Protective camouflage and holy victims

Today I’m going to repeat a story from the blog Alas! and discuss it, because…well, the author does not seem to have grasped the actual implications of what he wrote. It’s what I think of as a “holy victim” narrative, but the actual lesson is not, perhaps, what the author intended.

There was one girl I spent a lot of time with. A pixie-like joy of a person, Dawna, who wore her blonde hair almost totally shaved, and strung chains on her jeans. People who saw her knew there was something unusual about her. They didn’t take joy in her oddness, in her willingness to sing in the middle of the street, in her humor, in her desire to leave strange and beautiful things in public places for strangers to find and puzzle over. They shouted “dyke!” at her from car windows; they deployed store guards to follow her around; they sneered and snarled.

When I was 17 and Dawna was 15, she went out with me and started acting very strange. “Is she on meth or something?” a friend of mine asked. I said, “I’m sure she isn’t” — but I was wrong. She was on meth. She called me that night, crying. She’d been taking a lot of drugs for a long time — to try to deal with the pain of her isolation, the pain of how people pricked and pained her, and othered her, and told her she was nothing.

I told her I’d help. I arranged for her to be transferred to my high school and set her up with the teachers who’d been best for me. Nothing worked; the teachers who were more than happy to deal with my casual attitude toward authority had no tools in their kits to handle a girl who was too depressed to go to class. I’d thought they would recognize in her, as they had in me, independence and intelligence. I suppose they did. But even if they wanted to, there was nothing they could do.

I always worried Dawna would die. I thought she would overdose or commit suicide. When I read a few years ago that she was dead, and the obituary hinted at a cause of death that couldn’t be announced to potentially scandalized ears, I knew I was right.

She was twenty-two.

Dawna lived twenty-two years in the toxic hatred of our homophobic, gender policing, joy-killing world. And then it murdered her.

We are supposed to react to this story with pity and loathing at the death of the holy victim. Sorry, but my reaction was that Dawna was clearly asking for what she got. If she didn’t want the local monkeys to “other” her, why did she dress funny?

Important rule of living: you can be weird, or you can look weird, but you can’t usually get away with both.

Clever deviants – like, for example, myself – make a point of not looking like an obvious threat to the mores of their time. I’m a neo-pagan anarcho-capitalist gun-nut who talks about my way-out-of-the-mainstream beliefs and often gets the press to cover them sympathetically. I fill auditoriums! I am much more successively subversive than J. Random Punker in his chains and studs exactly because I don’t look weird. I could be as gay as a treeful of parrots and it wouldn’t slow me down a bit.

The world did not kill Dawna. Dawna’s bad choices killed Dawna. Bad choice #1: taking a visibly oppositional stance without having the inner strength not to buckle. Bad choice #2: taking nasty drugs to cope with bad choice #1.

It’s going to sound harsh, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the girl. She played stupid and lost – wasted her potential on mere display. If she had really wanted to change the world, rather than staying stuck in shock-your-parents mode until she died, she would have dialed back on the presentation and been an articulate but relatively normal-looking advocate for sexual freedom, or whatever.

Costume or substance. Posturing or efficiency. Looking like a threat to “the system” or actually being it. Choose exactly one….

159 thoughts on “Protective camouflage and holy victims

  1. People who are “weird” in society often fall into two categories: 1. They are weird by nature in which case they learn to adjust as best as they can and not be too obvious about it, which not denying their weirdness to themselves, 2. Those who take pride in weirdness and want the whole world to celebrate their weirdness (not just ACCEPT it — that’s a huge difference) and then feel bad if the world shuns them.

    As you rightly said, it’s inner strength of individuals that matter. Not the “deviation from society” aspect. There’s a very excellent reason why the majority of society “conforms” or at least appears to. Because that’s the line of least resistance and avoids so much hassles in daily life.

  2. I have pity for her in the sense that she’s another human being that was treated harshly for not being the same as everyone else, regardless of why that was. Maybe she truly didn’t know any better about how to deal with her situation. Not everyone is given the same “tools” in life for dealing with social pressure. I speak from experience growing up as the nerdy computer geek in a time when most people barely knew what a computer was. Luckily, I had parents that understood me, nurtured my interests, and had a healthy disdain for “the average person” that gave me the strength to deal with any mockery that came my way.

    That said, I agree that we all make our own choices and are responsible for the consequences. I’ve met many people that were against “the system” that were nothing more than whiners that didn’t like the fact that the world didn’t instantly worship them for existing.

    It’s unfortunate that this young person made poor choices that ultimately drove her to killing herself. We can chastise the person while still holding disgust for the system that contributed to her demise.

  3. >We can chastise the person while still holding disgust for the system that contributed to her demise.

    My goal wasn’t to “chastise” Dawna, but to point out that holy-victim stories like these are often describing remarkably stupid, willfully self-destructive behavior from a person and then attributing the consequences from that behavior to anyone but that person. It leads to the wrong lessons being drawn.

  4. esr: My goal wasn’t to “chastise” Dawna, but to point out that holy-victim stories like these are often describing remarkably stupid, willfully self-destructive behavior from a person and then attributing the consequences from that behavior to anyone but that person. It leads to the wrong lessons being drawn.

    You know, this comment could easily be transposed to the 1950s in Great Britain, or the same time period in the United States. Back then, suicide was the standard response to being outed. By your lights, the problem was not that gay people were regarded as slightly less respectable than cockroaches, but rather that they’d done something stupid and willfully self-destructive, and that blaming the people around them, the normal people, would be “the wrong lesson”.

    From where I stand, you’re objectively pro-Alan Turing’s suicide. It’s a moderately more long-winded version of “well, as long as they don’t flaunt it”, or, if you’re feeling colorful, “shove it down my throat”.

    And flaunting your supposed Otherness–none of which makes it at all difficult to pass as normal in polite, white-dude society, certainly not among strangers–is so off the mark that I honestly don’t know what you were trying to show with it. Perhaps that if only they tried, all those remarkably stupid lesbians could have easily passed in society, and led lives of quiet desperation that wouldn’t have offended people who actually counted.

  5. Wow; this crystallized thoughts that have been in my head for many years, but I could never express (without tripping over everyone’s political-correctness sensors, at least). It’s another variation on an ongoing personal responsibility rant, but one not easily expressed.

    Thanks!

  6. >From where I stand, you’re objectively pro-Alan Turing’s suicide.

    You picked an extremely bad example there; Turing was atypical in a way that damages your case. If you examine the actual circumstances of Turing’s exposure, you’ll discover that he was remarkably and willfully self-destructive about it. Outed himself, under circumstances where he could easily have covered and (as I read it) the cop was trying to look the other way. Still, I’m not “pro” Turing’s suicide, just refusing to blame anyone else for it. He made his choice and died. End of story.

    You’re being remarkably thick if you think anything in my commentary has to do with a judgment on gay people. The particular reason Dawna was deviant does not matter; in fact, one reason I chose to comment on this story is that the author leaves it a touch ambiguous whether she actually was a “dyke” or not. He understands, as I do too but you apparently don’t, that it doesn’t matter; the tale is not about what made her deviant but about her willful display of deviance and her inability to cope with the social response.

    >Perhaps that if only they tried, all those remarkably stupid lesbians could have easily passed in society, and led lives of quiet desperation that wouldn’t have offended people who actually counted.

    Stripped of the prejudicial language about “people who actually counted”, I agree. Would have beaten suicide as a response, wouldn’t it?

    No, I get it. You want me to think that’s asking something horrible and unreasonable of the lesbians. Sorry, not buying it. Try being a kid with cerebral palsy sometime, fool. I would have loved to have the option to “pass”, but I didn’t. Instead, I had to learn NOT TO GIVE A SHIT what people thought of my “otherness” – how to be stronger that the social pressure. Therefore, lesbians whinging about the agony of choices I didn’t have fails to impress me.

  7. I gotta say that you’re going out on a limb if you think it’s safe to draw conclusions about this persons life from a short essay.

    If you want to use the essay to construct an archetype and generalize about that, then re-write your post to make it sound that way.

    Like this:
    > “My goal wasn’t to “chastise” Dawna, but to point out that holy-victim stories like these…”

    As it is, it comes off as psycho analysis of someone about whom you know virtually nothing.

  8. chk: Wow; this crystallized thoughts that have been in my head for many years, but I could never express (without tripping over everyone’s political-correctness sensors, at least).

    Did you stop and think that there was a reason for that? That “it’s just and right that people are driven to suicide by intolerance” is a profoundly ghoulish sentiment, and “everyone’s political-correctness sensors” were simply registering a smidge of basic humanity?

  9. Many of those who make a point of looking weird, AFAIKT, aren’t really doing it out of any kind of serious internal conviction, but to gain/hold membership in a (often low-status in the larger culture) group. As the joke goes, “Why do all the non-conformists look alike?”

    And I have pretty fair sympathy for the girl – a toxic environment indeed, but not because of homophobia and joy-killing. Meth at 15? Yikes.

  10. Grendelkhan (and others),

    I think there are two different concepts of freedom.

    One goes like this: I’ll do whatever I want, provided I don’t agress on someone else. And then full stop. No further thinking. This concep of freedom, despite its apparently soft approach, has something deeply egotistical in it, because in this kind of thinking we consider ourselves as rights-holders plus actors, but others either only as rights-holders and not actors, or actors who act exactly like me. Thus, this concept fails either on equality or on diversity – so why the hell do Progressives tend to support this approach is a mystery. I think this might have been her concept of freedom.

    The second one: I may do whatever I want provided I don’t agress on others, but this is just one half of the story. The other half is that I must also recognize that the same is true for everybody else, and if they don’t like what I do they can make my life very difficult, even without agressing on me.

    Others not only have rights, they act too, and they act often in very different ways than me. This is the concept of liberty than can be considered to based on equality and diversity: it sees human beings as actors just like ourselves, but ones who often act very differently.

    From this second conception of freedom it follows it’s a wise strategy to often conform voluntarily to the expectations of others, if I want them to conform to my expectations: such as, talk politely to me, win the job interview, make friends, bet let into a restaurant, not being insulted, and so on. Why Progressives don’t support this concept of freedom instead, when it’s clearly based on equality and diversity, while the other one isn’t is another mystery.

    Or, explaining it differently:

    There are three ways to see such problems.

    One is a subjectivist/relativist point of view: whether shouting “Dyke!” is offensive or just an expression of an opinon depends on one’s general upbringing and education, thus, subjective/relative. By the same token, some people may see others dressing funny in public places as something offensive because it can exert a bad influence on their children, or offend their religious feelings, or offend their machismo or whatever else. Maybe they make a living manufacturing prams and that’s why they find it offensive or anything else, really, there can be a thousand causes.

    Thus, from a subjectivist/relativist point of view both parties offended each other, and there is no other resolution of the problem than: don’t do stuff others will find offending even if you don’t mean it so, if you don’t want them to do stuff to you that you find offensive. (This is largely what ESR suggested, IMHO.)

    Yes, it means “don’t flaunt it” (as others can take that as offensive) if you don’t want them to tell offensive things to you. From a subjectivist/relativist point of view no other resolution is possible: who can judge why one of these should NOT be seen offensive and why the other should be, if everything is subjective and relative?

    Another possibility is to view morals as objective. However, base them on what? Biology? No cigar – from a biological/evolutionary point of view a limited verbally agressive machismo is probably to be seen more normal (i.e. fitness advantage) as flaunting a clear rejection to procreate. OK, not biology then – something else?

    A third possibility is to use a pluralist/intersubjectivistic approach, which is my favourite, but that would take too long to explain and I think you aren’t going to take this position anyway, so no point in it.

  11. >That “it’s just and right that people are driven to suicide by intolerance” is a profoundly ghoulish sentiment …

    And one I did not express. My essay made no ethico-moral value claims at all. “In nature there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.”

  12. If Dawna had made it to her thirties, odds are she would have mellowed out some. Taking on the responsibilities of adulthood has a way of damping one’s penchant for metal-studded rebellion.

    Reading her story I suspect that there was more at work here than just her gender and sexuality, perhaps abuse of a physical or psychological nature. The fears and jeers of our wickedly conservative society are harsh on the soul, but anyone who does crystal meth is actively seeking oblivion.

  13. From where I stand, you’re objectively pro-Alan Turing’s suicide.

    A bombastic claim, not supported by Eric’s article. Turing was a gay man who dressed sharp and was a professional at the top of his game. His government forced him onto hormones (which no doubt chemically affected his mood, possibly contributing to his suicide). I do not see the analogue to this scenario in Dawna’s case. (No one forced her to take that meth.)

  14. >perhaps abuse of a physical or psychological nature.

    Ah yes – abuse, the “it must have been witchcraft!” of our day.

  15. On this one, Eric, I disagree. I’m going to be digressive on why I disagree; please read this through at least twice before responding.

    Neurologically speaking, the decade or so from age 15 to 25 is where the brain is making lots of adjustments. Being a teenager is rather like being stuck in the middle of a series of kernel patches and getting core dumped on, without the ability to log out and go to sleep. And the hardware is being altered as well through androgens.

    Everyone makes bad decisions as teenagers; one of the reasons why our society has evolved a system of extended adolescence, with peer groups, organized socialization, and parental backstopping, is to minimize the impact of those bad decisions. Some of those bad decisions are lethal…and many methods of backstopping teenage stupidity don’t work in our economy where both parents are out of contact with their kids for large stretches of the day.

    Teenagers are miserable. Every teenager out there thinks their misery is unique. Most eventually find a peer group who are miserable in similar enough ways that they have something to talk about. Using the kernel patch metaphor, they find a group of people they can compare core dumps with and go “Oh, that’s what’s happening…” Though usually with a lot more angst, loud music, and interesting fashion choices.

    What Dawna didn’t have was that support group. So she found one way of getting through the misery – meth. Meth kills only somewhat less reliably than potassium cyanide. It takes longer, and it’s possible to have someone kick your ass enough to get off the habit…but for the people who use it for the euphoria, as a break from the misery of being a teenager? It takes a serious amount of ass kicking to break the addiction.

    I’m betting her parents didn’t know; I’d lay odds that she was an emancipated minor. I’m betting that she had no positive social outlet other than the recreational pharmaceutical users. That still doesn’t make her a martyr. On that we agree.

    However, your original essay comes off a ham handed, and blindered by the perspective of someone who’s survived the “core dump decade”, and has it safely in their past by a few decades, rather than someone who’s just getting out of it (which the original essayist appears to be writing from).

    I had an eidetic memory through the age of 19. I have unusually clear memories of what it was like to be a teenager, more so than most people who’re forty, and I’ve never met ANYONE over the age of fifty who remembers the emotional landscape of living through the core dump decade. It’s bad enough that nearly everyone suppresses it or rose tints it, or decides that it couldn’t have been as bad as they remembered, and it was teenage self indulgence.

    I contend that it was that bad. I think that the next big paradigm shift in neuropsychiatry, the thing that takes it out of the lab and into practicing medicine, is going to be ways to streamline the ‘core dump decade’.

  16. > Ah yes – abuse, the “it must have been witchcraft!” of our day.

    Oh look, a yummy worm in the water! See how it dances so enticingly, asking me to come and bite upon it!

    ESR says: I wish to go on record that I laughed my ass off when I read this.

