27 April 2008

Stop Using No Sex As A Weapon

I think the right thing to do, when helplessness is being used as a weapon, is to figure out how to take that helplessness away.
Sometimes the hard part is figuring out if what one is seeing is helplessness—an actual complete lack of realizable positive choice—or the kind of selfish externalized ruthlessness that really doesn't care what costs are borne by others.
Sometimes the hard part is that maybe both descriptions apply.
There are people who have a functioning social empathy and model other people as other people; necessarily simplified, but a thing-like-me, not necessarily deterministic in behaviour, contextual, all that stuff, where new information expands the descriptive power of the model, rather than breaking.
And there are people who don't; they have to model other people as patterns of responses. If event, then response.
This doesn't work very well; lots of things about people simply won't reduce to simple linear rules. (Consider just how much effort and intelligence has been expended by game designers, trying to do this, and how profoundly all those models fail to describe actual people.) But someone who is smart and determined can get a fairly long way like this. They're going to have real, serious, hopeless trouble with actual empathy, the way someone congenitally blind is going to have trouble with colour, but something like an ability to function socially can be constructed.
Something like, but not the whole thing; it fails at edge cases, and, well, intimate relationships are edge cases. (Does that use of "intimate" not mean sex? No. Does that use of intimate only mean sex? No.)
So there are these efforts to create or impose rules; since the level of complexity is too great for individual human brains to model, from first principles, prescriptive rules concerning outcomes will always fail to be complete. (We've got the problem of a system having to be complex enough to model itself, and we've got the problem of a system having to be complex enough to model two systems, equivalently complex to itself, interacting. Not going to happen even when the system doing the modeling is one of the interacting systems.)
Which is OK, if you're one of the people who benefit from the current set of rules; if you're one of the people who don't, you've got (at least in the abstract) a range of choices.
One category of choice is "we want these rules changed"; this can work (women have the vote, slavery is nominally unlawful most places) for broad categories of law, but for the intimate relationships? Not all that useful, because those get into the line between good and evil in the individual human heart, rather than the statistical mass of humanity.
Another category of choice is "these are the rules of how the interaction will be conducted"; no attempt to determine outcomes (which anyone who likes the current outcomes will be at least very wary of, because, at least relatively, they're going to either lose status or change their imagination of the world, and asking "does the courtship ritual have the Buddha-dharma" is one of those tough questions.) This has the advantage that you can constrain away the bad categories of interaction (Do you have to tolerate pain or damage to get what you want? No.) and the disadvantage that you've got very little ability to predict outcomes. (That thing about complex systems again, but now they're complex systems in the future.)
So, back to the idea of intimate relationships—which is basically anything involving prolonged deliberate touch, even the really ritualized versions of touch like visits to the dentist—and interaction-limiting rules.
It's really easy to come up with a basic set of rules:

  • what causes you to like yourself less, do not do

  • do with others only what you are mutually enthusiastic about

  • anything but an explicit "yes" is construed as "no"

  • choice constrains the future; avoid trading narrow present gain for lasting
    future loss.

What is not easy is actually following a set of simple rules. You have to notice what makes you like yourself less (hello, axiom of inherent value; a remarkable number of people have this either hammered out of them completely or largely tied to external approval); you have to be willing to say what you're enthusiastic about, the second time, after you did it the first time and the person you told not only laughed, they told everyone they met for the next month; you have to say yes, if you mean yes, and find out that wasn't the question you were being asked in any way at all.
Self-honesty is tough; internally sourced self esteem is tough, too, because there's a real limit about how practical that is. Socially isolated humans go crazy, and often in ways that stick; undoing the social isolation doesn't fix the crazy.
So there's real selective pressure maintaining social systems that apply prescriptive rules about outcomes, and there's real selective pressure, especially around more basic needs in the hiearchy of needs, to get those by whatever short term means work.
This gets into why class structures are of benefit to the powerful, but that's another polemic.
The point I'm getting to now is that this "open source boob project" is one of those prescriptive outcome, model-others-by-pattern-of-response, any-means-at-all mechanisms to get a need met; it's trading immediate results for a worse future (as any number of people have been concerned to describe), and it's putting a need for esteem ahead of a need for safety, which is inverting the appropriate priority order. (air-water-food-shelter, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization, going up Mazlow's hierarchy.)
Is it quite possible that the individual proposing it sincerely thought it was a good idea? Sure.
Could it be the case that they're just not going to be able to empathicly model other people as equivalent entities, and as such are stuck in the frustrating, bewildering, and fundamentally not that effective position of modeling others as stimulus/response patterns, rather than a whole person seeking to meet objectives of their own? Very likely the case.
Is this a helplessness that can be taken away?
Probably not. It's one of those generational problems, like "women are people" and "sex is not a sin" and "prefer absolute power to relative social standing".
It's still, well, putting your emotional security ahead of someone else's safety, however indirectly, is going to fail to recommend your character, and make it that much harder to find an enthusiasm for touch you can justly take personally.
(Of course it's a real question of safety; any least pursuit of the appropriate grim statistics will tell you that, and to the very cold eddies of the river Gjöll with any impulses of fannish exceptional ism.)
Hard work for the better odds of the good thing, or much, much less work for a repeated pattern of damage ought to be an easy choice to make.


Dw3t-Hthr said...

You remind me, in the comment about the model, of my comment posted here some time ago:


(You may recognise little light as an occasional commenter at Making Light. Or then again you may not.)

Graydon said...

The comprehensiveness of my perusal of Making Light would be difficult to understate, alas.

My favorite line about nice guys came from soc.singles, long ago -- "Nice guys _do_ get laid. It's guys who whine a lot who generally don't."

But, yeah, pattern traps are nasty things, especially when one hasn't got any of the ideas necessary to figure out what they are or how to get out of them.

Anonymous said...

Something like, but not the whole thing; it fails at edge cases, and, well, intimate relationships are edge cases. (Does that use of "intimate" not mean sex? No. Does that use of intimate only mean sex? No.)

I assume in the context of this post that your contextual use of intimate is somewhat different from the way I generally use it, and if I didn't know you, and if we hadn't had some parts of this conversation in entirely different contexts in the past, I would probably be a bit lost.

RSS feed?

Graydon said...

Intimate = context of presumed mutual vulnerability.

Which ought to imply mutual trust, but of course does not inherently manage to do that.

I had assumed that the 'feed' buttons were RSS feeds, but a little poking about explains that RSS and Atom are not the same thing. I will look into setting up an RSS feed, but how is not immediately obvious.

LJ syndication link at http://syndicated.livejournal.com/dubiousprospect/
courtesy of pleonastic;