I don’t just seem like I’m perfect on the internet: Why being a crab in a bucket is really not the way to help your self-esteem

Grumpy Readers,

I am amazing. I truly am.  I have achieved more than I ever could have dreamed of as a child.  I try to make the world a better place.  I am continually living and growing and working and doing what I can to make my utility curve hit my budget constraint, wherever that is at the time.

YOU are amazing too.  I mean, assuming you don’t post racist memes or put kids in cages or donate to anti-LGBT causes because you don’t want people who are different to be happy.  (One would think that would be a pretty low bar, but hey, it’s 2020 and Trump is president.)  But there are other things about you that make you amazing, not just the absence of being a horrible person (horrible people sometimes hate-read, but they don’t tend to stick around, so we’re fairly confident in assuming you’re not one of them– if you are, maybe stop being horrible?).

Think on some of the ways in which you are amazing for a moment, and while you do it, pretend that the patriarchy doesn’t exist so when you start on the, “but..” part after the amazing part just shut that down and end it with a period.  There are so many ways– and they are all valid (unless they include hurting vulnerable people).

There’s research that shows that people are, on average, happier when they’re off Facebook, and that the reason they’re happier is because they’re not comparing themselves to other people as much.  But something hidden in that research is that it’s only true on average, and only true for a certain kind of people.  Some people are VERY affected by comparing themselves to others and some people are not affected at all.  And that difference has to do with personality traits, not things like income or types of friends (probably– there’s still more research to be done in this area).

I strongly believe that this need that some people have to feel better than others, high on the relative scale of worth rather than just high in terms of levels is one of the reasons that we have so many social ills today.  Some people are racist because they want to feel better than a group of people no matter how terrible things are for them.  They are sexist for the same reason.  They want to keep the poor from eating because people not like them are undeserving and shouldn’t eat.  Or from marrying because they themselves are not lgbt.  Or from being included because they consider themselves to be an exclusive sort of prosperity-gospel Christian and others are non-Christian.  From this viewpoint, there’s only so much awesome to go around and they need to keep other people from having it, particularly people who are different.

But that doesn’t have to be how it works.  Awesome grows more awesome.  Making the world a better place creates more benefits for everyone, except people who get off on being bigots.

And you, grumpy readers, are not those people.

You know that if you focus on relative awesomeness there will always be someone who appears to be better in one aspect or another.  That can’t be a healthy measure of one’s own worth.  It’s much better to plant your own garden and focus on your wants and your goals.  The argument that everybody has problems they’re hiding so you should feel good about yourself is a good way to keep people down.  The only way to win that game is to not care if other people don’t have problems, and instead to focus on yourself and make comparisons to yourself.  Learn from other people– don’t pull them down.

Grumpy nation, when someone on the internet or in real life seems pretty awesome, that doesn’t mean they have inner demons or a horrible family life or etc. etc. etc. that they’re just keeping hidden.  Maybe they’re just pretty awesome.  And maybe if you want to be like them, you can learn from what they do.  And if you don’t want to be like them, you can be secure in that choice.  Sometimes people have instagrammable holiday decorations because that’s what they value, and maybe that’s not what you value.

Where people end up is a combination of so many factors– structural advantages, luck, effort, preferences, and so on.  We can work to reduce structural disadvantages.  We can remember the importance of luck.  We can change our effort level, or remember why we don’t actually care enough to do so and be mindful of the things we do care about.  What we don’t need to do is pull someone down because they have something we wish we had.

So I’m not going to say that it only seems like I have a charmed life but in reality there’s things going on behind the scenes… because really there’s not.  Each day I think of my blessings with astonishment.  As a child, I never actually believed my life could be this comfortable.  Or maybe you don’t value the things I value and value other things and that’s fine too (assuming you don’t value bigotry– then that’s not fine)!  Remember that when someone else brings perfect Christmas cookies, you get to eat the cookies without having put forth any effort to make them.  And that’s much better than feeling threatened by someone else’s perfection.

