Empathy

This is the sort of thing I hope to tell my son or daughter someday, if I make it to that point. Empathy is a problem for me. I can’t predict what effect my actions will have on people. I mean… I can, and do, try. I’m not a sociopath. I try and be nice to people. But in many cases I am just operating with no clue what anyone thinks of me. Maybe I’m an asshole. What truly disturbs me is that I would never know. I can sit here in my head and think I am an ok guy, but what have I ever truly done for anyone? A few things. But by and large? I’ve spent a bunch of my parents’s money and consumed a lot of food and electricity. That remains my overall contribution. I have had friends. I have been close to people. But… who knows, what they got out of being around me. Who knows what kind of judgments were going on. All I really want is not to be judged. I want to be able to talk to someone who is not thinking ‘what a stupid thought’ or who at least appreciates where I am coming from. I can try and do that, even if my empathy module is broken, and my theory of mind infantile. I am going to wake up tomorrow and build some houses for people. And you know what? I’ve been looking forward to that. It’s twice a month. That’s the only time I know I am contributing to something. It’s got to be that exaggerated. It’ll be fun.

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Girl/Woman

This one’s quick. There is an extended discussion to be had here (if you’re interested, there’s a discussion of this in the podcast “fourth wave feminism”), but basically calling an 18-30something year old female ‘girl’ has some sketchy undertones. It’s slightly condescending, and it fetishizes the youth of women. I see it as related to issues with women having visible body hair- again, what’s going on is a culture that values youth in women. By doing so we’re skewing perceptions of women toward that of sexual objects (after all, the reason youth is attractive is because fertility peaks at around 23, which is about the age most males find most attractive on dating websites such as okCupid). The problem is that ‘woman’ isn’t quite a fun thing to call someone- it’s too factual and does imply being over a certain age. Plainly put, there doesn’t seem to be a female equivalent of the word ‘guy.’

Except, there is. It’s ‘gal.’ ‘Gal’ has become outdated for a reason that I don’t know, but it’s there. It’s a fun word, and it’s not tied to a particular age. Start saying ‘gal.’

Wallets

I’m going off script a bit here and just recounting something I’ve learned that isn’t necessarily related to decency. Men- do not put your wallets in your back pocket. I’m noticing I’ve got a whole bunch of bizarre asymmetrical posture tendencies that stems from doing this. Wallet + phone in left front, keys in right (because you can’t scratch the phone). Wallet and keys… might be possible. I noticed this when I was on a long drive and I wanted to avoid getting sore. It’s just something to be aware of. I might publish a few more things like this as I have been realizing more and more posture problems lately.

Don’t Make ‘Tone Arguments’

This one is going to be quick, as I should really be asleep right now. The other day I was talking to a a classmate who had been placed into physical danger due to a variety of catcalling, and was telling this story in a way that was expressing anger towards men. I understood in a sympathetic but not empathetic way that she should be angry, and that this was another example of endemic, pervasive mistreatment of women. However, my reaction, instead of being supportive (which was the norm for this story), was to say that her message was going to get lost if it was expressed in such a vitriolic way, and that such a mode of expression runs the risk of framing this as a gender war and inciting negative responses.

What I did was what is known as a tone argument– basically shifting the focus away from the content of message toward its delivery. Doing this kind of thing is wrong. It’s part of the problem. Regardless of the truth value of this evaluation, we’ve got to stop trying to censor or ‘civilize’ women and their thoughts and instead be supportive.

This begs the question of what men’s role in feminism should actually be. It’s clear to me that men do not need to be hijacking the movement and giving it a stamp of approval. Feminism does not need men. It doesn’t need their endorsement, or approval. The way I see it now, it’s important that modern men act as facilitators for women’s voices rather than focusing on trying to manage them, even if social change is the goal. What we’re trying to pull off is a systematic restructuring of human culture in a way that the world has never seen before- ever. It takes some meta-reasoning about what sort of values we are upholding through each and every one of our actions.

So, if someone is making an argument, be aware how your acceptance of their argument are being affected by their method of delivery, appearance, and style. Until I started learning about feminism, I found it unpleasant to hear women acting in certain ways (basically angry and intense).   Guys- while you have have this too, I recommend all of you recognize it for what it is- requiring that women act pleasantly in order to be accepted in society. Suppress that. It’s got no place in modern society. Be decent.

This Blog

I suppose I should lay out what I am planning on doing with this blog. While I’ve been hearing quite a lot about social justice, environmental responsibility, humane and ethical treatment, etc., it’s often difficult to internalize in just what ways a single person can change their behavior to further these causes. The fact is, while these are large, large issues facing society, they effect all of us, and they are so universal that each of us is contributing to them in some way, even if we are not out protesting, writing letters to senators, or trying to explain it to our friends. I’ve realized recently that pursuing personal satisfaction and happiness in and of itself is like a dog chasing it tail- it’s simply unachievable. So, then, what is one to do. Meditate, for one thing. Everyone should meditate more. But aside from that, if happiness in the Western sense of great achievement and ego fulfillment is not feasible, what is there to motivate us?

