Toughening up

When he was a child, his father used to drive out from Denver into the Arapaho National Forest, to camp and hike with him. He was ten when he first walked 25 miles in one day. I could not match that, growing up in Argyll. I walked up to the trig point now and then, I cycled to Tarbert by Kilberry and back by Loch Fyne, but nothing like this. Once, they were out camping in snow, and afterwards a park ranger told them other hikers had said they feared for him.

The sympathetic response would be to ask what he thought. Instead I rolled my eyes, and said, “What would they know?”

He’s told me about these outdoor exploits before, and I realise I have no idea how he felt about them. In comes the self-criticism: you don’t see other people at all! You don’t care about their feelings! That isn’t true, though. Hmm. Well, how do you get from Denver, Colorado, US, to being a CPN in Swanston? Was he running away from his family? He has told me about going back to see them. Some of the conversations can be a bit difficult. They were so delighted when he got together with a woman, but now he’s with a man again, no longer that Bi passing as Straight thing.

This sweet, gentle man…

It is not just me not seeing others, or imagining they think exactly as I do. I pause to think about this. My own family placed a high value on self-improvement and on practical outdoors pursuits. Dad and I walked together over the hills. We fantasised rather than planned going up Suilven as he had done when at University, but we went through Glen Affric. I so wanted to make a man of myself.

Even though I know my concept of manliness did not fit me, and harmed me a lot; even though I have read others’ experiences, of fathers trying to stop their sons being “sissies”, though I know self-acceptance is essential for health, and others’ goals can cripple people; it still feels so utterly natural to me. What would they know, I wondered. Had he been Scots, I might have suggested that these carpers, or decent people seeking to protect him, were English.

Toughening the child up is just so normal, even for me, even now. So is family loyalty: I might criticise mine, but would defend them against anyone. Thinking about that is my answer to my self-criticism. Why don’t you see other people? Without thought, that question just leads to misery. Because I am thoughtless, stupid, only concerned with my own worries, obviously. It crushes me. With thought, I can forgive myself; and, considering what might be behind my unthinking response, I may be able to achieve change which the harsh self-criticism blocks.

Why am I so unfeeling to others? Because I am like that to myself. In my own mind I sometimes reach 49%, when the pass mark is fifty. I rolled my eyes, and have no recollection of his response to that. I did not get the impression that this had bothered him, but perhaps he was hiding that. Never cry! He might have opened up if I had sympathised, or he might have brushed it off (as I brushed off his consolations) but the topic of conversation changed.

Human beings are complex. A single word like “soft” cannot encapsulate us, but often is used to define us. With the Euro election and the Faragist hate campaign, I am depressed and I am talking depressingly. I want to encourage people and don’t.

-Why do you think you might not see people?
I demand too much of myself, so therefore I demand too much of others.
-It surprises me you are analysing this, intellectually, so much. Why is it all in your head?
Well, the heart is a muscle. The limbic system is in the head. And, my own emotional judgment of myself is so much on one note.

Oh my god
I just blanked him!
I was so unsympathetic
How shit is that?

I recognise I have mirror neurons, and I mirror people, for example picking up my glass at the same time as my companion does.

-You value your intellect so much, but your emotional intelligence does not always fire off so well. You have mastered, harnessed your intellect, you’ve played with it, you can ride it, you can get lost in it, you can dive into it.

-Your emotional self sometimes storms through thunderously. It is magnificent, quite spectacular and evidently as deep and prolific as your intellect. But you don’t harness it. It separates you from people, you know it does.

It is like the sea. If I try to stand erect on it, I will flounder dreadfully
but if I try to swim
that might work-

Opposites

I have two desires: to hide away and not be noticed, and to let my Effulgence shine forth that I may be admired. My former friend noticed this years ago, remarking that I wanted to blend into the background in the most eye-catching way possible, and his remarking on it helped me see it. The contradictoriness of it befuddled me, and both desires seemed ridiculous or reprehensible, as there is nothing I need hide from (I lectured myself sternly) and I have nothing particular worth showing off. George- Don’t do that.

If I dislike these desires, I am uncomfortable whether I achieve both or neither. I have been so uncomfortable in my own skin, second-guessing every desire and every act. I am wasting my life, hiding like this; showing off when I have so little to show off appears foolish. And yet both are necessary, to protect myself as I see fit, and to take risks and give service. I could hardly believe it: I value being inconsistent, but how could I be so contradictory? So I half-understood what I wanted, condemned it, and was paralysed.

