Tuesday, August 21, 2018

On Braggadocios

It's a pretty well worn trope in dramatic entertainment, some loud mouth teen punk guy, totally unsympathetic goes and messes with the wrong dude. Our sympathetic protagonist is there to demonstrate what real strength is, at least in the dramatic narrative.

These braggadocios exist in stories to fail. In Martial Arts films they serve the purpose of a kind of propaganda that by opening their big mouths and getting their asses handed to them, but the dignified, demure Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Mr Miyagi we learn that real martial artists aren't violent thugs who mercilessly pick on the weak but benevolent philosophers, apparently easily mistaken for soft targets.

Popular as the trope is in Martial Arts films, is it actually relevant to real life? Is there any truth to the trope?

Do brash arrogant guys who grossly overestimate their own abilities really get so far in life, in such numbers, that their belief in their own status can persist to the point that relatively late in life they get their first taste of how small they are?

I don't know. There's certainly documented phenomena like the Dunning-Kruger effect which unforch has become I'm told employed as an ad-hominem attack online, joining the likes of legitimate phenomena overused to shut people down like value-signalling and mansplaining on the corresponding poles of the spectrum of being a horrible online persona.

I am a fan of the articulation of Bertrand Russell: "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." which is perhaps a description of the Dunning-Kruger effect's manifestation/symptoms, but the Dunning-Kruger effect gives us the mechanic by which we can compassionately understand the Braggadocio.

But yeah, I get ahead of myself, but I personally believe that the Haughty, the Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy, the Bravado, the Braggart, the Braggadocio can and does exist in modern times. Though I can't prove it, and I'm not a fan of arguments from personal experience... or maybe I mean assertions from personal experience.

But to be honest, I did more research for this post than normal, and that's simply because what I'm trying to describe is so little used that finding the tropes that I knew must exist was a challenge as far as google-fu. The words 'Haughty' 'Bravado' and certainly my favorite 'Braggadocios' are not really used, they don't come up ever in conversation. Few people talk about people in succinct terms though we do at least still call back to expressions like 'walking the walk' or 'all-talk' that sort of thing.

Now the meat of this post: I spend a lot of time thinking about and criticizing 'feminism' on this blog and in general conversation and; it doesn't sit quite right with me. Part of me understands that I criticize it because I care, whereas for example I don't write any critical treatises on Male Pick Up Artists or Incels or whatever, because frankly I don't give a shit about what new and novel ways losers have discovered to keep on losing. I see no point in criticizing a cause I don't care about, know what I'm saying? I guess I'm in a minority that assumes people on the whole criticize things that they are afraid will work, rather than things they are afraid will fail.

But I've been curious about my own compulsion to again and again write about this or that emergent trend in feminism, even though I keep promising myself to move on, talk about something actually important like economics etc. It's a tension though, because my other social media provides me with a lot more stimulus on progressive politics done poorly, than economics done poorly. Even though one has a huge impact on the well being of virtually everyone and now poses an existential threat to organized human life on this planet, and the other... seems most relevant to my peer group because that's what everyone keeps talking about. Even though I don't believe it is relatively important at all.

And may I stress relatively important. It's a dispassionate, mathematical statement. Climate change or nuclear warfare may achieve what feminism can't by ensuring that men and women equally no longer exist on planet Earth. I'd rather have humanity unequally survive, and deal with the problems of equality later over a long laborious period of time, in a luxurious, sustainable economic model.

But I digress. Here's the deal, I am not a feminist. I cannot be relied upon to forego my advantages as a man nor necessarily come to the aid of women facing systemic oppression. I'm not active enough to call myself a feminist, I have little to no investment and face little to no consequences not being one and it is far more important to me that I am honest.

I am not however anti-feminism. My criticism never comes from a point of view that I don't want feminists to succeed. My criticisms generally, although I'm happy to take responsibility for not communicating this; are directed at feminism investing time in shit that can't or is unlikely to succeed - like Intersectionality for example.

Consider by analogy, a sports fan watching an underdog team they don't support make poor tactical plays against a team they actively hate. It's not that I have no emotional investment, but it's possible to get frustrated by the performance of something you hope will win, but aren't fighting your own fight. This is my armchair critique, and hair-pulling. It's not exclusive to feminism, indeed just about all of these egalitarian progressive movements are worthwhile causes rendered frustratingly ridiculous by people simply believing what they want to believe largely I suspect, because that's easier to them.

But I don't want to criticize feminism anymore. Hence I did some thinking, some introspecting and thought - 'I'll use marketing to solve this compulsion of mine.'

And what I mean by that is that feminism is an undefined term. I invite you to understand that when two people are talking about apples and oranges, you can be sure that they both understand apples and oranges to be the same thing. These nouns are fairly well defined terms, though I know there are many nuanced varieties of apples and oranges. By contrast when two people are discussing feminism, more often than not I would guess, they are not necessarily talking about the same thing, or share the same understanding of what feminism is or means.

To some extent what I observe is people using the word 'feminism' 'feminist' etc. like we might use the word 'artist' and 'art' which is to say, that if you say your an 'artist', then you are an artist, and if you say something is 'art' then it is art. Because art is a non-expert domain, in the technical sense. Nobody has any real authority to say that something isn't art.

