Category — ethics
Luke McKinney's new article — a follow-up to his infamous piece on "straight white male" being sexuality's lowest difficulty setting (you may remember John Scalzi's still-famous article expanding that idea) – on 5 Gamer Comments That Give Straight White Guys a Bad Name had me screaming and clapping while simultaneously laughing coffee out my nose.
As Scalzi points out in his blog today, this IS written on Cracked.com, so it's got a marvelous left-handedness where you know that some of the people being called assholes in this article — in lovely metaphor-laden smackdown style — are going to be reading and commenting on it…and boy, do they. I've stayed off the comment thread myself, mostly because all I really want to say is fuck yes, Luke. Way to hit a second home-run just to prove you can!
…It's really impossible to pick a "best" part of this to quote, but…
"People want to bang you = easy life" is the worst sexual equation since David Carradine's work with knot theory.
But seriously? I think it's incredibly important that topics like this one be handled with loud, raucous, stabby humor whenever possible. It's hard to speak accurate truth to power, sure; but it's even harder to make power hear it, and those people who can take truths and wrap them in you-can't-ignore-me linguistic molotov cocktails are treasures of humanity. It's precisely why comedians and satirists are so vitally important to every movement, and I'm chest-burstingly proud that the No More Forced Pregnancies-related movements have voices like Luke (and Scalzi) on their side. <3!
June 1, 2013 5 Comments
I'm moving this week, so pardon my invisibility (I'm actually getting a TON done — like the final edits for the Second Edition; finished! …which means that if you'd like to preorder and get the discount, now is a great time, ahem…but most of it isn't visible, unless you happen to be peeking in my windows looking for an accumulation of boxes).
However, the moving has raised an issue, an opportunity for improvement, that I might not have noticed otherwise: I have too many clothes.
Not because I love clothes, mind you — I like comfortable, well-fitting clothes that meet the needs of my activities, but beyond that I'm all about the simple, cheap and easy. However, I did learn to shop the way I think a lot of modern people do: When you, say, realize you need a pair of pants, you go get one — or two or three — that meet the need you've discovered, and add them to your collection. Which then means that eventually, even with some regular culling (which I try to do), after years of doing this, you wind up with a huge collection. Mine filled four garbage bags! I know I don't wear 75% of them hardly ever, but don't want to throw them out because they're perfectly functional, and I'm used to keeping them.
Well, that's enough of that — I've decided that I like an alternate clothing-system much better: One decides of an acceptable amount of clothing, and then as things need replacing or one's needs change, clothing is replaced with better items. Prefer black pants now? Great, buy 1x black pants and let go of 1x other pair. The wardrobe may change — and if you're lucky, the quality keeps increasing, as you let go of the least item while obtaining the best you can — but it doesn't grow. You have a set amount that you need / want, and you stick with that.
So that's my plan — once I'm done with the basic unpacking, I'll decide how much clothing I need, and pare down to that; then, as I upgrade, I'll ditch the least/lowest item to keep the numbers constant.
(Think I can do it? Could you?)
Here's my preliminary stab at a list of what I think I'd like to keep around. I'm in no way suggesting that everyone should have the same size list here – this is just what I think (initially) might work for me. And it's not all practical — note the high allowance of knee-socks! — the point is that it's finite. If this list doubles but I can keep to it, I'll be happy. (And still have less clothes than I do now…oy.)
PANTS: 5 pair jeans, 2 utility/not-jeans-with-pockets, 2 dress pants, 3 yoga / workout pants, 2 sleep/sweatpants, 1 fleece layer, 2 waterproof/camping pair, 3 technical/underlayers, 1 running shorts
SHIRTS: 7 t-shirts, 3 button-downs, 3 long-sleeves, 2 fleecy/hoodies, 3 workout tops, 2 technical/underlayer, 1 bulky sweater, 2 tank tops/sleepwear
FANCY: 3 dresses, 2 skirts, 2 business jackets, my silk taiji uniform, 1 pair nice pyjamas
UNDERTHINGS: 14 pants, 5 reg bras, 3 workout bras, 2 swimsuits (this category is already in line, I think; this is basically a listing of what I have)
SOCKS: 7 wool, 7 fun knee-highs, 3 cotton, 1 dressy, 2 pair tights
May 15, 2013 No Comments
Count me among the authors who feel that DRM did nothing to benefit us, and who're frankly relieved that it's on the way out.
Has the book been torrented? Yup. Does this upset me? HELL no.
Think of it this way: The Internet is the biggest communications medium in the world. If you were an author and you went to the biggest public library in existence, where everyone was talking about and handing around books 24/7, and you found that yours hadn't been mentioned or shared at all, what would you think? That it must suck, right?
As an author, or really any kind of artist, you get attention and money and rewards for your work when people like it and tell other people about it. Being that they're talking to each other in the real world, they have a much better idea how much of your work should be shared, and what should be said about it, to interest the person in front of them, than you and a zillion marketers could ever have. If they think loaning a copy to their friend is the best way to make you a new fan — or that thumbing through it themselves is the best way to determine if they want to be your fan — then who the heck are you to argue?
It's a sort of Taoist truth of sales: Let people do their thing, and only intervene when needed. I intervene, usually by being nice about it, when I run into someone who's borrowed by not bought my book, and almost always they turn into a buyer. If I intervened by being a jerk, or prevented them from getting ahold of my work in the first place, guess what they'd be? Yeah, not a fan, for sure.
Fortunately we're not alone, we authors-who-pay-attention; as this article demonstrates, publishers like Tor and distributors like Lulu are catching on that penalizing readers – especially penalizing all readers for something a tiny percentage of them do — is just plain stupid, and a world without DRM is hopefully right around the corner.
May 14, 2013 No Comments
This is kind of a big post for me: I'm coming out of the closet, as it were, with my stance on a big issue. I also intend this post to be a jumping-off point from which I do more with this issue, because I really feel that more needs to be done.
The issue is forced pregnancy. And my stance on it is that I think it exists, in most societies including the modern American ones, and I'm sick of seeing it, and I'm sick of it not being called out for what it is.
I started to mentally identify forced pregnancy as an overarching issue some years ago, but I wasn't comfortable speaking up about it, especially in such loaded terms. But having given it considerable thought, I believe that:
- Many smaller societal issues are in fact part of this larger picture; and
- People need to start pointing at the bigger picture and calling it what it is, because recognizing what it is will be key to gathering the motivation to fix it.
And I'm willing to do that now, scary or not.
I'll make more arguments, and in more detail, later — probably, I think, as part of a new section of the site, as there's a whopping amount to talk about and I don't want to confuse the already arguably pretty eclectic webpage I've got going here. Here are some of the basics of what I'm thinking and where I'm going with this, though:
- The core assumption of sexism, that women are lesser than men, is most directly and forcefully denied by womankind's ability to bear children (or more pertinently to the warlike mentality in play here, womankind's ability to end the fucking human race in one generation if we chose to not bear children).
- The only way that sexist people can feel safe, therefore, is by ensuring that "the spice must flow", as it were — by ensuring that reproduction continues and continues to be as controlled by not-women* as possible.
- You might expect these people to be more interested in using science to remove women from the childbearing equation, then, but there are several reasons to not go about it this way:
- It's hella difficult and expensive to do.
- Someone then has to raise those children, an incredibly time-consuming (life-consuming, in fact) and expensive process itself, and one for which no substitute for actual motherhood has been or is likely to be found.
- Bearing children is itself a great repressor of women: Childbearing women spend nine months physically vulnerable; undergo a major surgery for which the complication and mortality rates are fairly high; and then feel mortally obligated to sacrifice their goals, careers, health, and finances for the rest of their lives to care for those children.
- As a result of the above, women with children are far, far less politically and socially dangerous than women without them. So if your goal is to keep women oppressed in society, then ensuring that they have children, and especially that not much exists in the way of social and financial help for them in having and raising those children, is a great tool for you.
- You might expect these people to be more interested in using science to remove women from the childbearing equation, then, but there are several reasons to not go about it this way:
- Therefore, the vast majority of all sexist activities are in fact some version of the same story: Get as many women as possible to become pregnant as often as possible.
- So if you've ever wondered why the more overtly sexist branches of society are staunchly against all forms of birth control, no matter how safe, and no matter how much knowledge they have of the glaring overpopulation problem the human race faces…now you know.
