Remember The Peter Principle? Well, you have to remember 1969 to really know it.

The Peter Principle is a book, and its thesis is that good employees will be promoted for their performance until they reach a level of incompetency, and stay there. The common example was an excellent teacher who keeps getting promoted until he or she becomes a principal, stuck in an office and doing no teaching at all. And he or she sucks at being a principal.

It was an example everyone could understand and also helped me remember how to spell principal and principle.

Makes sense, right? It was one of those ideas that no one really considered, then suddenly, you could not remove it from the collective knowledge. The most bizarre thing about th Peter Principle is to try and imagine a world where it did not apply. And before the late 1960s, the Peter Principal had never occurred to most people.

Following up on my last post: At what point do I begin to laugh demonically, or cry, or vomit?

Here’ something far more readable than that lat sentence: Robin Abcarian’s essay in the Los Angeles Times of this morning, November 21, 2017:

Stop using Bill Clinton to hammer on liberals. 

Sexual harassment is a man problem, not a partisan one. 

 

In a James Bond movie, M (played by Judi Dench) was told, “Sometimes I don’t think you have the balls for this job.”
Her response: “Perhaps, but the advantage is I don’t have to think with them all the time.”

 

 

I read a tweet – it may have been from Stephen Douglass (who is amazingly active on Twtter, for a dead man) – that pointed out: If we’re going to accept what accusers say about predators we don’t like, we have to accept and listen when they accuse those we do like.

So hearing that some slimeball producer is accused by multiple woman of groping is something I can self-righteously celebrate. Yeah, payback’s come for you, jerk! That’s what you get! Hollywood bigwigs  or politicians who use their position to prey on women and children? I’m righteously glad their lives are being ruined, because they’ve ruined many other lives with naught but a selfish urge in their minds/dicks.

But hearing that someone I like is accused … I immediately want to make excuses. As was said on SNL,  “George Takei? No!” And poor old first President Bush? Seriously? That’s just bizarre. Al Franken? An SNL alum, being sexist?  Well, hey, different times … .

No! Bad Feminist, bad!

All accusers do deserve to be heard, listened to with respect.

These revelations have been held in for so long that we’re bound to see ugliness. It might be overwhelming because the problem IS overwhelming and has been for decades.

But we also know that witch hunts are possible in this charged atmosphere. A single accuser with no evidence could be:

  • Telling the truth. Absolutely.
  • Lying
  • Settling a score (so, lying)
  • Dealing with a memory that’s been warped for some reason. (I’m thinking of the children from a Manhattan Beach preschool in the 1980s, children who came forward with bizarre accusations against teachers that were never proved. In at least one of those cases, the child was later confirmed to have been molested by a family member, not a teacher. There’s also the possibility that drugs and alcohol could play havoc with real memories)

I don’t want to stand in judgment on either accusers or the accused. Can’t read minds. I would like to see this pattern of abuse uprooted and changed, though. I think that is possible.

The classic move was faster and lower. What woman hasn’t had to deal with this?

As someone who was just starting to wear a bra in the mid 1960s, when rebellious women began burning theirs, I want to comment on the current revelations about sexually abusive men in power.

It’s always been a problem, and it’s always been swept out of sight.

I’m glad things are changing. Do you wonder why this change did not happen 30 years ago? After all, Women’s Lib and Feminism emerged in the 60s. Do young women have any idea just how drastically things changed in the 60s and 70s?

Please realize that tens of thousands of girls like me were pretty much told we could only be nice, were expected to find a man to lean on who would support us. We could be teachers or nurses, but we absolutely should give up such work if Hubbie wanted us to stay home. Of all the skills we accumulated, the most important was cooking well and keeping a neat home. Seriously. These lessons were embedded in every bit of media we saw. Girls wore dresses. We were not the same as boys.

Then it all changed. When feminists marched; our parents and teachers laughed and mocked them at first. Within a few years, however, most men and women changed their minds. We accepted that women could work in almost any industry! Yay! And women could wear pants. They did not have to dress or act or speak simply to please men!

I think the changes we lived through were so drastic that most of us could not envision even more change. Our aspirations switched abruptly from Donna Reed, the perfect mom, to Mary Tyler Moore in a newsroom. It was dizzying.

Millennial and Gen-X women were raised in a new era. No one told them they had to stay home and cook, or that they couldn’t make their own choices. Honestly, did they see the need for further change? No, everything was fine.

But men still hold a lot of power, and certain men don’t quibble about using it however they want. Surely it was a rude shock to all those women (or girls; or even boys) that a guy could use his position to molest them. That his money and power protected him from accusations. That he could behave like a lordling from Game of Thrones without fear of consequences.

