A Thought on Social Justice and Being Whiny

“Whiny” is a term we apply to people who habitually complain about things that don’t matter. If people are complaining about things that do matter, then we generally don’t think of “whiny” as an appropriate term to describe them.

Social justice movements tend to spring up around issues that most people don’t get. Social justice movements tend to spring up around issues that, to most people, don’t seem to matter that much. If people understood that the issues mattered, then organized movements to promote them wouldn’t be necessary.

Until their issues are properly understood, most social justice movements, almost by definition, are going to look whiny to most people. If you can’t understand why the things people are complaining about matter, those people are going to look whiny to you. That is, they’re going to look like they’re complaining about things that don’t matter.

Something to keep in mind when you’re thinking about accusing people in a social justice movement of being whiny: every social justice movement looks whiny if you don’t understand their issues. A lot of the time, the fact that calling attention to their issues is perceived as whiny is precisely the reason why the movement is necessary in the first place.

Arguments, Social Justice, and Bridging Inferential Gaps

This is a reposting of some comments I made on this awesome post about arguing effectively. I liked the wording I used so much I decided I wanted to post this stuff here, too, because I don’t think I’ve expressed this particular conundrum this well before. I’ve edited the comments a bit and smashed parts of them together to make them more post-worthy and add some context. Ready? Go!

Most of the time I see people respond badly to being accused of bigotry/racism/misogyny, the accusation of is justified in the literal, technical sense that they are doing something that fits a reasonable, functional definition of bigotry. But people respond badly to such accusations for reasons I understand, and there are times when I do want to comment, myself, on the language people use to call out bigotry. Even when those people doing the calling out are technically correct, and even when they aren’t asking my advice.

The problem is that tone/wording advice is so incredibly ubiquitous among people who just want to shut down the argument—it’s so frequently a tool for getting to “Shut up, that’s why!”—that I’m wary of ever using it. I think about all the people I’ve talked to who wish Dawkins would be a little less “extreme”, for example, and vehemently disagree with all of them. Not only do I think his manner of engaging with atheist issues is rational, I think it provides a good example of how being extreme (relative to social norms) can do a lot to move the Overton window (sidenote: I don’t think Dawkins chooses his language with intent to be extreme, I think he tries to be truthful, and an appearance of extremity is a side-effect of that because of how religion is ingrained in our culture).

In a way, I think this all boils down to inferential distance problems. The problem with directing strong language at someone like that guy who’s rejecting modern feminism is that he doesn’t understand where the anger or bigotry accusations come from—to him  it seems so over-the-top that it’s logical to assume it’s irrational. On the other hand, the problem with him using the language he did to reject feminism is that so many people who aren’t thoughtful about these issues have used the very similar language to denigrate feminism, and by doing the same thing, he is unwittingly associating himself with that long history of determined ignorance. He is making himself look just like the people who suck. If some people, in response, are saying “Well, if it looks like a duck…”, they’re also making a logical assumption from their perspective.

That seems like the core of the issue. The responses seem entirely rational within the inferential context of the people on either side of the divide on the issue. So do we say, “Hey, guy, you’re the privileged one, it’s your responsibility to educate yourself to bridge this gap”, or “Hey, feminist, you’re the one expressing an issue, it’s your responsibility to educate sufficiently to bridge this gap”? Or both? Maybe there’s no point in placing that responsibility at all, I don’t know.

I remember back when the whole Penny Arcade Dickwolves thing happened, Jerry Holkins made a post that, among other things, talked about how he didn’t think any meaningful form of conversation was possible between them and the people accusing them of perpetuating rape culture. I think he was wrong, but I think he was touching on the crux of the issue: there’s this huge gap, and in a lot of cases there’s no one to blame for the gap, and no one on whom it’s reasonable to put all the responsibility for bridging it, but it must be bridged somehow.

