Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tentatively, all the things that I can think of wanting in a friend fall into three categories. You're looking for someone enjoyable, someone you can respect, and someone who you find emotionally compatible. . . or, rather than "emotionally compatible," it might be better to say, we look for someone who wants to fill a particular role for us. We're looking for someone to comfortably share in a particular set of activities, who we can exchange some particular kinds of enjoyment with.

Enjoyable people are often entertaining, intellectually stimulating, funny, and kind. Often they are playful and observant. Respectable people, for me, are the people who examine what they believe closely and then live it with passion and competence.

I am particularly interested in anyone's thoughts about what they look for, appreciate, want, don't want, etc. in friends.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Yesterday I got what I thought was good advice about the social-skills project: be aware of what I have to offer.

When I sat down to write this, I thought I'd come up with something quickly about how I'm witty and insightful and well read, but I have difficulty seeing my social value. I know it exists, because I've had friends--to me it seems like a lot of friends--on an almost-consistent basis for the past ten or eleven years. Probably I should ask them, but many of them aren't talking to me these days.

My perception of myself is this: I am generally loveable, but not especially likeable. I am well read and insightful; on some topics I am excellent conversation, and on some a good source of information. I'm pretty good at analysis, breaking problems down into their constituent parts, and I'm getting better at backing off of that when someone needs to think on through it in their own way. I'm passionate about ethical reasoning, which makes me interesting and sometimes helpful, but sometimes very annoying. I'm very good in a crisis--in fact, that may be what I'm best at.*

One difficulty is, I don't how to work around my social drawbacks. For most people, most of the time, I am not particularly pleasant to be around. I am a little bit high maintenance, sort of self-absorbed. Sometimes I can tell when I'm bothering someone, when I'm crossing a boundary that really matters to them, and sometimes I can't. Sometimes it seems that others are uncomfortable because I am honest and provocative and make people think, and I don't know what to do about that, because while those are social detriments, I see them as some of my key selling points as a human being. It seems like there's got to be a way, though; making people uncomfortable is a strategy that should be used sparingly. And it should be a strategy, not a state of being.

I don't mean to go around hurting people, but some part of me secretly wants to. . . I'm pretty sure.

hmn. More later.

I have miles to go before I sleep.

*Now that I think about it, this could explain 85% of my social life. We can see why it would need some remodeling.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


is one of the most common measures of morality; it's about cultivating virtue and keeping out the things that don't belong. Among liberals and leftists it is often manifested through food. Veganism is not for everybody--only for the virtuous, those who care about ethics, those who are willing to sacrifice. Eating local, organic, produce and excluding whatever is ethically dubious will make you skinny and healthy and. . . virtuous. Right?

Maybe. If one is concerned with animal welfare and the environment, having a lifestyle that supports that is a spectrum, not a step, and it isn't just food. As humans in the first world, virtually everything we do has a detrimental environmental impact. How does your veggie burger hold up against your refusal to take the bus? The clothes you bought new at Wal-mart? Your soap from the dollar store? Do you know what oilfield your 100% vegan fleece came from? Is it really better, just because the bodies of the dead are rotting in the Niger delta instead of marinating in tariyaki sauce?

I don't mean to belittle the efforts of really dedicated environmentalist vegans. They have my admiration and support. I also don't mean to imply at all that any effort which doesn't cover everything isn't worthwhile. I even believe in being vocal about your ethical choices, and I want people to hold each other (socially) to a high ethical standard with regards to environmentalism.

My beef with this comes in when people think it's ok to try to invoke other people's sense of purity. Moral reasoning, I'm fine with. If you want to stop me from eating meat because of justice--because by eating it I'm doing harm to people and creatures who deserve no violence from me--I am absolutely fine with that. However, I'd rather have vegetarianism forced on me by violence than have people appropriate my understanding of virtue to get me to adopt it on my own.

When we disagree about what priorities are appropriate for the wider society to accept, that effects me but it is not an attack on my identity. When it comes to individual choices, there is only person one who should be allowed to decide what belongs in me--in my body, in my ethics--and what does not. This person is me. If I adopt an ethical standard based on selfish and inconsistent hedonism, as an individual you can think less of me, and as a citizen you can help enact laws that curb my outward behavior--and that's all.

I feel very strongly that trouble comes when outsiders try to arbitrate an individual's sense of purity. Religious readers might disagree with this, but I see this as a major problem in religious practice. When the emotional and ethical development process have not taken place for a teenager to reject pornography of their own accord, based on their own moral foundation, others will often attempt to impose this conclusion socially. The result is a massive cycle of guilt and shame. I don't know if it works or not, but guilt is an ugly motivator--and when allowed to fester and spiral into something huge, it does terrible damage to the person experiencing it.

The thing to be avoided is manipulation--projecting your values over someone else's, or usurping their values so that they will act in support of your preferences.

Besides its modern incarnation, there's a very long spiritual tradition of using food to establish or symbolize moral superiority, using purity. My first bout with severely disordered eating was triggered--after many other things had been set in place--by a sacrament meeting devoted to how fasting can make you pure. You don't stop eating because of things you think; you do it because of things you feel. You do it because you want to feel pure and you don't feel like you deserve to live. When you associate purity with restricting food, you can get a double dose of self-destructive relief from one tragic course of action.

When others try to appropriate my sense of purity for their cause, I get defensive quickly. The idea that veganism isn't for everybody--only for the virtuous--pushes all the wrong buttons. I like to see myself as virtuous. I like to feel myself as pure. I enjoyed exercising for seven hours a day on a 1200 calorie, mostly-vegetable diet, and it makes me angry that people who were supposed to be my friends encouraged me to do so.

