09 June 2022

The important issues

For perspective, I think the most important issues in the world are:

  1. Ensuring the material sustainability of human civilization is more important than everything else put together. This includes not just climate change but also resource exhaustion, ecosystem breakdown, nuclear & biotech weapons, and so forth.
  2. Global poverty is more important than the sum of everything other than the the material sustainability of human civilization. About a billion human beings will go to bed hungry tonight. About another billion are poor enough that they do not have shoes. The next billion are not doing so great, either: they suffer with easily preventable diseases, backbreaking substistance labor, and other fundamental privations.

I cannot name the #3 problem in the world; the next tier has several problems which are tough to rank:

  • Millions live in slavery
  • We have ongoing slow genocides and outbreaks of acute genocide
  • Billions live under authoritarian states, and the liberal democracies all have authoritarian movements growing in strength
  • Preventable diseases — easily preventable, even trivially preventable — kill millions each year, and severely disable millions more
  • We have constant bloody wars

We should be working harder on the big problems.

My contribution is not necessarily special, but I really should be working harder on this stuff. Partly this is my own failure. Partly this results from living in a society in which one must kick & scratch hard to get to work on the big problems. Which is itself a big problem.


I was moved to post this because I was just asked, “Do you feel that you, your interests or your community are represented in the media? Why or why not? What do you wish people knew?” That is not quite the same question, but obviously it is related. My answer to that was:

  1. The climate crisis and general breakdown of the material sustainability of human civilization is not just the most important thing, it is more important than everything else put together. On the one hand, I am frustrated that this is not central to all news & political reporting; on the other hand, everything to say has been said. That this is barely reflected at all in news & political media is maddening.
  2. The threat of fascism and the broader far right as a driving force in US politics — both in our political culture and in its hold on political institutions — is not just the most important political story in the US, it is more important than every other political story put together. In this instance there is a lot left to say, including that every political story need to be informed by this ongoing issue.
  3. The US is in the grip of institutional breakdown across all institutions, public and private, with decades-deep taproots. Few Americans can name this pervasive problem, and many cannot even conceive of effective institutions. This underlying problem drives both our inability to address the climate crisis and also our susceptibility to the anti-politics transformative fantasies of the far right.
  4. The ongoing crises above produce and are supported by a failure of American political and policy imagination. Without the ability to imagine big changes to make things better, we cannot address their challenges. Political media — especially accessible progressive political media — need to put big ideas on the table as plausible to consider and to enact.
  5. All of these connect to the issue on which I am an obsessed crank: the built environment of American life created through decades of suburbanizing housing and transit policy making the material fundamentals of living resource-intensive, expensive, soul-deadening, and corrosive of social cohesion. Most Americans cannot imagine the world with less economic and logistical pressure and stronger communities which we could have that also dramatically reduces pressures on the climate and ecosystems.

04 June 2022

Social wisdom classics

Mostly from the internet, a bunch of good vocabulary for thinking about how people communicate and work together.

Five Geek Social Fallacies

  1. Ostracizers are evil
  2. Friends accept me as I am
  3. Friendship before all
  4. Friendship is transitive
  5. Friends do everything together

Ring theory

  • The “Ring Theory” suggests that, in a crisis, we sit at the center of a set of social rings.
  • When we face a crisis, the people closest to the crisis would fit around us in the first ring, and others fill outer rings the further they are from the crisis.
  • The person in the center ring, and inner rings, can complain about the crisis to those in outer rings, but those in outer rings should offer only comfort and support to those in inner rings.

Ask culture vs Guess culture

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Ask vs Guess is a particularly vivid example of different cultural meta-communication styles in action. I recommend Deborah Tannen’s pop books about language & metacommunication not just for being good on the subject but as some of the books I most recommend, period: That’s Not What I Meant! introduces the subject in general and her book You Just Don’t Understand is very instructive on gendered communication patterns and their breakdowns, a not-evil not-sexist version of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. I have a long Twitter thread mostly about gendered breakdowns in meta-communication. I also very strongly recommend the book Black And White Styles In Conflict about communication breakdowns which emerge from different styles in Black vs white meta-communcation which is powerful but also heartbreaking if one has any engagement in anti-racist work.

The Tyranny Of Structurelessness

Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness — and that is not the nature of a human group.

This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an “objective” news story, “value-free" social science, or a “free” economy. A “laissez faire” group is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can be so easily established because the idea of “structurelessness" does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones.

The Missing Stair

Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it? Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it? “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there's a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings. But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”

Some people are like that missing stair.

Being a systems (over)thinker

From John Cutler:

Some things I’ve learned over the years as a Systems (Over)Thinker
  1. Take care of yourself. Your brain is working overtime—all the time. Practice “radical” recovery
  2. You may spend a lot longer thinking about things than most people. Pace your delivery
  3. If you go deep first, and then simplify…keep in mind that you don’t need to show all of your work
  4. Your default description of (almost) any problem will be too threatening/overwhelming
  5. Do your deepest thinking with co-conspirators (not the people you’re trying to influence)
  6. Informal influence is often not formally recognized. Prepare mentally for this
  7. The people you’re trying to influence spend 98% of their day overwhelmed by business as usual
  8. Remember to also do the job you were hired to do (if you don’t you’ll be easier to discount)
  9. Seek “quick wins”, but know that most meaningful things will take a while
  10. Some things take ages to materialize. It is discontinuous, not continuous
  11. Make sure to celebrate your wins. They will be few and far between, so savor the moment
  12. The people who support you in private may not be able to support you in public. Accept that
  13. Hack existing power structures—it’s much easier than trying to change them
  14. Consider becoming a formal leader. It’s harder in many ways, but you’ll have more leverage. What’s stopping you?
  15. In lieu of being a formal leader, make sure to partner with people who actually “own” the area of change
  16. Watch out for imposing your worldview on people. Have you asked about what people care about?
  17. You’ll need a support network. And not just a venting network. Real support
  18. “Know when to fold ‘em”. Listen to Kenny Rogers The Gambler. Leave on your own terms
  19. Don’t confuse being able to sense/see system dynamics, with being about to “control” them. You can’t
  20. Grapple with your demons, and make sure not to wrap up too much of your identity in change

01 June 2022

Dominionism

In understanding the US right, one must grapple with Christian Dominionism. Political Research Associates have a good overview of the state of play as of 2016, Domininism Rising, which provides a good overview if the movement is new to you.

Dominionism Defined

Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological view, means, or timetable, Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.

Analyst Chip Berlet and I have suggested that there is a dominionist spectrum running from soft to hard as a way of making some broad distinctions among dominionists without getting mired in theological minutiae.106 But we also agree that:
  1. Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy. Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
  2. Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing biblical principles.
  3. Of course, Christian nationalism takes a distinct form in the United States, but dominionism in all of its variants has a vision for all nations.

31 May 2022

Neoreaction

An index of resources about who these “neo-reactionary” aka “NRx” folks are:

  • RationalWiki offers a vigorous overview, a wealth of resources including relationships and contrasts with other movements, and nerdy snark
  • TechCrunch has an overview which has useful explanations of some key NRx vocabulary and has a pretty big index of links to other resources
  • Current Affairs has a roundtable discussion featuring Elizabeth Sandifer, whose book Neoreaction: A Basilisk is smart, witty, and unkind
  • Nerdblog Slate Star Codex offers an overview “In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell” and an Anti-Reactionary FAQ, though I have to offer a big caveat that the author is adjacent to the movement, which must inform any read of his read
  • The Dark Enlightenment is an early sort-of manifesto for the movement; if like me you are a middle-aged weirdo intellectual who remembers the cultural-theory-punk 1990s, it is helpful to situate author Nick Land as a there-but-for-the-grace cautionary demonstration of how we could have gone badly wrong
  • QZ has a 2017 article connecting NRx to both tech culture and other far right movements
  • Mouthbreathing Machiavellis and Moldbug Variations are 2014 articles from leftist culture commentary magazine The Baffler
  • Politico on Steve Bannon and his connection with both the “Alt Right” and NRx (see also a short piece from Vox linking Bannon to leading NRx thinker Curtis Yarvin aka Mencius Moldbug)
  • The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel is a long discussion of the overlaps between NRx and a particlar kind of nerdy obsession with potential artificial intelligence, which Sandifer’s book linked above also addresses at length

Caveat: some of those are from an old index of mine where I was accumulating resources, so I have not reviewed them recently and am sharing from memory.

This tweetrant by Jay Allen <@a_man_in_black> is useful in getting the texture:

NRx is Neoreaction. Racist, monarchist nerds, with varying degrees of emphasis on each. Their version of SJWs/cultural Marxists is “the Cathedral”, a liberal academic conspiracy to marginalize them. NRx is against liberal bullshit like immigration, democracy, and human rights. NRx-ers envision a racially-pure autarky with an autocratic leader. The difference between them and fascists isn’t clear to me. They like to take credit for the entire alt right but responsibility for no one, inside or outside NRx. So of course half of the NRx screeds are against intellectual cowardice. NRx is popular with the [4chan] /pol/ crowd, natch.

Fascists romanticize violence; NRx’ers don’t. Fascists don’t really care about policy; NRx’ers do. Still: too close.

Okay I lied I do know the differences between NRx and fascism. NRx doesn’t (usually) idolize the military or demonize intellectualism. They have utopian or colonial ideas about achieving racial purity. They’ll convince all the undesirables to move away or all move somewhere with no undesirables (or no settlement at all). More Zionist than Ein Volk, Ein Reich.

NRx eschews solidarity, too. They aren’t a movement or an ideology, just a vague pile of shitty ideas. Their term for themselves is often “the University”, emphasizing their “diversity of thought”, opposing the Cathedral of liberals. Paralleling Eric Scott Raymond’s writing about the Cathedral and the Bazaar, in free software. (ESR is not NRx.)

NRx-ers are often freethought/atheists, manosphere/MRAs, and free software types, so they have their meanings for those communities’ terms. NRx-ers “redpill” converts, for example. NRx exalts “western civilization”, which is pretty much code for whiteness.

They have a complicated relationship with religion. NRx-ers alternately love Catholicism as traditional and eschew “superstition.”

NRx has that particular fringe tactic of being so fractious that they don’t have to take responsibility for each other. Everyone else is no true NRx-er.

Earlier on this blog, I said this about leading NRx thinker Curtis Yarvin:

Yarvin is an extraordinarily terrible person. Not just extraordinary in the degree of his terribleness, but in the kind of his terribleness.

Under the name “Mencius Moldbug” he wrote the blog Unqualified Reservations, in which he made very very long and complicated arguments about culture & politics which made him one of the leading figures in a small, energetic, strange, nerdy, evil movement of political ideas known as the “Dark Enlightenment” or “Neo-Reaction” or “NRx”.

