Which Side of History Would You Have Been On?

During my psychology class today, we watched a video (linked below) focused on morality that asked the straightforward question: would you have been a Nazi? It examined the thorny questions of “what is right” at different times in history, particularly when “right” was being defined by the majority in a way that later generations have definitely categorized as “wrong.”

It’s easy to look back at history and assume you would have been one of the “good guys.” Things break down when you try to decide which side of history future generations will look at you and know you were on.

The video rightly points out that people generally don’t do bad things if they know they’re bad. They do bad things because they have found reasons that justify the bad things they’re doing. A person who looks at someone being repressed and decides to take a stand to help that person in many ways is facing the same dilemma as a person who feels it would normally be wrong to do an action, but does it anyway for what they believe is the greater good. (This isn’t to say all people only act for the greater good. Plenty of people act in a way that benefits them the most.

So how do you know if the difficult decisions you’re making are the right ones or the wrong ones? (Hopefully this is making sense. It makes sense in my head, at least.)

A big takeaway I appreciated from the video is that you can look for red flags in the leadership of the various groups. Are they lying? How do they use information? Truth and facts are things that don’t change. They’re true regardless of who’s in power or what someone’s personal opinion is. If a regime is taking those facts and twisting them into lies, that’s a big warning sign. If they’re using those lies as the justification to get other people to do things, that’s even worse.

So one of the best traits to cultivate in yourself, in my opinion, is the ability to constantly reevaluate the choices and beliefs you have to see if you might be wrong. Just because everyone is doing something, or your parents did it, or you’ve always done it, doesn’t make it right, though it’s easy to fall into the habit of continually repeating what’s come before.

If you get into an argument with someone over something, and you realize the side you’re supporting is actually one you no longer support, it’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to admit you were wrong rather than digging in. Often this happens because the information we thought was accurate, turns out to be inaccurate. Just this past week, I got in a minor argument with someone over where Maine stood in relation to the Omicron wave. (Yes, I lead an interesting life. What can I say?) According to all the data I had, we were nowhere near the peak, because all the information I’d seen on positive cases lacked the huge spike that always came when Omicron arrived.

Then I found out that the state has a backlog of over 46,000 positive cases that it had yet to add to those official numbers. The spike was there; you just couldn’t see it yet. I made sure to reach out to the person in question and admit I was wrong. Getting in the habit of doing that with little things makes it easier to do with big things.

It’s also helpful to remember that no group has a monopoly on being right, and the more you buy into someone who says they do, the more you’re setting yourself up for big mistakes. Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Americans, Russians–all of them are ultimately right about some things, and all of them are wrong about some things. Blind obedience to any one group is a recipe for failure.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Stop Trying to Ban Books

Maybe it’s because I’m a librarian, but I’ve always had this general feel that there’s a consensus that book burning is a bad thing. At least, I’ve never heard anyone speak favorably of it, and whenever it’s come up in a conversation, it’s been used as an example of What Not To Do. This is likely because it’s fairly intrinsically tied to efforts by the Nazis, and most people still believe Nazis were Not Good.

However, it appears more and more people seem to believe banning books is not only not that bad, but actually pretty good. I’ve been following a number of these efforts across the country, and this article in The Guardian does a good job summing them up. In short, it seems some conservative groups backed by big dollars are taking a methodical approach to trying to get rid of books they’ve decided aren’t appropriate for children or young adults. They’re encouraging parents to take this to school boards across the nation, and many parents are answering the call.

I’d like to think most of these parents aren’t doing it because they have a thing against books, knowledge, and ideas. Rather, they’re doing it because they’ve bought into the scare tactics of these conservative groups, and have decided they need to get rid of these books so they can Protect the Children. (This at the same time hordes of children across the country have smartphones (or friends with smartphones) and thus have access to this little thing called “The Internet,” where they can learn and see and watch just about anything in the world they’d like to.

I assume the difference for these parents (in their minds at least) is that while the internet might be full of all sorts of things they disagree with, they don’t think their children are actively being guided to those things. Having books about sexuality or race in a school library, on the other hand, is setting their children up to have these ideas forced upon them. When I look at the lists of “inappropriate books” these groups have come up with, I start to see red.

The thing about banning books is that it’s a two-edged sword, even if you (for some strange bizarre reason) think it’s a good idea. What if other politically motivated groups got together to do their best to remove all books about Christianity from school libraries, because of separation of church and state? Or books about the founding fathers, because they were slave holders? I guarantee you that anything you think is important and sacrosanct, there’s someone out there who thinks it’s terrible.

I don’t want to ban any books, and neither should you. Efforts like this should send a chill down anyone’s back, if they value freedom and diversity of thought. I really (really) don’t want libraries to become the next political battlefield, with citizens getting into trench warfare around ideologies they think a library is or isn’t promoting. If you’re concerned about what your children might be reading, talk to your children. But the best way to get them to read something is often to tell them they can’t read it.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Giving a Series Time to Succeed

It’s a well known fact that I watch a fair bit of television. I like how consumable it is. How you can have a nice concise story told in under an hour, with a beginning, middle, and an end. (Typically.) Any while there are some shows out there that I’ll try for a bit and then just decide they’re not for me, I’m generally pretty forgiving for a show, at least for the first while.

A great television series is really hard to assemble. You have to get enough funding in the first place to get your series off the ground, and then you have to work with the producers (who often don’t share your exact vision) to create it the way you’d like it, and then you need to hope that enough people out there watch it and stay with it to justify a second season.

Ideally, that all works great right from the beginning. But that’s often not the case.

The first season of The Wheel of Time is a great example of this. I watched it, and I generally enjoyed it. Was it perfect? Definitely not. But it was intriguing enough that I’ll stick with it, especially since I know some of the issues I had with it were anything but self-inflicted. The finale felt especially rushed, but when you realize that the show was pitched as having 10 episodes (with a 2 hour premiere), you realize that the creators wanted to take more time with it as well. But The Powers That Be cut it short. Now that it’s been quite successful for Amazon, I’m hopeful the second season has a little more leeway to do what it’s trying to do.

People like to compare it to the already uber-successful Game of Thrones, but they forget that GoT took time to get to where it peaked. (I’m not going to argue about the last two seasons. I enjoyed them, though I felt they were rushed once again, this time apparently by an unfathomable desire by the creators to just finish the show and be done with it.) The show wasn’t nearly as well funded to begin with, and it ended up cutting corner as a result. It’s not like it started off able to show a fully rendered dragon attacking a wagon train, with all the special effects bells and whistles. It earned that by working up to it.

Evaluating the first season of a show by comparing it to a different show you loved might be somewhat useful, but ultimately it’s an unfair comparison. It’s sort of like saying a recent college graduate being told they really ought to get a better job because they aren’t making as much money as a forty year old.

So what would make me decide to give up on a show, and what would make me stick with one? The characters would be a big factor. If they’re relatable or intriguing, that goes a long way. The writing is huge: are the characters making decisions that are consistent with who they are? How is the dialogue? Are there people I can root for? The general conceit of the show is also a big factor. As long as the basic structure of the show is in place and sound, then I’m willing to forgive some fumbling along the way.

It was easier to do that when shows came out once a week, and bingeing wasn’t a thing. Now, it feels like people sometimes demand perfection right from the get go. Some of the shows that I’ve ended up loving, I didn’t love right off. The Wire is an excellent example. It took half the first season for me to really be intrigued, and then I was really turned off by the first few episodes of the second season. But there was enough there to keep me going, and I ended up loving the whole thing.

Right now, I just finished the second season of the Witcher. I’ve had issues with some of what it’s been doing. The timey-wimey-ness of the first season, and the seeming glee in reveling in obscure references and confusing plots are definite problems. But by the end, I felt like it had really found its footing and was some excellent television.

