Monday, July 14, 2014

Musings on Radical Inclusion

In October, I'm throwing myself way out of my comfort zone and going to Burning Seed - a week long festival that is the regional incarnation of the massive Burning Man festival in Nevada. This is not a festival that is created by organisers for the entertainment of participants, it is created by the participants themselves. There are ten principles which guide the festivals, but it's the principle of radical inclusion that's got me pondering. 

Radical InclusionAnyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Since I have yet to go to this festival, I have no idea what this looks like at Burning Seed, and my musings here are in no way intended to reflect on it. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they (we) try to realise this principle in a state forest near Wagga. This post is purely theoretical and speculative.

The idea of radical inclusion seems both wonderful and deeply problematic to me. On the one hand, this principle is probably 90% of the reason I decided to go. It's very clear that I don't have to already be part of the community to welcomed by it. That's awesome. But when I start to think about the implications of being truly radically inclusive, that pesky "other hand" gives me trouble. To be inclusive, and to welcome people, implies that the space is safe and accessible for those people. To be inclusive and welcoming to everyone implies a space is safe and accessible to everyone, and I'm not entirely sure that such a space can actually exist, even in theory.

For example, another principle is radical self-expression:
Radical Self-expressionRadical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
This description hints at the idea that one person's self-expression may impact on another. A person may well find a form of self-expression which is incredibly healing and cathartic for themselves, but is simultaneously horrendously triggering to another person who happens to see it.  And yet another person may have avoided seeing it, if they'd been forewarned, but actually finds it surprisingly empowering, and desensitising instead of triggering. How do you allow for inclusion of all three people?

Another example is the physical location. Burning Seed is held in a remote location, with minimal mobile coverage and a general discouragement from using phones and other connections to the outside world. This is designed to improve inclusiveness, to help people feel safe from having their image or anything else shared with the wider world. That makes a lot of sense, isolation brings a certain security that some people may not be willing to participate without. It also provides the mental space for people to truly participate, to properly engage with the people and space around them. But it was a definite stumbling block for me - not being able to connect with outside world for a whole week could potentially threaten my livelihood. I decided the risk was manageable, but for someone else, it might exclude them completely.

And this is not just about how people make a living. It's also about people's coping methods. For my middle son, who Does Not Cope Well With Change, attending something like this would be very challenging. To be a safe space for him, he would need to be able to access his coping methods, and for him, that's largely online. But a location that provided excellent digital connection would probably then become unsafe for others, for myriad reasons.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, just couple of illustrative examples that came readily to mind.

From a broader perspective, everyone should have access to safe, inclusive spaces, and making an effort to consider that is really important. But I'm not sure it's possible to achieve that in one space, simply because of conflicting and competing needs. Managing that, for a community that wants to be as inclusive as possible, is going to be really tricky, and yet a very valuable pursuit.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how people who've put real thought and energy into this idea have put it into practice. However, I have to accept it may be that the decisions they make on competing needs mean that I, or someone I know, or someone else again, is not actually included in their community, and that's just unavoidable.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cloaking device

[Cross posted at Hoyden About Town]

Any number of authors and TV shows have utilised the human capacity to ignore what their brains tell them makes no sense, but this week I got to see that in action. Cisco Live! (formerly, and probably forever known as Networkers) had 4,400-odd delegates at the Melbourne Exhibition & Convention centre. 400 of them were women, and I'm guessing exhibitor staff and press people were somewhat over-represented in that number.

The moment I arrived, unbeknownst to me, my cloaking device had been deployed. I stood waiting to register, and when a position was free, the bloke on it gestured to the man who had arrived after me. I just wasn't there. Some women could see through it - the woman on the merchandise stand remarked on my unlikely existence. However, a woman I approached at a cocktail meet and greet looked straight through me and turned to a man at her left.

I spoke to a guy in a long coffee queue to point out there was another, unused machine 3 feet away, and even bearing news of speedy caffeine, and wearing a bright red dress, I was apparently invisible.

A woman at a tech event, unaccompanied by any men, is just too unlikely to be believed. I knew one person at the event, but we had very different missions there, so our paths didn't cross much. However, when I was with him, I was back in the land of the plausible. People looked to me expecting to be introduced.

The only exception to the slightly bizarre week was a lunch for networking women. Suddenly I was solid again. I'm pleased Cisco have decided to support women and their connections with each other, because I've never been so clearly reminded how necessary it is. A fairfax journo asked the panel of 4 women, led by Jane Caro, if they were in favour of quotas for women on boards. Janet Ramey, VP of technical services for Cisco, responded first, discussing the importance of supporting girls and young women into tech areas, but ultimately talking about meritocracy and the best candidate for the job. I suppose while representing your company at one of their largest regional events, you can't say "Yeah, the current system is completely unfair"*. However, the other three panelists all supported quotas, or at least hard targets.

When women are so rare, they are invisible. Quotas may be what is required to remove the cloaking devices and give women any chance of competing fairly in male dominated industries.

*I should point out that Cisco is not as bad as many in the gender equality department, heaps of the women I saw there were actually Cisco staff, and they have more senior executive women than many other companies. But still, 400 out of 4,400.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Horrible People

I've been reading on the internet about Horrible People. It's good to know that there are so many people out there who have never screwed up (either genuinely, or perceived as such), hold no problematic views or ideas and always take public criticism with grace, remorse and eloquently expressed newfound understanding. Because otherwise, how would we know who to dismiss entirely as human beings?

(Yes, this is a sub-blog. Take your pick as to which Horrible People it may be referring to. You'll probably be right.)

Sunday, January 05, 2014


With the assistance of wonderful friends, a metric shit-tonne of seafood and way more bottles of booze than the hangovers would suggest, 2013 turned into 2014. For several years now I've had a word to focus on and consider, rather than a resolution, and this year it's taken quite a few days for the word to become apparent.

