Angola and Atomization

Quick excerpt from God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana’s Angola Prison:

Before the rodeo [Terry Hawkins] had graduated out of the fields to the position of fry cook. It was better than being A.D.H.D. (A Dude with a Hoe and a Ditch)–after stirring fried rice or flipping hotcakes on a sove ten feet long, he could grill hamburgers, bag them, and stuff them down his pants to sell in the dorm. Sometimes he snuck out with fried chicken under his shirt and cuts of cheese in his socks. Payment came in cigarettes, the prison’s currency. Later he would stand outside the canteen, and trade a few packs for shampoo or soap or deoderant, or “zoo-zos”–snacks of candy bars or sardines. He knew which guards would allow the stealing, the selling. He made sure to send them plates of fried chicken.

While reading this I thought, “This man has, at least, something to offer his neighbors. He can sell them food, something they’re grateful for. The guy with cheese in his socks and hamburgers in his pants is probably a respected member of his community.”

What do I have to offer my neighbors? I have skills, but they’re only of interest to a corporate employer, my boss. I don’t make anything for sale. I can’t raise a barn or train a horse, and even if I could, my neighbors don’t need these services. Even if I had milk for sale from my personal cow, my neighbors would still prefer to buy their milk at the grocery store.

All of these needs that we used to fill by interacting with our neighbors are now routed through multinational corporations that build their products in immense sweatshops in foreign countries.

I don’t even have to go to the store to buy things if I don’t want to–I can order things online, even groceries.

Beyond the economic, modern prosperity has also eliminated many of the ways (and places) people used to interact. As Lewis Mumford recounts (H/T Wrath of Gnon):

The Bible would have been different without public wells

To sum up the medieval dwelling house, one may say that it was characterized by lack of differentiated space and differentiated function. In the cities, however, this lack of internal differentiation was offset by a completer development of domestic functions in public institutions. Though the house might lack a private bake-oven, there was a public one at the baker’s or the cook-shop. Though it might lack a private bathroom, there was a municipal bath-house. Thought it might lack facilities for isolating and nursing a diseased member, there were numerous public hospitals. … As long as the conditions were rude–when people lived in the open, pissed freely in the garden or the street, bought and sold outdoors, opened their shutters and let in full sunlight–the defects of the house were far less serious than they were under a more refined regime.

Without all of the little, daily things that naturally brought people into contact with each other and knit them into communities, we simply have far fewer reasons to talk. We might think that people could simply make up for these changes by inventing new, leisure-oriented reasons to interact with each other, but so far, they’re struggling:

Americans’ circle of confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at DukeUniversity and the University of Arizona.

“The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology at Duke University and one of the authors of “ Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades.” …

It compared data from 1985 and 2004 and found that the mean number of people with whom Americans can discuss matters important to them dropped by nearly one-third, from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004.

Researchers also found that the number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent. The survey found that both family and non-family confidants dropped, with the loss greatest in non-family connections.

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t trust most people, and most people have given me no reason to trust them.

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Happy 200 Posts! Come join the party

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It’s a sedate party, I admit. But the canapes are delish.

There are two themes to this fairly open thread: How I Came to Be Me and Your Favorite Posts

It’s funny, but way back when I began typing little theories about human behavior into my graphing calculator during highschool math, I had no idea that the whole topic matter was taboo. Actually, I didn’t even believe in evolution back then–at least, I was pretty sure that evolution was a thing that Christians were not supposed to believe in. Nebraska Man and all that, you know. So I didn’t think of my theories as having anything to do with evolution, just “things that made sense.”

I remember one of them, on the symbolic/physical importance of sharing food among friends. For me to take some of my food and give it to you both helps ensure your continued existence, and decreases my my chances of existing. To give a friend a french fry or cookie from one’s own lunch tray was a sign of valuing the friend’s life enough to be willing to risk a threat to one’s own life to help the friend. This was the symbolism, I wrote, underneath both the importance of ritual food sharing with strangers–bread and salt in Russia, the inviting of people to tea or dinner–and more elevatedly, Eucharistic communion itself: the giving of Christ’s literal life, blood and body in the breaking of bread and giving of it to his disciples, ensuring their lives continued by ending his own.

