Sunday, September 20, 2015

Call for Questions

Another civics teacher and I are hosting an all-candidates debate for potential MP of my school's riding, which, for the first time, is not my own riding even though I live just three blocks north. So I'm not familiar with the specific candidates.

We contacted all parties, but, unfortunately, the Green Party candidate was very hard to reach, and he responded last with regrets. The other three will be there a couple weeks from now, and they want a list of questions before the day. Some want the list immediately. That's not unreasonable, and I'll provide them (most of them), yet it would be nice to see them responding on their feet.

I'll be soliciting questions from my grade 10 class tomorrow, but I thought I'd put this up here in case my wise readers have some juicy ones worth asking! The debate will be for an audience of 15-year-olds, so the issues can't be too complex or we'll lose the audience - and nobody wants 150 bored teenagers in a room.

ETA - The challenge is, as it is every day for teachers, how to provoke as much depth of thought possible within the constraints of one-hour of time and a wide variety of levels of understanding in the room. 

Just in Time Learning

The experience that most prepared me for teaching wasn't teacher's college, it was working in a huge insurance company. They trained me to work efficiently and stay working until the job's finished, which, in an insurance company, means forever. It's a very useful skill when I'm marking.

There are a few efficiency slogans that come to mind when I've got a pile of work, like "Only touch it once." No sorting and separating and wasting time preparing to work. As soon as you open a file or essay, don't put it down until you're done with it. The goal is to get it off your desk as quickly as possible! That little reminder at the back of my head has done wonders for getting work back to students in a timely fashion.

But the one that came to mind recently is "Just in Time." Don't prepare work too far ahead in case the situation changes and you've just done all that work for nothing. It seems like it could be counter to getting things done, but it's not. It means don't order a ton of supplies for a situation that might never come to pass, or don't prepare questions for an all-candidates debate until all the candidates are confirmed and the debate set to go - even if they keep e-mailing for that list of questions.

I was thinking about "Just in Time" in the context of learning, though. Members of OSSTF recently ratified our contract. As staff president, I had to get everyone out to vote last Thursday. I sent a few messages to everyone's home e-mail near the start of September and to their school e-mail more recently, but still, on Thursday, people asked, "What vote?" as I went room to room personally inviting them to mark an "X".

I was lamenting this to a colleague, when we started complaining that it was also picture day, and we didn't have any instructions about what order students go down for their photos. Before calling the office, I wisely re-checked my e-mails and found some very clear instructions sent two days previous. I had read the e-mail, but it had completely left my brain. It seems that information has to come the second you need it and not before or else it dissolves. The brain sorts out whether or not something's immediately useful, and dumps it if it's found wanting. Especially now when we have so much information coming our way.

And later I asked about a book in the library, and my librarian told me I could look it up from my own computer. Who knew?! Then I recalled many little lessons at staff meetings about the library website that I had watched with eyes glazed over. That information had nowhere to sit and wait to feel needed, so it just wandered away. I needed to hear it AS I was looking for a book. But isn't it a bit much to ask someone to teach each of us a lesson individually - 80 times over - only as we actually need that knowledge? Well, it would certainly be inefficient. But maybe sometimes efficiency's overrate.

And, of course, I think about all the information I give my students about things that aren't quite due or aren't necessary to be used immediately. I don't mean real-world applications - I haven't used calculus since high-school, yet I maintain, in that sense, that all learning - the learning process in itself - is useful. I mean teaching them how to do close reading or cite a source, but not soon after testing them on that skill in some way - not making them use the skill in a way that I can verify they understand it.  They'll need it generally, as we go, but then do those concepts hide in their brains, atrophying as they grow weary waiting for opportunities to show themselves?

This isn't new information at all, yet every time I tell the staff of educated adults about something happening, and I put it in writing, then I tell them individually, and so many still don't quite remember what I'm on about, I'm baffled. It's because I'm still not done learning about learning! I forget how difficult it is to store information until it's needed.

But those insurance efficiency slogans sure stuck in there. It's because my boss actually said them over and over. If we appeared overwhelmed with stacks of files, he'd remind us, "Once begun, half done." Here's the thing: It was not beyond the expectations of his job description to remind us over and over to keep those files flying off our desks. We despised him for it, but we worked like machines!

I'm not interested in getting kids to be more efficient - although it can be handy in certain fields. But I am interested in the stickiness of slogans repeated and applied over and over. Years later, they creep up unannounced to keep me going on that pile of essays. And I'm grateful. And I have to work to remember (because it wasn't part of the training regime) that it has to be an expectation that I'll repeat things over and over to educated adults and students alike and not expect them to remember it until they've actually used the information many times.

Teaching is a funny job where, like in insurance, it feels never-ending. Through a wide lens over the decades, people learn a bit during the 5-month semester, then we start fresh, without any of that knowledge I just taught. I repeat the same content in a variety of ways over and over and over again, and even though many go off to university to continue learning, it can feel like I haven't really taught anything because it starts all over again the next term, brand new, with a collection of people, and some of them think Obama is our Prime Minister.  And years after high-school, some others - coughmyownkidscough - don't remember learning, from me, how elections work. It was way back in grade 10, and they didn't need to understand any of that until now. We teach them that way before they'll use the information, and we don't go over it throughout the rest of high-school.

So I taught them all over again.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Has the Green Revolution Actually Arrived?

There's an article floating around sub-titled "The Year Humans Got Serious about Saving Themselves from Themselves" by Jonathan Chait.  It starts with a litany of climate change-driven bad news with the conclusion that,
"The drama has taken on an air of inevitability, of a tragedy at the outset of its final scene — the tension so unbearable, and the weight of looming catastrophe so soul-crushing, that some people seek the release of final defeat rather than endless struggle in the face of hopeless odds. Working for change, or even hoping for it, has felt like a sucker’s game."
That "seek the release of final defeat" bit makes me think of Freud's theory of a death drive:
"Our recognition that the ruling tendency of psychic life… is the struggle for reduction, keeping at a constant level, or removal of the inner stimulus tension – a struggle which comes to expression in the pleasure-principle – is indeed one of our strongest motives for believing in the existence of death-instincts."
We long for finality, for completion, not just in our daily accomplishments, but in all things, in order to release ourselves of the tension of getting near the end.  This is clearest, I think, when we feel great making a questionable decision because having finally decided feels so good, so final, even if it's a bad choice.  This explains why so many stay on a wrong path and won't budge from it even when shown the error of their decision; it feels so good to have decided that we don't want to have to go back to that moment of choosing.

It's curious how much we say we want more freedom, hence more choices in life, and yet choices can be such a burden.

Anyway, we're clearly on the wrong path now.  Are we really going to just watch it play itself out to the final end of humanity?  Not according to this article,
"The technological and political underpinnings are at last in place to actually consummate the first global pact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed. The game is not over. And the good guys are starting to win....The task before the world is best envisioned not as a singular event but as two distinct but interrelated revolutions, one in political willpower and the other in technological innovation."
Why will it all come together now, suddenly?  He points to signs like "the price of solar is fallen" - in some place it costs less to use solar or wind than coal or natural gas.

