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Seeking Compromise, Part One: optimism vs. cynicism

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“Doing whatever it takes to be perpetually motivated and optimistic is psychopathic”

The last two posts here at Dysatisfunctional.com have addressed social dysatisfunction owing to a couple of national holiday themes, but today we refocus on personal and interpersonal dysatisfunction, as we assess optimism and cynicism. I wanted to talk about compromise today, but it’s important to first look at some of the pros and cons of how we orient ourselves to an imperfect world, imperfect neighbours, and imperfect selves. The post is a day late, too, so compromise is all between the lines anyhow.

I used to have a recurring dialogue with an excellent friend of mine: he would say with a grin and maybe something stuck to his lip/face, “I’m aaall good,” “Last night was aaaall good,” “This burger is aaaaaall good,” and I would say, often without consciously deciding to, “Well… nothing is ALL good. Mostly? OK. Nearly everything? Rarely. But never ALL as in 100% good,” and make a wiping motion to help him address the facial interloper.

After all, unknown pathogens were waging biological warfare in my friend’s body as he misspoke. The night before was not good for everyone, since that girl was dancing with him at the expense of at least one disgruntled ex. It couldn’t even be all good for himself—it’s more accurate to say that the systematic demolition of neurons via alcohol and whatever else was “worth it” or otherwise worthwhile, which are totally different concepts of goodness. The burger, most definitely, cannot be all good: industrial food production in relation to human health and global ecology make that impossible—even a cow’s fart is a calculation of means and ends (usually by humans, bovine thought processes notwithstanding).

The “all good” exchange was sometimes funny, depending on how I justified my interregnum, and on how well my friend countered, but it wasn’t exactly a running joke, since neither of us was kidding. This ritualistic exchange was a fair metonym of our personalities at the time, and perhaps still is. Over time I would just have to say, “Well…” and my pal would bunch his lips and nod what was probably a mix of nominal assent for the technicality, combined with respectful disagreement with my world view and overall strategy for living.

I must admit, being optimistic really brings me down. “Hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something,” they call it. And I’ve tried it—forced nights out to break the spell, cheerful dinners I had no reason to think could go well, or all my team sports/the occasional street fight. When I try unbridled optimism, something gnaws away in my sub-conscious processes, like I’ve gone on holiday with the gas element on, or forgotten to make arrangements for the plant, pet, child or parent in my care. Something that will come back to bite me. And it always does. Some of you will share this nagging wariness for unbridled optimism, while others will shake your heads and point out the folly of self-fulfilling prophecies. You latter folks will be happy to read that I share your, erm, doubts, on this point. Feeling cynical, wary, suspicious, or just plain bad has many negative health effects, beyond question, and lowers quality of life, almost by definition.

Far from arguing against these ill effects, I can only confirm that I find them… accurate. It would be easy to label cynicism then, as the poor-to-do, less successful sibling by contrast, and maybe that’s so, but first we should ask if there are any ill effects resulting from optimism. Philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s optimism argued that God necessarily created the best of all possible worlds. Our Easter post identified how faith in a benevolent universe might be irrational and plain wrong, but probably paid off in terms of physical and emotional health. So optimism’s first casualty might be the truth, if Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup thinks we can handle it.

Can you handle the truth of advertising creatives?

It seems that if we’re to assess the respective truth claims of optimism and cynicism, we should ask: is the world essentially benevolent, malignant, or a mix of good and bad? The dysatisfunctional answer has to be that things are both good and bad at once, except for when things are neither good nor bad. The empirical way to fit the world to our perceptions suggests that we might feel hopeful in positive situations, and doubtful in negative situations, but actually the reverse is more helpful: hope is needed when things are bad, while in good times we should guard against complacency. So as with faith, what is useful might not correlate to what is true, even when it brings its own self-fulfilling prophecies.

This seems cool and stupidly obvious at once

In addition, this question of utility assumes quite a lot of control over our emotions, personality and general disposition. Such ideas are the foundations of modern psychological therapy, self-help, goal-setting motivational industries, New Age faith industries, and there’s a lot of milk in these cow$. I’ll throw down on these money-changers another time. For now, while we can change much about ourselves with the right dedication, motivation, patience and practical tools, I’d like to suggest that talking ourselves into 100% optimism might not be as healthy as you’d prefer to believe.

Optimism usually entails discomfort at any threat to a sunny disposition. One way to deal with  hardship is to minimise it, or better still, pretend it does not exist. Negative effects can be contained, blamed on something unrelated, or reinterpreted in a positive light. This can keep us motivated about improvement, achievement, and pursuing some concept of good. The upsides to a train wreck: practical experience and a sense of teamwork for emergency services, personal development for everyone involved including their families and friends, a turning point for the hitherto discontented and half-arsed, inadvertent euthanasia for the already infirmed, reduction in human overpopulation problem, to name a few.

The last time you successfully transformed a potential problem into a motivational plus was probably a decent mental victory for you, but can you recall the last time you had to deal with someone else who did this? Instant nightmare. Everything shoveled under the rug; all the important stuff; all the keys to problem-solving, including the primary acknowledgement of the problem itself. Doing whatever it takes to be perpetually motivated and optimistic is psychopathic, and your loved ones will eventually notice. Optimism can create a deep interpersonal discord, a social alienation the optimist might never be aware of. And even if they were aware, by virtue of optimistic procedures, they wouldn’t be, and this is what makes it completely insane.

None of us know what we don’t know—Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous “unknown unknowns,” but some of us are trying harder than others. It’s all about degree, to be fair, but we all know people for whom this kind of minimisation or elision is their signature go-to move. These people are high-performance authors of widespread dysatisfunction, mobile human catastrophe volcanoes. Don’t believe the sheen of functionality, the good night’s sleep, the ability to compartmentalise any problem—it only appears handy in the beginning, or in war…

Optimism meets amorality: bad combination

I don’t care if optimists are wrong; doesn’t faze me. The systematic denial and minimisation of all the world’s problems, on the other hand, is a terror to be fought tooth and claw. Even for more moderate optimists, we know that folks can identify all sorts of problems in the world, their relationships, even themselves, and yet the hardest faults to see are the biggest and gnarliest and most impactful of them all. This is where cynicism, suspicion and a critical eye become virtuous. Earlier, I said cynicism lowers quality of life almost by definition. Almost, because who said quality of life should be solely defined by positive experiences? Tragedy is meaningful, educational and redemptive, and for these reasons should not be minimised or elided. The critical perspective that accompanies the cynic is valuable when tempered, and that caveat should not be… minimised.

