Sunday, 25 May 2014

I hear buzzing. 25.05.14

My recent blog about rape statistics being somewhat dubious[1] got me some hate mail.  Unfortunately I can’t share it with you, as it contained a number of personal details I wish to remain personal; fortunately that’s not much of a loss, as it contained no information whatsoever about the topic.  You could sum it up as “you’re a dubious character, a gender traitor and a rape sympathiser”, although a four-letter word starting with “c” would be truer to the tone and more succinct.

It gave me pause to think.  The person in question not only feels passionately about the issue and doesn’t mind pulling punches to defend her point of view, but is also an expert on the subject.  It should have been the easiest thing in the world for an authority whose field I’d just openly challenged to prove how wrong I am.  She could have demolished everything I’d said simply by presenting supporting evidence in the form of accurate statistics showing that I am an uninformed moron – but she didn’t.  She just attacked me – my personality, my history, my motivations and the possible consequences of my actions.

I found this very intriguing, so I sat down and pondered this peculiar, unpleasant, and increasingly common strategy.  Is it a reflection of the personality of the specific attacker, or a manifestation of how rational discourse is declining in our culture?  Do I call these behaviours upon me by my actions, and if so are they worth the cost?  What are my feeeeelings about this, and what do they say about me?  On and on I went, blah blah blah, until someone pointed up to me that maybe it wasn’t a strategy.  Maybe, just maybe, the reason she was attacking me rather than my arguments is that she couldn’t do the latter.  Maybe she didn’t know as much about the subject as she claimed.  Maybe she just couldn’t find any statistics on the subjects that were worth a damn.  Maybe I was right.

I fall for this sort of trick far too easily.  I get drawn into people’s distractions and disruptions, instead of calling them on their nonsense and bringing the conversation back on track.  Rationally, I know this is silly.  Rationally, I wouldn’t do it; yet I do do it all the bloody time.  I casually say something about anything (Miley Cyrus, school uniforms, the price of bananas, you name it), someone screeches that by saying that I’m “blaming victims”, “justifying rape” or “slut shaming” and instead of continuing to explain my position I get drawn into proving them wrong.

What an idiot.

It’s particularly upsetting because I’m a horrible person and I could not care less about some unknown twerp’s opinion of my personality, morals and intentions.  Frankly I care a whole load more about many dogs’ opinion.  If someone came up and told me that I “suck donkey dick”, metaphorically or literally, I’d probably respond with something like “sorry, not on Sundays” and go back to the business at hand.  Why do I react in such a different manner when I am accused of stuff like rape sympathising?  Although the two things are just about as repulsive, I am also about as likely to do either.

They do work, though, these buzzwords.  They are offensive enough to generate an emotional response, yet retain enough of a semblance of rationality that it’s hard to just brush them aside.  They generally make no sense at all if you bother to analyse the details.  For instance, it is highly fashionable to accuse instructors of self-defence for women of being “rape sympathisers” if they mention that some behaviours can increase the risk of an attack.  Well, if they were pro-rape, why in the name of all that is holy would they be breaking their backs, sometimes literally, to try and teach women how to avoid getting raped?  (If you believe it’s for the huge income stream, dream on.  You can get more money for less hassle teaching men, or possibly washing dishes.)  Wouldn’t they be more likely to be preaching against women learning self-defence, so they could be raped more easily?  However, on the surface these accusations are not completely off-topic, so we get sucked in by them and concentrate our efforts in defending ourselves.  Meanwhile our carefully-constructed arguments, sensible theories, solid facts and attempts at reconciling points of view fall by the wayside.

I am not entirely sure what the solution is. 

You can’t just go “lalalalala” with your hands over your ears – well, you can, but you might lose maturity points in the eyes of the general community.  If you don’t care about that, try it.  We will however be seating you at the children’s table at the next function.

You could start a buzzword-fest, retorting with all the accumulated soundbites of your side.  You will end up looking as logically bankrupt and incapable of independent thought as your opponent, but it might blow the cobwebs.

You could take the extreme result of their point of view and present it back to them: “Oh, so you think school dress codes are oppressive and justify rape, it’s unfair to target boys and girls differently, and the whole system should be scrapped.  So you’d be happy for high school boys to show up to class in speedos?  And for the teachers to wear mankinis?”  It’s hard to do without appearing snide, though.

You could point out to them that what they are doing is presenting a false equivalence, “a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none.”[2]  This will often get you attacked for being overly academic.  The glorious sentence “that’s just semantics”[3] is likely to rear its ugly head.  Semantics, the study of meaning: why would we want to concern ourselves with something as pointless as meaning?

You could just call them out for trolls and dismiss them with light mockery: “So, it looks as if you can’t actually say anything meaningful about the subject” or “thank you for providing us with inflammatory politically correct buzzword statements that don’t prove anything or add anything to the discussion”.  Do it politely though, without descending to their level of name calling, or you’ll be as bad as them.  (Do not, repeat DO NOT accuse them of “drinking the kool-aid”; aside from the fact that it’s rude and childish, we have all drank our own flavour and we all parse things through the filter of our beliefs.)  When they start fuming, you could ask “So, if you have something sensible to say then why you are trying to derail the conversation?”

