Tag Archives: emotions

Money, part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post, describing my mission to actively move away from using money. This involved being homeless and discovering the opportunities of life without money.

Going back to money

I always knew I would be reintegrating with the “normal” world eventually. After a whole year of being homeless and surviving without money, I was ready to go back.

In discovering rationalism, I had come across some cool techniques for life. Using probabilities and a cost vs benefit analysis I decided to move to London and become a developer. This was calculated as a low-cost high reward strategy for maximum money in minimum time that had a good chance of success.

The ultimate goal was to make time for more philosophical activity in my life. The no-money route is an option to regain some time, but perhaps not enough. The costs are also high: poor physical health, lack of stability (high anxiety). In short, to reach my goals, I had to use money.

Emotional difficulties

Even though my feminist days gave me this advice: “we all are doing what we can to survive under unfair conditions, so it is wrong to criticise others who are performing along the expected lines of society”, I still suffered feelings of horrible guilt and of being a sell out.

I rationally knew that I had come up with a decent plan that might ultimately help me to do more of what I love, an activity which might help people and even contribute to changing the society I find myself in. However the feelings of being a sell-out, of “getting more right-wing as I got older” were strong. It took some years to be more at peace with my choices and even longer to find a framework that might help to describe them.

I also felt uncomfortable  earning (what felt like) an obscene amount of money in comparison to others. Coming from the local government sector gave me a strong sense that the people who do the hardest jobs get paid the least money. I also felt working class guilt, that I was being a traitor for accepting and using middle class salaries, buying myself middle class privileges.

Of course, it was harder for me to remember that my new salary was still below average, well below median and certainly not “obscene” by any measure.

 

I had to remind myself that it is ok to have money. Life is indeed much easier with money. I think the study about IQ drop when feeling anxiety over money has failed to replicate, like so many others, however the anxiety levels at the low-end of the money scale seem anecdotally extremely large, and are relieved entirely by a modest income. Having modest amounts of money allows for optimism for the future, enables regular excursions outside of the house, enables much easier social relations, allows freedom of travel and greatly improves physical health.

Another aspect of money relates to sharing your money. I can now be honest about my motivations for generosity, is it signalling, is it genuine concern? I now feel ok about exploring those ethics.

One thing is certain, being without money is an excellent way to understand and use it effectively.

Further Truths

It’s expensive to be poor.

This perverse rule was visible everywhere once I recognised it.

The ATMs in poor neighbourhoods always charge for withdrawals, because poor neighbourhoods don’t attract chain banks or other enterprises that provide free cash machines. It’s not worth it, because everyone there is poor.

The converse is also often true: it’s cheap to be rich. Rich people are often invited to free events in the random hope that someone will spend their money eventually on the host’s business. Art galleries have free private views. Overdrafts on wealthy client’s accounts are free, while poor people are penalised for even a £1 overdraft withdrawal. The richer you are, the more free things get offered to you. Of course, money makes more money if you just leave it alone, so the act of simply having some gives you an income on it as well.

Cheating on benefits is much harder than getting a job

Almost nobody does it, so get over it. Of the ones that do, it is our fault as a society for not providing more useful deception games that their skills could be applied to. Either way it is an acceptable loss.

 

Post-money

It doesn’t take very long to earn enough money such that survival is covered and all the questions about the meaning of life, and how to spend one’s time, return. For my freelance friends who really do earn obscene money, the problem of what to do every day becomes a real concern. Material benefits lose their charm alarmingly quickly. Boredom is the ultimate problem.

It leads me to wonder if there are groups of people with rich depression, whom we could leverage to do interesting things. It also makes me a proponent of universal benefit, which might be an interim step that will lead us to the idea that we should spend some time shunting around our shared, limited resources and the rest of the time getting together to do interesting things.

Money doesn’t need to be money

For some people (many?) their salary is much more to do with “numbers going up” – the dopamine reward system that video games harness so well, than it is to do with material goods or comfort. For those who are not too interested in the status that material goods bring, the motivation is more to do with the esteem a society holds them in (itself another kind of status).

This had led me to speculate about the possibility of divorcing “currency” – a phrase for the part of money that is a functional system of exchange rather than drag 2,000 eggs to market to swap for a cow – from the insane, imaginary mathematical games people play in financial markets that none the less cause ordinary people to lose their homes.

I recently spoke to a software developer in the finance industry who openly admitted that he engages in creating software that is deliberately difficult to use, so that financial investors feel as though they are actually doing something during their 90 hour work week, rather than admit that they do no better than random chance. His team actively re-writes old software with more complex navigation menus and deliberately obfuscatory usage procedures to supply the illusion that these people do something Very Hard that only Magic Skilled People can do.

