Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense & A Predictable Metaphor.

A butterfly emerging from a chrysalis is an embarrassingly obvious metaphor for a human undergoing a transition phase into a new future.

I am a human undergoing a transition phase into a new future.

In a visual sense, I’m transforming from a beautiful butterfly slowly into a wrinkled old maggot/caterpillar thing. But that’s only a surface change. In another sense, I’m metamorphosing from a maggot-brained child-human into the magnificent, mature, awesome-brained old person I’m working on.

I like to think so, anyway. It compensates for the maggoty appearance.

Here are the photos. I took them in a butterfly house near Totnes after my lens stopped steaming up.

Good Morning Bratwurst

“Mom and Dad were married 64 years. And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table. That’s how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose.”

- Mitt Romney

just a pipeI’ll know when my spouse is dead because I’ll wake up, go downstairs and there won’t be a cardboard man with a sausage penis on my table in the morning.

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Fiddling while we burn

I depressed myself a bit with my last doom-mongering post, and spent the morning wandering round imagining the world of Idiocracy is just around the corner.

idiocracy

Then I spent the afternoon feeling ashamed of myself for being such a terrible snob. As xkcd points out in this cartoon:

idiocracy 2So, as usual I overthought the whole thing and got myself into a state of not-knowing-what-I-think. Which is sometimes a bit depressing. Then I started to sort out a few files and came across something that cheered me up. A Word document where I’d started making notes of family conversations that made me laugh. I’d forgotten about it. But here’s what I’ve collected so far:

1.

Me: … you know I’m right
Spouse: Yes. That’s why I’m ignoring you.
Spouse: (writes in small notebook) Wife is getting more annoying by the day. Must poison her soon.

2.

Son 2: I didn’t get the grades I needed.
Me: Oh, what did you get?
Son 2: three Bs, but I phoned up the university and made the history lecturer laugh and he said I’d got in anyway.
Me: Oh good.
Son 2: Buy me things.
Me: No, your reward is your own glory.
Son 2: I have enough glory already. When I walk through the streets, admirers attach themselves to my underbelly.

3.

Spouse (sweeping): “I’ve gathered all the dust in one place. Would you like to see it?”

4.

Spouse: We’ve made quite a lot on eBay this month.
Me: That’s good.
Spouse: If we took some nude photos of you and put them up we’d make loads of money
Me: I think you slightly overestimate my marketability
Spouse: No – LOADS of people like pictures of freaks.

5.

Spouse: “I woke up from a snooze earlier, wandered into the kitchen, lifted the lid of the bin, whipped my willy out and thought, “oh, this is the bin.” Then I checked to see if anyone was looking and went into the toilet.”

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It doesn’t matter if intelligent civilisation is on the decline. I’m laughing all the way to the bottom.

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Democratic Despair

Frustration - Tancredi TrugenbergerI’ve been reading the Internet again.

If I’ve told myself once, I’ve told myself a thousand times that it isn’t good for me, but I still do it. I forget. I drift into this fantasy world in which the Internet/Earth is inhabited by intelligent, articulate people who enjoy developing their own ideas through discourse, consideration of each other’s carefully delineated viewpoints and a walk about in the shoes of people with different experiences.

So every time I follow a seemingly innocuous link on a topic of interest to me, I am devastated anew when apparently sentient beings unquestioningly espouse opinions that are evidently a product of the emotional parts of their brain, entirely unmediated by the logic lobe. I’m even more devastated when those opinions are expressed in heinous generalisations, massive logical fallacies and almost entirely emotive language.

ad hominem

I am frustrated by this to the point of weeping/ranting/hyperventilating/overeating. I’m currently really, really interested in, among other things, the question of where Feminism stands in the 21st Century, and in the seeming rise of anti-male sentiment in the Media, so I often follow Twitter links to articles on this kind of topic in the hope that I will find a thought-provoking well-expressed piece of writing (I sometimes do), which leads to an inspiring and enlightening discussion to which I might like to contribute (it rarely does). You’d think I would’ve learned by now.

