So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

29 April, 2007

Controlling The Four Fs

Back when I was a kid, I took a paleobiology course over the summer. One of the things that I've retained out of it was the teacher's declaration that the "Four Fs" were the fundamental responses of organisms: "Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing, and Reproduction." We all laughed.

But now I'm sort of looking at mechanisms of social control, and ...

... how much fucking weirdness is there about what people eat? About controlling what they eat? Getting beyond the nutritional stuff into the politically correct food, or the coming down on heavy people who dare touch a cookie, or whatever else. I had a juvie novel when I was in elementary school of which the basic plot bunny was "Mom's on a health food kick and I'm embarassed to eat my lunch in public", and part of the culmination was new research changing the diet again with new! improved! modified! what food is The Correct Stuff To Eat.

And then of course there are the assumptions about people's value that depends on what they eat or how they eat, or presumptions about what people eat by their appearance, that vast tangled morass. Worthiness evaluated in terms of fat. The "sinfulness" of certain types of food. The presumption that a vegetarian will be a pain in the arse to a meat eater because of course there's a moral crusade involved.

Or one can abstract it back a little: for lots of folks, whether or not they eat and how they eat is an economic question. And that gets into the whole tangle of jobs, the value of jobs, the value of a person depending on their jobs. And it also gets into things like people who are so poor that they can't get an apartment with a working kitchen, or who don't have time or the skills to prepare food from scratch, and thus are depending on microwave dinners and snack packs -- which are more expensive overall, as well as less nutritious per meal.

"An army runs on its stomach." Control the food, control the people.

Control the responses to threat, control the people. If people are passively compliant and unable to stand up for themselves, so much the easier. If they don't fight back when compelled, so much the easier.

"Boys will be boys" was one of the things that I was told in junior high school, in response to sexual harassment. It necer escalated quite to physical violence, but it was deemed acceptable for them to try to touch me. (I hit one or two of them, and they tended to circle like sharks after that, taunting but never crossing that social line again.) Boys do that sort of thing; there is no way to legitimately get them to stop, no way to fight back.

And we get into the whole deranged response some people who want to argue gun control had to Cho and the VT shootings -- this whole notion that either people need to have more guns so they can mow someone down who tries that sort of thing, or fewer guns so the psychos can't get the means. None of this is the answer -- there are the beginnings of right questions available, but they're off on the fringe and nobody hears them with all of the shouting about the damn bang-bangs. Too much instruments, not enough paying attention to what makes the fight thing go whack.

And so then there's the living in fear, the cultivation of this state of terror, of preparedness to snap at people, to break them for crossing some invisible line. The danger of putting out your recycling while brown. Or taking photographs. Live in fear, be ready to fight your demons as they are projected upon the people around you.

Control where people can retreat to, what spaces they find safe, where the boundaries of their ability to be private fall.

If you aren't doing anything wrong, citizen, there's nothing to worry about. The surveillance is for your own protection. We will only break in to houses where we have good evidence that there is dangerous crime. We're only checking your soap for drugs for your own good. Really, we have good reason to want to know what prescriptions you're taking. Maybeyou're not being allowed on the plane because of that rally you went to or conference you spoke at. We just need your tax identification number to deliver your package -- just fax us a copy of your Social Security card!

It's for national security.

It's for being able to serve you better as a consumer.

It's not like you're doing anything wrong, so why do you care? It's for your own good.

And then you get into sexuality. And it's not like most every dystopic science fiction novel doesn't have strictly regimented sexuality -- whether drugs to keep the sex drive down, or 1984's for-the-Party-comrade supervised fucking, or whatever else. Visceral, intense stuff that people feel strongly about, that's all tangled up with their sense of who they are.

You must be taught not to have sex before marriage, and marriage must be heterosexual monogamy. Heterosexual monogamy is the only acceptable manifestation of sexuality, but it is not about sex; anyone who wants something different is a sex-crazed freak. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

It doesn't matter that it's what they enjoy, that they are consenting adults who are aware of the risks, that stuff is just wrong, and nobody should be allowed to do it. Sex toys are like prostitution, after all. Those kinky people are freaks and abusers. Disease-ridden sex fiends! Broken people incapable of forming healthy committed relationships! Shame, shame, shame, never show your face!

