Pressing Pause

I’m not saying I will never come back to this blog, or to exploring issues of agnosticism and belief and knowledge. I have things I’d like to do – reviewing and debunking some misconceptions in religious sex ed and parenting texts is on the horizon, and I’d also like to explore some nature-based and earth-based religions and write about that.

But right now I’m really focusing on a career change in the meatspace, and part of that is going to involve demonstrating a capacity for producing comment online, including blogging on topics related to the career options I’m pursuing (ideally, library work or heritage tourism). I considered just retrofitting this blog to include that content, but I don’t really want the chore of having to go back and delete content that I’ve produced in the past that might be inflammatory or controversial to some people, nor do I really want to delete opinions I feel strongly about that don’t fit with the professional image I’m projecting. I want this to remain a personal blog.

So for now, I’m making official what I’ve been unofficially doing already: taking a hiatus from this blog and posting only when I feel like there’s something I need to say or share that fits more appropriately into the content for this blog.

I’ll edit to post a link to the new one once I’ve got it up and running, in case any readers would like to follow me there.

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The Inevitable Jian Ghomeshi Post

Media image of Jian Ghomeshi, in suit and tie, with journalists and cameramen visible in the foreground.
The word of one man weighs more than that of twenty-three women. Image via Jezebel.

It’s going to be emotional. It may even be irrational. And once I’m finished writing this post, I’m going to try to resist the temptation to keep talking about Ghomeshi, because it is seriously damaging my calm and I need to step away.

The way I found out about the verdict probably has a lot to do with how angry I feel. I read about it on Facebook, in a post made by a friend who was in my wedding party – so he’s a mutual friend of myself and my ex. The very first comment was my ex talking about how the legal system works, justice was served, and we all ought to stop talking about Ghomeshi as a rapist now that he’s been deemed “not guilty”.

This is the ex that, like Ghomeshi, used choking as a way to control my actions. It’s hard not to draw conclusions about why he wants Ghomeshi’s history to vanish in a puff of smoke at the first sign of a favourable verdict.

You better believe that’s coloured the way I’m seeing this case.

And I’m not alone. As I tell my story on Facebook and Twitter, the one thing I’ve heard over and over has been this: “it happened to me, too . . . and I also reacted in a way that would’ve made me seem like I was lying.”

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“Among The Most Impressive”

I’ve begun volunteering in the reference library at a local museum, cataloguing books to update my experience and skills in hopes of qualifying for some future hypothetical job. Mostly the work is simple: find the item in the Library of Congress’ catalogue, then input the information into the museum’s database. It can get complicated every now and then when the collection contains obscure local publications the Library of Congress has never heard of.

2016-03-13 15.50.55
My exciting find. Image captured by Sal Wilde.

While browsing the shelves to see how such local documents have been handled in the past, I encountered something electrifying: a local history resource – one the Library of Congress recognizes, as it happens – that directly references the house where I live, calling it “among the most impressive houses in London”.

Does it get any better than that? I live in one of the most impressive houses in London. Not bad for an underemployed would-be novelist.

On top of the lavish praise, the paragraph that described my house gave me some information about the past occupants and the history of the house that will absolutely help me dig deeper into the archival records and find out more about the people who lived here before me. I’ve got a couple of new names to pursue and a tiny bit more context for how the house moved from being a single-family dwelling to a cluster of multiple units.

This is so cool.

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Fundamentalism Is For Everyone

When we talk about religion, a lot of the time, we’re talking about all-or-nothing ideas. That’s true, too, of irreligion or anti-religion. We’re talking about purity of thought, Us versus Other, belonging and exile.

An x-ray style picture of a person, nervous system visible, brain highlighted in turquoise and white. Over the person's head, thought balloons read "Always/Never" and "Right/Wrong".
Once all-or-nothing thinking gets into your head, it’s hard to get it out. Image via Boundless.

Samantha Field has written a piece on fundamentalism – not just religious fundamentalism necessarily, but fundamentalism as it appears in all its forms. When people suggest that atheists are just as “religious” as the most evangelical Bible-thumpers, this is usually what they mean, but it’s seldom articulated as clearly as Field has managed here.

Fundamentalism isn’t populated by unreasonable people; the problem is that they’re all too reasonable. [. . . ] I believe there’s a battle for fundamentalism going on inside each of us. In many ways, it’s far easier to fall into dichotomies and binaries than it is to resist them. Harsh dualities help us make sense of complex problems. But … we can’t let ourselves fall into those traps, because that’s when we start to lose compassion and let our heads overtake our hearts

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Love Song For A House

I live in a house that was built when my country was only eleven years old.

My house has currently been standing for one hundred and thirty-nine years.

A line drawing of a decorative bracket, with different types of scrollwork and carving labelled.
Image via The Picturesque Style: Italianate Architecture, a blog that delivers what it promises.

