The Joy Of Spam: Making The Most Out Of Something Annoying

Since I have been online for over a decade (actually much longer), it comes as no surprise that I get SPAM. About 100 a day on average, most of which spam filters hide from me, and more on weekends when the spammers really get going. I get spam in all languages. I get spam from the “President of the United States” and “Billz E. Gates”! I get spam that looks like a team of drunken monkeys typed it with their balls, and what is being sold and why is often completely undecipherable.

It’s time to celebrate the benefits of spam!

1. If you are a writer, fake names harvested from Spam make great character names. Then again, there are the unintentionally hilarious computer-generated monikers: “Schmuck G. Deriding, Iroquoian L. Biscuit, Zirconium H. Coquetted,Vealed C. Certitude, Abusiveness O. Solitude, Cursoring U. Bayonet, Disabling Condom, Kangaroo D. Castanet, Withering A. Footstool, Bombay Dyslexic, Disallows H. Bootstrap, Epidermis V. Manhunt, Frescoes S. Congo, Vegetated H. Febrile, Vacillating K. But,” just to name a few that another blogger (Phillip LaPlante) noted.

2. You can learn new 1337speak variations, especially how to spell VIAGRA and CIALIS with symbols and numbers…or, as LaPlante commented, appreciate that “subject lines can contain similar kinds of whimsy, or rely on the human brain to “i n t rp rit the c rr ct meening.”

3. You can play “Punk’d” with Nigerian scammers. There are actually entire websites that do nothing but share Nigerian 411 scammer punkings. Total strangers do not offer large sums of money, in general, to people via e-mail. I mean, would YOU do it? The only legitimate response is to string them along and ask for naked or embarrassing pictures with them wearing a shoe on their head and holding signs saying “I like tiny cupcakes” or something equally lame written on them.

4. You can keep up with the latest Urban Legends without going to snopes.com. I’m still waiting for Bill Gates to send me on an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland for filling out his way awesome survey, or for an animated Tweety Bird to walk across my screen because I responded to a total stranger’s e-mail that swore it would happen. Except I’m not. I don’t even like Disneyland or Tweety Bird.

5. You can participate in slacktivism by not signing petitions or reading chain mail. You have achieved the same result, but have expended no valuable time or attention to the problem at all! Conservation of resources is good.

6. Speaking of chain mail, you can bring 40 people bad luck by refusing to forward on their lame chain letter.

7. If you have penis envy, all the mail targeted to penis owners will cure you of that. Apparently penises are never long enough, wide enough, hard enough or functional enough, and you need all manner of pills and herbs to keep them operational. I think I’ll just stick to borrowing one once in a while from very close friends.

8. Speaking of friends, now you can meet lots of new naked friends! I get sent at least twelve porn links a day from naked people. I can’t go a day without a spammer intent upon infesting my computer with pop-ups and malware from an awesome porn site. Hold me back!

9. You can correct bad grammar, and keep your skills up to date. This is like shooting large fish in a small barrel. It is often more challenging to find a sentence in spam that is not a grammatical nightmare.

10. Word salad spam is particularly amusing, as it can often resemble William S. Burroughs-style “cut and paste” beat poetry. Enigmatic technicolour doorknob! Restless meerkat harbls! Antiquated velveteen renal foyer macadamias! Pickled milkshake Siberian antimacassar doughnuts! Constipated mongeese Cousteau sunshine wounded! Baffled fruit cocktail Batman fungoid cylinders! Rumpled nanosecond terrycloth pantaloons! Sensitized furniture millennium dentifrices!What does it all mean? I feel more wise and intellectual and artsy already.

11. You can stay informed about politics that were last relevant in 2004, or read 12 messages a day from people claiming to be Barack Obama. I still get pro-John Kerry spam. Dudes, I was really pissed off a few years ago, too, but it is time to let it go. I’m pretty sure Kerry has.

12. If you have too much money, you can buy stocks from spammers. I always trust unsolicited financial advice I get from total strangers who can’t spell!

13. If you still have too much money, you can refinance your mortgage, even if you don’t actually have a mortgage. Is that awesome or what?

14. Still looking for ways to get rid of all those pesky dollars clogging your wallet? There’s always Internet Gambling! You are guaranteed to win! Those gambling sites aren’t in it to take your money at all. Awesome!

15. I am particularly impressed by phishing attempts to scam me out of, for example, my eBay data when I haven’t used eBay in years and am no longer an account holder at the site (as far as I know). ZOMG, my non-existent account has been compromised! Maybe “I” will win some cool auctions and have interesting packages arrive at my door. Dumbasses.

16. The celebrity gossip spam is also pretty cool, especially since I rarely pay attention to celebrities and have no idea who half of these supposedly famous people are. By spamming me with celebrity gossip, I stay “in the know” without even having to glance at the tabloids when I check out at the grocery store. However, since I don’t know who most of these people are, or simply don’t give a crap, why should I click those enticing links? I don’t care who “Shia LeBoeuf” is dating. (I’d swear that was a made-up name, but it rings a bell. I don’t know if it is a he or she, though. It has no relevance to my life.)

17. The pseudo-intellectual spam is also pretty nifty. LaPlante quoted one of his favourites:”To ensure the equality of the diagonals, we make use of a little testing-rod. Thus the body has the same energy as a body of mass on a Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Continuum. The surface of a marble table is spread out in front of me.” This text is then followed by instructions to get low prices on little blue pills.

18. MySpace had its own special spam, remember? I got spam for free gift cards, fugly designer crap, and more naked people. (These people now spam pictures of awful athletic shoes and overpriced heels and try to get people to fall for ‘free gift cards’ on Facebook.) Anyway, there sure are a lot of naked people out there. I see a naked person for free every day, man.

19. Learn Spamlish! I get ten spam-mails a day that say strange crap like “Buadtzy your mmpnllhdjmreds hyhsjijtnfonline.” (An actual quote.) Say what? I think that translates to “Click on me and verify your e-mail address is legitimate! Send me all your money!”

20. Learn what not to search for via GoogHoo, and you won’t get as much cool spam. Spam works like Darwin Awards to week out the weak and gullible! If you don’t have enough spam, here’s how to get some: search for free crap online.

The 8 Most Dangerous Search Terms:

  • Free screensavers
  • Bearshare
  • Screensavers
  • Winmx
  • Limewire
  • Download Yahoo Messenger
  • Lime wire
  • Free ringtones

Across all searches, up to 6 percent of the sites were flagged as dangerous, notes the BBC. “Even a single visit to a dangerous site can have serious and lasting implications for the average internet user,” Edelman and Rosenbaum wrote in their report.

(While we’re at it, don’t be stupid and use an easily-guessed password anywhere.

The top 10 most common passwords:

  • Your user name
  • Your user name followed by 123
  • 123456
  • password
  • 1234
  • 12345
  • passwd
  • 123
  • test
  • 1

Yes, people do this. Argh! I had to keep my mother from choosing one of the variations on this list.)

21. If you have spam, you have a guaranteed hot topic to bitch about and most people will happily bitch right along with you. Spam creates unity and agreement!

22. No free lunches! You could probably rid yourself of 99% of your spam by adding a mail filter that scans for the word “free” and immediately zorches with extreme prejudice any email you get that includes that word. Of course, there would be some false positives. Train your friends to never use the word “free,” then. Or “viagra.” Or “teens.” Easy! Or you can be like me and never check your email until all your buddies get mad at you and stop emailing you. Then all you ever have in your INBOX is spam, and can just “delete all” without reading anything. What a time saver!

23. Spammers NEVER get my name right. This is an easy way to zorch the tardburgers who try to sell me pills for my non-existent penis. As a bonus, I get to collect new and improved misspellings of my real name and a bunch of wacky new aliases. Do you think I can be “Kangaroo D. Castanet”? I kind of like that one.

24. Wow, free legal software! I believe that I can get the entire Macromedia suite, or all Adobe products or MicroSmurf Vista X, on dialup, no less, just by clicking a link! Rock on! I’ll be sure to trust this unsolicited spam mail from a total stranger who wants to send me to “http://totallylegalforrealio.xxxpornware.org.” They are only thinking of my well-being and such, of course.

25. Free empty flattery and friendships! I get told via spam every day that I am someone’s friend, or a smart shopper, or clever investor, or super sexy. Wow! They really know me!

So, hey, spam is great! Love your spam.

Since all spammers are going to be poked in the eye with lemon-and-tabasco-dipped spikes and roasted over flaming pits of brimstone while boy bands serenade them for all eternity, at least once they die, you can rest assured that ignoring spam is your mission from God. Put on your sunglasses, grab your smokes, and brush up on the Blues.

The flaw with ignoring spam, alas, is that it doesn’t give up and go away. If I ignore the Jehovah’s Witnesses who traipse through my ‘hood every other week or so, and refuse to stop whatever far more interesting activity I am engaged in to get up and answer the door, they eventually stop knocking and ringing the bell and wander off to bug someone else. If only spam was as accommodating.

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A Guy Named Ethan Has Your Love Life Figured Out.

I was scavenging around some old writing documents and I have no idea who Ethan is. I assume he wrote a book that sounded interesting. He seems to focus on an “urban tribes” concept (one day when I am less lazy, I will use that as a keyword to track down who he is) and I’m not sure I’m buying all the strict gender-roled assertions, but maybe you, too, might find his observations worth reading.

Ethan’s Top Five Things to Tell Your Parents When You Are Still Single at Age 30 (or 35, or 40):

1. “Mom/Dad, among people my age, my life is not abnormal. (At least, not for that reason.) My generation has delayed marriage longer than any generation in American history. The cities are filled with people my age who are still single. The vast majority of us will marry; we’ll just do it later.”

2. “Not being married does not mean that I’m a ‘slacker.’ A slacker is usually defined as ‘someone who shirks work or responsibility.’ Remember how hard I work at my job/school/local SPCA office? My life is full of activity and meaning. There is no reason for pity or scorn.”

3. “Despite your stunningly deep bench of candidates, I honestly don’t need your help. I’m sure the son/daughter of Aunt Molly’s dentist is polite and well-groomed with a high-paying job, but leave the matchmaking to me. Believe me when I say that I have plenty of people giving me advice about my love life.”

4. “My marriage delay doesn’t mean you won’t ever be grandparents. While much has been made of the drop in fertility rates among women over 30, the numbers aren’t all that bad. Two out of three women ages 35 to 40 can get pregnant within a year. Those who try for two years raise their odds to 91 percent. ”

5. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Mom and Dad, but what about all the divorces in your generation? People my age are not indifferent to marriage–and we’re certainly not indifferent about love–but we have learned to be deeply cautious, in part because of divorce in our own families or those that happened next door. Statistics have shown that marriages started after age 25 work out better in the long run. In fact, because of our marriage delay, the divorce rate is now going down.”

Ethan’s Top Five Reasons Why Being in an Urban Tribe Is Bad for Your Love Life:

1. Some tribes are not so good at making the friends-of-friends connections that are our best hope for finding love in the city. If the boundary of the tribe becomes too rigid, your social life can stagnate. One warning sign is when there are too many events to which only the group is invited. Tribes are best when they are part of a network that connects you to new people.

