to karen (2), or: “small fires”

A small fire is hard to see but it’s easy to put out; a large fire is easy to see but very difficult to put out.

– Dr. Mike Ryan, on COVID-19

When I began writing “to karen (1),” I was already personally clear that “Karen,”
while a problem, is not The Problem.

I’d begun to identify The Problem for myself, but did not yet have words
to begin describing it.

I don’t yet have great words, but you know what?

It’s by writing that I find those words, and also

build them into muscle memory.

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb has guided how I assess the problem of “Karen.” For me, having read Taleb, karening involved what I described as “a transference of skin in the game.”

“To karen,” I decided, means to “take acts that decrease one’s anxiety—to increase one’s subjective sense of well being—by transferring (or attempting to transfer) objective risks and costs to someone else.”

Having read Taleb, the problem with this definition was almost immediately clear to me: The woman-on-the-street engaged in karening has a very limited reach. The individuals with whom she comes in touch may be imperiled by her urgent need to reduce her anxiety at someone else’s expense, but …

From a societal perspective, any individual “Karen” causes qualitatively large but quantitatively small harm.

The much greater danger to life and liberty wouldn’t be one Karen-in-the-park, but people enabled to sacrifice numerous lives and livelihoods all at once:

People who could put not only one or two people’s skin in the game,

but put in thousands, or millions, all at once.

While wrapping up “to karen (1),” I tried finding the Taleb passages I sought in his Skin in the Game. Continue reading “to karen (2), or: “small fires””

to karen (1)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about concerns with Karens,

as well as concerns with my own use of the word “Karens” (noun) instead of karen-ing (verb).

I’ve been thinking about karen-ing a lot the last week or two:

What does it mean to karen?

Who is most likely, based on societal structures today,

to feel empowered to karen in public?

Do I karen? If so,

How do I adjust my life in ways that help me

karen less?

While the process of discovery as I’ve experienced it isn’t as linear as the nature of English and blogging may make it sound, the process really did begin with one question above all:

“What does it mean to karen?” What’s the definition as I’d write it?

To come to that definition, I had to first answer a different question:

Apart from the fact they’d been perpetrated by white women, what did all the acts of karening I’d witnessed on social media have in common?

In each case, a white woman felt subjectively threatened by the skin color and/or non-aggressive acts of a Black person, and then acted out that sense of threat in ways that increased possibility of harm to the Black person.

Thanks to author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I had words for what was happening in these moments of karening: Continue reading “to karen (1)”

the right to breathe

I’ve been stalked for almost two and a half years.

I wrote about being stalked in “Far from alone” last August.

If I understood I was far from alone before reading attorney Carrie Goldberg’s magnificent Nobody’s Victim last year, I was even clearer afterward. I was both comforted and disheartened to know how very, very many people endure stalking

that few who have not experienced it can begin to fathom.

In Nobody’s Victim, many of the perpetrators are men. They’re part of what Goldberg describes as “the manosphere”: Continue reading “the right to breathe”

safer

On Monday morning, I spent three hours writing about cultivating empathy in the face of COVID-19.

By Monday evening, I was ranting to my husband about a particular group of people,

a divergence that didn’t amuse me until Tuesday morning.

For months now, I’ve half-heartedly worked on making a habit of morning “RPMs”: Read, Pray, Meditate. The days I begin thusly are often the most manageable of all, a fact that isn’t always persuasive to my 4 a.m. self: “Do I really want to RPM, or do I want to just stay here in bed and half-doze until the kids wake up? I mean, both of these things are good for me, right?”

Until this week, half-dozing has tended to win this morning battle within myself. Fortunately, I chose wisely this Tuesday morning, grumbling as I climbed out of bed and went to find my healing books. Continue reading “safer”