Permission to be sad, Captain?

I am sick and tired of positive thinking culture.

There.

I said it.

I am sick and tired of a world that demands you explain yourself for being unhappy, that you repress and suppress all the unhappy feelings that you have, that you crush it all down into a little ball and let yourself express only brightness and joy. This is a world that implies that, somehow, if you are sad, you have failed. It is never the world that has failed you. It is never that people might have hurt you, or let you down; it is never that all the hideous unnecessary suffering and bigotry and cruelty in the world just kind of bothers you; it is never that there might actually be a chemical imbalance in your brain that requires some treatment.

It is never acknowledged that sadness is a perfectly sane and appropriate – and freaking healthy! – response to so many things.

No, no, it’s your attitude that is the problem.

This isn’t really a radical or original idea. Even Pixar/Disney, purveyors of brightness and joy, have made a point of saying that it is important to allow yourself to feel a full range of emotions and understand your own sadness. In the land of happy endings, that’s a big deal. It’s not a revolutionary idea to say that, if you don’t understand your own sadness, you can’t even have a happy ending.

If you’ve read my social media rant, you’ll know that I pay close attention to the Facebook feeds of my friends. I live miles away from most of them, so it’s how I best stay in touch.

Here’s something that I see a lot:

A friend posts something about how they are so sick of struggling and fighting, so sick of someone’s behaviour (usually not named or detailed, because my friends are sensible and thoughtful people), and they feel overwhelmed and tired and anxious and miserable.

Sympathy wells up in me. I know them feels! I go to comment on the post to share sympathy, or to say “Hey, you can call if you need to,” or whatever is appropriate for the level of closeness that I have with that person.

“This post does not exist.” Or has been deleted. At this moment I can’t recall Facebook’s wording for that particular phenomenon.

“Oh,” I think. “They must have thought better of sharing their private emotions on Facebook. That’s fair.” And some people do. I rarely share the depth of my sadness or rage or worry or fear in public; even deep down joy is something I tend to keep to myself. For me, deeply felt emotions are a private thing. There’s a story there, a very long story, and it’s why this post makes me feel naked and sick, but I leave it up because I think some stories are important and need to be told and I keep reminding myself that there is nothing shameful in it, and it’s more important that other people in that situation don’t feel alone with it, than for me to enjoy my safe privacy on that issue. And one day I may write about why I am so very private with my emotions, but, as Aragorn once said, this is not that day.

I consider whether I should message this friend privately. Depending on who it is, and how close we are, or how private I know they are, I may or may not do so.

A few seconds later, something like this appears in my feed, from the same person:

“Sometimes life is hard, but you’ve just got to stay positive! I am so thankful for all the good things in my life! Onward and upward!”

And I feel… ugh. It’s hard to describe what I feel. A strange mix of horror and resignation and anger – not towards the person in question, but towards a damaging belief system that makes them feel like they have to be happy for an audience.

Before anyone gets outraged, I’m going to tell one more story, and this is a personal one with actual personal emotions, but it’s very short. Here we go.

A few years ago, my step-mother, Joy, died of terminal lung cancer. When she was diagnosed, she was given six months to live. I believe she eked out an extra week or so. It was rough on everyone – her family, my father, me. The ripples of anger and shock and grief spread out everywhere.

There’s a public myth about cancer, and about how people who experience cancer – or any terminal illness – should present themselves. They should be brave. They should be positive. They should be determined and fearless and somehow at peace. It’s an awful, awful trope, because it puts all the pressure on the person who is really fucking sick and suffering to be strong for all the people around them, and it doesn’t allow for the realities of the situation, which is basically that people with terminal illnesses tend to die, and they don’t tend to die in a comfortable way (if there is such a thing). Those of us left behind find that incredibly difficult to face, so we try to bear with a kind of denial, and we expect the sick person to support us in this.

Where they are supposed to get the emotional energy to support us while they’re probably thinking, “Holy fucking shit, I’m going to die, this is horrible, I’m not finished, how do I deal with this shit?” is a complete mystery to me.

Joy was put on anti-depressants. She was surprised by this, as she was generally a very positive and up-beat sort of person. Her warmth and acceptance and kindness made her very easy to be around even at the worst of times, and she had a genuine gift for making the best of a bad situation, so she had trouble accepting that she was sad, even though she had every reason to be incredibly sad and upset.

