Oracle

The Oracle sat upon the mountain. Billy and I had walked a long way to get there, which was bloody hard work if you don’t mind me saying, so we sat our respective asses down and listened. And thus the Oracle spake:

“If thou want to live a long and fulfilling life, thou shalt avoid violence and abuse. Thou need to learn to use the skills of the violent and abusive person, just in case thou need them, but thou shalt remember that the best response is avoidance, always. The only way to really win the game is not to play it.”

I nodded, because that sounded good to me. I’ve always found pain painful and paperwork boring, and it seems to me that violence and abuse have a tendency to lead to at least one of the two. The Oracle carried on:

“Thou must think ahead and avoid situations where violence is likely. Not doing so is extremely foolish, and if thou find thyself hurt as a result you’ve only got thyself to blame. The same applies to abusive situations. When thou see an abusive situation developing, thou need to get the hell out of there. Otherwise it’s a case of play stupid games, win stupid prizes, yo.”

I kinda got that, but I also kinda didn’t, so I raised my hand. The Oracle gazed upon me and said:

“Toilets are the second tree down the left-hand path.”

“I don’t need to go. I’ve actually got a question.”

The Oracle blinked a few times. “I don’t normally do this, but ok.”

“I’m having a problem at home…”

“Then thou must raise it! Thou must make the problem known, so that it can be resolved!”

“Yeah, well, I did that, and it didn’t really help. I was told to shut it and stop making shit up.”

“Then thou must bring it up to the authorities!”

“I tried that too. The authorities don’t seem too interested. You see, I’m managing not to get beaten up or fucked, so nothing much is effectively happening, and apparently they don’t have a great deal of power in that kind of situation. It’s like I’m doing too well to get help. But it’s exhausting, it makes me feel like shit, and I don’t know how long I can keep it up for.”

“Then thou shalt leave your home!” boomed the Oracle. “If thy community does not support you, thou shalt find one that does!”

“Yeah, but, it’s not that simple. I can’t just…”

“Oh yes thou can! Thou just choose to make excuses for thyself instead of taking action!”

“But if I just take my shit and go I’ll literally end up living in a cardboard box somewhere, for a while at least. That strikes me as a situation that is pretty likely to put me in the path of violence and abuse. Things are bad now, but at least I know I can manage them. And, like, I won’t die of hypothermia.”

“Whatever. If thou doesn’t want to listen, then thou can continue making excuses. I shalt not waste my precious time over thee until thou gets thy shit sorted out!”

My friend Billy raised his hand next. I like Billy. We go back a long way.

“Oh, go on, then!” sputtered the Oracle. “I’ve completely lost my flow anyway!”

“I’m having a problem in school…”

The Oracle sat up and suddenly looked really keen. “Then thou shalt face it!”

“Say whut?” said Billy.

“Thou cans’t run away from thy problems! Thou must face them, because only in resolving them there is growth! Also,” the Oracle whispered conspiratorially, “thou will gain a lot of experience in the process. A few years down the line thou’ll be bloody glad of it. The chicks dig men with experience.”

“Yeah, but, like, you just said that the best thing to do with violence and abuse was to avoid them. So if I changed school…”

“NO!” shouted the Oracle. “If thou start running, thou shalt never stop! These problems are to be conquered!”

“But you literally just said that if we have a problem at home or in the street we should just up and leave.”

The Oracle leaned forward to stare into Billy’s eyes. “Look, man, thou need to get this, because it’s really important. School is thy assigned place of responsibility. If thou have a problem there, thou need to resolve it. Thou can’t just leg it.”

“But I’m paying to be in school. My family and the taxpayers are paying for the privilege of having me spend a ton of hours there, day after day, for the purpose of my personal development. And what it’s boiling down to is that all that money is buying me the privilege of being forced to interact with people who seek to harm me.”

“Wherever thou go, thou will find people who seek to harm thee. Thou needs to learn to deal with them by thine own self.”

