There once was a lass named Annabelle Jane Who stood on the deck in the pouring rain And when the rain had stopped its fell You could see her skirt did swell
Oh yes, what a lass Annabelle Jane rode the watercraft Oh yes, what a lass But she hid a secret shaft
Commentary: A fellow trans person commented that there weren’t any transgender sea shanties, so I wrote this off the cuff. I’m not fond of it, but it followed a dry spell of several months, so anyway. Dated 7/18/22, I found it today while cleaning up some files.
I was thinking this morning about the dialogue around AI like ChatGPT making human writing completely irrelevant. In a few years, computers will be able to create text that is indistinguishable from human-created text; some would argue that they already can.
I was also thinking about the dialogue around AI Art programs like Stable Diffusion, and how they can take prompts and create reasonable (if typically anatomically incorrect) facsimiles of human-created art.
In the second conversation, a key element is the issue of plagiarism. AI art programs often function by taking existing art, analyzing it, and replicating it based on a prompt. So if I find ten paintings involving pomegranates and feed them into the program, the program will find commonalities in these paintings and synthesize those into a new painting.
One important problem with this occurs if the art I feed in involves intellectual property that I don’t own. If I limit myself to public domain works or to cases where the artist consents, there’s no problem if the computer creates what is effectively a random collage.
But if I feed in works by artists who are actively trying to make a living, and who did not consent to their art being used in this fashion, I’m creating an ethical problem at best, and possibly a legal one.
It is true that humans create collages involving copyrighted work. However, one key aspect of Fair Use Doctrine is whether the allegedly infringing work is “transformative”: Does the new work have a clear creative purpose beyond merely copying an existing one?
Being “transformative” implies a level of cognitive deliberation that computers still have yet to demonstrate. Could they, eventually? Yes. Do they, now? No.
There’s also the matter of commercial use: Collages by high school students, for instance, usually look like “collages by high school students” and have the commensurate lack of commercial viability. In contrast, one important goal of AI art programs is to create works that are undetectable. That has a far greater potential for fraud.
Which brings me back to my first paragraph: The claim that AI systems will soon render human-created works obsolete.
I saw a step-by-step explanation of how to make an almost completely AI-generated instructional video: Ask one AI app for a script based on a simple prompt. Feed the results into a script editor. Feed those results into a video maker, and then into a script reader. Have yet another app create an interesting thumbnail. Boom! New content with minimal human interaction. And it’s only a short step from there to chaining the AI together (with more AI) to create a visually and aurally engaging video from a simple prompt.
Lingering under this discussion is the question: What is the purpose of art?
To the extent that content is created for profit, I agree, AI is a problem. Most artists (including writers) depend on their art satisfying a commercial demand, and to that degree, AI is a problem.
At the same time, though, it’s important to keep in mind that creative arts are, well, creative. Part of their existence, and in many cases their entire existence, is due to their act of creation. How many creative works wind up in a closet, never to be shared with the world, because the point of their existence was solely in their creation?
I’m not talking about frustrated artists who can’t find their market, and who languish in unintentional obscurity. I’m talking about works created for the sole purpose of having been created.
That’s what I fear will get lost in this conversation, that we as a culture have put all the value of “art” on the notion of its commercial viability. Commercial viability of art is not trivial, but it is also not the exclusive reason for the existence of art.
A topic I’ve been seeing a lot recently in the Autism community is what is being derogatorily called “Aspie Supremacy”. This perspective suggests that autism is evolutionarily superior to allism in general and Neurotypicality specifically. It appears to be called “Aspie Supremacy” because it centers Autistics with low support needs (who have historically been called “high functioning” or “Aspie”).
This appears to related to a friction between those of us with low support needs (such as myself) and those of us with high support needs. When our support needs are low, we may see our disability primarily in social terms: We may have some objective limitations, but most of our discomfort is from the way that a society and world designed for Neurotypicals stigmatizes and marginalizes us.
People with higher support needs seem more likely to see their disability in medical terms, at least in part. And because those of us with lower needs are more able to communicate, we tend to dominate the first-person community narrative, leading caregivers such as parents struggling to support higher needs loved ones to feel like we’re taking over the narrative and rendering their loved ones invisible.
At the same time, though, the social narrative around Autism has been driven by allistic voices, especially neurotypical ones, for decades. And that narrative has centered Autistics who need more support.
In an ideal world, the narrative would be fully balanced, including all Autistic voices as well as those of truly allied allistic loved ones. But, as in so many conversations, the pendulum of focus swings, and at the moment, the swing is in the direction of compensating for decades of stigma by those of us most capable of speaking to our experience holding, and admittedly hogging, the microphone.
One common trait of a long-silenced marginalized group being given the chance to speak for themselves is a tendency to proclaim their identity, which has been treated as inferior, as being superior. My youth saw the end of left-handedness being stigmatized, and with that came tongue-in-cheek books and posters and such proclaiming the inherent superiority of left-handedness.
As a 54-year-old who is pansexual, transgender, Autistic, and lefthanded, I have seen a lot of destigmatizing and empowering of each of those aspects of my identity over my lifetime, to varying degrees. In my youth, all of those but lefthandedness were heavily stigmatized; I suppressed the rest, unpeeling my onion only as an adult, and even that unpeeling has been in fits, starts, and retreats.
I have also seen people proclaiming each of pansexuality, gender nonconformity, and autism to be inherently superior to more culturally traditionally normative identities, as the next step in human evolution, even as superpowers.
I am certainly empathetic to the aspect of this attitude that comes from empowering a marginalized identity. After years, even decades, of being oppressed and being treated as “broken,” it is natural to want to declare oneself as superior, not inferior.
My own healing has involved a good deal of retconning my trauma, of looking back and realizing how ways in which I was mistreated in the past were due not to me being “broken” but to my brain being wired differently. My wandering eye sometimes settling on male bodies wasn’t a perversion, it was a result of my healthy, but culturally “different”, sexuality. My preferences for clothing and accoutrements generally deemed “feminine” wasn’t a perversion, it was a result of my healthy, but culturally “different”, gender.
Likewise, most of my “tantrums” were meltdowns; most of my emotional stoicism in the face of trauma wasn’t a coping mechanism learned from living in an emotionally violent household, it was shutting down in situations where meltdowns weren’t safe.
I’m still untangling when I was acting, and when I act, from trauma, and when I was acting, and when I act, as an Autistic. This untangling, this retcon, this realization that I spent a good portion of my life believing things about myself that weren’t true (that I was deeply depressed, that I have unmanageable social anxiety, and so on), comes with a certain frustration and resentment.
That frustration and resentment could easily translate to a sense of superiority: I’m not worse than all the people who put me down, I’m better than them.
That’s a natural subjective emotional response to the feeling of liberty that comes with realizing that a brain long seen as broken isn’t broken, just different.
The reality for many Autistics is that they do have high support needs. I don’t feel that “broken” is the right word, but it’s likewise true that no amount of social change towards better accommodation would entirely mitigate the effects of autism.
Even in my case, if I’m honest, there are ways in which my autism gets in the way of my happiness, social stigma aside. Yes, social stigma against autism impacts me personally more than my objective restrictions, but I do have those restrictions.
I cannot see the evolutionary advantage of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which leads me to worry constantly about what I’m saying. Even as I’m writing this, a voice is telling me that I’m going to hurt my fellow Autistics. A voice is telling me that I’m not really autistic anyway (this is called Imposter Syndrome (which my RSD reminds me is an evolved meaning, and the original use of “Imposter Syndrome” meant something adjacent to this but different)).
I cannot see the evolutionary advantage of Sensory Processing Disorder, which leads me to struggle eating around other people because of my concerns about a strong misophonic reaction, or because of my reactions to certain smells (especially coffee). I can see an evolutionary advantage of a higher sensory sensitivity: More attenuated hearing and smelling, for instance, is useful for detecting threats. But SPD goes beyond that, to the point of misinterpreting harmless stimuli and making it unpleasant, even unbearable.
I cannot see the evolutionary advantage of my AuDHD traits: My impulsiveness, my difficulty staying focused. As a child, I wanted to be a writer. I struggle with this because I can’t stay on a single project long enough to finish a polished novel. Special interest? In the zone? Sure. I have five or six November Novels, including one I didn’t even write during November. And they’re GREAT first drafts, but… after I’m done, I set them aside and don’t go back to them.
And my RSD tells me that they’re terrible and nobody’s interested in reading them.
And my Autistic perfection tells me that they’ll never be good enough for me, even if other people think they’re great.
These are not superpowers. They’re handicaps. They keep me from doing what I want to do.
It is awesome that some Autistics are finding our own voices, including those of us who are called “noncommunicative” because they’re mute, but who can use technology to communicate. It is awesome that we are moving beyond stigmas and standing on our own.
But that doesn’t mean we’re more evolved. There is an evolutionary advantage to neurodiversity, but that includes some people being allistic, too.
And that certainly doesn’t mean we have a superpower.
We are different. Different is okay. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s different.
Some of us need more accommodations and supports than others. That’s okay, too.
At the same time, though, I recognized a lot of this in my own behavior, as well as the behavior of my teacher colleagues. The education world seems to be drowning in this.
Bond’s point, though, was that students are not ultimately responsible for their own learned helplessness. It is common these days to push concepts like “grit” and “mindset” on students, as if it’s up to students alone to change their outcomes.
While perspective is certainly important to our mental state, it’s also important to note that students wouldn’t need to overcome trauma if the trauma didn’t exist in the first place.
I have a lot to unpack: My own personal “learned helplessness”, the learned helplessness of educators, and how I can improve my own understanding of the concept to address both my students’ feelings and my complicity (or lack thereof) in a system that traumatizes them.
A teacher colleague points out that, in education, we tend to use this phrase to refer to student behavior where they act like they can’t do anything, such as using a calculator, writing anything down, doing basic tasks that they’d done years ago, and so on. It is seen as an act of actively defiant stubbornness, in the same way that a parent who wants a child to do a chore will eventually give up and do it themself if the child resists long enough.
But in the clinical definition, it’s deeper than that. The passivity is not active defiance but a feeling of pointlessness.
In “Learned Hopelessness at Fifty: Insights from Neuroscience”, Maier and Seligman write, “We are mindful that in the theory of explanatory style, ‘hope’ consists largely in the habit of expecting that future bad events will not be permanent, global, and uncontrollable, rather they will be temporary, local and controllable.”
It’s noteworthy that, within the context of school, “hope” exists in the form that every class will be over after a set amount of time. If class time is the “shock”, the students know that they can just wait it out. Whether they actively engage or sit passively, it will be over at the same point.
At the same time, though, students seem to get a fairly persistent message that the trauma is not controllable. Teachers have the bulk of the power. Speaking against the trauma will likely only make it worse: This is an element I haven’t seen in my so-far-brief exploration of the Learned Helplessness literature, which is focused on the idea of “it doesn’t matter what I do, it won’t change anything.”
If someone learns that standing against trauma won’t make it go away, might make it last longer, and will have only a negative effect, the most logical route is to just wait it out. I see that over and over in my students, and I see it over and over in myself and my colleagues.
I have had too many conversations with my colleagues of this nature. I’ll complain about the latest inane administrative edict, and my colleagues will say, “Yeah, but they’ll forget about it. I’ll ignore it, wait it out, and in two months, they’ll be on to something else.”
This is a common theme in both teacher and student behavior: Wait it out, it’ll go away.
We are dogs tied up in hammocks, waiting for the shocks to go away.
In the previously linked article, Maier and Seligman point to the similarity between lab-created learned helplessness and real-world depression, the former of which contains all but the last of these DSM-IV symptoms of the latter:
Loss of interest
Indecisiveness or poor concentration
Thoughts of suicide
I’ve noticed in myself that frustration over a work situation can lead to feelings of helplessness, which then lead to symptoms of depression. I don’t want to give up and give in, but the pressure seems overwhelming at times, especially when I’m surrounded by naysayers who are waiting for the shocks to go away.
As teachers, we have a role in the educational trauma of our students. We can perpetuate it or we can fail to do so. Even if we fail to do so, though, it is naïve to assume that they’ll instantly trust us and overcome their own habits of thought. It is wrong for us to blame them for failing to instantly do so, or to insist that they just need to suck it up and learn grit.
Much has been written about how students, especially from marginalized groups or lower SES backgrounds, already have “grit”. Not enough has been written, in my view, about how our educational system is actively traumatic and reinforces the feeling of helplessness of our students, and for that matter of our teachers.
These are yet rough and initial thoughts on the subject. I have my own issues with learned helplessness, both in my workplace and in my life in general, to confront and process. We’re in this together, and as the adults in the room, it’s not useful to demand that youth overcome struggles that we ourselves are drowning in.
It’s like drunk texting, but I’m sober. And I don’t do it nearly as much as I used to, but I still do it.
The thing is, I struggle with maintaining relationships. I’m not particularly fond of small talk, so I’m even less fond of small talk texting: “How was your day? Any plans for the weekend? Thinking about you, wanted to say hi.” I guess these are integral to “normal, functioning, healthy relationships”, but they feel boring to me. Repetitive. Superficial.
But at the same time, I feel like checking up on people on a deeper level is invasive. “Hey, heard about your father, how are you doing?” “You were really worked up last week, are you okay?” If people wanted to tell me, my brain says, they’d tell me without me prodding.
Except, they don’t.
Lurking behind every conversation is the threat of the script itch, that crushing feeling that I’m not having an authentic conversation, that the conversation I’m engaging in is based on a script where everyone’s words have been pre-ordained and all there is left is to speak or write them.
I say, “I’m feeling really down tonight, like nobody really likes me.”
You say, “No, that’s not true, I’ve just been really busy.”
I say, “Yes, it is. Everyone hates me. You’re just pretending so that I’ll stop bothering you.”
You say, “We all have bad days like this, but know that I love you. Everything will be all right later.”
I think it’s a form of derealization, and in my case I think it’s related to a lifetime of autistic masking, of not knowing how to navigate authentically. I too often feel like I’m living by a script of what I’m supposed to say and do, not just when I’m feeling sad or lonely.
Conversations spin out of control so quickly, and seeing them as scripts helps to contain them.
Last night I had that itch again. I was funk texting some friends, and I started yelling at myself: I was ruining things. I was so fake. I was seeking attention. I’m needy and whiny. Nobody needs me around.
These days, the vast majority of my funk texts stay in my head. I stare at the computer or the phone and think, “I should text [friend] and just say hi” and then it turns into, “And say what? ‘Hi’ creates an obligation for them to respond. Maybe they’re busy.”
And it spirals: “They don’t even want to hear from you. You annoy them. They’re only polite to you because they don’t know how to say they want you to go away.”
And it spirals more: “They haven’t reached out to you in months because they’re ghosting you. It would be pathetic for you to say anything to them. Just leave them alone.”
And the spiral gets to: “Well, if you text them now, it’ll be a disgusting plea for attention where you’ll passive-aggressively tell them how awful you are as a clear demand for contradiction.”
This week, the stress level finally reached critical mass. Disrespected by my admin. Feeling of utter ineffectiveness as a teacher. Had to put a sick cat to sleep. Betrayed by my union.
So I funk texted.
Virtual relationships are not designed for people who don’t care for small talk. I missed out on a childhood of parallel play; I want it in my adulthood, but I struggle with accepting that I’m not annoying the other person. I want to just be around people, to be acknowledged, but I fear the demons. I screw up, and then it spirals into a meltdown.
This entry started out so organized, and I feel like it’s falling apart now. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s where I reach behind the mask and find authenticity.
Authenticity is that somewhere inside there’s a little child who got the message over and over that they were annoying. That… he was annoying. That… she was annoying.
“The little girl you were who never had a voice… Suddenly she’s talking and There’s nothing you can do to drown her out.” — Maddie & Tae, “These Tears”
I’m autistic. I was raised by two parents who had better things to do than deal with my higher-than-average need for attention and confirmation. My classmates thought it was funny to provoke my violent meltdowns. My teachers didn’t know how to effectively interact with me, just as I see colleagues now who struggle with interacting with autistic students.
I learned that my ways of interaction were cloying and pathetic. I would love to have this online conversation regularly:
Me: Hi. You: Hi. Me: Nice chat. Same thing next week? You: Sure.
End of conversation. But… apparently, this is weird. Needy. Pathetic. At least, that’s what my voices tell me.
Sure, it’s nice enough for it to develop into something deeper. I like serious conversations. I like fun conversations, too. When I’m content, I’m a very silly person. I like corny jokes. I am also very loyal, but I often feel unwantedly loyal, like a puppy who would curl up on your feet but they’ve been kicked in the ribcage too many times, and so now just sits in the corner, out of anyone’s way, waiting for someone to offer to scratch them on their forehead.
On one level, this is called “learned helplessness”, and it includes the fear that the scritch on the head is a trap. A few months ago, I made the mistake of assuming that someone scritching me on the head was willing to see some of my shadows. So I offered to show them to her.
And she kicked me in the ribs.
So… back in my corner again.
“If I don’t know who to trust / I trust them all And if I don’t know who to kill / no suicide I’m already dead.” — Live, “Brothers Unaware”
Inside is a very trusting little girl, a very trusting little puppy, who doesn’t understand why the world can be so cruel. A girl who has been scolded too much just for wanting attention and affection, so that she doesn’t feel like she’s deserving of love.
This is how I feel about friendships. Even when people absolutely insist that they love me and want me to be around me, I refuse to believe them. I’m waiting for the kick to the ribs, and when I get it, as I did a few months ago, it moves me backward again.
Reading that article about learned helplessness resonates a lot with me, enough that I would seriously consider therapy… except, my last therapist kicked me in the ribs, too, when she decided that I was too stubborn to be willing to change and that I was just playing games and wasting her time.
And that reminds me of the girl in the fuzzy sweater in middle school who said she was my girlfriend for a few weeks until I got sick in class in a weird way once and refused to tell the teacher because I was scared, so she got mad and told me I was too messed up for her to be interested in, and so she broke up with me.
And that reminds me of the time in the same class that we were supposed to hold a trial for the murderer in The Tell-Tale Heart, and my “best friend” and I were the defense lawyers but we didn’t practice because he said it would work better as improv, and I had to go first and knew nothing about how to improv a lawyer and I just made a fool of myself.
And that reminds me of the time in 7th grade English when we were supposed to do a book report in front of the class, and I did mine on an Encyclopedia Brown book. I brought a candle for effect, but when the teacher turned the lights off in the room it still wasn’t very dark. And I hadn’t really written anything, I was just going to improv that, but it went terribly. It was just a boring, even kind of bad, book report, except the Weird Kid had a candle, so that made it even more awkward. Then one of my classmates borrowed the candle for their own book report, which worked a lot better, so that made me feel even more awkward.
Everything is connected in a chain of trauma and memories.
Learned helplessness is what keeps my house in a mess. I don’t think I can ever clean it, so what’s the point?
Learned helplessness is what keeps me in a job I dislike. It’s what keeps me from buying clothes I actually want to wear. It’s what keeps me from writing more routinely, and what keeps me from trying to sell my words.
And it’s what keeps me from reaching out to my friends until the pressure is too much and I funk-text them.
This is the next domino that I will topple. And it’s a big one, but…
Last night I had two dreams interleaved. “Interwoven” isn’t the right word because, at the end, the dreams were never attached to each other and didn’t seem to have anything in common, but it felt like I was having them at the same time. (Given the nature of dreams and memory, it’s possible that it’s my memory than interleaved them, but that’s neither here nor there.)
One was that I was watching a movie about a bank heist. Part of the strategy of the heist was that one of the characters, already a mid-level bank employee, would position himself to get access to funds and siphon them to his friend on the outside. During the course of the film, they’re successful in stealing a decent amount of money, but not the big payout. And then the inside man (Gerhardt) is promoted to a very comfortable position, and has second thoughts about continuing with the heist. The characters argue extensively, but then ultimately the one on the outside (Pablo) relents and disappears to another country (where he can’t be extradicted), telling Gerhardt that, if ever Pablo feels he’s wrong him, he’s going to trigger the last part of the heist, leaving Gerhardt exposed. I won’t spoil the ending in case I manage to adapt this to the sort of story I’d write, but it made me cry. Literally, in my dream, Niagara Falls.
The other was a confusing mess: Stuff about work, it was Thanksgiving, there was lots of food, at some point I was inexplicably naked and had to find my clothes, there was a cookout, I had been harassed by kids on bicycles and but older kids on bicycles had come to my rescue, there was supposed to be s’mores and there were ham steaks and nothing made a lot of sense.
Anyway, I wanted to save the first dream in case I do double back and write it up properly, but again, I’m not sure I ever will. Over the years I’ve had several dreams that would make excellent short stories, and they’re still unwritten.
The person who allegedly killed five people at a gay bar the night before Trans Day of Remembrance has announced through their lawyers that they identify as nonbinary and use they/them pronouns.
It would be easy to conclude that the alleged murderer is cynically trying to avoid Hate Crime laws by falsely claiming to be part of the community they were targeting, but this identification, whether true or false, is irrelevant to the application of Hate Crime laws.
1. Hate crime laws don’t become inapplicable just because the act was committed by someone from the targeted group. The key criterion is that the victims were targeted because of their identity, which certainly at least superficially appears to be the case here.
2. Internalized transphobia is common. The idea that an emotionally unstable transgender person couldn’t commit an act of violence against transgender people, or against queer people as a whole, is absurd on its face. Someone who is deeply unhappy with their own identity could easily turn that hatred outward. Indeed, one apparently false explanation for the Pulse shooting was that the shooter was a gay man who was lashing out at his father’s rejection.
3. There continues to be animosity between some gay people and some transgender people. In England, the LGB Alliance (among others) is dedicated to removing transgender people from the queer umbrella. So a transgender shooter attacking a gay club as a statement against anti-trans sentiments in the gay community would be committing a hate crime.
Simply stated: If the murderer targeted Club Q because it was a gay bar, it was a Hate Crime. The SOGI status of the murderer is irrelevant to that.
I haven’t been here in a few months. I got COVID in September and that took a lot of my inertia away, and since then I’ve just not been in the habit. This isn’t the longest gap in the blog, but still, it’s been a while.
I had two things I wanted to post about: The current social media upheaval and the odd way in which we cling to our online communities, and mathematical notation. But when I logged in to create a post, I noticed I had 930 comments.
I don’t have Akismet turned on, so I figured all of those were spam. I was right, but it bogged me down to go through them, and that took inertia away from writing. So I’ll write about that instead.
The vast majority of them were in Russian, so I have no idea what they said, nor do I really care. The English that came through, usually in the form of URLs, told me enough. Lots of porn, some financial scams, utter garbage.
Of the rest, there was plenty of blatant porn, some of which didn’t sound legal. Oof. Delete. Move on.
And then there are the cruel ones: “Your blog is interesting! I have learned so much. This is an important topic. You should be more popular.”
These are cruel because they’re fake. They’re a reminder that I don’t get many sincere comments along those lines. I can tell they’re fake because many of them are verbatim from different users, same typos and all. Because some of them have links in the middle to obvious scam sites. Because the user names themselves have URLs inside.
I know the heyday of individual blogging is long past. I know there are probably only a handful of people, if that, that ever read these words. I’d get more reach on Medium, and even more on The Good Men Project, where I wrote for a while. An individual blog is not the place to get attention for most people.
Still, I would love some occasional feedback from people. Obviously, that means I have to write more stuff, and given the current social media upheaval, I’ve been thinking about posting more stuff here and linking it to Facebook, Twitter, and whatever rises from the ashes of Twitter.
Anyway, enough about all that. I’m going to draft out something about mathematical notation now. Maybe make it into some TikTok videos, that’s what the cool kids are doing.