Face it, though, whatever you do and however you choose to deal with them, you’re not going to change their minds.  They are indoctrinated in their own belief system and there’s not a great deal you can do about it.  Do you really think there is anything you can say to make them see sense?  You can’t “win” this, so playing unfairly won’t gain you a damn thing.  To flatten them verbally may make you feel temporarily better, but it’s a bit like feeling scientifically superior to a flat-earther – it’s not much of a result, is it.

Unless you are terminally bored, the only valid reason for wasting your time on this sort of wrangling is if there are third parties present – which, if we’re talking about cyber-arguments, is pretty much a given.  These people may not have made their minds up yet.  You may be the only representative of “your” side with the courage to stand up for logic in the face of popular truisms.  Not many people are able to withstand a highly emotive assault long enough to explain how the buzzwords are misused or purely meaningless.  Many people will shut down when called “rape sympathisers” or “victim blamers”, even when they know it’s obviously incongruous.  The buzzwords are not only a form of brainwashing for those afflicted, but also a form of bullying. 

By presenting yourself calmly, rationally and accurately, you could be helping bring back reason to topics which are currently sadly lacking it, or maybe always have.  What you say and how you say it could be starting a chain reaction, enabling more people to think for themselves against the tide of dogma.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

I always took the path of least resistance. 22.05.14

(This is going to sound very MEMEMEME, but please bear with me.  There is a point, and I don’t know how else to make it.)

I’m not neurotypical – i.e., “anyone who does not have atypical neurology: in other words, anyone who does not have autism, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, or other similar conditions.”[1]  I’m slightly atypical in three very different ways, which have had very different results on the person I grew up to be.

I have mild dyslexia[2], which is just great.  I grew up surrounded by books and reading was my passion from forever.  I didn’t always pick up a book the right way round, mind you, but I learnt to read very well at a young age simply by doing it all the time, and writing followed.  In fact I did so well that nobody realised I had dyslexia until my last year of College, when I started tutoring students with learning difficulties.  I had managed to develop so many “work-arounds” growing up that it’s never actually stopped me doing anything. 

My diagnosis made me terribly happy: not only I finally had a rational explanation for why I struggled with certain things, but I also realised that there is a whole load of things I can do that the “norms” can’t.  I love my dyslexia and I am seriously glad I have it.  I wouldn’t give up my “super powers” for a standard view of the world.

I also have mild dyspraxia[3], or “developmental co-ordination disorder”.  I hate it, it sucks, and it’s made my life a misery.  I can’t tell left from right, can’t learn sequences, have non-existent co-ordination, lose stuff, my handwriting is illegible (even to me), and the list goes on.  I try to explain how bad it is to people by saying that I can’t juggle one ball, and every time I get told “but that’s not possible!”  Guess what – it is.  And it’s no fun.  And it all gets much worse if I’m under any kind of stress, with my memory, laterality and co-ordination completely failing me.

I spent most of my childhood with no skin on my knees, as I was constantly falling over.  In school I always struggled with PE, nearly failing a few times.  Outside of school I avoided most physical endeavours like the plague, particularly if there was an audience.  I found it so hard to be so bad that I never tried to get better.  I just gave up.  I only found out what the hell was wrong with me through a friend whose daughter had been diagnosed as a young child.  She knew not only the condition (I’d never heard of it) but also some useful work-arounds.  However, it still sucks.  It sucks that it takes me a whole load more effort to achieve worse results.  It sucks that I can’t make people accept that I am doing my best when I’m doing so badly.  It sucks that my body feels so utterly stupid and just can’t keep up with my head.  It’s incredibly frustrating, it gets in the way of what I want to do, and I hate it.  Having said that, the more I practice physical skills, the easier it gets to learn them.  With time and patience and effort, I am slowly getting better.  I’ve gone from being absolutely terrible to just merely very bad – progress!  I believe I wouldn’t be half as bad now if I had not thrown in the towel at such an early age.

I also struggle with social relations.  If an expert had looked at me at a young age, I’m pretty sure I would have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome [4].  Having lived in a lot of different social settings and adapted more or less successfully to each of them, I know that I don’t lack the ability to learn social skills.  My problem is that I didn’t pick them up at home, because I grew up in a severely dysfunctional family.  The way my relatives interacted with me and with each other was so far removed from “normal” that I had nobody to model.  What they did was unpleasant and didn’t work in the outside world.  How the outside world operated was a mystery to me.  I have yet to find the manual.

As a young child, I avoided social interactions as much as possible because I found them so convoluted and confusing.  Left to my own devices I would have avoided people altogether, connecting with them only through books and music.  Luckily, I wasn’t allowed to do that.  I was dragged kicking and screaming to kindergarten and school.  I had to be with people, so I had to learn how they operated.  I still have a tendency towards introversion and I still grind social gears more often than I’d like.  It seems sometimes that everyone is operating instinctively, while I’m essentially painting by numbers.  It’s not fantastic, but it could be infinitely worse had I not been forced to socialise against my will.

