Monday, November 24, 2014

I Bought Myself A Toy

Sometimes to motivate myself, I promise myself a toy.

Usually I don't keep the promise. After I've accomplished whatever needed accomplishing, yes, I have permission to purchase what I want, but do I really want it? No.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Last Exam

Tomorrow, and not for the first time, I take an exam that, if I fail, may mean I won't finish the PhD.

On the other hand, if I pass, it may be the last exam I ever have to take.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Animal Kingdom

When is it worth it to fight?

I am an extreme kind of person, always have been. In middle school, when the administrator was bullying me, my parents offered to let me change schools. I hated life there, but I decided that if merely showing up was enough to make that woman uncomfortable, to remind her that she could not control me, then I would stay and endure. I decided to fight, not for something I cared about, but to punish.

And that time the guy in the honors program, the one who had just secured a job at Deloitte, decided maybe he didn't need to reimburse the literary journal for the event we ran for him in his dorm, I offered to send a letter to his future employers describing exactly the kind of person they were bringing on board, unless he decided to change his mind about paying us. There was yelling, there were threats of calling the police, but we got our money.

Doesn't mean I always fight. If it isn't worth fighting, then it isn't worth any time at all. They didn't kick me out of Westwood, since I hadn't broken any rules. They asked me to leave. I didn't push them. I retreated.

Cutting people out of my life is like that, too. Why continue to engage with someone who does not respect you?

Thing is, I don't know what I want right now.

I've been working to build communities with healthy values. People can be free to be effusive without fear of derision. Your interests don't need to be universal to be worth sharing. These communities are meant to be inclusive and safe. I'm working hard not to make these communities be about the force of my own personality. I want to leave a good community for those who are yet to come.

Part of the responsibility of the leadership of such a community is to take on roles that the individuals of the community may not be comfortable with.

Wolfsbane and I have been developing a way to talk about this tension based on metaphors from Machiavelli's The Prince. Non-leadership members of a community are the flock, the leadership are lions and foxes, and those who are toxic to a community, who seek to manipulate the rules of society for their gain at a cost to the flock, those are the wolves. It's a veritable animal kingdom.

How do you root out the wolves? When is it your place to throw all you've got against them?

These years of economics training have not prepared me for this kind of question. I am conditioned to treat everyone as a potential wolf - that in fact it is not as though people are one kind of animal, but that behavior itself can be wolfish. That we all tend to do what is in our own self-interest, that even charitable acts can be viewed through a lens of personal benefit, these are the lessons my discipline teaches. In a way it is optimistic. We all might be wolves, but lay down the right rules for conduct and we all may live in harmony.

This is where it can get tricky, as if this rant of a post weren't tricky enough to follow by this point. Because if we are all wolves and there are no rules but the rules we create, then why would you ever trust the rules to be fair?

It's a bit of an inconsistency of economics that we model a selfish individual but a benevolent government. Those who do follow that line of theory offer it as a prescription rather than a description of reality: a hypothesis we can test, a benchmark against which we can measure society.

Maybe I ought to be using my training a little better with these communities. Maybe I ought to be publicly punishing the wrong-doers instead of quietly cutting them out of my life.

But if I do that, am I doing it for myself? Or am I doing it for the good of the community? How much to do I value my personal level of discomfort?

I am old and I have been old for a long time. The only time I feel fighting is the right and rewarding course is when I am fighting someone with power over me. Now I am in a situation that I had not prepared myself for. I am in a position of influence. I help make these rules. The communities I am helping to build are sufficiently small that one person's reactions to another member's behavior can determine what is and isn't acceptable as a norm. Back when I was a kid in middle school I had no power, and in the honors program, the literary journal was still working off the reputation the previous incarnation held - we were small potatoes compared to the RA of one of the honors dorms. I pushed myself to fight in creative ways because we had no leverage. Now I am attempting restraint because I don't want my communities to become accustomed to those in leadership abusing their positions.

I want these communities. I don't want to retreat. I do not want to leave these havens to the wolves. But I am no lion. I take no pleasure in the fight.

A fox any day. But the fox cannot fight the wolf. This is why Machiavelli says a leader must be both fox and lion.

If I knew what I wanted I could decide this. If I knew how much these communities mattered to me I would know whether to retreat, to give them up for the good of those who remain, in the hopes they will live with the wolves in harmony, or whether I ought to stay and fight.

Am I building for myself or am I building for others?

And if I fight, how may I do it without losing my integrity?

Lemus Solus does not know what he wants, but if you want more posts, you probably ought to bug him about it so he'll write again.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Monrovia didn't want us in public school because she didn't like the GATE program.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Do you still want this?

I am stuck.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day Made

I received a complaint about my teaching after my first TA section this quarter. The professor called me in to talk about it. He showed me the email. It said I was rude and unprofessional. The students were not participating and one of the techniques I have been taught is to ask a question and let the silence fill the room, until the pressure gets to the student who can stand it the least and an answer, any answer, or possibly a question is offered to break it. It feels like a waste of time, but I try these techniques because I want to be a good TA and I can't get good until I'm willing to look bad.