Skip to content

Social Justice and Self-worth: Everyone should get cookies

July 13, 2017

It seems that we are finally starting to reach a place in social justice discourse where some of the more extreme forms of callout culture and purity policing are being questioned and challenged. As an accomplished procrastinator, I’ve been sitting on my own thoughts on this subject for so long that someone else has come along and expressed many of them better anyway (please read this excellent Autostraddle piece, “Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice”). As I wrote in a comment on that article, I see an additional parallel between certain puritanical SJ communities and repressive religions – namely, the condemnation of pleasure – that I would like to expand on here.

I’m not talking about sexual pleasure, which is of course rightly celebrated as normal and healthy in most progressive circles. Instead, the pleasure that activism-purists denounce is that which is derived from being an activist and helping others – in other words, your morals, motivations and character are called into question if it’s clear that you want to feel good about being an ally.

No cookies?

I do understand the root of this impulse. “Don’t expect cookies” is a common theme in social justice circles – the idea that people should not be fawned over for doing the right thing. Nobody likes it when allies are clearly seeking pats on the back, for the same reason nobody likes people who talk endlessly about their charity donations; it betrays a distasteful insincerity. And worse, it centres the conversation around the ally rather than the marginalized group.

This kind of blatant attention-seeking is rightfully criticized, but as with everything, sometimes the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. I have seen potential allies totally shut down in conversation at the slightest hint that they might be seeking some kind of encouragement. This is not helpful to anyone.

Expecting people not to seek any approval or feel good about their actions completely defies what we know about human psychology. When faced with criticism instead of positive reinforcement, most people will simply shut down and stop trying. So this kind of purity gatekeeping effectively limits the ally pool to the very, very small percentage of people who are actually willing to do tireless and selfless work on behalf of others with no apparent benefit to themselves.

Pleasure and self-worth

Angelic selflessness of this kind is held up as an ideal outside of SJ communities as well, and I would argue that it comes from the same core belief systems that our society often expresses in religion, charity work, volunteerism, and other domains – a belief that we as individuals are unworthy, that our needs are not as important as the needs of others, and that self-care is equivalent to selfishness. Maybe on some level we feel that we are all so hungry for approval to fill our void of self-worth that it seems safest to clamp it down entirely before it devours everything around us.

Interestingly, the more I start to experience my place in the world as a member of an interconnected whole rather than a separate individual, the more emphasis I start to place on taking care of myself, and honoring my own human need for pleasure in its varied forms. If I’m a part of something bigger, like a leaf on a plant or an organ in a body, allowing myself to wither and sicken does not help any part of the greater system.

Can excessive focus on the individual self lead to selfishness? Of course it can. It’s a balance, as everything everything everything is. I’m glad to see activist communities inspiring people to act on behalf of others, and I’m also glad to see a correction happening to the impulse to deny people any sense of self-satisfaction. Cookies are delicious; let’s share them freely.

Advertisements

Disillusionment

April 2, 2017

I started planning this post many years ago. I was single at the time, and since then have been partnered and then become unattached again. Initially I called it “The Cult of Coupledom” and intended to rant about our society’s backwards views on singlehood. I’m glad I waited, because I have a lot more to say these days. I am on the path to disillusionment.

It’s interesting to me that that’s a negative-coded word. An illusion is a trick, a deception, or a false belief. Dis-illusionment, then, is the process of stripping these fallacies away, of becoming aware. Judging by the synonyms – disappointment, dismay, letdown – it’s clear that we generally prefer to cling to our illusions.

These things are true: I’ve had my heart broken; I’ve been through a period of despair; I’m not sure if I will ever want to share the entirety of my time and living space with another person again; I no longer buy into the conventional model of romantic love. But it isn’t because I’ve become a cynic. I’m happier and stronger than I’ve ever been. My heart is wider open. And I still believe in the limitless might and beauty of love.

