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.

Friday, April 19, 2019

On Demeritocracy

Meritocracy is in practice what you defensively claim to be living in, when you can't face the cold hard truth that your recruitment process is an afterthought and perhaps worse you operate on a system of Cronyism or Nepotism or some shit, because you don't actively test for the merits you claim.

So where it exists, it's probably by accident, not design, because things that work tend to win out in the long run, because that's what it means to work.

But I have no problem with meritocracy as an ideal to be aiming for, rather than a legal defense of corrupt systems.

So definitions, definitions. Meritocracy is formally defined on the interwebs as a system of governance based on ability or something. I'm going to define it less formally and more expediently to me as a system where individuals advance based on positive action.

Basically a merit system is were people do something good, you get recognized for that, perhaps even advanced.

Which allows me to define Demiritocracy a word that doesn't exist but nevertheless is I feel an informal system of governance we often intuitively employ. It's a system whereby individuals are penalized based on positive actions.

A demerit system is where if you do something bad, you get recognized for that, perhaps degraded.

I don't see why the two systems can't simultaneously exist and in some cases probably do. Where a system of law works largely as a demeritocratic and say the military is meritocratic so a soldier advances to General before they are brought before a military tribunal for war crimes and she is dishonorably discharged and remanded to a military prison.

And both systems could simultaneously fail, where for example a statesman is elected to an executive position without demonstrating any merit at all, then escapes account despite taking actions worthy of demerit.

But it's interesting to me, just because while I don't think and don't personally experience living in a demeritocracy but that's probably because I have no merit to lose, but there's a perception that the cost of nuance has risen steeply in recent years. A gutting of the middle position, where one can only be pro multiculturalism or a racist etc.

Moreover, my interest is usually in mental health outcomes, and this is how I got onto the idea of Demeritocracy. I don't really know what is going on with the far right, alt-right or whatever. I can take a guess that it involves not pride but a very negative emotional state and as Masha Gessen said of Trump 'He feels perpetually like he's being screwed and therefore justified in screwing people over.' I mean, upon reflection, scapegoating isn't really a psychoanalytical rubik's cube. As homer said 'Sure we can blame ourselves, but it's even easier to blame Ned.'

And I guess it's interesting to observe that basically anyone that does attempt a nuanced opinion complains of being cast as an alt-right or alt-right-adjacent while identifying as a liberal.

So I feel an inclination to say it's from the left-pole that the hollowing out is happening because the left is advancing a demiritocracy.

I'm still searching and conversing to find the piece of information I lack that allows me to get on board with progressives, but beyond pleading ignorance, there's also belief systems I subscribe to that basically prevent me from jumping on board.

For example, I really struggle to understand discussion of 'The Patriarchy' not because the concept is unintelligible to me, but because it runs against the grain of what one of my core role models instructs:

The way for a young man to rise, is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that any body wishes to hinder him.
Which was written by Abe Lincoln. Where much discussion of the patriarchy seems to be the exact opposite of this advice. Restating it as 'The way for a young woman to stagnate, is to degrade herself every way she can, always suspecting that everybody wishes to hinder her.' or something.

We could get into an intelligible debate where one discounts Abe's advice to young men, because the suspicion that they are being hindered would qualify as paranoia given that the Patriarchy doesn't hinder them, but does women. Countered by the observation that both in Lincoln's time to present day, the vast majority of men enjoy neither esteem, status or power and feel quite frustrated in their ambitions and hence Lincoln's advice could be considered generally valid. Then countered by arguments that even low status men enjoy relative esteem, status and power over other group identities...

But that's irrelevant, what is relevant is what Mr Lincoln had to say about meritocracy:

 I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.

Which is to say, the Union Army selected it's leadership on a meritocratic basis (or at least tried to) and did not operate as a demeritocracy. Which is to say, Ulysses S Grant was charged with being a Whiskey Drinker and thus allegedly questioned in his fitness to command troops. Lincoln is either making a correlation-causation error, but more likely is pointing out that the drinking habits of his best performing general are irrelevant so long as he performs.

Imagine if you will an alternate history where the Nazi's Blitzkreig was advancing across Western Europe annexing the Netherlands and Belgium with blinding speed and the chambers of the British parliament were calling into question Chamberlains competence and promoting Churchill as his replacement, and Churchill stood before the house of Commons and said 'That little fag Hitler must be stopped at all costs!' and having misread the room was greeted with jeers and boos. 'Go home you homophobic dunce! Or would you have us round up all the gays and put them on trucks like Hitler!'

