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Welcome!

This post is set up to float to the top. I'm getting a bunch of new readers lately, so I figured a welcome/orientation post is appropriate.

Welcome to my journal! (Yeah, yeah, I know, the cool kids call it a blog these days.)

I post intermittently, sometimes at length, usually about personal topics, sometimes about controversial ones. I love thoughtful comments, even (sometimes especially) when they disagree with me. Anonymous comments or private messages are OK, too.

I expect politeness, though -- especially to my other commenters. If you can't be civil, be silent. If I start getting a wave of hostile anonymous commenters, I will likely change my policy.

Some links I keep here for convenience:

What are words worth, anyway?

On Discovering that George, my High-School English Teacher, is Suffering from Hay Fever

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Sneezing and wheezing, we lay waste our powers.
All that we see in Nature that has flowers:
It has sealed our lungs away, a sordid boon!
This Tree now spews its gametes to the moon,
And winds that will be howling at all hours
Blow them to you, induce a nasal shower.
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
Erysichthon reselling his firstborn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have breezes that would make me less forlorn,
Stripped of pollen rising from the tree,
Not hear poor George honk his inflamèd horn.

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So, this spoke to me, not sure why exactly, so I figured I would share it on FB... but then my framing comments on it got out of hand, so I ended up writing them as an LJ entry instead, which rapidly came to have nothing at all to do with the original post.

It's like that in here, sometimes.

Anyway, on consideration I decided that my thoughts on it fall firmly into the "writing as a member of the privileged outgroup" category that has proven problematic in the past, and considered not posting it after all. And then I remembered that I previously constructed a solution to that problem, though I haven't used it since.

So, my second "outgroup" post is now up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's on essentially the same topic as my first "outgroup" post. "All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."

It is here. If you cannot read it, you aren't in my "outgroup" group on LJ. Let me know that you want to read it and I will add you if I can, or I will send you the post via some other means.

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Why do it?

There is too much, said the little bird.

There is too much, and it is too bright, and too loud.
And too heavy.
And the winds are fierce, and cold, and there is rain,
And sometimes snow, or hail.

What is it like to fly? I'd asked.

Why do it? I ask now.

I don't know, she tells me,
As her wings push fiercely at the cold heavy air.

I think, she says,
Or perhaps it is me speaking,
It is the only way to bring tomorrow.

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About "Primaries are NOT safe spaces"

So, I started out responding to this, which several folks on my FB feed have been forwarding approvingly, but it got kind of long, so I put it here.

For my own part, I agree with Feld that important public discussion "attracts a large number of trolls, dysfunctional assholes, people who mean well but are simply not well socialized, and a wide variety of other folks ranging from indifferent to good to nasty." That's the reality on the ground, and that's where we start.

And I recognize that often the perfectly good discourse patterns of marginalized communities are framed as "nasty" or "poorly socialized" or "dysfunctional" or "trollish" as a form of straight-up silencing of those communities, and it's important that we not do that.

But even with that in mind, I think we're still left with a residue of genuinely nasty, trollish, dysfunctional behavior. And I think important public discussion works best when the system pushes back on that stuff effectively.

I think that Feld disagrees with me here. It's very hard to tell, though, because he doesn't really describe what he's disagreeing with.

I mean, I get that whatever it is, it's endorsed by soft middle-aged white pundits who are triggered by and wring their hands over and get the vapors over insulting speech, and that we are being invited to dislike those people and whatever they endorse.

And I get that whatever it is, it's also something "safe spaces" are intended to preserve. Which suggests that we're also being invited to dislike safe spaces, though again, it's hard to tell, since Feld also seems to argue that those soft middle-aged white pundits are wrong to criticize college students for being fond of safe spaces, and are therefore hypocritical. (For the record, I endorse the creation of safe spaces by/for communities that need/want them.)

