Too many thoughts, too little time

50 Shades of Fantasy

Trigger warnings for discussion of violence, rape, and abusive relationships.

I.

There has been a lot of criticism going around for the bestselling book 50 Shades of Gray. I can see where these people are coming from; when you look at the modern BDSM community, you find a lot of really good practices to protect the people who are involved in BDSM. Their motto is “safe, sane, and consensual,” which is obviously important for all sex, but it deserves the extra emphasis when the sex imitates violence of some sort.

Meanwhile, 50 Shades of Gray is this book that purports to depict a BDSM relationship but is absolutely not safe, sane, nor consensual. It depicts a relationship which is clearly abusive, with sexual escapades clearly entering the realm of straight up rape, and where the male main character basically has the female main character sign a contract of slavery.

This is a horrible standard for relationships, yes! This is an absolutely horrible standard for a relationship and nothing in this blog post should be taken as me endorsing this relationship.

But I feel like there’s kinda a missed point here. Yes, BDSM may have the motto “safe, sane, and consensual,” but for someone who sees a couple engaging in BDSM without any prior explanation, it would almost certainly appear unsafe, insane, and nonconsensual. (They were chained to the bed! And being whipped! And they screamed!)

Part of why BDSM is so enticing to many people is the same reason that there are top 10 lists for the scariest movies of all time, and the reason why games like Slender and Five Nights at Freddies elicit so many downloads that their customers crash websites.

People like seeing horror films and playing horror games because it is fun being scared. I’m not going to attempt to go into the evolutionary psychology of this, but if you remove the actual danger but keep the fear, humans will pay you money to experience that. See also: haunted houses!

People like BDSM because it is fun – no, a turn on – to experience sex that might appear to be violent and terrifying, as long as you can make it actually safe, sane, and consensual. 50 Shades of Gray is popular for the exact same reason that BDSM is; it depicts an unhealthy relationship and sex life, but people love it because there isn’t any actual danger in reading it.

II.

But wait, you cry, 50 Shades of Gray normalizes abuse in ways that BDSM doesn’t!

1) Maybe, but no more than Texas Chainsaw Massacre normalizes mass murder and cannibalism.

2) Actually, the evidence is mostly split on whether violent media makes violent crimes more or less common!

Violent videogames decrease crime, violent movies decrease crime rates on the weekends they open, and access to pronography decreases rape.

On the other hand, Violent videogames create moral disengagement and increase violence, violent movies encourage subsequent hostile behavior, and… well, the jury is actually pretty much out on violent pornography and rape rates.

I couldn’t find anything by googling it, and in my memory I’ve never seen a study that supported the idea that violent porn increased rape rates; only the opposite. (This is why we do psychology, people! Our intuitions can often be wrong!)

III.

But the weirdest part this.

I haven’t actually seen anyone take sex advice from 50 Shades of Gray! I see lots of news articles claiming that people took sex advice from it, but there are the same news sites that claimed that Sex Bracelets and Jenkem. I see lots of posts that talk about how this is normalizing abusive behavior but once again, I haven’t seen a single one of these posts link to somewhere where people are taking this seriously.

Now, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who will read the book and who will become attracted to the idea of the abusive relationship outlined in the book. I just don’t think that the average reader of this book is using it as a sex guide! Rather, they are using it as a way to explore sexual preferences that are common among people but are also stigmatized in society.

50 Shades of Gray is not an accurate description of the BDSM community. But it is a pretty good description of the fantasies that many people, who are involved with, or might be interested in, the BDSM community have.

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Punching Feminists

Note: A lot of this post will be theories, while seeming logical to me, that have zero supporting evidence. However, I don’t feel conflicted by this, as I’m pretty sure there’s no data on the subject at all.

I.

A post that popped up on my dash recently asked the somewhat disturbing question:

If men and women are to be treated equally, does that mean men are allowed to hit women?

