Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Matriarchy Now"

I used to jog along the Yarra, as the path winds between the paddocks of the Collingwood childrens farm (a farm targeted at child visitors, not where children are farmed), on my way under the Studley Park bridge over to Dights Falls. I used to look up at one of these bridges, I'm 80% confident it was the Studley Park bridge, and see a large piece of hastily painted graffiti that read quite legibly 'Matriarchy Now'.

Mentally I react in a way to such a prompt in a manner that is probably described as best as I can assume, as closed minded. But every time I ran under that bridge and saw this bit of graffiti, it prompted within me the question 'I wonder what that looks like?' which is to say, I tried to entertain the idea of living in a matriarchy and create in my imagination how a matriarchy would differ from a patriarchy.

Mostly, this would stir me to ponder on why Absolute Monarchies, were so much more effective at putting Women at the top of the hierarchy, than post suffrage Democracies. Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Victoria, Catherine the Great, Queen Lili'uokalani, does Cleopatra count? Does the dowager Empress count? Nero's mother?

Then I hit that stumbling block, which was eventually answered by an episode of Qi (for scholars of Chinese unfamiliar with BBC programming it's pronounced 'Cue-eye' not 'Chi'), where the question posed was one with no answer: 'name a matriarchal society', for which apparently to the satisfaction of Qi research standards, the consensus is there has never been one in human history. No anthropologist, archaeologist or historian has stumbled across evidence of a matriarchal society, let alone a matriarchal society.

Which is to say, according to Qi, Queen Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen Vic etc. were functionally female patriarchs, or female's presiding over patriarchies.

Of course, part of the problem and why it perhaps took me years to even get my thoughts to the last two paragraphs is because the language is so widely used and so ill defined.

Etymologically, Patriarchy comes from Greek and means something like 'rule of the father'. Historically 'The' Patriarchy was an explicit ruling body of patricians (aristocrats) tempered by the plebians in ongoing disputes between the Roman Monarchy and Roamn Empire where Rome operated an Oligarchic Republic.

But I don't believe that when people refer to 'the patriarchy' or prefix an assertion with 'because the patriarchy' they are believing in a deep state of surviving aristocrat descendants from pre-imperial Rome.

I instigated an argument, or at the very least very fragmented conversation(s) by remarking to a friend 'when people say "because the patriarchy" I don't know what the fuck they are talking about.' That in sober hindsight as an introduction to a topic is quite an emotive way to present my query that lends itself to an interpretation that I might be denying the phenomena of inequality between the sexes. So instead of getting a clarifying definition, I got an assertion about the gender pay-gap.

This caused confusion in me, because the existence of a pay gap is evidence of the existence of a pay gap, it neither defines a patriarchy nor is evidence of the existence of a patriarchy (that at this stage I still didn't know what it was, unless I inferred it is a synonym for pay gap, which it didn't occur to me to infer.)

At any rate, I made an inquiry a few days later with a different friend that defined sympathetic to my ignorance put it thusly:
Patriarchy is shorthand for a social system that preferences men and 'masculinity' over women and 'femininity'. It's also prescriptive in the who and the how of these roles.
At the time, I interpreted that as thus: 'Patriarchy is shorthand for a society in which inequality favors outcomes for men.' which would then make sense of why my admission that I was ignorant of what was being talked about generated a statement about the pay gap. Upon reflection, I actually find the above definition unintelligible, as in I'm still not sure what it is asserting.

When in doubt, Wikipedia:
Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.
That last sentence of which clarified another point of confusion when I watched that fateful episode of Qi, because I was aware that in Western Indonesia, there's a matrilinial culture, where men marry into the women's tribe/family and women inherit property along maternal lines or something. However these societies would still be considered patriarchal because...

Property rights are ultimately enforced by men. In which case, it's probably useful to define what it means to be 'in power'. On an individual basis I am a fan of the definition that power is the ability to act or do. On the basis of governance though power is the ability to enforce rights, especially property rights.

Economist Mark Blyth describes this power as the source of the eternal conflict, for [paraphrasing] whoever has the means to secure your property, also has the means to take it away. Hence you can get the wealthiest elite still having a distaste and distrust of the very body that actually enforces the recognition of their wealth. Think of China's capital flight, with China's wealthiest presumably chief benificiaries of the state sinking their money into property in popular property bubble destinations like Miami, London, Sydney and Melbourne, in order to put their wealth out of the reach of the power system that made them wealthy.

Interestingly, the historic Patriarchy, that is the oligarchical republic of pre-Imperial Rome, had expelled their last king, leaving a two-class struggle between the aristocrats (the patricians) and the small land owners (the plebeians). This is interesting because Machiavelli in his text 'The Prince' tends to divide up society into three entities - the prince, the nobles and the commonfolk.

The prince functions as a kind of 'uber noble' in that the prince is really just the most powerful noble, that would naturally pit the other nobles against the prince because that's who they have to overtake. The prince can pacify the nobles by sharing the wealth and keeping them happy, or neutralize them by being favored by the commonfolk such that an overthrow conspiracy would lead to popular uprising and other complex complicated game theory etc.

However, since I'm reasonably confident that when people refer to 'the patriarchy' they are almost certainly not referring to the time Rome had an oligarchy of landed gentry and no presiding absolute monarch. I won't try to summarize Machiavelli's dynamics here.

The same sparring partner that I set off with my careless 'wtf' much later described 'patriarchy' as a vague and nebulous term (paraphrasing) however I feel it is worse than just vague, it is probably misleading - because it suggests patriarchy is something being ubiquitously actively done.

When Hannah Gadsby in her Emmy winning Sydney Opera House recording of Nanette, makes an emotional appeal to men to 'pull their socks up.' or when Clementine Ford writes in her Op-ed following the rape and murder of another woman on the streets of Melbourne that Australian men (or perhaps Men everywhere) need to 'pick a side' I quite intuitively make an inference, unbidden that I feel confident would solicit a response 'that's not what I meant.'

My unbidden intuitive thought is 'so you're calling for patriarchy?' and allow me to elaborate. An easy way to wash your hands of the depressing statistics of men's violence against women (incidently Spanish has a specific and convenient word for this 'femicide') is to admit that you have little-to-no control over what other men do, largely because we aren't organized into a social system, we are a population that really struggles with quality control. Everyday I walk past dozens, to hundreds of men I have no idea who they are and absolutely no authority over.

The suggestion of patriarchy paints if not an idea an intuition of society wide organization, such that were I to walk into a dive bar at 2am on a wednesday and call out some men for making rape jokes, their retaliation would be tempered by an unconscious understanding that the patriarchal superstructure will produce repercussions.

My lived experience rather suggests, when I stick my nose into other mens business it is generally regarded as an act of hostility to varying degrees (depending on the level of interference and presumptiveness) is actually quite dangerous in a very real physical sense. Just as I would never recommend expressions of road rage, I would never recommend engaging strange men in an argument unless you feel an absolute categorical imperative to do so, and that I feel is very rare - that's man threatening to kill a woman on the street circumstances. And I don't feel in those cases the businessman and Dutch backpacker that lost their lives intervening were part of any patriarchal superstructure along with the perpetrator.

That's all by-the-by, call it a statement of my lived experience as a man. I raise this unbidden thought, because of what it reminds me of, and it reminds me of the mystery of conspiracy theorists.

Sure there's a whole spectrum of conspiracy theorists, but the specific ones that confuse me, are the ones that for example insist with confidence that 9-11 was an inside job, and that JFK was assassinated by some deep state not a lone gunman etc. What's curious is that these conspiracy theorists appear to hate said deep state and wish to expose them to be destroyed or something. They have ostensibly committed time and energy, if not their lives to the mission of destroying the conspirators, based on their profound belief that evidence suggests they exist.

Now if I walked across a person kneeling in prayer kissing a little crucifix they wore around their neck and said 'good news my buddy-pal, there's absolutely no evidence to suggest your God exists, you can stand on up and get on with your day.' I would absolutely understand why they would not be thrilled to have their faith questioned. My impression is they quite like the entity they choose to believe in. On the contrary, Conspiracy-theorists often claim to hate the reptillian lizards, or Jewish communist bankers, or secret government agents they believe exist, so they should be not only reassured by 'good news buddy, there's absolutely no evidence to suggest 9-11 was an inside job!' but motivated to believe that themselves. Or namely seek to disconfirm whatever conspiracy hypothesis.