I don't believe this is the case with feminism. If say, Hugh Hefner calls himself a feminist, is he a feminist? There's probably a lot to be debated there, but I'm guessing the strongest arguments would come down to the actual impact his life and work has had on Women. We aren't what we say, but what we do.

It is this what-is-the-impact-line of reasoning that has me making a mental category change. (inventing a new category is a marketing go-to solution) A re-branding of who exactly I am critical of. And as with all undefined terms, I am perfectly within my rights to create a personal definition for my personal usage, where the main beneficiary is me.

But many of the women I know who call themselves feminists, I now call braggadocios. It is they, and they alone that I am critical of. Why use such a pretentious Italian word when I could say 'Bravodos' or 'Posers', well largely because I like pretentious Italian words, and again it's all for my personal psychological organisation, so I'll label my own tupperware.

Though it is in my head, you may be interested in my categorization... you may be interested in the question of whether I think of you as a feminist or as a braggadocio.

Anybody who knows their Romantic languages may notice that in this context, Braggadocio is an inappropriately masculine term. However, it describes the behavior so beautifully for me that it really helps me get a grasp on what I'm seeing, again and again and again.

The Braggadocio is all talk, full of bluster but no real discipline, effective only in numbers and picking on soft, weak targets. A real lover of preaching to the choir, and to a greater or lesser extent a fan of the narcissism of small differences. They are always ready to 'prove' themselves, but not really test themselves - in the martial arts context this is the Thug Gang shaking down women and children for money, talking about how tough they are, but they never go attack soldiers or martial arts schools, in the context of much feminists, this is seeing some behavior they find objectionable out in the real world and then beating up that person online, witnessed by and large by their sympathetic audience.

Everyone though, is probably guilty of this in some context and to some extent. It's the human condition to avoid humiliation and seek sympathy. I'm concerned about Braggadocios masquerading as feminists, because the stakes of feminism are actually worthwhile... I would like to see a future where the times and places in which a women can be assaulted and raped continue to decrease, where the liberties enjoyed by men are increasingly democratized out to women etc. That to me though, is a difficult undertaking, and deserves to be taken seriously, dispassionately and carefully. I would describe braggadocios as none of these things.

Going back to the trope, it is in itself propoganda, as most martial arts based entertainment is. Though I mean that in the positive sense of the term, the popular narratives of the martial arts are attempting to make popular the conception that real martial artists are not violent, brutish bullies but actually benevolent moral philosophers. While there's an equivalent in feminism of the martial arts braggadocios, what remains invisible to me, at least in my peer group - is the existence of 'real' feminists serving up humble pie to the braggarts.

So in the same way, I would like to specifically criticize braggadocios, because I have nothing against 'real' feminists, which is to say people whose words and deeds actually advance the cause of women in this world. The trouble is, that as per Bertrand Russell mentioned earlier, the arguements of 'real' feminists are seldom, if ever heard except in archaic tomes not in the online posturing of social media. So please forgive me, but I have to draw on empathetic grounds that require a lot of travel for me to try and form a conception of what I feel I would recognize as a 'real' feminist, that is, someone I'm actually as a man, intimidated by and subsequently respectful of. I have had the great privilege of knowing some, so that helps too, but again I have to rely on my imperfect imagination to be like 'what would X say?' because I cannot get them to write this post for me.

And braggadocios I believe are born more from ignorance and incompetence than maliciousness. These women who call themselves feminists, but effect nothing but empty posturing, I am sure want to be feminists, just find it difficult because there's a lot of noise out there.

Let me take an example of how tricky I believe feminism is:

A female friend of mine shared a video of Jordan Peterson on her facebook wall/feed. She copped some shit for that from some guys but just ignored them. Then she posted another one, and one of the same guys really started giving her shit - that was in public view. I watched and admired how she let his comments stand without responding to them, as he tried ungracefully to censor her. It made me angry to watch though, but because I thought she was handling it well decided to just send her a PM of appreciation of that fact. She came back to say it was nice to hear, especially given one of her assailants had been PMing her all morning with abusive messages.

It went on, and eventually I did step into the arena and attack the two men who were attacking my friend. The thing is, it made me angry that I who is not a feminist, had to step in to that space. Where were all the women, all the feminists to rush to her defense? Even conceding that many of the feminists I see in my feed, were not mutual friends and therefore not in a position to see this assault taking place, I remained offended by the revelation that all these women are braggadocios, though at that time I didn't have a word for it.

Because here's what's tricky for the Braggadocio. The braggadocio is about posturing, it's about gang affiliation, and sadly in the context of feminism, playing into a stereotypical gender role - it's about being on trend, following the fashions. I suspect but cannot prove, that what my female friend did wrong in their eyes was post a Jordan Peterson video, because Jordan Peterson is unfashionable in these circles. They couldn't see what I saw, which was a woman expressing herself in her personal space and getting attacked by two male bullies for expressing herself. She was ganged up on and assaulted - and she did have female friends get into the fray - unfortunately they didn't defend her, they were defending Jordan Peterson and engaging the specific ideologies of her assailants. Not the fact that they were trying to assault and censure a woman, in her personal space.

So, I have to do some extrapolation, but again Braggadocios are Braggadocios because of incompetence and ignorance. That may be driven by an innate incapacity where competence is fixed, or from deprivation of the relevant experience to recognize situations for what they are, and get blinded by the wallpaper/window dressing.

Let me shift a little to illustrate this point, into the domain of creative Braggadocios. I had the privilege while in LA to attend a media company launch for a Hong Kong based internet media company. Somebody asked them what kind of Media companies would be their precedent, and (I have to paraphrase - it was a live event) the editor in chief's response was 'We really want to create our own new thing but one company I like is Super deluxe because it's weird and viral, and what's the point of starting something new if it's not weird' I coupled this statement with the videos they presented and sadly, the content to sample was entirely derivative of Super deluxe. You'll come across this in the arts all the time, there are people who understand what it is to be original (without precedent) and then there are people who think they know what originality looks like (inevitably unoriginal). Across domains this happens with people who are intelligent (whatever it is, it's hard to define and replicate) and people who think they know what intelligence looks like (using big words, reading serious books, following world news, liking things that are inaccessible); with people who are powerful (can act and do) and people who think they know what power looks like (wearing suits, having job titles, being an asshole).

And here, I suspect, but can't really test, braggadocios are people who don't understand feminism from first principles, but think they know what feminism looks like, and feminism doesn't look like Jordan Peterson so it's okay for a woman to be attacked for associating herself with Jordan Peterson, because she broke the rules of gang membership. To the braggadocios feminism isn't about looking out for women and advancing their cause, it's for looking out for 'feminists' (in braggadocio terms) and I haven't seen but wouldn't be surprised if I see the day where braggadocios aid and abet some 'male feminists' assaulting a woman who hasn't paid her gang dues to the braggadocios - in terms of saying the right things, wearing the right clothes.

I believe that's tricky to navigate because the incompetence is so common, take the non-gendered issue of free speech, where on the whole most people confuse free speech with the right not to be offended, when in fact, free speech is precisely the preservation of our right to be offended (our right to offend people and not be killed for it, like offending the king). People pay lip service to free speech when in fact they would prefer to live in a world where they don't have to hear things they don't like or that make them uncomfortable. Few actually seek out challenging opinions and discomforting ideas. We know of the concept, but it's one of those top-down elite things that flies in the face of most human intuition - being in the grips of confirmation bias and averse to negative feedback.

Next example:

A braggart posted a message on social media that I've done my best to paraphrase in a way that hopefully leaves it nicely anonymous since I'm sure they didn't intend for their words and deeds to have this effect, but surely some effect.

"I'm not flirting with you, it's my job to be nice to you. Male customers are such creeps."

This attracted a lot of solidarity, but again it was really helpful in allowing me to find this solution of re-categorizing the vague concept of feminists into feminists and braggadocios.

Revolutions are hard, unless you are talking about how easy they are to screw up.

Firstly, it's a really uncharitable complaint: it's treating it as a norm that not only are most people consciously interpreting behavior (body language) and thus deciding to interpret her interactions as flirtatious, rather than a simpler explanation of instinctively responding. But it seems to think that the general male populace is not only consciously literate in body language, but should be sufficiently competent to know to discount a customer service context from the cues they are noticing.

What's tricky about this manifestation of chauvinism is that the wrong institution is being targeted (in my opinion, which is all I can offer you) the fault lies not in the fact that just about every man and woman alive owe their very existence to the important phenomena of reproduction, and hence have very rapid fire essential systems that are always evaluating whether something is A) dangerous B) edible and C) can be mated with, and hence tend to inject the importance of reproduction into every interaction even if they are consciously monogamous and committed because their biology thinks it's really really important to mate with healthy people who might be good at rearing well fed, strong, healthy children. No, I feel the fault lies in the fact that her employer is exploiting these biological drives because it is good for business. For some reason, men particularly and also women enjoy being waited on by kind attractive young women (perhaps because young bubbly women are not physically threatening to female customers). So we see cafes populated by attractive waitresses and effeminate male waiters (rarely do waiters resemble attractive but intimidating male sex symbols like Jason Mamoa, whom I choose based on what vocal feminist friends have said about him on facebook).

Her boss profits from men who spend more because they unconsciously think they are courting an attractive female and want to impress her. Her anger/anxiety is misdirected at the male population, rather than the economic system that is using her as marketing to increase the value of what the business actually sells (her employer is tricking men into thinking they are buying sex, not coffee or whatever, which they value more and hence will overpay for, rarely having the epiphany that all they bought was a coffee, or whatever).

And there's a double misdirection of anger - the Braggadocio is not doing something strong (albeit stupid) like spitting in the face of some middle aged customer who winks at her when he hands her his credit card. She's taking to social media and picking on a straw man who can't defend himself to hear the approving reassurance of her fellow braggadocios.

Here I imagine a feminist would actually feel the compulsion to have redirected her anger/anxiety in the appropriate direction. To my knowledge none did - and here's where Bertrand Russell's statement about the stupid being cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt makes Braggadocios a concern for feminism. And you should be concerned if you are a Braggadocio, you are creating an online space where through power in numbers, you are silencing feminists from speaking up and out - the people who can actually advance the cause of feminism because they are intelligent and dispassionate and perceptive enough to identify the real problems, the root causes and hence identify real solutions. Again my personal category for feminists are women whose behavior advances the cause of women.

