Sunday, 24 May 2015

Road Blocks. 24.05.15

I've just returned from a lovely road trip: me, two dogs, one van, and the open road. No official campsites, as much coastline as we could manage, and, as we were Up Norf, no plans beyond chasing the sunshine. To me that's the height of luxury. I've got shelter and I've got (relative) safety and I've got freedom and I've got all the time in the world and I've got my pack about me. What more could I wish for? How could life be better?

Things were much harder in the good/bad old days. Travelling the open road on foot, or by public transport, is infinitely more dicey. Unless you pack up with somebody who can be relied upon to watch your back, you can never truly rest. Frankly, vanning it is so comfortable that it seems like cheating. At the same time, I remain aware of the fact that there are a number of charities working hard to ensure that nobody has to live like that. It's not everyone's cup of tea. It would also not be my cup of tea in the middle of winter (though surely that's why they made roads that point south) or if I was sick or injured. Nonetheless, I love it so much that I have to keep reminding myself that it's not precisely the norm. More than that, I have to remind myself that normal people think it's odd and scary. "You're doing what? On your own?!"

Thing is, for me that kind of situation is comfortable (and comforting, too) because I've done it so much that I know how to do it. Even though the opportunities these days are sorely infrequent, every time I hit the road I find myself slipping into my road mode. I look at places, people, and situations in a completely different way. My focus is different, because my priorities are different. I catch myself dressing and behaving differently, aiming for a greater  level of insignificancy (it's as good as invisibility for making people ignore you, and it doesn't interfere with crossing the road). I don't have to think about shifting gears; I've operate in this mode so often and for so long that the switch happens automatically. Really, it feels like going home.

I find that hard to explain to people because for me it's all just there, and for them it's completely foreign. If I put it into words, it either comes out sounding ridiculously obvious or woo-woo esoteric. Either way, I worry I'm not presenting a detailed enough picture. How do I know what they don't know? What if I miss out something important, and get them hurt? 


I took Vikings: a History by Neil Oliver to read on my trip. It was a good little read, and very appropriate given the places I was visiting. One point in the book, though, gave me a wtf moment. Oliver is tripping out over the fact that he got to spend a night in a reconstruction building. He had only a fire for heating! He had to go to sleep in his clothes! Without a mattress! And he found out that although the night was cosysnug, the morning was sharp and uncomfortable!


And I'm like, DUH. So much duh.

How does anyone get to adult age without knowing that? I mean, I understand most people don't spend any time sleeping on the streets (though it still seems kinda odd), or live in houses without automated heating, but surely at least they go camping? How can anyone end up thinking that it's a big deal to spend a single night unplugged from the grid?

I have to remember that, although I absolutely do not feel that my life has been extraordinary, I have done and still do things that are out of the ordinary. I have to remind myself that, although I'm absolutely not extraordinary, I'm definitely not normal. I have to remind myself that there will always be a communication barrier between me and normal people. 

I'm as blind to their experiences and point of view as they are to mine. They haven't done some of the things I have done, so they look at the world in a certain way. I have done those things, so I look at the world in a my own way. If I don't keep that difference in mind, I can completely fail to communicate with them. I can end up missing things out, assuming that they're givens. We can end up talking apples and oranges. And that's even if they care to listen.

It have the same problem talking to people who've never been poor, or totally alone, or so injured or ill that they were incapacitated. "No, you can't just get that, because there is no money." "No, you can't get help, because there is no help to be gotten." "No, you can't just do that, because your body won't let you." "No, you can't just try harder or wish more - that thing you want or need is just NOT THERE as an option." Half the time, even if they grasp it conceptually, I just can't make it real for them. I don't know how to break through the barrier.

(NOTICE: The Bastard is moving. We will shortly be found at https://godsbastard.wordpress.com/ - different platform, same stupid name. Catch you all there.)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The A-Social Rant. 21.05.15

It's been a week of blasts from the past, which will be blogged about anon. Then I got back to find that on a friend's FB page someone had mentioned "Non-Violent Communication" aka "Compassionate Communication" aka NVC (see here and here). Very briefly, it is a method for de-escalating emotionally charged conflicts and/or stopping repeating scripts. It incorporates the "to de-escalate a situation, the first thing you need to do is de-escalate yourself" a la Marc MacYoung / Rory Miller Conflict Communication - though the similarity ends there. NVC allows you to acknowledge and respect emotions (yours and those of others) without being overpowered by them. It's a way to better manage your monkey brain in order to better get along with people, basically. 

I'd completely forgotten that the whole thing existed; yet, once upon a time, I spent a lot of time (and a fair bit of money, too) trying to incorporate NVC into both my work and my life. And failed, pretty spectacularly.

Looking back, the issue wasn't with my application (as I thought back then) or with NVC per se. It was simply a case of trying to use the wrong tool for that particular job. I thought - innocently or stupidly, take your pick - that because certain situations were taking place in a social setting, with no physical risks to anyone, they must be social conflicts. Nobody was trying to rape me or beat me or sell me or steal my stuff, which is the asocial I was familiar with in the bad old days. We were all in the same boat, part of the same team, trying to achieve the same thing, and everyone had their clothes on, so it must be social, right? 

The major failing in NVC is in its assumptions (listed here), for instance:

All human beings share the same needs.
Yes, maybe. But many if not most people can't tell between their "needs" and their "wants", and some people just want to watch the world burn.

Conflict occurs at the level of strategies, not at the level of needs.
Well, if you take it to the level of 'everyone just wants to be happy' then yes, sure... but some people's one and only strategy for happiness is to destroy other people - as in, the two things, happiness and destruction, are inextricably interlinked. So what are you going to do about that?

All human beings have the capacity for compassion.
Apart from those who don't. There are entire psychology tomes written about them, and many a real-life horror-story. Yes, they might have been made to lack compassion; there may have been some tragic event at any point past their conception that made them into what they are now. However, to pretend that they just don't exist is rather misguided.

We only resort to violence or other actions that do not meet our own or others' needs when we do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs.
And that's where I just gotta call bullshit.

That's where Non-Violent Communication and Marc and Rory's Conflict Communication differ most. Though both acknowledge the huge effect on emotions, particularly emotions we're unaware of, on communication going south, ConCom doesn't stop there. ConCom acknowledges the fact that there's a lot more going on, including asocial situations, personality disorders, garden-variety evil, etc. ConCom is, essentially, based on reality. NVC seems to look at an incredibly narrow window of social conflict and try to expand it to cover the entire gamut of social interactions; which I personally class as "wishful thinking".

