Sunday Sermon: Blogger’s Disorder


Blogging forces your own adequacy in your face, and if you’re a skeptical blogger, you wind up examining it closely to make sure your assessment of your own mediocrity is not too full of confirmation bias. Then, you turn to the list of things in your head that you want to write about, and wonder if you can do them justice.

Meanwhile, the world around you continues to be a mad whirl, like it’s deliberately trolling you, trying to get you to completely lose your temper and thrash the keyboard to the point where key-caps go flying about your office – except it’d be wrong to waste a perfectly good keyboard. So you pick something and start to write. Someone you know lost a beloved dog and now your own ghosts are snuffling at the door; you know they are waiting for you to walk out and miss the dogs that won’t be there ever again. There’s a whole piece you’d like to write, about ghosts, and how the ghosts of your friends follow you around through life until you become someone else’s ghost or are forgotten. But honesty makes you think you’re just not that good a writer and it’d wound you if you tried hard and failed, when it’s that topic. Writing a beautiful and poetic piece about your ghosts – that would be good. Writing a self-indulgent piece would be insulting to everyone. So, forget that.

The world brings me a headline that Alex Jones is apparently an anti-semite, racist, and all around asshole. Who’d have thought? I can’t scrape up enough caring to comment further. People follow leaders for the wrong reasons.

Ah, now, there’s a topic I can write about: leadership and strategy. I can’t make my pen dance like Voltaire’s but I can plod across the trenches like Von Clausewitz. The atheist/skeptical community is being rocked by discoveries that some “spokesmen” (it’s always men) are predatory. As if discovering that Hitch was a closet Thatcherite and Dawkins is a querulous old anti-feminist wasn’t enough; but this has been going on for years. I can write about the strategy of leadership, how having leaders and spokespeople are good strategy for the weak if those leaders and spokespeople confer a morale or tactical advantage. I myself listen to old Howard Zinn speeches, given at peace rallies in the 1970s, and I want to stop the Vietnam war. But then I fall down behind my keyboard, again, because there is not a comparably vital anti-war movement and I am not willing to get in line to have my head bashed, like Zinn was.

So I start to write and then I slam into the wall of my own skepticism: I am about to try to write a clarion-call to “no clarion calls.” I am about to try to lead people away from leaders. It takes me 3 minutes and a cup of coffee to tear my own arguments to pieces, hit control-A, <delete> and be staring, again, at a blank screen.

My email is a pit of despair. One of my colleagues here is dealing with cancer and my spam filter coughs up a doozie: CANCER IS A GOOD THING!!!” says Montreal’s Own “Food Babe”. The flavor in my mouth is gall. Did you know that rage tastes like gall? I have known this for years; perhaps it’s my distant viking ancestry – it’s an adaptation, maybe I should ask an evolutionary psychologist then run away laughing. I can’t take it, my own incandescent frustration (incandescent frustration is what you get when you wish you could muster a full-on rage but you feel you don’t have standing) makes it hard to write. I wind up meandering all over the page, starting to get maudlin. I want to go sit on the porch with my ghosts, and have them on either side of me, as they used to be, so we could look out across the fields at the deer. Jake would always say ‘whfff’ softly, and turn his muzzle toward new deer – I think he knew that daddy couldn’t see or hunt very well, he was trying to keep me from embarrassment. My ghosts smell like oak wood-smoke, dead rabbit, and dog. What do yours smell like? Suddenly I can’t write any more, my eyes are pounding and the computer screen looks like the colors are running. Fucking Windows 10.

Then there’s the lovecraftian horrors from the past. One of the emails (to the person who wrote: this is not a complaint) is a member of the commentariat asking if I had seen a certain report that was released in 2015, regarding US war crimes that were buried successfully in the 1950s. Is that the sort of thing, they ask, I am interested in? It’s more complicated than “being interested” – it’s a matter of figuring out what I believe. I don’t even remember what I wrote back, but the whole time I am thinking about revealed anti-semite Alex Jones and how I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy buff, constantly posting terrors from the depth of the cold war. But those terrors, I know, are true. I’m not sure about this one, that I am being asked about; I think it is probably true. If it is true, it’s a Mengele-level medical nightmare (at least psychologists didn’t commit this one!) I don’t remember how I reply but I can’t write about this yet. I need to write about SIOP and the Mace-B missiles, first. And I can’t bear to do that.

“No Heroes, No Movement.” I write. I’ve written that in comments all over FtB for years. Maybe I can explain, that would be good – it might even be a little uplifting. I try. It comes out dry, and technical, and crumbly. I’m not a passionate person, I can’t get people to look in the mirror of their own hearts and realize that we don’t need a movement, and we don’t need heroes, because we’re winning. You need brilliant strategists when the war is in doubt, when you need a force multiplier, when you need to bring out the vote. Religion is dying; the internet is killing it. Stick a fork in it and move on. There is no need for an “atheism/skepticism” movement because the demographics are all pointing toward a social trend – we don’t need to organize when young people are turning away from religion like it’s going out of style. Because, it’s going out of style.

