Policing Is Not Soldiering.

I posted this bon mot on Twitter the other day:

But since Twitter is where nuance goes to die, I wanted to expand on that a little bit.

One of the major delusions that conservatives have is that a guy in a military uniform can do anything.  A soldier can win a war and win hearts.  And they really can’t, but that’s not their fault.

Which is to say that winning a war is a pretty brutal process.  Teaching a guy to kill is actually a really difficult process – only somewhere along the lines of 15-20% of people will, without training, shoot someone even if their life is on the line.  A major problem in past battles is that a large number of those regimented rifles went unfired, because most humans are not prepared for the trauma of what is, essentially, sanctioned murder.  Almost every time you hear the story of “These barbarians routed a much larger unit!” it’s because the barbarians were composed of 80% people who would kill to achieve their task, and the larger unit had, maybe, 20% of people who could do the job.

Result: terror.

So when you’re training a soldier, a lot of that is suppressing human instincts.  And then, when you go to battle, your idea is to conserve your forces and maximize power.  The loss of every soldier weakens your unit, so your goal is not to lose anyone.  You’re extremely conservative, using whatever tactics there are to kill the other guy and protecting your own.  You try not to kill innocents, depending on the morality of your superiors, but the horror of war is that you don’t pull punches.  In war, civilians get killed by mistake, because the goal of war is to destroy the opposition until they’re not a threat.

And that is necessary.  Sometimes, for all the peace-love in the world, you have to punch a guy in the face.  Not everyone’s reasonable.  Not everyone’s got resources they can split evenly.  Soldiers are high-value things for any civilization.

But.

Policing is different.

In policing, you’re not trying to exterminate the enemy, you’re trying to get them to work with you.  Casualties are bad.  In many ways, policing is braver than being a soldier, because you’re not trying to preserve your life, you’re trying to preserve the life of the citizenry.

And your goal as a policeman is to settle disputes, to keep order, to dispense justice.  That sometimes involves some very complex negotiations between disputing factions, whether that’s two gangs fighting or between a tavern and its drunken customers.  You have to deal with ambiguity a lot, sometimes not enforcing every rule, sometimes being harsher on people you see as a danger, not just carrying out this single arrest but thinking of it in terms of the greater good of everyone around you.

You have to make the community a community.  And that’s radically different from capturing territory on the ground.

And like soldiers have to be trained to kill effectively, policemen must be trained to police effectively.

They are two entirely different, and in many ways completely opposed, skillsets.

“But Ferrett,” you say.  “You’re just picking on the conservatives again!”  Except the conservatives – real, long-term, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives – were the ones who sent soldiers into Iraq and then acted as if soldiers were equipped to keep the peace.  They weren’t.  They made a lot of mistakes that weren’t their fault, because “navigating the complex web of local alliances and hatreds to bind people together into a functioning unity through shared trust” is very different from “kill Saddam’s soldiers.”  And it wasn’t until General Petraeus came in and started making some organizational changes to acknowledge that difference that things started to get better, but by then it was too late.

In Iraq, you had soldiers who thought they were cops.  And what you see in Ferguson is the flip side of that, where you have cops who think they’re soldiers, and every thing they do to protect their forces – a smart move, when you’re in an invading force – actually distances them from the community and makes it harder to keep control over the people who fucking live there.

Look.  I like cops.  I like soldiers.  Both can do some great jobs.  But they do great jobs only so long as that distinction is made between these two different skill sets, and what we’re doing right now is the equivalent of “Oh, you’re a vet?  Great, do open-heart surgery on this man, you’re qualified.”  Because there’s some overlap, but hoo boy not nearly enough to entrust the lives of thousands to people who sorta have the skills.

What I Learned Being Tied Up In Rope (A Story Told Elsewhere)

So yesterday, I talked about how sometimes, I’m scared to post intimate things on this blog.  The reason I post such raw revelations is because I know it helps other people, when I express these intimate emotions.  Whenever I write about depression, or polyamory, or relationships in general, I get an email from someone who’s glad I spoke for them, or articulated some sentiment they hadn’t been able to nail down.

