Vi Hart, "Feeling sad about tragedy"

Vi Hart's latest video "Feeling sad about tragedy" is about the shootings, within days of each other, of YouTuber Christina Grimmie, and then of 49 people in a gay club, both in Orlando.

I didn't know about Christina's shooting. (I didn't know about Christina.) But Vi's video felt deeply relevant to many people I care about and admire. 

Vi so often says things in ways that make me wish I had thought them. I show people her video "On Gender" when I want to explain my feelings about gender identity. I've been watching her videos for years, and I've been thrilled that the internet has opened up platforms people like her can inhabit.

I don't want to be afraid for her. I hadn't much thought to be, before now. If you had asked me whether I thought she had a risk of dangerous fans, I'd have said yes, but I wouldn't have had that line of thought just sitting on my own. She's so anonymous. I think I've seen her face, in other people's videos, but I only ever see her hands in hers. I have no idea if Vi Hart is the name she goes by in meatspace. 

Her refrain from the middle of this video, "I'm not supposed to be right," sends shivers down my spine. I recognize that feeling. Of wanting to be a good person, who believes in love and has faith in people, of wanting choices made from fear or distrust to be unjustified, of wanting to be rewarded for taking a risk on the good faith of other humans. I'm sure I don't know it as well as anyone who's read by strangers as a woman, though. 

When Faith and I tried to write a post about Orlando for Solarpunk Press, my first pass included a lot of commentary about the media's tendency to reduce and splinter narratives, asking solarpunks to resist the encouragement to pit narratives about gun violence against against narratives of homophobia against narratives of individual disposition. This was a product of all those, and more.

Vi Hart argues here that these shootings are a product of our system's success in teaching men that violence against women won't be punished. She's right. It's also true that if these men had had less access to guns, they would have caused less damage. The Pulse shootings are also about racism, and about homophobia. Christina's shooting is also about misogyny, and about male entitlement.

I want the people I care about to feel safe. I care about Vi Hart, and it's upsetting to know that if I tried to express that to her there's a good chance it'd read as threatening.

I wouldn't blame her for reading it that way -- she's right to be cautious. There's no easy way to tell "I hope that society changes in a way that makes it safer for you and for everyone" from "I've decided that it would be okay for me to kidnap you and put you in a bunker, because there are scary people out there and I don't understand that I'm one of them."

There's no way to tell whether hypothetical-bunker-guy would turn violent when he finds out somebody doesn't want to be kidnapped so he can protect them.

This also makes me think about, and worry for, many other people I care about, who I do have an actual relationship with. 

In the first episode of his new podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell talks about moral licensing as it applies to societies: how token signs of progress get treated as permission to regress in daily practice. White people who voted for Barack Obama, for example, often held themselves less accountable afterward to resist holding racist views. The fact that the Republican party followed two terms of Obama by nominating Donald Trump is a pretty good example of how this is playing out in American politics. 

I know how Vi is feeling right now: the temptation to approach tragedy and crisis analytically is strong. But it doesn't work -- not on its own, anyway. We need detailed and practical exercises in empathy, individually and as communities and societies.

I can't find this one damn interview

Several years ago I spent a bunch of my time online binging Cory Doctorow interviews, and I didn't do any particular documenting of those binges. For the most part, that hasn't been a significant problem. But there's one interview that I really want to double-check and quote, and I just goddamn can't find it.

I think it was filmed at his office in London, but I'm not sure. It was put together by an organization that seemed to have done a lot of that kind of interview. It was segmented into like 5 to 10 different videos, and each one had the same clips from the interview for intro and outro material, which leads me to believe that it was aired on TV -- it was the kind of annoying repetition you'd see on the History Channel.

In the interview, he talked about why he thought fiction was an effective activist tool. I haven't been able to find records of him saying quite the same thing anywhere else.

If this sounds familiar to anyone, and you have a link, please get in touch.

Hypothetical governance: executive council of the US

I was talking to one of my modmates again about abolishing the presidency as a position in the U.S., and this time what we ended up discussing a hypothetical council of branches, each of which have a chief executive, and who rotate the chair position every month.

