Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Some tired thoughts

(I am really hoping Hagrid's sleeves will be dry this afternoon - or at least I can unpin the back and front and sew the shoulder seams and do the neckband).

Anyway. I'm not sleeping super-well right now; am already having "teaching" dreams. This is sort of a vague anxiety dream, where something goes wrong in class - either a piece of vital equipment won't work, or the power goes out, or (more commonly) the students are being very difficult in particular ways.

For example: the other night, I dreamed that we were expected to stand and sing the National Anthem (?) at the start of class, and that the Legislators and Regents would randomly pop into classes to see how it went. And I had one woman in my class, who, for political reasons, said she would not stand or sing.* And I kind of pleaded with her: I wouldn't lower her grade, I wouldn't report her or anything, because she had freedom of speech and I wasn't going to violate that, but could she please consider that **I** might get in trouble with the Legislators/Regents if they came to my room and saw a student refusing to stand?

(And yeah. That pretty much sums up my personality right there)

(* I am quite sure this is related to my having heard Colin Kaepernick's name mentioned at some point on the news)

I had another one last night where the students were just being difficult and rude. I've only once had a class that was like that (well, to an extreme - I've had the occasional rude student in otherwise-congenial classes, and yes, once in a while I have seen the other students shun the rude one slightly, and I know I shouldn't feel happy about that but I do). Again, I think I worry more about the human-interaction side of things (If the computer's not working, I have chalk and a chalkboard; if the power goes out I either still have my voice or we can just end early) than the logistics. And perhaps it is related to, as I once said, "I endured enough rejection from age 9 to age 16 to last me my entire life" and so I try to avoid it now (though I also recently saw a psychological study suggesting that for some people, rejection and "shunning" cause something similar to the reaction to physical pain in their brain chemistry and that's so me...)

And speaking of shunning....

I've been watching, on the internet, the growth of something weird. The example I'm going to use comes from a story about a YA novel that was apparently pulled from publication by its author, because apparently some readers of her previous novel took passages out of context and chose (outrage culture being what it is) to pile on and to make her a persona non grata. And okay, maybe I'm misinterpreting this, because I'm watching it 100% from the outside and only learned about it from Metafilter and reading news stories about it, but....it's just weird, the whole callout culture thing.

(In case you're really curious, here is the article, I have no idea how biased or sensational it is or is not, as I am not familiar with that publication)

I am not down with the idea of dogpiling on someone you disagree with, ESPECIALLY with calling on your friends and acquaintances - who may not have a horse in the chase - to join with you like a little invading horde and destroy the person's career because you disagree with them.

It seems, in the Internet age, we have lost the distinction between "literally Hitler, with 'literally' in its original sense, so this person is actually calling for the extermination of the Jews/Roma/LGBT people" and "I disagree with this person so they are figuratively Hitler to me, and I'm going to SAY they're literally Hitler because literally now means what I want it to mean"

I mean: there is a difference between someone who is genuinely loathsome and someone who has some uncomfortable opinions. And....it seems like we're losing that.

Also, apparently the "out of context" thing is big - that some things a character in the novel said, a character who was *meant* to be explicitly racist - were quoted as if the AUTHOR said them as her own opinion, and therefore was a racist.

I have said, regretfully, at times that we're fast proceeding down a path BACK to pre-Homo Sapiens, where our communication will be grunting and pointing. When I'm joking, I say it's because every word will acquire a double-entendre, Urban Dictionary meaning that makes everyone giggle like Beavis and Butthead when it's used. But in my bleaker moods, I think it could come because people are terrified of letting something that could be misconstrued come out of their mouths.

(Some years back, on an online message-board, I tried to use the word "snigger," which is a PERFECTLY VALID WORD that means "a stifled laugh, usually sarcastic" but it came out s****** and I was puzzled until I realized it had THAT WORD in it, and the zero-tolerance software only saw THAT WORD and "bleeped" it out.)

And yeah - I went to high school back during one of the regular outbursts about "Huckleberry Finn," and we did a whole unit on censorship and the whole question of "does taking THAT WORD out of the book and maybe replacing it with something less openly offensive change Twain's intent, is it a "sensitive updating" or "defacing art"?"

(and yes, more recently, that question has come up again)

And I read an article as part of that class where the argument was made - and I agree with it - that Twain was pretty anti-racist for his times, and if you look, he put THAT WORD in the mouths of characters designed to be seen as ignorant and perhaps slightly contemptible.

And another thing I've noticed: if you read any Edwardian (or even earlier: some of the Victorians had it too) British fiction, you're going to bump up against casual anti-Semitism. In a *few* cases, the anti-Semite is already a somewhat contemptible person, but in most, it's just, I don't know, seen as a part of life. And I cringe at it, and I cringe at the stupid "Stock Irish" characters in some books, or the bad German dialects or whatever....but it's not enough to make me throw the book across the room. (Though I did discard one book that was both badly written AND had some pretty dreadfully one-dimensional "furriner" characters in it). But by the guidelines of callout culture, I should be burning a bunch of Trollope's works, because of the insinuating whispers that a certain character is "a Jew," and the reaction to that by other characters is not positive and...

my issue with "burning books" is that once you've burned the books you think are wrong, someone else is gonna want to burn the books THEY think are wrong....and eventually there will be no books left.

Not-reading is fine. Telling your friends, "I have a problem with this author because.... but you might feel differently" is fine.  Heck, not-letting-your-children-read-until-they-are-much-older is fine, too, and probably being a responsible parent in many cases. Finding "better" things is also fine. But saying "I don't like this thing because of Reasons and you're not allowed to experience it because my opinion should rule supreme" is antithetical to what a democracy IS. (Not that some of the pile-on people really care: they'd rather it be a dictatorship with them sitting in the throne and waving around the riding crop)

And I admit, I understand a little bit of the origins of the YA "callout culture" - most sixteen year olds feel things very passionately. (I'd argue most of 'em feel more than they think). And they're also comparatively powerless - they can't vote yet, can't hold down a full-time job, many of them are still dependent on parents - and being able to CHANGE things by going online and posting screeds is pretty intoxicating. People get a little power and they love that power. And also, power can corrupt. Power is SUPPOSED to be used (IMHO) to make things better - one of the few "perks" of being a full professor that I use on a regular basis is being able to call up certain offices on campus, when a student has some horrific red-tape problem that is not of their making, and go "Can you fix this for this student" and about 85% of the time it's some silly oversight or someone forgot to push a button somewhere, but it's only when someone with a few letters after their name and a certain level of seniority calls up and goes, "This is negatively affecting this student, please fix it" does it get fixed.

But all too often, people get power and then realize: hey, I can use this to get things for ME. Whether those are physical things (I have seen far, far too many cases of embezzlement by petty government officials, or things like people taking vacation trips on the public's dime) or psychological "strokes" (anyone who has ever tried to do anything involving a bureaucracy has run into that ONE person who wants everyone to do the full "dance monkey dance" for them, because it makes them feel important). And I think that's partly what's going on here - some of these folks call other people out, the people called-out either backpedal and apologize* or perhaps they wind up facing some kind of consequence (up to and including a loss of a job) and the person who seems to have made that happen is amazed: "HOLY CRAP I MATTER. EVERYONE LISTENED TO ME" and the problem is, some people really DO get intoxicated by that...

(*Appeasement is never a good move; just ask Neville Chamberlain)

And, I don't know where I'm going with this. It's just: there are perhaps more-effective and certainly less-damaging ways to deal with behavior you have a problem with. One lesson I internalized after watching my advisor during the 9 or so years I was in his lab: "Criticize privately; praise publicly" - if he had a problem with something one of us did or said, he'd quietly call us into his office and tell us there. Our labmates only knew about it if we told them. It was kind, and for sensitive types like me, it preserved our feelings better than an in-front-of-the-entire-lab scolding would. (Honestly? I probably wouldn't have lasted in a lab like that). But if someone won an award or something - he'd mention it in front of the whole lab.

I think that's a good way to be. (And yes, I know, in he-said-she-said culture, the whole "criticize privately in your office" thing could lead to going bad for the criticizer, but that's a risk you have to take, and anyway, I think everyone respected my advisor too much to inflate what he said)

And I've (rarely) done it myself: I once called out a colleague in private for fat-bashing comments he made, seeing as I am a slightly fat woman. And yes, he kind of backpedaled and essentially said, "But you're one of the GOOD ones" which didn't help, but at least he knew I wasn't cool with it. (I haven't heard anything from him in a while on that front, but then again, middle age spread seems to be hitting him, so.)