2. “Cock blockers” (i.e. a male who, through futile sexual importunings of every woman in sight, ruins the romantic chances of coyer males.) If they are in your group, these men can create a kind of force field that repels available women. Cock blockers are almost never successful and, like leprosy, often scare new women from coming to group functions.

3. “Queen bees” can be problematic for men and women in the group. A queen bee, usually an attractive and charming woman in the tribe, demands that all flirtatious energy be directed toward her. If a male in the tribe brings a new love interest around, the queen bee can be counted on to find that woman lacking. No woman, a queen bee will attest, is good enough to date the men in her tribe. She’s sweetly protective but her motivations are greedy. For the women in the group, the queen bee is the equivalent of the male cock blocker.

4. Friends in our urban tribes often resist “losing” us to new relationships. They fear that if we have long-term romantic partners, we will no longer be available to them. This is an understandable fear because this is exactly what often happens. You can try to get your friends to accept your new romantic partner into the tribe, but:

5. Trying to integrate a new love into the group can be an exercise in frustration. Queen bees and cock blockers can get in the way. Also, there can also be ambient jealousy between the group and the new partner. This can cause simultaneous tension in your friendships and your love life.

Ethan’s Top Five Stupidest Things He Had To Read While Researching His Book:

1. “Try to navigate the shoals of modern romance, and you’ll only Titanic yourself with too much thinking.” –Nate Penn, The Code

2. Absent “the sudden desire on the part of Western women to begin having the same-sized families as their grandmothers, the future belongs to the Third World. Only the mass reconversion of Western women to an idea that they seem to have given up–that the good life lies in bearing and raising children and sending them out into the world to continue the family and nation–can prevent the Death of the West.” –Patrick Buchanan, The Death of the West

3. “Getting married is a little like inheriting the family business. Now it’s up to you to figure out what to sell, how to sell it, and how much to charge.” –Foundations: The Newsletter for Newly Married Couples

4. “Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40.” –Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone

5. “It is woman’s refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man’s lust into love . . . . Why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed and regularly, without it?” –Leon Kass, The End of Courtship

Ethan’s Top Five Ways to Build and Maintain an Urban Tribe:

1. Create a weekly ritual. Seeing each other consistently is the way personal communities form. Some tribes meet to watch “The Sopranos,” some meet as a book group. For several years my group met every Tuesday night at the same restaurant. It’s the simple act of repeatedly getting together as a group that forms the bonds which keep everyone close.

2. Create yearly rituals. Although you might think of this as simply an extension of #1, yearly rituals have a distinctly different purpose than weekly or monthly happenings. Yearly rituals such as throwing a big New Year’s Eve party or taking a group trip require planning and coordination. These are times when the tribe can test itself and its members. Will everyone be able to work well together? Will every member share the burden or will some slough off? By challenging itself with grand yearly rituals, the group tests its value and meaning.

3. Don’t be possessive of the group by trying to define or control who is in the group and who is not. Although your tribe might have a core membership, healthy tribes have fluid borders. In this way your tribe can give you both emotional shelter while at the same time connecting you to the outside world. By making distinct in/out judgments, you limit the tribe’s key function of connecting you to a larger network.

4. Set up e-groups. There are many free and friendly ways to facilitate communication within your group. These allow you to easily add and delete people from email lists. My tribe has several lists: One for those who play on the softball team, one for those who want to know where Larry’s next gig will be, one for planning the next houseboat trip, et cetera. Being able to quickly spread information and ideas within the group is one of the distinct aspects of these modern groupings.

5. Create a culture that celebrates the achievements of individuals. Competition and jealousy are tribe killers.

Ethan’s Top Five Guidelines to Dating within Your Urban Tribe:

1. If you’re new to the group, avoid dating anyone, at least for a while. If those in the group suspect you are only there to poach partners, you’ll likely get a cool reception.

2. Make sure you’re serious. Bad feelings that follow a brief romance can put deep stress on a group of friends. Finding true love is worth the risk of dating a friend, but getting laid is not. If you are looking for short-term romance, do everyone a favor and find it somewhere else.

3. Let the group in on the secret sooner rather than later. Someone is going to find out and it might as well be you who spreads the news.

4. Make time for individual friendships. Disappearing into a romantic relationship can be particularly hurtful if the couple was formed within the group.

5. Don’t let any friend tell you that dating within the group is “against the rules.” Finding love is a risky and messy business. While friends may be sad that inter-group romances make relationships more complicated, forging a friendship into a long-term romance is worth the risk.

Ethan’s Top Five Frustrations Women Express about Men They’ve Begun to Date:

1. Men think that the early stage of a relationship (the point at which routine sex can be gotten with the lowest possible commitment of time, resources, and personal energy) is a fine place for the relationship to remain indefinitely.

2. A man tends to overestimate his importance to a woman at the moment when she asks him “to talk about where the relationship is going.” Men often assume that the woman has fallen in love with him when in fact she might only want some information.

3. Men overrate the value of their affection–regardless of its quality or consistency. That is, men always assume that a fraction of their attention is better than none at all.

4. Men’s tendency toward out-sized conceit (see #2 and #3) combined with the inability to articulate their intentions reveals them to be the most reprehensible of cowards. Shouldn’t that grand self-conception carry with it some responsibility for treating the relationship with candor, clarity, and honor?

5. Men often ride along in relationships with one hand on the door handle. This fearfulness of momentum leads them to perform all manner of foolishness, including dangerous stuntman-like dives out of high-speed romances as well as more comical leaps out of relationships that have yet to leave the driveway.

Ethan’s Top Five Stupidest Lines from The Rules:

1. “Trying on clothes by yourself in a dressing room can be overwhelming and confusing. . .”

2. “. . . Hike up your skirt to entice the opposite sex!”

3. “. . . Stay emotionally cool no matter how hot the sex gets . . . [in the morning ] go quietly about your business–brush your teeth, do some sit-ups and stretches, brew coffee. . .be casual and unmoved.”

4. “There we were–a secret underground, sharing the magic, passing it on, doing what historically women have done for each other since the world began–networking for success.”

5. “Don’t be surprised if the man you’re dating gets very angry when you kiss him good night in the lobby at the end of the second date rather than invite him up . . ..Don’t worry. Anger indicates interest.”

Ethan’s Top Five Things Urban Tribes Should Avoid:

1. It’s best not to sleep with every single one of your close friends. Leaving at least one or two “platonic” friendships insures that you have someone to commiserate with about how nobody trusts you.

2. Tribes from the dawn of man have used facial tattoos to signify membership in the group. It works great, but remember that facial tattoos last a long time and may impact your chances of mating outside the tribe. Before you permanently engrave the name of your softball team on your forehead, try it for a few weeks with a magic marker.

3. Sure it was fun to practice robbing a bank, but is that a good enough reason to go through with it? Living on the run with your group might seem like a lark but after a couple of weeks nerves are likely to fray. Remember how every one was sick of each other after that camping trip? Times that by ten.

4. You should try not to cut the outside world off completely. Living on a guarded compound is a lot of fun until you want to go to town and see the Matrix again. Remember: Swearing eternal devotion to a single charismatic member of your group usually means that he’s the only one who gets laid.

5. As much as tribes enjoy monthly and yearly rituals, you should strive to avoid those involving the sacrifice of humans. I know this sort of activity may sometime seem like a “good idea,” especially after those long weekends of amphetamine and cocaine use. Here’s a trick: If the idea of blood sacrifice comes up in your group, volunteer to head the committee to “explore the idea.” Later, keep the committee distracted with other action items.

The Sexuality Of That Female Stranger You Found Online Is None Of Your Business

I was reading some other blogs and happened across one which is apparently fairly popular. I, like other readers, was startled to see that Popular Blogger gets a lot of very personal, nosy questions. Case in point: “are you bisexual?

Woah. This has anything to do with what, now?

My reaction after reading that was more “why did they feel the need to ask her that?” and much less “oh, she’s bisexual, okay,” because it is none of my business, I don’t care, and it wouldn’t have dawned on me to speculate, as she doesn’t write about that sort of topic.

Witness the dumbassery:

Wow. Can’t believe my question made it into the FAQ. I promise that I will not harass or stalk you now that I know that only 90% of my little fantasy is total fantasy (the part about ever getting to meet you) and that the 10% part about you being “at least curious” is true. Nice to trust my intuition (about you liking girls) and I hope my crush doesn’t make you uncomfortable. I’m harmless, I swear. I ALSO think that all women are a little bi, but I always thought that was just wishful thinking on my part too. I want them to be bi, I hope they are bi, maybe they really all are! You give me hope.

I’m sure she feels a lot better now. Because swearing not to harass or stalk someone implies that you’re capable of considering the idea. No, really. If I suddenly said something like “I certainly don’t consider you one of the aliens controlling my brain“, you have to assume that I’ve had this thought about other people at least once.

The poster also confesses to having a little fantasy about and crush on Popular Blogger, and that s/he had thought about meeting The Barmaid and had even gone so far as to speculate on the bi-curious status of Popular Blogger. That’s not creepy in the least, is it?

The last comment is potentially the most squicky. No, all women are not bi. I’m not. Also, you’re not the Little Engine That Could (or the Little Perv That Hoped). Just because you entertained the concept that a total stranger was bisexual, the fact that she admitted she was does not mean that she welcomed your speculation.

And bisexual women are not bisexual solely to entertain perverts. The illogic going on here seems to be that bisexual women will welcome an audience. The whole “let’s pretend we’re bisexual to get male attention” schtick is lame, and has apparently poisoned a lot of people into thinking that everyone else’s sexuality is our business. As Popular Blogger put it, bisexuality (to her) means that your gender is neither a bonus nor a detriment while she decides if she is interested in you. There was no implication that she’s interested in making her sex life a spectator sport or indulging in threesomes.

This trend (the idea that everyone’s bi, and the rash of women thinking it’s hot to grope each other to attract men rather than because they genuinely like groping other women, for whatever reason) is just as annoying as the apparently wide-spread interest in buttsex (this includes people thinking that the “shocker” hand sign is cool and that everyone would be attracted to someone who is puerile enough to make pseudo-sexual “gang signs” with their hands–usually, the answer is “no, I find that idiotic and wish people would stop broadcasting their every sex-related urge or thought in public”).

Some (straight / gay / bi / female / male) people like it.

A lot of (straight / gay / bi / female / male) people don’t like it.

My personal opinion is that area is an exit and not an entrance, I do not have a prostate so there’s no potential physical pleasure to be had for me, I don’t like risking hemorroids or anal fissures, I do not find poop or areas associated with poop sexy, and it’s not erotic (to me) in the least. If that’s someone else‘s thing, more power to them. It’s none of my business and I won’t think less of them. I’m just weary of hearing about it. Just because something is taboo, that does not mean you absolutely must get your thrills by trying it. There are a lot of taboo things out there, and most of them I have no interest in. If your sex life is so dull that you have to break a taboo to get off, you’re doing something wrong. (You may be thinking “what a prude”. My boyfriends–also far from prudish–would beg to differ.)

