Tags: self-educating


my requirements and preferences for media I consume: part 1, books

icon: "challenging (photo of me lifting one eyebrow and slightly squinting my eyes, wearing "Red Queen" makeup: searingly red lips, darkened pointed eyebrows, black eyeliner, deep red & black eyeshadow accented with gold & silver, and black-outlined silver hearts & diamonds with red shadows on my cheeks)"

I feel that my mental experience is as much a part of my life as my physical experience; my dreams, my daydreams, my by-proxy experience through imaginative absorption, all create me as much as my physical experiences do. Since my mental experience is something I have a lot of control over, I am very selective about the media I consume -- especially media that is new to me. I was gonna explain books, movies, music, and tv shows, but this is a much more extensive topic than I thought so I guess I'm doing this as a series, starting with books.

I will not purchase a book written by a default (straight cis nondisabled white man) or read it unless it is really, really exceptional. Out of the books I have chosen to read in the past seven years, I have read no more than one book by a default each year, probably fewer. I read easily hundreds of books by defaults in my childhood and I'm going to balance that out. Also, they just tend to be terrible, full of stuff that is either ethically terrible and/or the imaginative equivalent of a bowl of oatmeal. That criteria rules out probably at least 70% of books published in English.

Also, I will not read a fiction book written with a default main character, or about someone who spends the book pining over a default, or about anyone whose primary yearning is a romantic relationship. I'm including the nominally-different who act exactly like a default because the author hasn't bothered to learn perspective-taking. I will not read any patriarchy-affirming gendered bullshit. There better be at least a little bit of criticism of gender roles, and no rape unless it is approached in a truly honest and meaningful way, with no rape myths in the method or motive. And it must be first-person: do NOT use it to show the empathy in your main character while the victim is a mere cardboard cut-out with no other story. I will not read white savior or "my whole planet just happens to be white" books, or books that have more dark characters in antagonist roles than in protagonist roles. I will not read ableist-trope shit where disabled people are saints or demons. All this stuff is really really common.

My preferences for fiction (none of which are ALL true in a given book but the more it has, the more I like it):
- themes of non-human, non-humanoid sentience, especially plant, fungi, and microbe sentience.
- characters who vary widely in appearance, ways of thinking, emotive patterns, and cultural norms.
- unique worldbuilding that gives me new ways to imagine.
- characters who connect to each other in an unusual way.
- resistance to an oppressive regime (with enough magic/revenge/joy to balance it out).
- magic, if it is a unique system or a system that feels similar to how I experience it.
- extended metaphor and/or satire.
- characters who grow noticeably.
- any gender concept that is not some variant of binary ruler/ruled.
- retold fairy tales & myths, especially if they're sinister and gritty.
- not fat-phobic and doesn't reinforce ableist ideas about cognition or mental illness etc (sadly this one is a preference because some of my favorite writers who fulfill almost all my other criteria fail this one, but at least they do it rarely enough that I can just scribble out the lines on those pages).

As for non-fiction, I am unlikely to read anything about spiritual practice written by a white person, and decidedly will not read it if the practice they're discussing belongs to a non-white culture or was stolen from multiple cultures. We committed so much spiritual genocide (on top of physical genocide) that I think we need to spend at least 12 generations doing nothing but learning, and frankly most white people package up colonialist capitalist attitudes in shiny new phrases and sell them to make a shitton of money. I will not contribute to that and I don't want any of that shit in my head. Further, in any kind of book that gives advice no matter what the topic, it better fucking be concrete actions you can take without needing money, or it's useless. The author better have actually followed the advice and benefited from it.

Non-fiction that claims to be fact is held to my highest standard. I don't check the author status here, I check the references. In science books, I want a FAT section of references and every single one better fucking have decent experimental design. Don't understand statistics? don't write a book about science, because you can't tell a good study from a bad one and your opinion is not reliable enough for other people to approach it as fact. If you're writing about social science and you reference structural functionalism in any way other than as a debunked and ridiculous attempt by defaults to justify and maintain power, you're a fuckin quack.

Preferences for non-fiction:
- in autobiographies, I want to know how things felt and how the author solved problems. I want to feel like I am reading a journal, and like I am vicariously experiencing things I can learn from and apply to my own life.
- in dense matter, I want short chapters with visual space to help me take my time.

Findings Friday: increased experience as a racial minority increases empathy for majority race

icon: "analytical (a close-up photo of my eye in bright sunlight, showing the green and grey and roots-looking patterns)"

Zuo and Han (2013) measured relative empathy responses for Chinese people who had lived in the US most of their lives using a series of 48 video clips of white and Chinese people (gender and race numerically balanced) being poked in the cheek with a cotton swab or a needle while wearing a neutral expression. Participants had to press one button to say that the person was feeling pain or a different button to say that they were not feeling pain. This happened very quickly to try to measure the subconscious response.

They found no significant difference in response times, nor in the fMRI signal intensity, despite the overall trend of own-race bias found in many adults. They conclude that living in the US has increased the subjects' ability to empathize with the majority race. I further imagine that as the subjects have the perspective of the majority pressed on them at every turn, they are forced to perform the cognitive empathy task of perspective-taking, and over time this builds up their emotional empathy responses as well.

Cao, Contreras-Huerta, McFadyen, and Cunnington (2015) built on this by measuring relative empathy responses via fMRI for Chinese students living in Australia using videos of white and Chinese faces being touched with a cotton swab or a needle. They found that increased levels of contact are related to increased levels of empathy. Further, the kind of contact that is most predictive is incidental contact -- just seeing white faces around you.

Consider this in the inverse: empathy is decreased when you are never forced to take the perspective of someone else, and when you never see them around you in large numbers. When you do not consume any media by and about people of color, you automatically have less empathy for people of color. When you do not ever experience being in a majority-female space, you automatically have less empathy for women. If you want to be empathetic to people who experience oppression you do not, you have to change what you see and where you go.

[references]Zuo, X. and S. Han. 2013. "Cultural experiences reduce racial bias in neural responses to others’ suffering." Culture and Brain 1, 34-46. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40167-013-0002-4

Cao, Y.; L. S. Contreras-Huerta; J. McFadyen; and R. Cunnington. 2015. "Racial bias in neural response to others' pain is reduced with other-race contact." Cortex: A Journal Devoted To The Study Of The Nervous System And Behavior 70, 68-78. PsycINFO, EBSCOhost.

Findings Friday: people empathize w unknown-race strangers, but not w known-other-race strangers

icon: "Ma'at (a photo of one side of a brass balance scale, with a feather inside the bowl. The background is sky blue. On the bottom of the image, below the photo, is the word "Ma'at")"

Avenanti, Sirigu and Aglioti (2010) tested white and black people on their empathy for same-race, other-race, and unknown-race people using TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation: a way to measure emotions at a subconscious level), SCR (skin conductance response) and heart rate to measure their affective empathy (automatic emotional response) and a questionnaire to measure their cognitive empathy (ability to relate in a logical, thinking way).

The researchers had black and white people watch scenarios of hands being penetrated by a needle or touched by a cotton swab -- white hands, black hands, and hands painted violet to give no apparent race. The people all tended to react more strongly to their own racial group than to another. Despite the fact that they saw the violet hand as the most strange (this was measured to be sure), they reacted with empathy for violet hands yet not for other-race (though the violet hand was actually other-race for each group)!

Given no racial information, people are not AS empathetic as they are for their own race, but they are more empathetic than when race is apparent. This implies that the dysempathy people feel towards those not of their own race is a learned behavior, not 'natural.'

I am critical of the assumption that this bias is purely ingroup/outgroup, as the sample is composed of white native Italians and black immigrant Africans who live in Italy. As such, it doesn't solely measure race, but also national identity. Other studies have shown that minorities tend to have empathy for majorities across racial lines (I'll get to those). Gender is not mentioned, and may also have effect, as there is significant gender difference in the empathy of adults.

