How we win
In the final moments of Season 5 of The Expanse, Avasarala looks around the lunar lounge where people from Earth, Mars, and the Belt have gathered. People from everywhere are talking, laughing, and sharing camaraderie. It's remarkable in that moment because those three groups spent the entire span of the previous TV seasons (and at least a hundred fictional years before that) in fierce and mistrustful opposition. Until they united against a common enemy. Avasarala calls for everyone's attention and says "this is how we win."
It's a feel-good and hopeful moment, the leader of Earth championing the cause of togetherness. It's also a great way to end the season. It's been a long and difficult journey to this point, but maybe, just maybe, with everyone working together we can defeat the big bad terrorist threatening the newly established peace in the solar system. I enjoyed this moment and the sentiment behind it. I also think a more accurate proclamation would have been "this is how we are less likely to lose."
Anything is possible, especially in television, but I think for us in the real world it's going to take more than a common enemy to get us to stop tearing each other apart. We could have united in the face of the pandemic, but we did not. We could unite in the face of climate change, but we have not. There are any number of problems we could use as an excuse to set aside our differences and bring our skills and talents and passions into alignment, but we do not.
And even if we did, we're still not guaranteed to win. I think about all the boards, committees, and teams I have served on where nothing ever actually got done. Talented, capable, responsible people came together under a unifying purpose and accomplished... diddly. Sometimes because although the objective was clear, all our time was spent hashing out the best way to achieve it. Sometimes because nobody wanted to do the particular piece of the project on which all the other pieces depended. Sometimes the people involved were most concerned about their own image or ego, so the appearance of working toward a goal was more important than actual progress.
That is by far the most frustrating reason to me. I want to solve problems, help people, and make the world a better place, so I am interested in getting shit done. We have work to do, so if your ego isn't actively accomplishing things, I don't have time for it. I am wholly disinterested in engaging with someone's need to be right. Especially if that need comes at the cost of everything else, including recognizing the humanity of others.
This is the primary reason I only rarely participate in online arguments. When I make a pointed comment on social media, it's to say something that needs to be said and is otherwise missing from the current conversation. Or to bring a perspective that seems absent from the discussion. Like "the problem isn’t that people are camping in public places, the problem is that people don’t have housing." I don't speak up to demonstrate how smart or informed or woke I am. That's a trap I see a lot of people succumb to. You know how to win an online argument? You don't argue with people on the internet.
The one thing that helps me most is letting go my attachment to being right. If someone is expressing toxic or hurtful or dangerous views in a public forum, someone should definitely say something and I don't mind being that guy. But I can't lose sight of why I piped-up in the first place. And it wasn't so I could be right; it was to say what needs to be said (and repeat it as many times as necessary). Whether or not the original poster sees what I say and takes it in, it’s there for other folks to absorb and consider.
Bigots, nazis, and fascists share their ideas online, so pushing back against those toxins in our social discourse is a responsibility we all share. Like the anti-oppression version of the see-something-say-something adage. But fighting with those people to win the trophy of "being right" is just engaging in a tug of war that only serves to legitimizes their harmful and problematic stances. Stop giving those folks any more air time than they finagle through their own insular platforms.
There are many things about the way we relate to each other than need to be resolved so when we finally come together we will be successful in our joint efforts. Our attachment to rightness is just one of them. Our attachment to superiority and hierarchy is another. As is our practice of dehumanizing people we don't understand how to relate to.
We can make policies and rules (and we should) that provide a framework for how people can and should interact with other people. But humans will just figure out how to express their toxic patterns around and within those systems if we don't also work on the underlying human issues at play. Just like we can't regulate our way out of everything. We should definitely regulate some things, like environmental emissions and false advertising. But the things that are more insidious, more tricky, are also more human. And we have to deal with those by beefing up our human defenses. Dark patterns online are a perfect example. So are most kinds of financial fraud.
We need to work together, there’s no way around it. The challenges of our time are too great for unilateral resolution. But we can't just come to the table without acknowledging everything we bring with us and expect that all those old feelings and patterns and biases will magically not get in our way. I don’t know how we win, and I’m not totally convinced that we can because it’s so much less effort to stir-up the masses using fear and lies than it is to do the heavy lifting of seeing yourself, recognizing the humanity in those around you, and insisting that everyone else do the same. But we have to try. If we don't, we will definitely all lose.
Information and Inspiration
I have come a long way. A long way since childhood, a long way since high school, a long way since my divorce, a long way since opening my own business, a long way since the start of this pandemic. I have grown and changed, sometimes unconsciously due to circumstance, sometimes intentionally through deliberate effort. As a child, just existing in the world is a constant learning opportunity. As an adult, the opportunities for circumstantial learning have definitely not decreased, but a higher proportion of my personal growth is now on purpose.
I devote energy and effort to personal reflection and development because it's fulfilling and it feels good, but that's not the only reason. Humans are not set-it-and-forget-it situations. Even when we make a change, if maintenance isn't built into our new system, then inevitably there is some amount of backslide. Not because humans are terrible at sticking with things, simply because whatever is most practiced is most likely.
I spent the first 3 decades of my life putting other people's emotional needs before mine. Even though intellectually I understand that is not a healthy way to engage with other humans, that knowledge alone won't help me because it doesn't erase my well-practiced tendency. If I don't practice doing something different, then my default will continue to be what it always has been.
Sometimes even when we do perform regular maintenance or check-ins, we hit that backslide anyway. That's what it feels like every time something traumatic from my past appears unexpectedly. Like this week, when I got hit by a ton of emotional bricks. I couldn't stop the flood of unpleasant emotions, or the compounding cascade of old narratives from playing in my minds ear, but I could call time-out and step away to process through it before it erupted all over the loving person who accidentally set-off my internal shitstorm.
The only good thing I can say about the experience of being triggered is that every time it happens with something I've been doing maintenance on, I can see the trigger for what it is more and more clearly. Just like my friend who posted about their recent recovery from a backslide into substance abuse after a long stint of sobriety. Even though the realization they had been consumed by their addiction felt just as devastating, the time they spent under the spell of this new substance was shorter than the last. Progress.
And that's just how it is. We learn some things, we make some headway, but we don't exist in a vacuum so sometimes we are affected by circumstance and take a few steps back before we can continue forward on our journey. Especially when the world is stressful, scary, or uncertain (which it almost always is). So I make time to practice whatever new way of speaking, thinking, feeling, or being I'd like to accomplish out in the wild.
The same thing is true for broader society. We make some progress, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the NFL's Rooney Rule, requiring clubs to interview at least one minority candidate for each head coach and general manager vacancy. Then we don't follow-up with enough practice to support a lasting change. So we end up with Brian Flores' lawsuit calling out the NFL's backslide into racist hiring practices. Or the criminalization of black men in the 1970's and the current prison industrial complex.
I don't want to keep losing progress on anti-racist efforts. I don't want to keep losing progress on women's rights. I don't want to keep losing progress on queer, trans, gay or rights for any other LQBTQIA+ identifying humans. And I especially don't want our democracy to devolve into complete fascism. The question is: how do we stop the backslide.
And the answer is: we have to practice something different. Every moment of every hour of every. single. day. Racism, sexism, transphobia, and political fear-mongering are so entrenched in our societal systems and personal perceptions that if we disconnect from active civil participation and coast on auto-pilot then we're running on our default, which is racist, sexist, anti-trans, and fear-based.
So do your personal work, learn about all your intrinsic biases, heal your trauma. Start seeing your internal world more clearly, so you can see what's happening around you with greater clarity. Then you can show up for yourself and everybody else and do what we need to do to make this world a better place. Most importantly: keep practicing. None of us can change the course of humanity alone. We all have to throw our intentional efforts toward building a future that includes and values everyone everywhere. And we can't get there by accident.
Information and Inspiration
Real, unexpected, beauty
I do not enjoy the romantic, expectation-laden version of Valentine's Day. I used to participate in it anyway because I thought that's what I was supposed to do. Like going to college, getting married, and having 2.3 children. In my experience, attempting the Hallmark version always resulted in a day of unmet expectations instead of just a day to do something special for someone you care about. And I'm just not into that.
I am a sentimental person, though, so I am definitely into the grade-school version of Valentine's Day. Everyone gets to decorate their own little mailbox, and everyone is basically your Secret Valentine Santa while you are everyone else's Secret Valentine Santa. It's fun to make little cards and it's fun to deliver them. The stakes are low, and romance doesn't hang in the balance. It's just nice to get a tangible little reminder that someone thought about you, even if it was only for 5 minutes while they wrote something generic or cheesy.
After my divorce, I started asking people how they wanted to participate in Valentine's Day (if at all). I told people how I wanted to participate in Valentine's Day. I invited the people I dated and all my friends to make valentines together. Part craft project, part safe space to express love and caring. Mostly an excuse for people to be together and avoid the weight of societal expectations for what single or coupled people should be doing on the most romantic of holidays.
With February 14th fast approaching, I started to think this week about secret and not-so-secret expectations. They are everywhere. Online and IRL. Every place we work, play, and live there are protocols. Codes of conduct. Some we openly agree to, like the rules posted on the wall of the gym or the swimming pool. Some are points of decorum we pick up through context, like the proper way to ask someone to dance at a tango social.
A great many of the ways we think we should be living are handed to us through repetitive, and often unspoken, societal messaging. For instance, nobody ever said to me "you are a fem-presenting human, so it's your responsibility to make everyone around you feel comfortable," but I got the message somehow. I also got the message that I needed a college degree to be a valuable worker. And that I should avoid gaining too much weight after I got married.
I heard a story this week on the BBC about why young people are having less sex today than the twenty-somethings of decades past. The reporter, Anoushka Mutanda-Dougherty, talked to people in multiple countries with different gender and sexual identities. She consulted experts on relationships and sex. Through all the interviews, one theme stood out prominently to me: societal expectations are getting in the way.
One person said his potential partners expect him to pay for things, and since he doesn't feel he can offer financial stability at this point in his career, he hasn't dated anyone (or had sex) in five years. Another person grew up in a religious community where the expectation of her personal sexual purity meant for her that she could not be physically intimate with another person until she was certain that person could be a life-long partner. And two other people described the situationships they are having to avoid the attachment to their partners and other expectations that come with being in a relationship.
I am not convinced that young people are actually having less sex than people my age did when we were in our 20's. I think the framing of the question of whether and why today’s youth are sexing less often effectively answers itself under a little scrutiny. In all of the studies on this topic, there is a clear assumption of what sex is and a clear expectation of what having regular sex means. And I think they are all missing the larger point.
Sex and relationships today don’t mean the same thing they did ten or twenty (or more) years ago. Society isn’t the same place it was ten or twenty (or more) years ago. We now have expanded language for sexual identities and relationship preferences. Marriage is not required to have a socially-recognized family. Sex is not required to have a meaningful and fulfilling romantic relationship. And talking about all these things out in the open is much more mainstream.
Young people today are doing exactly what the rest of us did: trying to navigate the complex web of societal and community expectations in a way that leads to as fulfilling a life as they can manage. That’s true in fashion choices, music trends, and everything else. Just look at the sheer volume of make-up tutorials available across every online platform. People of all genders share tips and techniques for everything from glamming-up to blending-in. There are even folks who wear their makeup in a way designed to confuse facial recognition software, which was definitely not a widespread issue when I was a twenty-something.
We are all just doing our best to navigate this expectation-laden world we’ve created. And we’re doing it while facing a very uncertain future. The exact impact of climate change is unknown, just like the longevity of the unsustainable economic model our entire society is currently built around. We have spent the last two years living a completely different pandemic reality than the life we all had before.
The only thing I actually have any control over is my own internal world. And it’s leaps and bounds easier to cope with the tumult and uncertainty of the rest of the world when I am grounded in my own being. It’s time to shed some light on the mysterious and hidden expectations we all live under because some of them make us miserable.
In order to do that, we each much look inside ourselves. Dredge up our own assumptions and examine them. Peeling back those layers and acknowledging how each has served you up to this point is how you find all the parts of your Self. Getting to know all those parts and learning how to love and appreciate them is how you get to a more full and complete and genuine you. And that you, the you that sometimes hides under all that other bullshit, is the most beautiful you.
Information and Inspiration
Very few things in this world function as a true mutually-exclusive, single-factor binary. For example: if the light in my office is off, then we know it's definitely not on. If the light is on, then it's definitely not off. Guaranteed. In the case of the light, there is one clear determining factor. It's simple. For better or worse, that's not how most things work. More often, greater nuance exists which we must take into account when forming some kind of conclusion.
When I was an IRS auditor, one of the determinations I made on a fairly regular basis was whether an activity on a tax return was a business or a hobby. There are 9 factors that must be considered in making that determination, but before you even look at those factors you first consider The Presumption. It goes like this: if an activity has a profit in 2 out of the last 5 years, the government will assume that activity is a for-profit business. End of discussion. No 9 factors needed, the activity is a business.
On the other hand, that presumption does not work the other way around. That is to say: if an activity does not make a profit in 2 out of the last 5 years, the government cannot assume the activity is not a for-profit business. There is greater nuance in that case. Enter the 9 factors, which the government must consider and analyze in order to draw a conclusion one way or the other.
Most of my fellow auditors had no problem working their way through the 9 factors, weighing each thoughtfully and coming to a well-reasoned conclusion. But in getting there, many of them struggled with the concept that an activity without a profit in 2 of the last 5 years could possibly be a business. They were stuck, trying to apply a one-way analytical assumption in reverse.
This non-reversibility seems really challenging for many humans to wrap their brains around in almost any context. I read an article this week called "The Case Against Masks at School" written by three folks in a medical or a medical-adjacent field. Their conclusion was: school administrators should not impose mask mandates because the current studies do not prove reduced covid spread results directly from mask mandates.
But it's not that children masking in schools actually provides "little discernable benefit" against covid. The studies discussed in this article certainly did not show masks had no benefit. It's just that the studies these folks reviewed do not prove a link between mask mandates and reduced infection rates. Which doesn't automatically mean that masks have no impact. These authors fell victim to what I will now call the fallacy of the reverse presumption.
Maybe this phenomenon already has another name and I just don't know it. What we call it is less important than how ubiquitous this flavor of mental gymnastics is in our society. It's at the root of a lot of what feels to me like medical gaslighting. I learned this week the way doctors have been testing kidney function (for many decades) is completely inaccurate because it's based on a bunch of racist, false assumptions.
I also learned this week about a new study claiming more than half of the side-effects from the covid vaccine were actually not effects of the vaccine. This study claims they were actually the placebo effect. Or, more accurately (since they were negative effects), the nocebo effect. Maybe that's true for some or even a lot of people, but I didn't imagine all the disruption to my menstrual cycle. And I certainly didn't manifest all the debilitating joint pain I got from my booster shot. I went into my booster appointment expecting little or no effect since I heard the Pfizer jab was so much less impactful for most people. So my expectations were not what caused those side-effects.
This study seems like a thinly veiled attempt to make the vaccines seem less daunting. I can understand why that would be desirable marketing because concern about side effects is one big reason unvaxxed people are avoiding the jab. But telling people they are only experiencing unpleasant side-effects because they were expecting it does not resolve those feelings of unease.
You know what would resolve those feelings? More complete and accurate information about who is experiencing which kind of side effects. Then at least people could choose which brand of life-disruption they would rather experience. If I had known I might experience a different array of side-effects I would have gotten a Moderna booster instead of "mixing it up" and going with Pfizer. I personally would have preferred more of the same flavor of suffering instead of a new suffering sampler platter.
I got both my vaxx shots and my booster, and I'll go back and get the next booster when it's time. I'll even go get the one after that, and the one after that. I'll get however many it takes for us to eventually be done with this pandemic. And that's true for me even though I had some very intense and debilitating reactions (some of which I'm still dealing with 8 months later). I'm not mad about having unpleasant side-effects - I will take these side effects over having the long-lasting effects of Covid. But I am infuriated that my experience is dismissed by the larger medical community so they can hopefully talk more people into getting their shots by pretending it's not that bad.
I would like the medical science community to instead focus it's efforts and energy on figuring out why these things happened to me and millions of other uterus-having humans. Maybe they could do something about the make-up of the vaccine to dampen the after-effects for those of us who have extra powerful immune systems in case we need to grow a baby human. If not, they could at the very least give people a heads-up before sending us out into the world, unaware, to manage sudden surprise symptoms.
Medical science isn't the only perpetrator, of course. Politics is also rife with this brand of problematic conclusioning. The current kerfuffle with Iran is a perfect example. After the efforts of countless diplomats and negotiators over many years, the Iran Nuclear Deal was signed and official in 2015. Then three years later, the former Asshole in Chief unceremoniously pulled us out of the deal.
Iran held up it's end of the bargain for another year before concluding we weren't coming back. Then they proceeded to go about their business. Now our current President wants to come back to the Deal (which is good). But before he does, he insists Iran must first give some ground.
Excuse me, but we were the ones who did the leaving. We agreed to a thing and then ripped-up that agreement. That makes us the jerk who owes the apology. We have absolutely no leg to stand on, so Biden's insistence that the other party does something to demonstrate we should return to the deal we broke just looks like what it is: bullying. Bullying combined with a refusal to accept any responsibility for our actions.
Diplomatically it also makes no sense to me because we have an iron-clad face-saving excuse for acting like a jerk: Trump is a fickle idiot with a well-documented pattern of reneging on deals he was party to. So just throw his dumb, orange ass under the bus and come back to the table with your hat in hand, humility on your lapel, and respect up your sleeve. Don't pretend like the US is some superior participator in this process that deserves praise and veneration regardless of our past actions.
I call bullshit on that. And so does Iran. Professor Mohammad Marandi, Media adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team, was on the BBC's Hardtalk recently. He made several thoughtful points, one of which struck me as especially poignant. When pressed by the host, Stephen Sackur, about disparaging remarks from the international community, he responded that "Western Countries are not the international community. That time is over." And he's right.
The United States is no longer the all-powerful, all-respected international player it once was. Other nations are calling us on some of our bullshit that has hitherto been politely swept under the international relations rug. Similarly, some of us are getting wise to the application of the fallacy of the reverse presumption in various parts of society. And more of us are speaking out against it. Get wise to how it shows up in your life and do the work to overcome it. It's one of the things we need to sort out in order to build a better future.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.