A fantastic book for the advanced beetle-loving embroiderer. This may be a small audience, but it’s a wonderful book–from the research on the inspiration insects, through to the instructions and projects using stumpwork, goldwork, crewel, beading, and applique techniques.
I finished my first stumpwork beetle –the ladybug–and can say that the instructions are clear, the measurements and diagrams are accurate and make sense, and the project worked.
It is definitely not a perfect project, but I learned some things in doing this one:
You cannot substitute the 24-gauge jewellery wire you have on hand for the 28-30 gauge florists’ wire called for in the pattern. It makes too thick a border for the wings, and once you finish the wing, you’ll have a devil of a time trying to get the wire through the background fabric.
Draw the outlines on to the back of the background fabric, so you can still see where the legs go after the front has been covered by the wings. Draw the outlines of the wings on the front of the wing fabric, because honestly you’re going to cover the whole thing front and back with stitches anyway so it doesn’t really matter where it goes.
The black seed beads you have on hand are maybe not quite small enough.
You will absolutely need to have good, clear detailed vision of objects held at about nose-distance. Doing couching stitches over even 24-gauge jewellery wire, and then padded satin stitches to fill in tiny shapes only a few millimetres in each direction, will require you to hold things pretty close to your face and be able to see them relatively well. This may mean reading glasses. If you’re me, this will mean reading glasses worn in front of your regular prescription glasses. Hazel Blomkamp, whose wonderful crewel embroidery books I got the double-glasses suggestion from, gently reminds her readers to take off the reading glasses before being seen by anyone. Or you can take selfies and post them on the internet, which is what I did.
Working itty-bitty black stab stitches around the borders of the two teeny pieces of black felt that form the body underneath those wings will require the brightest light you can find. Don’t try to do this in the kitchen at 10pm.
After 30 minutes stitching while wearing two pairs of glasses, you will not be able to see well without them.
But you can totally do 3D stumpwork embroidery. It’ll even be recognizable when it’s done, if a bit messy.
Given that these little ladybugs are so small, I think they could be a super cute touch on a shirt collar or placket or something. I’m not sure what I’ll do with this little guy. It’d be a fun pendant for a necklace, don’t you think?
One of the high hopes that I had was that it would be a fun holiday skirt. But this thought, this “wouldn’t it be great to get all gussied up in nice shoes and tights and everything at the end of December?” idea, comes strictly from a determination not to know myself and the laziest inner leanings of my winter heart.
No, actually, what sounds like fun at the end of December is to put on a pair of comfy blue jeans, an old worn-in sweater, make a huge pot of english rose or dorian grey tea, put my hair in a ponytail and spend the entire day sewing, while wearing fuzzy socks. Getting gussied up and wearing a skirt and tights and nice shoes and everything means, for at least a short period of time, being cold; and I have no interest in that. (I was very cold taking these pictures, which is why I took three of them and went back inside.)
A second high hope that I had for this skirt was that the material, a lovely bright copper faux leather with a bit of stretch, would be good for muslining out my leather pencil skirt again, if only to practice leather sewing techniques on something similar. And in terms of getting the fit right, it certainly was. This pencil skirt fits. And thanks to the rayon lining, I know it’s not due to the stretch.
But thanks to the stretch, all those lovely interesting curvy seams bubble and hiccup like a drunk man at 2 am on a Saturday.
So while I’m pretty sure the fit is fine, I’m going to have to try it again without stretch. Before I do, I’m going to take another closer look at the seamlines on the adjusted skirt pieces, because truly fixing the bubbling probably means finessing those quite a bit as well, to make sure the curves match as much as possible.
However, I did lay out my lovely leather and make sure that these pieces will fit on the skins that I have. And they will, just barely. So once I get the curves figured out, Dear Readers, I am off to the races on making a gorgeous leather skirt, that I am pretty well certain not to wear until April at least, because it is Canada in the winter time and it’s cold outside.
Mohr’s heart is in the right place. She wanted to write a book that would help women overcome a lifetime of socialization and learn to believe in ourselves, so we can pursue our own big dreams and goals. And that is wonderful. But the execution fell apart somewhat.
