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Jul. 16th, 2016

Collie muse

Goldie! :)

To all my friends with children: I am so very, very sorry! I owe you all an apology… and some explanation. :-D

It is probably no secret to those who know me that I don't care for kids that much. The very young ones are often loud and shrill, and their high-pitched voices frequently hit a note that I find quite painful due to popping an eardrum some time ago while scuba diving. I also happen to agree with the (slightly paraphrased) quote regarding babies being alimentary canals with no sense of responsibility at either end. Consequently I have never been able to fathom parental effusing on the remarkable and unique beauty and/or intelligence of their (very average-looking, to me) offspring — could anything be duller to listen to?

There is also the fact that throughout most of my animal-training and -owning life I have usually ended up with the "difficult" animals — the ones that are fearful, or have learned bad habits, or have been hurt and are now consequently quite untrusting. I don't regret being there for those animals — I'm actually rather proud of being able, in most of the cases, to help them become happier and calmer and better behaved. However, I also got used to needing endless patience with the poor things, and to watch those with friendlier or more confident animals easily navigate tricks and training that would take my particular animal teammate much, much longer…

-until now.

OMG YOU GUYS MY BEAUTIFUL GOLDIE-PUP JUST PASSED HER INTERMEDIATE OBEDIENCE CLASS WITH FLYING COLORS SHE IS THE CUTEST SMARTEST MOST AWESOME PUPPY EVAAAR LOOK LOOK I GOT PHOTOS ISN'T SHE JUST THE MOST — HEY WAIT WHERE'RE YOU GOING?! :-D

Intermediate Obedience graduation! Isn"t she awesome?! ;)

Intermediate Obedience graduation! Isn't she awesome?! ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 12th, 2016

Collie muse

The Magicians by Lev Grossman, pt. 2

Okay, finished the book; ready to give a few more thoughts on it. Some notes:

  • Same trigger warnings as before (i.e: rape, able-ism, & thoughtless misogyny) with the addition of violent death and breathtakingly insulting levels of rich white boy privilege — and also…
  • MAJOR spoilers! Though the book (& TV show) has been out for a while, so… cave lector, I suppose?

Anyway! To continue: much as I suspected, in the last 60 or so pages of the book the main character Quentin — I cannot bring myself to call him a hero — does not receive his comeuppance. Unfortunately he also learns nothing at all by the end of the book; his record for horrendous life decisions remains metaphorically untarnished.

For example, I mentioned him cheating on his girlfriend and somehow managing to mentally recast himself as the seduced victim rather than — at the very least — an equal participant. I have two issues with this: first, as depizan (one of the moderators from the excellent Ana Mardoll's Ramblings) discussed with me: due to Quentin being such an unreliable narrator we actually have no way of knowing for sure that this sexual interlude was in fact consensual.

However, despite everyone being so incredibly drunk that one of them (Eliot) was unconscious and the other two (Quentin & Janet) clearly were judgement-impaired, I think we're supposed to believe it was indeed consensual — due to the (perceived) lack of negative reaction from both Eliot and Janet the next day. Indeed, Quentin internally characterizes Janet's reaction the next morning as smugness at having seduced Alice's boyfriend — which is an amazing feat of self-righteousness on his part, but which I guess really shouldn't surprise me considering his consistent narcissism.

Secondly, this self-righteousness of Quentin's reaches an appalling pitch of psychological projection when he discovers the devastated Alice, some time later, spending a night with one of the other students. I personally saw this as a very natural reaction on Alice's part; I could easily see her thinking something like this:

'My first boyfriend ever has cheated on me and I have no one to turn to, to help me through this horrible sense of betrayal and hurt. Was it actually love I felt for him or was I just deluded by sex? Perhaps I should try sex with someone else and see how that feels. If it's wonderful then maybe I'm better off without Quentin, but if not then maybe it is indeed Quentin who I love.'

Quentin, however, manages to recast this experimentation by Alice into a real WTF?! moment — he sees it as personal verification of what a vile, horrible person she truly is. This really boggled me, but… somehow he manages it? He is, in fact, such a disgustingly insecure, pathetic little shit that when Alice tentatively admits to him in the middle of a dangerous situation that (just like him) she's afraid… he sneers at her. Later things start escalating into a truly life-threatening situation — so during a rest-stop he belittles her for being too timid. Her words are prophetic — she tells him she will stop being timid if he will:

"for just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever."

Cue make-up making-out, followed eventually by a terrible battle where Alice dies to save him and everyone else.

So let's recap: Quentin's courageous girlfriend — that he initially raped, then cheated on, and then villainized to soothe his guilty conscience — doesn't just plead with him to try living a better life; she also uses so much magic in battle to protect him that she dies from it… all so he will have enough time to try to live more. And how does he repay this astonishing act of forgiveness and generosity? Upon recovery from the battle, he goes home and refuses to use magic any more — people would be better off without it! — instead retreating into smug self-righteousness in the well-paid sinecure which is provided for him: a C-level-equivalent job where all he does is play video games all day in his luxuriously appointed New York City business office.

Then, at the very end of the story, old acquaintances from his magical school days appear, telling him they need his help when they return to the alternate realm where Alice died — to become kings and queens there. It takes less than 10 lines of dialogue from them to demolish Quentin's conviction that humans would be better off without magic — so little, in fact, that it's pretty clear his running off and hiding like this is not much more than the petulant snit-fit of a spoiled child upon being forced to understand there actually are life-changing consequences for his (really stupid!) actions.

