Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts


Raymond Skiles is a dumb guy. We both are. We both spent our early adults years trying to educate ourselves, in various ways, to catch up to those who were more engaged in school. Being a dumb guy was more a state of mind than an absolute characteristic for us, but we fought hard to escape that label. We shared so many characteristics at one point in our lives that some might call us similar, but in our quest for more knowledge, we fell prey to some bizarre ideas. At some point in our respective timelines, we diverged. 

The differences that emerged between the two of us can be explained in one simple scenario. If a used car salesman approached us, on separate occasions, with his persuasive sales techniques, we would both enter into the transaction believing that we were smarter and better equipped than a person who chose to become a used car salesman. I don’t know if there was an incident, or an accumulation of moments that led to some clarity for me, but I realized that I wasn’t half as bright as I thought I was. I realized that while I might now know more than the average person does about James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and U.S. Presidents, that knowledge doesn’t do me any good the moment a guy in polyester leaps out from behind his balloons saying, “What do I have to do to get you into a car today?” I developed a technique that works for me. I run away.

Raymond Skiles, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about the techniques used car salesmen employ on unsuspecting customers. By reading alternative websites that warn potential clients about the tactics used car salesmen employ, Raymond believes he knows them, and that he can use that knowledge to defeat them at their game. “You just have to know who they are,” he said. “Once you know what he eats for breakfast, who he calls his family, and if he’s stepping out on his wife, you got him where he lives.”

Whereas I recognize the limits of my intelligence the moment I set foot on a car lot, Raymond considers it a challenge and a mark of his intelligence to outdo the salesman on his home turf. I might over-estimate the craftiness of the average used car salesman, but if they are half as skilled in the art of persuasion as I fear most of them are, they will learn who Raymond is and flip the focus of their negotiations to an arena Raymond finds more pleasing. They might even compliment Raymond’s intellect and the knowledge he has attained on their industry. They might take a more honest and direct approach in their negotiations, and Raymond might end up paying more for the car than he intended.

In the battle between unconventional thinking and following traditional or conventional norms, unconventional thinking is far more seductive. The purveyors of unconventional information seduce us with the idea that they have different knowledge, as it pertains to having more knowledge than those who did better with traditional knowledge in school than we “dumb guys” did. The seeds of this seduction sprout among “dumb guys” when we decide that anyone who believes what “they” tell us is a sucker. 

When we hear conventional knowledge, we consider the source and frame it accordingly, and then we fact check it. When we hear unconventional ideas, however, we have an instinctive, emotional attachment to them. Some part of us wants these ideas to be so true that we put our skepticism aside to embrace them, another part of us believes that unconventional knowledge is the result of healthy skepticism and therefore thoroughly vetted.

Former dumb guys learn that we must make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to the allure of unconventional information. Those of us who fall prey to this desire want to have more knowledge, and we learn, over time, that quantity does not always equal quality. There are only so many facts on a given issue, and most of them fall into constructs that are comparatively boring. Alternative, unconventional avenues are so intriguing and sexy because they make us feel intelligent for arriving at a different take on an issue that our peers haven’t considered before.

We’ve all witnessed the effect this can have on people. “Where did you hear that?” they ask us, after we drop what they consider a surprising level of intellect on them. “I’ve never heard that before.” The tone of their voice, and the slight bit of awe on their face, can prove so intoxicating to dumb guys who didn’t do well in school that we spend the rest of our lives chasing that dragon. Some of these arguments are worth pursuing, but in my experience, most of them provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the core argument.

Finding out, later, that many of my intoxicating, alternative theories, based on unconventional information were wrong, provided another break between Raymond’s way of thinking and mine, as I realized that I preferred being correct over provocative. Conventional information, reported by conventional outlets, is not always true either of course, but in my experience, their batting average is far superior to the alternative outlets. Some don’t put as much value in this results-oriented approach, and they tend to place greater value in avoiding the word naïve, a label attached to those of us who believe everything we’re told.

In our discussions on a wide variety of topics, Raymond and I also found many differences between how we arrive at a conclusion. We both seek primary source information, corroborating evidence, and perhaps some opinion pieces to bolster our conclusions. At some point, however, I am “easily satisfied” with my findings, whereas Raymond digs deeper. Raymond knows when the subject is a piece is crud, and Raymond knows how a piece of crud thinks. He seeks explanations that detail the piece of crud’s motives in a way Raymond can understand. In Raymond’s search for absolute objectivity, he accidentally trips over a critical line between objectivity and subjectivity. He finds subjective speculation regarding the motives of the piece of crud that fit with his theories on the subject in question, and he uses them to develop theories that end up mostly autobiographical.

Alien Information

Police officers, working a beat, have a modus operandi (M.O.) they bring to their job, “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” This is the ideal mindset for a law enforcement official to have while working a beat. Is this M.O. ideal for a consumer of news, an employee who learns information regarding their employer, or a friend listening to another friend tell a story?

A high profile media personality once suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but the vaunted role the press plays in our republic should require them to combat constant, intense scrutiny, skepticism, and cynicism that makes them uncomfortable. Members of the media should conduct themselves in a manner that welcomes that from their audience and defeats it with a performance that leads to a solid record they can point to whenever anyone questions them. Wouldn’t members of the media say the same thing of the subjects they cover?

There is a tipping point, however, when a healthy sense of skepticism creeps into a form of cynicism that believes “none of what I hear and half of what I see.” Such cynicism opens holes in the mind that allows other information to fill it.

As an individual who has always had an insatiable curiosity for the wide spectrum of thought regarding human behavior, with a peculiar crush on the extreme, I have had a number of friends introduce me to a wide array of outlets. They introduce me to various definitions of human psychology through astrology, numerology, and witchcraft. Raymond Skiles introduced me to the idea that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

Raymond provided me a collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages that these superior beings sent to earthlings. As I read through the information he found, I found that the theme of these messages was that the bullet points of my philosophy were wrong. I found them somewhat humorous, but before I could entirely dismiss them, I learned that Raymond considered these messages proof that I was wrong. Although he didn’t say these words exactly, the import of his responses was that he could not understand how I could argue against statements made by superior life forms.

