Difficulties of Being Good

I know the title of this article sounds like I’m about to go into some self-pitying biz about how “no good deed goes unpunished” and only the virtuous suffer and so on. I’ve been on that tip in the past, but it doesn’t seem right to me anymore. No, this article is about the disadvantages people have when it comes to being a good person, which is a way in which I might be rather fortunate.

First, what I mean by being good: Causing no harm to others, generally leaving people in an equal or better state than that in which you found them. Being a positive (or at least not negative) influence in society. This is not something everyone aspires to, but most would prefer to at least not be thought of as evil. Even that lower bar is a hard one for some of us to clear. What is it that makes it hard to be good?

A few mental illnesses can be a factor. Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissism can make it very hard to be good, especially for the undiagnosed and those lacking in self-awareness. But there are much more common difficulties found in the neurotypical. Four that I’ll talk about right now: bullying instinct, greed for wealth, greed for power, and social privilege. (There are probably better formal terms for the first three that I’m unaware of, but bear with me.)

Bullying instinct is expressed in a lot of different ways, but fundamentally it’s the drive to hurt the disadvantaged for pleasure. There are lots of ways to be disadvantaged. A new kid at school with no social capital or buffer of friends to protect them, a physically weak person against a strong one, a child or elderly or disabled person in the care of an able-bodied adult, a member of a traditionally oppressed class faced with the privileged, and so on. In cyber-bullying of the MRA/GG/etc. variety, the disadvantage is being a singular public personality against an anonymous horde in an as-yet lawless domain. The public faces of cyber-bullying (Gjoni, Yiannopoulos, that fake goth, Dawkins, etc.) would be relatively powerless if not for the hordes of flying monkeys that fill the sky whenever they say a name, and for the way society doesn’t believe respect or defend the types of people they usually target.

I’ve never understood why people want to hurt those who are vulnerable to them. I want to hurt people who cause harm to me or to others, but whether that’s good or bad (it ain’t great), it isn’t the same thing. I want to protect people who are being hurt. To hurt someone who can’t fight back? Why do that? What’s the appeal? But one doesn’t have to look far to see that it’s an extremely common instinct. So much so that you would be wrong to pathologize it, to say it’s a mental illness. If a personality trait affects 35% of your species, it isn’t a mental illness, it’s just part of the range of neurotypical behavior. (I pulled that number out of my rear, no idea what the numbers are actually like or if there’s even reasonable way for anyone to find out.)

This question has plagued me since I had the language to articulate it – Why bullies? My earliest memory is getting a bloody nose from a much larger child. It’s the genesis of this article. This everyday emotional sadism no doubt makes it very difficult to be a good person. Moving on though, greed for wealth and power.

Greed for wealth is another thing I’ve never understood. Desire for a spacious house, fun toys? A fast shiny car? Cool-looking clothes? I get all of that, I’ve felt it to some extent or another same as anyone. But the dollars themselves – why want those? And the status symbols – why want those? A fast shiny car could be forty years old, cared for and maintained. Why get a brand new Bentley every year? The only reason is status, and I do not fucking understand that. What feels good about that? Driving fast, looking at your nifty possessions with satisfaction, OK. Wanting possessions that do nothing for you except denote your willingness and ability to waste a fuckton of money? What is that?

And even if you are one of the rich that doesn’t splurge on those things, that does hold onto your paper, hustle it into offshore accounts, pay off politicians to never tax you. Why? What is that good for? It’s nothing. It’s utterly abstract. Even if you have that money in gold, the value of gold is subjective. It isn’t magic. If two men are in a golden prison with no food, food is more valuable to them. Papers, gold, bitcoins, who cares?

My dude suggested to me it’s a fear of class warfare – an understanding that the rightfully outraged will ultimately tear down your castles, leading to a feeling that you must build that castle into the sky just to feel safe. I don’t know, but desire for money and status symbols compels many people to do very bad things. Being good when you have those urges can’t come easily.

Greed for power over others. I’ve had a small measure of this before, and while taking advantage of the power you have for petty stuff I get (like choosing what movie your crew goes to), seeking additional power, holding desperately onto what power I have, this has never been appealing to me. Again, what does it mean? Why would you want to have control over others? Any praise that comes from those you control is automatically suspect as coerced. With power you can’t feel truly loved, only feared. Why would you want that? From high school clique control to shift managers in fast food up to high offices and dictators, the lust for power can make it more difficult to be good.

