Tuesday, March 31, 2015

And a Nice Garnish on the Side

All I want to do is re-frame the discussion [about wanting or not wanting children], because I think that it has been so mired in stereotypes and just, you know, glib, flippant statements [...].
Meghan Daum, The Brian Lehrer Show, "On Not Having Kids"
Here I have to plead guilty to being glib and flippant about being "childless by choice." Mainly because wisecracking about how I love children: stir fried and over rice, is easier than trying to argue people's stereotypes and firmly-held beliefs with them. It's like any other faith-based understanding. Anyone who is willing to walk up to a stranger and confidently state they understand certain personality traits about them based on a combination of external traits and assumptions is unlikely to take a stranger's word for it that they might be misjudging. (And family members are even worse.)

There are any number of different flavors of "You're different, and that's bad," and, to borrow from the title of Ms. Daum's book, the idea that the intentionally childless are "selfish, shallow and self-absorbed" is merely one of them. For me, being glib and flippant about not being a parent had become a guard against answering what I understood was a charge of being a bad person with a charge that the person making the accusation was themselves the bad person. Fortunately, I've mellowed with and now I'm glib and flippant out of a combination of habit and snarkiness.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Go Me!

Seth Godin has an interesting post on how to deal with one's Inner Critic. And I think that it gets at one of the more difficult parts of dealing with the tendency we have to be critical of ourselves. He's right in that we should be positive with ourselves, and tell ourselves true things that contradict the voices of our Inner Critic.

The tricky part is understanding "the nonsense the lizard brain is selling as truth." Mr. Godin says that to deal with negative self-talk one should "surround it with positive self talk, drown it out and overwhelm it with concrete building blocks of great work, the combination of expectation, obligation and possibility." Which, I think is a great idea. Of course, that's not the way I do it.

In my own internal monologue, the negative whispers my Inner Critic murmurs are not lizard brain nonsense. Instead, it's all absolutely true. What's false is the idea that it's more accurate and more refelctive of who I am than the positives. I am worthy of my own positive self-regard not because of any great works or possibilities, but simply because I am. It is my positive self-regard that renders me capable of great works and possibilities, and, therefore to nurture those things, I must nurture my positive self-regard. Of course, there are many roads that lead to Rome, and while the one that I'm on works for me, it's good to know that others are mapping out the rest of them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Life Spiral

Maybe it's just because I'm suddenly feeling my old age, but I've noticed recently that social media is often a place of intense negativity. I'm not talking about the constant trolling and harassment of people; rather just a pervasive air of doom and futility. Which I understand. People often use the Web to seek connections with others, and that makes it a natural place to talk about one's problems and dislikes and look for people to commiserate with.

Still, I wonder what would happen if we turned that on it's head, and sought to share the positive things that happened in our lives. It's not easy to do, to be sure. I try to be more positive in my own dealings with the Web, yet I often find myself sliding back into the comfortable role of Internet curmudgeon. I'd like to think that we could turn the tide by being supportive of one another and mimicking - answering positivity with positivity.

Stranger things have happened.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Character of Scarcity

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: The "Dream" Speech
This is often used as an argument against Affirmative Action programs. But that winds up making Affirmative Action into a judgement of character, when it should be simply a way of distributing scarce resources. And in a culture of scarcity, it's simply not possible that all character judgments are going to be objective, because, I believe, we have a tendency to place the divide between good and bad character in the same place as the line where the resources run out.

I was watching a documentary on fundamentalist groups within the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, and one thing they noted was that in factions that practice polygamy, there are very strict rules that unmarried men have to abide by - so strict that many bachelors fail to live up to them and are expelled from the group. This tends to result in a only a very small number of eligible, but unmarried, men living in the community - thus reducing the competition and conflicts over sex partners. Thus harmony is maintained.

It would not surprise me to learn that the same goes on in our broader society, minus the expulsions, of course. When handing out scarce resources, like education or career opportunities, on the basis of character having more eligible people than there are resources to go around is simply a recipe for friction as people become upset by the unfairness of it all.

