Pfft… whatever!

I had a kind of epiphany yesterday.

Sometimes, when I instruct barristers as part of my job, they will critique some aspect of my work in a very rude way (and often when they are wrong in law anyway).  I also have some cliquey colleagues who are needlessly hard on the social errors of others, e.g. snapping at you for interrupting their conversation even if you didn’t realise they were talking.  Instances of both happened on Friday.

What topped it off for me was the following: I overheard that my colleague, a PA, was stressing out because one of the partners had asked her for some lecture slides on committal applications.  I let her know that, while I didn’t have slides, I did have a word handout from a talk I had given on it before, if that was any good.  She forwarded that to the partner, explaining that it was from me.  He thanked HER and then later asked me if I had “had any luck” finding an example of a committal application he could use (he had never actually asked me).

There are some points you reach where you’ve just got to laugh.  A sense of humour is sometimes the only way you can keep yourself sane.  It also provides that cathartic Holy Grail of being able to let go of legitimate anger without feeling like you have been left without vindication.  You just have to think “pfft… whatever man” and then go to the pub.

I often hear my aforementioned colleagues complaining that they are hard done by, e.g. because they have to work over their contracted hours in order to meet billing targets or because they have to respond to a client to keep them happy at an inconvenient moment.  I sympathise with both of these points… but I also see it from the management’s perspective.  They are under pressure themselves to keep the clients happy.  If you’re not prepared to drop everything to help solve their problem, or to work late to make sure they get their application into court the next day, the client will find a firm who will and they won’t come back.  That’s the commercial reality that never really goes away.  And ultimately, if you’ll excuse the management-speak cliche, you have to be your own brand – if you want promotions, if you want more responsibility, if you want bonuses, you need to think of yourself as a self-contained business, whatever your working arrangements may be on paper.  My rule of thumb is that I don’t mind giving 110% for my boss or my colleagues as long as I know we are genuinely on the same side; that’s how teams achieve great results.  And if you think you’re entitled to a bonus without doing extra work (which is one complaint I heard from them) then you’re barking mad.

Dare I say… perhaps they could take a leaf out of my book here.  Perhaps they could learn to laugh off the things that annoy them.

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Is too much logic a bad thing?

NOTE: this was supposed to be my first post on this blog and for some reason I never got round to clicking “publish”.  It doesn’t necessarily reflect my current point of view.

For my first post, I felt I would comment on something that I have been wrangling with recently.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s earlier this year.  However, I have always felt that there was something “different” about how I saw the world.

In Star Trek, the Vulcan race (in particular, the famous Spock character) was introduced in order to provide a purely logical outsider’s perspective on human customs.  Aspies like myself often describe feeling this way, hence the well-known autism website wrongplanet.net.

The point is that we are often told that we lack social skills, which is attributed to a purported lack of empathy.  However, I really don’t think it’s that simple.  The way I see it, the social skills and customs with which we are expected to familiarise ourselves mainly fall into two categories, one of which is reasonable, and one of which plainly isn’t.

The first category is what we might call basic human decency, at least at a simple level, and we are right to be proactive in improving our skills in this area.  For example:

  • Don’t perform unhygienic acts, like picking your nose or farting, when people are trying to eat.
  • Don’t ramble on ad nauseum about topics that people aren’t interested in.  You should make them feel included in the conversation.  Apparently monologues are a common problem for aspies (maybe this blog is just my way of getting that out of my system!)
  • Try to be organised (many aspies have problems with executive functioning) because other people may be relying on you, and they would be upset if you let them down.

This first category is something I can get my head around and strive to improve upon.  While I do find it difficult at times, I have made great strides over the last ten years or so.  I can see the logic behind them.  They are rooted in the concept of consideration for others, even if only at a very basic level.  I am fortunate enough to have a large group of good friends, and I think the general consensus among them is that my heart is usually in the right place, even if I occasionally lack polish.

However, the second category really bugs me.  This is where people expect you to go along with certain customs just for the sake of it, no matter how unreasonable they are.  It seems to me that it is nothing more than arrogance, closed-mindedness and stupidity cloaked in the euphemistic label of “social skills” in order to make you feel like you are the one with the problem.

For example, when it comes to “rambling on” about topics that others are not interested in as per the list above, many people seem to think it is more socially acceptable to do this if you have “cool” hobbies and interests, such as football, whereas “geeky” interests are “obsessions” that should be reined in.