We don’t even need a movement on the social equality/lgbtq/feminism front: we just need to all be part of a broad social trend toward equality and justice. Have you noticed how the “anti-feminists” have to resort to crafting lumpy straw effigies of Andrea Dworkin so they have something they can tilt against with a chance of victory? There are only a few fools who will step forward and say they are anti-equality (“oh, you must be an aristocrat?”) or who scream their racist hatred and then fall whining that they lost their job. There is hope. But there is always my blogger’s disorder: a deep unsettling feeling like an infection about to spread – the things Howard Zinn was warning us about – there has been no progress in those. And, of course, there is Trump in the White House. How can a person who is concerned with truth even look at the world today and not wonder if there is anything worth saying? Perhaps I should just go for a walk in the woods with my ghosts. And not come back.

“Nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do. It’s not even close,” Trump told the Gridiron Dinner, a gathering of political allies, opponents, and the Washington press corps. “I was very excited to receive this invitation and ruin your evening in person. That’s why I accepted.” [guard]

Some mornings, I can’t organize my thoughts.

Comments

  1. says

    Marcus:

    Perhaps I should just go for a walk in the woods with my ghosts. And not come back.

    Not yet, my friend. I need you. You’re a large part of my sanity these days. As for everything you said, I was nodding along, right there with you. I keep trying to remind myself that here in Amerikka, we’re in the middle of the insanity fire; it’s not so terrible in other parts of the world. All the little truths and lies needed to keep on breathing each day.

    Jayne persists in thinking we’re somehow hiding Doll away somewhere, looks like it will be another dog for us. I’m so not ready. Might not ever be.

  2. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#3:
    So you need new material?

    Nope. It’s easy: you take a shovel and scrape away a bit at the layer of shit that covers America. Under it, you’ll find more shit. Sometimes you’ll find truly horrible shit. Other times, it’s kind of funny shit. But it’s shit. And you look at it from another angle (because: skeptic) and you discover that shit is tied in to other shit. It’s a web-work of shit. And it’s vast. And it goes deep and wide and it’s very shitty indeed.

    There is always more than enough material. But now you know why occasionally I take it easy and post from the Tao Te Ching or something. Because it’s not dripping with smoking napalm-scented shit.

  3. says

    Caine@#1:
    Jayne persists in thinking we’re somehow hiding Doll away somewhere, looks like it will be another dog for us. I’m so not ready. Might not ever be.

    When I put Miles down, I thought of how my aunt’s elkhund, Tess, who lived here for her last 6 months after her mom died, used to run to the driveway whenever she heard a car, and how she’d drag herself back with her tail hanging in crushed disappointment – so I brought Miles home wrapped in a blanket, and Jake sat with him in the august heat and I dug and dug and drank vodka and lemonade and dug and dug and dug. And so Jake understood his other half, his littermate, was gone and all he had left was me. And so, he stopped eating. And the next week, I was digging another hole and there was more vodka, and now all I have is my ghosts.

    You’re a large part of my sanity these days.

    Oy, fucking vey! We are so fucked.

  4. says

    Given Trump’s comments on self-deprecating humor: I declare irony to be dead. I mean, seriously. How can anyone even attempt irony in this world, when the president of the United States can say that?

  5. says

    @#7 Marcus:

    Trump doing irony is no different from an Eliza program output “Cogito ergo sum.”
    With about the same level of introspection.

    His speech writer probably was aware of the meta-level irony of trump doing irony. And hopefully Stephen Colbert and others will have to say something about it over the next days.

  6. says

    Marcus:

    And so Jake understood his other half, his littermate, was gone and all he had left was me. And so, he stopped eating.

    Jayne’s not quite smart enough to fully understand, and he wasn’t with Doll at the end, so…

    But he knows his world is not right. Every day, I’ve had him with me, and I’ve played their fave sing along songs, but after singing to Doll’s most fave, he just lays that heavy head down, sighs, and stares at me. He ate, but when I put his dish down, he spent a long time staring at me, wondering where the hell Doll’s dish was, and where she was. It’s fucking breaking my heart. I can’t replace Doll, and I sure as hell can’t replace the part she played in Jayne’s life, but he had her for most of his life, from 8 months old. He’s lost, and he needs someone. Someone of his own, and I can’t deny him that.

  7. says

    Blogging forces your own adequacy in your face, and if you’re a skeptical blogger, you wind up examining it closely to make sure your assessment of your own mediocrity is not too full of confirmation bias.

    I agree with DonDueed in #2, this isn’t something just bloggers experience. I first had to deal with this when I started debating. I used to think that all my opinions are right and that I’m knowledgeable about various topics only to realize that my optimistic assessment was wrong. But there have been plenty of situations where I had to come to terms with my own adequacy. For example, I might consider myself a pretty good artist, but then I go to an art museum only to see that Rubens’ sketches are better than any of my finished paintings. Ouch! My worst experiences are by far whenever I try to communicate in a foreign language (which for me is most of the time, since my native language is mostly useless). Even as I write this, I’m constantly reminded of the fact that my writings are significantly more eloquent in my native language than in English. And this only gets worse with other foreign languages. I find it hard to switch between languages, so I always think in whichever language I’m using. Using a language I don’t know that well even impedes my ability to think and formulate ideas for myself. In Latvia I got used to being a great debater, then I went to Germany and simply having to debate in German reduced my debating skills to about average.

