Reductionist thinking

I read a trans woman the other day saying we should not refer to “transition”, because it fuels the idea that we change from female to male, or vice versa. It prompted me to decide we transition from pretence to authenticity. There goes my rational mind, again, working out arguments why I was right to do what I did, by expressing them in words. Some call that “rationalisation”.

This is the human way. Transition was what I desired, more than anything else. It still makes no sense to me, is arguably harmful, yet I would do the same again- even though I desperately want to make sense of everything.

I am more myself than before.

People want ridiculous things. I am reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, and a hundred pages in, finding it almost unreadable. Chip built a solid academic career, but then had sex with a student and wrote one of her essays for her, contrary to explicit college rules. He feels hard done by: she led him on! He writes a screen-play, but it is deeply flawed. He sees flaws, and fiddles with it without correcting it. He borrows $20,000 from his sister and fritters it. Maybe it was something in the air, around 2000: S is reading an English novel from about the same time, about a barrister’s life imploding.

His real problems are too great to tackle, so he footers about with irrelevancies. (“Footer” is Scots– surely it is linked to the French foutre.)

At the weekend, I was away with the Quakers, where Jan Arriens wrestled with our divided selves- head and heart, reason and intuition, and quoted Karen Armstrong on myth. When we act on myth, we test their value, and unlock our heroic potential. Jesus’ story is told that we might imitate him. We cannot know we are right through ratiocination, merely feel we are right- or deny our feeling that we are wrong. Chip is wholly concerned with appearances. He sells books which cost him $3000 for $65, to not look a fool on a date with his girlfriend. He wants things to be alright, for one more day.

Feeling, and feeling, and things go right, or not-

Jan Arriens values the feelings. Quakers do. We talk of the promptings of love and truth in our hearts as the leadings of God, and acting on right leadings is the heart of our faith. Others may test our leadings: it is always easier to see the insanity of another’s desire than ones own. We dismiss as “reductionist” the attempt to make sense of the world separate from feelings. The rational mind has value insofar as it helps the person put their desires into practice.

Jan links heart and head, respectively, with love and compassion, in which people give to each other who they really are, recognise their differences and share their vulnerabilities, and with ego, competing, manipulating, and seeking to control. Yet selfish and selfless in me are both emotional. I love being loving. I fear starving and freezing alone.

Monet, Cliffs near Dieppe

Aura reading

She had a message for me, from some spiritual source. Sometimes, she gets these messages and the imperative to pass them on. She would tell me of the colours of my aura. My path is the violet ray, one of the most difficult paths.

Some years ago my aura would have been silver, that is, merely reflective, hiding my true nature. She would not want to engage with someone like that because they are not telling their truth to her.

Now, my aura is green and brown. Brown means attachment to material things. In the end, my aura will be purple, purely spiritual. I should wear amethyst for protection.

I was taken aback by this, by her intensity and certainty of the message itself, and by the message. I liked the thought of being spiritual. Possibly, I should just have heard it and left it, to percolate in my unconscious; but I treasure such things, so wrote it down.

When I saw her next day, I asked her what green meant: I had forgotten green, and it is often what I forget that is the most important part. She tells me green means growth. This means I am taking in energy from others, in order to grow. I do not want to be dependent- but what I heard then was forgiveness for my dependent state. And brown also means grounded, for we are material beings and material things are important.

Indeed it is not concern for material things that is spiritually problematic, but fear for the future held back by a belief that material things protect us from threat and an undue concern to accumulate material things and make permanent ones access to them: for no thing is permanent. But this is a thought I have had afterwards.

Then, I thought that her reading was not difficult to make. I had said I was trans, and she probably saw it before anyway. So self-concealment, at least in my own understanding, would fit. As for now, I am Quaker so of course would see spiritual growth as important; and some concern for material things is necessary, though it is a balance, and ones concern may be too great or too little. I am not sure what the violet path or purple aura would mean.

Though my thought after her first discussion was that the path will unfold and speculation about what later parts of it will look like get in the way of seeing where I am, and I value that thought.