“But while I’m in school I can’t. When I’m there I’m under someone’s supervision. Each and every interaction I have is covered by a strict behavioural code. So not only going to school is putting me in the path of harm, but my school is failing in its stated obligations to me.”

“That’s not the point. The point is that thou can’t learn to deal with thy problems by avoiding them or farming them out to third parties. Running away from those problems makes thee a weakling and a fool.”

“But if they were at home, or in the street…”

“Then it’d be totally different. Then thou’d be a weakling and a fool for not running away.”

Billy pressed his thumbs against the bridge of his nose. He does that when he gets confused. “So, if I have a problem at home, I need to learn to leave it. If I have a problem in the street, I need to learn to walk away from it. But if I have a problem in school, I need to learn to face it? Even knowing from the onset that chances are that I won’t manage, and that if I do I will be punished for doing so?”

“Yes.”

“And if I left home, as you advised, and found myself in another difficult living situation, because it’s not as if I’m overburdened with good options, then I should learn to leave that, too?”

“Yes!”

“But if I got a job to support my new life, and that job put me in the way of harm, then…” Billy squinted, “then I should stick with it?”

“Precisely!” beamed the Oracle. “I’m so glad thou get it!”

“To be honest, I don’t. I don’t understand why you’re applying different criteria to different situations.”

The Oracle started to look pissed off. “Because those situations are different! Some things thou gets to choose, and some thou don’t!”

I piped up. “That doesn’t cut it. I’ve got more of a chance of choosing my school and my job than my parents or my neighbours. And with partners half the time you only get to know what you’ve chosen after you’ve chosen, it seems.”

“Thy job and thy school are thy assigned places of responsibility! They’re not meant to be fun!”

Billy folded his arms. “My cousin has a kid with her partner. Seems like her home is her assigned place of responsibility, too.”

“Then she needs to take the kid with her and start a new life for them both.”

“That’d be, like, illegal?”

“One must do what is right, regardless of what society dictates.”

“But I can’t cut school to avoid getting my head beaten to a bloody pulp against a toilet, because going to school is my socially dictated responsibility?”

“Yes! Thou shalt learn to manage that!”

“And my sister should try to change her life completely, regardless of the consequences, apart from her job? She should stick with that even if it sucks?”

“Yes!”

“But why? There isn’t just one single, monolithic Job. There are tons of jobs. Some suck more than others.”

The Oracle looked too pissed off to speak.

I leaned over towards Billy and muttered in his ear. “Dude, are you getting this?”

He muttered back. “Nope. It makes fuck-all sense to me. I’ve only got one life. I figured I should take every step I can to make it as good a life as I can, regardless of the setting.”

“Yeah dude. I thought oracles would be, like, more holistic and shit.”

“Me too. Hey, did you spot those bushes we passed coming up the path? Those were blackberries.”

“Really? I love blackberries.”

“Fancy getting some?”

“Yeah man. I’m peckish.”

So me and Billy got up, said our thanks to the Oracle, and made our way back down the path to pick some blackberries. For a long while we could hear the Oracle talk about us, explaining to people that we’re what’s wrong with our generation, that we’re quitters, that we don’t know what’s good for us, that we don’t want to listen to our elders and betters, and so on and so forth. But in all honesty we didn’t give a fuck, because between an Oracle spouting bullshit and a bellyful of blackberries it ain’t even a competition.

 

Puzzlers

Three things I routinely see/hear and can’t quite fit in my head.

 

“Anger isn’t really an emotion, it’s a mask for other emotions.” According to this theory, anger is never a reaction to an event, but the result of your thoughts/feelings about said event. The corollary is that, instead of dealing with your feeling of anger, you should spend time disentangling your real feelings on the issue.

What puzzles me about this theory, aside from the fact that it’s entered the dogma and it’s now treated as unassailable,  is that we’re singling anger out. We don’t apply the same criteria to any other emotion, even though they’re blatantly in play.

