28 May 2014


In the wake of the shooting in California. Two things occur to me.

1) Gun control, the basis for it, the plausibility of it, the nature of the debate for or against it, and both the futility of it and the enormous demand for "something to be done" hasn't changed at all since I last wrote about it at length. It probably hasn't changed since I first wrote something about it to be honest. About the only good news is that it took a lot longer to get around to talking about guns, because there other issues at play worth discussing instead.

2) This one horrible act of violence has spawned a curious debate about privilege and the general societal culture when it really should have or could have remained focused on misogyny and gone a lot further and been far more productive. Because that as a motivation is pretty sufficiently vile to be worthy of debate and discussion. Apparently being an ass to women, objectifying and demanding of their attention, and then acting violently when they possess agency and ignore or reject attention, is not a big enough deal to be a cause de jour without tying in a lot of other speculative junk and trying to attack that too.

(just to clarify, white or male privilege is a thing, not "junk", and there are elements of popular culture that may be debatably subversive or interpreted in dangerous ways by a small fraction of the population, but these are very separate arguments and lack the complexity of "guy hates women for not giving him sex", which treats other human beings as objects who exist simply for our pleasure. That's a serious problem with a set of complex causes, but it's a problem that can be pushed back against much more easily than the others)

25 May 2014

A thing I don't get, mixed with one I do

I have always what for others must seem a strange detached reaction when something terrifying happens. I start processing it for the question not of "how could this happen" but usually something more like "why doesn't this happen more often". And in fact, in some ways, it does happen more often, it just doesn't happen in the same way (1 or 2 people getting killed by someone is a different kind of story than 15) or to people that make the news (eg, non-college aged healthy white people, or their children).

The general takeaway I have from senseless violence is that it doesn't happen very often. And this is usually because it is in fact senseless. We don't live in a comic book world where the villains cause dismay and mayhem constantly to the point that nobody could afford to live in Metropolis or Gotham (or NYC) because of the insurance claims from repeated devastation. I consider that a good thing even if it is of no comfort to people whose lives are directly impacted.

Still. The logical requirements that lead someone to punish innocent people for... whatever it is they think deserves punishment, I have a problem following. I can sometimes follow the rage that blinds people into a corner. I've seen people behave irrationally, and I used to experience this myself, because of heavy emotional burdens of anger. Directed at? Who knows. It's just there. I don't find that to be that alien of a connection that I would somehow see everyone who gets angry and plots to kill a bunch of people that strange. That's why I find it curious it doesn't happen all the time. Clearly we have a society that fosters pretty good anger management, or at least anger re-direction, if with sometimes poor results. This probably explains a PTSD case that snaps. Or someone who takes a strong racial or cultural or religious animus wayyyy too seriously. I don't condone these things. But I know where they came from. I've felt that kind of blinding rage. I didn't go out and kill anyone over it but I could say I know where it comes from. In a darker mood, it's not even that challenging to imagine violent scenarios involving death. This is not the same as plotting a violent act, acquiring the necessary supplies, and carrying it out. There needs to be a lot more than the rage at play, a specific purpose. And that I have a harder time following but I can acknowledge there's a path there that apparently is harder to stray down far enough than we think at times like this (because for a country of 300M people, it doesn't seem to happen that often), but still much easier than it should be (because if it happens at all, then it's suggesting a problem).

What that doesn't explain is these repeated cases of sexually frustrated folks, men obviously, snapping into violent outbursts involving manifestos about how terrible women are because "I can't get laid". The logic of "if I can't fuck it, I will kill it" does not compute here, or at least I have a hard time seeing where it comes from. There's other people out there who might find someone attractive and amusing for such things if someone in particular rejects the approach. The logic of the world, and the people in it, owing you something, particularly team building exercises for your penis, does not compute either. It's a sense that people are objects, playthings for amusement and they're not playing the game the way "I want", in so far as they won't do what I want them to do. Most of us probably engage in a variation of this where other people are concerned but this seems like a very extreme theory of mind problem that just rejects the prospect of agency entirely. Obviously the problem could not be with the approach or offers. It must be with the people who are turning down such offers, or not even recognizing that they are being made.

