Dan Lovell and I sat in a basement conference room and got deep on media and the presidential election. Then it gets very music nerd. This is a sequential conversation; if you missed the first two parts, you should listen to those first (Part 1 | Part 2). Enjoy!
Demonstrations last week in Charlotte in the wake of the shooting of a black man by a police officer were not unexpected. Our memories are short, but not that short. We haven't forgotten what happened in Ferguson. Or Baltimore. Or Minneapolis. Or New York. Or Baton Rouge.
The details of this shooting are a little different, if I understand correctly.
The police officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott is black. That doesn't mean he isn't a racist. It doesn't mean anything. It's just different.
Scott may have been armed, too. Initial reports were that he was. That doesn't mean he was illegally armed. It doesn't mean he was threatening. It doesn't mean he wasn't. It's just different.
Different from Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Philando Castile and maybe a little more like Alton Sterling.
While the demonstrations aren't surprising, I'm starting to view them differently. In a get out your tin-foil hats sort of way.
Before we get any farther, I think we should look at #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMater, because this is important, and it's not evident to everyone.
I've seen the difference best described in this analogous situation. It's not mine. It made the rounds on Facebook and I have no idea where I saw it. If you know, please comment so I can give the originator some credit.
The short version is this: Missing from the hashtag is an implied "too". Now, the long version.
Imagine a family with eight children. You probably know one. Dinner time's a little chaotic. Mom, Dad and eight kids. Imagine you're the six-year-old. Mom's dishing out food, but skips over you, giving everyone else an equal amount.
You start to complain, obviously. Dad gets angry.
"But, Dad, I deserve my fair share," you say.
"That's selfish," he replies. "Everyone deserves their fair share."
You didn't mean other people shouldn't have their fair share, that only you should have your fair share. From where you're sitting, watching everyone eat, everyone already has their fair share, and you want yours, too.
You didn't say, "I deserve my fair share, too," you just assumed that Dad recognized everyone already had theirs, since they're eating and you're not.
That's the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. The #BLM movement looks around and sees that everyone else's life appears to matter, every life except black lives. The movement doesn't believe that only black lives matter. It believes that it's apparent other lives matter, and that black lives matter, too.
Now, let's move on. At its heart, #BLM is looking for institutional change — or at least it appears that's the goal. There doesn't seem to be any unity of vision around that goal, but it's still a young movement.
Example: Early in the campaign, demonstrators broke up a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. For all the lip service everyone else paid the black community, Sanders is the only one seen in photographs marching with Martin Luther King Jr. He's the only person who was running for president this time out who has actually demonstrated for black lives, and demonstrators sent him home, too.
If you want to make waves in an oligarchic republic, you basically have two moves: Make friends in high places or burn everything down and start over. This was a guy who was demonstrably on their side and in a position to help, and demonstrators took to a bully pulpit.
That feels a lot like burning a bridge. He could have spent months backing them on the election trail; he could still do something for the movement as a Senator with an increased profile.
Now go get your tin-foil hats, because there was some weird stuff going on Wednesday night in Charlotte.
Things got a little out of hand during the evening. I watched, on CNN, as demonstrators injured a cameraman and broke windows on businesses. Someone said protesters were beating up patrons at a hotel who came to the lobby to look on, since they couldn't leave.
When I got back from my break, about 1:30 a.m. (Thursday morning, technically), there were five types of people left on the streets of Charlotte: (1) Police; (2) Journalists; (3) Dude-bros in shorts and hoodies taking cell phone photos and videos of the destruction; (4) Drunk people smiling and waving at the cameras as last call approached and (5) Peaceful demonstrators (seriously peaceful and organized; if you didn't know any better they would have looked like a Zumba class on the sidewalk).
I'm guessing police didn't manage to round up and arrest the entirety of the aggressive bunch, and I'm guessing they didn't all look at their watches and say, "It's almost midnight; I'd better get home."
I'm not saying the government bussed in a bunch of agitators to make everybody look bad and then bussed them back out when viewership declined on the east coast, but that's starting to sound more and more plausible every time something happens.
And what about police behavior? With people breaking windows and throwing bricks and tossing tear gas canisters at police, the only person who was shot Wednesday night appears to have been shot by a civilian, not an officer, which means that there were guns in the crowd amidst the chaos.
