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Autonomy Versus Life: Suicide, Depression, Lifesaving Interventions, and Free Will

Autonomy, to me, is sacred. I value it more than I value other things, competing things.

The direct opposite of autonomy is something like coercion or slavery. But to the side of that exists infringements on autonomy we’ll call “care,” including suicide prevention and breathing machines.

An illustrative, if stark, example of autonomy violating care is the metal cage around the toilet in the in-patient mental health facility Ken White went to. As someone with “I own me.” tattooed on my arm, the thought of getting in the way of someone who wants to kill themselves badly enough to disassemble a toilet to do it pisses me the fuck off, to be honest. Then again, the in-patient doesn’t have the right to disassemble a toilet they don’t own.

The fly is my atomistic ointment is that full autonomy is impossible. We’re all fighting our own brains all the time, to one extent or another. The rider fights the elephant. My friend Jessica bravely fights to stop the state from prosecuting people who help their loved ones stop suffering. I couldn’t support her organization, Compassion and Choices, more. Yet even I can acknowledge that sometimes I’m out of my mind. At my lowest point, maybe I want someone to intervene until I can feel differently.

Full autonomy is impossible because there’s no central, unified you. Free will has very little empirical basis. Conscious thought is the loudest of the at least four corners of your brain all shouting at you at the same time.

The question of autonomy actually rests on this question: How much does the part of your brain you like have to be losing against the part of your brain you don’t before you’re willing to let someone else’s brain make decisions for you?

It’s a question evangelical Christianity tends to answer differently than, for example, atheism. It’s a little ironic that the belief system which includes a terrific afterlife would chain people to respirators while people whose best guess is that what awaits you after death is black void of nothing for an eternity advocate for getting their sooner.

When I was active in the evangelical church in high school and college I was part of what is sometimes called a “culture of life.” The culture of life holds that human life is sacred. God gifts life, and our job as Christians is to guard those lives. Because all human lives are precious to God, they are precious to us.

Sometimes the culture of life butts up against other competing cultural beliefs. For example, it conflicts with the conservative desire for law and order, resulting in the much-mocked support for the death penalty among people who consider themselves pro-life. It also conflicts with the sex-negative aspects of cultural conservatism. It’s been empirically demonstrated that giving out free birth control and teaching kids how to use it actually prevents abortions, while laws that close clinics mostly make it more dangerous. Yet conservatives continue to pass laws to shut down clinics while doing nothing to offer broader access to birth control or education because they can pretend these laws don’t result in women having later, more dangerous abortions, getting kicked out of their homes and beaten by their husbands. But they can’t pretend that birth control and sex education fail to properly shame and stigmatize sex they don’t approve of.

I’m a little pissed about evangelical Christianity’s sexual ethic, in case that wasn’t clear. Those rare examples of cognitive dissonance aside, my experience with evangelical Christianity showed Christians consistently demonstrating reverence for human life through significant, sacrificial care for living people.

For a recent example, we can look to Richmond, Virginia where my mom is laying in an ICU bed. My stepmom, one of my stepsisters, and my baby niece are planning to drive up from Hazel Green, Alabama to visit her. That’s 10 hours and six minutes of driving, with light traffic.

Like a lot of first wives and mothers of the kids, my mom was sometimes a pain in my stepmom’s ass. She isn’t malicious, but she was often overwhelmed. She needed a lot of help. He was always there, every time the toilet broke or when we needed a lawn mower. Dad spent way above and beyond the state-mandated child support. My stepmom never, to my knowledge, resented my dad doing for us, and for my mom.

In return, mom gave dad more visitation than she had to. Soon after he remarried, we were spending all weekend, every weekend with dad, my stepmom and our two stepsisters. We went to church with them, and nearly every Sunday after church we’d have lunch as a family. Mom was always invited, and very often joined us, after her church let out.

I brought my best friend home from college one weekend. The private Baptist college my dad and stepmom are still paying off. Neither of her kids went to college. She told me later than when she heard my mom was coming over after church, she got anxious, ready for a showdown. It amazed her to see my mom and stepmom chatting happily, catching up, as they’d done since I could remember.

Inextricably linked with the culture of life is the culture of care. I’ve never seen it in my liberal, secular, rational, urban life like I saw it in the Southern Baptist churches of my youth. Ken Crane from church provided a last-minute babysitter, Christmas presents, church camp — things a single mother has a hard time getting together, provided by believers in the name of Christ. Mrs. Bruder, hunched over at the waist from rheumatoid arthritis, and her husband drove a school bus to pick up kids whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t take them to church. These kids were neglected, and a handful. But she was unfailingly kind.

