Quakers and Equality

Quakers have no hierarchy, but we have leadership. Every time someone speaks in ministry in the business meeting, they offer leadership. The rest decide whether to follow or not. With a single leader, decisions might be made more quickly, and not necessarily less well, if that leader listens to others. If anyone can lead, everyone has to be willing and able to follow when appropriate, or we just bicker pointlessly.

This is difficult, and requires practice. On listening to others, Britain YM’s Advices and Queries says, “try to sense where [the words] come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language.” We have to be careful in both speaking and listening.

Every human being has inexpressible value. We are made in the image of God. Jesus says the hairs of your head are numbered, all valued by God. Quakers say there is that of God in every one. I am materialist, averse to the idea of a mind or soul in a body, so think of it as the incomprehensibility of the whole human, responding in the moment, so much greater than ego or consciousness which is just a part of it.

On the spiritual path, we learn our value, and the value of every other human being.

Unfortunately, out in the world, we learn the opposite. Capitalism values people for what they produce. White supremacy and the ideology of empire values white people higher than others. Men are valued higher than women. People who have been to university or have higher status jobs are valued higher than others. Certain accents are valued more highly.

My autistic friend is devalued because of his difficulty reading certain social cues, rather than valued for his excellent memory and systematising ability.

In hierarchy, life is a struggle. How can I exalt myself, and do others down? Or, how can I keep up? In the Kingdom of Heaven, which is among us, ready for us to step into it, everything is beautiful. Just as we seek the value in others’ words, we seek the value in everything, and are rewarded by seeing it. What is there that is good, in this moment, situation, encounter?

We grow up in the world, we are steeped in the world, and we are imbued with the world’s habits of hierarchy. It teaches us not to see God in the other. Seeing God needs practice, effort and thought. The unconscious reaction that another is a lower status person is hard to shake off. First we have to become conscious of it. My source of pride, that I am white and educated, is an invisible barrier preventing me from seeing the value of others. It is painful to lose something that is a source of pride, and gives a sense of entitlement and safety in the world, yet felt so normal and natural I thought no more of it than I think about gravity.

Quakers are wrestling with these matters now. Iowa YM (Conservative) asked “How is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” Well, by making Black people uncomfortable amongst us, so that they do not stay, or do not imagine they will be welcome, and by making white people think less of Black people’s ministry. More widely, our privilege stops us listening to the disprivileged, and makes them feel unwelcome. We do not hear the voice of God in the words of those we subtly devalue.

I am aware that the Black person’s experience of a Quaker gathering may differ from my own. I feel assured of my welcome and that if I speak I will be listened to. A Friend told me of Quakers touching her hair, a put-down so cliched that it made a book title. Perhaps the white Friend thought she was being friendly. She meant no harm. She was blind to the disrespect she exuded.

With LGBT folk, in the 1950s Quakers might tell them their love was sinful. Since then we did a great deal of discernment to come to the point where we support equal marriage, but Meetings have split over the matter, and even now some LGBT folk feel pressure to appear normal among Quakers.

Our initial steps to include disabled people can feel othering: it is what we, the good Quakers, who are able-bodied, do for them, the disabled. A ramp gets a wheelchair into the building, but not necessarily its occupant into the position of trust and service fitting their potential. Or some talk of how “we Quakers” are well-off, which can make people who are struggling financially feel excluded. In reality it should be what we can do for us- every person has gifts, strengths, needs and weaknesses, and we must care for each other, allowing each to serve.

When we restrict the range of people in our meetings we restrict the range of perspectives we hear. The Spirit speaks through people, and cannot say what her instruments are incapable of saying. White supremacy restricts God’s voice among us.

Most Quakers come to the Society as adults. We are on a spiritual path. We are not perfect. We do the work necessary as we become aware it needs done.

Comment policy

I am a trans woman, and a feminist. I want freedom for people to be who we are, our best selves. This means women safe from male violence, and space for trans people to flourish.

Some feminists are campaigning against trans recognition, encouraged by Rupert Murdoch and Liz Truss. If the campaign succeeds, it will entrench gender stereotypes and the demonisation of minorities, both right wing goals, and in the meantime it causes dissention on the left.

What value have comments, at their best?

They can be a dialogue between very different views. Sometimes this brings people together.

Or, they can add useful details at the end of a post.

Comments praising my writing are always welcome.

Sometimes, a person’s comments are merely repetitive. After this, I produced my comment rule, “Don’t bore me”. The rule is, if you are saying the same thing over and over again, eventually I will start deleting.

Comments can be damaging, as well. I permit anti-trans comments here. I worry that they will set off trans folks’ internalised transphobia, or make trans folk more afraid than they need be of the transphobia and violence of the wider community. But, there is a lot of transphobia on my blog: you have to discuss it to end it. I hope that my trans readers will not be too hurt by this blog, though I notice how trans people share transphobic content in trans groups. We are discussing it, but we are letting it poison us too.