I wonder how hard it would really be to round up the entire top several levels of the world financial system and quietly slide them all into an MMO or virtual world, where we tell them they are trading and have won and lost millions of “dollars” when actually we have disconnected them from the currency we use for basic goods, shelter and transport a long time ago.

Capitalism

I used to think capitalism was evil. Now I think it’s just a system.

I think it’s quite amenable to being hacked and changed, which is good. It might be the least bad system so far. It also doesn’t function in a vacuum. Capitalism so far has always operated with, alongside and within several other systems: nation states, governmental organisation systems, political systems, charity systems and particularly “welfare” systems. The welfare side is where we put lots of our human morals, and I now find it strange when people demand moral behaviour from capitalist systems.

There are some who believe that current systems would be improved if allowed to operate with the same rules as a “market”. I think they are correct in some cases, but it would be disastrous in others.

I do think there are aspects to markets/capitalism that mean it has never been a complete or functioning system. For example, natural resources are exploited at no cost, giving the illusion of eternal resources and thus eternal growth. I will be very interested to see how capitalism changes when this loop is closed, such as when governments give natural resource systems legal rights, or with carbon taxes.

I feel optimistic that since capitalism is subject to theories as engines, not as cameras, it will continuously evolve and will no doubt be a useful system in the system tool box for a long time.

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Emotional challenges of Stage 5

Required reading

This post uses a key framework of personal evolution by Robert Kegan.  It is summarised by David Chapman here.

This post is in dialogue with, and an expansion on, Chapman’s recent post about moving through stages 3, 4 and 5 in modern society (and the lack of support for it) here.

This post will not make sense unless you have read the other two posts first. They are somewhat lengthy, but I will be returning to these ideas as a basis for my blog posts for a long time, so it’s worth settling in.

Emotional challenges

Much has been said (some has been said) about the intellectual progression of stage 4 to stage 5. In this post I will outline some emotional challenges I faced (am still facing) to making the transition.

My evolving story

Four years on from university (which I attended a little later than average), at age 27, in the midst of deliberately making myself homeless and abandoning any regard for money, I was challenged to articulate the political position of a person on the opposite side of an argument to that which I held. I found I could indeed do so. It was common for me to hear that it is good to empathise with another person, and since I had been accused of failing in that area before, it was something I had been trying to attend to more closely. I was also aware of having to debate a position one personally does not hold (from Star Trek as well as school). So as an educated person I managed to imagine the position of someone who believed that austerity, small government and benefit cuts was an appropriate response to recession. I myself was about to go on a march against austerity, from the position that it made life worse for minority groups such as the disabled and also overly impacted a majority group: women. During that march I was extemely morose and it took some time to figure out why.

Beyond Empathy

Not only had I managed to do more than superficially imagine some arguments from “their side”, I could also understand why someone would hold that position. I could imagine which principles were important to that side of the political spectrum almost as clearly as I could see the principles that supported my own side. In addition, if supporters of that side believed the underlying assumptions or principles, they would not have to be stupid or amoral to believe the conclusions drawn from those principles.

It became clear that if one side is right, and the other wrong, it would be a matter of whether their principles were right or wrong. However, the more I thought about someone else’s side of the argument, the more their principles seemed at the very least appropriate for what they were trying to do. Their principles seemed logically right, (even if I thought they were morally wrong). And yet on my side of a debate, the principles seemed right too. How could this be?

Examining Assumptions

I began to realise that I had been making the assumption that my side’s founding principles were right and therefore the conclusions were also right and therefore the articulated position was morally right and therefore any different position that contradicted it must be wrong. In fact, dear reader, if you would care to re-read the opening sentence of the preceding paragraph to this one, you will notice the uncritical assumption – “if one side is right and the other wrong…” This very assumption came into view for the first time. The assumption that one position is right and that all other positions are wrong. It suddenly seemed self-evident that this was a silly assumption to make but at the same time I had clearly been operating with it for years.

Foundation Processes

I think I had been approaching these realisations gradually by being more and more open to the arguments from the ‘opposing’ side. I might have originally been motivated by the idea that one must “know thine enemy” – the better to thwart them. I felt meaningful progress could only be made if one engaged properly with another’s arguments and then was so persuasive with one’s own arguments that the other person would change their minds.

