Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 4 – CBD)

CBD

It’s time to move on to another (in a way, THE other) cannabinoid of importance in relation to this discussion. That cannabinoid is CBD. A cannabinoid that is increasingly characterized by its absence in a great many strains of unregulated marijuana crops being sold these days. Granted, strains lacking the cannabinoid to various degrees are available legally. The difference being that in this avenue, you KNOW and can make a choice. As opposed to being tied to whatever your dealers can scrap out of their supply chain. Which tends to be the good stuff.

It’s just the law of the market. There is far more money in high potency strains for repeat users than there is in more mellow CBD heavy stains for novice to infrequent users. Or to put it another way, yet another area in which the decades-long status quo has created a huge problem for society.

One good example of this is the extreme scaremongering argument that is “Marijuana = Schizophrenia!”. It is true that there can be an association. However, did you know that CBD has a role to play here as well? In particular, that it’s absence is a big reason why high potency THC strains can serve as a trigger to problems far from just the mere munchies?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DlFcMWdsxw

https://www.leafly.ca/news/cannabis-101/whats-the-deal-with-these-high-cbd-strains

I love Marketplace. The show is worth ten times its cost in educational value. It was this episode that initially turned me onto the important role in which CBD plays, to begin with.

Though legalized marijuana and THC products are relative newcomers to the market (well, the above ground market), CBD has been available even previous to legalization in some areas. Since it’s not inherently psychoactive, many jurisdictions didn’t object it being derived or sale. Granted, the finished product had to stay a threshold of 0.5 to 4% THC content (depending on the locality) in order to remain legal.

Unsurprisingly, this substance (particularly CBD oil) is starting to make a splash in the alternative health scene. Though the cannabinoid mirrors THC in the lack of detailed information that we have on the substance, this has yet to stop snake oil salesman from making bold claims about its medicinal properties. Some that go all the way to citing it as a cure to autism.

Part of this is the hands-off nature in which supplements are regulated in the United States, and elsewhere. It’s easy to get your foot in the door when there is no one standing guard. FDA and Health Canada’s regulation for supplements is a joke.

As proven by marketplace!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCADoLKMSFc

So, much like marijuana, the same obvious rules apply here. Don’t let the overzealous and unethical capitalists get the best of what can be a useful and therapeutic substance.

But on with the show.

While anyone with any knowledge of the marijuana plant knows about it’s most notable chemical property (Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for the rest of us), few know about its sister chemical property (Cannabidiol, or THC). THC is responsible for the more euphoric traits associated with marijuana consumption.

However, THC is also increasingly thought to be a trigger when it comes to mental issues typically associated with marijuana use (everything from anxiety to the schizophrenia connection). Which is where it’s longstanding sister property CBD comes in. Whilst THC is psychoactive, CBD seems to play the role of a sort of regulator when it comes to the THC intoxication experience. If I understand it correctly, it allows for the high without the potentially mentally risky rough edges associated with primary THC exposure only.

Alone, cannabidiol already has many usages in the medical field. It is at times utilized as a pain reliever. It also has been found to have positive effects in terms of mitigation of epileptic seizures. It is also utilized as an anti-nauseant for use in cancer patients. At a glance, it would seem that the uses mirror those attributed to THC. The big difference being the lack of psychoactive properties.

The National Institutes of Health has an even more fascinating list of conditions that are positively influenced by CBD exposure.

-Anorexia

-Emesis

-Pain

-Inflammation

-Multiple Sclerosis

-Neurodegenerative Disorders (Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Tourette’s, Alzheimer’s)

-Epilepsy

-Glaucoma

-Osteoporosis

-Schizophrenia

-Cardiovascular Disorders

-Cancer

-Obesity

-Metabolic Syndrome related disorders

Some overlap with what I already mentioned. But a whole lot more. Including some quite unexpected listings. None the less, all patients potentially benefit from what is known as Cannabinoid Agonists/Antagonists/Cannabinoid Related Compounds.

Let’s unpack that.

Cannabinoid Antagonist – Also known as an anti-cannabinoid, this is a cannabinoidergic drug which binds to cannabinoid receptors, preventing activation by the bodies native endocannabinoids. These include antagonists, inverse agonists, and antibodies to cannabinoid receptors.

Inverse Agonists – These bind to the same receptor as an agonist, but elicits a response that is opposite to that of an agonist.

Cannabinoid Related Compound – While harder to nail down than the previous 2, it looks to be anything originating from the cannabis plant. Therein are at least 400 compounds, 80 of which are unique to the cannabis plant alone. All of which react to the human endocannabinoid system in different ways.

It seems that CBD is a very useful property all to its own. However, I suspect that it is often lumped in with it’s far more commonly known sister property THC. I can attest to this myself, as the distinction certainly wasn’t exactly clear to me at first glance (even as a pro-cannabis proponent!). But I suppose this will get better with time and public exposure. Whilst the capitalists will certainly market the differences, hopefully, the research side can keep up.

I opened this piece with the bold claim that was the seemingly unknown Yin and Yang relationship between THC and CBD, as played out in the marijuana plant. I have yet to quantify this claim with anything but speculation. So I shall take care of that issue now.

It looks like CBD’s previous role (as it stands much of the time, these days) was in modulating receptor signalling associated with THC, helping to mitigate the anxiety or paranoia sometimes related to THC intoxication. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by activation of serotonin receptors (which reduces anxiety). I would hazard to guess that this is also the reason why it is utilized in the treatment of schizophrenia.

For a more in-depth analysis of the science surrounding CBD (it is both fascinating and in its infancy!), visit:

https://www.projectcbd.org/science/how-cbd-works

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 3 – Addiction)

Part 3 – Addiction

Next, on the docket, we have addiction. Or rather the very important question that is, can marijuana be addictive?

Anything other than an automatic “YES!” would likely set off many a guidance counsellor, police officer, social worker, or anyone else with a distinctly distant relationship with the substance. This is not to say that they all don’t have a point. More, their interactions with many of these substances tend to be under negative circumstances. Police officers, guidance councillors and social workers would not be in the picture if those they were protecting were keeping it together. Though, as is insinuated by my use of italics, their presence can at times be reactionary.

So, is marijuana addictive?

Yes. But as in pretty much all other areas of life, there is a nuance curve.

One of the first areas one has to explore is the type of addiction one is dealing with. As explored a bit in the previous section, marijuana is known not to be a chemically addictive substance. Its addictive traits are thought to be strictly psychological. And whilst there can be withdrawal symptoms for heavy users, they are not dangerous (unlike those associated with say, alcohol or opiates). It works by way of the dopamine reward system, but there is no requirement of continued consumption to avoid harmful withdrawal symptoms.