But here it is: kindness.

I need to be practising it more personally, and with the abhorrent, morality-free government we have now, it's going to be hard to keep it in focus at a political level too.

I hope your year is filled with kindness, and for Australians, I hope you can find the strength for kindness in between the almost constant state of outrage and disgust at what is being done to us, and in our name.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas is fun

Christmas Day Running Sheet

7:30am   Get meat out to come to room temp
               Unwrap presents

8:00am   Pre-heat oven & prepare pork roast

8:30am   Put pork in the oven - check every 20mins for crackling
               Put water on to boil for pudding
               Clean up after breakfast

9:00am   Start BBQ for turkey
               Put the pudding in to boil - check every 30mins for water level
               Make the glaze for the turkey
               Baste turkey ready for cooking
               Put rice on to cook for stuffing

9:30am   Put turkey on to cook - check every 20mins for consistent temp & basting
               Make the stuffing
               Clean the punch bowl

10:00am Peel & cut up potatoes, pumpkin, orange sweet potato, white sweet potato, purple sweet           potato & eschallots.

11:00am Start to put out nibbles

11:15am Put the potatoes in the oven
               Keep putting out nibbles

11:45am Put the pumpkin, sweet potatoes, eschallots & stuffing in the oven/BBQ.
               Set the table
               Mid-cooking clean up

12:00pm Check meats, get them out of the oven/BBQ and cover with foil to rest
               Finish setting the table.
               Make the punch

12:30pm Turn all the veg
               Put the water on for peas
               Start carving the ham

12:45pm Start carving hot meats
               Put the peas on
               Make the gravy
               Put the wine on the table

1:00pm Set out everything for people to serve themselves
             Serve smaller kids

1:30pm Get the pudding out of the pot & unwrap it
             Clear plates & set off dishwasher

1:45pm Unwrap presents with guests
              Sit & chat for a bit

3:30pm Organise & serve pudding
              Sit & chat for a bit

5:00pm Guests leave, start cleaning up.

9:45pm Put the last of the essential things in the fridge.
             Give up & head to bed

I didn't do all of this - there were a few things I wasn't even really involved in, and lots of people did lots of stuff. Crash did most of the BBQ work, and other people did stuff as they arrived. My sister and I work well together in the kitchen to pull the last of it together to serve, and she made the punch.

Tomorrow I'll find out what the kids got for Christmas, and help with all the things they wanted help with.

Next year I'm unwrapping the presents and then going back to bed. The family can eat the left overs from the Carols.


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Marking the occasion

16 years today, and I spent the night listening to 70s music. There wasn't a song I didn't recognise, and only a handful I didn't know the words to. I may have no musical talent, but my love for music has everything to do with you, Dad. There'll be tears before bedtime.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Living as the default

That article by Julian Burnside really triggered some light bulbs for me. Not so much the stuff about asylum seekers - that's no surprise - but the stuff about alienation and not feeling heard.

But there are many people in our society who have, at least in their own minds, disappeared. ... The more they complain, the more they are ignored; the more they are ignored, the louder they complain.
Burnside talks about people in specific circumstances feeling like they are not heard, but the interwebs are full of middle class white men (and women) yelling loudly, behaving very much like the people Burnside describes as having mental health issues, or problems not recognised by the law. However, the MRA people, the "Fuck off we're full" people, and many of the other "What about me???" folks don't have mental health issues or specific circumstances of the type Burnside describes. I think they may be suffering from living life as the default.

As a white middle class straight man, the standard discourse is about you. However, since you are the default, it doesn't mention you explicitly. Most of the voices you hear, day in day out, represent you. But since you hear them day in day out, you don't hear them at all any more. This is also true for white middle class women like me, on issues other than women's issues (and even then - women's issues are framed largely from my perspective).

As the default, you are defined by what you're not. You don't belong to any interesting culture (because you are surrounded by your culture - it's forced down everyone's throats, but you just don't see it). You're not gay (or bi, or trans*, or queer). You're not disabled. You're not a woman. All those people get a mention all the time. "Indigenous councils", "gay minister", "female politician", "disability advocates". Unless you are taught to see it, it never occurs to you that "marriage" means "straight marriage", that "politician" means "male politician", that "social values" means "white social values", that "employee" means "able bodied employee". Because you are the default. When no descriptor is added, we assume white, male, straight, cis, able bodied (and probably some other things too).

The strange result is that people whose voices are heard the most feel like they are not heard at all. I've felt it, and it's taken me years to recognise the bullshit that it is. The insight I gained from Burnside's article is the deep psychological effects of feeling unheard. Even though it's complete nonsense, the sense of feeling unheard is real. Part of the discourse needs to be to help people see how they are already heard (by other members of the default - this is not the job of the already unheard). To see the default they are soaking in. To say "Yes, you are being heard. Stop and listen, your voice is everywhere. It's not that your voice is invalid, or irrelevant, it's just that it's saturated the market." I've spent a lot of time dismissing people who yell like this, but that's only reinforcing their feelings of being unheard. I think perhaps I need to put more energy into listening to people, and showing them how much they are already heard. To help them see their visibility (as well as acknowledging any ways they, personally, might genuinely be invisible).

A large part of the reason this blog has been so neglected lately is that I've spent far more time online listening to other voices. A lot of what I've been interested in has been about race and LGBTQI issues (for no particular reason, it's just been where my readings have taken me), and I don't have much to say on most of it - it's all said much better by the people affected by the way the default treats them. It's frustrating to watch them being shouted down, and I don't mean this post to be some kind of apologetic to absolve those living as the default. There's still no excuse for not recognising the advantages you have in this world. However, it gives me a different way of thinking about approaching those people (of whom I have often been one), and I think that's helpful.