In addition, as a result of throwing myself into new situations, I was exposed to a person whom I liked but who used an entirely different framework from me to see the world. They came from a scientific, rational, logical background. They scorned my emotional/social view of the world as biased and refused to engage on the topic in anything other than their own ‘rational’ language. I could see they had some good points but also felt that they were missing something from their worldview. Out of sheer spite I began a long process of learning their technical language, in order to one day criticise them in a language they would understand.

Neither of these processes lead to their stated conclusions but: never underestimate the power of spite as a way to motivate learning.

In addition to the story told above about politics, I had similar conflicting intuitions when it came to money. The begninning of the story is here. I shall endeavour to write up the second half of the story soon. But in short, capitalism seemed to no longer be the spectre of evil I once thought it was.

Leaving the old stage

All of this lead to my eventual move out of stage 4. At the time, it felt like I had been booted out. Indeed in Kegan’s descriptions, a person at first criticises the world for not being what it appeared to be, and moving out of a stage is unpleasant. The current self has no desire to change.

Eventually, the criticism can be directed inward. Feelings of shame can arise when shifting through a stage change and I felt a certain amount of being intellectually ‘caught short’, the feeling of having been walking around with my pants down this entire time and no-one had told me.

Emotional problems shifting through change

And so we finally get to the subject of this post: emotional difficulties when transitioning out of Kegan’s Institutional evolution, stage 4. These descriptions are almost entirely focussed on intellectual growth as they seem easier to articulate. On emotional terms I feel more muddied. Perhaps I will post about that later.

Lack of stage 5 environments

One of the problems of this stage is a lack of cultural, institutional or familial frameworks to move towards when the previous thinking has been left behind. As of the 1980s, only 5% of adults may reach this stage. From Kegan:

“the requirements of the ‘holding environment’ within which to evolve become a taller order with each new evolution.”

There are therefore few, if any supportive voices to contradict the negative thoughts that accompany leaving a stage behind. This problem is discussed at length in Chapman’s post about people becoming lost at stage 4.5.

Loss of self, loss of identity.

Loss of the self is characteristic of all of the evolutionary stages:

“[people] may speak of a ‘loss of identity’ or that they have let themselves down, betrayed themselves, abandoned themselves”.

however this may be felt particularly strongly since:

“this is the first shift in which there is a self-conscious self to be reflected upon”

The instiutional stage 4 is characterised by adopting a system to order one’s life. This can partly mean aligning with a particular system that others also use which becomes an identity. For myself social justice style identity politics was my system. I aligned strongly with the left, with feminism, with minority sexuality and polyamory.

The negative thoughts which accompanied my new apparent relativism with regard to left and right wing politics, as well as capiltalism, were strong and distressing. I felt I was selling out, had lost my passion, was being weak or without resolve, was a traitor to the cause and I was particularly bothered by the phrase “you get more right wing as you get older”. I was terrified that this applied to me.

I applied these thoughts to myself because I believed my social group would do so if they knew what I was thinking, and I had no alternative viewpoints to challenge this “selling out” as anything other than negative. I could do nothing but accept these negative labels for myself. At this time I stopped any and all activism because I felt like a fraud and was also exhuasted from feeling this way.

Evil relativism

This longer passage from Kegan explains a common fear in 4-5 transition:

“All transitions involve leaving a consolidated self behind before any new self can take its place. At the 4-5 shift this means abandoning – or somehow operating without reliance upon – the form, the group, standard or convention. For some this leads to feelings of being “beyond good and evil”, which […] amounts to looking at the that beyondness from the view of the old self, and thus involves strong feelings of evil. Ethical relativism – the belief that there is no (nonarbitrary) basis for considering one thing more right than another – is, on the one hand, the father of tolerance: it stands against the condemning judgement; but it must also stand against the affirming judgement, and so is vulnerable to cynicism.”

Ethical relativism is a half-way point. One has realised that there probably is no perfect sytem that is “right”, rather all systems have validity given the way systems function (based on rules, assumptions, axioms or reasons, which therefore make them “rational”). However this leads a person to the conclusion that all systems are equal, have equal value, have equal utility, are interchangeable. I believed this for a while and it is quite frightening, leading one to a strong sense of nihilism.

In Kegan’s words:

“In the shift to stage 5 there is often a sense of having left the moral world entirely; there is no way of orienting to right and wrong worthy of my respect. This is the killing off of all standards, the attempt to be not-me (who is his standard) – the cynic, or existentially despairing.”

Short Postmodern digression

This problem is exactly where an unsophisitcated grasp of postmodern thought runs into trouble (Postmodernism can be seen largely as a 4.5 stage of philosphy). Postmodernism is the critique of Modern “systems” of thought, or rather a critique of the idea that the world can be apprehended through systemic thinking. This part was the focus of most Postmodern writing and is the easiest to grasp when discovering the topic.