It felt, with my friend on Saturday, saying it so bluntly, admitting both desires coexist, that this was new. I have both desires, and that they were opposite ceased to be a barrier to seeing them. Either might be fitting, in different circumstances. The self-concept is a particular steady, reasonable human being with particular admirable, consistent qualities- obviously a myth. The organismic self is mercurial, ad hoc, inconsistent, unpredictable.

How on Earth did we evolve the capacity to be conflicted?

This is my spiritual journey- finding who I am, and coming to accept it. I am finding it hard work. It takes my intellect, love and good will. I am reading Etty Hillesum’s diary, and have just read the fabulous entry from 3 July 1942.

I must admit a new insight into my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation, we can have no more illusions about that. They are out to destroy us completely, we must accept that and go on from there. She writes of the Nuremberg laws, of the blisters on her feet because she cannot use trams and must walk, how she cannot go out of the city, use any patch of grass which are all labelled as parks; go to non-Jews’ houses, though she broke that law; go to greengrocers, so that she would queue for permitted shops and get nothing. It is ghastly. The long entry ends with a German soldier. I shall have to pray for this German soldier. Out of all those uniforms one has been given a face now. There will be other faces too, in which we shall be able to read something we understand: that German soldiers suffer as well. There are no frontiers between suffering people, and we must pray for them all. Goodnight.

I find life difficult, and have particular sorrows. I do not envy hers. We looked at a couple having coffee together, two men. I wondered if it was a first or second date. He thought it might be a pre-date, the two of them “meeting as friends” but there is so much going on under the surface, now clearly surfacing. Mmm. Gay male couples can be so direct and immediate. Two women can dance around each other, getting no closer, for ages. He wondered if a straight man would notice. Some would, some wouldn’t, I suppose. There are some allies. Around lunchtime, one went to get another coffee, and the other wondered if he might have wine. I restrained the impulse to encourage him.

Etty accepts the fact of her own death, and is enabled to Live: I accept it all as one mighty whole.

Yes, we carry everything within us, God and Heaven and Hell and Earth and Life and Death and all of history. The externals are simply so many props; everything we need is within us. And we have to take everything that comes: the bad with the good, which does not mean we cannot devote our life to curing the bad. But we must know what motives inspire our struggle, and we must begin with ourselves, every day anew.

Wow. It is stunning stuff. I am embracing my own contradictoriness. Both desires are acceptable. I might pursue either and delight in it, escaping being conflicted. Brains are plastic after all. How can I cease to resist myself? I have this spiritual path, and I must follow it.

Consciousness and awareness

Consciousness is overrated. Not because it’s no better than stupor, but because most of my decisions and perceptions are unconscious: not just controlling breathing, digestion and heart rate, but much of how I relate to other people. I wandered round the lakes in November, wondering if there was still any ripe blackberry, but all were shrivelled. A mile or two further on, suddenly my conscious attention zoomed in on a single ripe blackberry, as if I had programmed myself to notice it. Had I consciously inspected all the bushes, I would have taken far longer to find it. I have no idea if it was the only ripe blackberry within my field of vision that morning. Food is a priority for any living creature- but I saw it unconsciously, in a way I cannot imagine doing consciously.

So consciousness might be of those things which unconscious processes bring to it, for a particular kind of attention. I did not pluck or eat the blackberry without conscious awareness, though I find myself picking up a glass to sip at it as others I am talking to do. We are aligned. I don’t think about the right moment to pick up the glass. Desire and action seem one, to my conscious self: the decision is unconscious, consciousness simply notes it. After an encounter, I have thought “I was flirting” when at the time I thought I was “only being friendly”. That incorrect perception might aid me to lie to another. “I was only being friendly,” I would say, wide-eyed, winningly, consciously believing that.

Much of the ways we relate to each other is unconscious. Someone told me he always thought about what he was going to say. I find myself saying things, believing them, wanting to say them, without being conscious of them beforehand. That would seem cold and calculating. We do not know others’ experience. Or, especially in counselling, I know what I want to say but feel inhibited from saying it. I know it is true, and helps understanding, but I can’t get the words out. Consciously, I am conflicted.

