Kicking People Out: It Isn’t About Punishment, It’s About Pragmatism

Imagine you’re a scientist. You work in a lab with some dangerous chemical shit. Shit that will eat your face. It’s generally a safe environment, though. Protocols are followed, the people who work there know what they’re dealing with and how to contain it safely. They know what will react badly with it and what won’t. Chemical A is dangerous to mix with Chemical B, to expose to ultraviolet light, whatever.

One day, walking through the lab, you see a fellow lab worker deliberately mixing Chemicals A and B right under an ultraviolet light.

You sound an alarm, get everyone out of the room, and turn to them.

“Why the fuck are you trying to get us all killed?”

“I wasn’t trying to get anyone killed, I was running an experiment!”

“You never mix those! Ever! ALL OF OUR FACES COULD HAVE BEEN EATEN!”

“Dude, calm down. Just tell me why I shouldn’t mix them. I’m sure I’ll get it. Won’t happen again.”

“No. If you don’t know that stuff already, you’re a danger to yourself and to everyone in this lab. You’re fired. Get out.”

Labmate didn’t mean to put everyone’s faces at risk, but if a situation like that happened, I still wouldn’t let them back in the lab. It wouldn’t matter if the cause of the mistake was malice or ignorance, because no matter which one it was, there would be no reason to think something similar wouldn’t happen again. It wouldn’t matter if Labmate’s feelings were hurt. It wouldn’t matter if all of their friends worked there. It wouldn’t matter if they thought I was overreacting. What would matter is that if they stayed, people’s safety would be at risk.

Kicking this person out isn’t about punishing them, it’s about pragmatism. It’s about harm reduction. Functionally, when the concern is safety, it doesn’t matter whether that safety is put at risk because of malice or ignorance. Whether a person meant to hurt people or just didn’t know how to act in a way that wouldn’t hurt people, the end result is the same: that person’s presence put others at risk. Labmate intentionally mixed dangerous chemicals: people get hurt. Labmate mixed the chemicals because he didn’t know any better: people get hurt.

Functionally, the impact of sufficiently advanced ignorance is indistinguishable from malice (in this example, horrible chemical face-eating), and as such, functionally, it should be treated the same way. Functionally, in many cases, both malice and ignorance are signs that you cannot be relied on not to hurt people. Sometimes the end result is so similar that it’s difficult to tell which one it is in the first place. It doesn’t matter, though, because the outcome is just as destructive in either case.

This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone who sexually assaulted someone else meant to or not, I still want them kicked out of the scene.

This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone has poor social skills or not, if they regularly sexually harass people, unknowingly or not, I don’t want them at my conferences.

This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone is really a good person and doesn’t mean to be racist, sexist, classist, etc, I still want them kicked out of safe spaces.

If you lack the knowledge or skills to recognize when you’re crossing a line, you have my sympathy and empathy. That lack of perception can be difficult to deal with. If you think the fact that it’s not intentional makes the harm you do irrelevant, though, reread the beginning of this post, and tell me you think Labmate should be allowed to continue handling dangerous substances. Tell me the fact that their feelings are hurt is more important than the safety of the people around them.

If someone doesn’t realize that they are making other people uncomfortable, acting inappropriately, insulting, minimizing, degrading others, violating boundaries, etc—that doesn’t mean they aren’t still doing real damage. It may not be intentional, it may be that they’re a product of an environment that failed to prepare them for the environment they find themselves in. That sucks. Be that as it may, the damage done is no less real on account of it. It is no less real and it is no less destructive.

Sexual assault hurts people and it hurts communities. Sexual harassment hurts people and it hurts communities. Discrimination and unchecked privilege hurt people and hurt communities. That damage matters. Full stop.

If people tell you to leave a public space, online or offline, because your presence is causing harm, and you don’t understand why, the correct move is to leave, educate yourself, and come back when you understand what happened well enough to reliably not cause harm in the future. If your presence presents a danger to your community, and they tell you to leave, and you make the conversation about how they shouldn’t kick you out because of your hurt feelings, then you are using emotional blackmail to justify putting people in your community at risk. You are demonstrating how right they are to kick you out in the first place. Full stop.