She knew I had experience with depression (I’m not shy about it), so she spoke to me and told me how she was determined to stay positive and upbeat and strong and cheerful.

“No,” I said. “I mean, yes, it’s good that you’re doing that, and keep that up as long as you actually want to. But that’s exhausting. It is emotionally and physically exhausting. I just want you to know that it is okay, some days, to let the depression win. It is okay to give yourself a day just to be sad. To rest. To gather up emotional energy to get back to the fight the next day.”

No-one had ever said that to her. Everyone had been telling her to keep a positive attitude, to stay upbeat, to focus only on the good things.

No-one had ever said, “It’s okay to be sad.”

I was furious.

I am still furious.

People give this advice with the absolute best of intentions, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely understand that. And there is a grain of truth in it, which I will get to in a moment, but the key point here, the really crucial point, is that you don’t owe anyone your happiness. What people forget is that when you need all your energy to get out of bed and walk around, you don’t have anything left for smiles and laughter.

There are times when you will want to be private about your feelings. For me, that’s most of the time. It’s obvious when I am sad and when I am perky, but the depths or heights of those feelings are kept in whenever I can do so. I feel that I owe it to co-workers and colleagues to be – well – mellow. I owe it to them to be approachable, and civil, and relatively easy to be around, and professional. I do not owe it to anyone to be happy, or pretend to be happy, if I am not. I’ve had bad days. It doesn’t always work. You just do your best.

But you are allowed to be sad. You are allowed to be angry. You will usually have good reasons for those feelings.

Here’s the other problem I have with this positive thinking idea: there is that grain of truth I mentioned previously. It comes with basic cognitive training, a technique that is very useful for people with mood disorders. You teach yourself to pull out of the “everything is shit” spiral. It is very, very hard psychological work, and it takes a long time to learn it. It’s not as simple as it sounds. It involves a lot of self-awareness, and a lot of self-discipline. What’s more is that all it does is take the edge off. It makes it a bit easier to function and get by and be happy on occasion. It’s good, but it doesn’t always work.

Learning to appreciate that you do have some things to be happy about is fair, but it’s not a cure-all. Looking on the bright side is a useful skill, but that’s not what is usually being promoted with “stay positive”. The way people often apply it – and I’m not saying this is deliberate – is not so much “focus on the fact that not everything is awful,” so much as “completely ignore that anything is awful at all.” It’s the “how dare you be unhappy when you have food” argument all over again. It’s great that you have food. So many people don’t. But the fact that other people don’t have food, and you yourself will never go hungry, does not mean that your pain is invalid. Getting perspective is helpful, and useful, but again, it’s not a cure-all.

Essentially, “stay positive” should mean “acknowledge that this is difficult, understand why it is difficult, accept it, and try to move on while carrying that knowledge by looking at things in your life that give you a lift,” but that’s not how we use it.

We usually use it to try and discredit sadness.

And that is an awful and dangerous thing.

So here I am, declaring that if you think you need permission to be sad or angry or open about those feelings, then fine. I give you permission. I, Kate, have decreed that you are allowed to experience the full range of human emotion and the sensible responses to your life. I have decreed that you shouldn’t feel like a failure, or a loser, because you have a full range of emotions, or because life gets you down sometimes. There is no embarrassment. There is no shame.

You’re just sad. And that’s okay.

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I am my own filter: Kate’s Social Media Rant

I know they get clicks – that they are, in fact, the quintessential click-bait – but I am so fucking tired of those articles about what you should or should not do on social media.

“Five things you do on Facebook that you should stop doing!” could also be translated as, “Are you insecure about whether your online ‘friends’ are actually friends or whether they are judging you for oversharing or bragging? Click here and give us money and we’ll probably make you feel worse!”

So here’s my take on it, click-bait or otherwise (aside: were I to write anything that could even remotely be described as “click-bait” I would be delighted).

One of the things that is listed as an internet no-no is usually “having a whinge”.

Having a whinge

I think that having a whinge is one of the most important things we can do, socially and psychologically, and I suspect I may be in the minority on that. I have limits on what I think is appropriate, and I’ll express those when asked, but for the vast majority of the time I only apply those limits to myself.

If you read my Facebook, you might be very surprised that I apply any limits to myself, since my Facebook feed runs the gamut from the political (rare), the scientific (moderate), the cute (frequent) and the intensely banal (embarrassingly frequent), but we’ll get back to this.

