In case anyone is feeling generous…
In case anyone is feeling generous…
I get bored a lot.
It’s a thing that happens. A couple of people with enough context that their opinion on the subject is not essentially meaningless have argued it’s because of ADD or ADHD. In fact, I might argue I have Motivation Deficit Disorder instead, seeing how my inability to wake up early and get my shit together vanished in regards to one specific 9:25AM course I sat in on. I hate morning courses, I hate waking up early, and I have missed class multiple times because of this and because of my general inability to go to sleep on time (because hey, there’s always another youtube video or another book or another article). And yet, miraculously, I only missed the last two classes of the course I was sitting in on (and which I was NOT SIGNED UP FOR, and so I DID NOT NEED TO WORRY ABOUT MY GRADES). Why? I wanted to go. I wanted to go so bad. I love the professor, he may well be one of the best professors I have ever had. I love the material. I love the ideas, I love the context, I love the way it was taught. That course was perfection.
And this goes both ways. A while ago I had one of the easiest courses I could possibly have taken, and I bombed it. It was the first psychology class where I got less than an A-, and I got a C+. It wasn’t a hard class, the material wasn’t difficult, the timing was fine. There was no reason in the world for me not to have aced that course. There was no reason, except that it was boring, I didn’t like it, and I could not find it in myself to enjoy the class. That semester I had four other courses, three of which had all of their notes online (such that I did not need to take notes). That psychology course was the only one that semester where the sum total of my notes was fewer than ten pages. It was hellish.
I think that illustrates the importance of internal motivation (and my failure to summon it up on demand) very well. One course, I should have by all means failed to attend after a few weeks because I was not even signed up for it, and another I should have aced effortlessly. Both of them provided opposite results. Still, my apparent Motivation Deficit Disorder not really what I wanted to talk about today. What I wanted to talk about was boredom. Boredom is my secret weapon.
-¿Y quién sois vos,- él preguntó
-para exigir fervor?-
Solo un gato de otro color
yo sé que es la verdad
de color de oro, o de color rojo
los leones tienen garras
las mías con filo, mi señor
como vuestras afiladas-
Y así habló, y así habló,
el señor de Castamir
y en su salón, lluvias lloran
y nadie ha de oír
sí, en su salón, lluvias lloran
sin almas para oír
I do art because of boredom, and I’m not really terrible at it either.
I learnt to program in Processing because of boredom. I took a post-secondary class in highs school because of boredom. Twice. One might say I even got into Neuroscience because of boredom. I got into a Medical Neuroanatomy course in Coursera when I was 17 because I was bored.
Boredom is a weapon.
I think a lot of people today have a strange relationship with boredom. They either flee it with progressively more immediacy-focused content which they consume with unconscious fury, or they kind of try to ignore it or endure it. I think both approaches are wrong. Boredom is a weapon. When you sit around and you don’t know what to do, you can just… learn what to do. You can do more things. You can get better at creating, and working, and learning, with boredom.
Here’s a curious thing regarding intelligence: It’s a theoretical construct. I’ll explain.
Here’s is my definition of intelligence, for anyone curious:
Intelligence is the ability to manipulate people, with varying but usually low levels of effort, into making a verbal note of your intelligence to you.
It includes everything! Planning, abstract reasoning, talent, hard work, thought speed, eloquence, wit… In the end of the day, the reason why so many different things are grouped in the same pile as “intelligence” is because they all, in some way or form, produce a reaction on fellow people. It’s rather curious when you realize, for example, that someone who is very eloquent but not particularly good at spacial reasoning is said to have the same quality as someone who is great at spatial reasoning but terribly ill-spoken, and that person is said to have the same quality as someone who can spot holes in arguments, and that person is said to have the same quality as as someone who is good at predicting what someone will do. The truth is that those are all different things, done by different parts of the brain, with different levels of malleability, that different people will find easier or harder. Intelligence is not any one of those things. It’s the ability to use them to obtain a remark on your “intelligence”.
