Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Patreon And The Economics And Psychology Of Social Media Creators

ThePeach recently made a video on TheBreakfastclub about her thoughts on Patreon. The basic point she made is that people are asking for money for free when they use Patreon ask to get paid for making videos. This is tantamount to e-begging in her view.

While she acknowledged the fact that she is a part of the YouTube partnership program, she sees that as fundamentally different. With ad revenue from partnership, she is taking part of the money that a corporation is making off her videos. On the other hand, in her view, asking for money directly from the viewers is like asking for money for something they would otherwise do for free.

In my view, this discussion goes to the heart of what it means to be a content creator of any sort in the current moment. A couple of facts; first, we are in a time in which virtually all media is available (legally or otherwise) for free. Second, there is unprecedented market saturation for content. All sorts of content is available and competing for attention at any given moment. Third, a flood of amateur content is what makes up a substantial proportion of this market saturation.

From this saturated media environment, in which an entire generation has been raised not knowing what it is like to have to pay for their media, a sense of entitlement has developed. It would be one thing if this attitude was contained to content created by corporate entities with deep pockets, but it spills over to independent content creators as well. Awhile back, I made a video talking about a novel I am working on. Someone suggested I make my book available for free. Now, I am not foolish enough to believe that if people want to get it for free that I could stop them from doing so. To an extent, the very fact that people would read it at all would be a great thing for an obscure first time novelist. On the other hand, I would challenge that person to write their own novel, and once they are 30,000 words into it, ask themselves if they still want to give it away for free. It’s possible they might, but at a minimum, they would have experienced the effort required and realized that it is work. Never confuse the fact that something can be taken for free with it requiring no effort to make.

I do not expect to become rich off of writing a novel, and part of the reason I write is for the joys and challenges of it, as well as to express my thoughts and ideas. Nonetheless, writing to me represents more than a hobby I do casually. It is in no small part my aspiration to succeed as a writer that constitutes a significant portion of my motivation. I want to write well, and someday I would like to be successful enough to write for a living. Simply put, if I had all of my time and energy free to focus on writing, not only would the quality and quantity of my work improve, but I would be doing something with my life I find fulfilling. Do not delude yourself with the myth of the starving artist. Just about anyone serious and passionate about their art wishes they could do it for a living. Not everyone has what it takes to make it happen, but I have yet to meet anyone that would rather be working a menial job to pay the bills than working on their art. Selling my work, rather than giving it way is all a part of the process of taking what I do seriously and aiming for success. The attitude of entitlement sabotages artists at all levels, and in all fields of art, not just the major media conglomerates.

Returning specifically to the issue of YouTube and Patreon, I certainly see the different between making a vlog and writing a novel. I have firsthand experience at both. I would be lying if I said that I have never given any thought to using Patreon. My reasons for not having done so thus far are manifold: the stigma against it; my own doubts about doing it similar to ThePeach’s; the usual lack of production quality of my videos; and so on. But there are times when it seems like a sensible idea.

Most of my videos involve me speaking extemporaneously, having put in no prior effort other than kicking the ideas around in my head for a while. Such efforts hardly seem to be worthy of anyone’s cash. On the other hand, my FeministFrequency series would be a perfect example of a time when I put in so much effort that I am almost embarrassed to admit it, because it makes the fact that I did it for free seem absurd. I wrote 20,000 words worth of script, watched hours worth of video, spent many more hours editing video, gathered and created images, recorded reading the scripts, did video inserts, created the graphics, and the music and a host of other things. At minimum wage, the effort would have totaled hundreds of dollars easily. The one part that stands out most to me was a ten second joke about “Rage Against Capitalism”. I recorded the voiceover, made the graphics, dug out my guitar petal to do the wah-wah sound from Bulls on Parade, edited the audio and put it all together. By the time I had finished, I realized that an hour had past. If everything I did required and hour of work per ten seconds of result, I wouldn’t ask for money, I would demand it. I have gotten paid real money for music videos that required less work than that series of videos. Video production is a profession. The odd thing about YouTube is that the videos that took countless hours to create and ones that took barely any effort at all occupy the same site.

A great many people criticized FeministFrequency for asking for $6,000 to make her Tropes Vs Women in Video Games series. There were countless cries of “I make my videos for free, so why can’t you!”. This shows the disconnect people have over how difficult and time consuming researching and making a video of good production quality can be. People’s time and effort are taken for granted and expected for free because of a massive sense of entitlement people have about media nowadays. Were this attitude to prevail in all cases, little of quality would ever get produced. Passion is inconsistent and can only take people so far.

TheAngryVideoGameNerd has a video about the process of making one of his videos. It is a great example of how time consuming and involved video production can be. I am not sure how long it takes DarkMatter2525 to make his videos, but I know enough about animation to know that even with all the advantages of animation software, it is still a time consuming process. And yet it all seems so effortless to the viewer. It all seems like magic till you have done it yourself.  Production quality is a factor in considering asking the audience for money. Everyone can do it for free, but not everyone’s efforts are equally worthy of reward.

I am a Youtube partner, and I will say that amount I get from ad revenue isn’t even enough to support my coffee habit. A reason I have flirted with the idea of joining Patreon is that vloggers are being fooled into believing that what we do has no real value. Even if I got as little as $10 a video, I would have a lot more incentive to make them more consistently. And on the whole, it takes around an hour to shoot, edit, render and upload even a simple video, to say nothing of my occasional efforts of greater ambition and effort. So $10 would be slightly above minimum wage for doing an hours work. Ad revenue can be extremely hit or miss (mostly miss) but there is a more important point to be made. When I first became a Partner, I had a certain amount reservation about of making money off ad revenue. I have since come to understand that, Partner or not, it is the users and the content creators that make the wheel turn. My only problem with it now is that not all content creators are cut in on the deal. It is the content the users create that makes social media companies worth anything. The content draws the viewers, which bring in the advertising revenue. This is as true for YouTube as it is for Facebook and Instigram.

