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Deception January 27, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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I recently re-discovered an old journal of mine that I thought I had misplaced. In fact, I think I misplace this journal every couple of years or so, because every time I find it I think to put it some place safe, and then forget where that place is. I wasn’t looking for it, specifically, this time. This time, I was just putting away some paperwork, and there it was.

journalAlso, recently, I’ve started writing in a new journal. It was an idea that I came up with in the context of recent therapy sessions, and it has been helpful to have a safe space to write about things that are too personal, even for me. As readers know, I have not been shy about writing about some personal issues here, and that will not stop, but there are some issues I will not write about publicly.

I’ve also started re-reading The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. In the early chapters, I ran into the idea that all warfare is based in deception. The next line said “if able, appear unable.” In other words, make yourself appear weaker than you are. Or, at very least, do not present yourself as you are, so that your enemy cannot properly size you up.

This, immediately, reminded me of a quote that I ran into many years ago, one which has stuck with me over the years. I remembered it as having been written by Baruch Spinoza, who is among my favorites to read. The truth is that the quote is from Soren Kierkegaard, who I was reading around the same time, many years ago, so the quote was copied in my journal around a bunch of Spinoza quotes. The quote is as follows:

One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed it is only by this means, i.e., by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion.

The context of this quote, according to this source, is about why Kierkegaard sometimes wrote as if not a religious person (supposedly to lead people to Christ, as Kierkegaard was a Christian Existentialist). But I think it has some significance outside of this parochial context, and I think it can tell us something about human behavior which is worth some consideration.

I don’t want to dig deeply into that at the moment, but I think the most interesting thought embedded in there is the nature of illusion; is not illusion relative? Is not one who is in error prone to see the truth as an illusion? How human is it to be caught in a narrative which is quite delusional, but because one is within that web it appears sensible? Cults, religions, and even some cliques operate in just this way, and sometimes the only way through the miasma might be some creativity with perspective.

The mind is crafty and agile. The mind that wants to believe will, and it will move not only the goalposts, the ball, and the kicker but it will often shift the field upon which it plays in order to keep the illusion of coherence.

It’s harder to hit a moving target. It’s hard to hit what you can’t see. Stealth, in other words, is an advantage in war.


Is that analogy apt? Are we at war? And who are “we”? Civilization? liberals and conservatives? Exes? Family?

For many years, I have advocated transparency. I’ve been open about my flaws, mistakes, and struggles as a person who very much wants personal growth and improvement. And this strategy has been a mixed bag. It has led to some intimacy with people I’m close to, but it has also been taken advantage of by people who like to control people and narratives. And by a person who is especially good at, or at least has a strong desire to utilize, such control and who is also especially good as deception, open war would be fruitless and possibly unwise.


I don’t really have anything more to say on the subject right now, but I’ll end with a few thoughts about where I’m headed. I’ve been very quiet recently. Last year was a very traumatic and stressful one for me. But do not be deceived; I am not going away nor am I defeated. This year is a new one, and I am feeling better all the time. I’m gaining strength that I did not previously have. I do not fear anyone, or anything, because I have no reason to hide. My pain has only made me stronger.

Deception may be an art of war, but I have yet to decide whether I want to wage war or simply stride along my path impervious and uninterested in the distractions off to the side. So long as the distractions stay to the side, and do not land in my path forward, I will not focus on them. My path, however, is wide and it includes friends, organizations, and some parts of the polyamorous, atheist, and skeptical communities.

The debris which previous warfare has left behind me is not forgotten, however. This is not a washing of the hands, forgiveness, or anything of that nature. Far from it.  This is a desire to move forward unmolested, if that’s possible.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

Endings December 31, 2014

Posted by Ginny in Personal.
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Regular readers of Polyskeptic will have noticed that 2014 has been a year of upheaval and conflict; sometimes reflected on the blog, ever-present in the life of its contributors. You’ll also likely have noticed that I’ve been mostly silent for the latter half of the year. A lot has happened, most of which is not public knowledge, and I needed to just go to ground and process and cope quietly with the support of a few trusted loved ones.

One of the things that’s happened, that we haven’t talked about until now, is that Shaun and I have separated, and been living apart for the last several months. It’s hard to know how to talk about that here, where we share so many details of our private lives, and where our relationships are one of our main discussion topics. I’ve decided I don’t want to publicly discuss the details or the reasons. I’m a little bit concerned that there will be speculation and rumors and gossip and distortions, and I do understand that it’s natural to be curious about the lives of others, and to spin stories about them when information is absent. Even given that, I’m choosing not to tell my story publicly, at least not right now. It’s my business, it’s painful, and I’ve already had my privacy violated pretty egregiously this year. I’m hoping the majority of people will respect that and not spread stories about us when they haven’t spoken to either of us directly.

We had a discussion this week about whether or not I would continue writing for Polyskeptic. Shaun has given me an open invitation to continue posting here, but for the time being at least I would rather do my writing elsewhere. I’m reactivating the blog my brother and I were collaborating on before I started writing at Polyskeptic: it’s over here at The Brunette’s Blog if you’re interested in following.

I’m also taking a very deliberate sabbatical from attending and speaking at conferences, for the next year at least. This has less to do with my marriage ending and more with other factors, but on the whole I’m feeling the need to pull my focus away from education and activism and the wider community, and work on rebuilding my personal life and face-to-face community. I hope to come back at some point, bringing with me whatever wisdom I’ve distilled from the experiences of the last few years.