And there's a lot more to it than that: I've seen nuances so layered and sneaky that it'll make your guts churn — television shows, modes of dress, turns of phrase, everything; a whole societyful of physical, political and psychological manipulation to make and keep women pregnant — details that would make Margaret Atwood's head explode. And I intend to talk about them all, and loudly, because in all seriousness I have had it with this truth hiding under everyone's noses and nobody saying it.
Nobody (that I've heard**) says "that's forced pregnancy" when a state limits or outlaws abortion, or when a major religion flexes its political muscle to keep women from having access to birth control.
Nobody talks openly about what a nightmarish concept forced pregnancy IS and how unforgivable it is that our first-world society is still doing it and still acting like it's somehow OK.
But from now on, *I* will say so. It probably won't make me popular. I don't care. Readers of my site, whom I love dearly and have no wish to piss off, are entirely free to skip the posts on this topic if they really don't want to hear about it.
But I hope they won't. Because it's true, and it's important.
No peace without justice, and no justice without truth.
*I'll use phrases like not-women (instead of just saying "men") now and again, and though it may seem silly to you at first, please bear with me; I have a reason. The relevant polarization in issues like this is between those who are sexist (who believe that women should be subjugated as part of how the human race works) and those who are not. We live in a sexist world, where over 90% of all possible societies we could grow up in are sexist and have been sexist for as many generations back as we could count. Therefore, due to upbringing, tradition, and culture, many women are sexist. (I used to be, so I know this firsthand.) Also, of course, just to complicate things, there are men in the world who are not sexist (just like there are white people who are not racist; just because you benefit from oppression doesn't necessarily mean you're in favor of it (though it does make it harder to understand why you shouldn't be, of course.) Because of these factors, I hate referring to the conflict of sexism as one between "women" and "men", because it isn't. It's between a large oppressed portion of the population, and their oppressors. I don't think that the people fighting to end this centuries-long, globe-spanning oppression can really afford to lose the support of the men who are with them, or to ignore the damage done by the women who are not, by framing their battle as a "battle of the sexes". It isn't a battle between the sexes. It's a battle against discrimination and really horrible treatment based on sex, and what side you're on depends on what you believe and how you act, not what's in your pants. So I apologize if my language-bending to keep that point clear gets annoying to anyone.
**It feels important to say right in this first piece that I'm not any kind of scholar or expert on women's studies — quite the opposite, in fact, as I have a degree in Super Logical Western Analytical Dead White Guy Philosophy. So when I say things like "Nobody's saying this!", I'm referring to society and the media, at large and how I encounter them, with my only-slightly-deeper-than-average penetration into things International, fringe, feminist and forward-thinking. It's extremely likely that people working in the trenches and typewriters of the sexist battle have been crying "forced pregnancy" for years or decades or even longer — and as part of my pledge to start crying it where I see it too, I'll be doing more reading on that as well. But please don't take my enjoinders on the society I live in to be commentary on the body of work produced by feminism, women's studies, or trench-fighting anti-sexists, because I've had very little (more in recent years, but still relatively skimpy) contact with those groups and their writings. This project is something I came to myself, gradually, and decided recently was something I had to do and say, regardless of what else others have done (because obviously more needs to be done, and having recognized that and recognized that I'm probably a capable person to pitch in, I feel that I have to).
February 27, 2012 9 Comments
"Love suffers long and is kind;
Love does not envy;
Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely,
does not seek its own,
is not provoked, thinks no evil…"
(I'll leave the attribution as an interesting exercise for the reader.)
January 24, 2012 Comments Off
Mine is brief, because I felt weird sharing more of my story that that. I also feel that the details of how we're different matter less than the many broad ways in which we're the same: We are ALL suffering because our government, in spite of claiming status as the biggest and best democracy in the world, won't provide us decent health care, reasonable safety-nets, and protection from the people who, before we had a strong socialist* government, had no problem treating the 99% as straight-up slaves, including withholding access to education and weapons as a way to control us.
The answer is not "less government" — but it's not surprising that the supporters of the 1% want it to be. They've lamed the horse, and now they want us to let them shoot it, so they can go back to being lords and having serfs and never having to worry that "the rabble" will have any real influence. These are people who want to use most of humanity as their own personal cattle, to buy and sell and work and kill as they see fit. A government they don't own gets in their way. So first they own it, then break it, then try to get people cheering for abolishing it altogether.