But I'm afraid that what Chait misses with this line of reasoning, is that it's not just the cost that drives the use, it's also the number of powerful people who stand to gain if we continue using fossil fuels. As Jeff Rubin points out in The End Of Growth, Canada's economy depends on money from gas-powered cars and from tar sands. Rubin thinks things will get better only when we can no longer afford to drive:
"...the simple unspoken truth is that a recession is the best possible way to tame runaway carbon emissions."
Chait then suggests we're already using less energy because we have better technology for better lightbulbs: "everything from buildings to refrigerators is being designed anew to account for scientific reality." And these innovations happened because,
"governments disrupted [the energy market]; progress came not in spite of our government but because of it. The private sector developed LED bulbs because Washington required higher-efficiency lighting....The overall direction of American carbon use is no longer in doubt. American carbon emissions peaked in 2007 and have fallen since, with the main question now being how far and fast they will plummet."
Good for Obama, but it's hard to be hopeful with Harper in power.  Chait points to countries getting on board, but my concern are the many countries still not interested in this discussion.  It's better than it was, but is this really the tipping point of a major transformation?  He thinks that American policy will affect the rest of the world, and I hope he's right.  He looks to China for proof of hope:
"It is hardly selfish for developing countries to refuse to force their impoverished people to shoulder the burden of averting climate change. (Even now, China burns less than half as much carbon per person than does the U.S.) The developing world has thus been presented with a brutal moral logic: The rich countries have burned through the world’s carbon budget, and there is almost nothing left. But in the past year, something amazing has taken place. In 2014, China’s coal production and its consumption both fell, and the drop appears to be continuing, or even accelerating, this year....The possibility has come into view that, just as the developing world is skipping landlines and moving straight into cellular communication, it will forgo the dirty-energy path and follow a clean one."
He thinks people are losing hope because they're American, and "the new global consensus on climate change is least evident" in the U.S and Saudi Arabia. "The U.S. is the only democracy in which such a consensus [on climate change denial] can be found."   Maybe he hasn't noticed us to the north as our government fights to run more pipelines, sell more oil, take away protection over waterways, remove scientific funding, etc. About a year and a half ago, Huffington Post reported,
Gerry Ritz, Canada's Minister for Agriculture, told the House of Commons last week that "this cold weather can't last forever. This global warming has to stop some time".....fellow Conservative Member of Parliament Gordon O'Connor spoke out..."I don't know what those words mean because they're a buzz phrase. Climate change. If we're talking about what is our preparedness for natural disasters, that's one thing, but climate change, if you want to talk about the climate, the climate always changes. It goes hot. It goes cold, etc....Last year, newly minted Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated that "there's always a debate around science and what's changing" and claimed that climate change was still "debatable.""
I don't think you have to be American to be losing hope over this.

Chait recognizes the immensity of the problem we face, but thinks we are at least starting down a better path:
"Even if the world could eliminate all fossil-fuel use tomorrow, the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere will create, and is already creating, disruption, havoc, and death. Even if the world halted all greenhouse-gas emissions today, it would be, by the standard of perfection, too late. Besides, the target the world has set for measuring success — holding increased global temperature to no more than two degrees Celsius — is merely a guess at salvation.....Even if all the Paris talks do is simply eliminate the risk of the all-too-thinkable worst-case scenario, it would constitute a monumental achievement in the history of human civilization, like the development of modern medicine."
But he ends equating denial of climate change with despair over the condition of the world as if they both blind us from this revolution taking place. I think we can see how bad things are and likely will be, as he does, yet also recognize there are some small gains happening here and there. It's not the same as railing against these gains because climate change doesn't exist.  Not by a long shot.  But it's still despair-worthy to consider how little the gains can be at this stage - as he points out:
"The limits agreed to at Paris will not be enough to spare the world mass devastation. But they are the beginning of a framework upon which progressively stronger requirements can be built over time. The willpower and innovation that have begun to work in tandem can continue to churn. Eventually the world will wean itself almost completely off carbon-based energy. There is, suddenly, hope."
So, I'm also not entirely convinced that "the long-awaited green revolution has finally arrived." Some politicians are on board, but not nearly enough. And nothing is happening fast enough. The word "eventually" above doesn't help me believe it's getting so much better.

But most problematic, Chait misses an entire piece of the puzzle: the necessary involvement of big business (or significantly increased regulations).  Until corporations stop draining aquifers, stop outsourcing to countries with lax pollution restrictions (exacerbated by trade deals supported by Obama), stop running business on a policy of planned obsolescence (so products have to be re-bought over and over), stop flying products around for pieces to be built and assembled in a selection of countries, and do more than superficial greenwashing, we're not going to be truly off this path of destruction. And it'll be quite the effort to convince people to stop practices that increase profits.

And yet, there is always hope.

Monday, September 7, 2015

On Achievement and Death and Stuff

First, a bit about boredom:
"Boredom may lead you to anything. After all, boredom even sets one to sticking gold pins into may choose what is contrary to one's own's own fancy, however wild it may be...desire what is injurious to himself, what is stupid, very stupid - simply in order to have the right to desire for himself even what is very stupid and not to be bound by an obligation to desire only what is rational...this caprice of ours....preserves for us what is most precious and most important - that is, our personality...the whole work of man seems really to consist in nothing but proving to himself continually that he is a man and not an organ stop."  - Dostoevsky 
"We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom...A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vial impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase." - Bertrand Russell

Some people assert their own will by choosing naturopathy over doctors to treat their cancer, or by quitting their satisfactory marriages and careers to seek out a new mid-life adventure. I hope to make slightly more reasonable choices or certainly less self-destructive ones. According to Dostoevsky, I'm sucked into the western ideals of individuality over community, of standing out, which can make us foolish. Melting into the crowd isn't an easy option. Being one with the universe is a task for later when I've figured out how to sit still. And for Russell, who hit puberty in Wales as the Russian was drawing his lasts breaths, being able to endure boredom is essential for happiness. Seeking out excitement to avoid boredom just makes our pleasures less easily felt. He warns,
"pleasures which are exciting and at the same time involve no physical exertion, such, for example, as the theatre, should occur very rarely...certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony." 
In art, we'd call that degree of monotony an area of restraint necessary for the eye to relax.  It's why some beautiful gardens have an expanse of grass. But mine doesn't. I lean towards chaos.

I get antsy when I don't have a project. The house can be a mess while I deliberate what new task to take on next. My backyard took over for a couple years, and I have ideas of an off-grid home a few years off, but then what now? For better or worse, I'm obsessed with doing, finishing, accomplishing.

So I set as a project to find the limits of my cycling abilities - or, more specifically, the limits of my lungs and heart and other organs and muscles in a body as old and untrained as mine. I'll tell you from the get-go that I failed. But I'll get to that.

Before an annual camping trip with neighbours, I considered having my packed rental car, complete with youngest child, driven by a fellow camper so I could cycle the 137 km to the site. The longest I had ever biked before was 60 km, and I wanted to see how far I could actually go in one trip. I didn't train or prepare in any useful way - that would take the challenge out of it. But having a driver coming up my rear helped because I could bail at any time. It was about seeing how far I could get, not about getting to the end. That was key to the entire adventure. That, and a cell phone to call for help if needed.

This was a decision fraught with a ridiculous amount of anxiety. I tried to keep Epicurus in mind as I was deluged with worries: If pain is not occurring right now, then it’s not bringing pain except for tumults created by imagination, right? I am bringing myself pain, which is ridiculous! So stop worrying about flat tires, swerving trucks, strong wind gusts tossing me into traffic, some crazy guy attacking a lone female, heat stroke, complete organ failure, random loss of appendages, the list goes on. And there's always the old standby concern that, if I leave the house for any significant duration it will burst into flames. From time to time I was struck with absolute terror at the though of being killed in traffic and picturing my children coping with my death. I'd have to actively "X" out the thought and replace it with a vision of biking without incident. Thanks CBT. The fact that many worries are unfounded doesn't seem to lessen their intensity. At all. I actively ignored the looming date, and second-guessed my choice of directions - later to be intensified by many geographical advisors after-the-fact  "Why didn't you go this obviously better way?" serving to prove my instincts for direction weak.

So I said nothing to anyone about my hopes to attempt the journey until the last minute; I knew I would be easily swayed to give up before I started. I waited until two days before to ask a neighbour to drive and was almost deterred by her husband's concern about wind, and the night before, I told my kids and then immediately become openly worrisome and neurotic. It's like talking about it tapped the keg of concerns. And it was going to be a windy ride: 20 km/h headwinds until the final 30 k.

It's curious, in areas of insecurity, how much other people's attitudes can affect us.  The support of that one comrade, and my son's insistence that, "of course you can do it" were paramount to my leaving the house that morning. I have lots of people in my life - I'm sure we all do - who tell me why I can't possibly do this or that. I ignore the lot of them most of the time, but physical exertion is a weak spot for me, so their voices loomed louder than usual and took some effort to drown out. Some told me I couldn't join a women's ride group because I'm too slow, and others refused admittance to a guy's casual riding group because I don't have the necessary equipment provided by mother nature. I'm not recognized as a cyclist. Even the physiotherapist helping with my aging knees questioned me about my regular trips to Bamburg, a local marker of a hilly 40 k loop from our city:

"Oh so you drive there and then bike around."
"No, I don't have a car."
"Oh, so you live near there."
"No, I live a block from here."

Awkward silence. I just don't look like someone who moves quickly.

So I bike alone.

