Today I had a conversation with a graphic design client who, for the past several years, I have charged $20 per image. It is an example of how, merely by setting your own boundaries in a healthy place, you often don't have to filter other people out of your life, because they will do so for you. I refer to this as a "self-solving problem".
Hi Matt,
I leave for a conference in Israel on Wed, Sept 2. Have any time between now & then to upgrade some graphics?
-Clientname
Probably. It will depend on the nature of the upgrades. There are more demands on my time these days, so I will have to raise my rates somewhat, but it will still be proportional to the amount of time I expect it to take. What did you have in mind, specifically?
Hi Matt,
I find your response of raising your rates because of "more demands on your time”very disappointing. It sounds like you have taken on the attitude of big business (airlines)…meaning charge whatever the traffic will bear.
I am sorry, but this “attitude” is contrary to my thinking and I withdraw my request for your services.
This is why it's so valuable for me to put things out there from the outset, which will prevent going down a path that can only end poorly. In various areas of life, this could be "I don't take on new clients unless you pay me to have our first meeting", or it could be "I don't want to work more than 40 hours a week", or it could be "I'm not interested in monogamy and I have a vasectomy." Etc.

Unfortunately, not everyone who should self-select out of your life will do so. Some of them will stick around and complain about your boundaries, or exert other pressures.

There are two main categories of this, depending on the power imbalance. In one case, the person who wants to set boundaries is vulnerable to the pressuring party, as I was financially vulnerable when I originally met this client.

In the other case, the power imbalance is reversed. The pressuring party has too much to lose if the boundary-setting party asserts healthy boundaries. This is often expressed as a form of romantic love, in which the chemical attachment of bonding persists long after the problems of a relationship outweigh the benefits.

If you (as the boundary-setting party) have sufficient alternatives, and if the pressuring party has sufficient alternatives, they will filter themselves out of your life. Then the only way you will continue to have the wrong people in your life is if you fail to assert yourself calmly but firmly. Sometimes walking away is not failure-- it's success. You do not have to make every relationship work.

This is also why it's smart to empower other people with independence and alternatives. Seeking out power imbalances, or setting them up, generates more conflict than it resolves.
This week at a theater festival, I have heard several monologue actors, comedy musicians, and other performers put on shows about relationship structures, such as monogamy and polyamory. A recurring theme is talking about their relationships like they are in a hostage situation. They feel like because they are in love, they are forced (as if at gunpoint) to "have a relationship". But that vague phrase "have a relationship" means different things to the two of them. They are two people with two contradictory definitions of success. And then they wonder why they are miserable.

Unhappiness is simply not sustainable over the long term. Therefore, the bottom line in your choice of relationship structure is this: Will my partner's preferred relationship structure drain me more than it energizes me? Will my preferred relationship structure drain my partner more than it energizes her? For now, set aside words like "should" and "deserve", and "you're lucky to have this", because those words will not change the outcome that you get.

If a polyamorist dates a monogamist-- or a solo poly dates someone who loves cohabitation and promises-- or a fetishist dates a vanilla-- sometimes it can work out. But what makes the difference? One factor: they are not too drained. They don't end up dreading being around each other. It's that simple. If the compromise is too draining, then there's nothing you can do differently that will save your relationship. Don't adopt a pretense in order to have a good attitude, or to be sacrificial, or to be more enlightened. Those do not fill your emotional fuel tank. Those do not change what outcome you get.

The only thing that changes the outcome is this: "Is our compromise more energizing than draining? Or is it more draining than energizing?" For example, is my girlfriend getting enough of my time? Am I getting enough alone time to recharge? If so, then it's fine. Keep that process at the center of your decision-making about relationship structures.

You do NOT have to keep the relationship going at the expense of your needs, or your partner's needs. The well-being of both people in the relationship is more important than the continuation of the relationship.

I have gently ended some of my mis-matched relationships using this exact reasoning. "We're happier when we're friends. When we're lovers, you and I are obstacles for each other instead of opportunities. You're going to be angry at me all the time. It's impossible for me to be emotionally present in the relationship, because this relationship is bad for us. That will just toxify into mutual resentment. We tried to find an overlap between our needs. There isn't one. Your needs are important. Please find someone more equipped to meet them."

