Why is honesty rude?

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  

What?  Why is honesty rude?

What kind of society considers honesty, truth, to be less important than—what?  Social cohesion?

And that assumes that people will be offended by the truth.  If the truth is about them, I suppose that’s an accurate assumption.  But what does that say?  About people.

And actually, even if the truth isn’t about them, I suspect many people would be offended by the truth when it challenges their own views.  And what does that say?

More likely, truth has simply been trumped by self-interest.  Because if honesty does offend, for whatever reason, then the truth-speaker will be alienated, ostracized, a social outcast.  (Though, as far as I’m concerned, social inclusion is of dubious value…)

But if we’d’ve been honest every time rights collide, speaking up about the limits of freedoms, perhaps everyone wouldn’t feel so frickin’ entitled all the time.  To everything.

If we’d’ve called each other out, on anything, on everything, we’d be leading more authentic lives.

Many of my neighbours have their tvs on all the time; as a result, they do very little thinking on their own.  Not only because there is no silence, typically required for thought, but also because they’re exposing themselves so relentlessly to a worldview censored by a handful of conglomerates motivated primarily by self-interest.  And then, because there’s nothing going on in their heads, they can’t stand the silence, so they keep the tv on all the time…  But do I say “Shut that thing off and wake the fuck up!”?  Of course not.  That would be rude.

A couple of them also take RV trips.  Do I point out that they’re leaving a huge ecological footprint, that they’ve contributed to climate change, that they’re partly responsible for the increasing number and severity of storms, and that, therefore, they’ve been rather selfish and inconsiderate?  No.  I ask whether they had a good trip.

When I see a woman performing femininity, do I tell her she’s making it hard for those of us who’d like to be taken seriously, for our knowledge and our skills, not for our clownface and shoestilts?  No.

So as it is, superficiality has become a habit.

Those of us with half a brain, who are trying to live an authentic life, a morally responsible life—we’ve been silent too long.  We’ve been polite too long.  We’ve been dishonest too long.

 

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Brunettes, Blondes, and Redheads

So the other day I started reading iron shadows by Steven Barnes.  He’s apparently a bestselling author.  Which is really disturbing.

Because four sentences in, he describes a woman as “a small wiry brunette”.  Seriously?  Does anyone actually identify women by their hair colour any more?  That’s so—1940s.  Isn’t it?  I check.  The book’s copyright is 1998.  Okay.  Guess not.  Guess the tradition of objectifying women lives on.

We don’t do that with men.  We don’t objectify them by their hair colour (or anything else, for that matter).  Their hair colour for godsake.  She’s a brunette.  Or a blonde.  Or a redhead.  As if all women with brown hair are what, interchangeable?  Because they’re completely defined by—the colour of their hair?

Not only that, but he had to mention her size.  Small.  Of course.  If she’s going to be a heroine, she has to be small.  I’m surprised he didn’t tell us how large her breasts are.

And whereas she’s small, he’s “enormous”.  Of course he is.

Could we just reverse the description with nothing odd happening, that test for sexism?  “The man, a small, wiry brunette with an ugly bruise on his left cheek, wore a yellow unisex utility uniform.  The woman was enormous, but barely conscious.”  Not only do you find it odd to hear a man called “a small, wiry brunette”, you no doubt found it a bit disgusting to hear the woman called “enormous”.

I am, goddamnit, still a little forgiving, so I read on.

But the very next woman—or maybe it’s the same woman, since the next bit happens two months earlier—the very next woman “nibbles” on dry wheat toast.  Because we can’t have a woman actually eating with guilt-free enthusiasm.

And she has “an oval face framed by a cascade of small soft blonde ringlets”.  Small again.  And soft.  And blonde.  And ringlets.  Ringlets?!

In case we missed it, “Her habit of peering out from behind them sometimes made her resemble a mischievous child peeking through a fence.”

In 1998.  And published by Tor.

No wonder women can’t get published.  As long as this insulting crap is deemed worthy.  Is bestselling.

When will men finally get it?  When will they finally get it right?