To begin with, it is pretty well a standard self-help book, with standard self-help advice: make friends with your inner critic, find and follow your inner mentor, step depending on praise or running from criticism, deal with fear, stop undermining yourself, figure out what your big dreams and callings are, chase them down to the ends of the earth. All fine, so far as they go, but not earth-shaking. I’ve read enough self-help books over the course of my life to know that making friends with your inner critic is the first piece of advice offered in almost every self-help book, and whether you call it your Inner Mentor or your North Star or your Peaceful Place or your Future Visualization or whatever, finding it is always the second.
(Aside: I had three stages in my own self-help book journey: 1–I was young and proud and much too good for self-help books; 2–I was older and sad and decided maybe I could use help even if it came in the form of self-help books; 3–I am even older and either through the books I’ve already read or just the process of increasing curmudgeonization, I feel like I no longer need it. The Fuck-Off Fairy has been and gone; now I figure if I do something and it turns out to be ridiculous and everyone laughs at me, well, at least I’ve brightened their days.)
For another, the feminist portion of the book seemed half-thought-out, at best. She acknowledges the reality of discrimination and sexism in shaping our world, our lives, and our personalities, but then doesn’t really consider how that sexism will react to us in our new, fearless, uber-confident and self-mentored-up selves. If we are taught self-deprecation in order not to seem uppity, for example, it stands to reason that when we no longer self-deprecate, the world will not take it well. In my exeperience, one can absolutely expect a significant backlash to any move away from the feminine Norm of Nice.
Most of the research that forms the basis of the book is anecdotal and personal–of course, since this is self-help; one can’t expect double-blind studies and statistical correlations. However, it is less that convincing, particularly when some of the anecdotes are of the “I listened to my inner voice, and it told me to send my first ever written piece to Forbes, and it got published!” variety.
The chapter on fear, though, angered me.
Mohr states that really there are two kinds of fear: pachad, which is the fear of things that don’t actually exist, like monsters under the bed; and yirah, which is the fear felt when we confront the divine or other things larger than ourselves. Pachad we should ignore because what we fear isn’t real. Yirah is telling us we should move forwards.
You may notice that there is a distinct lack of any discussion of the fear of real, present and immediate threats, like sabre-toothed tigers, abusive ex-husbands, or the imminent prospect of foreclosure on one’s house. Both of the kinds of fear she does discuss mean, in her view, that you should move forwards towards your dream; but look, terrible things can happen and sometimes our fears are rational and realistic. The Universe is not a cosmic vending machine and we are not all guaranteed to have our dreams come true if we are nice people who want reasonable things. The worst can happen, and sometimes it does. Sometimes people fail, and it is irresponsible not to even discuss what to do when one’s fears are realistic or even probable, and it boggles my mind that however many people read this manuscript and no one thought to wonder about the whole fear thing.
Here’s my own personal advice on fear:
As yourself three questions: What is the most likely outcome? What is the best case scenario? What is the worst case scenario?
If you can accept the most likely outcome, if the best case scenario is something you truly deeply want, and if the worst case scenario is something you can recover from, it’s a good risk.
If the most likely outcome is not good enough, if the worst case scenario would crush you and you aren’t sure you could recover, or if the best case scenario isn’t amazingly fantastic, it’s probably not worth it.
By all means, do some research or talk to people to figure out what those scenarios are; but just plunging ahead on the expectation that the Universe takes care of people with good intentions is silly and irresponsible.
There was a time in my life when a lot of this book’s contents would have resonated with me and I would have dragged out my journal and earnestly completed all of the journaling prompts. If you are at that time in your life, I wish you good luck, god speed, and it almost certainly isn’t as bad or as scary as you think. Keep breathing. You’ll get there.
Somehow or other, I did; or at least, I think I did. I did more tagging of pages that I agreed with than tagging of insights–in fact, I didn’t tag any insights. Yep, still scared of things; no, it doesn’t stop me; the inner critic is still vicious but I just smile and nod at her and keep on plugging; praise and criticism don’t tell me what to do; etc. Maybe I’m just a smug and self-satisfied brat. In any case, I’ll be sending this back to the library, where it can hopefully inspire and console someone else.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Gingers, I’m sure, but I already had a Jalie jeans pattern so that’s what I made, and here is my Jalie jeans offering in the midst of this current Gingers maelstrom.
