You don’t have to be pretty

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

Erin McKean

The Child and the Shadow

Photo via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/simpleinsomnia/9596639713/
Photo via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/simpleinsomnia/9596639713/
My notes from Ursula LeGuin’s essay about Hans Christian Andersen and Jung, from her book “The Language of the Night”, “The Child and the Shadow”

If the ego “is weak, or if it’s offered nothing better, what it does is identify with the “collective consciousness.” That is Jung’s term for a kind of lowest common denominator of all the little egos added together, the mass mind, which consists of such things as cults, crees, fads, fashions, status-seeking, conventions, received beliefs, advertising, pop cult, all the isms, all the ideologies, all the hollow forms of communication and “togetherness” that lack real communion or real sharing. The ego, accepting these empty forms, becomes a member of the “lonely crowd”. To avoid this, to attain real community, it must turn inward, away from the crowd, to the source: it must identify with its own deeper regions, the great unexplored regions of the Self. These regions of the psyche June calls the “collective unconscious,” and it is in them, where we all meet, that he sees the source of true community; of felt religion; of art, grace, spontaneity, and love.

That mass mind is “stuffed full of the one-sided, shadowless half-truths and conventional moralities”

Jung wrote;” Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” The less you look at it, in other words, the stronger it grows, until it can become a menace, an intolerable load, a threat within the soul. Unadmitted to consciousness, the shadow is projected outwards, onto others. There’s nothing wrong with me–it’s them. I’m not a monster, other people are monsters.

If the individual wants to live in the real world, he must withdraw his projections; he must admit that the hateful, the evil, exists within himself. This isn’t easy. It is very hard not to be able to blame anybody else.

If one were to deal with his own shadow, he has….grown toward true community, and self-knowledge, and creativity. For the shadow stands on the threshold. We can let it bar the way to the creative depths of the unconscious, or we can let it lead us to them. For the shadow is not simply evil. It is inferior, primitive, awkward, animallike, childlike; powerful, vital, spontaneous. It’s not weak and decent, like the learned young man from the North; it’s dark and hairy and unseemly; but, without it, the person is nothing.

Morality, Disgust and Political Parties

“Morality isn’t just about stealing and killing and honesty, it’s often about menstruation, and food, and who you are having sex with, and how you handle corpses.” –Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt’s research into disgust and politics is fascinating. For example, many conservatives are disgusted by the ideal of gay sex and are therefore against gay marriage. Libertarians tend to have the lowest levels of disgust. I saw a TED talk of his in which he said that most people would find it disgusting to contemplate, but college students are able to consider “eating their pets”. College is an environment designed to encourage openness — the ability to think of things in novel ways, and entertain unconventional beliefs. Here’s a lecture by Haidt on Reason that’s a good intro to some of his ideas.

Parenting, Communities and Crime

I came across a 1995 article by David T. Lykken attempting to make the case – both sensible and crazy – that society should require parents to be licensed before they can have children, an argument propounded by a libertarian, not a totalitarian, if I am understanding the last paragraph. John Stuart Mill is utilized for choice quotes, and a lot of interesting statistics about criminality are bandied about. Blame for the rise in the number of delinquents, punks and desperadoes is put on the shoulders of absent dads, single moms, and incompetent parents, as you would expect. Lykken is known for his work in twin studies, and lie detection.

1995 is the middle of a precipitous decline of crime in America, rather than an explosion of rape and murder, but such things are difficult to see as they are occurring.

crime rates falling 1990s

This graph is from Steven Levitt’s famous article, later developed into the bestseller “Freakonomics”, linking legalized abortion and the drop in crime. With Levitt, the bad-parents-create-bad-children argument is implied.

This is all interesting stuff. However, I found the most interesting part of the Lykken article to be a paragraph in the middle, about the role of community in shoring up poor parenting. It takes a village, after all:

Good parents, who are able to maintain the affection and respect of their children and whose offspring admire them and value their good opinion, can be reasonably certain that their values and ways of socialized behaving will be adopted by the next generation. The children of less effective, less competent parents will be more likely to adopt the customs and values of the peer group. [Small, close-knit] communities will achieve the same result. In urban or suburban communities, the offspring…will be somewhat more at risk…as the community grows in size and in mutual estrangement, the likelihood increases that there will be a few neglected, undisciplined or feral children in the peer group-faux-adult role models to whom a child not closely tied to home and parents may be drawn, and by whom that child will be influenced….we can reasonably conjecture that the relative importance of the peer group in shaping the values and behaviors of a given child is inversely proportional to the competence of that child’s parents.

I am interested in this because I am wondering how a community can grow to be “small and close knit” in an urban setting, since, the future is urban:

urbanization by continent

And it is not only urban, but peer-oriented and media-oriented, rather than family- or community-oriented. I think that Lykken was right about a lot of things – we seem to have created a veritable garden of sociopathy – but wrong about the solution. Licensing parents implies an Orwellian state. Lykken suggests parents who parent without a license would be implanted with antifertility drugs, sent to institutions to learn parenting…No, no.

