Today’s Observations

Just things noted from today:

  • I think one of the things that gets libertarians into so much trouble, PR-wise, is that so many muddle-headed uses of the idea that people are free-to-whatever get used when they clearly don’t make sense. For example, yes, people are free to kill themselves, but anyone who’s talked to someone who was talked out of suicide knows that usually, the ostensible desire to die often evaporates and people are glad they were talked out of it.

    An analogy popped into my head this evening, marking a student’s defense of plastic surgery, which was about plastic surgery and how we should accept it because women want it, because women often attain more success after getting it, and because it’s people’s own business when they choose to have plastic surgery despite the side effects. Nowhere was the question raised about WHY these particular facts are true — why mostly women want it, why women who have it get more material success in not only the entertainment field but in professional fields as well, and why people would be willing to face the side effects. Nowhere was it asked whether this might trace back to a natural imbalance in the valuation of appearance that has been unnaturally pushed to extremes in particular societies.

    It made me think of a machine that some imaginary Canadian invents, called Mr. Sawchuck’s Whitener. It’s made to “help” Aboriginal Canadians, and it works like this: when they walk into the machine, it does it’s thing, and flash-boom-bam, they walk out looking exactly like white people. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

    Well, while not all Indians want to use it, among those who do want to, it’s mostly nonwhites seek it out; they tend to enjoy much greater success after they use it; and they’re willing to take risks such as the melting flesh, loss of family relationships, and a change in political status. So, hell, the machine’s a great invention, right?

    There’s something deeply wrong — deeply superficial, and deeply unbalanced, and one would even say deeply ill — with the society that embraces such a machine. But the machine is really a pretty close analogy to plastic surgery, isn’t it? Except that instead of race, gender is the dividing line between those pressured and those who seem not to be?

  • Some people really, truly believe that kimchi can cure cancer, SARS, AIDS, and anything else you throw at it. So much so that it’s the first thing they think of when asked to outline an essay. I warned this guy that he’s going to (A) need to explain how, in each case, it works, and (B) find supporting research that backs up the case, which (C) explain the difference in rates between, say, and obvious case like stomach cancer occurrence in Korea and, for example, Mongolia (where people are genetically the same, but don’t tend to eat such spicy food, like kimchi). Which isn’t going to be fun, because the rate of cancer is higher in Asia — including in Korea — than almost anywhere else in the world.
  • There’s a kind of high that certain people get just from arguing about something with someone. I’ve been arguing with someone in the last day in the comments section to an obscure post on this very blog, and it’s been shifting gears into something increasingly potentially nasty. But though I keep meaning to just ban him and delete the comments that make up the argument, since I think both of us are just arguing more for the high of arguing than in the hope the other is listening or thinking things through, I keep leaving it open and letting him get his little attempted snipes (more of that libertarian muddle-headedness), so I can chop his comments to bits with my own fiery, viciously sensible rhetoric.

    I suspect that there’s probably something very deeply ingrained in the human mind that predisposes us to this kind of behaviour — some deep sense that pecking order must be established and that shows of power — cerebral, as much as physical — are the way to do this. So, we pummel people into submission when they transgress, such as by posting snipes on our websites.

  • Blogging is a really tempting distraction from real work. Time for dinner and more outline-checking.
  • R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet is really, really awful. Like, verging on amusing, awful. I got curious after I watched the South Park episode mocking Scientology, and so I watched the first 6 sections of it. Well, actually I sort-of watched, and sort of did other things at the same time, only glance to the window when things got vaguely more interesting (read: outrageous). I am not sure I want to see the rest of it, my mind is still hurting from the bits I’ve already seen…


  • Another common writing error, one I remember seeing sometimes in Montreal, though less than I see here, is the “outline-as-shopping-list”. After a week of concentration on explaining how essays must be focused on a single clear thesis, and that paragraphs in the body support that thesis, and then some explicit work on constructing outlines, you still get a number of kids who just write shopping lists of things that pop into their heads when they are preparing the outline… no flow, no connection, no thesis, not an opinion in sight. It’s very likely not a second-language issue, since tons of people start out writing that way. In my own way, so did I, way back when I was younger. But it’s still a bit frustrating to see, after so much time spent on that one simple principle, and after most of the class gets it. It must be frustrating for the kids who just don’t get it, too…