Here are the ones I came up with, in no particular order:

  • Education
  • Infrastructure
  • Emergency services
  • Health and wellness
  • Decolonization and social justice
  • Children and families
  • Economy
  • Military*
  • International
  • Information technology
  • Science
  • Future

I thought about calling the military branch the "Department of pragmatic demilitarization," since I want it to responsibly deconstruct the military, but I worry that it would end up turning into an Orwellian doublespeak title.

Bernie won! (?)

Okay so only 20 percent of precincts are reporting so far in New Hampshire, but according to Google Bernie won -- I think that maybe all the most populated parts of NH reported and now we're just waiting for the 80 percent of the state that contains 10 percent of the people? (The Associated Press literally isn't bothering to count a bunch of towns because they have less than 5 registered voters.)

So, yay! Go Bernie! And wtf NH? Your percentages should make more sense.

Confidence and wonder in political writing (a disorganized mess shaped like a blog post)

I had a thought while doing a reading for a class tonight that I almost don't want to write, because I'm not sure how to write it correctly. Instead of that, since it's this or "ugh IDK what to blog about," I'm writing this paragraph to highlight the fact that I'm unsure about my precise phrasing and reasoning to follow.

The line that triggered the thought, from "The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project" by Susan Buck-Morss, was:

It is the "accelerated progression of economic crises" that keeps history cyclical.

It was the kind of statement that, true or not, takes a kind of brazen confidence to actually write. 

Now, I believe this statement to be true -- or, at least, I agree with the sentiment it corresponds to, more-or-less. But I hedged on "true or not" because it reminded me of a feeling that has in the past corresponded to some very not-true statements. 

The feeling was "I didn't know you could just say that," and it's kind of world-shaking when it happens to you. Less so for me now, in my mid-20s, having been experiencing that sensation repeatedly every few readings for most of my adult life, but still enough that it inspires much deeper thought than my baseline. 

This time, it produced a sudden, strong sympathy for the obnoxiously "edgy" teens who say everything like they're trying to be world-shakingly profound. It was a reminder of how powerful it is when that feeling happens to you, and it reminded me that it's really appealing to want to be able to create that in other people's experience. 

Of course, you can still be an asshole about it, and those teens usually are: they aren't trying to share in an experience of wonder so much as they're trying to assert dominance and authority by way of that wonder, and they're generally failing either way. This is why I was nervous to write this post -- I don't want to accidentally write something that reads as "I think pretentious, intellectually aggressive teenagers are in the right," and there are a lot of ideas in this post that I haven't even begun to explicate -- like, part of this thought process was originally about how the anti-PC crowd gets their ideology in part from this feeling -- 

idk. I don't know what to blog about right now. I just know I was reminded of an important emotion and I didn't want to ignore that experience just at the moment.

Post-US currencies?

I was up late talking to my modmates last night about the existence of the U.S. government, and one of the things that came up was the continued use of U.S. currency. If the United States dissolved, what currency would the subsequent independent states use? 

I didn't have a good answer for this. My first thought was to wonder whether the federal government could be retained with no function other than managing a currency, to avoid financial catastrophe while the new states get their feet under them, financially. But this isn't an unambiguously good idea -- one of my modmates cited the issues with the Euro, and complications implicit in a shared currency between states that don't have a shared economic policy.

My next thought, which I didn't say out loud because it felt even less-well-developed than that first one, was some kind of cryptocurrency, like bitcoin. (Not actually bitcoin, though. Bitcoin is terrible.) I don't actually want to make this argument because I wouldn't be willing to claim with confidence that a currency that doesn't have a government could ever stabilize enough to be functional.

I'm not even sure how to start thinking about the process of 50-ish new currencies emerging at the same time out of a previously interdependent economic system. Hopefully I'll have more detailed thoughts on it soon.

What if human employability doesn't end?

Okay so we know that the robots are coming to take all our jobs, and it's very likely that those jobs will not be replaced by new jobs staffed by humans, because right now we're building machines that know how to build machines that can handle different tasks.

But, for the sake of argument, let's assume (falsely) that the capitalist model of individual worth isn't doomed to catastrophic failure in the near future. Let's assume (falsely) that there are enough jobs to go around now, and there will continue to be enough jobs to go around into the future, because new jobs will replace those that we know are pretty much about to go away.

Pro-capitalists like to argue that this is a reason that the government shouldn't guarantee personal security to all residents. The argument is that the market can supply, and will supply, sufficient opportunity to everyone that large scale welfare support is unnecessary.