I wondered if the purple related to the rainbow, or the crown chakra. She told me of a meditation, consciously calling my own energy back to me, and shedding energy I had absorbed from others. Worry without progress can use energy. These metaphors seem useful to me.

What do the colours mean? Here I learn that violet is the most sensitive colour, revealing psychic power, intuitive, visionary, magical, artistic. Yay! Here violet is also attunement with self, futuristic and idealistic. Though silver, there, means other than she said. Here is one page on the violet ray.

aura colours

Channelling anger

Here’s Julie Bindel, the trans eraser, on being no-platformed. She is the victim, she claims. She divides us into the good trans, who co-operate with her, and the bad trans who disagree. When we are liberated, she calls that “oppressive”. She says “This isn’t about the transgender issue” but it is- when you keep talking and writing about trans, that’s about trans. She minimises her offence: she claims her 2004 article used “inappropriate humour”, but does not mention her transphobic rant on Radio 4 in 2013.

Then the comments. “Hecuba” harangues her for being too moderate: This is why we real Radical Feminists refuse to refer to biological males who pretend they are females as ‘she.’ It isn’t ‘basic manners’ Bindel it is a refusal to accept male lies they are really females in a male body. But you know this already Bindel yet you continue to try and ‘have it both ways’ by pandering to the men and pretending you are a real Radical Feminist.

Maria speaks up for us: for those who need to have the world in binary black and white, truth and lie, good and bad, such liberal acceptance of complexity is both threatening and incomprehensible. And then the pile-on begins: twenty responses, including one describing Caitlyn Jenner as “a Republican who just killed someone”. It was a car crash. All charges were dropped. Victims in the third car sued the estate of the dead woman. “Jo” misrepresents the case to make the trans woman a monster.

Then there was the Independent article. In the comments, I read we are deluded perverts, and if we object that is called “narcissistic rage”. We need to be protected from our sick desire to be mutilated. The most threatening thing said is that children who we might inveigle into following us into desiring mutilation need to be protected from us.

My facebook friend has just had her operation. She is an adult, and she and her female partner together can make their own choices. Her psychiatrists and surgeon are clear that this is the appropriate treatment.

I speak up for the liberal acceptance of complexity. I wanted transition more than anything else in the world. I cannot imagine reverting. I want to live my life quietly.

There is a great deal of anger and fear. People fear for our jobs, and our standard of living. Our anger is diverted against acceptable targets: for the right wing, immigrants and benefit claimants; but for these radical feminists, the might of the patriarchy is too large a target, so a huge amount of the anger is diverted against trans women.

I wonder if Hecuba has ever met a trans woman. What did that trans woman do to her, to justify that outpouring of rage against Julie Bindel for not being transphobic enough? She may suffer all sorts of issues personally, sex discrimination, sexist remarks, yet I am her target.

If you cut me I bleed. Rants about trans folk are about me, and they frighten me. If you need to vent anger fear or frustration on the internet, vent it at the actual problem, the immediate cause of your anger. When people share incitement against trans women on the internet, and vent their anger pointlessly there, they only become more powerless.

Monet, Red boats at Argenteuil

a male “radical feminist”

If you spent all your waking hours reading radical feminists on the net saying how awful trans are, you would barely scratch the surface of it. There are blogs and forums almost entirely dedicated to such outpourings. Kiwifarms, which laughs at the most extreme inhabitants of the hugboxes, now has a forum on such things, where I read “if a man feels so entitled to having society validate his fetishes and misogyny that he’d kill himself if he isn’t catered to, then his suicide would be a relief to others.” That’s us told: that we kill ourselves is no ground for easing up on the hatred, and so no suffering of ours is enough to make them relent. The following page of that forum becomes a debate on what a trans woman should undergo to allow us to use women’s loos, and whether anything is enough. When someone starts listing cross-dressing sex offenders and their offences, Kiwifarms becomes what it had been satirising. Fortunately, someone points that up by saying “I don’t understand why we don’t call them transvestites anymore”.

“The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately 10% of the human race”. That is a quote from Sally Miller Gearhart, first open lesbian to gain a tenure-track faculty position in the US, now often used to show how feminists are anti-men but useful for a lesbian in the 1970s to fight back against her erasure.