I’m really not sure what the answer is, but I think I finally have a decent grasp of the question I’m asking. How does one go about helping everyone on either side of an inferential distance gap understand each other? In particular, how does one do this when the issues involved are powerfully important and emotional, but the existence of the issues, and the existence of the inferential gap, and the responsibility for bridging that gap, can’t be set squarely on anyone’s shoulders?

Who cleans up the gumbo?

Publicly Accessible Information Doesn’t Steal Guns, People Do

So there’s this newspaper that produced a resource where you can see names and addresses of people with handgun permits. People are angry about this. I agree with those angry people, this is not the proper way to address recent events.

A few people have been saying that the information on these gun owners was all publicly available, anyway, so what difference does it make? I think it does make a difference. I think making a place where it is easy to find that information makes a really big difference, actually.

I think that for exactly the same reason that I think changing the availability of guns has an affect on gun violence. I think if you’re going to claim that someone who wants a gun is going to get one therefore restrictions are useless, then you have to take the same stance here: if someone wanted that gun owner information, then they would’ve been able to get it, so there’s no reason to object to such a database.

I think anyone who claims that this database—the sole function of which is to make publicly available data slightly easier to access—has any impact, and does not acknowledge that the availability of weapons has an impact on the number of people who have or use them is being hypocritical.

I also think anyone offended by this database and not offended by the NRA’s suggestion of creating a database of people with mental illnesses is being hypocritical.

You’re offended by this database? Fine. More power to you. Don’t be a goddamn hypocrite about it, though.

Power Resides Where People Believe It Resides

“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. “Do it,’ says the king, “for I am your lawful ruler.’ “Do it,’ says the priest, “for I command you in the names of the gods.’ “Do it,’ says the rich man, “and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”

“The king, the priest, the rich man—who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It’s a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword.”

“Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”

“So power is a mummer’s trick?”

“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”

―Varys (A Clash of Kings)

I got in an argument on the internet recently. It devolved at one point into the other person calling me a virgin. I’ve been processing, for a while, exactly how I would like to have responded, ideally, and exactly why that kind of discourse ever happens in the first place.

I could have said, “No, I’m not”, and it would’ve been true, but pointless, since I wouldn’t be able to prove it and the other guy wouldn’t have been able to disprove it. I could’ve said, “That doesn’t matter, and the fact that you’re saying it does not say positive things about your ability to argue a point rationally.” To which the simulated mental antagonist goes, “HA, so you are!”

Thing is, even if I could have somehow proven it, I wouldn’t have wanted to, really. First, because I’d feel uncomfortable using the people I’ve had sex with as power points in an argument, and second, because I don’t want to reinforce the idea that it matters how many people you have sex with. I’ve had plenty of sex in my life, and I still manage to have insecurities about that kind of thing on a regular basis—the last thing I want to do is play into the culture that causes that angst.

It’s strange that I even find it anything other than amusing. After all, the guy was wrong, and even if he weren’t it wouldn’t matter, and in effect, he was doing nothing more than demonstrating what a dick he was. So why, of all the arguments, is this one of those ones that sticks in my head as something I wish I’d had some sort of perfect comeback to? Why does it make me feel like defending myself when it’s such a patently absurd thing to need to defend against on so many levels?

In thinking about that, I’ve been thinking about the above quote from A Clash of Kings. Power resides where men believe it resides. Whether or not I’ve ever had sex was so utterly unrelated to the argument that was happening that it should’ve been absurd to the point of hilarity. Like he had said, “Yeah, well, you have brown hair!”

But really, on some level, we both understood what was happening. It was an insult. It was something said to make me look weak. It was understood that way because we, as a society, believe that power resides in certain places and not in others. We tend, as a culture, to assume power resides in people who get laid more than other people. We assume it doesn’t reside in virgins. To varying conscious and unconscious degrees, we also tend to assume it lies in wealth, fame, gender, race, physical prowess, positions of authority, college degrees, intelligence, and a host of other things.

