Monthly Archives: October 2014

Prelude … wait for it …

Have I mentioned I love The Onion?

This is one of the reasons why….and it ties into my next blog. Call it a prelude.

Advertisements

Violence is infection

I intended to publish a lighter blog this week as a break from my planned four-part series on women against feminism. (Some pedanthood trivia -> I learned this from Shakespeare; break up the serious scenes with a little comedic relief.)

However, in light of current events, I have shelved the lighter piece for future.

A Canadian soldier was murdered as he stood guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier, and his murderer then made his way through the halls of parliament in Ottawa.

I am not going to address how it happened, logistically.

However, as I am a pedant and therefore prone to fixation on details and rules, I am fixated on how this can happen on a human level. I can’t stop thinking about why and what and how.

I can, on some level, understand how a person who lives in a culture of violence can be habituated to acting violently. As humans, we conform to the norms of our society. When violence is the norm, then you conform to it unconsciously.

I also understand mental illness. I understand that some of us do not have the capacity to separate fact from fiction, and right action from wrong action, or to comprehend the full consequences of our behavior.

I find it personally challenging to understand how someone who comes from a place where violence is not the norm is recruited to violence. When you come from a peaceful nation where the norm is tolerance and agreeing to disagree how do you come to the point that you can actually see violence as a path?

Violence is a disease and doesn’t affect a healthy mind in a healthy environment. Violence is antithetical to the optimal conditions for cultural and individual existence. Acting out in violence is contrary to our natural impulses for self-preservation and cultural perpetuation.

One of my favourite Ted Talks is by Dr. Larry Slutkin, in which he talks about how he found success treating violence like a disease. He talks about interrupting transmission and shifting norms. Watch it here.

What are the rules and parameters of transmission of violence? How do we identify, inoculate and immunize against the transmission of violent behavior and indoctrination into violent ideologies? How do we identify those living in a healthy society who are individually less healthy and unable to fight indoctrination? How do we identify unhealthy cultures and build them up so that a healthy norm becomes strong enough to fend off the infection with violence?

Right now Canada is poised to join an armed fight against ISIS. Many people I know are completely opposed. I agree that violence begets violence, but I am also at a loss because I think it is obvious something needs to be done.

There’s this fellow named Marshall Rosenberg, I don’t know much about him or his Centre for Non-Violent Communication, but one thing he says resonates with me. He draws a line for responding to violence. His assertion is that we can respond with force OR with violence. We can use force to end a conflict and restrain the participants without becoming violent ourselves. He talks about it here.

I feel completely capable of this as an individual but I have no idea how we would accomplish this on a large scale. We do need to change the way we act and react to global issues. We need to treat the illness and stop the violence from spreading, and we need to act in a way that doesn’t mean we become violent ourselves in response.

We need to build a better world, not just burn and hope that the fire kills the virus.

Big task. I like to believe we’re up to it.

Women against feminism (pt 1of4) – The Fringe Mentality

I know I am not the only person who has noticed that the ‘women against feminism’ are privileged white women – privileged with reference to the fact that they can vote, go to school, testify in a court of law, and generally exist without anyone asking for permission. In turning their back on the movement that earned them these privileges, anti-feminists reveal they are either not the brightest crayon in the box or something is being lost in the constantly evolving communication of modern feminist ideology. (Quite probably some combination of the two)

There are mistakes being made in communicating feminism to a new generation of women. The worst damage is being done by a vocal minority attempting to define feminism leadership and the ideology a feminist must adhere to.

Listen – NEVER confuse an ideology with that ideology’s fringe element. I know they are vocal and easy to point out. I know they are cocky and pretty sure they are in charge. I know that they can rub moderate fence sitting types the wrong way.

The thing is, ‘women against feminism’, (and I CANNOT bring myself to type that phrase outside of quotation marks) make the mistake of equating angry, bitter women with feminism in its totality. Yeah, there are angry feminists. There are happy feminists. Feminists vary as much as people do (go figure) Exacerbating the ‘angry’ image problem is the fact that frequently women who speak up about anything are swiftly caricaturized as angry and pointed out. Which coincidentally, is a good indicator of how fragile our hard earned western feminist privileges are and how easily the layers of equity can be peeled away with a label like ‘bitch’ or ‘femi-nazi’.

Another point of miscommunication is the idea that feminists hate men or want to take away rights from men. I am loath to touch ‘man hating’ because it makes the worst of all mistakes; it continues to draw a strict line between human beings based on gender.

difference-between-men-and-women42-300x296

Let’s just say that human rights are not a zero sum game, and granting women human rights in no way strips men of human rights. It’s not a war, win or lose, us or them. You can love cooking dinner and still maintain the feminist belief that you are equal to your husband. You can give respect a man while still insisting on respect for yourself. You don’t have to be personally victimized to understand victimhood. Being accountable for your own actions does not mean you cannot expect others to be accountable for theirs. You can dislike one man and love a hundred other men. Feminism and motherhood are not antithetical (why would they be?) Looking out for women does not mean over looking-men (in fact feminism benefits men, more on that in another post) You can lift yourself up without pushing someone else down.

