Friday, September 19, 2014

The Beyonce versus Taylor Swift debate

There is one.

On strictly artistic grounds, there isn't much to debate. Beyonce has a better voice and is a more disciplined performer. She is however, more disciplined about her performance than her art. Her performances are unfailingly magnificent things to see but the actual songs are forgettable. Swift is equally disciplined but she is more a disciplined businesswoman than a  disciplined performer; she is, in fact, a driven performer in the Madonna or Mick Jagger mold, which is to say that her art is as good as her business sense requires it to be. That, unfortunately, is not very good. If Swift had worked harder at developing the narrative style songwriting that launched her career (or if she'd had a Keith Richard like partner), she probably would have produced some memorable songs eventually. As it turned out, she didn't have to to become incredibly successful so she never bothered. Her songs are marginally better than Beyonce's but that isn't much to brag about.

What both singers have in common is more significant than any differences. Both are daughters of white-collar business men who trained them in hard-core capitalist values and both were more influenced by their fathers than their mothers. They have become role models for girls and take their responsibility as role models seriously. On the other hand, they are both celebrities and are probably headed for train wrecks as that seems to be the fate of most celebrities. Furthermore, the entertainment industry just doesn't produce the sort of character development that makes for great human beings.

The argument about these two artists is really a political one. It's an argument about what women should be like. It troubles the people who push Beyonce over Taylor Swift that so many young women identify so strongly with Taylor Swift.

Race, and racism, has a lot do with it. Taylor Swift is seen as white, where white stands for a set of cultural values and not skin colour. Ironically, Beyonce shares the same values. The contrast, the supposed non-whiteness that people seek in Beyonce is entirely in their perceptions. She may flash the word "feminism" up on a screen during her performances but Beyonce's understanding of the good life for women culminates in marriage and motherhood. If you look at what the two women have actually done with their lives, as opposed to what they say and sing about their lives, Beyonce has been more successful at living traditional "white" values than Swift. Now, you might be tempted to say "so far" and also to remind me that Beyonce is older than Swift. To which I would say, yes, but there is something about Swift's pursuit of "love' that remains adolescent and unserious.

All of which is to say that the victim of racism in this equation is Beyonce. Although they would get angry at the suggestion, people who hate Swift and push Beyonce as an alternative see not the actual woman but a noble savage stereotype. The sheer physicality of Beyonce, the emphasis on performance and appearance above any actual content, is what allows this illusion to be projected onto her. Black women performers aren't much better off than Josephine Baker because white critics still see them as a way to project their own fantasies about breaking out of the aspects of "white" culture that displease them rather than as human beings.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A rant about prudence and nude selfies

If someone breaks into my home and robs it, it is their fault and not mine. That remains true even if I didn't bother to lock my door. It also remains true if I had foolishly hidden all my life savings in gold coins in the bottom of my underwear drawer. That said, there are thieves in the world and it is stupid and irresponsible of me not to take reasonable precautions such as putting adequate locks on the door and putting things I cannot afford to lose in the bank instead of my underwear drawer.

A similar principle applies when it comes to having nude selfies on your cell phone. Once a celebrity knows that dozens of other celebrities before her have had nude selfies stolen off of their phones she should be able to conclude that storing nude selfies on her phone is a really bad idea.

That is assuming it's a reasonable thing to be taking and keeping nude selfies on your phone in the first place.

I can reasonably understand why someone might do it. Everyone knows that photographs and mirrors are different. We all tend to look better in the mirror than we do in photographs and it is reasonable to worry about what we look like naked.  I can see how, in a moment of weakness, I might break down and take a a nude selfie in the hopes that it might give me some positive assurances about what I look like naked.

I can even imagine that I might carelessly forget to erase the photograph. Perhaps some malicious person might hack their way into my phone and make me the object of ridicule by posting it on the Internet. That would be mean and mostly not my fault but a tiny bit of it would be my fault for failing to exercise proper prudence. (I suspect, however, that I would get less sympathy because I am a man.)

