Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Day 609: Why Aren't We More Compassionate?

There was a very important study done a while ago at Princeton Theological Seminary that speaks to why it is that when all of us have so many opportunities to help, we do sometimes, and we don't other times. A group of divinity students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were told that they were going to give a practice sermon and they were each given a sermon topic. Half of those students were given, as a topic, the parable of the Good Samaritan: the man who stopped the stranger in -- to help the stranger in need by the side of the road. Half were given random Bible topics. Then one by one, they were told they had to go to another building and give their sermon. As they went from the first building to the second, each of them passed a man who was bent over and moaning, clearly in need. The question is: Did they stop to help? 
The more interesting question is: Did it matter they were contemplating the parable of the Good Samaritan? Answer: No, not at all. What turned out to determine whether someone would stop and help a stranger in need was how much of a hurry they thought they were in -- were they feeling they were late, or were they absorbed in what they were going to talk about. And this is, I think, the predicament of our lives: that we don't take every opportunity to help because our focus is in the wrong direction.  - Daniel Goleman

This post is based on the TED Talk by psychologist and renowned author Daniel Goleman. I highly recommend reading or watching the full talk to get a fuller context on what follows.

So it is generally accepted in the scientific world that humans are essentially compassionate and empathic. Why then does the world exist in the state it's in? The suffering that humanity has directly caused is unfathomable, and the suffering that humanity has allowed to continue is unimaginable. Just in our day to day lives it is more likely that we will act only in self interest than stopping to help another or considering how far the consequences of our actions extend.

Later on in the Talk Mr Goleman brings up the issue of people not really knowing all the parts involved in the manufacturing of any one product and what harm they may be inadvertently supporting by buying a particular product (unfortunately most products). You don't know if that item was made with slave labour, or if one of the factories that made one part of the product pollutes the surrounding area. The reality is that you probably don't think about those possibilities at all - all you're thinking about is "I need this in order to do/experience that".

The Talk above basically lays it out that the only reason we don't care more about other people/animals/things is because we're so caught up in our own little worlds of thoughts, needs, desires, emotions and feelings. The question then is: if most people are capable of caring, so long as they are not in the midst of self-obsession, how do we change our cul
ture of self obsession to become one of consideration, practicality and empathy?

I know of at least a few ways to do this that I applied (and still do apply) in my own life.
  • Breathing - focusing on your breath and consciously bringing your awareness here to the present moment with your breathing. This also entails self discipline in not allowing yourself to stray into thoughts or emotions, but remain present and aware of yourself and your surroundings.
  • Writing as self-reflection. Writing about your experiences throughout your day and focusing on moments when you were experiencing the specific behaviour that you want to change. For example, if you want to become more aware and less self-involved, write about what triggered you becoming self involved at some point in your day or earlier past, note what you were doing, thinking, feeling and use those triggers, thoughts, actions and emotions as red flags for yourself so that if you see yourself participating in any of those flagged points you then have the opportunity to stop yourself from getting sucked into a spiral of self obsession (breathing yourself back into awareness is also useful here). Very often strong emotional experiences are an automatic red flag, as well as moments where you believe that you are right and everyone around you is wrong (yes, unwillingness to consider another's point of view fits in under self obsession).
  • Remaining present and aware by sheer force of will. Works for some. 
  • Flag specific thoughts for yourself - thoughts that you have noticed usually start off a self-obsessed experience. Those thoughts eventually come into your mind accompanied by some sort of warning for yourself (like scanning the words on a page, looking for a specific word, it just jumps out at you)
All of these things require self discipline and a desire to change - without that, change is unlikely. You need to be able to drive yourself out of the mindset you've had all your life and this cannot be done magically, it will take years of dedication. What is important to know is that it is possible - we do not have to be bound to who we have always been - in this regard we have real freedom of choice.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Day 608: Memories Vs Experience

And my talk today will be mostly about these cognitive traps. This applies to laypeople thinking about their own happiness, and it applies to scholars thinking about happiness, because it turns out we're just as messed up as anybody else is. The first of these traps is a reluctance to admit complexity. It turns out that the word "happiness" is just not a useful word anymore, because we apply it to too many different things. I think there is one particular meaning to which we might restrict it, but by and large, this is something that we'll have to give up and we'll have to adopt the more complicated view of what well-being is. The second trap is a confusion between experience and memory; basically, it's between being happy in your life, and being happy about your life or happy with your life. And those are two very different concepts, and they're both lumped in the notion of happiness. And the third is the focusing illusion, and it's the unfortunate fact that we can't think about any circumstance that affects well-being without distorting its importance. I mean, this is a real cognitive trap. There's just no way of getting it right. 
Now, I'd like to start with an example of somebody who had a question-and-answer session after one of my lectures reported a story, and that was a story -- He said he'd been listening to a symphony, and it was absolutely glorious music and at the very end of the recording, there was a dreadful screeching sound. And then he added, really quite emotionally, it ruined the whole experience. But it hadn't. What it had ruined were the memories of the experience. He had had the experience. He had had 20 minutes of glorious music. They counted for nothing because he was left with a memory; the memory was ruined, and the memory was all that he had gotten to keep.  
Sure. I think the most interesting result that we found in the Gallup survey is a number, which we absolutely did not expect to find. We found that with respect to the happiness of the experiencing self. When we looked at how feelings, vary with income. And it turns out that, below an income of 60,000 dollars a year, for Americans -- and that's a very large sample of Americans, like 600,000, so it's a large representative sample -- below an income of 600,000 dollars a year...
60,000. (Laughter) 60,000 dollars a year, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. I mean I've rarely seen lines so flat. Clearly, what is happening is money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery, and we can measure that misery very, very clearly. In terms of the other self, the remembering self, you get a different story. The more money you earn, the more satisfied you are. That does not hold for emotions. - Daniel Kahnemn

I am using another TED Talk as the inspiration / topic for my post. This talk is quite interesting and is presented by Daniel Kahneman, the father of behavioural economics. 

So most of us evaluate our lives according to our collections of memories of past events. Interestingly, those collections of past events are what shape who you are today. In this sense, who you are is derived from your memories of your experiences, but also from the actual experiences you had in the moments of those events. Together, those two aspects contribute to the shaping and development of who you are. 

When I say that it is the memory of an experience as well as the experience itself that changes you, I mean that in the moment that you are living something in the HERE and NOW, that moment is having an effect on you - on who you are - and this happens because of the series of actions and reactions that you choose to have in this moment of HERE and NOW. Once the moment is passed and has become the past you are now dealing with only the memory of that moment - and it has been determined by psychologists and various others that memories are certainly not accurate reflections of the past but more like your interpretation thereof. So now you have the choices you made in a moment that has passed and carry with you into the here and now a memory of the past moment. Some memories are sharper than others and influence your mood and thoughts which is what I mean by memories influencing and, if you allow it, changing you. 

So now you are in the HERE and NOW, but living in a memory of a moment in the past. Essentially you're in the past and the present at the same time. Your interpretations of the past moment have warped it - possibly beyond recognition of what it really was when you were in the moment - yet you carry with you the effects of the reality of the moment and the illusion of your memories. A dichotomy of the person, to say the least. 