If what you are doing is your free choice you are standing up to patriarchy. If you are actively making your own free choices in your life no matter what they are, understand that whether you own up to the label or not, you are a feminist. Feminism isn’t about conforming to an ideology, it is about conforming to your own inner narrative about who you are and what you need to be fulfilled.

 

 

Confirmation bias

I have a few fears that come with behaviors attached, and high on my prioritized list of scary things I could do is the fear of not taking into account as many vantage points as are presented to me. As Aristotle wrote – It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. I aspire to an educated mind.

The ability to present our own views without being blinded by them is fundamental to effective communication. The key to not being blinded by our own attitudes is avoiding confirmation bias.

For the sake of clarity, confirmation bias is defined as the tendency to interpret evidence or points of view that are presented to us only as they confirm our own pre-existing world view, and to disregard and/or avoid any evidence or point of view that would lead us to question the same. It involves purposefully seeking out only the information that confirms what we believe and ignoring what calls our beliefs into question. Confirmation bias is strongly ingrained into human nature.

Avoiding this pitfall is important for me, and sometimes it is hard work.

After all, who doesn’t want to unfriend that one idiot who posts all the (not thought) provoking tea party, anti-climate change, you’re either ‘with me or against me’ tripe on Facebook?

Or the ninny that posts about meditating to cure illnesses; who likes  and shares every bit of drivel that Deepak Choprah spews out?  (FYI, I always get a giggle out of this: http://www.wisdomofchopra.com/)

Who would it hurt to end what is obviously not a true friendship, but what is probably at best an acquaintance based on some perverse intellectual voyeurism?

Therein lies the rub. It would hurt me.

I keep my circle wide because it helps me maintain my mental acuity. How else would I encounter a daily challenge to my ability refute inanity? What other reason do I have to keep that logical fallacies poster by my desk or to maintain solid knowledge of Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement? I could end up being one of those people who defends her opinions with the lazy way out “Because that’s the way I was raised/the tradition/how we’ve always done it”

More importantly, I keep my circle wide because disagreeing with one person’s one point of view does not mean that that same one person does not have something to teach me, because we don’t just learn from agreement. I particularly cherish the people who do really think critically and rationally, but still arrive at different conclusions from me.

Confirmation bias is a real danger.  When all our contacts and information are selected from sympathetic sources it is too easy to become intellectually compromised, and maybe even to become one of the nitwit someone else blogs about.

So I thank all the nitwits, simpletons, cretins and nincompoops that exist within the parameters of my network. You keep me sharp. My family, however, may not be as grateful because thanks to you they get to listen to a lot of frustrated raving about the sad state of society and how much I despair for the future of the human race.

 

 

 

Curses cursive!

I will preface this by saying I am a creative person. I actively support and actively practice many arts. I know what creativity is, and why it matters. I am also a pragmatic person. I want to be and say and create what will have the most constructive impact.

I have been lurking on the fringes of an online debate about education and cursive writing.

The entire ‘debate’ (and I use that term loosely) is rooted in nostalgia and has no practical relationship to the actual purpose of the education system.

The skills necessary in the workplace have changed dramatically in the last two generations. As the world changes the skills needed to navigate our world also change. The destination has changed, so the path taken must also change.

What has not changed is notable. Children still have a finite capacity for active instruction. There are still a finite number of hours in the day. The education system still needs to prepare young people for the realities of the workplace.

As a result, time and attention once paid to teaching cursive writing has been supplanted by time and attention allotted to teaching computer literacy.

In its time, cursive was taught for specific reasons. It increased the speed of written communication. Signatures were used as a means of identifying a person.

Neither of these reasons is valid in a modern context.

Handwriting is too slow to keep up with modern expectations in communication. Cursive is also frequently illegible, which slows down communication and introduces a margin of error.

One argument for cursive claims it nurtures ‘creativity’. First of all, the act of writing itself regardless of the method, is creativity. Hemingway typed. Cursive tends to be more difficult to read accurately precisely BECAUSE it lends itself to creativity; which is why official forms always ask you to print your name and information. Another cursive defense claims that humans evolved to have a relationship with the written word. Written communication did not evolve, we created it. Evolution is passive, creation is active. We evolved to recognize patterns, and used that pattern recognition to create written language. In fact, recognition is improved when the pattern is most consistent, and as I said before, cursive varies and on depends too many factors. Anyone who has tried to read a doctor’s script knows that is true.

Clarity and efficiency of communication are paramount. There are ways to teach creativity that are not antithetical to modernity.

illegible

There are better ways to identify a person. A signature is not a secure method of establishing identity, in large part because more of what we do is done via technology that does not accommodate pen and paper. Even learning to forge signature is old hat these days.

hancock2

Another  concern is that our children will not be able to understand what we write. Let’s not forget, they are still being taught to print. How often is it entirely necessary that we write? It is not just our children who need to adapt to the modern world. If you must, print. It will probably be more legible anyway.

Let’s stop mistaking wistfulness for educational fundamentalism, and stop basing our future on a nostalgia tinged belief in the inerrancy of “the way things have always been done around here’. Cursive writing is an anachronism in the modern classroom. We don’t teach children math on an abacus anymore.

Go right ahead and insist your child learn cursive. Then one day he will be able to sign his job application with a lovely signature. I will continue to insist my son learn modern skills. My son will be able to print his skills and competencies on his resume. My son will get the job.