Guest blog. I borrowed this from Kaja Sadowski of Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly.

I’ve never been able to vocalise this before, and I doubt I could do it any better. Enjoy.

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I’ve seen this image going around again, often accompanied by comments on how expecting women to learn self-defense is unreasonable and ineffective anyway, because men are bigger and stronger than us.

I get the original post’s sentiment. We can’t put the entire onus of preventing sexual assault on the victims (or potential victims), and things will not get better without widespread social change that addresses perpetrators (and potential perpetrators), and the cultural attitudes that make this shit so much more widespread and easy to get away with.

But as we build a better world that is safer for all of us, we need to live in this one. We need to survive day-to-day, and deal with the threats that exist now, and not the reduced ones that may exist decades down the road. And right now, knowing how to defend yourself won’t prevent all rape, but it might prevent yours.

It’s not a zero-sum game. Keeping yourself safe doesn’t put another in danger, and learning self-defense isn’t some betrayal of the sisterhood because another woman may not have access to the same training. If we really want to keep all women safer, then we lobby for cultural, legislative, and legal change on the one hand, and we make sure as many women as possible have access to good self-defense training on the other. There’s no earthly reason to choose between the two.

It’s hard enough for many women to step into a self-defense class. There’s already stigma attached to women fighting, fear of being hurt or – worse – of hurting someone else, and uncertainty about how safe you’ll be in a given school or with a given instructor. I’ve had women show up to my classes that spent a year working up to coming in, because it was that fucking daunting. Let’s not make it even worse by suggesting that wanting to protect yourself undermines the social progress of your entire gender.

 

 

Additional points raised from the resulting discussion:

  1. I don’t believe there are any statistics as to how many assaults are prevented by capable, willing women stepping in to other women’s aid. From anecdotal evidence, it happens. I’ve done it. I’ve seen other women do it. Learning self-defence skills is like learning first-aid in one respect: maybe you’ll need it for yourself or your loved ones, but maybe you’ll end up using it to save a perfect stranger.
  2. A self defense scenario doesn’t always end with a predator sneaking off to assault someone else. It can end with an arrest or investigation which can actively prevent another assault.
  3. It is considered not only acceptable but desirable for parents to educate their young children about “stranger danger”. No suggestion is made that this causes someone else’s kid to be molested or kidnapped. So at which age does this change? Is it for a 12 yr old girl to learn self-defense, but not for a 15 yr old? 16? Where is that line drawn, by whom, and based on what theory?
  4. While any individual learning to defend themselves doesn’t solve any social problems, a critical mass of women and others with the skills and willingness to defend against predators could shift the social balance as well.
  5. Do women’s  responsibility to others always overrides personal concerns, and if so, why?

Caltrop.

I’m hurtling headlong towards the fifth anniversary of my best friend’s death, which was premature and totally avoidable. Some people would class it as self-inflicted, I’m sure, though they’d be advised not to do so in my presence. He’s dead, though, and I’m alive, and that’s not a situation I’m happy with.

It could have very easily gone the other way. When things went to shit for him, I knew he was having issues, because he’d told me. He’d neglected to tell me the extent of the issues, though. Under normal circumstances I would have taken that as a given, because that’s how we roll, and acted accordingly. Unfortunately, those weren’t normal circumstances. At the time, I happened to be rather busy trying not to kill myself due to life happening at me in excessive amounts, so I wasn’t at peak performance. As a result, I completely failed to do anything remotely useful. From one point of  view, I put my oxygen mask on first, which is The Right Thing To Do. Had I not taken care of myself first, we could both be dead, and that wouldn’t have been much of a result. From another point of view, though, I sat there and let my best friend die. That will never be ok with me.

I don’t want that to be ok. I don’t want to get over it. I don’t want to get to a point in my life when I can normalise, justify, rationalise, or in any way accept what I did. I don’t want to be forgiven, and I don’t want to forgive myself. It’s not that I’m a masochist; I just don’t want to live in a world where it’s remotely ok for me to do that kind of thing. So I turned his death into a caltrop, and jammed it in my heart, and every time it doesn’t hurt enough I give it a wiggle and jam it in a little bit harder.

(Ironically, I know exactly what he would say on the subject. I can hear it in his words and in his voice if I shut up long enough to pay attention. And no, he would not be impressed. But I’ve been able to take many a wrong turn despite his good advice before, so at least I’m being consistent. I don’t think he’d expect otherwise, and I know he’d put up with it.)