I agree that feminism has a right to anger– another article written by a man- especially this bit: Should feminists turn their anger into rage? Never. Rage is aimless, painful, pointless and ill-conceived. Should they turn it into a blazing passion and a welcome desire to make the world a better place? The answer is a resounding yes, and I’d argue that’s what most feminists do. I tend to feel undirected rage can often develop into righteous anger, but that is a quibble.

I get why personal remarks can be objectionable. Yesterday two women told me how pretty my dress was, and in one case I felt overpowered- and liked it. She expressed surprise that I did not know the flowers on my dress were hellebore. That pleasure I feel is at the heart of some women’s objections.

The answer has to come in empathy and the human encounter. There is the desire, say, to have a leg removed and perhaps never walk properly again, in a living human being. See the distress of the person with this unwanted leg. Because our desires make no sense- all humans, not just trans folk- reducing discourse to common-sense rational argument cannot fit human beings. Or at least, the desires that do make sense- a good career, a family, a house and pension fund- are less overwhelming than the ridiculous ones.

I accept women’s anger, though think it would be better directed against FGM, or restriction of reproductive rights, than against trans women. That might make a real difference to women’s lives, and in the case of trans women, the anger is often directed against the cis women who welcome and accept us.

But men who argue against accepting trans women have no such excuse. They are bullies who delight in bullying a weak marginalised group, for no purpose, and feel entitled by their male privilege. Someone angry because she feels forced into conventional femininity, disliking mine, has a reason. A man from male privilege disrespecting femininity is disrespecting a large proportion of the human race.

Monet, Poplars on the Epte

Knowing myself

So how might I know myself?

Love helps. I learned that in the counselling skills course: Love- but Carl Rogers thought himself a “scientist” so he termed it “unconditional positive regard”- with Empathy and “Congruence”- being naturally onesself, and not acting a role- together were therapeutic. I named my basic fear in my early forties- “The monster will get me”. It will get me, and I will die. This is very small child’s thought-process, possibly pre-verbal when first believed, and I dug further down into it. The monster will get me- if I am noticed, or if I show fear or anger, so I fear my fear and anger.

So I paid to sit in a room and be listened to, and puzzled out my neuroses.

Love helps, or harms. They would only force me to pretend to be other than I am out of Love, because they wanted the best for me, because they wanted me not to come to harm. So I am divided. There is a real me, which fears, and an imposed structure, a prison, which forbids my fear on pain of death. I make it myself, in response to my best understanding of what is outside me.

I might know myself by what I do. “Shadow motivation” means doing something to achieve what you want even though you are not conscious of wanting it. All the things I must not be, so I deny that I am, other people see because they observe my actions. The conscious bit, that falsely claimed to be “I”, would be better to observe than to think.

David Eagleman proposed that consciousness was useful when something new came up, to “think” about it. Someone else said it can lie convincingly if it genuinely does not know what the person is going to do. “Of course you can trust me,” it says, with a direct gaze, sincere smile and firm handshark.

Or humanity has not recovered from discovering agriculture. Being a hunter-gatherer meant dying aged twenty, but also just going out to get what you needed when you needed it. Farming means planting now so I may harvest in several months’ time, and even rotating crops so I may still harvest in several years’ time. Deferred gratification is a problem, when so many desires are immediate.

So I might stop bothering the conscious mind too much. Why analyse, when you can act? The brain shows little activity, performing an action you have learned well, and we have learned a lot by now. Analysis is useful for learning, but not for second guessing.

And yet I get back to the beginning: one thing I wanted from this was to know myself better, in how I related to you.

Monet sun setting

Master/ Slave

I know myself only if you recognise me. Or, as Hegel put it, Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or “recognized”. Humanity is an infinite spiritual unity, and individuals are part of that unity.

Do you know, really know, anyone else? Do you “sublate” them, negating them as other individuals and assimilating them into your understanding of yourself? I have struggled through pure Hegel, and Eric Steinhart’s commentary on it, not understanding. I need to know my own truth before I can judge theirs.

