Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Acceptable In The 800s

Just in case you don't get the reference:

Anyway, as you probably know I'm going to do NaNoWriMo in a few days and so will probably take a break from blogging for the whole of November.  NaNoWriMo is an annual event where people get together online and in reality to make a concerted effort to write a 50000-word novel.  Since I like round numbers, I'm personally aiming at 51840 - 50000 words gets you 1666 words a day which sounds a bit silly to me although of course one could do more than the requisite number, so I am.

It's easy to write tens of zagiers of words for me, and in fact for most people.  For instance, you could just write "and" fifty thousand times.  You could also take the negative space approach adopted by sculptors who simply chip away at a block of stone until everything which isn't their statue is gone.  You could do this by taking a document with fifty thousand random words and see what they suggest, then replace the ones which stop it making sense.  However, this would probably take longer than two and a half dozen of your Earth days, so maybe not.

The idea behind my novel, whose title is 'Unspeakable', is that the English language has died out and not only is it forgotten, but also taboo to find out why.  If someone asks, the question is considered impolite, like a small child innocently asking "where do babies come from?" in the middle of a genteel meal with one's in-laws.  This ends up bugging my central character Su so much that she goes on a quest to find out, and hopes in fact not only to find out the answer but to learn to speak English.

I've experimented with various reasons why English might become extinct, and there are naturally many very dominant languages which are now extinct such as Latin and Ancient Egyptian.  Latin left descendants and Ancient Egyptian gave rise to Coptic, which is still known as a liturgical language among one sect of Christianity.  Other languages are almost completely gone without trace such as Etruscan, which has left us a couple of words such as "element" and "atrium", and Pictish, which has utterly vanished apart from a few dubious inscriptions which may or may not be examples.  I want to make English thoroughly dead, with hardly any trace at all apart from a handful of scattered words in the languages which replace it.  This is very hard to do plausibly because of the phenomenal current success of the language, making it difficult to imagine it ever happening while there are still human beings about.

I'm now going to introduce a minor spoiler.  One of the things Su does is consider possible hypotheses about what happened, and somehow I have to make that interesting rather than a massive Rosetta Stone-type slab of exposition.  Speaking of which, here's a gratuitous picture of a bit of said document:

One of the hypotheses is that so many words and even grammatical forms in the English language became unacceptable that it was no longer considered polite to speak it, and it became unwieldy to circumlocute the expressions considered unacceptable.  That's one hypothesis among several - I'll leave it to you to find out if it turns out to be true when you read the book, which of course you will won't you?

Taboo words are interesting in various ways.  If someone has a stroke, they may lose the ability to converse normally without losing the ability to swear, because swearwords are governed by a different part of the brain than the rest of language.    Some people with Tourette's Syndrome swear involuntarily (and of course other people with it have no such symptom or they may simply say something like "chicken" or "biscuit" a lot), suggesting there is a place in the brain that does this, and I used to know someone who had suffered a stroke and used to swear a lot at her frustration at being unable to speak fluently.  It's now apparently established that the limbic system is more responsible for cursing than the temporal lobe in the cerebral cortex, which seems to be implicated in the use of language otherwise.

They also change in their degree of taboo relative to each other.  I'm not about to plonk a load of taboo words in front of you as examples, but I am going to give one instance because it's particularly striking.  Therefore, please forgive me if this offends you but I am about to upload an image of the F-word from 1528.  Here it is:

The odd thing about this, which is written in a copy of Cicero's De Officiis by a presumably rather irate scribe, is not so much the use of the word itself as what immediately preceded it, "O d".  That d-word, which to me looks like the scribe tried to erase it after he wrote it, as if having second thoughts, was presumably going to be "damned".  It seems that he was about to use the d-word, then decided it was too strong and chose the milder f-word.  I can gaily type the word "damned" in this without realistic fears of anyone reading this today but not the f-word.  They appear to have swapped places in offensiveness.

It can therefore be assumed that this word:

(excuse my runes) was at some point not as taboo as it is now, although even now its offensiveness may be declining towards its previous level, though "damned" is of course just sitting there as practically completely inoffensive.