There is however, a seemingly easy reconciliation between adamant belief in a God you profess to hate. That is, the idea that nobody is actually in charge (chaos) is much more distressing, than the thought that someone bad is in charge and making bad things happen.

It's expressed quite well in this passage from here:
Humanistic psychologists argue that even if a posited cabal behind an alleged conspiracy is almost always perceived as hostile, there often remains an element of reassurance for theorists. This is because it is a consolation to imagine that difficulties in human affairs are created by humans, and remain within human control. If a cabal can be implicated, there may be a hope of breaking its power or of joining it. Belief in the power of a cabal is an implicit assertion of human dignity—an unconscious affirmation that man is responsible for his own destiny.
Mind you, if the definition of Patriarchy is just a shorthand for the fact that outcomes in our societies favor being a man, I am not denying the existence of that Patriarchy, however I do feel there is a connection to conspiritorial thinking, which is that the idea of a patriarchy is somewhat reassuring, and maybe to many of it's critics actually desirable, as it would mean men on some scale or another, can control the behavior and conduct of men.

Thus for me, this was about the time I felt strange desires to actually 'join the conversation' because I would actually be interested in a conversation on this question. However I remain not agnostic, but skeptical that 'join the conversation' is actually an invitation to 'learn the orthodoxy.'

What's 'this' question? It's not the question of whether the Patriarchy exists or not, but the question of 'How efficient is the Patriarchy.' It was inspired by this poem I saw posted by someone on facebook.

It got me thinking about this question of efficiency. Would it be by symmetry, equally valid to say:

I woke up and it was oppression. I looked in the cupboard and it was oppression. I made breakfast and it was oppression. I rode my bike to work and it was oppression. At work I asked a question of my manager and it was oppression. I expressed an opinion on procedure and it was oppression. I ate lunch alone and it was oppression. I handled a customer complaint and it was oppression. etc.

Christopher Hitchens' in his twilight years was fully engaged with attacking the religious crowd as a self-described anti-theist. He kept using this word to describe religious belief as 'solipsistic and I'm reasonably confident he meant it in the 'self-absorbed' sense. An assumption that the creator of the universe is specifically interested in them.

Because the vague and nebulous Patriarchy suggests a social system, it at least by my possibly flawed interpretation suggests or leads one to infer systematic oppression. I get interested in the question of how efficient the patriarchy is, because I do not wake up every day occupied with thoughts on how I can retard women's ability to compete with me for resources and esteem and dignity. It's not quite true that I don't think about oppressing women (I'll come to this later), but I don't think about oppressing women in any capacity where I desire to oppress women.

So it seems to me, that my membership too, and participation in the patriarchy is really efficient, because I can just go about my day introspecting on whatever cooking a meal and doing some drawings, and bingo bango, women are oppressed. It's an effortless regime, a bi-product of me and billions of men like me going about our day without a thought spared to oppressing women.

If you have read thus far, you will be unsurprised I am confident, to learn if you are hearing of it for the first time, that I don't identify as a feminist, and haven't for over a decade. I used to tell people I was a feminist back in the early 2000s, before I realized it costs men quite literally nothing to declare themselves a feminist, and if it costs nothing to say you are, then it costs nothing to say you aren't. I've been testing that hypothesis for over a decade and thus far, it has cost me nothing to not be a feminist. I also feel it is more honest to say I am not, because I feel, if tested I would prove myself unwilling to make any sacrifices for the cause.

Lesser in importance but more relevant though, to the efficiency of the Patriarchy, is that I cannot sign on to feminism as currently manifested or at least represented by my online peer-group, because it is the antithesis of the advice of my historic mentors I admire, here's a sample:
The way for a young man to rise, is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that any body wishes to hinder him. ~ Abraham Lincoln.
 “For nothing outside my reasoned choice can hinder or harm it—My reasoned choice alone can do this to itself. If we would lean this way whenever we fail, and would blame only ourselves and remember that nothing but opinion is the cause of a troubled mind and uneasiness, then by God, I swear we would be making progress.” — Epictetus
 “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!” ~ Rocky Balboa
These appear to be the inner secrets of the Patriarchy, though I would take a moment in my limited ability to Steel-man the contrary opinion which is 'it's easy to talk about resilience and persisting through hardship when your privilege affords you little to none of the hardship other groups do.'

However it really is a recurring theme, going back to Classical times with the Romans and Greeks through to not just fictitious characters like Rocky Balboa (a character created by a man who was sleeping inside the New York Port Authority bus station, and took a role in a porno out of desperation) but is reflected in the autobiography of Joshua Waitzkin, who describes competing in a Tai-Chi tournament where the event was systematically rigged against him as an outsider or out-group member, and his need to simply accept the unfairness and work within it to win the world championship.

I mention all this, because when I do think about oppressing women and entertain the idea of being the patriarch or patrician hell-bent on keeping women down, it is earnestly hard for me to conceive of a better means of oppression than contemporary radical feminism.

Because 'the Patriarchy' is not just vague and nebulous in so far as it doesn't refer to a formal system of sexist oppression. It suggests with some solipsism that there is a conspiracy to oppress women. Which means women are taught, unlike the recipient of Abe's advice to a young man, to suspect constantly that close to half the population are actively trying to hinder them. It encourages blame and excuses (two of the four popular and intuitive means of avoiding responsibility) contrary to stoic philosophy, and this is important - stoic philosophy encourages a practice of dispensing with blame altogether even in situations where there may be someone legitimate to blame, because they still view it as unproductive. And just using the last of my example samples, it encourages a notion that 'the patriarchy' must be 'smashed' to achieve their ends, rather than Rocky's granite jaw advice that it's about getting hit hard and moving forward.

If (without unpacking representation) toxic masculinity is teaching men to be resilient and responsible (whether responses are good or bad) and teaching women non-toxically that they never get a fair shake and to appeal constantly to the responsibility of men. I would bet that outcomes will favor men.

There are other means by which I'd opine that modern radical feminism as functionally oppressive to women, but I lack the energy and inclination to substantiate these opinions, aside from mentioning that through doing courses like Gender Studies, or Womens Studies and whatever other social sciences it may have reached into, it creates another gap whereby bright women have a significant contingent of their population syphoned off into the depressing effort of studying their own oppression, while a much smaller population of straight men will engage in these studies that are less depressing for them, but the greater population of men may pursue courses with higher financial and social standing payoffs. Perhaps a form of being oppressed compounds, because you are intuitively compelled to fixate on your oppression leaving your oppressors free to compound their privilege.

The big risk though, is trying to smash a system that just isn't there. Which isn't to say the disparities don't exist, nor that the sexism doesn't exist, but that it isn't a system that can be dismantled. With or without the masters' tools.

If the patriarchy is generally, as efficient as my experience of it has been, where, to be an efficient oppressor requires less instruction than a drivers learner's permit, almost no quality control or refresher courses, and recruitment and replacement can be done lazily if not negligibly, and smashing it requires reading a whole paragraph of Judith Butler or more. Then smashing the patriarchy would prove a significant exception to the general principle of entropy.

Whilst I do not describe myself as a feminist, I am not anti-the project of feminism. Certainly the media (including social) treatment of former PM Julia Gillard certainly established as fact a latent misogyny out there in the Australian public. I worked in a call center during this time representing a Government department and the Gillard years were particularly illuminating as to how many people actually read and believed what the tabloid news reported.

However, should 'the patriarchy' be a short hand for 'outcomes favor men' then I am not a denier of the existence of the patriarchy. But it seems by the wikipedia page, one of the defining traits of the patriarchy is to explain that disparity as natural, which is my question on the efficiency by another name.

