Saturday, August 30, 2014

Be Judged Not, Lest Ye Judge

This morning, the theme of my Google+ Stream seemed to be the judgments of others. People were pushing back against being judged for their associations, sexuality, clothing, activities, et cetera.

But the judgments of others are something that we have to accept for ourselves. If we do not accept shame or fault based on the opinions of another person, that other person has no real recourse in that. Yes, they may take actions against us, in an attempt to pressure us to accede to their judgments, and to the degree that we are not self-sufficient, independent actors, those tactics may cause us some grief, but we still retain the choice of accepting or rejecting the perceived judgment.

And, given that choice, I aim to reject it out of hand. What other people think of me is none of my concern, because it is not under my control - people are free to think of me what they will. And in allowing them that freedom, I have found that I am better able to avoid judging them in turn. Seth Godin once made the point that if you place someone in a position where they can think well of you, or think well of themselves, they will often chose to think well of themselves. And we understand from studying people that when they chose to think poorly of someone else, they often look for "objective" reasons to do so - and these reasons are expressed as judgments.

By rejecting the validity of the judgments of others, I deny them the ability to push me into choosing. When I can think well of myself and well of the other, I am free of the need to judge them as a means of justifying thinking poorly of them. And as such, I am free of the need to look within myself to ensure that I do not share the trait that I would use as the justification. And so I may better accept myself for who I am - regardless of who I associate with, how I express my sexuality, what clothing I wear or what activities I engage in. (Or, for that matter, who I do not associate with, how my sexuality is muted, what clothing remains in my closet or what activities I decline.) And in that acceptance, find contentment.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Islamophobia. With a side order of irony.
The utter inanity of taking the paranoid rantings of conspiracy theorists seriously aside, if linking the Republican Party to a sense of leftist Islamophobia is considered a valid defense of President Obama, it's no wonder the man's having difficulty. Anyone stuck with idiots among their followers will find things harder than they need to be.

I don't think that President Obama's choice of which deity to pray to actually makes a lick of difference to anyone. Those people who seek to link him to Islam do so for the same reason that the creator of this graphic sought to link Republicans to Islamic values - the idea that Islam and Islamic values are somehow unfit for Americans, and that tarring someone with that brush will help paint them as equally "un-American," and thus someone to be shunned and resisted. But there is no real reason why Islam should be considered any more un-American than any other religion or value structure that has made its way to the shores of North America.

Our subscription to an often fictional public narrative of what it means to be an American does little other than get in the way of honest discussions of serious issues of division and disunity. And the need to constantly pay either piety or lip service simply drives disagreement underground, where it festers rather than find resolution. The idea that if we can just force everyone to pledge public fealty to the correct partisan values that the policy issues will automagically take care of themselves is facetious to the point of utter ludicrousness. Our values concerning religion and reproduction are not where the problem lies. The fact that we're generally unwilling to value one another likely is.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

To Banish Fear

It is easy to forget that police get scared. It is easy not to ask yourself what you might have done if you had a gun and a man came at you with a knife.
Ezra Klein "Did the St. Louis police have to shoot Kajieme Powell?"
A very good point. But, immediately prior to this in the same piece, Mr. Klein makes another excellent point:
But all Powell had was a steak knife. If the police had been in their car, with the windows rolled up, he could have done little to hurt them.
Every time there is a police shooting, one of the points that police departments and their representatives are quick to make is that the officers were in fear for their lives. Which is understandable. So perhaps the question that we should be asking in situations like this is: "Why does fear always justify force?"

This is broader than the police response to an erratic young man on the street. I don't think that all of the lawlessness and looting in Ferguson, Missouri is a result of the shooting of Michael Brown (after all, I think that black communities have the same potential for opportunistic criminals that white communities do). But it's certain that some of it is. To some degree, the burned businesses, looted stores and rocks hurled at police officers are a direct result of the shooting. In Salon, Ian Blair writes "Police are terrorizing citizens in packs." He's not the only one to level that charge. Perhaps a community is lashing out, because of fear.

Because, it seems that, more and more, our basic response to fear is violence, and we prepare to meet those things that frighten us with force.