Armed with a banana, some nuts and raisons, water, my phone and wallet, brand new lights on my bike, and quality bike shorts, I kissed my kids good-bye and set off before dawn hoping to beat the heat of the day. I played music in my head to keep me pumped - possibly a skill developed in only those raised in the pre-walkman era. This one kept my cadence up:

Some think it's nutty not to train formally before a big ride - as if we'll fall to pieces if we don't work towards our goals gradually, but there are too many times the fear of being unprepared stops us from action. We think we can't do this or that because we're not quite ready. Then we dilly dally about doing prep work forever and never actually getting to the thing we actually want to do. I channelled Laura Secord who didn't train for her marathon bushwacking experience. She just got out there and started running through fields and forests.

I didn't wear any fancy duds or pimp out my ride either. I did get a pair of good bike shorts because, since about 40, my butt fat has all gravitated around the corner to my belly - and, just my luck, just in time for a big booty to be in style too. Extra padding was necessary there, but then I just threw on a t-shirt and sandals and my stand-by helmet. And I thought of Marathon Man, and Dustin Hoffman copying Abebe Bikila's run without shoes. But Secord and Hoffman's character were running for their lives. I was creating a situation as if it were a necessity knowing full well it was a luxury. I had to convince myself of an importance for it in order to develop any motivation to go.

For me, the point of cycling is to go places. It's not to work out and live longer because we could die any minute. And it's not to work out to match the current beauty standard because we could be hated anyway regardless our quest for physical perfection. For me, it's all about getting off our fossil fuel addiction. If a middle age woman without any know-how can do over 130 k in a t-shirt and sandals, with a crappy bike, then maybe you can bike to work. Amiright?!

I was once told by a colleague that I could never be a department head because I don’t have a car, but people don't understand that we can get almost anywhere without a car. And we can bike dressed in our everyday clothes. Granted I still used a car to transport my camping gear and daughter, but with more of us cycling, we could definitely use fewer cars. We need to move under our own steam whenever we can.

The trip was also about finding my boundaries, but part of it was about getting over my fear of biking further from home alone – the fear of having an accident, but more a fear of boogie men out to attack me. People are mainly nice and helpful. There are some odd ducks, but the odds are in my favour. And, with the exception of a brief trek on a major highway, everyone moved over a lane to give me space. I was completely safe.

Part of the journey was because I turned 50. I'm in a hurry to do stuff because it gets a little clearer that any day could be my last. I'm still stuck on having a leave-behind, a legacy, even though I'm pretty convinced there won't be generations to come to remember any of this. With climate change, there’ll be no leave-behinds. Having kids or writing a book or erecting a statue will have no impact on future generations if there ARE no future generations because the planet has become largely uninhabitable by our species. This death is a final death.

But some thing can still make me feel like a kids again. When I listen to certain songs, I'm 17 again. And when I’m on my bike, I’m 10, riding to the corner store in my bathing suit with a nickel in my hand for a freezie.

Just beyond the half-way point, at 70 k in, my legs and lungs were fine, but my eyes started getting weirdly blurry, so I took that as a sign to re-fuel.  I stopped briefly to stretch, eat, and drink. I just had 23 k to get to the next city where I could sit in a Tim's to wait for the car if I needed to.

I was surprised that it wasn't the hills that got me but the long flat parts where there wasn't anything to mark the passage of time. I watched this in my head as I pedalled:

The music and videos come to me of their own accord, but cycling distances alone takes me to that wonderful zoned-out place where I often come up with entire concepts I couldn't possibly find in my hectic kitchen. Like if it's a coincidence that Rex Harrison played mentor to Eliza Doolittle then later played Dr. Doolittle. Weird. It's a state that can't be as easily achieved with another cyclist there - if they try to have a conversation or if I feel pressure to keep up or have to wait at every turn. That modicum of attention somehow destroys access to the internal world.

And then there's the beauty of the scenery with light filtering through the trees, and the cows cheering me on up the hills. Montaigne said,
When I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, for some other part I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, and to me.
Prolonged activity allows time to get sufficiently bored to actually start paying attention to the details of the world. Those magnificent details!

But the trip was also about reaching a goal even if I didn't want it to be. My mom died in her 60s of cancer, and my sister got cancer in her 40s. I always expected to die young, and I've been ever impatient to finish things because I might be dead tomorrow. I update my will regularly and leave behind instructions in case I die whenever I leave for a trip. It's not the case that I'm living fearful of death, but that I'm living authentically recognizing that it’s right around the corner for all of us. My son sometimes asks me if I’m afraid to die, and I worry mainly, as a single mom, if they’ll all be okay without me – it’s been my primary worry for the past 21 years. Not just financially, but will they have someone to go to when they feel misunderstood by the world. But other than their future, I think I'm okay with it.

And the trip was also about sheer endurance. We need to suffer in order to grow. We need a bit of adversity in our lives - challenges, and since we've had it easy for so long in this time and place, we sometimes need to create personal challenges. Nietzsche wrote about wishing difficulty on others so they can find the strength to fight. It's not about training to cycle, but about training to get in there. Staying in there for that hill creates the means to stay in there to keep on about climate change and injustices and politics even when most people seem completely apathetic.

And then I saw the sign for the campsite and started singing:

And suddenly I was Rocky at the top of the steps, and Sarah Conner bein' badass in T2.

I felt completely fine at the end. I wasn't sore at all, but I was tired of doing the same thing for so long - almost 7 hours of riding plus a lunch break on top: that's a full work day!

I made it the whole way without being rescued, so I still haven't found my limit.

There will be time....

A hawk hanging out at our campsite.


It's curious... actually it's not at all curious... but I posted my bike trip from Runkeeper on Facebook, and I also updated my profile picture that was ten years old. The profile change got 12 times the likes as my journey.  Being able to keep my casing reasonably smooth trumps actually being capable or useful.  So if you want to impress others, stay skinny, smooth, and symmetrical. Doing stuff carries a more personal reward.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fighting Fanaticism

"Fanaticism is bred by hopelessness and despair. It is not the product of religion, although religion often becomes the sacral veneer for violence. The more desperate people become, the more this nihilistic violence will spread....Neoliberal ideologues, after all, are also utopian fanatics. And they, too, know only how to speak in the language of force. They are our version of Islamic State....The only choice offered by 'bourgeois society,' as Friedrich Engels knew, is 'socialism or regression into barbarism.' It is time we make this choice."

Chris Hedges in yesterday's article in Truthdig.  Two significant elections coming up.  Let's hope it's even possible to make this choice. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dear Orli

You wrote about the education system ruining your health because you started having panic attacks when you realized your future would be based on a set of criteria created by exam boards. You think young people are feeling pressure that shouldn't be imposed on anyone.  You ask,
"How can we justify putting the health of children on the line for an exam board’s definition of achievement? The most important achievement a person should aim for is being comfortable in their skin, safe in the knowledge they can live their life and define success on their own terms."
You feel that you're too young to make some significant life decisions, that politicians are to blame for the state of your mental health, and that "this isn't fair."

Have I heard you correctly?

Then listen a bit.

You don't have to let the school criteria judge you as a success or failure in life. Education is about teaching information and skills, but school evaluations are there to tell you what you're good at compared to others in society. It's a means to show you your abilities and limitations among the wider populous. Whether or not you decide your place on the list is a measure of your success in life is completely up to you. As my mom told me when I faced similar concerns thirty years ago, "It's important to do your best, not to be the best." She convinced me that I don't have to worry about being at the top of the class to be a good person or to be a valuable worthwhile individual, BUT the strength of my abilities in school compared to others would have implications on the job market.  Those are two very different things, and it's important not to conflate them. If I can be content to waitress, then I can ditch the stresses of school altogether. And I did drop out.

And then, bored to tears in an entry-level job, I went back.

Your ability to be among the best and brightest in a particular area - or not - will likely affect the kind of job you can get, but that isn't a measure of your worth as a human being. Being comfortable in your skin, however, won't get you far if it's the only thing on your resume. And defining success on your own terms is definitely how your should consider your value in the world, but it doesn't fit in the marketplace. If a bookseller decides she's a success if she can sell one book a week, then she might have great self-esteem, but she won't be able to pay the rent on the retail space she needs to sell books.

I don't think school affects mental health. I think it's our perception of the role of school marks that affects us. But that perception is a choice. We've been sucked into a competitive mode of living that puts a priority on being at the top. But it's pretty comfortable among the masses as well.  And, if we're working to our potential, school marks can give us valuable information about which fields we should pursue for money and which we should relegate to hobbies.

