Thursday, 20 November 2014

Letting Go

I've recently realised that there have been similar dynamics in two lots of interactions in my life, and that I've got past one but not the other, and it seems that other people have done it the other way round.  What interests me here is the similarity between not getting past something rather than the differences.
I'm going to talk about my conversion experience now.  I'm entirely comfortable with you seeing it from a mental health perspective.  Clearly I would differ in that opinion to some degree, but not entirely.  There are lots of possible narratives here and I can be an amateur psychiatrist if I want, even with my own stuff.

What happened was this.  I left home and went to University and almost immediately missed a woman I was very attached to, someone who is my oldest friend.  The way it worked was odd, because I wasn't in fact missing home and family at all but I really was missing my friend quite severely, and that was enough to make me lonely, depressed, stop washing, stop eating properly and all the usual stuff.  I happened to be in a Hall of Residence where Christian students had a policy of staying in past their first year in order to be a strong Christian influence.  That in itself could be seen as sinister, or it could be seen as an attempt to demonstrate love to people who really needed it, depending on what you think about Christianity, or possibly that kind of Christianity if it can be said to be a "kind".

I was eventually approached by a Christian student and persuaded to commit myself to Christ, as I might put it, and at the time, my subjective experience and thought processes were, I'm sure, entirely standard for someone in that position.  I was convinced I was sinful, I repented, placed my faith in Jesus Christ as the uniquely fully divine and fully human son of God who died on the cross for my sins, and committed my life to him.  Please don't let that description put you off.

It's very common for Christians to look at people who have lost their faith and say "well, you can't really have had a genuine commitment in the first place or you wouldn't have fallen away".  Now I am of course now Christian, but for a long time I definitely had no faith in the ethical sense, that is, I believed in a supernatural being independent of the physical world but not that that being was in any way good.  God didn't seem relevant to my life for a long, long time.  I'm getting ahead of myself though.

Immediately after my conversion experience, I had what I can only describe as an "oh shit" moment.  In fact, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind the people who had prayed with me, I uttered exactly those words, which is probably somewhat remarkable for a newly converted Christian (or is it?  Please share, I'd love to know).  I could reel off a long list of altruistic-sounding reasons for it, and they were there in my mind, but one thing in particular was near the top:  I saw the Christian faith as irredeemably homophobic, and if it was so firmly, ineradicably so, meaning to my mind that God actually rejected the sexual expression of love between two people because of their genders alone, how the hell was God ever going to accept the thunderstruck nature of my own sexual identity?  In my case, it wasn't that I was gay.  It was so far from that that the actual issue of homosexual versus heterosexual orientation was a tiny detail.  Not wishing to disclose too much, but the nub of the issue is twofold:


  • How could a group of people who are so dyed-in-the-wool homophobic ever accept this thing that I am, which is way down the line from homosexual that it won't even occur to them?  And I wouldn't be mentioning it, no way.  It was many years before I mentioned it directly to anyone, although the occasional hint did surface, before and after that moment.  And:
  • If an accident of brain or social development was to strike an individual, who happened to be myself, to make my life this absurd, and to make it so unlikely that I would ever have a happy sexual relationship or reproduce, how could there even be a God who operates according to a plan of any kind?
There's a missing piece of information here and I'm not about to say what it is, but taking the gender dysphoria and the asexuality alone, that's enough.  The point is that every moment of my life I was confronted with an apparently arbitrary absurdity which seemed to make nonsense of the concept of a loving God, and I didn't feel able to talk about this absurdity because they even rejected something as mild and obviously OK as homosexuality, so there was just no way they would ever come to discuss this.  They were at best going to see it as a medical problem which needed to be eliminated with some radical kind of brain surgery or something, and in fact some other people with this problem who made the mistake of telling their nearest and dearest have in fact been incarcerated in mental institutions, poisoned with drugs, electrocuted and subjected to psychosurgery.  At the time, I didn't even realise there were other people in this category, and at the time probably a lot of them were going through all that, so it didn't actually suck to be me in relative terms.  However, it was because I was very cautious that I escaped that.

Very soon after that conversion experience, I decided that basically Christianity, and more specifically Paul, was the worst thing that had happened to the planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs and decided it needed to be eliminated before it destroyed all life on Earth.  Later on, I realised that this wasn't a terribly nuanced position, and that the reason I'd come to that conclusion was that I'd been very carefully sold a particular version of what the Christian faith was which was not necessarily the whole story.  I got past that, I let go of it, call it what you will, and I'm now happy with no sense of cognitive dissonance being a trans person who is also Christian and am aware that there is no contradiction there.

