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Inspired by a question my friend asked: if you were in Jaime Lannister's position, would you have killed Aerys? It spiralled out from a discussion of personal honour vs utilitarianism to a discussion of whether Jaime killed Aerys for the right reasons and then onto Jaime's personality in general.

My defense of Jaime Lannister is below. No explicit spoilers past the first book, but I talk about his personality in a way that probably shows more insight than you can get from the first book or two.

Jaime is at heart a good man. Yes he dreamt of personal glory, but no more than you would expect from a young knight in his culture. My reading of him is that he killed Aerys partly because of his loyalty to his father and to Cersei, and partly because Aerys was a monster. And then later he became angry/cynical because rather than being praised for killing a monster he got the entire kingdom hating on him for it. Similarly when he pushes Bran off the tower, it's not because he's amoral/evil but because he's loyal to Cersei. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Jaime's greatest flaw by far is his loyalty to his family above everything else, and even that wouldn't really be a flaw if the rest of his family weren't such assholes or if he was intelligent/farsighted enough to try to argue them out of some of their stupid decisions rather than doing what they want (or what he thinks they want in the case of Aerys).
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A while back I was talking with my psychologist about how to deal with periods of low mood. Her advice was that no matter how bad you feel, you should push yourself to do the following every day:

* something enjoyable (eg. watch good TV or read fiction)
* something useful (eg. wash dishes, pay bills. Something as trivial as taking a shower counts if you're particularly low)
* something intellectual (eg. read a wiki page, work on a problem set)
* something physical (eg. go for a walk)

The more I think about it the more it seems like good advice for everyone, all the time.
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I was thinking about nerds and social skills. Specifically, the way that nerds (and other classes of socially inept people) tend to have poor social skills because there are two sets of rules on how to behave in social situations. The first is the conventional set, which everyone hears: just be yourself and people will like you, people value honesty and morality over expediency and selfishness, and so on. The second set isn't usually explicitly handed out, and mostly consists of caveats or outright contradictions to the conventional wisdom: being yourself actually means the parts of yourself which are generally pleasant for other people, people are hypocritical a lot of the time and will generally dislike you for pointing it out or acting in a way that makes them feel immoral by comparison, hinting about what you want is often more acceptable than asking for it outright, and so on.

The main difference between people who are socially skilled and those who are unskilled is that the skilled people implicitly learn the second set of rules by observing the people around them, while the unskilled people only have the first, and end up confused and frustrated that the rules they were taught don't work very well in most situations.

My theory out of this is that maybe the unskilled people just aren't visual learners. Learning the second, real set of social rules involves being sensitive to other people's expressions and body language, so that you can modify your own behaviour in response. If for whatever reason you just don't look at people's faces all that much or you're not sensitive to shifts in body language then the only extra information you'll have available is how people say things, which means you have to be at least twice as good at picking up that kind of information than someone who has both channels available to draw the same conclusions about what people are really communicating.


Feb. 13th, 2009 01:02 pm
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One thing that used to confuse the hell out of me was how some of my friends, who are highly extroverted and can go to pretty much any event and come out with at least one new potential friend, could be so nervous about going to an event that none of their friends would be going to. I mean, if you're good at making friends then why worry about not knowing anyone, right?
My current theory to explain this is that it's precisely because they're used to having friends that they're reluctant to push that particular limit of theirs and experience a situation where they can't fall back on their existing social network. Whereas someone who has few friends and is bad at making more has to constantly push themselves against that limit if they want to have even a chance of socialising and making new friends. The awkwardness of trying to make themselves fit into a social situation where they may not necessarily belong is so omnipresent that it almost becomes part of the backdrop, a struggle that's as much a part of the normal routine as trying to get out of bed on time is for most people. But for natural extroverts that awkwardness must feel all the more terrible because they experience it so rarely.

This generalises out to pretty much everything that's a normal part of life. If you're part of the mainstream for that aspect of life, you almost never have to experience what it's like for things to be difficult, and as a result when things do get difficult you're much less likely to have the skills to deal with it gracefully. And the people who have to spend most of their lives banging their heads against that particular metaphorical wall tend to be somewhat disdainful that someone who has it so easy the rest of the time will just collapse in a heap at the least little problem (or so it seems to them).
(I think this might also be why a lot of black/aboriginal/$racially_different people tend to look down on other groups that try to sympathise with or draw parallels to them. "Oh sure, you gay people think you have it bad, but unlike you guys we can't pretend to have a different skin colour")
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Whenever I have exams my mind always goes into overdrive about all sorts of things.

On the Revue mailing list there's been several interesting discussions lately, one of them about the nature of the free market. And recently I've gotten into a long and involved debate about the nature of morality, and whether objective good and evil exist or whether it's all subjective. My own belief turns out to be a sort of free market mentality towards morals. That they're determined by society as a whole and that the market determines what morals are best for society as a whole, the same way that the free market tends to converge towards the fairest price for any given good for society as a whole. And just like the free market, while market forces ensure that in most cases the 'best' morals are chosen, in some places it breaks down and needs to be specifically targeted by governments and so forth. Also it means that you can believe anything you want to but you can't legitimately expect other people to follow it or even necessarily allow it unless your beliefs happen to line up with the market opinion.