If you do something to frighten me, I am generally considered justified if my response is to use force in an attempt to intimidate, incapacitate or kill you. (And as a man, if I am unwilling, unprepared or unable to summon the requisite violence, it is considered appropriate to question my masculinity.) The same is true of us as a nation. The words "War on Terror" are emblematic, as is the "War" itself. The machinery of violence on a national level mobilizes to deal with fear. And anything less than the most aggressive response we can muster is considered weak.

We are, it seems wiring our "fight or flight response" to always choose "fight." And a side effect of doing so seems to be that we are, more and more often, placing ourselves in situations where "fight" seems to be the only viable option. No matter how tragic, unnecessary or quixotic a fight may be under the circumstances. We, often unknowingly, provoke fights, fight our way out of them and then wonder why the world seems to be so violent. It is, I think, unrealistic to expect that we will ever live in a world where a violent response to fear is not an option. But I think that it's important that we live in a world where a violent response to fear is not THE option. Responding to fear with violence often begets more fear. And vicious cycles rarely have happy endings.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Opposite of Privilege

I am not a fan of the way in which we often use the world "privilege." I am not sure that it means what people think it means.

But I read a post by a mother who noted that her three blonde, blue-green-eyed sons would be the epitome of privilege. And she felt that this gave her a burden. And I understood what she meant, and so I chided the pedant within me for his lack of charity.

For a mother, white privilege means your heart doesn’t hit your throat when your kids walk out the door. It means you don’t worry that the cops will shoot your sons.

It carries another burden instead. White privilege means that if you don’t school your sons about it, if you don’t insist on its reality and call out oppression, your sons may become something terrifying.

Your sons may become the shooters.
A Mother’s White Privilege
Her words were heartfelt, and eloquent, and I understand why people found them moving. But I think that I disagree, somewhat. I think that the burden of privilege is not to educate our children about it. It is not to insist that is is real to people who do not perceive it. It is not to sound the alarm whenever there is oppression.

The burden of privilege is to obviate it.

Privilege, as I understand it, is nothing more than to be at or near the head of the line in the face of scarcity. Near the head of the line for scarce jobs. Near the head of the line for scarce respect. Near the head of the line for scarce justice. Near the head of the line for scarce love and sex. Near the head of the line for scarce housing. Near the head of the line for scarce understanding. Near the head of the line for scarce health. Near the head of the line for scarce security. Near the head of the line for scarce praise. Near the head of the line for scarce time. Near the head of the line for scarce fairness. Near the head of the line for scarce peace of mind. Privilege is simply being brought close enough to the head of the line for a scarce resource or benefit, by those like yourself, that you receive a portion of whatever it is before it runs out. That's all.

As such, the fear of missing out is the mother of privilege, and the perception of poverty its father. For example, the "peculiar institution" of slavery in the United States started out as nothing more than a way for outwardly wealthy landowners to solve the problem of finding enough skilled, long-term labor to work their farms without eroding their profits. When labor is dear and one lacks means, the freedom to work for who you will and at a wage that will keep you can become scarce. And Englishmen wanted their fellow Englishmen to come to the head of the line. It was just that simple. It was not the beginning of privilege, and it was not the end. It was simply the reaction to people to the understanding of scarcity that has dogged humanity since before it learned to stand upright. And every instance of privilege, injustice and oppression, I think, may be modeled in this way.

And what that tells me is that the opposite of privilege is plenty. And that the burden of privilege is creation.

When there is enough that even the last person in line can bear away all that they can carry, and there is still more besides, the head of the line is no longer sought after. There is no need to seek to guarantee that your receive a portion, even if others must go without.

Thus, perhaps the challenge of privilege is to teach our children to create for the joy of creation. To teach them that they are competent and capable, and that no matter how much of something that they give away, there will always be more. There will always be enough. That they can say: "Here, you take this," without having to wonder how they will provide for themselves. Likewise, that they will never need to take from another that which is not freely given. Because they have it within themselves to create whatever is asked for. And still more besides.

In this, perhaps the responsibility of privilege is to be secure in ourselves, so that those who learn from us will be secure in themselves. It is to live a life without the fear of want, or loneliness or death, and to pass that on to those around us. It is to always understand that whatever you have, it is enough. Enough for yourself, enough for your neighbors, enough for everyone you come into contact with, for no matter how much of it you sell, give away or throw up into the sky, there is always more where that came from. So that the children will see us, and, through their constant quests to be like us, learn.