Sunday, June 26, 2022

Intersectional Pride Day

Today was Pride Day in NYC, and for the first time in two years, the march was packed with participants... people were confident to step out during this weird, not-quite-fraught stage of the pandemic, and more cogently, people wanted to show defiance in the face of the Supreme Court's bad rulings.  NYC Pride actually kicked off with Planned Parenthood, which released a statement: 

"Pride was born of protest and will always be a space to fight injustice and discrimination. Join us as we advocate for bodily autonomy at this year's NYC Pride March."

I've long said that intersectionality is the key to fighting for human rights- any attempts to compartmentalize human rights issues can lead to balkanization, which makes divide-and-conquer easy.  In particular, reactionaries have a talent for using fear and misunderstanding of marginalized groups as a Trojan horse to revive culture wars that people assumed they had already lost.  This year, their campaign against transpersons was a pretty transparent attempt to roll back LGB rights as well.

Reactionary authoritarians have been pretty upfront about wanting to roll back many matters considered settled law.  Not content with overturning Roe vs Wade, Clarence Thomas has stated that he would like to overturn Griswold vs Connecticut, which grants married couples the right to contraception, Lawrence vs Texas, which grants individuals the right to engage in certain sexual acts (sodomy), and Obergefell vs Hodges, which grants the right to same-sex marriage.  Like the Terminator from the movie, he will not stop, ever, until the rights of non-fundamentalist Christian men are dead.

It's heartening to see that the organizers of Pride teamed up with pro-abortion rights activists.  They know that any attack on bodily autonomy will negatively impact them.  It's going to be a long summer of rage, at least it kicked off with a party.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Rage at the Moment of Triumph

The American Right has won their greatest victory against civil society in fifty years, but the rank-and-file don't seem happy about it.  Their backlash against protests was predicted by the FBI, and it has materialized:

Meanwhile, the online rhetoric from right-wing misogynists has been predictably vile: At least a multi-pronged approach to fighting for abortion rights is coalescing, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exhorting young pro-abortion rights activists to be 'sand in the gears': Personally, I believe that a coordinated boycott of all things Red State is in order, and a general strike, followed by an extended 'buy nothing essential' period. Hit the reactionaries in the wallets, where it hurts. In the meantime, an executive order rescinding Trump's expansion of tax cuts for politically active churches should be enacted immediately. It's going to be a slog, but we didn't choose this war. We'd damn well better win it, though.

Friday, June 24, 2022

A Day We All Saw Coming

It's finally happened, the six reactionary religious fanatics of he Supreme Court have overturned Roe vs Wade, which almost two-thirds of Americans support.  It's the most egregious example of minoritarian rule- six individuals lording it over 64% of the populace.  Republican states have already put 'trigger laws' into effect, laws which will ban abortions as soon as Roe has gone the way of the dodo.  If you had asked me ten years ago, I probably would have opined that I suspected that Republican opposition to abortion was merely a culture war issue to rile up the base and get them to the polls,  but that was before the GOP gained a critical mass of authoritarian fundamentalists on the Supreme Court.  I was disabused of this notion before the 2016 election.

Thankfully, states such as New York and New Jersey are adopting safe haven policies for red state girls and women seeking abortions.  Of course, without organizations such as the Brigid Alliance, which help patients in need seek abortion care, this is only helpful to girls or women who have the ability to travel.  Abortion bans only effect poor women, the daughters and mistresses of Republican senators can always go on 'spa vacations' to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

To compound the danger, the GOP Supreme Court won't be content to abolish legal abortions, Clarence Thomas has already announced that he will try to overturn legal birth control, same-sex marriage, and even sex acts that deviate from heterosexual vaginal penetration with the penis:

I don't exactly know how this will all end up, these unpopular policies are being supplemented by voter suppression policies, so even overwhelming numbers at the polls might not be sufficient to move the needle in Republican-ruled states.  In the short term, I would suggest boycotting Red States, and the products they make, all the while pressuring corporations to push back against this War on Women.  I also support a general strike, in which non-essential abortion supporters (if you are in a state that bans abortion, I'd even skip essential work) refuse to work, or even to purchase non-essential items.

The Republican war on bodily autonomy and privacy has been ramped up considerably, it's time we start fighting back in earnest.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Secret Science Club Secrets Lecture Recap

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring experimental psychologist Dr Michael Slepian of Columbia University, he is also the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics.  Dr Slepian has recently released a book, The Secret Life of Secrets: Hoe Our Inner Worlds Shape Well-Being, Relationships, and Who We Are, and the current lecture concerned having and keeping secrets.

