Category Archives: social laquer

Be yourself and feel good about it, no matter what they say

Do Surveys Know What it is “to Value”?

A recent Pew survey finds that more Americans think scientists contribute a lot to society (70%) than do doctors (69%), engineers (64%), the clergy (40%), journalists (38%), artists (31%), lawyers (23%) or business executives (21%).

via Do Americans Value Science? New Numbers | Science Blog.

Questions this makes me ask:

  1. I wonder how highly people rate “contributions to society” when it comes to “reasons to keep people around and pay them”?  Are there other reasons, for example, that business executives should continue to be highly compensated and churned out of schools, or does this survey effectively say they should not be?
  2. Why in the frak aren’t farmers on that list?  Does “food” not count as a major contribution anymore?
  3. Does “scientists” seem like an unreasonably huge category to anyone else?  I think I “value” differently the contributions of, say, medical researchers versus people who work designing long-range missiles.
  4. I wonder what would have changed if there was a separate question for “artists in general” and “your favorite artists”.  I bet the same people who want to look down on artists as a group would change their tune if asked specifically how much the artists that enlighten and comfort them contribute to society.
  5. Am I just too picky or what?

The Line Between Clarity and Nakedness

It’s strange.  As a person who naturally seems able to put the occasional tricky thing into words that real people can grok — the basis of my talents, such as they are, in both science fiction and philosophy, I suppose — and as someone whose youth and sexual identity was framed, to a degree, by sexual assault, I feel obligated to talk about it sometimes, to cast my dice and see if I can lend a hand to the overall clarification of a ridiculously sticky topic.

But I quite often do a terrible job — a far terribler job than I usually do with subjects that seem like the ought to be harder.

But I’m coming to realize, it’s a HARD topic.  And not because it’s “touchy”; I can handle touchy.  It’s hard because almost everything about human history and the development of our language(s) is colored by not just misogynistic ideas, but also racist and classist and all these other unhelpful ideas, ideas that are dug so deep and go back so far that it’s almost impossible to avoid stepping in them or mixing them in with your otherwise-quite-reasonable arguments.  Even if you’re trying your hardest to say something rational and humanistic and helpful about (say) rape, very often you realize (often thanks to the anger of someone listening) that you’ve somehow excluded poor or colored or GLBT or third-world women from benefiting from your conclusions; or conversely, that you’ve spent so much time framing your argument in terms of the plight of Congoese women that you’ve said something that completely cuts off the white middle-class women who’re suffering too.

Anyway, I say all that, not because I have anything profound to say myself today, but because I wanted to properly introduce and compliment LJ user “shewhohashope” for her sterling ability to navigate this ridiculous morass of prejudices and systematic control and emotional backlash and all of it.  I read her article “On Rape Culture and Civilization” today, and though it wasn’t exactly free from “feminist-studies jargon” (not that *I* can write something relevant that is), it certainly was clear and it addressed a lot of what makes the whole topic so difficult very well.  Here’s an awesome little exerpt:

If rape is about power, then the way rape is framed in the dominant discourse works to maintain the already present paradigmatic model of femininity/masculinty, enforcing the already present structure. Thus we see advice on how to avoid rape is primarily (almost entirely) weighted towards what women do, rather than what men do. Then, (the threat of) rape is used to regulate (primarily) women’s sexual behaviour, as well as to punish those who step outside appropriate patterns of behaviour and/or do not fit into the standard model of what a woman should be like.

WOOT.  Damn nicely put.  And maybe knowing that, and knowing that concepts like power and behavior and civilization are thus useful, will help me say a little more, a little better, in the future.

Also, if you’re into a little more not-so-light but very enlightening reading, also don’t miss this article about the effects of everyone’s tendency to “worship virgins” and its effect on the virgins themselves.  (It’s looking at this primarily from the context of african-american women, but I can say from experience that that’s not where this problem ends.)  Another Exerpt Of Niftiness:

We need to talk to them about healthy, guilt-free sex—when I read that teenagers who take chastity pledges are less likely to use birth control methods, it made perfect sense. Birth control requires forethought, an admission that you plan to have sex, something many teenagers who have simply been told “don’t have it,” can’t do.