So sometimes I go, “Okay, I’ll do this because I think this is something other people need to know.”

I got tied up in rope this weekend, and learned an important lesson about kink, sexuality, and emotion… and I’m not quite willing to post that here, on my “official” blog, because it involves some complex reactions that I’m not sure everyone will get.  Gini read the piece, thought it was beautiful, but advised me not to post it here.

But I did post it over on FetLife, the Facebook for Kinksters, and if you’re at all interested in heavy play and the intense effects it can have on someone, I’d advise you to go over and read it.  Yes, FetLife requires you to register (or get a BugMeNot account), but really, given the high-wire act that I try to strike between protecting the aspects of my life that I need to be private and sharing lessons with y’all, that’s the best compromise I can get.

The inevitable excerpt:

She was beautiful, and I was nearly naked, and she had the rope.

“Sit down,” she said, biting her lip as she sized my body up, figuring out how best to restrain me. Then she shook her long hair and snapped her fingers, reaching for her iPod. “I’ve wanted to hear this song all day,” she told me. “And I want something on when I work.”

She put on Daft Punk’s latest album. The one with “Get Lucky,” that eternal club anthem. And I knew – knew – what was about to happen here, in this hotel room, with the beautiful girl and the nearly-naked me and this song about to exhort us both to get lucky, we’re up all night to get lucky, we’re up all night to get lucky.

But it wasn’t what you think it was.

 

I Can’t Write This Today. Maybe Tomorrow.

So I had an experience at Geeky Kink Event that I think is important to share, that I should share, and yet….

…I’m afraid to.

This is not me doing the old “Oh, please, exhort me to write this essay” shtick.  I just ran into some people at the con who said, “Well, I’d blog about my feelings, but I’m not as brave as you.”

Some days I get scared.  Some days I think I’m sharing too much.  Some days I think that all I’m doing is making the world think I’m a complete hot mess.  (And to be fair, with every essay, I am convincing quite a few people that I am a hot mess, but that is the way of the world – be honest and some will love you for it while others will be repelled.  There’s no getting around that.)

Anyway, I did write it up, on FetLife.  Where reading my essays has a different context, and you have to sign up for an account to read me.  Yet it’s a kinky essay, and do I want to put that out here on my blog where anyone can read and comment?  Where whatever I put goes into Google, to be searchable for all eternity?  Do I want to identify the deepest and hardest to explain parts of myself to strangers who may, willfully or otherwise, misinterpret?  Or worse, interpret correctly and negatively?

All this is to say that I get scared, too.  A lot.  And there are plenty of things I don’t post about.

I’ll probably be honest, because what I wrote is larger than just me, and I think it has some things worth saying.  But I might not.  And I just wanted y’all to know that there are plenty of days where I look at the essay, look at that “Publish” button, and decide that I really don’t want that part of me out in public.

Even the boldest of bloggers have their timid spots.

Are You Watching Ferguson? You Should Be.

Just on the off-hand chance you’re not following my Twitter feed, which is largely retweets of Ferguson-related news, you should be looking very closely at Ferguson right now.  Short version: Cops shot a black kid.  The people protested peacefully, were run off with tear gas and rubber bullets.  Things escalated, and the cops shut the town down, preventing news copters from seeing what was going on, shoving reporters out, arresting people on false pretenses and refusing to give their badge numbers.

This is the police state.

This is every government fear the NRA has ever inflamed to sell guns.

And yet the usual gang of conservative nitwits are… saying nothing.

I remember someone discussing Watergate, which I didn’t get for a long time: A President got in a scandal, he resigned rather than go to trial, what’s the big whoop?  And an older friend who’d lived through that finally made it clear to me when he said, “What would have happened if Nixon had refused to go to trial?”

That’s when the penny dropped.  That’s when I realized that shit, yeah, our government only works because people agree it does, and if people decide to just say, “Fuck the law, I don’t need it,” then that’s when civil wars result.

What’s happening in Ferguson is important.  It’s a local government flouting the law in the name of ass-covering.  This is, in a very real sense, a rebellion against the laws of the land, and the cops are on the wrong side.  And they’re trying very hard to cover this shit up, and Twitter is really not letting them get away with that.

And I fear that what Ferguson shows is the absolute hypocrisy of the conservative movement – that for all their dumb yammering about “THE GUMMINT’S GONNA HURT US!” and “WE NEED TO DEFEND AGAINST IT!”, the truth is that they see the government as a weapon to crack down on people they don’t like.  Who gives a fuck about following the law?  Who gives a fuck if it’s perfectly legal to film the cops?  Hey, we’ve got some suspicious-looking characters over here, they don’t need rights, what we need are rights to protect us.

Truth is, the law should protect everyone. What we have here is tantamount to rebellion.  And I would feel a lot better about the conservatives going, “Oh, yeah, this is when people should rise up against their government,” but the truth of what they have to say may well better expressed as “People like us can rise up against the government, but you can’t,” and that erasure of whole realms of people worries me.

(And people will inevitably say, “But there’s looting in Ferguson!” – which, yeah, there is, but the cops started by targeting peaceful protestors long before looters came along.  As a Tweet said, I can condemn both the impending police state and looters simultaneously.  I suggest you try it.)

Anyway, this is one of the most important stories to break in a while.  Pay attention.

(EDIT: And there are those who will say, “How dare you turn a tragedy into a political agenda?”  To which I say, a) The tactic of “Let’s not politicize this” is the surest way of ensuring no change ever gets made ever, and b) conservatives are perfectly willing to, say, evince an opinion on Trayvon Martin or Clive Bundy’s respective heroism when it suits them, so I’m perfectly happy to point out what they don’t discuss.)

No, It’s A Little Selfish

In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, I’ve seen a lot of people saying, “Killing yourself because of depression isn’t selfish!  It’s a disease!”

Speaking as someone who suffers from depression, depression is very much a disease, and often a terminal one.

Suicide’s also a little selfish.

Now, because people invariably want my suicide credentials at some point in these discussions, I have two suicide attempts in my past, one where I took an entire bottle of sleeping pills in isolation andcompletely lucked out in not dying.  (As I’ve often said, “A slightly stronger batch and I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”)  They both happened in different years but during the same month, wherein I discovered I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  About once a year, I am seized with an awful depression where I can barely function and usually wind up self-harming.  I suicidally ideate on a regular basis, and have for as long as I can remember.

And like all depressives, when I heard Robin Williams had died, I felt that chill of Fuck, well, if he can’t beat it, what hope do I have?

I’m lucky.  My depression comes in waves, wherein I emerge periodically to experience some very wonderful times, and I can carry that happiness back to the dark bits.  Others aren’t so blessed, and drown.

That’s why I believe people should have the right to take their own lives.  This belief is summed up in this wonderful Superman comic, wherein Superman says to a suicidal woman on a ledge, “If you honestly believe, in your heart of hearts, you will never have another happy day, then step out into the air.”  Depression leaches all the joy from life, leaves you consistently miserable, and if you’re going to spend the next twenty years in joyless penance, I endorse that escape.

But.

Let us not pretend that escape doesn’t have splash damage.

Because Robin Williams’ wife is suffering right now, and his children are suffering, and his young daughter will doubtlessly look at that final Instagram he posted of her and him together and wonder, eternally, if there was something she could have done.  By killing himself, he’s condemned them to a lifetime of pain.

And I think that’s one of the evilest tricks of depression: it lists all the people you love and convinces you, one by one, that they’d all be better off without you.  Except this is usually a huge lie.  I’ve talked to the survivors of suicidal lovers, and not a one of them felt happy that their loved one had offed himself.  They may have understood, they may have even endorsed it, but they all had a great loss in their life.  That death ripped a hole in them that will never fully heal.  Particularly if it came by surprise, which – because we treat suicide as though it’s the greatest and most shameful of evils – it usually does.

Your exit may be painless for you, but it will hurt the people you love.  Count on that.

The problem, I think, is that in American society, “Selfishness” is the biggest sin.  You’re not allowed to be greedy, unless it’s for money.  The idea that you might harm someone willingly is seen as a monstrous act, the unforgivable thing, and so people are falling all over themselves to say that Robin Williams did nothing selfish.

He did, a little.  He looked at the future, saw nothing good anywhere down the road, and decided to opt out.  And like Superman, if there was truly never going to be one more good day for Robin, well, I support that.  It’s a harsh equation, but there comes a point when the personal pain he’d endure would supersede the needs of his family – and if that’s the case, I think he should have the ability to opt out, just like any other terminally ill patient.

But what I do hope was that Robin was being honest with himself in his last moments.  I hope he wasn’t going, “Well, they’ll be better off without me” and doing that fucked-up fandango where he convinces himself they’ll not just be better off without him, but actually happy.  Because I’ve been there.  I did that myself when I opened up that bottle of sleeping pills, and I survived by accident, and man, years later I am well aware of how fucked up my entire family would have been if they’d found me dead in my bedroom.  They would have been the farthest thing from happy.

It’s a balance: Is your pain so bad that it’s worth hurting others to escape it?  And, like all pain, it’s impossible to say how bad it is for someone else.  You have to make your own decisions.  Maybe it was that bad for Robin, maybe it wasn’t, I don’t know.

But let’s not pretend it’s not selfish.  It is.  A little.  And the best I can ask of you serious depressives is to look at it honestly, to understand the hurt you’re going to dispense on your way out, and honestly weigh whether you can live – or not-live – with that injury.

I don’t think you’re a monster if you can live with it.

But I think you might be wrong.

Get help.

Ten Things I Learned About Italy While Travelling There

1)  The infamously bad service is infamously correct. 
When Italian service is good, what you get is this delightfully relaxed atmosphere where you can talk with friends for as long as you like, drinking wine and debating the sad state of the world, until eventually – lackadaisically – you wave a finger and the waiter comes over eventually with your check. (They do not bring you your check before you ask for it, ever, which seems delightfully civilized.)

When it’s bad, you sit at a table for forty minutes and nobody pays attention to you, even though they waved you over to sit down yesterday.  Or you tell them, “I need the check, our bus is leaving in fifteen minutes” and they fuck off until with three minutes left you have to find them to throw money at them, and they look at you like you’re the asshole.  Or they lie and tell you their credit card machine isn’t working so they can fake the taxes.

We had some wonderful meals, when the waiter took a liking to us and chatted with us.  All the other patrons suffered while he chatted, but fuck it, at that point we were like, “Okay, fine, this is the way it works.”

2)  Americans are freaks for wanting water. 
We thirsted.  All the time.  But there is no free water in Italy, and they think us mad for even wanting some.  As it is, you have to ask for “still” water or they’ll bring you seltzer, and it comes in little tiny bottles that don’t serve a table.

We had to go to so much effort that even a cup of water seemed like a monstrous effort.  And yet we never stopped.  After a while, it felt mad to even try, but goddammit we were thirsty and we can’t just drink wine.  When we got home and found waiters refilling our glasses unprompted, it felt like a waterfall of luxury.

3)  Italians do not dip their bread in olive oil.
Nor do they like their pizza the way we do.  But the pasta is delicious beyond what you get; you have to work to have a bad meal in Rome, you really do.  Our worst meal was an Applebees-style experience, and even then the sea bass was above the cut.  Our average meal was a fine meal in Cleveland.  Those Italians know how to eat…

…except for all their bitching, really, bread in olive oil is delicious.  Get over it, Italians.  Get past tradition.

4)  Italy’s main pasttime is hating their neighbors.
When I went to England, the history there was “We had an empire.”  When I went to Germany, it was a staunch “Here is what we built.”  In Italy, it was “Here’s how we fucked over the next city over, ha, those shits, they totally deserved it.”  Over and over.  In every place we visited.

Which is to say that Italy wasn’t really a country until it got unified around the time of our Civil War, and most of their history consisted of fighting with their neighbors and the barbarians until someone said “Hey, you’re all family now,” so even to this day a lot of local rivalries kick in.  There’s a lot of jockeying for position, and snarking, until an outsider comes in and suddenly hey, who are you to tell us anything, we are from Southern Italy.

