caro thinks

Social Considerations, 2001/07/20:18:48

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  • Overheard someone walk by the patio garden saying to his companion, and I quote: "Holy shit! Is this a nursery?"
  • Realized suddenly that my mother would absolutely hate all my internet activity.
  • Subsequently realized that my mother would hate all the attention my private garden gets and my friendly relationship with the neighbors.
  • aesthetics
    My first Fellini film. I wanted to rent Amercord on David Ward's recommendation, but Blockbuster didn't have it. So I got Satyricon instead.

    Halfway through, I thought, "Ah, ha. The original STAR TREK series makes a lot more sense now." Must have been a lot of borrowing from Fellini going on, and older viewers in the 60's probably knew that.

    Except that Fellini is high-budget. I can't comment on the story or meaning of the film; I'd have to watch it several more times. I didn't get the point. But it was very gorgeously filmed.
    The problem with free will (or, as John Locke has it, liberty) debates, is that people simultaneously conflate different notions of causation while also equivocating on the term. Do my molecules "cause" me to pick up my cup of tea in the same sense that I "cause" the cup to raise to my lips?
    New topic: Here, I present an objective conception of manners. The issues are poorly understood amongst objectivists and libertarians. Two major camps within these factions are the conservative traditionalists and the childish don't-tell-me-what-to-do slobs. My interpretation isn't like either except in the most superficial respects--sort of the way christianity is like egoism in that both condemn murder.

    My main general comment is the the purpose of good manners is the benefit of the actor. But rather than start with an overarching theory and work downward, I start with behaviors and how they affect other people, and whether those effects are desirable to the actor or not.

    Kids just love passing gas, orally or anally. I guess it's because it's a funny sound and because it produces strong reactions in other people. And there's a feeling of power in it, to be able to disturb people so, while simultaneously a sense of partial involuntariness that makes it hard to punish. They can simultaneously feel like silly children and self-directing grownups.

    Some people never grow out of this gas fascination, however. Maybe they have some friends in high school who share it. Here in my neighborhood, there are a bunch of teenage boys who ceaselessly haunt the pool, burping and farting and swearing, obviously trying to outdo each other and clearly having a great time.

    Leaving the pool area aside for the moment, consider being in closed quarters with someone who's expelling fumes from either or both ends. What's that like? Most importantly, it stinks. This is especially problematic if you happen to be eating, because the smell of the vapors mixes with the smell of the food. There are lots of people who would really rather just smell and taste the food, rather than the contents--in various states of decomposition--of another person's body. In addition, the sound carries with it associations of partially digested, rotting food or waste material. There are lots of people who'd rather not think about someone else's waste material while eating.

    It can be objected, of course, that there are lots of people who really love a good fart, their own or someone else's, and that unknown multitudes of people have enjoyed rip-roaring good times exchanging gas and laughing all night.

    This may very well be so. The problem is that you can't assume that that is what your present companions enjoy, or that that is what they would enjoy at the diningroom table.

    The point becomes crucial when you are with people that you don't know very well, but that you'd like to know better. A date, say. You really don't know what this person considers a good time. Maybe your date would like nothing more than to let one fly and then laugh the night away.

    The reason why restraint is in order, is that the date might be me. If my date farted and didn't convincingly apologize for the "accident", I'd never subject myself to a date with him again. Similarly, if someone I invited to a dinner party openly farted but didn't excuse himself (that actually happens to me a lot!), he'd simply never get invited again.

    But why? Why this extreme and seemingly rigid and old-fashioned response? I submit that my reaction is due neither to extremism nor to blind rigidity nor to unreflective custom at all. It has to do with my personal enjoyment of life. Just as I don't choose sewers, garbage dumps, or piles of dog waste as venues for my picnics, I don't choose as guests or dates people who deliberately, openly, and unapologetically cause the room to smell like them. It interferes with my enjoyment of my food, the air, my pleasant thoughts. In a phrase, it grosses me out. If I don't get an abject apology, I conclude that he's not sorry at all, that he thinks it's quite normal (or that I didn't notice and he can get away with it); and this all prompts me to conclude that I can count on his fogging up the place during future encounters. So I'll avoid those encounters.

    Again, it may be objected that this is just my own opinion, and says nothing about what general manners should be like. Maybe I'm outnumbered in this (one would think so, given the number of gas-clouds that have graced my table over the years). I submit that this doesn't matter. The point is that you don't know, and letting one fly is not a good way to find out.

    It is the actor's benefit that is at stake here, not the victim's. The gas afficianado has a choice to make: the company of this interesting person, or the delight of expelling gas at will. The purpose of manners is to save you both the trouble of spoiling the social interaction.