I just, when I think on it, and reconcile it with my lived experience. Here's what I'd expect should the Patriarchy be inefficient, which is to say, it required concerted effort and energy to sustain, men had to be systemically taught toxic masculinity etc. I would have expected that history would substantiate from the many isolated communities, a society that was actually matriarchal - in at least something approaching 50 per cent of isolated communities. Instead it's zero, zero cases in history. That's in West Papua, on Easter Island, throughout the Amazons, in hunter gatherer societies, the arctic circle, and the mysterious north sentinal islanders.

So efficient, that British and French Colonizers, and Spanish Conquistadors never came across a society where they had to impart and impose patriarchy. A fair coin was flipped and came up dicks every time, ever.

And I in no way, insist that that means there's a natural order that must be maintained forever more. Rather the means of transgressing what appears to largely be a spontaneous system of oppression are just now arriving at our disposal. Namely that technology renders masculinity readily redundant.

And so, perhaps wearily we return to the prospect of 'matriarchy now' there is a context in which I believe matriarchies do exist, namely in terms of female social hierarchies. Of which I know very little on the near side of nothing, and understand even less.

It would seem that the main thing that sustains the patriarchy is recourse to violence, and that in turn appears to render, for men, a thorough understanding of female social hierarchies somewhat redundant to the goals of climbing the male hierarchy.

But I suspect many a sensitive and reflective man, whom has been given the opportunity to live alongside women's social systems has at some point reflected on how women treat each other, and expressed to the heavens 'thank god we fight... because the shit women do to women...'

If women's homosocial behavior (that is, socializing with the same sex) is indicative of what life would be like under the matriarchy, it casts doubt for me at least, as to whether it would be better. I am very biased I should disclose, to mental health outcomes because I believe fundamentally that our mental health is the prism through which we perceive everything else.

There's also a degree to which I suspect we may have in some social bubbles achieved 'matriarchy now' and this of all things was inspired by watching Ol' Dirty Bastard's film clip for 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya' it was quite random but there's a refrain within it where ODB is saying 'would the n*s that know me tell them who the fuck I be.' and 'would the women that know me tell them who the fuck I be.'

The thought that arrived was 'this is a good example of masculine aggression' which largely manifests as the assertion that you can do what you like and others are dared to stop you. In short 'get the fuck out of my way!' is masculine aggression.

By contrast I would describe feminine aggression as 'get the fuck back in line.' which is to say, it's about preventing deviation from the party line and promoting conformity.

By the way, I just use my own working definition of masculine and feminine as such - masculine consists of behaviors that reward in game theoretic ways the production of small sex cells. feminine describes behaviors that pay off in game theoretic ways the production of large sex cells.

I don't think these behaviors are mutually exclusive, I just feel the descriptors as useful to talk about tendencies. And certainly 'should' doesn't come into the equation.

I suspect we may have started living in a matriarchal society, because we've become less social. Social media as a mediator of social standing, leaves no recourse to physical violence, so it is defacto feminine aggression, a matriarchy, social media behavior is about behaving so as not to deviate and get ostracized, and people while addicted, don't appear to be big fans of social media, particularly platforms like facebook. Cyber-bullying appears also to be somewhat of an issue.

Again to testify to my lived experience, my intuitions of male homo-social hierarchies are somewhat of a bell-curve. The men at the bottom are very isolated. In the meaty part of the curve the middle, the men are quite sociable and then at the top of the hierarchy those men are also quite isolated. Such that what I call feminine aggression - get the fuck in line is not something particularly foreign to men, because in the middle of the hierarchy you don't have much recourse to 'get the fuck out of my way' but 'get the fuck back in line' is something you can only say down the hierarchy, not up the hierarchy. It doesn't work on the top tier males.

I suspect and this is moving into speculations, women only get to operate in male hierarchies at a remove from intervention by males, eg. say in a women's prison, women emerge that don't care about ostracism because they can shank anyone who talks shit about them. (Aisha Robinson's story arc in Cobra Kai is perhaps a good if fictitious example of a woman moving from being subject to feminine aggression to employing masculine aggression and transforming the female high school hierarchy she lived within via a front wedgie.)

In the natural world, where sexual dimorphism favors women (large sex cell producers) such as in Spiders and Angler fish and what not, maybe these indicate life under a matriarchy, in which case by a veil of ignorance test would result in a net loss for our offspring should men be relegated to nothing more than sperm delivery systems and no other specialized roles to play in civilization.

One of the most problematic parts of the Patriarchy as conspiracy theory, is that it presumes I am invested in oppressing any of my female offspring, given that when I reproduce I have a fairly even chance of producing female heirs of my genes. Now without getting bogged down in why patrilinial inheritence is much more popular historically than matrilinial ones, because we now live in modernity. Where there is a declining birthrate there logically is less incentive to create and sustain a system that oppresses women, from any analytical perspective.

It also I suspect helps explain why absolute monarchies were better at putting women in the top job than democratic societies.

I'm actually not sure a matriarchy can exist, now or until such a time as sexual dimorphism has been neutralized. Because until such a time, it requires basically a universal and voluntary participation by men, and even strictly speaking if it requires voluntary participation, that might still technically be a patriarchy since in-group rights are ultimately enforced by the choices of men.

By contrast, it seems fundamental to any definition of the Patriarchy, that permits it to exist, there is no stipulation women voluntarily participate (though I'm sure whatever and however their patriarchy works, there are female participants/in oppressing women, for example the women who make a career of make-up tutorials online doing the work of reinforcing expensive beauty standards, or as alluded to early radical feminists may be significant enforcers of patriarchy).

There's just a couple of basic asymmetries that draw me back though, to the null hypothesis that the inequity of our society is socially constructed.

The first assymetry regards post-modernism/post-structuralism etc. revealed by the Sokal affair and Sokal squared, and to a lesser extent, reverse-turing machines that can procedurally generate post modernist writing (therefore proving it unintelligent). If you are unfamiliar it's basically just that various academics have made up bullshit papers and submitted them to social science journals and had them published. Including one with excerpts from Mein Kampf with word replacements.

These mean-spirited hoaxes were undertaken with the intent to expose the epistemic problems with what the instigators regard as fake academia, or in plainer language plain bullshit. These efforts were criticized however, by the social sciences as revealing nothing as you could do it with any field of inquiry.

Alas, to my knowledge it remains to be seen whether someone with no formal training in physics or one of the other hard sciences could make up bullshit research and write a bullshit paper and get it published. The counter hoax may be underway as I write this, but as of this writing a successful ridiculing of physics is yet to be revealed.

It appears, that you can't just make up a physics or engineering paper and get it published, in a reputable journal or otherwise. This has been demonstrated to not be the case with much of the critical theories.

That asymmetry makes me question the notion of a matriarchy, and whether radical feminism is in fact an unwitting reinforcer of the patriarchy because you have the patriarchy falling back on quite robust epistemology in a few domains (economics is populated with a lot of political economy bullshit and quite corrupt, psychology has it's own extensive replication crisis etc.) whereas the other is a field defined by a quite porous epistemology, a set of assertions that near as my explorations and engagement can discern are an elaborate and energy intensive way to permit oneself to believe whatever one wants, with perhaps at it's foundation an assertion that there is no public domain and no objective facts.

Objective facts bring me to the second asymmetry inspired by the phenomena of women's only subway carriages. Shelving for the purpose of brevity all issues of trans-rights and gender fluidity and gender identity, the Tokyo Subway system to combat sexual harassment and assault incidents happening on rush hour trains, began to designate women only carriages. Mexico city also has sections of train platforms dedicated to Women and children only (Mujeres y Ninos).

Now imagine if you are a woman, or being a woman sitting on one of these carriages and a shady man steps on (again just shelving all of the TIQ questions of how one can discern another person's gender) by what degree do you have to outnumber one creepy man in order to feel safe? 10-1? 30-1? 100-1? I imagine but can't know that it probably isn't a matter of sheer numbers but something more akin to how many women do you have to have between you and the shady man to feel safe? That the woman standing next to him is not necessarily reassured that there are a hundred other women behind her.