Also, straight women occasionally grab each other’s boobies if they want to. At least I know some straight women who do that when they are feeling frisky. I don’t, but I’ve been on the receiving end of a surprise boob-honk. It’s actually not sexual. I admit it must be confusing for innocent bystanders, but so what? The bystanders can think what they want, it’s when they decide that their unsolicited commentary is required or desired–or when they attempt to hit on these gals SOLELY BECAUSE they witnessed some boobie-grabbing, or when they otherwise decide to think with their genitalia rather than their brains and act like jerks–that I have a little problem with it. Were they talking to you? Do they know you? Are you a creepy lesbian-obsessed immature straight guy dumbass who likes to stare and leer at strangers? Then you need to fuck right off. I’m just saying. The world does not revolve around your genitalia, sexual fantasies, wants, needs or desires and the world as a whole is not only not interested, the world as a whole is probably grossed out by you. So shut up.

Anyway, back to the Human Sexuality Experts and Creepy Posters. It gets better. This brain trust confidently states:

EVERYBODY’s bixexual.
No exceptions.

Somewhere, sometime, everyone has had at least a fantasy, thought, dream, or experience with someone of the same sex. Not everyone identifies themselves as bi, not everyone chooses to act on it, but on some level, I think that everyone’s a little bi.

Wrong. Everybody is not bi. And no, not everyone has had a fantasy, thought, dream or experience with someone of the same sex. Sorry to disappoint you.

This does not mean that I have a problem with anyone who is gay or bi. It’s just none of my business until they make it my business.

Ever hear of the Kinsey scale? The opposite ends of the spectrum are not “Straight but secretly a tiny bit into the same sex” and “Gay but secretly a tiny bit into the opposite sex”, they are “100% heterosexual” and “100% homosexual”.

Also, even if someone’s subconscious produced a dream about a same sex attraction or experience, this has no relevance on reality. That’s like saying that because you flew, died, talked to hookah-smoking caterpillars, showed up in public naked or walked through walls that you, in real life, can secretly fly, or you’re secretly dead, or that you think you’re likely to see a real hookah-smoking caterpillar, or that you’re secretly a nudist, or that the laws of physics secretly do not apply to you where walls are concerned.

Yay, more reader skeeviness:

That is, like, really not fair. Here I was, trying to be one of your nice non-perverted readers, who enjoys your stories and writing style and worldview, without sending you emails that say, for instance, “Hey hot momma come sit on my face.” (That was for example, I don’t believe I have ever said those string of words all together.)

However, all that went out the window when you cavalierly stated your sexual preference as ‘bisexual.’ Sorry, but that is like one of the hottest things ever. So, you’ve lost a fan, but gained (yet another) crush. Before you know it, you’ll have 2,200 slobbering readers searching [for Popular Blogger] in this city [thanks to] the clues you’ve given out. (And I KNOW someone will figure it out eventually…)

We have the same issue that came up in the first quoted section. The poster thought that the phrase “hey hot momma, come sit on my face” (sic) were worthy of sharing with Popular Blogger and with the general public which might stumble upon her blog. The quick disclaimer that s/he would never actually put “those string of words all together” (sic) is negated because, um, s/he just did.

There’s yet another “bisexuality is so hot” comment (it’s none of your business, and why would bisexuality be “hotter” than homosexuality or hetereosexuality anyway?) and another creepy “I have a crush on you now” comment AND another reference to potential stalkings (by “2,200 slobbering readers”, no less). Cap that off with the mildly threatening “someone WILL figure your identity and workplace out eventually” comment, and, if I were The Barmaid, I’d be buying some Mace and pepper spray.

Popular Blogger attempts to deflate her readership’s prurient fantasies thusly:

Well, see, I think maybe you’ve been watching too much porn. The fact that I’m bisexual means that if you’re a man, I might be attracted to you, and if you’re a woman, I might be attracted to you. It doesn’t mean that if you’re a man, I will seduce you and invite several hot nurses to join us.

Exactly. Thank you.

Does it work? Of course not.

Nice try [her real name], but no dice :-).

Augh, he used her name. Whether or not it’s an assumed name, that’s creepy. It assumes familiarity that is just not there. You: reader. She: blog writer. You are not close friends.

See, it’s not the fact that you would or could invite several hot nurses to the partay (though that would be nice); it’s just that simply imagining you with one (or several) hot nurses is more than enough to put you in the (virtually) scandilously hot department. Hope that clears up our fascination with your extra-curricular activities. 🙂

Bleah! Ew! Learn to spell! And, yuck!

Note to creepy people: please refrain from sharing your fantasies in public. We don’t care. Stop being a groin-centered monkey. Put down the faux-lez porn and step away, slowly. You may watch it again when you can prove you’re not being brainwashed into being an ignorant dickhead.

Another poster makes me think I live on another planet:

“are you bisexual”? hahahaaaaaa!!! I think EVERY woman gets asked this.

They do?

Um, not.

Maybe I instinctively avoid rude people, but I haven’t had anyone I was not dating think it was okay to speculate out loud about or grill me about my bedroom frolics or partners. In fact, even the people I have dated have had enough couth to figure it all out on their own without being nosy enough to ask me so bluntly.

Another (presumably lesbian or bisexual) poster shares:

I work in an environment with mostly men, and once said, “You don’t think that we spend every night in lingerie and having pillowfights, do you?” I’m pretty sure he was serious and disappointed when he asked, “You don’t?” Men are crazyweirdsick men.

*sigh*

This woman earns a virtual cookie:

I think this claim that every woman is bisexual is pretty ridiculous; bi-curious I can accept, but going a step further and laying such a broad generalization like that sounds like wishful thinking. And I’m speaking as a bisexual woman here.

I agree! Wishful thinking indeed.

And isn’t it usually the case that those indulging in such wishful thinking are the very people you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? It’s like broadcasting to the world that you hold unrealistic, ill-informed and/or incorrect points of view about human sexuality. So not hot.

I think what bugs me most is the concept that someone’s bisexuality is, in some way, a legitimate topic for total strangers to comment upon, fantasize publicly about, and make ignorant comments due to.

When did we stop minding our own business so shamelessly? I mean, really.

It’s one thing when your friends (i.e., people you actually know and talk to on a regular basis and like) ask nosy questions. You can assume that someone who you have befriended is possibly not asking to satisfy some weird kink or fascination, they probably just want to know more about you. Also, if you’re really friends, you will have probably volunteered a lot of personal info already, and your friends are more than likely just asking for clarification because they want to know you better. The closer the friend, the fewer questions you can classify as “none of your business” or “nosy”, though you always have the right not to answer.

The guy at the bus stop, the old lady at the grocery store, the snotty teen boy at the gas station…these are not your friends. They are total strangers and your business is not their business. You owe them nothing but genteel courtesy and a display of good manners.

And, again, the comments that mention stalking (“I’d never do that, but thousands of other people might stalk you“) or unsolicited sexual advances (“I’d never say this, but sit on my face“) were the worst of it. Thank you, Internet! It’s easier than ever for total strangers to be annoying and overly intimate without permission or encouragement! Yay! Do you still feel safe?

The biggest gripe would be the cretins who confidently state sexual untruths as if they were law. Well done, spread that disinformation. We need more confused and ignorant people out there. Good job.

‘…But The Political Parties Are Both The Same So I Am Not Voting!’

‎”I’m not going to vote. What’s the difference between Romney and Obama, anyway?”

Ignoring, for a moment, how unintelligent people sound when they say stupid shit like that, let’s pause for a second and think of some differences between the candidates.

Why vote? Well, I don’t know about YOU, but I’m going to vote for the candidate who isn’t trying to shove a vaginal probe up my private parts, has not vowed to kill Planned Parenthood, is less likely to start a war in Iran, doesn’t want to kill healthcare for the needy, does not hate on the gays, does not oppose equal rights, won’t protect the wealthiest 1% from paying their fair share of taxes, doesn’t support Citizens United, won’t ignore infrastructure problems, won’t sell off our national parks and forests to the highest bidder, who won’t protect polluters, who won’t deny federal aid for communities affected by natural disasters, who won’t deny students a chance at a college education because they are not independently wealthy, who won’t give free reign to religious bigots trying to erode Separation of Church and State, who doesn’t believe that corporations are people, who doesn’t believe that money is the same as free speech, who is not actively trying to disenfranchise voters, who supports the DREAM act, who won’t screw the poorest and most helpless in our society, and who won’t gut social services and education. I’m going to vote for the guy who has released his tax returns. I’m going to go for the guy who does not take quotes from his opponent and edit them out of context to tell lies in his adverts.

I will vote for the guy (Obama, to be clear) who is responsible for:

  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
  • The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare, or the ACA)
  • The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
  • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010
  • The Budget Control Act of 2011
  • Ending the war in Iraq
  • A new START arms control treaty with Russia
  • Capturing / killing Osama Bin Laden

What about Romney?

  • A member of the same political party that endorses all that crap I already said I was not in favor of
  • Worked at Bain, but tells conflicting stories about when he actually left a position of responsibility. It looks like he was there for three years after he claimed he was.
  • Worked for the Salt Lake City Olympics, but all correspondence related to his tenure there has been destroyed.
  • Was Governor of Massachussetts, but all correspondence related to his tenure there has been destroyed and all the computer hard drives wiped.
  • Panders to ignorant Birthers and the hyper-religious
  • Has not, as far as I can tell, ever taken even one stand on an issue that he has not flip-flopped on later for political expediency
  • Lies his ass off constantly (oh, wait, that’s not an accomplishment; my bad)

Also, I am going to vote for the guy that the Koch brothers are not actively trying to purchase the White House for.

Check out the big brain on Brad!

So, no…I’m not going to use laziness or disinterest in doing my civic duty keep me from getting informed about how the two front runners are NOT the same and then using my self-imposed ignorance of the candidates and issues as an excuse not to vote. Neither should you.

Another take on this, from “Diamond Rain” on Facebook:

“To all the people who insist all the candidates are the same, there is no difference between them — which is clearly not true… the proof is in seeing how they vote, in the case of a legislator or a judge, and the huge differences between the policies they enact in the case of a president — but if you think there is no difference, then what do you suggest we do to preserve and better the Republic? Not vote?

Someone is going to be the next president. Saying there is no difference between [Romney] and Obama is not only wrong, but it is worse than a useless contribution because it suggests that the democracy is ineffective and there is no point participating. As far as I am concerned, those who take the position that there is no difference between the parties and/or the candidates are:

1. Wrong.

2. Doing the country a disservice and

3. Are either:

a: On the losing side and trying to convince others to stay home and not vote because they are desperate to find a way to win or;

b. Too lazy to educate themselves in the vast differences between parties and candidates and would rather get a few cheap applause from others who are also too lazy and want to use that as an excuse to do nothing and take no position.

