This is a good and very useful examination of vertical and horizontal concept creep around topics like harm, trauma and addiction. I would argue that the concept of co-dependence has also experienced a broadening to the point of becoming virtually useless as a term.
Some of the concept creep is about increased sophistication in our understanding of impact, but some of it is about a failure to examine interactions from multiple perspectives. The perspectives most overlooked will tend be those of the most marginalised, as demonstrated below.
Two stories illustrate how concept creep can be a force for good or ill.
Story 1: During the 1950s, third graders would climb into their parents’ cars and ride around without seatbelts. When stopping short, fathers and mothers would use their right arms in hopes of keeping their little ones from hitting their heads on the dashboard. These kids lived in houses slathered with lead paint and spent hours in family rooms thick with cigarette smoke. Today, there are laws against letting children ride around without seat belts, lead paint is banned, and there is such a powerful stigma against exposing children to second-hand smoke that far fewer kids suffer from poor health outcomes related to such exposure. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for the better.
Story 2: During the 1950s, third graders could walk to school, play alone at the park, or bike 10 minutes to a friend’s house without anyone worrying or objecting, so long as they came home for supper or before the street lights came on. Today, though kidnapping is just as rare, a parent who allows that same behavior is at risk of arrest or even losing custody of their children to their state’s child protective services bureaucracy. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for ill. In Hanna Rosin’s words, it “stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”
From Conor Friedersdorf’s “How Americans became so sensitive to harm” in The Atlantic.
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“If I Had a Gun” by Gig Ryan at Australian Poetry Library. Link via James Tierney, @viragohaus.
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When I work with a person, I work with them for three hours. Nobody can perform for three hours. I have stamina, and I will wear them out, and that’s pretty much how I work. Every time I work with somebody, they say, “What do you want me to look like? How do you want me to be?” And I say, “Sit where you are and do whatever you want.” I’m refusing to tell them what to do.
There is nothing to hide behind, so a person is folding and folding and folding, and I think that’s why, almost every time, the person ends up looking like a child. They look like they are toddlers. I’ve been using the hashtag #TheBodyIsInnocent because when you strip it down, there’s a little kid in every single human, and that is something I saw afterwards. That was not my initial idea. Whatever my initial idea was, my discovery was a child. I was like, “Everybody’s just a baby.”
It seems like consent was important every step along the way, which I found interesting because we rarely talk about consent in non-sexual contexts. Why did you choose to do it that way?
When I tell other photographers [about my process], they react like, “That is crazy. You cannot do that. You’re just wasting your resources.” Because I’m expending my resources and my money to do this, and when I photograph someone who then changes their mind, that’s time that I didn’t photograph someone else. People say, “No, don’t use this.” What people don’t like is often the best picture in my eyes; they’re vulnerable in [those pictures], and that’s why they don’t like them.
But I feel like that’s the only way [this project would be] possible. If you always had that door open behind you and you knew you could walk away at any moment, would that change the way you were in the photo session?
From Suzannah Weiss’s “The photographer fighting against’body positivity'”, an interview with Anastasia Kuba in Broadly via Clem Bastow.
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Very interesting analysis here from my friend, Dr Petra Bueskens at Online Opinion.
And because the Left are defined by the most radical or progressive end of liberalism (the political place I too call home), their focus is on social change – there are always more battles to be won: closing the gender pay gap, fighting casualization, ending domestic violence, legalising gay marriage, reducing climate change etc. Because of this it is difficult to take stock of just how good, in historical and cross-cultural terms, things actually are!
Given the epistemic relativism that defines western liberalism, few are willing to celebrate the attributes of their own culture, ironically, because they are so steeped in it. This is the political vacuum that many concerned liberals, including myself, are worried the xenophobic and fundamentalist Right are filling with hate speech. That is, right wing anti-immigration groups in the West and conservative Fundamentalism in the Middle-East, which of course speaks to and potentially recruits disaffected Muslims in the West.
We may conclude, then, that feminists and others on the Left, were and are unusually quiet about Cologne because it invokes both a critique of Muslim fundamentalism (or, in other words, another political culture) and because it involves a defence of liberalism. In this specific case, the rights of women to bodily autonomy and the free and full use of public space.
While being at pains not to point the finger at vulnerable asylum seekers, we fail to address a social problem; we fail to protect women and we engage in a ‘white wash’ in not acknowledging the capacity for the reified victim to also, at times, be a perpetrator.
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I don’t agree with much of this by Laura Kipnis – for instance, I have trouble being that casual about university teacher-student sexual relationships – but I think her article, “Sexual paranoia strikes academe” in The Chronicle of Higher Education is raising some worthwhile questions about vulnerability and power.
Reading this article it strikes me that the over-simplification of sexual abuse/assault/harassment means that victims are only victims if they are ‘good people’ and conversely, abusers can only be that if they’re ‘bad people’. Realistically, both are ordinary people and there’s vulnerability all over the place. And ok, the woman in this situation might have forgotten that the man is also vulnerable. But he has forgotten that the woman he desires in a fairly objectifying way is actually a human, like him.
What struck me most, hearing the story, was how incapacitated this woman had felt, despite her advanced degree and accomplishments. The reason, I think, was that she imagined she was the only vulnerable one in the situation. But look at the editor: He was married, with a midlevel job in the scandal-averse world of corporate publishing. It simply wasn’t the case that he had all the power in the situation or nothing to lose. He may have been an occluded jerk, but he was also a fairly human-sized one.
So that’s an example of a real-world situation, postgraduation. Somehow I don’t see the publishing industry instituting codes banning unhappily married editors from going goopy over authors, though even with such a ban, will any set of regulations ever prevent affective misunderstandings and erotic crossed signals, compounded by power differentials, compounded further by subjective levels of vulnerability?
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From Damon Young’s “Men just don’t trust women. And this is a problem” in Very Smart Brothas:
But you know what I don’t really trust? What I’ve never actually trusted with any women I’ve been with? Her feelings.
If she approaches me pissed about something, my first reaction is “What’s wrong?”
My typical second reaction? Before she even gets the opportunity to tell me what’s wrong? “She’s probably overreacting.”
My typical third reaction? After she expresses what’s wrong? “Ok. I hear what you’re saying, and I’ll help. But whatever you’re upset about probably really isn’t that serious.”
I’m both smart and sane, so I don’t actually say any of this aloud. But I am often thinking it. Until she convinces me otherwise, I assume that her emotional reaction to a situation is disproportionate to my opinion of what level of emotional reaction the situation calls for. Basically, if she’s on eight, I assume the situation is really a six.
I’m speaking of my own relationship, but I know I’m not alone. The theme that women’s feelings aren’t really to be trusted by men drives (an estimated) 72.81% of the sitcoms we watch, 31.2% of the books we read, and 98.9% of the conversations men have with other men about the women in their lives. Basically, women are crazy, and we are not. Although many women seem to be very annoyed by it, it’s generally depicted as one of those cute and innocuous differences between the sexes.
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This culture of ours saved my life. This isn’t an exaggeration. If not for Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeline L’Engle, Star Trek, The Wild Wild West, comic books, Isaac Asimov, and Dr. Who, I would probably be dead. I grew up in a neighborhood where the idea of dreaming outside of the concrete, glass, and busted elevators that encroached on my every day was damn near forbidden — it could also get you killed. Dreaming above your station was discouraged as you didn’t want others to think you were better than them. If they were in the shit, so were you. So in secret, I visited fantastic worlds — these worlds kickstarted my dream machinery, inviting me to see beyond what I thought were my limits…
.. This culture of ours should be aspirational. Despite our too-human contemporary failings, SF primes us to think and dream ourselves out of our current circumstances…
.. If we can rally together to save our favorite show, we damn well better use our collective energies and influence to ensure that all women and girls feel safe in our presence and in our shared cultural spaces.
From Shawn Taylor with “Yes, All Geek Men” in The Nerds of Colour.
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