Nonetheless I do in fact find this word offensive personally.  One of the reasons for this is that although this is frequently subverted, traditionally it's a verb which can only be used with a masculine subject and a feminine object:  "the man f----ed the woman", and to me, notwithstanding all my hangups, that brings it closer in sense to the verb "rape" than simply "have sex with" or "make love with", and to me it is "with" rather than "to" for the same reasons.  Consequently, I consider it sexist.  It implies that men always take the active role in sex and women the passive.  Having said that, I do find it acceptable for it to be used as an intransitive verb, i.e. a verb with no object such as "rise" in "the sun rose" or "grow" as in "the tree grew", with a plural, or at least dual, subject.  Hence the couple can go off into the bushes and f---, we can go upstairs and f--- and so forth.  So ideally, the f-word or an equivalent would be fine if it was an intransitive verb with a dual or plural subject, grammatically speaking.  Other inflections and usages would ideally sound wrong.

I would also hope that as time goes by, although the f-word might become acceptable, care might initially be taken to avoid sticking an S on the end.  This would be an example of grammar becoming, as it were, "right on" or "politically correct".  Other examples, perhaps more extreme for now, might be to avoid saying "my girlfriend", as Ben Elton once observed, because she's not someone's property although strictly speaking that's an alienable use of the genitive.  Then we get to the point where seeing as all property is theft, possibly even including one's own thoughts and feelings because of the death of the author, the use of any possessive pronouns becomes equally taboo, such as "my", "her" and "their".  By extension, the greengrocer apostrophe issue becomes redundant as there will be no more possessives and then even the word "of" would become unacceptable.  Then there's the use of gender and gendered terms - it's not a labium or a scrotum any more but "a pair of labioscrota" or something.  With this onslaught, English gets harder and harder to use, requiring hesitant and roundabout ways of saying things, until in the end nobody has enough confidence to use it at all and it dies.

Interestingly, Celtic languages do tend to avoid using the possessive in this way, even inalienably, so they will say "the hair on him" rather than "his hair", and they have also become very circumlocutory.  Thus if you wanted to speak in a way which avoided this particular form of political incorrectness, you could try speaking a Celtic language.

Only read on if you don't mind a spoiler of sorts.


This is not what I'm planning to do at all with 'Unspeakable'.  I want Su to consider this hypothesis and reject it, so it is a plot point but not where I'm actually going.  Nonetheless, they do end up speaking a Celtic language.

Anyway, eight days to go.  I can't wait!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Roses Are Bled, Violets Are Rue

Philosophy is fun and helpful, almost needless to say.  I am in fact a philosophical counsellor, although my work is somewhat stymied by the fact that it's almost impossible to describe what that is in a soundbite so I hardly ever get to do that and mainly have to be a philosophical herbalist instead.  Even so, Philosophy, which deserves a capital P, is something I can at least use on myself therapeutically.  It's not all just chopping cucumbers - chopped logic is also good for the soul.  Here is an example from Nelson Goodman's 'A New Riddle Of Induction', (definitions whence can be seen here):

Here is an emerald as seen in the 1990s:


and here is a sapphire as seen in the same decade:




Anyone under fourteen reading this may be surprised by these colours.  Of course nowadays an emerald looks like this:



and a sapphire looks like this:


Back in the twentieth century, a few people had these weird concepts of colour which they referred to as "green" and "blue".  They imagined for some reason that all grue objects were suddenly going to turn bleen at midnight on New Year's Eve 1999 (no prizes for spotting today's deliberate mistake) and conversely that all bleen objects would turn grue.  Nowadays of course they are all seen as ridiculous and I only have to look out of the window at the lovely grue cypress contrasted against the bleen autumn sky to prove them wrong to myself.  Luckily we have recovered from that particular delusion and it's rather hard to understand why anyone ever believed it.  For a while people found it hard to explain why Rayleigh scattering would result in a bleen sky and why grue plants were still just as capable of utilising rerange light as it had been previously to make sugar from carbon dioxide and water vapour, but that's all been sorted now.  It was previously thought by a few eccentrics that grue plants would not only change colour to bleen but start to use ored light rather than rerange, which clearly makes no sense because the photochemistry was all wrong.  They even thought rainbows were going to go from this:



to this:



from the 1st January 2000.  This was plainly a bit weird.