The first question this skeptic would love to ask authors of human psychology, by way of alien scripture, is why do we assume that aliens from another planet are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, in certain quarters of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but they’re more intelligent than earthlings can conceive. Even though we have no concrete proof that life exists outside our planet, at this point in our space explorations, it would be foolish to think that the only lifeforms in the universe are those that live on Earth. If other lifeforms exist, however, we don’t know what form they take. (We assume they are humanoid in form and that they’re here for our water, but if they’re intelligent beyond our comprehension why haven’t they been able to develop a substitute for water, or an artificial way to preserve or increase their supply?) We also don’t know what concerns alien life forms have, or how they think, but we assume that all creatures have the same concerns. The one crucial nugget of information missing in these theories is that we know less than nothing about aliens. If we had some substantial proof that they exist, we could say we know nothing about them, but we don’t even know if they exist yet. With that in mind, any theories of alien intellectual superiority can only be rooted in the human inferiority complex.

What would be the point of worshiping a deity who had a level of intelligence equal to our own, and what would be the point of reporting on the transmissions from space if the aliens were not of a superior intellect who could teach us a lot about our way of life? My takeaway from this friend’s collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages was that most of the alien transmissions, submitted for the reader’s pleasure, have an agenda that suspiciously aligns with the author of the work.

The next time an alien transmits a message that suggests humans are of equal or superior intellect, “We are in awe of the capabilities of your iPhone, and we have not found a way of replicating that technology in our labs,” will be the first time I take an alien transmission seriously. The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with a compliment regarding human technology in agricultural techniques, “We find the techniques developed by Monsanto awe-inspiring”, will be the first time I re-read an author’s interpretation of an alien transmission. One would think that a complex being would know that the best way to persuade another being is to surround criticisms with some compliments. Even if they have no emotions, in the manner most sci-fi movies depict them, it would only be logical for them to suggest that our life form managed to get some things right. What readers receive from aliens, instead, are warnings about our dystopian nature that suspiciously align with human politics.

What If?

“You’re problem is you have no room for if,” Raymond told me one day. “Numerous wonderful and beautiful people have brought us to where we are today by asking if questions, but you put a big old lid on if and lock it up.”

“I’ve cleared an entire warehouse out for if,” I said. “Give me an if!  

“I’ll give you an if?” I continued. “What if I told you that there was incontrovertible proof that your favorite conspiracy theory was wrong? Let’s say they discovered previously unknown security tape that showed your favorite victim of the justice system pulling the trigger. I’m not saying he’s guilty, but have you ever considered that mind-blowing prospect before?”

The ifs and what ifs of unconventional information are so interesting that it’s challenging to read them and say, “They’re just wrong.” We pursue the angle, the speculative ideas regarding motive, and the idea that the purveyor of such knowledge is fighting against the man, or the status quo. Concerned parties watching such scenarios play out, might want to caution someone like Raymond from relying too much on these alternative sources of information. We might want to tell him that doing so could lead him to being vulnerable to half-truths and greater confusion.

When we try to caution them, however, they tell us that they’ve done massive amounts of research on this subject, and they say, “Most people don’t know the truth. I know I didn’t,” as Raymond does before he launching into one of his speculative theories. There are enough outlets of information out there now to feed the confirmation bias of any researcher. Decent writers have ideas about the world, some are insightful and meaningful, some are not. Writers gifted in the art of persuasion allow readers and researchers to believe they arrived at the idea themselves. The idea becomes theirs to the point that they develop a level of personal intimacy for it. 

Once they arrive at the point that the idea is theirs, they evaluate “their” ideas in a manner similar to the approach a fan takes to an athlete. If a fan “knows” that an athlete is quality player on the fan’s team, they form a special bond with that athlete that is often difficult to shake. Even if that athlete proves to under perform for years that fan’s relationship will continue. Disciples of alternative knowledge have a similar relationship to purveyors of such information as they, too, often fail to focus on results. How many of their favorite outlets provide straight, verifiable points that pass peer review? How many of them can point to a verifiable track record of their assertions, as opposed to providing the anecdotal evidence that they promote? How many of their messages devolve into speculation regarding motives that no one can refute? How many of us are skeptical enough of the information that seems so right it has to be true?

Those of us who ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives began to spot these plot holes for what they were, and we came to the uncomfortable conclusion that just because the information we hear is unconventional, alternative, and “what your father doesn’t want you to know” does not mean that they’re correct.

We enjoyed the offspring of the counterculture for what it was. We thought they were so hip that our interest in their theories led some programmers to identify and capitalize on the purveyors of unconventional thinking, until those thoughts seduced us into incorporating them into our conventional thinking on some matters.

Whether it is cultural, social, or any other venue of thought, some people derive definition by fighting against the status quo, but we could say that the status quo is an ever-shifting focus that can lead to so many converting to such thoughts that those thoughts could eventually become status quo, conventional.

I no longer buy a book of unconventional thinking, or befriend an unconventional thinker, with the hope of having them change my mind on a subject. If their ideas persuade me to change my mind, that’s gravy, but I have learned that such thoughts, are often best used to challenge my current worldview, and/or bolster my arguments as I attempt to defeat them. I do not then write this with the intent of changing anyone else’s mind. I do enjoy, however, taking the conventional standpoint and melding it with the unconventional to arrive at what I consider a hybrid of the truth.

FOBF: The Fear of Being Foolish

Most people hate being wrong, but we’re willing to concede that we’re going to be wrong some of the times. What we cannot abide is the idea that we’re wrong so often that somebody will consider us a fool. How many rhetorical devices, tactics, and persuasive techniques have we developed over the years to avoid being called a fool? One thing we know is that people who believe in nouns (people, places, and things) are more vulnerable to the charge of being a fool, and we seek foolproof status. Due to the fact that most alternative thoughts are rarely shown to be substantially incorrect, unconventional thinkers are shielded against ever being called a fool. On the off chance that they are incorrect, they might make slight adjustments in their presentation to incorporate the newfound facts, but most of them just move on.

“They just move on?” we asked our friend who told us about her unconventional parents. We’ve all been wrong so often that we’re familiar with the humiliation of being so wrong that we’re laughable. We all have friends and family who are eager to call us out on our errors, and we know that they’re not going to allow us to just move on until they’re done churning us over the spit. Even then, some of us hold onto it for years. When we pose another notion or theory, they say, “Aren’t you the guy who believed … ?”