This post dedicated to everyone who has ever knowingly or unknowingly abused, harassed, discriminated against, minimized the problems of, or otherwise done damage to the communities they participate in and then, when called on it, tried to make the resulting conversation about them and their hurt feelings.

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Life Update: A Week of Contrast

This week does not know what it is. One day it’s incredibly intense and interesting and cool to the point of being overwhelming and the next it’s slow and pain-y and I feel like an unproductive loser.

I’ve slacked off on studying the last few days and have been trying to find ways to get motivated again. I finally bought Agile Web Development with Rails and also a book on Backbone on Rails, which I’ve taken to reading on walks. That has helped, but it’s only good for 1-2 hours of productivity a day. The rest I know what I should be doing, but I’m having a lot of trouble getting motivated to do it. In part, it’s been one of those weeks where you feel like everyone but you knows how to be a real adult.

Mostly I need to figure out a way to have some structure to my week that enforces some getting out and interacting with people.

Tomorrow I meet someone about a part-time web development job, so if that goes well and is engaging enough for back pain not to be an issue, then I think it will be helpful. It’s not in my language of choice, but if it’s a decent place to work I’ll take what I can get—part time web dev jobs don’t grow on trees, or so I’m told.

Otherwise over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on meeting people, learning to cook, learning to touch type, getting registered to vote, finally getting a real credit card, and finally, finally getting enrolled in school. Classes will start officially in November.

I’ve been exercising, too, and getting in shape has been a frustratingly slow process, particularly with my shoulders still not having fully recovered from being injured in May. Trying to work on them, too, so I can get back to weightlifting.

I’m in a bit of a funk at the moment, and plan to try and do some strategizing on that this weekend. We’ll see how things go. Hopefully up.

Cognitive Tool: Thinking of Yourself as a Kid

Kids do stupid things, amirite?

When kids do stupid shit, we tend to be forgiving. Hell, a lot of the time when kids do stupid shit it’s downright adorable. Ever think about how strange it is that we, as a species, interpret a lack of basic motor coordination as incredibly endearing?

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that I think it’s an important frame of mind to hold onto into adulthood. When a kid makes a stupid mistake because, hey, they’re new here, and they don’t know how things work, we understand that. We’ll forgive grabbing the cat’s tail, asking embarrassing questions in public, not understanding physical boundaries, staring, etc. They’re kids, they’re young, they’re learning.

By the time we’re adults, though, this tends not to be the case anymore. You’re an adult, you should know the rules, and you should know how things work, or so the narrative seems to go.

I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty rare that I feel like I actually know how things work. Especially when I’m exploring new things.

Lately, for example, I’ve been trying to figure out this whole Being Slutty thing, and to decide what I actually enjoy doing casually and what I don’t, and how much, and why. Sometimes something I thought would be an awesome experience leaves me feeling uncomfortable afterward, and sometimes something I thought would be uncomfortable isn’t. When this happens, in particular when I feel uncomfortable about something I did, I always seem to spend some amount of time telling myself I should’ve known. That is, until I realize how silly that is.

The truth is that I’m new to a lot of the things that are going on in my life right now, and it completely makes sense that I’m going to react to things in ways I don’t anticipate. That’s what happens when you’re exploring new things. If it didn’t happen, it wouldn’t really count as exploring.

When things don’t go like I expect, I try to remember that there’s no reason not to think of myself the same way I’d think about a kid making any of the silly mistakes they’re so prone to making. I’m exploring new things, just like they are. I’m going to fuck up, just like they are. That’s what happens, and it’s a good thing, because we’re all in this to learn and the only way to learn is to experiment, and the only useful experiments are the ones where you don’t know in advance how they’re going to turn out.

Food for thought.