Whilst I do take the anecdotal experiences of the agents of influence (police officers, social workers) in our society into consideration, reactionary rhetoric based on the horrors of drug use is hardly a helpful argument. It’s but a red herring. Given that with or without the presence of substances to abuse, there will always be irresponsible people.

In short, one can no more solely blame marijuana (nor any other substance, really) for neglectful parenting then one can blame a single gun for the perpetration of a school shooting. In either situation, disregarding all (or much of) the background nuances of the given situations is helpful for nothing but pushing an agenda. It does not serve to help current (or future!) victims of the same circumstance. It just ensures that there will always be more.

Nuance may not be an easy pill to swallow as a Red Pill argument, but tackling it is the only way to finding an eventual satisfactory middle ground.

Period.

Moving onto the science of addiction, I turn back to the United States’s National Institute Of Health. If the question is “Can marijuana be an addictive substance?”, it would appear that the answer is yes. But, again, with a bit of a caveat. They only use the word addiction to describe the most severe of cases.

It is thought that around 30% of all marijuana users have some form of a marijuana use disorder, with users starting before the age of 18 being four to ten times more likely to develop the disorder (compared to users who started using as adults). Dependence on the drug can be characterized by the following withdraw symptoms:

  • irritability

  • mood and sleep difficulties

  • decreased appetite

  • cravings

  • restlessness

  • other physical discomforts

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive

All of which typically peak after one to 2 weeks after ceasing use of marijuana.

The addiction vector appears to occur when the brain adapts to the constant presence of large amounts of cannabinoids in the body, causing the reduction in the production of (and a growing sensitivity of the body towards) the bodies native endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

The endocannabinoid system is a large part of the bodies nervous system, tasked with the regulation of many aspects of mammalian stasis. Marijuana works by mimicking the bodies own endocannabinoids, thus achieving the many both positive and negative traits for which it is known for. Addiction is defined by the NIH as when marijuana use is pursued even if it has negative ramifications in other areas of life. Which is a fair definition, given the information.


There is much controversy when it comes to the term
Marijuana Addiction. One just has to be aware not to use the words Addiction and Dependence interchangeably. Those that take their research or representation jobs seriously will know this and act accordingly. Those that don’t . . . you now know how to spot.

When it comes to the development of a marijuana use disorder, the numbers are favourable (albeit in a good way). It is thought that only 9% of users will develop a misuse disorder (with that number rising to 17% for users that started in their teens). While that can be an eye-opening number on its own, consider opioids. Or more, this first sentence from the mayo clinic’s webpage titled How Opioid Addiction Occurs:

Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing an addiction. Your personal history and the length of time you use opioids play a role, but it’s impossible to predict who’s vulnerable to eventual dependence on and abuse of these drugs. Legal or illegal, stolen and shared, these drugs are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the U.S. today.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-opioid-addiction-occurs/art-20360372

A better way to explore this drug (instead of just following the addiction route) could be to look at its long term effects. After all, alike sugar, not being addicted to a substance doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s presence in the body in benign.

Most animal (and an increasing number of human) studies agree that marijuana use during the development of the fetus can cause long term (and possibly irreversible) changes to the developing fetus’s brain chemistry. Being that the changes seem to be most pronounced in adolescences (with the endocannabinoid system still in the process of forming new synapses during this stage of life), the connection would seem to be well founded. However, human studies leave a lot to be desired when other variables are considered (such as the usage of other drugs in combination with cannabis).

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuanas-long-term-effects-brain

But there is hope.

The NHI is funding a major study on the subject, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Over a period of 10 years, it will track it’s participants right from pre to post marijuana usage phases. The goal is to get a clearer picture of the effects of cannabinoids both with and without the presence of other substances.

However, that study just began in 2018, and thus we are waiting until 2028 for anything definitive (well, ANYTHING). And so it goes for any studies related pretty much in any way towards marijuana, THC, CBD and anything else related therein. Kind of a sad state of affairs to be in. But, it is what it is. The show must go on.

In the meantime, I suppose the only thing we can do in play gatekeeper to marijuana information trickery. Make sure those in the old status quo are refuted when using misleading or deceiving arguments. But also make sure our proponents (the capitalist element!) aren’t stretching or manipulating the facts for the sake of making a profit.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 2 – Gateway Substances)

Part 2- Gateway Substances

Owners of pizza parlours and convenience stores the world over, agree. Marijuana is definitely a gateway substance.

With that out of my system, my first area of exploration is, I will admit, based on an anecdotal conversation with a former addict of alcohol. In talking about this, he cited both the addiction potential of cannabis as well as it’s status as a so-called Gateway drug. For those unfamiliar with the term, it essentially refers to any substance that is thought to be a stepping stone towards more potent substances. Even that description seems extraordinarily nuanced, given that I’ve never seen the concept utilized outside the context of cannabis. Well, aside from in my past explorations of the topic of drugs.

When I consider the concept of a Gateway substance, several things come to mind. Interestingly, almost none of them involve the consumption of marijuana. In one case, it involves the procurement of the drug, however.

I will start with something that has been apparent to me for a long time (albeit anecdotally). The first drug that I considered as a gateway substance has always been alcohol. This is based around personal experience with various intoxication levels of both substances, and knowing how these don’t differ much from the common experience. Marijuana tends to induce a relaxed mindset (though paranoia and bad trips can happen). On the other hand, alcohol tends to greatly reduce one’s inhibitions in many situations. Not to mention the well-known phenomenon of magnifying underlying personalities (most noticeable when it comes to aggressive types). A concept poked fun at by a fridge magnet that I picked up in Nashville that reads “Instant Jackass. Just Add Beer”.

While the loosening up trait of alcohol can be seen as useful for less outgoing people (like myself, frankly), the trade-off of this is apparent in the last paragraph. Not to mention, the very reason why I have always listed alcohol as Gateway drug #1. Can these chemically reduced inhibitions lead to people trying even more potent drugs?

Marijuana tends to be the next step up from alcohol, but what about beyond this?

Here, I indeed acknowledge that there does seem to be a hierarchy of sorts when it comes to Gateway intoxicants. And Marijuana does indeed seem to have a place on the hierarchy. Where I deviate from most people, however, is where on the hierarchy I place marijuana. While most people have been conditioned to see marijuana as step #1, it is typically step 2 for me (if not 3, or even 4!).

Marijuana as step 2 was just explained. When it comes to step 3, I have to start one rung below alcohol, at caffeine. Whilst it has always been present in one form of food or beverage or another forever, the emergence of energy drinks in the past 20ish years has solidified their place in the hierarchy. Certainly so, after I thought I was having a heart attack after pounding back 2 Redbull’s in the span of an hour and a half at an old job. Don’t get me wrong, I still drink them on occasion. Just . . . not more than 2 in a day.

