Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shocking Sheeping and the Sheep who Shock

We all like to believe we are not sheep. We like to believe we are not influenced to make purchases because ads make us want a product, we like to think we are independent thinkers and do as we believe is right and not just what others tell us to do. We like to believe that we will not jump off a bridge because our friends just did, that we will stand up for what we know is right at crucial times, and that we will never follow a leader into doing something against our own moral standards.

Are our beliefs little more than wishful thinking?

In a time when the world was still reeling and recovering from the treacherous and inhumane crimes committed during the Holocaust, many were left asking, "How were so many people able to commit such horrendous acts against another person, or stand by and watch them happen, doing nothing to stop it?"

In the early '60s, Stanely Milgram completed his obedience experiments, testing to see how far people would go when an authority figure told them to do something (in this case, applying shocks to an unseen person, with increasing voltage and consequently resulting pain). The person receiving the shock was an actor, not actually being harmed, but the participants did not know this and believed they were applying the shocks to the screaming man in the next room. What I found interesting about this study when I learned about it in a beginner psych course back in college, was how scarily unaware of responsibility that the participants felt for harming the man. Many, while agitated and increasingly uncomfortable at the pain they were causing this other person (who was doing nothing 'wrong' other than missing answers on a simple test), seemed to feel they had no choice in what they were doing. 'The man in the white lab coat is in charge, he told me to do this, so I will do it.' Below is a clip of footage from the original experiment:

Milgram was not alone in proving our sheeping tendencies. A recent BBC article cited 2 recent experiments that replicated Milgrams results. The majority of participants in both studies were willing to torture (apply electrical shocks), even after the previous shock had caused the person receiving the shocks to scream in pain. This fascinating behavior is scary, sad, maybe even a bit sadistic, but not surprising.

We look to those 'in charge' or who know more than us in certain situations, to tell us what to do. There is a new book out entitled 'Nudge', by Richard Thaler and Cass Sustein that talks a bit about the psychology at play in this experiment. This ability to 'nudge' people, as with most forces, can be used in positive or negative ways. On the Nudges website, the authors discuss the Milgram experiment and how the authority figures successfully 'nudged' the participants:

"The deliberative part of his decision - the reflective decision-making moment where he answers Shall I go on with the experiment? Shall I shock? - always applies to the next round of questioning on the test, not to incorrect answer he just heard. There appears to be no deliberation at the moment of the wrong answer. There is only an automatic decision to shock. It is as if he already made that decision in the previous round."
Looking at the man in the Milgram video, he clearly had thoughts about wanting to stop, asking the researcher to stop more than once. All the researcher had to do was encourage him to continue- to tell him to keep going. He never threatened harm (never once said 'keep going or you'll be shocked next'), never once threatened to take anything away or any other form of mild 'punishment'. He just made stopping not a choice verbally. The man had to physically stop applying the shocks and administering the test. Was he scared of confrontation? Unsure if his own thoughts were correct (ie this seems wrong, but the doctor is telling me to do it so I must be mistaken, everything must really be ok)?

What does this mean to you? How do you prevent yourself from falling victim to your own tendency to blindly listen to and follow authority figures in your own life?

  • Have a clear system of morals in your life. Contemplate what you consider right and wrong, good and bad, mean and nice.
  • Listen to your leaders- often they have more knowledge or expertise in certain areas, can teach you much, and may be good at managing or organizing people. But they may not have your best interests at heart, they may have different morals than you, be willing to do or ask you to do things that you normally would not do without the 'nudge'. Do not simply do what they say- think about it before you take action.
  • If someone (authority figure or not, in person or through a print or digital medium) is telling you to do something, ask 'why?' What do they want from me, what will they gain, what will I gain, what will the consequences be if I do it, what will the consequences be if I don't do it?
  • As simple as it may be, never forget the Golden Rule- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
As you move through your day and your life, listen, learn and be willing to speak up and take action whether you agree or disagree with the situation at hand!


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Learn, Think, Act- TB a Global Epidemic-

James Nachtwey is one of the most incredible and influential photographers of our time. Last year he won the TED prize of a wish to change the world and his goal was to use photography to bring knowledge to the world of the epidemic of Tuberculosis and particularly the new form of Extremely Drug-Resistant TB. I encourage you to watch the video of his images below- get educated, think, take action, pass it on.

XDR-TB has been found in at least 49 countries and killed 1.7 million people last year, with more than 2 billion people currently infected. For more information check out Action.org , to learn, to find places to volunteer, and to donate to the cause. We have to stop the spread before this epedimic becomes a pandemic, and help get aid to those who are already sick.


