Discussion post! PolyskeptiCast 6/26/14


It’s back! We’ve finally got a new episode of PolyskeptiCast, with hopefully many more to follow. We talk about a lot of things, and we’re guessing you have some thoughts and opinions about them

Discussion questions: What are your personal red/green flags with new partners? Things that indicate early on that someone might or might not be a good partner for you specifically?

Where do you draw the line between looking for specific character traits and hunting for people to fill a particular slot?

Other thoughts from this podcast?

Loved ones of loved ones pt. 2: complicating circumstances


In an earlier post, I set about writing some basic guidelines for how we are and are not obligated to treat people to whom we’re linked by a mutual loved one: in-laws, metamours, close friends of lovers and lovers of close friends, etc. In a nearly unprecedented act of follow-through, I’m back as promised to discuss some situations that often complicate those relationships. These don’t erase or supplant the obligations I outlined in the first post; they provide extra considerations, and sometimes extra obligations for at least one person involved.

Jealousy

While we tend to think of jealousy as primarily a factor in metamour relationships, the truth is it can be involved in any of the others as well. It might not be specifically sexual jealousy, but the fear that a loved one’s other relationships will threaten our own, the fear of being supplanted, of becoming unnecessary, of being suddenly found lacking and cast aside — those can factor into any kind of close relationship. The role of jealousy in friendships is much bigger than usually gets acknowledged; quite recently I was having a conversation with a monogamous friend about some relationship tensions with his best friend and new boyfriend, and I found myself using a lot of poly-derived insight, as the feelings involved were very similar.

Jealousy is a common human emotion, and its presence doesn’t mean that anyone involved — the person feeling it, the person triggering it, or the mutual loved one — is a bad or inferior person. It just means that someone’s core insecurities and abandonment fears were triggered, and that needs to be dealt with. There are  tons of resources on managing jealousy in the poly community, and a lot of them will be helpful in non-romantic contexts as well.

When we’re jealous of someone, the overwhelming urge is to want them out of the picture. We’ll be looking hard for any signs that they’re unlikeable, wrong for our loved one, gross and smelly and mean. We need to be aware that there’s a pretty strong cognitive bias in play. This is where expressing but not endorsing those feelings of jealousy becomes really important. Trying to sweep the jealousy under the rug, because we feel we should be better than that, is only ever going to backfire as the core insecurities are left unaddressed. But letting the feelings rule our rational assessments is going to result in some severely distorted judgement about the person we’re jealous of. In my experience it’s best when we can say, “I’m feeling a lot of jealousy toward this person right now, so I’m not able to assess them fairly. I’m going to work on coping with the jealousy before I actually decide whether I like them or not.” That might mean not meeting them or spending much time around them while you’re working on it. Or it might mean spending more time with them (sometimes this can help with jealousy), but recognizing that jealousy is a contributor to any feelings of dislike you may have toward them.

Sometimes you’re on the other side, aware that a loved one’s loved one is jealous of you. In these cases, the best thing to do is stay out of it unless you’re brought in. Although it doesn’t feel like it, jealousy is always about the two people in a relationship, not the third party that someone is jealous over. When we’re aware that someone is jealous of us, it’s common to feel some combination of guilt, anxiety, and resentment. Assuming we haven’t done anything wrong, it’s useful to remind ourselves that the presence of jealousy doesn’t mean anyone — ourselves or the person feeling it — is a bad person. It’s for our loved one and their loved one to work out between themselves.

We’re not obligated to efface ourselves or make ourselves scarce in order to accommodate someone else’s jealousy. If a loved one’s loved one is demanding accommodations that make us feel unloved, undervalued, or second-class, it’s okay to stand up for our own needs. That said, it’s helpful if we can show some compassion for the person feeling jealousy — if not for their sake, then for our loved one’s. I’ve had a partner express contempt and resentment for another partner’s jealousy, and it made the whole situation many times more emotionally stressful for me. Remember that your loved one cares about both of you, and likely feels some pain and distress about the pain that their jealous partner is feeling. Don’t make that worse by putting yourself in an adversarial stance.

Where there is a difference of beliefs and values

There’s a special kind of tension that comes in when one person disapproves of a loved one’s loved one on some kind of moral, religious, or philosophical ground. This often happens when adult children develop different beliefs and values than the ones they grew up with, and then have friends and lovers who come from one religion or value system, while their family of origin comes from a very different one. It also happens in other ways, such as my friend’s formerly liberal mother-in-law becoming an evangelical Christian, and newly having issues with her adult child’s queerness.

Obviously some people can get along just fine with big ideological differences between them. They can adopt a “live and let live, if it works for you, sing your own special song” kind of mindset, and it doesn’t cause a lot of relationship tension. For many people, though, their beliefs are a matter of what’s right and wrong, true and untrue about the world, and it’s not so easy — or even desirable — to just let things go. This can be true for liberals and conservatives, Christians and Muslims and pagans and atheists. At some point, it will come up, and in addition to any personality conflicts, the mutual loved one might find themselves in the middle of a fraught conflict of ideologies.

This can get especially sticky when the mutual loved one’s evolving values are attributed to the presence of other loved ones in their life. A young adult shifts religious beliefs around the same time they start dating somebody in their new belief system, and their family and friends feel that the new lover is responsible for the change in belief systems. The personality and character of the new partner (or close friend) are completely eclipsed by the fact that the older friends and family feel that their loved one is being somehow stolen from them and lured into a new value system. They react to the person from a place of threat and often anger, thinking that if they weren’t in their loved one’s life, their loved one would go back to sharing their values and beliefs.

Occasionally this is true. People do shift their beliefs and values in response to the people close to them, especially lovers but also friends and social groups. It does sometimes happen that someone shifts beliefs radically to match a new lover’s, and then on breaking up returns to their former beliefs. Much more often, though, a person’s beliefs and values start to shift, and then they find new friends and partners who match them; or a new person in their life shows them the way to a new identity that fits them much more comfortably than the old one. In other words, the new person’s presence in their life is more a result of their own changing values than a cause of them.

Regardless of the order of operations, little good usually comes of trying to separate a loved one from a new friend or lover because we disapprove of their values. In saying that the new person is responsible for the change, we are denying our loved one’s agency and responsibility for their own life. While we may not mean to, we are implying that they’re easily swayed and that their convictions aren’t sincere, and this implication is usually felt by our loved one. It’s a quick path to resentment and bitterness — even in the rare cases where our suspicions are correct.

The essential principle, then, is to separate your feelings about your loved one’s changing beliefs from your feelings about new people in their lives who share these beliefs. Assume your loved one came to be where they are for their own reasons. Get to know their new loved ones as people, not emblems of your loved one’s change.