People like to complain about complainers (the irony of this is often lost on them; I often find that sort of complaining far, far more irritating than the original sook), and they often like to say it is for the following reason:

“People should do something about their problems instead of just complaining about it.”

Now, this might genuinely be their motivation – I can’t read minds – but, cynical beast that I am, jaded by my day to day internet addiction and experiencing the death of a thousand cuts ill-considered internet comments, I honestly think that it’s more that they are made uncomfortable, or personally annoyed.

“I hate reading about someone’s [crappy day/experiences with bigotry/deaths in the family/personal suffering] because it interrupts my preferred flow of [political discussion/musical discoveries/cute cat pictures] and sometimes it makes me bummed.”

There’s nothing invalid about that response. It’s pretty normal.

So back to that first rationalisation: if it’s genuine – if this dichotomy of talkers vs. doers is why an anti-whinger is having trouble with their sulky Facebook or Twitter feed – I have a piece of very exciting news.

It’s a bombshell. Stand back.

These two categories are not mutually exclusive.

You can both whinge about a problem while contributing to solving it. I like to think I do this from time to time. I’m an expressive sort of person (I like to say that I am nothing if not verbose, and honestly perhaps that should be the subtitle of this blog…). I think in narratives, and arguments, and conversations and rants. I do not, alas, think in pithy one-liners. These posts would be much shorter if I did.

This applies to everything from intensely banal personal problems (i.e., my frustration with the current state of our carport and the paved areas in our yard) to much more significant political stances (i.e., my frustration with the current Australian government, my frustration with the endemic sexism, racism and other assorted bigotries in our society, my frustration with the wanton destruction of fragile marine ecosystems…).

I don’t fool myself that expressing my frustration with any of these things will solve the problem, but I am not so busy expressing my frustration that it will stop me from trying to do anything about it (although admittedly my political activism is largely about online conversation and discussion, and I have only changed one or two minds to date, but I count those as successes; also donations. Not as good as volunteering time, but still something).

To return to the banal: I can complain about the state of my carport and also clean it up. I can complain about endemic sexism and also call people on it when it occurs and have that conversation. I can complain about some ill health problems and also address them medically.

Now, sometimes it’s not the case. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do about a situation, or nothing I am willing to do for various reasons ranging from laziness to fear to lack of resources; and I may whinge anyway.

Good Lord, Kate, says the anti-whinger, why are you doing that? That’s self indulgent and only pisses people off.

I do it for a few reasons, and in no particular order, they are as follows:

  1. I am, as stated above, expressive by nature. I find nothing so satisfying as accurately and precisely delineating my thoughts and feelings on an issue, no matter how insignificant. It’s as though it ticks a little box in my brain. I have successfully described and outlined a problem. Dopamine reward!
  2. This is more an extension of (1), but venting feels good. It’s not entirely supported as a positive act; psychologically it is better to vent productively (i.e., outlining a problem, why you feel that way, possible solutions if any), but sometimes it’s good to just let it rip (I would argue, though, that you should always choose your audience with care when you do this. Never forget that the internet is forever).
  3. Sometimes it makes a good story. When shit happens, and especially when it gets ridiculous, there’s a part of my brain that says, “This will make a great anecdote later.” I am happy to whinge and try, if I can find the energy and the narrative, to make it as entertaining as I possibly can. I see it as a challenge, and it also helps me deal with the problem.
  4. Because I bloody well can.

Now that we’ve dealt with whingeing, and how I think that it’s perfectly appropriate 99.9% of the time for someone to have a sook in their own feed, everything else falls into the category of miscellaneous.

You can’t please everyone; don’t try

If you’ve consulted one or many of those “what you shouldn’t post on Facebook of Twitter” articles, you will have spotted a pattern – or rather, you will have spotted a lack of a pattern.