I suppose a more accurate title might be “I made ANYTHING!” but actually, I’ve been sewing quite a bit. I just haven’t been the slightest bit interested in taking off my incredibly comfortable lounging-around clothes to make any kind of effort in blog photographs whatsoever, as you can see above. I’ll get to blogging them, hopefully before spring, but no timeline guarantees here.
I made them on Christmas Day, because my daughter was at her dad’s house, and all the stores are closed so what are you going to do? Yes, I know, other people visit family or friends, but as far as I’m concerned it isn’t Christmas without my girl, so I’d rather not.
I know the theory is that blue jeans are super hard to sew. But really, they’re just pants with a lot of extra top-stitching. I did a quick muslin on Christmas Eve, just waist to knees to get the fit right, and then Christmas Day sewed the whole thing up. Jalie has their own sizing, and I think these were a U in the waist and a W in the hips. I also added 1 1/2 inches between hip and waist, and changed the leg shape from the dramatic flare to a more relaxed bootcut. And as is de rigeur in the SBC, I used Liberty lawn scraps to line the front pockets.
A word on this jeans pattern, though I have shared this before: The good thing about it is, that every size from preschool girl to 3XL womam is in the same envelope.
The bad thing is, that they’re all on the same piece of paper. So there is a lot of tracing required.
But I can theoretically use this same pattern for blue jeans for both Frances and myself until we both kick the bucket. That’s a pretty good plus.
The other pretty good plus is that it’s a well-drafted pattern that goes together nicely. Notches line up, instructions make sense, and so on. I didn’t follow them completely, as I prefer the join-inseams-then-crotch-then-outsides method of pants construction. But whatever. It all worked. And I enjoyed using the bartack stitch so much, and pounding in a nice metal jeans button.
Oh, and I totally ignored the markings for rear pocket placement. I put the jeans together, and tried them on, and then figured out where I wanted the rear pockets to sit. I sewed one on one side, took off the jeans, and folded them in half carefully along the centre back seam, making sure that the waist band and hips lined up properly. I then stuck pins through all layers, at the corners and points of the one pocket that was sewed on, and used those pins on the other side to align the second pocket for placement. Easy peasy–but apparently something that is often overlooked either in the rush to completion or an urge to be completely faithful to the pattern markings.
Since then I’ve worn them every day I can get away with. They are incredibly comfortable. It’s 94% cotton & 6% spandex, starts off fairly snug and then bags out a bit over 3-4 days. The photos in the post are from the point with the most bagging out, so there’s some additional wrinkles that aren’t there when they’ve been freshly washed, but they’re still snug enough that they mostly stay put (I can sit down without showing my underwear! THERE IS NO MUFFIN TOP!) and given all the rolling around these things tolerate, I can’t complain.
I love them.
And I will make more–but not until the projects pile is a bit smaller.
No, scratch that: Hibernation 2014 gave me some space while time fixed a lot of things. Like the creepy ex, losing my job, finding the new one, the thyroid thing, and adapting to all of Frances’s new health gizmos and routines, for starters.
But there’s one thing Hibernation 2014 will never and can never address, and that’s climate change. I don’t mean that it can’t solve it–though it can’t, and please spare me the speeches about how making your own stuff is good for the environment, usually it’s not–I mean that it can’t really help me cope with it, in a permanent way.
You know that feeling that comes over you when you visit a historic battleground, or the site of a massacre or tragedy? How the blood that was spilled somehow hangs in the air; you can feel it, or shadows of it, around you? Well, being well-schooled in climate change and trying to do something with your life to solve it makes the whole world feel like that. Of course there are the environmental catastrophes that underlie every step we take; the forests that have already disappeared, the passenger pigeons that should be in the air, the charismatic megafauna that were wiped out before the europeans ever set foot here in Canada. But there is also the knowledge of the catastrophes to come, the knowledge that everything you could possibly do for the rest of your life will not be enough to keep even a small part of it from dying.