Ignorance is easy. Learning is not.”

So don’t be an asshole. Educate yourself. Pick a candidate. Do your civic duty. Vote.

How To Be an Awesome Person on Social Networks

After spending a little time scouring “I’m Not A Racist But” and “I’m Not A Sexist But“, I came to the conclusion that I have excellent online friends. I wrote them a little love note to explain why.

Stuff My Online Friends Do Not Do:

  1. Whine about Black History Month and wonder when White History Month is (that would be ALL the months, dicks)
  2. Whine about International Women’s Day and wonder when International Men’s Day is (that would be ALL the days, dicks)
  3. Whine about Women’s Studies courses in universities while wondering why there are no Men’s Studies courses (those are called History courses, dicks)
  4. Tell “sandwich” and “kitchen” jokes about women
  5. Tell sexist jokes in general (and yes, that would include “dumb guy” jokes)
  6. Tell jokes making fun of people from particular countries (i.e. Polish jokes) or religions (i.e., Jewish jokes) or races (i.e., jokes about Asian people)
  7. Fail to notice sexism in advertising (i.e., more than one FB friend has griped that while Axe commercials are bad and sexist towards both women and men, commercials that depict dads who can’t handle diapers or make healthy adult dietary choices or which show men making foolish financial choices while being scolded by women are also bad, and adverts using women as nothing more than props or sex objects are gross as well)
  8. Complain about a bad driver while making sure to specify that the driver is (pick one): black, Asian, or female.
  9. Complain about women in traditionally male-dominated fields; in fact, many of you ARE women in male-dominated fields
  10. Blame someone’s stupid behavior on their sex or race. Sometimes people are just not smart.
  11. Get grossed out by non-traditional partnerships or parents or people who express their sex or gender in non-traditional ways or people who define their sex or gender in non-traditional ways or people who choose not to define their sex or gender at all
  12. Try to explain your distaste for something by explaining it is due to someone’s race or sex / gender (e.g., “all women’s sports suck, because…women!” or “all rap music sucks, because…black people!” or, when pointing out a particular male acting badly, saying “all men suck!”)
  13. Get bent out of shape when someone expresses a lack of interest in having children. Instead, you guys are accepting of other people’s choices to have or not have children.
  14. Comment that “all” people of a certain religion are in some way the same.
  15. Comment that “all” people who are not religious are in some way the same.
  16. Show a lack of compassion for people with mental illness or disabilities.
  17. Show disdain for people in a lower social class than yourself. If anyone pokes fun of anyone in a particular social class, you can bet that they poke fun of people in other social classes as well (I’m thinking of certain folks who enjoy “People of Wal*Mart” videos as much as they enjoy “Bizarre Rich WASP people” news stories). It is not specifically their social class that is being mocked or shamed.
  18. Express a belief that being able to afford certain material goods makes someone better than someone else.
  19. Make comments about how “all” people of a certain race or sex / gender / orientation are the same, in a negative way. On “I’m Not A Racist But” and “I’m Not A Sexist But” you will find comments about how all X people “smell bad,” “talk too loudly,” “steal stuff,” “are criminals,” “are stupid,” “can’t drive,” “don’t belong in academia,” “are lazy,” “dress badly,” “can’t play sports,” “can’t operate electronic technology,” “have bad taste,” “eat gross things,” and so on. I would quickly get annoyed if my FB friends were making stupid comments like those.
  20. Use sexist insults towards female politicians you disagree with. In fact, whether you have agreed with a particular female politician or not, I have noted that you are typically quick to be outraged on their behalf when they are disparaged with sexist insults.
  21. Express xenophobia or a lack of curiosity and interest in other countries and cultures.
  22. Try to excuse attachment to a symbol (like the Confederate flag) that upsets and offends others.
  23. Use the nonsense phrases “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism.”
  24.  Get butthurt when you realize you have been harboring a racist or sexist or cisgendered assumption and it is challenged; rather, this tends to lead to reflection and discussion and a vow to address and work on it
  25. Pass around images that show the female body as an object or decoration (often headless / dehumanized). At least this doesn’t happen often, I should say.
  26. Assume, when a story about a crime is circulated, that the culprit, if race is not specified, is non-white.
  27. Ignore institutional and societal biases that unfairly target the less privileged folks out there
  28. Slut shame
  29. Casually use language that is traditionally racist, sexist or otherwise generally offensive (i.e., someone “gyped” you, “nude” used to denote a shade of Caucasian skin only, “whore,” etc.)
  30. Act like raging arseholes when you disagree with each other on my Wall threads

I could go on, but reading through “I’m Not A Racist But” and “I’m Not A Sexist But” really brought it home how fortunate I am to have connected online with some truly exceptional human beings. In short, you may not like what someone has done or said, but you restrict your criticism to that specific individual. You may not like someone’s political or religious beliefs, but you do not make the mistake of damning an entire religion or political party thanks to stupid people or stupid groups of people.

We could still do a little better about not lumping all cops and all military personnel (etc) into the same category when a single LEO or service member does something awful, but, on the whole, we do pretty darn well. We’re also pretty good about not using sexually shaming epithets, too. We’re still learning a language that includes people of all genders and sexual orientations (or lack thereof) but are not deliberately ignoring or dismissing others.

It’s just a shame that it is such a rare thing that I had to notice a general LACK of assholery–because it is so uncommon and unusual–at all. It’s true, however, that I become acutely aware of this when I branch out and, for example, read the comments sections under YouTube videos or news articles. What’s “normal” for my Wall or news feed is not “normal” for the Internet as a whole.

So, we’re not perfect, but we’re trying, and we’re avoiding most of the really obviously offensive behaviors while not becoming so “offensensitive” that we can’t discuss anything at all. I’m glad about that.

Monkeyspheres, Dunbar’s Number, Personalized Search Results, Infobubbles, the Media Echo Chamber Effect and You

Why am I posting stuff about media echo chamber effect, and online filter bubbles / tailored search engine results and monkeyspheres? I have been doing some thinking about how we all increasingly isolate ourselves into smaller and smaller tribes of like-minded and similar people, and how that makes it very difficult to:

  1. understand why “some people are so dumb”*
  2. understand why what we hold as self-evident is not necessarily evident at all to people outside our self-selected infobubbles
  3. understand why (politically speaking) many liberals SUCK at messaging and reducing complex political views and opinions to simpler statements, especially when compared to conservatives*
  4. avoid inadvertently offending people you had no desire to offend when you mistake a difference in taste with an indication of intelligence (or lack thereof).

A few months ago, I posted an editorial cartoon on Facebook about angry Republicans fleeing the US for a non-existent industrialized First World paradise where no universal health care plan exists.

(PROTIP: Canuckistan is not your huckleberry nor your Eden, conservatives.)

Responses were, as usual (because I have self-selected a group of smart folks to associate with on Facebook, primarily (see how this works?)), thoughtful and interesting.

Posted by my Facebook friend, ‎Mike D*********:

You do realize that people who can’t distinguish between, socialism, communism, and fascism or know what they mean aren’t going to be able to understand or want to believe any of this.

I think that educated people who are literate and capable of parsing what they read sincerely do not really “get” what it is like to be a person who does not read, who lacks critical thinking skills, who finds it easier to accept information from sources who dumb it down the most and in the most entertaining ways, who can not spell, and so on. We just have no way to relate to them, and they do not relate to us.

Worse, many of these people are not exactly unintelligent, they are uneducated and have not been taught critical thinking and logic skills, they find it exhausting and unproductive to learn how to be a critical thinker because it takes time and effort and ends up challenging their core beliefs and assumptions, and their everyday personal problems naturally take higher priority.

We do not help matters when we dismiss people who have not been given intellectual tools and guidance as being irredeemably stupid. It just makes them angry and encourages them to resist exposure to people and ideas that make them feel “less than” or stupid. Who wants to constantly be reminded that you’re really not all that bright (even if your ignorance is not your fault, or reflective of your underutilized abilities)? Your peers do not read books, they do not discuss challenging ideas or complex music or keep in touch with issues that fall outside their monkeyspheres, which are generally small and focused on their social circles and entertainments and basic survival needs and buying shiny new stuff. Your peers can’t pass a basic literacy test or read a paragraph and identify the main idea promoted by the sentences in the paragraph. They can often not find their own state on a map, much less Iraq or the UK or Australia. They struggle to identify how many sides a triangle has.

I think we really, truly do not take into account that we have self-selected our way into an online and offline community full of people who are of similar backgrounds and educations and intellects, and it becomes an echo chamber because the people we communicate with most often are frequently in agreement with us, or, if not in agreement, we just assume they have critical thinking skills, that they like reading, that they have intellectual curiosity.

Facebook is a prime example: Eventually you weed out the real “dumbasses” on your friends list when you can’t bear to link the same derptard to Snopes AGAIN or ask them to fucking Google something for crissakes or correct their apostrophe abuse ONE MORE FUCKING TIME because there are just not enough hours in a goddamned day to explain that it is “you’re” not “your,” for fuck’s sake. Google compounds the problem by spying on our interests to fling unwanted shitty advertising our way, but it also slowly starts adapting search results based on its nosiness about what you write and read and research online. You are increasingly isolated from alternate points of view, and increasingly likely to become polarized and set in your ways because there are fewer challenges. You start to believe your point of view is self-evident, because you have been in your little Google-enhanced bubble and only seeing links to people who agree with you.

Think about it: If you are a liberal (for example), you aren’t watching FOX or reading Drudge or listening to Rush Limbaugh. Fair enough. Google is going to pick up on that, and the friends you choose to communicate with on social networks are slowly going to more accurately reflect your own ideas (because your tolerance for listening to a Glenn Beck audio clip is nil). You have possibly ditched all the lazy writers who drove you nuts by typing everything in txtspk (if u no wut i meen). You dropped the ones whose idea of entertainment was NASCAR and added those who like Euro-style football. You drop the Twitards in favor of friends reading Vonnegut and Joyce for fun. You remove Jersey Shore watchers, Duggar fans, Jon and Kate and the 8 viewers, and Kardassian fans and talk about Supernatural and Mad Men and True Blood and The Wire and Walking Dead or the flippin’ documentary channel and TCM. Your friends who drink are drinking the good stuff and not sharing their drunken escapades with the whole world. You drop the people who can ONLY make fart jokes and seem to enjoy annoyingly predictable puns and circulate Maxine, Family Circus, Garfield and Ziggy cartoons; you add the folks who like Carlin and Hicks and Jeni and Bruce.

Your circle narrows to mirror you, and it is harder and harder to see past that mirror and realize HOLY SHIT, I have forgotten that the whole world does not have taste which reflects mine, the whole world is not literate, the whole world does not enjoy reading, the whole world does not like music that is not infantile and over-processed and irritating, the whole world does not think like I do.

And they vote.

