August 1st, 2009

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Why is this game rigged?

Recently I came across International Blog Against Racism Week and got to thinking ...

Efforts to make isms into wasms frequently bog down because the game is rigged. The isms have all built arrays of Catch-22 traps that would make old Grimtooth proud. For example:

If a woman is sexually enthusiastic, she's considered a slut.
If a woman is sexually unenthusiasic, she's considered frigid.

If a man tries to treat a woman like a lady (such as opening doors, paying for the date, etc.) then he's considered sexist.
If a man tries to treat a woman like he would treat another man (expecting her to do all that stuff for herself) then he's considered unromantic.

If a dark-skinned person speaks out against a racist incident, that's considered "being hostile."
If a dark-skinned person doesn't speak out against a racist incident, that's considered "being okay with it."

If a fair-skinned person writes/draws/sings about dark-skinned characters/traditions/objects/beliefs/ideas, that's considered "cultural misappropriation."
If a fair-skinned person does not write/draw/sing about dark-skinned characters/traditions/objects/beliefs/ideas, that's considered "making people of color invisible."

There is no unmarked case. There is no way to win. Everything you do will be considered wrong. Somebody will always wind up criticizing you no matter what you do; someone will always feel that they have a right to butt in and condemn you and what you're doing and your whole worldview, and to tell you what you ought to be doing instead and why your opinions or experiences are irrelevant. The system is designed that way.

Why is it designed that way?

Because we built it like that. The human species, across our widely assorted cultures, has built so many examples of rigged games run by advantaged groups that when a group looks around for examples, that's pretty much what they see -- so then they build a new game rigged in their favor, because it looks like that's how cultural games are supposed to be built here.

There is a very human tempation, when one has been harassed and stepped on, to get even when one has the upper hand. A bunch of women together will gripe about how awful men are; a bunch of men together will gripe about how awful women are. How many times will a woman listen to men criticize her sexuality before she tells them to go hang, and pulls her battery-operated boyfriend out of the drawer? How many times will a man try to navigate the rocky shoals of pleasing women before he gives up and hires a professional? Fair-skinned people will leverage things so that the work of fixing race dynamics is the responsibility of dark-skinned people. Dark-skinned people will clump together and stomp on fair-skinned people who try to touch the issue of race dynamics. How many times will a dark-skinned person try to handle the hot topic before throwing up their hands and letting it lie there in a steaming reeking pile? How many times will a fair-skinned person try to find a delicate way of discussing matters before giving up to duck and cover? Some people have the determination to keep going, but a lot of people don't, and even the ones who keep going get tired sometimes. That all creates a lot of inertia against change.

What can you do? The game is rigged. Dismantling any part of it is very difficult, and the blasted thing is self-repairing. It's like the Terminator -- you pretty much have to blow it in half and then lure the twitching bits into an industrial press to make it stop moving.

One thing that helps is simply recognizing that it's a system designed to create failure. When there is no safe path -- una salus victus. Don't hope for safety. Just try to get through the hazardous terrain, and when you have the opportunity, do what you can to make it a little less hazardous for those who come after.

Another thing that helps is knowledge. Study how the human mind works, how human cultures work, and as many versions of history as you can get your hands on. Understand what is happening, where it's coming from, and you will be better equipped to handle it.

Realize that we are all only human. We make mistakes. But when someone is honestly trying to do a right thing -- even if they botch it -- try to give them credit for making the effort. Otherwise, why should anyone try? The systems of oppression are designed to teach people not to try, but that too can fail. We can make it fail by giving others, and ourselves, a chance to work through the tangles.

Accept that you will get tired, that you will not always have the energy to do the patient thing or the gracious thing or anything at all. If possible, stop and take a break. Step back from the controversy for a while. If you're stuck in the midst of it, then just keep going as best you can, and even if things crash and burn all around you, at least you will know that you did the best you could with what you had.

Seek allies along the path, those who are like you and those who are different. Help them in their struggles so they may help your in yours. Watch for the patterns, learn, and take comfort in each other's companionship.

Believe that there is more to the world than conflict and controversy. For humans can be as sublime as we are vile, and virtue is our guiding star through all shadow.
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Excerpt of "The Worth of a Shell"

Long ago, when I joined the first-readers for haikujaguar, I got to see an early manuscript of her science fiction novel The Worth of a Shell. It features the Jokka, a species divided into three sexes: the fragile anadi (female), the creative emodo (male), and the durable eperu (neuter). An individual may be born any of those three sexes and may -- or may not -- change sex during either or both of two puberties. Their biology shapes much of their culture, along with a dogged determination to survive in an ungentle world. But not all Jokka believe that biology is destiny ...

Meet Dlane, anadi hera. Stand back, she bites.

Dlane at Dusk
Dlane at Dusk


Meet Thenet, eperu hero. It does not understand Dlane, but it does its best to protect her.

Against All Opposing Forces
Against All Opposing Forces


Their story will be arriving soon as a crowdfunded project. Enjoy an excerpt here. I have been wanting to share this with you for so long!