Another example is dating.  It is an absolute minefield of social conventions and trip hazards that defy our alien logic.  Matthew Rozsa has written a great article about the issue here.  Building on what Mr Rozsa said, I would add that the only way these conventions begin to make sense is if you assume a priori that traditional gender roles – you know, the ones we are all supposed to denounce now – are valid.  Why else should the guy always make the first move, always take the lead in decision-making, or always pay for dates.  As it happens, I am a naturally decisive and assertive person anyway, but there have been occasions when I have missed the mark by failing to do something men are “supposed” to do, like pick up the tab for the meal.

Then there is the fact that “normal” people do all kinds of stupid crap and act like mindless sheep a lot of the time.  They stand around aimlessly at zebra crossings because they all assume that someone else will press the magic button to change the traffic lights so that they can cross.  They waste money on material possessions, not because they truly want those possessions for their intrinsic value, but because they want to keep up with the Joneses – even forgoing basic necessities of life in order to do so.  I remember reading in a book by Steven Pinker (one of my favourite authors) that, in crisis situations, most people don’t panic like they do in films – they basically stand around going “derpa derp” and assume that someone else will make a decision.  Really?  These are the people us aspies are supposed to emulate in the name of “improving our social skills”?  I’d rather be a bit of a freak, frankly.

I think the reason why these rituals are dubbed “social skills” by the elite is merely that they correspond with neurotypical thinkers’ emotional instincts – instincts that we do not have, or do not have to the same degree.  So neurotypicals instinctively “get” these things, even though we do not, and even though they cannot fully explain them using logic.

So perhaps, in a sense, being an aspy can be somewhat liberating.  You can also be an asset to others in society by being the child in the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes – your naivete is such that you are the only one with the balls to speak the plain truth, and some will thank you for it later.  Some, however, will not take so kindly to that.

So today’s question for discussion is this: is too much logic a bad thing?  Should we learn to just turn our brains off for the sake of an easy life?

Defeat

Today I broke up with my girlfriend.  And I made a further decision: the time has finally come for me to throw in the towel when it comes to dating.

I feel like I have been walking on a path with no signposts trying to get to the promised land: a relationship with no bullshit.  On the left hand side of the path are the commitment-phobic girls who are paranoid because their ex-boyfriends were horrible to them and as such they want to umm and ahh forever about being your girlfriend (or at least “labelling” themselves as such).  On the right hand side of the path are the insecure girls who are paranoid that you will leave them and/or cheat on them based on their own bad experiences.  And now, the sun is beginning to set and my legs are tired.

I’ve written about the commitmentphobes before.  But now I want to rant about the insecure ones.

If you go out with an insecure person, at first their paranoia and insecurity feels like a compliment in a way; at least they are interested, right?  But after a while, it starts to get ridiculous.  You begin to feel suffocated.  You feel like everything you do will be taken as proof of a lack of interest (or, worse, proof that your interests lie elsewhere).  They insist on making demands at the most inopportune moments they can possibly think of and they push and push and push until you get angry, then they complain that you are angry.

In the interests of cutting the length of this post down slightly, the girl I broke up with today started by complaining that, when she, for example, came back to me from the toilet, she often saw me texting and then putting my phone away when she arrived, which made me feel like I was hiding something from her i.e. other girls I was dating and/or flirting with.  I explained that I was just messaging friends or scrolling through Facebook or browsing the internet, and that the reason I put my phone away when she returned was simply that I thought it was rude to sit there texting other people in front of her.

At first I was patient with this girl.  At least she was interested.  Perhaps she had been let down in the past.  Sure, I had also been let down in the past and I wasn’t doing this to her… but OK.  But then she wouldn’t stop.

She complained that I didn’t reply to her WhatsApp messages quickly enough, even though I had explained to her that I was on the phone to my mum at the time so of course I couldn’t see her messages, let alone reply to them.  Then she complained because I couldn’t ring her just for a chat right in the middle of a rock concert that I had bought tickets for months ago.  Then she complained that I didn’t ring or text her after the concert even though I explained that my phone battery was dead and I hadn’t got in until 1:45 the next morning.  Then she complained that I didn’t want to have sex as much as she did even though I had the flu, I was coughing and sneezing constantly, I could barely get a sentence out without spluttering, my throat was sore and I felt physically weak.

Without wanting to give too much information, just think about that for a second.  Imagine if the situation were reversed and I were the one complaining that my girlfriend wouldn’t give me sex on demand.  Wouldn’t I be the asshole in that scenario?

The real biscuit was taken when I stayed at her place last night.  For context, I should point out that this girl shares a room with her mum and this room therefore has two separate single beds with a chest of drawers in between rather than one double bed.  When the time came for us to actually go to sleep, we slept in separate beds for reasons of space and we would then resume hugging the next morning.

