You Shouldn’t Joke About That

I have to be very careful with how I word this article, or else people will think that I’m the most heartless bastard to ever exist.  Regardless of its execution, I’m writing this entry for my personal blog, and thus I should be allowed the freedom and flexibility to say whatever comes to mind first. Even supposing that you might not agree with me.

In my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher told the class that (and I paraphrase), “You need to be careful with your words, because you just never know when you might upset someone.” I took his advice into deep consideration because there are extremely sensitive people out there who, even at the thought of lightly insensitive joke, will plunge into an epileptic rage. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that all jokes, offensive or lighthearted, span a metaphorical minefield: one false step and you’ll “set off” somebody else’s feelings. So where am I supposed to step in the minefield that is humor? What jokes am I allowed to make, and what jokes should I simply keep to myself for fear of striking a nerve?

There is an elevated level of ambiguity in acceptable versus unacceptable humor. What one person might find funny, another might find distasteful, so it’s important to always think carefully before you make that final, fateful punch line. But what if acceptable versus unacceptable humor, by its very subjective nature, is unknown?

I condemn such phrases as, “You shouldn’t joke about that” and “That’s not very funny” because the line separating topics that can be joked about and topics that cannot be joked about is obscured. We’re all unique individuals who have had different past experiences from which our senses of humor have emerged. Therefore, when I make a joke that fails to comply with your standards for acceptable humor, it’s not really necessary for you to express to me that you’re offended because I couldn’t have known that you would find it offensive in the first place. In fact, I’m offended that you’re offended!

Okay, okay. I need to moderate my tone now because I promised myself that I wouldn’t let this article devolve into an angry rant. But here me out for just a few more paragraphs.

George Carlin, my all-time favorite stand-up comedian, argued that you can make a joke about pretty much anything as long as the exaggeration that constitutes the joke is so out of line and so “out there” that is has no basis in reality. In other words, the setup of the joke should be mundane enough to where the punch line completely throws it off balance. That is something I consider to be the ingredient of a great joke—offensive or not.

Of course, there are limits that should not be pushed. For example, when an unfathomable tragedy such as a terrorist attack or school shooting occurs, we should probably put off making jokes about it for a while to give people the time and space to grieve. Making comedic references to a specific incident with the intent to downplay the enormous misfortune that it’s caused does come across as rather brash and ill-conceived. As far as sensitive topics are concerned, I don’t believe that they are entirely off-limits, and neither did Mr. Carlin.

I for one employ offensive humor as a way to emotionally distance myself from how chaotic this world can be. Many times, I feel like pointing fingers and laughing at something awful makes it less threatening.

But that’s just me. You might believe that some topics should never, under any circumstances, be joked about, and that’s okay. If we’re having a conversation and you happen to find that something I said upset or unsettled you, do not hesitate to call me out on it so that I can readjust my language accordingly. But to say that I’m not “allowed” to joke about [insert topic here] is an obstruction of my own free will.

Video: Why We Are Already Living in the Apocalypse: A Walking Dead Video Essay – Part 1 (Power)

Here is Part 1 of my 5 part Walking Dead video essay. Stick around for Part 2!

Why Are Dogs So Amazing?

I have an enormous soft spot for dogs. When a dog dies in a movie, I will start crying like a baby. And when a dog is in pain, then I, too, will be in pain. Simply put, I look upon dogs with a unique fondness that I cannot liken to humans.

The fact that dogs are so compassionate is not an accident. As much as I condemn humans for their remarkable capacity for evil and wrongdoing, humans were the ones who have made dogs into what they are today. Humans were the ones who, for the past 10,000 years, selectively bred dogs into domestication, transforming these animals from vicious predators into lovable (and quite loyal) idiots. But what makes dogs special enough to warrant this title of “man’s best friend’?