Things get even harder when the relationship itself goes against the beliefs or values of the older family and friends, such as when someone from a conservative background is in a same-sex or non-monogamous relationship. The temptation for older family and friends to view the new partner as a symbol of their loved one’s new value system is even stronger when the very nature of the relationship goes against the old value system. If they want to maintain a positive relationship with their loved one, though, they will do their best to separate the idea from the person. I’ve known conservative parents of gay children who do fairly well at this; while they still have don’t believe that same-sex relationships are morally right, they get to know their child’s partners as people in their own right, and acknowledge the ways those partners bring happiness to their child. There’s still a lot of pain in that situation for everyone, but there are also positive connections and loving bonds.

People have a right to believe what they believe. They even have a right to believe wrong, untrue, and harmful things. They don’t have a right to have those beliefs go unquestioned or unchallenged, but in the context of a close relationship, questioning and challenging each other’s beliefs usually goes best when our beliefs are pretty closely aligned in the first place and we’re just working out the details. Arguments between a queer liberal agnostic and their conservative Protestant family members are rarely going to be productive (I have a fair amount of first- and second-hand experience to back this up.) Often, we have to make a choice: is it more important to bring our loved one around to our views, or to maintain a relationship that has space for our differing views? If we invest all our effort into trying to change them, rather than building the best relationship we can with them as they are, we’re likely to find that the relationship itself crumbles.

When the other relationship is troubled

It’s challenging when someone you love is in a troubled relationship with someone else, especially if you often play confidant or advisor to your loved one. Whether it’s a matter of a specific conflict that’s causing strife in an otherwise balmy relationship, a persistent discord that comes up repeatedly, or an ongoing pattern of unhealthy interactions, this can be a tough situation to navigate cleanly.

Some people make the mistake of rooting too hard for the relationship: “But you guys are so great together! I’m sure it’ll sort itself out. Just give them another chance.” Sometimes, a person needs to be able to really imagine ending a relationship, even if ultimately they’ll end up staying in it. (None of this is exclusive to romantic relationships; close friendships and even blood relationships sometimes need a hard look at whether they’re really serving the people on both sides.) Sticking with a relationship because the alternative is inconceivable is not a recipe for healthy relationship growth and change; it’s much better when both parties can honestly reassess and think, “On balance, is this person still someone I want to have this intimate relationship with?” But it’s hard enough to do this calculation on one’s own; being surrounded by friends who view the relationship as inviolable makes it that much harder.

On the flip side is the mistake of seizing on the trouble as a reason to advocate for ending the relationship. Obviously, this is going to be especially tempting if you generally dislike the other person, and even more so if there are the jealousy or value-difference issues discussed above. Raise your hand if you’ve never felt that little surge of glee when someone you love is talking about a conflict they have with someone you’re jealous over. Go on, I’ll wait.

Nobody? (I hope nobody, or very few people, or suddenly I’m going to feel like a much worse person.) It is very, very hard not to engage in some serious motivated reasoning at this point. Instead of listening openly to what our loved one is saying, we’ll seize on every negative thing they say as evidence that their relationship is terrible and the other person is terrible and clearly it will be best for everybody if they end it. Best for everybody, not just for you, although obviously it would be nice for you, but that’s not the point, because you’re just looking out for your loved one, and clearly they’re unhappy…

Yup, very tempting. So the first responsibility I believe we have is to be very aware of our own biases when we’re talking with a loved one about their conflicts in another relationship. And the stronger those biases are (whether positive or negative) the less we should say about the situation.

On the flip side, it can be hard to think positively about a loved one’s loved one if all we hear are complaints and struggles. There’s a pattern that can develop when friends complain to each other about their partners, looking for support and validation and commiseration, but rarely talk about the good things and happy times the partners bring. Over time, this can sour each person’s view of the other’s partner(s), even if they initially liked them. A lot of the responsibility here is on the person doing the complaining, but we can help by noticing when the dynamic is developing and calling it out. “Hey, I’ve noticed that lately all I’ve heard is bad stuff about Jordan. Do you think there’s a problem, or are you just venting when you’re upset and not bothering to mention when things are good?” Obviously, this is also helpful because if our loved one hasn’t been happy in the relationship for a while, explicitly acknowledging that is the first step towards actually changing something.

Being a good confidant for a loved one in their other relationships requires a lot of judgement, self-awareness, and emotional management. I don’t think it’s something we should ever feel obligated to do. If it’s making it too hard to think charitably of the other person, or if it’s causing stress because we’re invested in the success of the other relationship, or if we’re starting to feel that our relationship is being coopted by all the time spent troubleshooting the other one, it’s fine to draw boundaries around how much the other relationship gets talked about. Having other people as a sounding board is helpful when a relationship is troubled, but ultimately it’s something that needs to be worked out between those two people.

When there was a previous intimate relationship

For most of these two posts I’ve been talking about a situation where the mutual loved one brings two people together who had no previous connection. Things get even stickier when you have had an intimate relationship with someone else, that relationship is now broken or estranged, but you’re still bound together by the people who love you both. It’s probably most common with acrimonious divorces and breakups, but it can also happen when there’s a major falling-out or betrayal in a friend group, or when a child is disowned by their parents and some of the siblings try to maintain good relationships with both the parents and the disowned sibling.

In the other cases we’ve discussed, it’s natural for your relationship with the other person to center around your mutual loved one, at least in the beginning stages. In this case, though, your connection with the other person is independent from both your connections with the mutual loved one. The important thing to do is keep it that way, as much as possible. Sometimes this is hard, especially when the mutual loved one is the only thing keeping you in touch with someone you could otherwise write out of your life. But the history between you is still between you, and doesn’t involve them.

It’s easy to fall into a zero-sum mentality: the mutual loved one can’t possibly love and respect both of you, so any affection or positive feelings the mutual loved one expresses toward the other person must negatively reflect on you. At some level, hopefully, you know that’s not true, but it’s easy to feel that way. When that twinge comes up, name it: “I’m unhappy because our mutual loved one said something nice on Kim’s facebook wall, and because Kim and I have such a bad relationship I feel like that reflects on their love for me somehow.” And then remind yourself that that’s not true, that this is not some competition where your loved one has to pick sides, that their feelings toward Kim actually have nothing to do with their feelings toward you.

This is one case where graciously accepting the other person’s presence at your loved one’s special occasions may not be possible. While it’s good to make the best of being around each other if you can… sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it hurts too much. My general rule here is that you get to set, and express, your own boundaries for whether you will or won’t put yourself in the same space as somebody. You don’t get to tell your loved one who they can and can’t invite to something (or guilt-trip or coerce them into inviting or not inviting someone.)

“Hey, I’d really like to come to your party, but I can’t if Kim is going to be there” puts your loved one in an awkward and unhappy position, so only use it when being around Kim is really going to negatively impact your mental health. The more important and singular the occasion (weddings, graduations) the harder both people should try to suck it up and be there for their loved one, but even in those cases there are times when a person shouldn’t be blamed for saying “Sorry, I just can’t.” The important thing is to leave your loved one with a free choice about what to do in that situation: if you put it as a dilemma between inviting you or inviting the other person, they should get to make that decision without additional guilt or pressure from you (or, of course, the other person.)