In some cases the assumptions make a certain amount of sense, and in some cases they don’t. In a great many cases, though, the quote applies to a tee: power resides where we believe it resides. In the argument I had, that comment was made because the guy I was arguing with believes that saying I’m a virgin implies a certain type of powerlessness—a certain type of inferiority—in spite of the fact that it had literally nothing to do with the conversation at hand.

There isn’t a particular driving point to this post other than to make an observation about the strangeness of some of the assumptions we make about power. To ask why having a lot of sex partners casts such a very large shadow on the wall. A whole ‘nother post could probably be written about the ways in which our assumptions about power contribute in ways large and small to many (if not all) forms of bigotry. I think that’s an avenue of thinking worth pursuing and that this is an analogy worth applying to thoughts about that, but for now, I’m just making the observation in general and putting it “on paper”.

Needing People

This is not a particularly happy post. Fair warning.

A friend of mine once said that as important as learning to feel secure in relationships is, sometimes the reason you don’t feel secure in relationships is because you haven’t been in relationships that are secure. Sometimes, insecurity is just as simple as your intuition telling you the truth about the person or people you’re with.

wrote a couple of weeks ago about having issues feeling secure in my friendships. I’m not really sure when this started, but I have guesses. I was in a really bad situation when I first started college. I had difficulties with schoolwork and friendships and back pain, and most of all, with the relationship I was in.

When I began college, I was in a relationship with a girl who needed a lot of support, support which I used to give freely, perhaps compulsively. I like being able to support people. It makes me feel needed and valuable. The problem, in this relationship, was that I was in had a partner who needed more support from me than I could give, and who was for the most part incapable of returning that support. She tried, but she just didn’t understand the kinds of things I needed well enough to supply them, in spite of our efforts to communicate about it.

So for my first year and some change of college, I was in a relationship that cost me a tremendous amount of emotional energy, I was in the early years of what I would later come to realize was an extended period of severe depression, and I was partnered with someone who (though it was through no fault of her own, and wasn’t for lack of trying) was incapable of providing the kind of emotional support I needed.

I didn’t have a stable group of friends back then, and didn’t really click all that well interpersonally with most of the people I met. I was constantly expending more emotional energy than I had to spare on the relationship, to say nothing of school itself. The result was that I ended up doing a fair amount of heavy emotional venting to people I didn’t know that well, because they were all that was available at the time. Sometimes this led to forming connections with people, but as often as not it led to relationships that felt unbalanced and unnatural. Carrying around all that heavy, unwieldy emotional baggage meant I was rarely all that good at being emotional support for anyone else. At the same time, I was in need of it from others so frequently that the need felt constant. The dynamics that creates in new friendships are complex on the best of days.

Those experiences have left me with some really fucked-up feelings about providing and receiving emotional support. The relationship’s persistent issues left me feeling like the emotional support I gave never made any difference. That it was essentially just pouring my own emotional resources into a bottomless pit, and no matter how much I tried to help tonight, I’d just need to keep pouring more into it in the morning. Even if I couldn’t afford it now, even if I barely had the resources to keep doing what I needed to be doing for my own sanity, much less anyone else’s.

I used to be very good at being emotional support. I think I still could be, under all the fucked-upness in my brain. But my reality these days is that as soon as I’m needed for more than a little support, my brain goes to a place I built when I was in that relationship. A place made of the intense, soul-crushing exhaustion that came from years of being needed so much and so often when my resources were so few. A place made of fear that any form of giving emotional support will lead down that road again. A place that remembers from back then that you don’t get out of this what you put into it. You only put into it.

There’s a flipside to this as well, that’s at times equally destructive: as much as I want to avoid going to that place again—that place where I always need to give more than I’m capable of giving—I have an equal fear of being on the other side of the equation. I don’t blame anyone, really, for the destructive impact that relationship had on me. We were both well-intentioned, we were both maybe a little stupid, and inexperienced, and young. I was far too prone to ignore my own needs for the sake of others, and she was cut out just right to accommodate and exacerbate that tendency in me. Regardless, the reality is that that relationship played an enormous role in exacerbating my depression. It wore me out and then wore me out again, and then wore me out again, so many times in a row that it became redundant to call it redundant to the point of a sick joke.