Social media works on the same model as television, but with a twist. In the TV model, networks would create or license products to be broadcast in the hopes of drawing large numbers of viewers. Those viewers would in turn be leveraged to get advertisers to pay large sums of money for that audience’s attention. The internet and TiVo have of course dealt a serious blow to this model. By contrast, social media is basically an empty shell and a means of distribution. They provide server space for people’s videos, photos or what have you and an interface to facilitate the exchange of that information. It is easy to feel in awe of a site like YouTube and the incredible technical achievement it represents. And it is understandable to feel a certain sense of gratitude for allowing you to distribute content for free. I first discovered the site 8 years ago when I had some Lego videos I wanted to be able to show friends and family. My story is a fairly typical one in that regard, and at the time, free video hosting was a rare thing. At first, it felt like I owed them something, even if it was only a sense of gratitude. But I have had 8 years to watch the site evolve and come to understand how social media works.

Unlike television, social media is not investing money to create content (with rare exceptions). While they do pay for the technical infrastructure that makes it all possible, that is not what draws in the users. People do not log on to Facebook to marvel at a system that can manage millions of pictures being uploaded every minute. They come to Facebook to see the photos and status updates of their friends and family, and other material being aggregated from elsewhere on the web. Without content creators, no one would bother coming to social media sites, and thus they would be worthless. There would be no attention to sell to the advertisers. (Side note: unlike television, social media also sells information it collects about you, not unlike a for profit spy network)

The simple fact is that making a video for YouTube is creating a product for a business making a profit off it. This brings us to another key difference between TV and social media. TV aims for a large audience. Shows that fail to draw a large audience are canceled. An individual show represents an investment meant to fill a limited timeslot in a linear medium. If it fails to perform, it must be cut. The internet does not suffer from the same technological limitations as TV. Thus, the audience can be much more dispersed. By television standards, almost every YouTube channel would be canceled. Even the most popular vloggers are only pulling basic cable numbers. For YouTube, it is the aggregate of traffic that matters. To quote their own statistics page “According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network”

The problem for most content creators is that their individual contribution is worth very little in the scheme of things. This is why the vast majority do not qualify for the Partnership program. There is a certain threshold of views that must be achieved before their content is considered worthy. Some people put in little effort into making their videos and have little interest in creating a large audience. But for mid-level vloggers, the sort I see most frequently resorting to Patreon, they are in a different situation. They have established a foothold audience, but are not very far up the mountain. When you reach that point (as I can personally attest) being on YouTube becomes about more than just making videos. It becomes about self-branding and managing a social media presence. You have to engage the audience, manage several social media platforms, read comments, respond to emails, worry about things like graphics and video thumbnails, and numerous other tasks and chores. The effort required begins to rise substantially. For mid-level vlogger’s their audience is not large enough see a reasonable return on investment by way of ad revenue alone. It is not surprising then that so many of them are turning to Patreon.

Now that we have established that it does require effort and that it is essentially creating product, it starts to seem more like HBO that e-begging. In fact, you have to start to wonder about the psychology of someone that is only performing half measures. I often include myself in that camp. I have reached the point where I am getting over the fact that my success on YouTube seemed almost accidental and trying to figure out where to take it from here. On the way up, a few surprise hit videos, promotion by TheAmazingAtheist, some networking and sheer persistence helped this articulate and opinionated person reach a substantial audience. I have had an interest in film making and other media production since before YouTube existed, and so I own equipment and have a skill set that has proven to be beneficial to my YouTube career without it having been the goal. For a while I stumbled through with the idea that I was just doing it for fun. That was most likely the luxury of being in college. Struggling as I am for purchase in the bleak economic landscape on the path to some sort of career, I view YouTube through a different lens now. It wasn’t all an accident, and I would be a fool not to take it more seriously and view it as a step on the path towards something bigger: a place to prove my talents.

That is not to say that I expect to become the next big YouTube star. ThePeach also recently did a video called “10 Ways To Be Successful At YouTube”. It is a sarcastic take on what actually succeeds on YouTube. I am not really cut out for that sort of thing. My talents lay elsewhere, but unless you already have connections, you need to be noticed to get anywhere. YouTube can be a good proving ground. While it may be social media that is profiting from the free labor of countless users, traditional media is more than happy to look at sites like YouTube as a talent pool. For an aspiring artist of any sort, it is also vital to have an audience of people interested in what they do and what they have to say.

I disclose all of this as an example that even if people aren’t asking for money on Patreon or pandering to a large audience for ad revenue (or both) then they likely have some other motivation for their efforts. Constantly making videos of any quality and maintaining a social media presence can become an exhausting job. I have seen vastly more vloggers quit then I have seen continue. The people that are making it big on the site are in all likelihood working it like a full time job while making it seem effortless. More than a few mid-level people are also working hard without as much reward. People with no real agenda don’t bother. They are the sort to turn on their substandard web cam and record themselves rambling for a few minutes and call it a day. People want some sort of payoff for their effort. It could be money, it could be a path to something better, and it could be pure ego gratification. This is not only true of YouTube, but of life in general. Most people take the path of least resistance unless they think their efforts will pay off somehow. What they are looking for depends on the person. VenomFangX is an example of a person that seems to do it for his ego. He has always struck me as the sort of person that enjoys the attention, even if it is negative. His constantly smug expression and the fact that the only comments he allows are sycophantic praise would seem to validate this suspicion.

Patreon exists because it fills a need. It helps create a ‘middle class’ between the people that barely try and those that have become huge successes. It is a lifeline that gives some people the incentive to continue and compensation for their efforts. Let’s face it; most of what is on YouTube is shit. Viewers that appreciate the efforts of certain channels are happy to support what they like because it keeps everything from falling into the morass. What entitled people who think everyone should make content for free need to realize is that quality requires effort. If it is not properly supported, then the people making it will eventually ask themselves “why bother” and quit, or at least not try as hard. And importantly for discussing Patreon, not everything of quality will be responded to by the masses. I find it irresistible to make a comparison to PBS at this point. While they do get grants and donations from wealthy benefactors and non-profits, they are “viewer supported”. People give PBS their money because they believe in the content, even if it is not the sort of thing that would draw prime time numbers on network television.

