dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Your standard hedonist is a very easy-to-maintain companion - largely self-sustaining, she will find occupation and entertainment in almost any given situation. However, if you make the choice to welcome a hedonist into your life, there are a number of things that will ensure she remains healthy and contented and will allow you to get the most out of your experience of living with a hedonist in your home.

Creature comforts are, of course, important. Ability to escape excesses of heat and cold, whether through insulation and air-conditioning or provision of suitable clothing is particularly appreciated – but do be prepared to find your hedonist wandering naked around the house in summertime. Soft, supportive bedding, preferably the kind she can share with you, will keep your hedonist feeling physically and emotionally secure. Food is often of central importance to a hedonist - not just as sustenance but as a source of pleasure and contentment. Many hedonists particularly enjoy the preparation of food, such that the anticipation as well as the eating may be appreciated. What you will find generally, as far as the essentials of physical maintenance are concerned, is that your hedonist will derive simple bodily pleasure from whatever sources are available, so it’s not necessary to be extravagant.

Employment and exercise are important for keeping your hedonist in peak condition. Ideally, these two aspects should be combined – the hedonist finds great satisfaction in productive work that also maintains her physical fitness; exercise purely for the sake of exercise will likely feel unbalanced. Gardening is a good option, as is home maintenance and perhaps even renovation – hedonists love the process of setting their surroundings to rights. Do consider, before welcoming a hedonist into your life, whether you are able to offer her the freedom and opportunity she requires to feel useful and valuable to you and whether you are likely to appreciate the results of her efforts.

A hedonist has a strong desire to give as well as receive pleasure, so be sure to make clear to her what you enjoy and what you don’t; it will pay dividends in the long term. It helps if you are open-minded and willing to experiment – and it hardly needs emphasising that sex-positivity is also an important trait for anyone considering a relationship with a hedonist. There may, of course, be some pleasures in which your hedonist indulges that you do not approve; take the time to negotiate boundaries and limits. Your hedonist certainly does not wish you to be unhappy but she does require the freedom to explore and make her own mistakes and deal with her own consequences. Her pursuit of tranquillity will ultimately find the balance between rewards and costs.

Above all, in order to lead a life of real pleasure and fulfilment, your hedonist requires interesting companionship and intellectual stimulation. She loves to take a philosophical approach to life’s questions and problems and enjoys dissecting and analysing experiences and ideas. Be prepared to engage in lengthy discussions on various topics of interest and never shy away from what might seem like dangerous ideas. Never think that your hedonist is simply a mindless pleasure-seeking robot – rather, she is deeply committed to maximising not just her own happiness but yours as well; and she might just be the best thing that ever happened to you.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
This seems like an appropriate follow-up to my last couple of posts in which I have been pondering how we define and value relationships. This post is drawn from an idea suggested by [personal profile] etfb, regarding the appropriateness or otherwise of the standard questions one finds on forms - "Name?" "Sex?" "Relationship status?" Quite often, especially when it's an electronic form that suggests a list of responses, the range of answers being sought seems woefully inadequate. The catch-all phrase "It's complicated" seems at first to be a good alternative to more defining terms; but really, it just reinforces the fact that we're reluctant to discuss the real breadth of possibilities.

It's perhaps kind of appropriate that I have a YouTube video playing right now which is a discussion about how or even whether morality is something that falls within the purview of science, since the idea that it does runs counter to the "received wisdom" that morality occupies some nebulous territory impenetrable to empirical observation; since it's easy to see how, in discussing issues of identity, sex, gender and relationships, one can become mired in the notions imparted by received wisdom, sometimes without even noticing it. Once we start questioning, however, we very quickly find that the received wisdom is really an artificial construct, one that requires constant reinforcement to remain in place. Official - and some unofficial - forms are at present one means by which this reinforcement is conducted.

As humans, we're generally very fond of defining and categorising - it's the way we create simplified, understandable models of an incredibly complex world, in which some of the most complex things are our fellow humans. We are limited in our abilities to observe and comprehend; if we can quickly size up a particular individual and place them in a familiar category, that makes this individual immediately easier to understand. Or so we suppose. The trouble is that it's all too easy, having categorised someone, to dismiss the more nuanced aspects of their personality, to misunderstand their behaviour, in short, to treat them as a type rather than an individual.