That they could be so powerless in the 21st century.

Now that paradigm’s being flipped on its ass. I guess tipping point is the term to use, though it doesn’t ring with enough gravitas. I mean, we’re talking about upsetting the power balance in male-dominated industries that control millions of dollars – and the halls of government, too. We might see hierarchies that have been in place for decades, maybe centuries, shift and crumble.

I never could have predicted this and I love that it’s bubbling over. Where will the dust settle?

But there’s a dark side, too. The possibility of innocent men being accused is there. Witch hunts. Backlash. Unforeseen consequences. Or everything could settle back the way it was before, after a few token arrests have been made (I hope it’s too late for that last possibility).

In the midst of all this, let’s remember that a year ago a man was publicly exposed, bragging about grabbing women by the pussy, because “when you’re a star they let you do it.” And we elected him president.

Life is unpredictable. Things can change without warning, in ways you don’t expect. I wonder if most younger women realize how fragile and recently won their freedoms are. I hope we’re all wise and brave enough to fight back when we’re threatened.

When I read The Handmaid’s Tale in the 1980s, I thought of it as science fiction. No longer. I’ve seen too many illogical swings in our society, and I’ve studied too much history. The Holocaust would seem incredible, horrid fantasy to sane people in the 1920s, but it happened. Anything can happen.

 

I’m beginning to think I might write a book aimed at my generation: “History Changes: Why What You Learned in School Isn’t True Anymore.”

Couple of things make me think this is a good idea. First, I did go back to college in my 40s to pursue (and nab) a Masters in History. So I have the personal experience of having learned my history in both the 1960s and the 21st century.

In the 1960s, we didn’t have new textbooks – especially not in Catholic schools. So I learned about the California Indians and how they made adobe bricks in a book that may have been written and illustrated before World War 2. I am not joking.

The second reason I think my book idea is good is that I’ve met many people who absolutely believe that what they were taught 40 or 50 years ago is fact, and nothing can change that. For example, they were taught that the Founding Fathers were good Christians; how dare anyone imply otherwise?

The Founding Fathers were really smart guys. Some owned slaves. None of them ever considered that women or non-whites should be admitted to the club. Some were Deists, not Christians. They set down lofty ideals that I wish we all lived up to, but they were wrong about very serious matters.

Not long ago I had a lively argument with a woman (a dear, smart woman who was a friend) about the Civil War. She insisted it was fought over States’ Rights. Of course she did! She was taught that in school. Mid-century history books taught everyone that the Civil War erupted over States’ Rights. It wasn’t true. There was only one state right that sparked the Civil War, and that was the right to own slaves. Here’s an NPR essay on that.

Lots of things have changed since Baby Boomers were educated. Pluto is no longer a planet, and we now know about plate tectonics … but I’m not an astronomer or scientist, so I’ll stick to history. Columbus isn’t much of a hero, unless you’re comfortable lionizing a guy who took slaves as souvenirs. Civilizations that were completely unknown in 1970 are being discovered now (Google Gobeckli-Tepe). And almost all descendants of any European are also descendants of Neanderthals, and possible a couple of other extinct species.

Some concepts that we’ve clung to are simply not true. Did you know there’s really no such thing as race? It’s a chimera. The genes that control skin pigmentation are not that different from the ones that control eye color or ear lobe size. Europeans/Americans used the concept of race to justify their particular brand of slavery, but it was bogus from the get-go. “Races” as we usually define them just don’t exist.

So anyway, that’s my idea. I may get to it eventually but I’ve got two other non-fiction books in the pipeline, so I’d better get busy.

A day or two ago, all the major news outlets ran stories about the life-shortening consequences of sitting. For one 24-hour period, we were bombarded with the bad news, which is now buried in slew of one-day-wonder stories. But in case you missed it:

Briefly, sitting too long will shorten you life.

A study of 8000 people over age 45, that lasted four years, concluded that the longer you sit, the shorter your life. The consequences seem to kick in at 30 minutes. Sit for longer than that at a stretch, and you will die earlier than if you stood and moved more often. Those who sit for 90 minutes at a time were twice as likely to die younger than those who moved frequently.

And all this is true, even if you exercise!

OK, I need a break because looking up those news links and some pictures and writing this has kept me at the computer for over 30 minutes. Must move.

I’m toast.

I’m so toast.

I am a writer. I’ve spent the last 30 years sitting, usually in front of a monitor, for hours at a time. That is what writers do.

If we’re not selling enough, or writing enough, or earning enough, the advice is always: Park your behind in your chair and don’t get up till you’ve written something! And it’s good advice. Except the implicit “and then you die” part.