I still get a thrill out of that information. I’ll tell anybody who will listen. I live in a heritage home. It’s considered the finest extant example of Italianate architecture still extant in my city. I didn’t even know what Italianate architecture was before I moved in here, but I’m really excited about it now.

The house is a bit beat up. The elaborately-carved arches could use some paint. A couple of the shutters are in rough shape. I have a not-altogether-unreasonable fear that my balcony may, at some point in the future, fall down.

But my God, I have never loved any place I’ve lived quite so much.

I am in love. I am home.

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Just My Opinion. But.

 

I’ve been told before in my life that anything I want to argue for, I have to be able to prove. It’s the foundation of persuasive writing. It’s at the heart of formal debate and informal discussion. It’s a touchstone of academia, especially in the information sciences and research methods courses I so enjoyed.

Today my boss told me to quit citing sources to back up what I think.

The script she gave me to use, in place of “according to the most recent policy training”, involved this phrase: “my personal philosophy is . . .”

Image of "Buddy Jesus" winking, smiling, and flashing a thumbs-up gesture. Text reads, "Kumbaya, motherfucker".
Image via Meme Generator.

The approach has its merits. It’s less adversarial and encourages compromise rather than right-fighting, which – I’ll be honest – is a deeply hard-wired tendency of mine. It creates more harmonious interpersonal relationships, which is awesome for someone as deeply socially anxious as I can often be.

I wonder, though: how far can it take us?

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Immigrants and “Women’s Work”

I’ve been working on a short story – part of a New Year’s resolution to write a short story every month in 2016, regardless of whether I post them here or save them for possible eventual publication – and I tripped across a fact that I wanted to post here. Two reasons:

  1. I’m using it in my story, and I want to have it on record as a fact without actually having to cite it in the story, because fiction does not footnote citations.
  2. I think it’s interesting, and potentially very telling, information about society in general and my profession in particular.

Here’s the fact: As of 2006, 15% of Early Childhood Educators in Canada were newcomers, according to the Government of Canada. That’s slightly higher than the percentage of immigrants across all occupations, which is 12%.

I’m guessing we don’t have any more recent data on the question because the Harper government cut research way back after coming to power. To be honest, that doesn’t sound like a question he’d be interested in researching anyway. (“It’s about women? And childcare? And – shudder – immigrants? Just throw them a bit of money and get back to talking about trade.”)

I’m also guessing, based pretty much entirely on personal experience, that the percentage of ECEs who are immigrants has risen since then. In my graduating class in 2014, there were six people in the class who were not immigrants. Granted, that’s Toronto – but even now, in a smaller city elsewhere in Ontario, my colleagues include more immigrants than I expected in a town that’s always been overwhelmingly, blindingly white.

That sounds like a fact to cheer about: hooray for diversity! Hooray for inclusiveness! But it turns out it’s a little more complicated.

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“Nobody Cares What You Think”

The debate about free speech on social media rages on. Does a complete lack of censorship create the conditions for meaningful discussion to flourish? Or does it just create a Wild West of opinion where only some people are able to participate without being abused and shouted down, regardless of the merits of their arguments?

I just had a frustrating exchange on Twitter. It seems sometimes like half this blog is about detailing frustrating exchanges on Twitter, and I have chores to finish, so I won’t go into huge amounts of detail. It was a short, incredibly trivial exchange. What’s worth writing about is how it made me feel. Here: you can read it yourself if you’re curious.

An exchange between Twitter users Sal Wilde and Genos. It's probably not worth reading, but I'll append a text transcript to the end of the blog post.
Screen capture by Sal Wilde.

I’ll give him this much: he is a master of the form. In only three or four interactions, this man managed to convey his contempt perfectly. I wasn’t particularly vulnerable today, nor all that invested in the discussion, but I still felt that all-too-familiar frustrated outrage that comes with being told you don’t know anything about your own experiences and perceptions, or even something as simple as drawing meaning from a piece of text.

Do you understand how incredibly frequently this happens on Twitter? Suddenly it doesn’t matter that I acquitted myself excellently during university-level English literature and media studies courses, demonstrating my ability to parse a wide variety of texts from many different cultures and contexts until ultimately graduating with a Master’s degree and the confidence of several professors. Suddenly I’m considered incapable of figuring out any implications beyond the literal meaning of a short snippet of plain-language text written in the idiom of my own time.

Because, of course, Twitter operates on subtext. In any medium, but especially in such a succinct one, you have to draw inferences from what’s being said in order to understand the parameters of the discussion. But then, when you call somebody on the logical consequences of their statement, they often want to deny having said any such thing, because they didn’t actually use the exact words you’re using to sum up the implications.

For example: in a conversation where a bunch of women describe circumstances where they feel strongly that they would need to avail themselves of abortion services, a commenter proclaims that he sees no reason abortion could ever be necessary. When others reply to him that he is telling women they cannot make their own choices responsibly, he insists that he never said any such thing. Technically, that’s true; however, his insistence that abortion cannot ever be necessary implies that women claiming it is necessary must be incorrect and making bad choices.