Edited to add: All the above is fine so far as it goes, but how do you tell? What are the signs to distinguish a "want" from a "need"? Unlike a want, going without a need is unsustainable. It looks like this:
  • You feel all the energy drain out of you over time.

  • You stop looking forward to being around your partner.

  • It becomes more and more difficult to be emotionally present.

  • Your resentment increases until it can no longer be suppressed, and leaks out in passive-aggression. Or aggressive-aggression.
Have there been times in your life when you experienced an emotion due to circumstances you were already in, and then someone spoke to you, and you retroactively perceived the words as the cause of that emotion? For examples:

Feel anger -> interpret words as demands.
Feel guilt -> interpret words as criticisms.
Feel fear -> interpret words as threats.
Feel shame -> interpret words as dismissal.
If your relationship style is adventurous, you're journeying down a road less traveled, with only vague maps. There's nothing wrong with spending your life in a hobbit hole, playing it safe, and doing what everyone has always done. But my friend, when you're an explorer, trying to reach as far as you can into the extents of what you and your partners can enjoy-- then... then. You're up in the high country.

Think of it this way. You and your partners (when you have partners) are in an adventuring party, climbing a mountain while tied to each other with ropes. Everybody has emotional needs and falls off the mountainside (anxiety, depression, reflexively feeling guilt for no reason). It happens to some more than others, but it happens to all of us. The rest of the party uses the ropes to pull them back up.

When they fall, your job is to pull. But here's the thing. When you're the one dangling from the end of the rope, your job is to try to get back on the mountain side. At least co-operate with your lovers' attempt to pull you up. Your lovers and metamours are not your therapists. They are there to achieve something together, not to be pulled down with you into the abyss. They chose you because you'll quest with them.

So here you are in this situation. You meet a person climbing alongside you, who seems like a good potential partner, the "PP". This person offers to clip a carabiner to yours, to connect to your rope chain.

So naturally you look at the other person who you would be connected to-- the potential metamour ("PM"). Let's say the PM wants to climb down to the foot of the mountain and stay in the hobbit hole in the base camp. (Did I mention there's nothing wrong with that?)

But the PM doesn't want to be in an adventuring party, or climb the mountain. PP is dragging PM along by the rope. Instead of climbing, PM is glaring stubbornly, with arms crossed, swinging from the end of the rope, deliberately stuck in an emotional freefall to punish PP. PP is doing all the work, and PM is pure liability. It turns out PP pressured PM into going on this adventure, and now PM is going to sabotage it.

If PM wants to go downward, PM can join the nearly-infinite number of people going that way. But PP has to choose. Go downward with PM, or upward with you? It can't be both.

You're responsible for your partners' emotional safety. Are you prepared to be responsible for the emotional safety of their partners? The bottom line is, don't let anyone clip a rope to you unless they un-clip from the non-climber. No reluctant polyamorists allowed. Do not get involved with someone who is pressuring their other partner to go along with it.

Reach out a hand when PP falters and slips. Keep pace and offer encouragement and tools. Just keep it clear to the PP that you're going upward, with or without them. No tug-of-war is allowed. If you're going to climb, your entire rope chain must be trying to go up. They can fall, but they must demonstrate that they're trying. The rule is "climbers only".

You cannot "motivate" someone to climb who never wanted to. The more you try, the closer you get to coercion and violations of consent.

When selecting a partner, there are very few things more important than a shared direction for the relationship itself. It doesn't need to be identical, but it must be reasonably similar. Most things can be compromised, but not goals for the relationship itself. If you are on incompatible paths, there is no compromise other than mutual failure.

First, find someone who will climb with you. Love is second. When you find love going in the opposite direction, never ask love to sacrifice it's journey of love, to go in your direction. Neither should you destroy the path that works for you to go on a path that's false for you. You'll only destroy both of your journeys. Exercise restraint, walk away, and find love going where you're going.
I liked the vast majority of 2013. I'm less happy than I was a year ago, but most things are cyclical. My circumstances are on an upward trajectory, overall.

I had career and relationship milestones this year. I got a job as a software developer, and as a result, started spending a lot of my time in Ann Arbor. Today I finally achieved a savings goal that I've had for nearly a decade, and will probably stay above it even after this month's projected expenses.

The main reason for me to select one job over another is how much control it will give me over where I spend my free time, and with whom. My last job, while menial, was down the street from the i3Detroit hacker space, where I do everything that I care about the most, and where most of the people who I care about tend to spend their time. That job set the gold standard. Working in my actual field will make it possible in the future to return to something close to those priorities, in a financially sustainable way.

With those priorities so vividly present in my mind, it is not possible for me to accidentally fall into a gilded cage of high expenses that keep me dependent on a high income. I know people who incur a terrible price with stress and boredom, to pay for isolated McMansions in a lonely gated community. I don't want that. My current path will vastly increase my options. I plan to keep living in densely populated urban centers full of activities with lots of great people.

Speaking of people, that brings me to the topic of relationships. In October, I posted this to Facebook:


A relationship of a year and a half has come to an amicable end. It was both of our great good fortune to be with each other. In that spirit of gratitude, our relationship transitions into warm friendship.

Here are the things that help me during a time like this. Your mileage may vary.

When I start every relationship, I say that it's a gift to each other, not an obligation. I say that if she needs to make new life decisions, and if I don't fit into that life in the same way, I won't make it difficult for her. Past experience says I'll follow through, so that's a comfort.

--I don't want to sugar-coat this. Like anything else worthwile, my relationship philosophy has tradeoffs. For every one to two years of ecstasy (the likes of which many people only fantasize), I experience a couple of weeks of withdrawal from dopamine, oxytocin and norepinephrine. I'll take that deal. During those weeks, I practice disguising my sobs as sneezes, in public. I accept the stormy emotional weather. I ride out the brain chemicals until they pass. If I had avoided loss, I would never have had such rewarding relationships to begin with.

During the infatuated period of "New Relationship Energy", when neither of us can conceive of a day when we don't fit into each other's lives in the same way, I talk about it anyway. The infatuated period is the most difficult time to lay the groundwork for the end of the relationship to be a warm and loving one. But that's when it most needs to be said.

With each goodbye, I remind myself that new connections and new loved ones have never followed far behind.

-- This prediction has already held true. 

When we say goodbye, and I say we'll always be loved ones, I can look at the loved ones who still call, and keep in touch, and miss me, and look forward to visiting me, and I know that real love stories can have endings. Because that's how they can have sequels.

--I was reminded of this when I had a visit from J this month. (J lived with me during 2010 and 2011, predating the relationship which recently ended.) She spoke of her plans to try to move back to Michigan and start a video game company with some others. They were inspired by a game idea I had, and I'm really excited to be in touch with her more often.

With strong connections, and new resources, the groundwork is in place for 2014 to be an amazing year for me.
Well, it happened again. Someone sent me a job ad working as a graphic designer for a company that I really like, and I had a full-blown attack of something. A panic attack? A freak-out? I don't know what to call it. I would really like to get to the bottom of this weird phenomenon that happens to me when I read job ads.

I have a co-worker who keeps asking me why on earth, with all my talents, I'm doing unskilled labor for barely more than minimum wage. This is why.

The irony is that the job ad is for a website about intimate relationships. You know "That Guy" on dating sites? The one who messages every woman asking for sex right off the bat? That's what most job ads are like. This invites a comparison I have often made, between professions and intimate relationships, which I would like to go into in more detail.

A job ad feels exactly like being asked to have sex for money. I am not trying to be insulting and hyperbolic. I am quite serious about this, and have been for years, not just the heat of the moment. Professional job ads ask me to start a very serious capital-R Relationship with total strangers, instantaneously accelerating from a dead stop to full speed. This job ad even uses the word "passion". I am expected to feel passion in exchange for money. They want you to join their "family" (their word). I'm supposed to care deeply about crafting the identity of complete strangers!

It's like that scene in "Joe Vs. The Volcano" in which the limo driver pulls the car over, and says, "You say to me you want to go shopping. You want to buy clothes, but you don't know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I'm going to fill in the blanks. Now that to me is like asking me who you are, and I don't know who you are. I don't want to know. It's taken me all my life to find out who I am and I am tired, now, you hear what I'm saying?"