First, dogs are unconditionally accepting of all our flaws. They do not debate, argue, or contend with us. They care more about receiving love and affection from us than undermining our self-interests to advance their own. For example, when you come home from a long and strenuous day at work, your dog isn’t going to pester you about why dinner hasn’t been cooked yet. Your dog isn’t going to steal your credit card in the middle of the night and spend hundreds of dollars on clothes. And your dog isn’t going to wake up one morning and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore. Your dog will always be there for you, no matter what.

Second, dogs sustain good physical and mental health. One study that was published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that of 400 patients who suffered a heart attack, the patients who owned pets had a significantly higher survival rate than patients who did not own pets. Multiple studies have also found that dogs reduce negative feelings such as boredom, depression, anxiety, and most importantly, loneliness.

At the end of the day, dogs do not extend from or substitute our humanity. Rather, they reflect our humanity, reminding us that despite all our moral shortcomings, there exists good in each of us. However, as delightful as dogs can be, their deaths are emotionally unfathomable. My mother told me that after our dog Charlotte passed away almost three years ago now, the grief she suffered was actually more intense than the grief she felt over her parents. There are two explanations I can offer as to why this happens. The first explanation is that because dogs have been around for such a large portion of our evolutionary history, our brains have been rewired to think of them as babies. The second explanation is that we have been conditioned to think of dogs as symbols of innocence, and thus when a dog dies, innocence dies with them.

The best things that we can do for ourselves (and for our dogs) is to enjoy the time that we do have with them, and cherish the happy memories that they help us create.

The Origins of Meme Culture

“Oh God… eleven articles in and he’s writing about memes? He must be REALLY out of ideas.”

Actually, memes fascinate me. I’ve always wondered how something as innocent as Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” could be turned into an Internet sensation. And ‘Rick Rolling’ isn’t your average meme, too. You might discover that a movie trailer you’ve looked everywhere for has been cruelly switched out with this 1980s dance-pop song, at which point the disappointment and frustration you feel are overwhelming. You also can’t help but feel slightly outsmarted.

Another meme that I’ve taken a guilty pleasure in was “Darude – Sandstorm.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the background of this particular meme, the comedic appeal was that any question asking for the name of a song or movie was answered with “Darude – Sandstorm,” and that was it. That was your answer. That one film from 1997 with Harrison Ford about the terrorists and the plane? Darude – Sandstorm. That one catchy song you heard on the radio the other day, but couldn’t remember the name of? Darude – Sandstorm. For me, the crux of the “joke,” if that’s what you want to call it, was the unapologetically apathetic nature of responding to legitimate inquiries with “Darude – Sandstorm.”

What, like other viral phenomena, made the song special enough for cyber stardom? The website KnowYourMeme.com was founded to answer these types of questions. Special Internet analysts known as “Meme Scientists” are tasked with not only tracking down the origins of memes, but their popularity and interest over time. A common trend they’ve noticed across memes of all varieties is that they are many times short-lived and readily transmittable, spreading through social media like a flu virus.

The way I see it, memes are the fast food of the Internet in that they’re cheap, quick to prepare, and accessible to everyone. They’re just on the cusp of meeting the criteria for trueborn jokes, yet routinely fail in their mission to deliver any remote substance. They might as well be caught in an identity crisis, because if they cannot be classified as jokes, what are they?

To answer this question, we need to turn back the clocks a little bit. In the 1960s, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET, was conceived by the U.S. Department of Defense to establish a single communication network between multiple computers and thereby exchange vital information (Andrews, 2013). This technology then snowballed in the next three decades, first beginning in the 1970s with the groundbreaking work of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, who both developed the first protocols for exchanging data across a wide array of networks. On January 1st, 1983, ARPANET incorporated ICP and IP into its connectivity parameters, becoming the pioneer of the modern day Internet. In 1990, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, and helped to finally bring the first iteration of the Internet into the public eye.

With all of the technological advances made by such innovators as Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, and Tim Berners-Lee, and the amazing distance the Internet has traveled since then, nobody could have possibly predicted something as anomalous as meme culture to arise. Perhaps, then, our taste in memes lies not in the roots of the Internet itself, but in our own genetic makeup.