The thing is, when I was growing up all these labels weren’t there.  My school gave you two options: mainstream or special ed.  There were no grey areas, no wiggle room, no exceptions.  You were either normal, hence had to do develop all your skills – academic, physical and social – to meet set criteria, or you were in a special class playing with plastic scissors.  I am not exaggerating.  I am not saying it was “right” or helpful.  That’s just how it was.  At times it sucked greatly, and I still wish I could hit my PE teacher with something – on purpose, for a change, not because I’m “spastic”.  However, I have to admit that without the pressure I would have done much worse, because I have always chosen the path of least resistance. 

If I was good at something, I’d practice hard at it and got even better.  This makes great sense from an Operant Conditioning point of view, as I was getting instant reward for my efforts.  From the point of view of developing the skills for being a functional human, however, it’s a really stupid approach.  You don’t learn what you don’t practice.  I only did the stuff I found hard or unpleasant when I was forced to, regardless of whether the difficulties were caused by nature or nurture.  Had I not been pushed to overcome my difficulties, I would most probably not have tried at all.  It would be nice to think that an early diagnosis or three would have helped my development by providing me with much-needed extra help.  In reality it would have probably given me a nice excuse to give up on myself.  I would have hidden behind the label and avoided failure by not even trying.

(Before someone jumps down my throat, I’m not saying all diagnoses are unhelpful, or false, or bad in any way.  I’m not saying that people with special needs shouldn’t get special help.  All I’m saying is that, for me, if you’d given me the opportunity not to suck at something by simply avoiding it, I’d have taken it like a shot.)

I wonder whether it’s the same for a lot of us.  I wonder if it’s common and natural to avoid anything that’s difficult, and focus on what’s easy.  I wonder if what we think are our “gifts” are actually skills that we developed without noticing by focusing our efforts on stuff we had an initial talent for.  I wonder whether some barriers to learning are not unreal, but allowed to grow unchecked because we don’t fight against them.  But most of all I wonder if we’re all guilty of forgetting that nothing much comes natural, and that we make who we are by practicing (or not practicing) everything that makes a person. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Weakness is strength. 19.05.14

I’ve had a eureka moment.  For the longest time, I’ve been puzzled silly by the current trend for self-labelling as a victim.  Aside from the fact that it’s a very self-limiting concept, I grew up in a place where to be present yourself as a victim was to invite further victimisation.  When I read about stuff like schools telling children “show bullies that they are upsetting you”, or organisations telling women “explain to sexual predators that they are frightening you”, it makes me want to scream and punch the wall.  Show you’re weak, and predators will prey on you MORE.  They ENJOY your fear and pain.  You’re rewarding their hurtful behaviour by giving them what they want, and at next to no cost – it’s standard operant conditioning[1], for crying out loud.  You’re training them to hurt you.  And this is the official, dogma-approved new survival strategy for the “enlightened” individual?  What is wrong with these people???  And breathe.

More than that, though, I’ve been both puzzled and somewhat repulsed by the exploding trend of opening up heart and soul to all and sundry via the interwebs.  Yes, that’s a pretty peculiar statement coming from a blogger.  However, whilst I fall prey to the compulsion to write about bits of me that I fixed or concepts I worked out, I have a deep aversion to telling people, particularly strangers, where I’m still weak and tender.  That is in deep contrast to a lot of people I bump against, who are happy to display all their hurts in public, often regardless of whether the situation demands it.  There are forums I’ve fled from because I just couldn’t take the level of vulnerability that was thrust at me.  The lack of tolerance for the behaviour is my problem, I know, but the behaviour puzzles me as a survival strategy.  What is the survival advantage in exuding weakness? 

It gets weirder still when the weaknesses are thrown at people in rather aggressive or rude manners, which is extremely common on the internet.  People very rarely whisper “trigger” and request a response; far more often they SCREECH it and DEMAND change.  If you are trying to elicit pity in those bigger or meaner than you, that’s not the way to do it.  It just doesn’t stack up.  Yet it must work, because the strategy is spreading.  If it didn’t work it would be weeded out – operant conditioning, again.

I couldn’t get my head around it.  Then I started taking a class called “Understanding the Origins of Crime”[2].  The class aims to explain the evolutionary origins of certain types of criminal behaviour.  One of the things we covered was the way in which violence is carried out between members of the same species (intra-specific violence).  Most intra-specific fights are NOT to the death.  Different “weapons” are used than when fighting against members of other species.  The “rules” of the fight are designed to facilitate, if not guarantee, the survival of both combatants.  The result of the fight won’t be the extinction of the loser, but the allocation of resources or status to the winner.  In humans, this has been covered by Rory Miller’s “Monkey Dance”[3]

There are two key elements to predicting the victor.  The first is the formidability of the combatants.  The stronger individual is likely to prevail, which is pretty obvious.  The second element, however, is something I’d not recognised until it was pointed out to me.  The combatant with the most at stake will fight the hardest.  For instance, you will fight harder over a plate of food if you are starving than if you have just eaten – what you stand to gain (not dying of starvation) is more significant than what you may lose by fighting (physical damage).  If you don’t have much to gain, it doesn’t make evolutionary sense to fight very hard, if at all, and risk injury.  In essence, the more desperate you are, the more dangerous an opponent you become.