Years later, when highschool days had largely faded from my mind, I was reminded rather vividly of this essay when a new Jewish friend promptly escorted me to their home and set out a kosher dinner, a good portion of which was bread.

Since this is my party, help yourself to the metaphorical bread and salt, wine and cheese. Or coffee, if you prefer.

But back to our story. I somehow passed highschool bio and got into college, despite being more or less a Creationist, where I did all of the normal college things. Alas, college is wasted on the young. Eventually I read a book on human evolution and decided that the book sounded a lot more sensible than that anti-evolution video they’d shown us once in Sunday School. The last chapter of the book–sadly, I no longer remember the title–wasn’t about bones and teeth and people trying to figure out which skeletons were hoaxes, but the evolution of human families in which grandparents exist. Now, sure, all that business about australopithecines sounded reasonable enough, but that last chapter blew me away: a complex emergent behavior / idea-thing like a family could also have been created by evolutionary adaptation.

At the time, I considered myself a liberal of the most upstanding character. I did all of the good liberal things–feminist, pro-trans, fat acceptance, LGBQ friendly, Pagan friendly, anti-war, anti-meat, anti-racism, anarchist, etc.

Then came Facebook and similar systems. Since I like debating politics, I tried to write entertaining essays for my friends, and promptly lost most of my friends. I also got kicked out of my feminist community for some trivial bullshit–I think I posted a response to another poster in the wrong section of a message board.

Now, I am not stranger to internet flame wars, but by this time, the whole business was starting to grate. Friends who were basically on the same side of the political system ought to be able to discuss political details without antagonism or declaring that the other person is secretly evil. At the very least, there ought to be some trust that your friends have good hearts and are trying hard. But I lacked some of the meta-level understanding of what was going on in liberalism necessary to safely traverse these waters–for example, I thought pretty much all liberals accepted evolution as true. It turns out that they only believe in evolution when conservatives are around. Among themselves, they deny that humans have “instincts” or that gender exists, and insist that the application of evolutionary theory to the study of human behavior is actually evil.

Then something major happened: I had a kid.

I lost friends over that, too, but I realized several important things:

  1. Childbirth is absolutely horrific.
  2. There is no possible way the differences in the amount of energy/risk men and women entail to reproduce could not cause different evolutionary pressures that would lead to different optimal mating strategies.
  3. Feminist claims that parents teach their children gender roles are total bullshit.
  4. Gender is mostly nature, not nurture.
  5. Natural childbirth is a horrible idea (for the record, c-sections are also horrible and the recovery is worse.)
  6. People politicize a bunch of issues that should not be politicized.

Something non-political also happened: the baby got sick. After a week of especially sleepless nights, I figured out what was wrong and how to fix it. I remember that moment, the sudden energy that came over me: NO ONE was going to stand between me and helping my child.

When feminists speak of “empowering” women, this is the feeling they mean. The feeling that you will do whatever the hell it takes to accomplish your objectives, and no one and nothing will stop you. I don’t think you can “empower” someone. It comes from within. It comes from the evolutionary urge to protect your children.

As it turned out, no one got in my way and everyone was actually super-helpful and the whole business ended well, with a happy, healthy child. Luckily my husband is an upstanding fellow who loves his children, too. But helpfulness is not one of life’s givens.

Around this time, the whole SJW movement was picking up steam, and the “privilege” concept became an unexpected sticking point. I thought the idea was basically nonsense, and said so. I later came across a conversation between–I thought–a friend and one of my best friends. “EvolutionistX isn’t worth talking to,” said the best friend.

I didn’t break up with liberalism. Liberalism broke up with me.

It had become increasingly obvious to me that the people in these feminist and SJW communities weren’t just wrong on a few issues, but that many of them were deeply psychologically disturbed, and the politics had become a cover/excuse/justification for not getting help and dealing with their issues. Many of them, to be frank, were disconnected from reality, and pointing out that physical facts contradicted them (I don’t mean totally controversial theories like evolution, but just basic stuff,) resulted in anything from banning to death threats. Unfortunately, the memeplex was becoming increasingly dominant, infecting communities that had nothing to do with politics and were officially apolitical.