  17. esr: Still, I’m not “pro” Turing’s suicide, just refusing to blame anyone else for it. He made his choice and died. End of story.

    And yet, had he made the choice to refuse to closet himself today, he wouldn’t have been subjected to the arrest, the hormones, or the withdrawal of his security clearance. The difference isn’t whether or not Turing was making unreasonable demands, but the level of bigotry in which he found himself embedded. A level of bigotry which you apparently refuse to consider as a culprit in his death, or the death of the young woman in question.

    You’re being remarkably thick if you think anything in my commentary has to do with a judgment on gay people.

    Surprising myself, I do agree with you on that. If she’d made the normal people uncomfortable for some other reason, I’m sure you’d be just as quick to myopically blame them for their own alienation and eventual suicide.

    I brought up Turing because the common refrain thrown at gay people is, “why can’t you just act normal?”. The claims that you’re making, that there must be something inherently wrong with these folks, because they’re so prone to substance abuse, self-loathing, depression and suicide, was precisely the same one leveled at the gay men who were herded out of gay bars, briefly held, and had their mugshots printed so that they’d lose their jobs, their friends, and their families.

    Stripped of the prejucidcial language about “people who actually counted”, I agree. Would have beaten suicide as a response, wouldn’t it?

    The “people who actually counted” language is there because you are, whether you’re open about it or not, dividing people into those who have to hide themselves in some way in order not to offend the second group, people who don’t. No, I don’t think you chose these groups. But you certainly aren’t questioning why it is that some people go in the first box, and some in the second.

    Why, yes, living a life of quiet desperation and self-loathing is better than death. But–and here’s the thing–both options suck.

    No, I get it. You want me to think that’s asking something horrible and unreasonable of the lesbians. Sorry, not buying it. Try being a kid with cerebral palsy sometime, fool. I would have loved to have the option to “pass”, but I didn’t. Instead, I had to learn NOT TO GIVE A SHIT what people thought of my “otherness” – how to be stronger that the social pressure. Therefore, lesbians whinging about the agony of choices I didn’t have fails to impress me.

    So… your conclusion is that because you were picked on as a kid and didn’t kill yourself, everybody else should be able to suck it up without complaint?

    Somehow, Eric Raymond whinging about how everyone should be as miserable as he was, even if it kills them, fails to impress me.

    My essay made no ethico-moral value claims at all. “In nature there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.”

    Failing to question those consequences is a value judgment in and of itself. Pretending that the “consequences” are part of “nature” is absolutely ridiculous. Here, I’ll quote Randy Shilts:

    Homosexuals, they said, were “injustice collectors,” as if injustices fell randomly from the sky and were magnetized toward a genetically predetermined human subspecies.

    It is, at best, profoundly dim of you to suggest that these people all deserved, at best, a lifetime of crippling denial and fear until they organized, protested, and changed the culture. It seems clear that the problem was more in the culture than anywhere else, but you insist on placing it on the victims.

  18. But now that Ken has taken the time to very nicely elucidate the coredump analogy, I can bite without a lot of effort.

    Traumatic events though the core dump years (or really, at any point in life) can permanently screw up a person’s hardware and doom you to a life of misery.

    Like anything, some people will be more vulnerable than others for reasons I don’t begin to understand, and what screws up one person for life will leave the next unharmed.

    Abuse does do terrible things to people. Look at the incidence of childhood trauma among prison populations.

    Not to say that it’s an excuse for destructive behavior, but it is a cause.

  19. I find it ironic that this young lady was destroyed by her desire to be accepted by society by aggressively rejecting society. (By rejecting, I mean choosing counter societal dress and habits.) It was her desire the “fit in” that ultimately caused her problems, not her desire to be different. But this is the very story of teenage angst. In Dawna’s case writ large perhaps, but not qualitatively different than that experienced by most here.

    It is an unfortunate reality that western societies treat teenagers like babies, removing most responsibility and accountability from them (“clean up your room” doesn’t count.) So I think teenage angst is mostly an outpouring of boredom and lack of stimulation than anything intrinsic about teenagers. For most of human history teenagers were full fledged members of society, responsible for their families in the case of boys, mothers in the case of girls. One can see this most evidently in the ghetto culture where even school and parental scolding are robbed from the teenager. The nihilistic, pointlessness of their lives is worked out in many self-destructive and other-destructive behaviors.

    In the case of Dawna, the extreme working out of this teenage angst causes me to ask two questions: first of all where were her parents in all this? Parents are supposed to offer a counter to this sort of nonsense and offer the wise perspective to keep kids grounded. Again, unfortunately, our society has accepted the idea of “teenagers hate and disrespect their parents” as normal and acceptable. Secondly, and as a follow up to this, I wonder, along with Jeff Read, if there was something deeper going on with this girl, either some physical problem, such as a hormonal imbalance, or an emotional problem, such as past or ongoing abuse of some kind. However, it is pretty hard to judge from so few facs, and so biased a presentation from the OP.

    I think Eric brings an interesting perspective from the point of view of being someone who was dealt a genome that put him outside of the norm. I think that his lack of sympathy here may come as a result of him overcoming a real problem, where something outside of himself made him “different”, and his willingness to overcome it. I don’t know Eric, I have never met him outside of his writings, but I am going to bet that he had pretty strong and supportive parents, and probably something that grabbed his passion while he was young. Something that allowed him to bypass the teenage angst squared that he was subject to. (Apologies for the psycho-analysis Eric — the bill will be in the mail:-)

    I should also point out that Eric being male, has an advantage here. For whatever reason, females are far more subject to the pressures to fit in than males are. Again, typing this it seems ironic that Dawna’s problem was fitting in, when she was so explicitly trying to “stand out.” But life is often weird that way.

    To add a political perspective to this, there are at least two fundamental flaws in our political systems that contributed to Dawna’s problems. First of all, parental responsibility in totally screwed up. In our current system there is no clearly defined legal framework for parenting that sets out the expectations. Secondly, our education system, which is designed to set a framework for childhood, is majorly messed up. It is that school system (in concern with the parents) which, largely, keep Dawna treated like a baby, stripped her of all responsibilities and authority over herself, and arrogated to itself most rights to decide about her life. It then went on to fail to help her to make good choices. A better school system, less interested in making cookie cutter factory workers, would have done a better job.

    In summary, Dawna has my sympathy. Many of the bad things in society put her is a very difficult situation. Not the nasty boys calling her a dyke, not the bad boy selling her meth, but rather a society that teaches her, a young person still trying to get it together in her mind, that she cannot do what Eric so rightly recommends: grab hold of your own choices, take responsibility for yourself, be who you want to be and the hell with everyone else.

    This latter attitude is exactly the one that our society, school system and parenting systems are trying to drum out of Dawna, not drum into her.

  20. >On this one, Eric, I disagree.

    Not sure what we’d be disagreeing about. All the claims about what-is you make in that comment seem either obviously true or disputable only on relatively minor factual quibbles – even your claim that I don’t fully remember what it was like to be a a teenager.

    What I don’t see is how anything you’ve claimed makes any actual difference to the point of the essay. We agree Dawna was no martyr, and your naturalistic analysis of the “core dump decade” doesn’t leave much room for the holy-victim interpretation that “society is to blame”. So, er, what are you disagreeing about?

    >I think that the next big paradigm shift in neuropsychiatry, the thing that takes it out of the lab and into practicing medicine, is going to be ways to streamline the ‘core dump decade’.

    That’s a prospect that frightens me. We might just rip most of the creativity out of the human species if we calmed that turmoil.

  21. Shenpen: Thus, from a subjectivist/relativist point of view both parties offended each other, and there is no other resolution of the problem than: don’t do stuff others will find offending even if you don’t mean it so, if you don’t want them to do stuff to you that you find offensive. (This is largely what ESR suggested, IMHO.)

    This still has the problem of drawing a moral equivalence between “dressing funny” and street harassment. They’re not the same thing; one is inherently self-contained, while the other isn’t. You can run wear whatever you want in the privacy of your own home, but screaming “dyke!” at a blank wall in a room by yourself likely doesn’t fulfill the same need.

    A third possibility is to use a pluralist/intersubjectivistic approach, which is my favourite, but that would take too long to explain and I think you aren’t going to take this position anyway, so no point in it.

    If you’re going to go on pretending that you can’t see the difference between offending people by looking different, and harassing people in an effort to punish them for causing that offense, then no, I’m probably not going to take that position.

    Jeff Read: Turing was a gay man who dressed sharp and was a professional at the top of his game. His government forced him onto hormones (which no doubt chemically affected his mood, possibly contributing to his suicide). I do not see the analogue to this scenario in Dawna’s case. (No one forced her to take that meth.)

    Turing refused to hide himself; a boyfriend of his broke into his apartment, and reported that fact. Keeping himself properly closeted for most of his life didn’t help him; the punishment for noncomformance was, in the end, the same.

  22. >I’m sure you’d be just as quick to myopically blame them for their own alienation and eventual suicide.

    Um…you know, there’s a difference between “not blaming society” and “blaming Dawna”. I don’t blame anyone, either Dawna or “society”, for her alienation; she made the choice to be a pink monkey in a world of brown monkeys, and the brown monkeys responded as they usually do. “No rewards or punishments, only consequences” is the position I’m taking on that.

    If I wished to assign “blame”, I could “blame” Dawna for taking meth. But I didn’t write that mini-essay to assign blame, just to disrupt the facile, stupid non-thinking that surrounds a lot of holy-victim narratives.

    >So… your conclusion is that because you were picked on as a kid and didn’t kill yourself, everybody else should be able to suck it up without complaint?

    Basically, yes, that’s it.

    Or, at least, that anyone with the choice to “pass” forfeits the right to complain if they can’t handle the merely psychological consequences of being out. Note that I do not say this of consequences that are not merely psychological, like being targeted by gay-bashers or shot full of androgens by your government.

    >Somehow, Eric Raymond whinging about how everyone should be as miserable as he was, even if it kills them, fails to impress me.

    Then you didn’t get it. I’m not arguing that anyone should be miserable; if I’m arguing anything it’s that they should learn to NOT GIVE A SHIT, the way I did. That’s not misery, it’s autonomy. Individuation. Strength.

    >It is, at best, profoundly dim of you to suggest that these people all deserved, at best, a lifetime of crippling denial and fear until they organized, protested, and changed the culture.

    Hm…I wouldn’t say “deserved” in a moral sense. But choices have consequences. It just doesn’t do any good to whine that the culture is broken unless you’re willing to pay the freight to change it. I did. Why didn’t Dawna?

    >Also, Eric, I have to ask–did you write this because you saw a comment I’d written on it linking to another comment I’d left here?

    If that’s why a trackback showed up on my blog, then you were inditrectly responsible, though I was unaware of your comment until after I had decided to respond.

  23. >Not to say that it’s an excuse for destructive behavior, but it is a cause.

    And you touch on the reason why I snarked. Because “abuse”, these days, gets treated as a sort of universal bugaboo and/or unfalsifiable explanation of every bad choice and character flaw. “He didn’t do it, it was his abusive childhood!” Feh…

  24. grendelkhan, I think you are reading too much into the essay. From what I understand, esr’s point was that we should hold victims of prejudice responsible for choosing tomake life even worse for themselves, whereas, you believe he thinks we ought to blame victims for the prejudice that they face. Prejudice sucks. And given a bad situation, we ought to make the best of it.

  25. >I think that his lack of sympathy here may come as a result of him overcoming a real problem, where something outside of himself made him “different”, and his willingness to overcome it.

    I’m not completely without sympathy for people like Dawna, I’m just not willing to buy the holy-victim narrative when they make stupid choices. Nor do I think anybody else should buy it. In effect, here’s what it says to troubled teens: “Go ahead, fuck yourself up on meth. Everybody will feel just as sorry as for you want them to after you die a romantic martyr to the cause of tolerance.”

    Technical point, BTW: palsy is not a genome problem, it”s a consequence of damage to the motor cortex, usually as a result of prenatal or perinatal oxygen deprivation.

  26. >we should hold victims of prejudice responsible for choosing tomake life even worse for themselves

    Or, at least, that when they do make things worse for themselves, blaming society causes the wrong lesson to be drawn.

  27. >For whatever reason, females are far more subject to the pressures to fit in than males are.

    I was going to let this pass, but…no, I don’t think it is true. The definition of “fit in” varies in subtle ways, and the kinds of pressure exerted do as well, but…I grew up as the oldest of five. Three boys, two girls. And I was observant about this sort of thing, even if oblivious about much else. I’d say peer pressure is equally cruel on both sexes.

  28. > But choices have consequences. It just doesn’t do any good to whine that the culture is broken unless you’re willing to pay the freight to change it.

    I used to think it doesn’t do any good to whine about something if you weren’t ready to do something about it. But I’ve since learned that some people are effective whiners – their whining about something makes others do something about it.

    Nobody inherently deserves a lifetime of crippling denial and fear. But sure, let people whine, as long as others (or worse, masses) don’t draw the wrong conclusions. I believe Eric’s original article was a clarification of the conclusions that should be drawn from a story that many would find whine-fodder.

  29. Eric, mostly I disagree with your presentation, not your conclusion.

    You are attacking a social lubricant, an expression of grief, for being insufficiently dispassionate and rational. In doing so, you also open yourself up to arguments here that could’ve been sidestepped and nullified by presenting your case in a different context.

    As to ‘streamlining the core dump years’. I have few doubts that it will happen. This will be a multi-trillion dollar industry (figuring in inflation over the decade or so it’ll take to become mainstream…) It will be embraced by a lot of parents who will want to spare their kids the misery and turmoil they remember.

    Please note that because I consider it likely doesn’t mean I consider it a good thing. Just because I consider hyperinfation of the dollar to be likely doesn’t mean I see it as a good thing either…

    As to Jessica Boxer’s contention that teenaged rebellion and disrespect are a modern ailment based on our reduced scarcity economy…historical documentation going back to the Second Dynasty of Egypt indicates that it’s been the social norm. Heck, it’s pretty evident in primatology coverage on chimps and bonobos.

    What HAS changed is that parental contact is no longer “the majority of waking hours”. We’ve tried to make social structures to compensate for that, they’re not especially functional. (I’m on a mailing list of some very bright people who are all getting into the spawning years. I get way more alternative schooling utopianism flame wars than I’d ever want to deal with.

    Just as a note: A trait that’s passed on by evolution merely means it doesn’t kill the bearer before they reproduce. If anything, the tendency to rebel as teenagers means it’s likelier that you’ll run off and join another tribe…

  30. Ah yes – abuse, the “it must have been witchcraft!” of our day.

    I’m not sure what this means. I offered that suspicion to explain her actions, not excuse them. She radiates every indication of having been a headcase from the word go. Mind you, I’ve known some truly wonderful headcases, and it’s sad to see them self-destruct, but there’s little that you, I, or “society” can do about it.

    Turing refused to hide himself; a boyfriend of his broke into his apartment, and reported that fact. Keeping himself properly closeted for most of his life didn’t help him; the punishment for noncomformance was, in the end, the same.

    All of which makes him a much better candidate for status as an innocent victim of a crushingly conformist society than this Dawna who, again, sounds as if she were mental for a long time.

  31. >You are attacking a social lubricant, an expression of grief, for being insufficiently dispassionate and rational.

    Oh, bullshit. This “expression of grief”, though doubtless genuine on some level, was mainly a means to the end of condemning nasty old “society” for what it did to Dawna. It was propaganda for a mistaken idea about how the world is or ought to be, and deserves to be engaged on the level of propaganda.

  32. Dawna’s reaction to her ‘otherness’ is so different from my own experiences I’m having a hard time establish any kind of reference by which to interpret her actions. I’m sure she felt different and and unable to connect with most other people and that is painful. However, I think one Eric’s points is that the act of emphasizing your difference with the rest of society in manner calculated to be sensually jarring is an act of imaturity, not an act of noble heroism. This is not to say, however, that Dawna’s death wasn’t tragic. It’s simply to say what I said.

  33. >However, I think one Eric’s points is that the act of emphasizing your difference with the rest of society in manner calculated to be sensually jarring is an act of imaturity, not an act of noble heroism.

    Not necessarily. If Dawna had taken a “sensually jarring” oppositional stance and then had the fortitude and talent to translate that into changing the world – making people accept her as she was – I would in fact have considered that heroic. Even if it had begun as immature self-display and taunting.

    As it was, her behavior was stupid at nearly the Darwin Award level. And apologetics of the form “bad old society did it” are even stupider.

  34. > I’m not completely without sympathy for people like Dawna, I’m just not willing to buy the
    > holy-victim narrative when they make stupid choices.

    If Dawna had been 35 years old, my reaction would have been “Dumb bitch, chalk one up for Darwin.” But she was 15, an age when she isn’t necessarily capable of making all these choices. So “society”, by which I mean those who should have taken up that responsibility for her, has dropped the ball on this one.

    > In effect, here’s what it says to troubled teens: “Go ahead, fuck yourself up on meth…

    Sure, the message is not good, but isn’t it equally important to point out the weaknesses in the parenting and in-loco-parentis structures that allowed her to make these poor choices? I agree broadly with your general point that often we tend to blame minor causes for someone’s problems, when the truth is that it is their own poor choices that put them there. However, in Dawna’s case, there are some other very strong contributing factors to her downfall outside of her control, so I just wonder if there are some other, more convincing, “cleaner” examples to use to make your case.

    Further, you seem to dismiss the contribution that abuse may have played. (Of course there is no claim of abuse in the OP, but given that this discussion is a generalization from a particular, allow me to consider it as possible.) To dismiss this as like witchcraft is to underestimate the effect of abuse on children. It can profoundly affect development of basic social skills necessary for living. I agree that it is used as an excuse by adults, but, children are completely different in that regard. Their brains are still forming, and without an appropriate environment they will form poorly. I do not think that psychological diseases are all bullshit.

    > Technical point, BTW: palsy is not a genome problem

    Apologies.

  35. According to the author of the quoted blog, Dawna was a sensitive soul who loved beautiful things. If this was true, Dawna was expressed herself ineffectively to others (when I say this I don’t mean to downplay the tragedy of her death). For many people, a nearly shaved head and chains brings up images of Nazis, motorcycle gangs and other ugly images. I bring this up because it is something I’ve thought about countless times before I knew anything about Dawna. People (we will call them type C personalities) who go out of their way to stand out always claim ‘self-expression’ as the reason. In other words, they claim they are trying to communicate how they are inside by what they wear on the outside. Amazingly, if this claim is true, it almost always backfires. Most people completely misinterpret their physical appearance. For example, if my Dad sees someone walking around with a mohawk, in his mind, he has just seen a person who avoids responsibility and probably takes drugs. However, the person with the mohawk is offended by this and claims he is trying to communicate that he is a free spirit or some nonsense like that. The point is, for most people, the purpose of obviously and visually standing out is not to ‘express themselves’, but to identify themselves as a member of a sub-culture.

    In other words, people who wear mohawks wear them for the exact same reason Indians of the original Mohawks did, to identify themselves as members of a tribe.

    Dawna, I think, was a partial exception to this rule. She felt pain and wanted to wear things that expressed that pain (chains). However, I think she also wanted attention (most of us do). She wanted people to see her in her strange clothes, singing in the middle of the street and say, “What a unique person. I want to get to know her so I can appreciate her.” Despite her deviant appearance, she desperately wanted people to recognize her uniqueness and inner beauty and love her for it. Unfortunately, she chose a course of action that did not result in the consequences she wanted. The danger in portraying Dawna as a hero is that you encourage other youth to take the same course of action which results in consequences they are not seeking.

    The bottom line is this: If you want people do recognize who you are on the inside (your intelligence, uniqueness, competence, skill, whatever), do not distract them by what you are wearing on the outside or by distracting behavior who sole purpose is to shock.

  36. >But she was 15, an age when she isn’t necessarily capable of making all these choices. So “society”, by which I mean those who should have taken up that responsibility for her, has dropped the ball on this one.

    Ah, now we get to play with differing loadings of the word “society”. As you are using the word now, I agree with you. But that’s not the same “society” the author was referencing. Do you really want to bet he didn’t have some inchoate conspiracy of Evil Heterosexual White Males Over Forty in mind? (Hint: the posting I excerpted from used the term “progressives” without irony.) I mean, in practice most screeds like this actually reduce to “See? See? Yet another reason never to vote for a Rethuglican!”

    >I just wonder if there are some other, more convincing, “cleaner” examples to use to make your case.

    When I find one, I’ll blog about it. But I don’t go searching for stuff like this; I react to it as it swims onto my radar.

    >Further, you seem to dismiss the contribution that abuse may have played.

    Without more evidence, yes. I wouldn’t have my skepticism filter for “abuse” explanations set so high, though, if the category hadn’t been turned into a nigh-unfalsifiable all-purpose source of bad juju before which we are supposed to turn off all critical faculties.

  37. >I would in fact have considered that heroic. Even if it had begun as immature self-display and taunting.

    I see your point. I suppose forcing a staid society to accept someone who is radically different can be heroic if it is a cause you truly believe in, and, like you said, you are prepared to endure the consequences of a pitched battle.

    I just think there are too many people in love with the idea of being different and not enough people being good parents and building solar cells that can achieve 30% efficiency.

  38. >I just think there are too many people in love with the idea of being different and not enough people being good parents and building solar cells that can achieve 30% efficiency.

    Agreed.

  39. Grendelkhan,

    “This still has the problem of drawing a moral equivalence between “dressing funny” and street harassment. They’re not the same thing; one is inherently self-contained, while the other isn’t. You can run wear whatever you want in the privacy of your own home, but screaming “dyke!” at a blank wall in a room by yourself likely doesn’t fulfill the same need.”

    No, behaving or dressing any way in public is not inherently self-contained. See, looking it at first from the subjectivist/relativist standpoint, it’s all about conflicting narratives and both sides have consistent narratives. You’ve read one narrative in the original article, and the other one could be something along the lines of “See, we can’t even take our children out to the street anymore, there are all sorts of indecent folks out there who can have an awful influence on them!” This is just as consistent and believable a narrative as the other one. The situation from the subjectivist standpoint looks exactly balanced and fair: both sides can be equally scared, offended or feel hurt, because they both have consistent narratives to explain why and the whole point about the subjectivist/relativist view is that everything is subjective and there are no objective measures to determine which narrative is right and which is wrong.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating this other narrative (I always found the “concerned mothers” kind of narratives unappealing because they are about as sophisticated as a stick), but rather that I’d like to point out the contradictions in marrying a subjectivist/relativist approach to a Progressive view. The subjectivist/relativist approach fits better to the Libertarian view: you are free to live any way you want but others are too free to use any non-agressive ways to make your life difficult if you do it in any way that it affects them, up to and including the case when they plain simply see something they don’t like.

    The other option is to give up the subjective/relativist standpoint and try to define either an objective or intersubjective (pluralist) take on morality and decency and suchlike.

    I’m not trying to influence you (yet :-) ) in which one to choose, just trying to convince you to accept there is a contradiciton in the mixture of subjectivism with Progressivism, and there are multiple ways out of it.

    So I think the ball is in your court. If everything is subjective and relative, then there are no ways to determine that one person’s taking offense at being said things she considers insulting is objectively right and another person’s taking offense at someone dressing in public in way that he considers indecent and influencing their children in a bad way is objectively wrong. I think either you have to give up the subjectivist/relativist approach or the Progressive view, they are inconsistent.

    BTW what you wrote before seems like you are not really subjectivist and you try to taking an intuitive-Utilitarian approach to determine objective morality: of two things, the better is the one that hurts less, thus, the pain coming from being offended at someone’s looks is less than the pain from being offended by someone’s words. You haven’t fleshed it out yet, you seem to be doing it on an intuitive, isn’t-it-obvious level (it isn’t), but if it is the case there is some serious work to be done here, because there are obvious questions like how to determine who hurts more and how can one foresee the total amount of pain for everybody coming from a situation, and how pleasure/pain correlates with other things we value in life and can perhaps pain sometimes be a good thing etc. etc. Utilitarianism is a long and complicated story to justify. At the very least, try to justify it with a well-argued Utilitarianism, not just an intuitive Utilitarianism based on simple everyday feelings of empathy.

  40. Unfortunately, there are certain subjects that you cannot talk about dispassionately without sounding heartless. When Malthus began talking about Positive Checks at the end of the 18th century, I’m sure he sounded like a monster to his readers. That didn’t make his observations less true and nor did it make him pro-war, pro-disease, and pro-starvation. They were just dispassionate observations about populations.

    It’s obvious to me that esr isn’t in favor of gay bashing. He also doesn’t seem to me to be intolerant of anything other than stupidity and creeping fascism. There’s enough pain and suffering associated with that age without adding to it with bad decisions.

    From my perspective, this isn’t a post that I would have been comfortable writing. I do, however, applaud esr for making the attempt and starting a dialog with his audience.

  41. @esr: I don’t get the sense that many here understand what (at least I think) you were alluding to in the the title, with the term “protective camouflage”. The author is clearly disguising his (liberal) diatribe on society with the “poor Dawna” story. People here seem to be reading this as a lament on the death on Dawn, when it is, in fact, meant to be a condemnation of society for lacking political correctness. Ironically, the writing is having it’s intended effect on this audience, despite your rebuttal of it: to disguise political speech with tragedy so as to cause others to rebuke any rebuttal of the propaganda. Rather than defending Dawna, we should be deriding the author for using his friend’s death in such an opportunistic manner to

  42. esr: I don’t blame anyone, either Dawna or “society”, for her alienation; she made the choice to be a pink monkey in a world of brown monkeys, and the brown monkeys responded as they usually do. “No rewards or punishments, only consequences” is the position I’m taking on that.

    No; she didn’t decide to be, as you put it, a “pink monkey”; she did refuse to paint herself brown or to live in a world that had no use for her. That you see this as her problem says something about you. Refusing to consider why there are what you laughably call “consequences”–to question the brown monkeys, to follow your metaphor–is, in and of itself, a moral judgment.

    If I wished to assign “blame”, I could “blame” Dawna for taking meth. But I didn’t write that mini-essay to assign blame, just to disrupt the facile, stupid non-thinking that surrounds a lot of holy-victim narratives.

    And thence to replace it with the facile, stupid non-thinking that manages to confuse our current block of brainless prejudices with immutable natural law.

    Or, at least, that anyone with the choice to “pass” forfeits the right to complain if they can’t handle the merely psychological consequences of being out. Note that I do not say this of consequences that are not merely psychological, like being targeted by gay-bashers or shot full of androgens by your government.

    Wait, I’m confused. Are “consequences” like being harassed by random people on the street “merely psychological” or not?

    Then you didn’t get it. I’m not arguing that anyone should be miserable; if I’m arguing anything it’s that they should learn to NOT GIVE A SHIT, the way I did. That’s not misery, it’s autonomy. Individuation. Strength.

    And it places the responsibility on you, when it’s not really your problem. I suppose it’s helpful to imagine that the solution to any systemic problems you encounter is within yourself, but while it may make you happy, it ensures that everyone else has to go through the same difficulties.

    Hm…I wouldn’t say “deserved” in a moral sense. But choices have consequences. It just doesn’t do any good to whine that the culture is broken unless you’re willing to pay the freight to change it. I did. Why didn’t Dawna?

    Maybe you had a better support system; maybe you, as a man, were raised to deal with troubling emotions in a different way. Regardless, you seem to have taken an unexpected lesson–not that there was anything wrong with the way you were treated, but that it’s impossible to even attach a “right” or “wrong” label to it, that it’s some sort of impersonal force of, as you put it, “nature”.

    And no, you apparently didn’t take an interest in changing the culture, since you’re refusing to even acknowledge that “the culture” is a player here.

    If that’s why a trackback showed up on my blog, then you were inditrectly responsible, though I was unaware of your comment until after I had decided to respond.

    Yeah, that’d be me. I’m reasonably sure that I’m the only person who reads both Alas, a blog and this one.

    Thomas Covello: From what I understand, esr’s point was that we should hold victims of prejudice responsible for choosing to make life even worse for themselves, whereas, you believe he thinks we ought to blame victims for the prejudice that they face. Prejudice sucks. And given a bad situation, we ought to make the best of it.

    If that were the moral, I’d still take issue with it, but no, I don’t think he’s saying that we ought to blame victims for the prejudice that they face; he’s saying that the prejudice that victims face is simply nature, and when they’re told in no uncertain terms that they’re better off dead, and take that message to heart, that’s just a consequence. In some ways that’s worse, and yes, it does implicitly blame the victim for not either (a) closeting herself better, or (b) sucking it up. He refuses to question that choice, or even admit that there’s something wrong with it.

    esr: Oh, bullshit. This “expression of grief”, though doubtless genuine on some level, was mainly a means to the end of condemning nasty old “society” for what it did to Dawna. It was propaganda for a mistaken idea about how the world is or ought to be, and deserves to be engaged on the level of propaganda.

    Are you referring to her suicide here? Because if so, wow. It looks like you’re reacting to suicide by claiming that, darn it, she was trying to make you feel bad for her, and you’re not going to give her memory the satisfaction.

    Do you really want to bet he didn’t have some inchoate conspiracy of Evil Heterosexual White Males Over Forty in mind? (Hint: the posting I excerpted from used the term “progressives” without irony.) I mean, in practice most screeds like this actually reduce to “See? See? Yet another reason never to vote for a Rethuglican!”

    From the perspective of someone who catches bigotry from a lot of evil, heterosexual, white males, it might well look like a conspiracy. But no, I don’t think anyone is positing a smoke-filled room somewhere, just a set of ideas and preconceptions, of memes like “if you’re driven to suicide, it’s your fault; you shouldn’t have been so different” are all that’s needed.

    But it’s illustrative to see that, when presented with terrible things happening to people, you can remember who’s really important here. Best to make sure nobody’s ragging on the defenseless old white straight dudes.

  43. Shenpen: No, behaving or dressing any way in public is not inherently self-contained. See, looking it at first from the subjectivist/relativist standpoint, it’s all about conflicting narratives and both sides have consistent narratives. You’ve read one narrative in the original article, and the other one could be something along the lines of “See, we can’t even take our children out to the street anymore, there are all sorts of indecent folks out there who can have an awful influence on them!” This is just as consistent and believable a narrative as the other one. The situation from the subjectivist standpoint looks exactly balanced and fair: both sides can be equally scared, offended or feel hurt, because they both have consistent narratives to explain why and the whole point about the subjectivist/relativist view is that everything is subjective and there are no objective measures to determine which narrative is right and which is wrong.

    Bah. I’m reminded of Christians complaining that they’re oppressed! oppressed! if their cultural influence doesn’t thoroughly suffuse the culture. Dominant groups tend to have a different set of standards for what they’re allowed to do and what others are allowed to do.

    If the worst that Dawna had to put up with was seeing everyone around her dressed in t-shirts reading “Straight and Proud!” or the like, while the straight folk in this story had carloads of furious lesbians blazing by, screaming “BREEDER!” in an attempt to intimidate them when they went outside, then I doubt we’d be talking about how the situations are equivalent. Despite your referencing of libertarian ideas like the Non-Aggression Principle, you’re still drawing an equivalence between dressing offensively and harassment. It’s not equivalent. The people complaining about how much it hurts them to see someone walking around looking strange aren’t going to become so distraught and cut off from it that they feel that suicide is their only option.

    And no, screaming at people from a passing car isn’t simply “words”. It’s not the same as reading, say, a post here on the internet. It’s not the same as reading a t-shirt. There’s a reason I keep using the word “harassment”; your attempts to claim that both sides have equal claim to being offended is downright laughable.

    But if you really think there’s an equivalence, please find me an example of a straight person made so despondent by gays walking around in flamboyant clothing and strange hairstyles that they killed themselves. Go on. I’ll wait.

  44. Morgan Graywolf: People here seem to be reading this as a lament on the death on Dawn, when it is, in fact, meant to be a condemnation of society for lacking political correctness.

    Oh, really? Pray tell, how did you come to that conclusion? What did you think was the point? What, then, was the subtle hidden agenda being covered up? Care to elaborate on just what you mean by “political correctness”?

  45. Eric,

    “We are supposed to react to this story with pity and loathing at the death of the holy victim. Sorry, but my reaction was that Dawna was clearly asking for what she got. If she didn’t want the local monkeys to “other” her, why did she dress funny?”

    Thank you for telling me how I’m supposed to react to this story, I don’t think that I cold have made up my mind otherwise. I thought it was sad, but I think you’re wrong. The only feelings that I felt were sadness at the death – if you’ve never buried someone then you’ve no idea, and distaste that people still think that sexuality deserves derision. But that is something that needs to be addressed at a societal level. Your reactions however gives the impression that you’re a mouth-breathing, bigoted oxygen thief, perhaps we should start mocking you.

    I don’t think you realize just how narrow you are. You claim that you have ” way-out-of-the-mainstream beliefs ” and yet as evidenced by not only this article, but many of your previous articles you show your self to be more ideologically tied to the extreme right. You’re the relgious conservative without the religion. You have a few ideals that are outside of the norm, but you fit more into society than you probably care to admit.

    If we went off of looks then you probably wouldn’t get much more respect than the an uneducated ignorant factory worker and I wouldn’t get much more. And yet you’ve shown that you have a decent ability to make your thoughts understood and have even come up with an original thought or two of your own. You’re happy looking the way that you do and “fighting the good fight” by speaking out against ideas that you oppose, while fitting in with society. And so you perpetuate that status quo. You’re happy not upsetting the balance, if we listen to your “be different or look different but you can’t have them both stance” then our society would have a much different structure.

    And yet you advocate living life in fear. It doesn’t matter if you are different and look different, you can only be one. That is a very vacuous agrument. If she dressed all nice and pretty like a good girl should then she might not have been any happier, she might have been worse off becasue she might have felt that had to hide who she was. But since you and I are both making assumptions about the deceased then we’re both just making asses out of ourselves.

    “The world did not kill Dawna. Dawna’s bad choices killed Dawna. Bad choice #1: taking a visibly oppositional stance without having the inner strength not to buckle. Bad choice #2: taking nasty drugs to cope with bad choice #1.”

    Yes she made choices that ultimately led to her end, but there were also choices that the people around her made that influenced those choices. you make the assumption that the world has no influence on a person. Again it’s great in theory, but wrong in reality. Environment greatly influences a persons decisions. She probably didn’t want to change how she looked or acted becuase she felt that was who she was. She probably didn’t want to change the world, just to live her life. Next you make the assumption that she knew that she didn’t have the strength to not buckle. Bad assumption, completly baseless especially at a young age when many kids think that they can do anything. You quit a corporate job because of the influence that their attitudes had on you. You were miserable, blah, blah, blah so you quit. You made a decision based upon people’s treatment of you. You knew that you had something else to fall back on. At the age of 15, your local society has already made thier decisions about you and now you have no where to go and still be yourself. Someone who has to hide who they are are miserable more often than not.

    You do redeem yourself by mentioning that she wasted all of her potential, but that’s the one shining moment amongst an otherwise poorly thought out and written essay. You’ve managed to continue to derided her after she died, congratualtions? I wonder if that makes you feel good?

    P.S. How is a treeful of parrots gay? Is it as gay as a treeful of birds-of-paradise? Or how about a cliffside of baboons? Maybe school of dolphins? Or a Flock of Seagulls?

  46. Grendelkhan,

    May I ask a question? The problem might be in my receptors and not in your argument, but to me it totally looks like you are not arguing at all, meaning, you aren’t trying to prove that something is rational, logical and practical and works well and so on. To me it totally looks like you are playing emotional cards under the guise of a rational argument, cards like “you must agree with me or you are a bad, BAD person”, generally, trying to “guilt-trip” people. To instill an emotion of guilt or bad conscience or to generate a feeling of feeling bad about oneself and thus a desire to join those who can feel good about themselves etc. You aren’t really trying to convey any sort of logical, coherent, rational and practical political philosophy, to me it totally looks like you are just trying to play the “agree with me or feel bad about yourself, feel guilty” card. Are my receptors wrong or is it really so? I don’t consider it to be a good thing. It almost looks like the mirror opposite of the Fundie arguments, and usually if something is bad, the opposite of it is equally bad…

  47. Grendelkhan,

    my previous comment was before your previous one (was meant as a reply to your previous comment to ESR) (I just wanted to make it clear, it’s hard to reference individual posts here), so here’s the reply to your reply adressed to me:

    OK my suspicion is right: you are pretty much a Utilitarian, you think the two things aren’t equivalent because they cause different amounts of pain. This is Utilitarianism: the political philosophy that claims that 1) life is all about pleasure and pain 2) levels of pleasure and pain between people are objectively comparable 3) we should be aiming and maximizing pleasure for all and minimizing pain for all. I think this is clearly decided now.

    Utilitarianism is one of the many possible ways to construct moral and ethical philosophies, I don’t say there is something _inherently_ wrong about it. If I’d be debating with a clear, admitted Utilitarian, I’d propose some arguments but my problem with you is deeper: why don’t you just say so? Why don’t you just say I’m a Utilitarian, I believe in the above three, I think situation X causes less pain than situation Y, thus X is less wrong and Y is more wrong and so on?

    Why do I have to GUESS you are a Utilitarian, dammit? This looks so childish to me, that I have to make _your_ job instead of you i.e. to identify your emotional standpoint with a well-known and fairly well-argued philosophical standpoint.

    Why don’t you make it clear and make a rational case for it? Why are you playing cards to emotions like guilt and empathy, why don’t you form it into a consistent Utilitarian argument?

    It’s so annoying when I debate with people who don’t even make a case for a kind of philosophy but I have to _guess_ their philosophy from their emotional appeals. You are smarter than that, you have enough brains to make an emotion-free rational case – so why?

  48. Correction: “I have to do _your_ job” instead of “I have to make _your_ job” (in my native language “make” and “do” are equivalent).

  49. “I don’t get the sense that many here understand what (at least I think) you were alluding to in the the title, with the term “protective camouflage”. The author is clearly disguising his (liberal) diatribe on society with the “poor Dawna” story. People here seem to be reading this as a lament on the death on Dawn, when it is, in fact, meant to be a condemnation of society for lacking political correctness. Ironically, the writing is having it’s intended effect on this audience, despite your rebuttal of it: to disguise political speech with tragedy so as to cause others to rebuke any rebuttal of the propaganda. Rather than defending Dawna, we should be deriding the author for using his friend’s death in such an opportunistic manner to”

    This isn’t about political correctness, it’s about a) tact, b) respecting the dead (only because they can’t defend themselves) and c) whether society should share in the blame. There is a difference between using a derisive name in casual converstaion and shouting out derisive phrases at somebody that you just happen to see in the street.

  50. > you have enough brains to make an emotion-free rational case

    Hey! I thought you were a conservative – doesn’t that mean that, like Hume, you believe that on some level our moral beliefs always find some ground in emotion?

  51. “Hey! I thought you were a conservative – doesn’t that mean that, like Hume, you believe that on some level our moral beliefs always find some ground in emotion?”

    That’s a very good but complicated question. I can’t fully answer it in a comment. As a short and inadequate answer I think this is an oversimplification of Hume’s idea of the primacy of passions, which doesn’t simply mean playing cards of empathy and guilt are OK, and besides Conservatism isn’t strictly based on Hume. I think it’s based or SHOULD be based on a kind of practicalism, realism, on how things actually work, which means in human matters: how human nature works, on a kind of a realistic, experience-based psychological knowledge about how _other_ people think, feel and react. Taking emotions into account and _calculating_ with them, but the emphasis is on the rational _calculating_ with common emotions and not on the direct (ab)use of them in our own thinking. I think in it there always must be a difference between the strongly emotional common people and the philosophers or politicians who calculate with these emotions and the two should not be confused. There should be a difference between the people’s raw emotions about something and the philosophers or politicians’s rational thinking about the emotional stance of the people. And, of course, another important point is understanding there are other emotions to human well-being and living a decent life than pleasure and pain. As I said it’s complicated…

  52. > Oh, bullshit. This “expression of grief”, though doubtless genuine on some level, was mainly a means to the end of condemning nasty old “society” for what it did to Dawna. It was propaganda for a mistaken idea about how the world is or ought to be, and deserves to be engaged on the level of propaganda.

    I disagree. You’re trying to make sense of her behaviour by grafting it onto a rational framework, and it’s not very convincing because she probably wasn’t behaving rationally. She had probably just whipped herself into such a frenzy that the delayed-gratification circuits just switched off and her sole priority became escaping pain immediately.

  53. >You’re trying to make sense of her behaviour by grafting it onto a rational framework,

    Er…not Dawna’s expression of grief, the expression of the author of the eulogy to her.

  54. >No; she didn’t decide to be, as you put it, a “pink monkey”; she did refuse to paint herself brown or to live in a world that had no use for her.

    Fool, we all have to paint ourselves brown. Pretty much every time we interact with other human beings in numbers more than one. I get no exemption from this, you don’t, and Dawna didn’t either. People who don’t paint themselves brown are called “mental patients”.

    >Wait, I’m confused. Are “consequences” like being harassed by random people on the street “merely psychological” or not?

    Yes. You think I haven’t had “Cripple!” and “Freak!” yelled at me by a carful of passing bozos? It stops being psychological when they start throwing things. And I, unlike lucky Dawna, didn’t have the option of not dressing funny.

    >And it places the responsibility on you, when it’s not really your problem. I suppose it’s helpful to imagine that the solution to any systemic problems you encounter is within yourself, but while it may make you happy, it ensures that everyone else has to go through the same difficulties.

    And in what universe will everyone else not have to? Human beings are only semi-domesticated primates. If you paint yourself pink, or are stuck being pink, the brown monkeys are going to taunt you. Conform, learn not to give a shit, or persuade them that pink is the new brown: those are all the coping options you have and all the coping options anyone is ever likely to have.

    You can’t fix the conformity problem. The most you can manage is to change the definition of “conform”.

    >Regardless, you seem to have taken an unexpected lesson–not that there was anything wrong with the way you were treated

    No. There was a lot wrong with the way I was treated. But there was no way to fix it by whining. Blaming people for being meanies wouldn’t fix my limp or my clumsiness. Blaming people for being meanies wouldn’t have changed my options (which were narrower than Dawna’s) in any way whatsoever – they still amounted to either learning how not to give a shit or folding.

    >And no, you apparently didn’t take an interest in changing the culture, since you’re refusing to even acknowledge that “the culture” is a player here.

    Today’s pop culture is a lot more geek-friendly than it was thirty years ago. A couple of things I did have helped the trend along.

    >He’s saying that the prejudice that victims face is simply nature, and when they’re told in no uncertain terms that they’re better off dead, and take that message to heart, that’s just a consequence

    No, Thomas got it mostly right and you didn’t: I’m saying we should not hold “society” responsible when victims of prejudice choose to make life even worse for themselves.

    I didn’t have a choice about whether to limp or not; Dawna at least had the choice not to dress in a way she knew would offend and disturb people. Since she chose that anyway, she bought the predictable consequences and owned them. All of them, starting with her secondary gain from feeling like a bitchin’ cool iconoclast to being yelled at on the street.

    Comes back to my original question: if she didn’t want the local monkeys to “other” her, why did she dress funny?

  55. As someone who is gay, I couldn’t agree more with ESRs lack of empathy. I have a great dislike for feel-good stories about ‘outsiders’, who are outsiders because of their own actions. Not only do “outsiders” expect people to feel sorry for them or be disturbed by them, quite often they seek it.

    I don’t believe this is lacking empathy on the part of anyone who feels this way, if you care for these people, give them your time and understand them you will have become exhausted long before they feel better. As some one with a string of unlucky early-life circumstances I say that anyone with problems needs the intrinsic motivation to stop feeding on other peoples sympathy, empathy or attachment and make a better life for themselves.

    Chalking your problems up to culture or human nature problems is counter-productive, it does not matter what caused your problems. There is only one damn person who will your problems, guess who that is.

  56. eek. some corrections
    * ‘feel-good stories’ refers to the lone outsider who is too good for this world and all that excrement
    * I hope the two different takes on empathy are not too confusing.

  57. Oh, really? Pray tell, how did you come to that conclusion? What did you think was the point? What, then, was the subtle hidden agenda being covered up? Care to elaborate on just what you mean by “political correctness”?

    Read much? Or were just two “moved” to see it?

    Dawna lived twenty-two years in the toxic hatred of our homophobic, gender policing, joy-killing world. And then it murdered her.

    The author is clearly condemning the world for being “homophobic” and for determining what is “normal.” While I don’t condone discrimination, I also don’t think you can erase people’s prejudices. A prejudice is just that — a condition by which someone prejudges another person, usually based on superficial things like skin color or sexual orientation. I don’t think you can erase that — people fear that which is different from themselves. It’s instinctual, born of tribal societies. People from different tribes were different, and hence, to be instinctually feared.

    What people can do is control is their own actions — what they do about the fear, but not the fear itself. That’s not going away, and condemning it is akin to condemning the desire to eat or reproduce. The desire to reproduce might result in repulsive, immoral or illegal behavior — but most people are able to control those urges. Same goes for prejudice and fear of outsiders.

    I’m not saying I necessarily disagree that the people should do what they can to end discrimination against homosexuals, and maybe that’s the part of the author’s intent. But even if I agree with that conclusion, I disagree with the means to express that desired conclusion. The guy’s an opportunist, and, IMHO, he has dishonored his friend’s memory.

  58. The article makes it sound like she was caught in a vicious cycle. No friends led to displaying weird behavior and public histrionics in order to attract people, but of course, she was too weird to do anything but turn most people off to her. This continued until she was permanently a weirdo.

    The drugs though…there’s no excuse for that, and at age 15, that is a huge parental failure.

  59. Also, I’m sorry but this section:

    “They didn’t take joy in her oddness, in her willingness to sing in the middle of the street, in her humor, in her desire to leave strange and beautiful things in public places for strangers to find and puzzle over.”

    makes her sound like one of those kids who doesn’t fit in and takes it out on everyone else by being as loud and obnoxious as humanly possible. I didn’t really fit in in high school, but I never stooped to behaving like an idiot in public to prove a point about “society.”

  60. Why don’t these people who are “weird” or “outside the norm” understand that there are a lot of SO-CALLED and perceived normal people who equally suffer in silence but learn to adjust in society because of their perceived normality? Abnormalities or weirdness are not always visible to the outside. It might be purely mental, psychological or even spiritual.

    As ESR said, society today is a lot MORE accepting of deviations from the standard than in the past. But not all deviations are equally created, politically speaking. What I object to is politically motivated groups who continue to play the “victim” card either for sympathy or for getting society to actively and repeatedly ‘celebrate’ their status. I don’t understand why this should be so… that’s like forcing your abnormality down the throats of ordinary people and THAT is what I severely object to. I don’t want to interfere with anybody’s social or political freedom but that doesn’t mean I should actively participate in approving or celebrating them at every opportunity. Normal people (in the sense of people who otherwise conform) should equally have the freedom NOT to endorse or support these groups.

    I am reasonably sympathetic towards people who genuinely suffer on account of their abnormalities or what society considers as deviations from the norm. But I don’t want to celebrate them merely on account of their ‘abnormal’ status, especially if such a status is self-inflicted.

  61. >“They didn’t take joy in her oddness, in her willingness to sing in the middle of the street, in her humor, in her desire to leave strange and beautiful things in public places for strangers to find and puzzle over.” makes her sound like one of those kids who doesn’t fit in and takes it out on everyone else by being as loud and obnoxious as humanly possible.

    That far I won’t go. I’ve known some people with traits like that who weren’t obnoxious posers; my feeling from the essay is Dawna might have been one of them. I actually think I might have liked her in person.

    When I say “If she didn’t want the local monkeys to ‘other’ her, why did she dress funny?”, I do not intend the accusation that Dawna actively got in peoples’ faces all the time. In her confused artistic way, she probably thought she was making some sort of noble personal statement by passively getting in The Man’s face with her manner of dress and carriage.

    Well, the monkey pack got the message and pushed back. And she gave the monkeys something to push against by desperately needing their approval and feeling broken when she didn’t get it. Which was entirely her problem

  62. No. There was a lot wrong with the way I was treated. But there was no way to fix it by whining. Blaming people for being meanies wouldn’t fix my limp or my clumsiness. Blaming people for being meanies wouldn’t have changed my options (which were narrower than Dawna’s) in any way whatsoever – they still amounted to either learning how not to give a shit or folding.

    Then you haven’t understood Mandolin’s post.

    She is saying that a society that limits Dawnas to those two choices is inferior to a society that accepts them.

    >Wait, I’m confused. Are “consequences” like being harassed by random people on the street “merely psychological” or not?

    Yes. You think I haven’t had “Cripple!” and “Freak!” yelled at me by a carful of passing bozos? It stops being psychological when they start throwing things. And I, unlike lucky Dawna, didn’t have the option of not dressing funny.

    That’s a really weird place to be drawing the line. I would say it stops being “merely psychological” once an implied threat of violence is involved. (assuming the backpedal from “merely pschological” to “psychlogical” was unintentional)

  63. >She is saying that a society that limits Dawnas to those two choices is inferior to a society that accepts them.

    OK, I agree. So what?

    There will never, ever, ever be a society that offers more choices than that to monkeys who are pink and can’t scrub it off. The only possibility is that the definition of “pink” will change. And as I keep pointing out, Dawna at least had the choice not to dress funny. Unlike me.

    >That’s a really weird place to be drawing the line.

    It’s a pragmatic one. I’ve been in worse shit than Dawna was in. I learned what I had to be and what to do to survive. She didn’t.

  64. grendelkhan said:
    But it’s illustrative to see that, when presented with terrible things happening to people, you can remember who’s really important here. Best to make sure nobody’s ragging on the defenseless old white straight dudes.

    The “old white straight dudes” phrase/stereotype you use there made me laugh. By using it, you’re proving that particular point for Eric.

    For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m an old white straight dude. This may surprise you, but I occasionally empathize with other people. And if that’s not enough to surprise you, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t made anyone do meth/crack/heroin/whatever.

    I’m not offended when people’s stereotypes cause them to incorrectly perceive me. It’s sometimes fun to show them otherwise.

    Dawna employed a lot of attention getting devices. Perhaps she should have employed attention giving devices. If she’d done so, she might have met more people who would’ve met her half way (if that expression isn’t too old or too white for you).

  65. esr said: “That far I won’t go. I’ve known some people with traits like that who weren’t obnoxious posers; my feeling from the essay is Dawna might have been one of them. I actually think I might have liked her in person.”

    It’s a possibility, but my personal experience as something of a high school loser leads me to believe that there are two camps among the weird: the very loud and the very quiet, with practically no gray area in between. This is “scene kids” vs. geeks, essentially.

    I didn’t mean to go too far or anything; I’m sorry this woman never figured out a way to connect with other people. It’s a truly saddening story, and I don’t mean to give offense.

  66. >There will never, ever, ever be a society that offers more choices than that to monkeys who are pink and can’t scrub it off. The only possibility is that the definition of “pink” will change.

    The definition of “pink” has changed. Mandolin is celebrating that change, and she uses Dawna as an example of why that change is so important (read the whole post, and note that the part you excerpt is an “Update”).

    >And as I keep pointing out, Dawna at least had the choice not to dress funny.

    Dawna’s choices:

    A) Dress funny, be miserable.
    B) Dress normal, be miserable.

    She actually had less choices available to her than you did.

  67. >The definition of “pink” has changed. Mandolin is celebrating that change, and she uses Dawna as an example of why that change is so important

    1. Why is it important to everybody in society? If people have the freedom to dress funny, other people equally have the freedom not to accept that or even actively criticize or reject it…
    2. Why should we all be forced to celebrate that change?

  68. >1. Why is it important to everybody in society? If people have the freedom to dress funny, other people equally have the freedom not to accept that or even actively criticize or reject it…

    Are you using “actively criticize or reject” as a euphemism for “harrass”?

    >2. Why should we all be forced to celebrate that change?

    No one’s forcing you to do anything.

  69. > Dawna’s choices:

    > A) Dress funny, be miserable.
    > B) Dress normal, be miserable.

    To be really frank, who gives a crap what choices a person has individually. It’s the individual who determines their state of mind no matter what their position in society is. I doubt very much that society cares or even wants to know what one’s individual choices are…

    If a person chooses to let society determine their state of mind, I can only say that it’s either a medical condition (clinical depression) or attitude problem. If that person chooses not to recognize that as a problem then what can society do?

    > Are you using “actively criticize or reject” as a euphemism for “harrass”?

    If you mean I am for harrassment, I’m not. But acceptance that harrassment is a fact of life and learning to deal with it effectively is a lot different than trying to pretend it out of existence or complaining about it to no effect.

    By the way, there are Laws against harrassment and abuse in almost every country. Why don’t people go to the police if it’s really that big a problem?

  70. > No one’s forcing you to do anything.
    No, not personally. I accept anybody so long as they don’t actively interfere with me. Also I don’t mean that freedom should be denied to anybody on the basis of their weirdness, race, religion, physical characteristics, sex etc etc.

    But you would like society to endorse and celebrate weirdness which I will not, personally speaking. Otherwise what’s the debate about?

    If you’re speaking about legal freedom to do certain things, I believe that the Laws of many countries are liberal enough to accept weirdness in any form, even if the societies themselves are not ready for change.

    I know the point you’re making though, but the social change of the kind you’re talking about doesn’t happen so quickly as you might want.

  71. >It’s the individual who determines their state of mind no matter what their position in society is.

    Science would disagree with you there.

    >By the way, there are Laws against harrassment and abuse in almost every country. Why don’t people go to the police if it’s really that big a problem?

    lol… wait… you’re serious aren’t you?

  72. >She actually had less choices available to her than you did.

    You’re leaving out the correct choice: learn how not to give a shit about what the other monkeys think, and stop being miserable.

    How do I know this choice is correct? Simple: I survived. She didn’t.

  73. > Science would disagree with you there.

    What science? Science itself is a product of human intelligence and is subject to its limitations. Do you really believe that science has all the answers to your social problems? If so, we would be living in Utopia today.

    > lol… wait… you’re serious aren’t you?

    I can only understand from that reply that you’ve run out of arguments to a very practical and pragmatic suggestion to victims of abuse. You WANT to work outside the system and yet you want the system to accept and celebrate weirdness.

    I can only say that you’re living in a different planet. :P

  74. >You’re leaving out the correct choice: learn how not to give a shit about what the other monkeys think, and stop being miserable.

    An even better choice: learn how not to give a shit about what the other monkeys think, and stop being miserable and a pony!!1!.

  75. >I can only understand from that reply that you’ve run out of arguments to a very practical and pragmatic suggestion to victims of abuse.

    “Go to the police” is not a “very practical and pragmatic suggestion” — even if they don’t reinforce the harrassment, there’s not a lot they can do about it.

  76. >You’re leaving out the correct choice: learn how not to give a shit about what the other monkeys think, and stop being miserable.

    Non-smartarse response: she was as capable of making that choice as you were of “choosing” to walk normally.

  77. Let’s put this into perspective, pete, unless you’re really arguing for the sake of argument, in which case, there’s not much point in this debate. You’re debating on a platform of weakness while I am actually on the platform of strength because I have recognized that there are two sides to any issue and I am stating things from the most practical and real-worldly standpoint.

    Unlike ESR, I cannot make any academic or researched answers to your questions, because I admit that I am not a researcher or an academic into these kinds of issues.

    The majority of “society” as you choose to call it, comprise of ordinary, average “mind your business and I’ll mind mine” type of people who aren’t really bother either way about deep sociological issues like you’re debating about.

    Your argument about “Science” is flawed because Science can only be factual when based on established facts. Social science or other kinds of science don’t really reach that kind of certainty about anything much less about human emotion and the workings of the mind because scientists still haven’t figured out everything about how the human brain works or functions.

    > “Go to the police” is not a “very practical and pragmatic suggestion” — even if they don’t reinforce the harrassment, there’s not a lot they can do about it.

    Whether or not going to the police is totally effective, it is ONE of the legitimate and practical reliefs afforded by society to victims of crime, abuse or harassment whoever they might be. It negates your whole argument that “society” does nothing to stop harassment or that society turns a blind eye to genuine victims, because the police force is the agency of society to enforce its laws, even though the enforcement might not be perfect or absolute at all times.

    It might be an imperfect system, but it is a far more effective way than whining or complaining about it ineffectively. Bullies who harass and abuse are inherently cowards. One single arrest can send them all running for cover. On the other hand, that society does not have to accept or celebrate the weirdness of people who CHOOSE to flaunt their weirdness in full public view and not expect ridicule, rejection or criticism.

    And no, I don’t buy into the premise that society HAS to accept and celebrate weirdness in order to effectively enforce laws against criminals and bullies who harass abuse people based on their weirdness.

    There’s a qualitative difference which you will turn a blind eye to because you think both problems are equal in nature.

  78. >And no, I don’t buy into the premise that society HAS to accept and celebrate weirdness in order to effectively enforce laws against criminals and bullies who harass abuse people based on their weirdness.

    You’re forgetting that the police are a part of society (and are often one of the more reactionary parts of society). Unless society in general accepts “weird” people, then specific members of society such as the police are unlikely to enforce laws against harrassment.

  79. > You’re forgetting that the police are a part of society (and are often one of the more reactionary parts of society). Unless society in general accepts “weird” people, then specific members of society such as the police are unlikely to enforce laws against harrassment.

    Society in “general” doesn’t HAVE to accept anything. That is my point.

    On the other hand the police have a LEGAL DUTY to respond to every call of distress from victims of crime. Huge difference between the two.

    You are assuming that the whole of society is “bad” and therefore you have to reject society and all its relief mechanisms. That’s a huge assumption not based on facts or reality but on your emotional response to a single victim of crime. In essence you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  80. And before you argue my point about the police, I’m not saying that the police don’t have its bad apples. Every part of society has its bad apples.

    But from there to your assumptions are a long way and disconnected in more ways than one.

  81. Technical point, BTW: palsy is not a genome problem, it’’s a consequence of damage to the motor cortex, usually as a result of prenatal or perinatal oxygen deprivation.

    Wikipedia says you’re wrong:

    Recent research has demonstrated that intrapartum asphyxia is not the most important cause, probably accounting for no more than 10 percent of all cases; rather, infections in the mother, even infections that are not easily detected, may triple the risk of the child developing the disorder, mainly as the result of the toxicity to the fetal brain of cytokines that are produced as part of the inflammatory response.

  82. >Society in “general” doesn’t HAVE to accept anything. That is my point.

    Society in general does HAVE to accept that people who are different also have rights. (If by “have to” you mean “is morally required to”)

    >On the other hand the police have a LEGAL DUTY to respond to every call of distress from victims of crime. Huge difference between the two.

    1) the sort of low-level harrassment in the story might not be a criminal offence.
    2) the police won’t always do their legal duty if an intolerant society will not hold them to account for failing to do so.

  83. >Non-smartarse response: she was as capable of making that choice as you were of “choosing” to walk normally.

    Um, and you know this how? I think it’s quite a bit more likely that Dawna bought in early to a falsehood much of our culture teaches – that you never have to choose between self-expression and social acceptance.

    Nevertheless, let’s assume your premise is correct. You want me to believe that (a) Dawna had an intense need for social approval she couldn’t change, and (b) Dawna had an intense need to dress funny, e.g. do things that were guaranteed to make the other monkeys reject her.

    Under these premises, Dawna was as doomed as a baby with Tay-Sachs syndrome. The contradictory urges of her own nature killed her, not “society”, and there is nothing “society” could have done to prevent it.

    For “society” to be a gulty party in Dawna’s death (as the eulogist would have it), one of those premises has to be false. Choose.

  84. > Society in general does HAVE to accept that people who are different also have rights. (If by “have to” you mean “is morally required to”)

    Well granted they have been given rights. What you are asking for is far greater than merely legal rights. You are asking for approval and participation in the weirdness by asking society to celebrate it. THAT is a ridiculous extension of those “rights”.

    > 1) the sort of low-level harrassment in the story might not be a criminal offence.

    I’m a law student and I can tell you that it definitely is – at least where I live.

    > 2) the police won’t always do their legal duty if an intolerant society will not hold them to account for failing to do so.

    What you are again assuming is that SOCIETY in general is intolerant. Which I reject totally as being your unfounded emotional conclusion based on a few random events.

  85. Under these premises, Dawna was as doomed as a baby with Tay-Sachs syndrome. The contradictory urges of her own nature killed her, not “society”, and there is nothing “society” could have done to prevent it.

    For “society” to be a gulty party in Dawna’s death (as the eulogist would have it), one of those premises has to be false. Choose.

    The false premise is that there is nothing society can do to prevent it. If Dawna was born twenty years later she might have been fine.

    Just as a society that has a cure for Tay-Sachs would be better to ours, our more tolerant society is better than the one that drove Dawna to kill herself.

  86. >The false premise is that there is nothing society can do to prevent it. If Dawna was born twenty years later she might have been fine.

    How is twenty years later supposed to help if Dawna has a simultaneous need for social approval and need to incur social disapproval?

    Again, for “society” to be implicated, one of these premises has to be false.

  87. >Again, for “society” to be implicated, one of these premises has to be false.

    I see what you meant now. (b) is false. She could have acted and dressed the way she did today and she probably would have been fine.

  88. >I see what you meant now. (b) is false. She could have acted and dressed the way she did today and she probably would have been fine.

    You don’t get it. Someone with the psychological wiring Dawna appears to have had wouldn’t dress like that today. Instead she’d find a way to dress to offend by today’s standards.

  89. In fact, the “hipster” phenomenon can be seen as imitating geeks in everything except those very things that are actually valuable and worthwile in the geek culture.

    Indeed. In fact, The IT Crowd and The Big Bang Theory notwithstanding, we give lip service to geeks but do not incorporate geek values into our society’s fabric. Look at what is happening with regard to science, for instance: there is such a backlash against it that millions of Oprah viewers consider Jenny McCarthy an authority on autism. Jenny “pose on a toilet” McCarthy. Of all people.

  90. pete goes out on the short pier and leaps. He says that Dawna was incapable of choosing to ignore other people’s feelings about her and thus that choice was not available to her. How does he know this?

  91. On a lark, I went back to Alas! and looked for comments responding to the discourse here. Many fewer comments there – basically, just the author, Mandolin’s – wherein ESR’s article is promptly branded as hate speech. Mandolin even entertains removing mention of this article there.

    This is certainly Mandolin’s prerogative, just as it is ESR’s to remove my comment here. Meanwhile, Mandolin comes across as selfish to anyone who thinks about it for a while (essentially, the entire world must bend its value system for every Dawna in it, while every Dawna need not bother reciprocating), and intolerant of other values at the same time (I guess ESR doesn’t qualify as a Dawna; ironically, he’s the one thinking about others’ comfort). Boy, did Mandolin shoot himself in the foot.

    Re: Jenny McCarthy: FWIW, I’ve come to admire her. In many ways she’s as odd as Dawna, but she’s obviously managed to survive nevertheless. To an extent, like Eric, she’s learned not to give a shit; at the same time, she appears to have needed enough external validation to have tweaked her image, intended or not. (It also helped that she’s a beautiful woman, but then, ESR’s a smart man; we each play our hands.)

  92. morgan greywolf says it all: People here seem to be reading this as a lament on the death on Dawn, when it is, in fact, meant to be a condemnation of society for lacking political correctness. Ironically, the writing is having it’s intended effect on this audience, despite your rebuttal of it: to disguise political speech with tragedy so as to cause others to rebuke any rebuttal of the propaganda. Rather than defending Dawna, we should be deriding the author for using his friend’s death in such an opportunistic manner.

    I think I am becoming paranoid. esr’s previous post was about answering emotional attitudes with emotional responses (mockery followed emotional contradiction; esr’s answer about disarmed non-sheep would have made no sense in a reasoned debate). Most of the comments with very few exceptions focused on arms control – merits and feelings.

    The only way I can read today’s post is again as a meta-story. “It’s not about Dawna. We really know nothing about her. All we know is about the author of a story featuring a girl with this name. Any comments on Dawna as a person are as much out of place and despicable as gossiping on lowly tabloid articles. Actually, despite appearances, esr passes no judgment on Dawna as a flesh and blood person; he only refers to her as a character in a story. He even acknowledges it in his first post: My goal wasn’t to “chastise” Dawna, but to point out that holy-victim stories like these are often describing remarkably stupid, willfully self-destructive behavior from a person and then attributing the consequences from that behavior to anyone but that person. It leads to the wrong lessons being drawn.” So once again, i feel esr pulling our legs and helping us make fools of ourselves, while eluding any responsibility. So, unless I am truly paranoid: Bravo, esr! Chapeau!

  93. Hari >It’s the individual who determines their state of mind no matter what their position in society is.
    Pete >Science would disagree with you there.

    Which science were you referring to here Pete? From what I know of the psychology of happiness, Hari captures a reasonable representation of the science. For example, in Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book “The How of Happiness”, she summarizes many years of her psychological research at the University of California. In this book she contends that happiness is 50% genetics, 10% circumstantial, and 40% self determined. Dawna might have fallen short on the first two, but had control of the latter at least. Of particular consequence here is Lyubomirsky’s contention that circumstances have only a very small direct affect on one’s happiness, 10% only, though there is a second order effect in its impact on your attitude — that last 40%.

    I can also offer as circumstantial evidence this: I have been to small villages in parts of Africa, where the people have almost nothing. Children have no healthcare, barely enough food, little if any education and, beside a few colored rocks, no toys to play with. They can readily die of malaria, yellow fever, typhoid and other ailments that would cost pennies to prevent. They life is hard, difficult, short and without many physical pleasures. Yet, in my experience, I have seen the children there dance with so much joy they can hardly contain themselves. I have seen parents who can hardly wipe the smile of happiness of their face. I have seen the smallest kindness received with overwhelming joy. I have seen kids discover a stick that had a pleasant shape to them, and have watched them play for days with that stick. I have seen far more happy people in filthy cesspools in Africa than I have in the breathtaking mansions of Beverly Hills, or in the fancy restaurants of New York. To me, this is pretty convincing evidence that happiness is largely independent of physical circumstances.

    Furthermore, one of the greatest contributing factors to happiness is the effect good quality interpersonal relationships have on your attitude. It is unfortunate that Dawna chose to be different, alienating the people with whom she could have had relationships, which would have helped her generate her own happiness. It seems ironic that the thing which she thought would bring her happiness “being who she really was”, as another commenter said, is, in many respects, the genesis of her true unhappiness.

    It is also an illustration of a fundamental flaw in many of the arguments put forward here. By having a tolerant society you empower people to make choices that will bring them unhappiness. By accepting Dawna’s choice to dress funky, you are empowering her to harm herself. Of course, I think that is the way it should be, if you want to be an outlier, go nuts, but be willing to accept the consequences of doing so.

    It is also worth pointing out that the “brown monkeys”, to use Eric’s phrase, served an important function in pre-modern societies. Outliers were dangerous to the tribe, and the use of scorn and humiliation was important to the preservation of the tribal structures. “Why do you want to dress funky? It is a deliberate rejection of the authority of the tribal chief and the norms of our society, and could undermine it completely.” That rejection could cause very negative consequences on everyone. If tribal cohesion breaks down, everyone could die. This is not something I am in favor of, I am just pointing out that this was the reality for most of human history.

    I have recently been reading Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” again. It is an interesting read to see the complex structures and constraints that that 18th Century society had put in place to preserve the role and structure of the monied classes of England at that time. Elizabeth Bennet’s desire to push the limits of what a respectable unmarried woman of the time could do was a real danger to undermining the success of her family, and could have extremely negative consequences on not just her, but her whole family. I also recently watched the movie “Jezebel” with Bette Davis. In this movie she, an unmarried woman, decides to wear (horror of horror) a red dress to the ball, rather than a white dress as would have been appropriate. She is rejected and shunned by society and her life is destroyed (as is the life of her suitor at the time, who chose to take her to the ball in the red dress rather than use his walking stick to bring her to her senses — as would have been common in Victorian New Orleans High Society.)

    Thankfully, we live in a society which is less fragile, and less in need of conformance. We can be tolerant, outliers are much less likely to cause damage. However, Dawna’s consequences for getting outside the box society provides for her were tiny in any reasonable historical context. (I am not referring to her decision to kill herself, but rather to the way she was treated by others.) In most human societies throughout history, she would have been expelled, killed, or made destitute. She was lucky to be born and live in the time she did.

    Perhaps the OP might have some valid criticism’s of modern society, but compared to most of human history it is a paradise. However, we are so used to the dolce vita, we don’t even realize how good we have it. (Topically — thanks to all the sheepdogs for making life so easy for us.)

  94. > morgan greywolf says it all: People here seem to be reading this as a lament on the death on Dawn, when it is, in fact, meant to be a condemnation of society for lacking political correctness. Ironically, the writing is having it’s intended effect on this audience, despite your rebuttal of it: to disguise political speech with tragedy so as to cause others to rebuke any rebuttal of the propaganda. Rather than defending Dawna, we should be deriding the author for using his friend’s death in such an opportunistic manner.

    I think I can afford to pat myself on the back here then. I myself didn’t and don’t see it as anything else. In fact if you noticed, I had clearly distinguished the “society is bad” aspect and had replied in like terms.

    I have seen too often in my own country how any particular group’s “victimized” status is used purely for political purposes in far more cynical terms than anything even hinted at here.

  95. By the way, totally unrelated to this topic, I request a link back to the home page from a topic/article page on this blog or at least the blog title should be a link back to the main page.

  96. My left arm and the back of my neck are light brown right now. My legs are a very pale beige. I’ve never actually known any pink monkeys.

    I’m sorry Dawna died. As parents my wife and I cherish the uniqueness of our children and yet are trying desperately to teach them both how to fit in and not to care when they don’t. Homeschooling is good for cherishing and both kinds of teaching. It also may help get kids through the teen years. My oldest is fourteen though, so I can’t even share personal anecdotes on the last point yet, although one painful memory of my teen years is of the girl who loudly said to me at an awards banquet, “Hey! You’re weird too! It’s nice not to be alone.” My skin is thicker now… but still not very brown.

    Yours,
    Tom

  97. In her confused artistic way, she probably thought she was making some sort of noble personal statement by passively getting in The Man’s face with her manner of dress and carriage.

    Indeed. Have you studied the urban primitive movement and the metaphrands of their practices?

  98. > Jessica, we’re STILL brown monkeys. We have a small amount of rational capacity, but not much.

    I didn’t say we weren’t. However our culture has evolved to the point where the need to exile or kill the outliers is not as necessary. Nonetheless, I agree with you that many of the problems we have in our societies arise from the fact that our bodies, much of our mind, and many of our social memes are designed for a tribal, hunter gatherer lifestyle. Such a lifestyle is very different than the roles we play in modern society.

    I think this is because physical evolution is linear, and cultural and knowledge evolution is exponential. The actual mechanisms of evolutionary change in our physical bodies (that is to say the meta-evolution) stopped changing hundreds of millions of years ago. However, the mechanism of knowledge evolution itself (again the meta-evolution) is rapidly changing, leading to this exponential growth. It is also because the quantum of each type of evolution is different. For physical it is at least one lifetime, though more likely a large number of lifetimes before sufficient SNPs accumulate. For culture it is best case one or two a lifetime, but for knowledge the evolutionary quanta are much shorter.

  99. @JessicaBoxer:

    >Of course, I think that is the way it should be, if you want to be an outlier, go nuts, but be willing to accept the consequences of doing so.

    The necessary consequences, sure. But society doesn’t need to add harassment to those consequences.

    >Perhaps the OP might have some valid criticism’s of modern society, but compared to most of human history it is a paradise.

    The OP wasn’t about criticising modern society — in fact she was celebrating that today’s society is so much more tolerant than the one Dawna grew up in.

  100. >You don’t get it. Someone with the psychological wiring Dawna appears to have had wouldn’t dress like that today. Instead she’d find a way to dress to offend by today’s standards.

    You need to think at the margins. If society is more accepting of diversity, then it’s harder to offend. If something’s harder to do, people are less likely to do it.

  101. >pete goes out on the short pier and leaps. He says that Dawna was incapable of choosing to ignore other people’s feelings about her and thus that choice was not available to her. How does he know this?

    Revealed preference.

  102. > Revealed preference.

    Are you really suggesting suicide was a rational choice for Dawna?

  103. @JessicaBoxer (sorry esr for 4 comments in a row).

    Thanks for the psych info; my understanding is that the 10% refers to physical circumstances (e.g. the poverty in your Africa example) and that social circumstances play a much larger role.

  104. > The necessary consequences, sure. But society doesn’t need
    > to add harassment to those consequences.

    Huh? I have no idea what “necessary consequences” means in this context. Can you give an example of a necessary consequence that you accept Dawna is due? “Society” doesn’t do anything. Society is composed of a group of individuals, and, arguably a set of memes. Is it your contention that we should change these memes so that the nasty boys aren’t so nasty anymore? Then, following along with my line of reasoning above, Dawna was lucky to be born when she was, because by that stage the memes had greatly improved, and here consequences were tiny, relatively speaking. Perhaps your concern is that we have not reached perfection yet?

    > my understanding is that the 10% refers to physical circumstances…
    > and that social circumstances play a much larger role.

    No, that is not a correct representation of her thesis. The 10% refers specifically to non genetic circumstances outside of her control only.

  105. Society didn’t kill Dawna. Dawna killed Dawna. Society didn’t make Dawna take the drugs. Dawna took the drugs because she actively sought negative attention from society and then when she got her wish, she couldn’t take it anymore. It’s just that simple. It is a very co-dependent thing to take blame for someone else’s actions. No one can control what others do; no one could prevent Dawna from take her own life if that’s what she wanted to do. No one could stop Dawna from taking the drugs. Only Dawna could do that. Dawna didn’t do that, and she paid the price.

    It might sound harsh, but it’s true.

  106. pete, you haven’t left the pier yet. The reason she chose to commit suicide is not available to us. The author of the story is just telling a story and speculating.

  107. Probably the most important thing to understand is that happiness or a good life doesn’t just mean pleasure or the satisfaction of desires, and unhappiness or a bad life doesn’t just mean pain or the experience of frustration in the satisfaction of desires. Thus the logic that self-harm comes from the unhappiness caused by pain caused by others just doesn’t work.

  108. >Is it your contention that we should change these memes so that the nasty boys aren’t so nasty anymore?

    Yes! That’s exactly it.

    >Then, following along with my line of reasoning above, Dawna was lucky to be born when she was, because by that stage the memes had greatly improved, and here consequences were tiny, relatively speaking. Perhaps your concern is that we have not reached perfection yet?

    Yes, she was lucky to be born when she was, and we’re even luckier to be living now when the memes have improved even more. And if there’s still room for improvement, then yes, we should be aiming for an even better society.

  109. “we should be aiming for an even better society”

    Define “better society”. A society where people avoid causing short-time pain, or where people aim at the long-term of maximization of happiness (not pleasure), or something in between?

    How should, for example, a “better society”, handle obesity? Avoid offending people and talk in neutral terms like “differently shaped”, in order to avoid causing short-term pain? This would reduce the incentive to lose weight, and would have two long-term consequences 1) health consequences 2) more subtle psychological ones. Certain psychological characteristics (willpower etc.) have a lot of effect on body shape and a society that doesn’t incentive people not to be obese also doesn’t incentive people to develop willpower, take control of their lives and so on. It would be an acceptance of laziness and learned helpnessness and it would lead to all sorts of negative consequences.

    Or a “better society” is one where people are a bit harsh and call use terms like “fatty” in order to motivate and incentive people to lose weight? Which, in turn, incentives people do develop desirable psychological characteristics like a can-do mentality, courage, self-responsibility and positive thinking?

    IMHO a “perfect” society would be one where people would be generally compassionate and empathic but would not be afraid to express exactly enough – and no more – blame and ridicule to motivate others to change their lives for the better.

  110. Yes, she was lucky to be born when she was, and we’re even luckier to be living now when the memes have improved even more. And if there’s still room for improvement, then yes, we should be aiming for an even better society.

    @pete: There seems to be some implication in this society that historically memes have changed and have tended to change for the better. The thing is, it ain’t true. In any time in history, the pink monkeys got slammed by the brown monkeys. We are not more enlightened today. It’s ridiculous to even think that.

    f you think we have a more inclusive society today than in history, you need to read about ancient and historical civilizations. Homosexuality very common place in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, for example. The wide array of sexual practices in these times were pretty much tolerated. More recently, the Ottoman Turks were actually amongst the most religiously tolerant cultures on the planet ever, especially throughout the Middle Ages. Yes, an Islamic society that existed in the Middle Ages was more religiously tolerant than we are today. Think about that for a minute.

  111. > Important rule of living: you can be weird, or you can look weird, but you can’t usually get away with both.

    I’d argue this rule depends on the level of accumulated cultural capital of society. When this level is high enough the rule ceases to be true. Think ancient Greece: Diogenes and the Cynics. They did get away with both — they were weird and they looked weird and they acted weird — yet they were tolerated and even admired by brown monkeys.

    Here I agree with pete that modern cultural level is higher than in Dawna’s time and thus she would have more chances to see here own stupidity and survive. OTOH I agree with Morgan that modern society is still far behind certain ancient societies in this respect.

  112. >I’d argue this rule depends on the level of accumulated cultural capital of society. When this level is high enough the rule ceases to be true.

    No. Let me unpack that rule for you. “You can either transgress the mores of your society in provocative appearence, or in fact, but not both.” That rule never changes. Only the definition of “transgression” does.

    As for “cultural capital”, the Western civilization of today has the highest level of cultural capital of any civilization in history. Doesn’t matter how you try to measure it: accumulated knowledge, expected level of trust between unrelated strangers, variey of tolerated expression. No previous civilization even comes close, because we incorporate what came before. The oldest, most complex, and culturally richest civilization in history is us, here and now.

  113. >More recently, the Ottoman Turks were actually amongst the most religiously tolerant cultures on the planet ever, especially throughout the Middle Ages.

    Morgan, you are usually pretty sensible, but this is utter PC bullshit.

    You need to go look into the actual situation of dhimmis under the Ottomans. No dhimmi could build a house taller than that of a Muslim. No dhimmi could walk on the same side of the street as a Muslim. Dhimmis had to pay a special, punitive tax called the “jizya”. The testimony of dhimmis was not accepted in Islamic courts except by special grant of the presiding judge or cadi.

    And that’s just the beginning of the rules that applied to Jews and Christians. Polytheists and “idolaters” had no legal rights at all and could essentially be robbed, enslaved, or murdered at whim.

  114. >f you think we have a more inclusive society today than in history, you need
    > to read about ancient and historical civilizations. Homosexuality very common
    > place in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, for example. The wide array of
    > sexual practices in these times were pretty much tolerated.

    And that is different today exactly how? Certainly there are those who oppose homosexuality and various other sexual practices, but they are tolerated by the law and by the large majority of people. In any society, including the illustrious Hellenistic and Latin societies, there were people who were opposed to these things, and probably some persecutions.

    However, unlike today, in classical societies slavery was extremely widespread. War captives and the civilian residents of the cities they protected were either killed or enslaved. Children, boys and girls, were regularly used as slave prostitutes. Criminals and enemies of the state were tortured to death, often in public spectacles, women, even free women, were treated like property, could generally not work, could not own property or inherit property. In Rome, a father had an absolute unassailable right to kill his children (even as adults.)

    In Sparta, boys were taken from their parents at seven years old and trained in the military arts. This included regular beatings until they passed out, it included practice battles that frequently resulted in the death of the children. The weaker children died very frequently, and their death was not so much a source of sorrow as of disgrace to their families. and the graduation ceremony from this school? It consisted of sneaking out and murdering a slave without being caught. Of course, if a Spartan boy got that far, he was lucky, because at first birth children were examined for any defects, and if they were not found, they left to die of exposure to the elements of wild animals. Mothers and wives sent their soldiers to battle with the phrase “Sun tai, e epi tai.” Meaning come back with you shield, or on your shield (as a corpse.)

    Eric addressed the horrors of Muslim societies already.

    200 years ago in the United States, black people were beaten to death if they tried to escape their putative owners. One slave “owner” punished his runaways by beating the hell out of him in from of the other slaves, then forcing one to defecate in the mouth of the runaway, then tie his mouth closed for several hours. Does the phrase “Irish need not apply” ring any historical bells with you?

    Are you honestly arguing that our society is worse that these? You honestly think it is “ridiculous to think that?” If so, it is you who needs to read more history. Western societies today are the most pluralistic, tolerant, and open societies in the history of the world.

  115. >In any society, including the illustrious Hellenistic and Latin societies, there were people who were opposed to these things, and probably some persecutions.

    I’ve seen some interesting contrarian argument suggesting that the supposed Hellenistic and Roman tolerance of homosexuality and other sexual deviance is a modern myth – and to the extent I have a knowledge base in that area I think I agree. The argument goes roughly like this:

    1) We overestimate Ancient Greek tolerance of homosexuality because our classical literary sources are derived disproportionately from a clique of aristocratic homosexuals and their hangers-on. They got away with it because they were wealthy and well-connected, but the social mainstream considered “boy-love” to be perverted and decadent. Wikipedia notes; “One such scholar is Bruce Thornton, who argues that insults directed at passive homosexuals in the comedies of Aristophanes show the common people’s dislike for male homosexuality.” I am not sufficiently knowledgeable in the particular specialty areas involved to evaluate the argument; I merely note that it is in play.

    2) Roman attitudes about homosexuality were strongly organized around who was doing the penetrating. Lesbianism was considered horrifying and unnatural and universally condemned in legal and aboveground literary sources; some Sapphic love poetry survives, however. Being the passive or penetrated partner was considered shameful, and freeborn Romans could be disinherited or in extreme cases even killed by their head of family if they were discovered on the bottom. Being a homosexual top, on the other hand, was widely tolerated – especially when the bottom was a slave. I know somewhat more about the Roman-period primary sources and I buy these arguments.

    I will note that the supposed pagan tolerance of homosexuality appears to have been first mythologized in the late 19th century by homosexual artists and literati associated with aristocratic and Tory elements in Great Britain, as a reaction against Victorianism and the evangelical Protestant revivalism then associated with the liberal Reform movement. This is such an inversion of modern political alignments that it deserves note in itself.

  116. JessicaBoxes,

    I largely agree with what you wrioe, but before you’d paint Rome as a totally evil fascist society, let me point out some positive things. For example, they managed to maintain a remarkable level of law and order without a state police force, without prisons and with capital punishment used very sparingly: usually, lawbreakers were only exiled, from Rome but not from the empire i.e. to some nice place like Massilia (Marseille). This in itself is remarkable.

  117. Any argument to your logic would have to come from a brain much more equipped to argue abstracts than my own.

    I have one question, however:

    What is the difference between pity and compassion?

  118. > Or a “better society” is one where people are a bit harsh and call use terms like “fatty” in order to motivate and incentive people to lose weight? Which, in turn, incentives people do develop desirable psychological characteristics like a can-do mentality, courage, self-responsibility and positive thinking?

    An interesting coincidence – there’s an article on Alas, a blog that encourages us to disavow the term “normal weight.” Heaven forbid we call ‘healthy’ that weight which engenders the least chance of contracting coronary artery disease! I think this is rather more stunningly idiotic than the article esr linked to.

  119. esr> if I’m arguing anything it’s that they should learn to NOT GIVE A SHIT, the way I did.

    Unfortunately, not everyone can do that. Even worse, not everyone understands why they aren’t fitting in.

    Or if they can do that, then they can’t do it fast enough. If the amount of pain experienced crosses a threshold then suicide becomes a reasonable solution.

    It’s all and well to say, “I did it, others have done it, so you do it.” But not all brains are built the same.

    I think your article is too simplistic. Of course, the article you reference is too simplistic as well. So maybe that’s all and well.

    Ciao!

  120. >Unfortunately, not everyone can do that. Even worse, not everyone understands why they aren’t fitting in.

    Then they die. Or become mental cases, or drug casualties like Dawna. Reality does not guarantee a happy ending.

    When a particular coping tactic is the only one that actually works, saying “Unfortunately, not everyone can do that.” is unresponsive. That’s talking as though there’s an alternative, and – short of acquiring godlike power to change society with the wave of a hand – there is not.

  121. @esr

    >When a particular coping tactic is the only one that actually works, saying “Unfortunately, not everyone can do that.” is unresponsive. That’s talking as though there’s an alternative, and – short of acquiring godlike power to change society with the wave of a hand – there is not.

    You continue to miss the point of Mandolin’s post: society has been changed.

    @Thomas

    >> Revealed preference.

    >Are you really suggesting suicide was a rational choice for Dawna?

    No, the intent was to mock economists (“revealed preferences” is often a circular argument).

  122. >You continue to miss the point of Mandolin’s post: society has been changed.

    So, you’re telling me that there are no Dawnas dying from a similar double-bind and being promoted as holy victims today, and never will be again? Sorry, I won’t believe that claim either from you or Mandolin.

    The fact that the definition of ‘pink’ may have changed in a way Mandolin approves of (e.g. homosexuality is less stigmatized) is barely even relevant to my point, let alone determinative.

  123. >So, you’re telling me that there are no Dawnas dying from a similar double-bind and being promoted as holy victims today, and never will be again? Sorry, I won’t believe that claim either from you or Mandolin.

    No, I’m saying there are fewer Dawnas in that situation now; the changes we’ve made as a society have been more helpful to the Dawnas than the sort of advice you’re giving; and the so-called “holy victim” narrative is a legitimate argument for making those changes.

  124. >the changes we’ve made as a society have been more helpful to the Dawnas than the sort of advice you’re giving;

    *derisive snort*

    I can’t stop you from believing that, but I think any attempt to fix this sort of conformity issue that does not start, continue, and end with making individuals more self-reliant and less dependent on peer approval is…well, “doomed” is the word that leaps to mind.

  125. >I think any attempt to fix this sort of conformity issue that does not start, continue, and end with making individuals more self-reliant and less dependent on peer approval is…well, “doomed” is the word that leaps to mind.

    People like Mandolin have been making real improvements in the lives of people like Dawna by advocating for a more tolerant society. They’re already succeeding (you can improve a situation without fixing it), so your prediction of “doomed” has already been shown to be empirically false.

    Meanwhile, how does one make people more self-reliant? I don’t have my magic wand handy.

  126. Isn’t more tolerant society produces more self-reliant individuals and aren’t more self-reliant individuals make the society more tolerant? Both ideas seem to support each other.

    When there are less pressure to conform, less people would depend on external approval. When more people rely on themselves, the resulting society wouldn’t need to punish outsiders for non-conformance so hard.

  127. pete: you start by taking away the crutch of entitlement if you want people to be more self-reliant. Some people legitimately *do* need help. But if you give help to people who don’t need it, you take away their self-reliance.

    And don’t even *try* to mock economists by using “revealed preference” the way you did. You’ve got the idea so wrong that you’re holding the knife by the blade. Please, knives are sharp, don’t use them without understanding.

    Tinkertim asks “What is the difference between pity and compassion?” I say “love”.

    Morgan says “Yes, an Islamic society that existed in the Middle Ages was more religiously tolerant than we are today.” I’m gonna need you to define “we”, because the United States tolerates many things in the name of religion, including Scientology. How do ya think they’d do under the control of Muslims, eh?

  128. >Tinkertim asks “What is the difference between pity and compassion?” I say “love”.

    I think that’s both vague and false. Both people who report feeling “pity” and people who report feeling “compassion” report feeling love for the object of the feeling. The fundamental difference, I think, is that we pity pets and children and inferiors, but we feel compassion for equals.

  129. “Meanwhile, how does one make people more self-reliant? I don’t have my magic wand handy.” –Pete

    Apparently you had your wand out just a second ago when it was time to make society more tolerant. How is it so much easier to change 300 million people than to… change 300 million people?

  130. “The fundamental difference, I think, is that we pity pets and children and inferiors, but we feel compassion for equals.”

    Let’s say someone is stuck in a deep hole. Pity is jumping down into the hole so that we can suffer together, we can share the pain. Compassion is finding a ladder for him.

    “Meanwhile, how does one make people more self-reliant?”

    This happens automatically when no external sort of help is available. Er… trying to change adults is not quite a good idea (it would be, but it doesn’t usually work), this is something to happen in childhood: generally, less protective child-rearing should more or less automatically do it.

  131. First off, I do think Dawna was up against mental problems which were quite serious, and wouldn’t entirely have been helped by being treated more kindly. Still, abuse and ostracism are hard on people. That’s the whole point of them.

    One thing I get from the story about the African village is that if you value happiness, it’s very useful to be around happy people, starting with childhood. We do not live in a culture which is especially good at teaching happiness. I’m also willing to bet that It would be interesting to learn something about the tolerance levels in the African village. They don’t sound like people who’d put huge amounts of effort into making outliers miserable.

    Sometimes the choice of appearing normal is much higher than you imply. I know a MtF transexual who was suicidally depressed just from trying to live as a man. This is a person whose weirdness turns around and bites her if it’s concealed.

    Social capital doesn’t increase tolerance all by itself. People work on increasing tolerance, and increasing tolerance means that less human capacity gets thrown away.

    Consider Cathy’s life– it’s not so long ago that it would have been much harder for her to be a lawyer.

    Shenpen, it’s at least plausible that shaming people for being fat doesn’t make them healthier or thinner. After all, it’s been going on for decades, and there are still a lot of fat people.

  132. (And if you don’t give it all to me, right now, I’ll start to cry and be obnoxious. You’ve been warned.)

  133. People like Mandolin have been making real improvements in the lives of people like Dawna by advocating for a more tolerant society. They’re already succeeding (you can improve a situation without fixing it), so your prediction of “doomed” has already been shown to be empirically false.

    Really? Are you sure we aren’t just pushing the bubble around? My observations on tolerance in America is that most attempts to increase tolerance have simply changed who is tolerated and who is not.

    Yours,
    Tom

  134. >My observations on tolerance in America is that most attempts to increase tolerance have simply changed who is tolerated and who is not.

    It’s true. Try being a conservative or a devout Christian who isn’t “passing” at any Ivy-League university, and you’ll find out what intolerance looks like, all right.

    (Note: I am neither a conservative nor a Christian, but I can recognize prejudice even when it’s being directed at groups I dislike.)

  135. Faré,

    I present for your virtual enjoyment, this virtual shetland pony. He loves virtual apples. He is a gelding, and he is gentle. I’m giving him to you because, although he seems to like the rest of my family, he apparently took an instant dislike to me. Although being repeatedly knocked off by virtual low-hanging branches only causes virtual injury, I have decided I would rather get a new pony, or have none at all.

    Yours,
    Tom

  136. >Really? Are you sure we aren’t just pushing the bubble around? My observations on
    > tolerance in America is that most attempts to increase tolerance have simply
    > changed who is tolerated and who is not.

    Frankly, I think it is pretty hard to measure in any objective way. Clearly there is much more tolerance of some things, and there is definitely a rising intolerance of other things. Do they balance out? I am not sure.

    What is objectively measurable is changes in what is legally tolerated, and that has clearly moved to a more tolerant position. (Talking from the POV of the USA here, I am not knowlegble enough to comment on other countries’ situations.) For example Lawrence vs. Texas would be such a change. (FWIW, I think this was a terrible SCUS decision, but for reasons other than my own intolerance.) Certainly the civil rights changes and the destruction of Jim Crow and so forth.

    However, one can’t say that without also recognizing a growing set of extra judicial codes which are intolerant also. This is most noticeable in colleges where speech and behavior codes are becoming more and more prevalent, and more and more restrictive. Further there is a growing movement in this country of extreme intolerance on the left that is simply not seen to the same degree on the right. (Libertarians are too busy making money to get involved.) I find it profoundly despicable to see our colleges, the seat of learning and open inquiry, descend to where they are today.

    If, as some have asserted, they want a more tolerant society, I suggest you start at the foundation for intelligent society — our schools of higher learning. That we demand that they return to free though and free inquiry. That they return to “let a thousand flowers bloom”, rather than suppress anything that might give offense to the protected few. That they return to the heady battle of ideas against ideas, debated within the normal rules of debate. That professors who grade based on ideology rather than skill be considered mistaken rather than admirable. That they put down their cream pies, and their angry mindless chants, that they burn their speech codes and behavior codes in shame and embarrassment, and allow the intellectual development of our children to take place in an atmosphere of open thought and reason. That they might hate what I say, but defend to the death my right to say it.

    The same children who are taught in this atmosphere of fear and political correctness will carry these same attitudes and biases into our future society and eventually into our laws and government. God help us when America is as intolerant as academia.

  137. JessicaBoxer,

    Preach it, sister! (Rousing applause, approving shouts, finally a chant of “You go, Jessica!” starts up.)

    Yours,
    Tom

  138. >esr asks: “Comes back to my original question: if she didn’t want the local monkeys to other” her, why did she dress funny?”

    Since I haven’t read anyone’s answer to this (or I missed it if they did), I might propose a theory. I think that, for *some* people (operative word being “some”), like Dawna perhaps, that they *do* want the local monkeys to “other” them. The idea being that it’s easier to blame other’s than it is yourself. Just to be clear, I’m not using “blame” in the sense that these persons are doing something wrong, but as a way to “externalize” the source of their angst/pain/problem. If this is the case, then no matter how “pink” your brown monkeys are, you’ll always have some pink monkeys – and they may be pink by choice. Granted, this doesn’t explain people that are born different…

    - Norm

  139. I’ve seen some interesting contrarian argument suggesting that the supposed Hellenistic and Roman tolerance of homosexuality and other sexual deviance is a modern myth – and to the extent I have a knowledge base in that area I think I agree.

    The arguments you quote are uncontroversial enough to be baldly pronounced as truth by lecturers in Classics at British universities. On the Roman side, for example, it’s almost the only way to make sense of Catullus’ 16, (which, I guess, is probably one of the primary sources you were thinking of). One may paraphrase the first couple of lines as “I’m going to fuck you up the arse, you poofters.” Some of the graffiti in Pompeii constitute similar evidence. This suggests that the attitude must have been as you describe, at least in the literate idle rich circles Catullus and his like moved in, and there’s no record of rustics or the urban poor being markedly more tolerant.

  140. >Some of the graffiti in Pompeii constitute similar evidence.

    Interesting you should mention this, as I just read a web page full of translations of Pompeian graffitti a few days ago. They do seem preoccupied with homosexuality, especially anal sex, and not in a way that suggests it was a widely tolerated or unremarked practice.

    >and there’s no record of rustics or the urban poor being markedly more tolerant.

    One pattern that seems well-nigh universal in human cultures is that the poor are less tolerant of sexual deviance than the rich. This is adaptively reasonable; they have fewer reserves with which to cover the costs and risks of deviance.

    This pattern is partly masked by the fact that the poor generally have higher time preference than the rich, so (in particular) they exhibit less sexual self-discipline, as evidenced for example in higher illegitimacy rates.

  141. What I have read of homosexuality in Rome and Greece it seems to be more along the lines of prison “homosexuality” rather than our modern concept of two loving peers. What I mean is encapsulated by the phrase, “it is only gay of you are taking it.” This seems to be the excuse amongst the macho thugs who would cut your throat for calling them homos, even while they are raping some unfortunate, unwilling weakling. Apparently, he who chooses to engage in homosexual behavior is not the homosexual, but rather he who is forced to do so, which seems truly twisted.

    I actually brings me to one of my other bugbears. How come, here in the USA, the ACLU and the left are getting their panties in a major wad over the rough treatment of detainees from the battlefield in Afghanistan, yet nobody seems to give a fig about the systematic, continual rape that occurs in male prisons throughout the USA? The statistics are frightening, perhaps 20% of male prisoners are raped and abused physically on a daily basis, and nobody seems to give a care. The right have this crazy idea called “prison justice” where people, who have committed crimes like child molestation, deserve this kind of physical abuse. I don’t know if they are right, but if they are it should be conducted by the prison authorities. They should not be thrown to the pack of dogs. Nonetheless, they are in the minority, it is the young and the weak, and the non gang members who are the primary targets. These are the very people who are the most likely to be reformed by prison. But it is hard to imagine overcoming that kind of PTSD.

  142. >What I have read of homosexuality in Rome and Greece it seems to be more along the lines of prison “homosexuality” rather than our modern concept of two loving peers.

    Yes. I’m actually planning to blog an essay about this. The short form is that it’s the “prison-sex” pattern that’s actually historically normal in human cultures; the modern West (and not even all of the modern West) is a unique and, as far as I can tell, unprecedented exception.

  143. The right have this crazy idea called “prison justice” where people, who have committed crimes like child molestation, deserve this kind of physical abuse.

    Not this libertarian leaning conservative, nor my wife, who is more conservative and less libertarian. We both are horrified by prison rape and both identify with the right.

    Yours,
    Tom

  144. The right have this crazy idea called “prison justice” where people, who have committed crimes like child molestation, deserve this kind of physical abuse.

    I thought child molesters normally had to be kept separate from other prisoners anyway, to stop them being killed, let alone raped.

  145. I certainly wish I could live in a world where people who were different weren’t called “homophobes” or “fascists”, where peace demonstrators didn’t stone dissidents, where people who believed in freedom from Islam weren’t called racists, but, alas, tribal hatred is ingrained in human nature.

  146. esr: It’s true. Try being a conservative or a devout Christian who isn’t “passing” at any Ivy-League university, and you’ll find out what intolerance looks like, all right.

    I wonder how the Yale College Republicans and Harvard Republican Club manage, with all that intolerance. Why, they’re latter-day Mattachine Societies!

    No, wait. Christians aren’t committing suicide in droves when their true natures are exposed, and folks like you aren’t explaining that, well, it’s hardly the brown monkeys’ fault that they do this to the pink monkeys, and besides, it’s just natural. When that happens, then I’ll concede some kind of equivalence. But to pretend that being made fun of or even ostracized for your wacky beliefs, especially when those beliefs entail hating on other people, is similar in any meaningful way to the experience described in the post, is downright grotesque. It’s simple whining at the loss of a privileged position, and canonizing it as being somehow brave is ridiculous. I’d expect this from the persecution-fetish Christian set, but I’d hope not to expect it from you.

    Adrian Smith: I thought child molesters normally had to be kept separate from other prisoners anyway, to stop them being killed, let alone raped.

    They frequently are kept separate, but prison rape is hardly a system of divinely meted out justice. Rapists target who they can; generally prisoners who are small, weak, young, non-aggressive, gay, white, and/or imprisoned for a less violent crime. While child molesters are especially targeted, they’re still a small minority of the victims.

    tehag: I certainly wish I could live in a world where people who were different weren’t called “homophobes” or “fascists”,

    Wait, what do you call people who believe that homosexuality is somehow a threat to them which requires a a violent reassertion of their own heterosexuality? What do you call people who follow a cult of national rejuvenation which demands complete subservience to the state in service of its violent agenda of internal purification and outward expansion? Are you complaining that people are referred to as homophobes and fascists who, in your opinion, don’t fit the definition?

    where peace demonstrators didn’t stone dissidents

    To what are you referring?

    where people who believed in freedom from Islam weren’t called racists,

    If you simply believe that people should be able to choose whether or not to live under religious law, I don’t see why that would be interpreted as racist. If you went on about the subhuman, savage nature of Muslims, especially Arab Muslims, that would probably explain the claims of racism. ‘Cause it’s, y’know, racist.

    but, alas, tribal hatred is ingrained in human nature.

    Indeed.

  147. >I wonder how the Yale College Republicans and Harvard Republican Club manage, with all that intolerance. Why, they’re latter-day Mattachine Societies!

    Yes, quite. Good analogy. That’s how they report feeling, and I think they have justification for it.

    >folks like you aren’t explaining that, well, it’s hardly the brown monkeys’ fault that they do this to the pink monkeys, and besides, it’s just natural.

    Don’t put words in my mouth that I haven’t spoken, “Natural” only equates to “entirely predictable”, not to “right”.

    >especially when those beliefs entail hating on other people

    As much as I dislike Christianity and conservatism, neither belief system entails hating on other people – this is smug left-liberal moral vanity talking. A blind, arrogant and mistaken belief in a One True Way, maybe; occasional outbreaks of murderous conversion-by-the-sword, maybe – but neither of these requires or entails hatred as such, just regarding others as lesser breeds without the Law and without ethical reciprocity.

    If you want to extend “hating on others” to that extent, let’s talk about left-liberals’ hatred of gun owners, individualists, and anyone who opposes higher taxes and more regulation.

  148. esr: That’s how they report feeling, and I think they have justification for it.

    Did you miss the part where I described the double standard wherein members of dominant groups claim oppression when they’re faced with a threat to their privilege? Of course these groups describe feeling like that, but what I’m apparently failing to express clearly is that both they and you are operating on some sort of sliding scale of oppression, where things that happen to members of the aforementioned dominant groups count more.

    Members of these clubs do not universally risk the loss of their families and jobs if exposed, nor do they face the strong possibility of blackmail. They may even have a delightful sinecure awaiting them at one of those thinktanks–just like academia, but without the peer review. These groups are, as I explained in the paragraph following the one you quoted, in no way comparable to the Mattachine Societies.

    Don’t put words in my mouth that I haven’t spoken, “Natural” only equates to “entirely predictable”, not to “right”.

    But I didn’t say that it was “right”. You claimed, above, that your position is “No rewards or punishments, only consequences”, clearly viewing bigotry and intolerance as immutable natural forces, rather than personal faults in the bigots or the society that coddles and grows them.

    As much as I dislike Christianity and conservatism, neither belief system entails hating on other people

    And I didn’t say that it did. Don’t, as you previously demanded of me, put words in my mouth that I haven’t spoken.

    But I suppose I can see how you got that idea. To clarify, I’m speaking here of people who espouse ideas which are bigoted and hateful, many (though, of course, not all) of whom are Christians, conservatives or both.

    neither of these requires or entails hatred as such, just regarding others as lesser breeds without the Law and without ethical reciprocity.

    So, because pro-slavery types regarded black people as subhuman, they didn’t actually hate them? You seem to be excluding a great deal of bigotry from consideration here. Declaring groups of people to be somehow subhuman and, as you say, “without ethical reciprocity”, strikes me as inherently hateful, but if you don’t perceive it that way, then please substitute in “bigoted”; that word, I think, maps better onto the concept I’m trying to discuss.

    If you want to extend “hating on others” to that extent, let’s talk about left-liberals’ hatred of gun owners, individualists, and anyone who opposes higher taxes and more regulation.

    Sure, but could you first point out the relevant numerous incidents where gun owners, individualists, and free-market types have been blackmailed, murdered and driven to suicide due to their natures? It seems like you’re squishing together the concepts of strong disagreement and prejudiced hate, even when the latter creates an atmosphere of fear and shame that costs actual lives, and the former simply steps on someone’s feelings.

  149. >Did you miss the part where I described the double standard wherein members of dominant groups claim oppression when they’re faced with a threat to their privilege?

    No. In what sense are conservatives or Christians “dominant” in the society we have today? They can’t keep the Ten Commandments on courthouse walls. They can’t even reverse left-wing policies that are obviously crazy and destructive. They feel engulfed in a rising tide of secularism, trash culture, and Marxism-by-any-other-name. Mind you, I think it is in most respects good that they no longer dominate; I only wish that their control had been replaced with something less vicious and collectivist.

    >Members of these clubs do not universally risk the loss of their families and jobs if exposed

    No, they’d just never get offered jobs in most of academia, journalism, or show business in the first place. Now try to tell me with a straight face that a gay person would have that problem. And gay people have a lovely option denied to Christians and conservatives; if they don’t get the job they want, they can sue for compensation that can easily destroy a small business even if the lawsuit fails. Um, now, who are the powerless ones, exactly?

    >strong possibility of blackmail.

    Blackmail? In 2009? You’re out of your mind. It’s not frickin’ 1950 out there, in case you haven’t noticed.

    >You claimed, above, that your position is “No rewards or punishments, only consequences”, clearly viewing bigotry and intolerance as immutable natural forces, rather than personal faults in the bigots or the society that coddles and grows them.

    Right, the instinctive circuitry that gets recruited into bigotry and intolerance is nobody’s “fault”. Which out-group gets to be the despised pink monkeys this week is society’s “fault”, to the extent that “society” is a meaningful concept (but wait another week and it will change). The only personal fault in the system is when individuals choose to act with aggressive violence on the basis of their instincts and the shit in their social environment. At that point the exact nature of the pinkness and the bigotry are basically irrelevant; it’s the aggression that’s the occasion of fault.

    >So, because pro-slavery types regarded black people as subhuman, they didn’t actually hate them?

    Now you’re getting it. Yes. This doesn’t make being “pro-slavery” anything but evil, but it does require you to fix your categories so they’re more predictive and productive of better reasoning.

    >Sure, but could you first point out the relevant numerous incidents where gun owners, individualists, and free-market types have been blackmailed, murdered and driven to suicide due to their natures?

    Look into what happens to non-violent tax protesters sometime. Or people subjected to a no-knock BATF raid. It’s worse than mere bigotry; they face the organized force of the state, and the damned media paints them as kooks and loons. Before you say “that’s not their natures”, think carefully about your own beliefs concerning the social construction of race and sexuality.

  150. I expected this post to be harsh and stupid. but I agree with you. Does that make me a horrible person?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <pre lang="" line="" escaped="" highlight="">