And sure, maybe, maybe Britain had numerous candidates lined up behind Churchill adequate to the task of steering Britain and the Allies to victory. My position would be though, When faced with a significant external threat, it's not the time and place for demeritocracy.

This though, is the low hanging fruit, an idea I was first exposed to when participating in an annual strategic review for a non-profit organization where a guy leading one of the sections was relaying his experience of consulting for an environmental organization that was in the process of attempting to recruit an accountant to do their bookkeeping, and they were advertising a requirement that the successful applicant would be 'passionate about the environment and environmental causes' to which he asked them 'is that actually important?' not to the organization, but to the position.

So yeah, obviously it is bad to demerit people on criteria that is irrelevant to their performance. Perhaps an argument can be made that a homophobic leader might jeopardize war efforts, or that the optics of having an employee turn up to work in a humvee and toss the styrofoam packaging of their takeaway breakfast straight into a storm drain before heading upstairs to balance the books might be counterproductive to the organizations ability to generate positive press etc. But arguments from accident aside, there are a lot of roles and functions in our society that don't require good people but competent people.

As management expert Peter F Drucker puts it:

 An employer has no business with a man's personality. Employment is a specific contract calling for a specific performance... Any attempt to go beyond that is usurpation. It is immoral as well as an illegal intrusion of privacy. It is abuse of power. An employee owes no "loyalty," he owes no "love" and no "attitudes"--he owes performance and nothing else. .... The task is not to change personality, but to enable a person to achieve and to perform.

Now realisty, Drucker's dream that a man not be judged by the content of their character but the output of their efforts is no more realized today than MLK's dream that one might not be judged by the color of their skin, but content of their character. Furthermore, I would not be able to take Drucker's hardline stance, their are roles clearly where performance and personality go hand in hand, roles basically where the work is being judged by employees personality - customer service, sales, public relations, moral leadership etc.

And Drucker who invented the concept of the 'Knowledge Worker' the employee who's chief labor was to think, spent a lot of time studying Japanese organisations and how the Japanese managed.

If anything is an example of what I concieve a demeritocracy to be, it exists in Japan. As testified to by Miyamoto Masao in his enlightening book 'Straightjacket Society':

Someone once summed it up this way: 'The greatest task of a bureaucrat is to survive without having his feet pulled out from under him by someone else.'
The context was Masao's 'Three Great Principles of Life in the Japanese Bureaucracy' which are: 1. Don't be late. 2. Don't take time off. 3. Do no Work.

The first two relate to presenteeism, which though interesting is a sideroad here, the 'Do No Work' is more pertinant and more interesting. I'll let Masao explain:

Suppose for example, you know a certain policy will definitely benefit the people. If you try to implement it on your own, you're bound to stir up opposition. If you push it through anyway and it should happen to fail, you will of course be called to account. The Japanese bureaucracy operates on the demerit system; people seldom receive credit on their work record for any positive changes they may have brought about. Therefore, the smart smart thing to do is to lie low and try not to accumulate any black marks against your name. This is the quintessential bureaucrat. Once you have a black mark, your career is in jeopardy.
So perhaps for clarity, a demeritocracy is a system where you get punished for mistakes to a far more significant degree than you get rewarded for your victories. This needs to be distinguished from game theory strategies like 'tit for tat' which could be characterized I guess as a demerit system, but strictly speaking is training it's opponent to keep taking positive social actions through negative reinforcement. And while it's a highly effective game-theory strategy it isn't as effective as 'tit for two tats' which is more forgiving and can avoid a retaliatory death spiral. I guess the true demerit system in game theory would be 'grim trigger' where once the opponent doesn't cooperate, the strategy never cooperates again.

The Japanese system sort of manifests on my social media feed, in a manner I can personally validate. So when a horrific crime committed by men against women occurs in my home city, I will see men post their actually policy statements, though they may not be consciously doing so - of what they believe has caused this and similar instances and what needs to be done to address it. These policy statements often include things like 'men staying silent' or 'men denying...' some aspect or other of sexism. My point being, horrible that I am, I often qualify as someone these men claim they as men have to address, call out etc.