May 2015 be kinder to us all.

Trauma, mistakes, and the pain of reflection December 23, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal, Polyamory.
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All of us carry some amount of pain within us. We, being prone to error, hurt one-another. Hopefully, this pain acts as a teacher, and as we grow, mature, and learn we become more aware of the causes of such things and our capability to hurt weakens. The strength to hurt, to control, and to manipulate are, after all, not reverent strengths.

I have my own pain, carried from various periods of my life. Some stems from childhood, but much of it stems from adulthood. The mistreatment I received over the years worked its way into my bones, and gave me a ubiquitous feeling of not deserving better or even being capable of better myself. I simply got used to not asking for, fighting for, or even feeling worthy of not being treated poorly, which has the all too common effect of not always seeing others worthy to not be treated similarly. Slowly, deeply, and blindly, I became a man who accepted mistreatment, receiving and giving, all too easily. From this was born the quiet, mostly invisible, and powerful demon of resentment, frustration, and ultimately a deep anger which permeated most of my adult life and relationships.

In short, pain begets pain.

All this came to a head in the last year, and I’m glad it’s almost over. All of the trauma I had received previous to the last year or so became magnified by newer events so damaging that I could no longer keep the resentment, pain, and anger within the armor I created to keep my emotions away from those who I wouldn’t allow myself to trust or get close to. I’ve written about some of this before, including when I told my version of what happened with the split up of our former house. In retrospect, I left a cult. The resulting waves, including false narratives and cold war which has sucked people into the cult-like area of influence, has been utterly ridiculous and beyond painful. Those events have been the traumatic trigger for much of the mistakes I have made in the last year, and may have repercussions of many years to come.

In the last year, the raw amount of pain from earlier periods in my life became so bad, so unbearable, that I began to lash out at the people closest to me while not realizing how much pain I was in. As a result, I lost relationships of immeasurable value to me, some of which I will never regain. What’s worse is the demonization I received from some of those parties. Just more fire to the trauma bonfire, I suppose.

These days, my thoughts are full of regret, loss, and the reminder that learning a lesson too late is almost always unhelpful. And what’s worst is the fact that most of it was completely avoidable if I had been less self-absorbed, selfish, and had instead listened to those who were trying to help. Not all of it was unavoidable, of course. Some people are too interested in being right, winning, and petty schadenfreude to have had some of what has happened go any other way. But with others, the damage could have been avoided.

And for that I am immeasurably sorry.



Let my enemies raise their glasses in triumph upon my admitting, again, my mistakes. Let them trumpet their flat songs and revel in their illusory superiority insofar as their delusion allows them to think their dank cellars to be castles. Allow those who care little for empathy or introspection beyond the tip of their noses to laugh and gloat in an illusory sense of triumph over those they abuse. I care not of the opinions of people too narcissistic and myopic to grow or learn from mistakes. I shake off the dust from my feet upon leaving their abodes and seek out better, healthier, lands.

I have been, especially most recently, in error. But the error was not mine alone. I, however, will take as lessons what errors were truly mine, and I will not place blame where it does not belong. I will not take upon myself full blame, nor will I shrug it off onto others when it is tailored for me.

My pain is not an excuse, even if it might be an explanation. My fear, compelling as it is towards acts of desperation, has ruled all too often and subsequently has upturned the potentially flat stones upon which my future path may have been otherwise laid. The ground before me now is unsettled, uncertain, and I have only to become more comfortable with that terrifying foreign land of The Unknown. Knowing that I still have wonderful companions along such a path is heartening.

Today, however, I step off the path, briefly, in order to risk the reflective and refreshing nature of the calm waters there. The fears of its depths are visceral, but perhaps nothing is more terrifying than the nature of it’s placid surface. For nothing is as terrifying as the depths within us, reflected in quiet and still moments besides our paths.

The dark nights of the soul will haunt more than any external spectre.



He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

-Nietzsche, BGE §146


In the calm, quiet, depths of the night you can no longer run away from yourself. Assuming, of course, you are sensitive to your own light and darkness, these quiet moments will sometimes compel insomnia and self-criticism. And yet some seem to be immune to the disquieting contrasts that the blinding light of solitude create within us, not seeing the shapes of the shadows that exposure and attention engender. Some people can’t be self-critical because they are blind to their own flaws.

All_Is_VanityI am reminded of J.S. Mill’s question of Socrates and pigs, and a tangential concern springs to mind; is it better to remain aware of our flaws and errors and unsatisfied or unaware and satisfied? Is it better to be content and ignorant of these contrasts within our dark souls? That is, is it better to see ourselves as righteous when none of us are? Would it be better to blind ourselves, like old Oedipus, to the truth of our condition?

Is ignorance bliss?

It’s all too easy to say that we should live in such a way that we do not regret, for when the regretful act is done no amount of living well can undo such an act except to learn from it, perhaps. Avoiding the reality of our responsibility, whether due to lack of concern or because it is too painful to reflect upon it are sociopathic and tragic, and will not lead to growth in either case.

We need the moments of stillness, introspection, and reflection besides our paths, if we care about truth and our relation to it. In the stillness between steps along the paths we traverse, the waters within and around us settle and we are forced to reflect or to keep moving in order to disturb that reflective surface and ignore that reflection. Stillness and quiet are imperative for those willing to surpass the depths within. Noise, motion, and distraction are the tools of those afraid of the abyss.