Nonetheless, I can understand from the inside that when a Christian place of worship holds a vigil for the Transgender Day Of Remembrance, other trans people will take considerable umbrage.  It seems like too little, too late, and a token gesture by an institution which has been instrumental in the violent deaths of innumerable LGBT people for millenia, and just doing that is never going to be enough to salvage them.  Of course I understand that, and to be honest I surprise myself that I am not myself in that camp right now.  But I'm not.  Nor do I look down on people who feel that way and consider myself to have "got past" it when they haven't.  Nonetheless, it isn't an issue which exercises me as much as it did because I now understand my spirituality in a different way than I did back then.

However, there is another area where this is by no means the case, and which I have definitely have not got past.  This is, unfortunately, what is now referred to as the LGBT community itself.

Nowadays, it appears that those four letters belong together for most of the people represented by each of them.  This was not always so.  Back in the mid-'eighties, at the same time as I was going through all that up there I've just mentioned, I was also peripherally involved in lesbian and gay stuff.  At the time, I was aware that my sexual orientation and identity was definitely of a minority status, but I never made the connection between that and being more than an ally of lesbians and gay men.  In fact, it was very apparent to me that far from being an ally, being openly trans would make me an utter pariah and an enemy of lesbians and gays, because this was the received opinion at the time.  I felt ashamed and unworthy even to be an ally because of my trans status, and this shame and guilt were in fact reinforced and emphasised most vociferously by lesbians and gay men at the time.  It wasn't just a sense of unease and tolerance.  It was outright vocal hatred and extreme hostility, and at the time to me this seemed entirely sensible and drove my transness even deeper inside and led to me internalising transphobia.  I hated myself for my gender dysphoria and I felt I was a traitor to all women and lesbians in particular for being this way.

So, to return to the present day, here are two situations.  One is the Transgender Day Of Remembrance at the Cathedral, to which of course I won't be going, but on the other hand I may well go to the AIDS thing at the weekend.  However, not going to that is not that big an issue to me.  I expect my status to be ridiculed at best but more likely to be ignored, and for the cathedral doors to be closed to me because in fact the event seems to have been cancelled.  It's no big deal though, not to me, but it certainly is to other people and rightly so, because they can't just be expected to forget two millenia of mass murder because of who they were by the very institution which is now trying to make amends.  Oddly though, I am at peace with that.

The other is, though, events like Pride.  I am expected to march with people who, twenty years ago, would have spat at me and hated me for who I am, and all of a sudden I'm expected to be OK with that.  It needs to be forgotten and forgiven, and I do recognise that they're not all like that and that many of them never were - it's my own issue too.  However, I do also recognise a parallel here.  For some people, my past self included, the baggage of religious transphobia is too much to get past, and that makes complete sense to me.  For me, almost identical baggage is present in lesbians and gay men, and although my rational mind is able to recognise that forgiving and forgetting is the way to go here, maybe I'm a bitter, damaged individual, but I can't forget what happened right now, and I don't feel accepted, and when I am accepted I wonder why I'm accepted.  Is it just grudgingly, because people recognise it's the current trend to do so?  And so on.

Naturally I believe we are allies in fact, and that we need to stand together and that an attack on one group is an attack on all, but that's the thing.  I believe that - I find it harder to feel it.

So I should get past that, because it's not you, it's me, but it's the same issue.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Is "Fascism" A Useful Word?

This is something I ought to be good at blogging about owing to my background in political theory.  Nevertheless, it was a long time ago and in fact I'm fully aware that I'm not very well-informed in this particular area.

I was thinking yesterday as I wrote about "nice", "silly" and "gay", that there was another word which tends to be used pejoratively.  I'm certainly no fan of the ideology it reflects, but merely using it as a catch-all label for political views you don't like means the loss of a useful word in the same way as people often claim has happened to the word "gay".  This word is of course "fascist", and in its pejorative usage can be replaced by "totalitarian" and "authoritarian", words which again have different meanings from each other.

What I mean when I say "fascism" is the ideology centred on the idea that the sole duty of the individual is to the state or the nation.  This is not necessarily the meaning employed by other people.  Some people would restrict it further to the Italian political movement of the 1920s and '30s, and rather strangely, some would even exclude Nazism from it.

