Lacking All Conviction

things fall apart; the center cannot hold

Category: Sermons And Other Unsolicited Advice

Apologies, promises, and when did hating women become the new cool thing?

by eataTREE

Did you miss me, gentle readers? (All four of you; hi to Mom and cousin Mike.)

Yes, it’s been a while; we hope you’ve been entertained by the narrative stylings of the Spastic Tactician while Your Editor of Least Conviction spent a pleasant week in a goat field in Oregon where with wide-eyed wonder he observed and documented the social friction between bands of armed Vikings and drunken pirates. And he did return and immediately begin work a piece on this topic, which has been three-quarters finished for weeks and has now become his infinitely massive mental Sisyphean rock. It absolutely will, he swears before God and mankind, be posted complete with photographs and well worth the wait (or your money refunded!), and in the meantime here is a cute picture of a goat:

A goat.

Goats are happy creatures. Think of the cute goat and not my procrastination.

Besides bouts of fitful keyboard-pecking and hiding in bed in utter anguished despair, I also started thinking about why Internet culture looks more and more like the No Stinky Girl Cooties Allowed BoysMens Club, except not actually cute or funny in the least. And the more I thought about it, the more the needle on the mental gauge floated upwards towards that red line labelled “Thoroughly Pissed-Off”.

Because as soon as I started thinking about it, I realized that it wasn’t just Internet culture; it’s the mainstream culture. Popular “comedians” who think it’s funny to tell a female heckler that she should be raped. Popular radio talk-shot hosts who call a young woman a slut and a prostitute because she thinks her friends should get birth control pills through the insurance they’re already paying for. Wall Street Journal assholescolumnists who doubt the women whose husbands and boyfriends died shielding them from bullets in the recent Aurora shooting were “worthy of the sacrifice”. And I realized that what I had been thinking of as a phenomenon of Internet culture was merely the Internet’s tendency to collect and distill the crazy poisonousness of the mainstream culture.

Those of you out there with lives and less inclination to stare at the abyss might be unaware that there’s a mostly-online subculture called Men’s Rights Activism. Now the proposition that men have rights is, I hope, uncontroversial. But it seems that what concerns this group is not so much the rights of men as does bringing the status of womenfolk back into the 50′s — not the 1950s, the year 50 A.D.. That women are no longer slaves and concubines but are generally permitted to make their own life choices and (especially) sleep with, or not sleep with, sexual partners as they choose, sends them into fits of frothing rage. They might be merely pathetic instead of contemptible if they didn’t make a habit of cheering on and making heroes of men who kill or threaten to kill their estranged domestic partners, or who set themselves on fire when things don’t go their way in family court.

They are mostly young, overwhelmingly white, and tend to be quite socially isolated and interact mostly with each other; they earnestly reassure each other that the world is half feminist concentration camp run by Andrea Dworkin and Mary Daly, and half singles nightclub as imagined by someone who has never actually been to one but who does watch Jersey Shore a lot. They spend a great deal of time emoting about the horrible injustices men face, such as how women are not required in the United States to register for the draft board, and — by far the worst injustice of all — that women just won’t sleep with guys like them and instead prefer the attentions of “alpha males” and “thugs”. You can read all about these fellows at David Futrelle’s blog ManBoobz, and it’s as fascinating as it is horrible. But it increasingly seems to me that focusing on guys like this is misplaced: despite the depth and breadth of their crazitude, online women-hating “Men’s Rights” crusaders are not a cause of anything, only a symptom. They wouldn’t exist outside the context of a mainstream culture that all too often seems to find hatred of women perfectly acceptable.

Now, perhaps I’m failing to notice the long-term trend, here: this is, after all a reaction of the privileged towards losing some of their privilege, and they seem louder and more virulent now because women have achieved more relative power. I’m also, no doubt, paying insufficient attention to economic effects. The destruction of the middle class no doubt left a lot of men with an unhealthy combination of lots of free time and a need to find something — someone to blame. And maybe if and when the economy recovers in a way which restores employment, many men will have better things to do with their time blame women for the ills in their lives. And yet it still seems like there has been a clear trend that the more historically disadvantaged groups catch up to them, the stronger and more hateful the backlash among the Aggrieved Straight White Dudes grows. I see no movement towards accepting the fact that (to borrow John Scalzi’s excellent analogy) in the grand MMORPG of life, their character class has received a slight nerf and is no longer totally overpowered relative to everyone else. Instead, their dudgeon seems to have steadily increased for decades, to the point where it taints Western culture in a distressing and newly unpleasant way. I grow weary of waiting for my fellow straight white guys to grow up and get over themselves.