Depressive Thoughts as a Left-Brain Jedi Mind Trick

A while ago, Franklin Veaux made a post that touched on some psych experiments with people whose corpus callosum had been split. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis added):

One common experiment involved showing things designed to provoke a reaction to the right hemisphere, which usually lacks language, then asking the person why he was reacting the way he did; the left hemisphere had no clue what the right hemisphere was seeing, but the person would nevertheless offer up all kinds of stories to explain his reaction. An even better experiment involved showing different images to the two hemispheres, such as a snowbank to the right hemisphere and a chicken to the left hemisphere, and then asking the person to point with his left hand at an object relevant to the thing he was seeing. The right hemisphere controls the left hand, so the right hemisphere, which was seeing an image of a snow bank, would point to a snow shovel. The left hemisphere, which was seeing a chicken, had absolutely not the foggiest idea why he was pointing to the shovel, but when he was asked “Why did you point to a shovel?” he’d say “Well, because I see a chicken, and you need to use a shovel to clean up chicken manure.”

In other words, he completely fabricated a story to explain his own actions without even being aware that he was inventing a story.

People suffering from depression may see where I’m intending to go with this.

It’s a common refrain amongst people who suffer from depression that “Depression lies.”. It’s absolutely true, and it’s one of the most important things I’ve had to learn while dealing with it. When my brain starts shouting at me like an angry drunk—

“You’re depressed because you have no friends.”

“…because no one likes you.”

“…because you’ll never be successful.”

“…because the world is going to shit.”

“…because you’re ugly and stupid and a bad person and you smell bad!

—I have to remind myself constantly that, no, I’m not depressed because of those things, I think those things because I’m depressed. The whole, “no friends, everyone hates you”, routine is a trick. It’s the brain coming up with a story to justify the feelings, just like the brains of the patients in the above studies come up with stories to justify their choices. Brains are really fucking good at this. They’re good at doing it so quickly and seamlessly that it’s incredibly hard to spot without knowing what to look for. The, “no friends, everyone hates you”, routine is the left-brain version of, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

Our brains, bless them, want there to be a reason for bad feelings. A good, hard, brass tacks, turn-and-face-it-head-on reason. All too often, though, there isn’t a good reason, so they make shit up. They make up these lies, these stories about us to make the fact that we feel like shit seem rational. “Ugly, stupid, failure, unlovable”, because it’s the only way to make it make sense that you feel this bad. Because feeling this bad has to be about something, doesn’t it?

Well, no.

The stories are just that: stories. All too often, the real reason for them isn’t anything fancy. It isn’t about anything. It’s just depression. The stories are a distraction, and that is an important thing to be mindful of when we need to stay focused on dealing with the real culprit: the depression itself.

Something to remember: when your brain invents stories of things to feel bad about and tells you they’re the cause of the bad feelings, the truth is often that the bad feelings are the cause of the stories.

Don’t be fooled. It’s the depression that’s talking, and it’s the depression that needs to be addressed.


Sidenote: There is an important distinction to be made here between stories and triggers. I do not mean to imply in this post that things in the real world do not impact depression. There are plenty of things that can and do. Those things are good to learn about and avoid, and are not the same as the stories I’m talking about in this post. The stories in this post are baseless narratives about how much you suck. The triggers are generally things that happen that make you feel like you suck.

What Makes Sex Sexy for Me

I’ve been mulling over my recent revelation about not finding stereotypical approaches to sexiness very sexy, and I’ve decided I want to write more about what I think makes for sexy sex. So I’ve made myself a list of sexy sex things. Naturally, these are for me in particular (though I imagine I share many of them with many others), and naturally, I don’t want all of these things to be there in every encounter (e.g. sometimes intensity is awesome and sometimes I just want a lazy, relaxed fuck, also generally things like silliness and intensity don’t combine well—silliness is a tension breaker and intensity is often about playing with tension), but all of them often have the effect of making things awesome.

Freedom

I think one of the sexiest things a sex partner can do is to make me feel like I’m free to be weird and fuck up. That doing what I want to do is okay, not in the sense that I can steamroll boundaries, but in the sense that I don’t have to spend our sexytime striving toward a standard. Board games are more fun when you don’t care about winning and sex is more fun when you don’t care about being the best or ruining the moment*. Life is short, have fun, be silly, don’t try to adhere to a standard and don’t worry about fucking up. I like sex better when I feel like I have the freedom to be weird and fuck up without the world ending. Sometimes someone will accidentally elbow someone, sometimes bits will pop out of other bits unexpectedly, sometimes someone will fall off the bed. Sometimes silly noises will happen. Let’s not be mortified, let’s giggle at them because that shit is silly and then let’s get on with the fucking.

