The Community Does Not Need You to Stay Quiet While Your Partner Is Abused

[UPDATE: Ginny has posted a partial walkback, which articulates a substantially more reasonable position]

Have you ever read an article online, and thought “this is great information! I’m going to share this with everyone!” until you got about 3/4 of the way down, when your jaw just drops because you can’t believe the absolute bullshit place the article went? That’s what it was like when I read Ginny’s post on what to do if your partner is accused of abuse. It starts out with a lot of great advice about supporting abuse victims. I particularly like the parts where she notes the difference between actual believing victims and engaging in victim-supportive behavior. As someone who believes very strongly in the value of honesty, I appreciate that there is no pressure to be dishonest, and the pointing out that there are ways to support victims without giving up our skepticism about how we form beliefs.

Then she gets to this:

Sometimes, accusations of abuse are themselves a form of abuse or manipulation. Your accused partner might themselves be a victim, in this case. If you believe that to be true, then it is absolutely appropriate to direct a lot of compassion and support to them — privately.

I’m sorry, what? I’d like you all to read that again so you understand what she is suggesting. What she is saying is that if your partner is being abused, then you need to shut up and take it. She’s saying that if you try to speak up against the abuse that your partner – an abuse victim – is taking, then you’re not supporting abuse victims.

grumpy cat no

No. Absolutely not. Ginny’s solution creates a race to the internet, where the first person to report abuse gets to be heard, and everyone else needs to shut up or be accused of being victim-blaming assholes. It’s well-known that abusers will often play the victim to divert attention, solicit sympathy, and enable further abuse. Ginny’s system gives abuser an extra incentive to play the victim publicly. If you’re the first person to go public, then you’re untouchable! Anyone sticking up for you is an asshole abuse apologist!

Secrecy enables abusers. Abusers know that there is a bias toward victims, and will take advantage of that bias whenever possible. And they will deflect and resist any attempt at honest investigation of the facts. The key to exposing abusers is sunlight, not darkness. Establishing accountability takes effort, it takes investigation, and it takes judgment. It does not require the silencing of abuse victims and their supporters. And to suggest it does is shameful.

If you are serious about stopping abuse in our communities, there is only one solution: actual investigation. Facts must be determined, evidence gathered, statements taken, and defenses presented. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass, but nobody said it would be easy. Yes, it might take a while, which is why suspensions pending investigation are a thing. Yes, you might get it wrong, and that would be regrettable, but if you don’t investigate, your chances of getting it wrong are way higher.

Investigation can be done in a victim-supportive way. There is no need to interrogate victims, demand evidence, or even reveal their identities (in most circumstances). As shown in the linked post above, often, once you get both sides of the story, the undisputed facts will be enough to make a decision. If not, work with what you have. Respect the alleged victim’s decision to provide or not provide evidence. Allow the victim to be as active or passive in the process as possible. But if both sides are pointing toward each other, recognize that either could be the true victim, and don’t automatically weigh one side heavier than the other just because they came forward first.

But don’t you dare pretend to be supportive of abuse victims and then claim that abuse victims, or their partners, should shut up and take the abuse. If your partner is being attacked by a malicious abuser, you go right ahead and say so, as loud as you want, to whoever you want. Ginny’s system empowers abusers to keep abusing, and drafts the entire community into doing so. Do not fall into that trap.

A Better Way to Ask for An Apology

How to Give an Apology

Last year, there was a really great post going around by JoEllen at cuppacocoa.com about a better way to give apologies. Ostensibly, the post was about how parents or caregivers should ask children to apologize, but it soon became clear that the advice was applicable to anyone. JoEllen’s suggestion for how to phrase an apology takes the following form:

I’m sorry for…
This is wrong because…
In the future, I will…
Will you forgive me?

Each step is important and serves a different function. The first section (“I’m sorry for…”) shows that you understand what it was that you did.

Wrong: I’m sorry for being mean.
Right: I’m sorry for saying that nobody wants to be your friend.

In the “I’m sorry for…” section, apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings is inappropriate, because it doesn’t show show that you understand the specific action you took that was wrong. This section requires that you be specific about your actions.

The second section (“This is wrong because…”) shows that you understand not just that your action was wrong, but the reasoning process behind why it was wrong. It shows that you have a good chance of effectively avoiding causing similar harm in the future, because you know how to recognize right from wrong and apply it to your actions. This is the section where it is appropriate to say “it was wrong because it hurt you.”

The third section (“In the future, I will…”) shows that you are taking the understanding you’ve shown in the first two section, and translating it into concrete action. The fourth section (“Will you forgive me?”) empowers the other person to decide if the apology is accepted. I also think it’s a good idea to add an extra section along the lines of “how can I make it up to you?” This shows your commitment to making things right, and empowers the other person to decide the best way to do that.

How to Ask For an Apology

Effectively asking for an apology is simply a mirror of the effective apology. If you feel wronged by someone, and you are interested in approaching the issue constructively, then it’s important that your request for an apology adequately empowers the other person to give an effective apology. It also sets the tone for the entire exchange, and shows that your goal is constructive dialogue, rather than vengeance or retribution.

An effective request for an apology would look like this:

Here is what you did…
This is wrong because…
Here is what you could have done instead…
I would like an apology [or another specific action]

Be Specific About the Actions That Were Wrong

The first section (“Here is what you did…”) is critically important because it informs the other person of what specific action you have a problem with. Similarly to the first section of an apology, it is inappropriate here to say “you were mean” or “you hurt me.”

Merely saying “you hurt me” doesn’t give the other person the information they need to effectively apologize. In order to be able to give an effective apology, the person needs to know which actions they took that you consider wrong. Be specific. The most effective way to adequately describe a person’s actions is to imagine that you’re telling a third party what happened, who knows nothing about the situation.

Bad: you made it so I couldn’t participate in the conversation.
Good: both times I tried to tell my story, you cut me off and talked over me.

Being specific when asking for an apology helps avoid confusing the issue. I know that I get offended when people lie to me, even inconsequential or “white” lies. However, people tend to lie to me when they are afraid that I will be angry if they tell me the truth. For instance, if a partner has a date with a new romantic interest, but says that they are going out with a different friend, I would be angry. But it’s important that I specifically state that I am angry about the dishonesty, not about my partner going on a date. Demanding an apology for having a date would be controlling and disempowering, and my partner might reasonably refuse to apologize. However, if I’m specific that it’s the dishonesty that upset me, we sidestep that trap. Merely saying “your actions hurt me” is insufficient to let my partner know that it was only the dishonesty that bothered me.

Being specific about the actions for which you want an apology also helps avoid a situation where one or both parties have bad facts. Sometimes, you can say “here is what you did…” and the other person will say “I didn’t do that.” Even if you don’t believe them, it refocuses the disagreement onto the disputed facts. Any constructive conflict resolution requires that the specific conflict be identified, and if it’s factual, that’s really important to know.

It is also important to clearly distinguish between things you’ve observed, things you’ve heard secondhand, and your interpretations of your observations. “You hit me” is a direct observation. “Terry and Jean said that you hit them” is a secondhand observation. “You like to hit people” is an interpretation. In particular, it’s often not helpful to present your interpretations as facts. Your interpretations are not facts, and all observations are open to interpretation. Leaving room for the fact that your interpretations are not certain, and remaining open to alternative explanations, is important in any constructive discussion.

Explain the Problem

The second section (“This is wrong because…”) serves as another way of narrowing the dispute. Often, two people can agree on what happened, but disagree over whether it was wrong.