5)  There is no beauty like Italian beauty. 
The Vatican looked like a very expensive yard sale, what with all the art piled willy-nilly about, but St. Peter’s Basilica was the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen, bar none.  It was like walking into God’s mind.  Likewise, Pompeii was breathtaking even as a ruin, the Coliseum was impressive, and the Doge Palace was gorgeous, and San Marco’s Basilica with its gold-and-glass inlay stole the breath.

They build big in Italy.  Like, huge.  Everything is oversized, even the landscape, and yet not so big that it sneaks out of your perception and just becomes noise.  They know how to build things in Italy so you are forever forced into a sense of scale, where you sense how small and frail this human flesh is compared to the great powers around, and it’s glorious now that we’re tourists. (I suspect the effect was slightly different when they could flay you alive for pissing them off.)

6)  There is no style like Italian style.
As a fat American, I drew glances, but the people in Italy were on average astonishingly good-looking.  And even when they weren’t, they dressed sharply.  I won’t claim that my Italian suit wasn’t an attempt to emulate them a bit, but crossing a public square was a little like walking through a commercial.

Yet they weren’t, weirdly enough, sexy.  Sex is a big part of Italian culture – our tour guides made a lot of innuendos and “You-knows” when discussing the great fucking that went on in the past – but stylish and sexy didn’t mesh.  They were all oddly restrained, though admittedly since I was with my Mom and kids I didn’t hit a lot of nightclubs.  I suspect the sexy flows like wine there.  But in the public square, just a bunch of pretty hunky folks meandering about.

7)  Venice is not stinky…
Admittedly, we had good weather and the garbagemen weren’t on strike, but the odors we got were pretty much just low tide in Connecticut.  It could be worse, but I think a lot of that stench is just living by the seashore, man.

8)  …but it is a maze. 
We tried to map it, and got lost.  Every time.  And Yelp was useless for finding restaurants, since apparently a lot of them open and close in Venice, which is for rich tourists, and even for those with followings most locals use the Michelin guides anyway.  We always found our way back, since we just headed for the sea, but we never got there the same way twice.

9)  The Italian people are super-helpful, and communicative.
We had people offering to help us constantly, and only a handful wanted money.  Most people were very happy to chat in our handful of broken languages – the married couple on the subway who congratulated us on thwarting a pickpocket attempt and told us it was their second wedding anniversary, the taxi driver who was thrilled to discover we were from Alaska and revealed, through absolutely no English at all, that it had been his lifelong dream to go fishing in Alaska and interrogated us as to flight times and costs.

The language wasn’t nearly the barrier we thought it would be. Which was nice.  The people were very kind, on the whole, when they weren’t waiters or repairmen.  I guess they’re friendly when they choose to be, not when someone makes them.

10)  But they are super-racist when it comes to Roma.
We did have two pickpocket attempts our first day in Rome on the subway, which was super-exciting; one person warned us as the mother with the baby snuck her hand out to filch my wallet, and then when Gini slapped the hand away when the second tried, we got roundly congratulated.  So there’s definitely some crime, but we felt like low-grade superheroes for busting them.  (Even if we didn’t “bust” them, really; they just ran off the subway to steal from someone else.)

But everyone we spoke to in Italy discussed God, those Roma, we tried to educate them, they don’t want to be civilized, so they prefer to steal.  They train in it.  They’re not like normal people.  And we were left in this uncomfortable position of not knowing how to refute this, as yes, these people (who I assume were Roma, based on what people said, but who the fuck knows?) did try to steal our wallets, but every time we mentioned it it unleashed a flow of complaint to the point where we pretty much just stopped talking about it.

I have friends who are Roma.  They don’t pick pockets.  I’m sure some subset of Roma do, but the easy willingness to tar everyone with the same brush – and furthermore, to assume the scumminess of a whole culture – was a little distressing.