How many might wait for others to stand still besides that water, all the while dancing about themselves, in order to watch another ponder their own reflection while they, dancing or playing with their phones, to try to co-op the narrative of such reflection? Is this, itself, not a failure of meta-reflection? Is this, in a way, another kind of distraction? Is this not ultimately avoiding one’s own reflection?

Is this, in some sense, among the more terrifying capabilities we humans have, to look into each other and either fail to see ourselves or to see ourselves and not recognize what we see?

Is it more terrifying to see our own depths, or to see that we all share the same depths and are reflections of one another?

Such a realization might imply a kind of obligation stemming from that commonality. Such realizations might also uncomfortably seat us next to those we most despise, where we can think we are looking at their reflection when, in fact, we are looking at both of us or merely ourselves. But perhaps most terrifying is that it might reveal that those we love can as easily be hurt by us as they can hurt us, and that all it takes is the smallest amount of self-deception that we, individually, might matter more than them.


Pain (in love) begets Pain

How easy it is to hurt those we love, and how unfortunate that it’s so difficult to undo. When stones start to break the surfaces of those waters between us, it becomes much harder to see anything but chaos, pain, and to lose sight of those terrorizing reflections. For it is only the still waters which allow introspection.

Selfishness and blindness are two of the sources of cruelty and distance, I think. And when the pain is passed onto the next person, is it any surprise when some of those people no longer wish to walk along the path with you or stop along it to reflect along-side you? Is it any surprise that when you throw your stones at the waters, those who seek that stillness and quiet will seek out calmer waters elsewhere?

No. It is terrible, but it is no surprise.

And so, I believe, I think it’s better to at least be capable of keeping our own waters calm, from time to time. When we lose that reflection for too long, it’s quite likely that we are contributing to the lack of stillness. It is quite possible that we are distracting ourselves with noise and motion, and we cannot see ourselves or each other.

I hope that I can more often find that stillness, calm, and the wisdom that comes with it. It’s hard, so very hard, in the turbulent water in with I now swim, but the storm is no longer raging and I’m finding more and more of myself being reflected back by momentary facets of the increasingly calm waters.

When one is focusing on quieting and calming the mind in order to allow those reflective waters to present ourselves and those closest to us, only the truly malicious can continue to harm. I am many things, many of them unflattering to the image I would wish to reflect, but maliciousness is not one of them.

But I have seen maliciousness. I have seen the face of (at least) one person who, in the calmness and quiet, sleeps well despite the fact that the water around him is only still because he has just drowned the flailing victim who insisted upon threatening his contentedness. So long as I never become that, I can be content that my mistakes can be healed.


A prayer (or, at least, a meditation)

Allow me to offer a sort-of prayer to myself, there being no ultimate authority upon whom’s lap I can lay such an entreaty.

Let me not conflate those unworthy and empty souls with those who have been undeserved second-hand bearers of my own pain. Let me not mistake those who are deserving of criticism and pity with those who, in short, are not. Let me not follow my path thinking that I am solely harmed, when I too have acted deservingly of criticism within the bounds of my own will and capability.

Let my preferences, perspectives, and limitation not be the gravitational center of narratives which I retell further down my path. Let the mistakes lie where they are, and not add flavor or putrid nourishment to the future of my narrative past. Let not the story I tell myself, my very consciousness and self, becomes embedded in pretty lies. Let others spin their narratives as they will; I can only hope that such predators will eventually be seen for what they are.

Finally, let me finally be able to love myself, whether or not other people hate me, smear my name, leave me, or stand beside me. My pain will not rule me forever, and my fear will no longer be my mind killer. Only when I can truly love myself can I love others well and accept their love.

I get closer, every day, to that abstract and unreal goal. There is no perfection or completeness in such a journey; only the path, one step at a time. May I always remember that while only death is the end to such a journey, at each moment I have arrived at myself, and that’s a pretty great place to be.


Pain, loss, and music December 4, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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Before reading this, give this movement a listen.  This is Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, 2nd movement, as conducted by Herbert von Karajan (my favorite version):

This, in my opinion, is one of the saddest, most haunting, and most powerful pieces of music I have ever heard. Listening to it, I mean really listening to it, never failed to bring tears and deep feeling.

This morning, after I showered, I decided I really needed to hear Phish’s Wading in the Velvet Sea, which I did while I started to dress. IIt had been in my head ever since I woke up this morning, and when that happens, only a listen will help, I’ve found. You can skip this one, if you like, but here’s the song in case you are curious and/or unfamiliar:

I had left Rhythmbox (my audio player on my computer in my office) on random, and my computer decided that the next song it would play would be Beethoven. You know, the piece I embedded at the top of this post. And I heard the first note. And I froze.

That very first note has a way of transporting me to a place deep within me, and I was helpless to do anything except listen. I was helpless to the power of this piece of music to evoke, within me, all of the beautiful, terrible, and heart-wrenching pain of which I am capable, and transforming this pain into a transcendent experience.

If you don’t know the story of this symphony in context of Beethoven’s life, then let is suffice that when he finished this symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven was nearly completely deaf. I cannot imagine the internal struggle and pain that a person, especially a musical genius, must have gone through upon losing the ability to hear. The effects were pronounced, and Beethoven was forced to take a back-seat to playing and conducting, as a result, and yet he wrote two more symphonies after this one! Including the famous 9th Symphony, of course.

