Purity, Danger And Realism – Children, Social Media And The Modern World

Introduction

Whether or not children should use social media (or be internet active) is possibly one of the biggest polemics of our day and age. Make no mistake – often enough, people who argue against children using social media also argue against people in general using social media. The “perils” of social media are supposed to include addiction, depression, retraction from the “real” world. *Many suggestions for better life include self-imposed exile from social media as a crucial aspect, forgetting that doing so will ostracise one not only from the work environment where it involves online presence of some sort, but also friends and family, insofar as one doesn’t live in a small village and distrusts all others who do not.

Ironically, and rather predictably, these have been around for ages – addiction is a behavioural (and, to a certain extent, biochemical (cf. here and here) problem that can affect vulnerable people of any age, and currently, about 20.6 million are fighting addictions (2011 figure for US; went up to 21.5 million in US in 2014).

The most usual addictions are still as follows : nicotine (so cigarettes, cigars and occasionally pipe), alcohol and soft and hard drugs (cf here: 800 000+ cocaine addicts in US in 2011; “tens of millions of Americans use prescription drugs non-medically every year”; 16.7 million addicted to alcohol in US in 2011; also cf. here & here).

Other addictions that are widely believed to exist (contrary to having a proper background, such as drugs or alcohol) include internet, gambling and sex. Internet is a new one – the “peril” of modernity; sex has had a history of being perceived as negative, but is not, currently, considered an addiction ((cf. here) although a person may be defined or self-define, in therapy, as hypersexual) and gambling is yet another of the behaviours that has a patchy history of extremist prejudice, which sadly influences not only perception but also any possibility for serious studies; while there are helplines out there to deal with the problems (more or less helpful, informed or professional, and often with an extremist background to them), and while theoretically, every behaviour could become consistent with a form of OCD pattern (i.e. behavioural addiction – an obsessive repeated action due to denial of a different state or problem, or to deal with one’s wish for acceptance, or to express the recklessness experienced by subjects with anxiety and/or depression), they are not and should not be taken at face value as “addictions” or “addictive”, despite the fact that they are often quoted as factual by especially mass media, parroting “what we already know” – enter Geertz’s aura of factuality.

Addiction is, as I have already stated, a behavioural problem. It is a response to many factors – in some cultures, smoking and drinking alcohol are heavily present as a part of cultural (and therefore social and personal) identity (cf. here & here); in others, a group within the overarching structure of the society/culture entity in question indulges/partakes in specific, often rigorously ritualised addictions or close addictions; Friday binge drinking in Western culture, for instance, is such a formation, and yet, it is usually overlooked due to its prevalence – the problem of locally acceptable or overarching addictions everywhere.

Drugs fall into the category of group behaviour, and involve both individuals seeking to be accepted and those seeking reprieve from a troubled existence – children and even adults from repressive environments who either indulge in experimentation/recreational drug use out of recklessness or to feel, literally. Both of these are symptoms of depression (cf. DSM-V pp. 160-168, also here).

As a generality, all we do is a behavioural matter; even our basic needs are intertwined with behaviour, rigid or fluid, depending on ourselves and our environment, and resultantly, our maladaptive responses (such as addiction) follow the same pattern.

Depression, the alarmingly prevalent problem for most human beings (approx. 16.2 million adults in US have had at least 1 major depressive episode, data from 2016, cf. here), is also a behavioural matter, and strongly influenced by our environment and the action and reaction within it. I would like to here remind the reader that, as with other mental health states, depression has not just popped out of nowhere with the dawn of 21st century; while influenced, of course, by the turbulence of many crises that we saw in the 20th and thus far in 21st centuries (such as two world wars, numerous other wars and conflicts, episodes of famine and inflation, etc.), it has definitely existed before, and was often the response to other such events (consider depressed poetry or depression symptoms in persons or story characters in previous centuries) (cf. here).

Primarily, depression has to do with how we act and react in our environment and how we are in turn acted and reacted to. One could almost say that natural disasters, chronic illness and pain and, above all other, negative experience of human contact, all cause and co-cause a certain emotional exhaustion, which results in depression if it is severe and long lasting enough; the earlier it starts (cf. here, here, here, here & here), the worse its consequences. Primary caregiver(s), as well as the world around them and how the caregiver(s) are accepted, all provide a blueprint for how we perceive the world, and how fragile our psyche is going to end up being (cf. previous links). And while there is no saying that we won’t recover against all hope, this is the recovery that should not even be needed, and that is nevertheless often overlooked and taken for granted.

Retraction from the “real” world is a perplexing claim that lacks realism. Firstly, the real world is everything that involves us. Our dreams (both the state of sleep and fond imaginings of possible future) are a reality, so is the physical and potential (so the world that might come into existence through action and reactions – for instance, as my OH and I move, we shall have to acquire a new oven; we do not have it now, but it exists in potentia, and shall become a reality when we acquire it; equally, new inventions lie in that sphere). Equally, many forms of our communication exist in a reality that is different than fully physical – a letter does not exist in one’s life until it is received (despite existing factually), just like the answer cannot reach us until it does (and therefore exists for a while only in potentia); a phone conversation is not physical, neither is Skyping, and yet it provides crucial communication and human contact, albeit not physical at this stage of things; emails, TV, radio and books, as well as texting, all fall into that group, as did the good old Pony Express, telegram and a hired messenger.

Secondly, the contact with the physical world around us is often heavily inflated by those who claim danger of lack of real world interaction. Most people shy away from randomly verbally connecting with a stranger on the bus or train; and while there exist, in our lifetime, places and times when that is more likely to happen (University time; school time and other children interacting on trips or playground; courtship among adults and young adults may take place anywhere, at any time, but is more likely to be pursued in specific locations, such as bars), just like we might react to a person in physical or emotional distress, on an average day, we are more likely to keep to our own friendship circle rather than attempt to enlarge it by connecting with random strangers – which, if it were done online, would be considered the height of peril, but is hysterically advocated as positive in face-to-face context by the social media naysayers.

Children are human beings. As human beings, they should be privy to the same rights; this includes the possibility to live, within one’s environment, without strange and unnecessary restrictions (cf. herehere & here). If a boyfriend were to restrict me from learning new skills, everyone would scream abuse; when that is done to children, we shrug it away as parenting.

But toxic parenting exists, and it is no different than a restrictive boyfriend; moreover, it is the type of parenting that produces abusive and abuse tolerating individuals (cf. here), criminals and terrorists. Abuse is not always simple to notice; restrictions especially escape notice, because we are immunised to them as a problem by remnants of earlier, more rigid, prevalent social behaviours, handed down as a behavioural pattern through generations. This is why children from seemingly wonderful families end up on the wrong side of the law and society, and baffle everyone by their behaviour – because the invisible, or, even worse, missed maladaptive, toxic actions of the primary caregiver(s) influence just as badly as all the other abuse, and are far less visible and possibly better tolerated than burns, cuts and bruises.

We are, by this point, a digital society. Good knowledge of internet, computers and social media is crucial for not only our social interaction but for our survival. Most jobs demand a good knowledge of at least two if not all three; and social interaction or the lack thereof (including via social media!) is a way of judging (often with prejudice, with people who are very shy and do not interact well even online) a potential employee’s character. In other words, a stunted growth online is a surefire way to disable a child from a good job; add to that that the current innovations hint of a world in near future where technology will play an even bigger part of our lives, with jobs structured to cater to that demand, and you are literally making sure that your child will live in poverty, or at the very least the lowest possible employment group.

Thirdly, this “retraction” has been applied to many things – including learning to read and books, TV and digital world, as well as nonacceptance of social, cultural and religious dogmas in the past, and even one’s own personhood within the constraints of the SCR environment (such as socially condoned abuse of Victorian women cf. footnote 1). We generally do not consider them such now, or do so to a lesser extent, or by separating say, books and TV into acceptable and unacceptable groups, but in reality, this is the same and equally unbased prejudice, stemming from the same type of personality’s paranoias and bias.

This article is going to explore the issues attached to restricting children in their interaction with their modern world. It is as much theirs as it is ours, if not more, as they will, presumably, live longer and see changes we might miss. Their maladaptations or psychological normality are the key for the following decades to be free of conflict as much as possible, for innovation with respect to human rights, for positive interaction with oneself and the world at large.

If we curtail that, we create the demons we so fear (something VERY clearly proven by abundant cases both in history and otherwise, from Cromwell to Hitler to the second generation Daesh fighters to name just a few). At the same time, we must impart the knowledge that is always missed in the arguments for child safety on internet – the knowledge of how to protect oneself from psychological bullying, threats and predators online. Many children with proactive parents are probably smarter about that than many adults are; with their gut feeling still untamed by what is acceptable (especially for girls – told to be nice and accepting and passive -, but boys who are told not to ever be afraid can be equally easily victimised, because they are unlikely to follow their feelings of unease to the logical end, or report an incident to anyone that could help them), children are more likely to report unease to an adult, sibling or friend that they feel they can trust than many adults are, taught to dismiss their feelings by the point they get in trouble (this is especially true of female rape victims, who often do not react in time to prevent the event (cf. footnote 2)).

However much we wish to live in a perfect world, the matters of safety will probably always remain crucial to our life and wellbeing. There are likely to always be maladaptive individuals or groups; but it is up to us and our social behaviour how many and how prevalent they will be. In rigid countries (*numbers vary; often, they seem ridiculously low compared to other countries – however, the lack of reporting, truthful reporting, possibility of reporting and even knowledge that something could be a crime, as well as public acceptance of the deed as a crime, often lead to skewed figures, less likely in cultures where reporting crimes is more accepted), the prevalence is alarmingly high; the number of crimes – off-line crimes in the real world especially – are resultantly high and often very grisly, because of what is deemed acceptable… beatings and murder of LGBT, forced labour under pretext of immorality or witchcraft, chosen groups and individuals who are hierarchically approved targets (like the Untouchables’ cast in India).

In fluid environments, crime still exists – but it is lesser than where it is deemed socially and culturally acceptable, and this often supported by religious notions, claims and ideals; this, however, becomes perilous the moment the politics turn the laws and social behaviour towards supporting those in favour of unbiased human rights approach. Which country, which culture is rigid is current and incidental; UK or US can as easily become as rigid and crime/extremism supporting as many Third World countries appear now, and they, due to the revolt that has been happening especially in the last few years against many injustices, as well as the call for equality, may literally become the mirror image of what they have been so far, creating a shocking opposition to the now-dominant and human rights based West.

It is therefore only logical to instruct children how to use the digital world we live in safely; much like we teach them not to converse with strangers, how to use knives in cooking and how to use an oven, we must teach them how to do an equivalent of this online, rather than restrict them pointlessly and then throw them in at the deep end, tutting about how they are drowning rather than learning to swim.

 

“DON’T FEED THE TROLL”

This is a phrase that generally charms up an image of that poor troll in the Lord of the Rings for me, for absolutely no good reason; it is, however, a relevant phrase that is used on many internet sites and should be your guiding star offline just as well. In our very real world, there are always people who enjoy (due to their prejudices and other maladaptations that had been instilled into them, or simply because their life has made them miserable enough to wish to lash out, to be malicious to someone else as a form of reprieve from their own misery) taking it out on someone else. You must have seen it – very few people don’t -; passing someone, they make a nasty remark, sometimes about your clothes, your gender, your colour or otherwise. At other times, they spout vicious threats at you, the passerby, and the world in general.

They may be drunk or stone-cold sober, but this is who they are and what they do.

It is absolutely ridiculous to think that they would not do the same online.

Online, much like maligning someone on the street, provides a certain amount of anonymity. You and the person have nothing in common but the street (or the particular online site) and in many ways, this is perfect for those who wish to take it out without the peril of repercussions. It is almost not personal. Or rather, it is as personal as it is personal in general, towards the part of the world or the world itself (women, gays, Afro-Americans…). This is the type of behaviour that can be annoying, even frightening and degrading, but cannot be stopped in a significant way. On internet, the block button exists to lessen the trauma of being this way abused for you; in physical world, there is no block button, and the seeming threat can appear very real, because the person threatening exists in the same moment on the same street.

Granted – many people feel equally threatened by such behaviour online, to the point where they allow the abuser to take complete control over their emotion; they allow for the person to revel in the feeling that the victim feels their threats are real, plausible, possible. In other words, they are fragile enough (in my experience usually through earlier victimisations in physical world) to forget the block button. Many get so frightened they abandon a site completely rather than block and report.

The problem is, if I can phrase it this way, as much in the victim’s reaction as it is in the abuser’s actions. Don’t get me wrong – I am not in any way excusing the abuser or blaming the victim. But in all altercations, one has two options – self-defence as fitting to the situation and threat (this includes talking it out, ignoring, retreat…) or capitulation.

The block button is self-defence online.

Very few things can realistically happen to one online, especially if proper internet safety rules are followed. And while a very smart criminal might manage to zone in on the desired victim and ascertain, even just from what is visible on their profile (or hack their way into it), their personal details, the vast majority of trolls neither have the know-how nor the option, as well as time, opportunity or wish, possibly the most important aspect of internet emotional bullying, to do so. For most, it is enough to sit in their room revelling in the feeling of power, caused by the distress they know they have caused in another person (my own observation).

That the person is faceless is often not a problem – sometimes the action itself is enough, as is the fact that they may be feeling safer due to their own facelessness; and where a picture is indeed involved, that is enough to provide the human, face-to-face contact… a sneaky proof that, in many ways, the physical and online worlds are very much the same for us. (*my own assessment, from observation and cases)

Bullying online consists of the following :

  • Deriding an unknown person
  • Deriding a known person, such as a school fellow or colleague; this is an extension of physical world bullying as a generality, and the motivation is the wish to take away a feeling of the victim having a safe corner to themselves – this type of behaviour would include threats and harassment at home in the physical world, or different forms of stalking (such as visible – making sure the victim is aware of your presence at all times and invisible – appearing omniscient about their whereabouts while remaining hidden, giving the victim a very unpleasant feeling of being constantly watched)
  • Name calling
  • Threats, either general or to one’s sexuality (such as slut shaming), gender, sex, social aspect of being, colour, sexual orientation, etc.
  • General disruptive/antisocial behaviour to the online community in general (the equivalent of drunk and disorderly in physical world)
  • Seeming kindness that hides a barb or turns nasty
  • Sexual abuse, including the use of hacking to obtain “damning” information and then forced sexual acts (young adults and teens are a preferred target, cf. here)
  • Seeking to start fights (see equivalent of drunk and disorderly)

 

Bullying exists in the physical world primarily. It can be ghastly prevalent – the numbers suggest that between 20 and 28 percent of children and teens are bullied in school environment in US (cf. here, UK stats and info here). Adults are not safe from it either; unpleasant work environment often hides many forms of bullying (cf. here).

While bullying borders on criminal activity (such as psychological – deriding, shaming, threatening – and mild physical torture – pushing, flicking, hitting – or destruction of property), it often stops short of actual criminal activity (assault with grievous bodily harm, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, murder…), making it very difficult for the victim or their primary caregiver(s) to effectively use law to put a stop to it. (*laws however do exist – cf. here) While there does exist a framework for the defence of the victim, it is far from effective in practice, and many institutions prefer to keep things quiet and punish the victims rather than enact punishment for the bully (cf. here & here, own consultations); equally, recognition of what is bullying, as well as the severity of it on case to case basis, may vary, or the actions may be almost completely dismissed (cf. here).

Even more often, people – including the primary caregiver(s) are indifferent to bullying, especially of boys, considering it “character building” or blaming the victim for somehow exciting the abuser into action, or for being “too soft”. Perceiving bullying as less terrible than it is is another problem the victims face. This often continues well into adulthood, and if anything, it not only gives the abuser a free reign and a feeling of untouchability, it also confirms him or her in their perception of maladaptive behaviours as a socio (and psycho) normality and entrenches the victim in the feeling of peril and helplessness. People who are bullied and remain helpless as children or teens are likely to have the same problem as adults – and worse, they will present a social face that will draw the potential abusers to them above others, because they will be recognised as an easy and satisfying target (cf. here, own experience).

One thing that is good about bullying online, however, is that it leaves forensic traces, however unpleasant and awful it is. It is easy for a bruise to be dismissed or a victim to be presented as a liar; but push it too far, and your internet paper-trail will lead the law to your doorstep, digital and physical (cf. here).

In many ways, we fail to teach this lesson to children and adults alike – that they have and should use the block button; that any threats that could become too real can be deflected by use of self-defence (which everyone should know anyhow) and most importantly, that anything that keeps happening online (or via physical letters) provides much necessary proof. Digital world makes it that much easier; where before, the police would have to look for where a piece of paper came from, and might come up empty-handed or may feel that the trouble to the victim isn’t big enough (yet) that it should warrant a lengthy and possibly fruitless investigation, online world makes it easier to do so in most cases, barring the really well organised ones, with the criminal’s very presence having been thoroughly falsely laid out via clever disguise of the server location or hiding the IP address. (*I’m not referencing this, because the references I have thoroughly explain how to do this; while I am not implying my readers are criminals, this is an online article and can therefore be read by anyone.)

In either case, if all else fails, block button and self-defence remain your ally, and it is something we should all be aware of, regardless of our age.

 

THE THREAT OF THE SEXUAL PREDATORS

The sad truth is that sexual abuse most often happens at home or in the circle of people we know, regardless of our age (cf. here & here). In children, abuse is generally perpetrated by adults in dominant position – primary caregivers themselves, teachers, coaches and priests… people whose authority children are taught is not to be questioned, is absolute. There are definitely similarities between online and offline tactics of the predator approaching the child (cf. here), with one significant difference… the fact that online, an adult may pose as a child or teen.

While this is not possible offline, there are many ways to approach a child without having to resort to faking childhood or even kidnapping for a predator; offers of food, compliments, toys can all be used, as can be simply having children of one’s own. It’s not unusual for other parents to help out with babysitting, driving to school or extracurricular activities, organising sleepovers and parties; and while most are not predators, some will be.

By assuming a role of some significance in the child’s life, the polite indifference and distance are also minimised, and a form of authority established, overt or hidden. The person can form a bond, express sympathy (such as with parents that are too busy), draw a parallel between them and their intended victim… or, alternatively (or in combination), assert full dominance over the child in a feat of stern parental-ish control, and take it to their preferred ending.

That a perpetrator may pose as a child online but cannot do the same offline is therefore, perhaps, of less significance than the fact that there even exist, in our society, circumstances that cause children of all ages to fall for whatever tactic the future abuser is using to get their way.

There are two main groups of child abusers out there – paedophiles proper, whose interest is in the pre-pubescent child, and those whose interest are teens. Both get lumped in the general group “paedophiles” or “child molesters” by the public, thus not only enlarging the lack of understanding of the problem and consequences of their behaviour but also distancing children further from recognition of potential abuse at the older range of the scale. A teenager is perfectly capable of recognising and deciding on sexual matters themselves, if properly informed, much like we deem them old enough to drive, pack weapons and be tried for certain crimes as adults. Teens have been known to be abusers themselves and that of younger children, age peers and older subjects (cf. here & here).