I don't know why we're so keen in this society to cling to the idiotic notion that there are no monsters, that there is no inherent evil, that everyone would be nice if only they were given the chance to be. I mean, even if that were true (which I personally doubt), how in the name of all that is holy does it help us when the shit hits the fan? Yes, if Jack the Ripper had been loved more by his momma he might have grown up to be a kind and loving person, or at least a better-functioning psychopath... but he wasn't, or he wasn't wired right, or a cart run over his dog, or something went wrong; so he killed. Treating him like a non-killer and trying to connect to his inner child while he's waving a knife in your proximity would go beyond the idiotic into the potentially suicidal. And if you're writing policy, it could cause you to be responsible for the deaths of others.

That doesn't mean that I think NVC is a waste of effort. I think it is a lovely system for managing social conflicts between those who are able and willing to apply it. I heartily recommend it. It will particularly help if you've been the source of some of your issues (not that anyone cares to admit that, but it can be true). If nothing else, it will deepen and improve your internal dialogue, which for many people is a massive deal. 

On the other hand, NVC sucks ass for managing social conflict with people who flat out refuse to play ball, for whatever reason. You can't just throw niceness at people and expect it to change them for the better; you can hope and you can try, but if that's your only strategy, then good luck to you. And if you're the sort of person who looks inside first and foremost to find the cause of problems, not realising this could seriously mess you up.

Worse than that, iyou try and use it to deal with asocial conflict at either extreme of Maslow's hierarchy of need, NVC could get you killed, or worse. I mean, it's bad enough if you try and connect intimately with someone who's trying to rob you, but if you actually manage to connect intimately with a high-functioning, self-actualised sociopath... God help you.

I don't understand what the problem is with looking at a tool like this and admitting that it has limitations. A hammer has limitations. A screwdriver has limitations. Neither are a "bad tool", unless you try to use them for the wrong task it. I think the problem rests with our society's unwillingness to contemplate the darker side of the human soul and the type of conflict it generates. We act as if pretending that it's not there, despite plenty of proof to the contrary, can somehow make it go away. We refuse to admit that the issue exists, as if that made us safer; instead, that makes us unable to switch gears to handle it if the need arises.

The more I look around, the more I realise how so many of the things that make me want to headbutt the wall until my brain leaks out of my ears are essentially social strategies trying to apply specific social cures to problems that are either a) asocial in nature or b) a completely different social dynamic. As Marc MacYoung said:
"Trying to deal with asocial using social is like trying to play chess while in standing in traffic.Trying to use specific social scripts when someone is going after a different goal is like you're playing chess and he's playing checkers.There's a big difference between it not being a game and playing the wrong one."
NVC and countless other current strategies are based on the same sort of fallacy, roughly summarisable as "wouldn't it be nice if everyone was nice". And yes, it bloody well would be; but they are NOT. It may be nature or nurture, we may never know which, but right here and now they are just not nice. And as there isn't a damn thing I can do about that, how about we focus on me not getting raped or beaten or sold or killed or just slowly destroyed emotionally and psychologically as a first priority?

(Oh, if you want a cheap and cheerful intro to NVC, here's the book. If you want to know more about Conflict Communication, here is Rory Miller's version; Marc MacYoung's is in production, and you can follow him here.)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Children’s Crusade. 29.04.15

I’ve been tripping out for the last couple of weeks about “lies-to-children”– those “simplified explanations of technical or complex subjects as a teaching method for children and laypeople” (thank you, Wiki). It all started because Facebook juxtaposed two apparently unrelated yet similar subjects, a child undergoing chemotherapy wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume and an argument about whether Hitler was elected.


Both are lies to children. You won’t become a Ninja Turtle by taking your chemo. Hitler wasn’t “elected” as Chancellor, though his rise to power was legal. Yet both are useful in making a complicated idea simple; they can help people deal with an unpleasant situation or approach a sticky subject. Neither prevents further learning. Neither is intended as a deception. 

Both are useful as learning tools. A tiny child can’t possibly understand the complexity of chemotherapy, because his background in biology and chemistry is probably somewhat limited; he just needs to be able to understand that the bad chemicals will make him better. An adult who knows nothing about the Weimar Republic and has learned about the Nazis solely from television or from a single chapter in their history textbooks may lack the interest and motivation to read several screenshots on the subject unless they’ve first been made curious about it.

There is another key element that the Turtles and Hitler lies-to-children have in common: neither is likely to result in unintended fallouts. The child taking chemotherapy will not be able to go off to live in the sewers, befriending rats. He will not be able to administer chemo to other children to turn them into more turtles. You might have a struggle trying to get him to eat anything but pizza for a while, but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s worth it. The same applies to the Hitler lie: the people believing it can’t really do anything wrong with it. At most, they may end up getting involved into discussions where they’ll be proved wrong, denting their tender feelings. Hopefully, it will encourage them to Wiki their way into a better understanding of the subject.

I think that’s where our society fucks up: we forget that lies-to-children are only innocuous when you give them to people with a limited latitude; people who not only cannot understand anything more complicated at present, but who also have little to no chance of going off and acting upon that ”information” beyond a very narrow scope. 

Enter some of my biggest bugbears: statements about violence containing words like “always” and “all”. Violence is a large and nasty beast. Most people will, thankfully, only ever know a little bit about a small portion of it. Learning about violence second- or third-hand is useful, provided your sources are good, but it’s no substitute for experience. Violence is also something that our society increasingly abhors – and we forget how rare this attitude is, geographically and historically.

So we campaign vociferously against violence, which is great. The problem is that the vast majority of the campaigns are based on lies to children. “Rape is all about power and control.” “All we need to stop rape is <insert current buzzword>.” “Domestic violence is all about power and control.” 

Let’s take domestic violence as an example. I’m not going to dispute for a second that a lot of it IS about power and control. But there’s also the portion that is caused by other issues: brain damage, strokes, dementia, mental illness, substance abuse, developmental disorders, hypoglycemic crises, hallucinations, autism, and, last but by no means least, belonging to a (sub)culture where slapping people about is considered a perfectly valid form of communication. These cases also happen. They’re out there for everyone to see – but they are not mentioned in the current doctrine on the subject.

If you’re so inclined, you can try and make the Power&Control explanation fit every given situation: “The guy off his face on PCP was trying to control his surroundings by using force to gain power.” Problem is, you get top marks for sticking to the dogma, but your solution won’t help the problem. You can sit down any amount of violent dementia sufferers and teach them the Duluth Model[*], and it won’t stop them from hitting those around them. You’ll come up with the wrong (yet doctrinally correct) answer to that particular situation.