Friday, October 17, 2008

States of the Nation - Obama Ahead in the Polls

Just a few weeks before the election do you wonder where we stand? As of today, October 17th, Electoral-Vote.com reports that Obabma is ahead. They cite the following polling data: "Obama 352 McCain 171 Ties 15"... As of today, Democrats are ahead in the Presidential race, as well as taking control of more seats in the House and the Senate. If you would like to see a visual representation of which states are red, blue, tied, or leaning, check out their great tool!

America is craving change. We are facing many enormous problems, everything from the economic crisis to global warming, and we need a strong government that can lead us through these difficult times. Some may argue that John McCain is the better choice for President, but at this moment the data shows that Barak Obama is seen by more as the best choice.


The Controversial Electoral College

Guest Author Grant Lingel

When it comes to electing a new president of the United States, one would imagine that it is the people of the country who choose the new official. Some may say that their vote really counts, but exactly how true is that belief? The Electoral College system is something most people have heard of but don’t really know that much about. To sum it up quickly in laymen’s terms, it takes the vote out of the hands of the people and gives it to the states.

According to the Constitution, the people are empowered to make a choice through popular election of the people who represent them in the US congress and their state legislatures. By doing so, the Electoral College is created and its members are the ones who choose the next president.

This doesn’t mean that your voice means nothing. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have any say in the presidential elections. The representatives of states in the Electoral College are supposed to vote the way the people of their state vote. This may not seem fair to some but when you are working with hundreds of millions of people, there needs to be some organization.

If the popular vote was all that mattered and was all that was necessary to elect a new president into the White House, eleven states could ultimately decide the new president and then thirty-nine other states would cry foul. I don’t necessarily agree with how the system works, but I do agree there should be some order. And this is the United States of America, not just America.

The only way that the Electoral College could be modified or done away with completely would be through a constitutional amendment. I believe the only way that something like this could happen would be if a president won the Electoral College vote while losing the popular vote. That has happened three times in history: in 1876 with Rutherford B. Hayes, shortly after in 1888 with Benjamin Harrison, and most recently in 2000 with George W. Bush. People were furious when Bush beat Al Gore and the eight years that followed were a disaster, leaving it clear in people’s minds that the Electoral College system is rather shady.

I’d be willing to bet that this year would be a lot different. Barack Obama is on his way to becoming our next president. He will win the popular vote and is looking very good in the Electoral College. With the lowest approval rating in history going to Bush right now, you can bet your bottom dollar that if McCain is elected without the popular vote this year, the United States of America will go up in smoke. I think there would be a call or two for some constitutional amending to be going on. There are too many people who care about this country too much to let the Bush Administration live on vicariously through the McCain Administration (just typing those words gave me the chills).

There are numerous arguments against the Electoral College. The most frequent of those arguments would be the chance of a president to be elected who didn’t win the popular vote. After asking around I found that people were also concerned with the Electoral College system because it may not accurately portray the true feelings of the population and so, the country. I’m sure sore as can be when watching McCain and Palin rallies and seeing all the hate and bigotry taking place. I surely don’t want to be cast alongside those hate-mongers if McCain wins the election. Because everybody knows the world will see us all like that if this country can’t change course and head in a new direction with Obama.

Barring that hypothetical scenario with McCain losing the popular but winning the presidency, the Electoral College isn’t the worst thing out there. There are very few positives about the way it works. A few examples of this would be how it improves the status of minority interests and it upholds a system of government and representation. However, I believe the system is flawed.

There is always a time for change. Now is the time, finally. The country is demanding change like crazy, be it from both sides of the aisle. Who is more honest and better qualified to lead us through that change? I believe the country, people and states alike, will make the right decision. I sure hope they will. And if for some horrible reason things go wrong and the popular vote goes to Obama while the Electoral goes to McCain, the only change people will be looking for (besides other countries to live in) will be a change to the system and an amendment to the Constitution.

Grant Lingel is a 25 year old from New York City. He is the author of, Imagine. A Vagabond Story. He currently works for AmeriCorps in Brooklyn and runs a daily blog from his home in Harlem.



Jokes and Smiles from Obama and McCain?

A rare look at the lighter side. Both candidates for the office of President, Senators Obama and McCain, took a swing at some humor this evening while attending the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner. After so much overt, attacking negativity in the campaigns its nice to see smiles and jokes (albeit with a few potshots) among the candidates.

