Learning Lost

I am curious about people. I’m not talking about in a general way right now, I mean on the individual level. I think curiosity is one of the purest expressions of love.

I don’t like first dates where you can’t talk. I don’t like first dates where you can’t learn about the person you’re with. Movies, for example.

Miri made a Tumblr post just now about wanting to feel special to people. Wanting to be seen as unique and irreplaceable — wanting to feel like you would be missed if you weren’t in someone’s life anymore. It got me thinking about how and why I miss people when I miss them, and I wonder if part of it might be this:

You know how people say that the more you learn about something the less you know? I absolutely think that’s true. The more you learn about any subject, the more you become aware of just how much there is to know.

I think that this is true about people, too.

I love learning about people. I love learning. Just like with any other subject, the more you learn about a person, the more you realize just how much there is to know about them. When you’re learning about a person, that is stuff that you will only ever be able to learn from that one person, and no one else.

The more you learn about someone, the more you know there is to learn about them. The more you know there is to learn about them, the more learning you know is lost if they end up not in your life anymore. That learning can’ t happen then, and it can’t be gotten from any other person in the universe, because it’s about them and them alone.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Elliot Rodgers and What Happens Now

Yesterday, a college student named Elliot Rodgers went on a shooting rampage that left six people dead and seven injured. The video he left behind stating his intentions makes it abundantly clear what his motivation was*:

College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it.

Let’s go over what we can reasonably expect to happen now:

Because people don’t do cursory research, his violence will be attributed to mental illness by people and media outlets with no basis for making that assumption, further reinforcing a cultural association between mental illness and violence with no basis in fact.

Because he is white, his violence will not be attributed to problems with his culture, or to hypothetical or wholly fabricated assertions about the violent tendencies of his race.

Because deflecting responsibility is easier than taking a hard look at the roles we all play in creating people like this, he will be written about as a “madman” using rhetoric that deflects the responsibility that our words, media, and culture play in reinforcing the mindset he expresses in his video.

Because the role of culture in creating people like this is insufficiently respected, this instance of violence will rarely be connected to other, similar instances of violence precipitated by similar attitudes toward women.

Because of that same culture, there will be a lot of talk about how difficult it is being lonely and rejected as a guy, which will in many places outstrip the amount of conversation that is had about the difficulty of living in a culture where some people think it’s okay to kill you for not being attracted to them. [Update: some examples]

We can do better than this as a society, but conversations about all of the above need to happen before we will be able to.



* Transcript text grabbed from this excellent post on the subject.

On Valuing “Logical” Thinking at the Expense of Narrative Thinking

The skeptic community prides itself on logical, rational thinking. It’s a community that seems to have more than the average share of science, logic, and math-minded folks. In many ways, this is a strength. Testing assertions about the universe often requires a healthy dose of science and math-related skills. Evaluating the validity of assertions others have made and tests others have done tends to require those skills as well.

That having been said, I wonder if all the enthusiasm for math, science, and logical thinking that comes with having a community full of STEM-type people hasn’t bred certain weaknesses and blind spots into the skeptic movement. The “hard” sciences are incredibly valuable, and a strong emphasis on collecting and analyzing data about the universe is valuable as well, but at times it seems that a focus on hard science and data comes at the expense of respect for the value and power of soft sciences and narrative.

Certainly, in my experience, there is no shortage of people in the hard sciences who harbor active disdain toward those in the liberal arts.

I don’t begrudge anyone their enthusiasm for hard science and data. It’s an enthusiasm I share. I do, however, begrudge anyone who feels that there is little or no value to the knowledge and skills that come with studying soft sciences and narrative.

Magicians sometimes talk about how scientists are often easier to fool with magic tricks:

I’ve observed that scientists tend to think and perceive logically by using their training and observational skills — of course — and are thus often psychologically insulated from the possibility that there might be chicanery at work. This is where magicians can come in. No matter how well educated, or how basically intelligent, trained, or observant a scientist may be, s/he may be a poor judge of a methodology employed in deliberate deception.

I particularly like the way our associate, magician and skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, has expressed this point:

Any magician worth his salt will tell you that the smarter an audience, the more easily fooled they are. That’s a very counterintuitive idea. But it’s why scientists, for example, get in trouble with psychics and such types. Scientists aren’t trained to study something that’s deceptive. Did you ever hear of a sneaky amoeba? I don’t think so. You know, they don’t get together on the slide and go, “Hey, let’s fool the big guy.”