And I know they don't, because I would know if they did, because they oblige themselves to come for me. Leading me to suspect, they don't actually do anything. I would hope it is transparent, that my position isn't adopted purely just to be a shit, but because I genuineness disagree often with the causal chains and especially with the notion of an informal police force.

But consider the potential outcomes of one of these men coming after me; they might persuade me for example to stop listening to the Bloodhound Gang because I enjoy their vulgar lyrics, or disavow Anal Cunt, whose music is... phoned in, but whose track names have brought me literal hours of joy for their sheer vulgar irreverence for taboos. That's arbitrary outcome 1. Another might be that they engage me in conversation, and we disagree. That's arbitrary outcome 2. Lastly we might have a conversation, and they become convinced of my position. That's arbitrary outcome 3.

Here then, we have a situation very similar to a Japanese bureaucrat. You'll have to take my word on it, but in outcome 1 there will be no direct impact on violent crimes committed by men against women and probably no indirect impact either. There's little reward then for their effort because I am just one guy of which nobody is particularly interested in what I do in my spare time while alone. Similarly outcome 2 costs energy and produces no reward. Outcome 3 though, puts this person in a quandary, they now are going to struggle to fit in with the consensus policy of their tribe, they can't publicly revise their own policy because that risks social rejection, they can't enforce their policy either.

The safest thing to do, is say enough to claim your membership, and do nothing because nobody particularly cares about your gains, whereas you are out should you fuck up and fail. This demerit system puts you in the position of Galileo's peers who refused to look through the telescope lest they see the corrupting evidence.

It's not all doom and gloom though, the productive arguments in my experience and suspect more broadly, happen offline. Where if I say something chauvinistic at the dinner table, there is a meritocratic reward awaiting someone who challenges or engages me, furthermore even if I objectively 'win' the argument, you have the protection of confirmation bias, the mother-of-all-biases where the argument will never actually be experienced objectively, and both parties can subjectively 'win' the argument.

Another clue that I live in demeritocracy, at least online, is just politics in general. Australia and particularly our conservative major party has continued to outdo itself in producing a near uninterrupted decline in the quality of leadership. Thus I have friends that online day after day voice their grievances with the leader of our designated country. What I notice is that they don't advance any arguments for the kind of leader they want or demand, the efforts are overwhelmingly focused on tearing down the leaders they are dissatisfied with.

And even before social media made this demeritocracy really bad, the press had been doing it for years largely by running headlines like 'Howard's Backflip' where our democratically elected leaders were criticised for floating some policy that proved unpopular, and then revising their position as if it were some kind of failure of character.

Sure there are some scant examples of policy that may be unpopular but necessary and you want an astringent leader who can ram it through, like say carbon rationing perhaps? But that's a big judgement call. Generally you want your leadership to back down from their mistakes, not regard making a mistake as a mistake in itself.

Which may be the best summation of the problem with a demeritocracy.

But I think demeritocracy is a word that perhaps would be useful to actually have exist, because circumstances these days actually merit action. One key example is the consequences of another myopic Democratic Party primaries. Where the candidate that wins the Democratic nomination is chosen for their inability to offend the democratic base, not their ability to mobilize sufficient numbers to ensure victory in the election, nor their ability to diminish Trump in the eyes of his supporter base and inspire them to stay home. A nomination won rather than lost.

Furthermore the mental health outcomes of a demeritocracy are clear, it's really the soviet nightmare especially when demerit becomes paralegal. All of us, no matter how nobly aligned with the cause are left to live perpetually in a state of fear wondering when we will become opportunistically denounced. For nobody is trying to advance, they are trying to be the last man standing.

Beyond the mental health outcomes of constantly having one eye open for denouncement, are the material outcomes of people opting for the safety of silence, and inaction rather than devising and implementing actual solutions.

Thus, I'd rather hang out with the drunkard, chauvinistic, unrighteous shlubs that care about performance rather than purity.

After all, Lincoln personally reviewed and presided over the largest mass execution in American history. Has America then never produced a truly great leader?

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Unpacking My Superficiality I: Preramble

Superficial: 1. Of or pertaining to the surface. 3. Shallow or lacking depth. 4. At face value. Antonyms - In-depth, thorough.

I'm about to embark on a sporadic run of posts where I (perhaps paradoxically) take an in-depth look at my superficiality.

It's something I've been privately unpacking for a while, quite a while, because I find it interesting. The menu is probably going to go: body images, faces, looks, age and no doubt a misc section that would probably wash out from writing up those other three.

I find it interesting because of the conflict between my narrative and my lived experience. Like I possess a belief that I shouldn't be superficial, but my experience and how I generally convey myself is that I am very superficial.

Now most people to be honest, don't engage with me at all, they just ignore me and let me be and I notice and appreciate that. But occasionally someone will engage me, challenge me and I feel a hint of disappointment that they have discovered I am quite superficial, and then they adopt a frame of engagement that appears to assume I've never heard a bad word said against superficiality.

Most interesting to me, is that I feel quite often that I can make a better case against superficiality than most people who tell me it's bad that I'm superficial. However I suspect that that might exacerbate the disappointment I perceive.

Now I suspect that I'm very superficial, but how to frame this? Maybe since where talking about visual perception I should start off with a little webcomic that is almost entirely in Spanish:

This in my opinion is a serviceable if not exhaustive exploration of the 'friend zone' concept. Important takeaways are that women are entitled to have friends and accept gestures of friendship without quid pro quos that make Luis feel entitled to resent Karla's rejection. There's a lot I could unpack because the nice-guy-friend-zone shit is interesting, but relevant to my superficiality is that we could extract a venn diagram for Lois and demonstrate that for him, his 'friend zone' and 'fuck zone' don't overlap.

Speaking to my subjective experience my friend zone is massive. Virtually everyone can be my friend, I'm easy and have a very open border policy. I've unfriended 3 people in my facebook life, 1 because I suspected they had a hystrionic personality disorder, scared me and I assumed when they got fired from my work I'd never see them again and it was thus safe to dump them from being able to see my feed. Another because they publicly demonstrated the poor judgement to, I'll be generous and say 'criticize' Aboriginals for burning an Australian flag 'after all we've done for them.' I'm sure they had their own particular emotional reasons for venerating our crappy flag so, but nevertheless I made the call that they would probably never have anything to say that I would be interested in reading so I ditched them. And the last was probably the least justified, but it was someone I just got sick of talking about me instead of to me, and it wasn't even negative it just tripped me out since they were in my life that they preferred to find out about me via facebook instead of you know conversing with me when I was present, so I cut off their info supply and it resulted not in improved conversation but the end of a friendship, which frankly I hadn't anticipated. It reminds me of Skinner's line 'the judge offered me three options: apologise, go to jail or join the army. Had I known there was a war on at the time I probably would have apologized.'

Anyway my Venn diagram as near as I can determine approximates this:

Imperfect, but let me walk you through it. The large purple circle is my friend zone, and maybe it should be 'potential' friend zone in terms of I will be friends with just about anybody. I'm not fussy, and not depicted here is how truly tiny the white space would be proportional to the purple of people I don't think I can be friends with. The yellow circle represents the portion of the population I find attractive, and it's really small probably honestly too small, but it almost entirely overlaps with my friendzone, it's a subset of the people I will be friends with. A fraction of people I can be friends with, I am interested in being more intimate with. Thus were I in Lois from the above comic's position, were Karla to tell me she preferred to be friends, then we would be friends. If then Karla started to resent that I as her friend no longer made romantic overtures like taking her on dates, or inviting her to the movies with a bunch of my other friends, I feel that resentment is on her.

I've also included a tiny sliver of non-overlapping attraction but not friend material, but I'd have to say it's largely hypothetical. It is within my experience to find attractive people whose personality I find distasteful and perhaps even repulsive. What might constitute in crude speech the people we would 'hate-fuck' however, I'm skeptical even of this. I suspect the conflict of feeling simultaneously aroused and repulsed by a person probably arises from a desire to except something distasteful about ourselves - hence we don't hate them we actually hate a part of ourselves we wish we could instead accept. Basically, I suspect it would always turn out like Pride & Prejudice.

Now who makes it into my attraction zone? Well I suspect that they way it's supposed to work is something like this:
And I say 'something', because even I know I could build a better model than this, where instead of an average score I'd use a weighted average score, where I might say kindness and intelligence are more important criteria than career and superficial attractiveness etc.

This wouldn't be superficial but a holistic evaluation process of determining the value of prospective partners. It's true of me to say that kindness is more important to me than attractiveness. A woman getting a haircut I don't like as much as what she had is not a deal-breaker for me, in fact it appears to be an inevitability of entering a relationship, but being rude to the help is a dealbreaker to me. That get's you friend zoned right away. (In my own case, probably for psychologically unhealthy reasons, but perhaps useful reasons, I care far less about how a person treats me than how they treat strangers.)

So in the above made-up score card, this person for superficial attractiveness is below average. Were I superficial I would be losing out on someone who is actually quite desirable as a partner, you could measure my error as -3 between superficial attractiveness and actual attractiveness.

This system I feel would work well, even be desirable if I lived in a small rural village with a population of around 250 people and an average age of 50. The local secondary school has 1 class of 10 students covering a curriculum from year 7 to 12. Where I as an eligible bachelor am faced with two prospective sweethearts Cheryl and Jenny. Cheryl is a beautiful farmers daughter who is also cruel, stupid, boring, petulant and lazy. Jenny is homely, intelligent, kind, interesting and disciplined. In which case, the scorecard would be a perfect remedy to being superficial... except a bachelor could quickly determine who to be with through a fairly simple and short process of trial and error. In small communities there's ample opportunity to get to know the people in the singles scene.

What though if you live in a city of 5 million or so? What if you have 200 people in your workplace, 30 people in your department at work, share classes at school with 150 people, know 100 or so people through the music scene, work with 120 actors per year, volunteer in a kitchen with 20 others, and swipe through 100 tinder profiles a day?

Speaking only for myself, how I work is something like this:

And I feel compelled to apologize, not for who I am, which is superficial, but for my flowcharting skills, go figure. This like the scorecard system is a gross oversimplification of how my attention is allotted. But the basic thing is, that the superficiality works as a gatekeeper, are you attractive? I want to know more, if not we can be friends, I'm confident.

Two things, the first is that what constitutes whether someone is superficially attractive to me is what I will unpack in future posts because it's more complicated than this flowchart lets on. The second is that it's still true that 'kindness' is more important to me than physical attractiveness, so why would I rule out of potential intimate exclusive relationships anyone I don't find attractive on the outside?

Returning to our score-card system we have a list of criteria of important things in evaluating a potential partner and could even weight it to reflect which qualities are more important. But there's another nuance we can potentially miss, are these criteria correlated, negatively correlated or independent. If you aren't fluent in statistical speak, correlated would mean that beautiful people tend to be kinder and more intelligent. Negatively correlated would mean that beautiful people tend to be crueler and stupider. Independent would mean that whether or not you are beautiful has no impact on whether you are kind or intelligent.

If your really wanted to find out the answers, it would get really complicated even with this abridged list of shit we might find desirable (eg. being beautiful correlates with being kind UNLESS they are emotionally immature etc.) and I've looked into this stuff a bit.

My general presumption is that these criteria are independent, erring on the side of being weakly positively correlated. That last concession is factoring in 'the halo effect' coupled with the Matthew effect. Which is to say this is a huge problem I would concede is caused by superficiality. Teachers tend to view the more attractive students as smarter, call on them more in class and give them more attention (the halo effect), the result of which is that over time the imagined positive correlation starts to become real positive correlations (the Matthew effect), which is cruel and unjust and I'm writing this while listening to Malcolm Gladwell and David Epstein discuss this very error in the domain of sports.

The implication of which, is that in an environment where there are a 1000 women compatible with my sexual orientation, do I have time and energy to get to know them all? To make small talk, go out for coffee, get to know them? No. I don't. 1000 is too much. How to cut it down to something manageable? Well I could take my most important criteria kindness and get rid of all the women who aren't kind. But how? well we could make small talk, go out for coffee and see how they treat the waitress, or whether they give coins to that homeless person etc.

Which is to say, determining who and who isn't kind out of the 1000 doesn't cut down the number at all because kindness can be seen, through behavior but not at a glance. Whereas a less important criteria like physical attractiveness can be seen at a glance. Thus, it's possible for me to walk into an auditorium and depending on how superficial I want to get, cut the unmanageable 1000 down to 100 or 30 or 20 at literally the speed of light.