Lastly (on my list, if not in reality), we come to social privilege. While the other traits on the list are things I’m fortunately lacking, privilege is definitely not. I’ve been raised as a presumed boy, presumed man, in a society that favors boys and men so powerfully it’s god damn nightmarish. I’ve been white in a country that will fucking destroy you without a thought for being anything else (if you aren’t lucky). The worst thing about privilege for the privileged is that it makes us feel entitled over the oppressed and simultaneously blinds us to noticing that sense of entitlement. It’s a huge barrier to being good.

One can have every trait on this list and still be a good person, but to do so, you have to understand what you’re up against. You have to fight through it. If you manage to be good, even saintly with your favored people – family, friends, your race or social class – but are a menace to people outside of that group, then you’re a bad person. Take an honest look at yourself, get it together, try again.

Myself as an example: I don’t want to hurt people for fun, I don’t want money or status or power, I even have some genuinely positive intentions. But I’ve done bad things, mostly from being blind to my privilege over women. And even some years after I started to get educated about that privilege, I still fucked up, I did bad, because I’m so habituated to that privilege. Did I rape anyone? No, never been in a situation where that was even a question. But I definitely did some things that could be construed as sexual harassment of the verbal type, made a few women feel unsafe or alienated. And with regards to race, I’ve had some fuckups too.

I’ve been bad, I can certainly make mistakes in the future, but I don’t want to be bad, and I’ll do my best to keep that from happening. When I’m called out, I’ll cop to it, apologize, take the appropriate punishment. The kind of people who don’t want to acknowledge that privilege is real will read this and shake their heads, think of me as some self-flagellating fool who is putting myself through torture over invisible sins.

Guess what, dudes? Once you recognize your privilege (it’s as blindingly obvious and real as the sun if you are willing to look), recognize your harmful impulses, being good isn’t that hard. You might screw up, you might have to do some apologizing, might take some deserved licks. But 99.9% of the time? It’s pretty fucking easy, and it feels good to know I’m not hurting people, feels good to know that I can actually help people.

You can do it too. Pay your taxes. Don’t keep up with the Joneses. Don’t boss people around. Recognize your advantages and use them to offset the disadvantages others face. Tell your bros at the meeting to shut up for five minutes so the woman can talk. Realize you might not be seeing everyone as fully human, wake up, meet the humans all around you. You might be able to take the scare quotes off your “gay friend” and your “black friend,” might be able to occupy a friendzone with comfort and style.

It’s the right thing to do.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Though Pepe’s meme is usually in the hands of hate criminals, in hateless incarnations, I can dig.  Here we see the sad Pepe in a very brief animation.

Two things:

I had this foolish schedule with only an eight hour gap between two eight hour shifts, and rather than monkey with buses to get ten minutes of sleep at home, thought I’d be clever and sleep in the break room.  I barely slept and ended up super sweaty and vile.  I felt so gross it killed me.  Plus just working that shift wrecked me even worse than the job usually does.

I’m in this state that is hardly a relief from the quasi-depression I’d gotten into from long underemployment.  I put myself through pain and stress all day for a reward that seems inadequate and a million years away.  My first paycheck is in about four days, it feels further away.  Feels like I’m hurting myself for nothing but self-loathing, a punishment for inadequately providing for my loved ones for years.  I do my customer service game face as much as possible, but it’s a thin mask on a zombied out pile of agonized cellz.  Seems to fool about 65% of people.

Thing two, being around humans means sexism, racism, misogyny, fatphobia, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia.  If you’re clued into that shit, you know why anyone would want a safe place from it all.  It is shot through so many of our conversations and ways of relating to each other.  Like, in any work environment, you’re going to have one or more guys whose interactions with women are all creepy as hell.  Maybe for whatever reason the ladies are sorta OK with it or front as such, but it doesn’t make it less grody to see a fiftyish dude smiling on young ladies over everyone else.