The particular types of skills that tend to be most valued in the scientific community are not necessarily the most useful in all contexts, or for all problems. In the same way that scientific training may actually be disadvantageous to someone trying to decipher magic tricks, the valuation of any particular type of thinking over another can cripple the ability to tackle certain types of problems.

I wonder if the seeming inability of large portions of the skeptic community to process social justice issues like misogyny is related to the fact that many of the ways misogyny manifests are implicit, and have to do with cultural narratives and undertones. While it is entirely possible to gather scientific data on the impact of narrative, metaphor, implicit communication, etc., and many researchers have done just that, becoming conversant in these things is not one of the skill sets commonly included in STEM educational tracks.

I wonder if part of the reason the skeptic community seems to be having such trouble processing these issues is that our enthusiasm and focus on hard sciences and data has come at the expense of a healthy respect for the other side of the coin. Narratives are powerful. Narratives, metaphor, implicit messages, etc., are powerful, and they color every aspect of our lives, up to and including our assessments of research data and logical arguments. We, as a community, fail to acknowledge this at our peril.

How I Meet Poly People

I’ve been really busy the last few weeks, so haven’t had time to write, but a reader left a question about how to meet poly people in my inbox, so I figured I’d take the time to write a quick post in response.

My favorite ways to meet poly people:

First, OkCupid. OkCupid is a fantastic site for meeting other nonmonogamous people. It has a tremendous number of poly people on it, and aside from being a good place to find poly dates, this has been a great place for me to find poly friends. The last time I moved, I messaged a bunch of people who were high matches just to say, “Hey, I am about to move into this area and I’m trying to get to know some people before I arrive, would you be up for chatting a bit and then maybe getting coffee or something once I’m in town?”. I met several new friends that way, and almost all of them were poly.

Second, meetups. Meetup.com is an and I have found to be a great way to get to the site to find these — many cities have polyamorous meetup groups that meet weekly or monthly, and I have found these to be a great way to get to know local poly people.

Third, the BDSM community. If you’re not interested in BDSM at all, then this might not be the best strategy for you in particular, but for people who are interested in BDSM, the kink community is chock-full of nonmonogamous people in every style and configuration you can imagine. In my experience, it is nearly inevitable that you will meet poly kinksters.

Fourth, being out. Obviously there are environments and circumstances where it is dangerous to be out about non-monogamy, and I don’t intend this as blanket advice to be out in all places and circumstances, but where it is possible and reasonable, being out as poly can sometimes result in meeting poly people where you least expect them. I have gotten pretty comfortable being out as poly in social situations if the subject comes up. I don’t try to force it into conversation, but if it’s a comfortable space, I also don’t deliberately keep it out of the conversation. This has resulted in it coming up in conversation with people at dances, at get-togethers at friends houses, even at one point with coworkers (though the safety of it with coworkers depends on the type of workplace you are in).

Fifth, online. There are forums, Facebook groups, blogs, and subreddits dedicated to ethical non-monogamy. A number of the poly people I now know in real life I originally met online in discussions of polyamory. Meeting people online does make it less likely that the people you meet will live anywhere near you, but you still have an online community to connect with, and your paths may cross in real life more often than you expect.

Sixth, poly conferences. These can be expensive to attend and travel to, so not my first choice, but they can also be incredibly fun, and they are, of course, chock-full of poly people.

Hope this is helpful!

On the Internet Everyone Knows You Could Be a Dog, or Why I Think Aaron Sorkin Is Wrong About the Value of Established Media Outlets

“On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”

It’s one of those Internet jokes that seems like it’s been around forever, and is meant to highlight the idea that you never really know who you’re talking or listening to on the Internet. Anyone can start a blog or a social media account and start delivering their opinions to the world, whether thoughtful or thoughtless, informed or ignorant.

A while back, there was this interview with Aaron Sorkin where he talked about why he follows established news media outlets instead of Internet media to get the news. As he put it:

When I read the Times or The Wall Street Journal, I know those reporters had to have cleared a very high bar to get the jobs they have. When I read a blog piece from “BobsThoughts.com,” Bob could be the most qualified guy in the world but I have no way of knowing that because all he had to do to get his job was set up a website–something my 10-year-old daughter has been doing for 3 years. When The Times or The Journal get it wrong they have a lot of people to answer to. When Bob gets it wrong there are no immediate consequences for Bob except his wrong information is in the water supply now so there are consequences for us.

The interview reminded me of when Wikipedia first started becoming popular and people were constantly talking about how you couldn’t trust the information on it, because anyone could be editing it.