This is why I don't date. Everybody hates dating, and for good reason. Dates are universally creepy and desperate, because it's an interview with a stranger, for the position of Most Important Person In Your Life. I find that insane. Instead of dating, I make friends, and after I've gotten to know someone, I see if she would like to gradually increase the involvement. That's why my love life is so successful. I don't think that translates to the workplace. In the job world, I'm not sure how I would develop a passionate vision for how someone else's website should look, then go and ask for a job.
I believe you will find the advice in this post useful, even if you are happily married. It may help you strengthen your relationship. I want you to avoid the wrong expectations about marriage. Don't assume a wedding changes a relationship for the better. You are making a cost-benefit tradeoff. If you think you are just trading up a relationship status for a better one, you will be unprepared for the costs, and will be unhappy.

But first, you want to know why you should read advice about marriage from a man who refuses to get married. Why? Because I'm good at marriage. I could make a marriage last forever if I wanted to. I was good at it right up to the point, nearly a decade ago, that my wife and I agreed we would rather be single than married, for reasons I am about to outline. It wasn't about any problem with each other. Our relationship, while stable, was in the wrong form. To this day, we still go out to dinner every couple of months.

Yet another pair of my friends is headed for divorce, and I just can't help but wonder how marriage made their relationship worse instead of better. I don't know which fate I dread more for them-- that their marriage will end? Or that it will last forever?

What is different between marriage and committed co-habitation? These differences come in two major types:
1. Benefits, which come from other people.
2. Stresses, which apply to the actual partners involved.

The only thing it does to the bride and groom is add more potential for stress to the actual relationship itself. Do you let yourself go? Take each other for granted? Fight over money now that you're on the hook for each other? I hear you saying that all these obstacles are surmountable, with communication and trust. True. But why add stresses unless you have to?

I can see clear legal, financial and contractual reasons why so many indisputably smart people get married. But all those benefits are about other people:
* throwing a party to celebrate your love in front of others.
* reducing how much others tax you.
* making others allow you to visit your children.
* getting past others to your lover's hospital bed.
* getting the respect and acknowledgement of others.

To you, those benefits may be worth the damage to your relationships. To me, they are not.

Marriage awkwardly combines romantic entanglements with legal and financial entanglements. It feels like "The party of the first part may kiss the party of the second part. I now declare you liable for damages." These two areas of life are already complicated enough, without worrying that breaking up with someone would mean I'd need to find a new place to live, and a new bank account, and split up possessions, and so forth.

Don't say marriage is more commitment. Commitment is a decision, and you can simply make that decision and tell your partner. You either trust your partner when they tell you that, or you don't. If you don't, you have a problem that is not fixed by shackling them. The best married couples understand the wedding improved their standing with their other loved ones, but didn't change anything between them that wasn't already there. Brides and grooms who get married in order to change themselves and each other are at exponentially higher risk of divorce from disappointed expectations. With marriage you'll just have to go to extra trouble to disentangle when it's over. But don't kid yourself; If you want out, you'll get out. It'll just be worse.

I'm not down on marriage for everybody! I love married people. (Frequently!) It may not be something I desire for myself, but I understand marriage makes many people feel good. It's a tradeoff, just like polyamory, or monogamy, or celibacy, or any other relationship form. You have to walk uphill against the challenges that each form brings. You choose them based on whether they put enough wind in your sails to surmount the obstacles.

Finally, we come to the most important reason not to get married: do you have a personality that buckles under to social pressure? I would like to point out that a lot of married people-- perhaps even the vast majority-- have not thought about the tradeoffs at all. Too many couples get married because of its symbolic value; to feel a connection to a long-standing tradition. Well, those people are going to feel a connection to Prozac in about seven years. I would like to encourage you to completely remove this reason from your list of priorities, if you possess the emotional wherewithal.

The problem is the default cultural script, followed unthinkingly. For instance:
* An unspoken assumption that you are each other's property and therefore can run each other's lives.
* Unrealistic expectations that marriage will change your partner.
* Or that they won't change.
* The announcement of monogamy that you wear on your finger.

Do you assume that you both have the same ideas about that? Even if you do, the people sitting in the audience at your wedding probably don't. Are you sleeping with them? No? Best not to get them involved.

