Oh the horror

On yet another occasion during which I was stunned by one of my neighbour’s stupidity and ignorance, it suddenly occurred to me that the person I was speaking with probably hadn’t read a book since high school.

(Yes, it then occurred to me that s/he probably hadn’t read a book during high school either.)

Then it occurred to me that that was probably true for most people. 

I tried to imagine what that would be like.  What my mind would be like if I hadn’t read a book, not one book, in the last, say, forty years.

Oh the horror.

Because what could possibly go on inside such a mind?

In addition to their high school history and geography textbooks, through which they might have plodded here and there, they might have read, perhaps, a dozen novels, in all.  Library books for the annual book review assignment in English class.  Who is the main character?  Describe the setting.  What is the main conflict?

They may as well be illiterate.  They are, essentially.  They’re functionally illiterate.    Because yes, they can and probably do read package labels and price tags, but what else?

The newspaper.  Which is pretty much nothing but exposition.   Low-level description.  No analysis.  No critique.

What if everyone read just one non-fiction book a week?  What if employers rewarded them for doing so, as many of them do now for physical exercise: in addition to so many points per kilometer, because it reduces their healthcare costs, so many points per page, because —   Ah, there’s the rub.  What’s in it for them?  Nothing.  In fact, on the contrary, it’s to their advantage not to have their employees develop knowledge, understanding, critical ability.

Okay, so what if the government implemented such a reward program?  Well, it’s not really in their best interests either.  Which explains, perhaps, why the education system doesn’t mandate critical thinking courses.

Of course, if parents …    But every time they say ‘Because I said so,’ they stomp on critical thinking.  It’s just easier that way, I guess.

So in whose interests is it be critical?  Our own, of course.  Otherwise, we’re suckers to manipulation by media.  Corporations.  Government.  Anyone who puts their own self-interest before yours.

But in our society, the word ‘critical’ has negative connotations.  It’s bad to be critical.

Oh the horror.

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.

 

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!

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.

The Mr. America Pageant – a short film script

The Mr. America Pageant, Peg Tittle

(hoping there are some people out there looking for short feminist scripts!)

This is a parody of the Miss America Beauty Pageants.  Basically, it’s a freeform collage of scenes (of indeterminate length – five minutes might suffice) similar to those one would see during the pageant, but all featuring male contestants instead of female contestants.  Seeing men say and do such things is hilarious; why isn’t seeing women equally laughable?

Suggested scenes…

  1. Backstage before the opening parade of contestants, showing shots of individual men in close-up, wearing their crowns, gushing about how excited they are to be here, to have won in their home state – and to be HERE!! – oh my, this is what they have dreamed about since they were a little boy…
  1. Opening parade of contestants: each man in a tuxedo, wearing his home state banner and crown, walks (in that rehearsed way) from offstage to front and center, poses in profile to left and right, smiling throughout, then walks to the back to stand in chorus line, while the MC introduces each one by state, the contestants adding “I’m X, and my home state is Y!”
  1. Swimsuit competition: a parade of the men, most in a bikini, some in a larger suit, again with their banners on
  1. Talent competition: men doing the things the women tend to do…twirling a baton (and smiling at the same time), playing the piano, playing the flute (and smiling at the same time), singing a (sappy, insipid) song, dancing on pointe and singing at the same time (and smiling at the same time)
  1. Interview section: the individual men are asked questions, and they give the answers the women so often give – What are your life plans? I want to help people, I would like to work with children, I want to become the best person I can be, I like reaching out to young people, changing their lives…What is the most important thing to you? world peace…What do you cherish the most? children, life…What would you tell young people today? I would tell them to look inside their hearts…
  1. Mr. Congeniality Award: presented with lots of hugs and tears
  1. Mr. America crowning: the finalists are called and assemble at front and center, then the runners-up are eliminated one by one, and finally the winner is declared, crowned, and presented with flowers and a sceptre; again tears and hugs; he stands in glory, then does the victory walk out toward the audience and back, then stands again, tears streaming down his face.

