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Category Archives: Social Issues

Passive vs Active: The Language of Victimization, Victim-Blaming, and the Intent vs Effect of Communication

Recently some friends on Facebook posted this spiel about the use of passive voice in talking about gendered crime and statistics. Read it for yourself below.

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I immediately felt uncomfortable with the whole thing. I have several reasons why. Keep reading if you’re interested in why.

Passive Voice and Crime Reporting

The quote above by Katz is focused on gender related victimization; however, we use the passive voice when speaking about crime in general. Reporters will often write or say “Last night a man was mugged while walking to his car” or “Many people’s identities were stolen last week” or “A teenager was hit by a car yesterday”. So right off the bat, I question the validity of linking the use of passive voice with gendered crime exclusively. “Was murdered”, “was attacked”, “was car-jacked”, “was mugged”, “was abused” are all terms used in the reporting of crime and do not specify gender. I argue that rape isn’t even a gendered crime, so I cannot help but feel that Katz is limiting the use of passive voice to gendered crime is a limit of the mind and excludes victims.

Counting Crimes

Another issue with this argument is that the number of victims and the number of perpetrators is disproportionate. We can easily count those who have been victimized. We cannot count perpetrators until they have been convicted. The teen pregnancy is the best example of where in reporting the number of instances, the pregnancy count is more accurate than the number of males involved in those pregnancies. First of all, the chances of a male getting more than one teenager pregnant is pretty good (which is horrible, I agree), but we have no way of tracking that. We can, however, track the teen pregnancy amounts. If the guy got pregnant or had some sort of messed up score card emblazoned on his forehead, we would count that instead.

Focus on the Pain = Focus on the Victim

I don’t believe we should take the narrative of the event away from the victim. In doing so, we remove the focus on the pain they have suffered. We can argue that active voice about a perpetrator can express outrage; however, outrage should not be the focus. Empathy for the victim should be the focus. We do this by presenting the narrative of the event from the perspective of the victim. We keep the victim as the subject of the sentences. When the media reports on victimed crimes, they are required (generally) to do so impassively. They cannot present outrage in their tone, especially with written reports vs verbal ones. As such the narrative with the perpetrator as the subject of the sentences can create a dissonance because we are used to narratives wherein we are meant to believe and empathize with the subject of the sentences. We all have years and years of training to think this way. Imagine the story of Brock Turner and his victim as presented by him vs the letter she wrote to the judge. Or compare the dispassionate reporting of the events from his perspective vs from hers. If the press gave his story first, most people would be predisposed to disbelieve her story coming second. The act is not made illegal based on the inner thinking of the perpetrator but for the damage it causes the victim. While I see the dangers of passive voice in fictional narratives, I see it as a necessity in the reporting of victimed crimes to focus the empathy on the victim.

Passive Voice and Victimization

Katz presents the idea that by focusing on the victim, we are also holding them responsible for their victimization. However, besides leaving the victim as the subject of the sentences and thus the focus of empathy, passive voice perfectly matches the reality for victims. Being a victim is a passive act. Victims did not do anything to bring on their victimization. Of course, passive voice should be used when describing victims. They were not active in their victimization. It is the very opposite of victim-blaming to use passive voice. Victims themselves are allowed to use whichever form they please (I was mugged vs Someone mugged me) because as the authors of the sentences about the event, they are already forcing the audience to acknowledge them. But if a reporter were to use active voice with the victim as the subject, that sentence would have to be very carefully structured to avoid victim-blaming. I foresee sentences like that being unwieldy and unclear.

Violence Against Object Phrasing

While I get what Katz is saying that men aren’t involved in the structure of the phrase “violence against women”, the argument ignores the fact that most organizations that fight against violence structure it that way: Violence Against Children and Violence Against Animals are both used in organizations lending assistance to those groups. Most Violence Against groups are victim focused first. They try to help the victim out of bad situation. Secondary to rescue actions are education actions. It makes sense then that the title should focus on the victim of the act, not the perpetrator as the organizations usually have no direct contact with those people and legislative lobbying is not as big a focus.

If a person searches for “violence against” in an online search engine, most results will be about women. Half of those will be organizations with Domestic Violence in the organization name. I believe that Domestic Violence is a better term. While many believe that the term Domestic is problematic because it can imply Privacy, I relate it to Domecile, which implies co-habitation. Domestic Violence is specific to two people in a relationship living together, one of whom has become abusive of the other. This is non-gendered, which to me is highly important. So often, people say that domestic abuse is not about who is physically stronger, but who is more powerful and controlling. This is not a gendered issue, also because people of non-cis-sexualities are capable of domestic abuse. Believing that a man simply by being physically stronger can never be a victim of domestic abuse feeds into toxic masculinity and just compounds the gender divide. That is why Domestic Violence is a more inclusive way of describing the problems. Women can and do abuse men, emotionally, verbally, and yes, physically. However, abuse can still happen if the two aren’t living together, so even that term is not enough. Inter-relationship Violence is most encompassing of the terms I can come up with because while we have a word for a guardian abusing a child (Child Abuse), we don’t have a word for child to child abuse or a child abusing a parent, both of which do happen. Our terms unfortunately are based on archaic ideas of relationships and family, namely the nuclear family. The nuclear family was rarely a reality and even rarer now than it was when it was considered the norm. So I agree with Katz in saying that the term Violence Against Women is problematic, but not for the same reasons.

Intent > Communication > Effect

When I pointed out to someone that I felt that Katz argument was flawed, I mentioned intent and was parried with the statement that intent did not matter. I’ve been reading up a lot lately on how to speak to someone who has distorted thinking in order to properly communicate intent to the right effect, all of it written by psychologists and psychiatrists. So I’m going to break down what I’ve learned.

  • Intent: Person A’s desired effect fed or countered by bias, emotion, thoughts, memories, and situation – example: to report on a recent crime in an objective manner to make Persons B knowledgeable of the crime
  • Communication: the words by which Person A will attempt to match effect to intent
  • Effect: Persons Bs’ mental and emotional reaction to the communication, influenced by their pre-communication memories, thoughts, and feelings

Of course, in a perfect world, intent and effect would always match. We don’t live in a perfect world, so they don’t always match, because Person A’s conscious intent can be greatly effected by their unconscious intent. Person B can also be suffering from distorted thinking. Distorted thinking is a symptom of depression, anxiety, PTSD, several personality disorders, and other mental health issues. Disorted thinking can warp communication to mean something it doesn’t mean, such as seeing hostility where there is none. When the issue is Person A’s bias or unconscious intent, they can have this gently pointed out them and re-evaluate how they communicate their conscious intent. When the issue is Person B’s distorted thinking, they should be made aware of this, probably with a professional, and use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them change their reactions to the communication.

Triggers

CBT is used to help people have more rational reactions to triggers. Now, I’ve been hearing a lot about trigger-warnings and safe spaces. About people trying to prevent people who suffer from bad reactions to certain things from experiencing those certain things. Especially victims. Now, victims of crimes are not the only people who experience triggering events, as explained above. Those with anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and depression who may never have been victims of crimes experience triggering events as well.

Every psychologist I’ve spoken to and every book on the subject I’ve read by psychologists and psychiatrists has stated that it is best if patients limit their contact with triggering events, but that they also learn to change their reactions to those events through therapy methods such as CBT or DBT. The goal is not to walk around in a bubble, silencing everyone around them to prevent them from ever feeling pain. Friends and family are meant to help by not exasperating the bad feelings by triggering them; however, strangers are not meant to change their behavior. Therapy does not expect this. In fact, it explains that a patient can expect to be triggered through non-personal interactions on occasion. Just because the patient is triggered, does not mean that their reaction is appropriate or requires change from others. Again, therapy expects the patient to eventually change their reaction. The basis is always that a person can control only themself, not others. We can only control ourselves and our own reactions. This is actually very helpful to hear when dealing with other people who have distorted thinking.

Does this mean that people get to be insensitive? No, of course not. There needs to be a balance between communication that matches the intent, which shouldn’t be to harm, and the reaction, which should be free of distorted thinking. Both sides require empathy; it is the only way for understanding to happen.

But there is one group of people who get to be purposefully insensitive: comedians. Why? This again takes understanding. First of all, it is a long standing tradition, as in centuries old, for comedians to be able to say what no one else is daring enough to say and to use that daring to satirize issues in our society. This includes sensitive, triggering subjects. The understanding from people listening to or reading comedians that is required is that comedians will do this and that is their job to do so. Acting surprised and hurt that a comedian said something shocking about a sensitive subject is frankly silly. Comedy is meant to make us laugh about sensitive subjects and relieve some of our tension and pain on those subjects. It’s also supposed to make us think about them differently. That’s a good thing. I’ve had bad reactions to jokes before. Yes, some of them were in poor taste and/or not funny in my opinion, but that just means I don’t have listen to that joke again. I can say I don’t think it’s funny or that it’s not for me. I can turn off the special and decide not to watch that comedian again. Again, I can only control my reaction and actions. I let my feet doing the talking when it comes to my opinion on comedy. I don’t expect the comedian to change. But if enough people agree with me and decide not to watch that comedian, well, that comedian will get the message that they aren’t all that funny. But then again, maybe other people think they are funny and that’s fine. Even if they are offensive. It’s called freedom of speech.

Conclusion

Language is a tricky thing. It is also one of my favorite subjects to think about and discuss. It’s a subject that requires a lot of critical thinking. I don’t believe I have all the answers because language is constantly changing because society is constantly changing. Some things are always the same. Comedians make jokes. People get hurt. People say hurtful things, both on purpose and by accident. People learn to get past being hurt. Or at least, they should try to. I react to things in overly negative ways too. I say things that get distorted. I say things that are hurtful. We all do these things. This is life. It requires us all to think about what we say, what we mean, and what others mean. There are no easy answers, and we can’t just look at one way and expect everybody agree with us. I don’t expect all of you reading this to agree with everything I’ve written here or even any of it. That’s discourse. If you still agree with Katz’ point of view after reading this, that’s fine. I’m not upset. It’s not necessary that you agree with me. You’re your own person, so you’re allowed to have your own point of view. That’s also life.