So, if I want to celebrate my love, I would throw a party to do so, and not call it a wedding. But I won't. Frankly, as much as I love you all, it doesn't involve you. This may be the point that I lose many of you, because I know a lot of people like to put a couple photo as their profile pic on Facebook, and kiss in public, and really get the community involved in seeing them as an all-or-nothing unit. Too clingy for me, but whatever floats your boat. I'm not condemning, I'm just trying to help you not faceplant.

I'll just say this. Marriage is a stamp of approval by the community, that separates approved relationships from unapproved relationships. I take issue with that entire concept. How is it anyone's business to approve your most intimate, private, personal relationships? We let lawyers, legislators, clergy, and nosy family members in our bedrooms, in exchange for access to the approved group. There should be no formal, official approval. The government should not be in the business of sanctioning our private lives. You can join a church if you want that.

So all the drawbacks go to you and your partner, and all the advantages go to other people by giving them control over the shape of your private life. What are the benefits? Access to your kids, a tax break, getting on your partner's health insurance, getting to visit them in the hospital. Do you think society is doing you a favor with this trade? I leave you with this thought: How whipped are you, that you think you shouldn't have that already?
It was pointed out to me that Kit's memorial entry is friend-locked. I've stopped reading me and Reesa's old IM logs and leaking from the eyes long enough that I have some of my own things to say.

Reesa was fascinating; and she was interested in interesting things.

I don't talk much about past or present partners; but anyone with whom I have privately discussed Reesa knows that I pretty much glow about her, and that I'm not just praising her now because of the circumstances. She gave of herself with an generosity, courage, and forthrightness that served as a positive role model for me when I needed one. I'm not saying she was perfect. But her flaws never really did much to me. My trajectory through her life was caught in the spotlight beam of brilliance. She just didn't seem to settle for anything, even if everybody in the world thought you would obviously fail. She was an example of how the whole world could be wrong about that. The whole world was wrong about a lot of things. Whether it be in her entrepreneurship, her relationship style, her resourcefulness, her innovative ideas, and her courage in all areas of life; I admired that, and admiration has always been an aphrodisiac to me.

I never imagined a world without Reesa in it. I really thought she had it licked for the last time, and was out of the woods. I'm proud to have introduced her to her husband Nathan Elliott, and my thoughts go out to him at this time.

PROTIP

Nov. 4th, 2011 07:01 am
No one gets in line to be your next un-enthusiasm!
I'm watching "Chaos Theory" and I haven't been this frustrated since I watched "Chasing Amy".

A woman in labor crashed her car driving to the hospital. A stranger drove her the rest of the way. The hospital assumed he was the husband, and made him sign paperwork. The pregnant woman ran out on her child. The hospital called his wife, assuming she was the mother, and demanding she return. The wife instantly accepted the idea he had lived a double life and had a baby with another woman.

Let's make this perfectly clear. He was a model family man, reliable to a fault, not giving her the slightest reason to withhold the benefit of the doubt. After years of this reliability, the person who was supposed to be closest to him believed a ludicrous implausibility, threw things at him, kicked him out of the house, and wouldn't let him explain.

Stupid plot devices are par for the course for a dumb movie. If it had happened in real life, I would be livid, but since it is fiction, it is merely annoying. What drives me to pace back and forth is that the audience is expected to sympathize and share his desire to save the relationship, to sustain our interest in the plot. I've seen enough movies like this to know there is an audience for them. They would like to see them reunited. It is supposed to be normal and desirable for the person closest to you to throw things at you. You are supposed to clutch desperately at what little you have. A person who is capable of throwing things at you-- ever-- is the kind of person who can be in a relationship? That is simply unthinkable. He should try to have the slimmest iota of standards, erase all value that she holds to him, file for divorce the next morning, spend the next several months trying to dry his tears, and NOT TAKE HER PHONE CALLS UNTIL SHE GIVES UP. End of movie.

I mean for Pete's sake, she threw a pot at him. Once you're at that point, is there anything left to save? Done. Walk. Over.

I continued watching only to see if the film would ever address the real underlying conflict, which is the utter hollowness and worthlessness of the connection between them.