As such, fascism is the opposite of anarchism and therefore more or less the opposite of what I believe politically.  I believe that there can be no duty to the government as such because consent to government is always coercive.  That's not what I'm talking about here though.

There's also a grey area here because of the distinction or otherwise between the state and the nation.  For instance, the Roma and the Jews have been nations for millenia but have also been stateless.  Those examples also indicate the discomfort the label "fascist" might cause others if applied to particular people.

The word fascism is derived from the idea of the fasces, a symbolic bundle of sticks used by the Romans to express the idea that a weak group of people bound together becomes strong and can overcome outsiders to that group, an idea which is clearly quite fascistic.

There are two other aspects to this which concern me though:  capitalism and history.  Regarding the first, it's not so much capitalism as the drift towards monopolies found within it, but even so, although it may not feel quite as rabidly nasty as fascism, capitalism in that form might be just as harmful in the long run.  I want to emphasise though that I mean it in that form.  I'm not talking about private enterprise and small scale business here but global corporations, although the question arises of how the former wouldn't turn into the latter.  Looking at it that way, it looks to me that fascism, evil though it might be, mainly has poorer PR than capitalism.

Turning to history, whereas I'm aware that the nation state is a historical thing, it also seems to me that if the regimes generally seen as fascist were transported back in time to any point in recorded history before the nineteenth century, they wouldn't seem that out of place and would just be another flavour of government among various forms of what we would now see as extreme nationalism and jingoism.  This seems to mean either that my perception of the past is distorted or that the features of fascism are not so much exceptional as just politics as usual and par for the course.  Considering how strongly freedom and democracy are attacked, this makes the likes of liberalism, social democracy and socialism start to look like brief blips in history which are rapidly becoming things of the past.

If that's so, we don't really need a word for fascism.  Fascism is just the norm.  The exceptions, now mere historical details, were social justice, egalitarianism and the idea of providing for and helping the oppressed, weak and vulnerable.  All of that stuff was just a brief interlude in what Orwell called something like "a jackboot stamping on a face forever".

Monday, 17 November 2014

Nice, Silly and Gay

This set me thinking.  I agree with it of course, but it occurs to me that the phenomenon of semantic drift is involved here.  Words don't keep their meanings as time goes by, so for all we know we may in all innocence be using extremely offensive language to each other without any of us becoming aware.  This is one reason why Middle English, which is English as spoken between the Battles of Hastings and Bosworth, is in my opinion harder to learn than the earlier Anglo-Saxon stage of the language, as spoken between Vortigern's invitation and the aforesaid Battle of Hastings.  Here's a bit of Anglo-Saxon, from the prelude to Beowulf:

Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in gēar-dagum
þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon,
hū ðā æþelingas ell en fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum,
monegum mǣgþum meodo-setla oftēah.
Egsode eorl, syððan ǣrest wearð
fēa-sceaft funden; hē þæs frōfre gebād,
wēox under wolcnum, weorð-myndum þāh,
oð þæt him ǣghwylc  þāra ymb-sittendra
ofer hron-rāde hȳran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs gōd cyning.

Now this is pretty clearly like a foreign language to most of today's English speakers.  If you were to go about learning what this meant, you'd probably do something like go to a class or learn it from a text book because you'd realise that most of the words are strange to you.

Contrast this with the much more recent (1380) late Middle English bit from the prologue to the Canterbury Tales:


WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte  of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich  licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth        
Inspired hath in every holt  and heeth
The tendre croppes,  and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,        
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes,  couthe  in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende        
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke

The problem is not quite as severe as it might be because this is not as old as, say, the Ayenbite of Inwit or the Ormulum, and it's also in a dialect which is similar to the direct ancestor of modern English, but for instance the word "fowles" to us brings poultry to mind rather than larks and sparrows, "strondes" is clearly "strands" but to us the word "strand" used in a sense close to how it is employed here refers to the bank of a river and not a seashore, and so forth.  Therefore we look at Middle English without recognising that it is still substantially a foreign language where they do things differently, and we are more likely to misunderstand it unwittingly rather than realise we don't understand it, which may be worse.

