Discussion: Reparations

I heard an interesting argument the other day and wanted to see what my followers and others thought and hopefully initiate a good discussion.

Though we might site historic incidents as responsible for the current state of some particular group of people, to what degree are those past incidences important in going forward.

A thought experiment is presented where let’s say someone very wealthy has hit you with their car.  This particular injury you receive however isn’t the kind that surgery can fix you right away, but rather will require years of physical therapy to become what you once were.  Now the person who hit you might be able to provide you with the financial support, but nevertheless you are the one that must work and make changes in order to fully recover.  In such a situation you could choose to take the tack that it’s not fair, why should you have to do all the work, and there is no doubt that it sucks and what happened in the past is the explanation for where you are today, but this gives you little to no basis for what you need to do, to recover from what happened to you in the past.

This thought experiment is cited as applicable to the sort of victim narrative that is prevalent today among oppressed groups.  I think from a psychological perspective it is important to acknowledge wrongs of the past, and I think this is something that is not often down by classes and races that hold power, but that being said we often don’t ask the question of what we really need to go forward.  It is possible that at least part of the solution lies in how we make changes as an individual and a group to overcome the obstacles that the past has set before us and not on those who did us wrong?

I would enjoy hearing what you all have to say on this topic.  Where does our personal responsibility lie, in the face of deeply troubling past?  When it comes to racism, are their policies that might make things better that are independent of past wrongs?  If we want a future where we are judged as individuals and not by the color of our skin, our gender, our sexual orientation, etc, is there a better conversation to be had?

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Since leaving Facebook

It’s been awhile since I did a blog post, but I would say it’s safe to say I’m officially back, and before I launch into other more interesting topics I thought I would start with a little update on where I’m at in life, and how I’ve been feeling since leaving Facebook.

I am not sure how many of you know but I teach at a university where we are literally under a 9 month contract and so I do have the summer’s off.  Now that I am department chair it is not quite true, but summer is still a time where I tend to shut down from communication in general.  This summer it is a confluence of factors that have led me to disappear for awhile.  The respite, I feel, has overall been a benefit.

I guess I’ll start with my leaving Facebook.  I said a lot of things about how I thought it would benefit me.  An important piece of wisdom that I’ve gained later in life is that it is important to change things up, to get out of habits as best as possible.  Habitual behavior tends to be what makes time go by more quickly and also I think has diminishing returns for things that even initially made you feel good.  So I’ll start by saying that I certainly don’t regret leaving Facebook one bit if not simply for the sake of just seeing how life would change.  And there is no question in my mind that it was in fact a habit, and that there were some signs of addiction.

When I left Facebook I deleted the app from my phone, and I was shocked to find out how many times I would pick up my phone to get on Facebook, only to stare blankly at my phone at an app that wasn’t there, and it took me a couple of seconds to remember that I wasn’t on Facebook anymore.  Despite consciously knowing that I left, my unconscious movements to reach for my phone and look really gave me some insight as to how much time I spent checking Facebook.  This made me happier that I left, but there was still this feeling of frustration that I assume to be akin to withdrawal symptoms.  Fortunately, after a month or so this diminished.  I’m in a place now where I spend very little time on my phone.  Sometimes now I forget to look at it for entire half days.  I also find that I spend much more time looking for my phone (which is annoying) but I think this is because I am not always looking at it.  It’s hard to lose something you are checking frequently and always have near you.  I don’t like wasting time looking for my phone, but overall I’d say it’s not a bad thing that I am away from it enough to misplace it.

One thing I expected, that didn’t happen, was having extra time.  I think this can largely explained by having another child.  We’ve had a lot of family visiting as well, so things have been a little hectic at times over the summer.  I guess I do feel like I have had more time, but that time has been filled and so I woudn’t say that I have had more time to relax.  I will say that overall, I feel a better sense of fulfillment with what I spend my time doing, even if it isn’t always fun.  There is a solidity to life now that I have a hard time explaining clearly, but overall I like it.