When you get right down to it, you cannot really trust yourself if you cannot even hold on to an accurate recollection of a moment of your own past that was once the HERE and NOW for you - a moment that you were fully present and accounted for. The problem lies not in your ability to recollect, but rather in your ability to distort and modify (and then to believe that those distortions are the truth). In the end you distort your memories because you want them to reflect to yourself the way you want to see yourself (even if you're depressed - you will then want to see yourself in a negative light). As long as you desire a specific self image and self definition, your mind is going to go out of its way to give that to you. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 607: Broken Telephone of Memory

Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people. I first started studying this constructive memory process in the 1970s. I did my experiments that involved showing people simulated crimes and accidents and asking them questions about what they remember. In one study, we showed people a simulated accident and we asked people, how fast were the cars going when they hit each other? And we asked other people, how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other? And if we asked the leading "smashed" question, the witnesses told us the cars were going faster, and moreover, that leading "smashed" question caused people to be more likely to tell us that they saw broken glass in the accident scene when there wasn't any broken glass at all. In another study, we showed a simulated accident where a car went through an intersection with a stop sign, and if we asked a question that insinuated it was a yield sign, many witnesses told us they remember seeing a yield sign at the intersection, not a stop sign.
And you might be thinking, well, you know, these are filmed events, they are not particularly stressful. Would the same kind of mistakes be made with a really stressful event? In a study we published just a few months ago, we have an answer to this question, because what was unusual about this study is we arranged for people to have a very stressful experience. The subjects in this study were members of the U.S. military who were undergoing a harrowing training exercise to teach them what it's going to be like for them if they are ever captured as prisoners of war. And as part of this training exercise, these soldiers are interrogated in an aggressive, hostile, physically abusive fashion for 30 minutes and later on they have to try to identify the person who conducted that interrogation. And when we feed them suggestive information that insinuates it's a different person, many of them misidentify their interrogator, often identifying someone who doesn't even remotely resemble the real interrogator.  - Elizabeth Loftus

Memory is a funny thing. You may spend most of your life trusting in your memories completely, but the reality is that what you remember is seldom accurate and sometimes completely made up. Your memory is influenced by your thoughts, beliefs, images, stories, cultures, customs and other people.

The most interesting thing about this is how oblivious we are to this - we simply do not see that our memories are, more often than not, wrong. It's almost like we attach our self integrity to our memories and will therefore hold onto them with steely conviction, adamant that what we remember is true and accurate.

The TED Talk above is also another example of how suggestible we are - it is incredibly easy to manipulate a person. Unfortunately, most of the people who are aware of this fact will either exploit it for personal gain or simply keep quiet about it and not make an effort to show people how we are all being twisted and bent into seeing, thinking and feeling things by outside manipulative forces. Once again, most people are oblivious to how easy it is to lead them to think, feel, speak and even remember a certain way. Using certain words is enough to lead someone to perceive reality differently, or at least to recall it differently.

Considering all of this, how much more likely does it seem that we are all being manipulated into living a certain way, believing certain things, supporting certain things? This begs the question: how much of what we accept in the world do we accept simply because we have been impulsed into accepting it? This could be applied in politics, government, businesses, healthcare, animal care, the food industry, the economy and even things like constitutions. It also leads one to ask how rational people really are, if it's that easy to make someone believe something with 100% conviction, how many people are actually capable of thinking about things critically?

There are many things that Psychologists are aware of such as the tendency towards false memories and the ease with which a person can be impulsed into believing something. It seems though that they are more interested in studying these things than actually helping people. Why would this be? Could it possibly be that Psychologists themselves have been manipulated into believing that the research is more important than creating awareness?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Day 606: Self Discipline & Resistance

I used to be a slacker. I'd stay up all night playing computer games and watching movies and sleep all day. A few of my teen years were spent like this, not really doing much of consequence. This is a very different picture to my life now: I wake up when the sky lightens and move myself to do all the things that need to be done every day. There is no one standing over my shoulder telling me that this or that must be done by a certain time - I have developed my discipline and self responsibility to move myself to get things done, balanced out with a set time for relaxing and doing personal things.

This didn't happen magically. There was no invisible force that made me change my behaviour. I made a conscious choice to care enough about what needed to be done to take those tasks upon myself. The first thing was easy: changing my sleeping habit to look after horses that had to be put in and let out of their stables at certain times. This was easy for me, as I have always loved working with animals. The next steps did not come so easily as they were tasks that I had no particular interest in or desire to do - things like office work (filing, admin). I had to really push myself to get things done.

At one point, I found a technique that worked for me: I stopped the reactions I was having to the tasks that I didn't want to do and accepted the reality that they needed to be done regardless of my feelings or preference. I chose to take a deep breath and make peace with these things, doing them without feeling grumpy or inconvenienced, I just did it.

What I found to be the most difficult points to walk through in facing resistance was the thoughts that came up within me that seemed so valid - but they were just justifications. Thoughts that started with "It's too late now, I may as well just do this tomorrow." or "There's not enough time to start on this now, let me rather plan it in for another time." or "I've had a long day and I'm really too tired to do this now." - Sure, sometimes these are valid, but that is not really all that often compared to those times where you knowthat you could actually do the task at hand, or at least get a good start in.

In recent years, my sense of responsibility expanded to not just include "me and the things that I need to do" but now includes the people I live with in my household, the animals I am directly responsible for and, interestingly enough, every other person, animal, plant and whatever lifeforms in the world. This last part was in part a choice, but also seemed to develop within me quite naturally as I expanded my responsibilities and compassion in my world.

Even now, I still experience resistance, but I catch the thoughts out quickly and stop participating in them. I know which thoughts are red flags - the ones that usually give me "good" excuses for not doing something I know I really should be doing something. I have learned to prioritize my life - some things that I enjoy I have stopped doing simply because I cannot allocate adequate time to doing, while there are things I'm not particularly keen on doing that I have made priority in my daily schedule. Would I enjoy living in a world where I didn't have to do a lot of the things I'm doing? Do I wish I could spend more time doing things I enjoy? Hell yes - but that is not going to happen until a global change of lifestyle, economy and society takes place with the help of a solution like Living Income Guaranteed.

Another dimension of moving through resistance that traps a lot of people is the emotional aspect that comes with self-judgement. When you judge yourself for not doing what you should do you end up creating an even bigger resistance to doing it - it's a vicious cycle that goes round and round. Of course it can be stopped (by not participating in the thoughts that trigger and feed the emotional experience) - but this can be difficult especially for people who have never had to really take responsibility for something and develop self discipline. It requires re-adjusting your way of living and training yourself which in itself requires a tremendous level of self discipline. I'm not saying this to intimidate anyone - this is the reality. It is absolutely possible to do it - I have proven this to myself. Sometimes it's just like jumping into a cold swimming pool: just close your eyes, take a breath and JUMP.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 605: All the Experts on ISIS

ISIS: Everything you need to know about the rise of the 'Islamic State' - This article doesn't actually tell you anything useful.

(CNN) -- The U.S. military bombarded more ISIS targets Friday from the air in an operation that world leaders are saying will be a long-term engagement.

On Thursday and Friday, the U.S. military carried out 10 strikes using fighter planes and drones, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The strikes took out ISIS vehicles in Syria and Iraq and destroyed a command node and a checkpoint.

Also on Friday, Britain's Prime Minister told members of parliament taking a vote on whether to send the nation's military to join the fight to be prepared for a long haul.

"This is going to be a mission that will take not just months but years, but I believe we have to be prepared for that commitment," David Cameron said.
The same message came from the Pentagon Thursday.

"I think we are in this for a matter of years," spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said. "We are steeling ourselves for that period of time."

Why it will take so long

The strikes are having some effect, experts say, but on the ground, there's little headway against the Islamist extremists.

And that's why the battle will take so long, Cameron said. Western infantries will not gun down ISIS fighters. That will be the task of local forces.