On the flipside, were I to find myself suddenly stepping onto a carriage populated only by women, I might feel embarassed, confused and wondering whether I was in the wrong place, perhaps even a bit worried that I might have to explain my error to the cops, but not fundamentally unsafe. Were I sitting on a carriage and a predatory woman boarded it, the numerical advantage question would probably be answered somewhere between one on one to 3-1 odds, depending on the build and psychological stability of the woman. And yes, predatory women do exist, I have had the displeasure and misfortune to have been thrown in working situations with such in the course of my life, and they make me nervous and guarded but rarely do they make me feel physically unsafe. They engage my reputation management instincts.

So that asymmetry is the fox in the henhouse vs hen in the foxhouse aspect of sexual dimorphism. Yeah Ronda Rhosey could kick my arse, there's plenty of taller women than me and some ethnic populations produce women that on statistical average can kick my arse. But in terms of smashing the patriarchy and implementing a matriarchy, it would appear that to do so would require the permission of the patriarchy.

And if the patriarchy isn't just self-governing, but actually self-perpetuating and self-sustaining because it lacks a head one can cut off so the body dies. Hmmm...

Consider the Monty Hall Problem, my go to example for where people's intuitions reliably fail them. It is a counter intuitive problem that is the basis I am fairly confident for Deal or No Deal to be financially viable. (and possibly a class action suit against Andrew O'Keefe for making false and misleading statements.) The point of which is people en masse can reliably be exploited by the Monty Hall problem by reliably miscalculating the probabilities. In the case of Deal or No Deal, getting down to 2 cases and thinking they have a 50/50 chance of winning the major cash prize, when in truth it's actually a 1/28 chance of winning the major cash prize.

I couldn't guess what proportion of the population actually understands the Monty Hall problem, but I suspect it may be less than 1%. The relevance is that nobody has to be taught 'toxic probability' to get the Monty Hall Problem wrong, we generally have to be taught to get it right, and I personally fought the conclusion with my intuitions all the way.

What I find interesting is the motivated use of language, for one example why use the term 'privilege' rather than 'advantage' even though they are somewhat synonyms? I suspect by my own intuitions that privilege conveys a sense of being gifted an advantage, that it isn't intrinsic or otherwise earned. Whereas advantage carries with it some baggage of superiority. Eg. moving from 'Love' to 'Advantage' in Tennis. Similarly why is their almost no discussion of 'disadvantage' in much of my social bubbles discourse?

I am left with an impression that there is no disadvantage, just oppression. There's a necessity for some reason to believe that the way the world is is arbitrary, and therefore subject to rearbitration. Curiously, Labor studies have long produced regression analysis that the best predictor of corporate success is height (contrary to whatever Jordan Peterson says). I am completely bang on average in height for men, and thus at a disadvantage in the corporate world for ever making it to CEO. Though little discussed, should I become a CEO I would have beaten the odds, considerably.

However, it would only be oppression in my opinion if the talligarchy made promotion consideration dependant on 'who can get the can from the top shelf fastest' and performance evaluations consisted of 'describe the top of the fridge in as much detail and as accurately as possible.'

I don't believe we are taught to revere, trust and follow tall people. It appears to be a more innate quirk of human psychology, perhaps instinctive heuristics, perhaps failings like embodied cognition - our penchant for thinking in metaphors we aren't aware of... but did the expression 'to look up to' drive our error in revering someone for being tall, or did a long history of following taller people generate the expression?

At 5'9" I am taller than roughly 50% of the male US population, but taller than probably some 60% of the female population of the US (with average height of 5'4") I don't know what the standard deviation is, but if height truly is a robust predictor of corporate success, to the point that it renders factors like education, qualification and experience either nuetral or obsolete then women are simply at a clear disadvantage, and at no point in my life was I taught to revere tall people, regardless of how dumb their ideas are.

It would appear that the talligarchy is just something that gets spontaneously reinforced again and again in a reliable repetition of isolated impressions.

I don't know in a lot of cases the specific mechanics that might put women at disadvantages. However, I do know that the effects of even seemingly negligible differences and inequalities, can over repetition produce huge inequalities.

Nor do I, or would I ever deny that institutional sexism doesn't exist. My suspicion though is that this sexism is often post hoc rationalized rather than pre-meditated. Eg. you have some legacy where only men are doctors, a hangover from a time when there was no reliable birth control, and birth rates were much higher and pre-marital sex much lower in the stratas of society that could afford tertiary tuition, so the technological environment just meant that doctors were all men bar a few notable cross dressers and frontier medicine women.

Then as the environment changed and women went to school, the hangover of all male doctors started rationalizing reasons women couldn't be doctors, incentivized by a desire to not increase the level of competition between practicing doctors, and you have institutional sexism. But it doesn't require a grand conspiracy of masonic lodge masters coordinating to produce these institutions. these obscene errors are made all the time through the faulty wetware between all human ears.

I actually don't have a conclusion to go to, because even considering all these likelihoods, I can't conceive of a matriarchy, nor a credible threat to patriarchy. But to end on an optimistic note, I do know many women that someway somehow are perfectly equipped to navigate the patriarchy, whatever it is. The disadvantages are neutralized, and they are far more likely to be put in a position to oppress than to be oppressed. I love these women, they are some of my favorite people but seem to be largely ignored and invisible if privately admired by their peers. They seem to be quite quiet themselves suggesting that they are somewhat 'naturals' at life, having never occurred to them to navigate the world in any other way.

I try to do my part by occupying one of the lowest socio-economic tiers I can achieve. I would be bummed to discover I have simply been left out of all the patrician get togethers all my life because they don't like my nose.

Monday, October 07, 2019

On Greta

What is your position on Universal Basic Income? If in favor why would you prefer Universal Basic Income over Universal Basic Assets? How about negative taxation? If you oppose UBI on what basis do you object, and what are you concerned about and for whom?

Is the world in the state it is because of unbridled capitalism or because capitalism is bridled? How much of the progressive movements and platforms are funded or subsidized by conservative hegemony? Where are your superannuation funds invested? Are they in an ethical fund? Does that fund use positive or negative screening processes? What is ethical? How is consumer activism effected by transfer frontiers? What is capitals obligation under the corporations act and which branch of government is responsible for reform?

Yesterday while washing dishes, I put on commercial free to air television (a highly recommend this, better than Netflix, but that's another post). At 2pm on channel 7 afternoon news program, they played a video recorded by Bjorn of Abba fame opining on Greta Thunberg.

It strikes me as fascinatingly insane. For the record I still haven't watched Greta's UN address. I've just been watching the coverage. Which is bad because my understanding of Greta's central complaint is that she isn't being listened to.

Just upfront, a lot of the facebook coverage on my feed, was at the positive end of the spectrum 'woohoo go Greta!' cheer-squad, and at the negative end of the spectrum was sharing the mansplainy articles 'why some angry men are triggered by Greta...' from the boo-squad.

'Triggered' is probably a good diagnosis of the people being criticized by these articles and by Bjorn Ulvaeus. Though I am not holding my breath that the boo-squad will come out in defense of Donald Trump when his appearance and penis size and body shape are constantly ridiculed by angry men on the internet like Seth Myers and Stephen Colbert, or telling lay people to knock off trying to diagnose Trump as pathological or having a narcissistic personality disorder. Nor do I hold my breath that it will now be regarded as fair game to dismiss someone posting online about their diagnosis of PTSD, and how difficult some daily activity is because of its triggering nature.

I'm sure the boo-squad doesn't believe it has a partisan double standard, but there's a clear rationale where Donald Trump is fair game because of his power and that he is a public figure, whereas a 16 year old girl with no particular qualifications has a TEDx talk with 2m views, and gets to address the UN delegates has no power and is just a schoolgirl with no agency, and thus not a public figure.

Even so, I agree, there's a bunch of perhaps mostly men, or views mostly vocalized by men, that are 'triggered' and committing mean spirited fallacies or crying cynical crocodile tears for her mental welfare. I don't particularly care about Greta's mental health, I'd be willing to bet, almost nobody sincerely does.

I can't tell if I'm empathizing or projecting my own adolescent experience onto Greta, but just because I and others are not truly sympathetic to the mental health risk posed to Greta by being the face of a global movement, doesn't mean those mental health risks don't exist.

