Sunday, May 24, 2015

Furiosa & Others

Mad Max: Fury Road is totally worth seeing, a film to capture the imagination. I'm not really a long time fan of the franchise. In fact I tried to watch the original and was surprised to find it almost set in regular regional Australia. I didn't expect it to be about a cop taking a vacation in a post apocalyptic world. It was late, I picked it up in the middle, and I was tired and I gave up.

I'd heard some buzz about Furiosa, artists in my news feed were doing fan arts and some female friends on face book making a lot of typed noise about how exciting a character she was. I was excited, trepidatious even to see a strong female character, and I guess my expectations were ratcheted up to expect something I'd never seen before, a breakthrough, a gamechanger, a new character - to evolve into an archetype. Because I have an intense personal... I couldn't say interest, being a man... but curiosity about the challenge of writing/creating the SFC.

'The strong female character' is problematic, and the history of cinema is littered with spectacular failures and near successes and it turns out to be for me at least, an activity that bends the mind into a pretzel. These failures I feel are succinctly parodied right here.

Mark Twain wrote 'they didn't know it was impossible, so they did it.' and it's possible that the stuff I've looked at when looking into gender is a case where more information confuses what I might have intuitively or naively got right before contemplating. What I'm saying is, that it's entirely possible and even probable that I am stupid.

Seeing the film last night though, what was the true revelation of Furiosa was the insight into the invisibility of my own privilege. Furiosa will be memorable to me as part of an ensemble of memorable characters in a memorable film.

I had the sense that she was nothing new. But I'm very often guilty of hype backlash, my confirmation bias looks to evidence to support the contrary. On my ride home trying to prove the nul hypothesis, I did find it hard to recall any of her precedents. Like literally coming up blank. This was what whacked me in the face, given that Furiosa is just a character that drives a truck and fires some guns.

It appeared a land grab, an ideological land grab. A real coup for what I have thought (perhaps more specifically to men trying to write female characters) was the best process I have come across. I wouldn't be able to track down the tumblr picture that was my source, but it's basically:

How to write good female characters:
1. Create an awesome character
2. Make them a woman

For me though, the admission I have to make is my own prejudice and biases and stereotypes I carry in my head about gender that makes this process the best I've found, for me. Which is to say, I use an augmented version 1 is really - write a man. Then step 2 is having done this, go and put an 's' in front of every 'he', change the 'his' to 'hers' etc. For me it's important because it prevents me from trying to write a female character, which if I do, I lose the authenticity. Stephan Donaldson once wrote about his 'The Gap' series that every character came from him, so was him and think this is generally true.

And it comes to my mind that the difficulty with which I could recall Furiosa's precedents is key. The technique above plays to my ease of recall for writing strong male characters - batman, daredevil, every samurai ever, superman, mad max, John McClane, John Rambo, Indiana Jones, every video game avatar just about ever. And that's just naming protagonists, and sticking to the more dated and narrower archetype, forgetting revolutions like Peter Parker - the first two dimensional hero and the many nuanced flavors of strong male characters. Villains can easily become antiheros etc.

This morning, Furiosa's precedents came in a wave. The perplexing thing is that one of the trailers before mad max was for the next terminator film, yet I couldn't think of Sarah Conner (her terminator 2 incarnation, rather than the original) which in turn points further back to James Cameron's other sequels in the form of Ripley in Aliens, and if you are talking a visual precedent for Furiosa, certainly Ripley in Alien 3. Then you have Tarantino's female characters, Jackie Brown came first, but Beatrice/The Bride in Kill Bill is perhaps more salient.

But of course, it depends. For me, there's a mind-pretzel bending fine line. And from my reading 'What does it mean to be a woman?' is a very hard question to answer. One I am particularly unqualified to answer, admittedly, because I don't even have access to the unintelligible subjective experience of being a woman. But being female, or gender across the spectrum is not reducible simply to the biology of sex. People do transition, do have fluid genders, do have gender identities that don't line up with their biological sex. Even biologically, sex is difficult to draw a line between. There's a whole spectrum, of which our professional sporting institutions and regulating bodies have been trying to answer definitively and scientifically for a long time.

The test of course is going to be - can other women identify with the character as a woman. If so, you have a female character. But when dealing with the hazy clouds of attributes in the Venn diagrams of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' the art comes in, (and I'm little practiced at it, and likely as such to be bad at it) in drawing attributes from the overlap the 'strong' sector if you will, and combining it with the less represented attributes in protagonists that make a for a 'female' character.