Merely pointing out that you were hurt by the actions of someone else is insufficient to show that their actions were wrong. Healthy boundary-setting can hurt people. As Emma Fett has pointed out, “‘I was victimized by acts of control’ is not the same as ‘I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control.'” As Franklin Veaux has noted:

people who abuse genuinely feel that if they tell a partner to do something and the partner doesn’t do it, they’re the ones being abused. I’ve talked to so many people who complain, “My partner isn’t doing what I tell them to!” It hurts me when my partner doesn’t let me control them! That’s abuse! My partner is abusing me by not obeying me!

Obviously, that is a situation where a party is feeling wronged, but has not actually been wronged. But the larger issue is that people are allowed to have different ethics and preferences in their relationships. Ethics are complicated, and reasonable minds can disagree about what is right or wrong in any given circumstance. While some things are not up for debate (e.g. violating clearly communicated physical boundaries is wrong), much of the ethics surrounding interpersonal relationships is highly debated and not at all obvious.

Much of the process of building a social circle involves finding people whose ethics and preferences align with each other. I like to be treated a certain way, so I look for people share my preferences on how people ought to treat each other and avoid people with conflicting preferences. I try to be as open as possible about my opinions and preferences regarding interpersonal relationships, in part because they’re not shared by everyone and I want everyone to know what they’re getting into. Being so open about my preferences tends to attract compatible people and repel incompatible people.

However, it’s not a perfect system, and no two people ever agree 100% on everything. So even among friends, it’s possible to have pretty substantial disagreements about ethics and preferences. When asking for an apology, it’s unreasonable to expect the other person to already know and agree why their actions were wrong unless it’s particularly obvious. Spelling out the reasons why you feel the other person’s actions were wrong makes sure the other person is aware of your ethics/preferences, and invites them to either agree or disagree. Even if the process leads to disagreement, disagreements about how people should behave can be very informative to future decisions regarding your boundaries with that person, and what kind of relationship you want to have.

Tell People How They Could Have Done Better

The third section (“Here is what you could have done instead…”) is important, in that it’s a way of showing that you respect the other person’s needs, and that you have considered the context. Just pointing out problems isn’t constructive unless you offer a potential solution. And if you offer a solution that satisfies the other person’s needs but also avoids the problematic behavior, then the other person knows that you are trying to be constructive, and that you consider their needs to be equally important to your own.

Bad: you shouldn’t have eaten the last piece of chicken.
Good: you could have asked if anyone else wanted the last piece, and you could have eaten the leftover pasta if you were still hungry.

When asking for an apology, it’s easy to give the impression that your perspective is the only one that matters. When you are in pain, it’s difficult to focus on anything but your pain. This section lets the other person know that their perspective still matters, that you have taken their needs into account, and that you have not committed the fundamental attribution error (where your own actions are seen as a reaction to the situation you’re in, but others’ actions are seen as indicative of their character).

By offering a reasonable solution, you are also communicating your own preferences. While the second section communicates your preferences in the abstract, this section translates them into actions. Often, a disagreement that appears large when it is discussed on the abstract level will turn out to be rather small when it comes to how it manifests as action. It is another way of focusing the disagreement and allowing people to either reach consensus or drill down to reach the heart of the disagreement.

Ask for What You Want

The final section (“I would like an apology [or another specific action]”) is important because it informs the other person how to make amends. If an apology is sufficient, it tends to be helpful for the other party to know that. If some other action is needed, it’s critically important that the other party is aware of what is needed. Asking for what you want is an important part of any interpersonal relationship, and it’s especially important when you feel wronged. If there is a path to healing, draw the other person a map. It’s not always reasonable to expect the other person to be able to find their way all on their own.

Plan for a Dialogue

If the steps above are followed, the other party will have a good idea of where you stand, and will have the information they need to understand your perspective. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will agree with your perspective uncritically. The above steps are meant as a starting point to a conversation. Done properly, they will demonstrate that you are approaching the disagreement from a constructive standpoint, and will provide necessary information. But even the most well-meaning and understanding people can have disagreements on facts, interpretations, ethics/preferences, and the reasonableness of the requested solution. In some situations, consensus will be easy. You will articulate your issues, the other person will see their error, and they will apologize. Other times, it will take some back-and-forth. The thing to remember is that a lot of the areas of disagreement are places that reasonable people can disagree.

Even when it comes to factual disputes, reasonable people can disagree. People’s memories are unreliable, and memories of traumatic events are especially unreliable, so any dispute that relies on human memories to determine what happened is dangerous. In such situations, it may be prudent to consider the other person’s fact pattern, and give the response you would give if it were true. Recognizing the unreliability of memory may mean that it’s never possible to conclusively say what happened, but that’s ok. You can still agree on what should have happened under the different factual circumstances presented, and agree that certain actions would be wrong. It can also be helpful, in those situation, if you are the accused party, to try to make amends regardless, in recognition that your memory is fallible and that the other person may be correct about what happened. At the same time, if you are the aggrieved party, it can be helpful to recognize that your own memory of the events may be flawed, and show understanding if a different person has a different recollection.

When To Ask For an Apology

Like giving an effective apology, an effective request for an apology take substantially more time and effort than the usual variety. When you’re in pain, you may not have that bandwidth, and that’s fine. If someone is hurting you wrongfully, you don’t owe it to them to communicate that fact in the most helpful way possible.

But at the same time, it’s difficult to be sure that the other person is definitely in the wrong until hearing their side of the story. If you can imagine a situation in which their actions may have been appropriate, it’s often best not to treat them as though their guilt is predetermined.

Generally, the quality of your request for an apology should be proportional to your desire to receive an apology and/or have a constructive dialogue. Usually, this will correspond to a desire to have a well-functioning relationship with a person. If your hope is to have a constructive discussion regarding the ways in which you were hurt, and come out the other side feeling positive about each other, it’s to your advantage to make your request as effective as possible. Likewise, if it is tremendously important to you that the other person understand what they did for some other reason, it’s probably best to follow the steps above. If it’s less important to you to get through to the person, it might not we worth the time and energy. It’s always a personal decision, and not every expression of pain needs to be as constructive as possible. However, if your goal is to improve a relationship, it may be worth the investment of time and energy to effectively ask for an apology.

The Broken Record Files: Trying to Figure Out the Wellness of Me

[Content Note: Food Talk, Exercise Talk, Stress Management]

In January, I managed to start and keep up some great habits. Most weeks, I went to a morning yoga class four or five days a week. I was having an easier time with Whole30 eating and reaping more benefits. Basically, I felt great and enjoyed installing some more structure to my life.

totes amaze

Then I went to Disneyworld and was all out of whack by the time I got back. I haven’t been able to motivate myself to get out of bed for yoga. I haven’t been feeding myself properly during the day and am usually too lazy to put lunch together in the evening or any of that. I’ve been going out to lunch a lot and taking everyone out to dinner for food I want when I am stress eating. My non-savings account is negative, a thing I didn’t worry about at all in January.

Grumpy Cat

I guess I figured that would happen. But I didn’t expect to have my entire new program rewritten to the old one! Sigh. Living the healthiest, happiest life for me takes a whole lot of effort! WHO KNEW?!?

Everyone. Everyone knows this.

Anyway, I’m still in analysis mode, trying to figure out the best way to proceed and commit. And I am finding new things all the time that I have to pay attention to on the road to feeling well and energized every day.

I have started by identifying what about January I liked the most and how to best make those things permanent aspects of my life. I liked feeling awake in the morning, and sleepy at bed time. I liked all the stability I had going on, both emotionally and physically. I liked having money to save and to purchase things that were not food. I liked the general feeling of success I had, knowing that I was making kick-ass decisions for my own wellbeing. I liked that I was spending money on things that would last and added to hobbies I enjoyed. I was buying things I wanted to wear, or equipment for working out, or art supplies, or just silly toys that made me happy. I liked that I wasn’t just spending all of my money almost immediately.

