To Each His Own

Before the sisterhood of the perpetually offended start screaming, be aware that I am using “his” in the generic, means all of humanity sense. Just saying.

Because, of course, said sisterhood has lost the notion that everyone has the ability to decide his, her, or its preferences without reference to anyone else. For that matter, that which one person likes may be utterly disgusting to someone else regardless of whether the matter in question is the taste of brussels sprouts, which way to hang the toilet roll, or some political hot button.

Everyone gets to have an opinion.

What everyone doesn’t get is a unique set of facts supporting said opinion.

This does not make the facts racist, sexist, or anything-else-ist. It makes them facts. Things happen. They impact the world around them to a greater or lesser extent. This is, as much as anything can be, immutable. If you drop Great Auntie’s best china teacup on a sufficiently hard surface, it will break. Exactly how many pieces is till break into and whether you will step on them and cut your feet depends on a number of factors such as how far the cup fell, whether it got a boost from your frantic attempt to catch it (upsetting Great Auntie is never a good idea), and the angle it was at when it hit the ground. These are facts. Those who are sufficiently interested in math and physics could probably model the whole incident and give you a prediction of how big a mess you’ve got to clean up.

People also generate facts. These are a bit squishier for a number of reasons, among them the little issue that nobody really understands internal biochemistry, especially neurochemistry. Animal brains are still something of a black box, and human brains are rather more complicated than that.

It’s a fact that there’s a crapload of different chemicals in there, and that the entire thing works as a kind of bioelectrochemical engine that manages most of the mundane things like breathing and controlling the rather awkward set of delicately balanced levers and counter-levers that make up the human muscular-skeletal system. It’s also a fact that quantitatively tiny changes in the biochemical soup that makes the conducting medium for the nerves can, depending on the exact change, trigger a message, cause everything to be dampened, or set off a storm of reaction, or any of a multitude of different responses.

At this point nobody knows for sure if the whole thing is utterly deterministic – that is, what we perceive to be free will and our thoughts is completely decided by the underlying biochemical reactions inside our skull – or something else entirely. Personally, I lean towards something else, although I have no doubt that the chemistry has a huge impact. I see human nature and the many, many choices we make every day as part of the emergent properties that appear when enough of the right kind of small deterministic reactions happen the right way.

Heck, we used to see the same kind of effects happening every day – aerial views of traffic in a city bears a remarkable resemblance to the flow of blood cells, complete with blockages when things go wrong (although traffic jams are thankfully rather less debilitating than strokes or heart failure). It’s also rather similar to watching a colony of ants in time lapse: over time, the colony acts like a single large organism rather than the mass of much smaller critters performing their limited roles.

Emergent properties are like opinions. They happen. Based on different histories and different experiences people will interpret the same set of facts differently. One example is when I first came to the US. I saw the mostly-dead grass and trees in late fall, and I thought “very dry weather”. I was wrong: I’d never lived anywhere that was cold enough for grass to stop growing and go gray and dry-looking in winter, but I’d certainly seen grass that looked just like that in drought-stricken areas in Australia.

That’s a simple example, of course. The ones that cause all the fuss and screaming are the more complex examples – like it being a fact that people from low income districts are arrested and go through the justice system more often than people from medium or higher income districts. The reasons attributed to this vary from the system being geared against those without much in the way of financial resources (that’s true pretty much everywhere to a greater or lesser extent, but doesn’t explain all the financially strapped people who managed not to go full on criminal) through variants on the environment or poor quality home life being the cause (which again is an insult to those with equally crappy environments or home lives that don’t become criminals) all the way to the belief that everyone makes their own choices and these people chose… poorly (except that doesn’t fully deal with the issue either – not everyone has access to the knowledge or the training to make good decisions about their lives). Yeah, you guessed it. My personal opinion is that there’s an unholy combination of everything including personal choice and environment and history that leads to someone turning criminal. It’s probably a good thing I’m not a judge. Or a lawmaker.

I’d drive people nuts trying to keep the legal system simple and clear while trying to build in allowances for the relatively few people who are legitimately in no-win situations, and I know that tends not to work terribly well.

What does work, and demonstrably so, is honest and accountable government, preferably fairly light-weight, in a high-trust society. Every single one of the most stable countries right now has this. Every place that’s headed downhill is having trust issues with its government and/or the general society. And every shithole in the world is a place where trust only happens between people who know each other personally (and know each other very well at that).

The perpetually offended are playing with nukes when they deny others the ability to express their opinions and act to reduce the ability of people to trust in their society. One can only hope the fallout will be contained.

Oh, and have some of the irises in my garden.

37 comments

  1. Obviously a household with cats or small children should hang the TP roll facing inward to avoid that captivating white waterfall phenomenon. For everyone else it’s entirely a matter of personal preference. I’ve even known some to leave the darn thing sitting on the back of the tank oriented vertically naturally since it would roll off otherwise.
    Wisdom of the day from kindly old Uncle Lar.

    1. And in a household with cats one does not leave the roll anywhere it can be batted around or you will not only get the white waterfall phenomenon, you will get it all through the house.

      1. Yep. My brother once declared my toilet paper orientation anathema. I shook my head at him, and said, “Cats.”

        “Okay, anyone except cat owners who hangs it that way is wrong!!”

        And then he had toddlers.

        However, once the kids were no longer toddlers, the toilet paper reverted to the “right and proper” orientation. Me? I still have cats. They’re like 4 year olds with fur coats and pretensions.

        1. At least some toddlers grow out of it.
          Usually about the time they have kids of their own of course.

    2. “We know the world isn’t flat, because the cats would have knocked everything off the edge by now.”

      1. My kitties traverse a densely cluttered surface without disturbing a thing, and then knock a lone partly filled glass off a naked table as an afterthought. Then give me the “you got a problem with that?” look. Gotta love’m!
        The use of a toilet roll holder in Kentucky is unknown. Maybe a remembrance of the outhouse era,

    3. We have them facing the correct way, over the top….

      and got cheap TP, so it tears too quickly for most of them to get the white waterfall rush. ;p

  2. I remember going to Florida in either December or January, and commenting on how fake the grass looked. Both because I hadn’t actually seen green grass in months, and because it was an entirely different type of grass than we get in the mid-west.

    1. The first summer I lived in the edge of the Upper Midwest, the green grass in the ditches really messed with my mind. Yard grass in August is a tired green. Ditch grass in August is brown. That’s how nature works, yes? That’s normal. Ditch grass should not, repeat not, be lush and green in late summer! (Granted, this is the same area where I had my first close-up encounter with a bald eagle. It was eating road kill. Make of it what you will.)

      1. Exactly! Just like in Australia in December once you get away from the coast the greenest grass is on the edge of the bitumen roads because it gets a trickle of condensation overnight. And in Australia the grass only gets brown and dead-looking because there’s been a long drought, not because it’s winter.

        The grass here in PA even smells different to the grass in Australia.

        When you get used to how something looks, acts, and smells, you do get a shock if you go somewhere where what appears to be the same thing doesn’t do what you expect.

      2. The bald eagle is, for the most part, remarkably uninterested in its duties as America’s national bird and the dignity that ought to go with that position.

        However, I will say that we have one in our area that’s doing a pretty good job: soaring through the sky, making inspiring noises, and occasionally perching on top of tall poles looking majestic. Maybe we need to send this bird to the Upper Midwest to give the locals some lessons.

        1. We have at least one Bald Eagle living here this summer. I assune it has a mate and eggs.

          It definitely has a magpie duo that’s assigned itself to hassle the eagle. It’s very hard to look dignified when little brats are flying at you. Mind you, depending on your mental associations for the magpies, a beleagured eagle is a perfectly good symbol for the country, currently.

          Of course, the Canada Geese had a dogfight with crows this spring, which we’ve never seen before, so . . . the corvids are getting uppity. I think the crows did get the message to leave the goose nest honking alone.

          1. the corvids are getting uppity

            Must have heard all of the stuff about how covid is taking over and added a letter…

        2. I think we have one around here. At least, when it circles, the head looks white. Hard to tell at a distance.

  3. Of course, the “perpetually offended” just Know how their little brown/black brothers think/act and get upset when the little brown/black brothers “don’t follow their script”. 😈

    1. Well of course. They’re better than those other folks and know their needs and desires much better than the little people do.

  4. For the most part, I’m willing to follow personal preferences, but when an individual woman starts demanding I refer to her as “they,” I draw a line.

    1. I am legion? In some contexts “they” isn’t hard and we are pretty comfortable saying “they” instead of “he or she” when talking about an unknown person, well, most of us are. But in other contexts it’s confusing because it is a plural and in the course of one conversation a person might reference a group as a group and then reference individuals in that group. It gets confusing.

      The made up ones bother me, too. (Though if there were only *one* made up neutral, I’d be sympathetic.) If you really want made up pronouns your friends will probably learn them and use them, but expecting random other people to remember them or use them or ask each time before speaking to you is ridiculous. People will almost always register some clue to sex that they might not even be aware of, so even a transperson just using “he” or “she” will get misgendered by people who didn’t really look or saw you from the back. Because our skeletons are different.

      Extending some grace isn’t too much to ask.

      1. It’s one thing to ask your friends to refer to you the way you prefer. I’ve got no issue with that. Expecting the entire world to know and observe said preference – and getting offended when the world doesn’t follow suit – is a different beast and not something I approve of. For the most part the world outside my small circle of friends doesn’t _care_ what I want. The same applies to anyone else.

        1. I just realized what it reminds me of– the “Ms” wars.

          Specifically, the…females… who went freaking insane when called ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’
          Which is a lot like the “chew out someone who holds the door for you” idiots.

          1. I don’t remember who it was, Paglia perhaps, who said that “Ms.” was the one thing she thought a reasonable addition to the language because it simplified rather than complicated things, you often don’t know who is married or not and asking is awkward and sort of nosy.

            The argument that it makes everything simpler is more persuasive to me than complaints that using Mrs. is wrong because it defines women as their marital status or some garbage.

            1. I’m young enough that I don’t completely hate it, but that’s in spite of the screamers, because it is simpler.

              Of course, some sub-cultures had a similar word– “Miss.” For situations when dealing with a woman where her marriage status doesn’t matter.

              1. I’m not fond of “Ms” as a word, but I do agree it makes things simpler. Not to mention, any woman who’s spent any time as a teacher in Australia gets a bit of a twitch at “Miss” – it’s the generic term for any female teacher, where “Sir” is the generic for any male teacher. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a teenage girl talking about how “the Sir with the blond curls” is “so dreamy”. (gag)

                1. Oh, TBH?

                  I mostly use “Ms” to mean “I figure you’ll tell me what title works better.”

                  Although I very seldom accept titles like “Doctor” or “Captain.” Neither are relevant in most conversations I’m in.

                2. Apparently that’s the default in parts of Latin America as well, based on some student interactions I’ve had. Which is fine β€” I tell students to call me Miss, in part to thumb my nose at the Wymynists.

  5. Another great example of the individual/social == slime mold.
    The term “free will” is absurd. “Will” is determined/directed by a whole sack of individual aspirations, expectations, longings and limitations. But “free choice” among the possibilities open to us is always an option. “Choice,” on the other hand, is rare. Habits maintain sanity. Discover what works and just keep doing it. “What should I do with my life” doesn’t come up every day — but it does come up. And there are strict limitations on what is possible.

    1. Free will as a general term meaning “the ability to choose between whatever possibilities are available” is kind of different than “will” as in strong will – and I’m not even going into the options that get opened by using either word in a different sense than is usually intended. (For some reason I’m wanting to snark about a free Will in every box of cornflakes).

      1. One explanation that I have always like is free will is the ability to make meaningful choices.

      2. β€œthe ability to choose between whatever possibilities are available”
        I have the ability to choose, but habits render it very rarely used. Even then my “choice” is conditioned by and most likely the result of all sorts of life factors past and future. So drilling down to the moment of “choice,” if it is “free,” it is made in eternity, which is the “now” standing between past and future. What does Kate think?

  6. There are indications that the microtubules within nerve cells are small enough for quantum effects to be significant. If they are, fully deterministic behavior in nerve networks would be impossible.

    Why would you believe traffic jams don’t lead to strokes and heart failure? πŸ˜›
    β€”β€”β€”β€”β€”β€”β€”β€”β€”β€”β€”
    When reality doesn’t conform to your theories, it’s not the universe that’s wrong.

    1. Oh, traffic jams can lead to strokes and heart failure, just not quite as directly as blood clots in major arteries.

      And a corollary to the comment about the universe not being wrong: those who refuse to accept the universe will get smacked by it. The only thing in question is how much damage they’ll do before then.

  7. Ah yes. Is it the royal ‘we’, the editorial ‘we’, or the ‘we’ of a person with tapeworms?

  8. So are those batik irises? They’re gorgeous. Are they hardy?
    Some plants grow beautifully for me.
    Irises have more problematic: the only ones I’ve gotten to grow are yellow hand-me-downs, but I’d really like me some batik irises. That purple and white!

    1. I don’t know beyond the information the plant identification app gave me – the garden came with the house. About all we’ve managed to do with it is kill off the nettle infestation. We should probably clean out some of the other plants in it, though: they’re choking out the irises.

      The other iris in there is an amazing dark red.

      And they seem to be reasonably hardy, since they don’t get much attention – just whatever the weather does and some intermittent weed clearance.

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