Why I Quit Reddit

RedditCOA

Bye and thanks for all the cute animal pictures.

I just deleted my reddit account and committed to no longer visiting the site. Why? Reddit refuses to ban openly racist and hateful subreddits.

What About Free Speech?

Reddit is based on the principle of uncensored speech, shielded by anonymity. Sounds good, right? Anonymity is especially important for activists working in countries with repressive regimes. Even in the United States, where you can often criticize your own government without fear of repercussion (I’ve done so many times on this blog, though higher profile dissenters do face risks), there is value in anonymity. Many commenters on this blog comment anonymously about health issues and the like, and thus write more freely, sharing more information than they would otherwise.

Uncensored speech is equally important. Speech (and writing) that goes against the prevailing orthodoxy is often jarring and even offensive to the mainstream. Galileo’s astronomical notions were once considered heretical. Values and beliefs change over time; next week my daughter attends “Camp Galileo”. The same is true for Darwin’s ideas, many of which the political right are still having trouble digesting. While heliocentrism is generally accepted today — as far as I know even Texans accept that the Earth goes around the sun — attempts to censor Darwin’s ideas are still quite active.

But problems arise when free speech and anonymity are combined with hatred and willful ignorance. The result is online communities that steer marginalized loners towards violence.

Seeing something in writing — including slurs and blanket generalizations about racial groups or women — legitimizes the hateful treatment of that group. For young people especially (who may not yet have fully developed critical thinking skills) participating in echo-chamber hate forums comes to no good. In the “kind of bad” scenario, a hypothetical heterosexual young man who participates in “men’s rights” forums views begins to view women as “the enemy” and is thus set back in developing joyful trusting relationships with women. In a “very bad” scenario a young man like Dylann Roof is incited to violence and kills innocent people. It’s not only racist forums that contribute to violence. “Men’s rights” and “pick-up artist” sites probably contributed to the misogynistic attitude of mass killer Elliot Rodger.

Is there a difference between racist forums (including subreddits), pick-up artists sites, and sites that promote actual violence (like jihadi recruiting websites)?

Sure there is, but reddit should ban all of them. Major content websites (and reddit is in the top 20) need to take responsibility for their content. Like it or not, reddit is mainstream. It’s possible that reddit is so popular because they so staunchly support uncensored anonymous posts, but reddit should ban hate speech even if it means they become less popular. Corporations should do their part in marginalizing hate speech. Otherwise mainstream consumers like me will leave in droves, and reddit will be left as a cesspool of racist and misogynistic hatred. There goes the neighborhood (and there go your profits).

Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman has recently returned as CEO and has given the racist subreddits a pass. Reddit’s new proposed content policy will “ban spam, illegal activity and harassment, as well as the posting of ‘private or confidential information’ and sexual content involving minors” but will continue to host subreddits that “violate a common sense of decency”. This list includes /r/coontown and dozens of other subreddits that foment hatred and prejudice.

From the wikipedia article on controversial subreddits:

Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin noted that “having to stomach occasional troll reddits like /r/picsofdeadkids or morally questionable reddits like /r/jailbait are part of the price of free speech on a site like this,” and that it is not Reddit’s place to censor its users. The site’s former CEO, Yishan Wong, has stated that distasteful subreddits will not be banned because Reddit as a platform should serve the ideals of free speech.

Huffman himself writes, “It’s ok to say ‘I don’t like this group of people.’ It’s not ok to say, ‘I’m going to kill this group of people.’” While I acknowledge that Huffman faces a difficult “lose lose” decision (any policy change will alienate both free speech advocates and people trying to marginalize and discourage racists), for me personally the line is in the wrong place. Huffman’s “I don’t like this group of people” is a euphemism for “I hate this group of people,” and the latter is very close to “let’s take real world measures to hurt this group of people.”

As entertaining as I have found the cute animal pictures, fascinating news stories, and in-depth discussions of Dungeons & Dragons rules mechanics, I no longer want to spend time on a site that hosts malevolent, noxious hate groups.