Then there is a reverie, when my attention wanders off into nothing, and consciously I am “ruminating”, thinking thoughts I have often thought before. This goes with depression: it is a normal human thing, but depressed, tired or mourning people may do it more. I think something is going on unconsciously at the time, but not clear what it is. I could be simply resting, unaware of anything worth doing or considering. I could be nursing the unacknowledged feelings which depress me.

“Awareness” feels different. I started entering it as a specific state, in spiritual or religious contexts. The monkey mind quietens. If I start thinking about something, it may be new thought rather than the same old recordings. “The world in a grain of sand, or heaven in a wild flower” fits my experience: the shape of individual leaves catches my attention, and everything seems beautiful. I am in a state of delight. At first, I felt mind-blown; then I needed shocked into it; now I can adopt it, though often don’t.

What is that, the choice to be conscious of what is around me, and how does it relate to unconsciousness? It feels close to the idea of “unconscious competence”, as when I drive without thinking about where to put my feet or hands. I just reach down for the gear stick at the right time. I can consider whether my gear is correct, consciously, or allow other brain processes to judge while I hold a conversation.

Yet if I am conscious of a feeling, it is different from suppressing it from consciousness, and sometimes I will be unconscious of an emotion which others can see in me. Mindfulness, directed attention with the intent of finding my own feelings seems worthwhile. If I am not conflicted, then I move in integrity. Or a feeling bursts into consciousness as I burst out crying: it will not be suppressed any more. Or I might be able to acknowledge a feeling, so that it shows no visible sign in my face or body-language.

I feel I am sometimes able to pursue goals unconsciously, without the need for conscious thought. If I act, my neurons and dendrites are working away whether I “think” about it or not. There is just one person within my skin, one animal process.

That psychiatrist said I had a “fragile sense of self”, which may be linked to consciousness or unconsciousness. So I had a desperate need to believe I was “manly” though I did not believe it, and had not seen my dogged persistence, which is a manly characteristic (though one admirable in women too). Fragile, perhaps, because what I wanted to believe of myself did not really fit.

Thinking about Carl Rogers’ ideas of the self-concept and the organismic self, they are entirely different. The self-concept is an idea of self, a coherent set of characteristics one imagines one has. The organismic self, in contrast, is protean, mercurial, able to change and give different responses in different situations; dogged persistence in one, graceful concession in another- if it is not restricted by the need to preserve the self-concept. All this may emerge into consciousness, or not.

The unconscious is my muse. A poem- or Ministry- may come to me almost full formed, though who knows how long it has been forming in parts of the brain I do not perceive working?

It is not a matter of “spiritual states”. I sit in meditation or worship, and pay attention to what I am feeling, or what is around me; and that might not be more “spiritual” than a reverie. I had thought of calling this post “Consciousness v Awareness” but I mature as consciousness, unconsciousness and the attention I “pay” become more in harmony, working together.

Being hormonal

I walk along the long, crowded hospital corridor. I must not cry! My face twists in the tension of wanting to burst into tears, sobbing, and needing to appear calm and normal among these strangers. With an effort I control myself, and then my face twists again.

In case you are worried, my tears were not prompted by a diagnosis, but by being late for a meeting. I will look a fool! I am a fool! I will be rebuffed, and fail again! Wanting to cry makes it worse- what weakling would cry, at that?

I got to the hospital with a bit of time to spare, but there is an issue- I want a building called Elm Holm at the far end, but there is only Elm Leigh. I ask for Elm Leigh- I must have been mistaken- and find it is a cardiac care ward. If I needed cardiac care I could not have cycled here from Marsby. The nurse at the desk tells me to go back to reception. Again I make a mistake: I want O-H-, but only remember the old-fashioned, less accurate name for it, O-T-. I ask for OT, and after my confusion is resolved I am sent to OH. Now I am late, and more upset.

I get to OH, and say I have an appointment with Jill. I don’t know her surname, and they don’t have a staff member called Jill, or a note of such an appointment. In the small office, there is a man who stares at me incomprehendingly and a motherly woman about my age who sympathises and tries to get to the bottom of it. With her kindness I can no longer restrain my tears, but I still can’t explain or say anything sensible because I am trying to hold them back. She sends him off for a glass of water.

I have come to the wrong hospital. There’s another the other side of this small town. Who would have thought it? Actually, I check the note I made of the appointment, and I had been told to go to St Origen’s; but googling this morning I only looked for K- hospital, so found the Infirmary. She phones them, makes sure my appointment is there, and agrees that if I can get there by 12.30, fifty minutes late, they will see me.

I feel the need to explain, and choose my words carefully. I want to appear calm, but cannot because “you have been so kind”. Actually I resent her kindness. Cruelty and disdain might shame me into some semblance of normality. My resentment spills out, and I tell her that I had thought better of saying she had “made a fuss”, and as I anticipated she started to protest. You’re not the first person to confuse the two hospitals, and you won’t be the last. Anyone can make a mistake, she tells me. I express my real gratitude for her help, and curse myself that I had needed it.

I cycle across town, and am calm enough in this meeting to say the right things and not think of crying. What I say is so close to reality! This woman, too, is friendly, and I get the result I want, very glad to appear calm, grateful for her flexibility in seeing me so late. You cycled! You were quick!

Next day, I want to tell this story to my gentle Friend, and find myself tearing up again. I should be able to say this without tears, I admonish myself sternly. The more I try to hold them back, the more I have to gasp out my story between sobs.

Women learn in their teens that appearing “emotional” will decrease further the respect people have for them. Never cry! warns Siri Hustvedt. Men will take advantage. In mixed company you will be derided, perhaps with oleaginous sympathy. (I firmly believe this- it happens, mostly, I was lucky that one time.) I disagree with most things my feminist hero Germaine Greer has to say about trans, but agree that being a woman is “not all cake and jam”. The misery at feeling a fool, and feeling I will fail,

Again!

is too much for me, I cannot just accept it (though I know I must). So it forces me to acknowledge it, by making me cry. I can’t hold back the tears. Learning to accept the depth of feeling and live with it is so hard. I don’t know if I felt this deeply before transition and somehow managed to suppress it, but the change from T to oestradiol can’t have helped. It is something to consider if you are about to transition. Suppressing T and taking Œ involves difficulty as well as blessing.

“Debating” abortion

I shall swallow twenty quinine pills today; I feel a bit peculiar down there, south of my midriff… I assault myself with hot water and blood-curdling instruments, I shall fight patiently and relentlessly until you are once again returned to nothingness… it’s only just been a week, and already I am exhausted by the whole performance. But I shall bar your admission to life.

This is Etty Hillesum’s diary, explaining her self-induced abortion. If there were others involved, she does not mention them. As a Jew in Amsterdam in 1941, she could not have a child. As the US supreme court’s “Trump Judges” have decided they can ignore precedent if they disapprove of the original case, the stage is set for the repeal of Roe v Wade. “Heartbeat” laws are misnamed. There is no heart, and no heartbeat. There is no cardiovascular system. There is a group of cells which will divide and form a heart later, and there is electrical activity there.

I am appalled at the thought of Etty Hillesum’s self-induced abortion, and the risks she took. I quoted her in a comments thread, saying women will have abortions whatever the law is, and the response was, But surely you would accept that it would greatly reduce the numbers of abortions?

Well, yes, I would, probably. There will be misery in other ways, unwanted children, less consensual sex. But the risks women will take, the pain they will suffer, the damage they may do to themselves does not move the person. The commenter, after all, sees them as criminals.

He is perfectly logical, in his own eyes. What is odd is those who support abortion but oppose the death penalty. The life of the innocent in the womb is expendable, but the life of the heinous criminal is inviolable. That is easily refutable, but the refutation does not get through to him. The conscious, living, breathing human being, capable of repentance indeed who has possibly repented, and is possibly innocent anyway, may be kept in prison but should not be killed, because that makes the community as bad as he is. The 3mm long embryo has some nervous tissue, but in no sense a brain.

It seemed to me that conservatives opposing abortion do so on purity grounds. The community should not be responsible for abortions, because the community should be kept pure of such sin. So it should not pay foreign NGOs that even mention to women that abortion is possible, and health insurance should not cover terminations because then the companies, and indirectly other policy holders, are paying for terminations. So the argument that better sex education reduces abortion does not matter to them. Safe sex, too, is impure. They do not want to reduce the number of abortions, only to put the doctors and the women beyond the pale of society.