However, it's also clear he hasn't learned a thing so far — because he insults one of his old friends in order to have the last metaphorical word… and then leaves with them.

That's it for the first book. There are two more, but frankly I can't bring myself to bother wasting any more time with Quentin. In retrospect, he is a singularly unpleasant example of astonishingly egocentric, self-righteous, and extraordinarily privileged "poor little [white] rich boy."

From what I've been told, by the end of the third book Quentin does finally buy a freaking clue and realize he's not the charmed center of the entire multi-verse. However, while that's a relief to hear I still don't have any desire to read the next two books. The author did a good enough job of inverting the Chosen One trope that I ended up revolted by the main character and didn't enjoy the book… and thus have no desire to read any more about this pathetic loser.

That being said… Sabotabby on LiveJournal made a very perceptive comment to me about Quentin: he's a literary character in a fantasy genre — and that's why I find him so jarring. He's far too realistic — all his adolescent angst and petulant whining laid bare to the reader. There's neither courage nor heroism within him, yet his environment is full of magical trials and wondrous quests. To some degree this makes me despise him less… though I still don't want to waste any more time on him.

Funny thought, though: by my reaction to Quentin it's clear I vehemently dislike literary characters in the fantasy genre… but equally I find I dislike the perfect (or close to it) heroic character in the fantasy genre. For example, while I adored the Narnia stories as a child, I often felt more empathy for the younger Pevensies than for Peter. He was such a perfect little prig sometimes! I always felt it very unfair that he got to be the leader when it was clear to me that both his younger siblings and many of the Animals were far more quick-witted, imaginative, strong, brave, and/or experienced than he.

Even worse (to my perspective) are the pulp stories about yet more "The Chosen One" types like John Carter of Mars or Doc Savage. They were always perfect! They always knew just the right thing to do! Talk about script immunity: their freaking environment loved them! Just once I wanted to see the girl not fall instantly in love and betray her entire people for Carter… or for one of Doc Savage's Fabulous Five to correct his instant — and perfect! — translation of the clue given by the ancient hermeneutic scribbles on the  collapsed stone wall of the lost archaeological whatsis. Where's the sense of wonder or excitement when you know the protagonist will never really be challenged or threatened?

Thinking about those reactions made me amusedly realize: I really don't give authors much leeway in this style of categorization! However, I'm not entirely sure I could definitively say what exactly it is that I'm looking for in a protagonist. I clearly don't want the strict literary character type any more than the strict fantasy character type… but some reality might be nice. Having a magical world where things are straightforwardly black and white is dull; I want at least a little well-considered gray, you know? I do realize that's rather frustratingly ambiguous of me, but for right now this is one of those "I'll know it when I see it" sorts of situations. Maybe this is part of why I so love good urban fantasies?

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jun. 28th, 2016

Collie muse

The Magicians by Lev Grossman, pt. 1

Trigger warnings for rape, able-ism, & thoughtless misogyny.

 

My bookclub read this book this last month. It has a nifty (and for nerds, self-aggrandizing) concept: magic is real but secret and only the extraordinarily brilliant can see and perform it. I haven't quite finished it yet, and I may have more to add at that point, but I had a very strong visceral reaction to parts of the book, and I wanted to write them out because I wasn't yet ready to verbalize them last night, when we met to talk about the book.

There wasn't much discussion about the book, oddly enough. The general consensus was that the movie's protagonist was much more likeable than the book's. One of the women pointed out what she referred to as "button words," which are unkind and poorly used words that aggravate you so much they knock you mentally out of the story. Hers was "retarded," and the thoughtless use of it in the book made her angry enough that she just stopped reading rather than finish the story. Another woman mentioned the word "autistic" as hers. I found particularly poignant her disgusted comment, paraphrased from my memory: "He referred to the character as having a focus so intense it was autistic. Right, like no one else ever has had really intense focus!"

Which brings me to my thoughts on some of the things I really, really dislike about this book. For example, the main character spends an unpleasant and apparently pointless amount of time mooning over women's breasts — to the point that someone in bookclub wryly noted that this was clearly normalization of that particular distasteful behavior. When I mentioned how creepily "male gaze-y" it was as well, though, several of the women cheerfully noted that they just "blipped" right past that!

I can understand needing to blip right past crap like that. Actually thinking for any length of time about the book's attempted normalization of such objectifying behavior, and how that actually encourages under-socialized boys and men to engage in it would, I suspect, be psychologically painful and potentially damaging for women readers.

But there's a more important question than why didn't I just blip right past it, and that is: why should we have to "blip" right past it? Why do we have to agree, however temporarily, to view women — ourselves — as objects which can and should be sexualized, in order to read the story? Hell, why is this sort of reprehensible behavior being normalized in the first place? Why are we as readers being pretty much put into the position of having to agree with the (male) author that that's just how it is — boys will be boys!

I emphatically do not agree with that statement. Further, I don't like it being shoved in my face like that… and I really don't like that we as women are pretty much forced to accept our own objectification if we are to read the story.

This asshole of a protagonist later cheats on his girlfriend Alice:

It could have been the sheer domesticity of it… or maybe it was just boredom, that powerful aphrodisiac… but if he was honest with himself Quentin had known for at least twenty minutes, even as they were wrestling Eliot [their drunken friend] down the hall, that he was going to take Janet's dress off as soon as he had half a chance.

…then has the unmitigated gall to blame Janet, the other young woman, mentally casting her as the triumphant conqueror over his (now angrily ex) girlfriend. Right, dude… because she totally forced you to take her dress off.

