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!


In response to the Monogamous Bisexual

I am watching this video put up by Dan Fincke, which is a discussion about bisexuality amoung other things, and I am particularly interested in the point made by Eponymous Fliponymous about being monogamous and bisexual.  When I first saw the post about this issue a few days ago, I was unable to write anything because I was out of state and I subsequently got distracted by other things (ie Guild Wars 2) and forgot about writing about this.

Eponymous Fliponymous (henceforth Patrick) makes some good points, and I don’t think we would disagree too much, but I want to address something he said in the conversation that irked me a little bit.  But first, let’s cover what is being discussed in context.  From the post:

Several of the myths about bisexuality come from the common root that we are defined by our partners.  This misconception is a direct cause of bisexual invisibility, and is frequently compounded into erasure.  The common myths that come directly or indirectly from this include
1) Bisexuals are incapable of monogamy – they will cheat on you with another gender, can’t be satisfied with one partner, aren’t really bisexual if they aren’t polyamorous.

2) Bisexuality is a transitional phase rather than a stable identity – bi now, gay later.

And this is, of course, true.  To be bisexual does not imply that one would have to be polyamorous.  I would guess that many bisexual people are monamorous, if not monogamous, and it is true (as Patrick says) that it is harder to visibly be bisexual when in a relationship with one person; you appear as either heterosexual or homosexual in most circumstances.  Thus, many people would have trouble understanding what it means to be bisexual if you are not doing some sort of non-monogamy, since people do assume that our sexual orientation implies something about who we date, and monogamy certainly does cut out about half the population for bisexual people.  What I want to address, today, is why this question does not make any sense for more than the reasons that Patrick adeptly dealt with.  Because while he is dead on correct that you can be monogamous and be bisexual, I think the question still remains how this is different than asking how anyone can be monogamous even while heterosexual or homosexual.

Before we get to making that point, however, let me acknowledge that Patrick is not dealing with polyamory directly in his post.

Polyamorous bisexuals would seem to be able to make their bisexuality more visible.  This is debatable, because what they make visible by walking down the street tends to be myths about polyamory rather than about bisexuality.  In any case, polyamory isn’t my subject here. I leave that to the polyamorous, who while they certainly represent a significant segment of the LGBT population, don’t by any means represent everybody.

Very well, so here I am.  And while I define myself as heterosexual, I am close with people who are queer, trans, etc and so I know the LGBT community fairly well.  In any case, I am glad to hear that Patrick made an attempt at polyamory, but did not find it suited him.

In those early heady days of blooming sexuality, I experimented with polyamorous options, but quickly found that was not the path that works for me.  On an emotional and romantic level, monogamy suits me best. I’m one of those people who wants the intimacy and mutual trust that I can best develop in a dyadic relationship.

Now, I have some questions about what he means when he says that monogamy suits him emotionally and romantically.  I have an idea that very few people actually desire monogamy per se, but rather don’t prefer to exert the effort it takes to be polyamorous due to constraints of time, inclination, or emotional insecurities (jealousy, for example).  But I will let that go and trust him at his word that he has given this question thought and has made a rational choice.  What I will say is I think it is a myth that a dyadic relationship allows intimacy and mutual trust that a polyamorous arrangement cannot.  Perhaps Patrick (and many others) cannot develop that level of intimacy with two people, but that does not make it inherently impossible.  (I know that was not what he said, but I wanted to address this myth about polyamory).

Again, I’m glad we have more allies out there.

Nothing against polyamory – if it works for you, it works for you, and I’m the last person to judge you for it, whether your polyamory expresses itself as multiple dyads, a triad, a group arrangement with or without in-group exclusivity, gay, straight, or bi, it just doesn’t bother me.  The only reason I bring it up is that while I have (ultimately unsuccessful) polyamory in my history, it doesn’t make me poly.

Agreed.  And the rest of the post is a good assessment of the myths associated with bisexuality.

So where is my issue?

Watch the segment of this video from about 11:30 to about the 13 minute mark.  There is more relevant discussion beyond that (say, until around minute 16 or so), but that’s the essential part I want to address.

Dan Fincke is asking Patrick about whether there is something missing in being monogamous, in that there is a large segment of the population he’s attracted to which he does not have an outlet for.  He’s essentially being asked if he misses men in his sexual and romantic life.  Patrick’s response is to draw an analogy between hair color and gender.  He basically says that in the same way that his wife has brown hair, and he likes red heads, he isn’t going around lamenting the lack of red heads in his life.  This might seem to be a good point, at first glance, but let me address why I think it fails to make the point I think it sets out to make.

One of the reasons I am polyamorous is because I want to be authentic with the range of my sexuality.  And the simple fact is that I like women of various personalities, physical attributes, etc.  That is, I like red heads and I like brunettes.  As well as black hair.  Not so much blondes, historically.  I like petite curvy women.  I like tallish skinny girls.  I like other body-types as well, but the point is that I am interested in relationships, whether sexual, romantic, or friendships, with people of various kinds.  The point is that I recognize the reality that I am attracted to people, almost always women but sometimes those who gender-bend catch my interest as well, of varying shapes, sizes, and brains.  And I don’t understand why it is considered better to choose one person to be with, since that is the case.

So, Patrick’s analogy not only fell flat for me, but it seems to actually backfire from my perspective.  Patrick being bisexual, at least in the context of this question about polyamory, is equally as relevant as my being attracted to many women, so I am confused how this point he makes is supposed to make any point at all.  The same problem which needs to be addressed by monogamous heterosexual or homosexual people about why they choose monoamory is equally as relevant as with bisexuals.

That is, the issue with polyamory is no more relevant for bisexuals than it is for anyone else, since whether one is bisexual or not, people are actually interested in more than one person sexually and romantically.  (I’ll grant that some very small segment of people may be interested in nobody, and some larger, but also small segment, genuinely interested in only one person, but the overwhelming majority, I’d wager, are potentially polyamorous in inclination at least).  The question, therefore, is not how a bisexual person can be monoamorous and still really be bisexual any more than how any person of any orientation can be monoamorous and really be authentically, fully, sexual.

If (as is the thinking behind the question posed by Dan in the video) a bisexual man, married to a woman, is cutting himself off from part of his sexuality by not being with men, then not only is he also cutting himself off from other women besides his wife, but so is every other heterosexual or bisexual married man in the same situation.  If it’s a problem for bisexuals, then it is a problem for anyone who is attracted, whether romantically and/or sexually, to more than one person.  Because yes, Patrick may desire sex and/or romance with men, but this is no more to the point than a heterosexual person is capable of sexual and romantic interest in two or more people.  Patrick is in the same exact circumstance as any other monoamorous person, in terms of polyamory.  His bisexuality does not make him more relevant to non-monogamy.  The question of if we are cutting off our sexuality is true for all people who do not choose non-monogamy.

So, I agree with Patrick that this myth about bisexuality and non-monogamy is something which needs to be addressed.  I was just somewhat interested in his analogy, since it does not solve the problem so much as it misses another one; why not polyamory?

I know many people are not interested in the work it takes to be successfully polyamorous, but at bottom the same question applies to everyone as it does to bisexual people; if you are attracted to more than one (type of) person (irregardless of their genders), then why wouldn’t you want to do the work to be able to love (or lust openly for) all the people you desire, as you actually desire them, rather than arbitrarily cut yourself off from sex, romance, etc?

I understand if you don’t actually have the time or inclination to do such work, but otherwise why be so conservative sexually and romantically?