Who Started It? — Toward a Theory of the Pseudo-victim

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between aggression and self-defense. Especially as a parent of 6-year-old boy-girl twins, I’m constantly having to figure out “who started it”. But this problem is not restricted to the disputes of childish children. Plenty of childish adults also struggle to figure out “who started it”. It would appear that people only hate to be victims until they’ve been accused of acting aggressively. Apparently, being accused of acting aggressively is much, much worse than being known as the victim of someone else’s aggression. It really seems to me that most interpersonal conflicts boil down to a struggle for victim status — a contest for the “prize” of “being the victim”. Few interpersonal conflicts cannot be paraphrased as follows:

A: I am the victim here.

B: No way, I am the victim.

A: Hah! You think so, eh? Well, I say I am the victim because you did Z!

B: Because I did Z? What are you talking about? I only did Z because you did Y. Thus, I am the victim. I am the victim of your unprovoked aggression!

A: Whoa! “Unprovoked”? Are you kidding me? I’m the victim! You’re the aggressor! The only reason I did Y was because you had done X! What else was I supposed to do after you did X?

B: But I was entitled to do X! That was my right, because of the way you had so callously done W! If you didn’t want anyone to do X then you never should have done W…etc., so forth, ad infinitum,…

Crazy, right? I never know what to think about this situation. Clearly they can’t both be the victim. Or can they? Hmmm. Now, there’s a thought. But it’s an unusual thought, perhaps worth thinking about. But in the meantime, if we just go with the normal way of understanding these situations, then just one of the pretenders-to-the-title-of-victim can be the real victim. The other pretender is just, well, pretending. He or she is a pseudo-victim — someone who is just trying to look like a victim, no doubt to benefit from the sympathy that the rest of us all tend to feel for real victims; and of course the consequent time, attention and other resources we donate toward helping them. The pseudo-victim is a kind of cheater, or malingerer.

 


Image Credit: Pixabay

Fart Baby Turtles Tuesday

“…You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…”

Matthew 5:43,44, NIV

What could it possibly mean to “love your enemies”? I’ve never read any books about this question, but I have no doubt plenty have been written, and I’d also bet that many of these books contradict each other. One thing I’m sure of, however, is that the harder we have to work to explain the meaning of this passage, the more proof we inadvertently generate that this passage is pure nonsense. It might just as well say “fart baby turtles Tuesday”. Most likely, this “love your enemies” stuff is just so much poetic gibberish. It doesn’t mean anything at all. Good writing is self-explanatory — it obviates exegesis.

Now, if the commandment had been, say, “try to love your enemies”, or maybe, “try to see things from the point of view of your enemies”, or maybe just “try to see your enemies as human beings” or “potential allies”, or “try not to kill your enemies”, well, any of those would make more sense to me.

But “love your enemies”? Give me a break.

 

A Terrible Way to Pray

I think there must be better and worse ways to pray, but perhaps the worst way is that which makes us feel good about doing nothing to solve an important problem. If the best one can do about a problem is to pray oneself into feeling better about one’s own ineffectiveness, then I think it’s better to not pray, and rather just wallow in the funk of shameful fecklessness.


Image Credit: Pixabay

James Blackledge, CEO of Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company

An Open Letter to James Blackledge, CEO of Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company

In “Good Faith”? — Why Mutual of Omaha’s “Code of Ethics” Is Recklessly Incoherent Bullshit

“…As an employee, you have an obligation to know and follow the Code as well as to encourage, promote and practice exemplary business conduct. You also are accountable for reporting potential violations of the Code. There are a number of reporting mechanisms available and there will be no retaliation for raising issues or concerns….”

— James Blackledge [photo], CEO, Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company1

Dear Mr. Blackledge,

In my opinion your company’s Code of Ethics and Business Conduct is recklessly incoherent bullshit. For example, on page 8, under the heading “We Are Responsible for Voicing Our Concerns”, we read.

“…You have a responsibility for promptly reporting any issue or concern that you believe, in good faith, may constitute a violation of the the Code or any other Mutual policy. Reporting in ‘good faith’ means you have given all of the information you have and your report is sincere. You are also encouraged to come forward if you encounter a situation that ‘just does not feel right.'”

What does that mean, “in good faith”? I know the paragraph seems to explain it, but I do not understand the explanation either. What does it mean to report “all of the information” I have regarding such an issue or concern? What does it mean for such a report to be “sincere”? And just what exactly is an “issue or concern” that “may” constitute some violation of the company’s Code or policy? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to have a “responsibility” to make such “sincere” or “in good faith” reports?

