Saturday, January 25, 2003

I'm looking for a restaurant to go to with Caroline and these girls from Harvard and I saw the cutest name for a fish n chips place: A Salt and Battery.

But actually, that’s not the last thing I’ll say either, because Eve Tushnet takes a position I used to take more often myself, and maybe I should go back to taking it more often. Here what she has to say.

I know just what she (and Nietzsche) means by being struck by the hammer (so evidently they both have struck me). I used to get into an argument with my roommate Emily. She would take the position that you can’t ever really know that you’re communicating with another person, and I disagreed with her and said that you could. That at a certain point, the hammer strikes you and you feel a resonance, either through art or just through your dialogue with another person, and at that point you can know with all the certainty you need. Anne puts Helen’s hand under the water and signs W-A-T-E-R, Helen knows what Anne means. That is the miracle of intersubjectivity, and I’ve had too many moments of being struck by the hammer to believe that it was all an illusion. Or so I argued to Emily. But then I started to get won over, and I was like, yeah, but is what the art communicates to me really what the artist was trying to communicate? Just because I recognize something in myself, does that mean it existed in the mind of the artist?

Since this blogpost is already so absurdly long, I’m going to reproduce one of my favorite passages from English literature, the “Oedipa and the dying sailor” passage from The Crying of Lot 49, in full. It’s like a page, but it’s precisely on this topic:

So when this mattress flared up around the sailor, in his Viking’s funeral: the stored, coded years of uselessness, early death, self-harrowing, the sure decay of hope, the set of all men who had slept on it, whatever their lives had been, would truly cease to be, forever, when the mattress burned. She stared at it in wonder. It was as if she had just discovered the irreversible process. It astonished her to think that so much could be lost, even the quantity of hallucination belonging just to the sailor that the world would bear no further trace of. She knew, because she had held him, that he suffered DT’s. Behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare. The saint whose water can light lamps, the clairvoyant whose lapse in recall is the breath of God, the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose puns probe ancient fetid shafts and tunnels of truth all act in the same special relevance to the word, or whatever the word is there, buffering, to protect us from. The act of metaphor then was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending on where you were: inside, safe, or outside, lost. Oedipa did not know where she was. Trembling, unfurrowed, she slipped sideways, screeching back across grooves of years, to hear again the earnest, high voice of her second or third collegiate love Ray Glozing bitching among the “uhs” and the syncopated tonguing of a cavity, about his freshman calculus; “dt,” God help this old tattooed man, meant also a time differential, a vanishingly small instant in which change had to be confronted at last for what it was, where it could no longer disguise itself as something innocuous like an average rate; where velocity dwelled in the projectile though the projectile be frozen in mid-flight, where death dwelled in the cell though the cell be looked in on at its most quick. She knew that the sailor had seen worlds no other man had seen if only because there was that high magic to low puns, because DT’s must give access to dt’s of spectra beyond the known sun, music made purely of Antarctic loneliness and fright. But nothing she knew of would preserve them, or him. She gave him goodbye, walked downstairs and then on, in the direction he’d told her.

If you don’t speak Latin or you didn’t read the annotations (I did the latter), it would be difficult to figure out that the first pun in this passage is “behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare.” Here is’s [aak. I just forgot that word that starts with “e” that means the study of word roots—aah, I just did a web search. Etymology. Funny how sometimes your mind just fails you] etymology for “delirium”:

Latin d l rium, from d l r re, to be deranged : d -, de- + l ra, furrow; see leis-1 in Indo-European Roots.

In other words, it means to unfurrow, to think outside the groove, as it were.

Anyway, in this passage, Oedipa starts out knowing only about the sailor what she can perceive physically, that he shakes. She’s been told he hallucinates. But holding them is the beginning of their communication and the rest is really in her mind. In the word “delirium,” strictly just hallucination, she sees a metaphor to unfurrowing, which pretty consistently in this book means thinking or feeling in some way other than you’ve been taught, so she joins him with the company of the saints, clairvoyants, and paranoids, all of whom can perceive some order beyond what the furrowed mind can see. Truth? Lie? Oedipa’s efforts at metaphor making—to pun from meaningless hallucination to meaningful vision—are both at once. To be safe inside the metaphor is to be struck by the hammer, to be lost outside it is not to feel the hammer strike. But the passage goes on, and Oedipa continues in her metaphor making quest, linking Delirium Tremens to Derivative with respect to Time, and because she sees how the dt of calculus is a vision of the frozen truth that is usually obscured by so much movement and flow, yet somehow it allows the movement and flow to continue at the same time as it isolates the truth, she sees that the sailor’s visions are not only orderly, they are true, and the sailor has access to sprectra and music she can neither see nor hear. This certainty of Oedipa’s must also, because it is derived from this DT-dt pun, or metaphor, be at once true and a lie, true if you are inside it, as Oedipa is, a lie if you are outside it. If you are a reader and you are not struck by the hammer reading it, you are outside, lost, but if you were struck, like me, than you are inside and safe. But the passage gives two ways Oedipa “knew”: “she knew, because she had held him” and “she knew…because there was that high magic to low puns.” The two crucial elements of Oedipa’s understanding of the sailor’s experience are her metaphor making, her ability to leap gulfs between his understanding and her own using the tools she understands, and their simple physical contact. In fact, those are the two things going on in that Miracle Worker scene—Anne is making a sign on Helen’s hand, a symbolic representation, a metaphor, to bridge their understanding—well, actually, what she’s trying to get Helen to understand is the representation, not the water, but she’s engaged in this act of representation at the same time as she’s holding her.

Anyway, my ex (who was then my current, and yes, I have more than one ex, but many people have one ex of greater significance than the rest, and I have one of them, so I can call him “my ex”) and I had an argument about the Oedipa and the sailor passage, because the way I originally talked about it I assumed that Oedipa’s knowledge was imaginary, because really, how could she know what music or spectra the sailor had access to?, and very little passes between them in the book to make such flights of imagination convincing (it seems like she’s doing all the bridge building, and he’s not meeting her half way, but maybe the touch was all she needed to establish mutuality). My ex vociferously took the opposing view, that the hammer struck her, and she was sure. He eventually won me over.

Basically, a lot of human endeavor is this bridge building, or metaphor making. What is God like? Can I communicate with Him? What does this other person experience? Can she tell me? Can I know? Art is one big example—here is a poem to show what I experience love to be—but so are prayer and all ceremonies of worship. So, really, is all speech. So, even, is touch between people, I think—you hold someone to get warmth and security, to give warmth and security, but also to see their pleasurable response and realize that their experience must be warm and secure the same way yours is—it reaffirms your notion that you can communicate with that person at the same time. The question is whether we can ever say that the communication has taken place. It sounds like Eve Tushnet would say it has.

I invariably get myself all confused when I discuss these things.

Humm…free will.

I’m not a philosopher. I don’t even play one on TV. I worry that in jumping into discussions like these I’ll make totally naïve mistakes that will display to everyone involved just how unqualified I am to discuss them.

I can say that I find the Objectivist arguments for the necessary existence of free will cited by Light of Reason extraordinarily poor.