We’re reducing huge, complicated fields into soundbites, which is bad. We’re turning those soundbites into the Only Truth, which is worse. Instead of educating advocates, far too often we’re indoctrinating them; we’re giving them a tragically narrow point of view on the subject and teaching them that all contrasting points of view are anathema. And then we’re sending them forth to act upon the lies-to-children we’ve fed them, sending them forth on a Children’s Crusade, and expecting that to somehow make the world a better place. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Chickenbones. 08.05.15

I came to a horrible realisation yesterday. 

I’ve been trying to work out a comprehensive list of situations where establishing and enforcing boundaries may not work for my upcoming second booklet <<insert suspense here>>. Some ought to be obvious; for instance, if you don’t have the willingness or means to enforce consequences, your boundary-setting attempts will be useless. Things become a bit more complicated when (sub)cultures cross; for instance, what is boundary setting in your group may be a gross insult in mine, causing things to escalate, seemingly inexplicably. 

This still left me with an issue. There are people who are constantly smacking their faces into closed doors. They are routinely presented with clear, consistent boundaries, which they ignore. They end up bearing the consequences of their actions. And then they do it all over again. They seem to be stuck in a circle, repeating the same drama with different people, and never learning from it. 

Now, some of it may be down to bloody-mindedness. If you feel righteous about the way you are and the way you behave, you may be completely unwilling to change or to curtail your behaviours. Enter groups like the Westboro Baptists, who genuinely believe that they are in the right and the world is iniquitous for not seeing that. 

Some of it may be down to masochism. I know people whose hobby is getting someone to pound on them – and I’m talking literally. They get their kicks out of being mistreated, for whatever reason. Until those kicks stop, they will continue to engineer situations where mistreatment comes their way. 

However, neither of these explanations covers some of the people I routinely bump into and end up avoiding like the plague. People who don’t feel good about themselves, who do not enjoy suffering, yet keep fucking up, over and over and over again, despite getting clear and consistent instructions on how to avoid that. 

I think that’s the key issue – the consistency of it all. It got me to thinking about what the world looks like when your behaviours are just consistently too “off” for people to tolerate for any length of time. When all you see are people losing their patience with you, time and time again. When everyone eventually ends up snapping and throwing you out of their lives altogether. When this is, literally, all you know, all you’ve even known. When this becomes your “normal”. 

These people are the chicken bones in the throat of life (I’ve stolen that from Marc MacYoung, credit where it’s due). They are so incredibly, consistently infuriating that they end up believing that people being infuriated is a normal state of affairs, so they don’t read it as a warning. You can scream your brains off at them and they won’t get the message, because that’s “just what people do”. In this society, smacking people upside the head is not allowed – and, even if it was, for this sort of folks it would end up happening so routinely that it would soon become “normal”. The next step is then a shunning (firing, divorcing, avoiding, depending on the relationship). But that won’t be seen as a consequence, because it’s just “what always happens”. 

These people are apparently incapable of looking around and learning from other people’s good examples. I don’t know how they rationalise other people’s experiences to themselves. The fact that most people can get along with each other most of the time should be an indication of where “normal” lies, yet they remain oblivious. The only way I see for anyone to “fix” this would be to explain to them, clearly, that the problem isn’t with the world, but with them. You’d have to show them what’s normal and explain to them what they are doing that is stopping them from achieving it. You’d have to make them understand and accept that the common factor in all their recurring problems is them. Essentially, you’d have to pretty much disembowel their already-damaged egos. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy that job.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Group Therapy. 05.05.15

Someone asked me what I think of group therapy. I’m happy enough to answer the question, with a few disclaimers:
  • As per usual, I’m not a trained expert on this subject. All I’m doing is expressing my opinion. So the question I’m answering is “what do I think of group therapy?”, NOT “is group therapy good or bad?”.
  • I have had no involvement whatsoever with Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narc-Anon, or any of the long-established programmes working around substance abuse who use group meetings. I know a handful of people who have had great success with their programmes, and another handful who struggled for various reasons. I don’t know if any of the problems I’m about to mention apply to these programmes. For all I know, the way they run their meetings is completely different from anything I have seen.
  • I have had some experience with group therapy during training and because of work. I found that they didn’t work for me, most probably because of a combination of my goals and style not matching the setting. I’m really not keen on engaging in public emotional displays. I don’t object to other people doing so, but it’s not my thing. Therefore, when talking to strangers, I tend to express concerns or problems in a very factual manner, and look for suggestions on solutions, rather than sympathy. Similarly, when people present me with a problem, I tend to want to eventually help them solve it. In the groups I had to participate in, that went down like a lead balloon. That impression stuck with me, so I'm not a particularly unbiased observer.
So, take this with several pinches of salt.

***

I have noticed several recurring problems in group therapy. They don’t occur in all therapy groups. They are not representative of an inherent flaw in the system. All of them imply the phrase “unless the group moderator watches out for this.” However, I have seen them occur often enough to make me wary.

1. Those who speak the most, often speak the most. Unless time is allocated equally, talkative members can end up taking up most of the session. The quietest members can be left with little or no time. That doesn’t do much to make them feel valued by the group.

2. People are rewarded for emotional displays, regardless of their appropriateness. If members have any kind of meltdown, they get extra attention. For some people that is incredibly embarrassing, but for some that’s a reward. Furthermore, there is a terrible reluctance to say “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill”. This can encourage an increase in emotional volatility for the purpose of attention-seeking, which isn’t a great help in everyday life.

3. There is great reluctance about calling people on their bullshit. Some people have problems. Some people are problems: they create their own problems because of their behaviours, attitudes, and lifestyle choices (please note I’m talking about stuff like “getting drunk and stealing cars and driving them into walls every weekend”, not “wanting to wear gender-inappropriate colours”. There are very valid reasons why some behaviours are not supported by society.). Because group therapy is often based around acceptance, tolerance, and anti-judgementalism, these issues are often left unmentioned. Because of this, problem people often aren’t compelled to modify their damaging behaviour, and may even receive further confirmation that their behaviour is OK.

4. Confirmation Bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses. This can combine with the point above, when several problem people end up gathering and ‘proving’ to each other that they’re ok, and the world around them is screwed up. 

5. Predators/Knights. Unless participants are screened, people may join the group with less than savoury intentions. White Knights seek wounded people to ‘look after’, in order to bolster their own ego. Predators just want easy targets. Neither is helpful to have around, particularly during recovery, and both are naturally drawn to settings with a high density of suitable prey.

