The Oracle and the Sausage Factory

It’s said that people who like sausage should avoid seeing how sausage is made. This is sort of a story about the making of sausage, except, instead of talking about a tasty food item, we’re going to talk about a staple of American party politics: the platform.

Have you ever read a party platform? I’m guessing that most people haven’t. I’ve been interested in politics for a very long time and actively engaged for over a decade, but I’ve read very few of them all the way through. Yesterday I attended my party’s congressional district convention as a delegate. In a community college auditorium in a small Midwestern town, a couple hundred delegates convened to listen to countless speeches, elect members of the party’s state central committee, and fight about rules and the party platform.

As so often happens, those fights about rules and platform language consumed much of the day and most of the oxygen in the room.

Why do we punish ourselves and our fellow party activists — almost all of whom are unpaid volunteers — so relentlessly? Why would two hundred adults give up a perfectly delightful Saturday in late April to engage in intramural spitball fights?

I wish I knew, because I’m usually knee deep in the hoopla. I think this is what happens when you get a bunch of true believers together and make them tell you what they believe in. A platform, according to our friends at Merriam-Webster is “a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands; especially: a declaration of principles and policies adopted by a political party or a candidate.” Simple, right?

One might think that a party platform would be a relatively easy thing to craft. We all know, more or less, what the major political parties stand for, don’t we? And when was the last time you remember a candidate declaring to run on his/her party’s platform? During presidential years the campaigns get involved in trying to craft or guide the national party platforms, but even then, one is more likely to hear attacks on the other party’s platform than anything about standing on one’s own. Who, if anybody, reads these things?

What we usually read or hear about party platforms, if anything at all, is how obviously, overwhelmingly wrong the other party is about fill-in-the-blank. We scarcely hear a peep about what’s in our own declaration of principles. And there is no mechanism to hold candidates to documents built by committees of volunteers and influenced by (here it comes) fanatics.

There are flashes of inspiration and sanity in this process. At my county convention in March, it became obvious that an outspoken member of our platform committee was both inspired and sane. He had noted that a fairly outrageous “plank” in the platform from a prior election cycle had been used by the opposition to discredit our candidates. It seems that late in the platform creation process a couple years ago, some true believers had managed to insert a plank calling for the legalization of all drugs. Republicans clobbered Democrats with that one.

As a result of that experience, our friend undertook a mission to avoid a similar debacle this time. He endeavored to shorten and simplify the county party platform, making it a statement of general principles and areas of concern rather than a laundry list of policy prescriptions. The platform discussion at the county convention was short and mostly civil. My contribution to the process was serving on the rules committee, asking lots of questions in an effort to clear up confusion in the rules before unleashing them on the unsuspecting larger body. It all worked pretty well. There was reason for hope.

Unfortunately, the district convention was a very different matter. I avoided volunteering for any committees at the district level. Having already annoyed some of my fellow Democrats, I chose to attend the district convention merely as a delegate. Let other people slug out the rules and the platform report.

The results weren’t great. The rules for electing central committee members were at once oddly restrictive and ambiguous, causing a great deal of wasted time and effort  — and multiple ballots and arguments — to elect eight people.

And then there was the platform. Rather than a short, simple document, the convention was given a long, detailed one. The document was over twenty pages of high-minded talk, typos, errors in capitalization and punctuation, acronyms, abbreviations, arcane legislative references, and vague, liberal talking points. Allegedly the platform committee had attempted to remove contentious planks so that no minority report would be needed. Our rules, as misrepresented by the presiding officer, allowed for no amendments, only debate on individual planks, and then only after a motion to strike the plank, seconded by 10% of the delegates. What would happen if the entire platform were voted down? No one knew.

Consideration of the platform degenerated into the all-too-familiar death march of arguing about everything. Think of the US Congress debating, say, the federal budget, with all the ego but lacking most of the expertise and lacking anything in the way of real power.

