Interrupting Gelastic Jew

Friday, October 16, 2015

Video games are about agency, not power.

An article at The Guardian used one of my button words: agency.
But in video games, I wonder sometimes if something much more subtle and instinctive is going on. Perhaps games aren’t really about power, they’re actually more about agency – the idea that we can have any sort of influence and control over what happens to us, and the world around us.
This makes sense to me-but that doesn't make it true, just gratifying.
For most of us, control is limited and ephemeral. We have jobs to do, people to care for, rules to follow – and we live in societies that place vast infrastructural limits on what we can do or affect. There are complex cognitive behaviours, from superstitions to compulsive gambling to obsessive compulsive disorders, through which the desire for, or belief in, agency express themselves. Throughout the 70s, UCLA researcher Ellen Langer developed the concept of “The Illusion of Control” studying how people often rely heavily on this unrealistic perceptions of their own autonomy. “The argument I’ve been making for the last 40 years,” she said during a talk in 2013, “is that actually, most of us are mindless virtually all of the time.”
And I think this is actually what video games are about. At a very basic, fundamental level, they are simply about providing a sense of control, rather than necessarily about making us feel like superheroes. Video games merely have to confirm us as sentient agents in order to function.
Do so many people really feel powerless and that they lack the ability to make choices and changes in their own lives? Agency is really all we have, in my opinion. I like to play video games, but not because I feel helpless to affect my life.

Maybe video games can be practice for exerting your agency.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Self Defense: notes from a seminar

This is a rough transcription of my notes from a July 2007 seminar given by Rory Miller.

Think about the difference between violence and martial arts. Martial arts is a highly structured sport that uses force.

If you don't train to jump out of the OODA loop (that's the loop of observe, orient, decide, and act) with an immediate, impulsive response (such as a punch to the nose of your attacker), you'll get stuck in it.

The most important thing is to work out your moral/ethical standards in advance.

1. What thing(s) would you create orphans to achieve, be willing to do jail time? What are your go buttons? Examples might be:

-No rape in my presence
-I won't be handcuffed by someone I don't know
-No abuse of children in my presence

What are yours?

2. Learn how attacks happen. Learn to see them coming. What is the body language? Facial expression? Tone of voice?

3. Is it possible to diffuse the situation? Can you/are you willing to use humor, to give up your wallet, to be submissive if that will make the attacker go away?

4. Operant conditioning to flinch reflex effectively. (Yeah, 8 years later I don't remember what I was noting with this sentence.)

5. Freeze--how to recognize it and break it

-Endorphine dump happens to help you cope/survive
-Two conscious actions in a row/at the same time will break it--what are yours? Rehearse, train, practice them
>hit back

6. Fight! This is where the fight happens, if it's going to happen at all. Training gets you through a fight, maybe.

7. Aftermath


Deal with these at step 1. Legal consequences are easy to predict. Physical ones will depend on how the encounter went: did the attacker break your arm, leave bruises, knock you out? Emotional ones depend on preparation, but will surprise you the first few times. Will you be angry? Feel shame or guilt? Maybe you'll have grief. Any emotional response could happen.

A fight is over is 5-6 seconds. Serious damage is done inside range, close up; every action you take should improve your position and worsen his. Keep your balance strong.

Vigilance is important all the time; it increases your appreciation of life.

Adrenaline effects (during and after an attack)
-hearing goes
-tunnel vision
-quick exhaustion
-you get weak
-thinking changes
-fine motor skills gone

A complex response to a complex problem: addressing mass shootings in the US.

Ysabetwordsmith dissects social, structural reasons for mass shootings in the United States.

Remember that America has had plentiful guns for a couple of centuries and only recently developed a persistent problem of mass shootings. Also there are other countries with guns that don't have this problem. So if you want to fix it, you have to look at the root causes, which include...


* Poor job prospects. People who can't get a job that pays enough to live on feel frightened and angry. It is difficult or impossible for them to participate in society, so they feel little if any loyalty to it.

* Social fragmentation. When job options, home insecurity, and other forces drive people to move frequently then that shatters social ties. The family has gone from extended to nuclear to now having lots of singles and single parents. When people don't have a social support network, that undermines their ability to handle challenges well. It also means that more kids grow up without learning a good set of coping skills.