Oh, this is some bullshit, right here.

by spastictactician

This is one of those situations that puts me in a shitty head space that I just can’t shake. I feel impotent and useless and furious and ashamed.

There’s something you should know about Japan: This country runs on a system of institutionalized bullying. In schools, universities, companies, political arenas, police, military and fire fighting forces, medical establishments and, for all intents and purposes, every organized niche of Japanese culture, the sempai/kohai system reigns as the default organizational standard. Sempai is the term given to an older or more experienced member of a given hierarchal structure. Kohai is a younger or less experienced member. Under this system, the sempai is given near complete authority over any and all kohai. For a kohai to question, criticize or disobey a sempai is strictly taboo in most situations.

This system is responsible for the stagnation of so many Japanese corporations and industries. Long time employees who have only ever learned one way of doing things (which they learned from their sempai) are reluctant to change and never allow younger workers with different ideas to express themselves, let alone institute change.

This system is responsible for the shockingly large burnout rate for new medical doctors. Sempai doctors pile such amazing workloads on newcomers that they either quit, commit suicide or make career destroying errors at frightening rates.

This system is responsible for the continued institutionalized corruption in Japanese government. Any kohai in a government position who even suggests a change in the system is shown the door. Not for exposing corruption, but for daring to question a sempai. The sempai is older and therefore (goes the narrative) wiser. Questioning someone wiser than yourself reveals a character so flawed as to be unfit for the job.

This system is responsible for the rampant labour abuses in Japan. The famed efficiency and worker motivation that Japan butters its bread with is almost entirely due to a system where workers have been trained to do exactly what they’ve been told, for as long as they are told to do it as long as the person telling them to do it is older. Labour unions are so powerless here as to be a joke. Management always makes sure to have an elderly sempai figure in negotiations who can make sweeping statements that younger labour negotiators are conditioned to just accept. Most bargaining sessions are nothing more than management telling the union how things are going to be this year.

All of that stuff pisses me off. I don’t dwell on it very often, however. All I have to do is look at the corporate greed, sly corruption, cutthroat business practices, and crumbling social infrastructure in Canada and America to realize that none of these problems rooted in the sempai/kohai system are so horrible that they have no analog in my own culture. I recognize that the problems have a slightly different genesis, but I don’t feel that the cultural difference warrants any of the “These fucking people don’t know what the hell they’re doing” kind of rants that are pretty common in the expat community here.

There is one facet to the system, however, that does infuriate me and causes all of the negativity that I started with at the top: The sempai system is, as mentioned, an institutionalized form of bullying. I speak primarily of schools when I say this, but it appears that the same is true of all the places I’ve mentioned. Sempai students are not only allowed to bully kohai, but, in many schools, are encouraged to do so. Sempai are responsible for ensuring that younger students don’t get out of line. They have free reign to do as they please to stamp out behavior considered weird or different or contrary to harmony. They do so, in many cases, quite joyfully, as they’ve suffered in the position of kohai for years before finally having the chance to wield the end of the stick without shit on it. This is true of schools ranging from preschool to university.

Students who say the wrong things, who react differently to stimulus, who look differently, who think differently, who don’t like the same things are physically and emotionally battered for their transgressions. Teachers aid the process by scolding the victims of the bullying for exhibiting the behavior that brought on the wrath of the bullies, and by failing to implement even the most perfunctory of disciplinary procedures against known bullies.. This has been the case for so long, that it is now not only sempai that are given free rein to bully. Anybody who is bigger, more aggressive or can find a way to gain the upper hand is free to try their hand at it. Bullying is such an integral part of the social engineering that happens in Japanese schools, that teachers don’t even recognize it as a negative force. Parents who complain that their children are being terrorized at school are asked to help bring their kids into line so they don’t have to worry about it anymore. If the kid still doesn’t come around, the schools often suggest that the student take some time away from school. The numbers of school aged children who don’t attend school are growing rapidly. The schools hide the true numbers by continuing to collect tuition and to promote students through grades despite non-attendance. This is how Japan maintains its stellar graduation rates: It is nearly impossible to fail.