Sure, I haven’t shamed anyone about their sex lives since I left active church membership. But I also haven’t shoveled the remnants of someone’s home, still shit-covered from the broken sewer line, years after Katrina. I haven’t made small talk with strangers with dementia in a nursing home. Nothing is stopping me. And there are plenty of people who embody the culture of care without Christ. But there’s nothing driving me either, anymore. I’m no longer part of a community where that kind thing is expected.

Here’s another bugger about autonomy: Humans are terrible at predicting how we will feel.

When the Terri Schiavo case hit the news, I so fully immersed in the culture of life I absolutely could not empathize with the other side or comprehend the argument that her feeding tube should be removed. They seemed like callous Nazis to me. They seemed to look at her like an animal who needed to be put down. She was a person, not an impediment to her husband’s next marriage. Not a cost on a spreadsheet. Her life was sacred.

Until very recently, I viewed my own life as sacred. I always thought I’d want every medical intervention, for as long as possible. And I told everyone this, since they’ll likely have to convey the information.

But seeing at my mother in the ICU has shaken my desire for that. I didn’t realize how rudimentary pain management still is. After massive physical trauma, you basically have two choices. One: You can feel terrible pain from recovering from the surgeries and massive stapled up cuts. Don’t forget the discomfort from the breathing tube stuck down your throat and forcing your mouth open, cutting into your lips and drying your mouth out, drainage tubes coming out of your side, needles stuck in your arms, and boots that squeeze your legs to prevent blood clots.

Or, you can feel numbed, hazy, disoriented, confused, and sleepy. The only problem is, you’re not really getting better when you’re feeling that way. You need to get stronger to get off the breathing tube. You need to be alert and awake and fighting. Not numb and sleepy. So you can be in terrible pain and discomfort and get better. Or you can feel hazed out and just kind of atrophy.

Between Terri Schiavo and now, it’s not so much that I changed my mind on life being sacred. It’s more that I decided that autonomy is more sacred. There are a lot of reasons for this. The biggest is that as I began to see how freedom to make self-directed choices create innovation and prosperity. Technological innovation makes more of something people desire out of the same or less of what people have. It’s how lives get longer, better. It creates free time to read, learn, play. Property rights and the risk of failure, freedom and autonomy, people making choices in a market economy, that’s how you get innovation.

It’s also how you get progress. Challenging authority and dogma and starting to base your ethics around something other than superstition helps defeat bigotry and fear.

So it’s not actually accurate to say I see autonomy as more sacred than life. I respect the sacredness of life by supporting autonomy, because I believe it improves the quality and duration of life for the most people.

So I tattooed “I own me.’ on my arm and starting supporting assisted suicide and opposing abortion laws. Ultimately, I want a world which more fiercely guards autonomy than intervenes to make sure every person who’s ever lived lives as long as possible.

It’s not so much that I changed my mind on Terri Schiavo or the culture of life or life-saving interventions. It’s that I’ve recognized that the tension isn’t between loving people and Nazis. It’s between care and autonomy. It’s an argument between respecting someone’s agency and picking up the slack when their body breaks down or the shitty part of their brain takes charge.

Ken White at Popehat writes about needing to “put myself in the hands of the people who care about me.” Because, “As the Bloggess says, depression lies. Depression tells me that it’s never going to change. Depression tells me that there’s no hope, that I’m going to feel this way forever. Depression tells me I’ve tried everything to get better and it doesn’t work. Depression tells me that I’m a failure as a husband, a father, a friend. Depression tells me that I suck at my job — that if clients are happy with my work it’s only because they are deluded.”

I’m not depressed, I’m anxious. The lies my brain tell me include that my mother would be better off dead, because recovering is going to be grueling and painful, and her life is horrible and lonely and stressful anyway. It says my boss is disappointed with me and lying to me about being a good worker so I don’t quit before they can find a better replacement. It says that everyone is laughing at, not with, me for my writing and social media posts. It says that despite being utterly obsessed with myself, I ironically have zero self-awareness. It says I’m actually much, much dumber than I think I am. That I make people really uncomfortable in social situations and people hang out with me only out of morbid curiosity and pity. That my breath is bad. That there’s something in my teeth or on my face or my hair looks horrible. That I’m going to get fatter. That my IBS is going to get worse and my body will fail me but I won’t be able to afford healthcare so I’m going to die early because I chose to write for a living instead of doing something profitable. That I’ll never have another enthralling romantic relationship because I’m too emotionally healthy to get into another fucked-up relationship but too fucked-up to get into a healthy one. Also I’m wasting my beauty and youth. Also I’ll regret not going to grad school. Also I’ll regret not having kids.