6. Conflicts of intentions. Unless participants are screened, they may not share the same intentions. Some may want to deal with those problems once and for all. Some may want to learn better ways to live with their problems. Some just want an opportunity to vent, or get extra attention because of their problems. Some may be sent there by the courts and have no intention whatsoever of sharing, caring, or making any changes. People working towards different goals can make difficult partners on a journey.

7. Groupthink. The desire for harmony or conformity in the group can result in dysfunctional decision-making outcomes. Conflicting ideas may be suppressed or openly attacked because they challenge the smooth running of the group, even though they would be better for the members’ welfare. Dissenters are often pilloried.

8. The numbers are bad for modelling. One of the easiest ways of picking up new behaviours is by modelling, i.e. imitating others. In a group therapy setting, most of the people present share a common problem. That suggests that they don’t yet have the skills to solve it or avoid it. When people do develop those skills, they often leave the group.

9. Seniority. In many groups, seniority is a component of status, at least because it often takes people a while to become comfortable in a new setting. In a therapy group, the most senior participants are often those who are most bogged down – otherwise they would have moved on. Although their determination may be astonishing, the fact that they are stuck ought to be a severe warning. That fact is often glossed over.

10. Crab bucket mentality. Jealousy is a natural human response to people having something we don’t, or doing better than us. We have to teach children not to be jealous, or at least not to act out their jealousy. People who fall into the crab bucket mentality haven’t learnt this lesson. Like crabs stuck in a bucket, clutching at those who are climbing out and preventing their escape, they end up undermining the results of those who are doing better than them.

11. Everyone is different. Although many of our responses and drives are very similar, we’re ultimately all individuals. The more different you are from the ‘norm’, the less you are likely to have in common with those undergoing group therapy with you. As a consequence, much of what is said and done may not work for you. Mentioning that is unlikely to be well-received, because you may be seen as challenging the group.

As I said, none of these problems HAVE to happen. It is up to the group’s moderators to keep it running smoothly and in the right direction. I think my main problem is with that direction: my definition of ‘support’ is probably unconventional. If I have a problem, I normally want to solve it. Anything that doesn’t take me towards my goal – that of not having the problem – doesn’t really get classed as ‘supportive’. For people with different goals, needs, and personalities, this may not be true.

***

Inevitable Book Plug: Predators, Knights, and Crab Bucket people are discussed more extensively in Chapter 11 of my first book, A Woman's Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma, out on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Therapy Crab-Bucket. 02.05.15

A friend of mine died of cancer two years ago. They tried everything, but nothing worked. They started with the standard therapies -- surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. When it became obvious that it wasn't working, they tried alternative methods: organic diets, vitamin supplements, cleansing, meditation, prayer, you name it. When that didn't work either, they tried some trial therapies that not only still didn't work, but also made her terribly sick. They did everything they could for her, she fought as hard as she could, and still she died on the wrong side of 40.


This is why I want doctors to stop offering chemotherapy and radiation therapy to patients. They didn't do my friend any good, after all. I want nurses to stop encouraging cancer sufferers going through their cure, supporting them emotionally, telling them that people can get better. My friend did not get better. For her, it was nothing but a lie.

I want more. I want the government to stop their prevention campaigns. They didn't help my friend, did they? I want cancer researchers to stop publishing all those stupid, optimistic research articles. They upset me and they are useless to my friend. What is the point in research, anyway? None of the new developments can help my friend now. 

None of this helps my friend. It is useless for her and it is painful for us. So it should all stop.

No, I've not finally lost the plot. I was trying to make a point. My friend did die, but that didn't cause me to lose sight of the fact that medical care, prevention, and research still can help others. I do sometime rail against the fates: Why her? Why couldn't they make her better? I now really know that cancer wrecks the lives of those it touches and all those around them. I know that even those it doesn't kill often find themselves changed beyond their expectations, hurt in body, mind, and/or faith. And because I have seen how awful cancer can be, I want absolutely every scrap of resource to fight it to be available to all of us, so we can fight it as hard as we can. 

It would seem to me insanely selfish to prevent others from benefiting from the care that unfortunately couldn't help my friend. Which is why I absolutely can't get my head around some of the common responses to recovery after acts of violence.

I talk about this more extensively in Chapter 11 of my first book, A Woman's Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma, out on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, but here is the crux of the matter:
Some fall into a crab bucket mentality – a selfish, short-sighted way of thinking best summarised as ‘Thou shalt not heal.’ Like crabs in a bucket, they claw at individuals trying to escape, pulling them back down. Stalled in their recovery, they undermine other people's recovery efforts. This could be out of jealousy – if they can’t have wellness, then nobody else should have it either – or it could be because other people’s recovery highlights their lack of progress. It could be subconscious or conscious. There are many motivations, but the attitude is the same: ‘if I can't have it, neither can you.’
What terrifies me, and one of the reasons I wanted to write the book, is that this attitude seems to be increasingly normalised. Instead of pointing out its selfishness, short-sightedness, and sheer absurdity, we all too often go along with it. We have become more scared of hurting those we can't help than invested in helping those we can.

Violence against women is an awful, awful thing. So's cancer. Violence leaves dead or broken people behind. So does cancer. Violence wrecks lives, like cancer. And nobody deserves violence, just like nobody deserves cancer. But many people don't treat violence like cancer, like a monster against which to throw every possible resource we have. Rather, they attack all resources that don't work 100% for everyone in every situation. If they tried that sort of attack against cancer cures, they'd be pilloried. 

I know I can't help everybody, and that sucks. But hopefully I can help SOMEbody. Until I can do better, that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Four Paradigms of Victim Blaming. 26.04.15

Allegations of victim blaming are becoming a serious issue in the self-defence world. It is becoming increasingly difficult to provide self-defence advice, particularly to women, without being accused of victim blaming. This not only significantly impacts risk-reduction strategies, but also causes intense frustration in those who are genuinely trying to help people keep themselves safe.

I believe the problem is that people can approach the subject with completely different points of view, yet can end up saying similar-sounding things. Although their meanings and intentions are very different, it’s easy to lump them all together, particularly when emotions run hot. I personally classify these points of view under four different categories, depending on the paradigms they generate from and their intentions towards survivors.

***

There are people who absolutely believe in the righteousness of Victim Blaming. They believe that people who ‘misbehave’ deserve to be punished. To them, it doesn’t matter whether that punishment is meted out by a society’s judicial system or by vigilante justice. The key factor is that that person ‘had it coming’ because they broke certain rules. These rules may have their origin in religious beliefs, societal mores, or personal idiosyncrasies, and they may or may not reflect those held by mainstream society.