But the 1% should fear the 99%, not the other way around. Maybe it's been too long since we reminded them why.
*Socialist = with public works, public health, public schools, public emergency services and public courts that enforce the law evenly among everyone. All things that level the playing field, and which the 1% are of course eager to do away with (except when they can work it so the public pays for those services, but the 1% benefit most from them).
October 16, 2011 1 Comment
Those complaining about the Occupy protests being Class Warfare are right. Finally, it's turning to a war, with both sides aware that they're fighting it.
Thus far, it's been Class Genocide, with one side pooling their immense resources to safely corral and eradicate the 99% from afar. By controlling the media, they've managed to keep the people they're attacking — depriving of food, shelter, education and rights — from ever realizing or acknowledging that they're under attack. Like "safari hunters" who shoot caged lions, with enough money the 1% can make it cheap and easy to pick off their opponents like fish in a barrel. It's been war-without-ever-leaving-your-mansion, winning without risking so much as a profit-margin.
Until now. Now the jig is up, and though they've been under attack for at least a decade already, the 99% are grabbing some weapons and getting ready to make this a real, honest fight.
Of course those who've been winning effortlessly for so long don't like it when their prey starts fighting back, turning the easy massacre into a real battle in which, oh yeah, they're massively outnumbered. Now they might lose something; now, if they want their protected status and special privileges, they may actually have to pay for them. It's not nearly as profitable to mug a person to their face as it is to sneak into their house while they're out working two jobs and swipe everything, is it? When someone is facing you and the deal is open on the table, they might fight back, and they might even win.
Cowards don't like warfare. They prefer psyops. They like missions that involve keeping people too scared and hungry to fight back, and "battles" where you can shoot everyone while they sleep. But the cowards are in for it, if the 99% have woken up.
I'm not a fan of battles in general. But Class Warfare beats the heck out of Class Massacre.
October 16, 2011 4 Comments
Detroit public school teacher and urban farmer Paul Weertz with his working 50 year-old Ford tractor in the back of his house on Farnsworth Street
Thus begins an article over at MAKE, titled MAKE | Farming Detroit.
I read the whole thing — it's a good article, and I recommend it. But there's a slant on it, a slant familiar to me, that I'd like to take a second and highlight for everyone. For background, I was not a "Farmer", but I volunteered with several of the groups working to green and farm Detroit's land — some of the people mentioned in this article I know tangentially, and one of these groups is one I worked with for a little while.
My main point here is that sustainable living and intra-community support networks are awesome things. They are not, however, cures for the things that are wrong with Detroit. Those things that are wrong may (on my pessimistic days I say "will probably") kill off any viable farming/greening efforts if not addressed — and articles like this get just a little too excited about The Hippy Revolution Again to pay enough attention to the real challenges and the lack of things being done to address them.
This article doesn't skip over those things entirely, but it does bury them in a long litany of (what feels to me like) naive utopianness. And like many Midwesterners, I prefer honesty and level-headedness to excitement, even when it's a lot less fun.
I’ve seen terrible urban ghettos in my time, but nothing prepared me for the shock of driving through Detroit neighborhoods where so many houses were crumbling, boarded up or missing altogether. In the midst of that depressing landscape I met Paul Weertz, who lives alone in the Farnsworth neighborhood,
the author (one John Kalish) begins. Problem One: Detroit is way emptier than advertised. It's not, as it's referred to later in the article, "[the only] city where this is possible" — because it's not, in many ways, a city anymore. To outsiders who've lived in bustling cities before, it seems almost rural, or like it's all suburb except for the smallish downtown. It has a bit more than half a million people spread out over a pretty huge area (138 square miles, for the city proper). It has shrinking neighborhoods separated by hundreds of acres of empty (fallow, paved, or burned/polluted) land, and even downtown, abandoned skyscrapers separating clusters of buildings that seem to come alive at certain days and times (the casino districts being the most noticable), leaving the streets scary in their wake. There are entire neighborhoods giving in to lush forest (which I completely admit is kind of awesome; I hope whoever rebuilds leaves some, or a lot, of it). That doesn't mean that agriculture can't happen here, but it does mean that it's not quite urban agriculture. There are, as one interviewee notes, no stores nearby "except liquor stores". There is one major farmer's market, and it supplies more restaurants than people. Gardening here requires a new definition and very different tactics from actual city gardening, and people trying to port their Urban Gardening knowledge over to Detroit are going, I think, to meet trouble.