As a CNN commentator noted, police can handle riots without shooting anybody but they can't pull a Taser instead of a gun when confronting someone on the street? I don't know. It's high-stress all around and I've never been in the situation from either side, but it seems strange that when you turn on the cameras and show us basically a militarized zone for the night, nobody gets hurt, but put an officer in an "everyday" situation (for a police officer, I guess), and it keeps ending badly, it feels like something more conspiratorial is going on.
The US Military requires more documentation of escalation that leads to foreign combatants' deaths (including proof that the deceased was properly identified as a combatant before engagement) than many of our cities require of police. I'm not sure that's a good thing.
Now here's the hard part.
#BLM clearly wants institutional change. I have a general understanding of what the result of that looks like, but I have no understanding of the steps between demonstrating visibly on the streets instituting change where it can make a difference.
I do know that it has to be through some combination of emotion and numbers, and there doesn't appear to much overlap. Yes, the majority of people killed by police are still white. But yes, 26 percent of people killed by police are black men, while black men only make up 6 percent of the general population. But black men are also disproportionately in prisons — and are disproportionately poor, under-educated and under-employed. These things are related.
If you want to hear the problem we have mixing the two, listen to a very drunk Hannibal Burress (a black comedian who was drinking on a comedy podcast and then got roped into a political discussion by dint of still being in the room) talk about #BLM with a sober Sam Harris (a white neuroscientist and moral philosopher) in episode 52 of #WTPLive [ - Google Play]. It's sloppy and a little embarrassing at times, but it makes the point that this requires both logical thinking and empathy, and this movement may be too young to allow the two to meet.
Dan Lovell and I sat in a basement conference room and got deep on media and the presidential election. Then it gets very music nerd. This is a sequential conversation; if you missed Part 1, you should listen to that first, and when you're done with this one, go listen to Part 3. Enjoy!
The rabbis tell the story of a student of the seer of Lublin, a wise and religious man.
The student decided that in order to be closer to God, he would fast (no food or water) from the end of one Sabbath (Saturday at sundown) to the beginning of the next (Friday at sundown).
As the next Sabbath approached, the student was very thirsty, and, as he walked to his teacher's house to welcome the Sabbath, he passed a well. He stopped at the well, and then told himself, "If I have a drink of water now, I will have wasted the rest of the week." He walked away without a drink.
As he continued his journey, the student felt proud of himself, and recognizing the sin of pride, rushed back to the well, saying, "better I should fail in my fast than to feel pride." When he got back to the well, however, he was no longer thirsty, and continued on to his teacher's house without taking a drink.
When he arrived, the seer admonished him for his patchwork approach to getting closer to God. "You should go into your fast with unity of soul."
This translates so well into our want-to-do-everything world. Beyond #FOMO ("fear of missing out"), we have a problem wherein we want to be seen as so many different things — indeed to do so many different things.
It's fine to do a lot, but do it with unity of vision. Do it with a sense of purpose. Do everything with an eye toward being your best you. And if something is leading you away from that path, stop doing it. Now.
Want to know if you're on the right track here? Open your calendar. What did you do last week? The week before? What's there for the next week? How about the week after? Ask why about everything that's on there. Can you come up with an answer that makes sense to you? If not, maybe consider reconfiguring your calendar a little.
Start saying no to stuff that you feel like you have to do but that don't suit your purpose. Be one with you.
A photo posted by Bert Kreischer (@bertkreischer) on
Sometimes I listen to a podcast with the expectation that it's going to be really fun, and instead of laughing a lot, I find myself saying, oh no, now I need to listen to this again with pen and paper nearby.
Comedian Robert Kelly was on Bertcast — the podcast of comic and Travel Channel personality Bert Kreischer — and it really turned into something you need to hear.
Here are my takeaways from the episode:
• Help your friends out, but also hold them accountable
• Know the things you want and need to be your best — and demand them
• Learn how to cut off the fat
• Learn how to say no
• Don't say anything you can't take back (Kelly is sometimes on Comedy Central's "Roast Battle," a show on which the point is to make fun of other comics; the lesson here is some things are off-limits — know how you can tease people, but know what's too far)
• Spontaneity isn't always good
• Don't put in the work if the payoff isn't there
• Hard work is hard
• We are in a period of excellence and variety
• Don't let emotion get the better of you
• What is your peak? Are you willing to keep going on the other side of it?