“It’s a Boy”

It was understandable, really.  By far, most of the crime— 97% in fact—was committed by men.  Prisons are expensive to build and maintain.  Prisoners are also expensive—they don’t work while they’re in prison, so we have to support them.  Then there’s the expense of the police forces and courts that get them there.  And the emergency services that take care of all the gunshot wounds, the knife slashes, the broken jaws…

She pushed.  And pushed.  The hospital room was white and sterile.  The attending doctor said something to the assisting nurse from time to time, but things seemed to be progressing normally.  But that didn’t mean it wasn’t excruciatingly painful.

Her husband mopped the sweat off her brow, and encouraged, and reassured.

“And push again,” the doctor said.

“It better be a girl,” she grunted as she pushed again when the wave of pain struck her.

“Don’t worry about that now, honey” her husband said.  “Just focus, you’re doing good…”

            Then there’s  all the environmental stuff.  All those beer cans, empty cigarette packs, fast food cartons—most of the litter along the highways was put there by men.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What are they driving on those highways?  Big cars and pick-up trucks.  Gas-guzzlers with high emissions.  And the companies that dump toxic waste, and clear cut forests, and dam river systems…?  All run by men.

“I want a girl,” she cried.  With exhaustion.  With worry.

“Oh come now,” the nurse said.  “Boys are harder, I know, had two of ‘em myself.  Holy terrors half the time, but you love ‘em just the same.”

“Another push— ”

            The insurance companies opened the door when they implemented higher premiums for men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six.  They were the ones more likely to cause an accident.  Can’t argue with the facts and figures.

“No, it’s not that,” she gasped, “It’s the money.

“Shh, honey, we’ll find a way, it’ll be all right,” he wiped her brow again.

“One more, I think—”

She gave one final push then fell back against the pillows, drenched, exhausted.  She waited anxiously for the announcement.

“It’s a boy!”

            They called it the Gender Responsibility Tax— a $5,000 surtax was levied on each and every male.  Payable annually, from birth to death.  By the parents, of course, until the boy reached manhood.  


(Thanks to June Stephenson.  It was her idea.)

 

“I am Eve” by chris wind

the first piece in Thus Saith Eve...

I am Eve

 

the bad girl, the evil woman.

I stand accused, and sentenced. Without a trial. For life.

Because of my single action, millions of individuals have been born with ‘original sin’, have been guilty even before they acted, doomed before they started. I alone have been held responsible for this sad and pathetic fallen race. Therefore, let me begin by correcting this: if I were free not to fall in the first place, they were free not to fall after me; and if I were not free, then I can’t be held responsible—for my fall or theirs.

Now, let us further examine the charges, let us correctly define that action.

I have been condemned for choosing knowledge over ignorance: the fruit I ate came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In a society that praises pursuit of knowledge and honours men of wisdom, why have I been viewed with disfavour? Had Adam reached out first, would he have been so rebuked? Or is the state of ignorance requisite for women only? (Histories pass on Socrates, they pass over Aspasia.)

In the same vein, I chose experience over innocence. In a context of attitudes that value experience, the disapproval of my action can only imply the desire that women, like children, live in a state of innocence.

I have also been condemned for disobedience. If that were the issue, then why wasn’t the tree so named—‘the tree of obedience and disobedience’ or ‘the tree of temptation’. By naming it what it was not, God either deliberately tempted me or deliberately deceived me. And he should be judged, not I.

Perhaps though, the tree really was a tree of knowledge. In that case, one should wonder what insecurities led God to prefer obedience over knowledge. Indeed, one should wonder why he went so far as to forbid knowledge. The reason is evident in Genesis (3:22-23): he didn’t want us to equal him. He sent us out of Eden to prevent our eating from the tree of life, because already we were as wise for having eaten from the tree of knowledge, and if we had made it to the tree of life before he found us, we would’ve been immortal as well—we would’ve been as godly.

And that takes me onward, for counted among my sins is that of pride. Considering that later, through his son, God commands us to ‘follow in his footsteps’, I find the label of pride odd for the action that would do just that—make me like God. Furthermore, I find it odd to be condemned for being like God when, after all, he created us in his image (Gen 1:26-27). And God certainly is proud: to create us in his image can be called narcissistic, and to prefer us to spend our time admiring him rather than learning about him is equally evidence of pride. (As an aside, I would think that my knowledge would increase my admiration; that wasn’t why I ate the fruit, but if it was, would it have mattered? Did God ever ask my intent?)