It makes it all make sense.  As a culture, we have removed (or are trying to remove) formidability as an element in human conflict.  You can't beat the crap outta me in a debate just because you're bigger and stronger, because it's just not fair.  Everyone would call you a bully, you’d get thrown in jail, and I’d win anyway.  Social media removes formidability even more, as it grants us physical distance or even complete anonymity.  You can’t slap me silent if you can’t get me.

All we’re left with, when measuring up as contestants in a conflict, is the size of our desperation.  If I am more desperate than you, I will fight harder.  I am therefore a more fearsome opponent.  My weakness is my strength. 

And it works.  You routinely see people whose arguments are superior in all respects – better data, better analysis, better presentation, better all round – back the hell up and beat feet when approached by someone who has nothing valid to say, but explodes weakness or vulnerability at them.  It doesn’t make sense, as the better equipped person could not lose the fight if only they stayed in it.  However, most of us don’t have the stomach for it, which makes sound evolutionary sense.  We back away from those who fight out of desperation (whether actual or feigned, it seems) because they will not back down and it just isn’t worth it.

(Whilst I’m mightily glad that I can explain part of the behaviour of my fellow hoomans a bit better, this also makes me want to run headlong into the nearest wall.  I am somewhat prone to getting bogged down in internet debates, and that’s a major understatement.  “Someone being wrong on the internet” is a massive red flag to me.  I thought I was trying to spread facts, sensible theories and rationality.  As it turns out, I might have been engaged in poo-flinging competitions with other equally poorly-evolved monkeys.  Was it never about the content, was it just posturing and chest-beating?  That’s a whole lot of time I’ve wasted.)

Sunday, 18 May 2014

I don’t know what I don’t know. 18.05.14

I’ve spent the last month, it seems, realising that I’m a bit of a moron.

It started with a chance meeting in a pub, a lady recently returned from her third tour of Afghanistan, a tragic incident that had just unfolded, a phone call she got just as we were sitting there.  She turned around and told me the broad details of what had just happened, and I found myself staring like an idiot with my mouth wide open, scrabbling around my brain for anything to put a handle on it, to tell me how to react/respond to it << sympathy, empathy, tragedy, common background, do I understand this?  What do I do, what do I say, what is the correct response?  Is there anything out here?>>  I came up with NOTHING.  Not a thing.  I realised that I just didn’t have the tools to unpack, process and respond to the situation.  My experiences hadn’t encompassed anything like it.  I couldn’t empathise.  I couldn’t relate.  I could, however, shut the fuck up and listen while she needed/wanted to talk, toast her fallen comrades (fuck politics), and then shut the fuck up and listen some more, because this shit is serious, it is real, and it is part of her life.  Any fantasy of mine concocted out of extrapolation and Hollywood would be bullshit.

It made me realise how blissfully narrow my experiences are.  I have had a veritable fuckton of experience dealing with a certain type of predator in a certain setting.  I have seen some shit go down – not nearly as much as some but more than many.  However, comparing this to the experiences of someone who has been in a war zone, has lived through a bombing or survived a mass genocide would be ludicrous.  Everything about it is too different.  It would be like comparing going down a playground slide with a parachute jump.  I can’t extrapolate what those survivors feel, think and believe based on my data – I would come up with crap.

A couple of days later I read an interview with a General Mattis, who reckons we have PTSD all wrong[1]:

"You've been told that you're broken," said Mattis, "That you're damaged goods" and should be labeled victims of two unjust and poorly executed wars. The truth, instead, is that we are the only folks with the skills, determination, and values to ensure American dominance in this chaotic world.

To a now-silent theater full of combat vets he explained how the nation has a "disease orientation" toward combat stress. Mad Dog's death blow was swift:  "In America, victimhood is exalted."

(…) The alternative is something so obvious that it is pathetic we don't talk about it more. "There is also Post-Traumatic Growth," Mattis told the crowd. "You come back from war stronger and more sure of who you are."

I found the article very interesting, largely because it resonates with my (low) opinion of how, as a culture, we enshrine our traumas and damages, building fetters that keep us from getting over whatever happened, learning from it and moving on.  Then I thought: what the hell do I know about this?  How the hell can I have an opinion about post-combat PTSD?  I don’t know anything about combat – watching “Hamburger Hill” twice doesn’t really count.  Yeah, I get mightily triggered by certain things[2], but my experiences just don’t match.  What I think of as PTSD is on such a different scale as to be a different animal.  I’m talking out of my ass here.

Then I wondered: how many PTSD experts are ex-military? 

Then I wanted to headbutt the wall.