But no matter how perfectly the market generates new kinds of work to make up for the work that is, right now, going away, there's still the logistical problem of the gaps between an individual losing their job, and finding and becoming qualified for one of the magical new jobs. 

That gap is not going to be an occasional experience. It's going to be a constant fact of everyone's lives, because we can be sure that right now virtually every major form of employment is replaceable and there's not any particularly good reason to believe that the magical new jobs won't be. 

So everyone can expect, more than once in their lives, to find themselves suddenly unemployable, pending their self-education in a currently-incomprehensible field. 

The cost of that gap has to be paid for -- and it can be paid for in one of two ways. 

One is unconditional welfare. I say unconditional because the cost of verification that a person really needs help will likely massively exceed the saving it generates.

The other way is human suffering: let people slowly burn through their resources as they struggle to keep their heads above water while trying to wrap their minds around whole new invented worlds of knowledge. People will lose their homes, start to fail to feed themselves or their children, people will die, or develop medical complications that hasten their death. People will develop stress-based mental illnesses that inhibit them from fully pursuing new means of employment. 

To be totally clear: That option is evil. Picking it is morally unacceptable.

Again, this is the most charitable fantasy-world defense of the free market I can think of that accounts for the reality that technology isn't gonna suddenly stop being a thing by 2017. 

Absentee ballots

I'm currently engaged in the process of acquiring an absentee ballot for the NH Democratic Primary in February, because by then I'll be back in Hampshire, and I have some thoughts on absentee ballots.

In NH you have to apply for the ballot, and have it mailed to you. I believe that getting it is not guaranteed. That said, the form has a really solid range of valid reasons: out of state is one, but there are also allowances for religious commitment, disability, and -- this one surprised me -- being at work during polling hours.

These are good things, and I hope NH voters who work know about that option. But contrasted with this style, I remember when I volunteered in Maine, which had absentee ballots no questions asked. One of the major strategies that the campaign I worked for used was getting supporters of the legalization of same sex marriage to submit absentee ballots just to get out the vote ahead of time, cutting out the loss of votes from people who care, but not enough to actually vote on a non election year.

I can see theoretical problems with absentee ballots like that: trying to get out a misinformation campaign that locks in votes before people can be correctly informed, but I really think absentee voting should be extremely easy. Inconvenience shouldn't be a reason not to vote -- and the answer to that problem isn't casting moral blame on the non-voters. It's re-arranging the system to get their voices counted.

cost of living

You know what's kind of messed up? Food costs money. Like, it's stuff you need to survive. You need to eat food pretty much every day. Your ability to function as a human being is kind of contingent upon your ability to eat enough food -- the right foods, in the right proportions -- literally every day. If you don't eat food for a day, your effectiveness that day is catastrophically diminished. If you don't eat food for several days, pretty soon you get sick, then die. But still, food costs money. Not, like, some food costs money. Or extra food costs money. Or fancy/complicated/rare food costs money. Literally just about all food. Systems for distributing free food are catastrophically inadequate to provide for even their communities, and not all communities have them. 

There's something seriously, deeply fucked up about that. I know this is problems-with-capitalism 101 but I can't get over it right now. Probably because I'm hungry. 

This holiday is a frustrating and terrifying experience

I just started wondering how much I drank, and when, because I'm feeling dizzy and my head is pounding. Then I remembered I haven't been drinking.

My chests has been tight for hours, I can barely distinguish one voice from another. There are probably more people here I don't know than people I do. 

My work at Hampshire is a lot less fun to talk about in a room full of people whose only question is "what are you going to do with that to make money?" None of my usual responses feel okay to say right now. "I want to work toward building solutions to climate change." Nope, don't want to get into a fight about whether global warming exists. "We're probably about 10 years out from the end of human employability, anyway." Nope, they aren't gonna let go of their smugness about the liberal arts that easy.

My mind keeps going back to a point, an infuriating point, of rhetoric I heard once about social justice activism: that you need to be able to convince your family. That if you aren't doing that, you aren't really doing anything. 

As if family isn't a place to find a catalogue of almost every mentally ill person's triggers. As if they're the people you're most likely to be able to handle. As if they aren't the people most likely to assume that they're your intellectual superiors no matter what happens, ever.