To some extent, I will now stop being silly.  Goodman's paradox is a way of illustrating how induction doesn't always work, and that science appears to use induction.  Every emerald we saw in the twentieth century was green but we didn't know that it wasn't "grue", i.e. green before midnight on New Year's Eve 1999 and blue afterwards.  However, if it had been, the other theories around it would have to change and it wouldn't fit into the network of concepts easily.  For instance, blue edges into indigo and violet whereas green becomes yellow, and as the references to why the sky is blue and why plants are often green reveal, the network of concepts breaks down if you try to pull something like this.  Nevertheless it does illustrate that individual instances of experience are not necessarily generalisable to universal instances.  This is of course something I am currently trying to address.


Here's where you might think I'm about to go with this.


OK, now let's abandon the non-purple prose and start talking about fish, as you do.  Suppose you saw one of these rather poorly-photographed fish living in a school with other females and no males:




After a while you might find that "she" started to look more like him:




Up until now, it might be that every female animal you had paid close attention to had stayed female and every male animal you'd noticed sufficiently had stayed male, so far as you could tell, but not all animals are like this, assuming they even have two sexes.  There are protandrous and protogynous species - some start off male and become female and others do the reverse, respectively.


All very well, you might think, but this never happens in humans does it?  Well, in fact it does happen in very few people, for instance in one family in the Dominican Republic only apparent anatomical girls are born but some of them become anatomically male at the age of twelve.  However, this is of course very rare.  Except that hormonal regimes do actually change at different times of life, as with puberty, the menopause and the andropause, so it isn't really that peculiar even for us to think of ourselves in that way.


That's all very interesting, although in the case of the family in the Caribbean I feel like I'm very much intruding on a private matter which has nothing to do with anyone else.  It also wasn't where I was going to go at all.


Goodman's Paradox tempts me to fragment experience, and believe me I want to make this broader than I am about to.  Nonetheless, it does remind me of gender presentation, because that kind of thing happens in passing all the time.  Someone walking behind me will usually see me as female in a manner reminiscent of Sartre's idea of appearing as an object of shame in someone's consciousness as one becomes aware of their observation of them spying on someone through a keyhole, except in this case it's more pride than shame, in several senses.  As they pass me, they will probably not be paying attention, so they will never come to question my gender identity.  If that same person then approaches me on another day from in front, if they pay enough attention, for instance if I'm standing on the opposite side of a pedestrian crossing and they're looking straight at my massive ugly head, I will be male to them.  Alternatively, I might be in silhouette, in which case I will probably be female to them.  All of these are little fragments of interaction, and in these little fragments my gender identity is either affirmed or rejected by others, or even the same other person on various occasions.


All this means that gender presentation for everyone is an ongoing performance which is not the same as gender identity - I've always been and always will be female in spite of how I might have presented myself or how I look now - and from moment to moment and person to person I am variously properly gendered and misgendered.  The same applies to other people to a greater or lesser extent.


It also applies to other parts of one's identity.  I once spent a very long time in Glasgow Central Station, one of my favourite places in the world at the time, and as people walked past me I looked at some of them and thought "that person's English" or "that person's Scots", so correctly or incorrectly they were to me Scots or English, even though their true nationality might have led to them taking umbrage had they been telepathic at my misnationalising.  However, presumably I would've been Scottish to most of them, just as I would've been English to most people in Birmingham New Street.  All of these things are ongoing, fragmented interactions to others.  Granted, there is a true, inner identity which includes all these things, but there are thousands of tiny transactions, as it were every day between all of us which are more or less congruent with our inner identities.  It's not just gender, it's everything.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Not About The Monk

You might conjecture that there is a certain individual walking the streets of this neighbourhood delivering communications whose content is likely to cause offence, but I couldn't possibly comment.  This is therefore not about him.