But let's consider this: dozens of celebrities have had nude selfies stolen off their phones! As I say, I can imagine how a person might have a nude selfie on their phone but how does it get to be that dozens of female celebrities have nude selfies on their phones? And they have to have had them there for a long time. If you took a selfie and deleted it minutes, hours or days later, the odds of a hacker getting into your phone at just the right time to find the photos there would be very long. Instead, we see that virtually every time a hacker breaks into a female celebrity's phone, they find nude selfies.

There are only two possible explanations here. One is that most female celebrities take and keep nude selfies. (There don't seem to be an awful lot of male nude selfies out there.) The second is that female celebrities take nude selfies so often that a hacker can be reasonably sure that there will always be one on their phones. I'm sorry to be so rude about it, but that is beyond narcissism.

It's also irresponsible. One of the reasons society will, quite correctly, hold me partially responsible if I don't have adequate locks on my house or if I store significant wealth there is that, by doing these things, I encourage crime. This makes life a little less secure for everyone else. Criminals will keep trying if success appears likely to them.

That is also true of having nude selfies on your phone. If a female celebrity takes and keep nude selfies on her phone she is not only taking an unreasonable risk, she is making everyone else less secure by giving hackers incentive to keep breaking into phones.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A more basic question

Here is a line from a CBC news story:
It doesn’t matter that it’s silly to store nude photos of yourself anywhere in the digital realm...
Notice the more basic question that isn't being asked? That would be, Why are you taking and then storing nude photos of yourself in the first place? That's a pretty crazy thing to do. And yet nearly every female celebrity appears to have done it.

Celebrities are nutbars. Stop paying attention to them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The difference between seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort

A couple of weeks ago I read a great post on the Art of Manliness that I cannot find today. It's not unusual to find great posts there; AofM is my favourite site to visit. The subject of the post was about how enduring discomforts will make us better, stronger men. I think that's right.

Here is a trivial example: every morning I squeegee down the sides of the shower stall. It's not hard work. What makes me balk at it is the few moments of being cold and wet, especially coming after taking a hot shower, which I consider one of the great sensual pleasures. The funny thing is that it feels really good to have stuck it out and have done it. In fact, if I make the process more uncomfortable by not letting myself to towel down and put on a  dressing gown first, the feeling of reward is even greater. And, quite frankly, a man who can't or won't do his duties because he doesn't like being wet and cold is useless.

But thinking about it got me thinking about a seemingly contradictory message the great cultures of the past send us. Every great warrior culture has stressed the virtue of enduring discomfort while simultaneously insisting that it is a virtue to make rich use of leisure. I discussed this with the Lemon Girl on our run this morning and she pointed out that our grandparents also made a virtue of enduring discomfort but worked hard to create a world in which we would never have to endure the same discomforts they did.

Years ago, I was part of a team that was doing trail maintenance for the Canadian Ski Marathon. We were doing the work in the early winter but before any heavy snow had accumulated. At one point we were working on a stretch of trail that ran over some boggy land and I walked over a hidden pocket of water and the ice broke and I sank in up to my waist. We were miles out in the woods and there was no choice but to endure. I was also with a team of men, including my father, and I was about 17 years old. It wasn't just that we were miles out in the woods so there was no choice, I also didn't want to let my discomfort show. My project rapidly became not just to endure but to show I was a man; and I wasn't sure I would succeed at this for pain of walking and clearing brush with two frozen feet and then walking and working with them as the frozen feeling went away was intense. But just that shift from simply enduring the pain to enduring the pain for a reason was huge. And, no, I don't mind admitting that the reason was one of pride, nor do I think there is anything wrong with that.

Another trivial example: my work involves wearing a suit and tie, when it gets really hot, I keep my jacket and tie on as a matter of pride. I endure the discomfort in order to maintain a standard of dress I think is important. I don't care whether others think it important, nor do I wish to impose my standard on them, I do this because it is a value I have chose for myself and, sounding like my Godfather now, it isn't that difficult to endure the discomfort. Or, to put it another way, the only price I pay for keeping the jacket and tie on is a little discomfort.

