Thursday, 29 January 2015


I write on a lot of different topics, but here is where several of them meet head on. It's a combination of politics, etiquette, art, psychology, surrealism, and choice. And a few others. Right, I think I have your attention.


I am not a conservative. Or a Conservative. I dabbled in the latter when I was young due to a dear friend running for election, but in hindsight his motivation was.......well, let's leave that alone. As I've explained many times, my politics are my own. I lean to the left - occasionally so far that I fall over - and really, in my heart of hearts, I'm an anarchist. But what I'm definitely not is small c conservative, or any of the characteristics thereof that usually end up making a person big C Conservative.

Last night my husband asked me if I remembered something or other from the days of yore, and indeed I did, but then, remembering he often asks me about "old stuff" I said, "you aren't going to become one of those people who goes on about the old days all the time are you?" And he confessed he just might. I reminded him that I'm not like that. He knows. It's not an issue between us, but it's definitely a difference.

I'm not nostalgic. I occasionally get a bit "mono no aware" (look it up) but I don't believe in "The Good Old Days" AT ALL. It's all bollocks.

Actually, hold on a minute. I want to say something here that's a bit controversial or possibly offensive. I'm choosing this moment to say it because it was my husband who reminded me, and he'll not only forgive me for saying it, but agree with me. It's usually other people who do it though.

Have you noticed that those who show the most tendency to be nostalgic, to remember "The Good Old Days" are actually those for whom that time wasn't actually that good? Are they compensating for something? These people are the ones most likely to say "I love the smell of Christmas, it reminds me of childhood..." or similar. And in every case, these people had shitty childhoods for one reason or another. They aren't actually reminiscing about how it was, but about how they wish it was. You must have noticed this. Maybe you're one of them.

Well, there it is, that's people for you. I had an amazing childhood. I knew nothing but kindness and fun, and I have absolutely zero desire to go back there. This shocks the nostalgics, I guess. But that was then and this is now - move FORWARD people!

OK, back on track.

The trouble with the olden days is that they were filled with problems we have been trying to fix ever since. Racism, gender inequality, disease, poverty, and so on. These were realities. These things are bad things. We are still working on them (!) so the last thing we want to do is go backwards. And I hated black and white TV, and the stupid ideas surrounding fashion. So let's start there.

Old = you must wear THIS. Why? Because we do, that's why.
New = wear what you like.

Personally I prefer the latter. It's just an example, but it's a good example of traditional (conservative), i.e. repetition and sameness for no good reason, and modern (liberal) innovation and freedom of choice. Is it frivolous, or serious? It's only fashion, right?

No, in some instances what you wear can get you killed. 

Is that logical? Is that good? Is that helpful? Does that make any sense at all?

To the ultra conservative mind, it does. Which is a damn good reason to reject conservative thinking. In my not-so-humble opinion. So, I'd like you to see that as one extreme. I can't think of anything more extreme, frankly, so keep that one in mind. Please.

Then there's the other extreme.

Now, before I begin, I want to stress that I don't think this gentleman should be harmed for wearing that. In fact I would uphold his right to walk down the street in that hat free of any sort of negative reaction. Not only that, I would uphold his right to wear it to school, a board meeting, Buckingham Palace, and the Vatican. 

Do I like it? No. That's neither here nor there. It is no more or less silly than anything else we consider to be normal attire.

THIS is considered normal, and treated with great respect:

Tell me why this is treated differently, I dare you.

If you even mention tradition at this point, I'll slap a big "CONSERVATIVE!" sticker on your forehead. 

You cannot rationalize this stuff. It's all about "we've always done it that way" and related bollocks. 

Well, do you know what else we used to do?

Or possibly not. But you get the idea.

Fashion, that's all any of it ever is. It's silly, it's all about time and place and preference. Don't ever take it seriously.

If you don't like what a person is wearing, it's OK. You don't have to.

I really, REALLY don't like this:

But I don't like this either:

And that would be considered "normal". It's not clear why. But it's wrong on so many levels, for me. FOR ME. I'm sure some of you think it's OK, some of you may even like it. I hate it.

Have you ever watched a panel show on TV during the evening? Not always serious topics. Both male and female guests wear coats. OK, it may be a light coat, not an arctic parka, but the definition of a coat is an outer layer. They have other clothes on underneath. The temperature in a TV studio is that of a hot summer's day. Why are they wearing coats? 

I ask questions like this all the time, and I never get any sensible answers. "It looks professional" "It's expected" and all that nonsense. 

It's all bollocks, is what it is. It's almost a uniform. There's no real penalty for not wearing it, and some celebrities fight back, but then they get labelled. There are consequences to sartorial rebellion.

There are consequences to everything, of course, but some of these (public reaction) are also a matter of choice. You don't have to make fun of the man in the funny clothes. You could, if you choose, say "hey, whatever floats your boat" and praise him for his innovation or courage or whatever.

My attention was recently drawn to this:

I think this is very silly. I'm not impressed either, because they are just trying too hard, but you know, whatever floats your boat. 

What it did make me think was, where do we draw the line. At which point does silly become not funny any more? At which point do we say "ENOUGH". At which point is it wrong? At which point can we reject it or deride it without fear of the daring telling us we are boring old farts?

Now remember, I only used fashion as an example. This applies to everything. But I suppose fashion influences it, much of the time.

A large part of where the limitation of weirdness is, is personal, individual. I tested my family out a few weeks ago by asking them how they felt about dying underarm hair:

Reactions were not positive. Personally, I wouldn't do it, for purely practical reasons. You'd have to bleach it first, and my underarm skin is far too sensitive, that would burn like a mofo. (Yes, I just said mofo, I'm that hip......). But the more I think about this, the less issues I have with it. I just don't have that personality quirk that makes a person go ewwwww to everything new and different (except some salads, before I'm called out). But I was actually quite surprised that my kids (raised by me, very open minded) rejected the idea out of hand. Maybe they'll change their minds if it becomes widely popular. People are like that.