I suspect this style of self-aggrandizing sexuality explains a large portion of motivations for rape. Which is awful enough to contemplate. I still don't quite get from there, the idea that somehow, somewhere, every woman (or man) must actually want to have sex with me, because of how they looked at me or how they were dressed or how they were dancing or whatever, as asinine a thought as that is (and for men at least, a rather common perspective, just not one that is necessarily commonly acted upon), to "because they won't have sex with me, I must hurt them". Maybe I come at this problem from an entirely opposed perspective, where I consider the likelihood much higher that the reason someone won't have sex is because you're acting like you're supposed to be anointed sex god that all lesser mortals are to be in awe of. I hate to break it to people, mostly because I shouldn't have to, but as wonderful as some human beings are at sex, or as wonderful as it could be to have sex with them, there tends to be some underlying requirements of "don't be a dick" to get around to using said dick. Treating other human beings as objects for sexual gratification and amusement is pretty high on the "don't be a dick" creed of things not to do. This is not very complicated.

But it seems to be very complicated to explain to human males, particularly younger human males. My younger self, as could be expected given my social issues, was not a ladies' man either. I did not hold that against an entire gender. I found, rather easily, it was an issue with me, or at least that it must have been an issue with me that I did not fully comprehend. It still is in some respects. The only way to try to resolve that question was to begin to talk to some women or, perhaps more importantly, listen to them. Talking to men about women seems a useless prospect if the goal is to learn about women in a general sense, or in a sexual sense, or really almost any subject at all in relation to women. Women are far more interesting to converse on any of these questions, regardless of what kind of relationship is involved that supplies such conversations.

That specific question ultimately has had more to do with whether I get along with other human beings at all, not just the female of the species. Or more precisely, whether I want to get along with other human beings at all or whether I want them to get along with me. Those are rarely aligned prospects, and even if they are aligned, they're not inherently suggestive of a prospect of forming a sexual relationship. Even with otherwise sexually attractive individuals. Eg, I'd like to get along with this woman and relate to her in a non-pants-off scenario too and if that's not happening, I'd rather just read a book than get laid. Because I would get bored with the relationship otherwise from past experience. Since forming new relationships of any kind is tedious for me and consumes a lot of energy rather than fuels and invigorates me (in most circumstances), this helps cut down on the possibilities. In fact, it is far more likely that I miss suggestive signals of interest that other people communicate to me than that I over-interpret such signals. Much less that I would act upon those signals.

Despite that internal complexity, the underlying issue of forming sexual relationships is still not very hard to do. It's probably too easy to do actually for most of us if we just paid attention (though not quite bonobo easy where sex is a handshake practically, but still). Which leads back to this psycho-sexual position of "if I can't fuck it, I will kill it". It seems like a portion of this is a desire to be part of the sexual dynamics of "college", or "the culture", or whatever it is that it is perceived that sex is somehow an easy commodity to come by and that by not getting any sex, this is being missed out on. It actually "isn't" that easy, it's just not that complicated to pay attention to when sex is available, and when it is not and follow along. Human beings are set up by evolution to communicate sexual interest, of an actual variety, both for reproductive purposes and social purposes. Since 99% of the time we don't have sex in order to reproduce, but more because it's an enjoyable experience, it's something that we humans have adopted methods to say so to each other, or to say that we think it might be an enjoyable experience, and so on.

Somewhere along the line, most of us, or at least most men, seem to get the point that if they're not having sexual success in that communication loop, or relationship success more broadly which involves a sexual component, the proper reaction is to wonder "what I have been doing" and "what could I do differently", and then ask someone with some appropriate wisdom (generally a woman of some patience, if one is heterosexual obviously), or work through it with trial and error (again with women of some patience). I don't quite understand what the difference is for this small minority that ends up with a violent "fuck you all" reaction to that process of what amounts to socialisation (eg, learning how to talk to and relate to members of a preferred sexual partnership).