Admittedly, some are too lazy to vote, but you can’t count on your literate and intelligent and educated friends to vote, either. They will talk themselves into knots, voting for third parties that do not stand a chance and which benefit the incumbent. They will claim both political parties are exactly the same because the system itself is fucked up, ignoring that — while they are correct — not voting is not an effective way to change the system. They get narrowly focused on one or two niche issues and pout and sulk and threaten to withdraw from their civic duty because their pet issues were not addressed to their satisfaction, and refuse to look beyond those interests.

It is not just the people who have a legitimate excuse (lack of education, a below average IQ, a lifestyle not conducive to self-improvement, a dislike of complexity, a dislike of reading for pleasure or edification, a limited vocabulary, a limited world view). Some smart people also self-sabotage by over-thinking everything and getting all bent out of shape that the world that they are seeing mirrored back to them is not agreeing with what they feel is self-evident. They (we, I) do not understand Sarah Palin’s existence. Intellectually we sort of grasp what is going on, and why the Stupids (sorry to be unkind) are so enamored of her. We just can’t GRASP it, because in our increasingly self-selected isolation bubble filled with like-minded people who enjoy contemplation and learning new things and get off on answering questions and doing research and reading and have higher-brow tastes for the most part (along with lower-brow things we dismiss as guilty pleasures because we know they are low brow and we “should not like them”), we do not relate to someone who could see Palin as anything but a bloviating self-important ignorant boob.

No, they do not know the difference between socialism, communism, Marxism, and fascism and they are content to let some talking heads define those terms FOR them, and refuse to believe they have been given a spoonful of shit info. NO ONE WANTS TO ADMIT THEY ARE NOT SMART, even if, deep down, they know they are dim in comparison to most. They watch news that doesn’t make them feel stupid, even as it makes them more stupid. They watch entertainment that does not tell jokes they don’t understand, because not getting jokes makes you feel dumb, and that is no fun. They hang out with people who don’t make them feel inferior in comparison, and they are not bad people because they do that. You and I, we are (I am going to assume) comfortable with our smarts and not threatened by smarter people or people who are more informed about a subject we are not as knowledgeable about, because we know we’re smarter than the average bear out there.

It’s OK to be compassionate about it, but it is not cool to be smug about it (but let’s face it, you’re going to occasionally feel smug when some Young Earther or Flat Earther or Conspiracy Tin Foil Hat Wearing Theorist pops up on the periphery of your infobubble / monkeysphere because, if you are smart, you are in the minority and it gets depressing and irritating after a while, and mocking the source of your annoyance is only human). It just makes the problem worse.

Trust me, I have made this mistake a thousand times and pissed off people and suffered for it, and most of the time it was a situation where I was firmly ensconced in my monkeysphere and just BLIND to an alternate POV due to a bad mood or moment of smuggery or being spoilt by being around brilliant peers for a lengthy amount of time to the point where I just forgot that not everyone on the planet is a genius or even particularly smart. I always feel shitty about it, because I don’t like making other people feel bad.

Yes, I have a right to express an opinion or to be discerning or even to be grouchy now and then, but I don’t have a right to actively make someone else feel bad if (as is usually the case) their guilty pleasure is something I can’t fathom enjoying at all–me thinking “if you’re so smart, why do you like boxing?!” is RUDE, and I am just glad I have never thought “you must not be so smart, all evidence to the contrary, if you enjoy listening to Kottonmouth Kings because that is crap music.” I am aware that bad taste (or a single incidence thereof) is not an indication that the person is sub-normal mentally, thankfully. But I have still made the mistake of viewing everything from within my personal infobubble and social circle from time to time, and that’s when my head almost explodes at the idea that people insist on believing debunked information, or voting for obvious assholes, or buying stupid and badly-written books that happen to be unfathomably (to me) popular.

We have to step outside the infobubble now and then and try our best to see other people’s points of view, and have compassion for those who are not exactly stupid as much as they are under-informed or poorly educated. I suspect that liberals in particular have problems with messaging and reaching the average person because we seem to think things are self-evident to anyone who isn’t stupid, but, surprise, there are a lot of people who are not so much stupid as they are not exposed to the same information and who are not interested in getting into debates about ideas. They want soundbites and factoids and Cliff’s Notes. Maybe some aren’t stupid as much as they are busy and just not as interested in politics. Figuring out how to reach the busy and mostly disinterested requires exiting the monkeysphere and not being a superior asshat when we do.

Mike D**********:

I am sure there are liberal educated people who shun or cut off those who disagree or don’t make sense and I do agree with you that could be a problem but I don’t think it is the major conflict. I think it has less to do with information and more with morality. I’ve been reading a lot about how the conservative mind works and they have 3 additional morals than liberals do: authority, purity, and loyalty to group (like all whites). They consider these equal or even more important than the two they share with liberals: Justice (fairness), and Care (not hurting others).

One of the biggest problems is when the loyalty to group (whites, Christian, place they live) becomes more important than causing harm to others (non-whites, non-Christian, someone who is not like everyone else they associate with). Purity isn’t much better (punishing women for having sex in a way they don’t like). Authority is what makes them follow the leader and why they need to believe the president isn’t valid (kenyen, muslim, etc).

Morals have more to do with feelings than thinking. This means you can have a brilliant person capable of critical thinking and logic who still feels they are superior because they are white, is misogynistic, and doesn’t want to follow someone who doesn’t already agree with their beliefs. If they have love for their beliefs and didn’t allow or were even taught how to allow for the event they were wrong, they fight to defend them like they were a child. I believe this is the main problem to over come and not an intelligence or educational issue.

If you think about it, even a below average intellect can accept there is no Santa, unicorns, Zeus, or Easter Bunny. However, if you try to tell them that feeling they have been having to have sex with someone of the same gender isn’t really a demon trying to tempt them or they are wrong about their belief that no matter how awful they are the only being that matters will forgive them if they worship him they might try to kill you.

This is because most people don’t make it to adulthood believing Santa is real. No one is really told that Zeus is the one who they must worship anymore. This means there is less of an emotional attachment to those beliefs. When someone has spent much of their life believing something they may not have the skills to cope with being wrong. It may even cause them to be suicidal. So it is reasonable to see them thinking truth and facts are life threatening and be willing to harm someone who tries to enlighten them.

The only real solution is to expose children to as much as possible. It is why conservatives are trying so hard to stop kids from going to school younger, learning facts, or accurate history. If we can’t classify religion as child abuse or expose kids to alternate ideas, then we can only hope the access to information and their innate curiosity will overcome any isolationism they face. I am not sure there is a way to get someone to accept the truth, reality, facts, logic, or reason if they do not have a way to cope with them.

I got asked what I meant by “monkeyspheres” and posted some links about what monkeyspheres (a.k.a. Dunbar’s Number) are. Cracked actually does a good job of simplifying the idea and being amusing about it. (I linked to their article below; if you are in a hurry, you can scroll down to the Notes section.)

Suffice it to say that there is a theory that we can only intellectually grasp a finite number of people as belonging to our personal “Us” category, as opposed to a “Them” group. People in the “Them” group, which, by definition, is going to include several BILLION other people, are foreign to us in ways not restricted solely to language or geography. Our “Us” group is the small circle with which we can form stable social relationships and feel (emotionally) some care for. We can intellectually care for people in the “Them” group, but when you get right down to brass tacks, we are most comfortable relating to those already in our tight little “Us” unit.

Forgive me if I over-simplify.

I was using the term “monkeysphere” as shorthand to describe how that “Us” group increasingly becomes homogeneous over time and makes it more and more difficult to relate to or understand people we place into the “Them” group.

Note that expressing empathy or solidarity with a group you do not actually belong to (say, being a straight person in favor of rights for gay people, or a man who identifies as a feminist, or a white person outraged by racism and mistreatment of people of color, or a liberal quoting what a Republican says about an issue, or an atheist who happens to be fond of several people who take comfort and feel satisfaction with their religious faith, a thin person who hates fat shaming, a parent who dislikes other parents who criticize the childless or vice versa, etc.), the assumption you will run up against, often, from people who do not personally know you is that if you express understanding of a particular group’s issues, or try to understand, you must belong to that group yourself. (I.e., You post a lot about gay marriage issues, you must be a lesbian. Well, no, I am a 0 on the Kinsey scale and have no sexual interest in women whatsoever, I just happen to think gay people are PEOPLE who deserve equal rights. I don’t have to want to date a lady to believe that is the moral thing to do. :)) We instinctively seem to understand that monkeyspheres / groups / infobubbles tend to be homogeneous or similar.

So not only is it unusual to try to be inclusive of Others in your personal “Us” group, the default assumption is that you really CAN’T include people who are too different from you. (I disagree, but you have no doubt noticed the same thing.)

In theory it is simple to say “Be excellent to each other” and to try to follow that. In practice, it is apparently all too easy to construct monkeyspheres that are full of people who have more in common with you than not, and it becomes more and more difficult and uncomfortable the more entrenched you get within your comfort zone and “Us” bubble to see past the mirroring of ideas and attitudes and privileges and assumptions that are native to you and the people like you in your monkeysphere / “Us” group and try to grok what someone in the “Them” group thinks, feels, or has experienced.

Mike D**********: 

Hmmm – I don’t believe people really think you are gay for defending gay rights. It is just the best retort they can think of and it is probably mimicry. It is akin to a racist person calling you a racist before you can point out they are. It is common strategy that if you can’t defend your position, you should go on the attack. If you play their game you defend against their attack and they never have to go back to defending theirs. Personally, I believe the best retort to someone calling me gay is telling them they should have no problem with me sleeping naked with their wife/gf. They never seem to be expecting this and they are much more willing to get back to the issue of them being a hateful bigot.

David R******:

But. It’s so much easier to stay in my monkeysphere, damn it!

P.S. Thanks for the rewind, I missed it. Great stuff. I would have more to say but I’m entirely too apathetic at this point to pull it together. I realize this is part of the problem. I’m everything and nothing and totally part of the problem. I try to feed my Give A Fuck everyday and it just hasn’t been working.

It is indeed a lot easier to stay in your personal monkeysphere. I’m just not sure it is the most practical thing when we are upset about how people outside our monkeyspheres are handling Important Stuff. We might be behooved to move beyond looking only within the echo chamber and trying to grok Others who come from alien perspectives. It’s easier to just label them “Them” and dismiss them altogether.

One can also argue that it seems to be the more liberal-minded who are even willing to think about this sort of thing and attempt to branch out and empathize, but I think that sells other folks short. You just have to learn how to speak their language a little better, maybe.

David R******:

A bit of fatigue sets in, I know your life is complicated, as is mine, as is everyone’s. At the end of the day sometimes, it feels like all I can do to simply mock a few morons. But yeah, it WOULD be better, to be better than that.

It is exhausting to choose not to go the easy route, believe me. For instance, it is definitely easier to snort derisively at the latest genuinely ignorant thing Palin has said or done than to attempt to figure out WTF is floating around in that pointy little noggin. I suspect it is kind of dark in there, and scary. However, I won’t know for sure until I at least try to parse what’s going on. 🙂

JaceSan L********:  

Not being as far left as some of my friends I try to keep an open mind when listening to conservatives argue their points. Unfortunately anyone arguing from a religious perspective, or the belief that embryos are entities, is already going to irritate me because I don’t hold the same beliefs that they do.

