1. Mass Shootings and Terrorism
You probably thought I was going to start this list off with something cute and cliche like, “Stop caring what people think about you,” right?
Well, fuck that. Let’s offend some people.
I think we should care less about mass shootings and terrorism.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend ourselves or that these events don’t matter or that gun violence in general isn’t an issue. I’m simply saying that our emotional and social reactions to mass shooting incidents are both unnecessary and potentially harmful.
First, there are the practical considerations: you’re as likely to die from a refrigerator falling on you as a terrorist attack, and that mass shooting deaths constitute less than 1% of gun-related deaths in the US (pro tip: ⅔ of gun-related deaths are suicides). If we’re going purely by statistical effects on society at large, these don’t even rank in the top 10 in terms of threats or dangers to the population.1
But here is why it seems that mass shootings and terrorism (and let’s be honest, they’re almost the same thing) are such a big deal:
Because they go viral.
Today, culture is dominated by what gets attention for the simple reason that what gets attention spreads the fastest and furthest. And if something dominates our culture, we just assume that that person or event is important.
Let’s call this “The Kardashian Rule.”
I’ve called this The Kardashian Rule because a few years ago, Kim Kardashian did a nude photoshoot for a mainstream magazine. It dominated the news media for days, with all sorts of unironic think-pieces considering what the photoshoot signified for celebrity behavior, women’s rights, sexual liberation, and on and on.2
Of course, it meant fucking nothing. In fact, it was such a non-event that you probably don’t even remember it. But you probably do know that Kardashian is somehow one of the most famous people on the planet. This is despite the fact that she has done nothing, continues to do nothing, and shows no promise of ever doing anything. This is because Kim is the original master of The Kardashian Rule. She recognized it before anybody else — that he/she who commands the most attention will be the most rewarded — and capitalized on it massively. The rest of us have spent the last 10 years trying to catch up.
The Kardashian Rule implies a few things. The first is that how important a thing actually is matters little. What matters is how shocking and memorable a piece of information is. We all remember the Vegas shooting from last year and chances are, many of you could tell me all about it — who the guy was, how he did it, what guns he used, and so on.
But chances are that few to none of you could describe in any detail the congressional redistricting court cases now being heard by the US Supreme Court. When these cases will likely be far more significant to the future of our country and all of our lives.
This isn’t to downplay the victims of these events. Obviously, it’s some fucked up shit, and we are right to be horrified.
But let’s be real: just because we’re horrified doesn’t mean they were actually significant or influential events.
Every form of media has an unintended weakness. Television unintentionally made physical appearance more significant and turned everything into sound bites. Back before the internet, people were obsessed with UFOs and ghosts and Satanic cults, because they looked really scary on television. People regularly voted for the taller and better-looking politician, regardless of party or beliefs. The internet’s unintentional weakness is that it creates a culture that is overly-susceptible to viral events and information.
Because here’s the second thing about the Kardashian Rule: the success of some viral event or person is wholly dependent on our reactions to that event or person.
If we all agreed Instagram was a waste of time and we had better things to do, these vapid Instagram celebrities with their photoshopped pictures would disappear from our lives. That’s not to say that if we stopped caring about mass shootings and terrorism, they’d instantly disappear, but much of the oxygen that keeps them going would leave the room.
The whole goal of mass shootings and terrorism is attention. That’s the only reason people do them. Terrorists do heinous things to draw attention to their particular religious/political beliefs. Mass shooters do it to bring attention upon themselves. Therefore, mass shootings and terrorism only “succeed” because of the Kardashian Rule: because they are so shocking and unexpected that they go extremely viral. They are basically just violent publicity stunts, carried about by desperate and insane people who crave notoriety and fame for themselves (or their whackjob cause). If you remove the fame from the equation, chances are you also remove a large percentage of these events from happening.
That might sound insane, but there’s a precedent for this.
Decades ago, it was discovered that when the news media reported on suicides, the suicide rate in that area would go up.3 Scientists studied why this was happening and eventually concluded that broadcasting successful suicides gave other suicidal people a sense of validation, making it an acceptable choice. That suicide could be an effective way to get the attention, affection, and pity they had so desperately wanted in their life. That it could be seen as something inspirational: “Here is someone who felt exactly like me, and they actually did it!”
They called it the Werther Effect. And when it was discovered, the media all got together and did the responsible thing: they agreed to stop reporting on suicides. Boom, suicide rate drops again.
What we have here is a Werther Effect, but for highly public, highly politicized mass killings. Mass shootings are contagious. Most of these shooters and terrorists struggle with mental health, feel ostracized and ignored, and desperately crave attention and emotion from the people around them. They feel they have no options in life, that they will be perpetually unheard and ignored. They have violent impulses and intense amounts of anger and don’t know how to manage or channel those feelings. Then they see another story go viral about someone shooting up a school, or an office, or blowing up innocent people, and see that they become an instant celebrity, reviled and obsessed over by millions of people around the country. It’s a quick and easy way to get the attention and significance they so desperately craved all their lives.
I don’t click on articles about shootings anymore. I don’t click on videos about the gun debate. I don’t read about terrorism in the news and despite the fact that the Austin bomber was blowing up people in my hometown, I didn’t read a single article about it. Fuck that guy. He doesn’t deserve my time or attention, nor does he deserve to have his name printed anywhere.
I refuse to engage any media about these people anymore. Because the only way to counteract the Kardashian Rule is by simply withdrawing your attention. To decide that you don’t give a fuck about it anymore. And to go focus on something else that’s actually important (like congressional redistricting).
This does not mean you stick your head in the sand. Clearly, there’s a problem. But am I really helping to solve that problem by clicking on every weeping interview with survivors, or reading about what the shooter had for breakfast that morning, or what psychotic religious cause some guy wrote about before he shot up his entire office?
No, I’m not. In fact, I’m probably making it worse.
2. Saving the Children
Utah passed a law recently stating that children are allowed to play outside alone as well as walk or bike to school without parental supervision. It is the first law in the US of its kind. And the fact that it’s even needed in the first place kind of freaks me out.
“Protecting” kids has become the most paramount goal for many parents — protecting them from bad grades, protecting them from playgrounds, protecting them from being outside alone, protecting them from being criticized by anyone, protecting them from having to wake themselves up in the morning.
This has popularly become known as “helicopter parenting” And as with most shitty things today, it’s largely the Baby Boomers’ fault.
Boomers grew up thinking they were the center of the world. This wasn’t entirely their fault. Television and radio blossomed during their adolescence. And considering they were, by far, the largest demographic age group, pretty much all of popular culture (music, film, etc.) catered to their tastes. By the late 60s, politics caved to their numbers as well and hasn’t let up since.
Then something happened in the 80s. Boomers had kids. And because everything in the Boomers’ lives is the most important thing in the universe, the Boomers’ children (the Millennials) now, by the transitive property of narcissistic dumbfucks, became The Most Important Thing in the Universe.
Boomers approached parenting the same way they approached almost everything else: with the intention to do it better than it had ever been done before and yet, somehow, producing a worse result. Boomers decided that their kids needed self-esteem. They needed to be well-rounded and busy. They needed to be lobbied for at school. They needed to be protected from predators and evil teachers and creepy ministers and, and, and…
This child obsession created an environment where the child could never be wrong — it was the teachers and the school curricula and the media that were wrong. “My little Timmy isn’t an asshole,” Boomer parents would say, “It’s those violent video games he plays that make him that way!” And instead of punishing Timmy for being a dick (that would be “child abuse”), the self-righteous Boomer parent would write angry letters to video game companies, PTA presidents, congressmen, teachers, and of course, other self-righteous Boomer parents.
The popular culture immediately adapted to this child obsession the same way it adapted to all Boomer obsessions. It created cheesy songs like this:
It also generated obnoxious bumper stickers talking about how great their kids were. It had politicians suddenly talking as if every policy they proposed was designed for children. It started producing children’s movies and shows out the ass.
But the most important side effect of the Boomers’ sanctimonious approach to parenting was that it turned parenting into a status symbol. For previous generations, parenting was just a thing you did. It was an obligation. For Boomers, they were going to be the best goddamn parents this world had ever seen and everybody was going to know it. Their kid was going to go to all the summer camps. Their little Susie was going to apply to all the colleges. Their little Joey would have all the best toys. Parenting became another form of the rat race, where the more you micromanaged your kid, the more virtuous you were.
