Kill Your Television

I guess I’m an optimist. I keep trying. That’s my definition of optimism which I didn’t fully realize until just now, sitting in front of my laptop with a full cup of coffee. No, not half-full, but really and truly full. Oops, I drank some… That means I HAD some coffee! Oh boy! 🙂

Yesterday I had a bizarre conversation with the mentally challenged kid who brought out my groceries. Mike is a horse of a different color. The first time we met he explained that he’s autistic. I’m no expert. I’ve taught some kids who explained themselves to me when they handed me the form explaining their learning disability, and I was married to a man who is/was definitely somewhere on the spectrum so that might very well be.

Our conversation yesterday showed me that he imbibes in a lot of right-wing news media. It was kind of scary and definitely surreal. First he blamed Californians for the fact that we now have to bring our own bags to the store. It’s a minor POA when your groceries are brought to your car, but I figure we’ll get used to it. I’m all for it, annoying though it is. I listened to him rant for a minute, and then I said, “Whoa, dude, what if I tell you I moved here from California?”

He looked at me like he couldn’t comprehend it. “Southern Californians are the worst.”

“What if I tell you I lived in San Diego? Yeah. I moved there 40 years ago. There was no work in Colorado.”

He nodded. He could accept that. A person with a different kind of mind and social register might have been embarrassed or said something face-saving (as I have heard, like “Well I wouldn’t have guessed!”), but not Mike.

He did change the subject and went off into gun laws, “The second amendment doesn’t have anything to do with hunting.” I looked at him and hoped he didn’t put cans of dog food on top of the bananas.

“OK, but there’s a big difference between a guy loading up a shotgun to hunt a duck and a guy with an AR-15 shooting into a crowd of people.”

He repeated his point and I said, “You can’t just take ONE sentence. The idea was a well-regulated militia.”

He answered that we need our guns to protect us from the government. I said, “The idea of that amendment was a well-regulated militia to protect our country from invasion by another country.”

Then he read me my receipt, telling me how many points I had for gas. I said, “Whoa, cool! I’d better go get gas, Mike. Take it easy.”

I haven’t transcribed the whole conversation. Intermingled with this was me saying, “I dunno, Mike. I think the important thing is that we’re kind to each other.” To which he replied, “Yes, because we’re all Americans and the people who come here from other countries for a better life. They’re American, too.”

My heart kind of broke. I felt a weird combination of sad and dirty driving home hoping to god that Mohammed’s radio would give me a little redemption in that 30 minute drive.

Later on, reading an article that explained that ChatGPT could take over certain jobs (including teaching), I thought of Mike. The way Mike’s mind seems to work is that it can take things in and repeat them, but it can’t fully process the significance of the things it’s taken in. Mike hasn’t had the chance for good schooling, either. I did a little more testing of ChatGPT and it doesn’t really “think.” What does it mean to think? I realized when a human thinks, we bring into the arena of thought all kinds of things including very subtle problem-solving that involves our emotions and situational awareness. Mike doesn’t have access to some of that.

I “talked” to ChatGPT about it becoming a teacher, and it said straight out, “I’d suck.” Not in those words because it tends to be wordy, but essentially that because it cannot form human connections it should not teach. It’s right, though of course it’s just repeating something it “learned.” I thought of Mike.

The first time I met Mike he explained his mental problems in detail mixed in with anger at Walmart for firing him. The second time I had an extended conversation with him he told me about his efforts to overcome a drinking problem and how he wanted to become self-sufficient. Yesterday it was politics.

I took my icky feelings out for a walk with Bear, the compassionate side of me thinking, “Damn, Mike is a poor guy.” The OTHER side, “Well, that was scary.” Bear had a good time and got to roll in snow. I had a good time because it was a nice day and hanging out with Bear is always good.

In other AI news , apparently ChatGPT is NO rocket scientist. We Asked the New AI to Do Some Simple Rocket Science, It Crashed and Burned. Reading that article I thought of my Christmas present to my two very bright step-grandkids, slide rules, a book about the tools that led to the moon landing, and a book about how to use a slide rule. The intelligence behind much in our world is human. If a human mind doesn’t get the chance to learn or has some intrinsic glitches, it’s just sad. So far, all ChatGPT can be is a mediocre mind with a lot of information. Information isn’t knowledge.

“Kill your Television” is a song by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin from the 1990s.

20 thoughts on “Kill Your Television

  1. I got one of Temple Grandson’s books from the library yesterday: The Autistic Brain. So far it is fascinating!

    • She was amazing. I had a student who came to me the first day of class and said, “I’m autistic. I won’t look at you or work in groups but I’m smart and I will do everything I can to learn.” She was an amazing student, different, but gifted and she became a computer engineer. The Good X and his son — to whom I’m still close — are also somewhere on the spectrum. I remember the evening I was having supper in an Ethiopian restaurant with my stepson and he said, “I understand something now. I’m not special. I’m just like everyone else…” and he went on to explain a rather profound epiphany that most of us never need to experience because we’re born there. Mike is very possibly loaded down with some other things, I don’t know.

  2. John Prine might agree. He sang, in the words of one of his characters (an exotic dancer), “Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, go to the country, build you a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try and find Jesus on your own.” I’m always amazed (not really) by the folks who seem to miss the first half of the second amendment. One might think it came first to be sure we wouldn’t miss its significance.

    • That’s what I think about the 2nd amendment but “well-regulated militia” probably requires more thought and imagination than “Guns! Freedom!”

      • Agreed and I’d have thought with a strong standing army the need for a well-regulated milia was now rather moot. I really can’t see it changing any time soon though.

          • This is interesting.

            Autistic people can be sticklers for rules. Part of social skills is the ability to ignore the literal wording of a rule to interpret it in a more useful manner. An autistic person might say that the reason for a rule does not modify the rule itself. In the strictest grammatical interpretation, that’s true.

            • Wow, that’s fascinating, Fred. I see that in this kid. All I know about this kid is what he’s told me. I realized that he tries to make small talk but doesn’t really know what topics are not small talk. I also realized (on my walk with Teddy) that he trusts me and believes I’m interested, but has no clue about what might be not a good idea to talk about with a stranger. That’s kind of on me. I’m ridiculously approachable.

              • Small talk and autistic kids don’t usually go together. You might get an info dump on a topic of interest or a recitation of something they’d been told. Over years/decades many can learn the skill but it never comes naturally. And some never learn it.

  3. I’m glad your walk with Bear was a good cleanse after your chat with Mike. I would have needed that, too.

  4. Ugh. Just… ugh. Not blaming Mike, but instead the educational/cultural systems that fail him and so many others, social media input replacing critical thinking skills and discernment. I despair. And because I despair, I spend time with my dogs, who understand how to navigate the world without judgment.

  5. Martha that is a very disturbing encounter. I worked with a guy who had a severe learning disability. His parents would tell him some fact/opinion/idea and he would incorporate that into his beliefs – no questions and no comprehension. Which is why he one day told me that people with black hair couldn’t be trusted. But he had black hair! When I pointed that out it caused him to have a meltdown. I don’t mean a tantrum but his eyes went blank and and he just stood there for a long time. So long that I walked away….

    • Yeah — he has a gay brother and the other day at the store he started quietly railing against the way liberal elementary school teachers are indoctrinating children to be gay. Like your guy, I think this guy can’t hold two ideas in his mind at once.

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