I’m ok with all of the above; for the now, anyway. It does make me wonder, though, about some of the advice people give people who’re hurting.

One of the most common statements that are thrown around is that in order to get over whatever it is that’s hurting you, you have to accept it. Only then you’ll be able to move the hell on with your life. Whoopty doo. It’s as easy as that. Occasionally someone will insert some bits of Wisdom® to support their assertion. The specific brands of Wisdom® vary, but it matters not a jot, because it’s always used in the same way. Remember that god works everything for good; work through the stages of grief; meditate on form and emptiness; whatever it takes, get your lazy ass over that hurdle, and accept the Thing. Just fucking accept it, and get on with your life.

I have not the least intention to disagree with any of that; I can’t, so I won’t. I think it’s absolutely true that acceptance is an essential part of moving on from things. I think that an important aspect if this issue is too often ignored, though: what exactly it is that we’re asking some people to accept.

Some people go through events that completely change their world, and not for the better. The extent of these changes can vary hugely. Those who’ve only experienced minor versions of these changes may have no idea at all about what it actually means to go through a major one. There’s quite a bit of difference between accepting that “sometimes you may piss off the wrong person, lose a fight you started, and that hurts” and “some parents think it’s ok to rape their children, and the other parent won’t do anything to protect them, and neither will the rest of the family, and if the kids kick up too much of a fuss chances are they’ll get it in the neck for it, and even if they go to the police they may not be allowed to take their rapist to court if the prosecutors believe that they’re too broken to withstand trial.” Yes, they’re both paradigm shifts, but I think it’d be fairly ridiculous to treat them as equivalent. Yet people who’ve only experienced the former often think they’re qualified to push and cajole someone through the latter, sometimes not that gently.

Sometimes people take a long time to get over stuff; sometimes that delay is self-inflicted (as in my case, yeah, I’m aware, thank you), and sometimes it’s just that it takes longer to swallow an elephant than a bug. It’s very easy to talk about acceptance of events that don’t affect us, the import of which has no impact on our lives, and the magnitude of which we can’t even comprehend. But it’s also facile, and privileged, and kinda shitty.

The art of thinking clearly.

There’s a book I think should be in every bathroom:

The book lists 99 common cognitive errors:

systematic deviations from logic – from optimal, rational, reasonable thought and behaviour. By ‘systematic’ I mean that these are not just occasional errors in judgement, but rather routine mistakes, barriers to logic we stumble over time and again, repeating patterns through generations and through the centuries.

As well as being informative, it’s written in short chapters that can be read independently and randomly. It’s perfect for most toileting needs. You can attend to business while sharpening your brain up a bit. Oh, and it’s cheap.

The thing I find most fascinating about cognitive errors is that you can’t just get over them once; as soon as you think you’re done with them and stop hunting them down, the little blighters crop back up. Thinking that you’ve beaten them forever is a surefire way of harbouring them; not only you won’t be on the lookout, but your ego will fight any attempt at identifying them.

Cognitive errors become even harder to vanquish when they are normalised in a community. With enough community support, these brain bugs can turn into The Right Way to look at certain subjects. Everyone thinks like that, so that must be the right way of thinking; right? Vanquishing them can become a fight against the identity of the community, with any attempt at shining the light on these errors treated as an attack on the community itself.

 

There are a few cognitive errors that are particularly prominent in the self-defence community. My personal bugbears are:

Survivorship bias. Some people go through difficult events and thrive. They may emerge much stronger, in fact; not only stronger than they were before, but also stronger, in some respects at least, than the average person. That’s just grand. However, if we look around enough, we will likely find an equal or greater number of people who went through similar events and got seriously mangled in the process, physically or psychologically. Alas, those people don’t often go on to become “experts” on the issue, because they’re kept too busy dealing with their shit. The successful survivors are more publicly prominent;. Some go on to lecture others on the transformative beauty of hardship. People buy into that, not realising that the successful survivors may be outliers, and that, statistically, most people who go through the same kind of trials just get horribly fucked up and occasionally die.

(There are a couple of addenda to this. Successful survivors cannot possibly begin to know how things would have been for them had those events not taken place. They may be able to compare them to their past selves, but they cannot compare themselves to an alternative, present self that went through different experiences. They may also be unaware of how narrow a squeak they went through; how much luck and coincidence went into their success, how easily it may have gone the other way.)