And if you didn't consent to the sex, shame anyway. And we know that that means that you're ruined forever. Better Dead Than Raped. There goes The Victim (or The Lying Slut), never anything else. The nightmares are not enough punishment, or the jumping at any sound; only unpersoning is sufficient.

The only good sex is the ideologically correct sex -- and if you fuck in the wrong way, well, that shows that you're traitorous scum. You haven't considered the question enough. Who you are -- who you love -- how you express that -- is Wrong, and needs to be destroyed.

Four Fs.

27 April, 2007

Women's Magic

This is just one of those trivial, trivial things, one of those tempests-in-a-teapot, and it's not even my teapot, but it would make me angry if it didn't make me tired.

Some guy says "guys [tend] to cultivate nerdy hobbies, and women tending to be more invested in raising children, resulting in reduced participation in magical stuff" over here, which is a flamewar entirely irrelevant to where I go off with this but included for context and attribution.

The thing is, I come at this a day or two after meeting my deadline for writing an article for an esoteric webzine about home protection magic, the research for which mostly involved me trawling through a bunch of folk magic traditions for bits. And if you look at the traditional magical practices of ordinary people, they are preoccupied with the stuff that ordinary people are concerned with: safe pregnancies and healthy children, care and feeding of the family, protection from nightmares ... Not some "nerdy hobby", it's a part of the process of normal survival: appeasing or warding off of threats, fertility of people and livestock and crops, knowing how to heal illness.

It's an esoteric and really quite tangential thing, but there's the microcosm there: the real whatever is the thing of the leisured classes; the people whose focus is on living, using magical tricks if that's a part of what they do/believe, their contribution to magic, or art, or whatever else, is completely dismissable. Vast collections of lore and knowledge about producing healthy children is blown off as "reduced participation in magical stuff" because it's not, well, as Granny Weatherwax might put it, full of geometry -- abstractions divorced from the real world of breath, blood, and bone. It doesn't matter that this is a conversation about magic; magic is just a placeholder for the whole concept of whose stuff is valued and marked as real. And in this case, the women and the working class and the people who are hands in the muck rather than thinking great and abstract theoretical thoughts are the ones who aren't really participating, apparently by definition.

And it's not related, but also not unrelated, that I'm watching someone I know go to a birth center because her insurance won't cover a homebirth, and now they're saying that she needs to have a psychological evaluation to determine whether or not she's sane enough to give birth other than in a hospital ... because she was in therapy once upon a time after a sexual assault. There's this whole battle of the paradigms there, this notion that she needs to prove that she's qualified as a mother to not go through the system that she's uncomfortable with; the fact that she can't afford to get the care that she would prefer to have, despite the midwife care she had for her first child being far superior to that which she's can get that's covered by her insurance; the whole fact that her psychiatric history due to her post-rape counselling is being dragged in and revictimising her. And there's that thread of women's magic in what she expects of a midwife's group that she's not getting, that sense that there's someone who's in tune with that rather than the medical-condition concept of pregnancy and childbirth that she is trying to avoid, and her sense of betrayal that this group wants to make her get a pass to certify that she's sane enough to be not treated as an impending medical crisis needing hospital care.

I know an ancient Egyptian charm against nightmares. Someday, I expect that I will teach it to my children.

But that's not real magic. That's just women's magic.

17 April, 2007


This was posted elsewhere, I will repeat it:

If seeking the hands of divine mercy in events like this, I name Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who barricaded the doors to his classroom so his students could escape out the windows, and who charged the gunman to attempt to stop him when that was the only way he could see to save more lives.

Seeking omniscience and omnipotence are just excuses to not use our own hands, our own reason, our own magic; further, they disrespect those, like Professor Librescu, who do the work the gods get unfairly blamed for not doing. His sacrifice is no less a blessing because it did not come with thunderbolts, the shaking of the earth, and the raising of the dead.