I hope my discussion of transphobia serves a useful purpose- showing how it is transphobic, showing how to counter it. Also I want to foster a dialogue. I want the wonderful energy of the anti-trans campaigners to be directed to feminist causes, in the interests of cis women and giving a space to trans women; and I want them to see trans men as people capable of knowing themselves and making their own choices, not silly women who don’t know their own minds.

Sometimes, keeping anti-trans comments shows their pathology: this comment is disgusting. I edited it to point up how disgusting it is. I left Mark’s words as he had written, in the first comment, but added my introduction, clearly marked: when I edit comments, it is clear what are my words and what the commenter’s. When he replied, I deleted some of his protests. I have a right to do this, because this is my blog. He had shown how disgusting he is, and there was no point in more verbiage just showing the same thing.

Sometimes comments put an anti-trans point of view. Nicola has stated her suffering and what she blames. I allow that. There might be the possibility of dialogue, and growing trust.

If there is to be dialogue, there has to be trust. My editing or deleting comments might reduce trust. I have a feeling that courtesy may be of value, especially between opponents, but can’t put a rule into words. “Don’t be an arse,” perhaps. Wikipedia has a lot of wisdom about communicating well, but it also has the common purpose of producing an encyclopaedia, and anything which does not serve that purpose may be deleted. Commenters here may have all sorts of purposes.

I am not particularly interested in long arguments showing I am bad. Don’t call me an idiot, a hypocrite, discourteous or arrogant, not even if you quote me to prove this to your own satisfaction. Sometimes I leave it, sometimes I don’t.

I enforce rules more stringently on cis men than on others. Cis white males are privileged. Gender critical women commenting are disprivileged, and I feel their speaking up for themselves as they see it helps overcome that, even though they are speaking up against my rights as a trans woman. Their cis male allies are privileged. They seek to be allies of cis women, and that shows they are aware of their privilege and trying in some way to compensate for it, but they need to learn more about the way their privilege is oppressive. When they attempt to be allies, it’s all about them, and it makes them feel justified in bullying trans people- that is, enforcing their privilege on another disadvantaged group.

This blog is part of the liberation struggle of disadvantaged groups. Comments which would frustrate that aim may be edited and mocked. My decision is final.

I also share art. Now, I am sharing portraits of Elizabeth I.

Facebook and transphobia

Can Facebook’s community standards be used to drive transphobic content away? The rules are promising. Anything transphobic may fit under prohibited hate speech, defined as “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we [and British law] call protected characteristics” including gender identity. “We define attacks as violent or dehumanising speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.”

The heart of the anti-trans campaign is calls for exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces.

There are long lists of what is dehumanising, including generalisations or comparisons to insects, animals, filth, sexual predators, subhumans or criminals.

“Statements denying existence” are forbidden, which arguably includes suggestions that people transition on a whim, such as, “he wakes up one morning and declares he’s a woman”. Referring to trans or nonbinary people as “it” is specifically forbidden.

Calling us mentally ill is forbidden. Alleging “Moral deficiency” is forbidden, including calling us perverts, so mentioning “autogynephilia” should be forbidden. Statements of our inferiority, such as calling us freaks, abnormal, or worthless. Expressions of contempt, or admission of intolerance, is forbidden. Denying that the protected characteristic should exist. Expressions of contempt, hatred or disgust. Cursing and profane terms are forbidden.

Demands that we be segregated or excluded are forbidden. Facebook does not specify that excluding trans women from women’s spaces counts, but arguably it should. Advocating political, economic or social exclusion is forbidden, including “denying access to spaces (physical and online) and social services”. Slurs, “defined as words that are inherently offensive and used as insulting labels for the above-listed characteristics”, are forbidden.

Heading 16, “Cruel and insensitive”, may also be relevant. It forbids mocking “victims of serious physical and emotional harm”, which could include transphobia, internalised or external.

Facebook refers us on to this essay on hate speech by Richard Allan. It is a balance. They want to encourage self-expression, but have rules against bullying. Attacks on social groups, including trans people, are hate speech. Context matters.

Facebook profits from “language designed to provoke strong feelings, making the discussion more heated” because it drives engagement. They believe in “harmless use cases”. In the context of immigration, Allan writes “we don’t want to stifle important policy conversations”, and that could be a defence for transphobes, arguing that trans woman access to woman’s space is a policy debate. So the hatred has to be something more than that.

Trans people can quote hate speech in order to argue against it, and reclaim slurs: I can call myself a tranny but no-one else can. There is a thin line between expressive opinion and unacceptable hate speech, and AI can’t define it, so users should report it to moderators.

Facebook is an American company with American cultural values, including commitment to free speech: “The goal of our Community Standards has always been to create a place for expression and give people a voice.” However on the same page they say they want content to be “authentic”- “we don’t want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they’re doing”. So, anti-trans campaigners often pretend to be women’s rights campaigners, or lesbian rights campaigners, when what they seek is trans exclusion. This is not authentic. Hate speech fits under their principle of Dignity: “We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others.”

