Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Unpacking my Superficiality Part 5: Age, Height and Single Motherhood

Aka the 'Misc' section. And for anyone who might be wondering 'part 5? what happened to parts Twix, Trix and Quix?' (and kudos for adopting my highly unpopular and impractical base-6 counting system) the answer being, those are larger subjects than this grab bag and so are sitting around in draft form.

Had I the discipline and clarity of thought to have banged them out, I'm sure they would have established by now, that I'm far more persuaded by the 'nature' explanations for my superficiality than the 'nurture' ones that I can only assure you, unpublished as the earlier components are, I attempt to entertain and explore. At the very least, even assuming I have simply been taught my preferences arbitrarily and could reteach myself, the sheer pragmatism of my preferences doesn't incentivize myself as an individual to reprogram myself.

So whether such a conclusion horrifies you or not, I must apologize for I won't make the argument here. But when I do this dead text will become a link to it.

In the meantime let me talk about superficial preferences I have that strike me as being in my interest to reprogram, or work around otherwise. Handled in alphabetical order.

Age.

Lee Mack refers to 'the French Rule' half your age and add 7. In Australia I believe the legal age of consent is 16, which by the French Rule would be 8 + 7 = 15 and the French are in trouble. Or if you are somehow under the misapprehension that the French Rule is the law, might find yourself a registered sex offender. but by 18 it's working pretty well (16) and if you're 70 (42) and if you are 30 (22) and then Lee Mack invokes the 'Thai Rule' which is half your age, then half it again. And the Geordie rule which is 'forget the age, count the teeth'.

But presumably all these rules, with the latter ones being most likely made up by Lee Mack, imply the independent variable is male. Now the zeitgeist has in recent years attempted to introduce the concept of 'cougars' and prior to that there was of course 'Milfs' and perhaps predating both was the concept of 'boy toy'. However my perception and I would feel it uncontroversial would be that the scenario of a man dating or wedding a much younger woman could be described as a trope. A brief consultation with our availability heuristic might have us all recalling our parents gossiping about some doctor or lawyer they are vaguely connected to leaving their wife and marrying a much younger woman.

It may also be a natural bias of my own sex, but I know men whose ex girlfriends either left them for or rebounded onto old men with distended testicles (I assume). And while I know cases of women going younger, in contrast of the trope like status of men snatching from cradles, I would regard women dating significantly younger men as the exception.

I have however never read Germaine Greer's art history book 'The Beautiful Boy' But I do know it exists.

But this is supposed to be about my superficiality, so let's get into it. And some pictures please. Consider the following two women:

Exhibit Ix (not to be confused with roman numerals IX)

Exhibit Twix

Now apart from questioning why I'm still using my impractical base six counting system inspired by confectionery, you might be wondering whether my confusion lead me to unintentionally reproducing the same image twice. I did it on purpose, because I want to compare apples with apples. This woman ticks several of my boxes which I would have established in previous installments of this series if I hadn't published this first. But she has the indicators of physical health: long lustrous hair, healthy BMI, clear skin (which I don't care about so much) and social cues like the ability to assemble and wear with confidence a look, general coordination, and a degree of sprezzatura

Now though the information is that through some extraordinarily unlikely coincidence these dopplegangers are in fact two different women, one of whom is aged 22 and the other aged 37.
This then is my opinion on the matter of age, even though visably these two women are identical, I would say the 37 year old is more attractive. Or at least should be more attractive.

Yes, in an ideal world, I would dispense a valuation of an age premium. Something that helps with this are heavily visually based dating aps like 'Tinder' and 'Hot or Not'. Anyone who has used these aps for 5 minutes has a good chance of being able to sympathise with me when I say, swiping is hard work. Hot or Not in particular encourages you to 'like' 50 people a day, and the law of diminishing returns certainly applies, where it is pretty easy to find 20 people I like the look of. 30 is a slight effort, 40 is tedium and the last ten often take as long to resign yourself too as the previous 40 took all together. 

But not only is that symptomatic of the distribution and frequency of women in a 20 km radius that meet my superficiality, it's that these sites (though probably skewed) show the precipitous drop off in age v attractiveness. 

I feel like in A Song Of Ice and Fire there's a scene where Cersei meets the distant relative that Robb Stark married causing him to break his betrothal, and she comments on how she is beautiful but it's the kind of beauty that comes with youth, not like her own beauty.

And indeed, as Lilly Allen lamented in her song '22' 'It's sad but it's true how society says her life is already over' which in the context of the song is actually referring to the age of 30, a sentiment echoed in Bridgette Jones' Diary and I'd point out this bleak outlook comes in both cases from British sources so grain of salt as the British are known for being the least attractive people in western Europe if not the entire Anglo-sphere.

But I digress, there appears to be a precipitous fall, in a lot of communities where one loses their looks rapidly in their twenties. Part of the problem with my sample of course is that I don't know how much the data is skewed by women feeling pressure to game the search preferences of dating aps, knock ten years off their age. 

At face value though, here in Guadalajara the population of the dating ap world is 90% attractive up to the age of 25, 60% up to 28, 40% up to 30, and scratching 10% by my age of 35. Here then is the age premium, with some disclaimers... in fact forget I said 'here then' here are the disclaimers.

Presuming that Mexicans are less likely to divorce because of the Pope, attractive women may just progressively be marrying themselves out of the dating app pool and or migrating to Ashley Madison. A kind of inverse survivor bias. This means as you get older, the more likely the people on dating aps are the ones who struggly to make it past the swipe phase. This probably plays a role, however I'm sure lifecycle and lifestyle factors are more explanatory.

Here finally then, is the age premium: women who are attractive at age 23 offer little predictive insight as to whether they will be attractive at 35. Both the longevity of their genes and their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle are untested. Whereas, a woman who is attractive at 35 is more likely to remain attractive longer. 

Consider Jessica Simpson and Madonna if you will. When Jessica Simpson was last in the headlines and talk of the town for her reality tv show 'Newlyweds' back in 2005, Madonna released her album Confessions on the Dance Floor, looks far more like 2018 Madonna than 2005 Jessica Simpson looks like 2018 Jessica Simpson.

That's all surface though, a kind of application of the Lindy Effect to perishable human beings. There's another basis for the age premium, in my case, which is as a general rule I have always much preferred the company of older relative to younger people. It's not that older people are more intelligent, but they tend to be wiser. Specifically age is one of the great remedies to the Dunning Kruger effect. Very much "The Effect of Our Times" not only are people more likely to develop a degree of epistemic humility with age, they are more likely to offer me the valuable feedback as to the extent to which I am in the grips of the Dunning Kruger effect.

And for the trifecta, the third reason by which I would give age a premium as an attribute, is emotional maturity. It's another probabilistic argument, but young people can cruise through life for a good long time without precipitating the kind of crisis that exposes how out of touch they are with their emotional life. I would describe emotional maturity as the development of emotional competence, being able to recognize your affect as it is occurring, to recognize how it is shaping your thoughts and behavior, and knowing how to self regulate. As we age, the more likely we are to experience the kinds of insults from reality, the kinds of crisis that serve as catalyst to developing these skills and becoming emotionally mature. 

And emotional maturity makes life so much easier.

So really, I should be able to say, that given your attractiveness meets my superficial standards, the older a woman is, the better in my books. Well, yes, in the friend zone certainly, and to a limited extent, romantically.

I don't know what my rule would be mathematically, but when I was 18 I was involved with a girl who was 19 for the first six months, then she dumped me and I as then serial monogamist got entangled for the next three years with a 21 year old who thanks to relativity and both remaining on planet earth travelling at sub speed of light speeds, remained 2 years older than me when she dumped me whence I was going on 22. I managed to then address my own emotional immaturity and held off for a year before at 23 I began dating a 25 year old. 

After that the trend of increasing age got arrested. Because I ran into the biological clock, as well as a bunch of other issues. The biological clock though is the real kicker.

Because it would be nice as I am figuring things out, to partner up with people on an even keel with me, who have had as much time and life experience as I have to figure shit out. I'll go one better and say it is nice. Except we aren't on an even keel so far as family planning is concerned. I have much more time and leeway to make mistakes than my female contemporaries. That is, if having children is important to them. 

I guess rationally I am stoically indifferent, as should be my philosophical disposition, however honestly I don't think I am indifferent to the extent that if I found an attractive career woman with no ambition to have children, I would be ready to resign myself from parenthood nor invest serious time in playing around with our hearts together.

But I frankly am by and large unimpressed with younger women. This no-good generation of which I am apparently still a member of the self-same generation as people 10 years my junior. Their immunity to the current idiotic zeitgeist is frankly horrifying, and judgement often prompting sympathetic embarassment that they themselves do not feel. Basically the Dunning Kruger effect is at Jesus-Christ-Monkeyballs level with people who got facebook and smartphones while they were in highschool.

And alas, as will be made laboriously clear, much of what I find physically attractive is highly predictive of and correlated with youth. Probably because it has been a selective pressure to identify partners who are fertile, very fertile throughout all of human history.

