Fuzzy memories

My memory for some things is awful. It’s a running joke at work, and my graduate students have teased me by admitting their strategy of coming back to me with a research idea that I dismissed weeks ago, with the hopes that I will have forgotten dismissing it, and will get excited about it the second or third time. I can’t say that this strategy hasn’t worked…largely because my memory can be pretty rotten at times. I don’t think it’s pathological, or a sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s. I think some things are salient, and stick, and others are easily dismissed, and forgotten. I also know that memories are quite flexible, and often we remember things very differently from how they actually happened. An article in Vox reminded me of this, and there are other excellent examples out there.

Fair warning, there’s a spoiler below, so if you haven’t listened to the episode of Radiolab called “Reasonable Doubt” and want to/plan to, you might not want to read below the fold just yet.

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Sex and straw men

The outing of Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator has raised the profile of sexual harassment in a way that I hope does some good. Women are sharing their stories, and letting anybody who doesn’t already know, that harassment is a pervasive problem. I think this is all good, but I think we all need to tread carefully, and see some of the pitfalls that other similar social movements have faced. Also, as a caveat, I recognize that a white cis guy probably isn’t the best voice for this, but given that my maximum readership for any post sits at around six views, I still feel moderately comfortable using this as my diary, as a place to put some flesh on my semi-private thought skeleton. I also think I have a pretty good track record of being against sex discrimination and considering myself a feminist/equalist (see here, and here). So here goes.

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Abortion, abortion, abortion…

[Somewhat rushed piece…overwhelmed with work, but trying to stay in the habit of writing, and it’s been a long time. I’m sure it’s full of typos and other problems, but at this point, it will have to do]

I’ve spent a bit of time talking about abortion and abortion rights since Hitting Bregma started (notably here and here). I’m fascinated by it as a topic because it’s so meaningful to so many people, that I honestly see it as the number one guiding issue in our politics today. I don’t have any scientific evidence for this at all, and I would enjoy being shown that it’s not true, but I think the abortion question actually drives many people in one direction or another, and then the other partisan issues take hold. It’s easy for me to imagine somebody being appalled by abortion, leaning toward a particular political identity because of that, and then slowing assimilating with all the other beliefs of that political party. It seems like a key reason, for instance, why a deeply religious Christian would so predictably care about small government, about maintaining strong borders, about a super powerful national defense, about implementing the death penalty, about low taxes (especially for the wealthy). On the flip side, it’s puzzling to me that advocacy of abortion rights does such a good job at predicting where somebody stands on raising taxes on the wealthy, on being against the death penalty, about working hard for minority rights and environmentalism, and about government services for the poor. Of course, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t fall into those more predictable positions. I know plenty who are deeply religious, and guided by this to be sickened by abortion, but put this aside to otherwise favor liberal politicians who are anti-death penalty, pro-helping the poor, pro-helping immigrants, and willing to tax people to make that possible. It would be a silly straw man fallacy to say that I’m implying that this applies to everybody equally, but I find it interesting to see how many people seem to find their political identity by following the pro-choice or anti-abortion trail to the rest of the stuff.

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A feminist by any other name…might be an equalist.

Today is International Women’s Day 2017, and it’s probably not a coincidence that I had a thought about being a feminist this morning while driving to work. It’s surely a thought that many have had, and, like everything else I write about here, it’s coming from a complete amature position, so take it with a grain of salt. I consider myself a feminist, and have written before about being a male feminist. There are many people out there who are turned off by that word, and people who I consider feminists who might refuse to call themselves that. It made me wonder if there was something about the word itself that people rejected. And that thought got the figurative wheels in motion while the literal wheels were moving under me.

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Missed opportunities: how President Trump could win over the world, but almost certainly won’t

I, like many people I know, are watching this administration’s actions and getting more and more frightened for the long-term damage it could do. His inauguration speech was a nationalistic cry to the “forgotten” Americans, and a slap in the face to those of us who see how great the country is, and want it to be better for all. It was a speech describing a zero sum game, where it’s us or them, and that made me sad. That sadness has been balanced, somewhat, by the incredible reaction we’re seeing to the surprising win by Trump. From the women’s march on Washington (and the other marches all over the country, even in other countries) to the stories of large numbers of progressives getting more involved to the incredible rallies that are happening at a moment’s notice in response to actions the administration is taking. This all happens, and I watch with some pleasure, but what I feel most of all is sadness. Sadness that our President could so easily win so many people over, and simply won’t. He’s described by those close to him as somebody who craves good ratings. Who wants to be loved. And he could be, with the simplest moves.

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Some thoughts on abortion

Abortion is a very difficult and divisive issue in today’s cultural and political landscape (that might be an understatement). I am strongly in favor of abortion rights, so I do not come to this with a neutral perspective. On the other hand, I care about people, and many people I know and love are emotionally traumatized (and I do not think that is an overstatement) by abortion. In the worldview of these people, abortion is literally the voluntary, cruel, painful, disgusting murder of a child, a child unable to defend him/herself. I think all of us who support abortion rights need to remember that, and, for those of us who actually care about other people, need to imagine how it would feel if we knew that millions of children were being killed. Imagine there was a foreign country in which babies (make them two months old for the example to work) were being taken to a hospital or doctor’s office and being killed without anesthesia, for no reason other than they were too much of a burden on the parents. That is how it looks to some people who are anti-abortion. Although I do not view abortion that way, I know what it feels like to learn that children are dying, and I can imagine the outrage that I would feel if I did see abortion that way. I think that’s critically important to keep in mind. It’s that recognition that has driven me, for the past twenty years or more, to try to imagine a compromise. To be honest, I’ve put a fair amount of thought into this, but not as much as I could have for two reasons: 1) I am fairly certain there is no compromise, and 2) even if I thought of one, I have no power to implement it. That second one isn’t as meaningful as the first, because, as anybody who reads anything I post knows, it doesn’t stop me from opining on pretty much everything else that matters to me.

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Life as a male feminist

This isn’t a story of my whole life, and it isn’t even about part of my life (even though the title might give that sense). It’s about a recent experience, and some recent discussions I’ve had, all about women in the workplace and some of the issues we face as a society. I’ll start this with a small glimpse into what drives me to care about this, and it comes down to one thing. I want to live in a world that feels fair. Period. I guess I’d settle for a country that feels fair, or maybe even a state or maybe even a community, but I want to be somewhere that feels fair. I know the saying “Life isn’t fair,” but I disagree. I think we define fairness differently, especially when bad things happen, but I think in many ways, life is, or could be fair. And I am happier when things seem fair. I recently attended a workshop on women in STEM. It included an excellent lecture and some good discussion after. I didn’t count, but I think there were about 40 people in the room, and about three of us were men. That’s unfortunate, but not the point I’m about to make: after it ended, and a few of us (me and three women) stood outside and talked more, at least four women leaving the room looked right at me, ignoring the others I was talking to, and gave me an enthusiastic “Thank you for coming to this.” I appreciated the acknowledgement, but was taken aback that nobody thanked the women I was talking to for coming. And I’m certain that I benefited more from the lecture than the speaker did. The speaker already knew everything she was saying. I got some new information from it, and from the discussion after. But the “thank you” comments didn’t end.

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