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Category Archives: Social Issues

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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The Taking of Women’s Agency and Men’s Victimization: How They Can Relate

What Brought It Up?

I’ve been reading a lot on CHE lately, from editors and opinion pieces and letters to the editor on adjuncts’ rights and Chancellor Wise’s and the UI BOT recent pulling of the rug out from under a faculty approved applicant, but mostly, on Title IX and I’ve also perused Bing and Yahoo! News a bit about Emma Watson’s recent speech to U.N. on her new campaign HeForShe. All of it has my brain churning. These situations seem to feed into each other a bit, maybe a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t link to all (or even most) of the articles because CHE doesn’t really let free readers browse old articles and some of my references are to articles I can’t even find anymore (in a bunch of moves–5–in the last year and half I’ve lost a lot of books, movies, CDs, and articles I would have loved to have kept).

The Statistics on Female College Students and Sexual Assault

In many of the articles and letters to the editor, the number of 20-25% of all women in college would be sexually assaulted was repeatedly brought up, but many commentators on the articles brought up that the reported number does not match the percentage. One could easily chalk this up to assaults going unreported. I’ve always questioned that logic though. How does one count what has no indicators? Other commentators brought up another good point on these numbers: what counts as sexual assault? CHE commentators tend to include sources or cogent counter arguments (though as a website it can be prone to trolling and fallacy, but this tends to be countered again by other commentators calling them out on it), and some started examining studies on college sexual assault and what counted as sexual assault in those studies: actions like forced or attempted forced kissing (such as may happen at the end of a first date) and consensual sex wherein the female party was intoxicated but did not call the sex non-consensual. This seems like a much more logical reason behind the 20-25% statistic as it would indicate why the number of reported instances was lower than the rate would suggest. I’m not saying the statistic is wrong; I’m just calling into question the calculation of it.

College Committees and Their Inadequacy

I don’t trust any college employee to go into a sexual assault hearing and not be prejudice, either way. Why? Because they are human and employees of an institution that has a culture they want to promote. Either they want to find the accused not responsible because he or she benefits the college in someway (typically this boils down to a male athlete). Or they want to find the accused responsible because they want to have a reputation of being hard on sexual assault. If the committee members have these thought/feelings/leanings before an instance is brought before them, they are going in with bias, which means they will downplay the evidence they don’t want to hear or perform mental gymnastics to get the conclusion they want. There are no checks and balances to this. Another form of their inadequacy is their extreme lack of skill in the matter. They are not detectives, they are not lawyers (all of them anyway as many colleges to not have justice or pre-law departments), and they are not judges in the usual sense. This means the majority of committee members do not have the experience or expertise to make judgments in criminal matters, meaning they can either try to be objective as best as possible or fall back on their personal feelings. Neither bodes well for the validity of their findings. Third, they do not have access to some of the tools available to police investigations, such as rape kits and physical examinations of the accused. This is important in proving that any intercourse, in the accusations of rape, actually took place. Without this evidence, the idea that sexual contact even happened is called into question. I’m not saying that in all, or even most or half of, cases the rape didn’t happen. I’m saying that in the small number of instances (and I do believe it is small) wherein the rape did not happen there is no evidence supporting one claim or another. The physical examination of the proposed victim and attacker are most important in the instance wherein the victim describes the rape as one of the violent type or wherein the accused says the rape and even intercourse never happened. In these cases, not having this evidence is a giant gap in the support of the judgment of the committee, in either accuser or accused’s favor or detriment.

Drunk Sex = Sexual Assault

This is such a sticky equation, but one that seems much too black and white to have any real world application. Any married person would most likely find this idea laughable as a common occurrence among married couples is drunk sex, say after a party at a friend’s house or similar alcohol infused situations. I don’t just find it to be joke; I find it to be an insult. The idea is that women in college when intoxicated are incapable of giving consent, but that men in college, intoxicated or not, should be able to see that a woman is intoxicated and stop intercourse even if she has given her verbal consent. This is insulting in many ways. 1): People (all people, men and women) are always responsible for their actions when intoxicated when they brought on the intoxication themselves, meaning that all people are responsible for whether they get behind the wheel of a car, physically assault someone, or commit other acts illegal or legal that they would not do when sober. Regardless of the genitalia they happened to be born with. 2): It takes away a woman’s agency, by suggesting that a man in the same state of intoxication is more capable of reasoning than a woman. How is that not sexist against women? As in, women lack a capability that men have. 3): It places an archaic and nearly impossible to meet responsibility on men for not only their own actions when intoxicated but also women’s. They’re supposed to “take care of us women”. When are we going to move past this idea that men have to make decisions and take responsibility for the women in their lives and let women have responsibility over their own lives? Apparently, not in college. It is also unfair to assume that his judgment is not as impaired as hers at the same level of intoxication and requires basically omniscience, when he may also be intoxicated, on his part. 4): It waters down the reality of sexual assault and lowers people’s empathy for the victims of violent and non-violent sexual assault. Please understand that these insults apply to when a woman in conscious and intoxicated. If a person is unconscious when intoxicated, obviously consent was not given and sexual assault occurred.