What makes someone an expert on ISIS and airstrikes? I have never heard of any credentials that would qualify that title, nor would I trust such credentials. Granted, there are very few experts who can truly be called an expert on any one topic in the fullest definition of the word. We throw the word expert around a lot without really understanding what the word means it seems. The term is inundated with pride and ego and very often gives one the impression that their opinion is the word of GOD and that no one may question them.

In reality there is no way for an average Joe like me or you to know what's really going on somewhere and why when it comes to things like ISIS, but it is just as unlikely that some alleged "expert" knows any more. All the expert can claim to know is based on what has happened in the past (and even this is limited to available knowledge and is therefore not necessarily the entire story) and then factor in general information like characteristics, cultures, customs, beliefs and so on that are common to the people or topic that is being discussed (keyword: common - again this is based on an assumption).

The title of "expert" is mostly used as battering ram against any questions that someone may ask. "Wait, isn't bombing another country and civilians BAD?" Of course not! The experts say that it's the only way we can ensure peace! Right... So now anything that is promoted as being approved by some or other expert is accepted without much thought. It's not much different to most of the rest of our lifestyles - just another testament to how we prefer to be followers rather than think critically for ourselves and make rational choices.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Day 604: Maleficent

I refer to the new film, of course, starring Angelina Jolie.

I have been finding it more and more difficult to tolerate the absolute manure that is being produced. Movies and TV series recycle the same ideas over and over, and when one of them does just one thing a little differently it is called unique and visionary, but all the while it's the same old story. The thing that I find most intolerant is the outright cruelty and lack of concern and compassion for life that is promoted in the media. Maleficent is no different - it's just another Disney movie that promotes all the same garbage as always.

  • There is always a hero and this hero is the most important person ever.
  • All the other people & things are brought across as being expendable and unequal to the hero (how many soldiers die in a battle fought for the sake of the storyline and/or protagonist?)
  • There is good and there is evil
  • Revenge is an acceptable and natural reaction - even if it causes death and misery for countless beings - it's all good if you're really sorry afterwards
  • Collateral damage is acceptable in the hero's quest
  • Scenery, dialogue, music, etc is used specifically to manipulate viewers into emotionally investing in the characters of the show
  • Innocence is best nurtured in a remote location

There is another show which tries to justify evil actions by giving the character a "story" that somehow explains and makes right all the bad things that they consequently did. Funnily enough, this could be considered a show for younger viewers, which leads me to question the integrity of the media industry even more: Once Upon a Time. In this show the "evil" character is slowly but surely brought into the main cast, creating the idea that she is "just human" so that viewers connect with her emotionally in an attempt to win the viewers over. No attention is given to the pain and death of so many people for which she is solely responsible, quite possibly numbering in the thousands.In this story as well, there is one point of "love" that slowly turns her from evil into good (her adopted son). Now this is teaching our kids that you need some outside reason to be reasonable and compassionate to other living beings, especially if you were a dickhead before.

In recent years there has been an interesting development in the creation of male characters: Evil characters are being made to be attractive to female viewers, so that women now have a conflicting idea about "bad guys" - sexy and dangerous. Even if the male character is a mass murderer, as long as he has sex appeal then he's fair game for the ladies.

Maybe my standards are just too high for this world. Maybe South Park was right - the bar has been lowered too low. I shudder to think of the beliefs that children are developing from growing up with these ideas being fed into them without any real understanding that it's not how the world really works - and you wonder why there is so much more violence in society than 50 years ago.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Day 603: We're All in This Together

Lately a lot of people have been pointing fingers at governments, saying that they must be the ones to bring about climate change - now while members of our governments should be acting in the best interests of the people and planet and they should be the ones spearheading the implementation of solutions (how about just the prevention of problems, present and future) - we are in fact all equally responsible for this world and life we share.

Every moment that we accept things the way they are and do not demand chang
e, we are basically voting for things to carry on going the way they're going. Sure, there are people who protest and who talk about change, but the reality is that not enough people care enough to make any real impact. The other side of the coin is that those people who promote change do not always look at the bigger picture and investigate what the cause of global problems is - they address only some of the symptoms. Let's take pollution from factories as an example - yes, pollution is a problem, but the cause of it is that the businesses running the factories are functioning on the principle that profit is more important than anything else and so do as much as possible to minimise expenses and increase profits, even if that means cutting a few corners and using supplies coming from disreputable sources (for example).

now I'm not saying that people should stop participating in the system and go live in a cave - that won't do anyone any good. What must happen is that we need to start investigating for ourselves why the world is the way it is so that we can develop and support sustainable solutions that address the cause of the problems instead of just the symptoms. We need to stop trusting every word coming from the news, or from this or that scientist, or from the government. We must look and think critically for ourselves at the world so that we can work towards seeing the whole picture.

Part of the problem is that so many people are simply content to accept the world the way it is and to accept the words of others as truth without investigating (or even thinking about it critically) for themselves. Part of the problem is that so many people will only act on a problem once they are personally affected. Part of the problem is that people do not have any real compassion for others, especially when they do not know them personally (Imagine if it was Johnny Depp who was affected by some terrible event - how many people would be moved enough to help him compared to helping out the people living on some remote island after a hurricane, or helping the people living in poverty in any one of the countries in the world).

We cannot leave everything up to the governments - they are not worthy of our faith, nor are they worthy of out trust. We must take responsibility for this world we share, no matter who we are or where we come from. We must take it upon ourselves to investigate the problems so that we can determine what solutions would be best suited. Within all of this we need to embody that same compassion and integrity we wish we saw in each other - we need to live as examples so that we can show each other what true love and humanity is. We must refocus our lives and businesses to promote the creation of the world we want to live in, as well as to nurture and care for the planet and the creatures with whom we share this life.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day 602: You're Just a Cash Cow for the Rich

This originally appeared on ProPublica.
This story was co-published with NPR.
Like any American family living paycheck to paycheck, Conrad Goetzinger and Cassandra Rose hope that if they make the right choices, their $13-an-hour jobs will keep the lights on, put food in the fridge and gas in the car.
But every two weeks, the Omaha, Neb. couple is reminded of a choice they didn’t make and can’t change: A chunk of both of their paychecks disappears before they see it, seized to pay off old debts.
The seizures are the latest tactic of debt collectors who have tracked the couple for years, twice scooping every penny out of Goetzinger’s bank account and even attempting to seize his personal property. For Goetzinger, 29, they’re the bewildering consequences of a laptop loan he didn’t pay off after high school; for Rose, 33, a painful reminder of more than $20,000 in medical bills racked up while uninsured. The garnishments, totaling about $760 each month, comprise the single largest expense in the budget.
“I honestly dread paydays,” said Goetzinger. “Because I know it’s gone by Saturday afternoon, by the time we go grocery shopping.”
Across the country, millions of other workers face a similar struggle: how to live when a large fraction of their paycheck is diverted for a consumer debt, as ProPublica and NPR reported Monday. The highest rates of garnishment are among workers who, like Rose and Goetzinger, earn between $25,000 and $40,000, but the numbers are nearly as high for those who earn even less, according to a new study by ADP, the nation’s largest payroll services provider.
Those who fall into this system find their futures determined by laws that consumer advocates say are outdated, overly punitive and out of touch with the financial reality faced by many Americans.
 - Salon

This is a fine illustration of how people are valued by the economy and society. It's not about how you can contribute to and improve on society, but about how much money you can pay over to various service and product suppliers. In a world where a living wage is not guaranteed, actions such as the one above only further exemplify the absolute lack of regard people have for each other. I was going to say that it's the system that is lacking in regard, but in truth the system was and continues to be created by people - to blame the system would only further separate the reality from the picture that is presented.

