Sunday, November 24, 2013

In A Just World (Fallacy)

So, it's another day, and another Facebook meme to undermine.

One thing that gets under my skin like you wouldn't believe are appeals to "common sense." What I've found about "common sense" is that "common sense" is little more than thought-terminating cliche. Who defines what's "common?" I consider it "common sense" to acknowledge the world isn't 10,000 years old. Clearly, I'm an outlier in the United States. Despite my "common sense" having plenty of scientific evidence to back it up, it's not exactly "common."

Today, I plan to tackle one of those "common sense" memes that seems so popular on Facebook - 10 quotes, often attributed to Bill Gates, that you may have seen before. This stuff seems so elementary - but it's also wrongheaded and assbackwards.

This is 10 rules that Bill Gates supposedly enumerated. The text says that he nailed it on the head - but if these are indeed his quotes, this is just another example of wealthy privilege. In fact, almost the entire thing is privilege blind. Allow me to show you exactly how, starting backwards:

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one. 

Yes and no. This is supposedly a power fantasy all nerds have; to lord over the jock that tormented them in high school. But let's take a step back for a second and show just how dated this actually is: nerd culture and geek culture has become mainstream culture. Computers, gaming, science fiction and fantasy - these things have traditionally been the hallmarks of nerd culture and have since integrated themselves into mainstream culture. They're part of the culture that everyone takes a role in. True, things like cosplay and Pen & Paper RPGs aren't as widespread as, say, MMORPGs and computer games, but the line between who is and isn't a nerd isn't so clear anymore. So while yes, you may end up working for someone who has nerd-like hobbies, chances are, they're probably not a nerd themselves. Likewise, just because you immerse yourself in that culture doesn't guarantee you'll wind up at the top anymore - it takes a lot more than knowledge to get to the top of anything (which I'll discuss shortly).

In the short of it, you should be nice to everyone, not just nerds or geeks. But chances are, you'll end up working for some CEO who doesn't give a damn about your personal health or well-being, caged in a corporate structure everyone could make run better but nobody at the top is willing to change.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and get jobs.
I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who even thought that. Most teens have jobs now by the time they're in their late teens; when I was doing my student teaching, about a quarter of my seniors all had jobs working at McDonald's or some other soulless corporation. The rest of them were working at school, which is a job in and of itself. I suppose I could see some middle class kid thinking this, but you know what? Not everyone is middle class. Not everyone has a television. Not everyone has the money to sit around in coffee shops. Most people, most teens, are working.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time. 

It's nice to know we expect teenagers to automatically know who they are and what they want out of life. By a show of hands, how many of you superpeople out there knew what you wanted to do when you were 15 or 14 and pursued it? For the people rushing to the comments to prove me wrong, remember that I know we can be anything we want to on the Internet: in short, I don't believe you. So do we automatically expect students to know? Most adults still don't know who they are, and die without knowing what they want out of a life they never got to live.

Also, I thought professional development was intended to try and help you learn more about yourself. That seems to be what a lot of the professional development I attend is for, anyway. Learn about yourself so you can learn more about others. Empathy, sympathy, and other positive emotions require understanding who you are first, and without those, you end up with crappy employees since they can't relate to the customers. Maybe employers would benefit, huh?

No, life isn't divided into semesters. It's divided into financial quarters, instead. And there's no difference. And just to show how dated and cultural-centric this is, I'm curious how the person quoted feels about year-round school, since there's a few in my area. And I support year-round school. You know who doesn't? Big businesses. There's another feature of you life that you'll need to get used to: big businesses writing the rules for you and controlling everything you do.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and give you as many times as you want in order to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
It doesn't? What about the big banks? What about the golden parachutes and the CEOs, wealthy and powerful as they are, who fuck things up and move from one company to another grinding it into the dirt? This sound be amended: it doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life if you're poor. Because if you're rich, you can buy extra lives. And don't even get me started on famous people, who get as many times as they need to kick that drug habit because they're wealthy.

Also, where the hell does this meme come from, anyway? I've been in multiple schools and I've never seen them abolish winners and losers. I've seen them give certificates to everyone who participated, but kids aren't stupid. They know there's a difference. They know that it's not the same thing. I've also never heard of schools abolishing failing grades. I know that they'll inflate grades and pass students who probably shouldn't be passed, but that's got nothing to do with the student and everything to do with NCLB and the way our idiot Federal Government treats school funding (the more students who pass, the more money your school gets. The fewer that pass, the less money your school gets, so you have even less to help them with. Combine that with the fact that schools are typically financed by local property taxes, it leads to a nasty situation where in poorer districts schools can't get money and in wealthier ones they can. Money is the difference here, good on the author of the quote for noticing that and pointing it out like a boss). Finally, students are learning new concepts. Sometimes, concepts have to be explained to them in different ways. Nice to know we automatically expect them to get it the first time around when it's explained in exactly one way.

