jedusor: (neuron art)
"Time makes more converts than reason." --Thomas Paine

Let me start off by saying that I myself am not very good at changing minds. Theoretical understanding of a concept does not necessarily equal practical expertise. I even know exactly what parts of the process I'm bad at, and I'm working on getting better, because I believe this is a very important skill. This is not what I do when I want to persuade people. This is what my study of the decision science literature has led me to believe I (and anyone) should do.

Jonathan Haidt came up with this great analogy to explain how decision behavior works: the rational brain is not a scientist, it's a lawyer. It's not analyzing and fighting the impulses coming out of your emotional brain; it's constantly working to come up with workable justifications for those impulses. For example, there are many logical reasons to be vegan, and I list them when people ask why I chose that lifestyle, but in truth my own path to veganism did not involve much logic at all. I wanted to be vegan because of a visceral distaste for the idea of meat and animal exploitation. I did the research, and I found the evidence to back up my choice, but the choice itself was not rational. I don't eat meat because, in short: corpses, ewwwwww.

When someone's mind is functioning like this, arguments tend to be heated and pointless. (When both people's minds are functioning like this, the arguments are even worse. I'm giving the reader the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the position you're trying to promote is, if not the actual correct position, at least logically defensible.) These instructions are not about how to win an argument, and following them is not a way to make yourself look good to observers. This is about actually instilling doubt in the person with whom you're communicating.

1. Don't focus on getting them to agree with you right now. If they end up expressing agreement during just one conversation, either they were already on the fence or they're saying it to shut you up. Think of your goal as getting them to continue considering the topic on their own time.

2. Start by getting them to want to agree with you. Think of ways things would be better for them if they were on your side.

3. Present your facts in I-statements--this is why I believe this, it's my understanding that, etc. Don't make it about them. If you used to agree with them, tell them that, and try to establish commonalities. The more they can see you as a peer and not an obstacle, the more likely you are to get through to them.

4. Don't shove evidence in their face and demand a response. When you ask people to consider facts that counter their beliefs, their beliefs actually grow stronger. This probably has something to do with defensiveness. So try to avoid getting confrontational. Give them things to think about, not things to react to.

5. Wait. This can be hard, but really, these things need time to percolate. It took me years to be ready to challenge my own thoughts about abortion. Some people take decades to be ready to challenge their own thoughts about things like religion. In the meantime, be available to answer questions and provide information, but don't keep bugging them about it. That won't make them any more open to listening to you.

6. Don't get meta. I don't think this is a problem for most people, but it's where I fall hard. I see people expressing certain thoughts, or justifying themselves in certain ways, and I just can't help telling them all about why they believe the things they believe. This does not help. Ever.

This is not to say that heated argument doesn't have its place. Anger is a powerful tool. If you want to fire up people who already agree with you, change laws, start social movements, then torches and pitchforks might be your best bet. Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" is a fantastic book for atheists, and for religious people who are already massively disillusioned and looking for evidence to hand their lawyer brains. But it's a terrible book for the currently pious. It's way too confrontational and condescending.

Being confrontational and condescending can (doesn't always, but can) stomp people down. It can show everyone else present that you're right and they're wrong. But you're not going to honestly change anyone's mind by ripping them apart.

Conformity

May. 28th, 2011 05:25 pm
jedusor: (axe murderer)
When I was twelve, I spent an afternoon hanging out with a girl who was not like most of the people I knew. I think her name was Morgan. She was also twelve years old. She wore enormous hoop earrings and makeup applied so expertly that I wasn't sure it was there, and she liked SpongeBob SquarePants. (This was 2003, when it was fashionable for teenagers to like SpongeBob SquarePants.) She acted very bored, not with me so much as with the world, and I didn't understand her very well.

I told Morgan that she seemed normal. I said it apologetically, because in the world where I grew up, that wasn't a compliment. I spent my childhood around freaks and hippies, geeks and jugglers, people who valued intelligence and originality.

She didn't seem to mind at all. "Why don't you want to be normal?" she asked.

"Because then you're just like everyone else," I said. "You're just a conformist."

"What's wrong with conformity?"