Over the years, our friend told us that her parents “latched onto just about every conspiracy theory and unconventional notion they ever heard.” She said that when the facts rolled out, and they were proven incorrect, they just moved onto the next one.

“So, when the rest of us are proven wrong, we have to deal with the ramifications that come our way, but when your parents are wrong, they just move onto the next conspiracy theory? How do they do that?”

“They just do,” she said.

She informed us that her parents were prophets of doom, as the millennium neared. They were handing out pamphlets and grain pellets at their church. They believed something would happen on 9/9/99, and when it didn’t, they moved onto the millennium. When nothing happened on 1/1/2000, they suggested that we all miscalculated the Aztec calendar, and that the day of doom still awaited us sometime in the near future. She said they listed a specific date, based on specific criteria, but she didn’t remember the exact date, because she knew they would just move on after that date passed. She knew they would just move onto the next date of doom to some day in the all too near future.

Most of us know, firsthand, the humiliation of being so wrong on an issue that our friends won’t value our assessments in the future. If we staked our personal reputation on a prediction of this sort, and it passed without event, we would be mortified. After being wrong numerous times, these parents were out, at the next date of doom, passing out pamphlets and grain pellets.

We don’t know what drives common, every day people to partake in doom-saying, but it probably has something to do with the idea that the track record of alternative, unconventional information is somehow immune to criticism. It is foolproof, because the alternative is believing what the ever elusive “they” tell you to believe.

If in the course of them trying to warn us about a current date of doom in the all too near future, we were to call these parents out on their track record, they might turn the tables on us, “How can you be so sure that it won’t happen this time?” 

We can’t be sure, of course, because we are insecure beings who falter in the face of certitude. We’ve watched too many movies where no one believed the sexy actor who knew something no one else in the production did, and we don’t want to be the overweight, unattractive character actor who doesn’t believe. They frame their questions in a probing, “Who do you think you are?” manner that asks us how many times we’ve been wrong before, and if we’re willing to wager that we know more about this than their list of experts do.

Dumb guys who fell prey to believing far too many alternative, unconventional, and conspiracy theories were so relieved to read some psychologists write that we must all make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to this type of seduction, because it suggests that we’re all susceptible to their siren call. Our grades in school haunt us to this day, and we will use any excuse we can find to declare that we’re not as dumb as we think we are. When someone comes along and basically writes up a siren call that is so alluring that we must proactively keep our susceptibility in the “off” position, it lends credence to the “shame on you for fooling me” portion of the idiom. As long as we maintain the “off” position to prevent the shame from doubling back on us in the future. Though the psychologists’ conclusion does not absolve us of the idea that we once believed a wide variety of crazy theories and loony conspiracy theories, we do find some comfort in numbers.

Maintaining this “off” position is not easy, and it is not our intent to suggest that we woke up one day deciding that we were no longer going to believe alternative ideas loaded with unconventional information that can lead to conspiracy theories. It wasn’t any easier for us to avoid their interesting and thought-provoking theories. We simply put forth constant and diligent effort to defeat our susceptibility in this arena. Tune out, turn on, and defeat is the credo we use anytime we encounter sexy, enticing pieces that lead to emotional reactions. Current and future stories such as those are as difficult to ignore as all the previous ones were, but after mentally charting all of their hypothetical guesses, based on alternative thinking that many considered unconventional, we were finally able to break the leash.

They’re Platypus People


“Did you know that your good friend’s dad is an infidel?” Mrs. Francis Finnegan asked, as I stood just outside the door of her home. Her greeting did not intimidate me, because she greeted me in this manner whenever she had a topic that she wanted to discuss before she would allow me hang out with her son. I referred to her greeting as a headline hello.

“Hey, it’s mister cigarette smoker!” she said to introduce me to the Finnegan family discussion of the day, regarding my smoking habits. “It’s the heavy metal dude!” she said on another day, to introduce me to the discussion we were about to have regarding my decision to wear a denim jacket, a t-shirt of whatever band I was listening to at the time, and jeans. She called my ensemble ‘my heavy metal dude gear’ in that discussion. I was fair game for these family discussions, Mrs. Finnegan said, because I had such a heavy influence on her beloved son, and she said the state of my home suggested that I needed more guidance.

The “Your good friend’s dad is an infidel” greeting informed me that the Finnegan family discussion of the day would involve a detailed account of her husband’s recent business trip to Las Vegas in which “he happened to get himself some [girl]”. I write the word ‘girl’ here, in place of the more provocative P word that Mrs. Finnegan used to describe the other party in Greg Finnegan’s act of infidelity.

Mrs. Finnegan was a religious woman who rarely used profanity or vulgarity. She reserved those words for moments when she needed to wound the subject of her scorn, and those times when she felt she needed to pique the ears of the listener. She used these words with a Look what you’ve made me do! plea in her voice to further subject the subject of her violation to greater shame.

Hearing Francis Finnegan use such a vulgar word was not as shocking to me as hearing her use the word ‘infidel’ in an incorrect manner. As a self-described word nerd, Mrs. Finnegan prided herself on proper word usage. She informed me on another occasion, half-joking, that I was her apprentice. She enjoyed teaching me and I was her eager student. In the beginning, I viewed her assessment of our roles in that light. As the years went by, however, I began to believe she said that to relieve her of whatever guilt she may have felt for correcting every other word that came out of my mouth. There were times when I was almost afraid to open my mouth around her, lest she correct me, but I did enjoy our respective roles in this relationship.

I figured that the emotional turmoil of this moment caused the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t consider her capable of such a slip. Even during the most tumultuous Finnegan family discussions, the woman managed to mind her rules of usage well. Thus, when she made the error of attributing the word infidel to her husband’s act of infidelity, I assumed she intended to pique the interest of the listener in the manner her sparse use of profanity and vulgarity could. Either that or she was attempting to creatively conflate the incorrect use of the word, and the correct one, with an implicit suggestion that not only had her husband violated his vows to her, but his vows to God. 

My friend James was sitting on the couch, next to his father, when I entered the Finnegan home. The two of them were a portrait of shame. They sat in the manner a Beagle sits in the corner of the room after making a mess on the carpet.

James mouthed a quick ‘Hi!’ to me, as I walked by him, and he pumped his head up to accentuate that greeting. He then resumed the shamed position of looking at one spot on the carpet.