There are many characteristics differentiating human beings from animals. Politics, language, religion, law, and art are several, and all tie into a fundamental need for expression, or the need to feel like we’re being listened to.

In the early days of civilization, people devised unique methods of communicating their thoughts about the world, like the creation of cave paintings where they would draw on the walls of dank caves to tell stories. Thousands of years later, they assimilated such things as writing, music, and fashion into their lifestyles, effectively becoming the only species on the planet to express itself at such a sophisticated level. But what about the Internet?

The Internet has provided us with a remarkable capacity to both connect with people and exchange information across major geographical distances. As I’ve discussed, it started off as a military communications network but progressed into an entity of its own. With it came a slew of perks that would make our lives better, easier, and more enriched every day (video pornography comes to mind right now). So what role do memes play in all of this beautiful, and sexy, chaos?

In short, memes are another, more modernized way of expressing ourselves. They extend from the rise of major social media venues such as YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, and Vine, which have all contributed to the popularization of meme culture. More importantly, people enjoy memes so much because they see a part of themselves in the posts they share. Personality theorists all agree that the best way to measure individuality is by taking a look at the clothes people wear, the music they listen to, the food they eat, the movies they watch, and in this case, the memes they share on Twitter. All of those things? They’re not aspects of personality, but rather projections of personality.

When you like, share, or comment on a post, you do so because it resonates with you in a significant way, or because it speaks to you. I wouldn’t be writing this article right now if I didn’t believe memes were worth talking about. Therefore, I use language to project my personality onto the world, whereas others might use more subtle methods of accomplishing this task.

Memes are great expressive tools because they take on such an exaggeratory and emphatic quality. The informal phrases, “when you,” “be like,” and “all like” are often used to help convey universal truths about the human condition, such as waking up early for school, running into your ex-girlfriend at the mall, or going on a new diet. For example, a person wishing to make a commentary on college lectures might make a video of their dog sitting in a classroom to create the impression of cluelessness and confusion, two feelings that all college-level students are familiar with.

Another example would be minion memes. In the films Despicable Me (2010) and Minions (2015), these little yellow beans do not speak a single word of coherent English. However, people have created memes in which sassy and audacious statements like “I was born to be awesome, not perfect” are paired alongside a minion, thereby taking a seemingly neutral image and imbuing it with meaning and personality.

Furthermore, memes have gained popularity because they facilitate short attention spans. The traditional picture meme can only contain two lines of text: one on the top and one on the bottom. Snapchat only allows several lines of text, with videos and pictures lasting up to 10 seconds before they are no longer viewable. Additionally, 60 characters of text is the soft cap on Twitter posts, while the video-sharing service Vine only permitted its users to submit videos that were a few seconds in length.

Whatever the case may be, memes are symbols as much as they are communications of identity. Love them or hate them, they won’t disappear anytime soon.

 

Reference

Andrews, E. (2013, December 18). Who invented the internet? Retrieved September 27, 2016,   from http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-invented-the-internet

 

Are Multiplayer Videogames Dehumanizing?

“To rend one’s enemies is to see them not as equals, but objects—hollow of spirit and meaning.”

―Destiny (2014), In-game description of Exotic weapon Thorn

Thorn used to be one of the most loathed Exotic weapons in all of Destiny’s multiplayer. The Hand Cannon was so detestable that people felt offended whenever they were killed by it, complaining that it was a “noob’s weapon” that took no real skill to use. They would send you hate messages, rant about it on the forums, and even use the weapon itself to stoop to the level of its offenders. You would know when you were killed by Thorn, too, as getting hit by it twice to the head or three times to the body would cause your screen to turn into a mucky greenish color while your character slowly died from the weapon’s damage over time effect.