Nonetheless, we can all, perhaps, sympathize with that pain while listening to that piece of music. For me, at least, there is a sense of profound sadness and loss within those notes, but also there is a sense of hope, I think. That hope, buried within sadness, peeks through like a shy puppy during a thunderstorm, afraid and trembling, but capable of forcing a smile onto our lips as well.

And as the piece ended, the emotional resolution left a ghost of those feelings on me for my ride to work, and even resonated into the rest of my busy morning. And here I am, sharing with you.

That’s all I can express, right now. Writing, for me, is an expression of hope and a desire for understanding and intimacy, but recently my life has been an orchestra of painful notes, with a phrasing of hope, now and then. This is a note of hope, but one surrounded by pain, anger, and loss. I hope to return to writing more consistently, soon.

I urge you to listen to the 7th symphony, in whole. This time, start with the first movement, which is wonderful on its own, and listen to at least the first two movements (I think the second two are not as good, but still worth the listen).


Forging an iron(ic) self: putting the border behind me October 24, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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The blog has been quiet for a while. There are reasons for that, which are not relevant to the world, but I wanted to say a few words relevant to my own personal life.

Previously, I have written about Borderline Personality Disorder. It was a time when I was doing a lot of reading, thinking, and talking about what I perceived to be the closest diagnosis which fit what I was experiencing emotionally, behaviorally, etc.  It started with a therapist I saw years ago, who suggested this as an explanation, and I sort of grabbed onto it as a part of my identity.

One of the criteria of BPD is a lack of solid self-identity, and this was something I had struggled with throughout my life (as, I believe, most of us have). Earlier in my life, I associated it with the concept of an existential crisis, and even wrote, recently, about how Sartre’s book Nausea always resonated with me in many ways. But in more recent years, I just piled it onto a diagnosis which helped define the emotional and behavioral struggles I have have to deal with much of my life.  I started, in essence, to identify as a borderline.

That description sat as a place-holder for any real sense of self.

I’m in therapy again, and in talking about these issues and trying to find a set of strategies and concept to move forward with, I have been confronted with the fact that I, perhaps, have too closely associated with such a diagnosis. My therapist has said to me that he does not think I am a borderline, even if I have some borderline symptoms. The fact is that most of us have some symptoms consistent with all sorts of potential diagnoses, and that perhaps we are not best served by identifying with those potential diagnoses. It’s so easy to just lump yourself into a box than to struggle with the actual hard things in life on their own terms.

At this point, my best guess is that previous therapy, thinking, growing, etc have already moved me further away from being diagnoseable. I am different than I was 5 years ago. Hell, I’m different than I was a few months ago.  At the same time, I do still have some real patterns of behavior which I need to struggle with towards becoming the person I want to be.  That struggle will probably be one without end, as growth is a thing which must continue because life changes, our needs and desires change, and so the struggles change.

I am fearing that fact, that reality of change, less than ever before. Change, growth, and uncertainty are often terrifying realities, but these days I’m starting to understand their importance as well. There will be certain things about me which will probably always be true. I am still afraid of many things, and there are specific certainties which I will always want, but I very much want to stop making excuses for not being the human being I want to be.

And, in a strange way, thinking of myself as a borderline was just another excuse. It was a way to essentialize who I was, rather than see the particular issues as challenges to work through. My ultra criticism of myself bled onto my criticism of others; because I wasn’t good enough, I became frustrated by the imperfections in others. But it’s not about being good enough, and that critical nature blinded me to so many other things I could have been focusing on. And I rationalized it all as an essential person who could do no differently.

I am a person people like. I am a person worth knowing and being close to. I’m also not trying to convince you (dear reader) of those facts, those are things I’m trying to believe myself. Those beliefs will be more things that the person I want to be will have as attributes.

That person will not be weighed down by mistakes and traumas of the past, but will move forward and look at solutions. Those who have actively tried to make my life harder and demonize me will fail. Those who insist upon defining me by embellished and fabricated events from my past will have to seek a new target for their abuse, because I will not be limited by either the illusions of others or through my own fears. Instead, I will be motivated by what I can do, what I will do, and I will enjoy a life with people who care for me despite my flaws, and I will succeed one way or another.

I needed a swift kick in the ass, and now I have the bruises there to remind me that whenever I try to sit comfortably in the self I have grown complacent within, the need to get up and keep moving will become part of who I am, not who I want to be. The need to never receive such a kick again will compel me to remember that I don’t need to be perfect, better than others, nor even do I have to insist upon not resting for a while and see how far I have come.

Even the job of growing and learning needs a vacation for a little while, now and then. Otherwise, we risk burnout.

The illusion of perfection, feelings of superiority, and the need to never stop moving are all related. I’m glad that I know this, and I hope that such realizations are not forever bereft in others.


I think now, identifying as a borderline is too strong of a claim.

And so it’s time to move on from that part of my life, and be the person I want to be. Do or do not. There is no try.

In retrospect, I was trying to solve a lack of strong self identity by clinging to a diagnosis which wedded me to not having one. That was dumb.

No more.