    I’d say that whenever people face their own inadequacy, there are only two options—you can either accept it, or you can try to improve your skills and get better.

    Then, you turn to the list of things in your head that you want to write about, and wonder if you can do them justice.

    I’d say you might as well not worry about this and just try your best. What other options are there really? Assuming that you will definitely fail and not trying at all? In my opinion, that’s not a better option.

    I want to go sit on the porch with my ghosts, and have them on either side of me, as they used to be, so we could look out across the fields at the deer. Jake would always say ‘whfff’ softly, and turn his muzzle toward new deer – I think he knew that daddy couldn’t see or hunt very well, he was trying to keep me from embarrassment. My ghosts smell like oak wood-smoke, dead rabbit, and dog. What do yours smell like? Suddenly I can’t write any more, my eyes are pounding and the computer screen looks like the colors are running.

    People have a tendency to regard other’s experiences through the lens of what they have personally experienced. I simply cannot experience the negative emotions caused by loosing somebody you love. I can enjoy having a dog (they are soft, nice to touch, fun to play with), but for me dogs are replaceable, I cannot get attached to one specific dog. Whenever I read people’s descriptions of pain, I wonder how it could feel. I have experienced some sadness and despair when bad things happened with me, so I wonder whether what you describe could feel similar but more intense. For me there’s no way of knowing for sure. Well, being immune to certain kinds of emotional pain is certainly convenient. But I suspect that it probably goes both ways. Probably my ability to feel positive emotions is limited/reduced as well.

    There is no need for an “atheism/skepticism” movement because the demographics are all pointing toward a social trend – we don’t need to organize when young people are turning away from religion like it’s going out of style. Because, it’s going out of style.

    I’m not sure I agree. I have heard, for example, about cases where non Christian children were discriminated against in public schools. If members of a movement can sue somebody and improve somebody’s living conditions right now, it’s worth doing this. Sure, it feels nice for me to know that 20 years from now probably there won’t be any LGBT and female discrimination going on. But this doesn’t change the fact that I’m experiencing certain problems at the moment, and I want these problems to go away as soon as possible.

    But there is always my blogger’s disorder: a deep unsettling feeling like an infection about to spread – the things Howard Zinn was warning us about – there has been no progress in those. And, of course, there is Trump in the White House. How can a person who is concerned with truth even look at the world today and not wonder if there is anything worth saying?

    That’s not a blogger’s disorder. Many people experience this one. At least I sure do.

  8. says

    Caine@#9:
    Someone of his own, and I can’t deny him that.

    Sounds like you’re gonna be a puppy-hunting, which is a joyous thing no matter the timing.

    I could have kept Jake for another year or two; he’d have hung around out of a sense of duty if I’d gotten a puppy. At the time I was not thinking straight, or that would have been obvious. If I could have a do-over, I’d probably always do the same thing; that’s my particular curse. It’s why I have the best ghosts.

  9. says

    Marcus:

    Sounds like you’re gonna be a puppy-hunting, which is a joyous thing no matter the timing.

    Maybe, maybe not. We’ll have a walk through at the local rescue, see if there’s someone who needs us. Doll was two years old when we brought her home, having been beaten and abused half to death. She was going to be put down as un-homeable and a sort of mercy killing, she was such a cowering mess. Jayne won’t care if his new person is a puppy or not, as long as they can manage to hold their own in playing with someone who weighs 120 lbs. He’s remarkably energetic for an eight year old.

  10. jazzlet says

    Marcus you may feel what you write is inadequate, but it has helped me clarify my thoughts on various things, not necessarily to agree with you, but because you have laid out your thoughts mine become more clear. Thank you and please try to continue, I am not unique so I doubt I am the only one you have helped in this way.

    As for the ghosts uff, I am sitting here in tears thinking of mine and knowing that at eleven my GSD bitch is old, though she doesn’t act it and has even recently learnt to play with toys. I am trying hard not to anticipate, not to hug her tight (she doesn’t like that) but oh i wish they lived longer.

  11. Owlmirror says

    Religion is dying; the internet is killing it. Stick a fork in it and move on. There is no need for an “atheism/skepticism” movement because the demographics are all pointing toward a social trend – we don’t need to organize when young people are turning away from religion like it’s going out of style. Because, it’s going out of style.

    It’s a bit odd that I’m picking at this, because I personally don’t do movement stuff, and probably never will. But I don’t trust appeals to “social trends”. The “trends” were that Trump would not be elected president, and we can see where that wound up.

    That doesn’t mean that I think the current movement is doing the right sort of things; I suspect that it is problematically more focused on personalities rather than political or social change. I don’t see much in the way of good secularist strategy. But there may be some efforts at change made, and I don’t think those would happen without effort.

    If it came down to humanism vs atheism movements, I suspect that a humanist movement would probably do more good.

    *sigh* This really needs a more nuanced and thoughtful response than I have time for just now.

  12. John Morales says

    Some mornings, I can’t organize my thoughts.

    And yet, here is an entertaining, thoughtful, and revealing post.

    PS I think that when you (semi) retire from your day work, you should get another canine companion.

  13. says

    Owlmirror@#14:
    It’s a bit odd that I’m picking at this, because I personally don’t do movement stuff, and probably never will. But I don’t trust appeals to “social trends”. The “trends” were that Trump would not be elected president, and we can see where that wound up

    If you wanted to say I was seeking comfort, I couldn’t deny it. To me it looks likes trends within trends – action and reaction. The resurgence of white supremacy is not happening for no reason (and it’s why Trump happened, not the other way around) it’s happening because demographics are about to conclusively shut the book on white rule; this is all rear-guard action. To stick with analyzing this as a military problem (it’s not) there is no need for any strategy that is more sophisticated than “wait.” Of course that does not mean that we should not each, organically, choose our battles and efforts and do what we think is right – that only hastens the inevitable.

    Am I being blindly optimistic when I see these things as inevitable? It could be. If something comes screaming out of the wings and knocks everything into a cocked hat, it won’t be Donald Trump or Roy Moore; it’ll be the rise of global authoritarian regimes and strongmen attempting to cope with climate change through force.

    When those are the problems we face, worrying about debating religious idiots seems like pretty small-time stuff.

    The trends certainly aren’t all in good directions; in fact this morning they look particularly horrifying.

    I suspect that it is problematically more focused on personalities rather than political or social change. I don’t see much in the way of good secularist strategy.

    Yes, I agree. I wish there was much less focus on personalities; we are capable of defining and grouping ourselves with more precision around agendas, anyway. I’d rather be a “LGBTQ-positive feminist who has no time for anti-feminists and is highly skeptical of evolutionary psychology” than “A Richard Dawkins fan”, for example. Personalities just leave us open to being attacked on that axis, if our chosen avatars turn out to be weak or “human, all too human.” Just as some of us attack religion for its adherents choosing flim-flam men like Jim Bakker and Ken Ham as their avatars.

    I think the broader trend away from religion is driven by education (and the internet, to a lesser degree) which is why the evangelicals are trying so hard to inject themselves into the educational system so they can destroy it from within. I believe such efforts amount to trying to stop the tide from coming in, but there are always those that will try that.

    I’m not super-optimistic. It seems to me, though, that a lot of the stuff that has become associated with the ‘atheist/skeptical movement’ begins to resemble beating a dead horse. It is my opinion that social justice/equality and equality of opportunity are bigger issues and are more undecided (in fact, in the US it appears that inequality has won the class war and is engaging in mopping-up actions) perhaps there the strategic problems are big enough that we could use a few great speakers and leaders to help serve as force multipliers.

    If it came down to humanism vs atheism movements, I suspect that a humanist movement would probably do more good.

    Definitely.
    In the meantime, while that humanist movement is forming, we would all do well to watch the clouds on the horizon and individually do what we care to, that makes sense; white supremacists are serving the upper class – we must drive a wedge between that alliance. Lives may depend on it. That doesn’t mean arguing with white supremacists and beating them (whatever that means) it means getting them to realize that they are being played by forces that are much more cynical than they appear capable of imagining.

  14. says

    Brony, Social Justice Cenobite@#15:
    It’s ok to be stuck sometimes.

    Thanks!
    It appears that sometimes just revving the engines and free associating a bit, helps.

  15. says

    jazzlet@#13:
    I often write things, thinking “I hope someone convinces me I am completely wrong about this…” so it’s quite alright that you don’t agree with me always. The intent of this blog was to air some ideas and perhaps jog eachother’s perspectives a bit.

    As for the ghosts uff, I am sitting here in tears thinking of mine and knowing that at eleven my GSD bitch is old, though she doesn’t act it and has even recently learnt to play with toys. I am trying hard not to anticipate, not to hug her tight (she doesn’t like that) but oh i wish they lived longer.

    I hope all the best, and more good times for you both. 11 is a grand age and it’s never too late to learn to play with toys. Clearly you understand that bittersweet joy and pain of two species that live together at different speeds.

  16. says

    John Morales@#16:
    And yet, here is an entertaining, thoughtful, and revealing post.

    Sometimes, I guess the way to deal with confusion is to embrace it.

    PS I think that when you (semi) retire from your day work, you should get another canine companion.

    I may. My retirement plan, a decade ago, was to travel around in a camper and rolling darkroom I was building out of an old step-van. That would have required a dog as a co-conspirator. As it has been, the last 5 years I have done a great deal of travel. The year before I started the blog, I was doing one or two trips a week – it would have been extremely unfair to invite a dog into that messy whirlwind; I didn’t want to be there myself.

  17. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#10:
    I’d say you might as well not worry about this and just try your best. What other options are there really? Assuming that you will definitely fail and not trying at all? In my opinion, that’s not a better option.

    Good point. Not trying out of fear of failure ensures failure.

    People have a tendency to regard other’s experiences through the lens of what they have personally experienced. I simply cannot experience the negative emotions caused by loosing somebody you love. I can enjoy having a dog (they are soft, nice to touch, fun to play with), but for me dogs are replaceable, I cannot get attached to one specific dog. Whenever I read people’s descriptions of pain, I wonder how it could feel. I have experienced some sadness and despair when bad things happened with me, so I wonder whether what you describe could feel similar but more intense.

    There is an existential pain that comes with the loss of a beloved pet: we are forced to confront the reality that everyone lives on different time-planes and time-scales – when our dogs go, we may suddenly see things clearly for a moment; our children are like puppies that quickly turn gangly and awkward, then glorious (only it’s we that turn old and have to be bundled in blankets by the fire to dream away the rest of our hours, and there’s no gentle shot for us at the end) – It’s not the memory of the walks you took with your friend that you miss, it’s the walks you didn’t take. There were rainy and muddy days when I stayed inside and I know they would have been absolutely thrilled to follow the creek down to the river with me, but I stayed inside. I guess it’s an “instant existential crisis” for me – I am what I do, and suddenly I’m doing a full-review of years of memories. It’s not painful, but it sure gives me a lot to think about.

    But there have been plenty of situations where I had to come to terms with my own adequacy. For example, I might consider myself a pretty good artist, but then I go to an art museum only to see that Rubens’ sketches are better than any of my finished paintings.

    I’m not afraid of having to assess my skills; I think I’m pretty realistic and I’m neither too hard nor too easy on myself. Which, of course, makes me think, “really?!” and start clawing at my memories to see if it’s true.

    But I suspect that it probably goes both ways. Probably my ability to feel positive emotions is limited/reduced as well.

    But then you’d still be experiencing a full range of emotions – it’d just be your range. (not that I know what a “range of emotions” means!)

    If members of a movement can sue somebody and improve somebody’s living conditions right now, it’s worth doing this.

    That’s what I mean. I am not advocating inaction – I am advocating across-the-board individual response. We should fight the fights we feel we want to fight, and do our best to win them. If everyone is pushing in more or less the same direction, the result will still be victorious – it’ll just come sooner.

  18. says

    I’m not afraid of having to assess my skills; I think I’m pretty realistic and I’m neither too hard nor too easy on myself. Which, of course, makes me think, “really?!” and start clawing at my memories to see if it’s true.

    I’m very skeptical about human ability to correctly assess their own skills. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_superiority
    There’s no way I would ever claim that “I think I’m pretty realistic and I’m neither too hard nor too easy on myself.” Scientific research indicates that majority of humans are awful when it comes to assessing their own skills. What gives me a right to believe that I’m an exception? In fact, if I said that “I’m above average in assessing my abilities,” that in itself would be a textbook example of the illusory superiority bias in action.

    Moreover, assessing your skills means comparing yourself with others. Who are you comparing yourself with? Is that a representative group? Probably not. For example, when assessing your writing skills, you are not comparing your texts with those of semi literate people who cannot even put together coherent sentences. You are comparing yourself with your favorite writers who are among the best writers in the whole world. Even if you are a pretty good writer, this kind of comparison is bound to make you feel like you aren’t good enough.

    A personal example: I won my first Latvian debate tournament after debating for only half a year. At that time I felt like I’m a very good debater. After all, majority of other people I debated against were beginners and worse than me. My optimistic outlook took a serious blow when I started participating in international tournaments. There I was up against some really good debaters, and I could no longer easily win debates. My optimism took an even bigger blow when I moved to Germany. When I decided that I want to study in Germany, I chose my university based on who had won Germany’s national debate tournament in the previous year. The result was that every time I went to a debate club meeting, I had to debate against people who were literally the best debaters in Germany. At that time I started feeling like I sucked at debating—my new friends were simply so much better than me. Of course neither of my self assessments was true because of the biased sample I was comparing myself against.

    But then you’d still be experiencing a full range of emotions – it’d just be your range.

    One of the great things about human mind is that we cannot miss things we have never experienced. Thus I can be completely oblivious of what I’m missing and perfectly happy with how my mind works. Although, encountering other people’s descriptions of what emotions they can feel does make me curious about this.

    That’s what I mean. I am not advocating inaction – I am advocating across-the-board individual response. We should fight the fights we feel we want to fight, and do our best to win them.

    Some goals are hard to achieve singlehandedly. If, for example, you want to change a discriminatory law, you will need other people’s help to do so. When a bunch of people with the same goal come together, often they can do better compared to pursuing the same goal separately. And that’s when you get a movement. I don’t like personality cults of charismatic leaders; I don’t like fanboys who worship those. So, yes, there is a potential for bad things to happen. But there’s also potential for very good things to happen.

  19. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#22:
    Scientific research indicates that majority of humans are awful when it comes to assessing their own skills.

    Scientific research also indicates that social science research is often bullshit, so I tend not to take it seriously. Perhaps that’s just my Dunning-Kruger effect kicking in. (Dunning-Kruger appears to have survived the replication crisis, so far, for what that’s worth…)

    Who are you comparing yourself with? Is that a representative group? Probably not. For example, when assessing your writing skills, you are not comparing your texts with those of semi literate people who cannot even put together coherent sentences. You are comparing yourself with your favorite writers who are among the best writers in the whole world. Even if you are a pretty good writer, this kind of comparison is bound to make you feel like you aren’t good enough.

    Yes, like you said earlier about the Rubens sketches – when you care about discovering the best that an art-form can be, and you discover it, it resets your expectations pretty harshly. Of course Rubens probably used to look at someone else’s work and groan and gnaw on his pencils in frustration.

    I’ve read some of George MacDonald Fraser’s early works and they’re really not anywhere near as good as his later stuff. But that’s OK – I aspire to be as good as George Fraser was when he wasn’t very good at all!

    My optimistic outlook took a serious blow when I started participating in international tournaments.

    That’s the “big fish in a small pond” syndrome. I was a pretty smart high school student and discovered that I was a bit below average in college. But, that was measuring against others using fairly crude psychometric tools. (graded papers and exams) I never worried much about that, I was too busy doing my own thing and going my privileged way.

    When a bunch of people with the same goal come together, often they can do better compared to pursuing the same goal separately. And that’s when you get a movement.

    Yes; that’s when it’s good to have a force multiplier. And sometimes to have great spokespeople. But then you inevitably get inter-movement politics, “deep rifts” and leaders who pocket the money and run, or are caught in a motel room doing what they said not to do. (-Ray Wylie Hubbard)

  20. says

    I was a pretty smart high school student and discovered that I was a bit below average in college.

    This seems weird for me. Is it really the smartest children who go to a college in U.S.? Wasn’t it instead simply those with rich parents? I never experienced anything similar (my grades were consistently very high). But then again, in Europe majority of people attend universities, all those kids who finish school just go to universities, so nothing really changes, there is no selection, it’s not like only the brightest children can get university degrees.

    But then you inevitably get inter-movement politics, “deep rifts” and leaders who pocket the money and run, or are caught in a motel room doing what they said not to do.

    These things are bound to happen whenever people start interacting with each other and attempt to collaborate. That happens in every organization. Still, I think that working together (despite the drawbacks) is better than working alone.

  21. says

    We don’t even need a movement on the social equality/lgbtq/feminism front … There are only a few fools who will step forward and say they are anti-equality

    If you were trans you would know that this is very incorrect.

    Huge well-funded movements for just this exist, and many of them dress up like progressives to do it. For example, right now TERFs – who purport to be radical feminists, remember – are fighting to keep abortion constitutionally illegal in Ireland because they believe this is somehow striking a blow against trans women.

  22. says

    abbeycadabra@#25:
    If you were trans you would know that this is very incorrect.

    Uh-oh, I think I rolled an ’01’ on my privilege-check.

    So, is there an anti-TERF movement or is it a groundswell? It seems to me to be that there are lots of people speaking up against TERF ideas, pointing out where they are wrong, forcing them to defend their beliefs. I know Shiv’s doing that. Are there leaders and spokespeople? I’ve observed some people being identified as TERFs – presumably as a way of focusing attention or their arguments and putting them on the defensive (as one does with racists and fascists) while there appear to be some notable TERFs, they also appear to be undercutting their own beliefs by trying to make them appear different than they are; nothing screams “my views are right!” like hiding them.

    I can see I have been negligent about TERFs and I’m going to try to remedy that. Obviously, I’ve made the error of optimism. Openly advocating a hateful ideology seems to me to be such a fail-move, but clearly current events don’t bear that out.

  23. says

    abbeycadabra @#25

    For example, right now TERFs – who purport to be radical feminists, remember – are fighting to keep abortion constitutionally illegal in Ireland because they believe this is somehow striking a blow against trans women.

    I had to google for this, because this sentence seemed just so weird. How can a self proclaimed feminist be against abortions?

    In my country I have certainly experienced cases where progress was going backwards.

    In 2006, a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman was added to ensure that gay marriage becomes constitutionally impossible.

    On June 2014 Preamble of the Constitution of Latvia was adopted by the parliament. The damn thing includes “Christian values” in its text. The original constitution (written in 1922) didn’t even mention Christianity.

    Back when I attended school (I started going to school in 1999), we had no religious education at all in state owned schools. Shortly afterwards, some religious politicians successfully introduced Christian religious education for 7 years old children in public state owned schools.

    We also have some pretty outspoken sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists who are attempting to make sex work illegal. At the moment sex work is legal here, but with plenty of restrictions (brothels are illegal, visiting your client is also illegal, a sex worker can only work in their home/apartment that they either own or rent, working together with another sex worker is forbidden). So far it looks like these feminists might actually succeed in making sex workers’ lives even worse. A law proposal they have been pushing for has already gotten till the parliament.

    In USSR abortions were perceived by many as the primary method of contraception, which is why they have been legal here for, well, long. Recently some religious organizations have attempted to ban them. I’m pretty certain that a complete ban is impossible to achieve (majority of citizens want abortions to remain legal), but recently we have gotten some new laws that introduced a mandatory waiting period (72 hours) for women who request abortions. There’s also a new law, which now requires doctors to attempt to convince their patients to change their mind and keep the baby.

    The moment USSR fell apart, religious and conservative people had no organizations, no lobbies. But by now they have gotten pretty well organized, and they have successfully lobbied for some new shitty laws.

  24. jazzlet says

    TERFs are definitely a problem in the UK and can be found in some influential places like Radio Four’s Women’s Hour. They are up in arms at the moment because the Government is proposing to make official recognition of gender change easier.

  25. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#27:
    In 2006, a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman was added to ensure that gay marriage becomes constitutionally impossible.

    As Jamila Bey asked the US congressman who proposed a similar amendment: “tell me about Abraham’s traditional marriage?”