And I get that whatever it is, it has some connection to the Sanders campaign and the Clinton campaign and pundits calling for more geniality and cohesion among Democrats and leftist Independents. I assume, for example, that this Reich post is an example of the kind of soft hand-wringing hypocritical punditry Feld objects to here... maybe?

But those are all pretty broad categories, and even their intersection is pretty broad. So as I say, it's hard for me to tell what exactly it is he (and those who quote him approvingly) are actually opposing. Possibly if I knew what it was more precisely, I'd agree with him, but as it stands he seems to be fulminating against both baby and bathwater with equal fervor.

So... to summarize:
1) important public discussion works best when the we effectively push back on genuinely nasty, trollish, dysfunctional behavior,

2) it's important not to preclude genuine discussion that doesn't fall into those first few categories, especially when working across cultural boundaries where our intuitive judgments of "genuine discussion" etc. are unreliable,

3) that's just as true for political primaries as for anything else, and

4) I really have no idea whether Harold Feld agrees with this or not.

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Robert Frost's Haggadah

Some sages teach that the world will end in fire,
Others in ice.

How do we know that the world shall end in fire?
For it is written: the Lord our God brought us forth from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
The mighty hand is fire, and the outstretched arm also is fire.

But if the world should end in ice,
and not in fire,
Dayenu.
I had an exchange recently with a FoaF who argued that the fucked-up AZ primary was the result of Republican state officials making voting-infrastructure decisions that differentially targetted demographics that vote Democrat... AND that it was the result of the DNC and DWS and Clinton's decisions, such that Sanders voters were disenfranchised but Clinton supporters weren't.

My initial interpretation of this was just another instance of Always Assume Enemy Action crossed with having multiple concurrent enemies, not especially carefully thought through... so I let it go.

But thinking about it further... there's also the Clinton is Really a Republican narrative, and under that narrative I suppose it makes sense to assume a coordinated effort between the Clinton campaign, the DWS-run DNC, and Arizona Republicans to disenfranchise Arizona Democrats. And I suppose under that narrative, the result is that Sanders voters are disenfranchised by this (since he's really a Democrat) but Clinton voters aren't (since she's really a Republican).

So, OK. Everyone has their preferred narrative. I get that.

The thing that I don't get is why, under that narrative, Sanders is running as a Democrat at all.

I mean, I understand it in my narrative. The DNC's machinery provides benefits to Sanders, and the DNC benefits from Sanders not running a third-party campaign, which potentially splits the DNC vote and leads to a GOP win in November. And the DNC doesn't want a GOP win, in part because Democrats are different from Republicans. And Clinton doesn't want a GOP win, in part because she's a Democrat.

But in the Clinton is Really a Republican narrative, I don't see why that's a problem. Why should the Powers That Be care, under that narrative, whether Sanders runs a third-party campaign? If GOP and DNC operatives are cooperatively coordinating things like AZ voter suppression, why should their corporate masters care whether a third-party Sanders run splits the DNC vote? Why would they care whether Clinton wins, Trump wins, Cruz wins?

The cynic in me replies that in this particular case, there is no narrative. It's really just about signalling support for a preferred candidate, much as we signal support for a preferred football team, and if the signals we adopt aren't mutually consistent and don't actually form a coherent narrative, well, that's OK... they don't have to.

The rest of me doesn't want to accept that, but is having trouble framing an alternative interpretation.

Solving the wrong problem.

Decades ago, I was at a MacWorld where they were selling a gadget called OpenSesame, which would monitor your behavior, look for patterns, and offer to notify the NSA -- er, I mean, would offer to automate those patterns. So it would periodically say things like "I notice that you always empty the trash when you move files there... would you like me to do that automatically?" or whatever.

Which I decided to buy, cuz it sounded like a useful productivity tool.

The woman who was taking purchases had a credit card swipey thing, and a water bottle, and while I was on line I noticed that she kept accidentally knocking the water bottle over when she'd swipe a card. So of course, when I got to her, I said "I notice that you keep knocking that water bottle over when you swipe a credit card... would you like me to knock the water bottle over for you automatically?"

