Post-Election Thoughts

It’s now the day after election day and current Democratic losses seem kinda grim if you’re looking at Texas – we didn’t flip a senate seat, we didn’t get governor or lieutenant governor, and we didn’t flip the whole state blue. Last night my Facebook feed was pretty bleak, with people feeling defeated and ready to call it quits. By “quits” I mean they felt that they had failed and lost, that there seemed to be no point to their efforts since the “Blue Wave” wasn’t as big as desired or expected.

My main concern now is that Democrats and first-time midterm voters are going to see losses, be demoralized, and throw their hands up and never vote again. Republicans rally around their party like the world will come to an end if they don’t vote Republican. What I’ve seen time and again is Democrats, Independents, and Liberals of one form or another vote, lose a race, and then say voting doesn’t matter and not only do they proclaim they’ll never vote again, but they tell other people to never vote because it doesn’t matter. (Sitting through political diatribes when you’re just trying to shelve books in the History section gets old, but at least I got to hear from actual people about these things.) This is a gross generalization, but almost a decade in college (with an undergrad and two graduate degrees) and several years working in a book store gave me insight into what people were thinking; my stint as a political blogger helped as well, but listening to people bemoan that they lost the presidential election meant that voting was meaningless gave me more insight than reading comments about how I was a GOP shill or a Liberal cunt (don’t miss those days at all. AT. ALL.).

My point is that politics is full of winning and losing, ups and downs. You don’t win if you decide that a lost race means everything hopeless. The gains made by Democrats last night are significant – Texas Democrats flipped several House seats, and Harris County elected several Democrats to flip the county to majority Democratic control. Of course, we also sent Ken Paxton (currently indicted for criminal securities fraud and failure to register as an investment adviser) and George P. Bush (aka That Guy Who’s Trying To Ruin The Alamo) back as AG and Land Commissioner, respectively. Why? Maybe Texans love felons and hate the Alamo, but I suspect it’s more that there was a huge push to Keep Texas Red.

Fresh eyes and minds keep things moving in the right direction. Keeping incumbents to “Keep State/District/etc. red (or whatever)” is a terrible idea and only fosters poor decision making and the worst in political BS. The idea that single-party control is best for the country and voters is short-sighed and foolhardy – the idea that yours is the only opinion that matters makes it difficult to effect real change, but I suppose that’s the point when the status quo is so comfortable. But if that’s the case, why campaign on changing? Why say you’re going to Make America Great Again and then do the same old thing over and over because being in power is more important to you than anything else? Running on obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism is another problem I have – there are things that must be obstructed (fascism, injustice, corruption), but running on a platform of obstruction because you don’t like that your party didn’t win the White House, or because you don’t like Democrats in general, isn’t sustainable in the long term. What happens when you fail to live up to peoples’ expectations? or when they start having expectations beyond just “sticking it to the Libtards”?

Anyway, I’m happy with the net gains made this time around, even if every incumbent wasn’t defeated. Giving up only tells your opponent that you don’t care and they can continue doing whatever the shit they want to do with no regard to opposing opinions. If you’re upset and disappointed today, turn it around and stay involved at the local level. National politicians always start local and work their way up, and if you want to influence the country on the national stage you have to start from the ground up. Get involved, vote in Primaries, and support your local politicians. They’re the ones you’ll be sending to Governor’s offices, the House and Senate, and the White House.

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Full disclosure: I am friends with several “voluntaryists” and I’ve known many who don’t vote for religious reasons (“in the world, not of the world,” is their primary reason). I’m not speaking of them. I’m talking about people who get fired up and then decide that a loss means they should never try again. Another disclosure: I’ve historically voted as a Moderate Independent (neither Democrat nor Republican, but voting either one, or Libertarian, as I find candidates who seemed to be fit for the job). This year, I made the distinct choice to not vote Republican at all – the first election I’ve done that. My personal view is that too many Republicans either supported, sought support from, or were indifferent to problematic and harmful white nationalist ideologies and people that I couldn’t, in good faith, support the party as a whole. As Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station said, “I didn’t leave the Republican party. The Republican party left me.”