I hesitate to confess that I got sucked into the discussions more than once. Trying to get a disgruntled group to follow its own mystifying rules was clearly one lost cause. Trying to get the group to reconsider some of the most ill-considered platform planks was another.

At one point, two men were standing in the aisle mere inches apart, red faced, yelling about what ought to be done about a dead microphone. This is where the average person starts to consider how ridiculous it all is, even if they were previously inclined to engage.

Little did I know that the platform we pointlessly debated was derived from the even longer and more detailed 2016 state platform. Gone is the hope that the state convention will produce a better platform than the sausage we manufactured Saturday; our sausage was based on the same general recipe that the state party had followed two years ago. The fact that 2016 was such a disaster for Democrats should give everyone pause. Many people talked about a “blue wave” in November as if it were some kind of mantra. Color me skeptical.

Don’t ask me how the good Democrats of this district have any hope of unseating a pandering wingnut incumbent in a place that has sent him to Congress repeatedly, in spite of being a national embarrassment and having no legislative accomplishments. We embraced every liberal impulse and cliche’ we could think of and tossed them into our platform. This is the sort of thing that might work in a safely Democratic and very liberal district. It won’t work here.

Hoping that no one will read the damn thing won’t work, either, because as painful as that experience may be, we know that the opposition will read it. And we’ve given them a lot of “planks” to swing at our candidates.

We miraculously elected some very good volunteers to the state central committee and we have some truly excellent candidates for office. If the committee people are are half as smart as I think they are, they’ll use their experience yesterday to take a different approach in the future. My guess is that the candidates will be running from any mention of the platform, rather than running on it.

In this story, the problem isn’t just with the making of the sausage. True, seeing what went into the sausage and how it was put together was bad enough, but this sausage would have a “best by” date of never.

Who’s Jill Stein?

So…what’s the Oracle been up to lately? This week I checked out the first three episodes of the Roseanne reboot.

For anyone who either lives in a cave or is reading this blog in the distant future, Roseanne is a network television comedy about a working-class American family living in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois. The series ran on ABC from 1988 to 1997 and has been revived in the spring of 2018. Roseanne Barr plays the central character, Roseanne Conner.

Roseanne’s character is revealed to be a supporter of the current US President in the first episode of the revived series. Politics as an issue dividing families and society appears to be one of the motivations in bringing the series into the modern day.

If your family is anything like Roseanne’s or mine, you’ve experienced hard feelings or worse with your relatives since the 2016 US election. The series has taken a bold step in attempting to talk about something that has caused a lot of us to stop talking to one another. Some of the stuff I’d seen written and said made me leery of watching the show. Some people hated it. Some people hated her.

I watched it anyway and it made me laugh. Repeatedly.

The Roseanne of 2018 instantly reminded me of the best aspects of its earlier incarnation. The characters are likeable. They are funny. They are flawed but fabulous.

I stopped watching the original series on a regular basis, long before it ended, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, the show just became tiresome. It got too weird, too preachy, too much of a downer. It started taking itself too seriously.

This one doesn’t do that.

The joy of the new series is that it pokes fun at things we all tend to take too seriously, starting with ourselves. Does anybody really care that much about our opinions on any single politician or policy? It’s not that this stuff doesn’t matter; it matters a lot. But if we just draw battle lines and stop talking, what have we accomplished? What CAN we accomplish in that scenario?

Roseanne is going to touch on issues and express opinions that upset people. This is the nature of topical humor and social commentary, especially humor dealing with anything controversial. Roseanne deals with controversial topics.

One of the things that’s important to remember is that this is just TV, it’s not real. The series is about a fictional family in a fictional town. Roseanne is not a documentary or the news, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s also not Leave It To Beaver. Think more along the lines of All In The Family or South Park. The humor is modern and edgy, but it’s still just fiction. These aren’t real people.