It occurs to me though that while I don't have any solid idea of what Good is, I most certainly have an idea of what constitutes Evil, and that's moral apathy/selfishness. Not caring whether something is moral but only whether it suits your purposes for the moment. Or having a set of values that you supposedly subscribe to and choosing not to care because a situation isn't affecting you directly enough to actually apply those morals. Basically, I think that there was evil in the Holocaust but that it didn't come from Hitler, who was a raving loony but was doing his best to save the world from a threat that only he believed in, but instead that it came from all the hundreds of thousands of people who didn't agree with him but let him do it anyway because it was expedient at the time.

The other main thing I've been reading and thinking about lately is feminism, and more specifically into the more radical types, like here. I've found that their stuff can be separated into three broad categories: simple anarchistic man-hate (everything wrong with society is the fault of men, let's make our own lesbian enclaves where we can live without the interference of men!), deconstructing EVERYTHING for hidden messages of feminism or lack thereof and making a fuss every single time a movie, book, ad, or whatever shows a woman being some kind of negative stereotype (cos you know, it's not like men aren't also portrayed as negative stereotypes sometimes or that sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar), and pointing things out that are genuinely wrong (such as the complete lack of strong feminine characters pretty much everywhere, the strong perpetuation of some really destructive female stereotypes, and atrocities committed against women (although again, it sort of invalidates the fact that Bad Stuff can happen to men too). And they frustrate me so much, because here they have all these excellent analyses and legitimate points and then they go and ruin them by throwing in some random man-hate or showing that their only concern is for women and men can go jump off the nearest cliff as far as they care.
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Apparently today is National Coming Out day in the US. Several people on my friends list have mentioned it.


To those people I know who have come out (or in the case of the crossdressing guy in one of my Linguistics courses, are so 'out' that there was no need to 'come' in the first place), I'm proud of you. May your example help it become commonplace enough that coming out will no longer be a big deal and there won't need to be public awareness days for it.

To the people at my work who've (variously) said that being gay means that God made a mistake, that it's unnatural, that you're scared that one or more of your kids might come out sometime in the future, or that gay people shouldn't have kids or be part of families with kids because it's wrong, I can't respect that. It's people like you who are making it so difficult for them. Grow up already. PS. I think the new store second-in-charge is gay. Hope your tolerance for gays extends far enough to allow yourself to be managed by one.

To the governments who think that by closing their eyes they can somehow make it not happen, you're all idiots.

That goes double to the religions who think that by condemning it as unnatural they can stop it. All that leads to is people who've been indoctrinated to believe that they're fundamentally wrong, or that God made them that way as a test, or some crap like that, but in any case the only real way to deal with it is to either deny it or be completely celibate their whole life because they have no place in God's plan.

I'm not sure why this is such a big issue for me. I'm as sure as I can be right now that I'm straight*. Maybe it's because Hein is such a close friend and I've seen how tough it can be. Or maybe it's just an extension of my deep-seated belief in equality, and this is one of the most commonly stigmatised things out there, so it's easy to champion it. I dunno.

*This wasn't always the case. For a while I was leaning towards thinking that I must be either asexual or lesbian since all my friends were gushing about this guy and that guy and isn't he good-looking and none of the guys I knew had any of those effects on me.
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A couple of weeks ago I had a bad experience, the details aren't too important, but it involved me being socially naive amongst other things. I told a couple of friends about it, one or two at work, and a few of my uni friends. And one of my work friends had this to say to me: "I know you're a very open and honest person but I think you need to learn how to be more shy sometimes."

Huh? My self-image tells me that this is similar to telling water that it needs to be more wet. I've spent the last four years of my life trying to learn how not to be shy, and now someone is telling me to go back to that? So this is what I've been thinking about for the last few days, about openness, honesty, tact and discretion, shyness, and social appropriateness.

What I've come up with so far:

Shyness in the sense my coworker was using it means not disclosing information about yourself. Shyness in the sense I use it means not being able to hold a conversation at all. I suffer fairly badly from shyness in the second sense, but hardly any in the first. I generally decide whether or not to disclose information based on whether or not I have any right to disclose it rather than whether or not the person I'm speaking to has any right to hear it, and since I have the control over my personal information I can give all of it out without breaking any trust. Obviously sometimes it's not appropriate to do so and the important part of social interaction is working and when and how much to give out.
Openness and honesty go together in the sense that if you're a very open person you'll almost always be honest. The reverse certainly doesn't have to be true. You can be mysterious (ie not open) but still be a very fundamentally honest person. If you only give out information on a need-to-know basis then you're mysterious, if you give it out to anyone who asks then you're open (and socially naive if the person is likely to use that information in the wrong way), if you give it out without asking then you're being very open and often also inappropriate and possibly even intrusive.
Tact is largely defined by the ability to save face for the person you're talking to. All too often this means lying or deliberating skating around a certain topic so as not to cause them difficulty or embarrassment. Being tactful requires a good knowledge of what people are uncomfortable with and a good ability to read their reactions to what you say so that you can abort your current path if necessary.
Discretion is closely linked to tact because it also concerns knowing what not to say, however to me tact is about knowing how to say things in a 'good' way (which will often involve lies of some variety) while discretion is about knowing whether to bring it up at all.