If you are amused (I sure was!) I encourage you to check out the longer videos of McCains speech and Obama's speech.

What did you think of their roasts? Did any of the jokes go to far?


Monday, October 13, 2008

TIMEOUT! If you don't know what the responsibilities of an office are, are you even allowed to run for it?!

While I try to stay open minded, and at least understand the argument of the other side even if I disagree with it (perhaps even more so if I strongly disagree with it), but this Sarah Palin video is quite disconcerting. Either she is serious and really does not know what the job duties of the Vice President are, in which case how can she argue she is a valid candidate if she does not know what she is saying she is capable of doing? Or she was just being cheeky which is highly disrespectful of the current Vice President, implying he does not do much (and this is a guy in her own party!), and that she is busier running Alaska than our VP and President are running our entire country.

My guess is a little of both- she probably had very little idea what the VP actually does and was just being snarky. My extreme concern boils down to her lack of knowledge of national politics- if she doesn't know what the VP does can she really hold that position? And if she has been so entrenched in Alaska politics for this tremendously long two years as Govenor, has she had any time (especially as she's being the perfect mom to her 5 kids), to study US history, world history, politics, economics, etc, and stay up to date with current events? If McCain were to win, would she sit down in a meeting with Kim Il-sung or Vladimir Putin and wink?

Now seriously, the woman who less than two months ago claimed she did not know what the Vice President did, is now a candidate for that very position, and if elected less than a month from now will have access to launch codes to nuclear weapons. This is not a movie.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Amazing Voice of Hope and Call to Action by 5th Grader

Fifth Grader Dalton Sherman gave an amazing speech at a back to school convocation in Dallas. Through his inspired words, this young man challenges his peers and teachers alike to believe in him, themselves, and each other. His words rang through the auditorium as he calls, "You better not give up on us. No- you better not! Because as you know, in some cases, you're all we've got!" In his young commanding tone, he wills the teachers to never give up on any of the students, thanking them for doing the most important job in the city, reminding everyone to always believe that they can achieve their highest potential!

I highly recommend passing on this video to all teachers, students, and anyone needing a lift in your life!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

National Debt at Record High- or is it just i?

How low can we go? I say how low can we go? The Wall Street Journal reports that our 'Debt Clock' has officially run out of digits! With our new 'bailout' plan, our country has set a new record low- we crossed the $10 trillion mark of debt.

When the current debt clock was first constructed, the idea of ever hitting $10 trillion seemed beyond our capability. The dollar sign was securely placed in front of the trillion dollar place- not even conceiving of the possibility of it getting larger than $9,999,999,999,999. Having surpassed our wildest expectations, we have sunk the deepest in debt our country has ever fallen- erasing the dollar sign and replacing it with a '1'- that's the 1 in the '10' trillion...

As we try to counter our flailing economy with these new measures, I cannot help but wonder how far this debt can go? Seeing a number like 10 trillion makes it feel like monopoly money, or when your math teacher tries to explain the concept of i (ie the square root of negative one). If a government or company is in debt, they are playing on borrowed money for a limited period of time (usually with a growing interest tacked on to the original loan amount). So while this bailout plan (hopefully) will help stop the bleeding for now, we still have quite a deep wound in our economy overall- to the tune of $10 TRILLION and then some, that we owe to other countries and companies.

We have lived in prosperity for quite some time now, but throwing around numbers in the trillions is like doing math with that little i - you just start seeing the huge number in your bank account and forget that there still a negative sign in front of it (or an i back in math class meaning imaginary)! Obviously this is a simplistic view, but to be in debt is to have borrowed money that you will have to pay back some day. The article mentions plans to make a new national 'Debt Clock' increasing the digits to the quadrillions- so not only do we not have a plan or even goal to pay back our debt, the assumption is we will be going into greater debt!

We seem to be forgetting the negative sign that is tacked in front of that bill. $700 Billion to save our economy could be a deal or a disaster. If it works- fabulous! But it is imperative to know how they plan on paying it back! Because the 'they' in this scenario is our government and we, citizens of America, are responsible for that debt and we will be the ones to pay the price. We have to keep in mind that $700 Billion is not in the government's pockets, it is borrowed money on borrowed time, and we will be paying it back some day- with interest. And if we don't have the money now, how will we get it then? Just as the little i helps mathematicians do higher level functions, being able to borrow money large and small is one of the reasons our capitalistic society has run so smoothly for so long. But in math there are times when you can have an equation in which 2 i's will cancel each other out through division, but debt is not as imaginary as we like to make it out to be. We seem to hold an illusion that we can just go further and further into 'debt'- as if that negative sign up front is something we can just ignore- and it will all be ok in the end, no one will ever call in those debts, or make us repay.