“Mr. Finnegan decided to go out to Las Vegas and get him some [girl]!” Mrs. Finnegan said when I entered the living room. I did not have enough time to sit when she said that. When I did, I sat as slow as the tension in the room allowed. “Tell him Greg,” she added.

“France, I don’t think we should be airing our dirty laundry in front of outsiders,” Greg Finnegan complained. The idea that he had been crying prior to my entrance was evident. His eyes were rimmed red, and they were moist. He did not look up at Francis, or me, when he complained. He, like James, remained fixated on a spot on the carpet.

France was the name Mrs. Finnegan grew up with, and she hated it. Only her immediate family members addressed her with such familiarity. She had very few adult friends, but to those people she was Frances. To everyone else, she was Mrs. Finnegan. She may have allowed others to call her less formal names, but I never heard it. Mrs. Finnegan was not one to permit informalities.

“NO!” Mrs. Finnegan yelled. That yell was so forceful that had the room contained an actual Beagle, it would’ve scampered from it, regardless if it were the subject of her scorn. “No, he has to learn,” she said pointing at me, while looking at her husband. “Just like your son needs to learn, just like every man needs to learn their evil ways.”

A visual display followed that verbal one. It was carried into the living room by the daughter. The daughter appeared as unemotional about this particular family discussion as she had the prior ones. In my experience, she was more of an observer to the goings on in the Finnegan home than a participant. She rarely offered an opinion, unless it backed up her mother’s assessments and characterizations, and she was never the subject of her mother’s scorn. She was the dutiful daughter, and she walked into the room, carrying the display, in that vein. She carefully positioned it on living room table and pulled out its legs, so it could stand. She then went about lighting the candles in the display. When she was done she sat as silently as she had when completing those actions.

Mrs. Finnegan allowed the display of Greg Finnegan’s shame to rest on the living room table for a moment without comment. The display was a multi-tiered, wood framed, structure with open compartments that allowed for wallet-sized photos. The structure of the frame was a triangle, but anyone who looked around the Finnegan family home knew of Mrs. Finnegan’s fondness for pyramids. Greg Finnegan purchased the triangle to feed into Mrs. Finnegan’s fascination with pyramids, but it didn’t have the full dimensions of a pyramid. When the daughter pulled its legs out, however, the frame rested at an angle. At that angle, the frame appeared to be one-fourths of a pyramid.

Before this discussion began, Mrs. Finnegan somehow managed to secure a sufficient number of photos of the “harlot, slut, home wrecker” to fill each of the open compartments in the pyramid, so that the bottom level had five photos, the next level up had four, and so on, until one arrived at a single photo at the top. Each photo had a small votive candle before it to give the shrine of Greg Finnegan’s shame an almost holy vibe.

“It’s the pyramid of shame,” Mrs. Finnegan informed me with a confrontational smile. “What do you think of it? It was Greg’s gift to me on my birthday. Isn’t it lovely? I’m thinking of placing it in our bedroom. I’m thinking of placing it in a just such a position that if Greg is ever forced to [have sex with me] again-” (Except she didn’t say sex. She said the word, the big one, the queen mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.)[1] “-he can look at those pictures while he’s [sexing] me. Do you think that will help your performance honey?” she asked her husband.

As we sat in the wake of that uncomfortable comment, the question of how far Mrs. Finnegan might go with her characterizations of this weekend was mercifully interrupted by a knock at the door. For obvious reasons, we didn’t see the individual approach the door, so his knock startled us. The construction of the Finnegan duplex was such that when the drapes were open the inhabitants could see the knocker if they were facing in that direction. The knocker was Andy, the third participant in the adventure James and I planned for the evening.

“Welcome to the home of Greg Finnegan, adulterer and infidel,” Mrs. Finnegan said after leaping to her feet to beat everyone to the door. No one was racing her to the door. We were scared and shamed into staring at our own spots on the carpet. “Come on in,” she said stepping back to allow Andy’s entrance.

Andy turned around, walked back down the steps, got in his car, and drove away. Just like that, Andy escaped what I felt compelled to endure. From what I could see Andy didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting in anyway. He didn’t go out of his way to show any signs of respect, or disrespect. He just turned and left.

I watched him leave with my mouth hanging open. I didn’t know we could do that.

Andy left, because he knew what Mrs. Finnegan’s headline hellos entailed. He knew what he was in for, and I did too. To my mind, his departure was not only inexplicably bold, it was unprecedented. I didn’t know we could do that.

“How could you do that?” I asked him later.

“I didn’t want to go through that all over again,” he said.

“Well, of course,” I said. “Who would?”

Andy further explained his reaction, but the gist of it was that he didn’t want to have to endure another Finnegan family discussion. His impulsive reaction was so simple that if he planned it beforehand, and he told me about his plan, I would’ve countered that it would never work, ‘and, besides, you’ll never be able to do it,’ I would’ve added. I’m sure he would’ve asked why, and I don’t know what I would’ve said, but it would’ve involved the inherent respect and fear we have of other people’s parents. Andy and I were good kids, and good kids consider it a testament to our character to maintain model status around other people’s parents. When Andy did what he did, and Mrs. Finnegan did nothing more than close the door, I realized that I would have to do a much better job of evaluating my options in life.

When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family discussion began –a phase that required Mr. Finnegan to provide explicit details of what he did– I wasn’t there to hear it. I was looking out their front window imagining that Andy’s display so emboldened me that I just stood up and followed him to his car. Just like that. Just like he did. I imagined the two of us driving away, laughing at the lunatics we left behind. I imagined calling the Finnegans platypus people at one point in our round of jokes, and how that might end Andy’s laughter, until I explained.

What is a platypus, I imagined myself explaining to encourage more laughter from Andy, but an animal that defies categorization. One study of them, informs the world of science that they should fall into one category, until they further mystify the scientific community. Further study only yields more surprises with the classification-defying animal, until even the most seasoned naturalist throws their hands up in the air in futility. Experts in psychology might think they have a decent hold on human classifications, but imagine what one day in the Finnegan family home could do to them.

At its introduction, naturalists considered the platypus another well-played hoax on the naturalist community, I would add. I say another well-played hoax, because it happened before. Some enterprising naturalists stitched together body parts of different parts of dead animals to lead the scientific community to believe that the hoaxer discovered an entirely new species. Thus, when someone introduced the platypus, the scientists who received it believed it was but another elaborate hoax of taxidermy.