 

Effort Justification. When we put a lot of energy into a task, we tend to overevaluate the results. Some self-defence training can be pretty hardcore; it sucks time and money, and can result in pain or even injuries. That doesn’t, in and of itself, mean that it’s any good. It could well be that we’re pissing away our resources towards achieving something that is inherently worthless, or simply does not suit us. The only measure of our results should be our results, independently of our costs.

This cognitive error is particularly difficult to deal with when people have acquired skills or experience through horrible hardships. They may believe that what they have is worth inherently more than what anyone else has simply because it cost them so much. That’s not necessarily true. People may be able to pick up the salient lessons from second-hand experience, particularly when those lessons largely amounts to “don’ts”. As Will Rogers said, “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” The lesson – do not pee on the electric fence – is the same, and it’s worth the same regardless of how it’s acquired. Admittedly, self-defence situations are hardly ever that simple, but similar considerations often apply and are generally disregarded.

 

Déformation professionnelle. “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails,” said Mark Twain. People who carry self-defence at the forefront of their mind may be more likely to spot self-defence issues when they come up; however, they can also spot them where they don’t exist. Everyone is a potential predator, every conflict is a potential self-defence issue, every interpersonal problem is a red flag, every attempt at negotiation is a boundary violation. This attitude can keep people safe, but can also make them incredibly difficult to get along with.

 

Authority bias. It is so because the Grandmaster Sensei Sifu Guru says it is so. I must do what the Leaders say, because they ‘re always right. I personally loathe this kind of attitude in general. As well as completely shutting down people’s critical processes, it can lead them to do all sorts of stuff they wouldn’t even consider if they were, yannow, actually thinking; following orders can be very liberating, and with disastrous consequences. I dislike it even more under four specific circumstances:

  • The authorities in question are quite obviously not universally embraced, yet they are treated as if they were so. This becomes particularly obvious to me when people wave their holy books under my nose; it seems to escape them that, as they’re not my holy books, they might as well be waving copies of “Winnie-the-Pooh” for all the good it’s doing to their assertions. The same kind of attitude is very prominent in self-defence. If the people subscribing to it aren’t willing to accept that the authorities they refer to are only authorities for them, this can create a spectacularly annoying communication barrier. Sometimes when someone says “Such-and-such says X,” “So what?” is the obvious answer; but it never seems to help conversations move on.
  • The authority is not an authority in the field at hand. People are generally not experts at everything. Someone may be the world’s leading expert in one subject, and not know a damn thing about anything else. Ok, so you embrace Rory or Geoff or Marc or whoever else as your lord and saviour; but please, please at least bear in mind that they may not be expert on brain surgery, particle physics, hydroponics, embroidery, and so on. They are actual people with actual human limitations, not spouts plumbed directly into the Fount Of All Knowledge.
  • I’m the fucking authority. Seriously people, just don’t. I’m a blogger. The only qualifications required for this post are an ability to type and a willingness to post. Nothing is so because I say it’s so. Do not take anything I say as gospel. I don’t.
  • I’m the fucking authority, and get (mis)quoted at myself to disprove a statement I’m making. I love it when that happens.

 

There’s a whole other lot of biases that crawl all over self-defence, in the same way that they crawl all over all other fields. Buy the book. Put it in your loo. You won’t regret it.

Impostor syndrome.

There are a few concepts I really, really wish had never been popularised, and Impostor Syndrome is high on that list.

 

In the olden days, it used to be possible to not be an expert, or not be enough of an expert. When asked for advice, one used to be able to say “sorry, I don’t know enough about that” or some suchlike thing, and people would go “oh, ok” and ask someone else. Not now. Now, if you try and tell someone that you really don’t think you’re qualified to give an answer, they just tell you that you have “impostor syndrome.” You DO know the thing, you just THINK you don’t know the thing. No amount of evidence you produce can ever convince them otherwise. Your entire life is not enough of a proof for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re friendless, childless, penniless, miserable, injured, ill, or anything else; you’re still obviously qualified to give them advice on social skills, parenting, financial management, life skills, training, and healthcare, because potato.