This bitch in my brain makes life a little less enjoyable, denies me some sleep, tires me out, reduces the quality of my social interactions, etc. She works against the interests of the part of my brain that knows that my boss is being straight with me and some people genuinely enjoy my company.

I think of the first one as me and the second one as not me. There’s Cathy and there’s Bitch Cathy. Which makes me wonder. Would someone else forcing me to do what Cathy would want against what Bitch Cathy wants actually make me more autonomous?

We say depression lies and I personify my anxiety as Bitch Cathy, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes my anxiety is right. Sometimes I’m about to get fired. There’s evidence that for some people the threat of bad things happening is a more effective motivator than thinking about future rewards.

Bitch Cathy creates a lot of worst-case scenarios and loves to waste cognitive energy worrying about things that never happen so I have less brainpower to devote to the unanticipated problems that continually arise. But luckily for me, so far she hasn’t issued any directives other than “leave this relationship” or “leave this job.” She certainly doesn’t tell me to do anything I’d need someone to stop me from doing, like killing myself.

The question of autonomy comes down to when you’re willing to give control to someone else’s brain because yours has crapped out. Neither my brain nor my body has crapped out enough yet that I feel like I can know.

It was easy for me to be blithe about the preciousness of life until I’m staring down at my mom’s bruised, swollen face, bloody breathing tube, and unfocused gaze. And it’s easy to be blithe about my right to total autonomy until I contemplate Bitch Cathy getting louder and more demanding.

Autonomy, at the end of the day, requires a self that simply doesn’t exist. There are multiple selves, all competing against each other at all times. And constantly changing. At the same time, the society I want to live in requires a great deal of respect for agency. Care can’t justify people trampling on each other. It can’t force people to live miserable lives they desperately want to end. The empirical economic research strong supports that being free to make choices makes societies richer and healthier on average. Meanwhile, neuroscience strongly suggests that free will is merely an illusion.

The only thing I know about the tension between life and autonomy is that it exists, and they’re both important. I changed how I feel about autonomy and life. Would I want someone to keep me around until I changed my mind about killing myself? Would I want someone to force me to shit the bed while I scowled in pain, unable to speak?

I only know enough to know that I don’t know.

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How The Hunger Games Made Me a Libertarian

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

I hated The Hunger Games movie. It was so depressing and morbid. What could be worse than watching children battle to the death on a reality show in a totalitarian dystopian future? It made me feel hopeless. What would make our teens and young adults like such a bleak tale?

I decided to write a book to give them hope: Blessed Are They That Hunger-Young Adult Fiction, America and The Bible. I wrote about loss of peace, loss of justice, and loss of personal freedom in America. I predicted many of the abuses revealed by Edward Snowden as I wrote about the Patriot Act, as well as what Obamacare would cost in compromised liberty. I created a Facebook fan page to promote my book called Hope For The Hunger Games Fans.

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As I compared the themes of the Hunger Games Trilogy to America today, I realized that maybe The Hunger Games resonates with the younger generation because they get it. They understand that we are just a breath away from that fiction becoming a reality. There are more laws constraining today’s youth than my generation had and they already feel the iron fist of an unfree society. I grew up in a freer world that they may never know. I gave them hope that we still have the tools to make it free again and the hope found in the Bible for all of these ills.

As I found memes on Facebook to share the message of liberty and a return to a freer America, the posts of one of my friends seemed to mirror what I was saying and I continuously posted them on my page. He was promoting The Libertarian Party. I didn’t really know much about the Libertarian Party. I knew they had something to do with Ron Paul, who I had voted for in the 2012 primary. I liked the fact that Liberty was in their name. I had been a staunch Republican all of my adult life, but found myself increasingly disillusioned with what the Republican Party had become. The name now seemed to represent hate and war. As a Christ follower I do not have the stomach for either.

My friend noticed I was reposting his stuff and invited me to a mixer for the local Libertarian organization. I felt like I had come home among the libertarians. I could freely discuss my conspiracy theories with no judgement and plot to take over the world and then leave it alone!
I quickly became impassioned about spreading the Libertarian message and volunteered to help manage the group’s Facebook page. Within a few months I was the Vice Chair Pro Temps and a year later I was Chair of my County’s Libertarian Party. Somewhere along the way I had renounced my Republican roots with nary a thought.

My involvement gave me the opportunity to meet Ron and Rand Paul, Governor Gary Johnson and various proponents of Liberty from around the country. I found my voice as a political blogger and thanks to the support of the original Blue Republican Robin Koerner, was interviewed on his radio show and got hundreds of views on my blog for promoting them on his Facebook page. I also had the opportunity to be a guest as well as host a local cable show “Libertarian Counterpoint.”

