Saturday, July 30, 2016

Portable Violence

But I'm trying to think - I mean, I suppose if I read that in a particular area where there are known to be lots of gangs - I'm very concerned for the people who might be caught up in that somehow, but I'm not personally concerned about that. If I hear that somebody who has declared allegiance to ISIS has just walked into a random building and started shooting, I can feel some possible vulnerability to that attack. Those two events are different in the way that I would perceive them.
Robert Siegel "Why The Public Perception Of Crime Exceeds The Reality"
Although Mr. Siegel's guest, George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs assistant professor Nikki Usher, took his statement to be an example of the "mean world syndrome," in which people see the entire world as more dangerous, he did have a point there, and one that's worth talking about, because it has policy implications.

In the United States, despite the very rare occurrences thereof, things like terrorist attacks (for a somewhat broad understanding of "terrorist," in my view) and attacks with "assault weapons," these are things that, because of the fact that "they can happen anywhere," trigger a much greater sense of vulnerability than everyday violent crime. People understand, at least in general, that gang crimes, for instance, tend to happen in certain "bad parts of town." MS 13 is unlikely to have a shootout with their rivals in a suburban shopping mall somewhere - not because these places have somehow been declared neutral ground, but simply because it's outside of the area where most members congregate. And so members of "Middle America" feel that they can exercise a certain level of control over their own risk by being careful about where they go - avoiding "sketchy" neighborhoods means less chance of being caught in (or the target of) an episode of violence. "Terrorism" and "assault weapon" attacks, on the other hand, have no such limitations. They can, in the public imagination, happen anywhere at any time, even in places that people otherwise feel are "safe."

And this, I think is why the sort of everyday violence that's much more likely to claim lives, but, like car accidents and suicides, doesn't often make the headlines, doesn't inspire the same sorts of calls for intervention. People already feel that they have some control, and so they don't need the government to do it for them.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Monday, July 25, 2016

Vital Media

It has been said that accurate, timely, appropriately contextualized and publicly relevant information is what is required for democracy. The problem that will always dog the media in this is that as far as the public is concerned, there is a fifth criterion - the information presented must also be interesting, desirable or otherwise PERSONALLY relevant, and that can often trump the other four. There isn't a central group or organization that shells out journalists salaries to make sure that information is made available for its own sake. Therefore, the media's daily bread depends to a large degree on their ability to present information that people are willing to pay and/or endure advertising for. (Before you hold up the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio et al, as exceptions, two words: pledge drives.)

Whether the job of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Saint Petersburg Times, American Broadcasting Company, Chicago Tribune, WFAA or the Independent is to inform the public about the community and the world around them in such a way that they can be informed and active members of the community or to make money is not for me to say. And while there's nothing that says that the two are mutually exclusive, nothing prevents them from being in conflict. My personal impression is that, like any other business, many media outlets are most interested in the bottom line. And that means that, sometimes, stories that are useful to the working of democracy are bumped in favor of stories that are useful in attracting readers and advertisers. And it can also mean avoiding stories that might cause a backlash against the outlet.

To the degree that I understand that Media critics feel the media's flaw is a tendency to allow the needs of business to trump the needs of democracy (or republicanism, if you feel the need to be precise), I wouldn't say that's a flaw with the media. Businesses that fold because they ignored the desires of their customers aren't any help to civil society either. Despite the complaints of activists, the warm fuzzies that come from knowing that you've done your part to advance the free world don't pay the bills or buy food or clothing. And I also doubt that the activist assumption that accurate, timely, appropriately contextualized and publicly relevant information would, by it's very nature also be interesting, desirable and/or personally relevant.

Once the prevailing attitude among the general public becomes that the media's flaw is that they are unready, unwilling and/or unable to provide information that reliably meets ANY of the criteria, formal media outlets become irrelevant to everyday life, they will be considered vital to nothing, save perhaps some special interest somewhere. Then people who want information will turn to what they consider to be more reliable sources, be those weblogs, conversations with neighbors and friends or press releases from organizations with more credibility.

While it is an adage in business that the customer gets what the customer wants, activists tend to see business has having an obligation to look out for the public and provide what the activists feel the public needs, regardless of the business viability of such a tactic. I'm not sure that the assertion that one does a valuable service in attempting to be a jack of both trades rings true to me, given that it's fairly easy to find masters of one discipline or the other.

People on both sides of the political continuum like to complain that the media's tendency to look out for its bottom line as being both an attack on the truth (since the truth would obviously favor them) and the ability of the public to meaningfully participate in government (since objective reporting would reveal the wisdom and/or efficacy of their candidates and policies). But they don't then answer the question of how else one builds a viable business - or keeps "public-interest" reporting from being ignored in favor of what people want to know.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Hidden

When it was pointed out by Steve Inskeep that Donald Trump was polling "way behind" Hillary Clinton in certain surveys, Florida Republican delegate Dena DeCamp replied: "Yes, I know. But let me just tell you - first of all, we think people aren't really telling the truth because they don't want people to know they're voting for Donald Trump."

I've been hearing about a "reverse Bradley Effect" when it comes to Trump voters for some time, and I've been curious about it. Mainly because I don't really see voting for Mr. Trump as such a socially unacceptable thing (after all, he did win the nomination of a major political party) that people would actively hide it. On the flip side of that coin, however, the conclusion of a randomized trial of nearly 2,500 Republican and Republican-leaning Independents concludes: "The study finds that Trump performs about six percentage points better online than via live telephone interviewing and that his advantage online is driven by adults with higher levels of education." The presumption there is that social desirability bias prevented some of the people who had been selected to answer questions via a live telephone interview from owning up to their support for Mr. Trump.

"What happens is the elites, the establishment all pile on. The average citizen will not tell pollsters the truth," Newt Gingrich, a Trump surrogate, said Tuesday morning on Fox News. "You get much better results for Trump for example in a computerized online poll than a telephone poll because people don't want to tell the pollster something they think is not socially acceptable."
The Trump Effect
Similarly, there is an article from The Guardian from few months ago that also notes a secret constituency for Mr. Trump that ranges all over the political spectrum, from people who saw themselves as otherwise natural supporters of Republican candidates like Senator Ted Cruz to diehard Senator Bernie Sanders supporters. And one of the threads that ran through that story was how "the left’s stranglehold on the national conversation" was stifling the ability to speak their minds about things. Which is a point that I've heard raised in other discussions of secret Trumpism - the idea that what is viewed as a active, vocal and somewhat dangerous minority within the America public has made any disagreement with them dangerous, and so much as breathing a word that they find unpalatable becomes grounds for consequences from harassment to outright violence.

And in this, we see not only the concept of a silent majority, but of a silenced majority - a populace too afraid of the potential blowback of open honestly to engage in it, even when their words are unlikely to attributed to them later.

This narrative strikes me as one that serves several different functions. One is that it allows for selectively ignoring polling that one disagrees with (which I feel creates problems for candidates, because it downplays the need for outreach). Another it that is casts Trump voters as victims of an oppressive liberalism, which becomes another reason to view that liberalism as morally suspect at best. And it allows supporters of a Trump presidency to see themselves as the vanguard of a majoritarian movement, and not a vocal and passionate minority. It will be interesting to see how this narrative plays out, especially once the election had been decided. Does it quietly fade away, or does it change with the times and become something new.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Conor Friedersdorf is wondering:

I cannot help but wonder if there are American communities that would be well-served by the presence of Amnesty International human-rights observers to document the human-rights abuses that happen on a weekly basis; I cannot help but wonder what would happen if the folks who govern America from the federal to the local level were as determined to significantly decrease the murder rate in poor black neighborhoods as they are to prevent all violence at the RNC and DNC with professional police officers who do not abuse the delegates or the media or party officials.
For myself, I wonder: What's in it for them?

What's in it for Amnesty International to set themselves up in poor and minority neighborhoods and produce a grim litany of the problems that residence face on a regular basis? Greater legitimacy? More donations? A higher level of influence? Likewise, what's in it for officials from federal, state and local government to commit to making marginal parts of the country as safe as gatherings of the influential and connected? More tax dollars? Higher approval ratings? A greater political legacy?