I have also been charged with a lack of faith. Yet I took it on faith in the first place that God told us not to eat from the tree: remember, he gave the command to Adam before I even existed (Gen 2:16-17).  (I don’t rule out the possibility that the command therefore was meant only for Adam—God knew that knowledge in the hands of men is a dangerous thing.)  Further, I had faith in the serpent, I trusted the serpent to be telling the truth. Is it dishonourable to trust?

And is it reprehensible to act on that trust, as I did then in offering the fruit to another, to Adam? God commanded innocence, then held me responsible for an act of innocent intent. For how could I know my faith was misplaced? How could I know the serpent was evil until I had knowledge of good and evil? By telling us not to eat of the tree, he insisted on ignorance—but then held us responsible, for an act of ignorance.

Lastly, I have been condemned for using my reason, for it is through the exercise of reason that I decided to eat the fruit. The serpent’s explanation of God’s motives, that the knowledge of good and evil would make us godly and he didn’t want us to equal him (Gen 3:5), seemed very reasonable to me. God’s command on the other hand, not even to touch the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because then I’d die, seemed so very unreasonable. Where is the fault in using that faculty given to me by God? The fault is not mine, but God’s: he made reason guide our will and left our reason prey to deceit.

Or did he? History has it that the serpent’s words were false, that I was deceived. But God’s words after the fact (Gen 3:22 “Behold, the man is become as one of us”) verify the serpent’s prediction (Gen 3:5 “Ye shall be as gods”): the serpent was telling the truth.  (And in fact God lied: he said we would die (Gen 3:3) if we touched the fruit of that tree, and we didn’t—at least not for several hundred years.) And so I stand condemned, for listening to truth. And for offering that truth to others.

 

a couple excerpts from UnMythed, by chris wind

and now for something a little different, a couple excerpts from UnMythed, by chris wind

 

Macha

 

this one I’ll tell straight:

 

you were forced to race against a team of horses

you were pregnant at the time

you won

then you died, giving birth.

 

but with that last great exhalation

you cast a curse

upon the warriors of Ulster:

for nine generations

whenever they attempted to fight

they were incapacitated

with childbirth pains.

 

***

 

Amphion

 

perhaps you’re right about my beard–

it’s funny, I guess facial hair

well, hair of almost any kind

is a measure of masculinity

and academics and artists

have always felt a little like eunuchs

(real men use their bodies)

 

it’s an interesting insight

(and surprising from you)

but it falls a little short–

what I wonder is this:

do I have a beard

to look more like a man

or less like a woman?

The Sci Phi Journal!

Check out the Sci Phi Journal: a journal about science fiction and philosophy!

Not just about though, there are many cool stories to read and think about…

Planning is Sinister?

In This Changes Everything,* Naomi Klein makes an interesting observation, intended to explain why we aren’t building the kind of economy we need: “… there is something sinister, indeed vaguely communist, about having a plan to build the kind of economy we need, even in the face of existential crisis” (125, my emphasis).

Is that why we don’t plan?

At the individual level.  People are so que sera even about creating other human beings.  ‘You’re pregnant?  I didn’t know you wanted to spend twenty years of your life looking after someone.’  ‘Oh, it just happened ….’

And at the community level.  If lakes were zoned, for example, everyone—jetskiers, and people-with-screeching-kids, and canoeists —could be happy.  But as it is, the first group is angry with the third, the second group is angry with the first, the third group is angry with both the first and the second.

This lack of planning—it’s all because it’s communistBecause a pre-determined society is somehow against individual freedom?  

Not planning is against individual freedom.  Not planning is allowing yourself to be tossed about at random, by chance—and that’s not being free.

I wonder if there’s also a religious element involved.  To plan, to choose your future, is to reject, or at least challenge, God’s plan.  For you, your future.

Also, planning requires foresight, and foresight requires imagination.  Which, I’m realizing, most people don’t have.

Planning also requires strong desires, for X over Y.  Again, I’m realizing that most people—don’t really care.  (Which means they get in the way of those of us who do.)

 

*very highly recommended, by the way