You mentioned this, and I do not know why. Is it because in your radical feminism, man is always destined by Patriarchy to be Master, woman to be slave? Then it would be for me to do the work of knowing myself without your service; and I could never be a woman, because I had never been so enslaved.

My experience is that I did not know myself because I was always looking to others to learn what I ought to be. I knew that was Manliness, which in part I learned from parents, yet I remember cack-handed attempts to fit in with my peers.

(I was delighted to borrow the denim jacket, because I wanted to be “cool”. Dancing in it made me hot and sweaty. “Well, take it off then!” he said, as if that was obvious, not seeing my perplexity.)

There is not enough research on us trans, but some say we have autistic-like characteristics. Which may or may not be like Asperger’s, I read or heard somewhere that the theoretical links between those might be false. Onywye, if autists have “an inability to read the emotional signs of others” (or not) they might like me have a desperation to see from others’ behaviour what is normal behaviour- without being able to relate it to their own emotional states.

If I’m cold I need some heat
If I’m hungry then I eat
I’m not responsible

sang Deep Purple, on their first reunion album in the 1980s. I know because I had that album- see what I mean about trying to be cool, or to understand? And, not? (Does anyone?)

If it rains I stay inside
If I’m scared I run and hide

moving from power to weakness. Is this more profound than I thought?

It seems to me that my mother formed me to be the low status one, deferring to others, at the bottom of the pecking order. Is love, slavery? Christ was crucified, after all, power in powerlessness-

If I want you as a replacement mother, to value me into existence, you will refuse. If I am hurled from “women’s space” into the darkness, rather than weep and gnash my teeth I must value myself. If I depend on another’s perception or valuing I will always be a slave.

Does this help me see you, as paradoxical as I am? I glimpse, but when I try to make sense of it I am grasping at air. Did Hegel do any better? Do you?

Degas Young Spartans exercising

Listening each other into existence

I become real when you see me. I know myself when reflected in you.

We do not know ourselves as others do. Others see things in us which are too frightening for us, so we deny them. Then we cannot deny our characteristics any longer, and get to see them- which can be so painful it feels like being born again.

Yet we have unconscious awareness of those qualities, and when we see them in another and admire or despise that other that is a clue, that this is something in myself.

And I am simply myself, but if you name my quality- my “courage” or “confusion”, whatever- it becomes me, it is a label I must live up to or cannot escape.

David Bowie said, something like I am what the greatest number of people believe me to be. He did his thing, and others named it, understanding or not understanding, some interpreting him to the wider public in a way he might like or not.

Or we can listen and permit, and give the other space to simply be and know themself for the first time. We can listen each other into existence. If you can hear with all the Love you have in your heart, accepting me, then I can tell my story, and hear it too.

Feminist theologian Nelle Morton, quoted at length here: I knew I had been experiencing something I had never experienced before. A complete reversal of the going logic in which someone speaks precisely so that more accurate hearing may take place. This woman was saying, and I had experienced, a depth hearing that takes place before the speaking – a hearing that is far more than acute listening. A hearing engaged in by the whole body that evokes speech –a new speech—a new creation. The woman had been heard to her own speech. The first time Nelle experienced this, the woman began, hesitating and awkward, but became wonderfully coherent. This can be revolutionary, empowering the disinherited.

It appears to belong in woman experience, says Nelle. Not necessarily because women are different from men, but because women share the same oppression by Patriarchy.

Sister let me be your servant (or, Brother, sister, let me serve you/ Brother let me be your servant)
let me be like Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant too

That is a song by a man. Is it subtly different? How do we approach equality, suffering together? Nelle says a woman started in patriarchal culture, alien to her nature, and spoke from her conditioning- which is a lie: yet heard, she spoke true. We know and own the words and the images as our own words and our own images that have come out of the depths of our struggle.

Is this a uniquely woman’s experience? Possibly it happens at Alcoholics Anonymous.