Moldbug said that if one reads enough dead white reactionaries, one realizes that democracy stinks and liberalism is at war with human nature, so we would be better off if we appointed someone smart like Steve Jobs to be dictator of America. Or maybe we should clone Charles II and crown the clone king. After all, Singapore is authoritarian but a nice place to live and very economically productive. This long, tortured argument was full of repulsive asides like, “Golly, reviving slavery is probably not the best move, but while it is not a big deal to me, I have to admit that dead white reactionaries made a lot of persuasive arguments that slavery is actually a good idea, and if you think about it, Black people really are best suited to slavery, aren’t they? Not that I’m a white nationalist, though. Those guys are not as smart as I am.”

If you don’t know Moldbug, I know that sounds like a parody. It is not. That is a succinct taste of stuff the blog really said. I read a fair bit of it years ago, fascinated by its bizarre style and repulsive ideas.

Moldbug is not exactly a Nazi or a fascist; he reflects an idiosyncratic far right sensibility significantly different but equally horrible. Yarvin was not attached to a political movement which did anything real, they just said a bunch of crazy, evil stuff on the internet, but that is still quite bad enough. And though really just a blowhard, he is a dangerous, damaging blowhard. He has radicalized a bunch of nerds. Yarvin evidently had some kind of contact with the Trump campaign though the racist, fascist advisor Steve Bannon. Fascist or not, I cannot overstate how evil his ideas and influence are.

Rather than get fussy about which evil far-right nuts are According To Hoyle “fascists”, antifascists use the word “fash” as a term of art for the whole range of evil far right nuts. Moldbug is definitely fash, and I will refer to him as such here.

In understanding these folks, it is also worth getting a sense of the adjacent-but-not-the-same “Gray Tribe” of libertarian-ish nerds disgusted by both liberal and conservative politics:

This is deep geekery, but if you are digging into Curtis Yarvin, you may also want to know about his software infrastructure project Urbit and its implicit politics:

  • Popehat has about as accessible an introduction to what the heck Urbit itself is as one could hope for
  • Distributed Web Of Care has a smart critique of why Urbit’s structure is bad and concentrates power in some bad hands

26 May 2022

Cowardly police

Enraged by reports that police spent most of an hour waiting outside while the Uvalde shooter murdered nineteen kids, a thread by Dan Kim (김명준) <@danielmkim>:

I can’t fucking sleep tonight. Kept thinking about one of my last calls as an EMT after reading about cops not willingly putting themselves in harm’s way. August 2001. I pulled my bus up just outside the PD cordon at the site of a DV [domestic violence] call. Lots of nervous Barney Fife types with their hands on their pistols, taking cover behind their cars, filling the radio with useless traffic. Fire dispatch briefed me enroute. Normally, no biggie, treat the DV victim(s) & transport.

This MFer was a 10-43: barricaded, probably armed, with hostages. I introduced myself to the on-scene commander, who looked the part: lean, muscular, confident voice & demeanor, lots of service hash marks on his sleeve. I say looked the part, because he sure as shit didn’t act that way as the night went on. You see, even with 5 or 6 cops with him, not to mention probable cause to enter the domicile, he wouldn’t. He wanted to wait for the county to send Emergency Service Unit (ESU), but those heavily armed meatheads would need an hour or more to spin up. Meanwhile, we waited & sweated. No negotiator, no ESU door kickers, couldn’t even get a helo to spotlight the house. I asked SGT M why he couldn’t move in with the cops he had. His answer blew me away & still makes me angry to this day.

M didn’t want to “unnecessarily risk” his officers. I was gobsmacked. Like, MFer, that badge means we all accept that risk. Fuck it, I’ll go. M told me to stand down. I told him to go fuck himself. We heard 2 shotgun blasts inside the house. One. Pause. Pause. Two. I knew what that meant, given the math, but it never registered with M or his officers. I felt sick. I told him he needed to go in now, so I could treat the hostages. He told me to stand down, ESU was on the move. One more shotgun blast.

M’s mouth kept opening & closing like a bass you just pulled out of the water. I told him I was going in because the risk was gone. M was right, I wasn’t an LEO [law enforcement officer], I had no business going in, but deep down, I knew my bag wouldn’t help any of the 3 people inside.

The fucking door wasn’t even locked. And I was right, there was nothing I could do. Wife took a 10-gauge shell to the neck in the bedroom. Bled out through her carotid. 3- or 4-year old child must’ve been hiding in the bathroom when Dad got to them.

DV perp turned the shotgun on himself, but didn’t manage to die right away. It was messy. He sounded like he was choking on his own blood. I wanted that kid to live more than any other patient I had in my time as an EMT. But I also knew that answer was no.

I still see that kid in my dreams, now & again. I see them every time I read about a school massacre. I see the murdered child, whose last thought was probably a fear that no one — let alone a fucking goddamn child — should ever have.

The perp? Fuck him. Let him choke agonizingly on his own blood. Yeah, I disregarded my training, but fuck that guy who just killed his family. M finally entered the house & asked why I wasn’t treating the perp. AYFKM?!

Long story short, my report (I thought) was a verbal flamethrower that would tank M’s career & any possible future as an LEO. Nothing. Fucking. Happened. Because I was just an EMT, not LE. What could I possibly know? M is now the deputy chief of his department.

I told @drjchernov earlier tonight that some people who can’t accept that their badge = risking their own life aren’t meant for PD/Fire/EMS. That’s the job. I did accept that, but I also realized I had other issues to deal with, unrelated to my EMT days.

There was also a quick side trip to the World Trade Center a month later, & that only confirmed that my decision was/remains the correct one for me at that time. Then I read that LEOs waited for backup in Uvalde while kids died, & this specific call came roaring back.

Fuck, I wouldn’t wish that kind of memory on my worst enemy. I saw the child again. Younger than yesterday’s victims, but still a child. Then I picked up my kids from school, & kept my utter & abject sense of relief to myself, hidden in anodyne questions about their day.

How fucking dare you? I’ll say it again, I don’t give one tenth of half a fuck — how dare you, you cowardly pieces of shit who aren’t worthy of the badges on your chests? Children died because of your inaction. Children died while you waited for fucking backup. Children died because you were either unable or unwilling to put your body between the perp & (I can’t stress this enough) defenseless fucking children whose only sin yesterday was to go to school wanting to learn & hang out with friends.

Now, typing this, all I can see is that child huddled between the tub & the toilet, hoping his dad wouldn’t do the unthinkable. Then seeing the results of what had been unthinkable. We all see the unthinkable on a weekly basis now. At least, news of it.

It’s time for that to change. This is macabre, but not new: if the victims’ families agree, publish the crime scene photos. Let America see what their passion for unfettered gun ownership hath wrought. Then maybe we’d get common sense gun laws like a background check.

Enough platitudes, I can’t swallow another one without wanting to puke. Fuck your thoughts & prayers. Politicians, you have the statutory power to do something about this scourge. Yet. You. Do. Fuck. All.

Do it for children who just want to play during recess. Do it for folks shopping socializing at a supermarket because racist zoning rules made that a gathering place. Do it for congregants at a synagogue, patients at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Do it for Asian salon workers in Atlanta & Dallas. Do it for your country, as alien as that concept might sound to you. Like The Onion says after all such massacres - not mass shootings, these are massacres - “No way to prevent this, says only nation where this regularly happens”


HERE ENDETH THE LESSON

Keeping this one in my pocket for the next time some cop brags about being a “sheepdog” who “puts my life on the line to protect people”.

If you don’t recognize the sheepdog thing, it is violent authoritarian propaganda commonly taught to cops which casts them as “sheepdogs” gifted with the impulse to violence which enables them to protect ordinary citizens — (sheep) from Violent Criminals (wolves). Most famous for turning up in the creepy American Sniper film.

This pairs with another bit from Cliff 🦖 Jerrison <@pervocracy>:

I feel like the facts still aren’t out on the Uvalde police response but one thing that seems really clear and not for the first time is that cops in fear for their lives act in the exact opposite manner from cops “in fear for their lives”.

if the conceit of thinbluelineism is that we need to tolerate unaccountable and vicious men among us, and the damage they cause, so that there’s someone even scarier than the bad guys ready to fight when shit really goes down

well, oops

The “in fear for their lives business” is, of course, how cops justify killing people, as they do a thousand times a year, literally. Among others.

This is reflected in another Twitter thread, from Chaos Bride Kyelaag <@Monstrous_Fest>:

Folks are talking about police a bunch, and that’s something I might actually be able to provide context for.

Police are never, and will never be, required to endanger themselves in any way for any reason. This has been litigated thoroughly.

The argument cop reps make is that nobody’s job can require that they jump in front of bullets like weird nerds for idiot tech moguls.

This argument is reasonable! Nobody’s job should demand the employee’s death as a condition of employment.

The obvious problem, of course, is that cops’ job is purportedly to protect people from violence.

The corollary is that this is not a cop’s actual job. They have no duty to prevent violence, no duty to put themselves at any risk, no duty to help anyone.

No cop will ever be punished for refusing to help, ever. Or refusing to risk anything.

This is why cops insist so hard that their jobs are intrinsically dangerous! They don’t have to take any risks, so their narratives emphasize that they are actually the victims.

Corollary: never, ever believe anything a press release tells you about what cops do or did, because cops tailor them very carefully.

This is why cops primarily assault people who are not armed, and why they do so with deadly weapons. To minimize risk.

The primary responsibility of any individual cop is to minimize risk to themselves.

No cops ‘confronted’ the shooter, because they could have gotten hurt. No cops entered the school, because they could have gotten hurt.

The tricky bit here is that they didn’t let parents help.

Because once they’re on scene, and protecting themselves, if they had let other people get involved they would have increased the risk to themselves, the cops.

And the cops’ job is to show up, protect themselves, and document their fear of risk.

That’s it.

This easily gets tangled up in the PR cops have done in the past. “To protect and serve” is not a statement of duty. No cop is required to protect or to serve. Most of us have some perception of a “good cop” who has responsibilities.

That is fiction.

Thanks, Terry Pratchett.

Any portrayal of a “good cop” is not a portrayal of a cop engaging in their job. If a cop helps someone for any reason, it is entirely external to their identity as a cop. They might have done a “good thing”, but a doctor who holds the door isn’t necessarily a “good doctor.”

Eliminate this fiction wherever you recognize yourself engaging in it.

Never fucking watch die hard again. Or a police procedural.

Because when we collectively think cops should be responsible or do any good, in the smallest way possible, they will not.

This is why it’s more dangerous to be literally anyone else than to be a cop.

Everyone’s job requires interaction with danger. Traffic. Violent customers. Dealing with cops. Hospitality is incredibly dangerous!

Cops make up a guy and then kill him for their own safety.

Institutionally, police are pretty much the only profession that permits its members to arm themselves against a hypothetical threat and then kill anyone who overlaps with it.

The rest of us have to be polite and bandage ourselves and hope. Cops don’t.

This is, as a corollary, why cops hate civilians so much.

If a cop is in danger it is because a civilian inconvenienced them.

Something bad happened, and a civilian saw a cop nearby or attempted to invoke one.

This causes risk to the cop. Punishable by death.

Takeaway: it is dangerous just to call the police. It is more dangerous, in many ways, to call them, because by exposing them to danger you give them excuses to punish, assault, or kill you.

And, as above, their job is to identify risk and then eliminate the source.

In Uvalde, this is what happened. Cops were seen by civilians, and they did what cops do. They protected themselves, and then controlled the most convenient source of risk to their jobs — the civilians that saw them.

And then they lied about it. Poorly.

The description of the lack of police obligation to help having been litigated thorougly may sound implausible, but it is true:

This case builds upon Supreme Court precedent in Deshaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989). In that case, a young boy was repeatedly abused at the hands of his father, something that county Social Services was aware of, but made no effort to remove the child. His mother sued once the four-year old entered a vegetative state, and the Court ruled that that the state did not have a special obligation to protect a citizen against harms it did not create.

Based on these precedents, Lozito was told in the New York City case that “no direct promises of protection were made” to him, and therefore he could not sue the police for failing to come to his aid. In other words, the police do not have to act if someone is actively being harmed, they do not have to arrest someone who has violated orders, and they do not have any obligation to protect you from others.



Most of us like to imagine, or at least hope, that we would place ourselves between children and a killer, even if we were barehanded. Anyone who would not — or worse, who did not while still expecting to be called “brave” rather than feel shame for their cowardice — has no business carrying a badge, much less a gun.

11 May 2022

This American moment of reälignment

A Twitter thread from Thomas Zimmer describes very well my own read of the mechanics of the dangerous fecklessness of the Democratic Party in this moment. Here’s a taste:

The fundamental asymmetry of American politics is captured precisely by the fact that Pelosi won’t stop with the “strong GOP” nostalgia while no one on the Republican side would even consider saying something like this about the Democratic Party. It’s so bizarre.

I want the Republican Party to take back the party to where you were when you cared about a woman’s right to choose, you cared about the environment. Here I am, Nancy Pelosi, saying this country needs a strong Republican Party. Not a cult.

— Nancy Pelosi

[⋯]

One important explanatory factor is age: People like Pelosi came up in a very different political environment, when there was indeed a great deal of bipartisan cooperation in Congress – and they are longing for a return to the days of amity across party lines.

Additionally, this inability to grapple in earnest with the post-Obama reality in which Democratic politicians are almost universally considered members of an “Un-American” faction by most Republicans has deeper ideological roots.

Some establishment Democrats seem to feel a kinship with their Republican opponents grounded in a worldview of white elite centrism and status-quo dogma – they seem to believe that it is high time to push back against the “radical” forces of “leftism” and “wokeism”.

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing. And it got me ranting on Twitter, which I have refined here.

In a way, geezer Dems’ confused nostalgia for Working With Republicans is driven by memories reaching all of the way back to the Nixon era, misunderstanding the history of major American political reälignments. So we have to talk about that, to understand the dynamics on the right side of the aisle which got us here.

FDR created a dynamic of US politics shaped by the New Deal and its legacy of the regulatory and social insurance state. The Democratic Party became the party of New Deal liberalism; Republicans became the party of Sure, But Slow Down There Bucko.

Through this era in the middle of the 20th century, parties were ideologically incoherent in today’s terms. The Democrats were more liberal but their coalition included the racist whites of the South who still refused to vote for Lincoln’s party; this is why many New Deal policies set terms for “universal” benefits which actually excluded Black people. The Republicans largely opposed Democrats’ liberal social insurance policies, but had to respond to those policies’ popularity. These ideological coalitions, shaped by liberal & Democratic Party strength resting on the popularity of New Deal policy, explains why Republican Presidents Eisenhower & Nixon seem oddly liberal on policy to contemporary eyes.

Nixon started the process of breaking the New Deal political order with his Southern Strategy of appealing to racist whites in the South. Reagan secured that shift, making a new Republican coalition the lodestar of US politics: movement conservatism.

Movement conservatism bound together pseudo-libertarian neoliberalism dedicated to tearing down the regulatory and social insurance state of the New Deal (for the benefit of corporations aka rich people) with “social conservatism” of racism, sexism, and Christian nationalism. This coalition does not really make sense, but Reagan figured out how to say that New Deal universal social insurance and public goods are bad because they benefit undeserving (Black) people without it sounding harsh or nonsensical, which is why conservatives still revere him.

Reagan made movement conservatism the new lodestar of US politics, just as FDR had done with the New Deal. In neoliberals like Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, the Democrats now took the position of The Party Of Sure, But Slow Down There Bucko.

Geezer Democrats like Biden & Pelosi learned to do politics during Reagan’s administration as this new US politics took shape. New Deal liberalism was bleeding but not yet dead, so Democrats held enough power to force Republicans in Congress to work with them. But Democrats who tried the old New Deal playbook got crushed in elections, producing the neoliberal turn for the Party secured by Clinton in ’92. The Reagan administration moment, in which there was politics to do be done by slowly capitulating to movement conservatism as the new center of US politics, is the lost Arcadia which Pelosi describes yearning to return to. Her cohort came to understand the Movement Conservatism But Slow Down There Bucko moves of WJC & BHO — NAFTA, balancing the budget, financial de-regulation, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare plan — as how effective operators win elections. Any other moves were naïve, a loser at the ballot.

As the Twitter thread I linked at the top shows, though, the geezer Democrats who learned those bad lessons have not registered how Republican politics came to work under the long reign of movement conservatism, which marries True Believer zealots to nihilistic mercenary opportunists. The True Believers of the Republican coalition are the “social conservatives” who think that they are the only Real Americans. The nihilists just care about winning for their corporate friends, rather than good governance ... or democracy. Both parts of this Republican electoral crew framed Democrats not merely as political opponents who were wrong — which would have required arguing against liberal policy on the merits, which is hard — but rather dismissed Democrats as illegitimate.

Many liberals draw an unwholesome comfort from believing that the Republican denial of Democrats’ legitimacy reflects only a racist rejection of BHO and a sexist rejection of HRC. I have talked about that before with respect to HRC’s Presidential candidacy:

If the Republican candidate for President in 2016 had been a movement conservative — Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or one of those guys — she would have crushed him like a bug.

But that was not the race we got.

The vitriol HRC & BHO faced from conservatives certainly was full of sexism & racism … but it was also there from Republican press & politicians during Bill Clinton’s Presidency. He faced endless bullshit press. As did Al Gore. As did John Kerry. As did Howard Dean. As does Joe Biden. The vast rightwing conspiracy has been working the refs for so long that bullshit press for anyone left of the center of the Republican Party is baked in.

The denial of the legitimacy of Democrats was born in opposition to the Clinton administration, and Republicans fully committed themselves — extending to denial of legitimacy of any small-d democratic institutions which denied them power — in the fight over the 2000 Presidential election results. Republicans defied the popular vote, cheated in plain sight, and sacrificed the independence of the Supreme Court … to win against Al Gore of all people, the square white guy whom neolib centrist Bill Clinton picked as his campaign running mate in order to secure his right flank.

Conservative media enabled and accelerated this turn against Democrats’ legitimacy during the Era Of Movement Conservatism. Again, this had already started happening during the Clinton administration, with the Wall Street Journal editorial page crediting crackpot nonsense.

Though figures like William F. Buckley had purged the far right wackos when they were building movement conservatism in the 1960s, in the 1990s conservative media brought the nuts back in. Limbaugh and Fox “News” and the rest have skimmed the crazies looking for ideas which stick for the last 30 years now, leading conservative media further and further toward the far right each year.

Conservative media parallels the Republican Party leadership’s weird alliance of True Believer zealots and opportunistic nihilists. All of these people benefit from denying Democrats’ & liberals’ fundamental legitimacy. The zealots want Republican voters radicalized this way, because they really do believe that liberals are not Real Americans, while the nihilists do not care so long as it buys them victories. After a few decades of this, the Republican Party and conservative media have pushed their voters further and further into denying liberals’ legitimacy in governance. Or even as citizens.

This puts Republican electeds in a trap of their movement’s own making. If they engage in good faith with Democrats at all, they lose primaries against challengers who will oppose Democrats out of obstinate anti-liberalism. The Republican Party cannot bring back the Arcadia which geezer Democrats dream of, even if they wanted to.

The original dynamic of movement conservatism — pseudo-libertarian neolibs with corporate money selling their policy agenda by coating it in “socially conservative” rhetoric pushed through controlled media to bigoted voters — has at this point completely reversed. The tail wags the dog. The success of DJT’s candidacy for the Republican nomination in 2016 emerged from these dynamics; even had he lost the election, his candidacy would have killed movement conservatism. One can miss this because Trump’s disinterest in actual governance kept the movement conservative policy zombie on its feet; rich sponsors of the destruction of the regulatory state still got their policy victories. But it is rusted through.

The Republican Party — the entire conservative complex — dreads the nuttiest supporters. The media platforms need the audience, so they feed the crazy. The Republican Party needs the voters, so they pander to them … increasingly by putting True Believer zealots in office.

With this implosion and reversal, the Republican Party is undergoing a reälignment of the same profundity created by the New Deal and movement conservatism — and since the Democrats settled into standing for The Movement Conservative Agenda But Less for the last 30 years, they too face a reälignment which their leadership do not seem to see at all. They only know how to run the playbook that weathered the long neoliberal winter of movement conservatism, a world we cannot return to even if that were desirable.

The Republican Party is hollowed out to anti-liberalism and DJT’s cult of personality. This is terrifying; the term for politics which rejects the legitimacy of any politics or citizens occupying any other position, which uses liberal democratic norms in bad faith to destroy libdem institutions, which cares more about theatre than policy, which has a cult of personality around a hateful blatherer is — fascism. But things remain in motion. We have not yet arrived at a new era with a party of fascism and a party of The Fascist Agenda But Less.

The Democrats must seize the tiller and make sure that they, and not this Republican Party, define the new lodestar of US politics which will replace the movement conservatism which replaced New Deal liberalism. Yet their sclerotic leaders cannot even see the need, much less offer a solution.

01 April 2022

Emotional malnutrition

Transcribing this Tumblr post from skaldish for legibility and reference.



Still bothered by the US cultural idea that men can only be non-romantically intimate with one another in war-like or competitive circumstances.


I’m pretty quiet about the fact I’m a transman usually, but holy shit I need to tell you about the culture shock I’m going through because it’s blindsiding me.

There’s a huge sense of social isolation that comes with being perceived as male, because now people are subconsciously treating me as a potential predator. All strangers, no matter their gender, keep their guard up around me.

It made me realize that there is no inherent camaraderie in male socialization as there is in female socialization—unless, of course, it’s in very specific environments. And the fact I don’t amnbiently experience this mutual kinship in basic exchanges anymore is an insanely lonely feeling.

You know how badly this would have fucked my mind up if I had grown up with this?


It is 4:30am and I’m mourning the loss of a privilege I didn’t even know I had.


Anyway, I’m going to figure out how to navigate this. Don’t know how yet, but I’m gonna.


If you figure it out, can you share your insights? This is a fundamental as to why im in the closet

Absolutely, because it’s an extremely sticky issue.

Frankly, this is something I would’ve never understood without living the experience.

It’s now blatantly clear to me that most cis men probably experience chronic emotional malnutrition. They’re deprived of social connection just enough for it to seriously fuck with their psyches, but not enough for them to realize that it’s happening and what’s causing it.

It’s like they’re starving, but don’t know this because they’ve always been served 3 meals…except those meals have never been big enough.

This deprivation comes from all sides of aisle, by the way.

In the case of women: When I’m out in public and interact with women, all of them come off as incredibly aloof, cold, and mirthless. I have never experienced this before even though I know exactly what this composure is—the armor that keeps away creepy-ass men.

As someone who used to wear it myself, I know this armor is 100% impersonal. Nobody likes wearing it, and I can say with absolute certainty that women would dump the armor in favor of unconditional companionship with men if doing this didn’t run the risk of actual assault. (Trust me when I say women aren’t just being needlessly guarded.)

But I only have a complete understanding of this context because I’ve experienced female socialization. If I hadn’t, I would’ve thought this coldness was a conspiracy against me devised by roughly half of the human population. Even now, with all that I know about navigating the world as a woman, I’m failing to convince my monkey-brain that this armor isn’t social rejection.

And as for male socialization? Again, it seems taboo for a man to be platonically intimate with men for reasons I have yet to fully understand, but I think it boils down to a) the fact society teaches boys that it’s not okay to be soft with each other, and b) garden-variety homophobia. Our media only shows men being intimate with one another when they’re teamed up against a dire situation, and I’d bet real money it’s a huge reason why men gravitate toward activities that simulate being teamed up against an opposing force.

But men are not machines of war. Yes, testosterone absolutely gives you Dumb Bastard Brain, but that just makes you want to skateboard a wagon down a hill or duct-tape your friend to the wall, not kill someone.

The human species looks so much colder standing from this side.

I can see how men might convince themselves that their feelings of emotional desperation is personal weakness as opposed to a symptom they’re all experiencing from White Imperialism. Because this human connection, this frith, is as essential for our wellbeing as water is.

So sick. How sick. I want to destroy this garbage.

nerdylilpeebee:

“White imperialism.”

As someone who grew up amab, I can garuntee you “white imperialism” ain’t got shit to do with it. “The Whities” did not create this phenomenon.

Also, statistically speaking, it is INSANELY rare for a woman to assaulted by a stranger. Even less likely than it is for a man to be. Significantly less likely in fact since men make up most of violent crime victims. With that context, it’s pretty damn clear most of that Totally Necessary “Armor” is unnecessary and in fact mostly useless since the main people who assault (especially in a sexual manner) are people you know, often intimately. And I seriously doubt you’re wearing this “armor” around people you trust. And since you also don’t seem to wear this “armor” around women, you’re also only “protecting against” half the threat. Which isn’t very smart.

If you wanted to destroy that “garbage” you wouldn’t act like women need to keep doing it, and wouldn’t place the blame on “white imperialism” as that’s absolving a lot of society of blame and just, as usual, placing the blame on an acceptable target.

I’ll reply this in genuine good faith because it’s worth it, and I definitely either need to lend context to what I mean by “White Imperialism” or else find a different word for better clarity.

So, when I say we should blame “White Imperialism,” I don’t mean we should blame “light-skinned caucasian people.” I mean we should blame “the strict social norms perpetuated by Christianity, heteronormativity, and colonization, which started with the Roman Empire and wound their way into culture of people we typically refer to as ‘white people’ over the course of centuries.”

To be honest, I’ve actually been trying to eliminate as many buzz words as I can when I describe this, because buzz words have different connotations to different people, which literally helps no one understand each other better.

But at the same time, I need a word that succinctly describes The Thing That Forces Us All To Conform Or Else We Will Become Second-Class Humans, and I chose the term “White Imperialism” as a nod to its Roman origins and to distinguish it from other forms of imperialism that occur globally. But if people have other suggestions for different words, I’m happy to hear them.

And as for the armor? I genuinely wish the armor was unnecessary. I really, really do. But it is tragically necessary, and it make more sense why it’s there when I tell you that this armor actually isn’t only to guard against rape. Most of the time, this armor guards against the little, unwelcome advances men make towards women, which happen to women whenever they leave their homes. Daily things. Examples include:

  • Guys trying to talk to you at the gym
  • Dudes yelling “nice ass!” or “hey sexy!” from their cars and other catcalls
  • Men watching you from a distance with rapt and unbroken attention
  • Men following you while you’re meandering around the mall
  • Cars rounding the block multiple times, slowing down each time they pass you, as you go for a walk
  • Men casually brushing your ass while you’re out at the bar
  • Men bearing down harder on their advances after you’ve tried to disengage multiple times

Every woman I know has had these kinds of experiences. They’ve had them regardless of where they went, what they wore, or what time of day it was. The only think that makes them have these things less? Is the armor, and it’s far from perfect.

Here’s another vital part to understanding all of this: These experiences start happening to you at an alarmingly young age, so you learn from the time of girlhood to feel threatened by strange men you don’t know. It only gets reinforced as time goes on.

These days, people don’t look twice at me when I walk down the block, and it’s a completely novel experience. I could be a fucking park bench for all they care. But back when I ID’d as a women, the gaze of men would follow me everywhere, like I was some kind of golden object on display for their visual consumption. It’s not subtle and it’s REALLY not flattering.

(I have yet to get the cis male perspective on why these things are dished out towards women, and what the actual intention is behind these actions. Truly, I’d genuinely would like to hear them, because I think it would help me bridge things more.)

22 March 2022

Fascism in history

Very intrigued with this interview with Kurt Weyland, who has just had a book published Assault on Democracy: Communism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism During the Interwar Years. It clarifies some things about the relationship between 20th century fascism versus other authoritarianisms, which I think is very important, though I think about it rather differently.

A few highlights I want to keep for future reference —

I think of fascism as a distinctive authoritarian ethos among other authoritarianisms — Weyland sees fascism as so distinctive that he splits it entirely from authoritarianism:

Fascism is a different type of political regime from authoritarianism. In the political science terminology, it’s totalitarian. It’s an effort to establish total control, to have strong mass mobilization pushed by the leader in order to bring a profound transformation of politics. And a profound transformation that is, in some sense, guided by a contradictory vision, bringing back elements of the long-forgotten past, but also in a form that is hypermodern, that uses the most advanced technology. And so, fascism is a profoundly totalitarian, very energetic, very dynamic, very mobilizational kind of system.

Conservative authoritarianism is very different because conservative authoritarianism wants to either preserve what exists or go back just a little bit to the preceding authoritarian regime that existed.

[...]

One can understand all authoritarianism, in some sense, like a division of labor. Let the elite and the government govern and the people stay out of it and don’t get involved in politics. And so, what underlies authoritarianism is a hierarchical approach to politics and approach where most of the population is supposed to be depoliticized, not to get involved. So, it doesn’t have nearly the dynamism, the energy of totalitarian fascism. And so, they’re quite different types of regimes. You just see that in a number of specific features. So, fascism is much more violent, much more imperialistic, much more expansionary than conservative authoritarianism.

[...]

authoritarian regimes used organized coercion of the state to employ usually targeted repression. And so authoritarian regimes tell the population, ‘Stay out of politics.’ And many people comply out of fear. And so that means that authoritarian regimes, most of the time do not need very much repression and they use the police and the military to specifically target people who actively oppose them. Fascism is very, very different partly because fascism emerged from bottom-up mass movements. [...] this is not the state using organized coercion. The mass movement takes over the state and because of its totalitarian goals of totally transforming things needs much more massive, much more widespread much more permanent kind of coercion.

On the conditions for fascism succeeding: a democratic state that is too weak to address leftist organizing, producing an anti-left mass movement:

... fascism is a direct reaction to a perceived leftwing movement. You know, here the left tries to pull things off with these land seizures, these factory occupations, and then the right emerges and cracks down. And fascism emerges and is most powerful only in kind of countries of middling level of modernization. What you’ll see is the most modernized countries of Western and Northern Europe, they maintain democracy. Their democracy was developed enough. Civil society was advanced enough, developed enough. The party system was consolidated enough that when they had right-wing movements like in France and Belgium, they never really got a ton of support that could kind of contain them and limit them. So, in the developed countries, democracy survived.

In the really backwards regions, Eastern, Southern Europe, and Balkans their society was so backward, left-wingers never got strong enough. That established kind of elite and the state and the military took care of the problem. And so, fascism emerged kind of in between

[...]

And so, you see, of course, the interesting thing is fascism only came to power in the democracies, because it was a mass movement that then used democratic mechanisms to turn that mass movement into, especially in the German case, increasing electoral support and in the Italian case, at least get a foothold in the party system and then rise. Where authoritarian regimes that close the electoral arena and that was strong enough to crack down, not only the left-wingers, but also on the right-wingers, the fascists never came to power.

On fascism’s anti-conservatism:

Because the conservatives, they want to establish their control. They want to cement hierarchy. They want to exclude the population and the fascists. The fascists were in some sense anti-conservative. They didn’t think that the established elite had done a very good job. They wanted to push them out of the way. They wanted to establish the preeminence of their personalistic leader, their equivalent to Hitler and Mussolini. And so, there was a significant conflict and the fascists had a much more dynamic transformational project. They had a much more of kind of bottom-up support, whereas the conservative authoritarians were kind of top-down and hierarchical. There was also a social difference because many of the fascist leaders and the fascist movements essentially came from lower, lower middleclass groupings and different from the elitist authoritarians.

On distinguishing fascism from the populism of figures like Perón:

[Populists] downgraded liberalism, they cracked down on the opposition, they screwed the playing field, they became over time authoritarian, but they always maintained elections. They never had mass terror. They didn’t turn Argentina into a kind of bastion of dictatorship. Very different from German Nazism and Italian fascism. And so, you can say that, yes, in some sense, the Argentine case shows populism emerged from the realization that fascism wasn’t viable anymore and you had to kind of transform. But I do think as Finkelstein used to emphasize in this academic work that this is a qualitatively different phenomenon. That populist leaders get their way in their eternal hunger for power and their effort to establish their own hegemony.

I think the worst that can happen under populism is what Levitsky and Way call competitive authoritarianism. So, you have an authoritarian leader who still uses elections and parties and there are opposition parties allowed and all these kinds of things. And that is totally different from fascism where there was no opposition party and there were no elections. And there was mass violence and a profoundly transformational impulse and they were much more ideological.

22 February 2022

Limecoats

This is an invitation to a design fiction intended to inspire thinking about national service and the United States’ place in the world. Addressing the aesthetics & poetics can open us to imagining more broadly what a thing might be like in the world.

A riddle

If police are the instrument of the state for responding to threats of violence at the local scale, with soldiers the corresponding instrument at international scale ... while firefighters are the state’s instrument for responding to urgent local-scale non-violent threats ... what is the corresponding international-scale version of firefighters?

Shouldn’t there be one?

(And yes, that is mostly a lie about what cops and soldiers do. We need to grapple with that, too.)

The work

As things stand now, we send the US military to respond to things well outside the soldier’s normal ambit: Marines delivering supplies to people displaced by natural disasters, the Army Corps Of Engineers building roads, the Coast Guard doing search & rescue of people lost at sea, and so forth.

The United States should be doing more of this work. It is good on the merits, good for the US on the global stage, and good for Americans.

But why send the military? The institutions of the military are ill suited to the work, in several ways.

The institutions

What is the right alternative to military organizations?

There are NGOs like the International Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières which have strengths and weaknesses and methods and limitations to learn from.

The US has the Peace Corps, which is profoundly un-military in its sensibilities in almost every way: loose unto fragmentary, committed to amateurism, shaggy and intellectual. That is good if you need a few doctors to help open a new hospital or a few bright-eyed young nerds to wire up internet in schools.

The US Peace Corps is not entirely equipped to helicopter in 24 hours after a flood to house 30,000 sudden climate refugees. For that you need some of the discipline, tight organization, and brisk vigor of the military. Or firefighters.

If the US is to build such an institution, it will need its own distinct outlook, attitude, and style.

The style

Civilian national service needs esprit d’corps, like firefighters or the military, but with its own unique texture. A way of walking and talking which instills the values and frame of mind appropriate to the work. A bit of the cocktail of both bravado and caution which firefighters have. A big serving of the humanistic dedication of doctors’ Hippocratic Oath. A bit of military Can Do Attitude. Some of EMTs’ flinty pragmatism.

I have a proposal for how that might look. I have no confidence that it is a good idea; I fear that this proposal is wrongheaded in a number of ways, which is why I have written it up, in hopes that it may inspire folks to think about it and come up with something better.

Put them in uniform, to have them stand out and stand together, something which reflects all of these flavors. Functional pockets. Proof against the elements. Rugged. Distinctive like a firefighter’s helmet. Grubby like military fatigues … but without the threat, without the camouflage. If you are showing up to help for real, you want people to see you coming.

That road-sign yellow that construction workers wear in the rain because it stands out so well for the eye is called Hi-Viz Lime. Put them in jackets made of the stuff, with some distinctive cut or pattern. Make that the emblem of who and what they are. Make it look cool.

Nobody calls them the US Development & Aid Service or whatever. They call them Limecoats.

The romance

They have a credo in Latin which means something like “See Us Coming To Help”.

They swear an oath to never handle weapons, to always aid anyone in need, to place others’ lives ahead of their own.

Limecoats turn up as characters in schmaltzy romanticized TV procedurals about Heroes. Get little kids saying they want to grow up to be limecoats.

Create extravagant honors and memorials for limecoats who die in the line of duty.

It needs to be cool, and heroic, and romantic, as we have painted cops and soldiers. This is an easier story to tell because it would not be built on a lie, it would be the routine heroism of aid and care and building things.

What might that be like?

Cautions

And there are some red flags — or perhaps hi-viz lime ones — which we have to face if we are as attentive to social justice as we should be.

These poetics have more than a whiff of the colonialist, the toxically masculine. How to we design a culture which steps around those bear traps? How do we build something which does the work better than those hoary old models have?

Is there a way to make a project which is not poisoned by the relationship which the US has with the world — sponsored by the US but transnational rather than national or international?

I frankly do not know. I worry that these doom the idea from the jump. Asking about that, about whether we can find a way through it? That is part of what a design fiction is for.

26 January 2022

Firefly

In the wake of recent revelations that Joss Whedon is even worse than we knew, I have been in some lively conversations on Facebook, including one inspired by a post proposing an interesting Firefly reboot. I have muttered about picking up where we left off in animation, so that special effects and aging actors are not a problem, but this is more interesting.

you get rid of Mal completely and Zoe is the captain [so the] story now centers around a Black woman who escaped the Confederacy-analog and is trying to make a living in a hostile world

I will second my friend’s comment on how central it is that Whedon wanted to do a Western, and inherited the need for something like the US Civil War in the backstory, and just did not reflect deeply enough on the particulars:

It’s because the Confederate-soldier-as-traumatized-cowboy thing is endemic in the whole Western genre — I mean, look at Clint Eastwood’s filmography alone. So many considered-classic Westerns have Confederate veterans as sympathetic characters and use it as a shorthand for “he got used up and had something to run from and is trying to find a new kind of identity.” (I wonder how much of that is an attempt to translate the emotional dynamics of ronin characters in Westerns adapted from samurai stories.) As someone fond of Westerns, it sucks.

All that is to say, I can see why someone thought translating that thing for a space Western was a good idea. The fact that they then went through with it instead of stopping right there speaks to who didn’t have voices or power in the writer's room, and who did.

And also I have a belief, informed by many of Whedon’s comments about the show, stuff we know about the production, and evidence in the show itself, that the original intent was that the Browncoat Independents, and most of the Serenity crew, and Mal in particular would be bad guys, with the Alliance as good guys. Not kinda sorta. In a committed way.

You see it in things Whedon has said about grappling with what he needed to find respect for in The Other Side of the US culture & politics split. (Recall that this was the early 2000s.)

You see this in how repugnant a figure Mal is in the pilot episode. I find it very telling that he goes out of his way to be rude to a priest and a prostitute; given the way that W’s cultural politics rhyme with my own, that is specially galling. I mean, the show will later point out in the text that the name “Mal” means bad.

You see this in how feature film introduces the crew to unfamiliar viewers with Jayne saying “let’s be bad guys” right before they rob a bank.

You see it in hints of how Book was a black ops spy before turning to the priesthood.

You see this in how much muttering we got from W and others involved about how early plans for the show were “much darker”.

But there was Network Meddling, of course, and that’s not just W justifying himself (though of course it is also that). One of the big things was that they demanded that Mal & the Serenity crew needed to be “more likable”, and on reflection it is clear that the suits were kind of right. The charms of the show we got, the things most fans love, are unmistakably illuminated by that turn.

Had W really held full control, as he did with Dollhouse, I imagine that it would have been a lot like … Dollhouse: dark and strange and gutsy and perverse and morally upsetting and full of W’s poisons, with Mal clawing his way to some kind of strange Whedon-y redemption over several seasons. I imagine that the fan reception would have been similar. Even most Whedon fans dislike Dollhouse, for very good reasons.

But this change also gave us a Broken Aesop. Mal and his crew and the legacy of the Browncoats are played too much as Lovable Rogues With Hearts Of Gold for their position and backstory to make sense, narratively or morally. So there is a very weird tension in these characters being Big Damm Heroes.

Plus speaking from a long history of being a Relative Whedon Apologist ... remaining one even now, as I insist that Whedon must be understood both as a monster and yet also in an important way despite that, yes, a feminist ... and even being willing to make a spirited defense of Dollhouse as an unholy creation bathed in Whedon's poisons but nonetheless possessing some significant virtues for which we must credit Whedon ... let me say that:

  • Inara’s characterization is probably the most unforgivable, indefensible unforced error in the whole of Whedon’s oeuvre, which is saying a lot
  • River is the Whedon Waifish Badass who works best; he has said that the idea behind River was that she would be the Hero, the Damsel, and the Monster all at once and hey, there is something powerful in that, but he got those moves dialed in by letting his personal kinks bring him back to the Crazy Waifish Badass well so damm many times that … ew

24 January 2022

Wilhoit on conservatism

One of the best comments on politics on the web is a comment on a blog post. Slightly less astonishing since the post — good in itself — is on Crooked Timber, one of the one of the few websites where the people running it have cultivated a comment section which is often even more intereesting than the posts.

The key bit is much-quoted ...

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protectes but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

... but the whole comment is very illuminating, so I am reproducing it here for convenience:

There is no such thing as liberalism — or progressivism, etc.

There is only conservatism. No other political philosophy actually exists; by the political analogue of Gresham’s Law, conservatism has driven every other idea out of circulation.

There might be, and should be, anti-conservatism; but it does not yet exist. What would it be? In order to answer that question, it is necessary and sufficient to characterize conservatism. Fortunately, this can be done very concisely.

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protectes but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.

For millenia, conservatism had no name, because no other model of polity had ever been proposed. “The king can do no wrong.” In practice, this immunity was always extended to the king’s friends, however fungible a group they might have been. Today, we still have the king’s friends even where there is no king (dictator, etc.). Another way to look at this is that the king is a faction, rather than an individual.

As the core proposition of conservatism is indefensible if stated baldly, it has always been surrounded by an elaborate backwash of pseudophilosophy, amounting over time to millions of pages. All such is axiomatically dishonest and undeserving of serious scrutiny. Today, the accelerating de-education of humanity has reached a point where the market for pseudophilosophy is vanishing; it is, as The Kids Say These Days, tl;dr . All that is left is the core proposition itself — backed up, no longer by misdirection and sophistry, but by violence.

So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

Then the appearance arises that the task is to map “liberalism”, or “progressivism”, or “socialism”, or whateverthefuckkindofstupidnoise-ism, onto the core proposition of anti-conservatism.

No, it a’n’t. The task is to throw all those things on the exact same burn pile as the collected works of all the apologists for conservatism, and start fresh. The core proposition of anti-conservatism requires no supplementation and no exegesis. It is as sufficient as it is necessary. What you see is what you get:

The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; and it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

This piece is one of the key resources from the American Conservatism section of my Understanding American Politics index.

20 January 2022

Xander Harris

Capturing a comment of mine about the character of Xander from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, from a discussion of the article about Joss Whedon which revealed that his misconduct is even worse than previously known in public.


The new interview drops something into place which I think many of his critics, as well as relative apologists like me, missed in trying to understand both his life and his work. It reveals Whedon as more deeply narcissistic than was publicly evident before.

So I strongly disagree with suggestions that the Buffy character reflecting Whedon is Parker Abrams, the fella who seduces Buffy shortly after her arrival at college by pretending to be a stand-up guy but then coldly dropping her immediately after they sleep together. Parker is deliberately deceitful and manipulative. That is a villain Whedon can comfort himself in rightly thinking is very different from him. Whedon’s poisonousness is not cold and calculating; it is, instead, deeply felt and rationalized.

Nor do I think the geeky, villainous Trio are quite the key example of Whedon Telling On Himself which critics of his have long suggested. There is a lot to be said for that reading, and how the reading of them which Whedon was trying to invite — there but for the grace of feminist sensibilities go I — was always a smokescreen.

But I differ from many critics of Whedon who see his professed feminism as nothing other than a deliberate trick. I read Whedon and Buffy — much as I still love Buffy, in spite of it all — as often poisonous and misogynistic and yet also sincerely feminist. That is not a defense. It is an indictment; Whedon had reason to know better, and failed. Alas, Whedon is hardly the only person to mix poison with feminism.

I think that Whedon’s narcissism makes Xander his analogue. Genuinely committed to caring for other people, and often successful at it … but also so far up his own ass that he at least as often deeply hurtful to his friends and lovers, over and over again … with the show expecting us to forgive Xander for these being innocent, honest mistakes … despite the insincerity of his remorse and his failure to make recompense, because he is always prioritizing his own feelings. The quotes from Whedon in the the new article reveal the same pattern in him.

So I think that it is far from accidental that Whedon constructs Xander with his boneheadedness to superficially seem as different from himself as possible, despite this core similarity. That is not simply a smokescreen for us, it protects Whedon from seeing himself.

Similarly, it is often suggested that Xander is meant as a point-of-view character for fellas watching the show, and seeing him as a projection of Whedon’s particular toxicity supports that reading … but that is not quite my own take.

I prefer to focus on Xander being the Token Ordinary Guy, and a dip into how the core characters are designed in light of what we now know about Whedon makes Xander an even more unwholesome figure.

One can think of them this way:


Buffy bold brawn Kirk
Willow anxious brains Spock
Xander steady heart McCoy

This structure reveals a lot about Whedon’s sensibilities in action.

There’s the Feminist Inversion in which we have the token “heart” figure as a fella and the commonly male-coded archetypes as women. The Feminist Inversion move has serious limits & problems, which much more insightful people than me have described at length ... but it is easy to forget how much life and value there was in it 25 years ago.

Significantly, Xander is relentlessly brave, never hesitating to put himself between danger and the others in the Scooby Gang. The show never points to this directly, but it is a constant in his characterization and part of why it expects us to count him as heroic. But it very often makes him a liability. Whedon has talked about how when all else failed, they could motivate the plot (especially in early seasons) by putting Willow in danger … but if you think about it, Xander’s bravery is also often used to create plot complications because repeatedly facing danger when he is outmatched is a liability, forcing the other characters to set aside their goals to rescue him.

Which brings us back to my original point that Xander is an asshole who creates a trail of wreckage with his shortsightedness and egocentricity, and the show expects us to simply forgive him because he quips and means well and has Feelings. But astute watchers of the show tend to say Xander Is The Worst because he is dangerously irresponsible both as a Monster Fighter and in relationshipping. Dude is an asshole, and the voice of the show really does not seem to register it.

And I must also observe that wow does the show work hard to get Xander laid. Gross once you notice it. Doubly so when you consider what a hurtful person he is. Trebly so if you read him as reflecting Whedon’s personal dreams. Ew.

10 January 2022

Irritable mental gestures

I need to keep this quote handy from Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imaginination (1950):

In the United States at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.

Trilling of course neglects to distinguish liberalism from leftism there, which frustrates leftists (including me). The Left do not lack for an intellectual tradition; if anything, the Left is plagued with too much intellectual tradition. But I forgive Trilling since his turn of phrase is so vivid and I imagine him offering a vigorous argument that in 1950 there was no meaningful American Left to talk about.

I learned this turn of phrase from a long essay which is perhaps the single most clarifying thing I have had about the intellectual bankruptcy of conservatism in the US, talking about conservative David Frum’s book Dead Right (1995).

What Frum has got, to repeat, is just a feeling that the kids these days are getting a bit soft. Everyone feels this way sometimes, of course – since it’s true. But some people have thoughts as well as feelings about this attendant effect of civilization. And so it turns out Lionel Trilling was maybe not such a poor prophet after all, when he wrote way back in 1953: “in the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition;” for the anti-liberals do not, by and large, “express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” Irritable mental gestures. Yep. Frum.

OK. Trilling too strong. I do concede there are serious conservative thinkers and intellectuals. I make a point of reading – and I quite enjoy reading - quite a number of quite conservative writers and thinkers, and I hope I am smart enough to learn from them when I should. But it is seriously easy to pretend you’ve got a conservative philosophy when really you’re armed with nothing but irritable gestures.

(Frum has acquitted himself surprisingly well as a Never Trump’er, and his reward has of course been estrangement from the conservative movement and the Republican Party.)

28 September 2021

Midnight Mass review

I binged Midnight Mass on Netflix this last weekend. I have a lot of thoughts but first I have a spoiler-free review, and I ask for no spoilers in comments.

Is it good? It has some serious flaws, but at its best it is not merely good but great.

Do you want to see it? That depends …

I think it is best to go into Mass knowing as little as possible about it, so I’m going to avoid talking about the plot or the particular themes and do my best to equip you to decide if you want to see it, saving criticism for another day.

It has seven hour-long chapters and takes a while to spin up, so if you’re going to check it out, you must commit. The first couple of chapters deliver what may land for you as a slow burn … or as just slow. For me, the first couple of chapters had serious weaknesses that almost threw me out of the show. I am very glad they did not. It picked up like whoa.

The series is an ensemble story about a small town, its church, and its people, which uses a turn toward genre horror to deliver a complex meditation on religion, redemption, and Christianity. It has gore and hokey supernatural horror tropes. It delivers thoughtful, engaged ambivalence about religion in general and Christianity in particular. There are talky character monologues.

So that may put you on this train or off it, right there.

To gauge my response to the religious themes, it may help you to know that I am not a Christian and do not come from Christian culture, though I have done some study because I am a religion nerd. I love The Last Temptation of Christ as a passionate, sincere, spiritual reflection on Christianity, and I love Midnight Mass for similar reasons, though it addresses different things, in a different voice, but referencing it is a useful gauge because if you feel cold with indifference or hot with disgust at Last Temptation, then Mass is probably not for you.

If I told you how Mass interweaves its horror tropes with Christian scripture & doctrine in the last two chapters, it would spoil the show and make it sound dumb. It is not. It is very smart and very clever and very thoughtful, better than I could have imagined. I must also mention that the show prominently features a nuanced portrayal of priesthood in action — when do you get to see that? — which for me was enough in itself to make it worth the time.

(And please forgive that punnish use of “passionate” above, but its layered meanings really are le mot juste for both Last Temptation and Mass, though again in very different ways, so I could not resist.)

The show delivers the goods on its Spooky Town With A Secret and its Horror Movie genre requirements in a big way. If you love that stuff, that is reason enough to watch it. You don’t have to love horror to like the show, nor do you need a super strong stomach for it, but if you are a viewer who just cannot process horror then the show is not for you. (And content warning for harm to animals and a pet, if that squicks you.)

A lot of folks think the show features great performances from the actors all around, and I … don’t. But some of the performances are breathtaking. There are starmaking turns from Samantha Sloyan and Hamish Linklater in key roles. Similarly, Mass is one of these ensemble things where every character gets their turn with a juicy monologue. I love that sort of thing yet found several of the particular monologues lacking … but many were good, and a few were breathtaking.

In sum, Midnight Mass is wildly ambitious and while in my opinion it does not achieve all of those ambitions — I have some serious frustrations — it achieves a lot and has admirable ambition. I loved it. If this review has not put you off it, I do strongly recommend taking the plunge. People will be talking about it for years.

06 September 2021

Sartre on far right speaking in bad faith

I keep needing this observation from Anti-Semite and Jew. It describes not just antisemitism but the sensibilities of the far right in general, in their attack on the capacity for good faith discussion as part of their method of tearing down the conditions which enable liberal democracy.

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play.

They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.

It's also worth linking a related internet classic:

So I dead-eyed Gene and said, “You don’t really believe that. I know you don’t.” I will never forget the look that crossed his face. Because it was *familiar*.

It was the same shit-eating grin my racist stepfather used to wear when spouting Rush Limbaugh dittohead shit at the dinner table. It was the same wink-wink-nudge-nudge all the fucking white supremacists and Satanic Panic assholes give.

Gene absolutely, positively did not believe that Obama was born in Kenya. But he would continue to say he believed it, no matter who asked, to the end of his life. Because he thought saying he believed it *absolved him of responsibility*.

14 August 2021

The subjective experience of ADHD

I have been watching ADHD Twitter for a while and have started capturing useful threads about the subjective experience of the condition here.





A thread about the relation between the external and subjective experience of ADHD, from iza <@plant_homo>:

ADHD might be easier for neurotypicals to understand if you know that ADHD means that our baseline dopamine is lower than a neurotypical’s.

A thread on understanding ADHD a little bit more.

The most obvious result of this is depression, but not like clinical depression. It looks similar though. Boredom, nothing seems exciting anymore, and even surface level things like not getting out of bed and bad personal hygiene are there. Because as you can imagine, low dopamine sucks. In its basis, it causes underexcitement. Someone with ADHD will take any opportunity for a shot of extra dopamine.

To an outsider, this looks like intense and always changing interests, inability to focus on mundane tasks, recklessness with money, overeating and snacking, always doing multiple things at once, inability to sit still, etc etc. And that’s what ADHD was named for: what it looks like from an outsider’s perspective. The hyperactivity. The symptoms that are inconvenient for neurotypicals.

ADHD is a disability. It causes us to be impaired or unable to function in a neurotypical world. It impacts our schooling, socialization, work etc.

But that’s not how it’s known to the outside world. People don’t know about how it feels for us to be understimulated, to have a brain that just. will. not. do what you need it to, to be marked as lazy because our symptoms are misunderstood. The biggest thing of which is the inability to start and focus on mundane tasks. When a brain is at low dopamine, it does not want to do something that will lower that even more. It'll always be looking for something to increase it. And that’s why you’ll often see us on our phones. They’re a handheld dopamine machine. Social media, games, music, all the information about our special interests is at our fingertips. That’s extremely interesting and tempting.

And before anyone compares this to addiction: stop it. Right now. All we want is the normal amount of dopamine. Compare it to being thirsty all the time instead.

So, please, before you judge someone with ADHD for something you don’t know a lot about, consider researching a little bit or asking that person if they can describe what’s happening inside their brain. We’re not lazy, just always looking for a normal dopamine level.

Another thread, this time from Rene Brooks <@blkgirllostkeys>, who has a website with great ADHD resources.

Can we talk about the curse of being a “gifted" kid while having undiagnosed ADHD? Has anyone else survived this specially crafted hell?

Beyond the torment of ADHD symptoms, add the additional criticisms of “we know you’re smart” “you’re way too intelligent for this” and “why aren’t you working up to your full potential?” Then turn those internal and they are your internal diaglouge forever. So there’s your gift.

When I got to high school we changed school districts and they gave me the option to not be a gifted kid. And I took that option. I took that option like a shot. Unfortunately, they still discovered I was “capable of more” if I would “apply” myself.

Which brings the eternal “why won’t you try” chorus from your parents.

And you sit there in shame because you know you’re better than your performance too. But you don’t know why you can’t perform. So you just assume you’re awful and lazy and say goodbye to your self-esteem.

In elementary school the rule was that I had to sit on the couch until my homework was done. I would be on that couch for hours because I couldn’t pay attention long enough to just finish. As an adult I pointed out that they should have taken this plus the diagnosis seriously.

So TLDR I was tormented by my family about my performance in school but they knew I had ADHD and rejected the diagnosis but of course now that I’ve grown up and got myself treatment of course they can see the difference but I’m still kinda miffed about the whole thing.

A reflection on ADHDers' relationship with object permanence — and coping mechanisms for that — from Jesse J. Anderson <@jessejanderson> on Twitter.

People with ADHD are often surrounded by piles of clutter. My desk is in a permanent state of chaos. Piles of books, papers, index cards, and random other things I don't want to forget.

Other ADHDers might keep a clean desk, but use their car as an extra closet and storage facility. Why is this so common for people with ADHD. It's actually a form of self-preservation.

We often forget things we can't see. Instinctively, we know this.

When things are truly put away—hidden in the depths of a box or drawer—we know they disappear from our brains entirely.

This is why planners rarely work for people with ADHD. The second we close the cover, we forget everything inside. Without a routine in place, we might never remember to open it again.

When I was younger, sometimes my mom would be so fed up with my room she would clean it herself. I hated when she did this! “How will I ever find anything?!”

When things are “a mess”, they are out in the open and I can use them as a physical memory palace—the visual of their environmental placement reminds me where things are. It may look like a mess, but I can find exactly what I'm looking for.

This extends beyond just knick-knacks on a desk. Sometimes a work responsibility will fall out of your brain. You were doing it consistently and one day—for some unknown reason—you forgot to do it. It's no longer part of your environment, your routine. When this happens, you know you'll never remember this thing again until something specifically reminds you. As if it's fallen into one of those boxes or drawers you never remember to open.

This can happen with people too. If you haven't seen someone recently, you might forget they exist entirely. This can add a lot of stress to personal and family relationships. People are offended and fail to understand.

Lauramkaye on Tumblr observes:

it concerns me that people really don’t know that ADHD isn’t a personality type or behavioral problem.

ADHD isn’t someone who’s personality is driven by fun and disorder.

ADHD is someone who’s brain goes all over the place looking for dopamine, because it doesn’t make or register enough of it, and when it finds a source of dopamine, it hyperfixates on it. it’s about deregulation of attention as well as emotions.

it’s not a person who can’t behave. a person with ADHD can look like a lot of things. misconceptions about what adhd looks like kept me from even looking for a diagnosis, and it also kept myself and others (professionals, even) from taking my suspicions seriously.

Smart people can have ADHD. And a lot of the time, they compensate for the ADHD with intelligence- until they reach the point where they just can’t overcome it anymore, which is why a lot of gifted + ADHD people have good grades their whole lives and then “suddenly” crash and burn. For some it’s college, for some it’s grad school, for some it’s postgrad or professional exams like the bar. Whenever the things they have to do can no longer be brute-forced at the last minute.

ADHD is often lumped in with learning disabilities but it’s really a doing disability. We know what we should do. Probably we know six ways to do it. The trouble is actually getting our brains to activate so we can do it. Sometimes it’s like you’re being controlled by aliens or something because you say “I need to do X” and you’re going to do it and you just. Don’t.

A long thread from Moon-faced Assassin of Joy <@NomeDaBarbarian> which does not really describe the mechanics of ADHD in the brain properly, but can be a very useful corrective for folks who wonder if they have ADHD and have looked at formal diagnostic descriptions but few accounts of the experiences of ADHDers.

I really don’t love how this test is worded, though, because everything’s from the perspective of a neurotypical baseline. “Overly” talkative? Compared to...? “You do X when it's inappropriate.” According to...?

It's phrasing like that which kept me from diagnosis for my entire life — phrasing that assumes a frame of reference I by definition cannot have. Which means I’m not supposed to notice my disorder. It's instead supposed to be reported on by people in my life.

ADHD, as described, isn’t ADHD as experienced. Instead, it’s just a list of the behaviors which piss off parents and teachers, which they want us to stop. And that’s kind of hot garbage.

Like, here are the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

  1. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
    Well … no. Obviously not. I pay very close attention to details, and by definition any mistake is a careless mistake. What, are people out here making careful mistakes? What I’m not paying close attention to is what you would like me to pay attention to. What you have failed to make interesting, since there’s so much that’s louder in the room.
  2. Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
    I can play Minecraft for nine hours straight and forget that my body exists. It’s not that I have trouble holding attention — it’s that I’m not in control of my attention. The tasks are, whatever they are.
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    Literally nothing to do with my experience here. What if, instead, you ask “Do people have to say your name to get your attention, or to have to pull you out of your thoughts before they start talking to you?”
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
    Okay, that one seems fair enough. Would be great if it wasn’t also the one that was taken as a glaring personality flaw.
  5. Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
    No, that’s hot garbage. I am excellent at organizing tasks and activities. Because my brain cannot do it automatically. So I have to consciously do it. But the DSM isn’t asking about that — it’s ignoring what the actually neurotically experience is, possibly because it’s not an experience they examine all that much.
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
    Again, ridiculous. I can pour out mental effort like water for days at a time. What I can’t do is spend that energy on something that’s boring, that doesn’t hold my attention, or which has too many different steps. You want time to organize your file cabinet? Give me a podcast, it’s done.
  7. Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephone.)
    Again, the only ones in relatable plain terms are the ones that get called personality flaws.
  8. Is often easily distracted.
    No. If the thing I’m working on is interesting, I can’t be distracted.
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities.
    If I’m trying to self-report, how exactly would I know?
  10. Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
    Or a thousand other coping mechanisms we use to stim, because you made it clear that what we were doing was inappropriate.
  11. Often leaves seat ins situations when remaining seated is expected.
    Expected.
  12. Often runs about or claims in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
    “Appropriate.”
  13. Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
    When, precisely, was “quietly” a word used to describe the platonic ideal of children at play?
  14. Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”
    I sat and focused on books for ten hours straight, forgetting that meals or bathrooms existed. Is that on the go? It’s definitely the behavior you’re trying to ask about, but not what you’re actually asking.
  15. Often talks excessively.
    “Excessively.” Anyone else follow the rules, raise your hand to answer questions, and eventually have teachers tell you to stop raising your hand. Hard to follow a rule you never make explicit, there, champ.
  16. Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  17. Often has trouble waiting their turn.
  18. Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
    All more or less the same thing — and none of those are what I experience.

What I experience is either:

  1. The world seems so slow — people pause for so long, and you think they’re done talking. People use so many extra words. People don’t move efficiently! They don’t line up right! They’re all … just so slow, always!
    or,
  2. My brain has, without letting me know, already filled in the last words you were saying, thought of five questions in response to it, sorted those in order of importance, queued up one to ask, and made me start asking it.

And that’s it. This is quoting directly from the CDC, who are in turn quoting the DSM-V. It’s only different for adults in that they require fewer symptoms from each category to be present. Because you’ve probably built some coping mechanisms by then.


Centers For Disease Control and Prevention | Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD


The diagnostic criteria are criminally short, criminally flimsy, and based almost entirely on possibly misunderstood signs (as observed by other people) instead of lived experiences of symptoms (as observed by the person actually dealing with them).


@MeatyHD says:

This, to me, embodies a pattern seen in most of the poorly-described symptoms. It’s not “missing” details, it’s seeing to many of them and not being able to properly filter them. Just like the “deficit” of attention. There’s actually an excess, that just not regulated.

Emotions? Excess, unregulated. Energy? Enthusiasm? Thoughts? The entire existence is just. Excess, which leads to implosion and eventually appears to be a deficit

(Side note: gotta love how Twitter reinforces the tendency to jump into conversations with, well, too much.)

Perfectly said — so much of what is read by others as “deficit” is in fact “surplus” which we’re unable to regulated. I’m paying attention to everything, always, and I have no goddam choice in the matter.

It's that disconnect that makes me so thankful for #NeurodiverseSquad / #ADHDTwitter. If it weren’t for y’all, I’d never have recognized myself. The adults the world was apparently counting on to recognize it called me by turns “Lazy” or “Gifted.” “Talented” but “Unmotivated”.

It's why I try to pass that favor on, too, because fuck — It is so much better, knowing myself. With that in mind, here's what it feels like for me to live inside an #ADHD brain.


@_wordsfromspace says:

First question in an ADHD assessment should be “so what exactly did it take for you to make to this appointment here today?” The discrepancy in sheer effort between my success and the assumed NT success is exhausting. (Same goes for my failures.)

Jesus Christ a thousand times this

“How long was it between you thinking you needed this appointment, and taking your first steps to make it?”

“What were your steps?”

Additionally, if you're part of Twitter (and even more so, part of TTRPG twitter), and find a lot of this ringing true ... I maybe have some extra news for you:

As someone with #ADHD who’s Extremely Online™, Twitter is specifically like a drug for me. It specifically feeds my dopamine deficits. It occurs to me that a reason why so many folks #onhere find ADHD content relatable, Is that Twitter might artificially select for ADHD folks.

Just like how #ADHD folks are overrepresented in, say, Computer Science. Because it’s an environment that plays to our strengths and feeds our specific hungers. It’s a problem-solving, results-driven career where you don’t need to read social cues and are allowed to be weird.

So of course the social media site which ...

  1. Requires short bursts of information
  2. Alerts us when a conversation is ongoing
  3. Gives us those good good dopamine hits with simple interactions
  4. Rapid-fires interesting things at us
... is sifting the #ADHD folks outta the genpop.

You know how, when you see the solution to a problem, you immediately recognize it? You knew what shape it was going to be, so as soon as you have the solution idea, it just clicks? Y’all it just clicked for me. If I want to find #ADHD folks online, I'll come to Twitter.

An update:

I’ve had some folks defending the DSM and its definitions, or suggesting that I’m quoting it in a different way than it’s intended, or saying that psychologists/psychiatrists use other tools. I’d like to address that a bit.

The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. It is the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses, and the definitions it uses are often used to determine things like “will my insurance cover this?” It's a diagnostic manual.

To the folks saying that it has to rely on (external) signs instead of (internal or self-reported) symptoms, I don’t think that’s true. ADHD and OCD and SPD and ASD might all present with certain identical signs, rooted in very different symptoms. They may also be comorbid.

If the only diagnostic criteria are signs as noticed by parents and brought to a health care professional, then you are assuming

  1. Children's signs will be noticed by parents, who
  2. Recognize them as indicative of a disorder, instead of just calling the kid dumb/lazy/bad, and
  3. Have the resources to bring that child to a mental health provider, because
  4. There is a pediatric psychologist in their area who
  5. Will recognize the kid’s behaviors and
  6. Accurately diagnose the kid.

And y’all? I wish you could see my mentions.

Because that process does not work. It assumes that the kid won’t invent any coping or masking behaviors on their own: spoiler alert, most of us do. We’re problem solvers.

It assumes a stable household with parents who give a shit. It assumes doctors who won’t ignore or discount the kid’s behaviors. And even once you get past all of that, It assumes that the behaviors listed will match the ones in the DSM.

@q_aurelius says:
Given the likelihood of one or both parents of an undiagnosed ADHD child having undiagnosed ADHD themselves ... I don’t feel great about our chances of recognizing it in our children.

And — fuck, I didn’t even consider — given that this disorder has a documented genetic / inherited component, It assumes a likely undiagnosed parent will have the ability to navigate the multi-headed hydra of our medical system in the US to do so.

And it’s thought to evaporate in boys from the same generation as well, since at one point they’ll marry a woman who’ll take on the emotional work of [everything the ADHD brain is bad at]. Given that we're being raised by the generation where it was thought of as a disorder that only male children got, and grew out of? (Because, surprise, sexism?)

There isn’t a seperate DSM section for Adults. These are the criteria.

So.

We’re left with in all likelihood tens of millions of undiagnosed Americans,
Who almost certainly don’t have access to Mental Health Care,
Who have to first suspect something fixable is up with them.

Instead of just internalizing the voices of every authority figure in our lives, and deciding that we’re clearly just pieces of shit, full of wasted potential.

So, when we as adults finally decide, based on hearing something from someone about maybe this being something, to check The Book, You know, the one that’s available to us, the one that doesn't require us spending money we don’t have to go to a doctor? We get the DSM.

And we take one look at the diagnostic criteria, and go, “Well this clearly isn’t me.”

Or maybe we decide to do it right, and we got to a doctor we can’t afford, and they’re not a specialist in ADHD, so they also go to The Book, And ask us the questions out of it, And we say “No, that’s not me.” So they tell us we don't have ADHD.

We can’t go directly to the specialist after all, because we have to be referred to a specialist by our GP, and if they have something in their head like “ADHD doesn't happen in girls” or “ADHD goes away when you grow up” or — fuck — “You can't have ADHD if you did well in School.”

Then that care is walled off from us. And we’re already prone to think of ourselves as failures, somehow. So a doctor said, “No, you definitely don’t have it,” And what are we supposed to do, say we’re smarter than them?

Having diagnostic criteria that relied on the honest self-reported experience of the patient, as informed by the signs reported by others in their life, would save this trouble. Hell, even just phrasing the questions that way. “Have people said to you that you [x,y,z]?”

You know, since we have a disorder that’s often characterized by answering the exact question asked, without understanding the context of the question? By not understanding rhetorical questions to not be wanting an answer? You know, we natural and accidental pedants?

“Psychiatrists are using other tools than this.” Great. Good. Glad to hear it. I didn’t see a psychiatrist until I was thirty, and that was only after doing the groundwork myself. So unless you’re pushing for a system of universal mental health care, including screening?

Well, until that day, I stand the fuck by what I the fuck said.

Video about late diagnosis trauma — transcript:

Why are you so bitter about late diagnosis? I mean, you still seem to be successful.

Imagine for a moment that you drive a crappy 1989 Chevette. Stickshift. And every time you get in your car, it is guaranteed that at least two things will go wrong. Sometimes you get off easy and it’s just that your window won’t go down or the trunk won’t close. But sometimes it’s a flat tire, and a transmission leak.

After a few years of this, you start carrying a full collection of tools in your car every time you leave.

But over the years you’ve gotten a reputation for being late and irresponsible.

Now after 30 years you become an expert. You could rebuild that car from nothing. Does that mean that when your axle breaks in half you’re not gonna be late to work? No! You’re still going to be late to work. But less of those things are going to happen, and you may not be as late as you would have been.

But as far as you know, everyone drives Chevettes because when you arrive late to work and you say “sorry, I had car troubles” people respond with “yeah, everybody has car troubles but everyone still manages to make it on time”.

So one day you pull aside your coworker and you say, “Hey, how come you’re never late to work and you never miss any deadlines?”

And they say, “I don’t know, I just do.”

And you say, “Well doesn’t your car always break down?”

“Well, yeah. We all have car troubles. But then we just get it fixed and move on. Don’t you have tools?”

“Yeah, I have tons of tools!”

“Well, maybe your tools just aren’t good enough.”

So you keep shopping around for new tools. And you’re like: I’m pretty sure I’ve tried all the tools. And I’ve tried them a lot.

Then one day you come across an article about Teslas, and you go and you test-drive a Tesla. Andit runs like butter. Not only is it automatic, it’s self-driving. And if anything goes wrong, they bring you a new Tesla until yours is fixed. And you find out that all those people who had said that everyone has car problems had been driving Teslas this whole time.

You could have had a Tesla for 30 years that you were repairing that broken-down Chevette, if someone had just said to you, “Why do you drive a Chevette? You should drive a Tesla.”

So. Yes, I’m fairly functioning. Yes, I’m fairly successful. But look at how much work it took to get here. How much more successful could I have been if I had put in that amount of effort with a Tesla.

Here’s the hardest part: I was lucky enough to come from a family who became experts at repairing Chevettes. Imagine not having that, and your only coping mechanism was to just go to the repairman every time, and you rack up way more debt than you can handle. Or you just keep trying to fix it because you can’t afford a mechanic. And life gets so difficult that you turn to drugs, or you just take your own life. Simply because no one told you that you’re driving a Chevette and you could be driving a Tesla.

So yeah, I’m bitter. Because I’ve lost friends to that. And as long as I’m here on Earth I’m gonna get as many people in Teslas as I can.

Another meditation on late diagnosis:
serosfan
So I’ve just started taking ADHD meds to help and even on a low dose right now things are a lot better. So I have something to say.

ALL THIS TIME TASKS WERE EASY FOR NEUROTYPICALS?! I’m sorry?! I spend all the time feeling INFERIOR and like absolute garbage because people could do tasks better than me and it turns out its because for them it’s EASY?!

WHAT THE FUCK?!

roach-works
the most common and least mentioned side effect of being properly medicated is OUTRAGE

Another from @NomeDeBarbarian:

Thinking about how I’ve been lied to as an ADHD person about what habits are. Habits, for me, are things that I can reliably remember to do. I have a procedure, I go through it, I’m familiar with every step. That is apparently not what neurotypical folks get to experience.

Habits are things that they do without thinking. They don’t have to decide to do them. They don’t have to remember to do them. Things just happen, automatically, because they’ve done them enough for that system to engage and make them automatic. That system... which I lack.

Every single time I have brushed my teeth, it’s been an active choice. I’ve had to devote thought and attention to it. It’s not a routine, it’s not a habit, it’s something that I know is good to do, and hopefully I can remember to do it. Every single time I exercise, or floss, or pay my rent, or drink water, or say “bless you” when someone sneezes, it’s because I’ve had to actively and consciously engage the protocol.

It never gets easier. Just more familiar.

It’s part of my struggle with my weight - exercise never becomes a habit, and every single time I do it, it is exactly as hard as the first time. It takes exactly as much willpower & thought. I got lied to about how it would just “turn into a habit.” And blamed, when it didn’t.

If there’s not an external motivator (My cat yelling at me, so I feed her. I need clothes for work, so I do laundry. Etc.) I’m just constantly trying to remember all of the various procedures I have.

Add to that the way ADHD fucks with my interoception? Interoception is your ability to perceive your body’s signals. And I just... can’t. I don’t hear them, until they become emergencies. Everything else is so much louder. Every time I realize I need to pee, or poop - every time I feel hungry, or thirsty?

It’s an emergency. Now.

Drinking water isn’t a habit. Feeding myself isn’t a habit. Bathing isn’t a habit. I spend so much more energy, so much more time, so much more labor on just managing to maintain my fucking meat suit. And now you want me to also do taxes? On time?

Sounds homophobic, tbh.

Hey turns out there’s a pill which can help me maintain habits. If I can remember to take it. Which would be useful. If only I could make taking the “habit-making” pill a habit.

I need to date someone with (or join a polycule where at least one person has) executive function and time management skills. Like, I will cook every meal, scrub every toilet, do all the grocery shopping, fine - I just need someone else’s chore to be “remember time exists.” A chore wheel for the house, where one slice is just “Prompting.”

<@AMP2>:
I will do half to two thirds of the chores/cooking/errands in exchange for good time management delivered in a sensitive manner!

In a heartbeat. “Hey babe, I’m going to iron. Come fold the laundry and keep me company?”

<@RohannenZorbia>:
Sounds like someone needs to invent some kind of roomba that follows you around and gently reminds you about things. Maybe they could make it so it’s like a robot parrot on your shoulder or something like that.

Do you remember in Flubber, where Robin Williams has the secretary robot that floats around behind him? That is the dream.

One of the things that was a huge realization for me was when someone explained why ADHD was thought of as a boy’s disorder that you grow out of - Because the men would be assumed to have both a wife and a secretary, onto whom they would offload everything ADHD is bad at. So suddenly the symptoms “disappear.”

<@tintabula>:
And as a girl in the dark ages, I couldn’t have it. I was just defiant and obtuse.

Yup. According to the era, if you’re a woman with ADHD? No you’re not - you’re just bad at being a wife and mother, and need to try harder. Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth a bit.

Mary <@lyrytish>:
As that person 21 years into a relationship...it sucks to be us but it is truly the expression of love and respect. “Babe, don’t forget” for the 20th time in 3 hours is really hard to keep tender

It’s a part of the division of labor in a relationship, and a huge one. Without talking too much about our business, it’s part of why my last relationship failed. I needed to be prompted, or to make plans /with/ someone to face tasks together. She needed routines, that she explicitly didn’t want to think or talk about. She needed “say it once, and then it’s handled forever.” And she wasn’t able to do the things I was begging for - things like saying, “hey, let’s do [x],” or tempering her language/tone when saying “have you done [y]?” And all of the tools we had built over the years - her, being undiagnosed ASD, me, being undiagnosed ADHD - went right past each other, because they were made for interacting with neurotypical folks.

So we just... never worked. Never managed to bridge the gap.

The worst part? I knew all of this going in. I talked to her about what I was hoping for, what I needed. Was super explicit and clear about my feelings. But she’s been lied to by neurotypicals her entire life about their feelings, so she doesn’t listen, and instead observes. So she nodded, and made the noises people make, and waited for me to instead show her what I was like by how I acted, because years of neurotypical bullshit had taught her that nobody is clearly communicating about their emotions. So she waited for me to do something other than tell her. Which was, in fact, the only tool I had.

So it was just... almost four years of stalemate. During that time, I also felt diminished. Less myself than normal - because when I’m around people, one of the things I’m looking for is for them to work my levers. I can’t reach them.

I’m like a wind-up toy - someone or something else has to twist the key. I’m capable of so much if I’m in relationships or community with the right people, with people who understand me and my strengths and my needs. I can guide, but I can’t operate me. I can’t reach the lever.

Sid <@velocirker>:
Reading this thread reminded me of a meme my friend made because being ADHD and Autistic is ✨fun.✨

It really makes me wonder how y’all ADHD + Autism folks do it. I have all of the “I need prompting, and get dragged off-course by novelty,” and she had all of the “There is a correct way for the spices to be in the cabinet, no I can’t explain it.”