    The moment USSR fell apart, religious and conservative people had no organizations, no lobbies. But by now they have gotten pretty well organized, and they have successfully lobbied for some new shitty laws.

    So, to both jazzlet and Ieva Skrebele: I realize that I have been falling into a “no true scotsman” view of feminism; that someone who identifies as a ‘feminist’ be what I consider to be a feminist. I was unconsciously sorting the TERFs out as “not true feminists” – i.e.: my mental map of the groundswell toward gender equality is circular.
    I’ve got to fix that but I am not sure how.

  26. says

    Marcus @26, 29

    So, is there an anti-TERF movement or is it a groundswell?

    . TERFs are by definition an anti-trans movement. There is no anti-anti-trans movement or groundswell, rather there are pro-trans organizations and movements, including the majority (not all!) LGBT organizations.

    It seems to me to be that there are lots of people speaking up against TERF ideas

    And lots of the reverse. It’s regional. Canada and Western Europe are highly progressive in these matters, the USA – amazingly – is on balance progressive too, now (largely because the bigots there are so obviously general-case Republican bigots against everything). The UK is severely regressive here, by far the majority of their public feminist discourse is actively anti-trans, and for the last few years the major press has carried at least one deliberate fearmongering article describing trans rights as Concerning and At Odds With Women’s Rights (trans men don’t exist, you see, and nobody’s HEARD of enbies). There’s multiple prominent writers whose entire careers are based on anti-trans fearmongering right now. Some, like Jesse Singal, do it in a creepy, predatory way, trying to isolate individual trans women when they become prominent and convince them that he’s reasonable and all the other trans women are just lying about him…

    It’s bad enough that New Zealand recently granted a trans woman asylum because the environment in her home country – England – was too dangerous to send her back to.

    Openly advocating a hateful ideology seems to me to be such a fail-move

    Not when the listeners agree.

    I have a hypothesis about this, as it applies to the UK. Something they have there that by and large the other Western countries don’t is the pantomime tradition. Just the presence of a man dressed as a woman is considered such a hilarious cultural joke throughout Britain that it’s seeped into pretty much every kind of media you could name. I think this has had the effect of driving the idea that trans women are just funny/creepy men much much deeper into the cultural psyche of the UK than elsewhere. They seem to have a harder idea even grappling with the concept that someone AMAB presenting female could be anything other than a liar than anywhere else that has the idea on the table.

    Of course, that’s the developed countries we usually think about. That’s without mentioning all the places where trans people are outlawed, or assumed in law to be fraudulent and therefore fall under the local anti-gay laws. Have a look at this map to get some idea of what the world looks like to queer people. It’s illegal to even be gay in over 80 countries. For trans people it’s even worse, as in almost all cases acceptance of cis LGB people precedes acceptance of trans, so for us what you have there now is a map of countries that MAY be safe to visit, in green, and most of the world clearly not safe, everything else. Like right now, I would be very worried about trying to visit the UK, despite its rich green veneer of progressiveness on this map.

    I would love to travel. This map is literally why I don’t. How badly I would love to be able to meet and experience the amazing diversity of culture and history around the world… except most of them would kill me.

    I was unconsciously sorting the TERFs out as “not true feminists“

    A common view, actually, held by most intersectional feminists, including radical feminists who aren’t TERFs.

    It’s not a ‘no true scotsman’ fallacy, because what it means to be feminist can be clearly defined. Not OFFICIALLY, so there are competing versions, but it can be. Even if you lay aside the specific anti-trans behavior itself, TERFs pretty much always subscribe to a number of other authoritarian and anti-feminist behaviors. They are almost always anti-sex-work and indeed anti-sex-workers (acting like all sex work is being exploited regardless of context, denying the workers any agency of their own and infantilizing them). They are generally anti-abortion (wtf, and yet, commonly true). They are perfectly willing to throw cis women’s rights under the bus if they can harm trans women by doing so (who ACTUALLY gets policed in bathrooms? mostly butch cis women!), and have a history of allying with conservative religious groups who are staunchly anti-feminist, if they can grind their particular axe by doing so.

    In a nutshell, TERFism is all about policing womanhood. They have decided what the one right way to be a woman is, and you have to be kicked back in line or locked up if you claim to be one while not acting the way they want or worse not being born the right way.

    One horrifying thing about this is that it is common to see TERFs arguing about how womanhood ‘isn’t a costume’ because it is SUFFERING. They viscerally hate everything about being a woman, and lash out with everything they have at trans women because they consider them playacting at it, having not ‘paid their dues’ (the right way) with menstruation and being raped (they think trans women don’t get raped, BTW) and having pregnancy scares and on and on… and in some cases, I’m sure they are trans men who just can’t let themselves consider the possibility. They hate their own womanhood, they consider it nothing but suffering and oppression, and if they have to suffer than by Christ everyone else born their way has to suffer too, and doing otherwise is obviously ludicrous… otherwise… they’re suffering for nothing…

    Ieva Skrebele @27

    I had to google for this, because this sentence seemed just so weird. How can a self proclaimed feminist be against abortions?

    I know, right? It makes no sense. And yet it is true. It’s a piece of the policing womanhood. Your more virulent TERFs go all the way to where the religious conservatives are, and treat pregnancy as the punishment for having sex.