I remember sitting in a marketing lecture where the guest lecturer was from a manufacturer of tampons and pads, I studied marketing in the early days of viral marketing, pre-facebook, but in principle not much has changed.

Marketing starts with knowing your audience, and this company wanted to create a preference and even brand loyalty to their hygiene products by reaching teenage girls. She explained to us that their research had revealed that communication was what was essential to teenage girls, as soon as they got home they sought out a private space so they could start texting their friends (again pre-smart phones) or would spend their time on MSN Messenger or ICQ. The number one punishment for thir demographic was being cut off from communication by a parent, and number one fear was being cut out of the loop by their highschool peers.
In the schoolyard the highest status and hence most influential girls had access to the most information, they were the girls that could procure Cosmo magazines, knew the most about sex and boys etc. (no matter how dubious their sources were), their (the tampon company) strategy had thus been to identify a website popular with their target demographic because it was a site dedicated to gossip and sex talk and all the stuff in Cosmo magazines (may well have been Cosmo's site) and paid for a 'takeover' ad that had a bratz like cartoon figure pop up and invite the user to visit their site - which they had geared up to have a roster of nurses that girls could ask questions and interact with round the clock and blah blah blah...

It was a good strategy, though not being in their target demographic I haven't followed along BUT it was fascinating to hear what research had determined teenage girls organized around and cared about by someone with a vested interest in understanding how it actually worked rather than how they wanted it to work.

This lecture bubbles up in my mind when I see how braggadocios handle feminism. It has been my experience in the workplace, that office politics for example never get that much more sophisticated than how it worked in highschool. From what I observe the same seems to be true in how 'feminism' is practiced by my adult female peers on facebook. There's a parade of latest talking points one needs to be up to speed on: Manspreading, mansplaining, intersectionality, emotional labor, gaslighting, terfs, gender pay gap, #metoo... from my perspective are discussed on social media platforms in a manner that sadly conforms to gender roles, namely that women are really into fashion, shopping and chasing this seasons latest. That's a sad interpretation, and I'm sorry that my mind is so morbid like that, to steel man the rapid succession of feminist discussion points and lingo let's say that it reflects the myriad ways in which it sucks to be a woman - women have a lot to complain about.

Alas I am an advocate that legitimate complaints do not come pre-packaged with legitimate solutions and I do not trivialize any of the aforementioned recollectable list of things people talk about online as not being serious topics (except for intersectionality, which I am highly critical of as a major tactical mistake).

What I'm concerned Braggadocios are doing, because they can't help themselves, is just chasing the next serious topic to profess concerns about, while ignoring the fact that (for example) 'manspreading' something I haven't heard discussed for maybe 2-3 years or any of the previous topics have at all been resolved. I'll concede that many flavors of feminism are sticky, and generally the less abstract it is, the more timeless the issue - sexual assault and harassment, gender pay gaps etc.

In searching for the earlier Bertrand Russell quote I stumbled across this one that the mean and petty part of me really liked, relevant to this phenomena: "There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it." and I suspect this relates to the phenomena of value signalling, which is a fancy term for being fashionable, or as my adolescent peers would have put it in the mid-90's 'being a try-hard'.

There does not however, appear to be any value placed on someone knuckling down on the one issue and trying seriously to explore and understand it online. To correct and critique in a thoughtful way, the face book boasting of Braggadocios. The premium is 'being brave' and 'speaking out' not being smart, insightful, disciplined or effective.

I also observe what appears to me, a fairly teen-girl conforming popularity contest, certain voices are kowtowed to by all, no matter how vapidly shit their utterances are, while less popular women go largely ignored. The unpopular girls aren't backed when they try or like my friend who gave Jordan Peterson a chance, aren't defended, whereas other more palatable and popular girls with have masses rally around them, again even when saying something quite vacuous. I can't know this of course, I just suspect it's what I'm seeing. But I'd be curious to know if women feel like they felt in highschool when partaking in online feminism.

Which brings me to a third example of Braggadocios that I suspect most people living in the time and place from which I'm writing this, are really not going to like - which is the contemporarily popular Netflix Stand Up Special 'Nanette' by Hannah Gadsby. Spoiler alert, at one point Hannah talks about getting gay bashed for 'being a lady fag' and how her personal internalized shame of who she was lead her to neither report the crime nor take herself to the hospital. At some point proximate to this Hannah calls on white men, particularly straight white men to 'pull your socks up'.

If I were I woman, I'd seriously fret over just how hard feminism is. This small section (which isn't all of the relevant stuff in Nanette) illustrates a few of the really difficult things - A young man that feels obliged to violently assault a person for being a queer, butch female (and ostensibly being a lady fag was what made it okay in his mind to assault her, which to him was the natural consequence of 'hitting on' his girlfriend, the actual assault worthy offense that conflicted with his sense of chivalry in not hitting women) He is as much a prisoner of shame and the conditioning of how he was raised as Hannah is when she decided not to report him or get herself professionally treated (perhaps because this would have lead to the crime being reported). Though Hannah attempts to redress her own shame through the platform of the special, the outcomes are unequal but the mechanics are the same - she and her assailant are a product of the same culture, the same environment. Only the outcomes are gendered, but by the behavior, to a greater rather than lesser extent the then Hannah that didn't report the crime agreed with her attacker. I would suspect neither enjoyed performing the designated roles offered by their environment.

So what then do I as precisely the demographic of man make of the call to 'pull my socks up'? Here's where I would find feminism really difficult, and why I find assertions from personal experience weak...

The temptation is to argue that Hannah and her assailant are of the similar belief and differ in outcomes because this is the role of oppressor and oppressed designated by the patriarchy - we all 'agree' that women are to suffer and men are to make them suffer. Because that's what her experience feels like. But it isn't what my experience feels like, yet she seems confident in the conclusion/assertion that I know what she's talking about.

By analogy Hannah also spends a good chunk of the special discussing art history and at at least two points discusses the role of women as subjects in all of art history as being 'flesh vases for men's dick flowers' or something to that effect, and that there's only been two roles for women to play 'virgin or whore' which was insightful for me, because it told me that even someone who has studied and completed a degree in art history, a history dominated by men and largely excluding women - or reducing women dominated media (like embroidery) to craft rather than art; that a woman can study a feild of almost exclusively male voices and not really understand men at all. Just assert their intentions rather than confine it to being a true statement of her personal experience of how men treat women as subject. (ie. the effect)

It reminds me that I too am unlikely to ever understand what it is to be a woman, if there is so much male dominated material plain to study in the open created by men, in their own voices on what the experience of being a man is like, and Hannah a scholar of this material, cannot make statements that resonate with my experience of being a man. I feel my chances of making any assertions as to her intentions with any accuracy is a big fat zero. Fortunately, I don't have to care.

Another Braggadocio on this point, on my feed shared this article entitled "The real reason men insist on reminding us 'Not all men'" with the short and succinct plug 'YES!' and to me, it was just delicious irony because this was in the heyday of Braggadocios using mansplaining as an ad hominem. My understanding of newspapers is that journalists do not get to write their own headlines, and the headline was written by Clemintine's editor whose gender or sex I do not know, and also to steel man my friend I will assume she shared the article to be read by what she imagined was a largely female audience with possibly some sympathetic men, (preaching to the choir) but the effect by my personal experience if the deliciousness is lost on you - it was a woman validating a woman explaining to me what it is to be a man. aka mansplaining something. Which I can say, from personal experience is not why I as a man commit the 'no true Scotsman' informal fallacy, it's being in the privileged position to perceive it as true, just like after every Islamic terrorist attack, while not widely reported (it is there to find), you can find Muslim's disavowing the terrorists as 'not true Muslims'. This post in fact is me partitioning all feminism into true feminists and false feminists aka Braggadocios.

Again I will happily concede that from the perspective of psychoanalytic approaches it is possible that an outsider may 'know' better the unconscious motivations of a person, than a person does themselves and confuse their rationalization of their behavior with behavior itself.

But Hannah Gadsby to me, has the effect of calling on me as a white straight man to create a patriarchy as she imagines it. Where as patriarch I can pull all men into line such that just as I have no interest in attacking or assaulting Hannah for who she is, they will not be free to do so in deference to My will. Which I suspect, is not what she actually means or intends when calling on me to 'pull my socks up'.

What's really difficult when I look at the prospect of being a feminist, is that most oppression is a bi-product. A bi-product of caring about you and yours, and not caring about them: the other. I do feel Hannah is insightful when she says she doesn't believe women are better than men, and women wouldn't do the same things if they had the opportunity. But I suspect the message that what she wants isn't a regime change per se, so much as a set of checks and balances that mean it doesn't matter who is in power, gets a bit lost. And it's entirely possible that that's not what Hannah was intending to say at all.

She will probably now be a victim of her own success, which is not the danger of braggadocios congregating on top of an important and worthwhile cause like feminism, but the danger of being a Braggadocio. Because her special has gone viral and she's going to be attacked. I can't know, but I suspect that she isn't good enough to withstand what's coming. Because while I wouldn't accept wholesale the assertion that there is 'nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself' I also am not inspired by her special - the very context of which is her suspicion she has to quit comedy - that she has in fact rebuilt herself, stronger than before the terrible things done to her broke her down.

Tough talk sure sounds tough. But it's just talk, and recourse to violence is a reality that Machievelli tried earnestly to address for the good and noble princes.

I don't want to get in the way of feminism. But I do want to do something about the braggadocios. What I really crave is that Braggadocios get better at being feminists, to act in good faith so that progress might happen relatively quickly, instead of copious amounts of energy being exerted by morons beating their chests in response to morons beating their chests online. And giving them a name by which I can recognize them is my first step. This post was the second, and I plan to do something far more positive, because the part of the Braggadocio trope I doubt reflects reality, is that the Haughty are destined to be broken. I think they can gather in large numbers and silence the voices of reason, particularly with the aid of modern technology, and they can inculcate a culture where people feel ashamed of questioning things and that they deserve a beating or public shaming for dissent.

What you won't see is me commenting on your feminist post to facebook that you are a Braggadocio, and I hope I have picked a terminology that is too cumbersome to type for anyone to start using it as an ad hominem attack like mansplaining, value signalling etc.