“I farm about ten acres in the city,” Weertz tells me. “Alfalfa’s my thing. I bale about a thousand bales a year.” Some of that alfalfa is used to feed animals at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a high school for pregnant and parenting young women. Weertz started an agriculture curriculum at the school and worked there for 20 years but now it’s a private charter school and this year he’s going to have to work elsewhere in Detroit’s public school system.
It’s hard to fathom, but apparently one of Leadley’s neighbors considers Rising Pheasant Farms an eyesore. “Culturally, I don’t understand that. There’s flowers!” the 28 year-old mom says in disbelief.
Rising Pheasant has applications in to purchase two of the lots it farms on. Leadley says it’s an eight-month process that “apparently has to be approved by everyone in Detroit.”
Advocates of urban agriculture in Detroit were dismayed by a recent decision to sell two city-owned lots to a doggy daycare operation known as Canine to Five so it can expand. The lots have been used as a community garden in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. The Birdtown garden is slated to be uprooted in September, having decided against relocating.
There are 60,000 vacant city-owned lots and a relatively small percentage of them have farms or gardens, some of which are in a precarious legal state. “The city could, literally, at any time come in and say, ‘We’re going to develop these lots and you’re going to have to move.’”
No, that's outdated info, and I'm going to break up my own article to address it: The Catherine Ferguson Academy was shut down, and it's a heartbreaking and enraging story., The article linked there does a good job explaining all the reasons why closing this school was a vilely stupid thing to do, but I guess the short list is sexism, racism, classism, cruelty, anti-democratic methods, corruption, and in-any-good-society-this-would-be-illegal-ness.
But putting that aside I guess, it leads us to Problem number two: The City is NOT in favor. The government in Detroit considers these people basically squatters, and will absolutely give their land to a paying customer at the first opportunity. Why? Because "urban" farming is not part of Detroit's plans to save itself, except in the case that it generates the right kind of positive press, which it usually doesn't. All of Detroit's ideas for fixing Detroit have to do with getting major manufacturers to come back, or barring that, other big-money investors who can do something about the dozens of couple-hundred-thousand-square-foot abandoned factories and oh yeah, hire the locals, who are over 80% black and mostly the products of the kind of institutionalized racism that settled Detroit in the first place and ran it for a century: Give blacks cheap neighborhoods and put them to work in the factories. Unemployment in the city is now over 50%, and it's probably only the low density of population left actually living there (and the care of the DPD, who've played this game before) that keeps it from turning into riots (so far). Oh, and that one neighbor of Ms. Leadley's? She's pretty typical — I met a ton of her when I was helping with similar farms and gardens. She's stayed in this ungodly place because it's her home, and she wants it back — back to nice lawns and two cars per driveway and neighbors on the porches — not communes of dirty white kids selling food she's never heard of. When the City comes in and bulldozes another of their gardens (and the Cass Corridor Co-Op's garden was epic; I was angry as hell to see it go too), she'll be right behind them, asking when one of the factories will open again.
“I take this whole growing food for my neighbors and friends and other people in the city very seriously. And I’m going to eat this stuff, too,” he says when asked if he has his soil tested for lead, arsenic and other contaminants. The EPA has a limit of 400 parts per million of lead in soil but the Greening of Detroit group suggests a 200 parts per million limit
Yikes, note that he didn't say "Yes, I am getting it tested." This is the only mention of it in this article, and wow is that glossing over a major issue: Problem number three: Pollution. Think about it: Detroit has been the dirty industrial corner of the U.S. since the Industrial Revolution, and due to its dependency on major manufacturers and its generally powerless population, has gotten the smallest share of all the cleanup-projects too. One of my favorite kinds of garden-projects in Detroit were the "decontamination gardens", which meant filling fields with sunflowers and different kinds of mushrooms and weeds that would, over time, leech the poison out of the dirt. (Sadly no-one could use hemp, even the non-psychotropic kind.) These projects often involved walling off large chunks of playgrounds that children were actively using, by the way — they were in neighborhoods, not at actual factory sites, where it's both not enough and too dangerous. When I got pregnant, I had to quit helping at an elementary school garden, because just standing on soil with that kind of lead concentration was dangerous.
Don't get me wrong: Michigan has some of the most beautiful and viable land in the country, if not the world; it's a paradisiacal peninsula on a stunningly large body of fresh water, and the amazingly diverse forests and bountiful groundwater should be the state's pride and joy, and certainly not overlooked. But the fact that they have been overlooked, especially in the City, for a century, and that big corporations have been and are still allowed to run wild when it comes to polluting Detroit, cannot simply be erased by suddenly wanting to put all that great land to good use again. The DNR issues warnings every year updating citizens on how many fish it's safe to eat per month out of the Great Lakes…those big, big lakes that, while they border Detroit, also border all the nice clean woodlands up north. And this is food grown right in the ground in D-town? No offense, gardener guy, but I wouldn't eat anything you handed me without seeing a soil test first.
There are also mentions in the article of some of the Fundies, which depending on your point of view are a problem in themselves — a lot of the attempts to "rejuvenate Detroit" are coming from missionary-types, who in my opinion are the ambulance-chasers of social decline…but I will go ahead and omit that rant from here. ;)
It’s a welcome bit of cheer in a section of Detroit [Brightmoor] where good houses get stripped by metal scavengers if left unattended for three days.
Back in the Farnsworth neighborhood, where drug dealers and gangs are as resilient as weeds…
Uh, yeah. Imprecisely stated on John's part (Brightmoor, which although it has next to no Arabic population got the nickname "Little Afghanistan" for other, apt, reasons; the houses-stripped-in-days thing, though, is true everywhere in Detroit, and even well into the suburbs now) — but definitely not on my list of things to gloss over: Crime and violence was a problem in Detroit before everyone lost their jobs. I've lived in Detroit twice…the first time I was a teenager and though I got mugged and harassed at times, it was worth the cheap rent and anyway, kind of exciting if you grew up in a boring dingy suburb like I did. The second time was after I had my daughter, and we lasted there two months before making a calculated decision to give up the nice big house we'd rented and flee, broke, to a basement apartment where we weren't constantly fending off violence or thievery. And this was not in a terrible part of town, and also in 2005.
Sometimes people say, "Oh, but almost everybody has left, so it's safer!" No, honey. Everybody who could leave has left, and the ones who are still there are extremely (in degree as well as percentage of the total population) desperate. Crime is not an urban phenomenon (it IS a poverty-driven one though), but arguably in Detroit you have the downsides of both urban and rural crime: A thriving gang / drug-running culture, and no neighbors to hear you scream or notice when your house is being broken into or stripped. If you sound white (or even better, tell them on the phone that you are — I wish I was kidding) the cops will eventually come in Detroit, but given the circumstances they're stuck in too, I wouldn't expect much help. And while I admire everyone who's trying to make my hometown a better place, I also look at those babies in your arms and think, Hell no, not in a million years. Let the fucking town burn if it has to, but get your kids somewhere safe.
Southeast Michigan will always be my home, and there's a ton that I love about it…but the City at the center of it has been sick for a long time, and I don't think I believe that any superficial cure is going to work anymore. I would give a lot to see vibrant communities take hold in Detroit and turn it around…but most of the projects people are getting breathless over now, small farms and art co-ops, are too superficial to succeed on their own, without the support of the City and surrounding suburbs and State governments — who are unlikely to give it.
Detroit's problems are infrastructure-level and serious; it has, in city terms, bone cancer. It was built on racism and economic inequality and fed on pollution and corporate greed, and that diet for a hundred years has rotted it from the inside out; what we're seeing now are problems dating back decades, bleeding to the surface.
I love the land–I love Michigan–and I love small businesses and earnest make-the-world-better projects, I really do. But so far these are all happening in a place that's still corrupt as all hell, a now bedridden city being tube-fed by the same ruling class the same greed-and-inequality crap it's been eating since day one. And maybe you can, in fact, garden your way out of such a situation — I would be 100% thrilled to find out that that's true. I'm just irritated at the media (Internet included of course) for failing to give real airtime and credence to the deep and serious problems in Detroit, and sometimes it seems like the "Oo! People are FARMING there!" articles are, in a way, minimizing the bigger picture.
Detroit needs so much more than missionaries or bohemians or farmers. It needs iconoclasts; it needs revolutionaries…sometimes I look at it and think that it may be too sick, already, to survive their surgeries. But I really hope not.
September 11, 2011 10 Comments
Principles are those opinions you have about what's right and smart to do in life, and what isn't. They're just opinions and everyone doesn't agree on them by a long shot, but they can still be a really useful, perhaps essential, part of living a good life…if they're used properly. If not, they're just words, words that waste your time now and make you look and feel like an a-hole later.
Principles include things like "Don't lend or borrow money," "Be faithful to your spouse," and "Don't make major decisions too quickly." They're usually, but not always, in this form — what's called a hypothetical imperative, which is a dictate based on a potential (hypothetical) situation. I'm not a fan of using hypothetical imperatives as the rules by which to live one's life (hence why none of my Higher Laws are of this type–more on hypothetical imperatives here and here), because they're simplifications and don't apply to everyone in every situation — but that doesn't make them useless. Laws are one thing; principles are another.
Principles give you guide-wires in specific situations. If I have a firm principle about spousal fidelity and I'm confronted with the opportunity to cheat, then I have a clear and automatic reason not to: I can, by way of my principles, pre-decide, outside the heat of a difficult moment, how I would like to handle it.
But of course principles only work if you, you know, use them. Something that doesn't seem to be well-understood (at least in people I'm confronting lately) is that a principle is developed in the off-hours, when there's nothing specific happening (at least to you) and time to think, and used in the thick of things, when you have to make a difficult decision. Some people seem to be all about the having of principles in-between tough decisions, but when the situation the principle is hypothesizing actually happens, they throw the principle away.
And this is easy to do, which is the main reason you have to be willing to try not to do it — it's super easy to tell yourself, "Well, when I formed that principle, I had no idea I'd wind up in this particular situation" — of course you didn't; that's the point. This situation is probably highly emotionally charged and tricky to think clearly in, and that's why you took the time beforehand to form a principle about what to do in these types of situations.
And that was a wise idea: There's a reason we value principles, principled people and principled actions — they make for better decisions, 99% of the time, over making snap judgments in the middle of heated situations.
Example 1: Two different men have one too many drinks and wind up in fistfights. Both win; both cock back for the final devastating blow. One hasn't really given situations like this much thought; the other has thought, said and maybe even written about how important it is to use only just as much violence as necessary, and no more. Those thoughts, and the cognitive dissonance created by being about to act contrary to so many prior statements, penetrate the adrenaline and the alcohol and stay Guy Two's hand. Guy One is now in jail for seriously injuring someone.
(A similar example that may speak to more people is having a principle about not driving while intoxicated…I personally have seen that principle stop, and not stop, numerous tragedies.)
Example 2: Two different women are passionately kissing men they'd really like to be in bed with, like, right-to-the-now. Neither has access to birth control at the moment, but Girl One has a die-hard principle of don't mess around when it comes to birth control to fall back on. She pulls back, and either engages in a lesser sex act for now, or learns in the nick of time that this guy is one of those douchebags who will try to push you into unsafe acts (and thus avoids a relationship that never should have been anyway). Girl Two is now staring down the barrel of a much, much worse situation.
(For what it's worth, I've been both Guy Two and Girl One; and I've known both Guy One and Girl Two. So those are not out-of-my-butt examples at all.)
So principles are great–different from Laws but still great to have–and can really improve the quality of your life. But getting any use out of them requires two separate works: First, carefully form them and Second, USE THEM when the time comes. Generally speaking, if you have to talk yourself out of one of your principles in order to do something, you'll probably regret it — and it's a good idea to make it as difficult as possible to talk yourself out of them, especially the ones you really believe in.
In the heat of a tricky situation, cognitive bias is in full swing, and your wider vision is impaired by emotional manipulations — yours and other people's. That's exactly when you want to have good principles, and the guts to follow through and use them. So why the tendency not to?
I suspect it comes down to Wanting To Be Right All The Time — we don't like admitting that there are such things as situations that make us lose control, where we can be manipulated by others and by our less-good selves. But this fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy: By letting it talk you out of using your principles when they're needed, they make you way more manipulable than you would be otherwise.
Know Thyself, know your weaknesses, and put measures in place to shore them up in times of need. (Oddly enough, this is advice I often give relating to polyphasic sleep, too. Any endeavor that requires going up against your own weaknesses benefits from pre-thinking and principles.)
June 27, 2011 Comments Off
…By Ralph Waldo Emerson. I copied some of this for a friend the other day, a friend who isn't as happy with "thick" reading as I am, and he made me realize that if you sift through the rather dense weave of old language and dense arguments with your fingers, you can pull gems out of Emerson that will make anyone's day.
This is a list of the best sentences, if you will, from this excellent essay, with my adjustments and occasional commentary in brackets and elipses. It's less a collection of quotes, and more an outline of the piece. If you like it, please understand that the whole tangly mess is brilliant and wonderfully worth it to read and you should do it no matter how long it takes you; but for some geniuses like Emerson, even skimming the bones of his thoughts are marvelously good for ours, so I offer these here for the time-stripped and classics-averse to enjoy too.
- Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost
- Great works of art…teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility…most…when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.
- We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. …but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.
- Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. [I want that on a T-shirt. In Chinese.]
- Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the [self-reliance] of every one of its members. … The virtue in most request is conformity.
- Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.
[There's a great part right after this where he describes a churchgoer asking him when he's young, essentially "how can you trust your impulses when they might come from the Devil?", and his answer is, "I don't think so, but (quote) If I'm the Devil's child, then I'll live from the Devil." For Emerson, self-reliance meant having the guts to be what you were created to be, and having enough faith to not doubt the usefulness of your own creation. <3!]
- Truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none.
- I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.
[Italics mine. An excellent example, perhaps one of the best, of a positive argument from existentialism!]
- It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
- The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character.
- But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.
- The sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows.
- [There are some bits that just can't be condensed...the "foolish consistency" argument is amazing, but it's all or nothing...]
- Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.
- Be it how it will, do right now. [If that's not Zen, I don't know what is.]
- Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative.
- That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke's house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke's bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.
[Fascinating that we don't seem to have a story like that nowadays.]
- What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear?
[This one I put in just for sheer gorgeousness, and to point out that science has informed beautiful literature for a long long time...this whole section is a great example. And by the way, the "power" he's referring to here is Spontaneity or Intuition, if you were curious. ;)]
- The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps.
- Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them.
[This, and what follows it in the text, may be my favorite bit.]
- [Only Life] avails, not the having lived.
[In the original it's "Life only avails", but that antiquated construction confuses the point for some people. I love, love, love this one; I think it's the greatest wisdom one could possibly carry forward into growing old. Only Life...not the "having lived". It's sort of a restatement of my Higher Law #1: Keep Trying. Only said much, much better...but there's no shame at all in being jealous of Emerson I think. (Well, he would think there was. But he dead. ;)]
- I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.
- Henceforward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law.
- The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides.
- Prayer that craves a particular commodity, — any thing less than all good, — is vicious. [AMEN!]
- Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.
- Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.
- Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. [Fascinating point, which he supports with arguments later on; for example, "The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. ... He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun."]
- Great men…leave no class. He who is really of their class will not be called by their name, but will be his own man, and, in his turn, [a] founder.
- Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long…They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect for his nature.
- Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. [These are the last two lines. ;)]
*One last comment — Emerson refers to "man" and "manhood" throughout this piece, and others. I believe his sexism is ignorance, and further I firmly believe that if I had an hour with the man, I could talk him right out of it, because he was obviously a clear thinker and a believer in honesty and universalism of principle. Hence, it doesn't upset me here like it does in some other writings…in the time he was writing, to say anything else (he/she?) would have been pretty literally unthinkable; it would have been such a huge point as to require a separate essay. But it is worth meditating on how this wasn't that long ago, really, that freedom and education and uprightness and full life meant, literally, "manhood". And that not only doesn't it mean that today, but I can openly write here about it, throw my education around and furthermore, openly threaten to kick anyone's ass (or perhaps flash my tits at them) who disagrees with me. Viva las modernity. ;)
June 14, 2011 Comments Off