I have been a contributor to Watchdog Wire.com and Liberty Chat.com and a guest blogger on Sex and the State.com. Thanks to The Hunger Games my eyes have been opened-I was blind but now I see. The floodgates have opened and I am joining the cry for Liberty and Justice for all Americans and the World.

The battle for liberty is seems daunting but it is worthy. Change is happening and I am hopeful for our future.

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Cindy Biondi Gobrecht is the author of the book Confessions of a Christian Twihard My Life Lessons and the Twilight Saga  and newly published Blessed are they that Hunger-Young Adult Fiction, America and the Bible both available on Westbow Press. She lives in Sacramento, California and is a Sales Director for Mary Kay Cosmetics. She is single with a daughter who is in the Marine Corps Band stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. Cindy has a BA in Linguistics with minors in Literature and Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego. Cindy led Bible Studies for all ages for over 30 years in churches in California and South Carolina. She is Chair for the Sacramento County Libertarian Party. Her blog is www.cindybiondigobrecht.wordpress.com

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Polyamory Doesn’t Equal Cheating

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

A recent article from The Guardian delved into a common issue associated with polygamy and polyamorous relationships—cheating.

Guardian contributor Emer O’Toole described a recent interaction with a man at a party, where the man expressed his desire to be in a relationship like O’Toole’s, a polyamorous arrangement. When O’Toole asked the man if he discussed the possibility with his partner, the man said she was too traditional and narrow-minded to consider it. He then flatly told O’Toole that he cheated on his girlfriend because she wouldn’t go for a polyamorous relationship.

O’Toole made his opinions of the man’s actions known, calling it an “unfortunate attempt to use poly identity as an excuse for shitty treatment of his girlfriend.” But his story brings up an interesting point: people outside of polyamory seem to think it’s a form of cheating. However, O’Toole made it clear that that is not the case or the mindset of those within the community.

While he admitted that it’s not easy to define polyamory, he has no trouble explaining what it isn’t. “Poly isn’t cheating. It isn’t lying. It isn’t a disregard for the agreements you share with the people you love,” he wrote. “And it certainly isn’t positioning monogamous people as more blindly traditional or less emotionally evolved than you.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the man O’Toole ran into isn’t an isolated case for those looking to branch out from their partner. According to a survey about cheating performed by Adam and Eve, there are several reasons why people decide to cheat on their significant others. Most people (45 percent) claimed it happened out of the blue, but 33 percent said they cheated because it was exciting. After that, 30 percent claimed sexual boredom as their reason while 23 percent simply said they were lonely.

While people may associate these reasons with the drive to be polyamorous, the real reasons behind the decision to be polyamorous has little relation to cheating at all. According to this post at Love More, one partner isn’t searching for another because they’re unhappy with their current partner, which usually leads to cheating. Instead, they want to love their partners equally, sharing their intimate feelings emotionally, spiritually, and physically with both. Then, when outside desires no longer have to cause the end of relationship, you can create a polyamorous relationship that is stronger, more open, and more honest than any monogamous relationship could ever be.

Now, that isn’t to say that people in polyamorous relationships are more evolved or at all better than those who choose monogamy. Actually, perhaps polyamorous site More Than Two describes it best when they say that “Poly people have a different preferred relationship style, that’s all.” The writer at that site continues to state that “I’ve seen monogamous people who are enlightened, passionate, caring, compassionate, wise, and benevolent people. I’ve met poly people who are selfish, inconsiderate jerks.” In conclusion, it seems that “people are people,” meaning that you can be pretty much any type of person, regardless of your relationship model.

I couldn’t agree more.

Angela Peck is a twenty-something freelance writer and photographer. She lives in Knoxville, TN, with her two rescue dogs, Bits and Bobs.

Sophia and parents

New Learn Liberty, DPA Documentary is Pretty, Moving, and Kinda Late to the Game

For new readers, let me warn you that I’m an asshole. However, I’m a true believer that all publicity is good publicity, so trust me when I say that I’m writing this out of love. Learn Liberty is definitely the best thing IHS has going right now. While I consider most of the team close, personal friends, I say that earnestly and as impartially as possible.

You should definitely watch their latest video. It’s a beautifully shot, moving documentary about Sophia Nazzarine, a 7-year-old girl who suffers from epilepsy which can only be controlled through medical marijuana.

This is a personal issue for me. I suffer from a digestive disorder for which cannabis is the most effective medicine. My ex has Crohn’s disease and cannabis is the only drug shown to put it into remission. My sister and her fiance are moving to Colorado this summer to help move the cannabis industry forward. (Plz comment if you have any job intel)

Legislation has been introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-­KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D­-NY) to allow states to allow patients access to this powerful, effective medicine. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States­ CARERS ­ Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. Obvs I support it and am grateful to these organizations for bringing awareness to the issue.