This is of course because of semantic drift.  Words change their meaning over the centuries, and sometimes a lot faster.  They may change them at such a velocity that people get irritated because it occurs noticeably within their lifetime.  The classic example of this at the moment is of course "gay".  To me, "gay" means "male homosexual" and I rarely use it with any other meaning, except in the fixed phrase "skip gaily", something I do rather a lot, where it does in fact refer to something I do which is perceived as a form of gender non-conformity or perhaps Morris dancing, but probably not.  It's now so common to bemoan the change in the meaning of the word "gay" from something like "happy" or "glad" to "male homosexual" as to become a cliche.  What is a little less obvious is that it has continued to shift in meaning from the usage I make of it.  First of all, it broadened its scope to refer to female homosexuality, a usage which definitely seems unnatural to me and which I would never have used, and now it's drifting further towards a similar meaning to "lame".  The word "lame" itself is of course disablist, but if an older meaning of the word referring to a physical disability had been lost, it wouldn't be any more, and language is of course dynamic.  This leads me to suspect that there is offence in all sorts of places.  Just as an inline footnote, I don't in fact use the word "gay" at all now because my view of the concepts surrounding it has shifted and I would now probably want to say "gynephilic" and "androphilic" and probably be met with incomprehension.

There are in fact words which have lost a meaning which would be seen as offensive nowadays by many English speakers.  One of them is "nice".  This is from the Latin nescio - "I don't know", and refers to ignorance and stupidity.  By the Middle Ages, it was "nice", used in French to mean "clumsy", i.e. someone who doesn't know what they're doing, and then changed to "silly", i.e. foolish.  I'm going to come back to the word "silly" because it's interesting.  Later still, in the English language, which has borrowed a lot of French words, it came to mean "timid", then "careful" or "delicate".  Around Shakespeare's time it gets difficult to work out what it means for a twenty-first century audience, then it emerges from the confusion to mean "delightful" and then in the twentieth century came to be considered too genteel and insipid to be easily pronounced without ridicule, partly due to class implications and partly because it was used more by women than men and therefore taken less seriously.  In fact, along the lines of "women and men are the same and they're all men", it seems to have largely disappeared except possibly in erotic contexts.

To return to "silly", this is a word which to me mainly brings to mind the affection of a particular German of my acquaintance who discovered the word when on holiday in England and found it very amusing, which makes a lot of sense - unlike the other two it seems to be an intrinsically funny word.  In fact unlike the other two, it has a cognate in German - selig, meaning "blessed".  In fact it also used to mean that in English.  The contortions of the word "silly" go like this.  The prehistoric ancestor of English, proto-Germanic, used the word sæligas to mean "happy", from the root sæl meaning "happiness".  By Anglo-Saxon times this had become gesælig, which is why I started with the ancestor of English rather than Old English - the initial syllable later disappeared.  At that point it meant "lucky" or "happy", and of course the word "lucky" itself also meant "happy" and "happy" meant "lucky" (think of "happenstance") so that's a bit of a meaning cluster too.  By the thirteenth century, it meant "blessed", then "pious", "innocent" and later "weak" or "feeble", and eventually "feeble-minded".  However, it's now considered less offensive than "stupid", probably partly because it's considered to be a voluntary and temporary thing and doesn't refer to learning disability any more.

All of these words have drifted, sometimes so fast it's possible to realise they're doing so in a single lifetime.  What seems remarkable to me about them is that they all seem to have passed through similar meanings.  "Nice" originally meant "ignorant", "gay" meant "happy" and "silly" meant "happy" and something similar to "ignorant" at different times in its history.  Another, weaker, example, is "blessed", which is sometimes used as a mild pejorative word similar to "silly", as in "that blessed thing".

It seems, then, that there's something about that group of ideas - happiness, foolishness and the like - which leads them to bleed into each other in the English-thinking mind, and I find that really intriguing.  I also want to know if that happens in other languages and if anyone has any ideas about why that tends to happen.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Dangly Bits, Tax People And Gloop That Makes You Like Cardigans

OK, let me just see where this goes.  I'm not really sure what I'm going to write here.

You may have noticed that over the past few days I've not quite been my usual brightly optimistic new self so much, something that normally only happens occasionally.  For instance, yesterday I expressed the hopefully not very depressing opinion that although the Basic Income Scheme was a brilliant idea which might even save the human race from extinction, any party adopting it as a policy would be committing electoral suicide.  This is not a particularly cheery view, and not one I've recently been accustomed to expressing, but it is very like the kind of thing I used to say before the catastrophe.  So, why did this happen?