It is also a weird contradiction that many colleges think this way about alcohol consumption in relation to sexual assault when they are not even allowed to talk about preventative measures involving alcohol consumption when they have their sexual assault orientations: don’t tell women to alter their behavior by consuming less alcohol, but find men responsible for sexual assault if the woman has consumed alcohol. Uh, . . . I’m not even sure how to respond to this, because I understand why they don’t want to tell women to consume less alcohol, but I really don’t understand why they think drunk sex = sexual assault in relation to their reasoning (not allowed by most Title IX related polices) to not telling women to alter their behavior. It would seem to mean that drunk sex ≠ sexual assault.

Pragmatism vs Victim-Blaming

I am not a fan of victim-blaming, more than that I hate it. I don’t think what a woman wears, says, or does excuses sexual assault, even if she is inhumanely cruel beforehand (think the first episode of AHS: Coven). But I do believe in pragmatism. I have a right to walk down a dark alley, but I also know that I may get attacked if I do, which is why I carry pepper spray. That’s pragmatism. If a person leaves their front door unlocked and open when they go on vacation and someone burgles their home, it doesn’t make what the criminal did any less wrong and doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished, but the preventative action of closing and locking one’s door is just smart. It means one didn’t have to go through the violation of being burgled. Victim-blaming is different than pragmatism. Victim-blaming is when someone says that the victim deserved what they got because they were wrong for some erroneous reason. They may have been wrong. It’s wrong to leave your front door unlocked and open, but it does not change the fact that the criminal was wrong. It does not mean the victim deserved to get burgled. The idea that we have to change possible criminal behavior is nice to say, but it is not something we can actually control. We can say that crime is wrong as much as we want. We can promote a crime-free society as much as we want. It will not completely eliminate crime. The means to crime are desire and opportunity. We cannot take away the desire, but we can lower the opportunity. Otherwise, banks wouldn’t have vaults, guards, cameras, and alarms. There will always be people who want to hurt others, who want to steal, and we cannot eliminate their existence, but we can be prepared for it.

College Men and Sex

I was appalled to see some commentators on CHE on the recent “Presumed Guilty” article saying that college men should just abstain from sex to prevent incorrect judgments against them because it is the kind of argument put against women (“Maybe you shouldn’t do your laundry at midnight alone . . .” “Maybe you shouldn’t walk at night . . .” “Maybe you shouldn’t dress like a slut . . .” “. . . if you don’t want to be attacked”) basically saying they should change their legal behavior past the point of pragmatism to the point of living in fear. Some men have abstained from having sex in college, but that won’t protect them from judgments, which is another reason the argument disgusts me. One of the men examined in the article, who went by John Doe in his law suit against his university, claimed that he and the woman who had accused him had never had sexual contact. That he, in fact, just walked her to her dorm after a party. If true, and it just might be as I’m not about to assume his guilt based on his genitalia nor assume his innocence simply because he professes it, this throws the changing their behavior argument not just out the window but out of this dimension. One argument that often baffles me is that all guilty people profess their innocence, which isn’t true as some people plead guilty. But what is true is that all innocent people profess their innocence, because if you were innocent why would sit back and let people call you guilty?

One respondent to this article in a letter to the editor called for an apology for its publication. No, don’t apologize for this. We need to recognize that the system of judgment in academic sexual assault is broken in more ways than one; otherwise, it will never be fixed. We do not improve systems or ourselves by ignoring flaws. We improve by recognizing all the flaws, even when they seem contradictory. They aren’t actually, because each case has its specific nature and culture with its specific people involved. Cases can be mishandled in different, opposing ways within the same university depending on the people involved alone, because universities all together and within themselves are not homogeneous entities.

Other Equations

I’ve already explained how I believe the Drunk Sex = Sexual Assault equation hurts both men and women, but the institutions seem to be using it as an excuse to pre-judge in sexual assault cases. I am not suggesting that all sexual assault cases are bullhockey, but that the university committees may be coming into it un-objectively, in either gender’s favor or detriment. I believe the ideas that Women = Victims and Men = Assailants is very prevalent in our society, often even in the parts of society that consider themselves progressive or politically correct, but I feel like this is sexism with both equations. It’s still very archaic. It still casts women as damsels in distress. It makes us less human. Women are just as capable of being assailants as men. Again, the idea that men have a capability that we don’t is in people’s minds, and just because it may work in a woman’s favor doesn’t make it any less sexist. Because on the other side, we have men who are the victims of abuse at the hands of women. Such as but not limited to: assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse. These black and white equations take away the voice of victims. Victimization is victimization, and wrong is wrong. Just because one empathizes with one group more than the other doesn’t mean they aren’t all in pain. Don’t judge one person’s pain against another. Don’t say “It could be worse”. Don’t minimize a person’s victimization by saying that in the past, or even now, the other side had it worse. That doesn’t mean the victim deserved what happened to them just because of the gender they happened to be born with. Isn’t that victim-blaming? And even not about that victim’s actions but about a group’s actions they by chance belong to?

