Sunday, December 29, 2013

Accidental fame

Fame has a way of sneaking up on you. Or, rather, of happening in relation to things you've long since stopped thinking about, and have to be reminded of in your day-to-day being in the world.

Such as in the phrase "hey, aren't you that guy/gal/pronoun that did that thing way back when?".

You probably are. And that thing way back when is what the questioner knows about you.

Fame. Sneaky bastard.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

This is what blogging is

Some things are reduced to their general categories. They are one thing and one thing only, and one can thus safely talk about them as the one singular thing they are.

Blogging is one example of this.

You know how the talk goes. "Blogging" is on the decline, fewer people blog, the whole thing had its day but the sun is fast setting - and so on and so forth. Oftentimes without any specific examples - it's just blogging, in general.

The funny thing about blogs, if you ever find yourself reading one, is that it's about something. Consistently. And that it tends to conform to certain formal and informal rules, which are somehow also followed by other bloggers. Not all of them, but a certain subsection of them. Enough of them that they form a genre.

There are, to be sure, lots of genres when it comes to blogs. Political blogs, fashion blogs, political fashion blogs, book blogs, parenting blogs, search engine optimization blogs, blogs about blogs... there are many genres, about many things.

This makes is rather silly to talk about "blogging". As if it was just the one genre, and could be summarized as one singular thing. Because it isn't.

Blogging is many things. But it's not a genre.

Speaking of things that are reduced to a genre. Women -

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On privilege

Being privileged is many things. Being privileged is also not many things. Both at the same time.

First things first: being privileged does not make you a bad person. It is just a statement of fact - you have something others don't. Whatever that might be.

It might be money.

It might be time.

It might be access.

It might be social recognition.

It might be available life choices.

It might be expectations.

It might be all of these things at once, intertangled in a complex web of interlocking mutually reinforcing causes and effects, transcribed into our cultural DNA and determining our fates like those old norns of yore -

It probably is. Only without the norns.

The way to read this non-exhaustive list is to see it as things that might be relevant to look at, either by themselves or in combination. The best advice is to start out with the one thing, and go from there.

So, one thing. Money. On the face of it, it is rather straightforward. The ultrarich are more privileged than the ultrapoor. The moderately rich more than the moderately poor. And so and so forth. Nothing strange going on here. And, to be sure, nothing interesting. Yet. Let's add complexity.

Now, two things. Money and time.

It is tempting to quote the old adage that time is money. And it is, in oh so many ways.  Most markedly if you happen to be employed by someone, and have to remain employed by this someone to keep yourself in money. Which, in most cases, mean you have to be at work all those hours, every day five days a week.

That's a lot of hours, all taken together.

It works in reverse, too. The one thing money is best at buying is time. In a direct sense, you buy other people's time when you buy things - whether it being indirect in the product of someone's labor, or the very immediate sense of making that labor happen. In whatever way, shape or form it might manifest itself.

Or, sideways: with enough money, you have time to do whatever it is you want to do. And, moreover, you don't ever have to spend time worrying about money - a big pastime among those who don't have it.

It is, of course, possible to flip this. I'm sadly enough privy to the details, but I hear that tax returns and financial instruments can get quite complicated and time-consuming really fast. Meaning that not all money is equally efficient time savers, and that sometimes you're better off timewise having no money at all.

And, in another reversal: debt.

Let's make things even more complicated. Three things. -

Or, well. I imagine you're getting the picture at this point. Privilege is not always a clear cut thing, obvious for the world to see. It is, sometimes (hello, fellow westerners), but in the hustle and bustle among the people you actually meet, it ain't. Some people are rich, but so bogged down by what they have to do to stay rich that it's not worth it in any rational sense. Some are poor, but also free from debt and social obligations that stand in the way of what they want to do. Some are part of marginalized minorities, discriminated against in every sense, yet have social bonds with and solidarity for each other that makes all of "my" problems into "our" problems. Some have to work their literal and metaphorical arses off to get what others get for free; sometimes, this comes back to haunt the latter in more ways than they'd ever know.

It's not easy. It's not fair, either, despite the above paragraph about how things sometimes balance themselves. Adaptation to injustices is not a justification for them, and it is a mistake to think so. Despite it being a comfortable option for those with the privilege to be able do so.

