The second chronologically, but the first I want to mention, is that when I opened my favorite weather site, Weather Underground, this morning, I noticed that all the data in Imperial units is immediately followed by the corresponding metric data. It's probably been like that for ages, and I just never noticed or had some ancient stale cookie clogging up the tubes or something, but for some reason it struck me particularly this morning, and it just made the world feel like a better place, like modernity is slowly but steadily eroding one more ingrained bad habit. Sometimes progress is hard to see, and sometimes it feels like we go backward more than forward, but this seemed like one more tiny little piece of forwardness, and, trivial though it was, it made me happy. So, thanks, Wunderground!
The Weather Underground change(?) also reminded me of another thing I discovered a few days ago that made me feel happy in pretty much the same way. When I drive, I occasionally listen to a local commercial music station, WRDA FM 105.7, which plays a sort of generic mix of whatever mainstream "alternative" music the studios are currently trying to get people to buy. It's not exactly an intellectually stimulating or varied listening experience, but I do find it calming when I'm starting or ending an intense day — except for the commercials, that is, which seems to be about a third of the airtime, and which are the exact kind of pointless chatter that requires me to erect mental barriers instead of relaxing them. So whenever the commercials come on, I switch over to the HD-2 subchannel, which is some kind of dance music station, and which is almost as useful for my purposes.
It so happened, last week, that for the first time I flipped to the dance station in the middle of some commentary by the DJ, and I noticed that he happened to have a hint of the sort of lisp that's stereotypically associated with gay men. My first thought was, "Oh, that's nice that the number of different types of voices that are considered acceptable for DJs seems to be expanding." And then he did the station identification, and I learned that the station is a member of the Pride Radio network, which plays a sort of generic mix of whatever mainstream dance music the studios are trying to get people to buy, specifically targeted to the LGBTQ community (in a sorta stereotypey way).
So, on the one hand, it's sorta shitty top-40 type radio, and the marketing seems to be designed mostly around a blandly conventional homogenization of LGBTQ folks into one amorphous and somewhat cartoonishly portrayed mass. But on the other hand, that's pretty much exactly how American commercial radio treats every other demographic in the country. And that made me feel just a little bit warmer inside. There are a lot of problems with "normal" American culture. But the presence of this station feels like one more sign that, despite all the obstacles and backsliding, we're slowly and painfully succeeding in expanding the fraction of the populace who are allowed to consider themselves part of that normalcy.
This kind of thing always hits me very personally, even when I'm not a member of the specific group that's benefiting in a particular case. I get a feeling like the partial relaxation of a tension I didn't even know I was carrying, like, yes, we can fix this eventually, and we are fixing it, however slowly, and someday we will have descendants who will be able to wonder how we could ever have allowed things to remain so broken for so long. I feel it, too, when I walk around my apartment complex, watching the children of foreign grad students and postdocs running around playing with each other and speaking languages I don't know — we don't need to share a language to live comfortably side by side as neighbors. I felt it when I was driving down a Philadelphia street and heard a woman wearing niqab swear pungently into her cell phone — I loathe the body-shaming dress restrictions that so many religions enforce, but this woman gave me hope that our vulgar, messy humanity can squirm its way out into the light through the cracks in even the most repressively sanitizing "modesty" code. I feel it when I walk through a conventional grocery store and see a moderately acceptable selection of vegetarian options; when I walk into a university classroom and run the headcount and see that there's maybe just a fraction more variability amongst my fellows than there was the year before; when I watch a Paralympics event and realize that it's not merely some consolation prize for people who can't compete "normally", it's actually just a damn amazing display of athleticism (and, in some cases, enabling technologies), often with a lot more variety than the conventional Olympics; when I do the hike up Stone Mountain (which has a sort of infamous Confederate memorial carving on the side and a history of KKK activity), and see that I'm climbing alongside Atlantans of all shades and visitors from around the world, a satisfying reproof to the racism and nationalism of the park's original boosters.
It's become cliché to observe that our society is pretty complex nowadays, probably too complex for any one person to meaningfully master any more than a very tiny part of of it. But with that complexity come many more opportunities for us to make these teeny microimprovements, each of which means that things get just a little better in some way, that there's just a tad more space for another group of people to unhunch their shoulders slightly, to stand a bit straighter, and to be a little more themselves and fear judgmental disdain and marginalization from their fellows just a little bit less.
It's easy for the pursuit of these opportunities to become just another thing for us to fight over, too, another cause for tension instead of a cure for it, because sometimes people get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that a particular increase in freedoms for a certain group means less freedom for everyone else. And that's why it's so especially satisfying to encounter these little bits of improvement that will demonstrably do no one any harm whatsoever, while still improving someone's lot in life — they're evidence that we can make the world a net better place in some sense, rather than just redistributing a finite available amount of happiness, as some more cynical analyses would have it.
In an era in which the government that oversees one of the world's keystone economies can be almost entirely shut down (and our fucking amazing ROBOT ON MARS ignominiously relegated to indefinite safe mode) due to the spite, fearfulness, and belligerent ignorance of a handful of very bitter people; in which repressive fundamentalists across the world murder and otherwise intimidate schoolchildren who want to learn from more than one book; and in which we are simultaneously playing chicken with environmental devastation, overpopulation, and a dangerous resurgence of governmental, corporate, and plutocratic power, I think these little microimprovements can be a reminder that there's another way to do things. Sometimes, if we work at it, we can make things better without making other things worse, and I think it's worth learning to recognize and fighting to create these opportunities, and worth taking some time to savor them when we find them.
Anyway, that's all for today. Laterz.