I bring this up on account to the continued marijuana is not a benign argument, as vocalized by layman and experts (including some MD’s) alike. Indeed, this shouldn’t be a marijuana-selling point. However, it’s hard for me not to think that highly caffeinated energy drinks aren’t being perceived as being far more benign than marijuana, just on account to how they are retailed. Be it from a dealer or behind an age limit, marijuana retail has always had an err of caution to it.

Energy drinks . . . not so much.

A brilliant example of this is the types of events and people that these companies tend to sponsor. Generally, extreme sporting events and athletes at the top of their game. Back when George St Pierre was in his UFC heyday, he was sponsored by NOS energy. Something that bothered me at the time, being that I doubted someone in such peak physical condition would have a place in that regiment for highly surgery and caffeinated sugar water.

In an old job, I once limited a teenager to purchasing just 4 of 12 energy drinks be put on the counter. I didn’t have to do this, by law. Had I sold the beverages to the teen and something happened, I (and my employer) would likely not be liable. But even so, such is a flimsy excuse reminiscent to that of a pharma company that accidentally addicts millions of its patient customers.

Either way, caffeine is my typical Gateway #1 drug for good reason. But having said that, it is really the first potential gateway substance? Or is there another substance that is even more prominent than caffeine?

What about sugar?

Though it is often paired with caffeine when consumed (be it in coffee, soda, or energy drinks), it’s consumption does not mandate the presence of caffeine. It is well known that food companies use sugar (and to a smaller degree, salt) to make all kinds of food products irresistible. Where things get fuzzy, however, is where the line between irresistible and addictive lies.

In fact, even this little thought experiment is filled with uncertainty. Based mainly on the uncertainty as to whether sugar (salt?) could or should be considered to be a drug. Can a substance which is not a drug still retain truly addictive properties? More on the topic on which I had originally set out on, can a non-drug be a gateway substance to more pharmacologically potent substances?

For the sake of this paper, my consideration of sugar is indeed, just a thought experiment. For the time being, I consider Caffeine to be gateway #1.

Having said that, however, there now exists some new substances on the market of which are comparatively as easy to obtain as both caffeine AND unregulated marijuana.

Both bath salts (or synthetic marijuana) and vaping solutions are becoming more and more popular within the younger demographics. This could skew this entire Gateway hierarchy (or add more branches than the traditional single one).

Another substance that I am completely overlooking which may also play a part in this matrix (though increasingly less so on account to flavouring bans and vaping) is tobacco (nicotine). Does this fit into this paradigm, or is it it’s own thing? Does smoking cigarettes make one more likely to smoke weed, or is that mostly just a consequence of social connections?

In any case, whether or not there truly are Gateway substances or drugs, the scope has to be more encompassing than of just marijuana. On account of this, I have broken this section of the long form up into several sections so as to explore some of these branches in as much detail as I can.

Part A

This next thought of how marijuana could play the part of a gateway drug actually involves its absence within a given marketplace. Or to put it another way, it’s lack of availability through the same underworld channels which have plenty of other types of substances to unload. I will state up front that, yes, this is also somewhat based around anecdotal observations within my life experience.


Though it has been years since I have last consumed marijuana in any way (I don’t even really drink alcohol all that often), I still remember the conversations with the drug dealers. Not
my conversations with the drug dealers, mind you (I was never more into the scene than passively in social situations). More like overhearing friends and acquaintances calling up their given handful of contacts retailing their desired herb. Though they more often than not had no Green to offer, Rock, Snow or Ice was never hard to find. For everyone outside the lingo, in order of appearance:

  1. Marijuana

  2. Crack

  3. Cocaine

  4. Meth

This time of my life was a time of change and experimentation.

To put it in context, I had lived most of my previous 16 or 17 years with the mindset towards drugs (and of course, those of whom take them) that is not unlike a current day Jeff Sessions. I had absorbed that drugs were bad news, as were the people that did them. Though one of my closest friends was a user (pot smoker. I use the word because my ignorant mind auto equated with a crack smoker), he fit the mould of what such a person looked like in my mind. As such, my inner narrative wasn’t questioned. That is until I found out that another fairly close friend of mine (of whom DIDN’T fit the profile) was also a regular dope user.

In the coming year or so, this would happen once more with another close friend. Interestingly, the same one who got me into smoking by way of little flavoured cigarillos. This was around 2006. Unsurprisingly, movements towards bans on flavoured tobacco products started in 2009, with bans starting to roll out across Canada in 2010. And as of October 1st, 2017, menthol products are also banned across Canada.

Quite the downer that is, considering a part of my pain had just activated with the thought “I am REALLY craving a menthol smoke now!”. Shucks.

Either way, this was also around the time when I would leave home and live with a roommate for the first time. A roommate who enjoyed smoking marijuana, drinking and otherwise partying. Even despite living here, it took some time before I finally get the courage to try the stuff for the first time. After which it actually became a desired experience.

It was here, where I overheard the phone calls. Observing my roommate (or someone else present at the time) cycle through their list of dealers looking unsuccessfully for marijuana. It made me think back to my previously sheltered existence, seeing articles in the paper or stories on the evening news of our local police force boasting about busting dealers and confiscating tens of pounds of weed. The kids are safer because now there is less marijuana available for them to buy on the street, they said.

Meanwhile, in an apartment filled with young stoners, phone calls to many dealers uncover the availability of almost every other common drug BUT marijuana.

So, did we find some?

Yes. But not before being offered a laundry list of other more harmful substances first. Be it Ice, Snow, Rock, or good ole E. Or as it seems to be called these days, Molly. Though THAT may well be something else entirely (I’ve been out of the loop for close to a decade).

Either way, in this instance, marijuana could very well serve as a Gateway substance. However, if my hunch (as insinuated) is correct, the reason for this status IS the very war being waged on its distribution in the first place. Prohibition should have been an excellent example of what happens when you attempt to artificially smash a market with a shitload of money left of the table. In an ideal world, no, teens should not be smoking marijuana. But since we don’t live in an ideal world, is having them resort to meth, crack or cocaine any better?

You can not claim to be for the safety of children if you can not answer that question honestly.

Thankfully, the majority here in Canada have finally gotten the memo and this problem has started to be dealt with. Granted, we are very early in the transition process (as of this writing, it hasn’t even been a year since legalization). The bulk of marijuana sales are still happening through illegal channels, thus kids are (in theory) still not safe. However, the saturation of fentanyl, methamphetamine and other more powerful drugs tends to (rightfully) occupy more police time than marijuana. Thus, whilst not ideal, the teens might not be as vulnerable to something much worse than ANY strength of cannabis.

In time, I suspect that the modern day underground Cannabis economy will go the same way as the underground alcohol economy after the cessation of prohibition. Price, variety, and primarily convenience will eventually drive the majority of consumers to legal sources. Without the demand, all the problems that came with the illegal suppliers go away along with their economic viability.