It’s also important to distinguish between the actor and the role. Most people are clear on the fact that Carroll O’Connor only played Archie Bunker on television and Eric Cartman is only a cartoon character. Yet many people seem to have trouble differentiating Roseanne Barr from the character she’s playing.

Barr has been outspoken and politically active in real life, but it would be a mistake to view the show based on one’s take on Barr’s politics. The show is not exclusively, or even primarily, political. Politics is just one aspect of life in Lanford.

As an example, Roseanne and her sister Jackie finally talk about their differing views of Hillary Clinton:

Jackie: “You kept saying what a disaster it would be if she got elected and how I wasn’t seeing the big picture and how everything was rigged, and then I go into the booth and I voted for Jill Stein!”

Roseanne: “Who’s Jill Stein?”

Jackie: “Some doctor. You did such a good job of making me doubt myself and feel so stupid that I choked, which helped get him elected.”

Is that scene about politics or about someone feeling bullied by a sibling?

Roseanne Barr certainly knows who Jill Stein is, having run against her as a Green Party candidate. As for Barr’s politics, she recently said, “It’s up to us… Get out there and vote. Change it if you don’t like it.” Tough to argue with that one.

I don’t watch much television of any kind these days, but I make an exception now and then. Roseanne is worthwhile. It made me laugh and it made me think. I didn’t agree with all the opinions that were expressed, but that’s OK.

In an age of cable news and social media echo chambers where we choose our news and exclude people and opinions we don’t like, I think we need to hear other viewpoints. It’s even better to be able to laugh at some of the things we’re fighting about. In fact, it may be a big step toward a more constructive dialog.

Better Angels

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

With those words Abraham Lincoln concluded his first inaugual address as the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln, as almost everyone knows, was the first Republican to be elected president, and by inauguration day, it seemed that he might be the last — not the last Republican president, but the last President of the United States. Seven states had already seceded, four more would soon join them, and the future of the country was very much in doubt.

Yet here was Lincoln speaking hopefully and confidently about something no one could see and few likely believed: Americans would be reunited when their memories were touched by the better angels of our nature.

Republicans are still referred to as the party of Lincoln, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Lincoln in the Republican Party these days. The 45th President of the United States, nominally a Republican, seems as determined to divide the country as the 16th was to hold it together. As this blog was being written, a Republican US senator announced that he’d had enough of what his party had become and announced that he would not seek reelection in 2018. In his closing, he too cited Lincoln’s better angels.

Elected on the slogan “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” (it’s in all caps like that on the hats), Donald J. Trump left a lot to the imagination as to what his slogan might possibly mean. His supporters quickly filled the void.

Apparently slogans are in the eye of the beholder.

For a lot of voters — though not a majority; the Democratic Party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, won the nationwide popular vote by nearly 2.9 million — making American great again was a compelling idea.

There’s an old joke about country music that poses the question “What do you get when you play a country song backwards?” You get your job back, your truck back, your wife, your dog, your sobriety…

A lot of Trumps’s base of support is hurting. Unemployment is up, wages are down. Substance abuse is up. Suicides are up. And life expectancy for younger and middle aged white Americans is down. Trump won white voters without a college degree by 39 points. Things are not great for whites without a college degree.

But things once were great for whites without a college degree. It once was possible for someone without a college education, without even a high school education, to work his way into the middle class and to support a family on one income. When did this mythical white male utopia exist? About 50 years ago. I happen to know this because my dad did it. Worked hard, made decent money, drove a new car, joined a country club… Great, no?

Not so great was the African American or Hispanic experience of 50 years ago. It also wasn’t too great for women of any description, who despite having the vote since 1920 had no equality with men. They still don’t. And it wasn’t great for LGBT persons or people with disabilities or a bunch of others who weren’t straight, white, able-bodied, English-speaking males.

Thus, making America great again meant making it great for people who’d had it great in the past. And they knew who they were.