In addition to all that emotional stuff, I have just not been feeling great. I assumed that it was because of sugar and bread, and I’m sure they don’t help. But I think this may be more due to very specific foods and activities.

I still got headaches during my Whole30. I’ve had frequent headaches throughout my life and ibuprofen is one of my BFFs. I assumed that having no processed sugar spikes would clear that right up, but I was still taking Advil every day. Granted, the headaches were less severe than I often get them, but they were still there. I assumed this was due to subpar caloric intake, since when you’re eating whole foods, most of which are vegetables and fruit, it’s easy to not actually get enough calories. I upped my fat consumption a bit which helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.

When we were in Disneyworld, most days I took a few doses of Advil. We went through Advil like it was going out of style between my nagging headaches and the onset of Jessie’s cold. I assumed that my aches were due to the sudden change in diet, full days of walking around a lot, and all that stuff that comes along with vacation. Again, I’m sure that all contributed. But when I got back to work, I started having really bad headaches every day!

At first, I thought that it was sugar withdrawal, since I cut back a lot when we got home. But it was so persistent and relatively severe, that I started to think there must be something else going on.

Well, first, there’s always stress and I do my best to plow through, triumphantly bellowing “KEEP MOVING FORWARD” to remind myself that stress is temporary and can be handled in my privileged life. So same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

So, since stress isn’t new to me, there must be some other factors to consider.

Look, the scientific method is awesome, OK? I know you are riveted.  I mean, if you’ve read this far, you must care at least a little bit?

Today, I don’t have a headache at all. Thursday and Friday were nasty and Monday, I almost went home because it was so bad. What gives? Like any red-blooded American, I went to the internet and also consulted with Amber who knows a ridiculous amount about this kind of thing.

Long story short, I have a few things to look into:

  1. Dehydration – This is an ongoing struggle for me, so an uptick in water consumption is definitely needed. Amber has been adding fresh fruit to her glasses of water because it seemingly helps her body actually absorb it. Adding fruit means adding electrolytes and your body is all “hell yeah, I’m thirsty”, so the theory goes. I haven’t tried that yet, but I am intrigued.
  2. Exercise – On Thursday and Friday of last week, I got it together and went to yoga classes in the evening and in both cases, the yoga really helped with my almost ibuprofen-resistant headaches. I tried out Yin yoga on Thursday night and from a stress relief standpoint, it’s great. You hold sitting stretches for five minutes at a time and they are really easy and you can use pillows. It doesn’t do much for strength, but it’s definitely a lovely way to chill the heck out. Vinyasa is more effective for pain relief and has a lot more physical benefits, I think. It’s aerobic and strengthening. So I like having both of them in my practice. On Friday, I was in a miserable mood and an hour of yoga really helped and my head was fine. Then this morning, I shoveled a lot of snow for, like, 40 minutes. I never really consider these physically intensive things we have to do as grownups as exercise because they fall into the category of “chore” before “physical exertion”. But after several days of not getting any focused physical activity, I’m thinking that it really helped with my head.
  3. “Weird” Food Things – The common denominator, other than lack of consistent exercise was that I went back to having some Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar and nuts as the bulk of my breakfast. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, according to the internet, both cheese (especially significantly aged cheese) and nuts (especially almonds) are possible migraine triggers. My guess at the moment is that eating them both together could have given my body a double whammy (I also ate cashew butter and almond butter on the bad days) and make my head scream. I’m also guessing that nuts might be bigger culprit here since I didn’t eat any dairy when I was doing the Whole30 and still suffered pain. Apparently, another big possible migraine trigger is red wine (SAY IT AIN’T SO…just kidding, I have gotten tons of red wine headaches.)

So, given these hypotheses, tomorrow morning I am going to drag myself out of bed, hell or high water, to go to yoga in the morning and then, because I consider my body a science experiment apparently, I’m going to eat some almonds and see what happens. If nothing, then I will eat some cheese and see what I can see. And hopefully I will end this (possibly painful) experiment knowing more about the chemistry of me.

Going back to my original thoughts, seeing that I know that I feel better when I’m eating certain things and none at all of others, why is it so darn hard to only eat those things? Well, that all comes down to emotional eating!

I’ve never thought of myself as an emotional eater, especially because I don’t overeat easily. When I was a kid, I definitely ate out of boredom (this is one of the reasons I got into baking. The process of baking was fun and something to do, and I got a product from it). I don’t do that very much anymore. But I definitely use food as a coping mechanism and as a reward and that’s why my money disappears into the pockets of restaurateurs everywhere. So, no, I don’t overeat, but I definitely overspend!

When I’m celebrating, I always think of food I want first and want to take everyone out to get some. The same exact thing happens (much more often) when I’m feeling emotionally crappy and/or stressed. I want comfort food and I want everyone to come with me to eat it. This is a really unhelpful habit, as you might imagine. When I drink wine as a response to stress, I hardly ever just drink one glass. I usually have two or more without really thinking about it. It’s not really because I’m looking to get drunk (red wine instantly calms me within the first couple of sips). I think I just have some subconscious response that says “What a crappy day. More wine. DO IT”.

I’ve been looking into ways to break this habit by finding better ways to soothe stress or reward myself. There are a lot of options. The key is to figure out how to make those things my go-to things, thus relegating wine drinking for when I just feel like having a tasty glass of wine here and there (like when Wes and I go wine tasting, which I really enjoy). As for comfort food, well, that will be relegated to the sometimes also and if I commit to Whole30 eating for a more extended period of time, it is likely that I will find foods that serve a calming purpose that are also beneficial in other ways.

What are these options, then?

  1. A hot shower or bath, having fuzzy PJs to get into, and trying new and delicious teas.
  2. Evening yoga! This actually feels more treat-like than the morning sessions because I go after a day of work, where stress levels likely increase. It serves as both a stress reliever and a reward because I know I’m doing something good for myself.
  3. Online Shopping! Shopping at malls or other brick and mortar stores isn’t usually all that fun for me. When I go to a mall, it’s because I have something very specific that I need and I plan to go right for it. Big stores tend to tire me out quickly and bring on stress. But browsing dresses on Modcloth or putzing around on Amazon for things I’d like to have is a fun little activity and, since I save so much money not eating out because I’m eating properly, sometimes I can buy one of those things I want.
  4. Art time! Making the conscious decision to set time aside for me to sit at my neato drawing desk and work on a new piece is great. To make it even more special, I often get some kind of aromatherapy candle to have burning while I work and other things to make it cozy.
  5. Television and movies with the Fam and hanging out with my silly dogs!
  6. Hanging out in Amber’s Room! She has a silly cat who amuses me greatly. Also snuggles. Also an array of hilarious objects she has collected over time. Also cuddles.
  7. Crossword puzzles and Candy Crush and other silly games.
  8. Cooking delicious food and knowing that it’s as good for me as it is delicious.
  9. Playing my guitar! I am happy to put this back on the list. It’s been off it for too long.
  10. Personal dance parties in the kitchen or wherever good times (and music) are had.

So there are ten things I can do that don’t require booze or non-homemade food to soothe and celebrate (and really, there’s only tea drinking and making home cooked meals on there that even have anything at all to do with food). So now, I need to just commit to the goal and start the process of rewiring my brain and body to go for those things first.

