Pondering Differences

March 26, 2012

I do a lot of reading, trying to understand what makes people think and act as they do. What motivates us. Why we think this is moral and that is not. I also try very hard to limit my own bias in hopes of actually understanding, even if not accepting other points of view. These two articles were  thoughtful reads.

The first, a review of the book ‘The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt.

“To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”

And, “The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. ”

The second post is brief, but pertinent: ” Why Republican Women Vote for Santorum

“I would hypothesize that women who have accommodated themselves to living an evangelical lifestyle have nothing to gain from questioning the premises of Christian patriarchy. Their lives are more comfortable, less fraught with domestic conflict, if they simply decide to be happy and make the most of their assigned roles.”

And, “How many of us want to challenge the social constructs within which we have created active lives that are reckoned as meaningful? ”

This is a puzzle I have been pondering, and discussing with others.  We cannot all be activists. And I have often wondered if people, as a rule, aren’t more comfortable with certainty – knowing their role, feeling they can predict and define in black and white. Security feels safe.

Uncertainty  and self-responsibility are hard taskmasters.


Does This Make You Angry?

November 30, 2011

It should.

Calling It Like It Is

June 11, 2011

Let’s put the blame on the offenders – yes!


Wonderful post.

Opening Words?

May 11, 2011

I’m writing a novel about a woman who is struggling to find her life and her dreams again after getting into a relationship with a man who squashed her quite thoroughly. She still has her career – she’s a philosophy professor. This allows me to put in all sorts of ideas and such – which is great fun for me. Pruning them back out again is not quite so much fun.

She will, of course, get far more from her quest than just ‘her life back’.

For those who survived my post on /first person catharsis/, this is The Novel my editor made me convert to first person.

So – I have written this. It encapsulates her story-to-date as seen from her starting point in the novel. I just can’t decide if it should be the opening or not.


I was conceived in love, born in despair, and nurtured in cold, grey duty. I escaped. I escaped into the limitless world of the human mind. All the glories of art, literature, science: ideas were my solace. Being naturally prone to skepticism, I learned early on to question what I experienced, and even what I thought I believed to be true. This did not sit well with my father. He Believed with a very capital B. Beliefs are dangerous things. What we believe is right for us is not what is right for others. My father had no imagination and no tolerance for other beliefs.

I escaped again: to college. This time my escape cut me off from the dubious securities of that closed-minded home, but gave me a glorious wide world. More ideas, and now experiences to add color, life, and vitality to the ideas I’d pondered for so long. I thought I’d found my life’s path, but then a new idea, a Belief with a smaller, but still capital B took over my mind’s freedom. My belief in a man. That I willingly subverted myself to that belief was no comfort for the return to cold, grey duty. Beliefs are dangerous things. What we believe we are is not who we truly are. Belief keeps us from becoming ourselves.

I escaped once again. I have been lucky in my escapes. But now I was afraid to trust myself. I looked back in horror at how my own body and emotions overwhelmed my mind, and wondered if it could happen again.

I have a chance to find my life again. Either to create a balance that encompasses heart, body, and mind; or to leave one or more behind. This time, though, I will not leave my mind. My career, a career of ideas, is the best of me, the me that is most true to who I am.

This of course requires that I know who I am. To Know Thyself is no easy task. It is, like skepticism or scientific inquiry, a constant process of questioning, doubting, seeking proof, and never relaxing until you can prove what is known and what is yet to know; and discern how to explore and resolve the challenge that our ignorance offers.

In science or in ourselves, the more we learn the more there is to learn. People change. I was not the girl, nor the student I had been; nor even the woman I was two years ago. I was being born again. Who would I become?

*  *  *  *  *

My fingers fell from the keys. So few words to encompass a life of almost thirty years. So cold. Emotionless. Distant. But that was how I felt. What joys, what eager enthusiasms I’d once felt now lay shrouded beneath cobwebs of bitter memory.

And yet… why had I chosen to write these words? I wiped slow tears from my cheek, and blew my nose with a hint of defiance. Something was stirring, some shift in the winds that blew my resistless shell; some nebulous tendril of life emerging from the dormant seed that was still buried somewhere inside me.

I was curious now. I would find it.

But how to start the quest?

I haven’t written for a few days. I’ve been, not writing, but editing. I find editing an enormous, but invigorating challenge. This round was an attempt to lop out lectures. It ended with about 7k more words to the story. Useful words – continuity and character development, but still, 7k more words that need to be pruned.

