Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

You’re an Un-American, Knuckle-Dragging Nut-Job If You Don’t Agree With This! Why We Need to Cool the Rhetoric.

In PeaceAble on April 22, 2015 at 9:23 am

Facts exist independent of us. Truth does not. We discover facts, but we construct truth. Truth is what we find where the facts and our perceptions intersect.

Thus, in any situation, there may be many truths; and since the facts are often harder to determine than our separate truths, it is those that will most often prevail, for we would sooner reject the facts than change our truth.

When we become polarized over issues that might seem easily resolved if everyone just knew the facts, it is important to remember this simple principle. When you attack my truth, when you force me to defend that which is so important a part of me, then you have just lost the battle to teach me the facts which might lead me to alter that truth on my own, in my own time and my own way.

Ask yourself a simple question. How often have you been convinced to change your mind about something because someone with an opposing point of view called you names, ridiculed you, impugned your honesty, your morality and your intelligence, and in various ways dismissed and dehumanized you? In the face of this kind of onslaught did you suddenly have a revelation that, my god, they’re right and I am wrong? Or did exactly the opposite happen and you became even more adamant about rejecting everything they might have to say on the issue and more convinced than ever that you were right?

This is the state of public discourse in America today. And it’s dangerous.

A democratic society relies on the ability of its citizens to engage in active, free, informed, and reasoned debate about issues. And the more critical the issue, the more passionate the advocacy on opposing sides, the more pressing the need for a solution, and the more important it is for both citizens and their representatives to engage in rational, productive discourse. When even the most minor differences of perception or belief become scandals and crises fueled by unrestrained outrage and immoderate rhetoric, then our ability to function as a democracy is undermined; and compromises, workable solutions, and even the routine functions of government become impossible.

As a progressive, I believe that there is a better way, and I think that progressives have a responsibility to set the tone for a future that is more democratic and less confrontational.

First, let’s stop the use of pointless name-calling and characterization of those whose ideas we oppose. Let’s eliminate from our own language terms such as “repugs” or “rethuglicans.” Let’s not make up “funny” names for our opponents, or stoop to characterizations such as “America’s Dumbest Congressman.” And we can stop creating broad classifications of people based on their position on a single issue. A reasonable person can disagree with the scientific conclusions in one area, without being “anti-science” or a “science denier.” We can speak our truth directly, forthrightly and clearly without resorting to fallacious arguments and dehumanizing tactics. If we can’t stand what Rush Limbaugh is doing, then let’s not imitate him. If actual comedians and satirists who identify with the left want to make fun of right-wing ideas and those who espouse them, fine; but let’s not let it become the go-to strategy for every discussion we get into about important issues.

One other consequence of making these kinds of polarizing and unproductive knee-jerk responses our fallback argument is that we make enemies of ourselves. I recently saw a comment on a post about the issues surrounding childhood vaccines in which the writer lumped “anti-vaxxers,” “right-wing nut jobs,” “science-deniers,” and two or three other things all together in a single rant. That isn’t just unproductive, it is flat out wrong. Only the most fundamental extremists are purely one thing or another. When we start to lump all the things we personally don’t like into these kinds of hybrid evil-doers, we forget that people who are just as passionate as we are about some things disagree with us about others. If we make enemies of them over one issue, how can we expect to work with them on others? This happens at both ends of the spectrum, of course. A writer for a sports magazine suggested reasonable restrictions on firearms and received death threats from people he mostly agrees with about guns. If progressives want to create a genuine coalition around our issues, we need to be willing to accept the kind of diversity of opinions about those issues (and the positive discussions those differences can create), we can’t go into attack mode every time someone strays from what we consider the “correct” position.

Secondly, and I’ve said this before, let’s stop talking about every disagreement as a war on something. We cannot, to paraphrase Einstein, both speak like war and work for peace. And this is true about both the things we have characterized as wars and those characterized that way by our opponents. So let’s stop getting into arguments about a “War on Christianity.” Let’s just say there is no such war, and move on. Let’s stop calling it a “War on Women.” It is a systemic cultural problem that limits women’s free exercise of their rights as citizens and denies them equal access with men to full participation in the privileges, opportunities and responsibilities of our society; but who is the enemy except the culture itself? Cultures change slowly, and we can’t speed it up if we start thinking of major portions of that shared culture as enemies. All that does is reinforce their perception that they are under attack. In wars of rhetoric, just as in wars of military engagement, what would happen if someone like Bill O’Reilly called a war and we simply refused to show up for it?