I cannot stand the idea of going near that place again, but with equal intensity, I cannot stand the idea of being the person who puts someone else in that place. This makes it very, very difficult to ask for support when I need it most. When I need it most is when I’m deepest into depressive spiraling, and when I’m deepest into depressive spiraling is when I most feel like my emotional pain is bottomless. It’s when I most feel like I am that bottomless pit, asking others to pour their emotional resources into me until there is nothing left of them. If it were easy to always see the end of the painful emotions that characterize a depressive episode, then maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult, but it generally isn’t at all easy to see where depressive emotions end. It’s often impossible, or at least feels so.

When I’m most in need of people is when I’m most afraid that my need has the potential to do the same damage to them that being needed once did to me. And in a sickly twisted irony, that same experience has left me with feeling more incapable of reciprocating emotional support than I ever was before. I am that person who needs support and cannot return it. Not because I’m bad at it, but because I’m terrified of it. Because I associate being asked for emotional support with exhaustion and pain and futility. And when I most need the support of others is when I’m the most conscious of the fact that I am so close to being exactly the thing that made me this fucked up about emotional support. I am a person who needs a tremendous amount of support, and is incapable of reciprocating it. I am the thing that created this damage in me, that made me this way. I don’t want to be that same thing to someone I care about.

I want to heal from this, and I have no idea how. There are a host of reasons, only some of them related to this, that I have trouble connecting with people. I’m an outlier in a number of different ways. Back when I was in that relationship, I used to say I found it almost impossible to find people I connected with both socially and personally. It always seemed to be one or the other. I still have that problem. To have interactions that are genuinely satisfying to me on that wonderfully deep level that only happens once in a while, I need people who are smart, who are skillful thinkers, and who care deeply about the people around them, and who possess whatever combination of those traits and whatever possible others that makes genuine interpersonal resonance happen.

I have a tremendous amount of trouble finding that, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m going about it all wrong, or because I fail to appreciate or recognize what I already have, or because I just genuinely haven’t found enough people who are like me to be happy, or because I’m fucked up about the reciprocal emotional support that deep, abiding friendships require, or some other reason. Sometimes I think it’s just because I’m good at avoiding making that fallacy where you assume you’re more on the same wavelength as people than you actually are.

Either way, I feel disconnected a lot of the time, and afraid of asking people for support when it’s needed. And there are so many possibilities for what could be causing this sense that I don’t even know where to begin. As much as it could be something about my approach to the world, it could also be that I just haven’t found my people yet.

There’s more to say about this, but this is enough for now.

Link Roundup Two: The Linkening

While I’m working on fitting my life into a workable rhythm again, here’s another link roundup:




By ResearchToBeDone Posted in links


I officially have a Real Job again. Posts may be sparse while I’m acclimating to that.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Fuck Mike Huckabee

Today, Mike Huckabee took the time from what I’m sure is a busy schedule to say that we have violence like this in schools because we don’t have God in our schools.

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News, discussing the murder spree that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT that morning. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

This infuriates me. It’s insulting and it’s damaging. It’s insulting to me and everyone I know who has worked for the recognition of religious diversity and first amendment rights in our school systems. It suggests that the very work we have done, the struggles we have gone through to make sure students have their right to religious freedom, their right to believe or not believe as they choose respected, is responsible for tragedies like this.

Fuck you, Mike Huckabee. Fuck you.

But aside from that, I want to say this: I don’t think this is despicable because it’s politicizing what has happened today. I don’t think it’s despicable because Mike Huckabee is using a tragedy to score political points. I don’t think that’s what is happening. Much as I disagree with Mike Huckabee on any number of things, and much as I think he is drastically and harmfully wrong, I don’t think he can be reasonably faulted for talking about what he believes would prevent these crises from happening any more than the people I know who are using this to talk about gun control can be faulted for that.