How about you? What makes you stick with (or abandon) a TV show?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On the Milgram Experiment

I’m trying a new experiment as a librarian this semester: attending a class as an embedded librarian. The thought is that by knowing exactly what a class is doing and learning, I can better help those students and the instructor with their research. It’s not something that I see myself doing multiple times for the same class, but so far, I think it might be very helpful to me (and to them) to do one class at a time, each semester. We’ll see how it plays out.

The class I’m taking is Intro to Psychology, and judging from the two sessions I’ve already attended, I think my biggest hang up is going to be that I just want to talk about so many of the things I’m learning, and I don’t have anyone to really get into them with. (As a librarian, I’m trying to keep my actual comments in class to a minimum, which–if you’ve attended a class with me–isn’t the easiest thing for me to do.)

However, I have this thing called a “blog.” And so my gut says you’re going to be hearing more about my thoughts on psychology for the next few months . . .

The focus of the last two classes has been on the Milgram Experiment. I assume many of you are familiar with it: two people are brought into a lab and told one will be a “teacher” and one will be a “learner.” The learner is taken to a different room, where they’re hooked up to a device that administers electric shocks. The teacher is in the first room, at the device that gives out those shocks. Every time the learner gets a question wrong on the material that’s being studied, the teacher gives the a shock. The shocks go up in intensity each time, capping off at 450 volts, which is marked on the machine with an XXX. To begin with, the teacher is given a taste of what the shocks feel like before it begins–about 100 volts.

The study was focused to see how far someone would go when they’re being told by an authority figure to do something. In reality, the “learner” was in on the study. No shocks were really given. But the “teacher” heard the learner yelp in pain, then complain loudly, then demand to be done as the shocks increased. Ultimately the learner went silent for unknown reasons, but the teacher was told to continue.

The expectation was that very few people would actually go much above 150 volts, choosing to defy authority rather than inflict pain. In reality, 2/3 of the teachers went all the way to 450 volts.

It’s an ethical minefield, obviously, but I’m not so focused on the ethics today as I am on the concepts around the study.

  • It’s easy to say to yourself, after having seen the study and knowing the results, that you would defy authority if you were placed in a similar situation. I would love to design a study that tested exactly that. Instruct people about the study, and then later on test them to see if they really would resist authority. Getting a pool of test subjects would be easy: every single intro to psych student probably hears about this study. Have them find out about it at the beginning of the semester, and then wait to do the study sometime in the middle of the semester, so it’s not too obviously connected. The big question is how you could design the study in a way that wouldn’t be too mentally hurtful to the students. My guess is that far more students would continue to obey authority, even knowing the results of this study. I really want to know, though. It’s so easy to learn about a study like this and think to yourself, “That would never be me.” But people are people, and you wouldn’t really know until you’re placed in a position that actually tests that.
  • We talked about the characteristics of the people who obeyed authority and who refused to obey. Things like income, gender, personality type, and religious affiliation didn’t seem to have any real impact on that one way or the other, and that didn’t really surprise me. In my experience, people are people. We might like to think of them in categories, but as soon as you’re dealing with an individual, all those categories often go out the window. (I’m looking forward to learning about studies where a person’s age, gender, income, etc. accurately predicts how they’re going to behave in a situation.) To me, knowing that those categories didn’t impact one’s obedience to authority simply backs up my opinion that stereotyping someone based on those characteristics is flawed. I would have liked to see a deeper study that looked at other factors: a person’s experience with authority previously, how religious a person is (rather than simply what religion they are), or their previous experience with electric shocks, for example.
  • We also went over the strategies people used to resist authority. How the ones who did managed to do it. I really wonder if knowing those strategies has an impact, however. When you’re actually in a position where you’re being told by an authority to do something you normally wouldn’t do, does it help to know in the back of your head some approaches to defy it? My gut says it wouldn’t, but my gut is often wrong . . .
  • On the lines of the ethics of the experiment, I thought about how willing so many people seem to be these days to enter a reality show that has absolutely horrible ethics. The best case I can think of is Space Cadets, the British show that duped a group of people into thinking they were going to space, only to let them know at the end that it was all a big joke to make them look like idiots. (Though of course they didn’t quite phrase it like that . . .) So the big question I have is if researchers could use a reality show to give accurate results somehow. The problem, of course, is that the best way to do this would be to have researchers be in on the creation of the show from the beginning, and as soon as you’ve done that, you’ve basically thrown ethics out the window. So what we really need is for some unethical Hollywood type to design a show that would give good results, and then do it anyway. I’m sure there’d be no lack of volunteers . . .

