A little Armchair-Statisticallizing goin' on here…


So I'm not entirely sure what prompted this, but I think I've stumbled across something interesting (admittedly, I know very little about this subject). There's this idea that historically, America has been this diverse "Melting Pot" of different cultures (at least, this idea persists among the White majority – I wonder how other American groups view this idea?), but something made me ask myself, “If this is true, why does it feel like we have more racial tension and animosity than ever before? Why is there such a vigorous Immigration debate right now?" Maybe it's because we've never actually been a ‘Melting Pot.’ Looking at the data, America has always been far-and-away culturally ruled by one group of people, which is a takeaway that, on an individual level, isn't something that probably shocks too many of us.


For The First Time…

The point I’m trying to make is that I think it's only now, for the first time in American History, that we're approaching the very real possibility of the only American Majority that has ever existed (White people, specifically the older White male), no longer being the majority, or at least having their cultural influence and significance reduced considerably, which is probably the more important point to make. This feels like another "Transition Point" similar to other aspects in our society we’re seeing, such as rapidly-changing technology, employment arrangements, and socio-economic statuses. In an attempt to back this idea up with data (compiled from https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Historical_racial_and_ethnic_dem…), I created the image below. Notice the historically significant change in the percentage of the White population from years 1970-1980 – a drop of 4.6%.


Never before has there been anywhere near that large of a drop in the percentage of American’s White population. The drop from 1990-2000 is even larger. It’ll be interesting to see what the 2020 census reveals.


We Can All Agree…

Now I think we can all agree that if there’s one thing humans as a whole hate, it’s change. People go to ridiculous lengths to avoid, or completely deny, that anything in their neat little packaged-up world is changing, especially if that change is felt to be negative. Like I’ve written about before, people simply want to feel safe, comfortable, accepted, and included in all aspects of their lives – financially, emotionally, socially, culturally. If this holds true, then it makes sense that there should be increased racial tensions at a time when our society and culture is changing to include more sources of diversity than ever before.

Slavery may have become outlawed on-the-books, but, aside from desegregation, never before have the majority of Americans had to face such a cultural shift in their own daily lives – from the media they consume (piped straight into their homes and smartphones), to the racial and ethnic makeup of their coworkers, to the “Political Correctness” one adheres to in polite society, no matter how much they WANT to “cut through all the politically-correct bullshit.” Even if this change is more “felt” by people, and isn’t really backed up by data, that “feeling” is really all that matters. It’s as if we’ve “talked the talk” about racism, tolerance, and inclusiveness, but we’re now being asked, more and more in our own daily lives, to “walk the walk.” 

People are at heart emotional beings, who do not instinctively jump to cold logic and reason when assessing their opinions and viewpoints on nearly any subject


Shifting Demographics, Shifting Economics…

There’s a reason there’s so much conversation about how massively successful the new “Black Panther” movie has become – perhaps it’s because there is finally enough of an increase in the size of the Minority the movie features (or enough of a decrease of the Majority) to significantly sway the box-office numbers, proving that movies of this kind, that feature a predominately Black cast, are not only financially feasible, but are potentially untapped goldmines. This hints at another mainstay of our culture, for better or for worse – eventually, our society succumbs to changes that reflect the direction the money is flowing in (which is why some businesses' recent reluctance to donate to the NRA or stop the sale of some types of firearms and their accessories is important – but that’s another issue).

Anyway, bottom line seems to be this: the demographics of America are changing, or at least the perspective is that they’re changing, like never before, highlighting more differences and inequities throughout our culture that are becoming harder to ignore. It’s important for us all to remember that change is hard, and people are especially vulnerable to feeling as if they’re under personal attack when certain things in their neat, comfortable, packaged-up lives are modified in some way. Again, we all want the same things – to feel safe, comfortable, accepted, and included in all aspects of our lives – financially, emotionally, socially, culturally. Some groups feel they still have a long fight ahead of them to achieve these things. Other groups feel as if these things are in danger of being taken away from them. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Also, become comfortable with change!