So, my own areas to work on:
Working out who I can safely be open with.
Setting up some kind of mental filter so that I don't exist in a binary full disclosure/no disclosure state.
Become more comfortable talking to people face-to-face so that I can actually hold conversation, make eye contact, and so forth. I've noticed lately that even with my best friends I have trouble looking directly at them when I'm speaking..
Work out when tact needs to be exercised and when I can safely be as blunt as I prefer to be.
Get a better understanding of this whole appropriateness thing..
Learn how to evade questions I don't really want to answer without making it into this whole big awkward production. Also, learning how to say no gracefully

And then there's a few things which I probably should be working on but would require compromising honesty, so I'm probably going to just leave them be and society can go jump off a cliff if they don't like it :) Those things are mostly about learning how to hide my own reactions in order to be more socially appropriate, for example being able to hold a conversation with an annoying person without showing that I'm annoyed. I see the need for the skill but the idea of actually doing so myself isn't appealing at all.
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Recently I had a problem with a friend, wherein I told them something and they then went and told other friends of mine in a public place. Now technically this person wasn't in the wrong, as I hadn't specifically told them that I was uncomfortable having this information spread around without my permission. But I was unhappy about it because it was in a public place where others were close by, and one of the people who they assumed it would be alright to talk to hadn't heard about it from me. But I hadn't said  so to them, I just made the assumption that they wouldn't talk about it, and it turned out I should in fact have told them so directly.
And this got me thinking about the difference between discretion and tact.
The friend in question and I both agree that neither of us have much tact. If I want someone to do something I might as well tell them straight out, because I'm incapable of being indirect and any attempt to do so will come across as stupidly transparent. I've improved these days to the point where I can say things somewhat less hurtfully rather than just blurting it out any which way, but if I feel like the point needs to be made then virtually no force on earth will prevent me from saying it. My friend is much the same.
However I do have a lot of discretion. For me the default settings on any information I get is private rather than public. Unless the information is posted in some publicly accessible place or the information is exceptionally good or important I won't discuss it with other people unless I know for sure that they've been given access to it as well. I'll also be as careful as possible where and when I discuss things to minimise other people getting access to information that might be privileged for all I know.

I guess I'm still socially immature in a lot of ways to assume that what I say will never be taken as gossip fodder. After all, talking about mutual acquaintances and events is what makes up 90% of social interactions. But knowing this, my gut instinct is to react by holding the information I do possess even closer to my chest, lest it travel outside my sphere of control. This is ridiculous of course, and so I try to let go. But.. it really isn't easy, especially when things like this happen. To me, everything anyone says has an invisible Private tag attached, and so I find it somewhat frustrating that other people don't always feel the same way. If you keep asking them to keep things to themselves you come across as not trusting the other person and/or paranoid, but if you don't then they might spread it more than you feel comfortable with.. *sigh*

Anyway, this all brings me to a related point which I just found randomly interesting from a personal perspective. As usual it concerns Linguistics :P In tute the other day one of the questions concerned politeness strategies. It presented a couple of scenarios where you had to ask a favour from your neighbour/friend. In the first scenario you had to convince them to let your young daughter play with their young daughter for the day while you went shopping. For the second you had to convince them to mind your few-months-old baby (called Howler) for the night while you go to stay with a friend who hates babies.
My own answers were that for the first scenario you could get away with just asking straight out as long as you were somewhat polite about it, ie "I don't suppose you could do me a favour and mind my daughter just for today" and for the second scenario, same deal except with <i>much</i> more politeness, ie "I know this is a huge imposition and I wouldn't be asking you if I could possibly avoid it, but could you pleeeeaase take care of Howler just for tonight?"
The tutor on the other hand discussed them in these terms:
Scenario 1: "That's not a huge favour to ask... in fact you probably wouldn't even need to lie!... You could even possibly get away without even asking, say something like "you know, our daughters get along sooo well and they haven't seen eachother in ages..." and then just wait for the other person to make the offer!"
Scenario 2: "You would lie, definitely. Your uncle died, you have a wedding to go to, anything! Just not the truth!"
My reactions to the above discussion?
Scenario 1: Eww.. Not only could I never do that sort of indirect request where you hint and then wait for the other person to offer, but I really really hate it when people do that to me.
Scenario 2: Just wow. It never even occurred to me to lie outright. I would have been as polite as possible and skirted around the reasons why I needed the favour, but if pushed I would admit it was because I just wanted to spend one night with my friend who (and I would probably embroider the truth somewhat here, since hating babies is socially unacceptable) had trouble dealing with babies.

Apparently this ability to lie and hint around the favour you want so that you save face (both for yourself and for the person you're communicating with) is part of negative politeness; obviously it's something I'll have to work on if I want to be socially acceptable.. I'm not sure if I do though given what's involved.


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