Variously, apparently, you should not:

  1. post about fitness (this includes everything from “I ran a marathon” to “gym killed me today”)
  2. post about nutrition (self-explanatory)
  3. post about medical stuff (oh noes! Oversharing! How dare you mention that you are in overwhelming pain all the time and you’re feeling a bit bummed and would like a little emotional support!)
  4. post about politics (that just makes people angry!)
  5. post about religion (I can channel myself here. People posting about their religion makes me want to stab myself in the eye, but since that would be unproductive, I take the radical step of minding my own business)
  6. post about their relationship (because who cares how much you love your snoogy woogums?)
  7. post about their children (because who cares about your sprogs?)
  8. post about their pets (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA I’m sorry I can’t comment on this one even a little)
  9. post about their failures (this comes under “whingeing”, I believe)
  10. post about their successes (because you’re showing off – or humble-bragging – or rubbing it in)

And one might reasonably wonder – after reading all this – what one can post about without upsetting the Buzzfeed authorship. Relatively few people seem to complain about people posting science or music or art, but then those can push political buttons.

And this self-righteous superior malarkey basically ends up in one place:

“I have things that I prefer to see in my feed, and these are obviously universal because everyone reacts the same way to these things that I do. I am the quintessential Internet Human and there is no variation around this mean.”

Twit.

I’m sorry (spoiler: I’m not sorry), but hell, it’s not hard to step back and think that maybe what you want to see and what I want to see and what other people want to see might vary just a tad.

I like to see posts about my friends’ kids, not just for the cute factor, but for the reality factor (these posts are not always overwhelmingly positive), and because I’m quite genuinely interested in what’s happening in my friends’ lives. Also, I like the kids.

I like to see posts about pets, for very similar reasons.

I like to see posts about medical things, about fitness, about nutrition. I like to see posts about politics.

I’m ambivalent about relationship posts. It’s not my thing – in many cases, unless carefully worded, such posts can come back to bite you very hard in the backside, and maybe you’re into that, but they make me squirm a little. Still, it’s absolutely your call. I do occasionally post about my relationship, but only when I find it very entertaining (given the nature of my relationship with Husband, it is usually pretty entertaining, at least for me).

I really hate religion posts (with the exception of very thoughtful pro-atheism posts, because I agree with many of those, and who doesn’t like a nice echo chamber?), but if you want to post about religion, go nuts. It’s your call, your feed; they’re your thoughts and your feelings, and if you want to use social media to share them, if you find that empowering or even just fun, then please do it. Don’t worry about people like me who are driven nuts by it. We’ll get over ourselves and move on. You can’t please everyone and it’s not worth trying.

What I really love to see? I love to see posts about friends’ successes. I want to hear about your promotion, your new job, your grant, your new best time in a 5K run, your new sculpture, your market stall, your paper, your novel. The idea that posting about good things in your life is “bragging” is just about one of those most vile things I can think of. Are some people having a brag and being a bit superior? Well, probably. Whatever. That’s not my problem. If you really don’t want to see good things happening to your friends, I think you might have some other problems you want to deal with, and I’m not being passive-aggressive: I mean there’s some insecurity and some anxiety happening, and it’s worth having a think about it. Sometimes it is hard to see someone succeed where we have failed, even if we love them; sometimes it can be stupendously hard; but most of us see that we can’t make it their problem. It’s our problem, and we deal with it. There’s no need to take off their shine.

Social media is a place where a bunch of different people raised in different ways – in different countries, towns, religions, and under different social rules and regimes – come together. When they do come together, they bring their baggage with them – their personal rules and preferences on what is, and is not, appropriate – and they often presume that their rules are universal.

People post about what they care about. They post about their passions. Sometimes they admittedly just post about what they had for dinner (I can take or leave that one; it’s similar to my banal “Oh God I’m in the lab and I haven’t had coffee, which end of the pipette goes where?” sort of posts). They post about what’s on their mind, and the thing about social media is that you can use it how you like. You can use it to promote things you are passionate about; you can use it to stay in touch with friends; you can use it to tell anecdotes about your day; and none of these things are mutually exclusive.

Here is how it works: social media is about things going outward from the writer, not inward towards the reader; or, to put it another way, the focus is on expression, not consumption, of material.

Do you have a responsibility to entertain people? Of course not. A social media feed is not a journalism feed. It’s not a magazine, or a novel, or a newspaper. People who write in those contexts, who write professionally, are subject to a wide swathe of ethical responsibilities. Social media is not a professional context: it’s just a bunch of people spewing whatever comes into their head at odd moments, and that has turned out to be enormously popular and enormously effective and incredibly annoying in a variety of ways.