Please do not misunderstand these questions. They are neither rhetorical nor disingenuous. And although I am autistic, I do not have an intellectual disability (there’s a difference). I assure you that I do have my own way of answering these questions. I absolutely have my own private meanings for the terms under consideration — what I personally happen to mean when I use them; what I in fact think they really ought to mean.

But you see, therein lies the problem. Because last May 19, 2017, I actually got fired for acting on my (apparently mis–) understanding of these terms. I somehow got myself unceremoniously sacked for trying to fulfill what I had then understood to be my “responsibility” to make such “sincere”, “in good faith” reports about an “issue or concern” that I believed “may” constitute a violation of the company’s Code or policy.

See, I did all of that, and then I got fired for doing so. Which is supposedly against the rules. Right? Isn’t that what you mean when you say “…there will be no retaliation for raising issues or concerns….”? And yet, that is exactly what happened to me.

Furthermore, this apparent “misunderstanding” of mine wound up costing my family and me some $40,000 in missed salary and benefits, accrued during the 5 months of unemployment and financial free-fall that it took me to find another job. What’s more, there’s a much larger and heavily relevant contextual narrative that actually began 9 months earlier in August, 2016, and which involved so much emotional distress throughout that it eventually provoked a relapse in a health condition that my wife must manage and which required her to take a two-month course of steroids.

But as if all of that weren’t bad enough, this new job I have — the company that I’m now working for has pretty much the exact same recklessly incoherent bullshit in its own Code of Ethics. So, I hope you can appreciate just how important it is to me and my family that I make some sense out of this insanity — that I find some coherence in all of this rampant, bullshit, business-ethics incoherence.

Now, when these individuals fired me, they had the audacity to allege that I was being fired for some unspecified “violation” of company policy. At the time they refused to be specific, but I found out 6 months later from the company’s attorney that the “violation” in question was allegedly not one but many violations, most of them described too vaguely for me to even know what they’re referring to, but among which was the following very specific one, that did come complete with dates and named witnesses2:

“…For example, on April 26, 2017, Mr. Autistickish contacted Ms. Huntress [i.e. my boss at the time], asserting he wanted to file a complaint against Director of Production Management Aquaman because Mr. Aquaman, a senior leader in the Department, had allegedly tried to ‘hijack’ Mr. Autistickish’s meeting. Mr. Autistickish included with his complaint an excerpt from an instant message exchange in which he admittedly told Mr. Aquaman, ‘Don’t you ever, ever piss on one of my meetings again.’ Mr. Autistickish then also sent a follow-up e-mail to Mr. Aquaman further berating him for his alleged conduct…Mr. Aquaman complained to Ms. Huntress as well as to Human Resources….”

Although that is a viciously misleading rendition of what actually happened3, it does bear enough resemblance to the truth to warrant comment. At the very least I can confirm that yes, I did in fact tell Aquaman in an IM exchange to not “ever, ever piss on one of my meetings again.” I can also confirm that I included that IM excerpt in my complaint about Aquaman to my boss, Ms. Huntress. But even if we assumed that the whole paragraph were factually accurate (it is not), I would still like answers to a number of questions. Once again, these questions are neither rhetorical nor disingenuous — they are sincere questions that I’m asking, because I do not know what the answers are, and I’m hoping you can help me understand them:

  1. Is there anything in the above account of what happened to suggest that my complaint about Aquaman was not “sincere”, or that it was not made “in good faith”?
  2. Is there anything in the above description to suggest that I did not provide “all of the information” that I had? Based on what you read above, do you think I left something out that I should have included?
  3. Is there anything in the above description to suggest that I did not really believe that Aquaman’s attempt to hijack my meeting may constitute a violation of company policy? For example, the company’s anti-harrassment policy?
  4. Is there anything at all about the above description that suggests that my behavior throughout was not a sincere, good faith attempt to fulfill my express mandate as an employee to promptly report any issue or concern that I believe, in good faith, may constitute a violation of company policy?

To my view, the answers to all of the above are in the negative: my complaint about Aquaman was utterly sincere; it included all of the information that I had to offer about it; I truly believed (and still do) that Aquaman’s attempt to hijack my meeting the way he did was against company policy — it is a form of harassment, and it was brutal, unprofessional, and wholly gratuitous; and finally, I absolutely made the complaint in order to fulfill my mandated responsibility as described in the company’s Code of Conduct.