Jump ahead a decade or two and you have good, responsible parents being arrested or investigated for letting their kid play outside by themselves. You have police showing up to confiscate kids who are playing alone. You have mothers being criticized as “the world’s worst mother” because she let her 9-year-old son ride the subway.
And who caused these things to happen? Other parents. Other parents who couldn’t stand the anxiety of leaving their own little special snowflake child playing at the park for an hour, so goddamnit, what other horrible mother could ever consider such a thing?
What these parents don’t understand, and what the research shows, is that over-protecting your child is just as damaging as neglecting your child.4 Children need to fail. That’s how they learn. They need to be hurt by others because that’s how they learn to manage their relationships. They need to be allowed to explore and try things on their own because that’s how they discover who they are and build a strong identity.
When they are coddled and over-protected and micromanaged, they develop none of these skills. They don’t learn how to cope with adversity or failure. They don’t learn how to manage their relationships. And they don’t figure out who they are.
In fact, their identity remains enmeshed with the parent. Their sole value in the world is assumed to be “Mommy/Daddy’s little angel,” — i.e., the most important thing in the universe without actually having done anything — i.e., entitled little fuckers — i.e., exactly like their Boomer parents.
Last note, before I go: I think this is why Millennials get shat on so much these days. Because Boomers a) can’t stand that the Millennials grew up to be just like them (entitled and narcissistic), and b) because Boomers ultimately want to avoid the fact that they fucked it all up.
So fuck the kids. Let them fall and hurt themselves. Let them get dumped and picked on. Let them suffer through a shitty teacher or two. It’s probably better for them.
I’m actually pro-steroids in sports, for a few reasons.
First, let’s be honest, a large percentage of pro athletes dope already. And they will always find new ways to cheat the system and keep doping. Any time you have people who are psychotically competitive AND there are tens of millions of dollars on the line, there’s always going to be demand for doctors and trainers who can help you cheat the system. That hasn’t changed in decades and it probably never will. So let’s just get it all out in the open and regulate it so we know what people are taking.
Second, steroids make sports fairer. That may sound crazy, but hear me out.5
The whole point of sports is to celebrate athletes with the best work ethic, most determination, and single-minded focus. Genetics play a huge factor in the outcome and development of athletes, to the point that some people will simply always have advantages over others for no other reason than they were born with certain genes.
Steroids lessen the effect of genetics on the results of sports. Steroids make it less about who won the genetic lottery and more about who is the most dedicated and can put in the most time and energy to their training. Steroids increase the effect of hard work, sacrifice, and preparation because steroids amplify all of these things.
Steroids are paradoxical in that they are only unfair if some athletes take them and others don’t. If everyone takes them, they make the results more fair, not less fair.
And while we’re at it, hormonal therapies are fantastic for anti-aging, overall fitness, and health, and have myriad medical benefits. I don’t understand why they are so stigmatized. I think, like all narcotics, they should be legalized, taxed, and regulated. Yes, abusing them can be harmful. But using them in a proper medical or therapeutic context can be useful and it doesn’t make someone a bad person.
4. Artificial Intelligence Killing People
Humans suck at this. Humans suck at everything. Bring on the AI faster, please.
I know Elon Musk thinks robots are going to murder us all and turn us all into more efficient toothpicks, but Hal 9000 still can’t handle “right on red.” So let’s chill for a beat.
5. Sexually-Transmitted Infections
If you’re like me, your sex education included hours upon hours of detailed descriptions about how AIDS is going to kill you, herpes is going to ruin your life, syphilis killed a bunch of famous people 200 years ago, and pretty much everything else will rot your dick/clit off and/or give you cancer. Moral of the story: Don’t bang anyone. Ever.
In college, once I blossomed into a strapping young lad and enjoyed my first few drunken trysts, I became terrified that said rot would destroy said dick. So I compulsively got tested for said STIs because I had disobeyed said sex education.
Well, after like the third test coming back negative for everything, the doctor sat me down and told me, very honestly, that I didn’t have to come by so often, that the vast majority of STIs are relatively harmless and very treatable, and as long as I’m wrapping my junk up in a raincoat, there’s probably not much to worry about.
And sure enough, upon doing the research myself, she was right. Most STIs are pretty harmless (and common!). What the fuck was I so afraid of?
This was such a big deal to me (and a lot of terrified young readers, at the time) that I summarized all of the research in an article called “An Honest-to-God Guide to STDs.”
That article covers everything in detail, so I won’t repeat it here. But the TL;DR is, “Calm your fucking tits… and then cum on them.” Yes, use condoms and get tested. But don’t hyperventilate every time you do a little horizontal polka. Shit is going to be fine. I promise.
Alright, I’m ready for the hate mail. Let’s do this…
I think the most contentious position one can have in the US right now is that Trump isn’t really that big of a deal. That’s because most people on the left think he’s the second coming of Hitler/Stalin/Satan/Apollo Creed and is going to start World War 3. And most people on the right think he’s America’s savior who is going to “fix” everything and we’re all going to party like it’s 1959.
I think he is neither. The right is wrong because it’s clear that he’s a shitty, ineffective, and needlessly controversial president. The left is wrong because they forget that US history is full of shitty, ineffective, needlessly controversial presidents. And you know what happened to most of them?
That’s right. A big ol’ nothing-burger.
The US system is incredibly complex and robust. The president’s power is overrated. In fact, the presidency is only a recent obsession (in the era of reality TV and sound bites). The president always gets credit for things he didn’t do and always gets blamed for things he didn’t fuck up.
Look, even competent and popular presidents have trouble getting their agenda done. Trump is not competent, nor is he popular. He’s a nothing-burger (cooked well done and with lots of ketchup). Even smart and successful presidents struggle to enact their foreign policy goals. They are hamstrung by large bureaucracies, Congress, the legal system, and the international order. And here you have a guy who probably thinks Frederick Douglass is an NBA player for the Knicks.
The US system requires the effort of hundreds if not thousands of people to move it. The president is supposed to be the one to corral them. But Trump can’t even corral his own wife to spend more than a few hours with him, so what exactly are we freaking out about?
Look, I know Trump is a piece of shit. I know he’s hurt a lot of people. But on a societal/national policy level, he’s nothing that the US system hasn’t seen or survived before. So let’s calm our shit on the armageddon/Hitler talk. Life will go on.
Trump is possibly the biggest example of the Kardashian Rule to date. The same way Kim Kardashian seems successful because she gets so much attention, Trump seems evil because he pisses you off so much. But the fact is that neither is true. Trump isn’t that evil. He’s a bumbling narcissist who thinks life is one never-ending competition for TV ratings.
And as with Kardashian or school shootings, the more attention we shovel in his direction, the more empowered he becomes, and the more we encourage other politicians to follow in his footsteps. People are always complaining that he should delete his Twitter account, but how about this: stop reading it! Stop clicking on articles about shit he tweeted. Stop watching news segments about shit he tweeted. You don’t just vote with your ballot every four years, in 2018, you vote with your attention as well.
This is how we change the narrative direction of the country. Not by stamping our feet and demanding this guy who has been an asshat for 70 years suddenly change himself. That’s not going to happen.
A lot is made about #Resistance and all that, and look, I get it. It’s good to stand up to a shithead bully in the opposing party. Anything that gives the Democrats a semblance of a backbone is probably needed.
But there’s some responsibility on us, as a population as well — namely, our consumption habits. If we’re unhappy with our celebrities, politicians and leaders, in the end, we’re the ones who created them. So what does that say about us?
- Note that I’m aware much of this is because of how much we’re investing in defending against terrorism and shootings. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t invest in security or defense against these things. My argument, as you will see, primarily concerns how we react emotionally/psychologically as individuals.↵
- Sadly, I too wrote about this before. Although my piece was about how our world has become dictated by the ‘attention economy.’↵
- Phillips, D. P. (1974). The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect. American Sociological Review, 39(3), 340–354.↵
- Helicopter parents: Hovering may have effect as kids transition to adulthood. Science Daily.↵
- The thing that convinced me of this was actually this great article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker.↵
- Road Crash Statistics. Association for Safe International Road Travel↵