And about those life decisions at such a young age: don't forget that nothing is permanent. Choosing now gets you started on a path that can fork later. And you can start over at any time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

On So Much Anger

Anger may be defined as an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or towards what concerns one's friends. If this is a proper definition of anger, it must always be felt towards some particular individual, e.g. Cleon, and not "man" in general. It must be felt because the other has done or intended to do something to him or one of his friends. It must always be attended by a certain pleasure -- that which arises from the expectation of revenge. - Aristotle

I'm just trying to figure out some things about anger here, so this will be long and rambling.

Aristotle wrote Rhetoric to teach the art of persuasion. The key to convincing others of your position is arousing emotions in them because emotions have the power to modify people's judgments to the point that we can persuade people to hate or desire that which was previously neutral. We're affected by this principle whenever we suddenly want something we've never considered after seeing an ad, or when we suddenly hate someone after hearing some gossip. He didn't want to get people to rise to action, but merely to be persuaded to agree with a position being offered. He was a very different sort than Socrates on that front. As influential as he was, some of us still think it's better to persuade with rational argumentation. Better? Maybe, in ethical terms at least, but effective? Not so much. Aristotle takes this one hands down. Lots of very rational discourse on environmental issues is doing squat to persuade the masses.

But my interest here is in that one statement: "It must always be felt towards some particular individual." Proper anger, useful anger, isn't tossed about in all directions. It's focused on someone specific who slighted you without justification. It appears we often do anger wrong.

A few posts back I mentioned the pain-aggression response - otherwise known as pain-induced aggression. When we feel pain, we attack. It's a very primitive instinct common to all mammals. Way back when, in a university psych class, we were shown a video of a raccoon and rat inside a cage together. The raccoon had a good 3-4 times the weight of the rat, easily, but the two prisoners just sniffed around largely ignoring each other. Then an experimenter gave the rat an electric shock, and it lunged at the raccoon's throat, attacking it violently. The video cut off before we saw the aftermath of the battle though, so we don't know who won.
the #1 endangered big cat

But that video stayed with me.

And, like Aristotle says, it's not just our own pain that causes anger. Because of mirror neurons, we feel pain when we see someone else experience pain - even people we've never met, or lions, or, less commonly, the many species going extinct because of our frivolousness. It pains us to see others harmed without justification, and that makes us angry. But we don't always get angry at the instigator of the pain the way Aristotle hopes we will.

This entire line of consideration was planted years ago, but it sprouted when some trolls visited here, and grew when Amanda Marcotte wrote an article on why men are so angry with women.  She discussed the recently viral study that shows a strong correlation between how well men succeed at video games and how much vitriol they spew at women: losers are haters. But she takes the researchers to task for their analysis of the situation wrapped in terms of evolutionary sexual advantage. Instead, she thinks that angry reaction has more to do with the pain caused by losing and the fact that women are an easy target:
"...some people who are feeling bad about themselves try to regain a sense of mastery by picking on someone they think is down the social pecking order from them. In other words, these guys are bullies. They pick on women not because of some elaborate hardwired mating game, but because men are socialized to think women are weaker and somehow inferior to men.... They pick on women for the same reason kids at school like to bully the nerdy kid or the fat kid or the gay kid: To feel bigger and better than someone else, to get that rush of power over someone else, to kill a perceived weakness inside of them, to trick other people into thinking they're big and tough.... 
People are going to feel low sometimes and are going to want a quick fix to feel powerful. What we need, as a society, is to discourage men from chasing that quick fix by picking on women in this way. Sure, maybe teach better coping mechanisms--get some therapy, learn a hobby, get some exercise--but more importantly, stop seeing women as ciphers that exist for them to dump on. Learn to see women as equals and people who, like men, are worthy of respect."
If that raccoon and rat also had a mouse in their cage, then I think it likely that the shocked rat would have taken on the easier prey, but both are clearly easier than the experimenter who's outside the cage free to provoke others at will. We feel pain and we attack, not what caused the pain, but whatever's easy. Whatever's convenient. Sometimes what causes our pain is impossible to attack. The person is too powerful for us or too elusive. Of course it would be best to attack the person who caused the harm in order to actually try to resolve the situation (assuming, as Aristotle does, that revenge can be necessary), but it's easiest to attack whomever's close at hand and unable to retaliate effectively.

So if that's the issue, then Marcotte's solution "learn to see women as equals" is unhelpful regardless its accuracy. The solution has to involve specifically making sure the unwitting victims are able to retaliate effectively (through some online means of finding perpetrators and holding them responsible for their words) AND finding ways for the first victims, the shocked rats, to resolve problems with the original aggressor or the perception of original harm. That "original aggressor" might just be some woman who said "no" to a date, so we do need to attack the perspective that is creating all that pain. Attacking a person is so much easier than attacking an ideology, so this will be a hard slog.

Hedges talks about this male rage in Empire of Illusionin an interview with a male porn star who explained,
"My whole reason for being in the industry is to satisfy the desire of the men in the world who basically don't much care for women and want to see the men in my industry getting even with the women they couldn't have when they were growing up....We're getting even for their lost dreams....All I know is that large segments around the world like to watch young girls being tortured."
Hedges links the anger to the pain of rejection - not just actual rejection, but also the thought of being rejected by women who might say 'no' to them.

This is our whole mindset in a consumerist society. We are led to believe that, if we work hard, we should be able to have whatever we want. I can be a great athlete if I try hard enough - except I couldn't hit the side of a barn with a beach ball. I can buy a house without saving up for a down payment - except then I'll have insurmountable debt. I should be able to have whatever I see, just because I want it, without any negative consequences, dammit!! The career, the house, and the wife and kids. It's our birthright.

I wrote about the problems with that attitude a couple years ago. It's a bugger. It's invasive, and it's making us miserable.

Another peg in this board is that sharing anger helps it dissipate. I know if I'm in a snit, and I get mad at anyone for anything, I feel much better immediately - better enough to apologize profusely for my outburst. It's as if I've given the anger away to whomever I yelled at. I know how good this feels, but I try to prevent it, and it can be prevented. Ranting about the enraging situation to a supportive friend or the interwebs can do wonders for diminishing that build up of rage, even when the trigger is still there *coughHarpercough*.  We can't always immediately stop what's causing the pain, so we create support groups to help us deal with it so we don't inadvertently lash out at our loved ones nearby.

But that's exactly what some really angry men have done online, sort of. They've found each other. But instead of dissipating their anger through ranting, they've exacerbated it for one another. And instead of targeting the real cause of the pain in their lives - feeling crappy because of a losing streak on a game or a bad relationship - they verbally attack random women they've never met and ask other men to spread the word about them. To see how warp this is, an analogy would be an anti-Harper site with people suggesting we DESTROY ALL CONSERVATIVES, and posting this message on random con blogs everywhere. It's different than attack ads because the message doesn't question the policies or the person, but instead implies a straight route to a violent end to the actual existence of the people within the targeted group, or at least a silencing of them through a terror campaign. A lot of people are really, really upset with what's happened politically in the last few years, but there aren't many who wish actual harm to come to specific conservatives. We're not threatening them with a bombardment of heinous descriptions of sexual assaults.

That's a different level of anger that's scary and, it feels, growing exponentially.

From Maricotte's explanation, clearly it's not just about pain. It's about fear. Pain just tells us that there's something nearby that we should be afraid of, something that needs to be taken down. So we react aggressively until we feel safe again. We react aggressively when in pain, but the pain is often due to a perception that causes us to be afraid.

So why are some men so afraid?

Sometimes fear is from feeling like we have no say in anything. Being scared and trapped, without any means of controlling the situation, might necessitate aggressive action. But when we're not actually caged, we have to see that we're not as trapped as we think.

What's worked for me in my encounters with angry people is to give them control over the situation to alleviate their fears enough to find common ground and a viable solution. Freaking out because you don't want to do that assignment (likely because you're struggling)? Then feel free to choose another way you can show you understand the ideas. Upset because you don't have the kids tonight and you've got nothing else to do? How about you choose the nights you'd prefer them. It's not enough to give an illusion of control - like some politicians do. People feeling fearful have to be allowed to call the shots - but usually just until they feel more stabilized. It can be surprisingly effective at immediately alleviating rage.

Except we don't really have all that much control in the first place. It would work better if we could just let go of that need to run the show. We can do everything in our power to head towards a goal and still not make it. Shit happens. And so much is outside of our directly influence.