I do understand a more general sense of objectification or sexual competitiveness and its related jealousies. I don't engage in it, so far as I am aware, but I am aware of the existence of such thinking. Mostly because it generally offends me. And that might be where this comes along as a recognized issue that I have difficulty processing. It isn't something I have any interest in. I do not experience a strong sense of possessiveness with sexuality. I am loathe to identify someone I have semi-regular sex with as "my" girlfriend, or lady friend as is more commonly my reference, and I don't experience some variety of competitive instinct that I should need to have sex with X numbers of women, or some arbitrary and subjectively defined attractive type of woman to demonstrate my virility to other men. I am often indifferent to what other men think or do actually and don't find these to be informative statements about their quality as men or as human beings. I can't recall ever having a significant or semi-serious conversation on sex with other men as a result, much less feeling some jealous ambition that they are or were experiencing sexual activity on a semi-regular to regular basis and I was not. It is unclear to me what this would prove or provide as useful evidence that women involved in such efforts should not already validate or provide much more constructive feedback about. And yet it seems to be a motivating feature for violent actions between some percentage of men. I find this utterly baffling. Paying more attention to women seems a much more constructive method of having successful relationships, sexual or otherwise, and more likely to be demonstrative of virility through sex than bragging about it to other men, or parading a series of women as "conquests" and so on. I am not sure I can understand what causes this breakdown as a result.

23 May 2014

X-Men thoughts

1) It was solid. I do not think it was on anything like Avengers level as some are saying, or Captain America 2 level which is likewise up there. It wasn't as clever of a script and wasn't as neatly tied together plot wise. It did however bring together most of the different pieces well for what it was. I'd still put X-2 as the best X-Men movie. It was cleaner and much simpler and still holds up as one of the best comic book films period. This was good, but not great.

1a) They went back to the DNA intro for the credits too. I approve.

2) X-3 appears, somewhat correctly, to be virtually ignored in canon other than one critical scene (Jean, which has come up twice now). It was rather crucial from that movie that the viewing public kind of knows coming into this one "oh yeah, uhm, Professor X, he's not dead. And Magneto still has his powers". Because they really only get that from a stinger scene at the end of a bad X-Men movie (the aforementioned third one) so the public is liable to be somewhat confused as to why these characters are alive and kicking since not everyone watched it or saw the stinger sequence.

Even with that rather important detail involved, it does seem pretty clear X-3 is just a bit of trash thrown off the side whenever possible.

3) They did do a pretty quick job introducing the new characters and had a good deal of fun with the powers. Bishop, Blink, Quicksilver in particular (plus Storm and Magneto get some fun bits). Sunspot and Warpath are basically introduced, but not even named that I remember (Blink wasn't named but seemed busier and more helpful). Which is fine really as we're mostly exploring Mystique/Magneto/X triangle with Wolverine around but the previous X1-X2 films had a lot of attention for Rogue, Storm, Jean, or Iceman as more full characters alongside the main lines. There wasn't much of that here, really zero character development occurs outside of X and Mystique.

4) Quicksilver is probably the only funny part of the movie. Which is an issue as Wolverine is usually funny and comic books (other than Batman) lend themselves to be somewhat humorous. I don't think there was much humor. The last one had some more bits of references here and there and funny routines that helped it along with the weaker characters. This has maybe a couple of funny routines involving Wolverine (not setting off a metal detector).

5) Lawrence makes a much better Mystique than Romijn. But she might just be given more to work with. Really other than the X-Magneto dynamic and Wolverine, she's the most interesting character in the films but they hadn't explored why that was until these new ones. Because she's the only character who stands in the middle pulled between the two main characters and their polar opposite views. Like a Catwoman to Batman routine. Everyone else has a pretty clear stance, even Wolverine. She has a more mysterious and mixed stance, especially in these last two films. Someone who can be anyone in the world has a very unusual role in philosophical and ethical terms and it's really only referenced once in the first films as a motivating factor (the second one when she talks to Nightcrawler). It's getting a lot more airtime now.

6) I realize Shadowcat has that power in the comic that the film is based on... but it might be nice to know when it shows up or why in the film. It's just kind of there. They explain what it is she's doing, but there's no explanation where it comes from. There's a stretch there from "a little girl who can walk through walls" to "woman who can send people's consciousness back into time".

7) They rather conveniently eliminated the bulk of the more annoying or useless characters from the last film. Which was most of them. There's a couple cameos, but Beast and Mystique are the only side characters from that group I'd prefer to keep seeing around and that they developed enough to keep around.

8) The stinger at the end is promising. I'll be curious how that plays out.

14 May 2014

Sam I am?

Green eggs and ham version. Maybe.

I admit I am not fully aware of the logic involved in anti-homosexual perspectives, such as there is any. I've tried to engage with it somewhat with more religious (read: anyone who is religious) people. But in observing the case for Michael Sam's drafting being some kind of issue, I'm at a loss to explain much of it.