So what happens when the anti-trans campaigners breach the community standards? Trans people and allies have to complain. And while groups and pages breach the community standards, complaints are restricted to particular content on groups. You can, however, report a page.

I want to see how this works. I see a hateful picture: it has the words “human beings cannot change sex and the law should not pretend that they can”. I click the three dots, then “find support or report photo”. I click “Hate speech”, then “Sex or gender identity”, then “Next”.

It asks, “Does the post go against our Community Standards on hate speech?” I click Yes, then Next. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to explain how it does that.

On the page itself, I click the three dots, then, again, “Hate speech”, “Next”, “Report page”, “Done”. Again, I cannot give reasons. It suggests I can block the page, so stop seeing it, but I don’t want to: instead, I want to prevent other people from seeing it: trans people, who might be hurt by it, and potential haters, who might be radicalised by it, or confirmed haters, who might share its rubbish.

Facebook claimed to have “taken action” on 22.1m pieces of hate speech content in three months, which means removing it, covering it with a warning, disabling accounts, or reporting it to agencies. They say that out of every 10,000 content views, 10-11 included hate speech.

After an hour, I got a message to say that the page did not go against any specific community standard, so would not be removed, but suggesting I block it. So far, so useless, and no opportunity to put the case that it is transphobic hate. Possibly the most extreme hate might occasionally be deleted, but not this, which campaigns to take away trans rights and pretends trans people do not exist.

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Unfortunately, the implementation does not live up to this promise. I reported an image, and have not heard back. Then I reported a comment- transphobia whited out on my site, not all text-readers will- “‘Trans women’ can be males with gender dysphoria but a huge majority are males with autogynephilia, which is a male sexual fetish based on being validated as their idea of woman.” This is a lie, and also a “derogatory term related to sexual activity”, so banned. But the response is,

we reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards… we understand that you don’t like it. We recommend that you hide the comment or unfollow, unfriend or block the person who posted it.

This is completely useless. Hate and lies about trans people spread across facebook uncontrolled.

Trans on facebook

Should I debate trans issues on facebook?

There are arguments for coming off it completely. I have given it data which show a detailed account of my personality and desires, and is used to manipulate me. There are trans support groups, but they often share things to be miserable about, which are followed by a dozen comments railing in misery. Yawn. Transphobe says something transphobic.

There’s a group discussing BBC radio. It can be fun. Recently, though, it’s infested with anti-trans campaigners. Should I disengage?

There was a programme where a self-described TERF talked to trans people. A post on that exploded to 775 comments, where few posts get more than a hundred. Word of Mouth, devoted to LGBT language, began with Michael Rosen’s moving confession and repentance of homophobia. These programmes are worth listening to, and I heard about them on that group. The thread’s at 240 comments and going strong.

There I am, trying to find agreement. I can find it in unexpected places. An anti-trans campaigner writes, “I’m a gender abolitionist; I think we’d all be better off if we were more free to behave in less stereotypical ways”.

I agree. “So the question is, how to get there when much of the anti-trans sentiment is conservative support of gender stereotypes and hatred of trans people for subverting them. The answer is to support everyone who is opposing assigned gender stereotypes, by whatever means they do it.”

I think she is too far gone for that to make a particular impression, but it might do some good.

I might hone my arguments. I now can state clearly and simply why the Equality Act assumes trans women will be in women’s spaces, despite passionate denial: “[The Act} doesn’t say that someone with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment must be treated as if they were the opposite sex and require them to be given access to facilities designated for the opposite sex. There is a lot of misinformation in circulation unfortunately.”

Easily answered. “Schedule 3. Paras 26-27 allow men to be excluded from women’s spaces. Para 28 allows trans women to be excluded. There would be no need for different provisions if it was as you say.” Well, that’s technical, and most people’s, even many trans people’s, eyes would glaze over long before that point- but I know what to say when that comes up.

Then there are the swivel-eyed obsessives. “Transwoman used to mean transsexual – a man with the distressing psychological condition of gender dysphoria. That has now exploded to include even part-time cross dressers and men who get their kicks dressing as women or being treated as women. Only those undergoing gender reassignment are covered by equality laws and even then there are exceptions where women need single-sex spaces. Stop with the power grab – women are aware of your tactics and we are standing up to them.”

Oh dear. Reading that is merely depressing, and I hope that anyone not wholly invested in the debate would be put off by it. I can answer it. Should I bother? Given that there are 36 replies to my original comment, no-one not obsessed would read the whole thread, and I could just leave it.

If I enjoy commenting, I should. I got in a top comment, 15 likes or loves, which may persuade some people. The poster objected to the phrase “gender assigned at birth” in Word of Mouth, so I commented, “Gender is assigned at birth. If you’re in a pink babygro, people goo-goo at you differently than if you’re in a blue one. Big strong boy! What a pretty girl! If your gender can’t be told from your clothes, people will want to know your name so they can assign you. The stereotypes are enforced from birth. I am amazed that “gender critical” people deny this. Surely they’ve noticed!”