Then there’s like a third of all lady conversations that seem to come back to weight, with a lot of self-loathing and popular delusions and eating disorder talk.  Then there’s the really disgusting fuckers – the ones with minds so full of hate they need to be shitting on someone to feel right.  Some are macho men, some are ladied-out ladies, but they’re usually awash in cisheteronormativity, have to treat the existence of non-cishet people as a joke in and of itself, act like LGBTQIA people are repulsive, when it’s the brains on these creeps that are the most disgusting thing in the room.

And all this stuff is low-key and banal and common enough that I’ll look like the unreasonable terrible nogoodnik for reporting it.  What could that evil liberal PC police fucker’s problem be?  Does he just hate America?  Hate fun?  I dunno.  Maybe.  Our society as it now exists is fucking unacceptable.  Change it please.  We shouldn’t spend so much of our time hurting each other, regardless of whether or not we recognize that’s what we’re doing.

Oh, also, I saw a gaggle of young skinny white dudes with one wearing a trump hat backwards.  And I didn’t even stop to crush them into bone meal.  I’m really being spectacularly well behaved lately.  The man should throw me a fuckin’ bone already.

Right After the Grodiness

Right as I was still recovering from the norovirus, I got a brutal foot-crushing job in retail. Part time in name only, where they can schedule you for 35 hours while pressuring you to work more than 40 and still not give you full time benefits. I still haven’t received my first paycheck yet and I feel like a bloody piece of hamburger, ready to be consumed and flushed into eternal nothingness. Good times.

My schedule is also so weird and inconsistent that I have a random four week days off next week. Wonder what I could do with that time off, perhaps involving classified ads…? Anyhow, assuming I continue to suffer thru this BS without crumbling into ruin over the longer term, anybody have suggestions for footwear?

The Original Ghostbusters was Racist Trash

I’m too wiped out from work to make a substantial case, but it’s around, you can no doubt find it elsewhere. My assertions:

The original two’s treatment of Ernie Hudson was awful. He was marginalized by everything from the script to the camerawork.

Evidence of where this comes from can be seen in earlier works of the writer Harold Ramis. Animal House and the like. Black people were always outsiders, while the fruits of their culture were front and center. Love that music, scared of the scary people and haha, ain’t we just funny like that?

And now, fans of the original hating on the new one have focused that hatred straight at the one black person in sight, to heights more disgusting than ever. Excuse me while I piss on your childhood, you racist misogynist pukes.

The original Ghostbusters was just like its fans: racist trash. Also, fuck all white nerd dudes off the planet, including myself if that’s the price I gotta pay. Let’s go. Let’s leave the humans alone, clearly we’re done with any pretense of being human ourselves, right?

ehhhhhh anyway, Don’t take everything I say too seriously. I got some calming down to do. Will moderate comments eventually. cu L8r.

Reading Julia Serano

A few people around FtB have linked to this article by Julia Serano about the BS that happens when transgender children are discussed in media. It’s very long and thoughtful. This paragraph jumped out at me (the bolding is mine):

Because cisgender people cannot relate to gender dysphoria (having not experienced it personally), and often refuse to take trans people’s gendered experiences seriously (because they view us as illegitimate and suspect as a result of transphobia), they will sometimes invent ulterior motives or condescending theories to explain our desire to transition — e.g., that we transition to try to “fit in” (as straight, as gender-normative), or to obtain male privilege, or because we’re sexual deviants, or because we are confused/clueless/gullible and thus easily swayed by nefarious ideologies (e.g., patriarchy, medical institutions, transgender agendas). I’ve heard many other concocted reasons (and I debunk many of them in Whipping Girl), but what they all share in common is that they 1) dismiss the legitimacy of our gender identities and experiences with dysphoria, and 2) discount the severity of the transphobia we face (which allows them to depict us as making frivolous/reckless/thoughtless life choices rather than serious well-considered ones).”

I describe myself some places as “mostly cis,” because I have no problem with conducting most of my life as a cisgender person.  I don’t have gender dysphoria at all.  Sometimes I am bothered by people reinforcing cisheteronomativity – consciously or otherwise, but that’s a moral objection and emotional only insofar as I care about the harm it can cause to the disadvantaged binary gender (women) and people with dysphoria.  I don’t feel like I’m personally boxed in or wounded by perceptions and expectations of my presentation, any more than the average cis person.