Facebook has a feature that brings up items posted on the current date in previous years. Five years ago, in October 2012,  I posted a link to an article about Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed “bombshell” revelation about President Barack Obama turning out to be a dud. No problem for Trump, who seized the attention to rant about Obama being the “worst” and “least transparent” president ever and to bait him to release college and foreign travel records in return for a promised $5 million donation to the charity of Obama’s choosing. Obama ignored Trump and went on to win reelection. We don’t know what happened to the five million bucks.

Unfortunately, failure in any conventional sense is no discouragement to Donald Trump. He built his brand, fame and alleged fortune largely on an amazing ability to say ridiculous things and garner lots of publicity for it. Trump’s long promotion of phony claims and conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace and citizenship were a GOLD MINE for Trump. And mine it he did. For years. Trump got all sorts of media coverage for free, along with the admiration of a lot of people who wanted justification for hating someone as smart, well educated and successful as Barack Obama (who just happened to be black).

The success of Trump’s Obama bashing was a model for personal attacks and bogus charges that he would use again and again during the 2016 presidential campaign, first against Republican rivals, then unceasingly against the Democratic nominee, who was smarter, better educated and vastly more experienced (and who just happened to be female).

Seeing a pattern here? Trump’s modus operandi is to attack, call names, threaten, bully, and lie about anyone who stands in his way, using any tool or proxy at his disposal. It has not gone unnoticed by Trump’s core supporters that his targets are generally NOT white guys. Haters of various stripes now feel they own the White House. By selecting Mike Pence as his running mate and cozying up to the religious right, people who say they are pro-life Christians now believe they have a friend in Jesus AND in the White House. Fossil fuel lobby? You bet. “Second Amendment people”? Absolutely. Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent? Photo op! Russian ambassador? Da! (Sorry, no American press allowed)

It’s a game of endless division, not unification. Trump has assembled a collection of shamelessly self-interested supporters who seem perfectly willing to knock anyone else down to take what they want. America is one continuous Black Friday door rush at Walmart.

Our better angels aren’t throwing elbows. They aren’t spewing venomous, personal attacks. They don’t engage in name calling, character assassination, or scapegoating. They aren’t in it for themselves, damning all others and the consequences. Our better angels aren’t spreading rumors, falsehoods and outright lies. They aren’t boasting about sexual assault, nor are they complicit in it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. noted that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King was not the first to make such a statement, it goes back at least as far as a mid-nineteenth century minister and abolishionist. Theodore Parker said also “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. …Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just.”

No one is saying that the path to justice is a straight line, but that right will ultimately prevail. Our better angels are around, we just need to start listening to them again.

Objects in the Mirror

Reflections on my experiences leaving Facebook

Day One:

Monday April 2nd was a day off work for me, thus a pretty good time to make the break. In recent days I’d seen a friend’s link to a video comparing leaving Facebook to leaving a party. Whatever. On Sunday I posted a farewell. Early Monday morning I unfriended everybody, backed up my data, cleared out my page, and sent the request to shut it down. Facebook says essentially that I have up to two weeks to change my mind. I read and wrote, ran some errands with the missus, did a little volunteer work and got a nap.

Rediscovered an excellent discussion of social media, what’s wrong with it, and the possibility of a subscription-based alternative to Facebook:

Day Two:

Stayed up much of my night off, which is not unusual considering my work schedule (I work nights). Got about six hours sleep. Spent less time than usual on my smartphone in the past 24 hours. Removed Facebook and Messenger apps from a couple older devices. Googled myself and found a bunch of Facebook profiles of people sharing my name, but not my own. This is encouraging.

I read that Facebook was retaining draft video uploads for reasons no one can explain. Considering that such videos may have consumed a lot of storage space, one wonders how they could escape attention. Is Facebook really that out of control?

Day Three:

Spent a little time weeding email during a break at work overnight. Over time, my email has become choked with crap and I have started opting out of distribution lists.

Found myself wanting to click “Like” on an actual email message written by an actual person I know and like (a cousin). Ever do that? I’ve wanted to click “Like” on text messages, too. It reminds me of a time after buying a car with a remote unlock button when I consciously found myself wanting to unlock my mailbox and apartment door with the remote.

Clicking “Like” on a Facebook post is an easy, almost passive, way of expressing approval. It requires nearly no effort whatsoever. Thus, much of what happens on Facebook isn’t participation so much as observation — we observe and we are being observed.

Facebook users become stars of their own reality show and viewers of a bunch of others. The news feed is like channel surfing, with someone else choosing the stations, controlled by some inscrutable algorithm. We get posts by our “friends” and ads in an endless stream and we provide feedback constantly. We tell Facebook what we like and by extension what we don’t, because they know what we have been presented; Facebook is watching all the channels, all the time, and recording… well, we really don’t know what they’re recording.

And you thought you were just clicking “ha ha” on a cat video.

NBC News reported that Facebook is now saying that not 50 but 87 million user profiles, mostly those of Americans, may have been “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica.

Day 4:

Early Thursday the Washington Post’s lead headline read “Facebook: ‘Malicious actors’ used its tools to discover identities and collect data on a massive global scale”. It seems that personal data belonging to most of Facebook’s two-billion-odd users had been “scraped” and shared with outsiders.

Thursday evening NBC News was promoting an interview with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, scheduled to air during Friday’s Today Show. Sandberg says that users would have to pay to opt out of ads while also stating that user data is the lifeblood of Facebook’s service. First, I will pay, but not to Facebook. Second, if our data is Facebook’s lifeblood, why aren’t we the ones getting paid?

Day Five:

Today we learned that Facebook has deleted certain messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives via Facebook Messenger. The messages were removed from recipients’ inboxes. This option, of course, was not available to ordinary Facebook users, though the company now says it will be.

What was in those messages and why were they deleted?

“Unsending” a message is not a new idea, but it’s one that has largely been wishful thinking for most people, most of the time. Microsoft Outlook running within an organization on Microsoft Exchange, for example, allowed users to unsend messages which had not been read.

Once I worked for a large company where a disgruntled IT worker gained access to a high level user’s computer and aired his grievances with the entire organization. The message was especially critical of the chief information officer. The IT department scrambled to try to retrieve the mass mail. It was a spectacular disaster. While some unread copies of the message were deleted, if I recall correctly, the email system notified recipients that the sender wanted to recall the message. Nothing screams “Read this now!” quite like somebody important saying they don’t want you to read something they sent. The more the organization tried to limit the spread of the rogue message, the more widely it was shared.

Message to Mark Zuckerberg and his crew: what’s done is done. You can’t unsend or unsay. Yes, you can delete postings and messages and entire files and profiles, but you can’t turn back time.

It’s after 5 PM on Friday. Facebook has been in the headlines every day during a week when there was a lot of other stuff going on. Mark Zuckerberg said this week that the data scandal had no “meaningful impact” on the company.

It’s had a meaningful impact on me. I am happy to be off the platform. I don’t need to have every click recorded and analyzed for the sake of posting some thoughts online. I don’t need to be subjected to a barrage of ads intermingled with the random musings of hundreds of online acquaintances. I don’t need to be wired-in, 24 by 7, living on the Internet. I definitely don’t need to do business with a company I don’t trust. It had become a bad relationship and it needed to end.

It’s been refreshing to spend some quality time with my own thoughts and get some of them into words. I like the prospects for more of that.

There IS life after Facebook.

Blundering What?

Some of you may be wondering why this blog is named “Blundering Oracle” and what’s up with the subtitle “Challenging Blind Obedience.”

Both phrases are derived from a single sentence in Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”:

“So much for blind obedience to a blundering oracle, throwing the stones over their heads behind them and not knowing where they fell.”