You Can Be More Than Monkeys: ACCOUNT FOR PERSONALITY, DAMMIT

If you were to ask an extraterrestrial to summarize 99% of all human stories, it would twiddle its tentacles and speak thusly:

“A human predicts what will make them happy.  They discover they were wrong.”

Which is, well, the inherent moral of almost any tale we tell.  Every romantic comedy is “You thought this person was wrong for you, but surprise!  They’re your soulmate.”  Every sad drama is some dude going, “Wait, I should have done this other thing” at the end of the film.  Every action adventure usually ends with the hero discovering that they *thought* getting the treasure of the Rio Grande would make them happy, but it’s friendship that binds the universe together!

The reason we tell these stories over and over again is because we suck at knowing what makes us happy.  Worse, we don’t understand just how bad we are at predicting our contentment.  We are convinced, with the firmness of Ahab lashing himself to the whale, that we know how to do this, and by God we will shoot down all incoming advice like they were death-dealing missiles to do…

…well, whatever damn-fool thing it is we set out to do.

And then we discover that really, this thing we moved heaven and earth to get didn’t actually bring the benefits we assumed it would.

So I think any rational human being’s main quest in life should be to disprove yourself.  To figure out what terrible instincts you have, and remove them like a cancer.  Because you probably are brimming with all sorts of awful ideas about what’s actually good in your life, and the sooner you can dismantle those things like the bombs they are, the better.

Today’s example: **What turns me on is what’s good for me.**

I say this because in a recent blog entry, OKCupid – a site dedicated to getting people to date happily – said this:

“OkCupid’s original system gave people two separate scales for judging each other, ‘personality’ and ‘looks.’… [But] according to our users, ‘looks’ and ‘personality’ were the same thing.”

The article is fascinating, and I’d encourage you to read it.  But basically, what it says is this:

“If I see a cute person, they’re awesome to talk to.”

*Smacks with riding crop*  NO!  Do not do that!

Look, that’s your monkey brain talking, that primitive Amygdala hijacking your higher senses to go, “ME WANT FUCK” and rerouting all of your brainpower to answer the question of, “I want to fuck him, so why do I want to fuck him?”

Your brain, which can justify any awful decision, will of course answer: “Because he’s good for me.”

But no!  Christ, that’s so blatantly stupid that even the bonobos are shaking their head.  (And the bonobos are freaks.)  The sooner you can disentangle “This person has the physical attributes to turn me on” from “This person may be awful in all other respects,” *the better off you will be.”

The biggest step you can make towards healthy, happy dating is to understand that “People who turn you on” can also be utter nitwits who you should not get involved with.

…Of course, another monstrously stupid thing that humans do is mentally doing a search-and-replace in every argument to change all instances of “often” with “all.”  And so assorted dimwits will say, “…So we should never date people we’re attracted to?”

No, you idiot.  What you should do is recognize that physical attraction is the first step in many.  You start with boinkability, because if you don’t want to hit that, well, you should probably just be friends.  (Also note that “friends” can be unattractive to you, and yet really good for you – another problem that this lack of distinction creates, that lurking sense that your friends aren’t as good as someone who satisfies your nethers.)

But after you’ve gone, “Yeah, I want that,” then you go through many steps after that to determine whether you should take this further – which includes the incredibly critical steps of 1) getting to know who they really are, and 2) determining whether who they really are is compatible with what you really want.

Or you can just assume that the hottest people are your best matches, and be continually upset.

But if you do the dumbass monkey-brain thing of conflating turn-on with compatibility, you will have inconsistent disaster.  You’ll have that slot-machine payoff of “Some people I wanted to boink were good for me, and others weren’t so I’ll just keep pulling that lever!”  And many people luck into decent relationships by sheer chance, which is good, because in many cases “sheer chance” is way better than their focused planning.

Yet you.  You can rise above the ape to understand that these hormones flooding through you need no justification.  You can separate personality and looks, and in fact damn well should.

Because if you think that attraction == compatibility, you’re going to keep making the monkey mistakes.

FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Are the people you can successfully date casually the same people who you can live with 24/7?  Society thinks it’s an inevitable progression!  But society are the same jerks who got rid of the personality rating on OKCupid! Think carefully!