These days, if you tell someone “no, I don’t know about X, just look at my life ffs”, they will not clear off and ask someone with a clue. Instead, they will spend hours explaining to you how your own assessment of your own situation is incorrect, and then still demand your advice. You’re an authority on X because you’re an authority on X, because they say so; you just fail to realise it.

 

Now, I understand that Impostor Syndrome is genuinely a thing, and I understand that it disproportionately affects certain demographics. I don’t seek to minimise the struggles of those affected. I merely wish that our collective subconscious had retained the ability to consider other possibilities. That people may actually have a better understanding of their own abilities or lack thereof and a greater awareness of how those are manifested in their everyday existence than some random third party. That it is possible for someone to actually not know shit about a subject. That it is possible for them to know just enough to know that they really don’t know enough. That maybe, just maybe, if someone was really an expert in that subject, that expertise would be manifested in their lives.

This is the point in my rant on the subject where people normally bring up the four stages of competence. I’m not sure why they do, because the model does not support their claims. “Unconscious competence” does not mean that you know so much that you suddenly believe that you know nothing; but hey, it sounds like it might, so let’s stick it into the conversation just in case, right? There’s a graph attached to the model, so it’s officially Science, and we can’t argue with that. Perhaps some folk believe that it’s possible to be so far up the learning pyramid that one falls right off. I don’t know. In all honesty, I don’t care.

 

I wonder how much of this is a reflection on the fact that actually successful people are kinda intimidating. They’re ‘better’ than us; probably too good to waste their time talking to us. Worse than that, if they do consent to give us advice, they may end up burdening us with pertinent, useful advice. Advice that, if we were to follow it, may solve our problems; that not only puts us at risk of having to deal with change, but could require time and effort on our part. Advice that, if we ignore it or fumblefuck it, would force us to consider whether we’re partly to blame for our situation. Feckless people make much safer gurus, really.

Resources.

Not just lazy posting. Here are three useful resources I simply could not improve upon, so I’m putting them out as they are.

For parents of teenagers and free-ranging kids: X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan).

For young adults starting out in the world: A Story of a Fuck Off Fund (Yes, this is written with a very women-oriented slant. If you don’t like that, feel free to write an equivalent male-oriented or gender-neutral version. Nobody’s stopping you. And bitching about women writing for and about women does not in fact do anything to advance the male cause.)

For hoomans in general, one of the ways in which toxic environments are created and maintained: The missing stair.

 

Not happening.

After reading this blog by Rory Miller, a friend of mine had a bit of a revelation. To date, it’s the only logical explanation I’ve heard for a phenomenon that seems ubiquitous and on the rise.

Rory’s blog explains why some people who are very vocal about what they would do in certain circumstances not only fail to act when the shit hits the fan, but do their best to deny that they’re standing there covered in doo-doo:

People are stupid and talk a lot of shit. But only in the abstract. They are loud-mouthed in their machismo and silent in their cowardice. So the person who has watched innumerable news reports about child molesters and always said, “If anyone did that to my kid, I’d kill ’em.” Well, that person now has to put up or shut up. Faced with the actual prospect of doing what they said they would do and the sure and certain knowledge that they’d go to prison for actually doing it, they become silent cowards.

 

The really depressing thing is that this kind of behaviour is not rare. I don’t have any statistics about this, but based on experience it’s more common than not. It hurts the survivors, it protects the perpetrators, and it doesn’t do a damn thing to improve matters, but heeeey it makes some people feel better about themselves, and that’s the important thing, isn’t it?

The same kind of dynamic is often in play when groups have a creeper in their midst (and here’s another blog from Rory about creepers). Groups can be so invested in protecting their image that they cannot admit that they have a problem. Interestingly, it seems that the more creep-averse the group is, the more likely it is to deny the creepitude. The obvious example here would be religious institutions, but any tribe or organisation whose collective ego is wrapped up in “not being like that” can be affected.

[Yes, self-defence clubs are not immune. Yes, this is a huge, ongoing problem. No, I don’t think it’s being adequately addressed. Yes, many of those instructors who moan about women not getting involved should consider the possibility that they have a creeping problem.]