Human hands make ills that it is the responsibility of human hands to mend. The gods have Their own responsibilities, and if we want to see Their hands on earth, we had better get working on being Their gloves.

Though I know my prayers are to gods not his own, as his is Hashem, I make them anyway:

A thousand of bread
A thousand of beer
A thousand of every good thing.
May he ascend!

May his memory be a blessing.

The Blathering
The Times Online
The Jerusalem Post
The AP, in SeattlePi

12 April, 2007

On Not Being A Disease

Because some folks are kicking around the question of whether BDSM is intrinsically pathological or a response to damage or other things, I reflect ...

So a while back I got involved, on a message board, in a discussion about multiple relationships. I do this on occasion; there are times that I consider it evidence of insanity, because it's always the same arguments, often the same people making the same arguments as if they'd never seen any response in the past, and it seems no progress is ever made. It's one of those things that is a sort of performance art -- maybe someone will read it and come away slightly enlightened, because the people who actually post are too entrenched for anything to make a difference.

A few folks were throwing the ball around that goes something like, "Women never want multiple relationships, therefore polygamous/open systems are intrinsically exploitative of women." I pointed out that this was not the case.

And then it got personal.

The first tack was, "What horrible thing could have happened to you that you don't think you deserve monogamy?" Because clearly, as a member of the Intrinsically Monogamous Class, the only reason I could be nonmonogamous was if my self-esteem were so crippled that I felt unworthy of asking even this basic thing of someone. Pointing out that I think I deserve to be treated respectfully, including having my preference for relationships respected, did not go over well. This had a side order of vicious attack on my partners, referring to me as a brainwashed member of "some pig's harem"; when I pointed out that where I come from, saying that sort of thing about someone's spouse is fighting words, the person who emitted that phrase was utterly shocked that I thought he might have been calling my husband a "pig".

When those attacks failed to find traction, the next one was, "So broken that she has to be sleeping with all these people all the time." I pointed out that I have been sexually active for ... almost thirteen years, I think it is at this point, that I have never had a monogamous relationship since becoming sexually active, and that in that time I have fucked a grand total of six people.

Somehow that line of argument got dropped without acknowledging my points. Mysteriously.

Then it was back to the "What horrible thing could have happened to you?" This time with the line of attack being 'something in childhood', and the slanders directed at the amorphous mass of parents, siblings, close relatives, possibly schoolteachers, who could have done something horrible to me. When I declined to respond to these veiled accusations, I was taken as tacitly agreeing that I had been horribly and probably sexually abused; when I pointed out that I was simply declining to respond to armchair Freuds who wanted to ask me about my mother, I got a response of, "Surely, her father is more relevant. Does she even have a father?" Note the talking about the object as if she's not present. (I had the wit to respond to this with, "My conception was not, in fact, miraculous.") And, again, people were shocked and stunned that I considered this stuff to be an insult to my family, that I took "You were horribly abused by someone close to you in childhood" as accusing my parents, my teachers, or my neighbors of being abusers. (Who the fuck else would be these anonymous victimizers? Little green sodomizers from Alpha Centauri? The invisible pink unicorn, there's a phallocratic ride for you.)

I continued to patiently and resolutely refuse to be a victim. And they continued to spin pathologies for me and, when I did not choose to open up a vein and bleed out my childhood to refute those pathologies for them, when I did not choose to become responsible for their fevered masturbation fantasies of abuse, they declared me a victim anyway, and went off to enjoy their afterglow. Leaving me as nothing but a fetish object -- The Woman So Broken She Doesn't Know How Wounded She Is.

I've seen this too many times. What horrible thing happened to you that you don't want to accept the lurve of Jesus Christ? What horrible thing happened to you that you enjoy being tied up for sex? What horrible thing happened to you that you're a submissive? What horrible thing went wrong in your life that you're not interested in casual sex? What horrible thing happened to you that you enjoy and appreciate the devotion of two wonderful men? What horrible thing happened to you that .... What is wrong with you? Where are you broken, and how can I save you from my white horse (neither phallic nor pink)?