Norman Mailer hinted at the consequences:

But writing as a daily physical activity is not agreeable. You put on weight, you strain your gut, you get gout and chilblains. You’re alone, and every day you have to face a blank piece of paper. 

Here’s another quote, from Burton Rascoe. He died in 1957; cut him some slack for the implied sexism:

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.

Rascoe was sitting when he stared out of the window; of that I’m certain.

This is awful and cataclysmic. How can I write in 30-minute bursts? Excuse me, the alarm just went off. I must run up and down the stairs three times.

Ok, I’m back. And then there’s TV, and movies, and even football games. We sit all day! I am great at sitting; I could medal in competitive sitting.

My dog, watching and waiting for any sign that it’s time for a walk.

I do exercise daily, after all. I have a dog. She takes me for walks, sometimes long walks. I have stairs in my place.

Still, exercising doesn’t seem to matter. You sit too long, you die faster. Ick!

Oddly, starting a month or two ago, my dog started barking at me as I sit at my computer. She’ll be fed, walked within the last hour or so, untroubled by strange noises, etc. – but still she barks. She’s never done that before. Even before the story came out, I was joking with friends that she has decided to not let me sit for very long. She stops barking when I get up. She wants me to be active.

I wonder if she’s been carrying on a secret correspondence with those doctors who conducted the survey? My dog is well-connected; I wouldn’t doubt it too strenuously.

I am very happy with my life. But sometimes, I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d’ stayed in my corporate job instead of quitting to go back to school, etc.

Usually, I wonder that when I see a friend retiring with a healthy income, or visit someone who has a beautiful home, the kind that two professional-level incomes can buy. Gee, I would’ve had a house like that … but I know that house isn’t really what I want. It’s just a passing thought.

In fact, doesn’t AA say, “If you want to know what someone really wants, look at what they have?”

It’s striking me now because of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. I know several women in their 60s (ok, one’s in her 50s, 4 in 60s, one in 70s) who live in Texas, in lovely homes, and who may lose those homes due to flooding. An “act of God” kind of flooding; that no one could have predicted. As the National Weather Service is saying, “Unprecedented.”

Of course, there are 100s of 1,000s more. These ladies are special because they are People I Know.

Also, this same week, I see a relative struggling, even though he has a solid job and lovely home. Struggling to find more money somehow, to keep up with bills. He didn’t do anything wrong. He bought real estate when all the financial gurus were telling everyone to buy real estate.

So my “sometimes I wonder” is better phrased as “thank God I didn’t.”

The lesson I take, from this and from everything that’s happened since … well, since the 80s, as I live in Southern California and have seen bright little bursts of housing bubbles, tech bubbles, you-name-it bubbles, is that there is no safe and secure path. None! It’s a chimera.

Remember the Three Little Pigs? I never liked that story. But the moral was that if you worked hard and spent a longer time laboring than anyone else, and invested in the best materials and never cut corners, You Will Be Safe.

And look, life keeps showing us over and over that it’s just not true. Brick houses flood or go into foreclosure just as surely as straw houses. One path might keep you safe from one disaster, but nothing will keep you safe, always, period.

At least we don’t have to worry about invading hoards riding over the hill to steal our food and families, right? Because up until a century or two ago, that was a concern for ordinary people.

I think most of us grow up thinking that the rules won’t change and everything, homes included, will stay the same. Let’s face it: the rules were never more than very loose guidelines and things are constantly changing. Up and down.

So what we’re here for clearly can’t be to build a nice little castle and hold onto it. What are we here for? No idea. Pick a reason that works for you, for now.

Only for now. Because chances are that reason’ll change too.

Here’s why I haven’t written lately:

I have a million thoughts and million and a half things to do.

Or, my mind is blank and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I need do.

I talked to a woman tonight who told me that anxiety nearly kept her from coming to the reunion where we met, after years. Anxiety. This from the most genuinely gregarious, gracious, expressively loving person I ever met. If you asked me “Who would you like to be, when you walk into a room full of strangers?” I would have named her. And she was so anxious about meeting people that she almost didn’t come to the reunion.

I know one person who, to my shock, seemed to become a white supremacist over the last few years. Sad, awful. I was not sorry when he and his wife split up. Then she went downhill, perhaps had a stroke, and after five months apart he crossed the country to return and take care of her. The first thing he did was bring her to a monthly meeting of her friends that he’d never attended before. Just so she could be there and see her friends and talk to them.

Nothing is ever what we think, is it?

So I pull a couple of anecdotes out of the morass that surrounds me daily: the depressing news stories, the growing chaos, the uncertainty. I don’t know anything. But when the day seems dark and sickly, I can see that nothing is what I think it is, and cheer up.