Policing costs money. Ubiquitous, high-quality policing costs a LOT of money. And despite the general sentiment that one often hears expressed that claims that people are priceless, the fact of the matter is that we often look for the return on investment of the goods and services we offer to people, and where that return is perceived to be lacking, the investment dries up.

The observers from Amnesty International and the massive police presence are there because they serve someone's purposes, and those purposes are considered to be worth the monetary outlay needed to fulfill them. Poor communities don't have the resources to lay out that money themselves, which is part of what makes them poor in the first place. But another part of what makes them poor is they're not valuable enough to anyone else for others to foot the bill, either.

Human-rights campaigners would likely consider it a major victory if they were able to document clear rights abuses associated with the Republican National Convention. And heads would roll if there were a reasonably serious criminal act, "terrorist" attack or protest-fueled riot at the event. In short, people are watching, because they care what happens, and that scrutiny drives AI and the law-enforcement community to spend resources. That same level of scrutiny, or perhaps any level of scrutiny is absent from poor and minority communities.

When that changes, if it ever does, then we'll see the calculus of involvement change with it.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Why Are So Many Millennials Having Children Out of Wedlock?” strikes me as an odd title for an article. I get the feeling, sometimes, that we see so many articles on childbearing among the unmarried because it’s the only time that most people will ever be able to use the term “wedlock” in a sentence and keep a straight face. (Or maybe it’s bait for older people and conservatives, who sometimes appear to view marriage as a life sentence for the crime of being sexual.)

But the general gist of this article is that “Millennials” are forgoing marriage because there aren’t that many decent “medium skilled” jobs out there, and so their prospective partners don’t bring in enough money to be good matches. And that’s where the article strikes me as strange. I understand the idea that the higher the level of one’s education and the more one is paid, the more attractive one becomes as a potential partner. When I was a young college freshman, driving my father’s Mercedes convertible onto campus immediately raised the interest level in me from what seemed like zero to a constant buzz. Love may make the world go around, but it shares that distinction with money, and the perception thereof.

So I understand the idea that: “Men without well-paying jobs are not seen as marriage material. ‘These men would be less desirable as marriage partners because of their reduced earning potential,’ writes [Andrew] Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins and the main author of the study.” Okay, this explains why people in the “Millennial” generation aren’t rushing to the altar. There simply aren’t that many men in the “well educated and well-paid” segment of the overall demographic. So we have “Out of Wedlock” taken care of.

What the article doesn’t explain, at all really, is the “Having Children” bit. It seems to take it as a given that the ages of 26 to 31 are just the time to have a child or three. And in doing so, leaves what strikes me as the important question of the article unanswered. Because in my mind’s ear, I can sort of hear the conversation that the article sort of assumes is taking place:

Jane: Jack’s a nice guy, and I’m going to have his baby, but I don’t know if I want to marry him.
Jill: What’s wrong with him?
Jane: He’s got a pretty shit job, and doesn’t make much money.
Jill: Less money than raising the child by yourself?
Because maybe it’s just me, but I always sort of figured that a guy who’s undesirable as a marriage partner because he’s broke would be pretty undesirable as a parenting partner for pretty much the same reason. I must have slept through the part of biology class when they went over how babies are made of money. And before you give me any grief about how the welfare system makes having children profitable - I worked in social service for years. Anyone who tells you that the state provides more money than it costs to raise a child is an idiot. I dealt with enough foster parents who felt that they’d been ripped off by having to meet a child’s expenses out of their own pockets to know.
They also found that in areas where men outnumber women, a women is more likely to get married before having a child. The reasoning for this has more to do with money than love. “This is consistent with the idea that when women are in short supply, they can bargain more effectively for marriage or a partnership prior to childbirth,” the authors write.
This reading of the data makes childbirth seem like as inevitable as one’s birthday - a fixed point in time that’s useful for judging whether or not other events have happened, but not a choice in and of itself. And maybe for many people born in the years between 1980 and 1986 having a child became seen as something other than a choice to be freely made. But if that’s the case - there’s a story in that, and one that we should likely know.

So, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to answer the question of “Why are so many unmarried Millennials having children?” a good place to start is why they seem compelled to have children when they know that they aren’t going to have a financially stable partner to offset some of the costs. Simply treating childbearing as a given ignores so much of what’s at stake in favor of a well-worn narrative of youthful poverty that we don’t learn anything useful.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ghost Bike

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Six of One, Some Number of Another

I, for my part, rarely indulge myself in the game of questioning whether or not someone would be good or bad in a political office. As far as I'm concerned, especially at the federal level, the vast bureaucracy that makes up the institution is a much more important factor than any one individual. But one of the things that I noticed about the Democratic primary this time around was the somewhat rapid (in human time, if not political time) shift in the debate around the choice between Mrs. Clinton and Senator Sanders to precisely one about good versus bad candidates.

In the beginning, that debate struck me as being about policy differences - Would Mrs. Clinton's incrementalist approach yield better results if you perceived yourself as being Left of Center, or would the more radical "demand the Sun, Moon and Stars" approach of Senator Sanders? But as the primaries went on, and Mrs. Clinton began to chalk up a delegate lead (especially in the unpledged "super" delegates that the pro-Sanders camp was always suspicious of) the tenor of the debate began to change, and for people on the leftward edge of the party, where most people supported Senator Sanders, Mrs. Clinton went from someone who shared their overall goals, but wasn't committed enough to drive them through Congress, to a wolf in a wool pantsuit, whose motivation for seeking the White House was to enact an intentionally (if not openly) anti-progressive agenda.

For some of these people, the idea that Mrs. Clinton is a deliberate part of "a hateful conspiracy against the masses," as Jack Shafer once put it, and someone more interested in seeing wealthy corporate types retain their ability to expropriate the dwindling wealth of the people is a demonstrable fact, and not simply an article of their political faith. Accordingly, they see a possible Mrs. Clinton administration as an _actively_ Bad Thing, and have no intention of being a party to bringing it about.

To me, it is unjust to describe that in ways that are reminiscent of a child's temper tantrum or to portray it as approval-mining aimed at the like-minded. But perhaps more importantly, it's pointless. Someone who honestly believes that Mrs. Clinton is Evil is not going to swayed by name-calling. You can make the point that, in a situation in which one perceives a series of bad options, that one has an obligation to ensure that the least bad option comes about. But that presumes that everyone bothers to stack-rank bad outcomes. I understand that for some, not distinguishing between undesirables leads to false equivalencies, but in the end all "false equivalency" really means is: "Not finding a distinction between two things important enough to mention or act upon when someone else feels not only that the particular distinction is important, but that a failure to make it can be construed as an attempt to convince others or the self that there is no distinction."

Being something of a dreamer, I've always been of the opinion that positivity is the best motivator. Holding esteem for someone hostage against their obedience only works when someone cares what you think of them. And I'm willing to bet that there are Florida Democrats who still manage to sleep the sleep of the Just, despite the fact that other Democrats are still angry at them for their votes for Ralph Nader back in 2000. (The Democrats who voted for George W. Bush, having been given a pass despite their larger numbers, likely have an even easier time of it.)

For some people, half a loaf is no better than none, and no claims of false equivalency are going to change that. For others, outreach, rather that opprobrium, is likely the best option. An understanding of what it is that disaffected Sanders supporters want, and how Mrs. Clinton's election is the best chance for them to get some of it, is a much better path to gaining their support than preparing to blame them for a failure to bring about the "right" outcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


In my mailbox when I returned home from work was my voter's pamphlet for the summer primary and special elections. Accompanying it were a pair of glossy flyers for different candidates. And when I made it into my apartment, there was a recorded message on the answering machine from one of the campaigns.

As I listened to the phone message, glanced over the flyers and thumbed through the voter's pamphlet, I ran down my typical mental checklist for voting. It's the same as it's been for at least a decade now, and more a formula than anything else. Starting with the independents, then moving on to the Democrats and ending with the Republicans, I evaluate the candidates for Seriousness and Sanity first (some of these guys come across as real basket cases), then rate their candidate statements for positivity. Then I look for anything the speaks to what policies they might actually want to put into place. Then I do a bit of background research on them via the web, and make my choice.It's been the same process for election cycle after election cycle.