Life doesn't work that way, jackass.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you were. So before you save the rainforests from the parasites of your parents generation, delouse your own closet first.
This pisses me off beyond words. This is just another downward strike at the Millennial generation; another excuse made by Baby Boomers to justify the fact that they're leaving a broken world to us. And they had it to us with this smug ass look on their motherfucking faces saying that we need to delouse our own closet before we blame them (rightly) for fucking up the world, and try to stop them from doing it even further with this fracking nonsense, the Keystone XL pipeline, and blocking the implementation of green energy resources. It ain't Millennials in government doing this, folks. They're all baby boomers or Gen-Xers.

I have never heard a student talk about how cool they were. That flies in face of what I know about child psychology; teenagers are extremely self conscious and they're confused about who they are and what they want to be. They'll talk about how cool some of their friends might be, and how cool some new subculture might be, but I have never, ever heard a single one talk about how cool they are. Does this mean that they don't exist? No. We deal with egomaniacs all the time in society - the person who wrote these quotes is a good example of an egomaniac. But you know what? That's a beautiful strawman of the Millennial generation. Way to fuck up the world, destroy the economy, instigate trickle-down Reagan voodoo-economics bullshit and then blame the people who had no role in it because they can't do what you did, when you already destroyed what was there. You pulled the ladder up. This is your fucking fault.

Oh, but there's a rule against this later, so we'll save the rest of this for that particular rule.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it is not your parent's fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
After reading Rule 7, which effectively blamed the Millennials for the current state that we're in, this is a slap in the face. Most adults, Millennial and otherwise, take responsibility for their own actions. Unless, you know, they're CEOs. Or senators. Or preachers. Or wealthy people. Or politicians. Then they can whine about their mistakes and they'll be forgiven, or they blame their mistakes on other people. Do you know what that group has in common? Hmm?

*Bzzt* Time's up. They're usually Baby Boomers.

 And you can blame your parents for your lot in life. If your parents were abusive, if you parents didn't bother to help you, if your parents weren't there for you for some reason or another (for instance, they abandoned you, they kicked you out because you were gay, they were quiverfull cultists who had you raised by your older siblings, etc), you can blame them. Their job is to help you. Being a parent is not an easy job. Especially if your parents are financially abusive.

Maybe jackass making the quote has confused "my mistake" with "my lot in life." Because whoever is making these quotes is likely White, Wealthy, Cissexual, Heterosexual, and Male, and probably Christians (some Protestant), it wouldn't surprise me. It's always nice when society hands you everything on a silver platter. It makes it that much easier to spit on those less fortunate than you.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it an opportunity.
Recall I said above most teens I knew when I was doing my student teaching had a job of some kind. I knew two or three who explicitly told me they worked at McDonald's. Clearly, this is aimed at a different population than the students I knew.

Oh, but let's take another look at his toxic little rule. See, while it may not be "beneath your dignity", it doesn't pay a living wage. And when you have a family to raise, and when you have those bills to pay, and when you have medical issues you have to treat, it's a ridiculously poor job choice - it means you have to work two or three other jobs in order to make ends meet. They may have called it an opportunity, but an opportunity for what? Not advancement. You aren't advancing anywhere without a college degree.

Oh, and yes, let's talk about that college degree for a second. If you already have a degree, there's no reason to be working at a fast food restaurant. You went to school to get a degree so you wouldn't have to. And yet, here you are, working here. This isn't "opportunity." It's a slap in the fucking face. I have students loans I have to pay off, because I got a degree thinking I could avoid this and yet, here I am, trapped here. Shove your corporate-sponsored optimism; I'm not even making enough to pay off my loans, I'm not making enough to survive, and then the very same type of asshole who reads this quote and believes it comes back around and tells me I'm a deadbeat and I have no ambition in life, because all you need are Bootstraps(tm) in order to pull yourself up.

Fast food is not an opportunity. It's a dead end. And there are thousands of adults, with families, working at this dead end. Burger flippoing is a soulless, thankless job that pays shit. This isn't an opportunity. The type of person who says this is an opportunity looks at McDonald's infamous minimum wage budget and thinks that's a reflection of reality.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.
Yes and no again. You have to bust your ass to get your teacher fired for unfair behavior. It's a lot easier to report an abusive boss to HR and get them removed (usually; not always. In fact, "easy" here is relative). What's more, you have protections against your boss - Unionization is designed for that purpose. Students can't unionize against abusive teachers, they have to rely on the administration and their parents, and if neither cares, your life is going to be hell for a good long time.