This may sound utterly abominable, but most of us subscribe to this point of view in some extreme cases. For instance, if a parent were to find their toddler in the hands of a rapist, many of us would forgive any ensuing retaliation and feel rather unsympathetic towards the rapist-turned-victim. Alas, there are people out there whose behavioural code may be infinitely more restrictive than ours. For instance, they may believe that a woman who dresses ‘provocatively’ or behaves ‘inappropriately’ may ‘deserve’ not only a sexual assault, but even death for her shameful behaviour.

This type of thinking was brought to public attention by the documentary India’s daughter (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/indias-daughter-how-india-tried-to-suppress-the-bbc-delhi-gangrape-documentary-10088890.html), which caused such public uproar that it was banned by the Indian government. However, it is not restricted to foreign countries or religions. There are people in Western society who hold these kinds of beliefs. They have no interest whatsoever in supporting survivors; on the contrary, they consider their sufferings as richly deserved. From a survivor’s point of view, they are utterly poisonous. 

Fortunately, the numbers of actual Victim Blamers left in our culture is very small. Although they are the casus belli of advocates, you really have to go down some rabbit holes to find these people anymore. Thing is, because their views are considered so repulsive by the majority of our society, they have a huge shock value. The media being what they are, there is a lot of value in finding them out and giving them a platform. This can lead us to believe that our world is full of Victim Blamers, when the fact that their views shock us should be enough to tell us that our mainstream society does NOT subscribe to that point of view. 

***

Another group of people are genuinely sorry that the act of violence took place, and certainly do not wish the survivors any further sufferings. However, they also do not prioritise the survivors’ needs. 

Our society has made it possible for many people to live their lives without encountering violence. This is a great achievement; however, it also means that those people often never develop the necessary skills for dealing with violence. I am not referring only to the physical skills needed during an assault, but also the emotional and psychological skills to handle the aftermath.

While it may be true that their lifestyles prevent them from coming into contact with many types of violence, it doesn’t and cannot ever make them 100% safe. Unfortunately, many people are either unable or unwilling to accept that and instead end up living in an imaginary ‘safety bubble’. Their lack of exposure to violence leads them to hope or believe that ‘that sort of thing just doesn’t happen around here’, or that ‘bad things don’t happen to good people’. 

When a bad thing does happen to somebody in their circle, their ‘safety bubble’ is at risk. To admit that violence can penetrate the bubble would rock their world. Seeking to preserve their tranquillity, they launch into a personal inquisition to find out ‘what the victim did wrong’. This is not a search designed to find out how to decrease personal risks, or how to help the survivor avoid a repetition of the event. It is not aimed at finding the truth. Its sole goal is to preserve the ‘safety bubble’. Once the Wrong Thing is discovered, or made up, these people can rest soundly, safe in the illusion that their little world is as safe as ever. 

Meanwhile, the survivor has just been put through the wringer. In the aftermath of a violent incident, this is hardly helpful.

***

A third and entirely separate group of people aims to help, but doesn’t always get it right.

Many people who have experienced violence know how truly horrifying it can be. Their main goal is to prevent it from happening. For this reason, they want to educate innocent people in risk reduction. They aim is to teach people how to keep themselves as safe as reasonably possible – they know that nobody is ever 100% safe, but they also know that our behaviour and lifestyle choices can make us harder targets.

Unfortunately, the information they produce can sound surprisingly like the venom spurted by Victim Blamers, or the dross spewed forth by people living in a ‘safety bubble’. This is particularly the case around issues where victim blaming has been or is a very real problem, such as sexual assaults. 

Sometimes the misunderstanding is caused by clumsy presentation – although the intention of some statements is purely risk reduction, they come out sounding accusatory. Sometimes the issue is purely that the listeners are so primed for conflict that anything said about the subject is a red flag. Sometimes there seems to be a problem of focus. Those interested in risk reduction want to reduce people’s likelihood to become victims. Other people are mostly focused on sparing the feelings of existing victims. The two attitudes are often at odds.

It ought to be obvious to us all, yet apparently it isn't: anyone who is affected by accusations of victim blaming is obviously NOT a victim blamer. If they were, they would feel righteous about their position, not horrified when it's pointed out. Ergo, anyone constantly accusing people of victim blaming is either a little bit silly, or is deliberately using this strategy to shut people up. And the big problem is that it works far too often.

As behaviours go, this is about as unhelpful as you can get. Fighting violence is a big enough problem that surely we need all willing hands on deck, not just those who agree with our ideology.

***

There is another group of people who believe that violence is so abominable that it is not justified under any circumstances. Their ideal is a world in which violence is completely eradicated. Unfortunately, their path to this better world is strewn with victims.

The logic seems to be that if people were incapable of violence, then it wouldn’t happen. So we should make all violent deeds punishable, even those committed in self-defence. We should take away all weapons. All violence prevention should be farmed out to organisations; to schools, employers, the police, or the penal system. We should completely reject our right as individuals to take charge of our own safety. It doesn’t matter that this penalizes the honest (criminals don’t obey laws – it’s part of their job description) and the weak who find themselves deprived of equalisers. The focus here is not to protect possible victims, but to change the world. 

By removing the permission and means of self-defence, in the short-term these people are making violence effectively inescapable: if it comes our way, it’s going to trounce us and there’s nothing we can do about it bar call the cavalry. I believe this is why these people are particularly vicious in their accusations of ‘victim blaming’ raised at anyone trying to teach risk management. Risk management entails that we accept and process the risk of violence, and take steps to reduce its likelihood. It’s all about agency (the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices) and an understanding of reality. As this belief system hinges on ignoring reality and depriving people of their agency, risk prevention is clearly anathema. 

***

Where does this all leave us? I guess that depends on where our beliefs and priorities lie.

Personally, I have seen enough violence to believe that reducing people’s chances of becoming victims ought to be the priority. Helping survivors during their recovery is a very close second. Anything that stands in the way of these two goals gets my goat – but these are my beliefs, my priorities. 

I don't expect people to agree with me 100% on how we are going to get there; I would, however, like more people to realise that, when you scrap all the rhetoric, most of us want the same thing: a world with less hurt people in it. The only exception to this are the Victim Blamers, whose position is thankfully being eroded by cultural evolution. They sound like complete throwbacks now, and they will hopefully go extinct in a couple of generations. 

Most of us are on the same page. So, it would be just wonderful if we could all chill the fuck out and, if not work with each other, at least let each other work. We are becoming so entrenched into fighting for our positions that we’re losing sight of the fact that there is a huge middle ground, with most people in it. Hell, fighting for the righteousness of their position seems to now be many people’s overarching priority—more than saving people, more than helping them get better. If that’s not fucked up, then I don’t know what is.