We need to tell them that no matter how many times they’ve “been touched,” or how many partners they’ve had, they still have bodily autonomy, the right to say yes or no. That the language used to fetishize virginity—”saving it” or “giving it” to someone—is not accurate. Their sexuality, their bodies are their own.

Damn right.  As a mom, and someone for whom an early assault led to years of ridiculously low self-esteem in all things, you’d better believe I’m memorizing that passage.

And on that cheery note, I bid you kungfu.  ;)

.

(That doesn’t mean anything particular; it’s just a more fun construction of “bid you adieu”; apologies if I confused you!)

Asking for Help

SOMEONE NEEDS TO HELP ME PLEASE, says the answering machine this morning.

I’m fifty-nine and I’ve worked every day of my life, and I have a hi-lo license and a CDL and a perfect record and the plant I worked at closed in January and I’ve been looking for a job every day since then and no-one is calling.

When I lost my job I had to start paying my mortgage on credit cards. Now I’m running out and I’ve had this house for 20 years and I’ve never made a late payment and can someone PLEASE. HELP.

I’m fifty-nine and I don’t deserve to be homeless. PLEASE HELP ME. There has to be a program or something that will help with my mortgage or my credit cards or something, find me a job, something, anything. Please.

I can’t stay home to wait for your call; I need to go job-hunting today like I do every day. I can’t even get work in a fast-food restaurant.

PLEASE HELP ME.

(I can’t. And I don’t know how to call and tell you, to deliver what must be a crushing blow of bad news — that I do know what’s out there and what the programs are and none of them will help you — and you’ll be even madder if I don’t return your call, and the really stupid thing is I’m having to fight my fear in order to even talk to unemployed people anymore, because my lizard-brain has been watching it spread and has now decided it’s contagious.  And what about the other six people on the answering machine?  They may have sounded less panicked and scary up front than you did, but we both know that more and more often, it’s the same story when I get them on the phone.  And I want to help and it’s my job to help, but for so many of you there isn’t help and sometimes I really fight the urge to just go home rather than have to be the one to tell you.)

(But probably I should just be damn grateful that I have a job, and do it.)

EDIT: I couldn’t help you today, but I did help three other people who were really, really relieved to get the information I had to offer them.  This work IS worth doing, even when its hard: Thanks for the reminder.

Arm your daughters — With words.

Original Essay: The Not Rape Epidemic

I was not-raped, once when I was twelve, and several times when I was (barely) fourteen.  The details of those events are not part of this post, which is “squick safe”.  The article linked above is awesome, but might squick you, fyi.

At the time those incidents happened, I didn’t know how to say “this is coercion”, “that was sexual assault”.  I’d never heard those phrases used in context, in spite of having lawyers in my family, and I’d never been told who to tell them to or how.

In spite of the fact that I barely knew what the words meant, I did know that they weren’t really important, to adults or to society. Rape was important, or at least usually important enough to sue over (but not if it was just “your word against his”, because then you wouldn’t win and the attorneys would make you look like a slut in front of everyone — I knew that at that age, as did everyone who owned a TV).  But if it wasn’t rape — if you weren’t held down and penetrated, in front of witnesses, all while screaming “no” and wearing conservative clothes — then it wasn’t worth mentioning, or rather mentioning it would only make you look bad.  Talking about incidents of harassment or assault, other than in whispers to your closest (female) friends, was somewhere between needless bitching and outright slander of the men involved.  Other men, and sometimes teenage boys, sternly looked down upon such talk, especially if it involved naming names.

I had nearly fifteen therapists during my teenage years.  None of them ever asked me if I’d been not-raped.  Well, one did, but she meant by my dad — the context of which question is quite enough to put anybody off the topic, you know?

My daughter will know what not-rape is.  She’ll know what “assault”, “harassment”, “coercion” and “statutory rape” are, and she’ll know that all of them are illegal and who she can talk to if any of them happen.  (Oddly, she won’t be told to go to the police, whom I feel I can trust completely to make such a situation worse.  She’ll be told about the relatives and friends of the family who are trustworthy, and how to spot other adults and groups who might be.)