Unfortunately, I suspect that this will just mean many will make the switch to producing or selling other substances without legal competition. This is an unfortunate side effect of legalization. However, it is also a sign that simple marijuana legalization really doesn’t go far enough.

Part B

Which is why I am of the opinion that ALL drugs ought to be legalized. Or at the very least, decriminalized. Indeed, that is a very bitter pill for even a legal weed accepting society to swallow. However, it is not without precedent.

A good methodology that I would follow would be the to completely decriminalize everything, then transition the money that was once designated for the elimination of drugs towards treatment. Rather than treating addictions (and whatever underlies that symptom) by just rounding up the junkies and throwing them in the slammer, let us show our fellow human beings some care and compassion. And when I say treatment, I don’t necessarily mean your typical faith-based 12 step program either.

Should they play a part in the solution to the rampant fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other drug epidemics?

Yes.

Should that be the ONLY option that is well funded?

No.

 

The system of which I was eluding to earlier (decriminalize everything, focus on treatment) is actually the current status quo of Portugal. Having found itself in the midst of multiple drug epidemics at the same time during the 80s on account to its geographical location (among other economic and demographic factors), the nation found itself with a very serious problem in need of drastic action. And drastic action was indeed the action that the nation’s leaders took.

And it would seem that they were successful.

Since decriminalization, lifetime prevalence rates (which measure how many people have consumed a particular drug or drugs over the course of their lifetime) in Portugal have decreased for various age groups.

-students in 7th–9th grades (13–15years old) – 14.1 per-cent in 2001 to 10.6 percent in 2006.

10th–12th grades (16–18 years old) –27.6 percent in 2001 (the year of decriminalization) to 21.6 percent in 2006.

In fact, for those two critical groups of youth (13–15 years and 16–18 years), prevalence rates have declined for virtually every substance since decriminalization (see Figures 4 and 5).33

http://www.midcoastforum.org/wp-content/uploads/greenwald_whitepaper.pdf

Interestingly, that white paper was published by Glenn Greenwald for (or VIA, however these things work) The CATO Institute. Though I’m not a big fan of either entity, but data is data.

Part C

And finally, we come to the darkest corner of the Gateway drug rabbit hole. Opioids. Poppies on steroids.

By now, it’s safe to say that Opioid addiction is a pretty common phenomenon in all corners of the western world. A big part of this prevalence I suspect lies with manufacturers misinforming doctors about the addiction potential of these medications. This no doubt causing otherwise good MD’s to make bad calls, thus turning a routine back or neck injury into a slippery slope into addiction hell.

In the places where greed and medicine are legally allowed to coexist, the former often became a big factor in the choice of prescription. Be it little perks or huge paydays, the end results are often the same. The patient is the loser.

Thus, my final contestant for the Gateway Drugs competition should be obvious. In fact, blatantly apparent. All you have to do is listen to one of the hundreds of stories originating from people that ran out of legitimate prescriptions, only to look to the black market to keep getting the fix they now needed.

No, not the fix they desired, like every marijuana smoker. I am indeed saying the fix they needed. Because chemical dependency is a very different beast than marijuana addiction, which is thought to be less chemical dependency than it is a physiological dependency (a characteristic also shared by Nicotine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine and some others, interestingly enough). This is not to say that long term users of any of the above substances won’t run into withdrawal symptoms (fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and trouble eating are common). It’s more that those withdrawal symptoms tend to be much less severe (or in some cases, life-threatening) than those related to substances such as opioids and alcohol.

Part D

I must now admit defeat. Everything I said was wrong. It’s time for me to go to medical school because I don’t know a fucking thing about Cannabis, cannabinoids, addiction or how gateway substances work.

Well, sort of.

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-gateway-drug

As it turns out, there does indeed seem to be a connection between cannabis use and the development of what researchers term alcohol use disorders. As shown in some studies, those who used cannabis without a previous alcohol use disorder tended to end up with the condition, and those with the condition previously tended to have it get more intense. Scientists hypothesize that the condition is due to a process of the cannabinoids priming the brain (known as cross-sensitization) both for enhanced effects of further cannabinoid use, as well as that for other drugs.

Whilst many readers may be tempted to hop out of their rolly office chairs and shout “HA!”, I encourage you to wait. The results of these studies not only show that most of those users don’t move onto heavier drugs (unlike prescription opioids!), but also that cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and Nicotine are also shown to demonstrate a similar response.

It should also be noted that the source above states what would seem to be obvious . . . people that are vulnerable to drug use are most likely to stick with what is easy to obtain, and that social interactions with other drug users tend to influence these choices. Or to put it in the way of every guidance councillor ever:

Beware the follies of peer pressure! Just say no!”

Having said that, I can’t help but think that my life is a perfect example case of such. Well, sort of. No one has ever truly pressured me into doing anything I didn’t want to do (well, short of dragging my ass into work far more often than is healthy). Every previously defined red line crossed was indeed voluntary. None the less, without having the right people with the right connections present, I may well have not had the chances that I did. As it happened, however, not only were they properly connected, but they were also people I felt comfortable around.

Though they (and really, I) didn’t know it at the time, this may well have been the inspiration for my truly open mind. Without them, I may well have turned out to be just another Jeff Sessions clone.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 1 – Intro)

Intro

In the past 3 to 5 years, few issues have gained more traction than the state of marijuana legislation in many nations. In the United States alone, legislation has gone from common sense status quo to overly draconian relic of a bygone era in the span of around 4 or 5 years (with medical marijuana breaking the ice in many states even before this). And as of 2018, Canada has federally followed suit (with medicinal marijuana being available for at least a decade previous already).
Despite not being a regular user of marijuana, this (along with marriage equality) has been an issue I’ve done what I could to forward since coming of age. As such, it’s nice to see both making headways in the wider world. Even if painfully slowly.

Speaking of the painfully slow forward momentum, the gains that have been made are not without resistance. Much of which is likely based on outdated (or flat out false!) information regarding all aspects of the substance at hand. While this is a bit of a strawman, one needs to look no further than the media to find people who SHOULD know better, talking out their asses. I highlighted a perfect example of this phenomenon HERE.
While the piece is fairly long (I was commenting on an article), it quoted at least 2 MD’s who seemed far more interested in sticking to medicine as they know it than in learning new ways to help patients. This is indeed, an assumption on my part. Even so, however, you will notice the bias demonstrated in their views. The most obvious example of this being making mountains out of molehills. Taking problems with the Canadian system as it stands NOW, and seemingly making no attempt at voicing a possible solution. Despite the fact that I came up with a few of my own. Despite NOT being an MD.

Misinformation (and just old biases) towards marijuana are everywhere, however. Whilst it is annoying when some of the professionals in which people trust with their health and well being are so prone to bias, it is what it is. Marijuana is essentially coming out from a state of taboo so we will be fighting the scourge of misinformation for AT LEAST many years to come. Scientific research has a long ways to go in catching up, which is unfortunate, being that:

1.) The lack thereof is often a source of this misinformation and bias

2.) The plant has massively evolved even under the paradigm of the war on drugs. Legal cultivation practices are going to speed up the process, branching off into who knows how many secondary avenues

Will the researchers ever catch up?

The last point is less stated out of fear than it is out of annoyance. The fact that next to no research has been allowed to commence involving marijuana is a continuing sore spot with me, on account to the stupidity of it all. It would seem to be yet another case of us starting 10 steps behind for no better reason than ideological bias.

In this long form project, I will attempt to explore the many avenues connected to the subject of Marijuana and drugs in general. Despite always having an interest in this subject, some of these branches have been surprising even for me. As of now, I don’t know how many parts this project will have, nor am I following a timeline. It’s just an open-ended piece that I will continue working on until I run out of information.

I hope that this project is useful (or at least, interesting) to read. As usual, any comments, concerns or otherwise can be voiced in the comments section(s).

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 5 – Into The Murky Waters Of The Thought Leaders)

Into The Murky Waters Of Expert Testimonials Thought Leaders

In hindsight, I don’t think my usage of the word expert is appropriate in this piece. I ran with it for the gist of my writing despite this feeling, having no suitable alternative occur to me at the time. However, I now tend to favour Thought Leader over Expert.

Online discourse is driven by many different minds that are regarded as being legitimate schoolers be their many followers (the Intellectual Dark Web is a brilliant example of this), but one is often hard-pressed to make a term like Expert fit. 

Which is why I made the change (with slight alterations for purposes of flow) to the rest of this piece.

On a strictly personal note, I can’t help but notice a big reason why Thought Leader may be out of favour to other options (Expert, Intellectual, Scholar, Philosopher etc). Indeed, this piece is not debunking the legitimacy of many of those labels in these contexts. However, one can see why they are preferable to thought leader, because of what the label entails.  

One brilliant mind. Many adoring and inherently inquisitive fans, to the brilliant ideas of my mind. If this leader were a priest or a cult leader, no one would pay any heed, as that is just how she goes. But if the context is so-called rational discourse on real-world subject matter, one should be inspired to pause and truly consider their position.

Is it REALLY a strawman? Or has the popular thought leader indeed become your new high priest?

Another issue of concern in the realm of educational online content is what I call thought leaders. Generally, these people are academics, with credentials relating to their background. The thought leader is generally seen as an invaluable source of information for inquiries within their chosen field of work or study. However, as you get further out from that sweet spot, it is good to evaluate where one stands. If one has a background in (and credentials relating to) neuroscience, then should they be considered a reliable source for gauging the interconnected and multidimensional layers of a subject like the politics of the middle east?

That is the area in which I want to focus on. Thought Leaders that dabble in areas outside of their studied subject matter, or thought leaders that should know full well that their propagating long debunked nonsense.

At times, these 2 categories merge when the out of their league thought leader invites the junk peddler onto their podcast. After which the aforementioned thought leader is horrified by accusations of racism. These accusations based on many things, one of which includes inviting a racially biased junk peddler onto their podcast. Multiple times.

I kept it ambiguous in the last section I wrote. However, I did tip my hand here (and in the intro) as to EXACTLY who I am speaking of. Those that make the connection may feel the sudden urge to rush to my comments section and remind me that I am clearly viewing the whole thing out of context.

Feel Free. You know my views on free speech. I won’t stop you. Now, whether or not I actually care enough to respond . . . that’s on you.

But enough fun.

Online discourse (well, discourse in general) is an interesting thing. Since it is a free for all, everyone has a say. When you have notable status in society, your say has more impact (be it warranted or not). And when you have become known as a thought leader and have the credentials to back it up, your words carry A LOT of weight. In fact, such speech takes on the status of being almost infallible.

Not because the argument is necessarily strong. And not even because the person has any special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. Its all in the speaker.

Of course, most won’t openly admit this, particularly anyone with any ties to the rational community. None the less, the behaviour says it all.

When it comes to many of the more well-established Thinkers of this space (how I hate that concept and label . . . ), their status seems almost equivalent to that of demigods. Figureheads of a collective case of committing the argument from authority fallacy on a mass scale.

This is indeed a controversial view, not to be taken lightly. Worry not. I show my work.

First off, the obvious. Some arguments just can NOT be won.
You can lead with logic and reason. You can even utilize academics when their scope of focus has bearing on the argument at hand. However, sometimes there will simply be no budging the opposing viewpoint. Whether the cause is stubbornness, fear or the very human tendency to refuse the possibility of being incorrect, the end result is the same. They did their heels in even more, and the only thing accomplished is further strengthening their ideology.

In such cases, it is entirely probable that even relevant expert opinions may be discarded. When critiques of an argument (be it from an authority or not!) can not be agreed upon by way of any validated means of doing so (eg. The scientific method), it can generally be regarded as illegitimate.
This can get tricky when the argument is based around an informational vacuum (a common trait of both conspiracy theory and religious dogma). Having said that, however, one can sometimes change the insight of such situations by simply changing their area of focus. Rather than the
What, consider asking Why (at least in the context of conspiracy theory).

We know that there is simply no changing some people. Even if you brought your die-hard creationist friend to see an evolutionary biologist, it likely still won’t do any good. However, aside from making sure we don’t fall into the same bias traps ourselves, we must ensure that our chosen authorities are indeed the best choice. For example, is an evolutionary biologist the best source for information when it comes to the nature of a given religion (ANY of them)?

Many of us tend to idolize personalities with credentials. I can’t be too judgmental here, because I did a short few years ago as well. Given the celebrity culture that this new digital culture has sprung up from, it’s unsurprising that this is where we are today. But that does not make it any less problematic. Particularly when our standards (in terms of analyzing information) are lowered just on account to the source.
This used to primarily entail celebrities endorsing the idiotic and the asinine (thanks for the new wave of measles, guys!). However, the age of digital video and has given birth to a whole new beast. The phenomenon of the credentialed expert openly willing to speak out of his ass on topics they have little insight into.
This makes the discourse even more difficult. Because after all, I don’t have a Ph.D. or any other credentials (aside from a high school diploma). But THEY do. If a layman can’t trust the decorated academic, then who CAN they trust?

Excellent question, and really, the bane of my existence. One has no idea how much faith (or trust, if you are a so-called Apistevist) one has in anything until they are forced to give it up. Which is what makes most of the following fairly easy for me to grasp, yet a challenge to most others.

It all starts with remembering the primary component in all of this. We are complex creatures, and we have built up complex cultures with complex hierarchies. We have learned to give priority to status and other fundamentally flawed markers of credibility (unless demonstrated otherwise). However, the primary component is, and always will be, the human instinct. For better or for worse, in bias or in accuracy.

In the realm of debate, every single participant is equal until demonstrated otherwise. All humans are prone to the same traits (greed, arrogance, fame etc). While education should theoretically serve to temper these oh so primal phenomenons, it doesn’t. Particularly not when money is increasingly entering the mix.

As should be apparent by now, I generally don’t acknowledge so-called experts thought leaders any differently than I do any other person. Or more, I treat their arguments as no different than that of any other person unless proven otherwise. No one should ever be taken at face value. Certainly not when the ability to check is literally at our fingertips.

Not unlike the YouTube personalities of the last chapter, it is not unreasonable to question motives. Why is this person lending credence to this idea?

There is indeed a bit of a pattern here at work here. A pattern that can be summed up by my life lesson of the past 2 years or so. That being simply that we are all human, for better or worse. Education is a good way to help soften the rough edges of the mind, but none the less, the human mind is still the human mind.

Whether the argument is coming from a layman or a decorated intellectual, it must receive the same critical analysis as any other. Particularly so when the expert of authority making the argument (or being cited) is talking beyond their typical scope of research.
However, this is not the only thing to watch for.
Some people are experts in fields that others have long since debunked. Topics that were once previously displaced and left behind, have now made a comeback in the 
Free and open marketplace of ideas.

The free and open marketplace of ideas is a handy and useful thing, at least in theory. Everyone speaks, no one is stifled, and the bad ideas are destroyed by the sunlight that is the opposing arguments.
While it works well in
theory, there is an unacknowledged assumption that all participants are equally equipped to account for all aspects of the debate stage.
Though all voices indeed get heard, there will always be a bias towards the crowd pleaser. Your argument is only as strong as it’s best representative.

Like the big personalities of YouTube, many of the most referenced academic voices of such people also live in that space. They have YouTube Channels and are active on social media. Many have monetized their materials VIA YouTube partnerships, Patreon and other ways. Not unlike much of the rest of the most popular white noise of the space.

It’s hard to point a finger because short of being able to read minds, proving motives can be next to impossible. Having said that, however, fame and fortune are still an excellent corrupter of the mind. Though the modern definitions are slightly modified (you no longer need to break into the societal mainstream to achieve fame), the same phenomenon applies. Add in a healthy dose of personal arrogance in combination with being surrounded by primarily yes men for an entire career, and you end up with a formidable challenge of an academic.
This is not to say they don’t ever 
debate or converse with opposing views. They just tend to pick the lowest of hanging fruit of every criticism available, and then gain merit for debunking that.

Frankly, much of the Nu-atheist movement in a nutshell.

It may make for entertaining pablum for devoted followers of these academics, or for the participants in their various communities. But if my cats could have achieved similar results, I am not impressed.

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 4 – The Power Of Charisma)

The Power Of Charisma

 

We now come to another point of concern I touched on earlier. That is the mass promotion of information based primarily on its popularity (as measured by content interaction). I do not have much concern when it comes to mass showcased content (for example, the general trending now section of a site showing what content is generally liked by most users across the entirety of the platform). Media has always been dictated by collective trends, and this is just a newer (and far more quickly adaptable) variant of this phenomenon. The problem with this methodology arises when the same type of phenomenon is broadly applied within a micro-targeted environment.

Or I should say, problems can arise. It all depends on what kind of niche content one is dealing with.

The social media business model is all about interaction. Something insiders (and increasingly psychologists) have labelled The Attention Economy (remember that?). These platforms and apps bread and butter rely on keeping their users engaged as long as possible, so they use every trick in the book to accomplish this (even psychological manipulation akin to that of a slot machine).

Is this Ethical?

Good luck getting a straight answer to that question.

One of these methods which are employed by platforms is called micro-targeting. It’s all based around the sum of your interactions with the platform. Based on both the information that you share and on your behaviour within the platform environment, the algorithm learns about your various preferences and begins tailoring your daily feed based on this information. This is based on every kind of behaviour, from the explicit (liked products or shared content) to the implicit (how long you lingered on an item before scrolling past).

Platforms take this data and compare it against the millions of samples already in their possession, focusing on serving up the content that is most broadly appealing across the given cohort. With the massive database they are working with, it’s almost impossible for a user to NOT fit into some widely cast net. No matter how individualistic one likes to think you are.

Which made for an interesting new twist to the term Trendy (or in online terms, what is trending now). While one still has trends that cross most demographic boundaries (what I call Macro Trends), there exists a new phenomenon. What I like to call Micro Trends. Such trends are generally limited to a fairly small demographic within the larger picture. However, these demographics can range in size from thousands and tens of thousands to millions and can encompass pretty much any subject matter you can think of. Though I label them Micro Trends, the size of some of them is hardly representative of the word.

As with any other human endeavour, where there is an opportunity there are opportunists. There is generally no shortage of the white noise present in any given popular online topic. However, some traits can help a person rise to the top of the pile.

While these topics have chatter in every form available, there is an inherent bias when it comes to the written word. It’s not exactly a bad thing. When given the choice between reading a fairly lengthy blog post or watching a video (of any length), most will opt for the path of least resistance. Despite my love of the written word, even I prefer getting most of my news in the form of short clips. It’s just the nature of the current paradigm.

To be successful in this format, one first has to have some level of public speaking ability. Whilst one is not necessarily talking live to an audience potentially bigger than any venue on earth could handle, you still have to keep them engaged. Which is where charisma comes in. Though it could be possible to teach this trait, it just comes naturally to some people.

Since social media is a toy and a time waster for a person’s free time, you have to give them a compelling reason to watch your content. If a person has the charisma of a 10th-grade biology teacher who hated teenagers and should have given up his career 20 years previous, you won’t do very well in the marketplace. However, if a person has the natural charm to enteral a crowd in combination with a passion of any sort, you will gain ground. You have the potential to become trendy, even if just for a localized demographic.

I happened across a nice example of this while out for coffee with friends recently. In the form of a YouTube channel run by a retired mechanic named Scotty Kilmer. He seems to know his stuff well and presents this material in an entertaining fashion. As such, he has become very popular (over 1 million seven hundred thousand subs) in his localized demographic.

This system generally has few implications in the realm of benign topics and material. However, problems can come up when the often complex realities of the real world meet the simplistic comprehension of the average layman. Take that not as an insult, but as an observation. Not everyone has the time or desire for in-depth insight into everything, so we make do with what we’ve got (I have a tax guy that I trust for a reason). And what we’ve got, is an ever-growing library of knowledge of every type imaginable. All at our fingertips, generally in whatever format we prefer (be it text or video). All continually updated and curated by millions of people from all different backgrounds.

The obvious downside of this being, it is contributed to and curated by people of all backgrounds. A million different opinions and viewpoints to satisfy a million different curiosities. Even if the material is less word of the gospel than universally agreed upon fact. Take Scotty Kilmer, the popular mechanic I made mention of earlier. Upon probing by a friend of mine with a bit of experience in the trade, I learned of some of Scotty’s not so well documented flaws. Ranging from seemingly unwarranted smearing of German makes (particularly Mercedes) to not knowing where the fuel pump is located on a Toyota Rav 4, all the way to recommending a highly dangerous fix to use on ones brake lines.

I am not an academic elitist. I don’t dismiss an individual’s right to an opinion, nor their right to publicly share it as they please. For me, democratized media is still better than the alternative reality of a decade or 2 previous (despite the flaws). However, where we as a society dropped the ball was in any manner of education regarding this medium beyond the very basic. People learn how to use operating systems, apps and other user interfaces, increasing the number of IoT connected devices that they own as the years march on. What we do NOT learn about, are long term implications (and the virtually unlimited lifespan) of pretty much any public facing interaction with the internet. Nor do we learn about the importance of cybersecurity not just for our own good, or the good of all in our interconnected online orbit, but also for the good of the whole of the internet itself. Few know that older (or simply unpatched) consumer hardware and IOT are a growing source of many online attacks (most notably DDoS attacks), with the most common source devices being old printers and routers. Devices that came out of the box 7 or 8 years ago, but then were forgotten. But whilst good cyber housekeeping and hygiene are important, far more pertinent to this paper is the mass oversight of what was once a common sense rule of thumb (albeit, targeting a different medium). An old adage that (somewhat ironically) lives on in memes one still sometimes sees on social media.

You can’t believe everything you see on TV.

I remember seeing the commercials when I was a kid. There was one with a giraffe, and if I recall, a house hippo. But whilst this would seem to be more important a safeguard to internalize than ever, it seems to have gotten lost in the transition. Filed away somewhere between an MSN chat and a Geocities website.

The concept that I am grappling with (or it seems, the lack thereof) is media literacy. The ability to critically analyze the information you are presented with for any biases or other factors of which may shift your viewpoint in a given direction (be it intentional or not). Though it is a global problem (on account the internet being a global phenomenon), there are variations to the degree of media literacy in people. One of the most obvious predictors in generational.

One can generally drop a pin in at around the millennial generation. From us and forward, people tend to be more aware of the shortfalls of the internet. Going backwards from the millennial’s however, the trend tends to be reversed the further away ones get back. I suspect this to be a product to the very different environments in which we all grew up. 4 different generations, ranging all the way from one that embraced this late in life, right to one that grew up with this technology embedded in modern existence.

Media literacy has never been a priority for society. It’s highly unhelpful to have the cogs TOO educated when just enough to keep the machines running is adequate to run an economy. In this new paradigm, however, learning of the pitfalls of the internet the hard way has meant that subsequent generations tend to view the internet with some skepticism. As opposed to the old, who consume media in exactly the same ways as they consumed the old media. Without any analysis whatsoever.

Though one big thing that has changed is the amount of reach they now have. Instead of being limited to the living room or the local coffee shop, they now have the ability to engage with anyone connected to them. Since the mean number of friends that the average Facebook user has is around 200, that is a whole lot of potential eyes.

In the realm of media literacy, fake news tends to be the focus. And for obvious reasons. After all, we are still grappling with the potential consequences of intentionally orchestrated fake news campaigns. However, there is one new phenomenon of the new media space (particularly in the video category) which is arguably even more slippery than even fake news. That is a segment of the space that I will call Academic YouTube. Not because many of them are in any way fitting of the word. More, because that is the label that many like to assign themselves.

This is a huge umbrella term, encompassing of all manner of content made available to help the public enrich their minds. While there can be good material to be found here, like every other area of the web (and life, really), the other stuff ranges from very light grey to black hole. It’s a cohort that tends to be difficult to analyze because of the sheer amount of nuance involved. Outside of the good stuff, you have the seemingly unknowingly misinformed. Along with those, you have those that SHOULD know they are playing with a flawed deck of cards, but apparently, don’t care. Since we can’t read minds, it’s hard to know who is truly misguided, and who is just playing the part.

We now come back to the concept of charisma. With the open mic show that online streaming platforms are, many will jump on camera to share, rant or otherwise discuss something they are passionate about. But only the most entertaining and engaging personalities will rise to the top. This dynamic is true for regular people, and this dynamic is also true for online intellectuals. Well, intellectuals.

While passion no doubt plays a pivotal role in determining people take the stances that they take on a variety of issues, the evolution of how fans can support content creators has also added a whole new layer of uncertainty to the situation. Digital payment processors like Patreon have not only made up for falling revenue shares for YouTube partners but have now more than ever before, begun to eclipse these earnings. Indeed, this can be a hard claim to back, with the choice to disclose the true amount of funding a creator is getting firmly in their hands. More to the point, however, are the questions in which financial commitments should raise. One of the selling points often parroted by these creators (layman or intellectual) is that they are independent. While most of the news commentators do this a lot (aligning under the banner of independent media), individuals often make this point too. Since the YouTube platform essentially serves as a firewall between creators and their ad revenue, they are supposedly not subordinate to any bosses or other hierarchy.
While this is in a sense true (they are not in a big corporations pocket, generally), one has to consider if the new
bosses are the financial supporters of the material. In the so-called Marketplace Of Ideas, these ones have obviously struck a chord with many. However, if the day comes when this seemingly correct way of thinking is ever exposed as being incorrect, would the supporters accept this? How can you tell if a paid commentator is being authentic with their beliefs when their lifestyle (or potentially even their livelihood) may well be tied up in communicating these beliefs?

When it comes to many of these instances, there is no way to tell. In a sense, you take it on faith that you are not being hoodwinked by a modern day charlatan. This may be an easy circle to square for many, but not for this overtly analytical critic of all that is.

You may notice that I said earlier that one must take it on faith they are not being deceived by a charlatan. This actually is a problem that comes in 2 layers, in terms of potential corrupting sources of funding. And only one of them involves the organic dollars of the crowdsourcing platforms.

It is incredibly easy for traditional lobbyists of traditionally elite benefiting ideas to fund creators which are singing the right tune. They have always done this. However, YouTube is just the path to reaching the latest generations.

And so we come to yet another generational divide brought on by innovation.