You and your loved one also each need to set boundaries on how much you talk about the other person. In general, they are not the best person to complain about your ongoing issues with the other to, and you are not the best person for them to tell happy stories about the other to. If you want to make space in your relationship for some of that talk, you need to communicate very explicitly about what each of you can and can’t handle hearing.

Community

In our individualistic culture, there’s a lot of writing and talk about relationship skills, where the focus is on the way two individuals connect. What I’ve been writing about here — and will probably continue writing about, because it’s becoming increasingly interesting to me — are community skills, where we’re dealing with larger networks of people and the ways all of their needs and feelings interact. I think there are ways to build stronger, healthier communities without sacrificing the individual freedom and autonomy of the people who make them up. Creating workable relationships with our loved one’s loved ones is a first step; whether we like them, tolerate them, love them or hate them, they’re part of our community, and we can improve the lives of everybody involved by treating them decently.

Gendered names and hurricanes


I love me some subconscious gender bias and its hidden malevolent effects on society. So you’d think I’d have been excited when reports came out of a study claiming that female-named hurricanes are more deadly than male-named ones, because people don’t take them as seriously and don’t prepare or evacuate adequately.

Even more than rooting out subconscious gender bias, though, I love critically digging into scientific work and picking apart how strong its data, interpretations, and conclusions are. Especially when they sound fishy to me, and this one sounded a bit fishy. Gender bias is trendy right now, and while I think it can and does have powerful effects, that hurricane-deadliness thing is a huge claim. So as interested as I was in the original study, I didn’t get really excited until I started seeing some critiques.

Even more than both those things? I love names and naming and the psychology of names and name trends and all that. I try to keep that particular love quiet most of the time because it’s boring and weird to most people and not particularly useful. But this vortex of three keen interests of mine amounted to my spending a solid chunk of the last 24 hours reading, analyzing, playing with numbers, and generally geeking out in the worst way.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the actual writeup of the study… fortunately, some of the data is available for public view here, which is awesome. So I’m doing the best I can with what I have.

To summarize the original study, as best I understand it from the available info and writeups:

  • The authors took data on all hurricanes since 1950, including the hurricane name’s position on a scale from most masculine to most feminine, and number of deaths associated with the hurricane.
  • Statistical analysis showed that names that were ranked as more feminine were associated with more deaths.
  • To test their hypothesis that the higher death toll was due to social perceptions of a female-named hurricane as milder than a male-named, the authors did a series of experiments where participants predicted the severity of an invented hurricane, or indicated whether they’d evacuate or take other precautions for it. The scenarios were identical except for the gender of the hurricane name: Victor or Victoria, Alexander or Alexandra, as examples. Participants overall took the male-named hurricanes more seriously than the female-named ones.
  • The authors take the hypothetical scenario response results as evidence that people in general take female-named hurricanes less seriously, and are less likely to adequately prepare or evacuate, leading to a higher death toll.

Fine so far as it goes. Now let’s look at the critiques:

  • Up until 1979, all hurricanes had female names. Over time since 1950, hurricanes have become less deadly, which confounds the study’s data. (The study authors did do a separate analysis of hurricanes from 1950-1978 and 1979-2012, but the results did not reach statistical significance, which the authors say is because each group is too small.)
  • None of the six studies on hypothetical scenarios, which the authors used to demonstrate the causal link they’re claiming, used a population that is necessarily representative of the coastal town-dwellers who are actually impacted by hurricanes: three of the studies used undergrads, three used participants recruited via an online platform.
  • There are a lot of known major factors that impact a hurricane’s deadliness, and it’s unlikely (and insufficiently demonstrated) that a subconscious gender bias is strong enough to have a significant effect above those other factors. (I know, I worded that vaguely. That’s not the part that I examined, so read the article for more details if you’re interested.)

The first bullet point is huge. If it’s true that hurricanes in earlier decades were more deadly than hurricanes in more recent years, then that’s a major confound that potentially overthrows the whole study. The other issues are relevant and important, but the first one is major.

The authors responded in turn:

  • The analysis looked not only at male or female designation of names, but at the perceived masculinity or femininity of a name. (For non-hurricane examples, most people likely perceive Angelica as a more feminine name than Jean, and Brock as a more masculine name than Julian.) It was the name’s place on the masculine-to-feminine scale that related to its deadliness, not simply the male/female designation of the name, and those results held true even before 1979 with more feminine female names accompanying more deadly hurricanes.
  • Years elapsed since the hurricane (in other words, how long ago the hurricane happened) is not correlated with the hurricane’s deadliness.

They addressed the other critiques, but their commentary amounted to “Well, yeah, that’s an unfortunate feature of the resources we had available, but that doesn’t disprove it.” Which is true.

From reading the articles linked above, I had two major questions:

  • Have hurricanes actually become less deadly over time? It seems to me that the study’s authors and its critics are saying directly contradictory things about this, and it makes a huge difference.
  • How did the study authors determine the relative masculinity and femininity of names? And how valid was this ranking?

To my delight there is a spreadsheet available giving the hurricane names, ranking on masculinity or femininity, death toll, and lots of other data. So I’ve been able to play around with it a bit myself, and while my stats knowledge is pretty limited, I can do basic math.

To the first question, “have hurricanes become less deadly over time?” there seems to be a direct contradiction between what the study authors say — “how long ago the storm occurred did not predict its death toll” — and what the critics say — “hurricanes have also, on average, been getting less deadly over time.” Of course those sentences have different words in them, and it’s possible for both to be literally correct. And in fact, as far as I can tell, they are. This is why you have to read your science reporting carefully, kids!

I am sure there’s a sophisticated statistical regression thingy one could do with this data, and it might be that I’m doing it completely wrong, but here’s what I got. Using the good ol’ average formula, I came up with these numbers:

  • The average death toll of all hurricanes from 1950-1978 (when all hurricanes got female names) was 27.
  • The average death toll of all hurricanes from 1979-2012 (when hurricanes got male and female names) was 16.

Thus far, the critics seem to be winning. That’s a pretty substantial difference between the all-female group and the male-female group. Without doing any fancier calculations, this layman’s eye is gleaming with suspicion.

To get a sense of whether the decline was smooth over time, I did the average death toll by decade, and here’s what I got:

  • 50s: 24
  • 60s: 36
  • 70s: 16
  • 80s: 6
  • 90s: 15
  • 00s: 19
  • 10s: 68

Two major things jump out: the 80s were a great time to be in a hurricane, and the 10s were terrible. Of course, there were only three years counted in the 10s, 2010-2012, and in fact only three hurricanes happened in those years, so as a decade it should be discounted entirely. And one of those hurricanes was Sandy, which has the third highest death toll on the list (159, after Diane in 1955 with 200 deaths, and Camille in 1969 with 256. Hurricanes Audrey and Katrina were excluded as huge outliers, with death tolls above 400 and 1800.)