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Edit 1: An additional thought is that we have a system of checks and balances built into the governmental structure in the US – the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are supposed to work together and provide a check to the other’s power. The other form of checks and balances comes from multiple parties and ideas working together. If you’re eliminating other parties from involvement, then there’s no effective check to power or corruption, no balance of ideas or power to keep the party on track. And if voters are incentivized only to Keep The State Red, rather than voting on a variety of issues and considerations, then it seems as though there’s no effective voter checks to poor decisions either.

Maybe Everything Isn’t Terrible

Checking in with social media recently, specifically Facebook and Twitter, has made me feel like maybe everything really IS terrible. Maybe we really are only 20 years away from the sudden and inevitable collapse of the environment. Maybe we’re on the cusp of an imminent thermonuclear war. Maybe Jesus has spurned us for the second coming and we’re all just going straight to Hell for all eternity.

So I was thinking on the way home that I really miss the days growing up before social media, when we could choose to ignore the whackadoodle ravings on AM radio, where Neo-Nazis were just a group of weirdos largely relegated to a few rallies in rural areas and Jerry Springer episodes, and the only thing I worried about was whether or not I’d get to watch cartoons after school. (Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were life, y’all.) The 24-hour news cycle and the incessant coverage of every minor thing ruined me for current events. I loved reading books on political theory and history and culture, and I even blogged for the Houston Chronicle for a while as one of the only (or maybe the only) moderate bloggers – mine was the one that had a dozen or more footnotes and links to sources, because you can take the blogger out of academia but you can’t take the academics out of my blogging.

But as social media became more social, and we traded our MySpace pages for Facebook and then Twitter, every damn conspiracy theory and minute incident got hours and hours of coverage online. Most of it fizzles into nothing and we never hear about it, but the internet is forever and every now and then the dreaded Necrothread rears it’s ugly head to resurrect some old issue and it’s argued again like it happened yesterday. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because it means that when people claim they never had any dealings with a foreign government we can just pull up old Tweets or blog posts evidencing otherwise. (And man, some of those Tweets do NOT age well.) But most of the time it just leads to people arguing over and over again about the thing and it still never gets solved.

I try to cultivate my social media so that I keep in touch with friends and family, but also so that I’m not in a bubble where I miss out on things that are going on around me. I don’t like being blissfully unaware of current events, but the nature of social media means that between the sarcastic memes and dog pictures I’m getting inundated with Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad news, and being a concerned citizen I want to do all the things and solve all the problems and be involved in local politics so that I can prevent Armageddon. But being just one person I’m probably not going to do all the things – realistically there are probably one or two things I can do and I should work on those. And even though I’m a realist and I (mostly) know my limitations, I still feel powerless and overwhelmed. I feel like I’m not contributing meaningfully, that I’m not doing enough, that taking any kind of break is tantamount to failure because EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE!!!!

Except everything is probably not terrible. I can list several things right now that are not terrible: I have a good job with health insurance, my kiddo is in Girl Scouts and is super excited about doing outdoors stuff, I found a ton of cool new books to read, and I have a supportive group of friends and family. I’m doing pretty good at winning at life – probably don’t have the high score, but that’s okay. It’s probably also okay if I don’t try to solve all of the world’s problems, because a) I can’t, b) I shouldn’t try, and c) no, really, I can’t. It’s probably definitely also okay if I step back and do self care, like spending 2,000 hours playing Skyrim (haha, just kidding, that’s totally not a thing I did…), or reading my ever-growing To Be Read list or turning off notifications on my phone and stop reading social media for a few days.

It’s important to do things that bring joy to your life, to remind yourself that everything is NOT terrible, to lift yourself up. If you don’t, the crushing weight of the world’s problems will consume you and you’ll shrivel into a hollow shambling husk and honestly shambling husks do not enjoy life at all. It’s okay to do something fun once in a while and not spend all day worrying about terrible things. And it’s definitely okay to stop following every news organization and political figure on Facebook and Twitter and follow all the dog and otter and cat accounts instead. Dog Twitter is 100% more enjoyable anyway.

“I Didn’t Know It Was A Problem” and other problems

I’ve been thinking a lot about Aziz Ansari, and the undercurrent of social training that enables men (and sometimes women) to sail past social cues and into the territory of violating another person’s space, or their bodies. Emma Gray writes, “I believe that Ansari didn’t realize in the moment that he was ignoring Grace’s cues, nonverbal or otherwise.” And it’s true – many men I’ve worked with, been friends with, or encountered in social spaces, have no idea they’re ignoring my cues to reject their advances. Many of them ignored straightforward rejections of their advances, and believed they had a right to say and do whatever they wanted to get my attention and achieve their goal of getting sex (either from me, an available target, or another woman).

There is a dynamic at play here, where many woman – most women, I think – are told that they have to care about other people’s feelings, that they are responsible for ensuring other people are happy and comfortable. They’re taught to be pleasers, to not say No, to be agreeable. It was certainly ingrained in my own upbringing, not just by parents, but also by teachers, religious leaders, other parents, coaches. Many women have a problem outright rejecting someone, and when they do they’re met with complaints that they’re bitchy, or catty, that they’re assholes. “Why can’t you be nice? Why are you so mean? I’m just trying to be nice!”

To be fair, Aziz Ansari apologized sincerely, and claimed he misread the situation. That’s all well and good, but the problem is that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong, that he was violating this woman’s space, that he should have stopped. Most men I know aren’t cued in to nonverbal cues to begin with, so when I read about this encounter all I could think was, “Well of course. Men just don’t know how to work around nonverbal cues, and some verbal cues are just confusing.” And that’s about when I stopped myself and asked, sincerely, “Why shouldn’t they? Why should men ignore nonverbal cues, much less verbal ones, because they’re too hard to work with? And why is this so generalized, as though men are just dumb about this kind of thing?” (It’s like those stupid laundry detergent commercials that indicate men are just helpless about housework and somehow the entire house would explode if they tried to do laundry without their wives stepping in.)

Gray’s article points to research that indicates men and women can and do understand verbal and non-verbal cues (Just say No?; If a Girl Doesn’t Say ‘no’…; Mythcommunication). It’s not impossible, and it’s not “a guy thing” that men don’t understand it if women say, “I guess I’m not into it,” or “I’m not ready for this,” or some other form of indirect verbal cues. It’s a cop-out, and claiming that men are somehow intellectually incapable of understanding such indirectness does them a disservice. It says that men are too dumb to understand their environments, and that women are incapable of communicating. Some women are afraid of making people mad at them, or they’re genuinely afraid for their lives in some cases, and they indicate their discomfort in indirect ways, in nonverbal ways. I’ve done so several times, and had male friends “rescue” me from people that ran the gamut from merely annoying customers to scary stalkers and ex-boyfriends.

To say that “men just don’t get it” is not just asinine, it’s dangerous. It gives predators a pass to say, “I just didn’t understand what she was saying. She wasn’t clear.” It does a disservice to boys who grow up thinking they don’t have to understand their social environments. Men can and should learn how to interpret indirect and nonverbal communication, just as much as women should learn the confidence to be forthright and direct. Many women will tell stories of men who were violent in their rejection, who beat, raped, or killed a woman who said, “No.”  Those encounters are extremely important, and they should be told, and we should be aware of them and work to stop them. But encounters like “Grace” and Ansari need to be told as well, because the non-violent violations are no less damaging than the violent ones.

On Regret

I’ve been thinking about regret lately, and how much regret I have and how it stems from deep-set shame over all kinds of things. I’ve managed to rack up regrets over every aspect of my life – how I walk, how I talk, how I eat, smile, laugh; everything I do is up for scrutiny and a certain sense of shame. At this point in my life, I’m not sure WHY I’m hanging on to so much shame and regret, but I doggedly cling to it like a bizarre life raft thinking that it will somehow keep me afloat.

Shame and regret can be useful tools. Humans and other animals learn from doing things wrong – if you never make mistakes, learning how to cope with challenges, and learning new skills will be difficult. (I have a pair of socks that say, “Screwing Up Is Part Of The Protocol” to remind me that making mistakes is part of the normal course of business of being human.) Being ashamed of or regretting something can be a useful reminder that what we’ve done is wrong, but shame and regret can also go too far and consume us.

On any given day, I probably think about a dozen or more things that I regret and I wish I had done differently or that had never happened. If I’m having a bad anxiety day, those thoughts might consume my thinking for most of the day, and my productivity and well-being. In the past (before I decided to seek help from a psychiatrist), I had severe panic attacks from thinking about something that happened 10 or 20 years ago and being consumed by the shame of my actions. It was a sense of regret that spiraled down into debilitating feelings of unworthiness, guilt, inferiority. Why? I took it for granted in the past, assumed I was supposed to feel that way, that the sense of shame and regret I felt was good and natural and that I SHOULD feel that way. But what does that actually do for me?

When I get consumed by those feelings, I don’t feel like I’m actually learning anything new, that I’m growing as a person. I realized in the last year or so that what I’m doing is beating myself down, that these self-conscious feelings are destructive. I don’t think I realized how negatively these exercises in regret impacted my life until recently, when I connected my internal “fantasy” life (mainly the fantasy of being able to navigate personal and professional situations without saying or doing the wrong thing, without being goofy or weird) with the feelings of shame and regret. Normally, an episode of being consumed by regret would be followed by episodes of escapism – here’s how this would have turned out if I was better at social situations, or if I wasn’t as awkward, or if I was more self-assured.

I still can’t answer why I regret so much, and I know logically it serves no purpose other than to further fuel my anxiety and give it something to latch onto. I started (re-started, really) meditating with the Headspace app and I noticed that even during meditation my mind naturally gravitates to something I did wrong and starts to focus on that. The meditation does help me push those thoughts away (the method is called “noting,” whereby you acknowledge the thought or feeling and move on), but I can’t answer why I should keep clinging to this consumption, other than that it’s a habit and I’ve lived so long like this that I don’t know how to live any other way.

I’m not one for resolutions, but I started thinking at the end of the year that I wanted to change this about myself. I want to stop pre-shaming myself and worrying about what I might do wrong or how I might fuck things up. I want to stop shaming myself during and after an event and picking apart everything I do. But mostly, I want to let go of all the regrets I have in my life. The burden of shame is great, and it can lead to a host of other negative behaviors (rage, anger, fear), and that it can be contagious in those around you. So this year, instead of having a resolution that I’ll forget about in a few weeks, I’m committing to letting go of this destructive shame and regret, to breaking a habit that’s become self-destructive.

Tiny Buddha has an article that provides a good starting point. But as with any project, breaking a bad habit requires a support system, not just will and determination, so the second part of this exercise is going to be remembering that I have a support system and actually using it. No one walks through life entirely alone.

No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.  – John Donne, Meditation XVII

The alternative is continuing a destructive cycle, which will undermine all the other aspects of my life. I don’t want my life to be consumed by something so worthless as regret over things I can no longer control or change, when I could be working on literally anything else of value in my life.

Saturday Thoughts – Resiliency

We live in a society that places too much value on self-reliance, resilience, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s completely unrealistic and ignores the fact that humans are a social animal, that reliance on others is part of what creates and reinforces society. Humans live in groups and divide labor to achieve efficiencies – hunters,  bakers, fishers, cooks, blacksmiths, woodsmen, etc.

There’s too much insistence on playing it cool and brushing off our own frustration and anxiety. We’re humans living in a stressful world, and when you add trying to recover from storm damage on top of the usual stresses of life, it can make things overwhelming. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. Let yourself rely on other people.