I was thinking about this today, while I was mentally checking off boxes while skimming candidate statements, and it occurred to me that I am unable to remember the last time I voted for a candidate because I really wanted to see them win whatever office they were running for. Part of it comes from an oddly meta attitude about elections. While I have no problems with the Democrats or the Republicans per se (although I'm not socially conservative enough for most Republicans to have any appeal for me), I believe that two sizes most definitely do not fit all, and so the nation would be better off with a wider variety of political parties. And given a general opinion that people are more likely to vote for people if other people have already voted for them, I've designed my selection process to favor independents; with the idea that even if they're no-hopers now, they (or their parties) will be viable choices later if they can make a strong enough showing now.

And that rests on the other part of my philosophy about voting - which is that it doesn't really matter which candidate wins in the end. Not because I find politics irrelevant, bet because when I look at my life, the people who were making the choices that really mattered weren't politicians. They were executives and people in Finance and Accounting. These are the people who made the decision that tended to have impacts on my career, and therefore, the rest of my life. The influence of elected officeholders was secondhand, at best.

So while I work to be a reasonably active and informed voter, I tend not to see who wins any given election as important in the grand scheme of things. And that gives me the freedom to vote in the service of a wonky strategy aimed at influencing the future.

Accordingly, political enthusiasm is something I find intensely interesting, since I don't have any of it myself. I might stumble across some one day, which I suspect will be an interesting experience. But for the time being, I "meh" my way through elections.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Words to Fear

I wonder, is there a dialogue of the deaf here in that, very often, African-Americans will say "we feel jeopardized, we feel we're in jeopardy in the presence of police if there's a traffic stop," and the police say, "but by your very saying that, you are jeopardizing police officers on the job." And we can't seem to get off that spot often.
Robert Siegel. Week In Politics: Deadly Sniper Attack On Dallas Police
Mr. Siegel's comment, made to Jonathan Capehart and David Brooks, caught me off-guard. I'd never heard that police felt that fear of them was itself a reason for them to be afraid of others. And so I went looking for some reference to the phenomenon online. I didn't find one. But I did find some other things, like a chart that shows that taxi drivers and chauffeurs have significantly higher rates of on-the-job homicide than police officers do, claiming the top spot for "job you're most likely to be murdered doing" by a wide margin.

By the same token, I don't worry too much about being shot by a police officer. Mainly because I'm well of the fact that traffic accidents kill many more people than homicides in general do, let alone bad shootings by police officers. And do my share of driving, easily spending more than an hour on the road every weekday, and often racking up that much or more on weekend days. I also live in a neighborhood where there is little police presence. I think about the only time I've ever made eye contact with a local police officer was the last time I had jury duty.

But killings of Black men that later (or immediately) turn out to be suspect, and the killings of police officers make headlines. And although I have taken to heart the idea that you have to worry about something once it stops making the front page, for many people, the fact that these events take over the news cycles for days and weeks after they happen becomes defacto proof that they're constant threats. And I wonder to what degree that that, in and of itself, drive the problem.

So never found the evidence that I was looking for of Mr. Siegel's dialogue of the deaf. But it seems that there's good reason to suspect that the dialog of dread is very real, and very overstated.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Feeling the Heat

If you have the chance, read this. It starts like this:

I have been told how dangerous being in the sun is by my white friends. How it will burn their skin, and how they have to take all these precautions when they are exposed to the sun. From the time they were kids they were warned about the dangers of sun exposure. They will go as far as changing the clothes they wear, and for some they fear being exposed to the sun at all.

How weird.

The sun doesn't hurt me, and never has. When I plan on going out, I never once bother to think about the sun. I can be exposed to the sun for hours. I have gotten darker when I've been exposed to the sun, but I've never been afraid or overly cautious of it. I hear people telling me about sun burns, but, I don't get burned...the sun can not really be all that bad?
Perhaps you can see where it's going. Overall, it makes for interesting reading, but it's about three paragraphs too long. The people this is aimed at are unlikely to read it all the way to the end. Sometimes, resisting the urge to bludgeon people with the point is helps drive the point home. Especially if you're angry or bitter about something.

It can be hard to find that line between wanting to communicate something that's important to you, but outside of their experience to them, and wanting them to know how angry and hurt you are because of their inability to understand what you've experienced.