Anyway step 3 will take time, and I'm not sure if I'm cocksure stupid, but I hope I'm somebody intelligent and full of doubts but willing to take a risk by speaking out.

Monday, August 13, 2018

On Returning

My experience has been that you can never go home again. Indeed it was good to have it salient in my time in Genova, that this was it. This was the defining time I would spend in Genova and all further visits would be just that, a visit only to try and recapture my time there. My memories.

That hasn't been tested yet, but I've returned to Japan probably 4 or 5 times now. I used to try and go every 3 years at least but it's been 6. In no small part owing to me switching it up to Italy. Tomorrow morning as of writing, I leave. It's been a good trip, though I'm ready to leave. So in some ways returning is just more leaving... kind of like an office worker looking forward to the weekend on a Wednesday even though the workdays remaining to them are exactly as long to be endured as the weekend they are looking forward to.

But I don't know, it's much nicer than that. A kind of Aloha situation, were returning is a good chance to appreciate that you have this time together. The scarcity creates value.

This country is particular though. There are many people I love here, I haven't been able to catch up with all of them, I'm not sure I love this country though.

I'm not sure.

I'm really not sure. And the point is worthy of emphasizing. Japan is a bit of a sausage factory, not to be confused with sausage fest (that'd be China) in so far as you don't want to see how the sausages are made. It's easy for me to get down on Japan, when you have people you care about here, it hits you in the face those cultural downsides - like they can't take annual leave to spend time with you, and apologists might leap to point out that the Japanese do indeed have annual leave, sick leave, parental leave etc. They don't take it, and in so far as emotions are what moves us, the don't becomes a can't...

And I can't go into it. If it boggles your mind that a person with legal leave entitlements doesn't find it socially acceptable to take a couple of days off to make the most of an old friend visiting, Miyamoto Masao's work Straightjacket Society and Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons are far more thoughtful, qualified and intelligent commentaries than I could ever offer, and certainly can't improve upon. But that's the sausage factory tour of Japan, and many people love these sausages.

So when I look around Japan and admire for example, that there's a place in this country for women to be unapologetically feminine, a place for perverts to be unabashed perverts, menial labor is still dignified, there is community engagement, a place for ritual, tremendous generosity, the ability to economize on space etc. I genuinely love all these things about Japan, but I can't say whether the price the Japanese pay is worth the benefits reaped.

Tremendous energy is exerted to make the Japanese, Japanese. But it's kind of a confusing mirage that has real effects. Get to know the Japanese and they quickly cease to be cute animals for white people to gawk at, but real people with the whole range of nuanced emotions. The range of personalities is ostensibly as diverse as anything psychometric offered by the west could identify, yet everyone is fastidiously tidy for example, where in Australia this would be exclusive to pedantic fussy types.

Japan functions on global participation, and I'm concerned, intuitively on vaste swathes of the population being bent out of shape. The thing is though...

I'm not overwhelmed by any argument that would suggest Australian's are happier. The impression I left Australia with, is that Australians are some of the world's most miserable people. Possibly have evolved into a people who enjoy being angry and outraged all the time.

Thus is it better to be neat and tidy or lazy? These are meaningless.

I feel it far more useful to compare a country like Italy to Japan, than Australia. Australia is too rich to be a good place to live.

Yet I really don't know enough about Italy to draw any firm conclusions. It's more just that Italy's dysfunction comes across as warm, and Japan's dysfunction comes across as cold.

Italian's to me, but I have only the surface impression. Care about the right things: Love, family, food, work worth doing.

Japan cares too much about what the neighbors think of them. And again, Japan is at a disadvantage because my relationship goes back, literally more than half my life-time with a lot of the people here. Where I spend a good deal of time with them, and then they'll almost universally say something, let something slip that I find incredibly sad. Almost universally in the privacy of a car, with no eye contact something will slip.

I assume we all have some sad secret we could share, and again, my relationships in Italy are too shallow for a comparison, and those in Australia too deep. It probably comes down to fit, and few of us would ever choose to be someone other than ourselves - and I am not a good fit for Japan.

Because despite believing that we can never go home again, if there's a place where the speed of change is slow, it's Japan. Again one thing I do admire about Japan is that they don't get rid of shit that works well for the sake of an appearance of progress - at least in the transport sector. The trains haven't changed in the entire 18 or so years I've been coming here. They don't look 'modern' like Melbourne's new trains do, but they are immaculate (again at huge cost to individual self-expression) and they are both cheaper and faster than anything Australia will ever achieve. And that's not talking about the bullet trains. I'm a cheapskate, I go local or if decadent - local express.

For the most part it's been easy to go find a place that sold a particular snack I liked to eat, 10 years ago. The place will still be there. Indeed it's easy to believe that Japan hasn't gone anywhere since the bubble burst in 1990. There are some aspects of Japan I could believe haven't gone anywhere since 1950, 1920 even. One of the paradoxes I'm going to walk away with is that the same friends I have that hate Trump and everything he stands for, love Japan. And Japan is nothing if not MAGA, exactly what Trump is selling to his voters (though thankfully has not the competence to deliver).

In Japan, although there are trans people here and you see them around. Men are men and women are women. Foreigners like me, who notice exceptions rather than norms, when picturing 'the Japanese' probably picture some Harajuku eccentric teenager with rainbow hair and makeup trying to be Kawaii. But the norm of Japan is a middle aged man in shirt and slacks anonymously making his way about town from office to lunch spot and back.