By this point, I’d learned to just keep my mouth shut, and found some new things to do with my time. My husband introduced me to Jayman’s blog, and I read every word of it. Same for Evo and Proud, the sadly defunct Neuropolitics, and West Hunter. These guys are awesome. I learned so much anthropology I hadn’t learned in anthropology class, without the post-modern bullshit and constant negativity that had infected academia. I was still vaguely afraid of talking, but at least I had some good reading material.

Shortly after, I beheld, with terrifying clarity, the abyss. Suddenly I understood why liberals hate HBD and ev psych.

My break with the left came over an obscure case: protests surrounding the death of Marshall Coulter, a teenager who climbed over a homeowner’s 6-foot fence at 2 am and then got shot in the head.

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The elites will always defend the bullies.

Now, I understand that there are some innocent excuses for being in someone’s yard at 2 am, like being so drunk that you think you’re at your own home when you aren’t, or jumping a fence for a dare, with no intention of committing any harm. But it remains, like driving 120 miles per hour or poking bears, an activity that I regard has having a very high chance of killing you, and you should not do if you do not accept those risks. You certainly do not blame the bear for eating you after you poke it.

Likewise, if you act like you are breaking into someone’s house in the middle of the night, the natural and only reasonable consequence is that home owner (or resident) kills you.

Salon weighed in, with an article about what a sweet kid Marshall was.

Protestors weighed in, claiming that Marshall was just an innocent kid who hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t deserve to die, demanding that the homeowner (who was being charged with attempted murder) be, well, charged with attempted murder.

In fact, Marshall already had a criminal past before he got shot in 2014:

  • October 2009: disturbing the peace
  • November 2012: criminal trespassing
  • December 2012: disturbing the peace
  • December 2012: burglary of an inhabited dwelling
  • March 2013: possession of stolen things and theft
  • April 2013: possession of marijuana

Ironically, the police had actually been discussing Marshall as a possible suspect in a string of recent burglaries the day before he was shot trying to burglarize someone’s house.

The attempted homicide charges were only dropped against the homeowner because Marshall recovered enough from the bullet in his head to get arrested for three more crimes:

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During the Trayvon Martin case, I had understood how someone could hear the story of a teenager walking home with a pack of Skittles and think that a great injustice had been done. This case had no such ambiguities. I realized the left had abandoned liberalism, in every traditional sense of the word. This was not about freedom; this was an explicit denial of the right of self-defense against someone intent on harming you, at least if you were white and they were black.

Every betrayal suddenly made sense. The meta-politics became clear. I felt like I finally understood everything, and I leapt into the abyss.

Around this time, my husband found Moldbug’s Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives, and I wandered into Slate Star Codex. All of the words I’d been holding in began spilling out, in a torrent, so I made this blog.

A friend of mine (if you’re reading this, hi!) had kept telling me that life is too short to worry about assholes. If I had to walk on eggshells around my other “friends,” then they weren’t my friends and I should get new friends.

Sage advice.

So here we are, 200 posts in, and people actually like my blog.

Thanks for reading, guys. I hope you like the next 200 posts.

 

I’m going to open up the floor. Tell me your stories, ask questions, or just chat. And if you feel like it, tell me your favorite posts for inclusion in the sidebar.

Black Friends and White Tears

This is a story as related to me by a white acquaintance. For the sake of narrative simplicity, I’m going to give the characters completely made-up names.

Anne had worked for several years in an office, (I don’t recall specifically what profession, but something white-collar,) where she had happily befriended several co-workers. One of these co-workers happened to be a black woman, Betty.

One day, Anne happened to overhear Betty and another black co-worker, in the breakroom, discussing interracial friendship.

“White people never have black friends,” said Betty. “Every time I hear a white person claim they have a black friend, I know they’re a racist.” The other co-worker agreed.

Anne went home and cried.

Had her friend never thought they were friends? How could anyone take her friendship as proof of racism?

White people want to have black friends; it lets them prove to themselves (and others) just how non-racist they are. It makes them feel better about themselves and assuages some portion of guilt. To have a black friend makes a white person feel like a good white person.