I was flummoxed. I distinctly remember struggling to even process that question. I ended up stammering something about how I wanted to do something important with my life someday, and that I wouldn't be able to set myself apart if I never did anything differently, but it wasn't a real answer. I didn't have a real answer to that question. Conformity was bad because it was bad, that was all. When I liked things that other people liked, when I got into Pokemon and Harry Potter and Avril Lavigne, I insisted that they were exceptions, that they were good despite the fact that they were popular. I kept doing this through adolescence--sure, this song plays on the radio all the time, but it's actually a pretty great song. This TV show is actually totally awesome, even though everyone watches it.

I was a pretty smart kid, or so I believed because I'd been told that so many times, but I somehow never scraped together the sense to consider the possibility that things might be popular because they were good.

I didn't have an answer for Morgan because I didn't understand what I was talking about when I used the word "conformity." Conformity, in the context that I meant it when I denigrated it, means behaving in socially standard ways because they are socially standard. There are often excellent reasons to do this, which is another thing it took me a while to realize, although it can be dangerous to get in the habit of it.

But there are other reasons to engage in socially standard preference behaviors. It's possible to like a band or fashion for its own sake, not because everyone else does. I am of the opinion that Lady Gaga is a damn good musician, and I didn't come to that conclusion based on how many other people agree or how many people don't. I just like her music. And yeah, some people tend to blindly follow the trends, but trends don't exist because of the people who follow them once they're already there. Trends exist because of a whole lot of people who, individually, just like the music.

It's also possible to engage in a particular behavior not to join the masses, but to understand them. I read the trending tags on Twitter on occasion, not because I think I'll find anything particularly worthwhile there, but because there are a lot of people in the world that aren't me. I don't watch Glee because I think it's good; I watch it because there are a lot of kids growing up right now whose worldviews will be influenced by it, and I want to have that cultural context. (I also watch it because there are two plus-sized characters and five queer characters, and even if they're all as two-dimensional as the rest of the cast and the plots suck like they were written by Edward Hamhands, I can't help wanting to support that kind of presence on such a mainstream show.)

I'm not just figuring all this out now. I think I had most of it worked out in my own head by the time I was sixteen or seventeen. It's just hard to articulate, because preference behavior seems so ingrained. And it's really not. That's just mixing up the concept of ingrained behavior with the concept of impulse. Preferences are extremely impulsive, but they're not predetermined. They can be influenced and to some extent controlled by the most random factors. One of the factors that tends to determine my behavior is the drive to understand how people think. Sometimes that means taking conformist behavior seriously, and sometimes it means identifying and examining it in myself.
jedusor: (Default)
I just posted this comment in [livejournal.com profile] imagines's journal:

I always have one clean file with the actual story and then a second file with stuff like title ideas, summary ideas, outline notes in approximately the correct order, phrases/lines I want to include later on, scenes I wrote out of order (because I cannot write big chunks of new words when there is text under what I'm writing, I have to work off the end of a document, I'm OCD like that), factual details I want to research, head-sorting-out exposition on characterization/motives/backstory that's too explicit to go in the final piece, etc. etc. etc.

I never used to do this, but now it's an invaluable habit. I don't actually remember when it started. I'm fairly sure I kept some sort of notes file for my NaNo novel in 2007, but I don't think I did it for shorter pieces until more recently. Now I create the notes file before the story file more often than not, and I almost always have both files open side-by-side when I'm writing, so I can refer back to my notes and modify them as needed.

The notes file usually starts out as a single vague stream-of-consciousness paragraph consisting of one or more horrifically run-on sentences, sometimes c&p'd from an e-mail or comment conversation, that outline the general idea of the story. This is not always grammatically correct and usually involves a lot of handwaving and swearing and injudicious capitalization, e.g. "and then Character A is all 'fuck that noise, I want some cake' and rushes the bakery and Character B is all like OH NO YOU DON'T YOU LITTLE SNOTRAG and whips out her katana and they have a karate duel (katanas/martial arts historical connection? research this) and while they're beating the shit out of each other they hash out the misunderstanding with the shoelace from earlier. and B realizes that with the shoelace thing out of the way there's no actual reason to deny A cake but by this point it's about PRINCIPLES and shit, except I think it'll prob be A's POV so this will have to be revealed all subtly through dialogue. So then B has A pinned down with the katana at his throat and the sweet old baker dude sticks his head out the door all 'why hello there B, would you and your friend like some cake' and B is like 'fuck it' and internally resolves her shoelace issues (hm, maybe it should be B's POV after all) and shares the cake with A, and cuts it with the katana, and that should be metaphorical but for pete's sake don't overdo it like you did with those motherfucking trees. close with them hanging out together by the pool later in the afternoon and baker dude coming out and asking why there's a shoelace in the oven."