‘Those who guarded themselves against falling for future hoaxes, even had a tough time believing the platypus was an actual species when they saw one live,’ I would tell Andy.

Even though it violated my beliefs in random occurrences versus the orchestrated, I stared out that window Andy once darkened, wondering if there might be a greater purpose behind the situation I was in, listening to a grown man confess his transgression with far too much detail. Was I a small-scale example of natural selection, because I didn’t have the guts to pivot on a heel and run the way Andy did, or was this event a storyteller’s gift that I didn’t appreciate in the moment? Were the Finnegans such an aberration that they might confound those in the scientific community who think they have a firm hand on human psychology in a manner equivalent to the platypus confounded other fields of science?

Even when I had all of the sordid details of this Finnegan Family as Platypus People story to tell, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. My penchant for stitching together facts and fabricated details into a great story might come back to haunt me. They might not even believe the story if Andy stuck around to corroborate the details of it, and they might not even believe it if they saw all of this live, I realized while Mr. Finnegan continued to offer me explicit details of his sordid weekend. My audience might think they’re the subjects of an elaborate hoax.

“He already confessed those details of his weekend to his children,” Mrs. Finnegan interrupted Mr. Finnegan’s confession to inform me, “and he will be offering his detailed confession to the mailman, a traveling salesman, or any others who happened to darken our door today.” She instructed us to look at her when she said this, and we did.

After Mr. Finnegan’s uncomfortable confession failed to meet Mrs. Finnegan’s requirements, she asked a series of questions that further explored the humiliating details of Mr. Finnegan’s that would not reveal without prompting. When that finally concluded, she forced us to acknowledge the primary reason the Finnegans married in the first place.

“No one would play with Mr. Finnegan’s [reproductive organ],” she said, except she didn’t say reproductive organ.

“He was lonely,” she said with tones of derision. “Mr. eighty dollars an hour consultant fee, and Mr. professional student with eight degrees would be nothing without me, because he was nothing when he met me. He was a lonely, little man with nothing to do but play with his little computer products, designs, and his little [reproductive organ] when no one else would.”

“That’s enough France,” Greg said standing.

“Do you play with your [reproductive organ]?” Mrs. Finnegan asked me, undeterred by Greg’s pleas. “Do you masturbate? Because that’s where it all starts. It all starts with you men, and all of your pornographic material, imagining that someday someone will want to come along and want to play with it.”

Of course, I had no idea how this family discussion would play out, but Mrs. Finnegan’s normal confrontational demeanor was building. I don’t think I ever saw the woman attempt to conceal her hostility or bitterness before, but the building tension provided contrast to everything I witnessed prior to this point. She was all but spitting questions out between bared teeth, and her nostrils flared in a manner of disgust that suggested she was directing all of her hostility at me.

“You think it’s about love?” she asked me, aghast at an assessment I never made. She had a huge smile on her face when she asked that that might have been more alarming than the manner in which she asked all of those previous embarrassing questions. The smile seemed so out of place with the building tension that I began to wonder if she was in full control of her facilities.

“You think every couple has a story of love, and dating, and that hallowed first kiss?” she continued. “Go rent a gawdamned love conquers all movie if you want all that and once it’s over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and I’ll introduce you to some reality. I’ll tell you tales of men, grown men who marry because they’re desperate to find someone to play with their [reproductive organ]. Isn’t that right Mr. Finnegan?” She called after him, as Mr. Finnegan finally mustered up the courage to begin walking away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her question, Mrs. Finnegan took off after him.

Mrs. Finnegan moved across the room quick, which for anyone who spent any time around this otherwise sedate woman knew was a little startling, troubling, and in retrospect foreboding.

Pushing her husband down a flight of stairs was not the feat of strength that some might consider it. We didn’t see it, but we figured that he must have been off balance when she did it, resulting from his refusal to turn and face her in his flight to the basement. She was screaming things at him from behind, and her intensity grew with each scream until we couldn’t understand what she was saying. Mr. Finnegan continued to refuse to turn around and face her, but he should’ve suspected that his wife’s intensity would lead to a conclusion against which he should guard himself. Thus, when she pushed him, he was in no position to defend himself or lessen the impact of falling down a flight of perhaps twenty steps.

When we ran to the top of the stairs –after the sounds of him hitting the stairs shook the house in such a manner that we all instinctually put a hand on the armrests of the furniture we sat in to brace ourselves– we witnessed Mrs. Finnegan pulling her husband up the stairs with one hand in his hair.

Mrs. Finnegan’s final scream, that which proceeded her pushing her husband down the stairs, led us to believe that whatever frayed vestige of sanity she clung to for much of her life just snapped. I could not hear what she said as she pulled him up the stairs by his hair. The screams of her children, and her husband, drowned out those grumblings.

“France!” Greg screamed in pain. “France, for God’s sakes!” he screamed repeatedly.

When I saw Mrs. Finnegan’s contorted facial expression, it transfixed me. In their attempts to either help her, or break her hold on Mr. Finnegan’s hair, her children blocked my view of her face. I bobbed and weaved to get a better look at it. I didn’t know why my need to see her face drove me to such embarrassing lengths, but I all but shouted at those obstructing my view of it to move out of the way.

I’ve witnessed rage a couple of times, prior to Mrs. Finnegan’s, but I couldn’t remember seeing it so vacant before. This almost unconscious display of rage was one that those never employed in specific levels of civil service probably see once in a lifetime. She was lifting a six-five, two-hundred pound man up the stairs, by his hair and with one hand. Her body blocked any view we might have had of Mr. Finnegan, but I assumed that he was back stepping the stairs to relieve some of the pain of having his hair pulled in such a manner. I also think he was putting his hand on the handrail in a manner that assisted her in pulling him up. Regardless the details of this moment, it was still an impressive display of strength fueled by a scary visage of rage.

She was in such a state that when she was atop the stairs, standing in the kitchen with her children trying to calm her, she couldn’t speak. Her lips were moving but no sound was coming out, and when that initial brief spell ended, the master of language could only manage gibberish, the same gibberish I realized that proceeded her pushing her husband down the stairs, and all moments between. She later suggested that that gibberish resulted from being overcome by spirits. Once she escaped that state, she stated that the gibberish we all heard was her speaking in tongues. She believed that divine intervention prevented her from further harming her husband, in the manner divine intervention prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac in the biblical narrative. I believed it too in the heat of the moment, but I would later learn that I just witnessed my first psychotic episode.