Onto my gripes. Get bolder! Medical marijuana already has majority public opinion support. Sure, there are some holdouts, but fuck ‘em. Put this money, time and energy into ginning up support for more contentious issues. A great topic for exploration would be why most anti-sex trafficking bills would actually hurt sex workers. I’d love to explore why we should legalize all drugs. Let’s go deep into how the Chicago Police Department is disappearing citizens into CIA-style black sites. I want a documentary about how the FBI is infiltrating Mosques, entrapping hapless Muslims, and claiming it’s fighting terror.

For new readers, my philosophy tends to be go big or go home. If we want to change anything, human stories like Sophia’s are the ones we need to be telling. Please share this video/post so this documentary does well. This is already a huge step forward from their previous videos, which tend to be more dry and academic. Hopefully Learn Liberty raises the stakes again with the next one.

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Heterosexual Christians Want The Government Out of Their Bedroom Too!

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

There is an old saying that marriage is like flies on a screen door — the ones on the inside want out and the ones on the outside want in.  This seems to be true in the debate over gay marriage.  I wrote in my blog  about a new law in Oklahoma that was proposed to end the legalization of marriage by privatizing it to avoid the federal laws causing states to legalize gay marriage.

I write about how I agree with this, because I believe marriage is a sacred rite, and not something that should be regulated by the government.

Apparently, I am not alone in my feelings and, in a new twist over the debate, I have found a Christian couple that refused to have the government “legalize” their marriage.  They opted not to get a marriage license because they felt that the government should not have control over their marriage. They had a marriage presided over by their pastor and witnessed by family and friends.  They created their own contract, not unlike the contract used in Jewish wedding ceremonies, signed and witnessed by the attending pastor.

They did not go down to the country clerk’s office to get the government’s permission for something that (they believe) is deeply personal, between and man and a woman and the God of their faith.

As I reflect on this, it reminds me of how African-American slaves created their own ceremony to sanctify what was then an illegal union by “jumping the broom.”

In a recent article by Jeffrey Tucker he equates marital laws in the U.S. as a form of eugenics.  These laws were instituted to control who could legally procreate.  The laws outlawed interracial marriage and to this day in some states a clean bill of health is required for marriage-as Tucker puts it, “To plan the gene pool just as socialism planned the economy. The ambition was to wipe out undesirable recessive genes in one generation.”

So maybe it is time to get the government out of our private relationships.  Maybe it is time to take a stand-like my Christian friends and say “no” by opting out of legalizing marriage at all.  Maybe we could then opt out of the thousands of intrusive laws that tell us what to eat and drink and put in our bodies and who we can do business with and what kind of written consent you need to have sex and on and on and on……

We are only as free as the laws of the land allow us to be.

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Cindy Biondi Gobrecht is the author of the book Confessions of a Christian Twihard My Life Lessons and the Twilight Saga  and newly published Blessed are they that Hunger-Young Adult Fiction, America and the Bible both available on Westbow Press. She lives in Sacramento, California and is a Sales Director for Mary Kay Cosmetics. She is single with a daughter who is in the Marine Corps Band stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. Cindy has a BA in Linguistics with minors in Literature and Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego. Cindy led Bible Studies for all ages for over 30 years in churches in California and South Carolina. She is Chair for the Sacramento County Libertarian Party. Her blog is www.cindybiondigobrecht.wordpress.com

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I never write anything when I’m happy

I never write anything when I’m happy

It’s funny that for my love of positive psychology, which begins with the idea that maybe people interested in mental health should study mental health, and not exclusively focus on mental illness, I never, ever write when I’m happy. I’m always angry, or at the very least irritated, or sad, or disturbed. These feels make me write.

I guess it’s because there’s nothing more boring than someone else’s happiness. Ughhhh. Yay for you! Happy families are all the same, etc.

I like positive psychology so much I actually read books about it. What is more exciting than the idea that you can, through “mere” habit, alter your baseline level of happiness? Nothing. That’s what. But lately I’ve been reading other books. The first is a history book, Modern Times. A great friend who I want to be a closer friend recommended it to me. After gently poking at me for not reading books. Sorry I have zero attention span or interest in something that’s been available for public consumption for more than a few hours. #sorrynotsorry

But it’s good. The writing is dry but sassy, if that makes sense. And the other book I’m reading, well, it’s a comic book. I LOVE Strangers in Paradise, but I haven’t read a comic book since high school. But, I’m doing this fake girl geek thing right now, with the purple hair and comic book movie and a recent Dr. Who party I invited an amazing girl to after she couldn’t come to the comic book movie, for which I customized a TARDIS dress (no I didn’t sew the whole dress, weirdos. I would have sewn one that actually fit me. I bought that one when I was skinny). So I bought Sex Criminals, and fuck me if it isn’t the best thing in the entire universe.