The illusion of perfection

Let’s get back to that conventional model. Its features should be familiar – there’s the meet-cute, the spark of attraction, the discovery of a true soulmate, the boastful exclusivity, the prescribed progression from dating to sex to marriage to children; the promise of something permanent, secure, and wholly, passionately fulfilling in a lonely and unpredictable world. I won’t say that nobody ever finds this. There are people who win the lottery too. I just think that our cultural assumption that this is how it should always go often leads to the kind of immense, suffocating pressure that causes so many relationships to implode.

Think of how it feels to be under pressure to do well on a test. Then imagine that the test is of you as a suitable lover who can understand and respond to all the complex needs of a person you desperately want to impress – and that you’re both stuck performing this test together forever, because if it ends up not working out it means there’s something wrong with you and you’ve failed as a person. How can any of us possibly be at our best under such conditions? It’s no wonder people are generally so much more contemptuous and impatient with their partners than their friends – there is so much at stake.

The illusion of security

After coming to these conclusions, for a while I decided that the best perspective to take was a pragmatic one. The thinking here goes like this: Relationships are hard and full of unrealistic expectations, but you are still better off in one than not because being alone is worse. The best approach is to lower the bar, be realistic, mentally prepare yourself for disappointment; find someone with the same sensible work ethic as you, and prepare for a comfortably tepid future together. It may not be exciting, but at least it’s safe and predictable. Until something or someone comes along to shake things up, of course – and then suddenly it isn’t anymore.

Notice that nowhere in either of these scenarios is there room for the apparently radical concept that happiness and wholeness might be possible outside of a romantic partnership.

The illusion that happiness can exist outside of yourself

We’ve all heard variations on the idea that you have to be happy on your own before you can be truly happy with someone else. But still, there is always that adjunct – before you can be with someone else. The ultimate goal is always to find another person. I don’t know about you, but that advice never did much for me. If I’m still conceptualizing my happiness as being about someone else, I’m not really getting in touch with myself. How about this instead: you should be happy on your own because everybody should get the chance to know the delightful liberation of true emotional independence. You should be happy on your own because it’s amazing, and you deserve it.

It’s not easy, I’ll admit. It’s taken me 40 years to even come close. But I have made it my job over the last year to love myself and take care of myself first, and it’s working. I’ve learned that, as an innately anxious person who has a strong tendency to be influenced by other people’s moods, it’s much easier to maintain a healthy equilibrium, both mentally and physically, when I’m not in a conventional relationship. I’ve learned that I become resentful when I’m expected to act in ways that don’t feel authentic for me because I’m supposed to be playing a role for someone else. I’ve learned that the only way I could consider getting seriously involved with someone again is if we are both prepared to offer each other the same kindness, respect and generosity of spirit that we freely offer our closest friends. And I’ve learned that I don’t ever want to stake my happiness on another person again – because that’s too much responsibility for them, and too dangerous for me. I hold my wellbeing in my own hands.

The illusion of permanence

I’ve thought many times that as beings who fear change and crave stability, humans seem psychologically unsuited to the actual world we live in. We put so much effort into building institutions that seem strong and durable, like governments, religions, corporations, and marriage contracts, that allow us to ignore for a while that even the ground we stand on floats and rises and collides with other pieces of land. Nothing is permanent. We ourselves are not static beings – we are living processes in flux over time and through ever-changing environments. How can two such inconstant entities be expected to come together and create a solid, permanent fixture?

I want to deeply enjoy things while they last, knowing they will eventually come to an end. When you eat a gourmet meal, you know the experience is finite. You know you may never taste anything like it again. Does that diminish your enjoyment, or increase it? Do you plunge into despair when it’s over, and swear to never try haute cuisine again? No, because you had no other expectations.

Heartbreak is essentially the grief over a shattered illusion.