There is a flip side to this and that is how much of our leisure time is used up simply avoiding discomfort. How much time do we spend on electronic media simply to not be bored or to be distracted from responsibilities that discomfort us. Our warrior ancestors would have a feast, gone hunting, had or a great drunken orgy, or competed in a wild day of sports and wee seek distraction. There is something pathetic in that.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Let's talk about self medication

I'm still responding to Henry Rollins. Here is a thought he expresses in passing while discussing depression and suicide:
Everyone handles their emotional vicissitudes in their own ways. I am no doctor, but I think the brain is always looking for a sense of balance and normal function so the body can operate efficiently. Some people medicate accordingly, in an attempt to stay somewhat even. That pursuit can lead one down some dark paths. Someone who is an addict might not be an “addict” in the pejorative sense but merely trying to medicate and balance themselves.
Before going on there is some important background information  you should know and that is that there is a worrisome correlation between recreational drug use and some forms of mental illness, most notably schizophrenia and bipolar syndrome.

Okay, I know what you are thinking: correlation does not imply causation. That's true enough but a correlation like this invites further investigation just in case there is a causation. Correlation does not imply causation but mindlessly repeating "correlation does not imply causation" every time there is a worrisome correlation is a sure sign of a closed mind.

But the more troubling thing here is the way a counter-hypothesis with no more basis tends to become fact for some. The counter-hypothesis is that these people have already mental illnesses and they are simply using the recreational drugs to self medicate. And that might be the case. It's important to remember here that "might" is just another way of saying "might not". No one has a clue.

It's a little scary then to see the way "might" morphs into "probably is the case". Rollins is far from the only person to do this. Bona fide scientists who ought to know better do the same thing all the time. It is not unusual to see some go a step further and equivocate their way right to "definitely is the case". That's incredibly irresponsible given that recreational drugs might be causing these mental illnesses.

But it's even crazier than that. Imagine you discover a friend of yours is taking some drug on their own initiative and, when you ask what is going on they told you they were self-medicating for their cancer? Or heart disease? Or Ebola? That would be crazy. Any serious disease, requires serious medical attention not self medication! To know you suffer from depression and to take recreational drugs to deal with it is crazy.

And this is where the whole argument that depression is a serious disease and therefore we should treat it as a mitigating factor when someone suffering from it commits suicide starts to make the Queen of Hearts look calmly rational by comparison. For as stupid as self-medication for a serious disease is,  self-medication with recreational drugs is right off the charts.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Henry Rollins' manliness fail

Last week, Henry Rollins wrote a good piece countering some of the over-the-top response to Robin Williams' suicide. It's still a good piece.

Then he turned around and apologized for having written it. Why? Because people's feelings were hurt.
For the last 9+ hours, I have been answering letters from people from all over the world. The anger is off the scale and in my opinion, well placed. 
The article I wrote in the LA Weekly about suicide caused a lot of hurt.
For starters, no, the article did not cause any hurt. People who get "hurt" because others expressed opinions they don't like are called bullies. Or assholes. Or morons. Or little fascists who use consensus terrorism to manipulate others. Or whatever term feels best after, "Oh just get over yourself you stupid ...". They most emphatically are not victims and they are not hurt.

Get this straight, no one has the right to be hurt because you have an opinion they don't like. No one.

Second point, a man, if he is to be a man, does not hold back on expressing his opinions in order to mollify others.

And note that Rollins' apology is not actually an apology. He doesn't regret believing what he believes, he regrets that his saying it "hurt" a lot of people. 

Pathetic.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Being a man

The video I linked the other day got a telling response on Facebook from someone who calls himself "Star Man Aquarius"
The bottom message of this video isn't entirely clear. Men around the world exist in various ways. There are archetypical masculine men, and there are archetypical feminine men. But all of them are MEN, and every man in this planet behaves differently from the other. 
The problem I notice in the content of this discourse is that authentic behavior (with its weak and strong sides) is dismissed in front of mythical and archetypical behavior.
If my grandfather was abusive against men and women, and this is my family's core belief, I certainly would be avoiding evolution by just imitating my grandfather until I get to act just as he did, rejecting and approving the same ideas and ways of living like he did; never questioning or simply evolving such ideas, or habits, etc. 
Mmm... I'm sorry but this is just not entirely convincing. (To find the original, log onto face book and find the Art of Manliness page. and scroll down until you find the video.)
I don't post this to mock. Amongst other things, English is obviously not SMA's first language. It also takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to call yourself "Star Man Aquarius" and I admire that, although I'd never use a handle like that myself. That said, the most stunning thing about this argument is it's weakness. Not a logical weakness. There is little logic there because there doesn't need to be. SMA sets a very low bar for himself. The argument he advances is really an excuse for remaining weak.