Commenting like that, I might encourage a trans ally, discourage a hater, make someone think, but should not overestimate the effect I will have. Out of hundreds of comments, all having their incremental effect, mine will make little difference. If I drop out, there are plenty of others to argue in the same way. If anti-trans campaigners take over, their effort is not proportionate to any gain of persuading the unpersuaded.

Then one pulls one of the nastiest tricks in the transphobe armoury. You know they are filled with hate for every trans person when they do this. “Self-ID provides an obvious incentive for male sex offenders to identify as female. Some examples here:” and she gives a link.

So I said we’re not all sex offenders, and we have self declaration already. That’s enough, in her eyes, to make me an apologist for sex offenders at best. “We know that some men pose a risk to women… your cavalier dismissal of it… is very telling”. In the ellipses was even nastier stuff. Accusations of my selfishness and misogyny follow. There is nothing I could say to such people.

facebook is addictive. The system is designed to keep you coming back by getting you riled up. The notifications bell is a ping of dopamine. The hurt and frustration I feel from others’ anger is not worth it. I enjoy writing a well-crafted comment, but I would be better writing something less ephemeral.

Counting trans people

In 2021, the British census will count trans and nonbinary people. In England and Wales, these are the questions people will see:

What is your sex?
A question about gender identity will follow later on in the questionnaire
[ ] Female
[ ] Male

Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?
This question is voluntary
[ ] Yes
[ ] No
(Enter gender identity)

The census put “female” first in 2011. Before, the standard was to put male first, and other forms asking sex or gender usually do; but in other census questions the answers were either alphabetical, or the largest group first, both of which would put female first. So the order was changed.

Possible questions were tested to see how well people understood them, as well as whether they objected. The researchers timed how long it took to pick a response. The second question took five seconds, compared to “What do you consider your gender to be?” which took fourteen. People objected strongly to the word “consider”. I say my gender is female. If I say “I consider my gender is female” that includes the possibility others might disagree.

Gender and sex are synonyms in English, and this introduces a distinction. The report on question development assumes we know what it is. Under definitions, it says “The sex question is binary: female and male”, so DSD people have a sex.

“The gender identity question is about a person’s personal internal perception of themselves.”

I don’t think it helpful to distinguish my “personal internal perception” and reality in this case. I am female. I would not say so if I weren’t. Those who are habitually disbelieved, such as prisoners, might lie, but people generally are truthful about such things.

However we dropped the word “transsexual” for “trans”, for various reasons: “transsexual” sounds impersonal and scientific, sounds like a sexual orientation, when it is different; and puts pressure on people to have genital surgery. “Transgender” is an acceptable word.

The annex says, “the gender category with which a person identifies may not match the sex they were registered at birth”. Most of the readers of this document, and the people answering the questions, are cis, and the writers are explaining to them as well as to us.

They explain trans includes binary and nonbinary trans, and non-gendered identities, and identity may be fixed or variable.

It’s not spelled out that sex means genes, gonads and genitals, and I will answer that my sex is female. Gender has to be wider, to include nonbinary people. When the question asked some variant on “Are you trans?” nonbinary people did not consistently include themselves.

To the cis, the document explains that the sex “question wording and response options are unchanged from the 2011 Census. We will continue to collect this data in a way that is consistent with previous censuses.” Well, I said my sex was female then, too. There are so few of us, that statistics are barely affected.

“The gender identity question is voluntary. It will only be asked to respondents aged 16 years and over.”

The trans question comes at the end of the sociocultural questions. It affects fewer people than race or religion.

In Scotland, the trans question is different. The census will take place in 2022, because of Covid.
3. What is your sex?
[] Female [] Male
4. Do you consider yourself to be trans, or have a trans history?
This question is voluntary
Answer only if you are aged 16 or over
Trans is a term used to describe people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were registered at birth
Tick one box only
[] No
[] Yes, please describe your trans status (for example, non-binary, trans man, trans woman):
[Space to write in answer]

The National Records of Scotland explained their question testing. They tested a nonbinary sex question- male, female, Other- write in. The Scottish Parliament rejected the “Other” option for sex, though the NRS research showed that the questions, including the “other” sex option, were publicly acceptable, and would produce good data. Stakeholders preferred a nonbinary sex question, which produced fewer non-responses. Their aim was “to allow inclusive questions which all respondents can answer with ease”. They found putting the sex and trans status questions together made respondents understand better.

In Northern Ireland, the census will only include a binary sex question, and none on gender identity.

In England, the guidance on how to answer the sex question will read,

If you are considering how to answer, use the sex recorded on one of your legal documents such as a birth certificate, Gender Recognition Certificate, or passport.

That’s fine for me, but I would resent it if I had no GRC. I would ignore it, and tick F anyway. The ONS explains their reasons for the guidance here.

Estimates of the results will be published in March 2022 and the full data set in March 2023.

Status, Rank and Power

How does unjust privilege fester, and how can it be combated? Leticia Nieto and Margot Boyer explain. People experience oppression or privilege based on their gender, gender identity, ethnicity, social class and membership of other groups. Nieto calls this our “Rank”. A white straight middle-class educated able-bodied cis male has the highest rank. He is overvalued- society makes him seem better than a disabled person or a woman, but he is not, really. His privilege is a social construct. Power relates to our connection to God within: are you stuck in your ego, or do you have true integrity? Anyone can connect to their power through spiritual practices.

“A person’s ability to be grounded, to exercise compassion, to use humor in a healing way, to love without demands, and to support themselves and those around them can indicate the presence of Power.

Status arises from rank and power, and varies between interactions. High status behaviour is marked by posture, and claims of leadership, knowledge or dominance. Low status behaviour is marked by submissive posture, and messages of compliance, acceptance and support. With close friends status might be fluid. High status behaviour can be positive- teaching a group, speaking up- or negative- physical or verbal violence. A high rank person can temporarily take a low status position, but that does not change their rank. Low status behaviour can be positive, for example active listening, supporting another’s idea, or appreciating someone; or negative, for example passive-aggressive behaviour.

Nieto calls the higher ranked person in an interaction the agent, and the lower-ranked person the target. Working age adults, 18-65, have higher rank than old people or young people, and so having been a child is the only experience that white male etc has had of being a target.

We learn rank unconsciously, and how we should behave as members of those groups. We follow the rules, and adopt status positions accordingly. This has certain advantages: “When both people insist on taking a high-status position, there’s likely to be conflict. When both choose the low-status position, the interaction can be stagnant and the pair may find it impossible to make decisions or move forward.” However it is wearing for the targets. The ideal is that status is flexible, and all support the good work or ideas of each.

Overcoming that social conditioning takes a lot of work, and acting from our Power. As targets, we learn to take the low status role, and that is a survival skill. Also, behaving as if the Agent way of being is normal and preferable is a survival skill. This makes Agents comfortable. Then we behave like the Agent’s conception of our target group- girls adopt “feminine” behaviour. Whatever other skills we develop, we may find ourselves driven back to that survival skill- when tired, or threatened. We get the most practice in survival skills, so they seem easiest, but they are exhausting because they require us to conform to others’ expectations of us. Targets merely surviving may oppress other members of their target group.

Nieto calls the next level of target skills “confusion”. We become aware that survival is exhausting, and we are being oppressed. We see the Rank dynamics, though we cannot yet respond to them constructively. We don’t have the language to understand, but sometimes we think, say or do things which do not fit the Target role. Nieto calls Survival and Confusion Agent-centric skills, as we cannot yet act independently of target role.

To move to Empowerment, an agent-relative skill, where we are in principle equal with the Agents, takes a great deal of energy. It is being born again. We need access to spaces for Empowered targets, such as for women, BAME people or LGBT people. Targets talk about our common experience, and learn to value each other and ourselves. We learn about the roots of oppression. It’s painful but keeps us awake. Empowerment skills involve bringing up the issue of oppression in different interactions. We express anger at Agent norms. Then we mobilise to resist oppression. This is exhausting and risky.

Then we develop Strategy skills: when using Empowerment will produce the most good, when using Survival skills is necessary. We make more conscious choices of when to walk away. We align ourselves with our Target group, and spend less time on Agent expectations. We find norms which work for us, and support our own and other Target groups. Nieto calls these Re-centring skills. We operate out of our Power. We challenge systems of oppression in the most effective way.

Few Targets get to use Re-centring skills, and even the wisest and most skilful use them only some of the time. We use the higher level skills best when feeling calm, supported and well. Anything causing distress makes this more difficult: so self-care is important for anti-oppression work.

Agents can be allies. Because rank is unconscious, Agents rarely notice their privilege even as they enforce it. Unconscious agents start in Indifference. We don’t notice or value Targets. Then privilege is not our problem. Everyone pays attention to different information and stimuli, and through conditioning Agents become indifferent to anything that threatens their superiority.

When we encounter Targets and cannot be Indifferent, we practise Distancing. We notice how much they are not like us. Distancing Out- we hold them away. “I don’t have anything against—-, I just don’t want to live next door to them.” Distancing Down is most easily seen as oppressive. “They’re dirty.” Distancing up makes us pretend to value them: claiming that — people are musical, spiritual or close to nature. Distancing takes more energy, and organised hate groups support people to distance Targets.

Inclusion is more comfortable. We use verbal messages that emphasise similarity and connection. “I don’t see colour.” It feels that we are valuing Targets, and no longer oppressing, but we as Agents still centre ourselves. We want the Target group still to meet our expectations. We can’t work effectively against oppression until we wake up.

Moving beyond Inclusion, to Agent-relative skills of Awareness and Allyship, requires strong motivation, such as a strong relationship with a Target group member. Awareness feels unpleasant, and we feel disorientated by guilt and shame. We remember when we took advantage of privilege. We recognise how harmful Indifference, Distancing and Inclusion skills are, and that we normally use them.