Does this mean I’m giving up anything for good? Not really. I mean, if I find out specific things make me sick, then yeah, those will generally be avoided…even if it’s cheese. At the very least, they will be consumed occasionally knowing that they may bring on the pain. But I need to learn moderation better in my “old” age. No, 34 is not old but it’s old enough to notice more about how your body works and the better my habits are now, the better they will always be.  I think that figuring how to replace booze and shitty food with fruity water and food that makes me feel like Popeye are good general goals.  Having some stuff (in moderation) at a party is great.  Indulging when I really want to indulge is great.  But the norm, the vast majority of my time should be spent not indulging in things that do me good only for a moment or five.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Yes!

But…I Really Love Baguettes, Guys

[Content Note: Food Talk, Mental Health, Illness]

OK, guys. I know in my last entry I sounded all “Zen” about everything (I think I did anyway), but as the week has progressed I am not feeling at all “Zen” about anything.

For instance, I went on a diatribe to Wes, Jessie, and Amber about how I now understand my work difficulties and simply didn’t know how to solve them (because I feel that I have done about all I can). While I believe this to be true, I found myself in the throes of questioning all of my decisions and trying to make some grand plan for the future where I would be my own boss, being one of the few extremely successful sellers on Etsy.

(I also used to have the delusion that I would totally survive the apocalypse because…I’m awesome or something.  I didn’t really have any argument to back this up.  My survivalist resume is pretty lean.  “Knows some relevant science.  Cooks well over campfires.  Tends to be badass when there is no other choice but to be badass.”  Yeah, I know, I would be dead within the first 5 minutes.)

Again, all of these ideas are ideas that I have, even when I’m feeling stable, but on days like today, I was so in a whirl that the idea of making rash decisions seemed like a great idea and I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire I perceived. Wes pointed out that he knows that these things I feel are based on facts, but also that I have felt like this before and was happy that I didn’t do anything rash. I couldn’t quite see it until I thought on it longer, but I was definitely going sailing in and through a mental storm, the likes of which I have been desperately trying to disappear forever through hard work and food/medication chemistry.

(The spiral also manifested in my engaging in massive word vomit, talking about everything that bothered me about my situation.  This went on for a long time and then I felt bad about it and started apologizing for being a pain in the ass.  These are all things that I rarely do anymore without good reason.)

I have made a tremendous amount of progress on that front. These spirals happen rarely, and even when they do happen, I can see them happening a little more clearly and they don’t last as long. I find now that I only experience this kind of spiraling…

When I eat crap and don’t drink enough water.

Hence why I’m not feeling all that “Zen” right now. I know I said in my last entry that I was just going to have to accept that I needed to eat a certain way for the long term to feel consistently well. But it’s easy to say such a thing. It’s different when you have to face it and say “um, most of the stuff you normally eat makes you feel a little batshit”. Like, you have to actually accept that you are not well if you eat things not on the Whole30 plan regularly.

Basically, what I’m saying is: GOD DAMN IT. You go decades through life having nary an allergy or physical ailment and then you start caring about whether you actually feel well and happy and sane…and then you find that a bunch of shit is making you sick. I have enjoyed the privilege of being able to eat whatever I want and not being difficult to feed.

And no, I’m not equating this with allergies and syndromes. I can eat some sugar, have a slice of bread, and drink some wine once in a while and be fine. None of this stuff is going to land me in the hospital or hugging a toilet (unless I gorge on it, of course).

But mental clarity, general calmness and rationality, and overall wellness is extremely important to me these days. Happiness and being able to address issues with a clear head and pass through them without much drama is pretty much my goals every day. I need to be able to provide honesty without fear and have confidence without guilt. Trading all that for too many donuts and too many baguettes or too many glasses of wine too many days a week doesn’t really seem all that worth it, does it?

I know I sound like a whiney jerk here, but this realization is just straight up frustrating. I have gotten quite used to being able to eat whatever wherever and that’s just not the case anymore. CAN I eat that way? Sure. It won’t kill me. But it’s definitely not the right choice for me, not by a long shot.

Incidentally, this is how I felt about polyamory. When Wes and I first talked about it and made the decision to give it a go, I was all “sure, that makes a lot of logical sense. Easy peasy.” But it’s easy to see the logic and benefits of that particular relationship philosophy when you thinking about it in the abstract. It’s quite another thing to practice it and deal with all the reality of what the decision means and what you have to learn about yourself to make it work for you. The decision requires growth to practice.

Taking care of yourself physically also requires this kind of introspection and growth. It’s like when I finally made the choice to give up caffeine (for the most part…I still have some coffee or black tea from time to time). I wanted to believe that I wasn’t adversely affected by it, because that seemed silly. Don’t ask me what my logic there was, other than the idea that nothing I consumed ever adversely affected me in any obvious sense. But finally I saw that I was way more irritable after multiple days of caffeine consumption than when I cut it out completely. Evidence is evidence.

I think it’s the same with processed sugar and all the grains. They don’t do me any favors. I’m sleeping like crap and feel worse now than I have in weeks. I have headaches every day and dragging myself out of bed in the morning in general has been tough, and pretty much impossible to do at 5:30am (when I have to get up to go to yoga). Is eating a bunch of apparently inflammatory lousy things with reckless abandon worth this? Not really.

So I am coming to terms with the fact that a lot of things that I really enjoy consuming are now relegated to special occasions. I feel lucky that I can have them on special occasions. That is a privilege.

And I also must get back into the swing of consistent yoga practice because it’s really good for me and generally encourages me to eat what I should be eating. I always eat better when I’m exercising in some way regularly and unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

I (always) have more to work on and (always) have more growth to accomplish. There are things in my life that are not ideal and I need to figure out how to make them better. But eating stuff regularly that obviously leaves me on the unpleasantly unhinged side of wackiness is just pointless for me. The joy of feeling stable and productive far outweighs the momentary pleasures of candy or bread or booze whenever I want it.

So back to meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, and healthy fats (all things coconut).

Onward and upward, ey?

Backed Up Plumbing Brings On the Tears and Other Anecdotes

Well, friends, it’s February and daylight savings is just around the corner (March 8th this year!). I just got back from a lovely Disneyworld vacation and am trying to get back into the swing of healthy living and getting back to those neat-o goals I set at the turn of the year.

As you’re aware, I did an entire Whole30 for January. I managed to stick to it until about 8pm on day 30 when Amber offered to make me a BLT…with cheese (because that’s how she rolls)…on bread. I gladly accepted the offer because whatever. I had made it and needed to pack for our trip to Florida the next day. It was one of the most delicious sandwiches I had ever eaten.

And thus began my descent back into eating whatever I wanted. At the time, this was a freeing exercise, mainly because I so terribly missed Tex-Mex cuisine. I missed cheese, and refried beans, and corn. It felt good to not have to worry about what was in everything, to be able to eat with abandon as my privileged, non-afflicted physiology allows me to do. In Florida, Wes and I split pretty much everything (which was a very good call and we should continue to do this pretty much forever when we go out together), and I drank fruity drinks with funny names and cheap wine at every amusing location.

We came home on Sunday after a Saturday evening of seeing what the Magic Kingdom is like when it’s becoming “on season”. It was crowded and aggravating. Getting anywhere was a battle of wits and agility and finally, when we had had enough, Wes and I had to get out of the park while the (first of the night) electric parade was happening. Jessie, having been back at the room all day nursing an illness, stayed at the park a bit more to go in search of caramel coated apples and to watch the fireworks. Needless to say, I was pretty tired when we got up to get to the airport.

I was tired because I hadn’t slept all that well the entire week and this was likely directly correlated to eating a bunch of things that I hadn’t been eating the month before. I didn’t really notice the effects until Sunday when I was more agitated than I had been in a long time. When we landed in Philly, I was aggravated by how long it took for our bags to get to us. All I wanted to do was get home. I was snapping a bit and Jessie luckily figured out that I was just in a mood and showed me pictures of dogs getting stuck in couches. It was very effective.