The authors’ statement, “how long ago the hurricane occurred did not predict its death toll,” may well be true. The weirdly low-fatality 80s plus the highly deadly Sandy coming right in at the end could blur the overall trend. (Please, someone who’s competent with statistics chime in and explain all the things to me!) But that doesn’t change the fact that hurricanes in the three decades of female-only names were, on average, more deadly than hurricanes since male names began being used.

So what about the author’s second rebuttal, that it wasn’t just male or female designation of a name, but ranking on a scale of masculinity to femininity, that predicted deadliness? They argue that even in the all-female era of hurricane names, a Hurricane Angelica would be taken less seriously than a Hurricane Jean, and thus lead to more fatalities. They rated all hurricane names on a scale from 1 to 11, with 1 being extremely masculine and 11 being extremely feminine, and used that rating in their analysis.

I wasn’t able to find out how they assigned the masculinity-femininity ratings to each name, and I’d be much obliged if someone who has access to the article could tell me. Because obviously, the analysis is only as good as the validity of those ratings. And I am — to put it mildly — skeptical of how valid such ratings could possibly be, especially in terms of supporting the authors’ hypothesis.

Name perception is a tricky thing. It’s formed by a lot of factors, sound and association being the biggest. I felt fairly confident that most people reading this would agree that Angelica is a more feminine name than Jean: it’s got more syllables, an ‘a’ ending, and the word ‘angel’ contained in it. Those are three big markers of femininity that add up to a pretty indisputable trend in how we’re likely to perceive it. But what about, say, Flossy and Edith? Alma and Ione? Erin and Sandy? In each of those pairs of names, which do you think is more feminine? How easy is it for you to judge? I’ll put the answers according to the authors in white text: (Edith, Alma, Sandy) Is that what you’d have said?

I did a little quick and dirty experiment on my facebook wall, asking friends to rank five names from the list in order of least to most feminine. The names were Erin, Sandy, Barbara, Cleo, and Ginger. After 13 respondents (I SAID it was quick and dirty) I tallied up my results. One thing I noticed was that absolutely no one ranked all five names the same way. Ginger was always in the top 3, Erin always in the bottom 3, but the others were all over the map. Sandy was particularly interesting: 5 of my respondents ranked it as a 1 (least feminine), and 5 ranked it as a 4 or 5. When the scores were averaged it ended up ranked right in the middle.  Grease-sandy I was curious about Sandy because I think of it as an androgynous name that’s used mostly for females, and thus on a 1-11 scale of masculinity/femininity, I’d rate it around a 7. The study authors rated it at 9, solidly in the middle of the feminine category, above names like Florence, Jeanne, Connie, and Opal. One person suggested that it’s an association with Sandy from Grease which leads to a more feminine impression of the name. So some people hear “Sandy” and think Olivia Newton-John, while others hear it and think, “Probably a girl but could be a boy.”

Interestingly, when I averaged my respondent’s ranking of each name, I came up with the exact same order that the study’s ratings of each name gave: Erin, Cleo, Sandy, Barbara, Ginger. Although none of my friends ranked them in exactly that order, the average matched neatly with the names’ order in the study. So yes, while individual ratings of a name may differ considerably, the aggregate impression over a large group of people might be stable.

But the question then comes in, which large group of people? If there’s one thing you can say definitively about name perceptions, it’s that they change dramatically over the years. Names like Florence, Mildred, Bertha, and Edith were once considered youthful, fresh, sweet names for a baby girl. Now they conjure up an image of a grandma or great-grandma. I think of Ashley, Stephanie, Jennifer and Samantha as normal feminine, young-woman names, but they’re on the cusp of becoming mom names, the kind of names that Barbara, Carol, and Donna are to me. Our impression of a name is profoundly tied to the generation we were born in. And this is important to assessing the study because the whole argument is based on the assumption that people’s subconscious impressions of a name — and specifically its masculinity or femininity — are shaping their behavior.

I don’t doubt for a minute that the name given to a hurricane gives people a qualitative impression of it, based on how they normally think of that name. Names shape how we see things and people; that’s why I find them so fascinating. But the impression I have of Hurricane Carol now is very different than the impression a community in 1954 would have had of Hurricane Carol. In 1954, most Carols were in their teens and twenties. Carol then was something like Madison today, just in terms of when it became popular and was being commonly used.

I assume that the study authors’ name ratings were obtained by asking a (hopefully large and diverse) sample of people to rate the names on femininity and masculinity. If they did their job right, they also checked their ratings for validity among a few different groups of people. Even if they did, though, that doesn’t mean the ratings are valid when applied to the specific people relevant to their hypothesis: the community of people that was responding to news of an incoming hurricane.

In fact, when it comes to earlier decades, we can be pretty confident that they aren’t: the entire cultural milieu, the people that were associated with a name, and the names that people thought sounded perfect for their baby girls and boys were entirely different.

Barbara then.
Barbara then.

Barbara Walters 512
Barbara now.

None of this disproves the study. It’s possible that perceptions of a name’s “femininity” remain stable over time even while the images of what kind of person goes with that name shift decade by decade. But in my view there is not nearly enough evidence that this is the case, and some good reasons to think that it may not be.

I also question how valid the correlation is between masculinity-femininity rating and associated deaths based simply on the distribution of names on the masculinity-femininity scale. The names tend to cluster at one end of the scale or the other, with the overwhelming majority lying up at the feminine end. There are 25 names in the bottom half of the scale, rated between 1 and 6: all but 3 of these are rated between 1 and 3. So the bottom half of the scale has fewer names and they’re heavily weighted toward the low end.  There are 58 names in the top half of the scale, 46 of which are rated between 8 and 10. So the top half has over twice as many names, and they’re weighted toward the top end but nearer the middle than on the masculine side of things. There is only one name each in the 3, 4, and 5 zones, and only three in the 6. Hopefully the authors did some fancy math to correct for any effects that this grossly uneven distribution might have contributed to, but without seeing the study I don’t know, and I remain skeptical.

TL;DR

As best I can tell from what’s available to me, the criticisms of the original study by Jeff Lazo are sound. Hurricanes did kill more people on average in the era of all-female names than since then. The authors’ counter-argument that they also found an effect of relative femininity of a name depends on fine-tuned rankings of a name’s femininity and masculinity, the validity of which I’m highly skeptical. It is possible that the authors’ contention is true and that the name given to a hurricane impacts people’s preparedness level, to an extent that its effect is noticeable over the other relevant factors (media coverage, economic issues, etc.) but it is not sufficiently demonstrated by the study thus far.