We do this all the bloody time, it seems.  We are so attached to the scientific process that we prefer “official” knowledge, gained from “reputable” books or courses, over anything learnt through experience.  “The plural of anecdote is not data”, you know, and if you try to question any dogma based on your personal experience you’re going to be told that ad nauseam.  Essentially, if you have learnt it solely through experience, you’ve not really learnt it at all.  Where is the research that supports your information?  Where is the peer reviewed paper?  Does it fit what the opinion of the “experts” - who may have never seen or lived through the issue, but are expert because we all say they are?

That works well, up until the point we decide that we know everything there is to know about tigers because we’ve spent a lifetime studying domestic cats.


[2] If you must know, the Firefly episode “Objects in space”.  When Jubal is talking to Kaylee.  The first time I watched I wasn't sure whether I was going to pee myself of throw up.  Happily I did neither.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Don’t know much about history. 14.05.14

“Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology” was my immediate response to reading a radical feminist blog categorically stating that all PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex is, by its very nature, always rape[1]:

“Intercourse is the very means through which men oppress us (…).

First, well intercourse is NEVER sex for women. (…)  That is, at the very least, men use women as useful objects and instruments for penetration, and women are dehumanised by this act. It is an act of violence.

(…) intercourse is inherently harmful to women and intentionally so, because it causes pregnancy in women. The purpose of men enforcing intercourse regularly (as in, more than once a month) onto women is because it’s the surest way to cause pregnancy and force childbearing against our will, and thereby gain control over our reproductive powers. (…) Pregnancy = may hurt, damage or kill. Intercourse = a man using his physical force to penetrate a woman. Intention / purpose of the act of intercourse = to cause pregnancy.  PIV is therefore intentional harm / violence. Intentional sexual harm of a man against a woman through penile penetration = RAPE.”

Once I stopped shouting “What the fuck?  What the actual fuck?!” to the heavens, I came to the conclusion that yes, this girl doesn’t know much about history, and definitely doesn’t know any biology.  The comments on her blog made me scream some more, but also realise that she’s not alone.  There seriously are people out there who consider all penetrative sex had by anyone under any circumstances as rape.  It was a bit like discovering an alien life form.

I’ve been wanting to write a snarky blog about how it’s virtually impossible to have sex these days without it being classed as rape.  I recently saw a flowchart from “Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe” [2] showing rules and regulations concerning sex back in the dark days of old.  There were so many limitations as to what when where how with whom you could have it, that it must have been almost impossible to have it at all.  Instead of thinking “how barbaric” or “how very quaint”, I found myself thinking “so what’s changed?”  We appear to have gone collectively bonkers about sex, again. 

You see, according to the current dogma, if I am horny hence want to have sex, it’s rape: I am using another person for my selfish sexual gratification.  If I am not horny but my partner is, it’s rape: any attempts at persuading me, however fun or pleasant they may be for me, are by their very nature oppressive and abusive.  If we both simultaneously want to have sex, that’s NOT rape, thanks be to Freya.  And yes, that happy circumstance may come to pass, if the planets align or if Salma Hayek appears on the TV.  However, if we are that way inclined because we find each other sexually attractive, that’s rape again, because we are objectifying each other.

Now, I may be a strange little cookie, but my horniness settings are “yes please” and “nope!” on a kind of slider with “hmmm, lemme see what you got” somewhere in the middle.  In practice this means that either I start sex or the partner does.  We don’t tend to set schedules ahead of time or consult the oracles.  One of us tends to have to start it, or it doesn’t get started at all.  Plus I tend to have sex with people I want to have sex with – I know that’s a positively outrageous approach, but that’s the way I prefer it.  Hence, I can’t help but rape my partner, or be raped, or we are raping each other by mutual consent, any which way it’s rape rape RAPE and can’t be tolerated.

The blog was going to be a tongue-in-cheek affair.  Then I realised that the subject really isn’t funny at all.  I’m not worried about sounding as if I’m trivialising rape, because that’s already been done.  We can now retroactively regret having had fully consensual sex with somebody and class it as rape, awarding ourselves the same “victim” badge as those who were terrorised, tortured or beaten into submission for someone’s sick entertainment.  I try to avoid the word “offensive” as it’s been taken over by the Whinge Brigade, but that’s the best label I can come up with for that bit of rebranding.  It’s offensive, it’s callous, and it trivialises the pain of people who have suffered more than many of us can even imagine.  I can’t trivialise rape more than that.  However, I can’t make fun of the fact that there genuinely are people out there who, in the name of liberty and fairness and all that is good and just, judge sex – healthy, consensual, energising, happy-making, good honest sex – as inherently evil.

I grew up with a grandmother who had “I don’t do it for my own pleasure, but to give children to God”[3] embroidered on her nightgown.  My grandparents slept in separate beds all their life and presumably only bonked when they wanted to produce babies.  This was completely in line with my grandmother’s religious beliefs, which were officially[4] supported by the society she grew up in.  Sex, for them, was a sordid, defiling affair that ought to be conducted in secret and only for procreation.  There was no joy in it – there wasn’t SUPPOSED to be any joy in it, or it would turn into a sin.