  27. says

    Oh, FWIW, I also consider TERFs in practice to be anti-feminist.

    I think Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists are feminist exactly the way I think the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is democratic.

  28. says

    As Jamila Bey asked the US congressman who proposed a similar amendment: “tell me about Abraham’s traditional marriage?”

    Yes, that was a good one.

    Speaking of traditional marriage, in Latvia approximately 45% of all children are born out of wedlock. My mother never got married. Same goes for my aunt and my uncle. And then we also have this one politician who is a member of the nationalist party, talks about traditional values, wants to ban abortions and so on. The catch: he’s living with two women. He’s married to one of them, but he also keeps the second as a mistress, and he has children from both of them. I don’t know if they do threesomes in bed, but both women were OK with the situation. Speaking about “traditional marriage” in this kind of “anything goes” country where even elected politicians can openly fuck with whomever they want to seems hypocritical for me.

    I realize that I have been falling into a “no true scotsman” view of feminism; that someone who identifies as a ‘feminist’ be what I consider to be a feminist.

    The way I see it: anybody who calls themselves a “feminist” is one. Under this label there are people with diverse and various opinions. I agree with some of those opinions and I disagree with others. This is why I prefer to skip the label “feminist” and simply look at what views each person has. Sure, there have been attempts to further divide “feminist” into subgroups with labels like “TERF” or “sex-positive feminist,” but since the opinions people can have are so diverse, it’s not that simple to group them and assign a label to each possible combination of opinions about multiple different questions. This is why I just prefer to specify what it is exactly that each self-identified feminist believes in.

    When speaking about my own opinions, if necessary (for the sake of shortening the communication) I would be willing to call myself a feminist, but generally I just prefer to explain my opinions on various women’s rights issues.

  29. says

    abbeycadabra @#30

    Just the presence of a man dressed as a woman is considered such a hilarious cultural joke throughout Britain that it’s seeped into pretty much every kind of media you could name. I think this has had the effect of driving the idea that trans women are just funny/creepy men much much deeper into the cultural psyche of the UK than elsewhere.

    We don’t have a pantomime tradition in Latvia, but there’s a huge social stigma for men who wear female clothes. The word “transvestite” has even stronger negative connotations than the word “pedophile.” The idea that trans people are creepy exists here as well. So I don’t think UK is such an exception.

    I would love to travel. This map is literally why I don’t.

    I’m agender. I was unlucky to be born with a female body (I would have preferred a male body if I had a choice), but I just don’t feel like a woman. I have only travelled within the European Union, but so far my experiences have been mostly OK. People generally don’t care about how I look or what clothes I wear or what sexual orientation I have. Granted, my ability to correctly interpret other people’s non verbal communication is very limited. A transphobe might stare at me and have contempt visible all over their face, and I would have no clue. But at least people don’t dare to directly criticize me. Most of the time. The occasional unpleasant experiences are pretty rare. So I feel safe traveling in Europe.

    Although, like you, I’m seriously scared of traveling to any of those countries where LGBTQ people can be legally mistreated. Sure, I could just put on female clothes and do my best at pretending to be normal, but I just really don’t want to. There’s no way I could pass for a dude (I cannot even get my voice low enough without testosterone), so normally people perceive me like a weird woman, often they assume that I must be a lesbian.

    They hate their own womanhood, they consider it nothing but suffering and oppression

    Well, if someone doesn’t like some things women commonly experience, it’s very easy to avoid them. I certainly hated womanhood. Personally, I don’t like periods, babies, pregnancies, high heels (they make your feet hurt), bras (they are uncomfortable), feminine fashion in general… It turned out pretty simple to just live the way I want to. It’s not like people can force me to wear high heel shoes if I don’t want to do so. Well, at least most of the time it was easy. I’m still waiting to see how my legal case about the hysterectomy I requested will end. A doctor decided to refuse me even though the law explicitly forbids doctors from discriminating their patients.

  30. says

    Ieva Skrebele @33

    The idea that trans people are creepy exists here as well. So I don’t think UK is such an exception.

    Not quite what I meant. There are lots of basically regressive, conservative places where trans people are considered creepy, or abominations, or whatever (note the map I showed Marcus), but by and large the culture of the people saying that isn’t particularly progressive itself. They aren’t going to be favoring gay rights, or open borders, or whatever. They’re conservative; it’s a whole (fear-based) worldview.

    In the UK, almost uniquely, the most vociferous anti-trans hate for comes from people who are ostensibly liberal and progressive. People who are pro-union, pro-women’s-rights, anti-racist, pro-immigrant, pro-*queer*… but still behave like trans women are predators and trans men are imaginary butch lesbians. They’re not conservative, but they still want to make sure trans women suffer and get stuffed back in the closet.

    I think the ages-long tradition throughout English culture of ‘look a man in a dress’ functioning as a punchline by itself, or as a whole character made of nothing but punchlines (every pantomime has this character, the ‘Grand Dame’), has poisoned that well so much that it’s harder for even progressive pro-queer activists to think of trans women as anything other than a disgusting joke.

    Observe the current backlash to Corbyn’s Labour Party over adopting an explicitly trans-inclusive policy, and how most of the screaming says “So what about REAL women??”

Leave a Reply