PolySkeptic jewelry!


That emptiness in your life? Those feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and lack of shiny things?

Logo_smallDo you love PolySkeptic.com?

Do you absolutely love our logo?

Don’t you wish you could strut, proudly, through the streets of your town showing everyone how awesomely cool you are?

Finally, a solution has come. Finally, you can wear polyskeptic jewelry.

You can get them as earrings:

earrings

Also, you could just get it as a pendant, a bracelet charm, or possibly as some sort of genital decoration if you ask nicely. I’m not telling you what to do with yours, but you can’t do anything with them unless you act now!

Oh, you might want to know where to get them. For that, you will need to go over to LoveInfinitelyGifts, specifically this page:

Get your Poly Skeptic/Poly Atheist Charm Earrings today!

I’m not telling you what I’m going to do with mine, because this is a family show.  But whether or not you are going to cringe or get all hot and botehred while pondering that, you will need a pair or two for all of the atheist, polyamorous skeptics in your life.

Objecting to Objectivism: Ethics as an Epiphenomenon


OK, I give up on the analysis of Ayn Rand. It’s repetitive, annoying, and it’s not getting us anywhere. Ayn Rand was a terrible philosopher, she should not be taken seriously, and selfishness simply cannot be the basis for anything ethical. So, instead, let’s look at some idea which might actually get us towards an objective ethics.objectivism

Or, more precisely, an intersubjective ethics.

 

Why not objectivism?

Clearly, Rand’s rationalized whims dubbed objective was a philosophical failure. Her system was egoism in disguise, a projected set of values onto the tapestry of the universe. In the end, it was no different from Plato’s ironic projection of his thoughts onto the outside of the cave (ironic because it was the very phenomenon of projection that he thought he was correcting). Ayn Rand thought her selfish values were universalizable.

But beyond Rand’s particular brand of “Objectivism”, there is a further problem with moral objectivism as it is conceived in ethical philosophy. Here, for example, is how the distinction between objective and relativistic ethics is described on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The metaphysical component of metaethics involves discovering specifically whether moral values are eternal truths that exist in a spirit-like realm, or simply human conventions. There are two general directions that discussions of this topic take, one other-worldly and one this-worldly.

If you read the rest of that section, you will see this distinction played out between immutable objectively true moral codes or values pitted against either individualistically derived or culturally maintained sets of ideas which are dependent upon human thought. Here are a couple snippets from that page:

Proponents of the other-worldly view typically hold that moral values are objective in the sense that they exist in a spirit-like realm beyond subjective human conventions. They also hold that they are absolute, or eternal, in that they never change, and also that they are universal insofar as they apply to all rational creatures around the world and throughout time.

Technically, skeptics did not reject moral values themselves, but only denied that values exist as spirit-like objects, or as divine commands in the mind of God. Moral values, they argued, are strictly human inventions, a position that has since been called moral relativism…. In addition to espousing skepticism and relativism, this-worldly approaches to the metaphysical status of morality deny the absolute and universal nature of morality and hold instead that moral values in fact change from society to society throughout time and throughout the world. They frequently attempt to defend their position by citing examples of values that differ dramatically from one culture to another, such as attitudes about polygamy, homosexuality and human sacrifice.

Ever since I started reading philosophy, around the age of 14 or so, something about this distinction bothered me. It bothered me so much that my MA thesis was geared around the ontological aspects of this same distinction, as it pertained to the relationship between science and religion (ontology, to be more specific) especially.

I have come to conclude (tentatively, of course) that this philosophical dichotomy–whether between ontological realism or anti-realism, objectivism or relativism, etc–is a kind of cognitive splitting. And sure, I’m aware that many thinkers have existed in the many grey areas between such extremes, but I feel that defining the problem in such dichotomies isn’t helping and perpetuates us thinking of these questions in terms of ethics being either objective or relative, when it might be neither.

I believe that there is a nuanced and subtle way to appeal to the cognitive, emotional, and social advantages of both objective morality and relativism. If this approach is sufficiently powerful, it could establish a metaethical, normative, and potentially applied ethical way of thinking which achieves the best of both worlds, as it were, without sacrificing either reality or the sense of shared values. That is, such an approach may satisfy our desire for consistency and meaning which objectivist approaches provide, while at the same time allowing our individual subjective experiences to not be truncated by proposed “objective” truths which those experiences might contradict.

Truth, after all, must rise out of subjective experience and be weeded out by empirical methodologies. Truth is not derived from meditating on universal imaginary worlds, revelation from gods, or ideologies. Truth is the thing that individual people conceive of and offer to the rest of us to test, criticize, and perhaps accept as worthy of adoption. We should think of whims, values, and ethical preferences the same way.

The parts of us that are attracted to the certainty of an objective moral foundation, whether from religion, reason, etc, look for a way to project our individual experiences, values, and conclusions onto the world. It creates the illusion that our values are not merely opinion. But the parts of us which recognize the diversity and (often) contradictory nature of those subjective experiences will balk at the possibility of there being an objective reality to ethics. Whether people see this subjective diversity as the source of evil, chaos, or mere inefficiency, it creates a problem in establishing any shared ethics.

Whether we feel compelled to myopically obsess over our own values and desires or to altruistically sacrifice for the sake of the whole (as well as all the grey areas in between, of course) are one type of approach to addressing this problem, but it is not the only way.

 

Ethics as an emergent property of society

There is no Platonic world of Ideas, divine creator, or some other objective source of moral conclusions or values. Moral values only make sense within the scope of a plurality of sentient beings who interact, and it is only with such beings that questions of harm, welfare, rights, etc can become relevant. This, to most, might seem to imply that any conversation about morality must be relativistic, subjectivist, and possibly ultimately selfish or nihilistic in nature.

Oh Jack chick....
Oh Jack Chick….

And it is certainly possible to construct a normative ethic which stays within this realm of relativism. Ayn Rand did it (poorly), Nietzsche did it (brilliantly, but often misunderstood), and there are many others to choose from. But if we remain convinced of and mired in the realm of relativism, problems arise related to whose subjective whims to follow (if we should follow any, of course) and how to proceed with establishing guidelines, social rules, or even laws. If there is no objective source, how can we escape pure, selfish, ethical egoism?

This has been the lament of many moralists, and not only from religious conservatives. Their arguments are sophomoric and trite, but they are obviously hitting on an issue with cognitive, emotional, and social weight because it keeps working. The lament of meaninglessness, poignantly illustrated by Dostoevsky with his claim that without god “all is permitted,” is trotted out frequently by those terrified of subjectivism and  relativism.

And relativists of all stripes will attempt to respond with other meaningful values. Some might say that we can and should create our values. We can get together, agree on some basic principles and rules, and decide to abide by it or face whatever consequences we also agreed to. Social contract theory, in essence, is where potentially conflicting and disagreeing people agree on how to run our lives as a group.