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Couple Fights: Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald vs Leonard and Virginia Woolf (and Jim and Aurora from Passengers a bit)

Amazon Prime has a new show called Z which follows the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, starting from around the time she met her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I watched the pilot during the pilot season more than a year ago and was immediately hooked. It doesn’t hurt that Christina Ricci is an amazing actress and the Modernist time period is one of extreme interest. A few months ago, I read an article on the women behind the men whose names we all know, while the women, who actually did the work, are hardly known to most of us. Zelda was one of these women, and in the brief history of her life that was given, my whole world and my trust in all the American Literature courses I took in both high school and college was completely destroyed. Suddenly, I understood the social justice warriors’ need to force our schools to shape up. Because the truth behind the juggernaut that is F. Scott Fitzgerald destroys any enjoyment I ever had of his work. But this isn’t just about how horror music should play in Amazon’s show when Zelda meets Fitzgerald. It’s about how two real life couples, in the same time period, in the same creative business, with very similar personal hardships and backgrounds, resulted in two completely different outcomes, both tragic, but one absolutely outraging.

Outrage

So many people hated Jim from Passengers and they hate the movie for forcing Aurora for forgiving him and they hate her for doing so. I love this movie and I love Jim and Aurora, and it’s not just because it’s interesting sci-fi or that Jim and Aurora are played by two of the hottest and funniest and, it turns out, most talented actors of our age, though that helps a lot. We all know that Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing actor. She kills all her parts. I was not expecting Chris Pratt to deliver the same level of skill in that movie. Now, I remember the trailers presenting the film as a sci-fi romance, and to some extent it is, but it is more of a satirical examination on romance and what some people consider romantic. Many people would say that that statement is a little too deep for such a film, especially because it just makes them so uncomfortable. But uncomfortableness from fiction is usually a sign of a theme that no one likes to think about. People often display outrage at satire that is totally justified but they aim at the creators of the piece and not at the idea they are showcasing as messed up.

We see this a lot on Swift’s A Modest Proposal. It happened when he wrote it, and it still happens today in our college classrooms. I don’t remember realizing that Swift wasn’t serious about eating Irish children. I just know that I knew that. Too often teachers have to explain to students that Swift is trying to create outrage in the English people against the mistreatment of the Irish by bringing that mistreatment to a ridiculous level. This happened in the last century again on the stage production of Caberet, which has a song wherein a man dances with a gorilla, saying how much he loves her and how everyone treats him like a pariah for his love. At the end of the song, he drops the bomb that she’s Jewish. There was a protest over this by a Jewish organization because they didn’t get the idea that the song was pointing out that that is how the Nazis thought about miscegenators, not how the minds behind the song felt, and wasn’t that just a messed up way of thinking about Jewish people and those who loved them. Sigh. I hate having to explain satire. It hurts to do so.

But I will explain how Passengers actually is satire here because I am tired of all the hate it gets. Most romance movies are under fire right now for showing stalking, harassment, and sexual assault as “chasing” or “courting” and thereby, acceptable. Passengers dives right into that debate with more vehemence than any journalist or debater is capable of. The trailers somewhat misled people into thinking that Passengers would be like any other romance movie: sweet, light-hearted, and sexy in it’s presentation of their relationship with a bit of disaster thriller thrown in there for conflict. The truth of the movie far more interesting. Jim, who wakes up alone ninety years early, tries his best to make the best of the worst possible situation. He has no way of fixing his situation and he holds out against his two only choices for as long as he can. Those two choices: kill himself or consign another person to his same fate. Being alone is only a choice in stasis. As long as he is alive, he is constantly going to be battling those two choices. He nearly kills himself. Then he becomes obsessed with Aurora, in a way of self-medicating his loneliness, much like any stalker does. But unlike a real stalker, Jim has no misunderstandings that waking up Aurora is wrong. Stalkers believe the other person loves them and they believe they have a relationship. Jim knows they don’t and knows he has no right to wake her up. There are several scenes wherein Jim debates doing it, shows extreme self-hatred for even considering it, and begs himself not to do it. But I argue that the movie showed Jim going through every possible other option of living in his situation for as long as he could before this was the only thing he could do to survive. I also argue that by showing Jim as a normal guy at the beginning, nervous and excited to meet the other passengers and even smiling at the second word he uttered upon waking up (“Friends”), that not only were they trying to show that anyone in his situation would choose to wake someone up but that Jim fought the urge as long as he could which was torture for him considering the fact that he is an extrovert. We would all do what Jim did. Only an actual hermit wouldn’t wake up someone else. We are all Jim, and we are all capable of this horror.

Does that make it okay? Of course not, and the movie says so. When Aurora finds out that Jim woke her up, the cinematography and music shift dramatically from low-key romance to thriller and horror styles. The point of view of the shots also focus on her instead of him, in contrast to the previous scenes of the film. The movie makes no bones about whose side you should be on: hers. As such, the film does a brilliant job of showing how typical film romance tropes are in real life dangerous and sometimes violating. You are meant to be outraged, revolted, and uncomfortable. And frankly, you should feel that way when you watch a bunch of other romance movies. If the man lies, stalks, harasses, or manhandles (something Jim never does) the woman, you should feel that way. Regardless of the tone the film presents. Passengers sets the romantic tone before she finds out to juxtapose it with the reality which is horrifying, and when that tone flips with her new knowledge of his lies and stalking, near murder and some would argue rape through misleading circumstances, it is drastic and we all feel it viscerally. It is in the movie. The shot does that Hitchcock move that throws the layout off kilter, her face is a silent scream, and the music warps from smooth, caressing notes into discordant and painful sounds. The following scenes show her fear and her anger. When he tries to explain himself over the PA and she screams that she doesn’t care, we all get it, and so does Jim who stops trying to explain himself. When she attacks Jim, we all get it, and so does Jim who doesn’t even defend himself. She is now the center of the movie and his violation of her is the focus. The only reason we and Aurora don’t want him dead is because he doesn’t defend himself from her. He acquests in that moment that what he did was worthy of death and she has every right to do it to him. He already hates himself for what he did, and he is completely prepared to die in reprepration. Some may argue that because he did date her and have sex with her that he only hated himself after he was caught. I counter that the dating period allowed him to forget on a conscious level what he did, but because he was doing everything he could to be the most movie perfect romantic boyfriend ever wasn’t just a way of the film again playing off romantic tropes but also from a character standpoint, born out his extreme guilt. As if he could offset what he did by being absolutely perfect in every possible way for her.

Jim again proves that he is ready to die to make up for what he did at the climax of the movie. Why does Aurora try so hard to save him? She says she can’t live without him. I believe when she realized that he was possibly going to die, that she also realized that if he did, she would have to live the rest of her life alone, the prospect of which was more terrifying than living with him. This fear also made her further realize that that was what Jim faced and what he did was completely understandable, not justifiable, but also irresistible. Why does she forgive him? That’s easy. He found a way to fix what he did. Jim found that he could put Aurora back to sleep, and then he told her about it. He let her choose whether or not she would do it. It wasn’t that he saved the ship or was willing to die to save the ship. It was that he was willing to go back to being alone, meaning he would let her go, and die (probably within a year because he would commit suicide) without her all based on her choice alone. That’s why Passengers is a real romance. It’s not perfect. It is in fact painful and hurtful at times. But it is truthful, and Jim learns that it is about letting Aurora make her own decisions. This makes Passengers better than most romances.

On a side note, I found the final point of decision to be contrived and flawed. The idea that there is only one Autodoc for 5500 people is insane. There was a way to create this same point of decision without that flaw: someone had to be outside the Autodoc to activate it. Voila! Problem solved and impact intact.

But why is Passengers so important to how I feel about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Leonard and Virginia Woolf? It’s because it showcases a troubled relationship in a perfect balance and in a way, Leonard and Virginia Woolf are similar to Jim and Aurora, only often the roles were reversed. While the Woolfs make me think of how similar the Fitzgeralds’ situation was and how perverted their relationship was. The Fitzgeralds’ relationship is the way most people see Passengers. Only, in my opinion, even worse than people see Passengers. So I guess we should get to it.

Premarital Life

Virginia Woolf née Stephen born in 1882 suffered many nervous breakdowns since she was a young teenager and was even institutionalized. Her mental health issues, which were often manifested as depressive episodes, were thought to be caused by sexual abuse at the hands of her half-brothers and brought to the forefront by the loss of family members, such as her mother, a brother, her father, etc. It is believed that Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder as opposed to major depressive disorder. But before her marriage to Leonard Woolf was not entirely a time of unhappiness for Woolf. She, in fact, took part in a hoax, along with Leonard Woolf. Leonard also happened to be a writer, though he would never reach the notoriety that Virginia would. I have heard, however, that before they married no one told him that Virginia had suffered multiple breakdowns, preventing her unstable mental health from scaring him off. If true, it is a serious lie, but given the times, also understandable. To read Woolf’s journal entries pertaining to him though, one clearly understands how much she loved him.

Zelda Fitzgerald née Sayre was born on the other side of the Atlantic, eighteen years after Woolf. Zelda was always a very outgoing person. She liked parties and often lead the charge of her social groups in the changing ways of her times. She very much liked being the center of attention, shown in her long-running relationship with the ballet. She also liked to flout social conventions and started rumors about herself skinny-dipping. Her life very much encapsulated carpe diem. All this along with what would become of her later, however, has led many people both in her personal and professional life and those looking back on her biographically to believe that she was mentally disturbed in someway. This actually seems unlikely to me. Many people who are simply different or just don’t like the way society wishes them to act are erroneously considered mentally ill. Though I do believe that the circumstances of Zelda’s life led to mental instability, though so did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s.

Married Life

The Woolfs married, and I wish I could say, they lived happily ever after, but that was not to be. Virginia and Leonard started a publishing company together that often did not do well financially. Then they met a popular writer of the time, Vita Sackville-West, who loved Virginia and helped boost her self-confidence, pushed her to write more, and starting publishing with the Woolfs’ company as a way of helping support them financially. Not only was she there for them in those ways, but Virginia and her started a romantic liaison of sorts. Leonard knew about this and didn’t take issue with it. In fact, the couple set their relationship as an open one. To many people, this would appear to mean troubled waters in a relationship, but Virginia and Leonard never expressed any bitterness or resentment over their extramarital relationships. This is obvious in Virginia’s diary and her suicide note to Leonard, expressing nothing but love for him and guilt over her illness and how it affected him. Some may argue that the guilt was a sign that he blamed Virginia for her illness, but depressed people often feel like they are dragging down their loved ones and that their death would free them. It doesn’t seem to matter how much their loved ones express the falsehood of this belief. As such, I don’t believe that Leonard ever truly pushed Virginia to believe her illness or herself were an albatross in his life. I don’t believe her expressions of love for him could be so heartfelt if that were true.

The Fitzgeralds married once he got his first novel published (a common occurrence for couples to wait for financial success of the man at the time) and moved to New York. The two blazed through the party scene, surprising everyone with their antics. The two drank to excess and only slightly slowed down once she became pregnant. Even then though, the two didn’t let parenthood stop the party. During this time Zelda no longer performed in any ballet and really only wrote sporadically, though she continued to write in her diary regularly, as many women and writers, such as Virginia Woolf, did at the time. This diary became a point of contention between the Fitzgeralds, not for anything that Zelda wrote, but because F. Scott would steal entries from the diary to include in his novels. Parts of The Great Gatsby are taken straight from her own writing about her life. Zelda was even once asked to write a review of her husband’s latest novel, upon which she discovered the bits of her diary in the novel and stated that Fitzgerald believed that plagiarism began in the home. While written in a flippant tone, one could understand the underlying resentment that would begin to fester. Once the two moved to France, F. Scott met Ernest Hemingway, who did not get along with Zelda, and spent less time with her. In this period, Zelda grew close with another man and asked for a divorce. F. Scott’s reaction was nothing less than abusive and mentally unstable: he locked Zelda in their house until she gave up. Let me restate that: he imprisoned his wife who was asking for a divorce until her will was worn down. The two of them, at this point, really couldn’t stand each other. I’m not sure why F. Scott resented her so much, when she was the one with all the cause for feelings of resentment, except to say that he didn’t like that he couldn’t control her, which her wildness is what attracted him to her in the first place. At one point, the two went back to the States because Zelda’s father was dying. F. Scott did not stick around for his passing, instead, going off to Hollywood to begin writing scripts. After her father passed, Zelda was in and out of mental hospitals with F. Scott barely around. During one of these hospital stays, Zelda was inspired to begin writing seriously. Upon getting out, she wrote a novel: it was highly autobiographical and included her attempts to get back into the ballet and her father’s death. She even got a publishing deal; however, F. Scott was furious and demanded that she change many parts of the novel, removing whole sections of it, which he wanted to include in a novel he’d been working on. The result is a very broken novel that has never garnered much attention from the public. F. Scott even berated Zelda’s writing and her will to do so. Zelda’s fragile self-confidence was even further shaken. This whole time F. Scott was drinking more and more and his own self-worth was damaged by a lack of further success, but he had also started a long-term affair with another woman.

Through the Years

At one point a lit-crit writer published a book about how Leonard Woolf never supported Virginia emotionally in her endeavors and actively worked against her until she killed herself. This writer is an idiot. A lot of people also disagreed with her. I say if she wanted to write about a creative woman who was driven into an early grave by a horrible mistake of a marriage, she should have written about Zelda Fitzgerald, who sadly died in a fire when the asylum she was checked into burned down. We have work by Woolf, lots of work, enough to fill a grad level course all on its own. We have one novel by Zelda, we have no ballet performances by her, we have barely anything by her. Obviously, she was the one of the two women who was actively and successfully silenced by her spouse and the world around her. And still some people look upon Zelda’s wild lifestyle as the reason behind or a symptom of her mental illness and downfall, even though F. Scott was just as crazy. Without knowing which sections of Fitzgerald’s novels are word for word from her diary, we should be printing them as novels “by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald”. So far this is the only instance wherein I feel like “correcting” history, but as a writer, I can’t help but think that if people were to quote from my blog or my private journal and pass it off as their “fiction”, I would want my freaking credit!

We have so much outrage over the satirical depiction of romance in Passengers, but way less people know about the horrible reality that was Zelda’s life. We have a TV show depicting her life now for a wide audience, and my hope is that it shows F. Scott for the theif and controlling jerk that he was. If they try to show his kidnapping  of her as somehow romantic, hopefully the Passengers outrage will carry over. But if they try to do it satirically, I’m okay with that, and then hopefully, the outrage will be focused on F. Scott Fitzgerald as it should be.

What do you think? Should Zelda be recognized in the lit classrooms of our colleges and in the English classrooms of our high schools? We don’t teach Woolf much here in the US, but we do teach The Great Gatsby all across the country in high schools. Shouldn’t our teachers be telling the students that pieces of this work are straight from her mind? Shouldn’t it be obvious by the print on the cover of the book?

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2017 in Gender Relations, Social Issues

 

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A Gamer’s Complaints: Mechanics and Trends I Wish Would Change in Today’s Video Games

I play a lot of video games. I’m not very good at them though and am a very big fan of getting to 100% completion on a game (including all the grindy stuff). On most games, I hit a snag and stop playing, but I tend to play the same one for months. I play for months because I really only play on about three days out of any given week. I have other stuff to do. None of this means I don’t have an opinion on game mechanics and trends. Of course, I do, and I’m going to express them here. I’m not going to talk about poor quality craftsmanship in gaming but am going to discuss some social mores and features that bother me. I know what you’re thinking, oh, she’s going to go all Gamer Gate on us. I’m not, but I am going to get that sticky topic out of the way first.

Gamer Gate: Bioshock Infinite

I find Gamer Gate distasteful. For the most part, the “problems” they see are imaginary or are not a sexist issue. For example, the idea that images of women in games are almost always unreasonably represented. This is true in a lot of games, but guess what? The images of men in games are also almost always unreasonably represented. Women are overly sexualized, what with their armor that is more about showing off their bodies then protecting them in combat, and men are overly masculinized, what with the giant, overly muscled meatheads that wear bandannas, smoke cigars, swear like they have a quota to fill, and spit every where they go. So I ask, how is this sexist? Maybe it is, but it isn’t misogynistic. Games that do this, and it’s not all of them, are misrepresenting both sexes. They objectify and show unreasonable images of both sexes. So I don’t see this as a female crusade, so much as stupid fantasy. It is a stupid trend, but it also is an understandable one from a business standpoint since gaming is a form of wish fulfillment since gamers are literally putting themselves in the point of view of an avatar with a better body than them, better sexual prospects, and a much more fun life. I don’t see why it is wrong for some of the games on the market to meet this wish fulfillment. Saying that these games pervert male understanding of relationships is a leap to me since most peoples’ understanding of relationships come from their parents and how those parents react and teach on media. The same principal applies to violence in games. Media really only reinforces what a person has learned in their childhood from their family; otherwise, people wouldn’t develop a dislike for certain types of media. If violence and possible sexism in video games really did result in life copying art as much as people say, things would be a lot worse since millions of people (male and female) play video games. It’s not a billion dollar industry on a few weirdos.

A lot of people are hopping on the Gamer Gate trend, including humor website, Cracked. Lately, Cracked has replaced their Saturday Photoplasties with rehashes from their articles with images created by AutieMeme. And while I’m not going to get into why that is a problem within itself in this post, I will bring up one they did related to this subject: 19 Surprisingly Sexist Messages in Modern Pop Culture. Not all of them are on gaming, and not all of them are off the mark. Lara Croft’s reboot is pretty spot on, and Yahtzee already mentions this problem when he reviews the 2012 Tomb Raider and the newer Metroid main character. But immediately following the good examination of Lara Croft, we get a major reach in the description of Ellie in The Last of Us.

Now, I know that I would collapse in tears upon seeing the first non-zombie person after the start of an apocalypse, no matter what my age. In fact, it is believable that any one of any sex or age would do this, but especially a child. Children cry a lot when things aren’t apocalyptic. I’m actually freaked out by children who don’t cry when something terrible happens to them. Isn’t that one of the first forms of expression we have as humans? It’s one we go to when happy, sad, angry, or relieved. Of course, she’s crying! There is nothing unreasonable or sexist about this.

Then there was the crapstorm of number one on the list: Elisabeth from Bioshock Infinite. The idea that Elisabeth was ever sitting and waiting to be rescued is a laughable misrepresentation of the game. Elisabeth learned to pick locks in her many attempts to escape. She could tear portals in time, yes, but her prison was weakening her powers, making them useless in escape attempts. This is one of my favorite games. The story is amazing, the characters are well developed and believable, the mechanics are fun, and the mind-bending plotline is just great. Trust me on this, if Elisabeth had not been a strong and capable character I wouldn’t like the game half as much as I do. She is a very powerful figure in the story, stronger than Dewitt, not just in terms of raw power but also as a person, showing much more strength of character, much more integrity. She is both McGuffin and a powerful lead affecting the arc of the story and even resolving it. The interpretation from the picture is distasteful in its misleading bent and omission of other information. It is highly frustrating to read as someone who has actually played the game and connected to the characters. Both of the interpretations on Ellie and Elisabeth show someone searching for something to complain about. They lack in depth examination and an understanding of reality. Women can be both strong and vulnerable in video games, as can men. Men are much less likely to show vulnerability in video games than women are to show strength. But reality demands a balance between the two in both sexes which is why I can’t support Gamer Gate. It calls for women in games to be sexless and invulnerable, while neither of those things is real.

Most of the time, I don’t hear backup to the claim that video games are sexist. Instead, I hear that claim repeated ad nauseam. When I do hear some backup, it’s typically a major reach, such as the two examples from Cracked. I find this very insulting. I enjoy video games and the majority those play don’t feel like they are attacking me as a woman. Women actually play more roles in video games than one would first think. In fact, they tend to take up all the same roles as men. Games that go for realism don’t often have female cops or soldiers, because the rate on the first is low, and the rate on the second is even lower (remember the US doesn’t have women in combat roles). So for the most part, I don’t see what they are talking about.

Real Sexism: Marvel Heroes

I play a lot of MMOs. I enjoy most of them. I’m also a very big Marvel fan. As such, when Marvel Heroes went to open beta, I was all over that. I had a lot of fun too. Now, there are a lot of problems with Marvel Heroes. Some have been addressed. For example, at first a player couldn’t playtest a hero before buying them, which was crappy because no matter how much you like a hero doesn’t mean they won’t suck to play. Now all heroes are playable to level 10, which is great. Try before you buy. However, every time I get back on Marvel Heroes, I have to reallocate my points because they keep messing with the play of the heroes. That is so annoying. I want to play not spend ten minutes assigning points any time I log on. But all this is besides the main point of this section. Still had to get those out there. The real problem is the gender swap enhanced costumes. Okay, if you’ve never played this game (which you totally can as it is free to play), you pick one starting hero and level them and can unlock other heroes with Gs (which you have to pay for) or Eternity Splinters (which you can find while playing). So one way is paid and another is free. You get the standard costume when you unlock a hero, whichever one that may be. Costumes cannot be unlocked with Eternity Splinters. So if I want to play female Hawkeye, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, God of Thunder, Deadpool, Loki, Punisher, Spider-man or male Warbird, I have to pay. The base playable characters includes 38 male characters and 12 female characters. There are not a lot of female superheroes in Marvel Comics. Why would you make 8 of them only unlockable with real money? This is crazy unbalanced. They are adding ShadowCat, which will bring the total to 13, but I bet anything they will add American Dream as a costume.