• Sometimes it's worth the risk
• It's worth doing exactly what you want, but do it for you, and do it your way
• You don't know where it's going, but it's definitely not going anywhere if you don't do it to your expectations
• Not everybody is going to be a rock star
• Have measured expectations
• Be realistic about where you are
• Try to be better
• Do what you do; you ever where it's going to get you
• Don't let expectations weigh you down
• In a saturated market, how do you stand out?
• You're worth what you're worth. If you get $X and someone's only offering $y, you can still love them honestly but say no
• Don't jump in a big pond just to be a small fish. Kelly's actual quote: "Why do I want to be the pepper in your chop suet? People want chop suet; they don't care what's in it."
• It's up to you if you stay or go – not the audience, not your mother, not anyone else
• Bring people with you
In 1871, Otto von Bismarck engineered the unification of Germany. When he was forced out of power in 1897, he said that things would probably start to collapse within 20 years, and that a European war would probably break out thanks to "some damned foolish thing in the Balkans."
In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria decided to go check out the provinces and hold a parade on a day of national significance to the colonized Serbs. He was assassinated, and World War I broke out, which led to World War II.
This is not to say von Bismarck was a miracle worker or could predict the future. He merely understood the context of the situation.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy pulled a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Territory (Hawaii was not yet a state). The attack marked America's entry into World War II.
It also marked the beginning of the end of the America First Committee, a large anti-war group that shut down on December 10 of that year.
This wasn't the tie-dyed hippie peace, love and understanding anti-war movement we all know from movies about Vietnam. And it wasn't the "hate the war, love the troops" anti-war groups we know from the more recent American wars.
This was a "we're white Protestant Americans, screw everybody else" group. They were hard-left isolationists. They wanted to make sure America didn't bail out Europe (you know, again, like after the first World War). They wanted America to turn away Jews fleeing the Holocaust. They wanted to shut the borders, cut off aid, and rely on homegrown everything — avoid all international trade as long as possible.
This was an organization claiming 850,000 paid members. 850,000 people who wore pins and carried signs and hung posters that said "America First."
So you'll forgive me if I can't get behind Republicans using "America First" this campaign cycle.
Significantly, we'll remember the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor a month after the presidential election.
If you think I'm being over-sensitive about this context, look back on how World War I got started: A government official went into a territory that wanted to be independent without being cognizant of the history of the date he picked.
Context is everything.
What is context?
It's content outside of of a vacuum.
Think of a rainbow. On a t-shirt. A purple t-shirt.
In the 1950s, nobody would have made that t-shirt. It didn't mean anything to anyone. Now, it'd be popular, especially with a particular segment of the population. Why? Context.
A Red Sox cap would have meant nothing to anyone in 1840. "Why is there a 'B' on your cap, sir?"
When Kelvin and I started our podcast, we started with the premise, "A black guy and a Jew walk into a bar."
We can use that premise not just because we are a black guy and a Jew who occasionally enjoy going to a bar when we're in the same town, we can use it because of some context.
First of all, "a [blank] and a [blank] walk into a bar" is a common setup for jokes, so it has some cultural meaning.
Secondly, we're not sensitive about our cultural identifications — our "othernesses."
If you were to randomly walk up to a black guy and a Jew and greet them as such — "HEY! It's a black guy and a Jew!" — you'd better hope they have good senses of humor.
That's context, and it's important.
The Selfie Stick would have sold horribly in the 1980s. Nobody was taking selfies.
Marketing? Maybe. Timing? Maybe. Cultural context? For sure.
While I'm not a proponent of "political correctness," I'm also not a proponent of hurting people intentionally to prove a point. But above all, I'm a proponent of understanding context. If you don't understand context, you don't get to criticize people for feeling how they feel.
For instance, you don't get to tell Dana Schwartz she's overreacting when someone calls her a "filthy oven-dodger" if you don't have the context of people trying to kill everybody like you.