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A thought on ignoring others’ opinion, gender differentiation, and gender self-policing

July 25, 2015

A twitter conversation with @the_eumelia about the “careless abandon” men display in defying the opinions of others (#notallmen #notallwomen) sparked an epiphany for me about non-obvious ways gender construction can occur. [Please note that what follows applies to something mainstream American and mainstream Israeli cultures have in common; I’d guess there are many cultures, including some European nations, where gender oppression takes quite a different form than discussed in this post.]

Gender is often constructed by differences in standards. Look at the bullshit the great athlete Serena Williams is subjected to for having visible  muscles, something that would never happen to male athletes. Defying public opinion is an example of a more subtle kind of differentiation.

To understand this type of differentiation, requires beginning with commonalities. Willingness to defy public opinion is seen as a virtue in *both* men and women.  Growing up Jewish, I was taught at an early age about virtuous gentiles who risked their lives and defied public opinion to oppose the Holocaust.  As a kid who would read any book he could get his hands on I took all the free surplus Christian kids books a local Christian church gave away. These books mostly contained stories of Christian martyrs defying the beliefs of their time.  (At the time, I did not differentiate between flavors of Christianity. In retrospect, I’m guessing it was a Catholic school.) But it is not just (some) religious literature that teaches the virtues of non-conformity. Much classic children’s literature, including many books featuring girls, teach the same lessons. Off the top of my head, examples include Madeline, Harriet the SpyEloise, Pippi Longstockings and A Wrinkle in Time.

Just because adults teach kids the virtues of defying public opinion in the abstract does not mean adults encourage them to do so in the real world. Kids may be fed an official line that non-conformity is valued, but they are punished for it in practice.  The cruelty of children to anyone even slightly different soon teaches kids who have an impulse to be different to keep their  heads down.  For the rare kid who is socially backward enough to listen to adult preaching over peer practice, adult punishment for crossing certain lines will soon teach the value of conformity #notalladults. As Mark Twain said, “The human race is a race of cowards.”

Drawing lines is not in itself problematic. Any society needs lines to forbid people from harming others and discourage them from harming themselves. However, in the USA and Israel non-conformity is taught in the abstract as a virtue in itself. As I heard someone I’ll let remain anonymous say recently “Do what makes you happy. If other people don’t like it, that’s just a bonus.”  At the same time, actual non-conformity is strongly discouraged. The tension between principle and practice tends to produce a population that is reluctant to defy authority or even friends and family, and also experiences self-loathing for that reluctance.

So far, the contradiction between teaching the theory of non-conformity as a virtue, and punishing it in practice applies to all genders.  However, there is a huge difference in the way men and women are treated in regard to non-conformity.  The lines enforced by children may be approximately the same (with huge exceptions in nature, but not in size), at least in the early years.  But the lines enforced by adults vary widely by gender. While certain social lines, especially lines restricting gender fluidity, are about equally policed for both boys and girls (or even sometimes less policed for girls than for boys),  the social freedom of girls is drastically restricted by adults early on to a much greater extent than that of boys.

When I was very little, the difference was expressed in girls being told something was not “ladylike”. Because this was a time of change, the term “ladylike” was replaced by “nice” when I was five or six. But as a boy, I was NEVER told something was not “nice”, not “gentlemanly”.  I was told something was bad, or wrong, or that I was mule headed. But I was never held to an amorphous standard of “niceness”.

Early on, the borders girls have to stay on the proper side of to avoid social stigma are much nearer and more confining than those boys are held to. Cues from adults get picked up. In older girls this difference develops into a system of peer policing that seems to me much crueler than that boys are subjected to. For much of my childhood and almost into my teens I was beaten up on a more or less daily basis for reasons I won’t go into. Since the schools I attended were mostly  middle class, girls in similar situations were not subject to physical violence. But the shunning and taunting and “teasing” they underwent made me grateful that being beaten up was all I had to put up with.