And she won’t know when she’s sixteen, when it’s more comfortable for me to raise the topic.  She’ll know before she’s twelve, because that’s the first time a man held me down and groped me in the public swimming pool.  Parents who suppose that they’ll keep their daughters safe by keeping them away from “drug parties” and the like are fucking morons, I think.  As if predators don’t ever go seek prey.

And lest you think, out of ignorance I hope, that not-rape doesn’t ruin lives, I suggest you think again.  Not-rape leads to phobias, deep trust issues and relationship problems, and shattered self-confidence (usually at exactly the time in a person’s life when the shattering is most profound).  It took me years upon years to even begin to feel that I was on my way to being over it.

Hell, this is the first time I’ve ever spoken of it “in public”.

See what power having the words, and a place to speak them, can be?

My daughter will also know kungfu — and believe me, my experiences in not-rape do play into that — but if I could give her only one thing to help her prevent and deal with not-rape, it wouldn’t be self-defense lessons, which can only help some of the time.  It would be knowledge of the words, and where to speak them.

What about your daughters, sisters, nieces, friends, students? Will they struggle through it alone for decades, unable to think anything other than that they deserved it somehow, or will someone give them the words?

And what about the boys and men — the only people who can realistically stop not-rape?  Will they ever be taught how harmful those actions can be, and that they’re not acceptable even a little, and that the victims are never to blame for them?

I guess time (and words) will tell.

You, In Order

(That’s not to say that I am orderly.)

I am:

Conscious first.
Alive (physically embodied) second.
Human third.

Those are what I see as my primaries.  When I have to “side”, I take the highest (most inclusive) side I can.

When I think, I try as often as I can to think of myself as one of the Consciousness (the category isn’t dependent on having a view, like mine, that all consciousnesses are one Consciousness, but it’s certainly compatible with it).

I find that the higher the level I’m able to consider myself on in any situation, the better my decision-making tends to be. Thinking of myself as alive makes me more widely compassionate and understanding than thinking of myself as human does.

Of course, it’s not always possible to think that big.  Thinking from consciousness doesn’t help me pick groceries (though gods willing, one day it will!).  And of course, sometimes in the course of living, one has to “drill down” even farther than being human.  (Personally, even thinking about things from an anthrocentric perspective makes me nervous — somebody’s going to have to be understanding and compassionate about aliens someday!  …But I fully admit that that’s probably just me.  ;)

I used to really resist smaller-group thinking, but since it can be legitimately necessary at times, I’m trying to get the hang of doing it — without deteriorating into us-and-them thinking, if possible, since that almost never seems to produce much good.  (Usually, if I find that an issue is presented as having an us-or-them binary solution, the middle way is usually a function of seeing things from a level or two higher.  Neat, huh?)

So, since humanity is first divided in half, it would seem that I’m also:

Female fourth.

…Okay, I can do that.  It means that it’s my job to consider my gender when issues are raised that affect women as a group, and to speak up when they’re being ignored, and if necessary, side with women when women and men side against each other (which I wish they’d stop doing).  Note that that doesn’t always mean I’ll agree with “most women”, but it does mean that what’s good for women as a group will inform my decisions about what I do agree with.

Er.

But then it gets tricky.

(Read more for the enumerating of race, nationality, and other trickiness.  …But anyway, think about yourself…do you agree with me so far?  Is categorizing that widely useful to you?  Would it be for everyone?  How do you “Order” yourself?)

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Introverted Apology

First, I want to apologize for being a repeated shit.  This is the Internet and it says something when one violates even the etiquette here.  But I have — I’ve been making posts periodically about the rather hot topic of home foreclosures, and then to some degree (sometimes that degree is “totally”) ignoring the comments.

It’s not that I don’t want to hear what anybody has to say.  It’s that I hear what everybody has to say, pretty much all day every day — because if I’m not at work then I’m just as likely to get cornered by random strangers who find out what I do for a living, or called at home by friends of friends or anybody who needs help and knows or runs into somebody who has my number.  I try to have those conversations whenever I possibly can.  If I’m in my office, I try to always answer the phone, even though much of the time it means having a long conversation, often filled with really sad or difficult questions and answers.  And those things are really draining for me, for reasons I’ll touch on below.  (And on top of it, part of my job is to read about & research the issue every day!)