Let’s get in the habit of taking a breath before we jump into an unproductive argument. Let’s just say no to reposting memes or restating simplistic “bumper sticker” arguments without at least checking them out first to be sure we know the full story, the context, whether the facts are accurately and fairly portrayed, and whether we would, on our own, arrive at the same conclusions. We are entitled to have our own experts on controversial arguments, of course, but we should choose them carefully, expect them to be wrong sometimes, be careful of creating confirmation bias, and be willing to change our minds as our knowledge and understanding changes.

Finally, let’s stop calling for extreme consequences for every insensitive word, every distasteful attitude, or every prejudiced or unenlightened action.   If a clerk in a diner somewhere makes the mistake of posting a rant that goes viral, we don’t need to destroy him, his job, his family and his whole life. That will simply convince him of the rightness of his opinions, If someone lives her life in a way that is different from ours, we won’t change that by “shaming” her publically on social media. All that accomplishes is to drive people into opposing camps and increase polarization, which quickly gets unproductive and completely irrelevant to the real issues. Instead, let’s criticize and say what we believe is wrong about a person’s ideas or actions, not turn those whose minds we would change into martyrs for the extremists we stand against.

And let’s encourage those who disagree with us to do the same things. People, generally, are getting tired of a constant state of high alert over everything. They are worn down by the polarization, the vitriol, the self-righteous outrage, and the intolerance that they are inundated with every day in the twenty-four hour news cycle and the ubiquitous and incessant cacophony of social media. They are dropping out. A democracy functions best when its citizens participate. But that participation is most effective when the culture itself encourages reasoned discussion by an accurately and fairly informed citizenry. Every citizen is not just entitled to a voice, but to have that voice listened to and respected. We can help achieve that by making a greater effort, each of us, to listen to and respect those voices with which we most disagree, even as we act in advocacy for our ideals and in committed opposition to what we see as wrong.

6 Reasons We Should Stop Trying to Calculate the “Salary” of “Stay-at-Home Moms”

In No Particular Path on April 8, 2015 at 10:02 am

Every year for at least the last 15 years or so, someone has come out with an article claiming to calculate the dollar value of the work of a “stay-at-home mom,” or “homemaker.” But if we genuinely value and want to support the work that women do, then we should stop making pointless and arbitrary calculations. Here are six reasons why.