Then I pick this apart into an outline, bulleted by scene, with notes separated at the bottom and potential titles at the top, like so:

Cake Or Death? Torte Liability?

-opening scene: baking cake, shoelace gets lost, argument, B stomps off
-epic hunt for shoelace (introduce baker dude during this scene)
-confrontation, fight, shoelace revelation, baker dude offers cake, B cuts it with katana
-pool scene, baker dude comes out and asks about shoelace

baker dude's relationship to B? family?

look up katana info

first line of last scene, before baker dude shows up: "It's called an aglet. Everyone knows that. It's the most widely known little-known fact in the history of pointless trivia."


Sometime during this process, or shortly after, I usually get an idea for a first sentence. I occasionally write a line or a snippet of a scene out of order, but those go in the notes file--the actual story is created from beginning to end, and I need a solid first line before I can get down to the business of producing words. I also need white space--not only do I have to write from the end of the document, but if I'm at the bottom of my screen, I have to add in a bunch of blank line breaks to give myself some room. If I need to go back and add in a chunk of words in a scene I'm already past, I do the same thing with the line breaks.

From there, it's a constant back-and-forth between writing from the outline and modifying the outline to fit what I'm writing. I delete scene summaries from the outline once they're written, and I delete notes as they become irrelevant, so my notes file shrinks toward the end of the story. When I'm done writing, I delete the empty notes file. I usually let the story sit for a few days before coming back to edit, but I rarely do a large-scale rewrite--as I said, I do the bulk of my rewriting before the first draft is fully complete. Most of the stories I've been writing lately are fanfic, so once I've gone over the final product a few times (and sometimes sent it to a beta-reader for comments), I post it on my fandom journal.
jedusor: (this is cool)
I just stumbled across a lovely example of the concept of the hipster: "Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend's Too Stupid To Know About" by Tullycraft. It reminded me that I'd been meaning to try to find Pierre Bordieu's 1963 book “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste" online, since my library doesn't have it. I heard of it through a New York Times article called The Sociology of the Hipster, which is worth reading. Anyway, in the process of googling the book, I found a critical review of it and just had to stop and giggle for a moment about this: a critique of a critique of critiquing critique. Beautiful.

I've been thinking a lot about hipsters lately. My first exposure to the term was in early 2009, when I was linked to the photo blog Look At This Fucking Hipster. (Well, technically my first exposure to the term was probably in QC, but I don't think I ever really noticed it there.) I spent some time clicking through the blog, trying to figure out what on earth the pictures had in common. The blog is a lot funnier now that I have some background.

That NYT article defines hipsters by their judgment of taste. I think that's mostly accurate. A lot of subcultures involve judging taste--that's how you differentiate the in-group from the out-group*, by finding out what you agree and disagree about. But hipster culture is defined by value judgments of personal choice, to the extent that even an acknowledgement of the existence of the culture is an insult. No one wants to be called a hipster, because that means you care what other people think. The successful hipster manipulates other people's opinions of their taste while simultaneously cultivating an image of nonchalance.** There are more tangible hipster indicators, trucker hats and that particular kind of glasses and so forth, but they're all derived from the practice of judging judgment.

We all judge each other. I make a habit of fighting to the death to prove wrong anyone who gets all noble in my face and tells me they don't judge anyone. Bullshit. You do, and it's a good thing that you do, because if you were not capable of using heuristic mechanisms to take mental shortcuts through the maze of social interaction, you literally would not be able to function. (If you don't believe me on that, let me know and I will expand on the point with examples and citations until you do. I'm A Behavioral Neuroscientist, Ask Me How!)

But hipster culture isn't just about judging people. It's about judging people's judgments, their choices of clothing and friends and particularly music. The only other subculture I can think of that is focused so exclusively on judging taste is scene culture, and that overlaps significantly with hipsters.

And we all do that too, judging people's taste. Determining shared taste is important in the early stages of friendship, when you're deciding whether you'll get along. But I think it's important to distinguish between determining taste and actually placing a value judgment on it. Personally, I'm trying to move away from doing that. It's easy, so easy, to make fun of people who honestly love Twilight, or listen to Justin Bieber, or make a big deal out of Valentine's Day, or voluntarily wear crocs. Those value judgments are not ones I would make. But, and this is the culmination of a great deal of academic pondering, fuck that shit. I'm not making any promises, because sometimes the snark cannot be held within, but when it comes to purely aesthetic choices that don't actually matter to me, I'm making an effort to knock it off.

*I'm talking in psychological terms here. "In-group" and "out-group" don't just refer to high school cliques; they apply to any social community.
**This sentence is lifted directly from a disagreement I had in the comments of my little brother's friend's Facebook status with someone (I think he was fourteen years old) who claimed that Luna Lovegood was a hipster. I corrected him thoroughly.
jedusor: (Default)
I've been writing a lot more recently than I have in years, probably because I now actually have the time to get ideas down when they pop into my head. I mentioned in my end-of-year meme that I wrote over 60,000 words in 2010--probably about half of that was written during the last three months of the year. (Most of it was fanfic, although NaNoWriMo, while it didn't work out for me, did yield several original ideas I've been poking at.)

I was thinking today about the writing process, or rather my writing process, and how mentality and environment affect my ability to write. For me, there are two main aspects of writing: idea generation and first drafts. I prefer to write from the beginning to the end of a piece rather than jumping around between scenes, and I do a lot of restructuring and editing in between chunks of new words, so my first drafts tend to be pretty close to the final product. I know you're not Supposed to do that, and the whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get out of that habit, but I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that it's how I work best. Especially when I look at my '07 NaNoWriMo novel, which I have tried to revise several times without much success. So instead of fighting my urge to rewrite while writing, I'm trying to embrace it and work with it, and it's resulted in several pieces I'm pretty happy with.

Idea generation, unsurprisingly, seems to happen mostly when I'm letting my mind wander. I'm not sure why, but my best fiction ideas usually come to me while I'm falling asleep and my best academic ideas usually come to me when I'm doing boring, repetitive tasks. Several times, I've tried to generate fiction ideas while stocking merchandise at Williams-Sonoma by thinking about fanfic, and accidentally ended up writing treatises in my head on things like the neurological motivation for RPS and the connection between accuracy in social judgment and psychological health in celebrity-fan relationships.

Getting down the actual words requires different circumstances, and I'm still figuring out exactly what the right circumstances for me are. If I'm at home, I need silence for any kind of writing, and I usually need to be alone for fiction writing, although having people around can actually make academic writing easier as long as they're quiet. Considering this, it's weird that the most productive place for me to write right now is the bus. I discovered this a few months ago, when I needed to go to work right in the middle of a thought. I pulled up a notepad application on my phone, just to finish the paragraph before the right phrasing went out of my head, and wrote several hundred words during the twenty-minute ride downtown. I picked it back up on the way home, and ended up riding all the way to the end of the line and then catching another bus back to my stop because my writing was flowing so well that I didn't want to get off. I think I wrote 1300 words that day in just a couple of hours. The majority of the 10,300-word fic I spent the end of December on was written on the bus, using my Sidekick's thumb keyboard. (Which, let me tell you, ow. I tried using my laptop, but it's hard to see the screen and I get paranoid that people are looking, and I'm also wary about leaving it in the break room.)

I'm not sure why the bus is so inspirational for me. I think it's partially that the internet is available but not easy to use--cutting myself off from the web entirely doesn't work well for me because I'm the sort of person who stubbornly resists authority even when it's in my own head, but I'll happily choose not to dick around on the internet because it takes forever to load and scrolling is a pain in the ass. It also may have something to do with thalamic response to the white noise and vibrations on a bus. Maybe I should buy a massage chair.