Robert J. Sawyer.  He’s the only one.  The only male sf writer who’s smart enough to create a non-sexist world.

 

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The Dialogue, by Chris Wind

The Dialogue, by Chris Wind (from Deare Sister)

 

Lasthenia, your beard is slipping.

Why thank you.

Did you get the mathematics done?

No. And I tried so hard, Axio, after you left last night. I worked at it for another two hours. It’s just not clear at all. Can you help me again tonight?

All right—I should be able to get away.

Wonderful!!

Lasthenia, please be more discreet passing these notes back and forth. People will begin to notice us.

Well maybe it’s time they did. I get so angry! None of the other students have to pass notes, they murmur freely to each other whenever they have something to say. (Which is all the time.)

None of the other students have soprano voices.

None that we know of. Haven’t you wondered about that new student? The one who sits in the back—never says a word—         Also has a beard.

Stop now, Plato has come in.

See that’s the problem with this disguise. Not only does it cut us of from the men, it cuts us off from each other too.

But otherwise we couldn’t be here, and we’d be even more cut off. Now please! If Plato sees us, he’ll think we aren’t paying attention, and I’d hate to offend him so!

Do you think he’s going to continue with the concept of justice? I was thinking about that on my way here this morning. And I think the problem is that we associate justice with goodness. Look what happens if we don’t do that: something can be just without necessarily being good.

That’s an interesting idea. So the person to whom the guns were entrusted gives them back when the owner, though no longer in his right mind, requests them—the action can indeed be just, but not good.

Yes, and it can be just to charge everyone the same amount (or to charge anything at all) for medical services, but not good.

But that doesn’t get us any closer to defining justice, to deciding what is and is not just.

Well to me, it’s a lot like mathematics.

Meaning you don’t understand it?

Very funny. No, meaning it’s a matter of equations, of strict equivalences.

Go on.

Well that’s all very fine with numerical relations, but it’s impossible in human relations—unless we treat people like numbers. An example: for one child, taking away a toy is punishment, for another, the mere suggestion of it is enough.

Because the children are different emotionally, the impact will be the same even the action needs to be different.

Exactly, because numbers just have quantity, but people have quality as well—emotional quality, physiological quality, situational quality.

Hm. So are we saying justice has no place in human relations?

Oh shit, Aristotle’s getting up to speak. If he rants and raves about women again like he did yesterday, I swear I won’t be silent this time.

No, Lasthenia, you mustn’t! If you speak out, all will be lost!

If I don’t, all will be lost. If he’s allowed to continue, uncontested, he will soon persuade the others—you know how he can talk. And he’s rich too.

So?

Well, don’t you see? Plato is getting old. Unless he names a successor, the Academy will close, then Aristotle will open his own school. He knows Plato will never ask him to carry on the Academy, his ideas are too different. And as far as I know, he hasn’t named anyone. Has he sent any word to you about it?

To me?

Well why not? You heard what Speusippus said he said about you, “Axiotheo alone has the mind bright enough to grasp my ideas.”

Yes but that doesn’t mean he’s going to name me his successor. Sometimes I think he knows I’m really Axiothea. And he knows as well as I that if the next director were a woman, the state would stop its funding. And unlike Aristotle, my father is not physician to the King—I have no private backing to keep a school going.

What about Samothea? She was head of the Hyperborean University in Cornwall.

True enough. I don’t know how she managed. I would think enrolment as well as funding would decrease. But she’s a Briton, things must be different there. No, Plato would be wise to name Lycurgus or Demosthenes.

Those airheads? Maybe they speak well, but they say nothing.

How would you know? You never listen! You’re always too busy distracting me with these notes!

I listen when there’s something worth listening to. And Aristotle is not worth listening to.

Give him a chance.

A chance? Did you hear what he just said? Axio, I have to speak out!

No, Lasthenia, be careful of winning a battle only to lose a war! The time isn’t right!

The time is never right!

That’s not true. Wait until this mess with the Macedonians has passed. Everything’s at loose ends now, our voice will get lost.

But when everything’s tight, there’s no room for our voice.