In this regard though, as near as can be verified that delayed gratification can be said to predict success, the authors of 'Fuck Feelings' a set of practicing clinical psychologists said the secret to healthy relationships was the ability to hold out until you find a good partner. Such that women who remain physically competitive with women 8 to 10 years their junior, indicate genes that might produce daughters that can be more selective with their own choice of partner. Or it indicates good judgement, not that life is fair and time and chance don't happen to us all. But as was/will be discussed with my superficiality regarding body image, the great under-discussed cause of unhealthy BMIs and WHRs is in my view, not the media environment but the industrial relations environment. The time poor, sedentary, malnourished, addicted and indebted likelihoods of 21st century living. 

A woman who is in the physical condition of parentally financed 1st year uni student, indicates an ability to navigate this environment that is hostile to physical and mental health.

I really like the term 'Jailbait' which is another reason I like to avoid any women that even indicate they may be dipping below the double-decades.

I would like to avoid the risk of Jailbait altogether if I can, and so this is an area of my own superficiality where it makes sense for me to find younger women more attractive, I am actually sympathetic to a technological solution that could make reprogramming my prefences pragmatic. As in the development of artificial surrogates, a cost effective, completely ethical solution to the biological inequality between male and female fertility.

I would imagine in a post biological clock world, that guys preferences including my own, be still skewed toward peak fertility and health age cues. We wouldn't suddenly be talking about how much we'd like to do Hillary Clinton in the locker rooms. And yeah, there's a degree to which we are already living in a post biological clock era now, with egg freezing and IVF and surrogates. Except that there's a premium on conceiving the old fashioned way to the tune of several if not tens of or hundreds of thousands of dollars upfront.

One should be cautious though, of evolutionary game changers. The pill was one such game changer (and I've read about how problematic the pill is, even as a massive game changer) but in terms of sexual relations, though the pill enabled women without a doubt to gain control of their own fertility, increase their likelihood and longevity of tertiary study, pursue careers previously kept from them and in time sit on regulatory and research bodies to improve their own contraceptive and fertility treatments (in theory). In terms of market power, the major benificiary of the pill are men.

It should make women suspicious that I as a man, am pro a device that would change the evolutionary game theoretic of fertility. It could be a corrective to the market power handed to me by the introduction of the pill, or it could accelerate it. I haven't thought it through and the market probably won't either in it's rush to meet demand with supply. (two immediate thoughts would be how to overcome the developmental hurdle of a child in gestation attuning itself to the mother's heartbeat and mother's voice/accent, and also the psychological fallout of placing women in a sudden situation where they are expected to maintain the physique and beauty standards of 28 year olds well into their 50s as par for course while working 47 hours a week. When women are given equal biological clock time as men, it doesn't necessarily follow that men will become as un-visual in their preferences for partners as women are.)

Onto height.

Height

I first used Tinder in Italy, and quickly learned that for the most part, Italian's don't use Tinder in Italy. Makes sense when your home town is daily bombarded with a transitional population of backpackers on Tinder, it is not a good place to look for a relationship.
The other thing, that's a lie, I noticed a million depressing things that an app like Tinder does to women, but one of them was noticing the plight of tall girls. The first thing in their profile description was '178 cm, no short guys thanks' or '5'11" only 6'+ need inquire' and to some extent it is heartbreaking. I was immediately picturing these women's early forays into app-based dating where they uploaded some photos of themselves in bikini's, in the volleyball team uniform, in a club dress for the annual medical students ball, and were inundated with matches. 
Only to go to date after date with guys of average height where they either a) kicked themselves for wasting their time or b) had their date floundering for an excuse to get out of their as soon as possible. Training themselves quickly to disclose their height. 

The one time I ever felt the momentary negative emotions of rejection on Tinder was on a chat with a match that spent no time asking my height, telling me it was okay because we were the same height, then I made a joke about how I don't wear heels though, then she just unmatched and killed the chat without so much as a 'thanks but no thanks'
At the very least I may have contributed to her re-calibrating her minimum height standards. 
More to the point though, was that opening a conversation with 'how tall are you?' screams desperation to me, and any thought that taller women might be spared the awfulness of 'choice overload' online dating apps plague people with, kind of disipates into it's hard enough to find one person you are actually interested in on Tinder, you don't need the extra restriction of height.

Alas, my own dating history has the Shakespearian qualities of 'little' and 'fierce'. A statistical analysis would suggest that I like them short, and I like them scary. Some kind of female Napoleon complex, though Napoleon himself was apparently not short, but the average height for his time. It's just your standard piece of British propaganda. 

Thing is, it doesn't make sense to me. My NBA ambitions that are now vicarious should have me gravitating to the tallest women I can find, given that shortness is apparently recessive and typically a mother is destined to be the shortest member of the family. Our children could be 6'3" and refer to me lovingly as 'little dad' but when they use their first (W)NBA paycheck to buy my tall wife and I a house with a little 5'9" 'daddy flap' installed in the doors so I can come in and out of the house without my wife getting up to operate the doorknobs I cannot reach and am not smart/coordinated enough to operate myself.

Oh and I could be the little spoon while spooning more often. 

On paper it's all upside, particularly given that one of the biggest predictors of corporate success should our progeny fail to make the NBA cut, is height with 6' plus individuals being over-represented among CEOs. Yes, it isn't just a man's world, it's a tall man's world.

One obvious obstacle though is that equal to my preference for shorties (or short fiercies?), and non-preference for tall women, is the inverse well attested to and backed by data preference by women for tall men and non-preference for short men. 

I've heard competing claims, Dan Ariely for example says when you run a labor analysis (multi-variable regression analysis) for a 5'9" male to be considered as attractive as a 5'10" male he needs to earn about $40,000 more per inch of height he lacks. Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller says guys who are short are at a disadvantage but it isn't a big deal, guys who are overweight are at a disadvantage but it isn't a big deal. Ariely concedes the search functionality of a dating site can take a bias and exaggerate it (if for example the women are using height as a search criteria, Tinder has no search function, just age, gender and distance preferences). And what I see on the streets suggests that it isn't so extreme as men of average height need to be in the 1% to get any attention.

But it is extremely rare to see men who are shorter than their female partners. I don't know but at some point shall investigate how lesbians tend to handle the height differential. Does it for example follow the fem-butch dichotomy? I don't know, and fem-butch couplings/role adherence aren't universal among lesbian parings and even social groups.

But due to the recessive nature of shortness genes, it's hard to explain more so why men, and particularly I care about the height differential. My preference for women who are below average height (women who are short, among women) is fairly irrational, though it tends to inversely correlate with meek and mild personalities. 

Curiously, some of the funniest women I know are tall, and taller than the average man. This appears to be the inverse of the trend among males, where the taller a man is, the more boring and blase he tends to be. Of course there's exceptions, but they are exceptions that tend to prove the rule.

So as near as I can guess, the superficialities of height are probably what most people intuitively hit upon - insecurity. Like body-hair norms and cosmetic norms, I'm guessing due to us being a species of sexual dimorphism, just as less body hair indicates more female, and more body hair indicates more male, and higher contrast in facial features indicates more female and lower contrast more male. 

I'm guessing the general rule is that in the same lazy heuristic way, taller suggests masculinity and shorter suggests femininity. So if your preference is for ladies, your preferences will follow to be less hairy, more contrast in facial features and shorter. 

Of course, there's thresholds with me and I would expect with the population in general. It can't be the rule that 'the shorter the better' because at some point a lack of height will start to disturb an individual in the suggestion of some genetic defect or that a child is masquerading as an adult (pedophillic) the same I imagine goes for body hair, and there's a more obvious threshold of overdoing makeup to the point it becomes war paint and scares people away.

The narrative as to why a man might be averse to a taller woman, and not just a woman who is taller than most of the male population, but taller than them, so she could be average height and my male ancestor be actually short, but just a relative height differential. Here then is what I mean by insecurity, if given that height is in part nutrition, but largely hereditary what I suspect a tall woman indicates is that her surviving male relatives will then be taller than her, and therefore taller than you. 

That's the insecurity, the stigma, is that you would be marrying into an extended family where you are not so much pushed around by your violent and physically dominant wife, but by your in laws. My suspicion, guesstimate, inkling is that the importance of height in male hierarchies and social security, mean that a woman's height works against her rather than for her because of the immediate impact, rather than the long term benefit of having taller sons than you would have with a partner shorter than you.

Furthermore, it would explain why women ostensibly care more about height than men, that for all my ambitions to vicariously live through my taller children, I may find no women willing to sign up. For one, if she can find a taller partner not just than me, but than her, then the advantage is more likely to compound. Thus for her own basketball ambitions for her children she has no incentive to shack up with me. There may be a better case for corporate ambitions, albeit my own sample of corporate success was brief. I haven't had a 'real' job in over a decade.

The tragedy I see playing out on Tinder is probably driven by a survivor bias. Tinder tends to accumulate people who don't match easily, as the ones who do, find a partner and drop their profile. Owing to sexual dimorphism, a woman who is above average height for women doesn't really have a problem. If you are 5'9" (174 cm) as a male you are as tall or taller than some 58.6% of men in their twenties in the United States. If you are female and 5'9" you are taller than 94.1% of women in their twenties in the United States. So a 5'4" woman is tall, by female standards but the majority of the male population is taller than her. No sweat.

But if you are female and 6' then you are taller than almost 80% of men in their 20s in the United States. So it is women who are tall in absolute terms that will struggle with a slim pickings situation, and necessity/scarcity may force them to relax or work against their own preference for men who are as tall or taller than their father. 

