to permit controversial extreme right-wing figures like Anne Coulter and Milo Yiannopolis to speak on campus. Coulter and Yiannopolis are extremely anti-feminist, with very reactionary, racist views, although Yiannopolis has tried to divert criticism by pointing out that he’s gay and has a Black husband. There have been mass protests against both of them when they have tried to speak on college campuses. But if people like Coulter and Yiannopolis have a right to speak to students, then students also have the right to protest against them in the name of free speech.

And cultural Marxism is a good term for attacking a range of separate concerns, like feminism, anti-racism and class inequality. These are related, overlapping attitudes. The same people, who are concerned about racism, for example, are also likely to be concerned about feminism and challenging class privilege. But it may not necessarily be the case. And these issues can be pursued separately from Marxism. But one of the points Hitler made is that when addressing propaganda to the masses, you always simplify everything so that they are against a single person or cause. The trope of cultural Marxism allows the right to carry on a campaign against feminism, anti-racism and other left-wing ideas through lumping them together. 

Braverman’s use of the trope of ‘cultural Marxism’ shows that she either doesn’t know what it means, or does know and is content with its anti-Semitic connotations. It also shows she doesn’t know anything about the term and its falsification of history. And by claiming that ‘cultural Marxism’ is creeping through Britain’s universities, it also amply shows that she is an enemy of real freedom of speech. Attacking ‘cultural Marxism’ is simply another strategy for trying to force students to accept right-wing indoctrination, while making sure that anything left-wing is thoroughly purged.

Braverman isn’t just using anti-Semitic terminology, she’s also showing herself an enemy of free speech, even while proclaiming that she and her Far Right wing friends are its defenders.

Study on the Personality and Reasoning of Philosophers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/03/2019 - 1:19am in

A new study is underway to learn about the relationship between personality and reasoning among philosophers. 

It would be pretty interesting to learn about any correlations between personality types and philosophical positions, no?

The study is being conducted by Nick Byrd, a PhD student in philosophy at Florida State University. He wrote to ask Daily Nous readers to participate in it. You can do so by clicking here. It should take 10-20 minutes. Pitch in, philosophers!

Mr. Byrd said he’d be willing to share some information about the results in a guest post here at Daily Nous. I’m looking forward to hearing what he finds.


Mary Iverson, “Weight”

Related: “The Personality of Philosophy Majors

The post Study on the Personality and Reasoning of Philosophers appeared first on Daily Nous.

Leaving Neverland Is Not An Indictment; It Is a Plea For Safety

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/03/2019 - 11:00pm in

For almost three decades (if not more), millions of people watched Michael Jackson perform, on stage, in video. They also saw him alight from planes, from cars, and from there, walk into hotels and stadiums, living the life of a peripatetic, performing celebrity. On almost all of these occasions he was accompanied by his ‘sexual partners.’ Those scare quotes are necessary because unlike the typical male celebrity who flaunts his ‘trophy chicks,’ Michael Jackson showed off his young boys. They went everywhere with him like the girlfriends of male celebrities do; they were present in his hotel rooms; they slept in his bed at his ranch. They had privacy together; and they had sex. Of course, I should not use the phrase ‘had sex’ here. Rather, those boys were made to perform sexual acts at the behest of Michael Jackson who then swore them to secrecy on pain of the fear that their lives would be ruined.

Watching Leaving Neverland confirms, in some measure, what many folks thought of all those exceedingly strange visuals of Michael Jackson’s curious obsession with children. Yes, something really, really weird was going on. We weren’t mistaken. And it wasn’t just weird. It was downright sadistic and cruel: a grown man sexually abusing children, and manipulating them and their families to ensure their secret stayed just that.

The culture of celebrity worship that is exposed in this movie is as much a culprit as Jackson, as much a culprit as the parents of Wade Robson and James Safechuck who handed over their children to Jackson. So is a grim lesson of American life: hard work will not make you money, it will not get your children in school, it will not keep you safe, it will not bring you success in your profession; so if someone rich and famous and powerful–like Michael Jackson–offers you a hand, offering to pull you up the ladder, past all those social and economic obstacles that prevent you from winning in this rigged game, you should take it. Robson’s and Safechuck’s parents did; their children paid for their decision.

Leaving Neverland is not about indicting Michael Jackson. He will not pay for his crimes; he is dead. What it most certainly is about is making the world safer for all the children out there who are still being sexually abused and who will almost certainly be abused if the lessons of this documentary are not heeded. The saddest thing about Leaving Neverland is not just the stories of sexual abuse that it documents, it is also the knowledge that despite these testimonies, there will be those who will continue to attack Robson and Safechuck and defend Jackson, making the world a less safe for all of its children. Those Michael Jackson supporters who have continued to support their idol and have chosen to abuse Robson and Safechuck, have missed the point spectacularly–just like they missed the evidence piling up over the years. There is no material sense in which Jackson will pay. Perhaps his estate and all those who stand to make money of his name will. Maybe that’s why they continue to defend him?

Let’s Play

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/03/2019 - 6:00pm in


I’ve got a brand new game.

Social Media Discussion Questions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/03/2019 - 7:36am in

As I’m still (mostly) on hiatus from Twitter and Fecebook, I fantasize about having a real-life discussion group to talk about social media. Since I don’t have one, I’ll do what I always do: ask online, which is why I developed a social media dependence to begin with. Please answer as many or as few questions as you like.

  1. Have you ever changed someone else’s mind on social media? How?
  2. Have you ever gotten angry at someone on social media? Why?
  3. Do you have online friendships or relationships with people you’ve never met in real life?
  4. Has a conflict on social media affected you offline, in “real life”? How?
  5. Have you lost friendships over things said and done on social media?
  6. Have you ever been publicly shamed on social media? If so, please describe. If not, why not?
  7. Have you ever joined in a public shaming of someone else?
  8. Have you ever witnessed a social media public shaming? Did you say anything? Why or why not?
  9. Have you ever reported a tweet or post? Why? What happened?
  10. Have you ever been reported?
  11. Do you say things on social media you’re afraid to say in real life?
  12. Do you say things in real life you’re afraid to say on social media?
  13. Have you ever lied on social media? Why?
  14. Do you “like” things you don’t actually like, and refrain from “liking” things you do like? Why?
  15. Do you use social media for political activism? How?
  16. How would you stay in touch with your friends without social media?
  17. If your friends all jumped off a cliff on social media, would you do it too? (Answer: yes.)

Update: my answers are in the fifth comment below.

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Social Media Discussion Questions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/03/2019 - 7:36am in

As I’m still (mostly) on hiatus from Twitter and Fecebook, I fantasize about having a real-life discussion group to talk about social media. Since I don’t have one, I’ll do what I always do: ask online, which is why I developed a social media dependence to begin with. Please answer as many or as few questions as you like.

  1. Have you ever changed someone else’s mind on social media? How?
  2. Have you ever gotten angry at someone on social media? Why?
  3. Do you have online friendships or relationships with people you’ve never met in real life?
  4. Has a conflict on social media affected you offline, in “real life”? How?
  5. Have you lost friendships over things said and done on social media?
  6. Have you ever been publicly shamed on social media? If so, please describe. If not, why not?
  7. Have you ever joined in a public shaming of someone else?
  8. Have you ever witnessed a social media public shaming? Did you say anything? Why or why not?
  9. Have you ever reported a tweet or post? Why? What happened?
  10. Have you ever been reported?
  11. Do you say things on social media you’re afraid to say in real life?
  12. Do you say things in real life you’re afraid to say on social media?
  13. Have you ever lied on social media? Why?
  14. Do you “like” things you don’t actually like, and refrain from “liking” things you do like? Why?
  15. Do you use social media for political activism? How?
  16. How would you stay in touch with your friends without social media?
  17. If your friends all jumped off a cliff on social media, would you do it too? (Answer: yes.)

Update: my answers are in the fifth comment below.

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