When Everything Is Controversial, We All Lose

I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when society has felt more divided. We play the “both sides” game with seemingly every topic that enters into our consciousness. This debate club approach to public discourse isn’t completely without benefit, because in theory, it’s a good thing to engage and listen to people who have different perspectives than you. But in practice, there is no denying that the way we talk to each other about sensitive issues has resulted in a lot of vitriol.

The thing that really bugs me about this is that not every subject we discuss this way should be treated as debatable. When I tell you that 2+2=4, there’s no reasonable human being that would come back at me with, “Well actually, 2+2=Tangerine.” Obviously, sociopolitical issues are never as cut and dry as an arithmetic problem, but we’ve been pitted against one another to such a degree, that it feels like we’ve lost the ability to agree on ANYTHING. And lemme tell ya folks, that’s a big problem.

The best example I can think of to illustrate this is the “controversy” surrounding climate change. Let’s start with a basic, indisputable fact. At least 97% of scientists agree that warming trends in climate are real and increasingly dangerous, and that human activity is the leading contributor to that trend. It takes a pretty convincing argument to get 97% of any group of people to agree on anything. Yet somehow, instead of saying “Ok, this is a problem. How do we address it?” we can’t seem to get past the first part – the acceptance of the problem.

The arguments supporting the idea that decades of peer-reviewed science are either wrong or made-up range from questionable to laughable. My favorite is the one where the position is that scientists are getting paid to manipulate their research into supporting the “climate change agenda.” If it were true that the science community could be paid off, best believe that wealthy oil companies and the like would have been making it rain in nerd town for years now.

While picking a battle with science may be dumb and silly, it still isn’t the most disheartening category of angry debate that we have. The Trump era in politics has introduced a concept that many of us had never heard of before, but now has become a common term in our vernacular. I’m referring to the idea of gaslighting. The basic premise is that one side of a debate encourages the other to ignore evidence that supports their argument even if it’s in plain sight. In other words – specifically the words of the President himself – “What you’re seeing…is not what’s happening.”

This is literally the tactic taken by conspiracy theorists. It’s enraging, but the scary part is, it’s effective. Being told over and over again that you can’t trust your own eyes and ears can make you feel like a crazy person. You might even find yourself acquiescing to ideas that you vehemently disagree with just because it’s easier than trying to argue with someone who’s not operating on the same playing field as you.

The best way to deal with someone engaging you in this way is to shut the conversation down, because they don’t actually have any interest in hearing what you have to say. Their goal is not to have a discussion, it’s to WIN the discussion. The problem is that nowadays this method is being used frequently by people with massive platforms. You have no choice but to take them seriously, because their captive audiences certainly will. Whether we’re talking about Donald Trump or someone like Tucker Carlson, just shrugging them off somehow isn’t good enough.

We can have substantive, thoughtful arguments about the best way forward for healthcare or taxation or immigration. But if we can’t agree that putting babies in cages is royally fucked up, how are we supposed to move any conversation forward? How can we address the best way to fix the tax bracket if your opinion is that poor people are poor because they’re lazy and they deserve it? It’s like being handed a giant turd along with some eggs and flour and being asked to make carrot cake out of it.

It would take an entire thesis paper to address the multitude of reasons explaining how we got here, but there is one thing that seems to be a given. Media, in all its forms, is broken. And honestly, I’m not even sure it can be fixed. There’s so much money invested in the success of 24-hour cable news networks that cater their programming more to supporting confirmation bias of their viewers than delivering nuts and bolts news coverage. That’s a big issue no matter which side of the political aisle you subscribe to.

There may be no better indicator that the media is not prepared to handle a figure like Donald Trump in the White House than seeing well-respected news publications having such a hard time labeling the things he says and does for what they are. What I mean by this is that when the President calls for an outright ban of Muslims entering the country, or refers to a group of neo-Nazis as “very fine people” while framing Mexicans as criminals and rapists, that kind of talk is not racially charged. It doesn’t have racial undertones. It’s fucking RACIST. But instead, they’ll continue to handle him with kid gloves, even though he should have lost the benefit of that doubt before he ever even took the oath of office.