And we all laughed.

A few weeks later I realized I'd inadvertently put my finger on precisely the problem with this tool.

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Things that feel like progress...

So, the problem I've been staring at for the last couple of weeks, uncertain of how to even begin addressing and feeling rather alone and unsupported over, was just replaced this morning by two new problems, both of which are large and fuzzy and complex and ripe with potential failure points but which I have a fairly clear sense of how to begin grappling with, and which I feel like everybody wants me to succeed on.

This is still kind of anxiety-provoking, but in a more in-the-moment kind of way than what they replace, which feels like progress.

Plus I seem to be getting better at responding to anxiety-provoking challenges in my grownup voice rather than my inner-child voice. That, too, feels like progress.

Plus, it is perhaps worth noting that while the problem-swap was externally initiated, it was probably at least in part a consequence of things I've chosen to do, and was able to do well, over the last couple of weeks... that is, that on some level I'm getting the thing I asked for.

So, there's that.

I feel like if it were usually like this, to the point that I more or less got used to it, that would actually be pretty OK.

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Apr. 3rd, 2016

I want to capture this.

I was recently in a conversation (not on the Internet, so if you're wondering if it was with you, it probably wasn't) that started out in a very tense, difficult place, where the other person was saying things about the world with which I disagreed, which I was experiencing as very challenging and problematic, where I wanted to object but knew from experience that objecting would only make things worse, that if I pushed back I would simply exacerbate all the things that made the interaction challenging and problematic in the first place.

So I set aside my objections and listened, with the private understanding that I didn't have to agree with what they were saying, I didn't even have to know whether I agreed with it or not... that it was building on premises I both disagreed with and considered problematic, which meant that no matter how reasonable later conclusions seemed, I really ought not trust those conclusions and that was perfectly OK... I didn't have to.

And shortly thereafter the person was talking explicitly about their feelings of anger and betrayal, and the life experiences from which those feelings draw, and how their reaction to the things they were talking about were informed by those feelings, and in particular how those feelings fueled reactions they knew weren't accurate or useful, but were nevertheless compelling, and how they felt about that.

And my reaction changed 180 degrees. All of a sudden, instead of feeling alienated and separated and isolated by what they were saying about the world which I was unable to usefully engage with, I was feeling connected and supported and emotionally bonded and validated by what they were saying about themselves and their emotions, emotions which I too had at times experienced, and with which we could engage together.

Some time later I called attention to how, as the way they'd expressed themselves had travelled the road from statements about the world to statements about their own emotional state, my reaction had in turn shifted from a sense of frustrated isolation to a sense of productive togetherness. And they replied that they were kind of puzzled by this, because from their perspective they'd been talking about their own emotional state all along, but in any case they were happy that I'd gone from feeling opposed to what they were saying to feeling aligned with it.

Which, well, OK. From my perspective there's a big difference between talking about my emotional state using sentences like "I am angry" and "I feel betrayed" vs. talking about my emotional state using sentences like "When so-and-so does thus-and-such they are wrong!", but I can sort of understand the viewpoint that considers them equivalent.

What that really highlights for me is the usefulness in relationships of processing the things people say in a way that, if you'll pardon the computer metaphor, allocates a large chunk of CPU to processing emotional content and a correspondingly smaller chunk of CPU to processing logical content. I mention it here because I think this dynamic is really important, and I think I'm usually not very aware of it, and I think maybe writing it down will help me be more aware of it moving forward.

Thoughts welcome, but one caveat: I know that none of this is world-shaking or even novel; I know that many many books have been written about this and I'm adding nothing to them. And I understand that even on a personal level, for many people including many friends of mine this is something so routine as to be obvious. If you're one of those people and your reaction to reading this is some version of "Well, duh," that's perfectly fine; I can understand and respect that. But if your inclination is to express that reaction to me, be aware that I will probably experience that expression as dismissive and disrespectful unless you're very careful about how you frame it.

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