I don’t know what happened in the aftermath of this incident, as I never entered their home again. I do know that the Finnegan marriage survived it, and I’m sure that Mrs. Finnegan thought that had something to do with that divine intervention too. I’m also sure that if anyone doubted Mrs. Finnegan’s account, they would be greeted at the door with a “Welcome to the home of the divine intervention!” headline hello to introduce them to that Finnegan family discussion of the day. If those future visitors were to ask me for advice on this matter, I would advise them to weigh their options before entering.

Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias


Center Stage

 

[Welcome to Center Stage. We created this feature to highlight our favorite article of the week. This Center Stage feature gives readers a taste of our show-don’t-tell method. The story is sacred to us. Is there a better story out there than the one that educates while entertaining? We’re not going to say that we accomplish that lofty goal, that’s up to the reader, but Rilaly.com is chock full of the attempts to do so. We analyze the stories and characters from our life in an attempt to understand them better, and in doing so, we unavoidably learn more about ourselves. If we were to overanalyze our stories, we would probably not say that they are not funny in the truest sense of the word, but that they might be so unfunny that the reader is left with the impression that they are, at the very least, clever.   

Have you ever experienced an event so scary that it shocked you? If you haven’t, Fear Bradycardia takes Center Stage to inform you that can’t know how you’ll react if you do. An overwhelming majority of the world thinks they’re tough enough to weather any storm, and we think we’ve experienced most of what nature or happenstance has to offer already. So, when the unimaginable happens, we think we’ll be all right (wink!).  

How many times have you experienced something so shocking and scary that it shocked you into a catatonic state? Were you able to shake yourself out of that state to save your life from impending doom? If so, the Fear Bradycardia probably isn’t necessary reading for you. The rest of the world’s population might want to read on. 

“What are you so afraid of?” is a question we’ve asked each other so often since grade school, and we weren’t on a fact-finding mission. We were seeking to define our strength against their weakness. We asked that question to separate the men from the boys, and we were one of the men. When we experienced a blinding snowstorm, “I’ve seen worse.” A weather anomaly that tore a town a part? “I remember when I was a kid, and we got hit by F5. Now that was a tornado!” We’ve all experienced worse, kind of, sort of, to suggest that anything happening now isn’t half as bad as something we experienced in the past. This is tough, strong, and all of the above, but it doesn’t do much to prepare us for what could happen. 

Fear speaks of weakness, and it invites ridicule, laughter, and a level of minimization our adversaries seek every time they speak to us. “I fear no man, and no thing!” we respond with bowed chests. Fear Bradycardia suggests we might take this a little too far at times. Fear might be a good thing at times, because it might prepare us and protect us. What is fear, if we break it down to its finest morsels, but a message from the brain that something or someone could do us harm.

Fear is for the dumb an inexperienced folk who fall for all that propaganda brought forth by weather forecasters, flight attendants, our politicians, etc. We know better. We’re smart and prepared, and we’ve watched disaster movies where all the main characters did all the dumbest things imaginable. We’ve shouted at our TV, because we know we would’ve done it different and better. Yeah, I’m prepared. I don’t know about my neighbor, Stewart, because he’s a bit of a flop, but I know I’d know what to do in a life and death situation. I have full confidence that I would react like Tom Cruise did in that one movie about airplanes.

How do you know, and do you really know? The very idea that you think you know could prove to be your undoing, as you sit in paralyzed fear waiting for someone else to do something. Until that happens, you might want to listen to that dark recess of your brain you’ve hidden for so long, as a form of protection against the ridicule and mockery and learn to embrace your fears to hopefully conquer them when the worst thing that has ever happened, happens to us. As Fear Bradycardia details, it could prove to be a matter of life and death for us.]

“Didn’t you hear the old, Native American woman say something evil lurks in that there lake?” one of the great-looking people on the shore screams. Dougie ignores them, apparently unaware of the golden rule of modern cinema: Always listen to Native Americans, especially if they’re old and speak in hallowed tones. “You’ve gone too far, Dougie!” the great-looking people on the shore continue to shriek. “Come back!”

“C’mon, you chickens!” Dougie says, backstroking leisurely. “It’s fun, and there’s nothing evil out here!”

The music that cues Dougie’s impending doom spills out of the Dolby surround sound. A subtle roar follows, and those of us in the audience tense up. We grip the armrests so tight that our forearms flex. We join the gorgeous people on the shore, mentally screaming out warnings to Dougie, telling him to get out of the water. We then join the collective hysteria that erupts when the water of the lake begins to swirl.

“Dougie, please!” we shout in unison.

“Aw, shut it!” Dougie says, waving off the warnings. 

The trouble is the character actor who plays Dougie is unattractive and chubby. Those of us who have watched thousands of movies know movies, and we know casting. We knew Dougie’s role in this movie would meet an unfortunate demise.

The monster roars to an impossible height. Dougie looks up at it, and as his fate becomes apparent, he screams. Is the monster evil, or is it just hungry? We don’t know, and we don’t care. It’s going to eat Dougie, the comedic foil in our movie. The monster takes its time, so we can see the full breadth of its horror. It gnashes its teeth a little. It swivels its head about. It looks menacingly at Dougie. Dougie continues to look up and his screaming continues until the monster lowers onto him and bites Dougie’s head off. The idea that this macabre scene took a full thirty seconds leaves those of us who have watched too many horror movies nonplussed.

“Why didn’t he just move?” monster movie aficionados have asked for decades. “Why did he stay in the water, screaming, for thirty seconds? Why didn’t he even try to swim away?” We can live with the fact that the monster would naturally move through the water much quicker than Dougie, since the monster is aquatic and Dougie is not. We can also live with the fact that Dougie probably didn’t have much of a chance the moment he jumped into the water. Still, we horror movie aficionados would love, just once, to see victims do a little more to prove that they, like all humans share an inherent survival instinct.