I, for the most part, think of that as a feature and not a bug. I think it’s a feature because it means that we know we can’t necessarily trust what’s in it. The mistake people make when they talk about not being able to trust Wikipedia is in the implicit assumption that we could trust encyclopedias as infallible sources before Wikipedia.

We couldn’t. Or we shouldn’t have. Encyclopedias have always been written by people. People have always been fallible. The companies that produce encyclopedias are no more immune from hiring or keeping on people who are bad at their work than our popular news media were immune from hiring the people who reported that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

I like Wikipedia because I know it could be wrong. Regular encyclopedias can be wrong, too, but my guard was never up in the same way with them as it is with Wikipedia. I like Internet media specifically for the reason that Aaron Sorkin doesn’t like it: because it makes it that much more difficult for me to have any illusions about the fact that the burden of critical thought is on me.

On the Internet, everyone knows you could be a dog.

I don’t automatically trust bloggers because a group of people I’ve never met decided to give them a badge that says “reporter” on it. I don’t turn off my critical thinking because they’ve gotten to be some sort of “professional”. I have to judge them on the merits of their writing and history of thoughtfulness or thoughtlessness alone. Because they could be a dog, and I wouldn’t know.

Most of my best news these days I get from people who have absolutely no reporting credentials. Some of them may lack those credentials specifically because of the systematic biases inherent in the groups of people who are able to confer those credentials, which means I often get news about things that the established media is systematically and irresponsibly silent on. I don’t get to trust my news sources implicitly because of a logo or the perceived “accountability” that some apparently think is enough to keep official media outlets honest.

That is a feature, not a bug, because we should never trust any news media outlet implicitly. When your news source is a blogger you like, you get reminders of that. When your news source is the established media, you had better make sure you don’t forget it, because it turns out there weren’t WMDs in Iraq, and some of the people who reported that there were still have jobs there.

Permission to Flirt?

“Would you be comfortable with me flirting with you?”

I’ve become fond of asking this question lately. I’m not all that good at telling when people are interested in me, and I find it’s a good way to make sure I’m not going to make anyone uncomfortable. I’m sure it also helps that the few times I’ve asked it, people have enthusiastically consented.

A while ago, a friend of mine mentioned my use of this question in conversation, and someone responded by saying they thought that asking a question like that would kill the mood.

And I felt insecure.

Let’s take a moment to review the context in which this insecurity happened: off the top of my head, I can remember three times I’ve asked someone some variation of this question. Each time, the response was an enthusiastic “yes”, and each time I got the feeling that the person I asked was more comfortable and interested in flirting because I had asked.

It doesn’t kill the mood.

So why, in spite of that evidence, did I feel insecure when someone suggested it would?

I like this as an example of cultural norms overpowering reason and evidence because it’s one of the most clear-cut examples I have from my own life. Asking if people want to flirt has never killed the mood in my experience. That’s not to say it’s impossible that it might some time, but it is certainly to say that it’s a lot less likely than some people seem to think. I have direct, uniform evidence of it not killing the mood, and yet it is still possible for me to feel insecure about it when people suggest that it would.

What is it about brains that makes them so prone to this type of mistake? Why not spend your time feeling insecure about things you have some rational basis to feel insecure about, brain?

Antidepressants Update

So. Antidepressants.

My new psychiatrist has me ramping up on a relatively new drug called Viibryd. It is supposed to have fewer sexual side effects than most of the others on the market. This past weekend, an “um-friend” of mine visited from out of town, on account of which I got very little sleep. Yesterday I switched from 10 mg to 20 mg on the ramp up, and presumably either on account of that or the incredible lack of sleep or both ended up pretty sick and threw up a few times.

I told my psychiatrist and he recommended I stick with 10 mg for longer and see how that goes. In addition to being generally sick the last few days, I’ve had the worst flareup in my chronic pain symptoms I’ve experienced in a long time. It has been a generally miserable couple of days.

I’m not sure what the next go-to strategy will be if the Viibryd doesn’t work. Most other drugs I’ve tried have had little impact and annoying side effects. In particular, my recollection is that most of them, rather than lowering my interest in sex like I was warned about, tend to lower my ability to get hard, but do absolutely nothing to my interest in sex. Wellbutrin, when I tried it, had the opposite effect, but it also led to my feeling jittery throughout the day, and is apparently not effective against anxiety, which is one of my issues.

So we’ll see. Right now I’m just clenching my teeth through all the chronic pain stuff, which I’m anticipating will die down after I’ve caught up more on sleep.