So as a mostly cis person, no, I do not relate to gender dysphoria.  I am way more educated on the topic than the average person, through the necessity of helping a transgender person I care about deal with their difficulties.  But no amount of education is the same as actual experience of a situation.  I can see the pain and learn what to do to avoid causing it, and try to coach others to avoid causing it. But I can’t understand it.

I can learn a lot about gender dysphoria, but fundamentally, I cannot imagine it at all.  There are a lot of metaphors floating around to try and help cisgender people understand it, but none have ever worked for me.  One question asked: How would you feel if people did not recognize your gender, or expected things of you based on a wrong perception of it?  My answer?  I’ve been misgendered, back when I was a skinny long-haired youth, and it didn’t bother me at all.  If everyone around me perceived me as a woman forever, I can’t imagine being bothered by anything about that other than the misogyny.

So some specific thoughts this calls to mind, things I have considered in the past that Serano’s article reminded me of:

  • This lack of gender dysphoria is actually something that makes me queer, in a sense, because I don’t identify with any gender personally – my assigned one or otherwise.
  • Which makes me wonder how many raving transphobes are actually inviso-queers like myself: people who don’t actually identify with a gender.  If you can’t imagine dysphoria for this reason, and you’ve got the right fundie asshole background, it might make sense to bargle at the trans people about it.
  • I’m also reminded of when I was less sensitive to the transgender people in my life because I couldn’t understand / relate to gender dysphoria and hadn’t been educated yet, and I am saddened with regret.
  • Much like the way men are largely immune to noticing the pervasive misogyny of our society, cis (and mostly cis) people are immune to noticing all but the most egregious forms of transphobia and gender policing.  Since I started tying to look out for and defend the trans people I know, I notice this shit constantly, and I never did before.
  • I mention gender policing because it is a ridiculously common way our society harms trans people without even noticing they exist.  You have to be aware of trans people to be properly transphobic, but you don’t have to be aware of them to cause them harm.  All you have to do is tell people shitty truisms about guys do this, girls do that.  Oh of course the guy did this, girl did that because that is the way it is.  Biology, I tell ya.  Adam and Eve.  Vervet monkeys with pink berries.  Choose your toxic horseshit, and insist on telling the people around you the reasons they are forever doomed to live it.

Anyhow, the point: Don’t try to over-apply your own experience, trust people about their own. What you’ve known of the world, what you’ve lived, is not all universal human truth.

Shaytan e Bozorg

I started calling myself Great American Satan back in the time when all I knew of the Middle East was creepy fundamentalist religion and oil. I had hints of other things in the back of my mind, but they didn’t really come together for a few years.

If you check out the wikipedia page on the phrase, you’ll see the central thrust of the Assholatollah’s speech what that the US conducts itself abroad with imperialism and corruption. In these facts, he was completely fucking correct.  We support dictatorships that make our rich richer, actively use the CIA and their stooges to overthrow sovereign nations that dare to put the well-being of their own people before our corporate profits.  We’re satans in a bad way.

At least some of us are satans in a good way.  I’ve been using the label a while and stand by the sentiment: If you ain’t living your life in a way that would piss off an ayatollah, you ain’t living right. Never pray, never fast, drink what you like, and get busy as much or as little as you desire, preferably with weird body parts and weird people and no weddings in sight.

Let the ladies drive from Mecca to Medina in a convertible covered in truncated shahadas, preferably with their colorful trisexual SJW side-cuts whipping in the wind, taking rest stops to make love with a Salman Rushdie bobblehead-shaped strap on, and piss on hadith booklets.

لا إله

A Thesis in Progress: On Action

As a youth, one of my first loves was action movies.  I used to stay up well past midnight watching anything labeled as “action” in the TV Guide.  I’d dig it when Gary Daniels did a totally gratuitous standing backflip or kicked someone’s face causing a bunch of talcum powder to burst forth in a mysterious cloud.  When Bolo Yeung told Jean-Claude “You are next!”  Good times.

I haven’t been very thrilled by an action flick in some years.  Getting old I suppose.  Space Shooters was alright, the one with the laser people?  I forget.  Anyhow, as someone who was once very invested in a thing, I must examine why, what was good about it, what wasn’t so good, and if I could get back a bit of that magic.  Especially as a creator of narrative art, I have to ask myself if I can make something that would thrill a thrillable person.  So analyzing action, in film, comics, prose.