On this occasion we had been out to a taverna.  The food was delicious and we had had a great time.  However, we were both absolutely stuffed and both of us (apparently) wanted to just go to bed.  So after a nice chat we finally went to sleep in separate beds as per the usual arrangement.

I was dreaming at about 4:00am when I was woken up by my (then) girlfriend tugging at the duvet.  She said she couldn’t sleep so she wanted to sleep (which I took to mean actually sleep) with me.  I made some space and put my arm around her, then I went back to sleep.  She asked me if I was really going to sleep and I said yes.  Then she got up and went to the other bed.

What then ensued was what looked like that ancient computer game “Pong” as my girlfriend kept going back and forth between my bed and the other bed and asking me if I was really sleeping.  She said she thought I didn’t want her in my bed.  I said that I did, and she said “but you didn’t kiss me”.  I said that it was gone 4:00am and I was trying to sleep, that was all.  Then she complained that she thought I didn’t want her there because of my body language (again, even though I was  simply trying to sleep and so there was no “body language” to read into).

This went on for a couple of hours, and then she started having a go at me and complaining about all sorts of things: that she had caught me texting earlier (I had been texting a group of male friends about Warhammer while she was in the toilet); that I had said earlier that day that I didn’t want to move in with her (even though that wasn’t what I had said, I had simply said “maybe down the line”, which I felt was appropriate given that we had only been going out for a month); that we hadn’t had sex the previous weekend (even though (1) we had and (2) I had the flu that weekend); that I hadn’t had sex with her that night (even though she was on her period); and that I wasn’t kissing her and she shouldn’t have to beg for it (again disregarding the fact that she had woken me up at 4:00am).

At this point it was 6:30am so I started getting dressed and said that I was just going to go, to which my girlfriend responded that, if I did, that would be the end.  I calmed down and went back to sleep on my own.

I eventually woke up again at about 11:00am, though I was still sleepy.  To try and build bridges, I moved over to her bed and put my arm around her, though I still tried to sleep.  Again, she started pressuring me to kiss her, and when I wouldn’t, she complained that she shouldn’t have to beg for her boyfriend to kiss her.

At this point, enough was enough.  I said I was going to go home and I needed some time to think.  She said we were just going to break up now because I wouldn’t kiss her and that I was being “rude”.  I told her I was not being rude but she was acting like I was her slave and I had to just give her whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it otherwise I was a bad boyfriend.  Then she accused me of raising my voice and refused to discuss it further, so I left.

This girl was just determined to test me by pushing my boundaries to see what she could get away with.  She would push and push and push until I lost my temper and then start playing the victim.  I’m sorry if she has had a bad past, but that’s not my fault and she shouldn’t take it out on me.  I’ve been mistreated in the past and I don’t test people like that.

But there is one positive to take away from this.  If this really is the way it is with relationships and I really can’t expect a level-headed girlfriend then I can finally state that I really am happy (or, at least, as happy as I realistically can be) single.  Dealing with all the bullshit head games is just not a price I’m prepared to pay anymore.  So I give up, world.  You win.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Once, I was watching Jerry Springer on TV.  The episode was about mixed-race couples and the hostility with which their families reacted to their relationships.

At one point a black man was sitting at the front with his white girlfriend and members of her family.  The audience booed and hissed at them for their obviously racist attitude.  But then, the girl’s father delivered what he believed to be the moral debate equivalent of Scorpion’s skeleton removal fatality in Mortal Kombat:

“Ah…” he said, the smugness lighting up his face.  “But what about about when they have children?”
Erm… what about when they have children?

The white girl’s father clearly assumed that the members of the audience would share his disgust at the prospect of a mixed-race child and that they must have just failed to consider such an obvious problem.  It was as if he thought they would all scratch their chins, look quizzically at the ceiling and say “hmm, that is such a rational retort, I just never looked at it that way before!”

Similarly, there has been a lot of focus over the past ten years on immigration and how it’s not fair to accuse people of being racist just because they have concerns about immigration.  I agree with this point in principle, but I also find that many people who make this argument really are racist and just want to be told their shit doesn’t stink.   One example of an “obvious” problem with immigration is “sometimes I get on the bus and I hear people speaking in foreign languages and it makes me uncomfortable. If people are in England they should speak in English.”  Erm… why?  Again, they are assuming that you would feel uncomfortable if you were in their shoes, and actually, no, you wouldn’t.

This kind of thinking is not confined to the right wing.  I recently lost a friend over a Facebook debate in which I did not agree with her assertion that page 3 pictures influence sexual harassment and violence against women, and I thought the studies she cited in support of her claim were drenched in confirmation bias.  To her, it was simply obvious that the causal link was there.  If I didn’t agree that page 3 caused aggression towards women then that automatically meant that I approved of aggression towards women.  Disagreement was tantamount to misogyny.  How dare I ask for actual evidence?

Many people believe there is no such thing as objective morality (at least not without religion).  I’m not sure I agree with that.  In my view a lot of widely held stances on moral issues are so held merely because people have strong emotional reactions and they simply expect others to “respect their opinion.”  Racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry would all suffer crippling defeats if we didn’t think we had to respect everyone’s opinion no matter what.  If you can’t back your opinion up using logic then you are simply wrong, whether you acknowledge it or not.  And even if you think it’s “obvious”.

The Ceiling (Part 2)

So we know that people aren’t 100% amenable to reason.  The question then becomes “how do we deal with that?”.

The question arises when we feel hard done by and someone plays the “feelings” card.  For example, I have found that, if someone is not attracted to me, then they are not attracted to me, and no amount of trying to persuade them otherwise will work.  The most I would gain from such an attempt would be to make them feel guilty about their feelings so that they went out with me because they felt bad.

But I don’t want to have to do that.  I don’t want to be manipulative.  I want someone – be they a friend or a lover – to see me because they want to see me.  If meeting up with me is a chore that they want to get out of then I’d rather they didn’t bother.  It sucks, but it’s the lesser of two evils.

Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that we are always reasonable, it’s a hard fact of life that some people in this world literally do not care about whether they have treated you fairly and they may not suffer any consequences for their actions.  If you’re not religious and you don’t believe in karma then you can’t take comfort in faith that everything will work out in the end.  So to what – or whom – do you turn?

One alternative is stoic philosophy.  This was invented by the Greeks and adopted (and adapted) by the Romans.  I won’t pretend to be well-versed in the literature – almost all I know about it is from an episode of the Art of Manliness podcast that featured a stoic philosopher as a guest.  There are obviously different schools of thought within it (particularly in terms of Greek vs Roman) but the core guiding principle is that you shouldn’t waste time and energy getting in a flap about things you can’t control and you should instead focus your attention on appreciation of what you have and what you can control.  I’ve come across this point many times before, though not under the label of stoicism per se.

Think about the sorority group from the Boston Legal episode I referred to in my previous post.  Suppose you had been the girl who wasn’t allowed to join because she wasn’t good looking enough.  Would you really want to associate with these people anyway after that experience?  What would you think they had to offer you?  Wouldn’t you be like a black person getting upset that you couldn’t join a white supremacist group?

I’ve been trying to adopt a more stoic attitude to life recently and I’d say it’s helping to a point.  I’ve been forcing myself to go to the gym in an attempt to focus my mind towards something positive rather than bemoaning the past injustices that I haven’t been able to solve or the difficulties I face in the present (such as my isolation in Winchester and lack of realistic prospects of a love life).  As a result, my lifts have been going up, I’ve (generally) been in better shape and maybe that will eventually lead to improved prospects on the dating scene.

The hardest part, for me, is trying to suppress that desire to see a light at the end of the tunnel rather than merely learn to live with my current situation.  To convince myself to be ambivalent about whether or not I ever end up settling down with someone.  To accept that friendship may be the most I can ever aspire to.

The Ceiling (Part 1)

Imagine if I told you that I felt uncomfortable seeing gay people holding hands in public, or sitting next to black people on the bus.  I’m pretty sure you’d condemn me as a bigot.  I’m also pretty sure that you wouldn’t let me off the hook if I told you that these were my feelings and that you had to have respect for my feelings regardless of whether you agreed with them.

Let’s look at another example.

If you go on dating forums, a common topic that comes up is the topic of “Nice Guys Finish Last”, i.e. the idea that being nice to a woman is counterproductive and results in you being seen as a “beta male” friend who she will use as a shoulder to cry on while she shags the “bad boy” types.  The usual counter-argument is that individual women like what they like and it’s ultimately their choice who they go out with, so insisting that they should go out with you because you were nice to them just makes you entitled and controlling.  The “Nice Guy” in this scenario is then demonised as a snake who is merely pretending to be nice to get into the girl’s knickers and thus betraying her trust by merely posing as a friend.