At the end of the day, when people say “you’re very smart” (unless they’re being sarcastic) they usually mean something along the lines of “you have a set of skills that allow you to do this thing that I or society at large think to be difficult, and that are agreed upon to be related to cognition”. So, someone who can do very careful handiwork work isn’t necessarily intelligent, they just have “steady hands”, because fine motor skills are agreed to be in some way not cognitive, despite involving nerve cells and thought. I’ve been thinking about intelligence a lot because I am in the privileged position of having it, in the sense that I regularly obtain remarks about my intelligence with little to no effort. While I will acknowledge that being in the opposite position, whereupon using great effort you still obtain zero verbal notes about your intelligence, is probably super shitty, I cannot speak for such an experience because I do not have it.
What I can speak for, however, is the the harm that can come from being in such a position–harm that I would suppose is analogous to the harm that comes to men by way of the patriarchy–and how it has been a source of stress throughout my life.
When you are routinely taught to be proud of your place in the bell curve, regardless of what that place is, you inevitably tie your self-worth to it. Which is absurd when you realize that your place in the bell curve is not really tied to how good you are at anything, it’s tied to how good you are in comparison to other people, and different sub-populations will place you in a different place in the bell curve.
Something that I have, or at least seem to have according to others (because people are never shy about evaluating me), is not a property of me. It’s a property of everyone else.
I believe that I am dead.
I remember dying not. A man of good fortune like myself, I was neither ill nor in danger when I last slept. Yet how else? How else would I have found myself in such a heaven?
I awoke and I was in a city of metal and stone. I beheld roads smoother than gravel, and crowds of edifice after edifice, taller than the tallest spire I have seen in all of my two-and-twenty years. Like I, thou wouldst believe it to be a dream at first, no? But it was too, too real, as the air smelled of faint carbon and not manure, and the water I found in metal founts was the clearest that had ever graced my mouth.
As I strode through this marvel world, the day grew noisy with life. Great horseless carriages sped through the road faster than any beast. They screeched at me, and their chauffeurs yelled that I must keep to the sides of the road. I heeded their advice, for I wished not be flattened by the machines, and kept on discovering this new and heavenly land.
I saw women dressed as prostitutes and soldiers walking the street, my efforts at discretion futile upon the sight of their breasts and legs and hair. They seemed as goddesses from the most beautiful works of man. Their hair shone and flowed upon the wind unnaturally, their hips swung with the bounce of a song I must soon bind into my heart, and their eyes filled with mirth upon meeting me. I know not what they saw, possibly my fallen jaw or my eyes grown, but it amused them so.
They walked on, and I regained my faculties. What world was this? What world where women wore trousers and such tight clothing that it must be tailored by the finest of hands. With no business East, West, North or South now that I knew I must be dead, I kept my way to the tall edifices of glass and steel. They were taller still than I believed, and kept my eyes when I came so close as to know their true nature. So great a monument that they could tear through clouds.
A woman, one dressed in the normal way, with a loose gown and her hair covered for modesty, came to me with concern.
“Sir, are you alright? Do you need help?”
Sir? I chuckled.
“Maiden, I need nothing! I could feast my eyes with these great creations for years and never grow tired.”
“Um… Okay. Um… Are you…” Her brow furrowed at me. Perhaps she had been in this heaven so long she had forgotten the mind of one newly born into it.
“I am to my edge with joy!” I exclaimed. “The air, the great racing machines that nearly fly upon the road, and these, these built things so tall as to tear open the heavens and make them their own!”
I must have been the very picture of madness, for she began to hurry away, but that mattered not. I stood and viewed these beautiful things until my innards decided for me to explore this afterlife’s food and drink.
I found that I had no coin to spend on either, and my spirits fell. What foul lie was this? To place me in such a world and not a way to enjoy its wonders? Was I to starve and die twice? But this world of wonder was true to what it had promised with its beauty. I found a moor offering food and drink on the street.
“Yo, mister! Wanna try some free samples? We got these cheeses, we got this awesome new layered ham thing. If you want it, Jake’s Catering has it!”
“What is this unnatural yellow thing?” I asked, my mouth growing wetter as the seconds passed.
“Um. That’s the cheese. Are you–”
“O’course, o’course, here,” he handed me a small, pre-cut bite of the thing, and his eyes lit up on seeing my delight. “Look man, I don’t care if it’s ’cause you haven’t eaten in days, but business is slow, so if you could stand right here as you foodgasm, so that everyone knows how good our food is…”
He led me steps around his table, so that my face met those of others on the street, but I cared not in the least. I was to beg for another when I found he had filled a small plate with a half-dozen of those heavenly mouthfuls. I was near tears as I finished, and took the moor in an embrace, caring not for how unclean he may be. No devil from the South could be as evil as I had been told if they shared such delights with a stranger.
“Whoa! Dude dude personal space what are you–nevermind, somebody’s takin’ a picture, good for business, rock on, man.”
He embraced me as well, and offered atop the meal a wondrous bottle of a new kind of glass. Soft to the touch and easy to deform, this clear thing contained a most thirst-quenching drink than any I ever did taste. He claimed that “the good publicity” was “worth one of my gay tirades”, or at least that is what I understood.
The bottle had “gatorade” written upon it, so that may be what he spoke, but I did never hear of such a thing in my living years. Perhaps ambrosia had more names than one.
It was then, as I drank this heavenly nectar, that the man’s pocket chimed like a dozen bells. Startled, I jumped back, sadly spilling a few drops of the “gatorade” upon the ground. The moor’s eyes shifted from me to his pocket, and he bid me sit down. I obeyed, if only for my wish to know more of how he could hide so many bells within his pocket. As I sat and watched his movements like an eager child, his face grew wary.
“Dude, it’s just my notifications, chill,” he puzzled me with the words. I tried to decypher them, but as I did, and sipped some more of that “gatorade”, he brought forth a small tablet of glass and steel. The handles were missing, and it was indeed far, far too small to write any real message in, but then he pressed a small circle and light emanated from it. I leaned in and he looked at me with apprehension, but I could not hold back my curiosity. What was this? Whence came the light? There was no fire. The object was shiny but not a mirror upon the heavens. And even if it were, the day was not bright enough for it to shine so.
“Hey, it’s just my phone, man. Geez…” He pulled it a small distance away and I looked upon the lights as they changed, and I realized they were letters and symbols. Had I any doubt that I was dead, this erased it completely. Only in heaven could one find such whimsy, such magical writing, used without ritual or reverence.
“The guy who took the picture tweeted it. ‘@JakesCatering feeds homeless man’… that’s… wow. Buddy, are you homeless or hipster?”
“I thought you were a hipster going to like, the Renaissance fair or something but now I’m wondering.”
“I do not know of this fair…” I said, “or this Hipst place.”
“Hipst isn’t–wow. Holy shit are you insane? Are you a crazy homeless guy?”
“My friend, thou insult me. I am very healthy. As healthy as a dead man can be, in any case.”
His eyes bore into mine with a brew worry and confusion and fear beneath them. I knew not why, after all he had died once too, had he not? How else would he have come into this heaven?
“If I have done something to alarm thou, my good man, I shall do everything I can to–”
“Oh no. Oh shit.” The moor, said, rubbing his temples. I knew not what to say, and thankfully had no reason to, for a moment later an older moor, looking fat and jolly, bounced out of the door beside the table with a smile upon his lips.
“Trevon, is this for real?”
“Dad, look, we can’t–”
“I’m so proud of you!” The elder moor brought the younger, clearly his son, into an embrace so tight he nearly lifted him from the ground. “You’re getting involved in the community! Giving back! Remember that’s how good things happen in the world. You know what, let’s help him out more. Sir, you can sleep on my couch until you get back on your feet. In fact, do you have any experience being a waiter?”
I glanced upon the two men, turning my head to each one after the other, and my confusion must have passed for something else, for the elder moor did not wait for my answer. “You must be tired! Come on! I’ll get the blankets and you can have a nap.”
I knew not whether to object or obey, but the opportunity left as soon as it came, for the elder simply grabbed me by the arm like he would his own child and led me into his establishment. The staircase steps were long, and his couch was a machine that opened to reveal a bed hidden within. I knelt down beside it and stared at the pieces. How careful had a smith to be to create such a thing?
“There might be a bug or two in there, but… mi casa su casa, my man. I know what it’s like to have nowhere to go. You stay here long as you need, y’hear?”
“What is this?”
“It’s just a sofa bed, not much but…”
“The pieces are so small, this must have cost you a fortune!” I said, admiring the craftsmanship “you would lend me use of this just so?”. He gave me the same eyes of worry and suspicion his son had, but something within him struggled against it.
“…Of course. Yeah. Yeah, all yours. Come on, let me get you a blanket and some pillows, you can have a nap, and maybe you can be a waiter. We haven’t had much luck hiring anyone, and if you’ll work for room and board till we get the money rolling…” he spoke as he walked towards a closet, and pulled out the bedding.
“Of course, I… I cannot begin to think of how to repay your kindness, I…”
“No need!” He dropped the bedding onto the couch-machine. “Have a rest. I’m sure you’ll be… more normal once you’ve had a bit of shut-eye, ‘kay?”
I did not understand, but nodded regardless.
That night, I dreamed a dream that I was home, that my experience in this heaven was a dream itself. It was a swirl of days and lives and loves, as I remembered all I left behind upon my death. The baker’s daughter, who I’d fancied for three months, came to my house and spoke to me. My brother fought my mother once again over the mantlepiece. The priest told me to heed his words carefully, and then he spoke as though underwater and I knew nothing that he said.
My dream went left and right and up and down. My dog complained about my manners, as did an urchin that I paid to bring me bread every morn. It felt as though my mind had gone, and I could not tell you if I was asleep for short or long.
I can tell you, though, that I awoke in time to see the sun rise over the horizon, the sky changjng with its presence while the ground remained in shadow, hidden beneath the massive glass and steel sky-scraping towers. I watched the dawn bathe this heaven of steel and glass, and pondered what I was to do in this new world.
Online writing prompt time! I’m getting these from Reddit, by the way.
The ship was massive. An enormous thing, black, jagged, a kind of study in inconvenient geometry that did not meed to be aerodynamic. It just… Hovered atop Ottawa in exactly the way bricks shouldn’t.
The first people sent there were linguists. The aliens managed to communicate with them after a month of frustrated pointing and writing. Their message was simple enough: surrender or be destroyed.
The United States was alarmed when CBC aired the news. It took a few hours, though, because nobody in the American government ever watches CBC. They offered to nuke it, to bomb it with more conventional weaponry, and the president called the Prime Minister at least three times. Still, the PM refused the offers, and offered the Aliens dinner. They went to his home expecting guns, or white flags, but they found neither. Canada has a history of war, from 1812 to Afghanistan. Three out of the five longest sniper shots in history were shot by Canadians. They have impressed Russians, Arabs, Koreans and Germans time and again with their hard work, loyalty, marksmanship and ability to wear only a T-Shirt in -10C weather. Canadians are not afraid of war.
The like to think they are above it, though.
And so, the tall, eight-eyed long-eared, four-armed creatures were invited to dinner with the PM, a tall, handsome, young-looking man who occasionally had to look at a camera beside them and repeat what he had just said in French.
And they took Selfies with him, they ate simple pancakes, sausages and maple syrup (with some added fruits and ham on the side). He asked them about their world, often saying their words surprisingly well and respectfully. He asked them about what they wanted, why they wanted to conquer the earth in the first place, and so on. The meeting went on long into the night, and would have gone longer if the PM hadn’t had to cut it short because it was his turn to read a bedtime story to his daughter.
The aliens went back to their ship befuddled, and decided to do as had been done to them, since they were not sure what the protocol was. They had dinner with the PM again the next night, and spoke about their needs. About the great intergalactic wars, about their need for resources found deep in the earth’s crust. And slowly, the Prime Minister of Canada worked his magic. He smiled, he made notes, and he listened. He listened very closely.
By the second month, a treaty had been signed. In exchange for permission to land on Mars and dig there (he had convinced them that Mars was earth territory), the aliens would share their technology. There was also an intergalactic tourism industry to think about, and a trade agreement regarding technological exchange. They sealed the deal with a bottle of Maple Syrup and two bottles of beer. The aliens left almost as suddenly as they had arrived, with not a single life lost or gun drawn.
And that is how Canada saved the world.
I will begin by stating that this is a terrible question.
What social movements? What do you mean by “evolving”? I’m sure everyone can provide an opinion on how social media is making social movements more effective or not, how social movements are too concerned with being inclusive and not sufficiently concerned with being effective, or… whatever. I have no intention of doing that, because it is the easy path and also because it assumes evolving is synonymous with progressing, or just changing over time in general.
I want to talk about evolution.
For those who haven’t taken a biology class in a while, a brief history of evolution is as follows: There’s variation in populations. Some of the varying traits will be beneficial for survival and reproduction within an ecosystem, and others will be detrimental. Traits are passed down through reproduction. Therefore, the traits that are beneficial to survival and reproduction will spread throughout a population, and the population will change over generations of this process.
Now let’s imagine that social movements are organisms. What social movements have there been thus far?
There’s been the movement towards democratic institutions, characterized by a wave of revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. The American, the French, the Latin American revolutions, the Haitian revolution, etc. There’s been waves of socialism and communism. There’s been movements to abolish slavery. There’s been first, second, third, and fourth wave feminism. There’s been the civil rights movement. There’s been the movement for gay rights, multiple movements for increasing accessibility for the disabled, there’s currently a movement to increase acceptance and accessibility for autistic and other people with abnormal psychology. Tied to that is the movement towards the acceptance of non-binary gender identities. Add to that increasing accessibility of women’s healthcare, legalizing marijuana, the creation of safe spaces, de-stigmatizing the violation of gender roles, economic equality, secular humanism, fighting against police brutality… etc.
There’s also been the movement for second-amendment rights, to make abortions illegal, to increase religiosity in schools and households, scientology, science denial, radicalized religious fundamentalism in both Islam and Christianity and most notably in recent years the revival of literal Nazis. There’s more you can probably think of, like environmentalism, libertarianism, the recent increase in homeschooling, Men’s Rights Activism and the related Pick Up Artist movement online.
That’s our population. It’s not actually that bad a sample size given how recent social movements in their current form are.
Movements are more similar to viruses than anything else in that they need a host–people–to exist, and reproduce by obtaining more hosts. Therefore, movements that are good at obtaining more hosts, and that are good at survival (that is, because they either extend the lifespan of their hosts, like Mormonism does, or because they spread faster than they kill the hosts, like cigarette smoking), are movements that are likely to continue onto the next generation, until most movements have those traits.
This is why suicide cults are a lot less popular than Catholicism, by the way.
So, what have social movements evolved? Well, after movements to abolish slavery and grant women’s suffrage, they developed a trait. It had been used in the past by religions, themselves either a kind of movement or a precursor to them depending on your views.
Shame at the inhumanity of a set of behaviours was for a long time a very useful tool at modifying it. It is why it was often used to hinder movements as well as to further them. Over time, the race traitor’s position became the racist’s, for people ceased to be ashamed of being race traitors and began being ashamed of being racist. Sexist went the same route, going from adjective to insult over a relatively short time span, even for linguistic drift in the English language.
You can see this trait begin to appear in new movements with words like Islamophobic and Homophobic, which were never just adjectives. Instead the movements coined the insults that would shame the opposition into different behaviour from the get-go, after such an adaptation proved useful for previous movements.
You can see it now in the many people opposing abortion, who use terms such as baby-killer to shame others into behaving differently. They walk up to you and ask “do you believe in human rights?”. If you answer anything other than “yes”, you’re a monster, and if you answer “yes”, you’re officially on their side.
Thus shame (like flight in birds, bats and insects) is an adaptation at which many different movements have arrived, somewhat independently of one another.
The same goes for inclusiveness. The more inclusive a movement is, the more accessible it is made out to be, the more hosts it will reach. This is kind of a tautology, but it is important to state because looking upon the more successful movements of today, they tend to be the most inclusive. For example, one particularly inclusive movement has been about gay rights. While it is related to one very small minority, it has gained steam far quicker than the somewhat analogous movement for making interracial marriage legal in America. And this is because the gay rights movement, while concerned with the rights of a small group, was not actively isolationist the way Aryan Nation movements need to be. They spoke about allies, they created parades where anybody can join in and have fun independently of their sexual orientation, they sought to normalize themselves when society was demonizing them. This made the change in perspective regarding the gay community much quicker than the perspectives regarding many racial or religious minorities with similar issues around marriage.
You can see this in action in terms of the “good” X. Other movements have adopted the idea of the “ally” into “a person who is not a member of this group but who will still be accepted provided they further the cause”, including groups that are in many ways devoted to nothing but being against some other group. If you don’t know what I mean, I will not destroy your innocence here. If you do… I do not need to speak further.
So we have shame and inclusiveness as important useful traits for a successful movement. We can see that they become used more frequently with every iteration in the somewhat longitudinal case study of feminism. First wave feminism was not very focused on shame, and was actually super racist, its focus was instead on marches and results. Because of this, it achieved some of what it wanted to, but left many people behind in the process. Across the decades though, you can see a more generous helping of shame and inclusiveness, which culminates in what people tend to refer to as intersectionality. This is the pinnacle of movement inclusiveness in that it allows those who are members of other movements and whose plight is not necessarily served by this or that movement to become part of it anyway by finding one or two shared foci.
A movement does not need to get results to spread, though. Strange detrimental behaviours can evolve thanks to their benefit in reproduction. See: birds singing, which is awful when you realize birds are giving away their location and opening themselves up to predators when they do that. Same with their bright colours. These similar oddities crop up in movements. For example, the use of shame, once important, seems to have become excessive and potentially harmful to many movements. Feminism is one thing that has reached a point of backlash, leading to the creation of things like “why I don’t need feminism”, whereupon women claim they do not need the movement that granted them rights because they now have them, like somebody who claims they no longer need medicine for a chronic disease because they feel better now after taking it for six months.
I do not know how to fix that, but it is a thing that happens, and should be made note of.
Another trait of movements is their generalization. Like feminism went from providing women suffrage to seeking access to education and to the workplace, and to equal pay, and to protection from harassment, and to reproductive rights, of course not in a neat order, many other movements have in turn generalized themselves to survive. The civil rights movement reformed into a kind of general opposition to racism after it reached its primary goal. The gay rights movement merged into what we now call the LGBTQ+ rights movement and has spread to include people of all gender identities, asexual people, and those whose sexual preferences are not clearly explained with words like Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. The movement against ableism has grown from trying to increase wheelchair accessibility and tools for blind and deaf people to including mental disabilities, mood disorders and even abnormal neurology such as that of people who have had strokes.
An important variable in evolution is of course the selection process. For every successful movement there are countless that never took off, from strange cults nobody joined to anarchism which continues to thrive in bursts among the general population before going quiet for a while.
The selection pressures on movements must be tied not only to whether or not they can spread, but whether or not their concerns will age well. There was a very important movement in favour of eugenics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but after Nazis very few people want to touch that with a ten foot pole. At least publicly and in those words. There were also movements against the advent of cars, and radio, and the television, and the steam engine, and the loom. Their concerns proved in some cases true, but in all cases insufficiently influential.
And so the question arises once more:
How Do Social Movements Evolve?
Well, they have traits, and if those traits are useful then more people become part of the movement. If those traits are not useful, the movement dies, or the version of the movement without the useful traits dies, and a new version with the beneficial traits arises. They spread from person to person, each host being affected by those traits, and then the hosts take some set of actions, which if it aids in the spreading of the movement, makes it grow, and if it doesn’t… doesn’t.
This process has provided at least three notable adaptations: Shame, inclusiveness, and generalization.
So… there. Answered. Boom.
I have this friend. She was raised in a very limited setting, and has done a lot of changing in the past few years. I’m confident that if the 5 years ago version of her and the current version of her could meet, they would not be able to stand one another or even recognizable as the same person. The 5-years-ago her has died.