It should also be pointed out that there is a sacrifice to mass success as well. If you think the answer is “get more viewers and make more ad revenue if you want money for making YouTube videos” then I advise you to study some successful YouTubers and take note. Most of them are people who have learned to polish the lowest common denominator, or pander to the audience. Without disparaging TheAmazingAtheist, I have watched his career on YouTube with interest, because he is the only person I have seen remotely like myself that has succeeded in gaining a large audience. He has over ten times more subscribers now than when I firsts started watching him. I tried to examine what factors differentiate his level of success from my own in a broader attempt to understand YouTube success. In some regards, we are alike. We are around the same age, have similar taste in entertainment, are both atheists and make YouTube videos. At certain times, I have felt that we generally share very similar views. It is true that he is tall, fat and apparently has a small penis, while I am average height, skinny and ignoring my calling as a porn star. But those are not the important differences that seem to make a difference in success.   

TAA is a performer at heart. He has said before that he studies the performances the stand-up comedians he admires and tries to learn from their performances. He is also filling a role. He gives voice to the loud, angry and opinionated person living inside many of us. He has made a confrontational style and speaking ‘unpopular’ and ‘edgy’ opinions his brand. The secret is that such opinions are not as unpopular as one might think, as his own popularity attests. I on the other hand am not a performer, beyond my talent for delivering extemporaneous monologs. Moreover, my personality is not suited to filling the sort of role that TAA does. It is hard to be nuanced and consider multiple sides of the equation and shout out a rant at the same time. Furthermore, the harder you try to court an audience, the more the audience becomes the tail that wags the dog.

One of the unspoken tricks of being popular on YouTube is to ambulance chase the viral attention surrounding the news story or topic of the moment. This places you constantly in reaction mode, pontificating about the latest hot button issue. In doing so, you abandon the initiative and become subject to the whims of the moment. This is why the news is generally so abysmal and utterly lacking in insight, instead returning again and again to default talking points. If a shooting happens, the media always circles back to gun control vs blaming some sort of scapegoat like video games. Nothing is learned, individually or collectively, because people simply argue their sides till the next issue comes along to argue about. Rarely do they look into the event further than their own assumptions. When a similar incident happens again, it is like the movie Groundhog’s Day. When Youtubers emulate this pattern, they fall into the same trap as the news.

Again, the secret to stating an unpopular opinion is those opinions are actually shared by a substantial audience. This is how Fox News can cater almost exclusively to one side of the political spectrum, while MSNBC and cater to the other. TAA is an avid fan of Marilyn Manson, as am I. To paraphrase Manson’s autobiography, he said in regards to Anton LeyVey that the philosophies we find most valid are the ones that tell us what we already believe. This is how the unpopular can be popular if not mainstream. But the other edge to this sword is that you have to keep the audience agreeing with what you say. This takes a combination of mirroring the audience’s beliefs, going with the crowd and drawing in impressionable fans.
I have seen the fickleness of the audience first hand. I have had people unsubscribe the moment I state any point of view they do not agree with. I also remember as a teenager seeing Marilyn Manson fans turn on him because he changed his look and sound on the album Mechanical Animals. Consistently challenging the audience’s beliefs is not a good path to success. But constantly pandering to them makes you tired and predicable and becomes a kind of prison. The audience’s expectations start dictating to you what you can and cannot be and think.

It takes someone skilled at pandering to sense the disposition of the audience and respond accordingly. Case in Point: Feminism. At the moment, an easy way to score points with an audience is to trash feminism. Feminist bashing also has the advantage of seeming rebellious. This is part of the reason so many popular YouTubers are taking out their sticks to whack feminism with. More people will cheer them on than abandon them, so that is the opinion they end up championing. The fact that they are resorting to Straw man tactics and ignoring the complexities of the issue is irrelevant. Give the people what they want! That is the basis of politics in a democracy. It is how someone like Mitt Romney can oppose the Affordable Care Act while running for president, because the majority of republican voters are against it, in spite of the fact that it is based on a law that he himself signed as a governor. It is why nearly every serious presidential candidate moves towards the center during their election campaign. Pandering causes people to trade their own opinions to echo popular sentiment. It is the intellectual lowest common denominator.

In the realm of YouTube, people who go chasing a mass audience also seem to embark down this path. Even if they started out with something to offer or than the typical vapid fluff, they end up becoming the intellectual equivalent. They stop having something unique and insightful to say and instead become more like barometers of a certain flavor of opinion. It becomes tiresome and uninteresting. It is like when a band tones down their sound and starts making more radio friendly music. They lose much of what make them interesting to begin with. To continue with the music analogy while returning to the subject of mid-level YouTubers, without support, the band you like might quit or start making radio friendly music to try and get greater success. The same goes for YouTubers.

While not everyone wants or needs money to keep them making YouTube videos, there isn’t much point in begrudging those that do. If viewer support keeps them from pandering to the masses, then all the better. It is up to the audience to decide what is worth their money. The current system of ad revenue is of substantial benefit to only a small few. Even most of those with access to it are getting little from it. It is up to us as content creators to recognize the fact that what we do has value, even if it can be accessed for free. It is making social media companies’ money. It requires our time and energy to make it. The audience hopefully values it more than the rest of the ocean of shit that is on YouTube. A bit of money would likely incentivize people to do a better job, and hopefully up their game. Entitled people want us to believe that we don’t deserve anything for what we do. Social media companies would rather we focus on the fact that they are letting us share our content for free rather than the fact that our content is integral to how they make their money. People that resent the talent and success of others will try to drag them down anyway they can. Not all of us are YouTube star material because we are not vapid enough, or will not pander hard enough. It is just not in keeping with our personalities. All of this is the foundation of believing that people are wrong for accepting money through Patreon, or having a donate on PayPal button or using KickStarter. They audience is smart enough to know if what they are choosing to pay for is worth it. If they aren’t, then there is the saying “a fool and his money are soon parted”. Even in cases of outright e-begging, “the fool and his money are soon parted”. I suspect that there aren’t many viewers that are going to give money to Youtubers that put little effort into their videos. Things will sort themselves out naturally.