1. What is the Job Description?
These analyses all begin with some specific idea about what the job entails. These ideas are, to be blunt, unrealistic, gender-biased, and chauvinistic. One way to show this is to rethink the calculations using a gender-neutral argument. What we are really talking about is a family relationship involving two adults and at least one child. One of the adults, Adult A, has agreed to take employment outside the home for a salary or wage, and this employment will provide the family’s sole source of income. The other, Adult B, has agreed to remain at home with the couple’s child and not take paid outside employment. But what does that mean about the actual work each does in support of the family relationship? It is foolish to imagine that relationships in which one partner does nothing but go to a paid job and the other does everything else represent any kind of norm. The analyses also imply that Adult B is an employee of Adult A. One recent article made the claim that the author “can’t afford” his stay-at-home wife because of one of these “salary” computations.
2. Breaking Adult B’s Job Into Smaller Parts is Misleading.
These arguments always make the mistake of isolating out some of the tasks of the stay-at-home partner as though they are separate jobs rather than small parts of the overall job. Then they label those small parts as though they are separate and distinct jobs. A web site called Salary.com lists those jobs as daycare teacher, chief executive officer, psychologist, cook (some sites say chef), housekeeper, laundry operator, computer operator, facilities manager, janitor, and van driver (other sources call this a chauffeur). Another recent article included nannie, personal shopper, financial assistant and even PR assistant (because the author apparently expects his wife to serve as an adjunct to his own career by attending, and sometimes hosting dinners and parties related to his work).
But, to borrow the punch line from an old joke, calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one. I have, out of some necessity, become a fairly competent do-it-yourself-er. I have, for instance painted both the outside and the inside of my house. I am actually quite proud of my skill at cutting-in paint along the ceiling or the door and window trim. But I would never claim to be, in those moments, a painting contractor. Someone who straps the kids into their seats and heads for the mall, or dance lessons, or soccer practice, or the grocery store, or all of those does not suddenly become a chauffeur. If Adult B takes on the responsibility of keeping the checkbook balanced, and maintaining a simple family budget, this is not the equivalent of being a professional financial officer. Cooking the family’s meals does not make one a chef. And so on. Calling what I do at some point during my day a “computer operator” doesn’t actually make me one.
The analyses then make some claim as to the “average” number of hours a week spent on each of these jobs. Aside from the question of the validity and accuracy of these averages, there are few professional jobs that would ever be broken down this way. I was a college professor. The job involved a variety of tasks. I taught; I planned my classes; I assigned, collected, evaluated, and I graded assignments; I kept track of students’ progress and a record of their work in the class. I also did a certain amount of committee work related to the things such as the college curriculum, long-range planning, goals, and mission. But I got paid for the whole job. I didn’t get paid one amount as a group leader, something else as data analyst, another amount as computer operator or word processing specialist or lecturer. The job is the whole job, and the value of the job is not the sum of its parts. Even an attorney, who needs to document her time for each client by the separate tasks performed, charges for an hour’s worth of her time, not differently for each thing she does.
3. The Calculations Ignore Overlapping Work and Multi-tasking.
When Adult B packs the kid or kids into the van and heads for the store to pick up some groceries, several of the jobs overlap. But isn’t buying groceries one of the responsibilities of a chef; isn’t planning what food to have around part of child care; if there is a spontaneous side trip to the cleaners are we in the realm of laundry operator; and can we really separate out the driving necessary to get to the store and home again from the tasks of shopping and getting the cleaning?
4. The Calculations Ignore Everything Adult A Does Besides The Salaried Work.
This has two parts: first, the totality of Adult A’s contribution to the family is diminished, and the real value of what everyone in the family does is imbalanced. I think we can assume that, in a healthy family, the principle wage earner doesn’t simply go to work, come home, and do nothing else. So how do we figure A’s other contributions into the formula? Do we add value every time A stops at the store on the way home, cooks dinner, cares for the child, helps with homework, rakes leaves or replaces a washer in the kitchen faucet? Perhaps we could subtract those activities from Adult B’s “salary.” And let’s remember that the tasks of family life change over time, they aren’t a fixed set of chores or responsibilities. Do we reduce Adult B’s salary over time because as the child grows the time spent caring for and educating the child becomes less as those tasks are handed over to other people, such as the public school system? Do we increase the salary if the child is home schooled? If the family buys a lawn tractor shall we recalculate the contribution of the person who mows the lawn?
5. Who Works For Whom; And Who Pays For What?
The tasks of a marriage are not simply categorized into his-and-hers. If B’s work at home supports and supplements A’s work outside, then A’s salary is earned for B’s work as much as for A’s. Unless we make the calculations based on the idea that B is an employee of A; that everything B does is in the service of A; that, in effect, A is the boss. Since the perception of calculations that claim to value what “stay-at-home Moms” do, isn’t this just a perpetuation of the chauvinistic, male-centered idea that the wife is subservient to the husband? Given such a perception, why not go all the way and include “sex worker” in the list of job titles? If we are going to calculate how much A “owes” B for staying at home, how do we calculate what B owes A for A’s unsalaried contributions? And what of all the other costs of being a family? How do we figure in the cost of a mortgage, utilities, car payments, clothing, food, medical care, insurance, and contributions to a retirement account? Shall we simply divide all those costs in half and deduct B’s half from the salary we have calculated for B? Or do we simply assume that all those things are A’s responsibility because A earns an actual salary, not a virtual one?
6. Everyone Loses.
This sort of analysis, because it relies on rigidly categorized and arbitrarily assigned ideas about what the husband and the wife do in a marriage, is actually kind of insulting to everyone. It insults the women and those who stay in the home, whom it claims to be valuing, by calculating that value in monetary rather than personal terms. It insults wage-earners by reducing their contribution to a paycheck. It insults all the people who actually do the professional jobs on the list by ignoring the real complexity of their work, the extent of their professional training and experience, and the struggles they may have gone through to earn the kind of salaries imagined for them by those who do these analyses. It insults those who both work for a wage and do all those unpaid tasks as well by suggesting that one must either work outside the home or in it, but can’t do both. And it insults normal healthy families by dividing what they do into impersonal tasks rather than elements of a much richer and more meaningful relationship.

The issues of equal pay for equal work, of the under-representation of women in the paid workforce, of our perceptions of “men’s work” and “women’s work” and gender roles generally all need serious discussion and resolution. The nature of marriage and the roles of men and women in relationships need to be addressed in order to deal with the reality that marriage is not a single thing, but as varied as the people who enter into it. Also, the reasons some people decide to leave salaried work are equally varied. The stay-at-home Mom may also be an artist, a gardener, a writer, a volunteer, or active in any number of activities outside the home. These days, the stay-at-home Mom might very well be a Dad.
Perhaps a good starting point might be to recognize and declare that we will no longer reduce the value of the work people do to nothing more than a wage or salary. If people really got paid what they are worth for the value of the work they do, then teachers would get paid more than baseball players, there would be no such thing as a “volunteer” fire department, and no executive would earn four hundred times as much as his average employee. And we should stop devaluing the work of people who don’t get a wage or salary. The worth of every human being and the work they do is always going to be more than the sum of the parts. And we need to recognize that healthy families are shared, common, and mutually supportive relationships that are harmed when the people in them are encouraged to think of them in reductive and mercenary terms.

%d bloggers like this: