Monthly Archives: September 2014

Self-Interested Feminism

Recently, Emma Watson delivered a speech at the UN pleading for men to get more involved in the cause of feminism:

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

There has been some pushback to this idea. Many people feel that men should support feminism out of a sense of altruism. Anne Thériault had this to say at Feminspire:

Rape culture is something that men should care about not because it might affect them, but because it affects anyone at all. Men should care about women’s safety, full stop, without having the concept somehow relate back to them. Everyone should care about everyone else’s well-being – that’s what good people are supposed to do.

I find altruism of that variety unreliable at best, illusory at worst. Either way, I feel that the most ethical things to do is often to prioritize our own well-being over that of others. There is nothing unethical about trying to make ourselves happy, so long as we are not doing disproportionate harm. Nobody has to be a hero. We are not morally required to work to change society, even if we acknowledge that society is unjust.

As much as I’d like to claim otherwise, I’m not a feminist because I care deeply about all of my fellow humans. I’m a feminist out of self-interest. I’m a feminist because my personal goals align with the goals of the feminist movement. And I think that most men, if they rationally examined the situation, would agree. Patriarchy, rape culture, and male privilege suck for everyone.

I. The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too

This is not actually my most important reason, but it is a reason. This point has been so well documented that it’s nearly self-evident. Here is Katie McDonough at Salon:

Women and girls make up the majority of victims of sexual violence, but a culture that straight up says that teenage boys can’t be raped makes it almost impossible for male survivors to come forward. Destructive ideas about sexual male entitlement are at the heart of rape culture and the reason that so many women and girls are victimized in their lifetimes, but they also feed into this idea that men always want sex, which makes men who have been victims of rape question whether or not what happened to them even counts as a crime. It took a really, really long time for this to even become a crime. These same norms also encourage men to have really warped relationships to desire and sexual satisfaction. This stuff hurts women the most because of the violence it engenders, but it hurts men, too.

The ridiculousness of rape culture is to the point where we actually have articles with titles like “Can Boys Be ‘Coerced’ Into Sex?” Spoiler: they can. Here is Charlie Glickman:

One of the primary reasons that boys and men gay bash and bully queers is that they need to perform masculinity in order to show the world that they’re in the Box. And since very few guys can always be in the Box for their entire lives, the trick is to act like you are in order to cover for any lapses. In effect, the performance of masculinity requires constant vigilance to make sure that nobody sees any missteps. Since the logic of the box is an either/or, you’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out.

"a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform"

“a good captain needs abilities like boldness, daring and a good velour uniform”

Glickman’s article, which I encourage you to read, discusses how masculinity is a performance that men must keep up at all times, or else they’re not real men. This form of toxic masculinity proclaims that men are violent, unemotional, and aggressive, or else they are weak and womanly.

Men’s Rights Activists, though deeply confused about the causes, also tend to notice the ways in which patriarchy hurts men. What they tend not to realize is that these things that they label as “female privilege” are actually benevolent sexism, stem from exactly the same places as women’s oppression, and that reverse sexism is really just a necessary result of ordinary sexism.

Concerns like those noted above have been a problem for me as far back as I can remember. One of my most vivid memories of elementary school is the experience of being terrified to tell my best friend that he was my best friend, because that would be “gay” or something. I never told him, and throughout my young childhood, I was always insecure about how much he liked me because I was too afraid to talk about it with him.

Patriarchy harms men in general, and me personally. I struggle against the need to perform my masculinity daily, and feminism is the only movement that supports me at all in that struggle.

II. Patriarchy Makes People Awful

In Part I, I reviewed several of the ways that patriarchy hurts men. Many of those same forces encourage men to be terrible people. The need to perform masculinity encourages men to be aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. This naturally hurts men who don’t conform to their prescribed gender role, but it also hurts everyone else, who are forced to deal with a bunch of men who either are, or who are pretending to be, aggressive, violent, competitive, and unemotional. The fact that most men effectively perform masculinity is the primary reason why I dislike most men, and have trouble forming male friendships. Would you like someone who fits the above description of masculinity? I wouldn’t.

Patriarchy also teaches women to behave in ways that I don’t like. Harriet J from Fugitivus has a good list of the problematic ways in which patriarchy encourages women to behave:

  • it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
  • it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
  • it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
  • it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
  • it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
  • it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
  • it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
  • it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

The result of all this conditioning means that women are overwhelmingly encouraged to resort to Guess Culture, subtlety, and indirect communication. I hate that style of (non) communication, and I hate that our patriarchal culture punishes women who communicate directly. In our efforts to move toward Ask Culture and encouraging direct communication, patriarchy is our enemy.

III. Feminism Means Better Sex

Just today, Miri Mogilevsky posted about how feminism can make you better in bed. The whole post is great, but here is a relevant quote:

Of course, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But if you do want to do it, you should never have to feel guilty or abnormal just because your desires don’t conform to gender roles. Sex is a lot more fun when you don’t have to measure yourself against invisible, constantly-shifting standards like “Real Man” or “Real Woman.”

I also favor sexual promiscuity, and think that people should be having all the sex they want to have without fear of stigma or judgment. Patriarchy opposes this goal, and feminism supports it:

In a time when nonheterosexuality is close to losing the status of ‘alternative,’ transgender people have scored Medicare coverage for gender-confirming surgeries, Fifty Shades of Grey has made it clear that kinky desires are as mainstream as it gets, and open relationships are more visible than ever, there is one sexual lifestyle that remains imbued with stigma: unbridled promiscuity. Accepting promiscuity—having lots of (mostly) casual sex with lots of different people—as a valid lifestyle choice is perhaps the final frontier in creating a sex-positive, open-minded, sexually tolerant society.

Dan Fincke, of Camels with Hammers, also argues in favor of what he calls the Sexual Utopia:

By sexual utopians I mean anyone who wants us to get as close as is reasonable to a world of maximal guilt free sexual pleasure with no irrational hang ups or needlessly burdensome restrictions. People who dream of the day when we can indulge more freely in positive sexual experiences, unencumbered by arbitrary moralisms. Nudity is natural and good. It’s aesthetically pleasurable and not even always sexually. We should celebrate the beauty of the human form rather than hide it. Everyone should love and have sex with whomever consensually wants to have sex with them. Alternative sexual orientations and genders should be celebrated, not merely tolerated. Kink that doesn’t harm anyone shouldn’t be seen as immoral. Whatever floats your boat so long as no one gets hurt. People should be able to negotiate the terms of their own relationships rather than have adultery defined in some absolute way that forbids any sexual openness among committed people. Friendships can incorporate a dimension of sexual enjoyment apart from romantic commitments. Even entire friendships can be all about two people’s enjoyment of having sex with each other if that’s what they enjoy. Young people should be empowered to make wise sexual choices instead of repressed with abstinence-only fear-mongering. And there should be no stigmas about making or consuming porn or engaging in prostitution or patronizing a prostitute, etc., so long as everyone involved is treated respectfully and is kept healthy. And, of course, if you’re asexual or a celibate or abstinent or a strict lifelong monogamist, etc., then that’s okay too!

How do we get there? Feminism:

Only in a culture where women aren’t punished for sexuality, aren’t commodified and treated like objects to be traded, and don’t see men trying to sexually exploit them around every corner will they be empowered to choose sexual utopia. But so long as rapes are excused and so long as sexual exploitation of their images is dismissed as irrelevant (and only theft is acknowledged as a real harm) and so long as their feelings about sex are going to be disregarded in moral calculations involving them, they have every right to become protective and restrictive. Women will and should only expose themselves to more risks of sexual openness when men prove more responsible not to regularly exploit them, dismiss their feelings, and blame them for all the consequences.

Smashing the patriarchy, dismantling rape culture, and doing away with male privilege are the only ways that I can think of to encourage people to feel safe having the sex that they want to have. And when people are having the sex they want to have (and not the sex they don’t want to have) that makes sex better for everyone except people who want to have sex that doesn’t involve enthusiastic consent, and I do not think the desires of such people should be taken into account.

IV. Male Privilege Is Not Worth The Cost

Mia McKenzie, of Black Girl Dangerous, feels that telling men to be feminists out of self-interest is disingenuous, because it ignores the ways that men actually benefit from a patriarchal culture. Her list of benefits:

1 out of every 5 American women has reported experiencing rape in her lifetime. For American men, it’s 1 in 71.

White (cis-gender) American women earn 78% of what their white male counterparts earn. Black (cis-gender) American women earn 89% of what their Black male counterparts earn and 64% of what their white male counterparts earn. Latina (cis-gender) women earn 89% of what their Latino male counterparts earn and 53% of what their white male counterparts earn.

Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.

Of course, the gender pay gap exists everywhere in the world, including the UK. And so does rape.

For starters, the only arguably zero-sum benefit listed is the one about CEO’s, and I certainly wouldn’t be upset if we had more gender balance in our CEO’s. I’m not planning on being a Fortune 500 CEO, so increasing equality in that sense wouldn’t harm me in any way that I can see. The gender pay gap is not zero-sum at all. Equal pay doesn’t require that men’s pay be reduced, it requires that women’s pay be increased. The assumption that monetary gains for women would come out of men’s paychecks doesn’t seem obvious to me, especially when corporate profits are rising at the same time wages are falling. While there might be some balancing effects by which employers pay men less in order to pay women more, there are plenty of other sources for that money to come from, most notably from corporate profits.

Statistics about rape are definitely not zero-sum. The fact that one in five women has been raped is not an advantage to non-rapist men in any way! There is definitely no need to increase men being raped in order to decrease women being raped. If suddenly, only one in 71 women experienced rape in their lifetimes, I think most men would be happy about the reduced numbers. Certainly, being a man means that I experience the privilege of being much less likely to be raped (or cat-called, or harassed, etc.), but that’s not a benefit I lose by dismantling the patriarchy.

Sometimes, I do receive benefits that come at the expense of women. When I’m applying for a job or a promotion (or elected office), I’m favored over female competitors. When I want to make my voice heard, it’s easier for me to do so over competing female voices. Patriarchy makes it easier for me to convince women to do what I want. I probably got more attention from teachers as a child than my female classmates. But I would gladly give up those advantages in exchange for the advantages of an egalitarian society that I’ve outlined above. Most other manifestations of male privilege can be equalized by expanding male privilege to women, not by denying it to men.

V. Conclusion

The feminist movement, as it currently exists, has some serious issues. Those issues may be serious enough for reasonable people to abandon the movement altogether. It is not my intention to argue here that people should all go out and donate to mainstream feminist nonprofits or read mainstream feminist writings (thought I can’t say those are bad ideas). My intention is simply to argue that a more egalitarian society will help all genders, including men, and that creating a more egalitarian society is the explicit goal of the feminist movement. Reasonable people can disagree on tactics, but I feel that the majority of men should be able to agree that the patriarchy should be smashed, rape culture dismantled, and male privilege be destroyed where necessary and expanded, where possible, to include all genders. These are the goals of feminism, and I feel that men have compelling, self-interested reasons to support them.

Pumpkin Everything and Giant Piles of Leaves

Often when I tell people that I was born in California, they always ask “why on Earth did you leave?!?” Well, firstly, it wasn’t remotely my decision since I was 15 months old when my parents, sister, and I packed up and moved over to Philadelphia. Secondly, my parents were sick of Southern California and its barely changing seasons.

Yep, my parents’ main reason for wanting to come to the middle of the East Coast was so that we could actually experience the joy that is the axial tilt of the Earth and I, for one, am quite happy that they wanted that!

I love living in a place that has four distinct seasons. I love each season for different reasons and my favorite parts of the year are the transitions from one season to the next. We are currently in my favorite of the transitions – summer to autumn.


My favorite thing about summer is the lovely amount of light we get and how long the days are. Waking up and coming home in sunlight each work day makes every day feel like the possibilities are endless and I look forward to that every year, especially after losing the light for several months. Of course, I like a certain amount of heat to go with that light so that I can partake in all the outdoor stuff I like (beaches, rivers, and dining al fresco) but I am more susceptible to heat related illness seemingly (though that has gotten a lot better since I started paying special attention to my water consumption and not staying outside in the dog days for long periods of time).

But this time of year, when it is cold enough to grab a cuddly cardigan in the morning to head to work, and when sunset is earlier and the evening commute is bathed in golden welcoming light…I tend to be filled with a calmness and pleasantness that accompany days well spent, work well done, and the promise of relaxing under fuzzy blankets on comfy couches with perhaps a cup of favorite tea.

In addition to all that awesomeness, autumn brings PA Ren Faire season which means costumes, pirates, giant turkey legs, and mead! Also, Mount Hope winery sells one of my favorite red wines, so it’s time to stock up a little!  I also want to visit pumpkin patches and go on a hay ride and sip apple cider while picking out the perfect ginormous squash.

squash boat

I have no choice but to name the above photo “Squash-Buckling”.  Shut up.  I know I’m fired.

And Halloween.  But, like, I don’t even need to go on about why that rules.

I even love the winter. While I don’t so much love the darkness, I actually quite enjoy bundling up to go outside and I enjoy finding coffee shops to get the occasional hot chocolate or peppermint mocha in. I like getting one of those drinks and wandering around in festively decorated parts of town. While I’m pretty much over Christmas in a lot of ways, I love lights and glitter and the way Rittenhouse Square gets transformed into a magical pocket in the center of the city.

Last year I, like many people, was taken by surprise by the “real winter” we ended up having. I didn’t have the proper apparel at all and for some reason kept avoiding investing in anything. So, I was epically cold a lot, trying to piece together proper warmth from random things I would find in the house. This year I am shopping for a warm, vintage inspired winter coat and I’m going to get some fuzzy lined water proof winter boots…and leather gloves…and a soft warm hat! Yes, I’ve become all girly and wish to look cute AND be warm.

fuzzy hat

I bought a couple of dresses on Modcloth yesterday and will be investing in more sweater tights because cuteness waits for no person!

I used to fear seasonal affective disorder, but that hasn’t been much of a problem since getting treatment for depression and anxiety in general, and also because I tend to fill my evenings with things that are not light dependent. I do a lot of art now and often I work on my pieces at night, regardless of season. Also, now that I have upped my Vitamin D levels, I have more energy regardless of sunlight. So, I’m feeling pretty happy now and expect to keep it up over the autumn and winter months.

Things are good. I feel like healing has been happening without me quite noticing. Now that it’s a little bit chilly at times and Halloween is on its way, I find that I am feeling inspired to decorate for the season (inspiration that has mostly eluded me for the last couple of years). I’m also inspired to fix things up around the house and do projects that I haven’t be able to muster the amount of care required to do up until now.

I also totally gave up on the Whole30 out of sheer boredom and the fact that me and ridiculous amounts of restriction really don’t get along. The thing was that I committed to trying it as an experiment, but I hadn’t actually bought into the whole philosophy. A lot of it I suspected was kind of bullshit…certainly bullshit if one is making blanket statements about what EVERYONE should be eating. I pretty much confirmed in 18 days what I already knew about my body and what makes it function best. Hooray and give me a piece of cheese.

It’s truly wonderful to feel the darkness lifting even though the days are getting shorter. I couldn’t ask for more wonderful people in my life. I couldn’t ask for a lovelier home. I couldn’t ask for a better job and career. I couldn’t ask for anything more because this is the life I want, with the people I love, and with the future full of possibility and promise.

Now…if we could just get the puppy to stop crapping on the floor, life would be damn near perfect!



Whole30 Day 17: I Drank Some Wine and it was Delicious

Ok, I admit it.  I went 16 full days without “cheating” at all on this Whole30 thing but then some personal BS occurred and I was going out to see a Fringe Festival show and all I wanted in the world was some damn red wine.  So I had some.

Do I look at this as a failure? I mean, yeah, but I don’t really care.  I look at it as doing the Whole30 imperfectly and since I’m doing this for no one else but myself, I get to make the rules.  Does this mean that I’m going to be boozing it up for the next 13 days? Of course not.  It would probably shock you to know that I had a cube of cheese a few days ago too because I was starving and had to go grocery shopping yet again and had nothing to eat.  Impressively, I don’t feel like my progress was destroyed.

I sound super defensive, don’t I? I think it’s because someone was like “now you have to start all over” and I am saying, “Nah, not going to do that.”  If you read the article on the Whole30 website it goes through a bunch of reasons why you have to and then it says the most important one, “But hey, you’re an adult and can do whatever you want to do.” Yup.  I’m pretty much with Cartman on this one:


So, this is the supposed Tiger Blood week of the challenge and, as with all the other parts of the timeline, my experience is lining up pretty well.  I generally have more energy, am sleeping much better, and waking up in a more alert, clear state.  Of course, the wine from yesterday changed those things for today but that is not a new experience for me.

The hardest thing about this way of eating, and why I will not really keep up to this degree after the 30 days is the constant need to go grocery shopping.   I have been going shopping every 4 days and buying a lot of stuff each time.  When you’re eating fresh food all the time without a lot of filler starches and grains, you eat a lot more and instead of produce rotting in the crisper, you are simply always out of produce!  I also eat larger portions of meat.  And while there’s nothing inherently bad about that ,these things combined with cooking with every part of the coconut makes for a hefty grocery bill every time.

Eating this way costs a lot in money and it costs a whole lot in time.  I feel like a lot of my free time is spent purchasing food, chopping food, and cooking food.  And while I enjoy cooking, it is difficult to keep up the energy when you are also working a full time job and doing some house remodeling and keeping the house clean and chasing after a puppy.  It’s not that I don’t have the time (or at least, it’s not that I can’t make time to do it), but I question how much of my time I wish to spend doing this.

I understand that the answer is planning planning planning, however, to make enough food for the rest of the week I feel like I would have to give my entire weekend to the kitchen. I already give a large part of my weekend to house upkeep and food. To spend every free minute making large pots of things to hopefully last the week just isn’t something I want to do. This challenge has shown me a lot about how I value my time.

The good side of this is that I have spent significantly less on eating out, simply because eating out is a pain in the ass with such a restrictive diet. Because eating out money is my personal money and grocery money is a shared pot, it feels like I’m saving a lot. But since I’m spending more on groceries (over the amount we actually budget for), I’m not actually. But it’s nice to have some money left over when I get paid. I like the feeling of living within my means. In this case, though, it’s pretty much an illusion because of the grocery aspect, I guess, but I always feel accomplished when I cook/make the majority of my week’s food.

Though this is “Tiger Blood” time, I have to admit that I am not feeling all that much “better” than when I’m generally being mindful of what I eat the rest of the time under less restriction. Yes, I am feeling energetic and I’m not experiencing all kinds of blood sugar crashes, but this is not a new thing for me. Whenever I watch my sugar intake and eat way more fruits and veggies, I feel better. I am lucky in that I don’t have any allergies or food sensitivities. I also feel way better in general since I started taking a vitamin D supplement, so it’s hard to say if the diet is doing anything majorly different or if I was just really deficient in vitamin D. I’m leaning toward the latter, combined with the knowledge that lower amounts of processed foods is a generally good idea for me health and happiness-wise.

The next part is a little TMI, so scroll past if you are squicked out by discussion of female biological processes.

One very bizarre thing that occurred was that I got my period way early. This is particularly strange because I am on the pill, so bleeding occurs like clockwork 3 days after ending a pack. But I did some reading and am thinking that the whole phytoestrogen thing is not a total load of hooey. Soy is packed with isoflavones, which are touted for various positive things (especially the easy source of protein) but they also mimic estrogen in the body. They don’t do the job of estrogen as well as estrogen, but they like to hang out on estrogen receptors. Apparently, most grains contain a bunch of these things too. So seemingly, when I cut out all grains and all soy, my body saw this as a significant enough of a hormone level drop to trigger bleeding. As I just finished a pack today, I wonder if that means I’m going to be bleeding for two weeks straight. Great…but kind of interesting and little bit disturbing.

So 13 days to go. I likely will not be wavering again in my Whole30 resolve, ‘cause 13 days ain’t no thang. I am certainly enjoying learning some new recipes and agree that eating this much produce is a good thing, but honestly, pasta is a requirement for a busy person with so much awesome going on. I look forward to having it back as an option!

The Importance of Affirmative Verbal Consent

For the past few weeks, the internet has been debating California’s new law which requires aid-receiving universities to adopt an “affirmative consent” standard in disciplinary hearings. Predictably, there have been many objections, claiming that asking for consent will “ruin the moment” or that we’re criminalizing normal sex. Charlie Glickman wrote an excellent response to such concerns:

The thing is, I understand where some of these fears are coming from. Leaving aside the folks who are actual rapists… changing the rules of the game is scary. We live in a culture that teaches and shames us into bad sexual communication. We shame men who don’t want to have sex within a narrow range of acceptable activities. We shame women who express their desires or want sex more than we think they should. (And slut-shaming enables rape.) We’ve created a performance model of sex, in which people copy what they see in porn because they don’t know any better. I’ve worked with a lot of people who are miserable because they’re performing sex rather than enjoying it. So when we talk about shifting what sexual consent means, even when it’s for the better, we’re stirring up a lot of pain, triggers, shame, and trauma.

One thing we need to move through this is a more clear idea of what “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” looks like. It’s a great phrase for a legal document, but unless you get turned on by that sort of thing, it’s a rather dry concept. As a sex & relationship coach, I want to see something that you could actually put into practice in the bedroom.

Glickman asked people for example of what nonverbal consent looks like on his Facebook page. Here are the highlights:

  • Looking me in the eye and giving me a hand signal that says ‘come towards me’
  • When I guide someones hands and place them on my body nodding yes.
  • I think that the only real test of affirmative consent is when the other person takes initiative of her or his own accord–without prompting or pressure. Without stopping and waiting for that initiative, there is just too much room for misunderstanding, especially with a newish partner. 

For example, when offering a kiss, coming close enough almost to make contact but not quite, and waiting for a partner to bridge the gap–or not–communicates both my desire to act and my desire to be met, without words.

 If there is hesitation, then I know that more verbal conversation is in order, and that’s good. It saves much grief all around.
  • Reciprocation. Guiding hands. Asking about preferences. (Is this ok? Faster? Slower? How is this?) Taking initiative, responding in like, exploring your body with their hands, etc.

Look for things about the hook up that your partner seems apprehensive about, such as stiffening up, pulling or leaning away, or generally letting you do all the work –pretty good indicator that you are with someone who isn’t into it and probably cannot tell you or is scared shitless to tell you.
  • Gripping, grabbing, pulling me closer, reaching for kisses, initiating position changes, following after a touch when it stops or moves, nuzzling, smooching whatever part is near enough, and playing with my hair are all signs of active, engaged enthusiasm for me.

Glickman followed up that list with a warning:

I really like this list because it shows some of the many ways that we can show someone that we’re actively enjoying a sexual experience. Of course, there’s always the chance that someone is performing rather than actually expressing their pleasure. Non-verbal communication can be faked, especially if someone feels pressured into it. Plus, it lacks bandwidth and it’s ambiguous since two different people might have very different ideas about what any of these things might mean.

That’s why non-verbal consent can only be relied on when you already know your partner and how they respond. Until you have that foundation, due diligence suggests making verbal communication your standard. It’s unfortunately easy to do something that you genuinely believe your partner is enjoying and then find out later that they didn’t. I’ve been on both sides of that and it’s no fun.

In his article linked above, Glickman proposed a “due diligence” standard for consent, which includes things like checking in routinely, asking a partner what they want you to do, and having a discussion regarding safer sex concerns. Glickman explained the need for due diligence:

I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve had sexual partners who didn’t tell me that what we were doing wasn’t comfortable for them. Some of them told me afterward, and unfortunately, there have probably been others who didn’t. I’ve also been the one who wasn’t able to speak up and tell my partner that I wanted something different, or that I wanted to stop. I know what it’s like to feel like my partner assaulted me, even as I recognize that they had no idea at the time. I know what it’s like to not say no and feel violated, and I know what it’s like to find out later that someone felt that way about an experience we had. Both sides of that are pretty awful.

So, yes, it is possible to accidentally assault someone, in the sense that we can do something that we didn’t realize they didn’t want to do. When that happens, we need to hold onto the fact that an injury happened AND the fact that we didn’t intend it. Those are equally important, although I find that healing works best when the fact of the injury gets attention first. And having said all that, it’s also important to be honest with ourselves about whether we’ve actually done enough to qualify as due diligence. We need to have the self-awareness and honor to be able to acknowledge when we could have done more. We need to be able to be honest with ourselves and our partners about whether we really did the best that we could.

I can personally attest to the need for a due diligence standard, because under Charlie’s definition, I have accidentally assaulted someone. Around a year ago, I had a first date with someone. For privacy reasons, I won’t be going into too much detail, but I was in a situation where I believed that the sexual activity in which we were engaging was enthusiastically consented to. I was wrong, and it was my fault. I made the mistake, as Charlie specifically warned against, of relying on nonverbal communication. I didn’t do my due diligence. I didn’t ask for verbal consent. I didn’t pay close enough attention to my partner’s hesitation. I didn’t have a safer sex discussion beforehand. I didn’t ask her what she wanted to do. I just saw that she was actively participating and assumed that meant she was enthusiastic about what we were doing. I also didn’t communicate my own desires about where I wanted to set boundaries (and, as a result, things went further than I wanted). I let my own fear of rejection and insecurity distract me from the importance of communication and establishing unequivocal consent. I forgot that women are taught that their needs don’t matter. I forgot to move in the direction of greatest courage. Through my negligence, I hurt someone who deserved nothing but love and care.

Afterward, I took her friendly and flirty interactions with me as a sign that she had enjoyed herself. I didn’t find out how she felt until over nine months later, when her boyfriend told me. I was, and am, deeply sorry and ashamed of my actions. I urge everyone reading to take heed of my mistakes and commit to a Due Diligence standard for all sexual (or quasi-sexual) partners in the future.

While I don’t think I would be disciplined under the new California law for this situation, the law was never meant to establish best practices, only minimum disciplinary standards. I think Charlie’s Due Diligence standard is a much better model of enthusiastic consent. I’ve been employing Charlie’s standard ever since, and I can promise everyone, it does nothing to ruin the mood. If anything, it makes sex more fun and less nerve-wracking. When people are explicit about what they want and what they don’t, there is no fear of accidentally crossing any boundaries, and it makes the entire experience lower-pressure for everyone. Also, talking about what you want to do with someone can be really hot. Just saying.

I’m glad that California’s new law has gotten people talking about this. It’s an important discussion to have. I hope that the national conversation that we’re having will help move us in the direction of consent culture. I hope that discussing this out in the open will inspire more people to commit to a Due Diligence standard, rather than just “no means no.

Like the New Logo? Hire the Designer!

Alex Gabriel, the designer of the Living Within Reason logo and blog header, is having a serious financial crisis. If you like his work talk to him about your design or editing needs. I can attest that his design skills are top-notch, and he is a joy to work with. I encourage anyone with design needs to consider hiring Alex.

Whole30 Day 7: The Dog Days Are Almost Over

Hello! I have successfully stuck to the Whole30 challenge for 7 days and I think I’m about out of the “Oh my goodness, body, I know, you want sugar…you’re just going to have to enjoy this damn pineapple, OK?!?” stage of things.  Other than some physical blechness and a few days of irritability and stress, I have adjusted to this way of eating pretty readily and I’m enjoying it.  As it turns out, this timeline is really accurate.  I definitely had some moments on day 4 where I thought I was going to resort to screaming , stomping, and possibly throwing things.  I managed to not do that and ate a banana instead.

Years ago, I did a stint of the Atkins diet with Wes and it was a nightmare the first time because we were just replacing things we like with weird alternate versions of them that contain fake sugar and alternate ingredients, none of which contained any nutritional value.  I got really stupid one day and remembered that I hadn’t had, like, any sugar in a week and my brain was turning into a glucose zombie. “Glucossssse…GLUCOSSSSE”.  I ate a candy bar and was able to read words again.  The second time we tried it, I went the vegetables and meat route (no substitutions for bread or candy or whatever), and kept my blood sugar even with cheese (seemingly).  Still, on Atkins, you have to stay away from most fruit in order to keep your carbs at a ridiculously low level.

I am enjoying this because it’s not a weight loss plan.  It’s a nutrition plan and while fruit is still high in sugar content, it’s not banned.  It’s just not number one on the list of things you should be eating.  Veggies are number one, meat/eggs/nuts are number two, and fruit is number 3.  And what I’ve learned is that this isn’t quite as restricting as I thought.

Granted, it makes going out to eat sort of useless.  Wes and I are actually enjoying that because we are spending way less money.  I never budget properly for eating out and always spend way more than I think I’m going to.  So this challenge has had that added benefit.

I am enjoying this because it’s inspiring me to try new things.  I’m not a picky eater, but I am not necessarily motivated all the time to try something new from the produce department.  I went to find recipes and have been having a grand old time cooking with things like lemongrass and fresh ginger and Thai green curry.  These are flavors that I enjoy in restaurants, but have never really done anything with at home and I love having a reason to branch out.  It is especially inspiring in the slow cooker arena, since most of my Crockpot cookbooks have fifteen different recipes for beef stew and not a ton of variety. 

One of the more entertaining things is that coconut is apparently the wonder plant in this world.  In my kitchen, I currently have coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut vinegar, and “coconut aminos”.  Coconut aminos is sort of like soy sauce and is actually pretty tasty and useful.  It has been fun learning how to use different things and how to bring out more flavors.

So yes, I think things are going well.  I’m still a little headachey, but my ibuprofen consumption has decreased.  I think my brain is stabilizing and working more efficiently now.  I haven’t been going nuts about little things and I totally don’t feel like stabbing anyone in the face. So wins all around.

So I might start feeling amazing in a day or two.  I will keep you posted!

Ask Culture as the Metric System

Every now and then some pop-psych article will surface that compares passive with direct communication and says that neither is inherently “better,” and all you need to do is learn which style someone is using and adapt to it.

In polyamorous relationships, though, passive communication will fuck you right up.
More Than Two

In the latest article which grasps and struggles to reach the conclusion that passive communication/Guess Culture maybe isn’t so terrible, Kate Donovan attempts to explain how Guess Culture is useful in dating. Before I voice what looks to be a profound disagreement, I’d like to point out that Donovan is a brilliant writer and thinker, whose ideas are generally on-point and well thought out. She has smart things to say on relationships, community, psychology, and social justice (not to mention a very tasteful blog theme), so my disagreement should be read in the most respectful way possible. My prior thoughts on Ask/Guess Culture can be found here.

Donovan starts by stating

Indirectness/Guess Culture gets a bad rap for being all about unspoken and implicit rules and norms, but I think it’s also extremely protective. When you don’t have a strong preference, being indirect, rather than explicit, can prevent being forced to choose a side.

While I agree that Guess Culture is protective, I can’t say that’s a good thing. What Donovan describes in this paragraph is a failure of communication, not a triumph of one. If a person wants to communicate a mild preference, there are much easier ways. Donovan caricatures Ask Culture by suggesting that the only option for an Ask person is the following:

Direct Version
Joe: Do you prefer A or B?
Jane: A.

That’s a fine answer, if Jane has a significant preference for A. However, if Jane’s preference for A is mild, then it doesn’t convey all of the necessary information. Donovan argues that

Ambiguous social signals are data points. Instead of Jane needing to hope that her preference for A wouldn’t directly contradict Joe’s preference for B, they can ‘dance’. Joe mentions some things, which indicate that he likes A and B (apple, aardvark, acrobat, bulldozers, Buffy) and Jane offers a rejoinder of mostly-A indicators.

However, the conversation could easily go like this:

Direct Version
Joe: Do you prefer A or B?
Jane: I have a mild preference for A, but B would be fine if that’s what you prefer.

This way, all necessary information is conveyed without the need for subtle hints or ambiguity that could easily be missed or misinterpreted. No need to execute a complicated “dance” in a situation where not everyone always knows the steps.

Donovan goes on to apply this advice to dating:

Dating is a lot of slow escalation and plausible deniability. Presumably, two people on a first date have a sense that the person opposite them might have the characteristics they want in a partner. Being warm and lingering over dessert is a way to signal interest in a second date, without committing to a relationship, while being hands-off and failing to make plans for another outing conveys a lack of romantic interest without needing to baldly state that you can’t imagine dating them. One ambiguous signal (“She was being really touchy! But she might just be a touchy sort of person who’s only somewhat interested in me!”) is not enough information. The process of dating lets everyone find trends.

As a direct communicator, Donovan’s description of dating sounds like a nightmarish hellscape to which no reasonable person would ever willingly travel. Granted, I’ve done it. I’ve played the game. I’ve done the dance. But I don’t do it anymore, because there’s a much better way: you just say what you mean! When compared to directly communicating your desires, “being warm and lingering over dessert” is a terrible way to communicate your interest in a second date. Why not just say “I’d like a second date”? Failing to make plans for another outing can convey a lack of romantic interest. It can also convey that you are busy, or that you have trouble planning ahead, or any number of other things. Saying “I’m not romantically interested in you” conveys a lack of romantic interest much better, if that’s the message that you’re intending to send.

And therein lies the core problem with Guess Culture/indirect communication: it’s not actually a strategy for communication. It’s a strategy for not communicating. The only inherent “advantage” of indirect communication is that it allows people to say words without actually conveying any information. In all of Donovan’s examples of indirect communication, the goal of the speaker is not actual communication, it’s avoiding communication. In Donovan’s scenario, Jane wants to avoid letting John know her preference. In the circumstance with the potential business client, Jane wants to hide her true intentions. In the dating scenarios, the goals of Donovan’s participants are all to hide how they are feeling from the other party. Case in point:

Jim could be unwilling to tell Lisa that he’s not sure if he’ll wants to put up with her annoying laugh on a permanent basis. Sharing this will not end well, even if it’s true.

Another example:

Asking what your partner considers love, only to hear back that they don’t believe in love lets everyone safely pretend it was only a distant, academic interest in the topic, instead of rejected at the moment they proclaim their love.

None of these are people communicating. These are people intentionally failing to communicate. Sometimes that’s smart. Sometimes you don’t want to communicate what you think, how you feel, or what’s going on. That’s fine. The problem with indirect communication is that it’s designed to convince people that that’s not actually what you’re doing. Guess Culture/indirect communication is all about maintaining the illusion that you’re communicating, while really you’re withholding. I find it dishonest and unethical.

Ask Culture as the Metric System

I tend to think of Guess Culture as the U.S./British system of weights and measures, and Ask Culture as the metric system. In my society, the U.S. system is deeply ingrained and used almost exclusively. There is no rational defense of it as a better system on a macro level, but there are practical necessities that require us to use it on an individual level. We can’t go around indiscriminately using the metric system in a society that’s accustomed to a the U.S. system. It would create confusion, and things would end up built to the wrong specifications. Also, even if other people weren’t confused, it would be burdensome for them to have to translate everything into a system that’s meaningful for them (e.g. “15 centimeters? Let’s see… that’s about 6 inches. Ok, now I know what you mean”).

But if we could start from a clean slate, the metric system would obviously be a better choice. It’s designed so things are easy, work well together, and make use of intuitive conversions. Converting from millimeters to centimeters to meters to kilometers is simple and has far less potential for error and confusion. It’s inherently a superior system which we only resist because change is difficult.

Ask Culture/direct communication is like the metric system, in that it’s an inherently better system, with much less opportunity for error and confusion. Communicating directly with people is not guarantee that they will understand what you are saying, but it is much more likely. If your goal is actually communication, Ask Culture is vastly superior in just about every way.

Like U.S. system, Guess Culture’s only advantage is that it’s established. Because Guess Culture is so established, we have a byzantine and confusing system of etiquette rules all based around the idea that direct communication is rude or ill-advised. Donovan says “[d]ating is a lot of slow escalation and plausible deniability.” Sure, maybe it is, when you do it, but must it be so? When I date, it generally involves slow escalation (because that’s usually what’s reasonable in the circumstances), but there is no need for plausible deniability. Telling someone how you feel can expose some vulnerability, but that’s not a good reason not to do it. And in fact, if direct communication about that sort of thing became the norm, there would be a lot less vulnerability exposed because people would see rejection as normal and healthy (and they’d have a lot of practice taking it).

Unlike the system of weights and measures, we can actually do something about Ask and Guess Culture right now! We can tell the truth, even when it’s difficult or inconvenient to do so. We can choose to directly communicate, and make it clear that we expect others to directly communicate with us. Starting with the people closest to us, we can create a micro-environment where direct communication is the norm and indirect hinting is discouraged. And that would be a nice place to live.

The Importance of Placing Blame

In our communities, conflicts happen. It’s inevitable. How we deal with those conflicts generally determines what kind of community we’re going to have, and what kind of behaviors we’re going to see in the future.

People generally have a dim view of trying to place blame in social communities. Often, this is because blaming others is the first defense of scared, insecure people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions. So it’s a good idea to take a skeptical view of anyone trying to blame others for harm that they have caused.

Placing blame also tends to be looked down upon because it’s backward-looking, not forward-looking. If a situation can be diffused without going back and examining who did what to whom, why do it? Just move forward.

However, placing blame is important, because it’s the only way that we establish accountability. Accountability is a key component of consent culture. Accountability for our actions matters, because without accountability, we allow toxic behaviors in our communities. We allow missing stairs. We allow things that we would never knowingly allow, simply because we’re unwilling to put in the effort to effectively place blame. Accountability matters. If it is known that people in our communities will not be held accountable for their actions, people will take advantage of that. When something sufficiently bad has occurred in our communities, I think we all have a responsibility to place blame with the appropriate party(-ies). The amount of effort we’re willing to put into placing blame ought to be proportionate to the amount of harm done (or potentially done, if something is likely to produce greater harm the next time).

Accurately placing blame is also important, because if blame is put with the wrong party(-ies), we fail to encourage good behavior. Studies show that positive reinforcement is more effective at changing behavior than negative reinforcement. If we are unable to accurately place blame in a situation, we not only fail to hold people accountable for bad behavior, but we also fail to reward good behavior. Combine the two, and it raises the amount of bad behavior in our communities while lowering the amount of good behavior.

Establishing an environment where accountability is the norm also creates opportunities for growth, where people can acknowledge what they’ve done wrong and seek to correct it.:

when Consent Culture started, I noticed that kinksters, especially dominants, rarely discussed when they fucked up, when they miscalculated a tie, or misunderstood body language. People were so scared to be judged for fucking up, they became wildly defensive when it was suggested they might’ve, silencing those trying to start even the gentlest discussion about it. Slowly, as more people have come out and said “I’ve fucked up, and here’s what I’ve done to learn from it and apologize”, other people have felt safer doing the same. They know that it doesn’t even usually mean banishment from the community, but an opportunity for growth. I think the same can happen in activism, if we let it. And sure, there are some assholes who are in it to hurt people, and yeah, cutting them off makes sense, of course it does. Having a sustainable, kind, yet firm personal ownership expectation tends to expose those people pretty quickly.

Accurately placing blame in these circumstances is important, because it’s the only way to distinguish between people who behaved properly, people who made innocent mistakes, and people who knowingly did harm, and that’s a really important distinction to make.

How to Place Blame

As an litigation attorney, my job mostly consists of playing a part in a system whose goal is to fairly resolve disputes. The system has some deep flaws (generally caused by the human element), but in principle, it’s the best way I’ve ever heard of to resolve disputes and place blame. I feel that the legal system has many lessons to teach us about handling and resolving conflicts that we can apply in less formal social settings.

The legal system distinguishes between different classes of wrongs. The most common types of non-criminal legal wrongs are negligence, intentionally torts, breaches of contract, and strict liability. That last category doesn’t really apply in social communities, so I won’t be dealing with it here. The other three, however, have some concepts that are very useful for our social situations.

When judging a wrong, it’s critically important to distinguish between (a) contested facts, (b) uncontested facts, and (c) disputes over what the rules are. Most cases involve a mix of all three. In court, judges decide disputes over what the law requires, the parties themselves resolve which facts are uncontested, and the factfinder (typically a jury) will determine the truth of contested facts.

The first step in resolving any dispute involves separating out the elements of a dispute. Is this a situation where people are disagreeing about what happened? What does each side say? At this stage, try to avoid acting as a factfinder, and think of yourself more as a judge. You’re not evaluating who is telling the truth. You’re just sorting out which facts are uncontested and which are not. This generally involves talking to people and getting both sides of the story. This can also involve reviewing any documentary evidence, photos, videos, chat logs, etc., if either party wishes to share them.

Also, at this stage, it’s important to get each side’s opinion about what the rules are (unspoken and implied as they generally are in social situations). Do both sides agree about what is the right and wrong thing to do in the situation? Why or why not? This is ultimately a question that you have to decide for yourself, but it’s important to get each side’s perspective before making up your mind. This is a critical step that people often miss. It’s tempting to look at the harm caused by a conflict and think that any action that caused harm is obviously wrong.

At this point, you can sometimes make up your mind just based on uncontested facts. Once you’ve decided on the rules in a situation, go back and look at the uncontested facts. Has either party admitted to all elements of wrongdoing (see below)? Is there anything left to fight about? Do you even need to determine which party is telling the truth?

If you’ve made up your mind about what the rules are, but there is a dispute over important facts, only then is it time to engage in a credibility determination. This sort of thing should only be done when absolutely necessary, because no matter how good your lie detection skills are, it’s the least reliable part of the process. There is a nontrivial chance that you will be wrong, so it’s best to focus on undisputed facts whenever possible. However, sometimes somebody really is lying, and it’s up to you to decide who you trust.

In a civil dispute, the legal system generally imposes a “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof on the complaining party. That means that the party claiming to have been wronged has the obligation to produce evidence (even if it is just their own testimony) sufficient to create a greater-than-even chance that they’ve been wronged. A party failing to produce such evidence will have their complaint dismissed. Then, once the defendant has made their case, the plaintiff’s evidence must outweigh the defendant’s evidence in order for the defendant to be found liable. In general, this is a good standard for social setting too, though there are also defensible arguments for imposing a higher standard of proof for credibility determinations, since those are so often unreliable.

Intentional Wrongs

In the legal system, these are things like battery (intentionally hitting someone), false imprisonment, trespass, conversion (stealing), and similar offenses. In a social settings, intentional wrongs could be things like intentionally violating people’s boundaries, using hurtful or abusive language, any sort of threats or violence, or using people’s stuff without permission.

The elements of proving an intentional wrong are simple: (1) that the offender actually committed the act in question; (2) that the offender’s action was intentional; (3) that the actions caused the harm in question; and (4) actual harm. Defenses to intentional wrongs (useful in both legal and social settings) are things like consent, necessity (i.e., I grabbed your book to block a baseball coming at my head), defense of self or others, and defense of property.

So in order to hold someone accountable for an intentional wrong, the evidence must show that the person’s actions were intentional, that they committed an action or omission which was wrong, and that their wrongdoing caused actual harm to someone.

Causation is generally split into two questions – causation-in-fact and proximate causation. Causation-in-fact is easier. An action caused a result if, but for that action, the result would not have occurred. Proximate causation is trickier. For proximate causation, we ask if the effect flows sufficiently directly from the cause for it to be fairly said to be the actual cause. For instance, your car accident as a 25yo was caused-in-fact by your mother giving birth to you. However, that cause is remote enough that nobody would say that she is responsible for the harm done by virtue only of that fact. So generally, you have to be able to trace a direct line from wrongful act to harm done in order to hold someone accountable.

Disputes over intentional wrongs generally break down into factual disagreements or questions about causation. Most people agree that we shouldn’t intentionally harm one another. There can be disagreement at the margins, but we mostly tend to agree on the types of things that are harmful.


Negligence is an umbrella term to describe harm that a person caused by accident, but for which we will still hold them accountable. In the legal system, negligence has four elements: (1) the existence of a duty to act or refrain from acting; (2) breach of that duty; (3) causation; and (4) actual harm.

In social conflicts, there are often big disagreements about the first element – the existence of a duty. Just how careful are people expected to be? What harms are we expected to guard against? What actions are appropriate in the setting? Whose responsibility is it to make sure no harm is done? Bear in mind that any such rules must be objective – that is, they must apply to everyone equally. If you impose a standard of behavior on one person, it has to be equally imposed on every person.