[reference]Avenanti, A., Sirigu, A., & Aglioti, S. M. (2010). Racial Bias Reduces Empathic Sensorimotor Resonance with Other-Race Pain. Current Biology, 20(11), 1018-1022. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.03.071

Findings Friday: by age 10, children think that black people feel less pain than white people

icon: "distance (two hands (from a brown person and a white person) just barely apart, facing each other palm to palm)"

Starting a new thing! Findings Friday: I describe a study and share the findings. I learned soooo much writing a giant research paper on empathy, so I'm gonna go through and summarize at least most of the studies in that paper. Here's the first, chosen at random.

White USian adults tend to assume that black people feel less pain than they do in the same situation. To figure out where this begins, Dore, Hoffman, Lillard, and Tawalter (2014) interviewed children -- 144 white children and 15 children of color. Their study asked 5-year-old, 7-year-old, and 10-year old kids to rate the pain they'd experience in 10 different scenarios, both for themselves and for another two children, one black and one white. The 5-year-olds didn't have a racial bias in how they rated the pain, but the 7-year-olds had a small bias and the 10-year-olds had a significant bias.

To see if this pattern was still true when one controlled for overt racism, the researchers included three additional measurements: how often a child would choose to play with a black or a white child, how much difference a child used in assigning positive traits to black or white children, and a questionnaire of the parents to control for parental bias and interracial friendships. None of these had any significant effect on this trend.

Interestingly, all the children rated the pain of others as stronger than their own. My thoughts on this is that the exercise is one which involves taking the perspective of another person, which has been shown to increase empathy in significant and immediate ways.

[reference]Dore, R. A.; Hoffman, K. M.; Lillard, A. S.; and Trawalter, S. 2014. "Children's racial bias in perceptions of others' pain." British Journal Of Developmental Psychology 32, no. 2: 218-231. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed December 3, 2015).

self-educating 2009: 14-23

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14. Dark Castle, White Horse** by Tanith Lee (fantasy/surrealism) 5 stars
302 pages (total 3969)
A third-time re-read for me, and I loved it just as much as the first two times. It's an omnibus of two very different stories that complement each other in an inexplicable way; the first seemingly dark, the second seemingly light, neither what they seem. Reading them is like bathing in poetry (all the best of Tanith's work is like that).

15. Reigning Cats and Dogs by Tanith Lee (surrealist steampunk) 3 stars Collapse )
16. Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling (non-fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
17. Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker (fantasy) 4 stars Collapse )
18. Powers That Be by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (science fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
19. Power Lines by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (science fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
20. Power Play by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (science fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
21. Fair Peril by Nancy Springer (urban fantasy) 5 stars
246 pages (total 6119)
Now THIS is a feminist fairy tale! About a 40-something recently-dumped woman who stumbles into The Frog Prince and through magical conflict comes to realize zir own power and understand zirself. Really well-written and atypical, I loved it!

22. How to Say No to a Rapist and Survive by Frederic Storaska (non-fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
23. Channeling Cleopatra by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (science fiction) 4 stars Collapse )

I'm also:
208 pages into Beauty by Sheri Tepper
88 pages into Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein
gender is a lie

gender is sexism painted over with bad science / self-educating 2009: 12 & 16

A year ago I wrote a post declaring that I do not believe in gender. Now I KNOW (as well as believe) that gender is a social construct; I am now aware that there is no reliable scientific evidence of brain differences based on sex.

Like most people, you've probably heard of the 'studies' that show that men and women are 'just inherently different' in the way they think (and therefore in the way they behave). I've been suspicious about these for a long time because out of all the people who tried to justify sex roles by biological roles, not ONE actually had done any research on the subject -- they'd just heard it somewhere, you know, and taken it as gospel. I've now done some research on the topic, which I will share bits of in an attempt to encourage you to question this hearsay -- to actually look at these studies with a critical eye.