No, listen, we have to wait until the men feel secure. If we rise now, we’re just one more threat. Their response will be irrational, flung out of fear. When things are settled, when they are sure of their own position, then they can listen to the arguments about ours.

No! They were ‘secure’ last century. And look what happened. Already Aspasia and Diotima are unacknowledged, forgotten. We hear only of Socrates, not of the women who taught him. And yet Diotima’s social philosophy and her theories on nature have never been surpassed. And Elpinice and Aglaonice—what has happened to them, to their work? The surer the men get of their ‘position’, the surer they are to ‘put us in ours’! Perictyone alone is remembered, her papers are still read, but only because she’s Plato’s mother; you watch, as soon as he’s dead, she’ll be buried too!

No, that won’t happen, I don’t believe it!

It will! Axio, it has! Who is credited with the golden mean concept? Pythagoras, not Theano! She was brilliant! Mathematics, medicine, physics, psychology, named successor to his Institute at Croton—but is her name ever mentioned? And Theoclea, and Myla, Arignote, Damo—     Axio, it’s gone on long enough! We have to do something, we have to speak out!

We?

No—you’re quite right—you!

Me?! You’re crazy! Why me?

Well no one knows me from a hole in the ground. But if Axio—if Axio stands up as a woman—     Plato will have to acknowledge you! You’re his favourite—he’ll have to support you! And so will all the other students: either that or retract their past judgements, admit error. And you know how unlikely that is.

Oh Lasthenia, I don’t know. You don’t know what you’re asking. As I said, I think Plato knows. And if I expose myself, I expose him. I’d be putting him in a very awkward position. You’re right, he is old, and what with the way things are, he may lose the Academy altogether if I—     No. I owe him, he’s let me attend his classes, even though I am a woman.

You’d be putting him in an awkward position? Look at us! Plato has given you less than you deserve! That’s no cause for gratitude! You owe him nothing!

But Lasthenia, you’re exaggerating about Aristotle. His system of formal logic, remember his seminar last week? You must admit that what he proposes is an excellent way of thinking.

Does he think we’re capable of it?

His three types of soul, vegetative, sensitive, rational—

Ask him which type women have.

Happiness as the aim of all human action—

Whose happiness?

Lasthenia, he’s not that bad!

Axio listen to him! “For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male”—not that bad??
Axio, I beg you—think of Arete. She’s eleven now. In a few years, she’ll be ready to come to the Academy, she can’t learn everything from her father. She’s very bright, you know that. I gave her Perictyone’s paper On Wisdom to read a fortnight ago. Do you know, she understood it? And questioned very well! Do you want her to bind her breasts too, paste on a beard and learn to swagger—do you condemn her as well to silence in school?

All right.          All right. Maybe it is time.     But Lasthenia, I can’t stand up to Aristotle.

What do you mean you can’t stand up to Aristotle! For a man interested in empirical data, he seems positively blind to the reality of women. Just tell him the facts, tell him what we can do, what we are. And his logic—it’s so weak, even I could make it collapse.

But look at who’s here—they’ll laugh—          I can’t speak.     I’ll squeak.

Axio, I’ve heard you speak. You’re intelligent, you’re articulate—you can so speak. Just pretend you’re speaking to me Axio, as you do every evening—go, you can do it!

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Why don’t we have professional jurors?

A while ago I received a summons to appear for jury selection.  So I dutifully drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to establish my fitness to serve.  No, that’s not true.  I drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to answer their questions – and curious as to whether one or both of the lawyers would decide they’d rather not have me on the jury.

The judge welcomed us — all hundred of us, it was standing room only — and  briefly described the upcoming trial and the jury selection process.  He then said, “If there is anyone with hearing problems who has trouble hearing what’s being said in the court room, please raise your hand.”  The process was off to an impressive start, I thought.