So what happens is, stressed-out, I overflow, especially when I hop online to read about things like people with jobs and money griping about having to contribute, however insignificantly, to helping others; and of course the perception encouraged by much of the media, that the people who need help are somehow “bad”.  Those two things absolutely enrage me; I won’t lie.  I firmly believe that hard times are when compassion matters most, both to the givers and the receivers, and it drives me crazy to see the selfish point of view getting so much more air-time.

And then I vent it on you.

But then I’m all wiped out from venting, and when people leave their excellent, often very insightful comments here, I usually read them but often can’t muster the oomph to respond.

I always appreciate comments (well, except when they suck, but I think in all the time I’ve posted here I’ve only gotten a small handful that did); and if I don’t respond to them and you really would have liked me to, please do take the extra step of shooting me an email and nudging me.  Or if you don’t want to bother, that’s fine, but please accept my apology and know that I’m not ignoring you deliberately — I’m just a bit worn out, and not terribly great with people to begin with.

Fun fact, if you didn’t know it:  Psychologically, an extrovert is simply someone for whom the company of other people is refreshing, and to some degree recharges their energy; whereas being alone or isolated drains them.  Most people are extroverts; this is why parties and bars and card-games and whatnot are fun for them, and help them relax.  (Also why we say things like “man is a social animal”.)  I’m an introvert; for me, the company of others is draining, and I need to spend time alone to recharge.  So if I’m going to go out somewhere that has people, say, after work (even to relax or have fun), it’s rather like extending my workday in terms of energy spent, and the fact that my sleep schedule allows me extra time in the evenings to chill out by myself is really the only reason I can comfortably go out at all, except on weekends.  When I wasn’t polyphasic, I literally went out about once a week, if that.  Now I can handle multiple out-of-the-house classes during the week, and activities with my (very extroverted) kid, etc., all because I have several hours in the late evening and early morning to just chill with a book or hobby.  Yet another reason I wouldn’t give it up for nothin’!

About 1/4 of the population, depending on where you are, are introverts like me.  Some don’t know it, or think there’s something wrong with them because they’d rather stay home.  And of course it’s not black and white; there are middles and extremes here.  I’m a pretty solid introvert, but my husband is even moreso.  (We look out for each other!)  Obviously being an introvert doesn’t prevent someone from doing a people-oriented job; neither does being an extrovert preclude working alone — it just requires knowing yourself and making sure to compensate in healthy ways.

Which do you think you are?  And if you’d like to share, what tips do you have for the “care and feeding” of your intro- or extro-verted brain?

(I promise I’ll read the comments!  ;)

Paths of Drool

Do you not just LOVE that feeling when you’ve hit a clear path?  It may not be obvious where it goes, but every few steps you find another rare feather or insistently-yelling crow, letting you know you’re definitely going in the right direction, wherever that leads.

On Sunday I was practicing piano, which is next to a bookshelf mostly occupied by books that aren’t mine.  Some of the ones at eye-level are about conflict resolution, something I’ve never taken much of an interest in.  In the middle of trying to hammer the eff’d up timing from the middle of Bolero into my fingers and brain, something went off and I found myself holding one of those books, a slim, totally boring-looking volume on a method called “consensus”.

I opened it and over the next few hours, read the entire thing.  Couldn’t stop.

And it wasn’t some tour-de-force of writing or anything.  It was just that suddenly I found myself sucked into this topic — non-litigative, cooperative conflict resolution — and feeling like it was the entire missing piece I’ve been looking for, the whole time I’ve been pondering what the heck to do with a career that can’t remain “foreclosure counselor” forever and can’t rely on philosophy or fiction or taiji to put food on the table, but needs to leave room for all of those.

I’ve been studying mediation for only about 24 hours now, but all along the way there’ve been these feathers, these birds.  Cool phrases I need to keep, like “escape fire”, and awesome articles about insight (and all that can be extrapolated from here about intuition), like this one:

Many continue to believe that the manifestation of insight is a largely subjective occurrence that is mysterious and idiosyncratic, and unique to the personality of an individual practitioner. It is not thought to be easily susceptible to formal training and many courses and programs relegate the study of insight into the art of practice, not science. Now there is the strong beginning of that science.