There have been many studies which attempted to show inherent, biological differences between male and female brains. There are so many problems with these studies that it really boggles the mind; it's as if scientists forget how to do science when it comes to the concept of gender. The first and most obvious issue is that nearly all of these studies are created around the assumption that gender does, in fact, exist. They do not ask the question, "do brains differ based on the sex of the body they are in?" instead they ask, "HOW do brains differ based on sex?" Then studies which show no difference are thus considered irrelevant, and only the studies which DO show a difference are examined. Thus, if five studies are done, three of which show no difference and two of which show a sliiiiight difference, the scientist does not say, "hey, it's most likely that there's no significant difference" -- instead ze looks exclusively at the ones which DO show a tiny difference and then publishes on those! (that's not hypothetical either -- I can't remember the exact number but one set of scientists did several studies, the majority of which showed no difference, and they ignored the majority in favor of the ones that showed difference) Collapse )

And besides the assumptions which do not get questioned despite being unproven, we have the issue of purely bad science. Poor sample sizes, inadequate or inappropriate or NO controls, statistical manipulation, lack of blind and double-blind experiments -- usually a nice mix of all the above. And these absolutely unscientific studies are Big News and get published in national media; not sharing actual data so that the reader could decided for zirself what it meant, but simply stating their interpretation of the data. The reader assumes that the scientist did a good job with the study and takes the article at face value because it fits perfectly with the reader's world view. And thus hearsay becomes a 'well-known fact.'

I really can't explore all of the ridiculousness that is sexist science, but I'll give you Collapse )

Also! Even socially-induced differences are not nearly so large or immutable as people tend to believe. For instance, boys and girls have equal math scores if you throw out a few outliers and control for the number of math classes taken. Men are every bit as nurturing as women; in a study* of single parents, the males were just as good at caretaking as the females (but in married couples the children usually had only one nurturer). And the males in that study became single parents through circumstance, not choice. Another study* showed that women are every bit as warlike as men (though they differ in their reasons to go to war). Women are often considered more intuitive -- to the point that it is common for people to refer to 'women's intuition' as if a vulva has anything to do with it. A study* on the behavior of men and women in leader/follower positions showed that a better term would be 'subordinates' intuition' because the follower in each group was more sensitive to the leader's cues than vice versa, regardless of sex.

* Representative example -- for more, read The Mismeasure Of Woman.

I recently finished reading two very in-depth books that examine many, many studies on the subject.

12. Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex by Carol Tavris (non-fiction) 5 stars
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16. Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling (non-fiction) 5 stars
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screening new comments, will unscreen when I get time to respond!

self-educating 2009: 7-13

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07. Flinx in Flux by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
08. Mid-Flinx by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction) 5 stars
352 pages (total 2173)
Set in my favorite of Foster's worlds -- Midworld! a rainforest-covered planet with 700-meter-tall trees and an INCREDIBLE ecosystem (humans live in the middle 'level', about 350 meters from the ground and 350 from the sky). The plot was okay but it's the setting that I can't get enough of... dangerous and thrillingly complex.

09. Reunion by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
10. When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (non-fiction) 5 stars
320 pages (total 2835)
Phenomenal book! chock-full of studies and stories that give a glimpse into the emotions of animals. It debunks the idea of 'anthropomorphism' as it is currently used; though we cannot say for sure exactly what emotion animals are feeling, we can understand that they do feel, and we can understand their emotions in a broad sense. It make me laugh, cry, cringe, and think, and left me feeling much more connected to animals. And it evoked more questions than it answered.

11. Altars by Denise Linn (non-fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
12. Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex by Carol Tavris (non-fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
13. Never After by Rebecca Lickiss (fantasy) 4 stars Collapse )

I'm also:
172 pages into Myths of Gender
142 pages into The Meaning of Trees
27 pages into Meetings With Remarkable Trees (thank you so much phoenixdreaming! I've barely begun and am already in AWE ♥)

self-educating 2009: 2-6

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02. Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White (autobiography) 3 stars Collapse )
03. The Tar-Aiym Krang** by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
04. Orphan Star** by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
05. Angel Cats by Linda & Allen Anderson (non-fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
06. End of the Matter** by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction) 3 stars Collapse )

I'm also:
still 68 pages into Journey into Oneness
still 78 pages into When Elephants Weep
146 pages into Flinx in Flux
230 pages into The Mismeasure of Woman (I've been spending a LOT of time reading this but it's slow going because it's so research-intensive and profound (every now and then I have to stop to absorb what I've read). It ranks right up there with The Secret Life of Plants on life-changing-ness)

self-educating 2009: 1-1 (haha!)

I said I'd do this once a month, so here goes!

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01. For Love of Mother-Not** by Alan Dean Foster (science fiction) 4 stars
256 pages (total 256)
This is a re-read -- I recently filled all the gaps in my Pip & Flinx collection so I'm refreshing my memory as I work my way back through. There's not really anything profound about this one, but the colorful characters and fascinating world-building make it definitely worth the read. It feeds my imagination. ;-)

I'm also:
68 pages into Journey into Oneness
85 pages into Stranger at the Gate
78 pages into When Elephants Weep
106 pages into The Tar-Aiym Krang

yeah, I can't read just one at a time. :-p

self-educating 2008: #1-36

I (very annoyingly) lost my list halfway through (saved it on a drive that got corrupted) so this is pieced together from my not-so-great memory and may be missing some :-p Still, 36 books / 12,966 pages is pretty good for a year in which SO MUCH happened! This year AGAIN I will have the goal of posting my booklist once a month (on the 28th), we'll see how it goes.

Collapse ) (** means it's a re-read)

01. Sing the Light by Louise Marley (fantasy) 3 stars Collapse )
02. Small Mediums At Large: The True Tales of a Family of Psychics by Terry Iacuzzo (autobiography) 3 stars Collapse )
03. Household Gods by by Judith Tarr & Harry Turtledove (historical fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
04. The Son of Light (Ramses Vol. I)** by Christian Jacq (historical fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
05. The Eternal Temple (Ramses Vol. II)** by Christian Jacq (historical fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
06. The Battle of Kadesh (Ramses Vol. III) by Christian Jacq (historical fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
07. Angelica (Samaria, Book 1)** by Sharon Shinn (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
08. Archangel (Samaria, Book 2)** by Sharon Shinn (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
09. Angel-Seeker (Samaria, Book 3)** by Sharon Shinn (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
10. Jovah's Angel (Samaria, Book 4)** by Sharon Shinn (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
11. The Alleluia Files (Samaria, Book 5)** by Sharon Shinn (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
12. The Dream-Maker's Magic by Sharon Shinn (fantasy) 3 stars Collapse )
13. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (fantasy) 3 stars Collapse )
14. King and Goddess by Judith Tarr (historical fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
15. The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto (non-fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
16. One with the Light by Brad Steiger (non-fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
17. The Glass Dragon by Irene Radford (fantasy) 3 stars Collapse )
18. Dark Water's Embrace by Stephen Leigh (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
19. The Hidden Land (The Daughters of Bast)** by Sarah Isidore (historical fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
20. Shrine of Light (The Daughters of Bast) by Sarah Isidore (historical fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
21. The World Tree (The Daughters of Bast) by Sarah Isidore (historical fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
22. Call of the Trees by Dorothy MacLean (non-fiction) 3 stars Collapse )
23. Talks with Trees by Leslie Cabarga (non-fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
24. The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins, Christopher Bird (non-fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
25. House of Dreams by Pauline Gedge (historical fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
26. House of Illusions by Pauline Gedge (historical fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
27. We Come As Friends by Peter Michaels (non-fiction) 2 stars Collapse )
28. Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity by Robert Jensen (non-fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
29. A Door Into Ocean (Elysium Cycle) by Joan Slonczewski (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
30. Talking with Nature by Michael J. Roads (autobiography) 5 stars Collapse )
31. Daughter of Elysium (Elysium Cycle) by Joan Slonczewski (science fiction) 4 stars Collapse )
32. The Children Star (Elysium Cycle) by Joan Slonczewski (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
33. Brain Plague (Elysium Cycle) by Joan Slonczewski (science fiction) 5 stars Collapse )
34. Journey into Nature by Michael J. Roads (autobiography) 5 stars Collapse )
35. Godmother Night by Rachel Pollack (magical realism / modern fantasy) 3 stars Collapse )
36. Speaking Stones by Stephen Leigh (science fiction) 4 stars Collapse )

as always, I heartily recommend the 4- and 5-starred books. ;-)