I see several perspectives emerging in response to the media circus surrounding this story.

"Why is this a big deal?" Surely there are gay men playing in the NFL right now, before this man was ever drafted, in a late round at that. To some extent, this point gets a part of the vision of tolerance correct. At some point this will cease to be a big deal as more players or potential NFL players (or NBA or MLB or NHL) come out. Fewer and fewer people will care. Larry Doby is not widely perceived as a major American heroic story the way Jackie Robinson is and was, despite starting his MLB career at almost the same time and facing many of the same enormous problems of acceptance and tolerance in a widely racist society and its then most beloved sport.

The problem is not that there are gay players in the NFL and so this isn't a story for that reason. The problem today is that none of those players are currently open about their sexual orientation. We do not know that there are. It is hidden, from teammates, owners, fans, and so on. That makes the first player(s) to do so kind of a big deal because it changes things a little. This knowledge of certainty, with a human name and face to the story changes things a little for all of us. It is yet one more arena where a person's sexual preferences should cease to be a matter of great public concern and we can focus on evaluating other aspects of their character and performance in a given setting/task.And it is now a story, relating to the plight and success of one individual, instead of an assumption based on statistics and reason, an abstraction. And stories are usually given far more power by people than abstractions.

Perhaps more importantly in a practical sense, it may also open up the ability of other players to be open about this aspect of themselves once the wall comes crashing down from the first to make it through the barrier without the world and professional sports as we know it coming to an end. From a societal perspective it may indeed stop being a big deal within a year or two that there are, and always have been, gay men playing professional sports (Most humorously mocked by Conan O'Brien's joke about it being the first time anyone celebrated being drafted by the Rams as the basis for the historical nature of the event). From an individual perspective, the individual outing themselves as some particularly unpopular or previously unpopular group, be they homosexual, transgender, atheist, Muslim, or whatever, potentially gains a tremendous amount by no longer concealing part of their basic humanity and identity from friends, co-workers and other trusted associates. And from a societal perspective we gain by seeing that these prejudices that we harbor, unconsciously or not, about said groups, are often incorrect in assessing the quality of people who make up such groups. Homosexual men can go play a physical game with other men, without posing any grave risk to any other male player's perceived masculinity. That's actually, surprisingly, a big deal to many people still.

The big deal is therefore not the individual event. It is the change overall it represents about how we are to relate to people who are different from ourselves. People asking this question are blithely or even maliciously ignoring the importance to the people who are being oppressed currently that they may rise above that status, and would most likely prefer that people who have unpopular and otherwise invisible character traits remain in the closet about them rather than have to tolerate this knowledge. That there is someone out there trying to overcome that barrier despite this hated or otherwise intolerable attribute of their identity. This ship has sailed, and putting it back isn't going to happen. Not for a long time.

If there are identity traits we don't like about other people, and we perceive them as something fungible about their nature, say their choice of religion or their sexual proclivities, however inflexible those things actually are, then it is not really appropriate to demand that these traits remain quietly present at all times in the background rather than as something we may come to know about this person. Indeed, if people actually perceive them as "sins" or otherwise problematic elements of character and behavior, then they should probably want them in the open so they know to either stay away from or seek to talk to such people as is their want. The common idea that these should remain hidden or unimportant strikes me as a counter-intuitive practice of the faiths that (often) lead religious people to condemn such people, and comes off more as a defensive tactic of saying "I don't really like them, but I'm going to hide behind my religion to say something else". It's not the worst such example of this kind of thinking. But this perspective has been doing considerable violence to the health and sustainability of various religious institutions throughout the Western world for well over a decade, if not longer. It has not done much to slow down the process of accepting amendments to our legal and cultural institutions (marriage rights, media coverage, pop culture characters and portrayals).

Why is a 7th round pick such a big deal? As a more football oriented point this one is pretty lame all around. This factor has been seized upon both by people who are looking to detract from the historical and cultural importance of the event of a pro team drafting and potentially selecting a gay man to come play for their team and by those seeking to look for evidence of bias that other NFL teams did not want to do so and that the NFL has a homophobia problem. The reality here is that it's probably both. He may not be very good at professional football, or he could be much better than a 7th round pick and teams will regret having passed on an otherwise appealing prospect. And some of them likely did so because of concerns over sexuality. Either personally as owners and executives or as a perspective of bias they believed is shared or even widespread in the locker rooms of the respective teams they control. It is not impossible to believe that others share our biases, nor is it possible that these biases do not exist on some level, perhaps even a very high level on some teams.