Lehrer’s article describes the current work of Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University. Studying the brain, he observed that the left hemisphere appears to be responsible for the functional denoting, or storing the primary meaning of a word or act, while the right brain deals with connotation, the emotional charge of the word or act. The brain, he observes, needs both functions to effectively “see the forest and the trees.” (p. 41). Interestingly, the emergence of insight can be inhibited by a pre-occupation with the denoting function; asking people to explain their thought processes logically. Termed “verbal overshadowing,” insistence on analysis shifts the brain functioning to the left hemisphere, ignoring the more subtle associations coming from the right hemisphere.

I think I’m calling it my “birthday present from the Universe”. ;)

Ace of Spades / Queen of Hearts

M. LeBlanc at Bitch. Ph.D. makes a point I’ve been trying to put words to for a while now, and failing…it concerns the gross feeling I get in my stomach when someone accuses someone else of "playing the [race / gender] card" — an accusation that was common before the US Presidential primaries, but is now absofreakinglutely everywhere.

So, what’s gross about it? Simply this:

"I’ve been astonished at the degree to which "playing the race/gender" card has flourished as a phrase and concept in the conversation about this primary race. I’ve heard it from so many bloggers, pundits, straight-up newscasters, and even some of my personal friends. I want to be as absolutely clear as I can: it’s a bogus concept, and using it makes you part of the problem.

Race and gender are not "cards" that you play, like laying out trump in bridge and winning the hand. Because when you have to bring up racism or sexism to explain what is happening around you, that means you’re already losing. "Playing the _______ card" has become a way to refer to conversations about racism/sexism while not-so-subtly implying that whoever is playing the card is whiny, not playing by the rules, petulant and, ultimately way off-base.

But I’ve never understood what’s so unfair about bringing up race and gender. It’s like those who decry it as card-playing are annoyed by the fact that we all won’t play by their rules of pretending that everything is equal now, since we can all vote and everyone will pay lip service to racism and sexism being Bad. But now that we’ve placated you by agreeing that they’re Bad, how dare you accuse anyone of being racist or sexist? Especially someone who is supposed to be your political ally/friend/co-worker/acquaintance?"

Yup…yup, that’s it exactly. It’s the implication that to point out racism or sexism is to "play dirty", to be somehow unfair.

Whence that perception? I think it comes from the frustrated feeling, held by millions of people guilty of (usually quiet, unintentional) racism or sexism, that once someone brings up the racist or sexist aspects of an argument there’s no winning, no arguing further; the discussion has been derailed and the person speaking has been irrevokably made to look bad.

And that’s not an entirely inaccurate perception of how it works, is it? I mean, it is true that if you catch someone being overtly racist or sexist, catch them and hold it up for everyone to see, then they’ve freaking lost big-time, haven’t they? The crowd scowls (as it should) and the fight is over by TKO.

But most of the time, when the "race card" or "gender card" analogy comes up, it’s not in relation to overt racism or sexism, but the other kind, the insidious kind that well-intentioned people everywhere are frequently guilty of simply because of how they’ve been taught and how the world around them works. It’s almost never a skinhead or a polygamist standing there bitching about the race/gender card; more often it’s a soccer mom, a pundit, a reporter, a guy in a suit. Why are they so worried?

I think I know why. I think they’re worried because they consider racism and sexism undiscussable. It’s not that they would lose an argument by default as soon as someone accused them of racism or sexism — usually there’s room to argue in those cases, and I’ve seen many that I don’t think actually are racist or sexist, at least not in intent. Even if the statement or whatever is racist or sexist, usually it’s nothing so bad that simply apologizing wouldn’t get rid of it anyway. But no, the problem is that as soon as the topic is turned to include the race or gender issues involved, these good ol’ fashioned "normals" will voluntarily shut down, giving up their argument in favor of saving themselves the embarrassment of talking about ways in which, I’m sure they realize on some level, they might be unintentionally racist or sexist.

So they fear the slapping of the "race card", and the "gender card", not because it’s actually an automatic win for the other guy in their case, but because it forces the conversation onto such an uncomfortable track that they’ll forfeit, and they know it. Racism and sexism have become such loaded words (as M. LeBlanc also points out) that they’re no longer welcome on the conversational table, like a Scrabble piece worth 1,000 points.