However, suppose this were to happen somewhere in a notably tolerant and somewhat alternative suburb of a city in the English Midlands:  Someone who looks like a monk goes door to door delivering leaflets which criticise homosexuality along the lines that it's pathological, sinful, immoral and the work of the Devil.  I have to say I wouldn't entirely agree with him, partly because its incompatible with my belief system as a Christian to look at people in that way.  Having said that, other aspects of his behaviour interest me and have common ground with mine.

In this story, the individual concerned makes no attempt to disguise himself.  His face is clearly visible and identifiable to others when he could easily do something like put a hood up.  I can think of a few reasons why someone might not choose to disguise themselves when doing something controversial and provocative.  Firstly, they might not consider it controversial or provocative so much as just disseminating information which people need to know.  Their behaviour is normal to them and they simply feel no need to hide themselves away.  An allied reason might be that they are highly focussed on a narrow aspect of what they're doing and don't see a bigger picture of possibly placing themselves at risk of disapproval, damage to their reputation or possibly even verbal and physical abuse, the last of which would of course not only be entirely unacceptable in itself but also probably feed any possible sense of self-righteousness and encourage him.  In any case, this would be a narrow focus on the self.

There are also two possible religious reasons I can think of why he might not be disguising himself.  One is that he feels he is doing God's work and therefore that God will protect him from adverse consequences of being easily identifiable to others.  The other reason is that he may be fully aware of possible adverse consequences but feel that they are God's will.

I'm not sure if my imaginary cosmic friend is the same as this guy's imaginary cosmic friend because I can imagine, perhaps unfairly, that his imaginary friend is more hateful than mine, but I might be wrong and I hope I am just imagining it.  It also reminds me of 'Save Ulster From Sodomy', a pressure group whose name doesn't seem to be calculated to win converts from the other, er, camps to the cause so much as be a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived world going to Hell in a handcart and a kind of ostentatious display of self-righteousness.   As  explained previously (I presume it's in there somewhere), I don't have knee-jerk reactions so maybe I just don't understand, but I empathise with that emotionally driven urge to express one's beliefs fervently and forcefully.

Let me describe this fictional character in another way.  This is a person who is walking around dressed and behaving in a distinctive manner which is likely to grab attention and be perceived as non-conformist.  They draw quiet disapproval from some of the people who see them.  Others might see them as brave and admire them for standing up for their inner convictions.  One set of reasons why they might not be interested in doing it quietly, say in the privacy of their own home, includes possible obliviousness to the risks, the perception that what they're doing is normal and the ideas that God will either protect them or that whatever happens to them is God's will.

Does that remind you of anyone?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Differed From

I don't set out to be eccentric or different.  In general, I just do what seems to me to be the sensible thing and then it turns out that other people think it's strange.  This is really how it seems to me.  It's not pretence.  In fact, methinks people act oddly and inexplicably, often when they don't do what I do. I imagine everyone gets this but not everyone goes on about it.  Maybe not.  Anyway, it's a common strategy of mine to see what I or we do as, to choose a meaningless epithet, "normal" and other things as deviant.  Here are a few examples, some of which might include some of you.

Home education:  Virtually everyone home educates, it's just that most parents also send their children to school.  Look at it this way, and incidentally I may be very out of date as obviously the children God lent me never went to school so I don't know exactly how things are nowadays:  I spent two hundred days a year at school and five hours a day in lessons, and at the time there were ten years of compulsory education, so that's ten thousand hours in lessons in compulsory education out of 157788.  That's less than 7% of my childhood.  In other words, more than 93% of my childhood was not spent in lessons.  Moreover, almost everything we learn is learnt out of school, for instance the ability to communicate in our first languages, walk, use the toilet and so forth.  Furthermore, almost all parents start off by home educating.  Beyond that, hardly any children went to school for almost the whole of human history and even today, many children never go to school, although there are often less positive reasons for that.

Quick coda:  home education does not take place at home, but everywhere and it doesn't stop when we reach adulthood.