To the extent that one agrees with me on these points, then by Mutual of Omaha’s own definition, Mr. Blackledge, and even as described so misleadingly above, my complaint about Aquaman was made “in good faith”. And yet, for some reason this event was offered by the attorney in question to Federal Investigators for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in explanation for why I lost my job. This event was actually presented as an act of misconduct — a reason for why I got fired on May 19, 2017.

I don’t believe that the above is the end of the story with regards the recklessly incoherent bullshit in Mutual of Omaha’s “Code of Ethics”, but I do believe it illustrates the general point.

I hope that’s useful, quite sincerely.


1 From “A Message from Our CEO”, Our Mutual Commitment, MUTUAL OF OMAHA’S CODE OF ETHICS AND BUSINESS CONDUCT, last accessed Jan. 11, 2018. Although I have never actually worked for Mutual of Omaha, the company is quite similar to a company that I worked for, and their published “Codes of Ethics” are virtually identical. In fact, the problems I’m discussing in the above letter are in pretty much every corporate ethics document I’ve ever seen. To the extent that they are identical, they are all of a piece: recklessly incoherent bullshit. I’ve chosen to target Mutual of Omaha more or less at random.

2 I’m using DC Comics characters to hide the identities of the individuals in question. I have several reasons for doing so, which I have explained elsewhere.

3 It is beyond the scope of this letter to explain why it is viciously misleading. For background and the complete text of they attorney’s version of what happened, see What I Did Not Do To Get Fired From My Last Job

Does This Atheist Really Believe In Heaven?

heaven_404x210

Image found here.

I’m an atheist, by the way — for now at least, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might change my mind. So if you ever catch me sitting around doing absolutely nothing, I assure you there’s absolutely no need to panic: that’s just me practicing my religion¹.

But I recently discovered² that even though I am an atheist, I do actually believe in Heaven. Now, please, don’t get too excited about this. I assure you there’s absolutely nothing trippy or paradoxical or even especially interesting about the fact that I believe we all — yes, truly all of us; even the worst of us (Hitler, Stalin, Donald Trump³) — go to Heaven when we die.

It’s no big deal, really, because all I mean by this is that I believe that only living things can suffer; and that inanimate things like rocks, coffee cups, and corpses don’t have any experience at all, but in particular and most wonderfully they do not suffer.

And to my view, that is really all anybody can rationally expect from Heaven.

Fortunately, it’s also all that any of us actually needs, I think.


¹ This is only partly a joke. I do practice meditation, which many consider to be a “spiritual practice”, and which is arguably a euphemism for “sitting around doing absolutely nothing”.

² My mother passed away a few weeks ago, after a decades long struggle against the Parkinson’s Disease that slowly — oh so excruciatingly slowly — transformed her into a meat statue. It was awful to watch, and one of the most tragically heroic events I’ve ever personally witnessed. After her passing, I was nervous about telling my six-year-old twins, and it took me a good 10 days to work up the courage. In the end, my wife and I decided we would tell them that she had died and gone to Heaven, and I reconciled this explanation with my atheism in the way described above. It was a little weird, at first, but I am glad we did it.

³ Ha ha, just kidding. Sorry, couldn’t pass that one up. Although I do think His Donaldness is an epic pig of a human being, and it really shouldn’t surprise anybody in the least if he does eventually haul off and commit some sort of mass atrocity like Hitler and Stalin did — and really for no better reason than because the Twitter server had an outage and he didn’t know what else to do with himself at 2 am — so far Mr. T-Rump has managed to keep his actual body count to a level far below monstrous. But he’s only been in office for less than a year, so maybe he will eventually earn his place among the real monsters of History.

Faking It: Is This The Real Stigma of Psychiatric Disability?

Boy crossing fingers behind his back in front of dad.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

It is commonly believed that psychiatric disabilities carry a stigma. And I’m not sure about anybody else at this point, but I know that at least I have always assumed that this stigma had something to do with being weak — essentially a weakness of character, or virtue — something about being unreliable, undisciplined, infantile, etc.

But following certain uncomfortable encounters I’ve had in recent months, it has become increasingly apparent to me that this mental illness stigma may actually be a lot more specific than that. I have come to strongly suspect that this stigma may be really and really mostly about malingering — the unscrupulous practice of faking or exaggerating an impairment of some sort, in order to exploit the sympathy, compassion, guilt, etc. of others for selfish gain.