This week, in the news in Japan, you can read about a student in Shiga prefecture. He was thirteen years old when he killed himself. He had been brutally bullied for years. His parents had begged his homeroom teacher to intercede. He refused. They begged the principal to intercede and were told that there wasn’t any evidence of bullying. They finally went to the police. Three times, after three separate incidents of assault. The police told them that there wouldn’t even be an investigation.

It was pretty much inevitable that this kid would snap. When he finally did, and committed suicide, his parents, (who probably should have done more, but I have very little anger for them as my empathy trumps it), launched a lawsuit against the families of the bullies, the school, the police and the city. Nobody offered to settle or even discuss it. The city and the police prepared their defense based on the “there is no evidence that any bullying even happened” argument. They would have won, had it not been for someone (I’m not sure who…The news stories I’ve read don’t mention) who released details from a questionnaire that had been distributed to the staff and students at the school.

Overwhelmingly, the staff and students appear to believe that the bullying wasn’t really that serious. They were comfortable enough with the goings on to reveal them in their answers on a questionnaire: The boy was physically assaulted. Kicked, slapped, punched, held down. This happened daily. He was forced to eat dead bees. He was teased and verbally abused several times every day. He was trapped in toilet stalls. He was extorted for money regularly. All of this is bad enough. If you aren’t pissed off yet, however, the next detail would pretty much have to get you there.

With the knowledge and (Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!) participation of at least one teacher, this boy was made to practice and simulate several different methods of suicide.

No hyperbole. I am shaking with anger after writing that last sentence.

I don’t care how much money the boy’s family gets. It should be a lot, but…whatever. There will be no justice unless every single staff member at that school is run out of the education field for good. Fuck them all so much. I can’t even think rationally about what I hope happens, here.

Now…. I teach elementary school. For a bunch of reasons, I’m not going to go much further along explaining why, exactly, I feel the way I do to the extremes I do. I just don’t know what I’m going to do if I ever have to ask myself if there was more I could have done. I don’t know how I’m going to avoid it, though.

Spastic Tactician
July 13, 2012

Boom! Right in the karma.

by spastictactician

“We have bigger houses but smaller families:
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgements;
more experts but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness.
We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but we have trouble crossing the street
to meet the new neighbour.
We build more computers
to hold more information,
to produce more copies than ever,
but we have less communication.
We have become long on quantity
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods,
but slow digestion;
tall man, but short character;
steep profits, but shallow relationships.
It is time when there is much in the window
but nothing in the room.”

Now, this is exactly the kind of bullshit I’m talking about.

I’ve seen this quote several times, recently, always attributed to the Dalai Lama (Per Snopes, attributable to Dr. Bob Moorehead, former pastor of Overlake Christian Church in Seattle — Ed.).  As far as I know, he said it.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me whether it was actually him, or not.  For all I care, it could be the work of a bathroom graffito at a truck stop or some poor, misguided philosophy student just coming to grips with the fact that he knows nothing.  The point is that its being lobbed around, with very little criticism, as some kind of wisdom saturated guide to self deprecation and analysis of modern society. I’d like to point out, however, that it is actually a pretty good analog for exactly what is wrong with the people who do the speaking for the liberal minded factions of unsatisfied people in the world.

What we have here is someone who has noticed some problems with the way we live our lives, here, in the first world.  There is nothing difficult about that.  There are some really upsetting things about western civilization and some truly horrific ways we behave.  Pointing out the different ways in which we suck is less an exercise in careful research and analysis, and more a “Holy shit! Look at all the fish in this barrel!” kind of deal.  Pretty much anyone who has any sort of perspective on life in developed nations has a problem with it, unless, of course, you’re one of the assholes sitting at the top of Mt. Excess, chucking spark plugs at poor people as they try to clamber up the sides to escape the lakes of bullshit you installed at the bottom just to increase their misery.

It should be really, really easy to write a statement that is 100 percent accurate, doesn’t resort to imagination in place of observation and describes things that we should think about changing in our society.

Instead, the author of this quote has taken a very healthy stride away from reality, put on his “Oh no! Every single thing ever is worse than it used to be!” coloured glasses and vomited this poetic looking puddle at housewives, hippies and people who want to save the earth one facebook update at a time.

There are plenty of parts in this quote that deserve a harsh slap and some serious red pen, but I’m gonna look at just two:

Example of just… horrible judgment number 1: Line 5 – “more medicines, but less healthiness.”