Sometimes I won’t come, and sometimes a partner won’t. Sometimes someone will come early. It’s not a big deal, and sex is better when we accept that get back to the business of having fun.

Sex isn’t about never fucking up, it’s about knowing that we will and not making it a big deal.

Forwardness

I love it when people are forward. It can mean saying, “Hold still so I can grind against you like this”, or, “I want your cock in my mouth”, or “Let’s do the Retrograde Wheelbarrow position”. It can also mean being forward physically. Grinding against someone, turning them over, etc.

Hot.

Silliness

Did you know you can demonstrate the principles of potential and kinetic energy with boobs? Now you do. You’re welcome.

Sticking your tongue out at the crystal palace

See that? I’m referencing Dostoevsky in a conversation about sex because I am a Serious Writer with Serious Writer Pants**.

Er, anyways…

There’s just something about doing things you’re not supposed to do. I think one of the most romantic Post Secrets I ever read was one about how the subject and her husband pee in the shower together. I thought that was utterly adorable.

I think an enormous quantity of the fetishes out there boil down to this. Sex in public, the mile-high club, the Catholic schoolgirl thing, doing it on a table, etc. They’re basically about saying, “Hah! We’re not supposed to do this, but we’re doing it the fuck anyway!”

There’s just something about it, isn’t there?

Intensity/Tension

Eye contact. Slow, painful, deliberate scratching. Gripping. Hard.

Conversation

Not all the time, but a level of comfort with talking is important. Whether it’s, “Oh, that was interesting.”, or “Have you ever tried this?”, or “What time do we have to get to the restaurant, again?”, or “I’m not sure that’s as accurate a representation of potential and kinetic energy as you seem to think it is.”

Science References

What? I’m a geek. Sue me.

Asking Permission

No, seriously. I love it when someone asks me permission to do something. I can’t ever remember a time it’s been a turn-off. I like having my hair pulled, but I like to be asked for a green light. I like to kiss, but I don’t generally like having moves made on me. Pretty much anything I might want to do with someone, I want to do even more if they ask if it’s okay.

I like talking about this stuff. I like doing it for myself, and I hope that in doing it some of the other people who like some of the things I like will feel a little more comfortable liking them. So there you go.

…aaaaaaand post!

 


*In fact, you know what? Ruin the moment on a regular basis. Hell, destroy the moment. Obliterate it. Lay waste to its entire culture and all neighboring civilizations. Let its cities burn and don’t send rescue workers. That way you’ll learn that ruining the moment is not a big deal. If you don’t make ruining the moment a big deal, you’ll probably have a lot more fun and a lot more good moments.

**Seriously, though, I’ve always liked the crystal palace allegory.

Skeptical Self-Analysis

“Your true self can be known only by systematic experimentation, and controlled only by being known.”

Francis Bacon

Maybe this will only be interesting to me, but I find it entertaining. This is how I sound when I’m trying to figure out how a part of my brain works and trying to be all sciencey about it (which is pretty much always). Excerpts from an e-mail I sent earlier today, in response to a friend who asked (over the course of an ongoing conversation) whether or not closeness and romance are always tied up with each other for me:

The answer to this is complicated. Let me see if I can map it out.

The single best example of a way in which closeness and romance collide for me is kissing. I have, historically, every now and again, felt like kissing people I was not at all attracted to. It generally happens in moments of closeness. It’s happened with men and women, people I was attracted to, and people I wasn’t.

Sometimes, for me, the most intuitive way to give expression to a shared moment of closeness is a kiss. Attraction, in this case, isn’t the driving factor. Though my impression is that these moments are more likely to happen when there is attraction (chalking this up to “more than one source of motivation for kissing means a lower threshold of Relative Moment Closeness is required to trip the instinct”).

In moments when this has happened with people I wasn’t involved with, I haven’t generally been able to actually follow through and kiss someone, so I don’t really know what happens mentally afterward. Maybe it would’ve directly translated to romance, I don’t know.