The point of Patreon is that people know what they are paying for: videos. They are not being asked to give money towards someone buying a new camera so viewers can see the same old stuff “NOW IN AMAZING HD!” or fund their travel or fund projects that may or may not come to fruition, or any of the other frivolities e-begging is associated with.

In case you think this is all a big build up to me announcing that I am now on Patreon, the truth is that I am still on the fence. I am not sure if it is right for me personally, but I can understand why certain people would do it and why they might be justified. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I Am Not A Republican Conservative Tea Bagger (A Reply)

I will say that I have no problem with you calling me a leftist, except for two things. First is that you seem to use the term as a mindless pejorative. The second reason is that in various comments you have made to me, and things you have said in your videos, you seem to be under the distinct impression that because I have been to college, any left leaning thought I have must be the result of being brainwashed by my professors. Not only does this strike me as condescending, but I find it rather laughable in light of my actual experiences in college. For the record, the overwhelming majority of my professors went out of their way to not give their personal opinion on most subjects, political or otherwise. Ironically, most or all of my political science professors were right leaning, not left. More importantly though, you seem to not grant the possibility that I might have life experience from which to base my world view. I am 29 years old and you do not appear to be that much older than me, and so your comments come off as typical right wing anti-intellectualism I am sorry to say. For the record, before I went to college, I was what you would call a ‘working class person’ working menial jobs. I learned firsthand the realities that shatter many of our deeply held myths about success and the ‘American Dream’. I know for example, that hard work on its own is irrelevant. Companies will happily work you to the bone and throw you away when they are done with nothing to show for it. It is typically not how hard you work, but whose ass you kiss, and how much of your unquestioning devotion you give to them. May of the means to success, such as college, are simply out of reach of most people, or they must go into serious debt to obtain them, while others succeed by having things handed to them by their parents. In spite of all of our consoling rags to riches stories, the reality is that, on average, the number one determining factor for most people, even in America, is the success of their parents. In other words, our meritocracy is an illusion propped up by exceptions to the rule stories.

While I am on the subject of personal experience, you have accused me of strawmanning the right, tea party, religious conservatives, etc. I assume you are talking about my Dispatches from the Bible belt video. To that I say that you are guilty of hearing what you want to hear. As I stated, these displays of religion are simply more common in the south than there I live, and not that every person in the south is that way, or that everyone on the right is a bigot. I understand the right wing mentality FAR better than you think. I come from a military family in which most of the male members of my family have been in the military. I was born on an Air Force base, and I still remember going to the base theater where they would play the national anthem with a montage of Air Force jets before every movie. As I understand it, you were in the Air Force, and perhaps you have seen this for yourself. Many members of my own family are Christians, and Southerners (I did say I was in the South visiting family, did I not). I was not raised by granola eating hippies. I have a fairly intimate understanding of the patriotic and conservative Christian world view. I do not have a one dimensional view of the right.

What I will say is that I think that what has been called the ‘politics of resentment’ is a major motivation factor for the right. Conservatives might not hate gays, but they do form the bulk of opposition to gay marriage (A hypocrisy I will return to in a moment). While most on the right are not racists, there is clearly a massive anxiety over the loss of “Tradition America” amongst the right. This phrase is rather telling. When Bill O’Reilly talked about this loss of tradition America, he did it on the context of explaining how African Americans, Latino Americans, other minorities, Women, Homosexuals and non-Christians disproportionately voted for Obama. What are we left with when we subtract such groups from America? White heterosexual Christian males. Much of the opposition to welfare has a racial subtext to it as well. While paranoia that non-white, non-Christian, non-hetero, non-males are ruining America is not universally shared on the right, it is not a component of their politics we can ignore either.

As for your assertions that the Tea Party and the right in general are simply Libertarians that want smaller government, individual liberty and control of your own lives free from the Jaba the Hut state lording over you, I would first suggest that you stop pretending to be a Libertarian before you upset actual Libertarians. I personally have respect for actual Libertarians when they are intellectually honest and consistent, even if I do not agree with some of their more utopian ideas. I think that any honest examination of the Republican Party, The Tea Party, and Religious conservatives would show that your claims to these high minded principles are transparently false.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that if Democrats want the Mommy State, then Republicans want the Daddy State. If the Mommy state being social welfare programs, then the Daddy state is having a powerful military and security state to beat up anyone that threatens you. An actual Libertarian would want neither.
It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the ultimate Sacred Cow of the right is the military. When Obama, under advisement from the Pentagon no less, wanted to reduce the military budget, people on the right rushed to label him a traitor. In point of fact, The United States has the most expensive military in the world. It amounts to around half or more of the federal budget, depending on counting. We have military bases around the world, which we use to project our power to all corners of the globe. A ‘radical leftist’ would say that is controlling the world at the barrel of a gun. We need not devolve into such hyperbole to simply note that this hardly amounts to small government, as the military is a part of the government, and the largest single part at that. Since the Tea Party treats the Founding Fathers like Biblical prophets, it is also worth noting here that this state of affairs in contrary to what many of them thought of America’s proper role in the world.

Moreover, this runs contrary to the claim of rugged individualists taking responsibility for their own lives, as it is relying on the government to provide a security blanket through force. I mention this not to say that people have no principle on which to justify the military, but rather that it proves that they hold an unstated principle about the proper role of government. Namely, that rather than control their own lives without the aid of government, they believe the government should take charge of their security. Interestingly though, the ‘political principles’ by which people try to justify massive military spending and ‘securing our interests’ throughout the world are not one which they extend to other countries. If it were simply a principle of proper government that they should expend vast sums of their wealth on their militaries and secure their nation interests, then we would end up living in a vastly more dangerous world. This is exactly what we saw happen during the cold war. The United States wrongly believed that it had a smaller nuclear arsenal than the Soviet Union, and built up its stock pile to close a non-existent weapons gap. The Soviet Union, facing an actual weapons gap, responded in kind by massively increasing their arsenal. As a result, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons were created, and the world is unspeakably less safe as a result. The underlying presumption is that the United States has a unique right to military hegemony. If tomorrow China decided to spend half of its budget on its military, we would no doubt see this as a threat to world peace, and that would be correct, if only for that fact that it might lead to confrontation with the United States as the two countries tried to ‘secure their national interests’.