Last night I followed various links from Twitter, through ‘The Good Men Project’ (a site that makes a refreshingly concerted effort to be fair and balanced, but is regularly accused of pandering to Feminism) and out the other side while exploring anti-Feminist opinions. I am, as I hope I have made clear, suspicious of all ‘-ism’s, and am therefore loosely a ‘Feminist’ who is very open to criticism of Feminism. All standpoints need questioning, and all beliefs need challenging. So I clicked on an Exposing Feminism article about the shaming of men to see if it made any interesting points. I’ve discussed shaming before with spouse who has argued that it may be time to move on from shaming British people for colonial actions carried out by their ancestors, and modern men for the actions of men in the past. This is a point I think worthy of consideration, so I was prepared to consider the points in this article.

I was initially put off by the emotive language in the writer’s description of the: “… histrionic behavior of female detractors who refuse to argue their points with logic”, but overlooked it and read on into the article, which is a bullet pointed catalogue of responses that Men’s Rights Activists apparently receive from women in response to their logical points in debate.

I had three responses to his list. The first response was a gut reaction. We all – whether we deny it to ourselves or not – initially respond to things with an in-built gut response that comes from our own personal subject position or belief system. Mine was, ‘no woman EVER said that!‘ But it took all of 45 seconds to remember that, a) women can be just as stupid as men can and b) it is usually necessary in debate to take a speaker’s experiences at face value as it’s impossible to confirm or deny them.

My second response was the realisation that I had, in fact, encountered some of these responses in online gender debates, for example, “You’re afraid of a strong woman”, “You’re just afraid of losing your male privileges,” and what the writer calls “Code Brown” – the accusation that the person you’re arguing with is being some kind of ‘Fascist’ – a logical fallacy I’ve seen regularly used in all kinds of debates not just the gender one. It’s so frequently used that a name has been invented for it: Reductio ad Hitlerum.
fascistFair enough then, I thought. If Feminists are throwing this sort of rubbish around, then Men’s Rights Activists have a right to object. That is no way to hold a proper debate. And some of the other comments the writer reports are just embarrassingly shit. Apparently, a common response from women to points in debate is: ““You are going to make me cry.” Ok, I am taking the writer’s word for it here. If women are using that as a contribution to a discussion, then they deserve to get destroyed by superior intellects. Other shit things women apparently say when men explain their viewpoint are: “Suck it up like a man!” and “I’m not interested in boys. I’m interested in real men.” And, “Men are shirking their God-given responsibility to marry and bear children.” And, “I need a real man, not a sissy.”

Now, let’s pause a moment here. This article is written in the context of a debate in which some Men’s Right’s Activists (do we have these in the UK, or is it exclusively an American thing?) are saying that Feminists are more man-haters than equality-advocates. The strapline of this site is: “Feminism purports to concern itself only with equality – but in reality propagates mistrust, tension and hatred between the sexes.” Although this particular article refers to ‘women’ rather than ‘Feminists’, the implication that it is ‘Feminists’ who are saying this stupid stuff is clearly there, and that it is, therefore, ‘Feminism’ that is responsible for the perceived threat to the rights of men that has resulted in the Men’s Rights Movement.

But let’s look at some of these comments. Would a Feminist – a person who is interested in the debates about which aspects of maleness and femaleness are biological and which are culturally constructed, and – being a ‘Feminist’ is highly likely to believe cultural construction is a major player, and that the cultural construction of gender traits can sometimes restrict people’s freedoms to live in ways that don’t fit a culture’s gender stereotypes – would this be the sort of person who would call a man “a cissy” or a “real man”, with all that connotes? Would a ‘Feminist’ – an inheritor of the fight for women to be able to live independently from men and so come together with men on equal terms – use the phrase “I need a man who…”?

You get my point. It’s not ‘Feminists’ that are the problem here. It’s stupid people. And there is no respite from idiocy in the Great Chain of Stupid that follows the article, and unfortunately for the writer, the stupid comes from both sides of the debate. He must surely be delighted that contributors are supporting his viewpoint with well-considered arguments such as, “Women NEVER SHUT UP, they are never happy, and they are like locusts…”, and “I am surprised that “Femi-Nazi’s … have not taken the major mafia clans to court under the guise of “discrimination” to have “wimmin” inducted into the Mafia……What a joke!….LOL! Helpful of this contributor to provide an example of someone on the writer’s ‘side’ using the precise same reasoning fallacy he is accusing ‘Feminists’ of. Pure idiocy.