In this New Year, if I have any hopes for the grumpy readership, it is that you will think upon how you can use your awesomeness to make the world a better place.  Because there are people with so many disadvantages who are under attack because bad people feel threatened by them.  We have the privilege and the power to fight.  Let’s make 2020 a year of action.

Happy New Year!

What is at least one way in which are you awesome?  (Warning:  NO but/although/even though/etc. allowed.  Just put a period without a disclaimer.)  What are your hopes for helping the world in this New Year?  What are some suggestions for what we can do?

A few thoughts

You grow up learning about WWII and you wonder what you would have done if you had been in Germany as the Nazis come to power. Especially if you were a white skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed non-Jewish (thus privileged) kid. What would you do to stop the rise to power? What would you do when they started rounding people up and sending them to camps. And later, would you help people escape? Would you flee the country? Would you turn people in? How would you balance fear and your moral compass. Would you break unjust laws? Would you convince yourself that you were just following orders and obeying the law, or would you risk your freedom, your life, your family?

We’re not in the latter stage yet. But we do have concentration camps. The government is rounding up people. The conditions in the camps, even for children, are appalling. What can we do?

Turns out it is hard to do anything.

You try to do more within the system. But it seems like the system doesn’t care. It doesn’t respond.

(So many people give up. They do less. They stop protesting. Things are getting worse, but they don’t realize how much faster things would have gotten worse without those protests, calls, letters, canvassing.)

(note the date on this tweet)

But still, you try to do more within the system. It still seems like the system doesn’t care. It still seems like doesn’t respond to your individual efforts. It only responds to group efforts.

You can’t ignore injustices. You can’t ignore atrocities. Because if you ignore things, if you don’t do things, there is no group.

But it’s not just you. Each person does their bit. It’s the group effort that makes things happen.

You can’t do it alone, but if enough people do it alone, you have a group.

And if the group is large enough, it can’t be ignored.

Do something to fight US concentration camps — make it so we can’t be ignored.

Children’s lives and well-being depend on us speaking out and doing something.

Call (or fax)

Donate

Shame

Protest

Ask the grumpies: Where to find hope

Leah asks:

How do you find hope in the world? In general, I suppose, and also specifically right now.

I am finding hope in the state of Texas, of all places.  Beto didn’t win, but his coattails caused enough of a change in the state legislature that the bathroom bill didn’t get discussed much less voted on (last legislature it almost passed), they didn’t vote on a draconian heartbeat bill punishing women unlike the rest of the south and much of the Midwest, and although an anti-voter bill (SB9) passed the senate it died in calendars in the house.  Activism– all those people campaigning for Beto– caused change.  That gives me hope that the more we do, the more we fight evil, the more terrible policies we will keep from happening.  In places that are already limiting the right to vote, those of us with privilege need to fight with and for those without.

I also find hope in how (relatively) quickly the perception of LGBTQ people is changing for the better, and how there are more and more LGBT rights are being legislated, and are being discussed as obvious.  Matt Baume is a source of joy and inspiration.  What he reports on is not always happy (see:  military bans), but he does a great job of providing historical context and hope for the future… along with a nice dose of humor.  (I am enjoying his book on the road to LGBTQ marriage, Defining Marriage.)

I find hope that the majority of people still believe that women should have the right do control their own bodies and that we should not treat minorities poorly because of the color of their skin of their ancestry.  (In fact, being “pro-life” aka forced birth right now is not something people want to admit in polite company.  They frown at us as we protest, but they don’t say anything.)  We still want to be good people.  We still want to do the right thing.  Even in the face of Bond villains.  And yes, in the short term it’s not been enough, but without the resistance things would have been far worse– they’ve tried to make things much worse and had to back-off.

I find hope and inspiration in Wandering Scientist’s weekly actions.  And in swingleft and indivisible and racies texas and the ACLU.  And the spirit of the resistance.  The ability to slog through even when things seem to be getting worse.

Doctors without borders recently sent me a totebag and a note that I should be finding hope in how much better the developing world is getting in terms of disease, which is true and is something that John Green finds hope in.  I still did not send them money because any nonprofit that wastes money sending me a totebag unasked for is not one I want to encourage. (John Green also finds hope in third tier English soccer, which… me not so much.)

So, although it is trite, I find hope in actions and in the actions of others.  Viva la resistance.  (*French —> Spanish intentional.)

Where do you find hope?

I need an Activism Pep-Talk

It is really hard staying active for longer than two years.  Especially after working overtime and way out of (my) one’s comfort zone prior to an election.  Last year from January to the end of December I gave myself a rule that I would do one political action every day and if I didn’t make a phone call or write a letter or campaign or register people to vote or protest, I would donate $25 to a political cause.  This past semester I was overloaded with service and behind on research and teaching a prep I hadn’t taught in a decade and I gave myself a break.  I was tired and everything was so overwhelming.  I didn’t stop completely– I probably averaged one action a week, give or take.  But it’s been hard.

I’m not the only one, I know.  My regular twitter feeds have toned down the encouragement to protest (wandsci a notable exception!). Our local indivisible group has dissolved. My activism page is out of date.

My favorite actions newsletter stopped sometime last winter.  I haven’t found one that I like as much.  I could just go to 5calls everyday but it’s challenging to remember to do that and to get up the energy to do it.

There’s just fewer nudges in my life and less stuff making it easy to just do something.  It’s hard to get up the willpower to get over the bigger hurdles.

But it is important that we not give up.  This is a pivotal time in history.  We are in a constitutional crisis with the executive branch denying the congressional branch its powers and the senate refusing to step up to try to enforce them.  Record numbers of truly evil people who do not believe in the personhood of women or minorities are getting confirmed as judges, meaning that we will not be able to trust our judicial system to save us.  Voting rights are being stripped.  Children are dying.  States are positioning themselves to overturn Roe vs. Wade with some of the most restrictive anti-woman legislation in half a century.  We Cannot Give Up.  We Must Fight.

We need to put pressure on our elected officials at all levels.   Locally.  At the state level.  At the federal level.  We cannot let things stand.

Whenever we get complacent, they take more of our rights away.  They try more things.  When we fight back, they ease off.

So, summer is starting.  It’s time to devote some time to activism again.  This summer, starting today, I am going to try to go back to doing something every weekday, whether it be a call to my state legislators or my members of congress or writing postcards to voters or donating to Raices Texas where they’re working diligently to keep families from separation or swingleft or indivisible to take the senate and the presidency in the next election or organizations that help keep people being allowed to vote like fair fight in Georgia where a stolen election emboldened the Republican party to criminalize a woman’s right to her own body.  I don’t think a person needs to do something every day, but I find it easier to do a little bit every day rather than doing a bunch all at once.  My DH would do his actions early in the week to get them over with, back when we were getting a weekly newsletter.

I need help.  I need to feel like I’m not alone.

Help me.

What can we do?  What do you do?  What works for you?  How can we move forward and fight?  Is anyone else trying to be politically active this summer? 

Ask the grumpies: how to prevent the Earth from dying

omdg asks:

Is the earth dying? What’s the best way to prevent this from happening?

The BEST way to protect the environment is to get governments to legislate governmental protection.   Companies need to be competing on an even playing field in which they all have to be good stewards of the environment.  Otherwise firms have an incentive to cut corners in the interest of profit maximization.  Government regulation can take away the ability to cut corners.

All the little environmentally friendly things you can do (reduce/reuse/recycle) are great, but they alone are not enough.  Voting and contacting your legislators to support climate-friendly initiatives are really the only way to make big dents.  Think of it as the latte factor vs. large fixed expenses– the stuff we do individually is like cutting out your latte factor, but the stuff big organizations do makes a bigger difference faster.

Here’s a good article from business insider that breaks down the benefits by thing we can do.

In terms of “is the earth dying”… no, but we are having a mass extinction.  The more immediate problem is that climate change is moving climate around bringing drought and floods where there were none.  This will increase costs and cause mass migrations which will cause political/social/etc. problems like, I dunno, war, famine, death… standard apocalypse stuff.

So yeah, if this is something you care about (and we all should), make sure you vote for science believers, and keep contacting your elected officials on the topic.  They won’t know it’s important if we don’t tell them.

Ask the grumpies: Do you know anything about where your political donations go?

rose asks:

How is money raised by political campaign’s spent? Why does Congressperson in state A ask for donations for someone in State B? Are they buying power like corporate lobbyists? How can you tell if contribution money is going for family-hire-salaries or to pay off people who are claiming sexual assault/harassment? Why can a judge/congressperson pay off such claims with taxpayer money? How much of ‘Swing Left’ type organization’ money goes to overhead and how much to campaigns? How can a person judge which organization is the best impact for the dollar to contribute to? Are any organizations looking at this?

We really don’t know.  If it were a charity, you would have charitynavigator.  Back in the day there used to be a lot more regulations for things like PACs, but now the regulations are laughable.  Still, it turns out there is a nonprofit that tracks what is trackable if you know what to look for and how to analyze it.

Here’s the open secrets website from the Center for Responsive Politics.  You can search Swingleft within it and it will give you spreadsheets and stuff.  (Look, Paul Graham donated 250K)

There’s no ratings, but you can get the raw numbers.

Other than that, we have no idea.

My family and WWII

Nazis suck.

My father was a child in one of the countries the Nazis trampled.  He doesn’t talk about it.  He still has an odd fascination with fire that shows itself with birthday cake candles.  And he’s 5’2″ because although he never went hungry, he didn’t get a lot of nutrition either.  His mother and siblings moved to the US after the war.

I found out recently that although my bonmama was Catholic (along with most of my family on both sides), her father was Jewish.  Her husband (I’m not clear if this would be my grandfather or my step-grandfather) moved to Argentina with his mistress after the war (taking all the money, and triggering Bonmama and her children’s migration), and it is thought that he was a Nazi sympathizer.  Funny what one learns when Nazis are in the news again.

My mother’s mother joined the war effort as a nurse.  At her (Catholic, military) funeral, this time period featured prominently as the most important time in her life.  She rose up the ranks in the air force to become a Captain.  When she taught me how to knit, she gifted me with the knitting needles she’d used to while away the time flying towards a battlefield.  On the way back, the needles would be put away while they tended the wounded.

She met my grandfather during the war.  He wasn’t an enlisted man.  I’m not sure why not– whether it was preference or a medical condition.  He was a counselor for the American Red Cross.  While my grandmother treated the physical consequences of war, he treated the mental and emotional consequences.

My maternal grandparents’ commitment to public service filtered down to most of their children (I guess technically my horrible Trump-loving uncle is a forest ranger).  My uncles are veterans, one aunt is a federal judge, the other is a nurse practitioner who ran a hospital system.  My mom, the professor, was elected to our local school board for several terms.

We can’t let Nazi values of hatred and fascism take hold in the US.  We need to honor the ideals of this country that fought against evil in the second WW.  It is true that our own history is full of horrors like slavery and internment and xenophobia.  But we can’t let those forces win.  We must keep fighting.  Concentration camps didn’t start killing people overnight.  Germany didn’t start out evil.  We cannot tolerate injustice.  Keep calling your representatives.  Keep protesting.  Keep recruiting people to vote and donating and encouraging campaigns.  It’s a long slog to freedom.  But the alternative is something our grandparents lived.  They fought with their lives.  We should fight with our time and money and words so that we don’t have to get to that point.

What did your family do in WWII?  How was your family changed by it?