The limitation of my above simple two-step method, is that I throw out the female circle from my venn diagram, create any male character I like, and then just draw them as female, or in film, cast a woman etc.

At this point, I should point out in terms of equality between the sexes, there's a really simple question to answer, and that is: even if a protagonist is just the same archetype but a woman as all the male archetypes that came before, just by increasing the number and frequency with which female versions of male characters appear you are moving towards equality. Similarly, if female CEO's are no different in leadership style than male CEOs, you still want more female CEOs because it's about a greater distribution of the opportunity to be CEOs. That part's easy, at least to answer if not implement.

Being born into male privilege, and white male privilege at that, it would be misleading to say I particularly care about equality between the sexes. As a creator though, I am far more concerned with a character being good, and being memorable.

I saw this post in my feed: and if somebody finds the character important out there, and loves them etc. Then they are important.

For me though, my qualitative evaluation is that this character is bad. Badly conceived and poorly executed. She actually seems ham-fisted to me. Bad writing. Just as a super-hero she is what I would describe as 'over-powered' like Superman, who struggles to be interesting under the yoke of his world posing only one credible challenge to his physical robustness - kryptonite. Furthermore, being a double-minority or a two-for as executed here by being a gay latino, comes across as heavy handed something Det. Kima Greggs from 'The Wire' as a character did not.

I also find a failure that being gay latino has come at no threat to her ability to service fans, or compromise male gaze.

I can stand back and say that building up the cast of female comic book characters is across the board good. But this character I would rate as a poor concept, a crappy one, to join the ocean of crappy male characters that populate the comic universe. See Sturgeon's Law on the futility of finding crappy counter examples.

An argument could be made though, that to typecast lesbians in portrayal as being hairy legged, hairy armpitted butch characters of no appeal to sweaty mouth breathing overweight teenage boys is to stereotype lesbians, reducing their femininity and equivocating femininity with being weak. I don't think anybody actually makes this argument, and I wouldn't hold it up with what little I know about America. Going back to hark a vagrant's satire of strong female characters though, I don't think giving a character super strength and fighting ability offsets then putting them in a bikini top and hot pants.

There in lies the challenge, for me at least, whom cares more about aesthetics than equality between the sexes. The answer to the equality question as previously stated is easy, at least easy to conceive, it just needs doing.

Equality is the question 'are women missing out?', I think there is an unanswered question (possibly, it may have been answered and I'm too stupid to percieve) of 'Are we missing out?'

Is there such a thing as 'female comedy' or is it just comedy, and women have been excluded from it?

Is there such a thing as 'female leadership' (in the corporate sense) or is it just leadership, and women have been excluded from it?

I've heard enough about studies of culturally conditioned gender roles to believe women possess distinct advantages men do not, a specific one that comes to mind was a study of what makes for 'smart teams' and was told the result was a 1:1 correlation between how many women are on the team, the more women the smarter the team due to the higher number of people on a team adept at reading the emotions on other team members faces.

I feel that with Mad Max: Fury Road there is a scripting decision that could easily have removed the character of Furiosa entirely. You just needed an extra scene at the start where Max takes on Furiosa's motivation in the film and he could easily have played both roles as one character. It's a much easier exercise to imagine the film as less than it was, than take a film like Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (same male archetype, same basic plot) or it's western adaptation A Fist Full of Dollars, and try and imagine adding a female co-lead version of the male archetype.

But for me there was a sense of redundancy in Mad Max, as Max and Furiosa were in essence the same character. I suspect most will feel the redundant of the two is Max, and my suspicion would be driven by most of the audience viewing the film as a reboot or new film, and overlook that this is Max's fourth appearance, and his function as protagonist is as tour guide to a new and strange world. A person who finds the cultures he comes across as strange as we do, and negotiates and navigates them as we would. As Terry Pratchett said of his character Rincewind, 'his job is to go around the world meeting much more interesting characters than he is'.

I am sure this post is by and large a mess. Largely because I am a mess of where and when I am interested/disinterested in female characters. The hype I experienced with Furiosa lead to expectations that here was a character that would tell me something new about what it meant to be a woman. In hindsight this was unrealistic and unlikely, Furiosa is a product of the imagination of George Miller, not Charlize Theron.