And if you think this piece is a bit one sided in identifying poor argument, then permit me to show you something tweeted by the Everyday Sexism project.

women

At first glance, this is pretty compelling evidence of the ubiquity of some very archaic attitudes to women. So I decided to look at the top sites that are thrown up by some of these searches. Here’s one of the search examples:

women shouldn'tOne article about women’s right to sex, two that are pro-women’s rights, an article expressing outrage at an American saying women shouldn’t have been given the vote and someone asking for help with their Suffragettes History homework. Nothing (apart from a backward reverend in America that nobody agrees with) here to pose the slightest threat to women’s rights. But very much the type of thing that goes round the Internet, is posted all over Facebook, and used as ‘evidence’ of whatever point of view its posters are espousing. This kind of flimsy evidence doesn’t do the credibility of a cause any good at all. And in this case, The Everyday Sexism project can be damaged by it. When some (plenty) of the evidence given to prove there are still problems for women in society is  weak or spurious, it gives credence to the opposition’s claim that women are being pathetic complainers instead of raising valid concerns.

But the same goes for all debates over issues that matter. And the problem is not people’s individual viewpoints – it’s their individual inability to comprehend each other and hold a legitimate debate. I am firmly of the belief that we should be able to discuss anything. And I mean ANYTHING. Tom Matlack at The Good Men project was right to publish an article by a rapist. Feminists should open their ears and consider the points of view of the white males they blame for patriarchal oppression. The most taboo subjects – such as holocaust denial – are the most important topics of all to be tackled. In an open society that believes in freedom of speech, all points of view should be heard. Nothing silenced.

But if we as a society and as individuals do not have the ability to recognise when we are using emotion over logic, to stand back and inspect our own reactions, to consider their validity and where they are coming from, to listen to a point of view we find abhorrent and argue against it using reasoning rather than anger, to recognise that groups of people are made up of differing individuals and not homogenous lumps of identical beliefs, to take time to check our sources and evidence before we use them to confirm our biases and to consider openly whether someone else’s experience or evidence should make us adapt our own belief system, then I can’t see how we can progress as a society at all. If I were to put my catastrophising head on, I’d say democracy is pretty much a failed ideal. It was dreamed up as a collaboration of thinkers, not a toddler fight in a playgroup.

The problem isn’t people’s points-of-view, it’s people’s stupidity.

debate

Macsalvors: For all your wheelchair, fishing buoy and plastic groin needs.

I wasn’t notably enthusiastic when spouse suggested I accompany him to Macsalvors this morning.

Macsalvors is a shop that is famous in Cornwall for selling… well… all the sorts of things that practical people like. It started as a marine salvage outlet, and has evolved into a place where spouse wants to spend a million quid every time he passes through its automatic portal.

I have nothing against the place at all. In fact I quite like it, but it’s not enough on its own to make me leave the house on a seriously rainy day. Spouse, however, pointed out the error of my slatternly ways as I lolled on the sofa frustratedly reading other people being wrong on the Internet, and thereby persuaded me it would be healthier to look at rope with him. So Macsalvors it was.

I’m glad I went. I hadn’t noticed all the slightly morose shop dummies before.

Thank you for my life, unknown man.

missing drain-coverThere was a feature on the radio this morning where listeners were invited to express gratitude to people who’d done splendid things for them and who they’d never had an opportunity to thank.

As I listened to a man thanking a music teacher for introducing him to Beethoven, I suddenly remembered that I have someone I’ve never been able to thank, and this person has made a significant difference to my life. Significant indeed, because if he hadn’t happened to drive down a street in Threemilestone 38 years ago, I wouldn’t even have a life. But there’s no way I’m going to listen to my own voice on the radio, so I’m thanking him here.