The response on tumblr has had to this post, and to other people expressing similar sentiments, is loud, angry, and righteous. And absolutely nothing they are saying is wrong. But they also seem to be missing the point. A good example of this is the following quote:

First of all, assault is assault. I don’t care who you are or what your gender identity (ethnicity, religion, etc.) is, you shouldn’t be hitting people. It’s one of the first things we teach our children: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Use your words. Don’t hit! No one should get a free pass to assault another person.

Everything said above is completely correct. But I think that the person who wrote this is actually missing the point.

II.

Men, from a very young age, are socialized to believe that violence is an important form of social bonding. Fathers and sons, and brothers, will wrestle with each other, putting each other in headlocks, and doing other violent acts. I remember my friends in elementary school partaking in shockingly violent acts towards each other. And this persists for the entirety of their lives; you can see college aged guys fighting over something small and easily making up, even though one of them has a black eye. These sort of pseudo-violent acts are actually social interactions; they’re tests of dominance, with no hard feelings afterwards. And it’s even more prevalent in pop culture.

This is really important. These men are not assaulting each other, in either the winner’s or loser’s mind.

Women are socialized in an entirely different way. I have not enough experience with this to say with certainty, but from what I’ve picked up, women are socialized in a way that teaches them to “use [their] words” in combat, as opposed to their fists. This is also prevalent in stereotypes. Women are passive aggressive, use names, go behind each others backs, but never really physically fight. And if they do fight, it’s an immediate sign that they are utter enemies, Mean Girls style rivals.

And this dichotomy kinda makes sense. In a early human environment, which group do you want to be the good fighters? The people who spend 9 months carrying an unborn child in their torso? And so that need has carried forward through millions of years of evolution, prehistory, and history, until today when we’re beginning to realize that none of us are being hunted by saber toothed tigers anymore, and these gender roles are pretty annoying/damaging/hurtful.

But Men and Women have to interact with each other, and when that happens for the first time, this dichotomy can no longer work.

Let’s look at a hypothetical interaction between a girl and a boy on the playground.

Boy and Girl meet. Boy and Girl start to talk. Boy and Girl make friends. Girl knows what to do with friends, so she talks with him. Boy maybe thinks this is weird, but okay. Boy knows what to do with friends, so he pushes her down. Girl knows this is not what you do with friends, so Boy must not be her friend. She cries. Boy doesn’t know what he did wrong; he is scared.

At this point, Boy and Girl are separated by their teachers. Boy is told that “Boys can’t hit girls!” Girl is told that “Boys will be boys.”

This weird dichotomy of values bleeds into each other and we end up with a weird culture where we don’t punish rapists but we also think male on female violence is somehow worse than other kinds of violence.

III.

Even though it’s the boy who is initiating violence, it doesn’t mean that the blame lies with him. The blame lies with the adults, for lying to him and to her. Similarly, the blame isn’t on the person who asks if he can hit girls now, it’s on our society, for telling him that.

Both the way girls are socialized, and the way that guys are socialized is weird, one sided, and restricts the ways humans can act. It is important that we, as feminists, fight against both types of socialization.

However, most feminists are women. And thus, their expectation of “how the world should work” is informed, in part, by the female socialization they received in a sexist society. So when someone says:

No. You can’t fucking punch me. No where did it say girls can punch guys and guys can punch girls. It’s illegal to assault someone for both fucking genders.

It did say somewhere! Most men grew up in a culture that said “You can punch the people who are your friends! Wait, except girls; boys don’t hit girls.”

From that point of view, it makes a lot more sense why someone would think that equality between men and women would result in men being able to punch women. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s okay for men to punch women. What this means is that (a) people who think that aren’t automatically evil, and (b) we shouldn’t push the female socialization on anyone any more than we should push the male socialization.

I’m not saying that we should be punching everyone else all the time.

I’m not saying it should be illegal to punch your buddy whenever you want.

I’m saying you should make sure that the people you punch, as socialization, want to be punched, as socialization. (Oh look, we’ve arrived at the idea of informed consent.)

This whole misconception is based on our failure to complexly imagine the people who debate feminism. Often they have very real concerns that we simply cannot dismiss as sexism, and yet that seems to be the most common argument, serving only to shut down those who might disagree.

