Showing posts from July, 2016

Chilling Effects and Being Offensive

A while back I wrote about the chilling effect that sanctimonious vitriol can have on discourse. It punishes people, particularly the most vulnerable people, in the name of some righteous cause or other, and because it's an exercise in influence, a lot of people don't want to get in the way of seemingly justified anger.

A perpetual worry is that the fear of giving offence causes people to self-censor. Given that the internet is full of people who think that holding a shitty opinion is literally the worst thing you could do and that it's acceptable to threaten people until they shut up, this is perfectly understandable. Even then, there are issues and nuances; on a trivial level, people self-censor all the time. It's why politeness exists. Some level of self-censorship is normal in most societies to stop us from fighting all the time, because there are times that are bad to pick fights and times that are worse to pick fights. The internet is now a perfect place for peop…

On necessary knowledge

(or: how ignorance is a privilege)

My friend has started working on her MA thesis and I am so pleased for her! Her particular discipline, disability studies, is comparatively little-known compared to more fashionable fields like feminist theory or queer theory, so it's very much an uphill struggle. Even then, disability is multifaceted and it's very difficult to get people to acknowledge this (including disabled people ourselves, because not everyone is experienced on every disability ever by virtue of having one particular disability).

(Speaking of identities, here is Melanie Yergeau on "shiny identities". She's so fantastic.)

Anyway, as my friend is working on her thesis, she is reading various different writers and introducing me to them; in particular, the work of the poet Tom Andrews struck me. It's dark and funny and pulls inspiration from every aspect of life.

(Also poetry about disability: Karl Mercer is busy moving his stuff around, but To Death and

Survivor's Guilt

The Guardian's on a mental health kick again.

A couple of weeks ago, it put out a request for people's experiences with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). In the UK, it's a specialist service which helps under-18s with difficulty with emotional or behavioural wellbeing.

I filled in their form for a laugh; I'd had a pretty bad experiences with my local CAMHS branch. I certainly wasn't expecting an interview request to come my way. (Fingers crossed!)

I've written about mental health many times before. This is because having a chronic condition is something which affects me every day. What I've never really done is written about mental health for anyone other than myself, and certainly not for old media. I've only done a couple of old media things before, but I'm worried that if I keep doing them I'm going to be seen as part of the media establishment rather than someone who just really likes hearing the sound of her own voice. (I…

Identity and SCIENCE!

Every time an article is posted about, say, the gender gap in certain sciences (physics and engineering are particularly bad offenders here), or the experience of LGBTQ+ scientists, the same kind of comment always comes up: why don't we just focus on the science? Why do we need to bring in politics or matters of identity?

I think these kinds of comments are missing the point. Certain types of science, in particular more abstract or fundamental disciplines, don't care about the gender or race or sexual orientation of the scientist. The laws of physics are described by the same equations wherever you are on the planet, regardless of your identity. (More or less - the laws of physics as we've currently formulated them break down at edge cases, such as black holes, and it's not inconceivable that some alien civilisation might have formulated them in a completely different but hopefully mathematically equivalent way.)

However, there is an argument to be made that a theorist…

Dedicated Followers of Fashion

I'm pissed off and disillusioned.

Academics like fashion just as much as the rest of us. Fads and fashions exist in every discipline, from economics to physics to history to I don't know what. I happen to think that this is a terrible thing; in some disciplines, if you're not working on the most fashionable idea, getting funding is hard. (Witness the funding of string theory relative to other theories of quantum gravity - although I think it's running out of steam, which frankly is a good thing.) I can't see this as anything but an obstruction to potentially good ideas in any discipline.

I am angry. I am angry because this desire to follow fads and fashions extends to spaces like feminist theory and queer theory - spaces which are ostensibly about understanding and unpicking institutionally oppressive systems, at least to my limited understanding. Instead, when funding is denied for less fashionable but still important projects while fashionable if, say, ableist pr…