Yep… Earth is definitely not a big round ball floating in space…

1 There are "Scientists" out there that are really, really bad at practicing good Science. Then there are those that are really, really bad at explaining it to the general public. Just like any other subject or area of study or anything else that has anything to do with humans, there are those that give their career field and subject matter a bad name. Creating a "bad name" for Science is doubly-dangerous, as it's already a pretty misunderstood thing.

2 Science and God (or some other concept of a "Higher Intelligence" or "Creator") could possibly co-exist; there’s nothing in any good Science book that says, “Here is proof God doesn’t exist.” Then again, there’s nothing in any good Science book that says, “Here’s definitive proof that God does exist” either. In and of itself, Science doesn't inherently have anything to say about God or religion one way or another. When asked if Science disproves the existence of God, a good Scientist will respond by saying, "Well, we don't currently have any Scientific evidence for the existence of God, but that doesn't mean God doesn't exist – it simply means we don't have any Scientific evidence." There's even some waaaayyy-out-there theoretical science-fictiony kinda scientific theories, based in cutting-edge, barely-understood theoretical physics that purports to explain how some sort of universal consciousness could exist… not to mention the theories that we're actually living in one gigantic simulation (and usually, simulations have creators). All of this is to say that we've been colossally, monumentally wrong before – a good Scientist should have the most open of minds.

3 Good Science is a “practice,” one that changes over the years as we humans observe and learn more about the physical, natural world and it's inhabitants (also, this is one of the reasons medicine is called a "practice.") The majority of Scientists used to believe that Cholera, Chlamydia, and the Plague were caused by “Bad Air” (called the Miasmatic Theory of Disease) that would drift into town at night and strike those who slept with their windows open. Then we learned about germs. The point is, good scientists will admit there are gaps in our scientific knowledge, and that as we learn more, our theories and understanding of this universe we live in will change, grow, adapt. That being said, there are certain areas of Science that we’ve studied, learned about, and observed for so, so, so long, and that we've gathered so much information on, that they’re pretty much fact – such as the world being round. But if tomorrow, someone said, “Wait a minute, due to a unique feature in the human brain, human eyeballs, and the human sense of balance, the viewpoint that the world is round is actually an illusion – we’ve all been fooled,” good scientists would be forced to take another look at the issue. Pretty unlikely in this case though.

4 Believe it or not, Scientists are actually individual humans, subject to the same weaknesses, biases, and agendas as all other humans. There are plenty of bad Scientists out there who cling to a belief in something, regardless of the proof, simply because they don’t want to be wrong. Good Scientists will admit when their theories don’t pan out, learn from and incorporate new information, and will then keep trying to understand how something really works or functions with their updated knowledge at hand.

5 Good Scientists use a “recipe” to practice good science. You can also call it an "algorithm" or The Scientific Method – they're all synonyms for a methodical, step-by-step process, and nothing more, so don't let these terms intimidate you. Scientists start with an idea – say, that the world is round. Then they ask themselves, “Yeah, but how can I actually figure out if the world is round?” They think a little more, and suddenly it occurs to them, “Well, I suppose if the world is round, then if I just jumped in an airplane and flew in a straight line, eventually I’d end up right back where I started, right?” So they do just that, and lo-and-behold, after a long flight in a straight line in their own personal airplane, they ended right back up where they started. Now here’s the most important part of the recipe – they tell their straight-line flight story to someone else, say someone living in China, ask that person to do the same exact thing, and then compare their experiences. If the Chinese straight-line flight ended up right back where it started, then so far so good – this idea that the world is round sounds even more likely to be true. If that first scientists then had 10,000 more people from various parts of the world repeat the same exact steps (get in an airplane, fly in a straight line) and all 10,000 ended up back where they started, then the Scientist has just gathered 10,000 individual pieces of evidence that support his idea – that the world is round. Let’s now suppose that all 10,000 of those individuals either were never heard from again, or only a handful returned, reporting that they reached the end of the earth – a point where the waters of the oceans ended in one infinitely-deep waterfall – and turned around to come back home. If the scientist is a good scientist, he’ll think to himself, “Ok, maybe my original idea isn’t correct, or maybe I need to try and find a different way to discover if I’m right or wrong, something other than flying in a straight line.” He then devises another method of figuring out if the world is round (say, flying really, really high above it and seeing if it looks like a ball, or a flat piece of paper), has others repeat the same method, and compares results. This story illustrates the fundamental way science, good science, is supposed to work – come up with an idea, come up with a way to test if that idea is correct, and have as many other people repeat your exact steps and compare results. Take those results, learn from them, repeat the process. That’s it. It’s not fool-proof, and it is subject to human error and human ego, but it’s one of the best ways we’ve ever discovered to learn about ourselves, our environment, and our universe.