Society is where the Good people are, so the pro-lifers have no understanding or empathy for those on the margins. There are ways and means to control ones fertility, wrote one. Yes, but not in a domestic violence or coercive control situation. Women try to leave such situations, and have difficulty with this.

So there is no abortion debate. There are people righteous in their own minds who oppose it, and can come out with all sorts of phrases to justify their position, but who do not care about the suffering of the adult they can see, just the value of the embryo they cannot. (You’re an embryo until the ninth week after fertilisation.) And there are people who have no hope of politics, such that they vote for the candidate who is toughest against abortion. God knows what doctors will be able to do about ectopic pregnancies.

Like the trans “debate”, there are two emotional positions. My heart goes out to the woman who needs an abortion and who cannot have one- in Northern Ireland, for example. These things are a matter for the woman and her doctors. It is none of my business, and not a proper matter for legal restrictions: women will not be able to get unnecessary abortions. But that is an emotional response, not a purely logical one. And the idea that a fœtus has value, even if it has no brain, so that a woman should take it to term and watch it die after the cord is cut, is also an emotional position. Trans women should be tolerated, or trans women should be expelled, are also emotional positions. We decide based on who we see as our community, and on emotional grounds. Then we rationalise, and the position embeds as our rationalisations multiply.

The murderer is beyond the pale of the conservative’s pure society, so entitled to nothing. To the liberal, Terence still applies: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. I am human. Nothing human can be alien to me. I cannot draw a line around my society. It includes the refugee and the psychopath.

Ego-strength

Much of the spiritual literature I read condemns the ego. It seems close to the “Petty-man” that Confucius condemns. For example, on facebook someone quoted John Butler: self-willed but imaginary ego causes all our trouble, [and] ignoring it deprives it of its power. I am reading Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, who gives the ego a kicking:

Only great love and great suffering are strong enough to take away our imperial ego’s protections and open us to authentic experiences of transcendence.

To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control.

For Jung, wholeness was not to be confused with any kind of supposed moral perfection, because such moralism is too tied up with ego and denial of the inner weakness that all of us must accept.

So Ego, here, is illusion, possibly akin to the Self-concept of Carl Rogers. The self-concept is the illusory belief in who one is. One of my main drives is to preserve my illusion to myself. It matters less what others think as long as I can affirm it, and the cognitive dissonance from everything that contradicts it can be denied.

Yes, I have read the Analects, but at University. Possibly 2,500 year old Chinese wisdom is too far from my own concepts for me to usefully interpret it. The Superior Man is all-embracing and not partial. The inferior man is partial and not all-embracing. I bring together Rohr, Confucius and Rogers in confusion rather than synthesis.

I am interested to see the phrase ego-strength as a good thing: it promotes resilience. The challenge… for individuals in crisis is to figure out which parts of their identities are already functioning well and which parts are no longer working and need changing. The strong, valuable ego is well-attuned to the World, and flexible enough to stay so.

As far as I understand it, the spiritual path for Rohr is to strip away the illusions and be ones natural self. That is part of community and the biosphere. All that is is Christ’s body, and without ego-illusion we can all be our true part of that body. Ego is only illusion, only fraudulent separateness, the falsity which I cannot convince others of, or even myself, so my terror increases. But there may be people with positive beliefs about themselves, which are affirmed by others, where ego helps them navigate their world.

I was going to write “people whose beliefs about themselves are affirmed by others”, but that is the Law of Attraction, that everyone’s beliefs about themselves are read and believed by others, and affirmed. I have negative beliefs.

I read that one purpose of the beliefs was to help us to lie convincingly. “Of course I’ll help you,” I cry, warmly, and you believe me. Then I am surprised to find myself not helping, or that my “help” does not help- or perhaps I don’t notice.

I met a psychiatrist, and chatted socially of meditation. I talked of old people in care homes, sitting in a room, doing nothing. “They don’t seem unhappy,” he said. Possibly they are resigned. They are kept alive. They might have to dress themselves, or only to co-operate while they are dressed by others. I would rather do things, have greater aims than my continued subsistence. Here am I, writing and thinking. (Analects: To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.)

Would that we could know about these things. Wanting to know is part of my self-concept, perhaps; or it could be real self-

I want to bring the truth into consciousness, and observe what gives me pleasure, what repels me, how I cope with difficulty, how I relate to others, are not necessarily what I thought. On Deutschland 86 I have just seen Tina Fischer who left East Germany because she cannot bear the damage done by its illusions broken by arrest, interrogation, humiliation, false hope, and now being separated from her children at which she breaks down. I felt her break, and felt intense pleasure. The darkness is that dark.