Sex was the main reason I kicked the church.  It wasn’t that I was so overwhelmed by hormones that I couldn’t toe the line, but that I started studying biology.  Biology taught me that sex is a natural bodily function.  We naturally have a sex drive.  We need it to survive as a species.  Like all other natural drives, it can get out of control so we need to manage it somewhat; continuous bingeing can be bad for us, whether it’s on sex or cookies.  However, once I knew how the body worked and why, you just couldn’t sell sex to me as something dirty, sinful or almost unnatural. 

I was extremely lucky as I grew up in that happy window of time right after women became liberated, when bonking around (safely, we already had the fear of AIDS to keep us in line) was not only accepted, but almost expected.  Now that window has been slammed shut by the same movement that originally opened it.  Instead of shouting “sin!”, we’re shouting “rape!”.  I don’t see it as much of an improvement.  It’s just as narrow and shallow a view of the world, and just as damaging.  

We’re not telling girls that if they give it away they will forever be despoiled and potentially rot in hell.  They have the right to use their own bodies as they see fit!  They are liberated!  However, if they allow men to have sex with them just because they consider them attractive, they are being objectified and exploited and ultimately victimised – even if it’s consensual, even if it’s fun, even if it feels perfectly nice and natural.  We’re also telling boys that virtually any approach they may make to girls can be used against them, classed as sexual harassment or even assault, even if it’s received well at the time.  We’re piling artificial fears onto an already terrifying subject.

I remember being a teenager, although I often wish I didn’t.  Working out the rules in the “battle of the sexes” was by far the most complicated, nerve-racking part of growing up.  “Does he like me?  If I show him that I like him, will we be happily ever after?  Happy for the weekend?  Will I be rejected and potentially publicly ridiculed?  If I go too far – well, how far is too far?  How does this work?  Where’s the bloody manual???”  Frankly, at the ripe age of mumblemumble I am STILL more confused by human mating and bonding procedures than by properly complicated grown-up stuff, like filing my taxes.  There are guidelines for the latter, and I can pay someone to give me professional help.

I spent more time bouncing about between elation, terror, regret and hope regarding intimate relationships that I have about everything else in my life piled together.  Most of my friends are exactly the same.  Books, music and television lead me to believe that we’re far from unique.  Sex and love are important to us humans, and when they merge or clash things can get complicated, painful or utterly, utterly wonderful.  This is a risky business, that we should handle carefully, because it can give us bliss well beyond the physical, or pain that can truly crush us.  And the current “radfem” dogma pisses on it from a great height.

All sex is rape.  If you enjoy it, it’s because you’ve been corrupted by this oppressive society.  Really?  Everything I think, know and feel on the subject is wrong, because I’m wrong in the head, because the whole world is wrong and full of evil, because history and biology can teach us nothing?  Give me a break.  If YOU don’t like sex, don’t have it.  Opt out.  Heck, that’d give us all the distinctive advantage of taking you right out of the gene pool.  But don’t go tarring other people’s lives and lifestyle choices with your dirty brush, however righteous you may feel about it.  You may think you’re far more advanced than the rest of us, able to parse this complex topic in such a radical, cutting-edge light, while we’re blinded by oppression and submission.  Good on you.  The way I see it, you’re no better than my grandmother, with her threats of the fires of hell.  You’re so narrow-minded that you’ve got a single, pre-formed, unshakeable, unassailable answer to each and every question.  It’s all sin. It’s all rape.  If it’s all the same to you, I choose to ignore the lot of you and continue to do with my body as I see fit.



[3] “Non lo faccio per piacer mio, ma per dare figli a Dio.”  The Old Country can be fun.

[4] I believe that their private faithfulness may have been somewhat less strict, but I can’t be sure.

Monday, 12 May 2014

A spotter's guide to the parasite. 12.05.14

Last year I was hit right in the face by a blog by Cracked Magazine, “6 harsh truths that will make you a better person”[1].  Cracked is not my usual place to seek life truths, but they are not misadvertising.  The truths are indeed both harsh and useful.  They are based around the concept that most human interactions are, in essence, forms of barter:

“If you want to know why society seems to shun you, or why you seem to get no respect, it's because society is full of people who need things. They need houses built, they need food to eat, they need entertainment, they need fulfilling sexual relationships.  (…) the moment you came into the world, you became part of a system designed purely to see to people's needs.

Either you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving, and polite you are. You will be poor, you will be alone, you will be left out in the cold.”

People will give you their time and energy because you are providing them with something they need.  You help them, they help you.  It doesn’t have to be a physical or financial exchange, mind you; you could be providing them with emotional support, external validation, fun or entertainment, and all manners of other intangible things.  The bottom line is, however, that you don’t usually get something for nothing.

For the economy/relationship to survive the balance of the exchanges has to be perceived as fair or justified by the people involved in it.  Emergencies and special circumstances may occur that cause a temporary misbalance; for instance, if you are ill or injured you may be temporarily excused from contributing an equal share.  However, the tacit expectation is that you will reciprocate in kind should the people who helped you find themselves in need in the future.  Generally speaking, however, the giving and taking should balance out.