In the end, I think writing, for me, can be broken down into creativity and focus. Idea generation requires creativity without focus, whereas pounding out the actual words requires creativity and focus. Sometimes I get focus without creativity, which usually means a lot of rereading, minor editing, and staring at my outlines. It doesn't feel productive while I'm doing it, but I actually think those periods are a helpful and even necessary part of the process, letting the work I've done sink in and looking at it like a reader would.

A thought

Feb. 5th, 2010 02:31 pm
jedusor: (Default)
The whole point of human existence--the whole point of the existence of any organism--is to reproduce. That's basic biology. It's self-preservation once removed; by having babies, we make sure there's as much of us left in the world when we leave as possible.

I think I'm just as driven to pass myself along as anyone, but not genetically. For me, what's important is the stuff that happened to me after the blueprints were done. I care about what experience has done to my neurons, not the initial tabula rasa configuration. I want to share my knowledge, my thoughts, my gradually changing perception of the world as I find out more about it. Genetics affects all that, certainly, but all it gives us is potential. It's experience that determines, in the long run, who we are.

Maybe that's why I blog. Maybe that's why one of my favorite feelings in the world is the feeling I get when I phrase something a certain way and someone looks at me and goes, "WHOA. Yes. That." Maybe that's why, despite all my certainty that I never want biological children, I've always left the possibility of adoption open. It's because the DNA isn't what's important to me. The ideas are.

Maybe teaching wouldn't be so terrible a career path for me, after all.

On "home"

May. 14th, 2009 10:29 am
jedusor: (Default)
So, there's something I don't get.

I've always looked forward to turning eighteen and moving out. My family rocks, but I never had a choice about moving in with them. Besides, moving out is what you do when you grow up, right? You do your own thing, you make your own way in the world, you get your own physical space as well as the space to make your own decisions.

I know I'm not the only person who takes this approach. Sure, there are plenty of people who stay with their families into adulthood, and that's fine if that's how you do things. But there were also plenty of people alongside me throughout adolescence, chomping at the bit to get out of their houses the day they hit eighteen. And some of them--not all, but some--did.

This is not unexpected, is it? As a country, we grant people legal adulthood at eighteen. It shouldn't be a surprise that some of us grab that and run with it. And yet both socially and bureaucratically, it's assumed that young people have a "home" with their parents. Clark refused to accept my college mailbox as my current address; since I now have an off-campus apartment, I called to change it to this one, and they initially refused to change it because it's a "summer residence, not a permanent residence." Financial aid is impossible to get without taking parental income information into account until the student is 25, even if the parents refuse to pay a cent; I know several people who have been thoroughly screwed over by this policy. I can't count the number of people who have asked whether I'm "going home" for a school break or for the summer, and telling them that I live here only gets a confused "I thought you were from California?"

It's not just college students, either. I hear real grownups with houses and kids and everything referring to visiting their parents as "going home." I don't understand. I visit my family members, and I enjoy those visits, but they're visits. When I go to Davis, where I was born and spent my childhood, it's pleasantly familiar as the place I grew up, but it's not home. To me, home is where I go at the end of the day. That was my parents' house, once. Then it was my grandparents' house. Then it was a dorm room. Now it's an apartment in Worcester, Massachusetts, with a couple of near-strangers who seem pretty nice. In the future, it might be my own place, or a place I share with people I love; it might be P's couch in Lyon, if I ever manage to get my butt across the Atlantic; it might even be an actual house of my own someday, unlikely as settling down feels to me now. But "home" doesn't mean someplace far away that I only see once or twice a year, and it seems very strange to me that that's what others expect it to mean.
jedusor: (Default)
I've been called a crazy irrational tree-hugger without any respect for facts, and I've been called a cold scientific-minded student who can't accept anything without published evidence. Some people tease me about being vegan and enjoying pagan gatherings; others hear a description of the Whole Earth Festival and express astonishment that I would be caught dead at such a wifty event.