Here is a quote:

In light of this fundamentality, free will cannot be proved. Any purported "proof" would beg the question by presupposing that we were free to evaluate the validity of the proof, just as any purported "proof" of the law of non-contradiction would presuppose that very law. As with the other axioms, proof is not needed, since the axiom of free will is self-evident: its truth can be observed directly. As with the other axioms, however, the fundamentality of the axiom means that it cannot be denied without self-contradiction: a person who denies free will is saying by implication that his own thought processes, including his belief in determinism, are determined by antecedent factors over which he has no direct control. He is saying that he can’t help being a determinist. Yet in arguing for that thesis, he is presupposing that he was free to evaluate the evidence for the thesis and that he accepts his conclusion because it is valid. In other words, the content of his conclusion is incompatible with the fact that he is trying to prove it—just as, when a person denies the axiom of consciousness, the content of his assertion is not compatible with the fact that he asserts it.

Julian Sanchez raises the excellent objection to this argument that the ability to freely choose among conclusions is no evidence for the conclusion’s validity; the best arguments, like mathematical proofs, are those that proceed by offering the person evaluating them no room to come to a different conclusion.

But even without comparing different methods of arriving at a conclusion— “the free choice” and the path prescribed by logical structures—I think this paragraph is really flawed. Why does offering a proof of free will—or asking for that proof—presuppose that we are free to evaluate its validity? It doesn’t. The determinist could say that I was predestined to ask for a proof of free will or that I was predestined to come to a certain conclusion about it. Say I am a determinist: my conclusion that all events are predestined might seem, strictly from the vantage of my subjective experience, to be one that I arrived at through a “free” process of evaluation, but since I am a determinist, I conclude that this aspect of my subjective experience is an illusion, and there are in fact external factors that forced me in this direction, I just can’t directly perceive them. What’s inconsistent about this? Nothing that I can see. Maybe I’m wrong; tell me. If I’m not wrong, then I will be perfectly justified in saying, “Stupid Objectivists. I hate Ayn Rand.”

I doubt there is any way to “prove” the existence of free will, as the Objectivists are trying to do, but (maybe this is why I am not a philosopher) I am not especially interested in the project. Why I don’t think it can’t be proven: Sure, I can introspect and observe a decision-making process, but I’ll never know whether the decision I made was a necessary consequence of the exact position and velocity of all the particles in the universe at the time, or whether I exist in the mind of some god who allows me a consciousness and the experience of making decisions but has actually determined the outcome of them already.

Why I’m not that interested in the project: ultimately, there’s a fuck of a lot you can’t know, but I think there are certain things you pretty much have to believe in order to exist on the earth and live a meaningful life, and that you have the ability to make your own choices is one of them. So a certain capacity for willed belief is a necessity in life. When you’re lucky, the things you have to will your own belief in are consistent with your subjective experience, so it’s not that hard. Free will is one of those lucky things. It certainly feels to me like I’m making choices. That other people actually exist is another one of those things. Can’t know it for sure, but hell if it doesn’t feel like they do, especially when they do all kinds of shit I don’t want them to. If other people don’t really exist, then I should be having a lot more sex with all of my desired partners than I am, is all I can say. Actually, I can say a lot more than that.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to believe what you need to. This reminds me of an argument I once had with my therapist in college (man, I miss free therapy). It had been observed by various friends of mine for many years that I was unusually dependent on input from external sources for my self image, and consequently, my opinion of myself bounced around like a ping pong ball depending on the feedback from my environment. When I started therapy with some degree of earnest, my therapist(s) observed it too. Once I got into an argument with my second therapist:

Him: You need to develop a steady reserve of positive self-regard that you can draw on when bad things are happening in your life.
Me: What do you mean?
Him: I mean, other people have this well of good feelings about themselves
Me: Other people have this?
Him: To a greater extent than you do, yeah.
Me: Well, I’ve heard that before.
Him: So what do you want to do about it?
Me: Nothing.
Him: What do you mean?
Me: What am I supposed to do? I accept that other people might feel this way, but it’s irrational. I’m the one making my decisions rationally; I get feedback from my environment and I use it to form my opinion of myself. If people respond to me negatively, it makes sense to view myself negatively as a consequence.
Him: Except that you can’t live your life as well as a consequence of that. Blank doesn’t love you. Therefore you’re not worthy of love. That’s the way you think, and it makes you unhappy, and that’s why you come to therapy.
Me: Well, it doesn’t always work that way. I used to think I was not the kind of person people wanted to be friends with because I looked around and saw that I didn’t have friends, at least, I didn’t have real ones. Then I made friends. Now I have a lot of friends. I am now satisfied that people like me and want to be friends with me.
Him: But obviously you still have a problem, because you’re letting one person’s failure to love you determine your estimation of yourself. Not only that, but it’s overwhelming any other positive feedback you might be getting.
Me: It’s not just one person. Do scores of other people love me right now? It’s not like they’re lining up at the gates, not in a romantic way. I don’t think anyone ever has loved me. Maybe Andrew thought he did, but I don’t really think so. So who makes more sense? You who say I should believe that I’m worthy of love, or I who say I’m not? I think I do. I’m the one evaluating the available data.
Him: And you’re unhappy.
Me: Fine. But I don’t see how I’m going to change that. Other people have a well of positive self-regard for whatever reason: they’re genetically predisposed to it, they grew up in a more secure home than I did, whatever, how do I know, I’m not them. But given that I’m not them I don’t know how I can get to be like them, or even if I want to. Whatever they have was imparted to them early. Now I’m 21. And I look around me and decide what to think based on what I see. There’s no way I’m going to be able to launch myself into some irrational belief that I am good even if everyone around me says I’m bad.
Him: Well, I think you should open yourself up more to change on this front, because you’ll never start feeling safe and secure until your opinion of yourself is more constant than whatever wind is blowing.
Me: Not going to happen.

I could be a really obnoxious patient, or consumer, or whatever the fuck they’re called these days. Anyway, one of the things my therapist obviously should have said is that it actually isn’t rational to believe that what’s true at this moment will always be true. Given my mindset at the time, I probably would have snapped back that it still makes more sense to make decisions about probabilities in the future based on the present, or some nonsense. I actually changed my mind in the week after that session, not exactly because of any argument that he used, but because I thought about it and I realized that I sometimes had bad feelings about myself that were totally out of proportion in intensity to any negative feedback I had gotten from people around me. That obviously wasn’t rational, so not all of my affect was rationally determined (I know that the only word for this would be “duh,” I’m just describing my thought process), and therefore it should be theoretically possible for me to arrive at irrational positive beliefs.