This of course would mean that in terms of genetic contributions to the height and wellbeing of our children, I then am bringing nothing to the table. There's something selfishly 'altruistic' about me gravitating to statistically short women with an implicit 'I can help your children out of your little situation'

Onwards to 

Single Mothers

A potentially fraught topic to discuss, aside from body image, it's the one I can intuit a sensitivity 'out there' to. So let me start with single dads. 

A specific subset of single fathers. Excluding a father who is bereft the mother of their children, a widower who is left to recalibrate the family to one where he provides 100% of his dependents' needs. I don't want to pick on those guys, no more than their female equivalents. I also would concede that there's probably a rarer variety which is fathers whose co-parent abandoned the family for whatever tragic reasons she felt the need to. A Kramer vs Kramer type situation.

And of course it's 2019 so there will be single fathers who had to turf out their deadbeat or abusive male partners, their co-father, in same sex couples.

I want to beat up a minute on the single father that is a father that has been dumped. The mother broke up with him because they found him wanting and so imposed a harsh judgement upon him - that for all the stigma, and financial disadvantage, and romantic handicapping that comes with being a single mother. She decided she would be better off on her ownsome than to allow you to tag along.

That's harsh. But not necessarily unfair. I am pro divorce. But it seems to me, that this kind of single dad, this one who has been judged a burden to the family they would keep at a remove. I would expect them to suffer by it, suffer the most by their status as a parent. That in all the dating markets that exist, this single dad would and should be struggling the most.

And they don't seem to. With this perplexity in mind, let me turn to the perplexity now of the single mother.

Most of my exploration of my own superficiality, is that aside from the look, the clothing, the aesthetics. Everything else I cue into, and particularly give priority to with my attention and attraction skews toward the triumvirate of signals: fertility, health, kindness. Which can be combined into the divine singular of: mothers. I'm not conscious of it, but I am attracted to motherliness.

Not my own mother, though there isn't nothing to Freud's Oedipal complex, attachment theory and bio-psycho-social factors certainly apply to me and I well understand them.

So why would single mother's, people who have literally demonstrated their fertility and ability to keep a child alive, particularly at a socioeconomic disadvantage to co-parents, have difficulty in the dating market?

Well, I have to plead ignorance. I don't know that they do have any problems on the dating market. It is a well worn hollywood trope that the non-custodial father has to deal with a step-dad who's a great and decent guy. Painting a world in which there's seemingly always available men who will be much better parents and much better lovers than the biological father.

On some level, this must be true. It is the presence of children that possibly changes the equation and which causes me, personally, confusion.

I read a book on the Comanches that made somewhere in it a claim that the horseback nature of their society lead to high rates of female infertility, such that, women who had proven their capacity to bare children commanded a premium in the marriage market. I don't recall it talking about infanticide, and I feel given the history of racism that crops up with nativist movements among white settlers, infanticide among the Comanche Nation feels like something that would come up if it ever happened. 

Suggesting there are circumstances, where men prefer single mothers. Just... nothing recently.

Crazily, if there's a 'rule of thumb' I have learned to employ the hard way in my own dating life it is that regardless of my intentions to actually have children or not, if I wouldn't put a child in a woman's arms, I won't put myself in them either. This rule may seem stupidly obvious, if you have never met human beings. But curiously most people seem to picture themselves as thick skinned adults that will put up with far more physical, psychological and emotional abuse than they would ever wish on a child.

But for the most part, intimate, sexual relationships exist as a form of test-driving potential co-parents. Even I suspect, a dynamic that dominates same-sex couples, and it's true most lesbians I know wind up with a bunch of cats.

Alas, I'm straight, so I'll get back in my lane. I watched a horrible video, by a horrible person giving a lecture to horrible people that for as near as I could discern had no qualifications and was just espousing his personal opinion. And this video and guy is so horrible that I won't link to it. Alas, it was within his competence to raise the very real concerns men should have when dating single mothers.

I'm reluctant to watch it again to jog my memory, however the valid concerns that men should look down the barrel of including but are not limited to: being an obstacle to reconciliation for the estranged father who often legally cannot be excluded from your partners life, breakups come with multiplied heartbreak, you cannot compete nor command attention...

and it gets uglier. I forget who now, but it was an evolutionary psychologist fielding a question on the incidence of false paternity, where women get pregnant by one man and another man unwittingly raises children he believes biologically to be his own. Though it does happen, it is rare but the psychologist fielding the question (I can't recall if it was Heather Hayes or Diana Fleischman) referred to a colleague defining any case where a man raises another man's children as a cuckold. 

Which is true in a biological sense, even if they aren't ethical equivalents in the domain of consent. From the position of investment in offspring, they are one and the same.

Now, there are many situations where becoming a step-dad may be quite agreeable even desirable. A man may know he possesses genetic predispositions that he cannot in good conscious pass on to another generation having suffered himself, but still possess the paternal instincts that have him want a family with kids running around. Or you may have a Brady Bunch situation where the couple have both produced offspring, albeit not with each other.

I'm in neither of these situations though. 

Ostensibly, I have nothing against dating or coupling with a single mother. Part of me is curious as to what it is like to enter a relationship where I am incapable (or should be) of becoming the person they love the most in the world.

However along with my felt curiosity, is more overwhelming felt responsibility. Which is to say, I can't imagine that it is good to have a strange man enter a child's life and compete with them for attention for 3 months and work out and process their relationship to this new person in their life after which mum and this guy call it quits and he disappears then repeat.

I again have to plead ignorance as to what the actual effect on children of single mother's (or separated parents is for that matter) having an active love life. It may just be their sense of normal, that the cast rotates and changes. I just suspect that this being a very modern phenomena, it probably is less than optimal for healthy childhood development.

Compounding it, I imagine is, a the step-sibling phenomena. Apparently, it's emotionally hard enough for an eldest child to have to cope with the arrival of the next sibling. My mother once told me, what I'm sure is pure speculation, but that it would be the equivalent of her being told by my father that a second wife would be arriving soon. I don't know if it is comparable, probably not, and historically I imagine half-siblings and second wives occurred a lot more frequently than they do now, at least in relative terms. 

Alas, I don't think I have the stomach to do that to a child. Which is a good time to point out that I really only have a felt conundrum for the stage of life I am at. If I were dating in my 50s, and dating a 50 year old who had a grown adult child off at University, I don't give a shit. There is literally no difference to me then than if I was dating a woman with no children. 

I'm not going to enjoy Christmas day anyway, I never have and probably never will, with the sole exceptions of my Christmases in Japan and Mexico.

So I don't know, just as it seems unethical for me to compete in full contact mixed martial arts with a 6 year old girl, I don't feel I should compete in the much higher stakes situation of a mother's attention.

Of course, this is an ugly thing to feel because it kind of writes off single mothers to lay in the bed they did not necessarily make for themselves. In which case, my feeling is that I'm hesitant but open to the idea, and on the question of being brought into a strange child's life by the mother, as she is their guardian I would defer to her judgement.

Which brings me to arguably something uglier, which is the subject of judgement. If anything could be said to be worthy of repulsing people, it should be poor judgement. And there's no way to slice it in my thought experiments where you don't have this evident piece of poor judgement. 

What's the most charitable case I can imagine? A couple meet in Medical School, they stay together throughout their 20's and purchase a house together and get married in a modest ceremony in front of 200 of their friends, and then after both have turned 30 decide to have a child, and then in the later terms of her pregnancy the guy goes through some kind of personal crisis to which he reacts by committing an act of infidelity, sloppily such that she discovers it and she isn't having a bar of him. 

To all extents and purposes, she had every indication that she picked a guy who was a non-financial burden that was committed to sticking around. And yet, after the fact it appears evident to me that she has picked the wrong guy to have a child with. I should cite here, Esther Perell, Belgian Couples Therapy psychologist that has written and spoken on the subject of infidelity whom has cited the Clinton-Lewinsky scandel as inspiring her interest, because in Franco-speaking culture the scandal isn't infidelity but divorce - one of irresponsibility. In other words, in which case it isn't 'how dare a man take a mistress' but 'how dare a man abandon his family' so there's a different cultural lens to see even this scenario through, albeit in this scenario the lens seems to suggest the guy going off to fuck some other lady is less culpable than the pregnant wife kicking him out. 

One way to reconcile it would be to say that the man not knowing how his wife would react to the discovery of his infidelity was in that regard being irresponsible. I don't really care though because I am not the product of French culture, I'm from the far more repressed British influence.

So I haven't checked the stats recently, but last I heard, being a single-mother was one of the most debilitating things that can happen to an individuals socio-economic status, and most impactful on one's future. And the risks are disproportionately borne by the mother of unplanned parenthood. It appears in most nations, they haven't figured out a way yet to reliably get dad's to pay their child support.

And stearing back to deadbeat dad's that have been dumped into single-fatherhood status, the non-payment of child support is an empathetic space I really struggle to enter. It may be that I am making an error of affect forecasting, but I don't know how they would justify to themselves not paying to support the welfare of their own child. Because it seems remarkably common practice. I put it in the same category as the young guy that used to work in a department I interacted with telling his coworkers that he'd lost his license but was still driving because 'what else am I going to do?' which similarly boggles my mind as to what sense of entitlement or sheer stupidity one must have.

An inability on my part to accurately affect forecast how I would feel if my partner and mother to our children cast me out may inform my superficiality on this point. I am reluctant to be with someone who made such an egregious error on one of the most important decisions of their life. Just from a purely consequential framework.

Both parties made either a tremendous risk-assessment error, or a tremendous forecasting error or probably both. There is something small and petty inside me that I won't disown, that resents any suggestion that I should pick up any part of the tab.

Which isn't true. I would be happy to pay taxes that fund services that support women in this situation. However, the archetypal Comedy is 'two people are in the wrong relationships' in the modern era we refer to these as Rom-com's or even Romances.

But when Elizabeth finally realizes that Brad is wrong with her and Eugene was who she should be with all along, I'm not sure that Eugene shouldn't have the self respect to say 'fuck you Elizabeth, it should have been obvious that I was a better match.' That may be more a commentary of a lack of skill on the part of writers of comedies and rom-coms and romances. Or the necessity for drama.

Real life is more complicated, with various psychological phenomena coming into play, including but not limited to self-validating partner selection, white-knight pathologies, the suite of personality disorders, attachment theory etc. that make more obvious criteria less obvious from another person's shoes.

The thing is, my experience has been that when I truly look at who a person is on the inside, I make much worse judgments than when I pick my partners superficially for all the above mentioned psychological reasons. 

Yet core to my identity is much sympathy, as an artist I believe in experimentation, exploration, risk taking and of course mistakes. I believe in the sanctity of human life and the equal dignity and intrinsic value in all people. 

Dating mother, and subsequent child that comes with, is perhaps made more of a conundrum for me though in that I have recourse. For all the potentially rewarding challenges that might come with this new experience, I simply don't have to deal with it if I don't choose to. 

I can date single women with no child to complicate the equation. Women equal in dignity and intrinsic value to single mothers, that also crave love and attachment and caregiving and sex, and should no less be denied it. They no doubt have more options too, so on this matter I remain agnostic and hesitant.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

I'm only 35, of course I'm not 'woke'

I didn't like Normcore, I didn't like Hipsters and still don't, I didn't like Emo and I've forgotten what came before that, Nu-metal? I didn't like that much either. That though was all easily attributed to my being too old, the Abe Simpson "I used to be 'with it', but then they changed what 'it' was. Now what I'm with isn't 'it' and what 'it' is seems weird and scary to me and it will happen to you."

But 'woke' I can't get with because I'm too young, too inexperienced, I do not have the requisite life experience or knowledge to have any confidence in either distributing or accepting 'wokeness'. In fact, it's really really really hard to take claims of 'woke' seriously. It reminds me of Mr Show's Youth Program 'No Adults Allowed' moment when Bob Odenkirk says 'Totally Grungefied.'

And sure I laughed when in Dear White People the guy made that Tinderesque ap for rating people as 'woke or not-woke' because conceptually 'woke' is a hilarious concept to me.

Thus I felt sympathetic embarrassment the first and only time I ever heard someone use 'woke' unironically at a media launch event in Los Angeles. When the woman described a Shanghai hip-hop enthusiast for being 'so totally woke' at first I laughed then realized she was serious.

Because woke may sound like some urban ebonic youth slang, but in my mind at least, it appears to be the semantic equivalent of a bunch of youth started claiming they were 'enlightened'. Which would clearly be a non-starter, if people were like 'Yeah I'm 17, and I've achieved enlightenment.'

Maybe I carry a residual traumatic impression from 1999's Season 2, Episode 7 sketch from the Micallef Programme 'An Open Letter to the Prime Minister' wherein Sean Micallef invites a 14 year old school girl onto set to read her Open Letter to the Prime Minister, which if you follow the link you can watch but he says 'Just 14 years of age and yet you communicate with the Prime Minister of this country on equal footing. Arrogance on your part or an accurate assessment of his intellectual ability?'

Perhaps because of this sketch and my retention of it, resonance with it... a 14 year old from 1999 would now be 34 years old, which is still younger than me... my intuition is that one should be embarrassed to be referred to as 'woke' claim to be 'woke' or claim to be able to assess and recognize being 'woke'.

In some sense, claims to 'enlightenment' as shared with the Buddha are somewhat more modest, because it could manifest as an enlightened approach to management of one's personal conduct.

But for a bunch of tertiary undergraduates to claim they is 'woke' to how society works, how to reform taxation and the corporations act to ensure improving quality of life and sustainability with less concentration of wealth, how to redistribute current wealth more equitably while preventing capital flight, recession, food insecurity and civil unrest...

This to me seems it would require a major innovation in our education system such that I, at 35 can be still baffled by the conundrum of the Inclosure acts simultaneously beginning the widespread disenfranchisement of the working class and the major contributor to wealth inequality and the necessary incentive for the private land owners to innovate agriculture and greatly increase food production and food surpluses of which modernity depends.

That is just one example of a complex problem that doesn't suggest an easy answer, such that while I don't plan to pursue a life in public office, I feel that maybe in 20 more years of contemplation I might have the requisite confidence to take a punt on making a decision that might improve the lot of ordinary citizens without fucking the delicate balancing act completely.

My impression of people that use 'woke' unironically, and that's a very small sample is that of people who have in their possession a bunch of truisms like 'racism is bad' and 'sexism is bad' and 'inequality is bad' and then a suite of really easy answers that boil down to 'stop being bad.' Which is to say, I've never had it impressed upon me that 'woke' culture, legitimate as their complaints may be, have any answers at all.

But they have a lot of confidence.


Friday, April 26, 2019

I've been Rethinking Immigration

I've had both experiences on AirBnB, which is possibly, a false dichotomy. What I mean is, that I've experienced AirBnB 'as advertised' which is, I've found not a hotel or a hostel, but a home. A habitation I shared with local people whom became my friends for life, gave me recommendations and opened doors for me in my travel experience. In this regard, AirBnB has been the facilitator of some of the best times of my life. It has connected me with strangers, cultures, opportunities.

And the AirBnB that isn't advertised, where some enterprising nobody turns a home into a hostel, there are no real residents, no connection, just a place to flop for cold hard cash while displacing locals from much needed housing. I have not much to say about this experience, suffice to say, I wasn't actually looking for cheap convenient accommodation I was looking for a doorway into the city where I was staying.

I raise AirBnB because I'm a wealthy white westerner, and thus this story is going to be more relateable, more accessible than the narrative of refugees. But also because it's relevant because AirBnB, though I've been lucky and it's certainly possible to have good experiences that are win-win-win for people and communities it is also a broken platform. I don't think it's malicious either, it's just a company built on an idea, a narrative and pursued with enthusiasm without closing the doors to the prisoners dilemma.

And Barcelona where I had my 'bad' AirBnB experience has cracked down since

But I've found myself having to rethink my stance on immigration, where I've had to confront myself being naive.

Here for reference was my previous position:

Targeting the most vulnerable people on Earth as 'a threat' is unethical scapegoating that wastes energy and attention on a non-issue and detracts from actually important issues. Most people have an opinion on asylum seekers that is simply unnecessary for them to hold, they are not likely to ever come across, interact with or be effected by an asylum seeker in their life. It's a debate not over a $10 solution to a $5 problem, but a $10 solution to a non-problem.
Which is in particular to Australia. This was informed by actually spending over a decade and some 5 Prime Ministers involved in the refugee community of Melbourne, a community I love frankly somewhat more-so than my own.

But watching what happened in Europe and the rise of right-wing nationalism, I've been forced to rethink my position. A position I've been rethinking while living in Mexico, where the moronic demagogue to the north still rants and raves about closing the border.

So here's three stories I've devised and some follow up that should illustrate how I've been rethinking immigration.

Story One - Room to Rent in the Rain

You and your partner, your sweet beloved partner (if you need to mentally switch out who you're actually with for this hypothetical to work) are doing an unguided tandem bicycle tour across Europe. This morning you got a flat tire just outside the town you spent the night and repairing it delayed you 30 minutes. Riding through the black forest of Bavaria you lost the route on the map you were following, back tracked, got more lost, the weather changed, the sun began setting and you and your most precious partner suddenly had to ride, lost, through a dark and strange land while being pelted with torrential rain, and they aren't happy and you aren't happy.

Then, a light in the dark. Then more lights. You've come across a small town. You cycle into the city center and the tourist info booth is closed for the evening, but you spot a sign that says (in german) 'room for rent'.

You knock on the cottage door and a friendly man answers it, you enquire about the room and come to an agreement. You are suddenly, wonderfully, relieved of your troubles. You stash your bike around the side under cover, grab your saddlebags, head into your room and strip down out of your cold wet gear.

Then your host walks into the room and sits down in a chair, lighting up a joint. He starts chatting to you, and you and your partner don't know what to make of it. He's asking friendly enough questions, where are you from, what music do you like, have you tried the local wurst, what is your favorite theory of consciousness, what do you make of the glaciers in Greenland...

'Ah' you say, 'if you don't mind we are quite tired, and quite hungry, and in our culture we don't really smoke in someone else's room or watch them change. We'd really like to just eat and go to bed and figure out where to go from here in the morning...' for a moment, your host looks hurt, then he remarks 'ah of course, what do you have to eat? It's share and share alike in our house, I have recently opened up a can of rotten fish and have some pickled cow fetus, let's have a pot luck.'