But – my own opinion – you also do have an implied responsibility not to ruin it for everybody else, by which I mean: don’t show up self-righteously to tell people how boring their posts are, or how they’re using social media “wrong”, and while I won’t generally tell people what to post or what not to post, I have very little patience with meta-whingeing: whingeing about other people whingeing (although if you’re of a recursive mindset, my own stance is meta-meta-whingeing; DUDE, MIND BLOWN).

And in my own, excessively verbose way, I’ll get to the point:

Be your own filter. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. I scroll past “God is good!” You can scroll past “Look at my adorable children,” or “i hate my ex [sic]”. If you want to argue about the merits of a political position, that’s your call (I do and have done so, depending on the issue and how much I feel like I can be bothered getting stuck into it). If someone consistently posts a bunch of tripe that drives you mad, you can filter or unfriend them. That’s a power that you have.

I mean, you could just show up on posts you don’t like and tell people that their thoughts, interests and feelings are of no interest to you or anyone else and they should shut up, but that’s kind of an arse move, and it makes you the problem.

Red Rottweilers and “Unethical” Breeders

I am genuinely torn on the issue of dog breeders. On the one hand, I love dogs, and I have a fondness for particular dog breeds, and it’s the responsibility of breeders to produce more of those dogs so people like me can take a puppy home to treasure and train. Many breeders are lovely, responsible people even if they don’t know enough about population genetics to prevent inbreeding. While some breeders may view their studs as assembly lines, many do genuinely love their charges and take care to properly house and socialise their dogs and puppies.

I’ve put that disclaimer there. There it is. See that disclaimer? If you’re a dog breeder who loves your dogs, takes good care of their health and their need for companionship, and values the health of your dogs over their appearance, then you need not take the following rant personally in any way.

You might do so anyway, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve covered my arse.

The adorable 9-month old rescue Rottweiler girl that we just adopted (blog post and pictures to follow) has slightly longer hair than Amos does, and it reminded me that there are long-haired Rottweilers in the world. Curious, I did a little research. It turns out that the long hair is a rare, recessive gene; it is not linked to any health issues.

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How cute is this guy? Photo from Molosserdogs.com

It is considered a “fault”. In show-breeding, that means the breed does not meet the standard. You really can’t show that dog, and most breeders will insist that if you take a long-haired rottie pup, you desex that dog when it comes of age so that it does not breed.

Let’s recap, because these concepts will return:

(a) long hair is part of the natural variation in the breed, i.e. it is not caused by outbreeding.

(b) long hair is not linked with poor health on the part of the animal.

(c)  For a recessive trait (like long hair) to express, you need two copies of the relevant allele, meaning one from each parent.

While apologists may argue that long hair is not necessarily very practical in a “working dog”, this can easily be rebutted by pointing out the numerous working dog breeds with long hair (oh, so many: border collies, long-haired german shepherds, mountain dogs, Old English sheepdogs…) and the fact that show dogs don’t tend to do a lot of work requiring a neat army buzz cut.

The production of long-haired rottweiler puppies means that both the parents have one copy of the long-haired allele. The breeder might decide not to repeat that cross, but they’re generally going to keep breeding those specific dogs to other dogs. This means that the carriers are still going to pass on that long-haired allele (50% chance per pup per parent with the allele).

This in turn means that not breeding the long-haired rotties does absolutely nothing to reduce the frequency of the allele in the population; it simply fails to increase it. As an attempt to remove genetic diversity from the population, it is both misguided and astonishingly ineffective. Even if it were effective, you would not only be removing that cosmetic change, but all the other genetic diversity linked to it, and purebred dogs can’t afford to lose any genetic diversity that doesn’t have a health cost.

So at this point I’m wondering why anyone – anyone – gives a crap if a rottie has long hair. They can still have the physique preferred for the dog. They’re still intelligent and loyal and strong. They still look like a rottie. Most importantly, they are healthy. It might be a bit tricker to comb for ticks and remove burrs, but otherwise, I’m drawing a blank. Maybe it makes it harder for judges to give points to a dog if there’s too much variation in the breed and they have to pick one variant over another.

I’m starting to take issue with the word “fault”.

The long-haired issue, however, is dwarfed by the issue of “red Rottweilers.”