This does not mean that all teens decide to have a sexual relationship with an older person. It does not mean that they, mostly victims rather than abusers or even willing participants, should be vilified. But it does mean that unfortunately, repeat childification to below their age worsens the potential of informed consent, lessens the likelihood of reporting the incident(s) or taking action against it and robs of the clarity of where their interest stops and abuse starts. The best way to protect anyone from anything is to ensure that they are informed – something we are loath to do, because of a foolish, prudish notion of “protecting innocence”… when in reality, we are creating the very situation that we are trying to avoid, making unwary potential victims out of living beings that are, at their age, supposed to take some of the most crucial and potentially damning decisions in their lives – from every grade on to which college they wish to get to.

If we want to nullify the opportunities for the potential predators, we must give children clear parameters of what goes – parameters also devoid of pointless restrictions of their developing sexuality, because that, yet again, blurs the line between rape and sex. In modern psychology, it is considered normal for children to begin to sexually explore their bodies by the onset of puberty at cca. 12; by 13 to 14, experimentation with oneself (made far less safe due to restrictions in safe sex toys for minors due to religious/social outrage!) and developing interest in the preferred potential partners should emerge clearly; by 15-17, sexual experimentation with partner(s) should happen. These are the general parameters; there will always be outliers to both directions, who should not be penalised for their slower or speedier development. But whatever we do, we must neither squash their development nor allow it to be blurred with or even replaced by a pathological, paraphilic brainwashing, be it of active abusers themselves or purists and moralists, who do not take their safety into account, but serve only their own prejudice, and, often, actual paraphilia (despite many of the people involved in these debates citing religious reasons, or religiously based ones, and the long history of all religious groups in dictating social, personal and sexual lives of those around them, as well as the related obsession with purity, the numbers of not only religious practitioners but people with a religiously significant roles who have been recognised as abusers are bad; I give you the study in the US for Catholic church, with the comment that numbers are difficult to obtain and difficult to trust, as there has been plenty of doctoring of evidence in religious communities… but insofar as we can trust the mention of the known 4% as a certainty, that is four percent too much; no such data could be found, while I was researching for this article, for other major religious communities cf. here).

I must here state that often, the social pressure of behaviour in gender roles causes damage to a great extent. On one hand, the girls are a very easy target for that – taught to protect their virginity, aware of slut shaming and associated danger of “what happens to bad girls” (with some people literally sicing their sons on chosen victims) and fearful of being perceived as “guilty” for their own rape, girls are often forever caught in the limbo of not being allowed to have their own sexual wish and the uncertainty of how far they are allowed to say no or defend themselves, especially against older people who have authority over them.

On the other hand, boys can fall prey to both sexes, and have to face not only the associated guilt game, but also the fact that they are not allowed to cry, express emotions, feel fear; sex with a woman, even if undesired, is often shrugged off as “educational” (a trope explored in the French series Profilage, where a female abuser – a piano teacher – convinces the victims that she is sexually educating them) and protest laughed off as the boy/youth not being “manly enough” not to complain; abuse by a man carries the danger of being perceived as gay and therefore subjected to the LGBT related prejudices.

As you can see, both groups are left in a very precarious position vis-à-vis their potential attackers.

 

For myself, I can state I have noticed two prevalent types of abusers. The Master/Dominant is a violent, authoritarian figure; coaches, many teachers, some priests and parents (usually fathers) fall into that category. This is the category that gets what they want by using threats, exerting physical and emotional dominance and violence and subjugation and simple force (including capturing and holding).

The other category is the Carer/Sympathiser. This is the category that still includes many of the above roles, and where alternative parental figure falls in (the soccer moms, best friends’ dads, sympathetic neighbours…), the category that relies on seeming kindness and acted disappointment to achieve their means. They obtain control over the victim by expressing care, love and affection, alienating them from potential help by effectively being that help.

Again, the problem with either category comes back to us adults in the child’s life.

Acceptance of physical punishment, lack of child’s own agency and the predomination of adults over their life, blurring lines of physical untouchability by exacting control over their freedom of movement and “doing it because you love them” are all potential stepping stones for a person to become not only a victim of their primary caregiver(s), but also literal Stockholm syndrome platforms, creating a pliant personality used to being dealt with in ways that are unpleasant in the silence used by those who like traditional parenting methods, as the notions of law stopping at the doorway and the impermeability of familial environment mimic, in many ways, the tactics used by sexual predators in their quest for abuse.

 

Communication and trust, on the other hand, build cognition, with the child as the central piece of their own life. The notions of “Do I like this? Do I want this?”, as well as “I am free to decide to or not to like this” can only be built where the child themselves has agency, undisturbed by others’ input.

We all make mistakes, but we only learn from them when and if we are allowed to learn from them, to discuss and consider them. Not all mistakes are mistakes; some “mistakes” are simply outdated social norms that are better made completely redundant (racial prejudice, gender roles and associated behaviour, body modification, food preferences, religious bigotry…) and that we should not be supporting, even just out of uncertainty, and the child should definitely not learn to mimic our behaviour; many also do not make sense, and the child’s recognition of that needs to be acknowledged… as we know, hate is taught, and a child recognising that should not be hushed or punished for their intelligence, even if we feel it will insult someone’s “sensitivities” (reads prejudice).

Punishment and restrictions are not necessary in communication. Indeed, stress caused by them is likelier to inhibit learning than otherwise. As adults, we must learn (even if we are the first of our family to take that step) that we might not always be right. We must be honest in admitting when we are wrong, thus forming an example of positive behaviour. We must control our potential emotional outbursts, not to the extent of robots, but definitely to the point where we do not take it out on a weaker individual (child, pet or spouse) because we had a rough day. There is often a fine line between abuser behaviour and socially sanctioned behaviour, and children learn from the examples we give them, positive and negative.

If your relationship to your child is an open, trusting, non-restrictive type, then you are likely to get to know if something happened that is causing a child concern, or that they are not sure about, or spot something that they are missing. If, however, you are used to being withdrawn, secretive and controlling, the chances are that even the slightly changed behaviour of a child undergoing doubts and fears or even abuse itself will become subsumed into the “same old”.

From the cases I have myself consulted on, or cases I know of, I would suggest that these are the factors crucial to making sure your child avoids a predator, on or offline.

1. They need to learn to observe the patterns – pattern seeking in its non-maladaptive form is an evolutionary way of recognising food, landmarks, danger… this is crucial, but is missing, often because

a) we do not allow for the children or even adults to be in potentially dangerous situations or mock-ups of them (like making up scenarios and discussing them) so they could learn safely,

b) lack of general information, such as existence of sexual predators – He-Man was a good example of teaching children safety with the statement that if anyone touches you in any way you don’t like, you should inform an adult you trust

 c) globalisation of control – all adults are equally dominant, equally unquestionable, equally unaccountable for their actions; it is always the child’s fault and the child has no right to question – this is why there is such a strong prevalence of abuse in religious groups and schools,

d) lack of trust and communication between child and primary caregiver, lack of trustworthy adults around (esp. where there have been threats administered; you must be more powerful, more reliable than the potentia of threats, and the child must feel equally certain in themselves),

e) lack of awareness of self in sexual situations due to restriction in sexual situations,

 f) fear of failure/rejection (threat of grade reduction, physical threat to oneself or loved ones, fear of not appearing strong enough, good enough…)

 

They often work together (such as lack of trust and fear of failure), but these crucial factors have little to do with online vs offline. In truth, they are a universal safety catch, a measure we could all employ as a precaution, and which we often fail to do because we are too caught in matters that seem to demand and employ action – the myths about what is dangerous and how to avoid it, dictated by the loud extremists and their uncertain, incidental or deliberate lackeys – instead of actually going about doing things that would help, and realising just what is myth and what is a reality.

 

2. They need to learn self-defence.

It is highly unlikely that your child will never experience a positive result from self-defence. Even if they never have to assess a dangerous situation, if they never have to block a knife holding hand or throw a punch, if they live out their lives in total and blissful safety, they will still reap the rest of the positive results:

  1. certainty; knowing your body, your strengths and weaknesses and how to use both in a self-positive manner in the entirety of your life is pretty powerful; it creates an image of self that is less likely to drift into anxiety, uncertainty and depression
  2. physical exercise and the resultant alertness, better cognition, feeling of freshness and fitness, as well as the calm of a person who does not feel constantly endangered
  3. capability to assess real and imaginary dangers (and their scope) and react accordingly in a manner of seconds
  4. contrary to popular belief, children (and adults) who practice martial arts or self-defence do not generally turn into bullies; while there may be some whose background results in the training becoming a part of a spiral of self and general hate and physical abuse, you can at the very least be sure that you or your child will know how to evade or defend against such individuals, or even against street-taught fighting
  5. better cognition leads to better grades and more success
  6. a positive approach to self helps make friends and open doors in education and when finding a job; we all prefer people who are personable, because they are seemingly easier to communicate with, and they do not give us an uncomfortable feeling of impending danger or doom, which can happen with shy and introverted people when we sense the uncertainty and anxiety
  7. a good posture resulting from the exercise (as well as all the other physical aspects) will mean better health for years to come, as well as a show of calm certainty; women who exercise have reported performing better at work due to their posture being better due to exercise
  8. sleep and overactive behaviour will be normalised – if you want to have a child with a normal sleep pattern or reduce the overactivity, sweeten with natural sweeteners and tire them out in a positive way (speaking as an aunt of two small children as well as a scientist)

 

SAFETY – ON AND OFFLINE

For both us adults and children, the matters of safety are the same on and offline. While it is certainly true that anything hackable can be hacked (I believe I am practically quoting this year’s CES findings as mentioned by Palmer and Jim Turner), this same goes for locks. Alarms. Doors.

Before the world became digital, as far back as possible, there has always been a possibility to break into something, the difficulty often posing as a challenge for shall we say law non-abiding masters (and mistresses) of their craft.

Granted – as matters change, we need to adapt. That is definitely true; but that still does not mean that we must forget about the online world because it is too perilous. The same can be said about shopping at the mall, crossing the road and living in your house or apartment. You would probably not consider hiding in your home (which still does not protect you from a break-in!), but you could be convinced to do so, in a sense, where your online life is concerned… or those of your children.

Here, again, we see a strange social phenomenon of accepted and unaccepted “truths” (i.e. aura of factuality (cf. footnote 3)) – while the social services may have a lot of words to say if they find you have been restricting your child from leaving the house, ostensibly because you think it is too dangerous, the digital world we inhabit in part is still too “new” and presented as too alien for any serious concerns being raised about you restricting your child’s social growth in it… if anything, such actions, however harmful in effect, are often applauded.

So what are the rules you should live by?

When safety comes first, follow the following :

  • do not talk to random strangers (unlike what is preached we should be doing instead of conversing with our friends on Facebook); if you do, if you have to, be it to ask for directions or tell them they have dropped something, or simply because niceties are being exchanged, always remain aware of how far and where you want that conversation to go; remain in control of yourself, your environment and you information
  • speaking of information – do not carry or post personal information, such as your address or phone number; if you do, be sure it is protected (real world – carried close to your body at all times; online – passwords), but remain aware that pickpockets and hackers exist; therefore, try to keep a close eye on things, on and offline, to have at least a vague idea of when and where something might have gone amiss, and what that might mean for you now (could you be a victim of the ID theft, have you lost your phone and since then, your friend has started getting strange messages, could someone have obtained your business information)
  • learn to recognise real warnings vs faked warnings; you might be repeatedly told that you have a virus, but if nothing is going amiss and your firewall is fine, do not click that link just because it keeps telling you something is wrong; equally important – if a stranger tells you that you don’t really need to call for a cab, they can drive you, it’s best to walk away or even report him, in case someone else does get duped
  • do not leave your doors unlocked; do not leave your computer or phone unattended
  • beware of shifty calls, emails or text messages, or, for that matter, shifty people on the street
  • if you think someone is tailing you, they probably are; if you think your computer or phone is acting strange, it probably is
  • you wouldn’t leave your personal photos, clothes, jewellery lying around for everyone to see – your social media and email, as well as your phone, should be treated like your house
  • be sure who you invite in; often, friends or friends of friends turn out to be bullies or predators – which is why you should learn to
    • 1. spot trouble
    • 2. act to dispel danger
    • 3. use block button (no such luck in real world)
  • learn pickup or grooming lines (when travelling, especially women should really make the effort – I speak from my own experience here)
  • don’t dismiss the gut feeling; teach your children not to dismiss the gut feeling

If you have taught your child these things, then you are fine. They are fine. Do not allow people to make you feel uncomfortable if you allow your child freedom, on or offline, because you have done your best to keep them safe, not just as a child, but as an adult as well.

If you have not, “protecting” – i.e. restricting without teaching them safety – will not help them. Sooner or later, they will be old enough to live on their own, and you will have to live with the knowledge that you gave them no skills to protect themselves, on or offline, in the world they inhabit. Act now – change your attitude and learn to teach them how.

 

“ALEXA BOUGHT ME”…

One of the reasons cited for children and technology not mixing is that they might buy something, accidentally or on purpose.

Indeed, a few cases exist – a little girl who accidentally ordered a pricey doll house via Alexa (interestingly, the child’s perspective of the event was that Alexa bought her the toy… this showing clearly that to her, Alexa is a person with an adult’s agency over buying, a smart observation of what we adults actually do, and food for thought about how we perceive or could perceive AI in the near future). Of course, a question should be posited here – did the little girl ACTUALLY do that, or are we dealing with a story, spun to support a myth (in my work, I call them confirmation myths – tales to offer basis to beliefs or claims that exist in society to support a specific mode of thinking or behaviour); indeed, since the story’s inception, Snopes has called it into question and proved that it is unlikely it would actually even have a chance to happen. Ironically, this still confirms a specific feeling of agency we humans seem to be ascribing a machine – if we go so far as to spin tales of how it acted out of bounds to do something when undesired, and in a context that would be typical of a conflict between parental figures (one allowing and the other one disallowing a specific action), we should perhaps be asking ourselves if the naysayers’ subconscious motives include a fear, a prejudice, against a non-human yet human-like being/thing; it just may explain why so many claims of harmful technology include a future in which humans are “redundant” and ruled by robots.

My question to you is, have you heard of returning what you have ordered? It is generally not difficult to do, and you have probably returned a product or two in your life.

Also to consider – locking codes. Alexa, for instance, offers a brilliant set of locking codes that require a specific voice and pattern to activate and confirm the purchase (cf. here).

As for the threat of the child suddenly going on a deliberate shopping spree – we are back to the relationship you have with your child. Generally, the credit card number is needed for online purchases, or a Paypal account. Neither are likely to be obtainable without active theft. This says nothing good of your relationship with the child, nor of your skill as a parent… so perhaps the problem is neither the “evil” child nor the technology, but yourself and the relationships you build with others around you. My niece and nephew both understood the meaning of money, including something being expensive, too expensive or lack of money, by the time they were three. If you have not taught your children the same, you have either sadly misjudged their capability of learning and understanding or have simply not shown interest in teaching them about money… something that they will, yet again, sorely need in their lives all too soon.

While it would be wonderful for us to live in a world where no child would have to understand lack, we do not – and if they don’t learn it now, they will learn it when they blow their students’ loan. This does not mean restriction – again, it means teaching by imparting information in a positive way. If you lack imagination, try a simple game with fake bills (playing at the cost and what you can afford)… or even Monopoly.

 

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE AFRICAN PRINCE – OR WHY WE STILL FALL FOR IT

Somehow, many people believe that phishing scams happen only online. And yet, telephone scams and snail-mail (so letter if you are not British) scams are out there and working. Whether it was a lawyer’s letter claiming a long-lost relative has died and left you a fortune (and the lawyer now requires your bank details to deposit the money), the African prince looking for “brothers and sisters in Christ” to help him save his fortune or that persistent “you have been in a car accident” phone call that I keep getting (no matter how many times I block the number), there is always a way for the criminals to find the gullible.

Some work on the feeling of guilt; some tickle the narcissistic or semi-narcissistic feeling of group based self-importance (many Christian scamming letters are like that, banking on the paranoia, secrecy and self-righteousness of many especially evangelical groups and individuals); others may appear to be real (banking letters, calls and emails), while others again seek the greedy (or desperately poverty stricken), who hope to get a little bit of money their way. This, too, is a part of social interaction, bred into us via tales and mores, and ultimately as destructive as we allow it to be. Don’t prove P.T Barnum right – use common sense and teach common sense. No matter how many stories we hear in our lifetime about long-dead relatives, reward to the least expecting, kingdoms to the poor, the likelihood is that someone somewhere is looking for the one that will bite by sending out thousands of letters, hundreds of emails, making millions of calls.

They can be persuasive… so can many people on the street whose intentions may not be honourable. It is down to you to learn not to fall for it and to teach your children not to fall for it. Next time you get a fraudulent email, don’t delete it. Call your kids over, show it to them. Debate what it looks like, see the differences with the real thing that they can spot. You will be doing them a greater favour than worrying about whether or not they should use technology, which they will have to start using at some point in their lives.

 

THE RAW AND THE COOKED, THE HUMAN AND NOT QUITE – CHILDREN, HUMAN RIGHTS AND DISCRIMINATORY ACTION

If you have shivered with the potential connotations of the title here, don’t – we’re not cooking anybody. It pertains to Levi-Strauss’ definition of how we perceive the world, a divide, if you will, between the natural and human, acceptable and unacceptable, and of course the liminality of the passage from one to the other state.

A corpse, once a living person, is liminal while lying in state before burial; the meat we buy was once an animal and is liminal before it is cooked for consumption. In other words, it is neither this nor that, neither here nor there, and often enough, we do the same with the application of human rights to children.

Throughout the eras (and cultures) that lean or use the rigid SCR systems (so an entrenched, heavily censored, indoctrinated, dogmatic approach to life in their society, the marks and traditions of their culture and the supporting platform of the “unchanged” and “unerring” religion behind it), children and adults are not and have not been considered the same and equally worthy of rights. Today, this behaviour has not completely shifted, even in the Western world, which is currently a more fluid scheme of behaviour; children are still often curtailed not only by their parents and their prejudices and maladaptations, but also by the same as accepted into the law schemes of the states and countries in question.

In reality, we constantly trespass on this territory. We try minors for bad crimes as adults; we allow early marriage with parental permission (often enabling arranged/forced marriages); we recognise emancipated minors, who are adults in all but a name, regardless of their age.

But this is the liminal group that we tend to use and yet ignore, persistently clinging to the aura of factuality of adult and child social personifications rather than rock the boat and question them thoroughly.

It does not help that they are loudly sanctioned and advocated by the extreme leaning groups, which know very well to invoke “child protection” claim, which causes the knee-jerk reaction from most others, allowing this violation of rights to continue.

Social media and the rest of the digital world is relatively new. It is, as yet, badly represented by laws and legal bodies. It is, frighteningly, currently in the hands of the extreme right-leaning governments in many cases, who will set down laws as they see fit and ignore others.

But, as I have stated before, social media and the digital/online world are a strong part of our reality. If that is what they represent, then they are a part of our social and communicative life and skills. Restricting those is a violation of human rights (as mentioned previously in the article) – and an unnecessary one at that, because

  1. restriction teaches nothing
  2. as we have seen thus far, dangers can be avoided or overcome by learning safety in both worlds.

 

PURITY AND DANGER – ABUSE THROUGH PRUDISHNESS

The ultimate reason cited by those who scream against children using social media is well represented by Mary Douglas’ title Purity and Danger (1966). While the original work dealt with religious bias and food, this phrase is highly useful in comprehension of this reasoning – that children will “see” or “find” not only violence, but also sexually explicit – umbrella-dubbed immoral (morals here representing a very specific set of beliefs of a very specific group, as is usual) – material.