In order to reach the powerful voting blocks of both the Baby Boomers and Gen X, Television, radio and print were (and really, still are) the way to go. If not through advertising, than in buying up enough of a stake in these organizations so as to have a say in what makes it to the newsroom floor. However, since the Millennial and Z generations are killing traditional media forms such as print, a new way to target this demographic (and growing voting block) had to be found. And though these kids don’t seem to read much nor watch much television, a huge number of then use YouTube. And not only do they use YouTube, but they also willingly seek out educational content exploring all manner of different ideas. Some of these ideas are beneficial for the status of the elites. Some of these ideas are harmful to the status of the elites. However, all it takes is a small investment to ensure that the ideas that YOU want to spread, go far and wide. All you have to do is work with the voices that are already on the scene, doing the work for you. As these channels grow in popularity, the fans spread the message even further. Considering that each Facebook user has about 200 friends, no advertising campaign could hope to come even CLOSE to that amount of market penetration. Much like the days of AM radio, if you throw funding to 100 seedlings, one of these shows is bound to gain traction and become influential to your target audience. The same is true for cable news. And the same is true for YouTube.

Ideas are big money. Or more accurate, trending ideas are big money.

All of this may come off as a tad conspiratorial. Given that the burden of proof is almost impossible to meet, it’s not unfounded criticism. However, such is just another aspect of the world we live in. With new technology and means of mass communication comes a new means of deceiving people. After all, such opportunities don’t disappear with time, they just evolve.

Such is why I decided to leave this piece ambiguous, politically or otherwise. I know what this looks like to me. I have more than a few examples that I am familiar with. However, since your micro-targeted existence likely differs from mine, I want you to be able to identify these problems in your own context. Free of bias, be it your or mine.

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 2 – Freedom Of Speech & Expression)

Freedom Of Speech & Expression

Though the fate of the once mighty private and governmental media companies remains a mystery, current technological developments have now matured enough to make some unforeseen consequences blatantly obvious. Whilst the list here is ever growing, I will (in this set of writings) focus on implications of the nature of the business model in regards to what this space has metamorphosed into. When I say digital space, note that I am talking about the backbone internet infrastructure in its entirety. Not only the most common foe in the dialogue (various social media platforms), but also the backbone ISP’s that tie it all together. In a world where weakening net neutrality rules are rapidly becoming a reality for millions, it’s important to keep these 2 issues combined. Whether its platform X censoring your otherwise granted right to freedom of speech and/or expression, or your ISP (be it broadband or mobile carrier) arbitrarily deciding what will traverse within the pipes of its network infrastructure, it is us (the consumers) that are the losers in the end.

The 2 issues that have become increasingly problematic in this paradigm are free speech, and the artificial alteration of peoples worldviews on a mass scale (often unknowingly) simply as a consequence of doing business. Somewhat ironically, the previous issue actually plays right into this issue. More on that later.

I will start with freedom of speech and expression. But first off, some house cleaning.

There are many people who run around calling themselves Free Speech Absolutists. Speech is considered to be of the utmost importance, period. At the risk of committing the straw-man fallacy, I am forced to seriously question if many of these people have actually followed the logic through to its conclusion.

Part of it is my observation that few things as nuanced as this have rational conclusions along the fringes of ideology. But the biggest factor is that I simply can’t square the circle as required by the absolutist position. I am not sure if the end result of absolute freedom of speech and expression is really worth all of the seemingly overlooked (and woefully understudied) ramifications of such speech. This does not stop me from behaving as an absolutist in my encounters with the world at large. However, the way I operate in both the digital and the real world is hardly comparable to the most obvious example to cite. The zealot sitting atop the extremely influential soapbox.

Until this position becomes more based in researched conclusion than in reactionary ideology, I can not give it the light of day. If forced to slap an identifier on it, I would probably say Free Speech Agnostic. In a world of greyness, forced black and white interpretations are rarely helpful.

Not that this has much bearing on this context of free speech and expression, anyway. However, it is related (as I will demonstrate in the following paragraph).

The growth of the digital space as a permanently embedded extension of both our personal space AND the public square runs into the fundamental problem that is privatization. The vast majority of this infrastructure is owned by private for-profit companies. Thus, you are generally not the owner of the content (or data) you generate or the space you inhabit. You are, in a sense, a renter. Paying for your spot in the machine with the most valuable currency of the modern era. . . your data.

Having said that however, the data bit is another issue altogether (potentially for another piece). What is more important here is the TOS or the digital equivalent of a rental agreement. It outlines all of the do’s and don’t s of participation within the proprietary ecosystem in which you currently reside. Which is generally not an issue if you are just a run of the mill person sharing cat memes and recopies. However, it becomes a big issue if you are, say, Alex Jones or Milo Yiannopoulos.

Is it ethical to allow such damaging figures to amass such devoted followings? Again, I don’t know how to answer that question. However, I am definitely reluctant to hand that task off to an opaque entity with a documented history of getting it wrong. An entity which could theoretically turn against any narrative if given the right market conditions.

When it comes to solutions, this is another area in which free speech absolutists tend to leave a person wanting. When pushed, many tend to just play the utopia card (“This is how it should be!”).

Indeed.

However, Bernie Sanders (and others) have been singing that tune about the private for-profit healthcare system for DECADES. When literally billions of dollars are at stake, it will always fall on deaf ears.

Others suggest mandated enforcement. A few of my far left role models even promote socialization as an option (absorbing private social media platforms into the public sector).

I can’t say that I like either option, both seeming to present obvious drawbacks. First, because it amuses me to see so many free-market praising libertarian (or Classical Liberal) types suddenly being for so-called tyrannical violence against a sovereign entity. I am not actually TRYING to strawman people . . . it’s just hard not to when so many don’t seem to know what the hell they are talking about.

The other reason I am not a big fan of government intervention is two-fold. First, we should have considered this before privatizing the entirety of the ecosystem. And second, is because we could easily build alternatives to the neutral pablum loving behemoths. All it takes is an investment of some time and capital. Though the time and specialized labour variables are an issue for many busy opportunists, capital is not.

There exists many a podcast (and individual, really) that milks the tit of free speech for every dime that it is worth, for YEARS. They generally don’t actually DO anything, they just talk about it. You know, the free and open marketplace of ideas and all that jazz. This, despite the fact that a suspiciously high number of these supposedly open platforms have a quite visible political bias.


Either way, if even half of the individuals that funded these linguistic circle jerks put that cash into developing and building some form of alternative to the status quo media platforms, problem solved!

Whilst net neutrality is a big consideration here, the internet was designed not to observe international boundaries. If even China can’t keep their citizens 100% away from the prohibited materials as dictated by the regime, one can easily develop the free speech and expression utopias that one desires.

I conclude this, the free speech tangent, with 2 helpful pieces of advice:

1.) Know what you are talking about, free speech absolutists. Reality does not end at your mental shortcomings.

2.) Stop supporting pro-free speech talkers and funding pro-free speech platforms. Whilst my proposed solution does heavily depend on strong net neutrality legislation, it is easily doable. Possibly overnight is someone was so inclined.