I had remembered the phrase “blind obedience to a blundering oracle” from prior readings and thought it had potential. So what does it mean? Merriam-Webster’s two main definitions of an oracle are “a person (such as a priestess of ancient Greece) through whom a deity is believed to speak” and “a person giving wise or authoritative decisions or opinions.”

Minor definitions include “a shrine in which a deity reveals hidden knowledge or the divine purpose through such a person,” “an answer or decision given by an oracle,” and an authoritative or wise expression or answer.”

Up until now I hadn’t thought too much about the oracle Thoreau was talking about, but knowing about it helps make sense of his comment. Google and Wikipedia helped a lot here. Thoreau referenced a Greek myth about the deluge. In it, Deucalion consulted an oracle about how to repopulate the world after the flood. The oracle told him “cover your head and throw the bones of your mother behind your shoulder.” Substitute rocks for bones and Gaia (Mother Earth) for mother, and you have it: Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha repopulated the world by being blindly obedient to an oracle, throwing stones — bones of Mother Earth — and not knowing where they landed. The stones turned into people. It seems that Thoreau didn’t have a very high opinion of the oracle.

Was there really a time when we read this stuff in American public high schools?

At any rate, “Blundering Oracle” felt like a perfect bit for someone offering opinions on an obscure blog. It is pretentious and self-deprecating at the same time. The world is full of people claiming to have some kind of authority and demonstrating little humility while being utterly (or at least arguably) wrong.

As to “Challenging Blind Obedience” part, I have a problem with authority. No, it’s not that I cannot acknowledge or respect credentials and qualifications. I have a problem with people who think or assert they can tell me what to do while lacking credentials and qualifications. You could say that I have a problem with self-appointed or sketchy “authorities”.

Really, I have a problem with authoritarianism.

I used to think that liberty was an American core value. We claim it is. We have a Statue of Liberty, the motto “Liberty” on our coins, and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in our Declaration of Independence.

What I’ve learned (and what the last presidential election demonstrates to me), is that some portion of Americans can be persuaded to vote for a candidate who promises — threatens, really — to impose his will on others. Essentially, we threw liberty under the bus for a populist authoritarian. Authoritarianism is one of the defining characteristics of the current American administration, in my opinion, and they’re not shy about it. It obviously resonates with somebody.

We also claim to have a high regard for facts and fairness. What was Superman fighting for? “Truth, justice, and the American way.” Yet our discourse is often untrue and unjust. Truth is labeled as “fake news” by people who hold opposing opinions, beliefs or interests. Fake is anything they don’t like. Justice is getting their way.

Blind obedience deserves to be challenged, not for the sake of being contrary, but for the sake of doing the right thing — speaking truth to power. Authority needs to be challenged and limited or there is no making America great for anybody other than the powers that be.

Know yourself. If you need help…

Ever hear of “Deteriorata”? It was a bit of pop culture in the 70’s — a parody of a spoken word recording of Desiderata. Those of us of a certain age will probably remember the poem, the recording, and the send-up. Posters of the parody text were a big seller for National Lampoon (particularly in 70’s head shops, as I recall). For a refresher, including a link to the text, go to the Wikipedia article here: Deteriorata.

One of the lines in Deteriorata reads “Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.” In 1972, you’d call the FBI. In 2018, there are a lot of people you can call.

Today marks my departure from Facebook. For nearly nine years I’ve used the social network, posting pictures, links and comments, joining groups, clicking on ads, clicking the Like button, finding and losing online friends… I spent countless hours expressing myself, and the social network dutifully recorded what I saw, did and said. All for free.

Except, of course, it wasn’t really free. Facebook got all that information and I lost control of it. Not only that, Facebook sold the information so it could be used to try to sell me stuff.

Ever look at your Facebook account data? You should. You can download a copy from the Settings page. The “Ads” section was particularly jarring. There were 223 separate Facebook advertisers who have my contact informaton. Advertisers are not supposed to resell data but there is no way for anybody to make sure they’re not doing it. Thus Facebook also lost control of my information.