My first question to ask you is, do you usually use your social media to look at risque material?

The algorithms used by Facebook, for instance, spot the interaction of you as a user with specific posts, sites and activities (cf. here). If you, as a user, utilise your account to spout neo-Nazi messages, support terrorist-affiliated sites and white supremacists, then logically, any Facebook account managed by you as a parent for your child is likely to pop up similar material; you can also rest assured that at some point, they will definitely see your feed over your shoulder, and it might be prudent to be clear, with yourself, that secrecy kills trust, and that doing things you would not approve of in others in secrecy is possibly still wrong (then again, if you are reading terrorist, neo-Nazi and white supremacist sites, you probably aren’t worrying about your children seeing this violence but are actively grooming them towards it… so perhaps this only bothers those who are not sure just how far they are willing to go and not fully comfortable with their own sympathies, which spells out time for introspection).

This is the great threat of “violence”; as for pornography, the rule is the same. The great irony is that setting down parental filters does nothing to stop children from circumventing them – this shows precisely how useless it is to try to restrict and how useful it is to communicate.

Children will come in contact with pornography sooner or later. In fact, if you are worried about them being groomed for underage (or barely of age) porn at any point, it would be good for them (yet again) to know what this means and what it might look like. I’m not saying you should sit down and watch porn together… but I am saying that you should inform them about what pornography is; that some is done voluntarily and some is forced; that the forced pornography is a violation of people’s rights (a useful thing to know if you are worried that your teens might be victims of online sexploitation); that children are forced into pornography and are hurt by it; that the accuracy of porn vs real life sex is not very good (lack of female lubrication and tumescence, danger of anal to vaginal penetration, etc.) and any other things you can think of that would concern you. You need to be honest, however – why do they concern you?

The worry that you or your loved ones will come to harm is very real. But harm itself must be real. You may fear rape or online sexploitation; but you should not worry about your child’s “moral/sexual corruption”. This blurs the line between consensual sex and rape. And it is not a line that should ever be blurred, and yet it is, despite the fact that it prepares the terrain for the predators.

The naysayers blur this line in favour of “purity”. This purity is, in many ways, a form of sexual abuse in itself. No one should have a right to control my sexual body; it is mine and it does not matter how or when I decide to share it with my partner(s), insofar as I have done so with the knowledge (even simply through physical desire and following it through) of what this means and that I want it. This is emancipation in its truest form.

Concerns about contraception are also needless, provided your child knows of it and is not embarrassed to use it. At the same time, abortion should be the right, but not the must – decided on not because of social or familial pressure, including claims about a baby destroying your life at the “wrong moment” (if anything, the treatment of women at work place often shows that there is never the right time for a baby, and that the baby can always “destroy” your life, if the employer decides to fire you unlawfully for having given birth and having taken the time off for it), but because the girl in question does not desire to have this baby. Many adults remain too poorly educated about sex and contraceptives – this is the result of precisely this kind of upbringing, and the saddest truth is that the ones to suffer are the infants who are carried to term and then either abandoned to the system, which is not always safe or fair, or literally abandoned wherever, or even disposed of or left to die of exposure.

To consider that children will not become interested in sex and sexuality is an illusion. It is a faux perception of eternal (enforced) childhood, a forced, prolonged state that often remains imprinted over them even when they grow up, when they have or wish to have families of their own, but are still treated as fragile, innocent infants. It leads to depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction (I have had quite a few cases myself). It continues the path of bad parenting, and most importantly, it makes sure that people of all ages remain vulnerable to exploitation or harm. The attempts to censor the content by using filters also messes with the child’s basic right to find out more about themselves in case they think they may be LGBT+ (another issue in the minds of extremists, who are certain that, despite all of the pre-internet gays, reading about it online made their kids gay), or, even more alarmingly, may cut off their path to sites concerning symptoms of depression, self-harming (in themselves or a friend) and rape and sexual molestation (cf. here). In other words, you may THINK you are protecting them, but they will either slip under your radar – especially if you make that which s forbidden seem really interesting – or will be blocked from things they should learn that you did not inform them about, help they could get when they are not coming to you because you failed to establish warmth and communication, or because they wish to deal with the matter without you, thinking they would hurt you. This is real. This is not online or offline – this is this world, real people, real tragedies. There is no space for prudishness, no capricious keeping of someone’s virginity intact because it pleases you personally (conversely – a form of sexual abuse). This is the actual peril, and while the attack might have happened on or offline, the way we look for help often enough involves the online world, no matter how old we are.

 

CONCLUSION

Social media is a part of our digital world.  We cannot avoid it, nor would it make sense to – it is likely here to stay, and until some mad sci fi scenario in which all civilisation and its entrapments are lost, this is the world we live in and communicate in.

This means we must learn to do so safely at all costs, from as early on as possible. It means that we should not be curtailed from having a social life online regardless our age. Many children face challenges in their offline world that are equal or greater than what they will meet with online; the defence, the prevention, are the same.

Knowing how to communicate well in all ways is what tailors our place in our society. This goes for both sides of the world – your daughter’s rugby team, your son’s dance class, your son’s fencing team, your daughter’s riding school.

If they made friends in the offline world and kept in close contact to them, you would be a proud parent; why would you not feel the same about them keeping in contact online? The dangers are no different; the solutions are no different. All that has changed is the mode of approach of communication, at least in part – I doubt that we will ever be fully isolated from everyone, conversing only through technology in an Asimov’s novel made real. (cf. footnote 4)

But change is often accepted poorly. While Kindle has enabled many rare books to begin to circulate again, and while the physical book has not suffered because of it, many hate Kindle with a vengeance, thinking that it has or will “destroy” books.

Conveying a story is what we want; the means differ. Same is true about the changes in our communication – there have certainly been many, but for all the screaming against social media, I don’t see anyone crying for clay tablets and mounted messengers.

 


  1. Lyndon Shanley, M. (1989) Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England. Princeton University Press
  2. Kernspecht, K. R. & Karkalis, A. (2003) Verteidige Dich! – Selbstverteidigung für Frauen. Heel, 1., Aufl. edition
  3. Geertz, C. (1973) The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. Basic Books
  4. Asimov, I. (1991) The Naked Sun (The Robot Series). Spectra Books by Bantam Books

All links were accurate and active at time of publishing.

Chipping, cyborgs and people – the questions we should be asking ourselves

Author’s Note:
I initially read Mr. Palmer’s article when it first came out. However, even though I had penned a response then, many more questions opened to me and I ended up revising a few things with new, even better references that answered my own questions on the theme. I must here state that I am neither against technology nor pro it; as Mr. Palmer himself states many times in his articles, we should be looking at responsible innovation in the near future. The time for innovation is now, because the time for innovation always exists. From the moment our ancestors’ discovered that fire and tools could be useful and put them to specific uses, we have been innovating – in good and in bad – and generally, it is the use of the tool in question that is more likely to cause the problem, rather than the tool itself… for instance, knives are used daily in kitchens, but have been used in murders, and computers have been used for much good (like easily accessible academic data for start) as well as for crimes such as hacking. The one thing to remember, though – and as I am an anthropologist, my first thought is always to that particular end of the invention bargain – that we not dealing with innovation and invention outside of humanity, and that humanity has seen amazing acts of goodness along with terrifying acts of darkness. We have a checkered history and must remember it to ensure that any and every new technology serves one rather than the other, and that we minimise the option of it being misused to pamper prejudice and hate at all costs. 


 

Just yesterday, I chanced upon a brilliantly written article by Shelly Palmer on the subject that has recently gained vogue especially amongst those interested in or directly working in software technology. It is not a subject that will remain separate from the rest of us for long – while it is no longer purely theoretical, chipping of humans, in this case employee volunteers in some companies, is happening not in some distant future we can wave off as too far (and therefore safely far fetched) but now. By now, several companies in the Western world have chipped employees (cf. Epicenter, a hi-tech office block in Sweden, (articles 1 (BBC) and 2 (BBC)) and Three Square Market in Wisconsin (all accessed on 06/09/17)), and the professional world is slowly dividing between the fearful, brooding conspiracy theorists and the clamouring, enthusiastic supporters of the procedure.

That is precisely the danger of the situation, and one that Mr. Palmer addresses quite well – the divide is too strongly either this or that, and therefore, I might add, dismissable by the general public. But how long can we pretend that it is still mostly science fiction, an experimentation of a couple of technologically enthusiastic geeks that have little to do with our reality? Not very long; in recent years, technology has boomed (consider Alexa, prospect of self-driving flying cars, military drones, the new cell-changing technology to create babies from cells (more), etc.), and that means that we are facing an equally rapid approach of the moment when we might all have to make the decision. But even here, we already face the first problems.

If this is happening in some companies, it might soon be done in your company, and we all have, I believe, the knowledge that “volunteer” often does not stand for a person willingly submitting themselves to an activity or procedure – that companies have, in the past and in the present, pressured, discriminated and even forced, and that the so-called volunteering was purely a theoretical way of trying to prevent lawsuits and prosecution for the crimes against employees (cf. here and here). I am not saying that this is happening in the present cases, as the situation is not so intimately known to me that I could judge on it; but what I am saying is that we have seen discrimination happen, and that often, it is presented as voluntary, meaning that there might soon be chipping counted amongst such cases as it becomes more frequent.

But can it become more frequent and what does it actually mean?

Let us explore this from anthropological perspective.

Chipping of pets definitely exists in our world (and has become a part of the issue and should therefore be explored in this article), and that way, we already have a socio-psychological (i.e. psychological induced by society we live in, are born into) predisposition to see it as something intended for protection, safety, care. As a pet owner, I can tell you that vaccinations, pet travel and many other parts of pet owning become virtually impossible, especially in some countries, if the pet is not chipped (cf. here); chipping is viewed as a matter of factly act of protection for our pets, and by many pet owners, it is perceived as safe and far less cruel than tattooing or branding, which I definitely agree with.

Chipping, whatever the volunteers say, is not a painless procedure. Mine and my partner’s nine adopted cats are chipped and they, apart from one, are on hormonal implant, a safer way of neutering than the classical sterilisation and castration (where many side-effects, including incontinence, are frequent in animals, cf. here & here)). This means yet another big needle and a repeated procedure, but it is definitely the lesser of the two evils, and this goes for the chipping as well. The one cat who is sterilised thankfully hasn’t developed incontinence, but we have to constantly be cautious with her food as she grows simply huge very quickly, meaning she is constantly somewhat hungry and moody because she sees others getting bigger portions than her and she finishes when others are still eating. (Not something that is likely going to happen to you if get chipped by your company, but I wanted you to understand why we have decided the way we have, rather than for the usual, casually accepted yet much greater procedure that carries greater consequences, which are generally ignored, because the procedure is so usual… something that you might want to consider in the whole chipping situation.)

However – those who think that chipping is the one prick forever, and then we can all live happily ever after are woefully wrong. As a pet owner, I know that:

  • A chip may become inactive; that is why, btw, it is a good idea that you visit your vet before going on vacation abroad with your furbaby (or plural), as it will save you the stress of realising at the border (preferably, as per Murphy’s law, one where neither you nor the person(s) involved really speak the language) that the chip is not working and you will either have to turn back or face a lot of complicated banter about ownership, human and animal rights and so on.
  • Anyone’s body may reject the chip – this means that you put it in, the body decides it is a foreign body, opens up a small wound, chip goes out, wound closes and you are, yet again, in the same position (source – my own vets).
  • A chip may be removed or reprogrammed by people who stole or found your animal (source – my vets and informants who have sadly lost or nearly lost pets that way); often enough, the animals are taken so quickly and through such deeply illegal channels that they simply disappear as if they never existed, chip or no chip; in Slovenia, where I research, that sadly usually means illegal pet trade in the good cases, while the bad ones involve dog fights and gypsy camps, where the animals are tortured, maltreated and often skinned alive before being eaten to “keep them juicy” (source – informant who is a doctor for a gypsy camp, the information came from the gypsies – Roma – directly).

As you can see, the situation is not nearly as rosy as we tend to see it as, and yet, chipping is still the thing we do without even thinking, and all the while believing that this is a good thing and that it means protection for our pets forever and from all evils.

With human chipping, the situation can only get worse; but we will explore each step at the time.

The proponents of the procedure usually count these amongst the pros of the chipping:

  • Now, you will be able to access all your technology with a wave of the hand.
  • Keys and typing codes are no longer necessary; again, you can indulge your inner Jedi and simply wave your way in.
  • This will mean that security will be much much tighter all around, because nobody but the employees themselves will be able to get in.

Before we proceed to the darker parts of this article, let’s look at these arguments as they stand.

Firstly and foremostly, and I know I speak perhaps as a fitness enthusiast, but, the thing that nobody is asking themselves is why. All over the Western world, medical personnel is bemoaning our lack of physical activity – and while sliding doors can definitely be a positive thing when moving a couch and an elevator is brilliant for the disabled (including temporarily) or in a case of tremendously bad menstrual pain, the rest of the time, we really should be taking stairs. Our health is only addressed in the realm of technology when we are offered new apps for our phones, which monitor our fitness progress, but what we never seem to learn is that the apps are worth nothing without us first changing our lifestyle. So perhaps instead of a dramatic wave of the hand, pushing the door open, actually getting up to fix your cup of coffee and many more seemingly small, irrelevant tasks, should be a part of our daily routine towards a healthy body that actually utilises the muscles that will otherwise atrophy rather than melodramatic waves at everything to have technology (which will then also inform us that we did not do so well on our fitness today!) perform those actions instead of us?

Granted – we all use computers and smart phones, and our lives are easier with them. But there is a fine line between use and abuse of technology, and we are definitely treading it.

Even without the question of health and fitness, why is still a good one to explore. Many people simply do not use some of the technology available, and this is, indeed, the difference between something being available and enforced – that we can make a choice in what we desire to use and what we do not want to have as a part of our life. As this technology evolves, it, too, will become commercially available, and as with all other products, the makers will try to convince us that we cannot live without it, or even try to make certain that we cannot. This is very dark indeed, but it is not impossible; Monsanto’s example, for instance, should teach us that such pressure can happen, but also what comes of it. Monsanto’s biggest mistake, perhaps, was that they did not see that their vision was mostly faulty, especially because it did not take into account that the public simply did not desire their product, and especially not in the way they were keen to offer it – as a prohibitive monopoly that would oust all other kinds of farming (cf. here). Again, the mistake was in the lack of recognition that everything must come with a choice… except for human rights, where one cannot decide to simply follow or not follow the rules, set down to prevent abuse as much as possible and yet frequently still subject to further questioning where religion is concerned, as it, too, often tries to force a choice between it and human rights that should not be recognised as valid.

What if you do not want to use the technology that your company wants to use? How long before you are the only one who hasn’t been swayed, and how long before it becomes a must or you are fired?

This is not a matter of choice, and we cannot expect that all businesses everywhere will perceive it as such – already, we have experience with abuse of power especially in the outposts of Western companies in the Third World, where forced contraceptives for female workers, child labour, poor working conditions and much more embarrass the companies in question as well as show a problem where respect for choice and human rights are concerned.

Of course, there is the question of the technology itself. While it is a marvellous thing to think that this time, it will work, anyone with a smart phone or an adult toy will know that very often, technology does not work as it had been advertised it should. Read any reviews (or remember your own experience) and you will hear how the phones don’t work with all apps; how different companies’ technologies don’t work together; how toys designed to pair up with phones fail to do so; how charging, distance relationship enhancing toys and all possible functions fail at random, and very frequently, or do not work at all.

You might be laughing, but think from this perspective – while you may get upset with your phone, it won’t really cause you such trouble. Your vibrator not working with your OH while you are in Canada and they are in New York is frustrating, even depressing, but it’s not life-threatening. Help, I locked myself into the lab where my chip somehow activated the latest technology I now can’t get away from, but I can’t get out because THAT somehow doesn’t seem possible, however, is going to ruin your life quite drastically, and possibly quite finally, and yet, it can happen (cf. here & here). Just yesterday, my phone decided I really needed to see my weather app. Now, I did not actively open the weather app. I never erased the weather app on a chance I might use it one day, but believe me when I say it was the last thing on my mind when I was posting my last update for Anthropology is Everywhere… but it was hot, and as we hopefully all know, delicate technology goes a bit funky in extreme cold or heat.

So what happens if you are cold when you come from the outside (given that the chips are in the thin flesh of the hand) or if you begin to run a fever? Pregnant women generally have slightly higher body temperature… what about them? (source – medical informant)

Let’s move on the the now obsolete keys and codes. Funnily enough, human beings have this little habit of always saying, this time it will be perfect. This is the one that will change them all. Codes were supposed to be perfect. Keys were supposed to be perfect. Lock, bar and old-fashioned key were perfect too. But crime advances with technology. The only thing it might become is messier, when the scenarios of sci-fi films become a gruesome reality. In the near future, “lend me a hand” may not be an expression we will wish to hear any longer, because it just might get connotations that will turn our stomachs. And yet it will happen, if that is how criminals or terrorists will feel they can obtain whatever they wish to obtain.

Security. While I would be the last to question the need for security, as I take my own work and the privacy of my clients very seriously, I am informed enough that I know that again, there is no unbreakable security. The security we need most lies within our employees and co-workers. If you cannot trust your employees to respect whatever secrecy act you have asked them to sign (provided you are not doing something that actually needs to be exposed), then no chip in the world will prevent them from betraying you or selling your precious secrets to the highest bidder. Honour has always been something that we have depended upon through history, and while that trust was sometimes betrayed, it mostly works, provided honesty happens on both the side of the employer and the employee. How is this chip supposed to control the employee? A good engineer, chemist… can carry the blueprints in their mind… unless we could make a chip that would control that too, and now, we truly are entering the darkest science fiction.

And this is where we have been headed all along.

Not long ago, a particular guy with a very memorable moustache in Germany started a fad of marking people he and his followers did not like. They soon upgraded their new technology by shoving the people they did not like (amongst them the political enemies of their own people, mentally disabled, enemies of their regime, gypsies, LGBT and so forth) into camps, where they also disposed of them in an equally beastly fashion. Nor was this the first time in history for people to be marked – according to Pipponier, during a particular part of the Middle Ages, one ruler decided that people were too pally, and had everyone marked according to their religion, Jews with the star, Christians with the cross and Muslims with a half moon (Dress in the Middle Ages, 1997). In India, caste marks offer a possibility of unpunished cruelty to those who wish to take it out on the lower caste (cf. here).

Even if we could trust our Western values, how are we to control this technology from being abused when it falls into the wrong hands? Who will decide whose hands are wrong? Momentary political alliance? A quest to buy oil cheaply?  A wish to butter up a reluctant ally?

And of course, the million dollar question. Can we trust our Western mindset? The extreme right has, in the West, become much stronger in the last few years. The rights of the LGBT, women, whoever the party leaders (or, in our British case, and in the case of the US, the current governments) feel are a problem, have been threatened even without a technology that could easily be used to store all possible data about us, accessible to people who might or might not abuse it… possible employers, government agencies, and so on.