    If, on the other hand, you only wish to interact with other gasseurs, then by all means, pass, and do it as soon as possible in a new acquaintanceship; on this point, I will differ from traditionalists. The object of manners is not to deprive people like you of the kind of company you truly desire, and make you miserable by curbing behavior you enjoy sharing. It is to make sure that you don't deprive yourself of the company you value more than a particular kind of joke. It is for your benefit. The rest of us benefit too, in that we don't have to endure your stench, but that's secondary.

    Notice that I don't appeal to some book of manners here. I don't appeal to custom, tradition, or the happiness of others. If there are lots of behaviors that seem to require some regulation, then we can scoop them all together and begin to make general claims. Obviously, I do think that's the case, though I've only covered one small set of behaviors today.
    deprecated expressions
    New topic: Here, I critique the English language.

    Fuck is said in many ways. But most of the ways are indicative of how negatively people in this culture regard sex.

    For example, the expression 'fuck you' is equivalent to the expression 'go to hell'. To tell someone to go to hell is to say that you think they either deserve the worst possible fate, or that whatever fate they actually deserve you wish they would suffer the worst possible fate. It is exactly under these circumstances that someone says 'fuck you'. But there is one difference. The expression 'go to hell' is considered by ordinary people to be much less severe and much more acceptable than 'fuck you'. But the expression 'go to hell' doesn't have any sexual connotations whatsoever. How could it come to pass that the word 'fuck' could have become one of the worst insults?

    An anthropologist from another culture might imagine that this is because the word 'fuck' has lost all sexual connotations, and is essentially a meaningless term that is no more nor less than an expletive, like "Pah!" or "Ack!" And yet this is not the case at all, because the same person who says 'fuck you!' during a quarrel will also say to a partner "Let's fuck, baby" or to a friend, "Yeah, I fucked her last night."

    There are similar expressions. To screw is to have sex with. But this one, unlike 'fuck', has found its way into polite society. It's ok to say 'His business partner screwed him', or to say of someone in trouble, "She's screwed." But the connotation of sex is not gone from these expressions. The implication is that it is bad to be fucked, or to be screwed, that to fuck or screw is to do something to someone, to get away with something terrible. Completely unsurprisingly, this is exactly the way that sex is portrayed in the culture.

    I'd like to see people stop and ask themselves what they really mean when they say to someone "You suck!". Are they suggesting that they think that would be a bad thing for either party? Do they mean that their lovers are despicable, because they do it? Or just despicable because they do it to them? And since getting sucked is probably the thing that they really want most in the world, wouldn't the world be a better place for them on the whole if they and their friends promoted the idea that sucking was a good idea rather than something that no one would want to do?

    I think that parents and teachers are the worst culprits in the perpetuation of these wretched attitudes. Most kids would be reprimanded for saying 'damn' or 'hell'; saying 'fuck' might elicit a much more stringent punishment, even though it probably means a lot less to a child than the very abstract 'damn' means. And not only does this make it much more cool, in a child's mind, to say "Fuck you!" but it also makes that everpresent parentally-approved link in his or her mind between sex and the worst possible offense. Then later, they actually find out what it means. Does anyone think that the connection between what they got punished most severely for, and sex, escapes them? Does anyone really think that the associations of sex and punishment are so strong by accident?

    Sex is too nice a thing to fuck with, and it would be nice if we didn't, like victims sanctioning our own sacrifice, screw with our own minds by exhorting the people we hate to blow us. When we use terms with sexual connotations as insults we contribute to our own confusion and cognitive dissonance, and with each use we get better at not being very good at thinking about sex. I've stopped using them entirely except in explicitly sexual contexts.

    One drawback of deprecating the expression 'fuck you' is that we loose Neal Stephenson's great contribution to the vernacular, 'fuck-you money'. That's an amount of money so large that you can afford to ignore or insult anyone who would interfere with your freedom--I think. I suppose there's no loss if one substitutes something else, like 'go-to-hell money', except that then one isn't quoting Cryptonomicon. I don't know what I'd replace it with. 'Eat-shit money?'

    Understand, my point is not to remove obscenity from the language. My point is to separate sex and obscenity from each other in our minds. People who don't like or are afraid of sex have stolen the concept FUCK from us; I want it back, clean and pure, the way it used to be when it was just for unlawful carnal knowledge.

    I blame all this on religion, but that's for another time.
    I wonder if this is my problem? Brandyn sent this link to an article on a diet high in polyunsaturated fats, which implicates increased consumption of margarine (as opposed to butter) in the increase in the incidence of asthma. It also reasons that increased polyunsaturates naturally causes decreased intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, recently, I cut my dose of fish oil from two capsules to one, simply because I don't like it, and because Liz said that there's a mercury danger in fish oil.

    I don't have asthma, or, at least, not actively, though I was diagnosed with it many years ago but only know of a single attack when I was in grade school, which may have been nothing more than that my lungs were packed with pollen after playing in a field of grass as tall as me. But asthma is caused by inflammation, and I not only experience that regularly in the form of sinus congestion but am suffering an acute attack now in the form of this skin rash.

