Thursday, 30 October 2014

"It's been six days since my last confession"

Two days to NaNoWriMo but I've already gone quiet on here for six days.  Some of this is because I've been planning but I've also been busy.  I suppose the thing to do is to post about my NaNo project, so here we go.

I'm rather too keen on world-building, to the extent that some of my stuff consists entirely of it.  I come up with a setting for a story and elaborate and twiddle endlessly, because to be completely honest I am more interested in the world than the plot or the people living in it.  Some people would say I'm on the autistic spectrum because of that kind of thing, something I find hard to handle.  Even so, I am of course twiddling endlessly.

Roughly, my novel is going to be about a situation in the future where English has died out and the reasons for it are secret, as is the English language itself.  My central character, Su, is trying to find out how it happened and the plot basically follows her adventures as she investigates.  It's set about 2000 years in the future, when there is now a steady level of technology which is mainly similar to how things were technologically in the West in about 1950.  A new ice age is also in progress, which has resulted in the sea level falling due to lots of water being locked up in glaciers, some of which now cover the British Isles down to the Thames.  Su has recently moved to a city called Caer Agnis with a population of around 300 000 people situated between Dover and Calais in the English Channel, which has become dry land.  Clearly I need to fill in some details here so I can write with confidence, but equally clearly I shouldn't go too far.  It is important to know more than the reader about the world but not to the extent that I spend all my time on that rather than writing a worthwhile story.

One of the problems I've encountered with this idea is to work out exactly what this new land would be like in terms of climate and terrain, what language they would use there and what the different parts of the country would be called.  As it happens, I have some help with the last bit in the form of this now outdated but famous map:

This is now rather different as Finisterre is now Fitzroy and the eastern part of Viking has become North and South Utsire.  Also there's a large area called Trafalgar which isn't on here.  Some of this is unimportant because the areas in question would either be under ice or water during an ice age, so I'm going to ignore them.  However, some of them won't be.  The continental shelf is the most important thing here:

Here's a third map showing the approximate maximum extent of the ice sheets during a recent ice age:

This is actually not very accurate.  The crucial bit for me is the Channel/Manche area plus the southern bit of the North Sea/German Ocean, which is divided into Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland and Plymouth.  These names are clearly largely English, and whereas I do plan for some placenames to stay derived from English, for instance there will be a village southwest of Dover called Shyxpiya after Shakespeare Cliff, others will be rejected.  Thames and Dover, oddly enough, are fine because they're Celtic in origin.  My plan is for English to have been replaced by a revived Brythonic language as spoken here before the Roman invasion, and for some of the placenames to have reverted to older ones, so for instance Plymouth is Tamar and Wight is Wecta - not sure about Portland.  I may just cheat and have Wecta and Tamar next to each other.

The area of what's left of England includes the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Sussex, Surrey, part of south London and Kent.  London north of the Thames has been swallowed up by the ice, and there is a large swathe of rubble consisting of bits of buildings, roads, human artifacts and the like, referred to as "The Bin" along the edge of the ice.  The ice itself is called Branna and the area of southern England and the Channel/Manche Brogos.  Brogos is tundra with a few trees and is somewhat moor-like.  The onset of the ice age is referred to at the time as the Fimbulwinter and the sweep of the glaciers through the British Isles as the Balai.

So, having covered all that, this is the kind of setting I envisage at the moment.  The story mainly takes place in southern England and the former English Channel.  Although two thousand years have passed since the present day, technology is in most ways less advanced than it is today even though the knowledge exists to make it more advanced, giving things a kind of mid-twentieth century feel to them.  The world is mainly vegan and there is no official government.  Money and countries have ceased to exist.  There has been an ice age for over 1000 years.  Customs such as manners and taboos have replaced laws and most people in the area speak a revived Celtic language resembling Ancient British.  Su, a marine exobiologist born in the Tau Ceti system, has just arrived on the planet and has smuggled Cetian sea horses onto Earth, which she plans to keep secretly as pets.  This would be frowned upon by most people, so she has to be surreptitious.  She has moved into a city called Cair Agnis in the Straits of Dover.  She visits her great-grandfather who lives in Cair Kent, formerly known as Canterbury, now in an area called Hedonia, next to Thanatos.  He reveals something about her ancestry and gives her a sculpture of a pregnant sea horse with an inscription on it in English, which piques her curiosity.  She then tries to find out what it says and realises that for some reason all knowledge of English has been hushed up.  Since she is naturally iconoclastic and breaks taboos, and also very curious, she is driven to find out what the inscription says and the more she is told not to, the more she tries to find out what happened.

I'm not saying any more.  Hope you find it interesting.  I'm raring to go in fact.  Two days until I start and I can't wait.

Friday, 24 October 2014

"Nice Skirt"

This is really hard to write about, and in fact this is my second attempt because I went off on a wild journey last time I tried.  That post is unlikely to see the light of day.

A couple of weeks ago, I went round a friend's house and took a seat in her kitchen among some of her own friends.  One of the first things that happened was that someone said "nice skirt", to which of course I made some kind of self-deprecating comment, as one generally does.  One intention behind that comment is to put me at my ease, which I appreciated because the situation was potentially quite socially uncomfortable for reasons I don't want to go into.  It was a positive stroke, as the jargon has it.  Incidentally, it was this one:

Most people would probably not have just bunged it on the bathroom floor and taken a photo of it with a carrier bag in the corner, but clearly I did.  It is a nice skirt of course, in my opinion.  The days of deliberately wearing clothes I disliked all the time are gone.

When that happens, of course I appreciate the niceness and positive intentions involved, but it always presents me with a quandary because I don't know whether to return the compliment.  Particularly when I first meet someone, I am like everyone else unclear about how I'm perceived.  It varies from person to person in a way it previously didn't, although it did surely vary at least as much in different ways previously.  To some people I am undoubtedly a bloke in a dress and they are unclear as to my motives for presenting myself in that way, or possibly suspicious of them.  To others, I'm a transwoman.

To go off on a tangent for a moment, I used to feel I needed a practical excuse to visit people.  We might both be in a pressure group and there could be a need to arrange something like a stall or a leaflet drop, so in spite of the fact that I just wanted to see them because I liked their company, I would only actually go to see them if I had that kind of excuse for doing so.  Someone pointed out that this probably distorted my relationships with them.  Similarly, I might leave a social event or not talk to people because I felt they wouldn't want to talk to me or have anything to do with me.  I'm sure this is not unusual.  Probably everyone goes through this at least occasionally.  It's not good in itself and it can have the side-effect of making someone come across as stand-offish.

Yesterday I had a long conversation with someone I've previously only known vaguely but known for getting on for two decades.  It surprised me when they said at one point that they were pleased how friendly I was because I'd always seemed quite aloof to them.  This may be something fairly crucial but I'm going to miss it again if it is.

Back to the "nice skirt" compliment.  I have in fact sometimes returned such compliments.  Someone said she liked my dress a while back and I told her how much I also liked hers, and it was fine.  Breezy is probably the word.  Nonetheless there is some discomfort in my mind when I do this sort of thing which I feel the need to explain.

Say I meet someone for the first time and she tells me she likes my dress.  At that point I may have no idea how she sees me.  Am I a man in a dress to her?  In that case she is may be trying to put me at my ease because it might be seen as quite nervewracking for me to do this, and it certainly can be sometimes. Or, am I a woman of some kind to her?  In that case she's probably trying to do the same thing, but the situation is slightly different.  The problem stems from the fact that I don't know if she's making any assumptions about my sexual orientation.  I now have to digress again.

There is a tendency for people in some situations to think they are more aware of certain motives someone else has hidden from themselves, and this is doubtless often true, and as true of me as of anyone else, on occasion, and people sometimes correctly call me out on this.  Another, related phenomenon is for people to look for traumatic past experiences to explain current behaviour, feelings and thoughts and of course this sometimes happens to me.  Reading Janice Raymond's book would be a case in point there for me.

The reason I mention this is that I'm about to talk about sex.  More than anything else, stuff around sex is used to attribute motives and it also tends to be connected to trauma by others to explain current feelings and behaviour.  I am on this occasion going to ask you to trust me on this when I describe my sexuality, and I'm going to start with an analogy.