What is this problem exactly? The problem is games that have gender options that are partially locked. Older Diablo versions and Path of Exile had static genders for characters, and a lot of non-MMOs or top-downs have gender locks because you are a specific character in a very specific story, such as a lot of FPS games. That’s fine for FPS games. But why would you ever make a gender option and then not actually give it to your players? Do you know how frustrating it is to have that dangled in our face? Marvel Heroes needs to stop this gender swap enhanced costume BS and let the players choose their sex when they get the hero; and let us choose it for heroes that we received when we didn’t have a choice. I’ll pay for an enhanced costume that gives a different dialogue or voiced by an actor from the movie, but I’m not going to pay for what should be a different freaking hero.

Flirting Mechanics: SWTOR

Flirting mechanics can be interesting, especially when the designers of the game put in negative responses. But I hate the fact that there isn’t a flirt response option for every character I speak to. They decide that I wouldn’t flirt with certain people. That’s stupid. I could, in theory, attempt to flirt with everyone I meet in the real world–doesn’t mean I should, but I totally could. In fact, I could attempt to flirt with a rock. Not that it would get me anywhere. So why do games with flirt mechanics tell me who I’m willing to flirt with? You don’t know me! Maybe I want to flirt with the big lizard companion. You know, just to see how he’d react. Flirting isn’t always used as a sexual ploy. Sometimes it is used as a method of teasing. I think that would be pretty interesting in a game. Also, why stop at flirting? There should be an option to insult everyone. Hell, there should be an option to punch everyone! I’m not saying that you should actually do these things in real life or even in a game, but as games keep trying to add more “reality”, they just keep showing us how not-real they are. An artificially limited flirt option just shows a player that they are playing a game and takes them out of the immersion. So go whole hog with social interactions in games! I know that’s hard to do, but work to it. (Also, Sims woefully underestimates the player’s desire to make their Sim punch other Sims, especially when they come into our homes uninvited.)

Morality Scales: SWTOR Again

Morality scales are a lot like flirting mechanics, as in incomplete. But also just weird as hell. Not every decision made has an effect on the scale, which everything should. But also, they often don’t make sense when you combine them. On Alderaan there are two such missions with morality choices that are just messed up when both are considered. These are pretty early on for a Republic player. You meet a reporter whose partner has run off and joined the rebels (they really are scum this time) and she wants you to get back their footage. You also run into an older couple whose son is believed dead, but mom has her doubts and wants to check if the rebels have him. You run into the other reporter and the son in the rebel stronghold pretty much one right after the other. The son says the rebels kidnapped him, forced him to take drugs, then used him as a soldier. They apparently have been doing this to other teenagers as well. Your moral choice is to let him leave the planet, telling his parents some lie, or to tell him to go home to mommy and daddy. The first is light side points and the second is dark side points. Now, I will discuss why that’s a problem in the next paragraph, but first on to the reporter. Upon meeting him, he says that if you give the footage to the other reporter, she will cut it to make the rebels look bad and that their plight is actually very dire and they need supporters. So he gives you the choice to let him keep the footage (light side points) or take it from him (dark side points). Now, first of all, I don’t believe that he’s going to give an unbiased cut of the footage to people either. But I can’t see him as anything but freaking insane for taking the rebels’ side after hearing the kid’s story. The lineup of light side and dark side in these two missions don’t make any sense when compared to each other. I don’t feel any sympathy for the scum that is an African warlord who kidnaps children and forces them to fight for him either, and I’m certainly not going to feel any sympathy for the reporter who tells me he’s not a bad guy. That’s insane.

The other problem besides morality not matching up among separate choices is the lack of a grey area. It’s neither bad nor good to help or force the son to go home. It’s kind of just a personal choice based on your upbringing. It’s also not good to help either reporter because neither of them is unbiased. So why have such black and white choices? Yahtzee’s biggest cripe against morality scales is that you have to be all good or all bad to see anything good come out of it. I agree that that makes the choices a little superfluous, because you could just choose an alignment at the beginning of the game instead. They are just making you choose it again and again throughout the game. Because of this, games with morality scales should include middle options that also give a player some benefit. Otherwise, it’s just too childish.

Forced Multiplayer: LOTRO

I hate playing with other people. I am a loner. I like to play by myself with no one else in the room. I like MMOs though. I don’t join groups, I don’t join guilds, I rarely trade with others, and I don’t chat. Why play an MMO then? Well, I like the character creation and build that comes with MMOs. There aren’t a lot of single player games with those features, namely Oblivion, Skyrim, and a few non-Elder Scrolls games. So I play a lot of MMOs, I beta-tested LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, and The Elder Scrolls online. I played City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online, WOW, and a few others I can’t remember. I play LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, SWTOR, and DC Universe Online. All these games try to make you play with other people. I get the fact that they want to utilize that millions of people are playing, but they shouldn’t make it impossible to play solo (Han Solo). SWTOR only gives F2P players one crafting ability, when you need two to make something useful. That’s more about them trying to make F2P into Pay to Win players, but F2P players could conceivably trade with others for the stuff they need. LOTRO gives everyone all three of their crafting abilities, but they are set up that you need stuff from a fourth crafting skill to complete some items. I’m crazy, so I created four other characters on each of my servers to make them all craft the stuff I need (now I have to do some shuffling because of the server shutdowns) and just mail it to my other characters. I hate to have to do this, but I really don’t want to be forced to play with other characters. It’s worse when it is about quests. Ugh. I just level up on side quests until I can do a group quest on my own. I know, I’m antisocial, but don’t act like I’m the only MMO player out there that would rather play alone. I assure you I’m not.

MMO Stalkers

Yes, I’m antisocial, but let’s face it, pretty much every MMO player doesn’t like to be stalked. It happens to people more when they play female characters I bet, but that doesn’t always seem to matter to the stalkers. A player that stalks others sees a player they don’t know running around, completing missions and starts to follow them. Maybe they don’t say anything or send invites. Maybe they just want to steal your kills. This happens to me a lot on Marvel Heroes. They don’t want to play with me, they just want help not getting mobbed or want to take the quest kill from me after I’ve killed all the baddies between us and the big baddie (happens way too often in SWTOR and LOTRO). That isn’t much of a problem in DC Universe Online (or as it is called in my home “DahCooniverse”) because that game is set up that if you land one blow in the fight (not the first one, like other games) you also get credit for the kill and get loot too. That sounds like forced multiplayer but it’s more sharing than forced. It makes gameplay a little less frustrating when you get a stalker. My problem with the silent stalker is that I feel crowded out of an area. It’s more obvious in a top-down game like Marvel Heroes where you can see that other player following your every turn. I quit playing when that happens.

The other kind of stalker doesn’t last as long but can be more annoying. This is the person who sends you multiple invites in a row. When the area is crowded, I can understand how they may have accidentally sent me a second request. But sometimes no one else is around and they send three to five. Or once in SWTOR a person sent me 15 requests. One can only guess that person had to be five, because only five year olds ask the same question that many times in a row. So I hightailed it out of that area and the range of their social ineptitude. No means no, even in MMOs, people.

The Dominance of the Sandbox and FPS

I’m not sure if it’s obvious to most readers at this point, but I don’t play a lot of FPS or sandbox games. First of all, I’m not a console player. I’m a PC gamer. FPS games seem to work better with a controller. I’m not very good at these games. I tend to die very quickly. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite weren’t too hard for me (especially when I realized that I could just use the wrench to beat down the squirrely doctor in Bioshock), but Oblivion (which has some broken leveling) and Skyrim lost some of their fun being in first person (yes, I know you can do third person, but the feel of those games and the mechanics are made for FPS styles). Then I tried Speck Ops: The Line. It’s brutal and the story is great, but I still suck at it.

I’m also not all that into sandbox gaming. “You can do anything you want!” But what should I do? “Anything you want!” Okay. My point is that sandbox gaming tends to lack focus and it’s hard to tell what you’re supposed to interact with. Complete sandbox is also a turnoff for me. Mostly I don’t like sandbox gaming because those games seem to have the same kind of story and that story will usually just pause while you are futzing around, completely losing all urgency. While Fable 3 was somewhat sandboxy, once you knew about the dark monster coming for you, the story was on a clock (this is one of the only games I beat, note that it was 3rd person) and that lent more realism to it. Some games keep the story going even though they are also sandboxes, but they don’t warn you that the story will keep going (i.e. Oblivion). This is a low down dirty trick. “You can do anything you want! (but the problems you’re supposed to fix will still happen)” What was that? “Anything you want!” Yahtzee talked a lot about these kinds of problems in some of his videos, so why don’t you go watch those too?

I don’t think FPS and sandbox gaming is just a problem because I don’t like or am not good at them. The problem is that there are so freaking many of them. Thank you so much GTA! I’m not saying don’t make them, but how about you make other kinds of games too, triple A game companies? This is why I tend to be excited by indie games. They have more variety.

The Fall of the (Turn-based) RPG: The Lord of the Rings: Third Age

My favorite kind of game is the turn-based RPG. I do not like JRPG, so don’t suggest any to me, though I loved Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. That game was fun. A million freaking disks and tiny little characters and an interesting story. I beat that game too. The second one was harder. I like turn-based gaming because I’m a fan of strategy and building a character. I’ll play RTS games, but they’re not my favorite. My favorite game of all time is The Lord of the Rings: Third Age. Turn-based, six characters, the entirety of the story all from the movies, its own side story, and pretty good graphics for the PS2 engine. Now, I’m a little OCD. Each character had two power sets you could level up by doing a move each time in battle. I had each character completely leveled up by the end because I would park my butt in Helm’s Deep and go into battle for hours, prolonging the fights to get in as many moves for each character as possible. My spouse thought I was crazy since I wasn’t advancing the story at all. Then he realized I was also smart because in some of the later battles all of your characters have to fight two different battles at the same time and if you didn’t level up your second stringers, they were just going to die. The only thing I didn’t level up completely was the crafting ring. It took too long. I got 100% complete on that game, twice. That’s right twice. Each saved game had about 99 hours of playtime on it, which means I spent a total of 198 hours playing that game. The only reason I’m not playing it now is that I don’t have a PS2 anymore. But I miss that game. It’s the last really great turn-based game I can remember, especially one with modern (for its time) graphics. Now, it seems only the Japanese companies and indie developers are making turn-based games because all the other companies are so busy making their FPSes and sandbox games. Ugh. So when you hear about a turn-based game, please drop me a line. I’m always interested.