12 thoughts on “Today’s Observations

  1. yes, not enough people get to the “why”–this is (why) the world is full of “band-aid” solutions. and that people think the band-aid solutions ARE the answer, when they’re not!

    i’ve had cosmetic surgery and run an outpatient surgery center where the big bulk of cases were plastic. if i think about WHY having a crease in my eyelid makes me happier, it’s pretty depressing! but it did quiet the critical voice in my head, something i wanted and needed. i can only imagine it’s the same for other women who go under the knife for: big boobs, small waists, straight noses, big eyes, fewer wrinkles…I bet you a lot of the women have an idea WHY…but who’ going to make them feel better while they fight the fight?

  2. Yeah, one would wish that their sensible mates and friends would, except that, well, the peculiarities of human evolution make that less than likely, especially for women, whose “evolutionary assets” — the criteria by which males prefer mates, and through which women compete actively with one another — are so out in the open, and the cycles so strongly reinforced by media and so on.

    I should be clear that I’m not judging you for your own eyelid surgery, though. I don’t get why it would make you happier, but… whatever. I’m not against biomodification, even, if it’s careful and so on — I’d love to regenerate limbs, or improve my eyesight or something. I just think the modifications on offer aren’t interesting yet, and it’s not so much for the benefits as for the penalties attendant on not meeting pathetically specific, narrow standards of beauty that make people get them. Which is sad. I look forward to the day when we all alter our bodies — sensibly, carefully — so we can do things like see like a hawk, or fly like one, for that matter.

  3. I’ve had plastic surgery.

    I probably wouldn’t have had it had other surgery that could be done with plastic surgery hadn’t been necessary. But I’m a lot happier being out however many square inches of saggy skin (it itched a lot, too!) and having a scar that’ll hide in my bikini bottom rather than being blatantly vertical on my belly. (The liposuction is another matter entirely — the way a tummy tuck is done, you really kinda need it to make everything come out looking right, but it’s been the most annoying source of pain during the recovery process.)

    If the other surgery (hernia repair, sewing my abs back together) hadn’t been necessary, I wouldn’t have bothered. But given that the other surgery was necessary, having all this other stuff done at the same time isn’t such a big deal.

    Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself, especially when the areas affected only by the liposuction are giving me grief. :(

  4. You know, when I was younger, my parents sought plastic surgery for me — to straighten my oft-broken nose, so I could breathe through it again. The Canadian government wouldn’t pay for that, they were told, but an invasive procedure to chop away some of the cartilage inside the nasal passage would be covered. So they went for that. I wish they’d been able to get my nose straightened instead — but mostly because the other surgery did nothing to help, and a straighter nose would have helped.

    Anyway… as you say, you lumped it in with other procedures. The kind of thing I was talking about was the plastic surgery craze that students often write essays about over here. It’s not about getting one small thing done while having another procedure, or having a single operation done because, unwittingly, it helps with self-esteem. It’s about a social craze for self-beautification which people are uncritically endorsing plastic surgery and uncritically accepting the reasons for it as sensible and reasonable. Some people speak with pride in how now, men are also seeking out plastic surgery. It really is a craze. Even the President and his wife had of the kind c(h)ristine mentions, to have an eyelid-crease added to their faces.

  5. yes–there’s a line people cross (where is that line exactly? i don’t know) when people think they aren’t beautiful if they don’t fit a certain standard.

    in korea, at least from my impressions, those standards are very narrow. i’m a size 8/10 in the U.S. in korea, that’s about the biggest size there is (after that you have to buy what they call “free size” which is basically pants with elastic waistbands that only “ajummas” wear). if you can’t find sizes beyond size 8, what kind of message does that send? what’s acceptable? and what lengths will you go to fit within “acceptable” standards?