Without thinking you have impolitely declined 'no that sounds disgusting. We just want to eat some porridge and buttered toast and go to sleep, would you kindly leave us alone.'

Now I'm probably being entirely unfair to Bavarian culture, portraying it quite inaccurately. My own experiences as a disorganized and disoriented cycle tourist in Bavaria were wholly positive and frankenfurtly Germany was a great country to take a break from the general dysfunction of Europe.

What I'm trying to illustrate and probably failing to do through this first story is the disservice we as enthusiastic liberal leaning folks can do to migrant peoples through our enthusiasm for multiculturalism and globalization. Asylum seekers in particular may just be drawn to countries like Australia, the US, Canada, Germany, Britain, France for basic food and shelter, rule of law and relative lack of outright corruption.

They may not be as excited as we are about trying new cuisines, new dress sense, and engaging in a sharing caring pot-luck of cultural exchange. It is GREAT when it works this way, but a lot of people will settle for just getting to a place where they feel confident the state won't come and abduct their husband and rape their wife and burn down their house in the night.

As I write this, Trump has recently 'accepted the resignation' of his Homeland Security head, he criticized for 'not being tough enough' even though she presided over the family separation policy. And admittedly, a lot of El Salvadoran asylum seekers arrived at the US-Mexico boarder having this policy come as a surprise to them, however I am very open to persuasion that there are refugees in this world that would still rather take their chances having the US immigration department separate their family than their home government, or Narco-syndicates family separation policy.

I shouldn't have had to rethink this aspect of my position on immigration though, because I experienced a much more light-hearted version of it when in the early 2000s I spent two years living in a residential college whose speciality was housing international students. At that time it had the following national breakdown: 50/50 Australian and International students, with 30% coming from Malaysia.

Domestically, my college promoted itself as a 'round the world trip while you study at home' promoting as it's chief selling point, the multicultural experience and opportunity. It did somewhat deliver on this, which I'll go into. However I have my suspicions that this housing complex had somewhat of a different promotional strategy for it's international market.

I suspect something like attend this austere and prestigious college attached to Australia's most austere and prestigious tertiary institution. Nothing about globalization or multi-culturalism. Just educational and career outcomes.

Indeed, I read the Student Club Presidents op-ed from the previous year early on, in which he lamented his frustrations that the international utopia was not achieved. Where the multicultural promise delivered, was with all the various representatives of countries that had less than 8 people. There was a Peruvian, an Italian or two, around 5 Japanese, a person from Myanmar, a few from Thailand and so on. There would still be clicks, the Japanese would take tea together and discuss shit in Japanese, the Mauritians would complain about the toast in French, the Americans and Canadians would plan their outings together.

But, then in the dining hall there was the readily observable phenomena of what happened in the Malay contingent, where the tables designed to seat 8 would fill up, but there were more Malays coming out with trays. What to do? pull up more chairs to the table until there was no more elbow room to attack a dish with spoon and fork. Contrastingly, there was and I suspect always will be, a contingent of Australians that live in a state of perpetual resentment that they didn't get into the all-australian drinking cultures of some of the other residential colleges. These guys though were quite visible turds that gave off a turdy odor and people were pretty good at steering clear of them.

It used to frustrate the shit out of me and when I was on the Student Club, I floated the suggestion of doing more allocated seating, or putting an 8 per table limit in force, and I believe I even suggested a reverse psychology proposal of enforcing racial segregation on dining room tables in the hope that I might trick the Malays into rebelling in protest. What I eventually had to accept was that those Malaysian students weren't here to make friends, participate in college and community life. They were here because of inefficiencies and ethno-racist policies in their home countries University system. Undertaking a very expensive education abroad in the hope of achieving better lives or at the very least living up to parental expectations.

Ultimately it was unfair to project our (my) ambitions for multi-culturalism onto unwilling participants. This was a lesson hard learned, but not generalized to when I'm tucking into tasty Ethiopian stewed meats and curried vegetables on the worlds greatest cutlery -injera, I'm not thinking that the sudden proliferation of Ethiopian restaurants in the suburbs devalued by public housing might be the result of necessity rather than migrants setting out with the sole wish to expand the pallets of Melburnians. The multi-cultural benefits of migration are often a bi-product of really shitty circumstances.

Story Twix - Olaf's Broken Heart

Olaf is a poor farmer in his late 20s, he works the land that his family has been working for generations. He only has a rudimentary education but a good kind heart and solid work ethic. As he reaches maturity he is ready to build a shack of his own and a family of his own. His parents will provide him with the plot of land to build on, and Helga is the apple of his eye he wishes to marry, if she will have him. It appears she will but for one tragic complication, she has caught the eye of the local Burgomeister Sven, a wealthy and connected man whom has lands and businesses to his name and his hand in the public coffers. The police are loyal to him, and Olaf is a descendant of the local indigenous people long oppressed by Sven's kind.

When Sven learned of Olaf's designs on Helga for her hand in marriage, Sven set about making life impossible for Olaf. Harassment by the police, fines, hikes in taxation, property inspections, confiscation of property, trumped up charges and illegal detentions, even torture.

Having no legal recourse, no hope, Sven is forced to flee, knowing he will never see his parents or siblings again.

And this is normally where the refugee narrative stops, disenfranchised, oppressed, abused and vulnerable people risking all for a chance at a better life, one of basic human dignity.

However add the detail that Helga was 12 years old, and now I have to reframe my whole narrative. This is what I most often overlook, and I suspect a big part of it is that individuals are on the whole nice and congenial people, generous with what little they have, welcoming and polite and helpful.

Most people don't really have on an individual basis the capacity to demonstrate to me in most contexts what garbage beliefs they may hold in the mix. Particularly since manners specifically dictate how we treat strangers.

Now I've picked this example to be safe, but even in my own training process to become a volunteer English tutor to asylum seekers - my training was taken really seriously, like we learned about torture and trauma and also problems we don't tend to envision arising.

My story I picked as a safe example, or it should be, because Australian law wouldn't recognize child-brides albeit stories like Hana Assafari happened but I assume the 1980 legal situation has now been revoked. But in my training we were told of situations where a man was granted asylum in Australia but would only have one of his wives recognized in Australian law, which is a real headache because it will recognize all his children, but not necessarily their mothers. Most often, as I was taught, the problem was resolved by taking the youngest wife because she would have the longest working life, which in turn creates problems where there is a 50 year old husband too old for manual labor and with no language ability to take desk or service jobs and suddenly the 30 year old wife becomes the main breadwinner in a formerly polygamous patriarchal household.

But I digress, the naive temptation is to assume that the oppressed flee oppression perpetrated by oppressors and that's all there is to the story.

However, what I've had to consider or allow for is the possibility that the oppressed may simply be the losers of conflict between moral equivalents. It is not always the Jains, the Bahaists, the Quakers getting oppressed. That the injustices of the world are not necessarily such that the people living on the streets begging for alms, aren't there because they are simply too honest, too kind, too generous, too tolerant, too peaceful to make it in this dog-eat-dog world, but that they are simply unlucky.

So Olaf secures asylum and it's fine. He isn't permitted to marry a child, he's given access to schooling, community volunteer groups like mine help care and provide for him. He gains access to healthcare, public transport, and welfare. It allows him to retrain, obtain gainful employment, meet a lovely woman his own age, and most importantly gain access to social mobility. A kind of mobility that in his homeland his grandchildren's grandchildren couldn't have hoped to achieve.

More importantly, this asylum and opportunity needs must be extended to the Hildas of the world so they can escape the oppression of Svens and Olafs. Furthermore, I believe there's a moral principle that if a nation like Australia is going to get involved in destabilizing a region, they have a moral obligation to take responsibility for the humanitarian consequences.

But there's a way to fuck up granting asylum, and that appears to be to take 30,000 Olaf's and dump them in public housing creating a ghetto, isolating them from the subset of the community sympathetic to asylum seekers and displacing people who are prime candidates to resent the community. And then basically ignore this community to self-govern, self-police etc. To extend asylum but not opportunity, such that kids drop out of schools, or get married off, and congregate in what will inevitably be called gangs.

There's so many opportunities to fuck it up, and I believe the common thread is ignoring who the asylum seekers are, and doing the minimum necessary to feel good about sweeping these people under the rug.

Asylum seekers by definition are people that have been shaped by the environment of a failed state. Some aspect of this shaping will be positive, like a young intelligent introspective person in a shitty job with an incompetent manager having the time to critically identify all the things that don't work, that deduce the recipe for failure. That's a really useful thing and useful voice to introduce into any society and part of why I detest the lack of corporate or career asylum extended to corporate or governmental whistle blowers.

There's also going to be a contingent that is shaped in problematic ways, people whose total experience of authority is corrupt authority, people who are vindictive, people whose only ambition is to be the one holding the whip next time. There it's not enough to grant food and shelter, but a more resource intensive intervention. Something I'm not confident any country is equipped to handle.

Of course, it's worth pointing out policies like Temporary Protection Visas, and Offshore Processing, and Detention Centers, are great ways to make this problem worse both in social costs and economic costs.

Story Three - "As far as Empires go, this is the big one."


The Judean People's Front, or for that matter the People's Front of Judea never really posed a threat to the occupying Roman Empire. In fact, it would appear that as near as an historical accounting goes, the Isrealites, and indeed Jewish Diaspora, have never surmounted as a credible threat to any empire or even nation state ever with the sole recent exception of the occupation of Palestinian territories.

