Saturday, September 2, 2017

Shaky Ground

by Jean Roberta

I believe that Truth is never a stable thing, much like the earth itself. We all pretend it’s solid and unchanging, but in earthquake country, cracks in the ground can appear at any time, and they cause all kinds of damage to the structures foolish humans have built on them.

In other regions (e.g. Florida), sinkholes can swallow cars and alligators. On the northern prairies where I live, the local “gumbo” (rich black earth) isn’t supported by bedrock, so buildings settle unevenly over time. Eventually, cracks form in the foundation that let in water, and gaps in the roof let in snow.

Solid earth is a myth, and climate change is escalating the processes that cause natural disasters. On an economic level, house prices have risen so fast in some cities that even relatively well-paid jobs can’t always accommodate the mortgage on a place within easy commuting distance. We literally don’t have a trustworthy place to live.

This isn’t all bad news. The slogan “This too will change” can be comforting for someone who can’t imagine how things could get worse.

Re “human nature,” I’m not sure there is such a thing. Canadian journalist Naomi Klein mentioned recently that the use of fossil fuels, a major cause of climate change, is blamed in the media on “human nature” (greed, a desire for fast transportation and physical comfort) even though not all humans are in a position to build pipelines and dig non-renewable resources out of the earth. The people who do all that are closer to 1% of the population.

Realistically, if our ancestors could survive without the use of oil or gas, so could we. And we wouldn’t have to regress to medieval technology.

Consider that when I was a teenager, I was warned that passing university courses might be impossible for me because I was a girl. After all, I had the plumbing to conceive and nurture a baby, and that was much more important than getting an education. In fact, as I was told, my ovaries somehow affected my brain, so that I was born to be terribly emotional and instinctive, and I couldn’t think logically. The formal education system, as distinct from the school of life, wasn’t designed for a mammal like me, even though I was a faculty brat.

Now that the student population in North American post-secondary schools is more than half female (and the sex ratio among the faculty is progressing to that rate), the general tune has changed. Now, educators are warned that schools at every level are failing males because classrooms are really designed by women for girls: students who can be expected to sit quietly for hours and pay attention. Apparently boys (and men?) need to move, to run, to play sports, to climb trees. Studying is not in their nature.

Never mind that all the great old universities of Europe and Britain were founded in the 1200s, exclusively for aristocratic male students who needed to be prepared to rule the known world. (And what passed for “knowledge” in those days was very interesting. Courses like “defense against the dark arts,” as taught at Hogwarts School, were on the curriculum at Oxford and the University of Paris before the scientific revolution of the 1600s.)

Yet the word “education” is slung about as though it meant the same thing in all times and places, and as though there were some universal consensus about what it’s supposed to accomplish, for whom.

Shall we talk about sex? Where should I start?

It wasn’t long ago that “normal” women weren’t supposed to have sexual feelings, and everyone was supposed to be strictly heterosexual “by nature.” (How females could feel sexual desire for males without wanting sex at all, with anyone, was a mystery.)

Any sexual experience—or fantasy—that wasn’t strictly vanilla and missionary-position was supposed to prompt a visit to a psychiatrist or at least a general practitioner (who was supposed to prescribe what?). The rising divorce rate was sometimes blamed on “perversion” in the general population. Or maybe it was caused by unreasonable expectations of happiness in a relationship that was supposed to last a lifetime.

Knowing what the past was like prevents me from wallowing in nostalgia.

What I believe is what keeps me going. I believe I still don’t know enough to form a really knowledgeable opinion and let it harden into dogma.


  1. 'It wasn’t long ago that “normal” women weren’t supposed to have sexual feelings, and everyone was supposed to be strictly heterosexual “by nature.”'

    This may have been true in Western cultures (and even then, only in particular historical periods), but not necessarily in other cultures (e.g. east and southeast Asian). That of course simply supports your main thesis, that Truth with a capital T is an extremely slippery concept, which changes with time and place as well as with person.

  2. In patriarchal societies where men were obsessed with being sure that their offspring were indeed their own offspring (which means pretty much all societies,) suppressing women's sexual desires was clearly necessary, but at the same time the notion of oversexed women, "Delilahs" and "Jezebels", was widespread and both threatening and intriguing. Men seemed (and often still seem) to blame women for being attractive to them, tempting them simply by being women, "daughters of Eve." (Never mind that they had to be equally daughters of Adam).

  3. "I believe I still don’t know enough to form a really knowledgeable opinion and let it harden into dogma."

    That's about as honest a statement as a person could make about belief systems. That way you're open at least to ideas that aren't calculated to be presented as set in stone. Stone that would be broken in the future.