Veganism:  Also seen as an extreme position.  Look at it more closely though.  Anglo-Saxons who eat meat generally eat maybe eleven species of animal and their products on a regular basis:  chicken, those nameless big quadrupeds whose milk people often drink, sheep, pigs, cod, salmon, tuna, turkey, shrimp, prawn and lobster.  Maybe at a stretch they might eat winkles, oysters, cockles, eels, partridge and so on.  This is a depressing list to me.  However, they consume many more species of non-animal than animal:  yeast, wheat, sweetcorn, rice, lettuce, cucumber, Brassica, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, sugar cane, grapes, basil, tea, peppermint, onions, mushrooms, hops, barley, peanuts - the list is endless but easy to compile and much longer than the list of animals.  In other words, everyone, counted in the right way, has an  almost vegan diet.  They generally only have to give up a few things and their diet would be vegan.

Quick coda:  veganism is not about diet.  However, here again the issue of it being almost normal come up:  most animals we have the most conscious contact are human, so most of the time being vegan just involves being nice to other humans.

Herbalism:  One thing I'm not going to say is that old lie about most "orthodox" medication originating from plants.  It doesn't.  It's less than 50% and many of the compounds used are heavily modified until they bear little resemblance to the originals.  Others have just never been anywhere near a plant at all, for instance cisplatin.  Others again are of animal origin, such as thyroxin.  They are also often synthesised anyway.

Even so, herbalism is mainstream medicine, in context, not alternative medicine.  85% of the human race uses herbal remedies.  Many of them never use any other kind of medication.  Also, like schooling, so-called orthodox medication is a recent phenomenon, even more so for the poor, and over almost all of human history it was the main or only option.  Also, considering that coffee and tea are pharmacologically active plants, as are tobacco, peppermint, eucalyptus and all the rest of the stuff we all use on a general basis, it's still the main option.

And yeah, trans stuff:  This one is a bit different, but of course I'm chucking it in again.  It works in various ways.  It is true that I'm engaging in abnormal behaviour, but this is mainly because I'm doing it at the age of forty-seven rather than thirteen.  I'm not going to go on, but just say this:  most of someone's identity is not to do with their gender.  I'm English, was born in Canterbury, vegan, a Prefab Sprout fan, like garlic mushrooms, have an A-level in RE, I'm a philosopher, a herbalist - there are all sorts of things about me with tenuous or non-existent links to my gender identity.  Looking at it in another way, I don't behave abnormally.  I've always sat down to do you-know-what, had long hair and the way I dress is entirely unremarkable for most of the population.  It strikes me that in general, like so many other things, I just do what comes naturally and for some reason people think it's often strange that the person doing it tends to be seen as a bloke, or I do stuff which seems normal for me to do and consistently end up finding myself surrounded by women.  For instance, 90% of herbalists are female, the most involved home educating parents are mothers, most people who play hockey at school and do RE A-level are girls, and so on. I go on about it too much, of course, but it's another example of how I'm just normal.

So I'm normal and what I do is normal.  I realise the word is meaningless and controversial but it's true.  Herbalism is normal, home ed is normal, veganism is normal, being female is normal.  It's all normal.  Nothing I do is really that odd, and if you're included in any of these things, none of you are abnormal in that respect either.  Of course, none of us is really normal, but I'm no different in that respect either.  I'm not different, I'm differed from.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

There'll Be Sea Horses Everywhere

The other day I posted a few astronomical pics to illustrate how I handle emotional stress.  One of them was of the Horsehead Nebula, which looks like this in relative close up:


This doesn't look incredibly like or unlike a horse's head to me, although I can see the similarity.  It's not the only thing compared to a horse in the cosmos, such as this:

Rather an oversized version of a white horse, but a "white horse" nonetheless.  Clearly there are going to turn out to be these sorts of white horses all over the Universe too, on any planet with large amounts of liquid and land on its surface which is roughly the size of this one.  The composition of the wave may be liquid methane, ammonia or maybe something unexpected like liquid nitrogen, or it may be water, but the likelihood is that there will be white horses throughout space for almost as long as stars exist.

Then there is of course this:

The reason I mention this is that being a mathematical object it will of course be the same everywhere in the Universe as well.  That crevice between the heart-shaped bit and the round bit rejoices in the name "seahorse valley", and of course people are keen on zooming into it.  I did that earlier and saw this:

Seahorse Valley

It's fairly clear why it's called this.  One salient feature of the Mandelbrot Set is that it contains lots of things which look like living things or other natural phenomena such as lightning strikes.  These look rather like seahorses of course.