It was recently revealed that Facebook Messenger has been collecting call data from Android smartphone users. Why? Allegedly it was to improve the user experience (Facebook has not explained how grabbing a lot of cell phone data made anyone’s Facebook experience better).  Messenger also wants to continuously update contact information.

If you allow Facebook to access location services on your phone, it keeps track of your movements while the smartphone app is running. Undoubtedly there are other apps that have access to your Facebook data. Don’t believe me? Go take a look.

Social media itself is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to modern day privacy issues.

Just two days ago, BBC reported that the US is proposing to require virtually all visa applicants to give up their social media handles used during the previous five years. Don’t ask me how the government will know whether people are telling the truth.

However, privacy has been getting eroded for a long time.

Millions of Americans are subject to pre-employment drug tests and/or random drug testing after employment.

Employers and insurance companies require medical screening, which can include testing to determine substance use and even genetic predisposition to disease.

Think the government is on the side of privacy? Think again. FISA and PATRIOT acts are surveillance super powers that the government has bestowed upon itself, all in the name of security and counterterrorism.

Law enforcement wants DNA tests on people who get arrested, even if the subjects haven’t been charged with a crime where DNA evidence would be relevant.

Advancing technology enables ever greater data collection and analysis. Cameras are everywhere. We can record full-motion, high-definition video using our smartphones and share those images in real time. Facial recognition is being used to identify and track people. Our smartphones know our fingerprints, our travels and our contacts. Health and fitness devices know all sorts of stuff about exercise, sleep, and any number of biometrics. Businesses know our buying patterns.

We’re now embracing artificial intelligence applications and devices, which are getting to know us in ever more intimate ways.

Sounds overwhelming, right? For some people, it is. I know a lot of folks who scoff at the idea of leaving a social network over privacy concerns because it seems futile. What can we do when our information is already out there?

What we can do is start fighting back. We can let companies know that we’re not going to take this lying down. We can let them know that there is a penalty for mining our private information and selling it to all comers. We can remind the government that we have a constitutional right to be left alone and that they work for us, not the other way around.

New technology poses new challenges, but this problem did not just arrive. People were spilling their secrets on television and radio long before the Internet, smartphones and Facebook. They were talking on the phone, sending telegrams, writing letters, publishing. They were talking face to face. All along the way, there have been other people watching, listening and generally sticking their noses into things that were none of their business.

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the founders’ answer to the question of privacy in the face of a nosy government: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

In 2018, it’s not just the government that wants to know all about us; everybody with a product, service or viewpoint to sell wants our data.

You are not a fluke of the universe and you should not give up. Know yourself. Stand up for yourself. Fight back.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Now before you get any crazy ideas, no, I am not contemplating a final farewell. “To be or not to be?” That is not the question.

The question is whether to continue on Facebook. This question arises once again in light of news this weekend that about 50 million Facebook users’ data was used surreptitiously to predict and influence voting behavior in the 2016 US presidential election. There are claims and counterclaims and calls for investigations. Facebook, as usual, is doing damage control.

Just as I had come to terms with staying on Facebook, along came another reason to drop it, as it were, like a bad habit.

I’m mad that information about millions of people was used largely without their knowledge as an experiment in psychological profiling and micro targeting, but I’m not surprised.

Is anyone really surprised? Are we surprised that a third-party application was used to coax people to answer a bunch of probing questions, to allow access to their Facebook data, and oh by the way, to throw in the data of friends who hadn’t locked down their own accounts? Is anyone surprised that academics, billionaires and ideologues worked together to try to install a president and wage a culture war? Anyone?

Is anybody surprised that Facebook made it so easy to do all that? Are we surprised that Facebook didn’t do more to secure user profiles? We shouldn’t be. Getting people to give up their own data is Facebook’s specialty — kind of a black art. Past and present insiders have admitted that they knew what they were doing. By giving people a little validation every time they shared something popular, people were encouraged to share more. With more people. They (we) were hooked.