Anyway, the reason for bringing this up is that positive self-regard is one of those things that it’s necessary to have a willed belief in, even if it’s sometimes hard for some people. Sometimes you just have to believe, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” in the face of available evidence, or to learn to interpret evidence so it will lead to that conclusion. (One of the problems with therapy is that when it’s done badly, it emphasizes mindless affirmation over self-examination. I know someone, I’ll call him John, who once went to a therapy session in which everyone was encouraged to call themselves by their childhood names and attach an adjective to their name that described what they felt was their inner nature. John called himself “Loving Johnny.” The problem is that John frequently didn’t behave in a loving fashion, and the appellation didn’t seem to help get him to the point of looking at himself honestly and seeing why he didn’t. So you have to strike a balance between helping a person accept himself and encouraging him to look at himself honestly and correct the behaviors that might be destructive or lead to negative responses from other people.) I’m on my therapist’s side on this issue now. I was once in a phone conversation with my mom in which I started playing therapist, and both of us were sort of aware that I was falling into that role and were sort of amused by it. “You want to be a therapist when you grow up, so practice,” my mom told me. My mom hates to be called “paranoid,” but sometimes she describes these interactions with her colleagues at her school in which she feels that she’s getting frozen out or receiving other weird signals from people who might not like her or might be mad at her that day. I’m not there to see them, so I have no idea what’s going on. Maybe it’s happening or maybe it’s not; I’m not there to see it. So finally, I said to her (it was actually a long conversation, with my mom arguing as vociferously with me as I did with my therapist), “Look, say it happens that Joan fails to say “hi” to you even though she clearly greets Betsy or something like that. The first thing you should do is examine your own behavior and try to think if there’s anything you might have done to make her mad. If you did, and you think she’s justified in her anger, then think about ways to make it up to her or how you’re going to act differently in the future. However, if, as it seems is often the case, you can’t identify anything, then you basically have two choices. Asking them every time you feel this weird vibe whether it’s you or just them is not a realistic option. You can’t ask that. What’s left: you can believe they’re upset at you, or you can believe that they’re having a bad day for unrelated reasons. In cognitive therapy, we call this the difference between internal and external attribution. Basically, you’re never going to know which one is true. So why not believe what makes you happier and better able to do your job without getting all stressed out, rather than make the opposite choice, as it seems you do pretty consistently?”

So that’s my feeling. Some things we can’t know. But we can choose more constructive beliefs.
So there's a post in the blogosphere that I can respond to with actual facts without even looking for them, since I just happen to have them on hand. Eve Tushnet is talkin' 'bout child care. And I know from child care. I’m not exactly going to dispute any of her points, except one. Of course families should investigate a wide range of options, and mothers shouldn’t buy into any myth about ideal womanhood—either that she has to be a superpowered career woman who never takes off time for her kid or that she’s a bad mom if she works. And of course any mom who does really want to take off to stay home with her kid should try to make that happen. And of course child rearing is a creative act (though also a boring one. It’s both at once. That childrearing can be boring and isolating is not something snotty careerists made up about homemakers; it’s reported by homemakers themselves).

However, some things she might think about:

Nationwide, a majority (55%) of working women provide half or more of their household income. One out of three children of working mothers lives below the poverty level or would live below the poverty level if their mothers didn’t work. This statistic, of course, is lumping together working mothers who are married and those who are not. But if families are interested in living above the federal poverty level (13,000 and change a year for a family of three in 2000, i.e. not a lot of money), that one out of three number gets a lot bigger. In other words, there are a lot of mothers who have no option but to work, so at the same time as we invite women to stay home with their kids, we ought to be thinking hard about child care options for children of mothers who do have to work, and there are a lot of them.

But here’s something I can refute. Oddly enough, available evidence suggests that Aunt Dotty is not the best person to be taking care of your kid. Jenny from the block is more likely to be good for your kid if she’s a regulated family day care provider. The 1994 Families and Work Institute Study of relative care (what it sounds like) and family child care (care by providers in another family home, either regulated or on regulated), which, sorry, is only available in print and it costs like $60 to order it online found that in regulated family child care settings, 13% of settings were inadequate (meaning children’s health and safety were in danger), 75% of settings were adequate or custodial, and 12% of settings were good (meaning they actively promoted the child’s emotional and cognitive development). Among unregulated child care providers, 50% were inadequate, 47% were adequate/custodial, and 3% were good. Now here’s the really surprising finding: in relative care, 69% of settings were inadequate, 30% of settings were custodial, and 1% were good. Relative care was the poorest quality. If you’re thinking that’s because it was siblings providing the care, you’re wrong: two thirds were grandmothers, one fourth were aunts, and the rest were some other relative. If I had to come up with a reason for that, I’d guess it was because family child care providers have, for some reason, chosen to make the extremely low paying occupation (mean salary: $6.74 an hour) of child care service their profession, so they are more committed to doing it well, while Aunt Dotty might plunk the kid in front of Rugrats and then go off and do something else.

Meanwhile, it may be that child care centers are of better quality than Aunt Dotty or Jenny from the block. The 1995 Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes Study (also not available online—I was so geekily excited when they finally gave me this research and I asked if I could order this report, which I had read so many references to, and they said yes. I got it in the mail, opened it up, started flipping through it, and I would be like, “Center Process Quality and State Licensing Standards as of Spring 1993! This is so great!”) of child care centers (care that’s in some kind of facility and not in a family home) found that 12.3% of centers were of poor quality (corresponding to inadequate in the previous stat), 73.7% were of mediocre quality (corresponding to adequate/custodial) and 14% were of developmentally appropriate quality. I say it may be that centers are of better quality than Jenny from the block because I have neither the time, the statistical expertise, or the full technical reports necessary to do metaanalytical cross-study comparisons, and although the difference between the center quality and the average of all family child care/relative provider quality is probably statistically significant (just glancing at the numbers), the difference between center care and regulated family child care almost certainly isn’t; the sample size was big, but not that big.

I also think Eve is wrong just to shrug off day care centers. The problem with day care centers is that most of them suck, as illustrated by the above paragraph. This is because the market just isn’t equipped to allocate resources well to child care, just like, if you ask me, anyway, it isn’t equipped to allocate resources well to formal education. But they don’t have to suck. She’s wrong that day care is necessarily school without the schooling, because really good day care is educational. Not in the rigid, let’s sit down at our desks and fill in our workbooks K-12 way-- kids are just involved in lots of fun, stimulating activities, and they interact with each other and other grown ups in ways that are good for them. On occasion, a really good child care center is better than just parental care alone, especially if (and I know this is going to sound classist to some of the lefties reading my site), they fall into one or more “high risk categories”: they’re poor, there’s drug use in their families, their parents have low IQ’s. The longitudinal study of the Chicago Child Parent Center, which included a lot of services for kids and a lot of parent involvement, found that the kids who were in child care there (at-risk kids) wound up doing a lot better in school than the kids who just stayed with their parents or Aunt Dotty. Some of that is probably just involving and educating the parents. I know conservatives tend to freak out when you mention something like “parental education,” but my mom observed (yes, as a government employee, but at least an employee of local government--she’s a teacher) that a lot of parents just don’t know what they can do with their kids. She would work with a lot of illiterate parents who were convinced that since they couldn’t help their children read they couldn’t do anything for their education, and when my mom would show them the kinds of learning activities they could do with their kids that didn’t involve any reading, they’d get so excited. It wasn’t that they didn’t care; they just didn’t know. She also helped out the parents in our building (for four years we lived in this apartment that was mostly occupied by welfare mothers. It was right off the highway. It was about two notches above slum, differentiated by the fact that we did have a reasonably attentive landlord, if living in an apartment with no central heating or cooling should really be unacceptable in a town like Los Banos. I went to sleep a lot of summers with pots of water by the bed and wet towels draped over my body. We could have afforded something a little different but my mom is kind of funny about money.) I think that the government could be a really great resource for parents in this respect.