About the only good that could come from the continuously deteriorating state of the world is that people are going to start getting fed up pretty soon. Unfortunately because it is unfolding more in a way where people are bottling up all their feelings until they reach breaking point, it is quite likely that we will experience some kind of revolution which will probably be violent. Violence never solves anything, it only fosters more negative feelings between people and gives people more reasons to disassociate from each other.

The best way forward would be in a calm, rational manner in which every voice is heard and considered within the consideration of what would be the best possible outcome for everyone. The problem is that the average Jane and Joe do not always think rationally, nor do they think with foresight. Consider violent protests happening recently in places like the UK - you think that people are rational creatures until you find yourself in the middle of a mob - rationality flies out the window and emotion takes over.

Things have to change, that is for sure. The only uncertainty is how this change will come about - will it happen with violence or with common sense?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day 601: The (D)evolution of the Gaming Culture

After death threats forced a feminist video game critic to flee her home, conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released a video telling feminists to “stand down,” as the outrage over misogyny in gaming culture is overblown.
AEI’s resident scholar Christina Hoff Sommers described the gaming world as “a lively, smart, creative subculture, consisting mostly of tech savvy men from all over the world but also including a small but distinct group of very cool women. If you love games, they don’t really care about your age, your race, your ethnicity, your gender, your sexual preference. They just want to game.”
During her “Factual Feminist” segment, Sommers argues that feminist video game critics are misguided in their seeming attempt to dismantle sexist gaming culture. Ignoring research showing that women make up half the gaming population, Sommers says that because most “hardcore” gamers are male, it’s expected and okay that games use imagery and story lines that appeal to them, including stereotypical depictions of women as damsels in distress or sex objects. Yet at the same time, she insists that “the world of gaming has become inclusive. There are games that fit a vast array of preferences and games with responsibly proportioned and appropriately garbed female protagonists.”
Sommers also defended gamers’ sometimes violent anger at feminists, claiming most gamers have responded to criticism with “logic, evidence and humor.”
That logic, evidence and humor was missing in reactions to feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, whom Sommers calls out as an offending feminist critic. After releasing a webisode critiquing women as background decoration in video games, Sarkeesian received numerous death threats, presumably from angry gamers. Those threats are now being investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Polygon reported.
While Sommers argued that Sarkeesian’s and other critics’ anonymous death threats aren’t necessarily indicative of a negative, “patriarchal pathology” in game culture, there’s been evidence to the contrary. Online harassment disproportionately affects women compared to men. The white male-dominated tech industry overall has been slow to address online threats or stalking. And when reported, the threats are often not taken seriously.
Sommers also compared Sarkeesian’s criticisms of video game culture to hypothetical attacks on women’s magazines for not being inclusive of men, seemingly missing feminists’ point that game creators overly rely on depictions of women as sexualized eye candy and objects of grotesque violence is unnecessary, and immaterial to the gaming experience. Despite evidence that women play all kinds of video games, female lead characters are rare. When women do appear in video games, they’re frequently over-sexualized, and being beaten, kicked, stomped on, or shot simply for shock value.
But public outrage over companies’ anti-women policies is growing. Game makers are facing more pressure to be inclusive as their non-white and non-male audience grows. Top game creators are beginning to openly support feminist game critics’ work. And gamers overall may just be ready for a change. - Think Progress

I'm a girl. I'm a gamer. One thing that I have come to, not accept, but rather I do not react to it is the current nature of games. Yes, I absolutely agree that games should change - not just from a gender point of view but in multiple ways (including violence, greed, competition, war etc etc). Obviously part of the problem is that many people and children interpret games as being an accurate reflection of life and society, which contributes to violence and even to the continued existence of superiority / inferiority.

Yes, we need to change games, but this is something that will take time and that will only happen when enough people in positions of power (ie they can drive the change with MONEY and/or influence) start producing and promoting different principles in games and media. (I am not discluding that a grassroots movement could bring change). So in the meantime, we need to teach ourselves and especially our children that what you see in games is not relevant to the real world in most cases. You need to realise and understand that just because you see certain things in a game/ the media, that doesn't mean that those things are acceptable. This leads to the consideration that each person should develop integrity in terms of choosing and standing by a set of principles that are good for themselves but also society and the world as a whole. This also flows into the teaching of children - teach your child to determine acceptable from unacceptable by teaching them to consider and treat others as they would want to be treated if they were in their (the other's) position. This is a principle that is often not fully understood: people often interpret it as putting themselves in another's position, but seeing the situation from their own perspective - there is a big difference between putting yourself in another's shoes, but still as yourself, and putting yourself completely in another's shoes and considering everything that the person has and is going through in their entire lives.

Another aspect of this conflict in the gaming community is that it is another dimension of the internet trolling point where the true nature of peoples' minds comes out. Here you will see what people really think of each other and what they really think about doing to each other. This is a shocking does of reality for many who do not understand the extent of the problem that exists in humanity. The point of violence and disregard for life etc in the gaming industry is another manifestation of this. What needs to be understood is that changing the games alone is not enough to fully address and resolve the problems we are facing - we need to address the very nature of the human mind as this is the source of all of the problems.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day 600: What Moves You?

What in this wide world makes your heart ache?

What makes your breath quicken?

What makes you angry?

What makes you ashamed?

What makes you hopeless?

What makes you helpless?

What lifts you up?

What makes your tears fall?

What in this wide world is important enough to you to cause you to take action?

What moves you to reach out for love?

What moves you to hold on too tight?

What moves you to push someone away?

What moves you to care for someone, or something, enough to not hesitate in lifting them up?

What moves you to question?

What moves you to move yourself?

Intimacy has become a scarcity. We know each other only by the masks we wear, we know ourselves only slightly better. Most of us don't know why we are the way we are, why we feel the way we feel, why we think what we think. Most of us do not know how to stop ourselves even when we know we really should. Most of us are content to go along with whatever we're told to do, like or want - whether it's the TV, radio, magazine or employer telling us. Most of us don't care enough to do enough. Most of us don't have time for much outside ourselves.

Most of us do not know how to move ourselves, we need something else to come and move us. We do not know how to change who we are and what we experience. Most of us don't have a clue what's really going on inside us and why we are who we are.

It is likely that you, the reader, do not believe that this is relevant to you. You probably believe that everything in your life is firmly under your control. If this was true, then you would be able to change even the most fundamental part of your nature, never mind have the ability to stop just one thought.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 599: Which Way Should I Go?

We all have to make choices in our lives. Sometimes the choices affect only us, other times they have wide-reaching effects.

We tend to get a little flustered and stressed out when we're faced with a big choice. There are usually a myriad of things to consider and usually all sorts of people trying to push you this way or that. All in all, it can be a pretty unpleasant experience when we don't know how to effectively deal with the shit that seems to be flying at us from all directions.