The Daddy State also contradicts the notion that you want government out of your lives, as the US now has the most massive internal surveillance system ever created. As you read this, this conversation is probably being stored in an NSA database. Does that bother you at all? Is the fact that they are monitoring virtually all electronic information, from phone calls to emails to websites visit of practically every person in the country not a violation of privacy? A few decades ago, this would have been seen as a massive intrusion on the part of the government. The only comparable systems of internal surveillance are found in totalitarian states. Certainly, there are many people on the right who are mortified by this, but the attitude of the mainstream right and the Republican Party is to fully support these measures as necessary for our security. The right is extremely found of selectively quoting the Founding Fathers, so allow me to offer you a quote:

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

The point to be noted here is that the right is willing to allow the government to reach quite far into their lives, rather than genuinely want them out.

When the right says they want small government, this has nothing to do with how large the government actually is, or how much it costs, but rather is a matter of function. The right does not question a government military, or police, fire department, road building, public schools or a host of other functions. What it is against is social welfare programs. In a sense, everything I just named, from the military to schools is a form of social welfare. The government provides them for the benefit of everyone in the society for the sake of the welfare of the society. The type of social welfare the right is against is that which directly helps the poor and needy. Damn those welfare cheats!

The notion of individual liberty is also an interesting one, because it is a concept the right applies selectively. If it is a person using drugs, then the Republicans become the Law and Order party. Excluding Medicare, social security and such major programs, this country spends roughly as much on the prison system as it does on welfare programs such as food stamps and housing assistance. Keep in mind that said cost is with less than half as many people in prison as are on welfare. Of the over 2 million people in the US in prison, a staggering percent are there for nonviolent drug offences. When we include the cost of policing and interdiction efforts, the amount the war on drugs costs increases substantially. All of it would seem to be a futile attempt by the government to control what people put into their own bodies. Those on the mainstream of the right protest neither the cost nor the intrusion on personal liberty brought by the war on drugs.

Gay marriage is another classic example of the right’s commitment to personal liberty. To say that two consenting adults should not be allowed to marry each other would seem to be a rather clear incursion on personal liberty. It is usually at this point that the right will either offer up their own religious beliefs as a reason, or they will suddenly wax philosophically about how the government only has an obligation to endorse heterosexual marriage. The reasoning behind this most often is that they think it should be the government’s role to promote heterosexual procreation. This stands firmly against the idea of a government staying out of people’s lives and letting them be self-determinate. And instead it suggests they think it’s the government’s responsibility to take a role in the most intimate aspects of people’s lives. Who is the liberal now? More to the point, demanding personal liberty for yourself, while denying it to others is hypocrisy.

Public schools present an interesting example of right wing religious conservative thinking for several reasons. Rather than every person taking on the ‘personal responsibility’ of the education of their children, most of them opt for public schools. Many of those who do not happily accept private schools receiving government money through voucher programs. Their main problem with public schools seems to be that they view of them as an ideological battle ground. They are outraged when prayer endorsing their religion is taken out of school, but object to their child being taught any point of view they disagree with. They do not consistently argue for the neutrality of public education. Rather they hypocritically argue for their point of view at the expense of others. If they want to claim that the school system has no business teaching their child sex education or evolution, when what business does the school have endorsing religion through school prayer?

The entire issue of public displays of religion demonstrates that the right wants the government out of THEIR life, and not out of the lives of the citizens that disagree with them. If the government promotes a Christian world view, it is not the government intruding on THEM, so why should they care how it affects other people that do not share their view?

Generally speaking, the right is happy when the government is on their side, and angry when they think it is not. The overarching principles of this are not what you claim them to be. They are perfectly happy with a vast and intrusive government, if they believe it will grant them a certain kind of safety. Government can endorse one point of view over others, so long as it is their point of view. The notion that the right wants hands off government is flatly contradicted by their ideology as a whole.

As for the fiscal arguments of the Tea Party and the issue of the nation debt, the only thing which makes these things hard to attack is that the Tea Party seems impervious to facts. An honest look at our current deficit would show that it is not merely a matter of out of control government spending, as the Tea Party narrative would have us believe. Rather it was brought on by a loss of revenue and a spike in unemployment. In turn, both of those things are a result of the economic recession. Government tax is a percentage. For the sake of simplicity let us say that the government taxes at a rate of 20% and that the GDP was 10 trillion dollars prior to the recession. 20% of 10 trillion is 2 trillion. But what if the economy shrank to 8 trillion? Than 20% would be 1.6 trillion. If the federal government has a budget of 2 trillion dollars it only has 4 options to make up a 400 billion dollar deficit (again, the numbers are for the sake of simplicity): raise taxes, borrow, cut spending, or some combination of the above. The Tea Party is against taxes and borrowing, which leaves only one option. They do not endorse across the board cuts to the budget. Rather, their true agenda is to destroy ‘entitlement programs’ no matter how small a dent such cuts would put in the deficit. Attempts to claim ‘fiscal responsibility’ are simply a cloak for their actual agenda. Tax cuts and blocking attempts to raise taxes only increase the deficit. The Tea Party could care less. The focus on the deficit is an opportunistic chance to try and achieve what they have been hoping to achieve since FDR and the New Deal. Speaking of the New Deal, Federal jobs programs would be one way to get people off of government aid and back to work, but again, this is a measure the Tea Party opposes.