This undeclared expectation of fairness doesn’t mean that the “economy” has to make objective sense to anyone else outside of it, mind you, or that the way its internal balance works has to be acknowledged by the participants.  “You run around for me all the time and I treat you like shit, thereby validating your opinion of yourself” is not something most people would consciously sign up to, yet plenty of people do.  It may not be sensible, it may not be equitable, but if both parties involved sign up to it, then it can be viable.

If you’re constantly taking more than you are willing to give or giving more than you are allowed to take, however, then chances are that the connection is doomed to fail.  The person who feels exploited will eventually give up on it.  Sometimes this “break up” can be as simple as not returning phone calls.  Sometimes, though, it can be a horrible process, particularly when the connection is enshrined in long-established customs.  “I gave birth to you so I have the right to treat you like a piece of shit for the rest of your living days”, for instance, is an exchange most of us would consider grossly unfair.  However most of us still baulk at the idea of people disowning their parents.

Having absorbed and digested this concept of relationships as economies, I have since started to notice certain classes of people with whom it is impossible to establish a fair economy.  However much you try to negotiate a fair middle ground, they will try to extort more.  Here are the types I’ve identified so far:

1.       “My wants are my needs are my rights.”

As a society we can have a pretty loose grip on the difference between our needs and wants.  Really, if you “need” something it should mean that you can’t cope with it – doing without it should not be inconvenient, but actually impossible.  For instance, we all need shelter, food and water.  We don’t need the latest smart phone – unless, that is, obtaining that item is essential to us meeting our needs, because it is an essential tool of our trade.  Advertising is essentially the business of turning “wants” into perceived “needs”, and it is surprising what you never realise you are missing when you manage to avoid the ads.

There are people out there, however, who go a step beyond.  Their mental process seems to be “I need that item, hence I have a right to it.  If I don’t have it, it shows that the world is unfair.  Hence no rules of fairness apply.”

These people will screw you bloody.  They will take what they can, steal what they can’t, and feel no remorse whatsoever about it, because they are only redressing a basic, universal, intolerable unfairness.  The only way to stop them taking is to ensure that they have everything they need, which, unfortunately, means everything they want.  They can never be content.

(Do you want to make yourself sick?  I know a few people who apply the same mental process to their sex life.  “I need that partner”, or just “I need that screw”.  If I am not getting it, is because all women/men are unfair.  Hence I don’t need to be fair to them.  Anything goes.  And here, boys and girls, we have the makings of a kind of serial rapist.)

2.       “My fuck-up is your emergency.”

Tragic things happen.  Things go wrong unexpectedly.  We can be completely unprepared, and when life happens at us we are caught flapping, often in need of emergency support.  If we are lucky (and/or we have established healthy economies with decent people), there will be people out there willing to help us out.  If we are decent, we will be willing to return the favour down the line. 

Emergencies often bring out the most helpful or giving side of people.  Unfortunately, not having done your metaphorical homework is not an emergency; it’s a fuck-up.  It may cause you hellacious difficulties, but it’s still a fuck-up.  And throwing your unfinished homework at people demanding immediate assistance classes you as a spoilt brat, not as a poor soul in need.

If you haven’t filed your taxes, forgot to book your hotel, let your ID expire, neglected to enrol your children in school, etc. etc. ETC. – you fucked up.  It happens to us all.  It’s a human thing.  What it isn’t, however, is a justification for demanding special treatment.  Your now immediate requirements, however urgent and important they may be to you, do not entitle you to jump to the top of any list, above those people who planned ahead and did what needed doing.  You can ask for extra help, but you cannot demand it.  And if people say no, they are not necessarily being callous towards you; they may simply be unable to assist you without breaking rules or being unfair to everyone else.

There are people out there whose life strategy seems to be to allow to let themselves get into dire straits, then demand help from those around them.  Don’t fall into their trap.  Helping them only reinforces the behaviour – if it works, they will keep on doing it.  Unfortunately, if you withhold your assistance, they have a tendency to morph into:

3.       “How could you do this to me, in my circumstances?”

Some people are professional lame ducks.  They always have an excuse for why they should be getting something extra, something special or something for nothing, because poor them.  It’s an “excuse” rather than a “reason” because the special circumstance has been enshrined and turned into a weapon to be used in all manners of situation, often entirely unrelated to the issue at hand.  For instance, as well as being elderly, my mum is the size (and shape) of a gerbil; if she asks someone to carry something heavy for her, is because she physically can’t.  That’s a valid reason to ask for extra help.  Contrast this with a customer of mine who routinely rang out of hours, often at incredibly inconsiderate times, “because I am elderly and I can’t sleep”.  Well, so fucking what?  I am not, and I do.  I’d thank you to respect that.  The fact that you can’t sleep, for whatever reasons, does not entitle you to interfere with other people’s rest.  Go away.  Rant over.