* Lack of meaning. People want their lives to matter. They want to make a difference -- usually, want to make the world a better place. Profession, relationships, and home are among the things most people turn to for meaning. Unemployment and menial labor, lack of family ties, and frequent moves undermine that sense of significance. People go looking for ways to fill the gap, and that can leave them vulnerable to cults, violence, and other problems.

and then offers suggestions to address the root causes (because just trying to take away all guns won't work):

* Provide resources for self-regulation. These may include quiet rooms, reference materials, comfort objects, or whatever else helps people feel safe and calm after something upsetting. Quite a lot of violence -- especially in public places -- happens because someone gets wound up and then has no way to wind back down. That means the next thing that can go wrong tends to trigger an outburst, sometimes a violent one. Think of these as social firebreaks: they prevent small problems from becoming large problems.

* Establish a right to work. It's not that there's a shortage of workers or work that needs doing; what we have is a resource distribution problem where a few people are hogging so much wealth that it doesn't leave enough circulating to meet personal or public needs. Restore the high-tax-bracket system that was developed after the Great Depression, and that would fund public works and public-service jobs for everyone willing and able to work.

[links omitted; please read the entire post and follow the links.] I agree with every word of that post.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Word for 2015: Endure

Because I'm still going through repercussions of injury and treatment, because I've had 3 surgeries in the last 2 years and done uncountable days of recovery and physical therapy, and because I'm not well yet, I've chosen "endure" as my word for 2015.

I'm not ready to do more than endure. I will endure this process of recovery, with bad days and good ones. I will endure continuing symptoms and waiting for healing. I will endure sometimes painful, always tiring physical therapy. I will endure occasional medical appointments and minor changes in the state of my health. I will endure the emotional responses to all of these things.

But planning for a future life that is different from this, I am putting off. Deciding what to do about some long-term issues unrelated to this recovery, I choose to put off.

To endure is all I demand of myself for the coming year.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Where is the new feminism?

Laura at Apt 11D asked Where goes Feminism?
When I started blogging ten years ago, I stepped into a vibrant feminist blogosphere. There were raging battles about reproductive rights and motherhood and employment. I wasn’t a full-time feminist blogger, because I was too undisciplined to commit to one type of blogging, but it was certainly a regular theme at Apt. 11D.

Sadly, all those feminist blogs withered. A handful of bloggers went pro, but most just got tired of the whole thing, like most other bloggers. (One advantage to being an undisciplined blogger is that you don’t really get bored.) Now, we have Jezebel, which is more concerned with Lorde and Avril Lavigne than politics. And then the recession hit and the debates about having a fulfilling career seemed pointless. Having a job — any job — was more critical than self fulfillment.

So, what’s the big issue in feminism today?
She thinks it should be girls. I think she's just looking in the wrong places. I see a vibrant, outspoken, wide-ranging feminism online, it's just not on old-style blogs that respond to each other with cross-links and new posts. As I wrote in a comment to her post:
You’re not looking in the right places.

Feminism is partly being subsumed into intersectionality (rightly, in my opinion). Does a black woman suffer more from racism or sexism? The answer is, why are we even asking this question? We have to address both! Likewise gender expression and sexuality bias. And where I see this is not on traditional blogs that converse by alternating posts and cross-links, it’s on tumblr and Dreamwidth and Twitter, and it’s often in the comment sections of those places. It’s in articles about the lack of representation of racial, sexual, gender minorities in popular culture (like movies and comic books) and about reactionary anger of people-with-privilege when oppressive behaviors are called out and punished (like creepers at atheist conferences and science fiction conventions). It’s in online conversations spread across a multitude of platforms about how the old (mostly white male) guard counter-attacks when their sexist, racist, we-were-here-first-and-we’ve-always-done-it-like-this words and behaviors get them tossed out of their professional organizations (like the Science Fiction Writers of America). It’s a head-on conflict between the way things used to be (and since I had a good time impliedly they should stay that way) and the way the rest of us want things to be in the future (which means you can’t keep doing that just because you used to get away with it). And it’s a vibrant, loud, excoriating verbal battle everywhere I look.