We were a motley crew of housewives, electricians, social workers, administrative assistants, metal fabricators, and restaurant owners.  I know, because as we were called one by one to stand before the lawyers, that information was provided to them.  We weren’t asked if we had any prejudices, if we had any issues with the law that had been broken, or if we would be able to render a fair decision.  (‘Yes, but the relevant issue is whether my prejudices would get in the way’; ‘Yes, I don’t think possessing marijuana should be illegal, nor do I think selling it should be illegal – especially as long as selling alcohol is lega’l; and ‘That depends on what evidence is presented and how it’s presented – and your definition of ‘fair’.’)  Which means that the lawyers’ decisions to accept or reject us were based solely on what we looked like and what we did for a living.  So much for prejudices and rendering a fair decision.

Oh, and we were asked to look the accused in the eye.  (“AAGH!”)

And then, if we were accepted, we were asked this question: “Do you swear that you shall well and truly try and true deliverance make between our sovereign the Queen and the accused at the bar, whom I have in charge, and a true verdict give, according to the evidence, so help you God.”  Well, ya should’ve asked that before.  Because first, I don’t know what the hell “true deliverance make” means.  Second, as for being able to give a true verdict, if we knew what the truth of the matter was, we wouldn’t have to have a trial now, would we? And third, I’m atheist, so I’m not putting my hand on that.  ‘Reject’ both attorneys say at once.

Well, no they didn’t, actually, because I never got a chance to say any of that.  The required thirteen jurors were selected before my name was called.  And I have no idea why the chosen thirteen were chosen.  Why was the college instructor rejected?  Because she might ask too many questions and get too few answers and, therefore, hang the jury?  Because it would be too inconvenient for her to be away from her job for two weeks?  And why was the steelworker accepted?  Because he smiled at the judge and seemed like an awshucks kinda guy?  Or because his employer would reimburse him so the five dollars an hour we’d be getting paid wouldn’t be quite so appalling.  (Mind you, that’s just if the trial goes on for more than ten days; for the first ten days, we aren’t paid at all — which means it may well cost us to be a juror, given the ten days’ lost income.)

What’s even more appalling, of course, is that someone’s future is at stake.  Whether or not the accused spends time, possibly years, in prison is up to people who aren’t even getting paid.

‘Course why should they be?  It’s not like they’re qualified.  Their names were drawn out of a hat and they were chosen largely on the basis of their appearance.

All of which BEGS the question, Why don’t we have professional jurors?  People who are trained not only to recognize and resist personal prejudice, but to recognize and resist loaded language.  People who understand the difference between fact and opinion, and who know what an argument is, and the difference between an inductive argument and a deductive one.  People who can identify and evaluate unstated assumptions, and who understand relevance, the difference between correlation and causation, and the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.  People who understand the many ways to reason incorrectly and who know how to evaluate personal testimony, sources, and studies.  People who are paid according to their qualifications and contribution.

Seriously, why don’t we have professional jurors?  Is it because we want a jury of our peers to decide our fate?  Why in the world would most people want that?  Most people’s peers couldn’t tell the difference between good evidence and bad evidence if their – your – life depended on it!  Is it because we think that in a democracy such decisions are best made by the common people?  Right, well, maybe that’s the problem with democracy.  We have professional judges; our judges are trained to be clear and critical thinkers (notwithstanding the one mentioned above).  And since jurors often bear more responsibility for the judgements to be made in our courts, they too should be trained, qualified to do the job.

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I can do whatever I want on my own property!

I am so very sick and tired of hearing ‘I can do whatever I want on my own property!’  The latest instance concerns a neighbour who has stuck some of those new solar lights in front of her cottage, lakeside of course.

Thing is, they don’t have an on/off switch.  So what she’s done on her own property means the rest of us will have to see her lights every night, all night, for the rest of our lives.

If we lived in the city, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad; they’d get ‘lost’ in their surroundings.  But we live on a lake in the forest.  Where the stars are amazing and the moon glimmers across the water. And now there are a dozen lights at eye level a little to my left whenever I look out at night. They stand out like a middle finger.

I can understand the desire for outdoor lights in order to see where you’re going, but then turn them off when you go to bed.  Or in this case, cover them.  And I can understand the possibility of all-night lights deterring wildlife, but motion-sensor lights would be a better choice, if only for the startle effect.

Please, people, are you really that stupid?  Do you really not see that what you do, even on your own property, affects others?  On that basis, those others most certainly do have a right to ask you not to do something.

In the same way, your pre-1980 use of spray cans is justifiably subject to my complaint.  It’s why I’m at risk for skin cancer now.  Your excessive use of fossil fuels was partly responsible for the flood or drought that destroyed my house.  (Let’s say.)  Your actions often have consequences for me.  Not immediately and not directly and maybe you’re too stupid to see any other kind of consequence, but nevertheless, most certainly, what you do affects me.

The really sad thing is that my neighbour doesn’t even notice the lights.  She doesn’t believe me when I say I do.  She’s that desensitized to her environment.  Or that inattentive.  She thinks I’m exaggerating the intrusion.  I received the same response when I complained about the bright red Home Hardware sign that suddenly appeared nailed to a tree at the end of the lane.  And when I’ve complained about any one of a hundred noises – dirt bikes, atvs, leaf blowers, weed trimmers, generators, chain saws.  Those of us who see things, who hear things, those of us who pay attention to what’s around us, we’re the ones to suffer.  The dullards who go through life with a ‘What?’ expression permanently on their face, who wouldn’t notice, well, anything, they’re the ones living happily.  So in order not to go crazy, I wear earplugs most of the time now.  And my reading glasses, so everything more than six feet past the tip of my nose is out of focus.  The alternative is to become as oblivious as the rest of ‘em.

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The Weather Report

Does anyone else find the weather report really, really irritating?  All that drama!  It’s going to rain!  Oh how exciting!  A low pressure weather front is moving in!  Oh my, grab the kids!!

And the pseudo-scientific detail!  The rain is going to be caused by water droplets, that’s droplets of H2O, in the air that will succumb to gravity, under normal conditions, and eventually reach us, possibly at 6:20 or maybe 6:21.

Thing is, all that drama and detail distracts us from what’s really going on with the weather.  Notice the obsession with proximate causes?  Is it because if they addressed the real causes, those remote causes like CFCs and fossil fuel consumption/emission, they’d have to address blame?

 

 

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Toller Cranston on Janet Lynn

[Obviously written a while ago, and yet … this shit keeps being said.]

 

Toller Cranston, as Janet Lynn takes the ice: “You wouldn’t know by looking at her that she’s a housewife and mother of three.”

What?

Would he have said of Kurt Browning, “You wouldn’t know by looking at him that he does stuff around the house and is a father of three”??

I think not.

Clearly Cranston thinks that – well, I don’t know what the hell he thinks.  That doing stuff around the house is somehow incompatible with – skating?  I’ll grant that being a parent could deplete one’s energy to the point that maintaining an elite level of athletic performance is unlikely, but that would apply only if the kids were a certain age and only if one didn’t have any assistance – and it would apply to men as well as women.

I suspect he has some stereotype of housewife and mother in his mind that Lynn didn’t fit.  Perhaps that of a ditsy simpleton or an unkempt troll.

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The Academy Awards – why sex-segregated for acting?

Why is the acting category of the Academy Awards sex-segregated (Best Actor in a Lead/Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Leading/Supporting Role)?  We don’t have separate awards for male and female directors. Or screenwriters, cinematographers, costume designers, film editors, soundtrack composers, or make up persons.

Is one’s sex really relevant to one’s acting ability? In a way that justifies separate awards?

Of course not.

My guess is that it’s because the award isn’t really for the actor/actress, but for the character portrayed.  Probably partly because most people can’t distinguish the two.  I’ll bet George Clooney still gets asked what to do by moms whose kid has a fever.

Even so, why do we have separate categories?

Because if we didn’t, women would never win.  Not because they’re worse actors (remember the award isn’t for acting ability), but because we honor the heroes.  And women never get to play hero.

 

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Business in Denial

‘We’re just providing what the market, what people, demand.’  ‘The customer is squarely in the driver’s seat.’  Yeah right.  Gosh, shucks, don’t-look-at-me.

One, I doubt that’s true.  I mean, if people really wanted your product, you wouldn’t (have to) spend millions on advertising, advertising to persuade them to buy it.  Supply isn’t (just) following demand; demand is (also) following supply.  Your supply.  You’re in the driver’s seat.

Two, even if it is true, that people do want it, I find it hard to believe that someone with enough whatever to get into positions of power, decision-making positions, would be so meekly obedient to the desires, the demands, of the common people.

Or so helpless: ‘demands’ is such loaded language, implying that resistance, your resistance, is futile, implying that you are without power here.

Or so spineless – as if you have no mind, no desire, no will of your own.

Please, have the guts, the maturity, to take responsibility for your actions.  You have a choice.  You produce/provide what you do because you choose to, because you want to.  If you are acceding to market demands – and I have no doubt that you are – it’s because it’s profitable, it’s because (you think) it’s in your best interests.  You ‘want to make it easy for the customer to do business with [you]’ because business with you is business for you.  Customers are a means to your end of profit.  Otherwise you’d be as interested in poverty management as you are in wealth management.

‘Our shareholders demand high returns.’  Another pass-the-buck denial of responsibility.  One, again, I doubt that’s strictly true.  Did you ask them all?  And was their response fully informed?  Were they aware that their high returns come at the expense of others? (Others’ low wages, loss of employment; others’ high prices, loss of choice through monopoly; environmental degradation; etc.)

And two, even if they do, again, do you have to obey them?  Of course not.  Unless – and here’s the all important hidden (by you, from you) assumption – unless you want the value of your company to be ‘high’ so people will give you money.  There’s that self-interest again.

‘Return on equity is an important measure of our success.’  Not the amount of good one does, not the amount of happiness one creates, no, these things don’t matter; success isn’t even justice, isn’t getting back what one puts out, no, success is how much more one gets back than one puts out.  Self-interest.  Literally, interestFor the self.  It’s egoism, pure and simple.  And childish and dangerous.  I don’t think ‘society as a whole’ is in the vocabulary.  The total inability to recognize, let alone deal with, the moral dimension – i.e., the consideration of others – is frightening.

And the ego knows no satisfaction.  ‘From start-up to growth.’  The life cycle of a business seems to stop there.  At growth.  And more growth.  And more growth.  Excuse me?  What about stasis?  What about decline?  They are part of the entire life cycle.  Only a cancer grows and grows and grows.

 

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What’s Wrong with Power (a few preliminary thoughts)

The thing about power (power over others, that is, not power over oneself) is that it can interfere with the other’s freedom of choice.  But it does so only if they use that power, you may wish to clarify.  So people should simply not use their power over others; they should not even show they have it.

Well no, the thief doesn’t have to use the gun in order to interfere with my choice of giving or not giving her my money.  Simply having the power to shoot me affects my decision.  But, you’ll counter, other people always have some sort of power over you – the thief may not even have the gun with him.  (Yeah, it’s usually a him.)

Correct.  In fact, he may not even own a gun.  He need only have the power to buy (and then use) the gun.  In fact, a gun need not even be involved.  He could run into me with her car.  The bottom line is that everyone has the power to do something harmful, something hurtful, to everyone else.  Therefore, everyone’s freedom of choice is limited in some way.  And that’s all there is to this point: there is no such thing as complete freedom of choice – all of our decisions are made in a context of possible, or probable, consequences.

But there’s something here of importance: the difference between possible and probable.  Surely we give more weight to the latter.  Harm is more probable if the thief has a gun pointed to my head than if he has yet to even buy one.

And there’s another point of importance: there is a difference between constraint and coercion.  Constraint becomes coercion only when the person would’ve chosen otherwise had the constraints not been there.  That is to say, if I would’ve given my money to you anyway, your power over me is not coercion, it is not controlling me.

And interestingly enough, control is not dependent on the intentional use of power by the other.  Just as often it is one’s own judgement, which may well be incorrect, of the probability of harm that controls one’s behaviour.

Having power over others, others having power over us – these are facts of life.  The easy part is distinguishing constraint from coercion; the tricky part distinguishing possible from probable.  But our freedom of choice depends on these distinctions.

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