Next week we’ll  start with cynicism and move toward compromise, as we look at the upsides to downsides, fun break-up inversions, some shit about Buddhism, and introduce Dysatisfunctional.com’s mutant hybrid: critical optimism.

Until then, if you can’t be good, be well.

Lest We Forget Our National Dysatisfunction

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“The most dysatisfunctional thing about Anzac Day is the dismissal of significant political differences”

Australia just celebrated Anzac Day. On the 25th April, 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps took part in an attempted landing of the Gallipoli peninsula in the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey. The naval assault became a protracted eight month campaign which ultimately failed. We might question why all our national heroes, from Anzacs to Ned Kelly to Burke and Wills, all gloriously fail—and often from some form of epic stupidity or narrowmindedness—but an unsuccessful war campaign is not the dysatisfunctional heart of Anzac Day.

Surely this was a bad idea at the time.

The dawn service is an opportunity to remember the fallen, those who died for their own loved ones, nationals, and future generations. We are invited to imagine core Australian values at work there on the beach: mateship, loyalty, hard work, egalitarianism, and I swear an asylum-seeking seahorse dies every time those values are invoked together, so now I feel even more terrible. As a cornerstone of national identity maintenance, Anzac Day is open to being potentially co-opted by jingoism and xenophobia, like snap-on plastic Australia flags for your VT Commodore. For others, it is an opportunity to reflect on what kind of country some of our great and great-great grandfathers were defending with their lives. All women had been allowed to vote since 1902, while Aborigines wouldn’t get the same right until 1962. The White Australia policy continued from federation in 1901 until 1973, so Anzac Day might mean something quite different for those marginalised in Australian society.

To be fair, this opportunity to reflect on social justice co-opts the Anzac commemoration no less than those who would reflect on all the ills attacking ‘normal’ Australian life. In a bad bureaucracy, they say the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, and vice versa. In political terms I would say neither the left nor right in Australia (and it would be a mistake to assume I mean the two major parties) have much understanding of how much they are engaged in the same reflective process each and every Anzac Day, but from totally different value bases. The difference between those core values is political. It is where the lines are drawn, and it is the front of Australia’s modern political agonism (which means we are arguing strenuously according to the codes of a civil democracy). So Anzac Day is of course hyperbolic national theatre—political theatre—though not exclusively so, when so many heartfelt interpretations of the occasion are reaffirmed each year by so many.

But I’m not sure how many get persuaded by this left-right political wrangling over big theatrical events like Anzac Day. These are two songbooks that generally don’t harmonise so well. Most ideologues are preaching to the converted. The phrase, “It’s just politics,” is used whenever a citizen, journalist or talking head loses patience with the issues under discussion, writing them off as pure strategic wrangling, implying very short-term gain, trivialising their importance. But politics is vital, as in ‘crucial’, but also biophysically vital: it plays directly into our health and well-being. The most dysatisfunctional thing about Anzac Day is the dismissal of significant political differences expressed through it, through the big footy clashes that take place as part of the theatre, through all the big cornerstones that beat us over the head with such an anaemic array of national identity values. Political parties curiously close ranks on these apparently stalwart national identity values, our mateship et al, and they do it because they’re scared a wrong word may cost them (and no-one cares about asylym-seeking seahorses). Anzac Day, while being intensely political, is supposed to be somehow above politics. The first Turkish president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, linked soldiers from opposing sides in his 1934 address to returning soldiers, his former foes:

“Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.”

There’s something quite beautiful here, but really? No difference? Then WTF, Mustafa? What mattered so much here? Was it all a big misunderstanding?? More fool the leaders who couldn’t sort it out at the time, and more fool the internationalist Johnnies cruising for a lark, as we are led to believe in the mythology.

In terms of our contemporary relation to Anzac Day, indeed, what matters here? Focusing on an international conflict from 97 years ago seems less important than focusing on the culture wars that are so rife in contemporary Australian society. Australian social progressives have more in common with Turkish progressives than they do with Australian social conservatives. “But there are no dead bodies in your metaphorical culture war!” I hear you cry. To that I point out the significant differences between traditional left and right approaches to public spending, who to give tax cuts and other concessions to, which business sectors to promote and dissuade, how much to spend on health, education, international aid, the military and police, public servants and research institutions. The tactics, technologies and affective experiences are certainly qualitatively different from war. But no dead bodies? Of course there are.

Beyond Belief, Easter edition

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‘all religions seem to carry the same message: “Stop being an arsehole.”’

You might think taking on Christianity at Easter would be like stabbing chickens in a barrel here at Dysatisfunctional.com, and you would be right. What could be more on-message than a powerful institution that seeks to right what is most dissatisfied and dysfunctional in the mortal world, yet so often winds up perpetuating both? Great rolling wars, the hoarding of riches, political machinations, colonial adventuring, and more recently the denial of justice and equal rights to women, indigenous groups, homosexuals, and children abused by church representatives—its tragedy is almost matched by its irony. But it’s also just too easy, so we’ll be turning our blows aside at the last moment, seeking instead the flat-bladed mark of a more sympathetic ragging. We’ll even seek out religion’s most worthwhile parts, because while so many billions of people throughout history can be completely wrong, we’re nothing if not utter fashion victims.

I was a pious young Anglican at about twelve. Far more devout about my upcoming confirmation than most of the boys joining me, who were more or less forced into it by their parents (authoritarian weakness #1). My religious education teacher addressed us by surname only, an anachronism in the 1990s (authoritarian weakness #2). Mr Murray assured me that the family of my best friend, who regularly took in bedraggled borders from wherever, were nonetheless going to hell (authoritarian weakness #3).

Mr Murray had the brass balls to actually say: “I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I don’t drink, smoke, or swear.” We had all heard the punchline before: “Oh fuck I’ve left my smokes at the pub”, but good Mr Murray was all earnest denial. The punchline came during one of my frequent Friday detentions. I busted him through a crack in the door, sucking on a beer and a cigar. To be fair, I never heard him swear. It wasn’t our last disagreement.

I had another argument, this one much more recently, with a staunch old atheist. We agreed on everything, except my point that it was difficult to reconcile all the drawbacks of organised religion and religious belief, with the role they have played in framing moral order. So many good people, or just normal people trying to be good. So wayward, so naive and just plain wrong, but so often with the highest of intentions. The church justified colonial endeavours, true; but at the same time their missions were the only humane force restraining even further brutality. And not for nothing, the Pope did prevent a war between Argentina and Chile in the late 1970s. Atheist old man river was incensed, especially when I said his extremist position kept him from seeing how much we agreed on.

In many ways, around the world and throughout history, all religions seem to carry the same message: “Stop being an arsehole.” This is a difficult role to account for in its fullness, as our primitive animal brains urge us down the side of justification for the church and its good, or equally down the other side to utter condemnation. Then we mistake it for rationality. Much harder, morally and intellectually, to stay on the ridge that sees all around. This was why Jesus hung out with hookers.

Western atheists often make the mistake of denying their debt to Christianity. Secular society emerged in no small part from the European inter-faith wars, between all the different versions of Christianity that arose. Soon freedom of religion meant also freedom from religion. Liberty came in no small part from the Treaty of Westphalia. Is it possible that the values of Christianity somehow created a space in which to reject it? How very turn-the-other-cheek. My twilight-years sparring partner threw the big Enlightenment figures at me: Hume, Kant, Darwin. But their Christian credentials ranged from devout to ambiguous. Most of these big guns were desperate to rationalise God with an increasingly empirical order, rather than lead some secular revolution. My anti-faith interlocutor was filling history, retrospectively, with modern secular ideas. The denial of God is historically specific, relatively new, but hard atheism seems just as antiquated to me as being addressed by my surname in a boys’ school.

This Easter, in Australia at least, the question of religious relevance is again, er, relevant. Australia is one of the most secular Western nations, in which it is common to harbour suspicions for religious zeal. The ABC’s QandA program recently pit unlikeable but respected professional atheist Richard Dawkins against Catholic Cardinal George Pell, to often incendiary effect. They spent far too long debating the nature of existence, only coming to social issues late in the game. Dawkins mishandled the matter of Darwin’s faith, as well as the yawning chasm between his theory of evolution and subsequent social Darwinism. Pell was well prepared, to his credit, though he couldn’t avoid looking foolish when talking about the Jews, when dicing around such issues as atheists going to heaven/hell, the difficult evidence of evolution up to homo sapiens sapiens, and literal interpretations of both Genesis and of communion. Pell had to go into PR mode on these issues, playing language games that risked inflaming true believers, presumably for the sake of those future souls who might be saved. But armed with arguments the Catholic church has been loathe to update, he simply couldn’t have performed better.

In the next day’s papers, most gave the ‘win’ to Dawkins. Only the shrill and irrational conservative Greg Sheridan at The Australian thought Pell came out ahead. But what neither advocate was unable to resolve was 1) how much faith most Australians put into reason- or evidence-based accounts of the world, including evolution, and 2) how much most folks still want to believe in a benevolent authority with some kind of design especially for them. It’s easy to fall one way or the other, in an effort to stay consistent, but it’s hard to explain how so many people keep a foot in each argument.

Once I was swerving through Perth traffic with a fine lady, and we spied out several triple-1s on licence plates, which had a grand significance for her. Each triple-1 is apparently a chance to express some “intentionality” to somehow magnetise the good shit to you (aka: make a wish). Like too many friends to count, she will snort breakfeast through her nostrils at the mention of God, and yet believes irredeemably in a benevolent universe. Isn’t it lonely, these religious hippies ask, to get on with no faith that something out there loves me? Yes, I say, it’s lonely. Social connections mean more. They ask: how can you live in a randomised world without meaning? Well, I say, chance simply makes everything that happens that much more significant, compared to what could have happened just as easily. Unlike preordained destinies, I’m never waiting for the other foot to drop.

In Marc Cohn’s signature tune “Walking in Memphis”, I always hang out for the affective narrative peak of that song: “She said, / Tell me, are you a Christian, child? I said, / Ma’am, I am tonight!”. As Cardinal Pell articulated quite well, religion exists to provide existential peace of mind, a response to a yearning that takes hold for many of us more or less often. Dare I say, that’s the precise space Dysatisfunctional.com was set up to address. If we can suspend the question of how true those sandal stories are, or how relevant they are to social values thousands of years on, there is surely still merit in religion’s function. Some social studies have claimed along these lines, that faith leads to a level of robust stability during adversity and happiness more generally. The jury might be out for a long lunch on this one, but anecdotally at least, I’m listening. I’ve seen people firm in their beliefs live more sure-footed, though they can create chaos around them by virtue of what falls beyond their narrow perspective. If they were more dysatisfunctional, they would be better people.

Pell claimed science cannot provide a comparative existential guarantee, and Dawkins agreed with him, branding the existential question of purpose silly. Well played, Dawkins, though you are also not dysatisfunctional enough. People are silly. We ask silly questions, want, demand and do silly things every day. Besides, many people find scientific explanations and questions about the universe humbling, awe-inspiring and deeply compelling in ways that are comparable to religious belief: the concept of in/finitude, the nature of matter, the vexingly simultaneous simplicity and yet comlexity of observable laws. Those who actually seek to understand dark matter, string theory and quantum mechanics are no doubt rewarded with some kind of existential kick, contrasted with myself, who can’t understand how the toaster works. Let’s admit it now—for those of us to whom the causative workings of switches, buttons and pills remain a mystery, our belief in science isn’t much more than magical. If I press this button at the right time, hey presto!—Lily Serna will appear on my television screen. And thank God for her.

Since Dysatisfunctional.com began, I’ve become a much more consistent fan of Alain de Botton, who uses philosophy and the history of ideas to help improve people’s lives. (He still might not belong in the philosophy section of the bookstore, however…) Last week he appeared on the ABC discussing ideas about religion he expressed also in a TED talk entitled “Atheism 2.0”. Amongst other ideas, he focuses on the helpful functions of religion in human lives, offering a much more sympathetic view of Christianity than most atheists afford. When it comes to mastering our dysatisfunctional natures, I’m with him. Stay atop the ridge! I say. Don’t vault down one side or the other, merely to claim consistency. Merely to say you believe in something. It’s not worth it.

On Scary Ladies: “Do not forget the wit!”

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women are still terrifying. They have what I want, and I will fight them for it.’

“Are you going to women? Do not forget the wit!” In the wake of International Women’s Day, let us recall what Fred Nietzsche almost once said. He actually said “whip”, and my version would have been much less dysatisfunctional, had he but asked. Whatsoever: bring your wit! I say it now as a kind of advice to men and women both, because while Fred got the solution wrong, the problem was bang on: chicks* are scary.

And they always have been. Unbeknownst to Pandora, the contents of her box* (it was actually a jar) were all manner of ill: labour, disease, old age, and death. This was supposed to punish men for stealing fire—maybe Pandora was the first martyr. Certainly a victim of her timelessness. Nowadays I’m sure Pfizer would have her covered, with all their fancy intellectual property. What a bitch-session* Pandora could have had with Eve—copping all that blame for the men. If Adam HAD a mother, you can imagine her chastising* him: “I suppose if Evie told you to jump off a cliff you’d do that too?” If for no other reason, this confirms that God must be a man*, with his poor communication skills and old-school paternalism. I could go on with misogynistic historical examples, but we’ve all got to be places. Suffice it to say, from Aristotle to Freud, the fountain of knowledge has endorsed slight after slight upon women, even the real ones.

To be honest, it’s mainly the real ones who trouble me. As usual, it’s a bit empirical and a bit irrational at once: since my only committed relationships have been with women, I’ve simply had (and lost) many more arguments with women than with men. I submit that whichever demographic I’ve had the majority of arguments with, this group would have to form a kind of bugbear, mainly because my ego is extremely fragile (in my experience, this is not simply because I’m a man, though I’m sure I do ‘fragile ego’ in a very manly way…). What’s behind these arguments, really? Let’s generalise and say I want something from women. Hard to say in a relationship, in which the whole thing can be a slog of mutual conditioning, and even harder to say when single. For instance, if a young girl jumps into your lap late of a rainy evening and holds a phone playing her favourite song to your ear, breathing smoke past your eyeballs and stroking your moustache for twenty minutes but doesn’t want to talk and definitely doesn’t want to make out, then snaps this peculiar anonymous intimacy like a twig by racing off to her sister and pal whom she abandoned to spend that time with you in the first place, you will be afraid and deathly so. She had it and you didn’t even know you wanted it.

Or you are walking home some other evening and fall in by chance with a friend who is quite upset because yet another man she trusts and respects has told her women simply aren’t funny and this has hit a nerve because, as she says through streaky tears, “I’m not pretty, skinny or rich, so I’d better damn-well be funny.” And she is actually but can’t hear it then, and the parting is awkward because she’s flustered and late for dinner. The scary thing here is what men do to women, by wanting something from them, creating categories of accord and dismissal, and also what women do to themselves by either listening to men or creating their own categories. The recent National Press Club’s UN Women’s Forum discussed the entangled issues of how men in the workplace underestimate women but also how women can underestimate themselves, or engage in fierce defensive competition with each other. While workplaces are defined places, I wouldn’t be the only one to have seen all three of these things occurring socially. At the other end of the spectrum, someone should write a book entitled, “Ladies Who Lunge and Fuck It Up”, so, you know, women just can’t get it right either way.

The Freudanese might say the cause is genital. You’ve heard this one before: willies are obvious and out there. They do one thing more or less well. It’s easy to gauge their interest and predict their intention. Meanwhile, the vajine intimidates by virtue of its furtive mystery: like driving in the dark towards a cliff—by the time it comes into view you are already committed*. There might actually be a coherent evolutionary psychology tangent in there somehow, about sexual selection and different reproductive strategies for men and women, assessing assertive action versus sustained observation, though they’re obviously not mutually exclusive, and I’d like to avoid biological essentialists firing crossbows at my front door as much as anybody.

So there’s a sprinkling of the problem, hinting at the dysatisfunction plaguing both men and women when it comes to how we think women. I grew up getting regularly smacked over the head by a mother, sister and chick-cousins with iron wills, and I AM afraid but ‘misogyny’ doesn’t cut it, because I don’t hate women as a result. I’m fairly confident that my fear of women isn’t about to lead to domestic abuse. But the fear still informs my thinking, with all those asterisks above that aren’t quite jokes about how many feminists are needed to change a lightbulb, but are still cheapies leaping from the common stereotypes. And I do like to say ‘chicks’ a lot, especially applicable to women who don’t at first seem to qualify, like your grandma, your elected representative or nuns generally, and used more frequently around those who seem a bit uptight* about it. I put this dilemma to friends recently: “There needs to be a word like misogyny, but more positive. Rather than fear and hatred for women, the new word describes fear that comes from respect for freakish lady powers.” Interestingly, the men left it well alone, except for one: “you mean like bleeding for five days and not dying?”. I’m still not sure if that sums up what I’m talking about or not, even in Freudanese.

While I was quite impressed with suggestions of ‘vajmiration’ and ‘awegyny’, Emah Fox had it down with ‘thambogyny’. Latin for awe + women apparently, and I think it’s sweet as. Another female friend later described herself as a thambogynist, due to feeling utterly overwhelmed by alpha-chicks she would otherwise want to befriend. Predictably, I never thought women could be thambogynists too, but we used not to think of them as voters either. Another friend can’t see how it differs from ‘intimidation’, but with so many instances in which one can be intimidated, and so many possible actions open to resolving it, including some good old-fashioned domestic abuse, I’m just not satisfied with how open the word is. There’s no sense of the good will that is so crucial to the concept. At the same time, women are still terrifying. They have what I want, and I will fight them for it. Bring your wits! I’m quite happy to say I’m a thambogynist. It’s kind of liberating.

Some inspiring women:

http://madzhasrunaway.com/

http://www.genbailey.com/

http://josephinerowe.com/

http://literaryminded.wordpress.com/

http://twitter.com/#!/housingstressed

http://melcampbell.com.au/about/

http://www.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/about/people/academic/angela-ndalianis

http://lifeatthebottom.com/2008/11/05/the-interview-series-02/

Apologising to Japan: a proto-dysatisfunctional retrospective

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‘Whether I like it or not, I am part of the rationale against you, that led to the US atomic bombings’

While new posts will now be every hump day fortnight, this is my proto-dysatisfunctional attempt to repair my relationship with Australian history and with erstwhile enemy of the state Japan. This endeavor was posted on The Drum Online last August.