So how the hell do you make a decision, especially when there seems to be so much stuff overwhelming you? First step:
  • Stop and breathe
 It's time to get practical, it's also time to figure out exactly what's going on inside you in relation to this decision you're facing.
  • Start writing 
    • Make a list of ALL the thoughts you're having about this choice (no judgement! Give yourself the opportunity to be honest with yourself!)
    • Make a list of all the emotions/feelings you are experiencing around the choice
You will notice an interesting thing: most of the thoughts and emotions trace back to just a few points. Why the hell did it feel so overwhelming and confusing? Well that's just how the mind works, it chucks a bunch of stuff at you and when you don't deal with it then it seems to get bigger and bigger until you can't take it anymore. 
  • Forgive yourself!
    • Writing out your thoughts gives you the opportunity to get a better understanding of where they came from. Write some more about the thoughts and emotions - write about what triggers those thoughts, if you can remember the first time you had those thoughts.
    • This gives you a solid foundation to write some comprehensive Self Forgiveness in which you can clearly see the patterns inside yourself.
  • Self Correction: Lay a plan for how to correct the patterns
    • Write out statements where you can direct yourself on what to do when that thought / experiences comes up within you again, within the understanding of where it came from and why it exists within you.
You may be asking "Why should I do all this?"

WELL - A funny thing tends to happen when you make a choice that's not entirely clear within you. Things tend to go wrong. It feels like the universe is out to get you, but in reality you're the one who is the biggest contributor to the mess. What usually happens is that you open a can of self sabotage on yourself - not on purpose of course (well, not consciously at least). Maybe you take risks you know you shouldn't, or you say something you shouldn't to someone you really shouldn't have said it to  - it can manifest in many different ways.

So once you've made your insides more manageable, it's time to turn your attention on to the actual choice at hand.
  • Make a list of pro's and con's of all your available choices
    • Push yourself to think outside the box - try and think of as many dimensions of the choices as possible, as well as what the consequences may be.
Yup, it's a simple and yet effective part of effective decision making.
  •  Look at all the pro's and con's and check yourself for any reactions
    • Look out for thoughts, emotions and feelings that indicate that you may have some issue with the particular point you're looking at
    • Follow same steps as above for anything that comes up
In the end you want to be making a clear choice based on as much fact as possible. "Clear" meaning that you are at peace with the choice and know exactly why you're making it, there is also no hidden stuff influencing you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Day 598: For My Country

BARCELONA — Hundreds of thousands of Catalans formed a massive human “V” across Barcelona on Thursday as part of a campaign to persuade the Spanish government to allow their region to stage a referendum on independence.
The demonstration coincided with the region’s annual Diada, or national day, which commemorates the defeat of the northeastern territory at the hands of Spanish forces in the siege of Barcelona on Sept. 11, 1714.
“If you look at history, you’ll see that we used to be free, but then the Spaniards came. We want the freedom we had before,” said pensioner Joaquin Valle Bigas. He was resting in the shade by Barcelona’s Gracies square, surrounded by campaigners waving Catalan flags. The spot was near the corner of the seven-mile-long V, which represented the words “victory” and “vote.” - GlobalPost

What is the point of having different nationalities or states separated by imaginary boundaries and established ideals? Name one good reason that isn't jaded by some patriotic or cultural belief.

There is this idea that different peoples should have their own place where they can be with other people who are similar to them, people who share their ideals. This is already something that is changing with globalisation, but an aspect of it that is not changing is patriotism, or national pride. What makes one group of people better or worse than another based simply on geographic location? Name one good reason.

Let's look at the most well known country in the world as an example: America. America is a good example of one country with a big variety of cultures, opinions and beliefs. There is pro-war, pro-peace, democrats, republicans, conservatives, liberals, hippies, hermits, plain old John and Mary Smith's, pro-life, pro-choice and so on. Interestingly enough, it doesn't really matter what the general public think about most topics - the people in positions of power are the ones who apparently have the final say. So while the people are going about their protests and marches and heated debates, the big boys with the big money are busy buying the votes that actually count.

How many societies actually function according to the will or even the best interests of the people? The list is probably rather short. Here in South Africa there is a kind of public resignation to corruption in the government. People pretty much just accept the corruption as a fact of life and satisfy themselves with moaning about the wasted opportunities to improve the lives of the citizens. I have not met one person outside of the small circle of desteni who actually has the balls to say that the way our society functions is unacceptable AND that it is the responsibility of each member of the society to contribute to changing it into whatever we want. When you talk to a stranger or acquaintance about government corruption the default response is "Ag man, what can you do - it's just the way the world is."

Obviously it is clear that our global society and the societies in each nation need to change so that they function in the best interests of all (instead of the interests of the few elite). The concept of separate nations and cultures serves only to distract and divide us - if we were to unite in promotion of some simple yet universally acceptable principles then we could truly affect change in this world.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Day 597: The New Sex Norm

In 2012, the University of Chicago organization Tea Time and Sex Chats created a Facebook page to promote their group, as many college clubs are wont to do. The group, which promotes sex education and healthy sexuality, reportedly used the page to link to other helpful pages or to make announcements about events. Sometimes, Tea Time and Sex Chats would post fun videos that also provided useful tips. In 2014, the group posted one fun video, in particular, which showed a cartoon depiction of a woman inserting a female condom. Shortly after the post went up, the group’s admins received an email saying that the post and their page violated Facebook’s terms of use, and that it would be banned. Then it was.
As Jezebel notes, the video could understandably be viewed to be in violation of the site’s community guidelines. But it’s key to note that Facebook’s community guidelines are influenced by the community. The site itself can’t monitor each of the billions and billions of posts that circulate on Facebook directly; instead, it has to rely on community response — and therein lies the problem:
The issue is not that Facebook employs some fuddy duddy set of Druid anti-sex elders who wring their hands over each and every thing that gets posted on it’s billion or so user pages. That’s actually not the case at all. The issue is that sites such as Facebook rely on community policing, meaning they pretty much only take action such as this when enough people click the “report” button on posts, photos, videos, etc. If you’ve ever wondered why so many photos of women showing their mastectomy scars or mothers breastfeeding got banned in the blink of an eye but shitty pages that actually promoted prostitution took FOREVER to get removed look no further than that as your answer. - Salon

It's funny how something like this will be removed from Facebook lickety-splick, but when you report a profile or page promoting pornography, paedophilia and other sexually explicit content (of an exploitative or degrading nature) then the response you get from Facebook is that it does not violate community standards. I don't know about what you think, but that doesn't make much sense to me.

The (scary) truth is that there is a whole lot of sex in peoples' secret minds - it seems to be becoming more open now, but not in a way where people are exploring their sexual expressions, more in a way where people are exploring their sexual fantasies which are often based on distorted thoughts that became more and more twisted over time. You have probably wondered why pop stars are losing more and more clothing and becoming more provocative, ignoring parents' calls for modesty. Sexuality is now an industry - it's not about self expression but about creating fantasies that very often simply cannot be fulfilled. Think about it, how often is "the real thing" as good as how you imagined it would be.

Sex is an industry that sells fantasies. You can't touch them or fulfill them. They are more likely to lead you further down the rabbit hole of unrealistic expectations and desires. They are also more likely to make things like pornography and exploiting young girls acceptable - more so than sexual education.

The claim that pornography is healthy is an illusion, just like the product that pornography is actually selling. The sex that is portrayed in mainstream porn is not self expression - it is exploitation and it warps the way that people think sex is supposed to be. A very clear example of what happens is shown in the movie Don Jon, as well as the very similar fantasy that is sold to (mostly) women in mainstream media of "what your life should look like".