Anyway, those are my thoughts (and actual statistics; aren’t you excited?) for now.
Let me tell you something. Do you know who is really marginalized in American society? People who cry at movies (sometimes audibly) and produce a lot of snot. If you are one of these people, and you have just seen a sad movie, like, say, About Schmidt, people can’t even stand to look at you. No, that’s not right. They look at you, but only out of the corner of their eye, and as soon as they by accident find themselves making eye contact, they quickly dart away. One of them might even come up to you as you’re bundling up in your pink hat and scarf that your grandmother knitted and ask you, “Do you have the—I guess not,” meaning to ask for the time, but being so frightened by the aspect of your tear and snot stained face that they can’t even finish the question and have to get away from you as quickly as possible. Even years after the event, your friends will still talk about the humiliation they endured when they took you to Life Is Beautiful. Your own mother, at the end of Sense and Sensibility or Shine or Shakespeare in Love will pat you gingerly, as she would a reptile, and say, “Alright dear. That’s enough. You can stop now.” Basically, the only sympathy you can get is from one of your own, so if you go to see Hillary and Jackie with your college roommate Emily, you can both collapse sobbing into each other’s arms, and to hell with the world if some prim old ladies in the row in back of you say, “What’s the matter with them? Are they laughing?” There are a few non-criers who understand. My friend Dan (Dan B., not Dan F.) came to Hillary and Jackie with me and Emily and he did not judge. But he is an Enneagram 4, which explains it. Emily and I are also Enneagram 4’s. A probable Enneagram 4 (though it has not been determined) is my ex-boyfriend. He actively appreciates crying. He was first attracted to me because I watched Man of La Mancha with him in the Wharton AB 1st lounge and I cried at the end. But to the rest of you in the world, I ask: what is so frightening about a little snot? In case you hadn’t gathered, I am one of these snotty criers. Back when I was in college, if I was having one of my crises, my friends would have to take off their shirts and toss them in the hamper as soon as I left the room. The amount of laundry they did was inversely proportional to my peace and happiness. But did I want to get snot on their clothes? No, it’s an involuntary biological response? I can’t help it, but it doesn’t make me less human than any of you. Please, some tolerance, and—dare I ask?—some compassion.

About Schmidt was a good movie. It’s nice to see an American movie that’s not afraid to show a few wrinkly surfaces. The one issue I had with it—and this was less an issue with the movie than the way American celebrity works—is that it was hard for me to accept Jack Nicholson in the role. I mean he’s < nasal twang >Jack Nicholson< / nasal twang >. Of Chinatown and Cuckoo’s Nest and Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider and The Last Detail (his best movie by the way, which it seems to me that few people who aren’t real film buffs or weren’t alive in the 70’s have heard of). He’s a rebel, an iconoclast, the old Christian Slater. It was hard for me to take him as an insurance actuary. But that was just me.

And speaking of unvarnished truths, there was another part of my moviegoing experience that was quite satisfying. I was at the concession stand, and I noticed they had Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. Now, usually I’m resistant to marketing tie-ins, partly because getting some cheap commercial toy is only going to remind you that you can’t be in the movie or book. Sure it would be cool to have a real light saber, but some plastic stick battery powered stick that glows faintly orange or green is just not an acceptable substitute, and you could play pretend as easily with a broom or paper towel roll. The same thing with the golden snitch I have on my key ring; my aunt bought if for me. If it were a real snitch and I had to keep my keys locked tightly in a box and keep a careful grip on them when I unlocked the door, that would be impractical, but nonetheless cool. But I decided to get the beans because even just eating Jelly Bellies would be close enough to the experience of eating real Bertie Bott’s Beans that I could play pretend without being constantly reminded that I had let my desire for fantasy make me a tool of some marketing guru and the Harry Potter Industrial Complex. But I still figured that even if the had Booger, Vomit, Spinach, Sardine, Earwax, and Dirt flavors, they would just be cleverly labeled regular Jelly Belly flavors, which occasionally are nasty enough themselves without intentionally trying to mimic the taste of dirt. Well, imagine my pleasant surprise when I started eating them, and at least half the time I would put a bean into my mouth and say, “This is disgusting.” I read the ingredients and found that there were spinach powder and black pepper in the beans, for the spinach and black pepper flavors, naturally. And that black pepper bean is gross. Not only that—I don’t know how they did it but that Sardine bean is foul, and it really tastes like fish, at least, what I remember fish tasting like. There’s no fish in the ingredients, so I guess they used chemicals or some taste I associate with fish, but is not actually fish. I’m assuming there were no boogers, vomit, or earwax in this candy, but I did succeed in identifying an earwax bean, and it also was quite foul. I didn’t find any boogers, vomit, or dirt, but it was dark in the theater, so I didn’t always know what I was eating. But I was really pleased and impressed that Bertie Bott’s Beans were suitably vile, and I will buy them again the next time I go to the movies.

UPDATE: My ex is also a fan of the beans. Here is an excerpt from our IM conversation:

ME: I saw About Schmidt last night
Him: what's that?
Me: it's a movie. sheesh, you live in a bubble
Him: i do
Me: with jack nicholson.
Him: oh
Me: it was great. you'd like it too
Him: i will make it a point to see it, then
Me: I also ate Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans at the movie
Him: ahh, what a glorious creation! they amaze me
Me: that's a marketing tie in with harry potter
Him: i know
Me: you've had them
Him: i have
Me: I know, they're great
Him: i couldn't tell the difference between real vomit
Me: I was so impressed with how foul they were
Me: I don't think I got a vomit bean
Me: but sardine was so nasty
Him: a sick, flu kind of vomit
Him: dirt was interesting, too
Me: I don't know if I had a dirt either. it was dark
Me: black pepper was pretty vile
Me: I'm glad you love them too
Him: oh, i was in fits of happiness with them
Me: see, I thought they would do something lame like just name "root beer" flavored jelly beans "vomit." I thought it was fabulous that they actually made them gross. I'm definitely going to get them again
Him: i think once is enough for me, at least for right now...enjoy the sanctity of that one experience for a while
Me: it is true that they made me a little bit ill. but I want to eat them in the light so I can examine each one and make sure I know what flavor they're supposed to be
Him: yes, know what you're getting into, and have a chaser ready

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Okay, I admit it, I'm a quiz slut. And according to the WildMonk Iraqi-war personality test, my position on the political spectrum is center right. I also got a 10 (out of 10) for rationality. Via CalPundit.
This blog was originally supposed to be about my sex life. I don’t have one, so it should be about vestiges of my sex life. Here, finally, are my remarks about my weekend with my exboyfriend (outside of Hooters and Rifts), now a week and a half ago:

This was the best time I’ve spent with him since we broke up (and perhaps, since the time I spent with him when we were together, no matter how joyful particular moments, was always tarnished by its context of an extremely troubled relationship that shouldn’t have been going on at all, last weekend was the best time I’ve ever spent with him). A rundown of previous visits:

--October, two months after breakup:

Still very strong feelings for him. Learned never to have a conversation about whether you’ll sleep with someone when not in their presence (I was taking the pro side, he the contra, though he seemed pretty pro when I got there). Some good time spent together, some quite mean things said by both parties. Some very memorable sex tinged with lots of anger.