On the subject of jobs, I could sit here all day quoting examples of the right’s deeply held belief that the only reason people are on any form of government assistance to begin with is because they are lazy and entitled people that just don’t want to work. They obsess over every welfare scandal, while similar scandals involving waste and fraud are ignored when it is corporate welfare or the military rather than ‘welfare queens’ committing it. The reality is that unemployment and poverty are not purely the result of human laziness. Unemployment is not high during a recession or depression because the nation was struck by a mass laziness movement were people by the millions decided they no longer wanted to work. It is caused by a decline in demand for labor that leads to a reduction of supply (or layoffs, in layman’s terms). In other words, you can thank the workings of capitalism itself for unemployment. This country has been going through economic booms and busts for well over a century. This is a cycle observed in all capitalist economies. We need not convert to Marxism in light of this fact. However, given that most unemployment is systemic, and not purely a matter of individual choice, a basic economic safety net is on rather unshakable ground pragmatically speaking. A brief glance at history will reveal that masses of unemployed people brought to the point of desperation can spell disaster for a society. The French revolution, the Russian revolution, the rise of Nazi German and fascist Italy are just a few of the more dramatic examples. From this knowledge, it is only a short step to realize that government welfare is as much for the good of society as a whole as the military or any other aspect of government. You might resent Joe Welfare for living of your tax dollars, but imagine millions of Joe Welfares with nothing to lose and you might begin to appreciate where your tax money is going.

Moreover, there is the issue of a living wage. Much government assistance goes to people that work their ass off, but do not make enough to get by. Should we take food stamps way from the mother that would have to otherwise choose between feeding her children and paying rent even though she works full time? Many people in areas with high cost of living simply cannot afford to move to somewhere with a lower cost of living because they cannot afford to save any money to move. Those that call for the end of such programs and decry the people that use them as lazy are ignoring reality. Again, this is the sort of politics of resentment I say motivates the right. “How dare they say I have to support anyone other than myself! Except for the ways in which I expect everyone else to support me”. What Republicans call self-sufficiency, I call self-centered hypocrisy.

As for your claim that militant atheism led to a backlash that created the Christian right and empowered people like Jerry Falwell by having monuments and school prayer removed, I would say that is a matter of perspective. It is interesting that you would name Jerry Falwell specifically, because I have little doubt that Jesus Christ would have denounced him as a Pharisee. He was an opportunist who used issues like the ones you cite to further his own political power, and a disgrace to the name of Jesus Christ. He is typical of leaders of the Christian right. Falwell in particular is not even above Christian fratricide, considering what he did to the Bakers. Evangelical Christians, once among the least likely groups to vote, are now being taken for a ride by power hunger leaders. I find the issue of Ten Commandments monuments particularly funny, seeing as how many of them were placed by movie studios as part of a promotion for a Charlton Heston film. When they were removed, or threaten to be removed, the right started acting like they were chiseled by George Washington himself. Once more we have circled back to the fact that the right is happy to have the government in their life, so long as they agree with it, and even fight for what others would see as unwanted government influence in their lives.

Lastly, your appeal to the existence of ‘compassionate conservatism’ is not one that I doubt. Rather I think, for reasons I have mostly explained, that the idea that we do not need social safety nets is simply wrong. Private charity simply does not have the scope and structure necessary to provide for all charity. Government is simply the most effective and unbiased solution. An examination of the results of ‘faith based initiatives’ shows us that. If religion is in any way a litmus test for assistance, than charity becomes a form of blackmail. What I doubt is not the sincerity of the rights concern for the poor, just their notions of how to address the problem. The scope of a good government might be wider than the right is willing to admit. Rather than carefully scrutinizing their own ideas, people tend to double down, even when their ideas objectively fail.
So in conclusion to this exceptionally long letter, I will say that I hope you now have a fairly clear idea of what I think of the right in America. It is easy to believe that those that disagree with you simply reject your high minded principles. It is harder to accept that from their point of view, what you stand for might seem rife with hypocrisies. And perhaps I have given you pause to think that maybe not all ‘leftist’ ideas are so crazy after all. At a minimum, I hope that I proved to you that I was a Political Science minor, and that I know the American political tradition pretty well. My brainwashing at liberal indoctrination camp did not entirely undo my own patriotic upbringing. I still believe in our form of government, but not always which directions it takes. The beauty of democracy is that it is our responsibility as citizens to decide.

Take care,
(PS. Apologies for any typos, wordy sentences or grammatical errors. I can only stand to proof read this so many times)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

General Tunderf00t Dropping Drama Bombs

Recently Thunderf00t joined the apparently prestigious Free Thought Blogs, and with his very first post got himself kicked off the blog.

While I do acknowledge a certain amount of hypocrisy in calling yourself Free Thought Blogs and then banning someone for what they wrote about, I really don’t care all that much. Not my problem.

Instead of dwelling on the latest round of epic drama between Titans of the internet (Thunderf00t VS PZ Meyers) let me give you some of my honest impressions on the situation.

First, the Rebecca Watson thing. Massively blown out of scale. Not only was it blown out of scale, but people seemed to go out of there way to try to rationalize away the whole event.
The people that reacted usually took one of two strategies:

1) Denial: The man wasn’t really making a pass at her, and his invitation to have coffee and talk in his hotel room at 4am should be taken at face value. I say: These people need to watch Seinfeld.
2) Use over-simplified evolutionary psychology: Men can’t help but hit on women, they argue. Men can’t be expected to actually be tactful in their advances. Women should just politely accept men’s advances in whatever form, and never feel uncomfortable for it. I say: These people should get a grip, and realize that if you make a woman uncomfortable, you aren’t getting laid, and there are two sides to the evolutionary equation so stop making excuses for someone’s poor judgment.

Those points out of the way, I find it ironic how many people used their influence on the internet, which dwarfs Rebecca’s, to tell her that she was making too big a deal out of the whole thing. Even I have twice as many subscribers as Rebecca Watson. Turning something into a big deal is telling tens of thousands of views or blog reader about something they otherwise would not have any knowledge of. Uncommented on, Rebecca’s statements might have been heard a few thousand of her regular subscribers and then have been forgotten about.  My interpretation of what she said is simple: Don’t be a creeper to women.