My ideas aren’t very well formed yet, don’t know if I have much by way of conclusions.  The work thus far has been in the laboratory of random thoughts, in the shower occasionally, waiting for a bus.  But harken and hear me out!  Because if I don’t present these ideas in half-assed form and they never reach a full ass, then they’ll never see the light of day in any form.  Proceeding thus,

I love action movies, but I recognize some underlying problems in them.  Aside from the usual reinforcement of toxic cultural norms and ideas, prioritizing the power and presumed righteousness of the victor in a violent struggle is a wretched mess.  A corollary of ableism is vaunting athleticism as a moral virtue.  We’re all taught to avoid thinking “might makes right,” but what is John McClane‘s victory over Hans Gruber if not the outcome of a contest for physical supremacy?

What is the fundamental appeal of an action movie or story?  I tried to pare it down to the most abstract form, even before you get into questions like just how universal or valid the campbellian hero myth is, and came up with this: What makes a story “action” in genre is that the hero uses some form of power as an extension of their will to change the world.  The hero could use gun skills to take out a bad guy, could use kung fu to avenge a murder, could use super strength to save people from falling off a bridge.  The thing behind the power is will, desire to make something happen.  The power is the tool that allows the will to be enacted.

So in essence, the action genre is a fantasy about being able to make things happen, to have an effect on the world.  Not surprising that the heavily disenfranchised often find horror and romance more relatable.  I’ve spoken with an AFAB person on the subject and they said they never felt like it was possible to make a difference or change anything, wouldn’t find it believable as a narrative.  Running from monsters, on the other hand, easy to get into.  Not everyone downtrodden has that sense of power crushed out of them so utterly, lots of girls getting into action stories these days.  Progress on one front.

How do I, as a writer, craft a compelling action story?  There are a number of different plot structures and subgenres that have been used over the years.  An example I’m fond of is the tournament plot, like Enter the Dragon, Bloodsport, HeatseekerHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and so on.  But I feel like, as long as you have a basic familiarity with how storytelling works and the genre you want to work in, this isn’t the challenge.  Finding out what makes someone want to read a story and implementing that – this is my aim.

Not sure the best place to start, but with my favorite movies seems good.  What made Hard-Boiled so awesome?  What made Space Shooters so affecting?  What’s so good about Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin, a Jackie Chan movie that predated his signature style?  I don’t know, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else.  My conclusions are tentative.

  • Themed Teams.  Different colored ninja suits.  In Tha Harry P Chronicles, the factions all had special colored scarves and stereotypes about the peeps in their clubs.  In kung fu movies, different clans or groups of fighters would have at least somewhat matched outfits.  In Hard-Boiled during the warehouse fight, it was janitor jumpsuits versus black motorcycle gear.  Call it pageantry or a narrative device, it’s kinda cool.
  • Sexy Mans.  Hard-Boiled could only have been improved by Tony Leung and Chow Yun-fat making out.  Om nom.
  • Social Justice.  When everyone in space shooter lady‘s life says “you are worthless, wait forever for anything good,” and she gets dragged into awareness of her importance and worth, she doesn’t know how to feel about it, resists, and it makes my heart a splode.

The answer is probably something in the neighborhood of the last one, rather than the more superficial elements.  But I’m not done thinking about this yet.  One of these years…

Self and Self Esteem

Once again, I’m about to do a lot of talking out my ass on subjects I’m not certified to comment on. But what I’m about to say feels true to me, so good enough for now. Just don’t cite me in your term paper.

The struggle of all thinking animals is to make sense of the world, and all social animals are also compelled to make sense of their relation to conspecifics. Both problems (which I’ll return to later) involve an assumption of a self – that there exists at the core of one’s impulses, thoughts, and perceptions a singular entity that owns its being. “I think therefore I am” is often misinterpreted by people unfamiliar with philosophy* as meaning one must think to exist legitimately – “I’m clever therefore I am cool” – but it simply means that if there is an “I” to be capable of thinking, then the “I” must be real.

This “I” has not, since about age fifteen, felt quite like it is real. I’m not qualified to debate this formally, but if anyone has the high-blown formal jargon and practice to take that up in the comments, go for it. I’m simply saying I don’t feel like the self is as coherent a thing in reality as we normally assume it to be.