And yes it is technically possible for some super-scientist to come along with a miracle technology sometime in the next thirty years and save us from ourselves. Just like it is technically possible for a doctor to come along with a miracle drug and save a cancer patient in palliative care. But it is awfully unlikely.
I’m still doing what I do. You know, I pay for bullfrog power and I drive as little as possible and I recycle and use reusable bags and I haven’t been on an airplane since 2010. I use the library for books whenever I can. I work in renewable energy, and boy, I’d love it if I were working harder in renewable energy. But I still live a mostly-typical north american existence on top of a mountain of stuff I don’t really need, and the climate (speaking in purely scientific terms) would be better off without me (and you).
I think this may be why I have been so obsessed with apocalyptic fiction for the last few years. BattleStar Galactica can be read as a climate fable pretty easily. And there’s the Last Policeman trilogy, Station Eleven, the Hunger Games, The Girl with All the Gifts, Area X, The Clockwork Century, Drowned Cities, Spin, the Windup Girl–it goes on. Even though I recognize that this is a failure on my part to engage with the reality of the situation and, where this obsession is shared by the culture at large, a failure on all of our parts to engage with the reality of the situation. This is no virus. It is no alien or robot invasion. It isn’t zombies. It is no asteroid. It is us, all us, all of us. We are the gun, the bullet, the victim, and the hand that pulled the trigger. It’s just us, living our lives in the world we inherited, finding it easier to hold on to what we have now and let tomorrow take care of itself. Even though it can’t.
Do you remember how all of the science fiction in the 1960s was all sparkly spaceships, personal jet backpacks, robot servants? Star Trek and the Jetsons. And now all of our science fiction is the End of Everything. Zombies and asteroids and brittle intergalactic totalitarian empires. Killer androids and deathly viruses. I think we all know, deep down, even those of us who can’t admit it out loud. And I think we are all scared.
So in a not insignificant way, Hibernation 2014 was a way to hide from all of that. And chances are, sewing and making things will remain a way for me to continue hiding from all of that. Oh hey, don’t get me wrong; I’ve always loved making things. But that’s the reason it’s so therapeutic, you see: I love it. And it is totally unconnected with the end of the world.
Anyway, I am going to rename Hibernation 2014 ‘burrow & sing’ for the time being. It is just as unconnected with sewing and making as Hibernation 2014 was, but without the now-outdated year reference, and with the added benefit of being a line from a Dennis Lee poem called hang- that pretty well describes how I feel. (Google Books has Testament, the book it’s from, if you’re interested, and hang- is on page 34.) Yes, it’s pretentious and obscure, I know. But I really love Dennis Lee’s environmental poems, so if nothing else, I’ll get that little reminder every time I post.
I could just call it sewing. Yep. But I don’t want to. So there. Plus, it’s not always going to be sewing, per se.
I had a lot of hope right up until about 2012. I knew it was 20 years too late to actually fix it, but first I thought that Copenhagen might actually get us to a climate deal that would get us somewhere and stave off the worst of it, and then when that fell through, I thought that there were enough smaller initiatives like the Green Energy Act and municipal plans to make some kind of difference. But our emissions keep climbing, and we keep having international climate negotiations which consist of poorer and developing nations screaming for help and first-world countries (particularly Canada) snubbing them, and the ice keeps melting and species are going extinct and it’s not even that no one seems to care, but that the people who care the most are the deniers and are working tooth and nail on the coat-tails of significant funding from fossil fuel companies to make sure that nothing changes. Our likely continuum of outcomes at this point is from catastrophe to a Canfield Oceans mass extinction event. It’s not like coming to terms with the death of a loved one, where there is one loved one and the rest of the world carries on; it’s the death of all loved ones, human and not-human, and when I’m not busy living the life I know is contributing to all of that, I need to hide out from it all in a burrow of fabric and thread.
I KNOW. Sewing plan posts stink. I won’t be offended if you skip it. But whereas other people’s sewing plans mostly bore me to tears, I find my own endlessly fascinating. I don’t expect you to, though.