Bungie’s Hell spawn that was the Thorn was unarguably the most obnoxious weapon to ever plague the fronts of competitive multiplayer, but I couldn’t help but think that this obnoxious quality was what made it so enjoyable to use in the first place. During the five months when Thorn was in its prime, the time when everyone used the weapon to their sadistic pleasure, I too derived profound enjoyment from the poison effects and inevitable slow and humiliating deaths that would follow.

The widespread abuse of the Thorn brought to mind a broader question regarding the nature of online competition: do multiplayer videogames unknowingly cause people to lose touch with their more compassionate sides? In other words, do they diffuse empathy to where people become indifferent to the pain experienced by their virtual opponents?

Multiplayer videogames practically dominate the market right now—Halo, Battlefield, Call of Duty, TitanfallDestiny, and Overwatch are among the most popular and widely recognizable of the bunch. To answer the question of whether these types of games decrease empathy and increase indifference, I inquired as to why they’re so popular and how they affect perceptions of human emotions beyond just the immaterial game world. I arrived at a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, multiplayer videogames have gained traction as both an entertainment medium and as a way of relieving stress because they satisfy a primitive urge to compete against and weed out the weaker members of our own species. They appeal to man’s darker qualities such as greed, selfishness, and aggression.

If you are unfamiliar with Skill-Based Matchmaking, the idea is that if you adjust matchmaking parameters enough so that weak players get matched up against other weak players, and the strong against the strong, you appeal to a more generalized audience of casual players and thus sell more copies of your game. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. However, SBMM is actually counterintuitive to the principles of intraspecies competition (competition that occurs within a species as opposed to between two species) since the strong will always prey on the weak. In evolutionary terms, this is comparable to killing a weaker member of your own hunting tribe just so you can eat that extra piece of meat and stay alive yourself. It’s an intrinsically motivated act of selfishness.

Another explanation for why people are so drawn to multiplayer videogames as an outlet for aggression is that, plain and simple, they don’t have to worry about the consequences of murdering people in cold blood. Think of it this way: when you defeat an opponent in a multiplayer match, to you they are nothing more than an avatar stripped of virtually all human qualities. They are a cheeky and elusive moving target, or a bundle of pixels generated by your television screen. They are a virtual punching bag that you can slam on, beat, stab, humiliate, demean, and degrade to your heart’s content, and all without a single consequence to bare. Who wouldn’t take sick pleasure in that? I know I certainly have.

Yet when we give it a second thought, we start to realize that in control of that avatar, that cheeky moving target, that bundle of pixels, is a real person. A living entity with thoughts, feelings, memories, goals, dreams, aspirations, and heartbreaks. Have you considered that, beyond all of that bloodshed and mass chaos in Battlefield’s “Conquest” mode, someone is feeling a little hurt, even if they’re thousands of miles away from you?

By now, you probably think this article is a glorified criticism of multiplayer videogames. It’s far from it. Personally, I’ve invested hundreds of hours into Halo Reach, Destiny, and the Modern Warfare series. I have no qualm with these games; I love them. At the same time, I do have a few regrets about how I’ve treated my opponents over the years. I have tea-bagged, viciously wailed on corpses, and shouted vile obscenities over the microphone. Even today I display these behaviors out of compulsion but not intent. Nonetheless, I’m writing this article to attest to how our treatment of strangers over the Internet, despite the anonymity, still matters and that we should practice better sportsmanship. Just because they live halfway across the world doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated any differently from you or me.

And so, coming back to the question of whether multiplayer videogames decrease empathy and increase indifference, the answer is yes they do, but only if our behavior is left unrestrained. We can easily lose touch with our compassion, but we also have to remember that we can activate it when it’s needed.

I think I’ll just stick to RPGs.

Will Pot Ever Shake its Schedule I Status?

Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States, and has frequently been subjected to heated controversy regarding its erratic legal nature. Its main psychoactive constituent, delta-9-tetrohydrocannibinol (THC), accounts for much of the surrounding controversy. Regardless of the plant’s rough legal edges, people derive profound medical and recreational value from it that simply cannot be understated.

The politics behind the drug reek of corruption. Following a lengthy revision as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana remains in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. The DEA has even had the audacity to claim that marijuana has “no accepted medical use,” despite it being legal for medicinal purposes in 25 states and Washington D.C. as of June 2016.

No accepted medical use, are you kidding? It has been consistently proven that marijuana is remarkably effective at suppressing nausea induced by undergoing chemotherapy and treating arthritis pain, or treating pain in general. And that’s barely scratching the surface (Welsh & Loria, 2014).

I have never been able to fathom the logic behind legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes in 25 states, legalizing it for recreational purposes in 4 states and D.C., yet keeping it illegal in the rest of the country and withholding it from patients with legitimately severe health conditions; patients who would prefer not to suffer through the added side-effects of the powerful drugs that are used to treat them. What is more, a drug such as alcohol, which has been legal since 1933, is responsible for nearly 88,000 deaths and a 2.5 million year reduction in potential life lost every year between 2006 and 2010 in the United States (“Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health,” 2016). Alcohol not only erodes personal and professional relationships, it also presents a much higher abuse potential than marijuana does on its own, and there hasn’t even been any marijuana-related recorded overdoses. So I will pose the question: does marijuana truly have no accepted medical use, or is the DEA up to something?

Not surprisingly, major pharmaceutical companies, or “Big Pharma” manufacturers, have an immense grasp on the DEA and legislators at Capitol Hill, and that is not a paranoid conspiracy. It is simply the only explanation that exists for why a select few states have legalized the plant for medicinal and/or recreational purposes while others have condemned it to its Schedule I status. Big Pharma runs the law as much as it does its very own market.

The pharmaceutical industry earns billions of dollars every year through its marketing and shared distribution of prescription drugs and state-of-the-art medical technology, and is present in the majority of the world. It’s no wonder that marijuana is illegal in dozens of countries. According to Mike Ludwig (2015), the global market for pharmaceuticals amassed a total of $1 trillion in 2014. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Roche, which are the top 3 distributors in the world, took in combined profits as high as 174.1 billion in 2013 and 182 billion in 2014. I am not an economist, so I cannot provide an exact reduction figure, but I can assume that federally legalizing marijuana would prove calamitous to these companies. They would lose an enormous cut of total revenue generated by prescription medications while smaller-scale companies at home and abroad would be forever driven out of business.

While Big Pharma swims in a pool of hundred dollar bills, the rates at which people die from opioid drug overdoses are growing. Nora D. Volkow, M.D. (2014) explains how, given their almost effortless accessibility, opioid pain prescriptions are among the most widely abused drugs in the United States, with a 131 million increase in prescriptions like Vicodin and oxycodone from 1991 to 2013. In addition, cases of emergency care involving the use of illegally obtained opioid analgesics increased by upwards of about 161,300 between 2004 and 2008.

So, what can we do? There’s nothing we can do except wait and hope for the best. The legalization of marijuana would never 100% eliminate the escalating drug crisis facing America right now, but it could at the very least mitigate the crisis by promoting a safer way for individuals to treat their diseases and, if necessary, satisfy their curiosity.

There are two ways we can insure marijuana gets legalized in the foreseeable future. One way would be turning against the government for its futile War on Drugs. A war that is, mind you, not even really considered a “war.”

George Carlin (1992) perfectly illustrates my point, saying, “We love to declare war on things here in America. Anything we don’t like about ourselves, we have to declare war on it. Don’t do anything about it, we just declare war on it. It’s the only metaphor we have in our public discourse for solving a problem. It’s called “declaring a war.” Got a War on Poverty, The War on Crime, The War on Litter, The War on Cancer, The War on Drugs, but you ever notice, there’s no War on Homelessness, is there? You know why? There’s no money in that problem.”

The other way we could insure that marijuana gets legalized is by getting the government to recognize that more people are dying every year from opioid drug overdoses, and that the problem will not be solving itself anytime soon if marijuana remains illegal.

In the meantime, money will supersede public health.