Goodbye privacy, enter a dark sci fi era of control. No technology can be considered harmless in certain people’s hands, and this is literally inviting the option for extreme political parties to take control with us opening the doors widely for them and laying out a welcome mat. You may not program the chip that way… but what is to stop them from passing a law that says that someone can, or that you have to? The Lavender scare in the 70s saw LGBT members exposed and persecuted just like the Jews had been not so long before… and the really terrible part is that always, there were people who felt they were doing a good thing.

Ethics are an offspring of morality – a debate about a set of pseudo-rules, often having little to do with empathy and less with human rights, that are set down to reflect the SCR (social, cultural and religious) aura of factuality. Aura of factuality, a term coined by Clifford Geertz, is what we feel is right or wrong or even doable or unthinkable – regardless of actual facts concerning the thematic in question. Aura of factuality means that it is moral to stone a woman; it is ethical to rape and kill her, as the lawyer representing the rapists in the grisly case of the rape on the bus in India tried to prove.

Aura of factuality had doctors operating on infants and babies without anaesthesia in Slovenia well into the post-war era (source – medical informant), all because of an idea that they are too young to feel any real pain. Aura of factuality is an ugly thing that we are too little aware of, while constantly acting within its bounds. In other words, we often blindly accept what we feel is “done”… something that the chips already have on their side, because this is what is “done” with pets.

Superstitions, beliefs and prejudice kill people. Politicians, religious leaders and even business owners are people, with their own understanding of the SCR and aura of factuality, with their own issues and prejudices. Are we really dumb enough to give them a carte blanche that will allow them to do anything they want with a technology they may control without even sitting down and writing laws about this first?

That is a theoretical safety catch. Write down laws that set boundaries, set within the human rights. But again, extremists do not follow rules, they rewrite laws and they trample everything in their path.

Besides, how are we to know that this technology won’t be used by cultists, groups like IS and mafia? How do we prevent that? How in the world do we forget that, especially in the case of cultism, one cannot (by international law) agree to something that harms them, while providing technology that could feature in control of all possible kinds that will make the cult leaders’ work incredibly easy and escape very, very difficult?

Travel is another problem nobody seems to consider. If we have issues with letting people take laptops on the plane due to terrorism, are we or are we not going to allow chipped employees to board a plane? What do we know of their allegiances? And even if they are not a threat, surely, we have learned by now that remote access is possible to any technology (eg 1, eg 2)? What with the cases that have already featured remote access by criminals (eg), issues of cyber terrorism (eg) and the recent horrifying realisation that all computer technology is hackable, even when unconnected (eg 1, eg 2), do we still have the guts to say that this time, it will be perfect? And the employee is now technology themselves… are they going to be allowed to travel to countries we ban our technology from?

Are we happy to set a precedent that allows people with implanted technology on a plane?

The question of what happens when you change jobs is also addressed very poorly as a generality. Will you be made to work for the same company, or will the chip be reprogrammed, destroyed or taken out? How well can we hope to reprogram it? Would you trust your information, your valuable information that is currently top secret, to a chip that may or may not be wiped, or can be copied down?

This all sounds very sci fi, but the trouble with sci fi is that it is, while sounding really far fetched, a brilliant showcase of how our mind works, of what we have already thought about. The dark scenarios of our governments’ control aren’t the only thing we need to fear either; the second and third generation terrorists have grown up with the Western media, they have seen the same films and watched the same shows. Are you willing to take the risk and say that not a single one looked at a sci fi doomsday story and thought, what if I…?

In the recent years, we have seen a significant change in the type of the attacks; the reason lies in the different environment that the now-terrorists have grown up in. Technology, however watchful we are of it when it comes to enemy countries, is no stranger to them, nor are they stranger to our worst fears and forebodings. And what of the growing numbers of our own Western cyber terrorists?

There remains, I think, also the question of outsourcing. Not so long ago, the West had a major argument with the problem of outsourcing in China; the problem that revolved around censorship (cf. here, here & here). This technology would have been built in and would not be removable (due to the Chinese laws about censorship and an uncanny wish to dictate the not so human rights compatible ideals to the West; something similar, only on legal level, seems to have managed to be forced through in our own UK not so long ago, allegedly targeting porn but effectively targeting everything else as usual (cf. here, here & here)). If you are thinking, fine, so I just won’t watch porn (while Cosmopolitan keeps suggesting to watch it with your OH to get over repression, get kinky together and so on and while we are definitely not talking about illegal porn, so child pornography, forced prostitution and similar), think again. This measure did not only “protect the children” (why do we always fall for that one?!) but would ensure that the user could not enter self-help sites, LGBT related sites and violence against women sites (cf. here & here). Not at all a good, human rights orientated measure. And let us not forget the nasty questions of Huawei and spy technology (cf. here & here).

 

So many problems, so many potential issues. And the simple fact that we should not, must not break the rules about the integrity of our bodies and our privacy for a hi-tech toy that seems like the next best thing but bears, with it, a host of risks we are closing our eyes before rather than facing, something that Mr. Palmer’s article highlighted in the best of ways.

But do chips have any place at all in our world, after the scenarios I have just painted for you?

The answer to that is, yes, they definitely have. A medical one, for one, sparing, perhaps, the mental health niche, which, once again, becomes victim to potential prejudices. Too many mental health states are diagnosed wrong, too many quacks (like Dobson, who used his degree in psychology to offer backing to Christian extremism in the US (cf. here)), too many questionable procedures have happened there to allow for a chip to regulate, medicate and control any person’s mental state; and even if you could trust every single doctor with a licence, there are plenty who have none, have lost it to malpractice or have obtained it from unlicensed bodies to perform services for extremist groups (cf. here).

But chipping technology is making progress in spinal injury (cf. here), and I see no reason why it would not spread to other parts of medical profession. Genital function is one such part – whether it is the trans people hoping for a more advanced form of their new body that would react better or almost spontaneously (cf. here & here) or soldiers who lost their penis in combat (cf. here), victims of FGM or someone who has received a chip due to an operation that has damaged the nerve system and is now incapable not only of normal sexuality, but also of control over everyday bodily functions, a chip would be a literal life and mental health saver in all those cases, and we can only hope that the technology and medical science will make their way into that direction.

This is a technology that could truly help, that could make lives better, longer than expected, the depression resultant from injury less likely or avoidable. This is the technology of empathy, of humanity. Let us take the chipping in that direction instead.

 


Image Source – Pixabay

Orcs, Elves And Graffiti – Observations on Bright

Last week, my Anthropology is everywhere post finished on the simple fact – it was going to be film night (which, incidentally, did not happen until two nights later – first because there was a little pet emergency and then because there was a little domicile emergency, which were both solved with success) and the following post was going to be about Bright.

So here we are now (without home made popcorn, but still).

 

First thing I need to say is that I very, very rarely read reviews or anything much else on a film or a book. The reason is that anything but the thing itself can be biasing. I therefore read the reviews when I want to know what feelings a film or book excited in what type of person (or, sometimes, on the job, if I have a certified connection to a source, a person specifically). In other words, I don’t so much want to know what others think I should think but more what it made them think, causing them to react as they did.

This is a highly useful approach, and I very much recommend it to everyone who wants to work with any information, especially if it deals with humans. Behaviour is telling on so many things, and for an anthropologist, it’s a key thing to understanding society, culture and all other demons we humans have. * (It also enables you to develop your own opinion, regardless of what everyone else thinks.)

 

As I have stated previously, the thing that interested me most was the fact that Bright is a melange of several genres, fantasy (what with Orcs, Elves and magic everywhere), buddy cop films (with the typical at work strife, corruption, flaws in the system and so on) and conspiracy involved. They are a well-known staple on their own, or in tandem of cop/conspiracy – fantasy/conspiracy, but to put them all together was, at least to me, new.

Predictably, what was once the social problematic of a black cop, female cop or Latino cop, was now presented through the one Orc on the job cop. Teamed up with an Afro-American partner (Will Smith), it was interesting to see the dynamics shifting from the black man being discriminated to the black man being somewhat discriminating, thus actually capturing quite beautifully the fact that racism and prejudice can and do come from everywhere, a fact sadly illustrated of late by Facebook’s move to enable both American and Israeli governments – governments of people who have had their own bitter run-ins with hate and discrimination – to cherry pick accounts that they deem problematic… often, it seems, with heavily biased perspective, raising a question on freedom of expression and online communication, which I promise will be a post at a later date (soon).

The currently targeted campaign “Black Lives Matter” also makes it into the film in a bitter, unobtrusive and realistic way – with Smith’s character clobbering a fairy (considered a pest by his wife and society at large) to death and commenting dispassionately that “fairy lives don’t matter”, indicating not only his wife’s opinion (it must be here said he was somewhat wrangled into it) but also his society’s opinion… and the crucial human and animal rights point – that lives often don’t matter because there is a hierarchy in what matters or who matters. This is true whether you look at actual bird feeder issues – we put out feed for birds but do not deem other animals, like raccoons or squirrels, deserving of our help, thus clearly illustrating a biased preference in our relations to free living animals – or to the behaviour towards large predators such as wolves and mountain lions, or even smaller animals like coyotes and foxes, all often a butt of raging debates and much violence… or even in our own human proverbial back yard, where colour, caste system, religion and race create only some of the issues that tailor our interactions, including a belief that some are more or less worthy of living and help.

Smith presents an unusual alternative to his usual roles in Bright – instead of a charismatic, determined man we know from many films and many genres, he presents a face of a dispassionate, world-weary, disillusioned individual. A few years from retirement, recovering from a shot wound which had caused a further distancing between him and his work partner (and, ostensibly, his wife), Ward is unhappy about many things, but done trying to fix them, giving the story yet another popular dimension – dystopianism, currently big in popular TV shows and films and books.

While many a popular media source has featured a dystopian tone in the past – what with Batman’s cynicism and darkness, the entire set up of Marvel and Dark Horse verse and the predating roots of Balzac with the naturalist obsession with personal (and therefore moral, in a true chicken and egg situation) decay, with heroes dying or failing in many stories, the modern society has clearly split down the middle these days on the matter, creating a hopeful/hero watching group and the hopeless/dystopian group.

That that is so is no surprise – given the current geopolitical situation, the still on-going war against terror, unemployment and rising interpersonal issues, often starting from many “reasons” stirred up by the also rising populist parties and governments (banking heavily on the possibility of gaining votes by creating the enemy with an Other, whichever that may be for their specific purpose), has left many with the dispassionate, depressed mood that is likely to go even lower as people feel that they cannot act – a self-fulfilling prophecy, as disbelief in one’s own capabilities and one’s right (and capability) to self-action both disables one further and enables the darkness they have so feared coming to keep going unchecked. On the other hand are those who do and will act, perhaps not starry eyed and idealistic, but capable of standing up not only for themselves but for others, choosing to fight for the right to self-action to remain the same, thus balancing out what could easily enough become the Third World War without them.

It is therefore highly ironic that Ward’s partner Jakoby is the hopeful one – as Orcs have been traditionally presented (ever since their inception by Tolkien) as the ultimate evil and have had little time to present a good face even in the computer games and LARP (cf. World of Warcraft’s Orcs, D&D’s Orcs), Jakoby’s nearly idealistic, unconditional belief in the possibility of goodness, of making a difference, his repeated attempts to practically honour his work partner and his unflinching wish to keep to the actual unadulterated truth (realising too late that it is not desired, but coping, perhaps, better with that fact than Ward, who will resort to lies and remain bitter), represents well an individual’s struggle with his conflicted personal place in his ethnic group and society in general – as a non-blooded Orc, from a line of non-blooded Orcs (non-blooded seems to apply to untested in combat, danger; possibly unwilling to react with a typical socio-cultural aggression?), he is at odds with his group’s general behaviour, their history and the way he is therefore perceived by the world at large, and highly motivated to prove all, but most of all himself, wrong in this prejudice. Jakoby wants to believe that things can be different – to the point where he draws a parallel between his situation and ancient history, and believes that Ward, Tikka and himself are caught up in a prophecy – to keep coping with day-to-day life; a problem often found in rigid societies with lots of prejudice and strong hierarchy.

With Orcs replacing the usual gang culture of the (often predominantly Afro-American) ghetto and gang groups, and with humans forming the solid if dispassionate, prejudiced middle (so much so that the names are almost solely human or human-derived or human-like, informing on a strong influence of that middle?), the Elves present an even more interesting face, that of an elite, but not the largely positive elite as we have become accustomed. It is the Elves who seem to be heavily engaged with magic, especially dark, and it is therefore Elves who are at the core of the conflict in the film, with one single Elf man (ironically, an FBI agent specialising in magic) as a somewhat positive figure in the entire film. Apart from him, all Elves are presented as either background characters crossing streets or as the evil Inferni members – even Tikka, one of the main protagonists, had initially started with the Inferni but decided to turn coat, stealing a magic wand and running for her life only to fall in with our two cops.

This perception of Elves can be compared to the dystopian perspective on any form of success or (including meritocratic) upper class – those who succeed must be guilty of something, become blinded by power and dangerous and harmful to the society in general. I probably do not need to specify that this, too, is a form of prejudice, very persistent and currently very present, with roots reaching back to the Medieval figure of Mammon, a personification of the undesirable worldly, earthly, material, and an opposite to the (church approved and desired) poor, subjected to dogma and unthinking martyr.

In twentieth century, this personification was given another dimension through communist and socialist ideologies, started (from the feeling of religiously taught guilt, no less) in the 18th century among nobility and finally realised in the Eastern Block post WW2 and, these days, in many far-left groups around the globe. It is interesting to note that this perception of evil successful is – and especially among the younger generation, which is the likeliest to be unemployed and therefore an easy target for loud extremist groups – joined strongly in our current society with the distrust in all information but the information disseminated by the seemingly friendly extreme groups and individuals and groups dealing in deliberate disinformation, whether it concerns data planted or seemingly obtained, slander without check or even further conspiracy theories.

This thinking is, yet again, easy to understand. If one forgets that one can indeed act (and indeed, the people who are successful now mainly started from nothing in their young adult age), then all those who did and do act become an enemy, an unpleasant reminder that everyone is in part responsible for their fate. That is not to say that people are guilty of living in a time when unemployment is such a huge problem – but the truth is still that what they choose to do to fight back is unfortunately largely down to their own spirit and ingenuity, with their immediate environment constantly testing their resolve by pushing them down repeatedly. It is a hard road and many simply do not manage to keep up, and it is easy for them to become embroiled into brooding thinking that some fictional “Other” is responsible for their grief, ironically often falling in with the thinking of the political parties that do have plenty to do with causing socio-economic misery in the first place. Big businesses create profit in taxes; they create jobs. Successful people did not take anyone’s job (often enough, they made their own jobs), and yet it is easier to think that someone else but yourself is holding you back and pushing you down. Granted – environment itself is not to be underestimated in any way. But once again we are back to the fact that fighting for themselves is not something many people do well.

In short, the evil successful is a story about how those who stand out should be pushed down rather than others modelling themselves on them in the old hero/nobility of spirit worship that has been invented, reinvented whilst scoffed at all along by dystopianists – whose main message is to give up – in literature and film alike.

At the same time, the mainstream media all too often caves in to the pressures of political groups, or attempts to keep an unhealthy amount of PC policy, resultantly losing the trust of the readers and viewers and offering a very poor alternative to the pressures of the conspiracy-heavy alternative sources.

 

Moving on, I would like to call your attention to the presence of graffiti in the film. They are practically omnipresent, and they illustrate fabulously everything that graffiti represent.

As I said in the little pre-post I did yesterday, graffiti are everything when it comes to studying social interaction. In the film, you can literally see everything of that, so let’s look at graffiti a bit more in-depth.

  1. Social interaction – Social interaction can be divided between group and individual interaction, territorial markings and specialised messages (under this group, we can count hostile messages like Fuck off xyz, X loves Y, markings of groups against each other or simple territorial markings – usually, those involve the symbol of the group/individual and potentially, if the territories collide or are disputed, threatening messages; those pop up in neutral territory just as well during times of agitation, such as sporting competitions or political events that pit groups against each other, or that could pit groups against each other – often, assertion of Us vs Them is shown in clear demarcation of the Us, even if Them actually share the same ideas… but the Us means that We don’t allow them to/see them worthy of doing so)
  2. Social history – Better dead than Red as an example, colour and race specific messages and messages pertaining to faith or sexual orientation can be grouped into this one; The Dark Lord is Coming and Jirak lives that we see in the film are a fabulous example of this.
  3. Hope for/messages of socio-cultural activity (underground or otherwise) – In an ironic double-up, the previous two messages could equally pertain to this grouping – with a sense of personal/social foreboding, or a simple observation of the Inferni (or, in our usual world, political unrest in one’s own environment or on the whole) activity would easily bring a potential graffiti artist to form a conclusion that would be as cassandreic as it would be correct… up to a point, given that, at that particular moment, the Dark Lord’s coming is prevented or at least rescheduled somewhat by Ward’s and Jakoby’s interference with the Inferni (I dare you do say this three times faster 🙂 😉 ). Equally, a law may or may not be passed; a political party may or may not be elected; but however it turns, the graffiti are still a proof of a specific thinking or struggle that was obviously of great importance to the person(s) in question during a specific time period, possibly because it would influence one group more than other. I had the opportunity to observe that on terrain during the struggles for the LGBT equality rights in Slovenia, as well as during the far-right’s struggles against abortion – the furious scribbling on the walls was often very specific and strongly worded, strategically placed (such as on the side of a church) and by no means mysterious about its intent and message. The interesting thing is that with the LGBT rights, the amount of pro et contra was equal, often resulting in a wall shouting match, whereas the abortion rights battle agitated more of the populace that actually is injured by it… the women, with the messages being very clear and angry.
  4. Self-realisation and determination – especially in disadvantaged youth, and especially in rigid and therefore abusive environments, the way to figure out who we are and what that means for us specifically in the world around us is difficult. That means that a verbal and yet non-verbal communication is often attempted – messaging the world, so to speak, in a relative anonymity, through writing on walls. This may coincide with the group one (personal messages, or group messages where the writer(s) is or are a part of a group). I love women, for instance, that I saw once on a wall, is almost certainly the product of a young lesbian or bisexual struggling with her orientation (especially written, as it was, in relatively small, shy, dark letters, not a flashy style that would draw attention immediately). Alternatively, a highly repressed youth would be a candidate for this type of writing, struggling with awakening sexuality but forced to abandon it due to social or (all too often) parental (mostly maternal) control and censorship. I love Orcs in the toilet in the film could easily be a part of that, or…
  5. …Of group five, the messages deliberately defying the social, cultural and religious norms. As I have said before, especially disadvantaged youth will end up in situations where they will rebel against not simply their abuser, but against the system, society, in which this abuse could come to pass (this is also true of the mirror group to this, the group whose messages are pro-human rights but who had to or feel they had to, often due to the same reasons, adopt this style of communication; occasionally, their anonymity is broken, deliberately or otherwise, and exchanged for a mantle of ideological leadership (https://www.bu.edu/today/2009/is-graffiti-art/). I love Orcs could very simply be a message of that sort as well, a dare of sorts for people to feel aghast, disgusted, taken aback, and therefore giving the person an anchoring point, a way of self-realisation in which they are in a self-positive position of power against the reader and the world in general.
  6. Art, in three groups. Idealisation of self or other, portrayal of events or way of life (often as a social observation or criticism), or art per se; this is often beautiful art, and while it is perhaps less directly informative of a social message in some cases, it is most definitely informative of staggering amount of talent present in even the layers of society that many dismiss when it comes to artwork.