Then there are these living things:



Both quite similar and somewhat reminiscent of the Mandelbrot Set.

Finally, there's this:

Not only does this look like a horse at one end, but it looks like a bit of the Mandelbrot Set at the other.  It's already clear there are many things in the Universe which look like horses' heads and many things in the Universe which look like bits of the Mandelbrot Set.  Well, this looks like both.

It seems to me therefore that if it does turn out that the oceans of the Earth-like, or even not particularly Earth-like but still life-bearing, planets and other bodies in the Universe are teeming with life, many of the lives they're going to be teeming with are probably going to be sea horses, and this is likely to be true to a much greater extent than that there are going to be human-like species on other planets, or for that matter even kangaroo- or marmot-like ones.

The Universe, I'd be prepared to bet, is full of sea horses, and this is a very, very good thing.  There will be sea horses everywhere.

Feminism By Another Name

Just to reiterate:  whatever I end up calling this, and to be honest I probably won't come up with a name for it, I want to emphasise that feminism of some kind is undoubtedly correct and that patriarchy is a central part of the problem with the predicament in which the species, and by extension the biosphere, finds itself.  I don't think this is even controversial and I'm only saying it because there are people who don't agree with it for some reason I don't understand.  Maybe they don't know what feminism is.

Now we've got that out of the way, I know a lot of "proper" women who feel affronted by what they see as radical feminism for some reason which might be explained as a failure to have their consciousness raised, although that sounds patronising.  In particular, there seem to be women who think heterosexuality is acceptable.  It's not generally any of my business whether they do or don't, but sometimes it is because - well, I'll go into that later, but sometimes things go wrong.

One commonly recognised dynamic is where the victims of abuse and bullying visit that on the people "below" them or the next generation.  When this happens, one can end up in the awkward position of appearing to defend the abusers by trying to understand them.  It's a complicated situation to be in, illustrated for example by the possible example of Israel, which I understand to be a state composed of people of a victimised ethnicity who then visited their trauma on another group.  A more personal example would of course be the idea that child abusers have frequently been abused, and an example from formal education would be where teachers pick on children because they are themselves being picked on by colleagues and the government.  In these situations, there is often plenty of rationalisation regarding why it's OK for them to do it to others but not for them to have had it done to them.

Returning to radical feminism, clearly exponents of this ideology have been victimised by the patriarchy and often by particular men.  This has happened to them and they are survivors.  One of their coping strategies seems to be to defend themselves by prudently taking the offensive.  Two examples of this are of course "all men are rapists" and the concept, and it is a concept rather than a notion, that male to female transition is rape or something similar such as the invasion of female space or an attempt by male surgeons to construct a woman due to womb envy, which maybe it is, I don't know because I'm not a surgeon but I do know womb envy is a powerful element in my own psyche.

It stands to reason that if a group of people have been traumatised and victimised to the extent ciswomen have, they might go on to perpetrate something similar on another group.  I can't presume to be certain what they're doing and this suggestion may sound patronising to people of course.  I'm going to have to let go of that and say that I'm not responsible for that interpretation while noting that it's not the only valid one.

Regarding "all men are rapists", that is the corollary of women being perceived sexually by men, so that does make sense in that context.  It's a retaliation for that fact.  If all women are objectified sexually, i.e. their appearance and use as a sex object is all that matters to others, someone is doing the objectification and once men are understood generally in that manner, the perception of a man by a woman could well have that effect - this person is a potential rapist - in an analogous manner.  The actual "internal" intentions of the man involved are not the point, although they may be exactly that for all I know.  This is a man in the same sense as one becomes an object for an observer in Sartre's "Look" scenario, and since meaning may not be internal to the people involved, this could very well make all men rapists.  I don't mean this is literally true but it does seem to have a symmetry to it. Two possible rational responses to that by a man are suicide or gender reassignment - don't "be a man" any more.  These are for some reason blocked off by certain radical feminists.  I have no idea why, once again.  It's not a game I could win, so I left it.  It may of course be like thermodynamics - you can't win, you can't break even and you can't leave the game - but I do my best not to play it just as most of us do our best not to play the game of thermodynamics by avoiding death.