What's worked for me when I'm angry, is to do a quick 'stop and think' about what I'm afraid of.  Typically I start pitching a fit if I'm in a hurry - I'm afraid of being late, except that I'm never actually late for anything, and if I were, I could survive the inconvenience. A quick reminder of that can go a long way.

Except, anger actually feels good. It definitely feels much better than fear, but it can even feel much better than contentment. It's exciting and energizing. Sometimes people work hard to keep it going in order to keep up that rush of adrenaline. It can be hard to give that up - hard to see the more permanent rewards of stable relationships and world peace over the immediate reward of having power over others.

So why are they scared, scared and in pain enough to cause a crazy kind of anger that's only relieved by terrorizing women online?

If they don't get that girl, or win that game, or succeed at life, then they don't measure up. To be a man means to WIN, which is an impossible definition to live up to. Even men who have made it in many areas feel they're still not up to par. How could it not inspire some - if not many - to feel upset and, subsequently, very angry with the world? And the reality of our legal system right now is that women online are very easy targets for attack. The law has not yet caught up to technology, but it's also the case that descriptions of rape and torture cause pain in a way that's deeper than descriptions of unadorned murder threats. They don't have to actually carry out the threat to have an effect. This is a power too easily won, it might be hard to resist, the anger too satisfactorily relieved.

Okay, I'm no MRA apologist, so bear with me here.

When women have body image issues, and we understand that one root cause is the media that plants false expectations of reality in the culture's minds, we don't take it out on the women starving themselves (ok, some people do). The empathetic among us take it out on the media portrays: all the photoshopping and the very narrow version of beauty we see everywhere we look.

But when men have anger issues, and we understand that one root cause is the media that plants false expectations of reality in the culture's minds, we completely take it out on the men. I think we need to be more angry with the media portrays: all the storylines that have men walking away from an explosion unscathed (literally or metaphorically), and the very narrow version of masculinity we see everywhere we look that offers women as trophies for success.

Yup, women get hit from both side - unable to live up to the beauty standards of the day AND, if they do, being relegated to trophy status.

And yes, those men need to grow up and rise above those unrealistic portrayals of men everywhere, but would we ever say women need to just stop being affected by the media?  I mean, it's a great idea in theory, but it's hard to expect people to be completely untainted by all persuasive ideology surrounding us. One significant difference between the two is body image issue may cause self-harm, but aggression might harm others, and there needs to be some expectation of responsibility taken for any harm that's caused by our behaviour. Absolutely. But as much as we rally around changing the norms for women, we must rally around changing the norms for men. Saying "he's just a bully" is far less effective than saying "he's been too affected by the dominant norms portrayed in media." His behaviour is bullying, but that's not who he is, necessarily, it's how's he's reacting to the cognitive dissonance perpetuated from seeing the world's expectations of him compared to his own unfulfilled reality.

We have much more complex brains than common rats, so we can override our basic instincts. We need to get people to 'stop and think' and recognize the bullshit presented to them at every turn. And we also need to put more out there that challenges the crap we're ALL swimming in.

Something like that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Economics of Happiness

The 60 min. documentary, Economics of Happiness, is being offered free to watch online for the month of August.

It's a thoughtful look at how we could be living if we could only let go of consumerist culture that hasn't made us particularly happy in the first place!

One Neat Trick to Lose Weight Fast

I just lost 10 pounds without even trying!!

So I was ready to give away some clothes to charity because it was time to resign myself to my middle-age body. I had to accept that I wasn't going to fit into these clothes ever again.  Then I tried them on one last time, and THEY FIT!

It's a miracle!

And, even better, this radical new program requires absolutely no change to your regular activities. You too can drop the pounds WITHOUT EXERCISE!!

(But you should still more around some because it's good for you.)

You just have to cut out this one food from your diet - JUST ONE FOOD ITEM!! And I feel as energetic as ever.

I know you're just dying to find out my secret. And I'll tell you for FREE!

What is this one neat trick??

Stop eating meat.


I stopped eating meat this spring after watching a presentation by one of my students on factory farms. It was nothing I didn't already know, but hearing it all again was the tipping point for me.  That coupled with Chris Hedges' insightful articles on why he became a vegetarian.

Because it's not just about the suffering animals in cramped quarters never seeing the light of day, and, more to the point, it's not just about maintaining my girlish figure:
"By eating meat and dairy products we aid and abet a system that is perhaps the primary cause of global warming and is pumping toxins and poisons into our bodies and the rest of the ecosystem. Animal agriculture sends more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere than worldwide transportation. The waste and flatulence from livestock are responsible for creating at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock causes 65 percent of all emissions of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 296 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. Crops raised to feed livestock consume 56 percent of the water used in the United States. Seventy percent of the crops we grow in the U.S. are fed to animals. Eighty percent of the world’s soy crop is fed to animals. It is a flagrant waste of precious and diminishing resources. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk."
 We can have more clean water and food for everyone and fewer GHG in our atmosphere and fewer toxins in our bodies, all by just changing our diet just a little bit.

What do you have to lose, except your waistline?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

On Teaching Philosophy to Children

There are several articles and discussions being reported about teaching philosophy to children. They largely focus on the questions should we, why, and how?

Britain has a program, Philosophy for Children (P4C), in which student get in groups to discuss philosophical issues after seeing a video or reading a story together that prompt a big question about truth, justice, reality, etc. The program is being praised because it improved reading levels.

Educator Tom Bennett suggests "the value of philosophy doesn't lie in its contribution to literacy, or indeed indirectly to any other perceived good....[suggesting it does] denies the intrinsic dignity of the activity." I agree. We shouldn't teach it to help other subjects, but for it's own benefits.

But he also makes a great point about group work in general:
"'s a good group activity when students have a strong, solid core of knowledge at the heart of the conversation. But it stumbles when students don't have a lot to say on the topic. The usual impish pitfalls of group work appear, of course: unequal loading; invisible participants; the unready, the unwilling; the workhorses; the usual suspects at the front etc. In addition to that, it's a thin exercise to do when children are asked to talk about a subject that might be new or alien to them."
Except I'm not sure his concerns apply to philosophy quite the same way they might apply to a discussion of factual events. Without a knowledge basis around WWI, I'd be at a loss in a group told to discuss the trench warfare experience. But without previous training in "truth," I think I'd still have something to say about it. And most kids have lots to say about justice.

My concern is to what extent is reading a story, followed by a discussion of it, necessarily philosophy. He addresses that as well: "I'd challenge the view that it actually makes you any better at philosophy as a discipline when you're old enough to understand it." A class discussion on a reading doesn't always provoke a philosophical discussion regardless the prompting.

Relevant aside: This last term I actually had to explain to a grade 10 class what a class discussion is. I'd say we're going to have a class discussion on a topic, and everyone would talk to their neighbour. Then I'd reel them back in to try to take turns, and they'd say, "But this is a class discussion!" I soon realized they weren't being rude, they just didn't have any idea that a class discussion doesn't mean everyone talks at once, but everyone is actually heard, one at a time, by the entire class. There's a first for everything!  But it makes me wonder if the new structure to classes is encouraging teachers to allow so much independent work that students are losing the very concept of working together as an entire class. Anyway...

What I think is most important about teaching philosophy to children is teaching them the basics of good argumentation. Before they get to the meaty topics, they have to learn a bit about problematic arguments, fallacies (ad hominems first), deflectors, etc. But that's all entirely possible to teach young children. These guys have the right idea. One example of each and most of them get the hang of it. Others catch on as the facilitator stops any bad arguments from slipping by. Soon the kids can take turns being the fallacy catcher during discussions.

But it's also important to teach children how to support their arguments so they're not just throwing out assertions willy nilly. They have to support a thesis in English and history to a point, but philosophy makes you do it by thinking instead of plonking down quotes. It's a very different skill.

And, once we get that far, then it's so exciting to find out that there are ideas out there that you've never thought of before. We're swimming in our own ideologies to the point that suggesting "democracy is a horrible form of government" can at least get kids to look up from their phones for a minute. Thinking about why you believe what you do, thinking of opposing points then refuting them (or refuting the original position) is the exciting bit. Learning to read and listen and watch critically, with an eye for flaws in the arguments and missing premises, is vital to an intelligent society. Wouldn't it be amazing to live in a civilization where people didn't easily get scammed or sucked in by poorly substantiated claims?