These issues are political. Gun control is a political issue, but it is also an issue that can save lives, and if tragedies like this aren’t the time to talk about prevention, then frankly I don’t know when the fuck is. Mike Huckabee isn’t an asshole because he’s “politicizing” this issue. Mike Huckabee is an asshole because he hasn’t done the work to find out whether or not any of the things he’s said are actually true.

Today, Mike Huckabee is illustrating how reason is a moral obligation. How it’s not just important to have the courage of your convictions, it’s important to do the work required to make sure your convictions are right. He isn’t an asshole for politicizing a tragedy any more than anyone talking about gun control is. He’s an asshole because he is wrong about something that is so important and so incredibly easy to not be this wrong about.

Because when you believe things that are as dangerously false as the idea that, for fuck’s sake, more religion in schools could prevent gun violence, there is really no way to distinguish whether you’re evil or wrong. Whether Mike Huckabee is an evil fuck who’s lying his ass of about a tragedy to score political points, or he’s just a dangerously ignorant person spouting off bullshit about things he obviously hasn’t read any of the facts about, the result is the same.

Even if his only crime is being wrong, the result is exactly, precisely the same as if his crime is that he’s evil.

We have a moral obligation to make sure our beliefs are true, and today Mike Huckabee has shown us exactly, precisely why.

There are any number of other things to say about today, and any number of other people saying them. For now, this is what I have to say.

Limbic Kisses

I just posted two quotes to Tumblr (from an apparently excellent asexuality blog I just discovered) and then realized that if I combine them I get the perfect recipe for when I tend to feel like kissing people.

Quote #1“Believe it or not, when you have a good conversation a certain part of your brain, called the limbic system, actually syncs up with the brain of the person you’re talking to. Like, if both of you were sitting and chatting in an MRI machine your limbic systems would sort of pulse in unison.”

Qoute #2“In my experience touch helps relationships when it expresses and reinforces emotion, it should occur after some activity (a conversation, a particularly powerful dance party) that generates emotion that needs to be expressed.”

So here it is: I like to kiss people when our limbic systems are synchronously pulsing.


Characteristics of Good Relationship Rules

I was hanging out with a group of poly people the other day and we were talking about the problems with having unspoken rules in relationships. Someone put it very succinctly: “Your relationship rules should not be written in invisible ink.”

I love that. And I think it can be expanded on, and I have some related rulesy thoughts, so I’m going to talk a bit about what I think makes good relationship rules (at time of writing). I would love feedback, positive or negative.

Let’s go:

Good relationship rules are not written in invisible ink. If you’re going to have specific rules, they should never unspoken. They should be expressed out loud, and they should be expressed clearly enough that breaking them without realizing you’ve broken them is unlikely to happen.

Good relationship rules are not written in permanent marker. Relationships change, people change, and rules may change as well. Sometimes a particular rule may not work for a particular person, or it may work for a while and then stop working. Regardless, if a rule ceases to work for the people it applies to, it shouldn’t be held sacred. It should be changed or thrown out. Good relationship rules are written in pencil.

Good relationship rules have been thought through. It’s not just important to be explicit and flexible about your rules, it’s important to understand why you’ve made them. For any decent rule, you should ask yourself:

1. What is the purpose of this rule?

2. Does the rule serve the purpose it is intended to serve?

3. Is this rule the only way to serve this purpose?

Credit to Franklin Veaux for the original piece outlining the above questions.

Both you and your partner should know not just what the rules are, but why they are. For what purpose they exist. That way you know if they’re useful, and you know when they ought to be thrown out.

Good relationship rules respect all partners. If you’ve really thought them through, you’ll realize that a lot of the rules built to protect primary relationships do not follow this guideline. For example, say you’re in a “primary” relationship and you decide to open it up to other relationships, but you implement a rule that the primary relationship can axe nonprimary relationships if the people in the primary relationship need some time to focus on each other. The motivation behind this rule is understandable, but this is emphatically not a rule that respects nonprimary partners.

