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.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The moral of the story. 01.04.15

So there I am, driving back from work this lunchtime. I'm just getting into town and the traffic is moving slowly.

This guy who's just gotten out of his vehicle starts waving at me to wind my window down. I don't have electric windows and I don't know who the hell he is, so I wave "no can do" back and keep moving.

So he starts pointing towards the side of the road telling me to pull up. That ain't happening, thank you. I keep going.

Next thing I know, he's jogged up alongside my van and opened the passenger door*, without asking. Apparently he read the signposting on my van and wanted to tell me about these things he sells that I might be interested in.

Aside from the fact that if you piss me off that much, I ain't going to buy a damn thing from you, this could have gone south so badly and in so many ways I'm struggling to compute the level of stupidity behind it. The whole thing took place in daylight, on a reasonably busy street of a reasonably quiet town. I'm not a likely kidnapping victim, and my vehicle is such a heap of crap that nobody in their right mind would want to hijack it. There are no mental hospitals, drug clinics, prisons, courts, or police stations nearby. I also have no aversion whatsoever at defending myself if required, and have got enough training and experience under my belt not to panic easily (I'm far from being a ninja, but I can be an inconvenience). Because of all those reasons, I was infinitely more ticked off than threatened. Had all those circumstances not applied, I would have probably felt threatened enough to justify lumping him in the face. Had there been anything in the van that needed protecting (children, dogs, valuables, you name it), I would not even have considered any of the above points before lumping him.

It also turns out that my aversion to paperwork is greater than my need to teach people the error of their ways. Had that not been the case, I might also have reacted in a less measured fashion out of sheer annoyance. I know plenty of people who would have seen that kind of affront as a valid justification for taking physical measures; I'm just glad none of them was in the car with me. The flipside is that because I was alone and the guy was considerably bigger than me, if I had reacted physically I would have stood a good chance at getting away with it as self-defence. I am a fragile little petal and he chased me down the road and tried to get in my car, Officer Friendly. I'm still all shook up!

We're also a country where people are prevented from carrying weapons. We are not supposed to either want or need to hurt people in self-defence. In countries where you're allowed to go armed, he might have been shot - or he might have been thinking a bit more carefully about what he was doing. And still, regardless of the fact that I can't carry weapons, in my van I have a window breaker, a small fire extinguisher, a scattering of work tools (some blunt, some pointy), and, if all else fails, a pen always on the dashboard. All of these items could cause somebody a serious amount of inconvenience if I bashed him on the head with them, or poked them in his eye. As of today, I'm also going to start carrying some wasp spray, because that'd save me risking breaking a nail to educate a moron (and pepper spray is also illegal in this fair isle).

So the moral of the story today is: Do not stick yourself into a meat grinder. Do not be so involved in your own little world that you fail to see when your behaviour is potentially threatening, deeply inconsiderate, or just plain abnormal. Do not give people a reason to hurt you. Do not have your safety depend on other people's tolerance and self-control. It's neither big nor clever.



*The passenger door was not locked because the central locking is not fully functional. Yes, the van is a heap.