I count the spiders on the wall

26 02 2019

So, being middle-aged apparently means I don’t sleep well and even thinking about food makes me gain weight.

I do not like this. I like sleep and not-gaining weight.

I’m pretty much right in the middle of what counts as “normal” or healthy for my height, but clothes that had been loose are snug and there is a roundness that I can no longer ignore.

I’m not terribly vain, but, goddammit, I do not like how this looks or feels.

So I decided to lose a bit of weight—literally, just a bit. I’m a small person, so while even small gains are noticeable, it won’t take much for my clothes to stop hugging me.

Still, I want something a bit more precise than my jeans to keep track, which means that I have, for the first time in my life, purchased a scale.

Now, I’ve certainly weighed myself before. We had a scale when I was a kid, which I used regularly, and I’d weigh myself weekly on a magnificent old scale in the locker room at the U of Minnesota’s rec center.

Kinda like this.

But after I left Minnesota my weight-measuring days dwindled to not-quite-yearly doctor’s visits. My weight has been mostly stable, and I figured that my clothes would tell me when I’d gained a few.

Well, them clothes be yellin’, and I thought, Goddammit, if I really want to keep track of my weight, I’m gonna have to, y’know, keep track of my weight.

So I bought a goddamned scale, weighed myself, and have decided that weekly weigh-ins were the way to go.

Now, all of this is the prelude bait to the actual switch: this is less about the weight than the scale, and what it does.

It measures.

Shocking, I know, but in the past decade (or. . . two?) I’ve become rather anti-measurement. For example, I used to track my running times, and then at some point I thought, This is just stressing me out, so I stopped wearing a watch.

I used to balance my checkbook, but at some point I thought, Geez, I can get the balance at the ATM or online, so what’s the point?

I have a list of all of my cds and I still maintain a database of my books, but for a shit-ton of other matters, personal and professional, I just let it all go.

That wasn’t the worst strategy, honestly, but it has had the unintended effect of making me shy away from all kinds of non-work-required measurements and tracking, and increase my anxiety over said measurements and tracking.

Which is ridiculous, especially since the results, when I finally do check them, are usually fine.

Thus, my decision to purchase a scale was one small blow against denial, one small step for self-accountability, and one small way for me to calm the fuck down about myself.

It’s ridiculous, I know, but it just might work. A bit.


Love me, love me, say that you love me

2 12 2012

Not everything that can be measured matters; not everything that matters can be measured.

This is one of those tropes that I periodically repeat to my students. (It’s possible that I came up with this wording, but given that the sentiment has been around a lot longer than I have, I’d guess that I swiped the line from someone else. [Pause while I search.] Ah, stolen: A variation on Einstein.)

Anyway, it’s a good line, although a bit dangerous for the classroom: My students are already disinclined to take statistics (despite my admonitions to do so), so suggesting that measurement has its limits might lead them to translate this to mean measurement is bunk.

Measurement is not bunk, but there are some phenomenon which cannot be captured by a nifty formula. Money, money can be easily measured, but why it matters beyond its utility is a question which requires knowledge beyond that of currency itself. It’s not that you can’t get responses to the question, but that those responses are so embedded within history and culture and politics and psychology that in order to elicit good responses, the questions must be informed by history and culture and whatnot.

Then there are some phenomenon which are damned near impossible to capture with any precision, in large part because they lack clear definition.

Love is one of those things. The best you can do is to try to identify the elements which you’d want to include in the corral, but even then some of those bits may flee over the fence while others might tunnel in and by gum it’s worse than herding wet angry cats in the presence of puppies and raccoons.

Still, the damned-near-impossibility of drawing any kind of definitive line around love does not mean it does not exist. I admit to my own agita regarding its role (or lack thereof) in my life, but that I can’t see it for myself does not mean it is not a real thing for other people.

Not only is it a real thing, it’s a real and powerful thing, and it drives people in all kinds of directions, including ’round the bend and over the cliff and up a wall. It matters, in other words.

Deidre McCloskey also thinks it matters, and, furthermore, that it ought to matter to economists that they have no good way of comprehending love or incorporating it into their theories.

I am, of course, not an economist, and I get just a bit too much pleasure bashing (in particular freshwater) economists for their oft-ridiculous assumptions regarding rationality and the maximization of utility. Nonetheless, McCloskey has peeled back a lid my fellow political scientists would also prefer kept securely in place:

The great Gary Becker of the University of Chicago, for example, thinks in this fashion, as do his numerous followers. He realizes that love — or as he usually styles it, with embarrassed male scare quotes, “love” — entails more than “caring” in his restricted sense: “If M cares about F, M’s utility would depend on the commodity consumption of F as well as on his own.

” But treating others as “inputs into a self’s utility function,” as Becker puts it, is to treat the others as means, not as ends. Immanuel Kant said two centuries ago in effect that your mother, if she is truly and fully loving, loves you as an end, for your own sweet sake. You may be a rotten kid, an ax-murderer on death row in Texas. You’re not even a high-school graduate. You give her “nothing but grief,” as we say. In all the indirect, derivative ways you are a catastrophe. And yet she goes on loving you, and stands wailing in front of the prison on the night of your execution. Economists need to understand what everyone else already understands, and what the economists themselves understood before they went to graduate school, that such love is of course commonplace. [emph added]

Political scientists don’t do love or humor—that’s another line I toss at my students—which is particularly unfortunate because politics is full of love and humor and every other kind of emotion. To the extent that we ignore the role of love in politics, we miss something crucial about the subject which we, for some reason or another, have decided to study.


One last bit: I was (and to some extent, still am) like Becker in that I put “love” and “caring” in those scary quotes, but Joan Tronto’s Moral Boundaries forced me to reckon with an “ethic of care” as a morally serious (as opposed to frivolous) concept. I’d borrowed the book about a decade ago on a recommendation from a friend, but recently managed to snag a used copy. I’ll write about it when I re-read it.

She’s now at the University of Minnesota. I wonder if I would have been smart enough to have engaged with her when I was there. As McCloskey notes, we unlearn so many things while in grad school.

(h/t: Andrew Sullivan, Daily Dish)