Mostly though, they've been histories scapegoats it would appear, ironically being the religious tradition that gave us the concept of 'scapegoat'.

By contrast, Rome was the largest empire the world had ever seen, and it's stability largely relied upon it conquering new territories and putting down revolts. I'm not a historian, let alone the kind of historian that would specialize on the Roman Empire, so please just entertain that the simple system of Roman expansion went something like thus:

March beyond the empire's borders. Conquer the local barbarian tribes. Incorporate those barbarian people's into the Roman Army. Pay the Roman Soldiers in conquered lands and grant them citizenship for their service. Repeat indefinitely.

So Roman imperial expansion was kind of a Ponzi scheme of sorts. You paid the soldiers that helped you expand and occupy, by expanding and occupying. Such that I heard somewhere that their were Roman Legionaries manning Hadrian's wall in Britain that were all the way from Palestine. The Roman Army spread Germanic people to North Africa and the Middle-East, and vice versa. It was a multicultural empire, from very early on. Scipio Africanus the Elder, aka Scipio the Great the general who defeated Hannibal in the second Punic War and was also a Consul of Rome, was a black guy.

How did Rome manage multiculturalism? Well, again I'm oversimplifying, as far as I know, Rome didn't have a Bill of Rights or anything, however they were Pagan, the state religion was the Roman Pantheon for which the Planets in our solar system are named, and better known by their Greek equivalents in mythology like Zeus, Hades, Hera, Aphrodite, Ares, Vulcan, Apollo, Hermes etc.

The Pagan traditions are  generally (and I'm deferring to Robert Sapolsky here) much less aggressive, honor-culture type religions and far more tolerant of competing religious ideologies than monotheism. The two big monotheistic cultures in the world at that time being Zoroastrianism, religion of the Persian Empire also notable for it's religious tolerance, and Judaism not noted for it's religious tolerance.

Persia wasn't a threat to Rome because they were basically yesterdays news. Their peak had been back when they were fighting the Greeks in the events of the movie 300. Judaism wasn't really a threat because Judaism was a monotheism of God's chosen people, with a peculiar quirk of being a matrilineal religious tradition that at that time didn't accept converts. It could expand and recruit like Rome did, because it could only expand through reproducing.

Then an innovation came along, a Jewish apocalyptic cult that had suffered the embarrassment of their leading Rabbi being executed set up shop in the Roman empire and under threat of extinction evolved. It allowed Gentiles to convert to this monotheism, and became a radical offshoot of Judaism. Then for reasons I don't understand, but apparently there's a book about it, Emperor Constantine the Great saw the writing on the wall and although having lived his entire life as a Roman Pagan, converted on his death bed to Christianity despite by scholars best guess, him having no real understanding of the content of the religion he converted to and paved the way for Christianity to become the state religion of the now 'Holy Roman Empire'.

And they allegedly at the time of Constantine's death only about 5% of the population of the Roman Empire.

The point of this historical-inspired fiction, is really for me, the mind bending prospect of trying to contemplate how religious freedom can work. There's something intrinsically paradoxical about it, and the more I think about it, even where it does appear to work, I suspect it does because it actually doesn't work, at least not in the way I think it does.

So that word salad aside, let's compare religious freedom to another of FDR's 'four freedoms' the Freedom of Speech.

Freedom of Speech describes a situation where people can say 'I think this' and another can say 'well I think that' and yet another can chime in with 'I disagree with both of you, I think you...' and so forth. That's basically freedom of speech: people are entitled to not only their own opinion but to express it.

And I'm actually not a free-speech absolutist and don't believe anyone actually is. For example, I don't think doctors, financial advisers, lawyers and other professional service people should be entitled to free speech but bound by professional standards and a duty of care. I should be able to sue my financial adviser because of negligent misstatement. Nor should people be able to bear false witness, or commit libel or defamation or whatever without consequence.

However, it is really important that people be able to criticize the king, elected representatives, policy etc. without fear of the state cracking down on them, and I would err on the side of better to have too much freedom to criticize than too little.

What by the earlier analogy does religious freedom sound like? I am thinking that it possibly sounds like this: 'I think this' and another can say 'I know that...' and yet another can say 'I disagree for I know absolutely that'

So let me just hurtle into the bending of my mind like a pretzel. For I am not confident to all or any it will be apparent why this is paradoxical. How to actually describe it, some belief systems aren't a zero-sum game, and I'm not an expert but like Buddhism, Hinduism and from my experience the Quakers. These are like nations that allow dual citizenship, or have built into the dogma ways of handling competing religious claims such that there is a no-compete scenario, like Hindu being flexible enough to view Jesus as just another manifestation of Krishna or Vishnu or something.

But other belief systems are zero-sum games, winner-take-all and they are generally described as Monotheistic belief systems. Here this then becomes the 'freedom of lasagna' or the 'freedom of chocolate cake'. Which is to say, I'm okay with people thinking their mama's lasagna is the best lasagna ever, or their grandma made the best chocolate cake, provided I'm allowed to disagree, which is to say it works provided nobody takes their preference for how their mum or grandma makes certain recipes seriously.

And you know, if someone doesn't like my mum's lasagna because she doesn't use nutmeg in her bechamel sauce, or object to her using bechamel sauce in what is supposed to be an Italian dish, it's easy for me to say 'oh well, more for me.' And a belief like Judaism appears to work that way because it isn't really a religion of the faithful, but of God's chosen people.

Which brings me to cutting off the foreskin, because strictly speaking to me, freedom of religion in my mind would look much like freedom of marriage. In that, a person starts out as a child and their concerns of primacy could be lasagna and chocolate cake and toys and playing in the park and cricket and soccer and ballet and bikes for christmas and the wiggles and whatever and then sooner rather than later they hit 16-18 and they might begin the exploratory process of figuring out how to select an appropriate partner to spend a good chunk of their lives with. In the same way, I would argue that true religious freedom should work the same, a religious belief should no more be imposed on a child as a betrothal.

However, I'm confident exists such people that might become agnostic or atheist in their adulthood that don't resent, but appreciate being raised in some religious tradition. Furthermore I can imagine people who appreciate being raised in a religious tradition, and continue that faith throughout their lives. And of course, I do actually know some people who appreciate being raised in one religious tradition, and converted to another in adulthood.

But again, this seems like a 'no-harm-no-foul' requirement for religious freedom to work, which is another way of saying that as near as I can determine, freedom of religion only works provided you don't take your own religion seriously. Which isn't religious freedom, the paradox being that 'freedom of religion' and a policy of religious tolerance is in itself an encroachment on religious freedom.

I'm currently in Mexico, a country named for the Mexicas aka the Aztecs, that also played host to the Mayas and Olmecs. When the Spanish conquistadors came they burned many irreplaceable, cultural artifacts for being a blasphemous affront to the one true faith. Christianity has a long history of intolerance extending right into the present day, from the Conquistadors in Spain and the Spanish Inquisition, the Guy Fawkes' Gun Powder plot, to the Reformation, to the Irish Troubles that might kick off again depending on what happens with Brexit and of course Neo-Nazi groups and whatnot.

Norman Rockwell who was so inspired by FDR's 'Four Freedoms' speech that he made four paintings depicting a freedom each, presents a telling depiction in fact of religious freedom: 


By Norman Rockwell - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16925975

Credit where credit's due, FDR's words up top of the image speaks to a greater truth that there are probably as many Gods and as many faiths as their are people upon the Earth each with their own take. But speaking contemporarily Rockwell's take on 'freedom of religion' is very white. This doesn't look like peoples of many different religious beliefs coming together, but just a snapshot of people of the same faith at prayer during a Sunday service. Which it could be, it also could be what it perhaps meant in FDR and Rockwell's time, which was a beautiful vision of Protestants, Mormons, Quakers, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentacostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and all 50 shades of Christianity getting along together. People burying the hatchet on the minor differences of interpretations of what is in essence the same thing.

Not a more radical conception of freedom of religion to embrace Hinduism, Judaism, Sikh, Islam, Jainism, Ba'hai, Hoodoo, Voodoo, Tao, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, and not to mention all future religions that are yet to be created such as Scientology and Jedi relative to FDR's speech.

Christianity, by the scripture is an awful intolerant religion that can turn violent over disputes equivalent to the use of nutmeg in a lasagna recipe. It appears that 'Christendom' has simply learned through exhaustion, not to take itself so seriously, particularly after the events of World War II.

And religious freedom already doesn't exist where we say it does, largely because many religions are not limited to being a personal thing to 'each according to the dictates of his own conscious' but instead lay out laws for the proper governance of society that are admittedly often unsystematic and self-contradictory and thus require a degree of personal interpretation and community consensus.

But Australia for example does not permit a lucid interpretation of the bible that says a true believer can own slaves, or treat women as chattel, or sell their daughter, or sick bears on youths for making fun of your bald spot. The law would stop you, throw the book at you. Thus while people have the freedom ostensibly to believe whatever they like, they are not free to actually act on that belief.

Which is a doozy of a pickle, and why I'd say, well, you can't really have religious freedom. Or perhaps you can only have it up to a point. I kind of like the 'religion is like a penis' rules which is that it's great that you have one, but I don't need to hear about it, don't pull it out in public and don't shove it down a kid's throat.

The relevance to immigration is that I feel we have to acknowledge the limits of religious freedom in concrete terms based on an observation of what works and what doesn't. In that context, I would now believe it fair to offer a kind of contractual dilemma to make salient a kind of conditional asylum.

What makes a particular geographic region a place of asylum is an acknowledgement that the community within has learned for the most part, not to take religion particularly seriously. Such that we ask people not to get outraged or indignant at the existence of gentiles, heathens, infidels, apostates and athiests (and most don't). Not to be phased by blasphemes or sacrilege. And most importantly to put most of our energy into getting along with our neighbors and not pleasing our Gods.

I can sense most people would balk at this as religious discrimination, except that that line is arbitrary, we don't allow people to act on their religious convictions that they shall not suffer a witch to live, or that adulterers be put to death. It's really to clarify the nature of asylum, such that we might say 'Okay Mr Gibson, we can offer you safety from sectarian violence and persecution, child marriage, the Spanish Inquisition, narco-cartel violence, fascism and climate change driven ecological disasters and food insecurity... but we cannot offer asylum for what you say the one true God requires of you for your immortal soul. That kind of asylum might actually be found in the kind of countries that can't protect you from all the material, physical threats. We're happy to take you, but you won't be able to practice these aspects of your religion, namely firebombing Synagogues and Mosques, murdering obstetricians who practice abortions, censoring media that you feel blasphemes against your beliefs etc. If you can't consciously forego these practices and put your soul in jeopardy we feel it best you keep looking for a more suitable asylum.'

I guess what I've had to reconsider is basically the degree of clarity needed in the rules of the game, previously my position was limited to: the Australian government should stop trying to 'send a message' to asylum seekers that we will turn back the boats, or that 'we decide who comes into our country' and so forth. Largely because, and I still believe this, when it comes to people seeking asylum the message you would have to send to deter people from fleeing murderous, genocidal regimes with corrupt institutions and torture, from wanting to come here would require us to become equally horrible places to the ones they are fleeing.

Now though, my position would be that there is value in sending a message to say 'yes this is a safe place to seek refuge, but the tribalism has to fucking stop.' What I mean by tribalism is double standards, so harking back to story 2 where Olaf and Sven are actually pretty close to moral equivalents just that in their home context Olaf is losing and Sven is winning.

A universal standard is, we can all each make lasagna exactly how we like it. Tribalism is, it's okay for me to persecute you, but not for you to persecute me because I have the correct recipe for lasagna and you do not.

Of the 'four freedoms': Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. I suspect the last two are not ethical to promise anyone given that they barring massive technological developments are not within the capacity of any state to deliver. Freedom of Religion I would be tempted to replace with a science, like 'Freedom of Philosophy' and for those who may not be up on their etymology 'Philosophy' is literally the love of wisdom, or the pursuit of the good life. Whether that then is informed by religious traditions or not is up to the individual, but to me it would provide a necessary buffer between an individuals pursuit of happiness and their sense of entitlement to extralegal systems of behavior.

Again I don't actually believe in a literal freedom of Speech. I don't believe it transcends a duty of care, but nor do I believe in essentially limitless duties of care where I or anyone else become responsible for other's emotional states for example.

Basically, the conversation on who to exclude in matters like immigration, and even organisational hiring or romantic relationships need to be had, and it can't be that the only people at the table speaking up are the racists, bigots and uninformed.

Monday, April 22, 2019

On Buskers and Beggars

I've spent a few nights of my life homeless or at least in a foreign country with no accommodation and as transitional as these experiences were, they were quite taxing. I also for a year and change lived in a tent in my parents Garage, an episode I'm prone to forgetting about completely. Although that wasn't stressful like being on actual streets were with all my possessions to my name, it still had an almost immediately noticeable effect on my self perception - it was humbling, I felt apologetic.

But that aside, I really have no idea what it is to be poor, or homeless, nor have an in-depth understanding of the root causes. Whenever I've speculated on just what lies ultimately upstream I get lost, and I'm sure real solutions shall forever require consultation with the chronically and transitionally homeless. I'm sure a big contributor though is that housing is seen as a category of investment rather than a basic human need.

For my purposes though, at least in writing this, I'm going to talk about my thoughts on what it's like to walk the streets of Guadalajara Mexico, but thought I'd start with this:



For those that can't be bothered watching the video, the gist is that when a homeless man looks like a homeless man, people ignore him and don't give him change. When they dress him as a business man, people give him money, often more than what he is asking for.

I'm not sure what the intent of this and similar videos are, and to the makers credit he doesn't actually draw any conclusions. There's a similar breed of video, where some young dudes will give a homeless guy a whole pizza, then send along a confederate to say they are hungry and see if he will give him a slice of pizza which the homeless guy does, then they'll reward him for his incredible generosity as a homeless man by giving him $50 in return for the slice of pizza etc.

My feeling is, the main emotional drive of such experiments is to shame people and uplift the makers in their own esteem. I don't know if this is the intent, but I'm highly skeptical that the kinds of people that make and share such videos would believe that were they our elected officials at all levels of government they could actually solve homelessness by giving them all a $50 tip or otherwise simply throwing money at it. I hope somewhere inside they suspect that what they might achieve is totally fucking up the entire social safety net system.

I cannot draw the obvious conclusion though that people are awful and judge books by their cover or something. There's to me a too-simple explanation as to why a man in a suit can raise more funds begging than a man dressed in the uniform of a beggar. In one case, people see a short term problem they can meaningfully contribute to, and the other see a intractable problem they can potentially make worse/enable by giving.

Now, on a typical day in Guadalajara, I go on a walk down one of the main streets in the center of town. I also typically have change in my pocket. I like cash cultures, pay-wave isn't really a thing here at all and coins still refreshingly have purchasing power in Mexico, rather than their sole use in Australia as shrapnel you have to fuck around with in order to avoid splitting bills over annoyingly priced items.

I could give my change out in the form of tips to the grocery baggers at the supermarket, nice friendly people whom I recognize and recognize me and that I generally tip for not putting my items into a plastic bag, and like because they all know me as the guy who hates plastic. They are senior citizens and near as I can tell, are paid solely in tips, and they have a nice little honor system of tagging out with each other as soon as one is tipped.

Then there's the regular buskers, the accordion players on other side of the main strip leading towards the Cathedral (and several other Cathedrals, actually everywhere leads to a Cathedral) at any rate, though I do love Mexican and Mariachi music, there are many other street buskers whose music or other offerings I enjoy more (much more) than these accordion players.

The thing is though, these buskers have their children approach people with cups asking for donations, or contributions etc. Like children under ten. Day in day out, 7 days a week for presumably something close to 8 hour days.

I mean, you can probably see the implications of this already, but by comparison in Mexico City (CDMX or DF) there are organ grinders, that are literally people who wear a brown police style uniform and turn a crank on a box to play organ music, and generally they will have an adult colleague who is collecting money in a hat. It is easy in this case to turn down a grown person who has made a two-man job out of what thanks to 20th (last) century technology, is a 0 person job. Especially considering all the buskers that have not only mastered the ability to turn a crank, but can juggle, do acrobatics, hula-hoop etc.

It's much much harder to walk past that kid attached nominally to an accordian player. But here's my question? Are they beggar or busker? There's a number of busking practices I consider underhanded if not unethical, namely playing to a captive audience like busking in a train or tram carriage where it is unsafe for people to leap from the windows while the vehicle is in motion. Also once I got stuck behind a guy enthusiastically 'rapping' his way through a construction caused bottleneck along Swanston St. and he was suggesting people pay him to freestyle, to which I was really tempted to do some pro-bono consulting and suggest he had his business model ass-backwards, he should offer to stop rapping if people paid him. Get into the extortion biz like the Piranha Brother's 'other other' operation.

One wouldn't find this situation in Australia, because the child would be in school until at least age 16 in which case they would still be better off collecting Newstart payments at home than being a walking collection plate for his accordion playing father. Furthermore, if someone tried to run this family business in Australia I presume some government agency would come and take this child away. I make no bones about this either for I feel that weekend child busker 'Jez' should probably have been taken away from his parents (Doubly so in the wake of 'Leaving Neverland'). I can only hope that he has by now lost the hat and can at least put his popping and locking in service of getting himself laid. But no such luck in Mexico, and I'll elaborate on the difficulties a little later. For now though I feel the answer to the busker/beggar question lies within me.

Given that I could give my change to the bag 'boys' at the supermarket, or other buskers or other beggars, opportunity costs come into play. And upon reflection I would only give this street act coins because I feel sorry for the boy (or girl on the other side of the street) because their lives are shit and I can ease that somewhat by giving them some coins. But what it wouldn't be for is because I enjoy and value the father's accordion playing, he just has far too much competition.

Now, it get's more complicated, because I've listened to speakers on 'effective altruism' which is people who actually put cognitive effort into questions of why and how much and where we should donate our time and money etc. It's a complex philosophical undertaking, and while I can't sign on the dotted line and drink the cool-aid myself as far as some effective altruists conclusions are concerned, they have pointed out that often in countries with child beggars, the act of giving them money is in fact just a transfer of wealth to mafia like crime organizations that actually run the street urchin trade. I don't believe in general, Mexico is an exception to this model, but in this case right here my suspicion is that I am transparently giving money to a child knowing the proceeds will be confiscated by his talent-less father, under the pretext that his child is not a beggar but in fact collecting money from his dad's many fans.

I've done some asking around about this, and some economics is involved. Firstly, I don't need to ask anyone to guess why the kid isn't in school and a cup or hat sitting on the ground in the kid's place. My guesstimate is that having a kid approach passersby and ask them for coin more than triples the busker's usual take. Of course a big part of this is because the child is more sympathetic in my opinion than the dad is talented.

More complex is why the father isn't playing a long game and thinking if my child is educated, numerate and literate, he will have far better prospects in the future and be far more able to look after me when I can no longer pump an accordion. My friend's here have told me that you can take your child to your locally zoned primary school to enroll them and they can very often say 'sorry, full' to which point you might have to walk much further only to be told sorry again, or enroll them in an expensive private school.

It needs must be also mentioned that the daily minimum wage in Mexico is 102.68 pesos also known as approximately (as at writing) USD $5.10 or AUD $7.64 and lest that escaped you, that's daily minimum wage not hourly.  Further more while in Mexico the average wage is US$9000 per year, the median is US$5000 per year which is indicative of the level of wealth inequality. Such that you can get a situation where busking becomes quite lucrative compared to more traditional, stable gainful employment and public schooling quite costly or unfeasible.

Such that when I pass through my nearest park and see kids practicing 'circus' skills, hula hoops, juggling, stiltwalking, tightrope walking and acrobatic tumbles, I'm watching kids skill up often for a more viable career than say, the hospitality industry. If you do a hula or acrobatic routine at an intersection and on average make 7 pesos per change of lights and there are 20 changes per hour, you are already earning above and beyond what can legally be paid to you for a hard days work in formal employment.

I have some firsthand experience of this peculiar form of wealth-transference in Australia believe it or not, by working in a cold-calling call center for the better part of a decade. A strange situation where you fill a room with otherwise useful people, either in the process of obtaining a degree, or pursuing an unsecured career like artist or musician and they are charged with spending a significant chunk of their week doing something quite unnecessary that also annoys many people.

I always liked to picture the people in a huff, picking up the phone and being annoyed to have their movie or tv-show interrupted, to speak to some artist trying to make rent, rent that was paid for ultimately by this person's tax dollars. They clearly like art and creative output, and they find cold calls annoying, and in my opinion, the research I was doing was near completely unnecessary, so why didn't they just pay me and others to be an artist?

And of course, I can fairly answer that question without being cynical and vindictive. But now I look at Mexico and Mexicans, and one thing it's numerous unemployed and homeless can be accused of, is laziness and lack of enterprise.

I'm told it's not a distinctly Mexican institution, but you rarely have to open the door to an OXXO or 7-Eleven here. There is usually some guy looking out for you and opening the door with a friendly greeting, in the hope for a tip. Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say these enterprising hustlers contribute 0 value, but pretty close to it. The economist in me wonders what their service is truly worth to me, in terms of the social contact and the slight caloric effort they spare me by expending themselves. But per customer it's gotta be something slightly short of .1 peso that I would feel is fair.
Which they won't.

Which again is a problem with monetizing manners and politeness: everyone loses. The person being polite and friendly feels pissed off or gipped for the lack of recognition, the person ostensibly receiving the unasked for gesture feels annoyed and frustrated.

For the record, I have a far greater problem with ostensibly good organizations like Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, etc littering the streets of Melbourne with 'charity muggers' people that exploit common decency to try and get people to sign up for a tithe. Compared to that, individuals that are losers in a dysfunctional economy don't bother me at all, particularly since opening doors for people isn't as fundamental to human interaction as smiling, saying hello and proffering your hand for shaking, I don't want the general community trained to avoid such gestures or treat them with suspicion. I've written about this before though.

And it brings me to beggar classic, the non-enterprising individual with palm extended, in complete submission to life. I like these people though I wish they didn't exist. In Mexico again, you see things you just wouldn't in Australia, namely the homeless families with young children. Single mother beggars.

I don't know if the mafia/cartels, run this enterprise or to what extent. While being served a meal I had a particularly insistent urchin tug on my sleeve and ask me for some of my food. I eventually relented and gave him a chicken nugget. It's not something that makes me feel good for being magnanimous or whatever, I feel bad because I've just reinforced a process that is going nowhere.

Somewhat uplifting was seeing this plucky kid then share what I gave him with another who was harvesting the unused sauce sachets left on top of the bins. I found this solidarity, this community quite moving, detached though I myself am.

Most heartbreaking was walking past a woman who has a young boy and a young girl, both I'm guessing under the age of 4. They live on the streets, full time and I happened to pass at a moment when the girl, the youngest burst into tears. Though her distress was no doubt some incidental triviality of the moment, it spoke to my heart in the big picture sense - yeah girl, your life sucks and I feel like crying too.

Although I gave the mother some change once, it's just one of those things that hammers at the hopelessness of the situation. There's no money I could give her and her children that would get them off the streets tomorrow. As far as I can discern, she just basically has to sit there, day in day out, caring for and entertaining as best she can those kids through what must be a meditation-free, shit boring life until they are old enough to release her to do something else.

Judging by the single-mother beggar with one son on the opposite side of the street, who heartwarmingly I see sharing laughs from time to time, she will most likely train her kids to beg, and ask strangers for money, as some kind of game.

Again in Australia, these children would be taken away and placed into foster care or some kind of group home. I have mixed feelings about this. For one, it is much more necessary in Australia because exposure to the elements through winter is much less survivable. When I first went to Uni in the early 2000s, there was a bearded homeless man that basically spent his day hunched over like a Gustav Klimt figure under the industrial AC of Myers Department store entrance, that was powerful enough to maintain a warm and cosy interior while the building was completely open to foot traffic. One day I realized that this man was basically just waiting to die. He was going to die of exposure on the streets one night.

So yeah, in Australia, you have to take those kids away for the certainty of death that awaits them in the winter months. However, our state run child care and foster programs don't in themselves have great reputations for not being horrible things for children to endure. There's also just a basic mental health cost I believe to separating a child from their only remaining parent.

This mother on the street might turn, like the accordian player, or her counterpart across the intersection, to child exploitation. But she will do so for purely economic reasons. What I devised hap-hazardly, would be that it would be nice if there was a beggar day-care service as a basic first step. A place a mother could drop the kids off so they get a feed, a wash, some play and some schooling.

Of course such a wonderful service turns ugly when mum comes by in the evening to pick up the kids for sleeping in the streets. Suddenly you need a night-time shelter service. A women's refuge. Because why not look after the mother as well?

I don't really subscribe to a 'give to the needy, not the greedy' worldview, because it's actually pretty much the libertarian position. To uncharitably characterise libertarians, their philosophy as I understand it is basically 'welcome to the jungle' you don't have a welfare state because it's all about getting the government the fuck out of the way.

When prominent US libertarians like former Senator Ron Paul are asked about their humane alternatives to the welfare state, they basically lump it onto private institutions like the Church, or individuals to pick up the slack when the government slashes it's revenue and expenditure.

So too, I don't think it's up to individuals to handle the redistribution of wealth to take care of the chronically homeless. It is very often the case that giving a kid some coins or a dollar, or giving him a pizza and then asking for a slice of his pizza and then feeling good about what a noble spirit he is, and then giving him $50 simply ensures that he will still be a beggar tomorrow.

These to me much as they don't feel like it in the moment, exercises in hand washing. A moment where we simply become fatalistic. I feel it is an individuals responsibility to the homeless to actually see them and think hard, very hard on the problem. Because it's a really hard problem and it's never been solved.

The history of attempting to redistribute wealth is actually quite horrific and abysmal, and I suspect in part it's because people get more involved in implementing a solution en masse than they do getting involved in conceiving a solution.

And Mexico has a ready model of a solution, which is all the states of the world where social safety nets and welfare work much better. Millions of people's lives would be improved if Mexico just moved incrementally closer to a country like Australia.

How to implement that though is a problem in and of itself. First you have to decorrupt the government, in order to have effective social spending and reform. For that you probably need to address the regional geo-political situation so the neighbors aren't constantly undermining any attempt at reform... and so on and so on upstream.

One form of charity people should definitely stop giving to, is themselves in the term of the common ways people psychologically try to cope with the confronting reality of women and children living on the streets. When I've discussed the complexities of the homeless of Mexico with Mexicans, what emerges are the stories you hear everywhere - that the beggars are scammers, faking even amputations, that they are simply lazy and unmotivated, not wishing to work. That they are career beggars that have been running the same scam for 15 years, or that they are drug addicts by choice and so forth.

All these are little donations we give to ourselves to maintain the status quo. An inability we have to confront the terrifying prospect that misfortune might exist and that we aren't the masters of our own destiny but may instead have to fall on someone else's mercy one day.

I spoke with my mother yesterday and she was talking about the local prize fuckhead federal representative's pamphlet appealing only to greed. I am a big fan of Rumi who wrote 'If you would have mercy, show mercy to the weak.' and on the subject of chronic homelessness and everything that comes with it, this is an example where voting in the interests of others may be in a sense voting in the interests of yourself whereas greed's track record is pretty fucking clear - wealth is concentrating such that most people who vote based on greed, are giving charity to the greedy, not themselves.