 

 

Graffiti are generally considered to be a “problem”, acts of vandalism, to the extent of neighbourhoods being seen as “bad” because of their presence (http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall07/Sanchez/vandalism.html). Costs of the cleaning, also, can be high when it comes to removal of graffiti, be it actual works of art or any other categories. While gangs are often associated with graffiti (their activity falling into many of the above categories), they aren’t as such the only graffiti users, and, as artists such as Banksy are gaining recognition for their work, and graffiti are making it from the street wall into a gallery, the debate concerning graffiti as more than just gang crime related social issue is definitely shifting opinions (http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall07/Sanchez/art.html).

However we feel about graffiti today, we cannot deny the joy we archaeologists, anthropologists and historians feel when coming across the early graffiti (some dating as far back as Ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome), informative about the society and the people in it, much like the time capsules that we leave today for some distant posterity (https://crypt.oglethorpe.edu/international-time-capsule-society/). Of course, we must also consider that the cave paintings, the earliest sign of human thinking, perhaps even art and (disputably) civilisation and spirituality, come in the form of graffiti, ones we are very keen to protect. Professor O’Donnel, who teaches painting as fine art (https://www.bu.edu/today/2009/is-graffiti-art/), has been quoted saying that graffiti are “a public visual expression that has not been sanctioned by a commissioning authority, something that is placed in public view, unsolicited and without permission” and this is, perhaps, where the crux of the issue stands – the division between Us and Them, yet again, the more difficult to shift the more the society in question is rigid. While I cannot fully agree with his entire interview on the matter (do read it though, because it is a very interesting piece to examine!), I do think he makes a very important point there –  on social sanctioning – and I would remind everyone that Impressionism, for instance, was widely disputed as an atrocity and the artists expelled from the “good” society and from the “traditional” art exhibitions for a long time.

To wrap this up, I will return to Bright once more. There are tons of themes in that film for an anthropologist, and if anthropology interest you, you should most definitely watch it. It is bloody, it is dark and it is unsavoury in places, because what it represents is and must be unsavoury to all those who respect human rights and diversity that includes them into its very existence.

Beyond the gore and the explosions (so typical for a cop film, especially in the 80s and 90s, which it very closely resembles), its social commentary is worth the watch and worth the many questions it raises and problems it underlines. One thing that I would definitely say is that it ends on a dark note, typical of dystopianism. In many ways, it retains a status quo – its victory is small, of prejudice erased between two people of different worlds. But perhaps, this is how a greater victory can be achieved… because the first step is always to recognise and eradicate prejudice in oneself.

 


 

Images sourced via IMDB and Google

Winter Festivals

I do believe that in the previous official post, I promised a discussion about winter festivals. With the 2018 having now officially started for most, I must remind you that for many, it still hasn’t… or that it’s not even 2018. Calendars are different for many cultures, and that’s not so new… in 18th century, for instance, England was so off the usual calendar that it had to leave out an entire 11 days in the year 1752 to catch up with the rest of Europe… (cf. Calendar (New Style) Act 1750) an important feat if you were going to get those ships to the port at the actually decided time, rather than whenever, because trade doesn’t work that way. Today, even all European calendars aren’t completely the same… but to discuss this, and to discuss winter festivals, we must first consider two things.

What is time passage? And what is winter?

If you are wondering whether or not I am still recovering from the previous night’s celebration, think again. Obvious questions often really aren’t; and the answers we give -we are trained to give – are generally consistent only within our specific cultural/social/religious/era space, and start to fall apart the moment one or more of these factors is even slightly changed… including by taking a walk down the history lane, even in our own back yard.

Time can be divided into two perception categories – the SCR time (so the time/space perception of our society, culture and/or religion, consistent generally with the creation of aura of factuality and the specific of the here and now) and the actual time, which can be divided in the rough categories of day and night (with them being further dividable into dusk, dawn, dimming -i.e. getting dark but not dusk yet -, noon, midnight etc, if those phenomena are observed in realistic relation to the actual geoposition re space bodies, so moon and sun) and times of year. Times of year especially get complicated, as seasons don’t always have a clear separating line even in the temperate zone, and seasons themselves can differ… we know mild winters and Indian summers, hot and cold autumns and springs, and throughout history, the environment kept changing and shifting and accordingly, so did the harvest and the human perception of which months, for instance, belong to summer or spring especially.

The environmental time, so actual time, often correlates to the SCR time perceptions loosely and even poorly; a good example is the summer savings time, which has been proven to be way less than effective, is not observed by all countries and not in the same way, actually lessens productivity and brings with it a host of psycho-physical harm factors. Its inception comes from religious fervour turned social, and despite the fact that we all know that it’s bad for us, we are still hesitant to remove it (i.e. mess with the aura of factuality, the notion of “we do this, this is who we are, this is our identity as a part of society, as society itself”), in spite the debates dragging on year after year. It hasn’t even been around that long, and yet, it is anchored in the feeling of social existence and therefore nigh untouchable… much like many other bad habits and ideas.

As I mentioned previously, the calendrical time (focused more on the passage of seasons than the actual day and night) deals primarily with the SCR structure and is poorly connected with the actual time/space environment. Pratchett makes a joke about the randomised natural and other disasters predicted in almanacs (the old calendars that had, among other things, on them advice on how and when to plant etc… provided one could read and read well, actually mark the passage of time properly and the ideas actually applied to their particular space, as environment covered by the almanac makers would often be largely different from one end of the country to the next, and that’s just the start of the problems), and he is quite correct. Having spoken to people who have still used almanacs in their day, I can say that majority were there to fuel superstition and had little to do with actual challenges of the environment.

This doesn’t mean that people once were actually stupid; but it does mean – and you can observe that yourself with people around you – that rigid approach breeds a certain type of stupefying lack of observation. If a year is bad and crops freeze, little is achieved by people “finding” and burning a witch; prayers won’t save a sick cow, but knowledge of herbs might; and comprehension of environmental patterns is slowly lost (and those not fitting to that behaviour silenced) when there is a proscribed dogma for how to perceive them (and often, who to blame them on).

You have to take all this into account when considering time and seasons and how humans work them into their lives, or work around them to achieve a specific status quo.

Environment can change drastically very unpredictably, and that within a lifetime. But the tendency to rigidity will see these changes either incorporated without leaving a trace of change (apart from the palaeorecord) or will simply deny them happening and carry on as if nothing has happened. For a farming society especially, the consequences especially of the latter can be disastrous, as failure to observe and adapt may lead to repeated failure with crops, which in turn will mean famine, spread of disease in a society with an immune system already weakened from starving and ultimately death, accompanied all too often by psychological deterioration and violent outbursts within the group when tempers are short, people at the end of their tether and suspicion and paranoia fuelled by the idea that there must be a culprit somewhere. And yet that “culprit” can simply be an earthquake, a volcano, a set of dry winters and summers, a shift in winds due to a larger environmental change somewhere quite far, even the axis tilt shifting. These are all matters that are still largely out of our hands, that we cannot control… imagine the tragedy of making the bad situation even worse by bringing in structured hate and paranoid suspicion. Imagine the outcome of this type of witch hunt.

This danger is very real; currently, many governments consist of bodies or individuals pointing fingers at a convenient Other to solve problems that can never be solved that way. Religious groups seek dominance by doing the same. Sometimes, the two work in cohesion, pitting people against each other.

And many still fall for it because of the rigidity of the behavioural patterns they have been taught to follow.

This, I hope, covers a little bit about time and seasons. So what is winter?

For most part, people understand winter as a season of cold, with little growth and with the possibility of snow, with the associated time/season shifts of both actual and especially SCR variety.

And yet, this is a fallacy in itself. Socially, it is definitely winter in Hawaii; Christmas is celebrated (I do believe the term for Merry Christmas is Mele Kalikimaka) and ornaments are put on trees, but look as you might, most of the islands will never see snow; the generally tropical environment does not allow for it (except on the top of the highest mountains), much like you are unlikely to see the type of heat the summer produces there in an Alpine valley.

Not always – I have been to a small village near the Danube river in Austria, and the region is not merely much warmer than the rest of the neighbouring land, but so warm and hospitable that it even has vineyards, and generally seems more like someone transplanted Mediterranean into the Alps.

But as a generality, certain spaces are better at following the social divide between seasons than others are. Same is of course true of time – in the North of Scotland, the time is not different than in the rest of the UK, but the divide between day and night is nearly Nordic.

And in tropical and subtropical climes, the passage of seasons is a division between wet and dry, which has very little to do with the actual perception of winter… and yet we often still say winter when we speak of those months of monsoon.

Winter is, therefore, at least socially, largely a construction of expectations based on a settled calendrical date, rather than fully and ultimately an actual season. And it is our social perception that actually marks the passage of the year, not so much the way seasons shift naturally.

Socially, winter is a symbol of ending and renewal primarily. Ending and renewal not so much of the year that has just passed and the new one that is just starting, but of the society, culture and the associated religion in question as a constructed group. Autumn festivals (for instance Divali Mela, modern Pagan Samhain or Halloween) mark the precursors to that event, often reminding the social group of their perceived importance and origins. The winter festivals at their crudest then continue this journey into the obligatory feeling of endangerment, usually from external demonic forces. Chasing winter – and those forces, often strongly associated with it – away is therefore an act of renewing one’s externally endangered society, the self within the group of similar selves. Noise, fire and even potentially violent behaviour can be included in any of these events, which may take time over several festivals dotted around the winter months; the Chinese New Year, full of fireworks, firecrackers, general noise and parading dragons, the Korent or Kurent in Slovenian and Austrian regions, are just some of the examples of how winter is chased away. Given that the winter time (including the tropical winter) is often physically and psychologically taxing and unpleasant, it is not difficult to see why it is so easy to keep the patterns going. When people are already strained by actual environment, when they have been told their whole life that they will be, when tension feeds tension, the consequences are easily predictable and behaviour easily funnelled into a specific direction.

So which are the most interesting winter festivals you should see?

There’s probably no festival out there better known than the Carnivale in Venice. Immortalised in the 2005 film Casanova for the popular viewer, il Carnevale goes back centuries right to the medieval era when carnivals probably joined pre-Christian demon-chasing festivities with the time of abandon before the ascetic period of Lent. It must be said here that il Carnevale has somewhat changed its appearance even though many old mask types are still used today and have become a part of Venetian cultural heritage.

Rio de Janeiro hosts one of the world’s biggest carnivals around a similar time every year. A spectacle of dancing, music and performance, the first festival dates back to the 18th century and its popularity rises from year to year.

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is another well-known festival that attracts tourists from all over the world to the vibrant community of this charming Southern city. Fun fact – on the day of Mardi Gras, gentlemen carry strings of beads that the ladies are supposed to try to acquire in their competition for the most popular girl. A trusted and expected old trick to get a bead necklace is to flash your bust, including in public, even if you are wearing nothing under…

The Kurent (or Korent) run is an old Slovene tradition, also found in some parts of Austria, where young men wearing monster masks and entire costumes chase through the streets and after people. Historically, this festival has been associated with a lot of inter-personal violence and crime and due to personal or inter-village issues and the relative obscurity of the identity of the otherwise armed Kurents.

 

 

A festival you may not be able to witness because it’s supposed to happen privately is the festival of Pancha Ganapati, created in the 80s by a westerner turned Hindu. This is a syncretic festival joining both Christmas traditions and Hindu religion.

Chinese New Year varies greatly in how it is celebrated as China has many regions and many different peoples and Buddhism is observed in many other parts of the world including by immigrant Chinese groups. This is why the best way to have a Chinese New Year experience is to march down to your local Chinatown after having figured out when this year the Chinese New Year actually happens! (Hint: it’s the 16th February this year!)

Meanwhile, in geekdom, the players of World Of Warcraft celebrate this online world’s special festival of winter referred as Feast of the Winter Veil. Whether or not this refers to the mists and fogs often experienced during winter is unclear, but it is a time of festivities during which a male deity-like figure roams the world as a quest-giver and decorations are abundant. Special objects and challenges are typical for this time of the year. This is definitely a festival you can participate in or observe and it just goes to show how much the online life mirrors the life in the physical world. It is also interesting to note that Greatfather Winter enjoins in his figure both the traditional perception of Father Christmas and similar personas as well as those of gods, demi-gods, wizards and mythical creatures from centuries past who appear in myth and tale as challenge- and quest-givers, thus encouraging the hero to prove themselves.


All Image sources – Pixabay

Except for the following –

Pancha Ganapati image – https://vegeyum.wordpress.com/food-for-hindu-festivals/pancha-ganapathi/

Kurents image – https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2014/02/07/slovenias-winter-carnivale-draws-a-woolly-colorful-crowd/

World Of Warcraft image – https://www.pcgamesn.com/world-of-warcraft/winter-veil-2014-starts-today-in-world-of-warcraft

Christmas is…

We got to talking today about different Christmas and winter festivals we know, and how they differ, not only from era to era but also from place to place. Being quite well travelled means we have a personal familiarity with  a host of traditions, new and old (because yes, you CAN have a new tradition… it is what develops before it’s an old tradition, and it takes rigid aura of factuality for everyone to go and pretend that actually, it’s been there all the time!), and it gets really interesting when you get to comparing them to each other, and to historical evidence.

If you think we’re boring, just wait till I write about how we discuss films. 😉

If you DON’T think we are boring, then you probably have the anthrobug as bad as we do. XD

Continue reading ‘Christmas is…’ »

Cross-culture in likes – taboos and variety in day-to-day behaviours

As with everything (and I really can’t stress that enough), what we like influences our behaviour and vice versa. For instance – a rigid personal environment and adherence to the resultant behaviour will make it difficult or even impossible to like things that pertain to different, whatever that different entails… it could be another culture, another group within the same space, another religion, you name it. This boils down to one simple thing – our likes will be limited by our already extant behaviour, and our future behaviour will influence our future likes. Because of the predominant lack of change, personal and otherwise, in rigid environments, this will be a fairly static situation day after day, year after year, throughout one’s lifetime. Even grudgingly accepted gradual changes (technology, acceptance of what used to be different into one’s groups – this has been happening with the LGBT around the globe, actually -, appearance and adoption of foods and fashions…) may not be accepted by the truly rigid core of a specific group, as greater rigidity stands for hierarchical top in rigid environment, or, in simple terms, people think that they can a) out-extreme others, being and remaining at the top of the hierarchy of their group, b) gain hierarchical position by out-extreming others.

 

In fluid or fluid leaning environments, however, variety is the key to life. This is what I can admit excites my anthropological self a lot about it… the capability to explore, adopt, shift, change as one wishes, without the feeling of endangerment constantly present in the rigid societies.

The exploration of self in regards to one’s environment is particularly rich here, and it ends up, if I borrow a mathematical term, in constant permutations of endless themes. Feel like wearing a Hindi outfit today (lots of boho chic goes there, or is loosely inspired by, and many do enrich their wardrobe by even culture specific pieces… especially women, but men are close on their heels in the shift in fashion and self perceptions)? Want to experiment with African food and jewellery? Inspired by Asian cosmetic achievement? Joining French, Italian and American kitchen (or interior decor, looks…) into your life?

No problem… until and unless you hit rigidity.

I recently read an article in Cosmo (I think it was Cosmo for guys, actually, but I’d have to go back and check) that very much reminded me of the battle betwixt the rigid and the fluid.

Racism comes from all directions, including in the guise of “protecting one’s culture”. One article turned into several, and before you know it, I was pondering over things you should never say to a black girl, to a person in a mixed relationship, to a gay guy…

Majority was simply matters of appalling, nasty behaviour/ discomfort with Other from the perspective of people dealing with the said groups. I agree – if you have a specific look, which is what people first judge you by (and I think you’ll agree to me if I say that while you can “hide” to the first glance that you are say, Dutch in a group of all white people, it’s going to be a bit more difficult for someone not to figure out you are a Latina or a black man…even though this already comes with the added issue of wrong expectations, as there are many black, Asian and Latino Europeans all over Europe, but they are – or I can say we are – Europeans first and specific background second; it should not be impossible to understand that a Dutch person can also be black!), then it might be a bit tough to avoid the behaviours and expectations connected with them when dealing with the rigid, conservative minds. On the other hand, there were quite a few that got me thinking about the prejudice coming from the opposite direction.

To better explain, I will give you examples. But I will start with explaining a little something about myself. My own background is extremely mixed, including French, British, Germanic (and I say Germanic because this covers a lot of genetic groups, and far back, where this would fit!), Italian, Hispanic, Slavic, even Asian. There is a goodly chance that there might be a smidgen of Moorish blood in there too via the Hispanic route, and that would mean either Arab or Sub-Saharan, because of the time and the mixing of the regions included. In any case, I may appear white, I may be predominantly Caucasian, but the reality is that I am quite a cocktail. I grew up Continentally, but I consider myself British (an expat Brit to be precise), because of how my life turned out; in many ways, how we (including myself) see ourselves very much depends on personal perspectives unless we are trapped in a specific rigid perception that forbids us this freedom of perception. I also consider myself a woman, but do not adhere to many ideas about what a woman should be; this makes my gender role, to some, odd, even suspicious and repulsive – I am emotionally and physically emancipated and strong, I am outspoken and I do not tolerate the socially proscribed bullying levels of the more rigid people (including Westerners), I lack the expected feeling of guilt about self in relation to many things…including race and colour.

In the confusing world of sexual identity, I consider myself bisexual, as it is specific male or female traits that are likely to attract me. But I do have a pansexual trait when it comes to the simple question of logistics (i.e. anything goes).

This probably illustrates the sheer variety in myself, and also what in part forms my outlook when it comes to those social snags of who’s who and what that should mean. Being clearly a woman (and I don’t think I could hide it, not with a natural DD cup!), I puzzle people who expect a set of behaviours. Being bi, I confuse both the rigid heterosexuals and gays… bi-erasure is something that does happen in the LGBT groups just as well as from the heterosexuals, because the joy of rigid thinking happens to everyone, and being gay does not make you immune to it. Appearing white, I mess with the heads of those who expect, from me, the biases and behaviours of the white person…whether they are white or of a different colour themselves.

And let’s not start on the questions of nationalism, nativism, and professionally expected biases.

 

This is how I stand in regards to Things you should never say to.

Yes, I agree. While it is a bit of a difficult one to say to a gay guy if he can be sure if he is gay if he never tried dating a girl, while you REALLY should not assume that a person dates only people of their background or colour, while accusing people in interracial relationships of being cultural traitors is just ??!!!!!??, there is also something to say about things that are apparently a taboo topic but show more a lack of acceptance from the other side.

For instance – it is wrong to ask a black girl if she is mixed.

Seeing as I am heftily mixed myself, and people just assume that I am a result of close-group breeding connections (very, very, VERY wrong on most accounts… We are all much more mixed than we expect, which is why we are still genetically ok enough for our lives and our babies’ lives to be viable! Inbreeding results in a major genetic fail very quickly, it can be a question of a few generations only!), I see no reason to either deny my own happy cocktail self or to assume that others are not mixed. In fact, barring what I have just mentioned about inbreeding, it is equally wrong to assume that a white person is simply white as it is to assume that a black person is simply black. At the end of the day, none of this should influence how we are perceived, and here’s a little hint…if it does, you don’t want to be around the person with this type of prejudice anyway, period. They would, sooner or later, find something to dislike about you, and would make your life hell.

There is, of course, the question of slavery to consider. I understand that this is a painful topic to every Afro-American out there, and for a good reason. No one should think that they can own another being. Ever.

However, anthropology is also knowledge of other cultures and of history. Slavery has existed for thousands of years, and while few types actually compare to the American slavery system of the especially 18th and 19th centuries, it is definitely comparable (and, however terrible this sounds, often outdone by) African inter-tribal slave behaviour. Including the question of consent of the women in question.

This will probably make many readers uncomfortable, even angry. I am not, in any slightest way, excusing the horrors done to the American slaves, because nothing can ever excuse abuse of human rights…nothing.

But I am asking you to think without bias. For many Afro-Americans, and some more racist groups in Europe – who have been insisting to have a status of a minority while having a proper status of a full-rights citizen (cf. here, here) and who are as displeased by the EU rule of not looking at race or background in citizen studies as the, say, Front National members are, despite the fact that this would actually give fuel to those who wish to have only white Europe (which is blind anyway, given ancestral mixing, but I never said racists were clever!) -, the fact of slavery erases all possibility of considering any match between two people of different colours consensual and possible, present or past. This is awful, because it not only takes away consent from any man or woman who is or had been willing and in love and turns their lover/loved one into an abuser, it also fakes a consent of both parties in the context of all-African matches, past and (sadly all too often) present.

In other words, it becomes as racist as the white supremacists to have a problem with mixing, or the fact that others may not have issues with being mixed, or you being mixed. If I am open about my background, I cannot see why I would not extend that same courtesy – of openness without shame – to another person.

Any other behaviour draws lines where there should be none, creates contexts of alienation and distance.

Then there is a question of colour. Many women, regardless of their background, share similar tones. I have seem Italian women and Spanish women whose skin was darker than that of many Afro-American ladies. It is a beautiful, chocolatey tone, and I see no reason why, if you do actually share the tone or a goodly amount of similarity, you should be forbidden to say so.

Colour is colour, and it really only matters in two things – how much sunblock you may require and how you find make up that fits your particular tone. Given that no two ladies are alike (something that is very clear when you want to try out someone else’s make-up, even when you are all white), even the simplistic all-white expectations result in foundation that won’t match.

Moving on to the questions regarding the LGBT. Yes, if you have a boyfriend who is uneasy about gay people, we are likely dealing with someone who is simply a victim of rigid environment education (because everyone is taught to hate, at least when the hate isn’t personal, for someone who has done them wrong); he could also be in the closet, desperately trying not to be gay, or bisexual and even  more confused because surely, if being with girls works, how come he has those other ideas in his head (this is where it really REALLY sucks that bisexuality is not spoken of more). Of course, all these things can still make him a bully and a homophobe (ironically), and impossible for a gay man especially to be around; and no, it doesn’t say anything good about you as a girl sticking with the guy who obviously doesn’t think twice about being abusive to a possible target, whatever his reasons (for one, what does it say about your own being a potential target of his wrath and prejudice at some point later?). On the other hand, I really did get stuck on the whole “you shouldn’t say that you would have never expected this actor/artist to be gay”.

Why. Not. Last I looked, none of us are walking around with labels on our clothes (thankfully, because mine would be so long I would have trouble walking). Equally, we might as well forbid talking about being in a relationship or single, being heterosexual, having brown hair, having had our nails done or liking pizza (Hawaiian for me, thanks 🙂 ).

Often, we can look at a person and just know it (whatever it is that we know); at other times, a fact will surprise you. Examples?

Workplace, a very polished-looking woman. You change gyms, and next you see her, she is cross-fitting with a grim expression of concentration, sweat pouring down her face, no trace of make-up, her hair messy and dishevelled. You look at her and say, I never expected that.

And you didn’t, because her work identity differs quite a lot from her workout identity.

Eg. 2 – you know a friend is allergic to dog fur. And then you realise that they are and have always been an avid dog lover and manage their allergy while having three lovely pooches they are really fond of, despite the dubious joys of the allergy (I have two friends who are avid cat lovers and are deathly allergic).

Eg. 3 – You see a work colleague with a man, a woman and three children. You assume that we are talking his or her brother, a wife to one of them and their children. In reality (and you can pick your favourite one here), they are a) an ex husband, his child from her first marriage and your colleague’s two children with his current wife; they split up amicably and they are all friends, b) a consensual polyamorous relationship – what you are looking at is your bisexual colleague, his homosexual partner/husband and their wife/partner (or any other combination you wish) and their children.

Eg. 4 – you realise that a friend you thought was German actually has an Indian great-grandmother.

 

All possible, all taken out of real life situations. But generally, surprise at discovering someone else’s facets of personality and the intricate details of their lives are not insulting; nor should the questions pertaining to them be. We all have eyes, and we all think, meaning that we create an impression which, without further confirmation, information or input remains the same, however wrong it might me. Many people have thought me American, because my accents shifts from British to American with great ease, because I have spent a lot of time around Americans and working with them. On the other hand, people have asked me in the past if I was Scandinavian, because of how pale my skin gets in winter and the lilt my accent gets sometimes – never forget I am multilingual (in fact, according to my partner, my English is at its best and crispest when I am getting really cross with someone) and that switching between languages has consequences.

Sticking with the theme of sexual orientation, it struck me as odd to realise that there was this idea that only heterosexuals would be surprised that someone is gay. When I realised that Luke Evans was gay, it definitely came as a surprise to me… while I can usually suss out one’s preference (comes with the job, really), Evans really did not strike that note with me for some reason, and his orientation came as a surprise. Equally, there will be people someone gay will assume to be gay… but will be surprised when they learn they are heterosexual, and yet this does not seem to be addressed.

I agree – there is a certain stereotype in people’s heads about what is a lesbian, gay man, black person, woman… but at the same time, those stereotypes are being challenged all the time by new information. As women change behaviours, black people are no more or at least less segregated (because let’s face it, segregation is insidious, and yes, it does still exist!), LGBT are openly out and walking under the sun, these changes are observed and stored away in your brain as new information. You now know, for instance, that, unlike the stereotypes, not all lesbians are butch, women lift, gay men can be pretty much fitness models with no effeminate behaviours and black people don’t all belong to gangs (something that is still used in the more segregating parts of the States especially to breed distrust and hate towards them), but have jobs and live the same Western lifestyles as their white or other counterparts.

That said, your brain is also the place where you recognise subtleties. My archaeological training has filled mine with cranial studies, and it’s often interesting to see (and, if you ask, realise how close you were, or that you are right) just how mixed roots influence personal looks, from the actual cranial shape to the facial features.

Even if you don’t go that far (and if you are slowly and carefully backing away from me now 😉 🙂 ), there will always be little things that will result in that one important voice you should always, always listen to – your gut feeling.

It may be wrong sometimes, but then again, it might not be. My partner and I took a long time to figure ourselves out… but pretty much everyone who knew us had that nagging feeling that it would happen, it should happen and it will happen. A happily married man may only figure out he is bisexual when he bumps into the one man who will turn his life around… and unless he figures out that he is bisexual, and quite possibly polyamorous as well, he could be looking at months or years of confusion, regret and doubt about himself. The same way a woman who thinks she is a lesbian may find that one person that actually points out her bisexuality to her.

I say this because I have seen this happen, and because it is tough out there for people whose sexual orientation, as well as monogamous or polyamorous leanings aren’t clear from day one to them (tip – they aren’t, not always; and what with social expectations, one’s perception of oneself may be influenced by more than just the lack of that special someone in the picture!). There are many taboos attached to the topic from both sides – the rigid extremist because sexuality is part of the control mechanism of the status quo of the particular aura of factuality, and the other side because they have battled so long just to get recognition as real people with proper personhood and to be left alone and no longer poked, prodded and potentially seriously imperilled for who they are.

This is bad, of course, and not just for the science… it is bad because taboos allow wrong impressions to grow, evolve and degenerate into something completely different. For instance – transsexuals are possibly one of the most discriminated groups at present. It is often difficult for them to be who they are, to the extent they desire, and there is so much prejudice directed at them.

At the same time, we face a very dire, real concern.

We do not, at the moment, know what actually causes transsexuality, not with any great certainty. We may never know, or we will discover it tomorrow… but at present, we are at sea.

At least scientifically.

This does not mean that transsexuals are less deserving of being perceived as people with real personhood. Even in the crudest version of acceptance, a full transition (or even a partial one) is a question of two things – a name change (full or occasional for people who are gender fluid… if you have trouble getting this, just imagine a man called Harrison James Grey; at the office, he is either known as Mr. Grey – ha! 🙂 – or, to his friends, Harry or Jimmy, depending on the moment… Now transfer Harry into Harriette, and you have what it’s like to work with a fully gender fluid person) and body modification.

If we can accept earrings, multiple earrings, piercings, tattoos, different kinds of fashion… then we can learn to see that today, Jimmy is Harriette. After a little bit of time, your brain will pick up on the looks and you won’t even blunder on the name any longer, because your brain will tell you – Grey; skirt/blouse = Harriette; trousers/shirt = Jimmy. Of course, as acceptance of anything goes where gender and clothing is concerned shift, this may become even more complex, but trust me – your brain can do it. It is a question of simple recognition, which is something all people without brain damage (and I’m not being nasty here, brain damage can and does impede recognition, cogitation, short and long term memory… But that would be true in any case, even in a fully same-sex team at the office or with the family and friends at home) can manage just fine.

But there is a little problem that really isn’t that little. The leave-alone policy of the LGBT leaves many people vulnerable, trans people in particular. We all deserve to be fully ourselves, whatever that means… and under normal social circumstances, we have little enough trouble asserting that self, and getting help if there is need for it.

An abused man or woman can seek legal help, or go see a psychiatrist.

But the LGBT group, and perhaps Trans people most of all, face with difficulties due to prejudice from the socially available help very often, and are wary for a good reason. At the same time, nothing protects them from an environmentally charged abuse. For instance – a son born to a mother who obsessively wants a daughter may be pushed into being a girl completely subconsciously, or even deliberately. Instead of picking up on this abuse, people (and the boy in question) will simply assume that they are trans, and will treat him this way, allowing his mother’s abuse to continue, as well as forging a persona for him that may not be truly him, and that may make him uncomfortable in the long run, causing anxiety and depression, even suicide.

A lesbian girl may desperately try to be “normal”, and may undergo the full change to be “normal” i.e. a man, because men like girls, but girls cannot.

This is where taboos are the worst… because on one hand, we have the extremism pressing people to dig in their heels about psychological or psychiatric counselling, and on the other, we have this great, often fully blind, almost hysterical “acceptance” hurriedly slotting people into boxes and missing abuse where it is happening.

*I have come across both cases I mentioned above.

 

So what can we do to avoid this?

Well, first of all, we STOP with taboos. We stop with saying, here’s a list of what you are not allowed to say to xyz person. We accept variety, we embrace it and we bask in it, but we remain vigilant and we protect people from those who want to slot people into boxes, including ourselves and those around us.

We work on making sure that bias and prejudice are eradicated from the professional world around us. Changing sex, for instance, is a serious, often complicated procedure; if you change sex, you will be facing operations (expensive in countries where this is not covered by insurance), post-op touch-ups, maintenance (for instance trans men, as some penises are going to have to be changed through use and this has not changed yet, cf. here), life-long hormonal therapy (cf. here), tons of paperwork and potential discrimination, while perhaps not being happy with your new identity, because it wasn’t the right solution for you specifically (cf. here). Just like psychological help is given to victims of violence and available before all major health procedures (and if it’s not, it should be!), just like a tattoo artist isn’t allowed to perform on you, even on your wish, if you are drunk and therefore less than fully responsible for your decisions (while this is not consistent, it is considered bad practice at the very least, and normally, you have to sign a waiver stating that you are fully conscious in all ways), help should be considered and taken for people who are taking this huge step in being themselves… and while it should most definitely not be aiming to impose a stereotype of “normality” on them, it should also make sure that the patient/client a) copes well with the scarier aspects of their transition, like post-op pain, sickness from the relevant medication and prejudice they may be facing, b) takes this step for the right reason.

It is equally wrong for someone to pose the famous “Have you tried to not be a mutant” question and the associated pressure as it is to try to force them (and I’m looking at you, Magneto, as a very good example for this) to be mutants when they are not.

In other words, discussing why someone wants to go through a transition, including whether or not they are sure of their reason, should not be taboo.

Victims of violence, especially when this violence was or is still being perpetrated by someone close, someone they should love and trust, and who should love them back unconditionally, often experience vigorous denial when first faced with the truth about their abuse. This is because they have dealt with it by either pushing it away, normalising it or simply erasing it, fully or in part, from their conscious mind. What hurts is too painful to think about, especially if it remains unresolved, and that means that the parts of any therapy that tries to resolve it (because, present visibly or not, this is still ruining your life!) is in a way painful for both the client and the therapist. I have sat through many gruelling experiences of people coming to terms with the fault their cultural, traditionalist, social or religious environments have in the pain they go through, whatever their particular reason, and it is never pretty. But it is necessary, as we cannot be whole without finding a way of coming to terms with and removing the harm from our lives, be it a memory of an act of abuse, on-going abuse from a loved one, cultural expectations or meeting with prejudice because of an aspect of you at school or workplace.

Recently, the #MeToo movement has riled up women – and men! – from around the world, sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse, working to break what remains of the still present taboo of discussing it and stopping and preventing it. I had my own comment to make, sadly, and while I, like many, decided to keep the details private, and while there is no way I could have ever read through all the stories shared, I have observed a certain amount of issues pop up even at the start.

For instance, one particular comment (which I will not share, because the woman who posted it has a right to retain what anonymity the sheer number of people presents, and I would not single her out, especially when there are others who have likely posted similar comments as well, as this is a much wider problem than one person) stood out to me. The woman in question started by grudgingly admitting she had in fact had an experience that could count as harassment, and by pointing out that, oh well, she might as well join, because while most people will probably lie or exaggerate, at least this is for a good cause, sort of, and that maybe this will encourage people with real experiences to come forward and get help.

Two things struck me most with this statement – firstly, the apparent belief that there is hierarchy in abuse. That it doesn’t count until and unless it’s really horrible. Who keeps the score?! There should NEVER be a hierarchy to abuse – abuse is abuse, and it doesn’t matter how it was perpetrated and how far it went, it was still abuse, and harmful, and should be considered as such. To behave this way prevents victims from coming forward.

Secondly, the fact that this person actually openly stated that she believes that majority of the people (male and female) who have joined were actually lying or exaggerating their experience.

Granted. There have, since, been posts all over the internet, mostly by radical feminists, on what they feel already qualifies as sexual abuse and harassment (including talking to a girl without her explicit consent… which created, in my mind, a ridiculous picture of a man in shackles and a mistress-type lady beckoning him over, saying: “Come hither, slave. You may now talk to me.”), completely devoid of both reality and legality.

Thankfully, they have mostly been accepted as such.

But this still leaves us with the original comment, dubbing people who gathered courage to come forward, the floodgates of emotion that this may have opened, liars.

This is inexcusable, because it pushes the victims back into silence. While there are likely to be some people who will join for other reasons (pathological liars doing what they do as pathological liars, radical feminists trying to make some ridiculous point, people who feel embarrassed that, in light of some of the stories shared, they only have this much, who will then try to elaborate to make themselves feel less of an outsider), it is insane to say that the majority are just saying things.

This is precisely the problem with abuse – to keep the status quo, the victim must be without help. Moreover, he or she must be without even a notion that help could be sought and received. The ultimate goal is for the silence to persist, for the victims themselves to defend the “good and bad” divide, so that the abusers can continue acting unpunished. Abuse is a major part of every rigid society, and a part of indoctrination of every child to be an unquestioning part of this society is for them not to question things… i.e. communicate, doubt, explore, ask questions and expect honest answers.

 

Taboos are how status quo is kept. Every time we stumble over a question because we think it might offend someone we keep this status quo. We keep the silence, not just of harassment or sexual or gender or sexual orientation or colour or race based silence, but many other as well. Perhaps the person you are directing a question at will be offended and perhaps they will not. Perhaps they had a reason and perhaps they did not; perhaps the reason was something in their past that got to the forefront of their mind and perhaps it was you. In either case, both the person asking and the person answering should always be clear about their own emotions and why they feel what they feel. The only truly valid feelings are personal, and even there, a predisposition due to experience must be avoided. All other predispositions are likely highly questionable. So ask. Ask yourselves, whether you are asking or answering, why you feel the way you feel. Tailor your responses and questions to that, and to the action and reaction between the speakers included.

Break the silence, because it needs to be broken. Break taboos, because they keep the silence.

Partner Communication in Different Cultures

Partner communication is probably the most important thing that makes or breaks a relationship between you and your partner(s); it’s something everyone keeps saying you should do, but at the end of the day, most people still a) don’t do it, b) don’t really know what it means, c) don’t do enough of it.

 

Social, religious and cultural (especially traditionalist) views are often what plays a crucial role in communication between partners – for one, especially in the arranged marriage or any systems leaning towards it, the notion that partner communication is needed is actually not considered at all. The partners are forced together by their families, religious beliefs and the socio-cultural behaviour of their community; it is enough that each is slotted into a role and left there. Communication, that crucial thing for all living beings, is strongly discouraged if it is even acknowledged as existing. The partners serve the community by performing socio-cultural-religious roles that do not take into account consent, free will, like or dislike or even spousal abuse. There is plenty of data on this, so I will not go into a long debate on it here; suffice to say that personal happiness or even safety are not considered where matches are constructed by others.

Ironically, the problem that we face in the West is a form of latent or hidden matchmaking. When your mom doesn’t like him/her (regardless of your sexual orientation), when your family “does not approve”, when someone hopes you will “get someone better”, or worse still, that you will “finally realise that being straight is good for you”, these are technically all manipulations, more or less forceful, mostly psychologically though actual physical violence is not excluded, that are intended for one purpose only – to “guide” (ie force) you into a match with someone else, someone other than the person you have chosen. This is a serious matter, the more so because it is legally so difficult to address. Sure it falls under emotional blackmail, which falls under psychological torture if it goes far enough, but what is far enough? Surely, people are just “doing this for your own good”?

No, no, they are most definitely not. Sometimes, there is a partner chosen for you, and sometimes, the only real goal is to effectively ruin your personal life… and your future happiness. One thing I often have to tell my clients is that they need to understand that family does not mean rights. Your family does not have the right to control you. They do not have the right to manipulate you. They do not “know better” – no matter how old or young you are, this is you, and unless your interfering parent is a top-notch criminal profiler, who, without bias, recognises a lurking psychopath and manipulator in whoever you brought home for dinner, your parents, friends, teachers or anyone else who thinks they are called to do it has no right to interfere with your love life. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Divorce rate is partly high because people interfere with couples and their lives, in all aspects of those lives. Divorce is nothing to be ashamed of (in fact, it has been practiced for a very, VERY long time, no matter what idiotic romance novels try to make you believe – want proof? Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Sybilla of Jerusalem, and many, many more before and after separated, divorced, annulled, remarried etc; come 20th century and everyone thinks it’s impossible oO), but it is also something that you should not just default to instead of trying to resolve the problem. Why? Because you may be divorcing due to people having stressed you both out. And that is why you really don’t want to prove Grima Wormtongues of your family and friendship circle right.