The biggest privilege, and thus the most hard to fathom for those who have it, is to not have to bother with shit. Which male white people are very privy to, and even more so in that they don't even have to think about it. This freedom from having to deal is a huge load of free(d) time, energy, effort, money and all other forms of resource one might care to mention. Whatever it is one might want to do, it gets easier with access to these resources. Add to this that they might be used to accrue more resources, and we get ourselves into a situation where some people are very comfortable in the boat, while others inevitably will rock it while trying to get in.

With the resources not spent on staying afloat.

Privilege. It's a thing. It's many things.

It's not all things, though. There's still room for freedom, change, and sharing.

I encourage you the privilege to use it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I know that feeling, and so do you

Imagine yourself at your angriest. The most angry you've ever been. The apex of rage, fury and utter will to krush, kill and destroy. Those moments where your whole being is turned into a solid, focused point of malign intentionality, where any and all thoughts are singularly directioned into the will to harm. Where no amount of retribution is enough, and the proper time and proper place to act on this cosmic injustice is right about this fist -

Imagine this anger. Feel it.

Now think it being directed. At you.

Empathy is not soft and squishy. Empathy is fucking scary.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A short story about religiosity

Protagonist A: Ach! Religious superstition is so stupid! People do the craziest things to appease someone who isn't there and don't care! They believe in stories about mystical powers that will punish them if they act the wrong way, and can't even think about not doing what these powers tell them to do. They're unfree, unhappy and unthinking - and they don't even know it!

Protagonist B: Speaking of things. Why is it that you have a stuffed elk in your living room? It doesn't really fit the decor, and it's a bit of a squeeze to get to and fro.

Protagonist A: Well, you see, my insurance company sent me a letter, claiming that they won't cover it if I don't keep it in a dry and safe place. And I couldn't think of a safer and drier space than my living room!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The nerd that wouldn't get a job

You may or may not have heard about it, but it's a thing. People who are very into playing World of Warcraft forge strong social bonds. Strong, lasting and ever present social bonds. Bonds that, in a very real way, portrays getting a job as a bad thing. As you'll have less time to do the important things, like raiding.

There are two ways to look at this.

The one way is to go "aaaaw, nerds, cute".

Another way to go is "hey, that's quite a shift in social and cultural values; I wonder if there's more to this than meets the eye?".

There might very well be. As the notion of the steady, continuous, lifelong 9-5 job fades away as a past cultural memory (a fading actively aided by the practice of replacing what used to be 9-5 jobs with eternally temporary forms of employment, with ever more creative names), people search for solidarity and social cohesion elsewhere. And they take it where they can find it.

It's easy to laugh it off as just nerds being nerds. There might be something more to it, though, the first instance of a development that's about to unfold. It is not unthinkable that these communities of people, over time, form formal and informal networks of support that enables them to avoid such distractions as the fluctuating labor market. Turn their newfound social capital into means of social reproduction, as it were, and thus undermine the notion of being employed as norm even further. Turning getting a job into something that's not just a bad thing, but a socially hard to justify thing. Why expose yourself to that when you can do something else, something better?

It is not unthinkable. It has, in fact, already happened. If you're a Starcraft fan, you'll have heard of the professional E-sports teams that have emerged over the years. Evil Geniuses, Team Liquid and others are already established entities, and there's countless more out there. It's a thing.

Formal and informal social support networks.

It's a thing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nothing is ever forgotten, nothing is ever new

Back in the olden days, the Bible was a mystery. Not a mystery in the "this passage is a tad unclear, and could use some sound expounding" sense, but rather in the "dude, it's written in bloody Latin, I can't read this" sense. As in literal Latin, the language of the Romans, a language that had long since gone its merry way to become French, Italian and all those romantic sounding languages.

In short, you were either a priest (and had gotten a solid education in Latin), or you weren't, and the Bible was an incomprehensible mystery. Unreadable, in all senses of the word.

This put enormous amounts of power in the hands of the (soon to be*) Catholic Church. Only its representatives could speak with any authority about the Word of God. And God, as you might remember, is a big deal - the creator of the world, the punisher of sinful, the justifier of monarchies, the foundation of all that is Good and Just and True.