This first major round of drama died out some time ago, but it was dragged back up in the most recent events with Thunderf00t.

Thunderf00t’s ‘tactical analysis’ of addressing sexual harassment

Upon joining FreeThought Blogs, Thunderf00t wrote a blog making a tactical appraisal of the issue of sexual harassment at Secular conferences.

Personally, I have never been to such a conference, nor to I really follow the inner working of the “secular movement” and so my reaction was much the same as I image someone reading this blog with almost zero background knowledge on the subject would be: “wait? This is a big issue?”

In other words, Thunderf00t went on a rant about how the topic of sexual harassment at secular conferences was taking away too much time and resources from “more important issues” and this diversion of effort was harmful to the movement. And my reaction was, aside from the Rebecca Watson drama of almost a year ago, I had absolutely no idea that this subject was such a burning issue in the secular movement. Without TF to inform me as such, I would have been in the dark.

Thunderf00ts actions almost immediately lead to another round of drama on the issue, so his attempts to get people to stop talking about it had the exact opposite effect he was hoping for. It was a divisive move that simple lead to more internal conflict.

However, to step aside from the drama for a moment and give a more dispassionate opinion, I am actually puzzled by the very way Thunderf00t framed the subject. He made analogies to war, and to General Patton in particular and spoke of focusing limited resources on what ‘really matter’.

This immediately leads to a couple of central questions: what should people focus on, who should decide what matters, and what are these resources he is talking about? So here is my humble point of view:

1) I personally think that people such as thunderf00t cannot see the forest from the trees when it comes to advancing secularism and or challenging religion. I too once was somewhat blind when it came to this issue until I ‘woke up and saw the light’. And that light is this: promoting science and reason is not a bad thing, but all too often, what we see in the discourse on religion is people at polar ends of the spectrum, who are thoroughly entrenched, fighting each other to the bitter end in a struggle where neither side wants to budge. To use TF’s own WWII analogy, the American efforts in the war did matter, but the war in Europe turned at Stalingrad, before the US really fully entered the war. It was the Red Army, with its overwhelming numbers and relentlessness that did most of the breaking of the Germans. The sort of people (creationists, evangelical apologists, etc) that those such as Thunderf00t focus their efforts on represent the fringes of religion. Yet this is what they constantly conflate with religion as a whole. There is a broad mass of moderates out there, and they are the key. Turn them against extreme religion, and nature will take it’s course. But, in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people in the middle, over simplifications tend not to help the situation at all, but only alienate people. It is all to easy to convince yourself that debunking creationism is all it takes to turn the tide for secularism, but in reality, the vast majority of people do not have such a literal view of religion, and so this has little or no impact on them. The secular movement seems to be running out of steam, because few people are investing any thought into how to get the average person to think critically about religion and how to shift the public discourse. Instead, they continue to fight the fringes and start to seem like that are the fringe on the other side in the process, and not the sanest people in society.

2) It is not really up to Thunderf00t or anyone else to tell other people what they should care about or talk about. If a woman, or a man for that matter, wants to talk about how sexual harassment is a problem at conferences, it is not Thunderf00t’s or anyone else’s place to say it’s not important. If it is important to someone like Rebecca Watson, then the only thing anyone could do is not allow her to speak at conferences at all. They cannot tell her what to talk about, or what to care about. Just because you would rather hear someone give yet another speech about some well worn talking point like how stupid creationists are instead of about sexual harassment does not mean you have a say in what THEY chose to speak about.

3) Unless a significant amount of money is being spent on the issue, than more than likely, the only resources being expended on the issue are time and focus. As for time, most of it is voluntary to begin with, so it’s really up to the individual contributor on how they spend it (see point 2). To assert otherwise smacks of being a control freak. As for focus, so little happens in the world of online secularism these days that there is pretty well room for just about everything. What burning issue is attention being directed away from by talking about this anyway? Thunderf00t never specifies.

Aside from the general disaster that was this incident, I think that Thunderf00t lost face and came off as a bit of an asshole during this debacle. His attempts to play the ‘academic honestly’ card seem pompous and a way of say “I am special because I have an advanced degree”. Frame it in terms of fair treatment would have been one thing, but to make it about the sanctified world of academia just sounds arrogant and self important. Also, his calling Rebecca Watson “crazy” and “an idiot” is childish, uncalled for, and… not befitting the standards of academia he holds in such high regards.

Finally, while I may have some inclination to take Thunderf00t’s side on questioning the importance of Secular conferences in general compared with the impact of online, I find it baffling the way in which he tried to defend them meat markets. Yes, you do have to be an ‘adult’ to attend the after hours parties and blow of some steam with a few drinks at the bar with your fellow conference goers, but going there expecting to hook up is a different matter all together. Thunderf00t seemed to imply that it was all part of the deal, but I don’t see it that way. Maybe that explains why I don’t actually go to these events. In my observation, it does seem to be a part of ‘the secular scene’ (along with internet culture in general) that some people seem to make online the focus of their love life, and so IRL meetings are sort of a big deal in that regard. There have been several “YouTube Atheist Couples” spawned over the years. I am one of those crazy people that tries to keep my romantic life local, and tries to have a life offline in general, so it is hard, but not impossible, for me to grasp this mentality. My advice would be that as much as you might have an internet crush on someone attending the conference with you, try to leave your sexual frustration at home. Perhaps one source of the sexual harassment problem at conferences is people whose entire social world is online being inept with women IRL. Who knows? Either way, sexual harassment is never justified, and if it’s a problem at conferences, then it IS worth talking about.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Comments On Writing A Novel

I uploaded a video about writing a novel this morning

Comments thus far have been interesting.

One person cited Stephen King as saying to start out with short stories. Another person quoted a clip from Family Guy where Stewie mock Brian about him writing an novel. Other people expressed sentiments of good luck and ‘yeah I have been meaning to do that forever too’.
Procrastination is another thing frequently mentioned.

