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

Unamericanism

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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Degrees of Separation

While it's conventional wisdom in some quarters that men "creep" in secret, I've long had a suspicion that instead, they operated with the support of peer groups that the rest of us were simply not a part of. And this story on NPR this morning offered some support for that viewpoint. It also reminded me of when I was in college, especially when the researcher who was interviewed for the piece pointed out that the men involved: "typically saw themselves as college guys hooking up. They didn't think what they had done was a crime."

When I was in school, campus sexual assault seemed like a big deal. To me, anyway. It seemed that people were always talking about it, and any random discussion could turn to it in a moment's notice. Being something of a pedantic student, I tended to get myself into trouble by contesting the rape = violence angle, mainly through pointing to legal definitions of rape to buttress my own understanding that rape was about consent. As an example, I laid out an example of a man taking advantage of a woman who was too drunk to give consent. For me, this was clearly rape, yet just as clearly non-violent. A friend of mine sent me an e-mail letting me know that if I ever slept with a drunken woman, that I'd have his full support. I think my answer was something along the lines of: "What the Hell is wrong with you?! Didn't you see where I called that out as a felony?" While we never spoke of it again, it always sort of stuck in the back of my mind. In fact, the only thing that I recall about this guy, other than the fact that he was your stereotypical, pasty-faced, chubby geek, was that e-mail exchange.

Although I never thought about it until this morning, I now wonder if there were other people in my college social circle who felt that plying a woman with alcohol was an acceptable way to "hook up" with her. I was a notorious teetotaler, so the college party scene was completely foreign to me - which, in hindsight, could have allowed any number of my friends and acquaintances to live double lives completely out of my sight. I was always of the opinion that whatever was going on, I was far removed from it. Now, I'm not so sure. It may have been closer than I thought.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

To Each Only Their Own

The other day, I was watching a video by this conservative black guy, in which he was raking the black community of Ferguson, Missouri over the coals for the violence and looting that had broken out there. (I'd follow the link only if you have a high tolerance for snide self-righteousness and dubious partisan logic.) This and the tendency of black Americans to vote for the Democratic Party were proof, he said, that black people just wanted free stuff. Towards the end of the video, a thought occurred to me - I hope that this guy doesn't endorse any Republican candidates.

It's become a common talking point among lay Republicans that African Americans are simply interested in getting as much stuff for free as they possibly can. This strikes me as something that makes it difficult, if not next to impossible, for Republicans to make headway in the black community. If one assumes that any given black person doesn't want free stuff, they've basically been insulted. Why would a person join a constituency that has little or no respect for them and basically views them as freeloaders and leeches? Sure, there are people like Mr. Rachel, who believe that the charges of parasitism only apply to "those other blacks," and may have a certain level of confidence that they'll be accepted. But if it's understandable that others can't tell a thug or a gang-banger from a hardworking youth, it seems sort of strange to then assume that any requests you make of your Republican legislator won't be viewed by their other constituents as asking for a handout. On the flip side of the coin, if people do want "free stuff," they're likely to see that as a redress of past grievances. And they've likely always seen it that way. Again, people are unlikely to want to join a constituency that views their complaints as illegitimate and their calls for redress as naked greed.

I'm pretty sure that the Democrats, whose voters are just as likely to see mainly Republican constituencies as unintelligent, credulous and/or deliberately wicked, have the same problem. And so the mutual hostility of the major parties' voters serves to ossify partisan positions, because playing to one's base alienates people outside of it, and attempting to meet people outside of the base where they live alienates the people within it.

Paint It Black

So this weekend was GenCon, the annual convention devoted to (in a nutshell) Dungeons and Dragons and its many and varied multimedia descendants. Gamers can often be a prickly lot (sometimes, it seems, quite proudly so) and thus it seems that there's always another teapot tempest brewing over something that the mundane world would likely find utterly trivial and/or incomprehensible. And, tooling around on social media this morning, I came across one: Drow cosplay as the new blackface.

