BAN #231: Taking my brain off of cruise control

29 June 2020   Issue #231

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

Subscribers free their minds, and the rest will follow.

Piece of mind

I have opinions. I try to base them on evidence.

I think about the patriarchy a lot.

Not usually in that term, though. Normally it just floats around in my brain as sexism. They’re different; the fact that men dominate our society in nearly every way stems in part from sexism.

But of late — and by this I mean the past, oh say 20 years of my life — I’m noticing it all more, like coming out of a fog and going from seeing vague outlines to sharper details. I wrote about this in a previous newsletter (“What’s Done After”), and that should give you some background to my own experiences here.

The biggest aspect of this personally is the idea of shucking off my own insular notions of what life is supposed to be. Thinking of it as popping the bubble of privilege, of my own illusory self-importance. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m still working my way through it. It’s easier to see a mote in others, obviously, before coming to the realization that maybe, just maybe, you have a beam in your own eye. I’ve written about privilege in others before, even while still grappling with my own issues. But that helped me find my own way.

As I wrote in that earlier article, a lot of women helped me see this, but sometimes it was a man. Or at least helped me articulate it. I find that John Scalzi and I agree on a vast majority of these sorts of things, and his essay “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” is a masterwork of this. I am still sardonically amused by the sheer number of men who yelled at him after he wrote it, not seeing that their very arguments were proving his point, like heat tempering a sword and making it stronger.

I recently read an excellent essay on this from a woman’s point of view. It’s called “The Anger of the White Male Lie”, by writer Ijeoma Oluo. Like John’s piece, she talks about how easy white males have it, but her take comes at it from a different angle; she is simultaneously angry and sympathetic. Angry that her life is so profoundly and negatively affected by the patriarchy assumed by so many white males (and please, don’t Not All Men me here, OK?), but also sympathetic, even sorrowful, of the negative effect the patriarchy has on men.

She digs into the lie told to white men that they can have it all just by existing, that women are a prize they are awarded along with the keys to the kingdom, and if a woman is doing something that is out of her station, then he has the right, the imperative, to berate her for it. At least.

Here’s a bit of her essay":


[Excerpt from Ijeoma Oluo’s essay on race and privilege.]


It’s a sobering read, and a reminder that while women inarguably bear the majority of this burden, we all suffer at some level under its yoke; that unless we actually are in a position of power (or the need for power, like say, when a white male does something horrid and the media bend over backwards to accommodate his needs for absolution), it oppresses us all, just in different ways. Toxic masculinity is one outcome of this, as is just a lot of broken hope for men that need not exist.

This all crowded together in my mind recently because, of all things, my wife and I watched the movie “Bridesmaids” again. We saw it together when it came out in the theater in 2011, and at the time my feelings on it were “meh”. It was funny, but not the riotous comedy my wife loved it for. We talked about it at the time but I just didn’t agree with her.

But when I saw it again, all these years later, I saw the deeper humor in it. I saw the relationships between women, between men and women, and how they were mocking tropes and uplifting true connections. And I laughed my ass off at the movie.

My wife and I talked about it after, and I realized that even just 9 years ago I was struggling much harder to break free of my own parcel of the sexism miasma I was raised in. A decade later and that work is paying off; I see it much more easily in myself now.

And I can admit it more easily now. I wouldn’t say it’s daily, but relatively often I will react to something, and then stop in my tracks realizing that’s a holdover from my thinking in the past. I can examine it, turn it over in my mind, see it from different angles, then toss it into the dustbin and move on.

That’s a pretty good feeling. I like growing, learning, progressing, doing something to be better. It helps me understand others, too, and have more empathy for them.

And that’s another reason I like Oluo’s essay. She takes the time to see this from different angles, too, and even finds sympathy for the men under the burden of patriarchy. That sort of compassion is something we need for all things in life, especially with so many people in power who clearly lack even the most basic scraps of it.

Not to be too twee, but the pandemic makes this clear as well; self-centeredness is a trap, and compassion for others is what saves us. Understanding that we all need to work together points us to the way out.

I lived a lot of my life with my brain on cruise control, and it takes a lot of effort to break out of that rut. Living that way, thinking that way, is comfortable, it’s easy, and it’s wrong. But the payoff for the effort to break out of it is wonderful. Growth.

What setting is your life on? And how can you go about getting out of that groove?

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Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Pluto may have started off being warm from impacts, and still has a liquid water ocean under it surface. From Monday’s post. Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI ]

Monday 22 June, 2020: Did Pluto start hot or cold?

Tuesday 23 June, 2020: Wait. *How* big is Antares?

Wednesday 24 June, 2020: A big black hole just ate a much smaller black hole. Or a neutron star. Maybe.

Thursday 25 June, 2020: High-def images show planetary construction sites around nearby stars

Friday 26 June, 2020: Hubble sees a star flapping its wings (video)

Et alia

You can email me at thebadastronomer@gmail.com (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!