Recently, I saw the above PSA on Tumblr (of all places) wherein two actors of the opposite sex were hired to pretend to get into an argument in public then one start to physically assault the other. In the first instance, the man started to assault the woman. People got involved. They yelled at him and threatened to call the police. In the second instance, the woman started to assault the man. People laughed. It was funny to them. The PSA ended with a statistic of how many abusive relationships have men as the victim. That number is pretty even with ratio of men to women in most developed countries (2:3). I’m not willing to ignore that many victims, nor downplay the pain they are in. The argument sometimes goes that a woman cannot hurt a man as much as a man can hurt a woman. My god. Again: women lack a capability that men have. Yes, we can. We’ve all heard of those times that women have mutilated men. Run them over with cars. Shot them. Poisoned them. Women are just as capable as men at hurting and victimizing someone else. And men are just as capable as feeling helpless when in an abusive relationship. As the PSA’s last poignant statement says: Violence is violence.

Systematic Sexism

In most instances sexism on a large scale is against women, but I’m not about to say that it is all instances. A year or two ago, I read a great article on men’s reproductive rights (which I do believe in as strongly as women’s reproductive rights even though they can sometimes be at odds–it’s complex like most important issues) wherein specific allegorical examples were used. “Stop right there!” someone may say discounting that personal stories have meaning. No, one cannot usually make worldwide or overarching generalizations based on allegorical evidence, but such evidence does have validity as it means “This happened” and we must recognize that. A couple of the stories were downright horrifying in how they showed rapists using the courts to further victimize their victims. Most of it was based on child support. A man who was passed out at a party found out later he was raped (it is rare but not impossible for a man to still have an erection while unconscious from intoxication) and his rapist got pregnant and then sued him for child support. The court found he owed her money. Another case was about a twelve year old boy was told by the court that he needed to pay his (statutory) rapist child support. A third man who had oral sex with a woman, who saved his sperm then later inseminated herself with it, was required to pay her child support. Often an argument against men about child support is that they shouldn’t have sex if they don’t want to take responsibility for any possible child that comes out of it. Again, this seems one sided as it used to be the same freaking argument laid against (sometimes still) women who wanted abortions. But this argument becomes so outrageous when applied to these three cases. None of these men (or really, boy) were taking on (or capable by law of taking on) the possible responsibility of pregnancy. But the courts found them responsible for the children anyway even though the first two cases involved criminal action on the part of the woman (remember criminals are not meant to profit from their crimes). Why? The courts have a monetary incentive for finding men in these situations responsible: if the mother cannot afford to take care of the child on her own, then she must either turn to the father for child support or the state for aid. Before applying for aid for a child, a mother must report whether or not she is getting child support (in most cases) and if she isn’t, the court will (most likely) go after the father for money first, because if he is helping to support the child then the state may be let out of its monetary obligation. That means the court has a stake in the judgment. But this doesn’t mean that sometimes a court won’t screw a female parent over in child support cases, letting the potential paying parent off the hook often times in benefit of the man. It is just to show that in some instances the pendulum is on the other side, because courts are not an amorphous blob that is homogeneous in nature, just as colleges are not like that. Different cultures, different personal opinions are involved.

But I do feel like we are missing a vital element in law when it comes to abortion rights and the right to give a child up for adoption. If a state allows abortion, I believe that men should be allowed a “legal abortion” so to speak in the same time period (if he has been told by the woman that she is pregnant) that a woman is allowed an abortion wherein from his point of view, both financially and legally, he has not had a child. If he was never told, he should be allowed the same length of time after his notification to make the same decision. The same type of allowances should be given him for an “legal adoption”. Because if a woman is allowed to decide after intercourse what to do about a pregnancy and child, then a man should be given the same option. It may not be his body, but it is not just about a woman’s body but her whole life after the conception, so it isn’t “my body, my choice,” but “my life, my choice.” I doubt this would ever happen in my lifetime. As I stated above, the courts have an incentive to find men financially responsible for any child they may have fathered, so I doubt there would be much political support for such a thing. Some may argue that this is a way for “irresponsible/lazy” men to get out of paying child support, but it is also a way to protect Childfree men and raped men who under current laws are not as protected as Childfree women and female victims of rape (which sounds almost ludicrous but we don’t even think of women raping men as being an issue–it affects a small amount of men, but no means no for men too and just because they aren’t as high a number doesn’t mean their victimization is any less horrible). Many may say that Childfree men are just being jerks, but any one of any gender who doesn’t want to be a parent ever in their lifetime should be allowed the freedom to choose to not be a parent. Many women’s rights advocates would say that Childfree women have the right to access to those things that would help them maintain this life choice, abortion and sterilization, but I believe Childfree men have just as much right to live their lives as they wish.

Feminism, the Dirty Word

A lot of people don’t like this word. I’m one of them. It has nothing to do with the idea that feminists are man-hating or “don’t really believe in equality” despite the definition. I know the definition, and I know what the movement means in general and in many specific instances (there is a myriad of different types of feminism, not all of them pretty and some of them really good in the fight against gender inequality), but the word itself is what I have a problem with. Words, especially for movements, social issues, and political ideals, are like doors to ideas. The word, not the definition, not the movement, is exclusionary by nature. It’s a door that looks like it has a “No Men Allowed” sign posted to it. Men see it, hear it–some women see it, hear it–and think men are not a part of or automatically against the movement. The word promotes the idea that feminism is only for women’s rights and that it is a “gender war”. I’m not saying that’s the goal of the definition or the movement, but it is what the basis of the word itself which is feminine can present to people. While it doesn’t mean to, I think it can feel exclusionary, or make some people think they have the right to exclude. I believe there could be more inclusive words that would allow men (and women) to understand that gender equality is everyone’s right. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last one hundred years, and in that ground, we haven’t just shown that women are as valid as individuals as men, but we’ve also brought men and women closer together and fostered understanding between them. I think the time has come to stop separating us as people because both sides have a much clearer view of the other and the needs they face. “Picking sides” needs to put aside to continue the journey of ending gender inequality, because separating us into these groups to promote equality just seems like another subtle way to cause inequality.

Humanism, the Lazy Word

It has been suggested that calling oneself a humanist instead of a feminist ignores/diminishes the fact that women have it worse off than men. First off, I’m not sure sexism is so simple as that, which should be made obvious by the length of this post. I am worried, upset, and quite frankly pissed off by any sexism, racism, bigotry, or prejudice. It doesn’t matter who the victim is. It doesn’t matter who the perpetrator is. What matters is the act. What matters is the pain inflicted. I don’t care about the gender, the race, the demographic of either party, because what I care about is if one party did something hurtful to another party based on these things. If I base my caring on the labels of the two parties, I am still thinking in these same bigoted ways. The idea that I don’t care about a woman’s pain caused by sexism because I care about a man’s pain caused by sexism is fallacious. I can care about both of them. I do care about both of them. I believe that only caring about one group, based solely on their genetics or some other label that can be subject to bigotry, is still bigotry and diminishes the pain of other victims. I know not everyone agrees with me because they see a majority of pain inflicted one way, but I care about that pain too. I look at each instance, instead of trying to generalize all of them at once, to prevent a victim from being forgotten. That’s why I’m even talking about this. This word, humanist (sometimes also equalist), is accused of being a way to downplay the importance of sexism against women usually when men use it. I’m not sure one could appropriately accuse me of this as I am a woman and veryvery, VERY angry when I see/hear about sexism against women. I’m just that same amount of angry at any injustice. I understand some people want to focus their energy on one issue to do the most good, but I really can’t do that. I have the same visceral reaction to every instance of prejudice or unfairness. Until we stop casting groups and labels as victim or villain, we will not move past bigotry. We will still be thinking in archaic ways. We will still be separating ourselves and saying one group matters more than another.

The Personal Side and My Stake in the Conversation

I’ve never considered myself a feminist. I don’t push my femininity as part of my identity either. I don’t consciously suppress it either. I like being what I am. I just don’t feel like running around shouting that I’m a woman (or the less metaphorical version of this). I have felt some sexism before, but I’ve felt more racism (mostly in early childhood), which some may find shocking or unbelievable considering what race I am. The sexism were little things, words not actions, that I brushed off, because I told myself that if someone is willing to be sexist to me than their opinion of who I am and their idea of my validity as a person does not matter. The sexism invalidates their opinion of me. So that sexism never brought me down. Somehow, not sure how it happened, I’ve always thought of myself as a person, then a writer. Those seem to be the labels I most identify with, which is weird I know. I love the unisex quality of my first name (which is not Alexis or Alexandrea, but just Alex which I wrote an essay on in high school). One would think that I am a “woman” first if anything at all, but I’ve never considered myself different based on my gender. I mean, a lot of people fall under that category, that to me means “not different”. I do consider myself to be weird though. I try to understand every side and imagine every scenario in every situation. I’ll try to understand someone who hates me, understand what motivates them, what happened in their childhood to make them the way they are. It’s a major reason why I write. I want to understand people who don’t even exist. I spend the majority of my time trying to think like everyone else, real, fictional, different, or similar. Mainly because people baffle me. What they do and say is so different than what I would expect, always. I think that’s great, but also a bridge I need to continuously cross to prevent my words or actions from causing harm.

What has seemed to define me more greatly than my gender has been my disability. It has eclipsed in my own defining of myself many other labels one may put on me because it is a part of every moment of my life. Not in a bad way. I do not consider myself a person of less value based on my disability. If it has affected me, which I believe it definitely has, it has all been to enrich my life. I am not ashamed of it. It has made me a better writer and thinker. Some may ask how this is possible as a disability means an inability to do something. Well, that’s complex. Because I had a certain learning avenue shut off to me, one most people in the US go down of phonics, I had to learn to think in different ways, ways most people are capable of but are not taught to use. This means one of the capabilities of thought I have in common with most people is stronger than average as it is used more often than the average person. This is another part of me that I like, so I guess I would say I am a person, then a writer, then learning disabled, because even as I write this I’m still having to think sideways to spell my words correctly and not confuse them for other words (not homonyms but more along the lines of “emphasizes” and “empathizes”; they look and sound almost exactly the same to me even though I know they are not).

But why do I care about injustices that have nothing to do with me? It isn’t because I think “What if that happened to the men in my life that I love?”, but because we should all care when horrible things happen to others. My stake is that I have a problem with injustice, with bigotry, with prejudice. My stake is that I don’t need personal benefits to care.

The Pain Bucket

There’s this weird idea about empathizing with other people that one can only care about those whose pain is considered “valid”. I’m not sure why. It’s like some higher power has a bucket filled with water representing pain and he/she ladles out the pain in varying amounts to different groups. The group with the most water has the most validity. The group with the least amount of water doesn’t matter at all. This is ludicrous. Every single person has an infinite amount of possible pain inside them, and it is all valid. One’s group/label and the prejudice against that group/label may be the cause of the pain, but that group/label is not what makes the pain valid. The existence of that pain makes it valid. The fact that it happened at all makes it valid.

Those that Have No Place in the Conversation

Sexist people. What I mean by this is those *expletives* who threaten rape and murder upon Emma Watson and those other feminists who are trying to fight sexism, all in an attempt to shut them up. I don’t think all these people are men. I think there are some women who also have sexism against women, which is sad. But I don’t believe men shouldn’t be invited to the conversation–that was, after all, Watson’s point in her speech: men should be part of it. Not sexists. They should be told to shut it. But people who don’t agree with feminists on all the issues should not be called sexist just because they don’t agree, nor should they be told to shut up, because within feminism there is disagreement (a Separatist Feminist may be at odds with a Liberal Feminist who may be at odds with the newly emerging Maverick Feminists). Not all types of feminism agree with each other, and not all feminists within even each type agree with each other. There is a conversation. Shutting up cogent counter arguments or points will not be helpful in getting rid of sexism, but these sexists who threaten Watson or belittle her message just enforce the idea that we, as feminists, as humanists, and as moral and ethical people, need to do something in first place.

Because It’s the Right Thing to Do

I loved that Watson recognized that men still face gender stereotypes and inequality, but I disagree with her argument that we as women should support their equality for the benefits it will give us as a gender. That is not why we should stand up for men’s equality. We should do it because all victimization is wrong, because all sexism is wrong, and standing up against injustice is the right thing to do. I also feel as though her argument ignored the victimization men can and do face at the hands of women. Those men in abusive relationships, wherein they are not the abusive party, are not being aggressive and their female aggressor is not being submissive; in fact, the opposite is true in these cases. I do not believe that all gender stereotypes against men result in gender inequality for women. Men are taught not to cry, not to be nurturing, not to be vulnerable, as Watson said, but I do not see how that perpetrates gender inequality for women. Women do have voices telling them it is okay to get angry, to be aggressive, to go for the hard career. Not every woman in the world can hear it, but every day the number of women who do goes up because those voices (bless them for it) won’t shut up. I do not hear the same voices telling men that non-stereotypical action for men is okay. I hear the opposite of the positive reinforcement that women get. Not all women get positive reinforcement for these things, but a lot (in the US and many other highly developed countries anyway) do. It’s in the news, it’s in our T.V. shows, it’s in our movies, it’s in our novels. The “girl power” prevalent in our recent Disney movies (Brave being the biggest one) is one such instance. Then there’s all of Joss Whedon’s work which promotes the strength women have naturally and the support of their right to be sexually active even in casual ways. The Harry Potter novels present one of the most complex, strong, intelligent female role models ever (I hated the change in the movie when Hermione cries after Malfoy calls her a Mudblood. I felt it undermined her character’s strength, though I loved that they had her punch Malfoy in the movie instead of slap him).The enforcement of traditional male roles are still present in abundance in those same sources. This is something we should all fighting against, because as human beings we have a responsibility to fight against injustice, not because it benefits our own lives, but because we should care that people are in pain.

Feel free to voice any disagreements , but do so without threatening or hurtful language or I will remove your comment. This includes trying to shame me or calling me a traitor to my sex: that is not productive language nor a counter argument.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Empathy, Gender Relations, Social Issues

 

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Firearms: A Single Purpose Tool and Why that Doesn’t Frighten Me

Last November I had my first hands-on experience with a firearm. I took a CCW course, learned about my state’s laws concerning firearms, and shot ten rounds at a shooting range. If one’s paying attention, one will see that I had no previous direct experience with any kind of firearm. I’ve heard people talk about their first time pulling that trigger, and sometimes it’s about how powerful they felt or how they felt immediately that this wasn’t for them, as in the essay “Shooting Dad” (for those of my readers who have not read this essay, she did not shoot her father), but for me there was no strong reaction either way.

The Act Itself:

The protection over my ears made my ability to understand my classmates as they spoke drop dramatically, everything coming to me like Charlie Brown’s teacher. The dimly lit range made my already poor eyesight worse, but I often felt before that in situations like these people allowed visual stimulation to overrule instincts, often like overthinking a multiple choice question when one’s first guess was right all along. Bowling, which is a long-range aiming sport like shooting, is often based more on a person’s muscle memory than their eyes, and the teacher of the CCW course seemed to agree with the idea that aiming is based more on stance than eyesight, not that eyesight is not completely unhelpful. I waited as others filled the practice lanes designated for the class and watched their shots. Someone first shot sent up a small cloud of smoke and the shell casing actually flew behind him, coming close to another student. I couldn’t help but exclaim “Wow,” as the sight of the bit of metal flying back a couple of feet and several students laughed at the wayward ejection.

We had all spent the last several hours introducing ourselves to the class, telling the group why we wanted to take the course, and then the majority of the time on firearm safety and the mechanics of firing one. When it had been my turn to introduce myself, I told the class that I grew up with guns in the house and felt that the most rational thing in that case was to learn how to use one safely. I also stated that I was a writer and felt that to write about someone firing a gun, I needed firsthand experience. The teacher jumped on the fact that I was a writer, asking if I had a blog, and while I do (made evident by this entry), I was more of a creative writer. Both of these reasons were honest. Introductions, the reasons, and the firearm safety and use all led up to the moment we went to the establishment’s indoor range to prove that we could fire within an inner circle on a target seven out of ten times, five shots at five yards and five shots at ten yards.

When it was my turn, I needed help jacking the slide on my pistol, because it’s pressure was too much for me, though of the two guns we own it was the only one I could pull the trigger on, the other requiring too many pounds of pressure for my index finger to handle. The needed help was only slightly embarrassing, but I have yet to find a handgun I can completely operate on my own. After having the pistol ready, I took a slightly wide-leg stance, gripped the gun with both hands, right pushing forward and left pulling back, elbows firm but not completely extended, and lifted to aim at the five yard target. I fired and hit pretty close to center. The recoil barely moved me; the slide jammed in the process—this wasn’t a very high-end (or even middle-range) handgun, so it jammed a couple of times, and I needed help (as I wasn’t strong enough to work the slide) each time. But all of my shots, even those at ten yards were in the middle circle. I had passed the practical of the exam. And frankly, I didn’t feel any different than I had before even though this was my first time firing a real firearm.

Later, the teacher went over our state’s rules for carrying firearms and using them. My state has a very high gun freedom rating, which actually makes me feel safer (I will explain this later), and some of the laws seemed very logical to me. Such as: a person cannot use a deadly weapon to defend their property, but a person can use a deadly weapon to protect themselves against extreme physical harm (this means any situation wherein they could end up in the hospital), a person can show that they have a firearm (defensive display) to ward off the possibility of violence, and some others demonstrated below.

The Situations:

Imagine that you are at the mall and when you come back to your car, you find someone breaking in. In my state, you cannot use a deadly weapon (crowbar, baseball bat, knife, or firearm) to defend it because your life is not in danger, only your property.

Imagine that you are a man walking down a residential street and someone starts to come at you with a deadly weapon (same as above). In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because your attacker may put you in the hospital with his/her weapon.

Imagine that you are a woman and a man stronger/bigger than you attacks you. In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because this is a demographic difference wherein your attacker can put you in the hospital by his superior strength.

Imagine that you are a man surrounded by two or more unarmed attackers. In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because your attackers outnumber you increasing the likelihood that you will be put in the hospital.

Imagine that someone starts coming at you aggressively. In my state, you can say that you are armed, and if they keep approaching, you can take out that weapon without aiming it at them.

Imagine you see a man attacking someone else. In my state, you can defend that third person responsibly if it appears that the attacker may put the third party in the hospital.

To my mind, all these scenarios have appropriate laws associated with them. This is a major part of why I’ve chosen to stay in my state. The laws are rational and applicable to real life possibilities.