The rise of social media has unleashed this Pandora’s box where everyone has been handed a platform. This is conflicting for me, because my platform (small though it may be) can be largely contributed to my presence on social media. That’s especially true at this stage of my career where I’m no longer affiliated with a large media conglomerate. I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t be reading this right now if it weren’t a link you could click on someone’s Facebook or Twitter page.

The problem is that it takes no effort at all for some jabroni to hop in your mentions and start spitting venom at you. And that shit is wack. I don’t know about you, but as much as I love and appreciate every message of support and encouragement I get online, it’s the shit-posters that stick with me the longest. That might just be a flaw in my personality, but I hate it, and there are times it makes me not want to be online at all.

So I’ll finish by saying this. I’m sure there are things I’ve written here that are going to piss some people off. And that’s a shame, because the reasons I have for being so opposed to much of what’s going on in politics these days doesn’t really stem from the fact that I am left-leaning. I am, but it’s not because I’m a policy wonk who disagrees with all conservative ideology at face value. Honestly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. My issue is that in coordination with the M.O. of the current administration, society itself seems to be getting more cruel, less compassionate and increasingly morally bankrupt. At the very least our exposure to these moral failings is at an all-time high.

Ultimately, what I’m proposing is that we all try to focus our frustrations in the right direction. It’s so strange to me how successful those at the top have been at convincing us that our struggles are being caused by our fellow citizens who are struggling just as much as us, if not worse. Lost your job? I bet you it’s because that immigrant took it. Can’t afford to pay your bills? Well, we would have given you a break on your taxes, but we can’t afford to do that AND provide welfare to your neighbor. Don’t feel safe? You shouldn’t. Something something RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM.

As George Carlin once said: “It’s all bullshit, folks. And it’s bad for ya.” For all of this talk about how “the elites are out of control,” as long as we continue to fight with each other about everything under the sun, we’re giving them exactly what they want.

Don’t Call Me “Sports Guy”

I’ve been sitting here for about an hour, trying to think of how I can possibly follow up my post from last week. It felt amazingly therapeutic to put that part of my story out into the world, and the response I received from so many of you was incredibly heartwarming.

But what now? Should I go back to giving you my HOT TAKES on the sports news? That’s what I’m good for, right? After all, if you knew me at all before I started this blog, you probably knew me as the “sports guy” on the radio. But the truth is, the further I remove myself from that era of my life, the less I identify myself that way. I HAVE LAYERS, YOU JERKS!

Sports are certainly still a huge passion of mine, and I’m not saying that I won’t go back to the well next week and write something about the fast-approaching start of baseball season or the NHL playoff push or how Bryce Harper’s hair underlines the importance of using both shampoo and conditioner. But this week, I want to let you in on some of the other things that make me tick, and clue you in to some more of the content that you can come to expect from me.

Here’s one that will no doubt catch you off guard. Ready? I think music is pretty cool…

I’ll give you a minute to collect yourself from that gasp you just let out. MUSIC?!? Who likes that stuff?? I know. We all do. But my connection to the music world is slightly different from the average joe. Allow me to let you in on how my music taste took shape.

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was an FM DJ in New York way back in the day when people actually listened to music on the radio. It was through him that I was first introduced to the world of what we now call classic rock. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the one of the first albums I ever fell in love with. There were a few other deeper cuts, too. I absolutely adored the Traveling Wilbury’s first self-titled album and subsequently Jeff Lynne’s solo project, Armchair Theatre.

My adolescence introduced me to the world of rap and hip hop. I was such an Eminem mark that not long after the release of The Marshall Mathers LP, I bleached my hair Slim Shady blonde. And let me tell you, nothing makes me cringe harder than looking back at old photos of myself sporting that look. I’d post one of those pics here, but I can’t find any of them. Hopefully that’s because they’ve all been thrown into a furnace.

High school and college brought me into the world of pop punk. Bands like Green Day, Fall Out Boy, Blink-182 and Panic! at the Disco have remained heavy in my rotation of music that I still listen to today.

The best album I’ve ever heard? That came in 2009 when The Decemberists released a project that is less a collection of songs than it is a three-act play. If you have never listened to The Hazards of Love, do yourself a favor. Listen to that shit. Better yet, read the story as you listen to it. It is a beautifully tragic tale that transports you to another world from another time, and remains one of the few albums that consistently makes me cry every time I listen to it alone.

There are very few genres of music that I dismiss out of hand. I may not have the trained ear of a legitimate music critic, but I can promise that there are going to be songs and albums that inspire me to write about them. And I intend to use this space to do that when the mood strikes.

While we’re on the subject of music, I want to take this opportunity to tell you a little something about my younger brother, Sam. He and I often marvel at how we epitomize the dichotomy of what our dad used to do for a living. A guy who became well-known for working in music radio spawned one kid that would spend a decade in the radio business, and another who has a bright future in the music business.

Sam has been a crazy music head since forever. Now, he is the vice president of a record label here in Vancouver known as NYHLA Records. He’s teamed with president and founder, Angus Maude, and co-VP Taylor Friginette to create a platform for local talent to shine. And lemme tell ya, these artists don’t just shine. They fucking glow. I plan on dedicating an entire post to this group of talent at some point, because they’re just bloody brilliant, and I want to get a scoop on their story before everyone and their mama knows about them. But I digress.

Sam, who goes by maSHerman (pronounced mash-er-man, not Ma Sherman, which sounds more like a character from Little House on the Prairie), has been working for a long time on his debut album. The project, named otis, is set to be released at some point this year. But what debut album cycle would be complete without a debut single? Well, that single is coming very soon. And Sam has a very interesting feature on that track. Any guesses? …No, it’s not T Pain …Nope, it’s not Cher either. I just figured those would be your first two guesses.

Actually, the debut single, entitled Talk to Me, features a relative unknown who goes by the moniker, “my brother max”. Hey, wait a minute, that’s me! Yes, folks. I wrote and sing the second verse on this song. And I simply cannot wait for you all to hear it. Also, before you ask. No, it is not me just singing the scores and headlines from the sports news. I know that’s what you’re used to. I hope it’s not what you want, though. Because if it is, good lord, what kind of music have you been listening to? Anyway, the point is you’re gonna have to get used to the idea that sports is not my be-all end-all.

As another example, I’ve developed a burgeoning interest in politics. There’s no mystery as to why that’s the case. I think the most recent presidential election caused a lot of us to be more plugged in to whatever the fuck is going on in the United States. There’s no doubt that the current occupant of the White House swallows up a lot of the news coverage, and to an extent, rightfully so. The dude gives us something new to scream about seemingly every day. But what interests me more is the impact that this era in politics is having on society at large.

This period in our history has been devastatingly revealing in the ways it has exposed the underbelly of what it means to live in America. But I like to consider myself a glass half-full guy. Sure, that’s super easy for a straight, white male like myself to say. But you know how they say that the first step to recovery is acknowledging there is a problem? To me, that feels like where we are right now.

Deep-rooted, institutional problems like racism, misogyny and homophobia cannot possibly be undone overnight. But these issues have been thrust into our collective conscience so forcefully through the litany of horrible stories we’ve read about over the last couple of years. You’d have to be a complete fool to not acknowledge that everything is not alright. I believe that our awareness of all of this crap is what is going to slowly lead to more activism and more progress. Also, this emerging generation of young people is so incredibly inspiring. I just know the future is in good hands. The over-arching point is, if you log onto this blog and see I’ve written a post consisting of social commentary or that covers a topic that is either vaguely or overtly political, don’t be shocked.

The shackles are off, y’all. I make the rules now. There’s no one above me to tell me that I shouldn’t or can’t write about a particular subject. And honestly, that is one of things that I love the most about what I’m doing here. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a decent chance you’re going to come across a post of mine that either doesn’t interest you or that you vehemently disagree with. Both of those things are ok. I just ask that even if that is the case, that you still come back the next week and check in on me again.

There is still going to be plenty of sports commentary in this space. It’s a subject that I know better than most, and also is generally a place where you can spout off opinions without offending anybody. If you’re a fan of my blog, please tell your friends! Just do me a favor. Don’t call me “sports guy.” I’m fixing to prove that I’m so much more.