I think it was pretty clear that when I left Facebook that I was experiencing some depression.  I didn’t think that Facebook was necessarily the cause of it, but I didn’t feel like it was helping me overcome it either, and if anything exacerbating it.  Having left Facebook I have to say there are still times that I feel depressed about where our society, particularly in America, is going and I’m not sure how to make that go away.  I mean I could simply choose to be more optimistic and focus on that, but I somehow worry that this will make me less vigilant.  I feel this is a time for vigilance.  You can of course be so depressed to the point of apathy, but I think you can also be to cheerful and optimistic to the point of ignorance.  Neither of those are where I want to be.  Trying to find a state of mind that makes me feel strong without depression but without some sort of drug-like optimism is challenging.  Overall though I would say that leaving Facebook has helped me compartmentalize better, has allowed me to say, “Alright right now I have to focus on this…” and I am able to do so. There are times that I spend worrying as well, but I don’t think I do it as much, and sometimes I feel like I am able to filter out the noise much better and really think about, even some of the bad things, in a meaningful and deeper way.  This is something that I hoped for leaving Facebook.  The biggest thing for me is how noisy life felt and that I really couldn’t think deeply about things very well.  So maybe I’m not free completely from the state of mind I was in before, but I feel like I am progressing, and that is something.  Facebook seemed like a fairly endless stream of bad news, and people fighting, and being free from that, as often as I was on it, has been restful…peaceful…and given me more moments of contentedness.

There were many people who felt like was bashing Facebook when I left (there are reasons to be concerned of course about Facebook’s ethics) but my leaving was more a reflection of my personal relationship to it.  It wasn’t healthy for me, and I still maintain that can be used beneficially.  I know many people who aren’t on Facebook who are still as confused about facts from the media they consume, and so I certainly don’t see it as a soul source of how we can be misled in our society.  There is a larger problem with all sorts of media which has been discussed by ethicists like Tristan Harris on the “attention economy“.  This is something we all have to be mindful of, and getting off Facebook is no solution there.  The important thing to recognize also is that we are all being unconsciously influenced by the media we consume, and it’s important to be aware of that and be aware of how that’s affecting your life.  Think seriously about it all, weigh the pros and cons, and ask yourself are you as happy, courageous, and effective as you can be being plugged in all the time.  In a podcast I listened to recently a doctor was saying how boring the message of moderation is, and yet it’s probably the one we should be hearing the most.

My world has certainly gotten smaller, but I think there is just as much value at making the 10 mile radius around you a better place as trying to make the world a better place.  Moving the world requires a much greater force, and as an individual I constantly feel like I am inadequate to the task, and Facebook was a constant reminder of that fact, just as it was also a constant reminder of all the things that we need to make better in this world.  It’s important to know all of that, but it’s also important to recognize your limits.

There is much that I miss too, I knew this would be the case.  I wonder how a lot of the good people I got to know on Facebook, and think of them often.  But I have gotten to interact with more friends and people in my community than before.  There are a lot of people in my city who probably have quite different political views from me, but I haven’t talked politics with them, but I am getting to know them, and I haven’t met a bad person yet.  Maybe they voted for Trump, or maybe they are very religious, or maybe they have no problem with guns…I don’t know, but I think it’s important that we really get to know people first before judge the entirety of their being based on who they voted for, or what they believe.  There’s much more humanity there that I think we miss on social media.  There’s value in understanding where people are really coming from and recognizing their common humanity.  There may come a day when the truth of our political views comes out, but maybe then it will be a better conversation, maybe then there own beliefs will be as challenged as mine our and maybe even if we can’t be friends we walk away being better people than we were.  I don’t think this is possible on Facebook as we just tend to get to know the people who agree with us, and fight with the ones we don’t.

Well this is already a bit long, but I just want to say that, at best I can say that I am spending more time with my children and more time just enjoying a breath of fresh air.  I think that I will one day be able to return to Facebook and use it in a better way, but I don’t think I’m there yet.  I am thankful for all the good people I know and have known in this world even if there isn’t enough time to stay in touch as frequently as I’d like.  I wish all the best.

For Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes

Hello all.  It’s been some time since I posted I know.  I have them building up in my head and my blog is not dead, nor am I!  There has been a lot of family here, the world cup, and well an extra baby to take care of so I’m just trying to develop a bit of a new pattern in life, and right now that doesn’t give me much time for blogging.