1. There will be clothes! Like finishing that leather pencil skirt, and the suit(s), and a couple more blouses for work.
2. There also will be clothes for Frances! She grew out of her raincoat, and also she’s been bugging me for a mini duffel bag. So I’ll start there.
3. There will be quilts! I want to make a quilt for my own room this year. I’ve picked out the Heaven & Earth pattern from Material Obsessions 2, for which I can find no decent photo online. But it is full of colour and contrast and I love it. It’s going to take a while to find some good fat quarters for it, though, so it’s likely to take most of the year. I’m also going to finish that Farmer’s Wife quilt. Slowly.
4. There will be embroidery! Last year I had a loose schedule, where I did handwork during the week and machine sewing on weekends, when I had bigger blocks of time. I’m going to get back into that, and I’m going to start by sewing up an embroidered beetle on weeknights from this mouth-watering book. (I don’t actually recommend eating the book. Or the beetles, for that matter.) There are many new and exciting embroidery books in my life right now, and I am all stocked up with projects and mojo.
5. There will be embroidery on clothes! I have some ideas. For now I’ll tuck them away safely. There will also be embroidery on accessories.
As an aside, do any of you have any theories about why more sewing bloggers don’t do this? It’s such a fun and easy way to make something that’s really unique and has personality, and well done it is so lovely, and it involves a lot of the same needles and threads sewists already use to make the clothes anyway. Why not add a little embellishment? Unlike a hand-rolled hem, it’s even visible.
6. There will be blogging about some, but not all, of this! Don’t get used to this frequency, though.
7. There will be organization! Inspired by an Online Friend Who Shall Remain Nameless but Possibly Volunteer to Out Herself, I have created an excel spreadsheet to document all of my sewing patterns, fabric, and ongoing projects. It seemed like a good idea at the time … anyway. Apparently, after sorting out the patterns Frances has outgrown and the fabric scraps I’ve finally accepted will never be made into anything, I have just under 50 patterns and about 80 separate pieces of usable fabric, 2/3 of which is quilting cotton (for quilts, people). Why do you care? You don’t! I know. But these meaningless statistics took a good chunk of a Saturday afternoon to generate, and dammit, if I can’t monetize it, at least I will put it somewhere on the blog.
No, wait: I can now keep track of what projects are going to use which patterns and fabrics, and identify where there are actual gaps, as opposed to shopping on a whim and a prayer. That is the plan, anyway. And it’s fairly important because, sometime between the roof post and the end of the year, my furnace broke down and needed to be replaced. (In a Canadian winter, Dear Readers, a functioning furnace is not a luxury.)
8. I will participate in MMM! But don’t worry, I will never have the time or interest to document what I wear every day, so there is no risk whatsoever of having a 30-day What I Made and Wore post extravaganza.
9. It’s going to be FUN!
Because if your hobbies aren’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.
I’ve had Vintage Quilt Revival for about a year, and finally got around to making a project from it. The blocks, projects, aesthetic and photography are all very appealing and pretty. But either it was my dumb luck, or the book suffers from a number of errors, because the cross-patch bag project’s measurements were all wrong.
It is supposed to make an 8.5″ block before finishing. The book tells you how many of each type of block to cut out, and in what size; this I did, right off the bat. Then it says to get the template off the included cd and print 16 copies and use foundation piecing to put them together. Well, this is absurd. The cross-patch block is not difficult, from a piecing perspective. Careful measurement and piecing will work to produce a good block without wasting 16 pieces of paper. Also, I don’t have a cd drive on my computer, and I’m not buying a new laptop so I can make better use of a $20 book.
Or it would work, if the measurements given for cutting were accurate.
But they weren’t.
(Aside: the inner pieces are given as 1.5″ wide. The outer pieces are given as 2.25″ wide. I have double-checked and yes, it does say 1.5″, and yes, it’s for all of the inner pieces, not just one–so not a typo. I have a feeling that the 2.25″ is the correct measurement so if you are going to make the crosspatch bag from this book, cut your inner squares out at 2.25″x 2.25″, and the white strip as 2.25″ x 6″. That should work better.)
So I made up the first block just following the diagram, and the lattice arms on the outer portions were about an inch wider than the arms in the inner portion, completely breaking the interwoven effect. I had to take them apart and trim an inch off of the outer lattice pieces to make the effect work–and at that point, of course, it was no longer 8.5″. It was 6.5″. Which would mean a bag that was 12″ across instead of 16″ across. Not something I was really keen on.
So I trimmed all the outer pieces into sizes that would work with the inner pieces, cut out pieces for one more block, and turned it into a cushion cover. (3 blocks x 3 blocks with an envelope back in a solid yellow.) It’s a very pretty cushion cover, and I’ve had the 18″ form inside it hanging around for years, waiting for an appropriate home. But it’s not a bag, and I’m not sufficiently motivated to try another project from the book to see if they have more accurate cutting measurements. I’ll just use the book for inspiration, and use block instructions from elsewhere.
I’m starting to think, though, that I may be one of the few people on the planet who waits to review crafting books until after I’ve tried a project from them. This book has a lot of good reviews on GoodReads, but none of them mention anyone having actually made something from the book. Buyer beware.
Say, did you know that this isn’t technically speaking a sewing blog?
It isn’t even, technically speaking, a crafting or making blog.
Technically speaking, it’s a green blog. If you’ve read back through the old entries, you know this. If you haven’t, why would you? I just spoiled the ending.
Technically speaking, the whole sewing/making thing was a one-year blog experiment to see if it helped me cope with last year.
And now 2014 is ending and I need to decide what to do with it. (The blog, not the year. The year has its own ideas and is carrying them out without my input. Inconsiderate, really.)
I like blogging about sewing, even if I could pack all of my readers into a moderately-sized bathroom. I plan to keep doing it. At the very least, though, I need to change my category handle.
I suppose angsting is a strong word for what this post actually contains so far. Let me add some extra hand-wringing:
2014 is almost over and my sewing blog category has been all about 2014 and I don’t know what to dooooooooooooo!
What I made this year:
Four pairs of pants
Three pairs of pajamas
One leather purse
One cross-stitch project
Two pairs of shorts
Two button-down shirts
One pair of blue jeans
What actually gets used:
The pants, especially the Jasmine pants, one of which I am wearing as I type this.
The pajamas, which Frances wears all the time, including all non-scheduled downtime at home.
Most of the t-shirts. Frances wasn’t too keen on the first t-shirt I made her but later iterations fit better, and she wears them all the time. And my first Renfrew wasn’t a raging success, but I wear my pleated Butterick tees and the Emily top all the time.
The purse. Every day, until it got cold and I switched to the winter bag.
The fancy shorts.
The button down tops.
The second Moneta dress, when it’s hot.
The jeans are new, but I suspect I’ll be getting a lot of wear out of them.
What I have learned:
More pants/shorts, fewer dresses/skirts.
Always add 1.5″ to the rise on a new pants/skirt pattern
Always take at least 1.5″ out of the sleeve length on a new shirt pattern
Always raise the waist on a bodice at least 1.5″ on a new pattern.
Conclusion: In terms of pattern sizing I am essentially I am a short woman with long legs.
Don’t cut out the collar pieces until after you’ve adjusted the shoulders and neckline on a new pattern, because it’ll probably be wrong.
Pullover tops made of woven fabric do not work for me, bias-cut or not.
Significant shirt alterations are easier with princess seams than with darts.
What I want to learn next:
A really good blazer pattern, and proper tailoring with sew-in hair-canvas and pad stitching and the whole shebang.
Can I make Frances a blouse that she will wear on purpose?
Sewing very curved seams on leather, without puckering or stretching
A really good non-stretchy work pants pattern that goes up to my waist and down to my feet that is warm, comfortable, and would work well in a suit combo
Some basic pattern drafting. I have it on good authority that Santa is bringing me Pattern Magic for Christmas (mostly because in my house, I am Santa. Ha!). (And here we are celebrating Christmas tomorrow, since Frances was at her dad’s for the holiday this year.)