That difference in narrowness of borders policed and cruelty of the policing, in my opinion produces a difference in behavior. Since girls are allowed less leeway in what is considered non-conformity and are punished more severely, it would be surprising if (on average, and with plenty of exceptions) they weren’t more aware than boys of the risks of non-conformity and more careful in picking their battles. This may not always carry forward when they become adults, but it seems likely that it often does. I will add that women who decide to defy convention tend to do so more with their eyes open than men. Women who take a brave stance, in my opinion, are much less likely to be blindsided by the consequences and back down. [On Edit: It is not that women are less willing to be non-conformists. It is that they have fewer opportunities to pretend to be non-conformist, while still fitting comfortably within social norms.]

I think this difference has  another result; it produces  more overt rude and thoughtless assholes among men than among women on the one hand, and more willingness to defy friends and family in minor but reasonable ways that are more socially acceptable for men than women on the other. I think that is where the “careless abandon” @the_eumelia noticed mostly occurs.

A “careless abandon” in regard to both their own verbal bullying and to the opinion of others friends and family (within limits) is where men can see themselves as non-conformist and still avoid crossing the social boundaries that bring punishment. It is a low-risk means for men, but not women, to claim the virtue of non-conformity in their own eyes, and often in the eyes of others. For verbal bullies, it comes back to “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will  never hurt me”. If someone is bothered by name calling and other forms of verbal bullying, that is all to often considered to be on them not on the name caller – even though the scientific evidence is that  verbal abuse has very real psychological consequences.

It can also let men explore in defiance of friend or family norms and face nothing worse than a boys-will-be-boys sigh where woman risk alienation from people they care about. [On edit: Again, this is not a case of men being more willing to be non-conformists of social norms as a whole, but a willingness to defy the opinions of family and friends, because it is socially acceptable for them to do so. Men have socially acceptable means of pretending to themselves to be “mavericks” or non-conformists. Women have very few options where they can simply perform non-conformity. Other than the very narrow exception of certain consumption choices, they actually have to defy social pressure if they stray outside of narrow boundaries.]

Both of these can be a forms of unconscious gender self-policing.  Because girls and women are policed more severely and more restrictively than men, they are seen as more conformist than men whether it is true or not. (I think it may be true in minor ways, but not in major ones.)  Thus, true (but minor) pretended non-conformity and verbal assholedom alike may be a way men differentiate themselves from women. In many cases, I suspect men who do this may not even be aware that this is a gender performance on their part; it may be an unconscious form of gender self-policing.

I wonder if this is why many assholes complain of  “over-sensitivity”  or “violation of free speech” when called on being assholes.   Assholes are operating on the assumption that “…names will never hurt me” even while getting sick satisfaction from hurting people. So if they are hurt in return by being called on this, they don’t want to admit to themselves that the same level of discourse they engage in is hurtful when it happens to them; they convince themselves that they if *they* are offended, the other person must have done something especially egregious. The asshole is convinced that he is engaged in virile straight talk; the person who bluntly tells him that he is an asshole is not the same kind of straight talker. The person who calls out the asshole is guilty of personal attack, or of threatening the asshole’s free speech.

What I’m seeing is a commonality between genders in a tension between the perception of non-conformity as a virtue and social and peer policing that encourages conformity in practice, producing either denial or self-loathing. I also see gender differentiation in bounded non-conformity [On edit: really a performance of non-conformity rather than real non-conformity]  allowed boys and men to a greater degree than allowed girls and women. In men and boys unconscious gender self-policing can take the form of being rude and even verbally abusive as a way of differentiating themselves from women, who are not allowed the same freedom in that respect – male assholedom. It is also true that men are sometimes allowed to push boundaries in creative ways when pushing the same boundaries is punished in women. allowed to defy family and friends expectations in limited ways that women sometimes are not. [But it is  within limits, socially acceptable, and thus not non-conformity, but a performance of non-conformity.]

I don’t know to what extent this is new, or to what it extent it is something once considered and long since  rejected by feminist theory. And to emphasize once more – these are specific to certain cultures, not universals. And even within such cultures #notallmen #notallwomen.