Society discourages Awareness skills, so we need to practise them with a group who can confirm the reality of oppression. We can learn from Targets even if they might not want to teach us. We see the Rank system and see how much talent it wastes.

If we can bear the discomfort, we may be able to learn Allyship. We are aware of oppression and our own privilege. We stop being paralysed. We work against oppression, support targets and help other Agents wake up, see oppression, and develop anti-oppression skills.

This is based on Nieto’s summary pdf. More details are here.

Health rationing and Covid

Over 30,000 people are in hospital in England with Covid. What does this mean?

The British Medical Association says doctors are stressed, anxious about their own health and that of their families, working more than normal hours and possibly beyond their competence in order to avoid serious harm. Final year medical students are fast-tracked, retired doctors are returning to practice. Doctors are working outside their normal specialty. The BMA drily states, “The skills of these professionals may not meet pre-pandemic expected standards of fitness to practise”.

The General Medical Council, appointed to govern doctors’ fitness to practise, reassures doctors that their careers will not necessarily be affected. They will take into account “the stress and tiredness that may affect judgment or behaviour”.

Hospitals lose their ability to admit patients for other matters. It is a terrible time to have a heart attack, stroke or cancer. GPs will be dealing with most health need, and so will cancel non-essential services, and use telephone or video consultations.

Where all facilities, equipment and staff that could be used to meet patient need are at capacity, “resource allocation decisions between individuals would become inescapable”. Rather than meeting individual need, the health service has to “maximise overall benefit”. This means refusing treatment to some patients. Normally, there is an “obligation to persevere in the face of an extremely ill patient”, leading to breaking ribs attempting to resuscitate a patient on ventilation. Some patients may have treatment withdrawn, even if they are slowly improving, to enable others to be treated, who have a “higher survival probability”.

It is lawful and ethical for a doctor to refuse potentially life-saving treatment where someone else is expected to benefit more from it. Doctors are not assessing the suggested value of a person to the community- younger or older, family responsibilities, work eminence- but their capacity physically to benefit. Individual doctors should be making these decisions according to rules set by their employers. The rules should be open and transparent.

Where care is withdrawn, patients will receive symptom management and end-of-life care for the dying. These decisions have a significant emotional effect on health workers.

Triage is a form of rationing of scarce resources. It sorts patients according to needs and probable outcomes. It can identify those who are so ill they are unlikely to survive, who will be given symptom relief. Priority “will be given to those whose conditions are the most urgent, the least complex, and who are likely to live the longest”.

These decisions should not solely be based on age or disability but likelihood of benefiting from available resources. Where patients cannot be admitted to intensive care they will not receive cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Where large numbers of people have apparently equal chances of survival and length of stay in ICU, at first there will be a queuing system- first come, first served. If patients are not improving, there may be a time-limited trial of therapy, and treatment withdrawn. In overwhelming demand, where a patient’s prognosis worsens care may be withdrawn.

Sometimes a patient’s contribution to essential services, where the workforce is severely depleted, may be taken in account. This means that sick doctors may be prioritized. Well, I would not object to that.

Hospitals are reporting shortages of oxygen. Blood oxygen saturation of 95% is considered normal, but in Southend the target was reduced, to 88-92%.

Cases in England are still rising, because of the Conservative government’s ridiculous promises of association indoors over Christmas, and failure to implement lockdown until after schools were opened on Monday 4th January. Deaths will continue to increase for four weeks. Hospitalisations will continue to increase for two weeks. Hospitals in London are overwhelmed. People who could have been saved with normal health resources will die.

The BMA’s FAQs are here. Their detailed guidance is here.

A target for our feelings

A Chinese man apologised for The Virus. Case closed? Unfortunately not.

He appeared sincere, and unleashed a wave of sympathy. No! Don’t apologise, people said, it isn’t your fault. You are not to blame. Do not feel bad. I can’t see how it would be his fault, unless he took the particular pangolin to the Wuhan wet-market. He is just Chinese, as if all Chinese people are responsible for the “China virus”. I hope not, because if so I am responsible for the British Empire.

He seemed sincere, though he could just be zoom-bombing, to find out how people would react. I had not seen him there before.

If he was sincere- it is possible-

we have all- seven billion of us, perhaps, or a good proportion of that- lost a huge amount this year. We have lost human contact, jobs, family, our understanding of the world and our place in it. Imagine, the whole world in mourning. Imagine waves of grief of people who have lost a colleague and suddenly their job is dangerous in a way it had never been before, or people who bought a house then lost their job, or people who have lost a child, or have brain-fog from long covid. Their pain is explicable. Now imagine people who are a little less secure than they were, who are not good with change, who don’t like the feel of masks on their face. They are mourning too, waves of grief, and their feeling is less explicable.

Feelings are best responding to the moment. You see them in animals. A dog gets angry, fearful or amorous and it deals with the problem immediately. The whole body responds. Two hundred million years of mammal responses, those etched-in brain pathways, and a few thousand years of civilisation do not equip us for emotional stimuli without a clear, immediate response. Angry- do a dominance display- other backs down- sorted. Sad- stop, rest, accept, move on. Now, instead, we get stressed.

Bad things have happened this year, and everyone is affected. Loss we cannot regain. Fear of loss we cannot certainly avoid, or not by some instant act like a mouse fleeing a predator. So we attach it to something. Anti-maskers attach it to Bad Law: there is a conspiracy to take our freedoms away, the virus is either a hoax or wildly exaggerated. I know one. Suddenly all that feeling sloshing about inside is explicable, and has a righteous outlet- shouting in Trafalgar square once a week, for the moment, it must be liberating.

We all know this. In other circs it’s called “kicking the cat”. A lot of HoBiT rage is misplaced emotion. You can’t shout at your boss so you shout at some harmless queer. And there is so much now. We have a pandemic to rage at, and lots of rules to say that feelings should be suppressed.

The people who told him not to apologise did not help. If he finds expressing guilt to Americans makes him feel better, why should he not? It could be catharsis, and attempts to manage it- “No, don’t feel bad”- might prevent that. He could be trolling for reactions, though.

Passion can be well directed. Someone might start a campaign. Anger can be fuel. Anger which cannot be used as fuel can be felt and acknowledged.

That we are all in mourning could bring us together or drive us apart. I want that Chinese man to be comforted, but want to hold myself aloof from the feelings he stirs up.

The Anti-maskers

I wear a face mask, because mask-wearing protects people from covid. I could not evaluate it for myself, I have to take that on trust, and here are two articles which persuade me to wear one. Cloth masks are imperfect but make a difference, I say, even if I could not explain perfectly what that difference was. It’s also the law, and public expectation, to wear a mask. I see a few face shields, and I imagine they are useless, as aerosol droplets small enough to float in air will go past them. I am aware of reasons not to wear a mask including lip reading, or the fear some will have with something covering their face. Masks are not perfect protection, but I think it’s on balance better to wear one.

It would help if we had a decent government. In the US, Trump is more concerned to stir division and win on 3 November than to save lives. In Britain, the government seems too concerned with image, its testing never matching its boasting, its rules seeming careless and arbitrary, also too concerned with appearance, not concerned enough to keep people’s livelihoods, sometimes too concerned with preserving capital values, intent on a damaging Brexit and turning Kent into a lorry park.

Ach, I am concerned with appearances too. I think we have an unpatriotic government, not concerned with the good of the British people, wanting to tear down regulation protecting us, damaging the bonds that bring society together, and I want to persuade others of that.

I need to trust, and the hard Right works against that. The febrile atmosphere they and social media create makes trust hard. And mask wearing is nuanced, as not seeing faces is sadness, even if you smile with your eyes, and they are not perfect protection.

In my spiritual, wisdom seeking, milieu, anti-vaxxers predate, and opponents of “Big Pharma”. I have given reiki myself, and it does people good. It’s OK to take a bit of reiki along with your chemotherapy, not OK to take reiki instead, and though again there is nuance- chemo may merely slow the growth of a cancer rather than shrinking it- I would prefer an oncologist’s advice to an aromatherapist’s.

So there we were, sharing feelings and wisdom, sharing ourselves, and in comes an anti-masker. She says she has a relevant degree, and resents being told she does not know what she’s talking about by people who have just read a few magazine articles (like me). Zoom chat lets her spread her arguments. She said mask wearing is a “Pantomime”, and that’s a wonderful word to dismiss it. Five say they agree. Two make comments which could be read either way. Three of us strongly challenge her.

for those who have been silenced or had anything held over their mouth then masks are about death

anyone who has ever been assaulted will know what it feels like to have masked strangers all around them and be unable to see their intent in the facial expressions

Er, um. I have been silenced, and assaulted. I get by, walking in the street, by not noticing others much. This makes sense, but she puts it too strongly. I would rather accept that some people are mask exempt. I don’t know if that person without one is exempt or an anti-masker- or has just forgotten to bring one.

one of the best things we can do for ourself and each other and the whole population is to support our own immune system.  Masks do not do that, mainly because they block our ability to expel infective agents.  All of us have Staph aureus in our systems – if that gets over grown, then it will make us very ill.  Many of us carry Streptococcus and if anyone has ever experienced what folks call ‘Strep throat’ you will know that it’s no fun.  If we interrupt these balances then we have problems – these are naturally occurring bacteria that will cause problems if we push them out of balance

I don’t believe, on balance, that bacteria I would usually expel will multiply on my mask and then be much stronger in my airways. If anyone can refer me to something authoritative on this, please do. I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand-

Even the woman who writes “We can’t let misinformation undermine science” takes herbal tea and ginger root for her immune system.

Yeats, again. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Anti-maskers can rile each other up in their web enclaves, and try to persuade others.