And yeah. The way life works there are gonna be people who say things you find odious. I have had, on occasion, to say things to people. With direct colleagues it's easy enough; it's harder with people above you and in that case, I admit I tend to use my second strategy: Pretend They Never Said It But File Away In Your Brain That That's One Way You Disagree With Them. We had one (now former) admin who was given to saying some pretty unpleasant things, but apparently Knew People because this person always seemed to get a pass on stuff that the rest of us would likely get called in to HR over. So my strategy was to avoid that person as much as I humanly could (they were not in my direct supervisory chain, so that was not that difficult) and also, to just remember this was a person who was difficult.

(I think now of another experience from my past, when I wound up taking a summer class at my dad's university, and it was taught by someone who was just a jerk to the students, and I walked into my dad's office after class one day so frustrated I started crying when he asked me how class had gone, and he hugged me, and whispered in my ear (so no one else could hear), "I'm sorry you got the a$$h0le professor" because he KNEW the guy and had tangled with him in the past...and that is ironically a happy memory of mine, because in that moment I felt so "heard"....and I do remember that when I have to tangle with my own difficult people, that there are just people who are a-holes, and not to let them get you down too much)

Anyway. Apparently this problem person I referred to earlier said the wrong thing to the wrong person because they are no longer an admin, but whatever.

(And yes, I know: "BUT MAH HOSTILE WORKPLACE." And yes, that's a problem. But the thing is: pretty much everyone is going to secretly hold an opinion you find distasteful in some way. If the person is making anti-gay slurs in the face of the gay man who works in the next cubicle, he (or you, I suppose, though I think it should be his decision) has to decide if it's enough to go to HR over. I admit I've put up with some stuff in my past because it seemed like it was easier just to not laugh at the person's sexist jokes and express an unwillingness ever to work on a "team" with them than to escalate it. Of course if it concerns something like stalking or unwanted touching or whatever, the gloves would come off - but lots of people say lots of dumb awful stuff. And now, I think of the guy I supervised a bit in grad school - I had an undergrad research student helping with some of my research - and one day he made the comment, out of the blue, "If other people knew what was in people's dreams, we'd all be in jail" and I think there's some truth to that. I know there are some uncharitable things I think at times, but I am also self-aware enough that (a) no one wants to hear that junk and (b) I'd probably be in trouble if I voiced it, and I don't like trouble. Not everyone has as extreme a set of filters....)

The thing is: the world being what it is, there are always people you're going to disagree with. And you have to decide, are they genuinely bad enough that I want to stoop to their tactics to destroy them? (Or even: are they genuinely bad enough I want to try to destroy them?) I'd argue in at least 95% of the cases we see, the answer is "No," so instead you have to then decide, okay, am I tough enough to tell them how what they're doing and saying is offensive to me, or do I just put them on "ignore." 

I admit I have a certain number of authors/programs/musicians that I have mentally set on "ignore," it seems the easiest way of doing things. I even have one or two people I might interact with in my "meatspace" live that I've kind of set on "ignore." You can't, totally and permanently, but I do find the "civil but not openly friendly" tone seems to work for me.

But the problem with saying "I hate this thing/creator and everyone else should and I'm going to be relentless in trying to stop their work" is that eventually you maybe get some would-be creators going "Meh, it's not worth it" and going and teaching grade school or doing a desk job or selling smoothies...and we maybe wind up with less diversity of entertainment as a result.

(Or, worse: "I hate this neighbor/coworker/fellow congregant and I am going to be relentless in trying to destroy them emotionally," which is a really petty and awful way to be, and I am reminded of the old Buddhist saying about how a grudge is like carrying around a hot coal waiting for the chance to throw it at the person)

1 comment:

CGHill said...

About 40 years ago, there came into being Titters: The first collection of humor by women. According to Amazon, this book goes for $60 these days in softcover. (I have a hardcover original, buried in the stacks.) I seem to recall that one of the two editors wasn't keen on the title, and wanted to know if Volume 2 would be a compendium of African-American humor titled Sniggers.

A BBS I used back in the 80s would blip the word "Saturday" for that fecal matter in the middle of it. And more recently, I've seen "specialist" blipped because it contains the brand name of a boner pill.