Let's start with names. I have a number of friends who have, for various reasons, changed their names or who go by two or more different names in different contexts. I changed my own name by taking [personal profile] japester's surname when we got married; though this was much more of an aesthetic choice than a wish to uphold an outdated tradition. There's a peculiarly persistent notion that everyone has a "real name" - which, depending upon your perspective, might be the name you were given as a baby, or the name you've later chosen for yourself that you feel better reflects your personality, or maybe some other name that you have yet to discover. The name we're asked for on most forms is the name by which one is known for legal and financial purposes but again, this may or may not be what one considers one's 'real' name.

A name is essentially a label by which we identify a particular person and sometimes the identification is at more than just an individual level. Most names are gendered, so we can tell immediately whether a particular name belongs to a male or female - but what if a name is ambiguous? It can be unsettling to consider the extent to which our interaction with a person, especially in the relative anonymity of cyberspace, can be coloured by the assumptions we make based on their name. I have written under ambiguous names in online fora and often been taken as male, which I find amusing; but it's easy to see how there could be a more sinister aspect to this kind of assumption - especially if a particular individual is seen as an easy target for online bullying or harassment.

And what if one's legal name doesn't, for example, match one's sex on a given form? That carries potential for awkward questions from whatever official organisation provided the form; and raises another issue about which society at large is only gradually becoming more enlightened.

A person's sex is one of the first things we recognise, generally speaking, upon seeing them. When there is ambiguity in a person's appearance, it's hard not to do a double-take, seeking those tell-tale features that will define an individual as one or the other. It's easy to see why, in evolutionary biological terms at least, it might be important to pin down the sex of people we meet; but being human, we just can't leave it at that - being placed into the category of male or female comes with a raft of expectations about how we will behave and what roles we will fulfill in society. Not everyone wants to or is capable of living up to the expectations attached to their physical sex, nor should we, I believe, assume that they will - but many do assume, even to the point of castigating those who mess up their tidy little categorisations by not looking the way they "should" or not behaving in expected ways.

That brings me to the fraught issue of relationship status. This is where the "it's complicated" response really comes into its own but it's hard to find that option on forms outside of social media. I have bumped up against unexpected - to me, anyway - questions on the basis of forms I have filled in, using what I had always thought was the status-neutral term 'Ms'. When a form calls for a title - and most official and legal ones do - a man has the single option 'Mr' but a woman has a choice between 'Miss', 'Mrs' and 'Ms'. Unbeknownst to me in the past, 'Ms' is not the "none of your business" approach to marital status I had always thought it was; the assumption attached to it is that you have been married but are now divorced - or so I was once told by a very confused administrative assistant.

It is undoubtedly a result of the historical fluctuations in the legal and social status of women that we have three options for women but only one for men (assuming you're not a doctor or a lord or some other titled individual). Men, historically, have been far less defined - and their legal standing far less affected - by their relationship status than have women; but it's not just this baggage that gives us reason to question the requirement to declare one's relationship status - coupled with the limited range of options - on a form, official or otherwise. Again, being human, we tend to like things to fit neatly into categories; but increasingly, intimate relationships are breaking out from under the tidily defined labels offered by most forms. One might be married and have a partner or two in addition to one's spouse; alternatively, one might be 'single' in a legal sense but be sharing accommodation with a handful of partners. There's no current legal recognition for polyamorous relationship arrangements; and even if there were, the possible permutations would make the most dedicated bureaucrat's head spin.

It might be nice to suppose that one day, there will be forms that are not implicitly designed to fit people into narrowly defined categories but which genuinely and inclusively seek such information as individuals are prepared to provide. It might be a pipe-dream but at the very least, it would be encouraging to see forms that don't tend towards excluding those of us who prefer not to live within the confines of the box.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
(This is the post I had intended to write yesterday before it all went pear-shaped. Thanks to [profile] alamark for the idea!)