In the first paragraph he says that there are archetypal masculine and archetypal effeminate role models but that all men are men. Well, yes, if your standard for being a man is having an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. If you think men should actually be good at being men, however, SMA has nothing to offer you.

Now, consider the word archetypal. If you you check the video, Brett MacKay doesn't talk about archetypes. He talks about becoming the sort of man you want to be. The man you want to be! There is no archetype in that. Now what I suspect SMA sees that Mackay clearly has a particular model of manhood in mind and SMA is not big on machismo. Elsewhere he writes:
You can see this nice moustached guy talking to us about manliness in a very elegant way, and you can see him carrying an axe, too. He talks about «the circle of men», personal heroes, politicians, philosophers and also modern psychologists. All these very «successful» men -in the public eye.- 
But he isn't talking about the «other ones». The little ones. The uncourageous ones. The ones that aren't heroes, that are sensitive, sentimental, etc. And we haven't got yet to the homoparental stuff (these are men too!), gay issues, etc, etc.
Again, English is obviously not SMA's first language and we see that he clearly misses the playful irony implied by the axe. But he is also pushing weakness; he is the sort of man that Nietzsche deplored.

I mean, if you really want to be like Liberace, then go ahead and be like Liberace. SMA's problem is that he wants society to help him become what he already is. He thinks society should love the little ones (I think he means "weak" when he says "little"), the uncourageous ones, the non-heroic ones, the sensitive ones and the sentimental ones. And society doesn't. It just doesn't and no one is going to make SMA king of the world any time soon. And why should it make him anything given that he is so little interested in making anything of himself.

And don't get fooled by the gay issues red herring here. Gay men are perfectly capable of being strong, courageous, unemotional and laconic as heterosexual men are. SMA is pushing gay stereotypes while pretending to be sensitive to gay issues.

But I relate because I would have agreed with him when I was younger. I was everything that he was and I had learned how to be helpless. It took me the entire 1980s to turn it around.

Notice these lines from the third paragraph:
If my grandfather was abusive against men and women, and this is my family's core belief, I certainly would be avoiding evolution by just imitating my grandfather until I get to act just as he did, rejecting and approving the same ideas and ways of living like he did; never questioning or simply evolving such ideas, or habits, etc.
That's a wacky argument because nowhere does MacKay say to blindly imitate the values that predominate in your family. He advises finding men who typify the man you want to be and imitating them. If your grandfather was an asshole, pick someone else!

Now that is obvious which suggests to me that SMA's problem is not that he can't figure out a way out of his trap but that he won't. There are thousands of male role models to follow, what SMA lacks is the courage to pick a type and follow it.

Now, you may be thinking (and SMA himself might say, if he were here) that MacKay's ideal man is pretty typical in the set of virtues he embodies. Well, the first thing I'd say is that you're just wrong if you think that. How many men like that are there? Not many. On the other hand, if the question is, "How many pasty-faced, physically weak, metrosexuals are there out there who think of themselves as individuals even though there are a dime a dozen? Well, there are a lot of them.

And I think the question you'd want to ask yourself if you are one of these men is, Do you really like and admire men who are just like you? Maybe you do but do yourself the favour of asking yourself honestly. There is solid evidence out here that effeminate men rate other effeminate men as lacking something. If that is your problem, there are two ways to solve it. 1) You can stop being effeminate yourself or 2) you can start evaluating other effeminate men more positively. What you can't do is keep on doing what you are. You need to pick a lane and drive in it.

For some good advice on the topic, go here.