When one reaches this far with the ideas it is easy to think that when Postmodernism is saying that “all systems of thought that give rise to opinions have arbitrary foundations” it is also saying that “all opinions have equal value”. This is not actually the case but it takes a long time to untangle. It takes a much closer and much longer study of Postmodern ideas to grasp what Postmodernism is moving towards, rather than away from. More on this in a later post.

Loneliness

When this shift out of a strucutual Identity is occuring it is no longer possible to associate with other people who are still firmly embedded in The Identity [whatever it is]. It is key to realise that this process is not voluntary for the person changing, they have no desire to suddenly be alienated from their friends, but at the same time thoughts cannot be unthought and changes are taking place regardless of desire.

I felt a distance from other people of The Identity that I had not felt before. I no longer agreed with them in the way they needed me to. If I voiced my new thoughts they saw me as dissenting for no reason or diluting the cause.

Eventually I no longer felt that my new thoughts were wrong, I felt they represented a new way to see the world, but I also knew that there was no point forcing the ideas onto people who were not ready for them. This made the alienation from certain people, and from certain parts of many people, inevitable.

This can be extremely problematic if one’s social circle is entirely made up of people who share The Identity. If there is no-one who can be part of a non-judgemental “holding environment” during these changes, it could lead to much heartache or even emotional/psychological problems that require professional intervention. (There is of course nothing wrong with seeking professional help, indeed it is absolutely the best thing to do, I am simply saying that it is nice to not have to).

During my initial moments of crisis, I took myself away from my city and all my friends. I think I experienced a lack of an environment for change. I finally found people who were confirming of the change and over some years of stability with new friends I feel I have progressed from the worst of the dissonance.

Now what?

Having dealt for some years with making this change (across some axes of my life at any rate), I feel somewhat more stable in my meta-systemtic state, but the loneliness persists. I feel comfortable again with interacting with others who have a different worldview, in fact I can see the extremely high value of their operations, in thought and in life. But I am always searching for others who may be able to understand some of my new ways of thinking.

Chapman proposes that much of society operates using stage 4 systems that interact with each other and I think that that is correct. (Systems interacting sounds pretty much stage 5 and indeed all society is actually constantly moving. However many societal systems rely heavily on being the “correct” system to function, most notably politics).

So what about stage 5-style operations that are larger than individuals? A stage 5 society?

Kegan notes that even proposing a stage 5 can be problematic:

“Suggesting that there is a qualitative development beyond psychological autonomy and philosophical formalism is itself somewhat controversial, as it flies in the face of cherished notions of maturity in psychological, philosophical, scientific and mathematical realms.”

In later posts I will spend some time imagining what stage 5 is or means for an individual (Kegan is more vague on this stage than the other stages) and what it is or means for a society. What would stage 5 societies look like? What features would it have? Do our societies already have stage 5 organisations in place? If so, what are they? Is there a way for individuals to safely encourage stage 5 institutions?

Also, check out the rest of meaningness.com for more fascinating (and in my view comforting) descriptions of how one might choose to make sense of the world.

Reaching Stage 5 – non STEM

Required reading

This post uses a key framework: Chapman’s version of Robert Kegan’s theories of emotional, cognitive and social development, it is summarised here.

This post is in dialogue with, and an expansion on, Chapman’s recent post about moving through stages 3, 4 and 5 in modern society (and the lack of support for it) here.

This post will not make sense unless you have read the other two posts first. They are somewhat lengthy, but I will be returning to these ideas as a basis for my blog posts for a long time, so it’s worth settling in.

Reaching Stage 5

As previously discussed, it might be harder than it used to be to reach stage 4 in current society. Humanities students may have it pretty bad (and presumably the other 60% of the population with no higher education at all). STEM students have the best chance of achieving stage 4.

Employment is the other stage 4 structure which might support stage 3 people. But as Kegan has pointed out, up to one third of the adult American population are stage 3 people living uncomfortably inside a stage 4 society, including stage 4 employment, without acheiving stage 4 themselves through their working environment.

So Chapman focusses on creating new structures to support stage 4 STEM educated people to progress to stage 5 with less difficulty. He is correct to identify this group as potentially the lowest hanging fruit.

In this post I will talk about my own experiences of (I think) reaching stage 4 and 4.5 not quite through STEM education, rather through a mixture of politics and STEM-type things. The purpose is to potentially identify next-lowest hanging fruit and possible cultural change that will support more stage 4 development that is not through STEM.