We got home and were greeted by two very excited dogs…and the news that our plumbing was completely backed up. The shower in the downstairs bathroom had 4 inches of water in the bottom and the toilet had coffee grounds in there. This had happened once before, three Thanksgiving weekends ago when we were hosting people at the house. It was a nightmare for various reasons (not the least of which because it was my 4th day ever on Zoloft and I was dealing with brain chemistry like whoa) and the memory of this sent me into a panic that felt very much like the all-day anxiety ride I had been on all that time ago. I guess it was a trigger of sorts, not helped by the fact that I hadn’t slept properly or eaten as I should for 7 days. I found myself alone at some point sitting with not only memories of the relatively silly anxiety associated with backed up toilets, but also being once again haunted by everything that has happened. I was remembering how for at least a year of my recent life was spent in an almost constant state of anxiety, sometimes with moments of straight up fear of emotional and verbal battering and, in the end, fear of violence.

The worst part of the entire thing was sitting there having a sort of conversation with myself where I acknowledged all the things I was remembering and how it would take time to not ever think about those things anymore and to be patient with myself while also echoing some opinions of others who thought I should just get over it already and how I should be better than this. After all, no one except for my qualified mental health professional should have to hear about such things and honestly, she probably doesn’t want to hear about it anymore either. These two warring opinions just swirled around in my head until I let the tears come, knowing that this was a temporary moment of remembrance and that I just needed to ride it out. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
I chilled myself out and then within a few minutes, I wasn’t alone anymore, now being sandwiched in a hug from Wes and Amber. Then we all went grocery shopping for vegetables because we all needed some brain food.

While we were out, the plumber came and Jessie showed him where to start searching for the problem. Dude had a metal detector to locate pipes. I can honestly say that this was the first time I had ever seen someone using a handheld metal detector to do an actual job (other than people roaming the beach in search of gold doubloons and…bottle caps more likely). He was a wonderfully nice guy and had the whole mess fixed by 9:30pm.

Relieved, I went a got some laundry started and starting cleaning up the mess and tried to go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I ended up taking Monday off too in an effort to get life and mind in order before returning to the office. It was a good decision.

This morning I woke up anxious and groggy and once again failed to get out of bed in time for yoga. I did make it to work though, so that is definitely something. In between bouts of organization and communications of all things work related, I contemplated why I still felt crappy.

And it dawned on me that I have been in complete denial (again) of food’s effect on me. Sure, doing the Whole30 was ultimately boring and frustrating near the end of that strict period, but I felt even keel the entire time. My blood sugar was completely stable, never suddenly dropping like it does often when I’m eating “normally”. My mood was stable (I was generally calmer and depression was linked to specific events, not just a state of being). And I had a lot more energy and that energy level was more stable. Getting up for yoga was not generally difficult for me to do and I would go relatively strong throughout the entire day.
For a person like me who has never really had any need for dietary restrictions (I don’t have any known allergies or syndromes), I haven’t wanted to own up to the “truth” about how I should be eating. Regardless of whether or not the way I feel eating “off-plan” foods is due to some undiagnosed allergy or whatever else, the evidence is abundantly clear that I feel significantly better when I keep the added sugar, grain consumption, alcohol consumption, even maybe dairy and legume consumption down to minimum. So I think I need to generally follow the Whole30 idea long term, but allow myself to have those off-plan things as treats a couple of times a week.

This fits in well with Wes and I deciding that the money we save cooking at home most of the time is worth finally making a commitment to, well, cooking at home most of the time. I’m a very good cook AND I generally enjoy doing it. We order out or go out a lot though when I’m tired because it didn’t occur to me until recently that a better alternative was to simply say “I don’t feel like cooking. Anyone else want to?” And…someone else has always been willing! So I’m practicing doing that more often because no one declared that it was my responsibility and mine alone to make sure everyone is fed.

Also, no one makes tuna salad as good as Amber’s and no one makes grilled cheese sandwiches as good as Jessie’s and Wes makes a mean pile of bacon and excellent panini, so I am perfectly content to sit down for a delicious plate of any of those.

Trying to eat a specific way helps me stick to not-going-out goals and I was very pleased with the amount of extra cash I had for savings and whatever else during the month of January. So that needs to keep happening.

I’m so far failing at my “read more” goal, but I still have time to remedy that since it’s merely February. Of course, I need to watch how often I say that before I find myself being all “I haven’t really read anything new, but it’s merely December”. I have a pile of books, I just need to choose to read them when I have free time. Sounds easy enough but reading has never been a big hobby of mine. But it’s a hobby I’d like to get more into, so here’s hoping I can get myself to do it. In the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin often talks about how it’s easier to do something every day rather than every few days, and that might be the approach I need to take here. Read a little every day and it will become a habit.

I started that digital photography class I mentioned before but after 4 classes, I have decided to drop it. I wanted to like it, I really did but to put it simply, the teaching style was way more laid back than I wanted it to be from 6:30pm – 9:30pm on a Thursday night. When I was taking the screen printing classes, I enjoyed having something like that to do on a weeknight because it was such a hands on class. Other than the first one or two classes of my first class, I was basically paying to have a screen studio with much appreciated guidance from a great teacher. I got to play with ink and make screens as I wished and got to just come in a do art for 3 hours. I enjoyed it so much that I am determined to snag a spot in the class for Spring semester.

This photo class was trouble from the start. Though the teacher is very friendly, fun, and knowledgeable, time management and engagement wasn’t a strong suit. They were going through some life circumstances that caused them to be seemingly more distracted than usual, but the lack of focus presented itself in ways that can be really infuriating to me.

In short, because this post is already pretty long, there was no time management or respect of anyone’s time in the class. Class started extremely late every single time. Stuff got repeated constantly for people who either didn’t show up to class before or got there even later than the really late time we started. And we didn’t really do anything until the last hour of class and when the class is for 3 hours after a full day of work, that is painful and not worth it. I also learned what I really needed to learn to go off on my own within the first two classes (more of a refresher for what I used to know when Kelly and I would take pictures with her film camera).

My classmates did not appear to be frustrated with this at all and it was then that I realized that, well, this just wasn’t the class for me. I was so bored that I almost left during the class to go take pictures of something, anything. Or go find a photocopier in the building to scan pictures of my butt or something.

So yeah, I made the decision to not go back because each class I went to made me angrier.  So I’m going to go to a different style of yoga class on Thursday nights instead and then come home and mess with my camera. A much better use of time and I don’t have to cross the bridge to do it.

So that’s what’s going on with the progress of Gina’s Goals 2015. I’m learning a lot and figuring out next steps, so I’m pretty happy. Tonight we’re going to see Jupiter Ascending because all the reviews says it’s so bad that it’s amazing. Just my kind of film! Possibly my own review to come!

See My FTBCon 3 Panels!

This weekend, I had the privilege to appear on three separate panels at FTBCon 3, the third annual FreeThoughtBlogs online conference. My first panel was entitled “FtBCon3: Kumbay-Ahh-Ahh-Ahhh!!!: Building a Community Around Shared Sexual Interests.” We discussed how communities built around things like poly and kink function, how to have strong communities, and how to keep them safe. It was moderated by Neil Wehnemen, and the other panelists were Karen Hill and Trina Gardinier.

Notice the festive Christmas decorations that are still up!