I am specifically interested in the challenge of the Strong Female Character, my intuition that Ripley, Sarah Conner, Tank Girl, Furiosa, Beatrice/The Bride, Jackie Brown etc fall on one side of a line that gets a tick and other SFCs like Katniss, Hermione, Charlie's Angels (perhaps because they are possessed by Charlie), The Black Widow fall on another side of the line that doesn't quite get that tick.

Then there's characters like Juno, the New Ms Marvel, the new incarnation of Barbara Gordon as Bat Girl, Spider Gwen etc. that while new and positive developments in their respective industries, are of no interest to me (being out of their target market demographics) and also don't really resonate as 'strong' being that they don't pose any competition to male privilege. They simply are starting to break up the monoculture of the women that populate a universe and medium that has almost exclusively tailored to a male audience and perspective.

I could write about Thor's recasting into a female character. There's something interesting in using an existing character with built up equity. But I won't, at least not here.

One thing I have to disclose or at least point out is that my list of the more successful SFC Ripley-Conner-Tank Girl-The Bride-Furiosa are my subjective judgements, opinion treated as fact. And what I note about that list is that every single one of those characters is the product of male creators. Dan O'Bannon/Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Jamie Hewlett, Quentin Tarantino and George Miller respectively.

This is both good and bad, on the plus side it establishes that men can step up and write good strong female characters, being capable of doing so, they should. It's also that if equality is going to be achieved or even approached you have to start with the male dominated industries we have. Progress can be made even while you have producers, editors, writers and directors still being predominantly male as a hangover. Women can go see a film concieved of, created and directed by a man and find a character they can identify with as an entry point to a profession and genre they may have otherwise felt excluded from. Over time this should lead to women creating female action heroes that join this archetypal roster.

The bad is that it detracts somewhat that a small collection of men are making these characters, begging the question that the experience of strength and power come more easily to somebody with the subjective experience of being male. One thing to breath easy on, is that representative bias is almost certainly the basis of this list. Sturgeon's law prevails, there are for each successful strong male character thousands of failed attempts. These men's ability to write strong female leads is most likely a bi-product of their ability to write good strong lead characters period, where most writers fail.

But in the meantime, Diablo Cody, Lena Dunham and G Willow Wilson are writing female leads that are breaking up the monotony (the easy question) but represent characters that pose no threat to male privilege (the hard question).

I have my own character and story in my head for a female lead, which is why I'm interested to see how characters like Furiosa turn out, and how they are recieved. I have aims and ambitions in mind for my own output and I will either succeed or fail. What I take away from Furiosa is that there are stories about women that men can tell. My objective is not equality, not explicitly, and while I'm interested in feminism and don't directly oppose equality between the sexes, I feel it would be misleading to identify as feminist, I am not one, and giving due credit to how much of my behavior is subconscious, would be unsurprised if I am in fact quite chauvinistic or misogynistic in effect, though it is never my intent.

In the very least I enjoy my privilege and as an individual would be reluctant to give it up, though I don't particularly care if every other man I knew lost theirs.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

True Dichotomy

I think it is true to the point of truism to say: you either press the advantage or lose it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Our Dogs

The recent conclusion of my dogs life brought home to me many of the reasons to get a dog. Also much clarity on the nature of grief. Here then is a convoluted collection of my thoughts.

The Day After

The day after my dog died I had to go to the studio and work on my exhibition which was a week away. It was a beautiful day, there was nothing wrong with it except in the continuity of my life it happened to fall right next to the day I put my dog down. It rained sporadically and heavily that day (which I find beautiful) and in the studio the sound of rain is quite amplified by the roof provided which I really like.

Was the day tainted by a sense of loss? I don't know. I can say the week leading up to my dog's death was much harder than the week that followed it. The emotions can intrude upon any moment, before and after her death as the mind prospects or retrospects. Loss can also be bitter or sweet. 

Imagine though that you could take the ribbon of your emotional life and cut it up and rearrange it. You could chuck the grief of loss, of putting down a dog at the start and then have the uninterrupted joy of companionship over the course of it's life. Emotionally you wake up one day with no dog and no grief or sense of loss. You could also arbitrarily through your terrible weeks somewhere in the middle. Would you do it? Would you get it out of the way some time, like eating your vegetables before hitting the proteins?