When I later learned that actors have to stay on their mark, I was a little less disgusted with the actors who played Dougie roles. I still want them to move, but I now know they must obey the director who commands them to stay in a designated spots for the decapitation scene. This cliché scene may strike horror in some, but I would venture to say that either the terrified are under the age of 30, or they haven’t watched a thousand horror movies yet. For those of us who have crossed both thresholds, we know it’s just plain irrational that a person wouldn’t move or do something to get away from a menacing monster. We certainly wouldn’t just stand in one spot, looking up, screaming, at the person, place, or thing looking to seal our fate.

Author David McRaney argues this point though. He claims that not only are Dougie’s reactions normal, but they are closer to the truth than anything monster movie aficionados might expect. In McRaney’s incredible book, You Are Not so Smart, he suggests that the one conflicting detail of this monster scene that might counter how we think we would react in a similar moment of unprecedented horror is Dougie’s screaming.[1]

Those of us who are not as knowledgeable about psychology believe there are two basic reactions to catastrophic, chaotic moments: action and non-action. We break it down to those who act and those who choke. Those who act may also be broken down into two categories: The selfish who fight to save themselves and the martyrs who act in a heroic fashion to save others. Either way, casual, non-psychology types insist there are but two reactions to such situations. Either the individual involved in the situation does something to save their lives or they choke.

McRaney argues that there is a third reaction, though casual, non-psychology types are more apt to view this course of action as little more than an extension of choking. Psychologists call it fear bradycardia. The difference between fear bradycardia and choking is that a victim of fear bradycardia experiences a heart deceleration, as opposed to the acceleration we might expect in such a traumatic situation. An acceleration of the heart could lead a potential victim to fumble about and select an incorrect reaction, but a deceleration might lead one to freeze up in a manner some call attentive immobility. Fear bradycardia is a reflex, an involuntary, automatic instinct that often occurs in moments of unprecedented chaos and horror, heaped upon the unprepared.

Put succinctly, fear bradycardia is the idea that in our movie not only will Dougie not scream or scramble out of the way, he will reflexively stop moving and simply hope for the best possible outcome. The normal reaction one might have to surviving a plane crash, for example, is that we need a moment to gather the most terrifying thing that ever happened to us. We might also need a moment to come down from the horror of it, and the euphoria we experience when we realize we’re one of the survivors. The concept psychologists are describing, when they talk about the term fear bradycardia, goes one step beyond that. It suggests that we will remain frozen beyond the normal moment necessary to deal with the situation. It suggests that if the plane is on fire, in our scenario, and other survivors are screaming that the plane is going to blow, we might not do enough to assure our survival, as we will remain frozen hoping that this moment simply passes. This fear bradycardia reaction involves an automatic, involuntary instinct that exists in all of us. Some refer to this state as tonic immobility, but no matter the name, it falls under the umbrella of another psychological term, normalcy bias.

McRaney details several incidents in which people experienced fear bradycardia: an F5 tornado in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, survivors of floods, and even the infamous 9/11 Trade Center terrorist incident.

According to some first responders, the one commonality in most similar tragedies is that victims wander about in a dreamlike state. These first responders say that their first responsibility is to shake survivors out of this state. For even if their world is falling down around them, most survivors shut down and go to a safe, more normal space in their minds, if no one is around to shake them out of it.

In the aftermath of the 9/11/01 terrorist action, most first responders spoke of the calm that evacuating survivors exhibited. They stated that most of the survivors obediently followed instructions, without any panic, allowing for a safe exit that ultimately saved many lives. The first responders we saw interviewed on the news stated that the heroic first responders provided a model for proper evacuation procedures.

Other first responders agreed with that sentiment, but they added that the unspoken sense of order among the survivors was so calm and quiet that it bordered on eerie. Very few survivors were screaming, they said, and though there wasn’t room to sprint, there is no record of anyone pushing, shoving, or doing anything out of the ordinary to get out of the burning, soon to be falling buildings. There is no record of survivors complaining about the slow, orderly exit, or attempting to find their own alternative exit, if there was one available. We might think these are normal, human reactions to such a horrific episode, but the limited records we’ve found suggest no such incidents occurred.  

McRaney cited some of the accounts first responders of 9/11/01 reports of some survivors taking a couple extra, crucial moments to complete the log-out procedures on their computers. Before following the instructions of first responders, some even gathered their coats. Others engaged in mundane conversations, with their coworkers on the way out of the office, in a manner we might deduce helped them achieve some level of normalcy amidst the chaos.

Those of us on the outside looking in might view this as lunacy. If I were in that situation, we might think, I’d be running, screaming, and I might be crying. I might even knock an old lady down in my departure, but I would do everything I could to get out. I don’t care what this author says I’m all about survival brutha.

Television shows and movies depict such drama on a regular basis, and we’ve all watched such drama and trauma play out on our screens, be it some horror flick with a monster and a Dougie or our favorite cable news program. We’ve all placed ourselves in the shoes of the characters involved in such stories, and we list how we would do things differently. We’ve all shouted these condemnations at our various screens when the Dougies just sit there as a monster nears them, and we all know how we would’ve reacted before the menacing monster bites our head off. The central question of McRaney’s thesis, however, is this: While we might think we know how we would act, unless we’ve experienced such a moment in our lives we can never really know.

“If you haven’t,” McRaney writes, “you can never know how prepared you will be, and you can never know how you’ll react. The ideas we have about how we will react may be lies we’ve told ourselves so often that we might end up not knowing the actual truth after it’s too late to rectify it.”

Shutting down computers, gathering coats, and having mundane conversations are automatic, involuntary responses that occur because of this dream-like, faux normal state we defer to when it becomes clear that no amount of rationalizing will ever render the horrific, unprecedented, chaotic moment normal. We shut down to block out the flood of external stimuli that might otherwise cause us further panic.

“The people in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 had a supreme need to feel safe and secure,” McRaney writes. “They had a desire to make everything around them go normal again in the face of something so horrific that their brains couldn’t deal with it in a functional manner.”

As stated previously, most casual, non-psychology types might characterize this as choking in the clutch, but McRaney states that it goes beyond this, because they do not freeze as a response to panic. “It’s a reflexive incredulity,” McRaney writes, –attributing the term to Amanda Ripley– “that causes you to freeze up in a reflexive manner. This reflexive incredulity causes you to wait for normalcy to return beyond the point where it’s reasonable to do so. It’s a tendency that those concerned with evacuation procedures –the travel industry, architects, first responders, and stadium personnel– are well aware of, and they document this in manuals and trade publications.”