Naomi’s political lens is so focused that it’s blinding. This is less a book about climate change than it is about why climate change is now the perfect excuse to do everything she’s always wanted to do anyway (eg. scrap globalization, redistribute wealth), which is fine, but she ignores any contrary evidence. For example, she has a brief section on the brief flourishing and untimely death of Ontario’s green energy economy, which she blames 100% on the WTO’s decision on domestic content. The waffling and delays of government regulators on applications, the constant changes in direction, and the dead-set-contrarian politics of the mostly rural ridings where wind energy projects were to be sited were completely overlooked, but as anyone who actually went through the process can tell you, the domestic content reg change was the least of any developer’s worries, and came after years and years of frustrations brought about by the public sector.
She spends a great deal of time criticizing anyone else whose political perspectives change how they perceive climate science and solutions, but is much, much worse herself in this book. No information penetrates unless it conforms with her pre-existing beliefs. But the global carbon cycle is not sentient. It doesn’t care how carbon emissions are reduced; it doesn’t even care if they are reduced at all. It does not vote and has no political preferences. WE do; and so it’s up to us to make some decisions about if and how we’re going to turn things around. It should be a mark of deep shame to any thinking citizen in a democratic society that authoritarian China is pulling so far ahead in the transition to a renewable economy.
The flaws with This Changes Everything can be boiled down to two, major, fundamental issues:
1. She acts as if the private and public spheres were diametric and opposed, rather than almost entirely overlapping. A person who works all day in a corporation then goes home and becomes a voter and consumer. People move back and forth between the private and public sector in terms of employment all the time. We are not talking about two different species–the private, evil homo sapiens determined to ruin the earth at a profit and the loving, public homo sapiens trying desperately to save it. It’s all just people.
2. The public sphere is as complicit in this as the private sphere. The reason we do not have a healthy, thriving renewable energy sector in Ontario right now is because the people of Ontario didn’t want it. They had it, and then put the politicians of the province under so much pressure to gut it that eventually they did to save their mandate. The moratorium on offshore wind projects in Ontario is a perfect example: two (small) corporations were all set to do the assessment work necessary to figure out if their Lake Ontario projects would work or not, but the government made offshore projects in Ontario illegal because the voters in Scarborough demanded it.
This is a terrible book on climate change. You’d be better off reading almost anything else on the subject.
People who are agreeable are also more likely to make destructive choices, if they think doing so will help them conform to social expectations. That’s the finding of psychologists, who suggest that disagreeable, ornery people may be more helpful than we think.
Being me, I followed the link back through other, earlier reports, including Psychology Today:
Now a new study using a variation of Milgram’s experiments shows that people with more agreeable, conscientious personalities are more likely to make harmful choices. In these new obedience experiments, people with more social graces were the ones who complied with the experimenter’s wishes and delivered electric shocks they believed could harm an innocent person. By contrast, people with more contrarian, less agreeable personalities were more likely to refuse to hurt other people when told to do so.
If this is a complete shock to you, there are two possibilities:
You are not Canadian. Canadians have a reputation for being “so nice!” and polite to the point of utter pointlessness. But if you are Canadian, you will know that it is entirely possible to be a very Nice, extremely Polite Asshole. It’s a national speciality. You smile and nod a lot, say sorry, please and thank you every third word, and treat people like crap while claiming to do it all for them because you care so much. It’s effective, if you’re looking for a strategy that lets you get away with murder for a long time.
You are Canadian but are not possessed of critical thinking skills. Sorry.
But let’s keep working our way back to the original research:
Say, are you in the holiday spirit right now? All in a warm and fuzzy glow over peace on earth and the essential goodness of people? Right. Then get yourself a drink or a xanax, or stop reading until you’re in a less rosy frame of mind, because the Milgram experiments show a pretty grim side to human nature.
The reportage of Hannah Arrendt on the Nazi war crimes trials, and her observations on the “banality of evil,” got Stanley Milgram wondering about what would make a person do something they knew was wrong and would kill people.
In his original experiment, participants were asked to deliver what they were told were potentially lethal electric shocks to someone else (who they were told was another participant, but was actually an actor) if they answered questions wrong. The actor was instructed to answer most of the questions wrong, and would then begin to scream convincingly as the “shocks” became stronger, and beg the person to stop. Eventually the actor would stop responding, simulating death.