Can we talk about the rape scene? Earlier in the book, our "hero" and his companions have been shape-shifted into Arctic foxes:

Increasingly, Quentin [the protagonist] noticed one scent more than the others. It was a sharp, acrid, skunky musk… to a fox it was like a drug. He caught flashes of it in the fray every few minutes, and every time he did it grabbed his attention and jerked him around like a fish on a hook. … This time he tackled the source of the smell, buried his snuffling muzzle in her fur, because of course he had known all along, with what was left of his consciousness, that what he was smelling was Alice.

 

It was totally against the rules, but breaking the rules turned out to be as much fun as obeying them. …he was tussling with Alice. Vulpine hormones and instincts were powering up, taking over, manhandling what was left of his rational human mind.

 

He locked his teeth in the thick fur of her neck. It didn't seem to hurt her any, or at least not in a way that was easily distinguishable from pleasure. Something crazy and urgent was going on, and there was no way to stop it, or probably there was but why would you? … He caught a glimpse of Alice's wild dark fox's eye rolling with terror and then half shutting with pleasure. … she made little yipping snarls every time he pushed himself deeper inside her. (455)

Later, when they're human again:

Things just got out of control, that's all. It wasn't them, it was their fox bodies. Nobody had to take it too seriously.

 

Mayakovsky [the professor] sat at the head of the table looking smug. He had known this was going to happen, Quentin thought furiously… Whatever perverted personal satisfaction Mayakovsky got out of what happened, it because obvious over the next week that it was also a practical piece of personnel management…. (456)

This… I just. I can't. If I hadn't known already the author was male, this misogynistic piece of shit scene would have informed me of that fact in no uncertain terms. Hell, where do I even start? How about with:

Oh, but it wasn't really them — they were foxes! He couldn't help himself!

Uh-huh… because none of us have ever heard that "he just couldn't help himself!" justification for rape before, right? Because we all know that men are just animals who can't control themselves at all if there's a woman around. What absolute bullshit.

But in the end she liked it! She wanted it too!

Remember what I said earlier about this scene showing me the author was male? That fantasy of the raped woman ending up loving her rapist is in reality referred to as either Stockholm Syndrome or a possible symptom of domestic violence. It is a sickness, it is pathological — it is emphatically not healthy. It is a twisted piece of psychological projection that rapists and batterers tell themselves to justify their horrific actions: she was asking for it! It wasn't my fault — she wanted it!

Add to that the complete lack of regard in the rape scene for things like, oh, birth control, or any  emotional upset on the part of the raped girl (all she does is later ask the boy if he loves her — what was the author thinking?!), or male conflation of female pain and pleasure, or deliberate male abrogation of self-control in pursuit of sexual pleasure, or the fact that someone who is incapable of giving consent in any meaningful fashion should not be fucked! …but no worries! No, we're all cheerfully assured we shouldn't take this too seriously or anything! It's all those cute little foxie instincts — not our protagonist's fault at all, really! After all, an emotional breakdown or pregnancy resulting from rape — oh, excuse me, "nonconsensual sex" — doesn't fit into the male fantasy of the woman needing to be violently overcome in order to realize she actually really loves her attacker, right?

Yeah, no way that could ever go wrong.

Finally: rape as a "practical piece of personnel management"?! Dude, no. Not just no, but HELL no! This misogynist author can at this point, as far as I'm concerned, go jump in a lake.

Sigh. I'm a completist — I've got only 60 pages to go in a 400 page book. I can do this. I would really like to see the protagonist receive his much-deserved comeuppance… though I'm not holding my breath. I may not like it… but I can do this.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 17th, 2016

Collie muse

Intellectual Shamans (part 2)

Now, admittedly I was just taking quick glances at small photos on google, and the author does state up front that these are just the intellectual shamans that she knows of personally. Nevertheless, her selection of ostensible shamans begs several uncomfortable questions. According to this website, in US business schools women are less than a quarter of tenured faculty, and less than a fifth of full professors — and women of color are even more hugely underrepresented. So why aren't there more management/business professors who are women or people of color? Further, Waddock's selection of study participants works out to only one woman for every seven men, rather than the one in four or five that it should be when based on actual statistics — and her ratio for people of color is even worse. True, she points out that those were the only ones she herself knew — but she also notes she didn't personally know all of them. Many of them were introduced to her by others. That being the case, why didn't the author at least try for more diversity, in an attempt to provide a broader and richer selection of intellectual shamanistic thought?

As I continued reading, another uncomfortable thought started to intrude: is this use of the term shaman a form of cultural appropriation? I've been told that using another culture's concepts with respect is often considered acceptable to the originators of that culture… but I honestly don't know if they'd consider this respectful or not. Actual shamans sometimes go through years of training with a mentor shaman, or endure some agonizing or near-death experience, before they refer to themselves as such. Further, there is a strong spiritual or religious aspect to indigenous shamanism. Would they feel this so-called intellectual shamanism truly equivalent to their life-long efforts — for the blood, sweat, and tears shed for their people? In fact, now that I'm thinking about this… is there an element of ivory tower elitism here — as in: is the author (hopefully unconsciously) inferring that true, indigenous shamans are somehow… I don't know, maybe non-intellectual, or overly dependent on emotion, or something? I'd hope not… but again, as a middle-class white woman in my chosen field of study, I try to be extremely leery of even the possibility of cultural appropriation.