For one thing, I see a lot of adults lauding Greta as their champion, their hero, where unless I'm grossly misinterpreting (or have to reserve the right to plead ignorance); Greta's core complaint is that she isn't able to be a child because the adults aren't taking care of the planet. That there's a lucid interpretation that Greta's story should have stopped in the class where she was taught about climate change because the teacher finished the lesson with 'But you can relax kids because we're handling it.'

So to me, there's probably an obvious risk of 'Covert Incest' but at some societal level, where it is Greta's cheer-squad and the angry-internet-males boo-squad are the primary potential contributors because they are the adults leaning collectively on a child to comfort and reassure them.

Now onto the meat of this post, I feel but have no proof that we live in an era where 'listening' has a very narrow definition. Which is to say, there is no independence between legitimate problems/concerns and legitimate solutions. By which I mean, for people to feel a complaint (specifically theirs) has been heard, it means the solution they proffer must be enacted. Eg. a waiter doesn't write down a customers order, and they forget they said no cheese on their enchiladas, and the customer complains and demands free meals for life from the restaurant. The customer has a legitimate complaint and an illegitimate remedy.

A tool I find useful, is to imagine a trial. The desired outcome of this trial is that justice is served. Now in life, sometimes you might be a defense attorney, trying to ensure your innocent client is not convicted of a crime they didn't commit. In other circumstances you may be the prosecuting attorney, where justice is served by ensuring the guilty defendant pays for his crimes.

In every case though, there are two paths to injustice, and this point I observe seems to not occur to most people. The first is that the other attorney is unscrupulous and cunning and through their extreme competence will successfully prosecute the innocent and defend the guilty. The other path to injustice is through your incompetent bumbling your innocent client gets convicted, or through your incompetent blundering a guilty party walks free. And without digging too deep into the analogy, there's all sorts of shit a lay person could do to fuck up a trial, like introducing evidence without discovery, unduly influencing a juror, or say asking the defendant to try on a pair of gloves found at the murder scene.

So there's a future, where 35 year old Greta is sitting in her living room, reading an article about how civilization was almost lost, because the Extinction movement sucked up all the oxygen around addressing climate change. A problem that was solved through investment and innovation in technology including nuclear reactors, where several countries tried to move towards centrally planned economies and disastrously increased their carbon footprints, inspired by Greta. A thorough and sober and lucid postmortem of that time that people rallied around a teenager's diagnosis of the problem and the solution that grew up around her.

Sure there's also a potential future where Greta is leader of the free world largely credited with inspiring and motivating the mass mobilization of the world's population to face down the existential threat of climate change.

But risk is calculated by the variance of outcomes, and much as today not too many people make noise about how great Justin Trudeau is given the black-face, brown-face and banking corruption stuff. Greta is unlikely to prove as hypocritical and shallow as Justin, but I put good money on Greta knowing about as much as I would expect a 16 year old who has missed a bunch of school to know about addressing climate change.

When I was younger, not Greta young, but mid-twenties, I was studying with the intention to become a financial adviser, on route to being my own ethical index fund manager. It got derailed as a plan for various reasons, but I remember stumbling across this particular conundrum...

Most people are financially illiterate. That's the basis of a financial planner, or financial adviser contributing value. However it dawned on me, that to really get value out of a financial planner, you need to be financially literate yourself, or your financial planner/advisor/accountant needs to be an excellent teacher to get you financially literate as a client (but then how do you know what you are being taught is real or part of a con). Perhaps my own earliest conception of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Just yesterday I was reading this article about the post GFC american housing situation and it had a chart at the bottom demonstrating an inverse relationship between rental yields and housing prices and thinking 'how many people do I know that can interpret this information?' and that's with the caveats of, I haven't fact checked the sources and studies, read the methodology, I'd never heard of this publication before, and basically that there's never been a harder time to make sense of the world than in the post internet era.

My feeling is, we have this 'customer is always right' paradigm that has invaded society, this I find interesting. Because many of the people railing against capitalism's psyche is a direct product of this very very capitalistic idea. We have been trained in most cases from birth, to not conceive of our own solutions but to accept the solutions marketed to us, and we do this with brands like Greta or Universal Basic Income. Capitalism is full of the 'fait accompli'

Again, keeping in mind I haven't watched Greta's UN address, because I'm not interested in the content remotely. But one of my friends linked to some coverage of it with the excerpt 'How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.' So I don't know if that's a verbatim quote or not.

But assuming it is, then this is bad journalism to focus in on that quote... Fuck it, I'm going to watch her address now... okay, I think Greta and I agree that she shouldn't be there. I was surprised that it's only a few minutes long, and not in the good way like the Gettysburg address, but in a way that makes me perplexed at how a speech with so little content could generate so much press and praise and criticism.

It's a pretty terrible speech, however given the polarization of society and the abandonment of community, half of the partisan population will immediately recognize how terrible the speech is, and the other half is incapable of recognizing that the speech is terrible, because it contains their thoughts spoken aloud.

Again I don't know if I can empathize with Greta or am merely just projecting, but the general impression I get is that the rule is 'if you've listened to Greta then you must agree with her, wholesale.' otherwise you aren't listening.

And that comes from I suspect, growing up being bombarded with this capitalist materialist message that all our problems can be solved, and that we don't have to solve them ourselves, we just have to consume. Otherwise known as advertising. This is my suspicion, and we aren't, as lay people, particularly well equipped for this mindset of: working in order to consume easy fixes because everything is dedicated to our satisfaction, might create it's own problems, such as climate change.

So who stole Greta's childhood? Was it the current incumbent politicians? Some vast conspiracy of politicians over the last 30 years? Was it the neo-cons? (Reagan through Bush) or the neo-liberals?(Clinton-Blaire-Obama). Was it FDR speaking of the four freedoms, including the freedom from want? Or was it pig iron Bob Menzies, thinking the way to fight communism was to encourage home ownership in Australia? If we plugged Greta into a global political leadership role, would her integrity shine through or would she find herself bound by obligations and quid pro quos and trade deals and treaties and demands from her constituents to pack all their groceries into one bag and for that bag not to be heavy? Do we need reform to unshackle our politicians so they can do what in their heart they feel is right? What if that unshackled politician is Donald Trump?

And what actually needs remedying? Is it bridled or unbridled capitalism? Do free markets need to be reigned in, or do markets need to be set free? Or do we need to declare capitalism dead and implement a working socialism? Have we become unstuck because the experts and elites have been lying to the general public that has lain dormant? Or have we become unstuck because the non-expert public is too involved in public life and experts can't implement top-down solutions?

The one thing I'm confident of, is that were I to interview Greta or any other 16 year old, the odds that they would be able to answer any of these questions is practically 0, or it would quickly be revealed that they are a 16 year old child that has little practice at second or third or fourth order thinking. Even given a child prodigy, I'd still rather talk to the expert that is a child prodigy 40 years later, with emotional maturity and life experience.

Alain De Botton offers alternative poles of analysis than just the left-right, which is almost meaningless these days to me. I like his breakdown of Romantic-Classical poles, where the vast majority of people are Romantic-thinkers, and a tiny minority Classical.

One characteristic particularly relevant to the coverage of Greta, is that Romantic thinkers tend to believe there is somebody specific to blame. Bad people that we could remove and fix everything. (and particularly prone to having no interest in the abysmal history of revolutions).

So I ask myself, what would all these people do cheering on Greta or booing the angry white men, if we just removed the white men to blame from the equation? Presume that bulwark or obstacle to mobilization is out of the way. What's the next step?

Do these people confront the massive restructuring of their daily lives? And it isn't the stuff people have embraced: reusing their grey water to maintain the garden, eating a plant based diet, installing solar panels on their roof, and riding a bike to work. All good things.

I mean, losing your job and defaulting on your mortgage, your house plunging into negative equity, declaring bankruptcy and having no credit. Dealing with Austerity budgets and the collapse of funding for the arts and community services, food shortages, and worse, popular uprisings.

I wonder these things, because I see. I see people post shit booing our politicians for their inaction on climate change, and then those self same people posting about their upcoming international holidays, short term, and completely discretionary. (I noticed these things because I felt terrible flying a return trip to Australia from Mexico to attend a friends' wedding last year, one of the things that made me feel better was judgmental comparison to how many and how frequently my friends take international holidays. Some take 4 separate holidays a year.)