Would you rather start a relationship with the bitterness of the breakup and then enjoy a comfortable couple of months, years etc before climaxing with puppy love and infatuation? Then to wake up somewhat nonchalant and indifferent?

The first thing is that the terrible feelings of loss are unavoidable, and I would not spare myself the suffering. What is more horrible to me though is the prospect of a relationship ceasing and waking up without suffering the next day because I'd pre-digested it. The time is right, the emotions are right. Grieving may be unpleasant, but I would not avoid it and it can be beautiful. It really only gets ugly when people fight it.

Turns out I was capable of functioning in the wake of my dog's passing. I wanted to. I drew a piece to honor her and my time together. If I had been unable to function I would have made that call also and not gone to the studio. But nothing was forced, nothing was repressed.

The Gift

Bess was old, she lived 50% longer than her breeds life expectancy. She was my second dog and I always thought of her as 'the new dog' even though the longer she lived the greater the proportion of my life she had shared. In fact my new dog had been with me almost half my life. Even so dogs life spans are such that barring a tragedy I should survive my next two or three dogs. 

I think it's a Louis C K bit, I'm not sure but he says the deal of marriage is that you don't die alone. Or rather that one of you doesn't die alone. 

It seems obvious that one half of that deal gets it better than the other. Most people's preference I presume is to die in the company of their loved ones. Particularly their most loved one. 

The worst of my grief was a feeling of apathy towards my own continued existence. An indifference to the reality that I would go on to live a new era without Bess. Being that I recognised the feeling it posed no danger, so please don't worry, indifference is very different to depression or suicidal thoughts. It was much as I feel when I go to a party and contemplate the effort required to talk to strangers and make new acquaintances. A process I will drag my feet through because the rewards are there.

I made two promises to myself, that Bess would feel loved every day and that she would die in my arms. These promises are much easier to keep with a dog than with a person. I managed to keep them, and the last week of her life were stressful because of the thought of dropping the ball so close to the end. It would have been devastating. 

Dogs instinctively may actually want to go away quietly and die, but the opportunity their short lifespans provide all of us, is the ability to experience giving someone company as they die and being left alone in the wake of it. It is good to realise you have the fortitude to be the one who lives on alone. And that you can give this precious gift to somebody else where they by definition are incapable of returning your kindness. As you love a dog, you can become capable of truly loving someone.

Fuck Reunions

If there was an afterlife, an eternal existence, I would admittedly probably prefer to be walking my dogs through some infinite parkland with no real awareness that the walk ever ended. That would be nice, that I could handle for all eternity. But fuck it, the afterlife is a ridiculous concept, and by 'ridiculous' I mean 'worthy of ridicule'.

The great thing about a dog is that their ability to pull you into the present moment. I miss my dog, but I have many, many years experience of walking her on a daily basis. And as per the Lana Del Rey lyrics in the last post 'heaven is a place on earth with you' this I think is the truth of walking a dog. If you can bring yourself to be present for it.

The human desire for the infinite, unending afterlife I think is a sickness in the Zen Buddhist sense, so too with abundance. The desire is a desire to calm the anxiety that we are underachieving, the paradox is that in the presence of abundance we are far more likely to underachieve than in scarcity. Infact just juxtaposing the concepts of abundance and underachievement make the previous statement sound like a truism.

There is no need for my and my dogs souls to unite in some afterlife, we achieved the pinnacle of our companionship while alive, and dogs are masters of doing this. Your best opportunity to do so is with a dog. I have it, it's done. Only dementia can take it away, and I am of the opinion that the tragedy of dementia is that I would already have lost the self that holds such experiences.

Like running a marathon or staging an exhibition, I may have the desire to do so again but what is immutable is the fact that I've done these things. The opportunity has not been missed as afforded by my life. I need no second (and infinite) chances to get things right, furthermore, having had the moments walking my dog or even just waking her with a patting session in the morning, or preparing her dinner (or making her pancakes) I was, long before I started my current meditation regime, able to be present and appreciate these moments. Even during years where my mind was a tumultuous place of stress.

The afterlife can only diminish the value of my actual life, and the lives we share with our pets and everyone else for that matter. Economics may not get much right, but it gets scarcity and value right.

Civilization and its Contents

There are only two things I've done in my life where I'm confident I've done well. One is tutoring a refugee and the other is pet ownership. Say what you will about the pitfalls of human civilization, a well cared for dog though is an achievement. Much as I believe life can only be truly enjoyed when you accept your own mortality, to lesser conviction I believe the human race is on the whole probably mortal.