I've been aware of this odd discrepancy for some time, but it's been particularly noticeable recently because of the ramifications of certain people perceiving me as one way or the other. I've been learning about self-presentation and judgment of others in social psychology, and that's definitely helped me understand what's going on here. People behave differently in different situations. In a classroom situation, or with people who are more analytical in general, I'm going to try to be as rational and objective as I can, and I'm going to question people's assumptions. If I'm at the Gaia Goddess Gathering in the middle of the woods, I'm not going to argue cartography with the chick in the tie-dye scarf who's drawing energy and passion from the south. Scientific research isn't about wifty stuff, and hippie culture isn't about empirical testing. And people who see me in one of those situations are not likely to see me in the other.

The most interesting thing about this for me is that they're not making a mistake by seeing me one way or the other. The way I present myself has everything to do with others' impressions of me as a person. The problem only arises when someone refuses to acknowledge evidence that other aspects of me exist (as has definitely happened from both sides of this particular dichotomy). That's the fundamental attribution error, and it's a pain in the ass.

I desperately want to reread The Phantom Tollbooth now.
jedusor: (Default)
I just read a surprisingly interesting article on highway fonts, linked in [livejournal.com profile] 530nm330hz's journal. I had trouble telling the difference between Highway Gothic and Clearview until I read the part about the shape of the words, and then I totally got it. Clearview places the letters closer together and narrows the gap in height between capital and lower-case letters, and that really does help form the shape of the word. Looking at it from that point of view, I could immediately tell the two apart.

I had a conversation a while ago with Mark and [livejournal.com profile] kat_nano about word shapes. Words have always had shapes in my mind, but I wasn't at all conscious of it until I tried to describe it. They're very definite shapes, but I couldn't express many of them to Kat, who seemed fascinated by the concept. "Shapes" might not even be the right term. They're not three-dimensional, and they move. No, not move. Flow. A sentence, if I focus on it, is like a complicated dance in my mind. When there's a spelling error, or even sometimes a grammar error, I know that something is wrong before I process the specific mistake because there's a skip, a misstep, in the dance.

Kat wanted to know if the shapes had color; to me, that was like asking whether wind has color. It's not an applicable question. I can't see them, exactly, nor feel them. I just know them. I tried to show her a few by waving my hands around, but I felt like an idiot more often than I felt like I was getting the sense of it across.

She asked if a movement ever reminded me of a word, and I said yes, but couldn't think of any examples. The next day, bagging groceries, I realized that the movement my hand makes when I open a freezer bag is the shape of the word "pot." It's the word that has the shape, not the meaning- the shape is the same whether the word refers to marijuana or cooking. Most word shapes don't correspond with actual body movements, though. The dance isn't done with a body, imagined or otherwise; it's a dance of words, and words only.

Some of the shapes correspond to their meanings, and some don't. The shape of the word "dress" feels like pulling up a handful of fabric in a swooping way, with a quick upward movement (leaving loose pleats in the swoop) on the right-hand side. It has to be the right because the "ess" part of the word is on the right, but that's not the case for all words; "over" moves to the left, and the center of the word (the part the movement is passing over) is the "v". I don't really think any of that makes sense outside my mind, though, and even if it does, the shape you're imagining probably isn't the same one I'm imagining.

"Does" is like a horse's neck facing left, with the "s" as a sort of fringe of mane, but only in that pronunciation. If you're referring to multiple female deer, it's a different shape, with more of a break between the "o" and the "e". The neck is more horizontal if the D is capitalized.

By becoming aware of these shapes, I've realized why I can't learn words without knowing how they're spelled. Sounds don't have shapes to me. (I suppose sound must have some bearing if pronunciation affects shapes, but words that are spelled differently but sound alike are also differently shaped. "Affect" and "effect" are not the same shape.) This is also probably why I have difficulty remembering words in languages that don't use the alphabet I'm familiar with.

I'm very curious about what you all think of this.
jedusor: (Default)
I think I've managed to put my thoughts into words this time. )

This, by the way, is why I love my UU church: we can talk about things like this, and hear other people's thoughts and opinions, and no one has to be afraid to express themselves because of the way they're supposed to think.

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