***

I talk more about how to handle victim blaming and other side effects of violence in my first publication, A Woman's Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma, which is available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Although it's geared toward women because we are often socialised differently with regards to violence, the information can apply to anyone. Share it with your wives, sisters, daughters, friends, and anyone else you think might need it.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Weasel Tactics 2: Nonpliments 22.04.15

One of my favourite people ever, and the editor of this blog, happens to be deaf. I am constantly rendered speechless by people falling over themselves to give her nonpliments. No, that's not a typo.

You see, I checked my dictionary, and a compliment is "a polite expression of praise or admiration." Admiration, in turn, is "a feeling of strong approval or delight with regard to someone or something", or "something regarded as impressive or worthy of respect."

"You are really good at editing" is a compliment. Editing is a skill worthy of respect. Recognising that someone excels at it is a perfectly valid cause for admiration. The sentence, as it's formed, is perfectly polite.

"I've always admired your ambition" is a nonpliment. In order for the mere act of "having ambition" to be worthy of admiration, there pretty much has to be something wrong with the person. Given that the person in question is ridiculously intelligent, highly educated, and a bloody good worker, why wouldn't she be ambitious? Why wouldn't she be aiming to put her abundant talents to good use?

I get stuff like that at work all the time. "It's nice to see someone like you running a business" - someone like me? A woman? A foreigner? A small person? From the tone - sickly sweet, condescending, or surprised - I'm guessing they are not referring to my academic achievements.

What the nompliment does is highlight the fact that the giver considers the receiver a below-average person, for whatever reason(s). That is the only reasonable explanation as to why something completely commonplace can be considered extraordinary when that particular person does it. That is why nonpliments, unlike compliments, do not booster the receiver's morale however graciously they may be delivered.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Weasel Tactics 1 - The Anger Games. 21.04.15

"You're getting angry at me! I'm not talking to you when you are angry!"

And he was right. Although I was keeping my words and tone calm and polite, I was getting angry enough that I was talking through gritted teeth. I was trying to carry on the conversation, though, so I was doing my level best not to explode. To him, that wasn't good enough. The fact that I couldn't keep my feelings in check - my feelings, not my behaviour - was justification enough to cut me off.

I couldn't particularly blame him at the time. I was getting worked up, which I consider to be 'ungood', and I was obviously not doing a good enough job of controlling it. On reflection, though, I was a complete idiot, because the previous sentence the man had said was:

"So, you gonna get married again or wut? Cos your eggs are none the fresher."

***

All my life, I have worried about losing my temper. It was partly because I had this mental picture of me doing a "HULK SMASH!" routine, albeit on a much smaller scale. More realistically, though, I was concerned about the loss of respectability. I'm an unprepossessing enough figure, being 2/3 the size of a normal human (and yes, that matters; people may say it doesn't, but it does) without losing my shit in public. I'm not intimidating enough to control people by being aggressive, at least not long-term. I also have an aversion to being punched inna mouth. Mostly, though, I knew that going bananas would give people the opportunity to completely discount me and anything I had to say.

As tactics go, this one sucked ass. Firstly, rather than learning to express my anger in constructive ways, I just learnt to swallow it. I've now got enough stored background anger that if I ever do blow it's going to be spectacular. Secondly, and most significantly, it allowed me to fall for the very common weasel tactic displayed above.

It's the simplest trick in the world. Someone says or does something pretty much guaranteed to anger or hurt you, depending on your psychological make up. When you react to it, they then shame you for your reaction. It doesn't matter that your reaction is precisely that - a reaction to what THEY have said or done. It doesn't matter that most normal people would have had precisely the same reaction to that stimulus. The important thing is that your behaviour is now sub-par, so they can pull you up on it. Basically, they've got you coming and going.

Most of them, if you pull them up on it, will then justify their actions: they are just being straight with you, or telling you something you need to hear, or speaking for God, or whatever. They are merely the messengers, and your anger at them is a sign that you a. need the message and b. are a bit of an asshole. That would make perfect sense, if only it wasn't total bullshit.

The whole thing is a ruse - whether conscious or subconscious on their part, it doesn't matter. They are aware that they're pushing your buttons. Some of them will even preface their statements: "don't get angry/upset, but..." "Don't take it personal, but..."  Yet their knowledge that what they are saying will most likely anger or upset you is not enough to stop them, or to make them word their message in a less provoking manner.

That's the thing: unless you are a terminal asshole, or their capacities for language and/or empathy are sorely limited, there's pretty much always a way to sweeten any blow. More than that, a blow that isn't sweetened tends to miss - rather than listening and absorbing the message, the receiver will be completely wrapped up in emotional reactions. If someone truly wants to help you, they can't do that by pushing you into your monkey brain - and if they don't know or won't accept that, then the problem is with them, not you.

Really, all these people are doing is engineering situations so they can get away with shooting off at the mouth. They are exploiting the fact that our society frowns upon escalations of force. They are being calm, so why are you angry? They are speaking softly, so why are you yelling? And heavens help you if you go physical on them, even though 50 or 100 years ago (or 500 miles away) it would have been almost a requirement to fight for your honour. We don't do that anymore. We're civilised now, which apparently allows us to be willfully rude, get away with it, and feel righteous about it...

So what can one do about this? I'm still playing with various solutions. Calling them out seems to work: "why do you feel the need to tell me something so obviously upsetting?" Most of them will have an excuse, mind you, but most of the time it won't be a good one. Anyway you'll have achieved one thing, which is to move the conversation away from the original topic, which was the cause of your anger, and towards a whole new one, i.e. why they are being such asshats. So far it seems that if you do this once or twice the problem stops. They seem to lose the taste for that game.

If anyone has any better solutions that don't involve bloodshed, please let me know.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Grow a pair. 14.04.15

I'm growing increasingly concerned about two friends of mine. Their relationships appear to be sliding further and further away from normality (my concept of it, at least, which is a cooperative democracy) and towards autocracy. 


In the early stages of their relationships, their partners were very interested in their lives. That seemed just great. As time went on, they became increasingly involved; that phase also seemed healthy, or at least innocuous. At some undefined point, though, the style of their involvement seemed to change. Instead of adding to my friends' lives, their partners started taking away from them. 