A less fraught, more effective and scalable way to help society raise healthy, sane children would be to figure out how to support the creation and maintenance of communities.

Changing “the only game that exists”

Gloria Steinem was asked by Yahoo whether she thought Miley Cyrus’ recent risqué performance and video were setting the feminist movement back, and she replied, “I don’t think so.”

I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed … But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states … the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, “This is why China wins.” You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.

Another, complementary game that exists for young men is the sports game, addressed in this week’s issue of The Atlantic, in the cover story How Sports are ruining High School.

(Via HuffPo)

Online communities

The internet is full of strangers, generous strangers who want to help you for no reason at all. Strangers post poetry and discographies and advice and essays and photos and art and diatribes. None of them are known to you, in the old-fashioned sense. But they give the internet its life and meaning.

I first got online in the late 80s, when I was an eccentric teenager in suburban New Jersey, in a town mostly interested in sports, popularity and clothes. I was a reader, into Jorge Luis Borges, and I found, connected to and delighted in a group of Borges scholars from Aarhus, Denmark that I met online. It was early days, the days before COPA (now COPPA), chat rooms and a/s/l, when the level of discourse was high, and the number of scoundrels was low. The lonely “no one understands me” use case for online communities is one of the strongest ones. How many people, different from those around them, have finally found a home among strangers on the internet?

I learned most of what I knew about online communities on The Well, and it was a good place to learn. The group of people in Sausalito, Mill Valley and Bolinas who’d gotten the Whole Earth Catalog off the ground — a bunch of boomers, techies, hippies, intellectuals and nerds — established the “Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link”, and showed us what online communities were. They taught us how to create a civilized space, to speak in our own voices, use our real names, fan the flames of friendliness, to boot and ban trolls. They showed us how to mediate flame wars, start and end conversations, tease out contributions from the shy and lurking, engage in healthy debate. The mantra of the place was “You Own Your Own Words”, a phrase coined by Stewart Brand, one of the Well’s founders, meaning you not only have the right to say your piece, but also that you have to take responsibility for the consequences of those words.

Maybe I just found all the great places to hang out online, but the communities I found were most often characterized by their incredible generosity. On Metafilter, a group of strangers worked together to rescue two women from villains who appeared to be sex traffickers. The nephew of a man with Downs Syndrome who was suffering from cancer posted that his uncle loved to receive mail, and received hundreds of letters from complete strangers. Amit Gupta announced that he had been diagnosed with leukemia and needed to find a matching bone marrow transplant, but it was difficult to find matches for Southeast Asians, who are underrepresented in donor databases. Countless conversations, tweets and blog posts conspired to help him — and subsequently other underrepresented groups — find a donor. The outbursts of care and kindness happen every day to my continual astonishment.

And then came the sunset of the Golden Age. The Dot Com era began, and things got serious. Online community became the hyped new thing that every new web site had to have. While motor oil, laundry detergent and pantyhose don’t seem like natural foci for gathering and sociality, attempts were made — repeatedly and laughably — to form communities around such products.  And forums and chat spaces, which I’d seen as a merry places for interesting people, became, often enough, shady places for iffy people. Because for every gay teenager living in a remote, conservative, homophobic town who finally connected with his people, a white supremacist found another. A cannibal found someone who was interested in being eaten. Trolling, hating and spamming became a surge, then a flood.

“Communities are defined by what they tolerate,” says Heather Champ, who worked with me at Flickr guiding and cultivating the community there. Flickr’s community was something we cultivated in a hands-on, very engaged way, greeting, welcoming and befriending the first 20,000 users. And, famously, in the Flickr community list of dos and don’ts, Heather wrote this beautiful, concise guideline :

Don’t be creepy.

You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.

Community management is an art, not a science. It requires an iron fist in a velvet glove, and Heather is a mandarin. She’ll endlessly fight for the disenfranchised to have their space, for artists to practice their art, for peaceful coexistence and tolerance, for people’s right to privacy — while ruthlessly squashing trolls and silencing the hate.

Now we are building a new community built around places, with a team that includes Heather. A lot of things have changed since the days of Flickr. Facebook has concentrated the sociality of the internet within its blue borders, like a Walmart siphoning off the mom-and-pop shops that formerly comprised the internet’s gathering places. Communication, in the age of mobile dominance, has become, of necessity, shorter and snack-sized. Gone are the long debates on The Well. Gone are the Olden Dayes of the Independent Web. But never gone is the miraculousness of connecting with people remote from our houses, but close to our hearts.

Each online community decides what it is going to be, and in the end, reflects the people that participate in it. The internet is made of people. Like Anne Frank, I believe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, people are good at heart. And always, on the internet, I am astounded by people’s insistence on being generous, compassionate and kind.

….