Mostly, the horrible thing that happened to me is that some people treat me as a disease for being true to myself. The horrible thing is the people who are so desperate to find victims to save that they will try to break people so they can be healed.

09 April, 2007

Third Dimension: Beyond the Little Boxes on the Hillside

(Here's hoping I can pull this thought properly out of my brain-stew. It's been an incoherent while, and I'm still sick, so.)

So I'm a semi-adherent of a religion that has a particular set of principles to it. Value of sex, pride, self, power, passion, to start with. The notion that one should not submit one's life-force to the will of another. Some interesting stuff about boundaries and edge cases. Learning how to be true to yourself. That sort of thing.

And sometime last summer, someone posted to a mailing list for folks who are associated with that faith a question of whether or not they thought there was an incompatibility between the religion and wanting to be a submissive in a BDSM context.

And the thing is, when I saw that conversation start, I expected that a good half of the responses would be the predictable stereotypes: the 'well, so long as when you're done working through your issues you go back to vanilla sex' sorts, or the 'people with that sort of interest are defective somehow' or any of the usual stuff. What surprised me, though, was how much the conversation pissed me off. (And that's with only about half the people on the anti-kink side; I'm more familiar with greater skews.)

There were people who equated being a submissive to "being somebody's victim". The word "doormat" appeared. It was suggested that being a sub was incompatible with being assertive. Someone asked how humiliation like that was compatible with the virtue of pride. This notion that the only way a self-realised and -- dare I say it, empowered -- person could be a submissive is if they were feigning weakness and "topping from the bottom" seemed to be the basic notion; the idea that someone might chose of their own will and Will to do such a thing was alien. It was all this huge mass of bad internet porn version of kink, full of stereotype, uninterested in seeing anything else.

And I pointed out that at this point in my life I'm not willing to bend my life-force to the point of having a kinkless relationship, and there was, if I recall, silence. That my pride and self-awareness were not compatible with giving that up. I pointed out that there was stereotyping going on, to equivalent response. I pointed out that the explorations of power and passion were really illuminating to me and a strong part of my religious experience, too, because I'm that kinda freak. And ... a few people made comments about how that sort of conversation was inappropriate for the list, that it should be kept "in the dungeon", and after a little bit of final, flailing commentary about how flagellation has been used in various forms of religious experience, the conversation died.

Fascinating, the power of the stereotype.

A discussion this past weekend or so that I participated in centered around the question of whether people with a particular spiritual (or something like) belief were, solely on the evidence of that subjective belief, "fluffy" -- wilfully ignorant, lacking in critical thinking, whatever. And many of the people arguing that it was the case were doing so on the basis of, "Well, I've never seen one that isn't an idiot" or "Any fule kno that that's irrational". Back to the stereotype, more powerful than actual people.

And how many folks have dealt with those people who are out to figure out What Women Want, and who get vicious at women who don't fit the woman template they've built up in their heads? It's all about building a better template to these people, and finding the right buttons to get what they want from them. Some of these folks are Nice Guys Tee-Em; a few are just out and out assholes (and at some point I may write the Letter To Asshole that I've been thinking of for a bit). Find the stereotype, judge people by how they fit it, and cut out the bits that don't match reality. People get held to the standard of the stereotype.

I've had, more than once, the conversation that goes, "Wait, you're a...?" when I point out that I exist and am not the stereotype. I've had it a couple of times for being a submissive; I've had it quite often for being devoutly religious; a number of people have been brought up short when I point out that I'm a dropout. I'm too functional and rational-sounding for the stereotypical mentally ill person. My having multiple relationships doesn't mean I'll fuck just anyone, and I once managed to shut down an entire discussion on how promiscuous those horrible polyamorous people are by telling someone how many lovers I'd had in my lifetime. I even somehow carry off playing computer games online without sprouting a penis, failing to bathe, and living in my mother's basement.

Now, it's a natural thing to make patterns to try to make the universe easier to deal with, because it's a big fucking chaotic mess of a world and without some way of systematising the thing the madness would be overwhelming. But the patterns aren't the same thing as the world, and there are actual people in there behind the 2-d billboard snapped images of what it means to be whatever-adjective that are loaded up in the brain. People are more real than whatever the painted-on image of Woman or Dropout or Pervert or whatever else may be. People are so much more real than that.