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Another gorgeous one. Photo from the Rested Dog Inn at http://www.resteddoginn.ca/redrescue.php

These guys are fricking gorgeous, and they are, if anyone is curious, purebred rotties. Coat colour is a very complex polygenic trait. “Black with tan points”, the colour pattern one finds in rottweilers, is in itself the product of homozygous recessive genes that are fixed in the rottweiler population. All rotties have two copies of that allele.

In order to produce the “red” rottie (although I’d argue that’s more of a brown or liver colour), another gene needs to be altered. Once again, the alteration resulting in this colour is recessive and, much like the alleles for long hair, it’s quite rare in the population.

Again, the red coat is considered a fault. I curiously read more on this and came upon a rabid drool-flecked mouth-foaming rant on the subject by someone associated with the American Rottweiler Club, who used the phrase “corrupt the purity of our breed.”

They also stated that a breeder who sells a “red rottie” is to be considered “unethical,” because that dog can’t be shown and that such dogs should never, ever be bred. Furthermore, they said it was a sign of inbreeding.

Well… sort of. That’s hard to argue if you don’t know the incidence of the gene in the population. The best way to see if your dog is inbred as hell (other than assuming that purebreds are always inbred as hell, which is true to a point) is to look at the pedigree. If you can, go back more than the standard three to five generations. The only differences between a red or long-haired coat and a congenital internal recessive defect are that you can see the cosmetic changes and they’re not unhealthy. It is true that if you tried to breed for long hair or recessive coat colour, you would eventually create a highly inbred line. As the occasional result of a mating, it’s not a problem.

Then they tried to argue that this coat pigmentation is linked to problems in cardiac, eye and skin health.

“Gosh,” I thought to myself, “that sounds dire.”

Given that I still possess access to the university library, I signed onto Web of Science to do a little bit of a literature search for any studies showing a link between this particular pigmentation and any health problems.

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Curious.

Nothing.

Problems with white pigmentation have been heavily documented and researched elsewhere. A dog being brown instead of black… not so much. I tried every variation of keywords I could think of, and still…

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Zip. Nada. Nothing.

“Hrm,” I thought to myself, “that coat colouring looks familiar.”

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(Red and tan kelpie! photo from Noonbarra, kelpie breeders)

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A photo from a nice website on coat colour genetics in this breed. http://daminidachshunds.weebly.com/dachshund-color-genetics.html

“I wonder if it’s linked to health problems in those breeds? It’s clearly considered not a fault in those.”

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(look, I was getting tired of orthopteran insects, but the principle remains)

Now, in the interests of genetic honesty, it is possible that a particular condition might be linked to a health problem in one breed and not another, given how rapidly genes become fixed in these very small populations. It is possible.

But it’s not damn likely.

That makes it recap time!

(a) The red coat is part of the natural variation in the breed, i.e. it is not caused by outbreeding.

(b) The red hair is not linked with poor health on the part of the animal, and any attempts to state otherwise are clearly apologetics based on zero goddamn evidence and very likely confirmation bias (cf. confirmation bias: “This particular red rottweiler has a skin condition! I knew they were unhealthy!”).

(c)  For a recessive trait (like the red coat) to express, you need two copies of the relevant allele, meaning one from each parent.

The closest possibility is that the red coat appears to be strongly associated with lighter-coloured eyes, which are a bit more sensitive to sunlight. I have blue eyes. I relate. It’s really not something that affects my life in any major way.

In the cases of long hair and red coat, which are purely cosmetic differences as far as the dog is concerned and do not affect the strength, health, or conformation* of the animal, it is not possible to remove that diversity from the population without a genetic test to see if a parent dog carries the gene (except to, perhaps, make a note of it when these bundles of joy do turn up).

Labelling a breeder “unethical” for selling a perfectly healthy fucking dog?

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Trying to remove an allele from the population without having the faintest idea how to do it?

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Referring to the presence of a slightly different coat colour as a corruption as though it was best cast into the fires of Mount Doom? (“One phenotype to rule them all…”)

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This does not make sense. Breed standards exist for a reason, but they have gone well beyond that at this stage. I think it’s exceptionally telling that kelpie breeders in the U.S. refuse to allow their breed to be registered because they are concerned that their breed will be destroyed by show breeding. That is an entirely fair concern. I think it’s telling that the U.K. German Shepherd breed standards have been altered to consider that horrific sloping back a fault rather than a desirable trait.

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You have got to be fucking kidding me.