And I guess they can banish me to their hell if they’re too narrow-minded to accept the fact that not everyone holds the same beliefs that they do.

FTR I know some liberals that are just as dismissive and unable to accept anything that differs from their opinion. And they’re just as irritating to argue with.

Audra B P********:

The people *I* have trouble understanding are the extroverts. I do not understand the constant need of some folks to be around other people. Does not compute. Oh, and they need to stop telling me to get out more. NO! That’s the last thing I need. Give me solitude and a book any day! 😉

Victoria K******:

Every human being alive [except those with certain brain dysfunction] have an instinctive drive to find others who will aid their survival. Like minded individuals with whom to companion with. Some we will spend extra time on to see if there is any possibility of connection and others we understand right away there is little hope of that.

I’m participating in a thread right now that made me want to tell you to keep doing what you’re doing to try to round ’em all up. Keep reaching out to calibrate yourself because the more experience you have the better you’ll recognize what experience you are lacking and who you would include in your life boat and who you’d have to let swim on their own.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

How many monkeys are in your sphere?

 

Notes:

What is a Kinsey scale?

“The Kinsey scale, also called the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, attempts to describe a person’s sexual history or episodes of his or her sexual activity at a given time. It uses a scale from 0, meaning exclusively heterosexual, to 6, meaning exclusively homosexual.”

What is the media echo chamber / echo chamber effect?

“The echo chamber effect refers to any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an “enclosed” space.

Observers of journalism in the mass media describe an echo chamber effect in media discourse. One purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true. A media conglomerate that owns multiple media outlets can produce the same story among “different” outlets, creating an illusion that a media consumer is getting information from different sources.”

A TED talk by Eli Pariser about online filter bubbles.

Google herds users into more restrictive infobubbles:

Starting this week (07 December, 2009), Google will present search results in the order in which users are most likely to prefer, based on their recent search histories.

In a blog post, Google’s director of search product management, Johanna Wright, said Google is now better able to provide the most relevant results using analysis of 180 days of Google search activity from users’ browsers.

If someone always searched for ADA and often clicked on results about the programming language, Google might show them those results before it showed results for the American Dental Association, for example, she said.

Also starting this week, Google will automatically deliver search results based on what it thinks users meant when they typed in their search terms.

Blogger Matt Brezina on “Social Networks, The Monkey Sphere, and Moore’s Law of Human Relationships”:

“The Monkey Sphere (also known as Dunbar’s number)  is a theory from evolutionary biology which was derived from the study of groups of monkeys (or more specifically non-human primates) in Africa.”

Cracked.com article titled “What Is The Monkeysphere?“:

“The Monkeysphere is the group of people who each of us, using our monkeyish brains, are able to conceptualize as people. If the monkey scientists are monkey right, it’s physically impossible for this to be a number much larger than 150.”

What is Dunbar’s Number?

“Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150. Dunbar’s number states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship, a number which might be much higher and likely depends on long-term memory size.

Dunbar’s number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint oneself if they met again.”

On “Us” and “Them”: ingroups and outgroups:

“In sociology and social psychology, ingroups and outgroups are social groups to which an individual feels as though he or she belongs as a member, or (for outgroups) to which they feel contempt, opposition, or a desire to compete. People tend to hold positive attitudes towards members of their own groups, a phenomenon known as ingroup bias. The term originates from social identity theory which grew out of the work of social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner.”

Pink Floyd covers the topic:

On Bullying

In the dark days before The Internet and cable TV, you could get most of your information from only a few sources: your parents and relatives, your religious institution (if any) and its holy text (if any), the newspaper, the television (all three and a half channels of it), the radio, books and magazines, teachers, random crazy strangers shouting shit on street corners, and peers. That was pretty much it. Maybe you went to a film or theatre performance now and then and got dipped into the communal pop culture pool of references that others were also dunked into, maybe you were fortunate enough to be tortured by exposure to an elderly spinster teaching piano lessons or some weird dance class that put you on the fast track to an eating disorder and low self-esteem, maybe you belonged to some branch of Scouting (Boy or Girl) that forced you to interact with a bunch of other little assholes in your age group (often outside, for the added misery of sunburn, insect bites and physical activities that you were crap at and hated), but, for the most part, your choices were limited, mostly local, mostly biased and inescapable. Sometimes bathroom walls were educational in unexpected ways, even if it took you years to work out what all that was about.  Maybe you were an introvert and wanted more than anything to just be left the fuck alone and not constantly criticized and pressured and your parents decided that you had mental problems because you actually liked being alone and did not want to be forced to play with your little brother all the damn time and then you saw a shrink who tested you, told your parents you were extremely creative and had an IQ in the genius range and were just an introvert and “normal” (whatever the fuck that means) and maybe they didn’t stop treating you like a nut, but did add some pressure to excel at all costs because you were now officially too smart to ever fail at anything. If you were lucky or your parents were less neurotic and eager to find fault, maybe you skipped that step, and good for you. Anyway…this is the information with which you armed yourself against the world and tried to figure shit out independently.

No one had the basic common courtesy to hand you a list of rules or discuss basic human psychology and logical fallacies or urban legends or human errors or anything like that. You might get traumatized by old “health” films from the forties that told you all sorts of wrong bullshit things about how to be a good citizen (Spoiler: Obey authority and use deodorant), how marijuana will make you crazy and then you’ll be doing cocaine and heroin and shooting meth into your eyeball and then you’d die, what capitalism is (awesome and not flawed in any way) versus communism (Jesus hates it), how not to drive like a mad person (especially if you have been drinking), and how sex is bad, wrong and likely to kill you but when two heterosexual people love each other very, very much they get married and then they promptly start doing bad, wrong, potentially deadly things to each other such as the man puts his schvantz into the lady’s hoo-ha and babies start popping out like clockwork, bing bang bong, and then everything is peachy keen. As a bonus, your teachers are loading you up with American myths like George Washington and that stupid cherry tree and telling you that Newton had an apple fall on his head, you should never split an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition, that we had nine planets in our solar system (sorry, Pluto, you got the shaft),  and telling you that the only important people who ever did anything worthwhile at any point in history were rich white dudes whose judgment could not be debated, even with hindsight. We handled reptiles without freaking out about salmonella, had peanut butter sammiches on the lunch menu (and no one died) and played with liquid mercury in science class (and no one ate any). Seriously, it is a wonder we didn’t all just expire from stupidity and ignorance and unregulated danger all at once.

So there you are, young person, you tabula rasa you, and you have a lot of information getting lobbed your way, and not one bit of it is likely to help you if some of your fellow feral dwarves decide that you are a good target for abuse. Your parents will tell you to be a nice young person and mind your manners and pull up your pants (you should) and turn down your shitty music (fuck that; put on headphones, yo). Your church or temple or mosque will give you a lot of confusing and contradictory advice and rules and then you’ll run into people who don’t seem to understand the Golden Rule at all. Books, if you read (you should), are good, but you have to pick decent ones to read, because Twilight sure as hell isn’t going to teach you anything of value. Magazines and TV programs and movies are going to make you want stuff you can’t afford, show you unrealistically perfect people who were Photoshopped and who you can never look like (especially during the Awkward Phase of puberty), and give you REALLY shitty advice. Teachers, they don’t want to know. They are underpaid and overworked and have 199 other students to try to keep orderly all at once, and they are mostly hoping no one shivs anyone or overdoses on crank in the loo. Your peers are totally self-absorbed with their own angst and problems.

Dude, believe me, I know how much all that sucks. You might just have to learn to cope without a support system or go against all your instincts and peer pressure and unspoken social rules and DEMAND a social support system come to your aid. Caveat: If that was easy, everyone would do it. So I’m not saying it is even a little bit easy.

Speaking personally, I was given the lay of the land pretty early on. My parents set me down when I was a little tiny kidlet and said, “Look, kid, if something happens at school, it’s going to be on you. Your teacher or peers pick on you? That’s on you. Don’t come crying to us, or we will punish you because it has to be your fault. I hope we have made this clear. If you were good, then everything in your life would also be good. Bad things are down to you not toeing the line.”  This included being beaten with a motherfucking belt if I brought home a C or worse on my report card. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an entirely misguided thing to do (well, the beatings were a bit over the top and counter-productive, but the forced studying for hours on the cold, hard, parquet foyer floor until my legs went numb when my brain would NOT grok fractions ended up paying off in the long run). We have seen what happens when some parents blindly take their child’s side in every school-related conflict, such as blaming little Johnny’s inability to, say, do his goddamn homework on Mrs. Othmar, his teacher. That does not benefit the precious snowflake in any way. At best, it creates a monster with a sense of entitlement and self-importance who doesn’t feel–or have to be–accountable for anything, and those little special snowflakes grow up to be shitty adults. We all know one. That said, sometimes shit goes down at school and it is absolutely 100% not your kid’s fault, but, hey, you already said you would never, ever come to your kid’s rescue for any reason whatsoever, so don’t be shocked if your kid spends hours a day being tormented or struggling with some concept or whatever and then says nothing but “fine” when you ask him or her, presumably not caring one way or the other, how school went. Because you eliminated yourself as an ally when it comes to anything school-related, and your kid is damned if she or he is going to tell you squat or ask for your help with any damn thing. If you are lazy, maybe that was the goal all along.

If you think I am kidding, here is an example. One of my elementary school teachers took me into a closet, fingernails dug so hard into my underarms that I literally (and I am not misusing that word) had half-moon shaped scars there that lingered on for about fifteen years. I was probably, to be frank, misbehaving in some way. I recall being thoroughly bored during kindergarten, first grade and second grade because, hello, I could read and add and subtract and make a fucking color wheel with paint and all that shit (I read the entire 1972 World Book Encyclopaedia before I was in third grade and I do mean the ENTIRE encyclopaedia) and if you think that you, even as a mature and socially groomed and polite adult, could bear sitting still for hours on end while someone made all the slower learners in class power through “the fat cat sat on the mat” and “if you have five apples and take away two, how many do you have left,” and goddamn fucking macaroni “art” (especially when Curtis over there is making rubber cement gloves, Bob is mixing his boogers with glitter, and Lynah is eating the entire pot of paste), then you are a better person than I am. I could not. I was not allowed to read a different book, or to work on another project, or anything. I had to sit still, listen to someone read the primer that I read from cover to cover three times on my first day at school, and I got so bored and sleepy that I got nap jerks and at least once fell asleep in my chair and then promptly fell out of it. I crawled under tables, just for a change of scenery. I chattered to other children. (This was not always well-received by the other children.) I made toys out of my school supplies and retreated into imagination. I was bored and under-stimulated. I was not, however, a truly bad kid. I was polite to adults and tried so very hard to be good. Eventually a smarter teacher got the bright idea to teach me something I didn’t already know and to give me useful work to do, and all went swimmingly from that point forward, but for a couple of years there I was SO FUCKING BORED and often dragged off to a supply closet to be shaken until my teeth rattled, and to have bloody furrows clawed into my underarms, because I was not mature enough to conceal that boredom.