I think it's established that we all have mood cycles, and that some people find them more noticeable because the cycle has a big red streak marking it, so it was suggested quite reasonably by some people that that's what was happening.  In fact, it wasn't.  That happened about a week and a half ago, and I know that because it keeps in step with my daughter.  This is not cloud-cuckoo land incidentally - I'm aware of lacking the equipment but this doesn't require it and we all have it, not just women of whatever variety one might or might not be.

It wasn't that then.  What was it?  It's actually fairly simple.  At that point there were two sources of stress in my life.  One of them was the impending appointment at the gender clinic, which is on 8th December.  I still have a couple of things to do there, and I know I'm conforming to a gender stereotype but it may or may not be that they want me to do that and I don't want to take any risks.  Earrings and eyebrows basically.  There was another one though - tax fines.

This is the process I go through when I think about income tax.  I do understand that it is, for instance, paying for the gender clinic and the roads which bring the herbs my way so I can help you lovely personages retain their hair and other forms of healthiness.  I tend to think of it as either a form of theft (which might be OK) or a form of slavery (which might be OK).  I'm not sure there's anything in between those two.  I also think people could just be nice instead and forget about money.  Anyway, I have had a nasty fine hanging over my head and it was doing it in.  Well, I made a 'phone call this afternoon, paid a substantial part of it and set up a direct debit.  Yes!  I actually did something together and normal!

So now I have no money.  Is this a bad thing?  No!  What it means is that I am no longer "lost in the land of eternal dither" as my friend Lori once classically said.  I have dumped a tangle from my mind, and having dumped that tangle, I can now get on with actually generating an income for once.  I have clarity, straightforwardness and purpose.

Now all I need to think about is what to say to the apparently nice people in Nottingham about the dangly bits inter alia.  I have a slight concern about money, but no, the money will come.  It came today, some of it got spent on gloop, some on baked beans, and now we have baked beans and gloop which magically makes you like cardigans like this one over which the, well, less hairy people in the family bicker good-naturedly:

Time for veg and two veg I think, but that's another story.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Clarity About Poverty

Two things first of all:  no ad hominem attacks please - you can abstract the argument from the source and I'm not telling you what to think from a position where I see myself as having superior knowledge - and this is not motivated out of a sense of entitlement or a desire to blame anyone or society for this predicament.
I am going to use the term "lesbian couples" in this.  By this I mean couples living together both of whom identify as female, and I would make the observation that most of those would in fact be lesbian couples.  It does apply more widely.  This is not just about LGBT stuff, for instance it probably applies to any situation where socialisation or outside attitudes lead to both members of a couple being marginalised in some way.  A couple where both are deaf would be another example.

If you want statistics, there are some here (PDF warning), referring to the American situation.

Lesbian couples are more likely to be poor than either heterosexual couples or gay male couples.  Lesbian couples with children are even more likely to be poor.

This isn't going to take long to explain, so I'm just going to say it.  If you are female, you are more likely to find yourself supporting a so-called economically active person doing essential tasks which if they were factored into the economy would show a very different picture than what economic statistics normally show.  For instance, bearing and raising children is a sine qua non of the economy - if there is no future generation, there is no economy and if that generation doesn't use language, more or less the same applies.  That's women's work on the whole.  So is housework, food preparation and support for male partners in various ways.  This is less true than it was before but it is nonetheless still often true.  Even where it isn't, the stereotypical female gender role involves these activities and if men do them, it can disadvantage their career.  If a father takes a career break for parenting, he may not have been the victim of prejudice up until that point, but from that point onwards he is more likely to be.

Women are expected to be less assertive and where they do manage to generate an income, that income is likely to be lower, and traditionally female paid work is not as highly paid or taken as seriously as traditionally male paid work of the same degree of skill and utility.  They are less likely to advance because of that tendency towards unassertiveness.

Consequently, a woman is more likely to find herself in a relationship doing paid work to provide a supplementary income rather than a main income, and the work she does, paid or unpaid, is likely not to be as valued as "man's work".

Now apply this to a lesbian couple.  I would contend that if both members of a couple are marginalised in this way, they are more likely to be poor, and less likely to be able to climb out of poverty.