Having your perceptions denied over and over vehemently wears on you. You start wondering whether you really have any right to comment on anything, even your own perceptions. Maybe you perceived wrong. Maybe you just aren’t smart enough to understand it all. Maybe you should just shut up.

On top of that contempt for your experiences – the most surefire sign that someone’s there to talk over you, not to you – there’s the throwaway remark that’s more surprisingly damaging than anybody ever supposes. It’s not a death threat or a rape threat or any other kind of threat: it’s easy to see those are wrong and damaging. This is a lot more insidious.

“Just shut up. Nobody cares what you think.”

Maybe that’s not such a damning thing to say to somebody who’s a straight white cisman in the proper age category, who will find plenty of sources outside of Twitter to affirm to him that, so sorry to offend, of course we care what you have to say, please tell us more. The whole damn world is set up according to your opinions. If you’re a woman, or a member of any other marginalized group, your opinions are more likely to be marginal too.

You’re more likely to have heard that message before, that (like children) you should be seen and not heard, that nobody cares what you think.

How many times do you have to hear it before ultimately giving up? How many people have to tell you that you don’t matter before you start assuming it before it’s said? How many times must your opinion be shot down as trivial or uninformed or automatically stupid – even if it’s about issues that affect you directly, or about which you have some considerable knowledge – before you stop trying to express it? Because you’ve already been there before, and nobody has listened yet; why should this be the time that makes the difference? What’s the point?

That is not official censorship, technically. It’s not Twitter telling you you’re not allowed to speak your mind. But because people are allowed to speak their minds in bad faith, your voice will be shouted down and trampled. You may be exhorted to gather up your strength and keep on speaking, but there are still no consequences for bad actors trying to invalidate other perspectives.

And long after they have grinded your position to dust in a war of attrition, they’ll still be here, because they shave away a little bit of your voice each time they say your opinion doesn’t matter, and nobody’s shaving away their voices in the same way.

Keep reading for a transcript of the actual exchange on Twitter and a little bit of context surrounding it.

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The Myth of the Self-Made Man


This video depicts one of the myths of my childhood that makes me most furious to think back on now: the myth of the self-made man. Simply put, it’s the idea that rich people are rich because they worked hard and are deserving, while poor people are poor because they haven’t worked hard enough to deserve riches. The carrot dangled before all those living in poverty is the hope that, given enough hard work and strong moral fiber, they too can work their way into the wealthy classes.

I try to give myself a break for having once believed it; it’s an appealing myth (at least if you’re well-to-do). It appeals to our sense of fairness to think that the people who get rewarded are the ones who deserve it most, while the undeserving are punished. It also implies that people who are dissatisfied with their current social standing have the power to change it . . . and that said power is independent of  any outside forces like prejudice or structural inequality. It paints a rosier picture of humanity at large, too, by ignoring structures of bias and pretending we’ve all played fair.

The more I observe of the world, the more cynical I become about the myth of the self-made man. Continue reading

In the Wake of France

Surely by now you’ve heard what happened in Paris.

I don’t really have anything to say. There’s nothing I can contribute. Go read what others have to say. They are more knowledgeable, more involved, probably even more eloquent than I am today.

I don’t know how to stop ISIS. I don’t know if we should be involved in Syria. I’m going to have to read more and look around and think to form answers to those questions. I encourage all my readers to do the same.

But please, I beg you. I am begging you. Shine a light for peace. Be a force for good. Don’t feed hatred.

A picture of red, white, and pink roses gathered. Among them is a small piece of paper with a peace sign drawn on it in black ink. The lines at the centre of the peace sign form an image of the Eiffel tower.
Image via PBS.

Treat Muslims you see around you as friends, as decent human beings. This is what most Muslims are. They are not the enemy. They are not a threat. They are people just like we are. They are not responsible for the actions of others just because they share some common theology or geography.

Show some extra kindness to whoever you see in your community . . . but especially show kindness to people whose race or ethnicity might make them a target. They’re probably dealing with a lot of meanness right now. And it really hasn’t been that long since the meanness that went with our awful, xenophobic election campaigning last month. So show a little love.

Show extra kindness to yourself, too. This sort of thing makes me emotional. It makes me sad. It makes me scared for everybody – for vulnerable people in the places where the attacks are taking place, and for people everywhere who might feel the fallout from these events.

It makes me scared for the children at my former workplace, many of whom were from Muslim immigrant families. I am sad for what they might experience. I have joined their games and dried their tears. They, and their families, are not my enemies.

Remember that, as ISIS attacks in the western world, it also attacks countries in the Middle East. Attacks in Lebanon have happened at the same time as the Parisian attacks. Many nations deal with attacks like this on a daily or weekly basis. ISIS is a threat to everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims. It isn’t Muslims vs. the West; it’s people of goodwill vs. terrorists.

There are many more people of goodwill than terrorists.

Please be one of those.