Times are going to be tough for the foreseeable future as we pitch through these rocky waters. As you are evaluating the plans of government officials that you are voting for, make sure they detail actions that will help now as well as into the future. A tourniquet may stop the bleeding now, but it will only be so long before you have to cut off your entire arm.

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2008/10/09/sign-of-the-times-2/


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Human Milk in Human Foods- Brilliant or Barbaric?

PETA wrote a letter to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Co. urging them to replace the cows milk in their products with human breast milk. Before you get disgusted at the thought of your beloved Phish Food being tainted with the lactations of a 17 year old kid, who got knocked up by a good for nothing who left her at the words 'missed period', who's just trying to make a dime to pay for her one-month old baby, but can't find a job with the hours she needs to pick up said baby from daycare or pay enough for all the diapers... before you get lost in that thought- think about why it is so shocking, assuming it is as shocking for you as it was for me.

You can either say its ok to consume human milk or its not ok to consume human milk (beyond your own mothers milk when you are a baby of course). In our society it is quite unheard of to consume human milk in any form except when we are babies and it is from our own mother. When discussing the issue with a friend, she described it as too close to cannibalism to be ok. While I don't see it as cannibalistic, it is similarly wrong. The sharing of bodily fluids is intensly personal, and to be drinking of another seems somehow.. sacriligious. It is unclean. Worse yet, it monetizes a human bodily function. If this practice were to take hold in the US, it would again be another source for large corporations to gain more capital by feeding off those in the lowest socio-economic status (who would be willing/ forced out of circumstance to sell their milk for money).

As Ben and Jerry's did not jump on the 'Breast is Best' band wagon, whats most important about this letter is to consider the state of animal treatment. If you are not ok drinking human milk, are you ok drinking cow milk? This answer is different for everyone. Are you ok drinking cow milk after hearing that they are forced to be pregnant for most of their life (which allows the cows to continually produce milk), while being caged in tiny stalls, then slaughtered for meat when they can no longer produce milk.

America has made so many innovations in food and farming, and mass production in general. This allows us to walk into a super market and have access to pretty much anything we could need. But at what cost? Next time you walk into a store, think about where each of those products comes from. The fruit and veggies are grown somehwere, the processed foods are made and packaged in a warehouse... the meat before being put in that package used to be an animal living some kind of life. Think about where it comes from. Ask. Ask the store manager, your butcher, etc, where it came from or who his supplier is.

Not having to deal with the daily aspects of survival (like finding and producing food, creating shelter, finding water etc), has allowed for innovation and creation and our way of life. Its easy to be ignorant of the processes that happen behind the scenes in America. But not paying attention and apathy allows processes to become subpar. There are few people who advocate harming animals (ie I haven't heard of any groups or organizations out there) and goveg.com cited an gallup poll that 96% of Americans think animals should be protected from cruelty. If this is so it seems rather sad that we have let the animal industry get as pathetic as it has. Animals are treated quite horrifically at these 'meat farms' and most Americans turn a blind eye.

I went to an ice cream shop once that ha"d its own dairy farm out back. This is one of the places that is supposedly better at cow treatment? The babies were seperated from their mothers upon birth and CHAINED in these littled huts, ALONE, for 8 WEEKS. Supposedly it limits disease, but how is that humane? All the patrons would get their ice cream and chow down, and some would wander out back to the barn area to see the cows. A few were on display like a zoo, then there were the little calf silohs, just stuck their all alone in their chains. Everyone just stared like it was not a problem.

So ask yourself... what are you ok with? Will you eat anything no matter where it came from, no matter how it was produced? Will you buy anything no matter how it was produced? Or will you become aware. Learn about the process before an item lands on the shelf. If you so choose, and you are inspired to do so, say or do something if something is not right. As Gandhi said, "Be the Change you want to see in the world. "

Sources: http://www.wptz.com/news/17539127/detail.html


Friday, September 19, 2008

How Much Do Ads Really Influence What We Buy?

Most of us would swear we are not affected by advertising. But if it did not work, companies would not spend billions of dollars each year trying to get their company name and logo 'branded' into our brains and hearts. Its as simple as walking in to the drug store and being faced with a wall of toothpaste- which do you buy? The one you've always bought? The kind your mother buys? The one your dentist recommends? Is it based on taste (and if so have you really done a taste test of more than a few, and did it venture beyond the big name brands)?