 

 

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See? That looks sensible. Photo taken from http://thegermanshepherddogbreed.blogspot.com.au/

Apparently it’s controversial.

Emphasising the health of the animal should never be controversial.

People who are selling red rotties and long-haired rotties as “rare rotties” might be accused of taking advantage of a genetic quirk and promoting aesthetics over temperament (although it’s a bit late to worry about that latter point), but they are hardly unethical. The only way it could be unethical would be if the breeder did not tell the buyer that the dog can’t be shown. Since I tend to consider dog shows somewhat in the light of obsessive public masturbation, this wouldn’t bother me (yes, yes, that’s just my opinion).

So if you see a long-haired or red rottie pup for sale and you melt into a pile of dog-adoring goo, be dissauded perhaps by the enormous responsibility of owning a large dog, or a dog at all; by the huge amount of work they are; by the possible vet bills you may be signing up for; but don’t, even for a second, be dissuaded by the mouth-breathing rants of breed purists.

*(don’t get me started on conformation; it’s like the word “holistic” – it has an actual, useful meaning, but mostly people who use it don’t mean it that way at all)

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P.S. When we got Amos as a puppy, I used to spend some time reading and researching things on a rottie enthusiast forum in a search for behavioural tips, until we found our current trainers. I’ve since stopped reading this forum because I am so tired of people talking about “For the BREED!” without actually meaning anything when they say this.

On Modesty, Self-Respect, the Appropriate, and defining your terms before you open your mouth

I would be perfectly happy never again to hear the fusty, huffy catch-cry of “It’s about self-respect! What next?” when it comes to modesty, clothing or behaviour, because honestly, the answer to “What next?” is usually “Hotpants.”

I would be happy never again to hear, “They can do what they like, but I don’t want to have to see it” or “I don’t want to see anyone’s [body part]” or “I don’t want to see a [person of description] wearing [apparently objectionable clothing item].”

(I happily quote Ragen Chastaine’s blog in response to the latter: “Look over there! It’s a whole bunch of other stuff you can look at!”)

And I would be happy never to hear someone say, “It’s called being appropriate.”

I’m not sure if I get this from my general English major or my science major, or just being plain rigorous, but I get quite uncomfortable whenever anyone uses a term to proscribe someone else’s behaviour that they then cannot define.

Thus far, no-one has managed to provide me with a definition of modesty, the appropriate, or even the nebulous self-respect (in this context) without resorting to

(1) extraordinary sexism

(2) religious beliefs (see 1); or

(3) generalised sex-negativity (see also 1).

Appropriate may refer to “current societal norms” (which vary from place to place within the same city), but it more often refers to “the societal norms I grew up with.” You can not reasonably expect everyone to operate according to your specific personal preferences. You think your god doesn’t like people eating pies? Great! Don’t eat pies. Now explain that to all the people who don’t follow your god. Why, exactly, should they stop eating pies? Moving on from pies (it’s possible that I’m a bit hungry just now): you’re upset by seeing navels? That’s a shame. You should probably try not to look at people’s navels.

People do have a right to complain about their discomfort (I complain frequently, whether I’m being reasonable or not), and I have a right to sling it back at them. Sure, I wince a little when a friend refuses to wear pants that cover his butt-crack, but I have no objective standard for saying there is anything morally defunct about his butt-crack (we all have them. If we did not, our buttocks would be fused! Would that not be problematic, gentle reader?), nor do I imagine he is unaware of the problem (the air blows through the pass a wee bit cold), and I am not obligated to stare at the coin slot thus exposed (no matter how my eyes may be drawn to it, as unto a single stain on an otherwise pristine carpet).

If my butt-crack exposing friend were attempting to project an air of professionalism, I might let him know that his vulnerable crevice is working against him (assuming he did not already know). Otherwise, it’s his call.

I deliberately used a male example here. Should we now, perhaps, discuss young ladies who wear extremely short shorts, such that one can see, from certain angles, an exposed derriere? Oh, my stars, I feel quite faint. Should we discuss breastfeeding in public such that someone might see a nipple? Bring me my smelling salts! (wait, these aren’t smelling salts. This is Wizz Fizz)

Can anyone define modesty in such a way that it is a societal virtue?