A Tool of Lethality and a Tool of Transportation:

Firearms are all designed to kill, to be lethal. This scares people, understandably, but many knives are also designed to be lethal. Firearms are a tool, which is why I felt no different about who I am upon using one. All firearms are designed with lethality in mind but not all lethal events involve firearms. Death, and especially murder, is not always perpetuated by firearms. The tool in this world that scares me more than a firearm is a vehicle. A vehicle is not designed to be lethal, and by this very fact, people do not treat vehicles as carefully as they treat guns. Safety is paramount when dealing with firearms. The savvy individual holing a gun knows that what they have in their hands is lethal and must be treated with care. Since the vehicle is not so greatly associated with lethality, as that is not its designed goal, the goal being travel, and people use vehicles every day without incident, they get careless. I am more afraid of a careless individual behind the wheel of a car then I am the trained, even not by government, individual who carries a firearm—and most people behind the wheel of a car are careless. Accidents involving vehicles happen every day, many involving death. Accidents involving firearms don’t happen as often, partially because less people own them than cars but also because those people are more careful. Willful shootings happen less than car accidents. Carelessness has always been more frightening, and frankly insulting, than malicious intent, because it is far more preventable but far more prevalent.

Do I need cite a statistic on the ratio of car accidents versus shootings? I think not, mostly because if a reader disagrees they will simply explain away the statistic, but also because willful shootings—and even accidental—make the paper and the nightly news every time they happen. Car accidents do not, but you can drive down a busy street and pass one on a nearly weekly basis in any larger city. This accidents don’t always involve poor driving conditions either. My city has the most regular weather, and I couldn’t tell you the last time it rained and it doesn’t snow here, but we see car accidents all the time, meaning that carelessness is usually the cause. This is why I fear car accidents more than being shot.

Why Less Gun Control Makes Me Feel Safer:

I have worked in jobs that are prime targets for mass shootings, which truly feel rare to me. While one part of me was on the task at hand, another part of my mind was on the possibility of a mass shooting happening and what I could do in the situation. I have to be perfectly honest here but in those positions where firearms were not allowed on the premises, I felt more vulnerable to an attack than on those premises that allowed employees and visitors to carry firearms. Why? Because if the building has a no firearms sign, the person who is willing to take a human life is not going to care about that sign, but those law-abiding citizens inside the building are now defenseless. Some may argue that that is what security is for, but schools of all levels and malls are much too big to trust that a handful of security guards will be able to control the situations before human life has been lost. While some may argue that this loss of life is negligible, the loss is not negligible at all when it is yours or that of a loved one or friend.

The biggest reason why I feel safer knowing those everyday people around me may be carrying a weapon is that any potential attacker also knows anyone around him or her may be carrying a weapon, meaning that they are less likely to see the opportunity to victimize those around them. Attackers, of any variety, are like predators. They assess each situation for the possibility of getting what they want. They look at the woman walking alone and try to gauge if she knows how to fight or has some way to defend herself. They look at locations to see if the public at that location is disarmed and at ease. They look at houses to assess if they are easy to break into and if the inhabitants may have a firearm. I look at a no firearms sign on a building and see a target sign. That’s what scares me. Because the more people who are armed, the less time an attacker has to hurt people. I’m not saying that people should wear t-shirts that proclaim the fact that they are carrying a weapon because that also is a target sign and that’s not smart. Don’t forget that while a firearm is a tool of lethality, a potential victim can use it just as well as a potential attacker, and the tool itself does not care of its user’s motives. Instead people need to care about the user’s intent, and the phrase fight fire with fire makes more sense with firearms than any other situation.

What Makes a Potential Victim and Why Other Answers Aren’t as Effective:

Basically just being weaker than the other guy. Seems obvious. For example, the other guy knows karate and you don’t. The other guy is a man and you’re a woman. The other guy is twice your size. The other guy is fifty years younger than you. The other guy is actually three guys. The other guy has a firearm or other deadly weapon. Etc.

But most people who don’t like firearms state you should run away. I hate this simple response like running is always an option. It’s basically never an option for me with my exercise induced asthma; I’m sure an attacker could catch me easily, and others with similar health conditions that prevent running away may also find this insulting (wheelchair bound, advanced age, damaged joints or bones, chronic muscle weakness, blindness, an incomplete or missing limb, etc. all can preclude running). But there are also other situational factors that could preclude running: trapped with the attacker between the victim and the exit, the victim wearing shoes that prevent speed and agility (such as high heels and ballet flats which women are apt to wear but are not good for running), and uneven, dangerous, or confusing terrain. If anyone makes the argument that the chances of an attacker choosing people with these conditions or in these situations is slim are smoking something very interesting because attackers (as stated above) choose conditions that will most likely put the situation in their favor. It is more likely that they will choose someone at a disadvantage.