Personal caveats

I’m currently reading one of Robert Kegan’s books – one of the source materials for the stages theory I am talking about – and I feel struck by the possibility of my own uneven evolution through the stages.

Uneven in the sense of mastering some childhood stages above – averagely quickly but then possibly remaining stuck in a stage long after the average age of transition is expected during childhood, teens and 20s,  then perhaps being in the next stage for a very short time before finally entering my current one.

Uneven also in the sense of perhaps being in one stage regarding abstract reasoning that is much further along than the stage I’m in regarding emotionally relating with other people.

As with any framework, Kegan’s stages are illuminating for many situations but not applicable in all. No doubt there are also huge pitfalls with attempting to analyse oneself with these things, however with these caveats we will move forward anyway! For now this post will focus on abstract reasoning ability.

Humanities education

Up to school leaving age I think it is remarkable that I mixed together technical subjects with humanities subjects in equal measure. I enjoyed the scientific method and computing as well as my earlier love of English, literature, history and languages. The pressure to take courses between the age of 16-18 that “obviously” go together was pretty strong, to thus futher specialise during higher education. For exmaple, taking Maths and Physics at age 18 to go on to do Engineering at university. This happens less in the States, where a ‘major’ subject is also supported by other learning at college.

In this context I was being wilfully strange by taking humanities and STEM subjects together.

I waited a few years before attending college during which time I wrote poetry and worked in bookshops. At college,  I made a strange sideways choice to study Fine Art, a surprise to everone, not least myself. I was pretty shit at art so steeped myself in philosophy/theory instead and yes, was indeed taught about postmodernism. It was an elective module that I duly elected. In my own personal case I cannot agree that my tutors did not understand postmodern thought properly and I feel I was left to make my own investigations into its territory in the sense that I wouldn’t get a bad grade if I didn’t internalise postmodern principles.

We focussed on postmodern (and crucially, post-structrualist) thought exclusively within arty, theory, air fairy domains and so I was free to consign it to ‘only relevant to philsophy’ in my brain.

None the less I learned the important idea from Baudrillard that rationalists condense down into the phrase ‘the map is not the territory’. I also got a strong sense that post-structuralist thought was critiquing the idea that human behaviour could be discovered if the rules for the scaffolding could only be worked out.

I liken this to taking a rubbing from a gravestone. The old and time-worn words on an ancient stone are not easily legible, but if one takes a piece of paper and a wax crayon and makes a rubbing of the stone, the crayon will highlight in much greater relief the contrast between the smooth stone and the indented words.

In the same way, persons of the sciences as they are applied to people hoped to simply interrogate humans enough so as to divine the underlying structure which would explain all human behaviour.

(I’ve mentioned in another post how terrifying it would be if such knowledge was put in the hands of people in positions of power over others).

The post-structuralists pointed out the absurdity of looking for structures (or even just one structure) that explains all human behaviour when it is almost definitely not there.

This idea seems a bit obvious to a postmodern teenager, but being forced to discover what modernism was or what structuralism was gave me great insight into the evolution I had been born into.

It could still be true that I had this training in the absence of systemic training however my personal scientific mindset was already present and the disciplines of film photography as well as painting methods had to be fully mastered before receiving anything close to praise from tutors.

Also during university years I discovered feminism. This political line of thought said: there is a system called patriarchy and while it is not so obvious any more it is still fucking you over. Understanding that system and understanding it’s critique was another subject of my university years.

Feminism and other social justice goals became my stage 4 system for a few years. It was the personal system within which I made meaning. It was a framework that shaped my beliefs, projects and political opinions. I think I retained some hesitancy over absolutism or fanaticism though, due to my earlier brushes with postmodernism, as well as exposure to extremely sophisticated feminist thought. 

For relationships, I have said before that polyamory probably provided that bridge to stage 4 in emotional terms. 

So far, we have seen that all of this development was from a humanities input, and informed by a much earlier interest (age 15) in computing and science.

political upheaval

In 2011 I was experiencing a resurgence of anxiety and panic attacks. I felt that something was missing from life and my part time library work and part time activism were not stimulating enough. It was also the year a series of riots broke out, the first in my home town of Bristol. Globally,  the Occupy Movement began and I was involved with my local chapter. I was excited by the newness of the movement and the potential for change but dismayed by reports of sexism and homophobia in the camps, as well as knowing that Occupy was about questions, not answers.

My solution to this anxiety was radical upheaval. I made myself homeless and went on and odyssey of knowledge.

It was in these years that my politics was challenged by a rationalist. They asked me to articulate the other persons point of view on a political issue. I managed it, but it was an unfamiliar exercise. Throughout the subsequent protest I was morose. The idea that the people I was protesting against might actually have a point was a very difficult one.

I subsequently dived into LessWrong, probability theory, Slatestarcodex and the rest but ultimately I feel it was emotional reactions to a political system that began the process of stage 4 to 5 transition.

I think I must admit that my process was deeply informed by scientific and rational principles, plus I’m extremely self reflective but I think my 3-4-5 transition was largely in arts and humanities areas.

My thoughts on this story are perhaps less specialisation between arts and humanities should be encouraged. Cross-specialisation is needed.

I also think STEM minded people have a tendency to dismiss emotional frameworks as unscientific or not useful because they don’t understand them very well, so STEM background people need humanities training just as much as the other way around. 

You might want to check out my cross pollination zine for ideas about how rationalism and feminism could learn from each other. 

I will talk about the emotional difficulties of tr asitioning from stage 4 to 5 in much greater detail in a subsequent post. 

Metaphor for panic

I’ve noted the following life scenario: at some point after the mid-20s, someone has made very positive changes to their life, taking steps to feel their emotions, communicate them and try to deal with them in an emotionally mature way, whilst also being more empathetic and tolerant of others, letting go of old grudges etc.

And then they suffer from panic attacks and anxiety.

Why should this be? If the changes made are so positive, why this horrible symptom of mental ill health?

Well, I hit on an analogy worth sharing.

It is as if the person has been riding a white-knuckle rollercoaster, but the rollercoaster is life, and is a mental one rather than physical. They have recently taken steps to get off that rollercoaster and stand on firm, calm, non-moving land.

But, they’ve been on that rollercoaster for many years, since they were born in fact. It has been constantly moving, a continuous adrenaline pump and it was a constant battle just to stay in their seat. Now that they are on the stable ground, have finally relaxed their grip, they are terribly, terribly sick. They have finally stopped moving and have land sickness. They are vomiting all over the place.

Now, the vomiting is just a sign that they’ve finally stopped looping the loop but their system still needs to take time to adjust. It’s an understandable reaction. Vomiting feels awful when it’s happening. It feels way worse than the rollercoaster. It also feels like it’s never going to end.

But it’s still a very good thing that they have finally gotten off that infernal ride.

If you are suffering panic, it means you have unclenched yourself from years of mental trauma, it means you have done the right thing. It means you are on the road to a much better life. But your system is having after shocks and is learning to adjust. It feels like it’s the worst thing in the world, but in every respect it is not very damaging. It feels like it will last forever, but it won’t. Just relax, be patient. You’re already off the coaster and you did it all by yourself. Everything is going to be ok.

Let’s Talk About Street Harassment

Lately, in any discussion on street harassment, there has often been a comment along the lines of ‘but… some of this doesn’t seem to be harassment’, ‘it’s a fine line between harassment and good nature’, ‘what if the guy was just saying hello?’, ‘don’t tar all men with the same brush’ etc.

Let’s talk about that.

The comments made above seem reasonable, and here are my thoughts that are probably not obvious to men who have never suffered street harassment:

Comments like ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ are still harassment because it is unequal. It is clear, being in an urban area far from home, that there is no chance that this person is a neighbour or otherwise a not-stranger. It is also clear that this only happens to women. This stranger is a man and aside from anything else, men do not say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to other strange men. When men interact with strange men, they avert their gaze, don’t speak unless spoken to etc.

But strange men do not show the same deference to strange women. They speak to them, they stare at them, they wolf whistle them, they catcall them, they turn around to check them out after they’ve walked by (my personal un-favourite because they think no women see it) and yes, they say ‘hello’ to them. The ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ is a plea for attention that is exactly the same as the more directly sexual comments. It is also completely and entirely obvious from their body language, tone of voice and social context that their ‘hello’ means, “I’ve noticed you, I want you to notice me because: sex.” I mention social context because it is important to remember that this never happens if any other man is present. It is also much more rare with groups of women, and in this case the guys often yell from cars, from across the street, in groups, or other ‘safe’ places. When a woman is street harassed she is in a public place, alone and being harassed by a strange man.

Now, when men comment on stories of female harassment there seem to be a number of feelings tied up in the comments. The feelings are also all tied together. They seem to be:

‘This is awful, I don’t want this to happen to women’. ‘I’ve never done this to women, in fact I’m careful to not do it’. ‘I’m sure I’ve said ‘hello’ to women in the past, I don’t want them to think I was harassing them’. ‘Maybe some of these guys these women are complaining about were guys like me, truly well-meaning’.  ‘I’m now scared to ever say hello to women in case I get tarred with the man-hate brush’ and ‘How is anyone meant to meet anyone new/get laid?’

Let’s talk about this.

Let’s just lead with the fact that street harassment is a massive open secret that has only begun to be spoken about with any kind of coverage in the last five years. And I repeat, ‘spoken about’. We’re not even close to doing something to make it change yet.

Street harassment is very much part of a spectrum of behaviours that has murder through domestic violence on one end and lad’s mags/page 3 on the other end. None of it is good, some of it is worse than other bits, and we’re not *very* close to the murder end of the spectrum today, we’re more in the middle (although street harassment has lead, and continues to lead, directly to murder if you’re trans*), however it is an endemic spectrum of behaviours that shows us that the whole system is rotten. Men are bound up in this rotten system just as much as women, and it’s the system that needs to change.

Only a percentage of men harass women on the street, although a greater percentage may have done so in their lifetime. Everyone on every side of this debate knows that not all men do this. But people who are posting about it are not being careful to remove any implications of this. Men, I’m asking you to please let this one slide. Why? Because we’ve only just started talking about this. Decades of rage, oppression and very negative feelings are all coming out in a rush. We are not being nuanced about this. When out on the street, there is no way to know which man will harass and which one won’t. We know that three out of the 100 or so men who pass us today will demean and degrade us, we will feel threatened, frightened and alone. Not only that, but we’ll see it happen to other women too. We know it’s not all men, we have fathers, brothers, sons, dear friends and most of us have kind, wonderful lovers. We know it’s not all men, it’s only some men, but we’re having a really freaky bad time over here, we’re finding it really hard to talk about, let alone with any careful language and the ‘not all men’ argument derails the debate. Any victim is going to have a hard time talking about their experiences at all, and expecting a victim to be careful in their speech is quite a stretch. Women don’t hate all men, just as men don’t hate all women. This is a given.

This is the part of the conversation where, despite lack of nuance, the listener just listens. (And I do honestly believe this debate will evolve over time and it’ll be totally cool to call out the ‘All men’ statements, just not yet.)

We also know that most men make sure they don’t harass women on the street. We know most men have refused to bow to the pressure of peers or culture and have carefully figured out that strangers should probably be left alone, even though that leaves us with a bit less opportunity for amazing interactions. We appreciate your efforts, we really do. Like I said before, fathers, brothers, lovers…

Now we approach the idea of the misunderstood guy. The friendly ‘hello’ guy. This part is particularly hard. Men are defending a straw man that doesn’t exist because the feelings behind it are: ‘these new-fangled rules are pretty darned strict and it’s uber hard to not come off as creepy. Plus, I’m really freaked out that I might have done this accidentally in the past’.

I sympathise strongly with the feelings, but not the straw man argument of the mythical misunderstood guy. By saying one or some or all of the harassers might have not meant any harm is demeaning to the women who report being harassed. It implies you don’t believe them. It implies that they cannot read body language, tone of voice or social context. That women are unsophisticated with social interaction. It implies that they haven’t been dealing with this since they were thirteen years old. It implies that the intentions of the harasser matter more than the feelings of threat. It implies the patriarchal pat on the head, the ‘don’t be so silly’ argument that has been used to dismiss women’s experience over and over in all of living memory. Or worse, it implies that women are lying and on a hate-campaign against men. This is fucking rare, about as rare as men who have hate campaigns against women. These implications give women rage. Which does not help with refining a debate and using correct words to describe things.

So, don’t say ‘maybe those guys didn’t mean it’ because we need to practice believing the victim and you have no idea what happened, you weren’t there. Instead say ‘I am scared I’ve done this and didn’t mean it’ or ‘I’m scared someone will think I’m creepy when I wasn’t’ or ‘Can we have a talk on another thread about this whole thing because it feels shaming’.

EDIT [ Actually, this part is key. Women have been victims, and when women speak out, men are feeling shame, even though it’s not personally their fault. I’m asking men to listen to female victims, even if they are not very nuanced, but I’m asking men to have nuanced replies, even though they are having bad feelings too. I think we definitely need a space for men to talk about these feelings, where they are supported and uncriticised. We have always needed this space. It might just have to be a separate space to the original victim speaking out. ]

In terms of the past, it’s highly unlikely that you accidentally came off as creepy. People are generally very able when it comes to social interaction. It’s very nuanced. If we go down the road of believing that women have the skills to notice a creepy ‘hello’, they can also tell an un-creepy ‘hello’. Women aren’t unsophisticated about this. Women want to find new friends and lovers just as much as you, and continue to engage with random interactions and go on dates, despite all the horror.

But if you did come off as creepy once, don’t worry too much, it’s probably forgotten and mistakes happen and you have friends and lovers who know you’re not creepy and you’ve heard about the types of things that come off as creepy and you haven’t done them. And you’d rather the person walked away and called you creepy than we live in a world where we’re going backward on this whole patriarchy thing. So it’s ok. I’m sorry if you’ve been misunderstood, it was in the service of a good cause and everything is going to be alright.

The current rules ARE darned hard, because everyone is trying to be better to each other than they were before. We’re working inside of a toxic system that sets genders against each other and no-one has any easy new rules about how to deal with this new stuff. Women are going to react in wildly different ways, and it’s going to be hard to find a baseline that generally means everyone is ok. It’s going to be a bit sad for quite a while, what with stranger interactions being reduced between men and women while we sort the harassment thing out. But overall happiness will still be higher since women will feel less threatened, day to day.

The only good general solution is honesty and respect for boundaries (and this is on everyone, not just men, of course). Honesty with ourselves about why we’re saying hello to this person on the street, or someone is saying hello to us. Honesty that certain things are gonna seem creepy. Honesty that there is a lot of sadness around this, and everyone needs to give support to people who feel sad. Honesty that we’re scared we’ve done the wrong thing, because the new rules are so hard to fathom.

And almost no-one is doing that yet, so we’re all well outside of comfort zone, and social sanctioning. But it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because, we’re trying to build a world where men and women can openly say to each other in the moment, without conflict or fear of violence, ‘hey, that came off as creepy’ and the other party can say ‘oh my god that was NOT my intention, please tell me in detail what it was that seemed creepy’. This will also be a world where both men and women can say, without fear of shaming or violence, ‘hey, you are attractive, any interest in fucking?’ and there is no obligation to say yes or no. In a world when all genders are empowered to ask for/accept sexual interaction in an equal, honest and open way, street harassment could disappear.

I want to live in that world, and we need to do everything we can to get there.

Emotional stuff

Lately I’ve been told to consider “mood hacking” – using various techniques to boost one’s mood (application of music, for example). My premenstrual answer is chocolate raisins in bed.

And now I feel sick.

I love beards.

Want to smoke a cigarette.

It’s a full moon.

Something is going wrong between me and This Boy. I am premenstrual. What is different about our exchanges? I am feeling more hurt by things he says/ hurt at all when I might not have been before. Am I slower to catch and hold back the emotional reaction (in most cases deserved, because the emotion is irrational, but maybe not all)? Are we communicating more things that can provoke negative emotional responses? For example, am I speaking differently? I feel I am saying things with less… censorship…and forethought… with two results: saying things I wouldn’t normally say, things that have emotional content that other, censoring emotions prevent from being said (eg shame or fear) and saying things in an awkward fashion because of lack of “inner editor” corrections. I can see the benefits of both of these. It forces me to address things I am uncomfortable with but afraid of saying. Lack of inner editor corrections can help me express more freely/accurately what is happening in my hind brain. Of course, there are also consequences, such as risking hurting people with poorly phrased sentiments and raising things the other party is also unwilling to talk about.

BUT it is particularly bad to do these things with This Boy. He is unsympathetic to negative emotional states (believing you should “mood hack” your way out of them), is critical of poorly thought out arguments, actively practices “rationality” in his thought processes, (making his strictly logical responses difficult to deal with when in an emotional space), masks his own emotional responses and implicitly makes one feel bad for not being the way he is. This is expressed in his desire that if you are not willing to “mood hack” you do not deserve his attention or to be in his space.

To feel you are dropping in someone’s estimation and getting less worthy of someone’s time at the moment of becoming more emotionally vulnerable feels like a pretty deep stab to the heart.

Of course, struggling to not be in a strange emotional place when premenstrual is something I have railed against as impossibly difficult, not worth it and actually results in the opposite effect happening anyway. The best solution would be to take myself off, but I am currently (stupidly?) dependent on others for my shelter. Any good poly will tell you dependencies are bad, nay, death to healthy relationships.

I need somewhere else to go, or some effective coping strategies (a mental somewhere else to go) or something. Ask for tolerance and help? Maybe, but it seems like asking someone to “change” their essential nature, and didn’t seem to work last time anyway. I might bury myself in books but perhaps I should be checking out coach tickets…