Sustainability movements, like exercise for an individual may be a good idea, but they are no fountains of youth. I don't see particular value in beating up on ourselves from all the mistakes we have made from being a short-sighted ignorant collective. As 'You Are Now Less Dumb' points out, if any member of modern society were able to be transported back into the middle ages, our ability to recreate the modern world would be negligible to laughable. Civilization is a collective effort, and even a leading physicist, biochemist or electrical engineer would be able to make little progress alone.

On an individual basis, we are mostly passengers that on occassion contribute some minute increment of progress to the whole. One thing all of us can do though, is take care of a pet.

We may be plagued by anxieties, fucked up by our parents, under severe economic strain and questioning our place in the universe. But a dog can have a good life, and we can give it to them. And we should. And feel proud of that achievement.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I euthanised my dog last weekend, her kidneys had failed, and she was deteriorating rapidly. She was my second ever dog, And I've realised that I think of her as my 'new dog'. A recent member of the family, but she was 15 years old, a quikc google search tells me lab life expectancy is 11 years (10-12) which means physically she was the equivalent of a 120 year old. Which she wasn't. She was for one thing, beautiful and without proper scrutiny was often confused for a pup.

She was also, highly mobile right up until her rapid decline.

It has caused me to realise a lot about death, and I plan to write more when I find time. But I just want to talk about my dog Bess. My love.

I had the opportunity to tell her everything I wanted to say to her. She passed with no regrets from me. But it occurs to me that a dog can't speak English really, I think they can understand emotion fluently though.

But that I can write to you Bess, here and now. Because word wise you have as much ability dead as you did while alive so I thought I'd write you a letter.

Not even, it's this. I think Lana Del Rey is a talented lyricist, and with a few subtracted lines, this sums up perfectly what you meant to me Bess:

It's you, it's you, it's all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you

It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two

I think the greatest gift in life is to be surprised at just how much you love something. My recent work on mindfulness allowed me to really be present with you, we achieved something together that makes any escapist desires for a reunion in eternal paradise redundant. We had it, and how much paradise do you need?

The experience can never be taken away from me. And your passing now means that it cannot be tarnished ever. Only love can triumph. You have. I have.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tamper Tamper Tamper

Congratulations you've got the job. Nothing exciting but it'll help pay your bills while you put yourself through Marine Biology.

$16 an hour. Your job, tossing coins. It gets better, you're unionised so at the very least there's a collective agreement in place protecting you from a repetitive stress injury or carpal tunnel syndrome by restricting employers to one toss per employee per minute.

Good job right, no brainer, impossible to take home, and you get to stand around with a bunch of other employees at a similar stage in life or pursuing similar lifestyles and shoot the shit.

Let's head upstairs though, where the numbers get crunched and the bottom line watched. Here's their deal.

For every coin toss resulting in a head - the mysterious benefactor whose tender they won pays them $100. For every coin toss resulting in a tail they receive no revenue.

Some managers sit around looking at the data that comes through after the first quarter of the tender. They crunch the numbers and it turns out using their industry regulated fair coins the average revenue per toss turns out to be hovering around $50.

Now some truth about coin tossing. Turns out, the odds of coin tossing are quite predictable. Which is to say, 50:50 outcomes. I forget where I read it, but a POW once lacking other opportunities did actually empirically test it, in fact I found him right here. Law of large numbers.

Enter 'management' and inevitably tampering. Tampering is an important concept, a really important concept little discussed and little understood. Anywhere. But it nevertheless is a term, an actual term with a very short Wikipedia entry dedicated to it.

Except that page simple though it is, I feel makes it hard to appreciate. Hence our coin tossing job. Now imagine some manager comes in and tells you that anyone who achieves an average toss revenue of less than $60 will lose shifts. You'd be pretty stressed. Because there's actually no real way to game a coin toss. There's no way to bias a 2 sided object (dice yes, coins no) and most importantly there's nothing you can really do to produce the desired results.

Even without the threat of lost shifts and income, just consider the prospect of having a night where you achieved 53 heads in every hundred tosses and being pulled aside by a manager and asked to explain why your (literal) headcount is so low.

