Links Retrospective, January – February 2020

So, I read a lot of stuff. Links Retrospective is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month period. The intent is for there to be a few weeks of “lag” time between when I first read the articles and when I curate this collection, so that my selection isn’t biased by ongoing hype or sensationalism. The articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the two months. Here are my picks for January and February, 2020:

When “Life Hacking” is Really White Privilege – jendziura, 2013

Skipping ahead of people in line, even when invited to do so, is better referred to as “being an asshole.” And obliviousness to your own privilege is no excuse. If you’re absorbed in your phone and not really sure if you’re rightfully next in line, it’s your job to look around and say, “I’m sorry, were you here before me?”

When you are an affluent-seeming white man and you ask for things that don’t belong to you, sometimes you’re not really asking. It’s sort like Bill Clinton asking Monica Lewinsky to have sex with him. There’s a context behind the asking.

When you ask a serviceperson for something that doesn’t belong to you, there is often a subtext of, “If I complain to your manager, you know your manager is going to listen to me. Just look at me, and look at you.”

If you seem to be “getting everything you want,” you should probably examine whether you’re getting it at someone’s expense, or whether you’re just constantly, in small ways, making the world worse.

This is an interesting and well done piece from a bygone era of SJW blogging, when people were a lot more high-key about pointing out white privilege. I don’t really miss that era because I feel like most content put out then were unnecessarily inflammatory, but occasionally there would be an article like this one, that does a nice and tight analysis within the framework.

Pairs nicely with Siderea’s article on the Asshole Filter (check the “readability” box on the top right corner) from 2015, which has another perspective on the issue of assholery.

h/t Evan for putting it on my dash!

When the Hero is the Problem – Rebecca Solnit, 2019

In a farming valley on the Laxa River in northern Iceland in August 25, 1970, community members blew up a dam to protect farmland from being flooded. After the dam was dynamited, more than a hundred farmers claimed credit (or responsibility). There were no arrests, and there was no dam, and there were some very positive consequences, including protection of the immediate region and new Icelandic environmental regulations and awareness. It’s almost the only story I know of environmental sabotage having a significant impact, and it may be because it expressed the will of the many, not the few.

We are not very good at telling stories about a hundred people doing things or considering that the qualities that matter in saving a valley or changing the world are mostly not physical courage and violent clashes but the ability to coordinate and inspire and connect with lots of other people and create stories about what could be and how we get there.

Our largest problems won’t be solved by heroes. They’ll be solved, if they are, by movements, coalitions, civil society. The climate movement, for example, has been first of all a mass effort, and if figures like Bill McKibben stand out—well he stands out as the cofounder of a global climate action group whose network is in 188 countries and the guy who keeps saying versions of “The most effective thing you can do about climate as an individual is stop being an individual.”

Down with the cult of the individual, up with collective action.

Amy Discovers Jo’s AO3 Handle and Drags Her in the March Family Group Chat – Peyton, 2020

Beth: did she literally write sherlock holmes fanfiction about the time i got pneumonia and almost died

A piece of fiction. There’s getting fandom culture, and then there’s being able to capture the exact mixture of humiliation and nostalgia from unearthing your old Homestuck fanfiction from 2014 in the year of our lord 2020.

I absolutely love everything about this, but this is in large part because I’ve been heavily involved in fandom for over half my life at this point.

Do You Even Bake, Bro? – Dayna Evans, 2018

Bread requires little and it has existed in some form for thousands of years, relatively unchanged, because it’s simple to make and it feeds you. But if you were to scroll through Instagram, or watch recent YouTube tutorials, or read the libraries of blogs and self-published e-books, you might come away thinking that making bread was more challenging than performing brain surgery. That’s because bread-baking in America has, of late, found a friend in the unlikeliest of people: engineers, technologists, and the Silicon Valley-centric and adjacent. The image of a folksy baker laboring from muscle memory over her humble daily loaf, this is not.

Bread is back. And it’s being disrupted.

Man, I just relate to the author of this piece so much.

Like, all my friends are tech nerds, and I’ve dated one for five years. I just have a major soft spot for these adorable weirdos who feel a compulsion to debug and optimize every part of their existence. And I think she probably can relate to that because she’s married to one of these weirdos as well.

And also like Evans, at the same time I’m super frustrated with the, I guess, insularity that they exhibit whenever they find a new hobby to disrupt.

On one hand, it’s like, this is why representation is important, you know? When you see someone in a novel field that’s like you, it makes the field more approachable to you. This is why we want more women in politics, and people of colour in academia, and queer folk in board rooms etc etc etc.

When these nerds discovered bakers that spoke their language of debugging and standardization, it’s natural that it’s those (overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male) bakers that the tech bros gravitate towards.

Again, this is the same phenomenon that we want, for more “underrepresented” groups, in more important fields. So being like, “ugh, these techies, so cliquey,” (to be clear this is not a thing that Evans says, I’m just saying like, in general) seems pretty disingenuous? Humans are cliquey, we like people who are like us. As the Gen Zs say, it’s not that deep, bro.

But on the other hand, the techies have a fair bit of cultural capital, and the end result is that, once again, the dudes in a female-dominated field are the ones that are spotlit, and any knowledge that hasn’t been formalized is belittled, putting them at a higher risk of being lost.

So like, wow, both those hands are pretty crap. The last thing that I think we need is people becoming intimidated by something as simple as baking bread.

We already have corporations telling us that doing everyday things like cooking and mending clothes and any other form of self-sufficiency is too hard and that you are right to be intimidated by it. Telling us that you should shell out money to let the professionals handle it instead, and continue being completely dependent on our incredibly fragile current system.

But then again, how can I say no to scientific inquiry and better troubleshooting when one of your loaves inevitably fails in some way? Trying to advance the field, and make the network of bakers stronger to facilitate better knowledge transfer, are both good and admirable goals.

For my part, I just try to push back against the narrative and tell my friends that, no, really, baking bread is pretty easy. I’m sending everyone who expresses even VAGUE interest the simple and entertaining recipe that inspired me to bake my first loaf. And once they bake bread for themselves, it’s a lot harder to believe that baking bread is as hard as brain surgery.

How to Draw a Horse – Emma Hunsinger, 2019

To learn to draw horses, you can’t just want to draw them; you must NEED to draw them.

A comic about middle school and doodling in class.

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