    The skin rash has subsided by about 75% in most areas today, but new small patches have sprung up and are profoundly itchy, most notably on the outer side of each ankle. And one old patch seems to have become infected though I haven't been scratching it, possibly because the cortizone has reduced my immune reaction. I'm hazarding a little bit of Neosporin, though I have avoided it for years due to its ability to immediately cause yeast infections. That's because of all the antibiotics I took for several years in grad school, following my first and exceedingly damaging illness: mononucleosis. Though I fully recognize that antibiotics and steroids were the only thing that kept me alive, fighting off severe lung infections and pneumonia, they are also what has made my bodily ecological balance so precarious. Unlike Tom, who proclaimed that he's not worried about the emergence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria, I've actually had my own, requiring that my antibiotics be changed and dosages increased until I'd reached the limits of technology and there was nothing left for me to take. So my doctors just prescribed the maximum dose of the most vicious antibiotic they had and kept me on it for months, which meant that I had raging yeast infections and no intestinal flora for many months more. Chemical-resistant strains of bacteria are a real worry, and I don't think it's just for people who have compromised immune systems.

    This was the other main reason, aside from arthritis, which set in shortly after the year-long bout with mononucleosis, that I started body building in a serious way. The November 1995 issue of Muscle and Fitness had several articles about people who recovered from or held in abeyance various life-threatening illnesses and injuries by putting on serious muscle mass; according to their doctors, they wouldn't have lived otherwise. That was it for me. I obviously had nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain. And after a year I'd put on about 10 pounds and was able to get myself off nasal steroids and reduce the number of prescription drugs, and I've never taken any antibiotics since. The bigger I get, the healthier I get, so there's the incentive to just keep going. To me, this rash is nothing by comparison to what I've endured in the past.

    So now I'll try cutting down on the margarine, and stepping up the Omega-3 fatty acids, and see how that goes. I do eat a lot of margarine made from soy beans; I suppose that all the exercise and muscle growth makes me crave fat. So I'll go get some butter instead, and eat more hamburgers, and take more fish oil.
    Wrote 20 questions for a selector today, involving pornography and rights, then read it to Tom on the phone. It made him laugh so it must be good.
    Quite chilly in the garden at this moment, 6:40pm, sun's just past the crest of the hill still lighting up the lemon trees, a very light breeze blowing the scents of angel's trumpet, gardenia, honeysuckle, alyssum and rose around me.

    I've seen the red tide during the day: the water just looks really dirty. It's full of plankton. Tonight I'll walk down to the beach to see the waves glow--it was on the news last night and it looked worth a special trip.
    Mourning doves are nesting on my upstairs bathroom window sill. One of them has a really hoarse, breathy voice, instead of the usual silky-smooth flute. It sounds like a creaky door or a rattling motor, except that it follows the song-pattern of the dove. I first realized they were there because I kept hearing that strange rattling, accompanied by scrabbling. I walked outside to look at them. A palm tree curves gracefully up the corner of the house and hangs its fronds over the window, providing a bit of camouflage. The window sill is narrow, and instead of turning its side to the wall, one of the doves had its back to the wall and its long tail was jammed straight up against it and sort of tipping over a little bit because it didn't quite clear the eaves. When they saw me they both stopped hooting. But I'm on the patio now and I can hear their song floating down the stairs.
    boy meets girl
    New topic: Here's where I'll keep notes for rational human social interactions, which I'll turn into a little book eventually.

    I keep hearing this rumor that women and men are hugely different in some natural, intrinsic way. And I keep hearing this other rumor that women are mysterious and incomprehensible to men. I think that this is a crock.

    Observation: boys who try to meet girls for the purpose of having sex with them get unbearably embarrassed when she rejects him.

    Observation: boys who try to meet girls for the purpose of having sex with them are much more nervous and freaky during the encounter than boys who just talk to other people.

    Example: Had a phone conversation with a male friend recently. He had called because he'd just missed his last opportunity to hook up with some woman who was taking a class with him, and now he'd never see her again. He was very proud of himself for having gotten up the nerve to talk to her at this last possible moment, something he'd geared up for but been too scared to do the whole term. When I asked him why he'd be interested, he said that she was the best writer in the class, he always enjoyed listening to it, and she looked like a model.

    I asked what happened at their last meeting, which was their first meeting as well. He'd walked her to her car, trying desperately to think of a way to not let her get away. But he knows a thing or two about women, says he, and he knows it's easy to threaten them and make them feel invaded, so he couldn't possibly ask her for her phone number or for a date or anything! She'd have driven away without looking back. So he did nothing. They said goodbye and she drove away without looking back.

    I guessed that the reason that he hadn't been able to keep the connection was that he'd been focused on how he could get into her pants, how long that would take, and and whether she'd reject him sexually or not. He readily admitted that that was the case. And I pointed out that that was exactly the problem. He wouldn't have had any trouble getting together with this person, had she been a man; he'd just suggest that they do something together, or exchange phone numbers. He said that was true too, and that that hadn't really occurred to him at the time--but he couldn't possibly just have asked for her phone number, because that would make her afraid that he was hitting on her! I pointed out that he was, in fact, hitting on her, which was why he could only think in terms of hitting on her.

    He got very defensive when I accused him of not thinking of the woman as a human being but rather as a potential sex-toy, but admitted in the end that that was exactly what was interfering with his thinking.

    He returned to complaining that there was nothing non-threatening he could have said to her--you know how women are "these days". And I retorted that, given how things are "these days," there were a million things that he could have said, if only he were focusing on her as a human being. He challenged me to give him just one. OK.

    I asked him if he'd really admired her writing, or if that was just what he was telling me to cover up for mindless horniness. He swore that he really did like it, and described it and said what he liked about it. I asked whether he would have still wanted to be friends with her, if she never had sex with him, and he said he absolutely would. Satisfied, I said, "If it's really true that you liked her writing, then you should have talked to her during one of the class meetings about her essays. But even if you hadn't done that, you could have written your email address on a candy wrapper, and said, 'Too bad the class is over. I'll miss hearing your stuff read in class. Here's my email address--please send me your next story.' Or 'I have a friend who runs a web site, and she might be interested in your work. Send me something and I'll forward it; here's my email address.'"

    He screamed inarticulately, then yelled, "THAT'S BRILLIANT! WHY DIDN'T I CALL YOU BEFORE THE CLASS ENDED!" And I said, "It's not brilliant; it's friendly. You didn't think of it because you weren't being friendly; you were acting like a wild animal. You were too busy trying to scheme up a way of manipulating her into wanting to have sex with you." And he again admitted that that was true. And now he'll never see her again, and he will neither get to have sex with her, nor talk to her, nor read her writing, nor see her beautiful face.
    Made a startling discovery this month and followup observations to collect more data. Working hypothesis: most people on the internet can't read. Specifically, I hypothesize that they either don't visually perceive, or can't conceptually decipher, logical connectives. They get some nouns and some verbs, and that's about it. That's how they can respond to a well-argued piece that argues for proposition X, lambasting the writer for believing proposition Not-X.

    When I read, I comb the text. I never skim; or, if I skim, I don't offer any opinion because I only skimmed. That's because I might have missed, or misinterpreted, some logical connectives. I want to make sure my interpretation is accurate. This inhibition seems to be missing from most people.

    Maybe also, contrary to my earlier hypothesis, it's not the case that I embarrass less easily, but rather more easily than most people. I see exchanges on the internet all the time that I would be embarrassed to have taken part in, because the misinterpretations are incredibly stupid. Yet they are determined to repeat the mistake, instead of learning from it.
    body building
    Tuesday continued:
    Dinner: ate the whole big green salad, but could only eat half the fettuccini alfredo. Several hours later, had some hi-protein chocolate pudding but still didn't want dinner.

    Breakfast: Pear hazelnut bread with honey roasted almond butter; extra tea, since my throat was sore.
    Lunch: Not terribly hungry, so just finished last night's dinner of fettuccini, with more tea and some strawberries.
    Dinner: Still not hungry, so just snacking. Liverwurst sandwich, a package of Maruchan raman soup, a cup of cherries, a cup of pudding.

    Breakfast: Grilled ham and cheddar sandwich on hi-protein brioche, a cup of strawberries, tea. It's time for lunch now but I don't want any. Am I cycling, or is it just that I've got a bit of a cold?
    Dinner: I'm hungry now, and I really need to make sure I eat at this point. Spaghetti and meatball are on the stove but I don't want to eat, so as usual when I don't have an appetite I eat a couple of pieces of candy to prime the pump. It's working. Never understood why people make such a big deal about dessert being something that must come at the end of a meal rather than the beginning. I frequently eat mine in the other direction, or pause in the middle of dinner to eat dessert, then return to dinner. But I don't ever eat dessert without also eating substantial food within a few minutes; otherwise, I'll get a sugar rush and then a sugar low and I'll feel like hell for hours afterward. [However, come the time, I fail to finish even half of the plate of food; it's in the fridge.]

    Breakfast: Two grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on brioche and 1.5 cups strawberries, with tea--liked it so much yesterday. I almost always seem to have an appetite for breakfast.
    Lunch: Not hungry.
    Dinner: Still not hungry. Now what will I do? I think I can manage a bitter salad if I take it slow.

    I'm off my feed, and I don't think it's because I've had a little cold.
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