There was one last thing that crept up on me as I was reading: the author notes repeatedly the importance of being who and what one is called to be — yet she gives no credence at all to the equal importance (at least in academia, and I presume in business as well) of actually being recognized as outstanding in one's field. In fact, she doesn't seem to even realize that the issue of women — especially women of color — being overlooked for men exists at all. This is a real shame, especially since both academia and business are huge purveyors of inequities to women and people of color. In general men out-earn women, and white people out-earn people of color, while promotions go more often to men than women, and to whites rather than PoC. Ignoring such things does not make them go away — if anything, it makes them worse. For the author to be blissfully oblivious to these glaring inequities in her research does not speak well, to me, of her powers of observation, especially since she herself is a woman in academia — you'd think she'd maybe notice things like that?

I also strongly feel more diversity in her selection of research participants would have added an inspiring depth and richness to her depiction of intellectual shamans. For her to be (apparently?) utterly oblivious to the overwhelming predominance of academic — and consequently also somewhat socially elite — white males in her research not only diminishes the potential value of her work, but also makes me uncomfortably wonder: is she (unconsciously?) suggesting it's mostly only white men who can truly become who they really are? But then she keeps saying we all need to just do it — to have the courage to answer the call and become shamans in service to our world in our own right. So… does her paucity of study participants who are women and/or people of color show her belief that women and people of color just don't have the courage to answer that call, and/or that they simply aren't that good at this sort of thing? Or is this more a case of her not realizing that 'answering the call to become who we really are' only works when one has a job that ensures enough food for the family to eat, and a roof over their heads? Does she not realize how important the opportunity offered by being in the social higher classes is, in order to take fullest advantage of talent and training? Does she not get how much easier privilege makes things… or does she simply just not care?

In conclusion, there were quite a few issues for me regarding the research methodology which ultimately caused me to regard the book with regretful suspicion. Not only am I still extremely uncertain regarding the potential cultural appropriation, but I also don't feel I can really trust the author's discoveries to be truly representative, due to the rather narrow selection of participants. On the other hand, I feel very strong agreement with the author's base premise: in order to offset the incredibly destructive current results of widespread corporate greed, selfishness, and lack of empathy or cooperation, we have a powerful need to bring back both ethics and (perhaps personal) spirituality into our lives and our work. In the end, I loved the concept, but the examples did not really clarify as much as they could have — more research is clearly needed!

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 16th, 2016

Collie muse

Intellectual Shamans (part 1)

When I read the title — Intellectual Shamans: Management Academics Making A Difference by Sandra Waddock — I really, really wanted to like this book, and to be able to apply it to my dissertation. I strongly believe our educational system — economics and management in particular — need deep, powerful overhauls on their ethical teachings. I feel strongly about this for a variety of reasons, one of which is that studies have shown that economics — one of the foundation courses of management training — is either teaching or self-selecting for students to lose altruism, empathy, and compassion; to behave more selfishly and avoid cooperation; and to expect the worst of others. These are emphatically not the ethics I want to have predominating in corporate America!

Initially it seems this book too is suggesting a sea change in management ethics — through the teachings of what the author refers to as intellectual shamans. I love that phrase! It brings a spiritual element to academia which I feel is sorely lacking. I'm not suggesting that universities, say, require classes in pre-approved versions of christianity before anyone can graduate with any degree, or that there be, for example, a mandatory prayer hour each day. But I do feel the emphasis on only quantitative statistical financial data which is currently in vogue for business classes is causing the students to miss some really important — dare I say spiritual? — intangibles… concepts such as cooperation, fairness, compassion and empathy, and consideration for others. Heck, even some psychology or anthropology might help business students, so that they could learn that humans thrived evolutionarily due to unselfish behavior and concern for others in the group.

But returning to the book: Maddock defines intellectual shamans as "scholars who become fully who they must be, and find and live their purpose, to serve the world through three capacities: healing, connecting, and sense-making, and in the process seek or come to wisdom" (1), and "formally" defines intellectual shamanism as "intellectual work (theory, research, writing, and teaching) that integrates healing, connecting (intermediation or the mediating of boundaries), and sensemaking to serve the greater good" (3). She is quite frank that this is qualitative rather than quantitative teaching and research: "it is the light that shines from them [intellectual shamans] that helps us identify them, even though this is hardly a scientific concept" (5). She also heavily emphasizes the "becoming who one must be" element of her definition of shamanism, adding that in taking this route:

many (perhaps not all) intellectual shamans become wise elders — sages. Wisdom, as I define it, also has a tripartite definition: wisdom is the integration of systems understanding, moral imagination, and aesthetic sensibility in the service of the greater good, which in the case of intellectual shamans is reflected in their healing orientation. (4)

She goes on to explain her choice of phrasing — first why she considers them shamanic and then why intellectual. According to her interpretation of her research on these individuals, they are shamanic because they have:

undertaken the task (some would call it the spiritual task) of finding and living out their core purpose in the world — and in doing that they are trying to help make the world a better place. Their implicit and sometimes explicit message to all of us is to do the same…. in shaping their purposes, they serve the world in some important way. (3)

She further clarifies her beliefs regarding these individuals, and on what she means by their service capacities, by noting that:

[a]s intellectual shamans within a broadly defined management academy, they do this [serve the world] through the tasks of healing something intellectual or idea-based, be it theory, research, or practice; of connecting, which means mediating across boundaries or boundary-spanning; and of sensemaking. But they might be operating in any number of other realms of academia — or simply other realms. (3)

Perhaps most intriguingly, Waddock explicitly notes that this research has helped her — and, she hopes, others as well — understand that:

we all have the capacity to become intellectual — or other types of — shamans, depending on our own gifts, power, and callings. We 'simply' need to have the courage to answer the call to become who we really are, to work in service to something beyond ourselves that tries to make the world or something in it better, and follow that call in our life's work by doing work that matters, makes a difference. (7)

I find this a hopeful beginning and an encouraging message — a sort of shamanic version of Gandhi's "be the change you wish to see in the world," so to speak. I've often felt that education should step up to the plate more as far as working deliberately towards making a better world.