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 596: I Can Never be Wrong

Yesterday, historian Rick Perlstein wrote an important piece about the Nixon pardon, which he shows was the true beginning of the political culture that holds that business elites and government actors cannot be held accountable for corruption and malfeasance because it will “destabilize” the system. From pardons of presidents to too-big-to-fail banks to torturers getting the benefit of “not looking in the rearview mirror,” it’s hard to come up with an example of elite, institutional players having to face the music.
But one of the more confounding aspects of this unaccountable culture of ours is the one that says the legal system has no responsibility to right its own wrongs or even admit to a lack of perfection even when it’s obvious they have made a grievous error (or broke the law). Yesterday I wrote about Justice Antonin Scalia’s rather shocking opinion that the Constitution provides no avenue for an innocent person wrongfully condemned to be released if all the proper i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed.  That strikes me as a perverted definition of justice. But it goes even deeper than that.
The New York Times profiled the hard-charging prosecutor known as the United States’ “Deadliest DA” who tried the case of the two men who were exonerated in North Carolina last week after having been imprisoned for over 30 years for a murder they did not commit. He’s quite a guy, winning more than 40 death penalty cases over 20 years, an achievement that got him into the Guinness World Records book.
He’s 79 now and still punching.  When told that his successor (a distant cousin) calls him a bully, his response was this: “Well, let’s say, if I was a bully, he is a pussy. How about that?” I think Johnson Britt has been hanging around too much with the wine and cheese crowd. So much for the dispassionate dispensation of the rule of law.
And despite the clear and overwhelming evidence that the two men who were released on DNA evidence along with a never processed fingerprint that implicated a known rapist in the crime, this fine representative of the people had this to say, “I thought the D.A. just threw up his hands and capitulated, and the judge didn’t have any choice but to do what he did. No question about it, absolutely they are guilty.” No, absolutely, they are not.
This attitude is pervasive among many prosecutors who all over the country pull out every stop available to them to keep DNA evidence from being tested and are unwilling to release wrongly convicted prisoners despite proof of their innocence. They refuse to admit they were wrong.
This piece by Sue Russell from a few years back examined why that is:
“The problem we face,” says social psychologist Carol Tavris, “is not from bad people covering up their mistakes and not wanting to face the truth. It’s from good people who deny the evidence in order to preserve their belief that they’re good people.”
Anthony Greenwald, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, says it’s natural for most of us to see ourselves in the most favorable light possible; to picture ourselves as more heroic or good or honorable than we are. For some, accepting that they may have contributed to an injustice would be such a massive blow to their perception of themselves that it is simply intolerable to countenance. So they don’t.
“People perceive themselves readily as the origin of good effects and reluctantly as the origin of ill effects,” says Greenwald. “I don’t think there’s anything special in thinking that this applies to people who work in law enforcement. The only thing one needs to assume is that they, too, are human – like the subjects in all the research that demonstrates the phenomena.” - Salon
Unfortunately this is a common story across the world. So called human nature leads to situations where some suffer at the hands of others. Everyone is trying to protect their self image, but only some have the power to enforce their will on the things and people around them. Obviously if people were a little more aware of the nature of their thoughts and were willing to change them, then things would be different.

Scenarios like the one above start when someone in a position of power chooses to see themselves and the world in a certain way. It gets to a point where it transcends choice and becomes more like a need where their entire self image and world view becomes linked to their self worth. Obviously I don't mean that this is restricted to people holding positions of power, in this particular context those in power are simply able to enforce their views on the world and make the world fit into their perspectives.

When you start tying something into your self worth you must know that you're going to have a hard time untying it. Our self worth can become more important to us than many other things in life, so we may feel the need to defend ourselves to the ends of the earth and back just so that we can still feel good about ourselves. Obviously this is a problem, especially if it exists in people who hold positions of power and/or responsibility. These people will then start imposing their views onto the world in order to validate themselves.

It would be safe to say that at least a little bit of this tendency exists within all of us, but I can say with certainty that it is not fixed into our nature - it is changeable. The problem is that in order to change it you need to let go of how you value yourself - how you determine your worth. The solution is to understand that every living being has an equal and intrinsic value and that our self images and self worth's only serve to distort this equality.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 595: Transcending God

How much faith do the trees, animals and other plants have at the beginning of spring that the rain will come? Enough faith to start budding new leaves and flowers. Enough faith to start having babies. Here in the grasslands of Africa the winters are dry and chilly, with most years seeing little to no rainfall for 6 months. Still, every year the trees start budding as soon as the evenings start warming up, whether there has been rain or not. Imagine how much energy they put into pushing out their little leaves after all that time being dormant. The soil in these parts of Africa is often also not of the highest quality, so it's not like the trees are swimming in food either.

Essentially the trees bet almost everything on the hope that the rains will come. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. When the rains come the trees can continue growing, but if the rains don't come then the trees stop growing, do not go to seed and the smaller trees often do not survive the hardship. The same would go for the other plants and for animals - without the rains the plant eaters have less food which in turn means that the meat eaters have less food as well. Lives are lost across the different types of life forms.

Who controls whether the rains will come? Is it God? If it is God, then what makes him/her decide to not send the rains? Malicious intent? Spitefulness? Some warped lesson? Maybe it's just plain curiosity. If you ask me, it's a pretty stupid and cruel design, this 'circle of life'. Everything feeds something else UNLESS part of the circle fails (like the rain) and then everything starves.

Why is it like this?

Does it have to be this way?

Would it be possible for humanity to one day be directors of nature so that we could ensure that all life has the opportunity to thrive at all times? Some say we shouldn't 'play God' - and I agree - God is a cruel concept that we accept as allowing all sorts of life forms to suffer for some profound unknowable reasons - no one should try to emulate that.

We should transcend God and create Heaven on Earth. We should take responsibility for the planet and all other life living here with us to stop needless suffering.

We have the power to take all of life into our hands, the only problem is that our current tendency is to destroy life instead of creating and nurturing it. We love only that which we know intimately and show no concern for much else. Living in this way will not create a world that you would want your children to grow up in.

We can change the world in the same ways that we participate in maintaining the way it currently is. We can change ourselves to reflect the world we want to live in, accept the things we want to allow and do not accept the things we would not want for ourselves. the only reason the world is the way it is is because we accept the nature of it, we believe that it is the way it is because that is the nature of it, when we are the ones who have made it this way. We have the power, now we just need to take responsibility.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 594: Name 6 Ways You're Better than a Chicken

Name 6 ways we're better than chickens...

You can't, can you? That's because chickens are decent people. 

- This is a quote from a George Carlin show from 1996, Back in Town. 

As usual, dearly departed George was spot-on. Sure, roosters love raping hens and chickens in general love eating eggs (and the occasional aborted fetus), but that's nowhere near as f-ed up as humans can / have been.

  • Chickens don't force other chickens to labour for them for no wages (and also rape, torture & kill on a whim).
  • Chickens don't trick and cheat other chickens to make more chicken money (I say "chicken money" because our money may as well be chicken money since we made the whole 'money' thing up anyway)
  • Chickens don't kill plants and other animals to expand their chicken holdings to make more chicken money to drive fancy chicken cars while their chicken employees barely earn enough to survive
  • There are no chicken mass murderers
  • Chickens do not go to war
  • Chickens do not develop weapons of mass destruction (or any weapons for that matter)
  • Chickens do not enslave other species for personal chicken profit
  • Chickens do not develop products that they sell to their fellow chickens, knowing full well that those products are not everything they're cracked up to be, and they may even kill the chicken consumers
  • Chickens do not pretend to give each other rights that turn out to only be applicable if the chicken in question has enough money to buy said rights
  • There are no chicken pedophiles
  • Chickens do not steal each other's organs to sell for chicken money
  • Chickens do not lie
  • Chickens do not manipulate
Sure, sometimes chickens are a bit mean to each other and steal each other's  worms, but there is no malice in their actions.