Still, you have to draw the line somewhere, and I thought this was going a bit too far:

Not that I would make any efforts to stop her. I just feel she crossed a line.

It's MY line. I recognize that. I don't think most people do. I think that they assume these lines are really there. That there really is a scale somewhere of good taste and acceptability that is written in stone, and that it's obvious. Well it's not and there isn't. 

Still there is a line, I think, and that's the one where these choices harm others. The harm line is my general line for all difficult questions, i.e. ethics. If your behaviour, your weirdness harms another person, then ENOUGH. Stop. You've gone too far.

That limit is going to vary.

In some cases with fashion, the limit may be nudity. If I were to show up naked at a funeral, with a few exceptions (I have some truly weird friends) that would cause real embarrasment and therefore genuine suffering for the bereaved, and I wouldn't do it. In fact if I showed up to ANY formal event the same might well apply. There is a fine line between discomfort and harm (which is why my ethical system is not perfect) but in general because nudity is taboo in our society it is best avoided in public unless you WANT to make some sort of statement.

I also happen to think that unless it has been explicitly agreed upon beforehand as OK, that showing up at any formal event in scruffy clothes is rude. Now, what's that about then? 

This is all about etiquette. Do you know what etiquette is for? It's done out of kindness to make others feel wanted, comfortable, and at ease. If it has the opposite effect, it's not etiquette. It may be "expected" but it's not etiquette. I stress this because all too often this happens. 

Now then, if you DID show up at a formal occasion in scruffy clothes because that's all you have, then true etiquette would be everyone else pretending they hadn't noticed. THAT is how it works. 

So, while your sartorial choices could sometimes be inappropriate, so also can the reactions to them be inappropriate. It's all about give and take, which is etiquette, which is kindness, which is tolerance, and so on. 

In some traditional societies it is expected that guests be spoiled to the point of causing real hardship to the hosts. It is frowned upon to do anything else. These are usually honour/shame societies, and due to familiarity with the system, and obviously being affected by it, people don't rush to rebel. This is an example of etiquette being harmful, and therefore that's where I draw the line. That's a line I won't cross. No matter how "polite" something is, on the one hand, if it causes harm on the other hand, then it's not OK. I don't give a shit how traditional it is. And it varies. People have different expectations. This is why you can't say "FUCK" at some dinner parties, but you can at others. But it's never OK to tell racist jokes, even if all the other guests laugh. Some things are just wrong. The line is harm.

OK, briefly returning to funny hats. Do they cause any harm? No. So there's no problem there. The problem is the people who make fun of the funny hats. If the funny hat actually causes harm (scares children, breaks the lights, gives the wearer a headache) then these would be good reasons to advise against it. 

When it comes to weirdness (and hats) I have a great teacher. As many of you know, my second youngest son, Thomas, has Asperger's syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, which has both advantages and disadvantages. In Tom's case (because all Aspies are different) it came with a delightful eccentricity which leads him to have very few inhibitions when it comes to how he looks. When jester hats were all the rage for children a few years ago he was already in High School, but wanted one anyway, and his sister had to be his bodyguard because of the bullies on the bus and that hat. But bless her heart, she did it anyway.

Tom has always loved hats. He has quite a collection, and the more comments he gets, the more he enjoys them.

Again, it's just an example. With Tom there is plenty of other weirdness, and I adore him for it. 

When he was young, and his social skills were really challenging, I often had to explain to him why it was important to follow SOME social norms when it comes to communication. The first thing we had to do, as is often the case with the autism spectrum, is to teach him to make eye contact. Some people on the spectrum never master that. Tom, being Tom, took it to the extreme and he can bore into your soul with those eyes now. It helps that they are the darkest of dark brown, almost black.
The next step was greetings. We were out shopping one day and he ran into another child he knew from school, who saw him and said a very friendly "Hello Tom!". Very nicely brought up child, I thought. Tom's response was a noise something like you may expect if you tried to strangle a turkey. 

We had a long conversation about that. He thought his squalks and other random noises were funny. But I tried to impress upon him that getting such a "greeting" could hurt the other boy's feelings, because it seems like you were making fun of him, or that his presence or greeting was unwanted. Tom knew about being made fun of, and being unwanted around peers, as it's always been part of his life. 

In fact most of the conversations we've had about social skills over the years have been in this pattern. I explain that the things we do, or the things we say to others affect them. So etiquette comes into play. Sometimes weirdness just isn't the right thing, even if you enjoy it very much. Even if you have to work hard to overcome natural weirdness. In return, I hope people forgive Tom his eccentricities. It has to work both ways, and then we can all get along. 

This is a very long winded way of saying that there IS a limitation to weirdness, a line in the sand, and it is the same limitation as there is to all choices we make. It's all fine until it causes harm, and then it isn't. Defining harm is harder, but I hope we continue, as we go forward, to be more tolerant of weirdness, rather than less, because however extreme it gets, the other extreme is worse. 


  1. Absolutely with you on this--not only for those who tend to gravitate toward the creative and weird (how often do THEY go together?) and perhaps The Conundrum also applies that we have to err on the side of 'caution' if we want to extend our 'freedom.' Cautiously free...yes...that about handles that oxymoron quite nicely. Harm none ~ Blessings! :)

  2. Another excellent write, and thought provoking as ever. But you didn't touch upon the touchy subject of sumptuary laws! (Both "Good Old Days" and what's appropriate/acceptable)