Add children to this and there is a further disadvantage.  The involvement in childcare reduces the opportunities to generate an income because these opportunities are likely to be missed and the paid work done will not be in the form of a nine-to-five job, because childcare by the parents themselves is less likely to be valued.

OK, so far so depressing.  However, am I blaming anyone for this?  Am I saying it's not them, it's the world and there is no way out of this?  Well, look at it this way.  Critical theory and social studies generally tend to be afflicted by a mindset where the problems are pointed out and studied more than the solutions are.  I've said this before, but it's like aeronautical engineering looking exclusively at plane crashes and poor fuel economy without learning from them and making practical suggestions as to how to build good aircraft.  There are of course structural problems with society which make all this harder over which there may be limited personal control.  However, there are also structural problems with one's approach to life and psychology which can be addressed, centred around things like noticing and creating opportunities through positivity, confidence, assertiveness and capitalising on so-called weaknesses rather than seeing them as essentially problematic.

You might form your own opinion about why I've posted this.  I couldn't possibly comment.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Crustacean Calendar

I'm not a Trekkie (Trekker).  I'm not sure how many people are these days.  True, I wanted a Star Trek coffee mug but the reason for that was, well, I'll show you:
http://www.play.com/Gadgets/Gadgets/4-/3272312/Star-Trek-TumbleNot-Enterprise-Mug/Product.html

Wide base, narrow top.  An optimistic mug, because when it seems to be half-empty it is in fact more than half-full.

A lot of Star Trek is mildly or very irritating because it only performs a vague nod in the direction of scientific plausibility, although I like the poetry of the technobabble and may exploit that one day in verse.

One of the rejected ideas which was promising in the original series was that of Star Dates.  Roddenberry's original plan was to use a different "calendar" for the external reason of obfuscating how far in the future the series was set and the internal reason that since Starfleet ships would be hurtling around near the speed of light or beyond it for much of the time, the slowing of the passage of time caused by travelling so fast would cause the clocks and calendars on board to creep out of sync with each other.  This was a really good idea and it's a shame it got rejected.  As it did get rejected, the viewer is as usual left to spin her wheels in deep space trying to deal with high bogometer readings, or at least this one is.

For this reason, I decided to return to the idea for 'Unspeakable' by creating something called the Crustacean Calendar.  I've reached the point in writing the novel where I just can't go on ignoring how time is measured in the story.

I'll explain the name first.  It's called the Crustacean Calendar because of the alliteration and being based on the Crab Nebula.  This is the Crab Nebula, also known as M1, in the constellation of Taurus:

It's a supernova remnant - the remains of an exploded star.  In the centre is the remains of the star itself, a pulsar which is unusual in being clearly visible through an optical telescope.  It flashes on and off very regularly and is, like all pulsars and neutron stars, pretty small.  The flashes are very regular, occurring about thirty times a second and only slowing very slightly with the passage of time.

Unlike many celebrated celestial bodies, the Crab Nebula and its pulsar is young.  The light from it reached this planet and the eyes of Chinese astronomers on 4th July 1054, I'm presuming Old Style but I'll have to look that up.  That light had of course taken a long time to reach us, using the pronoun gratifyingly broadly.  I seem to remember it took around six thousand years in fact, and it was bright enough to be visible from here.  A sphere with a radius of six thousand light years considered in terms of the kind of geometry most people are used to has a volume of around 26114971742 cubic parsecs, so that explosion would be visible to human-like eyes situated in an extremely large volume.  In fact the volume is even bigger because objects are generally larger on the inside than the outside and that would definitely apply to a twelve thousand light year wide sphere centred on the Crab Nebula because of all the dense matter inside it.  It would be slightly less useful than it sounds though, since the Milky Way is a relatively thin disc in this region of space so it would mainly be even emptier than usual.

My idea is that the calendar and time in the 'Unspeakable' universe is measured in terms of the number of times the Crab Nebula pulsar has flashed in the sky of the relevant location.  So here today, 10th November 2014, nine hundred and sixty years, four months and four days have passed since it started flashing at us, and since it does it around thirty times a second that means it's done so around 1015324951312 times.  A thousand light years in the direction of the Crab Pulsar itself it will have done so around a trillion times fewer and a thousand light years in the opposite direction around a trillion more, so at the same time in each direction the "date" is different "now".