Some might point to an ideal as a sort of agreed upon arbitrary replacement for the idea of an objective source. It would be sort of like creating an idol, giving it qualities, and asking everyone to try and emulate this idol. In the absence of a clear objective source, we idolize either a person (which we might deify), an idea (such as democracy, freedom, etc), or even a set of traditions which define who we are, how we behave, and who we demonize. We often do all of these things to various degrees.

All of these approaches necessitate that we utilize our subjective perspectives in some manner. But because they emerge as private experience, walled away from the rest of the world behind a veil of subjectivity, does not mean that we have to conclude that morality is a selfish enterprise. In fact, if we remain behind those walls, then we cannot do ethics at all. The ideas have to come from us, ultimately, but we have to use our ability to communicate, understand, and agree to implement any of these ideas as ethical constructs.

The usual suspects
The usual suspects

While such a set of values would grow out of subjective soils, it would either live or die in the real, intersubjective, world based upon how well it survives the trials of communication, interaction, and contradictions between other individuals and ourselves. A selfish whim or value will either work as a shared value, or it will not. No one individual can decide this alone (although individuals may articulate it better), because whether it works is not subject to any one person (or even a set of persons who happen to accidentally agree), but to how the value supervenes on the group.

When a value is presented by a person to a group, society, or even all of sentient life, it can be evaluated in a different environment from which it grew. As this idea moves away from individuals and towards the diversity of subjective opinions, it will either survive as a value which can be shared, or it won’t. No matter how well this value suits a person, or even a small group of like-minded individuals, if it cannot be applied to the group then its value as a moral foundation or value may be weak.

If you cannot show how the idea which you value in your life among yourself, friends, or family, is useful or helpful to everyone then it might not be a value which most people can share. My (hypothetical) selfish interest to do whatever I want, and not care about the desires of others, cannot be a shared value because there is a logical contradiction to applying it to the group. The idea is self-refuting when applied to the ethically relevant group;society.

 

Kant and the Scientists

Much like Kant’s categorical imperative, if the value a person presents to the world cannot provide value to the group, then the idea may be useless and possibly amoral (if not down right immoral). The philosophical and scientific study of ethics is, therefore, an epiphenomenon of subjectivist, relativistic, preferences.  But rather than remaining at that limited and myopic level of description, looking at the effects of introducing those subjectivist preferences to the group dynamic creates an emergent property, ethical philosophy, which acts as a sieve for what moral principles are valid for consideration.

Thus, it does not create an objectivist ethic, because such a thing is impossible. It creates, however, a level of description which acts very much like objectivity in relation to our minds. It is a reality outside of us, but it was created by our collective effort, communication, and understanding. Being intersubjective, it is always being revised and updated just like a scientific theory.  The strength of its propositions is directly related to how well it survives criticism and attempts to sink it.

It is not selfish, because selfishness is incapable of the relevant understanding and concern necessary to create the conversation which could sustain it. It is not absolute, because it is subject to actual circumstances which might change. It adjusts to our preferences, values, and thus is perfectly suited for progression and improvement as our understanding of ourselves, the world, and communication is improved.

It is also not relativistic. It is not culturally relative because all cultures have to deal with the realities of the facts about human psychology, harm, and the inter-related aspects of human existence. All cultures are subject to the same reality, and merely having the mass opinion that, for example, slavery is acceptable does not survive the larger skeptical, empirical, and rational analysis of the effects of slavery on people. It’s also not relativistic in the sense of being a matter of whims, because being subjected to scrutiny from any and all people erases that.

It is, however, skeptical and scientific. While this approach begins as individual subjective preferences, just like with other questions about the nature of reality it gets exposed to other people who will try to demonstrate problems with those ideas. Morality, values, and meaning are not ontologically different from other facts. The facts about how I feel, why I feel that way, etc are empirical questions. Once we realize that we are talking (when talking about ethics) about how to best implement ideas about how to behave in relation to other people, the question is one of doing the empirical work to find out how my feelings interact with the feelings of other people.

Because if I accept the reality that other people exist, have similar types of internal experiences as I, and that I’m capable of figuring out some things about those feelings, preferences, and whims, then ethics becomes a philosophical puzzle about how best to arrange guidelines, rules, or laws about how to interact which maximizes the experience of people. And then we can pull in questions of consequences, best habits and personality traits, and fairness (among other considerations) in order to figure out the details.

Ethics is an enterprise for science. Just like with facts about the nature of reality, it starts with subjective experiences and through epiphenomenal processes the emergent property of true things comes about(ideally). But for it to work we all have to be willing to be wrong, especially about our own values. Our preferences, even if they are working for us, might be better supplanted by other values (in some cases). We cannot allow ourselves to rationalize our selfish preferences as a fundamental value. We cannot allow self-justification, groupthink, or tribalism to convince us that our group has superior values. If our values are hurting other people, it is very possible they are not the best values.

And, most importantly, we can not allow ourselves to idolize, deify, or even consider settled, our values. They must always be open for criticism and debate. There is no room for sacred ideals, ideologies, or tribalistic jingoism in values. The more isolated our values are, the more exposure makes them defensive or aggressive, and the less communication with alternatives exists, the less powerful those values will be.

Ethics is not merely relative and it is not objective. But it can be shared as an intersubjective reality and it can draw from our most personal experiences and values. In the end, ethics cannot rely on either any ultimate reality or personal preference; it must rely on reality potentially telling us that our preferences might be harmful and in need of alteration.The truth points to itself, but the truth is also not written in stones, ideals, or hearts. It is only written, collectively, in the great conversation which I hope we all keep having.

 

 

Loved ones of loved ones


This post by the always-excellent Captain Awkward got me thinking. It’s about an adult daughter whose parents began a polyamorous relationship with a third woman, who now lives with them (the parents, not the daughter). The parents and new partner are all trying to get the adult daughter to develop a close relationship with the new partner, and the daughter is balking. I think the Captain’s advice is sound, and I appreciate that she mostly approaches it like any step-parent relationship, which in essence it is, while also giving a nod to the fact that the non-monogamy aspect is playing a role in the daughter’s reactions. I don’t want to talk about that situation in particular, but it got me thinking about the larger question of what is reasonable and unreasonable to expect when it comes to our families and our partners, especially when we have more than one.

Some people would argue that it makes no difference whether we have one partner or multiple partners; our families should treat them all the same way. I have sympathy for the argument but I think it omits a lot of complicating factors. Even setting aside families that flat-out disapprove of non-monogamy (which is its own can of worms to deal with), the reality is that our culture has some deeply engrained assumptions about what love and commitment and exclusivity mean. For most of us, it took a fair amount of mental and emotional work to overcome those in ourselves; it is unreasonable to expect our families to just dump all their engrained beliefs about non-monogamy and behave the way we want them to from the get-go. And especially if our relationship was monogamous or de facto monogamous for some years, they likely have a level of investment in our first partner, and are going to have weird, complicated feelings about the way a new partner fits in. So I think there needs to be some delicacy in how we handle our family’s relationships with poly partners.