My letter was met with 113 comments in 5 hours. Of that, 85% was nationalist trolling. About 10% of that trolling honestly attempted to raise legitimate objections to my material, but couldn’t help spinning off-topic into invective about dying Aussies, which was nothing to do with the US decision to drop two nuclear bombs. The remaining 15% expressed relief that the dominant historical narrative was being questioned, and at least one of these was a WWII vet. Meanwhile, 0% of the criticisms refuted a single point made with any evidence or informed anlaysis, which is not surprising since most of my research was sourced from US historical and governmental institutions. Some tried deriding my inner-urban latté elite pretensions, perhaps unaware that I readily self-identify:

dysatisfunctional latte elites

After 5 heady hours, comments were closed by the editor, and the reply I submitted twice was ignored. Why did apologising for needless atomic experiments on a population somehow mean I was against Australia defending itself from the Japanese military threat? I wondered. I had some great email exchanges with folks who tracked me down through my university, who started off angry and went off feeling heard, and perhaps realising the topic was less mutually exclusive than they initially assumed. If there is one reason above all others why this online reconciliatory exercise from August last year fits with the aims here at Dysatisfunctional.com, it’s the attempt to acknowledge and navigate life’s inherent contradictions and absurdities.

You can see from this dysatisfunctional commemoration, back through last week’s dysatisfunctional babies, the week before’s dysatisfunctional activism, and the week before that’s dysatisfunctional starting over, that we each have many and diverse relational elements to our worlds. They all need sustenance. They all need to be shared and honoured. I hope you are doing that where it needs doing this week.

L.

Originally posted at The Drum Online

Dear Japan,

Today marks 66 years since your city, Hiroshima, faced the world’s first ever nuclear attack, and I thought I would write to apologise.

Public commemorations take place every year in Australia’s major cities, in parks and outside major churches. They are organised by a cavalcade of anti-nuclear, peace movement, human rights, socialist and environmental conservation groups, with speakers from major and minor political parties. But these efforts aren’t apologies as such, and with all due respect to committed organisers, they’re nothing personal. Not from me.

So first and foremost, Japan, no apology is worth the screen it is written on unless you can be sure I understand what I am apologising for. As you know, at approximately 8.15am on 6 August, 1945, the United States dropped a gun-type atomic bomb called Little Boy on Hiroshima. Between 70,000-80,000 people, or approximately 30 per cent of Hiroshima’s population, were killed instantly by what the subsequent US Bombing Survey termed “inefficient” nuclear fission, which nevertheless cleared 12 square kilometers of the city and 69 per cent of its buildings.[1] I am sorry that Little Boy was not even less efficient; in fact I wish it had failed altogether. Another 70,000 of your people were injured, with 90 per cent of doctors and 93 per cent of nurses among the casualties, significantly disabling treatment for the injured and substantially raising the final death toll.[2]

Three days later, at 11:01am on August 9, while your government officials were still scrambling to ascertain the extent of damage done and the nature of this new threat, the US dropped a second, implosion-type atomic bomb called Fat Man on the city of Nagasaki. An estimated 40,000 people died in the initial blast, with 60,000 more injured.[3] By January 1946, approximate acute deaths range from 90,000 to 166,000 for Hiroshima, and from 60,000 to 80,000 for Nagasaki, whose inhabitants were somewhat protected from the blast by an undulating geography.[4] I’m sorry we don’t spend enough time here in Australia on such details, even on our anniversary together. Like the official photos of the blasts from afar, and the banning of any photo-documentation at ground zero, let alone of victims – even after so long – you can understand most of us just don’t want to get too close to the event. It makes us terribly uncomfortable.

I’m sorry that while both cities were undeniably military targets, they were also major civilian centres. Had I been alive at the time, no doubt my personality, politics and skill-set would have all conspired to ensure I had nothing to do with the design, development, and attack strategy. Nevertheless, the atomic bombings were done for me, for my alleged freedom, so I apologise sincerely for constituting part of the rationale against you. While I had nothing to do with US president Truman’s initial public statements about seeking to avoid civilian casualties, I do apologise for my country’s lack of widespread outrage when so many scientific and political leaders’ statements were revealed to be untrue over the ensuing decades.

Truman’s statements are particularly galling, mind you, given that all potential targets were selected for their strategic significance and urban civilian density, as well as to maximise blast potential and incendiary damage. By ruling out the other 66 cities that had already been significantly firebombed, by considering the surrounding geography – particularly of mountains to focus the blast – and by having both bombs explode in mid-air, the Targeting Committee could achieve what they called “the greatest psychological effect against Japan”, and generate an event “sufficiently spectacular” for the global community.[5]

I am sorry that despite much conjecture over the years, international courts of justice will never convene to prove either the strategic necessity or cruel opportunism of either bombing. That’s just not fair, to be denied closure either way, especially when your own leaders were tried and either imprisoned or executed for their part in hostilities. No wonder your people remain in a thoroughly ambivalent state regarding wartime accountability for atrocities in the Asian war theatres, including an unresolved and vexing sense of victimisation at the hands of Western powers, that goes back to being shot at by Commodore Perry’s cannons in 1853.

While the jury is undeniably out, I’m sorry that two days before Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, Truman learned that the Twentieth Air Force had mined all your major harbours, thus finalising a comprehensive blockade that would literally as well as figuratively starve you, with or without a mainland offensive.[6] Truman himself advised one of his senators two days before Nagasaki’s bombing, that the Japanese would “very shortly fold up” with the Russians entering the war.[7] It is apparent from Allied leadership correspondence that your defeat had been a question of details for most of 1945, and there is a good case to be made for the late Soviet entry into the war as the decisive factor in you accepting unconditional surrender at last.[8] So I guess I’m sorry that most Australians believe that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki succeeded in ending the war and forestalling a grueling home invasion of your lands, when the case against this rationale is so easily available from decades of declassified US state sources.

I’m really sorry that your government had only just dispatched a delegation to Hiroshima to investigate the extent of its destruction when Nagasaki was bombed. By not waiting for the coercive military and political effects of Hiroshima’s devastation to ripen, the US decision to test its more advanced, implosion-type atomic device seems far in excess of meeting short to medium term strategic objectives toward ending the Japanese conflict, and more relevant to meeting America’s longer term strategic global objectives. On the 60th Hiroshima bombing anniversary in 2005, I read in the West Australian broadsheet about Truman’s ‘courageous’ and ‘morally-astute’ qualities, and this was echoed throughout the country’s media. I wondered at the time why his moral fibre needed to be pronounced so overtly. This body of easily available documented historical evidence demeans the entire human race at your people’s expense, and I apologise.

