zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
Last week New Zealand's centre-right party won the election as thoroughly as you can or need to in order to govern unimpeded for the next three years, and the left-leaning among us are doing the usual post-mortem.

Do we blame the non-voters? The misinformed voters? The greedy voters? The unappealing centre-left party? The corrupt centre-right party? The naive internet party who thought that people would change their votes when corruption was alleged?

No, I think we need to accept the fact that 48% of voters honestly believe that the centre-right's economic policies are standing us in good stead as a country. Partly they believe this because said party has lied to them about how we're in fact doing. But mostly they believe it because it makes sense. It fits the Story, the story that's wound its way about the globe and is shaping society and economics worldwide by convincing us to fear and distrust our fellow human beings and vote for the government that will protect us from them.

I call the Story "Bludgers vs Bootstraps". It's a story of the lazy beneficiary who's bludging off the state. You know they're a lazy bludger because they're a beneficiary. If they weren't lazy, they'd pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get a job, and become a productive member of society. But they don't have a job so they're not productive so they're a bad person -- or at the very least they've made bad choices and now they need to take responsibility for that. (At worst, they're actively milking the benefit for all it's worth, or even defrauding it.) And if they won't do it themselves, then they need to have their benefit taken away from them in order to motivate them to go and do the thing with the bootstraps.

Like all victim-blaming, this story is tremendously comforting. Because if every poor person made a Bad Choice, then all you need to do to avoid poverty is to make all the Right Choices.

And because people need the Story to allay their fears, the harder you work to point out a case that doesn't fit the narrative, the harder they'll work to identify the Bad Choice that proves it does fit it. (To see this happen, I refer to every newspaper comment section ever.) It's still worth telling these counter-narratives, I think, as innoculation if nothing else, but it's not sufficient.

What we really need is a New Story, and this is what it is:

People are inherently good.

People want a job that's meaningful: a job that doesn't just support themselves, doesn't just support their families, but actually improves the world in some other way too. People will settle for a meaningless job if they have to, but they won't be happy about it, because people want to be useful to their fellow human beings.

And whether luck grants them a job or not, people help their fellow humans in a thousand other ways. They look after children. They edit Wikipedia. They garden, making the environment more beautiful and sharing vegetables and fruit with neighbours and colleagues. They volunteer time in churches and clubs and charities. They write cheques and donate old clothes. They smile at people in the street. They pick up a wallet and hand it in. They give spare change to someone asking for 'busfare'. They yarnbomb construction fences and set up bookcrossing zones. They see a house on fire and go in to rescue the inhabitants and then they carry on to their dayjob.

Running into a burning building isn't a smart thing to do, but it's the human thing to do. Because people are just this incredibly hardworking, generous, caring species.

And when we all believe this story, we won't have to fear poverty because we'll know that people will support us. Just the way we support other people. Because this is what people do.

And we'll want to spread this story, and there are two ways of doing that:
  • Telling the story: Tell your friends and neighbours and colleagues and busdrivers and checkout operators about one of those many times that someone did something nice for you. Obviously you want to try and have this bear some relevance to your conversation, but you know what I mean.
  • Creating the story: Be that person doing something nice for your friend or neighbour or colleague or busdriver or checkout operator, so that they have a story to tell too.
I'm not going to promise that spreading this story will get the centre-left party straight back into power. Actually, I think its real success will be judged by how it changes the policies of the centre-right party. This will take time, just as the old story took time to spread in the first place. But it will spread, because it's true and because it's awesome -- and because each act of spreading it makes someone's life better, and that's what we all want to be a part of.

[Links are welcome, as are stories of you or others doing nice things for someone else.]
zeborah: Zebra in grass smelling a daisy (gardening)
Yellow is a cheerful colour but still subject to gravity.

After the summer solstice the sun begins to sink a little lower every day in the sky. By autumn it hangs predominantly in the leaves of certain deciduous trees, and from there it falls even further so that you see the sun not in the sky (which has in the meantime turned grey with clouds) but rather scattered on the ground around the treetrunks. The rain may also wash finer particles into cracks in the pavement, or drifts lining the gutters. From this point, all the yellow leaches deep into the ground to hibernate.

When winter is over it springs up again, first as daffodils still near the ground, then in the gorse shrubs and kowhai trees. And from these flowers the honeybees collect it and fly it still further up, and once more the sun rises higher every day into the summer sky.

This is why you should never eat the yellow snow, because doing so will leave less sun for the new year.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (New Zealand zebra)
Chez Cecile is a column in the locale by a French native adjusting to New Zealand. In this case to our relatively indirect mode of communication. I didn't think New Zealand had that much of a Guess culture - obviously the degree varies - but I recognise so much of what she describes and not all from my own insecurities.

"Interesting" seems to me a natural thing though. I mean, obviously a non-native speaker has to learn that it has a secondary meaning as a euphemistic insult. But in the situation described, when you really want to rant to a group of friends about another person in your group, but have to bear in mind the possibility that maybe the rest of your group think said person is the bee's knees, it just seems incredibly useful to be able to broach the possibility with sufficiently plausible deniability that you can rapidly backpedal as needed to avoid becoming a social outcast.

I guess in Ask cultures one just goes ahead and says, "Wow, she's a real poophead," and then if everyone retorts, "No, you're the poophead," one just goes ahead and backpedals with actual words or something? Or doesn't. Either way this just seems made for TV drama.
zeborah: Zebra looking at its rainbow reflection (rainbow)
The "Ask culture vs Guess culture" meme seems to be getting around and generating much discussion. On the Captain Awkward post's comment thread someone thought Guess culture = rape culture and Ask culture = consent culture.

My response got long enough that I thought I'd post here too (and am not sure if it successfully posted there after all that.) As follows:

I think rape culture is a dysfunctional thing, and either Ask culture or Guess culture can be functional and non-rapey.

Eg in a functioning Ask culture, a man can ask if a woman will go out with him and the question isn't itself intimidating; and the woman can say no and he won't take offense. And a woman can ask a man out and it's not skanky, and he can say no and it's not the most unheard of thing ever.

And in a functioning Guess culture, a man can pay attention to the cues that a woman's putting out (those 'she glances at him and touches her hair!' things or whatever) and if things look favourable then he can say hello and pay attention to the cues that result from that, and if she starts putting out unfavourable cues then he can politely end the conversation and walk away. And a woman can pay attention to a man's cues of interest too and respond accordingly (flirting).

In rape culture, a man can ask a woman out and she's not allowed to be intimidated even though if she says no he'll take offense. Because women are expected to only communicate by putting out cues even though men aren't expected - are even actively discouraged - to notice or abide by them.

And a woman can't ask a man out without insulting his manliness, and if she did he couldn't say no without serving himself up as fodder for jokes about his virility. And a man who tries to communicate by cues will be ignored because women are taught that men don't do that, they only ask.

Ask and Guess cultures have reciprocity, and responsibilities that match their rights: Both men and women have the right to ask and the responsibility to accept a no. Both men and women have the right to have their cues respected and the responsibility to respect others' cues in turn.

Rape culture breaks all of this. It's a systematic double standard designed so that men (but not women) can ask but don't have to accept no; and women (but not men) have to put out cues but can't expect them to be heard.
zeborah: Zebra with stripes shaking (earthquake)
Everyone talks about the "new normal". Some complain that it's talked about too much, that it's a cliché that shouldn't be used anymore. Sometimes it probably is a cliché; but if so, it is because it's true.

A few times I've tried to pretend for stress-relief purposes that everything's just like the normal-that-was. This is how that works out for me:

So I'm just walking along, doot di doo, wearing my dust mask-- Wait. That's not normal.

Okay, well, I can tune out the dust mask. So I'm just walking along, doot di doo, listening to my iPod, smelling the thick citrus scent of a portaloo--

No, look, I can do this. Walking along, listening to my music, enjoying the beautiful hills and beautiful sky (no more search and rescue helicopters, which I'm not thinking about), stepping carefully over some torn-up asphalt--

And there's a traffic cone on a pothole, and an abandoned house, and the stain of brick-dust on the footpath, and a concrete block fence fallen down, and construction work at the mall, and malfunctioning real-time ETAs at the bus-stop, and safety railing around a demolition site, and another portaloo, and another fallen fence (brick), and several houses in a row with plywood in the walls and patches on the roofs where chimneys used to be, and safety tape around an unsafe property, and more rough footpaths, and some silt that didn't get cleared up, and my favourite grocery store, for lease, and and and... a roughly-repaired bridge, a sign excluding all traffic but residents, a container in the road in front of someone's house, stopbank works along the river, blue above-ground waterpipes.

(This was a 40-minute walk.)

Earlier this week I tried to pretend things were normal while walking in a part of town I'd never have been in if it weren't for the quake messing up my normal routes. Nevertheless I managed to work it, until I reached the gates of Selwyn House School where the kids have pasted up hundreds of hearts bearing messages like "Kia kaha, Christchurch."

It's just not possible to pretend things are as normal. I can't think of anywhere I can go to pretend that. Not home, not work, not on the bus, not at the shops. (Another ChChian has just posted photos of an average commute to work.)

Maybe at church, except the projector's still shining off-centre and they've still got the wooden statue off its pedestal, and as soon as we move from the set stuff to the more social stuff there's bound to be quake-talk. Maybe at choir, if I ignore the new route I take to get there and back and ignore the social talk... except one of the events we were practising for has been cancelled due to catastrophic lack of venue. Maybe at my friends' place in the northwest where I stay the night sometimes -- until the morning when I log on via the internet to start my day working-from-home because I haven't seen my desk in six and a half weeks.

Having a shower or washing dishes isn't normal (conserving water). Watching TV isn't normal (new TV, sitting on the floor surrounded by books by the gasfire that'll stay cold until checked by someone qualified). Going to bed isn't normal as I put my laptop under secure shelter and hang my bag on the nightstand. Going to the toilet sure isn't normal (whoops, forgot to add chemicals when I reassembled it this afternoon).

Lying in bed in the morning before I open my eyes and see the cracks in my ceiling -- that's still normal. But that's... really that's pretty much it.

Some of these things we'll get back, but they won't all be the same. We won't want them to all be the same. There'll be new shops and new technologies. We'll have made new friends and new habits -- many of us already have. We're not the us-that-was anymore either.

Optical illusion: young woman vs old womanI think that part of the hard thing about the six-week mark is that it's becoming untenable to pretend that this is just an aberration. I can't pretend that things are the normal-that-was. They're not, and never will be again.

The only thing I can do is accept the normal-that-is, with all its cracks and portaloos and temporary repairs and little inconveniences. Because when the normal-that-is becomes so normal that I don't see it anymore, that's when I can walk down the road, doot di doo, and see someone's roses, blooming riotously in red and white and sunrise.

Retraining your brain to see what you want it to is hard work.

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