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As I told the friend who has me reading history, you can pry my funny memoirs about people with fucked-up families from my cold, dead hands. I do read those books, along with blockbuster YA fiction. And the occasional, like one every three years, chick lit book. Like Jennifer Weiner or Gone Girl.

Sex Criminals is that, but with art and sex. God, it’s so good.

Speaking of good things, and friends, I’m at another friend’s place tonight and she puts on this video.

Which is, you know, everything. And I’d literally just suggested another friend fill his bare wall with Metamorphosis of Narcissus that afternoon.

Anyway, I can usually rant about something with a proper outline when I’m pissed. But when I’m happy? Why? Is it the fact that I feel good about my speech for Alt SXSWi? Is it that I’m really happy for my sister on her engagement to a wonderful woman? Is it my beautiful, interesting, hilarious friends?

Earlier I was thinking that I’m at a job which is clearly meant for people with families. But I have a family. I have one that’s bound to me by DNA in Pentagon City, Virginia, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Huntsville, Alabama, Beavercreek, Ohio, Houston, Texas, and Niceville, Florida, at least. And I have one that’s bound to me by nothing more than a willingness to put up with my awkward, foot-in-mouth, failed-to-land joke making, self-absorbed ass. And they give me book recommendations and show me awesome videos and give my jokes mercy laughs. And I’m happy.

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Kingsman and the DOJ’s Ferguson Report

I watched Kingsman: The Secret Service tonight. Highly recommend it. But one scene had me profoundly uncomfortable. Spoilers ahead (I think? I don’t really know how to plot so I’m not sure how important this point is.)

The scene takes place in a church that’s been labeled as a hate group. And as it began, I recognized it immediately. From the wooden pews to the shitty interior to the screaming Southern pastor and callbacks from the congregation. I’d been in that church. One of my step sister’s high school boyfriends went there, and we went with him one Sunday night.

Not it, exactly. The pastor in Kingsman was using the n-word and going on about “faggots.” The pastor at the church I attended didn’t use that kind of language. In fact, I couldn’t really tell what he was on about, with all the shouting, in an almost lilting way, starting low and getting louder, reaching a crescendo, callbacks, then it would start again.

In Kingsman, the congregation started getting killed. And as all the horrible bigots died, the people in the theater laughed. But I couldn’t.

Earlier today the DOJ’s Ferguson report came out. And in the face of evidence that not only did Ferguson officers enjoy passing along explicitly racist jokes, but that the data reveal that this racism was enacted through their policing practices, some people decided to publicly gloat that Officer Wilson won’t be charged.

I felt such overwhelming anger and confusion that after reading about dogs’ teeth ripping into black, and only black, flesh, anyone would choose to respond this way.

I was angry at them. Angry at people who could read about systematic, violent racism and get excited that one more officer evaded indictment after killing one more black man.

But then I watched those bigots get killed on screen. And I remembered sitting in that church. And I remembered praying my sister would stop being gay. And remembered blaming “black culture” for what decades of racism wrought. I remembered being that bigot I was angry at this afternoon. I remembered I’m still a bigot. Despite being angry about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, there are shitty knee-jerks in me I’ve yet to examine. The culture I live in clings to me like a stench I shudder to acknowledge, let alone address.

In Kingsman, class is an issue. And Hemingway is quoted: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Liberalism really ruins movies. Especially fun, popcorn superhero movies, where there are good guys and bad guys and the bad guys get their due and the good guys prevail. It ruins it by preventing the total suspension of disbelief in good guys and bad guys.

Transgender teen Leelah Alcorn took her life by throwing herself in front of a truck last year. In her suicide note, she described the anguish of not being accepted or supported by her parents. You can gather everything you need to know about their reaction to her desire to transition by the fact that even after her death they refer to her as “our son.” People were so furious.

But I wasn’t furious at them.

There’s a trick to life, and it’s exhausting and confusing and impossible, like life itself. It’s this. We have to believe that Hemingway is right. Not that being superior to your former self is noble. That’s fucking obvious. That being superior to your former self is possible. And it’s possible for other people too.

I can’t consistently remember this. I keep getting angry at people. But the truth is that bigots aren’t our enemies. And besides, there’s no bright line separating “us” from “them.” We all believe stupid, regressive things and act in ways which aren’t conducive to the world we want to live in. We are all drowning in the stew of our own privileges, unable to see oppression beyond what we experience.

Bigotry is our enemy. The belief in us-versus-them is our enemy. Our greatest enemy is the belief that we’re enlightened. Because enlightened people don’t have former selves.