Not right per se. Anyone can say “I always knew that” but generally, that is, as we say, talking out of their arse. People have an uncanny capability of brewing trouble and then behaving as if this trouble happened on its own, with no responsibility on their parts, and others’ partnerships are actually a hugely used target in that respect. I often joke that by my experience, if you have someone in your life, you should be getting ready for war, because it almost invariably follows with many couples.

The reasons differ and they are all pathological. A certain amount of people technically commit a form of silent incest. You know your daddy, mommy or brother worrying about your cherry pop? That is actually incestual, and the behaviour typical of an abusive/jealous partner. Society encourages it, because of the extremist notion that your consent (whether or not you are female, this applies, to some extent, to men as well!) is not your own… as with all extremism, it belongs to the society, to your culture, to dispose of as they see fit, whether or not you consent to an act or action. It is immensely interesting that, in the same breath, we call women who decide, with a free will, about when they want sex, how much and with whom, emancipated and sluts; at the same time, a man is either experienced or a rake/womaniser.

We are taught, from day one, to effectively go for marriage or bust; and the only result is that many do not marry because marriage has been made repulsive to them. They may remain together for the rest of their lives, but marriage has been made into this hateful, destructive thing, which, if they enter, they enter because they feel obliged and pressured by their social group, and it is that pressure (which then continues into having children, how many children…) that will often crack or break even the best couples, couples that would have stayed together.

It is erroneous to think that love will conquer everything. It certainly helps, yes; but at the end of the day, when under constant quiet psychological attack, an attack you may not even be fully aware is happening (because everyone totally wants what’s good for you, right? Even if your decisions really couldn’t matter less!), where there is just an odd unpleasant, uncomfortable feeling (technically aversion therapy towards yourself, your decisions, your partner and your love and sexuality… your freedom!), things will deteriorate, and that quickly.

There are always reasons why one should break up a couple. They do not fit an idea; he/she does not fit expectations (and these expectations are NOT GOOD!); he/she is of different colour, religion (or is atheist), background… You name it.

The thing about any society is that there is a great deal of narcissism and paranoia incorporated into the more indoctrinated parts of it, and trust me when I say that those are not nurturing, loving second thoughts.

To truly care about someone is to allow them space. To be the safe haven when they need you, whether you are a friend, parent/guardian, sibling; to offer impartial advice (and really, clean up the biases before you open your mouth, and always ask yourself why you feel the way you do!) when asked or when you really do see that someone is struggling; to be helpful to the partner(s) without resentment, because if you want to help, sometimes talking it out with the other party(/ies) means that the conversation can truly start for the partners involved, because you offered that one step forward they could not take alone; to be constructive and to be kind. Otherwise, keep your big mouth shut and stay out of it. Majority of any cases I have seen and worked on have involved nothing more than the stress from the friends and family and community pressuring two people (in many cases people who have been brought together by this pressure anyway) and only a very small amount has actually included anything else, like a case of abuse that a partner was hiding (quite successfully) and yet the friends and family suspected something, and so on.

Sadly, it is also true that no person from a bio-normal, healthy family will ever put up with a pathological relationship. It is a fact that people whose normality has technically been an SCR context twisted normality, or, in other words, people who have grown up in emotionally pathological families, end up choosing partners who also exhibit this type of or similar behaviour – not because they feel guilty or crave punishment, but because they have gotten used to the fact that this is somehow normal and acceptable. They are willing to entertain thoughts and acts of abusive behaviour because this is somehow normal.

In simple terms – if you think that abuse is being burned with hot iron, a few slaps or broken bones really don’t count… except that they do, and they should.

And yet, victims of violence do not see it that way, and they go and end up with partners who treat them similarly, even if initially, they had put on a kind face.

It is not much different with people who grew up in more deeply indoctrinated environments. There is this crazy bug about how you have to “work on your marriage” that is really popular with these people, and they generally don’t know how to explain it when I ask them what this means. In reality, you do not have to work on anything. Life is a combination of two things – action and reaction. Communication between partners should take care of those two, and make things easy – there is no magical long term “work” that you have to undertake, as work represents extra actions that you should resort to, and that is simply not the case. You either love each other or you do not. If the flames have chilled, you have to first rule out physical illness (like Adison’s, prostate cancer and more), simple tiredness (which is all mood killer), depression and anxiety and PTSD. If none of these check out, then perhaps, you have just grown apart. We change constantly, and sometimes, that is what happens with partners. They become different people altogether, and in that case, it is much, much better (including for the kids, especially for the kids!) if you split up amicably, remain friendly, help each other and pursue separate lives. Everything else is just social pressure.

Sex is important, and it is important because it is both a physical and emotional bond between people. It is not there for procreation; like many other animals, humans do have sex simply because they feel the need for closeness and affection, and pregnancy does not happen every time you have sex in heterosexual couples (there goes that bubble…), so stop treating it as a procreative act only. This is a surefire way to ruin the intimacy for yourselves. The need to be close and to give each other the best possible experience there is is the motivator of sex; nothing else. Children happen as a result, planned or unplanned, and it is likelier that couples who think this way will keep an unplanned baby, and do so caringly and happily… if you thing you have to have a baby, or that you are not allowed to plan, use contraceptives or abort, the wish to be rid of what had been imposed on you will be bigger, and even if you keep the baby, the bond will often lack. In couples where communication lacks, sex and consent are often not included in the discussion, and in some communities/societies/cultures, these are not even topics you can discuss… but you should. Nothing in this world gives someone the right to another’s body, and while some feminist go into the other extreme and feel that consent should be discussed ad infinitem every time your partner (especially if we are talking heterosexual relationship) wants to be close, let alone intimate – which forgets the fact that you are not strangers and you are not wont to endanger each other! -, communication about feelings, emotions, wishes, fantasies and sensations are crucial for a warm, loving partnership, whether you are married or not.

Many couples distance because they are taught from day one (especially women) that they really need a child, and that means that instead of a healthy sexual and emotional relationship, a distance is formed and a child or children created as a safeguard, someone you are allowed to love. I probably do not need to explain (at least I hope not) that this is highly pathological. Your love for a child and your love for your partner are two VERY different things, and one should not exclude the other. Male or female, we all have needs and wishes, including sexual, and we should not be ashamed of them, ever. We should act upon them (with the exception of true pathological sexuality, obviously) and it should make us happy to be in that context with our partner(s).

 

I keep saying partner(s), which you have probably noticed; that is because there is no reason (apart from socio-cultural) to exclude the polyamorous relationships from partner talk. Poly relationships are often more aware of the need for communication than the average couple out there, possibly because a)they are already breaking the convention, so why not go for gold, and b)they have figured  out that the more people are involved, the more talking about things is necessary.

This same is often true of the LGBT couples – if you have already “messed up” as far as much of society is concerned, you are likely to know your mind a lot more and stick to your behavioural patterns and the expression of them with greater certainty. Heterosexual couples, however, are often victims of that level of pestering that is already harrowing, is already abusive, but is neither acknowledged as such by the wider community/society nor is it clear enough that it is easy to come clean, even just to yourself, about how you feel and why. You may just seem paranoid to yourself, and even your partner may dismiss the concerns, because they, too, are labouring under the same delusional idea that things can work out. We are talking a perception of normality of a certain type of manipulation and quiet, persistent abuse, that is common… and therefore insidious and difficult to get rid of, because many people will, instead of at least staying out of it, side with the “concerned” party, rather than see things for what they are.

In many ways, this is a form of Factitious disorder by proxy (also known as Munchausen’s disorder by proxy), recognised and practiced by enough of society that it is part of aura of factuality, and therefore not perceived as a disorder, but simply a dismissible action that is ascribed best interests for a third party instead of seen as what it truly is.

 

But what is a part of communication? We have already discussed that life is action and reaction, so let’s put it into context.

Action – your OH tends to put the towel on the floor after showering. This annoys you – reaction.

Now for the question – why?

In practice, there can be many ways for the initial action to be continued.

He/she showers, leaves the towel on the floor after having wiped off, then

A) leaves it indefinitely, and if you don’t pick it up, the towel stays there and moulds (problem – careless behaviour towards objects, careless behaviour towards the partner i.e. expectation of a certain amount of servitude; a hidden depression; forgetfulness, which needs to be given a good reason – unless you are both old, people don’t just forget)

B) picks up the towel in the evening; that way, you only use one towel for the floor, which saves up on washing liquid etc. (problem – your perception of why they are doing this and why it is problematic; lack of communication about this matter, with a proper solution that pleases both parties; solution – perhaps buy a bathroom mat and communicate about how you could optimise the towel washing and why you feel you need to wash the towels every day/not wash the towels every day and whether or not you need to save up money, feel you need to act environmentally…)

C) only leaves the towel when you are about to shower; when he/she showers last, they pick up the towel (problem – why are you worked up about this? Communicate, clearly, and think hard about what this means to you, and why it upsets you)

 

There are serious matters – like abuse, manipulation, religious or political pressure, financial abuse, sexual abuse… And then there are little things that you often feel you should have a problem with (many times because you have been repeatedly told so) or that niggle at you for seemingly no good reason.

In cultures with a clear divide between male and female, and an expectation of little to no communication (like Latino culture, Slavic cultures, Hindi or African cultures… conservative Western communities…), even partners who are in love and actively participate in their life together, there is an expected passivity from both partners (usually, man is expected not to be emotional, not to care about household items, not to pay attention to little things that the behaviour of his wife may be showing; a woman, on the other hand, is expected to be emotional but restrained, to pay attention to her husband and never herself and to be caring and involved with household items) that is quietly instilled and encouraged. If this is the case with you, or if you have a racially/culturally/socially/religiously mixed partnership, you may need to pay special attention to the things you have been taught to miss. Often, partners from that kind of a background need to literally learn communication, and that against all odds, because while they are taking a logical step forward, their more conservative in-laws and friends are screaming against it, making it difficult.

The important thing is not to lose heart. It is certainly possible for a couple to learn or improve their communication, but communication must happen, no matter what. There is no way around it. The added bonus of it is that you will learn to be more relaxed with yourself, as well as each other. You must be both a priority on your own lives and the lives of the other… but the second will come automatically once you are no longer feeling pressured and feel free to talk things out.

Goth in the jungle – subculture and variety

We’ve survived the extensively Halloween themed week, so now, we’ll be moving on with a variety of anthropological themes.

Today, we’ll be looking at subculture and variety, and we’ll use the Goth subculture around the globe as our case study.

I’m going to start by challenging the perspective of subculture and mainstream culture. You see, the USUAL perspective is of a rigid (! You see that?) divide between the mainstream, so the socio-normative, acceptable, set down – the rigidity of course varies, but to this date, most anthropology classes still teach this divide this way (I say most because I’m not omnipresent and I allow for the fact that others may have gotten to the same conclusions as myself without my knowledge, and that they have in some way written, reported or taught upon the topic; however much you read, you will never be able to know everything, that’s a simple fact of life, nor will you ever know all there is to know about a single subject – also a fact of life 🙂 ) – and the marginalised, the acceptability of which also strongly varies according to the magnanimity and rigidity of the mainstream culture in question.

This, however, can only really work to a certain extent in extremely rigid cultures. Where every aspect of life is so utterly controlled that freedom of movement, expression, speech, appearance and even thought are controlled, the mainstream will really be the only culture present – effectively obliterating the subculture. Even where there is an underground culture present (for years, my partner followed an Iranian page that spoke a lot about the underground public life of especially the younger generation, where music, speech and behaviours that would otherwise be forbidden are practiced, much like in the speakeasies of the US Prohibition era, or the LGBT community bars in the early to mid twentieth century), this culture cannot be truly considered a subculture, as its marginalisation may indeed be present, but the sheer number of people it involves (as in percentage of the populace) makes it something else than a simple separated part of a larger group. As changes happen, this group’s influence, also, has the capability of becoming the more or even most influential mode of thinking and behaviour, subsequently moving the overall society towards the resulting lessening of rigidity and the fluidity that follows; moreover, it is the tendency towards fluidity that causes this behaviour and the changes in the society itself come as a result of it, including by the feeling of lesser isolation that happens from underground socio-cultural movements of this type.

 

In reality, the culture cannot be ever really split into mainstream and subculture, as the tendency towards fluidity means varied tastes. For instance. If Jane is a cheerleader who listens to pop, she would be considered a mainstream person by most people. But very few people have absolutely streamlined taste, so if Jane occasionally listens to other music, watches films that are not considered mainstream or has a few cute goth clothes, she falls into that category most of us do – in between groups.

The perceived mainstream and subcultural divide also do not consider the variety within themselves. What is truly “in” at any point for any culture, main or sub, is very dependant on the current influences (such as DJs or cinematography or fashion, all of which can vary hugely or not much at all), as well as personal perspectives on what is what of the person in question and the persons within the group specific to the interest sphere. In other words, some goths may feel a song or singer may not be truly representative of their group; pop singers may venture into Rap or R&B or even do duets with metal singers and thus completely throw off the mantle of expected. A film that would normally be ascribed to the marginalised groups (such as the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies) may have a huge success with all audiences, subsequently shifting the perspective on mainstream and marginal for everyone.

The truth is that the only people who actively seek the rigid divide even when it’s otherwise very little or not at all present are people whose personality (due to their specific circumstances and therefore the behaviours that develop from them) desires a system of thinking where some people are in and others are excluded. If, in a form of self-realisation, a person wishes to distance from what they perceive as a marginal or mainstream culture, or an aspect within either that, to their perspective, makes, breaks or even ruins the experience of that culture, they will try to set harsh standards for what is or isn’t “it”, so to speak. In other words, an aspect of mainstream or subculture, which others are perfectly happy to accept as a part of it, may be perceived as “not it” by this person (or others like them, forming, shall we say, a group within a group) and will shun and even actively persecute those who feel that that’s not the case. One could call this dogmatic or orthodox belonging – a belonging that is set within a set of rigid rules and perspectives, and a resultant clear divide between the “us” and “them”… The perceived “real” parts of the culture/group/society and those who do not belong by being effectively outsiders either by incident (such as people who really do not belong or see themselves as belonging to the group) or people who do see themselves as belonging but do not adhere to the rigidity, and therefore cannot belong to it by the belief of this group.

In the same way, a person anxious to distance from what they may feel is not a part of, say mainstream culture, may rigidly decline all association with even popular thematic if it is considered, by some, “too geeky”…this is very well visible in the LOTR trilogy fans, where, however mainstream had accepted it, some self-defining mainstreamers consider it to be a geek thing, and there is a term “LOTR or Tolkien geek” used by those people.

 

This is the same behaviour that cults and religions use, and it is very well illustrated by feminism and BDSM groups. In feminism, majority of people simply stand for equality; it is, perhaps, a questionable standing from the perspective of history, as feminism per se has had a standing of women over men in many aspects of its ideology – however, if we accept that all and everything we do is about self- descriptors, then we must accept that the vast majority of feminists today (men included) are actually simply egalitarians who call themselves by a different name. At the same time, there is a very strong, dogmatic, rigid core of radical feminism that is simply representative of another bully in place of the perceived old, with the same or even more control over women’s rights as that expected of men – many radical feminists oppose the woman’s right of choice of partner, claiming that it is unnatural for a woman to be with a man, or that women even need to be guided and educated (ie convinced) of that fact; the right to enjoy penetrative sex by choice; the right to consent… Those are all rights that are typically perceived as violated by men, and yet the radical feminists do the same, if not worse, because their perception of men being a wholly rotten deal (thus effectively using a blanket perception regardless of actual deeds, positive or negative, by specific men or the studies of behaviours of majority, which they both oppose and at the same time replace with their own) covers more ground within feminism than the general minority of bad men do damage to women. In other words, the radicalism in feminism does significant damage to the movement while at the same time discriminating against men as a whole, as well as towards women who do not even necessarily oppose them ideologically, but seem to oppose them by their lifestyle. That is probably why the movement of egalitarianism is becoming a lot more involved in not only the Western life but in the cultures outside the West… because the point of egalitarianism is rights for everyone, regardless or sex, gender, sexual orientation and preferences, race, religion and so on. I consider myself egalitarian rather than feminist precisely because of the radicalisation associated with the movement.

 

The BDSM community has shown itself to be equally constructed, with an outlying periphery of the group relatively fluid and the harsher core of people who live by the dogmatic belonging approach. When 50 Shades came out, one of the grievances that the BDSM community had was that the sex represented was “too vanilla”, and therefore not representative of the BDM community.

The interesting things to consider here are – what it representative?

And how many is a community?

Majority of couples or people in general engage in some form of BDSM sex. BDSM related items are found both in ordinary sex shops and stores that have an adult section and in specialising stores catering to the BDSM community proper. As things shift, a lot less is becoming purely BDSM territory – where once, feather ticklers, handcuffs and silk ribbons for bondage were the majority of the wares offered to the perceived mainstream or mild or shall we say BDSM curious category, the offers on sites like Lovehoney or even by Ann Summers have shifted to include leather, floggers and canes, wartenberg pinwheels, sex swings, medical fetish toys and electrocution toys. Going through specifically hardcore BDSM sites like Extreme restraints (or toys offered by the Zado brand) will actually yield very similar results, with perhaps a slightly wider selection of certain types of restraints… at the moment. As more people become involved into what used to be marginalised and even somewhat shunned and demonised community, the rules of what is mainstream are going to change and shift, and so will the perception of what is “truly BDSM”, because while the mainstreamers will occasionally buy from the more BDSM orientated shops, the mainstream shops will soon figure out the next needed niche in the supplies they offer, and will move accordingly, while retaining the look more suited to the tastes of the non-hardcore BDSM customers, the look that may be off-putting and even repulsive to the mainstream shopper (whose kicks don’t depend on the visual stimulation by extreme subjugation) on the purely hardcore BDSM sites.

This, of course, will push the borders of “true BDSM” even further, which can be worrying. As BDSM community often still undergoes a rather judgemental approach from the rest of the world, there is preciously little in place to actively set down boundaries of what goes and what does not. There is no real protection in place for the vulnerable members; there is too much of either prejudice (so “you’re all crazy pervs” or “this is consensual… because I said so”) to protect a person from being manipulated or abused by a clever dom (or sub!) for either the mental health or judicial help to be readily available. Especially the aspects of extreme torture, complete control and humiliation are all very dubious, dark parts of human nature that should, under normal circumstances, have at least a fall-back to a friendly psychologist or psychiatrist, in case the person(s) involved in the matter wish to think things over. As these are generally result of abuse, a form of coping mechanism, we must consider that among the BDSMers we will find manipulators and abusers as well, and that there is little difference between someone holding a partner hostage via threats and manipulation and someone doing so with the pretext of BDSM subculture as their excuse. With the borders of “real” BDSM on the move into even further extreme to retain the self-identification, we may be looking at a necessity for fair and impartial laws and medical assessment being necessary in the near future to if not regulate, then protect those who feel they are being exploited.

At the same time, the views of socio-normality of BDSM are likely to expand, as the mainstreamers nick ideas from the BDSM community, which might be helpful in creating the protection necessary for any who may need it. As with everything, human rights are essential even in BDSM, and however accepting we can be of majority of it, we must always remember that one cannot enter into any deal where their life and safety are going to be threatened (cf. human rights here).