I feel like I'm burning up and freezing at the same time. I'm hungry and thirsty but I'm afraid to eat or drink because I feel like I'm going to throw up. I can't stand in this hailstorm of microaggressions and fight for the hearts and minds of my family. I can barely fight for myself.

And I resent the implication that changing these minds is the litmus test for my ability to contribute to social justice movements.

How do grants work?

As an adult in academia I am aware that getting funding for work is an important mechanism for survival. But that is something I'm super not good at.

I just found out (ten minutes ago) that Hampshire has lots of grants, and there's a place on campus specifically for learning how to do stuff like that.

Also, my brain is mush and I can't internalize any of the information. But it's called CORC and I need to google it tomorrow.

Thoughts on the Democratic Debates (I like Hillary a little more now)

I just got around to watching the Democratic debate, and I noticed something that seems important, that I hadn't thought of before. 

Altogether I think the only two people on the stage who did a decent job were Hillary and Bernie. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee both seemed way below the standard (Chafee because he seemed awkward and uncertain, Webb because he came off as -- er, I can't think of any word other than "murdery.") And Martin O'Malley was just completely forgettable. The only thing I remember about him was 100 percent clean energy by 2050, which is a great point to drive home, but by "Only thing I remember" I'm including his name. It took more than a couple links in the Google search to find it for this post, because the first couple articles about the debate don't even mention him.

But I noticed something about Hillary that changed the way I'll likely look at her through the rest of the campaign. She seemed like she was having fun. 

Everyone on the stage is probably pretty good at their jobs. And Bernie came across (as he always does) as fueled by an immense sense of passion. But, for the first time I've noticed (probably not the first time she's demonstrated it, but still), it was obvious that Hillary just loves doing politics.

I don't mean in a kind of machiavellian, evil way, but it just really seems like this is her passion. Her calling. You know how people always talk about the presidency wearing people down? I feel like that might not happen to her. And barring someone who's going to be able to stand up to a staunch set of beliefs I think that's a fantastic quality for a Democratic president to have. (Bernie's the only one I think could stand up for his beliefs in that way -- Chafee is the only other person I think has those kinds of beliefs, but talented and practiced politicians would probably run circles around him.)

Prior to this debate, I had every intention of voting for Bernie, and that hasn't changed in the slightest. And no matter who wins the nomination, I'm going to vote Democrat, because any of them would be better than any of the Republicans. (Electing a swarm of bees would be a better idea than electing any of this year's Republicans.) The only thing that's really changed, I guess, is now, if Hillary wins the primaries, when I vote for her in the general election, I'll feel good about it.

The end of obnoxious restaurant knock-offs of Happy Birthday

In a ruling on a court case that's been going on for two years, Rupa Maria v Warner/Chappel Music, the copyright on the Happy Birthday song has been struck down; Happy Birthday is now legally in the public domain.

XKCD celebrated appropriately.

Bernie Sanders in NH

I went to the Salem NH Bernie Sanders town hall meeting yesterday. Apparently it was his biggest town hall meeting so far; they filled two overflow rooms -- a cafeteria and a spare gym -- after filling the larger main gym the event was officially in.

I accidentally talked to a journalist after (you know that feeling when somebody's just being so damn obnoxiously wrong next to you that you're just itching to butt in? Well, that happened and then the guy asked me a question.) and tbh I was pretty proud of my responses. In particular, about whether minimum-wage workers deserve $15/hr, I pointed out the MIT reports on living wages (I said Harvard, actually -- I knew it was one of the two) which quote the living wage for NH at about 11.50 (I said about 11) which plus inflation makes $15 reasonable for a living wage across several years, which is the point of Bernie's plan. And about whether the labor was worth that much, I said if a corporation wants to pay a person to stand still and stare at a beach ball for 40 hours a week, they should pay them enough money to survive by doing it; corporations that can't function if they can't pay a living wage are failed corporations.

I said a bunch of other stuff, too. I haven't seen the interview go online anywhere, I think there's a fair chance he isn't going to use it. (I also criticized his flipping of grammar from "Greedy billionaires..." to "Billionaires are greedy" to criticize Bernie's generalization -- which was a fun brief lesson on syntax and logic that probably wouldn't make good TV.)