On the football grounds, asking about the importance of a "7th round pick" is the case for almost anyone who is drafted in the NFL (1st rounders included). NFL teams are notoriously terrible at assessing professional prospects through the draft. All pro sports are bad at this, but baseball at least has a minor league system for player development and the NBA seems to have gotten a decent handle on translating basketball abilities from college or international leagues to the big time that competent teams have far fewer misses. The NFL has no clue and no effective system for evaluating talented players. Some of this is the complexity of the sport with various players with more specialized roles per team, each ideally contributing to the success of others around them, making it very hard to narrowly focus on individual achievement. Some entire roles (linemen for example) have few meaningful publicly available statistics for the public or outsiders to act as a quick rational check on which players might be "good" or "bad" at a particular skill. It is therefore difficult to show evidence that the other teams passed on him because they feared the effect of his homosexuality or some such. It is possible he may not even make the team that drafted him and could end up playing elsewhere, or not make the league at all. As with the Jason Collins announcement last year at the tail end of the NBA season, this may not in itself be evidence of a fearful bias if he is not playing next year in the NFL (Collins was eventually signed by the Nets late in the year, but was playing in the league).

So okay, there's a gay guy playing football (potentially). Well then, I guess we will love the man but hate the sin. This to me is the worst kind of prejudice being paraded as religious nonsense that demands our toleration and respect. Because it rarely comes down to people who find the man tolerable but the behavior not so much who would say such a thing. I do not have a preference for having sex with other men, nor any interest in it and would not indulge someone who wanted to do so with me. But I do not find it hateful that other men do have this preference, they are welcome to do so with anyone else who wishes so far as I am concerned. So the logic that the behavior is to be despised because it is somehow icky or not what we would do ourselves doesn't really move the morality needle at all as a first order problem with this statement. I don't find it to be categorically sinful in nature to seek out the people whose company you enjoy, to express feelings of affection toward them, and to have sexual attractions and seek to act upon them as a portion of that relationship with other consenting human beings. There are categories of behavior within that that can be harmful, and which I would not condone. I would not condone cheating sexually and physically on a partner without some arrangement with that partner for an open relationship for example. This behavior carries risks and can be damaging to a relationship, and thus to another putatively cared for individual, if not more than one. Obviously sexually forcing oneself on others is categorically wrong as it removes their agency and declares that whatever it is they want or wanted, "my" wants are more important and to thus seek personal sexual gratification at the expense of their body and potentially the physical and mental health of another person to be placed at risk by this action. It is not impossible to conceive of a significant and important gradient of moral difficulties that individuals must navigate where it concerns human sexuality even in a relatively hedonistic anything goes world that I might perceive as morally appropriate and tolerable as compared to a more repressive culture as we inhabit now. I would not say I am blinded to the prospect that there are in fact sexual "sins" in that light.

Within any given religion, there are numerous examples of "sin" that are not condoned, or have had amended connotations to allow for certain varieties of acts but not others, and so on down the line. But, taken as given that there are in fact any varieties of wrongness or sinfulness to each of them, then the issue isn't limited to homosexuality, if one is consistent. It's applicable to almost anyone at all in the human condition. The disparity seems to be in this instance, because we do not care why someone does a thing for which we have dogma disapproving of it, it does not matter if that thing is inherent to their person and identity or not. Indeed, usually it is not even a concern to investigate the matter, it is declared a choice or a phase and something which shall be treated and excised from themselves in favor of our own preferences, again a destruction of agency. This, as a method of "treatment", is considerably harmful to individuals who go through it. It is, in effect, unethical rather than humane and sensible to behave this way. To parade around this as a variant of tolerance that should be itself tolerated and respected is not a wise thing either. Other people are being actively harmed by this notion. "You" are merely being disgusted by, or inconvenienced in your desires for, the behavior of other people.