Greta urges the people who stole her dreams and childhood to confront uncomfortable facts, one thing I would urge my people to confront is that less people are 'on-board' climate action than claim.

I suspect most people are actually just self interested, they want to go about with their daily lives, their dreams and prolonged childhoods and not have the mob descend on them. They will embrace solutions so long as they are low-cost and high benefit, namely confer social status, by being vegan or some other form of conspicuous consumption like keep-cups or a tote bag for a local food co-op. They will pay $1 but not $10. In which case the environment is an incidental beneficiary. All the while assuming that somewhere out there, there are fat disgusting old white men chewing on cigars that will have to make all the actual sacrifices, and get lynched justly for fucking up the planet, with little consideration that they distribute their wealth out to us via investment to become their income via our custom and borrowing from our future selves.

We live in a world where we will give not a few minutes, but hours upon hours of coverage to a divisive figure like Greta, who has an opinion but no real content, because I suspect she is a 16 year old girl, and a large contingent of people want her to succeed with the same degree of non-expertise as the large contingent of people who are "triggered" by her because of who she is, not the content of her character (or largely content-less speeches) but it's extremely hard to get anyone listening to a middle aged white man that has really looked hard and deeply at the problems and solutions:



It's possible because we can't very well blame privileged white men for the state of the world and look to privileged white men for the solutions. It could also be because of who the speakers hold responsible. Greta and the Extinction movement has the benefit of the hand washing exercise of Romantic blaming. Someone else did it to us, let's muster a posse to round em up n lynch them. Problem solved. The other says YOU, YOU are dragging your feet and your behavior betrays your professed public sentiments.

I'm optimistic about the climate, and I hope Greta can gracefully transition back to a private citizen with minimal damage, free to pursue her personal happiness. Which is to say, I hope her central complaint is addressed. But having now actually watched her mercifully short address at the UN, I totally understand why a lot of people dislike her and why a lot of people don't understand why those people dislike her. Alas my strongest and most negative reaction was to the people who cheered her, and the two people sitting to her right that are nodding approvingly, because they seem to not realize that Greta is talking about them, about you, about all the adults. ALL the adults.

I confess, I no longer know what an adult is. I haven't done my research and that's a discussion for another day.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

We Need To Talk About Travel

I'd like to challenge this common intuition that 'travel broadens the mind' and the almost religious regard we hold for travelling as an intrinsically virtuous undertaking. 

 These decorated my hostel wall, last time I was away travelling:



And for some reason, my brain spewed out the question 'why?' and followed it promptly with 'and why not?' by which I mean specifically why are these the kinds of quotes and messages one sees in a backpacker hostel, and never in accommodation targeted at say, business travelers. By the time you are in a hostel in Guatemala city, at least circa 2019 and the issues the country currently faces, do you really need inspiration to pack your bags and go off on an adventure? Versus someone sent to Budapest on business to inspect a factory holding, one of 19 trips might need a reminder to seize the opportunity to get to know the world, to explore, to discover oneself.

It struck me as propaganda, a rationalization there to reinforce the beliefs of people that have already bought in. A 4 star business hotel, I guess, wants it's occupants to stay in, raid the minibar, call room service etc. not go out looking for dumplings from a street vendor. Curious to me, is this message is targeted at the young, almost as if it is spruiking an education, a degree, an expensive one, which makes me suspect what is actually being sold is the debt in exchange for a dubious degree. 

That travel is regarded as somehow universally and somewhat holistically educational seems curiously unchallenged to me. It's one of those quite ubiquitous cases that presents me with a lot of data with which to test the claim, and yet it just about goes unchallenged, perhaps because, as I suspect will prove the case with me, to question it is to tread on a taboo and reveal myself to be quite a horrible person.

I believe of all places, I was inspired to the following thought experiment by crappy BBC show 'Art Attack' though I'm never going to find the episode. But it was to think of your life from a bird's eye view perspective and sort of heat map your movements:

This is a not-to-scale approximation of my life between 1998-2001. Where day in day out, I either stayed at home in my room. Ran around the lake, walked to school, where I would walk around the campus in a fairly routine way, even at recess. I would spend a lot of my leisure time going up and down the street, and I would have other running paths and tracks.

I don't know why Art Attack recommended this exercise to children, if indeed it did, (I could have gotten it from some other program) because it made me realize how small my life was. I run around some circuits, go up and down a shopping/residential strip and wander around a school campus. Day in day out, for years. I could draw heat maps of other routines I've fallen into at other stages of life, but I tend to fall into the same patterns everywhere. Most of my movement is a commute, running trails, and eating establishments in my local hoods.

By contrast consider this that I just grabbed from a google image search of 'travel map where I've been':

This person compared to my high-schooler self, seems to have lived a much larger life, seen a lot more, done a lot more. And if you think the twist is 'this person is one and the same' it isn't.

I suspect it's something like this comparison though, that we all understand. Most of our lives seem too small to be of any interest to anyone, we work for employers whose names are only known really within the industry, or we are a very small cog in the great machine of a globally recognized brand. The globe-trotter, the global citizen though, their life is defined by global brands - Paris, London, Tokyo, New York. They've gone to places everyone knows, eaten at restaurants you've heard of, and come back with stories of... eating things that are 'so good' and catching various forms of transport, and if you're lucky, some kind of scam, crime or illness that evidently was not too serious.

And history has produced some great globe-trotters. Ghenghis Kahn, and in the other direction, Marco Pollo. Mark Twain made his name with 'Innocents Abroad' about Americans on the Grand Tour, and paid off his debts by travelling the world on an onerous speaking tour. The Beatles... ah... of course, the explorers, Magellan, Columbus, Cook. The speculatively richest person to have ever lived was Mansa Musa I of the Mali Empire and he was famous for bringing so much gold on his pilgrimage to Mecca that he inadvertently ruined the economies of nations he was trying to be generous to.

A bunch of the broadest people, in terms of wisdom and contribution to culture, historically, did not travel much at all, or did so under duress, or in military service. Buddha, Jesus, Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Einstein, Freud, Marx, Spinoza, Shakespeare. Historical figures like Des Cartes or Da Vinci might wind up travelling and dying far from home, but they tended to be wise before they departed.

What tends to make people wise, as near as I can observe is a combination of a) aging, and b) introspection. With some of the most profound commentators on the human condition basically being shut-ins and homebodies. And what do the wise say about Travel?

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is. ~ Marcel Proust
Who I suspect was the first exposure to this idea, that there is plenty to learn from at home.
You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.
You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.
The mind cannot find strength in its leisure unless it stops looking around and wandering around.  To keep your mind within bounds, you must first stop your body from running away.
Your rushing around will bring you no benefit, since you are traveling in company with your emotions, and your troubles follow along.  . . .  A sick person does not need a place; he needs medical treatment. If someone has a broken leg or dislocated a joint, he doesn’t get on a carriage or a ship; he calls a doctor to set the fracture or relocate the limb.~ Seneca the Younger.
Seneca admonishes against what I feel is my own conclusion - travel employed as a non-solution, an avoidance of what really ails people.

What is the usual practice, then?  People behave like a traveler, who, returning to his own country, comes across a good inn on the road, and because the inn pleases him, remains there. Have you forgotten your intention, man?  You were not traveling to this place, but only through it.  ‘But this is a fine inn.’  And how many other fine inns are there, and how many pleasant meadows?  But only to be passed through on the way. Your business is the other thing; to return to your country, to relieve the anxieties of your family, to perform the duties of a citizen, to marry, to have children, and to hold public office. For you have not, I think, come into the world to pick out the most charming places, but to live and act in the place where you were born, and of which you have been appointed a citizen. 
 . . . you regard it as a misfortune to die without seeing such sights. But when there is no need to travel at all, and where you are already, and Zeus is present in his works—will you not desire to contemplate these things and understand them?  Will you never perceive either who you are, or for what you have been born, or the purpose for which this vision has been given to you? ~ Epictetus.
In the latter quote, Epictetus preflects Proust. In the former, he points out how little service people render by travelling, essentially reviewers of hotels and perhaps meals in the present day context, and directs the focus on finding purpose closer to home.