Capital of bullshit jobs, most Japanese are hard at work hardly working, women either full blown domestic slaves or slaves in training. This visit I am convinced that Japan really does conform to the trailer for that 'Hypernormalization' documentary that I, and I suspect most people never got around to watching - that their job is fake and their real job is to shop.

I love that an old man with a baton and a uniform can usher pedestrians across a completely safe street attached to an office mall and have dignity and pride in the work he does. Also that there's something gentle about a society that doesn't eradicate all these jobs that need not exist.

Except on the other hand, it's 40 degrees, and this person is 60+ years old in a full police-esque uniform doing something of no real value except as an elaborate pretense to distribute some money to someone in return for suffering.

See how confusing it is. There's all this good and bad, an elaborate welfare state where 'work for the dole' is kind of completely literal. Yet it's evident these old guys take pride in their work, and I suspect would spiral downwards if told simply to 'take it easy'.

Japan is going nowhere through sheer momentum, it's too late for these old people they've been shaped to identify solely with doing productive work. But do you train the young kids to disrespect them?

I don't know, young people are rebelling but it seems to be a reaction, like a medical condition rather than a change of direction into the 21st century for the country.

Most confusing of all is that as of this writing, the nations most popular comic 'One Piece' itself an epic adventure story about a kid who wants to be the Pirate King because the Pirate Kind has the most freedom in the world - this is the most readily identifiable and popular fictitious character in Japan - has embarked on a story arc in the fictitious country of Wano a Japan facsimile, where the corrupt central government has bled the provinces dry and polluted the country side to the point of being near uninhabitable.

Japan's pop culture is saturated with such satire and commentary. Ghibli did it, virtually all the popular manga espouse western values like individualism and self-determination (as well as, admittedly an obsession with blood lines and family ties, it's hard to find a Japanese comic that in some way doesn't revolve around a hereditary blood line, which isn't very Western) and every Japanese person I've talked to about the issues of Japan seem well informed and aware, though they'll range in response from very enthusiastic to discuss them, to embarrassed, to highly defensive.

I must conclude from returning, that Japan is very different to Australia. Australia has (quite recently) become a very anxious and afraid country. It is not on average, producing healthy individuals. Even those doing their best to live a healthy lifestyle, don't seem capable of actually enjoying it. The wounds and vulnerabilities of Australian's are very transparent to my eye, such that in most cases I feel I could reach across and stick my finger right into someone's wound and make them cry out in pain, these wounds have to be navigated in conversations to promote healing though, a strenuous task of which I grew quite tired.

Japan I don't know, there's so much repression, I'm not sure who I'm talking to ever. Almost as if everyone's turned to the side to protect their wounds. There's a kind of natural stoicism that keeps the Japanese keeping on, and maybe that's the best that can be hoped for, I hope not though. Because it's hard to tell stoicism from masochism.

It serves though, to preserve such that Japan of all the places I've been and visited, does for the most part stay the same. A pop-group everyone's supposed to care about will change, the latest snack fad will have changed... but not much else. It's both nice, but something I'm glad I am personally unburdened with. Then again...

I am travelling, and while in my mind it is for professional and personal development, necessary to prevent me from going backwards, when I look at other Australian's travels all I see is running away. So maybe it would be good, like the Japanese to actually stay close to home? Stay connected to family and actually persist in a job?

Constant change can be as much avoiding dealing with problems as dogged refusal to change.

I've returned and leave Japan feeling more ambigous towards the nation (not it's people) than before. A successful trip.

Indeed, if I find I can indeed return home again after my time in Mexico to Melbourne, then I won't have achieved what I set out to do, which is find a way to be uncomfortable in Melbourne again. Too much comfort is unbecoming. I'm trying not to be a masochist though.

On Leaving

A phraseology, or cliche that often comes up in circumstances of bereavement is that it 'puts things in perspective' which it does. When you parents drop hundreds of dollars to fly down and hundreds more on hail mary passes to try and save a dog's life, that's where you discover what money is actually good for.

The thing is, if I didn't always have this perspective, of what matters and what doesn't, it certainly has stuck with me. Perspective, once gained, I haven't lost. There's of course much perspective I still lack. This blog would have concluded among other things if that twerent the case... but I can distinctly recall getting off the bus from Echuca the choice transport for the majority of my highschool peers from our 'schoolies' in a campsite along the River Murray, grabbing my bag from the undercarriage and then taking a moment to soak in the distinct lack of gravitas of this occassion. Many of these people I was never going to see again, despite having shared more or less our daily lives together for anywhere between 6 and 2 years (depending on arrival at the school) even a year of sharing a class together is a significant fraction of an 18 year old's formative years.