Humans, on the other hand...

We are evil f-ers. We seem to be incapable of being honest, especially with ourselves. We all seem to have multiple personality disorder seeing as how no one is ever exactly the same in different situations. We still call ourselves "good people" even after allowing venomous, spiteful thoughts to exist within us. Well, I think I'd rather be a chicken.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Day 593: How Bad Can I Be?

I watched an animated film called The Lorax, based on a children's book of the same name written by Dr Seuss in 1971. The story tells of an ambitious young man who destroys a natural paradise for profit. The storyline is quite relevant to what is happening in the world and the fact that it is a well know children's story leads to the hope that children will take the message to heart after they have seen it - that is if they can get rid of all the other junk floating around in their heads from movies and TV shows...

There is one song in particular from the story that accurately depicts how many people justify their actions and the state of the world:

How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just doing what comes naturally,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just following my destiny,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just doing what comes naturally,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
How bad can I possibly be?
Well there's a principle of nature (principle of nature),
That almost every creature knows,
Called survival of the fittest (survival of the fittest),
And check it; this is how it goes,
The animal that wins gotta scratch and fight and claw and bite and punch,
And the animal that doesn't well the animal that doesn't winds up someone else's la-la-la-la-lunch (munch, munch, munch, munch, munch),
I'm just saying,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just doing what comes naturally,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just following my destiny,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just doing what comes naturally,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
How bad can I possibly be?
There's a principle of business (principle of business),
That everybody knows is sound,
It says the people with the money (people with the money),
Make this ever loving world go 'round,
So I'm biggering my Company,
I'm biggering my Factory,
I'm biggering my corporate sign,
Everybody out there take care of yours, and me?
I'll take care of mine mine mine mine mine (shake that bottom line),
Let me hear you say 'smogulous smoke' (smogulous smoke),
'Schloppity-Schlopp' (schloppity slopp),
Complain all you want it's never ever ever ever gonna stop, (STOP!!!)
Come on, how bad can I possibly be?
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just building the economy,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
Just look at me petting this puppy,
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
(a portion of proceeds goes to charity),
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
How bad can I possibly be? Let's see,
All the customers are buying,
And the money is multiplying,
And the PR people are lying,
And the lawyers are denying,
Who cares if a few trees are dying?
This is all so gratifying,
How bad,
How bad can this possibly be?!

How many people give these reasons as their excuse for doing something that they know is not actually very good?

On the other side of the coin, the ambitious young man (The Once-ler) only came to be where he got because he was trying to prove to his family that he had value and was worth loving, which leads to the consideration that the only reason someone chooses that kind of life is because of some issue within themselves that they don't know how to overcome, so they end up building an empire in some other way to validate themselves in their own (and/or someone else's) eyes. essentially none of what happened in The Lorax would have happened if Once-ler did not feel like he needed to prove himself to his family in order to win his mother's love, affection and attention. Obviously things are not always that simple, but sometimes they are.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Day 592: Dark Moments