A bit of background, in case you're not into the whole gaming scene. In Dungeons and Dragons, a player can take on the role of a more or less professional adventurer in world that is, generally speaking, a mash-up of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Middle Earth," your average Renaissance faire and the general stereotypes that we have of Mediaeval Europe. This world is liberally infested with monsters, which the characters, as directed by their players, fight and slay for fun and profit. (It can be significantly more sophisticated than this, but it doesn't have to be.) Characters can be of several different non-human species, such as Elves, Dwarfs, Halflings (originally descended from Tolkien's Hobbits), et cetera. In various supplemental materials evil versions of most of the various non-human species that players could use for their characters were presented as monsters. And so were introduced the Drow, subterranean elves with jet-black skin and paper-white hair that worshiped a giant spider-goddess. They quickly became popular. And this has lead some people to wear Drow costumes (with lots of black body-paint) for conventions - a practice known by its Japanese name of cosplay. (Which is short for "costume play.")

But, wherever there are White kids painting their faces black, there are going to be people who see this as reminiscent of the blackface minstrelsy of the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. Hence, controversy. Which, to my mind, is a waste of energy. While minstrel shows didn't really die out completely until the 1960s, I suspect that you'd have to do a fair amount of work to find someone who's actually seen one. It's unlikely that the average person at GenCon, or any other gaming or speculative fiction convention, would have first-hand experience with the art form. Thus, it seems like a real stretch to presume that a person seeing these young people...

Drow costume play at DragonCon. Not really my thing. But the new blackface? You can't be serious.
...Would honestly think that their intent was to perpetuate the "lampoon[ing of] black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical," or would take that away from what they were doing. But even if that were the intent and the effect, I still maintain that we have to get past the idea that we can control what people think about us through maintaining tight control over what images of us make it into the broader world. And when others seek to exercise that control on our behalf, I think that we're better off simply telling them, "Thanks, but it's okay."

There may, in fact, be a cadre of people out there who have set for themselves a goal of returning race relations in the United States to the 1850s or thereabouts. I'm pretty sure that they've merely set themselves up for disappointment, but in any event, I'm not afraid that they'll ever succeed in such a short timeframe that I won't be able to do anything to mitigate the damage. It's difficult to be a competent student of American history and not understand the centuries of injustice that the European settlers, their allies and their descendants have perpetrated on people both like and unlike them. But it does us little good to spend our lives being afraid that they are waiting for the chance to return to those days. Or to see harbingers of negative change in random acts of fandom.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

If You Want Something Done Right...

Capt. [Tracie] Keesee[, co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity,] like so many black police officers, fails to address the 800 lb. gorilla in the room - the racism of police departments. Either she's trained herself to ignore it or she's plain afraid to speak publicly about it. Because of the racism endemic to police departments, to be a black police officer is to choose the police over the black community. Having made that choice, having agreed to suppress the black community in the name of professional advancement, she cannot be a role model for other black people. She's just another self-serving individual who will do or say anything to get ahead.
"arsinnius." Comment on "Strife In Ferguson Focuses Microscope On Police Diversity"
We, as a community, can't afford an attitude that says that the very role of laws and the enforcement of those laws is simply to "suppress" us for the benefit of Whites. It's an abdication of both power over our lives and responsibility for our communities. White people are convenient scapegoats because of historical acts that were freely chosen by their perpetrators. But we're going to have to work to break the cycle of past racism leading to the expectation of future racism. White people in the United States aren't going anywhere, so we're just going to have to learn to live with them; even when/if they're supplanted as the majority by Hispanics, it's unlikely that the Latin community will make our revanchism their priority. And while there are places (some of them in Africa) where police officers (and the rule of law as a whole, for that matter) are few, far between and mostly ineffective, we show no more inclination to settle there than the Libertarians who constantly complain about how the constraints of law and regulations cramp their style.

To belabor a point, others are not going to solve our problems for us. Hoping for some utopian society where we become somehow "separate but privileged" is a waste of time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rage Against the...