The next panel was the one I moderated, entitled “Reasonable Relationships: How Does Our Skepticism Influence our Romantic or Non-Romantic Relationship.” This was an idea that grew out of my Skeptical Monogamy presentation. When I gave the presentation at Atlanta Poly Weekend, a lot of the discussion became about how logical fallacies influence and distort our relationship thinking. It was such a great conversation that I thought it would make a good panel discussion all by itself. I was joined by More Than Two author Franklin Veaux, and bloggers Miri Mogilevsky and Chana Messinger. It ended up being a great discussion, and touched on a few topics in my Rational Relationships series.

My final panel, also moderated by Neil Wehneman, was entitled “Did You Remember Your (Love) Life Vest? Polyamory in the Deep End.” At FTBCon 2, there was a panel on polyamory that focused on 101-level questions, and this one was intended as a sequel, to get into some higher-level questions. During this panel, we got into some of the more advanced topics such as when/if to come out, long-distance, and poly misconceptions that grind our gears. Also on the panel were Miri and Karen from the community panel, as well as Heina Dadhaboy and Danny Samuelson.

FTBCon was a great experience, and they have lots of other great discussions up on the homepage. I encourage you to check them all out.

If you’d like to see more of my presentations, I’ll be presenting on relationship anarchy at Poly Living in Philadelphia the weekend of February 20-22, and Atlanta Poly Weekend, June 5-7.

What Do We Want?

What does it mean when we say we want something? My goal in relationships is generally to empower everyone involved to do whatever they want as much of the time as possible. But what do they “want?” What counts as a genuine desire vs. something we do to avoid the consequences? If a person buys me a gift to make me happy, does that count? If a person agrees to monogamy in order to keep a relationship, can that person be said to have “wanted” that? What if different parts of ourselves have incompatible desires? Where is the line drawn?

I don’t really have a clear answer to that. As I’ve noted a couple of times before, human motivation is complicated and context-dependent. It’s often not as simple as saying “I want X” or “I don’t want Y.” It’s usually something like “I want X, Y, and Z, but not if it means I can’t get A or B, though I’d give up B if I could get Z and X, but I need A unless I can get C, and…” you get the idea.

In relationships, when I say that people should do what they want, what it really comes down to is that our relationships should be free of coercion. Shelly, a guest poster on More Than Two, has a good explanation for what coercion looks like:

Coercion is when you make the consequences to saying “no” to intimacy so great that it removes any reasonable choice. There is more obvious coercion, such as threats, either externally or internally directed. But I find that coercion just sort of organically arises when you believe that your partner, in that moment, owes you intimacy. If you think your partner owes you intimacy, and you are just “expressing your feelings,” there’s a good chance you’re being coercive. If your partner says “no,” and you start preparing for a fight instead of accepting their choice, you’re probably going to be coercive.

I would simply expand this definition to include the consequences of saying “no” to anything aside from recognizing boundaries. Intimacy isn’t the only thing that partners should be able to refuse. People should always be free to make the decisions that will make themselves happiest. But conversely, healthy relationships have healthy boundaries, and partners should be expected to respect each other’s boundaries and to suffer extreme consequences if they do not. Enforcing boundaries, though, is the only area where it is ethical to attempt to control a partner’s behavior without their consent, and the need to create consequences to enforce boundaries is often a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

In a sense, capitulating to coercion is “doing what we want.” Avoiding the negative consequences of a decision is often a legitimate motivating factor. But when coercion is at play, the consequences of the decision have been unnecessarily increased such that the subject no longer has a meaningful choice. It is the unnecessarily element that separates coercion from mere knowledge of consequences. All actions have consequences, and some will have dire consequences for a relationship. This is unavoidable. Avoiding coercion simply means that a partner is not imposing unnecessary or artificial consequences.

Often, a consequence of certain behaviors will be that the relationship ends. This is not coercion. In fact, it is the opposite. A relationship ending, while it may be very painful, is not an example of the consequences being so great that meaningful choice is removed. It is often reasonable and necessary for a relationship to end. I cannot stress this enough. However, certain similar actions are coercive. A partner threatening to leave when they don’t mean it is coercive. When leaving the relationship means destitution, social isolation, estrangement from family, or other avoidable and destructive consequences, it is coercive. When a partner attempts to make a breakup unnecessarily difficult or painful, it is coercive.

There are also plenty of things short of ending the relationship that can be coercive. Punishing a partner (or threatening to punish a partner) for the purpose of changing their behavior is coercive. Causing a scene when you don’t get what you want is coercive. Passive-aggressive remarks are coercive. Asking for things multiple times after you’ve received a “no” can be coercive. Continually bringing up the fact that you didn’t get what you want can be coercive. Any action that doesn’t respect and support a partner’s right and ability to make their own choices can be coercive.

When we are free from coercion, we are able to make our own choices according to our own priorities. When our will is not overridden by outside pressure, we are free to engage in our own internal debate to decide what it is we want. This is no simple task. As I pointed out above, our minds are not unified. Our hedonistic desires, instrumental goals, ethics, empathy, and identify will often be competing within our own heads. Some people find it useful to think of themselves as having multiple selves which are in constant competition to get what they want. Sometimes it makes sense to use coercive tactics on ourselves, when we don’t trust our future selves to make smart decisions in the moment. What we want is not often clear, and even when it is, it can change at any time.

The important thing in relationships is that we allow our partners room to have that internal struggle, and to decide what to do free of coercion. Sometimes, we can help, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do so, but we should be careful that we’re not substituting our own will for that of our partners’ or engaging in coercive tactics without realizing it. When I say “everyone should do what they want,” what I mean is that everyone should do whatever their internal processes tell them is best, free from coercive pressure from outside sources.

So going back to my original questions – any of those examples could be the result of an internal process of deliberation OR the result of coercion. It would depend on the context and the individuals involved. The important thing, in our relationships, is that we recognize the inviolable right of people to decide for themselves what will make them happy, and to do what they think as best so long as it isn’t crossing any of our boundaries.

Being Honest About Our Motivations

There is no better way to destroy my trust in you than to lie to me about your motivations. It’s canon polyamory that healthy relationships require trust. Trust is built by behaving in a trustworthy manner. The best way to build trust is to tell the truth even when lying is ostensibly in your best interest. One the most common ways to do this is when asked about your motivations.

Asking someone about their motivation is a metaphorical trust fall. Because motivations occur only in our minds, there is no way to independently confirm what someone tells us. Unless their actions are so dramatically inconsistently with what they say that it’s obvious, it’s nearly impossible to tell when someone isn’t being honest. A person’s word is very nearly all we have to go on.

When someone asks you why you did something, they are showing vulnerability. They are trusting you to tell them the truth. Abusing that trust is a great way to show someone that you can’t be trusted in the future.

In my motte-and-bailey post, I talked a bit about motivations:

Human motivation is complicated, and there are often multiple reasons motivating us for a single action or position. Often, when examining our motivations, we will seize on the most palatable motivation and ignore the others…. The only real solution is to rigorously examine and communicate our motivations, which can be incredibly demanding and difficult. It’s not easy to sort out your primary motivation from numerous contenders. The key question is this: but for your stated reason, would you be comfortable with the behavior at issue? …If you would still object, then your stated reason is not your actual reason.

This is all still true. Often, our motivations will be unknown even to ourselves. And that’s fine! “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer, when someone asks why you did something. “I don’t want to talk about it” is likewise a perfectly acceptable answer. There’s nothing about being honest which requires you to give people information that you don’t have or that you don’t want to give.

Even if you think you know your motivation, have some epistemic humility about it. Understand that motivation is complicated, and if your apparent motivation sounds a little too noble, maybe take a second look. If someone points out to you that your words and actions don’t line up, consider that you may be mistaken. Ask yourself whether, if your stated motivation changed, your behavior would change. If the answer isn’t an unequivocal “yes,” then there are other motivations at play that should be discussed.