For instance, fear is not a direct reaction to a situation, but the result of our assessment of that situation. That’s why some people find a situations scary, while other people find the exact same situations exciting, boring, etc. That’s why a person can become “immunised” against a specific fear by successfully dealing with its source. Yet fear, under the same theory, is a “root” emotion, a real emotion, one of the emotions we should look for in the hidden recesses of our minds when we’re feeling pissed off.

We could make the same kind of assessment about pretty much any other emotion/feeling. We could disembowel our fear, joy, sexual attraction, love, and anything else that passes through us. We could simply say that human reactions are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for, and that by exploiting the gap between experience and emotion we can better regulate our responses, regardless of how we feel. But we don’t. We only do that with anger.

I wonder whether the real issue here is that anger is socially inconvenient, so we’re trying to pretend to ourselves that it’s not real, trying to marginalise it into nonexistence.

 

“You can’t say that consent must be ‘reversible’, because that will be willfully misinterpreted to give people the right to change their mind after the fact and cry rape.”

I appreciate that the term ‘reversible’, as applied to consent, can be misused and misinterpreted. Surely, though, the way to deal with this kind of problem is to make the term and its contextual meaning more widely known, rather than refusing to talk about it. Making everyone aware of exactly what the concept encompasses would reduce its misuse. I can’t see how ignorance, in this instance, can help anyone – apart from those people who want sexual consent to be in fact irreversible.

 

People who mansplain mansplaining, and still don’t see it.

I personally hate the term mansplaining, partly because it’s unhelpfully divisive, and partly because it seems to ignore the fact that being a patronising know-it-all is not endearing regardless of gender. What really tickles me, however, are recent efforts in some quarters to popularise the theory that mansplaining is simply not a thing.

Men never, ever talk down to women. What is actually happening is that women are incapable of parsing the technical register that men use when talking shop, and as a result get unnecessarily offended. Every single woman who complains of having being mansplained to is simply misinterpreting her own experiences and having an unnecessary, excessive emotional reaction to a non-event.

No prizes will be available for guessing the gender of the people expounding the above theory. A medal, however, will be provided to anyone who manage to explain to them that the reason they can’t see mansplaining is that they’re too busy doing it.

 

 

Creepsponses.

The most amusing aspect of writing about creeps was watching the responses roll in. There were many, mostly sent privately (which doesn’t mean that I feel obliged to keep them so – consider this your only warning).

The responses could be broadly classified into four groups:

  • “Ohmygawd I had no idea I was doing a creepy thing, why didn’t anyone tell me sooner” quickly followed by “but actually I will continue doing the creepy thing, because there’s a chance, however slim, that it will result in me getting laid.”

I have a lot of patience for those who don’t know How Things Are Done Here. It kinda comes with the territory, what with having been a foreigner all my adult life and not being good at peopling. However, if I tell you that something is almost certainly going to creep the fuck out of someone, literally, and you carry on because heeeeey you never know, you might get lucky, and it’s just too bad about all those people negatively affected by your behaviour… then maybe you’re not a creep, but you’re 100% an asshole.

  • “Stop writing about this, it’s boring/it’s sexist/it makes you sound obsessed.”

No prizes for those able to guess the gender of the people telling me this. Surprisingly (though perhaps not very), some of them were self-defence instructors.

Yeah, I wrote about creeps a lot. I found there was quite a bit to say on the subject, it being non-simple, and people asked me questions I saw value in answering. Besides, dealing with creeps is quite possibly the most frequent self-defence/conflict management problem women face. I have thus far met 1 woman who has never dealt with one, and she’s pretty damn fierce. I’m sure there are more, but my experience thus far suggests that this is a seriously widespread issue, and that it’s not innocuous. A bunch of ‘not-quite-rape-rapes’ start with a case of the creeps. Why so many self-defence instructors elect to ignore this problem is an interest subject in and of itself. That some would actively push back against it being discussed is frankly depressing.

  • “You shouldn’t say what you’re saying because SociallyAwkward™ people will be unfairly punished.”