I have heard the argument that a victim should just let the attacker take what they want. This makes sense if all the attacker wants is just material items. But it is naïve to think that an attacker will always only want a car or TV. Any woman should know that sometimes an attacker wants to hurt you, but everyone should also be aware of this, because sometimes their goal is not just to hurt their victim but to kill their victim. This is why the “don’t fight your attacker” argument never works for me. We cannot read the minds of those around us, and someone who is willing to threaten another person with extreme bodily harm may ultimately plan or decide to kill that other person. I will not hope for the best case scenario when a person is attacking me. I’m not going to just cross my fingers that I will come out of an attack alive and unharmed. I will plan for the possible eventuality that an attacker will seriously harm or kill me, because that is a possibly and I don’t play Russian roulette. The idea that I should allow an attacker to take my life in his or her hands without putting up any resistance, not to mention the maximum possible, is insane to me, because what they are doing is wrong on every level, especially morally and legally and the attacker’s lack of scruples could cost my life. We should fight back because no white knight will come to save us and we shouldn’t hope only to survive it, we should hope to prevent ourselves any harm. I brook no slack for a person willing to break the law at the expense of another person’s well-being because the safety and rights of the person who has not broken the law but is threatened by the first person matters more than the law-breaker’s rights and safety.

Armchair Judgment:

The majority of the time I disagree with the idea of trying to pass judgment on the potential victim who has defended him or herself mostly because of the telephone/rumor game the media puts over any situation. Judgment should truly only come into play in a courtroom. The whole “Well, he could have done this” argument is most often presented by people with no prior experience with a life-threatening situation involving an attacker. In a perfect world, we would all be omniscient and could predict a situation to the best possible outcome, but this isn’t a perfect world and we are always working on imperfect knowledge. Victims can only say that they felt their life was threatened and that they defended themselves. They may themselves look back and think of how things could have gone differently, but we have a saying for that as well: hindsight is 20-20. The panic and fear of a real life-and-death situation can prevent a person from seeing all of the options and instead presents a person with the quickest and most feasible solution to getting out of danger. It is not about thought; it is about the protective instinct. One could argue then that the victim is reacting in an uncivilized manner, an animalistic one, but they are in an uncivilized and animalistic situation where the most basic principles of life and death are at play. It is easy to act civilized from outside the situation, but do not pretend that the situation itself is civilized. That is why armchair judgments are without merit.

Distrusting the Statistics:

To those people who don’t know about my freaky memory, I have been known to retain information, sometimes word-for-word, read or spoken to me. A couple of years ago I read an article that reviewed a several year study on gun related deaths. The review was a rhetorical analysis of the study and why its findings were inaccurate. The study counted the number of deaths involving a gun, but the study did not state the number of firearms owned in America which would give a percentage of gun related deaths versus the number of gun owners. It also did not compare the number of all unnatural deaths versus gun related deaths. Then it came down to the qualifications for what constituted a gun related death. Some were suicides, but not all by gun; some were simply gun owners who committed suicide by hanging or the ingesting of pills, the gun not involved in the act. In some cases of deaths involving two people, the deceased owned the gun and the gun was not involved, such as strangulation, vehicular manslaughter, and stabbing. Nor was there any mention of how many of the two person incidents involved a gun that was not legally attained. Because of all these possibly willful oversights and frankly numbers fixing, I found that I could not trust the conclusions of the study. All data on firearms are based on emotional and/or political bias—either way, so all data is untrustworthy. People should just get over their need for data on this and live and let live. You don’t have to own a firearm if you don’t want to, but that shouldn’t stop others from owning firearms because it is the Second Amendment. The argument that “people” meant the states when the Constitution uses the word “state” in reference to the states is a kind of etymological gymnastic. And arguing that “keep” isn’t a synonym for “own” or “possess” seems disingenuous. Lawyers like to argue about the definition of words but debate is their job not etymology.

The Conclusion:

I understand that firearms are frightening to many people. It is truly a fear of what they represent: death. But this tool can prevent it as well given the right circumstances. Allowing fear to overcome reasoning, or even drive reasoning, is wrong and damaging. Pandora couldn’t put it all back in the box, and neither can we. Firearms exist, and we cannot unmake them. They will always exist. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and legislate them out of existence. They are also an American tradition and part of our history; there is the added bonus that their production creates jobs in a country sorely in need of employment. The more legislation on them, the less they feed into our economy. But the most important reason that I believe that firearms are not to be feared is that it is not the tool which causes harm but the intent of an individual and whatever tool they use, be it a firearm, vehicle, blade, pillow, or their own hands, we can never disarm our society completely because we have not yet disarmed all intent to harm. Anything can be a weapon and anything can cause harm put into the right person’s hands, but we know an object is not even needed. Our fear has been misplaced on the tool. Inanimate objects have no intent, despite the magical realism to the contrary in one of my thesis stories. People have intent. Fear the person who is willing to harm others, but don’t take the tools away from those who would defend themselves.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2014 in Empathy, Politics, Social Issues

 

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