The pretentious teenage Satan of yore was introduced to Descartes and began to question their previous assumptions that reason+observation were sufficient to know reality, and this feeling followed from that.  The failure of his ontological argument (which aimed not just to prove the existence of god, but to establish that one could trust the reality of the world) stranded me partway through his line of reasoning, in a state of endless doubt.**

What are we if not beings, individually existing selves?*** Biology can provide an idea of what I mean. We are colonies of differentiated cells, working together, but without any central governing body.  The brain is an organ of those cells, but it doesn’t directly control all of the others, doesn’t even have a singular controller of the cells within itself. Likewise, the “software” of a human consciousness seems to be made of disparate impulses, senses, and thought processes that – while they add up to something that seems like a whole – remain distinct.

And if we try to isolate the center by feeling our way through to the dark pit of our minds, to some of us, it will feel like there isn’t anything there. My guess is that there really isn’t anything there, for any of us, but that people with a strong sense of their self are more able to construct a functional illusion.  That isn’t always a good thing, because a social animal’s sense of self can be fundamentally horrible.

Which takes me back to the first paragraph.  Assuming a self that needs to eat and dodge bears to continue experiencing life – this is useful and great.  Determining the value of that self, the relative worth that entitles us to experience life, is a kind of hell that no animal should have to deal with.  If it works out for you, it doesn’t even feel like you did anything at all.  If it doesn’t work, everything you do can be ruined, all the way down to simply breathing.

This is where I was before I truly started to understand what self esteem means to people that don’t have it.  I couldn’t imagine there even being a question of whether I’m entitled to happiness.  If someone outside tries to bring me down, it is obviously because they are wrong.  I didn’t know the reason I felt OK was because my mind was actively doing something.  Feeling OK doesn’t feel like anything.

But as a social animal, being worthy of life is a decision I am making, an act I am undertaking.  Or more accurately, something that was decided for me by luck and circumstance practically before I could speak, and that has since been an assumption I can take for granted, that my healthy mind reinforces every day.  If, at the age of two, I had been ignored, dismissed, abused, I could feel very differently.  I could feel like the only metric of my worth is the approval of others, that without an overwhelming amount of positive reinforcement from people around me, I should just shuffle off and die.

I could, when I look in a mirror, see every insult or dismissal or cutting remark made about every aspect of my appearance, or of the appearance of people who look like myself.  And then what?  I’d think of myself as gross, disgusting, unlovable, worthless.  I could earnestly believe all of those things as if they were my own thoughts, rather than the programming of a society that exists in a twisted and cruel scramble of social sorting.

There isn’t any cure for it.  That’s our minds doing what they’re built for: forming a socially stable population with maximum potential to carry the genes forward.  As animals, we’ve gotten beyond the need for this kind of built-in social valuation, the same way we’ve gotten beyond the need for whatever the appendix was.  We have an ethical system that builds on what’s best in us – humanism – and other ways of helping the whole population get by.  Bad self esteem is a holdover from a time when our species was less fancy.

In our society as it exists now, bad self-esteem is a maladaption that has to be worked past, like natural childbirth.  Bring on the pod-grown babies.  And bring on a cure for bad self esteem, whatever that may be, because living in a world this full of sadness bums my neurotypical shit out.  No one should have to feel like they are unworthy of life and happiness.

Seems like my topic did a 180 there and maybe it did, but I feel like these things are related.  Maybe something that insulated my brain from bad self-evaluation is that I’ve never had a fully developed sense of self in the non-social sense in the first place?  Or maybe it was having a peer group in the form of siblings near my own age, so that being ignored by parents didn’t harm me.  I dunno.  I just wish I could donate all this extra self-esteem to those in need. It is extra – I feel like I have more esteem than self.

 

*I have literally 101 level familiarity with philosophy.  It’s enough to mess with childish teenage me of long ago, not enough to go into any substance with trained professionals.

**This doubt isn’t very significant.  It’s there, but it doesn’t affect a life that has thus far been safely lived as if apparent reality can be trusted.  It just felt disturbing at the time, having previously always felt much more confident in my sense and senses.

***This whole essay has likely suffered from a lack of vocabulary to address the issue.  I hope that it still makes sense.