When this topic came up in conversation not too long ago, my mother said I was simply a bad kid at the time and that I deserved every bit of punishment I received. (It is probably irrelevant that many of my elementary school teachers were and are also friends of my mom.) I look at my little nieces and remember doing exactly what they are doing now when I was their age, and I worry about them. They are smart. They get bored easily. They do not tolerate it well. I hope to hell that they won’t get the “whatever bad thing happens at school, it is always going to be 100% your fault” message, because, even now, they are intellectually curious and full of energy, and have a lot of spirit and self-esteem. I don’t want them biting other kids or running around like little hellions, but neither do I want them to be so thoroughly bored and desperate for escape that they resort to sliding under the table to count the gum wads. And then I especially do not want some pruney jerk to drag them into a supply closet and shake them until they bite their tongues just because they were fidgeting or chattering or wiggling around, and later, if they dare complain, they get to be told how it is all their fault because they are “bad”.

So, anyway, the topic of bullying came up recently over the family dinner table and I admitted that I had been given a hard time. Here’s where you’d expect your mom to say something like, man, that’s a shame, I am sorry you went through that. Nope. Because I went through a spell when I was about six years old when I was unable to curb my expressions of utter boredom and frustration, I am never allowed to complain about being a human piñata later on, because I had to have really been mean to those other kids first. (This is from someone who was not there, mind you. It also does not matter that some of those kids were not even in elementary school or middle school with me. It was still all my fault because I had the nerve to act like a six year old when I was six years old.)

It did not help that I was a year younger (I tested in early) than everyone else and short for my age, or that my female peers were dressed like little Marcia Bradys with little silver ball pierced earrings, long hair, cords, button-downs or turtlenecks and Keds while my mom cropped my white blonde hair into a Mia Farrow “Rosemary’s Baby” cut so short, hideous, and emotionally scarring that I have never had my hair short ever again. My hair was so blonde and so fine that I looked practically bald and then my mother overcompensated for the androgynous hairdo by dressing me up like a baby doll in itchy smocked plaid shortie dresses, uncomfortable and babyish bubble knickers, Buster Brown Sunday shoes, a big stupid bow on my head, and scratchy, droopy opaque tights that would give me wrinkly elephant ankles and inch down until the crotch was looped around my knees no matter how ladylike I strived to be. In other words, I was marked as a huge uncool nerd pretty much from the jump. My peers, when not kicking my ass or calling me ugly or just generally being obnoxious (because they, too, were kids and were acting like kids), treated me like one of those life-size doll babies that would “walk” with you when you squeezed their hands. Nothing like being treated like an entertaining pet, and having adults think it was just precious. No one likes being treated like a pretty object or toy or condescended to, and I may not have had the words to use to express how that felt, but I still felt it. I am sure that occasionally I was not in the mood to be some bitch’s doll, and that occasionally I was ill-behaved (because kids are), but no matter what I might have done when I was six years old, that does not justify my peers treating me like shit for ten long years after…especially those peers who weren’t even my classmates way back when. Well, my mom thinks it does. But she’s full of shit on this account, and all too eager to place blame on me for stuff I barely remember…but you know what? One of us was there, and one of us wasn’t. I am inclined to think that one of us has a better handle on what it was like. Also, I don’t care if I was a raging asshole as a six year old or not. That does not make excusing bullying directed my way for ten years (did I stutter? TEN YEARS) in any way. Unless you’re my mom. So, yeah, that says a lot about our relationship right there.

Allow me to stipulate that I probably misbehaved, I probably at some point annoyed another child, and probably, at some point, did something I knew darn well I shouldn’t do. In other words, again: I was six.

I have always learned quickly and learning how to deal with my peers was likewise a series of quickly-learned lessons that I then never managed to quite forget. Here’s one I shared not too long ago:  “A friend’s Facebook comment about her sproglet getting in trouble for saying “damp towel” in class reminded me of a similar situation that happened to me in third grade. I got frustrated while doing sums and imitated the cartoon dog Muttley (“rassa frassa sassa frassa!”) under my breath and got told on by classmates AND got in Big Trouble for supposedly using a word I did not, at that age, even know yet. But, hey, I learned a new word (if not what it meant) thanks to that stupidity. Lessons learned: A shiny new legitimate cuss word (NOW I know what “fuck” means! Huzzah!) and “my peers are rotten finks and I am better off not speaking around them or to them when I can avoid it.”

Your peers are looking for things to tattle on you about, so you better not rock the boat by being the weird kid who annoys someone by quietly quoting unpopular cartoon characters in class. At any rate, I wasn’t the kind of kid who looked for shit to tattle on people about or make fun of them for, and I could have. There was the kid who wore red socks every single day for at least two years. I was nice to him. There was the kid whose earwax was so built-up that it would occasionally dislodge on its own and make a thudding noise when it landed on his desk. I was nice to him. There was the popular kid who spent most of his time in class catching horseflies and slowly pulling the wings off of them. I honestly feared him. But I was nice to him. There was the weird but insanely rich girl who self-mutilated to get attention and liked to eat boogers, scabs and eraser rubber, which fascinated and grossed us all out. I was so nice to her, we occasionally had playdates. There was the girl whose buck teeth were practically horizontal, who had freckles, wiry black hair that was styled like Joanie Cunningham’s on Happy Days, and unflattering glasses, and she was far from slim, and she was one of the biggest bullies in class. I wasn’t nice to her, since I was a popular target of hers, especially on the bus ride home, when her sidekick (a girl so blonde as to be albino, with white lashes and the same glasses / buckteeth issues as the main tormentor) but I certainly didn’t go out of my way to be nasty. I ignored them. I ignored the fuck out of them. There were fat kids and kids with glasses and thin kids and red-headed kids and I said nothing to a single one, and occasionally did say “s/he may have red hair, but you’re rude and that makes YOU ugly” to some of the nastier kids. But, as I was a non-winner, having me, a loser, stand up for them did not endear me to my fellow losers. It chased off some of the more insecure bullies, but it didn’t stop the REAL shitheads.

Mostly I kept myself to myself. I got caught in third grade slipping off to the restroom with a stack of books almost as tall as I was. I was happily reading to myself and hiding in a stall to do it before I got busted. I was in all kinds of trouble, but, naturally, this is relayed as a “cute” story now. Back then, I got my butt beat for it. But, hey. Books became my refuge and I was one of those readers who can get SO absorbed in what they are reading that you can stand behind them shouting their name and not get their attention. Happened more than once.

I was also sensitive in about every way you could be. I didn’t like loud noises. Ugly art offended my eye. My clothing tags would raise bloody welts on annoyingly hypersensitive skin. I didn’t like being teased (I am still not particularly keen on it) and had to learn to shrug it off or ignore it. This is a skill that takes some time to learn, so for more than a few years I was a fun target for teasing and pranks and general jackassery. I learned how to put on a poker face and not respond AT ALL, which means I learned how to pretty much turn deaf and blind at will…which, by the way, is no fun for the person trying to get a rise out of someone. To give me a little credit, I knew I was handling things badly and taking stuff to heart that I shouldn’t. I could rationalize a way to shrug it off, but it didn’t stop the hurt feelings or rage or frustration. I also stuck to my guns: They could be jerks, but I didn’t want to be a jerk, too. As a target for verbal abuse or mean-spirited teasing, I became less and less fun, but I was still a viable target for far longer than I should have been because I rarely struck back. On the very few occasions I did respond, the person bothering me regretted it immediately. I was verbal and a quick thinker, and if you kept pushing, I just might say something to embarrass you back. But, like I said, those occasions were few and far between, and usually happened only if the person being an asshole made the mistake of not being particularly varied or creative with their taunts. It gave me time to construct an excellent rejoinder and to hold it in reserve to be deployed when there were plenty of witnesses around to hear it. Those who were more subtle or careful not to bother me around witnesses were harder to fend off. A lot of tormenting happened on the busses, where teachers were absent and there were plenty of equally bored kids, many of which were a lot older, who would egg on any kind of fighting just to have something interesting and entertaining to watch.

Ah, busses. There’s the question of where it is safe to sit and too many people who don’t want to share a seat, especially with YOU. There are gum wads and spit balls and loogies that go where they shouldn’t, and your belongings being snatched away from you and held out of reach, and random sneaky jabs in the ribs or neck or the back of the knee, and people to trip up and send flying up the aisle, shoelaces and ponytail ribbons to untie, little kids to torture and so on. The only safe seats are either right behind the busdriver (you baby!) or the very back seat (usually annexed by the older kids). Hoi polloi go in the middle and suck it up.

I’m leaving out a lot of details because some I don’t remember clearly (and I certainly don’t have any emotional charge over them anymore) and because I was BY FAR not the most tormented kid around. There were many kids far worse off than me. One kid on the bus was socially challenged in all possible ways (unattractive, easy to torment, not the brightest bulb, and unable to take a hint) and I understood what it was like to really dislike someone for being a human punching bag. I didn’t join in when this kid was called things (one thing I recall was “Fagatron,” which still makes me wince), but neither did I want to be his best friend, and he was DETERMINED that I was not only destined to be his best friend (because I didn’t actively abuse him) but also his GIRLfriend. We were the last two kids to be dropped off, so sometimes I would actually hide to avoid his attentions (and once the bus driver had to circle back to drop me off because I hid too efficiently and was reading and didn’t un-hide in time to get dropped off). He eventually clued into this and that method of escape no longer worked.  He would try to touch me inappropriately, he would not leave me alone, and I thoroughly regretted that I had ever stood up for him against the bullies. No good deed goes unpunished, and all that. He didn’t understand that someone being kind was not equivalent to someone wanting to be groped or bugged while reading or whatever. Here’s where the bullied (me) could have become the bully to pick on a kid lower down the totem pole than I, but I didn’t. The whole experience just convinced me that staying under everyone’s radar was the best course of action at all times. Say nothing unless spoken to, and then only respond if you are addressed by your correct name (not an insult, not a nickname you don’t like, not a gibe) and with some courtesy, and then only if the person addressing you is not a raging asshole. Those folks are not to be encouraged to use you in their games. At best, if you happen to encounter a persistent raging asshole, you drag your eyes reluctantly away from the book you are reading, fix them with an unsmiling, silent glare, and slowly look them up and down, not responding to anything they might be saying to you during this process. Then shrug dismissively and go back to reading your book and acting like they don’t exist. If you do this properly, you are officially no fun and might be left alone, or you might enrage them to the point where they actually hit you. This is when a bus driver might be arsed to get involved and drag the little thug off of you, so, hey, win-win. Those bruises and lumps will fade.