This means that when Su leaves Eos, which is twelve light years away, it's twelve years' worth of time earlier there than it is here, assuming it to be in exactly the direction of the Crab Nebula.  You might ask why I've made a calendar which varies in this way.  The answer is that in fact it doesn't vary because there's no such thing as simultaneity.  I'm going to illustrate this using one of Albert Einstein's famous trains.

Suppose light travels at only 200 kilometres an hour and there is a light bulb in the middle of a ten metre long train carriage travelling at 100 kilometres an hour.  There is a passenger in the carriage underneath the light and someone standing on the platform.  As the carriage passes the person on the platform, the light comes on, and they see the ends of the carriage illuminated at different times - the back is coming up to meet the light and the front moving away from it.  However, for the passenger the light illuminates both ends simultaneously.  Moreover, this is not an illusion because light moves at the same speed for everyone regardless of their own speed.

Since nothing can move faster than light, there is no reason not to have such apparent "discrepancies" in the dates and times concerned.  Hence the Crustacean Calendar measures the local time only - there is no other time.

As usual for me, I've used the duodecimal system to divide time up, this time as multiples of the flashes of the relevant pulsar.  This leaves a few convenient units of time, one of around 57 seconds and another of roughly 23 weeks.

The idea is that anyone with a view of the night sky clear through to the Crab Nebula, for instance not obscured by clouds of gas or dust, and a moderately powerful telescope within at least six thousand light years of the pulsar would be able to calibrate the time and use a device for counting it using that pulsar.  It removes the emphasis on this planet and solar system and places it on a more galactic footing, and also gets back the idea in the original Star Trek that time is relative.

This unit of around a thirtieth of a second can also be used as the basic unit of length, and by extension units of area and volume.  The actual current figure allows light to travel 10043.9 kilometres, and smaller units can be derived by possibly repeated divisions by twelve.  The density of neutronium can then be used as a basis for mass but this would be incredibly high and the unit involved would have to be a tiny submultiple.

Unfortunately this whole entry doesn't get me much closer to being able to put the date on the top of the minutes recorded at the coordinating meeting of the Canterbury branch of 'Match, Hatch and Dispatch' chaired by Aura Mono in 2147 using our calendar, but at least it explains what I'm doing.

Oh yes, and this is important because the speakers of the language which seems to replace English have a different view of time and space than English due to the language they speak, which mixes up space and time, so for instance they think in terms of the sun appearing over the side of the planet they're on rather than sunrise, they see time as flowing downwards like a stream, so the past is uphill, and they tend to think of periods of time as spatial regions rather than intervals.  An example of this is that last summer in the Northern hemisphere of Earth would be thought of as a curve in the helix of this planet's orbit as the sun moves through the Galaxy, not as a period of time.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

This Whole Spectrum Thing

This is pretty:


It is often alleged that I am on here somewhere.  If that were so, left to itself I wouldn't necessarily consider that to be a problem.  It's not a failing to be on it and various things do suggest themselves.  When I look at how people said to be on it approach their experience, much of that approach just seems natural and straightforward to me, perhaps ironically suggesting that I empathise with people who are on it.  However, for me it brings up a whole load of issues which I've tried to address before but haven't so far got to expressing clearly.

I can't pretend to be an expert on this by any means, particularly not as much as someone who either has family contact with people on there or works regularly with them in some way.  However, part of my understanding of what is commonly seen as being on this spectrum is a low degree of empathy and difficulty in filtering sensory and possibly other stimuli, and perhaps getting bogged down in details and systematising as a form of comfort.

I now want to present you with a few scenarios regarding other people who are seen as being on it:

  • Person A enjoys winding people up  by doing various things which try to ensure that he gets a reaction and is the centre of attention in a group.
  • Person B picks on adopted siblings when about to visit her birth father because it's supposed to be a treat but in fact his apathy causes distress.  This seems to be motivated by jealousy.
  • Person C presents his friends with shocking scenarios involving distressed people to get a reaction.
All of these people are said to be on the autistic spectrum.  I unfortunately seem to have chosen several negative examples, which is probably because they are more memorable than positive ones, but there are bound to be lots of positive ones too.  However, they serve to illustrate a point.  All of these are fairly marked forms of behaviour and all of them, to me, seem to involve empathy.  The first is arguable.  It may be that person A enjoys the sensory stimulation of the noise and skirmish and that it isn't about empathy at all.  That one has an alternative explanation which does not involve empathy, although the most straightforward explanation does involve it to my mind.  Person B definitely seems to be seeing the situation from the viewpoints of other people, several of them in fact.  I can't think of a way of accounting for this which doesn't involve that feature.  Person C could be like Person A were it not for the focus on distress in third parties, which brings it closer to the neurotypical.

As I've said before, it can sometimes be very hard to anticipate what is going on, or not going on, in someone else's mind when you try to put yourself in their position, and not just for me.  The linked example is about how unlikely it is for someone else to anticipate what my experience is like because it seems to be very counterintuitive.  I may therefore be failing to empathise with persons A and C here, and their world may be unimaginable to me, or maybe just somewhere I wouldn't want to live.  Person B is more straightforward, but persons A and C to me seem to be more easily and simply understood by evoking the idea of empathy.  This leaves me with two thoughts:  that these are false positives of "diagnoses" of autistic spectrum "disorders" (I must get round to why I want to throw the Ds away some day) and that the autistic spectrum is not what it appears to be.

Suppose a child is born unable to filter sensory stimuli easily.  That child may then find it difficult to distinguish what it perceives someone as doing from the noise in their experience, leading to that child possibly learning a whole load of interesting or impressive stuff but not the bits which involve things like eye contact, tone of voice, body language and the rest.  Not the stuff, and here comes a word, salient to interpersonal interaction.  This means that the alleged failure to empathise, and in fact I don't see that as very plausibly present in the examples I just mentioned, would be secondary to that failure to filter.  Therefore, the inability to empathise is not an in-built lack, if lack it indeed be, but the result of not having had the opportunity to learn it in the first place.  This is reflected in the parallels often drawn between feral children and those seen as markedly autistic.  Feral children seem to have lacked exposure to the richness of interpersonal interaction available to most human children, so they are in a similar situation.

I don't want to describe this as a predicament.  That would make it look like the issue was with a deficiency inside the people themselves, and I am very loth to describe anyone as defective, particularly where that "defect" just seems to me like the normal way to behave.  I am also very likely to take it personally because people often believe I am on the spectrum, and it seems very likely that since I just put a covering letter in the questionnaire I sent to the gender clinic explaining that I rated my clitoris because it was a homologous structure to the penis, it will probably end up with them doing so as well.

This is where things get insanely complicated, and I'm partly writing this to disentangle it a bit.

Simon Baron-Cohen, and probably a lot of other people, see autism as the result of testosterone poisoning.  An autistic brain to Baron-Cohen is one heavily influenced in its development by androgens, in other words an "extreme male brain".  There are of course many women on the autistic spectrum and there is said to be sexism in the diagnosis of being on the spectrum which leads to under-diagnosis for females and over-diagnosis for males.  When I look at a list of female Asperger's features I can in fact feel their truth for me, although they operate in a different way because I can feel the weight of male socialisation very acutely, and my attempt to resist that too.  Therefore, maybe that isn't how it is.

I am aware that it's said that M2F gender dysphoria and being on the autistic spectrum is said to be highly correlated, in that people on the spectrum are much more likely to be gender dysphoric than the rest of the population and vice versa.  Nonetheless this both puzzles and distresses me.  If being on the autistic spectrum means having an extremely male brain and being M2F gender dysphoric means having a female brain in a body which seems to be male to others, how can the two be reconciled?  Is it that the features of the brain which are particularly testosterony are in one bit and those which are less so are in another?  If not, what exactly is going on?  These claims seem very hard to reconcile with each other.

How do I see what's going on in my head with regard to being on the autistic spectrum?  I suppose I see it like this.  Aspie ways of behaving do seem quite easy to understand and empathise with compared with neurotypicality, but I also feel I have become de-skilled in that area, because it didn't feel like there was any social reward available to me for behaving in a neurotypical manner.  This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because I don't get to practice it.  I find empathising to be a challenge to which I feel the urge to rise rather than avoid, and my work generally attracts people with a high degree of empathy.  I am also, however, conscious of the fact that gender dysphoric M2F people are frequently seen as being on the autistic spectrum, which might explain why I use my knife and fork the opposite way round to the usual manner, tend to clout people by mistake when I do Tai Chi, why I can't learn to knit and why I find communicating in sign language almost impossible.  Everything is mirrored rather than paralleled.  That "everything" may even include gender.

I don't know.  What do you all think?  Remember I'm avoiding Facebook for now and I probably won't read what you've got to say if you post it on there.