    then yes, there is the ssangkapul surgery (the fold in the eyelid to make your eyelid bigger and more Westernized surgery)–boy, that’s a complicated issue there. not only is it a standard of beauty, it’s a standard of beauty that is highly Westernized. what does THAT mean to one’s identity? and what does it say about korea when nearly everyone gets that surgery?

    who is in power? what is it that we want to look like?

    for now, on a superficial level, i’m super happy that i can wear eye shadow. :P but at the same time, i’m well aware of the trapdoor i stepped into by having this surgery. (and gord, no worries, i know you are not judging me). someday, we can live in a world where it’s totally acceptable to be any size you want, with as many wrinkles as nature brings, with small eyes (or big eyes), crooked noses, etc…and for that matter, to dress anyway we want, and be of any race…

    but we don’t live in that world.

  6. I should note a couple of things:

    1. I’m not completely convinced that Koreans get the eyelid surgery to look Western. After all, some Koreans actually have that crease in their eyelids, naturally… a lot of them, in fact, though definitely a large minority and far from a majority. (My girlfriend and a number of people I’ve known over the years, for example.) I’m not completely sure that the valuation of that trait doesn’t predate contact with the West — bigger eyes seem to be preferred in many different human cultures, so one can see why it wouldn’t necessarily have to be an import from Western cultural standards.

    2. Most Koreans I’ve discussed it with have agreed there’s less of an element of wanting to look Western than Westerners tend to imagine in this Korean plastic surgery craze. Usually, they want to look like very beautiful or sexy Koreans. But yeah, the standards seem very narrow here to me as well… not only in clothing size, but also in terms of things like makeup and features. Maybe it’s a second language thing but often I hear guys declaring any woman who’s not angelically stunning as “ugly”, who’s not excessively thin as “fat”, and more than once friends have complained that random male co-workers have told them publicly that their not wearing makeup is unacceptable.

    Another popular reason these days for getting such surgery is that it will help them get better positions in the job market. Which is sad, but possibly true. (When writing about the subject, many students just take it as a given… though that doesn’t prove anything.)

    3. My regrets about my crooked nose have nothing to do with appearance but only to do with respiration. Just thought I’d clarify that. I think the bend in my nose gives it character, actually.

    4. Happily, some students write about how we need to change our thinking if we want to live in a more equitable society, where women don’t need to get plastic surgery to feel good about themselves. Those students, I encourage very heartily to rewrite and rework and then submit their writing somewhere. To write about it in Korean, too, and to do the same.

  7. “I keep meaning to just ban him and delete the comments that make up the argument”

    When someone is right, they don’t feel a need to silence dissenting opinions…

  8. Silencing? I’m sorry, your websites are still operational. You can say all you like there, and while I might speak ill of your site, I’m not at all trying to get it shut down, am I?

    If I ban you from my site, don’t be mistaken and interpret it as an admission that you’re right: it’s because your responses are vaguely troll-like, and because I don’t feel like providing you with a platform for spewing lines of analogy promulgating a viewpoint that I think is unfounded, while refusing to respond to the main questions I’ve asked of you. (And outlined in my most recent comment in that thread.)

    And by the way, if you do start commenting on other posts, in any way that looks even remotely troll-like, I definitely will ban you. Is that a violation of your free speech? Hell no, Tanos, you can talk about what you want anywhere you like, in public. This site, however, is mine, and it’s my personal choice what gets published here. (Just as you’re free to delete posts by people who come to your site for the purpose of harassing you and other site users.)

    By analogy, I don’t finally don’t think we should silence Holocaust deniers, either… but we shouldn’t be putting them in classrooms, either, and we’re not obligated to let them into our living rooms to holler at us because they dislike being considered freaks.

  9. Oh, Dan helped someone win a contest last night.

    The prize: breast enhancement surgery.

    E-mail me if you want his write-up, I don’t think you can read it where he has it, but I think he wouldn’t mind my sharing it with you.

  10. I’ve watched a couple of shows on Discovery (or Discovery Health, more likely) about plastic surgery, and some of it just makes Absolutely No Sense to me. The Joan Rivers impersonator, that facelift was an investment in his career. His mom and his partner’s mom, that I didn’t quite get.

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