Anyway, go see Kingsman. It’s a great time.

 

kim-gordon

PUAs, Kim Gordon and the Narrative of the Scorned Woman

Kim Gordon’s husband left her for a younger woman. Literally nothing could be more boring. This is the way of things, the most normal, mundane, expected story that has ever or could ever play out. He left her for a younger woman because he could. Because he’s rich and she has nothing on him. Because she dared to get old, and lose all her value. Because he doesn’t have the integrity to keep to his commitments. And commitment is the only thing reason men with options keep old women around.

Her story is interesting because she’s Kim Gordon, and he’s Thurston Moore, and they were Sonic Youth. “The couple everyone believed was golden and normal and eternally intact, who gave younger musicians hope they could outlast a crazy rock-and-roll world.”

Her story is also interesting because even the fantastically talented, still beautiful, paradigm-shifting, rock-and-roll changing Kim Gordon is, at the end of the day, just like everyone else. “Just another cliché of middle-aged relationship failure — a male midlife crisis, another woman, a double life.”

What a terrifying fate. Cast aside, just when no one else wants you. Lied to and betrayed, then left alone to die. Used up and then discarded, never to be touched again. The prevailing narrative of what it is to grow old as a woman is designed to put women in their place. Make no mistake, it’s a warning to us: Find a good man while you still can. Ensnare someone who will love you even after it’s a sacrifice for him to do so, or else.

But back up for a second. This narrative rests on some assumptions. Mainly, on the assumption that women get less valuable as they get older. It’s a biological reality that women lose their fertility before men do. It’s a social reality that reproduction is only a small part of what makes a woman valuable.

Which is not to say this is a reality that all people will grasp. For some, a woman’s value beyond reproduction is too frightening a thing to fully appreciate. Some people cling to ordered views of the world where people have their place, men before women, young women before old ones. More subtle differences, characteristics, traits, and contributions are lost on some people, either because they are too dull to pick up on them, or too afraid to acknowledge them.

A woman is made valuable, by and large, by the same things that makes a man valuable. Most men and women acquire these as they age. Wisdom, virtue, work ethic, patience, kindness, self-control are learned habits, honed over a lifetime.

It is difficult, though, to appreciate wisdom without a modicum of wisdom, virtue without a modicum of virtue, etc. As a sex-positive feminist, I’ve often been asked about my feelings about Pick-Up Artistry. The truth is that it saddens me deeply that there exist so many men whose ability to appreciate women goes only as far as sleeping with them once. I can think of little sadder than trying desperately to get into the kiddie pool when the ocean awaits. Whether they are too stupid to fully appreciate a woman or too afraid to try varies from man to man. Regardless, I find myself too wrapped up in pitying the lack of ambition in their goals to worry much about their tactics.

It’s like, with our acceptance of the scorned woman stereotype as representative of women’s fate, we’ve replaced critical thinking with a PUA view of women. To limit women’s contributions to fertility or signs thereof is to swim in the kiddie pool of one half of humanity.

The narrative is wrong. In fact, women initiate more than half of divorces. In fact, most splits are over money, not sex. In fact, women get better as they age, just like men do. And there exist, in this world, despite the narratives, despite the PUAs, despite people who need to enforce rigid roles for men and women because to do otherwise scares them, men and women who understand this. Who value what women gain as they age more than what they lose.

More than that, the narrative is deleterious. And we’re fools if we believe it. I’ve got a new warning to us: Be a good woman because you can. Only tolerate someone who will love you because they know they’re lucky to be able to do so.

struggle

What I Want in a Class, and a Lover

Having established that I am an inveterate asshole, I do not want it sitting out there that I’m a whiner. As much time as I wasted over my year in the Dick program I did learn one invaluable lesson: “No bitch without a pitch.” So herein I will explain what I want out of a class, which, it has occurred to me, is also what I want out of a lover.

It might have happened before Dr. Collins, but I’ll always remember him as my first. I’d studied the Constitution, as in read it, before. How hard could the Constitution and Federalist Papers be? It’s an undergrad class. But oh, hey, guess what? Your Alabama public school social studies class in no way, shape, or form prepared you for Dr. Fucking Collins, who reads Latin and Greek for funzies. I was blown away. I scribbled furiously, barely following him as we read Locke and Rousseau to help us understand the philosophical underpinnings of this document. It was like being the star of your podunk high school’s football team, then showing up at practice at Alabama. Fuck me, I thought. This is so good. I am so dumb. It was the best, and spawned a deep and abiding crush on Dr. Collins, despite the fact that he was approximately one billion years old, and cranky as shit.