A more serious error here is the position that any and all sins are worthy of such treatment. Or, more precisely, the issue is that not everything that has been deemed sinful behavior, or otherwise immoral and immoderate for which religion is often used to claim its wrongfulness is universally and eternally condemned by religions. Or likewise, to claim that the position of wrongfulness was determined and ordained by a deity rather than by men interpreting that deity (or inventing a deity to ordain what they disapproved of, as is the sociological and anthropological explanation).

Tolerance is difficult, and it often requires us to permit people to do or say things we do not like or do not approve of ourselves, while giving us the liberty to present alternatives or views that oppose those disdainful duties of others. It is, on many levels, perfectly permissible for people to state that they disapprove of homosexuality for personal distaste and disgust, for traditional reasons, or even a belief formed based on religious dogma. It should likewise be permissible to argue against these traditional beliefs or question how or why a personal distaste and disgust is formed and why it is needed in a particular format. Watching a gay man, or at least man we now know to be gay, running with and hitting other men with physical violence on a football field, in essence the performance of his job, is not the same as watching a gay man have sex, presumably the object of disgust involved here. This is a separate thing. This distinction is not obviated away and protected from polite discourse by claiming "that is what I believe", and by extension, "my beliefs are based on inviolable truths" so therefore others can't talk about them, threaten them with reasoned arguments, or listen to them with a learned intention of understanding one's motivations.

12 May 2014

Boko Haram

And other twitter hashtag foreign policy efforts.

I believe this also constitutes Kony and Darfur (or Sudan in general) and then something like Iran's green revolution or unrest in places like Turkey.

First. What is this intended to do. I suspect, as with Syria and Ukraine, there appears to be belief, usually among liberals in this case, that our military power is sufficient to bully or intervene in many, many cases with great and immediate success. There are examples where this may be the case, but we still have troops hunting Joseph Kony in Uganda (and/or surrounding territory), still have a Libya in turmoil, the Balkan states where we intervened are a mess, and so on. This should counsel against the idea that American power or the mere mention of American power is sufficient to make other people behave the way we would prefer in other countries, and that our interventions will achieve something we value as an end goal.

This is quite apart from the question over whether what is happening somewhere on the globe is a tremendous injustice. Kidnapping and endangering school children is a grave damage and injustice. Killing thousands of civilians in a civil war or general civil unrest is a more serious injustice. We can weight these to decide whether our interventions may be more justified, or decide any serious injustice abroad that asks for our intervention (or an international response to violence) is suitable. But this still leaves aside the practical question of "what now?"

What do we do. An "intervention" is often confused as a term of art for "sending in troops/bombs/planes/ships" in what could be known as an act of war against whichever force we wish to influence to behave. This is commonly what we mean, but intervening could include diplomatic pressures, economic sanctions, ICC charges for international crimes, financial assistance (or lack thereof), and so on down the line of less violent options of influencing states abroad. Depending on the option and the state, some of these can have an impact. Most will not.

Why is this? Economic sanctions for example are often poorly structured to go after the people in power whose regime is conducting some offending action and often allow that same regime to blame the Americans/Westerners for the misery that is imposed upon the public they govern. Misery coming from the authoritarian regimes activities and the sanctions, the sanctions will take the blame for all of it in many cases and it could actually permit or encourage even more repression that can be gotten away with which normally cannot be. The various other diplomatic and economic pressures like this are often dealing with states with minimal governmental power and social penetration over other non-state actors and thus lacks sufficient control over the territory for which they have border control and cannot contain or deal with international actors meddling or the internal actors attracting international attention demanding international meddling. Indeed, this is often why there's a conflict that we are perceived as wanting to intervene in in the first place is that the nation-state's authority and power is too weak to resolve the situation internally.

Lacking good options, I am not sure what it is that is expected the US is to do over a terrible situation in Nigeria. This seems more like a means and method to symbolically demonstrate our concern. While I share that concern, I do not find the symbolic demonstrating to be all that meaningful as a method of helping. It at least does not seem harmful for Americans to be concerned about and aware of terrible things that go on outside our borders. So go right ahead and be concerned. The likelihood of people looking up Nigeria on wikipedia right now is better than the alternative of people being unaware of what and where Nigeria is.

