Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Excommunication of Ayla Stewart

Several religious organizations have officially condemned the violence, and the white national activity, that occurred this last weekend in Charlottesville Virginia. It is much more important that religious groups do this than atheists. Many of the white nationalists espoused their moral superiority (given to them by a Christian God) as part of their motivation to travel long distances to be violent in Charlottesville Virginia.  I suspect very few Atheists were amongst them; though I’m sure there were some. The Mormon, or LDS, church here in Utah issued two statements, and these have filled the press and airwaves; I’ve heard the statements repeatedly quoted on the local NPR station during my commute to and from work. The statements ring hollow in light of the way the LDS Church silently accepts active white nationalist Mormons; not to mention the very vocal way the Mormons repeatedly came down on the wrong side of race history.
“Church members who promote or pursue a ‘white culture’ or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.” – Official statement by Mormon Church issued on 15 August 2017

One of the speakers at the “UNITE THE RIGHT” rally in Charlottesville was one Ayla Stewart. She blogs and vlogs as “wife with a purpose” and “Nordic Sunrise” from deep in the heart of Mormon ideology . Over the past few years her followers have grown until they now number over thirty thousand (according to numbers given for her Twitter followers), and she is considered an important voice in the Mormon Alt-Right movement.
“My church just declared that I, as a white person, have no culture.” -- @apurposefulwife tweeting in response to Mormon Church’s 15 August official statement

Loosely corresponding with Ayla’s rise is the Utah Valley-based Utah Vanguard group. This group is identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is a full-on white nationalist-supremacist-neo-Nazi group. It recently put up posters on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City that promoted things like “controlling the Blacks” to reduce crime. I’ve asked AYD to get me pictures , or copies, of the posters if she sees them (classes start in a few days), but so far they have been taken down so fast that neither of us have met anyone who has actually seen one. Vanguard regularly retweets content from @apurposefulwife (aka Ayla Stewart).

I don’t spend a lot of time perusing what white nationalist groups have to say. I know it is important to understand the dark parts of my culture, but there are only so many hours in the day, and there are so many things more worthwhile than neo-Nazi crap; like internet kittens for instance. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that in a post about neo-Nazi crap, but I wanted to explain how it took me a little while to realize that an awkward symbol I kept seeing (on shields in Charlottesville, on flags, on the Vanguard websites…) was the very item from which Fascism got its name.


A “fasces” (fascis in Latin) is a bundle of sticks. As a symbol it is often shown as a bound bundle of rods with an axe attached to or bundled inside it. The idea is that a single stick is weak, but a bundle is strong. I once was treated to a demonstration by a job candidate who brought popsicle sticks to the interview to demonstrate this effect as a metaphor for his team-building management philosophy. He gave everyone a stick and we easily broke them, then he taped a dozen together and had each of us try to break it; I thought the demonstration was cute, even if it was contrived. This is an important engineering principle, and why plywood and OSB are so strong. This fascis symbol for “stronger united” was the symbol, and the origin of the name, for Mussolini’s political party (Partito Nazionale Fascista), and because of this eventually gave rise to the term “Fascist” that we are all familiar with. You can see the symbol accidentally used in a lot of places, like on the back of older dimes. However, these white nationalists are using it in order to advertise the fact that they identify as Fascists. It essentially means the same thing as a swastika to them, and that is why they use it.


Right now the Vanguard Utah neo-fascist group is the only hate group of its kind recognized in Utah. However, the interwebs suggest that it may only be a manifestation of mainstreaming Mormon white nationalist tendencies. The fantasy that the LDS church abruptly changes its stance on an issue like divine racial inequality and all Mormons change their beliefs is not evident in the openly racist flushing through the great pipes of the internets.
“Every nation is the gathering place for its own people. The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerien Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea and so forth” -- quote from LDS authority Russell M. Nelson that is used by white nationalists

Many radical religious activities coming out of Utah are part of this hate-web. In one Twitter conversation @purposefulwife presents to @gr8walloftrump (DeseretNnationalist) a list of 16 “core Alt right philosophy” points collected last August by Vox Day (he ironically has translated the list into several languages). Point 11 states that: “The Alt Right understands that diversity + proximity = war”. My readers should remember Vox Day from his activity undermining the Hugo awards in 2015. He succeeded in filling the Hugo ballots with his super-theist authors; many of whom were published by his Castalia House publishing operations. The Hugo attacks were part inexpensive marketing ploy by a small publisher and part theistic crusade. I reviewed many of the works that made it onto the ballots that year, and they were almost all too awful to be simply called unfortunate. Day collaborated with a couple Utah people on the Hugo attacks.

Day was one of the rabidly right-wing “GamerGate” fanatics who used his considerable right-wing media backing (much of which undoubtedly came from family connections) to ride the anti-feminist GamerGate flame wars into a more public spotlight. I don’t really understand GamerGate, and that might be due in part to just how infantile the whole thing sounds whenever I try to read about it. However, there are aspects of this white nationalist Mormon group that still cling to a GamerGate “gg” identification, and rehash it when not supporting their holdover racist Mormon ideology.
“The church is in apostasy when it contradicts the words of Prophet Joseph Smith who revealed we are form the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh” – Tweet from @comissarofgg )Commissar of GamerGate) to @purposefulwife and @EscapeVelo (EscapeVelocity)

If “the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh” sound like code to you then you have a reasonably good idea of what is going on in the above quote. Code is just one of the many apologist tools the white nationalist Mormons use to obfuscate their interests. They often use ever-popular-with-apologists of wishy washy morally relativistic false equivalencies. Each time they praise a racist or retweet a racist meme or saying they will categorically state that they are not racists; in fact, they will often point out, those people calling others racist are the real racists. This kind of purulent crap is intrinsically disingenuous and dishonest, and I don’t care if they have repeated it in the mirror till they believe it by rote.
“I don't consider myself a racist, I don't hate other peoples” -- David Duke podcast 25 August 2006

I have been amazed by the train wreck that has been the POTUS (President of the United States) responses to the white nationalist activities in Charlottesville Virginia, and I am not alone. I thought it was more than enough to be introduced to new terms like “neo-confederate” while watching clips of young white men bathed in the warm glow of torches chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us”. Then, in a stunning example of apologetic moral relativism, the POTUS equated the level of blame for each side in this weekend’s Charlottesville violence. He also pointed out that there were some “Very Fine People” who were there for a good purpose, and that the “alt-left” came ready for violence. I think he is honestly saying that things would have been fine if people hadn’t interfered with the objectives of the white nationals.
"I think there's blame on both sides. I don't have any doubt about it and you don't have any doubt it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say it." -- Statement given by President Donald J. Trump 15 August 2017

“What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs?" -- Statement about “the alt-left” given by President Donald J. Trump 15 August 2017

The wishy washy apologetics that apparently permeates our culture from the president on down to racist mommy-bloggers in Utah serves to prevent action. It is important for public figures and institutions to not undermine their “base”.

A day or so before the POTUS made the statements I quoted above he read a more condemning statement that called out hate groups by name. Trump supporters like David Duke (famous KKK spokesperson) angrily shot back that he was being manipulated and false. They were pleased when the POTUS responded with the apologetic wishy-washy moral relativism I quoted.
“I have spoken all over the world and I have great respect for Muslims, I have great respect for the African people, I have respect for the other races.” -- David Duke podcast 25 August 2006

The Mormon neo-fascists responded angrily to the statements made by the Mormon Church. They felt betrayed, and that their church was caving in to political correctness. However, they probably have as little to fear from the rigid authority structure of their church as the various wings of the greater Alt-Right movement had to fear from the fleeting words the POTUS had called them out with. The Mormon Alt-Right movement is a significant part of the “base” for the Mormon Church. If the Mormon Church disciplined even the vocal minority of Alt-Right Mormons it would be like plucking out their eye to spite their face.

The Mormon Church has been making empty statements about racists not being proper Mormons since well before the Alt-Right groups became a thing. Individuals, like Ayla, have risen in popularity while the great authority of the Mormon Church has excommunicated people like Kate Kelly for suggesting that some women could be given the same magical “blessings” reserved for eight year old boys. This leads the outsider to think that, to the Mormon Church, respectfully discussing aspects of magical wacky-woo is much more egregious than openly espousing neo-fascist ideology.
“‘No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.’” – Statement by late LDS prophet Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) as quoted in official statement by Mormon Church issued on 13 August 2017

This is not a small issue. I believe there are tens of thousands of Alt-Right Mormons. I do not think the Mormon Church can ferret them out with anything approaching the vigilance with which they might investigate potential Latte consumption within their ranks. Even disciplining a couple thousand Utah Vanguard supporting or #WhiteCulture promoting members might seriously dilute the influence of the Mormon Church.

They could, however, eliminate the most vocal neo-fascist elements and hope that scares the rest. This would not really be sufficient to cure the Mormon fascist problem, but it could dull criticism.

Maybe they will excommunicate Ayla Stewart sometime in the next few weeks?

That would put a surprised look on my face.







Tuesday, August 8, 2017

SBNR:DSES

Atheists, as a community, have a problem with alcohol and drug addictions. The problem is twofold. The melodramatic portion of the problem is that prominent atheists keep getting drunk and doing stupid, sometimes morally repugnant and possibly illegal, things. The more significant issue is that an increasing number of studies are showing that spirituality, and even religiousness, are correlated to positive treatment outcomes for addiction recovery. In other words, by mixing anecdote and statistical correlations in just the right proportions, the atheist community appears too much like a bunch of drunken sods who cannot stay sober and remain Atheists.

The correlations found between spirituality and recovery outcomes are likely driven by the influence of 12-step programs on recovery paradigms. The influence is so pervasive that it may be impossible to adequately determine the efficacy of non-12-step-influenced recovery alternatives. In other words the correlations between spirituality and positive recovery outcomes is likely indicating a degree of investment in the recovery treatment and would not indicate that 12-step programs work better than secular alternatives. 12-step programs grew out of, and retain, distinctly theistic religious elements; six of the 12 steps mention a “God” or “Higher power”. It is very difficult for addicts or alcoholics to completely engage in a 12-step recovery treatment without a well-developed personal spirituality.

An interesting irony is that the “Spiritual Not Religious” identity promoted by many implementations of the 12 steps is viewed by a significant number of staunchly religious folks as synonymous with agnosticism, and only a few steps shy of full-on Atheism. “Spiritual But Not Religious” is a common identifier on dating sites, and an ever growing number of Americans identify their personal religious leanings to be this using the initialism SBNR.  Some atheists refer to SBNR as foggy woo. 

SBNR as a movement is sometimes attributed to Sven Erlandson’s (He is a TV personality) book “Spiritual But Not Religious: A Call to Religious Revolution in America” (2000). The defining core beliefs of SBNR are mostly negative; Scientism, Secularism, ecclesiastic ritual, and a huge chunk of theistic dogma are devalued in favor of personal experiential spiritualism. It is no wonder that Theists often deride SBNR as hedonistic salad bar spiritualism.

However, I think the formation of SBNR really began back in the mid-1930s when Bill Wilson was trying to create a recovery program that was much more accessible to all types of Christians than the Oxford program he was working from. Not one to be constrained by the task at hand Bill also wrote a hallucination-inspired chapter to the agnostics in his Big Book called “Alcoholics Anonymous”; here he suggested that even the non-religious might be able to stay sober under certain circumstances. Bill wrote to several religious figureheads to assure them that his AA was not taking over the job of religion or suggesting people stay away from churches; he proudly included letters in his Big Book that suggested AA would make people better Christians.

At least twenty years passed since Bill Wilson accidentally suggested proto-SBNR as a sufficient precondition for recovery before the core concepts of SBNR were written down as part of the canon for a new 12-step fellowship. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) specifically invited people with no religious affiliation to be full members, and is often referred to as a “Spiritual Not Religious” (no but) program; the idea that it doesn’t matter what type of Christian you are is replaced by not caring what type of God you might believe in. In the literature of NA the idea of “God the Creator” is largely replaced by tortured explanations of “God” that look as if they are designed to be inclusive to any kind of conceptual super identity.

“Our concept of God comes not from dogma, but from what we believe and what works for us. Many of us understand God to be simply whatever force keeps us clean. The right to a God of your understanding is total and without any catches.” – Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous


However, SBNR is not a rational belief system. It requires that some parts of the human condition remain magical and beyond scientific explanation. It is sometimes anti-intellectual in its varied assertions that certain types of knowledge can blind people to certain kinds of truth. SBNR may have a limited dogma, but it has a varied confusion of dogma. There is no scriptural list of approved SBNR dogma, but it is not uncommon for the person who identifies as SBNR to believe in a soul, or an afterlife, or the power of prayer, or ESP, or divine revelation, or …. and the list goes on.

I hope that by this point in this essay that you are wondering how this decomposition of religious views could be quantified in such a way as to provide data of the form that could be used for a statistical correlation. If you are picturing a spectrum of SBNR people that includes crystal-gazing yogis and the mildly disinterested folks who feel momentarily in touch with some universal chi when the barista at Starbucks gets their Latte order correct, then you are still with me. How does this spectral distribution of belief get turned into a data set?

The way it is done is with a questionnaire. The measures of spirituality are still developing. I’ve included the question list from the “Daily Spiritual Experience Scale” (DSES) developed by Lynn Underwood as an example of a widely used modern spirituality measure. It is similar to others, like the Fetzer Institutes MMRS (Multidimensional Measurement of Religiousness/Spirituality for Use in Health Research) that were used in developing it. I am sure that future measures will borrow heavily from the DSES in their genesis. If you want to use the DSES in a study you may need to obtain a license from Lynn Underwood.




“The list that follows includes items you may or may not experience. Please consider how often you directly have this experience, and try to disregard whether you feel you should or should not have these experiences. A number of items use the word ‘God.’ If this word is not a comfortable one for you, please substitute another word that calls to mind the divine or holy for you.”
 
 
Many times a day
Every day
Most days
Some days
Once in a while
Never or almost never
1
I feel God's presence.
 
 
 
 
 
 
2
I experience a connection to all of life.
 
 
 
 
 
 
3
During worship, or at other times when connecting with God, I feel joy which lifts me out of my daily concerns.
 
 
 
 
 
 
4
I find strength in my religion or spirituality.
 
 
 
 
 
 
5
I find comfort in my religion or spirituality.
 
 
 
 
 
 
6
I feel deep inner peace or harmony.
 
 
 
 
 
 
7
I ask for God's help in the midst of daily activities.
 
 
 
 
 
 
8
I feel guided by God in the midst of daily activities.
 
 
 
 
 
 
9
I feel God's love for me directly.
 
 
 
 
 
 
10
I feel God's love for me through others.
 
 
 
 
 
 
11
I am spiritually touched by the beauty of creation.
 
 
 
 
 
 
12
I feel thankful for my blessings.
 
 
 
 
 
 
13
I feel a selfless caring for others.
 
 
 
 
 
 
14
I accept others even when they do things I think are wrong.
 
 
 
 
 
 
15
I desire to be closer to God or in union with the divine
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Not close
Somewhat close
Very close
As close as possible
16
In general, how close do you feel to God?
 
 
 
 

 
 



One of the things that strikes me about the DSES is that it is impossible for so-called “Spiritual Atheists” to answer. It requires definitions to be implicitly understood that to a rational atheist are simply absurd. The admittedly few studies I have looked at that use the DSES have data that congregates towards the high end of the 1-5 scale most of the questions are scored with. I think this could be due to the fact that someone who, for instance, implicitly understands what “feeling God’s love directly” means would probably feel that love quite often. It might be more useful to have questions that worked for a wider spectrum of potentially spiritual people?

Alcoholism and addiction are diseases of the brain. The addicted brain is unable to rationally develop ways of combating the disease. Some directing force that is outside of the addicted brain is required for recovery. There are many treatment options that are correlated with slightly higher or lower positive recovery outcome rates. Spirituality, as defined in ways that exclude the participation of individuals with truly atheistic world views, is one of the most common worthwhile-looking treatment options. If the $16 billion dollars in annual addiction treatment spending is going to begin providing treatment options to Atheists we will need to address the deep-seated paradigms that exclude atheists from proper notice in treatment programs.

Unfortunately, in my experience, it is more common for Atheists to be skeptical of basic concepts in addiction treatment, like the disease concept of addiction, than to have the desire to address the problems with developing effective treatment options.










Thursday, July 27, 2017

Love, Murder, Suicide

Yesterday a friend of mine was murdered.

There are so many things that are happening in the world that some 63-year-old man bashing in the head of his middle aged girlfriend in an out-of-the way West Virginia home barely claws its way into local news. There is a family bereft of their flame-haired matriarch, and scores of people who have suddenly lost a good friend. Not just an acquaintance that is so cordial that they earn the title “friend”, but an honest-to-goodness good friend. She was a close friend of my younger sister. I was not a close friend of hers, but a couple years ago I reached out for help with a complex emotionally-charged issue that I needed to handle remotely, and she answered the phone and honestly tried to help; many people I called wouldn't even answer the phone.  She was not my close friend, but she was a good friend, and I will miss her. 

Her death, for those who did not know her, will quickly fade into the overwhelming statistical cloud of intimate partner violence (IPV) data. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women under the age of 44; she was older than that, but the impact of homicide on the mortality of older women is still shockingly high. Nearly half of all female homicide victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner. This is a blog post, not an intimate recollection of her life, so it will wade into these inhuman statistics about human society. 


 My friend, the victim, went on her first date with her murderer around the time of his 60th birthday, and shortly thereafter they would become a couple. Shockingly close to three years later he would kill her. My friend posted many of those annoyingly cute love memes on his facebook timeline over those three years. I’m sure she meant them in the most profound way, but some now appear creepy:

“Anyone that really gets to know me either falls in love with me or wants to murder me. Sometimes both.” Text from a meme posted on murderer’s timeline by victim on 18 October 2016


This morning the murderer was found dead in his jail cell. I don’t know if this snuffs out the possibility of justice with additional tragedy. My feeling is that this is so awful a situation that it will remain a festering wound until all those touched by it are gone. Before his death the murderer confessed to a three day yelling match that only ended when he shoved her into a wall.  The case is essentially closed, and there is no reason to exhaustively determine what additional physical abuse preceded the killing blow.  The case may be closed, but the profound wounds are fresh and open.  Closure is not an option anywhere this side of the horizon.

About a week ago (21 July 2017 MMWR 66(28); 741–746) the CDC published a report on female homicide rates. The list of statistics it presented is a black hole of despair carved out of the heart of our society. 18.3% of female victims were part of a homicide-suicide incident. By race/ethnicity, non-Hispanic black women had the highest rate of dying by homicide (4.4 per 100,000), followed by AI/AN (4.3), Hispanic (1.8), non-Hispanic white (1.5), and A/PI women (1.2). Firearms were used in 53.9% of female homicides; sharp instrument (19.8%); hanging, suffocation, or strangulation (10.5%); and blunt instrument (7.9%). Approximately 15% of victims of reproductive age (18–44 years) were pregnant or ≤6 weeks postpartum.

My friend will not be a part of these statistics unless there is another study in the future and she becomes part of the random sample set. We do not track this information as a normal course of maintaining our society. I think it is something we should demand to know, and force ourselves to be aware of.

IPV is a worldwide problem. The USA is not at the top in terms of overall IPV, but we rank near the top for IPV homicides. There are –unsurprisingly- reporting problems, but clearly the impact of IPV as defined by the WHO is a major damaging influence on our social structure everywhere.

“One of the most common forms of violence against women is that performed by a husband or intimate male partner. Although women can be violent in relationships with men, and violence is also found in same-sex partnerships, the overwhelming health burden of partner violence is borne by women at the hands of men.
Intimate partner violence includes acts of physical aggression, psychological abuse, forced intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion, and various controlling behaviours such as isolating a person from family and friends or restricting access to information and assistance.” -- 2002 WHO fact sheet
 

Knowledge about IPV has become somewhat devalued in the USA. Men’s right’s advocates have seized upon a questionable CDC telephone poll published in 2011 that suggests that men are “made to penetrate” by women at rates similar to women being raped by men; this poll is questionable as it is not verified by independent studies. Victim advocates have sought to sensitize the justice system to the type of sexual harassment that leads to IPV by lowering the bar of stalking to transmitting two or more unwanted emails without a requirement for them to be threatening, intimidating or violent. This means that there is a grey area of interpretation where IPV can be more easily dismissed as being like the simply unfortunate interactions that are lumped into its definition. The fact is that the vast majority of interpersonal relationships do not include any of what any reasonable person would call IPV.

My friend’s murder did not precipitate out of a social data set that includes some guy’s uncomfortable intercourse and another person’s two uncomfortable emails. She should not be used as an anecdote to amplify the queasy feeling common with the termination of an unfortunate relationship. She is dead, and her death is an unambiguous tragedy.

This does not mean that legal tools are not critical in addressing IPV. In many parts of the world domestic violence is not criminalized at all. Limiting access to firearms and increasing offerings of group-format counseling sessions for abusers are both considered worthwhile policies. Perhaps more useful policies could be developed by understanding the causal link between statistically correlated traits of abusers like: low income, low academic achievement, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Even if you don’t have the faintest idea who my friend was you will be impacted by IPV. I hope you are not a victim. I hope even more that you are not an abuser.












Sunday, July 16, 2017

Talking about boxes

In an emotional conversation that proves injurious the responsibility to have prevented harm lies with the converser whose words caused the injury. Live long enough and your words will hurt someone by accident, and the immediate response, at least for me, is to decry the hurt as foul since the words that caused it were not motivated by malice or evil intent.

I was thinking recently about the process of stumbling through emotional conversations with people. Everyone with emotions and the ability to communicate has them. Parents, especially awkward parents like myself, have a lot of them. They are great and wonderful elements of the human condition … except when they are not.

“ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” -- Alan Greenspan
“I know you think you believe you understand what you thought I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is exactly what I meant.” -- Richard Nixon

It is hard to take responsibility for this accidental hurt as it just doesn’t make sense. We can understand how it is important to take responsibility for injury in many accident scenarios; for instance if we drive over someone on a bike because we didn’t see them while pulling out from a parking space we should know it is our fault since we took on the responsibility associated with steering a multi-ton chunk of propelled metal. Words are just air and the interpretation is done without input of the speaker, so it is like the above described accident without a car or bicycle or visible injuries; Just two people standing around in a parking space until one of them realizes they hurt.

Further complicating things are the natural way many (most?) people react when they are hurt. I’ve lashed out when hurt, and I suspect you have to; those words ARE meant to hurt. How can you reasonably take responsibility for accidentally hurting someone who is actively trying to hurt you in retaliation? Sometimes it is actually impossible to cut through the retaliation to be reasonable and responsible. There are even some people who reflexively lash out ten times as hard as they think that they have been attacked. Sometimes there is just too much crazy to reconstruct a dialog where anyone can be a responsible adult, and you can only hope for space and time to let the flames die down.

Time is what is recommended by people that actually study communication between people. There are thousands of people who insist that they have studied communication between people enough to have a useful opinion, but most of them have just repeated threadbare factoids enough to become convincingly self-delusional. There are groups that have conducted reasonably scientific studies on people attempting to communicate, and even attempting to communicate as a core element of an emotional relationship. The Gottman institute has been studying relationships for years, and have published reams of data suggesting an over 90% correlation between certain communication skills and the ability to form lasting emotional partnerships. There are many people who will insist that the key to a relationship's success lies in something magical; actually magical and not something that just feels magical. The keys can be in astrology or prayer or a special spell said during a astronomic event (like the upcoming total solar eclipse?), but when asked for data there standard answer is that "There are some things that science can't explain". However, science has explained a lot about the emotional interaction of people, and it is nowhere near as complex or magical as humans themselves are. Much can be understood by looking at two factors common to many scientific inquiries: Data and Signal Processing. Or, as generally described at the level of interpersonal communication: Talking and Listening.

Talking about talking about stuff is a little too meta for most conversations, and few people are as luck as I am to have a partner who almost enjoys the strange aftertaste of a self-referential romp through a conversation about the structure of the conversation itself.

The magic amount of time that is recommended by these conversationologists is 20 minutes. For a short period of time in my life I did chimney repair, and I was cautioned never to actually provide a time estimate to a customer when I called them up to tell them I was running late: “Just tell them 20 minutes because most everyone will wait for 20 minutes even if it ends up being almost 2 hours”. I think there is something physiological that happens in the human body that flushes out the hormonal context or filter that prevents rational conversation after there has been an insult; even a minor insult like not showing up to do a job at the time you said you would.The amount of time it takes that physiological process to occur is about 20 minutes.

The instant you read the word “hormones” it is likely that you thought I was talking about females. There is a difference between how females and males interact in conversation, but it is a statistical difference where the mean of responses given by one gender in a sample set is more likely to display a identifiable type of conversational behavior than the mean of the responses by the other gender in that sample set. This does not provide much guidance in any individual conversation as all conversational behaviors can be common in both genders, and there are statistical outliers of either gender that either engage in any particular conversational behavior a lot or hardly at all. If you are letting your understanding of the statistics of populations drive your individual conversations instead of actively listening to your conversational partner then you should really get more practice talking to actual humans.

The other problem in misinterpreting my dropping of the word “hormone” as a slur against feminine conversational stereotypes is that the most severe form of hormone-induced irrational conversational constitution, called “flooding” to conjure up the image of hormones filling up the skull with liquid confusion, is much more common in men. Studies suggest that “flooding” emotional events precede many domestic violence situations where a male is being violent towards their intimate partner. This does not mean that a man who floods will be violent; everybody floods and most people are never violent at all towards their intimate partner. I “flood”. You “flood”. There are people who say they don’t “flood”, but they are lying.

SO, if you’ve hurt someone and are not sure what you have done you can back off for 20 minutes to see if you can reconnect to find out what caused the injury in the first place, and then try the conversation again… only carefully. If you try something like this in the parking accident scenario you would effectively be backing back over the bicycle a second time; make sure that you don’t just re-create the injurious utterance the second time around.

Luckily the way people get hurt by accident in a conversation is usually quite simple. People don’t usually try to be hurt in a conversation and so the hurts fall into causation categories that are embarrassingly simple. I personally like to think that my mind, which can nurture ideas of intricate and sublime beauty, must fail with some elegant and impenetrable complexity. However, most –if not all- negatively-interpreted conversations fall into three different types:

Criticism: You know that important observation about a critical defect in your partner that your partner needs to know about right now? How about that annoying behavior that they need to be reminded about if they are ever going to stop it? If so you should really ask yourself if you are an a**hole and are not just accidentally irritating the people you interact with. How about when you come up with some epiphany about how people, like yourself even, work? Look at this very blog post; someone could see this as being about them and be very upset with me. Criticism can be any factual statement that can be interpreted as being about a person.

Contempt: This can be a tone of voice. Humor can go terribly wrong. It is very easy for a one-sided snarky blog rant to be taken the wrong way, or an email that muses over things in a disaffected tone can be seen as insulting. Of course in these instances a person who doesn’t actively want to be hurt can just re-read the material until their impression of an attack fades. There are some advantages to written correspondence.  In the case of a conversation a self-deprecating joke or misplaced laugh can be seen as a clear announcement of outright mockery and contempt.  Also, watch your body language.

Blame: Do you really need to know whose fault something is, and do you need to announce your findings to the person whose fault it is? If so then you shouldn’t be surprised that you are causing irritation. It is more common, though, to reflexively deflect possible blame. Saying “I didn’t do whatever” does not directly place blame unless it is heard through something like the “I’m the only other person in this conversation” filter. Be cognizant of where blame goes if you deflect it.

“If I am not what you say I am, then you are not who you think you are.” -- James Baldwin

Another problem is that humans are not exactly in control of what we say. Due to nuances in the arrangement of those elements in the brain where we decide what we are going to say and those elements that craft the way we say it we are actually not fully aware of what we are saying until we are saying it. Using a complex playback device perfectly tuned to the spacing of an individual’s spoken words it is possible to convince them that they have actually said things that they have not said. Let me restate that for clarity: even after a person has planned out what they are going to say and then crafted the way they will say it the very brain that did the planning and crafting can be convinced that something entirely different happened if they hear something different.

If such whacky dependencies are occurring inside your own brain then isn’t it of no surprise that someone listening with a different brain can hear something hurtful? Of course not! However, it is deceptively enticing to reason that it was the person who got hurt who chose to interpret something in a way that caused them to be hurt. With a very small adjustment to what one defines as a “choice” that interpretation is demonstrably true. But blaming someone who is hurting for their hurt doesn’t reduce the hurt at all, and should leave both members of the conversation sitting around in their metaphorical parking space wondering what they are doing there.