It does not. (He does get mad, though. You wouldn't believe what it took to finally get him mad.) Eventually they all just ignored and glossed over all the conflict, instead of making anything better.

I get worked up like this when watching pretty much any movie about relationships. I wish Dan Savage wrote screenplays. I want a movie titled DTMFA.
I have said goodbye to all my relationships in recent months, as they start new lives with exciting new careers thousands of miles away. Relationships are an area of life in which I'm pretty satisfied with my results. While it is particularly on my mind, I thought I'd just put down some thoughts. These are the philosophies to which I credit my lack of drama and turmoil.

Read more... )
I like my interest groups full of women, and I can't imagine chasing them out of the group which is supposed to be about the common interests, not a dating site. I want an environment in which they can be confident that they are meeting friends, not getting a lot of pressure or big expectations.

So you can predict my growing shock, alarm, disgust, and facepalm, at hearing about guys making unwanted advances, and even sexual assault, toward women at OSCON, OLS, or other open source related events. It's wrong to not take no for an answer. It's unthinkable to get all handsy, and I wouldn't tolerate it if I saw it happen. I would make sure they get kicked out. I keep worrying if it's happening at Penguicon and no one's reporting it.

For a geek event, Penguicon has an unusually large percentage of women attendees, organizers, and presenters (on all topics, not just tech). Our attendance has got to be somewhere between one third to one half women. They are just as passionate about the convention. If that went away, it would no longer be anything like the con we have come to know. The shocking behavior at other events related to open source is sparking an organized backlash which is long overdue. Unfortunately I think we're going to get lumped in. We already have a harassment policy, requiring that you leave people alone when they ask you to, forbidding touching without express permission, and promising the victims of abuse that the con will back them up. But I wouldn't mind expanding the policy.

The really cool Geek Feminism Wiki has a boilerplate Tech Conference Anti-Harassment Policy Document. It's really good. I would only make three changes for our circumstances.

Switch 'safe feeling' to 'comfortable environment'. )

Remove the broad, nearly-meaningless 'offensive'. )

Modify the prohibition on sexual images. )

In addition to the recommendations for the policy, I have an open question and an impassioned plea:

An open question. )

An impassioned plea to men looking for a woman. )
A poster in Ops at U-Con advertised seeking geeks to be interviewed, for an honors thesis about geek culture. So I emailed Rachel Yung at and signed up. If you self-identify as a geek, Rachel wishes you to do likewise. Here is a transcript of the interview.
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
I do not have Asperger's Syndrome, but occasionally I have an Autistic Moment. Several times in my life, I have mistaken the phrase "I don't know how I can be more clear" for a sincere request for a tutorial. I had to learn to catch myself before it is too late.
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
Is there a lull in flamewars, or am I just not on the right forums anymore? Summer time, and the living is easy. So I choose now to post this. There's very little point in pointing out essays like this to anyone who is currently hunkered down in a fortress of defensiveness. They'd just feel you're making up rules to impose; and will promptly ask who died and made you king.

There is a new essay by Mark Rosenfelder on The Zompist, "On Arguing." Even if you're conflict-averse, you will see arguing in your life. If it turns ugly, "On Arguing" will help you judge the appropriate levels of social consequences to mete out for what you had to sit through.

Sample: "It’s the exaggeration and the malice that distinguish a real straw man from an honest misunderstanding."

Another useful essay on this topic is "How to Disagree" by Paul Graham.
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
Somehow, my desire for sincere work does not rule out performing the occasional wedding.

A young military couple were being sent overseas, and arranged at the last minute to be married by a Justice of the Peace so as to be less likely to be separated by the military. Upon hearing this plan, their families asked to be allowed to put together a real wedding they could attend with all the trappings. The Justice of the Peace would already have done the legal work; the following ceremony would be for show. The families had to work fast. No clergy could be persuaded to perform a ceremony on the Fourth of July with twenty-four hours notice. They went hunting for someone, anyone, who would know how to make the service look and sound traditionally authentic.

Their friend-of-a-friend Tomak thought of me, mostly because I perform the Coffee Ritual at Penguicon. I ritualistically grind, brew, and serve coffee, and parody the High Church singsong cadence, while wearing a Pope costume with a Starbucks logo on the hat.

Tomak: "You're a Bible college dropout, right?"
Me: "I graduated, actually."
Tomak: "Rock on!"
Me: "With an art degree."
Tomak: "Good enough."

When asked what denomination I was, Tomak told them "he was trained Baptist, but now he's more ... Unitarian Universalist." That's one way to put it. I should remember that one.

Jen worked very hard Friday night to put together a setting complete with an altar, unity candles, a humongous Bible with side-by-side English and Greek translations, and a lovely printed manuscript of the ceremony for a memento. She wrote the ceremony, and pasted a printed copy inside a black notebook for me to glance at, since I lacked any time to memorize my lines. I wore a black suit and white turtleneck.

I would like to live in a world in which prayer and encouragement is never a paid acting performance. I didn't want to encourage a young couple that they are doing the right thing, when every evidence available to statistics and brain science tells us they are most certainly not. But it's their lives to live as they choose.

I was worried that I would feel terrible; that it would be the most desperate and grasping thing I've ever done for money. In other words, I felt like one must feel when preparing to appear in one's first porn film. If porn stars can do it, I have no cause to demur. Yes, I said; I will draw from porn stars' strength of determination, learn from their example, and set aside these silly qualms. I will not Hoekstra.

I did not dwell on it while it was happening. I just went with the flow. I kept my mouth shut as much as possible before and after. I was thanked and praised to the skies by clients and their families who were thrilled to tears. Then I hopped in the getaway car and put it out of my mind for several days. The back of my mind is constantly aware that there is video, which might appear on YouTube and come back to haunt me. If I make a habit of presiding over the downfall of beautiful relationships every day, I would experience emotional corrosion quickly. I take comfort that perhaps weary porn stars and reluctant wedding officiants might be the Yin to each other's Yang on some weird karmic scale.
I'd like all of you to at least skim this, even if your past experiences with me suggest you aren't going to agree with it. I think on this one, you just might.

This holiday season I heard "don't lose sight" a lot. An interesting phrase. I've been mulling it over for a month. It's common in discussions of values. I think that a lot of talk of "theism" and "atheism" is a blind alley. I am an atheist, no doubt about it. But I just don't think the nonexistence of the supernatural is the point of anything I really have been trying to get across. While I am not saying my actual point of view on atheism vs. theism has changed, I think that whole discussion is too often part of the problem. The problem is philosophy that loses eye contact.

Atheists can count the angels dancing on the head of a pin just as badly as theists can. You see where, when secularists are upset that a "higher" or "deeper" person is losing sight of the tangible reality of human relationships, we can easily get distracted onto attacking the "higher" and "deeper". But what's important is not that people are looking "higher" or "deeper", it's that they're neglecting what's right in front of their eyes. Don't lose sight of visible things. So far as I know, there isn't a philosophical "ism" name for that position.

I consider that walking by sight, not by faith, but hey, that's just me. Being more in touch with tangible human relationships than with heavenly abstractions is what I'm all about. We call that "atheism" or "secularism" or a dozen different versions of that, but you might not, and that's fine. Besides, that word is a distraction. What matters is that I make choices that those around me can live with, and that you make choices that I can live with. Agreement on the reasons for doing so are less important to a life well-lived.

A focus on abstractions is just a smokescreen to keep from having to engage the empathy part of your brain and really talk to the people in your life. This is why so many of the teachers and students I remember from fundamentalist Christianity were so emotionally stunted and clumsy in relating to people. Philosophy that loses eye-contact is an avoidance technique. The best way to switch off your empathy is to focus on ivory-tower abstractions and lose sight of human relationships. Look at every atrocity committed by any philosophical branch. Religious people point at the secular ones, non-religious people point at the religious ones, but notice the one thing they all have in common. It's "the state", "god", "society", rather than the suffering of their victims. Even Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber were into pretentious manifestos.

How does it come about that someone softens up toward homosexuals? One of their loved ones comes out of the closet and they're not just an abstraction. How does it come about that a person can become cruel and destructive toward others, for a metaphysical position? Philosophy that loses eye contact. How do you become an abortion protester who hasn't even thought through what will happen if they get their way? Philosophy that loses eye contact. Some of them squeeze their eyes closed to recite their philosophies to themselves over and over in prayer. This alienates them from the reality in front of their eyes, and all too often, they lose sight as hard as they can. It happens in politics too.