Slowly but surely, they started limiting and controlling what my friends could and couldn't do. They were not even subtle about it. They manoeuvred my friends into giving up their homes and uprooting themselves, thereby isolating them from their families and social groups. Now, they screen friendships, either openly or by being horrible to people they disapprove of (which seems to include anyone with potentially compatible plumbing). Meanwhile, their behaviour towards the opposite sex is increasingly flirtatious. They have become extremely critical of absolutely everything my friends do, say, or wear. The only “right” way is to do whatever they say, which is progressively more inconsistent. Their ability (or willingness) to control their moods seems to be slipping, resulting in uncalled-for outbursts of greater frequency and intensity. They are tightening control over the couple’s finances. I'm just waiting for the moment when my friends are conned into becoming house husbands... 

...oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that? The friends in question are both males. They are larger, stronger, and even beardier than their female partners. That's rather the problem. 

The paths their relationships are taking match the classical Power & Control(TM) strategies used by abusers in order to gain total control over their partners. If my friends were women, the lack of physical abuse would simply not be a factor. In our society, we know that emotional abuse, economic abuse, enforced isolation, violent outbursts, etc. are forms of real abuse. In theory, at least; in practice, apparently, they're only abuse if the target is a woman. 




Were I subjected to half of that sort of treatment, I would be tripping over people trying to help me. Individuals would try to explain to me that I'm heading down a dangerous slope, that life doesn't have to be like this, that I have the right to better treatment. I would have access to organisations ready to counsel, educate, and support me. I could report threatening behaviours to the authorities and, though the practical support I could get would probably be fairly limited, at least I'd get heard.

All my friends are getting, on the other hand, are insults ("grow a pair!") and public ridicule for "falling for crazy pussy." The level of support they’re getting is currently zero; in fact, the worse their situation gets, the less the people around them seem to be tolerant of the fact that they are "putting up" with it. I strongly suspect that, even if their partners started beating or sexually abusing them, the level of support would not increase by much.

We seem to treat female domestic abusers like we treat aggressive toy dogs. If a Rottweiler tried to attack us over food, controlled our furniture, tried to kill our neighbours and guests, or tried to fuck us, most of us would grow somewhat concerned. The precise same behaviours displayed by a chihuahua is considered entertaining. As someone who works with dogs, that attitude drives me entirely demented; aggression is aggression, even small dogs can do damage, and unless you want an aggressive dog steps have to be taken. Unfortunately, as countless "funniest animals ever" videos testify, the trivialising of aggression in small dogs seems to be pretty solidly ingrained in our culture. We don't appear to respond to the badness of a behaviour. Rather, we look at the possible results, and if they don't appear too serious, we just laugh the whole thing off.

The "logic" seems to be that a female domestic abuser is just not a very serious threat, weaker sex and all that. If the men involved weren't so feeble, if they just stood up for themselves, if they just stopped being so spineless and pathetic, their female abusers wouldn't stand a chance. It's their own fault for not changing their lives, really. Of course, if they did stand up for themselves we'd probably call them bullies... It's a no-win situation. 

There is no danger of that at the moment, though, because my friends don't currently have the psychological, emotional, and social resources to fight back against their abusers. And the worse they "allow" themselves to be treated, the less people seem to respect them or be willing to help them. This is in stark contrast with how we treat women victims. 

If you made this sort of statement about a woman abused by a man, you'd get lynched as a Victim Blamer. Weirdly enough, the people who are keenest on that kind of lynching are also the same people who would put "male privilege" rather than "gender privilege" in the Power & Control wheel... hmm. I wonder if that’s a coincidence.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Absolute Freedom. 08.04.15

Once upon a time, I had the joy of sharing a house with a fella who believed in absolute freedom. In theory that meant that he believed that everyone has the right to live in any way they want, following their hearts and souls, free from social diktats. In practice that meant that he was a complete asshole. We're talking about a guy who refused to wash because "our obsession with hygiene is a socially-imposed construct", then would throw a hissy fit when nobody wanted to eat with him for the simple reason that they could smell his feet over their food. 

Nothing with him was negotiable. Everything was an ideological issue. If you asked him to do anything, like rinse the sink after shaving, or to stop doing anything, like leaving the fridge door open, you were being oppressive. The guy was, well, somewhat tricky to live with. However, having survived a variety of bothersome housemates and being an old-style liberal myself, I did my level best. 

Things started to degenerate when he started to bring in his fishing gear. Although fish-bothering is not something I'm interested in, I don't have any ethical aversion to it. What I do have an aversion to is opening the fridge at breakfast time and finding it crawling with maggots. Asshole had not only decided that the fridge where I kept my food was a splendid spot to keep his bait, but had also not bothered ensuring that his container was secure. Words (well, shrieks) were exchanged. I didn't think asking for my food to be left maggot-free was unreasonable, but, lo and behold, it was. I was "imposing my living standards blah blah blah." What was I, some sort of fascist? He had the right to do whatever he pleased. I could not stop him.

That little conversation was the turning point in our cohabitation. You see, once I stopped fuming, it occurred to me that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If he had the right to do whatever he pleased, then so did I. And if I could not stop him, then he could not stop me. 
Absolute freedom worked both ways.

I didn't act upon my revelation until a few days later, when Asshole decided to dry his nets by draping them over my camping gear, soaking it in pond water and mud. I decided to exercise my freedom by flinging all the offending items as far as I could throw them. That turned out to be as far as my not-so-carefully-tended gooseberry patch. If you are not familiar with them, gooseberries are one the reasons Nature is called "a mother", their fruit being protected by thorns sharp enough to inconvenience a rhino.

When Asshole returned home to find his gear gaily strewn upon the shrubbery, he was perturbed (going puce is a sign of perturbation, isn't it?). However, as I was a. still angry enough to punch a panda and b. subscribing to his cherished and oft-repeated ideology, he found himself unable to complain. Off he went to retrieve his gear.

(If you've never had the pleasure of watching someone you don't much like trying to disentangle nets from a large and overgrown gooseberry patch, I heartily recommend it. Make yourself a cup of tea, grab a chair, and enjoy the show.)

That was a turning point in our cohabitation. I agreed with him completely: absolute freedom was the way to go. So when I found that he'd left his fishing pellets out in the garage and caused a rodent infestation, I exercised my freedom by throwing the lot in the garbage. Asshole was unimpressed, but, hey ho, that's freedom, right? The next time I found maggots in the fridge, I upturned the container out the window. Asshole was pretty angry, but come on, freedom! Mine and the maggots'! When I started mixing my equestrian gear with his laundry (his allergy to horse hair being nothing but a social construct, I'm sure of it), he finally decided to move to new pastures.