I believe the answer is in becoming less of an asshole and feeling like overall, I am having a good impact on the world. Being a compassionate human in the 21st century is a bit of a paradox because, for most of us, our mere existence constitutes a hugely irresponsible set of acts of consumption, waste, and interpersonal conflict. However, being already born, and having determined that I don’t have the neurochemistry to create circumstances of lasting contentment, the course remaining to me is to try and improve the world. But at first I didn’t know how, or even what the relevant issues were. This blog is going to be a moment-to-moment recap of thoughts I am having on these issues, and tips I am picking up. I’m not an expert on any of them, but I’m trying to care, and I’m trying to find ways to turn that caring into practical action. Hopefully you folks will benefit from hearing about it.

Boiling Lobsters

This is a great one to begin with. I’m at my parent’s house for the holidays, and tonight my family is making lobster. I used to not care about animal suffering because of some sort of Darwinist philosophy that they had ‘lost’ evolution and that thereby human wellbeing was categorically more important. While I’m not completely committed to animal welfare at the cost of human health and nutrition or scientific research, I do see now there are lots of small things that we can change. So, back to the lobster. For those of you who aren’t familiar, one generally boils lobster. In a uniquely cruel tradition, we pick out specific lobsters from a lobster tank, and throw these into boiling water, where they spend around ten seconds in agonizing pain. Before dying. There are people that believe it’s actually more honest to do it this way- that is, to see that your nutritious protein-filled meal is indeed coming due to the death of a particular animal that lived its life in captivity for the privilege of being boiled. Any emotional pain or guilt incurred by doing this provides a threshold- those of us not terrible enough to exceed this are unable to consume the lobster, reducing overall consumption. This recalls a leaked video of inhumane pig farming conditions at Tyson Foods (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/tyson-foods-dumps-pig-farm-after-nbc-shows-company-video-f2D11627571). Many people, if made aware of the cruel treatment of these animals, will alter their consumption habits- in theory at least. It can be difficult to reconcile the desire to minimize cruel treatment of animals with the need to achieve proper nutrition at a low cost, which does often involve buying things like chicken or eggs that were produced in cheaper yet inhumane conditions. This is one reason why I am enthusiastic about products like cricket protein. While cricket protein is more environmentally friendly to produce, there is still evidence that they may feel pain [1]. Some sort of synthetic protein is most likely the ideal goal here. This is something that researchers are working on- the first lab-grown meat was grown and eaten in 2013 (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-23576143). It tasted “close to meat, but not that juicy.”

So, in the meantime, we want to eat lobsters because lobsters are juicy, and have a social and cultural function. However, unfortunately part of those traditions involve boiling a living thing alive. While it is unclear whether lobsters can in fact feel pain [2] (they almost certainly do not experience it in the way we do, but they might in other ways) movements to make boiling live crustaceans illegal have cropped up in the UK, New Zealand, and Italy (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/07/how-to-kill-a-lobster-humanely/21339/2/). While these have achieved fairly limited traction, there are humane methods of killing lobster despite public policy changes or lack thereof. One option is the Crustastun (http://crustastun.com)- an appliance that will stun the lobster before boiling. These are impractical for most people- they will run you over a thousand dollars, and take up needed counter-space. Luckily there are several low-tech solutions- perhaps the easiest is to place the lobsters in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, which will dull its senses prior to boiling. Another method is to insert a knife straight down behind they eyes of the lobster (http://homecooking.about.com/od/seafood/a/lobsterkill.htm). Finally, one can take advantage of the (aptly named in this case) ‘frog in boiling water’ effect by placing a lobster in a pot in the sink and gradually increasing the temperature of the tap water flowing into it. The lobster will not perceive the temperature increase, and it will become desensitized, allowing it to be boiled without pain.

This post is a bit of a mess (I’m not thinking clearly at the moment and my writing is off as well), but I’m going to just put these up as they come, as (having some experience with blogs, etc.) attempts to place a professional sheen on top of them tend to mean few posts get written. Happy humane cooking, folks.

[1] V E. Dyakonova, F. Schurmann and D. A. Sakharov, “Effects of Serotonergic and Opioidergic Drugs on Escape Behaviors and Social Status of Male Crickets;’ Naturwissenschaften 86, 9 (1999): 435-37.

[2] L. G. Ross and B. Ross, Anaesthetic and Sedative Techniques for Aquatic Animals, 3rd edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008).