One Cringeworthy Move I Wish All Writers Everywhere Would Stop Doing October 1, 2014

Posted by Ginny in Sex and sexuality.
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1. Writing long, snarky lists about what sex acts all women, (or all men) secretly hate.

Seriously, is this not 2014? Have we not yet absorbed the radical notion that different people like different things when they’re doing The Sex? And not just, like, male-type people like These things, while female-type people like Those things, so all you have to do to please your lover is determine their gender, google a bunch of lists, and do exactly what the lists say.

Lists like this are useful for one kind of person only: the kind of person who has never realized that a potential partner’s sexual tastes might not be perfectly aligned to their own, or to what happens in the kind of porn they generally watch. For those people, a list like this may be a helpful awakening. Sort of like how, for someone who grew up eating burgers and hot dogs exclusively, spaghetti may be a good first step to the world of international foods.

For the rest of us, following a list of advice like this is only going to make you a worse lover. The quickest route to bad sex is to be absolutely, 100% sure that what you’re about to do is going to be mind-blowing for your partner, without bothering to check in with them or pay attention to how they respond. (Well, I guess a quicker route is not to give a crap about your partner’s pleasure at all, but I’m talking to people who are above that level.) It doesn’t matter what some list off the internet told you women/men like. It doesn’t matter what your best friend told you women/men like, even if your best friend is of the gender in question. It doesn’t matter what all your partners before this one liked. If you saw an internet list saying, “The one color no woman can resist!” would you believe it? Would you go about assuming that you now know what every woman’s favorite color is? If all of your previous partners happened to love purple, would you assume that purple is your new lover’s favorite color? What a person likes sexually is just as much a matter of personal preference as favorite colors, or foods, or movies, or music. The quicker we can all get that into our heads, the better everybody’s sex life will be.

If you want to be a good lover, talk to your partner. Listen to your partner. Pay attention to your partner’s non-verbal cues. Make “how do you like to be touched” a fun naked game you play together. And check in every few months to see how your partner’s tastes and preferences may have changed, or if either of you have new ideas for things you’d like to try. (I’m terrible about this, but it’s still good advice.)

And FTLOG stop writing articles like this. It makes me cranky.

Fighting it off September 23, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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With the Summer now really over, the days getting cooler (I’m already cold. I don’t want think about January), and the days getting shorter and shorter, I’m on the edge of the seasonal changes to mood that happens to me every Fall.

That, compounded by a recent loss of a relationship that was important to me means that I am on the verge of a depressive period which I am going to have to deal with. It’s like I’m feeling the first signs of the flu coming on, and while I know I’ll get through it (you know, probably) I know that for a little while I’m not going to be OK.

And I don’t know what to think about that. It all seemed so easy and clear when I was feeling great just a month (or so) ago. I was feeling confident, I had strong relationships, and the Summer was my playground. I was Ingressing all over the city, enjoying the warmth, and I was busy most nights with friends, lovers, and partners.

And now my motivation to be social is diminishing. I can feel it seeping from me like blood from a cut, slowly draining away my ability to stay attentive, engaged, and feeling fully alive. Yesterday, for the first time in many months, I spent an entire evening playing a video game. After the first half hour, I felt satisfied with gaming for the day. But rather than get up to do something else, I just sat there and played more. And then 3 hours went by, just like that.

Last Fall it was Skyrim. Soooo much Skyrim. What a great game, but there is definitely a point at which one is over-doing it.

And then I think about last Fall. Man, so much has changed in a year. I remembered how awful it was for me a year ago. With the exception of someone I had just started seeing then, I was mostly not doing well at all. I was in a long, arduous, unhappy funk all of last Fall. Everyone around me saw it. I was moody, non-communicative, and it led to things going badly between me and someone I deeply cared for, then. There were bright spots in there, but it was awful. And so I find myself thinking a lot about what to do about this. I cannot avoid it completely, but I can mitigate it, can’t I?

I know this gets better. I don’t know exactly when, but it will. You know, probably.

So, if you see me this Fall and I seem a bit more quiet and subdued than usual, then it’s probably because I’m feeling shitty. If you are inclined, come and give me a hug. Hugs always help.

But the most obvious piece of evidence that I’m not doing well? I have not even reached 500 words and I’m done writing.

Something is wrong here…..


Swift Scales and Quicksilver Tales – A guest post by Rabbit Darling September 18, 2014

Posted by rabbitdarling in Polyamory.

Hullo, Rabbit Darling, here. I’ve been thinking…

It is so hard, discovering that people you once loved are not – and likely were never – what you thought them to be.  Expecting the best of people is not without risk.  I’ve been told to blame myself perhaps a bit less, because dudes: when charismatic and skilled people lie, most folks get taken for whatever they had the guts to put out on the table.  That’s the whole idea, right?  That’s how aggressive mimicry and predation work.   You lull your mark into a false sense of safety, luring them with well-honed techniques that speak to the most basic needs and desires they possess, and strike when the mark drops her guard.  Ideally, you have a network of dupes and fellow mimics in place to run and signal boost plausible deniability and interference on your behalf while you shrug your shoulders and claim it was all just a miscommunication.  Recently, I was reading up on aggressive mimicry in nature, and stopped, chilled to my blood and bones at this passage:

A case of the latter situation is a species of cleaner fish and its mimic, though in this example the model is greatly disadvantaged by the presence of the mimic. Cleaner fish are the allies of many other species, who allow them to eat their parasites and dead skin. Some allow the cleaner to venture inside their body to hunt these parasites. However, one species of cleaner, the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus), is the unknowing model of a mimetic species, the Sabre-toothed blenny (Aspidontus taeniatus). This wrasse, shown to the right cleaning a grouper of the genus Epinephelus, resides in coral reefs in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, and is recognized by other fishes who then allow it to clean them. Its imposter, a species of blenny, lives in the Indian Ocean and not only looks like it in terms of size and coloration, but even mimics the cleaner’s “dance”. Having fooled its prey into letting its guard down, it then bites it, tearing off a piece of its fin before fleeing the scene. Fish grazed upon in this fashion soon learn to distinguish mimic from model, but because the similarity is close between the two they become much more cautious of the model as well, such that both are affected. Due to victims’ ability to discriminate between foe and helper, the blennies have evolved close similarity, right down to the regional level.[53] 

Take care, my dear little fishes.

One of the things that is so damaging about mistaking a blenny for a wrasse is that we become vigilant, even growing suspicious of our true allies.  Predation wreaks a lot of havoc, but one of the most lasting of its legacies is that it sends a clear and intentional message: You cannot trust yourself.  You are not the arbiter of your own experiences.  Whenever you risk love, you also risk becoming prey.  We become wary fish, even when wariness is demonstrably not necessary.  This is alienating.  It places us in a space of self-enforced aloneness – the very thing that continues to make us vulnerable to a Blenny.  We separate from our school, and swim cold waters alone, too busy questioning our own judgment to notice what’s lurking in the coral.

I am a very fortunate person, woman, and feminist.  My life is absolutely chock full of true symbiots.  But I have had recent and prolonged contact with an imposter who took a swipe at my fin, and missed.  But only narrowly.  So taken was I by the appearance of safety, by the sheer volume of rhetoric, by the carefully manicured and micromanaged façade of advocacy and care, that I occasionally shudder at the thought, “What if I had stuck around longer.”  What’s perhaps most painful is, someone I loved even more was fully aware of the potential danger – and did not tell me.  This person did not warn or even inform me.  I was routinely left alone with this potentially dangerous person, unaware of their manipulation of someone they had violated.  While I was pressured to engage in open, honest, and transparent dialogue about my deepest, hardest, and most vulnerable feelings (with the promise and expectation they would do the same!), in the background there was a campaign of secrecy, denial, and micromanagement surrounding the violation the blenny-posing-as-wrasse had perpetrated.

I was fortunate enough to have relied on my instincts.  I severed contact with some mimics because I had begun to note a pattern of hypocrisy and exploitation independent of the truth they had deliberately kept from me.  When that truth came to light, I wanted so badly to be surprised.

But I wasn’t. It was like turning the light on in a dark room, and finding out the furniture was exactly where you thought it would be.

The fact stared me in the face: This was not an isolated incident or a misunderstanding; this was a pattern I had already begun to recognize.  In the weeks and months that followed my swift and final egress, micro-aggression and minor consent infractions continued to take place despite my clearly communicated, well-documented, and explicitly reinforced boundaries.  This wasn’t miscommunication.  It was bullying.  It was fully intended to guilt, manipulate, shame, and gaslight.  Everything I’ve experienced says, “Watch out: that’s a Blenny.  Swim fast, little fish, and never stop.  Find your school.  Find your wrasse.”  And I can.  And I do.  And I will.

It’s taken me a long time to come forward about this, largely because I’ve always struggled with finding the space to speak my own truth.  I still couch it in terms of metaphor and story, partially because it helps me insulate myself against the cold vacuum of empty waters; and also because story has always been how I’ve managed to distill my own experiences into the lessons they have taught me.  Fables are always stories with a moral.  The morals to this story, and the ones adjacent to it are still surfacing.  But as the sun glints on the surface above, distorted and shattered across waves I know exist but cannot yet feel while immersed, I feel certain that whatever those morals wind up being, I am safer now.  My instincts have been tested, and have shown themselves to be trustworthy.  I do not have to suspect all my fellow fish, but I do need to listen closely when my heart says, “Beware.”  I need not swim these waters alone, if I vow to watch carefully, to listen closely, and to maintain a healthy skepticism about the motives and desires of other fish in this sea.

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing September 17, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , , , , ,

[TW: rape, sexual assault]

I still follow a number of atheist blogs, which I sometimes read and sometimes skip past depending on the topics they explore. In recent months, one of the raging conversations has been the ongoing issues related to skepticism, rape culture, and “radical feminism.” I’ve written about these subjects previously, and don’t want to deal with those issue directly (there’s already a lot of that being discussed, and I don’t feel like I have anything significant to add), but something about these conversation has felt very familiar to me recently.

No, I am not trying to snidely imply that this is an old conversation that we’ve all heard before and should be tired of. It has been one which has been happening for a while, but it is one that needs to happen because some people are still not getting it.

No, In this case, the familiarity has more to do with seeing parallels of much of this “drama” in my own life. The familiarity is one of “oh, that thing they’re arguing about concerning skeptic/atheist leaders being sexual predators, possible rapists, and general dingbats whose supporters attempt to smear you for pointing out their dingbattery…that looks really familiar!”

All too familiar…

So how about the polyamorous community?

Hiding in plain sight

Thinking about all of this got me wondering about how many people fly under the radar, not only in the mega-communities of all kinds, but all of the local communities. How many people who consistently lie, manipulate, and take advantage of people for their own benefit (among other terrible behavior) are there all around us? I mean, it’s a behavior set which operates best in the shadows, and the very success of such behavior necessitates hiding, creating a false facade, and having sympathetic advocates. The perpetrators of such things are usually not simply loners waiting in alleys, they are people within your own community, hiding in plain sight and pretending to be something they are not.

ColbertfriendThere are strategies which some people use to hide their awfulness. If you are racist, it helps to have non-white “friends” or co-workers to keep around to make any accusation of racism seem absurd, except for those who know better. If you are a misogynist, keep your female friends and partners close, so that if someone says you treat women badly you can have them speak up for you. Similarly, if you have problems with sexual consent, make sure you have your feminist friends and partners willing to speak up for you, so that when you do decide to just do what you want with a woman who you think you can get away with it with, the accusation will look ridiculous (especially to your partners who you emphasize consent with!).

How many people are there like this around us all the time? Well, the terrifying answer is that we don’t know. That’s why it’s so scary. Often, they are around us all the time and we have no idea who they really are, because they hide it so well. This is compounded by the fact that many people who have had bad experiences with someone may choose to be quiet about it, and only close trusted friends will know. A desire to not stir up drama, unwanted attention, or possible backlashes are among the many reasons that people who behave poorly don’t get outed more.

Yes, backlashes. Because sometimes victims get blamed, by both bystanders and those guilty of the infringement.  If someone knows they are guilty or wants to hide a mistake, sometimes the best way to hide is to redirect attention or to just ignore it and hope it goes away. Some people faced with accusations will not only refuse to accept any responsibility (or really acknowledge the accusation at all), but will go further and re-direct the accusations elsewhere. A good defense is a good offense, I suppose.

Other people will just depend on the background noise of normal every-day life to drown it out, knowing that some people who get hurt will just slide into the crowd and not pursue more conversation or desire for some recompense. Others may simply believe they didn’t do anything wrong in the first place, and will view accusations as absurd, annoying, or an attempt to sully their reputation (you know, rather than a description of the violation of another person).

Advocate Camouflauge

But there’s a deeper, and more disturbing, set of strategies I have seen employed as well.

Some people are especially skilled at pretending, hiding, and creating support networks to vouch for them. It’s much better to have advocates than to appear defensive by responding oneself, after all.  As a close friend said, in reference to someone neither of us trusts, “if you rape 1-in-5, you will still have 4 to vouch for you.” That is, if someone talks about consent often and practice it with most people, the exceptions will be easier to hide in the shadows of consent’s facade. If a person gets off on being in control, having influence, and doing what they want to other people while ignoring consent now and then, such a person is much more likely to keep getting away with it by talking a good consent game.

Sometimes the best way to appear innocent is to clothe yourself in the garb of, and to mimic, those who would be the first to convict you if they knew who you really were. The terrifying idea I’m describing here is to hide among those that would be your greatest critics (if they were to see the other kind of behavior) while saving that other behavior for people who seem unlikely to fight back or actually matter to you. It’s essentially being careful who you victimize, while making sure that you surround yourself with advocates of (for example) social justice who you stay within bounds around, so they can be your character’s alibi and voucher.

Here’s one example I’ve seen. If you are a guy who wants girls to like you, then start by calling yourself a feminist, talk and write about consent and befriend and partner up with feminists who you treat mostly well, then occasionally feed that deep desire to take control and power over people with some other people who you perceive as being “safe” to ignore those feminist consent lines. If anyone calls you on it, all you need to do is turn it around on the accuser and then sit back and watch your feminist partners defend you while you can sit back, feeling…well, I have no idea how that would feel. I have no inclination to find out, either.

itsatrapOn top of that, you get to be around attractive feminist women who you might get to sleep with and whom will act as ways to attract other women to you, since those women will vouch for you. You get to treat most of the women in your life relatively well while creating a situation where you can occasionally get away with some power trip (or perhaps it’s just a deep desire which cannot be denied all the time. Either way, it’s manipulative and deeply troubling). You get to occasionally treat people like crap all the while maintaining a flock of feminist women who will pronounce you safe to other approaching women.

Except you aren’t safe. You are a predator, camouflaged among feminists so you can get away with your crossing consent lines when it suits you. And it does happen, doesn’t it? Perhaps not very often, but when it does happen you don’t have to atone, apologize, or even acknowledge it because you’ve created a believable facade of a person you are not. You have created a facade of a decent human being.

And what’s worse is when such people do a little of both with other partners, all based upon what blind-spots each partner has. Such a person will know that some can be manipulated and influenced and still be an advocate, at least for a while. After the influence starts to wear off and it becomes clear that they see you more as a means towards their own needs and desires than someone interested–or capable–of a genuinely mutually beneficial relationship, all such a mind needs to do is move onto another person.  In extreme cases, such a person might (for example) assassinate the character of the disillusioned person and gaslight them, attack them, and write them off because they aren’t useful to you anymore.

The above description* is a recipe for coldly calculated patterns of using other people for one’s own purposes rather than creating genuinely mutually beneficial relationships in which the needs and desires of others are considered. Creating healthy relationships is not a game about what you can get away with while trying to appear acceptable by the community in which you participate while doing so. But this is only one of many descriptions of problematic behavior. It just happens to be one I’m more familiar with because I saw it up close.