I think philosophy should be right up there with basic literacy and numeracy. I'd also add a basic understanding of the scientific method to that list of essentials. We need to really work with kids to make sure they can read and add, but also to make sure they understand how to figure out if an idea is likely to be right or wrong, what makes sense, and how to clarify their ideas so we can all communicate better together. AND so we can talk about something more than just the weather.

(Except right now, because this is one crazy storm we're having!)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On Marriage and Divorce and Trolls and Haters

I moderate my comments because I once got 67 comments about carpet cleaning on one post. I rarely get comments at all, so I hate to block any I do get, but an anonymous writer sent in a comment on my recent post on Krakauer's latest book. The comment had little to do with the post; it's largely just misdirected vitriol, so I thought I'd share it here for some closer scrutiny. (Sorry about the swears.)

We men must boycott marriage, and never marry. Why? Because there are ZERO benefits for men in marriage. If you get married, there is at least a 50 percent chance that your wife will divorce you, kidnap your children from you, and steal all your money in divorce. 
So, what are the alternatives to marriage?
1. Learn how to game and seduce women
2. Fuck prostitutes
3. Masturbate to porn
Did you know that it's cheaper to fuck a prostitute once a week than to maintain a wife? You will get bored of fucking your wife after the first six months of marriage but with a prostitute you can fuck a new one every time. 
There is already a MASSIVE anti-marriage campaign worldwide, with men basically giving up on marriage and refusing to get married. Here are two recent articles on it:


This main article is from Peter Lloyd of the Daily Mail (the second article is merely reporting on the first link). Lloyd writes about a new book that suggests the falling marriage rate is all women's fault:
"Ultimately, men know there’s a good chance they’ll lose their friends, their respect, their space, their sex life, their money and — if it all goes wrong — their family,’ says Dr Helen Smith, author of Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood And The American Dream.
Lloyd discusses primarily the legal ramifications of marriage that skew everything in favour of the mom now in Britain (and elsewhere): "The Children Act of 1989 specifically declares: ‘The rule of law that a father is the natural guardian of his legitimate child is abolished.’"

And this is a real concern. It's not uncommon for challenged power structures to flip, Animal Farm style, instead of dissolving into a beautiful puddle of equity. Until recently, women were in a position to lose everything without a husband to grant them legitimate children and a home and a name, but once women found the numbers and strategies necessary to fight back, the dynamics flipped, and now child support and custody absolutely favour women.

I know this first hand. When I was splitting from my kid's dad, I sat down to look at how much I'd need to maintain my daughter's life at the same standard of living. This is what child support is supposed to be about - making sure children don't suffer during a break-up. But then I checked the Ontario child support tables, and found that I "had a right to" THREE TIMES that amount, which amounted to almost 45% of his take home pay. So I showed him the tables, asked for a third of the suggested amount, and we did it all without lawyers or courthouses. I'm all for primary caregivers getting support, but I question an amount that leaves the secondary caregiver struggling to get by.

And I know some women might get a little greedy when they see the dollar signs, and, possibly, when they have a lawyer that suggests they should get as much as they can to invest for the child's future. It's asking a lot of people to see what they could have and hope they choose to take less. In fact, if we could manage that at all, we wouldn't be in the dire straights we're in environmentally.

I've been through this twice. The first time round, a rookie, I immediately went to a lawyer who aggressively tried to convince me to get back-pay from the moment my oldest was born - amounting to $20,000.  I knew that a lump sum payment like that would set my ex back significantly, and I declined. But I had to be firm on that. My lawyer was ready to fight for things I didn't want. I can imagine a less anti-materialistic person having a hard time refusing to get into that battle.

I'm not sure how prevalent it is for women to go for the gold. I know it happens. But what's interesting to me is how strong that stereotype is. Even though I took only what I really needed and not a penny more in order to work towards an equitable solution for the best of the kids, both exes started down the road of common lines from these types of arguments.  It took a while to erode the stereotypes enough for them to remember what I'm actually like:

I'd stop their random drop-in visits, and get the standard accusation: "You're trying to keep the kids from me!" and I'd respond with "Not at all - let's arrange another day each week at your place." And that extra day would inevitably just fall away as they realized they didn't actually want to take them more than half the time. Restrictions can be hard to live with, so a sense of freedom can help people see what actually works best.

They'd want to buy something they couldn't afford and accuse me of being in it for the money, but a quick look at my expenses, how frugally I live, and how much I could have asked for, eventually ended those random attacks. I can't afford travelling through Europe either.

It's to a point that it can be hard to be heard above the cacophony of stereotypes around broken homes: conniving moms and deadbeat dads or disney dads. I wasn't ready for it the first time round, and it took me by surprise to be automatically slated into the bad guy role, but when I heard the same words in round two, which was a very different scenario, I knew it was a bigger cultural issue and not something I was provoking. The role models of how to make this work amiably are few and far between.


First of all, the divorce rate has actually gone down significantly. It peaked at 50% shortly after becoming easier to get, but it's not still up there. But it is true that marriage is in decline. I've never actually married myself, not for the reasons Anon suggests - all those prostitutes! - but mainly because I don't think we can actually vow to love anyone for any amount of time, much less to death. I touch a bit on other thoughts here.

But it's clear from that portion of Anon's comment that he - I'm going to go right ahead and assume it's a 'he' - really sees marriage as all about sex, even about money for sex no matter how you slice it. I find this so weird in this day and age when casual sex outside of marriage is so much more acceptable. First of all, as I explain here, there's nothing that states that sex has to be part of a marriage. It's just part of what might happen. But, that being said, some studies show that sex actually gets better after marriage. Being with one person for a while can open up new adventures that don't often happen on the first try - even with a skilled professional. But there are other things partnering up can offer: an extra set of hands to help around the house, someone to actually raise children with jointly, and maybe even at chance at some company and, if it's not asking too much, support when you need a kind word or pat on the back. Yes these things can be had outside of a marriage too, but many people find them key benefits to their marriage. Whatever works.


Anon goes on to explain that the problem isn't just about marriage, but about - wait for it - feminism:
Now, there are THREE main ways we can destroy feminism forever and take women off the massive pedestal they are on. We must fund and promote the following three technologies: 
1. Virtual reality sex programs,   2. Artificial wombs,   3. Sex Robots
Once these three technologies are in place, women will no longer have any power in society. After all, why would you waste time chasing after fat women in real life when you can fuck hot supermodels in virtual reality or fuck a female sex robot? And since women's main power comes from their reproduction capacity, if we REMOVE that capacity from women through the technology of artificial wombs, then women will have ZERO power left in society and thus feminism is finished forever.

THIS is the solution, gentlemen! Now we must do our part and spread the above message to as many men as possible so that we can raise the consciousness of men worldwide. I am the guy who created the famous Boycott American Women blog, which reached around 40 million people worldwide through the internet campaign I created. Therefore I know what I am talking about.

In summary:

Do not ever get married. Simply seduce and bang women, or fuck prostitutes, and help promote the above three technologies, and we will DESTROY FEMINISM FOREVER! Thank you!

If you still have doubts about WHY you should not get married, I strongly recommend you to read the following article.

Apparently, there's a belief out there that the power feminists have comes entirely from the hold we have over men as the only means to satisfy their need for sex and children. With robots to provide these services, women would lose all their hard-won gains.

It makes me wish I could write science-fiction; I'd like to see what Robert Sawyer could do with that initial premise. I picture some men spending all their money on sex machines, the way they currently might with prostitutes, and then the rest of the world just carrying on, falling in love and marrying and having babies the old-fashioned way. It might put flesh-and-blood prostitutes out of work, but there coud be openings in other fields now that men are so busy with their robots and their "iWomb" children. Would child-care become an entirely male centred activity? If so, then it's just a flipped version of the 50s, with the men home with the kids and the sex toys, and the women freed up from their mothering and sexual duties to really get powerful.

Careful what you wish for!


It's hard when you've been destroyed by someone close to you. It's hard when you started at square one and are now twenty paces behind in the game. That really sucks. Absolutely.

It's especially hard when your expectations of relationships don't come close to matching the real world. You know that real world, where women are more than just jizz buckets who make sandwiches; they're actually people worthy of the same respect given to men. Some women are jerks, of course they are, and so are some men. That's another part of reality that can be hard to get used to. If you come to a relationship expecting a housekeeper with benefits, then I can understand your disappointment. But it's that expectation that need to shift, not the services granted by the women encountered. That's a difficult journey to begin, but I know it's possible to get there.  This guy does a great job of explaining it all:

It can feel really good to find a scapegoat for all that pain and suffering, but this is when we have to be so, so careful about what we attack next. There's a built in reaction in all mammals: the pain-aggression response. When we feel pain, we'll attack the first thing we see. Ever stub your toe then yell at your friend for something completely unrelated? It makes sense if you're in the jungle to immediately attack when pain hits, but it makes far less sense in our day-to-day lives. I believe we have big enough brains to override this instinct - most of the time.

Here's the thing: your pain is not the fault of feminists. It's got precious little to do with the movement that helped to get women up to the same legal status as men. And attacking feminists just gets you written off as a nut-job instead of really listened to, and then nothing can change.

Stereotypes are deadly.

I work to remember this myself: When another kid gets killed by police I take a minute to remind myself of all the awesome cops there are out there who are risking their lives to keep us safe. If we start assigning the behaviours of a few bad apples to the entire group, then we'll just have so many more to hate and so few allies to work towards a better way to live and love together. We can't take sides in a ridiculous war. The stakes are way too high right now. We work together as fellow citizens of this wounded planet, or we all die trying.

ETA: This link on sex with robots:
"But for all our creativity, are we so unimaginative that we can’t conceive of any other way to interact with sentient beings besides domination? The human ability to designate subhumans (in this case, robots) represents the worst in our species’ capacity; if men by and large don’t treat women well, gynoids won’t help any more than owning slaves has made men less likely to abuse their wives. We cannot improve as a society or a culture through replication."

Friday, July 31, 2015

On Rape on Campus

Since I saw Into the Wild and started reading Krakauer, I haven't stopped. But this last one took a while to open. It's about rape on college campuses, specifically in one football-lovin' town: Missoula.

The book is readable only because the rape scenes are reported factually and "reporter-ly" without any emotional language attached to the narrative. But the descriptions are still really detailed.
"Females between sixteen and twenty-four years old face a higher risk of being sexually assaulted than any other age group. Most victims of campus rape are preyed upon when they are in their first or second year of college, usually by someone they know" (346). 
And if you have a daughter in university, like I do, you might try covering your ears and eyes and singing, "Tra-la-la, I can't hear you!" But it'll still be a problem. The women in this book sometimes were drinking at parties, but other times they were just watching a movie with an old friend. That's the creepy part about sexual assault: we can never tell who might be an offender. Ever.

Like his other books, Krakauer tells us what we all know, but he also helps us to understand the perspectives of all the people involved whether it's why people climb mountains, live in the woods alone, enlist in the army voluntarily, accept the arranged marriages of children within a religious order, or start undressing a woman who's asleep on the couch. We're helped to understand behaviours that may be totally foreign to us.

This is a frustrating book to read as we watch a guy who has confessed to a crime routinely acquitted because he's so necessary at next week's game. Some people are valued more than others. This 5-minute video really hits the nail on the head with respect to the connection between football and assault:

"Football isn't about rape. It's about violently dominating anything that stands between you and anything you want. You gotta get yourself in the mindset that you are gods! And you're entitled to this! Are they just going to lay down and give it to you? No! You've got to go out there and take it from them!"
In my class last year, early on in the spate of Jian Ghomeshi accusations, I had a student who insisted the first accuser must be lying because, had she really been assaulted, she would have immediately gone to the police to report it. I took the better part of a class trying to explain why that just isn't true. Krakauer does an excellent job explaining the psychology of trauma victims.
"...when people are raped, the experience is so traumatic that it often causes them to behave in wide variety of ways that may seem inexplicable....the fact that they didn't immediately make a break for it, or the fact that they didn't scream - none of those things necessarily mean that this was a consensual encounter" (70).
But all too often, judges and juries don't understand this reality. Women who don't cause a ruckus during the act - even if they are statue still for their own survival - are deemed liars. Women who don't call the police immediately - even if it means a second, different type of violation at the hands of the defence attorney - are called liars.

One women, sleeping in bed next to her husband and son, woke up to find their guest's fingers penetrating her vagina. But she just lay there. In court, the defence asked what she was thinking.  She said she was thinking,
"Oh my God, I hope my husband doesn't wake up....He would have killed this guy, and my four-year-old son laying next to me, his life would have been ruined, my life would have been ruined, and my husband's life would have been ruined. So my first thought was 'I hope he doesn't wake up'" (71).
Sometimes being still and silent is necessary for survival, even if it's for a more long-term survival, which can be more difficult to understand by outside observers.

It's really hard to get a conviction unless the case is very clear-cut, so some attorneys won't even try to take the case to court. It's just not expedient.

False accusations do happen, but they're relatively rare:
"...the prevalence of false allegations is between 2 percent and 10 percent; that figure was based on eight methodologically rigorous studies....These findings contradict the still widely promulgated stereotype that false rape allegations are a common occurrence....Such assertions not only undermine rational discourse but also damage individual victims of sexual violence. The stereotype that false rape allegations are a common occurrence, a widely held misconception in broad swaths of society, including among police officers, has very direct and concrete consequences. It contributes to the enormous problems of underreporting by victims of rape and sexual abuse...[and] to negative responses to victims who do report, whether by family members or by personnel within the criminal justice system....their approach to victims can easily become more akin to hostile interrogation than to fact finding. Rape is the most underreported serious crime in the least 80 percent of rapes are never disclosed to law enforcement agencies" (109-110).
But more disconcerting, Krakauer noted the disparity in the scrutiny and effort on the part of attorneys and the judicial system to determine culpability:
"Police and prosecutors generally do a pretty good job of weeding out false rape accusations to avoid charging the innocent. But cops and prosecutors are not nearly as conscientious when it comes to pursuing charges against those who are guilty. This is borne out by statistics indicating, indisputably, that the overwhelming majority of rapists get away scot-free....more than 90 percent of the time the rapist gets away with the crime" (109-110).
He also notes studies that indicate that very few men ever consider raping anyone. The number of assaults is caused directly by repeat offenders who don't get caught - the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosbys of the world.
"The serial rapists hidden in plain sight among us...harbor all the usual myths and misconceptions about rape....they share this common idea that a rapist is a guy in a ski mask, wielding a knife, who drags women into the bushes. But these undetected rapists don't wear masks or wield knives or drag women into the bushes. So they had absolutely no sense of themselves as rapists and were only too happy to talk about their sexual behaviors....Additionally, we now have data showing they are more narcissistic than average. So they are caught up in their own worldview. They lack the ability to see what they do from the perspective of their victims....They exist in their own world, and in their world there is often a tremendous sense of entitlement" (118-119).
Krakauer also explores the pressure on media figures to spin these crimes in the way that bests serves the community - i.e. to make it all go away. Nothing illustrates this reality better than an episode of BoJack Horseman - but you need Netflix to see it.  It's Season 2, Episode 7, in which "Diane finds herself in hot water when she accuses a beloved personality named Hank Hippopopalous for having sexual relations with his assistants during Princess Carolyn's book promotion of BoJack's autobiography in paperback form." The media's job is to expose the truth, not to keep everyone happy, but this episode sheds light on how difficult it can be to be a journalist in the midst of an unsavoury story. The journalist in Missoula was denigrated as much as the victims were. Torturously so.

And Krakauer looks at why so many take the side of the perpetrator with a quotation from Judith Lewis Herman:
"It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering" (189).
There's no clear reaction from a victim to prove they're a victim, and there's no clear behaviours of a rapists to tell if they're a rapist until they're caught:
"There's no profile of a rapist that you can use to say either somebody is or that somebody isn't....We all like to think that we would be able to recognize the sort of person who might be a rapist..., but the truth is, we can't....It's not uncommon...for victims to go back and forth between feeling like something really bad happened to them, and being very confused, and even trying to deny that something bad happened to a way of trying to essentially tell themselves that, no, something bad didn't happen to me" (251-4). 
So women will sometimes even give their assailant a ride home afterwards. That's the power of denial. They'll blame themselves because "self-blame is much easier and feels better than living in fear" (255).

Finally, from the jacket liner:
"Krakauer's dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken."