That “consultant psychotherapist” said I had a “fragile sense of self” as if that were a bad thing. Perhaps he meant that my self-belief needed a lot of protection, because it was erroneous, perhaps he meant something I still cannot understand.

Ego as strength, and ego as what holds you back from Life in Christ. Beliefs useful, truthful, or even perhaps both! I may eventually understand, or I may eventually find beliefs I can live with. I find a rigid dichotomy between Consciousness and Awareness, which I may write about.

The trans “debate” II

There is no such thing as “gender”. A man cannot become a woman.
But trans women exist, and for thousands of years in all kinds of cultures apparent men have expressed ourselves as women.

Women need women’s space.
Trans women are integrated into women’s space, and should not be excluded.
(This one can become Oppression Olympics, where we compete to show which group is more oppressed.)

I need space in society. I need to go to the loo.
Use men’s spaces.

If women cannot define “woman”, if “woman” includes some men, then there is no basis for women’s rights.
Trans women are an anomaly, 0.1% of women, not worth all this energy.

There is a proposed new law which will end women’s rights.
There has been no movement on gender recognition reform since it was announced two years ago, and diagnosis is based on self-ID anyway.

There is little trans debate. There are opposing views, which complement each other like the ones above. On social media people who agree gather, and hone their arguments on each side, so that someone might speak for an hour on the first point, talking of brain plasticity and citing Cordelia Fine. But another might speak for an hour in refutation, on gender in culture. We talk past each other.

Then there are particular issues.

Even if testosterone levels are now women’s, male puberty and a male skeleton gives advantages in sport.
Skeletons change just as muscle-strength changes, in hormonal transition.

Then there are the appeals to the undecided middle. So “Self-ID” must be presented as a great change, allowing a sudden flood of men in women’s spaces, rather than a change to the births deaths and marriages registration system, having little practical effect even for trans people. Often there is some attempt to affect sympathy with “truly transsexual” people, and distinguish them from “predatory men”. In the private spaces, the definition of truly transsexual gets more and more restricted, as the interested party is drawn in, learns more of the “argument”, shares the anger.

Ah, the anger. Stories are shared. Tara Wolf’s assault on Maria McLachlan has done terrible damage to trans rights, cited again and again as a step on the way to radicalisation. Then there is self-righteousness: they see “women meeting to discuss women’s rights”, I see a crowd whipped up into communal anger, derision, fear, disgust against me.

You’re not one of us. So much of feminism is bringing Patriarchy to the attention of women, how society is organised in the interests of men. It just seems normal, it’s what you’re used to, then you grow to see how oppressive it is. This creation of an out-group is not subject to the usual objection, as it is punching up rather than punching down. I agree, actually. A lot of that makes sense to me. I would just like to be accepted in the group. I am scarred by male gender stereotypes too.

(Do I need to explain “punching up”? Have you read the same shared articles as me? Do you frequent the same social media spaces? The language can increase our intimacy through what we share, or alienate. What about “work wife”?)

Possibly you care so much about this because of your own hurt. Others are less hurt or have other concerns.

Debate, the construction of apparently logical-rational arguments from oft-repeated stock phrases, will not bring us together. Can we come together face to face, to see and hear each other?

What do you want?
What do you feel?
What hurts you, inspires you?
What do we share?

Because we share about this on line, typing onto screens, it becomes an intellectual debate. However it is a conflict. Trans women are in women’s spaces, and some women object. Should the women who object be able to exclude the trans women, or not? Where do your sympathies lie?

Any thoughts on how two sides might be brought together and the heat lessened- please share. How to break through the carapace of intellectual argument and Shield of Righteousness, to the hurt within? Can we find common interests?

how strange these mortals be!

How many of your characteristics do you need to consider before you become unique? I may not be the only left-handed aphantasic Scottish trans woman, but I am probably the only left-handed aphantasic Scottish trans woman entitled to join Mensa. It’s a trick question, of course; we are all unique, if only for our fingerprints.