Because I buy into norms, too, I think there’s significant potential for a problem of conflation. Closeness –> kiss –> brain goes “Oh, a kiss, FIRE UP THE ROMANCE GANGLION!” –> complicated feelings

That is, if the closeness and romance stuff is indeed separate. Maybe they all play into the same area of the brain for me.

Would that conflation happen at all? I’m not sure. Would it happen if there weren’t some romantic interest unrelated to the moment? I’m not sure.

But in general, no, I wouldn’t say sex/romance feelings are always tied up with closeness. The problem is that I don’t have enough data to predict their relationship with closeness, and it’s not something I can really experiment with unless I’m interacting with someone not in an exclusive relationship. Hence, my generally higher level of comfort interacting with people who aren’t in them. It’s generally easier to gather data and ask the questions in the first place.

So…I guess…let’s see…

In summation, here’s the model I’m working with at present:

There are ways of interacting that are commonly interpreted as romantic that are also instinctive ways for me to express emotions.

Because my brain knows the romantic interpretations as well as anyone, engaging in that type of expression may have the effect of triggering romantic feelings in myself, though it also may not. There is insufficient experimental data to draw conclusions with respect to this.

Opportunities to gather further data on this are limited, since the nature of the experimentation that would be needed isn’t often possible.

A lot of this, as you can probably tell, is pretty conjectural, but it’s the best model I’ve got to work with right now.

Welcome to my brain. I have a fun time with it, hopefully some of you will, too. I’m pretty sure things like the above are the reason people tell me I’m absurdly analytical. I suppose they’re probably right.

Nonmonogamy, The Moral Compass, and Cultural Bias

One of the problems with exploring polyamory and ethical sluttiness in a world where they aren’t commonly accepted is that reading your moral compass is difficult. We all absorb cultural norms about morality to an extent, even when those norms are fucked up. Cultural norms regarding polyamory and sluttiness are generally negative. Having more than one romantic partner is bad, cheating, selfish, destructive, unfaithful, immoral. Enjoying casual sex is shallow, disrespectful, immature, means you have no standards, etc.

For me, the problem is that when something I’ve done in the context of being slutty feels wrong, my first gut instinct is that the sluttiness is what’s wrong. That it feels wrong because (following the cultural narrative) I’m being shallow, disrespectful, immature, etc, to even be trying it. Forget that I’m being honest about it with the people I fuck, forget that I’m careful about consent, safety, and all that good stuff. The moral compass always beelines to familiar tropes. Every time something goes wrong and I want to try to figure out what, I have to first spend a bunch of time reminding myself all of the reasons why I know it’s not just that living the way I do is wrong.

If I feel uncomfortable about casual sex I had with someone, and want to figure out why, I first have to tackle the part of my brain that insists it’s because I’m having casual sex and casual sex is wrong. I have to step back and remind myself that I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with casual sex, and that as much as my culture may enjoy extrapolating about hook-up culture from negative anecdotal evidence, that’s a stupid way of drawing conclusions. After I’m done reminding myself of that, I can start on the work of asking, “So what might it have been that actually made this experience negative?”

When you’re monogamous and trying to figure out what’s going wrong in your relationship, you ask about the individual circumstances of the relationship. When you’re poly or slutty and trying to figure out what’s going wrong with something, the reflex is to attribute it to the ways you’re different, rather than looking at the individual circumstances of the situation. That reflex has to be grappled with before any useful introspection can get done.

Very frustrating.

It helps me to remember that this is something that happens often, and to talk about it out loud. It brings it out in the open where I can stare it down more directly. It helps me remember to ask the important question:

Liebster Blog Award Questions

Thanks to amateur blogger for this. It made me smile.

think I’m doing this right?

Where in the world to you feel most “at home” and why?

The answer to this question is in flux at the moment. I’ve recently moved to a place that feels more well-suited to feel like a home to me than anywhere else I’ve lived in a while.  In a less location-dependent sense, though, no matter where I am, I like to find a nice park nearby that I can wander in the evening. I generally feel very much like myself walking on my own in a park. Time to think and to breathe and to process all the things that are always happening and feel like it’s just you and the world.

If you could have lunch with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you order?

That is a tough choice. Off the top of my head, I’d likely choose from a list consisting of Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Greta Christina, or JT Eberhard. Or perhaps the author of the No Forbidden Questions blog. I think all of those people would guarantee some interesting lunch conversation.

I’d order steak fajitas. Because fuck yes.

A place you have traveled to that MOST surprised you.

I think the uniformity of the appearance of residential areas all the way up and down the East Coast is kind of eerie. Does that count?

What villainous character do you most admire and why?

Ozymandias. Because he thought that shit through.

Item on your “bucket list” that you would be MOST upset if you didn’t accomplish.

Traveling more is a big one. Back pain makes long plane flights challenging at best and both excruciating and a guaranteed depression trigger at worst, so this is a challenging thing to accomplish (to say nothing of it costing money and all that). I would really like to be able to do more traveling.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Musing on Monogamy, Friendship, and Boundaries

I had a conversation with a girl I met at swing dance a while back. We were talking about the phenomenon where when someone gets married or you learn someone is married it often seems to put a damper on interacting with that person. Not that you necessarily enjoy it less, but, in my and my friend’s experience, your drive to do it takes a hit. Maybe it’s just a lack of shared experiences—life being so different that you feel like you have barely anything in common with that person. Maybe, in the case of people of the gender you’re attracted to, it’s just the subtraction of the possibility of romance or sex. Also in that case, at least for me, I think some of the reason may be that it can be much more complicated getting close to someone for whom romance or sex is off the table in that way, because I’m afraid of developing a closeness with someone that might be perceived as a threat to that person’s relationship.

I really want deep, meaningful, vulnerable, powerful friendships with people. For better or worse, most of the people I find it possible to experience that with are women. Sometimes women in relationships. Sometimes women in relationships for which the level of closeness that I want in friendships as much as relationships could be perceived as threatening.

I’ve never been able to figure out how to deal with this.

A while ago, I was talking to a guy in swing class about some of the regulars we hadn’t seen recently. He mentioned that a girl had stopped coming because she had a new boyfriend who didn’t want her swing dancing with other guys. We shared a, “What a douchebag”, moment, that I’ve never forgotten. It made me think.

Dancing is sexy. Dancing is sexual. I feel like the distinction between monogamy precluding outside sex partners and monogamy precluding outside swing dance partners is a difference of degree and not of kind. Why is new boyfriend an asshole for not allowing her to dance with others but not an asshole for not allowing her to have sex with others? It’s something that I both do and don’t understand simultaneously.

For me, feelings of romance and sex and friendship all seem to bleed into each other too much to draw these weird, hard lines that people draw. This is why the lines confuse me so much. This is why I don’t really understand the distinction between sexual monogamy and partner-dancing monogamy. This is why I have so much trouble figuring out, if there are people in monogamous relationships that I’m interested in being close to as friends, how to do that, or if it’s even possible. I know how to respect stated boundaries. If someone tells me not to kiss them, I can not kiss them. If someone says we can kiss this way but not that way, or kiss but not fuck, or cuddle but not kiss, I’m fully capable of adhering to those restrictions. I can’t intuitively feel where the lines are, though. I only know what to look for because I see the same lines drawn by so many different people. Why people draw those lines in particular, though, escapes me.

Not understanding the why makes me uncomfortable because it means I know how to adhere to the letter of the law but not the spirit. Generally, I think being able to adhere to the spirit of the rules is the more important of the two. It also seems, generally, to be the easier of the two. If you understand the reasoning behind the rules, you don’t have to remember each and every rule. If you don’t, the best you can do is remember each and every rule, and even then it’s possible to violate the spirit without violating the letter.

I suspect that part of the reason for my confusion is that a lot of people in relationships don’t know why they draw the lines that they do. Whatever the reason, though, it’s something I’d like to be able to understand better. It would make having friends who are in exclusive relationships an easier thing for me to process.

Sidenote: At some point, I’m going to make a post about rules that I do and don’t understand. Nutshell, though: I find it much easier to comprehend rules that are about the relationship that they are about. Analogy: if I have full time job, my boss can say “You can’t have another job”, or they can say “I need you to always have 40 hours per week for this job”. The latter is a rule about the job, and makes sense. The former is a rule about other things, and doesn’t make a lot of sense (to me).