My friend posed that the same dynamic could be in play when dealing with certain societal ills. There are plenty of people who are adamant that sexism is not a thing, that racism is a problem of the past, that the LGBTQ community has nothing to fear from, and so on and so forth. Any volume and type of information related to these issues will not sway them: statistics are doctored, anecdotal evidence can never ever count, the news are all fake, and so on and so forth. Sometimes the denial of the problem is complete (e.g. “Men don’t ever talk down to women. Women can’t parse technical speech registers and get their panties in a bunch as a result”). Sometimes it’s masked as a request for more and more evidence, with no amount of evidence every being enough (e.g. “Just because he had a swastika tattooed on his neck and was screaming ‘Sieg Heil’ and beating up a person of foreign descent, it doesn’t prove that he was a Nazi”).

It’s not inconceivable that this denial can be a symptom of the same kind of dynamic. A lot of people are fond of saying that ‘if they’d been alive then’ they would have stood up to totalitarian regimes or dictators; that they wouldn’t ever tolerate injustice or oppression like their ancestors did; that, if only they had the opportunity, they would do <insert glorious deeds here>.

But they weren’t alive then; they’re alive now. And according to statistics and anecdotes and the news, all kind of nasty stuff is happening, and their hero genes have somehow failed to activate. So, instead of admitting that they’re lesser people than they thought themselves to be, they deny that anything is wrong in the world.

 

 

Hiatus.

I’m taking an indefinite leave of absence from regular blogging. I’ve bene going for nearly five years, it’s spring, there’s a circus in town, and I want to go out and play. I will continue blogging irregularly; stuff’s bound to come up and get my goat. If you subscribe to this blog by email, you’ll get notifications when it happens. If not, there’s always the Facebook page. Anything that happens on here will be linked on there.

If anyone has any queries, they can message me via the comments section or through Facebook. Comments are moderated so they don’t automatically get published. I may not have an answer, but I’ll try and get back to you. (Hint: acquiring a basic familiarity with words like “please” and “thank you” will facilitate that process. I’m not a public service.)

I will try to finish the “Creepology” book, but I can’t promise anything. If I do, I’ll post it on here and on FB, and it’ll come up here. I have no plans to quit the fiction, but hey, I had no plans to quit scheduled blogging either, or to start blogging, or to ever write books, or to ever even think about writing fiction, so what do I know?

I leave you with artwork from Chiara Bautista, who’s my favourite artist ever:

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One of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands:

And a quote from one of my favourite authors:

“Let’s blow this pop stand!” shouted the Beer Fairy — and from the yippee and wahoo exuberance in her voice, anybody could tell it was one of the Beer Fairy’s favorite sayings.

 

 

 

 

Nothing new under the sun.

Over the last few months, I’ve accidentally ended up accumulating an assortment of KidsOfToday© within my cybersocial circle. It was genuinely an accident; I didn’t set out to pick up random infants to experiment upon. I just bumbled around, as I do, occasionally bumping into people I think are cool. After repeated interactions, it turned out that some of those cool people were unseemingly young. By that point I’d gotten to like them, so I wasn’t keen to ostracise them solely because of their age. It’s not their fault. They can’t help it. They were just born too late. They’re working at getting older every day, so there’s still hope for them. So I’m keeping them around, letting them scamper all over my newsfeed full of whatever-it-is KidsOfToday© get hyped up on (these days, it seems to be a combination of bowel-clenching terror and existential uncertainty).

 

It turns out that there are several advantages to having a mixed-age social group. First and foremost, it’s significantly cut down on the amount of moaning I’m subjected to. Millennials are often pegged down as whiners, forever complaining that things aren’t as they ought to be while doing nothing to change them. Yet most of the whining I’ve been exposed to is by older people, who’re making a hobby out of complaining about Millennials complaining. Whining about whiners is kinda meta, I guess, but I mostly find it vexing.

And as per having an effect on things, evidence suggests that if most of your sentences start with variations on the theme of “the problems with people like you is…”, those sentences will fall on deaf ears, or no ears at all. The vast majority of the people you’re talking at won’t make time to listen to you. There’s no better way to guarantee that you’re talking to yourself, or to those who already agree with you.

There’s another advantage to keeping KidsOfToday© around. When something new and exciting comes up, like a new fandango term, I can go “yo, friendly infant: what is this thing that everyone’s on about?” And, without fail, I get a useful answer.

Yes, I know how to ride the Google Machine. I could do my own research. But that would often mean wading through a whole sea of new fandango terms, or critically analyzing a ream of articles to find out if there’s actually any truth hidden behind the clickbait. It’s not just that I’m lazy, or unmotivated, although those are definitely factors. It just seems more sensible to go straight to the source. For instance, if I want to know what the hell is going on in universities these days, I could read articles by people who left education sometime in the last century, like me… or I could have a chat with some of my friends who are still studying, have recently graduated, or are teaching.

There’s another advantage to this. I have a congenital aversion to cryptic, grandiloquent neologisms; a.k.a., I don’t like new big words I don’t understand. My friends are aware of this, so they automatically translate the necessary information into AnnaSpeak: short words & sentences. They’re nice people, and they don’t seem to mind doing this kind of outreach work. In fact, they seem to relish opening my eyes to all these new, wonderful things… until I burst their bubble, because the way my brain processes information is by connecting it to existing information. Turns out that the vast majority of the time their Brand New Thing is actually A Very Old Thing With A New Fancy Label.

Take “ableist language”. I was told I needed to consider the issue, and I couldn’t be bothered to research it, so I asked my friend P about it. P explained what it was and gave me a bunch of examples. Turns out that its practical application boils down to avoiding the use of words that would have gotten me a clipped ear from my grandma. Now, my grandma was born in 1901 and never had any truck whatsoever with stuff like “equality,” but she was pretty damn hot on things like “having good manners” and “being considerate”. The final results, language-wise at least, are pretty much the same. It also turns out that avoiding that kind of language is not such an impassable barrier to communication. Frankly, if you can’t state your point without calling someone “stupid” or “crazy”, then your silence is probably not depriving the world of anything it desperately needs to hear.

The funniest conversation of this kind I’ve had to date has been one about “safe spaces”. I kept reading posts by older people bemoaning those feeble young kids with their safe spaces and their Play-Doh, and presenting them as sure proof that our civilisation is going to hell in a handbasket. I didn’t know what the hell they were on about, so I asked P, again.

Turns out that “safe spaces” are not, as the older people in question seem to believe, some kind of padded play room. Play-Doh is not generally involved. A”safe space” can be any kind of situation, be it a room or a forum or anywhere else, where a topic won’t be mentioned. Sometimes, when people are forced to interact, it’s just easier to get along when everyone agrees that certain issues won’t be discussed. It doesn’t stop the issues existing; it just parks them out of the way for a period.

“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like my grandma saying that we weren’t to discuss politics, religion, or football at the dinner table?”

“Not quite,” said X. Sometimes safe spaces are places where certain issues are discussed, but they cannot be attacked. Making something a safe space for X issue means that within that “space” people can’t shit on those issues.

“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like church?” My mom goes to church every Sunday, as do lots of other people. I don’t much agree with a lot of what is said there, but it’d be considered pretty poor form for me to stand up in the middle of the sermon and give a lengthy explanation as to why what’s being said makes no logical sense.

“Not quite,” said X. There’s more to it than that. People choose whether to attend church or not. But, for instance, university students don’t always get to decide whether they have to live in a dorm, or attend a lecture. Making the dorms safe spaces means that students are safe from threats, abuse, and discrimination while they’re under that roof.

“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like all those obligations towards guests? Yannow, like those you find in Greek and Roman and Viking and Celtic and Jewish and Hindu and probably all other kinds of traditions and mythology?” I live like that. Guests in my house are required to be civil to each other. They can disagree as hard as they like, but they cannot insult or injure anyone. Anyone who does will be shown the door. Is my house a safe space, then?

“Not quite,” said X. There’s more to it than that. The kind of topics that are normally included in safe space agreements tend to be controversial, and affect people personally. For instance, a LBGTQ group may want to meet and discuss LBGTQ issues without being drowned out by a chorus of people telling the participants that they’re going to hell. In essence, some safe spaces allow persecuted minorities a breathing space, a chance to be; a chance to exist unchallenged, however temporarily.

“Oh,” I said to X. I didn’t know what else to say at that point, because I was busy imagining what it might be like to be an LBGTQ teen growing up in a community where LBGTQ issues are seen as so shocking that a significant proportion of people can’t even tolerate the thought of people discussing them in peace.

I mean, seriously: doesn’t the fact that some people object so strongly to those safe spaces existing, however small and out of their way they are, kinda prove that they are needed?