On Confederate Statues

Confederate Statues

Robert E. Lee In Emancipation Park, Charlottesville, VA


I’m not too concerned about the confederate statues coming down. I don’t have any significant skin in the game one way or another – I’m a white male, so I don’t feel subjugated by some bronze statue looming down at me, reminding me that I was at one time denied my freedom by the institution the statute seemingly represents. I’m also not a native Southerner, imbued with a feeling of historical and cultural significance towards The Confederacy and/or The South, with family and community legacies stretching back to that time.

“…this confederate statue issue is not, in reality, about history whatsoever…”I’ve read a little history – not nearly as much as some, but enough to understand that this confederate statue issue is not, in reality, about history whatsoever, regardless of what each side claims. The vast majority of those in favor of the statues are not in favor of racism, and instead hold a feeling of warmth and pride, of historical significance towards the statues, the same sort of nostalgic feeling one gets for something from childhood. Those opposed view the statues as nothing more than totems representing not just a time when they were persecuted, but that, by their continued existence, an assumed societal acceptance and endorsement of racism and hate… a small (or maybe not so small), persistent thorn in the back of one’s mind.

So the question to be considered is: what do these statues represent? Our natural inclination to this question is to first respond in an emotional way. When someone asks us this question, or makes a definitive statement in opposition to our opinion on the matter, we don’t dispassionately think, ‘this person is wrong because of X, Y, and Z.’ Instead we first feel something, an emotion, and a strong one probably, given the amount of unrest we’re experiencing. This emotional reaction then biases our argument. It puts a filter over our minds that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to objectively debate and, more importantly, see the argument from the perspective of the other party. Empathy becomes a casualty of this state of mind.

Now, I could argue that we should strive to think through our emotions, to not react to our feelings, and instead take a moment to let them subside, only then moving forward with the debate. We should all strive to do this, but I won’t make that argument today. The fact that we’re already embroiled in large-scale demonstrations, protests, vandalism, and even some violence is evidence enough that the time for calm, rational discussion has somewhat passed – there’s too much emotion, too much momentum to turn the tide. It’s become this thing with a life of it’s own. I’m not necessarily condemning this turn of events, i’m just calling it out for what it is – human nature. “…there’s too much emotion, too much momentum to turn the tide. It’s become this thing with a life of it’s own.”

So what we do now is make a decision. Each one of us individually. It’s obvious that the statues will come down. They already are. That’s the direction the tide is taking us. The decision left to us is how to respond to that tide. Is this a battle we should choose to take up? Should we swim with the tide, or against it? That’s obviously a question only you can answer for yourself, but just try, for this one moment, for the next 30 seconds, to put aside your emotions on the subject and think objectively. What is really, truly at stake here? What could the actual, real-life ramifications of the removal of Confederate statues result in? If tomorrow every objectionable statue vanished, in what way would the world be affected?

One group of people within our society would feel less culturally oppressed. It doesn’t matter if slavery has been legally abolished. It doesn’t matter if no one alive today was personally impacted by slavery. It doesn’t matter if ‘history’ teaches us that some Confederate statues are about more than slavery. These statues have become nothing more than symbols of racism and hate in our popular culture. That’s simply all that matters – the court of popular opinion rules supreme.

“But don’t we visit Museums for this very purpose, to be reminded of, and learn about, the past?”What will we lose if the statues come down? Yes, we’ll lose some cultural and historical mementos, some reminders of a time simply different from the ones we live in, for better or for worse. But don’t we visit Museums for this very purpose, to be reminded of, and learn about, the past? How many other publicly-displayed relics representing a different time do we have scattered throughout our society? Not many.