Even though we are trying our best to eradicate gender differences, feminists often are still biased towards things in ways that stem from sexist socializations and upbringings as women. This means that the norms that we try to enforce are not always obviously good from the point of view of people who are socialized as men.

I think that the Principle of Charity isn’t practiced enough; we need to more complexly think about those who hold contrary positions to us, and spend five minutes seriously thinking about how they could hold that position besides being plain wrong, evil, or deceived. This took me two.

Book Review: Maps of the Imagination

For generic winter gift giving holiday this year, I received a book called Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, by Peter Turchi.

It’s a pretty interesting book, and it plays on one of my favorite areas; cartography.

I love cartography. Its one of the areas that I have developed a huge fascination in ever since choosing the Robinson projection as my favorite map projection in 5th grade. (Yeah, I like compromise projections. So what?)

This book connects a lot of ideas in cartography with ideas in writing. That is, it talks about an important idea or principle in cartography, and then connects it via analogy, along with excerpts from various famous books, to important ideas and principles in writing.

A good example of this might be, for example, when Turchi mentions a concept that historians of cartography should be familiar with; the tale of Harry Beck. Harry Beck existed at a time when maps of subway systems had accurate distances between stops. That meant that all the downtown stops were extremely close together and the stops would get further and further apart with a lot of wasted space away from the center of towns, like so:

Harry realized that you don’t actually need to have this map be geographically accurate; it was a more useful map if you eliminated that restriction, and instead displayed the information like this:

If you look closely at these maps, maybe open them in new tabs, you can see that the critical information is preserved; where the lines cross each other, which places the lines go, and how to get from one place to another. But the information is a lot better presented.

And in this book, Turchi makes the analogy to writing – only include what the reader needs! If including extra information bogs down the story and makes the story less readable or understandable, then it does not need to be shown.

The book is filled with other incredible advice such as this, and many more complex analogies. If you are a fan of maps, you will learn a lot of interesting facts from this book, and maybe learn how to write. If you want to learn how to write, this books provides a very new perspective from any other help book you’ll find out there.

But in a way, the most valuable parts of the book were the snippets from and commentary on other books, from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Nabokov’s Lolita.

One highlight from the snippets is when he presents the different styles of translations of Sappho’s poems. Sappho’s poems are mostly lost, though her reputation is well notated by the literary critics of the time. However, fragments and scraps remain, and thus the difficulty is in translating these scraps into english – does one retain the gaping holes? does one attempt to close the gaps?

I often found myself reading through the nonfiction quickly in order to find the next gold nugget of prose. Not to say the nonfiction was unimportant or uninteresting. It was merely less interesting than the best excerpts from the best books that humankind has ever made – I could hardly do better. And I would force myself to go back and read through what I had skipped.

But the author of this book does have a skill for picking out amazing quotes from other stories and commenting on them in a way that makes you feel like you’re understanding a 336 page novel after reading a paragraph and an exchange of dialogue. And I feel like I have picked up a couple new writing techniques along the way.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in maps, literary analysis, or writing.

P.S. There is one factual error in the book – players of video games are not majorly male, in almost any way you define “video games”.

Slacking Off

This blog is titled “Too Many Thoughts, Too Little Time.”

And funnily enough I’ve noticed something. I’m much better at posting on this blog when I have almost no time on my hands. When I’m stressed about other things, I come here to waste time writing about completely irrelevant things to my life.

Part of me thinks that this is just my excuse to slack off; maybe I’m slacking off in a better way when I write posts for my blog, and maybe I should just try to focus on my homework. Then again, slacking off this way is certainly better than getting a new high score in Fruit Ninja’s arcade mode. (Bragging time: high score of 1245.)

Another part of me thinks that maybe it’s less direct than that. After all, when I don’t have school, I play Fruit Ninja all the time. But that sort of activity is more of a distraction from boredom than a distraction from work. Sure, maybe while I’m in school I slack off from school work by doing my blog, and over breaks I slack off from writing for my blog by playing Fruit Ninja.