While I don’t fully agree with the “Nice Guys Finish Last” position, I often retort that this is an unfair criticism because you don’t know that he was being nice just to get into her knickers (as distinct from actually wanting a relationship) and you are penalising guys for actually trying to get to know someone’s personality first, but at this point I am usually told “yeah, well, I find it snakey and that’s just how I feel!  You can’t tell me what to think!”.

Let’s look at a third (and final) example.

There is a (biologically) male Youtuber called Riley Dennis who identifies as a lesbian woman and dates – and has sex with – (biological) women.  He posted a controversial video a while back in which he claimed that people who would refuse to date a trans-person on the grounds that they were trans were being bigoted (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2X-PgHSZh6U).  The reaction from the anti-SJW channels was predictable: people like what they like and they can’t help it.  I would go a step further and argue that calling someone bigoted for not wanting to go out with someone they’re not instinctively attracted to is the “Nice Guy” argument with a different spin on it.  If I’m bigoted for not wanting to date a trans person, any woman I’m attracted to is bigoted if she doesn’t want to date me – even if she’s a lesbian!

There are a couple of points I’m driving at here.  The first is that there seems to be a limit to how much we humans will allow ourselves to be swayed by logic.  The second is that the selection of topics in which we will allow instinct and emotion to trump logic and fairness appears to be arbitrary.  If a girl can turn a perfectly decent guy down just because she doesn’t feel attracted to him, and he has no right to complain about that or to criticise her for that decision, then what’s wrong with my feeling uncomfortable sitting next to a black person on the bus?  This has always been my gripe with the concepts of “social skills” and “emotional intelligence”.

There was a great episode of Boston Legal about this.  This show is clearly not a realistic portrayal of how litigation works, but it does touch on certain topics in an illuminating way.  In this episode, a university student was denied entry to a particular sorority group because she wasn’t good looking enough in their eyes.  So she sued them for unfair discrimination.  The issue was framed as one of fairness vs freedom.  In his closing speech, Jerry Espensen – the lawyer representing  the sorority group, and himself a victim of bullying due to his Asperger’s – summed up with “that’s life.”

My mind honestly isn’t made up here.  Just food for thought.

 

Shock Horror

I am about to write something I thought I would never write: a post defending President Trump.

Trump has come in for a lot of stick lately (even more than usual) over his response to political violence that took place in Charlottesville recently.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, the violence was the result of a clash between protesters and counter-protesters regarding proposals to pull down a statue of some American civil war general from the Confederate side (I believe it was Robert E. Lee off the top of my head, but I could be wrong) on the basis that the Confederacy fought to maintain slavery.

Trump’s alleged transgression was in failing to lay the blame for this violence solely at the feet of the racist and neo-Nazi protesters in attendance – instead accusing “both sides” of violence.  When he condemned racism as “evil” 48 hours later, it was seen as a laughable attempt at damage control – too little, too late.

Here’s the interesting part: as far as I’m aware, the charge levelled at Trump is not that he was factually wrong in asserting that both sides were violent, and nor is it that the far-right side “started it”.  Rather, he is criticised for (apparently) failing to differentiate between neo-Nazis on the one hand and those who oppose them on the other.  I find this curious because you would think that people who wanted to criticise the far-right and/or Trump would want to portray the far-right protesters as the only violent side, or at least as the aggressors, if they were able to.

Think about that for a minute.  The implication here is that the far-right protesters simply deserved what they got because the beliefs they were propagating were beyond the pale.  The mere fact of their attendance and promotion of these views was tantamount to violence.

There is a debate to be had over whether or not people with racist and/or genocidal views should be allowed to organise and/or promote those views in public.  Some would argue that their views are so repugnant – and dangerous, if taken seriously by the unwashed masses – that they have to be regarded as exceptions to the general rules in favour of free speech and assembly.  Neo-Nazis and their ilk are the classic test case for this debate.

Be that as it may, the plain fact of the matter is that, in the USA, they ARE entitled to free speech and they ARE allowed to gather and organise.  These are their constitutional rights.  It’s not for some lynch mob (yes I’m aware of what lynch mobs originally were) to decide otherwise.  What matters here is solely how the violence unfolded.

And you do you want to know something else?  I’m not convinced by the argument that the far-right protesters’ views were too dangerous to benefit from free speech protection.  If they are, then so are views espoused by groups like Black Lives Matter e.g. “#killallwhitepeople” or “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon”.  One day, maybe YOUR views will be deemed beyond the pale.

So, unless someone can show me that the violence was truly one-sided, or that it was at least instigated by the far-right protesters, I’m afraid I have to stand with Trump on this one.

God, I love having an anonymous blog sometimes.