When I was five or six I used to hang out a lot with Jonathan next door. We usually played Robin Hood (the cartoon fox version), but on the day in question, some workers had left the cover off a drain on our street and it was full to the brim with viscous, gloopy mud.  The obvious thing to do under these circumstances is to find some long sticks, lie face down on the pavement and start stirring and sloshing and squelching. So that’s what we did.  It was extremely enjoyable, as you can imagine.

After a while, Jonathan was called in for his dinner (I was mildly middle class, spouse would call it ‘tea’), and the mud and I were alone together. You can see where this is going.

I decided I was going to get my stick much deeper into the gloop now that Jonathan’s head wasn’t in the way of the hole, so I wriggled forward, reached my arm as far in as I could and slid gently face-first right into the drain with one arm outstretched in a Superman pose (not like in my erroneous illustration).

me in a hole

So there I was with my red shoes and white socks sticking up out of the drain hole; helpless, upside-down and presumably slowly realising that at any moment I was going to have to start inhaling mud and dying (I wasn’t a stupid child). I can’t remember how long I was there, but it couldn’t have been very long before I felt a firm grip on my ankles and an interesting sucky squelchy feeling as I was pulled rapidly backwards out of the drain.

I can only imagine the image my rescuer beheld once he’d plonked me the right way up on the pavement. I was a bewildered human-shaped mud-being with incongruously clean red shoes and knee socks.
Not meI remember the man asking me where I lived, and me just pointing to my house because I didn’t want to open my mouth in case mud got in. Then the man took my hand-shaped appendage, led me to my front door and knocked. My mum opened the door with my wailing baby brother in her arms and encountered a strange man and a mud apparition. All I remember next is being plonked in the bath and hosed down. I don’t know if the man explained in detail or if my mum really took in what had happened, and I don’t know if she thanked him properly, but he actually did save my life. Our street was completely empty when Jonathan went in for tea; there was absolutely nobody about. I don’t know where this man appeared from, but I’m bloody glad he appeared from somewhere, because if he hadn’t, I’d have had to give in and inhale the mud.

So thank you for my life, strange man 38 years ago. I expect you’ve told the story of the pair of red shoes sticking out of a suburban drain a few times. I would if I were you because to me, you’re a hero.

Weekly Photo Challenge: My neighbourhood.

Anyone who has heard of Redruth knows that it, and its neighbouring town Camborne, are considered among the roughest and dodgiest parts of Cornwall.  Once, when I told a man at a car boot sale that I taught in the area, he quipped, “do you have to wear a flak jacket?” I forgave him though, because he had a nice beard.

Jokes about the general seediness of the population abound:

Q. How can you tell if a Redruth girl is having an orgasm?

A. She drops her chips.

Seems that Redruth’s status has been pretty poor for a long time. Daniel Defoe dismissed it in an offhand way in the 1700s in  A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies, suggesting that there was nothing worth mentioning between St.Ives and Padstow:

From this town and port of St. Ives, we have no town of any note on the coast; no, not a market town, except Redruth, which is of no consideration, ’till we come to Padstow-Haven, which is near thirty miles…

Shortly after Defoe’s cheeky comment Redruth was to experience a massive turn-around in its fortunes thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the age of steam and tin mining, but now, like many post-industrial areas of Britain, it has slumped back into poverty which is why there are so many jokes about it.

Not that the stories about Redruth’s ills are all lies. I live right in the heart of the town and within a few weeks of moving here my son had to encourage an intruder out of our house with a hockey stick, and we regularly enjoy the lilting sounds of drunk people yelling abuse at each other within inches of our front door.

Having said that, though, the town itself is quite visually pleasing if you mostly look upwards and ignore the boarded up shops, the drunks and the pale, spotty teenagers with their arses displayed over the tops of their sagging tracksuit bottoms. And despite the downsides, the first thing we all noticed was the chattiness of the people in the town. We experienced more street banter and friendly faces in our first few months here than we ever did in the more middle class town we moved from. Plus there are sofas in the cinema.