I think in dealing with these questions it's terribly important to get in touch with your own sense of virtue, your own sense of purity, your own moral reasoning--and to get in touch with your own judgmental side. Saying "I think you are in the wrong" makes it much clearer whose values are whose than saying "you could be pure if you were like me."

Someday, when there are less triggers associated with it, I'd like to become vegan with the exception of
a) foods I've raised myself humanely, and
b) significant cultural and culinary experiences.

I want to eat at the French Laundry, learn to make a spectacular saag paneer, and taste peeking duck when I'm in China. These moments will not come often, and I choose not to miss them.

My values lead me to think a lot about the ways my time and money impact other people and creatures, but they also lead me to assert my own claim to a rich and full existence. I am willing to take a stand for the things I care about. I am willing to make sacrifices, and I care passionately about changing the world for the better. I am not, and do not plan to be, vegetarian or vegan. This is what I believe about the purity and virtue of the way I eat.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Today was even more useless than yesterday, so this evening I decided it was time to be cheerful already. I took a hot shower, made some chamomile tea, and attempted to bake a sweet potato and some oatmeal cookies. I turned the thermostat up to a scandalous 72 degrees, turned on all the lights, and put on the Schubert cd I have out from the library. I curled up in a ball by my favorite heat vent. I called my sister repeatedly till she got home, and then we talked for over an hour.

It worked out pretty well.

It's lead me to thinking about all the predictable things that have a big impact on my ability to deal with depression. Here are the ones I thought of, in a pretty good approximate order of impact:

Lack of exercise
Lack of social contact
Lack of quiet moments
Lack of light
Lack of being outside
Lack of dancing
Lack of music

And of course, there are the episodic things that can make it flare up and be harder to control:

Physical trauma
Negative social contact
Difficult internal goings-on, like some new insight about myself that sucks

One thing that I haven't sorted out--ironically, for a Marxist--is what to think of the profound impact material goods can have on psychological functioning. I read once that, after the point of having enough that you aren't worried about subsistence, happiness doesn't correlate to absolute material wealth at all--only to relative material wealth in the society you're in. I wish I remember where I read that, since I have no idea if it's true.

So many things are made so much easier by a little bit of money. . . it almost makes it look like money could really solve things like depression--but it can't. Material resources offer the possibility that material problems can be solved--but there are attendant challenges. Sometimes the psychological problems that arise with wealth are as serious as the physical ones they've replaced.

One IAF thing I really like is the iron rule: Never do for others what they can do for themselves. Following this rule creates localized autonomy, a sense of accomplishment, and actual accomplishments--things that can really help with a problem like depression. I think that's key to the material resources issue, with depression especially; they can only help insofar as people are also given a real opportunity to do what they can for themselves.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Today has been one of Those days. You know. The days by which this blog will earn its title.

Motrin is the elixir of life, but I'm living off of V8 juice that expired last week, dry handfuls of kix my mother bought me, and ramen. Every night I lay awake for forty minutes or an hour, trying to sleep, being cold and remembering things I've done wrong. Today I didn't get much done; I walked six miles, worked six hours, and attended a lecture for Marxism, laundry is behind but dishes are done. My entire torso hurts, and so do my limbs where they're attached to it. Everything is hectic; it would have helped her with her test, but I did not show isha-bear my favorite biology textbook. I'm lonely. More color might help me breathe.

I gave away the green wool coat, the one that boy I loved told me was fitting for me because it was really sturdy and so was I. I never quite could take that as a compliment. It's too small for me now; makes it hard for me to move my arms. I think it found a better home.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I am often asked to explain the reasoning behind my political views. Here are the basics.

I'm a socialist because I think if the workers owned the means of production, the world would both be more fair and have better outcomes for the majority of people. Every society that guards against theft defines some things to be just acquisition of property, and other things not to be.

Most people agree that pointing a gun at someone and asking for their wallet is theft, even if--once the gun is pointed at their head--they hand it over freely. I believe we would be better off if we decided certain contracts were also theft. Namely, I object to "freely" (on penalty of not having their basic needs met) entered contracts where one person gets a small amount of money for their labor--and the other person sells the product of that labor for much more money, generating profit in various forms.

I'm an anarchist because I recognize that authoritative structures have only the power we collectively and individually give them, and I hold the value of maximizing liberation. In my (arbitrary) system of values, the freedom that comes from access to quality education is valued enormously over the freedom that comes from the access to seventeen different toothpaste options. I think that I am more free if you have access to a good education, and have time to parent your children; you may not believe the same, or wish to prioritize my access to the same resources. Maybe you really love your toothpaste.

There are other kinds of freedom that fall between those two, and that's where a lot of anarchists and communists clash. Is the freedom not to starve more important than the freedom to choose what job you do? I believe this is exactly the sort of choice that was faced in the Soviet Union. A lot of the more patriotic American types will loudly protest that they'd prefer the option of choosing their livelihood. Ultimately, I think these sorts of conflicts have got to be resolved through communal negotiation.

I'm a republican because I recognize that there must be a negotiation of common values, and because I think this negotiation of values has a greater importance--and a more profound impact on individual lives--than the preservation of individual rights. I'm a republican because I'd prefer that this negotiation be as explicit as possible.

I believe that recognizing and prioritizing the negotiation of common values is the only way that common people can have a real say in it. Yes, the majority will fail to give just consideration to the interests of minorities. That is better than having a minority in power who fails to give just consideration to the interests of the majority--which is how we do things now.

The label these things add up to is Anarcho-Communist. It is not set in stone. If you'd like to convince me it's wrong, you have my blessing; if it can't hold up to argument, I shouldn't believe it.