When you call this sort of person on their bullshit, they tend to go untogether on you.  How could you be so cruel and heartless as to ignore MY circumstances?  Chances are that until you’re fully immunised against them you will feel bad about not helping them.  Just ask yourself these questions:
  •     Is there a logical connection between their circumstances and their request?  If the answer is “no”, all they are doing is exploiting their circumstances and your good nature, regardless of the seriousness of their situation.  For instance, “can I have an urgent hospital appointment because I have cancer” kinda makes sense.  “Can I have my pet poodle groomed urgently because I have cancer”, on the other hand, is bullshit, particularly if repeated on a monthly basis for a period of years.
  •     Would the demand work if they were asking anyone else in your role?  For instance, if you are selling something and they demand a discount or some extras, could they demand the same at any other shop?  If not, is there something in your particular relationship that justifies that demand?  If not, why on earth are they asking?
  •      Has their special status expired?  “Bobby commits petty crimes because his stepfather is a disciplinarian” may be an acceptable excuse when you’re 14.  When you’re 40 and you’ve been living on your own for over two decades, not so much.
  •     Have they made ANY effort whatsoever to find out YOUR circumstances?  For instance, if they demand a special discount because of their financial situation, what do they know about yours?  If they demand that you put up with their screaming because they have “anger management issues”, have they checked that it’s not a trigger for your PTSD?  If your “economy” is not of a kind that warrants them asking personal questions, why should it warrant them receiving personal treatment?

4.       “You live too far away for me to visit.  Come here instead!”

There are people out there who can only measure their own effort.  They can’t possibly drive to your house, so you ought to drive to theirs.  It has nothing to do with the fact that you have a better car, more time, more money, less responsibilities: it’s just that your house is sooo far away.  Well, guess what?  Your homes are in fact equidistant. 

If anyone claims not to be able to do something for you because it’s too much effort, but is perfectly happy to see you doing precisely the same for them, ditch them.  Now.  If you’re ever in need of them, they will ditch you like a shot.  They have no interest in your person beyond the fact that you’re gullible enough to make their lives easier.

5.       “I know this is terribly inconvenient, but...”

Anyone who asks you to do something extraordinary, without an emergency to justify the request, and admitting that they realise it’s an inconvenience must be avoided at all costs.  Seriously, there is absolutely no upside from having anything to do with them. 

Anyone who knows is willing to inconvenience you for their own convenience doesn’t care about you.  Not a bit.  If the circumstances change they will feel no compunction in letting you down, because to them you don’t matter.  They will not feel indebted to you, because they don’t care.  You will not be gaining their respect, because they just DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU.  They come first, and they always will.  If anything, giving in to them will make them see you as an easy mark and give them reason to ask again, and again, and again.

6.        “You’re evil.”

We all have core beliefs that guide us throughout our life.  We might class ourselves as non-believers because we are non-religious, but we still all have, deep down, things that we hold to be true: that people are basically good or basically evil; that god does or doesn’t exist; that we are put in this world to learn or endure or conquer.  Beliefs shape what we do and say.  They form part of our basic identity, of how we see ourselves.  Sometimes they are such obvious truisms to us that we can’t even see that they are there, or realise that people can, and often do, hold contradictory beliefs that are as perfectly valid as ours.  We can forget how strong our beliefs are, and how much they shape how we interpret our reality.

People can embrace a cause to the point that they firmly believe that the end justifies any means.  We are all willing to bend some rules a little[2], but they will break absolutely any rules if the cause requires it.  There are animal rights protesters who throw fireworks under horses’ feet so that people can see how stressed they are.  There are pro-life activists who kill abortion doctors.  Their causes may be different but they are all crusaders, who will kill in the name of life or injure in the name of welfare and completely justify their action because the Cause demands them.  Unlike most of us, they will sleep sounder knowing that they have committed evil deeds, because they are a sign of how utterly GOOD they are.

At a less radical level, there are people who will gladly embrace the weapons and methodologies they are fighting against.  They will gladly peddle lies that support their “truth”.  They will verbally assault you for being verbally aggressive.  They will use your race, gender, or sexual orientation against you to fight against discrimination and oppression.  They will fight prejudice by accusing you of “privilege”.  They will blame you for blaming and shame you for shaming.  This doesn’t cause them to have even a hint of cognitive dissonance, guilt or any other inner discomfort. 

Once crusaders peg you down as one of “the enemy”, normal rules do not apply to you; as in the crusades of old, we do not grant the unbelievers the same right we grant to real people.  If you get on the wrong side of them, if they determine that you’re against “the cause”, they will do all they can to convert you or destroy you.
. . . . .

The more you give them, the more prolonged or personal your relationship becomes, the more they will demand of you.  You will never see a return on your “investment” – not in practical terms, not in consideration, not in loyalty and certainly not in respect.  If you try to alter the balance of your relationship, the situation will often blow up in your face.  This is nothing to do with you, although chances are that they will try and convince you of that.  You can’t compete with them, because they are playing with a different set of rules, which class you as inherently expendable.  There is no upside to associating with any of these people, unless you find the punishment somehow improving.  Press the eject button, before it gets worse.


[2] If you disagree, think about your relationship with your parents.  Do you always tell them all the truth?  How about when you were a teenager?  Do you justify the white lies and omissions because they make them happy?