The answer is 'variability' it is in fact slightly improbable that it would be so high. Yet this is what tampering is. Furnishing a reason where there is none, because if you can explain your performance you can address it. Which by the way you can 'random chance', doesn't ensure but leaves it entirely possible that tomorrow you will produce the desired outcome. Over the long run of course you won't, nobody will, as the number gets larger you'll approach 50:50. And if management initiatives don't directly fuck up a process in the organisation they can indirectly fuck up the people carrying out those processes by stressing them out.

I feel though that it is an ironclad law of physics that tampering must result in long term detriment. That is, it's efforts are doomed to fail. Tampering will never be as clear cut as demanding children to be taller, or coin tossers to get more heads. But it can take many forms, like a certain number of sales orders per 1000 will result in a cockup and a return. It may seem admirably '6 sigma' to task oneself with eliminating those returns and improving bottom line and reducing waste while achieving higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Unless it doesn't.

It can result in employees juking the stats ie, refusing to take responsibility for their mistake and penalising the customers in order to appease their direct manager. It more likely will simply be more costly  to fix the problem than leave it be.

'Parameters' are established for this purpose. In my own VCE I was semi-confident that I could get a score in the 90's based on comparisons between myself and my own brother who had gone before me. But I felt to get 99.95 would involve exponentially more work, plus I didn't need to get that high for my ambitions. And even if I did work harder there was no gauruntee that I would do any better, I would be getting into new territory since neither my brother nor I had ever really worked hard at school.

Same goes in general, it will cost less to make a 30% improvement in a terrible process than a 3% improvement in a decent one. This is called the law of diminishing returns. Tampering isn't strictly about that, but it can often result in '$10 solutions to $5 problems' basically any problem you can afford is kind of worthy of leaving within your standard parameters.

Here then is the tragedy of tampering. Tampering occurs in business models that while imperfect are quite efficient. No brainer business models. This bumps heads with career minded managers. When the villains of Catch-22 reveal their motives they are simple - because Full Colonel is better than Lieutenant Colonel and General is better than Full Colonel. Tampering doesn't strictly come into Catch-22 but the Colonel's demands for tighter bomb formations (in order to make more pleasing aerial photographs) and having the Preacher conduct a prayer before missions are similar though not stat based initiatives to the kind taken by tampering managers.

Tampering I think merits more play, more discussion, more salience. As does risk itself. So keep it in mind, look for it in your own workplace or even everyday life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

India's Daughter

Is the name of a documentary ABC's Four Corners program purchased the rights to. And I watched it. 

The crime was harrowing, the peripheral victims (family & friends) traumatized and devastated and the one perpetrator of the gang rape interviewed... confused.

They are described as unrepentant, the one interviewed certainly maintained that he only drove the bus where the crime took place.

Of course the only information I have is what was in the documentary and I have no information beyond that on either Indian culture or Delhi culture nor India's economic and legal systems. Furthermore, the other convicted members of the gang weren't interviewed and the question of psychopathology was unasked.

As presented though, the perpetrators appear as a product of their culture. It takes the crime beyond it's own immediate gruesomeness. 

The one interviewed assailant, convicted and sentenced to death, feels unfairly treated. Overshadowing this feeling are his espoused views of victim blaming, that women are more responsible for rape than men are. These views articulated obscure a kind of unspoken complaint - that the crime of rape and gang rape are commonplace and these rapists were singled out, apprehended, trialed and convicted when most go unpunished.

What testifies to this complaint is how easily the men were caught, and they were caught because they didn't take the kind of precautions one would take if you expected the crime to end your life. They dumped the two victims naked by the side of the road from the bus where the crime took place, leaving both victims alive. (the interviewed driver speculates that his death sentence will mean that future perpetrators will kill their victims rather than risk them testifying) They drove the bus home and while the did clean it, they parked it outside their residence. Then they stayed home. No paranoid 'I've seen this in the movies' burning of the vehicle and all it's evidence, fleeing town and never coming back again.

Assuming you are likely to be Australian, and if not living in a western democracy US, Canada, Europe. If I told you a common 'crime' committed by most Australian cyclists is running a red light to make a left-hand turn. (right hand for a right-hand drive country), it is fairly commonplace among impatient cyclists. Now imagine you go out and do this on your bike one day. You consider yourself a casual cyclist, you pull up to a red light, there's no traffic around and rather than wait it out, unsure of whether the intersection requires something as massive as a car to be stalled there for the cycle to change, you just ride through the red hooking straight through to the bike lane.