Lastly, when discussing genders, this post refers only to men and women. That is because it is largely referring to effects of attitudes formed in childhood, during which self-perception as a anything other than a man or a woman is rare.

The stupidest meme on Greece ever

July 12, 2015

A new idea I’ve seen from some leftists:  support for Greece is racist – because the people of Greece are white, and white leftists are giving it more attention than other, more deserving struggles.   I’m not going to say who I heard it from, because I hate “call out” culture. I’d rather they read this and reconsider their analysis.

Haven’t those saying this ever noticed the huge solidarity movements out there supporting Venezuela? For that matter, I’d say the Palestinian solidarity movements are larger that Greece solidarity support . (That makes sense of course; the Palestinian crisis has been around longer and is killing more people.) So the premise is wrong.

And of course Greece gets a lot of attention from leftists. A country with its working class being crushed elects a social democratic party that actually is social democratic. That is, it is not socialist (in spite of having socialist MPs), but wants to increase both the power and well being of the working and middle classes under capitalism. Far better than either the center right (whose motto appears to be “crush, kill, destroy”), or the center left, (whose motto appears to be “crush, kill, destroy. Now this hurts me more than it hurts you.”)

Can you think of any other party with either a comparable viewpoint, or a viewpoint to the left of it which has won a national (as opposed to regional)  election in the last six months? I will note that many Latin American nations have paid a lot attention to Greece since Syriza’s election. Is Castro suffering from white racism too? Look, I don’t take criticisms of this sort personally. I always stop and consider if they might be right. But this seems to me not only a wrong criticism but an exceptionally foolish one.  Note that this is separate from any critiques made of Syriza.

Oh, and I hope you did notice that Greece has a fair number of non-white immigrants who are at the blunt end of the austerity.

No Hair Shirts Energy Policy for Greece

July 7, 2015

My new e-book on energy in Greece, deals with non-market no-hair-shirt renewable energy policy for Greece. While I think the long term transition is critical in, well, the long run, the beginning of the book also deals with how energy policy can contribute relief of some of the immediate pain in the current emergency. Nothing magical: energy policy by itself can’t solve Greece’s problems. But anything that can make every poor, working class, and most middle class Greeks better off, even by just little right now is worth while.  Anything that produces even a minor immediate improvement in Greek day to day life is worthwhile.

The book is currently in English only.  It is available in both A4 and letter size, so if you want to print all or part, you can choose the version that will work with the paper you have. Please feel free to share, mirror, or modify. (Contact me at if you need a word version because you want to modify test.)

Greek Crisis – a guide for the perplexed: Part III – Myths about Greece and the Greek Crisis

June 28, 2015

The following is from an appendix in an upcoming book to be released in the next few days, No Hair Shirts Energy & Climate Policy for Greece. The book discusses  energy and climate policy as a means of advancing a general anti-austerity agenda. It starts with methods of relieving some of the immediate pain. For any non-Greek readers, the book includes an appendix discussing the crisis. This post excerpts the third chapter of that appendix shooting down widespread falsehoods about Greece. You may want to read the first post in this series about the general global and European context of the Greek crisis, and the second summarizing the crisis before preceding.

There are many myths about Greece used to justify EU action, to claim that the Greek people deserve their suffering. As Diane Francis of the Business Financial Post put it in 2011: ” a baseball bat may be what’s needed to fix the never-ending Greek debt mess.”

Myth) The Greek people are lazy.

Fact) The people of Greece, even before the crisis, worked longer hours and had less time off than Germany and most EU nations.

Myth) The Greek people don’t pay taxes.

Fact) The Greek rich, and small business owners evade most taxes. Taxes on wages were always collected. Thus working people in Greece pay all the taxes due, as does much of the middle class. It is only the rich, small shop owners and independent professionals such as doctors and lawyers who manage to evade taxes. Much of the tax evasion consists of moving money out of Greece into France, Germany, the UK and other EU nations. When Syriza suggested the EU help them track down this money, they were laughed at and told that tackling tax evasion is their responsibility.

Myth) Out-of-control Greek pensions need cutting.

Fact) Greek pensions have already been cut by 40%. Further, the high pension to GDP ratio is caused by a number of factors other than pensions being too high

  • Public pensions in Greece are, with trivial exceptions the only pension. Proper comparison of Greek pensions to other nations would have to include private pensions by other nations.
  • There is no unemployment insurance in Greece, and never has been much public welfare (such as food stamps in the USA). Pensions fulfill those functions as well. That has to be considered in comparison to other nations as well.
  • Greek GDP has fallen by 25% since 2008. Normally this far after the start of recession, not only would the recovery have begun, but GDP would be above 2008 levels. Of course if GDP falls, anything that survives becomes a higher percentage of GDP
  • Greece has a higher percentage of retirement age people than most other EU nations.

Myth) Greeks retire at 53.

Fact) Before the crash, 53 was early retirement at half-pension certain civil servants could take – usually in order to move to other jobs without completely losing past pension benefits. Average retirement age in Greece, pre-crash was higher than Germany and higher than OECD average. Early retirement age, post crash has already been raised. Again, early retirement means half-pension.

Greek Crisis – a guide for the perplexed: Part II – The Greek Crisis in Brief

June 27, 2015

The following is from an appendix in an upcoming book to be released in the next few days. No Hair Shirts Energy & Climate Policy for Greece. The book discusses energy and climate policy as a means of battling austerity. It starts with methods to relieve some of the immediate pain. For any non-Greek readers, the book includes an appendix discussing the crisis. This post excerpts the second chapter of that appendix, which  tries to combine concision with accuracy in describing the current Greek crisis. If you don’t know the larger European context you might want to read the first post in this series before preceding.  And don’t forget to read the third excerpt combating widespread falsehoods about Greece and Greeks.  The  second excerpt, covering the current crisis, follows:

The Greek centrist social democratic government of PASOK led by George Papandreou took power from the conservatives in 2009 and discovered that the previous governments had collaborated with corrupt bankers to disguise loans as complex financial derivative investments. This fraud falsified key economic indictors and allowed borrowing money that could never have been paid back, even before the crash. Thus the crash left Greece with a much bigger debt compared to its economy than the rest of Europe.

The EU and international institutions made a deal with PASOK to bail out Greece’s creditors (including those who had been co-conspirators n the fraud, and probably the originators of it) and some of Greece’s top bankers, but not the Greek people. If the EU and done nothing, the debt instruments would have been worthless, and the banks would have collapsed. The EU bought the worthless debt instruments at a discount from their face value. The claim was that in selling at a discount, the banks and bond holders were taking a hit. The truth was, that the banks and bondholders had already taken a hit. The bonds and instruments were worthless. By receiving anything for those bonds they were being bailed out, not (as claimed) “taking a haircut”. As penalty for the fraud that had primarily victimized the Greek people, the Greek health care system was destroyed, their pensions cut, and their education system crippled. Paying back the remaining debt was still impossible, so the EU arranged to lend almost enough to Greece, to make interest payments. Each year, Greece paid out 100% of what they received in loans, and a bit more as debt repayment, leaving zero aid for the Greek people, and less total money for the Greek people each year. As a condition of continuing to pay interest to itself, the Troika constantly added to austerity requirements. This austerity program produced a 25% unemployment rate and a GDP that shrank at a faster rate than that of the United State during the great depression. PASOk fell to the conservative New Democracy party, which implemented worse austerity than occurred under PASOK.

Syriza, a coalition of most parties to the left of PASOK defeated both the right wing New Democracy Party and the centrist “Socialist” PASOK party in January of 2015. It was elected on a platform of raising taxes on the rich and cracking down on widespread tax evasion by the wealthy, lowering taxes on the working class, providing free electricity to those who had their power cut off , restoring pensions, free education, union rights as well as health care. Syriza also promised to end various other EU imposed austerity measures, such as the requirement that Greece maintain a government spending surplus during a depression. It also promised to crack down on the culture of corruption in Greece that crossed party lines and end oligarchic control of institutions that were supposed to be democratic, possibly by replacing those corrupt institutions with new more democratic ones. It cannot carry out much of its program under the intolerable conditions currently imposed on Greece.

Syriza has attempted to negotiate with the Troika that consists of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. It has shown willingness to dial back its program, but not enough to suit the Troika. The absurdity of the Troika position in these negotiations can only be conveyed by a skit. :

TROIKA: You have anemia. To cure it you must stay the course: One bowl of gruel a day, and leeches applied to your body twice daily.

Syriza: Come on. An anemic needs to eat more than gruel. PLus, possibly iron infusions, at least an iron supplement.

TROIKA: Pish-posh. I’m the doctor..

Syriza: If I stick to the gruel diet, can I at least have an iron supplement, and stop the leeches?

TROIKA: You will follow the full plan. In fact, cut the gruel to half a bowl a day.

Syriza: how about an iron supplement and fewer leeches?

TROIKA: No. Half a bowl of gruel a day, and twice the leeches! And stay away from iron supplements. Trust Doctor Dracula.

Syriza: Maybe I’d be better off leaving this hospital!

TROIKA: No! Stay here and stick with the plan. If you do, as a compromise, we will let you drink the Kool-Aid.

Greek Crisis – a guide for the perplexed: Part I Global and EU Context

June 27, 2015

The following is from an appendix in an upcoming book to be released in the next few days, No Hair Shirts Energy & Climate Policy for Greece. The book discusses how energy and climate policy can help advance an anti-austerity agenda. It starts with means of relieving some of the immediate pain. For any non-Greek readers, the book includes an appendix discussing the crisis. This post excerpts the first of three short chapters within that appendix, and explains the situation of the EU, which is essential before moving on to discussion of Greece. If you already understand that context you may want to proceed directly to the second post, a concise briefing on the Greek Crisis, and the third post combating widely believed falsehoods about Greece.

  Global and EU Context for the Greek Crisis

For decades, deliberate policy in all rich nations and many poor nations reduced net income to poor workers, prosperous workers and much of the middle class. Cheap loans kept consumption and demand from dropping, thus preventing profits from falling. Even so, additional risk from demand generated by borrowing, rather than income, would have hurt profits by driving up the cost of money to businesses. However, complicated financial instruments concealed how risky many investments were. When, inevitably, some of these investments failed in 2008, larger bubbles were exposed. Cheap financing of consumption, which had substituted for income, dried up. Mortgages, credit cards and other investments in consumer financing fell to their underlying real value. Demand dropped suddenly and the world economy crashed.

In Europe, various treaty provisions for being in the euro made the crash worse; most of EU was forced to cut budgets and increase austerity, which is the worst way to deal with a recession caused by a sudden drop in demand. It was even worse for the poorer nations, which saw a larger percentage drop their total national wealth.

The normal way poor nations would deal with this type of crash would be to devalue their currency. Devaluing currency is a large one time hit to an economy. Real wages and profits drop as the local price of everything rises, especially imports. Goods also become cheaper on the world market, increasing exports. It is a large hit to the standard of living, but a one-time hit. The economy can then begin to recover. Though not a fair way of making this kind of adjustment, it is probably the fairest way possible under capitalism. At least the burden is not 100% on the working class, unlike the alternatives under capitalism. Because wages are effectively cut across the board, unemployment need not rise. Exports of newly cheaper goods make up for some the drop in national demand. Government spending on public works programs can make up for the rest. Part of the solution to a crisis caused by hidden debt bubbles counterfeiting value creation is open, honest debt financing real value creation.

However, as part of a single currency, the euro, the poor nations did not have the option of devaluing their currency. Worse, as part of the treaty provisions they agreed to when joining the euro, they could not engage in large scale public spending, because public debt was not allowed to rise above a fixed percentage of GDP. Nor could they take steps to make exports more attractive or imports less attractive. That would have violated “free trade” provisions. Note, by the way, that Spain had a budget surplus before the crash; in Spain the crash, as in the USA, was largely triggered by a mortgage bubble.

In a large nation, such as the USA, these disadvantages of a single currency are made up for by many responsibilities being national. For example Social Security and guarantees of private pensions are national. Medicare is national. Medicaid is more than 50% national, even higher in poorer states. Private healthcare is highly subsidized via tax deductions. Even social programs that are considered primarily state and local responsibilities in the USA, such as education and local law enforcement, receive modest Federal aid.

In the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) has the power that goes with a single currency, but the EU upholds none of the usual responsibilities. In fact, the ECB imposes conditions on fulfilling the core responsibility of a central bank, defending bank solvency and preventing bank runs.  Such conditions are comparable to a local fire department refusing to put out a blazing fire consuming a house until the residents commit to weekly church attendance.

Granted Wishes

December 24, 2014

Once upon a time a new continent suddenly rose off the east coast of a great empire After due consideration, the empire responded as it always did to anything new and strange which it could not be absolutely sure was not a threat. It invaded.

The invaders found an unpopulated jungle, teeming with wildlife. Without a labor force to exploit, without valuable minerals, without even large trees or any other natural resources worth exporting, the empire did not really know what to do next. So its soldiers wandered aimlessly through the vast jungle, occasionally capturing and torturing spider monkeys, and sending drones in to destroy herds of wildebeests. There were no insurgents to provoke by these actions, so the invaders found themselves in the unfamiliar situation of not being locked into an escalating cycle of violence.

Occasionally, though, a soldier or contractor would die or be injured through some accident. Then the empire’s Air Force could firebomb a few acres of jungle around the accident site into desert. Oil companies would then, more or less in a reflexive reaction to sand, move into the newly created patch of desert and drill exploratory wells, though there was no particular reason to think any part of this conquest held fossil fuel reserves.

The animals were not quite like those of other lands; they observed and learned. In the face of the very real streak of timidity that lay behind the invaders’ belligerence they tried silence. The lions no longer roared. The elephants no longer trumpeted. They even began to pass wind quietly, lest the sudden explosion of a fart startle a news anchor or government official into launching a new war.

The empire began looking for ways to make the invasion pay for itself. If there were no mineral or fossil resources, perhaps the land itself was suitable for agriculture. But for some reason, no cutting or seed from outside the new continent could grow there. Well perhaps the native plants themselves would have some value? But it turned out that everything that grew in the new land was slightly toxic.

The empire decided that the biomass itself could be valuable – harvested and converted into fuel. By a strange coincidence, a new fungus arose. This fungus was harmless to living plants, but turned disconnected or dead parts of them to compost in a matter of minutes. (And that compost was, of course, toxic to any plants from outside the land.)

The next thought was that the great rivers of the new continent could provide power for the empire’s great industries, even if raw material had to be imported from outside. But something subtle in the water supply corroded turbines, and even the concrete in dams.

Then, almost as if the continent was striking back at attempts to exploit it, the formerly pure water of the new land developed a strange toxicity. Now all potable water had to be imported. Drinking the water, cooking with it, or bathing in it would make people and animals from the outside sicken and eventually die. Again, this only affected outsiders. Native species continued to thrive, immune to whatever the toxin was that lab tests failed to detect, and the most through distillation and treatment processes failed to remove.

The great sums spent occupying this new continent gained the empire quite literally nothing. But for some odd reason the empire could not leave the new land alone. Part of the lure, no doubt, was the big profits large military contractors made, from which they donated a percent or two to various reelection and campaign funds. More important was something the empire sensed rather than knew.

Ever since defeating its greatest adversary decades ago, the empire had gone out of its way to make new enemies. But none of them provided the large, visible sustained long term threat that old defeated adversary had. In the new continent, the empire sensed a potential for an enemy even more powerful than the defeated one. And great empires need great enemies to define themselves against. If the empire could just sufficiently provoke this new power it sensed…


The Land was patient…

But The Land was not endlessly patient….

In time the empire might see its wish granted….

And more… far more…