Overall the main take-aways from the night were: I was glad to see Bernie say out loud a bunch of stuff I assumed he believed; There were some specific statistics I'm glad I heard, like that the US has the highest rate of childhood poverty among industrialized countries; and it's annoying how oversimplified political speeches by necessity have to be. I frequently wished he was giving the presentation with a powerpoint so he could show accompanying graphs and citations.

The Atlantic's "Trigger warnings are bullshit" bullshit

I saw a link to an article on The Atlantic today, about why trigger warnings are ruining America. And I read it, because I was annoyed enough that it existed that I wanted to know exactly how wrong they were. I wrote a pretty long response, linked here, which I'm reposting:

This article is awful and disgusting and the authors have no idea what they’re talking about.

The long, obnoxious setup is mainly about attempting to legitimize a ‘respectable’ idea of triggering – as in, people who have PTSD following time in the military – which they then contrast with, basically, every other group of people with PTSD, phobias, etc as being unreasonable in expecting their triggers to be respected, too.

It also dismisses microaggressions outright, by arguing that a microagression is when somebody makes an innocent statement that makes another person feel bad for no good reason.

Then, they blatantly misuse their wikipedia-level understanding of cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy to argue that microaggressions are examples of cognitive distortion, not an accurate understanding of the unspoken prejudices of the speaker, and that not offering trigger warnings is like putting someone through exposure therapy – which is, like, the opposite of true. Exposure therapy is about deliberate, managed exposure to the triggering stimulus in settings that are explicitly safe and supportive over time. That’s something a person with a phobia or PTSD could do with a course that they knew was going to cover triggering content. They could make sure to prepare themselves before going in, make sure they don’t schedule anything stressful immediately after. Give themselves time to recover.

On the other hand, refusing to give trigger warnings means that people go into those classes, experience an unexpected panic response in an environment where they don’t know that their instructor or classmates will be respectful, and then have to go through the rest of their day with their anxiety cranked up. It’s well established that this is what makes panic responses worse – unexpected or overwhelming exposures to a trigger reliably teach a person’s unconscious mind that the appropriate physiological response to the trigger is panic.

The current trend on campuses is building towards an environment that produces exactly the effects that this article attempts to propose by undermining those efforts.  But articles like this aren’t about the wellbeing of the next generation of students. They’re about making the previous generation feel like they haven’t been hurting people as much as they have their whole lives. They’re about not changing anything because changing something now means they were wrong before.

Insurance sucks

I payed over $200 for a bottle of pills today. Consequently, I am frustrated.

In light of the Affordable Care Act, I feel acutely conscious of the territory on either side of my current healthcare status: how things could be worse, and how things could be better.

I could be uninsured, be unable to afford my medications, be unable to hold a job as a consequence of unmedicated mental illness, be unable to work my way toward the financial stability to buy medication.

Or, I could be living in a country that let patents end on drugs at a reasonable time, and that required insurance companies to give equal coverage to the different drugs patients are prescribed. I could be living under a system where I don't have to buy three times as many pills because the 150mg pill is generic but the 450mg pill is still under patent.  Where I'm not covered far less under insurance for that medication than I am for others, because it's a popular smoking cessation drug, even though I'm not a smoker and have never been a smoker. 

I'm continually frustrated, infuriated, enraged at the fact that the system by which I pursue help for my fucking anxiety disorder is by far the most anxiety-triggering system I engage with.


A while back I wrote a post jokingly suggesting a political party organized around the concept of abjection -- the fear triggered by confrontation with the vagueness of boundary between self and other. (My favorite example is that of a severed hand -- a thing that was once somehow human and is now a mere object. Another example is the phrase "abject poverty" -- the state of being so poor that people with money stop seeing you as really human.) With the election year coming up I've been thinking about it again, and I was talking to my datemate about it today so I thought I'd link back to it: The Abjectionist Party

Thoughts on marriage equality and solarpunk

I wrote this today for my solarpunk blog, and wanted to repost it here.


Today the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in favor of the legality of same-sex marriage, which is a move that I support, as a nonbinary bisexual person and also as a person with a conscience.

On my personal blog, though, so far today, I’ve reblogged basically no celebratory posts. Instead, the posts that have caught my attention to signal-boost are the ones highlighting the importance of sticking to the fight for LGBTQQIAAP+ civil rights, human rights, and protection.