Traditional social etiquette rules are deeply flawed, and are often premised on the idea that honesty and direct communication are impolite. They also show very little respect for consent culture, often favoring compulsory interaction over enthusiastic consent. Because of this, there can be wide divergence in views over the appropriate way to behave in our communities. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide their own ethics, but groups often develop their own culture, with their own spoken or unspoken rules.

One of the most important concepts in the determination of a duty is foreseeability. Was it foreseeable that the harm caused would result from a breach of the duty sought to be imposed? If the specific harm is not foreseeable, there is generally no duty to guard against it. This is related to proximate causation (see above).

Once you’ve determined the existence of a duty to act or refrain from acting, the next element to determine is that the accused breached that duty. This is generally a factual question – did X do the thing? This is a question for you to answer when you’re wearing your factfinder hat. Causation and harm work the same way as they do with intentional wrongs, so that analysis is the same.

So to hold someone accountable for harm that they did not intend, you should have evidence that they had an ethical duty or act or refrain from acting, that they breached that duty, and that the breach caused harm.

There is also a legal concept called comparative negligence, whereby a factfinder can divide up responsibility by holding each party partly responsible. For instance, I could be 80% liable, but you’re 20% responsible for your injury. It’s a newer concept in the law, but a useful one, especially in social situations. It’s also dangerous, however, because there is almost always an impulse to assign culpability to both parties in a dispute, regardless of the facts. In order to hold either party responsible, even a fraction, you must establish all of the elements of negligence – an ethical duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages.

Breach of Contract

Breach of contract occurs in the legal sense when someone violates the terms of an agreement. The same thing can happen in the social context. I try to make as few agreements as possible, but sometimes agreements need to be made. The elements of a breach of contract claim are (1) the existence of a contract; (2) a material breach; and (3) harm done.

A contract generally consists of an offer, an acceptance, and mutual benefit (known as “consideration”). The requirement for consideration means that if an agreement did not actually benefit both parties (i.e. “I agree to pay you $1 tomorrow for nothing”), it is not enforceable. However, there is a concept called “promissory estoppel” which states that if I act in reasonable reliance upon a promise you’ve made, even without consideration, you are liable for any damages I suffer because of that reliance.

Defenses to a breach of contract include that the agreement was vague or capable of multiple interpretations, that both parties were mistaken about something material to the agreement, that one or both parties lacked capacity to consent, fraud, and unconscionability.

A breach of contract is material if the breach goes to the heart of the contract. This is a squishy term, in law and in social circumstances, but the general idea is that the breach must be big enough that it frustrates the purpose of making the contract in the first place. People are not liable for small or technical violations of the terms of a contract.

Damages in a breach of contract action are not quite the same as the previous actions. When parties make a contract, each has the right to expect that the contract will be fulfilled. A party is damaged by anything that puts them worse off than they would have been had the contract been fulfilled.

To hold someone accountable for a breach of contract, the evidence should show that a contract existed, that a material breach of the terms occurred, and that such breach negatively affected one party.


In general, when someone is liable for an action, they are responsible for compensating the person that’s been harmed for all harm done. In law, this generally consists of money damages. In social situations, compensation can take many forms. Sometimes an apology is all that’s necessary. Sometimes the harm is so great that a person needs to be removed from a social group. Sometimes it’s between those two, and it’s up to the wronged party to determine what would make it up to them.

Wronged parties generally have a duty to mitigate their damages. This is related to proximate causation. When a party has been wronged, the wrongdoer is responsible only for the harm directly caused. If the wronged party, through poor decision-making or neglect, exacerbates the harm, the wrongdoer is not responsible for the total harm caused, only the harm caused directly. For instance, if I agree to drive you somewhere, and then back out, I’m responsible for the annoyance and inconvenience you suffer by having to arrange another ride or take public transit. However, I’m not responsible for you missing an event if you could have gotten there by other means and simply failed to do so.

Juries will also sometimes impose punitive damages, which are penalties intended to punish the offender rather than compensate the victim. Punitive damages are appropriate in situations where the offender’s actions had the potential to cause great harm, but through luck or the actions of other parties, such harm was averted. Punitive damages are also imposed when we want to especially discourage the offender’s behavior, regardless of the amount of harm it caused. Punitive damages in court are always money damages, but in a social situation, they can be anything from social ostracization to helping with the bake sale. Punitive actions are meant to deter future behavior, so they should only be imposed with that goal in mind.

How to Prevent Conflicts

The goal of any system of accountability in a social group is to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. The process I’ve outlined above is an attempt to adapt the concepts that form the foundation of our legal system to a system of social accountability. Our legal system, for all of its flaws, is based on solid ideas, and I think emulating its best practices is the best way to establish accountability in our social groups. With that in mind, this section discusses the ways to best implement such a system to be most effective.

1. Have Reasonable, Well-Defined, and Empowering Ethical Rules

One of the primary things that I do on this blog is discuss how I feel people should ethically behave in social & romantic interactions. I do this a lot in my personal life also. I try to be as clear as possible, and draw bright lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Consequently, people tend to know what kind of behavior I expect from them and what behavior they can expect from me, and we can talk about any disagreements before there’s a violation of anyone’s ethical code. The closer the relationship, the more I talk about it. I encourage everyone to be open about what they consider good behavior with their social networks. Talking about this sort of thing is the first step in establishing an ethical environment. If you talk about it enough, you can form a community that has a pretty clear idea about what is ethical and what isn’t. The legal system uses common law (i.e. previously decided cases) for this, but hopefully your social group won’t have enough conflict to rely on the outcome of prior conflicts, so talking about the group’s ethics is important. Clearly communicating your ethical rules will prevent conflicts down the road, and it will also tend to chase off people who want to behave in ways inconsistent with the group’s ethics.

That last part–chasing people off–can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the quality of your ethical code. A good ethical code will only scare off jerks. Too many flaws, however, will scare off quality people whose influence may have improved the ethics of the group. For this reason, I recommend having as few hard-and-fast rules as possible. Your ethical rules should be the things that form the core of your ethics, and you should have a high degree of certainty that these things are necessary for your (and others’) well-being.

Individual groups are free to decide their own ethics. There isn’t yet an ethical system that is universally applicable and logically unassailable, so I tend to give groups great latitude in deciding their own ethical rules. However, any system that I willingly sign onto will be based on a foundation of consent. The ethical rules will be designed to allow for maximum individual freedom while respecting other people’s boundaries. Ethics rules will be designed to encourage direct communication and honesty, because consent isn’t valid if it isn’t informed, and boundary violations can’t be prevented if boundaries aren’t communicated. They will have maximum collective well-being in mind, but all default prohibitions will have an exception for situations in which all affected parties consent.

Having well-defined ethical rules can be the most difficult part of establishing a system of accountability for yourself. Often, things just feel wrong, and we can’t articulate why. Failing to have clear, well-thought-out rules is what leads us to blame victims instead of perpetrators for causing drama. Unless we examine those feelings, we can end up relying on prejudices and assumptions instead of reason. If you can’t frame your criticism in terms of “people in situation X should do/not do Y,” then your criticism probably needs more work.

2. Reward Good Behavior

One of the major flaws of our legal system is that it is entirely geared toward preventing bad behavior. There is no method by which to reward good behavior, even though positive reinforcement is generally more effective than negative. Don’t make this mistake in your social group. In fact, I would argue that the bulk of your effort should be directed toward rewarding positive behaviors like open communication, taking extra care to respect others’ boundaries, and being honest even when it’s difficult. Rewards don’t have to be formal or material. Often, just saying “thank you” will be sufficient.

With rewards, remember that the goal is to reward the person who did the good behavior, not to feed your own ego. Sometimes, an attempted reward will be rejected, and that’s ok. It’s sometimes hard to know what people want, so if you offer something intended as a reward, and it’s unwanted, don’t sweat it. It’s not about you.

3. Make Punishments Swift and Certain

Studies done on high-risk probationers show that the most effective punishments are “swift and certain” – that is, offenders are confident that any violation with be punished, and it will be punished immediately. So long as a punishment is swift and certain, the punishment can be mild and still be extremely effective. In fact, some studies have shown that mild punishments are more effective than severe punishments.

Mild punishments in a social setting can be something simple like a verbal reprimand, made either privately or publicly as circumstances warrant. Because more severe punishments aren’t more effective, there is no need to have any punishment more severe than that. So long as an offender adequately compensates their victims (see above), there is generally no need for additional punishment. The only exception is kicking someone out of your social circle, but that’s a step that shouldn’t be taken with the purpose of encouraging good behavior. That’s a step that should only be taken to protect yourself and/or the other group members.

With punishments, it’s also important to remember that unless the other person has consented, you have no right to impose punishments on them that go beyond your own behavior. You have the right to tell them that they are wrong, and to say so publicly. You have the right to cut off contact. But you don’t have the right to coerce them into doing anything that they don’t want to do, even if you feel the punishment would be appropriate. Consent is still important when someone has done wrong, so any punishment you impose should respect that.

4. Make the Effort

As I said at the beginning, when there is a well-thought-out system of accountability in place, conflicts are reduced. The #1 reason this doesn’t happen in most social situations is that most people aren’t willing to put in the effort. Getting both sides of the story takes effort. If necessary, deciding who to believe takes effort. Thinking about what behaviors warrant encouragement or punishment takes effort.

It also takes effort for things not to backfire. When third parties get involved in a conflict, they can often make things worse if they don’t do a good job of it. Many people have the experience of getting involved in a half-assed, non-systematic way, and having no effect, or even escalating the conflict. This leaves people believing that this is an inevitable result of trying to establish any kind of accountability for the behavior of third parties. Only by putting in the required amount of effort to gather information, analyze the situation, and make a reasonable determination can a worthwhile system be maintained.

Who Should Place Blame?

You should. Yes, you. In our legal system, we have judges, juries, and a whole branch of government to decide matters of blame and accountability. In our social lives, we don’t have that luxury. Large, formal groups will sometimes have a system in place for providing accountability. The rest of us must take that responsibility on for ourselves. If you don’t, it’s likely that nobody will. Start with holding yourself accountable for your actions, but don’t be afraid to hold others accountable when they have behaved badly (or exceptionally well).

You may only need to do this with your closest friends. Others may feel the need to help provide accountability for larger groups. It’s up to you how widely to define your social circle, and how much effort you are willing to put in to help ensure the quality of that group. The closer someone is to you, the more important that you have accountability between each other, so start close. If you’re able and willing to make the effort, branch out from there to other friends and social contacts.


Accountability is an important part of any functioning social group. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our groups can effectively place blame when there is a conflict. The outline I’ve made here is terribly simplistic, and is merely a skeleton of what a functioning ethical system looks like. However, I feel that having such a system, even if it exists on an individual level, is critically important to having a functional social life. Hopefully, the concepts I’ve discussed here are helpful with that goal.

Whole30: Day 1 or There is Garbage in Everything

Well, folks, I’m back from a lovely trip visiting friends down in Georgia and, just as I said I would, I ate a whole lot of stuff that is verboten during the Whole30 challenge.  For instance, yesterday I had a bowl of Lucky Charms and then a bunch of Oreos for “breakfast”.  I put that in quotation marks since I didn’t get out of bed until 12:30pm or something.  And also, Oreos don’t count as breakfast if you don’t put them into a bowl and pour milk over them Cookie Crisp style.  I was dipping them into milk…in a glass…so, clearly it was a snack.


Somehow I misinterpreted when we were going to arrive back home yesterday and, since we walked in the door after 10pm, there was no way I was going grocery shopping.  As such, I didn’t want to fail at the challenge before I even started, so I decided to stop at the store on the way into work for some compliant rations.  It was then I learned how tricky getting compliant stuff might actually be.

I started out in the produce section.  That was easy, obviously, since I was just buying some fruit and veggies to snack on and make salads with.  I was impressed looking around the surrounding area how little I could even look at.  Luckily for me, after a weekend of indulgence, the last thing I wanted was crap and though I was hungry I wasn’t drawn to the bread or bakery items.

Unfortunately, if I only purchased fruit and vegetables, I likely would want to die by noon, so I went off in search of other categories.  Readily available protein was my first order of business.  I was limited today because I needed to get stuff that didn’t need to be cooked or particularly prepared.  Generally, lunch meats are out because they’re all preserved and/or cured, which often means added sugar and certain “banned” preservatives (sulfites, mostly).  I didn’t find any already hard-boiled eggs, and my other usual go-to alternative to meat protein sources aren’t allowed (soy milk and peanut butter).

My first idea was to find some raw cashews.  The Shoprite didn’t have any of those and all the roasted ones I initially saw were all roasted in vegetable or soybean oil (which are things I’m supposed to avoid).  Finally I found some dry roasted cashews that only listed cashews as an ingredient. Next I had the idea that canned chicken or tuna was a good call.  I assumed when they said “packed in water”, that was it.  As I found out, all the canned chicken contained sulfites and soy and some other crap.  “OK, fine,” I thought, “tuna will be champion.” Well, nope. Every major brand of canned tuna contained sulfites and soy also.  I finally found a brand that didn’t.  It was, of course, more expensive than the others but whatever.  It’s a 30 day “caring about things that I probably don’t have to actually care about” extravaganza.

Why am I so callous about that?  Well, I have theories about what things make me feel lousy.  My hypothesis is that carbs found in grains do the most damage to me feeling full of energy.  In the past, I have felt best when I have had a more protein-centric diet.  I am, however, interested to see if any of these other categories of food also tends to make me sluggish.  And, as I said, I get headaches a lot and though they are not usually severe, they get in my way.

The Whole30 program has a certain amount of ridiculousness to it and I call bullshit on some of their claims.  However, the underlying nutrition ideas aren’t bad ones.  Basically, my biggest goal in this is to teach my body to crave healthier sources of nutrients/energy when it needs something.

So, so far so good.  The first day is not the hardest when you’re doing stuff like this.  Although, I woke up with a headache and felt like garbage until I had a lunch time salad.  As soon as I had some tuna and simple veggies (with olive oil and coconut vinegar), I felt a lot better.  Having some melon and pineapple helped too.  It’s moments like this that remind me why I keep coming back to experiments like the Whole30.  I feel honestly better when I eat in a way resembling this.

It’s just that I really like cheese and creamy mashed potatoes and crusty French bread.  And wine.  But my hope is that I can treat those things as once in a while indulgences for special occasions and feel good, healthy, and energetic the rest of the time by making better choices for myself.

Tonight I’m heading to Wegmans where they have all the fancy things and I will have time to look at things more carefully.  I’m going to get some coconut oil because coconuts are apparently the super food of compliance for this thing?  I haven’t played with that before so new horizons!  I found some recipes I want to try that make big batches (like slow-cooked beef tips in green Thai curry…YUM).  I’m also going to rediscover the wonderful world of frozen vegetables because sometimes you just want to eat a bag of steamed broccoli (and frozen veggies are great additions to meals like the Thai curry).

So, I’m still in the excitement “I Can Do This” phase of this little experiment.  Hopefully that will last more than a day or a week.