Consider the implications: essentially, this rule being the case, asking a nonprimary partner to become involved with you is asking them to form a relationship with you that they cannot count on under any circumstances. No matter how long that relationship lasts, no matter how close it’s become, the need to “focus on the primary” trumps it, 100%, and without question. Essentially: that nonprimary relationship can be axed at any time without the nonprimary’s consent or input if the primary relationship is perceived as needing some “me” time.

Certainly, it’s understandable for primary relationships to need some “me” time once in a while. However, if that need is extreme enough that it might require jettisoning other relationships in this manner, people in primary relationships should ask themselves whether they’re emotionally mature enough and comfortable enough in their relationships to do poly at all. When you take on other relationships, you take on a responsibility to treat the people in those other relationships like their feelings and the connections they form with you matter. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be starting those relationships in the first place.

Good relationship rules are about the relationship they are about. Say you have a full-time job that you really want to keep. Which of the following rules would you say better protects that job:

Rule A: I can have no other jobs or hobbies.

Rule B: I must have at least 40 hours available for this job every week.

Rule A is about other jobs. Rule B is about the specific needs of the job you already have. In my opinion, Rule A is a clumsy way of addressing the need that is clearly illustrated by Rule B. It is possible to have a full-time job and a few hobbies, or even another job if you can make it work right. It can be hard to do, but it’s hard to do because we have limited time and energy, which is the circumstance that Rule B clearly addresses. Rule B is about the current relationship and what it needs. Rule A is about restricting other relationships. Rule A may prevent someone from being overloaded with responsibilities, but it may also prevent someone from having a hobby that would be perfectly manageable.

In short: make your relationship rules specifically about your needs in a relationship, not about disallowing things that you perceive as potentially threatening to those needs. If a particular relationship threatens to add too much stress to a current relationship, then Rule B will cover that just as surely as Rule A would have, but Rule B will do it right.

Don’t make a rule where a respectful partner will do. Put it another way: in relationships, small government is good. Most rules are about getting your needs in a relationship met. Rules are, as a rule, a clumsier way of going about relationship security than clearly communicating your needs and having a partner who actively works to respect those needs. In relationships, it is emphatically better to be able to follow the spirit of the law than the letter of the law.

In a way, I kind of like the idea of, instead of having rules, having some sort of relationship mission statement. “This is what I generally want and need and think about relationships”. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Personally, I often find that rules feel infantilizing. To me, in some ways, being in a relationship where there’s an understanding that I can’t be in any other relationships feels like being in a relationship with a partner who doesn’t trust me to make decisions that are mindful of them. If I value a relationship, I’m going to try to preserve that relationship regardless of whether the rules demand that I do that. I will, entirely on my own, decide to miss out on other relationships if I know I don’t have sufficient time or energy for them, because I value the relationships I’m already in. If I need to be told to value the relationships I’m already in, there are deeper problems than rules.

Relatedly, on to my final point: deal-breakers are better than rules. Framing is important. “I will remove myself from this relationship if X, Y, or Z”, is a much better framework to work from than, “You aren’t allowed to X, Y, or Z”. It discusses intentions, instead of the placing of restrictions. It also, I feel, frames the discussion in a way that gives nonprimary partners more of a voice. Whether a nonprimary partner is allowed to make rules about a relationship can be a tricky subject. Whether a nonprimary partner has the right to leave any relationship that does not work for them should never be in question.

So there you go. My take on rules. What say you?

Note: A reader has pointed out that Rule 1 (no invisible ink) and Rule 6 (spirit > letter, respectful partner > rules) appear to contradict each other. I should clarify: my take is that if you’re going to have rules about specific actions, they should never be unspoken, but that better than either of those is to apply that same logic to the spirit of the rules. I think clearly expressing the impetus for a rule is often more useful than having a rule, and accomplishes much the same thing.