I'm fond of a story from my high school days; it was senior year, and most of my early afternoon class was out for the French exam, so us Spanish students were left kicking around reading comic books and entertaining ourselves. And I had just gotten a Tarot deck, and was shuffling it.

A fellow student peered over at me, and said, "What's that?"

"Tarot deck."

There was a pause. "You don't believe in that, do you? I mean, you're Science Girl."

I said, "I believe in what works."

05 April, 2007

A Moment's Breath

So last week or so a bunch of folks were talking about expressions of women's desire, and context thereof, and I wound up spending about a week and a half trying to write a poem. I did write it, but it falls short of what I wanted to say, so I'm still left with inarticulacy.

And here's the thing: art is hard.

I can tell you flat out that if I could know one thing about my lover, it would be how to bring out the fire in his eyes. I can tell you flat out about the time I rested my hand on my pseudoniece's back and recognised her as one of my tribe, a small person who is, in part, my responsibility, the understanding of the importance of a small life to me. I can tell you that I spotted a cardinal yesterday, a splash of colour in a grey-and-brown world, and that I found it captivating.

I can just tell you these things.

Telling you doesn't mean you feel them. And perhaps those people who know what I mean -- know the other side of the mystery, in the classical sense -- will take my pointing and saying, "I mean that thing" and know how it feels. But that's luck, hitting something that can serve as a signpost. It isn't craft, the ability to lay the foundations so that people who don't happen to know that specific vantage point in detail already can maybe catch the hint of what I'm talking about.

The evocation, the ability to convey an emotion, an idea, an experience, something from inside my head, is the magic. And the magic takes work, mere passion will not do it. If mere passion were enough, that damn poem would have been a lot easier. There's still the crafting, the assembling, the putting it together into something that will encapsulate that thing, whatever it is, and express it elsewhere -- express beauty, or lust, or faith, or revelation, or some moment that was exactly what it was. And that part is hard work, and complicated.

There is something in there that defines reality, what it means, transforms a moment into something that can be eternal, expressed outside of time. That's a powerful magic to work.

And it's really goddamn hard.

02 April, 2007


I just realised something.

The cultural attitude to art and artists looks a whole hell of a lot like another form of the maiden/whore dichotomy.

Art is supposed to be pure, wholesome, holy, untainted by financial concerns: a raw upswelling of pure passion or creative urge. It is supposed to be purely created for the joy of it, or the ecstasy of agony that demands it of the artist, wrings it forth from the soul in a wrenching, inspiring thing, never for anyone else, just this pure, isolate thing. Considering an audience, whether the work is saleable, this is a perversion, corrupting the Twoo Artness -- taking money for this glorious holy thing is vile, is whoredom.

There is a sneering tone to it -- the sellout. The commercial. It's not real, it's this faked-up think, devoid of the genuine passion, because someone expects to be paid for their work rather than producing solely for love. (And Andy Warhol made fun of this, and has left people for decades uncertain of whether or not his work is art.)

This weekend when I was at my training retreat, we talked about art -- about, among other things, a woman who takes as a religious obligation paying for things what she thinks they are actually worth. (And not buying things for which the charge is more than her perception of the value.) About crafting for love, putting things together, and then being ambivalent about whether or not it is reasonable to ask for money for that thing, whether it makes the love of the creation less.

And while we sit here and think about how holy art is, and how degraded commercial art is, artists have a hell of a time making a living wage. Not just because of the contempt for actually paying for the work of producing it -- but because art itself, no matter how holy in the abstract, is seen as pure luxury, pure indulgence, and its production is a waste of time.

Unless, of course, you're getting paid well for it. Maybe. (And a working artist will still get asked, "So, what's your real job?")

Which gets me back to the parallelism of money and sex that I was working with in my Feri training a while back, that I need to dig out and poke at.

And also this post at Bitch, Ph.D. commenting, if only briefly, on art, sex appeal, and Jane Austen.