Sunday, June 29, 2014

Change is not the right word

(Since today's pride day in Seattle I figured this was an appropriate topic.  I've been reflecting on this for a week or two so it's not exactly a well-formed thesis, but I'm curious how people think.)

I really feel like "change" is not the right word for social progress.  Sure, it's technically accurate—it was a change in the Revised Code of Washington in the past couple years that allowed two people of the same sex to get married here.*  But it implies, to me at least, that something's different: that the terms of morality have changed, or that it's some radical new idea, or that it's just another option and we decided to pick a different one.  And I don't feel like it's any of those things.  Maybe I'm reading too much into the word.

Treating women as second-class citizens and not allowing them to vote was never okay.  To call it a "change" when women were given those rights feels like whitewashing over a grievous injustice.  Similarly (and perhaps with a little hyperbole), slavery was never okay, arresting and killing gay people was never okay, and rounding up Jews into ghettos and concentration camps was never okay.  It just became increasingly difficult for people to justify those things to their neighbors.  A person in 1714 who owns ten slaves not a better person than someone in 2014 who owns ten slaves; he just had a lot easier time justifying his atrocities.  We're rapidly progressing to a point where more and more people agree that it's not acceptable to deny to gay people the rights that straight people have, and where more and more people will look back on the humans of 2014 and wonder why we were all so horrible.

Hopefully we'll all feel that way someday about societies that don't provide healthcare for the sick, and food for the hungry.  If the people of 2114 look back on the people of 2014 and are as ashamed of us for giving medicine to only those with money as we are of the slave owners in 1850, that's a good thing—then future generations have progressed to a point where the awful things we do (or don't do) today are no longer socially acceptable.

(Really, this largely comes down to morality versus ethics, a philosophical topic that bores me about as much as every other philosophical topic, which is perhaps ironic given that I just wrote this post.  I'm a firm believer in morality and right and wrong.  Our society's ethics allow behaviors that, to me, are quite immoral, but over time we seem to be slowly closing that gap.)

*And as a side note, I'm similarly annoyed by the phrase "gay marriage," where I'd strongly prefer "marriage equality."  I don't like the implication that it's this new, separate thing; it's fixing an old thing that was broken, and making it fair.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Finding meaning

I spend a lot of my thoughts trying to understand other people.  I'm not really intuitive at all when it comes to other peoples' emotions and behavior; most of human behavior is an absolute mystery to me, but I enjoy the observation.

One of the things that I find really hard to grasp is what appeal there is in going to bars and clubs.  I can understand from a simple "I like to drink alcohol" perspective or an "I want to find someone to have sex with tonight" perspective, but I am perplexed by the seemingly significant number of people who go to them for neither of those reasons.  Eventually they form friendships with some subgroup of the other regulars.

My first thought is always something like "Good Lord, if you're making friends with people at a bar, you go to the bar way too often and you need to evaluate your life," but I think that might be the point.  Bars and clubs seem like awful, terrible places to make friends to me, but to people who do not find places like those to be horrifying cathedrals of nightmare and agony, they aren't.  It's difficult for me to understand what it would be like to have a personality like that, and I have to repeatedly remind myself.

Another thought is always "why would you go to a bar every night or a club every weekend instead of doing something that has meaning?"  But that too is naive.  Everyone needs friends, and some people might find them there; and everyone needs some activity to relax, and some people would find that there instead of anxiety attacks.  But more than those, I think what I often can't really understand is that to an extrovert especially, those sort of activities do have meaning to some people.  (By "meaning" I mean in the lofty "purpose of life" sense, not just "any reason to do a thing.")  And as much as I like to feel superior to everyone else and say that the only things that give true meaning to a life are to create things and improve things and make life better for those who come after you, the things that I feel give my life "meaning," different peoples' lives must have different purposes, because we're all very different and have different skills and interests.

In fact, now that I think about it more, it's entirely consistent with my worldview that some people may be on this earth in a support capacity.  Not everyone needs to invent or build or create art for the world to become better, if the others are indirectly working toward the same.  Some people need to be the glue and the fabric that keep us connected as people, so that everyone else can do their best work.  And maybe having some people who like to go out to bars and clubs and "hang out" is essential to mankind in the symbiotic way that some tree needs a specific bird to eat its seeds and then poop them out somewhere else for it to survive.

(As always, I am generalizing plenty of things here.  I'm fully aware that some introverts like to go to bars and clubs, and that plenty of extroverts contribute directly to society's advancement.)