My emphasis ought not to be on the metaphysics of the supernatural plane, or millions of years ago. When a religious person in a conflict tries to resolve it using such abstractions, I'll just say "Look me in the eyes. If I want to talk to God, I know where to find him-- I want to know what you think. This is an issue of discomfort between me, and you. You are trying to move it off of that discomfort, but it won't really resolve it. You are responsible for your position, not God. If I'm wrong, I accept responsibility for that. If you're wrong, no one is to blame but you."

Repeat "you" and "me" as often as necessary. Maintain their eye contact on you, if necessary using your index and middle finger in a V shape positioned in the eye-line. Bring them down to the visceral, human level of having to use actual conflict-resolution skills. To take responsibility for their own position. To say, "It's not about God; it's about a problem you and I have with each other's behaviors. It can only be resolved on that level."

Geekspeak

Oct. 6th, 2006 02:27 pm
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
Yesterday my friend [livejournal.com profile] rlpowell told me on the phone that when he sees my text messages on the Lojban IRC channel or mailing list, he imagines them spoken by a hyperactive chipmunk on meth... and suddenly my utterances cease to baffle and dismay him. He says other geeks need to meet me in order to be able to execute this audio transformation in their minds. Otherwise, I do not come off as breathlessly offering them the opportunity to get in on something I think is amazing and fun and cool. Rather, I come off as an insufferable buffoon stomping his feet and making inscrutable suggestions that do not compute, as if I were making demands on them. I need to interact with hardcore tech geeks more often via phone.

(Is it any wonder that I so often bang the drum of "let's have a meeting" in all my volunteer organizations?)

Previous to meeting me in person, it was just as difficult for [livejournal.com profile] rlpowell to stomach me as it is to a few of the other hard-core engineering geeks I know. My ideas are based on social considerations, and he advised me that I need to make that clear if I am not to piss of my more logical friends. I should not assume that they're lazy, don't take ownership, or don't want to get onboard a project they are supposedly interested in. The real explanation is that they literally have no idea what I am talking about, and I need to back up and explain.

He said that when he would hear my schemes, the behavior of any humans-- actual, flawed, fallable human beings-- never entered his mind at first. It's similar to the reason some socially feral engineers are purist zealots about Libertarianism, Communism, Open Source, etc. Pure ideology works perfectly in an abstract world of perfection where the behaviors of populations actually start making sense. A lot of Lojbanists are attracted to an engineered language for precisely such reasons. That includes yours truly. But I understand the mystique of a fantasy world where America adopts the metric system, keyboards employ the Dvorak layout, everybody uses Linux, and humans stop needing to believe in God. It is a Rapture Of The Nerds, a consummation devoutly to be wished, and it is not going to happen. I'm able to simultaneously understand it as a fantasy and still like it. Experience it. Participate in it. As Heinlein would say, "grok it". That intersection is the sweet spot for promoting anything.

The embarrassing thing about Marketing is that it is grabbing a mob by the lowest common denominator of its lizard-like hindbrain and shaking it until what you want falls out. In our case, the outcome of using a hive mind of distributed wetware computation on ten million undiscriminating internet users is to get the attention of a few discriminating internet users. To call that counter-intuitive is an understatement, but it works. Art is a magical practice which works on a logic all its own, consisting of doing things that would otherwise be stupid.
Ganked from [livejournal.com profile] treebones. List five truths. Five things that are on your mind. Good, bad, it matters not. Lift some weight off. Then, pick five people to do the same.

1. Having one's fortune told is no better of a reason for rearranging one's relationships than it was to tell Reagan how to run the country and where to send the military.

2. There is a blurry line between scary and funny, and Jonathan Coulton knows exactly where that line is.

3. Server administration skills are rarer, more important, and more deserving of latitude than skills I possess, such as spelling.

4. SMOS stands for Secret Masters of SMOS.

5. The rules of a board game should be taught with a wide-angle lens first, then zooming in to the rule exceptions.
In a few days I will set down my goals for 2006. Last year at this time I blogged about my goals for 2005. It's now time to review.
Read more... )

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