So the moral of the story is: there's more than ethics to creating a utopia. You need to think about practicalities, too. You need to consider what would happen if your ethics were applied to their full extent by absolutely everyone, including people willing to be bigger assholes than you. Otherwise, you might discover that the line between utopia and dystopia is a very fine one indeed.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Listen! 07.04.15

There's a conversation that drives me up the wall, and it goes something like this:

Me:   "There is something wrong with guy X."
Him: "What? No, X is an alright guy!"
Me:    "He gives me the creeps. He's always looking at me funny/standing 
            too close/trying to catch me alone/following me around/whatever."
Him:   "Naaaah, I've never seen that. You must be over-reacting."

Now, this is not an anti-men rant - I'm not saying they're all creeps, and I'm not saying they never listen. This is a rant about people who can't seem to comprehend that just because they are not at the receiving end of a behaviour, it doesn't mean that the behaviour doesn't happen or is not a problem. K, so it's not happening to you, or around you. So what? It's happening to me! Fucking listen!

I've seen this happen unpleasantly often with sexual predators who, lo and behold, don't show their predatory nature at or around people who don't meet their criteria for prey or could easily send them to the morgue. I'm an under-five-foot woman. The people who consider me a tasty snack may not feel the same about my 6-foot+, shaven-headed, weightlifter, Muay Thai fighter, now-ex-boyfriend. Yes, that happens. It's sexist and sizist and hairist and fightist and all manners of unfair, but it happens. I'm sure there are people out there who would gladly predate on us both, but, unless they plan their predation carefully, you can probably recognise them by the fact that they got their face smashed up so many times. So, if your friend is an alright guy when he's with you but an absolute bloody nightmare when he catches me on my own, that is not an unexplainable occurrence and it is a problem and no, I don't want him around the house. Fucking listen!

Sometimes people are so oblivious that it makes me wonder if they are doing it on purpose. My ex boss had 9 complaints from women on his desk - every single female under 30 in our department - and still wouldn't admit that one of our guys was a problem. It just hadn't occurred to him that the guy may be acting differently towards him - a burly, balding man in his 50s - and towards young women. He saw a friendly, cheery, helpful, somewhat silly fellow. What the women saw was an obsessive stalker. It took the entire female contingent saying that if that guy was going to be coming into work, then they wouldn't, for the boss to actually take steps. Until he was faced with consequences, he just wouldn't fucking listen.

This isn't peculiar to men. I routinely had that problem with my sainted mother, who likes to think the best of people. She's also roughly the size and shape of a guinea pig, dresses like a bag lady who discovered the bins of a convent, and is 34 years older than me. She just couldn't fit it in her head that those factors mattered, that there are people out there who may behave a certain way towards her, but completely differently towards her teenage daughter and her friends.  We all told her that we were having problems with certain people, but because she wasn't experiencing them herself, she just brushed them off as non-existent. She just wouldn't fucking listen.

This problem is not also exclusive to sexual predation. We probably all know someone who is a total ass-kisser with the management, but mean as hell to any underlings. The people on top and the people below see a completely different behaviour. This would not be a problem if the managers listened to the underlings' concerns, but most of them don't fucking listen.

So we end up stuck in the middle. One one side you have people who are treating us inappropriately, and whose behaviour we can't easily stop or control. On the other side we have people who could easily put a stop to the bad behaviour, but as they don't see it, they discount it. It makes as much sense as a rottweiler telling a mouse that the cat "is just a pussy." So we are left waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for something bad enough to happen, so that someone will finally pay attention. And much as that would give us the opportunity to say "I told you so!", it's not a cheery prospect.

So if someone comes to you with a problem you are not seeing, think about how you differ. They could be seeing things that are not there, but they could also be seeing things that are not there for you, but there for them. You may not be able (or willing) to do anything without evidence, but you can keep an eye out for developing problems, or put measures in place to prevent things from escalating. First and most of all, you can at least listen.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Presorting for assholes. 04.04.15

"All women are sluts!" my friend proclaims loudly (if somewhat drunkenly). He's having relationships problems again. Apparently the gal of his dreams is giving him "mixed messages," blowing hot and cold, so he doesn't know where he stands. After his last spectacular break-up, caused by his walking into his partner and one of his colleagues making the beast with two backs in his bed, he's concerned about getting burnt again. He wants to be sure that this girl really cares.

"She'll talk to me for hours, then her boyfriend comes back and..."  WAIT A MOMENT. Her boyfriend? "Yes, he's working away in Egypt at the moment, but when he comes back home..." HANG ON. They are living together? "Yes, but the relationship has been shit for ages, she's just staying there until she can afford to move out..." But they are still in a relationship? "Yeah, well, she has to be with him. She can't tell him to fuck off until she can move out." DUDE. Don't you think that's messed up? "Eh? What?"

And there you have it. It turns out that my friend had only, solely and uniquely dated women he'd poached from someone else. Their existing relationship was languishing, so, after a bit of dedicated wooing on his part, they'd dumped their partner and taken up with him. Lo and behold, each and every one of them had eventually ended up dumping him for someone else.

He couldn't see the connection. He thought that poaching was just the way everyone found partners, that flirting with someone while in a relationship was perfectly normal, but cheating was a really awful behavioural trait peculiar to all women. He just hadn't figured out that the way he was picking his partners meant that he was presorting for cheaters.

(Not that everyone who cheats once will do it again, but there are people who habitually move from partner to partner like Tarzan swinging from liana to liana. They don't give up the old one until they've got a firm grip on the new one, and if a better prospect presents itself they are off again.)

It made me think about the dangers of unconscious presorting. Sometimes it ought to be bloody obvious, but somehow it doesn't seem to be.  For instance, I know people who only pick up dates in bars, yet are surprised if their partners like a drink. Sometimes it's a bit more complicated and requires a degree of self-awareness. For instance, one of my bosses, in his late 60s and not in the best physical state, would only date women in their early 20s. He was endlessly shocked to find that the ones he managed to catch were either money-grabbers or "had issues."

Presorting doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can help you weed out people who do not share your interests or meet your requirements. I have a great degree of envy for people who live lives that presort in a healthy, constructive manner. It doesn't matter if they know what they are doing, because ultimately they are doing the right things, which lead them to get the right results.

When the presorting is unconscious and leads to undesirable results time and time again, though, it can be a serious problem. It doesn't just result in a series of fuck-ups, but it can mess up your view of the world. If everyone you meet is an asshole, a thief, a liar, a cheat, you might grow convinced that the world is solely populated by assholes, thieves, liars or cheats. Worse, it may cause you to adapt by becoming an asshole, thief, liar, or cheat too, because that's the normal way to be. And round and round in circles it goes, your subconscious bad presorting leading to bad options, leading to bad choices, leading to bad actions, leading to bad presorting.