It would take a truly, significantly error prone observer to believe that this is even remotely accurate as an assessment of modern living.  To even sort of believe that people living in first world countries aren’t medically better cared for than ever before is quite close to stupid.  We live in a time where we have medical treatments, procedures, pharmaceuticals and machinery that almost guarantee a life lived into old age.  The fact is that people living in developed nations, (even America, where so many have what some consider to be dangerously substandard health care), almost never die (of illness) before living a full, long life.  We have the ability to defeat or diminish almost every disease or affliction that has ever been considered a scourge to humans.  The fact that there are a few left unconquered is not evidence of how crappy our health has become.  Merely the fact that we can confidently identify what these killers are and that we are actively (meaningfully) looking for better ways to fight them should tell us that we are pretty fucking awesome at this keeping each other alive business.

Example of just… horrible judgment 2: line 9-12 – “We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we have less communication.”

Here, the suggestion appears to be that we have displayed our creative genius and might by creating the most powerful communication devices and networks the world has ever seen, connecting entire populations throughout the world with each other to communicate cheaply, effortlessly, with virtually no limit, but that we waste it by posting bullshit on facebook, instead.  Putting aside the irony of the fact that I keep stumbling over this gem on facebook, there is still so very much wrong with this assessment.  In order to avoid seeing the truly deep, important communication being achieved every moment of every day between people who, in previous ages would never have had the opportunity to even recognize that the other existed, one would have to be, just phenomenally cynical.  Allowing uninspiring, lazy communicators to cloud one’s view of the really excellent communicative ease we enjoy is disingenuous, at best.  Were we to take the worst of everything and judge the total by it, we’d never see positive in anything.  Judging modern communication by teenagers’ texting habits is like judging the relative worth of cinema by Pauly Shore’s filmography.  To not see that science, humanitarianism, literature, art and literally every single worthwhile endeavor humans attempt are being assisted tremendously by our communications advances is not possible for a person who has taken even a perfunctorily honest look.

Anyway… As I said, I think there are more places to hammer at this quote and I may do so in another post.  For now, I’m just happy to have started off my blogging life by unleashing some haymakers at the Dalai Lama.  If we can’t rely on hugely influential world icons with reputations for integrity and honesty to speak with integrity and honesty, it really does not bode well for the average person chiming in with his thoughts while a circle of people tries to hammer out an “occupy” manifesto.  There isn’t a rich asshole in a position of power anywhere in the world who can’t poke this quote full of holes without even uncocking his incredulous eyebrow.  We need you to try a little less hard, Mr. Lama.  The truth is infuriating enough.  Stop making shit up, and try to focus on the stuff that’s actually broken.

To A Young Man Of Strong Convictions

by eataTREE

You are clever. You may even be brilliant. Yes, I know, you are failing, you doubt yourself, you despair. All things proceed as they should. Young men have too much self, and you are too much like yourself right now. You are firm in your convictions and becoming more so as you find ways to commit to your many ideals. You are tight, reactive, passionate; you hurt and will hurt more and this is all as it should be: this is the part where life punches you around for a while.

Stay with me, there’s an upside. Each blow will require you to roll a little bit, to deviate from your principles, to admit that things previously thought clearly determined were perhaps not so hard-edged; that outcomes can require the admission of facts previously unconsidered. You will begin to doubt, to compromise, to admit margins of tolerance within absolutes. And you will find that when you do this, as Life, that bruiser, continues to administer the punches, that in giving way a little not only do you mitigate the pain but that you gain wisdom.

You will learn what is crucial to your identity and and what is, to quote pop culture, pride fucking with you. You will be forced to compromise on things previously thought sacred and to your great surprise it will make you a better person. You will become looser and more mellow. And also, too: you will become cunning. You will learn to be mean when you need to. You will learn to hit back, and not think about the pain you’re going to cause; you will learn to, sometimes, with consideration suppress the empathy which comes so naturally to you. To your even greater surprise this will also make you a better person.

You will learn to anticipate the hits and sidestep some of them, and you will even learn to cherish somewhat life’s pain, because the rain of punches ends only at the Final Bell. You will be tough like leather and flex like rubber and you will be less like yourself but you will be better and stronger and this will be the biggest surprise of all.

It’s going to be awesome. Trust me.


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