My default mode was quiet, polite, nose-stuck-in-book, talk-mainly-to-teachers. If you were pleasant to me, I was pleasant to you, but I didn’t give you endless chances to use me as a punching bag. If you were an asshole to me or someone else (and I witnessed it), your opinion and friendship were no longer of any interest to me. Your popularity was irrelevant. I LIKED being alone and never felt lonely, so fuck ’em. Some other bully-deflating techniques that were occasionally successful: Asking a nosy person why they think you give a shit about their unsolicited advice (trick is, you have to REALLY not care), or “why do you want to know?” when they ask you something that is none of their damn business. If they try to give you any bullshit about wanting to know you better or being your friend, when you know damn well that this is a TRAP and a LIE, treat that with the scorn it deserves. Then there was the “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” when someone said something shitty to you. Bonus points if you timed this response to coincide with the arrival of a teacher. Casual bullies do not often have the ‘nads to repeat a shitty comment. This will not, however, work on shameless bullies. Know your enemy. I also found that responding to unsolicited nastiness with something like, “Excuse me, why do you think I care one little bit about what YOU think? Did I ASK for your opinion? Maybe that should have been a hint” to be somewhat effective.

For the most part, though, my occasional triumphs over shitty behaviors were few and far between. I made it clear I liked being left alone and had no interest in group activities (to the point of occasionally hiding behind the bleachers with a book, or wandering off into the woods, during PE class).  I had a few close friends and was satisfied with that and did not want more. I got a reputation for being a poet-bookworm and a daydreamer (guilty) and an artist who sidelined as a doodler-in-class (SUPER guilty, and you should see my English Literature textbook). I had to have an opinion crowbarred out of my mouth in class, and my teachers gave up trying to embarrass me for not paying attention when I managed to prove that I was paying enough attention to parrot back the last few things they said (and my notebooks were ornate masterpieces).

The biggest change, though, was the death of my father.

A lot of these defense mechanisms were only deployed after my father died (I was in 8th grade) and I got a huge dose of perspective. Tell me again, how does teenage bullshit or dealing with nasty peers measure up in any significant way with the death of a parent? They simply do not. I no longer had the luxury of being QUITE as thin-skinned (though my mother can still get under my skin with her “teasing”), I no longer had the energy to keep up with the changing tides of who was in and popular and who was out and a loser, I no longer gave a rat’s ass what some teenage asshat might think about me whatsoever. If I was ever a bit depressed about bullshit high school drama, all I had to do was step back a bit and say, you know what? This is NOTHING compared to losing my DAD. So FUCK THEM.

To be honest, my first two years of high school are almost a total blank: I was grieving (I still feel things very, very deeply and take a long time to get over emotional pain) and I am guessing I was about as responsive as a block of wood for the most part. Which is a type of weirdness that ordinarily gets you extra grief, but, if it did, I don’t remember it. For the first two years of high school, I put on the ugly preppy wardrobe my mother purchased for me that was not the least bit attractive on me, went through the motions, and managed to continue to breathe in and out and get through it. By junior year I was wearing my dad’s old Air Force jacket, jeans I had painted on, and some rather weird 80s clothing with, like, dolman sleeves or enormous cowl necks or strangely-shaped buttons. I was no longer even remotely interested in pretending I was giving a shit about fitting in, even with my wardrobe, and I was happier as a result.

Now, sure, I got the usual fake invitations to non-existent parties. Solution? I didn’t want to hang out with any jerks, so I returned their invites back with a polite “Sorry, I am busy”. I got the usual passed notes in class that, once opened, were nastygrams. Solution? After the first, I never opened one right then and there ever again. I either threw it out unread or put it in my purse if I was not 100% sure it was going to be shitfulness. I got called stupid names in the hallway. Solution? No response whatsoever. I got Secret Santa gifts designed to embarrass me. Solution? A polite thank you before I pointedly threw it out on my way out of the classroom (and I actually feel a little bad about that, now; go figure). My kindness to a fellow unpopular student resulted in him being just as nasty to me as everyone else in the popular crew he longed to be a part of but by which he had been rudely and pointedly and publicly rejected. Solution? I learned to be more careful about who I chose to be kind to, because teenagers are stupid and desperate for meaningless social advancement. I didn’t get a lot of abuse about my appearance, which made me very lucky, but occasionally there would be something. Solution? Break out that slow, mute, up-and-down raking of the eyes from the top of their head to the tip of their toes, look them in the eye, shake your head, scoff quietly under your breath and walk off. They will fill in the blanks with whatever part of their body they are most insecure about, and serves them right for trying to make YOU feel bad. Worried about who to sit with at lunch? Solution: Resolve not to give a shit, sit wherever you like (an empty table is a good bet), and your friends and non-assholes will come sit with YOU. (And this, friends, was the smartest thing I ever did in high school, because our lunch table was full of the smartest, wackiest, coolest Misfit Toys in school, and lunch was, as a result, enjoyable and not an exercise in misery.)

I spent most of my time with the people I knew were my friends and welcomed non-assholes at all times. I was nice to everyone, even assholes, but assholes only ever got the bare minimum of my time and attention. A smile when I walked past them. Maybe a “good morning” if I felt like talking. I would not go out of my way to communicate with them, but neither would I be openly rude. Some days it felt like all I did was smile or nod at unresponsive assholes who had spent years tormenting me or other kids, but that was OK. I valued being pleasant, so I was pleasant: I did it for me. I spent much of the rest of my time talking to teachers, and they proved to be far more interesting and informative than a bunch of tweens and teens. I learned more OUT of class, talking to adults, than I did IN class. If you are the school hackysack, try talking to your teachers. You don’t have to talk about bullying. Talk about what you are learning. It’s likely to be interesting. Also, you will get better grades. I’m just saying. The smartest kids in my class were the ones who were in the teacher’s offices having chats. You will learn stuff. Learning is good. Being dumb is not good. I don’t know how else to put it.

So, perspective (i.e., “nothing I have to deal with today at school is anywhere near as bad as Dad Being Dead, thankyouverymuch”), learning to distrust that other human beings are going to behave themselves cordially, keeping busy and creative by reading and making art and writing and THINKING a lot, listening to music, trying to appear as bland as warm vanilla pudding whenever possible in between one class or the next (in other words, not being the most exciting target), ignoring the assholes whenever possible, being somewhat oblivious because my mind was on other things and I was busy thinking about stuff, pairing up with real friends (safety in numbers), telling assholes to go fuck themselves (without actually saying exactly that) when I couldn’t avoid them, and spending a lot of time near adults (which, as a bonus, is an effective anti-bully forcefield)…that’s how I survived high school.

There are things kids know that parents often forget. You can’t tell anyone or it gets worse. You can’t avoid them, or they notice, and when they find you again, it gets worse. You can’t make friends with other victims, because it gets worse. You shouldn’t be a bully yourself, because then not only do you feel like shit for being picked on, you feel doubly like shit because you are a hypocite and hurting someone else. You know intellectually that the things you are being teased about are not really all that bad, but emotionally it hurts and you would do anything to make the things you are being teased about go away. If you’re fat, you want to take a knife and slice the fat off your body. If you are short, you would gladly hop on a torture rack and have someone stretch you. If you are weak and skinny, you wish you could lift weights until you faint from exhaustion. If you are flat-chested, you struggle with the decision whether or not to pad your bra and feel boyish and childish and unattractive, and if you have big boobs, you pretty much hate life and get really tired of people snapping or undoing your bra strap and being treated like a whore because your hormones kicked into gear early. If you are freckled, you want to put on an inch of pancake makeup. If you have “bad” hair, you want a wig or a perm or a dye job or straightening or extensions or an entirely new hairdo…anything to make it different. If you wear glasses, you want contact lenses, even if they give you a headache. If you have braces, you would rather put up with your crooked teeth, and if you have crooked teeth, you want braces so badly you could just die. If you are pale, you want to be tan and you’ll inevitably show up with orange palms and streaked ankles at one point. If you are dark, you might be desperate enough to buy skin lighteners and peels and risk ruining your face. Everything about you is suddenly not good enough, and yet WHO is telling you this? Who are THEY? How dare they? Seriously. They are stupid kids and you are fine the way you are. Work on what you can and what you want to, and say “fuck it” about the stuff you can’t change.

Look, I have no words of wisdom. I just know that we ask kids to navigate some complex social waters without many useful tools. It was probably a little better pre-Internet and cable TV. True, now you can go online and read that you’re not alone if you are being bullied. That has to help a little bit. On the downside, there is no time off from bullying in the Internet age. Your bullies aren’t restricted to trying to prank call you until your mother gets tired of answering the phone. Now they can call you on your mobile phone or text you, stalk your social media network homepages, make blogs and forums to discuss you (and other people they are bullying), and on and on. I don’t think we older folks realize that as bad as we had it, kids today can’t just go home and be free of the torment for a few hours. There is no downtime. If you are the bullied person, you can’t even be safe from it when you are at home. It gets you through your cell phone, through the Internet, through Skype, when you play a MMORPG…constantly.

Bullying was always bad, but now there is no time off from it. The ways kids torment each other are more nasty. They may have called each other “gay” when I was a kid, but, honestly, I don’t think most of us were fully clear about what that actually MEANT, and I am pretty sure no one actually knew any out-and-proud gay people or had any serious hatred for them. It was just something people said that made other people feel bad. I was never clear why it was such a horrible insult (and am still not clear about that, because there is nothing wrong with being gay). The bullying today is more violent. There are fewer stay-at-home parents around to watch over their kids when they come home from school. Bullies can follow you to your workplace if you have an after-school job. Bullies don’t have to blow up your land line and annoy your parents when they can attack you directly and BYPASS your parents.

Shit’s got to stop.

If I knew how to make it stop, I would. Saying “it gets better,” while that is true, is hollow. Dude, try to stick it out until you can go off to college. I was fucking popular in college and believe me, I would never have expected that and it actually took me three years to clue in that this was what was going on. But, in retrospect, it is true. I had more friends from more varied circles and groups than I had free time to accept invitations to hang out with them. I overheard people saying NICE things about me. I had people know who I was who I had never met. You never know. Maybe it was because I didn’t give a shit about popularity that it happened. But, hey, SHIT GOT BETTER. Try to stick it out until you can go away to college. Tell someone if you are being targeted. Block assholes online and don’t go to their hangouts online to read stupid shit about yourself. You do not want to be friends with people who say shitty things about other people or treat other people badly. You really, really don’t. Because it will eventually be your turn and it sucks. Resolve not to give a good goddamn about some stupid kids who don’t know who you really are inside, and what a good and decent and awesome human being you are. Their values are shitty, they treat people badly, they are acting like assholes and you really do not want anything from them whatsoever.

Keep learning and creating stuff and devoting your energy to getting the fuck out of your home town once you graduate so you can leave all the loser bullies behind. You don’t want to have to have perspective (such as a parent dying) forced upon you, so you’re going to have to find your perspective within yourself and keep an eye on your goals and what you want in life. Find allies, even if (or especially if) they are adults. Do your own thing. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

It gets better, not that this always helps to hear…and you probably think I am full of shit and don’t understand what it is like, but maybe, just maybe, I kinda do.