It remains the case that clearly people find my existence offensive and I need to address this.  Incidentally, that's my existence, not an attribute of mine, and I can't escape existence unless I use the same method as I would to leave the game of thermodynamics.  The reasons, I think, why they find me offensive are probably that they think I'm doing this for fetishistic reasons and that they find me disgusting.  A small handful of people, probably about five in fact, will realise the profound irony of that perception, but delicious though it is, I won't be sharing that.  Just accept that there is a deep, unspeakable reason why they think me choosing to wear the clothes I do now is fetishistic.  Anyway, I'm at peace with disgust, as it's something I deal with in myself every day of my life.  Again, suicide is an option, although not one I want to take as it sets a bad example to the children.  To be frank I'm not that keen on killing myself any more.  As I've mentioned before, I would expect the possibility that someone was doing it for sexual reasons to be seen as a good thing from a feminist perspective, so the reactions of disgust, when motivated by that thought, are incomprehensible to me or might reflect underthinking - someone who is getting off sexually on wearing a dress is not about to rape anyone because he's not going to be attracted to women, surely?  He's taken himself out of the potential rapist-sex object equation to my mind if he's done this - and I'm using that pronoun deliberately.  Nonetheless I do think this is the attitude some people take, even if it isn't thought through.  Maybe it's the wisdom of disgust.  I don't think I feature prominently enough in most people's lives for this to be a problem.  I'll just say that this is not fetishistic.

I am a member of a small minority.  Most people are not gender dysphoric.  There are clearly far more  ciswomen than transwomen.  Therefore, the benefits of any kind of specifically anti-F2M transphobic action are likely to be tiny compared to more general pro-feminist action, and although suffering is not additive simply because it involves more people, my own disadvantage is insignificant compared to that.  Even so, I am sometimes amenable to the idea that a category including "all people with female brain structure" might be a useful one to equate to the category "women".  Sometimes.  However, suppose I do take this seriously.  I decide that gender identity is based on subjective, first-person perception rather than social construction.  That doesn't help ciswomen in itself, although it may be that transwomen have insights into patriarchy that ciswomen lack.  Whereas there may be such a thing as cisgender privilege, it's insignificant compared to male privilege and might not be worth trying to oppose compared to it.  I mean, trans people do get beaten up, sexually assaulted and violently murdered by strangers about fifty times as often as ciswomen, but we're asking for it, aren't we?  It can easily be addressed by suicide.  Nonetheless, there are still two categories:  ciswomen and transwomen.  These categories are still significant and undergo oppression in different ways.  The differences are as follows:

  • Ciswomen are socialised as female and suffer the consequences of sexism and patriarchy.  Their central nervous systems are female and therefore they identify as female.
  • Transwomen are socialised as male and have the advantage of being the oppressors in some respects.  Their central nervous systems are female and therefore they identify as female, or at least the latter.  I am unaware of much of my male privilege but I take it on faith that it's so.
What this means is that feminism is less about defending the rights of women and liberating them than it is about overcoming the problems associated with the oppression of people who have been socialised as female.  These people are not necessarily women either - F2M people would also be included.  I'm not sure this should even be called feminism because it doesn't seem to be about women.  In fact, men suffer the consequences of the patriarchy in a different way.

Whatever this thing is called, it ought to be about liberating people from the patriarchy, whoever they are.  I don't know what this would involve on the whole.

Getting back to ciswomen who feel that they are affronted by the consequences of radical feminism and therefore think it's acceptable for them to be heterosexual.  This has hardly ever been a problem for me because I've long tried hard to be too disgusting to others, not to myself, to be the object of sexual attraction, although it can be difficult to tread the line between disgust and offence.  It's a game other people can play, whose rules to me are impenetrable and petty.  Unfortunately that went wrong a couple of times.  It's a problem to be overcome, a sign of mental illness and I don't know how to help, or even if I can help.  Luckily it hardly ever happens.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Pleasing 80% Of People 20% Of The Time

Some years ago I noticed that I had a few patients who spent a lot of time with me and had various complex issues which took a while to resolve, and lots of patients who were in and out of the door very quickly because their health improved rapidly.  For quite a while, I worried about this and thought I ought to be able to increase the size of one or the other lot.  I put quite a lot of work into trying to arrive at an approach which would do this, to no avail.  The numbers of patients fluctuated but the proportions never did.
Then I came across something called the "80:20 rule", also known as the "log-normal distribution".  I am neither a mathematician nor a statistician, although I am a logician so I'm vaguely aware of certain things.  This is no longer an exercise in losing readership.  Nonetheless, I'm about to show you a couple of graphs, the first of which shows a bell curve, thus:

If you took four dozen pennies and flipped them a few gross times, recording the proportion of heads in each, then plotted it on a graph, or recorded popcorn popping and tried to find the peak and pattern of distribution, you'd probably end up with a graph which was roughly this shape.  I doubt I have to tell anyone reading this that these are called Gaussian or normal distributions or bell curves.

You could actually apply this to something like the quality of items coming off a production line, or so I imagine.  The Friday afternoon cars are down near zero in quality, most of them are in the middle and there are a few super-duper wonderful cars at the top.  I experienced this a couple of years ago when I bought a £60 mini-tablet and it went on and on for more than a year while everyone else's went wonky very fast.  That was also probably part of the charmed life we lead of course.

The another phenomenon which is equally interesting although, for me at least, harder to understand, is "log-normal", also known as 80:20.  It looks like this:

To quote Eddie Izzard, as you can see from my diagram there's a big hump on one side, then a long tail on the other.  Eighty percent is somewhere around the 1.5 mark, I reckon, then that tail accounts for the rest.  This is the log-normal - something seen in all sorts of things, roughly.  There are different shapes but they all have a majority on one side consisting of relatively few of something and a minority consisting of relatively many.  For instance, taking this blog entry as an example, there are relatively few words like "the", "and" or "is", but after you've got about twenty percent of the types of words like that out of the text, you'd be left with approximately eighty percent which are more like the word "approximately" and occur at most a couple of times.  The same applies to letters, or is likely to.

For some reason I don't understand, "everything" is like this, and I will now illustrate it in two ways using my herbal practice.

Around twenty percent of my patient notes consist of great thick folders stuffed full of paper, representing clients whose recalcitrant or recurrent problems have led to the need for a great deal of attention from yours truly.  Their health improves, but slowly, or their initial problems are replaced by others, and I scribble endlessly in my impenetrable combination of Blissymbolics, Elizabethan handwriting and modal logic that I playfully call my "writing" for side after side for a decade or more, on and off.  About eighty percent consist of a couple of sides of sparsely covered A4 recording their rapid departure as happy bunnies now devoid of eczema or migraines, off oxygen or whatever, after a couple of weeks.  This is not a specific failure on my part with that twenty percent - they keep coming back and I do help them, but their problems are deep and complex, as they often are.  The conclusion we can reach from this is that the majority of health problems resolve quickly but a minority of them don't.  Also, though, probably the majority of our health problems as individuals resolve quickly but a minority of them won't, but that minority will eventually come to dominate our lives.  One particular health problem will of course take infinitely long to resolve for every one of us!

The other aspect of this, although there are several and I've forgotten some, shows up in the herbs I use.  Again, a minority of herbs are in the majority of prescriptions but a majority are in a minority.  This means that most people's health is improved by a relatively small list of herbs, but there will always be a minority of people each of whom needs a relatively obscure herb.  Eighty percent of herbs show up in twenty percent of prescriptions and twenty percent in eighty percent of prescriptions.  This means I need to keep a lot of herbs in stock just in case, but a few herbs I will constantly need to order and reorder.  The same presumably applies to pharmacies and pure drugs.  I imagine they get through a lot of NSAIDs and steroids and relatively little thyroxin and cisplatin, for example.

This all appears to be a law of nature.  I have no idea how it operates but there it is.  It may have widespread practical use but again, I can only think of a couple of applications.  It is, however, interesting and one clear use is that knowledge of it means you don't invest much time in trying to "fix" it.