It’s women actors speaking directly to the camera about how few good roles there are for women. It’s male authors dressing up and posing the way women are portrayed in comic books to show how absurd it is. It’s John Scalzi talking about “white male” as playing a game on the easiest setting. It’s women writers across the ‘net opening up about the rape and death threats they get, and sometimes it’s even a major forum (The Comic Book Resources Forum) closing itself and reforming because of the threatening writing posted by some of its participants, or a convention banning somebody because they touched a cosplayer without consent.

Feminism is out there and in here, at least in my life.
And then I tried to post some links, but I think that comment is stuck in moderation. Some of the places I read about feminism, intersectionality, racism, fat activism, and kyriarchy are:

Karnythia: Twitter, Tumblr, and Dreamwidth.

K. Tempest Bradford: Twitter and Tumblr.

Jim Hines, who is one of the people who dressed up and posed as book cover and comic book women to show the absurdity, and also generally posts on inclusivity.

John Scalzi's post on how being a straight white male is like playing a game on the easiest setting.

And then I asked some friends for additional links, which I am adding here with their permission. Some of these are personal blogs that only sometimes discuss feminism, being differently-abled, being fat, racism, sexism, etc. while others have one or more specific focus.

If you think feminism has lost its way, do more research. I hope this can be a resource for you.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How identity and being yourself in public are privileged

Great article on identity and "being yourself" concludes that "structureless" organizations default to the surrounding social structure, and if the social structure is white supremacy and patriarchy the "structureless" organization will copy it.
[I]n an organization without people formally titled “manager”, people will have to step up to manage each other at least sometimes and to some extent. How do you take initiative and assert power — in the absence of a structure that makes that power legitimate — when you’re already culturally oppressed and disempowered? If nobody is a manager, who will be most successful in, say, asking that their team institute a “run regression tests before committing code” policy: a tall, white, able-bodied, cis man; a short, Latina, disabled, cis woman; or a fat, Black, genderqueer person? When is it possible for people to really treat each other as equals, and when do they infer hierarchies when not given a formal hierarchy to look to?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Word for 2014: Heal

I have been through a lot this year, mostly physical health stuff (including two surgeries that involved opening my skull) but also some emotional stress, and so I am choosing heal as my word for 2014.

Surgery is very wearing on the body. I was under general anesthesia two times within four months, each time for more than two hours, followed by 2-night stays in the hospital and weeks at home recovering. I am doing physical therapy, but it will take months to get back the physical strength and stamina that I lost from the surgeries and more importantly the weeks of bed-rest after each surgery. Because my surgeries involved neurological symptoms, the healing of my brain pathways will also take time, as the physical therapy retrains my brain to fit the curing changes the surgeries made in my body.

I've also had some emotional pain and stress, and I need time to think about the sources of those feelings and work through my reactions.

I will focus on healing myself this year.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More than the minimum

Megan McArdle gets it right when she says:
My point is one that both sides should be able to agree on: whatever we redistribute, the most important task of economic policymaking is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get a job which can support them decently--which is to say, at the minimum respectable standard of their society. He or she has to be able to obtain, in exchange for their honest labors, what Adam Smith called "the necessaries":

By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them. In Scotland, custom has rendered them a necessary of life to the lowest order of men; but not to the same order of women, who may, without any discredit, walk about barefooted. In France they are necessaries neither to men nor to women, the lowest rank of both sexes appearing there publicly, without any discredit, sometimes in wooden shoes, and sometimes barefooted. Under necessaries, therefore, I comprehend not only those things which nature, but those things which the established rules of decency have rendered necessary to the lowest rank of people. All other things I call luxuries, without meaning by this appellation to throw the smallest degree of reproach upon the temperate use of them. Beer and ale, for example, in Great Britain, and wine, even in the wine countries, I call luxuries. A man of any rank may, without any reproach, abstain totally from tasting such liquors. Nature does not render them necessary for the support of life, and custom nowhere renders it indecent to live without them.

If that isn't possible for everyone, or can be done only with heroic and unceasing effort, then economic policy is not working, even if the gini coefficient and the tax laws are arranged to everyone's perfect satisfaction.

Economics is about more than tax policy, or inflation policy. It's part of how we shape our society and our community.