But don't expect us to be doing much either that will resolve it appropriately and justly. Sending American troops or specialists to extract kidnapped girls in Nigeria is perhaps a heroic action (if it were to work and could be executed), but it does little to resolve the underlying conflicts between the Nigerian government, its people, and the Islamist group Boko Haram that there won't be a future version of outrage, demanding a similarly risky and perhaps even ineffectual response. Arguably it does more to legitimize a terrorising group than help the Nigerian government or its people as a whole. We should be cautious to commit to demands for action by the American nation-state without understanding the circumstances and occasions we are demanding action for.

10 May 2014

A brief note of the self

I have written here for a long period. I rarely speak much of myself. This is a place I use to dump my thoughts on other things. My time for self-reflection is rare, mostly because I find it often poisonous to point the microscope for too long a time at anything. Myself included.

The problem with being me is that I don't really have a way to aim it away either. Once my thoughts get into the mirrored universe that is my own self, the brain bounces around there for a long time like it is a rubber room. Eventually it begins to drain, and drain, and drain some more. It drinks my milkshake. Or something to that effect (old meme recycling is easier than keeping up with new ones).

It is really the cycle of being and becoming depressed. The amount of mental energy it takes to process and break this torturous routine takes time. Which, like other humans, I don't have a limitless supply. An outside observer to this brain dumping place can see readily what the impact is: there's less production being deposited here for later use. My thoughts become more scattered. I become content to make small comments and share articles that other people have produced words on a topic, and there to leave it and often never to return to it again. Or not to refer back to it in the easy way afforded me here. Whatever wise or clever thoughts are shared with other people I become indifferent to. Whatever terrible or foolish thoughts are shared, are likewise, an indifferent property. They are all words. Just words. No longer distinguished for the quality of thought I tried to put behind them, or the capacity of argument being raised or the kinds of arguments being made, or for the dismissal of the thoughts of others that I find too often I can do.

They're just words. Before long, it gets harder to assemble more words to go with them. It becomes a set of bullet points. And then a list. And then nothing at all. There are still many dastardly and amazing things going on in the world. I still think about them. I still have things to say about them. But I didn't always feel like sharing them with other people anymore. Or even sharing them with myself. It may not be the same burning passions that people feel for each other or for things they care deeply about, but I am typically possessed by a desire to think about things, to understand them, to know what I am talking about when exploring and writing about a subject I have encountered and twirled around in my own head. That is my nature and my most at ease state. Even at my most inert and incapacitated, my brain wants something to do in this respect. Unfortunately it turns toward me if I do not feed this beast distracting shiny objects of thought. And eventually it wears down that other topics are more difficult to use. It becomes an addiction to thought, and it presses on, and on, and on more still, demanding ever more and more until there is no energy to do even the most basic of things that it commands may need doing. Like eating or sleeping or exercising. It is a heavy weight depressing and darkening all things even further from the resting point of cynical realism that I usually carry around with me as my perspective on all life and existence.

This ultimately impacts my relations with other human beings, often negatively, and it inevitably cycles inward deeper, without route or chance for escape. A mental impairment like this is not generally visible to others that they will understand it in the same way that other pains and challenges of the body are. Many view it as just something you are supposed to get over on your own rather than complicating it with requiring them to listen to you once in a while, if you can even manage to speak. It is not a process that makes it easy or simple to explain or to ask for or seek out help from others. Explaining what value I have to them, why it is that they would or should bother to listen to me rambling on in the first place, is a difficult task that I don't fully understand even in my lighter states of mind. I do not easily see myself as a terribly practical friend to have around for the people I find myself affected toward. The best I manage is an acceptance that they do think so despite myself or perhaps an altered mental state that isn't as intimately concerned with these existential questions, for a temporary measure of social lubrication. In a heavier, weighted state, it becomes impossible.

This is, basically, where I have lived for the last two years. The analogy of a cave works to describe the desire I feel getting up in the morning, or sometimes the afternoon if I've no reason to get up and as is usually the case, could not sleep at a "normal" human time, withdrawing and retiring to a place of solitude. Partially this is a place of comfort or safety. Partially this is a result of my more anti-social tendencies at times; I do not enjoy the company or attentions of most people even within the confines of being socially lubricated. And mostly this is a result of often really not wanting to subject people to my existence for a time and feeling as a burdensome task for their daily time than an desirable interlocutor. I can look around at the world and see immediately 50 things worth thinking about, or doing something about that individually people would have more reward or progress than dealing with me and my concerns and thoughts. So why should they bother. My relative indifference to humanity likely poisons the well further. In my lighter state, it's easier to see that the concerns toward other people we find appealing, however minimally at times, are indeed worth more to us than those other 50 things. Because they return to us more easily than the abstractions of aid that I see as far more beneficial to humanity or to each other, as friendship and its associated affections provide us a great deal more meaning, joy, and safety as individuals than most anything else we can do. Adam Smith's great paragraph of insight indicates both that there are things out there worth our concern and that our daily concerns are what in fact matter to us more anyway.