To be clear, at this point for me this is really just a strong suspicion — more opinion than fact, or maybe a conjecture, or hypothesis — that I seem to find much more plausible than its competitors. I think it’s critical we not forget that — primarily because I also believe that one of the most damaging mistakes a person can make is to confuse an hypothesis for established fact, a merely plausible idea for one that is actually true. And also because I strongly suspect that this very mistake is what’s actually causing the stigma in the first place! I think it would be tragically ironic to try to solve the problem of the stigma that burdens those with psychiatric disabilities with the very sort of foolishness that may be causing it.

So, again, I currently believe (until I encounter the sort of evidence that could change my mind about it) that this mental health stigma may be really and mostly about malingering.

What about you?

One Good Reason Not To Use Autism As An Excuse, Perhaps

hand_holding_ace_hearts

Yesterday, I played the so-called “A-card”. In doing it, I actually said to my wife, “Uh, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to play the autism card here”.

Then a short while later I think I figured out at least one good answer to the question I posed a few days ago in my post So…Why Can’t I Use Autism As An Excuse? Having accomplished this, I proceeded to feel like quite an A-hole for having played the A-card, apologized to my wife for having done so, and committed to making proper amends for the gaffe I had committed — the very reason I thought I needed an excuse in the first place.

Now, although I really do regret blaming autism for my gaffe and have resolved to be much more careful going forward about doing that, I also happen to believe that it really was my autistic neurology that caused the gaffe — in particular, my gift/curse ability to achieve some truly ecstatic states of autistic “hyperfocus”, to the point where I can occasionally become hazardously absent-minded¹.

What happened yesterday is that I was supposed to bring my kids to a birthday party for a classmate after lunch, and all morning long my thought-furnace had been cooking up solutions to a particular problem that’s been bugging me recently. Well, lunchtime came and went and a couple of hours later I suddenly remembered the party. As it turned out, the 6-year-old birthday boy had been really looking forward to my kids’ coming to his party, and he waited and waited and waited for them until about an hour after the party had been scheduled to end. I had really dropped the ball in that situation, and my wife, and the boy’s mom, and of course the boy himself were all quite upset about it.

In any case, when my wife confronted me about this, I immediately felt like a total jackass — I mean really, this was true worst-Dad-of-the-Year material — but gosh do I hate feeling like that. Very uncomfortable. And I just sort of automatically reacted by tossing out the line about the autism card.

But doing so really accomplished nothing. I still felt like crap about having forgotten the party. On top of that, I felt like I had somehow mistreated my wife. I could see that my use of this defense mechanism had also been quite invalidating, and not just toward my wife, but to the little boy and his mom, as well. When I pulled out my A-card that way, it’s like I was telling my wife something like, “honey, I realize your frustration probably feels quite uncomfortable, but you’ll just have to suck it up because my autism trumps your frustration.” Although I hope I would never actually say it so explicitly like that, I can see that one considerable consequence of A-card play is that it runs the risk of exacerbating another person’s frustration with guilt for having made inappropriate demands on a disabled person.

Now, I’m not suggesting here that one should never or even rarely use autism as an excuse. As a rule, I’d guess that the more disabling one’s symptoms are, the more one probably ought to be playing that card. But I think something like the opposite is probably also true: the less disabling one’s symptoms are, the less one ought to be playing that card. But even in the situation described above I’m not sure I can rationally see anything wrong at all with simply conveying the fact of the matter that I forgot the party because my autistic brain was busy obsessing about some problem, and that’s really what a lot of autistic brains do. In that sense my question from the other day still stands: So…why can’t I use autism as an excuse?

But what is also true is that I love my wife and her feelings matter to me. And even though I’d never met them, the feelings of that little boy and his mother also matter to me, and the fact is that my A-card play did not just invalidate all of their feelings, but it even invalidated my own feelings — the feelings of concern that I have for these other people, feelings that I happen to like and don’t want to invalidate, autism or not. And when I recognized that I really didn’t want to go around invalidating all of these people’s feelings that mattered to me so much, I just decided to make a choice and withdraw my A-card.

So, I apologized to my wife, and I resolved there and then that I would find some way to make it up to that little boy who cares so much about my own children that he was really hurt when they didn’t show up to his birthday party.

Yup, autistic or not, I’m going to make it up to that little boy.

 


¹I think the most hazardous thing I’ve ever done was forget to give my daughter her anti-seizure medication. This is not something I did just once. It continues to happen on occasion, though most of the time I do catch my mistake and give her the medication a few hours late. I also once forgot that I’d started running a bath, and forty-five minutes later when I realized it, I discovered that about 100 gallons of water had gushed out into the hallway. Really most of the time my absent-mindedness is just frustrating for anybody that happens to need or want my presence of mind.