Here are some of the visual reasons why I love this town despite everything:

Young Millenials and The Happiness Deficit

serotonin and dopamineI don’t know why a two-year-old article on happiness is floating around my Facebook today, but it struck something in me because I’ve been meeting some horrendously unhappy people over the last few weeks. The article is about the big rush of interest in the ‘science’ of happiness that happened a year or two ago, perhaps triggered – or at least popularised by – Bhutan’s policy of ‘Gross National Happiness’ hitting the Western media.

Dr. Seldon, the writer of the article, is one of the founders of a movement called ‘Action for Happiness’, whose goal it is to work on ways to decrease human misery. He acknowledges that happiness could be seen as a trivial topic, but argues that the fact that “prescriptions of antidepressants have risen by 43 per cent since 2006″ clearly suggests something is seriously wrong and it needs dealing with. “The tragedy”, he says, “is especially acute for young people. They are suffering grievously, with adolescent suicide again on the increase, and the proportion with a whole variety of distressing emotional problems rising from 10 per cent in 1974 to 17 per cent in 2006.”

I’m rubbish at statistics, and I don’t know why he used a statistic from 2006 in an article written in 2011, but I’d confidently bet that the percentage of young people with distressing emotional problems has continued to rise, particularly since the credit crunch and ensuing troubles.

My new job involves working in an educational setting with young people who are struggling. It’s very likely that this is colouring my view of UK happiness levels, so I willingly acknowledge the subjectivity of this article; but even in my previous role working with young people following the more conventional route, I often encountered emotional distress in different forms. In the last week and a bit, though, I have spoken to young people who are dealing with various combinations of the following:

  • Early childhood sexual abuse
  • Parental heroin addiction
  • Caring for very sick parents
  • Serious poverty
  • Rape
  • Underage pregnancy
  • Abortion
  • Violent bullying
  • Parental suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder & night terrors
  • Violent/abusive relationships
  • Homelessness

Obviously, all these young people are being looked after by child protection teams, social services and an impressive array of incredibly hard working people from different agencies who are busting their guts to help. But to me, as a relative newcomer to this level of suffering (at least a newcomer to being someone in ‘authority’ who wants to help), it all just seems like an insurmountable mess.

A fellow teacher advised me this afternoon to just get on with fighting the fires as they flare up and not to question what’s causing them – because that way madness lies. I’m sure he’s right, and I will work on doing that, but it’s not in my nature to do so.  Today I’m feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of these young people’s problems, and I’m wondering what sort of society we have made that has caused this. Why do we have so very many profoundly unhappy, lost and struggling young people? Am I being idealistic to imagine that this would not happen in a society based on smaller, closer knit communities?

We seem to have created a world where our most lost young people don’t aspire to be like their closest adults as I (undoubtedly naïvely) imagine they did in the past. This is probably partly because many of the adults they see around them are desperately trying not to grow up themselves, and partly because there are far more compelling role models in the media. Because of this, many of our young don’t learn how to take responsibility for and cope with their own emotions, or to understand or care about the consequences of their behaviour. And to be fair, they have no reason to, because they don’t have goals in common with any particular community other than other disaffected young people. Our education system has killed their interest in the world around them, so they have nothing they particularly want to strive for, and there’s no motivation to do anything apart from seek hedonistic pleasures/drown their negative feelings.

But all this is not the fault of the young. They didn’t make this culture – we did. When I offloaded some of this to long-suffering spouse, he said “I suppose it’s the fault of our generation. The Punk generation. We’re their parents.” And he may be right. I know many of our generation – Generation X – were brilliant, responsible, creative and generally excellent – but I also know from experience that many others of us screwed ourselves up on drugs, refused to take responsibility for anything because we believed everything was the fault of ‘the system’ and tried wholeheartedly to resist ‘selling out’ (i.e. growing up and developing a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the world). We rejected everything, and therefore what did we have left to offer our children?

I don’t know if that analysis has anything to do with any of these problems – there’s also rampant consumerism, celebrity culture, mass loss of faith in politics, results-driven education and all the rest to be taken into consideration – but I’m not claiming to have any answers. Really, I’m just offloading my distress at our culture that on the one hand has given people a standard of living that hasn’t really been seen ever before in history, but on the other hand is making so many people so utterly and inconsolably miserable.

happiness