Sociologists McRaney cites say, “You are more prone to dawdle if you fail to follow these steps and are not informed of the severity of the issue.” Failing to gain the necessary information leads to speculation and to the inevitable comparisons and contrasts of other more familiar incidents.

Men, in particular, seem to have an almost imbedded desire to rationalize fear away. Fear, by its very nature is irrational, and most men feel it incumbent upon them to keep fear a rationalization away. In the face of a tragedy that alarms most, the rational, no fear, man is prone to say, “It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as a previous experience I once had?”

Their preferred culprit for unwarranted fear is the media and politicians. The media wants viewers, and politicians want voters, so they pound horrific details home to keep us afraid and focused on them and their efforts to investigate and rectify. All of this is true, but it’s also true that the terrorist incident on 9/11/01 was one of the most horrific to ever happen in our country.

I add politics to this discussion to illustrate the mindset of those who rationalize horror away. They do so to lighten the load such an incident might have on their minds if they don’t find a way to deal with it. The problem arises when they face the type of horror they’ve rationalized away for most of our lives. At that point, they fall back on what they know, hoping to normalize the incident in such a way that they can deal with it in terms with which they are more familiar, until it becomes apparent that the incident is far worse than anything their rational mind could imagine.

To those who suggest, “There are “politics at play here”, and we should all start viewing the hype of politicians and media players as nothing more than hype.” I say this is a rationalization in and of itself. Most of us recognize that some media outlets and politicians make their bones on promoting fear, but at times, a bit of fear –an emotion capable of igniting awareness– might save our life.

For these reasons and others, it is crucial for a city facing an ensuing crisis to allow the local media to inundate us with reports of that impending storm, because the media needs to help us redefine our norm. It is also a reason for those of us who make fun of our friends for paying attention to the flight attendant’s pre-flight instructions, to drop our macho façades and listen. We may also want to drop the pretense that as frequent flyers we are prepared for anything. We must redefine our sense of normalcy in preparation for the many things that could go wrong in the air or upon our return to ground.

In spite of McRaney’s findings, I still find it hard to believe that the movie scenes that depict the near-catatonic reactions Dougie displayed as the monster neared him are closer to the truth than I am about how most people will react. I live with the belief that a survivor’s instinct will kick in for anyone facing impending doom. As those dumb enough to corner a badger into a corner know, most beings will do whatever it takes to survive, and I believe that the human being, regardless how chubby or unattractive they are, have that same instinct. The difference might be that the badger hones those skills more frequently, but we’ve all experienced mini-disasters and personal traumas in our lives, and most people have a decent batting average when it comes to reacting to them. Will that be enough to avoid experiencing fear bradycardia, tonic immobility, reflexive incredulity, or any of the normal bias tendencies we have in the wake of a horrific incident? We don’t know, and we won’t know until the decisive moment reveals if we are so ill prepared that we fall prey to automatic and involuntary instincts that result from lying to ourselves for so long that we will end up rationalizing ourselves to death.

[1]McRaney, David. November, 2011. You Are Not So Smart. New York, New York. Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

Welcome to the Bruhniverse 


“It’s not bra, it’s Bruh!” Scott Greenlee said. “It has nothing to do with women’s undergarments. You have to add an ‘H’ to the end of it.” * 

Ask a Gen Z (Generation Z, born between 1997-2012) to Gen A (Generation Alpha, born after 2013) what they watch, and it’s all about YouTube. They might add Netflix with a sigh, and a few others, but  YouTube is so popular among these generations that cultural observers call them the YouTube generation.  

So, if a kid you know uses some derivation of brother (bruh, brah, bro, bruvvy or bruv) you know who to blame.** 

The language some influencers (AKA hosts, talent, or content creators) use on YouTube involves an inclusive, exclusive way of truncating language to form an inclusive, exclusive path to a fraternal order. What’s the difference between these truncations of brother and man, buddy and dude? Short answer the differences are as common as the similarities, or “It is what it is bro.” 

We might consider their linguistic adaptations worrisome, as we fear no one would take them seriously, but linguists find nothing unusual about the derivations. Every generation makes subtle changes to the language to create something they can call their own. By defining how their audience should use the lingo they make language more interesting and individualistic. 

As with other generational terms of endearment, their inclusive exclusivity prohibits participation of other generations. Any attempts to participate, observe, or analyze their language results in a cringe, subsequent violations lead to derisive laughter, until they drop a “Stop saying that!” on us to try to prevent us from tainting the Bruh.

A linguistics professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Scott Kiesling, states there might be something deeper to linguistic adaptations. He suggests that the various forms of usage might also ease the transition into adulthood. “‘I’ve got [it] together,’ or ‘I’m going to get what I want and I don’t have to try too hard,’” Kiesling explains. “It’s almost like a swagger. I think about powerful men in suits, but sitting in a laid-back, relaxed way, because they don’t have to be in the job interview, sitting straight-up, right? Then this idea that I’m going to be able to just say things and they’re going to happen.   

“Basically, [using such terms is] just another way of “being in the club,” he continues, “which is most clearly indicated by knowing how to use it the right way. They’re all the kind of thing where you’re showing solidarity with a person. I kind of have a theory about how masculinity also has this valence of masculine ease. People talk about masculinity being associated with power, but it’s not just about trying to be powerful, but how easily it comes for me.” 

How hard was it for us to work our way through the complicated algorithms of youth into adulthood? What rhetorical devices did we use to form some sort of brotherhood with our peers? We weren’t concerned with overwhelming questions regarding what we were going to do for a living at that point. We just wanted friends, and to accomplish that we needed to learn how to talk like them. Making friends established a certain, unspecified level of confidence that led to a swagger that benefitted us greatly in life. If we could convince them we were confident, how far away were we from convincing ourselves?

How many successful people say, “If we can get out of our own way, we might actually become successful.” Doing something substantial in life might not be half as difficult as developing the confidence to do it, in other words, and the confidence that comes from language can be a powerful force in this regard.  

* The slang term Brah originated in Hawaii.    

** Bruv is a British truncation of their terms bruvver and bruvvy. 

Further reading on this topic can be found at: https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/bro-brah-bruv-bruh-and-breh-meanings-explained