Why can’t I think the way I want to?

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I actually watched the Oscars this year with a friend (it was fun!). Everything around the Oscars seems to be built around judging, and not just the movies (think red carpet, fashion blogs the day after, etc). Both of us found ourselves saying things about the clothes/looks/weight of movie stars in ways we did not expect.

I find it frustrating that even if I educate myself on all the media manipulations and cognitive biases I still fall into the traps I am trying to avoid. Today’s focus is women and body image. Mostly because it messes with my head.

Here is the way I want to think:
–Many many body types and looks are beautiful.
The media appears to think there is more or less one ideal. I like to think of myself as someone who can see through the bullshit in media and society, but I see it have a huge effect on me nonetheless.

Examples of failure:
Clothing choices: It is easy to judge others on this, my favorite pop culture example is from ‘Hackers’: “Spandex: it’s a privilege, not a right”. Who made that rule up? If she (the hypothetical person wearing spandex) is comfortable and proud then who are we to judge? What needs to change is society’s idea of beauty, not what one woman is choosing to wear. My thinking has not stopped me from saying ‘she should not be wearing that’ in the past, or thinking it recently. I want to work on that part of myself.

Flaws in others. When I see people with a crooked smile I think it is adorable. When I saw a picture of myself with a crooked smile I freaked the fuck out. I kept thinking ‘is that what I really look like’. And then I would think ‘why is this bad on me when it is awesome on other people’. Because I hold myself up to messed up standards I have bought into after seeing them my whole life.

OMG, weight. I think I am fairly average right now, for my age and all. I could be tons better, I could exercise at least occasionally. For awhile I was super skinny. I got that way from being unable to eat after a boyfriend cheated on me (NOT healthy). When my sister sees pictures of me from back then she says I look scrawny. I think I looked great. I do not want to think I looked great, because it was not healthy. Nonetheless, I look at those pictures and see them as me at my best.

I often hear that when a woman gets a nasty look from another it is a compliment, because naturally we are all just jealous of one another. Wink wink, nudge nudge, this is just an uncomfortable truth. NO. This is one where my intention and my brain are actually on the same page. When I see a well dressed attractive woman (in my eyes) I genuinely think good things. When I see a woman give me any sort of disdainful look I wonder wtf I did.

While watching the Oscars both my friend and I called ourselves out each time something judgmental was said. I do not want to beat myself up *too* much for not being perfect, but I also want to continue learning and make an attempt at being better. Societal conventions have way more impact on me than I would like. I think the best I can do is recognize when it happens, try to understand how and why, and let that learning affect my daily doings as it will.

In the meantime I would like to ask my brain to stop thinking things I don’t want to think, let me be the person I want to be.

May the blessings be with you

Yesterday someone (my single reader for the day) found my blog by searching the term ‘if a guy tells you to have a blessed day’. I did a google search for the same and did not see my blog on the first few pages. They must have had some serious questions about that phrase if they went that far into a search is my conclusion.

I read many of the links in the first couple pages. It was an interesting mix of people (much like myself) being a wee bit fed up with hearing the phrase and others complaining about the fed up people.

What reading all that got me thinking about is how to respond. The only time I have responded with anything but a vaguely uncomfortable smile did not really turn out so well, and there is usually not time in the situations where I hear it. Also, I am not quick on my feet conversationally, so I need to think about it ahead of time. I am leaning towards one of these:

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If they say it’s not my birthday, I can say I am not religious! Ok, this *may be* passive aggressive.

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Because who doesn’t love a Star Wars reference? Then again, the people saying this would probably wonder who doesn’t want blessings.

Prejudice and racism

I opened Facebook the other day to this:

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It made me question whether I had a solid definition for prejudice and racism. The little rant also sounded pretty racist to me, and I wanted context and explanation, neither of which I got (despite my heroic efforts). Lacking explanation and context I did what I always do, which is ask anyone willing to talk to me what their definitions are.

Most people agreed on prejudice and in the definition broke down the word to pre-judge. Google defined it as:
preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Most people (but not all) also agreed that racism is a type of prejudice. The Venn diagram of prejudice and racism would look like this:

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Dear god that graphic is large, what happened to the photo size option in my WordPress app?

Racism is the harder one to define, my goodness it is complicated and every single answer I got was different. Google says:
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

This makes sense to me as a literal but not all encompassing definition. Take that and only that and I can see how one would end at the statement from the above Facebook comment “There are only literally thousands of ‘racists’ in this country … And most of them are black”, with which I wholeheartedly disagree.
So, what is that definition missing? I think it is both subtlety and social context.

The subtlety I see most often in microaggressions. I believe as people we all have biases and prejudices, often without seeing them in ourselves. Because microaggressions are by definition subtle, it is easy to tell oneself that engaging in the behavior is not racist. When these slip into our conversation we do not see them as racist, but to someone feeling the effects of microaggressions day in and day out it would feel racist.

The social context is mostly about power dynamics. Only one of the ten or so people I asked for definitions brought up societal power dynamics as a defining factor in racism, so though I believe this it is obviously not universally accepted. I see institutional racism in our society against minorities seeping into most aspects of our society, much of it unconscious. This is a good explanation using bricks, and a generally good read.

I think that is all my brain can take on racism, and I by no means have a definition that I am happy with. At least my Venn diagram helped me with the prejudice difference…

I think I am jealous of Tim Minchin

I absolutely adore what I know of Tim Minchin’s work, he is pretty much the perfect public personality for me. I see him as socially liberal, logic and science based, and hilarious. My introduction to Tim Minchin was his Storm video. It is an animated comedic beat poem about his skepticism of a woman’s pseudoscientific beliefs. I highly recommend it, watch it if you have not.

The other day I was watching this (even more likely to offend people) video and cackling with glee. I had a desire to post it on some sort of social media but was held back by a fear of pissing people off (instead I just emailed it to my mom, hi Mom). I talk and think quite a bit about being kind in debates and arguments. I often present my opinions with qualifications so as to soften them and make them more palatable. I do think this is often a good thing, but I also often wish I had the confidence to put my opinions out there, consequences be damned.

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On being open minded

Defining being open minded in my last post opened a can of worms, and I am still trying to pare it all down and get to the root of why I am perceived by some as not being open minded (because it is all about me!).

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Nobody is completely open minded about everything. Someone gave me the example that if a pedophile tried explaining why pedophilia is ok she would not be open to said arguments. We all have some issues we are unwilling to consider (often with good reason!). Maybe being open minded when seen this way is not an either/or option, but a scale where no one is at the absolute end of the scale in either direction.

Then there is the question of what happens after one listens and is receptive to new ideas. There need to be some guidelines for what ideas one adopts as one’s own in the course of being open minded (else chaos and contradictory ideas ensue). If one is using some guidelines it stands to reason that being open minded does not necessarily equate agreement in the end. For me those guidelines are evidence. I think my need for evidence is part of the sticking point in people seeing me as closed minded.

This is all further complicated when considering things I have already researched. I used to be pretty open minded about the idea of qi energy, then I spent quite a bit of time researching it so as to be fully informed and ended rejecting the idea. Does being open minded mean I need to start from an unbiased place every time the conversation happens? As a more general question, is being open minded harder when one has trained oneself to think critically? I see it as informed open minded-ness. In the face of new evidence I will reevaluate, but I need the evidence. Even if it means I am perceived as closed minded by some.

While researching this I fully enjoyed and agree with this YouTube video.
Though in a less charitable moment it did made me cackle with glee to hear Stephen Merchant say to Karl Pilkington “We are open minded to good ideas, to sensible thought, to intellectual considerations. We are not being open minded to this utter drivel.”

Defining ‘open minded’

What does being open minded mean to you? To me it means being willing to change your mind. I consider myself quite open minded, as in the face of compelling evidence I am not only willing, but usually excited to change my mind. It has been insinuated, and sometimes flat out stated, that I am not open minded. How does this dichotomy happen? Am I working with a different definition than others? Am I falling for a confirmation bias where I am only remembering instances that show my open mindedness? Is it that everyone wants to be considered open minded and fits the definition to themselves?

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The first step is getting an actual definition. These are the first three that showed up in my google search:

Definition 1:
willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced.

Definition 2:
1. having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments.
2. unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial.

Definition 3:
Open mindedness is when even if you think you are right, you know that you can be wrong and are always willing to listen to and hear an opposing or contradictory view.
Open minded people have views but know that their views do not have to be held by everyone. Open minded people also know that their views can be wrong.

Since a dictionary definition is not always what people mean when I proceeded to ask everyone that was willing to talk to me for long enough. There were some long conversations, hopefully I can pare it down to salient points.

-Being willing to change one’s mind
-Being objective (with the caveat that it is impossible to be completely objective)
-Not making judgement till one hears all of the argument
-Being open to hearing all evidence
-Trust in others knowledge, opinion and experience
-Being open to more than measurable
-Being open to anything not ‘known’
-Willing to consider any and all ideas
-Being mindful of predispositions

Some of these are quite relevant to the issue, others (to me) are beside the point. So far I am sticking with my definition, perhaps adding a willingness to listen to evidence and an attempt at objectivity (I kind of thought them implied at the start, but clarity is always better). What is your definition?

Quick and by request

Far too often things I read on the internet rouse my intellectual suspicion. I have a couple of good friends who tell me I have an exceptionally developed bullshit meter (thank you friends). Figuring out exactly what triggered it and explaining in detail with logic is way harder and takes quite a bit of time. Hours and hours of notes, multiple open tabs on my browser, and talking to myself. This is why I have a really long list of ideas/half written posts. I rarely have that many hours.

I have another friend who occasionally tells me about/sends me links to get my opinion. I think we have a different base of what we believe, but she respects and seeks my opinion anyway (bless her face).

This link on oil pulling was what I woke up to this morning. I am hoping that after I write about it I will be able to more quickly identify my intellectual suspicion triggers. I have only spent an hour down the rabbit hole of internet links associated with oil pulling (small compared to my usual). These are the notes I have taken so far:

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My notes are always messy

(Edit to define oil pulling: oil pulling is swishing oil, generally coconut oil, in one’s mouth for about twenty minutes a day in lieu of brushing one’s teeth. Sometimes as an addition to brushing.)

The first thing I saw that triggered me was talk of toxins. I never understand what the toxins oft cited in alternative medicine are. It inevitably ends up feeling like talk of balancing the humours, which in turns makes me think of blood letting as a common cure. I hope we can agree that bleeding is a terrible and ineffective ‘cure’.

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Granted, all that humours stuff is just what toxins talk feels like to me. The fact of the matter is I have never gotten a good explanation of what said toxins are, much less evidence to back up such an explanation. In absence of evidence I am skeptical.

The next trigger came immediately after, a story about her husband’s curing a cavity with oil pulling. Not even pictorial evidence to back up her story (psst: people sometimes lie on the internet). Even if we assume she is being 100% truthful from her perspective, anecdotes are useful tools in demonstrating ideas, but they are not evidence. My first thought at explaining her conclusions being possibly wrong is the difference between correlation and causation. If someone had bad oral hygiene to start with and started paying attention to them every day things would improve just by said attention. It also seems to be personal visual inspection hailing it as a cure. What if the root of the tooth is still rotting deep in the gum where one cannot see it? I could keep going on about this section, but I need to move on.

The third trigger was the assertion “God designed our bodies so incredibly”. Ok, but I am an atheist. I am up front about having an evidence based view of the world. I do not think our bodies were designed, I think they happened.

Fourth trigger is seeming contradictions. At the beginning of the post she says “coconut oil is anti-bacterial, and could pull toxins from your mouth when you swished it in your mouth for 15-20 min” (I guess implying the toxins are bacterial? Why not just call them bacteria?). Later she quotes ““That tooth decay is caused by nutrient deficiencies and not bacteria has been proven in both animal and laboratory experiments published in books and dental journals…”. So far as I can tell these are contradictory statements, correct me if I am missing something. Also, I want citations for this being proven.

Fifth trigger was the fact that she links an affiliated recommended oil, though I am pleased that she puts that info out there. Still, makes the whole post an advert to me, which in turn triggers a wariness.

There were other smaller triggers for me, plus I read a ton of other websites both in support and critically analyzing oil pulling. I am not going to go into all of that or link it all because now I am three hours in and I said I would clean the community garden and my house today. But, for my darling who asked my opinion:

It might help in some small measures, it might not. I doubt it as a new miracle cure for all the claims I have read today. It probably does not hurt (though if I did everything that does not hurt and *might* work I would have no time to write crap like this).

Ps, I am totally not leaving this for a few hours and then editing it as I usually do because I do not feel like it. There may be mistakes and some not completely thought out reasoning. Sorry.