--April, eight months after breakup:

I am now in love with someone else, who, unfortunately for me, is having none of it. A good, tender visit. Sex is mildly enjoyable for me, at least occasionally evidently very intense for him. I also managed to get drunk on the mere perception that I had drunk alcohol, when I had not, in fact, had any.

--January, 17 months after breakup:

A good visit. Warm feelings, a distinct lack of passion. I start to get physically involved with him, which I can sort of tolerate except for the kissing, which nauseates me a little. I put a stop to things until later, when I get really sloshed (on actual alcohol) and sleep with him. The alcohol alleviated my repulsion, but it created no actual pleasure. The only time I have done something drunk that I really didn’t want to do sober.

--September, two years after breakup.

I am feeling depressed and downtrodden for reasons unrelated to my ex. I’m also sick. We find each other’s presence comforting, but I’m sort of into sitting around and watching Six Feet Under videos (Do you know what bothers me about that show, or at least the first six episodes? The Rachel Griffiths character is supposed to be brilliant, but she never says anything intelligent. Every single one of her utterances is easily traceable to a certain kind of LA, New-Agey, “spiritual,” pop-psychotherapeutic background—precisely the background she’s supposed to have on the show. She doesn’t seem to be actively intellectually engaged at all. The youngest daughter is a lot smarter). He would definitely have liked to sleep with me, but I set the boundaries. We’re physically affectionate, but I only really feel comfortable with this when I initiate it. When he does it skeeves me out a little.

This visit. I was in a vibrant mood (with me, you never know whether you’ll get vibrant Katie or downtrodden Katie). Something about coming off a week of brutal sleep deprivation and knowing I could look forward to sleeping again lifted my spirits. I also was oddly elated by having written such a prideful response to Ben Shapiro. There’s nothing like publically announcing what a fabulous person you are (and not having people cut you down in response) to make you actually believe it about yourself. Despite the fact that I think A is about to ruin his life, we had a very warm and emotional weekend. We also reached this point at which (at least I felt) that we could be very physically affectionate without a lot of sexual tension, and either of us could comfortably initiate it. (I was just talking about this to my friend with whom I had coffee; he was really interested in this achievement because he’s continually struggling with the amount of physical affection permissible in his relationships with women. I know this about him, because he’s actually the person I was in love with back in April of 2001 (I’m over all that now), and one of the things that kicked off the quite stressful period in our relationship was my announcement that all the snuggliness just had to stop because I didn’t think it felt the same way to me that it did for him. Maybe there are exceptions to this, but I think the only straight male-female relationships which can be very snuggly without causing a lot of complications are relationships with exes in which all the energy and curiosity has been spent.) I also achieved some closure in going back to Troy New York, the scene of a not insignificant portion of our relationship. It was in Troy that I burst into hysterical sobs in front of his mother and brother the last time I saw him before he moved to Seattle. I saw his mother. His mother didn’t like me. A always insisted that she liked me, but she didn’t like me. She was one of those Italian mothers who says things like, “My beautiful boys are my magnum opus.” You get the idea. But I lived through seeing his mother. Troy, despite having the general pathos of upstate New York with treble intensity, looked very charming in the snow. I lived through being in Troy.

How my ex is about to ruin his life:

For the first time since he graduated (a year before I did) he has a job which is relatively stable and which affords him some degree of satisfaction. He works in a home for the developmentally disabled, and he really likes a lot of the retarded people. He and Joe (his best friend, with whom he lives and works) even took one of them out to dinner (not, I assume, at Hooters, although I didn’t ask). They each have a dramatic streak, and they kept me quite entertained when I visited with their various impressions of all of the “clients.” He doesn’t like a lot of his colleagues, and the pay is shit, and he and Joe have a lot of financial worries, but still, his employment situation is better than it ever has been. His living situation is also better than it ever has been; he’s not living with his parents, or crashing on his brother’s sofa, and nor is he financially dependent on any girlfriend (more on this later). He has his own place with his good friend, and they have a lot of sweet pets, including two fun if incredibly wired, destructive, and nowhere near housetrained puppies who view every human being as another dog. He lives in his hometown, so he’s near some of his family, though not entirely under their thumb. It would admittedly be pretty hard for him to meet “the right girl” living where he’s living. But still, compared to how he has been in the past, he’s really doing pretty well.

The year after he graduated, he lived in Seattle. He met this woman in Seattle named M. He wound up moving in with her for financial expediency because he could not afford to pay rent on a place for himself. I strongly advised against his moving in with M. Based on what A had to say about M, I formed a basic picture of her: like me, only crazier. That’s not a good way to be, let me tell you. She was much more in love with him than he was with her. He was largely financially dependent on her. Now, I know that’s it’s easier to complain to your ex about your current than it is to talk about the good things in your relationship, but he really did not talk about her like he loved her. He told me he was not physically attracted to her, and he described her physically to me in quite unflattering terms. He also cheated on her with me in April 2001 (he told me he was planning to break up with her as soon as he got back. When I talked to him a month later I expected that they would have broken up, but they were together. I asked him when it was, precisely, that he had been broken up with her, and his answer was basically the week that encompassed the four days he spent with me. But he never actually told her they were broken up…). Living with her was frought with a lot of conflict, and his move back to the East Coast was directly precipitated by a scene she staged in which she grabbed a kitchen knife and threatened to stab herself if he left her. A had to physically wrest the knife from her hand.

He is going back to Seattle (with no job and no savings) to move back in with this woman and be her boyfriend.