What does one do with tons of data about a gazillion people? One sells it.

Last time I considered the stay or go question, I concluded that a lot of what was wrong with my Facebook experience wasn’t necessarily Facebook itself. I also identified a bunch of annoying tendencies of others that made it difficult to stay friends with people online.

Well guess what? It’s hard to stay friends with people in the real world, too. And people do a lot of egregious stuff online that we would never do in face-to-face interaction. Do you like hurting people’s feelings? If you do, then you have a personality disorder and need to get help. And for heaven’s sake, get off of social media!

But at some point everybody you know is going to do or say something that makes it hard to stay friends. I think that’s one of the reasons that most of us have a pretty small number of actual, close, trusted friends.

It would be nice to think that we’re going to change people. That seems to drive a lot of behavior on social media. Unfortunately, it’s not realistic. My wife is an ordained minister. She recently reminded me of some episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom in which the central character, news anchor Will McAvoy, set out on his “mission to civilize.” It didn’t end well. Let’s just say our man on a mission got a lot of drinks thrown in his face.

So, if I’m not going to change human nature (I’m not and neither are you), then I’m back to the recurring thought that the biggest problem I have with Facebook is the way I use it.

But wait. We’re talking about a product that was designed to take as much of our time and attention as possible by rewarding interaction. It was designed to be addictive. Changing the way I use Facebook is like asking an opioid addict, an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler to change the way they use, drink or gamble.

I smoked cigarettes for a long time. Cutting down never worked. Using nicotine gum or patches didn’t work. Resolutions didn’t work. What ultimately worked was getting a short-term prescription for a smoking cessation drug (bupropion, in my case) and reading a book on cognitive behavioral therapy called The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. That worked.

Remember also that Facebook, like a lot of other addictions, has some risk even if one if not a hardcore addict. To borrow some wording from old school over-the-counter sleep medication ads, Facebook may NOT be “safe and effective when used as directed.”

I have a job in the real world. For years (decades, actually) I worked as a computer technician for companies large and small. I handled confidential information and I was usually working under nondisclosure agreements. In recent years I’ve worked in some other fields — more about that some other time, perhaps — but still under NDA’s. Since the rise of the Internet and social media, there have also been acceptable use policies.

I don’t even mention the name of my employer on Facebook. I don’t talk about work on social media.  And I’m mentioning this now only to highlight one of the other hazards of Facebook: the risk of losing your job and/or getting sued for talking about something you’re not supposed to talk about online (or at all).

This product steals our time and attention. It leads us to overshare our personal information. It tends to push us into opposing camps. We become clannish.  We obsess. Disagreements are often harsh, uncivil and unrestrained. On Facebook we’re always ready to rumble. We gang up on people. I’ve seen it all happen again and again. I’ve been a party to it more times than I’d like to admit. And for what? So somebody will click “like” on something I post?

Not everybody has trouble with Facebook, but I do.

I wish it were otherwise, because I often enjoy interacting with people online. I used to enjoy smoking, too. But it was bad for me and I couldn’t control it. I can have a beer or two, or none, and be fine either way. I don’t gamble anymore at all.

I am under no illusions that Facebook influenced my vote in 2016. It didn’t. I supported Hillary Clinton from caucus through the election. I was very outspoken online for a very long time about why I could never support Donald Trump and why I thought no one else should either. But I did lose friends who held other views. Family relationships were strained or interrupted. Facebook definitely played a role in that.

I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about a lot of things I posted over the years. I just don’t know if I changed any minds, which was one of the main reasons I got on Facebook in the first place.

It’s looking more and more like my days on Facebook are numbered. I’ll need to find creative and social outlets. Hopefully I’ll get more sleep.

Is there life after Facebook? For me there is.