The Point of It All

Maybe it’s a good thing that I have so many issues with video games: it stops them from becoming an obsession that takes up all my time. These aren’t all my problems with video games (ex. crappy controls, poor story, freaking autosave!, lack of instructions, WASD explanations–really? you’re going to explain that but not how your battle simulator works?), but they are the ones that bother me most. I know that companies don’t have to satisfy just me, but I also know I’m not the only one who is put off by the issues on this list. The biggest issue seems to be the lack of variety coming out of big video game companies. It seems sometimes that more money and time are spent on graphics rendering than on gaming concept and story. Sometimes testing even goes out the window, looking at you, Arkham Knight for your PC version. Maybe this time it won’t suck quite so much, or at least not crash computers.

Got any trends or mechanics that bug you? Tell me about them in the comments. We’ll talk shop.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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Growing Older but Not Afraid of Age

My birthday was this week, and I’m quickly approaching the big Three Oh. But I’m not upset that I’m getting up there in age. Some of my older readers may be scoffing at the idea of me “getting up there” or that thirty is anything to feel bad about in the first place. Some of my younger readers may think there isn’t much difference in our ages, and therefore, our physical conditions. When I think back on how much more energy I had and how much less stiff my joints were eight years ago, I can’t help but feel myself growing older. What doesn’t make me feel old, however, is the fact that my ten year high school reunion was also this week. The ten years between then and now were the best of my life: I won some writing awards, got published, met the love of my life, got a job I love, and discovered some new things I really love–that’s a lot of love. But I want the fun to continue, so I want to explore some ideas that help that happen.

Taking Care of Myself:

I want to be around for a while. I want a long and healthy life. Long isn’t worth much if it isn’t also healthy. Which is why I try to workout everyday. I’m not always successful. I miss a lot of days, but it’s not like I haven’t worked out in a week, more like I miss 2-3 days a week. I remind myself that that’s better than nothing and that just because I don’t meet the goal of working out everyday, doesn’t mean I should give up entirely. I also try to eat better, mostly by going with the healthier option or stopping when I’m full. I still drink coffee (with cream and sugar) everyday (I never miss a day of coffee). I don’t, however, count pounds or calories (I don’t even own a scale), because I base my eating and working out habits on whether I feel well or bad. I don’t over eat because it makes my stomach hurt. I workout because it makes my joints and muscles feel better–sometimes it even helps my energy level and any stomach issues.

One thing I have noticed that has changed as I’ve gotten older is the number of pills I take. When I was younger, it was only one. Now it is six. There is a joke in our house that you can tell how old you are by how many pills you take. It’s funny, but as we age our bodies need more help. In the last year, my health hasn’t been the best, but my best isn’t all that good in the first place. The need to protect your health isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a gradual build as things start to break down. Like an aging car, parts of the human body start to fail as time passes, and as more time passes, the more parts start failing. I’m a huge believer in preventative care. I don’t have the same health problems of a person in their forties or fifties, but I know that now is the time that I make decisions and habits that will help me stay healthier in my forties and fifties. This is the whole reason I wear sunscreen everyday, even on cloudy days (that sounds like I’m a freak, but in truth, I don’t check the weather before I put on sunscreen). I am aware that not all health problems are preventable, having had some that weren’t, but a good enough amount are. Taking care of myself isn’t about looking good or impressing people, nor is it meant to be a chore, but a way of life. My health is a priority.

Enjoying Myself:

I also make it a priority to enjoy my time. Our time is limited. There’s only so much of it we should be spending on things we don’t enjoy. I try to have a bit of fun everyday, even if it is just reading a chapter of a book, having a single cookie (or five), watching an episode of a TV show I like, or playing half an hour of video games. Doing something fun everyday doesn’t mean party drinking or doing some crazy or irresponsible act. Instead it means making sure I’m having a good time with my life. In America, there seems to be a struggle between the Lazy or Party attitude and the Workaholic attitude. It’s centered around the idea that some don’t want the party to end or don’t want to work are at odds with those that think adulthood means the end of fun. Both are kind of crazy. You can’t have fun if you don’t have a roof over your head, and just because you’re working, doesn’t mean you’re a robot. A balance is needed between responsibility and fun. I’ve never been much for crazy parties or spending or a lack of work ethic, though I find myself to be less hardworking than I want to be. I didn’t work as hard as some of my classmates when I was school (high and college), but in college, that seemed to pay off for me. I got better grades than the students that spent all their time studying and working and those that partied, because I refused to stay up late and always got a full night’s sleep. This is a very roundabout way of saying that the middle way is better than the extremes. I want to enjoy myself, but I also want to be responsible. If I do everything I need to do, my relaxation or fun is even better, because there is nothing hanging over my head. My happiness is a priority.

Learning from Mistakes:

This is a pretty big one. As we get older, we are supposed to get wiser, which typically comes from screwing up a lot and learning why we screwed up and never doing that again. Not everyone learns from their mistakes. They make the same mistakes over and over again, typically when it comes to finance. No one is perfect, and everyone screws up every once in a while. That’s fine. As long as we aren’t all Stan Smith (“You should know by now, I don’t learn lessons”), we should be good on this front. Most people can’t learn from other peoples’ mistakes. Most of us have to make the mistake ourselves first. That’s fine too. We learn lessons better from our own perspective, but it’s not a bad idea to look to history first. “Hmm, does dumping my entire life savings and everything I own into stocks sound like a good idea? Let me check history first . . . Oh, oh-ho. No, not a good idea. Is working out and eating right really worth it? Well, my parent died of a heart attack, so yes. Does marrying my ex-spouse again sound like a good idea? I think not.” We don’t learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others when we believe we haven’t made a mistake or are incapable of doing so. We are not infallible. The people who believe they are make the most mistakes. It’s important to look back on a disaster and ask ourselves what we could have done differently, what we should have been doing in the first place, to avoid the disaster a second time. It’s not about hindsight; it’s about growth. It’s not about blame, because if you’re looking for someone to blame, check the mirror first. I try my best to admit when I’ve made a mistake both to myself and others. My growth is a priority.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Things:

Some people end up pretty set in their ways. I like to stay at home and watch the same movies and TV shows over and over again. Though I am trying to finish TV shows that I have started and haven’t finished yet (recently just finished Lost, A Gifted Man, and I refuse to finish Heroes because what in the world were they thinking?). On my birthday, I prefer to eat at the same restaurant every year: a Mexican restaurant more than one freeway away from where I currently live where parking is metered and a meal for two is about twenty bucks. I don’t go to this restaurant any other time of year, and I don’t really want to eat anywhere else. It’s a total pain, but the tacos make it worth it. I did not go to that restaurant this birthday, though I may still later this month. Instead, I got a free burger at a chain restaurant, because free, and went to my high school reunion. My point is that sometimes people need to try new things and not set themselves up to hate it. Once I tried octopus sushi. Now I love octopuses (octopi is not correct by the way) when they are alive. They are smart with long memories. But that wasn’t going to stop me from trying it. I wish I could say I loved the taste, but I did not. Trying new things doesn’t mean you’ll love every new thing you try. It means that sometimes the new thing will suck and sometimes it will rock. This is mostly true of food, but also of events. I went to writers’ critiquing circle some months ago, hoping I might meet some people I could share my work with, that was a bust, but I tried. I tried a coffee shop near my old apartment, and whenever I’m out that way, I try to stop in there, because my god! I got a book of writing prompts for my birthday, and while I usually avoid these like the plague, I decided to save them and write one a day. Hopefully, that goes well. I try not to expect the worst to happen when I do things. I try to expect the best but not to be too disappointed if it doesn’t all go well. My positive attitude is a priority.

Age as Triumph:

Some people get really down around their birthdays because they are getting older. They aren’t as young as they used to be. They try to hold on to the kinds of crazy things they did when they were younger by drinking too much, buying products that make them feel young, staying out too late, shirking their responsibilities, or making life decisions like they are still in their early twenties. Or people act as though they are already in the grave, walking through life as if it is already over and they’re just waiting for the grim reaper to make it official. Neither way is a good outlook and makes for a crappy birthday. Each year older we get is a triumph over a dangerous world. To me, each birthday is the score, and each birthday I have means I’m winning. It’s why I’m happy to tell people how old I am (if they ask, it’s superfluous to announce stuff like that). I’m happy to be growing older, especially when I am happy with my life. So if you want to wish me a happy birthday, know that I’m already having one!

For those of you who’s birthdays are near, I wish you a happy birthday as well, hoping that it is joyous and exactly the kind of fun you want.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Social Issues

 

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Health Insurance, Health Care, and Consumer Rights

Open Enrollment Looms

That rhetoric may sound dark and scary, but it is how I think about the open enrollment solution. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. Settle in because the answer is long.

Insurance vs Care

Years ago the AHCA was at Congress. A long struggle ensued with some strange tactics being used to try to get it passed. The whole time this was going on, I shook my head in anger. It was, for the most part, based on the individual mandate, as the reaction was for many citizens that were against the act, but it was also because being a person who takes frequent trips to the doctor for various reasons, I didn’t see how insurance reform that basically only included the mandate would change the issues I had experienced. I didn’t see a reason for insurance reform, unless it involved more coverage of big expenses and less coverage of little expenses. I did see a plethora of reasons for care reform. Why do hospitals charge for pills every day that patients may not even take? Why do doctor’s offices charge for a “consultant” when the second doctor only poked their head in the room? Why do doctors get to refuse patients sterilization based on age? Why do hospitals get to refuse reasonable care that patients need and request, only because it may hurt their stats? Why do a group of doctors get to decide who is even eligible for organ transplant based on any factors, some of which include moralistic reasons? Why do hospitals get to decide that physical harm is more important than financial harm? Why don’t most hospitals and doctors have to tell patients up front the costs of visits and procedures? These issues have very little to do with insurance. They are caused (and thereby fixed) by the health care industry.

For a personal anecdote (remember I’m not trying to make a generalization by using this evidence but to call your attention to cases of similar problems), there are a lot of forms one has to fill out for procedures. When Patient A went into the Mayo Clinic (considered one of the best hospitals in the U.S. if not the world), A had an EGG attached to their scalp with glue, and it was going to stay there for days and possibly weeks. More than halfway through attaching it to A’s head, a tech handed A a form to sign concerning the procedure. A actually read the form. It said the glue and attachments could cause permanent scalp damage including bald patches. This feels like something A should have been told before the start of application. Lesson: Forms should be given to patients before procedures are initiated.