His new claim that he loves her (although he never actually says that exactly outright. Once I asked him, “Do you love her, like, in a boyfriend kind of way?” His answer was “I’d have to say yes.” Another time (this was when drunk) I started lecturing him about how he was attracted to people who loved him because that was comforting, but it didn’t mean he really returned their feelings, and he said, “I think I do love her”) is apparently based on one weekend they spent together when she came to visit, and subsequent phone calls and such. Why does he want to do this? you ask. I asked him, mentioning that he had finally achieved some measure of satisfaction in his life, and I didn’t understand why he wanted to throw it away. He answered me with a metaphor about singing—that the kind of satisfaction he had achieved was like a gasping breath of satisfaction, but he was looking for the rich, full, from the diaphragm breath of satisfaction. He believes he has this instinctual faculty which I don’t have, or have to a lesser extent (though I’m intellectually smarter than he is, he says), and he feels this instinctual call that now what he has to do in life is go be with M. It’s like the Ideas he was giving Joe in the Rifts game. My friend (the one I used to be in love with) had what I thought was a really good observation about my ex: that in his experience people who believe in the existence of some sort of Platonic truth (which my ex certainly does) have a harder time accepting inconsistencies about themselves. I could really see how that applied to my ex. He once told me about this philosophical system (or metaphor? I’m not sure whether it was something that was really supposed to exist) he was trying to develop in which there was this alternate universe in which all potential was perfectly realized, and there were moments on earth when we could have access to that universe and know the way things ought to be with utter certainty. He said an example of this access to that perfect universe was being in love: then you have utter certainty that you must do whatever you can to be with the person you’re in love with. And I was like, it would be nice to believe that’s what being in love is, but that’s not what being in love is. It’s too easy to be in love with someone you shouldn’t be with. At all. Our relationship being a not bad example. If I had to define “being in love” off the cuff, I would say it’s a powerful possessive urge that leads to intense displeasure when you’re separated from your love object or prevented from expressing your love sexually. To the extent that being in love can serve as a binding force in a mutual and kind relationship that makes each person greater and stronger, it’s a great thing. To the extent that it can’t, it will cause lover and beloved a lot of discomfort and should be gotten over as quickly as possible. But this is what my ex likes to do: invest his every impulse (or at least a lot of them) with some kind of cosmic significance and rightness, which prevents him from seriously questioning them, which prevents him from making rational decisions that will give him a better future. I also think that unless he learns to employ his rational faculties a little more and his instintual faculties a little less, he’s not going to be able to perform the kind of self examination that’s necessary to really growing up. He’s just going to swing back and forth between extremes of certainty and doubt. So why does he want to go live with M? Because he’s gotten about as far as he can living in Amsterdam but he can’t stand to just tread water for a little while (even though he desperately needs to build up a little more of a steady employment history). He still feels the emptiness that, let’s face it, a lot of us do. He wants to move fast towards something, anything that will fill it. But rather than do the hard work of looking forward to how he can arrange his life in the most fulfilling way, it’s easier for him to look backward and arbitrarily designate something that’s easily attainable and to a degree comforting, as the thing he needs. This is egotistical of me to say, and perhaps wrong, but I wonder if he thought that there was any way for him to live with me, if I were the one telling him how much I loved him and wanted to be with him, his call wouldn’t be leading him somewhere different. A few months ago he asked me if I wanted to come live with him in Amsterdam. He wasn’t inviting me in a romantic sense; he would have had to have known that I would have laughed in his face if he had, as I pretty much did to the “I’m going to leave my job and my friends in New York and do something that would be negative for my life in every respect except that I would be near you” suggestion.

I basically kept my mouth shut about all of this until I got drunk. Then I kept my mouth shut some more, because we were watching the movie, but then M. called. Being drunk, I wanted to talk to her, and I was loud and giggly in the background. But A. told me I couldn’t talk to her, and he had to talk to her for about a half hour. She was upset that I was there (A hadn’t told her beforehand that I was coming). After he got off the phone, I assumed she was upset because she was afraid we would sleep together, and with an air of offended drunken righteousness I told him: “You can tell M. that if I wanted someone to sleep with I would not have to pay $60 for a bus ticket to sleep with you. And you can also tell M. that back in September I was the one who was setting the boundaries, so if she wants to paint me as the threatening skinny girl, well, that’s just all in her head.” But then A told me that M. thought that “I didn’t like her” (though I’ve never met her, though I did once have an IM conversation with her in which we dished about A. I held back a lot) because I said she was “emotionally manipulative.” “Did you tell her I said that?” I asked. “I don’t know” he said. “Well you must have, because I certainly didn’t,” I told him. Of course, she is emotionally manipulative. I don’t know what threatening to kill yourself if someone leaves you is if not emotionally manipulative. A says they’ve both “matured” since then. Which is all well and good, but when you’re starting from the threatening to kill yourself point, that’s pretty darn low, and you need more than 14 months to mature before you’re ready for a grown-up relationship.

Anyway, it was at this point that I launched into my lecture about how he was ruining his life (Joe occasionally chimed in in agreement). I’m all for Matt Damon driving off into the sunset to see if he could make things work out with Minnie Driver, I told him, but the difference between you and Matt Damon is that Matt Damon had his own car. Etc. Anyway, eventually we all agreed not to talk about it anymore, and we finished the movie. After the movie Adam and I started talking about both of our attitudes towards the others’ relationships. Of course I am a wee bit jealous of M, not for any great happiness they are about to achieve, but just because there’s some other girl he’s moving across the country for. Of course like the jealous ex girlfriend that I am I saw some cards she had sent him and read them (stipulated that it was wrong, invasion of privacy, etc. etc.), and of course I got more jealous (“yeah, well who do you think schooled him in the fine art of phone sex, little missy? And when we were dating I was always the giver”). And he told me that he got jealous when he heard of my little amours because whenever he heard that someone else could make me happy--I told him that no one had ever really made me happy so he had nothing to worry about in that department—he said, but even so, I wonder why I couldn’t make you happy, and then I think, oh, that’s why I couldn’t make her happy. (He was referring to the generally abominable way he treated me during our relationship. That he was truly awful to me is recognized by me, him, and virtually all third party observers. He was awful to me not because he is a bad person or because he wanted to hurt me, but because he just wasn’t in a psychological position to be in a relationship, which caused him to be mean to me without specific malice, and the meaner he was to me, the angrier he was at himself for continuing to be so mean and the angrier he was at me for sticking around like a sick little puppy, which only inspired him to be meaner. I was awful to myself in failing to break up with him. But, to put it bluntly, I didn’t think very highly of myself and didn’t think I could do any better. I also loved him. Things got better in the second half of our relationship, and a lot better after we broke up) And then I gave him my standard “You’re the Nietzsche fan; you need to let go of the guilt” speech. And I told him there was no reason for him to still torture himself about all of that; I had forgiven him, and then I qualified that, “mostly.” And then he said, he knew that, and it was the part of me that hadn’t forgiven him that bothered him. And I said I couldn’t help that, there was a small part of me that could never forgive him for some things (what those things are I really cannot discuss on this blog). And then we both started crying. But it was mercifully brief, and then I launched myself into his arms and we told each other we loved each other and it was all okay.

Anyway, we had a really good time. It certainly wasn’t all drama; we had a lot of fun. Saying goodbye was quite emotional for both of us. I might talk about him pretty harshly some times, but I think he’s an amazing person with a lot of incredible gifts that could mean great things in his life if he learns not to be so self-sabotaging. He’s totally warm and loving and committed to people who are committed to him. A little while after we broke up we got in a huge, evil, nasty fight and didn’t speak for two months, and I thought we would never speak again. I wouldn’t have been the one to reinitiate contact, ever. It was a point of dignity for me. But he wrote to me, and not in some defensive way. He had to really accept some of my anger and describe himself in ways that must have been very, very difficult. For most people it’s a lot easier to walk away from someone who has that kind of anger toward them than to make themselves see themselves the way the angry person sees them, and that’s what he did. And in doing so, he really impressed me with how much he cared about me, something I had been pretty dubious about until that point. I also think he’s has a charisma that a certain kind of person really responds to, and he could be a great teacher (it’s too bad he’s not religious, because I could also see him as a priest). He also writes great dialogue, and I think he has serious potential as a playwright. That’s why it makes me so sad that he’s investing so much energy and hope in moving across the country to be the boyfriend of someone I don’t even believe he has a serious passion for. He could be doing so much more with his life.
and speaking of Eve Tushnet, this is a fun game. I want to play.