Evil scares us. Arguably our best horror stories, the ones that give us nightmares, are about evil people doing evil things—especially evil experiments. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is a classic that comes to mind. In modern cinema, movies like The Human Centipede continue that gruesome tradition. But these are fictional. The truth is that we need only look at recent human history to find real, live, utterly repugnant evil. Worse yet, it is evil perpetrated by doctors.
Here are 10 of the most evil experiments ever performed on human beings—black and other people of color, women, prisoners, children and gay people have been the predominant victims.
1. The Tuskegee Experiments
There’s a good reason many African Americans are wary of the good intentions of government and the medical estblishment. Even today, many believe the conspiracy theory that AIDS, which ravaged the African-American community, both gay and straight, was created by the government to wipe out African Americans. What happened in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1932 is one explanation for these fears.
At the time, treatments for syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that causes pain, insanity and ultimately, death, were mostly toxic and ineffective (things like mercury, which caused, kidney failure, mouth ulcers, tooth loss, insanity, and death). Government-funded doctors decided it would be interesting to see if no treatment at all was better than the treatments they were using. So began the Tuskegee experiments.
Over the course of the next 40 years, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male denied treatment to 399 syphilitic patients, most of them poor, black, illiterate sharecroppers. Even after penicillin emerged as an effective treatment in 1947, these patients, who were not told they had syphilis, but were informed they suffered from “bad blood,” were denied treatment, or given fake placebo treatments. By the end of the study, in 1972, only 74 of the subjects were still alive. Twenty eight patients died directly from syphilis, 100 died from complications related to syphilis, 40 of the patients’ wives were infected with syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.
2. The Aversion Project
They didn’t like gay people in apartheid-era South Africa. Especially in the armed forces. How they got rid of them is shocking. Using army psychiatrists and military chaplains, who were, presumably privy to private, “confidential” confessions, the apartheid regime flushed out homosexuals in the armed forces. But it did not evict them from the military. The homosexual “undesirables” were sent to a military hospital near Pretoria, to a place called Ward 22 (which in itself sounds terrifying).
There, between 1971 and 1989, many victims were submitted to chemical castrations and electric shock treatment, meant to cure them of their homosexual “condition.” As many as 900 homosexuals, mostly 16-24 years old who had been drafted and had not voluntarily joined the military, were subjected to forced “sexual reassignment” surgeries. Men were surgically turned into women against their will, then cast out into the world, the gender reassignment often incomplete, and without the means to pay for expensive hormones to maintain their new sexual identities.
The head of this project, Dr. Aubrey Levin, went on to become a clinical professor at the University of Calgary. That is until 2010, when his license was suspended for making sexual advances towards a male student. He was sentenced to five years in prison for other sexual assaults (against males).
3. Guatemalan STD Study
Syphilis seemed to bring out the inherent racism in government-funded doctors in the 1940s. Tuskegee’s black people weren’t the only victims of morally reprehensible studies of this disease. Turns out Guatemalans were also deemed suitable unknowing guinea pigs by the U.S. government.
Penicillin having emerged as a cure for syphilis in 1947, the government decided to see just how effective it was. The way to do this, the government decided, was to turn syphilitic prostitutes loose on Guatemalan prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers, none of whom consented to be subjects of an experiment. If actual sex didn’t infect the subject, then surreptitious inoculation did the trick. Once infected, the victim was given penicillin to see if it worked. Or not given penicillin, just to see what happened, apparently. About a third of the approximately 1,500 victims fell into the latter group. More than 80 “participants” in the experiment died.
The Guatemalan study was led by John Charles Cutler, who subsequently participated in the later stages of Tuskegee. In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally apologized to Guatemala for this dark chapter in American history.
4. Agent Orange Experiments
Prisoners, like people of color, have often been the unwilling objects of evil experiments. From 1965 to 1966, Dr. Albert Kligman, funded by Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, and the U.S. Army, conducted what was deemed “dermatological research” on approximately 75 prisoners. What was actually being studied was the effects of Agent Orange on humans.
Prisoners were injected with dioxin (a toxic byproduct of Agent Orange)—468 times the amount the study originally called for. The results were prisoners with volcanic eruptions of chloracne (severe acne combined with blackheads, cysts, pustules, and other really bad stuff) on the face, armpits and groin. Long after the experiments ended, prisoners continued to suffer from the effects of the exposure. Dr. Kligman, apparently very enthusiastic about the study, was quoted as saying, “All I saw before me were acres of skin… It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.” Kligman went on to become the doctor behind Retin-A, a major treatment for acne.
5. Irradiation of Black Cancer Patients
During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union spent much of their time trying to figure out if they could survive a nuclear catastrophe. How much radiation could a human body take? This would be important information for the Pentagon to know, in order to protect its soldiers in the event they were crazy enough to start an atomic holocaust. Enter the seeming go-to government choice for secret experimentation: unknowing African Americans.
From 1960 until 1971, Dr. Eugene Saenger, a radiologist at the University of Cincinnati, led an experiment exposing 88 cancer patients, poor and mostly black, to whole body radiation, even though this sort of treatment had already been pretty well discredited for the types of cancer these patients had. They were not asked to sign consent forms, nor were they told the Pentagon funded the study. They were simply told they would be getting a treatment that might help them. Patients were exposed, in the period of one hour, to the equivalent of about 20,000 x-rays worth of radiation. Nausea, vomiting, severe stomach pain, loss of appetite, and mental confusion were the results. A report in 1972 indicated that as many as a quarter of the patients died of radiation poisoning. Dr. Saenger recently received a gold medal for “career achievements” from the American College of Radiology.
6. Slave Experiments
It should be no surprise that experiments were often conducted on human chattel during America’s shameful slavery history. The man considered the father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, conducted numerous experiments on female slaves between 1845 and 1849. The women, afflicted with vesico-vaginal fistulas, a tear between the vagina and the bladder, suffered greatly from the condition and were incontinent, resulting in societal ostracism.
Because Sims felt the surgery was, “not painful enough to justify the trouble,” as he said in an 1857 lecture, the operations were done without anesthesia. Being slaves, the women had no say as to whether they wanted the procedures or not, and some were subjected to as many as 30 operations. There are many advocates for Dr. Sims, pointing out that the women would have been anxious for any possibility of curing their condition, and that anesthetics were new and unproven at the time. Nevertheless, it is telling that black slaves and not white women, who presumably would have been just as anxious, were the subjects of the experiments.
7. “The Chamber”
Back to the Cold War. Prisoners were again the victims, as the Soviet Secret Police conducted poison experiments in Soviet gulags. The Soviets hoped to develop a deadly poison gas that was tasteless and odorless. At the laboratory, known as “The Chamber,” unknowing and unwilling prisoners were given preparations of mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, and other concoctions, hidden in meals, beverages or given as “medication.” Presumably, many of these prisoners were not happy with their meals, although, being the gulag, records are spotty. The Secret Police apparently did finally come up with their dream poison, called C-2. According to witnesses, it caused actual physical changes (victims became shorter), and victims subsequently weakened and died within 15 minutes.
8. World War II: Heyday of Evil Experiments
While evil experiments may have been going on in the U.S. during World War II (Tuskegee, for example), it’s hard to argue that the Nazis and the Japanese are the indisputable kings of evil experimentation. The Germans, of course, conducted their well-known experiments on Jewish prisoners (and, to a much lesser extent, Romany people and homosexuals and Poles, among others) in their concentration/death camps. In 1942, the Luftwaffe submerged naked prisoners in ice water for up to three hours to study the effects of cold temperatures on human beings and to devise ways to rewarm them once subjected.
Other prisoners were subjected to streptococcus, tetanus and gas gangrene. Blood vessels were tied off to create artificial “battlefield” wounds. Wood shavings and glass particles were rubbed deep into the wounds to aggravate them. The goal was to test the effectiveness of sulfonamide, an antibacterial agent. Women were forcibly sterilized. More gruesomely, one woman had her breasts tied off with string to see how long it took for her breastfeeding child to die. She eventually killed her own child to stop the suffering. And there is the infamous Josef Mengele, whose experimental “expertise” was on twins. He injected various chemicals into twins, and even sewed two together to create conjoined twins. Mengele escaped to South America after the war and lived until his death in Brazil, never answering for his evil experiments.
Not to be outdone, the Japanese killed as many as 200,000 people during numerous experimental atrocities in both the Sino-Japanese War and WWII. Some of the experiments put the Nazis to shame. People were cut open and kept alive, without the assistance of anesthesia. Body limbs were amputated and sewn on other parts of the body. Limbs were frozen and then thawed, resulting in gangrene. Grenades and flame-throwers were tested on living humans. Various bacteria and diseases were purposely injected into prisoners to study the effects. Unit 731, led by Commander Shiro Ishii, conducted these experiments in the name of biological and chemical warfare research. Before Japan surrendered, in 1945, the Unit 731 lab was destroyed and the prisoners all executed. Ishii himself was never prosecuted for his evil experiments, and in fact was granted immunity by Douglas MacArthur in exchange for the information Ishii gained from the experiments.
9. The Monster Study
Add children to the list of vulnerable people subjected to evil experiments. In 1939, Wendell Johnson, University of Iowa speech pathologist, and his grad student Mary Tudor, conducted stuttering experiments on 22 non-stuttering orphan children. The children were split into two groups. One group was given positive speech therapy, praising them for their fluent speech. The unfortunate other group was given negative therapy, harshly criticizing them for any flaw in their speech abilities, labeling them stutterers.
The result of this cruel experiment was that children in the negative group, while not transforming into full-fledged stutterers, suffered negative psychological effects and several suffered from speech problems for the rest of their lives. Formerly normal children came out of the experiment, dubbed “The Monster Study,” anxious, withdrawn and silent. Several, as adults, eventually sued the University of Iowa, which settled the case in 2007.
10. Project 4.1
Project 4.1 was a medical study conducted on the natives of the Marshall Islands, who in 1952 were exposed to radiation fallout from the Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, which inadvertently blew upwind to the nearby islands. Instead of informing the residents of the island of their exposure, and treating the victims while they studied them, the U.S. elected instead just to watch quietly and see what happened.
At first the effects were inconclusive. For the first 10 years, miscarriages and stillbirths increased but then returned to normal. Some children had developmental problems or stunted growth, but no conclusive pattern was detectable. After that first decade, though, a pattern did emerge, and it was ugly: Children with thyroid cancer significantly above what would be considered normal. By 1974, almost a third of exposed islanders developed tumors. A Department of Energy report stated that, “The dual purpose of what is now a DOE medical program has led to a view by the Marshallese that they were being used as ‘guinea pigs’ in a ‘radiation experiment.’” - Salon (originally Alternet)

These are probably not the worst things that one person decided to do to another. There is a darkness in humanity. We call our compassion 'humanity' - yet it is something that we can easily turn off, like a switch. Each of us has the ability to just not care - some of us choose not to exercise that ability while others live it in every moment. There are many factors that contribute to this, but in the end it comes down to our society as a whole not providing the support structures that each person requires to function with humanity at all times and in all contexts. Consider the families of poverty: majority of them receive little to no support, mental illness is high, drug and alcohol abuse is high, illiteracy is high - the list goes on - if you are living in these circumstances then it is very likely that you're not going to care very much about many things, you may even reach a point where you are willing to hurt or kill without remorse in order to get whatever thing it is that you do value. This is only one aspect - the experiments listed above were carried out by doctors in the most part which implies that they most likely did not come from a life of poverty - what does this tell you? Privilege does not ensure the development of a healthy member of society either. The problem includes social and economic status, but is not limited to those things. The very nature of a person who is willing to harm to further their own goals indicates that that person does not regard those whom he/she harms to be equal to him/her. They do not think how the person they are harming has hopes and dreams and things to love, they think about how they can further their own desires. The experiments above were done because the scientists/doctors could - it was that simple. They could ask any question in any way without fear of repercussions - this was enough to coax their darkest curiosities out into the open.