In the end, the easiest way to get to a society in which people are judged on character, and for those judgments to be objective, is to increase the pool of available resources to the point where the competition for them is sharply reduced. People who have what they need are rarely willing to go out of their way to deprive others, for reasons of color or character.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Of A Feather

Muslim shooter = terrorist
Black shooter = thug
White shooter = just a tiff about a parking spot
I first heard about this Tweet while listening to an interview with Himanshu Suri, a.k.a. the rapper "Heems."

I was reminded of it while reading about the case of one Ryan Giroux, an ex-convict who was recently arrested after shooting a number of people in Mesa, Arizona.
Photos of Giroux provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections show tattoos covering his face, including the number 88 on his left temple and a Celtic design on his chin. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "88" is "neo-Nazi code for Heil Hitler (because H is the 8th letter of the alphabet)." The group also said that, for white supremacists, a Celtic cross represents the white race.
However, Mesa police spokesman Det. Steve Berry said investigators had "nothing to indicate [Wednesday's rampage] has anything to do with white supremacy at all."
Gunman in Mesa, Ariz., rampage has long criminal history, police say
Now, I'm not going to give the Detective any grief about his statement - innocent until proven guilty, after all, and there's no reason to think that I know Giroux's motives better than any other random person on the street.

But that kind of forbearance from judgement seems to be rarer than perhaps it should be. Ms. Kohn's Tweet is a generalization, and perhaps one born more of simplistic media narratives than public reactions at that, but if the media tends to give its audience fare that jives with their biases and desires we can guess that there is a market for simplistic narratives that pigeonhole people into neat stereotypes. This habit, of seeking straightforward patterns to explain the actions of people different than ourselves, is dangerous because, like most habits, it feeds on itself. Generalizations beget generalizations.

As long as we live in what we understand to be a culture of scarcity, negative generalizations about one another will have a life of their own, whether they're about religious extremism, propensity to violence or selectivity about giving people the benefit of the doubt, because those generalizations also serve to elevate the person making them (and those they understand as like themselves) at the expense of the competition. We'll make them, repeat them and defend them as a way of reminding ourselves that we're the most deserving.

We don't lose anything in allowing people to be individuals until we know enough about them to understand what group they may belong to. Whether we gain anything is debatable, but it's worth a shot.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Honest Therapist

It's not as bad as it looks.
Despite one of the common social messages around pairing and relationships, finding a partner is not generally as simple as encountering and choosing to spend the rest of your life with them and having beautiful babies together. Partnering with another person is a mutual choice, so in addition to choosing, one also has to be chosen. And, especially in an area where there are a lot of people around, going unchosen for a long enough time can leave one with the feeling that they are unchooseable in that they lack more or less, all of the qualities that people are looking for. Feeling undesirable eventually comes to feel like an objective state that a neutral observer would confirm, if they were being frank.

This often leads to a certain level of discomfort in others, as while many people understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that it's not for an individual to dictate to others how they will be seen, there is also a general expectation that everyone will see themselves, at least, as beautiful and possessed of an attractive personality. And so it's easy for us to see pathology in people who publicly acknowledge a mental picture of themselves as undesirable - hence an anonymous poster referring to Connie Sun's cartoon as "self-hating." But it's possible to have a feeling of something yet understand that it doesn't accurately reflect one's reality - even if acknowledging it is somewhat cathartic.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Absolute Values

At work earlier this week, the subject of sexism and gender bias in media came up. And as people brought up various studies and papers that they'd heard about, it quickly became apparent that you couldn't please all of the people, all of the time. In fact, there seemed to be enough instances of mutually exclusive thinking on the subject that you couldn't please all of the people at any one time.

The search for clear external markers of internal thoughts and feelings is hampered (made impossible, really) by the fact that thought and action need not be related. In other words, a particular depiction of, in this case, women in media, or audience reactions to certain female characters cannot be mapped 1:1 with a particular attitude towards women, because the attitude being tested for is not a prerequisite for a given depiction or reaction.