I have also, for a long time, said that in-law relationships are the best analogue we have for metamour relationships, in a lot of cases. We’re connected to somebody primarily on the basis that we both love and are loved by the same person; beyond that, we may have a lot in common and be great friends, or we may grate on each other at every encounter. The tools for handling in-law and metamour relationships are often similar.

With all that in mind, I want to lay out what I feel like are a reasonable set of expectations for how we treat loved ones of loved ones, whether we’re connected to them by blood, romance, or just intimate friendship. I’m going to first lay out my outline of what I think we are and are not obligated to do with regard to our loved one’s loved ones. Then I’ll dig deeper into the thoughts and principles that back these obligations. This post is going to be very general in addressing relationships of all kinds, and in a following post, I’ll write about specific situations that add an extra layer of difficulty or complexity, such as jealousy and differing values or beliefs.

With loved ones of loved ones, I believe we are obligated to:

  • acknowledge that person’s place in our loved one’s life
  • make an initial effort to get to know and like them; if the relationships last for many years, make repeat efforts every few years or so if the first ones didn’t take
  • do our best to understand the good things that that person brings to our loved one’s life, and even if we can’t understand it, accept that there must be some
  • accept with grace their presence at events our loved one is hosting or that are in our loved one’s honor, such as birthdays
  • show them basic courtesy and consideration whenever we are thrown together
  • avoid speaking negatively about them to our mutual loved one, unless there is a specific problem that needs to be solved
  • give our loved one room to speak happily about them from time to time

I believe we are not obligated to:

  • actually like them or love them, or pretend that we do
  • spend one-on-one time with them or interact deeply with them
  • hear about them every day or every time we see our loved one
  • accept their presence at events we are hosting or that are in our honor

Obviously, most of these are bare minimums, designed for situations when we and the other loved one don’t get along. For the most part, I think they apply even when the other loved one is not behaving well; when they’re openly hostile or passive-aggressive toward us. In those cases, the mutual loved one may have some responsibility to intervene or at least to avoid putting us in the position of having to see much of each other.

photo by flickr user Paul TownsendRelationships are not just between two people; most of our relationships exist in a communal context of some kind. We see our friends and families in groups at parties, holidays, vacations, weddings. There’s a particular joy in being surrounded by multiple people you love and like, whether it’s three people or thirty. Even my introverted self delights in the feeling of connection and support when I’m with people who all know different pieces of me, who are all there for me in different ways. When everybody in a room is getting to enjoy the same feeling — “Here I am, surrounded by people I love and like and who love and like me” — that’s real community, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. Just because I love Alex and Bryce doesn’t mean Alex and Bryce will like each other, or even be able to stand each other. When my loved ones don’t like each other, it means that for me to be surrounded by the people I love, at least some of those people have to be spending time with someone they dislike.The more intimate and prolonged the setting (and the greater the dislike), the harder a burden this is on them. So a balance needs to be struck.

photo by flickr user Halo EfektiIn general I believe that we should do what we can to make our partners happy — but not to the extent of abandoning our own sense of self or making ourselves miserable. This is why I say that we should make an initial effort to get to know and like loved ones of loved ones, and should make repeated efforts over the years if the first one didn’t go well. People grow and change, and two people that clash horribly at 20 may able to be great friends at 35. If we can give our loved one the gift of liking the other people they love, we should do so. (Usually the reason we might resist this, and develop an antagonistic relationship with someone we would normally like, has to do with jealousy of some kind, which I’ll talk about in the follow-up post to this.)

However, I’m pretty ferociously in favor of people’s right to feel the way they feel, and not be pressured — by themselves of others — to fake or force feelings just for someone else’s convenience and happiness. If you don’t like someone, you don’t like them, and piling on guilt and obligation isn’t going to make those feelings go away. Your loved one’s love for someone shouldn’t compel you to spend massive amounts of time in their company.

In most cases, I think it’s fair that I should get to have the people I love most near me at important, celebratory occasions that are about me, and that they should all make the effort to make the experience as pleasant and free of strife as possible: thus the obligations to accept the presence of our loved one’s loved ones at such events, and to show them basic courtesy. (The possible exception to this is when there’s a deep history of hurt between the two outlying loved ones, such as a divorce or breakup. I’ll discuss that situation more in the follow-up post.)

At the same time, Alex and Bryce should get to celebrate their important events and milestones surrounded by people that they love and like, and it’s unkind for me to impose them on each other if they strongly dislike each other, especially if it’s a very small gathering where they’ll have a harder time avoiding each other.

In US culture, at least the part of it that I inhabit, there’s a very strong pattern of viewing people who are married, living together, or long-term monogamous partners as a social unit. If one person is invited to a thing, the other one is assumed to be invited as well. In many circles, in order to have a party or group event with one half of a couple and not the other, you have to designate it a “girls’ night” or “guys’ night” — which doesn’t work so well if the couple are the same sex, or if the friend group isn’t segregated into men and women. I have a whole host of thoughts on the social unit trope, which I’d like to write about separately, but in brief: I’d love to see the assumption that people have to travel in pairs loosened, for a whole host of reasons. It sucks for poly people, at least those not using a primary-secondary model, and it sucks for single people, and it sucks for loved-ones-of-loved-ones everywhere who don’t really want to spend an evening together but can’t let go of the assumption that an invitation to one person must include an invitation to their partner.

Going back to the the list of obligations: for many of us, part of having a close relationship with someone is sharing what’s on our mind, what’s exciting and interesting and important to us. And in many cases that involves talking about another person we care about — whether it’s “Jamie did the nicest thing the other day” or “Kim and I keep fighting about this one thing.” This is normally not an issue, but when the person we’re talking to hates Jamie or Kim, suddenly it’s a huge deal. Even if they want to be supportive, they’re going to have to be managing their own feelings about Jamie or Kim while listening. Again, a balance needs to be struck between “I can’t ever talk about Kim because Jamie hates hearing it” and “Every time I hang out with you it’s Kim this and Kim that!” Where exactly the balance falls is something that should perhaps be explicitly negotiated and discussed.