Everyone in the original experiment (where the actor was in another room, and the participant could hear but not see him) went all the way to delivering severe shocks. No one stopped delivering shocks before 300 volts. (And 26/40 went all the way to maximum.)
Almost everyone delivered potentially lethal shocks to an innocent person because someone in a white coat told them to.
The experiment yielded two findings that were surprising. The first finding concerns the sheer strength of obedient tendencies manifested in this situation. Subjects have learned from childhood that it is a fundamental breach of moral conduct to hurt another person against his will. Yet, 26 subjects abandon this tenet in following the instructions of an authority who has no special powers to enforce his commands. To disobey would bring no material loss to the subject; no punishment would ensue. It is clear from the remarks and outward behavior of many participants that in punishing the victim they are often acting against their own values. Subjects often expressed deep disapproval of shocking a man in the face of his objections, and others denounced it as stupid and senseless. Yet the majority complied with the experimental commands.
In fact, it was so close to universal that in order to get usable data, they had to alter the experiment–bring the actor into the room, close enough to touch the participant, with the participant required to grab the actor’s hand and force it onto a plate to deliver the shock, before enough of the participants would refuse to continue that they could properly analyze the data.**
I won’t blame you if you need to stop, breathe deeply, get some chocolate and alcohol, and continue after a short break.
In this recent update to the Milgram experiments, they replicated the original structure in the format of a game show. The white-coated authority figure of the original was replaced with a broadcaster on a stage with a microphone, but the rest of it–questions, electric shocks, actor pretending to be shocked to death–remained the same. What the researchers did was look at both the personality traits and political leanings of the obedient vs. the disobedient.
I’m finding it hard to write this. Do you find it hard to read?
As with Milgram’s original experiments, the majority of participants shocked the actor to death, with the twist that all it took was a person on a stage with a microphone. That’s some pretty flimsy authority by which to murder someone, but it was sufficient for approximately 80% of the research subjects.
As expected, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness predicted the intensity of electric shocks administered to the victim. Second, we showed that disobedience was influenced by political orientation, with left-wing political ideology being associated with decreased obedience. Third, we showed that women who were willing to participate in rebellious political activities such as going on strike or occupying a factory administered lower shocks.
In other words:
Nice, reliable people delivered the strongest electric shocks.
People with strong-right wing values delivered the strongest electric shocks.
Women with a history of participating in left-wing activism delivered lower electric shocks. (There was no significant difference for men re: whether or not they had a history of political activism.)
There was NO relationship to emotional sensitivity. An emotionally highly sensitive person with low conformity values would not deliver the shocks. A very nice, very reliable person with low sensitivity would.
This is a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. Nice is not GOOD. Nice can be a good thing in some contexts, but it is not inherently good. Nice is a social strategy. GOOD is good, and good requires bravery–the willingness to be unpopular, to stand out, to do things other people don’t approve of, to take flack, to speak the truth when no one else is saying it. Highly sensitive people are just as capable of this as anyone else. Don’t blame your thin skin or weak stomach. If you can’t speak up, stand out, or take a risk of being unpopular for an opinion or point of view in the society we have right now–the safest one for dissent in the history of humanity, where the strongest penalty you’ll receive for most disagreement is an upset stomach and some broken weekend plans–you may be Nice, but mostly, you’re a coward.
It’s agreeable, conscientious people–nice, rule-following people–who merrily followed an authority figure down the path to murdering an innocent person, for no reason or reward at all. So if you take pride in how nice you are, how popular, etc., and like to upbraid people who are less conventional, who won’t go along to get along, who are NEGATIVE, heaven forbid, or CRITICIZE, or aren’t NICE–maybe entertain the idea that it’s those people who will risk their necks one day by sticking them out for you.
*Yes, that’s a needlessly provocative attention-seeking headline. Go ahead and be nice. Just don’t get it mixed up with being good, and don’t use it as an excuse for being a coward.
**Yes, I’ve heard the criticisms of the Milgram experiments. What they don’t explain to my satisfaction is how often the results have been replicated around the world since the 1960s. Sorry. Human beings are not a noble race, and blind obedience to authority and social convention is surely behind some of our worst atrocities.