Another example: A year ago Patient B was looking for a new yearly doctor. B called places that would be convenient or that were recommended and asked for the prices of the visit and the lab work. B picked one that said (without insurance) it would cost $100. When B made the appointment during a second phone call, B confirmed the cost. When they called B to remind B about the appointment, B confirmed the cost again. When B got to the doctor’s office, they told B it would cost about $136. Needless to say, B was angry. The women at the desk tried to tell B that the up charge was due to B being a new patient. B told them that the woman who made the appointment entered B as a new patient and still confirmed the $100. They said she was wrong. B said, well, she could have been wrong, but I expect you to honor the price I was quoted. Some readers may think, it’s only $36, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that as a consumer, B expects the price B was told. Lesson: If you as a consumer ask for a quote, the vendor should honor that quote. To do otherwise is unethical.

If you want examples similar to this, check the doctors and hospitals in your area on Yelp. You’ll probably see a lot of problems on the care level that do not involve insurance.

No Insurance even with Options

The point of AHCA is to make healthy people get insurance to make it cheaper for sick people. The majority of these healthy people, according to a lot of the supporters of the act, are people in their twenties. Well, let’s think about that for a moment. What expenses do people in their twenties have? Many of their parents can’t afford to have them living in their homes rent free, so there’s that plus groceries and utilities. But wait, what if they are in college? Again, many of their parents didn’t really save a lot for them to go to college, so there’s tuition and fees and books. Maybe they live in a dorm, so that offsets their cost of living somewhat but not in all cases. Even with a part-time job, they probably can’t afford all that on their own because they go to a moderate to great school so they are more likely to get a job after school, so they get loans. Let’s say that all that has already happened. They’re out of school, maybe just last May or maybe in the last five years. They need an apartment and the countless accouterments that come with one (for cooking, cleaning, sleeping, hygiene, and just plain sitting). They need a job too. They apply in their industry, but not everyone is hiring as there are no new positions (the companies don’t have the money to grow) or no openings (as no employees are leaving for other companies or retiring), and the few interviews they get have competition with thirty years of experience on them. They do anything for income, ending up underemployed, with a job with no benefits or too little pay to take advantage of the benefits. Six months after getting out of college their student loans come due because while underemployed they make enough so that they don’t qualify for deferment, and now have an extra bill to pay every month. They keep searching for a better job, but one isn’t forthcoming as there are just too many applicants for the few postings that are appropriate for them. I’m not saying this is every twenty-something’s experience, but it seems to describe a lot of them. I’m not just talking about myself. I’ve read a lot of personal accounts that meet this description. Now tell me, how in the world is this person supposed to help anyone? If our Congress wanted to saddle the youth of our nation with subsidizing the AHCA, then they should have subsidized the education of the youth, and that means helping students, not universities.

Oh, but they qualify for subsidies? Before I go into how subsidies aren’t all that helpful, let me just say if the demographic you expect to lower premiums needs subsidies then they really aren’t the people to look to to fix the problems. That’s like building your castle on a crumbling foundation. The subsidies only come once a year while the insurance payments come once a month. This creates an imbalanced fiscal year for people. I may accept this imbalance as workable if the subsidies came before the people had to start paying their insurance premiums so they could set that money aside, but they have to go in the hole and go without until the next tax time instead. Most people, I would think, would want a place to live and food on the table before having health insurance. I’m sure this is why a lot of people stopped paying their premiums. It’s tragically ironic that they have to choose the healthier option (shelter and sustenance) over something that is supposed to make going to the doctor cheaper. In some cases, I don’t think the subsidy offsets the premiums enough. For example, if the premium is a quarter of the person’s monthly income, the subsidy is just not going to make that cost manageable.

The insurance itself isn’t worth the high cost though. Why? Well, as a professor who focuses on health insurance rhetoric once said to me, health insurance is meant to prevent people from going bankrupt because of extreme illness or injury; however, if a person can’t afford a deductible of $10,000 or a procedure with a $50,000 price tag then insurance really didn’t do it’s job. Extreme illness and injury are still a financial death sentence in this country, regardless of the possession of insurance. It makes me wonder why people are willing to pay such high premiums if it is no guarantee against bankruptcy. What was the point then of years of monthly payments? Right now a lot of the options for buying insurance are like choosing between a car missing a frame, a car without an engine, and a car that blows up when you turn the ignition and the salesmen has a gun on the customer and the asking prices are three times Kelly Blue Book. That simile may need some unpacking though. The options are not worth it. They do not have good coverage for extreme illness or injury, the issues that need the most coverage. Back to cars (but not the simile), auto insurance covers accidents and system failures which are the equivalent of extreme illness or injury, but not oil changes and routine tire replacement which is the equivalent of check ups and typical long term medication (such as birth control and asthma inhalers). I’m sure most readers have heard this analogy before, but my point is that I don’t see the point of health insurance if all my options don’t really help me out financially if I were in an accident or developed a serious condition or illness. I can get care; what I need is something to offset large expenses.

What do I mean by care? I’ve found ways in my current large city and in the much smaller city I used to live in to receive the maintenance care I need without breaking the bank. You’d be surprised how resourceful one can be when one starts coughing up bloody phlegm. In my small town, a visit to the doctor meant $10-$35, depending on the type of doctor I saw and not on the procedures I received. For example, it cost me $10 for outpatient surgery. In my current big city, my doctor’s office is not capable of as much as the one in the smaller city but the price went down to $0. In both instances, prescriptions were also included for an addition of $0. I may not go to the dentist every six months (do people with insurance go to the dentist every six months anyway?), but I still can get problems taken care of for an affordable price. But were I to get really sick or hurt, I wouldn’t have much luck, nor would I if I had insurance. Although, there is a hospital in my city that will tell you exactly how much a procedure will cost and has reduced prices for uninsured and under-insured patients. These options are all so much more affordable than health insurance, but not every city/state has these options. Frankly, they should. A lot of these kinds of systems are based on income or have very limited abilities to be flat-out free, and a lot of places just don’t have a system in place to help patients in extreme cases. So all this fixes the oil changes and tire rotation, but not a collision.

Consumer Rights

I don’t buy products that suck. If the value doesn’t match the price tag, I won’t buy a product. Simple as that. This is why companies compete in the first place. Some try being cheaper, thus lowering the quality of their product. Others raise the quality, thus raising the price. But if a product is both expensive and crap, I’m not buying it. This is the main reason behind me not buying fast food on most occasions. For example, Taco Bell isn’t very good. It’s also not cheap. I can go to Filiberto’s and get much better food for about the same price. I refuse to buy Great Value brand pancake and sausage on a stick. It being vomit-worthy makes any price too expensive. In fact, if I had to eat those I would request that WalMart pay me first. I’m almost always willing to pay more for a better product, because I get more enjoyment out of the higher quality product and if said product is non-perishable, I will most likely not have to buy a replacement item for some time (Remember: The Poor Man Pays Twice). I would rather go without a product than buy a cheaper, going to suck product that I’m just going to have throw in the trash someday soon.

In my personal finance course, I learned this handy dandy rule about product buying: Fast, Cheap, Good–Pick Two. This means a product can only be two of these things at a time. More often than not, I will refuse to buy a product that only lets me pick one. Example: More than a year ago, I was shopping for furniture, and for some reason I believed I needed a dining table because I had a dining room. A dining table would most likely not be used for dining in my life but for projects of another nature (that sounds suggestive, but I just mean drawing and writing). We went to La-Z-Boy and found something we liked. It was small (geeze what’s with all the six to eight people tables) but still had comfortable chairs and was made of wood (why in the world are all four person tables made from metal and glass? this isn’t for my patio!). Unfortunately, it was counter height (why, why, why? who wants this!?), but they did have the option to order table height. It was going to take six to eight weeks, and the set price was high. Okay, so I can have good only. Sorry. Nope. We walked away. But some places don’t have a single one of these attributes, so I don’t ever buy from those companies.

The point of these examples is the consumer’s right to refuse to buy. This sends a message to companies that the attributes were lacking in some way. We shouldn’t buy products that are of no value to us. The three attributes are how we gauge value as consumers. Most health insurance I’ve seen is not good (it does not have good coverage for extreme incidences visible by the deductible), is not cheap (most premiums for good insurance are prohibitively high), or are not fast (reviews of the company show that their turnaround for claims is slow or the fastness of service was not discernible before purchasing and making a claim), so why in the world would I let the company think I like their product by spending money on it? My right to refuse a product tells a company that their product is not satisfactory. Taking away my right to refuse a product means the whole industry doesn’t need to care if their products are satisfactory.

The counter-argument, that the price will go down once everyone has insurance and that coverage is better (no pre-existing condition exemptions, more preventative care, full coverage), is unsatisfactory to me. Why? Because I can’t afford it now, and I’m not the only one. People aren’t going to break their banks, when their banks are already broken, right now for something that is maybe going to pay off in two or three years. Preventative care is great, but you can’t force people to be healthy, nor is preventative care as good as fixing existing problems, i.e. coverage of extreme illness and injury (I will say it again and again: this is the most important point as it is the place where health care destroys lives financially). I don’t need maternity and child care coverage when I’m never going to have a child, nor does a single man need well woman visits. The only good thing to come out of this mess (btw, I did attempt to read the monolith of an act but it was mired by incomprehensible language to anyone but a freaking expert lawyer) was the pre-existing condition exemptions. Us asthmatics and epileptics thank you for that, but please leave your moral judgments at the door when it comes to smoking, and this is coming from someone who hasn’t smoked a day in her life.

Again, I’m sure everyone has heard this argument in some form (i.e. capitalism), but I do think the health care industry was trying to respond to the lack of insurance that typified some of their patients; otherwise, I wouldn’t have the examples in the second part of this post. And the AHCA doesn’t fix the gaps in protecting everyone, insured or not, from extreme illness or injury, so I’m not sure what the whole point was if it was not something seedy like helping health insurance companies get more money.

The Point

Regardless of if an employer has to offer insurance or the government offers subsidies, health insurance is still prohibitively expensive to the point that many people just have to do without even if they have a health condition, especially those who are unemployed or underemployed and those with student debt (sometimes a person can have all three attributes: unhealthy, unemployed/underemployed, with student loans). Health care reform would have been very helpful, especially if more subsidies went to hospitals and doctors offices and if they stopped letting doctors make moralistic judgments with their patients. I would rather have more government subsidized clinics staffed with a lot of RNs and a few doctors with prices less than the average water bill.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in Politics, Social Issues

 

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The Basics of Arguing with Ebola Quarantine as the Example

What with everyone arguing right now over the relative pragmatism and humaneness of quarantining Ebola health care workers, I thought it would be a perfect way to examine how to best argue on the subject.

The Two Different Stances

They can be boiled down to these two basic statements: Quarantining Ebola heath care workers is wrong or Quarantining Ebola health care workers is right. But these two statements are not enough. Both sides need to explain why, because if they were simply to restate those opinions that would be a fallacy called ad nauseum. There are two main reasons backing both: Quarantining Ebola health care workers is wrong because it is inhumane/violates human rights and makes no sense from a medical standpoint and Quarantining Ebola health care workers is right because it is pragmatic and promotes public health safety. But even that is still not enough to be a cogent argument. The first couple of bold, italic statements are opinions on an issue; the second couple of bold, italic statements are thesis statements.

First Thesis Statement, Explanation, and Counter-arguments

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine may be inhumane or violate human rights: . . . because the authorities are holding health care workers against their will. The explanation: Being held against one’s will is the basic definition of kidnapping, which is illegal. One must also question the authority in holding a person against their will. What legal statutes allow U.S. authorities to hold a person against their will when that person is not under suspicion of committing a crime? The fourth amendment itself protects people from the act of quarantine by allowing people protection against illegal search and seizure including of their person.

Counter-argument: The U.S. allows certain authorities to hold people against their will dependent upon specific conditions, such as authorities witnessing crimes committed by such persons or other civilians reporting the witnessing of crimes committed by such persons. But the witnessing of a crime is not the only instance in which authorities are allowed to hold a person against his or her will. It is also allowed when suspicion of a crime has taken place or public safety may be at risk, such as a person suspected of planning a mass attack. It is not unreasonable to extend, or even consider the issue already covered by, the public safety umbrella to cover infectious diseases.

The first argument is a bit of pathos (an appeal to emotion) in that we find being held against our will inherently wrong and logos (an appeal to logic) in that we have a legal document protecting against seizure. The counter-argument is logos (an appeal to logic) in that it shows that only illegal seizure is protected against and that in certain instances a person can be held against their will.

 

My thoughts on the specifics: Quarantine can be inhumane if improperly handled, but I do not believe it was improperly handled to the point of being inhumane in this case. The nurse was able to contact CNN while under quarantine, meaning her first amendment rights were not impinged upon. While she was possibly delayed in eating and comfort, it was not to the point of inhumanity, which would be when it is physically damaging. We can compare her conditions, if she had stated them in detail, to the depiction of inhumane quarantine in Jose Saramago’s Blindness wherein patients did not have access to working plumbing, adequate food, sanitary conditions, authority to prevent patients from stealing, raping, and murdering fellow patients, and medical attention. That is inhumane.

 

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine may be nonsensical from a medical standpoint: . . . because the disease in question is not communicable when not showing symptoms. The explanation for this point must include more than just an appeal to logic as the first one did. Instead it needs a resource, which can be from a medical paper on Ebola or from a statement from a person of authority. If no resource is given by the arguer, then the logical counter-argument is akin to Sheldon Cooper’s argument about infectious diseases:

 

“If influenza was only contagious after symptoms appeared, it would have died out thousands of years ago. Somewhere between tool using and cave painting, homo habilis would have figured out to kill the guy with the runny nose.”

 

 

That’s a joke, but it makes the point that many diseases are communicable when no symptoms are present. The counter-argument is only applicable when the first arguer does not present a source to back up this claim, but the immediate response to the claim without a source will bring up this counterpoint, typically using Typhoid Mary as an example. If the argument is an actual exchange as opposed to a paper (which would get a failing grade most likely for opting to skip sources), the person making the unsupported claim cannot then tell other people to “look up” sources for their claim. This is lazy arguing. An unsupported claim when the person who made the claim knows this claim as theory presented by reliable sources is poor arguing. But let’s say they do have sources and list them. The sources still have to be reliable. One can find anything stated by someone else without real research. In this instance, a reliable source has to be a medical scientist whose career is focused on infectious diseases and specifically Ebola.

Not even this guy is expert enough.

But let’s say that the person making the claim didn’t just use a source to back it up but also got a real expert opinion on the disease. Counter-argument: Micro-organisms are not static beings. They evolve to defeat adversity, and they do it at a much higher rate than non-micro-organisms. This is why new flu vaccines need to be developed every year. This is why antibiotic resistant bacteria exists, now making UTIs resistant and pneumonia possibly fatal even when treated. The flu that survived the year before adapted and changed to evade the previous vaccine. The bacteria that survived previous treatment adapted and changed to evade the medicine designed to fight the bacteria. This is evolution. Medical scientists cannot predict when or how a virus, bacteria, of fungus will evolve to become more suited to their current environment, but all evolution is preceded by a change in environment which may wipe out the species if the species does not adapt. Currently, Ebola’s environment is controlled by humans. We prevent Ebola from spreading by quarantining symptomatic patients, but if this environment of prevention threatens Ebola as a species, it could adapt to spread under different conditions. This may not happen for years. It may not happen at all, but it is a possibility. With such a fatal disease, it is impractical to not take the safest approach while still treating patients and quarantined individuals with dignity and respect.

Both the argument and counter-argument are based on logos because one presents evidence and the other has cause-and-effect development.

My thoughts on the specifics: I was quite annoyed when on Monday I saw an RN being used as “expert” opinion on the subject of Ebola quarantine in some news broadcast. Even if a doctor or nurse has worked heavily with Ebola patients, they are not as expert as someone who has made it their career to study the Ebola virus, experimenting with it, studying its favorite environment and gestation rate, mapping its genome, and formulating hypotheses and testing those hypotheses, all so they can then go to the doctors and nurses who are treating Ebola patients and tell them the best procedures to take. Just because someone is a doctor or nurse, I’m not going to take their every medical opinion as gospel. They disagree, on many subjects. And if you’ve ever been to the doctor, which I imagine you have, you’ve probably heard some pretty dumb things come out their mouths sometimes. I’m not saying we should disregard everything medical professionals say to us and listen to celebrities and politicians instead, but that we should take what medical professionals say with a grain of salt. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had a upper and/or lower respiratory bacterial infection and a doctor or RN has assumed I had a cold or the flu. I also have a serious problem with people who treat Ebola like a static species, which by the way there is no such thing. Small pox is contained but given the proper food supply and a chance to procreate, its evolution would no longer be on hold.

The Second Thesis, Explanation, and Counter-arguments:

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine is a pragmatic action: . . . because it prevents all chance of the spread of the disease. The explanation: While Ebola is not currently spreadable when patients are not symptomatic, quarantining all individuals who have come into contact with the virus prevents relying on patient communication of symptoms. Many times a patient can experience symptoms they are unaware of, such as happens with many individuals who develop cancer. For example, an Ebola patient may have a slight fever and not realize he or she even has it, but he or she is now symptomatic. Health care workers who have worked with Ebola patients may be reluctant to volunteer symptoms they believe are not Ebola caused but from stress, overwork, or another illness. This is not to say that health care workers are going to purposely deceive, but they may in their own minds be downplaying symptoms and do not tell health officials of their symptoms to avoid a quarantine they believe to be unnecessary. Most of them will be right, but it is not an acceptable margin of error for the safety of the health care workers and the people they may come into contact with.

Counter-argument: Health care workers, because of their profession, are more likely to be aware of their own symptoms than the average person. Those who have worked with Ebola will also understand the importance of not withholding or downplaying symptoms, for both their own health and the safety of others. Because of their professional training and experience with the virus, health care workers have a different experience than a typical patient and have a personal gain to volunteering their symptoms to health officials.

Both arguments are logos based because they outline the behavior of patients and health care workers.

My thoughts on the specifics: I believe everyone is human and thereby capable of denial and unhealthy habits. I’m sure we’ve all seen an overweight doctor or nurse in our lives. It’s important to understand that with their profession comes a little bit of arrogance. It’s needed. An unsure doctor or nurse is not helping anyone, but sometimes that arrogance transfers into bad personal health decisions. It sometimes even transfers into blind spots when examining their own patients. We have also heard the idea before that doctors make horrible patients because of what they know, and I think this is another offshoot of the arrogance required of the medical profession. As I said, the confidence in a medical professional is very important, but this can lead to over-confidence which is dangerous when dealing with a fatal infectious disease.

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine promotes public safety: . . . because it prevents the accidental spread of the disease were symptoms to develop. The explanation: Some doctors have suggested quarantine periods (I’ve heard both 8-10 and 21 days) whether or not a health care worker is presenting with symptoms. This period would allow individuals to present symptoms in an environment that would prevent the spread of the virus. If a health care worker with non-symptomatic Ebola were to forego quarantine and went to a public venue, and then he or she developed symptoms, anyone within that public venue would be at risk to contagion. It would be better if he or she had developed symptoms in an isolated environment. They would also get medical attention much faster in quarantine because a proper quarantine is run by qualified and informed health care workers.

He made sure to touch every piece.

Counter-argument: Health care workers can be screened for the virus through testing and once a lack of infection is confirmed, they can be sent home without need of a quarantine. The general public can be assured at that point that authorities are not releasing Ebola infected individuals into the general public.

Both of these are logos again, with the first because of it’s scary prospect also displaying pathos. I can actually think of a counter to the counter-argument: lab errors.

My thoughts on the specifics: If the medical community is split on the relative need for quarantine, I think we should quarantine. I am actually less afraid of Ebola than I am of human response to it. By which I mean, panic or a lack or response. I want it to be taken seriously, but I also don’t want us stop living our lives and treating people with dignity because of it. I feel like the medical community needs to get it together when it comes to the practices involved in quarantine; otherwise, they will have those same two reactions: not treating quarantine patients well or not having realistic and helpful quarantine practices. It’s possible to fail on both fronts I admit, but that’s why they need experts on Ebola to help them make up the quarantine practices.

The Bad Arguments

There have been a lot of appeals to authority, appeals to the gallery, ad hominems, and slippery slope arguments going around. Below are some examples of all three for both sides.