Honestly, whenever someone says “modesty”, all I hear is, “Cover yourself, skin is bad,” and “Cover yourself, because people don’t want you to make them think about sex,” and “Cover yourself, because other people’s thoughts are your responsibility,” and, finally, “Cover yourself, because I was a bit surprised and now I have seen something that is out of context for me, and I’m being forced to deal with it, and it’s all a bit too difficult.”

Modesty, as near as I can tell, is somehow positioned and staged (with special effects and clever lighting) as being about self-respect. With glorious sleight-of-hand, people use the term “modesty” and then somehow manage to skip over the definition, where your body is something you actively restrict; self-respect means not letting other people see your parts which… are apparently bad? Self-respect means only letting certain people see your parts, otherwise… rain of toads? Because, if you respect yourself, that means hiding yourself away. Things are only worthy of respect if they are rare and offer restricted access.

Wait? What’s that you say? Oh, right, sexism. Alright, women are only worthy of respect if they are restricted. The minute you can see too much of a woman, you aren’t supposed to have respect for her, and it means she does not have respect for herself.

Now, please, stop for a minute, and think, because that shit right there is fucked up.

Stop, and just for a moment, swap the genders. I don’t assume my friend with the naked crevice lacks respect for himself. I don’t feel he’s immodest. I honestly think he probably just doesn’t give a donkey’s ball sac whether anyone can see his arse or not. I think it’s misguided when he’s trying to be professional, but when he’s not, I think it’s admirable.

Here’s another one: the notion that women who breastfeed in public are somehow being immodest plays into the idea that women with babies should enter into “confinement”. Women should be restricted whenever showing evidence of, ahem, biology. Biology is not appropriate, apparently.

And all people can tell me is, “Mumble, mumble, modesty,” and “Mumble, mumble, appropriate.” If a breastfeeding mother is uncomfortable potentially exposing the nipple, because there’s the possibility of being judged and stared at, and that is upsetting, sure, cover up, find another space, do what you need to do. I don’t like being stared at and judged either and it definitely informs my choices and anxieties. But if you don’t give the aforementioned donkey’s ball sac about other people’s hang-ups, then go forth and lactate.

If you like the short shorts and what must surely be a wedgy sort of feeling (I may be projecting; short shorts don’t deal with my hips), go forth! Expose the lower portion of thy buttocks. I don’t care – although, granted, I find it looks a bit odd – and if anyone does, it says more about them than about you.

The minute someone says, “But what about the elderly?” remind them that the elderly are adults, and that the world was in the process of changing as they grew up and isn’t going to abruptly stand still. If they say, “But what about children?” remind them that children not only have body parts, they tend to find them pretty fascinating. The fact that other people have body parts is not likely to confuse them. In fact, it’s a reassuring confirmation of logical expectation.

Lest anyone be confused, here: I reserve the right for anyone to make aesthetic judgments. I can subjectively say, “I don’t think that looks pretty”, and none can say me nay. I won’t say that to the person in question unless they actively seek my opinion (and even then I may dance around the issue in a clumsy not-wanting-to-hurt-feelings sort of way), but I have my preferences as does everyone. The difference is that I do not ascribe any moral relevance to my aesthetic preferences. The fact that I prefer A-line dresses to t-shirt dresses just means I like full skirts and a fitted waist (where that is comfortable for the body type in question); I don’t like t-shirt dresses because I think it looks like people just aren’t wearing any pants, and I’m used to the people with baggy tops wearing pants. You know what? It doesn’t matter that I think that. It doesn’t matter that I’m confused. It doesn’t matter that damn it, fashion changed since I was a teenager, and now these young-uns are wearing weird looking clothes and it’s not in line with the aesthetic I developed growing up; and that is all that is (this also applies to music in a serious way, but that’s another conversation).

No-one has the right for their subjective aesthetic preferences to be followed. In a similar vein, no-one has a particular right not to be exposed to flesh, or clothing they don’t like. No-one has a right to judge, by any objective standard, another person’s clothing, body type, or sexual behaviour (outside of causing harm).

People will judge anyway. So do I. We’re human. We should, however, take a step back, and remind ourselves that we have our own business we’re perfectly capable of minding, and we should get right on that. Why, when I was a lass, people didn’t… I don’t know what they didn’t do, but they didn’t do it, and now they do, and it’s wrong! What’s that? Why is it wrong? Because it’s disrespectful? Of what, exactly? Of… me and my expectations.

That’s it. Seriously, screw your expectations.