It’s still legal in many states to fire someone, or to refuse to rent to someone, or deny various services to someone, based on their sexuality or gender identity. In 49 out of 50 states it’s legal to fight a murder charge with a defense of “trans panic” – which is to say, you can successfully defend yourself against legal consequences for murdering a person by saying “I only did it because I found out they were trans.”

This is an important and significant (and extremely overdue) step in US civil rights. But a lot of LGBTQQIAAP+ activists have expressed fear that this one issue has become such a visible and central benchmark that many people will feel that there’s no more work to be done; that what was yesterday a gigantic swell of support for the LGBTQQIAAP+ community will tomorrow be a popped bubble; that we’ll face a renewed wave of apathy that will turn into new hostility when we ask for help on these other serious issues.

- - -

When I imagine solarpunk communities for my own writing, more often than not what I’m imagining is a city’s disenfranchised LGBTQQIAAP+ community, especially homeless youth, banding together to protect each other in an environment where they can openly be themselves. To me, solarpunk and LGBTQQIAAP+ activism are inextricably linked.

For the most part, when I talk about what solarpunk is to me, I emphasize that my vision of solarpunk is not the only vision, and that I welcome people to come to it in a different way.

On this topic, though – on LGBTQQIAAP+ activism – I submit that explicit support is an essential solarpunk value. I submit that if your solarpunk is transphobic, queerphobic, homophobic, biphobic, transmisogynistic, gender-binarist, or otherwise exclusionary of LGBTQQIAAP+ people, it’s not real solarpunk. That you’re doing it wrong.

If solarpunk communities are to do better than the civilization they’re combating, they need to be proactively safe spaces for trans, queer, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, aromantic, intersex, gay, pansexual, questioning, and so on…, community members.

I feel the same way about inclusion of race, religion, gender, culture, language, disability, neurodivergence, illlness, and so on – and to be honest I don’t expect this post to be controversial. On these topics I’ve seen almost nothing but open and enthusiastic support for many marginalized groups.

But I did want to say something out loud. None of these oppressions are over.

– T.X. Watson

Estimating the size of global problems

I wrote a comment on Tumblr a couple days ago, on a thread about the lack of media coverage of Bernie Sanders. Here's the whole thread, but there's a point at the bottom that I've been thinking about all day, and I want to expand on it.

There probably/definitely is some conspiring going on in parts of the industry, but I’m betting most of [the poor coverage of Bernie Sanders] is the organic consequence of the culture of journalism today and the awareness or fear that those conspiracies exist and might threaten one’s credibility, employability, and livelihood.

This is an important point to me because I think it’s important to stay aware that the media, like many industries, is full of potentially-good people reacting to threats and pressures, meaning some effective top-level reforms could free them to be the reporters they once imagined they could be.


It's really incredibly easy to think of people as being good or bad, for us or against us, part of the solution or part of the problem. And that's not always a terrible way to look at things -- the last one, especially, highlights the reality that we're all living with unconscious prejudices we have to identify and unlearn. But this point, about people afraid to act, is one I've been thinking about a lot as an activist.

There are people -- I believe a huge number of people -- who have a solid internal moral compass, and know what they'd prefer to choose to do, ethically. But every day, to protect their livelihoods, they make a different choice, and do things they'd rather not do, because starvation and imprisonment doesn't sound like a good time.

I believe that all those people have a tipping point. For some, it's a tiny nudge, for others it might be a complete re-configuring of society. Some people may just need to feel confident they can pay off their student loans. Others may be willfully resisting becoming aware of truths that might make them hate themselves for doing the work they do. But I believe that for most people, the choice not to fight for social justice is not about real ideological disagreement; it's about fear of the consequences.

If you want to discuss the minutiae of ideological disagreement I'd be happy to get into it, but the broad point is nobody wants to see everybody suffer if they can avoid it. Even hardcore Ayn Rand devoted objectivists justify their "Screw you, I've got mine" approach not on the basis that other people's wellbeing actually doesn't matter, but the belief that a socialist approach to human wellbeing is doomed to fail. That's fear. Fear that trying to make things better is bound to make them worse.


The way the mind naturally flows to passively viewing these folks is with a certain amount of contempt. If you're an activist, and you're thinking of someone who does less activism than you, I expect you probably think it through and respond kindly and with understanding, but when you do the quick mental math that happens in the corner of your brain where you're not really looking right now, what you get is

My activism - their activism = positive sum; Therefore me > them

This shorthand is super-easy to resist when that's the only problem you're trying to solve. "Am I better than this person? No, obviously not. Human worth is not calculable in terms of measures of perceived activism."