The majority of Americans buy Crest and Colgate. Do they really work any better than the brands on the bottom shelf that no one has heard of- of course not! While flipping through Consumer Reports last year, one of those cheaper, less heard of brands (UltraBrite) was ranked as one of the highest quality pastes. I would venture a bet that many have never even tried it.

Whats worse about advertising is it plays on our innate tendencies and uses them to promote products that may or may not live up to the hype. Humans in general fear the unknown and we are drawn to familiarity. Just by having heard the name Crest 100,000 times growing up, especially if it sat on the sink in our own bathroom, we have a much higher likelihood of buying Crest today when faced with that wall of paste. Even now having heard UltraBrite was ranked higher in Consumer Reports, most will still reach for their normal brand next time they toothpaste shopping because that little box on the bottom shelf is new and scary. Maybe they've never heard of it besides this one article, or cheaper must mean not as good (which is untrue), or they don't like that its lower or higher on the shelf.

Ironically the branding makes you feel a connection to it, because you have always used it, its familiar to you.. its your toothpaste (or coffee shop, soda, or shirt). In a country where we are lacking the bonds of a strong community, we seem to derive bits of identity from the brands that we use most often. And advertisers LOVE us for it! We are their pieces of clay that they continue to mold with each passing season.

So how do we live in a world so influenced by advertising? Is there a way to avoid it completely? The simple answer is of course not. To act like advertising does not influence you is to be as naive as those completely ignorant of the power of advertising. But you should be aware of it. Go home and look in your cupboards and on your shelves, notice what you buy and ask yourself why. You have to buy toothpaste, and you have to buy many other neccessities that have multiple brand choices. Sometimes buying a more expensive brand is worth the purchase because it makes a difference (it lasts longer, has a more potent effect, has a truly better taste determined after trying many options, etc). Sometimes its fun to go out and try a brand you've never heard of and you will be utterly and pleasantly surprised!


Monday, September 1, 2008

Welcome to No Sheeping!

Welcome to the No Sheeping Blog! An idea long in the making, spurred on by the constant sheeping that can be seen every day in our country- en mass and small scale in ourselves.

I once read an article of a sheep herder who watched helplessly from below as one of his sheep fell off a cliff. Then the sheep next to the first one followed suit, doing as sheep do, and took the plunge as well. The shepherd watched in horror as more than 100 of his herd copied their fellow compatriots and hurtled off the ledge to their bloody death. It seems horrific… barbaric. You might wonder, as I did, why the sheep would commit suicide? Why would the shepherd not stop them… not save them?

But we must realize the sheep did not know the ground would vanish beneath their feet... they were just following the herd as they always do. The shepherd saw it happening from afar, flabergasted I'm sure. How do you stop an entire herd, more powerful than multiple MACK trucks as they move together as one.. minds made up and as simple as 'we're going this way!'.

People in groups are oftentimes similar to sheep. It’s easier not to fight, to be agreeable, to go with status-quo. Sometimes this is fine. If what you agree with is good, loving, and causes no harm- agree away! The key point being to think first before nodding your head, as opposed to looking around to make sure everyone else is nodding as your sole reason for bobbing your head too. Sometimes there are rights being denied in our society, wrongs being grossly perpetrated, atrocities being ignored, media and ads manipulating the thoughts and beliefs of our culture at large without discourse, or the herd seems to think that apathy is an acceptable option because an issue doesn't directly affect them (but I promise... if you live in this country.. the issues of America affect you- now, tomorrow, indirectly, or in-your-face harshly).

No Sheeping is born of the idea that we should all look around our lives, our communities, our country… and think about what is going on! We are a community of thinkers, compassionate and passionate, who do not follow the crowd blindly, who do not agree with everyone just to fit in, but rather question what is right. No Sheeping is a community of those searching for truth, rights for all, love of humanity, and independent thought.

We are all different people, and I guarantee we will not agree on every issue. This blog is a sister to the T-shirt site, allowing more of a forum for ideas and articles, and allowing me to give commentary on some of the ideas behind the T-shirts. I will not be offended if you do not agree with all of our NO SHEEPING ideas, articles, and shirts- in fact I applaud you for supporting the idea behind the brand enough to wear one whose message you support even though there may be one you don't agree with! This is the power of not being a sheep- free thought, open minds, and respect for each other!

So how do you change a herd? One new idea, one discussion, one thought… one person at a time.

With Love and Respect.


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