Another thing that makes these relationships fraught is the implicit value judgement in saying, “I dislike this person that you love.” Are we saying that we think their judgement and taste in friends is lacking? Even if we don’t mean that, are they going to think we do? Saying something like, “I don’t know how you can stand Dallas,” or “I don’t know what you see in Shelby,” can come awfully close to saying “What’s wrong with you that you like this person?” And “what’s wrong with you that you feel X?” is pretty nearly always damaging to hear from a loved one.

photo by flickr user Jorge BernalSo while I think it’s important to own and acknowledge our feelings about our loved one’s loved ones, whether they’re positive or negative, I also think we need to be careful not to make the false jump from “I dislike Jamie” to “Jamie is a sucky person.” A key hallmark of maturity is being able to separate personal, subjective feelings from objective realities. To say that another person is unbearably annoying is true, as long as I’m only making a claim about their effect on me. I can find someone unbearably annoying, while someone else finds them funny and adorable, and neither of us has to be wrong. Even with more arguably objective traits, such as how self-centered or intelligent or polite a person is, we each have our own priority list of the things that make someone likeable and worth spending time with, and our lists will likely not match perfectly with our loved one’s lists.

This is why I say we should make an effort to understand and appreciate what our loved one values in the other person. If you’re like me, it’s really fun to spend time doing the, “Oh, I see, to YOU it’s really important that someone be self-aware and socially skilled, while I don’t really care about that as long as they’re kind and well-meaning” kinds of calculations with your loved ones. You get to figure out what qualities are important to you in your friendships and what’s important to your friends in their friendships, and how all those things dovetail and intersect. Even if dissecting personalities isn’t a hobby of yours, it’s worth taking the time and effort to notice at least a few positive qualities in the loved ones of people you love. It helps build a barrier against the resentment you might feel at the way this person hits your own personal buttons, it protects both you and your loved one from feeling like your dislike of that person is a negative pronouncement on your loved one, and — most importantly to me — it exercises your understanding that your loved one is a distinct person from you, with values and needs and interests that are different from yours, and that you need to be able to acknowledge and honor those things if you are going to love them effectively.

 

Dan Fincke hits the nail squarely, again


DanI have been reading and thinking about issues surrounding cultural narratives (of misogyny, for example), mental health, and personal responsibility a lot, lately. In the wake of the Elliot Roger mess, the blogosphere is rife with arguments about whether mental illness or misogyny are primarily to blame. Personally, I think that distinguishing these two, clearly, is not always an easy task. Destructive cultural narratives grab a hold of the parts of us consistent with mental disorder, and mental disorder exacerbates those cultural tropes.

I have not had enough motivation to dive in and add my thoughts, and so I have been doing a fair amount of lurking, rather than writing, on this topic. Luckily for me, Dan Fincke is here to help sort it out, because he does so much better than I could. Go and read the whole thing. It’s well written, thoughtful, and even touches some issues I’ve been thinking and writing about concerning mental health, recently.

Here’s a couple of samples that resonated with me:

We need to be much less interested in throwing people in bins of “rational” or “crazy” and deal much more with the complexities of real people’s brains. And the mentally ill and those with other disorders need treatment and compassion and accommodation so that they are as empowered to live as quality lives as possible. They don’t need demonizing and false mental links forged between homicidal rampages and their maladies.

Toon Background.037I have been thinking about this myself, recently.  Because no, our disorders are not excuses, but they are real phenomenon with causes and effects. When someone is struggling near you and you don’t make any effort to understand, empathize, and accommodate to some extent in order to create a safe, nurturing environment for them, then the struggles we have with mental illness will only be exasperated.

People with mental health concerns don’t need coddling, mere tough love, or demonization. We need empathy, support, truth and we need appropriate space to grow, heal, and thrive. In my experience, too many people are unable to give all of these things. To fail in this regard is to perpetuate the cultural failure of dealing with mental illness appropriately. Individual behavior supervenes into culture, both in terms of the families we create and the societies we share.

This is why Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative is so powerful (even if it is limited); if you want to act in a selfish way which does not make the world better, you are part of the problem. If you defend a philosophical position of selfishness (*cough* Ayn Rand *cough*) and are not willing to give of yourself, to accommodate to those near you,or to really listen, then you are part of the problem. If we seek a world with better mental health, more social justice, and one where groupthink, tribalism, and self-justification are minimized, we must be willing to be compassionate and, in some cases, accommodating.

I especially like Dan’s discussion about Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment in context to all of this.

The worst possible response to this is to suffer ressentiment as our reaction. As Nietzsche characterized the concept of “ressentiment” it’s when you cannot have something good and it makes you so envious and enraged that you attack its very value.

Especially this distinction:

What many men seem to fear in feminism is that it’s “bitter women who adopt a female supremacist ideology based on their bad experiences with a few men”. They accuse it of being an overcorrection based on a man-hating ressentiment. Hence the #notallmen meme. “Not all men are like that” doesn’t serve as a useful reminder not to pathologize all men and all of men’s sexuality in an overcorrection against predatory forms of it, which is a fine and important qualifier in criticisms. Instead “not all men” is often said in such a way as to say, “there is nothing wrong with our culture’s ideas about gender and there is nothing for me to introspect about, a few bad apples don’t spoil the bunch”. This conveniently would get almost all men off the hook from having to learn anything or do anything different in response to the complaints of women. (As an atheist critic of theistic religions, I constantly have to deal with the equivalent “get out of self-criticism free” card “Not all religious people are like that!” waved in my face all the time.)

and this,

Arguments against the word “feminism” are often coupled with declarations of egalitarianism. They are essentially saying, “we should just be concerned with equality and not with the needs of women in particular“. Yet, the reason feminists think there’s no contradiction in being focused on women as a means to equality is because there are a number of ways that women are specifically treated as unequal and subordinate socially, morally, and politically in our culture and around the world. There is special attention to women in particular because women’s equality is missing in particular.

which is similar to a point I was making a while back in response to this post by Evid3nc3, which I still disagree with.

And, of course, any time the Stoics are brought in, I swoon a bit. Because, well, I’m a nerd. Shut up!

As the Stoics rightly teach us it is only a source of misery to put our own feelings of self-worth up to the opinions of others to control. If you are dependent on other people liking you in order to like yourself, you’re making yourself vulnerable to something you cannot control. And no amount of raging and domineering towards the people you feel are withholding their approval from you will solve the problem. You need to focus on what true personal excellences look like and cultivate those.

This is especially relevant to my disorder, and this point is brought up repeatedly in writing about BPD. I will do what I can to take these words to heart. For me, a consistent self-worth is hard to maintain. I need to remind myself, every day, that people love me. In time, I will be able to do this on my own (and I will hope to receive it from others as well), but when times are tough, I rely on validation from others quite often.

And, of course, the payoff:

In a secular culture we need to take active responsibility for shaping our own norms and values rationally. We shouldn’t be deferring to common sense–it’s riddled with harmful prejudices. We shouldn’t be dangerously rehearsing outmoded and unfair biases. We should all feel ourselves to be actively responsible for exactly what values and norms we perpetuate. We should all scrutinize them for flaws and work to fix them. We all need to feel responsible to do this. We all need to feel responsible to have constructive discussions with other people we influence and who influence others. Yes, all men need to do this.

I cannot agree more. Thanks Dan!