The second class like this was a two-day training right after I was hired for my first big-girl job after college. It was called something like Bruce Clay SEO 101, and literally everyone in the class did internet for a living, including someone who worked for the Bang Bros franchise. I did not know any HTML. The closest I came to internetsing was AIM and a Livejournal.

I called my dad in tears. I didn’t know what anchor text was, and they were trying to teach me how to optimize it for search. He told me that it was uncomfortable, like drinking from a firehose, but that I’d get it eventually. That no one expected me to know this stuff already, but just show up and learn. I did. It was miserable, right until the group photo at the end where Bruce Clay himself grabbed my ass. But shortly thereafter I became Birmingham’s very own SEO expert. Lolcats.

The truth is I like some discomfort, some terror. I like the pressure to pay close attention, to be 100% present, just to not be left behind. I like the idea of some struggle to prove my worth. Whether it’s a man or a class or a friend. My saving grace is that I’m not actually all that smart, so it’s not too much of a struggle to find a struggle, especially in this town.

I can’t tell you how much it breaks my heart that the beauty-for-status trade is mostly a myth. I keep offering my looks for status, “Here, take them!” But no one will. “Ugh,” the Harvard guys say, as they pass me by for the Yale chick. And I’m crying into my beer, alone. Whatever, Harvard. You’ll never make Yale happy. Oh wait.
Which means, of course, that if I’m not going to be smarter than my friends and lovers, that I need to be nicer. Which is, as we’ve discussed, a struggle all its own.

asshole

I Wish I Could Stop Being an Asshole

Not to sound *too* terribly arrogant, but I’ve got a few things going for me. But, probably the thing that holds me most back from getting what I want in life, other than not being able to want any one thing for more than five minutes, is that I cannot stop being an asshole.

The latest iteration of the pattern was this class I signed up for. To protect the innocent, I won’t name the class or the organization it’s offered through. It’s something interesting and business-y, but not directly related to my career goals. The reason I signed up is that I wanted to undo some of the damage I did the last time I was in close contact with this organization, which is well-funded and influential. We’ll call it the Dick Foundation. But it’s pronounced “doke.”

I’ve taken classes offered through Dick before. You know that person in class who always needs to argue with everyone about arcane shit no one else cares about but for some reason really works them up? Who gets really upset when the classes teach things they disagree with? Or gets very invested in how things are taught? That was me. It was a year-long class and by the end of it I’d freaked out and alienated nearly every person I’d come in contact with.

The weirdest thing about it is that I knew better. I knew that making a good impression, and the helpful connections and relationships that would result, was far more important than whatever petty bullshit I kept calling people out over. Alas, I was an addict, and self-righteousness and pedantry were my drugs.

So with a solid year between that class and me, I vowed to do it better this time. I’d show up, be nice, make friends, and, coincidentally, perhaps learn something.

Having done (most of) the reading, I sat down. The PowerPoint began. I read points from the book word-for-word on the slides. Then the instructor read those points, word-for-word, from those slides. This is where my rage started bubbling up. And this, my friends, is where I should have left.

Now, I have no idea where this rage comes from. It’s a free class. All I was missing is the Tuesday discount for buying plane tickets and some girlfriends meeting for drinks in DC. Maybe it’s PTSD from Alabama public schools, where a teacher who didn’t read straight from the textbook was a rarity.

But as one hour turned into two, my expression got more dour. I crossed my arms and scowled. I could not believe he would dare to stand up there and waste my time by simply explaining what I’d already read in the book.

Everyone else seemed happy, chipper, even. Asking polite, pertinent questions. Going along to get along.

When the teacher asked me if I was getting anything out of it, before I could stop myself I said, “The book is really clear.”

Why did I say that? These people around me just nodded their heads. These people are going places. They will obtain positions of power, influence, and wealth.

And the craziest part is that it’s not like I’m some super genius or have a photographic memory. My memory is horrible. So it’s not like I can’t benefit from repetition. I just find it excruciatingly painful. Inexplicably so. Literally my only saving grace is that I have zero emotional attachment to or investment in the content of the course, or I would surely have made an ass of myself about that as well.

Realizing what was in store, I left after the second hour, before the third (!) began.

A woman’s got to know her limitations. And I literally cannot sit through three hours of reading a textbook I’ve already read off of slides which are then read aloud. Cannot do it. Wish I could. Would be better if that were possible. Really jealous of the people who can. Look forward to working for them. But I’m going to have to quit the class before a whole new group of people realizes that I’m literally incapable of not being an asshole.

If I had this superpower, that these people seem to possess effortlessly, who knows what I could accomplish, beyond sitting through three hours of this class. The other kids didn’t even look upset. They looked like nothing was amiss. What would I do with that kind of patience and zen?