People’s experience of the world can differ greatly. An effect I have on some people is that they imagine I think I am better than them. They project their insecurity onto me. I don’t, actually. I was deeply ashamed that I, being highly intelligent, empathetic, moderately well-read and interested in everything human should have such a poor CV. I have got over the shame, but I remain humble because of where I am in life (I think- subject to what I may write about consciousness). Why could I not do better?

This surprised even Tina. “It must be hard thinking you could do the job better,” she said. Actually, no. I don’t think that. But I find joy in these characteristics. I value having these gifts. That is how I value myself. It has been hard to value myself.

Being bright is supposed to make life easier, but it hasn’t, for me. Other things affect my life. I am socially awkward. Everything is multifactorial. She said, “We tend to be very reductionist, and think being bright makes things easier, having wealth makes things easier, and therefore that person does not have the difficulties I have.” We’re all doing our best under difficult circumstances.

-You find it hard to communicate without seeming arrogant and presumptuous. It’s not arrogance: you are saying, “This is the bit of life I can do! I’d like to share it, please.” I said I could go to a cocktail party or a dinner party and hold my own, but that is not quite true: I could talk on the intellectual level but not about social or life-issues, and not if it became a conflict, and I would need to borrow appropriate clothes. And I might be nervous.

I got into a conflict, and I had not anticipated it. I think she thought I was trying to put her down, put her in her place. In her situation she may get arrogant people trying to do that. I was just sharing something that had interested me- I have known of aphantasia since my teens, when I found that this phrase “the mind’s eye” was not just a weird metaphor but most people’s actual experience, but I had only just learned the word for it, only just heard others talking of experiences just like mine. I was excited about it. So the conflict came at me, out of the blue. And now I am not sure I could even learn from it. It’s just one of those bad things that happen occasionally, I could not imagine it part of a class and avoid similar problems. I sympathise with her.

I trained as a lawyer, and am Scots, and so write and talk with that flavour, with these twists of lemon in the cocktail.

I wonder how my sincerity comes over. I do not like to see the world as a battle, and some people do. And some people are ignored, brushed off, not seen or heard. It is hard to imagine other people’s experience is different from your own. We try to hide our foibles and vulnerabilities, and in doing so make ourselves more vulnerable.

Self-respect through fighting

-How are you?

The previous time she asked that, I immediately felt sad, which I had not felt before, about something. The thought that someone might sympathise enabled me to feel my sadness, and I might just whine. I felt that would be a waste of time. This time when she asked it, I felt opaque– I did not know. You, as the observer, might affect what I felt. It is safe to feel sad when one might encounter sympathy, not necessarily when one won’t. So then knowing I am “sad” might be useless or counterproductive.

One of my strongest condemnations of myself is “self-indulgent”. I could be self-indulgent by saying all the things I have to feel sad about! But it might be more useful to discuss other things. It is lovely to sit outside and see birds having decided to meditate, get out of words and into perception. It is an addictive escape to sit and scroll through facebook, one might waste an hour making the occasional comment and hoping for likes. Or on the Guardian website the hundredth Brexit article probably won’t add anything to what I knew before, but I might comment and get likes again. It is more compulsive because the likes and upvotes are not a regular flow.

Sometimes I comment to get a precise understanding in words, and I think that’s a good thing. Things seem clearer.

There is an online world where I can hold my own through my intellect, and then I am confused about the man who comes onto the rationalist blog to argue that the Earth is flat, because the Bible says so. I don’t know why. He could be playing, being contrary, but it stops the words having a clear relation to reality, and that distresses me. When I use words, I want them to be true.

What I would like from you is to gain the idea, and seriously internalise it, that it is alright to be me.

I loved her, and the way she stood up to her husband, not once but repeatedly, though he seemed so much stronger. He wanted to humiliate and exploit her and she stopped him. She left him, won a good divorce settlement through the courts, and having complained of dressing from charity shops now dresses much better. Facing him down, and no longer being threatened by him, has done wonders for her, and so has giving talks to small fanatic groups who applaud and affirm her.

She seems to find the world a series of battles. Had she not stood up to it she would have been crushed. Jesus said, “I have overcome the world”. I abominate the thought of the world as battles. I do not want to win against anyone. I want to win over, I want to win with- a positive sum game achieved by co-operation- but I do not want to defeat anyone. Here am I, hiding away, without the motivation to get up sometimes.

Possibly it is luck. There is luck in Backgammon, but the better player generally wins over time, getting more points from the good luck as she sees the value in it. Possibly it’s all random.

I find myself getting into scrapes, and so I need to escape. There is a variation on Oware where the player who makes the first move can win without the other player making a single move. I worked it out, and wrote it down in my diary. It did not require great intellect, but it did require precision and concentration, as one mistake renders all subsequent work worthless. I escaped into that precise work, and after thought few people capable of it could also hold down a job. I can’t find it now. And a rule variation makes that impossible.

Helpful beliefs

What you believe may be helpful or harmful not so much as to whether it is true or not, but how it helps you to navigate the world. If natural selection is true, we form our beliefs in a way inherited from ancestors who formed beliefs which aided them to survive and reproduce. Possibly, false beliefs may profit those who believe them. For some jobs, objective assessment of truth matters in the job itself- doctor, forensic scientist, police officer- but they might be able to be truthful there, yet hold false beliefs which do not directly impact their work.

I place a high value on truth. Possibly, that inhibited my acting in my own interests. I wondered, “Am I transsexual?” I assessed that by my understanding of the concept of transsexual, what observers considered it entailed, but now believe it is in part socially constructed and the important matter is the desire to transition. How should I judge people who habitually deny the truth?

Yuval Noah Harari writes that fiction helps people. Peugeot as an entity, rather than as a group of people and physical assets, depends on belief. The “Good-will” of a company is based on belief in it as an entity. Religions help people trust strangers, and co-operate.

Traits come in a range of strengths. People are varied. So, just because your ancestors held their beliefs in a particular way, and had offspring, does not mean that you will. I have no children, and neither had my uncle, who only married late in life, or aunt, who never married, and died in her early forties. Some inherited trait may be holding us back. My sister has children.

People hold contradictory beliefs. A belief may be useful for some purposes, but not for others; so you might ignore it in contexts where it is harmful. For the creationist doctor, scientists are arrogant fools when they disprove Creationism, but believeable enough when they research medical treatment. Or at least his suspicions of scientists do not result in angry denunciation, when it relates to his job.

Creationism in Christians could draw the community together. The community values belief in this sibboleth, and because outsiders despise it they have an Out-group to define themselves against. They might collect arguments for their position, building community.

It affects their understanding of wider society. They observe that there is a large group of people whose profession is (they believe) to make illegitimate conclusions from sparse, contradictory evidence, but who assert those conclusions with a high degree of confidence and despise the Creationists. Believing that so many people would have a professional interest in asserting falsehood would decrease trust in wider society. But perhaps they would not work out the full implications, which would cause cognitive dissonance.

I have been wondering about this after a Creationist wrote, I have solar on my roof, and I drive an electric car. I take better care of the environment than most, and have a smaller carbon footprint than many… all it would take is one large volcano eruption to put us into a persistent Global winter. I can find no assertion of persistent global winter from volcanoes, though that was one result of the Chicxulub impact. The second largest eruption of the 20th century, in Mount Pinatubo, put gases and solids into the stratosphere only for three weeks, but sulfate aerosols persisted for 3-4 years. The troposphere generally cooled, but warmed in winter. So says NASA: I don’t know how trustworthy he finds them. They have to be careful of truth while engineering rockets, or the rockets would not work. In 1816 the Tambora eruption in Indonesia created a “Year without a Summer” in the US and Western Europe. That would have been observed, by Christians, so have a high degree of credibility, but the connection is made by scientists. That was the largest volcanic event for 1300 years.

His understanding of science is grievously affected by his creationism, which requires him to disbelieve scientific knowledge and distrust science as practised. He misunderstands about volcanoes. Yet he behaves morally, as if climate science were true.

It is clearly easier for a science denier in one field to be a denier in another. Creationists are more likely to be climate deniers.

Possibly I overvalue truth. Trust in climate science, and indeed the scientific account of the history of life on Earth and the development of the Universe, is part of my trust in wider society. It feels like seasickness when someone denies the clear truth, either a Creationist or a conspiracy theorist. I feel angry when someone I know asserts that Saggitarians have particular traits, Diana was assassinated, or the World Trade Center was demolished by explosives rather than planes. I feel I depend on being able to discern truth. I don’t, really. The world is a complex and confusing place, and weird things happen. Knowing the age of the Universe does not make it more controllable.