 

Bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy

So you’re a human person, perhaps young, perhaps male, and some self-styled self-defence ElderOfTheTribe© has told you in no uncertain terms that your opinion does not count, because you don’t have enough Experience©. That you cannot even begin to comprehend what you’re failing to understand, because you haven’t seen RealViolence©. That until you do, you will be sitting in perpetuity at the kids’ table, because you’re not a proper man/grown-up/person.

So you’ve thought about this Experience© that you need to get, and where one goes to find RealViolence©, and looked at your options. Army’s a bit too involved, really, because it would require you to turn your entire life upside down. You might not be that committed to levelling up. Maybe you wouldn’t manage to get in there anyway, because you’re not that big or that strong or that gung-ho. Police would be more practical, really; at least you wouldn’t get sent off to strange foreign places where the food is bad and the water is worse. But the police also has tight recruitment standards, and you’d still be under orders, which isn’t really your style, and maybe you’re not so sure that being an LEO is all that cool, these days. Some people will look up to you for it, but some will look down, and whether the two looks will balance out is debatable.

What you really want is a way to get Experience© without giving up everything else… A way to encounter RealViolence© part-time, while still keeping up your job and hobbies and relationships and everything else… A way to earn your place at the grown-up  table without losing everything you’ve worked towards up to now…

And then the answer becomes clear. What you can do is become a bouncer/doorman. That ticks all the boxes! You’d be a modern White Knight, but evenings and weekends only! You could get your fill of RealViolence©, gain Experience©, but keep whatever else you’ve already got! And hey, Geoff Thompson did that, and look at him now! He went from being a nobody to being a total badass and famous and respected! It was a totally transformational experience for him! And, hey, if it doesn’t work for you, at least you’d still have your day job.

So you might be sitting there wondering about whether to apply, fantasizing about taking the step that, if it all goes according to plan, could totally magically turn you into a Real Man.

I’ve got a suggestion for you:

FUCKING

DON’T.

Being a bouncer is not a fucking game. More than your ego is at stake.

Yes, you will probably experience RealViolence©. And, guess what? If you fuck up, someone’s gonna get hurt, and it might not be you.

You might take to bouncing like a duck to water. You might find that it releases your inner badass, someone more competent and confident and strong and blah blah blah than you ever thought you could be. Or you might find that it results in you putting yourself into a scenario where you get the snot beaten out of you. That might be formative. There’s something you learn from a serious beat-down that you don’t learn from anything else. But, you know what? Every single goddamn bad experience you will ever have is like that. You would learn something uniquely special from getting terminal cancer, or watching one of your kids getting hit by a car, or having to wear a colostomy bag. But sane people don’t go racing towards that kind of experience just to earn extra Adulting Points, because you don’t , because… Honestly, I can’t get into explaining it; it’s too ridiculous for words.

You know what, though? I don’t care enough about your well-being that I’d try to persuade you away from bouncing just because you might hurt yourself. You’re an adult, I’m not your mom, and if you want to feed yourself into a mincer it’s your prerogative. Just don’t get any splatter where I have to clean it up.

There’s more to it, though. If you don’t have physical presence or a winning personality; if you’re not the kind of person who commands respect, or at least the kind of person people instinctively want to get along with; if you’re not confident and competent at the lower levels of Rory Miller’s levels of violence from “Violence: A Writers Guide” (Nice > Manipulative > Assertive > Aggressive > Assaultive > Murderous); if the reason you’re wanting to do this is that you know that your Big Boy Pants don’t fit you yet; then you’re probably going to end up having to hurt somebody, unnecessarily, and it will be on you.

When you’re a bouncer, you don’t have the option of walking away from a situation. You have to sort shit out. If you’re the kind of person who can talk nicely to someone and get heard, that may be enough. If you’re not, you’re going to have to go up the levels. If nobody takes you seriously unless you smack them one, then you’re gonna have to smack a lot of people. If you’re not very good at smacking, and you have to actually injure people to get them to take any notice of you, then you’re gonna leave a trail of damaged bodies; bodies that people better suited to the job may have been able to just talk out of the door.

Oh, btw, those EldersOfTheTribe©? They’ll never respect you, let alone treat you as one of them. This isn’t about showing you a way to grow up; this is about finding a way to keep you down, to keep you beneath them, because that makes them feel all big and mighty. This is a way for them to rig the game; they’re setting up the standards for adulthood to match what they’ve got and you don’t.

 

Revisionism.

One of the advantages of hanging out with KidsOfToday© as opposed to looking at them from a safe distance is that it cuts down on a hell of a lot of historical revisionism. I mean, I’m still perfectly capable of turning my life upside down and sideways on, but the days when my definition of “interesting” was “Oh God, oh God, we’re all gonna die” are mostly over. Almost certainly. I think. Young’uns, though, they’re still at it. They run around as if the really ‘interesting’ parts of my life had not magically converted themselves into their own experience set. They seem to actually need to learn by doing, like wut I did, and my mother before me, and her mother before her, and so on ad infinitum. They carry on as if the relevancy of certain lessons was affected by the world around them; as if the skills and knowledge that met my needs didn’t meet theirs, solely because the world they live in is different in many key respects. They also behave as if certain hurdles in life (negotiating career options, securing access to basic survival and security resources, finding a mate, dealing with Bad People) were things you actually have to do; as if they were real hurdles that really exist in real life, rather than the unfortunate fallout of the twerpery of young age.

It’s loathsome, really: young people insist on living their own lives as if they consisted of a series of steps taken one after the other, often with only partial knowledge of where the entire journey is going to take them (or, even more iniquitously, with a different destination in mind from the one I followed). And when they approach a new situation, they do so without knowing how it’s going to go down; as if the fact that I know how my stories ended didn’t magically convert itself into guaranteed endings for theirs.

If it sound like I’m being ridiculous it’s because I am. Yet the attitude I’m describing is incredibly common, and doesn’t just affect how people behave towards the younger generations. It affects, perhaps more importantly, the way in which they judge their younger selves.

It’s easy to forget that while we were going through certain life events we had no idea of how they were going to pan out. We know now, because we can look back at them, and it may all seem damn obvious. We can see clearly how A led to B, C and D; we can also see how we really ought to have aimed for E instead. And yeah, perhaps we don’t know what E would have led us to but we know that we don’t like D and that enough, thankyouverymuch.  Or we know that D kinda followed automatically and easily from C and B, so we look at all our past efforts and concerns and have the luxury of classing them as pointless. From the comfort of our porch, we can look back at our younger selves making all sorts of damn foolish mistakes, and despise them for the idiots they were.

Except that those idiots were, way back when, the people fighting for us. Maybe they were the only people fighting for us and maybe they weren’t; but they’re the people who brought us here, to were we’re at now. They’re the people who gave us the knowledge and skills that we believe entitle us to condemn them now. They’re the people who kept us alive long enough to give us a chance to bitch about them. Without them, there’s no us.

Maybe we don’t like where or who we are so much. Maybe we resent our younger selves for getting us into this, for trying too much, or not trying hard enough, or trying wrong. Maybe we could have done better; but I’m willing to bet that we could have done worse, too. It’s easy to forget that the only consequences we’re fully aware of are the ones we have experienced.

I see people running this kind of game on themselves, and it’s pretty awful.I also see people running this kind of game on other people, and it’s probably even worse. It’s particularly egregious when their right to run this game is based on them being “experts.” This kind of attitude makes it way too easy to conflate wisdom with meanness, and to forget that this kind of wisdom is often little more than a data set of anecdotal evidence. There’s a tendency to confuse “the way it went” with “the way it goes,” and forget that each of us really only controls a minuscule proportion of our lives.

Yes, it’s obvious now that I shouldn’t have bought a house right before the house market crash… Only back then we didn’t know the crash was coming for sure, or when it was going to hit, and I needed a place to live, and I didn’t know that I would be forced to sell the house while the market was still down. Yes, clearly that lady shouldn’t have married the guy who went on to rape her… Only when they first met and during their months of courtship and their cohabitation and their engagement and in the first X years of their marriage she had no inkling that he’d ever do such a thing, which is how he ended up in the position to be able to do such a thing. Yes, we all should have known then what we know now, except that the bulk of that knowledge is anecdotal, and the only way we gained it is by actually going through that process.

TL/DR: It’s easy to sit and bitch about people making “bad decisions” and forget that every single new decision is an experiment. It’s easy to take the view that what makes a decision obviously bad or good is its final outcome, and forget the myriad factors that went into causing that outcome. It’s easy to make ourselves feel better by crucifying other people, or feel worse by crucifying ourselves, because people should know better. But it’s all rather silly, and not very helpful, and doesn’t make us very good company for ourselves or others. So maybe it’s about time we collectively stop elevating this to an art form.