All You Have

There was a specific blog post I read recently that is the springboard for my commentary here, but I think what I say can and should be understood in a much more general sense as well. There aren’t many blogs I enjoy, and even fewer I read on what could be considered a long term basis. In my ramblings I came across a blog that I seem to enjoy mildly (for the time being anyway). Many of the post/articles are written in response to letter writers. I’m amazed that format never seems to fall out of style.

A recent letter writer wrote in asking for advice on his situation as a virgin in his early thirties. Despite what we’d all love to believe, stats on such things are likely horribly inaccurate. Any estimates on how many people there are like him would really be an anecdotal crap shoot in my opinion. My suspicion is his situation at the very least, isn’t particularly common, but that’s really irrelevant.

The story was intriguing to me because 1) he claimed he wasn’t on any religious bender and 2) he came across as articulate, normal, and reasonably socially-adjusted person; as reasonable as anyone I suppose. So while he has some years on me, I otherwise felt like I could easily identify with his situation. One which I could easily find myself in eventually.

What shocked me was the overwhelming consensus in the response from the blog author and readers. The consensus being that basically he should lie his ass off–if he mentioned it at all–to women. I’ll concede that not mentioning it is something I could see myself doing. At least for a while. I place a low importance on it, because but for a few slightly different circumstances, anyone could find themselves in that situation. It’s not that big of a deal. But I feel eventually, out of respect for potential concerns she might have, I’d let it come up. That seems right to me; letting it come up on its own. I certainly wouldn’t lie about it if asked. I have to say I was shocked at some of the reader response. A few female readers said if they found out, they would’ve bailed immediately (totally within their right, if a bit narrow minded). Several others (male and female) suggested that women would likely bail upon hearing that (unsure about context, they didn’t say). And yes, of course there were the obligatory suggestions to have the “problem” fixed by a professional. If you feel comfortable going that route, I think that’s absolutely ok. A lot of people don’t, myself included. There were also “fake it until you make it” type suggestions.*

Here’s where I step in: Good riddance. To me, if you feel like you need to be dishonest (or even just hiding) about something so fundamental to who you are, you have bigger problems. Much bigger problems. Why? Are you afraid they’ll all bail on you? So what? If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that lots of things come and go, but you are who you are, and if you don’t own who you are 100%, and stand by yourself in all things, no one else is going to. This applies here, in the case of “older” people who are sexually inexperienced, but it applies almost everywhere else too. Stand. By. Yourself. On second thought, I’m glad to be in this situation. It’s going to save me a lot of time. Are you ok dating/being involved with someone who’s never even kissed anyone at 25? No? Ok, bye, best of luck! As an engineer, I love that. Look at all the time I saved. It’s O(1). It doesn’t get better than that. Is it possible everyone I come across will say no? Yup. But this is the line I’m drawing. Are you really going to discount someone solely because they haven’t reached arbitrary milestone x by arbitrary age y?! Everyone has things they haven’t done. I haven’t been sky diving either (yet). So what do you want to fixate on, one tiny thing in the mathematically infinite list of things I haven’t done, or the ever growing list of things I have done (sometimes at great personal difficulty and achievement)?

*Really? You’re in a position of being mature, and fully mentally developed and you’re going to waste this unique situation? There’s no shame, in anything, in admitting you don’t know what you’re doing. That it’s your first time. That you want some help. That you want to learn. I’m tired of hearing the “fake it until you make it” method applied to relationships. Other stuff? Fine. If you want to fake knowing how to grill an awesome steak until you make it, what’s the worst that could happen? Bad steak? You’re dealing with another sentient being here. It’s not even the same ballpark. Considerations need to be made.

So there it is. Normally I wouldn’t, but I just had to riff on this. It was bouncing around my head all day long.

 

 

Climate Change incl. a Rant on Pushers

I’ve started leaving the radio on in the car again. It hasn’t been long and I’m already thinking I should leave it off again. Today I was listening to Democracy Now on my way home. I think on the whole, they do good reporting, although I think they are swayed by their own biases occasionally. Still, they do a better job on average than other news outlets. They were broadcasting from some climate summit in Poland today. And here’s my first problem:

What the hell is the point of these climate change summits? I mean, what do they honestly hope to achieve? Who goes to them? I would imagine it’s mostly people who are already on the climate change boat. So are they just re-convincing themselves? Figuring out which climate legislation to push for? At the end of the day, few, if any, additional people are convinced of the merit of their arguments. I think this does absolutely NOTHING to help their cause. It honestly amounts to a big event where everyone pats themselves on the back.