For right now…well many of my readers know Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes.  In fact it’s safe to say that many of my first followers found me from commenting on her blog.  Victoria has become an amazing friend and I want to try and help her break out of the rut she is in and have a some independence in her life.  You can read the narrative I wrote on the link I post below.  If any of you can help her out, that would be wonderful, but I have started a Go Fund Me for her, so she can hopefully get a reliable used car and be able to live on her own.

For those of you who don’t know her, your help would, of course, still mean a lot to me, and her.  You can check out her blog here if you want to learn more about the things she cares about and her experiences.

If you can help here is the link to the GoFundMe.  I also encourage you to share this link with others who you think might be able to help.  Victoria is a long time member of the WordPress community here and there may be others who don’t blog often, but have good memories of her, and maybe you are touch with those people through e-mail or Facebook.  Please pass it on.  Thank you in advance, and I will of course send you updates as the story develops!

Discussion: Is your life a story?

The importance of stories to humans cannot be overstated.  Well perhaps it can, but I’ve yet to see anybody succeed yet. 🙂  I’ve written about the importance of stories before.  My interest in the subject began when reading the novels Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.  It is clear that we learn from stories.  In fact it is often suggested that as a method of pedagogy that we try to create narratives, try to use storytelling to teach.  I’ve yet to find a way to do this with fluid dynamics, but when I think about how I retain knowledge best, it is certainly the ability to think in terms of stories, rather than a lose collection of facts.  When teaching, even if you don’t have a story to tell, trying to create a common thread through your lessons does help.

A former student, and now friend, would often start a conversation with people she was just meeting and getting to know with the question “Tell me the story of your life.”  I think it’s pretty easy to see our lives as a story.  I am not sure though that this is something we do when we are adolescents.  Perhaps we haven’t lived long enough, and it is unclear when this process begins, but at some point you will look at the past and forecast into the future and there will seem to be this story you are playing out.

But is this a good way of thinking about our lives?  Sometimes I think we do this because it seems more interesting, and even though I still think there is a lot of values to stories, perhaps we shouldn’t be seeing our own life as a story.

Some philosophical meat to think about here is are you the same person in the past as you are in the future?  Stories tend to follow a particular character who may change, but rarely as much as actual humans do.  Is your 20 year old self the same as your 60 year old self?  Maybe at best we are a series of shorter stories instead of one long story.  Our desire for continuity and cause and effect perhaps extends the narrative for longer than it perhaps should.

More importantly when we think our life in terms of a story do we then sometimes predict the ending?  Do we limit ourselves by having expectations based on this narrative we have about our lives?  In a recent podcast I listened too, they profiled a family who had a story of their life.  They were beekeepers, and when tragedy struck and it all came to an end, they could see themselves any other way.  What they had been doing for 40 years was who they were.  Their house decorated with bees.  How do you change the story when life takes an unexpected turn?  It can be very difficult to find happiness or contentedness when expectations do not match the reality of your situation.  This podcast also did another episode where they talked about changing your story and how doing that can help us move on.  We might find inspiration in others who have changed the story of their lives, we may also become limited by others who assume that we can’t change our story.  Perhaps we have no choice but to see our lives as a story, and if we are going to do that, perhaps we just need to learn how to better hijack that process to write those new chapters that can take the story into a different direction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject?  Do you think of your life as a story?  Do you think it’s good or bad that you do?  Have you had to change your story unexpectedly?  Was it difficult?

There is a nice discussion on the topic on another podcast I listen to if you are interested in thinking about this subject more.

Patterns

The Earth turns day by day,
In time and space we intersect,
The cards shuffle and a hand is dealt,
What patterns do I dare detect?

I wander in the endless noise,
And listen for the sounds with meaning,
Enraptured by a sirens call,
What patterns are my senses gleaning?

Soft gazes at the willow swaying,
My drunken mind, lines are blurring,
My body rocks to its gentle measure,
The patterns of my speech are slurring.

I draw the sweetness into my mouth,
The crystals on my tongue dissolving,
Unconsciously I wet my lips,
The patterns in my mind evolving.

I plunge my hands into the tepid pool,
Calm surface shocked to undulation
Abating ripples move beyond my sight,
Patterns are never without sensation.

At day’s end my memories fade,
So I drive into the setting sun,
I breathe yesterday’s air in deeply,
Before the patterns become undone.

And the planet orbits year by year,
Life all around may fall apart,
Though entropy collides with chaos,
Flawless patterns dwell in my heart.

Discussion: Re-framing Rape

In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness month, I wanted to shareA friend of mine sent me a link to a very interesting talk by Susan Brison.  She is a Philosophy Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values at Dartmouth College.  I encourage to watch the talk for the full breadth of her argument (and also to hear her excellent singing voice) but if you are short on time I will summarize her main points.

Her principle argument is that rape, while important in a legal sense, is perhaps an unhelpful way of addressing the problem in general.  Dr. Brison suggests that rape be re-framed as gender-based violence.  She argues that outside of the prison system, rape is a crime that is almost entirely committed by men.  She makes an excellent analogy to racism at one point.  Which is a word that we talk about bigotry against people of certain races at a societal level.  She argues that we have no similar word for sexual violence perpetrated by men, even though it is just as prevalent (if not more prevalent) than racism.

In relation to this she also talks about how we define rape, which is “sex without consent” and that this is a harmful definition. While again she admits the value of consent especially from a legal point of view, she also argues that this might not be the best way of addressing rape as a gender-based societal problem.  She makes a number of compelling arguments, but there were 3 that really caught me:

1.  We don’t view consent as relevant when it comes to murder.
2. Having sex in the definition of rape individualizes the act and implies a connection.  And the act of rape isn’t just an individual harm, but instills fears among women or males that might be victims of rape.
3. In surveys of middle school and high school women, they sometimes report that they will consent to sex because they are afraid of being raped.

For me, the last point really muddied the waters of consent for me.

I can’t do her entire argument justice here, but I will transcribe a bit of what she said which I think is really important:

“If we lived in a world without pervasive sexism, where women and men were genuinely held to be of equal worth a victim would be able to perceive a gender-based crime against her as an anomaly…something truly random.  But in the actual world, in which because of pervasive sexism, victims of gender-based violence are often viewed as lacking credibility and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, a sex crime, for a victim can be a brutal confirmation of an already unjust status quo.” 
-Susan Brison

Thoughts?

Discussion: Shaming and making amends

In a time before social media, if, in your life, you did something you weren’t proud of.  Say perhaps over several years.  Maybe you were a bully in school, maybe you made some bad mistakes in how you treated women or men and you came to realize at some point how wrong your behavior was.  You might simply just move forward, never making those same mistakes again, perhaps even making sure you advocated to others the harms of certain behaviors because you once practiced them yourself.

What do we think about such a person?  Is it enough to say lesson learned, they are now a force for good in the world and sharing their wisdom with others in hopes that patterns aren’t repeated?

We live now in a time where getting away from your past is not as easy as it once was.  What if you had changed, became even enlightened, but somebody from your past decides that you are a charlatan because of a behavior you once espoused.  What if you were an outspoken feminist, but suddenly someone mentioned that back in school you weren’t the feminist you are now, and that you are a fraud.  You may have moved on, but the harm that you caused someone has left them hurt for years, and a number of other people are hurting to, because of who your past self was?

It feels like this call out culture we have on social media can be a vicious force.  Socially isolating people from communities they are making positive impacts in, and in some cases losing credibility for their entire life as a result of it.  And yet I also can’t help but feel some sympathy for victims of someone’s behavior.  Seeing that they are becoming loved and admired for views they now espouse, but never having made amends to the people they hurt in their past. Thirty years ago this was hardly an issue, but now it is so easy to find people from your past and hold them accountable no matter how much they may have changed?  Should the fact they have changed be enough to sate us, or should we bring them down as hard and fast as possible?

Maybe as we become enlightened as to the error of our ways, we should always be trying to make amends before we embark on a new crusade to enlighten others.  Maybe that’s the better path if we want to make a more meaningful crusade for a better world?  Maybe just trying to bury the past in the past is just being cowardly without facing up to it first and making amends with those we’ve hurt.  Perhaps people shouldn’t be just allowed to move on without any consequences.  Or this just us interested in hurting back instead of moving forward?  Is it realistic to expect true apologies from those who have hurt us, or do we just have to find a way to move forward to and let be, what is?

Thoughts?