Victims of such behavior will look at the advocates of these manipulative people and can only shrug their shoulders and crawl back into their hole of self-doubt, fear, and trauma which will never be dealt with on the advocates’ end because he would never do that. Except, he did and many will believe.

Celebrities as proxies

I’ve met Michael Shermer. It was years ago, and I remember that everyone in the room wanted to talk with him. He’s smart, engaging, and tells fairly good stories.  He’s also done really excellent work in the skeptic community, written some good books, and has some really important things to say. He’s also a douchebag. He may, in fact, be a rapist and a sexual predator. There have been a number of accusations, arguments about responsibility, and many have come out in support of him in light of these accusations.

There is no contradiction between a person having very good qualities, friends, and advocates and someone who is just terrible. People like Michael Shermer are popular examples, and in a sense stand as a lightning rod for conversations about things like sexual predation, rape, and rape culture. But these celebrity examples of these conversations are community proxies for conversations about the kinds of people and issues we are surrounded with in our own lives, perhaps every day.

Our local communities have people who are known to be problematic in specific ways.  That group of people is known for being really tribalistic, dismissive, and gossipy unless you agree with them about whatever they care about. This guy over here is known to get into heated arguments, and sometimes fights, especially if he’s drunk. That girl is known to make racist comments and jokes, but mostly she’s pretty cool (I guess). Oh, and that guy? Oh, he’s a known to take advantage of women when they’re drunk or just to do what he wants to them unless they specifically ask him to stop. You know, maybe he’ll stop if you ask, so just don’t get paralyzed by fear because silence is totally the same thing as consent (pro-tip; no it’s not). You know….he’s probably a sexual predator. But you know, whatever. He’s smart and fun to be around and he throws good parties, so as long as he cuts that out, you know most of the time, we’ll look past it and pretend it’s not happening.

Also, there are askholes (which is among my favorite new words).

There is an idea that one reason celebrities are a thing many people talk about with each other is that since communities have become so large, most people (especially if they live in other parts of the world) don’t have a common set of concerns and people to gossip about. Celebrities, whether they beat their fiance, did something really awesome and generous for someone, or got married, are a proxy for the old village gossip about the locals. Michael Shermer, being well-known in the skeptic community, is the person we talk about when we talk about things like rape and rape culture, but in smaller communities perhaps have their own Michael Shermers.

We have our local examples of such people, and a lot of the same infighting, smear campaigns, and tribalism which takes place on the blogoshere and at conferences is also happening on the local level, on smaller scales.

And it’s hard! It’s hard because unless you see certain behavior you can’t be sure about the veracity of an accusation, especially if the accused behaves normally or acceptably most of the time. It’s hard if the person in question is someone you work with, hang out with, and maybe even generally like. It’s hard because sometimes you aren’t sure if you should believe it, and if you want to be a good skeptic you need more evidence than an accusation.

And shadowy people are really good at covering their tracks with the aforementioned facades, advocates, and mostly good behavior (especially with certain people) which is what most people will see.The distinction is not what they do, it’s about how they proceed after the deed is done. A decent person will take responsibility and try and use it as a lesson for growth and potential change.

We all make mistakes. I have certainly made many myself and I have worked to not hide them, but instead to make them part of my motivation to grow and change. I have hurt people in the past, I have been a poor partner, and I will probably make more mistakes in the future. The issue is how we move on from mistakes and misdeeds, and it is quite tempting to try and shift the narrative to shift the focus on our mistakes onto something else, or to avoid the responsibility which is ours.

Accusations can have repercussions for our standing in a community, but it is ultimately our actions which matter. Michael Shermer, might never recover (professionally and within the skeptic community) if he were to admit to any sexual assault, but it would be the right thing to do (assuming the accusations are true). But such a guilty person would recover far better if they didn’t shirk their moral responsibility from the beginning, and rather just admitted their misdeeds.

If such a person, celebrity or not, is guilty, then worrying about reputations and community standing rather than the affect upon victims is behavior which demonstrates a lack of perspective on what is important and moral in scope. The people around us who behave poorly need to be given room to atone for mistakes, but in some cases the mistakes were more like decisions. Sober, calculated, and intentional decisions are harder to forgive.

The sad truth is that maybe some people cannot be redeemed. One has to be able to recognize error in order to be redeemable.

See also rabbitdarling’s contribution

*Yes, it is based on real experiences. I will not name him [yes I will. His name is Wes Fenza], but many of you know exactly who I’m talking about.

Barrier Protection September 12, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I think this is a wonderful article, and I’m passing it along.

Originally posted on Slut, Ph.D.:

I love and hate the way poly people use condoms.


Before I go any further, I suppose I should explain that I spent years theorizing and researching the way men and women around the world make decisions about and negotiate contraceptive use; it’s what my dissertation was on, and I have written several academic papers on the topic. Amusingly, my academic background makes me at best only slightly better at actually negotiating contraceptive (condom) use with real people than your average monogamous person, and I’m definitely less skilled at it than your average poly slut. I manage it, but without much finesse. Instead of being helpful, my academic background just makes me very conscious of how profoundly mediocre I am at it, and leaves a voice in the back of my head continually affirming a theoretical paper that I wrote in graduate school arguing that contraceptive negotiations are all…

View original 1,874 more words


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