Has political correctness gone too far?
The debate over whether or not there is a place for political correctness in modern society is not always black and white.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: I know that there is a lot of sexual harassment, racism, and so on in our lives. And I don't doubt that the majority of people who promote political correctness mean it sincerely. I am not saying that. I am not saying in the way of right-wing paranoia that they are evil people who want to destroy the American way of life. I'm just saying that the way they approach the problem is that instead of resolving it, the predominant effect is just to keep it under check and allowing the true problem—racism, sexism—to survive in a more covered up version and so on and so on. Of course, racist jokes and so on can be extremely oppressive, humiliating, and so on. But the solution, I think, is to create an atmosphere or to practice these jokes in such a way that they really function as that little bit of obscene contact which establishes true proximity between us. And I'm talking from my own past political experience, ex-Yugoslavia. I remember when I was young, when I met with other people from ex-Yugoslav Republic—Serbs, Croat, Bosnians and so on—we were all the time telling dirty jokes about each other, but not so much against the other. We were, in a wonderful way, competing who will be able to tell a nastier joke about ourselves. These were obscene, racist jokes, but their effect was a wonderful sense of shared obscene solidarity. It works.
So you see this ambiguity, that's my problem with political correctness. You know. It's just a form of self-discipline which doesn't really allow you to overcome racism. It's just oppressed, controlled racism.
I am not an idiot. I am well aware this doesn't mean we should just walk around and humiliate each other. It's a great art how to do it. I'm just saying that's my hypothesis. Without such a tiny exchange of friendly obscenities, you don't have real contact with another. It remains this cold respect and so on, you know. We need this, we need this to establish real contact.
LEWIS BLACK: Political correctness has a tendency to jump the gun before you get to bigotry. Political correctness has no sense of humor so it doesn't know. I will mention guns in my act, and not that this is politically correct, it's the same sort of thing. I'll say guns and then you immediately feel the audience get uptight because I've said nothing but 'guns'. They don't know what I'm going to say, they have no idea, they've got no clue and they jump on it. So what happens in a politically incorrect joke is they hear the first part and they stop listening. So they don't know what the god damn joke is about. I have little or no time for it. And if you have trouble with that, what you do is you laugh. If you think a joke was mean or bad or something that was politically incorrect, you still laugh at the joke then you go 'Ha ha' and later on, you go 'That was bad. I was bad to laugh at that.' Do it on your own time.
I would go to a college campus. The last one I went to was Penn State. They had just gone through the year of Sandusky and Paterno, my opening act had even done Sandusky, jokes about him. And we thought, well, we can't do that because these kids have just been, you know, and when you got on stage you realize these kids are shell shocked because they're not even laughing at what they normally would laugh at. Afterward, when we avoided the topic completely, the kid who writes for the paper wrote that we were, you know, the way he put it, we were pussies for not talking about it. So it doesn't matter which way you go, you're going to lose some of the time. I always take the moment, because when I'm on a campus or I know I'm in an area where I know political correctness. When I go to those places and I tell a joke and I know that they're not going to laugh because they're going to think it's politically incorrect. I just go at the audience. It's a moment in which you can actually teach them. I think it's important to at least make the attempt to get across to them that they should enjoy themselves because otherwise if we continue to move in that direction there's just, you know, then we're going to be living between uptight and stupid and there'll be no in between.
JEFF GARLIN: I feel that everything's about good taste and self-restraint. My favorite comedian of all time is Richard Pryor. So I'm not a prude, but I think some things maybe you can say more eloquently. Some things you can say in a way that if you're intelligent, you'll pick up on it. And if you won't, you don't. Subtleties, nuance, that's what gets lost in the whole big battle of political correctness. I don't believe in any political correctness. I don't think even if I'm talking about, like you said to me, 'Who's your favorite comedian?' or 'Who do you think is up and coming?' And I named two male comedians—that does not mean that I think female comedians aren't funny or I don't have a favorite female. It just means, in that moment, I thought of those two people. Yet there are people who will have a strong opinion on that moment. You know, 'He's not talking about...' like they would write underneath in a comment, 'Why aren't you talking about the funny women?' Just 'cause I didn't! I didn't make a blanket statement. So political correctness is wrong, is super ignorant, super ignorant, and super partisan.
Partisanship, I gotta tell ya, I read everything on the internet, and just as many liberals are as annoying as right-wing people. They're all annoying. Everyone with this "be like me or you're wrong." People used to make a decision that they'd see something and they'd decide if it was true or not. Now they base truths on their own truth. I see what I believe as opposed to I'm trying to believe what I see.
MARTIN AMIS: I'm a fan of political correctness. No one ever says, "Oh I'm very politically correct." But in fact, it's good that we are. Not the outer fringe PC, but raising the standards about what can be said and an exclusion of things you could have said and got away with it 10 or 20 years ago and now seems discordant. And you know, who wants to go back to being opposed to gay marriage? I mean, the ease with which that became the orthodoxy was I thought tremendously encouraging. I mean, when I look back at my very early fiction of 40 odd years ago, I'm shocked and made uneasy by some of the liberties I took that I certainly wouldn't take now. It doesn't interfere with the freedom of writers, political correctness. It gives you challenges every now and then, you have to sort of work around it a bit, but I never resent that. And I think it's self-improvement on a general scale.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS: Tastes change over the years. And so topics that were routinely joked about years ago that might affect certain people, maybe it's something that happened to someone and we throw a word around because it's a shocking punchline and it's good for a laugh, but is it worth it? And over time, people who are tired of being ashamed because a thing happened to them, they vote with their silence or they say, that's not funny. And I think that comedians have to recognize that humor evolves and times change and you can't stay stuck in the same place for too long because then you're irrelevant. And so it's very easy to say, "Oh, people are too uptight now, they're too uptight." But the fact of the matter is these people are the people of today and you might be a person of yesterday if you can't adjust and you can't be in tune with what people think is funny anymore.
JIM GAFFIGAN: Whatever we call political correctness or whatever the term might be, you know saying things that aren't sexist or could be construed as racist, it's not that hard of a sacrifice. As a comedian, I believe that there's nothing that's off-limits, but I also think that human beings, we're constantly censoring ourselves. I'm censoring myself right now for this. I'm trying to appear smart and I'm not doing that good of a job. But I do think that the PC culture, in my opinion, is of great value. The idea of political correctness, I don't think that has to do with censorship, I think that has to do with a certain sensitivity. So, you know words that are very toxic it's unnecessary. You know, if you also identify yourself as a clean person, it's not necessary to say shocking words. That being said, there are great comedians that deal in shock, that deal in irreverence, but similar to liberty, what's irreverent today is stale tomorrow. So if you chase irreverence, that's a pretty slippery slope.
CORY BOOKER: I just know in my life, having been both the minority dealing with folks and their commentary, and having been a guy trying to learn about other cultures, that I just wanna always lead with love. And I just want to always be as generous as possible. And whatever side of this you're on, come back to that idea, "Am I leading with love? Is my question reflective of love, of empathy, of compassion?" "Am I being gentle in how I deal with this?" And that doesn't mean for us activists it doesn't mean be less strident in seeking justice, it doesn't mean be less hard in defending rights. But the people I revere from our history who were so successful at moving the needle on advancing rights and equality, many of them led with love and I think that that was their most powerful weapon for transforming hearts and minds.
- Political correctness is often seen as a debate between two extremes, but there are nuances in the middle of the spectrum. Is there such a thing as being too PC, and if so, where is that line?
- While philosopher Slavoj Žižek, comedian Lewis Black, and actor Jeff Garlin acknowledge that some topics can be hurtful or even oppressive and should thus be approached with "good taste and self-restraint," they also argue that PC culture has tipped the scales far beyond being balanced. "If we continue to move in that direction," says Black, "then we're going to be living between uptight and stupid and there'll be no in between."
- Simultaneously, others—including Paul F. Tompkins, Jim Gaffigan, and Martin Amis—argue that political correctness aims to change things for the better, especially for groups who have been marginalized and discriminated against, and that not being sexist and racist, for example, is not actually a heavy lift. "The fact of the matter is these people are the people of today and you might be a person of yesterday if you can't adjust and you can't be in tune with what people think is funny anymore," says Tompkins.