The killing of Michael Brown, 18, has sparked three days of protests and rallies that have included clashes with police and looting, along with prayers and calls for justice for the recent high school graduate and his family.
In Missouri City, Calls For Justice, And Calm, After Teen's Death
When I was younger, my father cautioned me against acts of impotent rage, no matter how angry I was. "Showing people that you're angry and fixing the problem facing you" he said "are not the same thing."

When a black community erupts in violence after a situation like this, I'm reminded of that lesson. My father is a very wise man. Showing the world that we're angry doesn't address the problem at hand. We've been angry before - that didn't do anything to save Michael Brown. If our problem is concentrated, grinding poverty, then we have to start addressing the lack of resources in the community. If our problem is that there are too few black police officers for people to feel that the people charged protecting them represent them, then we have to start teaching our children that police officer is a worthy career. If our problem is that others are quick to brand us as criminals, then we simply have to live with it - we cannot dictate to others what they will think of us. If our problem is that there IS too much criminality in our community then we have to tackle that head on.

But no matter what our problems, the solutions also have to be ours. White people have their own issues to deal with. They're not invested in fixing ours any more than we are in fixing theirs. And so abdicating responsibility to them, because we feel that they owe us, is a losing proposition. Whatever debts they have to us are unlikely ever to be paid. There is no profit in being angry about that.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bioethics

I think that there is always only one question.
Bioethics... Are these others other enough that I can do unto them what I don't want done unto me?
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
If that is the question that the bioethicist asks, then we are all bioethicists. We simply have different understandings of what we mean by other. It has always been like this.
  • Are these criminals other enough that I can lock them away in prison for life?
  • Are these wealthy people other enough that I can take from them to meet my own needs and desires?
  • Are these foreigners other enough that I deny them the opportunity to live where they think life would be better for them?
  • Are these people of a different genotype other enough that I can assume their level of intelligence based solely on their appearance?
  • Are these immoral people other enough that I can kill them in the name of doing the will of the divine?
  • Are these members of the opposite sex other enough that I can presume to know their thoughts and motivations?
  • Are these partisans other enough that I can attribute to them every extremist idea I've heard is associated with their party?
  • Are these unlikeable people other enough that I can expect others to condemn them for acts for which there is no evidence?
  • Are these mentally ill other enough that I can have them institutionalized against their will and/or forcibly medicated?
  • Are these bad parents other enough that I can have their children taken away from them?
These are the questions, large and small, that we ask ourselves every day - whenever we want or feel we need to do unto others what we don't want done unto ourselves. Whether or not we are correct in that is beside the point - everyone makes these determinations feeling, in the moment, that they are justified. We may regret that choice later, or feel compelled and remorseful in the present; but either way, we ask ourselves these questions and we take actions based on our answers. The difference between justification and rationalization is not an objective one.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Devil You Love

Just as a heads-up, some nasty language to follow.

A Redditor discovered her husband was viciously trolling people online and refuses to stop.
Pregnant Woman Discovers Husband Is Vile Reddit Troll Who Won't Stop
This being from Reddit and all, as the article points out, this story of Dr, Jekyl and Mr. Hyde may be entirely bogus, a person creating a tale of hard-trolling misery as a way of more softly trolling the Reddit community. You can check it for yourself, and see if it passes your sniff test.

As with so many things on the Internet these days, the article has to share the limelight with the comments section. And I think that it splits the insight with it, as well.

A few commenters openly speculate that the alleged troll, who is accused of "harassing teenagers on tumblr. Telling them to kill themselves, calling cute girls ugly and fat and stupid, etc," among other examples of online heinousness and would rather leave his pregnant wife than stop "lets off steam online" because he and his (now presumably ex-) wife only fought, on average, once every three years. (One wonders if one of these incidents was his walking out on her over his wanting to continue trolling people.)

As one commenter put it: "Yeah I think that's part of the problem. He lets out steam on the net because he can't release IRL."

But it's not just the peanut gallery on Jezebel that is handing out passes. According to the story, the man's own wife, despite being "completely horrified" at her husband being "A really fucking nasty troll," and baring the story to the Reddit community, won't share his username, even though she claims that in the real world, he's "a nice, gentle man who is supportive and kind" and that she's not afraid of him, and thus apparently has no fear of violent reprisal.