1. King James Bible
2. Riverside Shakespeare
3. The Brothers Karamazov (though this, more than any other book, would make the loss of human companionship the most unbearable, by reminding me the most vividly of just what it was exactly that I had lost), in Russian
4. In Search of Lost Time (which would have a somewhat countervailing effect to The Brothers Karamazov, by reminding me of the wonders of the individual's perception, a perception that still functions in isolation), in French (so perhaps I should say "A la recherche du temps perdu."
5. Some super complete French-English Dictionary
6. War and Peace, which I've never read, but I'm willing to take the plunge, since Tolstoy's the fox to Dostoevsky's hedgehog. Also in Russian.
7. Since I don't speak Russian, some theoretical Russian-English dictionary that includes a pronunciation guide to the cyrillic alphabet, an exhaustive explanation of idioms, a comprehensive grammar and a bonus back of audio tapes (I also have a solar powered cassette player) so I can hear what the language sounds like spoken. Learning Russian would be a fun activity for a desert island.
7. The Norton Anthology of English Verse (or some anthology which would contain, say Paradise Lost in full, a generous helping of Chaucer, lots of Eliot, lots of Yeats, etc.)
8. Ulysses, because its long and there's a lot to puzzle out, not because I love it. Also because he's the fox to Proust's hedgehog.
9. A History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell (this may seem like kind of a wimpy cop-out in the philosophy department, but I'm not well read enough in philosophy to pick one author who is the most important to me.)
10. I'm not totally sure what to do with this one. Can I have all 13 (?) volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization or is that cheating? (And yes, I'm sure its riddled with inaccuracies, but I've dipped into it and it's darn entertaining.) If I can't, I think I'll pick some small book that I love, mostly for the companionship. But then should I pick The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Crying of Lot 49, Mrs. Dalloway, or A Room With a View? Well, not A Room With a View. I think that would be quite painful on a desert island. Among the other three it's hard though.
via Eve Tushnet. A "new" plan for the WTC site. Unlike Eve, I don't like it. It makes me think of the Matterhorn. It might go well somewhere else, but not in the angular New York skyline. I'm still a strong Libeskind partisan.

Clarification: the Disney Matterhorn, not the real one.
at least now there's a date. sheesh.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Speaking of race, this is funny.
Hey my blogolytes. Well, regarding the ongoing race discussion, I basically got a "yep" of agreement from CalPundit in an email (he's allergic to comments!) and a more challenging response from Vaguely Right. I'm not ready to respond to VR, but I'm continuing to think about all of it, and if anyone else wants to jump into the discussion, feel free.

By the way…I was just having a conversation with an old friend of mine (one of my friends who had been neglecting me and whom I had decided I would make no effort to see until he demonstrated some really reciprocal effort, and who finally got it together to email me a few days ago, which made me feel really good, and who said he was sorry for being flaky, and with whom I just had a really long, warm, connected conversation, which made me feel really good about life, and who is totally out of the doghouse) this afternoon, and I told him about my blog, and I told him about how every other blog post has some mention about how I’m sort of uncomfortable with blogging at all (now this post is no exception), and I was saying that one of the things that made me uncomfortable was that because of the example of all of the blogs I read, I wound up talking about politics, but that I really didn’t know that much, and I was sort of trying to work some things out, and I mentioned that one of the reasons I hadn’t worked some of these things already at my college was that in some ways there was so little diversity of political viewpoint that it was a stagnant and unstimulating environment to work things out in, and that I’d much rather have a conversation with one of my fellow students about a book than about a book than about a political issue, but that one of the subjects I had been broaching lately was that of race, and given that it’s such a charged and difficult subject I actually felt kind of uncomfortable that I was doing the working out in such a public way, that even if it was good for me and I would get lots of people to challenge me it still felt like I was a little exposed. (Yes, I know that was an absurdly long sentence. I like to do that sometimes; it’s a sort of self-parody. I’m sorry if it gets hard to read but one of the nice things about blogging is that it’s a forum which allows you to just be yourself, so that was me being myself.) But I do have to say that so far I’ve been very pleased with the way people have responded to me; no one’s tried to guilt me into thinking something I don’t want to think or anything like that. I appreciate it. So I’m saying thanks to you, my readers. Thank you.

(My friend also pointed out that he thought that the best thing I would have to offer to any political debate was not so much knowing everything there was to know, but my ability, which he complimented, to understand how arguments were constructed and to see what was logical and what wasn’t. I thought that was something I was good at, and I credited it to my college education, which, if it taught me anything, taught me how to reason. He agreed that he had gotten that from Swarthmore too. However, we were both pretty unhappy in college. So if you’re reading this and you’re college shopping, and you want to go to a college that will make you fairly miserable, but leave you a much smarter person, go to Swarthmore.)


I am interested in saying a few words to David Byron, who's making his presence felt in my comments. First of all, I hope that you were not referring to me when you said that women attempt to silence dissent from the position that women are the disadvantaged gender. I think I'm going to wind up disagreeing with you on this, but I never intend to silence anyone. Well, alright, within limits. I think that things like The Corner's "threefer" comment are really fucked up and out of line. I do have some basic values of respect and tolerance and I think other people should have those same values and act accordingly, but beyond that, the Queen grants an audience to all of her supplicants.

I also would never argue that men are not subject to different kinds of stresses as a result of the expectations placed on their gender. I would never even argue that men don't have insecurities about their appearance, and that this does not cause them emotional pain; I've too often been the audience for men's insecurities about their appearance, and have too often had to comfort them ("yes, honey, you're attractive." "yes you're worthy of love." "Five and a quarter inches is really well within the average range."), though I do think women are more likely to invest their self-worth in their appearance, and so it has a more central effect on their psyche. I also think that I cannot just sit around and whine about how society makes me invest too much of my self-worth in my appearance, I have to fight that with all of my might, and strike a balance between making myself attractive and feeling good about myself and saying that obviously I have many other assets besides the fact that my waist curves inward from my hips, and as an individual, as hard as it may be sometimes, the decision to value other things about myself is well within my power. I also look at women like Karyn, who can say uncritically (I'm paraphrasing), "Do you know how sometimes if you don't look good you just don't feel good about yourself? Sometimes I feel that way and that's why I need a new Gucci bag," and recognize that they have abominable values and the fact that they were taught those values is just no excuse for having them. God gave us a critical faculty so we could use it.

However, if you are going to argue that women are not only equally privileged to men, but more so, you're going to have to come up with better evidence than you have so far, at least if you want to convince me. Regarding the way waitresses often turn to women first: a) this is phenomenally trivial, moreso, I think, than anything I've discussed, and b) this is a holdover from a sort of chivalric ideal that women were to be protected and held aloft and treated with exquisite gentility, but not to be respected or treated as equals. I'm not saying that anyone who treats women this way is sexist; I have a friend who's gay and converting to Judaism, but he was raised in the South and he stands whenever a women gets up and refuses to let a woman light her own cigarette, and I find this sweetly charming and anachronistic, though a little bit disorienting whenever it happens ("do you have to go to the bathroom too? Oh wait, I remember..."). To the extent that this kind of behavior is accompanied by full respect for the intelligence, competence, and power of women, as it certainly is in my friend, I accept it as a sort of odd regional custom. I actually do think there's a sort of subset demographic--young, attractive, female--that comes with specific advantages: more frequent help with heavy bags, occasional free train fare, but even to the extent that women sometimes enjoy greater politeness from some members of the population because they’re female, they get less politeness in other respects. Maybe men hear “hey baby, how’d my dick taste last night” just as often as women, but in my (admittedly incomplete) observation, women have to endure a lot more tasteless comments about their sexuality than men do, except perhaps if the men in question don’t conform to male gender norms. Then the abuse is probably coming mostly from other men, but I certainly would not deny that it is probably just as painful as the sexual disrespect women get. I would call this a subcategory of “heterosexism,” and it affects both men and women. I think it affected me in school, because in some of the environments I grew up in, the universal distrust of “the smart kid” was definitely compounded by the fact that I was outspoken and female; I saw the way people responded to outspoken smart males and it was a lot more accepting than the way they responded to me. I don’t want to get into a big suffering competition; it’s unhelpful and to the extent that I used that language in earlier posts I probably regret it (it’s never without at least some irony that I do speak of “suffering competitions”). Anyway, I think that the ways people have disrespected my womanhood in the aggregate have been much more powerful than the occasional deference I get from a waitress, and I have trouble seeing this as a compelling example of “female privilege.”

Regarding the role-playing game: I didn’t think that in isolation Andrew’s decision not to let the knife cut me was necessarily gendered. In fact I said that I understood it was necessary to have an “element of fate” in the person of the game master; it was just easy to resent fate when fate was a person and you could have suspicions about their motives. However, the fact that Andrew and Joe got together beforehand (and Joe was not the game master) in which Joe would be the receiver of some sort of revelation and I would be asked to follow him in his quest at the very least raised a question of gender (and it also certainly had to do with dynamics in my relationship with A., which in turn had something to do with both of our genders).

Regarding the preponderance of men in prison: if I was uneasy about this kind of demographic determinism for race, I'm far less inclined to accept it for gender, because with race, you can see clearly the mechanisms that create the disproportionate representation of black men in the prison population: the economic disempowerment of blacks as a result of slavery, Jim Crow, and various forms of employment and educational discrimination (both past and current), and current discrimination in the justice system (and to try with all my might to avoid falling into the “black and white” hole in race discussions, I must add that while other minorities weren’t slaves in this country, they have experienced many of the other kinds of discrimination). On the other hand, men are not less economically empowered than women; the opposite is true. I don't think you will be able to come up with a logical case that men are more likely to commit crimes because they have families to support; many women have families to support as well. If you're going to make the argument that society teaches men to be violent more than it does women, that may well be true, and it may be part of the reason why so many more men are in prison (although Vaguely Right rightly and specifically reminded me and everyone else that the majority of people in prison are non-violent offenders). There’s a theory of the 2-1 female:male ratio of the incidence of depression in this country (and many others) that women are taught to internalize anger into depression and men are taught to externalize it into violence. I have no idea whether that’s true. But assuming for a second that it is, do you want to argue that women are the privileged gender because they’re less likely to be violent towards others (or at least, less likely to be as severely violent) and less likely to go to jail? I guess you could make that argument, but I think that’s a funny way of defining privilege. It’s true that oppressive relationships dehumanize both the oppressed and the oppressor, but I don’t know that I think that that means there’s no difference. In any case, as I said before, I really think people have a choice about whether or not to be violent, and I’m pretty unwilling to mark women as the privileged sex because they are less frequently socialized to be as severely violent as men. That’s just not my notion of privilege, and this might be one of those “interpretive community” semantic differences that we have to work out. Of course, I’m speculating a lot about what you (David Byron) are thinking. You gave me a statistic about the preponderance of men in prison; I’m thinking about what your idea of the oppressive mechanisms that put men there might be. If you have other ideas, tell me.

But here’s a huge reason why I can’t accept that I belong to “the privileged gender”: sexual violence. And I am about to get a lot more personal than I ever intended to on this blog, but now it’s important to me and this is one occasion in which my experience is so intimately intertwined with my political beliefs that I just can’t talk about one without talking about the other. If it offends anyone or makes them feel uncomfortable, well, go read another blog. I have had occasion to be on the receiving end of a lot of…how shall I put it…unwanted sexual attention, ranging from being sexually insulted in public and private, being kissed by strangers on public transportation, being stalked, to…well, imagine where this list ends, and that’s happened to me too. In some ways I think I could have done a little bit more to prevent a few of these things than I have; my “freeze” response to unwanted sexual contact serves me very, very poorly in these circumstances. I took a self-defense class once, and I did learn to break a board, but I didn’t learn to be more assertive. I am not about to say that men never experience these things, either from other men or even sometimes from women. But I seriously doubt they experience them with the frequency that women do based on my (admittedly incomplete) intimate acquaintances with men and women. I am also not a total devotee of the Susan Brownmiller “Against Our Will” theory of sexual violence as political and social control (did I attribute that right? I never read that book. Believe it or not, I avoided women’s studies classes like the plague in college, but then it turned out that being an English major was like a de facto women’s studies education. If I had done history I think the emphasis would have been more racial). I mean, it is sometimes: when slaveowners rape their slaves, more powerful prisoners rape other prisoners, or soldiers rape citizens of a country they’re invading, that’s political control. Other times I think it’s more a result of an individual’s violent impulses, and in a few cases I think sexual violence can arise from a sort of miscommunication (though I think in those cases the inability to hear the non-consent is at least partially willful). I guess what I’m saying is that while I don’t think sexual violence is purely and totally political, in effect, the fear of that violence is disproportionately suffered by women, and it’s hard for me to see how a waitress turning to me first in a restaurant compensates me for that.

People might get the impression from reading my blog that I think gender bias is the most pressing problem facing America today. Actually, I don’t think this at all. As I’ve said before, my gender is just something I feel forced constantly to examine every time I walk down the street or interact with a man. But in fact, I mostly feel quite empowered to make my way in the world. I rarely if ever apprehend that someone thinks I’m less intelligent because I’m a woman (and if they do I like to think I disabuse them of that notion as soon as I open my mouth); there is no profession I’m interested in that’s closed to me (though this is not true of all women). I have great confidence in my ability to achieve whatever I choose if I have the personal resources to do so. The way I arrange evils in my mind is to examine the degree to which they restrict an individual’s essential freedom to express her nature and achieve her full potential; this is why I am inclined to look at class barriers and see the most forbidding obstacle to human achievement and thus the greatest evil.

Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed already, all my positions are quite discardable. As a matter of fact, aside from a few things that I just think are no brainers (marijuana should be legalized; gay people should be able to marry), I’m the Don Juan of positions, leaving not only positions but opinions and conclusions disconsolate on the steps of their chateau, fluttering their lacy fans in front of their red rimmed eyes. But I think you need to have tentative positions in order to move on to new ones; just asking questions only gets you so far. This is why so many of my posts are so long and tortured, and I appreciate all of your patience. Uh, thanks.