But I think it sneaks in sometimes when we think about bigger problems. When we think of the unimaginable scale of problems like climate change, racism, misogyny, worker exploitation, and we try and wrap our heads around it --

I'm going to stop saying "we" now, because I'm not reading your mind.

When think about problems of that scale, what usually happens is my brain makes a rough calculation of how hard it's going to be. It goes something like

(People in favor) * (institutions supporting reform) - (people opposed) * (institutions supporting status quo) = an extraordinarily large negative number that reflects the degree of resistance I expect the movement to meet

But when that equation is spread out, the (people in favor) ... - (people opposed) part is the same equation as above, and it suggests that the majority of the people in the world are actually committed to, or at least are perfectly indifferent to, human suffering, and need to be convinced individually that, on whatever individual issue, the wellbeing of the relevant people matters.

Obviously, that's not really true. A lot of people may not realize there's a problem, and will turn their behavior around as soon as they see it and work to support the wellbeing of others whatever way they can, and a lot of other people may just be waiting for the ethical option to be made safe enough that they can take it without risking their livelihoods.


It's hard work coming up with a mental shorthand that gives me an approximate impression of how difficult any given social justice movement should be, given the expectation that people are basically not evil. I think it'd have to be different for each separate thing. Like, the equation for raising the minimum wage to a living wage should probably turn out something really simple, because most people are convinced as soon as they really understand just how little $7.25/hr is. The equation for ending factory farming might be a lot closer to the first approximation, because not everyone is quite as prepped to extend empathy to animals as well as humans. But maybe I'm totally wrong about that. Maybe it's the opposite.

What I've come to understand and believe is that it's not worth trying to do the math. Huge, global problems seem unfathomably hard. It's my general impression that they're pretty much always a lot easier to solve than they look, and that there's a lot of support just waiting for better weather.

Instead, I think it's worthwhile to just assume that every big problem is solvable within my lifetime, and act accordingly. The worst case scenario there is that I'll accidentally help chip away at some problems that would have seemed too scary to even look at if my projections were more refined.

More money = harder work?

You know that idea that people get paid more for some jobs because they work harder? I have realized yet another reason that's a really destructive and harmful myth -- because I was thinking about my emotional relationship to work and promotion when I was younger, and less reasonably employed, relative to my relationship with it now.

My first jobs were really hard. Like, really hard. They pushed me to the very edges of my ability to cope emotionally, and I honestly believe that unless I make some big mistakes or find myself in extraordinary circumstances, they'll continue to be the hardest jobs I've ever had.

There were things to enjoy, sure. But for the most part, those jobs were a nightmare -- especially from the reference point of my work now. And there are worse jobs out there, that are more poorly paid.

So I should have been super motivated to get out, right?

The thing is, I believed at the time that people were paid in approximate proportion to how hard they worked. So if I was on the edge at minimum wage, I'd probably crash and burn if I ever got a promotion. I couldn't even imagine coping with the weight of taking up a profession. I carried through on a fantasy of more money for less labor, and I really believed that was fake.

When you take the people who work the hardest, give them the smallest amount of money, and tell them that people are paid in relation to how hard they work, they're never going to make any large-scale effort to get out. Individuals will try, and they'll spread themselves thin across three jobs because you have to work harder to do better, right? And they'll undermine their efforts by physically and mentally breaking themselves to prove they deserve more than $8/hr.

But in general, the people who want to occasionally sit down and relax? The people who want to spend time with their kids, or get more-or-less regular sleep, or even just be able to keep up with Game of Thrones? They're not going to look at that system, from within that myth, and try to move up the ladder. If you barely scrape by time to yourself now, and moving up means working harder, of course you're going to find a way to make $8/hr work because what's the good of more money if you have to strip your mind and body to ribbons to get it?

It's been a horrifying realization to discover that better-paying work is consistently easier than minimum wage work. It honestly disgusts me. When I think about it, I feel hurt. I feel lied to and betrayed. I don't feel fortunate to have made this discovery, to have gotten just a tiny bit out -- I feel outraged that anyone could continue to proliferate this vile, grotesque myth of a relationship between difficulty of work and amount of pay.