This is where acceptance ends, and while I myself do enjoy occasional BDSM, and while my tastes are wide and varied, I cannot possibly stand for deliberate abuse, even as a part of a consensual play, if I stand for human rights. Everything has a limit.

 

So by now, we’ve learned one important thing – that everything has a rigid and a fluid potential.

This is indeed true of every aspect of human cultures and society – if there is one thing you can definitely be sure of, this is it.

The fluidity also represents variety beautifully. It means a wide range of experiences and an equally wide range of aspects of self-representation. You can be a fitness enthusiast who has goth clothing items who likes sushi who listens to Celine Dion (um… guilty of all these, I’m afraid, and way more 🙂 ). And this is just an example – the truth is far more vibrant and varied and beautiful.

Fluidity and the variety it creates are life. They are the freedoms of expression, the change around the corner. They are learning about ourselves and about others, and about the empathy that all this awakens. Which all brings us to our case study of the day – the Goths.

There are many types of Goth; I do believe there was, years ago, a nice DeviantArt piece that represented Goths as they were perceived then and by the artist; I would wager an educated guess that there are probably even more, especially because self-perception and self-descriptors walk hand in hand.

Gothic community has its root in the 19th century’s literary and artistic perspective of Gothic art (so predominantly the art of 13th and 14th century) – the dark, the mysterious, the supernatural. From that influence, the early Goth music (Siouxie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Joy Division, etc.) and most likely some Heavy Metal music have developed their themes and apparel; this is what influences the Romantic and Victorian Goth and the Steampunk (so modernist Victorian Goth with heavily steam-powered society instead of electricity being present) in their look.

This is whence the interest in vampires and the Vampire Goth.

In short, Goth is about the 19th century in many ways… Even though other tangents, such as the Hippie Goth (joining the aspects of both communities) and Anime Goth (same here) represent slightly different looks and slightly different interests.

Hodkinson’s book on Goth culture is one work that you must read if you are interested not only in Goths but in the general existence of the mainstream/subculture divide. One of the perhaps best aspects of it is that the author very clearly illustrates the rigidity of the divide in the earlier decades of 20th century Goth society, including the potential perils of the Goth clothing, especially in women, who were often targets (or feared of becoming targets) of mainstream or different social communities’ men on the same pretext that goes for every rigid culture – in rigid societies, hierarchy divides people in “us and them”, making the “them” group the enemy as well as target, including for sexual, physical and emotional abuse. This is true of the caste system in India on a social, cultural, religious and national level; it is true of the subtle perceived differences in the post-revolutionary Egypt, where youth and teen gangs assault women who are considered “easy” because of how the gangs perceive their veil is adjusted across their face; it is true of the shorter skirts in the context of African Salaula and it has been true of women wearing trousers, tight jeans and shorter skirts in the context of the West in the past. In other words, Hodkinson illustrates the only possible divide – so the only way mainstream and subculture can exist as such; one where rigidity influences and threatens the freedom of expression and divides very harshly, thus forcing a more dogmatic belonging even on the members of the subculture, so marginalised groups, thus both forcing the mainstream at least to some extent on them as well as potentially enforcing the stubborn dogmatism in the subculture, where it might live on even after the mainstream culture has mellowed out into a fluid one. Memory of abuse can be a long lasting one, and can and does influence everything.

Curiously enough, the Goth community exists around the globe, as far as into the jungles of Brazil and the cold of Russia. Intriguingly, the material I came across seems to suggest that certain types of Goth may be prevalent in some places, but that is merely a first impression; whether or not that is fact needs to be confirmed by research (mine or someone else’s 🙂 ). Still, Goths exist regardless of the rigidity of their culture, paving the way into fluidity even in Iran, India and Kenya. It’s particularly interesting to see how adjustments are made to keep at peace with the perceptions of aura of factuality and the resulting necessities in personal presentation; the young woman from Iran, for instance, is fully accoutred and attired as a Goth, but wears the hijab; the Indian Goths retain a certain amount of the Hindi look, even though they too have gone for the overall Goth look.

 

 

On the other hand, the Italian Goth is shown in this picture sporting a very classical Goth look, same as the Goth in France.

When I initially came across this information, it really surprised me to see how much diversity has paved its way into even cultures and societies where it would have seem impossible (or would have actually been impossible a few years or a decade ago) to see a radical difference from the proscribed look and self-presentation on the streets and even in private. This goes to show that rigidity cannot last; it is a state that we may endure for a while, even for generations, but fluidity, the natural state of things, the behaviour that would help us survive our environment in the mists of time, when it was actually vitally important to be definite about dangers, where decisions had to be taken in a split second, always finds a way back in. Perhaps it is the fluidity, ironically, that had caused the epidemic of the rigid behaviour in the first place; when stress caused violent, possibly irreversible changes in members of human communities, appeasement and the ease of the fluidity of behaviour would have been the logical thing to fall back to, possibly paving the way for the maladaptive, anxious behaviours resulting from the unresolved tensions and bullying of those suffering from broken mental health to become a form of folie en familie, and from there on a tribal, then eventually global problem. One thing is for certain though – whether we look at the case studies of Goths coexisting with sometimes very oppressive mainstream cultures in rigid environments or just the versatility and variety within fluid social environments, it is very clear that this variety fuels our humanity, builds us up where rigidity tears us down. It is a state of mental and physical wellbeing that we naturally tend towards.

 

Initial image source – Pixabay 
All other images source – http://www.rebelcircus.com/blog/what-goth-culture-looks-like-around-the-world/

Halloween

We have reached Halloween. We’ve gone through vampires, werewolves, ghosts and witches and anthropological debate to do it, but here it is, and I hope you have a nice evening planned. Mine is going to be very feline (how witchy of me…;) ), with my partner and myself and our nine felines watching a film, because sometimes, it’s good to just curl up and cuddle and watch something. Will it be Halloween themed? Perhaps. Or maybe it will be something else, so that we stop working for once (sometimes, certain films make you think professionally a lot more than other).

We have already said a lot about Halloween, of what it is and what it used to be. So perhaps, today, just a short study of a festival to keep you cheery until the evening.

Because I have tormented you (and myself; I am not a Celtic specialist, and you can’t BELIEVE the number of tear-jerking issues with finding references and sources I went through… sometimes, you remember hearing something or reading something academic many years ago, and you a) can’t remember when, where or how, or b) come across the source and realise it was BIASED (yes, it makes you die just a little bit every time 🙂 ) or you realise that c) ain’t nobody know what they’re talking about (which happens in the academic world quite a lot too, because we are all just people, with our own limitations… including not ever being able to read up on everything on the topic; sometimes, information hides in the least likely places).

So, to heal my now aching heart (lol, just kidding…), let’s look at the best part of anthropology, observation. Case study : Day of the Dead in Mexico.

El Dia de los Muertos is, and I did not know that until today, on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage. It is a fabulous day, very colourful, and a beautiful show of syncretism.

Traditionally both a festival of the end of maize cultivation and the return of the spirits into this world – already a combination of some older European ideas that have been connected to Samhain (such as the harvest end and start of winter, plus the spirits returning) and the local crop cultivation -, it all starts by inviting the dead to come visit their home again. Petals are strewn on the paths that lead home, together with candles (mini fires, plus the Catholic symbol of eternal life) and offerings; favourite foods are prepared. This is the exact opposite of the beliefs I have heard of in Scotland, where, after a funeral, the family takes great care to avoid going home by the usual route, lest the spirit should follow them home. It would be interesting to know whether such a belief exists in Mexico as well for the day of the funeral, as it would definitely signify a finality of passing with one ritual and the welcoming of memory with the other.

 

There is a duality definitely present, with the dead being capable of bringing good fortune or misfortune if offended, joining the ancestor worship with deity worship, as well as the worship of the replaced gods… this is often the case where one religion replaces another, or perhaps a third one along the way, that had replaced the one the new had replaced before, and a ritual is formed in some way to still appease the replaced god or gods from before. I imagine there must be many more religions involved than we often think; if you consider, just very simply, the spread of Roman culture in Europe, Africa and East, and how many religions, gods, and versions of both they knew and how differently they often practiced, it would be easy to see that say, a version of a Roman cult would slowly replace a (for example) Celtic deity somewhere, and that then later, the Christianity spread would replace both, or rather, would become the dominant religion while the other two, each in its place, would retain some presence in local lives, as well as become further syncretised into the daily lives of the people.

Anyhow, on we go. The Mexicans seem to place a lot of importance to the social aspects of each of their dead (giving me, incidentally, a brilliant example of showing you how the SCR works – the Social aspect of the person within the Cultural aspect of tradition and social hierarchy which has Religious meaning that underlines, co-creates and supports and is supported by both S and C); cause of death seems to be equally important, bringing to mind stories about the Arab fear of the dead that died a violent death (cf. ifrit or afreet).

Interestingly, the festival has both a domestic aspect and the graveyard aspect to itself – so public and private, living and dead, new and old, continuity and finality, all brought into one gorgeous mix. The probably most well known aspect of the festival must be the sweets – skulls, skeletons and other visual reminders of death are made and are eaten by the family and left for the dead, again in a form of ritual of sharing.

That the festival goes back to the Native beliefs in part is definite; in a way, all peoples have very similar ways of recognising and dealing with various challenges and occurrences in their world, and this similarity has to do with our psychology – we are only as different as our situation and the indoctrinated or inculturated (I use my own meaning for inculturated, because it was necessary to develop an easy and understandable opposite to the rigid to illustrate their fluid opposition; so I recycle the word inculturation to show a capability to act within a multiple-culture influenced world with an accepting manner, picking the aspects of each culture as we desire rather than either clinging to a set of pre-set rules or assimilating elements of other cultures quietly and then claiming them as our own, destroying everyone in our path who could form objection) make us.

How widely the festival was observed before it was made into the national holiday by the government in 1960s (according to one source and after having looked through articles in Spanish 🙂 ) is hard to say, as two problems need to be considered.

One, the many peoples, native and otherwise, of the Latin and Mesoamericas, had different festivals and different beliefs.

Two, anything potentially too pagan and too syncretic (too visibly syncretic might be the better phrase, or too newly syncretic) would have been shunned by both the community and the Catholic church, which, you must not forget, had Spanish roots, which had, by the time of European colonisation of Americas, seen Torquemada and the Inquisition and a rigidity of belief so intense it could possibly have been the worst (or at least one of the worst) in the history of this particular religion. But if there’s one thing that is difficult to completely escape is syncretism; it could be said that syncretism forms a slow precursor to inculturation as rigidity is slowly chipped away, provided a fluid enough perception is possible within the environment that is doing it, and a clear knowledge of where something comes from remains. In either case, this would make a very interesting anthropological debate.

Like other festivals around the world, the origins, practice and local meaning of the Day of the Dead are subject to a lot of various presentations and perspectives. As we anthropologists as social and cultural scientists technically gather information from people directly, and a search for an ultimate “truth” about a festivity or way of life is, in a way, a fruitless attempt, because if anthropology is a study of people, then the festivity or behaviour in question is valid insofar as we recognise that it may only be observed, in the way presented, by our particular informants, it may be useful to observe that ALL information is valid to some extent, if it pertains to a behaviour observed; the only time where a search of a certain amount of truth or validity must be observed is where we are studying history, and past festivities or behaviours, which may have been “kidnapped” by others to illustrate a point of THEIR behaviour or beliefs. Criminal cases, too, must be subject to this rule.

So I leave you with this to consider. If we take observation as only partially true, because we can never observe everything and everyone; it we take all information received as only true as far as our informants are fully aware of a meaning, even personal, of that information for themselves, and perhaps at least a part of the social, cultural, traditional etc. aspect of their environment; if we take written sources and material culture interpretations carefully and with a goodly amount of doubt, at least until we have confirmed or refuted them as much as possible, then we are left, very fittingly for Halloween, in a world where anything goes and nothing does; where anything is possible and everything is impossible at the same time.

Duality is a part of life; it is a part of the everlasting conflict of the what ifs that form our decisions and influence our survival. Any decision can lead to any ending; dark and light, to put this into festival appropriate words, are a part of who we are, regardless of whether we are considering maladaptive or bio-normal behaviour. Rigidity simply takes the bio-normality and creates a ritual out of observation, removes decision and replaces it with a dogma. Maladaptive is simply a twisted form of bio-normality, and we should never forget that. In anthropology, we always stand between the people functioning within their environment because to survive, one must function, just like a captive may Stockholm to survive and, in a twisted way, remain somewhat sane, and the actually functional environment without pressure. It is important to remember that, and to observe just how intricately things can become obscure before we make a bid for interpretation. I hope that the last few posts illustrated that for you. 🙂 Happy Halloween, however you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate) it.

Anthropology and psychology of fear

We are slowly reaching the night of Halloween, and I bet most of you are being bombarded by reruns of horror films, skulls, blood cocktails (I’m serious – there is a huge amount of Halloween themed cocktails and mocktails out there, and some of the best recipes can be found on Pinterest, so if you want to host a party on the eve of the 31st, start reading 🙂 ) and cobwebs. (Unconnected, but still interesting – did you know that cob in the cobweb is just another word for spider?)

In short, the Halloween look of today is spooky, gory and sticky… at least if you have kids that trick or treat or if you bake for Halloween.

Traditions, as we can see well from Halloween, change all the time. The apparent consistency is often erroneous, with the changes being incorporated and deliberately overlooked, or grumbled over to show one’s hierarchical position within one’s aura of factuality. In reality, the change is simply the part of the process of existing as a fluid society, and even rigid societies rarely manage completely unchanged behavioural patterns, even if they tend to pretend they don’t exist. Even the withdrawal of religious from the festivity (or the seeming withdrawal, as many festivals traditionally held a far more social than religious note, with the religious part forming more of a background than the core) is a part of the natural process of events.

It is not odd that Halloween gained this note through time. Initially a Celtic festival (with a light element, given the presence of fire; this aspect is still strongly present in the modern-day Pagan religions), referred to as Samhain, Halloween (or, with the full name, All Hallow’s Eve, referring to the Christian calendar of the 1st of November being the All Saints day… in other words, this is the evening before the all hallowed – so sainted – folks day) became a logical transition – with the worship or remembrance of the ancestors that used to pop over during the night of the 31st being replaced with a very similar belief in the religious antecedents, ie a form of ancestors, being revered on the day following. It is, I believe, unclear as to when exactly the NIGHT of the 31st became the source of fear and uncertainty, but it is very likely that, given the blatant syncretism and yet distaste for pagan rites, the distinction would be made by the church and the believers both, to distance, and make clear and their own THEIR belief, thus effectively rejecting and demonising the night preceding to their own preferred festival, and at the same time transferring the more lunar orientated practices into the solar ones. (*It is difficult to overcome the syncretic belief, so much in fact that you will find, even in reputable sources, a clear feeling of negativity towards Samhain that obscures any other possible connection it could have. However, given that the Celtic-related stories, even from later ages, do not seem to consider death and the dead as necessarily evil by default, I would contest that belief, and would consider it a matter of overlaying syncretic later notions over old sources, often partial and poorly represented. The most that could be said is that, like with all religions, a duality of good and evil is possible (cf. Dr. Sabine Heinz, Symbole der Kelten), but a purely dark aspect is highly unlikely. The festivals of Celts have also been so intermingled with the modern-day Pagan, Druid and Wiccan versions of them, that they have become almost inseparable in context and in perception, scientific and otherwise. So what we have is a tangent that focuses purely on the “goodness” of the old religion and a tangent that, stemming mostly from Christian sources, focuses purely on the “badness”, thus creating very murky waters indeed for serious research.)

From there, if everyone starts adding a story, if more ghost stories are told, if the celebrations of the old religion become obscure or banned, if stories of witches are attached, in a few hundred years, with the development of modern technology, we get Halloween that we know and love (at least I do) today, with all its fake vampire blood and eyeballs in cocktails. The development of film has definitely latched on to the belief, and Halloween has slowly become or reverted to what it had probably been to those who began telling the ghost stories rather than accepted religious differences – a festival of fear.

In anthropology and in human culture, fear is a crucial part of behaviour to observe and to study. It involves our most primal feelings, the wish for self-preservation at all costs, and the feeling of powerlessness that comes through what we can almost call SCR based Stockholm syndrome, with the society, culture and belief dictating everything, including one’s most basic responses (such as self-defence and flight). The more rigid the society, the more this is true; and even in relatively fluid societies, festivals especially may keep an essence of that rule of and through fear for a goodly amount of time. Among the Maya, the new king had to spend time isolated in a cave with no light and no input other than his psychology, strained to the max, would give him… and with the priesthood conveniently around to lead his experience and mould him into the image they wanted. While in the West, this may not be as intense for most people, and not via Halloween, a certain amount of trained-in responses are still expected when in contact with Halloween-related things, such as blood, death, spiderwebs… in short, things we are supposed to fear and feel disgusted by.

Interestingly enough, it is perhaps because of that that we have become, in a way, almost connoisseurs of gruesome. In a fabulous act of adaptation, we have mostly transcended fear that is expected and teased from us every year and we fearlessly walk the stores draped in Halloween-themed imagery, eat suspicious looking snacks we would not actually touch on other occasions (if for no other reason, then because they do often look funky and unhealthy… Logical, given that they represent death and decay, and that many fall very much into the category of uncanny valley – so a thing that looks something like but not enough to be sure; this is especially true of death and life, and is all a response based on that instinct we all have – pattern recognition, which would have, in the past, and still does, to a certain extent, help us survive by spotting danger around us. This pattern recognition is known as gut feeling to most.) and throw back cocktails that should frankly said frighten us for a lot of reasons, including the actual ingredient list (yes, this is your liver speaking 😉 ).

If pattern recognition can, in a state of fear, lead into pattern seeking, which is hyperarousal’s way of keeping things going on red alert, making sane pattern recognition almost impossible at times, and is the chief part of keeping someone in constant suspense and therefore, in the long term, controllable, then we have actually reached the other way out, the part where the fear has been so familiarised that we can, again, look at a thing and see it without pattern seeking and freaking out. In other words, we have countered fear by recognising it, and deal with it by treating it as a dare. This, too, is a natural behaviour, an adaptation to difficult, lengthily dangerous situations that require that cold blood and calculation that is deemed impossible at first contact with what makes us frightened. It is an experience of the fact that what seems frightening isn’t always perilous, meaning that it is no longer necessary to fear it at all.

Humans are heavily visual creatures, and we draw most of our impressions from what our eyes tell us. While our other sense are indeed far more involved than we give them credit for, it is still what we see that we find to be the deciding factor for our action and reaction that happens next… and that is why the visual representations of frightening can actually work against our fear. In other words – once you have seen something, and clearly, the possibilities that your mind can conjure up are gone, and the seemingly worst has already happened… And it was not followed by anything actually bad. So the fear slowly ceases.

I would posit a very tentative theory that perhaps this is why we like scary things so much – that in a world that can be very frightening, what with all the messy stuff humans can do to each other, a visual certainty, a stimulation of fear that is controlled and can be overcome, is actually therapeutic. This is, of course, something that would be a brilliant topic of long-term study, but it definitely has potential.

So in a way, Halloween as we know it these days has taught us that there is, indeed, truth in the words “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.”