Just to get it out of the way, I’ll say climate change is most likely a real problem (in the grander scheme, not because it “caused” severe weather event ‘x’ this year). I’m personally on the fence as to whether it’s human-caused or not, but that’s a moot point, so we can just ignore it. We might as well say it is human-caused, since that at least leaves us in an easy position to fix the problem.

Eventually, I couldn’t even listen to the radio show anymore. The amount of condescension and person delusion I was hearing was just too much. In my mind, there are two phases of solution that need to happen here, and summits like this one are not part of that mix. Phase one is to convince other people who aren’t already convinced. Phase two is to actually engage in active solutions.

Phase one should be really easy, but it’s where people flub the most. It should be easy because this problem affects every single person. It doesn’t discriminate against age, race, sex, or least of all, political affiliation. So all you need to do is convince someone that this problem affects them and how it affects them, because it does. This may be different from person to person, but that’s the task at hand. Going around to conferences and summits deriding those “climate change deniers” does literally nothing to help your cause! If anything, it encourages people to dig in. I know that’s how I’d respond in that position. Maybe you find out why they don’t believe it affects them? Understand their position. Respect their logic and reasoning. It’s easy to say that people are stupid, and that you know better than they do, but again, that doesn’t help you convince them. Everyone has a different view of the world, shaped by their own experiences, but they are inherently reasonable. At the very least reasonable enough to understand when something threatens them. Your goal shouldn’t be to speak at summits, sign petitions or any of that fluff, it should be to bring as many people together on the issue as possible. That’s not easy, but it’s what you have to do. Because when you get the group large enough, with enough people from a wide array of backgrounds, then everything just works. You’re not “fighting” any opposition anymore. People are in agreement, and want to help the common goal. A goal which each person feels benefits them, which again, should be easy in this case, because it does.

Phase two is the more difficult phase, again often flubbed by people, and often skipped to without even considering phase one. Demanding action, whether it be via protests or summits or by pushing legislation looks great, but it accomplishes very little. Maybe it’s just the protests I’ve seen, but they always seem like summits on a small scale. Some changes can only be brought about by protest, but action on climate change isn’t one of them. It’s just a bunch of like-minded people patting themselves on the back and getting the occasional proverbial “thumbs up” from passers by. And what are climate change protesters really asking for? Are you asking governments to enforce some law that reduces CO2? Why? Isn’t that something you can do? Oh wait, you skipped phase one, so you only have small numbers. Not nearly enough to make some boycott or behavior change effective. Any time I see calls for government to act on climate change, I imagine people asking the government to force them to behave in a certain way because they can’t do it on their own. It’s unnecessary and a waste of government time and resources. At the end of the day, actions that have a real effect are all on you. But let’s say you’re already environment-conscious, or “green”. What do you do now? You go back to phase one. You help others to achieve what you have achieved. You reduced the amount of miles you drive? Great. Help your neighbor do the same. Don’t lecture her on climate change blah blah blah, just help her to make the same change you did. After you’ve helped her, help someone else. She’ll help someone else too. See how it works? No government necessary. This can still be done without completing phase one, but it sure would be massively easier if you already had a critical mass of people fighting for the same cause. Even then it’s not easy. Changing your behavior isn’t easy at all. Helping others change theirs? Even less so. Which is why I think people don’t do it. It’s like they’re clamoring for action on climate change, going on hunger strikes, protesting in the arctic…so what? I hear a lot of clamoring and noise, but I don’t see any action. Don’t wait around for the government to step to action, because it might not. And even if it does, if there are lots of people out there who aren’t convinced, they’re going to dig in and defend their positions. Then we get nowhere. STOP DIVIDING!

I use the word “pushers” to describe people in varying areas who push their agendas so hard, they omit facts at best, and outright distort the truth at worst. They believe that they are so right, and their cause is so just, they’ll do anything to push it onto other people. I don’t care if you are right, and your cause is the most just cause that ever was: Pushing it onto people isn’t going to help you in the long run. Again, we come back to reaching that critical mass. Bringing enough people together. Less pushers, more pullers. Pull people to you and your cause. Invite them in. Treat them with respect and dignity. Listen to their concerns. Understand their fears. Or is that too much for you? Any idiot can push. Just turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. Pullers are much rarer these days.

I’ll close with a remark about “freak” weather events. Look, I’ve already established I’m pretty much in agreement on climate change, even if I’m hesitant to label it human-caused. As someone who cares about our environment from the perspective that it’s a gift that belongs to all of us, I’d like to see as much of it preserved as possible. But I cannot stand people attributing freak weather as caused by climate change. People who do that are pushers. They’re using fear to help push. That’s the worst. Hurricane Sandy? A hurricane was BOUND to hit that area of coast sooner or later. I’m sure it’s happened many times in the past before all our shit was sitting on the coast. Devastating tornadoes? They happen too. Again, long before all our shit was there. Helping to build agreement on climate change is great, just don’t use the fear of severe weather to push it. The link is tenuous at best. These things happen. The fact that more people are living in the zones where this stuff happens is the reason they seem so much more destructive. Also, how far back do our records of hurricanes go? Not far I’d imagine. And good records, even less. Climate change is a very long term thing.

In conclusion: More pulling. Less pushing. Let’s come together here. Make real behavior changes yourself. Help others to do the same. Any idiot can hold a sign and chant slogans at a protest. Actually changing behavior is really hard. But it’s the only thing that works.

A Lost Generation

Sometimes I like to imagine places before people were there. What did NYC look like before all the buildings were there? What kinds of trees and animals were there? In New England, where Europeans have been for such a long time, it’s hard to imagine what any place looked like before we were there. Even the trees that seem to be so permanent now were mostly not there even 150 years ago when everything was clear cut for farming and timber. What did it look like to the first people who saw it undisturbed?

For almost all of human history, there was always more. Another hill, another horizon, another corner. The Greeks and Romans were able to expand their empires to new lands unknown to them. There was always some far away place where a strange (read: different) people lived and where exotic spices, animals and terrain could be found. The oceanic exploration from 1000CE to the 1700s kept turning up new places. New islands, new lands. Maps kept becoming better and better. Just look at all this stuff we’ve found! What will we find tomorrow?

In the modern era of the past 300 years, we expanded in 3 dimensions for the first time. Oceanic depths. Stratospheric heights. The last untamed areas at the poles even fell to intrepid explorers. Even in the last century, when it seemed all was known, and we could see ourselves from high above, we extended our reach beyond anything anyone could’ve imagined previously by making a tenuous leap to the moon.

But what now? What unexplored horizons are there for my and future generations? This is a unique time. Never before have there been so few unknown spaces. Space? The handful of robotic emissaries we send on multi-year voyages? It’s not the same as having a human do it. There’s no risk, and I think that makes all the difference. A robot can’t convey what a place feels like. A robot can’t appreciate the experience of being somewhere new. Does anyone really sit around daydreaming about the places that robots go? I doubt it.

I’m not sure what can be done about this, or how much of a problem it really is. I don’t know what it means for my and future generations. It seems like we’re falling backwards for the first time in, well, centuries. Did we become complacent? Did our cultural priorities get reversed? Is it information overload? Actually, I do think it’s a big problem. Without some kind of hope of something beyond I think we’ll drift further apart, become more disillusioned and more isolated than ever before.

Space could be the next generation’s domain, but with the way things are right now, I won’t be placing any bets on success of that endeavor. How can we possibly make a dent in exploring space when it seems like we’re constantly bogged down in earthly trenches? It would be easy to assert that my generation is more concerned with the features of the next i-gizmo than with exploration and something bigger than ourselves. I’m not sure how true that is, but I know I’m not unique (at least, I hope I’m not), so there must be other people who feel the same way even if they don’t consciously realize it yet. We desperately need to take a hard look at ourselves, because we’re spinning in circles. My sense is that we will not like what we see at all.

I’ve written and talked about the following dozens of times over the years, but it’s still pertinent as ever, so I’ll repeat it once again. When I was a kid, before I had been corrupted by the internet, I obsessed over space travel and exploration. Even then I was disillusioned with the apparent lack of desire. The last person on the moon was more than 15 years before I was born. While I tried to feign excitement about the 1997 Sojourner Mars rover, I knew it wasn’t the same as a person being there. Hell, I knew we had already been to Mars in the 70s, so why was this a big deal? Because this robot had wheels? I spent a lot of time trying to think up better spacecraft engines. I hated seeing shows on TV saying that the “best” they could do was theoretical suspended animation on multi year journeys even inside the solar system. My developing engineering mind called bullshit even then. That solution is simply unacceptable, find another one. I likened it to breaking the sound barrier. I know it’s not the same physically, but in principle it is. If reasonably timed space travel was possible, what would that mean for us? I thought all kinds of barriers would come down. We’d finally see ourselves as we are: relatively insignificant. What would that say about our “big” problems?

On Isms

A while ago I was reading an article on one of those internet “news” (read: click-bait) sites. As an aside, I think it’s regrettable, but not unexpected that formerly decent sites resort to those kinds of articles. A recent XKCD comic put this phenomenon in a cute and humorous light. But I’m not writing about click baiting (not this time anyway).

I honestly don’t even remember what the article was arguing specifically, but it was focused on some aspect of feminism. See, I said it was click bait. I wish I had the title, because I’m sure it was a real winner. Anyway, I read the article, not particularly moved by anything it said. Echoes of echoes, you know? It wasn’t until I started going through the comment discussion that things became really interesting. I know being a discussion on the internet it naturally encourages all the worst behavior in people. That being said, as an internet veteran, I can filter and tune that stuff pretty well at this point.

The article and comments/discussion did make me think a bit about feminism in general. Fundamentally speaking, feminism is a good thing. I’m not a scholar of it, and I’ve never studied it, but the basic argument of equality is something I think we can all agree on pretty easily. I personally tend to bail once things take a more political turn, but I think that bit, and others, are really derivatives of the main idea, which again, is good.

I have two main problems with most of the feminism arguments I see, and honestly, these are things that likely apply to many “isms”, so I’m definitely not singling out feminism. First, isms seem to have a tendency to push people around. On their own, they obviously can’t do this, but people who subscribe to isms (some more strongly than others) like to push others into their beliefs. For example, someone who subscribes to feminism might look down upon someone else for not adhering to some aspect of feminism. This drives me crazy for two reasons, but it’s annoying primarily because any ism, right or wrong, good or bad, popular or weird, is not absolute. No one has to adhere to it, and if they don’t, that says exactly NOTHING about them as a person. We’re all entitled to believe what we believe and act accordingly as long as doing so doesn’t negatively impact anyone else. There’s a teeny tiny asterisk with that which I’ll come back to in the end.

My second, and primary issue with feminism (again, this applies to many other isms as well) is it’s divisive nature. I don’t think it’s intrinsically divisive, but that’s how it typically appears to me. Like I said, with feminism, the basic argument of equality is something we can all agree on pretty easily. No one should be dinged a point solely because of gender, race, religion, etc, etc. No reasonable person will disagree with that assertion. So then why–in the case of feminism–do we focus solely on the various difficulties sometimes faced with the female gender? Do people of any gender not face those same difficulties from time to time? I think they absolutely do. And don’t tell me one gender/race/etc faces difficulties more than others. Saying that trivializes the problems faced by the minority group. People are tribal in nature, I know. People like to belong to a group. But when you do that based on a cause, you’re only hurting yourselves. Your goal should be to include as many people as possible. Show them that the cause affects them too, because in most cases, it does. When you do that, and the vast majority of people are united in cause, it’s not really a cause anymore. It’s a culture. In the US, ask yourself why we don’t do the whole slavery thing anymore? Because of laws? Well, kinda. But assume there were no laws against it for a moment, and your neighbor somehow acquired a number of slave workers for their property. Laws or not, people in the community are just not going to stand for that. At all. Slavery isn’t part of our culture anymore. Why? Because we’ve all united behind that. Feminism should be called equalism or something. Anyone, regardless of gender, can be subjected to problems of gender bias. The frequency of occurrence being greater in one gender over another is a non issue. Even if just one man ever experienced a problem related to gender bias, feminism needs to include him. He needs the support just as much as any woman in the same position. And this transitions perfectly into trans-gendered people, or anyone who identifies gender differently. I know people in those categories have their own isms and causes, but wouldn’t it be better to bring them into the larger group too? We’re all asking for the same things.

I don’t want this to seem like a knock on feminism. It’s not. It just happens to be the one ism where I see these issues most frequently. I get frustrated when I see groups or people doing more dividing than uniting. Nobody wants their experiences to be trivialized. Everyone wants, and deserves, support of a larger group. The larger that group, the more we all win, and the more we see our differences as the trivial things they tend to be.

 

*the asterisk:

Everyone needs to understand that their words and actions, while primarily speaking for themselves, also speak for the various groups of which they are a member. An example would be that if I, as a bicyclist, decide to ride around, breaking various traffic laws, being reckless, annoying drivers, etc, that’s going to reflect poorly on ALL bicyclists. If I cut off a driver, and she says, “BAH! damn bicyclists!”, now all other bicyclists with whom she comes in contact will suffer her negative attitude because of my careless actions. If I were to go out with lots of women and treat them like crap, is it not unreasonable that many of them would say something like “Grrr…all men are such assholes!”. Now good men who encounter those women are are an immediate disadvantage through no fault of their own. So remember, with things you do, you’re effectively speaking (in a small or large way) for all groups/categories to which you may belong. Make it a positive thing.