Appeal to Authority against Quarantine: “My doctor/nurse said their was no reason for quarantine, so I don’t see why we are doing it.” This is a fallacy because every doctor and nurse can have an opinion, but without their also being experts on Ebola, they don’t have a leg to stand on as a support of an argument. The only reason the speaker/writer is bringing this up is that as a medical health professional a doctor or nurse can have an inflated appearance of authority. The speaker/writer believes in that appearance of authority, so they call on their opinion as “evidence.” The average health care worker does know more, most likely, than the average non-health care worker about Ebola, but only to the level of moderate knowledge.

Appeal to Authority for Quarantine: “If our politicians think that quarantine is in the public’s interest, it is something we should do.” Politicians can also appear to have “expertise” to some people, but their opinions shouldn’t be used as gospel as their motivations (especially near election time) are suspect. One should only trust a politician’s opinion when they have advisers who are expects on the issue. Only then are they the mouthpiece of expertise.

Appeal to the Gallery against Quarantine: “No one’s really all that worried about contracting Ebola, so why even talk about quarantine?” Pretending to know what everyone in a nation of 300 million people is very suspect. There are people who are worried, but even if there were not one person worried by the idea of getting Ebola, how people feel in general about it is not the issue. The fact that Ebola is contagious is the issue.

Appeal to the Gallery for Quarantine: “We are all scared, and for the safety of everyone in this country, we need to quarantine every health care worker who has come into contact with Ebola.” Again, acting as though a nation has a uniform thought and we all know what it is oversimplifies the people. Whether or not everyone is scared is also not the issue; again, the fact that a contagious and fatal disease may (and has in some instances) come into the country is the issue.

Ad Hominem against Quarantine: “All politicians are idiots. We cannot expect them to know what they are talking about.” This is also a generalization, but it is an attack on a group of people instead of a counter-argument to their points. Not arguing the points is bad because it clouds the issue and degrades the discussion.

Ad Hominem for Quarantine: “These health care workers only care about people in other countries. They don’t care about American citizens. If they cared about America, they wouldn’t go to Africa and bring in a deadly disease.” It’s much the same as the one against. It’s an attack on the person and doesn’t contribute anything to the discussion.

Slippery Slope against Quarantine: “What going to happen next? Are we going to detain every nurse and doctor that get off any international flight? Are we going to start grabbing people off the street because they could have been to Africa?” We have a lot of checks in place in the country to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Many of our government officials and doctors are against quarantine, so they will prevent things from going that far, but that doesn’t mean that any quarantine will result in this consequence.

Slippery Slope for Quarantine: “If we don’t quarantine every health care worker who’s coming in from abroad, they are going to infect millions of people. One person gets through and we will lose whole cities, states, maybe even half the country.” This seems like a fear response/tactic to me, but it disregards all the other people who are for quarantine and the fact that the illness sends people to the hospital pretty fast once symptoms occur. Most likely, in the event of an outbreak it will not get very far before a response happens to counter its spread.

Both Sides

I hope this exercise taught you a bit about how to argue without sounding like a screaming magpie. But I hope it also taught you the importance of compromise on an serious issue. In a situation like this, the middle way seems best. We shouldn’t be reactionary, nor should we have no reaction. Something serious needs even tempers, logical reasoning, and back and forth; otherwise, something will go wrong.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2014 in Craft of Writing, Social Issues

 

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I Don’t Like Children, But I’m Not a Monster

The Stage

Right now, the U.S. is very family oriented, and not in the way it used to be. Some have opined that parenthood has become the new religion, and I can certainly see how that is the case. Almost every T.V. show has some form of parenthood as a central theme (Examples: How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Accidentally on Purpose, The Gilmore Girls, Desperate Housewives, Malcolm in the Middle, The Middle, Modern Family, American Horror Story: seasons 1-3, Cougartown) or if a main character didn’t want children or children were not essential to the show, this quickly changes (Examples: Bones–she was previously staunchly against having children, Scrubs, Friends) as the main characters can never be people who just don’t want to have children. Versus past T.V. shows that allowed characters to not only not want children but also not like children at all (Captain Picard, my hero). But T.V. shows are not the only one that present messages of how wonderful and required parenthood is (Examples: Four ChristmasesDid You Hear About the Morgans?Steel Magnolias). The movie Four Christmases was quite possibly one of the most insulting of films, because it basically says that a couple doesn’t work, can’t really be in love, can’t really know each other, if they don’t have children (not get married; they don’t get married, they have a child). Steel Magnolias shows that having children is more important than being alive and healthy (we can see this repeated ad nauseam in medical drama T.V. shows, such as House, M.D. wherein a woman chooses her unborn child’s life over her own). But it’s not just T.V. and movies that show us that parenthood has become the new religion. We can see it all over the internet in the Momsites, which up-play the importance of doing everything for one’s child to the determent of everything else, such as their careers, their spouses, their health, and their emotional fulfillment. No one wants anyone to say anything remotely bad about children, even if what is said is possibly constructive, instead everything said which is contrary to the belief children are angels and parenthood is the be all and end all of life is an insult and we’re all monsters for thinking otherwise.

Reproductive Rights, Either Way

I’m a firm believer that everyone should be able to decide if, when, and how many children they have (this includes men), and if that means no, never, none, then no one should scrutinize, judge, or persecute someone for taking that path. Some people may think, Well, who is doing that? You’d be surprised, but most people are. The majority of people want to have children. That’s fine. And a lot of those people can’t fathom life without children or the desire for them, so they can ask rude, penetrating, or stupid questions, such as “Who will take care of you when you’re old?”, “What about the family name?”, “What if your parents hadn’t had kids?”, “Don’t you want to give your parents grandkids?”, “What’s wrong with you, don’t you like children?”, “Don’t you want a legacy?”, and “Don’t you want to know what your kids would look like?” Or they make flat out statements about who someone is for not wanting children, like: “You’ll change your mind.”, “People who don’t want kids are selfish.”, “You’re immature if you don’t want kids.” There is more, but all of it implies that a person who doesn’t want children is: A) selfish, B) not an adult, C) not important, D) unaware of what they want, E) broken in some way, and F) missing out on the best parts of life. None of these are actually true. The real reasons people don’t have children are many and varied, running the gamut from environmentalism, to not wanting to pass on a genetic deformity, to not feeling emotionally, mentally, or fiscally stable enough for the responsibility, and finally to just disliking children.

They’re Different When They’re Your Own

The idea is, though, that we don’t like children that have no genetic connection to us or we did not get flooded with oxytocin that comes with having one’s own child and that were most of us who don’t like children to have our own, we’d not only like them, we’d love them. This seems like a major risk to take, especially with lives on the line, and I’m not even talking life vs death, but well-adjusted life vs why-did-my-parents-hate-me life. Is that a risk parents want nonparents to run? Oh, just roll the dice. You’ll probably love ’em! And if the previously nonparent who didn’t like children now has a child and if it wasn’t different because it was their own, that child can grow up to keep a therapist in business.

How Long Is “As Long As I Can Remember”?

I have never liked children, for as long as I can remember. Most people think that means in the last few years, but in may case, I’m being quite literal. I remember being about two or three years old and seeing a baby. I had a very deep and visceral feeling that I didn’t want to be anywhere near the infant. And this continued throughout my childhood. As I aged, the children I didn’t like were older and older: at four, I didn’t like babies and toddlers, at twelve, I didn’t like babies and toddlers and children, etc. I am missing the evolutionary drive that makes young of my own species attractive to me. I don’t think this makes me a freak or a monster, but just different. I can’t explain why I’ve never liked children; I just never have.

Intellectually as Well

But it is not just because of instinctual reasons that I dislike children. I also don’t like the reality of them: the mess, the responsibility, the environmental impact, the underdeveloped intelligence, the noise. All these things make children in general unlikable to me. I don’t want to be anywhere around them. I hate going to the movies, the bookstore, or a restaurant and hearing a child have a tantrum. The noise they make sets my teeth on edge and makes it impossible for me to have any enjoyment. But because I’ve never liked children, they don’t even have to be making a lot of noise to put me off. It bothers me when a child stares at me with a blank face.

You Were Once a Child!

Yeah, and I’m sure I freaked out and annoyed adults like me. This argument also doesn’t make sense when as a child, I didn’t like children. Sometimes children of my own age bothered me too. I enjoyed the company of adults infinitely more than my fellow children. My mom was my best friend growing up. Adults were just better conversationalists, nor did they do things for basically no reason sometimes. I know as a child I fell prey to the inexplicable action every once in a while.

But What About My Child?

Understand that I’m not singling out anyone’s child. I don’t dislike specific children to insult anyone; I dislike children in general. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my child relatives either. I do, because liking someone and loving them are not mutually inclusive. I just can’t wait until they are adults. I do like some children, but only in small doses. The fact that I don’t have to raise them makes me like them more and these children are usually the best behaved and/or the most intelligent ones.

Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Care about Children

I am not apathetic to children’s suffering just because I don’t like children in general. When I see a child playing near a pool, even if I am not related to the child, I worry about the child drowning and watch the child just to make sure someone is paying attention. I am upset when bad things happen to children too. It’s sort of like Swift and the Irish people. He hated the Irish but hated the English’s treatment of the Irish more. If someone does something terrible to a child, I’m not going to applaud them; in fact, depending on what they did to the child, I’m most likely going to want them to be put to death (such as child murder, molestation, or abuse) because a child can’t defend him or herself as well as an adult. I’ve heard other people who don’t like children state similar feelings about still caring about child safety and well being, so I think this is the part that really brings home that disliking children is not monstrous.

Conclusions

Don’t jump to conclusions about people who don’t like children. Don’t assume they are insulting your child or your way of life. They’re not. Most of us can’t control whether we like or dislike something, so it is unreasonable to judge someone based on the way they feel intrinsically. Some may say disliking children is prejudice, but I don’t think it is. There’s nothing inherently detrimental to children when someone doesn’t like children because people who don’t like children avoid them in their day to day life but tend to still understand the importance of their existence and safety. Children are also not comparable to adults in development; otherwise, they’d be able to vote, drink, drive, and get a job which are all things they are not allowed to do by law based on age. Whereas, people of different races, genders, and sexuality are on the same level when it comes to development, which is why it is illegal to discriminate based on these labels. Ageism really only kicks in when a person becomes an adult, because child psychologists have shown that children lack certain skills that are gained over time culminating in adulthood. Meaning that they are fundamentally different from adults. This does not mean that they are worth less than adults, nor does it mean they are worth more. Both children and adults are important to the sustained functioning of our society, but that doesn’t mean every adult has to like children.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Empathy, Social Issues

 

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