The fallacy of relative privation

Many years ago, in undergrad, I took a course called “Logic.” It was, embarrassingly enough, my math credit, which tells you why I did so badly in my advanced econ class four years later. I remember the Professor, Dan Cohen, and I remember liking the structure of logic – formulas that dissected arguments and made it easier to sort fact from fiction, or a really good argument from truth.

These last two things are something I think we could use a little more of in our world. So today, I retreat to logic to address something that’s bothering me.

TWICE today, in my social media feeds, I came across a situation of someone expressing their dismay or opinion about something, only to be told that there are worse things happening out there in the world, so therefore he/she shouldn’t be expressing their opinion, or should feel bad about doing so, or should somehow qualify their opinion with all of the worse things that they could be talking about.

For example, people who are upset about a lion being killed are wrong to a) have that emotion, or b) say so because people are also being killed. Or someone complains about needing a dental procedure is told “you’re lucky you have dental insurance. So many people don’t.”

I might offend with this statement, but I think this kind of shaming sucks. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes I am afraid to even have an opinion because I’m pretty sure someone’s going to write a tweet or blog post that’s going to make me feel bad for having it.

Explain to me why I can’t be horrified both at a lion being killed and people being shot in their cars. Explain to me why it’s ok to make someone feel guilty for being lucky enough to have dental insurance.

Explain to me why we must always be working to invalidate other worldviews in order to validate ours. (This, in my humble opinion, is one of the biggest problems facing writers/bloggers today)

Here’s the answer – we don’t have to. There is a term for this kind of shaming/argument: The fallacy of relative privation. In logic terms, it’s an informal fallacy, which means there are misleading errors in reasoning that seem to support the conclusion, but actually are irrelevant or false.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

The fallacy of relative privation, or appeal to bigger problems, is an informal fallacy in which it is stated an opponent’s arguments should be dismissed or ignored, on the grounds that more important problems exist, regardless of whether these problems are relevant to the question at hand or not.

A well-known example of this fallacy is the response “but there are children starving in Africa,” with the implication that any issue less serious is not worthy of discussion.

Take this fallacy to it’s extreme, and you could say that someone who just lost a loved one to a horrible car crash shouldn’t be sad because thousands of people died of Ebola this year. You wouldn’t say that, would you? (I sure hope I didn’t break some other logic rule with that extrapolation)

Anyway, it was nice to find a definition for this particular tactic, and to know that the undefined unease I always feel at such arguments is at least grounded in logic.

But then again, there are all kinds of people out there with no internet and no means to while away an evening blogging, so I should probably feel bad for writing this post.


Exploring my new camera: Provincetown

A few months back, I decided it was FINALLY time to invest in a real, actual camera. You know, the kind with lenses and a viewfinder that you actually look through and a button you press to take a picture.

Why, you ask? Well, it’s mostly because, and this is really kind of dumb, I like the tactile feel of a camera. I feel cool when I cradle it in my hand and bring it to my face. And because I need a project. I am surrounded by creative people all day and I’m a little jealous of their “artist” label. Because try as I might, I can’t make “arts marketer” into a legit artist label.

Back in my high school years, I learned photography with actual film. Mr. Swedberg, my teacher, taught me, and I loved the darkroom most of all: the chemicals and the magic of burning and dodging. Today we don’t have film and our darkrooms are our laptops. And too many people tell me I’m a “good photographer” for me to really be ok with it, considering that every picture I have taken in the last 8 years has likely been on an IPhone. That feels like cheating.

So, I saved up and decided to go for it.

I scoured blogs and asked advice from my social interwebbers, and eventually landed on my Canon Rebel EOS T5. And then, I took it out and shot some stuff, and it was fun and pretty and I was pleased with myself for photos like this:

Pink flower

Then, my former college roommate started sending me blog posts and challenging me to contests like #niftyfiftyfriday, and I realized how little I actually know about taking photographs from anything other than a “point the camera at something I like” standpoint. See, there’s MATH involved. Ugh. And on these newfangled cameras, more settings and buttons than you’d think you need to take a pretty picture. So I bought a prime lens, and set out to figure this stuff out.

Anyway, this has been a good exercise for me, to really dig into something I know nothing about, and to find that it’s really damn hard. I still don’t get a lot of it. The math seems unreasonably unintuitive. I still do a lot by instinct and gut. But I have noticed that, since I started thinking this way, I take fewer photos. I know that doesn’t make sense. But I’m spending less time clicking away on my IPhone and more time thinking what I’d need to do to capture a scene with my Canon. I find this intriguing, without really being able to ascribe meaning to it.