On that note, I should mention that I have written 1,000 words so far today, and I haven’t even been away all that long. If I can get into the sort of stride I was in the first week I started working, I could reach minimum novel work length in a couple of weeks. As I currently don’t have much of a life, such a goal seems not beyond possibility, but I have to fight the urge to procrastinate like everyone else.
However, I thought I would share some of my own experience in this instance with motivation and procrastination.

1) Because this is semi-autobiographical, it is not as mentally taxing as writing total fiction. This is why I am mostly disregarding King’s idea bout starting out with short stories (although I have written some very short stories in my day). Working from memory and writing like its recent events in not as hard (at least for me) as it sounds. Having majored in Philosophy, almost all of my work in college was writing base, and more than that, it was focused on being coherent, ordered and logical. Even if this is a departure from what I have been ‘trained to write’, I still have a good grasp of what I need to say, and when I need to say it, and I can worry more about how I say it later.

2) Also because it is semiautobiographical in nature, I don’t have to agonize that much about the sort of story worries Stewie mocks Brian over, such as if he has an interesting protagonist, whether they learn from the experience, etc. call my arrogant enough to think I am interesting enough to impose my point of view on a reader and keep them interested, but that’s exactly what I do practically every time I make a Youtube video. Also, if the experience wasn’t interesting, I wouldn’t be inclined to write about it. I am not the sort of person who would pick to boring period of my life and try to make it interesting. Hell, have I really had boring periods of my life?

3) As for my over all motivation, I feel that writing is about the only task I am suited for as a living for reasons involving my personality and attitude, and because I always seem to have ideas and something to say. Pushing myself to write this is about more than merely ‘finally writing my masterpiece’. It is about learning how to be self-disciplined enough to accomplish things without someone standing over my shoulder. Rolling up my sleeves and doing some hard work for the sake of accomplishing things and getting better is a necessary life skill in my opinion. I am the sort of person that often finds myself being judgmental towards people that take the path of least resistance and would rather party their life away than work for anything, but at some point I have to face the reality that for the most part, I haven’t been all that much better. I too find myself engaging in equally passive activities that don’t lead anywhere in particular, but I typically self-justify it by thinking of it as intellectual and not mind numbing like drinking. But, if I don’t actually put knowledge to use, I might as well be getting drunk instead from the point of view of the rest of the world, because I usually only have being a smart-ass to show for it.

4) I figure that if I force myself to write every day, even if it is just a blog post, I am bound to improve as a writer. That is in part why I am throwing myself into this with a sort of reckless abandon that makes me mostly brush aside some of the dire warnings of the perils of writing a novel people try to present me with. 70,000 words that badly need to be edited and revised is infinitely better than the perfect novel in your head and nothing on paper. Perhaps it is too soon for me to start giving writing advise, but people that wait till the moment is ‘just right’ or till they have the perfect way to say something, or until they have it all figured out in their heads tend not to accomplish much. There is something to be said for just getting shit done, and worrying about the finer points later.

5) I have a fairly solid outline that I am working from, again because I am drawing from reality. What is more, during the year the book takes place, I have over 5,000 photos I took, alone with over 10,000 words of blog entries and video footage. All of this helps immensely, because I never have the excuse of not having something to write about until I have checked off everything on my outline, and I have reference material to aid my memory.

So that's I my basic perspective on my work and the pitfalls of writing. I am sure in the future when I attempt to make something wholly fictional, I might struggle a bit more, but that’s why I believe what I am working on now is a good choice for a first work.
Stay Tuned…

Monday, July 9, 2012

Video Blogging Mini-Doc

Today, I am working on the outline for an idea I have had in my head for a while now: a mini-documentary on video blogging.

Having been doing video blogs for the past 6 years, it is a topic I have quite a bit of interest in.
When I saw the trailer for TheAmazingAtheist’s Documentary Amazing, I was intrigued someone was actually making something addressing the subject. I have to say though that I was slightly disappointed that the documentary itself was not as insightful on the subject as I had hoped. Provocative questions were posed, but not really explored in any in depth fashion.

I know that there is currently a documentary on YouTube Atheism in the works, and that sounds like it will be interesting, but I am going to try and focus on the bigger picture of the phenomenon and not something as narrow as YT Atheism.

While I don’t exactly know what it is like to be a YouTube Star, I do know enough to have some insight into at least what it must be like to produce videos for a living, and I want to look at both sides of the camera: the video maker and the audience.

I will talk about my own personal experience, but I will try not to make that the focus.
So, my loyal readers, Stay tuned…

Monday, June 25, 2012

Working on a Novel

After years of intentions and the random fragments written, I am finally sitting down to write a novel.
I am currently 17,000+ words into a semi-autobiographical novel based on my time working in retail.

I have been writing several thousand words a day, and I intend to be completed writing by the end of next month and will take an unknown amount of time editing it, although I plan to publish it by the end of the year.
I am going the self-publishing route (most likely LULU) as I think this is the choice that makes the most sense, and a can save myself the hassle of having to hustle an actual publisher.

While this novel will blend fact with fiction, I intend to write more explicitly fiction books in the future.
This first effort is a way of gaining experience in the process of bringing a work of substantial length to completion.

Stay tuned for updates. I will likely post some excerpts on here at some point in the not too distant future.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lost Souls Dystopia Album Release

Lost Souls Dystopia Album Release

Central to the story of the recording of Jesus and the Psychonauts is computer based recording (DAW). In 2001, a game magazine containing an interview with Trent Reznor on his work as a video game was the starting point. The magazine contained a CD-ROM of sample software, including the program MTV Music Generator. Testing that and immediately perceiving its absolute inadequacy, the search began for a proper music creation program. After saving the money to purchase a new guitar, a bass, petal boards, a drum set, sound card, cheap microphones and other basic equipment, the album was primarily recorded in early 2003. 

Although the Album uses samples on some tracks, most of the material was recorded by Peter playing each instrument one at a time. Most of the tracks were improvised in one take with no preplanned song structure.