In the Jezebel article, Rebecca Rose points out: "We often picture trolls as isolated shut-ins who lack the social skills to form meaningful bonds with other people, hence the need to attack others anonymously online." But, perhaps just as importantly, do we also view them as carrying their trolling as carefully-guarded secret because they fear what others would think of them if they were outed? Are the questions: "But what if that's not the case? What if our image of trolling is completely wrong?" just as valid?

Maybe, "If we're being real here," it's fairly likely that trolls rely on the love, understanding and excuses of people who hate (or at least moderately dislike) the sin, but care enough about the sinner that they don't want to see them censured. Which is understandable. The internet hordes have threatened people with death and (depending on your point of view) worse for far less than leaving "horribly mean comments" that are "filled with racist slurs [and] awful insults" for "all kinds of people."

When we see someone defend a loved one charged with a crime as a loving and caring person, it's easy for us to sneer - and the internet community often seems to compete for who can be the most dismissive of the idea that good people do bad things. But I wonder how often it's just a matter of it being someone else - the idea that "evil" only wears faces you don't care about. How much does the collective we allow it to thrive because protecting people close to us from accountability is worth more to us than protecting those far from us from predation?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Event Horizon

Interesting article at Al Jazeera America about the Marriage front in the Culture War. It seems that opponents of same-sex marriage are hoping to push to the Supreme Court in hopes of a ruling that states can determine who is allowed to marry for themselves. As far as I can see, this is becoming more about who "owns" the definition of marriage, rather than precisely what that definition is. Because, in a secular society, can marriage have a definition that's designed to appeal specifically to a certain understanding of a particular sectarian concept of what modern marriage should be? Despite the many appeals to tradition in defense of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, the understanding of an adult citizen having the legal right to intermingle certain personal and property considerations with any one, and only one, consenting adult of the opposite sex based solely on mutual choice, is a fairly new phenomenon.

In practice, the "traditional" definition of marriage is based less on a promotion of the particular form or matrimony common in the United States today - which, because it seems to be a carryover from Western Europe is contravened in several areas of Judeo-Christian scripture - and more on the idea that the Old Testament is overtly hostile to men having sex with men, which entails a status loss of one of the men.

Legally, I think, the debate over same-sex marriage is only tangentially related to marriage, per se. If we accept that the state has a compelling interest in promoting the health and welfare of children, something that the advocates for exclusively heterosexual marriage claim as their goal, then, based on other court cases that I've seen, the question may very well be this: Is open access to specific state-granted benefits to any heterosexual couple that wants them, regardless of their readiness, willingness or ability to create biological children, while, at the same time, categorically denying them to all homosexual couples, even those who are attempting to raise children, the least restrictive way of advancing that interest?

And that's where I think that the supporters of what they term "traditional" marriage are going to run into trouble. Jack and Jill can demand government benefits that are intended to make it easier to procreate, and yet chose, for instance to adopt a child from overseas. Jane and Sally, on the other hand, should be barred from requesting those same benefits to raise Jane's biological daughter - not because Sally in not the father - if Jane were to marry Tom or Harry, the fact that they are not the father would make no difference - so then, why?

And in the end, this becomes the problem. Arrangements that are allowable for heterosexual couples are to be banned for homosexual couples, simply because of that homosexuality. I think that this leads "traditional" marriage supports either down the path of more and more dubious research that seeks to privilege heterosexual couples as somehow always better for children, or, in effect, claiming an intellectual property right over the term "marriage." Either way, I think they lose in the end. Even if they win for now, I think that jurisprudence is beginning to move away from the idea that only applying commonly-understood legal principles when they make ideological sense is a valid principle.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ebb and Flow

A mural along the Burke-Gillman trail in Bothell.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Approval

I kind of stumbled into this format, after thinking about a topic while away from my computer. But I'm starting to like it more and more, because it preempts me from complaining about things, as it pushes me to get to the point, rather than carry on about something that I think aught to be different.