To be fair, civilian area bombing was one of the great tragedies of both European and Asian war theatres, developing in an ad hoc way as both sides sought to cripple the enemy’s morale and domestic ‘total war’ machine. The Allies bombed Dresden and Hamburg. Germany bombed Rotterdam, ‘blitzed’ London and other British towns. Japan bombed Shanghai, Nanjing, Hankou and Chungking among others. The USA bombed 66 Japanese cities in total, but arguably did more damage to Tokyo in six hours in March 1945 than either atomic attack, with a moderate consensus around 100,000 killed. Little Boy and Fat Man didn’t drop into a vacuum; America just did it better than anyone else. Everyone ignored, in the end, the outlawing of such actions in the Hague convention of 1923, and no country was in a moral position to point the finger too hard.

And it’s equally important to point out that no-one understood you, and no-one knew where you would stop your colonial adventure, which unfortunately took place about a generation too late. Especially here in Australia, reports of your submarines in Sydney Harbour were apparently terrifying. I am sorry that while parts of our community here in Australia commemorate the Japanese dead on August 6 every year, most of the country does not, and that we commemorate our own war dead even more. I’m sorry that when we spare a thought for those at Nanjing, Pearl Harbour, Darwin or throughout Asia during the war, many of us won’t admit to thinking you deserved the bomb just a little bit, even as we affirm how much we detest it and regret the whole sorry mess. I’m sorry that by the time we’ve considered all the war dead, the way we want to live today and rather ephemeral ideas about what our nation stands for, our commemoration for your dead ends up being more of a celebration on this side of the Pacific Ocean, that we lived and that we beat you. And of course, that we weren’t the ones atomic bombed. I sincerely apologise for anyone who tries to justify bombing you on ethical grounds. While such betrayals of the mind are understandable, they are not justified. Perceived safety is surely not an ethical matter.

Finally, perhaps you wonder why I am apologising. After all, I didn’t have anything to do with the design of the bomb, or with the decision or strategy to attack you with it. I didn’t vote for Truman, Churchill, or even Chifley. And anyway, you did keep my grandfather imprisoned at various POW camps, including the infamous Changi Prison in Singapore. If you didn’t ruin his life exactly, you certainly transformed it. Who knows if that’s why he drank so much, and who knows how that affected my mum and how she raised me. On my own drunken walk home through the streets of Tokyo’s western suburbs, my friend Mitsu and I realised both our grandfathers fought each other; not directly (my grandfather was a medic, for starters) but against each other nonetheless. And they were, in a very real way, fighting for Mitsu and I, who would not be born for decades. We inherit from the past our own conditions of living. We inherit the burdens, responsibilities and sacrifices, as well as the opportunities. Whether I like it or not, I am part of the rationale against you, that led to the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All this I owe to you, Japan, when I apologise. It seems like most people are content to regard history as a series of brutalities that allowed us to learn and know better in the future, and here we are, supposedly enlightened. Attacking you with atomic bombs, even if it was to protect our way of life, wasn’t a distant historic brutality at the time it happened. The past is not safely removed, and we in the present are not safe from the leaders we don’t want, or the interests we forget we hold. When it comes to perceived safety, I’m really sorry but it’s nothing personal.

Sincerely,

Luke Stickels

Luke Stickels is a writer and doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne, studying Japanese history and political theory.

  1. Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, “U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey”, 19/6/1946, http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/index.php retrieved 15/12/9.
  2. ibid.
  3. US Department of Energy, “Nuclear Age Timeline”, http://www.em.doe.gov/Publications/timeline_aug1945.aspx retrieved 4/8/11.
  4. Rezelman, David, Gosling, F. G., Fehner, Terrence R., “The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki”, The Manhattan Project: An Interactive Historyhttp://www.rerf.or.jp/general/qa_e/qa1.html retrieved 16/12/9.
  5. “Minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee, Los Alamos, May 10-11, 1945”, http://www.dannen.com/decision/targets.html retrieved 15/12/9.
  6. Nishi, Toshio, Unconditional Democracy: Education and Politics in Occupied Japan, Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1982, p.30-1.
  7. quoted in ibid, p.31.
  8. ibid, pp.23-32.

Originally posted at The Drum Online

Youngins who can’t get their sh*t together

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People come up to me all the time and say: “Get stuffed you latté-elite wanker!” and: “You really shouldn’t rely so much on those… you know… ‘words’, to explain stuff and things.” But MAINLY people come up and say: “You know who doesn’t get any of the dysatisfunctional limelight? Babies.”

You heard me: babies. Toddlers. Youngins. Rug-rats. Whippersnappers. And you know who else? Small children. Oh, how the heart melts for those bright eyes, highpants and melty icecreams rolling off the tops of cones! After the small children watermark, the view gets somewhat more bedraggled. Pre-pubescents and teens get a whole category to share for themselves, with all their adolescent liminality, confusions and general fucked-upness. From Carrie (pictured) to Skins to Bill Henson, everyone knows that twanging vocal cords, rose buds and fur-where-there-used-not-to-be-fur are about as dysatisfunctional as themselves, thus providing their own worthy metaphors as well as constituting a subject for another time.

But it’s those little fuckers, from newborns right up to, say, 9 or 10ish, who get neglected when it comes to recognising just how many traps for young players abound. Of course there are many developmental differences within that age range, from mastering eleven types of needy crying, to seeking out every powerpoint and head-height corner available. From the first ugly impositions of will, learning to share, using charm as a weapon and pestering as a retail strategy, to the deployment of both elaborate and bald-faced lies, bullying, fighting, hiding, swearing, and all the other things they learn from adults as they move toward the teens. The common element is nonetheless that shroud of innocence. None of the above issues shake our inherent faith in the fundamental innocence of a child, even as s/he has just hit their best friend on the head with a hammer and taken their cheese stick.

A big part of it has to do with young kids supposedly being natural-born bad-asses. It’s normal, we’re told, for kids to basically do their unrelenting best to take you for all your worth, from Caramello tantrums in the supermarket to seeing how many manipulative personnel changes they can score to help feed/clothe/clean them, all the way to frequent experiments in coercive violence like the example above. It’s a constant shake-down. What changes as an adult, well, I’m not exactly sure. We forgive it all under the rubric of ‘learning’ but I’m not sure how right this assumed innocence is. You know who’s still learning? Bernie Madoff. I’m sure this isn’t news at all to many parents, even less to siblings and other family members, but those big doe-eyes aren’t proof enough.

My mum reckons a child’s first four years are crucial to feeling fundamentally safe—before that, destabilised youngins will show it the rest of their lives, while after such time, they’ll show a greater robustness for life’s slings and arrows. Her reasoning has to do with the time it takes to develop a will and a sense of self that won’t be called into question in every traumatic experience. And it proceeds from an assumption that life will more or less be a series of traumas that get dealt with more or less well, based on combinations of personal qualities, flukes and hard work. This correlates strongly with John Bowlby’s attachment theory so nice going Momz. No doubt everyone has their own anecdotal theory, and these are influential given the way child-rearing is still essentially passed on orally and experientially in families.

The last thing this site will ever do is slap on a movie review just for the hell of it, but with that caveat in place, has anyone seen the adaptation of Jonothan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? Young actor Thomas Horn spends a lot of time charging around NYC looking much angrier than he does in any of the promotional material, and fair enough I guess since his character suspects his dad was forced to jump from one of the World Trade Centre Towers. Friends found this movie artful but just too depressing, while I was surprised that much of the lightness and humour of the book had been excised (hypersensitive studio or corporate sponsors?). But the real thing that got to me, was the “mini-adult” thing that happens with so much child acting in the entertainment industry, and particularly perhaps, American cinema, in which plucky kids come over to foreign audiences as entirely overbearing and perhaps too articulate about their feelings. To be fair, Foer’s novelistic Oskar Schell was tarred with the same brush, so an unavoidably less subtle film adaptation was always facing an uphill battle to get the balance right. Oskar’s obsession with objects and details is ambivalently explained by being placed somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Being a spectrum, I suppose we are all on there somewhere. I was still put off by how overtly angry and disturbed young Oskar is throughout the film; perhaps more a fault of the director than the actor, or am I merely maintaining Horn’s innocence?

For me it was a striking contrast to last winter, in which I returned home to look after my mum following her back surgery, and my two year old niece, who is in my mum’s care. We were on the lookout for signs of my niece’s unhappiness with this disturbance to the status quo, since her primary care-giver was gone a week, then back, but, confusingly for a toddler, not available for the usual care and reassurances for six weeks more. Who do you think she took it out on? Of course: the substitute, yours truly. An overt power struggle took place, one I was not willing to lose to a mere babe, though I’ll admit she was a force, recruiting the full arsenal at her disposal. My great lateral cooperative skills gradually took a backseat to the semi-functional dictatorship that followed, but afterwards we decided she’d gotten through relatively unscathed. Nine months later, we’re not so sure. She still displays a brittleness that Grandma will go away again to the hospital, in a bunch of different ways: occasionally overt distress like young Thomas Schell, but more often taking the form of offhand remarks, or role-playing with toys, both of which are more worrisome to the adults watching her!

Because kids’ norms are so often learned socially, they tend to accept whatever scenarios they find themselves in, mimicking as they go. Often these involve dysatisfunctional lessons we don’t want them to learn, like ‘Grandma could go at any minute and not be there when you need her’. We saw this had a bunch of consequences as my young niece started implementing fairly headstrong backup plans of self-determination, in which it was clear a big part of her world was under threat. The biggest problem is perhaps that this lesson is no doubt very necessary; its truth will be revealed one day, be it Grandma, her parents or anyone close to her, but we all hope the young niece will be old and wise enough to deal with death when it happens. So Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close might have been much more effective had young Horn been directed to play it, not more ‘innocently’, but closer to how youngins express their dissatisfaction even as they constantly and dysfunctionally fold it into their evolving world-view. It would have at once brought much-needed levity, as well as grim undercurrents to the ostensible actions that capture the stakes of Oscar’s search for meaning.

Like Bernie Madoff, I’m still waiting for that maturity to deal with things properly. What could be more dysatisfunctional? Maybe sealing children off with their innocence, rather than frankly assessing what is appropriate for their development (not the same thing). My neighbour works in after-school care, and she advocates maintaining children’s innocence, because it provides a functional way to interpret so much bad behaviour. Many of her kids are ‘at risk’, which is to say their parents are cocking things up. When I asked her to consider them without innocence, she looked at my kitchen cupboards as if revisiting so many bad moments, then said, “Then the only way to have kids and still like them is to form a relationship with them.” Ah now, that’s what Dysatisfunctional.com is all about. Put your hands up if you think that sounds easy?

In true dysatisfunctional style, weekly posts are currently unsustainable for this young go/stop-getter, so your next post will be in a fortnight’s hump day, that’s Wednesday 28th March 2012. Spread the word, post comments, Shed Your Woe to help start the Dysatisfunctional.com problem-solving community. Go on, it will be rad.

With thanks to Nonie E. for pointing me towards attachment theory.

On swapping Kony 2012 tickets for Radiohead tickets

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Friends, the Dysatisfunctional.com project is designed to bring the hard stuff into the airy light. Expose the dark places, put on some Nancy Sinatra, open a sticky window, even if it means breaking it with your elbow. After several days of the Kony 2012 meme, I am more dysatisfunctional than usual, and any laughs have wild horse eyes behind them. Please allow me to explore my social surrounds before moving onto the most embarrassing meme we ever fell for.

I had pretty much accepted that many of my friends and family, while highly intelligent, simply couldn’t find it in them to care much for what goes on and wrong in the world. Maybe because their lives are already too hard, or perhaps too easy. Whatsoever, I love them how they are, and grudgingly I’ll admit, I love the world how it is too. Each causes the other, and I love that. So perfect. So broken. So ugly, but always on the threshold of redemption. And why should everyone automatically care about what I care about? The correct answer is, they should not. What qualifies me as any sort of arbiter for this intellectual and ethical quality assurance scheme? Nothing. So it goes, a wary truce:

1) Last Easter, I gave visiting friends a hard time for not thinking clearly through some party trick that involves four people lifting up a sitting fifth person using only their two index fingers. So quick they were to believe in some mystical mastery of will, and so quick to deride my skepticism and attempts to break the problem down into its components. I was open to eventually concluding that modern physics could not explain it, and maybe there was some Tetsuo bullshit at play after all. But rather uncomfortably, I turned to the issue of how groups handle dissent and difference, ‘playing the man’ rather than the idea, and resorting to a kind of stacks-on bullying that, as I dug in more, gradually lost its sense of cheerful ribbing. Fairly petty stuff, maybe. Trust an arts graduate to turn a conversation about hard sciences into a critique of social power.