Peace or Apathy

I found this piece on Medium, yet another on-line time suck! You can't read it without joining, so I copied and pasted the bits I like below. This piece says much of what I've been saying for a while now: We need to wake up and pay attention and act on what we see. But Chris Morris says it more poetically than I ever could:

The greatest sorrow I feel is when I see someone mistaking peace with apathy. I’ve dwelt in that delusion myself. Now I see it as a temporary suicide — a form of limbo that diminishes the whole world. 
Apathy is very common in spiritual circles. Often I meet people who seem wonderfully peaceful and content at first, but then I notice they change the subject a lot. Their eyes glaze over when certain topics come up — like that some people are fat while others are starving, or that children in some countries are dying right now when a $5 water filter could save them. Apathy means people don’t want to talk about the wars that are being waged in their name, or the child labourers who got sick making their iPhone. They think politics is something other people do. They prefer to focus on “positive things”. 
“Oh look, a butterfly… isn’t it pretty?” 
Genuinely peaceful people don’t withdraw from the world. Only frightened people withdraw. Many people who seem peaceful are really like swans: they glide gracefully above the surface while flapping frantically underneath. They are secretly desperate to experience true peace of mind but they don’t admit it. They feel too ashamed of not experiencing it already. False imitations of peace become their addiction — numbness, narrowness and apathy. But apathy is not peace. Apathy grows out of the absence of peace. If you feel like you have no power, apathy seems like a smart choice. But power isn’t something you have; power is channeled, and never through apathy. 
Usually I take the view that other people’s lives are their own specialty — there is no greater authority on you than you. But then I meet another swan who’s wearing apathy like a shield and I can’t deny I want to hug them and shake them at the same time. My head says I should leave them alone, but a deeper feeling calls me on. It feels like a visceral instinct to wake them up. We evolve as a collective, not individually. Letting them block me out would be my own form of apathy. 
My trepidation is because I see these people like lovers who just lie there. Waking them up requires trust, and without a framework (like a coaching relationship) I’m often too impatient. 
Waking up is about dancing to your own music.... 
I’m completely against the popular self-help metaphor of people floating in a river of well-being. I’ve been told many times that I don’t need to try; that life should be effortless; that I can simply lie back and be carried by the river of life. No, no, no! We are not only in the river; we also are the river. It’s a simple but critical distinction. Einstein said we should reduce everything to its simplest form but no further. To claim we are passive floating beings turns a useful metaphor into a ghastly deception. 
It’s equally unhelpful to think you can “go with the flow”. You are the flow. You are both the flow and the flowing; the masculine and the feminine; the yang and the yin....
My spiritual friend who inspired this article told me yesterday: “My heart goes out to the starving people. I pray life will get better for them.” 
Oh good, I said. And after you prayed, what did you do then? 
She told me she’d left it in god’s good hands — and I think that demonstrates in a nutshell why people continue to starve despite there being enough food for everyone. It’s childish to pray without also acknowledging you are god. 
Prayer either connects you to the internal clarity you need before you can manifest your will or it does nothing at all. Most people who pray don’t really pray, they simply pass the buck to an imaginary friend. And that’s nothing more than theatre. Maybe you’re so good at theatre that you can sell tickets and start your own church. But the starving people will still be starving while you float down your imaginary river, going with the flow. 
Living deliberately means you stop lying back and accepting whatever happens to you. You stop pretending the universe loves you and realise you are the universe, so it’s your job to love yourself. It’s your job to decide what your life is about. It’s also your job to make it happen. 
You can’t micromanage it all consciously, of course. You have unconscious processes for that. But you have to experience your intention. You have to accept responsibility. 
Basically, you have to give a fuck — only then can you midwife your creation into existence.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Supporting Bare Boobs

It's not about this:
the Braza Bra

It's about arguing in favour of a woman's right to take off her shirt.

How stupid, right?

I mean, it's stupid that we have to argue about this and try to make it clear to everyone why it should be acceptable and actually have to argue with police who don't know it's been legal in Ontario for decades. But some people - mainly men, judging by the comment on various articles - are still having a hard time with it. And it's really, really stupid that 8-year-old children and their parents have to deal with this crap. So we'll keep arguing. Here are some concerns (in bold below) raised on the issue:

There are so many more important issues out there. People are dying of starvation, and lions are being shot by dentists. This is a non-issue, really.

Climate change is here to stay, and it's only going to get hotter. (Yes I can too make any issue become an environmental issue.) If only half the population can cool off by taking their shirts off when they're dripping with sweat, then that's only going to be a bigger problem as the mercury rises. Anyone overheating should be allowed to ditch a layer as needed.

And about those other issues? We can work on more than one issue at a time. It's totally do-able. The fact that there are worse issues out there is never a good reason to stop working on discrimination issues, which are often foundational problems requiring more attention than they're generally given.

But what about the children?

Children learn what's shameful from us. If adults are nonchalant about bare breasts, then kids will be too. Any trauma caused by the sight of non-sexual nudity is from the context adults wrap around it not from the nudity itself. It can be funny to see people showing more than we're used to, but once we're used to it, then it's no longer a big deal. We're all used to women showing off their ankles now, and that used to cause quite a stir!

Breast are sexual in a way that a male chest is not.


A total void of sexiness, amiright?
For people closer to my age.
'Nuff said?

Breasts are sexual body parts. When I see them, I can't control myself.

There is a bizarre notion that exposed breasts are sexual breasts even when they're being used to feed children or just hanging out doing nothing. This is just plain incorrect. Because someone is turned on by something they see doesn't mean that what they're looking at is necessarily objectively sexual. Lots of body parts are enticing to others yet we don't cover everything. And men CAN control themselves. If they choose not to, then they should bear the consequences (assuming, of course, that there will be some serious and predictable consequences once day).

Okay, but breasts are more than just attractive body parts. They're erogenous zones actually used in sexual acts.

Breasts are pretty sexy; no arguments here. And they can definitely be a significant part of sexual antics. BUT so many other body parts that are regularly open to the gaze of the general public are erogenous zones used in sexual acts.

sexy ice-cream pics from here
We don't expect men and women to hide every part of them that's attractive nor every part that's potentially used in a sexual act.

sexy hand/foot drawing
And if we want to be really sexy, it's often best to cover up a bit. Baring all isn't as sexy as baring a little. So, technically, it could be argued that naked boobs are less sexy than partially covered boobs, so, therefore, by the logic of this concern, women should be banned from just partially covering their sexy bits. Which is stupid (the banning bit, not the partially covering bit).

Women won't bare their breasts anyway because they're afraid of being sexually harassed.

This is unfortunately very true. This CBC article seems to address this, sort of. The article doesn't really clarify the interviewed professor's opinion on the issue as much as it acknowledges one concern some women might have: Should women really bare their breasts if it's only going to lead to street harassment? But isn't that the same kind of question as: Should women really wear tank tops and short skirts if it's only going to lead to street harassment? There's a policing attitude in those questions that implies that women are in control of when they get harassed. (Not that the prof being interviewed is asking that question - it really wasn't clear what she thought.) Here's the problem with this line of reasoning: women can get cat-called in a snowsuit and assaulted while they're wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. I just got home from a cottage visit in which I whipped through this excellent book on campus rapes (which has made me very feisty on this one), and I'm pretty sure what women are wearing has scant correlation to whether or not they're assaulted. In fact, women bold enough to go topless could be less harassed because of their perceived assertiveness. Women don't get sexually assaulted because of their clothes; they get assaulted because of a chance encounter with a rapist.

Are women afraid of being harassed because of what they're wearing - or not wearing? Absolutely. But that's a different problem that needs a different solution than suggesting women cover up for safety. (Not that the prof was suggesting that, but it certainly could be read into that article.)

Women won't bare their breasts anyway because they're afraid they don't measure up.

Yup. This is also true, but it also sucks. Women are bombarded with idealized images of what's "normal" to the extent that they think they're aberrations to be shunned or exiled. But maybe a little more exposure to real women on the street could actually diminish that problem. If women everywhere, of all ages, walk around topless, maybe we'll all realize that actually very few have perfect, perky, symmetrical, stand-up boobs that don't need any support. And then we'll feel great by comparison - or at least good enough to stop comparing ourselves to each other in some twisted competition for attention from the male gaze which we don't even want so much once we get it.

Furthermore, because only a few people take advantage of a law doesn't mean the law shouldn't exist. A minority of people marry people of the same sex, but we're pretty clear that it should be an option open for everyone. We need to keep it on the books that women can take off their shirts anywhere a man can. Whether they actually do or not is a neither here nor there.

I'll go to the march on Saturday, but I'll likely be fully clothed.  It's not just because I worry about harassment or about measuring up, but because I worry about losing my job for doing something weird with students around. And it is weird... so far. It's deviant behaviour in that few people find it acceptable.

But maybe that's about to change.