Of course, the same goes just as easily for racism, or any other variety of "ism" as it does for sexism. I understand that this leaves room for people to be sloppy, or to deal in bad faith. But those are constant hazards. It's not possible to create an absolute test for unwanted bias. Accepting this may seen like a victory for the bad old days, but it's better than constantly holding people to standards they simply cannot ever reach.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Colorful Language

When my sister was in her mid-twenties, she moved to Bellingham, Washington. We were speaking on the telephone one day, and she related to me the fact that people there referred to her (apparently when she was within earshot) as: “That colored girl.”

“Where,” I wanted to know, “Did you move to? 1950?”

We had a good laugh about it, and life went on. Eventually, my sister moved closer to Seattle, and I moved out as well, and now we’re both comfortably ensconced in patches of suburbia and working well-paying jobs. So I hadn’t thought much about that conversation until the other day, when I learned that a teapot tempest was brewing over the words of one Jim Honeyford, a Republican state Senator from Sunnyside, which is in the south-central part of the state. He’s been being raked over the coals for about the last week for having said:

I said the poor are more likely to commit crimes, and colored [people are] most likely to be poor. I didn’t say anything else other than that.

Later, he followed up with:
As long as you have the poor more likely to commit crimes, and the coloreds who are more likely to be poor, you have to reform society to help alleviate some of those things. I’m just stating a fact.

His use of the termed “colored” has made him a target for social justice activists and political opportunists alike - an e-mail landed in my inbox today, requesting that I join them “in demanding Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler and State Senate leadership ask Senator Jim Honeyford to step down.”

In his defense, Senator Honeyford describes himself as a septuagenarian who “doesn’t always use language that is appropriate in 2015.” I’d add to that a moderate talent for understatement, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of doubt in this. People tend to hang on to the rules that they grew up with long after the rest of the world has moved on, and it’s not like calling someone colored makes them burst into flame or anything. I think that the focus on him using that one word, despite the hullabaloo that it has received, is actually somewhat off target.

Senator Honeyford says that he wasn’t attempting to say that poor and minority people were more likely to be criminals because they were poor and/or minority, instead:
I assume that it’s because of the lack of education, lack of parental training and responsibility. You can go to all kinds of reasons for it.
I have to admit that I’m somewhat impressed that a man who openly stereotypes poor people and minorities as uneducated, poor parents and/or irresponsible finds that his main troubles are centered around his choice of words. But maybe someone figured that a focus on outdated language would garner more petition signatures.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Friday, March 6, 2015


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Gemstone, Darkly

The Moon, I am told, has the reflectivity of coal.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Your Move

If the quest for positive regard may be likened to a game, then I submit that its closest analog is Global Thermonuclear War; the only way to win is not to play.

The positive regard of others is a gift, not a wage. It cannot be earned; it is given only in accordance with the whims of the giver. You may do whatever someone expects of you - still, if they seek to withhold the positive regard you believed you had bargained for, you have no recourse. And if they shower it upon you without regard to your own action or inaction, that too, is their choice and theirs alone. You may appeal to their sense of consistency, fairness or obligation as much as you wish - but their sincere regard will be given when and if they wish you to have it, and not before.

You own positive regard is likewise a gift, or, if you prefer, a birthright. Bargaining with your Inner Critic for it is fruitless - the list of faults it can marshal against you is endless, and it knows just how to convince you of their accuracy. The "secret," such as it is, is to understand that your Inner Critic does not hold the positive regard that you seek - you do. And that all you need do to claim it is freely gift it to yourself. Just as regard for others may be given at a whim, so may regard for you.

To the extent that love is the absence of fear, then the love of you must be paired with the absence of the fear of you. And that comes with accepting one's own positive regard without condition or restriction. Choice may be simplest when options are limited, but choice is at its best when it understands that it is free to choose. The things we do that convince us of our own unworthiness do not come about because we are too free of the requirements of others, but because we are too constrained by the requirements of the self that we have constructed for ourselves.