The point was I walked away from that bus dejected. I knew rationally that it all had to end sometime, indeed that's what the fucking trip was about. However, I felt like most people were pretty blaze about it. And sure, my closer friends we kept in touch, but even the mere associates, were part of the village and that village was dispersing now. We've been lucky so far as I know, and probably in part, owing to a healthy school culture at the time, only one of our peers to my knowledge died tragically young. However:

I always know there are some people I quite like that I've possibly seen for the last time. I'm not consumed by morbid thoughts though, because worse than the tragedy of untimely deaths are the people we lose to mind numbing routine - The high school peers that just don't bother to come to the school reunions. The friends that get pre-occupied with their small business and disappear for years into it, or the friends that take an international job posting because it seems like a great opportunity. Or even most banal of all, the friends who are simply tired because they had a long day at work... week after week after week. The ones that don't feel any nagging depressing or crippling anxiety, but just need to space out at the end of the day in front of the TV or computer.

We lose touch. As most of my friends know, because I have been quite public about it, and keep mentioning it in conversation to just about everyone, my oldest friend died recently. The grief of course is ongoing, but at his funeral, even before that, one thing that did get hit home was that I was one of the lucky ones.

Except again it wasn't luck. I made a bunch of choices that I attribute to perspective, and maybe having that persepecting is a great stroke of luck, but I had actually recently retired after 10 exhibitions, from writing personalized invites to just about everyone I know.

At the end of year 12, (but before the bus trip to Echuca) I somewhat faceitiously said in a speech 'make sure you tell everyone how you feel about them, between now and when one of you dies' it was of course a joke, based on the uselessness of that deadline, but I actually for the most part, have followed through on that.

Thus on 10 or so occasions I actually put in writing exactly what James meant to me, that I loved him, who he was to me. He knew all that. Then he died. I was even luckier I guess, because I got ever so briefly to sit with him in the dark hole he was in. I didn't know then whether he was going to leave us or not, I just hoped to fuck he didn't, but I got the chance to tell him face to face who he was to me, how I felt about it all. He said it helped him, evidently it wasn't enough.

Thing is, most of the time, most of the people aren't lucky at all. They may in fact be extremely unlucky to have someone die or disappear on them when the last transaction was a fight or some shit. Alas, I fear the less dramatic, because a fight at least is an invitation to repair.

We just lose touch, we lose touch because we lack perspective. For the most part, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Even now with the mere distance of three weeks I can feel the natural migration of interest away from my circumstance as I become less relevant to many of my friends day to day. This isn't to say they are bad people, they are simply living day to day.

I know, empirically from doing 10 exhibitions, that we get the most support, the most social benefit from people whose lives we are involved in. If there's any silver lining to leaving, withdrawing, disappearing it's perhaps the opportunity to translate that old adage 'character is who we are when noone is watching' or at least 'when we think noone is watching' the people who do touch base, who keep in touch when I have taken a backseat in relevance to their lives are people that have something special going on with their frontal cortex - they are maintaining an incredible amount of social pathways in their brain. Most of us invest most of our energy in 5 or 30. People who keep in touch are truly special, but I don't expect everyone to be special. In face if I did, I wouldn't try to be special and write a fuckton of invites every 6 - 12 months.

People aren't necessarily dying on us, they are simply going away for awhile, and sometimes banal as the going away is, that going away is forever.

I hate leaving, most of the time nothing happens. I've gone away for the summer and come back months later to find everyone looks ridiculous with their tans. I've gone away for the winter and come back to a workplace where more old colleagues had returned than quit.

What I find difficult is giving up my physical space. To me it's a space where my personality actually manifests in a tangible way. Like a mirror it gives me a sense of self that is disorienting to go without.

There's also the aspect that while I'm sure there are some scant few who actually feel the missing of me, family and such. I'm generally leaving behind absolutely everyone.

The perspective I have is that when people ask me if I'm excited about my trip, the honest answer is always 'I will be' because I will be after the leaving is out of the way. I hate leaving. I can't emphasize it enough. The people who are excited for me, whom are presumambly doing their best to live vicariously through me when they ask as to my excitement levels - a perceive to be thinking of how nice it would be to leave their lives for a while which is to say, the extent of their affect forecasting is to consider say, being in Mexico as a hedonic alternative to what they are doing right now, which might be hour 6 of a 7 hour cold calling weekend shift. In which case, yes, I'd be excited if I could say 'energize' into my wristwatch and be beamed off into a tropical paradise and escape the labors I've agreed to undertake for cash.

But that isn't the deal, and leaving for a decent chunk of time means you don't get to go on holiday without giving up your job, your peers, your social connection, your sense of identity, all of that. Sounds emo and dramatic right.

Consider this as perspective, you are about to have a baby, you're first baby. Is it exciting? yes! of course it is, but it also is an irreversible turning of the page in your life. Not only are you possessed of the knowledge that barring some tragic onset of mental health issues, you are going to meet the person you love more than anyone else in the world. You are also going to become a parent and that means you are no longer going to be the independent and irresponsible adult you are currently.

I feel, that there is room to have both. It is not a betrayal of the child to acknowledge that by having them you are going to lose something of yourself - you choose to lose that something. No need to pretend you don't care about losing it though.

So too do I find the task of being excited about a trip that lies at the other side of leaving a betrayal of self. I'm choosing to go, and sure, I generally choose to travel because it makes me uncomfortable, but even if I was one of those people that has a picture of myself snowboarding or riding a horse as my tinder profile, I would still hate fucking leaving.

Life isn't bad enough for me to want to leave it all behind. I have to remove myself like removing tape from a hairy leg.

I'll do it. But I don't have to like it.