There is in Australia, nothing illegal about dismounting your bike, picking it up and moving to the side walk, then making the turn inside of the traffic light as a pedestrian and mounting your bike. Running the red left hand turn is a lazy shorthand for going through these motions, but is a traffic violation.

That's how you rationalize away the transgression in terms of it's consequences. But 6 days later the police knock on your door and throw the book at you. You are prosecuted and fined, your picture is published from the CCTV footage in the local papers and your name published. Talkback radio entertains rant after rant about you and your irresponsible riding.

Now, there is no question that what you did was wrong. I and you can rationalize it, but strictly speaking it is indefensible. It was undertaken with an expectation though that you wouldn't face the consequences, and this in expectation was based on the observation that virtually nobody faces the consequences of running this light in this way.

When I put myself in this scenario, and try to use it as a basis of empathy, I project and like to think of myself that I can accept that I deserve to be punished. I still feel entitled to a sense of anger and injustice that within my social environment, immediate and broad (culture) other people are committing this transgression and not being punished. I have (arbitrarily or not) been singled out for punishment.

This Indian gang was singled out, self-evident because the media coverage singled them out and the production of the documentary singles them out alone. 2000 officers were put at the disposal of the supervising police officer (I can't recall his rank) and I'm left with impressions, imaginary or not that they were sped through the trial process.

They weren't singled out arbitrarily (I hope) although the interviewed convict felt other people had committed worse crimes and nothing had resulted. 

The convicted men in India absolutely should experience the adverse consequences of their actions. They did what they did, and the get what they get. 'Justice' is a hard concept to wrap my head around, I personally don't believe in capital punishment and I also don't believe in scapegoating.

The perpetrators will be hanged until dead. The scary part of that is the possibility that the cultural factors will be buried with them. I doubt these men felt that rape itself was on the same scale as jaywalking or running lights, but they clearly feel it is analogous insofar as that it is an accepted part of the culture. I couldn't guess how the reconciliation is done exactly, but the defense mounted by the lawyers would not in Australia constitute a legal defense.

By comparison, using a fictitious example simply because I also watched it recently - The Redfern Now Telemovie dealt with rape. The accused rapist's legal defense was in light of the forensic evidence that intercourse had taken place - was that the two parties had engaged in consensual sex and then the alleged victim had attempted to extort money from the alleged rapist.

By comparison the lawyers interviewed in the Indian (real) case presented a defense that did not address issues of consent, or that any of the gang were under duress from another member. Nothing that to my (limited) understanding of Australian law would constitute a legal defense against the charges. From my perspective, in the Indian legal systems the defense consisted basically of pleading guilty to their actions and trying to justify their actions.

I see no real value in me personally dredging up the arguments made, except that they unashamedly confess to a patriarchal - victim blaming culture. Such that the men in their own minds felt themselves vigilantes, meting out justice for in their view 'the natural consequences' of a young woman going out escorted, but not by a fiance, husband and male family member at 8pm at night.

When I lock my bike up in the city and notice somebody else has left their bike lights on their bike. I have the intrusive thought 'somebody will steal those, I should steal them to teach them a lesson.' One quickly followed by 'but I'm not a thief' and though their is some truth to 'opportunity makes the thief' that is not where responsibility lies. 

These men will die, and I would not be outraged if they experienced some chagrin over the fact that they were unlucky to be caught in a society where their crimes, though illegal, are viewed as a risk rather than a strict prohibition. Of any belief they hold that they were vigilantes or somehow conducting moral instruction to a woman, I would believe myself that they are simply wrong, and before their lives end they may or may not realise this.

At the very least, I doubt they will reoffend, with the possible exception of the juvenile whom received the maximum punishment available for a juvenile and remains unnamed. The question as to whether he will come to the understanding that what he did was wrong will remain a question. 

I have severe doubts as to whether and by what incriment Delhi will become safer for women. The question applies also to India at large. One question unasked by the documentary are questions of class, caste and inequity. The lack of information makes it perplexing, the central victim of the crime appeared to be from a poor background but had achieved some degree of social mobility. 