I’m still feeling totally immersed in writing. For some reason 2 new stories appeared in my head these last few days, and several ideas for stories in progress. I woke at 2:30am with the tail end of a dream merging into semi-conscious continuation for an entire story. Between waking and dozing, I worked on it until about 4:30. Love writing in the dark. (People talk about not sharing beds / bedrooms due to snoring, restless sleeping, blanket hogging. I’ve endured all three, but what might finally move me to a separate bedroom is that I need to turn on the light in the night.)

Anyways – I’m rambling. I’m on overload with news. Japan, tsunamis. The internet is full of stories and videos. Even my sister in San Fransisco had pictures of the wave coming through the bay. I won’t post links: look for yourselves if you haven’t already. Caring about one another is part of what makes us human.

I’ve never felt an earthquake. I can’t begin to imagine how it would feel, especially one of that magnitude, and most especially knowing that the shaking was only a precursor to other terrors. Articles on how ill-prepared most people are for a disaster. I live in Oregon. We, too, are at risk for such a mega-quake. Do I store water or food? No. I think I’d best figure out how to get that mindset.

So, with all the thoughts spiraling and tangling in my head, I was going to write about the little things that make me smile, even when things are overwhelming. I saw both a rufous towhee and a varied thrush at the feeder this morning. The daffodils are fully out, and the plum trees a haze of deepening pink. Two of the cats were perfect bookends on the back of a chair. Little things, little smiles, but they lighten the heart. To repeat a Jane Austen quote I love: “It’s as well to have as many holds on happiness as possible”. Little smiles don’t solve big problems, but they may open a crack to let a lifeline in. Maybe not. But worth hoping for.

Then I read the morning news, the comics, the blogs. And I found  / this /.  I, like many of the commentators, was outraged. And what is most outrageous is that I was unsurprised. Women are so blatantly treated as ‘special cases’ and not as equals. Why assume that a non-European surname implies lack of language proficiency? Some of the worst profs I had were theoretically language proficient, but very deficient in teaching skill.

Hey, you ignorant bigoted jerks. Wake up and see reality. Are you that frightened of your own infallibility that you have to stomp others down to keep yourself up?

I love Bertrand Russell. I may not always agree with him, but he sees things clearly:

“Next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in preventing others from enjoying themselves, or, more generally, in the acquisition of power.”

“Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.”

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”

“The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.”

I need to go watch the birds and admire the daffodils again. Actually, all this may require petting a sleeping cat to soothe me back to functionality.

Why is there this fervor for / sexy female scientists? / They are so proud to declare that they can be both intelligent and beautiful. Be honest: how many women – or men, for that matter – can truly be described as hot? Selling girls on science by telling them they can be both is destructive. Not just because it creates a confusion, but because it recreates a myth from the 70s that women are still struggling against.

There was a  / horrible commercial / from that era, where a sophisticated, beautiful woman was singing the glories of her high-powered job, doing the shopping, then coming home to cook dinner, and still being a doting sex object for her man. This is a glaring example of a mindset that has had generations of girls thinking this was what they had to do.  / The superwoman myth. /  And here. / No one can. The closest you can get is if you truly are so well-employed that you can hire a nanny, a cook, and a housekeeper. But for those of us in reality, it’s an impossible standard that we were being held to and failing. Men are not held to this sort of standard. All we ask of them is that they /  pitch in / with the housework, and even there, / studies show / most do very little. And studies show that in two income families, women are still the ones / getting up with the kids at night. / Think a minute here – we all know how lousy we feel after an interrupted sleep. What sort of work can those women accomplish next day? And you can be sure that poor work is reflected in their job evaluations.

And now female scientists are trying to recreate this still-not-dead impossible myth for their colleagues, and future colleagues.  You might be beautiful. You might be smart. But you cannot foster an impression that you *must* be both. And that is what impressionable young girls will take from that. So, again, a generation or three struggling to fulfill an impossible standard. / This blog post / talks of  the pervasive gender bias that even women fall into – it’s the prevailing attitude. Still.

The only way that women can enjoy the same freedom men have to be attractive or not, smart or not, is for there to be enough women in all levels of employment that they are seen as normal, / not token /. And that takes time. It also takes men working for that goal by actively supporting women. A wonderful blog about /  being the guy / who speaks up for women. If they speak up for themselves they’re labelled bitches. Again – women do not have the same freedoms of speech, intelligence or appearance that men have – yet.

It is getting better. But it takes time, not new impossible standards.

Hey, girls – you can be who you are! you can be what you want! And you don’t have to be beautiful to be a scientist! Way cool idea!

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