That being said, I found myself feeling oddly, increasingly uncomfortable as I continued reading. Part of this I knew was due to the 28 individuals which the author chose to interview. She emphasized repeatedly how inadequate "standard" markers of a quality reputation — such as, for example, number of citations of one's works, or how many books published and articles written for so-called 'A'-level journals — are for intellectual shamans… yet when introducing each individual she dedicated two or three pages each to effectively reciting their CVs — isn't that the classic marker of quality? — and other notable accomplishments.

More disconcerting was the lack of diversity in her selection of intellectual shamans: out of 28 individuals there are only four women, one of whom is of Indian descent. Googling the others, I think there's also a South African, some Europeans, and several Canadians — two of which were apparently born in India. Past those two, however… they all look very white!

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 10th, 2016

Collie muse

Hooks, bucks, & holes

We have a covered patio on one side of our house which is accessed by a sliding glass door. I use it most often to let Goldie in and out of the house to the backyard. The patio was used for exercise equipment by the previous owners, and they left a small, simple hook sunk into the ceiling — kind of like this one:

Hanging hook

Hanging hook

In fact, that photo is probably close to life-sized. It's not a terribly big hook or anything — small enough that, say, wasps or something had filled in the hook part with enough material to form some sort of pale gray, blobby thing resting in the arch of the hook. My assumption was that it was some sort of nasty bug, so I was keeping half an eye on it to know whether they were coming back this year or not — we sure don't want a wasp's nest right next to the sliding glass door, after all.

As it turns out, it's not bugs at all — it's a hummingbird! She's nesting quite assiduously, though she really doesn't like it when we use the sliding glass door. She zips off immediately when we come out that way, scolding us with sharp little chk! … chk! cries that sound much louder than her tiny little body looks like it could produce.

We're using the other doors now to access the patio, to give her a bit more privacy… and I confess I am somewhat excitedly wondering if I could sneak a webcam out there too! I would absolutely love to watch baby hummingbirds being hatched and fledged, after all.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Several times recently I've been in a place where I had to listen to the folks around me admiringly discussing rich people. Their eccentricities, the weirdly frivolous ways they spend their money, the issues they ignore in order to have fun, the vast amounts they spend on things that could easily be bought for far less… these seem to excite and fascinate people, such that they listen with rapt attention and seem to find it a wonderful story to hear.

Is it just me that finds stories such as these incredibly sad? All the good these people could do! But instead they're spending their money on personal toys, on antiquated games for which they are nostalgic, on things that entertain only them, on having a fun time… on remaining children, emotionally.

Do they ever read the news? Do they realize they're part of the 1%, or that they're contributing to the financial problems not just of the US, but of the entire world? Do they even care?

Worse: why do ordinary people seem to treat them with near-hero worship? These obscenely wealthy individuals are not worthwhile role models. If anything, they're parasites on society. I wish there were some way to reach such people — to ask them if they would like to do something really amazing, to help people and to make a better world. Or perhaps the issue is that there are too many trying to do that to them — and all with a wildly different idea of what a better world should be.

Nevertheless, as rational people, and at the very least, surely it would behoove us not to idolize the stupidly wealthy? Maybe I'm overreacting… but still, profligate waste makes me feel bad — both for those who could really use that wastage, and for those who're foolishly throwing good things away. I find those folks really sad.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I'm slowly making progress on my plan to turn my bedroom into a steampunk zeppelin's cabin! I've stained the inside of all the doors and doorframes that face into the bedroom so they look nice and brown. I'm going to put a porthole into the one that leads to the rest of the house. There are two porthole frames — one for each side of the door — and they look rather like this one:

Porthole example

Porthole example

Like the photo, mine need cleaning rather badly! They also have a pretty blue-green hard plastic window, rather than being clear — which is perfect for my needs.

Next, I think, are the long curtains which obscure Engineering — the nook in the room where all the filing cabinets are. They're simple purple IKEA curtains, but I intend to put a fringe on the bottom, and some sort of drape at the top so they look more Victorian.

Having an artsy project like this one is really helpful as a break from dissertation writing. I give myself one day a week to just relax and make things, and that makes a huge difference to my sanity! I'll post photos at some point when I have more to show.

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 3rd, 2016

Collie muse

Diss blues in a cheerful key!