Also in that group an Indian woman talked of the poetry of Mirza Ghalib, “To Urdu what Shakespeare is to English”. I was sad that she felt the need to ask our permission, white people don’t. I found some in this ancient-looking website. He is really good:

On the subject of mystic philosophy, Ghalib,
your words might have struck us as deeply profound
and we might have pronounced you a saint …
Yes, if only we hadn’t found
you drunk
as a skunk!

Not the blossomings of songs nor the adornments of music:
I am the voice of my own heart breaking.

You toy with your long, dark curls
while I remain captive to my dark, pensive thoughts.

We congratulate ourselves that we two are different:
that this weakness has not burdened us both with inchoate grief.

Now you are here, and I find myself bowing—
as if sadness is a blessing, and longing a sacrament.

I am a fragment of sound rebounding;
you are the walls impounding my echoes.

All your life, O Ghalib,
You kept repeating the same mistake:
Your face was dirty
But you were obsessed with cleaning the mirror!

I want a nice, safe consensus on mask wearing, and that appears not to be available, though I heard of people shouting angrily at maskless strangers when I last went to the Swanston supermarket. Some of the propaganda sheets in the UK seem to be pro-mask for now. In Meeting, I had my wayward and disturbing thoughts, and they merged and mingled with my Awareness, stretching it, because it is not “My God”, but ours. Strange and disturbing things are part of how the world is.

1929.6.68 002

Reality-based caring

My friend, after research on the internet, concluded that the coronavirus could not have evolved naturally in bats or some link species, but had to have been genetically engineered. The thought made her miserable. Its release had to have been an accident, she thought, she could not see any reason why anyone would do that.

I don’t believe SARS-CoV 2 was genetically engineered. I believe it would be generally known if it were. I believe academia would ferret such things out, and publications I trust, such as the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, Atlantic or New Statesman would have publicised it. I have a high school education in physics and chemistry, and a lay interest in such writers and broadcasters as Jim Al-Khalili or Marnie Chesterton, so I have to take it on trust. I believe academia would debate that, and if it were true it could not be suppressed. I have read that the genome sequence shows that it was clearly not engineered, and can’t remember where.

And, the way human culture has evolved has caused the pandemic. It arose because of human encroachment into wild habitat, and exploitation of bush meat. It got a toe-hold because of the corrupt, terrified lower-ranking Chinese officials who threatened prosecution of Li Wenliang, the doctor who raised the alarm. I have no more reason to trust the Chinese investigators who, after Li’s death, recommended punishment for the officials who made Li withdraw his comments. The rule there seems to be “Don’t make us look bad- even in retrospect”. It rampaged through the US because their corrupt President knew it spread pre-symptomatically through exhaled aerosol droplets, and did not care. However there is not one person to blame, like a careless technician in a virology lab- we are all guilty, as Heinz Kiosk said.

Whether we react with sadness, anger or acceptance, there is huge communal and individual loss from CoViD- uncountable deaths, loss of jobs and businesses, economic depression. Possibly the thought of that terrible mistake lets my friend mourn it. Possibly I have not faced this great Fact of 2020 fully. My social life has improved, as people take to Zoom.

I wondered what Donald Trump meant by “radical left”, but he appears to attach the term to anything I would call “Reality based”. The Atlantic magazine prints conservatives such as David Frum, always introduced as George W. Bush’s speechwriter, and Anne Applebaum, who remains a small-state, low tax, respect for property rights conservative but a truthful one. The concept of “Reality-based” goes back to 2004, though the quote then seems to be about creating facts by concrete achievement- conquest, in that case.

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Now, “creating reality” means pumping up QAnon.

Instagram’s QAnon Moms care deeply about children abused by Democrat paedophiles, and if I believed with them I would care too, enough to work very hard for Q+’s re-election as President. Now, Republicans seem completely mired in fantasy, but it was a long time developing, through their climate change denial, or use of the Laffer Curve to cut taxes on the wealthiest indiscriminately. Perhaps politics is a grim fight for group advantage, and those who pretend to idealism in the interests of the whole community are hypocrites or trapped in cognitive dissonance.

Do people care about their fellows? Most people think caring about others is an admirable trait. However we may see ourselves as caring, on evidence which is too easy. Does tweeting about Black Lives mean you care, or must you do something in real life?

I understand the logic of my radical feminist friend’s position on trans rights, just not its value. Trans women are men, therefore trans women in women’s space is as inappropriate as a forty year old in a children’s centre. She and her fellow campaigners don’t want to reduce the rights of the trans woman any more than the notional forty year old, but they should not be there. I don’t agree. If Sara Ahmed can be a feminist activist supporting trans rights, why can’t she? Could she step back from logic, and consider the advantages of trans inclusion? However she can campaign for the expulsion of trans women from the women’s spaces where we are, and claim not to be uncaring.

I last posted a week ago. I’ve been thinking of writing projects which are too ambitious to actually write, and writing for somewhere else. I can’t draw this post together, but it’s stuff I’ve been thinking about. Does caring do any good? Does it need to be Reality-based to do good? I think so, but not everything here argues for that.