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In PeaceAble, Politics on November 22, 2016 at 10:08 am

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign did not validate or normalize racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, white supremacy or the violence, both verbal and physical, that so many people are afflicted with. What the campaign did was to show us just how normal and validated those things are and how little progress we’ve made in changing that.

Norms are a function of the dominant culture, and the culture always changes a lot more slowly than any era’s current attitudes might suggest. We have been riding the pendulum swings of cultural attitudes for a very long time without actually changing that much of the culture itself. There is one simple reason for this: the dominant cultural group, the normative identity of the culture, has not changed. We have tried to bring change from outside that group rather than from within. We tend to see social change as something that has to be done to or in spite of the dominant group, rather than something they have to do.

In America, the dominant cultural group, the normative identity, and therefore what has to change, is straight, white, Christian, capitalist, warrior men.

How does our culture genuinely work for peace, genuinely counter the argument that the way to deal with our enemies is to destroy them utterly when our language is full of the metaphors of war and violence, when so many of sports and games are microcosmic wars, when our entertainments are so predominantly about superheroes defeating supervillains in dark Gothams full of despicable characters?

How do we become a less violent society when men with guns who take over and trash public property are treated as heroes, while peaceful Native Americans protesting the actions of a private corporation are maced and beaten and arrested? The mythological westerner embodied by fictional characters such as Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger and John Wayne and (in anti-hero guise) the vigilante loners portrayed by Clint Eastwood is alive and well as a cultural norm.

How do we work toward economic and social equity when our culture portrays desirability, success and power as the unfettered accumulation of individual wealth beyond what any one person actually needs; and calls those who have less than that losers, weaklings, and takers? How can we make the best use of our resources when everyone hates to pay taxes because they focus only on what they don’t want to spend “their” taxes on rather than working for the things they do want; without recognizing that they aren’t paying nearly enough in taxes to cover any of it all by themselves. How do we learn to share the resources in a culture that teaches us that whatever someone else gets is stolen from us?

How do we overcome racism, sexism, homophobia and all kinds of bigotry and become a truly vibrant diverse society as long as there are so many accomplishments that have to be identified by hyphenated qualifiers because they are the accomplishments of the “others:” the first woman this, the first African-American that, the first Hindu-American other thing, the first openly gay American whatever?

The veneration of the Confederate battle flag and the Confederacy it represents has been normalized and validated since the Civil War ended, and we have only just recently begun the task of trying to remove it from the norm.

The truth is that all those things that the Trump campaign brought out of the woodwork are us. They are the norm.

We have tried for more than a hundred and fifty years to overcome the abomination of slavery, to create cultural and social equality for women; and yet our first non-white President greeted with an unending onslaught of racism, hatred and obstruction; and a female Presidential candidate was vilified for things that were never questioned when the candidates were male, and her opponent was elected despite his appalling treatment of women.

Hatred, fear and distrust of immigrants is as normal as apple pie.

Despite the enormous gains that our LGBTQ+ citizens have made with respect to public acceptance and specific issues such as marriage equality, we can see just how fragile those gains might still be. Heterosexuality is not just the norm, it’s a virulent, defensive, self-righteous norm.

Despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution expressly forbids the establishment of a national religion, the broad and very diverse Christian religion is seen as normative. We often find it necessary, even in situations where it can have no relevance whatsoever, to announce that someone is Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu; or worse yet, a “self-described” something, like Deist or Atheist, or Agnostic, or the new category of “Non-Affiliated.”

So how do we change this? We either have to convince white, heterosexual, Christian, capitalist, warrior men to change because it is in their interest to do so; or we have to take the power of cultural normalizing away from them. We do that by changing our participation in the things that are keeping the norms in place. What are you buying for Christmas ane what is your holiday greeting? What movies are you watching, what TV shows? Do you forgive them their violent or sexist content because they are “well-written” or have “outstanding acting?” When you are watching sports, do you hope for the brawl, the injury; do you want to see the star quarterback on the other team not just sacked, but knocked completely out of the game? Do you think that professional wrestling is family entertainment that you want to bring your 9-year-old to? Do you still laugh at jokes about dumb blondes, do you think the recent rash of memes featuring a grotesque Mexican caricature are great fun? Do you talk about “the war on” things you want to defend, and do you celebrate warriors as heroes but don’t think very often of the heroism of peacemakers?

Keep in mind that something can be the norm of a culture long past the time that it actually represents anything more than a minority of a society’s citizens. A norm is not the reality of things, it is the yardstick by which we measure what is different and who is the other. As long as we say to ourselves at any level “that’s just the way it is,” or fail to recognize that our own otherness is the result of our seeing some norm that is not us or some different other that does not share some norm of ours, then we will tinker at the edges of the culture.

Now I should note that the culture is never going to change to suit all of us or any one of us completely. There will always be norms and there will always be exceptions to those norms. That may be the most important normative idea of all.

The Zero Sum Politics of Scarcity Consciousness

In PeaceAble, Politics on November 9, 2016 at 10:27 am

As I reflect on the reasons People are giving for electing Donald trump to the Presidency, a single theme emerges.

They mention foreign workers taking our jobs; they make reference to variations on the drugged-up, slut of a lazy welfare mother having kids and asking us to support her with our taxes; the unemployed and homeless who want us to take care of them instead of getting a job; the immigrants who are coming here with their customs and religions that they want to force on us; the foreign terrorists disguised as refugees who won’t agree to keep their wars in their own countries instead of coming here to harm us.

Now, all of these things have long been shown by hard evidence to be false, but I it’s not my intention here to argue about them. Instead I want to point out something they have in common that is not often talked about.

They are each a variation on a theme of personal ownership and public scarcity; the idea that any acquisition or benefit or bit of power someone else gets takes something away from me. And if I can strongly identify with a group of people like myself we can declare ourselves collectively robbed.

“If a “foreign” worker comes here and gets a job, that job actually belongs to me or someone like me and has been stolen.” The same thing holds true for someone of a previously disadvantaged group; “Black people are taking white people’s jobs.” “Women in the workforce are taking jobs away from men.”

“If gay people are allowed to marry, then my marriage is less special, less uniquely blessed; so I have been robbed of that blessing.” And, corollary to that is the idea that if same-sex relationships are normal and acceptable, then the natural normality and specialness of my heterosexual relationship are diminished.

“If God can be worshipped in a multitude of ways and all those ways express valid and meaningful understandings of and relationships with God; then I am being robbed of the special righteousness of my relationship with God.” This is the “if everyone is right then no one is right” argument.

And the next step in this reasoning process is that if someone is taking something away from me then that is an attack on me.

“When people say ‘Happy Holidays” it diminishes the specialness of my “Merry Christmas,” so that’s an attack on Christianity itself.”

Now the problems with these arguments should be obvious, but let me state them as clearly as I can.

First, your sense of ownership and entitlement is based on a myth grounded in unacknowledged privilege. Put simply, you don’t own what you think you own. They are what Thom Hartmann calls the “commons.” This isn’t your country any more or less than it is mine and everyone else’s, and I want things for it that are different from what you want, but my desires are no less valid or important than yours.

They aren’t your taxes, they’re mine, too; and some of the things you don’t want to spend them on are things that I do want, and vice-versa.

You don’t own any job; and the fact that you now have to compete for it with people you used to be able to exclude from the pool takes nothing from you except a privilege that is not yours to claim in the first place.

You don’t own marriage or any other social or legal contract between people that does not include you.

And you certainly don’t own God; to think that your truth is the only possible one is arrogance and self-righteousness that is especially ironic in a religion that supposedly teaches you to be humble and leave the righteousness to that God.

Secondly, there is actually no scarcity of most of these things. There is more than enough of being an American for all of us and a great many more.

There is a limited number of jobs, but that’s not the fault of the people who have them. Economists argue that a certain percentage of people need to be unemployed at all times or the economy will suffer. (A side note here: The wealthy don’t invest or start businesses in order to create jobs. They do it to create more wealth for themselves and jobs are seen as a cost of business, not a reason for it.)

There is plenty of love and marriage and sex to go around, and each marriage is equally special for its participants. My marriage does not diminish yours any more than yours diminishes mine. And any of the benefits I may get from my marriage, such as health insurance, clear inheritance of property, lower taxes and so forth, do not reduce the availability of those benefits for you.

And if you can’t allow that there is plenty of God to go around, then the god you believe in is not as great as you claim. Why does it not make sense that a truly universal and all-powerful deity would speak to different groups of people in the ways that they will best understand? Isn’t that part of why you now accept religious texts that are written in English rather than learning to read them in Aramaic or Greek?

America has become a culture filled with people who don’t want to share, don’t play well with others, and act out, throwing a tantrum whenever they don’t get their way.

And that is really what the rise of Donald Trump has given voice to.

And it is a cultural trait that affects us all, because virtually all of our most important cultural traditions reinforce it. Ask yourself if, in fact, you have to actively decide, against your instincts, to reach out to people you’ve been taught to fear, to show compassion to people who make you uncomfortable, perhaps even disgust you. Ask yourself if, in fact, you have an inventory of things that you are protective of and hesitate to share. Be honest. And if you are the normative group of the culture, by which I mean white Christian heterosexual men, then do you not find yourself having to think about the things you do that challenge the norms and privileges associated with that?

This is why we all need allies. The truth is that we are all in this together. And we will either make it work together or destroy it together.

What Will We Do Tomorrow?

In PeaceAble, Politics on November 8, 2016 at 10:06 am

It’s election day in America. Now it begins.

What’s that you say? You thought this was the end of the election? Well every ending is also a beginning, and in America elections are always the end of one cycle of governance and the beginning of a new one.

It’s important to remember, also, that what happens on election day is in many ways less important than what starts to happen on the day after.

I am both hopeful and confident that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. Some of you reading this are hoping she will not. One of these hopes will be fulfilled tonight. So what will you do tomorrow.

Consider this: after the U.S. won our revolutionary war against England we had a major advantage in getting our new democracy to work the way the founders wanted it to. The people we defeated left. We didn’t have to figure out how to include the royalists and British sympathizers into our new republic. Anyone who didn’t want to be part of this country could simply go home to England.

But we nevertheless set up a system of government that would require us be inclusive of dissent. And to agree both that the people whom we do not elect would step aside and become the loyal opposition to those we do.

We are in danger of losing that. And if we do, we are in real trouble.

Too many people in this election cycle are talking about running away if their candidate loses, or even more frighteningly, taking up arms and preparing for revolution.

The first idea is just silly, really. First of all, it’s not all that easy to emigrate. It’s more complicated than just saying you’ve decided to be Swiss now. Other countries have the same kinds of requirements for citizenship that we have. It can be time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes unsuccessful. More importantly, politics around the world this year have shown us that there is no democratic country in the world where you can escape the need every once in a while to confront politics that dismay or even frighten you. There is no democracy in which you will not have to sometimes learn how to live with a government whose philosophy and policies you despise.

That’s how democracy works. Karl Rove once spoke of establishing a permanent Republican majority. He couldn’t do it. A few Democrats have suggested that Donald Trump’s candidacy might give them the opportunity to establish a permanent Democratic majority. I sincerely hope that they are wrong. I even hope that we can shake off the idea that an either/or Democratic/Republican majority is the only possibility.

The second idea is dangerous. Revolutions make enemies of us all. It has been 150 years since the Civil War and we still haven’t figured out how to deal with the people who lost and integrate them fully into the national identity. All movements, including the Neo-Nazis, the “Patriot Militias,” the Tea Party, the Black Lives matter movement and its often insensitive imitators, the Occupy movement, and the protesters at Black Rock are motivated by a desire to be heard above the noise, to have their needs and grievances addressed. They feel disenfranchised, marginalized and oppressed. They need to be heard.

That doesn’t mean that the country needs to give them everything they say they need, or even anything they need, depending on what they are asking for. But we have to include them, we have to validate their existence even if we need to vigorously oppose their ideas.

There are people I know who are planning to vote for Donald Trump. These are good people. Their votes are sometimes based on fear or anger or ignorance; sometimes their vote is based on one or two issues of importance to them, local issues, even personal issues, personal experiences. Often they simply have a different understanding than mine, a different moral compass; they are coming from a different place. I can both disagree with them and respect their choices.

I need to do that or I risk forgetting something important about a democracy: they aren’t going away, and sometimes they will win. And if they do win, I will want to be respected and included and listened to.

Democracies all over the world have elected demagogues and dictators who refused to give up power. Democracies have succumbed to revolutions or been undermined by insurgencies by those who have lost at the voting booth. It rarely ends well. It is hard enough to bring people together after an election in which everybody is invested in making it work. When we lose that, when we stop trusting the agreements that are inherent in our Constitution, we risk our democracy, our culture, our national identity, and our safety.

I am confident, as I said, that we will be looking at a President Hillary Clinton tomorrow, so let me address those who will vote for her. Use this as an opportunity to look inward. You believe, perhaps, that the Trump campaign has validated LGBTQ bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, jingoistic nationalism, racism, religious intolerance, and extremism of all kinds: and you are probably right. But please take time now to look inward. These are aspects of our culture that have infected us all. They are both symptom and cause. How have you worked to mitigate or eliminate their influence on your own life? How can you begin to work now to understand the fears and injuries that keep them in place for others. How can we address them in ways that recognize and validate those fears and injuries without validating the bigotry, or participating in the violence?

There is clearly a lot of work to be done in this country to move our culture away from the entrenched privilege of wealth, whiteness, and the masculine; there is a need to work toward the elimination of all kinds of bigotry and toward a diverse and vibrant and just society. None of that will be fully accomplished in the next four years or the next eight. It won’t proceed uninterrupted or unchallenged. There are powerful forces arrayed against it. But unless we recognize the need to engage with, include, try to understand, and address the needs of all our citizens, even the ones whose ideas we find hateful, it won’t happen at all.

If we want to succeed, we need to lead. If we want things to change we have start with ourselves, if we want to end the divisiveness we need to stop dividing. If we want elections that aren’t predicated on hate, anger, fear-mongering, misinformation and disinformation, gossip and innuendo, then we have to stop buying into them.

In a democracy, voting isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. It’s not just whether you voted or how you voted, it’s what you do after the voting is over that really counts.

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