Woo! Just finished my first interview for my dissertation research — and it went swimmingly, I think! Feeling much relief here, as well as some amusement at myself for needlessly stressing so much. Hopefully my participant enjoyed herself as well! Now, a couple of notes for future interviews:

  • zoom.us works great! Very clear directions, very easy to connect to for everyone, very simple controls, and it saves beautifully — in both video and audio format, which will make it far easier for me to do a text transcript. I'm sold! I'll be sticking with zoom instead of skype from now on. Thanks, Sam, for the invaluable recommendation!
  • Note to myself: before the interview starts, turn on a light in the room! I didn't realize it was getting dark because I was so focused on my participant… so when I finally looked at my side of the screen again, I realized I was almost completely darked out — almost menacing looking! Totally not the perception I want to give… ;)
  • I should let my participant's words lead the discussion more, I think, rather than worrying so much about the questions. When my participant was most animated and, I think, most enjoying herself was when I let her just tell things in the way and the order she wanted.
  • Sounds silly but of critical importance: use the restroom before the interview starts! Very embarrassing… ;-p
  • Another note to myself: have fun! This doesn't mean I can't be serious or focused as well, of course, but I think when I was enjoying myself was when my participant was having the most fun as well. I'm so very grateful to both her and the lovely person who connected us! Though I can't mention any names for the sake of confidentiality, you know who you are — and you're amazingly good folks!

That's it! The first of, I hope, many fascinating interviews with many wonderful women. To infinity… and beyond! :-D

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 18th, 2016

Collie muse

Women & STEM

I'm starting to become somewhat unhappy with a current trend I'm seeing on-line: increasingly indignant or strident calls for women to "step up" and start more enthusiastically participating in STEM (or the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)… purportedly so as to give women more of a voice in society, so as to change it for the better. I have a number of issues with this assertion:

  1. It presents lack of women in STEM as a woman's problem — they need to get off their dead butts and get with it!
  2. It assumes the arts are pretty much valueless to the true running of society; and…
  3. It presents men's desires/fields/whatever as the goal and source of power, which does nothing to alleviate society's misogyny — which means that will doubtless carry over into the STEM jobs just as it has in every other previously male-dominated field.

At some point I may write more about #3, but right now I'm just going to give a perspective on issues #1 (since I personally lived what I'll be relating below) & 2… because I've felt great sympathy and admiration for Ada Lovelace since I first heard about her.

So… issue #1: the idea that lack of women in STEM is a women's issue because they just need to get with the program.

Several years ago I originally returned to college so as to get a major in computer science and a minor in anthropology. I remember my computer classes painfully well. The first computer classes were wonderfully fascinating — I so loved the ingenious puzzle that coding was, to me! Plus I had a professor who was actually working in the field, rather than simply being an ivory tower recluse. In that first elective class there were no more than 20 of us students, and the prof was quiet but very smart — to the point that he rapidly figured out that asking, "Does everyone get this?" would get him a silent (even if confused) class… but asking, "Would anyone like me to repeat this?" would get relieved and enthusiastic nods from the confused.

Then I attended a required class — what I now refer to as a "cattle-call" class of something like 200+ students. It was held in an auditorium where the chairs sloped down to the stage. The first few classes everyone was participating as enthusiastically as that first class I'd taken. However, right in the center, at about the professor's eye level, was a small group of 3 to 5 young white guys who would always shout out the answers — even when the professor had only asked for a volunteer to reply.

It didn't take long, of course, for the professor to start deferring to those guys, and everyone else in the class just started falling silent — because they never got a chance to answer, or even ask questions. The prof would run through a problem, turn to the class and say, "Everyone got that?" and the guys in the front would say, "Yeah!" and the professor would look pleased and go on to the next problem. He would do this… even when I could see others looking as confused as I often was myself.

To be fair, there were other white males in the class who didn't get it, along with all the rest of us… but they too tended to be quiet in the face of the aggressively shouted competence of the "favored sons." Unfortunately the class was on a critical subject in computer programming, but because I didn't get it at all and was too embarrassed to ask questions in class, I did very poorly. That subsequently affected both my self-confidence and my ability to actually do the coding — because I still didn't understand this subject. Eventually that lack of understanding undermined my intended degree, and I ended up majoring in anthropology (with honors) and minoring in sociology instead.

In retrospect, if I was too intimidated to object in class (I was) then I really should have gone and complained to the professor during his office hours. But again, it's much easier to realize this with a decade or two of hindsight and self-confidence under my belt. Speaking just for myself, it was a small step from a perplexed, "why is no one else objecting? It must be just me — clearly I'm just imagining other folks' confusion," to the self-imposed isolation of, "everyone else but me must be getting this — maybe I'm not smart enough to do this," to it becoming a self-shaming and self-fulfilling prophecy reflected in my grades.

So if a clueless old white male professor favoring a handful of loud young white men over everyone else in his class is defined as a "woman's problem"… then yes, under that strikingly twisted definition, the lack of women in STEM is indeed solely a "woman's problem."

Next, issue #2: the arts being perceived as pretty much valueless to the true running of society.

On this I deeply sympathize with the Lady Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852), the first computer programmer. Ada's mother had her child rigorously schooled in mathematics and logic in an attempt to protect Ada — the only legitimate child of the wildly notorious and flamboyant romantic poet Lord Byron — from what she perceived as his insanity. Despite Ada's interest in those subjects, she was also fascinated by both her father and poetry — which her mother stringently discouraged. At one point Ada exasperatedly wrote in a letter to her mother, "You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?"

The separation of knowledge into the strongly estranged "arts" and "sciences" is, to me as well as to the Lady Lovelace, as artificial as separating mind and body or logic and emotion. I've always believed, for example, that justice should be tempered with mercy, or that ethics should be the bedrock of scientific inquiry. Ada herself commented: "The intellectual, the moral, the religious seem to me all naturally bound up and interlinked together in one great and harmonious whole." She expanded that statement by explaining:

Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently… It is that which feels & discovers what is, the REAL which we see not, which exists not for our senses… Mathematical science shows what is. It is the language of unseen relations between things… Imagination too shows what is… Hence she is or should be especially cultivated by the truly Scientific, those who wish to enter into the worlds around us!