It’s also worth noting that most of the photos are lousy. This is also intriguing, part of that whole “you’ve gotta break stuff down before you can build it back up” cliche.

So, anyway, I thought it might be fun to share some of the not-as-lousy-as-others recent photos with you. I’m currently vacationing on Cape Cod (yeah, I know, doesn’t that sound so, well, New-Englandish?) and plan to spend hours photo-ing beaches and dunes tomorrow, so I thought I’d share a few less epic subjects here.

You will quickly discover that I love boats. You’ve been warned.

Photo of boat named Hindu

Sailing ship mast

What I wanted with this photo was the red boat in focus and everything else blurry. But I was using my 50mm lens and had no zoom and so I couldn’t figure it out. But I liked the reflection on the white boat on the left.

Red Boat

I should mention that all of these photos were taken in Provincetown, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The whole harbor is such a mess of boats. I loved it. Lots of Boats

Keens seem to have a special place in my summer adventures. This one is for Jennifer and Lisa.

A row of colorful Keen sandals

While my travel buddy was chatting with a client, I went on a little binge and found some neat things to try to capture.

Part of a rusty ship's wheel


Flowers in pots on stairs

And it was on the last one that I had some magic happen – a tiny bird hopped onto the railing above the flowers I was shooting. I clicked as fast as I could without time to change the settings, and managed to get this little gem.

Bird perched on a railing near potted flowers

As the day came to an end, we wound up at a little bar overlooking the water, and I snapped some more boats. I think it’s fascinating that turning basically the same scene (just a few degrees counterclockwise from my perch) into black and white makes it look so much more ominous.

boats on the ocean with pretty sky

Photo of boat

So, as you can tell, I have a long way to go to learn to use this new tool, but I’m finding that I am more excited about the stories behind how I got the photos than I am by the technical details. That seems to jive with my life in general. :) Thanks for coming along with me on this little journey through P-town.

Where I was when same-sex marriage became 100% legal

About 5 years ago, I wrote this little post so I’d remember where I was when the Affordable Care Act passed.

It’s time to do it again.

Today is June 26, 2015. Today, the Supreme Court determined that marriage is a right that should be extended to same-sex couples.

On the bus in to work, I was checking twitter and learning about a host of terror attacks taking place across the world. I felt, and still do feel, such cognitive dissonance…how are our brains supposed to process good news next to such horror?

Anyway, I was in my office as the decision was being run to the press by the interns of the court. I was quickly reading up to make sure I knew the various decisions that could be taken, and then suddenly, my facebook feed exploded in an orgy of rainbows. SCOTUS had voted for the big kahuna. They went all the way. They said same-sex marriage was legal in every state in the union.

I blinked, swore quietly, and then this thought passed through my head: “Oh my god. Same-sex couples can get married…in Arkansas. Today.” And tears literally filled my eyes.

I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t expecting such a rush of emotion. Especially because as a single heterosexual female, the decision has nothing directly to do with me.

Slowly, my staff and I rolled our chairs to the middle of our cubicle farm and tried to figure out the right way to respond. We were grinning, but we’re also a pretty pragmatic bunch, and we had to work pretty hard to keep ourselves from saying what we were all thinking: “How is the other side going to react? Will we have violence? Is this really as historic as it feels or are we just being dramatic?” I couldn’t help but feel sad that I probably won’t talk about this with my parents; to be honest, I don’t really know how they feel about same-sex marriage, because, well that’s POLITICS, and we don’t talk about that stuff. That sucks a bit, I think.

But we eventually convinced ourselves to enjoy the moment, and dove in to the sea of love, joy, and memes flooding the socials. I saw a tweet that said “scuse me, I have to go favorite everything in my feed”, and that really what it was like. So much love. So much stunned laughter. So much hope that we might have taken a real, honest-to-goodness step forward.

To be honest, I didn’t get much done during the day. I kept wanting to come back to that space, to be surround by all that joy. My jobs have never really allowed me to be as vocal about issues as I want to be, and having a family, whom I love very much, but who don’t often share my point of view on this stuff, has kept me pretty quiet, except among those who I absolutely know and trust. And I don’t trust the bandwagon; I know things are always more complicated than they seem.

But today I decided I don’t care if I offend someone with my belief that anyone should be able to marry their love, that same-sex couples can and do make amazing parents, and that under no circumstances do I believe that this decision marks the death of Christianity or family values. I know many smart people feel differently. But I’m a smart person, too, and my friends are smart people, and we are not now and have never been determined to destroy America, as some of our current presidential candidates would have you believe.

Love won today. I hope it wins tomorrow. And I hope peace comes to those who are mourning and suffering even as we rejoice.

I had a photo in mind when I went out on a walk with Sadie tonight – something with a rainbow flag. I couldn’t find it, though, so instead I went to Jamaica Pond and took pictures of the sunset. While there, I met a young couple, Matt and Anna, who sat in the gazebo with Sadie and I and chatted. They were so nice; it was one of the most pleasant evenings I can remember, and chatting with total strangers doesn’t come easy to me. It sounds silly and sentimental, but I think all the love was spilling over into real life today in MA, the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. Our problems will all be there tomorrow, but tonight…love wins.

Good night, sweet friends.

Photo of Jodi with rainbow filter

PS: This is pretty funny.

Lunchtime lament: Charleston

I’m so sad. I’m so angry. I’m so unsure what to do, what tangible thing I can do to stop my fellow Americans from destroying each other through fear and hate. I can’t rip the guns out of people’s hands. I can’t pull the plug on the hatred spewed on TV, radio, and the internet. I can’t erase the inequality that is tearing us apart.

I have always had to tell myself that making a difference in my small corner of the world is enough. But I’m going through my day, trying to put more music into the world, and it feels like using a water gun against an invading army. It doesn’t feel like enough.

Someone tell me what I should do. And don’t say pray. I know that one already.

As usual, Jon Stewart said it best.

Deep down, sometimes we’re still just scared 5-year-olds

I am almost 40 years old. I am a strong, independent, generally happy human, who has figured out how to live solo while constantly reminding myself to ask for help, because, after all, asking makes me stronger, which I never quite understood, but whatever, I digress.

I rock. I kill spiders on my own, change my own wiper blades (with help), and walk confidently alone down most of my city’s streets, head high, shoulders back. Whatever has been thrown at me in my life, I have dealt with it largely alone (minus a huge support network, but I’m making a point here), because, well, I have no choice. I’m kind of a bad-ass in this area, if you’ll forgive my immodesty.

But sometimes, I am just a scared 5-year-old blinking away tears in the dark hours of the night.

As a young ‘un, I wasn’t scared of monsters. Quicksand, yes: damn you, A Neverending Story. Until I got older, I wasn’t too scared of looking foolish. What I was scared of, probably like many kids, was death.

Death, specifically, of my parents.

Lying awake and wide-eyed in my bed, covers literally at my chin, I would stare at the ceiling and try vainly not to think how absolutely devastated I would be if my parents were gone. But I could. I could conjure up clear emotional imprints, almost like reverse memories, of what it would feel like. It was awful, terrifying, breath-stealing. These moments didn’t happen very often, but when they did, I would wind up in quiet hysterics, gasping in tears, trying hard not to sob outright. Sometimes, I would give in and go stand next to my parents’ beds and stare at them until either they a) woke up and asked me what was wrong or b) I got tired and went back to sleep.

Today, I can have a more intellectual approach to such thoughts, more or less. Though it’s hopefully a long way off, there will come a time when my parents won’t be a phone call away, and that still makes me well up a bit, but it’s manageable.

But lately, there have been nights when I’ve found myself lying in bed, covers to my chin, having to work really hard to keep from devolving into an ugly cry.

Only this time, it’s about my dog.

Sadie is 6 years old, give or take; it’s hard to know since I got her from a shelter. Given that her breed is undetermined, I don’t really have a clue what her life expectancy is. Until recently, her mortality was just a concept. She’s still spry, still her calm, happy self. Hopefully, our goodbyes won’t happen for a while. And if they happen sooner, I will handle them in the moment, as I usually do. I’m good like that, in the moment.

It the imagination times, the quiet times when there’s nothing to do, however, that get me. Just like those long-ago waking nightmares of 5-year-old me, I feel an echo of the physical and mental hurt I will feel when I have to say goodbye to the creature that has, literally, changing my life. I lie there, eyes full, chastising myself that I’m being foolish, and thinking how parents and couples must experience some level of this fear countless times, but still I’m unable, in that moment, to shut it off.

Why is my brain going there these days? I have no idea, but I wish it would quit it. I suppose I could blame social media, which insists on showing me articles about dog euthanasia and heart-wrenching posts about beloved pets who have gone to the great dog park in the sky. Or maybe I’m just, like the Beznoska side of my family, getting more sentimental with age.

Luckily, it passes. But it leaves a mark, I think, enough so that I wanted to write about it. I guess that’s part of love, right?