In my own moving experience like this, more than a year ago, women and men- and one whose sex and gender is interpreted by others, in a way I might like or not- heard a man, and he confessed his Wrongness- as he had been conditioned to see it- and we told him he was Not Wrong. This is not quite the same, even if he heard our love, as I think he did. Or with trans women at the Sibyls, we spoke together- dialogue, not extended time as in Nelle’s groups- and accepted the impossible, accepted we had to transition.

Patriarchy lies about me too. Is my oppression my way in to women’s experience? Is its difference insurmountable, or can empathy pass through that? Oh, do not reject my Love, for my Love is all I have to give!

Monet, Canoe on the Epte

The Equant point

Ptolemy was wrong. The Sun does not go round the Earth. Why did his view dominate our understanding for over 1300 years? Why was it so hard to change our minds?

Through the mediaeval period, Ptolemy superseded Aristotle’s understanding of celestial motion because he was more accurate. His theory could be used to predict where a planet would appear at future times. He was not only wrong about the Sun going round the Earth, but also about the celestial spheres: the planets were fixed to spheres, made of the etherial fifth element quintessence, and nesting within each other, else, how would they not fall to Earth? He was also wrong in holding to an Aristotelian idea, that because the Heavens are perfect, the planets must move in circles, because the circle is perfect.

The planets do not appear to move in perfect circles. They speed up and slow down, which is not perfect. Ptolemy’s answer was the Equant point. The Earth was not thought to be at the centre of the sphere on which the planet moved, but off-set. The equant point was also not at the centre: it was that place from which the planet would appear to move at a constant rate in its circle.

Ptolemy was right that Mars was closest to Earth, then Jupiter, then Saturn, because he decided that the slower moving planets were further away: but he had no reason for deciding that order.

He was a practical scientist, making new instruments for measuring the precise position of the planets more accurately than before. He was a mathematician, devising the mathematical models which enabled astronomers for centuries after to predict where the planets would appear.

Why would astronomers follow this false scheme? Because predicting the courses of the planets was a complex task. The student would learn the accumulated knowledge of humanity in making those predictions, the practical skills of observing and the mathematics, and so would have Ptolemy’s views inculcated. It was how it was. The observations slowly became more accurate with better instruments, diverging from Ptolemy’s mathematics; and it was important to measure the Heavens, because Easter fell on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal Equinox: we must therefore know when the Equinox is.

Copernicus placed the Sun at the centre, but retained the Greek idea that orbits were circular. Tycho Brahe had the Sun moving round the Earth, but Mercury and Venus moving round the Sun: the spheres, then, could not be, as they would be moving through each other. Johannes Kepler theorised that the planets moved in ellipses rather than circles, and Newton calculated how gravity affected their movement. But Mercury does not fit Newton’s laws, and this could be observed by the 19th century: it was theorised that there was another planet, Vulcan, within the orbit of Mercury whose gravity influenced it. Einstein’s theory explained the orbit of Mercury without need for another planet.

Ptolemy and the muse Astronomia

The Tao of war

Here is Boris, Prince Drubetskoy, the coming man who makes himself indispensable, who marries for money knowing that means he can never have Love, attached to the staff of Bagration. He knows that whatever happens at the battle of Borodino, he will gain for his master: if the battle is lost, it is the fault of Kutusov, Commander in Chief, and if won, it is the achievement of Bagration. So many men anticipate their own gain, of medals and advancement.

Bennigsen despises Kutusov. He sees an elementary error which will lead to slaughter: men at the base of a hill, from which they might be attacked. He orders them to the top of the hill, not thinking that they had been where they were for any reason- such as, to be concealed in ambush.

Solzhenitsyn pictures similar generals in August 1914, despising their commander so marching their own way, each in turn enveloped and annihilated by the Axis. In 1917, the Germans marched into Russia, as fast as they would in peacetime.

Clausewitz- whose concept of “friction” I remember, how any plan is worn away by Events, walks past, in animated conversation in German. War must be extended in space. I cannot put too high a price on this view. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky despises German thinking and analysis. Barclay de Tolly- despite his Scottish ancestry he is seen as a German, as all foreigners are called “German”- thinks things through, and loses. Bolkonsky knows he will die tomorrow. What matters in war is not theory, but spirit. The men who wish most to kill will do it. Barclay retreated at the moment to attack, when the fatherland had been besmirched by the invader, when Russian blood was up. No prisoners should be taken. War is murder, and chivalry makes it bearable, noble, possible; chivalry, the make-up on a pig, permits people to lie it is beautiful.