How To Organize and Prioritize Your Family Calendar

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Last week we narrowly averted a collective emotional meltdown encompassing three generations of our family. The issue was a schedule conflict in our daughter’s schedule, and how to resolve it. The schedule conflict occurred *despite* everyone involved thinking they had done everything right, following the correct procedures, and “checking” with everyone else. The main problem was that our shared scheduling system sucked.

A family meeting and a compromise calmed everyone down, and we avoided a full-on crisis. Still, it was time for a new system.

The Old (Bad) System

Parent One enters things in the shared family Google calendar, which we both subscribe two via Calendar on our Macs and the built-in Android calendar app on our phones. Parent Two coordinates childcare with various grandparents.

Parent One “confirms” new family dinner date by waving text message in face of Parent Two, who is drinking wine and playing cards. Parent Two says “Fine — looks good.”

Schedule conflict surfaces on day of both scheduled events. Parent Two informs Grandparent One of schedule conflict. Grandparent One is not pleased, having previously scheduled playdate with friend of Child (and double-checked with Parent Two regarding time of playdate). Child is in tears because Child was looking forward to said playdate (and has little control of own schedule and parents keep changing it).

In the end we worked it out, but we realized we need a new system.

The New System

Child has own dedicated Google calendar, which parents edit and grandparents can ALL view.

Considerations

While the system change is relatively simple and straightforward, a lot of thought went into it.

  • For parents fortunate enough to get childcare help from grandparents (we’re very lucky in this regard), it’s important for parents to respect the scheduling considerations of their own parents. It’s reasonable to provide grandparents (and other regular childcare participants) with the “big picture” on your child’s schedule.
  • A physical “main calendar” in the kitchen is great for the nuclear family, but it doesn’t do much for the extended family. Shared digital calendars with different view permissions are a necessary complexity for a complex extended family.
  • A single “joint” calendar is fine for a couple scheduling dates, but it isn’t sufficient for the entire family when children start having their own engagements.

Calendaring and Kid’s Feelings

A big “a-ha” moment for me was during our family meeting, our daughter was expressing exactly why she was so upset about the change of plans. It wasn’t only that she was looking forward to the playdate herself, but she actually felt a sense of obligation to her new friend, who she had promised she would “buddy-up” with to reduce her friend’s anxiety about her first session of a martial arts class. In short, my daughter didn’t want to flake! I really felt for her at this moment — I remember being seven and having very little control of my own schedule. It seemed that adults would sometimes change things on a whim, with no regard for my feelings.

Sometimes work or other adult realities trump the feelings of children, but it’s important for parents to remember that children have complex emotions that impact them even more than the emotions of adults — they haven’t yet fully developed the self-regulating capabilities of the frontal cortex.

How to Resolve Conflicts?

There are different ways to resolve scheduling conflicts.

  • First on the “main” calendar wins.
  • Paterfamilias or materfamilias — the dominant head-of-household or schedule boss “puts their foot down” and gets their way.
  • Values-based approach.

Of these, I’m a fan of the third. By “values based” I mean the values of your family in particular. What does it mean to be a member of your family?

If there is a schedule conflict, which event supports the highest held value in your family? Friendship? Earning money? Keeping up appearances? Winning at sports? Once the underlying values behind a choice are revealed, a “difficult” choice may become much easier to make.

Personal Update, Track Download, Upcoming Posts

Momu-vs-U2

Happy 4th of July! For you international readers, here’s a handy guide to the holiday and other Americanisms. I will be celebrating the holiday by participating in a secret tournament, the results of which I shall report upon later.

I have exactly ten minutes to write this post, so I’m going with bullet points:

  • Momu is rereleasing a bootleg we did a few years back. Click on the picture above to direct link to the mp3, or go to the Momu Download page. Momu’s new album The Mission is available on iTunes (and everywhere else), with our track “Google Bus” being the clear favorite. The “Dub Pack” remixes of “Sixth & Mission” can be previewed here. Please take a second to Like us if you want to keep up with Momu releases.
  • June was “Only New Music Month” — an experiment I did with Never Knows aka Marc Kate of the Why We Listen podcast. I’ll write a post about the experiment soon — in short it was not that difficult and fantastically rewarding. I would recommend it for everyone, especially if you feel in a musical rut.
  • Some progress in fiction writing. Finished 4th draft of my science fiction novel The Sky Woman and 2nd draft of its sequel The Guardian. I’ll be writing and submitting short fiction for the remainder of the year. If you know (or are personally) an agent or publisher who appreciates science fiction, I would love to send you my work.
  • Future posts will include a hair regrowth update, how to invest a lump sum (following up on this post), and more about refining systems for creative work.

Stay hydrated, unburnt, and very much alive this weekend, my friends and readers!

Take the Seven Word Challenge (Why do you do what you do?)

Seven is the lucky number.

Seven is the number.

Why do you do what you do? For each activity area in your life, can you state the main objective of your efforts in seven words or fewer?

Recently I did this exercise for myself, and it enhanced clarity in several areas. I’d recommend this exercise for anyone who can relate to any of the following:

  • You feel like a particular area or activity of your life is important for some reason, but you’re not sure exactly why.
  • You spend a significant amount of time doing something that does not yield tangible rewards (health, happiness, compensation, recognition).
  • You suspect you might be doing something for the wrong reasons.
  • You like to analyze your own life (I can relate to this one!)

If you haven’t already done so, taking some time to define your life purpose might put this exercise in context. But the order probably doesn’t matter.

Double-Threat vs. Dabbling

There’s a funny scene in Chris Rock’s “Top Five” where he’s getting to know Rosario’s Dawson’s character and she’s telling him all the things she does (she’s a writer, photographer, and a few other things). “Great strategy,” he quips, “do five things so you never get good at any of them.” I’m not remembering the scene perfectly, but I laughed loudly in the theater. I can relate to Dawson’s character, and I think most people can. It’s unusual to focus solely on one thing, and to hone that skill at the expense of other life pursuits. There’s a popular narrative that obsessive focus is required for success, but numerous counter-examples make me doubt that particular nugget of conventional wisdom. High-performers often excel in multiple areas (though they may achieve fame in only one). In the arts, winning an Oscar usually requires a different set of skills than winning a Grammy, but the list of multiple award winners isn’t short.

On the other hand, it’s equally possible to flit from one activity to the next, never committing enough to the growth process to gain mastery and see some kind of reward for our efforts. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling as means to explore a field and see if it’s a good fit, but decades of aimless dabbling leads to an unimpressive set of skills and meager rewards.

The Efficacy of Having a Singular Objective

In this interview with Ramit Sethi, Noah Kagan describes what it was like to work with Mark Zuckerberg in the early days of Facebook. Kagan would go to Zuckerberg with various revenue-producing ideas, but Zuckerberg wasn’t interested in any ideas that didn’t support his main objective for Facebook. Zuckerberg’s defining question was: Does it help Facebook grow? (Jump to 4 min. to hear the story.)

Zuckerberg’s question inspired me to ask the same thing of myself. What’s my main objective for each life area? If I could answer that question I would have a valuable tool: a single criterion to guide my decision-making in that area. Does a new idea, project, or proposal support the main objective? Yes or no?

Why Seven Words? Mushy (or Kitchen Sink) Mission Statements

Given unlimited word allowances, there’s a natural tendency to add more. This can reduce clarity and meaning. Nowhere is this more apparent than in mission statements. I’ve written my fair share of wordy mission statements that obfuscate more than they motivate. For example, when I tried to write a mission statement for my own database consulting business, this is what I came up with:

I produce, deliver, and maintain high-quality database applications that meet client needs and expectations and support good work in the world, while enjoying the work, working efficiently, treating clients well, and billing fairly (to both self and clients).

It’s a complete and accurate mission statement, but it lacks the decisive clarity of Zuckerberg’s “Does it help Facebook grow?” When I limited myself to defining the main objective of this activity in seven words or fewer, I came up with the following:

Exceed financial goals with short work hours.

Blunt and to this point — the main reason I do database consulting work is to make a large amount of money in a short amount of time. The short-form objective doesn’t invalidate anything in the longer-form mission statement. I do want to deliver quality work to my clients, I don’t want to work for companies that I think are evil, and I don’t want to overcharge my clients. But if a project comes along that is going to require a great deal of work for not very much money, I’m going to reject it. Database consulting is not the part of my life where I help people for free (this blog, on the other hand, does do that).

When I get to a point in my life where passive income from investments and royalties exceeds my financial goals, then my primary objective for database work will change. Maybe I’ll work pro bono for non-profits, or maybe I’ll fill that time with other activities. Until then, my seven word objective statement keeps me focused on earning efficiently (so I can live well and help support my family, so I can support causes I believe in, so I can have time to pursue arts and leisure).

There should be a bigger why behind your objective statement that relates to your life purpose. If there isn’t — if an activity you spend significant time on doesn’t support your core values and life purpose — then the seven word challenge may help you discover that.

A Shared Vision

In both business and family contexts, if we have a different main objective or vision than our co-workers or family members, that can lead to problems. I wanted to define a tight objective for Loöq Records, but it didn’t make sense to do that if my business partner wasn’t on board. After a conversation with Spesh, we came up with the following as an option:

Release and promote great deep dance grooves.

This would actually represented a change — a tightening up the the label’s sound — and getting to this possibility required some reflection and discussion. Each word is significant, and committing to this objective would lead to real changes in our A&R policy.

Language is powerful. An objective statement is a compass. So where are you going? Are you pointed in the same direction as the other members of your group?

Contribution

In your short time on this planet, are you going to make a contribution? Whether or not you believe in any kind of progress, what are you doing to make this world a better place? This blog is my own attempt to help others. I started it to share what I’ve learned about committing to writing, curing my asthma, and more recently regrowing my hair. Coming up with my main objective for writing this blog came easily.

Help millions of people live well.

When I’m considering a new post I try to think about who it might help, and how it could help them. Not every post helps people — sometimes I write a post to publicize a music release or promote a fund-raiser. But having a main objective helps me decide yea or nay on the hundreds of ideas that come my way, including suggestions from others.

This blog recently exceeded two million views. I assume some of those are bots, but it’s gratifying to know that I’m on track.

Invest in Relationships

The pursuit of happiness is elusive. For most people, prioritizing service, contribution, and commitment generates more happiness and life satisfaction than money, entertainment, and vacations. That said, I think there are two life non-work life areas that effectively and reliably “pay off” in terms of time and effort invested.

One is exercise. Exercise that is not too strenuous, like walking, extends life, boosts creativity, and is a great way to socialize that doesn’t involve drinking or late nights (nothing wrong with either of those, but I’ve found they take their toll as daily activities).

The other is any activity that builds relationships or provides a sense of camaraderie. Your cover band that is never going to make it big, your small stakes poker night, your fantasy football league — it’s easy to underestimate the importance of these activities. They take up a lot of time, often require complex scheduling, and rarely provide income. Should they be dumped? If you like the people involved, these activities are worth their weight in gold in terms of life satisfaction and health benefits. What’s my main objective for playing D&D?

Have fun, build camaraderie, and stimulate imaginations.

I like what the game does to my brain, and I love getting together with other adults to co-create a shared fantasy world and issue a giant F-U to the cult of perpetual productivity.

Changes

I’ve noticed subtle changes in my approach to the activities I’ve mentioned above, and also to the ones I haven’t, since I took the seven word challenge. I didn’t decide to drop any activity altogether, but I did correct course in several areas.

If you decide to do this exercise yourself, feel free to share your results or insights below. Take the seven word challenge!

Congratulations to Oakland Teachers and OUSD! What’s next? Reform Prop 13.

Emerson Elementary school auction -- a fun night, but I'd rather have $240,000 from Prop 13 reform.

Emerson Elementary school auction — a fun night, but I’d rather have $240,000 from Prop 13 reform.

Four months ago I wrote about the ongoing contract negotiations between Oakland public schools teachers (represented by OEA) and the Oakland Unified School District. I was very happy to learn that last week the teachers ratified a three-year contract with a 67.5% vote. It’s done! Congratulations to all the teachers, the union, the district, the superintendent, and the school board. The teachers received a significant pay raise. The contract also includes the following (copied from the press release):

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