A version of this post appeared in Wired last year

Human rights begin in small places

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Via Moyalynne

11 year old boys make a neighborhood

In the January 2012 issue of The Believer, there is an interview with cartographer Denis Wood, who created Everything Sings, a representation of Boylan Heights, NC, where he lives and raised his children. The maps are not typical maps, instead they depict, according to the article (I don’t have this book, though I’m ordering it!) “the light that fills the streets, the delivery routes of local newspapers, the face of pumpkins in front of homes at Halloween”, among others. Wood says:

I wanted to think about what a neighborhood is. What makes a neighborhood a neighborhood? What are the characteristics of neighborhoodness? There’s a theorist named Leonard Bowden who had the idea that neighborhoods are created by eleven-year-old preadolescent males. In their running through the neighborhood and connecting families together, crossing fences, going into homes that their parents would go into, and knowing people that their parents would never even acknowledge, they create the neighborhood. Not girls, because girls were not given the privilege of ranging like the boys were, and not older boys, because they were being directed by the school toward classmates at a distance.

Is the Bay Area Toxic to Contemplation?

“The entire Bay Area is enamored with these notions of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, mega-success,” he says. “It’s in the air we breathe out here. It’s an atmosphere that can be toxic to … refuge, contemplation, and investigation for its own sake.”

This is according to David Kelley, Pulitzer Prize winning historian. (I’ve found this quoted in several places online, but can’t find the original context…or get much info about David Kelley. Granted, I didn’t look very hard.)

Notes from Monoculture

Monoculture

I usually put stickies in books I am reading, and then go back and reread the things I marked, and sometimes copy them here. These are notes from Monoculture: How one story is changing everything, by F.S. Michaels.

  • “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protections, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” –John Adams, 1776
  • p. 65 Re: Medicine and the growth of hospitals. At one time, few people used hospitals voluntarily because of the risk of infection; hospitals were more about charity than medical expertise and most were run by religious orders where nuns, doctors and nurses volunteered their time to care for the sick. You went to the hospital to die, or when you didn’t have family or friends to care for you. If you were sick, you were simply safer at home.
  • p. 93. Re: Art. “When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgment of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself.” — Stanley Kunitz
  • p. 97. Government cultural policy in the arts came to be based on a Romantic ideal that the arts mattered and deserved public funds because art had a civilizing influence on us and contributed to our humanity. President John F. Kennedy said, “The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose, and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.”
  • p. 105. The Monoculture. As the monoculture aligns our experiences and expectations with the economic story, our life together becomes more at risk. Just as biodiversity embodies many forms of life and signals the health of our ecosystems, value diversity embodies many ways of life and signals the health of our social systems. When we lose value diversity, we lose our ability to express ourselves outside of the economic realm. We lose the “languages” we once spoke in distinct parts of our lives — the language of family and relationships, the language of the natural world, of art and spirituality, of health and education, of the public interest and the common good. We learn to substitute an economic language for all of it.
  • p. 107. Imagine two circles that overlap a bit. One circle represents your creativity, and the other represents the economic story’s world of markets. The area where the circles overlap represents creativity that is financially successful in the world of markets. The economic story says the circles should overlap as much as possible — that creativity is about producing something someone will buy. In actuality, the circles never completely overlap, and in an economic monoculture, the creativity that exists independently of the market is never considered to be worth pursuing.
  • p. 110. In a society grown rigid with ideology, Vaclav Havel said, you come to accept that you live according to that society’s values and assumptions. If you were to refuse to conform, there could be trouble. You could be isolated, alienated, reproached for being idealistic, or scorned for not being a team player. You know what it is you are supposed to do, and you do it, not least to show that you are doing it. You go along to get along, he said, and so you confirm to others that certain things in fact must be done. If you fail to act as you are expected to, others will view your behavior as abnormal, think you arrogant for believing you’re above the rules, or assume you’ve dropped out of society…In truth, Havel said, that story is not natural; there is an enormous gap between its aims and the aims of life. Whereas life moves toward plurality and diversity and the fulfillment of its own freedom, the system demands conformity, uniformity and discipline. The system, Havel said, “is a world of appearances trying to pass for reality.”
  • p. 113. Oscar Wilde: “The fatal errors of life are not due to man’s being unreasonable: an unreasonable moment may be one’s finest moment. They are due to man’s being logical. There is a wide difference.”
  • p. 113. When our higher-level needs are denied, we develop what psychologist Abraham Maslow called metapathologies: “sicknesses of the soul.”
  • p.116. As you begin to live aligned with your deepest values instead of solely economic ones, your actions from day to day can in time give birth to something more articulate and structured, something Havel called “the independent spiritual, social and political life of society.” …The independent life can take almost any form. You don’t automatically have to quit everything you’re doing and move to the country to transcend the monoculture.
  • p. 116. As time goes on, that independent life naturally begins to be organized in one way or another, heralding the development of what Havel called “parallel structures”. Parallel structures, he said, are about the daily human struggle to live in freedom, truth and dignity — an articulated expression of living within the truth of life.
  • p. 117. Parallel structures are not counter-cultural structures; they are parallel precisely because they emerge alongside the monoculture….Michaels then gives three examples of parallel structures in our society: the Slow Food movement, Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, and Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.