Unfortunately Ada's poetical science and philosophy still resides more in imagination rather than enriching both those male-dominated fields. As a consequence of our insisting on these enforced, artificial binaries, I believe we as a society lose much richness and beauty in our lives, as well as a fuller understanding of the glorious complexity of our universe. Honestly, though, the fruitful intermingling of science, the arts, and philosophy is a subject so deep and wide as to merit an entire book, rather than just my idle speculations. Oh, wait… there's already a book on the subject. It's both brilliant and heavy going — much like Ada's writings on Babbage's proposed Analytical Machine. You're welcome! ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 15th, 2016

Collie muse

Trigger warnings

I've had some fascinating discussions recently with a few friends about things like privilege and trigger warnings and such. I'm writing my thoughts down because not only was it really interesting seeing someone else's perspective on this, but I also want to be sure I've thought this through as best I can… and writing stuff like this down helps me organize my thoughts.

When I stop and think about it, trigger warnings make a lot of sense to me. If something I'm writing or lecturing on could cause a terrible physical and/or emotional reaction in someone else, I'd much rather not do that to them. It seems only basic courtesy to me, like not randomly kicking or spitting on someone else, you know? Yet on-line I've noticed a great many Very Serious Missives by Very Grave Men about how an insistence on trigger warnings is the first step in a slippery slope leading to denial of everyone's basic human right to free speech.

I don't see this, actually. In fact, what I think things like this boil down to — and this is just my musing aloud here — is a conflict of conscience between feeling uncomfortable and guilty… and lashing out at whatever it was that made the person feel that way. In the US, however, it doesn't seem to be acceptable to simply say, "Dude, you're making me feel really bad about this. Can we pause a moment while I process these feelings?" In fact, it doesn't seem to be acceptable to even admit that one has such feelings. From what I can tell, it seems to emotionally translate approximately as "guilty feeling = (possibly non-conscious) admission of culpability," and so the guilty-feeling person quickly lashes out in anger, in an effort to deny both the guilt/bad feelings and the self-perceived culpability. Anger as an emotion does seem to pretty much obliterate most others, after all.

Of course, admitting feelings is still socially a "not done" thing even if it's just anger, and so the entire issue gets recast as something like: "You're infringing on my right to free speech!" But… I still don't see this. If anything, in my experience trigger warnings do not call for less speech — they call for more. Every time I've seen or listened to trigger warnings, they did not prevent speech so much as they warned of an upcoming and particular type of speech.

In a way, this is what most confuses me when I think about this issue. Most of the people who're upset with being asked to use trigger warnings seem to be older white guys. So let's think about this logically: in a society where, on average, white men are the most privileged social group — the most protected physically and legally, and financially most powerful — is it really that incredibly personally damaging to take less than a single minute… to be kinder to someone who is weaker than they? How is this not an emotional win all around?

I found it faintly amusing that one friend professed to dislike trigger warnings because he thought they were a total waste of time. since he'd never noticed anyone reacting to them when he'd heard them given. Fortunately he also seemed to instantly grasp the concept of a warning giving people a moment to brace so no harm will be done. Perhaps it was my example that helped him get it: I pointed out that signs warning of bumps in the road didn't cause drivers to scream in terror or anything — but it did give them a moment to slow down so the bump was bearable and no one got hurt. I feel that giving a well-done trigger warning is unlikely to cause people to either faint or storm out of the room — it's just a courteous warning that unpleasant subjects may come up, and that it is perfectly acceptable to leave the room if you feel the need, in order to maintain personal emotional health. It's curious — we find someone having to go to the restroom in the middle of a talk to be a no-brainer… but I've seen people shamefacedly admit that they don't feel right leaving due to overwhelming emotional pain if they've not been given tacit permission (such as by a trigger warning) to do so. That being the case… why on earth would a decent person not take the minuscule amount of time required to grant such permission?

I think, in some ways, I heard the "real secret truth" of the dislike for trigger warnings while talking to some of my friends. From what I can tell, the reason the tired old "free speech" argument is being trotted out yet again is not because of having to give trigger warnings — so much as because those arguing against them don't know how to give trigger warnings. In that emotional minefield, and being afraid of accusation of insensitivity, they feel nervous about speaking at all. In their heads, I believe, a perceived demand for trigger warnings doesn't mean simply that they need to learn how to give trigger warnings — it means they are being silenced. Thus the fall-back on the accusation of denial of free speech.

The really sad thing — at least to me — is that trigger warnings are so very easy to give! As a single example, at one point I decided I was going to have to use them in order to be a courteous forum participant, but I still had no idea how to do them "correctly." So I waited until I had something to post which I thought might be potentially triggering for others, and prefaced my post with a comment that went something like this: "I am sorry, but I don't really know how to do trigger warnings yet… and I want to make a comment that will discuss issues re possible domestic violence and rape. If this isn't a proper warning, could someone please gently let me know how to do it better, and I'll be happy to fix it? Thank you for your patience."

That's all it took. No one complained or told me I'd done it wrong. Even if they had, though, I would have just edited the comment so it included their requests. My musings are just my opinions, after all; they are not — by any stretch of the imagination! — the sum total of my worth. If you attack them, I may not like it… but I'm also not going to take it personally.

And if this little bit of musing helps someone through that nervous moment where they decide to accept change and try to be a better person through using trigger warnings… then we all win!