No-one understands. Napoleon wishes to advance, though that is what destroyed his army; the Russians want to hold him back. After, military historians try to find Causes: but causes are inaccessible to the human mind. The need to seek causes has been put into the soul of man. And the human mind, without grasping in their countlessness and complexity the conditions of phenomena, takes hold of the first, most comprehensible approximation and says, here is the cause. And claim the generals are geniuses, for intending the outcome achieved.

Kutuzov, who sleeps in staff meetings considering battle plans, is reading a French Gothic novel, Les Chevaliers du Cygne. Andrei, without knowing how, trusts him. The more he saw the absence of anything personal in this old man, in whom there seemed to remain only the habit of passions, and instead of intelligence (which groups events and draws conclusions) only the ability to calmly contemplate the course of events, the more calmed he felt over everything being as it had to be. “He won’t invent, won’t undertake anything, but he’ll listen to everything, remember everything, put everything in its place, won’t hinder anything or allow anything harmful. He understands that there is something stronger and more significant than his will- the inevitable course of events… and is able to renounce his personal will.”

Peter von Hess, the Battle of Borodino

Tolstoy and Love

Nikolai Rostov finds Marya Bolkonska, newly bereaved, alone and unsupported. The more generous she is to the muzhiks, the more rebellious they are. Their head-man rebels with them, her steward cannot control them. He goes and shouts at them, though he and one soldier are alone in the crowd and they could overwhelm him. They become obedient, and Princess Marya can escape the French, to Moscow.

She finds herself with tender feelings for him, and his comrades josh him about this plain, old maid- in her late twenties! Her luminous gaze makes one forget the plainness of her face, and she is extremely wealthy. Yet he thinks with guilt of Sonia, his parents’ penniless ward, who has loved him since childhood, and to whom he has promised himself. Dolokhov the duellist loved her, but Nikolai encouraged her love enough to make her reject him: so he beguiles Nikolai into a cheating card game, and wins 42,000 roubles from him. Nikolai’s father pays up, enmeshing him further in debt.

Marya’s brother Andrei loved Nikolai’s sister Natasha. She is not intelligent, but she is sweet. Andrei’s father opposed the match, and sends away for a year, for a German cure. Andrei was wounded at Austerlitz, feared dead, but taken to a French hospital. On the battlefield he looked up at the lofty, infinite sky. Everything is a deception, there is nothing except that sky. That changes a man. Theirs is a pure sweet love; but she falls into the clutches of Elena, countess Bezukhov. Elena’s brother Anatole fancies Natasha, so Elena overawes her with her social prowess, patronises her, adopts her and throws her together with Anatole. His contemptuous awareness of his own superiority arouses a woman’s curiosity, fear, and even love.

She sees him at the opera, and he stares at her. She is delighted that he is captivated. He speaks boldly and simply, and she loves his smile. He stares at her breasts. She would prefer him to look into her eyes, but when he does, she felt with fear and horror that between him and her that barrier of modesty which she had always felt between herself and other men was not there at all.

He wants to elope, and she consents. Dolokhov realises this is foolish: Anatole will run through his few thousand roubles in cash in no time, and is married to a Pole. Anatole has no thought for the future. He takes his carriage to her house at night. But her hostess, a princess and courtier, is wise to him, and thwarts him.

Though they have not kissed, Natasha is shamed forever. Pierre Bolkonsky pities her, and loves her; yet, trapped in his loveless marriage, he decides not to see her, though he is her only moral bulwark. Andrei feels terrible rage, and only desires a duel with Anatole. They meet at the field of Borodino.

And at Austerlitz, Nikolai loved the Sovereign, wanting only to see him, to be seen as a hero and catch his momentary attention, to die for him.

Borovikovsky, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovitch