The “Justification” Disease

“What disturbs men’s minds is not events, but their judgment on events.”
-Epictetus

Do me a favor?
Touch your nose.

No, seriously.  Just humor me. 
Touch your nose, dude.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Did you touch it?  (Or rebel and declare your righteousness in not doing so?)
Great, thanks.

You were, like, totally justified in touching your nose there, dude.  I mean, I asked you to and everything.  But, it’s not like you need somebody’s permission to touch your nose.  I mean, dude.  You’re always justified in touching your own nose.  You don’t need to come up with a story that explains it — you just do it (if you’re like most of us, you do it a heck of a lot more than you think you do).  You don’t need somebody to tell you it’s okay not to touch your nose, either.  It’s your call, you’re perfectly justified and entitled to touch your nose, or not to touch your nose.

And, of course, you totally already knew that.

So if you’re having to tell yourself a story and a big old song-and-dance routine about how you’re perfectly justified in doing something….maybe you’re not.  You just might be rationalizing behavior you’d never actually do when it’s “situation normal,” because some part of you knows it’s just not okay to reach out and touch that other guy’s nose (with a hammer).

————–
“Emotional Intelligence” (you can google that, and two editions are out now on Amazon) is an important concept, though it tends to circulate only in the business world, and even there it only tends to circulate in its b.s. version of “choose your attitude, but only if it’s a POSITIVE attitude:  just keep smiling and pretending everything’s cool, now matter how ridiculous, inhumane, or stupid events actually get.”

Basically, when you hear something, or hear about something, you’ve got two portions of your brain going after it.  The first is our amygdala.  It’s responsible for your emotions.  The second is, loosely speaking, your forebrain.  It’s a lot more complicated than that, I only have a layman’s understanding of brain science, and it’s Friday afternoon, so we’re just going to say “forebrain” for now, cool? 

So here’s the important part.  The amygdala is really, really fast.  Because your emotions are tied to testosterone and all sorts of other chemicals, a number of which are responsible for you panicking, jumping around, running up and down trees, flinging poo, and all those other behaviors that you just gotta do to avoid being eaten by tigers when you catch a tiny flash of orange in the jungle.

Forebrain?  Not so fast.  By the time you’re done rationally figuring out what that orange flash was, Miss Giant Kitty is holding you down with one paw to keep you from wiggling too much while she snaps your neck like a chicken.

Since we actually survived through the “eaten by tigers” stage of our history long enough to develop into the “it’s really cute when that tiger in the zoo presses up against the glass and my little girl giggles and tries to pet her” stage, guess which one of these two evolution decided got priority over the other?

———–
Ever had an argument with somebody?
It’s okay, you can admit it.  It happened to me once, too.

“I”m Happycrow, and sometimes I argue with people.”
“Hi, Happycrow…”

Ever had an argument with somebody, debunked their argument, convinced them that their argument was in fact incorrect, and watched them come up with lots of new shiny arguments to try to defend their position?
Yeah, they’re totally emotionally attached to that position.  With sticky-tape and stuff, and your rational arguments just aren’t playing crowbar very well, are they?.

Why’s that?  Well, remember that bit about the amygdala?  What’s happened is that their amygdala has heard something, and said “no sir, I don’t like that.  It bothers me, and I bet he’s a poopyhead.”  And because the amygdala is faster than the forebrain, their forebrain started to come up arguments to satisfy the emotional position their amygdala took, even without having realized that the basis for their opinion is totally non-rational.  Their amygdala has taken over the rest of their brain, and the rest of their brain doesn’t even realize it.

For the record, this never, ever happens to me.
More than, like, four times per hour.

———————
That thing is what the “Emotional Intelligence People” call an “amygdala hijack.”  It’s REALLY common on the Internet.  People read things, and it upsets them.  And being hoopy froods with the right to express themselves, they do.

We human beings are an awesome lot.  We’re pretty amazing.  Not very rational, though.  We tend to let our emotions get in the way of our forebrain.  Then we tend to behave badly, which is okay, because when somebody’s said something that hurts your feelings, you’re justified in commenting on that.  Even flaming on it.  Flame wars are okay — people are entitled to say what’s on their mind.

Like, totally entitled.

How’s your nose?

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Thoughts on Egypt and the Arab Spring: Freedom Requires Hope

This morning, the world pundits are going mad, and I appear to be the only person out there who is both closely following the situation, and viewing it with anything resembling calm.  From White House high-fives to conservative commentariat doom-and-gloomism.  Mainstream Beltway sources like the WaPo now consider the Arab Spring to have “failed”:  everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be divided over what the election of a Salafist (“Moderate Muslim Extremist”) to the Presidency of Egypt mean for the world.

Sometimes I think I’m the only person following this mess who seems to be thinking about what it means for the Egyptians.  I think the election is hugely significant, and I can sum it up in one word:

Hope

Let every criticism of the Egyptian Salafists stand.  No, they’re not nice people.  Yes, they aid and abet the slaughter of Christians on a regular basis.  No, they do not believe in “human rights” in any form that the secular west (or even the Christian West, with its “render unto Caesar” history of separating government from religion) recognizes.  Yes, the political ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood will, in fact, be just horrible for Egyptian tourism, starving it of badly-needed dollars — this in a country where huge sements of the population is on food aid to survive at the same time as  its fiscal reserves continue to implode.

Grant all of that.  Grant the many, many abuses of the SCAF while we’re at it, too:  Egypt’s regime is repressive, and has a history of engaging in, abetting, or turning a blind eye to, some truly appalling things.  Egypt is not a nice place right now.  Christians are killed regularly.  Freedoms most westerners take for granted don’t exist.  And the way Egyptian men casually victimize women, it’s certainly no place I would ever bring my wife or daughter.  Michael Totten is right: a country which brutally victimizes women and then blames the woman for daring to be brutalized is no place to be with two X chromosomes.  That happens with the SCAF in power.  These things don’t happen because the Muslim Brotherhood ran for parliament and the Presidency.  They happen because Egyptians….are Egyptians.  This is who the majority of Egyptians are and what the majority of Egyptians do.  Culture counts.

One of these is not the cure for the other.  Egypt, like much of the Middle East, is caught in a vicious cycle, swinging pendulum-like between Tyranny and Radicalism.  So long as political violence answers questions, only the extremes can survive politically.  As the secular democrats in Egypt discovered, they may be popular with the West, but their voices never penetrated meaningfully to the average Egyptian.

President Morsi will face some huge obstacles.  I’m honestly and truly glad that I’m not him.  And worse than that, radicals, muslim or secular, Venezuelan or Somali, time and again demonstrate that they are very, very poor at solving the basic problems of good governance, without which there can be no progress.

So the choice before the public isn’t “do we get tyranny or do we get freedom?”  That’s the NYT/WaPo/Guardian narrative. Freedom for Egyptians is not on the table: not while the average Egyptian is functionally illiterate and earns less than $2 a day while global currency devaluation consistently jacks up the price of wheat (nota bene, SCAF’s solution to this problem has been simply to plunder the public treasury even faster, so its officers have the money to escape when the bill finally comes due).  Instead, the question is “should the Muslim Brotherhood be given a chance to fail, or would we rather continue to submit ourselves to the army’s failure, corruption, and mis-management?”

As we see, Egypt’s military establishment is discredited.  Only widespread fear at the prospect of Morsi’s election drove so many people into SCAF’s arms.  If the Muslim Brotherhood delivers — great!  Good for the world, and good for those Egyptians who would otherwise starve.  “Delivering,” of course, will fundamentally mean engaging in some pretty moderate behaviors: a nation dependent on tourists cannot survive by scaring said tourists away, no matter how many fiscal promises the Saudis make.  An Muslim Brotherhood-led government marked by sectarian murder after sectarian murder in the headlines spells economic doom for Egypt.

If they fail to deliver, then the radicals, like the tyrants, will be discredited.  And just as in many other places where the radicals have been discredited lately, the response will tend towards finding more-moderate voices who can at least keep the sewers from backing up.  Or….maybe not.  Maybe another Nasser-like military boot will come crashing down upon the Egyptians, to spoil yet another generation.

We don’t know.  That’s up to the Egyptians.  But I wish them well, and look on the Arab Spring with guarded optimism.  Because SCAF is a dead end.  As bad as things look for Egypt right now (and they look pretty darned grim), there’s no hope at all without giving the choice of the people (however distasteful that choice is to westerners) a chance to fail.

The Two Faces of Rape

Introduction

I got involved in a very heated debate on Facebook not very long ago, involving the thesis that women get raped because society condones the crime and counsels women on how to avoid it, rather than telling men that it’s wrong to do it.  It got heated enough that I was accused of being complicit with rapes because I disputed the thesis (I hew to the Oleg Volk school of rape prevention — i.e., in an imperfect world where one human in thirty is unfortunately a psychopath, an empowered, well-armed women best discourages a social predator by blowing his brains out).  Naturally, I was mortally offended, deeply hurt, and made myself look like an *ass* by retorting with a heartily-felt f-bomb.

Long after, and still STEAMING mad, I finally calmed down enough to say “self, why are you so mortally offended that in spite of your better interests, you let your amygdala hijack your forebrain and f-bomb all over somebody’s Facebook thread?

Real-life dialogue from my past —

Scene:  Budapest, in a student dorm.
Actors:  Me, and a very kind, sweet, also rather confused and conflicted young lady whose name will be withheld.
Action:  Blend of Thai and very borderline erotic massage (I was weak as a kitten at the time from a debilitating illness and having to use my posture/bodyweight to work deep tissue stuff that nowadays, having mostly recovered, I could simply lean in and use shoulder and back strength.)

Her:  “this is getting me turned on…” ::slight pause:: “you’re making me hot…”
Me:  “that’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
Her:  “but…I don’t want to have sex with you.”
Me:  “so don’t.”
Her:  ::look of profound shock::
Me:  “Well, it’s pretty simple.  If you don’t want to have sex with me, great.  Don’t.  We’ll finish up here and go for coffee.  It’s a non-issue.”

[This being Budapest, that meant “kavé,” or stupid-strong espresso.  You don’t “get kavé” if you’re trying to seduce somebody.]
Her:  ::initial incredulity gradually replaced with relaxation as she realizes I’m backing the words up with “non-action” ::

Over the course of my single years, I had several conversations that went along those lines, with ladies who were happy to fool around, but not comfortable pulling the trigger on making a sexy relationship into an openly sexual one.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes, or that I didn’t accidentally hurt some people.  Like most men, I was clueless about how women worked for a long time.  But in every case like this, no matter how turned on each one of us got, since I knew the lady didn’t want to be my lover, I kept the brakes applied.  (This may surprise some people who know me.  I once played DnD at a friend’s place, and Friend 1 said, meaning to describe the character that I was running, that “[Happycrow’s] a lascivious gypsy.”  Not missing a beat, Friend 2 responded “great, what’s his character?”)  In the end, I think the reason I got so steamed is that I take rape very, very seriously, being of the school where I tend to view the appropriate response to rape being to tear off the man’s testicles, set him on fire, and then, a little while later, hang him.  I can’t even stomach prison-rape jokes.

Seriously:  there’s nothing even slightly funny about people being sentenced to stay in a little metal box, often for victimless “crimes,” (mala prohibita, or things that are only “wrong” because somebody has decided to make them illegal), then to be forcibly sodomized for years or even decades without any hope or help.  That’s Dante’s Inferno territory here on earth.  If rape is horrific, imagine knowing you have to suffer it for decades, and that nobody’s ever, ever going to step in to protect you…

There are Two Faces of Rape: His and Hers

His
It should be pretty simple to say: “Men, don’t rape.”  But statistics bear out that there’s still a huge problem, with a lot of women suffering serious harm.

  1. Don’t be a social predator.  If you’re a sociopath, recognize that there are special places where your utter lack of human empathy is a tremendous asset, and where you’ll be very well-compensated for taking advantage of that fact AND avoid the unpleasantness associated with prison time, etcetera (statistically speaking you’re likely to be successful in the short term, and then caught and put away in the long run — and let’s face it.  “Sniper,” “Investment Banker,” and “Trauma Surgeon” all look a lot better on a resume than “serial rapist.”)
  2. A woman dressing for sex or sexiness is not “asking for it.”  And even when a woman’s dressing in a way that really IS asking for it, chance are, she’s not asking for it FROM YOU  (In other words, if she’s dressing like a bombshell to “motivate” her fiancé, you don’t have a voice in that conversation).
  3. If a woman says any variation of “stop” at any time, including in the middle of intercourse, you stop.  You don’t slow down, you don’t pause.  You get your body off of hers until both of you know what’s going on.  That may mean you go home frustrated as hell.  Tough shit.  Take a long shower — you’re a man, not a goat, and have, or ought to have, enough self-control to avoid victimizing someone.
  4. That applies even in the case of somebody who’s explicitly playing head games with you — in fact, it applies doubly to those circumstances, because women who will play head games with sex are not quality people, and not only do you need to get away from said women, your life will be much happier if you get away from them permanently.
  5. Alcohol does not excuse you from controlling yourself — and the prisons are full of people who thought they could drop a six-pack and be legally entitled to do whatever criminal action they wanted to get away with.  The District Attorney, who is politically motivated to put your ass away permanently if there’s even a whiff of suspicion that you might make the news, begs to differ.
  6. Don’t take advantage.  Don’t take advantage for two reasons.  First, you are, or should be, a better man than than to cause someone distress in a situation that should simply be awesome and good.  Second, for those men who aren’t better than that, there are legal repercussions — “taking advantage” isn’t rape, but a lot of women equate the two directly, and if you’re the kind of schmuck who pushes it, you’re a lot more likely to find yourself up on charges where your actual crime (of being a first-class jerk) is going to get you a reputation for being a social predator (aka, the kind of person most men would happily kill on sight without a shred of remorse if they thought they could get away with it — and some have gotten away with it).
  7. The court of opinion is not only stacked against you — it can destroy you.  Many colleges will find you guilty on a “preponderance of evidence” standard that has nothing whatsoever to do with your actual guilt or innocence.  Don’t put yourself in harm’s way, even if you’re legally in the right — being charged can ruin you for life.
  8. Point Blank:  Sex is important, and sex is exciting — if your partner isn’t not only “involved,” but obviously enthusiastic, something has gone seriously wrong.  Find out what.  Do Not Pass Go, Do not collect $200.  Find out what’s wrong:  she may be having sex in spite of not really wanting to (for any number of reasons ranging from the moronic to the tragic), and that can mess a woman up for years.

Hers
A lot of women get in trouble for “asking for it”-type situations, and suffer a lot of extra pain because they confuse “you made a lot of bad decisions” with “we agree that you should have been raped.”  (And, to be clear, there is a tiny minority of complete assholes who do spoil it for everyone else….by definition, both criminals and people who are only not criminals because they’re too afraid of the cops to act out the twisted shit in their heads, are nasty people.)  While not all encounters with social predators can be avoided (and that sucks for all crime victims, not just women), making good decisions will help to spare you a lot of heartache.

  1. “Asking for it” refers to not minimizing risks, or to taking stupid risks.  Yes, you should be able to walk around in nothing or almost nothing, wherever you want, and not fear any untoward consequences whatsoever.  And I should be able to walk around the “bombed-out” sections of Richmond, East Saint Louis, South Chicago, or Anacostia at night without suffering a very high probability of getting the everloving shit kicked out of me simply because I happened to be there.  We don’t live in a perfect world:  be realistic about the world you live in.  (Why do a lot of folks look askance at clubs?  Because a lot of predatory shit-heads hang out in clubs, that’s why)
  2. Some monsters walk on two legs:  3-4% of the human population is made up of psychopaths.  That is, one out of every twenty five-to-thirty people is incapable of feeling guilt for their actions, and feels absolutely no psychological difference between ordering a hamburger and shoving a Bowie knife into your eye.  These are people who can literally disembowel babies, and not only not feel guilt, but not feel anything.  Rape, algebra homework, genocide:  it’s all the same to these people.  The APA says that a somewhat-higher percentage of these people happen to be male.  Be careful: there are a lot of good men out there, but there are also some very, very bad ones, and the bad ones are usually much, much better liars — sociopaths and psychopaths frequently fool the professionals.  If you meet a man who’s “so slick he can slide uphill,” who’s awesome and amazing and always, always says exactly the right thing — step back and ponder that for a minute.  “So smooth you don’t even realize it until later” is a warning sign.
  3. Alcohol does not excuse a man raping you.  But at the same time, alcohol doesn’t mean you get a free pass on your behavior, either.  You do not lose your ability to give consent simply because you’ve chosen to drink and/or to get drunk — the sad truth is that a lot of women drink in order to give themselves permission to have sex.  One survey in England (not exactly a Saudi-like bastion of sexual repression) that came out not too long ago suggested that a significant percentage of married women had never had sex, even with their husbands, while actually sober.  Men know that lots of women drink to give themselves permission to screw, and many men will assume that if you’re drinking and dressed in a sexy way, that it’s perfectly reasonable to put 2 and 2 together and get 4.  Don’t set yourself up for future emotional anguish if you don’t trust yourself when you’re drinking.  Have a drinking buddy you can trust, and if you don’t want to get laid, make sure the guys you’re drinking with know that.  It’s not rape if you get really drunk and get laid,  but then regret the hell out of that the next morning, no matter how horrible you feel afterwards.  Sorry — that’s about as politically incorrect as it gets.  But you’re just as responsible for your actions as men are for theirs.  (And if you use that as an excuse to take it out  on the man by filing a false rape charge, you are officially A Bad Person.)
  4. And a world in which women aren’t required to be responsible for their actions just like men are, drunk or not, is no world you want to live in….unless you like being treated like a legal permachild the way 17th and 18th-century women were.  Your mothers and grandmothers fought like hell to get out of that world and into a world of legal equality.  You should honor their achievements.
  5. Just because you were drinking or because you said “yes” doesn’t mean you can no longer say “no,” either.  Stand your ground, and don’t be afraid to prosecute — or to scream for help if necessary if you’re too impaired to get away.  (On the other hand, men who use date-rape drugs on you, even if the assault doesn’t succeed, should always, always, always be reported to the police.  If the bastard tried it on you, guaranteed he’s either succeeded or is setting up to succeed on somebody else.  The answer to roofies isn’t self-doubt, but hard time in prison for the people who put women through that hell).
  6. Just because a guy has his pants off, doesn’t mean you’re no longer entitled to say no.  You can say “no” any time you want, including ninety-percent through intercourse while both your eyes are bugging out, for any reason whatsoever.  Yes, this can and likely will result in sexual frustration, confusion, and possibly even hurt feelings for the guy involved, just as it would for you if the guy suddenly bailed out and wanted nothing to do with you under the same circumstances.  That’s unavoidable, and hopefully you’ll both be very gentle and understanding with each other….but you still retain the absolutely inviolable right to say “no,” “stop,” “wait,” or any variation on that theme, at any time.  Anyone who says otherwise should never be allowed to take their pants off in your presence.
  7. There is no faster way to make a man hate all women, and to reflexively treat all every woman he meets like crap for the rest of his life than to subject him to a false rape accusation.  Accusing someone of rape is every bit as serious as committing rape in the first place.  And if you’re offended by that, substitute the word “murder” and see if you don’t get why.  There is also no faster way to cause some men to doubt a victimized woman’s valid rape accusation than to bring a rape charge for a false or spurious reason.  If you “cry wolf” and try to use a false criminal accusation as a weapon to hurt somebody, you deserve to do hard time in prison.
  8. Sadly, some men hurt women because they’re just as clueless about sex and relationships as you are, and they don’t understand how women work at all.  That sucks, and it happens surprisingly often — men and women are different.  It’s also one of the reasons why, prudish and old-fashioned as it sounds, survey after survey finds that women who wait until they’re in a committed relationship to have sex tend to be much happier than those who aren’t.  Men benefit from real relationships too, but being less emotionally sensitive, are less likely to suffer psychologically from a bad fling.  A pickup gone bad lingers and never gets resolved — in a real relationship, both parties are still around to work it out.  The Sexual Revolution was important — women have a lot more options and can make a lot more choices — but when you make those choices, make sure they’re choices you can not only live with, but look back on with a smile rather than a giant bucket of regrets.

And finally, for both men and women…  “Society says this, Society says that.” Forget “Society” — it’s a weak weasel-word that tries to turn “culture” into an aggregate, composite person who doesn’t actually exist.  A real adult woman sets her own standards and lives by them, and a real man, by definition, isn’t cowed into conformity by peer pressure.  If you can’t stand on your own feet, and make your own calls, while making sure that those calls are for the better good of both you AND your partner, then you’re probably not emotionally mature enough to be engaging in sex in the first place without suffering for it emotionally, or causing somebody else to suffer, possibly for a very long time.  And just like any “cycle of abuse,” those people tend to make the people around them suffer, too. “Every mind is a world” — don’t turn yours, or somebody else’s, into a permanent hell because you were too immature to make good choices and back them up by walking the walk.

(Edit:  Comments have been locked because of repeatedly-demonstrated inability of numerous commenters to maintain basic civility, and attempts to circumvent bans with false login information.  Sorry, folks — I’m cool with folks disagreeing with me, and I don’t even particularly mind people going off the deep end and, in scholarly terms, “doing violence to the text” because they they’re too self-righteous to accept the reality of any other context but their own.  But there are limits, and when I’m forced to play moderator simply to keep egregious abuse off the blog, it’s “okay, out of the pool” time.)

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