Trust is most important when it’s easiest to violate. Lying about our internal thoughts is one of the easiest and least verifiable ways to violate someone’s trust. If you value honesty, then value it when it counts.

TIGER BLOOD

[Content Note: Whole30, food talk]

Well, folks, it is day 16 for me on this go around of the Whole30 and…I feel great. Truly. I even pull some little muscle or pinched a nerve in my upper back and I’m all “whatever” about it. It hurts when I laugh, which is funny, which makes me laugh more. It’s a vicious cycle…OF HILARITY.

I owe this, at least in part, to starting a yoga practice. I have been taking morning classes regularly since the start of the month and it’s amazing. I now can see that my day is infinitely better if I make the effort to drag myself out of bed by 5:40am to get to the 6am weekday class. I didn’t go yesterday and was all cranky. Like, I was in a meeting and was totally that “I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS AND THAT. THIS AND THAT IS NOT MY JOB!” asshole. (Granted, I had some founded reasons for being miffed, but not indignant and inflexible). I leave class feeling awake and ready to take on the day with finely tuned productivity and smartness attacks.

I realize that I am swiftly becoming a white, middle class stereotype, and I think I’m fine with that.

Stuffwhitepeoplelike

Anywho, now that I am pretty much accepting that this way of eating is way better for me, I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do after the strict month is over. I know, I know. I’ve been here before. Before it was about caffeine. I had confirmed three different times that daily caffeine does me no favors (it takes me from bouncing off the walls to HULK SMASH in a few days of regular consumption). For some reason though, I thought it was tooooo haaaaard to avoid it, on account of my love of seasonal lattes.

Yes, I know. I’m doing nothing to break that whole stereotype thing. I also frequently cook with sea salt. SUCK IT.

pumpkin-spice-latte
But I figured out at some point that I don’t even love lattes that much (I do love vanilla chai lattes however, and their caffeine content is low in comparison) and they should be a treat anyway. A decaf peppermint mocha is awesome…every once in a while. I think it became easier once I also figured out that the sugar in these things, or in coffee that doctor on my own also made me feel like crap if I had them often. When you get to the point that you understand that pretty much nothing about a specific food or beverage does you much good, it’s easier to relegate it to the realm of “special occasion”.

This has been what I have long wanted to do with crusty bread, all things containing substantial amounts of added sugar, all things grainy…but setting this intention is harder because these things are EVERYWHERE. I feel great right now, but it takes considerable effort to eat this way. In talking to Wes yesterday, we agreed that limiting grains and added sugar was the best way to move forward. I’m great with that because I discovered zoodles (noodles that are just spiral cut zucchini) and I really enjoy them with pasta sauce. He also shared an article with me showing a bunch of interesting and delicious-looking things I can do with cauliflower and I will try them ALL.

The other big reason I want to keep on this way of thinking is because I cook a lot more and bring lunch to work and haven’t been resorting to getting take out for dinner. So there is the added bonus of saving a crap-load of cash. I have…SAVINGS. I could, like, actually save up for some pricier things I want like traveling or a new acoustic/electric guitar or moon boots (or whatever the kids are buying these days). This is more exciting than I expected it to be and I really want to keep the trend going. I want this energy. I want this discipline. I want this focus moving forward.

I would just like to eat a piece of cheese or some refried beans here and there. Basically, I want to be able to eat Tex-Mex food again because omg yum, ok?
Of course, one of the other reasons I have been doing so much better with this round of Whole30 is that I found better recipes and have been enjoying the process of cooking. Dinner generally takes me an hour total to prepare (including baking time or whatever) and that’s fine for me. I have gotten into a weeknight routine that ends up with me cooking a healthy meal and cleaning the kitchen up intermittently. And now I have all this energy, nothing seems all that hard to maintain. I have also been cooking things that everyone in the house seems to like, taking that entire stressor out of the equation. Not everything has been universally liked, but in those cases people took care of themselves and I let them.

So, what I’m saying is, I’m way happier right now and that makes everything infinitely easier. I’m happier because of all the healthy things I’m doing for my body, but I’m also significantly happier now that I finally understand what people have been telling me about not worrying so much about everyone else all the time. That part of my ego has deflated and stopped tormenting me. I am doing things that benefit me and the improvement to my wellbeing is huge. I don’t worry about everyone else being happy because I can see that my being happy makes everyone else happier (that’s a Happiness Project thing, and a Wes-ism…I finally get it).

I have still been working hard at home, but I do it gladly, without resentment, and am finally back to a place of really digging my home and the people in it (and the people who visit). Sure, I’m still on antidepressants. I might be on them my entire life because depression isn’t just about things not working in your life. There might also be a chemical component to it. I might never be balanced well without it. BUT I also can’t (and wouldn’t) deny that I have made a bounty of positive changes and finally am feeling lasting positive effects of those changes on my addled brain.

I’m still sort of addled. I have been known to get distracted by the dogs while trying to do too many things at once, subsequently forgetting what I went up to the attic for in the first place, amongst various other stupid human tricks. But that’s just me. I’m also not angry, hate-filled, and heartbroken anymore. I also feel like I can do so many of the things that used to bring me joy but stopped because I simply couldn’t spare the energy.

I got in contact with my “old band” (we haven’t played together in a year or something) because I suddenly realized how much I was missing music, our music, in my life.

Arcati Crisis

I think I’ve picked up my guitar twice in the entire time we have been on “hiatus” and that’s super weird after years of playing it a little every day. I’ve barely sung, except a few times at karaoke and sometimes in the car. I’ll be playing with Peter next week and I’m really looking forward to it and after that I’m hoping to work with everyone to find a way to do that stuff without it becoming too much for me. Of course, I feel like I have infinite ability again, but I know I don’t actually (and I don’t want to have too many nights where I’m not cooking at home). But, honestly, we’re an amazing band and I think I want to be part of that again in some capacity yet to be determined.

I don’t feel that way about everything, of course. I’m pretty much over theater for the most part. That might change, but a series of unfortunate theater experiences over a number of years “cured the acting bug” I guess. I could see doing a project here and there, but it’s really not my artistic priority anymore. I’m glad, then, that I decided to be a chemist instead of an actor because man would I be pissed now. I feel similarly about burlesque. I would probably enjoy doing a show every so often during the year (APW I’m looking at you!), but it’s not what I want to be doing with my time anymore. It served its purpose for me and then became linked with memories of a lot of people and events I don’t want to give energy to anymore. It was a good time and now it’s over in the capacity that it was happening in the past.

So yeah, I’m feeling good and for the first time in a while I can see that feeling lasting. I’m doing what I want, what I need and it’s awesome.

No matter how white and privileged it makes me. I know, OK?!?

Anyway, next time I’ll geek out about how cool cameras are.  Stay tuned!

Ethics Are Important

In my last post, I talked about why I’m unconvinced that ethics are normative (i.e. why they don’t have universal right and wrong answers), and why I think egoism is the only reasonable foundation for any ethical system. That post was probably boring and uninteresting to most people, because most people who haven’t studied philosophy don’t care about ethics, and most people who have studied philosophy would find it painfully amateur.

I am sad that most people don’t care about ethics, though, because having a coherent ethical system is really important. Ethics are what tells us right from wrong. It’s a key ingredient in how we make decisions. Thinking about right and wrong and forming a coherent system is one of the best ways to make your life and the world better.

I. We Are Surrounded By Moral Dilemmas

Life is a series of moral dilemmas. Every day, we make decision that a different person, with different ideas of right and wrong, would make differently. Ethics aren’t just about political questions – e.g. war, civil rights, socialism, taxes – thought it’s about those too. Ethics tell us what time to wake up, which jobs to apply for, what to eat, where to shop, and whether to give $1 to the homeless man on the street.