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 3rd, 2016

Collie muse

Moar diss bluuuuz! (e.g.: cultural ritual change)

Up to this point in my life, when I wrote papers for school I could usually hold the whole thing in my head as a sort of conceptual template. I'd write that down, then look up actual quotes I had in mind from specific books, so as to prove my points. This works fine for me as long as my papers — or individual chapters — were no more than, say, 25 to 30 pages. I started to struggle a little with holding the entire framework in my head while writing when I had to do my thesis, and later my comps exams. However,  most of the "standard" chapters — the Introduction, Acknowledgements, Preface, etc. — were written individually for various classes ahead of time. Also the largest chapter in the thesis was not quite 40 pages, and had a very clear-cut point throughout… so despite being almost 70 pages total, I could still manage to hold the entire conceptual thing in my head while writing.

For the comps it was even easier, though oddly enough I've been told by other students (in both Women's Spirituality and in a variety of other fields) that comprehensives were incredibly difficult and wrenching to write. They have all my sympathies! For myself, the comps were only one per semester, and the conceptual points I was supposed to be making felt pretty straightforward to me. Both profs really liked my work too, so I guess I did fine there. :)

Now I'm working on my dissertation, though… and it's supposed to be something like five rather closely related chapters. In those I have to interview some folks, explain and develop several related concepts that must be established first, and try to stay under 200 pages. Eep! Oh, plus I suspect my three-member diss committee's going to be quite a bit more stringent than my thesis committee of two. :)

One of the problems I'm having right now is that I'll read a book, realize it's really pertinent to what I'm going to be writing about, and save off the related portions. Then, sometimes months later, I'll come back to it and not quite remember why I felt it was so important. In an effort to address that, I'm going to try doing something similar to what I tried to do for my comps: I'll write up a review of the parts of the book that I thought most important, then post it here on my blog. That way, when I'm later ready to weave the info into my diss, I can come here and re-read exactly what I was thinking at the time. I've noticed that… intellectual liveliness, that excitement is much easier to bring back when I wrote down the why right away. I have, in fact, referred back to my blog frequently for various books for my comps that I particularly admired.

I think also that there are sections of my diss that will review a concept, rather than just a book, with which I should be able to do the same. I'm going to try it out here, with the caveat that these are very rough beginnings on explaining these concepts. This one is about how cultures change via their shared rituals.

[Note to self: this can go in the Lit Review, where I'm discussing cultural drift & patriarchy]

Ordinarily cultures and their associated powerful rituals change slowly and with great reluctance; rapid change usually occurs only during times of turmoil. Intriguingly, it appears the same category of gathering can potentially perform both (a) the standard re-creative function, where the group primarily renews communal bonds and reaffirms collective representations; or (b) a re-creative function from which change and something new emerges.[1] Pickering describes this type of intentional gathering, where the requisite collective effervescence occurs, as an "effervescent assembly."[2]

It was while searching for that form of "collective action… [which] arouses the sensation of sacredness"[3] that Durkheim first came up with the notion of collective effervescence as the source of religious vitality, and possibly of religion itself. His belief is that rituals promoting collective effervescence involve the suspension of social norms, allowing new concepts and beliefs to emerge in both religion and society: "There are some periods in history when, under the influence of some great collective shock, social interactions have become much more frequent and active…. That general effervescence results which is characteristic of revolutions or creative epochs."[4] Thus should a symbol or a ritual become exhausted — should they become culturally irrelevant, or no longer generate the desired emotional effervescence for their participants — then they will either be reconstituted into newer and more pertinent versions, or discarded entirely for something fresh which answers the culture's updated needs. When new rituals are created in such a fashion they are most often successful due to the participants sharing a high degree of focused emotion and desire (which grants them all heightened emotional energy and collective effervescence), a sense of their identities being either affirmed or changed within their group solidarity, and a shared respect for the group's symbols.[5]

R. Collins refers to such creations as "natural rituals" which "build up mutual focus and emotional entrainment without formally stereotyped procedures," and notes that it is in such situations that new cultural symbols are created.[6] He loosely defines symbols as both "particularized memories as well as generalized ideas or emblems,"[7] and notes that collective cultural symbols are created, shared, and invested with emotional power through interactional rituals, both formal and informal. These rituals engender, through their intensity, collective effervescence or emotional energy, moral solidarity, and a sense of community connection for their participants.[8] Further, the emotional, spiritual, and physical pleasure of the collective effervescence attached to these symbols is a significant part of the unconscious inspiration to create and/or enact social ceremonies or relationships using the symbols.[9] This can be easily noted in the joy on the faces of those participating in, say, a graduation ceremony or a wedding: both rituals publicly announce a change in social status through expected, structured actions and recitations as well as heavily symbolic and significant clothing. In an oversimplified nutshell, performing these powerful, shared cultural rituals makes us feel good about ourselves and our communities.

[1] Arthur Buehler, "The Twenty-first Century Study of Collective Effervescence: Expanding the Context of Fieldwork," Fieldwork in Religion vol 7.1 (2012): 70-97.

[2] William S. F. Pickering, Durkheim's Sociology of Religion: Themes & Theories (London: Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1984), 385.

[3] Durkheim, Elementary Forms, 245.

[4] Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain (New York: The Free Press, 1965), 241.

[5] R. Collins, 51.

[6] R. Collins, 50.

[7] R. Collins, 119.

[8] Randall Collins, Interactional Ritual Chains (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 155-156.

[9] R. Collins, 119.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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