In a heavier stage of thinking, this too becomes impossible to see.

I am consistently impressed upon with the idea that other people find me more interesting or at least the idea of me more interesting than I find it myself. That is that I am considering objects of thought that are not me, if at all possible, and that this task is rarely demonstrated as the contemplation of other people as individuals and their concerns and needs. Abstractly, and as abstractions, yes. Applied to the ideas and attentions of others, something I have more difficulty doing, it becomes certain that they too find it necessary to either avoid thinking of themselves and others. Or, by more common observation, note that that appears to be all they are concerned with is themselves. Neither perspective lends itself to the notion that they are concerned with me, individually.

The great advantage of this perspective is that it appears to be accurate in assessing the amount and quality of attention other people pay to each other and toward random interactions. We don't usually care or pay attention at all, not nearly to the degree we believe they are. It is not necessary to temper the self or to avoid confrontation over an idea or principle, avoid entering into any ensuing debate of the issues and so on, observations or behaviors that may be contentious can be made openly without regard for whether people will think negatively of you. Because mostly they will not care or not take such things personally that they will greatly alter a potential friendship or work environment. It is also not necessary to be afraid of other people, or become fearful or protective for others in our charge either (as many parents do), as most people will politely ignore us rather than plot odious harms to our safety and happiness. This too is a great advantage.

The great disadvantage is it is blinding where people are paying attention and to what. Or why they pay attention to this instead of that. Much of what people pay attention is tedious and wasteful signalling games for status. Expensive objects and shiny things have their evolutionary purpose, for birds or apes, and of course including the human animal. And which I am loathe to participate in if I can avoid them. There are others that are surprising in their attentiveness. Which inevitably drags back the question of why. I can only reasonably conclude that however deranged and abnormal a state was required, another individual deemed it worthy of their time and effort to provide the noble gesture of paying attention to someone other than themselves for a moment and that at some level I must have done something to attract this gesture. I find that curious.

But maybe encouraging. Maybe. A definite perhaps that is.

02 May 2014

a meeting of minds

Something occurred which rarely does. I ventured out in the purpose of being social. Or presuming to be social. Or pretending to be social. This occurs sometimes in the comfort of known persons. It rarely occurs around strange unknown persons. Some points emerge.

Meeting strange people is easier if it is known some basic character traits ahead of time. In this case, all of us were atheists.

Meeting strange people is easier if it conducted with the auspices of minor intoxicants.

Meeting strange people is easier if there are familiar people around. Or somewhat familiar people.

Atheists like to gripe a lot about religion. I get the feeling this is because most atheists were raised under religious conditions. I only really gripe about it when religion intercedes on the basic liberties of people who don't share a particular faith. Some of that shit is really dumb I have to admit and some of it is really harmful to impress upon people. But. These are human beings we're dealing with. Stupid shit that other people believe is part of the deal. Religion is not the whole scope of those beliefs, it just happens to collect some of them together in a neat little package that is easy to either accept or mock.

I think I would prefer atheists meeting to do... things. Conversation is a part of conducting some activities. There is only so much value in meeting to complain about things we all agree upon. This is reassuring, maybe therapeutic, or provides some psychological value. In probably the same way that religious people seem to enjoy gathering at ceremonies and rituals of their faith. Perhaps it needs to be done at times and has its own set of enjoyment in having new conversations with strange people or old conversations with strange people. But. Doing things a) potentially helps other human beings in need of help and b) demonstrates that "we" are not eating live babies or some such, or whatever it is that "you" people seem to think atheists do when they get together.

Mixed gender or sexually oriented groups of atheists have unusual conversations. Or maybe mixed groups of all humans do, but this seems a persistent observation among secular people that they are usually more comfortable with some conversations than is the norm.