A. No. The first thing I’ve banged on about is how to tell socially awkward from creepy, because that’s what worries people the most, and often what keeps them from reacting or causes them to over-react later on.

B. No. What I’m saying is going to give people the skills to negotiate the situation in a non-confrontational manner, with the proviso that if that doesn’t work then confrontational is definitely on the menu. Those people who don’t respond to being told clearly and calmly that something is not appropriate or is simply unpleasant to the person at the receiving end are not just socially awkward.

C. Seriously, no. Genuinely socially awkward people don’t want to be. Their awkwardness is a problem, not a lifestyle choice. Having people talk to them about problems with their behaviour in a calm and clear manner is doubtlessly unpleasant, but it helps them long term.

D. Socially awkward people are actually more at risk of being picked on by creeps than the average person, and usually less able to deal with this kind of situation. So if your goal is to protect them, for real and no shit, you should want this information shouted from the rooftops, not suppressed.

If your goal is to continue creeping people out without getting called out on it, that’s a whole other story.

  • Nopeologies. These are a bit like apologies, but mostly not, and have been hilarious.

It’s amazing, really. Start talking about creeps in a vaguely popular forum and every Tom, Dick, and Harry comes out of the woodwork to apologise to you about past misdeeds. It could be that, moved by my stirring prose, those people realised the error of their ways. It could be that those people knew full well at the time that they were misbehaving, and grew alarmed at the prospect of being publicly called out on it. Hmm. How can we possibly tell? Let’s look at my favourite examples.

A. “It just so happens that I make inappropriate sexual remarks to all my female friends, and though you’re barely an acquaintance, I just like you so much that I do that with you too because you’re so very special.”

This ‘apology’ is actually a demand for my continued tolerance of the behaviour.

Yeah… Nope. Don’t pee down my back and tell me that it’s raining. If you do something inappropriate, and you know it’s inappropriate, and you know I find it inappropriate, and you carry on doing it, this isn’t some kind of endearing quirk of yours I should just learn to live with. Cut that shit out.

B. “I’m sorry if I came across as a creep.”

This ‘apology’ doesn’t even try. It doesn’t address the behaviour (‘I’m sorry if I acted like a creep’). It doesn’t address the impact of the behaviour (‘I’m sorry if what I did creeped you out’). It doesn’t in fact admit that anything the person did was wrong – all it is addressing is how they might have come across, which is merely a miscommunication issue. At best, the only thing they’re worried about is my opinion of them. At worst, they’re trying to cast doubts in my mind as to my interpretation of their behaviour, which is more than a little bit gaslighty.

C. “I’m sorry if these terrible things happen to you and yours but actually you are wrong and all women are wrong all the time because I keep being called out for creeping when actually I am not, ever, and this is so unfair, poor me.”

Which brings to mind the joke:

A man was driving down the freeway when his wife called him:

“Herman, I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way on Route 280.”

“Hell,” said Herman, “It’s not just one car. It’s hundreds of them!”

If you keep getting called out for a behaviour by different people, at different times, in different settings, and you manage to convince yourself that this is the sign of a conspiracy against you, then you’ve got problems beyond my ability to manage. If those people mysteriously happen to be all of one gender, because your inability to parse social interactions only seems to manifest itself with people who sport a certain style of genitalia, I’m going to grow suspicious. Mostly, though, I’m just going.

Apology

It’s funny, really. It’s particularly funny because the people in questions apparently failed to realise that they’ve blown their own cover. The reason people get away with creeping is that the people around them give them the benefit of the doubt. If the creeps are aware enough of what they’re doing to volunteer an apology for it… coincidentally at a time when I’m publicly blogging on the subject… then there’s absolutely no shadow of a doubt as to the game they’re playing.

Oh, guys, if you’re reading this and decide to get unpleasant about it:

I kept your messages in a special folder I made just for you, just in case I ever feel like publishing them. ♥ ♥ ♥