Tag Archives: reason

Dubious logic

Trigger warnings for abuse and gaslighting mechanics

I’ve had a few comments here recently that I haven’t let through because of the kind of faux-logic involved. It’s a system I refer to as x=y and that can contribute to gaslighting. It can sound persuasive and if you’re exposed to it in a close relationship with someone you trust, it can be incredibly damaging.

The ‘x’ in this equation is something you’ve done or said. It might be your clothing, that one time you cried, something you misunderstood. It may also be something you never did or said that is now being attributed to you. The ‘y’ is presented as the logical consequence of x. As a culture we do this around rape – what a woman was wearing equals her consent to anyone who wanted to do anything to her. New Age Culture does it a lot – success equals virtue, and alongside it, suffering equals lack of sufficient positivity, or bad karma. These kinds of false causalities make life harder for people who are already suffering.

Often with gaslighting it goes a step further so we find x=y and therefore it makes perfect sense if I do z to you. Z is presented as totally justified and the only reasonable response in the circumstance. Your clothes equal your consent so any reasonable person would rape you in the circumstances. It is a chilling line of logic.

What makes this so powerful is that human minds are persuaded by apparent causality. This is why we have superstitions. Our brains are willing to make connections where none exist. If someone else keeps making those connections and telling us about it, we may well start to internalise some of what we’re hearing. We believe that because we look the way we do it is inevitable that we will be harmed for it. We start to believe that use and abuse are normal, reasonable reactions to our faces, our bodies, our tears.

The recent blog comments were more along the lines of ‘if you believe this then you must also believe this really awful thing, so you can see what a terrible person you are’. The ‘x’ of my original statement becoming a ‘y’ of something being put onto me. It’s very easy to do and I’m not convinced everyone who uses this technique does so knowingly. I think sometimes it’s what happens when a person’s own reality is so badly damaged that their head is full of non-sequiturs. If you’ve internalised the dubious logic our culture holds then you might easily regurgitate that without knowing you’re doing it. Women who insist that modest dress will protect other women from rape are a case in point here.

Saying a thing is a logical progression does not make it a logical progression. Saying one thing means another does not make that true either.

Anything that makes a victim responsible for the actions of an abuser needs recognising as an abuse tactic and rejecting – which is not so easy to do in practice when you’re on the receiving end.

X=Y logic is not always worth arguing with. Sometimes it’s just about using up your time and energy and trying to tie you in knots with stupid hypothetical situations. Making you engage is a popular tactic with trolls, and that means sometimes the best thing to do is not engage. Sometimes the best thing to do is exit quickly and quietly. You are entitled to feel safe, and if a conversation doesn’t feel safe it’s often better to just get out of there if you can. If you are living with this kind of stuff, get help around how to leave safely – the risks of being killed or injured by an abuser are at their highest when people try to leave. X=Y logic all too often leads to ‘and this is why I have to hurt you.’


Angels on a pinhead, and other philosophical games

It’s good to ask questions, to ponder, imagine, daydream, reinvent. Most human achievement comes out of thinking, while acts born of stupidity and ignorance are frequently not a good thing. But does this make all questions equally valid or useful? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Asking questions will not make you into a wise old philosopher of the future, unless the questions you throw yourself into have some capacity to foster wisdom within you. Any question about some facet of your life, will have some use. Why do I do this? Could I do differently? Better? Less? More? What makes me happy? Is this working for me? You can poke around such issues at length to good effect. And subjects like politics where you have scope to contribute to a process makes sense as well. Many other potential examples spring to mind but the commonality is that seeking answers engages us with life in a meaningful way. Even when we can’t hope to find answers – what happens after death, is there a god? In the process of asking we consider the implications and explore how we want to live.

There are some questions that do not give us this. Imagine, for example, spending hours of dedicated thought creating what you imagine to be the perfect educational system. Now imagine that you do not work in education, are childless, and are not a politician. You have no intention of sharing your vision with anyone. It was an intellectual exercise. It may indeed have given your mind a workout. However, untested as it is, never offered up for criticism, never explored in practice, it sits inside your mind as ‘proof’ of an intellectual superiority that could be sadly lacking. It’s noticeable that ivory tower academics at least tend to talk to each other, and argue with each other. The issue of the angels on the pinhead was one people debated. At the very least that gives it an interesting social component.

Then there are the questions that cannot be answered well because they are loaded. “Why is my product better than anyone else’s?” “Why are you losers worshipping hedges and fields?” A question based on misunderstanding is not one that can lead directly to good answers. Asking good questions is a skill in its own right. Are you shutting down the options, or enabling genuine feedback? Is the question reinforcing an assumption? If we ask why children who drink cola do better at school we haven’t actually established that children who drink cola do better at school. It’s a crude example. In our own heads, we may be asking “Why am I such a failure?” “Why am I always wrong?” “Why does nobody love me?” without questioning the premise of the question.

There are questions that serve to divide and irritate and which cannot give us much that is productive. The vast majority of exchanges I have ever seen between atheists and theists would fall straight into this category. When the point of asking questions is not to share knowledge but to establish superiority, you’re never going to find good answers. The only good answer in that scenario is to escape from it.

Abstract thought can be interesting, and can lead to concrete consequences. However, I think it’s important to question how much time we pour into intangibles, hypothticals and imaginaries as opposed to real life. Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman? What on earth difference does that make? Yet people will debate such questions for hours. If we had no big questions needed brain time, then the intellectual exercise would be justification enough. While we have disease, hunger, crime and extinctions, Superman and Batman need to shuffle their overly muscled arses down to the back end of the queue.

What we think about matters. The inner worlds we create inform who we are and help shape our life choices. If you pour hours into working out how best to lead your imaginary army across the Roman Empire, again, that is part of who you are. If you poured just a little bit of that time into contemplating how to get on better with the people around you, how to reduce your consumption levels, or help a local charity, you’d be an entirely different sort of person. Making the hypotheticals important while the real is allowed to suffer, is not, I think, a very good life choice.

Some lines of questioning will bring you insight, soul and a richer life. Some will enable you to twiddle your brain cells. The latter may make you feel clever (you did conquer Rome, after all!) and important (your design for a new education system would surely have solved everything!) but they don’t make you real. Ask how much good you can get out of today, and let the angels on the pinheads take care of themselves.


It Was Meant to Be

by guest blogger Autumn Barlow

It’s a common, throw-away phrase that makes my gorge rise. As a child I didn’t understand it. I was raised by staunch atheists, so why did my mum say it? And as an adult it just makes me angry.

It’s always useful to analyse those things which cause visceral reactions. You’ll have some. We all do. Bursts of emotion at hearing certain phrases; reactions we’ve had so long we don’t really question them. “Ooo, I hate that,” you might say, and flit onto the next distraction.

I want to get to the bottom of my hatred of this phrase.

It was meant to be.

When is it said? Usually in response to some positive outcome. What could be seen as a happy co-incidence is given some significance. Otherwise unconnected events are linked by our urge to give meaningful narration to our chaotic lives. Perhaps it anchors us in infinite time.

We don’t usually say it about bad things – like miracles, as Pratchett points out, which are only attributed to pleasant events. But awe and wonder are neutral values. I am in awe of a mass murderer – dwarfed by their personality, small as I try to comprehend their actions. It doesn’t mean admiration, though we tend to allocate such a tinge to the word. Though sometimes it’s said about a tragic event that no-one can understand, to try and make it all right. But say “it must have be meant, there must be some reason” to a parent who’s lost a child, for example, and you had better be able to run very fast.

Look at the “meant” part of the sentence. “Meant” has to have an originator. Someone, or something, to have had intention. There’s one reason for my particular antipathy to this phrase: my mum, who denied all religion and all spirituality, would routinely trot these words out. As a rebellious teenager I worked my way through rejecting pretty much all I thought my parents stood for, and though I have since, as an adult, re-evaluated my blanket denials, some things lingered. I’ve carried on some rebellions without thinking them through, and hating the illogical phrase is one of them.

It carries echoes, then, of woolly thinking and throwaway remarks. And more: I’ve always disliked people who seem to simply accept what they’re told.

Underneath that dislike is the unpleasant truth about myself: I’m jealous.

Jealous of those who appear to have an unconditional acceptance of how the world is. The world is as they have been told it is. They don’t question – and they feel secure. I envy that. I question, always, and have found no solace.

It was meant to be. Even if the person saying it doesn’t really believe in a directing force, who caused things to happen for our benefit, they still imply a kind of ease and relaxation with the universe that I simply don’t have.

Perhaps it’s because I want things to have meaning. I want events to have been “meant” by some higher power, something wiser than us. Maybe that’s the root of my anger – I feel that nothing does have meaning. And it should.

But I know that letting a higher power take responsibility for directing events mean that all events, good or bad, are driven by that power. So then we get into the blind acceptance of terrible happenings because “we can’t see the whole picture” and “it was god’s will” and I just can’t help seeing this ending in awful, lethargic apathy because if everything was meant to happen then what use is our will and our drive, our striving to create a better world? It was meant to be. Shrug it off.

And there it is. The root of it, coming even as I write this; it comes down to individual responsibility for our own actions, and an acceptance that what we do matters. Everything we do must be considered – what impact on ourselves, our community, our world, our universe?

Nothing was meant to be in that one-step-removed, impersonal, nothing to do with me denial of cause and effect. It happened because of people’s choices.

And that’s what makes me so furious. The way we hide behind phrases like this to mask our responsibilities for what happens in the world, because we feel so small and the universe so large, we think we can’t possibly have any effect.

But we do, and we must. We must mean to be.


Conscious, unconscious

How aware are you of your own motives? What drives you? Do you find you’ve done or said things and not known why? What does your unconscious mean to you?

For a long time, years in fact, I’ve worked hard to be as fully conscious as I could be. To know what I was doing and why. To know myself. I considered that essential for self growth. I’ve got to the point of having to acknowledge that so far, I’ve not been doing a great job. There were too many things I refused to accept and acknowledge about what was then around me. In so doing, I distorted my sense of self. But it remains an aspiration to be as self aware as I can manage.

What is the unconscious? Is it the place of denial and letting yourself off the hook? Are we talking about Freud’s id, animalistic and selfish, pushing us to do things for less than honourable reasons? That’s not the sort of unconscious I want.

What about dreams? The rich and magical flows of inspiration and creativity we have aren’t tidy, controlled and known things. Inspiration flourishes in the unconscious. Somewhere, between the questing after self awareness, and the denying of some aspects of my reality, I lost track of that. I should have noticed, because for years I barely dreamed, and when I did it usually involved the same dull handful of anxiety nightmares.

I’ve been trying for a different understanding of my own unconscious, seeing it not in ‘id’ terms as something to tackle, but as a dark river that flows underneath what I do. A place of magic, strangeness and potential. Something to be open to, not something to fight. One of the interesting consequences is, having deliberately and consciously shifted my understanding, my unconscious has also changed. I’m dreaming again. Rich, vibrant, startling, inspiring, unsettling dreams full of colour, emotion, and experience. I wake up in the mornings with my head full of all kinds of strange things, and my heart lifted. When I dream in wild and vivid ways, I feel better. It doesn’t have to be obviously meaningful, so long as it is intense.

There is something in me that exists in ways I am not fully aware of. To be entirely conscious would kill it. I have learned that it does not thrive in environments where I am not honest with myself. Too much misplaced blame and having my intuition messed with did not help. Being open to the unknown within me is a whole new journey. There is so much of who I could be, I realise I do not know at all. Potential, awen, the insanity of poetic vision, the delirium of dreaming. I do not need to know all of that so thoroughly that I control it into not existing. I can have self awareness without sacrificing the magic of unconsciousness. I can dream and still be a realist. I can imagine, and recognise truth.

During the period of my life when I was trying hard to suppress and reject all the things that come from magical unreason and dreaming, I was at my least true. Rationality and reason are not the only things in a human mind that matter, and they need balancing. I lost that balance. In trying to be too sane, I became unsane. (not insane, just ill). I mention this because I fear it’s all too easily done, and if I can discourage others from going too far into wanting self control, then all well and good.

We are, I have come to realise, not supposed to know, or understand everything. The trick is knowing what to unravel, and what to keep mysterious. I’m working on that.