Putting aside all moral arguments, if you want a cold, pragmatic viewpoint of the situation, here it is: the removal of the Confederate statues will eliminate one grievance of a large swath of our society. The removal will eliminate one cultural reminder of division between different factions of our country. The removal will help to cull from our collective consciousness a time when there was a ‘lower class’ of citizen, and may help us as a country to move forward as a more united people.

“Somehow I doubt North Korea will take a break while we argue over some statues.”So much of the events in our society today come down to those things I outlined in ‘Charlottesville Unrest’ – we all simply want to feel safe, secure, and included in every facet of our lives – emotionally, financially, culturally. If we can take a step towards providing more of this for more of our citizens, or at least preventing the further spreading of division, then shouldn’t we? Especially when the solution doesn’t require solving any of the really hard problems we face today, such as unemployment, economic division, rising healthcare costs, rising educational costs, and a steadily-warming planet – not to mention the threat of Nuclear War. Somehow I doubt North Korea will take a break while we argue over some statues.

Reflections On Charlottesville

Charlottesville Unrest

I used to Live Here, Work Here, Relax here…


walked the exact spot this car plowed through quite a few times. I definitely second those that say this incident is in no way reflective of Charlottesville in general – it’s actually a great town, surrounded by beautiful countryside, with a diverse, inclusive, tolerant, and intellectual culture. This one incident does however perfectly highlight the larger divide in the Country as a whole – the divide between uber-conservative and uber-liberal, between rural and ‘cosmopolitan’, between those that want one type of America over another.

I think it’s important to remember that everyone’s opinions and beliefs are formed by nothing more than the sum of their experiences – by their upbringing, their community, their education, their family and friends, their co-workers, and the myriad other influences in their lives. It’s only natural – we all like to think we’re free from the sway of others, that we make our own decisions based on our own free will, and we’re certainly capable of this, but I would argue that very often, we simply don’t take the required time and effort to truly ask ourselves, ‘why do I believe this?’“I think it’s important to remember that everyone’s opinions and beliefs are formed by nothing more than the sum of their experiences” And that’s just step one – step two requires some emotional courage to face the answer to that question – the true answer (and deep down, you know if you’re being honest with yourself) – regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel. Regardless of how it might throw some fundamental assumptions about our lives and beliefs into question. Regardless of how it might radically challenge our very identities.

Of course, the above paragraph can be viewed as pointless navel-gazing… the product of having enough wealth and privilege to be afforded the time and education required for such reflection. The midwestern farmer or factory worker could care less about this ‘mushy-feely’ crap – they simply want something done about the fact that it’s harder and harder to make a living. But I think approaching every situation involving people, whether you’re a blue-collar worker or a Wall-Street millionaire – with the knowledge that we all truly want the same things – financial and emotional security, a sense of belonging, the knowledge that one’s way of life is solid and stable, the hope of a brighter future and a better day to come – provides us with a common foundation from which to base all our conversations and decisions on.

Don’t mistake me – none of this excuses any real-world actions taken by individuals whatsoever. We all must be held fully responsible for our actions. It’s one thing to hold certain beliefs – it’s another thing entirely to act on them. The man who drove his car into the Charlottesville crowd should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, along with any other violent protestors. I’m simply saying this way of thinking about people is a useful framework from which to try and understand one another and to build empathy for our fellow human beings. “We all simply want to feel safe, secure, loved, and included, and become frightened, combative, and angry when those things are threatened” The beauty of this ‘framework’ is that it applies to every person in the world, from that Wall-Street millionaire to a 9-year-old Afghani child to a taxi driver in Europe. We all simply want to feel safe, secure, loved, and included, and become frightened, combative, and angry when those things are threatened – or simply if we feel they’re being threatened. That’s it.