You can do a lot of things with God on your side.

If you've stayed in a hotel recently, you might have noticed that there was a Bible there. And that it wasn't in Latin. And that there are, in fact, quite a number of bibles in quite a number of languages that's not Latin. Clearly, something has happened between now and then.

What happened between now and then?

Gutenberg happened. He didn't quite invent the printing press, but he made it commercially viable enough for the contemporary market. As in, you could build one, if you were mildly rich and put your will to it. And thus people did build them. And they used them to print books. Loads of them. Floods of them.

One of these books was the Bible. Not the old Latin version, but numerous localized versions, that ordinary people could read and understand. No longer did the (soon to be*) Catholic church have a monopoly on the Word of God - just about everyone who was somebody knew a guy with a strange contraption in his basement that churned out bibles at an ungodly pace.

And boy did they read. And boy were they righteously pissed off when they discovered that the (soon to be*) Catholic Church had, to put it mildly, embellished a little on the Words of God during the last thousand years or so.

Calamity ensued.

What changed with the improvement of the printing press wasn't just the means of production of written works. To be sure, that was part of it, but it was not the most important part of it. The most important part of it was that people got access to the Words of God, and with their own eyes could see what was what. And, in due course, become justifiably outraged by what they saw.

This is not without parallels in our contemporary society. There's this thing called the internet, that came into being a while back. We could say it's the same story all over again, only in a different setting, and with a less theological version of the Word of God. Though, to be honest, the intricacies of legislature could very well be written in church Latin, for all its readability to the common folk.

Until now.

There is a point to this ramble. More than one point. One of these is that my description about how Lutheranism came about is wrong, and that you can point out any number of errors if you know the details. Another point is that this doesn't matter, since the gist of it is right, and that it's right enough that one can make comparisons between then and now. Comparisons such as: hey, haven't we seen all this before somewhere?

(I am, in fact, so wrong that I've been corrected in this here blog post. Go read it. You'll learn actual things that are actually true.)

When people talk about the value of history, they don't talk about dates, facts and other things best left to Wikipedia. They talk about that "hey, I know this, this reminds me of..." feeling. It can be the vaguest, most general, least factually correct remembrance ever - it doesn't matter. As long as the general gist of it is correct, you can go from there, and find out the details and specifics and all that as you go along. And, more importantly, get a context from which to view whatever is going on at the moment.

Back in the days, the (soon to be*) Catholic Church had a monopoly on the Word of God. Then that changed.

Back in the days, you had to be an initiate of the highest order to gain access to the legal reasoning of the state. Or, indeed, to even know where and how to read them in order to make any sense out of it. Now, this has changed - as ACTA and TTP shows.

Let's hope we're not in for another session of ensuing calamity. -

*: a funny thing about the Catholic Church is that it only became Catholic after the Reformation. Before, it was simply the Church, the one and only. You only need to name things when there's a need to keep things apart, which you don't when there's only the one.**
**: the Orthodox Church doesn't count. It's far enough away for everyone to know that it's obvious to everyone that you can't really confuse apples and oranges.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Feminism made easy

It has been brought to my attention that it is hard to grasp what a feminist analysis is. That it is unclear what one is supposed to do. That there is no immediately available starting point, and that one has to work through layers of layers of academia to get anything done.

Fun fact: it's a lot easier than it looks.

Let's, for instance, look at a workplace. Let's look at how people behave in the break room. Let's look at how the men are gathered around the pinball machine that HR brought in to boost morale and creativity. Let's look at how the women are gathered in the kitchen, busily planning the next office party.

BOOM! Feminist analysis complete. Achievement unlocked.

It's that easy.

You can, of course, make things harder on yourself and add any numbers of  extra bells and whistles to your analysis. You don't really need to, but you can. If you really want to.

It would be nice if it was a hard thing to do a feminist analysis. If you had to dig through layers and layers of obscure and complicated theories in order to get anywhere. That would mean that patriarchy is just about gone, and that you'd have to work your genderbending arse in to shape in order to find the last vestiges of it. But, alas, you more often than not just have to look at a given situation to note how things are structured around gendered lines.

Feminist analysis is easy. Punching patriarchy where it hurts is not as easy. But worth it nevertheless.