- Steven Pinker at Davos: excessive political correctness feeds radical ... ›
- We Can't Have Comedy and Be Politically Correct at the Same Time ... ›
- Why Slavoj Zizek thinks political correctness is dumb - Big Think ›
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How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.
- The 'Monkeydactly', or Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, was a species of pterosaur, a group of flying reptiles that were the first vertebrates to evolve the ability of powered flight.
- In a recent study, a team of researchers used microcomputed tomography scanning to analyze the anatomy of the newly discovered species, finding that it was the first known species to develop opposable thumbs.
- As highly specialized dinosaurs, pterosaurs boasted unusual anatomy that gave them special advantages as aerial predators in the Mesozoic Era.
A newly discovered flying dinosaur nicknamed "Monkeydactyl" is the oldest known creature that evolved opposable thumbs, according to new research published in Current Biology.
The 160-million-year-old reptile is officially named Kunpengopterus antipollicatus. Discovered in China, the dinosaur was a darwinopteran pterosaur, a subgroup of pterosaurs, which first appeared 215 million years ago during the Triassic Period. Pterosaurs, like the pterodactyl, were the first vertebrates to evolve the ability of powered flight.
But unlike other pterosaurs, the Monkeydactyl was the only species in its group known to have opposable thumbs. It's a rare adaptation for non-mammals: The only extant examples are chameleons and some species of tree frogs. (Most birds have at least one opposable digit, though that digit is usually classified as a hallux, not a pollex, which means "thumb" in Latin.)
To analyze the anatomy of K. antipollicatus, an international team of researchers used microcomputed tomography scanning, which generates images of the inside of the body.
"The fingers of 'Monkeydactyl' are tiny and partly embedded in the slab," study co-author Fion Waisum Ma said in a press release. "Thanks to micro-CT scanning, we could see through the rocks, create digital models, and tell how the opposed thumb articulates with the other finger bones."
"This is an interesting discovery. It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposed thumb, and it is from a pterosaur — which wasn't known for having an opposed thumb."
As a tree-dwelling reptile, the Monkeydactyl probably evolved opposable thumbs so it could grasp tree branches, which would have helped it hang, avoid falls, and obtain food. This arboreal (tree-dwelling) locomotion would help the Monkeydactyl adapt to its home ecosystem, the subtropical forests of the Tiaojishan Formation in China during the Jurassic Period.
The researchers noted that the forests of the Tiaojishan Formation were likely warm and humid, thriving with "a rich and complex" diversity of tree-dwelling animals. But while the forests were home to multiple pterosaur species, the Monkeydactyl was likely the only one that was arboreal, spending most of its time in the treetops, while other pterosaurs occupied different levels of the forest.
K. antipollicatus and its phylogenetic position. (A and B) Holotype specimen BPMC 0042 (A) and a schematic skeletal drawing (B). Scale bars, 50 mm.Credit: Zhou et al.
This process — in which competing species manage to coexist by using the environment in different ways — is called "niche partitioning."
"Tiaojishan palaeoforest is home to many organisms, including three genera of darwinopteran pterosaurs," study author Xuanyu Zhou said in the press release. "Our results show that K. antipollicatus has occupied a different niche from Darwinopterus and Wukongopterus, which has likely minimized competition among these pterosaurs."
In general, pterosaurs are a prime example of how animals can evolve remarkably specialized adaptations. As pioneers of vertebrate flight, pterosaurs had strong and lightweight skeletons that ranged widely in size, with some boasting wingspans of more than 30 feet. The largest pterosaurs weighed more than 650 pounds and had jaws twice the length of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Unlike birds, which jump into the air using only their hind limbs, pterosaurs used their exceptionally strong hind limbs and forelimbs to push off the ground and gain enough launch power for flight. That these massive dinosaurs managed to fly, and did so successfully for about 80 million years, has long fascinated and puzzled scientists.The recent discovery shows that pterosaurs developed even more remarkable adaptations than previously thought, suggesting there's still more to learn about the "monsters of the Mesozoic skies."