Disillusionment

Every occurrence of love looks different for every conceivable pair (or more) of people. I believe that the healthiest approach to relationships would allow for that. For me, that means realizing that relationships don’t have to be based on a competition-fueled scarcity model – that two people’s connection doesn’t have to take away from anyone else’s. It means acknowledging that relationship dynamics will change over time, which often means there comes a point when it’s best to let go. It means understanding that even these beliefs I hold right now might evolve again in unexpected ways, and allowing myself to be open to that process.

I want to build love from scratch, with no preconceptions about what it should look like or how it should progress. And whether or not I find that with anyone else, I will continue to build a rich and fulfilling life with myself.

Rage

November 11, 2016

Your rage is justified.

Lives are being threatened. Livelihoods are being threatened. Maybe yours. Maybe those of your loved ones. Outrage is an absolutely natural and expected response.

But your rage will be used against you.

This is the method of a manipulative abuser:

  1. Use their influence to create a hostile environment.
  2. Use this environment to incite fear and anger in the target.
  3. Step back and wait for the target to lash out in self-defense.
  4. Point to the target’s reactions to increase hostility against them (victim blaming).

Sound familiar?

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what to do. Human nature is what it is. There is no way to expect traumatized, terrorized people not to express their anger. There is no way to expect that this anger will be met with opened eyes and empathy.

Oppressed people should not have to be the ones to “calm down”. They should not. But the people with power have no motivation to let go of their power if they are not met on their terms. They have increased motivation to hang on to their power if they feel threatened in return.

I feel appalled and menaced and enraged. I want to lash out. I am determined to try not to. I am determined to feel my rage and work through it within myself, but to walk away from engaging with others until I can channel it into firmness and clarity and resolve. I don’t know what else to do.

This isn’t about understanding or compromising with people who don’t care about others’ safety. This is about reining back the pattern of escalation and retaliation, because those who suffer the most in this dangerous cycle are the ones with the least power.

In the places where I am an ally, I must not take on proxy rage and provoke a backlash against the people I am trying to defend.

In the places where I am marginalized, I must remember that my struggles make me stronger and wiser. I must remember that very few people have strong motivations to be unselfish with their power, and will take any excuse to dig in their heels. I must be the better person and take the higher road, because there is no guarantee that the other will do so.

Oath

November 9, 2016

I will stand up. I will not be silenced.

I will assert the truth.

I will feel fear, but I will not cower.

I will feel anger, but I will not allow it to use me to deepen the divide.

I will use my voice to pronounce the truth. I will use my voice to heal.

I will stand beside people of colour.

I will stand beside women.

I will stand beside indigenous people.

I will stand beside lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

I will stand beside transgender people.

I will stand beside people with disabilities.

I will stand beside all oppressed people.

I will stand in the face of hatred and ignorance, and I will respond with clarity, firmness, decency and truth.

I will stand in the face of violence, and I will respond with peace.

I will stand in the face of fear and shame, and I will respond with love.

I’m Afraid of (Undecided) Americans

October 16, 2016

I might dress up as the U.S. presidential election for Halloween, because it is the most frightening thing I can bring to mind right now.

unclesam

Over the last few months there has been a lot of speculation about how Trump could have possibly gotten this far, how his defenders could be so incredibly gullible as to believe all of the backpedaling and denials about every second thing that comes out of his mouth. But this is a mistake. They are not gullible. What I have begun to realize is that it’s not that Trump supporters don’t understand what kind of a person he really is. And it’s not that they don’t care what he is. They support him precisely because of what he is.

Many of the people planning to vote for Trump are doing so because they love the fact that he’s a racist, sexist, xenophobic, lewd loudmouth. These are people who want to return to an age when white men could make horribly racist and misogynist remarks without any repercussions. When women, people of colour, gay people, or anyone else at the bottom of the power paradigm were openly bullied into silence. These are people who are seething with rage and resentment because they believe that they are the ones who have been shamed into silence by an overly “PC” world where their intolerance is not tolerated. Trump’s rise is giving them implicit permission to shake off the very thin veneer of civility that has been keeping them in check. Because if a Presidential candidate can say it, why shouldn’t they? Who’s going to stop them now?