Ok, so what then? How do we take actual concrete steps to resolve the glaringly-obvious real-world problems that plague America today? I think first we cultivate the ‘framework’ I described above in ourselves, then we acknowledge that life is messy and that the one and only constant in the world is change. At any given point in time, there’s some amount of change occurring. Right now I would argue the amount of change we’re experiencing is significant. Economic change mostly, a widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots, or at least the perception of a widening gap, which, at the end of the day, is almost equivalent to actual change taking place. After all, we’re emotional and irrational beings at heart – to a large extent we act based on how we feel, not based on facts, unless we take the time to reflect. Acknowledging change, understanding and accepting that much of it is out of our control, and attempting to work with it, instead of against it, no matter how uncomfortable, is, in my view, a healthy and productive way to handle things.

I’m not suggesting we simply tell people to ‘get with the program’, take out huge loans to go to college, get a tech-related career, and move to a big city, although, to actively fight against what is very much a steamroll-type trend in our society akin to the industrial revolution might not be the most stress-free path to choose in life – rather I think a more balanced approach is appropriate. I’m suggesting those who know deep down their way of life is eventually coming to an end (the coal miner, the rural farmer, the oil-rig worker), take small steps to prepare themselves for the ‘new world’. This could mean taking a few Community College courses, reading a book on a subject they know nothing about, or taking 5 minutes to learn something – anything – about the culture of an immigrant. These small actions could result in positive, tangible outcomes for that individual’s future, as well as having a significant psychological benefit – actually doing something about the thing you’re worried about tends to make one feel better. On the other side of the coin, these individuals can, at the same time, advocate for their way of life – I know it’s a cliche, but they can get involved in the political process with local, state, and national elections. Simply attending a town-hall meeting, sitting in the back and not saying a word, is a huge positive step. “accept that some of this change is coming no matter what, and spend some of your resources on preparing for it. Pick and choose your battles… hedge your bets” Donating 5 bucks a month to a cause you believe in is a huge positive step. Trying to become more educated about issues is a huge positive step (although this only helps if you’ve learned a little about how to discern objective facts from what is simply someone’s opinion, but that’s a topic for another post). The point is, those whose way of life is changing need to accept this change to a certain extent – I’m not saying lay down and give up without a fight – but accept that some of this change is coming no matter what, and spend some of your resources on preparing for it. Pick and choose your battles… hedge your bets.

Conversely, those who enjoy economic and career security, and who feel they will for quite some time to come, have a bit of a responsibility to make the road to that lifestyle easier to traverse. This means advocating for policies that would accomplish things like lowering college tuitions, better healthcare for all, and removing other socio-economic barriers (gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), in all aspects of American life. Again, small steps can work wonders here, such as attending that town-hall meeting, learning the objective facts about the issues we face, and donating time and other resources to the cause, whatever that may be.

I know this is all pie-in-the-sky talk to some. Probably to most. The reality is that the vast majority of people whose way of life is threatened right now will bitterly cling tooth-and-nail to a bygone era, one that will certainly never return. They will actively choose to bury their heads in the comforting sands of ignorance. Most of those who enjoy privilege in life will continue to look down their snouts at the other half with barely-concealed (sometimes outright blatant) contempt and derision, maybe even actively participating in systems and constructs that further ensure their societal positions, and that make the path to success harder for those without. These are facts of human nature, things that have been with us since day one and that show no real sign of being eliminated anytime soon. And again, these behaviors and actions are a result of those individual’s experiences throughout life. But the shining ray of hope we can all cling to, regardless of which side you’re on, is that there is that small majority, on both sides, who continue to fight to change things for the better and create a new world for all. This isn’t just inspirational rhetoric I’m spouting, but rather something based on concrete evidence; history is full of examples of the minority (sometimes even the individual) affecting great change in the world.

I know it’s easy to think your small efforts don’t matter, that the deck is so stacked against you and your cause that you shouldn’t bother. The thing is, simply placing a sustained, continued pressure against that stacked deck, chipping away at it card by card, is all that’s required. Your efforts don’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be a ‘winner-take-all’ battle… life is messy and nothing is ever perfect or black-and-white. And that’s ok. As long as some of us continue to try, with honest, sincere efforts, then in the long run, things will be better. History has shown us that the overall trajectory of the human experience only improves, with horrible and tragic setbacks to be sure, but nonetheless, a happy ending is in store. It’s up to us to always try and make that happy ending all the more happy, for as many people as possible.