I remember the first time I encountered someone who had been sunburned. It was an... experience. I don't think I've ever heard another human being scream like that just from being touched in my life. I think it's the only genuine jump scare I've ever had. And I remember when the other kids in the class were trying to explain it to me, and it simply didn't compute. It just made absolutely no sense. I recall that sense of "that can't be right," and that weird feeling that everyone was in on some sort of bizarre deception that they were trying to perpetrate on me for reasons that I couldn't understand.

I recall asking "How does the Sun burn you? You can't touch it." And how the situation devolved into this strange intellectual stand-off. When you're in the seventh grade, it can be hard to understand how things that seem so obvious get right by other people. But it's also hard to understand how, if something is so obvious, you've literally never heard of it before that moment.

And, to be honest, I still don't get sunburns. They're completely outside of my experience, and when people say: "I've known Black people who've had sunburns," it's really hard for me to not be openly skeptical of that fact.

So, I think I understand, somewhat, what it's like to be confronted with an experience that a part of someone's everyday life, but that you just can't relate to in any sort of meaningful way. I mean, I understand pain, and I understand what it means to be burned, but just like Crystal Michelle, I've never had to give it a second thought at any point in my life. I'm middle-aged, and it still catches me by surprise when I run into someone I know who has been sunburned.

Of course, the issue with sunburns is that I, and other people like myself, have no hand in them. If the world were nothing but White people, they'd still have that problem. And so I don't have to deal with the idea that somehow, their pain represents an indictment of me as a person, or as a member of a group. When a person I know is sunburned, I am neither implicated nor potentially complicit in that event. Which is something that I understand on an intellectual level, but haven't ever really had to experience.

And that is why, in part, Ms. Michelle's essay is three paragraphs too long. Because those last three are the paragraphs where the anger overcomes any chance at empathy. When I was in my twenties, someone I knew became sunburned pretty badly. And she'd asked me for help in applying some medicated cream to her back. I really didn't know how to touch her without causing her pain, and I felt the walls close down around me. If I ignored the fact that she was suffering, I wouldn't have to suffer not knowing the right way to ease her pain. The easy thing would have been to let them close, and that's even without being worried that it could somehow be blamed on me. I remember being so glad when it was all over.

It can be hard to have empathy for someone who hasn't suffered something in the way that we've suffered it, when we see them shielding themselves from even the reduced amount of pain that comes from knowing that someone else is feeling pain. But confronting pain, without really knowing how to do anything about it, really sucks. And when that pain carries an indictment of the self with it, it isn't any better.

It's weird to live in a world where something that many other people think of as benign strikes you as dangerous. I've learned to be okay with the fact that they just haven't had that experience, in much the same way that I've never had to deal with a sunburn first hand. And I want them to be okay with that fact. I want people to be okay with the fact that they may never had had any reason to see the authorities as anything other than helpful civil servants. I don't want them to share the fear and the stress that I was brought up to have. I'm willing to let them acknowledge the fears and the danger on their timeline - even if that means that they never get there.

And I don't do this for them. I do it for me. I don't want to be angry any more than I want to be afraid. Neither of them have served me as well as advertised.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Soft Privileges of Low Expectations

There is a school of thought that says that is a form of privilege, status, or what have you, to be blocked from doing certain dirty or dangerous jobs. Whether it's due to the expendability of men, or the placement of women on a pedestal, being prevented by society from entering professions such as logger, garbage collector, roofer, coal miner, infantry soldier can be viewed, I have been told, as a form of protection that society affords women, but not men. And, to be sure, that doesn't strike me as an illogical proposition. When you look at lists of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, they're all vocations that are anywhere from male-dominated to effectively exclusively male. And this isn't new. The debate about the wage gap between men and women has been going on for as long as I can recall, and one of the counter-arguments to the idea that women are openly discriminated against was that jobs that carried a high risk of injury or death tended to pay well - and that some 95% of on-the-job fatalities were men.

