Friday, December 04, 2009

Seeing the other side

I think one of the most difficult psychological tasks to achieve is to recognise, and I mean truly recognise, that someone whose views differ fundamentally from yours is entitled to maintain those views. I don’t mean in the abstract “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it” sense. I mean seriously accepting that this other person is a product of a different environment, different experiences, a different life and these views areright for them.

This is a difficult concept to get across to a lot of people because people have a tendency to argue and fight. Acceptance, which logically seems easier than fighting, is much harder to achieve in practice. I’m not suggesting any kind of post modern “there is no universal truth” abstract reasoning. I’m not suggesting a weak, wishy-washy failure to commit to your own beliefs. I mean understanding that even though you are fully committed to your own beliefs and you are sure this person wrong, they have a right to their views and trying to force them to change is ridiculous.

There are a range of obvious exceptions to this, like serious criminal activity. But there are a lot of unjust laws and views over what is acceptable change over time so even this isn’t as cut and dried as authoritarian minded people would have you believe.

One thing that gets lost in a lot of political argument is the simple fact people are different. People give this lip service all the time but it is bizarrely rare for people to fully acknowledge what this reality means. Whatever your views are, however logical or moral you think they are, there will always be people who disagree with you. If you are a decision maker, you can never make everyone happy. No matter what decision you make it will always be wrong in every real sense for someone. Your decisions will always hurt someone. This isn’t a plea for politicians to water down everything they do in an attempt to please everybody. Personally, I hate it when politicians are afraid to commit. Plus, it’s pointless because nothing appeals to everybody.

Let’s get the disclosure out of the way. By most people’s measurement I’m a loony lefty although I’ve never been a formal member of any political party or group. This is simply because I recognised long ago that no matter what political party you join, the leadership of that party will make at least some decisions you strongly disagree with and you will be subject to massive pressure to toe the party line and go along with the orthodoxy. Fuck that shit. I am not inclined to subsume my individuality to keep some political party happy. And no, I’m not a libertarian. No matter how many libertarian principles I agree with there are way too many bugfuck crazy freaks who call themselves libertarian. I’m pro-environment, pro-choice regarding abortion, pro gay rights, anti-racist, anti-bigot, anti-censorship and I have disagreed with the policies and actions of right wing political parties around the world for as long as I can remember.

So that’s a very brief overview of “me” politically. Back to the bigger picture.

The problem I have observed from the Left is a sometimes obsessive need to do things “for other people’s good” whether they want it or not. This is as opposed to the problem I see on the Right of aggressively acting out a “this is right dammit” ideology and attempting to force diverse groups to conform to their views no matter what. I think it’s fair to say people on the Left are more likely to want to change an existing situation to the way they feel things “should be” without having any actual evidence and people on the Right are more likely to say they don’t want to change things without seeing an objective (usually economic) measurement of how it will improve things.

I’ve made it very clear where I sit ideologically but I think it’s still important to recognise that there are people on both sides of the political fence who are completely honest in their intentions. They pursue their ideology because they wholeheartedly believe it will benefit the most people and their opponent’s policies will hurt people. Having said that, I am far more likely to believe in the integrity of a left wing politician and support their policies. And that’s gotten me burned more than once.

I frequently attack conservatives because so often they make it staggeringly easy. I truly believe the things I say when I launch these attacks plus it’s a lot of fun baiting your opponents. However, doing only this would be lazy and I’d run a very big risk of getting complacent about the stupidity on the left. And people I essentially agree with are perfectly capable of being ignorant, obnoxious, narrow minded and straight out wrong. I guess I am too. Although I can’t think of any examples where I’ve been wrong right now.

One case of people on the left being obnoxiously arrogant and wrong is a book published a few years ago called “What’s the matter with Kansas?”. The basic theme in this book is echoed by left wing people around the world – why do working class and poor people vote for conservative politicians when the policies of conservative parties reward big business and hurt individual workers? It’s interesting to me that people looking at this situation seems to be saying “I represent this person’s best interests and yet this person votes against me. The problem is obviously with the voter.”

Does it not occur to them that this person they claim to be able to help is voting against them because they have fundamentally failed this voter? Why are people so quick to see a failing in someone else and not themselves? How dare they say this person’s moral judgements are wrong or have no value?

Even on a purely logical level this makes no sense. George Soros is a billionaire who actively supports left wing causes. By the logic employed in “What’s the matter with Kansas?” Soros is acting against his own interests. Do people on the left call him stupid for doing this? No. Because he’s on their side. So obviously he’s enlightened.

One premise from the book I do agree with is that Republican party is lying to these poorer voters. They don’t deliver on the “moral” issues they woo them with and, more often than not, they screw them over economically. I also think there is overwhelming evidence that these are deliberate lies, not a simple failure to deliver. I’m sure many people could point to what they consider deliberate lies from the other side of politics around the world – that’s the way politicians are. I will stress that I’m talking her about deliberate lies like Republicans saying Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11, not simple disagreements over whether or not a given policy is good.

This is a really complex issue. I’m writing this because I plan to explore the idea over a few videos for YouTube. Because I don’t see things as being black and white there are a million little qualifiers about almost every point I’ve made in this post. It isn’t possible to cover all the nuances in one blog post or one video. And it definitely isn’t possible to sort them out in comments. Not here and definitely not in the insane morass of fuckwittery that is a YouTube comment thread. I have far too much experience with ignorant morons who think they know it all sniping away in comments. They never shut up and there is no value at all in “engaging” with them because they aren’t engaged with you in any meaningful way, they are simply attacking you.

So don’t waste time with stupid comments in response to this, I won’t waste any time with you. Fuck off and get a life. Better yet, if you’re so convinced you’re right and I’m wrong go off on your own forum and explain yourself in at least as much depth as I have here. Otherwise I have nothing but contempt for you.

For those of you who have a brain and are actually interested in thinking, I will be exploring this topic further.

The future of being awesome

Inspiration is a wonderful thing. I’m not the most touchy-feely guy on the planet (surprised?) but I do look for things to inspire me to do better. I particularly like finding something that is aimed at a particular target group that is definitely not me but it still resonates with me. When someone is able to cross boundaries like that, it leads me to think they may be onto something.

I found this sort of inspiration recently when catching up with a blog I read semi-regularly – Joel on Software. Joel Spolsky runs a software development company and his primary audience is software developers but his writing is frequently applicable to a wider audience. It isn’t a huge surprise that the piece that gave me my inspiration was Joel talking about his own inspiration for the future.

He was quoting Kathy Sierra’s advice to help your users be awesome. Joel translated this into nerd-speak as: “We help $TYPE_OF_PERSON be awesome at $THING”. In his world, that becomes making software developers be awesome at making software. I’m not involved in a software development company but I am involved in a very interesting project and I realised this motto was directly applicable to our plans.

Some very clever and experienced (not to mention downright sexy) people I know are about to launch a major initiative for comedians in Melbourne and I am helping (mainly with the online component and video production). When I read the Joel On Software post I instantly realised his aims for software development were our aims for comedy. We will help comedian be awesome at doing comedy.

The others running this project have very long history in the Australian comedy industry as working comics as well as directing comedians and running venues. I’m more of an enthusiastic amateur which is why they are running things and I am helping. So if you’re a working comedian in Melbourne (or even an aspiring comedian) you might want to stay tuned. And sorry if you’re somewhere else but this will be relevant to Melbourne only. The type of intensive work we’re talking about doesn’t work over long distance, it has to be face to face.

One of the big reasons for this project is that the comedy “industry” in Australia sucks. It sucks balls. Not good balls. Nasty, sweaty dog’s balls. Even in Melbourne, which fancies itself as being arty and cultural, it’s a constant struggle for comedians. There’s the Comedy Festival and the Fringe Festival but unless you’re already an established star it’s pretty much impossible to make a living from them. The rest of the year there are only one to three venues that actually pay performers. In other words: it’s shit.

Seriously, my meagre earnings from the YouTube partnership put me ahead of (conservatively) 90% of people who consider themselves working comics in Melbourne. So a big part of making life awesome for comics will be to open up more opportunities to actually make a living from performing. But the backbone will be creating an environment that gives comedians both the training and the opportunity to be awesome.

There are far too many people who are creative, talented and working damn hard but still not getting anywhere or being rewarded as they deserve. And I’m one of them, dammit! This is what’s so exciting about this project – it’s about taking control and actually creating our own success. 2010 is going to be a big year for comedy in Melbourne and for me personally. I’ll be posting more updates as the plans become reality. Like all things to do with comedy, it’s all about the timing.