But I think it’s more likely that when I’m stressed and worn out, writing for my blog helps me feel better in a way that Fruit Ninja doesn’t. I think it made my last semester in college less stressful than it could have been. I highly recommend that anyone who is looking for a stress reliever should try blogging. It helps for me.

Anyway, this whole post is basically an announcement that school starts tomorrow, and so I’ll probably be writing a whole lot more in the next few months.

Predictions for 2015

Predictions for 2015:

  1. The FCC does not classify ISPs as common carriers: 70%
  2. Obama will remain president at the end of 2015: 90%
  3. Google will not announce a self-driving car for widespread sale: 70%
  4. Neither Eric Gardner’s or Mike Brown’s killers will be convicted of any crime related to said killings: 80%
  5. At least one new US State will have same sex marriages made legal: 90%
  6. At least one US State will still prohibit same sex marriage: 60%
  7. No country will manage to secede from another via referendum in 2015: 70%
  8. The US will not fight in any new war with >100 casualties: 90%
  9. North Korea’s government will remain stable: 90%
  10. China’s government will remain stable: 90%
  11. Russia’s government will remain stable: 90%
  12. Hillary Clinton will announce her plan to seek the presidency: 99%
  13. Elizabeth Warren will announce her plan to seek the presidency: 90%
  14. Chris Christie will announce his plan to seek the presidency: 60%
  15. My main tumblr will not have more than 100 followers by the end of 2015: 80%
  16. My side tumblr, nightvalelifehacks.tumblr.com, will have more than 100 followers by the end of 2015: 70%
  17. I will not identify as religious at the end of 2015: 99%
  18. I will continue to identify as genderfluid at the end of 2015: 90%
  19. I will continue to identify as bisexual or > at the end of 2015: 99%
  20. I will not identify as a conservative by the end of 2015: 90%
  21. HPMOR will end by the end of 2015: 80%
  22. There will be no mass killing in the US >15 people: 80%
  23. No crypto currency will have a Bitcoin like success story in 2015: 90%
  24. Snowden will not come back to the US voluntarily in 2015: 80%
  25. No one will develop Turing test compatible AI in 2015, with both a human and AI contestant, and unlimited time: 99%
  26. No nuclear bombs will be detonated as an act of violence: 99%

On The Phrase ‘Gender Binary’

I wrote this entire post, and then I read On The Word ‘Queer’, which had a much better structure than my original post, so I deleted it and rewrote it like they did their post.

Unlike Ozy’s post, I don’t think that there is a huge debate in the SJW community as to who or what counts as being part of the gender binary, or who or what counts as being outside of it. But if there is an agreed upon definition, I have no idea what it is, and based on questions I’ve asked some of my friends, it isn’t quite as cut and dry as the lack of debate makes it seem.

The ‘Gender Binary’, in general and I think undisputably, refers to an archaic and outdated concept: that there are two genders; male and female. But where this definition exactly begins and ends is much more blurry than it seems. In the past, on this blog, I have only explicitly referred to people as being “outside the gender binary” if they are agender or a third gender. I have also only explicitly referred to people as being “inside the gender binary” if they are cisgendered.

So let’s go through some proposed definitions for this term and we’ll see what sticks.

Strictest Possible Definition: Historically, the only accepted sexualities were cisgendered people, cis men and cis women. Anyone who identifies as anything other than that defies historical convention, and we call the historical convention of gender and gender roles the ‘Gender Binary’.

Two Gender Definition: The ‘Gender Binary’ refers to people who identify as male or female, regardless of how they were assigned at birth. Although transgender people do defy historical gender norms, they still only identify as a single gender, and therefore are part of the ‘Gender Binary’. However, anyone who identifies as something that isn’t 100% male or 100% female is outside of the ‘Gender Binary’.

Really Weird Definition: This one is sorta contrived, but I’d believe it if someone said they thought this one was the right one. In this definition, someone is part of the ‘Gender Binary’ if they, at any given time, identify as either 100% male or 100% female. People who switch between the two cleanly are part of the ‘Gender Binary’, but people who slide between the two an experience degrees of maleness and degrees of femaleness are not part of it.