(As emotions go, guilt seems does not seem to function very logically.)

Black people, by contrast, have no particular desire to prove how non-racist they are.

I suspect that many black people find it really annoying when whites try too hard to befriend them.

Microaggressions and Isolation

The first time I heard the term, “micoaggression,” I thought it was brilliant. Here was a concept that succinctly encapsulated so much of my life.

Since then, the term has been worked to death in the salt mines of political whining.

I kinda hate it when particular terminology ceases to be useful because it has accreted layers of political and social signaling, such that just trying to use the term in a technical sense activates everyone’s “Oh now we’re talking about politics; let’s fight!” sub-routine.

I’m pretty sure a lot of dry, technical, long-winded language is really just an attempt to talk about stuff without triggering that sub-routine.

I seem to have said, “triggering.”

Anyway.

I understand what it is like to be one tiny person in a sea of humanity with whom you have little in common, with whom you struggle to connect on a basic level. People who make no damn sense; people who are too aggressive or too passive; people who might as well be speaking another language for all you can understand them.

I understand immigrants, hoping for a better life but stuck in a community full of people who aren’t like them. I understand adoptees, removed from the families and communities that would have made intuitive sense to them–people who perhaps couldn’t or wouldn’t take care of them, more’s the hurt. I imagine this is what it feels like to be interracial, inter-cultural, or transnational–to feel like nowhere is exactly right for you.

I understand because this is my life, too.

When I feel like I fit in, it is such a relief. My people! My kind! It doesn’t happen often.

I was not raised around most of my family. I like them, but they are still alien to me. What is it like to be raised in one culture and then go back to the culture where you were born, where your family lives, and have no idea how to interact with it? What if you have been raised with prejudices (from your adopted family or society at large) against your birth culture? What if you yourself don’t like your birth culture? How would you know the difference? How do you deal with that?

I feel more comfortable around Asian immigrants than around members of my biological family’s culture.

I took the term microaggression seriously when people first started bandying it about. At the very least, I desire to be polite to people and not annoying.

But eventually I started to wonder, if people hate being around each other so much, if people are constantly hurting each other, annoying each other, or otherwise offending them, then why be around each other?

People should be with the people they like, people they feel comfortable with. People they trust and who make them feel normal and happy. That’s what I want for myself, anyway. I assume it’s what you want for yourself. So why don’t we just let people live, work, and associate among people who make them happy, instead of forcing people among groups of people who are radically different and then yell at them for not spontaneously all acting the same?

The source of most microaggressions, in my experience, is not a conscious desire to be a jerkface to the other person, but differences in personality that cause endless friction. For example, a shy, introverted person may have difficulty dealing with loud, friendly, aggressive extroverts. The shy person finds these interactions excessively antagonistic, overwhelming, and retreats from them. The shy person does not enjoy taking to these people. The shy person who lives among a great many introverts ends up lonely, anxious, and stressed.

By contrast, an extrovert in the land of introverts finds themself constantly shut out of social events and dumped by friends for being “too loud,” “too emotional,” just too intense. Even people they like get suddenly freaked out by them and stop returning their calls. To the extrovert, these people are unfriendly and rude. The extrovert surrounded by introverts is miserable, confused, and lonely.

People who have simply moved from one part of the country to another feel this all the time. It is quite easy to find someone who would be happy in type-A, aggressive NYC, but miserable in laid-back Seattle, or vice versa. It is easy to find people who hate homogeneity and would die of boredom in a rural town, and easy to find people who can’t stand heterogeneity and just want to have simple, familiar people and things in life.

These are fundamental differences in people that I doubt can really be changed. I don’t think a shy person (over the age of 22, anyway,) is likely to transform into a loud, aggressive one. Aggressive people I know have tried to make themselves less aggressive, but just can’t. Deep down, you can’t really change who you are.

And that’s without throwing major racial, ethnic, or gender differences into the mix. (Whites from different parts of the US are genetically/ethnically different from each other; the differences are just a little more subtle.)

The modern world seems bent on forcing people together whether it makes them happy or not. Then we complain about how unhappy we are.

We should all be with the people who make us happy.