At the recent election, Family First came in last on my ballot paper. Not just because they stand for the kind of 1950s ideal of "family values" that most sane people realise was a propaganda piece for capitalism and a thin veneer over the repression and exploitation of women; but because of what I found to be the deeply offensive implications of their giant billboard over the West Gate Freeway proudly declaring, "This election, I'm putting my family first!"

Why would I find such a thing offensive?

Well, for one thing, it's clearly not a socialist idea. They're not talking about the whole human family here, obviously, but the very narrowly specific concept of the nuclear family - a man, a woman and their children. There is much I could say about my feelings with regard to the nuclear family and the pernicious belief that it is the "natural" state of human relationships; but that isn't quite the direction I'm taking in this post. There's something wider and deeper going on with the insidiously reactionary sentiment expressed in the Family First billboard and it's been going on in our society for some time - the attempt to contain the definition of 'family' within a small, manageable, capitalistic box.

For several years now I have been adamantly and openly child-free - that is, I have no children by my own choice and do not feel that by making this choice I am missing out on anything that I actually want to have in my life. I am very fortunate to be married to someone who is of the same mind on this point but I think it's fair to say that [personal profile] japester and I would thus not qualify as a family by Family First's standards. Moreover, there still seems to be a sense in wider society that it's children that make a family. I want to talk about why I don't believe this to be the case and why I think the concept of family should be more expansive.

What seems to be at issue is really how we define relationships and what makes us attach greater importance to some than to others.

"Blood is thicker than water" is an old and well-known saw expressing the belief that those to whom you are related "by blood" - or genetically, as we'd now say - are ultimately the most important people in your life; even if you don't get along with your relatives, you'll still be there for them when they need you. All well and good but in practice, many of us have friends, unrelated by blood, for whom we'd drop everything if they were in a crisis - even if we haven't so much as spoken to them for years. Why do people not more generally consider such friends to be 'family'?

The point might be made that there's a biological imperative to advance the interests of those who carry one's own genes and that therefore your relationship with your own children is the most important connection you can have in life. It seems reasonable to suppose that there's something to this argument but again, in practice there's much that runs counter to it. Some parents abuse and even kill their own offspring - not exactly a means of advancing one's genetic contribution to the next generation. Do they still get to be called a 'family'? And what about adopted children? Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's children are not all their biological offspring but they are all collectively referred to as a family. So it's quite apparent that the notion of children making a family is only loosely related to our biological drives.

How about other animals? I am very much a dog person and I've observed that amongst those who readily identify themselves as such - including many of my friends - dogs really are part of the family. I might be laying myself open to charges of profound weirdness in this, but I genuinely cannot imagine being more devastated by the death of a child than I was when I lost my dog, Bosworth, to cancer in 2011. He was very much family to me and home just hasn't been the same without him. Our cats are part of the family too. Unfortunately, society in general hasn't yet caught up to this more enlightened embrace of our fellow mammals. It might, however; at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention, Peter Singer gave an excellent speech about expanding circles of ethical consideration. It seems, from research done by Steven Pinker and others, that humanity has been gradually, over its history, becoming less violent and more broadly altruistic; progressing from kinship bonds through to caring for people of other groups, other countries, other races, even through to caring about the interests of nonhuman animals - recognising that ultimately, we are all family.

I think that is why, in the end, I found the Family First billboard so offensive. So narrow and selfish in its scope (and yes, I am alive to the irony of being called selfish myself for not having children of my own) and so closed to the possibility of a broader concept of family than man, woman and 2.4 children, all tucked up in their cottage behind the white picket fence, it offers no understanding to those of us who want something different for our lives and our relationships.

I may not fit the little model of the family so vaunted by conservatives but I do have lovers, friends and nonhuman companions whom I count as my own; I also have the consciousness that the interests of my brother and sister humans - and my nonhuman cousins - matter as much to them as my own do to me; and so if anyone is ever foolish enough to ask me, "When are you going to have a family?" my response will always be, "I already have one."


dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)

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