Of course, the kind of person who said this quote is probably the kind of person who is against unions and unionization. Likely for that reason - because they're so fucking delusional they believe that  tough boss is a good thing.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a phone and a car until you earn both.
Uh, I knew students who had both a phone and a car, because they worked, and because they paid for both. So fuck you.

This needs an addendum: not only will you NOT make $60,000 right out of high school, if you pick the wrong degree program going into college, you'll never see that salary in your entire life. If you were born in the wrong area, if you were born to the wrong people, if you were born the wrong color, the wrong race, your chances of improving your conditions are hideously small. People born in poverty tend to stay there. My generation is the first generation that hasn't done better than their parents. And I wonder if that has something to do with so many of us coming of age during the middle of a economic recession - caused, I might add, by Baby Boomers who learned all of jack shit from their parent's experience during the Great Depression.

If you're poor, you might as well not even try. For every one person you show me who success I can show you a hundred more who didn't. When your odds are 100:1, it's time to rethink how you do things, right?

I also want to note how toxic this is: you're wealthy if you have a phone and a car. Think about that metric of wealth for a second. I have both. I don't own my own home, I live with my parents, and I make $15,000 dollars a year, give or take. And I can't find a different job. I. Am. Poor. but I have both a phone and a car. And I have a computer (which is paid off) and a laptop (paid off) and an iPod (paid off). All these electronics are over three years old. I. Am. Poor. And you're a fucking moron if you're going to argue with me about that; I could sell those things, but then I'd be poor AND I wouldn't have anything to communicate to the outside world with. What am I supposed to be, living on the street, totally removed from society, so you never have to see me or hear my voice?

Fuck you.

And I'm well off compared to others. Let's not use owning a phone and owning a car as metric of wealth, shall we? Because simply having these these things does not make you wealthy or well off. How about ownership of a private jet, or a yacht, or your very own United States senator. Those are better metrics of wealth. And I bet the person who wrote this has all of those things - a private jet, a yacht, their own United States Senator, and yes, even a phone and car.

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
That's right, you're dog shit before you accomplish anything. I can safely vouch that this is exactly how it is. In fact, you're dog shit even if you do accomplish something. I can read and write three languages (English, Old English, Portuguese, French), with modicum of self-taught fluency. I can put quantum theory into laymens terms. That's pretty impressive. I can explain things like trans-Planckian space to you without confusing you. That's pretty impressive. I'm still dog shit. And I'm dog shit since because it's not what you know or what you can do that get you anywhere in life. Accomplishing something doesn't make the world treat you better, since it's not what you can do, and its not what you know, but who you know and who gets you into the proper places with the proper contacts.

I also take issue with this notion that schools coddle their students. Gay students know all too well that their self-esteem doesn't matter. Intersex and Trans* students will know all to well that their very existence doesn't matter, and that the world not only doesn't care, it'd rather they not exist at all. No matter what they accomplish, it will still treat them like dog shit, because of who they are. Students and children who are raped - especially teenage girls - are often blamed for their attack. The schools don't care about their self-esteem. The school doesn't even care they're victims. But you know who the school does coddle, and does care about?

The athletes. The football players, the sports stars. The school cares about them. And so does the rest of society. That's why they can rape girls and post pictures online and the media bemoans these poor boys losing their future.

Oh, wait. I guess the world does care. So long as you're the right type of person, that is.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Why is life not fair?

I'll tell you something. If everyone just accepted this, there would be no Women's liberation. There'd be no Civil Rights movement. There'd be no movement for marriage equality. There'd be no equality movements at all.

Humans are the only ape - literally, we are the only ape - that justifies continued unfairness perpetuated by society. Chimpanzees? They quite games if they see their fellows aren't being treated equally. Bonobos? Same thing. Baboons, the lesser apes, and monkeys? Yep, them too. Only humans will justify the Just World Fallacy by beating people down, telling them that the world isn't fair and they should just get used to it the way that it is, rather than saying "the world's not fair - let's try to change it so it is more fair."

Do you want me to tell you why life isn't fair?

Because there are bullies at the top; sociopathic bullies with a vested interest in making sure they stay there, and nobody else can get up there to meet them. So they do everything they can to make sure that everyone understands that "this is just how it's supposed to be."

No. No, fuck that bullshit, no.

The world can never be absolutely fair. Life will never be absolutely fair. But that doesn't mean you have to accept it. That doesn't mean you have to sit here and say, "Oh, well, I have to accept all these other rules as truth because some rich bastard told me the world isn't fair."

That's what this entire list amounts to, by the way. It's nothing more than extended rant, an attack a poor and underprivileged people by someone utterly blind to the fact that society has handed them everything. It's a sad attempt to justify the Just World Fallacy.

And there's a reason that's a fallacy.

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