People think about secrets every day.  In a typical day, a typical person speaks or writes seventeen thousand words, the equivalent of forty-eight pages, double-spaced.  About 30% of these words are used to disclose personal experience.  About 18% of the words are small talk.  About 3% of the words are saying nice things about people, and about 5% are saying not-so-nice things about people.

Secrecy is common, it is all around us.  Dr Slepian cited secrets such as Coca-Cola's formula, the NSA, and Scientology.  Secrecy is an intention to keep some piece of information unknown by one or more people.  Dr Slepian asked, "What is it like to keep a secret?"  Secrets are a burden, they can be draining, they can form a gulf between ourselves and others.

Secrets feel heavy- perception and behavior are scaled to the costs of acting on our environment- more resources are used, the world is more challenging to interact with.  In one survey, participants were asked to estimate the slope of a hill- individuals keeping a big secret judged the hill to be steeper than individuals without big secrets did.

About ten percent of the subjects in one survey were preoccupied with infidelity. This can actually make tasks such as carrying groceries or walking the dog more difficult.  Thinking about secrets makes one feel more burdened.  Dr Slepian said that he would have stopped studying secrecy, but another researcher failed to replicate his work, so he had to continue.

Whether one sees a secret as big or small is not as important as how preoccupying a secret is.  Big secrets are not always preoccupying, people learn to live with them.  The burden of secrecy is less about what the secret is, and more about how often the secret is on one's mind.

As an example of a secret, Dr Slepian brought up infidelity.  Among Americans, 30% of respondents have been unfaithful to a partner (not necessarily a current partner) at one time, the figure worldwide is about 20%.  If individual A is in a long term monogamous relationship with B, and has a one-night stand while on a business trip, A has a secret at the moment A decides not to inform B.  Even when B is not present, this secret will be a burden.

There are different ways to keep secrets, such as concealment, dodging the question.  This is a small slice of the secrecy experience.  Secrecy can result in mind-wandering, unresolved goals, and a failure to seize opportunities to take actions to solve problems.  It's not necessary to actively hold back secrets, they can spontaneously come to mind.

In one study, respondents were asked to categorize experiences, and asked to list the ones they kept secret:

A typical respondent kept 13 secrets at a time.  We keep the same kind of secrets.  People think of their secrets far more than they conceal them.  Secrets cause people's minds to wander more often than non-secrets.  This matters for well-being.  Frequently. concealing secrets doesn't harm individuals as much as preoccupation with secrets does.  The stereotype of concealing a secret being harmful does not occur often... most secrets never come up in communication.  People are ready for the moments in which they will conceal a secret, but not for the mind-wandering and preoccupation.

Dr Slepian noted that more data sets were required to gauge the harm of keeping secrets, and he displayed several diagrams concerning various dimensions of secrets and the harm they cause:

Each dimension of secrets has a degree of harm, such as causing bad moods or shame.  Secrets can make us feel ashamed, feel isolated, and feel uncertainty.  The paradox of secrets is that concealment is not usually harmful, but thinking about a secret is.

Can people think about secrets in better ways?  While people can prepare to conceal secrets, can they prepare to think about them?  Confiding secrets to a third party can help- it doesn't reduce concealment, but it does reduce mind-wandering.  A small glimmer of hope can have a big effect- confiding leads to people feeling more capable.  People tend to choose the right people to confide in, compassionate, assertive people.  Would a confidant be burdened by a secret?  It's best to choose someone slightly removed from the situation, someone whose morals are aligned and won't be scandalized (and prone to reveal a secret as a punishment).  For confiding to backfire, it has to fail spectacularly.  It takes a really negative response to make people second guess revealing secrets.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  The opening question, from some Bastard in the audience, involved cultural/religious factors in keeping or revealing secrets.  Dr Slepian immediately picked up on the subtext about the sacrament of confession in the Roman Catholic church.  He noted that, in comparing cross-cultural differences, it is useful to keep in mind how collectivist or individualistic a society is.  In collectivist cultures, there is an inauthenticity to keeping secrets- it breaks norms, there is a greater expectation of revealing in order to keep order.  That being said, in certain societies in which marriages are arranged, divorce is not an option, and social networks are small, there are more secrets.  In societies in which you find a partner on your own, it's easier to leave on your own.

Another question involved the positivity or negativity of a secret, what's the difference between keeping a birthday party secret and keeping an affair secret?  Positive secrets feel good because the point of concealment is to make the big reveal more exciting.  Such secrets make us feel in control, and add to well-being.  

Are there secrets we should never reveal?  What harm would result from revelation?  If you want to reveal something to make yourself feel better, you should nevertheless consider the harm revelation would do to others.  Dr Slepian cited Dan Savage's "one time secret" model, but noted that repeat offenses aren't covered... ask yourself what your partner would want.  Even with a one-time lapse, 77% of respondents stated that they would want to know.  Dr Slepian also noted that there's no reason to figure this out on your own- seek a second opinion.  There's no reason to be alone with your secret.

In one study of HIV positive men in the 1990s, men who concealed their sexual orientation had worse health outcomes and died sooner than men who were open about it.

Asked about methodology, and the candor of respondents, Dr Slepian noted that, in internet surveys, the level of detail is shocking, people want to talk about their secrets.

What differences are there between children and adults when it comes to keeping secrets?  Children will deny even when there is evidence to the contrary (cooking crumbs on their shirts), they don't have other strategies.  Adolescents are better at holding back secrets, which can cause problems

Regarding neurodivergent individuals, there is not enough data.

Journaling might be useful, as long as it isn't rehashing the past or merely chronicling a harmful record. Dr Slepian mentioned PostSecret as an anonymous way to write a secret down and anonymously reveal it. 

Some secrets just 'time out', they simply lapse.

What's the utility of secrecy?  A world without secrets would be less functional.  Secrets protect the feelings of others.  The optimal level of secrecy is not zero.

Regarding the difference between guilt and shame, guilt is "I did a bad thing", shame is "I am a bad person".   

Once again, the Secret Science Club has dished out a fantastic lecture.  Kudos to Dr Slepian, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.  High fives all around.  For a taste of the Secret Science Club experience, check out this video with the good doctor:


Pour yourself a nice beverage and soak in that SCIENCE!!!

POSTSCRIPT: After the lecture, I joked with Dr Slepian that he should go into a Catholic church and participate in confession, just to experience the process of revealing a secret anonymously to a complete stranger.  I told him that he could find movie scenes depicting the sacrament so he could do it in the traditional fashion.  He joked that he would need a 'wingman'.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Brooklyn Bound

I'm headed down to the Gowanus section of Brooklyn this afternoon for this month's Secret Science Club lecture.  It's nice to have this particular routine back in my life, the ritual of taking the subway from the end of the line in the Bronx to downtown Brooklyn.  In this year's trips, I've been walking from the Atlantic Avenue subway station to the beautiful Bell House, which I've been doing since the shooting on the R Train, my usual transfer from the 4 Train.  Luckily, there's a really good Middle Eastern bakery along the way.

It's comforting to be able to return to this important part of my life after two years, and even better to see my Brooklyn friends, who are actually from the entire NYC metro area.  Being able to recap it for you folks is the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Return of a Fan Favorite

Longtime readers will be happy to know that my beloved Ginger has returned to work.  She's still cone-laden, but my coworker who took her home for her convalescence left town for a couple of days, so he brought her back, though she is under 'house arrest' for two or three more days, when the vet will evaluate her and, most likely, remove the cone.  

Ginger is like the kid who had the accident late in the school year, and has to spend summer vacation in a cast.  Here she is, begging to be let out, which is a no-no under her current circumstances:

Right now, she is confined to the building which houses the employee break room (she also has the run of an activity room and the building's spacious basement). The cone definitely cramps her style, though- it impedes the catlike grace which is supposed to be her birthright.

It's nice to have Ginger back, but it's a shame that we can't have any adventures together onsite.  Hopefully, by the weekend, we'll be on the scout around the grounds, without cones or stitches to cramp Ginger's style.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Signal Boost for an Important Perspective

One of the important functions of social media is creating interpersonal connections.  I'm new to the whole mainstream social media thing, but I did have a nice exchange on Twitter with Jeremiah Prophet, a Dallas-based journalist with cerebral palsy.  Jay writes entertainingly about a variety of topics, such as writing political advocacy for Beto O'Rourke as early as 2019.  His tale of having his computer hacked reads like a scary little techno thriller, with the details of the features he needs to operate his computer adding a terrifying angle to the story... it's as educational as it is gripping.

Give Jay a read, his is an important voice, and an entertaining one.