Further, ethics are ever-present in our communities. Polyamory is often defined as “ethical non-monogamy.” Well, what about the ethical part? The atheism community is often fractured along ethical lines. Social justice communities are founded on ethical grounds, and most activism involves making ethical appeals. However, these appeals inevitably lead to a lot of disagreement because people have different ethics.

Most activism has, as one of its goals, convincing people to support a certain cause. This is really difficult to do without a shared ethical system. I’ve written before about how feminism is a self-interested issue for me. Most feminist writing comes from a much more altruistic foundation, and as a result, I find much of it unconvincing. Egoists, utilitarians, virtue ethicists, and deontologists will all approach social justice issues differently, and one group’s ethical appeal will often fail to move someone who follows a different ethical system. And since most people don’t have a coherent ethical system, most people are unable to effectively advocate in favor of their personal ethics. It is incomprehensible to tell me to “be good” if you can’t tell me what “good” means. It is impossible to tell me to do the right thing when you are unable to define “right.”

II. Our Ethical Intuitions Are Unreliable

Most people, rather than try to come up with a coherent ethical system, rely on their ethical intuitions. Certain things just “feel right,” and so that’s what people think of as right. Unfortunately, doing what feels right is unreliable at best and downright harmful at worst. Altruism is one example that, for most people, feels right. I’ve written before about why I think attempting to act altruistically often makes the world worse, and why encouraging and promoting altruism as a virtue harms people, especially people socialized as women.

Bigotry feels right to the bigots. Sexists are sexists because their ethical intuitions tell them that men and women should be treated differently. Racists are racist because their ethical intuitions tell them that the races aren’t equal. The same goes for other forms of bigotry. Explicit bigotry aside, we naturally care more about people the more we can identify with them; we care more about a single person than we do about millions of people.

A rogue’s gallery of cognitive biases are working tirelessly to confound our ethical intuitions. Biases that affect our thinking in other areas don’t just take the day off when it comes to ethics. Doing what feels right means surrendering to every bias that we have. If we don’t have a rational way to challenge our ethical intuition, there is nothing we can do when our intuition gives us faulty messages. It astounds me how many people will glorify and exalt rational thinking when it comes to understanding the world, but will abandon it when it comes to deciding ethical dilemmas.

III. Incoherent Ethics Lead to Incoherent Actions

This article by Leah Libresco is what inspired this post. Libresco was responding to Scott Alexander’s suggestion that, if one could offset its effects by doing enough good in the world, it may be ethically permissible to kill someone. Libresco also considered several other hypothetical situations which were contrived to justify breaking a popular ethical maxim. Libresco feels that the hypotheticals add so many caveats and contrived details that the situations become not just unlikely, but paradoxical. She closes with:

The major rhetorical peril I want to warn against is when you impose straining-credulity hypotheticals on yourself, and keep looking for the flaw in your philosophy, rather than the paradox in your premise that led you into confusion. It’s trivial to say, “Imagine an easily tamable mountain lion L… an immune to long-term disturbance from incest couple C… a perfect murder subject M… a hairy ball combed perfectly flat B” without checking whether such a creature still carries the normal traits of a mountain lion, a set of lovers, a human being at all.

The world is large enough to contain many rare things, but no contradictory ones. There’s no point in contorting your beliefs to make them accommodate the wholly imaginary.

While Libresco has a point that one’s ethics need not accommodate the paradoxical, I disagree that ethics need not accommodate the imaginary. The examples that Libresco gives are not paradoxical. There is nothing inherent to the definition of a mountain lion that makes them untameable. There is nothing inherent to the definition of brother and sister which makes incest harmful. It is the context and details surrounding these circumstances that makes mountain lions wild and incest harmful. These situations are not paradoxical; they are merely incredibly unlikely to the point of being absurd. But if your ethics cannot accommodate the absurd, your ethics are flawed.

The world is absurd. Very, very unlikely things happen every day. There is literally no way to foresee all situations where your ethical judgment will be necessary. A useful ethical system must apply to situations that you can’t imagine. The very fact that you can imagine a situation means that it’s worth considering on ethical grounds. Because inevitably, you will be called to make a moral decision in a situation that you’ve never thought about. If your ethics are unable to be applied to all situations you can imagine, then they will surely not be applicable to all situations you encounter. If your ethics can’t give you a good answer to the trolley problem, then your ethics will not be able to give you an answer when you are faced with an unforeseen dilemma. If your ethics do not apply in the least convenient possible world, then your ethics do not apply to this world.

IV. Alexander’s Morals Are Incoherent

From her piece, though it’s not explicitly stated, it seems that Libresco is tacitly admitting that her personal ethics don’t have an answer for the contrived hypotheticals. Alexander, too, seems to be suggesting that he is having trouble reconciling his ethics. To me, this is an indication that their ethics need refinement.

Let’s start with Alexander. Alexander posits that it may be moral to have someone killed if an overwhelming amount of good is done elsewhere to offset the immorality of the killing. Alexander’s post seems to assume utilitarian ethics (which is consistent with his other writing and several comments made on his post), since from any other mainstream ethical viewpoint, this would not be a difficult question. However, rather than prove his point, Alexander merely proves the incoherence of his ethics. From a utilitarian standpoint, if a person is capable of doing an overwhelming amount of net good, that person has a moral obligation to do so. The moral choice is to do all of the good, but not kill the person. Utilitarianism makes no distinction between “less moral” and “immoral.” The only question is how much utility flows from the act. In Alexander’s hypothetical, it’s possible to do all the good while avoiding the bad, and so that is the ethical choice. Doing all the good AND the bad creates less utility, and is thus less moral (i.e. immoral).

It’s not mentioned in the post, but Alexander’s misstep relies on his determination-by-fiat that giving 10% of his income to charity is enough to keep him morally in the clear. As I said above, utilitarianism makes no distinction between “less moral” and “immoral,” so as a practical matter, utilitarians must either draw an arbitrary line somewhere, give as much as they possibly can of themselves, or make peace with the fact that they are acting immorally. Alexander chooses to draw the arbitrary line. However, this throws a wrench into the remainder of his moral machinery. Alexander’s hypothetical murderer is extremely rich, and offsets his murder using targeted spending. Under actual utilitarian reasoning, the murderer would be obligated to give away nearly all of his money in the most utility-maximizing way possible in order to behave morally. Thus, a moral millionaire would be a contradiction. The only way Alexander can even reach the question is through the assumption that the millionaire is not ethically required to do as much good as possible, but at that point, he’s abandoned utilitarian ethics and the whole conversation changes. This does not point out a flaw in utilitarianism itself, but it does point out a flaw in the reasoning of almost all utilitarians that consider themselves to be acting morally.

Libresco seems to be hinting that she has an actual answer to the dilemma (“‘moral damage’ is a bad in and of itself”), though she never actually says what it is, so I’m unsure of her position on Alexander’s hypothetical. I do think, however, that’s it’s worth considering, and that it’s important that one’s ethics have an answer.

V. Conclusion

Ethics matter. Ethics are the way we determine right from wrong, on big questions and small questions. It is important that our ethics are applicable to all situations, because at some point, we’re going to encounter a situation we didn’t plan for. If our ethics can’t accommodate that situation, then we will either freeze up or attempt to revise our ethics on the spot, which can lead to disastrous results. It’s much better to consider difficult ethical questions in times of calm, where we have the time and energy to work out the answers.

If we are unwilling to consider hypothetical situations, even absurd hypothetical situations, then we are not taking our ethics seriously, and we will not be prepared when life throws us a serious curveball.