I'm going to admit to a certain skepticism of the idea, myself. And this has in large part to do with the fact that I'm black, and I've heard such arguments before. In 2012, Mitt Romney's run for the presidency placed Mormonism into the spotlight, and the question of the long ban on Black people attaining the priesthood (which in many ways is closer to simply adulthood) came up. And in an article in the Washington Post, Brigham Young University theologian Randy Bott said that before 1978, when the ban was finally lifted black people simply weren't ready for the priesthood, and were being done a service by being barred from a position that they would have abused. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder,” Botts said. “So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.” There are other scenarios too, such as the Army keeping Black soldiers away from the front lines, mostly, and doing menial, and sometimes very dangerous work.

And it's in that, however, that I credit the idea that society has it for men. Throughout American history, being given the dirty and dangerous jobs - and being punished for being dubious about performing them - was the lot of those people that mainstream America didn't like - whether that was Black people, the Native Americans or the Chinese. White people spared themselves from hazardous, back-breaking and/or low status work by pawning off on to whatever non-whites could be rounded up. If you see that tradition carrying on into today when such blatant racial segregation is no longer socially tolerable, and believe that either through greater safety measures, automation, better training or openness to women, that the death (and health) toll among men could be lessened, it's not far-fetched to presume that society simply doesn't consider men to be as valuable as women and, like many other prejudices, simply doesn't fess up to it. After all, old habits die hard.

If you're in a small community, women can easily become more valuable, on a social scale, than men. In hunter-gather societies, while men do the prestigious (and dangerous) hunting, women provide most of the available calories through gathering. And if you have to deal with a gender imbalance one way or the other, a group with more women can grow more rapidly than one with more men.

And I'm reminded of something else that theologian Botts said. He defined discrimination as keeping something from someone that is a benefit to them. The unreadiness of Blacks for the Mormon priesthood prior to 1978 meant that is wasn't a benefit to them, and therefore the ban wasn't discriminatory. And so you can pose the question: Is access to the dirty and dangerous jobs that are now the domain of men a benefit to women? What would they gain from greater access to the fishing industry, which is about as dangerous as being a young Black man in the United States today? And it's not like dairy farmhands are just raking it in.

Is there really a benefit that derives just from being considered "just as capable" of jobs that most people consider not worth doing? I don't know. But I think that few people look down on women for not being well-represented in the ranks of electrical power-line installers.

This topic came up in the context of yesterday's post about the box of masculinity, and how doing work, especially unpaid housework, associated with women, or being seen as somehow incapable was, in some circles, seen as being a failure of a man, and how that concept stood in the way of gender equality. There is a counter-argument, and one that's not entirely without merit, that says that women aren't seen as equal to men (for worse or for better) because they don't do dirty, dangerous or even life-threatening jobs at the same rate that men do. And, you can make the point that there is also a constituency for the idea that a woman who managed to work her way into the ranks of hazardous material removers is a "woman fail," who doesn't deserve to be called a female.

In the end, I think, given the fact that we live in a nation with more than 300 million people, there is room for both ideas. I tend to gravitate towards the idea that men are locked into a higher-status state because that's the world that I've tended to live in - throughout my life, I've watched boys and men be punished for behaving in ways that people felt were reserved for girls - and not because they were considered to be reaching above their station in life. But this other facet of life, the idea that if men were really valued, we wouldn't be so quick to throw them away, has some currency, too.

The idea that somewhere lurking behind it all is the idea that women are less capable is always there for me. It's why I settled on the title that I did, riffing on President George W. Bush's speech to the NAACP; the words of speechwriter Michael Gerson. But that's my own viewpoint speaking. I've become accustomed to other people's low expectations, and the occasional expectation that I consider them to be doing me a favor by holding them. But something that walks like a duck and swims like a duck can still be a coot, and so I understand that it's unjust of me to paint the entire world using the brush of my own upbringing.

Will I be more likely to mention this idea when I write going forward? Unlikely. It's not a natural fit for me, and I write (or complain) about the world as I tend to see it. So there will be times in the future when people will have reason to find fault with me for blowing the idea off. But it's the ideas that you add to your worldview that sharpen your vision, even if you harbor some doubts about them, and this idea has found an unused place to settle in, and I'm content to allow it to stay there until such time as it's conclusively falsified.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Owen Strachan, the president of [the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood] and co-author of The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, agreed with Beaty that God intends both men and women to work. But he said the work they are called to do is distinct. Men are to be the primary breadwinners—Strachan once controversially called stay-at-home dads “man fails”—who should not be “working at home” like women. He said the Bible teaches that a woman’s “intended sphere of labor” is the home. Deviation from this model is sinful, in his view.
The Conservative, Christian Case for Working Women
When I read this, the first thing that came to mind was this quote (which you have read me relating before) from the late pastor of a local church (and former football player): “God hates soft men. God hates effeminate men. If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I’d rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end.” The second thing that came to mind was this: “And when a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down with a woman, both of them have done a detestable thing.” (Leviticus 20:11)

I don’t mention these things with the intent of making Christians out to be violent or homophobic. Instead, I do so in the service of pointing out a common thread. It is sinful, in this view, a) for a man to behave in ways intended for women and b) to interact with a man in the same way one would with a woman. Note that for The Atlantic’s article, the chosen quote has Strachan deriding men who work as home as “man fails,” he is not quoted derogating working women in the same way. Likewise, Pastor Hutcherson considered having the door held open for him as marking him as “soft” and “effeminate,” and therefore he would have to prove his masculinity with violence. One supposes in this that they may have agreed with my father, whose common response to my complaining about the boredom inherent in vacuuming and other housework was “go get yourself a wife.” (As an aside, I still encounter people, from time to time, who seem to be impressed that I have learned the skills to keep up a home on my own, despite the fact that as a middle-aged bachelor, I’ve been doing so for pretty much all of my adult life - being too cheap to part with the bread that I win to hire a personal drudge.)

It’s worth pointing out that one doesn't have to be a pastor or conservative Christian activist to buy into this line of thinking. A friend of a friend once told me that men had no business working with children - they were no good at being nurturing, and any man who willingly worked a job that required them to around children was undoubtedly simply seeking to groom them for later sexual abuse. (The look on her face when she learned that I was a child and youth care worker was priceless.)

By this line of reasoning, as I’ve pointed out before, masculinity isn’t something that men have - instead, it’s something that has them, and they may not leave it behind (or be thought to have) without serious consequences. It’s like clothing, in a sense - there are several perfectly fashionable styles of women’s clothing that are adapted from men's styles. Men’s clothing openly adapted from women’s styles is rare to non-existent. And this creates a status difference - to the degree that two people cannot fulfill each other’s roles, they are different, and that difference often expresses itself in some sort of hierarchy. Granted, this is just a personal theory of mine, but as long as men suffer a severe loss of status (at least in some circles) for taking on roles earmarked for women, then women will, in effect, suffer that same loss of status for simply having the ability to take on those roles. It’s like a caste system that limits certain jobs to people at the very bottom of the social order. Not all of the lowest caste will hold the undesirable jobs - but as long as they are the only people allowed to perform them, the caste system will continue to push them to the bottom.

This isn’t to say that every man needs to have a stint as a stay-at-home-parent or secondary breadwinner. But as long as those roles are considered taboo for them, women are unlikely to be considered truly equal.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

This Is Now

I was reminded, earlier this morning, of a conversation I'd had with an acquaintance, that went something like this:

"The fact that it was acceptable to people back then doesn't make it right, and they deserve to be criticized for their actions."

"But that," I replied, "Leads to a never-ending cycle of criticism. Besides, those people were no less committed to doing what was right than we are. Are you prepared for a litany of criticism for the wrong ideas that we hold?"

"What do we do that's obviously wrong?"

"I have no idea," I admitted. "But I'm pretty sure that given seventy or a hundred years, someone will tell us."
As the saying goes: "The struggle to find moral principles that are indisputable, universal, and eternal has never been resolved." But, like every generation before us, I think that we've convinced ourselves that not only have we figured it out, but in addition to being indisputable, universal, and eternal, moral principles are self-evident - obvious to the point that only deliberate negligence can explain why they weren't uncovered before. And we do this, despite not only understanding that prior generations, including our parents, got it wrong, but we mock them for it, even while defending our moral sentiments from our children's generation - who are convinced that we are just as deliberately negligent as those who came before us.