It is bad enough that this man, this idol of entitled bigotry, has gotten as far as he already has. That in itself has caused enough damage. The thought that he could win, and turn this sickening wave of violent oppression into a tsunami, is one of the most alarming prospects I have faced in my own lifetime.

A Plea to Undecided and Third-Party Voters

It isn’t Trump himself that concerns me most at this point – yes, he’s a narcissistic bully, but actually just kind of pitiful. And it isn’t really even his hardcore followers that I’m worried about – I believe they are a very loud minority. It is the people who don’t like him, but who aren’t aware of how his manipulations are still swaying their perceptions, that make me fearful for the outcome of this election.

To those voters who are on the fence, or who think it’s a better option to vote for a third party, please, please hear this: If you have been led to believe that Hillary Clinton is as bad of an option as Trump, or that she is somehow less trustworthy or less principled than literally any other major public political figure in the entire history of Western civilization, you have been successfully indoctrinated by the Trump lobby’s smear campaign.

I’m not saying that Clinton is a saint. She is a typical politician. All people who reach such high positions of power, pretty much without exception, are ruthlessly ambitious and prone to modulating their stances to conform to the current social climate. So why is Clinton facing so much backlash compared to the legions of her predecessors? Two reasons: 1) she is a woman, and women in positions of power are always subjected to much higher scrutiny than their male peers, and 2) she is unfortunate enough to find herself in competition with an actual sociopathic liar. It is exceptionally clear that Trump has no qualms about making up whatever bullshit serves his purpose, and this should absolutely be taken into account when considering how he may be influencing the public’s view of his opponent’s character.

Clinton may not be perfect, but she is certainly no worse than almost any other President you have had in office since the beginning of Confederation. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is an actual nightmare. This is not a contest between two equally objectionable candidates. This is a contest between the status quo, and a steep and terrifying slide into a cesspool of hatred. Trump must be stopped. There is only one way to do that. Please, Americans – make the right choice.

0

(Bowie, if you’re up there, give us a hand with this one, will you?)

How do you want to vote?

October 4, 2016

ATTENTION: This post is for CANADIANS. There will be no discussion of anyone named Hillonald Trunton or Donary Climp. Or whatever.

dollaryclump

If however you are indeed a Canadian voter with queasy memories of last October’s Truper / Hardeau showdown, read on!

burkeramsey

(Wait, that’s JonBenet Ramsey’s brother. Why does JonBenet Ramsey’s brother look like the love child of Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau?)

Anyway…

>>>PLEASE CLICK HERE<<<

…to let the Canadian government know your opinions about how our voting system should work. The survey is only up until this Friday, October 7th. Click the link! DO IT! Doooooooo it. Please?

One of these days I will get around to writing a post longer than ten sentences. Thank you for your time.

Interlude: Kate McKinnon is Actually a Cat

September 2, 2016

Though it may seem that I have emerged from months of radio silence merely to post a celebrity fluff piece, in actual fact I have been doing important science. HOURS of researching Kate McKinnon YouTube videos. FOR SCIENCE. And I believe I have incontestable proof that this captivating weirdo of Ghostbusters renown is only pretending to be a human who loves cats to cover up the factual truth: she herself is a Felis domesticus playing a clever game of cat-and-mouse with the entire Internet’s heart.

On to the Proof

 

Exhibit A: Who do you know that acts like this? Cats, that’s who.

kateisacat3

 

Exhibit B: Batting at plush toys. Knocking objects to the floor. I could practically rest my case here.

kateisacat4

 

Exhibit C: I mean

kateisacat5

 

Exhibit D: Was this comment a slip, or an intentional clue?

kateisacat2

(Even Ellen pointed out the family resemblance.)

 

Exhibit F: Definitely toying with us.

kateisacat6

In Conclusion

Your name may be an anagram of “Kit Kan Con Men”, but we are on to you, Kate McKinnon.

Or should I say KAT MCKINNON

kateisacat1