What would fix this?

Maybe — this is just an idea — maybe it could be fixed if we took some of the black-and-whiteness out of racism (no pun intended, seriously) and sexism; if we bled them of some of their poison, and forgave at least those of us who really don’t mean it, giving people room to understand, apologize and move on.

How to start? Maybe by admitting to it now and again. If more brave people, in more public conversations, began admitting to their occasionally racist or sexist tendencies, with language like, "But I tend to think less of women who don’t have kids…it’s something my mother taught me; wow, am I being sexist?" or "I blamed a neighbor kid for spray-painting my garage when it wasn’t him at all…he was black, and I totally didn’t realize at the time that I was being racist." Nobody (nobody reasonable, anyway) can look at those statements and deduce that the speaker is OMG! 100%! RACIST! SEXIST PIG! AUGH! –and it pries open some room, at least in that case, to actually have a bit of discussion about whether some of the little things we do are sexist or racist, without treating the words themselves like a banhammer.

I guess what I’m saying is that the next time someone plays the race/gender card, maybe someone else should have the courage to keep betting? The game doesn’t have to end there, and surely, after all this time, it’s not such a scary topic that it can’t ever be discussed openly.

Anyway, the racism and sexism that are still around in the developed world are the kind that will never go away until we can discuss them…so if you really don’t want to "be" racist or sexist, then get the courage to start thinking about the ways in which your actions could be informed by wrong ideas, and admitting to them.
 

What about you? Three under-rated things?

Augh, I slept worse yesterday — all darn day — than I have in months. Every nap was some combination of interrupted, late, or impossible. I woke up this morning still feeling like crap, but a 45-minute morning nap seems to have corrected things a bit. ::shudder::

Anyway.

The "Mind Hacks" blog asked Robert Burton, author of the new philosophy book "On Being Certain", to name some underrated things. I love his answers:

——————–

Name three under-rated things.

The beauty of silence.
During last week’s power outage I was stunned by the lovely sense of space that rises up only in the absence of background electrical hum.

Older women and wrinkles.
I prefer history to re-invention, so please don’t push the botox delete button.

Kid speak.
During a recent fireworks show, a four-year-old girl pointed to a brilliant multi-colored pinwheel and said, “Loud flower.” Now that’s real language.

———————

Yup, I completely agree with all of those.

Also, his thoughts on belief seem to be pretty useful, and I love his description (in the same article) of how stating your beliefs as such (rather than saying "I know"), and admitting to uncertainty where you have it, can make the people you’re talking to much more comfortable. I’ve done this consciously for a few years now — it goes along with the whole philosophy-nut trying-to-be-totally-honest thing — and he’s absolutely right. People are generally relieved when they can be part of a conversation that doesn’t require constantly bolstering their feelings and beliefs to make them seem firmer than they are. (Of course, some rather dim individuals will also take the linguistic cue to mean that they must know more than you, because they use the word "know" and you don’t! Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to actually win them many points with anybody else.)

Think I’ll have to get this book! Thanks to Psuke* for the link!


*Yes, to all you polyphaser people, that’s the Psuke Bariah, the other "very first Ubersleeper". She’ll annoy the crap out of you by having many more interesting traits than that, though.

Just for fun, here are my "Three under-rated things", too:

1. Concentration. Being completely enmeshed in just one thing, one single point of focus, not an iota of multitasking anywhere; the world disappears. But you don’t.

2. Assholes. As in assholish people: loud-mouths, humbugs, cussers-in-public. They say the things no-one else wants to, are not afraid of bucking authority, and will not change a damn thing to suit your precious feelings. They’re like walking lessons in patience and fortitude; plus, you can’t have a revolution without ‘em.

3. Confusion. That gut-deep feeling of just having no freaking idea, whether it’s trying to make sense of something you’re looking at, being unable to hear how the noise your friend is blasting at you is supposed to be music, or the meaning and direction of your whole life. The feeling of being mentally adrift is uncomfortable at first, but out of it come all the best and wildest possibilities…I used to hate being confused when I felt it all the time; now that I don’t so often, I miss it. The moments when I accepted my confusion have all been some of the best in my life.