Anyway, it’s been an interesting couple of classes, and I’m really excited to see what comes next. If you want to know more about the Milgram Experiment, you can watch The Experimenter on Amazon Prime. (Or you can sign up for intro to psychology.)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

When Two Wrongs Make a Right

It’s been a tough couple of years for everyone, right? Right. And I’ve mentioned multiple times how I’ve been off my game for the past while. This has resulted in some lapses that I normally just don’t make. The last little bit, I realized I had made two fairly large goofs that were going to cost me some significant money.

Through my job, I put aside $2,750 each year to spend on medical bills through a Flex Spending Account. This is good for tax reasons, but it comes with a couple of stipulations. First, you have to voluntarily re-enroll each year. If you forget to sign up, you don’t get to do it. That’s normally not a problem. I get a reminder each November, and I’ve re-enrolled every year like clockwork.

Until 2021, when I somehow completely spaced it and didn’t re-enroll. (I blame my kitchen.) This meant I wouldn’t have the chance to get the tax benefits, but I wasn’t too terribly upset about it, because I didn’t think those benefits would be too much. (Actually, we can calculate what they would have been. It basically knocks that money off the top of what you earned, so the IRS treats it as if you didn’t earn it, which means it’s not taxed. At my tax bracket, it would have been taxed 22%, which means that by forgetting to do it, I lost $605. It’s not insignificant, and I definitely wasn’t happy about it, but I tried not to beat myself up over it too much.

However.

As I tried to remember through the mists of 2020 and 2021, I couldn’t for the life of me remember submitting a claim for my 2020 flex spending account money. Each year, we just put in a claim in April to get reimbursed for everything we spent the year before, which is always enough to get all our money back. But FSAs are a “use it or lose it” tool. If you don’t get reimbursed for something, then you don’t get the money back from that year. A small amount can typically rollover, but other than that, you’re out of luck.

If I hadn’t submitted a claim, then I would be out $2,750 for that who year, bringing the grand total of my blunders around FSAs to $3,355. That, my friends, is a number that I just can’t let slide. That’s a really boneheaded amount of money to just pour down the drain. And yet yesterday, it looked like that’s just what I had done. I got a letter from my FSA account company that confirmed I hadn’t put in a reimbursement for 2020.

I was, needless to say, not very happy for myself. I read the letter, and then decided to just not think about it until today, because I was too depressed about the loss to face it right away.

Today, however, I cowboyed up and looked into the matter some more. Was there any way I could get some of that money back? It never hurts to ask, right?

Well, after some googling and a few phone calls, I discovered the truth. Because of the pandemic, Congress had altered the rollover rules around FSAs to make it so that your 2020 amount rolled over into 2021, and it could also rollover into 2022. What does this mean for me? It means that while I can’t be reimbursed for any of my 2020 expenses, I can be reimbursed for 2022 expenses, even though I didn’t sign up for the FSA plan for this year. Actually, if I’d signed up like I should have, then I would have had to spend $5,500 this year to get all my money back.

So in the end, by forgetting to sign up for my FSA in 2022, I countered the mistake I made in 2020 of not getting reimbursed.

Mind you, it still means that I’ll lose about $600 in taxes for 2022. The best thing to do would have been to do it right in 2020, 2021, and 2022. But at this point, I’m just grateful to be able to get the money back that I put in. I’ll take my wins where I can get them.

Thanks, Congress! I give you a hard time a lot of the time (deservedly), but you really bailed me out this time, and I appreciate it.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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