I could go digging for more, but because of personal preferences it's hard for me to step beyond the Stoics. Alain De Botton has a book, and conveniently a BBC feature on this very subject:

As I've lived my own life, I've become increasingly skeptical that travel does anything of the sort, anything close to, broadening people. At best I would concede it doesn't necessarily narrow the minds of people who travel, but as to the claim of broadening, the map doesn't match the ground. Which is to say, when I recall the most globe-trotting people I know, the word that bubbles to the surface of my conscious to describe the insights they offer is 'underwhelming'.

In my experience, most often those truly bitten by wanderlust are characterized by being stupefied by the very notion of the question "why travel?" Making an impression on me that they've actually never thought about it at all. Like someone showing me the rock they bought for $500 that prevents them from being mauled by a tiger, 'of course it works!' they say 'I've never been attacked by a tiger!' missing that an absence of tiger attacks is not proof positive of the rocks magical power, especially given I have no such rock and have also never had any trouble from no fucking tigers.

Now with a climate change study coming out seemingly weekly to remind us that we are on the brink of destroying human civilization if we don't act, it feels like a worthwhile endeavor to challenge the mythical benefits of travel.

Because that's where it differs from the more complex issue of the value of University degrees (at least for domestic students, education as an export folds the two together.) True you may study a very expensive and quite useless degree, and go on to throw good debt after bad by going on to post grad studies that leave you with the same two career paths - work in a bookstore or become a teacher; and bookstores are in much shorter supply. But Tertiary studies eat up time and keep people on the bread line for 3 to 5 years, put people in debt that restricts future cash flow so if anything, lowers a person's carbon footprint. Not so with tourism's contribution to the supply of airline services.

What makes travel hard to question, is the social contract that I suspect for many is in play. Esteem needs as psychological/emotional needs that need meeting and which to some extent, travel meets. Travel as apologetics in our society, for our existence.

I also have a limit in my ability to sympathise with globe-trotters. I have never 'reacted' to a friend posting on facebook that they've just 'bought' a property, which were I to share my actual reaction to people buying Australian real property, is in itself I feel a kind of kindness on my part. Travel photos I have liked, because I do know what it means to people. But not photos of bowls of ramen and In-and-Out Burgers. 

I have to, of course put the brakes on myself, because I'm aware one can suck the moisture out of just about anything. Take my beloved king of sports - basketball, easily described as 'ten or less people running up and down a stretch of flat surface trying to put a rubber ball through one basket more times than the other team can put the same rubber ball through the other basket.' There's a level of observation at which some of the most profound and amazing things can be reduced to banal and worthy of ridicule. Travel is certainly one of these things you can reduce to 'I exchanged money for goods and services' where the standing on the observation of the Eiffel Tower on a summer's night can be described as 'waiting in a queue to take an elevator ride' and running in the New York Marathon can be described as 'running around some streets for hours.'

I don't wish to do this, what my experience testifies to though is how many people return from travel with the remarkable ability to turn a visit to the Blue Mosque as 'I took my shoes off to go in an old building.' I don't suck the emotion out of the experience, most travelers I know simply cannot articulate what they got out of the experience.

I'm sure, I'm sure if the average level of articulation was higher people would be able to describe what it feels like to wake up in a yurt and step outside onto the Mongolian steppes, being a stranger in a strange land confronted with a profound truth of the limits of your own ego and your place in the universe, to momentarily break the chain of ancestry that defines our culture and lifestyle and link onto an entirely different one of the nomadic peoples of Mongolia whom once dominated more of the known world than any other people ever had before. 

Or the euphoric sensation of peeling off wet clothes and tumbling into a dry bed in the middle of a rainy night in the middle of the Czechoslovakian countryside after spending a day getting lost on a tour bike with a Michelin map, to feel the world's roads open up to you in kaleidoscopic possibility and truly understand what it is to have a roof above your head, suddenly holding up the sky like Atlas, the mercy you are at when you relinquish control of your climate to the stratosphere and ponder how many pockets of hospitality are out there in the dark waiting to receive you, given that you simply happened upon this one.

Or the instantaneous renewal that comes from opening one's eyes after diving into the turquoise pools of Peru watching the fish that live oblivious to your worldly struggles beneath the surface scatter from your submerged form. To turn over and pear upwards at the disturbed surface as it tries to calm itself, distorting the sky and you suddenly feel you do not occupy one world, but one of many interconnected ones.

The thing is, I can describe these things, and imagine them somewhat vividly having never done any of those three things. I may not be much of a writer and thus not up to scratch, but I suspect to some extent it would prove true that someone could go through a truly bizarre and unique experience, sit down with someone imaginative that hasn't, and find to their chagrin and consternation, that they can't describe the experience they've had, but someone else can describe their experience that they haven't had.

I have some experience of this myself, I drew a piece based on intoxication for my exhibition entitled 'feel' that connected sufficiently with someone enough to sell, and I somewhat disappointingly had several people ask me about my experiences with psychedelics, of which I have none yet by their testimony I had accurately captured in my picture, which amazed the people that inquired.

The point of this, is not just that life is cruel, but that what most people get out of travel is a private, not public good. Private consumption can be justified, but I would see an end to rationalizing travel in particular as some public good that makes people, into 'better' people.

I remember sitting in a car on a two day work trip with a company sales rep, it was to show my face to the customers I served via phone from head office, and get a picture of the actual business model. The sales rep taking me around was in his late forties and at some point on the long road trip he mouthed what I feel is a popular conjecture. 'It should be mandatory for all kids to spend a year travelling, seeing the world, it would get rid of all these dopey racist c*#ts' or something to that effect.

...Maybe. My lived experience leads me to suspect that confirmation bias is at play, that the kinds of people who do travel in Australian society at least, are the least likely (in their youth, who knows once they are employing the services of financial advisers and chartered accountants) that vote left-wing liberal progressive. And they don't travel to see the world, but confirm their belief of what the world is. So maybe if it was mandatory for everyone to travel, and the government financed the blue-collar kids to go travel for a year visiting at least one country in each continent, we would see a massive swing away from racism and towards progressivism.

Something that flies in the face of this expectation though, is again, confirmation bias. The Australian citizen that earlier this year murdered a bunch of people in two New Zealand mosques, had traveled, not just from Australia to New Zealand, but around Europe: 
Captivated with sites of battles between Christian European nations and the Ottoman Empire, he went on another series of visits to the Balkans in 2016–2018, with Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina confirming his presence there in these years. ~from Wikipedia's 'Christchurch Mosque Shootings' page.
Terrorist attacks in general are not carried out by parochial home-town working class young men. They are often educated and affluent, and dual-citizens. Often literally educated and employed in the societies they wind up attacking. Then there's my grandparents generation, many young men of which were shipped off overseas during WWII, and despite being helped along the Kakoda Trail by the "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels" have not left a great impression on me as to being open-minded, tolerant, peace loving, multiculturalism enthusiasts. More like loyal servants of the Crown that marched off to war when called.

Then there's me.

I was just in Guatemala last week, a country poorer, more corrupt and less safe than Mexico at least by testimony if not my experience. I mean it was poorer because goods and services were cheaper for me, but I never experienced any actual danger to my persons or belongings, nor any corruption.

But I was on alert the three days I spent there. My mind dedicated attention to where my valuables were at all times, the physical proximity of strangers, the time of day and angle of the sun. I was more suspicious and more physiologically aroused than I am in Guadalajara. To some extent, the danger, or sense of it, was what I was consuming. I wanted briefly to feel awake to life, it's fragility and thus preciousness.

This is a valuable experience... in theory. In practice though I got to the airport on Sunday morning to catch a flight back to Mexico and the guy at the checkout desk wouldn't let me board the plane unless I had a booked flight out of Mexico, something that has never been required of me before. Under duress I bought the cheapest flight I could find to meet the criteria and be let past this gatekeeper. I now found my thoughts preoccupied by getting back a couple of hundred dollars on a transaction I was forced to make (Mexican immigration granted me another 180 days in the country before they bothered to even ask me the purpose of my trip, which was the only question I got asked, and I got the distinct impression that I was asked because they remembered there was a box they were supposed to tick, not because they cared or that it matters to them, which is wonderful). 