2) I was recently derided as pretentious for having the gall to wonder about how we need a word like misogyny but more positive, in which fear results from recognising awesome lady powers. A sympathetic friend offered that “Thambogyny” could mean awe of women, and I like this word. It used not to exist, and now it does, and I’m going to use it. “I am a thambogynist.” There. I might use it the next time my uncle starts a conversation on Gillard’s carbon tax, but winds up talking about how he wouldn’t fuck her.

3) Another friend explained, on a car trip back from a birthday weekend, how he had decided years ago never to consider politics and social justice, because it was all too hard, too stressful, and his life would not improve by dwelling on such things. I appreciated his honesty! No excuses there, no dull compensations, and that is worth something. When we shot past a speed camera and each wondered aloud whether we’d slowed in time, I quipped that all we had to do was refuse to acknowledge the ticket if it came, and it need trouble us no more. The angry flash in the rearview carried more than words could say.

You see, every now and again, I make things uncomfortable for my friends and family. Deliberately. It’s my most dysatisfunctional quality, and my rationale outweighs my regret: if I have to live with their rushed judgements, having to roll over constantly because everyone agrees there’s no time to investigate, no time to think things through, then every now and again I will let them know how immense can be the bridge I cross to hang with, well, people. If they weren’t stuffed to the brim with other wonderful traits, I obviously wouldn’t bother, and the same could be said in return, for every time I take the air from the room.

In the wake of Kony 2012, my Hindu cow acceptance of these social surrounds has shattered into so many billion pinheads. I am bereft and angry. Just as I had carefully arranged the furniture around many of my loved ones’ collective inability to look past their laptops, or to think methodically really about anything beyond “rent or buy?” (which admittedly is a legitimately complicated problem), up they rose to meet the clarion call of human progress, like animated Safari herds.

What finally roused the middle-class beast from its slumber? Was it Labor’s Stronger Futures program, aiming to extend the Northern Territory intervention and retard Indigenous self-determination for another ten years? No. Was it the Eurozone’s latest Greek bailout plans, designed purely to keep repayments flowing from Greece to its creditor nations at the expense of Greek citizens’ quality of life? No. Was it that we don’t know where our investments are going or what they are propping up, that our iPads are ruining Chinese factory workers’ lives, that chickens are engineered so breasty that their legs can’t support them, that cow udders get so lacerated from hormone-augmentation they bleed pus into our milk, or that UNESCO is currently investigating sea floor dredging around the Great Barrier Reef that threatens its world heritage status?

No. It was fucking Kony 2012. Sounds like a cheap blu-ray player rip-off imported from Seychelles, but is actually the polished product of dubious white people who spend way too much of your donation money on slick online content. This content may be emotionally compelling, yet it is wildly inaccurate and out of date. Kony 2012 is a long advertisement geared towards keeping shady fauxtavist group Invisible Children in business. Read how the group has refused to have their financial records externally audited and verified by NGO watchdogs such as the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.  Invisible Children funds the Ugandan Army, whose own human rights record is somewhere between dubious and appalling, depending on what you think of rape, looting and mass displacement, answering to a leader who hasn’t budged in 25 years. Invisible Children’s half hour hit meme has very little relevance to a cluster of national crises in Uganda including unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, child prostitution and HIV/AIDS epidemics, none of which are improved by hunting Kony. Saving children is less heroic once they’ve grown into teenagers and adults with crippling mental health problems and a mystery disease. How awkward! We knew about the rapes, abductions and child soldiering back before Kanye was rapping about Blood Diamonds, so why get this excited after the fact? It’s like cheering a goal after everyone left the stadium. The cleaner is giving you that wtf? look, not least because we’ve been economically thriving off of regulated exploitation of failed third states for a couple hundred years.

I take it personally that Kony 2012 has scored such a hit with so many of my friends. Folks regularly share a gaggle of petitions, random ideas, online lectures and other media on their twitter accounts and Facebook newsfeed. Some of it gains traction, some floats by, and that’s appropriate when you consider most folks are grabbing glimpses of it between work and errands and general dicking around. Why Kony 2012, out of all newsfeed causes? It’s not current, it’s not accurate, and it’s conspicuously more popular than the next-best online click-cause. Facebook activism is fairly limited at the best of times, but it still accords with grassroots consciousness-raising principles, and I wouldn’t misunderestimate the amount we learn from each other in online social media. Speaking for myself, I’m only a little embarrassed to admit the dreaded FB is a huge information gateway throughout the day.

And what I’ve learned in the last three days is that falling for the glitzy white man’s burden of Kony 2012 makes you a little bit retarded. Not a metaphor for the intellectually disabled, but actually retarded, as in slowed or stunted—that part of you that should be more developed than it is. Maybe it’s your politics, that you don’t see how the slick production values, the “sad” white kid’s overripe screen time, or reductive straw-Kony rationale—all of which hooked you in the first place—are in themselves what is wrong with the movie. So many people are bored with politics: discussions of democracy, liberalism and militarism, how economics and politics necessarily differ and overlap at once. But many don’t connect this boredom to a lack of understanding when an issue gets too complicated to think through clearly. (Btw, if you think all humans should live together peacefully and learn to get along, you’re not being political.) Or maybe your politics are ok, but your brain is unfit and honestly can’t follow a string of ideas through before you get hungry. I feel that; it’s inherently dysatisfunctional. Do you expect to do a hundred push-ups off the bat, or would you have to work up to it you reckon? Denzel Washington’s Creasy says we are only trained or untrained, and I consider myself somewhat mentally penguin-shaped.

Dysatisfunctional: it’s an incredibly witty bastardisation of dissatisfied and dysfunctional. How clever of me. It thrills, it tantalises. People who never heard it before, who don’t immediately understand it, are pretty sure it includes them. After I invented it, I learned that it had already been invented:

While this site aims for content-in-levity, the good councillor is clearly pissed. And he’s not alone. I am deeply dissatisfied with the dysfunction of this hacktivist meme, with all my friends and family telling me thirty minutes of Slick Rick will change how I see the world. And I’m only blogging, after a string of online article shares, so I’m dissatisfied with my own dysfunction, my own lack of effectiveness, my unintended self-parody and how I cannot escape being implicated in this farce.

A key idea of the Dysatisfunctional.com project is that our dissatisfaction is the engine for changing our behaviours, so what are my options? I will mail a prize to the best answer in the comments below. Hell I’ll publish your trolling if it’s funny enough.

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With thanks to Tom S, Greg Y, Louise A, Sam D and Robin C for commentary since Wednesday night, and to Emah F for coining thambogyny! Genius.