Suppose someone is, let's say, a gay man.  Nowadays it would be considered completely inappropriate to say they were "just waiting for the right girl" or that they were "really" hetero but traumatised by a negative experience of women or something.  That's insulting and fails to respect their sexual identity.  Happily, that kind of thing rarely happens nowadays.  Unfortunately, the same is not true of asexuality, at least yet.  There is obviously something I'm not saying here but even I recognise boundaries occasionally, so the anomaly some of you will be aware of is just going to have to stay unexplained and I'll just say we've been happily married for twenty-one years and leave it at that.  I haven't got the option to explain that, I'm afraid.  Just trust me that there is one.

Therefore, when I announce that I'm asexual, people very often seem to assume it's the result of early trauma of some kind or perhaps a pessimistic or depressive reaction to my perception of life experiences.  It really isn't, and you're just going to have to have faith in what I'm saying here.  It just isn't there for me, seriously, and that's not because I've repressed it or anything similar to that.  I'm treading a very thin line here, trying not to say too much or violate anyone's privacy.  What I want you to finish this paragraph with is the conviction that I really am asexual and that I'm not repressing or sublimating anything relevant to sexual feelings for other people or that I'm wrong about this.  When I look at someone I find attractive, I see them in the same way as I might see a sunset or a flower, and there is no category other than that in my mind which means I can look at someone and find their appearance arousing, which is what I assume being sexually attracted to someone must be like.  Nor is this a lack for me.  I think of sexual attraction and repulsion as like dangerous psychoactive drugs which distort people's judgements and feelings towards each other and I'm very happy I have very little of that.

OK, so are we clear?  We've got that out of the way have we?  Go ahead and believe what you want now, I've tried my best to convince you.

Once again, getting back to the "nice skirt"-type incident.  When I get a compliment like that, I feel the urge to make a similar one back, and that's where I run into problems because of my ignorance of how the other person perceives me.  If she thinks I'm a hetero man or a lesbian, in other words gynephilic, she may think that compliment is motivated by sexual rather than aesthetic attraction, in which case it won't be received well or in the way it was intended.  Therefore I usually remain silent on the matter and don't return the compliment.  I can guarantee, and you are just going to take this on faith, that there is and can be no sexual attraction for me and that there is unlikely ever to be that, and that I prefer it that way.

What I don't know is how this comes across to people - whether they notice that I don't compliment them back or not.  I am of course aware of the whole issue of judging people on their appearance in any case but also that image is to some extent a controlled, deliberate and intentional project which people pursue to create an impression of some kind.  It's very hard to interpret silence, so I'm giving you a helping hand here.  The chances are that I am not just soaking up the compliment and self-centredly failing to return it.  I'm much more likely to be restraining myself from complimenting you.  At least you know what's going on now.  I don't know what you make of it and to be truthful, that sometimes really disturbs me.

Don't even get me started on "nice tracksuit".

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Strangeness Of Birth

Early on in her pregnancy, the first friend of my generation (X) who had a child commented that it was a weird process because it starts from apparently nothing and after nine months there's a person you have to look after.  The fact that this was a wombate and ovariate (made-up words) person suggests to me that the perception that human reproduction is a peculiar process suggests to me that it isn't merely my male socialisation which makes me see it as odd.  It could be said that the oddness is due to patriarchy - parasitic implantation of gametes is constructed as normal but the growth of offspring inside someone isn't because it rarely happens to men.  It may be impossible to step outside one's cultural identity, so maybe that is the only reason it seems strange and we just can't see that it isn't, or it could be that it just doesn't seem so to most people.
Suppose, then, that this is strange:

Something grows inside a person and then comes out (sorry about the casual reference - this is such a huge event that I can't do it justice) and becomes a person.  This seems odd.  People are not Russian dolls but they can be like them sometimes.

Now consider this:

This animal, a hydra, reproduces by budding.  Babies grow out of its sides before dropping off and assuming lives of their own.  I would contend that if humans did this, it would be peculiar.  It reminds me a bit of J J Thompson's thought experiment that you have a screen on the windows of your home which filters out spores, but sometimes there are holes in that screen and the spores get through and grow into babies or something.  That would also be odd but it reflects the way a lot of animals and plants have babies, so it's not that outlandish in biological terms.

Here's another one:

This is a single-celled animal dividing in two, which is how this particular species reproduces along with a lot of other tiny living things.  Again, if a human being did this, it would be considered odd and there would be questions of identity:  suppose a person split in two and became two identical people with identical memories and then one went off to war while the other one became a Tai Chi instructor in a non-military context.  They would have different experiences and become different people even if they weren't in the first place.

Now imagine you're a child at a school next door to an artificial limb factory and you know nothing of the Facts Of Life.  Occasionally you look out of the window and see realistic-looking arms and legs being loaded into the back of a van which then drives off into the distance.  You surmise that there's probably another factory somewhere assembling the limbs with heads and torsos into complete human beings which parents-to-be then buy from a shop.  Your belief that this is so is further reinforced by the fact that some of the shops you see on shopping trips with your parents contain inanimate people standing around in the windows.  Presumably they are activated when the purchasers take them home.  Again, however, you would probably be impressed by the oddness of the process.

There are all sorts of other possible ways in which people might hypothetically reproduce, and all of the ones I've mentioned so far seem quite bizarre.  In fact it seems that almost any imaginable way people might arrive in the world seems weird.  Babies hatching out of eggs is another one.  Pregnancy slash birth is the process whereby we actually come into existence of course, and it does seem peculiar, at least to me and my uterus-owning friend, even though we both now have virtually grown up children and hang out with a load of regularly pregnant people.  That doesn't stop it being bizarre, and the fact that it seems as much so to her as it does to me makes me think it can't all be to do with gender or biological sex, or even patriarchy.  Of course, it is also the most natural thing in the world.  Why does it seem so strange then?

The story of someone dividing into two and becoming a soldier and a Tai Chi instructor is "normal" in the respect that we generally find it in some respect ordinary when someone goes to a battlezone and comes back traumatised or injured, or perhaps neither of those things but definitely changed, but changed in such a way that isn't a startling break with the everyday scheme of things.  A Tai Chi instructor, likewise, trains to carry out their craft and interacts peacefully with their students, and perhaps gains insights or practices which most people wouldn't, but again all of this forms a relatively seamless, smooth process.  It's the thought that these two people were originally a single individual which is striking here.

The question therefore arises of whether there is any way at all in which new people might arrive in the world which wouldn't seem odd.  I think there is, and it can be seen in the works of the philosopher Derek Parfit, but there's no need to look him up.  Suppose people regularly lived thousands of years and stayed healthy.  This is in itself not particularly peculiar, but rather like the assumption many people implicitly make about their lives when they're young and reckless.  They consider themselves immortal and invulnerable.  In this scenario, people's memories are not perfect and various traits about them may change gradually.  They may become more or less aggressive, get better or worse at maths or learn a new language.  As time passes, they may completely forget their early lives, and a monolingual English-speaking aggressive Caucasian maths lecturer called Derek may become a placid monolingual Japanese-speaking East Asian stay-at-home dad still called Derek but with no memory of his past at all.  This person has nothing in his body which used to be there and no recollection whatsoever of the person he used to be.  I would say there are at least two Dereks here.

This to me is not peculiar.  It lacks the shocking oddity of the other examples, but is still in a sense an instance of a person coming into existence in a way which doesn't actually happen although similar things do happen to a lesser degree.  In fact, many people do believe something like this happens in the notion of reincarnation - the identity of the person stays the same even when they haven't even got the same body.  Whether or not reincarnation actually occurs, it is a very common idea which arises in cultures with no apparent connection to each other, so it's clearly something which sits very easily in the mind and is easily accepted by all sorts of people.

This example of humdrum emergence of new people is less startling than pregnancy and birth.  It's rather boring in fact.  This is because we are not equipped to deal with the ideas of people suddenly coming into existence almost from nowhere and suddenly ceasing to exist, even though births and deaths happen all the time.  Most of us constantly strive to survive, so we're focussed on death, but there's an asymmetry because we don't fear our prior non-existence.  Nevertheless we do regard coming to be as deeply hard to accept as a normal part of life, and in fact it isn't a normal part of life because it's its start.  We don't have a problem with the idea of objects being manufactured or, say, a blob of lava cooling into a rock or ice forming in a freezer from the moisture in the air because we're used to the idea of non-living matter doing this.  We do, however, have a problem with new people popping into being.  This is because we cannot easily conceive, in the sense of emotional conviction, that people are just lumps of matter, and in fact if someone did we would find it disturbing.  I would suggest that this is a healthy and straightforward way of seeing the world and the people in it which we may extend to other living things but which we can't healthily reject, and the fact that birth seems odd to me at least is what that's about.

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.