It was a matter of minutes between sitting in the back seat of a cab and literally thinking 'okay I can't use a seat belt to strangle the driver, but I think I could strangle him with my hands if need be.' thinking through what to do if the taxi driver attempted to abduct me rather than deliver me to the airport. How much would I pay an abductor in Guatemala to save my own life? Or even the fingers on my hands, or not have my face lacerated? Probably Thousands of dollaridoos. 
Now though with that bridge uncrossed; now I was caught up in feeling ripped off by Aeromexico's check in policy, that I am still unsure whether the fault was his pedantic nature or my ignorance of the airline policy.

Only sitting in the terminal lounge did I cool off enough to become salient at how quickly I had forgotten any 'perspective' I may have gained from surviving intact my time in 'dangerous' Guatemala. By analogy, if I had been wrongfully jailed for murdering my wife, and after 12 years in prison was finally exonerated by new evidence, and released from prison, and at a press event held in a hotel bar room, I ordered a lemonade and something fucked up with the dispenser such that I got a glass of carbonated water, no sweetener. I would be profoundly disappointed in myself if I reacted to this as the greatest injustice to have befallen me.

I don't believe my mind to be unique in this regard, if there is anything possibly rare, it's that I noticed my irrationality at all. So again, to degrade my own case, I personally do think I can get a lot out of the stimulation of travel. 

But I reflect, I write blog posts, of which I only know one person that maybe still also writes blog posts. I know a bunch of artists, but very few of them produce substantive pieces, and very few of them on the subject of travel. To be honest, as most people I suspect, will suspect, most artists produce work that is entirely vacuous, accompanied generally by impenetrable word salads that are submitted as artistic statements. 

What of less reflective people? What of the people who do the kind of travel the bourgeoisie love to hate on? Those who go to an exotic country to stay entirely within a 5 star resort, sipping cocktails, getting pedicures and riding jet skis. 

To me this type of travel better demonstrates the social contract I believe may be in effect. 'I work hard, I play hard.' It is not true of me that I work hard. I'm a big fan of the 'Lewis family motto' (of Author Michael Lewis fame) 'Do as little as possible, and that with great reluctance for better to endure a slight reprimand than an arduous task.' but I can again imagine a great value to a holiday that consists entirely of lying on a banana lounge on a Vietnamese private beach.

What I imagine is the feeling of abandoning a sinking ship, clinging to a life jacket and swimming all through the night. Arms and legs aching, mouth choking back up the salt water that splashes into it, you lose consciousness under the blistering sun and awake washed ashore onto terra firma. After a long struggle you just want to lie on the beach, completely burned out until you recover enough to face an actual struggle for existence again.

But again, such holidays are never presented as such to me. As people having achieved some career milestone that took so much out of them that they had to retreat some place far away and highly ergonomic to recover. Nor does it generally follow that people having recovered, recharged, rejuvenated make any real changes to their lifestyle upon return to avoid reaching such a point of exhaustion again. Most people I know just go back to work, often having never really left their lives behind, as evidenced by all the photos I see posted to social media as the holiday is happening.

No, what is presented to me is something that stimulates an altogether different impression: this is what I get, this is what I get in exchange for working a career I find so dull I never talk about it publicly or socially. What I get is to visit a material paradise for 2~4 weeks a year, before I return once more to a life I do not find worth sharing.

This selective publicity of course, has a name, called 'image-crafting.' And like many issues of our time, it gets talked about for a while and then we stop talking about it even though none of the issue is actually addressed, the behavior doesn't stop. We just find new issues like pile-ons and doxing etc. to discuss without action.

Image crafting is probably at the crux, if not the very manifestation of the mythical benefits of travel, and taking what I am sure is a very lovely and comfortable international holiday to a 5-star resort you could not afford in your domestic market, is functionally to me no different from completing a climb of Kilimanjaro if communicated by the same means to the same effect.

As an artist who publishes my work on social media platform, I do spare some attention for a bit of market research in the form of noticing what people like. I tell myself I do this mainly to try and inoculate myself from a Skinner-box type feedback effect, where I find my own practice hijacked by chasing what the public like. (Many an artist I've followed on Instagram has fallen into the trap of producing nothing but fan art, because they get addicted to the easy likes this brings) Probably, it's also a condescending exercise in judging those around me, so that I may enjoy feeling superior. 

What I have broadly concluded though, is that people like what is easy to like. Every artist faces a challenge on a platform like instagram for example of putting hours and hours of effort into a piece they share to receive 17 likes and the occasional spam comment 'wow I really like your stuff, please check out my page!' or something. Then they will notice a friend of theirs that works in accounting took a photo of the hamburger they ordered for lunch today and it has 62 likes.

I've had friends advise me to have a baby, because they have a license to print 'likes' on social media. Which I don't really begrudge babies, I understand the import babies have in people's lives. Just so, I don't begrudge that any work of mine should ever get more attention than somebodies grandma dying or pet dying. 

My broad theory is though, that people like things that they can easily do themselves. Basically, the achievements most valued are expressing non-controversial opinions like that racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are bad. It requires nothing of people to express solidarity with sympathetic people, it often doesn't actually require them helping those sympathetic people in any meaningful way or even ceasing behaviors they are engaged in that may hurt the very people they sympathize with.

Purchasing a house, taking a holiday and eating hamburgers are all very egalitarian achievements. They involve the spending of money. This is also somewhat true of announcements of graduation. 

Author Chuck Palahniuck tells an anecdote from a reading in New York, where he cited that Truman Capote claimed 'Americans don't like natural beauty because it isn't egalitarian enough, they like fake beauty; hence we have Sarah Jessica Parker...' which he says produced boos and hisses and jeers from the audience in their condemnation of his cheap shot at the hometown heroine. The nearest Capote quote I could find by the way was: "She was a triumph over ugliness, so often more beguiling than real beauty"

Thus I feel the Travel broadens the mind myth propagates because we want desperately to believe it is true. That something as simple as booking a plane ticket and a place to stay online, and exchanging some dollars into some other currency can make us better people and respected members of our community, it would be so nice if it were true...

My jury may be out on the personal benefits and growth promoted by travel. But the deliberation is going in a clear direction as the circumstantial evidence piles up. What most people appear to get out of travel is a personal indulgence, an experience akin and probably amplified to reflect the costs both material and mental involved, of the pleasure received from eating a fatty salty meal.

It occurs to me, that my attitude not towards Travel per se, but to the myth of Travel's medicinal properties, is very similar to the epiphany I had towards the end of highschool. Back when I was trudging around the campus in a predictable way. 

The epiphany was thus: I'd never seen a teacher take a dumb student and make them smart. To some that might seem obvious, but for some reason I held a naive belief at the time, that education made you smarter. It doesn't and the key distinction is between knowledge and intelligence. My school could cram a bunch of data into any kids mind that would improve their performance on a given test. But that was the limit of the performance enhancement. After the test results came back, their minds had about as much utility as before. True of me to this day.

Travel then, has been sold, probably as middle-class propaganda, as Lumosity which if you are already forgetting what Lumosity is/was, it's probably because you used Lumosity thinking it would improve your memory somehow.

Lumosity might be the best example to end on, because I titled this we need to talk about Travel, and currently we don't. Lumosity was a product that sold itself as some kind of nuerosciencey brain boosting gaming app. Flashing up on youtube, and we never really discussed these ads as they made their outrageous claims. I didn't talk about Lumosity, and something was painfully obvious to me about the ads. The hired spokespeople came across as really stupid.



I feel we are equally silent on how many people come back from their travels, and couldn't pass a multiple choice test on their travels. Nor when we think of our oldest friends and families, how many have made an impression altering change as a result of the travels they have undertaken. Our characters, and our vices and virtues, seem quite robust in the face of exposure to new places, new cultures, new ways of being.

In the meantime we are killing the planet as part of the deal we signed with nobody, that we get to travel to exotic countries in exchange for working jobs we feel we really need the break from.