Now if you aren't at least empathizing with me, imagine being on Tinder, and you matched with everyone you liked. If you looked at some 100 profiles a day, and liked 10 of what you saw. If you got 10 new matches what are the odds you will initiate 10 new chats every day? Admittedly there are other solutions, like first-come-first-serve. But even 10 I would argue is unmanageable for getting to know these more important criteria.

Thus the only world in which superficiality isn't beneficial for cutting down the number of potential love interests is one in which attractiveness and whatever you most care about are negatively correlated. Which is to say, you are using a selection criteria that excludes what you are actually interested in. The evidence to say that being beautiful necessitates you being cruel, or stupid, or immature is very weak from what I've seen.

If what I'm driving at is a bit opaque, what I'm saying is, I want to date someone who is kind, out of 1000 women maybe 400 are exemplary examples of kindness. Hooray! But because being beautiful is not to the exclusion of being kind, 30 women in a hundred I may regard as 'beautiful enough' and 12 of them are kind, and of those 12 maybe only one is willing to go out for coffee with me. That's a massive saving of time and energy and I haven't lost what is important to me by excluding 388 of the 400 women who are kind.

This is the second nuance of the scorecard, is that kindness, intelligence, emotional maturity, ambition, quality conversation, tolerance, honesty, creativity, discipline, etc. can be enjoyed in the context of a friendship. Friendships also, don't generally benefit from being exclusive 'I currently have a friend but who knows, in the future I might be available to be a friend...' they might benefit from quality of focus and attention, but my friends don't generally mind if I go to their housewarming on friday night and another friends gig on saturday night. I've been lead to understand though that a partner is less tolerant of me having a second family, and the non-monogomous communities partially aside, less impressed with me having physical intimacy with more than one person.

Here then, is my frustration. Generally when I wind up engaged in a discussion about superficiality, I'm not treated as an individual, and I'm engaged with someone who assumes I'm open about my superficiality because I've never given it a seconds thought and I am not aware of all the problems with it.

I'm happy to pay the price for being out there is superficial, even if people deem it fit, to wear the shoe of chauvinist pig. I'm writing this up, mainly so I have something to point someone at to say 'here, I've actually given this a lot of thought.' so with my introduction to superficiality out of the way I thought I'd end with a list of how I actually frame my internal debate as to my superficiality:

This first frame is that this is about my superficiality. Insofar as my experience of my own superficiality can be generalized I regard it as coincidental. Johari window aside, I regard myself as an authority on my own lived experience. Much of my exploration has been trying to perceive my own unconscious self's contribution, which I use to revise my own conscious narrative and I'm no where near concluding on this.

If you can't imagine what that last part means, for example, from time to time I will look down at my feet and feel which foot is bearing my weight, then I follow the direction of that foot to see what it is pointing at. Sometimes it's an exit, or where the train is likely to arrive on the platform, sometimes it might be a male colleague at a party I've been meaning to go say hello to for an hour, and very often it's pointing at the most attractive woman in my vicinity, even though my conscious mind was bogged down in a book, or dealing with a client at work etc. I regard this unconscious behavior as part of who I am and useful information.

The second frame, was inspired by a friend telling me that I 'almost get it.' which like almost all feedback, is incredibly useful. Though not related specifically to my superficiality inspired me to think of this kind of matrix of possibilities regarding the Dunning-Kruger effect which is hugely problematic in all public discourse. This comes up a lot when I reveal my superficial preferences, where people explain to me as if I've never heard of sexism, chauvinism, eating disorders or the ugly duckling. There's 3 distinct possibilities, the first is that someone else has a piece of information that I lack, something I've never considered and that explains our different positions (I know less). The second is that I have some piece of information that others lack, something that they haven't considered and that explains our different positions (I know more). The third is that we both lack sufficient information to competently form conclusions on this or other subjects. (We don't know enough) We are in other words, the peanut gallery.

The nasty nature of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that I can't tell when I'm in the first scenario, I don't know what I don't know, until my bubble bursts. By writing about my experience of my own superficiality though, I can maybe illuminate for others whether or not it's the second or third scenario if I present information that is novel to someone else's consideration of the subject.

Thirdly, I have a pretty basic attitude towards self-expression and human rights in general. While concepts like 'free speech' I might be unsure on and have more nuanced leanings, since I'm really only talking about 'the superficial' my feelings on how people present themselves are less complicated since people don't tend to take financial or medical advice from t-shirts (I hope).
Basically, I like the expression 'my rights end where yours begin' eg. I have the right to free speech but you don't have to listen to me, I have the right to assemble, but not in your house.

So when it comes to how one expresses themselves through dress and manner, and even less controllable aspects like weight, complexion, tattoos etc. I basically feel nobody deserves to be accosted, assaulted or excluded based on their appearance. (Maybe if someone's wearing a swastika they deserve some pointed questioning, and I feel that person should by now, know the risks.) However just as nobody deserves ridicule, harassment, exclusion based on their appearance, the point at which I feel my rights begin as an individual is that I have no obligation to compliment, affirm, go on a date, marry, have children, host Christmas etc. based on someone's appearance. In other words, I feel people have both a right and a responsibility to be largely indifferent to each other's appearances.

An individual though, I would basically say is not transgressing any moral laws to have and live in respectful accordance with 'this is not my cup of tea, my cup of tea has chamomile in it.'

My feeling is also such that, were I in a position like recruiting for an organization, my superficiality would become problematic if I kept substituting my cup of tea for the organizational cup of tea. In which case though, it is better for my superficiality to be on the table not to say 'non-hotties need not apply' but to ensure adequate countermeasures are in place like if I had to hire musicians for an orchestra I'd use a blind audition process instead of simply saying to Nigel Kennedy that Gal Gadot just plays a better violin.

Fourth frame issssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss when talking about my superficiality I'm talking about attraction (and specifically what attracts my attention) and not attachment which are two distinct things, and it's a distinction I would try to avoid having to make again and again. Attraction appears to be important in the initial stages of any relationship, and it defines who is included and excluded from our attention.

By contrast attachment is the glue that holds relationships together, for good or for ill. It's what allows us to fearlessly neglect our neck hair, and not bother to match bra with undies when we know our partner will see them. It is what allows us to fart with confidence in the company of the person we are attached to. It's also what makes us apologize for a partner's serious shortcomings or waste our precious lives. Thus in many ways, a better way to spend your time and life than reading about how superficial I am and what I make of it, is to thoroughly interrogate one's own attachment style.

Fifth frame for all my superficiality, I do earnestly and sincerely believe that the most practical and healthy definition of beauty is that someone is beautiful if they make us feel beautiful. It is good once in a while whence we have allowed someone to become close to us, to ask ourselves 'how do they make me feel?' I'd almost say how people make us feel applies generally, however with the current state of public discourse and opinion silos/echochambers some level of discomfort I'd say is good for us.

Sixthly along with only talking about my individual superficiality, there's an accompanying narrative of what I think people wish I would think I'm going to struggle to describe the narrative I receive in variations that runs against the grain of my lived experience. Because they are at odds, my interest is generated as to why they would be at odds, however it makes it hard for me to describe a narrative I don't feel personally is very descriptive, particularly avoiding emotive language, but here goes:

My take on the received wisdom is that my conceptions of beauty, hotness, physical attractiveness are learned, perhaps in a process I am not conscious of. From early childhood through to now, I'm consuming messages that inform how I perceive the world and attribute value. My concept of physical attractiveness is predominantly nurtured by my environment, a social construction. This imparts a cost on me and the community/society.

It takes some cognitive strain to word it this way, trying to avoid emotive language such as 'brainwashed' or even 'imposes'. Functionally I see this narrative as a causal assertion - What I think is beautiful, is beautiful because I was told 'this is beautiful' what I think is sexy, is sexy because I was told 'this is sexy' what I think is hot, is hot because I was told 'this is hot'.

Essentially the argument is notions or ideals of beauty are arbitrary.

As for the cost, to my understanding/imagination it's easy to see and understand. If ideals of attractiveness are ratcheted up too high, excluding the majority of the population it increases competition, both to partner with the attractive and to be considered attractive through cosmetic measures - spending time and money pursuing something we don't need because we could decide not to need it.

Furthermore it may lead to errors in partner selection, rejecting prospects on the criteria of physical attractiveness, which is arbitrary and subsequently losing out on non-arbitrary important qualities like intelligence, kindness etc. 

I can make a case for this narrative, pull out supporting examples and evidence but I'd just declare that I don't find the narrative compelling. What I would point out is the following: 1) it's an extreme position, and extreme conclusion. 2) it's an intelligent design narrative and 3) it's a comforting/motivated narrative.

By the first, I mean attributing the majority of my ideals of beauty to nurture factors, or even exclusively to nurture factors is very different from arguing that 'nurture' plays a role alongside nature factors. By the second the narrative implies intention and design by agents, and my general experience of intelligent design arguments is that they don't describe or explain or predict the world we actually live in, whereas natural selection arguments do. They are simpler than intelligent design explanations, which decreases the likelihood that intelligent design arguments is true, because there's more that needs to happen and more that needs to be proved. Which segues nicely into the third which is I'm always suspicious of narratives that are comforting, and there's just too many winners to a mainly-nurture explanation of superficiality, including me.

The argument I keep hearing that is interesting and worth entertaining, but not descriptive of the world I live in, is basically that 'we are sold sex', and not that 'sex sells'. I believe many people do attempt to sell us concepts of sex and sexiness, and mostly these efforts are pissing into the wind. 

The three likely candidates that might sell me my superficial notions of attractiveness are: my parents, my peers, and 'the media'. In my case, I can count on one hand the times my dad has ever commented on a woman's appearance and if I inherited anything from him it's being a loner workaholic. My mum is fairly preoccupied with appearances however, I feel confident if we were to do a comparison between what my mum values in appearances and what I do, there would be little to no correalation and I'm confident there's little to no causation. Whenever my mum has suggested 'a good match' for me, I've generally been insulted though to her credit she does like most of my ex partners.

As for peers, sure I can recall my fellow preppy private school boys making comments like 'she has tits like a Swedish moo-cow' or 'she has an acne goatee' but the vast majority of discussing girls was from the perspective of a relationship, namely 'who do you like?' 'I like Ashanti, you?' 'I like Latifah.' and if it progressed to 'why' it was much more likely to be talk about personal qualities like being 'cool' or 'nice' than physical attributes. I suspect my experience was owing to belonging to the 'romantic idiot' majority that were interested in relationships, searching at age 16 instinctively for the partner we wished to spend the rest of our lives with. There was another subset of guys I didn't really have access to, that were more into getting wasted at a party and receiving a blowjob from a girl behind a shrub in a driveway that they would then avoid at school for the rest of the year. But generally and to this day, one of the things I least like discussing with other heterosexual guys, is women I find attractive, because why the fuck do I want to make the case to another man that some woman is attractive? So I can be confident that later that day their read sweaty face will be concentrating on her image as they masturbate? Or that they may wish to compete with me for her attention? I NEVER want to discuss women with other men, unless it's expressing frustration with a relationship or seeking relationship advice.

Leaving the most likely influence, the media. I'm sure advertising and marketing effects me and helps shape my attitude. My old lecturer in marketing Brad used to say there was a debate on whether marketing is a weak or a strong force. He said weak. I was skeptical, but over a decade or so and looking into it, I think I'm coming around. Claims that a marketer 'couldn't sell you a shit sandwich' I found dubious because I grew up in the 90s where the super sour warhead candies were a fad. If kids can be duped into eating an unpleasant candy, then surely they could be talked into eating shit. However, Daniel Kahneman would explain that how an experience ends is more important than the absolute suffering it inflicts, which explains how warheads were viable.

And 'the media' has attempted to sell me a tonne of shit sandwiches that I haven't bought, including but not limited to: skinny jeans, tattoo sleeves, Oakley sunglasses, a car and a mortgage, the Independence Day movie, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Beats by Dr Dre, Uber, Snapchat, Twitter, Boat Shoes... etc. I'm basically that psychographic that advertisers and marketers have no interest in - someone who is neither susceptible to trends nor sets them. Perhaps more simply described as someone who doesn't spend money.

Thus while I have no doubt that the media plays some role in shaping what I find attractive, and I'll unpack that with the more specific less general posts, I'm skeptical that it would be so domain specifically effective on me when it comes to women's attractiveness and almost random in effect on every other domain.

So that I feel should do for covering the general base and premises of my superficiality. Thanks for reading and if you are eager for more there will be forthcoming posts focused on my superficiality regarding body image, facial features, attire, age and whatever else might come up.