Loosest Possible Definition: Even people who identify as genderfluid between male and female, people who are transgendered, and people who identify as other in-between genders that are made of part male and female, or who identify only slightly with one or both of those genders (but not any third gender) are part of the ‘Gender Binary’. Only people who sometimes identify as a third gender, or people who identify as agender, are truly outside the ‘Gender Binary’.

Happy Holidays!

Today (23rd of December 2014) is the 7th day of Hanukkah; the 8th and last day begins tonight at sunset and ends the sunset after that.

I.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu l’had’lik neir shel Chanukah. (Amein)

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam she’asah nisim la’avoteinu bayamim haheim baziman hazeh. (Amein)

Those are the two blessings that are said every night of Hanukkah, transliterated into latin letters. The first one thanks God for sanctifying us with his commandments, and instructing us to light the Hanukkah candles, and the second one thanks God for performing miracles for our forefathers, as Hanukkah is the celebration of the time when, while trapped in a siege, God made the holy oil last for eight days instead of one, allowing the priests to perform rituals until more could be made.

Hanukkah is one of the most well known jewish holidays, especially outside of Judaism.

It is, however, one of the least important holidays in Judaism. So why is it one that almost every (especially american) jew practices? Utter simple coincidence. It’s at the same time, roughly, as Christmas, taking place almost always in December, though rarely foraying briefly into November or January (it’s synced to lunar cycles, so it isn’t a set date in the gregorian calendar). This year, (2014) it goes from the 16th to the 24th of December.

And when jews were assimilating into american culture, they found that their children were upset when their christian friends were receiving gifts every winter break. So, they took the nearest jewish holiday, Hanukkah, and gave their children gifts then, to assimilate a bit further.

II.

Time for some of my background. I am half jewish. You might think this means I have one jewish parent, and one non-jewish parent, which I do, but it goes further than that.

Judaism as a word can often refer to three different things. 1) it is a religion. 2) it is a culture that is distinct from religion in a lot of ways. 3) it is an ethnicity.

1) I consider myself an atheist. (Though more specifically my beliefs could be called, alternatively, apatheism or Explicit Weak Atheism.)

2) I identify as having grown up in a strongly jewish culture. I celebrate jewish holidays, I had a Bar Mitzvah, and I’m familiar with non-religious jewish customs.

3) I am half jewish ethnically. My father, and his side of the family, is almost 100% ashkenazi jew. (One of his brothers took a genetics test and found out you have to go back to the 6th generation to find someone who was not ashkenazi jew – but that person may have been another type of jew, such as a sephardi or mizrahi jew.) My mother comes from a mostly secular christmas family.

(0+1+.5)/3 = 1.5/3 = .5  jewish.

III.

Nevertheless, I celebrate christmas.

I have a christmas tree in my house, I give presents to my family for christmas, and they give me presents for christmas.

Why? you might ask.

Partially because my maternal grandparents want to give me gifts on christmas because that’s the holiday they grew up with. Partially because it makes my mom happy. And those are good reasons to do it, but if it weren’t for those reasons, I’d still want one.

Because if I’m going to assimilate, I want to be conscious of it. Too few jews that I know, know that Hanukkah was not originally a gift giving holiday. And I’m fine with assimilating! I’m not angry or mad at this fact. But I want to be conscious of it.

IV.

With that bit of history out of the way, I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season, or what’s left of it. And I want to invite anyone who reads this blog to celebrate Hanukkah, if they want to. If someone says, You’re culturally appropriating a tradition that isn’t yours, send them here, and ask them to leave a comment taking their dispute up with me, and not you.

To anyone who claims that this would be cultural appropriation, take a moment and ask yourself whether or not a couple of non-jews performing an alien ceremony in order to learn about it, or to derive enjoyment from it, is really something that brings about more pain and suffering in the world, or whether it will inspire more cross cultural understanding and help strengthen the brotherhood of humanity.

I’d bet on the latter, every time.