Education is often expounded as the universal panacea to stopping inhumane acts. Watching the large protests of India's educated was quite moving, and were I the government I would have been moved to act and bring the long arm of the law down on these men. I also watch scholars and academics commit slips of the tongue when they refer to India as a 'developing- developed' country and any time I here talk of India as the world's largest democracy I always feel the insecurity behind it. A self-conscious anxiety that the world thinks of India as a poor, backward and superstitious nation. I don't sense national pride but national shame. Perhaps this has manifested an actual policy driven rush of development that seeks to meet the highest of world standards rather than improve the across-the-board standard of living for Indians. 

If one Indian child is recieving the education solution that men and women are fundamentally equal, that victims are not to blame for the crimes that victimise them and so forth, while other Indian children are being taught patriarchal garbage, then I can see how this fatal divide over what constitutes 'common sense' and 'decency' is opening up. 

That though is all speculation, Australia itself has demonstrated it is no exception to men thinking they can use and abuse women, take their lives. I certainly feel a difference in the standard of our defense lawyers is established, but the fact is that our egalitarian education system steers clear of moral instruction and it shows. People in Australia have all kinds of values, women in Melbourne have been suffering for that diversity, and it goes nation wide. 

I remain puzzled, but I think it is worth being that way for now. So that the answers may come in time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Numbing Out

Apparently cause and effect are an illusion, a projection of the mind. I'm not convinced, largely for lack of trying, but I kind of see what is got at. Because B follows A we supply a cause, causation is actually a conscious attempt to build predictive models. When watching a film the motion is an illusion, we are perceiving a 'moving picture' beause one static image is followed rapidly by another static image but the arc of motion is supplied by our mind. When watching an anvil fall through the sky in a cartoon gravity is not in effect, our perception is.

I do believe in a deterministic universe though where as complex and random as life seems, we are really just a witness to a very convoluted setup of falling dominoes. Deprived of a vantage point to ascertain most designs.

But we can percieve some, even, like gravity, without understanding it. as our confidence in probabilities decreases eg. it looks like it will rain, but who could say if and when it will. cause and effect starts to very much take on a superstitious nature.

I suspect it's our superstition around cause and effect, or causal relationships that bring about the society wide inclination to numbing - specifically most people have an unconscious belief that if they can eliminate the effect, then the cause ceases to exist.

This is all sounding very esoteric, even to me. Let's get specific.

You have a stressful day at work. You get home, and have a glass of wine to take the edge off. Your mind slows and stills, you feel better. Almost as if you have undone the stresses of the day. And what if tomorrow very much resembles today? It's okay because literally 'at the end of the day' you can numb out the experience of all your tomorrows with the stress relieving medication.

Which is to say, most of us have a fairly systemic lifestyle. The system that can be called our lifestyle systematically produces stress. We then append another system on top of that to cope with the stress of our day to day lives.

For me, this ordinary stress is hard to notice. It's present in a baseline way, such that until I practiced a meditation - one that was guided and directed me to notice tension and release it in my body, I was not aware how much facial muscles were tensed day to day.

I would be remiss to overlook that a routine of meditation can be a numbing system. If one sets aside twenty minutes a day to 'release' or 'undo' tension accumulated from your daily routine, you (or I) are only further along the spectrum from somebody needing a scotch to take the edge off.

Not that there aren't meaningful differences along that spectrum.

But this is distinct from addiction which I harp on about but would actually struggle to define. There's a common ground but numbing is more akin to the quality control sense of the word 'Tampering'.

Which is to say, attempting to fix a problem to the opposite effect. Tampering too I find hard to define though, wikipedia isn't much help. Think of it this way, you have an infected tooth causing you continuous pain. Tampering would be to take strong painkillers adding a new daily process to maintain prior comfort levels, treating the pain so to speak. Pulling the tooth out would address the source of pain.

Note that the painkillers though do not address the underlying causes, the infection. The problem in a fashion, goes unchecked. So while tampering in this example treats the pain it does in the long run kill you prematurely.

What of simply working 40 hours a week in a stressful job? Here I personally am not even in the middle of an experiment. I can't really draw any conclusions because my career as an artist is yet to pan out, and that's a career so variable that it's hard to look to precedent. I'm sure in 20-30 years time whatever outcome I'll be confident enough to find more regular career paths to serve as a fair comparison to what my life could have been like. In the meantime though I just have my intuition.

Really that intuition should be self evident, persisting as an artist takes conscious commitment. It is not a routine you can slip into, unlike a salaried position. If I did not believe I was gaining more than I sacrificed, I could not recommit to the artistic pursuit.