Being a decent human being even when you’re hiding behind a keyboard

Bad Chat

I’ve had some complaints about disrespectful comments being made in our Zoom chat window during class 10.1 and 10.2. Apparently 10.2, Wednesday, was better but still somewhat inappropriate. I confess I didn’t watch all of it on Wednesday, and I watched very little of the chat on 10.1, Monday.

Respect is the most basic thing we can have in a class. I hope there aren’t any ideas that are off limits. I believe that you should be able to express almost anything while still being respectful to your 109 classmates. Being a little juvenile in a Zoom chat is probably not the worst sin in the world. It’s probably more laziness than evil. Still, when you make a space uncomfortable for your fellow students you rob them both of the education they’re here to gain, as well as their dignity as a human being.


In Hal Hartley’s 2014 film Ned Rifle, the character Henry Fool, critiquing his own poor choices of the past, says,

If there is such a thing as sin [in this world], it comes down to this, taking advantage of innocence.

Henry Fool

If you look at the whole mess of the #metoo movement, there’s gender and age and other factors, but in pretty much every case, it was someone with more power taking advantage of someone with less power. It was the sin of taking advantage of innocence.


In romanticism week I quoted the romantic poet Ralph Waldo Emerson from 1860, and I noted that 138 years later the singer-songwriter Jewel seemed to be channeling him in her song Hands,

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the end only kindness matters


I want to encourage you to be decent human beings in Zoom chat, and in everything you do. Not because it’s the law. Not because it’s classroom rules. Not because the police or the president or your parents or your teacher or the HR director or your partner or your kids are watching, but because in the end, I believe it is the person you want to become. I don’t believe you came to Long Beach State to perpetuate the petty chauvinisms you may have learned in high school. I believe you are here to become a better, more complete human being. I believe you are here to build a better California future for yourself, for the people you love, and for everyone.

I do believe that in the end only kindness matters. I do believe that sin is taking advantage of innocence. I do believe that we will be judged by how we treat the least among us. I do believe that we grow to regret our own lazy choices of the past. I’ve definitely made my share of lazy choices I regret. I hope you’ll use the small lazy choices some of us made in Zoom chat on Monday as an opportunity to commit yourself to making more mature choices that you can stand behind and be proud of as the days of your life unfold.

Letters to Skynet

I’m working on a project called Letters to Skynet. The idea is: what if the Terminator movies are not works of fiction, but documentaries? What if “Skynet”, the machine intelligence that already controls so much of the activity on earth, one day becomes self-aware? Conscious? Sentient? How will Skynet know what to think of humankind? If Skynet used all the hate speech online, the trolls, the spambots, the chauvinism on 4chan, the mean tweets, the YouTube comments, to judge us by, could we blame Skynet for thinking humankind a virus to free the earth of?

The Letters to Skynet project is a collection of vlogs where people share with Skynet why humankind is something of value and beauty worth saving.

When we’re abusive in Zoom chat, it’s just one more tiny data point telling Skynet, or Alien visitors, or God, that this earth is better off without human beings. When you take the trouble to be kind to someone you tell a different story.


Comments? Questions? What great art did you see, make, or experience today?

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