References

Carlin, G. (Writer). (1992). George Carlin live at the Paramount: Jammin’ in New York [Video     file].

Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. (2016, July 25). Retrieved August 26, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Loria, J. W. (2014, April 20). 23 Health Benefits Of Marijuana. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/health-benefits-of-medical-marijuana-2014-4

Ludwig, M. (2015, September 30). How Much of Big Pharma’s Massive Profits Are Used to Influence Politicians? Retrieved August 26, 2016, from http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33010-how-much-of-big-pharma-s-massive-profits-are-used-to-influence-politicians

Volkow, N. (2014, May 14). America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

5 Universal Truths Society Never Taught Us

Growing up, information is deliberately withheld from us, either because the truth hurts or because we’re not ready to hear it. We were taught that there are no winners or losers in life, real beauty can only be found on the inside, and that good things will happen to good people. Somehow, it is considerably more complicated than that. The same could be said for that one disgruntled office worker of 20 years who was denied that much deserved promotion, only to walk in on his wife cheating on him with his boss. He, too, discovered that perhaps the world isn’t as friendly as he was lead to believe, and that his life could be uprooted in any instant. For this reason, I have devised 5 universal truths that society was either too afraid or unwilling to teach us as children.

1.) If something is too good to be true, then it probably is.

As someone who is now undeterred by disappointment, I cannot even begin to delve into the number of times I was confident that a wish of mine would come true, only to get severely burned. I just couldn’t help myself.

You do not have to make the same mistake that I did. Question not just the bad, but also the good things that happen to you, understanding there is always more to the story than the first few pages. That way, you will be prepared for any abrupt change in circumstances that might arise, like walking in on your boss who denied you that much deserved promotion courting with your wife.

2.) Expectations do not always correspond to reality.

I’ve always said that it’s better to be a pessimist than an optimist, because at least the pessimist can take solace in knowing that the future event he or she expects to turn into a disaster…turns into a disaster. Although you shouldn’t view every opportunity as a potential train wreck, you should nevertheless remain skeptical and most of all, cognizant. Expectations of future events more often than not take unexpected turns in the present, and not always for the best.

3.) You can’t cry when the forest is reduced to nothing but ash when you were the one who started the fire.

If you’ve ever been through the five stages of grief, you’ve probably asked yourself, “How could this have happened to me?” The question you should have instead asked yourself is, “How could this have not happened to me?” While this might be difficult to hear, we are always the cause of our own suffering. It is the premise by which many self-help books have based their entire platforms on. Of course, it is easy to default culpability to another person or some inexplicable, all-controlling and ubiquitous force in the universe, but really we should be coming to terms with how even our deepest wounds are self-inflicted. Only by changing our attitude toward these wounds can we ever allow them to heal.

4.) Humankind is the architect of its problems.

This one extends from the previous point, albeit on a larger scale. You always hear stories on the news of corrupt governments, degenerative societies, and terrorist attacks, yet one thing these stories do not cover in much depth is that all of these depravities are instigated by man and not natural forces. The greatest problems mankind faces, like climate change, war, genocide, famine, and poverty, can all be traced back to none other than mankind itself. Imagine how much more peaceful the world would be if everyone got along and had their ways. Talk about a real pipe dream.

5.) People don’t change. They grow.

Sometimes I hear from people that, “He’s changed. He would never hurt me again.”, “I’ve changed.”, or “I can change.”, when they’re really excusing themselves for tolerating blatantly abusive and destructive behavior. Actual change, at least from a personality standpoint, is not possible. No matter how many times we attempt to adjust some aspect about ourselves that we do not like, we always revert back to the state we were in when we made the adjustment. The reason I substitute change with growth is because growth implies some degree of permanence, whereas change assumes that we could end up the way we were. Everyone is the sum of all their experiences, and every experience stays with us.

And there you have it. 5 universal truths society never taught us as children. Are there any that you are guilty of denying on a regular basis? I’m guilty of at least two.